If you in any way like to travel independently, Cairo is a must-see!
Being one of the largest cities on Earth, it can be overwhelming. There is smelly, reckless, congested traffic galore, an unending stream of bustling people in it’s streets, world-class historic monuments to be seen everywhere, Babylonian street scenes which may not have looked much different a thousand years ago, and sounds, smells, sights and tastes to drive your senses into overload.
And Cairo is safe! Almost totally, amazingly, deliciously safe. Day and night. Unbelievable.
Cairo gets a bad rap from guidebooks and travelers for it’s pushy hawkers and lacking service industry. I came prepared for the worst but this turned out to be completely unnecessary. Caireans have a quick smile, a sense of humour, are very friendly and polite (but can get hot-headed astoundingly quickly if provoked) and the hawkers while present are not overly pushy.
We lodged at the Talisman Hotel (which is actually one almost unmarked story in a large old office building) at Talat Harb, smack dab in the middle of downtown Cairo. The shopping streets below are clogged with people, as are the streets with cars, as are the shops with goods. A beehive of activity! The only quiet hours seemed to be early morning, when the shops hadn’t yet opened for business.
Fridays are something special, when religion completely takes over daily life. Sermons are listened to everywhere, either live, blaring out into the streets from mosque loudspeakers or via radio. Cab drivers listen to the sermons while on business and it seems most cars have a Koran on display in them somewhere. Praying people are on the streets everywhere. I have not seen religion so take over daily life anywhere else.
Actually just huge piles of stone blocks, I did not expect the pyramids to impress me as much as they did.
The first peek was on landing, when the pilot announced “Pyramids on left”. While their symmetry is impressive from the air, their awesomeness truly struck me at ground level. The precisely straight slopes, their sheer size and the colossal weather-worn stone blocks need to be seen to be believed. The tunnels to the burial chambers may be somewhat dark, low and a bit hot, and you should go into at least one tomb just for the experience, but intimately they’re just a added experience. The main spectacle is the outside.
Cairo can be well discovered on your own, with the help of a detailed guidebook such as Lonely Planet’s “Egypt”. We did take a private guide along for Sakkara, Dashur and Memphis but that was not necessary and was – in hindsight – somewhat detrimental to the experience. Taxis are aplenty and cheap, choose the ones with the black and white checkered stripes which have meters. The metro is fast, efficient and cheap and the city, being as safe as it is, is a delight to walk around as well.
Stay tuned for the full picture travelogue soon.