Trouble with Smelly Fish & Cold Eggs

The people within the hotel are constantly changing and I think most people only seem to stay a few nights before wither moving on to somewhere else in Egypt or back to Cairo. It gets very busy at the weekends but quietens off as the week progresses.

Last weekend the hotel was near to bursting at the seams and the gossip is that there isn’t a room to spare. Not only are there the normal weekend crowds but Monday was Sham El Nessim. If you have never heard of it I am not surprised because unless you are of Egyptian origin or living in Egypt it will probably be a mystery to you.

For those that know me from previous blogs when I come across something new I have to spend a bit of time researching it. I could say that I love improving my knowledge – which I do but, I really hate not knowing so the simplest and easiest way to remedy this is to search online.

You don’t need me to tell you the pitfalls of relying on the internet for researching a subject but it is all I have to hand so I will try to include relevant and hopefully reliable and sourced information if I can.

Sham El Nessim marks the beginning of spring, it is also a national not a religious holiday therefore everyone celebrates it. It is always held on the same day as Easter Monday. It seems to be celebrated by going on picnics if you live in the city or coming to the seaside and being with families.

The name is probably derived from the Egyptian word Shemu or Shomu which translates to the ‘Season of the Harvest’ or ‘Low Water’, it was the third and final season of the Ancient Egyptian calendar.

You will see countless references to ‘Plutarch’s annals, [where]the ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish, lettuce and onions to their deities on this day. I can find no evidence in Plutarch’s writing to substantiate this statement but you may know better.

In modern Egypt people do celebrate the day with picnics in parks, the zoo, the seaside and these can include hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, onions and salted fish, e.g. herrings but the brave and some say foolhardy eat fesikh.

The recipe for making it is very simple: the mullet, also called borai fish, is dried in the sun and then placed in large wooden vats filled with the right ratio of salty water for 45 days Apparently, the end result is a very ordinary looking fish on the outside but on the inside, is a grey gooey centre that has an all encompassing unpleasant smell.

Every year the Egyptian Government issue a health warning to not eat fesikh as it can cause nausea, paralysis or in a worse case scenario’s death. In 1991 eighteen people died from eating fesikh but in more recent years although people have been hospitalised there have been no deaths recorded since 2010 when two people died.

I wondered if the hotel would have anything special to eat but other than the hard-boiled egg shells being coloured and it being exceptionally difficult to get a table at breakfast the day was like any other.

Not surprising the coloured eggs were all I got this year, just before I left England the first Easter eggs were beginning to grace the shelves of the supermarkets but there was definitely no room in the case to bring some with us and I am sure if I had managed it somehow, they would have melted long before I had the opportunity to eat it.

Eggs cause me more hassle staying in the hotel than anything else, I am trying to eat healthily while I am staying here and try to turn away from the plates of pastries, breads and desserts as well as the food cooked in oil.

I have tried all sorts of combinations of what is on offer and have decided that eggs are probably my best bet. Each morning there are halves of French toast available, not so good as they have been cooked in oil but also, they have not been cooked long enough for me. I like my French toast to be brown ensuring that the eggs are well cooked. What is on offer bends and is pale yellow.

There is a chef that cook’s omelettes each morning, resplendent in his chef’s whites and his towering toque blanche he is surrounded by small bowls of chopped onions, peppers, various meats, cheese etc and he will make you a two egg omelette with whatever filling you want. Not much wrong with that I hear you saying – true but he does add a large spoonful of oil to the pan. I have tried asking him not to but the language barrier defeats us. Also, there is always a huge queue of people waiting for him to cook their omelette first.

Most days there are hard-boiled eggs, lovely you may think except that they are kept warm. Am I alone in wanted my eggs to be cold so that I can chop them up add a little bit of very runny humus to then pile it into a flatbread pocket with some grated carrot and cucumber. I tried getting a couple of eggs and shelling them in the hope they would cool down. All this achieved was burnt fingers and lukewarm hard-boiled eggs which are vile.

But recently a container of scrambled eggs has started appearing – hurrah I hear you say, well yes, it is wonderful but I think it depends on who is cooking them as to their appearance. Initially they were cooked but swimming in a water substance. Then there become very creamy but sloppy, occasionally they are excellent – this morning they looked good and I piled them onto my dry toast and headed back to our table.

They were freezing cold!!!

Obviously, their container didn’t have any hot water in the base or whatever keeps the water hot had stopped working. I had to leave my plate it was vile, and I hate wasting food but I just couldn’t manage to swallow it.

My quest for a healthy breakfast continues.

PS           Something I read and I’m not sure how true it is but it would be wonderful if it was. There is a saying that the one hundred pleats/folds in a toque blanche represent one hundred ways to cook an egg.

I’d just be grateful for one.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Garden of Delights

When My Love (ML) and I first arrived at the hotel one of the first things I did on the day ML started back to work was to explore the grounds of the hotel. I walked all the twisty turny paths through the gardens finding the shady spots and where the benches were – not that this helped as the benches have a habit of regularly shifting. I’m not sure of whether this is one of the tasks of the gardeners or whether rather like the stone tortoises in Vietnam they have a life of their own after dark.

Anyway, back to the benches, I have visions of them scuttling around the garden like giant beetles in the dead of night looking for the perfect spot to spend the next day.

    Now those of you that are new to my ramblings will be wondering at this moment where this is going, the answer to that is not anywhere. I have what can only be described as an overactive imagination and just because an object is inanimate it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Also, I am inclined to wander off the plot occasionally and take a side trip – bear with me I will get back to the point eventually when my butterfly mind returns from whence it started.

     The gardens were at this point mainly just green leaves in a multitude of shades and variegation – listen to me coming over all Monty Donnish with my gardening terms. I know nothing about gardening but I love to look and enjoy beautiful gardens.

There are a team of gardeners here that are constantly weeding, pruning, cutting and replanting and it looks beautiful. They are constantly doing something even it is only raking up the fallen flowers from the Jacaranda or Flame trees. As the weeks have gone on different plants, shrubs and trees have come into flower and I have tried to get photographs that show the beauty of them.

Sometimes very fortuitously, the other day I spent a couple of hours wandering and taking photographs, there are so many big beautiful splashes of colour and I also saw a butterfly, a ladybird and a bee or wasp of some sort with stripy eyes.

     The hotel and the surrounding area is twice a day at dawn and dusk sprayed against mosquitoes. A golf buggy with sprayers drives around the complex spraying a white mist, it is very fine because it soon floats up around us on the third floor. I’m not sure whether the chemical just kills off mosquitoes or all insects. Considering the number of beautiful flowers, I would expect there to be masses of butterflies but I’ve only seen the one.

    Two days after I had my morning of photographing I went for a wander and all of the shrubs had been clipped to a uniform height, no stray flower spikes had escaped. The greenery is nice but I miss the flowers. Give it a couple of weeks and they will be back – I hope.

 There was lots of excitement at the end of last week, I was working on the computer and there seemed to be more noise filtering in through the open patio doors. In the end curiosity got the better of me and thank goodness I did. The beautiful palm trees that are scattered throughout the gardens were having a trim.

  From my floor, I have clear uninterrupted views of the crowns of some of these trees. The men pruning the palms were not the normal gardeners as they were not in the usual green overalls but were in normal clothing but not wearing any shoes.

           I came in grabbed my camera, put on a long lens and sat back trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. I didn’t want to be a distraction to the men wielding very sharp axes while balancing on the trunks with only a rope and their feet to hold them in place.

       As I sat quietly through the next couple of hours I got to see a couple of masters of their craft working. I was able to get some amazing shots of them climbing the trunk of the palm with amazing agility, wield an axe, remove palm fronds and date seeds.

           I always wondered why the trunks of the palm trees in the house opposite my window had tags all the way down its trunk and the ones in the hotel don’t. It turns out if you don’t prune the dead leaves you don’t gets a nice smooth trunk. As the men chopped and neatened the palms the hotel gardeners were collecting all the fallen palm fronds and fruit stalks and taking them away. I think some of the palm fronds were laid out to dry down near the Shisha restaurant which is used on the roof so I am guessing that they will be used to replace what is already there.

  There were two men that climbed up the highest trees but that they had with them two much younger men/boys who worked on the small palms. I think they must be apprentices or maybe sons who are learning the trade. Not sure it is a job I could do although I wish I was brave enough but I think that although I don’t mind heights I sometimes get a bit wobbly when I look down. Wobbling and sharp axes don’t seem a great recipe for keeping all your fingers and toes intact and with the added danger of being up a tree and you can begin to understand my hesitation.

Suffice to say it was fascinating to watch.

I have tried to find the names of the plants, shrubs and trees and in some cases I have been successful and in others not so. I hope you will forgive me any mistakes and if you would let me know I will correct it asap.

The names are in the title of the photographs and the tags.

 

If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Baron Empain Palace

                                    “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”                                         Winston Churchill

Although Winston Churchill wasn’t describing the palace his quote is a very apt description of the strange building that I saw very briefly on my way to the Egyptian Museum . When I got the opportunity on the way back to stop and have a look I was absolutely fascinated. l say a closer look, the closest you can get to it is from outside the grounds. The tall decorated pillars of the gateway hold the iron gates firmly in place and closed but there is enough space to shove a camera through the bars to get a photograph.

All around as far as I could see were barbed wire fences, everything is shut up tight but perched on a plateau was a terracotta coloured building that was covered in decoration.

I had to find out more and what a tale I uncovered. ‘Baron Empain Palace, ‘Le Palais Hindou’, ‘The Hindu Palace’, ‘Qasr el Baron’ are just some of the names I found that the building has been known by.

The palace was the brainchild of Édouard Louis Joseph Empain, later to be made a Baron Empain by the King Albert I (1907). He was a Belgian millionaire and industrialist who in 1906 purchased a block of land 8 km north of the centre of Cairo that neither the French or British wanted and was therefore going cheaply. At the time, Cairo was undergoing a real estate boom and in some areas land cost as much as in Paris or London.

Empain wanted to build a city in the desert and within a few years of buying the land there were 29 km of streets and avenues, 168 buildings, including two hotels, followed a year later by a race course and Luna Park amusements area. Within ten years Heliopolis as the area was named had a population of 7,000.

He decided to build his own villa in Heliopolis, he chose his plot and had a plateau constructed on which the building would be placed so he could look over Heliopolis from his lofty perch. He chose a French architect Alexandre Marcel who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Marcel’s previous work included the Jagatjit Palace in Indian and the pavilions of Cambodia and Spain as well as the ‘Panorama du Tour du Monde’ at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. The Panorama consisted of a journey through various buildings that included a Cambodian temple, a Japanese gateway, a Chinese Tower and a balconied building that was of Indian influence. Many of the motifs from these buildings found their way several years later onto the Empain’s villa.

The building of the palace took four years from 1907 – 11 to complete and was built using the Hennebique system of reinforced concrete; one of the first major creative uses of such material in Egypt. The ‘Palace’ is actually a fairly conventional villa of two floors above ground and two subterranean floors. The structure is made to look larger by placing it on elevated plateau above a series of terraces, almost mimicking the step pyramid a Giza. The addition of the 30 m tower and the impressive number of decorative features adds to the buildings presence.

The villa’s interior was designed by the French interior designer Georges-Louis Claude who was also responsible for the decoration of parts of the Heliopolis Palace Hotel. The interior walls were covered with frescos and huge mirrors situated in decorative wooden frames, the coffered ceilings were gilded as were the doors. Art Deco tiles and fittings were used in the bathrooms and Belgian glass was used in the multi-paned soaring windows.

There were decorative pillars and cornices, marble fireplaces, decorative balustrades, gold finished door knobs and highly decorative parquet flooring on which the furniture from Belgium was set. The open roof terrace was a cornucopia of balustrades, seating, covered walkways and pillars; every surface is covered with sculpted decorative cladding. These include representations of Ganesh, elephants, snakes, dragons, grotesque faces and all manner of mythical beasts.

The Palace was occupied by three Baron Empain’s, before being sold to Middle Eastern business men in the 1950s, whom it is said tried repeatedly to change its use into a hotel or casino but the government would not issue the permits for this to happen. The Egyptian government bought it in 2005 and it was opened to the public for a short time (I’ve read that it was only two months), but has since retreated behind barbed wire fences.

In the period between the Empain family owning the palace and the Egyptian government buying it the palace and its contents were looted, furniture and fittings were stolen sometimes ripped from the walls (large mirrors), the frescos and masonry have been damaged and covered in spray painted graffiti. The beautiful decorations sculpted and painted by Indonesian craftsmen is damaged and in some places destroyed.

The gardens died and the Greek, Roman and Far Eastern statuary that was scattered throughout became the victim of mindless destruction. When the government bought the palace, they did reinstate the gardens and the palace is once again surrounded by green terraces.

You can hire the grounds in which to hold weddings celebrations. It can be hired from the government for a fee of 50,000 to 60,000 Egyptian pounds (£2,125 – £2,500), ($2,700 to $3,300) for every 300 guests. If you are interested there is a video on YouTube of a wedding celebration.

There is another video that shows some more detail, if you start it at the 4.40 mark you will a group of architectural students who were allowed access to the building. More details of the internal damage and of the external decoration can be seen. There is one final video of a VIP tour, the quality of the video is very poor but every now and again it clears and more decorative details are highlighted,

Any building that is left empty soon becomes the repository of urban myths, legends and tales to curdle the blood. What I write from here on in is some of the stories I have found and I am sure there are very many more floating about.

If you put Baron Empain Palace into any search engine it will tell you basic information and it will then say either the Baron’s wife/sister/sister-in-law Helena fell down the spiral staircase to her death and his daughter Merriam/Miriam/Mariam who suffered long-term psychological problems was found dead in one of the basement chambers/well of the lift a few years later. I can find no sourced information online about either death.

I have looked at Baron Empain’s family tree, his sisters were called Marie Louise, Florence, Anne-Marie, Irma and Louise and his brother’s wife was Ghislaine. The only marriage I can find listed for him was to Jeanne Becker in 1921. His sons were born in 1902 and 1908 and changed their name from Becker to Empain when their parents married. Without further information, I can only surmise that he had a long-term affair with Jeanne and married her after the death of wife number one (Helena) and his daughter. There is a book about the family but it is in French, only available in paperback so unless someone can help me I am stumped.

The palace has become the repository of all sorts of tales; of blood running down mirrors (obviously before they were looted), sounds of large objects being dragged across the floors, chanting, satanic rites and orgies taking place. Ghosts are supposed to walk the halls and strange emanations of smoke have been seen appearing and disappearing. A chamber in the basement is supposed to have run with blood when the first baron died. The garden lights up for no reason and then the light dies away and windows open and close on their own.

I’m sure that any building left uninhabited will soon be used for nefarious reasons; drug taking, hiding contraband, drinking etc. The building and grounds aralso inhabited by bats and stray dogs, add into that the unusual carvings on the outside and you have a real recipe for making of tales of horror.

Having seen the outside and read so much about it I would really like to see the inside but I think the chances of that happening are very remote. There have been a number of studies to look at the deterioration of the concrete and of opening the palace as part of a wider regeneration of Heliopolis. But many projects are on hold as there is not enough money being generated by tourists to fund the project and The Empain Palace appears to be one of these unfortunately.

The little I have been able to find out has proved fascinating and I am sure there are many other tales of life at the Empain Palace yet to come to life.

Unfortunately most of the photographs for the palace are copyrighted as so few people have seen the interior, but there is a Pinterest page where the copyright holders have posted them and also a Flickr page as well.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

The Egyptian Museum

As we drove deeper into the Stygian gloom of the underground car park I couldn’t see where we were going and then it dawned on me I was still wearing my sunglasses – numpty. A quick change to my normal ones and I could see a little better although the strength of the lights was not very strong. Mohamed found a parking spot and we tried to find our way out, we tried a number of different doors that indicated staircases but they were all locked. After walking around for a while we found someone who directed us to the only working lift. The queue was long but we eventually go in carefully skirting the man sat on a stool working the buttons.

Quick change back to sunglasses as we arrived back on the surface and the bright sunshine. In front of me was The Egyptian Museum or as it is more formerly known The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. The pink imposing building was designed by Marcel Dourgnon a Frenchman who won a competition to design the new building to hold the existing collection  of Egyptian artefacts which was being housed in unsuitable premises. The cornerstone was laid in 1897 and the museum officially opened on 15th November 1902.

Mohamed and I made our way through the first layer of security and Mohamed sorted out the tickets, different prices for locals and foreigners but, joy of joys I was also able to buy a ticket to take photographs which pleased me greatly. We were then inundated by ‘guides’ who wanted to charge us to take us around. As they didn’t appear to have much English and I wasn’t sure of how knowledgeable they were I was going to say no to them. I didn’t get a chance as Mohamed firmly sent them on their way and we passed through another layer of security to enter the building.

I’m not sure whether we didn’t see them but there wasn’t a map to guide you or a guidebook so we threw caution to the wind and set out on the adventure of discovery. My initial impression was of noise, disorder, dust, dull light.

It was very busy, there were lots of Egyptian school children in groups throughout the museum, lots of tourist, many part of a group with someone leading the group so sometimes it took a while to get close to an exhibit. There were people everywhere but they soon faded into the background as I lost myself in the wonders that surround me. It takes a little while for the fact that you are surrounded by objects that are thousands of years old from a civilisation that has fascinated people forever.

In the end I just wandered around, there was no rhyme nor reason to the route I took and in one visit I saw a lot but was only really able to take in a small amount. Since my visit I have used the photographs I took and the internet in finding out additional information. I am such a nerd but I have since read a really interesting paper by Dr Pearce Paul Creasman on the Dahshur Boats that I saw at the museum.

The boat was tucked up near a wall with other displays in front of it. The boat was nearly 4,000 years old and had been discovered in 1894 by the French archaeologist Jean Jacques de Morgan. It was part of the funerary goods of Senusret III and stored in a mud brick pyramid on the plains of Dahshur. The colours and texture of the ancient wood was beautiful and although the boat wasn’t in the best of condition – not surprising considering its age, it is well worth searching it out.

I spent hours just reading about the boat, I imagine that there is a story like that behind each of the exhibits and at present there is approximately 120,000 items stored in the museum so I may be some time. Shame we are not closer to Cairo I could buy a season ticket and take up residence.

I touched stones covered in hieroglyphics that once graced the temple of a pharaoh, I was dwarfed by statues so awesome in their height and grandeur that I stood silently gazing ever upwards at them.

There was a very scary carving of a small child but with adult features which when I think about it may well have been suffering from dwarfism, and a herd of sphinx were scattered in various places. There was also a statue of a lion who reminded me so much of the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz.

There were rows of tiny statues of gods and pharaohs in different materials all with tiny hieroglyphics messages/prayers/stories on them. I so wanted to know how to read these symbols so that I knew what each one said.

Many of the items had been damaged, whether this had happened in ancient times or more recently – the museum has been attacked a number of times during revolutions. But this doesn’t detract from the beauty or their impact.

I fell in love with the sycamore statue which may be of the Egyptian scribe and priest called Ka-aper. He has the kindest eyes, the effect of which I am sure is enhanced because they are inlaid with rock crystal, white quartz and resin.

I learnt that true pyramids as opposed to step pyramids were topped by a pyramidion or capstone and the museum has one that was discovered in 1900. It was found in the rubble of the Pyramid of Amenemhet III in Dahshur which was built on unstable ground and began to crumble and was abandoned before completion. On one side of the pyramidion there is carved what looks like a winged sun with a pair of eyes looking outwards, altogether it resembles a face. If this was to be at the very top of a pyramid I wonder what the significance of the eyes looking outwards into the sun.

Since my trip to the museum I have found out the information below.

David P Silverman the Egyptologist in his book Ancient Egypt using the translation of I E S Edwards writes that the inscription below what I thought looked like a face says:

“May the face of the king be opened so that he may see the Lord of the Horizon [Harakhte, god of the rising sun] when he crosses the sky; may he cause the king to shine as a god, lord of eternity and indestructible.”

In reply, Harakhte says he has: “given the fair horizon to the king.”

A prayer to the gods for the reincarnation of the pyramid’s occupant(s) to achieve divine status perhaps.

Near to the pyramidion is sarcophagus of Pharaoh Merneptah, Ramses II‘s son, inside the lid is a bas-relief of Nut, the Goddess of the Sky. She is covered in stars and is often seen balancing on her toes and finger tips arching over the earth. She is also a symbol of protection for the dead once they enter the afterlife. The relief is seen as a reflection in a mirror set into the floor and it has an other worldly feel to it.

I could go on writing about what I saw but I am sure that you would soon get fed up with ramblings so I will try to bring this to a suitable end. The museum is chaotic, badly labelled if at all, dusty and closely resembling a storage warehouse but, it is full of the most amazing treasures if you take the time to wander. I desperately want to go back again already.

The only part I wouldn’t go back to was the Royal Mummy exhibition. I’m not sure if it is because it was a fairly small space or how closely you could get to the mummies but the longer I spent in the room the more uncomfortable I became. I wanted to cover them back up and put them back where they belonged and not on show. I was very surprised at the strength of my reaction as I have seen mummies before and even now a few weeks later I still can’t explain my reaction.

I gather the reason for the chaotic feel to the place is that a new museum the ‘Grand Egyptian Museum’ (GEM) is being built and most of the exhibits will be moved there. The competition for the design was held in 2002 and due to the changing political climate, it’s building was delayed but earthworks started a few years ago and the latest information I can find is that it will be partially opened in 2018 but who knows. I have read reports that the collapse of tourism has also affected the building schedule but hopefully it will be completed soon.

 

I’ve just realised I haven’t mentioned any of the Tutankhamen artefacts, there really isn’t anything more I can add to the millions of words already written about them. Suffice to say they are spectacular and days could be spent just marvelling at the intricacies of the decoration, construction and beauty of each item.

I think it is obvious that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is going to end up near the top of the list of places I have fallen in love with.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

The Pitfalls and Perils of Cairo Traffic

We’re on our way up to Cairo for ML to meet up with other members of the team and to finalise paperwork before a meeting with the Client.

ML will be busy but I am sure I can find something to amuse myself with even if it is using the hotel’s super-fast broadband to update everything (Who knew that the red blob with the number of app updates outstanding could be so blasted annoying every time you saw it.) and to sit in the shade by the pool.

The journey up was uneventful and it wasn’t until we were on the Cairo ring road that we hit traffic. The road may have three lanes marked on the surface but Cairo drivers can happily make that into seven lanes. This is okay if you had every been a rally driver or have ninja reflexes  and could deal with the antics of the other drivers. If you are a polite driver as I am then you might as well forget it because you won’t be going anywhere.I class myself as a good, safe driver; I’ve held a driving licence for 40 years but I wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car in Cairo unless it was a dire emergency. There are hidden perils (potholes, suddenly appearing pedestrians, random speed humps) and pitfalls (other vehicles, obscure lane changes, roundabouts) to driving in Cairo which would turn me into a nervous wreck very quickly.

I found a list of Cairo Traffic Rules  that are slightly tongue in cheek by Nadia El-Awady.

ML has stayed with this hotel group so often that we get put on the executive floor which is very nice and included a welcome gift of tiny macarons artfully displayed on a plate. Very swish, and unlike the hotel on the Red Sea there is no sound, it must have very good soundproofing. The wi-fi is super-fast and between us we are soon updating various iPads and iPhones in a fraction of the time it normally takes us and not eating into our mobile download total.

It turned out they had more drivers than were needed for the following day so  it was okayed that I could use our driver and visit the Egyptian Museum in Giza. Woo Hoo. I have heard about this museum for years from Mumpsy (my lovely mum) who visited in many years ago and often talked about its treasures.

Straight onto the internet to find out what information was available and to find out whether I could take photographs or not. I visit museums and galleries regularly and am used to being able to find out oodles of information before I visit and if time is limited find out where the exhibits are that I want to see so I don’t miss out.

After following a few dead ends I found the Supreme Council of Antiquities website that has a page on the museum. I found out opening times and cost but a note saying photography wasn’t allowed and I would have to check my camera in. In my searches, I had come across a number of references to photography now being allowable. I took a chance and when we went the following day I took my camera and paid 50 LE for the privilege of photographing within the museum. This is something that I came across in Singapore where entry was free to the Sri Mariamman Temple, but a fee was asked to enable you to take photographs.

According to the Google maps the journey should take 30 minutes, I knew from ML who followed this route to the company’s Cairo office that I was looking at nearer an hour so we agreed for the driver to pick me up at 9.30 the next day.

When will I learn, the next morning as 9.45 ticked by ML received a phone call to say the car was being swapped and the driver would be another hour. I hate waiting it is so boring so I walked around the hotel’s main floor only to walk into some sort of promotion for Coca Cola. Lots of corporate people in lanyards and sunglasses posing nonchalantly in the sunshine. There was a huge screen set up outside with Coca Cola branding around it. There were lots of white draped tables set out in front of the screen. I had a look to see if I could see any promotional t-shirts or lanyards but I was out of luck.

I headed back to the entrance to wait for the driver who eventually turned up, as I got in the car he asked if I had my passport with me.

Dash back inside, well actually a slow walk through the security screening having put my bag through the scanner, as usual I set it off but they let me through thankfully. Lift ambles down and I put my key card in and it chooses to ignore it. I’m getting flustered now but after a couple more attempt I gave up and rang ML who met me and gave me his card to use. Up to the room, find my passport and head back down, hand ML his card back and out to the driver who appears to have fallen asleep behind the wheel.

The journey to the museum was fine until we left the airport road then it just ground to a halt and we crawled for most of the 22 km of the journey. The only consolation was that I was able to get a few shots of things along the way. Unfortunately, lots of things were blocked by the build-up of traffic but I managed to get some photographs.

There are huge painted boards along part of the road that show iconic buildings, sculptures and events from Egyptian history, both ancient and modern. There seemed to be lots of war like depictions.

One very odd building that is raised on what I assume to be an artificial hill (all the other buildings in the area are on flat ground) and which wouldn’t have looked out of place in India. I found out it was built for Baron Empain and it has quite a history but I am going to save the information for a blog all about it.

If you look upward at any point on the journey you will see minarets, there was a time in Cairo’s past when it was known as the ‘City of a Thousand Minarets’. I’m not sure there are that many now but there are plenty to see and admire.

The route takes you past a mish mash of modern architecture and nods to Moorish, Arabic, Persian and a dash of Neoclassical architecture thrown in for good measure. There are areas that are obviously very affluent and glimpses through the advertising hoardings on the elevated roadway of the 6th of October Bridge of abject poverty.

Just before we crossed the actual bridge across the Nile we turned off and headed to Tahrir Square a place originally called Ismailiya Square but renamed Tahrir (Liberation) Square after the 1919 Revolution but not officially renamed until the Revolution in 1952.

The square became a focal point of the Revolution in 2011 when political demonstrations were held. In 2013 over a two-day period millions of Egyptians protested across Egypt including in Tahrir Square. Three days later, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced that President Mohamed Morsi had been removed. A country with a long history of revolution.

I found all this information out later but at the end of our journey it was the final obstacle to the museum. The square is actually a huge traffic roundabout and if there was any method in the madness that ensued as we made our way around it I couldn’t see it.

But having safely negotiated it Mohamad (the driver) tried to find the entrance to the car park, it took a couple of attempts but we finally found the right one and much to my surprise we drove down under the ground.

To be continued……..


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

The Trouble With Knickers

The people you really need to get on good terms with is the laundry staff. I have used enough hotel laundries to fill a whole blog on the perils of sending white cotton knickers to such places. It is always a hit and miss affair and I have had them returned in the past an interesting shade of murky pink, dingy blue and an unappealing shade of grey. I always think that using a hotel’s laundry is a form of Russian Roulette and I am always wary when I have to use a new one.

Some of you may think I am somewhat obsessed with the fate of my knickers but, as I have previously alluded to I am not of a slim and sylphlike figure. I am more rounded and therefore cannot always get the size of knickers I need in the places I have lived.

Therefore, if they are damaged they are not easily replaced and as I only get back home every six months that can be a long wait for sparkly new ones. You begin to see my dilemma and the reasoning behind my obsession.

Having been married for nearly 35 years ML is the only one besides myself who sees my knickers nowadays (where did your mind just fly to?) since I gave doing impromptu cartwheels.

I have a long history of cartwheels that got me into trouble (now that would make a good title for a biography!!). The first being when I was about eight or nine and I was walking back to the classroom from having taken a note from my teacher to the school secretary when this irresistible urge came over me.

I shoved the note in my pocket and looked both ways and launched myself into the air – what you probably need to know is the floor of the corridor I was in was made up of highly varnished parquet blocks and if there was any water about they were lethal.

You can see what’s coming, can’t you?

There must have been a tiny patch of water lurking because as my foot landed it slipped out from under me and I landed in a heap on the floor. To add insult to injury my ignominious fall had been observed by the headteacher and four visitors.

A long wait outside the headteacher’s office and a stern telling off put paid to my antics – well for a short while anyway.

Anyway, I have digressed – not unusual I am afraid. Back to the laundry.

The first time I used it I had the inevitable laundry list to decipher, there is a separate section for men and woman with different prices. Also, the list only has T-shirts in the men’s section, the women’s section only says blouse or silk blouse and I really want to see a Petit coat – do they wash dolls clothes or dog coats? The reality is of course that is probably just a spelling mistake but I can dream.

Firstly, I have to fold up the dirty washing, lay it all out on the bed mine on one side ML’s on the other, count it up and fill in the list. Once that task is done the washing has to be bagged and the laundry contacted to come and pick it up.

The clothes were returned later that same day by a young man, I held my arms out for it but he came in the room and laid it on the bed.

“Okay”. I thought, he’s probably after a tip.

How wrong I was, he proceeded to empty the bags onto the bed, laying it all out and grouping the items together which included fanning out my knickers and bras. He then proceeded to count everything against the original list.

Slightly pink of cheek at this point I waited until he had finished. With a big smile, he handed me the list and asked me to sign at the bottom and off he went. Now this is going to happen a couple of times a week for the foreseeable future and I am going to have to get over somebody counting my underwear in front of me.

Getting over my embarrassment I put things away. Despite ticking hangers on the laundry list, only a couple of things come back on hangers and the rest are folded including all of my tops, so I had to shake them out and hang them up hoping the fold lines would drop out.

This hotel does not provide an iron or ironing board, so we are going to try to buy an iron and bring it back and hope they ignore it on the security scanner. There is no way we can get an ironing board but I think the large padded bench that my case is sitting on may prove the answer.

I have two tops that are made from broderie anglaise which whatever they use to press the clothes with doesn’t like the material and unless I am going for the very rumpled look I won’t be wearing them again until the iron is purchased.

The joys of hotel living, those that have followed my previous blogs know of my hatred of ironing and so will realise my disappointment at probably not having totally escaped it after all.

 


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Getting to Know You

“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.”

Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers

Well a week in and I have been a busy person, after looking at different rooms we have decided to stay put. The reasoning behind this is we are on the top floor and in a small off shoot near the front of the hotel that only contains 10 rooms. They don’t seem to put people all the way up here unless they are very busy as I think most people like to overlook the swimming pool or the beach.

From our balcony, we can see lawn and palm trees and the first of the huge private villas that sit next to the hotel. It is very quiet most of the time and the noise from the singers who perform in the bar is fairly muffled by the time it reaches up here. We hear the music from the outside restaurants but nowhere near as loudly as if we were overlooking the pool and the noise of the air conditioning covers it even more.

One of the singers on our first night here did an amazing job of massacring Frank Sinatra songs and his rendition of ‘My Way’ will live forever in my memory for the bravery of his interpretation of the tune.

Now I can’t talk when it comes to holding a tune I was born tone-deaf and only sing in my car when I’m on my own so as not to inflict pain on others, but even I’ve never hit quite that many wrong notes – maybe he was having an off day.

Having decided to stay put the unpacking is still on hold due to the paucity of hangers. Hopefully this will soon be rectified as ML has to go up to Cairo for meetings so we are going to try to track some of them down.

We have tried moving some of the furniture around as we are trying to fit either a small sofa or at least one comfy chair into the room. The chairs at the small marble table have wooden arms and padded seats but are no good for curling up in with a good book. We have been scouting out a couple of areas where furniture seems to be stored and once we have a tape measure (another thing to buy in Cairo) we will be able to work out the best place to put it without the room becoming claustrophobic.

Luckily one wall is all glass patio doors out onto the balcony and if we pull back the various layers of curtains the room feels very light and airy. I’m slowly finding homes for our belongings and ML will get used to putting stuff away rather than populating all the surfaces with his belongings. When your living in such a small space being, tidy helps.

The towel animal that one of the cleaners made for ML before I arrived has finally disappeared thank goodness, it had been sitting on my case looking at me for days but when I came back up today it was gone. I can’t say I am sorry as unlike many people I find them slightly creepy and on a par with the dolls that look like real babies. Goosebumps down my spine as I type this, they really do creep me out. Am alone in this I ask myself?

I’ve broken myself of the habit of sticking my toothbrush under the tap and ML found a small supermarket so we were able to buy shampoo, conditioner, soap etc so we don’t have to use the hotels little bottles. I still haven’t managed to find a new hairbrush but found a tiny one at the bottom of my flight bag. The poor comb is still in my wash bag but will never recover from its war wounds.

I am on nodding terms with a number of the cleaners and if I am in the room when they come to clean I just move out onto the balcony it is much easier for them as I usually have wires stretched across the room as I work on the laptop. We will try to get a couple more extension leads when in Cairo as well.

In the restaurant, I now get ushered to a seat by the window and they now know that I like my coffee with cold milk, never warm. At the moment, the hotel is only packed over Thursday, Friday and Saturday but I am sure this will change as the warmer weather kicks in. Unless you go early or late it is difficult to find a seat on these days and the queues along the buffet lines can be slow.

This hotel’s toaster needs the bread to go through two but more often three times before it is suitably crispy regardless of the setting. The bread that is supposed to be used is a white thick square bread but I’ve found that they put out beautiful fresh-baked loaves that are scattered with a variety of seeds. Health and Safety hasn’t gone made here and the guests are trusted to wield a bread knife without cutting their or anybody else’s digits off.

Now this bread put through the toaster comes out with a hard-toasted crust and a rich browned surface. Suitable for piling scrambled egg onto, or any other foodstuff you care to fancy. The combinations are endless and delicious.

Although I nod to the lifeguards and gardeners I can’t say I have got to know them as well yet but I’m sure with time will come familiarity. The gardens are pristine and the ride on lawn mower is in use every day. They are constantly racking and pruning and over the last couple of days replanting some of the flower beds. I have taken some photographs of the various flowers and some of them I recognise but others I will need to investigate and give them their own separate blog.

There is a small group of people who run the games, yoga and other activities, they walk around with brightly coloured t-shirts that say ‘Follow Me’. At other times, I see them dressed in costume to advertise the shows and discos they run for the children in the evening.

There is a vehicle that is disguised as a steam train and it pulls two carriages, it travels between the three different hotels that are part of this complex. As it comes to a corner the driver rings its brass bell to warn people on foot it is coming. Disappointingly both ML and I want it to also make the ‘poop poop’ sound of a steam train whistle but you can’t have everything I suppose. Obviously homesick for either the sound of a real train whistle or Thomas the Tank Engine.

There are many more people to get to know but all that comes with time and I have to concentrate on getting on the right side of the people in the laundry – they hold the fate of my knickers in their hands.

But more of that next time.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.