Egypt

Contrasts of Cairo

April 4, 2017

Our new adventure began in crazy, chaotic, nimble, contrasting but beautiful and fascinating Cairo.
Having spent the first day in an all-inclusive hotel in Sharm El Sheikh, we realized that this was not the way we like to spend our holidays. On the first evening we bought the bus tickets to Cairo and within two days we were heading to a new city.
«You shouldn’t go there without a guide!», «Are you out of your mind?», «Be careful there!» – this is what we heard before we went to Cairo. But these words could not stop us from leaving a comfortable 5-star hotel and exploring the biggest city of Africa.

Cairo

Cairo is the biggest city in Africa with a population of 22 million people. When we were going there we felt that we might not like the city and the vibes. I imagined it would be too big, loud, noisy, dusty, nimble and aggressive where everything is outrunning and about the survival. But there was something Cairo that no other city has. It has a scale, pyramids, lots of locations for photos and much more that is hidden from its guests.

When we got out of the bus in the morning, Vitaliy and I felt lost and firmly hold each other’s hands. At the beginning, Cairo might scare with its size, tempo, noise and trash and hustle. Crossing the road was a true challenge! Nobody cares about the traffic light, so we had to trust our intuition to find the perfect moment to cross the road. If you feel it, do it!

But this was the first impression only, and as we know the first impression isn’t always right. In the end, it is always the people who define the place. Cairo has become a true discovery to us.

Caireans were very friendly, helpful, open and hospitable to us. From all the small shops, cafes and sides of the streets, we heard: “Welcome to Cairo!”, “Do you need help?”. This was so kind, caring and welcoming! From that moment I felt very comfortable and ready to explore this city and it’s hidden gems. Like all parts of Egypt, Cairo is full of contrasts and diversities. You may see a successful business woman driving her Porsche Cayenne on the street and a boy collecting garbage into his cart and a donkey next to him to carry the cart home, to the Garbage City in Manshiyat Naser. Just behind the corner, you could see a man in a galabey slowly crossing the road, not paying any attention to the traffic and horns. Then you would see a young businessman in a suit rushing towards a metro station. And once you turn around the corner you would see a small cafe with a couple of chairs and a table with shisha, where old men would be sitting all day, smoking and watching people passing by.

I will show you a different Cairo and its gems that are hidden from the guests.

Roads in Cairo
People, cars, buses and motorcycles move in a chaotic flow that never stops. But this did not shock me much, as I have visited New Delhi and Mumbai before. I got used it quickly and just did the same thing as locals did, or just followed them on the side opposite to the direction of the flow. A few hours later I was able to feel the flow and just go when I felt it was right. The drivers, of course, did not stop, nor slowed the speed down. Guests of the city run across the road, but locals would walk with the same speed as they walked on the pavement, slowly and imposingly.

Islamic Cairo

Our first destination in Cairo was the area called Islamic Cairo. This is the old city that is famous for the most beautiful and ancient Mosques, including the biggest Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo and the oldest university Al Azhar.

We were walking down one of the streets looking at one of the towers of a Minaret. All of a sudden a man who was sitting on a chair on that street called us and invited to follow him inside the Mosque. There was no way we would miss that opportunity. We came inside and followed him inside the tower and went up to the top.

The diameter of a tower was around 1,5 meters (60 in). We were going up by a spiral staircase that was about 60 cm (23 in) wide and I was touching dusty walls with my shawl and my backpack. Old wooden stairs were creaking and I was hoping that I would make it to the top. But we made and saw the city from a very unusual perspective. When you walk down the streets, you can’t see the details that are only seen from above.

Locals in Cairo use their rooftops to build additional living space or to keep garbage. We saw many rooftops like that during our walks and a taxi ride. Garbage was on all rooftops and sometimes it seemed like it would start falling down on the streets.

The true luxury is the opportunity to see the city waking up. The first hours after the sun rises are precious. This is when the morning prayer begins, the aroma of freshly baked bread spreads through the streets, street cats stretching and heading to look for food, students go to their schools and universities and merchants take out their goods and put them out on the streets near their shops and at the markets.

This photo was taken in one of the streets of Islamic Cairo, which is a part of a market. In a few hours, the doors of the shops on its sides will open and the hustle will begin.

Mena House

Live like a Royal!

I always believed that an emotion is the best gift. This is what one carries through the life in memories. The reason we came to Cairo was to celebrate Vitaliy’s Birthday and I planned every tiny detail to make this day unforgettable. He only knew we were going to Cairo and at the moment I told him about it, he was very skeptical. His reaction was even more to the challenge I had. When we finished our walk around Islamic Cairo, I told him that it was time to go to a different place. «A different place? I’ve seen many places already haha!»

In ten minutes we were going in an UBER car to a secret place. After driving for 20 minutes we saw huge pyramids appeared from behind the buildings.

We came close to the pyramids, but the driver turned right and took us to a hotel that used to be Egypt’s Vice King’s lodge before. This is the place that I chose to celebrate my husband’s Birthday for two reasons:
First of all, Mena house is located at the foot of the pyramids and the rooms and the terrace have a spectacular view over them. Secondly, I love properties that have history, and this place is special.

The origin of the Mena House was that of a royal lodge for the Khedive Ismail, then ruler of Egypt. In 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal, specifically for the visit of the Empress Eugenie a road was laid between Cairo and the Pyramids the Lodge was built.

In 1880s Egypt was becoming a fashionable and chic winter resort for European travelers. The climate near the Great Pyramid in Giza, outside Cairo, was obviously better than in town. Frederick and Jessie Head, a couple on their honeymoon, acquired a former Khedive hunting lodge near the Great Pyramid. They enlarged the house and added a second floor. Finding the air beneficial, he began to erect a small sanatorium, hoping that invalids like himself might resort there, and gain a longer lease of life. Throughout the years, the property changed many owners until till what it is in the present days.

Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshall Montgomery, Late King Mohamed of Morocco Charlie Chaplin, Omar Sherif, Agatha Christie, Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon, President Jimmy Carter, Gen. Moche Dayan, John Travolta, Frank Sinatra and many more. A week before we came there, Will Smith was having a breakfast at the exactly same spot. Next morning we were having a breakfast decorated with freshly cut roses at the terrace. I was watching the sun rising above the Desert and the famous Giza Pyramids thinking about how the decisions made here changed the course of history. I was thinking of court intrigues and guile, celebrations of victories and fear

Next morning we were having a breakfast decorated with freshly cut roses at the terrace. I was watching the sun rising above the Desert and the famous Giza Pyramids thinking about how the decisions made here changed the course of history. I was thinking of court intrigues and guile, celebrations of victories and fear to be defeated that were taking place in the Royal lodge.

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Before you go to the Pyramids, make sure that you understand that you will not be able to peacefully walk around and enjoy the scenery. Every 30 seconds you will be approached by merchants and men with their camels and horses offering you a ride. Even the workers at the site will be trying to sell you a camel ride. And when you say ‘no’, they take your answer as ‘later’ and start following you around. The Pyramids are truly fascinating and you can go inside, but you just won’t be able to enjoy. This is a business owned by the same families for years and even though the tourists don’t feel comfortable with an attitude like that, I truly doubt that this will change in the nearest future. The site attracts the tourists anyway, according to their logic. At the entrance of the site, you should buy the tickets to enter the area and to enter (omit) the pyramids. We bought a ticket to enter the third pyramid, they are the same inside. After that, we just wanted to leave the area asap. I honestly enjoyed just watching the Pyramids from Mena House Hotel, not the area itself.

Useful Information

Here’s some useful information regarding traveling around Egypt on your own.

  • Be ready that you will be warned that traveling to Egypt is dangerous. It truly is dangerous in some parts like North of Sinai, so just avoid it and use your common sense. We traveled on our own, we were careful and felt safe all the time. You should understand that it is just normal people who live in Egypt except for some movements that create chaos.
  • Treat local culture with respect, you are a guest at their home.
  • Girls, I recommend you wearing something that would cover your legs, shoulders and take a shawl to cover your head. It is not necessary, I would say that Egypt is a relatively democratic Muslim country, but if you wear something more appropriate you would show respect to their culture, feel safer and get less unwanted attention. Just trust me.
  • You can travel around Egypt by plane or by bus. We took a bus by GoBus operator. It is considered one of the safest and reliable company. We bought our tickets online and chose to travel with the highest class. 
  • If you are traveling from Sinai you need a visa to visit Cairo. This will be checked somewhere on the way.
  • Buy a local Vodafone Sim card and activate a 3G plan. You will always be connected. A good price for 7GB is 8-10 USD (March 2017).
  • You will not have any problems paying with USD in the resort areas.
  • The best way to go around Cairo is by UBER. I preferred using UBER Select.

If you have any questions regarding a trip to Egypt, please don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments.

If you liked this post, remember to pin it!

  

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54 Comments

  • Reply NowThatsAHoneymoon April 4, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    These are stark contrasts. I haven’t read much on Cairo but I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids, I suppose all of us have the child inside who wants to explore ancient Egypt. Thanks for the insight, will bookmark this for when we plan to go.

  • Reply Runaway Brit April 4, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I have not been to Egypt, but from your pictures it looks really similar to Mumbai and other parts of India! Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous, I love that one of you in what looks like a tunnel. What do you use to edit your pictures?

  • Reply Candy April 4, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    First, your photos are absolutely stunning. I got such an amazing glimpse of what Cairo is like. I see so many posts on Cairo, but rarely see people capture the people and streets like you did. The streets do seem chaotic and I had no idea you can get an uber there 🙂

  • Reply Marina April 5, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Thanks for sharing the tips! I always wanted to go to Cairo. These helps!

  • Reply The Soul of Seoul April 5, 2017 at 3:59 am

    I’ve definitely heard mixed reviews about Cairo. This post is fantastic and that shot of you in the market before it opens is just magical. I’ve been to India too, so maybe Cairo wouldn’t be so bad for me too. Would love to see it in person one day. ^^

  • Reply 100cobbledroads April 5, 2017 at 4:24 am

    What I am wondering is, what times of the day did you take all those photos with the empty streets? Few of them are surreal…so beautiful, magical. It was a revelation reading your suggestion that it is better to enjoy the Pyramids from a distance.

  • Reply Tom @ Adventurous Travels April 5, 2017 at 10:58 am

    The photos are so beautiful, I just came back from Beirut, Lebanon which I loved so much and now I’m thinking of visiting Egypt. Not too many travelers go to Egypt now but I liked all the aspects of it you showed in this post. Not only the spectacular views of the pyramids but also the hectic, messy streets. Great post and photos first class!

  • Reply Danni Lawson April 5, 2017 at 11:57 am

    So lovely that you had a warm and friendly experience in a city of 22 million. I had a contrasting experience in Marrakesh so Cairo must be fab. Never knew Uber was so good there!

  • Reply Joanna April 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    You have shown a different side of Cairo that I would have never ever imagined. You gave life to a dusty city which, from the photos, doesn’t look that visitable, if I can say this. Reading your lines I could see so clear the woman in the Porche next to the child picking up garbage with his donkey cart. And I could almost smell the fresh bread aroma in your morning shots.

  • Reply Thelittlelai: Beyond limits April 5, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Just like you, I also don’t like a busy City just like Cairo, but I know there’s more beyond the City alone and just like what you have said that first impression isn’t always right. I have long been hearing about Cairo and all the Historical places. I’ll surely bear this mind for future reference.

  • Reply nycgingeronthego April 5, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    I would love to visit Egypt. The pyramids are an obvious, but I wouldn’t have thought to go visit the mosques as well. They are really beautiful. And Mena house looks amazing. So much history, which is what I love to find when I travel.

  • Reply Melbtravel April 5, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Oh my, I love love love your photos. I have been wanting to go to Cairo since I was a little child to see the
    pyramids especially but I have yet to get there unfortunately. I definitely pinning your post for when I want to go because Mena house just looks amazing, I would love to wake up and see the pyraminds in the morning.

  • Reply Sarah Kim April 5, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    I loved everything about this post from the photos to learning that locals put garbage on their rooftops to how chaotic the streets were. I wouldn’t imagine that Uber is at this place but that’s cool! I’d use it for sure.

  • Reply Aparna April 5, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    Sounds like quite the city of contrasts. But an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Live Learn Venture (@LiveLearnVentur) April 6, 2017 at 1:34 am

    Wow your photos really capture it well! Thank you for sharing the helpful tips as well — it’s always nice to have tups from someone who has traveled to a destination. That’s sad about the Pyramids… but I am not too surprised as so many reallly touristy spots are like that these days it seems 🙁

  • Reply Christopher James Mitchell April 6, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    This is an epic post, and I really love the photographs. They’ve all got a similar “edge” to them, if you know what I mean. Well done!

  • Reply Stella the Travelerette April 6, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Your photos are amazing! I had no idea that there were so many people in Cairo. I would definitely like to see Islamic Cairo and the Pyramids. Mena House sounds so glamorous as well!

  • Reply Marina April 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    The rooftop view are exquisite. Islamic architecture in africa are stunningly beautiful. Never knew much about Cairo as I thought it would be just puramids and dessert. This give me a powerful insight for my next journey to Cairo

  • Reply Indrani April 7, 2017 at 5:58 am

    What a wide range of sights you stumbled on! True that people define a place. Thanks for the tips on transportation there.
    I had almost finalised the plans to go to Egypt but then cancelled it due to different political developments. Time to plan again.

  • Reply Hra Karidi April 7, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Great tips! Cairo is a different place and a good travel experience! i love your shots you make me wanna go there 🙂 Thanks for sharing with us <3

  • Reply wherenexttravels April 7, 2017 at 8:31 am

    Its such a greats post with information that is so valid and reliable. However, your pictures are way out of league. Amazingly captured, portraying a great story

  • Reply Bhushavali April 7, 2017 at 8:52 am

    That’s awesome! You’re right, its the people who bring out the flavour of any place which comfortably sitting in a hotel room & lounge will not give. Those dogs sitting on the car are so cute! Mena House is absolute luxury and Ibn Tulun looks gorgeous!!!

  • Reply Travellersfoodboxx April 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    First, You look beautiful in those pictures.
    Second, The portraits of Cairo and just amazingly captured.

  • Reply Karen April 7, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Ok – seriously. That breakfast photo and the fresh cut roses and your view! Wow! What an experience! I loved seeing the variety of what Cairo offers through your eyes!

  • Reply Angela Tolsma April 7, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Your pictures are stunning! The place you choose to go for your husbands birthday sounds amazing! You make me want to go and one day I will! That’s so interesting about the traffic, that would be terrifying!

  • Reply thecoffeemom0617 April 7, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    Egypt has been on my travel bucket list for a while now, but your photos and descriptions have made me want to go even more! It looks like such a wonderful place with lots to discover.

  • Reply Journa Ramirez April 8, 2017 at 3:33 am

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience. Your photos made me feel a “taste” of Cairo, and I think these are also showing different stories! Because of this post, I had a positive feeling that I should include Cairo on our family’s bucket list!

  • Reply Monika Mizińska (@MonikaMizinska) April 8, 2017 at 8:17 am

    I felt completely the same about Cairo!full of.contrasts, charming though. The view of trash everywhere was disturbing (back in 2008 instead.of.sand arounf Giza pyramids you would see plastic bottles…)

    I love the pics of Mena house, omg I would love to go there. Splendid view!

  • Reply Rose Sahetapy April 8, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Amazing photograph! You took us with you on the journey through your story and photos. I heard a random opinion about Egypt and have mixed feeling about touring the country, but from all people who have visited Egypt, they all gives positive feedback. Thank you for your tips considering visiting Egypt.

  • Reply Theresa Pickett April 8, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    This is an incredible place to see! I wish I could see it in person. Your photos are very inspiring!

  • Reply annalisanuttall April 8, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    Beautiful photos. Cairo is suppose to be really beautiful when you visit the old temple and old building. I be it was amazing to see everything. xx

  • Reply Kim April 8, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    That photo of you in the blue dress is stunning! I love how you are in your bath robes in front of the pyramids too. What a life! It’s gorgeous.

  • Reply Everyday Made Fresh April 8, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    What a wonderful experience. I would only want to go to see the pyramids, and I’m not sure that I would even go with the way the world is going at the moment. I’m too chicken to put myself in danger.

  • Reply Lara April 9, 2017 at 2:18 am

    This sounds like quite the trip! Your images are absolutely breathtaking. From your rundown of tips to details about your travels, this is such a great inspiration for others looking to travel to the area!

  • Reply Amanda Love April 9, 2017 at 3:22 am

    WOW! It’s breathtaking to say the least, it’s really beautiful out there! I would love to take a vacation there and just enjoy the scenery and the rich history.

  • Reply Tereza (@cityscapebliss) April 9, 2017 at 5:26 am

    Oh my god your photos are absolutely amazing! And totally agree with you – I’ve been to Cairo and the contrasts are insane! Everything thinks the pyramids are stood on their own in a beautiful desert yet when you move your point & shoot just a little out of ‘THE shot’ you’ll see what brochures and postcards never show! X

  • Reply Prime Beauty Blog (@PrimeBeauty50) April 9, 2017 at 7:11 am

    I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids, but I’m a bit hesitant to visit Cairo after all that has happened there. It really feels like a city that is mix of old and new, which you have done an amazing job capturing.

  • Reply Blythe Alpern (@blythea) April 9, 2017 at 7:14 am

    I remember watching the movie Cairo Time not too long ago and being struck by the contrasts of the city. It is such a fascinating city, yet it feels like it is stopped in time. Maybe someday I will travel to there, but I would probably feel better with a guide.

  • Reply Baskets Life Travel April 9, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Beautiful photos and I loved Cairo – it is just an amazing city! Your tips are all spot especially about covering and there are dangers but such a beautiful place!

  • Reply Miriam Ernst April 9, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I have been in Egypt recently, but not in Cairo. You have really photographed unique pictures that really makes me inspired to explore that city as well. My personal favorite is the one you took on the streets of Islamic Cairo.

  • Reply asseenonjean April 9, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Wow, you’ve captured some amazing images! I visited Egypt around 8 years ago, stopping in sharm. We visited the pyramids, and had a similar experience to you with the men trying to get you to ride the camels – an experience I didn’t enjoy! It was amazing to see the pyramids though.

  • Reply Jeanine April 9, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Wow this is for sure something to experience. Seeing such diverse culture and those gorgeous sights. I would love to take a trip like this someday!

  • Reply Heather April 9, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    What an amazing place to visit! They pyramids are stunning and it looks like you had a wonderful stay.

  • Reply The Everyday Mom Life April 10, 2017 at 1:32 am

    I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt. My husband is not a fan because he thinks it is so dangerous. It’s on my bucket list though.

  • Reply Missy April 10, 2017 at 3:16 am

    I’m far too chicken to go anywhere near Cairo, maybe in the future that will change. At least I got to experience it through your well-written post and beautiful photos.

  • Reply Angela Ricardo Bethea April 10, 2017 at 7:36 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your money saving tips when visiting this place. Those photos are really incredible! Soundslike a fun adventure.

  • Reply The Lavish Nomad April 10, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Some parts of Cairo definitely resemble New Delhi. These pictures are lovely and I lobe the streets and the buildings. I have always wanted to see the pyramids myself and Cairo looks like such a wonderful place.

  • Reply Tamshuk April 10, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Incredible photographs which is the usual with your blog 🙂
    A well documented post on Cairo with all the useful information and tips. The magnificent pyramids are a treat to watch.

  • Reply Britany April 11, 2017 at 12:47 am

    Wow Cairo is gorgeous! Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful pictures with us! It really feels like I stepped through Cairo with you!

  • Reply quirkywanderer April 11, 2017 at 5:06 am

    STUNNING pictures! Felt I was traveling with you on the bustling chaotic streets. Loved the read and Really wish to visit the pyramids someday:) For a market lover like me, this place is bliss!

  • Reply Toughcookiemommy April 11, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I love all the contrasts and diversities of Cairo. It is such a beautiful place that is full of so much culture and history.

  • Reply Ana Ojha April 11, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Cairo sounds little chaotic as a tourist destination. Though the Islamic architecture looks quite surreal. Your pictures are absolutely beautiful and speaks for itself!

  • Reply Ami Bhat April 12, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Loved your take on Cairo. Yes, every place can be dangerous or unsafe but it is upto you to make it safe for yourself. I loved your pics here. Cairo does seem like a city of contrasts from your post.

  • Reply Sharm El Sheikh - Desert and Sea - Siniciliya May 3, 2017 at 7:22 am

    […] We walked pass the hotels until we reached a place where the rocky desert met the sea. Further on we saw some hay shacks and old fishermen boats. We went further on to see if that was a village, but we saw one Bedouin wearing a white галабея who was sitting on a handwoven rug on the sand. We greeted him and asked what was that place. It was his little cafe that used to host tourists back in the days when traveling to Egypt was more popular and safe. The Bedouin’s name was Sayed and he invited us for a tea and a friendly conversation that we gladly accepted. Back in the days, he was a tourist guide, but because not many tourists come there nowadays he lives in his cafe with his cats and in Dahab with his family. He invited us to go on a tour to the Sinai desert but we decided to go to Cairo. […]

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