Egypt: Days -2 to 0

I left La Crosse on Saturday morning and headed for New York. Got to see the Brunette and Husband. Attempted to locate new reading material for the Brunette before he left for his next work trip (he’s picky). Met up with M on Sunday evening. Monday, M and I walked up and down Manhattan, trying on hats, futilely searching for interesting silver, and shunning the spring fashions that were just starting to make their appearance.  I’d been able to leave my heavy coat in Queens and wore only a light fleece. In January!

After one more meal we headed to the airport. Security was pretty standard, nothing I hadn’t expected. I’d now gone through two sets of airport security with knitting needles and no questions. For the curious, I was flying with KnitPicks Wooden 4″ Double-Pointed Needles, or as I prefer to call them, oversized painted toothpicks. I cast on a project immediately after getting through security in La Crosse and through 4 airports no one even asked what I was making. I did, of course, have extras in my checked luggage. 

We boarded and were happy to find that we had a set of three seats to ourselves. After a first round of airplane food, we read, listened to music, I did a minimal amount of knitting, we talked…the usual airplane time passing tricks. And we tried, pretty much unsuccessfully, to sleep. This was abnormal for me. I’ve been known to fall asleep before take off.  

Arriving in Paris at something like 4 a.m. Eastern Time, 9 a.m local, we hustled down the concourse and on to our next gate. I was bleary and my brain wasn’t registering what was said to me in English, let alone polite French, but eventually I gathered I needed to also shed my jacket (not just my shoes) and got my carry-on bag rummaged through again. We had coffee and muffins and eventually we shuttled out to our plane, where we boarded and waited for a couple of hours. No particular reason was given, so we all just hung out and eventually they said sit down we’re leaving. It was a full flight this time and we were seated next to a man heading to work on the oil rigs.

We’d left New York in the dark Monday and arrived well after dark in Cairo on Tuesday, total travel time about 16 hours I think? Whatever time it was, I was wiped. We shuttled to the airport, got our passports stamped, and started the search for our luggage. I also flagged down the car service meeting us. Luggage in hand we were passed through a couple of people to our personal car.

We hurtled towards Cairo, the guide accompanying our driver chattering a mile a minute about what we were passing and offering to set up various tours for us, which we politely said we’d consider. We arrived relatively quickly on Zamalek, an island in the middle of the Nile River, which is the richest area of Cairo and where our hotel was located. Zamalek is a warren of one way streets, abrupt turns, and triple parked cars, as well as the home of most of the embassies, including the one for the US.

M and I stayed at the President Hotel, which, we were told, is primarily a Canadian/European travelers hotel. Our room was relatively spacious, with a desk and a “comfortable” chair besides the twin beds with bedside tables. There was a mini fridge that we didn’t use, and a TV where we kept up on world happenings, mostly the earthquake in Haiti and the Senate race in the US. It was clean though slightly worn and we were very careful about using bottled water to wash our faces, brush our teeth etc. Our room had a view over the courtyard of the Chinese Embassy next door.

Now local, I phoned our tour guide arranger Mohammed, who joined us at our hotel to review the plans for the next four days. My one page of details and scribbled notes became the basis of all reminders and my travel journal. He also took us to buy water and sandwiches from one of the local delis. Fed and through showers, we adjourned to bed. Cairo continued it’s noise, the noise pollution of car horns, sirens, etc, said to make the city 8x as loud as a city of equivalent size.

We would sleep through a light rain and awaken at 4:30 a.m. to the pre-dawn call to prayer.