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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Egypt Day 5: Old Cairo and the Mena House Hotel

 Our new room with a view. 
Itinerary Day 5:  Mena House
"After breakfast, transfer to Mena House Hotel, relax and enjoy day. Optional tour to Old Cairo to visit the Old Churches and Synagogue."
Many of the itinerary days start out with  the words "Breakfast at hotel" or "After breakfast". What the itinerary does not mention is that at all of our hotels, breakfast is included with a truly heroic breakfast buffet.  At both the Cairo Marriott and Mena House the the buffetis spread among several tables and bridging Egyptian, European and Asian cultures. One item is a traditional Egyptian breakfast staple of slow cooked fava beans called "ful mudummas". It is presented with a range of Egyptian spices, oils, and vegetables and mixed individually to taste. Apparently everyone in Egypt has their own unique configuration of "ful". The waiter at both hotels were to see this American sampling the dish for breakfast and eager to properly configure a bowl based on their favorite combination. 

"After breakfast" we tour old "Coptic Cairo". Within a few short blocks are shrines, altars, relics and churches built around some of the most historically important and religiously significant sites in the world.

Saint Mary's "Hanging Church" dates from the 3rd century, contains hundreds of ikons, and is the site of several miracle appearances of Saint Mary.

The Abu Serga or Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, Said to be a site where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus hid from Herod in Egypt. Not sure that I properly sorted out the Abu Serga images from the St. Gregory, St. Mary and Cavern Churches, but we visited them all.

The Church of St Gregory the Illuminator is the only Armenian Apostolic Church in Cairo. The community of Armenian Orthodox made their way to Cairo as refugees after the genocide in Turkey. The church was a mandatory stop on our tour as it was recently restored to it's original glory.

I forgot why Ronald and Nancy Reagan were included in this mosaic, but that's them.
Finally we visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue, possibly the oldest synagogue in the world and said to be built on the site where Moses was plucked from the reeds. The synagogue is maintained as an historical site, but there is no longer a practicing congregation.

Given the recent unpleasantness in a Cairo Coptic Church, now is probably a good time to mention security. Frankly, we had some concerns prior to planning this trip, but since arriving our concerns seem overblown. We find friendly tourists from all over the world at all hotels and sites (but not that many Americans). We feel as safe as we do in any of our foreign travels. There is a great deal of heavily armed security visible at all prominent tourist destinations and infrastructure locations (including the Metro Station we walked by in Coptic Cairo). But the truth is we've seen similar levels of uniformed me with guns, vests and armor all over Europe. It's the new normal in the world we live. Sure there is risk, but it's not any greater in Cairo than Paris, Nice or Brussels. Travel to Egypt is not for everyone, but for those like us who have always wanted to visit ever since poring over National Geographic pictorials as a child, there is simply no better time than now for Americans to tour this incredible country.

After our morning tour of Coptic Cairo, we checked into the Mena House Hotel and explored the grounds of this historic hotel. We didn't feel like a formal dinner so I ventured out of the gated grounds, past the security checkpoints, and on to the streets of Cairo in search of a shawerma sandwich stand. It was a bit of a harrowing walk as I had to cross several wide busy uncontrolled streets to find a stand - I can only compare the experience to the video game of Frogger.

No harm, no foul. Found a great Syrian Shewarma place, managed to navigate the roads back, and we sat out on our balcony intending to enjoy the sandwich and sunset on the pyramids. Then this happened:

The comments on the post were right. I can't complain. It was only one night. And I've been to plenty of corporate events on the other side of the equation. It's all good.

A room with a different view.

Editors Note: I intend to pre-load and schedule automated blog posts with the daily itinerary for our Egypt and Jordan adventure. For those interested, this may be an easy way to follow along. Internet access is always a crapshoot. My hope is that by pre-loading the itinerary it will be easier to add some pics and journal commentary as time and the internet permits. If there are no pics or commentary, you'll just have to wait until we get back. Further!

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