After the quiet serenity of Mount Sinai and the Egyptian desert, arriving in Cairo is quite a shock to the system. The sprawling metropolis of 22 million is buzzing with energy, but also somewhat overwhelming and chaotic.
We have arranged to meet our guide Eman at Fishawy’s, the oldest café in Cairo. Situated in a quiet side street in the old city, this place has probably not changed much since it was established over 200 years ago. As we sip our mint teas, Eman, a passionate Egyptologist, regales us with her tales of pharaohs, pyramids and ancient deities. “Tomorrow I will show you the pyramids and we will immerse ourselves in Ancient Egypt, but today we are going to explore the old city of Cairo.”
We follow her through a labyrinth of narrow streets, diving into little hole-in-thewall shops and emerging through different exits into other alleyways. We turn left, right and then left again, and enter what must be the most magical bric-a-brac shop ever. The shelves are packed with trinkets and curios – from old postcards showing Cairo street scenes at the turn of the 20th century to family photos and mysterious amulets. Under the colourful lamps, necklaces and scarves hanging from the ceiling, we eagerly rummage through this treasure trove.
We emerge with an ‘anch’ amulet, a hieroglyphic character in the shape of a cross with a loop at the top, which signifies eternal life. In Ancient Egyptian tombs and temples, deities were often shown holding such an amulet.
We ask the shop owner how much the small metal pendant costs, but as soon as he names a price Eman intervenes. A heated discussion in Arabic follows which looks suspiciously like an argument. But after some hard bargaining, they agree on a fair price and shake hands. The ‘anch’ amulet with magical powers was given to protect the dead during their journey to the other world. Just what we need!