Scotsabroad's Weblog

March 6, 2015

Heading Home

Filed under: Cairo,Indonesia — scotsabroad @ 3:17 pm


This blog is dedicated to Alistair H.B. Davidson.

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May 13, 2011

Finishing Line

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 7:11 pm

We head towards our departure at quite an alarming rate. The list of what we would like to explore before the end of June is dwindling. Today we drove to Heliopolis with the intention of paying our respects at the Tomb and Mosque of Gamal Abd al-Nassar. Surrounded by military complexes, on the road out from Midan Roxy towards Ain Shams University, photography is forbidden. Parking too. We drove to Bagdad  Street, parked our car, then jumped in a taxi. Not much to it. The memorial, which includes Nasser’s tomb, a mosque and a school was deserted. The tomb’s surroundings were very subdued. Almost soul-less, considering his historical significance and the adoration he provoked. There was nothing to help a visitor connect to the man who rested there. His funeral procession in Cairo was the largest the country has ever seen.

On the way back, just past Roxy Square, I asked the taxi driver to stop so I could photograph the dilapidated grandstand of the Heliopolis Racecourse. It stands just back from the busy road and is surrounded on all sides by housing and retail outlets. What is left of the racecourse ground is now the Merryland Club on the other side of the street. I could just about imagine the horses galloping past the cheering crowd before getting back in the taxi to join the slow-moving traffic. I think it deserves to be restored and a purpose found for such a wonderful building. I could find no information on the racecourse but  an old photograph taken outside the ground shows better times.

May 7, 2011


Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 4:48 pm

This picture was taken yesterday across the road from the Islamic Art museum. We all got in the car and drove down on to Port Said Street, smug in the knowledge that we could easily leave the car in the well camouflaged, multi-storey car park we discovered last time – and finally visit the museum at our third attempt. No. We arrived at 10:50 am to be informed that we could enter but for 10 minutes only. We would have to leave at 11:00 am as the museum was closing for Friday prayers. We could return at 1pm.

So today, after lunch, we retraced our route. We parked on a different level and were rewarded with some unusual views of Cairo.

The museum, recently renovated and reopened, was worth the effort. Occupying the lower floor of what was originally the Dar al-Kutub, or the National Library, the building is stunning. The museum is not large and is not stuffed with artefacts. We probably went round it in about an hour. The walls are painted grey and white and there is ample space for reflection.  A very cool interior. We mingled with several students who were busy sketching objects and patterns.

Unfortunately photography was not permitted. Highlights included some magnificent doors, one in particular from the late 13th Century inscribed with a Mamluk Prince’s name, Prince Shams-al Din Sunqur al-Tawil a-Mansuri. Big name, big door.  A Fatimid bronze fountain faucet in the shape of a lion was beautifully detailed (you could visualise the water pouring from its mouth); a Qur’an from the 7th century is one of the earliest examples using vowels and consonants; a bowl doubled up as a Planetarium with the sun at the centre and sand clocks; there were prescriptions written on paper and papyrus and I would have liked to have known what ailment the patient might have had and what was being prescribed. Indeed, the only complaint was the lack of stories connected to the atrefacts. There was a magnificently fine and decorated balance made of copper and inlaid with silver. A carob bean was one of the weights used.

Lucas brought out his sketch pad but it was Shona who got engrossed in drawing and colouring a carpet from the 12th century. Cairo got the outline of a saddle-cloth just right. We were disappointed to see the totally empty shelves of what was, or will be, the museum shop! We were ready to spend.

April 1, 2011

Stop at Sadat

Filed under: Cairo,politics — scotsabroad @ 3:14 pm

But for how long? While running in the Wadi this morning I found out that more demonstrations were planned for today in Tahrir Square. This was not good news as the boys had plans to go downtown for The Tahrir Book Fair at the American University. We decided to venture on the Metro and see how it went. The journey proved to be very quiet with only a few demonstrators on route  with rolled up flags and plastic bags bulging with food. We got off at Sadat below Tahrir Square. We noticed the obliteration of Mubarak’s name, further on up the line, on all metro maps. You can just make out the penned-in word,  Martyrs – replacing the deposed president on the map above. I don’t think it will ever be the end of the line for Nasser but how long until Sadat’s name is erased from the map?

We surfaced to a wonderful scene in the beautiful spring sunshine. Tahrir is clean and shows little signs from the turbulent events in January. Vendors of patriotic merchandise line the streets, others sell t-shirts from the bonnets of their parked cars, children get their faces painted while loud music and loud-speaking accompany all the  flag waving and cheering. People sit around waiting for Friday prayers and to picnic afterwards in the warmth of the day. The only evidence of the Egyptian people’s anger is the burnt out SDP building across the square.

We walk untroubled to the AUC. We spend a pleasant few hours browsing the stalls. Cairo gets a book. Lucas a photo album. I get a second-hand book for 25le about a spy in Cairo in the 1950s. We travel home through a city happy and optimistic.

March 4, 2011

Tankspotting Recce

Filed under: Cairo,Running — scotsabroad @ 6:21 pm

We have become used to seeing tanks and armoured vehicles on the streets around 5th Settlement. However, it still comes as a surprise when we stop and speak to the soldiers assigned to the tanks, to be met with perfect English from many of these charming young men. Locals and foreigners alike are taking the opportunity to be photographed beside this heavy security. This morning Lucas and I cycled around our area mapping out a 10K route for a school run on Friday 18th March. The idea for Tankspotting is to start and finish at NCBIS following a route that gives runners the opportunity to pass a few tanks and armoured vehicles. Lucas was a great help,  especially when you think about what I was doing… noting down locations of tanks using GPS in a notebook and taking photographs.  I am only now beginning to think of the consequences of being stopped and questioned.  43 runners have signed up to run either a 10K or 10 mile route. The T-shirts are proving most popular too. Yeah, that is Lucas on top of the armoured car having climbed up himself.

December 14, 2010

Flaxen Pants

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 7:38 pm

The boys are a bit lost this week without the family matriarch. We have been out and about a bit but have been unsuccessful in exploring  some of the things on our to do list.  Today we headed for Moez Street. We wanted to explore in daylight the complex of Sultan Qalawun and visit the textile museum highlighted in Horus (the in-flight magazine for Egypt Air) last April.

We were amazed to see what must be the earliest example (1500 bc) of a diaper (including liner) found in a family tomb at Deir El Medina in Luxor.  A loin cloth belonging to Tutankhamun. Very personal when you come face to face with other people’s underwear. Just incredible how well the textiles have stood the test of time. We were also interested in the pieces from the Qiswa, the sacred cloth covering the Kaaba (in Mecca) that is changed annually. Up until quite recently, the cloth was a gift annually offered by Egypt. Great wee museum, well worth a visit. Lucas found the face depicted on the ticket while cruising the display cases. The building itself is a wonderful example of a sabil (water fountain)  charitably built by the wealthy to supply water to anyone in Islamic Cairo who was thirsty. This one was commissioned by Mohamad Ali in 1828.

The Qalawun complex was impressive once again but not as magical as coming across it at night. Beautifully restored doors and flooring. Many tourists missing out on this treasure on their way to and from the Khan.

A few days ago we were downtown to see if the Manial Palace was open. It wasn’t. However we noticed that an old building close to the river, that has always intrigued us, has acquired a quite magnificent roof. If this, the Qalawan and the Pasha’s sabil are the shape of things to come in the  restoration,  function and celebration of Cairo’s magnificent architecture, there is hope.

October 23, 2010

The Butcher of Degla

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 12:46 pm

We were invited to the annual South American BBQ at Wadi Degla today. We got to see some impressive, specially commissioned, cooking racks, used to cook (splay) the Egyptian lamb and the Argentine piglet –  all 18 kilos smuggled (frozen) in to the country back in August – the perks of business class. Here is Sergio still standing but less than sober, following the marathon cooking session.  Needless to say I took some serious abuse being a vegetarian. The boys amused themselves with the other children climbing the ridges and setting fires.  A satisfactory amount of sand and dirt in the bath this evening after draining.

October 2, 2010

Baladi Bars

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 11:28 am

We ventured downtown last night to visit some baladi bars. I had forgotten about the effects of drinking too much Stella. Seventeen years later I can reassure myself that Stella still rots the soul.

We all met in the Windsor Hotel. I last had a beer here seventeen years ago. I remembered the old postcards for sale at reception, the old elevator and chest freezer at the bar to keep the beers cold. Nothing had changed. Once the haunt of British Officers, the antlers and horns of many animals adorned the walls, some terribly small, testament to their desire to shoot things and obvious lack of big game around Cairo. We tried Cafe Riche and were told, open in one week. Then it was to Estoril down an alley off Tallat Harb, provoking anxious looks from some and comments like, where are you taking us? The food looked great. We then headed to El-Horreya which means freedom. This was my favourite bar. A bright, mirrored, noisy canteena-like place. Every space, table and chair occupied as the beer (take it or leave it) handed out of a crate. El-Muriaz was next with a forbidden first floor and a rank toilet. Then it was to Cap D’or, quite late and quite drunk.  A brown wooden establishment with a great bar. Free Fuul with spicy sauce and a Stella before being asked to leave. 

This was an enjoyable adventure. Most of our friends never knew this world existed. The Stella guide says downtown may be run down, even decrepit at times, but it’s authentic, friendly and interesting. And cheap of course.

A positive view:   Cairo Life Video by EgyptianG

September 13, 2010


Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 5:57 pm

Our fourth year in Cairo started two weeks ago and haven’t the boys grown?! It won’t be long until they are taller than me. This picture was taken outside our new apartment building. We are now living in a large, airy top floor flat and we love the extra space and the peace and quiet of the gardens in front of our building.

After the shock of getting up – and out – early each morning had worn off the boys quickly adjusted to their new teachers and Lucas was even heard to say today that he liked Mr Cavanagh. Lucas’ class have a blog too (password available from me) and this will be another way for you all to keep in touch with what he is up to.

Today Cairo was invited to be a scholarship pupil of the trumpet/trombone group. He was delighted and will start his new instrument next Sunday. Fingers crossed he has enough hot air to keep him going – not a big problem for the Davidson family usually!

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.

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