Cairo: More than just the Pyramids

Cairo is a city of contrasts and it is so diverse. So different to anywhere in the world we have traveled before. I love how it is normal to see a 4×4, a donkey, a scooter, a camel and a horse and carriage – all in the same scene on a road. I really wish I had caught a photo of that when I had the chance!

As we spent an entire, wonderful day at Dahshur, Saqqara and Giza seeing the pyramids, we had a second full day in Cairo to see some more of its sites.

The first stop of the day was the Citadel where the Mohammed-Ali mosque is (no, not the boxer – as we were reassured several times). It was quiet here. The mosque was very pretty inside and out. The Citadel has a great vantage point over the city, but other than that, it was not a very exciting stop – we were there for only 30 minutes.

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A must-do is without a doubt the Egyptian Museum.

It is really worth hiring a guide to go inside with you as this museum is mad. There is very little information about any of the exhibits and there are many artifacts scattered around unlabelled, that you could miss some amazing treasures with an incredible story behind them. The quantity of artifacts is staggering, and this is only the few they have out on show, there are many, many more in storage!

Our guide gave us a choice of 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours. I wasn’t feeling very well (horrible cold) so, normally I would have said 3 hours, but I was struggling. J. said three hours though on our behalf and I didn’t feel I could go back. I wanted to make the most of the visit after all. Half-way through, we were both waning, and when I asked J. , he agreed he wanted to wind things up soon. Our guide sensed this and after two hours he called our driver to pick us up half an hour earlier. We were so lucky that we were able to do this. In the meantime J. carried my handbag around and looked very elegant.

We paid extra to go into the mummy rooms. J. asked – do you want to see the mummies? YES I do! These rooms are well labelled and you can meet so many of the famous kings and queens in here through the ages of Ancient Egypt. Some still have hair and jewellery on, it’s fascinating.

I was half expecting one to move and scare-jump me though. The Egyptians don’t really like the American film ‘The Mummy.’ Apparently Imhotep was a good guy and scarab beetles don’t eat you alive – actually, they are a sign of good luck and were a symbol of the sun-god Ra, as they would come out of the sand in the morning to greet the sun (so cute!).

Of course, the highlight of the Egyptian Museum is seeing all the artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb –  So. much. gold! We would later visit the actual tomb in the Valley of the Kings in a few days time. It was amazing how so much stuff fitted inside it!

After the Egyptian Museum, food was of priority. We made our way to the souk – Khan el-Khalili.

Khan el-Khalili – the souk (market)

Here our guide took us to an Egyptian falafel wrap place. I am not a massive fan of falafel, but he assured us that Egyptian falafel was different and better than any other kind of falafel (of course). In fairness to him, it was really good. We had a falafel wrap each and a chip wrap each. So. much. carb. He really made us eat local for the two days we were with him, and I’m glad for that. I was absolutely stuffed but we couldn’t just sit around, we had shopping to do!

We had about 45 minutes to ourselves to walk around and find some bargains. It was the one time in central Cairo when we were on our own and we felt totally safe. It might have been because the souk was so empty – we didn’t see any other tourists. I would have thought we would have been hassled more because of this, but no, not really. Most sellers tried to initiate conversation and get us to visit their shops, but they didn’t push us or make us uncomfortable.

My first purchase was a small wooden jewellery box which was pretty. I got it down from 750LE to 250LE. It was a hard bargain I was pleased with but it took a lot of negotiation. A lot of shops were selling identical items.

James bought some incense, an incense burner holder and an essence oil tealight burner. I also purchased some small perfume bottles to put my essence in from the day before. That was it. We wandered around and meandered through the little alleyways but not much else caught our eye that day.

I wanted a necklace with my name on in hieroglyphics – it’s inside a symbol called a ‘cartouche’ – our guide knew a guy. He called them and only an hour after arriving back at our hotel, he returned with it for me all finished. It was 12$ – I did get it checked and it is proper silver, not plated, so I am chuffed with that – although for the rest of the trip, if anyone could read hieroglyphics (you’d be surprised by how many!), they instantly knew my name…

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View from the Citadel

Visiting some extra little pockets of Cairo made the visit feel less rushed.

 

Tate Britain, London

Last weekend, while J. took the train to East London for a football match, I decided to meet up with my friend Kam for a girly-day out in London. We have hardly seen each other since graduating from university, except for my trip to Berlin to see her, and last month when she came up for the weekend. She suggested we go to an exhibit – good – as that was exactly what I wanted to do! It’s great being on the same wavelength. I made a list, there is so much on in London, it’s so amazing, but we managed to narrow it down to one at the Tate Britain, which was not far from Victoria Station where we met up, and then have a wander round Shoreditch afterwards – blog to follow.

We went to the Tate for the temporary exhibit on Impressionists in London; this is showcasing the impressionist art of the French refugees from the Franco-Prussian War –  in particular, those of Monet, Tissot and Pissarro.

Being the Francophiles that we are, this was a good pick for us. Not only that, but I am very fond of Monet’s paintings. There was a Monet exhibit at the Tate Modern in Liverpool a few years ago which was great and the Waterlilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris are beautiful. Until this exhibit though, I had not seen his London series, so it was a new insight.

The exhibit as a whole is actually quite fascinating as it gives the viewer a glimpse into how the French artists perceived contemporary London society and culture. I particularly loved the room which focused on the outsiders’ struggle and competition to capture the London fogs – here the paintings by Whistler, an American painter, for me were the most breathtaking.

As we left the Tate Britain, it was quite fitting that a fog had settled over the city, albeit not as striking a view as in the paintings, but a fog nonetheless…

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The low-down

Where: Tate Britain, London (a short walk from Pimlico station on the Victoria Line)

Cost: £17.70 or £15.70 concessions (permanent exhibitions are FREE)

Remember: The Impressionists in London exhibition finish 7th May 2018 – don’t miss it!

 

 

21st Celebrations in London: Part One

To celebrate my 21st birthday last week, James organised a birthday weekend in London for me. This is the first trip he has planned for us, as it is usually me who sorts everything out!

The main highlights of the weekend included seeing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theater on the Saturday evening and also Afternoon Tea at The Ritz on Sunday afternoon, but I would like to write separate posts about these as they were fabulous and deserve their own spotlight on the blog!

We met at St. Pancreas on Friday evening for dinner at Searcy’s. It was a convenient restaurant as we did not get into London until 20:30. I arrived into Euston after a manic journey of train delays, cancellations, and a stop in Crewe, but managed to arrive only 40 minutes later than expected which was a relief.

We booked two nights at the Great Northern Hotel which is located right by King’s Cross and St. Pancreas. It was ideal as it meant we didn’t have to go far on Sunday evening from collecting our luggage to getting our trains back up north and we were right by the Underground to get around the city. It isn’t the cheapest hotel; luckily breakfast was included, otherwise a full English Breakfast in the Plum & Spilt Milk restaurant costs £17 alone (!). On each floor with rooms, there is a pantry with access to free tea, coffee, newspapers and cakes which was sweet and the hotel was decorated beautifully. I’d definitely stay here again, it felt luxurious and we were treated well by the staff.

The room was designed like a couchette (a berth in a train carriage). It was small but the design and facilities were amazing which detracted from the size. The hotel was very traveler-friendly, as that’s its main purpose, being so close to the Eurostar. Vintage train travel posters hanging up added to the design. USB and European port chargers were in the walls in the restaurant and rooms as well as UK ones, to save travellers using adapters!

Before checking into the hotel, we walked across to King’s Cross to see Plaform 9 3/4 to take a picture. Despite being already 21:45, there was still a small queue lining to take pictures. Apparently the queue is ridiculous during the day, so we were lucky that we only had to wait under 5 minutes. I’d recommend going at this time at night to save queuing!

In the queue, I gave James the very important job of taking a photo of me at the platform. We both know he isn’t the best at taking pictures (I am the photographer), so I sorted out the aperture on my camera and told him what to do and prayed the picture would turn out okay for this very important moment in my life…

Me going through the platform to catch the Hogwart's Express!

Me going through the platform to catch the Hogwart’s Express!

I’m very proud to say that he managed to take the picture no problem for once (I am in the picture, it is not wonky and nothing has been cut out) The only thing I am going to say about the whole thing, is that the owl looked a little bit pathetic on the trolley, but oh well!

Saturday morning, after a delicious breakfast, we made our way to the British Museum which I had yet to visit for the first time. It’s absolutely massive but free. We got a museum map and noted the things we wanted to see the most: Rosetta Stone, Elgin marbes, the mummies and a temprary exhibtion on Napoleon, ‘Bonaparte and the British,’ for the French Studies student that I am.

Of course, the Rosetta Stone had to be the FIRST THING you see as you enter the main exhibits, so there was a constant crowd of people trying to get up close to take pictures. It was quite disappointing as I wasn’t able to really appreciate seeing it up close as I had to move on to let other people squeeze past, but it was absolutely incredible to see the stone which was the key to deciphering hieroglyphics.

The ceiling

The ceiling – it’s worth coming here just for the architecture!

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The Elgin Marbes

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The exhibit ‘Bonaparte and the British’, explored Napoleon’s complex relationship with Britain, through the means of prints published during his lifetime. Some British, others French, but all range in negativity and positivity depending on how he was favored during moments of political importance. For example, one British print published after the Peace of Amiens in 1802, depicts Napoleon as a woman, peace personified. This is because the British are pleased to have secured peace with France after many years of war.

There were few French prints though, although I did like the one, ‘Vent contraire,’ where British ladies are wafting their fans in an attempt to blow a possible French invasion away from the southern coast of England. It was an interesting insight into this part of French history, especially to see Napoleon, such a controversial figure, to be displayed in a way so that we can see how his contemporaries viewed him in Europe.

Although one French man next to me at one point was not impressed – looking in disgust at some of the British propaganda prints and going “C’est trop!! C’est pas vrai!!” Moving on…
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The Stunning Casa Lis, Salamanca

Although being a Sunday, I was surprised by how many places were open today, that being mostly the supermarkets and the Casa Lis museum, on top of all the food outlets. Walking around the city, it’s clear to see that this is a catholic country; everyone was out in their Sunday best, the ladies in their fur coats in the cold, walking back from church. I felt so underdressed in my converses and purple anorak.

IMG_0165 James and I headed down to the river for the first time and visited the Casa Lis, a museum high on my list of things to do in Salamanca

IMG_0177Entry is 4€, or 2€ for students which is nothing. It is possibly one of the most stunning buildings I have ever visited and I would go back in a heart beat. The stained glass windows are artwork in their own right and I would happily spend hours feasting my eyes on the different colours and the light reflecting into the rooms.

IMG_0181The museum itself offers a variety of paintings, jewellery, glass, furniture and small sculptures, many of which I drooled over, they are just so beautiful. There was just so much detail in such intricate things. There was just one room I didn’t go into, and that was the porcelain dolls room, possibly the largest collection as well. Dolls just freak me out! There is currently an exhibition on, ‘Salamanca, 1900’, until March 2015 which gave some great insight into Salamanca’s past during this era and the growth and change it has seen in merely 100 years with a wealth of photographs, videos and artefacts from the city. Apparently in 1900, with only 23,000 inhabitants, only 5% of the population attained the age of 65.

Apparently taking photographs ise prohibited in the museum, however I didn’t realise this until the security guard had to come over and inform me of this unfortunate reality. Oops. It is such a beautiful building to photograph, so it was quite disappointing. He did say that there were postcards to buy in the gift shop, which I thought was great because I could send them to my family and friends. Were there any? Nada. However, I did manage to take two photos beforehand – phew! They did have some wall posters those which were quite cheap, so I may go back so I can adorn my bedroom wall with Art Deco/Nouveau beauty.

IMG_0183Suffice to say, if you come to Salamanca, even for a day, and you like art, the Casa Lis is a must. It has affordable entry, you don’t have to spend hours walking around the place (1 hour, tops) and the building itself is worth coming to visit. This is my first visit here, but it is definitely not my last. Jjust another thing on my list for why I already love this city!

Hasta luego,

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