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Friday, 25 January 2008

Visit to Citadel and St Simon the Tanner etc - 24th January 2008

Edited 9/10/2008 - if you are looking for info about the Mokkatam landslide then this is my blog about it: 6th September Mokkatam landslide info

Edited 11/2/2008 to include map of walking route from Citadel to St Simon

On 24th January I visited the Citadel, St Simon the Tanner Church (part of The Cave Churches), Zebuleen town, Museum of Modern Art with a friend from the olden days of Fortis Green - who I hadn't seen for 18 years and who fetched up in Egypt this week! This is our day:

I’ll include the taxi fares and entrances etc we did so people can have an idea of what is/isn’t reasonable to pay.

Met my friend and her friend near the Egyptian Museum – wondering if I would recognize her after 18 YEARS!! (she looks exactly the same LOL) and we took a taxi up to the Citadel. The power of my taxi-fare negotiating skills was such that it cost the 3 of us (2 dressed exactly like regular tourists) 15LE. Could probably have argued for 10LE but we were keen to get going and between 3 of us, that was ok.

More photos I took around the Citadel:

It was 40LE each to get in. We did the usual grockle stuff (but without going into some of the museum parts which would have required extra entrance fees), only succumbing to 1 x 5LE icecream each.

Word to the wise – wear black or meaningless socks... The inside of the Mohammed Aly mosque is gorgeous – though my friend’s guide book said it was gaudy and dreadful :) We didn’t pay a guide at all – someone tried to attach himself to us and when I said ‘bekam’ he said ‘you can guess’. I said ‘hamsa’ – he said ‘you mean hamseen – hamsa sifra’ I said ‘er no I don’t’.

We allowed the young man who was dishing out menus for the Citadel Cafe to get a bit pally with us (I will marry all 3 – I am very strong – you don’t know what I mean – I said I’m from 6 October, I know exactly what you mean!) and he gave us some useful free info on the Guest Palace – where Mohammed Aly used to invite guests and then kill them – or something like that anyway! We went in the Guest Palace and there was obviously some really important dude in there visiting because there were lots of men in black types around.

Its quite fun actually for the millions of ‘where you froms’ to answer ‘sitta Aktoober’. They go away quite quickly then – might be worth saying it even if you’re not!

We saw some school girls eating koshary and asked them where they got it, and they said they got it from a cafe outside somewhere and tried to explain but I got a bit confused with the al atools, shemels etc.

Anyway, then we saw the very strong (!) young man again and he showed us how to get out of the Citadel and gave us the directions to the koshary place again.

We walked down from the Citadel to the right and saw a bus station and fruit market. I accosted a very old man on a crutch and said ‘aiza amil koshary’ so he did eating gestures and said koshary back, and then proceeded to lead the three of us to the koshary shop! It was a traditional Egyptian eating house. One of us didn’t eat due to not feeling too well, but the other 2 of us had a big koshari, a small koshari and 2 cans of Seven Up for 9LE between us.

I then got a taxi for the friend who wasn’t feeling well as she really didn’t want to come to garbage town and said she’d rather go to the Egyptian Museum. 10LE from Citadel to Egyptian Museum. My other friend and I then tried to get a taxi to the St Simon place. Now I had printed pictures off the internet, said it was near the Zebaleen place, and the guy swore he knew where it was.... never believe a taxi driver :( and we agreed 15LE because we didn’t know where it was either – we ended up paying 20LE for the magical mystery tour and were gutted to discover that we could have walked it from the Citadel if we had known where we were going!!!!

Erm.... at the top of Moqattam Hills – when he tried to drop us outside a random church, I decided that actually, he didn’t know where he was so I rang another friend's Egyptian husband who talked to him. He didn’t know where it was either but he was able to explain in arabic where we were trying to go.

Here it is in Arabic so you can show a taxi driver:

Eventually he found the entrance to the Zebaleen town, and drove us through some of the grungiest streets imaginable up to the entrance to the monastery and church.

There’s no entrance fee, but I bought a small guide book for 10LE, and we paid 2LE in backsheesh to get a look into the part behind the wooden screens.

More photos I took around St Simon the Tanner:
St Simon the Tanner

Well, it was fabulous. The church is cut out into the rocks in honour of a miracle where St Simon (Samaan) moved the Moqatam Mountain (haven’t read up on it yet so not sure what was involved exactly!) and was built in the 1970s (haven’t read my guide book yet!). There’s carvings in the rocks and paintings etc. and its an amphitheatre. Also there are some clean toilets (1LE backsheesh each) and a cafe area. We only saw 4 other tourists while we were there including 2 Canadians of obvious Egyptian extraction, plus a few small groups of Egyptian young adults.

After having a good look round (but there was more we could have seen if we weren't tired out) we decided to go back to the Citadel as we wanted to see some old city walls where you can climb up inside etc which I found by accident over a year ago near the Citadel and for the life of me can find no reference in any guide books.

We walked back through Zabaleen town (if you do this – wear ‘stout boots’ – this is no place for ship-ships (flip flops) or sandals.). Loads of people said hello to us, all the women seem to be called Marie, Kristina or Katherina. Some of the kids said ‘hello – money’ and we said ‘no’. I guess if you do this trip then take sweets or pens or something so you can give them out. But everyone was very friendly. We didn’t notice the smell after a while.

Its a shame we couldn’t get to see any of the recycling projects they have there, I have emailed the APE place but no answer yet. I will continue trying to find out about any official visits they might do.

We got back to the Citadel and were deciding what to do – both somewhat weary – and a taxi driver persuaded us that he knew where the old city walls were – and I specified the climbing up and he said ‘yes yes’ but he obviously didn’t know (again!) – but here’s the interesting bit. The taxis wait at the bottom of the Citadel for tourists coming from the Citadel and are supposed to take it in turns (a queue! in Egypt! of taxi drivers!!!!) LOL. But, we hadn’t come from the Citadel so we had seen the chap at the back first. Anyway, my little bit of Arabic came in very handy again. He agreed he would take us for 10LE, then a dust up started between the drivers, and one of them was saying to me ‘where you go where you go’ I told him and he said 40LE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My driver started going ‘yetekallim arabi yetekallim arabi – ashra gine’ (she speaks arabic, she speaks arabic, 10LE) anyway, we stuck with him. Now, he drove us to the city walls but not the bit I had intended. Then he drove us over to Old Cairo and he said ‘don’t pay me now, I will wait for you FREE for 1 hour!!!!!!!!!!’. Ok we said. But we found that all the Old Cairo places had just closed for the day and we spotted a Metro station (Mar Girgiz) so we went back, paid the driver and said we thought we would be a long time not that we’d found a metro station. Anyway, if anyone wants his number, let me know!!

Then we took the Metro back to Sadat, walked down to the Opera House and had a mooch round. Then went to the Museum of Modern Art which is there – 10LE each to get in (by the way there's a fabulous picture in there called 'Port Said Battle' - see on link below - the colours of the fires make it so real) and finished up with cups of tea, juice and cakes and a good old natter to catch up on 18 years. We walked back over the river to Sadat and then made our separate ways home.

Total cost for 2 of us (have removed the costs of the girl who left half way through) including all entrance fees, guide book, backsheesh etc etc was 200LE – of which 100LE was Citadel and Museum of Modern Art, 40LE was icecream, koshari, Seven Up, tea, lemon juice, 10LE guide book, 6LE backsheesh (toilets/church etc) and the rest was taxi fares. Not bad we thought. If we had known where the Zebulan place was and had been prepared to walk up there, we could have saved another 20LE and if we had taken sandwiches and flasks we could have saved even more :D :D

My friend is not British (though she has lived there a long time) and is from a country much poorer than Egypt, and had some interesting perspectives of some aspects of Egypt which I will see if I can get her to write up when she returns home.

More info about:


St Simon the Tanner

NEW (Sept 2009): The cave churches at Mokattam - videos, photos, ministry


Museum of Modern Art

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