Cairo Day 2: Coptic Cairo and Shar Hashamaim

Initially, we were going to go to the Egyptian Museum, but after Steve talked to the hostel staff, they said the Coptic Museum was much better displayed and more interesting. Their opinion was to wait and go to the Egyptian Museum last. Thus, we hopped on the metro and spent the day in Coptic Cairo. There were many interesting buildings as part of the Coptic Museum complex, unfortunately they confiscate cameras upon arrival, so we didn't end up with many pictures. The museum had a lot of textiles and written material, so the photography ban is understandable. Honestly, when I had to check my camera at the entrance, I wasn't sure if I would see it again. Thankfully, it was unscathed and waiting when we were done at the museum. The museum had a lot of stone reliefs and decorative architecture from several Christian sites across Egypt; however the focus of the museum wasn't a very great interest for me since I don't really know much about Christian or Biblical history. I was kind of upset that we decided to listen to the hostel staff because I was actually really looking forward to the Egyptian Museum.

Steve: I agree that the Coptic Museum was a little underwhelming. I did find it interesting to see how the older Egyptian and other religions influenced the early Christian art.

Another site we saw was the Hanging Church, which I was looking forward to seeing after reading about it online. Unfortunately, it was packed full of tourists and I was greatly off put by the seeming lack of respect shown in the church. It was a very beautiful church with many interesting detail, but the area where you can see it hanging over the Roman Water Gates was a bit of a let down. I expected it to be much less touristy since it was a church, and seeing tons of kids running around unsupervised and people talking loudly as if on the street made me regret going.

After the church, we walked through the cemetery behind the church. It was filled with many beautiful mausoleums and statues. I liked the cemetery much more than the church or museum and it was nice to get away from all of the crowds.

Steve: Abby's abundant interest here was a little bit creepy, but I have to admit that it was very beautiful. Some of the mausoleums were as big as small houses (like the one shown below) and they were all unique and beautiful. It looked like it has been actively used for several centuries, and it is well cared for. There were even a few citrus trees in the cemetery with ripe fruit, but we decided it would be disrespectful to have some of the fruit. On the way out of the cemetary we passed some mausoleums that had actually been converted into homes, probably because of extreme poverty and crowding.

We walked through a couple of shops and St. Sergius church, but again no pictures allowed. We played an intricate game of trying to avoid the salespeople in the shops, because it was really hard to get away from them after they latched on to you. We did find a great map book of Cairo for less than $10 and it was probably our best purchase of the whole trip.

Our next stop was lunch, where we had a great meal of falafel sandwiches. They were delicious and it didn't hurt that the restaurant had a policy that if you were unsatisfied at all you didn't have to pay. Needless to say, we loved it! There were two kitties hanging around while we were waiting on our food, and it was so fun to watch them. We didn't have Algebra at that point, and were missing kitties pretty badly.

Our next stop was Shar Hashamaim, a Jewish synagogue. The metro stop exited right into a huge bazaar and it was a madhouse. We had a bit of trouble figuring out which direction we needed to go; we really needed a compass on more than once instance. After we figured out which way to go, it was pretty easy to find, and it was a small victory each time we managed to find what we were looking for.

We were surprised to find half a dozen armed guards in front of the synagogue. Although after an incident with hurling explosives in February, maybe we shouldn't have been. We had to have our passport information recorded before they would let us in. They seemed pretty surprised when we asked if we were allowed in. The Jewish population in Cairo is pretty small these days, so I'd imagine it doesn't get many visitors. The interior was well maintained and very beautiful. The caretaker also was surprised to see us, but did his best to tell us about the synagogue in his broken English. Again, photos weren't allowed, not even of the exterior of the building!

Steve: The synagogue was definitely the highlight of the day for me. It was quite, peaceful, and well maintained. It seems like so many of the attractions are done up especially for tourists, it was relaxing to find places that were not only historic, but also still fulfilling their original purpose. The caretaker was very nice, and I got the feeling that he was proud of the building, and not just looking for a tip. The exterior was very impressive, and as we had read online, it was reminiscent of a tomb raider movie.

Our evening was pretty laid back; we went to a restaurant that must have been in all of the tourist guidebooks, because it was full of foreigners. The service was especially terrible and left us irritated.

The hostel offered guided tours of three pyramid sites, so we signed up for a tour the following day.

Catch up on the rest of our trip:
Holy Mother of Chaos
Cairo Day 0
Cairo Day 1