Scotsabroad's Weblog

October 10, 2009

Bugs and Mugs

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 7:09 pm

The three lads ventured downtown on the Metro today after Cairo’s soccer game early this morning. We  wanted to find the Entomological Society and the Arab Music Institute. Maybe not high on other people’s list of places to visit in Cairo but feeling like veterans of obscure museum visits, we were feeling optimistic. However, I could not have told you what entomological meant until I read about it in a book. We went looking for a collection of insects and birds housed in a nineteenth century mansion on Ramses Street.

The taxidermy of the birds dates from around 1909 to the 1930s. Once again the feeling of traveling back in time was strong as we entered the entomological society’s rooms on the second floor of a building shared with many organisations and business. Once through the door at the top of the staircase, the all familiar switching on of lights, windows being opened  and the unlocking of doors commenced to allow the 21st century access for a while. A brief negotiation with the caretaker and the bug room (normally locked during the day and only officially open in the evening between 5:30 and 8:00 pm) is unlocked. We are left alone in a filthy room with 50,000 different kinds of bugs from Egypt and the Mediterranean, to view under the wooden display flaps or pull out from enormous cabinets with rows of specimen trays revealing their strong-smelling treasure. Delighted in finding huge moths and butterflies, scarab beatles and cockroaches. The birds were a bit moth-eared but some good finds. Egyptian Kestrels like the ones we see flying around our school grounds each day. Egyptian Nightjars, what a magnificent name. Our hands were black at the end. A reasonable toilet allows us to freshen up before getting back to reality.

We turned left up Ramses Street to look for the Arab Music Institute but we were told tomorrow. Our destination then turned to Abdin Palace.  A walk down Emad El Din Street past some magnificent old architecture, warm weather, noise, smells and the city functioning as best it can, very uplifting. Eventually ended up walking right round the perimeter of Abdin Palace and found the entrance to the museum round the back. Lesley Lababidi writes,  Abdin Palace is immense but it is still used in an official capacity, so only a section is open to the public. The cannons and the pyramid-piled cannon balls in the garden give a clue to the dominant theme of the museum, which is mainly concerned with weaponry.  Bit disappointed to miss seeing Napoleon’s duelling case but we got to see a pistol owned at one time by Mussolini. Bizarre collection of badges (see above) belonging to King Farouk, made you think he might have been a can short of a six pack and fair game for Nasser. Boys were tired and hungry as we quickly looked in the Historical Document Room (a letter from Adolf) and the Presidential Gift Museum. Chances are the items on display are unwanted gifts. Hideous and ostentatious. So, to the glory of aggression, my gun is bigger than yours, the dominant theme being bullyboys. Beautiful gardens if you can ignore the weaponry in every corner, doorway and flowerbed.

Lunch was to be at the wee fella’s favourite place, the food is not great it just has loads of fishtanks and turtles. However, it was mobbed so we tried Cafe Riche. We have tried several times to enter this establishment but have always been met by the words, we are open in two weeks. It was open. After a decent meal Lucas wanted to show me a staircase he had spotted when he had gone to the toilet earlier. He seemed to think it was where they chucked the rubbish down. While showing me the staircase the proprietor came over and asked why we had stopped by the stairs. I replied my son thought it was where the cafe put all the rubbish. Michel A. Michael unlocked the gate and took us downstairs. He has tried to recreate the look of an early nineteen hundreds bar. Old telephones and transistors sit on tables and shelves. A printing machine supposedly used by Sa’ad Zaghloul and his associates while striving for autonomy (from the British) in 1918, has pride of place. I had always thought the Cafe had associations with the Free Officers who wanted to overthrow King Farouk. Michel then showed the boys a secret door behind the bar that led to the kitchens. They loved it. The Metro back to Maadi and in the school pool by half three. Brilliant.

PS. Abdin Palace is one of the very few places where we have seen merchandise for sale. The boys bought a couple of key rings and I bought a badge. King Farouk syndrome? However, the mug with the picture of Abdin Palace came out the dishwasher without the picture. I love this place.



  1. best blog ever – really feel as if i was there – both the people and the place

    Comment by ianandlinda — October 12, 2009 @ 6:56 am | Reply

  2. What a super description of your Saturday trip to Cairo. We almost felt we were there with you and the two boys.

    Marion and Alistair.

    Comment by Marion and Alistair — October 12, 2009 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  3. Agreeing with everyone else here: great post!

    Comment by nuimgeography — October 13, 2009 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

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