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The Hanging Church (El Muallaqa) in Cairo

Old Cairo is that part of Cairo which contains the remnants of old cities that were capitals before Cairo. This part of the city is home to many tourist attractions like the Hanging Church(El Muallaqa), the Coptic Museum and the remains of an old Roman Fortress.

During our trip to Old Cairo, we visited the Hanging Church (Saint Virgin Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church) which is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. The church is called the 'Hanging Church' because the approach to the main body of the church is suspended over a passage.

There is a narrow courtyard in the front which is decorated with beautiful biblical designs. The mosaic art work depicts the Holy story and are very interesting.

There are 29 steps leading to the church. The church facade features twin bell towers. The interiors are wonderfully maintained for such an old church. The intricately carved walls, doors and windows, the wooden carved ceiling and the hanging lights - everything is so beautiful.

There is a section in the church where there is a glass floor and you can see the remains of the Roman fort's foundations. Entry to the church is free and there is no one to hassle you. No vendors. You can spend your time peacefully and take in the beauty of the church at your own pace. The church still holds services and at such times visitors/tourists may not be allowed inside. There are 110 holy icons inside the church with the oldest dating back to the 8th century.

According to me the Hanging Church is the most interesting of attractions in Coptic Cairo. It looks quaint and old-world from the outside and from the inside - it is even more beautiful. Definitely worth visiting. A day's visit covered the Hanging Church, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali(the Albaster Mosque) and the Khan-el-Khalili market with enough time to spend at all the places.


The Oasis Hotel in Cairo

On our visit to Cairo, we stayed at the Oasis Hotel for a few nights. Located in Giza, it is quite close to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. The hotel is set in 9 acres of lovely landscaped gardens and also has a palm forest. It is a mix of luxury hotel with a resort.

What I liked was that all the rooms were single storeyed and are set around the lovely garden. The rooms were of a decent size, spacious and well furnished. The beds were quite comfortable. The room had a mini fridge and cable satellite TV(with English channels). The AC was remote controlled and worked :)

The bathrooms were big with a bath and well stocked with toileteries. The hotel also had wireless internet access which is not included in the room price.

The hotel has a Bedouin restaurant which serves international cuisine. There is a coffee shop and a bar as well. There is another restaurant called Palmyra and a lobby bar and cafe too. The buffet meals had a decent selection of hot and cold food. But it was disappointing that there was not much on offer in terms of Egyptian cuisine.

For recreation there is a fully equipped gym, a swimming pool, tennis court, steam and sauna room and a basketball court. Most of these are however paid services. So you need to check with the reception about the prices.

There were two things that I disliked or were a minus point:
1. There is no supermarket or store of any kind in the vicinty. Even if you wanted to, you could not go out as there is nothing around. So you end up buying water at 5 times the price that you would get in a supermarket. Thats what we did on the first day. On our way back to the hotel after the day's sight seeing, we picked up water and snacks from the supermarket. A wise thing because there is no point paying 4-5 times the price for water.
2. If you are exchanging currency, then double check with the reception staff about the exchange rate. And also check the amount that is handed to you after conversion. Best thing is to avoid getting money exchanged at the hotel. Banks are the best and you will find many when you go sight seeing.
Though the hotel is far from the aiport(about an hour) and the main Cairo city, it is a pleasant place to stay. If you can overlook that fact and the fact that there is no shop within walking distance, then you can consider this hotel.

The Oasis Hotel
Cairo-Alex Desert Road
PO Box 44 Pyramids 12556
Cairo - EGYPT
Phone: (+202) 38387333 - 38387666

The Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan

Located in a granite quarry in Aswan is the largest known ancient obelisk called the Unfinished Obelisk. It is said that obelisk was commissioned by Queen Hatshepsut. During the carving process, cracks appeared and the carving was abandoned. Had the obelisk been completed successfully, it would have been the heaviest obelisk ever at a weight of nearly 1100 tons.

The quarry has been cleared of debris and rubble ans is open to public. There are wooden walkways and steps to guide you along the quarry. You can get a birds eye view from the viewing area at the end of the unfinished obelisk. There is nothing much to see here though. The site is not for people with mobility issues. There is no shade either to escape from the heat. You can skip this if you are short of time. According to me it is an over-rated attraction and a waste of time and money.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities / The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

With around 1.2 lakh items, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is the largest museum in Egypt. It is also called as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Not all items are on display though because of the lack of space. A new museum big enough to house all the items is currently being built. The current museum is located in Tahir Square.

The museum has two floors with the lower floor mainly for the large statues while the upper floor has the smaller items like jewellery, weapons, small statues and the mummies. The museum is divided into seven sections with the first one housing King Tutankhamun's treasures. The second section includes items from the Old Kingdom while the third section has items from the Middle Kingdom. Artifacts relating to the Modern Kingdom can be found in the fourth section while those from the Roman era can be seen in the fifth section. The seventh section is home to sacrophagi. There is also a separate section for the royal mummies which requires an additional ticket apart from the main entrance ticket. It costs 100 Egyptian Pounds and can be purchased from the ticket counter outside Room 1.

The most famous items on display are undoubtedly the items that were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. You will find jewellery, weapons, vases and loads of items in solid gold. The most interesting one is the famous Gold Mask of King Tutankhamun. Photography is not allowed inside the museum and you have to deposit your cameras outside. Hence I have no pictures of the museum from the inside. All I have are some pictures taken from the outside.

It is wise to go with a guide because the signage in the museum is very difficult to read and not  descriptive either. Some sections did not have any signage at all. You would need a guide to show you the important pieces and explain the history attached to it unless you are very well versed with Egyptian history. Overall, a must visit while you are in Cairo.

Sand in a bottle - Egyptian Sand Art

On our visit to the Bedouin village, we got a chance to watch an experienced sand artist at work. These artists create beautiful pieces of art by filling glass bottles with coloured sand. The amazing part is how the sand takes shape into amazing pieces of art. It could be something as simple as your name or as complex as desert landscapes with camels. However, for the artist its a piece of cake. You just tell them what you want and they will have it ready in minutes. It was amazing watching the artist at work. He filled up different coloured sand in the bottle and gave it shape with a slender stick, packed the bottle tightly with sand and then sealed it off with glue. He said that there is no risk of shaking and you can carry it in your luggage without any worries.

This is one of the most common souvenirs that tourists take back home. Not just at the bedouin village, but in all tourist destinations in Egypt, you will find street sellers with their small stalls working away at creating different designs. We saw these street artist near the Giza pyramids and Sphinx and lots of them in Cairo and Hurghada as well.

It is not just a glass bottle with sand, but it is like a piece of Egyptian culture and history - one of the most common street art in Egypt.