The Egyptologist, the Islam Expert and the Copt in Cairo
Seven Days in Cairo
Please note: there are now just two tickets left for this trip. We have arranged a similar tour to Cairo from 31st March 2024, for one week. You can read more here.via this link.
Cairo is a city of huge crowds and vigorous traffic. Life in the city is at all times buoyant, exuberant and dynamic; a resting heart rate is difficult to achieve.
Islamic culture’s unofficial capital, the city has also inherited the only man-made construction that can hold back time; bygone days in the Western Desert and the bustle of modern life everywhere.
Cairo will be your home from 4th November 2023 for one week, staying at the 4-star Hotel Flamenco Cairo in Zamalek.
You are more than welcome to call us if you have any questions.
Phone +45 5273 6316
Weekdays from 10 am to 6 pm
Saturdays from 10.00 am to 3 pm
Or email email@example.com
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Jesus and Parents’ Stay in Maadi
For those of you starting the journey from Denmark: We fly with EgyptAir, departing on Saturday 4th November, 2.45 pm, from Copenhagen Airport non-stop to Cairo. A bus from the airport will take us to the hotel, where we will enjoy a late supper.
At 9.30am on Sunday morning, after the included breakfast, our trip will begin in earnest. It is Parnassos’ philosophy that our travel programmes are as packed as possible. We want to make best use of every available hour whilst in Cairo, so please, do join us on all tours during the day! Come along to all the restaurants and clubs at night!
If you get tired at any stage, or the city’s screeching and noise suddenly becomes too much for you – pretty much a certainty – we will find a taxi to take you straight back to the hotel. Taxis are everywhere at all times. They may not be of quite the same quality as a black cab or a Mercedes, but you will not complain about the price, which is almost embarrassingly cheap.
On Sunday morning our bus will take us a little south of the city, to visit a most interesting Coptic church, the Church of The Blessed Virgin Mary in Maadi, where the priest of the church, Stefanos, will welcome us into his congregation.
It is a little more intimate than the larger churches in the city centre, but it has seen some pretty classy visitors in its day. This is where you will find Christianity in its infancy – literally.
We can read the following in the Gospel of St. Matthew
An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, because Herod is starting to look for the child so he can kill him. Stay in Egypt until I tell you to return.” So Joseph got up and left for Egypt during the night with the child and his mother.
According to tradition, the family stayed in Maadi for about a month – an area where there was a large Jewish community at that time – exactly where the church was later built.
Stefanos will introduce us to the most sacred area of the church: the crypt; where it is said that the parents and child hid from the spies of Herod.
It may be doubtful that a historian would offer hard evidence for this story, but let us, for about an hour, place our scepticism in the closet, and be captivated by this legend, the roots of which are at least a thousand years old.
Stefanos will talk about belonging to a Christian minority in the midst of an Islamic society.
Afternoon tea at The St. Regis
The church being adjacent to the Nile, this will be our opportunity to embark on the almost-obligatory felucca cruise. These large sailing boats are in symbiosis with the Nile; a river both mythical and factual; drifting along with time and tide, ebb and flow, in complete contrast to the hectic city.
A couple of hours sailing will take us to Maadi Island, where, on disembarking, we will board a river taxi back to the city proper. Landing at the exceptionally luxurious The St Regis Hotel, we will have afternoon tea and delicacies, served in the Water Garden restaurant
We will have time for a small rest at our hotel before we embark on Sunday night.
Jakob Skovgaard Petersen Says
We are proud to announce that leading Danish Islam expert, Professor Jacob Skovgaard-Petersen of Copenhagen University, will join us throughout the week in Cairo. He will give us solid grounding for our exploration of one of the world’s largest cultures.
As you are reading this in English it’s a reasonable assumption that you are not from Denmark, so, to give some background:
Professor Skovgaard-Petersen was embroiled in controversy in the 2000s, when he was attacked by the right-wing press over his attitude towards the Muhammad cartoon crisis and his opinions on immigration. Sad and shameful. Unless you see it from a marketing point of view; then it doesn’t get much better than that.
We will be treated to his many stories about the city, including when, during the 1980s, he lived in Old Cairo, the most exotic part of the city, where he picked up yellow fever, one of the most exotic diseases. (No longer a risk in Egypt.)
Concerning our specific tour, Jakob says,
Cairo is not only one of the oldest cities in the world, it has for centuries also been one of the largest, as it is today. The many historical eras are still visible in the city, not only beneath the surface but in the many distinctive districts. This is one of the reasons why a walk through Cairo feels like entering a time machine.
Our journey in November is such a tour through its many layers. From the Pharaonic to the Hellenistic, Christian and Jewish in the Fustat quarter. Onwards to the Arab conquest and the Fatimid Caliphate’s new town, al-Qahira, continuing to the heyday of the Mamelukes (1250-1517).
We will visit the Osmanic town that [Danish/German explorer] Carsten Niebuhr visited and later on Napoleon conquered.
Then we arrive at the elegant fin-de-siècle Cairo with boulevards and parks. From the colonial days’ nationalistic expressions to the independence in 1954 and socialism’s modernism. We will finally arrive at today’s Cairo with slums, chaos, decay, side by side with the new rich quarters.
It takes time to master a city like Cairo. But we will give it a try during our stay.
As mentioned, Jakob will stay with us throughout the week. Not only is he an expert in the Arabic cultures, his command of the Arabic language is at a level where even the Danish expats feel intimidated.
Incognito in "Garbage City"
The Al Abageyah district in Cairo is a strong contender for being the most bizarre place on earth.
An area with 15,000 inhabitants, their chief livelihood consists of collecting and sorting the garbage from the population of 10 million in this mega-city. All kinds of refuse ends up here: plastic, bottles, cloth, paper, furniture, tyres… you name it, they deal with it. There is a constant traffic of vans, donkeys, men and children, and a certain air of decay to the area.
Wandering around, you might feel as if you are walking inside a Federico Fellini film scene. The only issue is, understandably, the residents generally don’t like visitors of touristic origin. We have, however, found the perfect solution to this, so you can roam the streets, not quite believing what you see, without stepping on anyone’s toes.
We will explain the “trick” when we stand at the Al-Mokattam street, adjacent to the quarter. You will have half-an-hour on your own, before we meet again – this time on the other side of the large man-made mountains of waste.
We will exit the Fellini film, but still be in the dominion of surrealism.
St. Simon's Cave Church
Al Abageyah is primarily a Coptic Christian district. You may be surprised by how many churches are to be found in this solidly Islamic city. It’s to their credit that Egypt gives extensive religious freedom to the Christian minority, estimated at about 10% of the population.
Beyond Garbage City, a new revelation will be disclosed to us: A huge church, with space for some 20,000 worshipers, has been carved out directly from the Mokattam cliffs that surround eastern Cairo.
Granted, there are tourists, but not many. On the other hand, the church is well visited, not least by the Coptic youth, even outside the hours of religious services. Teenage boys and girls are having fun – and flirting, no doubt.
In my opinion, Coptic society doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. I, on the other hand, find it fascinatingly interesting. If you join us on the trip, I’ll happily tell you about the day, a quarter-of-a-century ago, I first visited Garbage City and experienced a Coptic cultural shock of a non-religious quality, that has followed me ever since.
Cairo Opera House
And the building you can see in the background? A mosque perhaps? Well, the headline gives the answer away: it’s the Cairo Opera House. Completed in 1988, and funded as a gift from the nation of Japan, as part of Cairo’s National Cultural Centre, the Opera House supports both a symphony orchestra and an opera company.
One of our evenings will be dedicated to this rather fascinating building, spanning several cultures. Needless to say, the audience does not at all represent the general population of Cairo.
Yet again one has a surreal feeling: you sense that the audience, singers and musicians have been taken out of one culture and transplanted into another, although, in reality, Egypt has a share in the European Opera tradition: Verdi’s Aida was commissioned by the Egyptian ruler Ismael Pashe in 1870, as part of the festivities to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal.
Aida turned out to be a phenomenally expensive opera to produce (Pashe had an opera house built for the occasion), contributing to the eventual bankruptcy of the country, and, in turn, the British occupation of Egypt from 1882. All in the name of art.
My brother, Bent, in Cairo's Agouza
Winter 1991. My brother’s depression is getting worse. Consequently, his doctor in Denmark suggests he should move to a warmer climate with sun-filled days to take the sting out of the dark Scandinavian winters. My brother heeded the advice and moved to … Cairo!
He lived here for close to 30 years, making for himself a new life, new friends and acquaintances, and finding Aladdin’s cave. Almost. I have no doubt that he played the cards he was handed as well as could reasonably be expected.
The last time we met in Cairo was February 2020, shortly before the Corona crisis that wreaked havoc with the world – and with our plans: of arranging a guided tour to his city.
Late in February 2020 he travelled to Athens, where he also had an apartment, while I remained in Cairo. A four-week planned holiday ended up being a five-month unplanned residency, due to lockdown.
After a long illness, we sadly had to say goodbye to my brother in early 2022, but the plans we made are still alive with this trip, which can be seen both as a memory and a synopsis of a life fully lived, despite uphill struggles.
I have kept his apartment in the Cairo district of Agouza, and inherited his friends, who have been indispensable in the arranging of this tour.
I look forward to showing you this part of Cairo, if you are interested. When visiting my brother, if one couldn’t quite figure out where his flat was, amongst the alleys and streets, you could always ask where “the Foreigner” lived. My brother was well liked: they looked after him during his “dark” spells and he ended up being the district’s mascot. I have inherited their hospitality as well – and now it’s me who is the Foreigner!
Mohammed Kora's tale
The supervisor of my brother’s apartment in Agouza – which I have taken over for now – Zakaraya, originates from Sudan. A nicer man is hard to come by. His English language level is… let’s say rudimentary. But his son, 27-year old Mohammed, is in full command of the language, as for a couple of years he worked in customer services for Vodafone. (It was, however, a challenge for him to understand Scottish. He is not alone).
One evening, while we sat in a taxi, he opened up a little about his life and said, “Erik, the traditions in Egypt are toxic!” That ignited my curiosity. I asked what, in his opinion, was the difference between tradition and culture? He pondered over it for a bit, then replied, “Traditions are acts; culture is achievement”. A pleasure when you have to re-evaluate a person.
He has promised to hold a little speech for us about being young in Egypt; the dreams, as well as the indignities.
Mohammed has his ‘finger on the pulse’. He will take us to whatever place is ‘in’ in Cairo. The Arabian youth is exactly as fickle as its European counterpart, so what is ‘in’ today is hopelessly ‘out’ tomorrow.
No worries about the fact that some of us will be one or even two generations apart, they will gladly welcome us for the night.
He has negotiated a price for his engagement: next time I visit Cairo he wants me to bring him two books about the European Middle Ages.
Reception at the Danish Ambassador's Residence
In walking distance from our hotel, you will find the Danish Ambassador’s residence.
The Ambassador will be hosting an evening reception for us, where our guest of honour, Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen will give a talk.
We also hope to provide a flavour of the ‘expat feel’, which is still very much alive in this part of the world.
One Pyramid in Djoser, Three in Dahshur
We will head towards the Western desert to experience the out-of-this-world majesty of the pyramids. They are close to incomprehensible, especially when we talk about the three large pyramids in Giza, including the sole remainder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, Egyptologists have a certain ambivalence towards them as they have ended up being almost clichés. No matter, naturally we will visit them. Naturally.
Beside this must-visit, we have invited our Egyptologist, Arto Belekdanian, from the Ministry of Antiquities, to guide our programme.
We will travel south to see the equally incomparable pyramids around Dahshur. Perhaps they are a tad less awe-inspiring than their younger siblings in Giza, but there will be a lot less of the unfortunate downside of being a major tourist attraction.
Grand Egyptian Museum - the premiere
Whilst yours truly was in Cairo for most of February, arranging the finishing touches of our upcoming trip, I obtained permission to preview the not-yet-opened Grand Egyptian Museum, situated not far from the pyramids of Giza; a project that has been 10 years under construction, and blown all budgets. However, all the signs are there that the doors will open this autumn, with only the finishing touches to complete.
I was not allowed to take photos of everything I saw, and not allowed to visit all parts of the museum, but what I experienced is enough to comfortably predict that it’s going to be the cultural event of the year. Hyperbole is in order.
It goes without saying that the museum will be on our program in November. Click here for more photos of the museum.
The Facade of the Museum in 21 Seconds
And we took this video clip in February. You’ll get a feeling for how grand the ‘Grand Egyptian Museum’ is. 81.000 sq. meters or close to 900.000 sq. foot. It’s the museum’s own loud-speakers that deliver the background music.
The Armenian Watchmaker
Unsurprisingly, there are several minorities in Cairo. Many of them have diminished considerably since the end of the Colonial times, especially after Nasser became president in 1954, but they are still to be found.
There are around 6,000 Armenians in Cairo, with their own language, churches, and social institutions. Hidden inside an old French Haussmann building, away from the unforgiving commotion of the streets, we find an Armenian watchmaker in a shop that has attracted many documentaries.
The owner of the shop, Ashod Papazian, will welcome us after we have visited the most intense part of the city, Khan el-Khalili. The shop is a most charming time capsule; a living museum of an obsolete époque. Ashod inherited the shop from his father, who took over from his father. Today it possesses spare parts for clocks and watches you cannot find elsewhere in the world. (The chain of my old TAG Heuer was recently restored here).
We will enjoy a drink while we listen to the story of his family’s journey from Turkey to Egypt; a tale not that dissimilar to that of a certain other family who were in distress a couple of millennia ago.
The American University Campus
The American University Campus, AUC, is next to the El Tahrir square (where demonstrations were held during the Arab Spring in 2011, which brought down the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak).
AUC has kindly allowed us the use of their Oriental Room. They have very recently received a grand piano by the country’s most famous ballerina, who retired a couple of decades ago.
We will enjoy a little classical concert and afterwards we will sit in the garden where a catering company will look to our wishes – a company recommended by Dorte Westentoft, the cultural attaché of the Danish embassy, who has been exceptionally helpful in arranging many of the events during our trip.
Just the difference in decibels between city and AUC is almost an experience in itself.
A bit of Exorcism in Eastern Cairo
In the district of El-Sayeda Zainab you’ll find a small theater that plays Nubian music, the purpose of the tunes is to expel any demon that might possess you. I have attended a few of their performances. And it works!
It is difficult to put words to this performance, but I have rarely seen and listened to such charismatic singers. And here it’s the women who are in charge. They will make a performance just for us. Half of us will need to sit on the floor, making it easier to levitate. We’ll bring pillows and plaids.
All of the above represents about ¾ of the full program. As previously mentioned, each and every hour in Cairo will be used in full.
We hope to see you in November. We promise that the trip will be out of the ordinary and will fully live up to our slogan, “Once in a lifetime – every time”.
At your Pleasure in Cairo
As mentioned below, the trip includes three lunches and four dinners. We have yet to make final decisions about a couple of the restaurants, but whatever the final result, they will live up to our demands: authentic and charming – where none of us will experience the revenge of any Pharaoh.
If you have questions about the above, feel free to call us on +45 5273 6316. Opening hours: weekdays 10 am – 6 pm; Saturdays 10 am – 3 pm.
And our Purpose is?
We want to create exclusive experiences – without excluding anyone.
Granted, our tours are not among the cheapest, but they are still accessible to most of those who walk in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish poet who once said, ‘to travel is to live’.
The ‘trick’ is to be larger than small groups. We’re talking about around 40 people. Being many has its own dynamic. And a larger budget allows us to offer truly unique adventures, that surely will be beyond most of us if we acted on our own.
Our purpose is to tear us away from our day to day lives, to ensure that when you are back home again, you will ask yourself, ‘did I really experience what I think I experienced’?
What do you get for 13.000 dkk? - circa € 1,740 /£ 1,500 / $ 1,850
Seven nights, breakfast included at 4* hotel Flamenco Cairo. You can choose to upgrade to the 5* hotel, Marriott in Zamalek.
All transports, (except taxis of your own choice) all guides, all concerts and museum fees are included.
Afternoon Tea at St. Regis.
2 * lunch. (we have a light touch approach to our lunches. Too heavy and we all want to go back to the hotel to have a nap. We hardly have time for this).
4 * dinner or buffets, including our banquet at Mena House. Drinks and amuse-bouche at speeches and lectures.
What is not Included?
Flight to and from Cairo. Wine and spirits in general. Visa, at the moment US $ 25, that you can obtain at the Cairo airport on arrival.