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[Entry 12] I can't think of a snappy title about mosques.

11 December 201002:04PMepic-triptravel

This morning we woke up on a sleeper train (with no idea how we got there! No, I jest.) which was a lot classier than the first sleeper train we were on. Trains are actually a great way to travel- if you're not throwing up, that is, like I was the first time. We went straight from the train station into central Cairo to visit a mosque. It actually made quite a nice change from pharonic (which is what the Egyptians call the ancient Egyptians) temples.

The mosque was nothing special to look at, but we did get a sort of mini- lesson on the pillars of Islam, which for the sake of something to write about, I'll sort of summarise. Islam is based on five ideas, ('pillars'):

  1. The belief that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his last prophet.
  2. Prayer five times a day.
  3. Fasting through the month of Ramadan.
  4. You should donate 2.5% of your wealth to the poor.
  5. Once in your life, if you can, make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

It's the usual jumbled collection of accreted traditions, with a couple of decent ideas at the core. They don't treat women as harshly as western media would have you believe (women actually have some rights men don't have- for example, what a woman earns is hers and hers alone, whereas the husband is obligated to share his income) but still fairly conservative. It makes about the same amount of sense to me as Christianity or any other religion (ie, none at all) but it's a stark contrast with the way I think people would like to perceive it sometimes, as preaching hate and death and destruction. It really is just another fairly standard monotheistic religion.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't meant to be sitting on this.

After the mosque we visited the Gayer-Anderson museum, which is this house almost attached to the mosque which was owned by a British man in the early 20th century. The attraction is that it's done in typical Islamic style and was restored from a 16th century structure by the englishman. Everything was very ornate and middle-eastern looking. Possibly my favourite part was the secret room (I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff, can you tell?) which could be used by the women to spy on their potential husbands before they married them.

Finally, we visited the Kahn al-Khalili (or however you spell it) bazaar. By this point we were both a bit sick of bazaars, so we wandered for a bit and went back to the coffee shop where our guide was waiting. This particular coffee shop was 200 years old and still operating. In Australia if something was 200 years old it would've been shut down and heritage listed and turned into a museum. But this coffee shop is still running, in the same family, and still selling bad western coffee, good turkish coffee, and shisha.

She was smoking, not me. Dad just made me hold it for the photo. Honest.

Officially, that was the end of our tour. Unofficially, we went to another Gad (an egyptian chain restaurant) and had kebabs and things for lunch. It wasn't quite as good as the place we went last night to avoid the train food, which was rather amusingly called Maccas. We couldn't find it to start off with (it was supposedly near the Aswan train station), and we almost ended up eating at one of the dodgy cafeteria joints alongside the station, until we asked a horse carriage man for directions and he offered to take us there for five pounds. It turned out it was just around the corner and five pounds was probably a bit of a rip-off, but we were so happy to have found the place that we paid him anyway and then tipped him a couple of pounds on top of that.

The food there was incredibly good. The way it works in Egypt, you order your meal, and before it comes out they bring out this selection of dips (hummus and babaganoush) and salad-stuff and vegetables and stuffed vine leaves and all kinds of other things, along with flatbreads. You could actually just have that as a meal, but then they bring out whatever it was you ordered, usually with rice, and you look at it and think, 'There is no way in hell I'm going to fit all that in'. But you do, cause it's tasty. There's always left over starters though, so it's good to eat as a group because they bring the same amount out whether it's one person or five. If you're ever in Aswan, by the way, Maccas is one street out (forwards) as you leave the station, and about a block to the left. Don't fall for the sleazy guys shoving menus in your face. And if you get lost, just ask a horse driver for help. :)

MAKKAZ!

One more funny (sort of) story before my battery dies. After we got back to the hotel, we realised that neither of us had any socks for tomorrow, so we decided to buy some. This involved not only crossing the street, but trying to find somewhere that sold socks in an all-Arabic local shopping mall. Of course there was no Big W or anything, so after wandering up five floors on broken escalators (or maybe just stopped, who can tell) we found a sports clothes store and ended up paying about 90 pounds for 3 pairs each, which works out to about $3 a pair, which is a little expensive, but hey. Now that I reread that, it wasn't really that funny (except the escalators) but it was a pretty surreal experience to have, trying to buy socks on the other side of the world in a dingy old shopping mall. Anyway.

Oh, and just a quick heads up on our plans for France. We're sort of planning on doing some walking while we're there seeing as we have hiking shoes with us, even though it might be a bit cold. We figure there'll always be a couple of trails or something around country towns, and the guidebook we have has city walks in it planned out. But if anyone knows anywhere good to walk in France, drop me a line. Also if anyone is going to be in France or Italy at any point, also email me. I'm already meeting one person in Paris around new year, so hopefully I can add to that.

Cairo is dirtier than Aswan or Luxor, and so I miss home if only for the clean streets. Postcards will be on their way tomorrow, and I'll probably see you before they get back. And that's about all.

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