At the airport, we exchanged currency and purchased our $15 entry visas. It was a simple process and could not have been easier. Once we claimed our baggage, we were quickly picked up buy our Intrepid Travel representative. There were many guys at the airport asking for tips. I’m thinking – for what? They’re not doing anything. This is going to be a preview of things to come.
We were driven from the airport in a mini-bus to the Hotel Victoria in downtown Cairo. What can you say? The Hotel Victoria does not impress. It is old, near ancient, although generally clean (smelling of fresh paint in places). This was once a grand hotel, but that was 50 years ago. The beds were comfortable. The staff was friendly (more the day staff than the night staff), but the hotel is nearly a dump. I really think Intrepid should find another home base.
Once checked in, we took a brief nap to recover from our very long flights. We met our Intrepid Travel tour leader, Hoda, for an orientation. What the Hotel Victoria lacks, Hoda makes up for. We LOVED Hoda. She walked us through the program and answered our questions. Then we set out for dinner. My friend back in the United States had warned us about Felfela. And yes, we found ourselves there. However, we didn’t need to be concerned.
Felfela is an Egyptian restaurant in the heart of downtown Cairo just two blocks off Tahrir Square. We had a delicious meal. My kebabs were very tasty, although slightly overcooked (which was better than the opposite). Laura’s stuffed vegetables were delicious. The bread was good. We had no complaints, although it didn’t bowl us over either.
After dinner, we walked down to the famous Tahrir Square, the site of the January 25th Revolution. For a Sunday night, the atmosphere was pleasant and was busy (although by Cairo standards, I’m guessing it was slow). There were lots of people selling t-shirts, etc. After watching CNN for so many nights during the Revolution, it was inspiring to see the site itself. We had dozens of young Egyptians shout “Welcome to Egypt” at us. It was AWESOME.
Under Tahrir Square, we walked through the maze of tunnels that is the metro station. In the station, there were many works of art and political posters.
Despite the time that has passed since the beginning of the January 25th Revolution, these statements – even in a language we cannot read – are still emotionally charged and raw. This is a very emotionally moving time to be in Cairo.
We then walked two blocks down to see the mighty Nile River by night – lined by dozens of high-rise, 5-star hotels.
The bridge was packed with mostly young couples holding hands and kissing. The outward displays of affection stand in stark contrast to the conservative religious orientation. This seems to be an important part of the Egyptian courtship ritual.
After Downtown Cairo, we took a cab back to the Hotel Victoria and bed. Tomorrow will be a full day.
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