Scotsabroad's Weblog

May 31, 2010

Rocks Off

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 5:01 pm

Probably, our last excursion to an obscure museum this year. We have tried once before to enter the Geological Museum but chanced it on a government holiday. Very hard to get in to this place, as it is closed on a Thursday and a Friday and Saturday, and only open between 9am until 1pm.  As I signed the visitors book at the gate I noticed that the last foreigner to get access was back in January. This museum is on the Agricultural Road and also off the corniche from Maadi. As we drove there, we entered through the River Transport Authority gate on the Agricultural Road, past a line of buoys and parked inside the museum itself, beside the staff cars. No entrance fee.

The museum opened in 1904. The beautiful display cabinets, shelving and contents of the research library look as if they belong in a magnificent building. They don’t. They did, the museum used to be further downtown in a building constructed specifically to exhibit geological specimens. However, in 1982 this building was demolished to make way for the Cairo Metro and the museum contents were transferred to its present site. The exhibits, the cases, the now familiar quirky labelling and the now reassuring  reluctance to clean, still provokes some excitement – but the building itself is dull beyond belief. You have to go looking for some gems. We are not going to be drawn towards displays of shale, limestone and coal. However, you can see examples of ores that the ancient Egyptians pulverized to make colourful paints to use on their temple walls, which are still vivid today.

The fossils are the most interesting. Pieces of dinosaur bone found in Egypt, prehistoric mammals, including the cast of a skeleton from an elephant ancestor. Also the tools used by prehistoric Egyptians. A bit of moon-rock stuck in a corner, presented to Egypt by Nixon, in 1972. The miniature flag in the display cabinet had travelled around the moon on Apollo 17.  I search the library for the research papers labelled Roy. Soc. Edinburgh – on their shelf some other stuff. Interesting labels on some of the exhibits. Was Fred Flintstone consulted? Can just make out the word boulder Cairo is pointing to.


May 30, 2010

Okay Dokki

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 6:28 pm

The boys headed out to Dokki today to find the Agricultural Museum. Opened in 1938, this enclosure has five buildings that contain the Ministry of Agriculture’s collection on Egyptian agriculture from pharaonic times to the end of the last century – all within huge, lush and pleasant grounds. Having taken the metro downtown we asked our taxi driver to take us to Nadi al-Seid Street. Perhaps not accustomed to taking people to this museum he dropped us quite far away at the entrance to a resort. We walked back for a bit and found the entrance. We got to an old turnstile (made in Manchester, think Old Trafford 1930s) paid a few pounds for our entrance fee and camera charge (change from 5LE) and found ourselves in the most amazing place. We had read that the buildings were pavilions but nothing prepared us for the magnificent 1930s architecture that housed the collections. First stop was the Museum of Natural History. Dusty, dilapidated and mankit – but just a splendid few floors of (now familiar) ethnological displays, and a stairway leading to a floor of stuffed animals, a whale’s skeleton, hippo and rhino heads. Touching no problem. Off to the sides are closed doors, opened by the caretakers for a few LE, displaying tired but exciting artefacts, an underwater display, a room full of large cats and a standing bear. Stuffed animals lying around showing their… stuffing.  Everything just disintegrating. The boys love it. How long will these museums survive? 

Very dingy and very difficult to get any photographs to capture this special place. Blocked passageways and locked doors just assumed by the end of this visit. Outside and while heading to the Scientific Collection Museum we spot a statue in the grounds. We have just finished watching the recent Dr Who episode where he encounters the Weeping Angels – boys imagination runs riot and are not too keen to be photographed beside this statue. Inside the other pavilion are great displays explaining the production of crops in Egypt and the cycle of fruits grown in Egypt annually. However, one child in need of a toilet and there is not one to be seen. Worth considering if bringing a school party here. We have to miss out the Cotton Museum and find out that we need to arrange a visit to the Museum of Ancient Agriculture (a modern building) included in the grounds. We retire, insisting that we will return next year.

Lucas says, The lions were stuffed with stuff. You can see one behind me in the bear picture. It was awesome. We saw a big skeleton of a whale. We saw a diver, with a yellow suit and an old diver’s helmet. We saw a bear standing up. I think my class should come here.

Cairo adds, It was a surprise to see real stuffed animals. First of all I thought they were plastic. The bear really scared my brother. The decorations on the side of the buildings were interesting. The lions and tigers had been ripped open. We stopped by a statue that looked like a Weeping Angel.

May 24, 2010

Hospitable Groundcrew

Filed under: School trips — scotsabroad @ 4:41 pm

Year 1 have just returned from a quite remarkable fieldtrip to Cairo International Airport. I don’t know if any other International Airport in the world would be so generous with their time and resources as The Cairo Airport Company and Egypt Air in-flight Services were with theirs today. I don’t think a trip like this would even get off the ground anywhere else. Thanks Cairo.


 We arrived at the new terminal and were ushered inside. Once through security we were escorted around Terminal 3 and shown the check-in facilities, the duty-free shopping area and a departure gate. Once again some of our children’s fitness and stamina for walking left a lot to be desired, even with the moving walkways. We were then shown on to our own personal shuttle-bus that took us around the terminal and out to the cargo village. We stopped beside one of the aircraft not daring to hope that we might be allowed to board it. We then visited the fire station and watched the fire engines demonstrate their powerful jets of water. Then on to the private terminal and then the In-flight Services building. We were met with sugar-frosted glasses of fruit juice and the children walked around the foyer looking at the large model aircraft. A quick film in the auditorium showing the preparation and distribution of in-flight meals required for the large number of aircraft using the airport. Then lunch. We had assumed this would be sandwiches having made our choices last week. No. The children seated at large round tables with linen tablecloths and napkins. A centre decoration made out of chocolate and filled with biscuits. Airline catering trolleys wheeled out and the children served a hot meal with loads of additions. A quite incredible fieldtrip.

Perhaps Lucas is the best person to tell you of what he thought..

We saw the fire trucks spraying water and also underneath the truck – in case there is a fire underneath  the truck and it might burst the tyres. We went to the private place (terminal) for private planes and helicopters. We went to the place where they make the food. We ate chicken and ketchup and chocolate biscuits. It was served in an aeroplane trolley and my food was in a tray – just like on the plane. We went inside a cargo plane. It had these wheel things, rollers, on the floor so they could push the boxes in and out. We went on a shuttle bus to the fire station and the cargo plane. We watched a film of how they made the food. We got goody bags to take back to school. The trip was fun. A lot of people work at the airport. This was the best trip in year 1.

May 23, 2010

Open House

Filed under: Cairo,politics — scotsabroad @ 4:43 am

It was third time lucky for us last weekend when we visited The House of the Nation. It has been closed for restoration and we have tried twice before to look round the house – hearing the all too familiar response, open in two weeks. Getting off the metro at Saad Zagloul station you climb up to the street to find his imposing mausoleum. This enormous granite tomb is difficult to miss. We visited it in February, so hence the different clothing on the boys in the pictures.

Across the street is Bayt al-Umma. Saad Zagloul’s name was known to us already having visited Cafe Riche last year. The owner very kindly let the boys see the discreet bar, below the main restaurant, where Zagloul and his fellow nationalists met to spread opposition across the country, using the secret printing press. We still talk about the secret door behind the bar leading on to the street, to be used if the bar was raided by British soldiers.

He was one of a few Egyptian delegates shunned by the British after the Treaty of Versailles, despite assurances that for their support during the war, Egypt would get independence. Instead the British exiled him to Malta (poor bloke) and then the Seychelles, for instigating anti-colonial feeling and being popular. He did get to be prime minister in 1924 but did not live to see his country truly free. His wife Safiya was also a strong character, fighting for the emancipation of women and speaking out. However, Saad Zagloul was prone to spitting the dummy out according to the Travelers History of Egypt, he did not tolerate differences of opinion within his party (Wafd) and imposed absolute control over his party, a trait that has marked political leaders ever since. Zagloul’s brief stint in power was hardly exemplary either, resorting to old censorship and security laws to stifle opposition and choosing to jail others.  Before and since some might say?

The house is magnificent. It now almost goes without saying, that we were the only visitors. However, on arriving the caretaker told me he had no foreigners (5LE) tickets left. He would have to issue me with ten 1LE tickets. Thankfully, the boys were half-price. Our movements around the house, we soon found out, were to be controlled. We were escorted (rather than guided) upstairs and then down, our escorts changing over between floors. Two moth-eaten, stuffed parrots amused us at the top of the beautiful staircase, as our escort began to usher us through the rooms tapping a few display signs while anxiously watching the boys movements. I began to get the impression that when they took the contents out of the house to begin renovations, they forgot to do a thorough inventory for each room. A lot of the signs were in the wrong rooms and a lot of the furniture and pictures looked out of place. We found a blood-stained suit worn by Saad Zagloul, a result of a failed assassination attempt. I still haven’t found any information on this failed assassination. Cairo counted the chairs in the house and came up with an incredible number. There was an incredible number of portraits of Saad Zagloul, his wife and their parents all over the house. Surely they would not have had so many hanging when they lived in the house? I just wanted to throw open the shutters and let some daylight into the gloomy rooms. The promise of a secret escape route from  Saad Zagloul’s study momentarily restored our imagination. Was it a trap door under the rug? Was it concealed in the wall? Lucas thought it might extend all the way to the secret door at Cafe Riche! Turned out to be the window, leading to one of the perimeter wall doors on to the street. Walked around the garden for a while and got up close to a few statues of the man. Didn’t feel his presence in the house or the garden. Can this be lost through restorations?  

May 22, 2010

Writers and Riders

Filed under: Books,Cairo,School — scotsabroad @ 7:28 am

We are very frustrated at the moment not having a telephone connection at home. We can’t blog from home anymore so it has been a few weeks since we last posted. Our relationship with our landlord has become very strained – to the extent that we are moving to a new apartment on the first of July.

The last few weeks have been quite exciting here at school and in Cairo. Through connections in the British Council the school was visited recently by the writer Anthony Horowitz. Cairo devours his books and rereads them on an almost continuous basis.


Last Thursday we all went to hear the dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah at Al Azhar Park. He was charming and extremely entertaining. The Genaina theatre was a fantastic location at the foot of the old walled city. We all sat outdoors in the returning warmth, a packed audience enjoying the poetry and politics. Lucas loved his turkey poem.

The day after it was another late night as we all went to Giza to see the Red Bull X Fighters perform in front of The Sphinx. Not something we would normally make a point of going to see but the location was different and the tickets quite reasonable. Real showmanship from these gymnasts on motorbikes. Incredible stunts performed to loud music. I don’t know how long this link will last so  Click here  I didn’t take my camera so the pictures are borrowed from the showing a One Hand Indy and a Double Hart Attack Indy! I’m sure we all sat with our mouths open for most of the night. The highlight was a performance called the gravy train where the riders who had failed to make the final simultaneously jumped from one side of the arena to the other. Made the final a bit of an anti-climax.

The boys post:

I was part of the  committee chosen to speak to Anthony Horowitz. He asked us questions to find out what life in an International School in Cairo is like, for his next book. This book is going to be set in Egypt with Alex Rider at school in Cairo. He signed Snakehead for me. Anthony Horowitz said his favourite Alex Rider book was the first one, Stormbreaker.  (Cairo)

The motorbikes were awesome. They did tricks. One of them went up in the air and flipped. The track was small. The best bit was when a man went up in the air and put his hands on the saddle and when he lay down on his bike. They showed us the riders on camels at the start. It was funny. (Lucas)

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