Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 3: The Giza Zoo and Ferry Across the Nile

With the sun coming up so early here, we rarely sleep in.  In fact, it's pretty usual for us to wake up around 5:30, even though it's pretty late when we finally go to bed.  With that being said, we figured that we would get an early start, as we were planning on going to Alexandria via train today.  Plans and reality, however, are two completely different things.

We packed our bags and made our way down to the street where we would flag a taxi.  We took the taxi to the Ramses train station and waited in line to purchase a ticket to Alexandria.  Even though it was around 7 AM when we got to the station, it was pretty crazy.  There are stalls with items for sale everywhere.  I was feeling quite dehydrated, but wanted to get tickets for the train ASAP as I hear they sell out fast in the summer.  Well, the reality was that they were sold out until the next day.  So, we had to find a place to stay.

We walked around the train station and checked in with two hotels nearby.  One was called the Big Ben hotel and the other was was New Cicil or something like that.  Anyway, they both were full. We then made our way back to our hostel and rechecked in.  We decided that we would go out and get some breakfast and maybe walk down to the Nile river and relax.

We went to the Tahrir square bus area, and upon crossing the street, met a very nice young man who helped us cross.  He told us that we had to "walk like an Egyptian" in order to cross.  We found that to be quite humorous, as Beverly was thinking the same thing.  Anyway, he asked us about our trip and if we had visited the Cairo museum yet.  We said no, as we were waiting to see the Valley of the Kings in Luxor first.  We heard that it's best to see the museum after seeing the sites to get a better appreciation for the artifacts within.  He bade us farewell and we made our way to get some falafel at a small cooking area set up outside with many locals congregating.

We then took our food to the Nile, crossing another very busy street.  We thought we would get some peace and quiet along the Nile's corniche, but with motorcycles driving on the sidewalk and the busy street next to it, it was not as quiet as we had hoped for.  However, we were in the shade and that was nice.  We ate our breakfast and then decided that we would go back to the hostel, as we had already had quite a busy day so far.

On our way back we saw some river barges and I asked Beverly if these were the water taxis.  We decided to check, and right as we did, the boat was about to pull out.  We purchased tickets for 1 EGP each and boarded as the boat was leaving.  It was good timing.  We did not know where the river taxi went but we figured it was worth riding.  On board, we noticed that many people had picnic stuff, so we figured it must go to a park of some sort.  We followed the others when we pulled up to the shore on the other side of the Nile and noticed that everyone was going to the Giza Zoo.  We popped in a grocery store and got some fruit, chips, and water and made our way to the zoo.

The zoo is very old and some parts are showing its age.  We saw a wide variety of animals, including birds, lions, tigers, leopard, and some black bears which were pacing in the cage.  We also went into a hyena house which was built in the 1800's.  There was also an elephant and a lot of different monkeys.  One of the monkeys had a very small baby who it would carry around.  Sometimes the baby would try to walk around and climb around the cage. It was adorable.

Somewhere in the zoo was a racoon, which I really wanted to see.  We looked high and low for that thing, but we did not find it.  There were also seals somewhere, but we did not find those either.  At the zoo, many people were trying to sell photos and face painting.  There were also people who would bring you tea or drinks.  We, like many of the families, brought our own food and drinks.  The zoo was pretty busy and the temperature was very hot.

After we visited the zoo we decided to head back to our place to rest.  We did so and later, after a nap, woke up and headed out for dinner.  We decided that we would go to GAD, which is a local restaurant chain which serves a lot of different Egyptian food.  We had gone to one the other day in the market area, but had read that there was one close by where we were staying.  We decided we would head out and find it.

On our way we met with at least three people who wanted us to visit their "factories" to give us their business card.  The funny thing was that they all claimed to be from Minnesota.  In fact, the first guy who we met who actually did bring us into his "factory" had a brother who was in Minnesota, or Minne-snow-ta as he called it.  I am starting to think that Minnesota must either have a huge Egyptian population or be code for something.

Anyway, after finding out that going in a factory to get a business card ends up in a half hour or more sales pitch to buy perfume and papyrus, we kindly said no thanks.  Of course, we generally had to say it a lot: more than just once.  However, eventually they seemed to understand that we are not going into the factory, in truth a shop, and accept that.  A similar tactic was used in Thailand with suit shops and jewelry stores, so we are used to it.  Oftentimes, one is given tea while visiting.  While the hibiscus tea is one of the best things I have ever tasted, I still don't feel that it is worth the hassle.  Besides, the highly refreshing tea is easily purchased on the street for 1 EGP.

After being led in all sorts of directions we finally doubled back and found GAD.  We went upstairs where we got a seat overlooking the street below.  We ordered a pizza and some foul (mashed beans with vegetables mixed in) and some pita bread with Baba Gannoush.  The dinner was very good, but it is very hard to eat here due to not feeling hungry because of the heat.  Therefore, we were not able to finish it and brought the pizza back with us.  After dinner we walked around the shopping area of the city and then through one of the tree lined side streets that is close to our hostel.  There are many seats set up along this street with people smoking Sheesha, or water pipe.

After that, our day was pretty much over.  Tomorrow we will be heading to Alexandria via train.  We look forward to the ride and the chance to see a place that looks to be quite different from Cairo.  We enjoyed our time here in the city and will be back in about a week and a half for at least a day to see some of the sites before heading to the Sinai peninsula.


Metro Market Grocery Store (similar to grocery stores in the US/Europe)
1L 7 UP: 4.96 EGP
1/2 KG Grapes: 7.33 EGP
Small bag of chips: 3.00 EGP
2 apples: 3.33 EGP

Zoo Entry: 20 EGP each for tourists
River Taxi: 1 EGP each, one way
Train - Cairo to Alexandria: Second Class - 35 EGP/ticket

Pizza: 24 EGP
Juice: 5-8 EGP (on the street, it's generally 1-2 EGP)
Foul: 5 EGP
Baba Ganouch: 8 EGP

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