The Egyptologist, the Islam Expert and the Copt in Cairo
Seven Days in Cairo
In a dictionary, the words Cairo and cacophony are neighbours. In Cairo you’ll find huge crowds as well as, shall we say, vigorous traffic. Life in the city is at all times buoyant, exuberant and dynamic. A resting heart rate is difficult to achieve.
At the same time, it is the Islamic culture’s unofficial capital. The city has also inherited the only manmade construction who can hold back time.
Bygone days in the Western desert and life everywhere.
Cairo can be your home from 4th November 2023 for a week. We have rented all the rooms at ‘Longhamp hotel’.
You will find the hotel in the Zamalek district, an almost Western style area of the city – almost. Its owner is the German Hebba Motz. Believe us, after a long day and just as long night in dissonance, what you need more than anything is a bit of German ordnung.
You are more than welcome to call us on +45 5273 6316 if you have questions to the below. Weekdays from 10 am to 6 pm. Saturdays from 10.00 am to 3 pm.
Parnassos.dk is a Danish company and member of “Rejsegarantifonden” the equivalent to ABTA. It guarantees your money while we are the guarantor of your adventure.
Jesus and Parents’ Stay in Maadi
For those of you starting the journey from Denmark: We will fly with Egypt Air, departing Saturday 4th November at 2.45 pm from Copenhagen airport, a non-stop flight to Cairo.
A bus from the airport will take us to the hotel where we will enjoy a late supper.
At 9.30 am Sunday morning – and after breakfast which is included in the price – you will hear the starting pistol.
And a pro pos, it’s Parnassos’ philosophy that our travelling program is as compact as possible. We want to use every available hour while we are in Cairo. Do join us on all tours during the day! Come along to all the restaurants and clubs in the night!
If you at some stage get tired, or if the city’s screeching and noise all of a sudden becomes too much for you – which is pretty much a certain – we will find a taxi that brings you right back to the hotel. Taxis are everywhere at all times. They don’t have quite the same quality as a black cab or a Mercedes, but you will not complain about the price, which is almost embarrassingly cheap.
Sunday morning our bus will take us a little south of the city, where we will visit, in my opinion, the most interesting Coptic church, “The Virgin Mary’s church in Maadi”. The priest of the church, Stefanos, will welcome us to his congregation.
It’s a little more intimate than their much larger churches in the city center. Not only that, it has had pretty classy visitors back in the day.
This is where you will find Christianity at its infancy – literally.
We read the following in the gospel of 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 of Cairo where there was a large Jewish community in those days – and exactly where the church was built later on.
Not only that, Stafanos has promised to open the door to the most sacred area of the church, the crypt where it is said the parents and child were hiding from the spies of Herod.
It’s doubtful there is any historian who “buys” the story but let us, for about an hour, place our skepticism in the wardrobe and be captivated by this story, the roots to the legend are at least a thousand years old.
Equally riveting will be Stefanos speech about belonging to a Christian minority in the midst of an Islamic society.
Afternoon tea at St. Regis
The church is adjacent to the Nile. It makes therefore good sense to take the almost obligatory tour with a ‘Felukah’, large sailing boats in symbiosis with the Nile, the river that is at the same time both mythic and factual. We drift along with time and stream, ebb and flow, in complete contrast to the hectic city.
The sailing tour lasts just short of two hours and will bring us out and about and along the Maadi island. When we disembark we will immediately go on board again, this time on a river taxi bringing us back to the city proper.
It will land at the exceptionally luxurious St Regis hotel, where we will have our afternoon tea with delicatessen served at the Water Garden restaurant.
Will we have time for a small rest at our hotel before we embark on Sunday night? Possibly.
Jakob Skovgaard Petersen says,
We are both proud and happy to announce that the leading Danish Islam expert, professor Jacob Skovgaard Petersen from Copenhagen University, will join us throughout the week in Cairo. He gives us solid ground under our feet when we are dealing with one of the world’s large cultures.
As you are reading these lines it’s a good guess that you are not from Denmark. To give some background: He was embroiled in controversy in the 00’s. Parts of the right wing press aggressively attacked him because of his attitude towards the Muhammed crisis and thoughts about 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 undoubtedly be able to listen to his many stories about the city including when, during the 1980s, he lived in Old Cairo, the most exotic place of the city, where he also picked up, yellow fever, one of the most exotic diseases. 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 the many layers of the city. From the Pharaonic to the Hellenistic, Christian and Jewish in the Fustat quarter. Onwards to the Arabic 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 [the 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 slum, chaos, decay side by side 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. It really is beyond belief.
The area counts 15,000 inhabitants and their livelihood consists of collecting and sorting the garbage from a population of 10 million in this ’ mega-city. All kinds of refuse end here: Plastic, bottles, cloth, paper, furniture, tires… you name it, they have it.
A constant traffic of vans, easels, men and children bring stuff of all kinds back and forth. On top, there is a certain whiff of decay to the area.
Wandering around here makes you feel you are walking inside a Federico Fellini film scene. The only issue is; the occupants genuinely don’t like visitors of touristic origin. It’s understandable.
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 manmade mountains of waste.
We will move out of the Fellini film, but still be in the dominion of surrealism.
St. Simon's Cave Church
Al Abageyah in Cairo is primarily a Christian Coptic district. And, while we are at the subject, I think you will be surprised by how many churches you’ll find in this solidly Islamic city. It’s in their honor that Egypt gives extensive religious freedom to their Christian minority which probably consists of about 10% of the population.
Behind Garbage City a new revelation will be disclosed to us: one of the largest churches in the world with space for 5,000 churchgoers. It 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.
In my opinion, the 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 little episode; a Coptic Cultural Chock of a non-religious quality; that has followed me ever since.
The Opera House in Cairo
The building you can see in the background? A mosque perhaps? Well, the headline gives the answer away, it’s the Cairo Opera house. And we are genuinely dealing with an institution that primarily promotes European Classical music. Cairo has a symphony orchestra and an opera orchestra.
One of our evenings will be dedicated to this rather fascinating house, its roof covering two cultures. The audience does not at all represent the general population. No trophies to be won if you guess which social layer they might belong to.
And yet again, one has this insidious surreal feeling. You sense that the audience, the singers and the musicians have been taken out of one culture and implemented into another. Which, actually, is exactly the case.
In reality, Egypt has shares in the European Opera tradition with its “Aida”, composed by Giuseppe Verdi and ordered by the Egyptian ruler, Ismael Pashe, in year 1870, as part of the festivities, celebrating the opening of the Suez Canal.
Aida turned out to be a phenomenally expensive opera to produce (Pashe also had an opera house build for the occasion) and it de facto bankrupted the country. All in the name of art.
My brother, Bent, in Cairo's "Agouza"
Winter 1991. My brother’s depressions get 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, where he got himself a new life, friends and acquaintances and found 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 crises that wreaked havoc with the world – and our plans; that of arranging a guided tour to his city.
Late February 2020 he went to Athens, where he also had an apartment, while I stayed in Cairo. A four-week planned holiday ended being a five months unplanned ditto because of Covid.
We sadly had to say goodbye to my brother 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, Agouza, and inherited his friends who have been indispensable with arranging this tour.
I will happily show you this part of Cairo. When visiting my brother, and if one couldn’t quite figure out where his flat was among the small alleys and streets, you could always ask where “the stranger” lived.
My brother was well liked, they looked after him during his “dark” spells and he ended up being the district’s mascot. Their hospitality I have inherited as well – and now it’s me who is the stranger!
Mohammed Kora's tale
The name of the supervisor to my brother’s apartment in Agouza – which I have taken over for now – is Zakaraya, originating 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 he for a couple of years worked at the customer services of 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, their dreams and their indignities.
Not only that, Mohammed has ‘the finger on the pulse’. He will the same evening bring us to whatever place is ‘in’ in Cairo. The Arabian youth is exactly as fickle as the 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 placed a price for his engagement. Next time I leave for 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’ll find The Danish ambassador’s residence.
The ambassador will hold a reception for us one of our evenings, where our “guest of honor”, Jakob Skovgaard Petersen will hold his speech.
We also hope, at the same time, to reenact 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 at least one of the days – and possibly for one and a half day – to visit the out of this world majestic pyramids. They are close to incomprehensible, especially when we talk about the three large pyramids in Giza.
However, the 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 will let the Egyptologist decide our program. It’s likely we will go further south to see the equally incomparable pyramids around Dahshur. Perhaps they are a tad less awe-inspiring as their siblings in Giza, but there will be a whole lot less of the scammers and hustlers who really understand how to diminish the breathtaking experience of watching the world’s 1st of seven wonders. It’s difficult to understand why this is allowed. We will ensure do keep them at arm’s length.
The Egyptologist is from the American University in Cairo. We will announce the name in the Spring, but it will be one of the “big shots”.
Grand Egyptian Museum - the premiere
Yours truly was in Cairo most of February for the finishing touches of our upcoming trip in November.
We managed to obtain a permission to visit the not yet opened ’Grand Egyptian Museum’, situated not far from the three pyramids of Giza. A museum that has been 10 years underway, shattered all budgets, but all signs in the sky tell us that the doors will open this summer. We are dealing with the finishing touches.
I was not allowed to take photos of everything I saw, and I was not allowed to visit all parts of the museum either, 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 dwindled considerably since the end of the Colonial times and especially after president Nasser became president in 1954.
But they are still to be found. We shall meet one of them, the Armenian, at the same evening where the Moon’s sickle raises above the absurdly bustling Attaka roundabout.
Hidden inside an old French Haussmann building and away from the unforgiving commotion of the streets, we find a watchmaker and a shop that has attracted many a documentary, for example this one.
The owner of the shop, Ashod Papazian, will open the doors for 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 for an obsolete époque. Ashod inherited the shop from his father, who took over from his father. Today it possesses spare parts to clocks and watches you cannot find elsewhere in the world. (By the way, the chain of my old Tag-Heuer has recently been ‘restored’ here).
We will enjoy a glass of wine – and beer undoubtedly – while we listen to the story about his family’s journey from Turkey to Egypt. A tale not that dissimilar to that of a certain other family who was 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 Arabian Spring in 2011, which brought down the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak).
AUC has kindly allowed us to use 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 have a little classical concert and afterwards we will sit in the garden where a catering company will cater for 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 decibel 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 theatre 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!
Yet again, 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. The last quarter should be set in stone late February 2023. 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 live fully up to our slogan, “Once in a lifetime – every time”.
At your Pleasure in Cairo
As mentioned below, the trip includes 3 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 to the above, feel free to call us on +45 5273 6316. Opening hours, as mentioned, are weekdays between 10 am and 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 a large group. We’re talking about 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 €?
Seven nights, breakfast included at hotel Longchamp. You can choose an upgrade to the nearby five* hotel, Marriott, for one or more of the nights.
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, pt $ 25, that you can obtain at the Cairo airport on arrival.