We finally decided that Brian was old enough and just as important, physically big enough, to venture into the crowded alleys of the centuries old bazaar in downtown Cairo named Khan al-Khalili. We wanted to make sure he was mature enough to speak for himself in case he was separated or there was a problem, and big enough not to get knocked down in, or be afraid of, the chaos ;-) It truly is an overwhelming experience. We lucked into going on a nice day, not too crowded, and we had a very good time.
The khan is a tourist trap, but more importantly, it is a real, day-to-day market place. It is fascinating to me that the main reason people wander this area is to shop, but I like to look at the buildings that surround it.
The streets are very narrow. There are stalls on both sides and people everywhere. This doesn't mean that there isn't traffic. Vehicles, bicycles, horse and donkey carts etc. also manage to make this a busy traffic area. The market is downtown, but part of it is built around one of the original gates of the city - although these days, it is only wide enough for one car(t) to go through at a time though!
This - rather bland - photo is one of my favorites. On the left is part of one of the original gates in the ancient wall (well, what's left of it) around Cairo. Of course, the location of the wall that used to be around the city, is now in the middle of the city, but times change. Which can be seen by the apartments in the background with the satellite dishes on the roof.
One of our first stops was the Mukhaymah, the Tent Makers', area. Stall upon stall of beautiful applique works. Some are geometric patterns, some are pictures, some are calligraphy. All handmade, and many pieces can be commissioned. For example, one of our favorite merchants - we don't go there often but always stop by his stall, he's very nice - will take your name, write it in Arabic, and shape the Arabic letters into a shape of your choice. He'll do this by pen so you can get some ideas - in case you want to create something personal to be made into cloth.
Here are two of the treasures we came home with from the market this time. Applique piecework of whirling dervishes. We are going to have to get them framed somewhere - and figure out if we have a wall for them - but we liked these guys:
Another thing about this market place is that it is so over-whelming that it is too easy to overlook many interesting details. When I go, I visit a lot of my favorite stores, but tend to see new (old) things each time. There are details on the buildings that you just don't notice because you are too busy looking at the stalls, the wares, the people - or some other interesting bit! It was good to bring my camera this time - first time I ever remembered to do so - because it made me remember to stop and look more. There were still a few pictures that I snapped, looked at later, and saw things in the shot that I hadn't realized were there when I clicked the photo.
After leaving the Tent Maker's area, we crossed the street to the main part of the market - to the area most of the tour buses drop off their tourists. It is also a market that serves the locals. There are clothes, fabrics, toys, brasswares, glass, spices, jewelry, furniture - and just about anything and everything you can imagine. Some is definitely directed at tourists, but the place is huge. Walk past the shops in front and deeper into the alleys and rooftops of the market and you will find yourself neck-deep in exciting shopping - even if you don't buy anything!
The following are a couple shots of a tall open area that, I was told, once served as a place to feed camels. Of course, this was told to me by the same guy who tried to 'sell' me a couple of massive, ancient, wooden doors. We negotiated awhile, but eventually the deal fell through because he wouldn't include delivery!
The guy in the photo above was very friendly, not overly pushy like some of the merchants are - I don't remember exactly how he greeted it, but it was one of the friendly 'joking' salutations we heard all over: "Welcome to Egypt - how can I take your money?" or "I have what you need, even if you don't know what it is."
I've not yet been tempted to buy a copper snowman (but I do have a brass Jack-o-lantern!)
Brian got a lot of attention from everyone. Several people wanted to know where we bought him, or how much we wanted to sell him for - one sweet elderly man wanted us to buy him(!) so he could be Brian's grandfather - very cute!
One shop that we made sure to visit was the "Three Brothers" - better known as the Crazy Brothers. Their shop is on a rooftop. If you don't know of it, you'd never find it. They can get nice new metal work for you - copper and brass and silver plates, tea and coffee sets, nameplates, you name it. All made to order and engraved, etc. What they are known for though, is always having the most amazing collection of metal junk! Different stuff than you find in the other shops. A lot of it looks like it was found in a dump, abandoned houses, buried out in the desert somewhere, etc. but they never CLAIM anything about these things. Very refreshing! Many places will deliberately damage items to make them look old in order to try and sell them as antique. Places in Pakistan, for example, were notorious for laying carpets out across the road to be 'aged'. These guys, they don't try to pass anything off as valuable antiques. They just want to sell you something you like, usually for a great price, and if it is a dirty or corroded piece, they will clean it, burnish it, or even reglaze it (I don't think that's the right word - they'll put more silver over silver-plated items, etc), if you want, and then deliver it to you. One of the niftiest things we've ever picked up there was a little brass(?) oriental-looking dragon carrying holder in its mouth. Not only was it a great little candle holder, I will never forget the shopkeeper's face as he told me that it was MuShu the dragon (from Mulan) he was truly having fun, so we did too. I'd have bought it anyway, it was only a dollar or so he wanted for it, but it is definitely worth a lot more to us - you know, with it being MuShu and all ;-D!
Below are some shots from their shop.
And below is the little pile of goodies I came away with (on this trip). The two matching trivets were polished up to their original shining gold color, and are in use on a regular basis. The eagle door knocker will likely be stuck in storage until we live in a house again - but I couldn't resist it. The apple spoonrest also polished up like new (altho it disappeared out of my kitchen - last I saw it was out in the living room holding marbles or something). The silver teapot was cleaned up - I haven't yet decided to have it re-dipped - another picture of it and another teapot is above, the teapot on the right. The funny little thing by the apple and the eagle (not a good photo of it) is a pewter peacock figurine, hollow with a little dip-stick. It is something used by Bedouin women to store and apply kohl. I just thought it was pretty. Managed to get all these things, plus two pyramid shaped copper banks for the kids for all of about $10.
And a few more shops and displays that caught my eye...
And then we headed out of the Khan, and back home - after a great, but rather hot and exhausting day!
This last picture is a part of an old building near our Embassy. From the outside, and if you don't look very closely, the building appears rather run-down and neglected. I have always liked the details around this balcony. So, as I was walking back to where we parked our truck, I stopped and snapped this picture real quick. I think it turned out beautiful. (Sad that, in real life, there isn't much other beauty left to this building.)