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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Al Azhar Park & Khan El Khalili

Yesterday I spent a few hours with friends old and new.

We met up outside Mogamma and took a taxi up to Al Azhar Park. (10LE due to our fantastic bargaining skills!). The entrance fee cost 28LE for the 4 of us.

I have only been to Al Azhar Park once before, in the dark, so it was great to see it in the day time. 2 of the others had never been before at all. If you have never been it is a very attractive, well-maintained place with landscaped gardens, including many water features.

There are fabulous views over all of Cairo – it is close to the Moqattam Hills and the Citadel and, because the air was so clear yesterday, we also managed to catch a glimpse of the pyramids in the distance.

There are a number of cafes and restaurants dotted around but be warned they all have minimum charges varying from 25LE to 55LE per person. Luckily I had stopped off at the Giza bakery on the way and my 8.5LE bag of buns served us well and is feeding me today too! We were rather thirsty but came across a little stall selling cans of drink and icecreams.

We stayed there until sunset and the muted blues and oranges of the sky were lovely.

We then took a taxi (10LE again – more fantastic bargaining skills !) over to Khan El Khalili. We visited Al Hussein Mosque. We went in the women’s entrance. It was crowded with women and children pushing and shoving and we went through to the area where it is claimed that the head of the Prophet’s (pboh) grandson is kept. To be honest, we didn’t really find the experience of visiting this mosque uplifting. It was a shame I think that we couldn’t go into the main area which, glimpsed through the mens door, seemed to be very different from what we were able to see. Next time it would be nice to visit Al Azhar Mosque if its possible to contrast the two.

We then made our way to eat at the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe/Restaurant. The restaurant has quite a plain, simple grace to it and served ‘traditional’ Egyptian food in an upmarket way, prices not too bad as a treat, but its definately not GAD!!! (Falafels or koshari 14LE, other dishes - chickens, pigeons etc 60-70LE)

After that, we took a wander round Khan El Khalili. I’ve managed to avoid this place in all my time in Egypt and it was much quieter than I had imagined, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the low-key hassle we got from the shopkeepers. Some of them are very funny – ‘everything here is 100% discount’ ‘everything here today is free’ ‘how can I part you from your money today’ ‘whatever you want I have it’. All lit up in the dark it was like an Aladdin’s Cave. Here you could buy lots of brassware, scarves, galibayas, perfumes, rugs, lamps. Worth a visit after all.

Another 10LE taxi took us back to Ramses Station where we went our separate ways by bus and metro.
It was a beautiful relaxing day with many different impressions of Cairo, ancient and modern, blending themselves together in that unique Cairean style.


It was an amazing day for me seeing Cairo in a way I had never seen it before. The park is high above the city, green, with water features everywhere; tranquil above the noise and bustle of the city and the view was wonderful. At sunset the buildings old and new were outlined through pastel colours of the evening sky.

A taxi ride to Khan el Khalili took us to the world below with vibrant colours, the air full of exotic perfumes and funny, friendly people to make you smile.

The restaurant was expensive, but part of the whole experience - worth paying more for a day you will remember forever!

(links etc to be added in a few days when not in a hurry!)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Nutcracker Ballet - Cairo 26th December

A group of us girlies went to the ballet last night - Nutcracker Suite at the Cairo Opera House.

It was a great evening - the place was full. The foyer of the Opera House had a very wintery theme with some mannequins done up in fabulous costumes. There was a also an area set aside with some handicrafts - vey good quality - embroidered tunics, tableware, carved wooden bowls etc.

I'm not too familiar with ballet though I've seen Nutcracker on tv when I was a kid and I think I saw Swan Lake once - again when I was a kid - so this was a relatively new experience for me.

The ballet was composed by Tchaikovsky. Set in the nineteenth century. The story is basically about a Christmas party - gorgeous costumes - and a young girl's dream after the party ends when she comes back into the 'ballroom' for want of a better word, shrinks in size, the mice are now as big as her and the toys come to life. In particular, the nutcracker comes to life as a prince and whisks her of to a magical winter wonderland.

The second act has the famous dances especially the arabian dance (which was exquisite) and the russian dance (cue cute kids alert). I really liked the scenery during the second act.

The lead female soloist dancers were Russian but most of the 'corps de ballet' appeared to be Egyptian.

I would say it was a predominantly Egyptian audience last night. There appeared to be several big groups of people who had all come together. I saw quite a few guys in 'black tie' including DJ and dickie bow.

The row behind us was entirely Egyptian women so I don't know if they had come unaccompanied by men or not.

It was a lovely evening especially for this time of year.

If anyone is interested to go, I think its playing until 30th December and there are 2 matinee performances (probably more kids will be at those) on 2 of the days. Our tickets were 50LE and we were on the middle balcony. I think seats are 25 - 75LE depending where you sit.

info about the Nutcracker Ballet

Cairo Opera Ballet Company

Cairo Opera House

Thursday, 25 December 2008

St Pixels Online Virtual Church

11pm Egypt Time (9pm GMT) today - St Pixels online Christmas Service

Well its Christmas Day today. Not a big deal for me - I have avoided Christmas for the past 15 years or so for personal reasons (not sad ones just for info!). However, I know it is a time when many people, especially those far from home, miss family and friends, and also some of the Christmas traditions like going to Church.

About 18 months ago I read an article in The Church Times about an online church called St Pixels Even though I don't 'do' church I was interested in the idea as I have been a consumer of online communities for many years and realise the potential they have for developing friendships and support networks spanning the globe in many spheres of life.

Last night, I once again posted a link to this church on one of the Egypt forums I frequent for anyone who was missing their Christmas church. There was an online carol service last night and tonight at 9pm UK time (11pm Egypt Time) there is an online Christmas service. However, this time I decided to check it out for myself to see how long it took to load and the format of the online service.

For me, it took 20 minutes from initial registration to entering the online service. I already have java on my computer so not sure how long extra you would need to allow if you don't already have it.

Ok process -

First you need to register on the site, this takes the usual form these days of registering, confirmation email etc.

Then, for St Pixels Live your computer needs to be able to run java - most computers can, but if its not your own computer then ability may have been turned off. (You can check if you have got java by clicking on this Chat Room demo demo to see if you have got java on your computer. If you get an orange box with the word Java on it and then a chat room login page, then you should be ok for this. Otherwise you will have to download it.

This downloads and there are details on the site of what to do at various stages.
Eventually you will have an icon appear on your desktop for St Pixels. Click it and you get a plan of a church up in the top right hand corner. If you wait a few moments, you will see number coming up showing the number of people in the various areas of the church so you can see if they are in the Sanctuary (for the service) or the Bar (for random chatting).

The service is led in a top box where the various elements that you would normally hear read out are posted. You can interact in the lower box if you wish though it seemed most people didn't. At some point organ music started coming out so you could connect to either speakers or headset and sing along if you wish. At this point I had a phone call so was not able to see if they put the words up for those whose memory may be a little rusty on the subject of Hark The Herald Angels Sing.

I returned later to 'the Bar' and chatted to a few people - you don't have to be religious to join, and I was assured that a couple of atheists attend regularly. I did say that just because I don't do Church doesn't mean I'm an atheist!
As ever with online forums there are rules to follow and St Pixels has a set of core values which you should agree to before joining - basically around tolerance of people with different opinions, not taking offence at things and so on and so forth.

Here is a quick one page summary of the site: St Pixels in one page

I think this is a great idea whether you are big on church or not. In fact the more I am looking at it, I'm thinking its a gorgeous site - very attractive to look at and use, its quality work!

Online worshipping communities:
These are links simply as a service to my readers, I have not tried them out and cannot speak for any views or otherwise expressed therein... (I will add to this list as and when I become aware of places!)


St Pixels

The Internet Church


Cyber Synagogue


I haven't been able to find an online mosque yet, but apparently there's one in Second Life:
article about Virtual Mosque in Second Life
Another possibility is a new virtual Muslim world
Muxlim Pal
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