November 6 – 17
After lunch, we arrived at the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and Mosque of Al-Refaei (Royal Mosque) both located at the same site. Our first stop would be at Sultan Hassan, which along with its Madrassa (Arabic word for any type of educational institution, secular or religious, whether for elementary instruction or higher learning) was built between 1356 and 1363 during the Bahri Mamluk period, commissioned by Sultan an-Nasir Hasan.
The mosque was thought remarkable for its massive size and innovative architectural components and is still considered one of the most impressive historic monuments in Cairo today. It’s construction is considered all the more remarkable as it coincided with the devastation wrought by the Black Plague, which struck Cairo repeatedly from the mid-14th century onwards.
We entered the outer portion and removed our shoes, handing them over for safe keeping at a check desk.
Mahmoud then proceeded to give us background on how one prepares to pray, the ritual of adopting a proper attitude for the time to pray. We walked inside the Mosque and paused in the central courtyard, admiring the sheer size of the building.
From there we entered the Mausoleum Chamber where we were met by one of the Iman’s of the mosque who demonstrated a call for prayer, the one used by this religion to alert its followers to the particular prayer called for at that time of day (Fajr – the dawn prayer, Zhuhr – the early afternoon prayer, Asr – the late afternoon prayer, Maghrib – the sunset prayer, and Isha’a – the night prayer).
Finished, we collected our shoes and filed out, walking between the walls of the two mosques to enter Mosque of Al-Refaei. Constructed in two phases over the period between 1869 and 1912, it was architecturally conceived as a complement to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan. This was part of a campaign by the 19th century rulers of Egypt to both associate themselves with the perceived glory of earlier periods in Egypt’s Islamic history and modernize the city.
The mosque is the resting place of members of Egypt’s royal family, including Sultan Hussein Kamel, Sultan and King Fuad I, and King Farouk, whose body was interred here after his death in Rome in 1965. The mosque served briefly as the resting place of Reza Shah of Iran, who died in exile in the Union of South Africa in 1944.
He was buried in Cairo following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and part of the burial chamber is currently occupied by his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran until his overthrow in the 1979 Revolution, who died in Cairo in July 1980.
We completed our circuit of the various tombs and left the complex, loading up the van and heading to the hotel that Marco and Roberto would be staying at for the next day or so. They departed with Mahmoud and we all bid each other a fond farewell, so glad to have spent the tour with these unique and interesting folks. From there, our remaining group embarked on a march of epic proportions, taking a number of wrong turns until we reached our destination, Pub 28, with its fondly remembered cold beer.
Before we parted company with Paula and Katie, we stopped in at Gelato Mio for some pretty good ice cream and then after saying goodbye to these two new friends, we grabbed a taxi to take us back to the AraCan, where we hung out for a few hours before walking up the street to get dinner at Chicken Tikka, a Cairo based modern looking fast casual dining experience.
Joanna and I split a very nice plate of chicken cooked a couple of ways along with rice and steamed vegetables, mopping it all up with a couple of pieces of warm pita bread. Although not what you would call a typical Egyptian meal (then again, what is typical?), it was filling, tasty, fairly healthy and would hold us over until our flight to come after midnight, all for a total price of a little under $10.
Walking back to the hotel we stopped in at La Poire, an upscale bakery with a wide selection of baked desserts and chocolates and purchased an assortment to take back to the room with us, where we dawdled and munched until it was time to head to the airport for the flight home. Our departure time was scheduled for 2:00am and this would give our old nemesis, Jenny Manetta, an opportunity to monkey with our plans.
The problem with post-midnight departures is date confusion; we were flying out Sunday morning the 17th but leaving for the airport Saturday evening the 16th. We made a reservation for the same shuttle service that had picked ups up at the airport for 10:00 pm to give us plenty of time to get to the airport and clear customs. We waited for about 30 minutes until the dawning realization arrived that things might have gone awry, confirmed when we checked the reservation online only to discover that we had made it for the 17th, not the 16th.
Curse you Jenny Manetta!! We quickly called for an Uber and around the time it was supposed to arrive, we saw what looked like a Nissan Altima idling across the wide boulevard in front of us, waiting, and then finally pulling away. Double damn you Jenny Manetta!! Walking back into the hotel we asked the bellman if he could call a taxi for us, which he did. After what seemed like a long wait (it likely was just a few minutes) it pulled up, and as we would come to understand later, particularly after he took us to the wrong terminal and seemed not to familiar with the airport, it was likely he was some relative of the bellman’s, picking up a little extra cash late on a Saturday night.
Long story short, we finally got to the airport with a couple of hours to spare (thankfully we’d allowed for complications) only to discover that our flight was delayed an hour. But getting there was a quintessential snapshot of the Egypt we’d come to enjoy, a seemingly chaotic randomness where somehow everything works out in the end. Once you put aside the dirt, and the trash, and the constant harassment from the vultures, the combination of history and welcoming attitude of those not after your money makes for a fascinating place to visit.
This trip would end up being more expensive than what we typically spend, taking a guided tour upping the ante quite a bit, bringing us in at an average cost per day of $347 for the two of us.
But I’m not sure we would have tackled Egypt any other way; maneuvering the language barrier (both written and spoken) and the chaos would have been a tough go, no doubt manageable but why not take the easy way out in this case?
And so, Egypt will stick with us for a long time and provided a great lead up to our next venture, two weeks in Mexico, to take place a day after our return. And so, for now we’ll leave the land of the pyramids and climb on that plane for home.
Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan: http://www.egypt.travel/en/attractions/sultan-hassan-mosque-and-madrassa
Mosque of Al-Refaei: http://www.egypt.travel/attractions/al-rifai-mosque/
Gelato Mio: http://www.gelato-mio.com/
La Poire: http://www.lapoire.me/