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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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