40 for 40: Day 5 – The Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art

Yesterday was a day to be in a car. Today was a day for the feet.

Don’t get me wrong, as noted, we had the option of doing a car trip and seeing most of Cairo today, but there’s also something to be said for taking it at your own speed, navigating streets, and doing it yourself. So that was today.

Wanting solid coffee to start the day, we went to a Dunkin Donuts nearby, which was… fine. It’s Dunkin, it’s fine. New slogan. After that, Cairo Metro!

In spite of a lack of air conditioning, the Metro was pretty solid today. Arabic signs supplemented with English, fast moving, avoids Cairo traffic. You’ll be crowded, you’ll be hot, if you’re a woman, you can have your own car and may want it because apparently women here need their own car because groping is a thing, but it’s good. Word of warning, though – the price has gone up, from 1 LE from when I read it in Lonely Planet to 2 LE on their website to 3 LE as of today. Still dirt cheap, though.

First stop was Sadat station, right under Tahrir Square, home to Egypt’s most recent revolutions and Cairo’s most visited in-city site, the Egyptian Museum. Which is easily one of the best museums I’ve ever been in.

It’s not orderly. Things are laid out in an way that makes sense from a historical standpoint, with different items occupying different rooms based upon age, but information signs are at a minimum, some exhibits don’t have labels, and air conditioning is reserved for the most important rooms. I saw people carrying what I thought was a mummy across the floor as other parts of the museum were being given a fresh coat of paint. There’s a real living, breathing sense of archaeology here that I haven’t felt replicated in most other museums.

King Khefre, who built the 2nd pyramid at Giza.

The ground floor is dedicated mostly for the older kingdoms, with a bit of the Greek and Roman period folded in. The heavyweight exhibits are one level up. That’s where King Tut’s treasures are located, along with the Royal Mummies of Ramses II and Queen Hatshepsut, who has one of the more unflattering mummy descriptions as it details her bad teeth, obeseness and general lack of good health. Tut’s exhibit, though.

A lot of his famous items are out to display on the main part of the floor, things like his throne,

King Tut’s Throne

the box with the famous scene of him hunting, and several statues. The mask, jewellery and coffins are in a special air-conditioned room and, while you can take pictures in the rest of the museum, Tut and the mummies are no-photo zones. Still, not disappointing. Like most kids of the 80s, I had heard a lot about Tut, and I feel like I was gazing into the eyes of his mask for ages. And, because of the lack of crowds, it was actually relatively quiet.

I’m going to sidebar here and just point out that the hassles you’re supposed to get outside of the museum didn’t seem to happen, the countless unofficial guides were one, and the groups crowding the museum weren’t there. Egypt’s tourist downturn actually makes it a perfect time to come if you want to see some of these incredible things with nobody else here.

The whole museum experience was incredible. We weren’t going to stack too much more into our day. We had a great (but pricey) Egyptian lunch at Felfela before walking over to the Museum of Islamic Art, on the border of Islamic Cairo. The museum is absolutely gorgeous in both content and display, and spending an hour learning about how Islamic art and science were merged and barely seeing any representations of people made for a stark contrast to the Egyptian Museum’s statues on statues.

After that, another Metro ride home where we bumped into Sherif outside of our guesthouse! He politely suggested some activities for tomorrow, offering to drive us around, but considering we’ll be back in Cairo before we leave, I think we’ll be limiting his services to a drive to the train, through no fault of his, just mostly due to us wanting to be independent travellers.

It’s rare that you get to check two big items off the bucket list in two consecutive days. With the pyramids yesterday and the Egyptian Museum today, we were lucky enough to do just that. All that, with more trip to come.

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