Malta in November


Holiday Diary continued…

Thursday 24th November 2022

Woke to a cloudy morning, but not actually raining. Went for a run. There were fishermen today when we ran beside the coast, casting their lines into the grey sea. After a quick shower we walked round the corner, and found a tiny café next to the law court. We had coffee and croissants while watching the criminals arriving! (Rather fun to try and guess who was a lawyer and who was the criminal and what crimes they committed. Especially exciting if someone arrived with a police escort. I didn’t take photos, as I didn’t want to end up in court myself.)

I read some more of my Ethics book (this is part of my college course, and I have to write a review on it, and it is NOT an easy read. More like reading an encyclopedia than a textbook.) Gave up after a couple of hours, and we drove to Gnejna Bay. Much more fun than a boring textbook. It was windy, and there were kite-surfers jumping the waves. We ate ice-creams (not very nice ones, I think mine had melted and refrozen) and watched the surfers enjoying the wind.

Drove towards a red fort, which looked exciting from a distance but more like a public loo when we arrived. We could also see a pyramid, far away in the distance. We worked out it was on Gozo, but there was NOT a pyramid on Gozo, so we were confused. Husband stopped for a walk (not my choice) and we strolled across scrubby land towards a tower. Malta is full of towers. Some are beautiful, some are imposing, this was neither.

We then followed signs to Popeye Village. This was my choice. We weren’t sure what to expect — possible a hotel complex or water park, maybe just a hamlet with a cute name. It turned out to be a film set, used in the Popeye film. We didn’t pay to go in, as you could see it across the bay. It was rather fun. There was a car park with a restaurant (and toilets) and a surprising number of other people had driven down the narrow lane to see the village.

Dinner in Café Sei as Papannis was closed on Thursdays. We found it by using Trip Advisor, but I’m suspicious the reviews weren’t authentic. It was okay, and our food was pleasant, but it wasn’t worth the reviews it had received.

Friday 25th November

On the 25th November, Christmas arrives in Malta. We woke to sunshine. After our run, we had coffee and croissants on the balcony, looking across Republic Square to the blue sea in the distance. It was nice, though noisy as builders working on the Grand Palace opposite had their radio on full blast. Valletta IS noisy. If you live in a city you probably wouldn’t notice, but it was vastly different to our home in the countryside — not unpleasant, just different.

We drove to St. Paul’s Bay. This is where St.Paul was shipwrecked in Bible times. I assume there were fewer buildings in those days, though the hills would have been the same. We drove round the bay, and looked across the water to St.Paul’s Island (which has a giant statue of St.Paul on it).

We then drove to Selmun Palace. This was built by a charity who were raising funds to ransom Christians who had been enslaved by the Ottomans. The palace was beautiful, set on a hill top, and very ornate. I’m not sure it was very good use of funds though — I suspect the enslaved Christians would have preferred the money had been used to set them free. Apparently, there were so many people that needed rescuing that the charity had a lottery to decide who would be ransomed. Tough if your name didn’t get picked. The palace was used as a hunting lodge, and knights would stay there and hunt rabbits — the income was used to free more slaves. (Though I am deeply suspicious that the cost of the building was more than any income raised.)

Dinner at Papannis. Lovely. The bar under our apartment had live music tonight, which lasted until very late. Not so lovely.

Saturday 26th November

We woke to the sound of cranes at 6am. Short night. Yesterday, people were talking about heavy rain storms, but it was still dry so we went for a run. We have learnt that in Malta, if it’s going to rain heavily there is very little warning — a few drips and then an instant deluge. We therefore abandoned our normal route along the coast and ran in the streets near the apartment. We saw lots of Christmas lights, and a Nativity scene (as I said yesterday, Christmas arrives on 25th November in Malta). As soon as we felt the first drips of rain, we raced back to the apartment. We got inside just as it started to pour.

There was a big storm. It tripped the fuse so we had no electricity for a while, and the bedroom roof started to leak so I put a saucepan underneath to catch the drips. We ate toast and coffee in the apartment, and I tried (many times) to photograph the forked lightening over the sea, but failed.

After lunch, we walked quickly to the car park and collected the car. We drove to ‘Clapham Junction’ which is so named because there are lines of cart tracks in the rock. No one knows exactly when the tracks were made — some people date them back as early as the Phoenicians — at least earlier than 700 BC. They are at a prehistoric site near Siġġiewi. We parked (no signs, so needed to follow Google maps) and started to walk towards where we thought they might be. But then it rained, so we hopped back into the car. Drove to a viewpoint on Dingli Cliffs (basically all grey and windy). The rain stopped, so we drove back to look at the tracks. It took us a while to find them, but once we had seen them, and realised what we were looking for, they were easy to see — very deep grooves worn into the limestone. They were much deeper than I was expecting.

Nearby were some caves, which were part of a Bronze Age settlement.

Next, we drove to the Blue Grotto. There was a parking area, and a pathway along the cliff edge to a viewpoint. I spent a long time looking at a pretty cove and taking photographs. Husband then told me this was not the grotto, and directed me round the corner. The grotto was spectacular — much better than the pretty cove!

There were also some really interesting plants growing on the cliff. They looked like little trees growing from a plant not dissimilar to an aloe vera. When I got close, I realised that the ‘flowers’ on the ‘trees’ were actually baby versions of the parent plant. I think that the long stalk falls over, and deposits the baby plants at a distance to the parent, where they can then fall off and start to grow. (I spent ages trying to find them on the internet, but I never found them. If you know the name, please let me know.)

Drove back to Valletta and made it into the apartment before the rain started again. Malta reminds me of Cyprus, but with lots of churches and ancient forts and towers. Even tiny fishing villages have watchman towers, guarding the coastline.

Sunday 27th November

Our last day. We had to leave the apartment by 10am, and our flight was in the evening, so we were homeless for a day. In the sunshine, this would have been a treat. Not so much in the rain. We drove back to see the ancient cart tracks, because we had realised that we never actually found the main set. This time we followed the map, and found them — lines and lines of tracks, running to the edge of a slope. Then it poured with rain, and we were completely soaked running back to the car.

We found a hyper market, and used the facilities, and tried to think of somewhere that would be fun to drive to in the rain. Gave up, and went to the airport. Camped in the corner of a food hall for a few hours (I tried to read more of the stodgy Ethics book that has defeated me all holiday). Eventually it was time to check-in, and leave Malta.

If you fancy visiting Malta in November, it has some lovely scenery. There are fewer people, so parking and visiting attractions is much easier. Valletta is beautiful. If you are lucky with the weather, it will be warm and sunny — but we had lots of rain, and it gets chilly. It’s a fun place to visit, but personally I prefer it in the summer.

By the way, the ‘pyramid’ we saw on Gozo turned out to be the Citadel when seen through binoculars!

Thanks for reading. Have a lovely day, and take care.
Love, Anne x

(And if you can name the plant, please tell me!)

If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!

(You can read it for free if you have a kindle.) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?crid=36HORPFE9BX3D&keywords=sarcastic+mother%27s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson&qid=1669889589&sprefix=sarcastic+mother+s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C52&sr=8-1

A November Trip to Malta


Malta Holiday Diary

Sunday 20th November, 2022. Late.

Arrived in Malta. The Airbnb is a 20 minute drive from the airport. Staying in Valletta, which is pedestrianised, so parked in multistorey car park and wheeled our suitcases through the city. Rain was forecast but never appeared, so felt very thankful.

Dumped bags in the apartment and went to McDonald’s. Sometimes, when you’re very tired, you just want something very easy/familiar. It hit the spot. We were the only people, including the staff, who were over twenty!

The apartment is weird. It’s all on one level except for the bedroom, which is reached via a steep spiral staircase. The bedroom contains a bed—nothing else. We left our bags in the sitting room, changed in the kitchen. Very odd.

Monday 21st November.

We woke early and went for a run. (Well, ONE of us woke early, and then had a hard job waking the other—but we did both go for a run.) The apartment looks better in daylight. It’s right in the centre of Valletta, and has two balconies that overlook the city. The bedroom, whilst odd, is also wonderfully light and has a view of the sea. Husband carried up a small set of shelves, so I can put a few things up there.

We had breakfast in Eddie’s Café in Republic Square. They didn’t serve croissants, so I tried a Maltese pastry—which was flakey pastry (quite greasy) filled with cheese. I wasn’t a fan. Husband had Eggs Benedict, which was much nicer, so I ate some of that.

It then basically poured with rain all day. The bedroom has a tin roof, so I read an Ethics book while the rain rattled above me. The sea turned from blue to grey and then disappeared from view. We walked to a little Italian restaurant for dinner: Papannis. Great food and wine, with friendly service. Returned to the apartment feeling happy.

Tuesday 22nd November

Not raining. Brilliant! We ran through the Victoria Arch, along the coast, then up the hill to the apartment (one of us walked up the hill). Showered, then had coffee and croissant at Caffé Cordina in Republic Square. Perfect.

We can see a big dome from the apartment, so we walked there (it’s a big church, rebuilt after the war. A LOT of Malta needed to be rebuilt after the war.) We found our way down to Boat Street, and had a lovely walk next to the coast. As we passed the imposing city wall, we could see where the bricks had been cut from the rock. When the knights arrived in Malta, they must have cut the rocks into bricks (thus lowering the base) and built the wall right there (hence not needing to transport the bricks very far). Clever. The wall is now weathered, but I still wouldn’t fancy having to climb it to attack the fort.

The weather was windy (needed my woolly hat) but sunny. When we sheltered from the wind, it was very warm—tee-shirt weather—but mostly we needed a jumper and coat. This was unexpected, I had assumed Malta would be warmer in November.

Returned to apartment and I read more of my Ethics book (quite heavy-going). Fell asleep while reading, and woke up to feel the bed shaking—thought it was Husband trying to wake me—realised it was an earthquake! It didn’t last very long, but there was quite a lot of movement. I checked Twitter (which is always the fastest way to confirm an earthquake I have learned). The earthquake was measured at 4.4.

Dinner at Papannis again. Lovely.

Wednesday 23rd November

Lots of wind and rain (and church bells) during the night, so woke up tired. It was grey and windy, but not actually raining, so we went for a run. I love running next to the sea, there’s something that makes me feel like a child again.

Breakfast at Caffe Cordina again. Today the pigeons were annoying. They’re very aggressive, and as soon as they see food they try to fly onto the table. If people leave uneaten food when they leave, the table is instantly swarmed with pigeons. Not very hygienic. I don’t like city pigeons much (they’re like rats).

Went back to apartment and I tried to read more of the Ethics book. Managed to not fall asleep. Gave up, and we went for a walk along the south eastern coast. We could see warships and a cruise ship and more of Malta across the inlet. Malta is distinctive, with its cities of golden stone and steep walls rising up from the coast, and so many churches—domes and steeples in every direction. Which means lots of bells. The bells near the apartment were fairly random in when they rang, and some of them rang throughout the night.

Dinner at Papannis again—we will have to eat somewhere else tomorrow as they shut on Thursdays.

I will tell you more about our trip in my next blog. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!

(You can read it for free if you have a kindle.)https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?crid=36HORPFE9BX3D&keywords=sarcastic+mother%27s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson&qid=1669889589&sprefix=sarcastic+mother+s+holiday+diary+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C52&sr=8-1

Who is Evil? Visiting the ‘Seeing Auschwitz’ Exhibition


Warning: Some horrible images.

Seeing Auschwitz

I usually ignore the adverts on social media, but when Seeing Auschwitz popped up, I was interested. Advertised as a exhibition of photographs from the concentration camp, it stated that it encouraged visitors to look not simply at the photographs, but also beyond them, to the motivations of the photographer.

Since we visited Auschwitz (see previous blog: https://anneethompson.com/2019/06/11/visiting-auschwitz/) there has been something bothering me. Obviously atrocious things happened, people were treated worse than animals and it never should have happened. But why did it happen? When I look at photos of the guards, I do not see evil people—I see ordinary people who somehow changed so that they did evil things. I feel that unless we understand what drove ordinary, normal, people like you and me, citizens to become Nazi guards, we will not be able to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I arranged to meet a friend and went to the Seeing Auschwitz exhibition in Old Brompton Road, London. The exhibition was easy to find, and there were seats inside where you can wait (and a Nero opposite if you need coffee!) We had our tickets checked at the reception desk, and were offered free audio guides. If you take headphones, you can use the QR code and listen on your own phone. The audio tour matched numbers on the display, and you moved to the next one manually, which meant you could go at your own speed. The audio had music, to create mood, but it wasn’t overly melodramatic and most of the commentary was factual.

A variety of people were at the exhibition. Mostly women, though there were different age-groups, including a school class of teenagers with back-packs. It was busy, but not too crowded, so it was easy to see the displays. (I think they limit the numbers, so if you don’t buy tickets online, you might have to wait before being able to enter.)

The exhibition was a selection of photographs (I recognised several from the museum at Auschwitz). Some were huge, life-sized people drawing you into the scene. Some were smaller, and you needed to stand close to peer into the faces. They showed the structure of Auschwitz, how the camps functioned, the population of prisoners from around Europe. The audio guide also asked you to consider the purpose of the photographer, to see that the victims were treated as specimens, that there were no photographs of killing or disorder—everything was very regulated. This contrasted with images smuggled out by the prisoners, which showed cruelty, and mass death, and acts of rebellion that were quickly exterminated.

One section showed the guards relaxing on a day out. Their occupations were listed; an accountant, a doctor, a sweets manufacturer. But there was nothing to indicate what had changed them from these very mundane characters to heartless guards. Nothing helped me to understand why and how this happened. I find this troubling. If we look at images of the guards and we tell ourselves they were evil people performing abominable acts in the past, then we remove it from ourselves. If we cannot relate to the perpetrators, we will not guard against falling into the same trap. I expect some guards were evil, the role would appeal to sadists. But I think many were just ordinary people. There were photographs of the death marches—when the camps were emptied towards the end of the war and the prisoners marched for miles, many of them dying. The photos were taken from houses as the prisoners passed—by ordinary people—who had done nothing to stop the atrocities. Why? How was society gradually infiltrated so that gays and Jews and Roma were believed to be less than human, vermin, something dirty. What changed people like us, into people that allowed the holocaust to happen?

I still don’t know the answer, though it links with something we discussed at college this week. We were looking at the rise of Fascism, and the point was made that societies today that are defined as ‘fascist’ do not use that label themselves—because no one wants to be likened to Hitler or Mussolini. But this is my point. If we don’t liken ourselves to people who did terrible things, if we decide they were all somehow different, a nation of evil people, ‘other people,’ then it could happen again. I believe we need to start asking questions, trying to learn how it happened, enabling us to guard against the same tragedy.

If you want to visit Seeing Auschwitz you can buy tickets online until the 18th December. If you can’t go to an actual camp, then it’s a good exhibition to visit.

Thanks for reading. In my next blog, I will tell you about the Fascism lecture, and the ten points that define fascism—I was a bit shocked by how many I recognise in society today.

Have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

I explored the idea of what our future might look like in Counting Stars. An exciting novel, it was great fun to write. I asked a scientist, and economist, and a lawyer: ‘What might change in the near future? Tell me what is possible, even if it’s not probable.’ I wove their ideas into a story about a family, because teenagers will be the same whatever the world looks like.

Available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle book. Another great Christmas gift idea!

If you want to buy a copy, the link is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner/dp/0995463212/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=2PDCW3KBUU1BG&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668695965&sprefix=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thimpson%2Caps%2C73&sr=8-1

Egyptian Airport Security Guards; Are They Honest?


Security Scam!

Although I found the people in Egypt to be mainly friendly and helpful, there was a sad exception: the border guards.

When you leave Egypt via Cairo airport, you encounter a mix of high security and total chaos. Before you can check-in at the airline desk, you need to put all your luggage through a security gate. There’s a sign telling you to separate liquids, computers, etc like normal security checks—but there are no trays, and nowhere to put them. There are men, scurrying to help people lift their bags (for a fee) and we fought to retain control of our bags. Everyone ignores the sign and puts all their cases through the scanner. We did the same, and walked through the metal detector. Everyone is then hand searched. I also had my hand-luggage bag opened. The guard said he could see something unexpected, and opened my bag. Two guards rummaged through it, while it was on the belt, with other passengers pushing past, trying to retrieve their bags. It felt very insecure, and I worried that they might put something into my bag. They mainly investigated the books I was carrying, flicking through them and checking the titles. One was a text book, and quite thick, so I wondered whether the density had worried them. They pushed my bag, and a variety of scattered possessions towards me, and moved to the next passenger.

I reloaded my bag, collected the rest of my luggage, and we continued to the check-in desk. First hurdle crossed.

The check-in desk was efficient, though there were still men trying to give unwanted help, and we were soon heading to the lounge. There was another security check. We went through passport control, and moved to the luggage check. Again there was a sign telling us to remove liquids and computers, and shoes and belts and watches, etc. This time there were trays (just two, so it was slow). We obeyed the sign, passed through the scanners, were hand-checked by a guard, moved to collect our luggage. I arrived as my bag was passing through the X-ray machine, and one of the guards pointed to the screen, indicating a vase that I had in my bag. This was a terracotta pot, bought on the street for 75p, and rather lovely. We had bought two, and put one in the suitcase and the other in hand-luggage. They had spotted it in my bag.

I thought that perhaps they were checking I wasn’t stealing something valuable; they opened my bag (again, on the belt, while other passengers tried to reach their bags). The guard lifted my pot, turning it in his hand as he examined it. He then put it under the table, and waved me on.

I asked for my vase, but was told: “Not allowed.”

I refused to move, and asked why. “Not allowed,” he repeated.

I asked why. He shrugged, and told me it was too heavy, and not allowed.

I went back to the woman who had searched me, and politely, in my best (not very good) Arabic, I asked her to help me. I told her I wanted my vase.

She spoke to the guard, then told me it wasn’t allowed because I could use it as a weapon, it was very heavy.

This was clearly rubbish. All around were duty-free shops, selling a variety of bottles of alcohol, all much heavier than my vase and ideal for use as a cosh if a passenger was so inclined.

Another passenger leaned over, and told me that they had also confiscated some giant marbles from his bag. The guard was currently playing with them, weaving the ceramic balls through his fingers; hard to imagine on what grounds they were a security risk.

But what could I do? I told the female guard (who looked more sympathetic) that I wanted it, but she simply shook her head. I asked for a receipt, but they shrugged and moved away. I asked if I could photograph it, and they agreed.

My lovely vase, abandoned at the airport. Not exactly a dangerous weapon!

I considered offering a tip—is that how things work here? But I have heard stories of things like that going wrong, and I didn’t want to be arrested for trying to bribe an official. I had no option but to leave it there. What a shame.

It’s also a learning point. We saw many over-priced goods in tourist shops, and the vase could have cost me several hundred pounds, the outcome would have been the same. When I next visit, I will put valuables in my suitcase. If the guard planned to keep or sell the vase, he will be disappointed. It really did cost about 75p (so cheap, we didn’t even try to haggle). I loved it, because the rough terracotta and simply beauty and incredible price would be a lovely reminder of Egypt—with its roughness and beauty and unexpectedness. Instead, I will remember the guards, and the frustration of confronting rogue officials, when there is nothing that can be done but comply.

Luckily, we had two vases. The second made it home intact, and now sits in the window—a happy reminder of Egypt, but with a sting in the tail.

The airport security is something that Egypt really does need to sort out. The hassle begins as soon as you arrive in the country, as drivers are allowed to enter the airport to meet guests before security checks, and keeping control of bags can be a struggle. The chaos on leaving was enough to make me think twice before I return. In Cairo there are many empty hotel rooms, and reading stories online, I realise that mine is not an isolated case. If people feel cheated, their possessions stolen, then they won’t want to visit Egypt. Tourism will plummet, and that is a shame. Egypt is an amazing place, with wonderful people. The history of our world can be found there, it’s somewhere that everyone should long to visit — but it needs to be safe.

Thanks for reading. Hope that only nice things happen to you today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
anneethompson.com
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If you enjoy travel blogs, you should read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.

If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary/dp/1790374235/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3CNCN6G2O4XUE&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419480&sprefix=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C69&sr=8-1

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Eight.


Last Day in Cairo

Blog Eight

It was our last day in Cairo, and we weren’t sure what to do. Neither of us especially like monuments, and we felt we had seen everything we wanted to. I suggested that we had a short drive, out of the city, to the hills we could see in the distance. There was a church, so we looked on Google maps, found a location that looked interesting, and booked a driver. It turned out to be one of our best excursions.

The church we were aiming for was called St. Simon the Tanner (or ‘the cave church’). On the way we drove through the Zabbaleen district, and this was amazing.

The Zabbaleen are the people who collect and sort out all the rubbish from the city; 80% is recycled. As we drove up the steep narrow street through the Zabbaleen district, we saw the people working. There were lorries and trucks and hand-pulled carts arriving with rubbish loaded high, stacked in huge sacks. The road was slow, often jammed while a lorry unloaded, tuktuks and cars edging round them. The rubbish was everywhere—carried on heads, balanced on vehicles, stacked on the roofs of the houses. Flies and smells are part of life here. The rubbish is then sorted—sacks neatly folded, plastics tied together—everything made tidy ready for sale to the recycling companies.

We passed several small shops and roadside stalls. One woman was selling packets of flatbread, and had a box of fluffy yellow chicks. I guess that chickens eat the food waste too. I have read that the Zabbaleen keep pigs, feed them on the organic waste, and sell the pork to tourist hotels. But we didn’t see any, and I have also read that during the swine flu epidemic—even though there were no cases in Cairo—all the pigs had to be culled. So I don’t know whether they are still there or not. I only saw the chicks, and some cows sleeping in a room under a house. (But I don’t think cows eat anything but vegetables.)

The people looked busy, and whilst they were clearly not rich, neither did they look desperately poor. They were clean, and well-nourished, it wasn’t a sad place, it was just busy. These people provide a vastly important service to the city, and I hope they are valued.

We drove through a barrier, and everything changed. The bustle of the streets became a smooth wide road, and instead of rubbish-laden trucks inching past each other, there were coaches of school children. We had arrived at the church complex.

The church of St. Simon the Tanner is relatively modern, with picnic areas and washrooms and signs. We followed the pathway down, under the wall, to an auditorium built into a huge cave. It was pretty, decorated with carved scenes from Bible stories, and the light limestone gave it all an airy feel. It seats 17,000 people—I expect an outdoor church is rather nice to attend. Unfortunately, alongside the Bible stories are several myths and claimed miracles; religion and superstition seem to have got muddled together.

Pretty place though.

On the way home, we stopped at the Citadel. I’m not too keen on monuments, and I much preferred the real-life-chaos of the Zabbaleen district, though the main mosque was spectacular. (And as I have said before, I think the design of mosques would be more likely to point you towards God and prayer than the highly ornate churches.)

It was a good last day in Cairo, and we returned to our room to pack, then sat on the balcony and watched the mesmerising traffic below. I have loved Egypt. One day, I hope to return. Thanks for sharing my trip.

I hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!)  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary/dp/1790374235/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3CNCN6G2O4XUE&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419480&sprefix=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C69&sr=8-1

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Seven.


Memphis and the Red Pyramid

We wanted to visit an agricultural area, and the Red Pyramid because it looked as if it was in the desert rather than sandwiched between cities. Husband negotiated a car without a guide, because we wanted to plan our own route. This took some nifty negotiation, but he managed it.

When the car arrived, there was further negotiation about the route. The driver (who had 42 years experience as a tour guide—a sentence I heard a few times that day!) was insistent that it was much better to drive to the Saqqara area of pyramids, and look at those first. Then, if we wanted he could drive us to the Red Pyramid, and after that if we still had energy we could drive to Memphis (which had a small museum).

The driver spoke only to Husband during this negotiation, which I was very happy with. Male dominance is a thing in Egypt, but to be honest it rather suits me. The men are comfortable in their superiority and therefore only address other men. I don’t much like being spoken to by random men in the street, so was happy for all the touts to confront Husband. The women have a sort of secret understanding between themselves, so as I made eye-contact with women, they would smile, and nod, and I felt great unity with them. Mostly, I liked it. Being underestimated is usually a good thing I find.

Husband politely (because everything is polite in Egypt) insisted that we would first visit Memphis. We knew that Google maps showed this as an agricultural area, so we chose a small museum within Memphis as our destination. I suspect the driver had a planned route, that would take us to various places on the way where we could spend money and he would receive a percentage, and we rather ruined that. I didn’t feel guilty.

The museum at Mit Rahina was wonderful—my favourite museum so far (and Egypt has done very well with having non-pompous museums). The drive there was exactly what we hoped, and we drove beside a canal from the Nile, on a small road passing date palms, and sugar beet, and buffalo and goats. They were digging the silt from the river, and putting on the fields to fertilise them. We passed mosques and villages, hump-backed cows led by a man on a donkey, a camel under a load of branches, children playing, white egrets perched in trees above the water.

The museum itself was a large outside area, with traders selling crafts along the edge, and various ancient artifacts arranged in the middle. I had the impression that these things—the leg from a statue, a plaque with hieroglyphics—had been accidently dug up by builders, who simply drove their diggers to the museum and dumped their finds on the ground. Instead of being in glass cases, things were propped up against trees. Fabulous. We saw a big statue of RamsesII and an alabaster sphinx (smaller than the one in Giza, but in better condition).

The Red Pyramid is also worth visiting. There were very few tourists (only two other groups when we were there) and the pyramid is plonked in the desert, where it should be. The desert was packed hard sand and bits of crumbling stone from the pyramid. We were able to walk round in silence, while the other tourists were talked at by their guides (Husband joined in at one point, and told some Americans how old the pyramids are—I pretended I didn’t know him!)

We drove further across the desert to the Bent Pyramid (there’s a clue in the name). It was windy and there were lots of flies, but it was still brilliant. Behind the pyramid was the remains of a temple, made with ancient bricks. The bricks were made with mud and straw—just like the bricks described in the Bible story of the Exodus (when Pharoah got cross with Moses and told him they couldn’t have straw). How marvellous to actually see them (though I think these would be older than Exodus).

The pyramids and Sphynx in Giza are definitely worth visiting if you visit Cairo, but I really recommend that you go slightly further and see the Red Pyramid. They give a much better sense of history because they feel less ‘commercial.’ There are also no touts there, so you don’t need a guide.

Whatever you do today, I hope it’s good. Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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I will leave you with some more sights as we drove through the countryside.

If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!) 

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Six


The Coptic District

We decided to visit the Coptic district, which is the oldest part of Cairo. The car dropped us near the ancient city wall, and we followed the crowds, walking along the street to where there were steps going down, and signs directing us to various places. There was no big sign saying This way to the Coptic district so we were a little unsure where to go—usually we avoid underground passages in unfamiliar cities—but we walked down the steps.

The hidden entrance to the Coptic District of Cairo.

There was a short tunnel, under the old city wall, and then we were in a narrow lane, the walls lined with books for sale. It was very unexpected! Tour groups and local people all seemed to be walking in the same direction, so we followed the crowd, round a corner, to a junction with signs on walls and archways in the wall. It was too busy to check our map, but I remembered we planned to see the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus so we followed the sign for that. It all felt rather disorientating to be honest, and I was disappointed because I knew there were several places I hoped to visit but I was beginning to think it would be too difficult to find them.

The church was built in the 11th century, in honour of Sergus and Baccus, a couple of Roman soldiers who were martyred for being Christians. I had read that under the church is a cave, where it is believed Mary and Joseph lived when they ran to Egypt with baby Jesus, to escape King Herod. Several places in Egypt claim to have been visited by the holy family during their time here, which I guess makes for good tourism, but it’s easy to mock—and who knows? They must have lived somewhere and maybe afterwards they told people, and it was remembered.

We found a sign to the cave, and went down some steps, to the area below the church. Much of the Coptic area has stuff below it, because it was built on top of a Roman city. We were in a long line of tourists visiting the cave, so there was no great atmosphere to it, and it was hard to imagine how it might have been, with a young couple and a baby sheltering there.

The church itself was very glitzy, with lots of icons, gilt and tourists. Places like that don’t inspire me to pray, I find it hard to discover God under all the religion, but I guess people are different. To be honest, I found the mosques, with their ornate outsides and big empty interiors to be much better at inducing thoughts of God and prayer. I feel there must be a balance, something between the plain ugliness of a Baptist church and the distracting gloss of a high church. Somewhere special, but that doesn’t distract away from God.

Anyway, next we went to the Coptic Museum (because the Ben Ezra Synagogue, which I really wanted to see, was closed for renovations). We wandered into a private area by mistake, and were stopped by a friendly smiling man who turned out to be head of security. People in Egypt were always friendly. After being pointed in the right direction, we went to see the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (which are the source for Gnosticism—the belief that spirit is entirely separate to anything physical, and that Jesus was spirit, not physical). They also have the oldest surviving copy of the Psalms of David, but that was being restored so we couldn’t see it. We did see some very cool examples of early letters, written on pottery, in ancient Greek. (The museum also has very clean public toilets, if you’re interested.)

Finally, we visited the Hanging Church or Al Kineesa Al Mu’allaqa. It has a barrel-shaped ceiling, and white pillars that represent the 12 disciples, with a black one for Judas. Again, there were lots of icons, and gilt, and red bricks, and tourists. Part of the floor was glass, so you could peer down at the Roman towers below. (Which actually makes it less of a ‘hanging’ church and more of a ‘suspended’ one.)

We walked back to the hotel along busy roads. It was more of a slog than yesterday, and I found the constant honking of horns, the music of Cairo, to be very draining. We saw more poor people begging this time, including a young boy. I am uneasy refusing children, but I had no food to give him and money would possibly end up with the wrong person—so I told him no, and then felt guilty for the rest of the holiday and carried packets of Hulahoops everywhere in the hope I would see him again (but I never did).

At one point the road was very crowded with men, all waiting outside the Kuwait embassy. They queue there to apply for visas so they can go to work in Kuwait. It rained, quite heavily at one point, which I think is very rare here. Fingers up noses and men peeing behind parked cars seem to be a thing here. But mostly, I am interested by how friendly everyone is, how children smile and say hello, and people wave at us from buses, and greet us when we pass.

Later, there was a thunderstorm, and more rain. We watched from the balcony as big puddles formed on the roads. An unusual sight in Cairo. Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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anneethompson.com
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If you enjoy travel blogs, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary ? If you have a Kindle, you can read it for free. Also available as a paperback (and it makes a brilliant Christmas gift!)

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Five.


Visiting a Souk

After breakfast in the hotel lounge, we took a hotel car to Khan Al Khalili – a sort of bazaar in the Islamic district of Cairo. The hotel cars are more expensive than using local taxis, but they’re easier than trying to explain in non-Arabic where we want to go, and we know they’ll have seatbelts and not take us to the wrong location. We found places in the guidebook that looked interesting, booked a car to take us there and then walked back to the hotel. Neither of us especially like museums or monuments, and this proved a good strategy for seeing some of ‘real Cairo.’

The car dropped us, and we walked round the corner, into a myriad of ancient lanes lined with stalls, a whole mishmash of sights: Chickens and rabbits and pigeons in cages. Men pulling wheeled carts. People balancing crates on their heads—one young man on a bicycle had a plank on his head stacked with eish baladi the local flatbread. Stalls selling fruit, and cloth, and drinks.

There were stray dogs and skinny kittens—cats were everywhere—sleeping on a food-cart hotplate, sharing a beggar’s blanket, curled under stalls. We watched eish baladi being fried in a sizzling vat of oil, hoisted out by a net on a long pole, the oil dripping off, then heaped on a stall for the flies to feast on. There was a fabric shop, with burst sacks of fresh cotton on the street outside. The streets were busy, with uneven hard-packed mud to walk along, and I felt as if I had wandered into a stage set. It was marvellous. It was also the wrong place! We checked the map, and realised we should have been across the street, in the lanes that make up the bazaar—we were in a market intended for locals (much better, in my opinion).

When we entered the bazaar proper, it was very crowded. Many of the shops were aimed at tourists, and stallholders called to us, inviting us to look, telling us they had the best products, the lowest prices. We had come to look, not to buy, so we disappointed them. Like all roads in Cairo, traffic and pedestrians shared the space. There were tuktuks here (we didn’t see them in the centre of the city) and they mingled with the lorries and bikes and pedestrians, vying for space in the narrow lanes. The air was full of pollution and spices and the sharp tang of limes from a nearby stall. A woman sat on the kerb, her short round body swathed in flowing black, selling bunches of mint. Children sat nearby, screaming at cars when they passed in some noisy game. Men with shiny round trays carried glasses of tea.

We passed the faded finery of ornate mosques, and crumbling walls, and red brick buildings; all powdered in brown pollution. The road was often uneven, often with holes or dirtied by dog mess.

When we reached the centre of the market it was even busier, and many of the products were the same as you would see in an English market—cheap clothing and plastic houseware. Inflatable legs were strung over the walkway, modelling various brands of trousers. Large dolls (like American Girl Dolls) stood in rows, modelling baby clothes. There were windows displaying sexy lace underwear on voluptuous mannequins—yet all the real women seemed to be covered from head to foot in flowing robes. (No one seemed to see the irony of this.)

Random men approached us at intervals, to practise their English, or to give unwanted directions. Always polite, always with smiles, sometimes overly persistent. We smiled back, and walked on.

There were constant car horns. Speakers blasted a sport’s game commentary or an Islamic sermon. The call to prayer echoed from minarets. I saw smiles, lots of smiles, especially when we responded to vendors’ calls in our limited Arabic. There was also lots of spitting in the street, and fingers pushed up noses, and loads of shopping carried on heads—all very different to an English market.

It was a fabulous walk back to the hotel. The sun was hot, the air thick with pollution, but there was so much to absorb, so much life to be part of. Wonderful.

Thanks for reading, I will tell you more about our visit in another blog. Hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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*****

Visiting the Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Blog Four.


It was Sunday, and we had booked a tour to visit the pyramids, so when I woke with a headache I was disappointed. The trouble is, I am a fairly anxious traveller — I force myself to visit interesting places because I really want to see them, but sometimes my body reacts and pretends to be ill. I have to try and decide whether I actually AM ill, or if it’s just nerves and my silly brain playing tricks. I took some pills, and felt very sick, but I was almost positive that this was all due to nerves. I don’t usually mention my anxiety in blogs, because I don’t want it to be what defines me, but if you suffer from nerves, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I find that praying then forcing my mind to think about something unrelated (like playing Duolingo) usually makes me feel better. I forced myself to get up, slinking round the room like a slug while I sipped water trying not to be sick again, got dressed, and informed Husband that I was fine, no need to cancel. He gave me worried looks. At 9am we went down to the hotel lobby, and met the car we had booked. As soon as I was in the car, watching the streets of Cairo as we travelled through Giza, I felt better. That’s the thing with nerves, if I can distract myself, they disappear and I can be the person I want to be.

The car came with a guide, which isn’t my favourite thing because generally they talk too much. I let Husband (who is more polite than me) chat to the guide, while I looked at Egypt. We drove through various districts that are poorer than central Cairo, where the hotel is. It reminded me of India, though I didn’t notice the same abject poverty, the same despair, that I have seen in India. Then we left the city and entered the desert.

As we arrived at the pyramid area, I was surprised to see another city — a sort of satellite city, out in the desert. I had assumed the pyramids would be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but sand, plonked deep in the desert. It was a shock to glimpse them between buildings as we drove through the edge of a town. We came to the parking area, and went to buy tickets. Our guide was very helpful here. He seemed to know everyone, and he stopped people approaching us to offer horse rides and camel rides and photographs, and a myriad of other offers. I have read that touts can be a problem by being overly persistent, but he shielded us from all of that, so I forgave him for talking too much. He was called Samii, by the way.

Husband wanted to go inside the Great Pyramid, so he paid an extra £20 and joined the long queue. I knew it would be a steep climb down a narrow shaft, deep into the inner chamber of the pyramid. Not something I will ever want to do. Instead, I walked round the edge with Samii and tried to ignore all the facts he told me, as I wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the place. Actually, there wasn’t much atmosphere worth soaking up, as the sky-scrapers of the nearby city distract from the desert, and there are too many tourists. The pyramids of Giza are wonderful to visit, but it’s hard to find any romance there. We wandered round the area where the workers (Samii didn’t call them slaves) lived. There were ancient carvings around the doorposts, but some had modern graffiti on them. Shame.

Samii showed me the round indentations in the stones, where rivets would have held them in place. There is something awesome about the pyramids, even with all the tourists. They would have been bigger (you can see the edge of where they would have reached) but stones were removed over the ages to build other buildings. A bit like the Colosseum in Rome, which had bricks pilfered over the years. The age is astonishing. Way back, in the time of Moses (if we date him about 1400 BC) he would have seen pyramids that were already a thousand years old. The Romans would have seen them as ancient structures.

I also hadn’t realised how many pyramids Egypt has. As we wandered round the Great Pyramid at Giza, we could see other pyramids in the haze in the horizon. Different Pharaohs from different ages built pyramids in places convenient for them.

We drove down to the Sphinx (which is on the same site, but a long walk in hot desert sun). At one time, a canal from the Nile would have lapped around the Sphinx, and you can see where the limestone has been worn away. He would have had a beard too, but I think it fell off and is now in the British Museum in London. And he once had a nose, and there are several rumours as to where that might be!

We left via a little souk (a market) selling various statues and carvings. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a papyrus shop. Guides often take you to visit their friends rather than to what you want to visit! This was interesting though, and we saw a demonstration of paper being made from strips of papyrus, as they would have made it in ancient times. Samii offered us a drink, and I managed to ask in Arabic for a cup of tea with sugar (and actually received a cup of tea with sugar, which was by no means certain!) It was hot, and very black, and it arrived in a tiny glass. Perfect.

Returned to the hotel exhausted, but extremely happy. Sometimes, it is definitely worth forcing yourself to do things that seem scary.

Hope you have a great day. Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

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***

Cairo, Egypt. Blog Three.


We set off to explore another part of Cairo. This is always fun, except for crossing the roads, which I was never comfortable with. Basically, central Cairo has many four-lane roads, with a variety of cars and bikes and lorries constantly filling. Everyone honks almost continually (one driver told us that brakes in Cairo are optional, but a horn is essential!) It is the music of Cairo. Traffic ignores lights (unless there is either a camera or a policeman) and switches lanes, and sometimes direction, at random. Crossing the road is an artform, like a dance, and the man who shouted to us that we should shut our eyes and just wander across was not far wrong. You have to wander out, into a space, and allow the traffic to flow around you. I spent hours on our balcony watching the busy junction below, where traffic whizzed and stray dogs and elderly ladies and striding men, all wandered across the road. No one ever seemed to be hit, no one seemed to be angry, it was expected that the traffic would never stop but nor would it hit you. As I said, I never grew comfortable with this, but we did get better at it.

View from our room.

We walked up river (which is South) to University Bridge. The bridge was covered in sand (we later learnt that sand from the desert blows in, but also any road repairs sometimes leave sand, so I don’t know which had caused it). Men were setting up plastic chairs, ready for an evening of sipping tea from the stalls and watching the sunset over the river.

We walked to Al Mahial Palace (Prince Mohammad Ali Palace). We paid £5 entrance, even though it was closing in half an hour and lots of it had shut for weddings (they did tell us this, but did not lower the price). There was a mosque, and the Imran showed me round. I left my shoes with Husband, and went into a large public space, with beautiful tiles on the walls, and an indent to show which direction is Mecca. There were rugs on the floor (though not in the corner where the women pray. Women are definitely lower status here – more on that in a later blog).

We wandered round the gardens. There were several wedding parties having photographs taken. All the women were very covered, no hair showing (except for the brides, in their flouncy silver-white dresses). The Islamic style of covering heads seemed threatening until I got used to it. But when I smiled at people, they smiled back, and the young bridesmaids were posing and giggling just like they would in England. I felt an unspoken bond with the women here, as if they know that the male-dominance thing is there, but they have great unity as women. Even a woman wearing full-burkha can smile with her eyes, and I found them friendly and welcoming. If you come, I recommend wearing a scarf rather than a hat – you will be less obvious, it feels polite, and it’s nice to protect your hair from the sun and pollution. It’s too windy for a hat anyway.

Bridesmaids from one of the bridal parties.

We went back to the hotel, crossing the bridge and walking along the Nile (not that we could see it as there are lots of clubs along the water’s edge). After thousands of years, the River Nile remains the focus here. A satellite map shows the life that clings to the water’s edge, and when we went further from the centre of Cairo, we were never far from the river. Anything a distance from the Nile is just desert, and it’s hard to live in a desert.

I like Cairo. I like the friendly people, the way everyone smiles at strangers. The tipping and the roads are hard to learn, but everything else I like. It feels very safe here, which is unusual for a culture that is so very different to England. I’ll tell you more in my next post – we went to see the pyramids up close. Wow!

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a safe day.
Love, Anne x

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