Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the country’s most important city. With almost 20 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area, it is the most populated city in Africa.
Cairo is the first chapter of the diary I wrote while I was 15 days in Egypt. In it, I report the experiences and impressions so intensely experienced during my trip in the country, and as it could not be otherwise, I share now with you these records.
We spent three days in Cairo. The first two days we did the tourist program, visited the pyramids, museums etc, but also ventured into the parallel world of tourism. We took the subway several times, which was an adventure in itself.
I confess that it is really difficult to describe a city like Cairo.
There are so many contrasts. Many sensations.
But if I were to describe it in a few words, they would be: it’s all too much! Too many people, too much noise, too much pollution, too much garbage, too big, too interesting, too much traffic jam, too much honking, too much history, too much intensity, very, very much.
Downtown Cairo was designed by prestigious French architects who were hired by Khedive Ismail during his visit to Paris, and since then he wanted to make the capital of the Egyptian kingdom better than Paris and be the jewel of the East with a European urban planning and architectural style, with wide and linear streets, modern geometric harmony.
We certainly notice the traces of this past where there was a prosperous elite in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was the Belle Époque of Egypt!
However, decades of neglect by owners, government and tenants, and the consequent departure of the upper classes turned the splendour of its ornaments into decaying buildings.
We noticed that tourists avoid the subway and public transportation, consequently, the locals looked at us with surprise, especially the German Martin with 1.90 height.
On one of the trips, for example, we were standing in the middle of a circle and everyone around us was making jokes and laughing at us. We remained calm and smiling and everything ended well.
But this was an isolated episode. Most people were very nice to us, offering help when they saw us lost in the stations, offering us a seat, and at no time feeling threatened.
But, yes it is stressful to ride the subway in Cairo. First, because it is very crowded, and second because it is very crowded with men who do not tolerate free women. But since I am just a responsible traveller, I respect and don’t mind.
Cairo’s traffic is extremely chaotic. In many old cars, drivers don’t wear seat belts, they carry children in the front seats, babies on their laps, people beyond capacity. Motorcyclists don’t wear helmets, and also carry more than two people and children in the front without any protection. It is a shock. There is no way to describe it.
One of the drivers who drove us to some of the tourist attractions told us that many drivers do not have a driver’s license and many buy one.
The noise of the horns is deafening. They honk all the time. The horn is part of driving. Yes, it is maddening. And the pedestrians don’t have much choice of sidewalks, because they are not always paved and people walk on the streets between the cars, it is not an easy city to get around on foot. There are also almost no traffic lights. The streets are very difficult to cross.
Yes, it is wild traffic, but as our time there was not so long, it certainly becomes fun.
Walking the streets outside of Cairo's tourist circuit
We fans of sustainable travel know that the best way to get to know a place is to walk around without any plans, just letting yourself go with the flow of the streets.
And so we had a great experience outside the tourist programs. Walking through the great labyrinth that is the largest market in the capital, El Ataba Market is like a city within the city.
The market is not like markets in general, and it is the least touristy, but the most crowded and noisy. Millions of people are buying and selling daily. Many times the merchandise is exposed on the floor.
On this walk that lasted hours, I had only one unpleasant episode. I was walking distracted trying to absorb so much different information when a man put his face right in front of me and shouted at me. I don’t need to understand Arabic to know that it was a great insult.
He demonstrated with his facial expression and tone of voice how much he hates free women.
I was startled, but quickly stopped thinking about the episode and continued to explore the city.
It was really amaying to walk through its noisy, dusty and extremely crowded. To smell it, to look it in the eyes, to know the lifestyle of a different culture. That is the beauty and magic of travelling the world.
There is always something new to discover because the city is full of hidden treasures. If you get lost, the friendly locals will help you find your way to enjoy Cairo.
Restaurants, food and beverages
Cairo is not like the big cities where the supply of restaurants is endless. Quite the opposite. It is very difficult to find a good restaurant in the city. However, Cairo has a lot of street food. But since the water in the city is extremely dirty, don’t take a risk.
Coffee shops are also rare. We even tried to go to one of those old European style cafes but the experience was not the best as well as everything that was a magnificent day in the city the cafe was also in decay. Not to mention the discomfort of eating with people smoking all the time next to you, because in Cairo people are allowed to smoke in restaurants and indoors.
We ate in a restaurant that our tour guide took us to. The typical food was very good, although expensive for the quality. They charge taxes without warning. In fact, we were not even given a menu with prices. And the owner of the restaurant sat two months behind us and watched all the time what we were doing.
It was a little strange but nothing that would spoil our lunch moment either.
We also ate once in a market but the place that took us was our guide. The other meals were the same at the hotel. Alcoholic drinks are not easy to find either. Many times they are not even available in the hotels and when they are, they are extremely expensive. So take the opportunity to do a detox of the alcohol in your body. That’s what I did.
The hibiscus iced tea is wonderful.
The Egyptian Museum is the most important museum in Egypt. It houses an impressive collection of more than 120,000 Egyptian antiquities found during excavations.
The Last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World The Great Pyramid of Giza
Most people who visit Egypt, have the purpose of visiting the pyramids, of course!
The mysterious, unexplained, gigantic, mystical constructions have been there for about 5000 years. It is really fascinating to see something like this. Furthermore, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Fantastic to be able to see it.
But, what most people don’t expect is that they are practically inside the city.
The pictures we see of the pyramids make us fantasize that they are in the middle of the desert, and are difficult to access. For example, when I was a child I believed that to get to the pyramids you had to walk for a while in the desert with nothing around and suddenly you would see the monumental constructions protected by the sphinxes.
What happens is totally different. Apart from the part about the difficult access – not because of the location but because of the chaotic traffic in Cairo and Gisa, which are the two cities that live together and are only divided by the Nile River. Together they have more than 20 million inhabitants.
The pyramids are in a suburb of Giza. This means that we have to go through an extremely poor and dirty area of the city and face a dreadful traffic jam.
At the entrance of the pyramid complex, the struggle is with thousands of tourists squeezing to get tickets and then to go through the X-ray.
The term sphinx is derived from the Egyptian language “shesep-ankh”, meaning “living image”, meaning that it would act as a guardian of the Giza Peninsula, representing the strength of the Pharaoh.
The sphinx was a winged monster with the body of a woman and a lion that afflicted the city of Thebes. It first presented men with the following riddle: “What animal walks in the morning on four legs, in the afternoon on two, and at night on three?” as none of the men could decipher this riddle, the sphinx devoured them.
The sphinx is at a different entrance than the pyramids and it takes a lot of patience to get a cleaned photo. The place, as you might expect, is very crowded.
In other words, there is not that painting of the sphinx in front of the pyramids in the desert.
You already know this, so don’t stress. Much less with the street vendors. The sellers and camel owners are there doing their business and differently from what many say – they give up after only the second or third “NO”.
The camel rides that are offered at the pyramids take a more exclusive view where you can see all six pyramids lined up. The advantage is to be able to abstract from everything and everyone around for an individual experience in relation to the pyramids they are magical magnificent but it is not for me to describe my experience.
Coptic Cairo, the neighbourhood where churches of the second largest religion in an almost 90% Muslim country are concentrated, is a contrast to the rest of the Egyptian capital, where it is possible to visit what is said to be the hiding place of the Holy Family during its escape to Egypt.
Curiosity about one of the sustainable inventions of the ancient Egyptians
It was the Egyptians who created the substitute for paper – papyrus sheets. This was thousands of years ago. These are sheets made from the papyrus plant, which has a fibrous interior, making them durable and perfect writing materials.
What to wear on a trip in Egypt
Although Egypt is an Islamic country, because it receives many tourists, it is possible to dress decently in western style without any problems. It is good for both men and women to cover their legs and not show their bodies out of respect for the local culture, especially for women travelling alone.
There are many women wearing burqas in Egypt, but especially outside the capital. So just a little common sense will do you fine.
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