Friday, March 23, 2007

Cairo, Egypt : January, 2005

After Luxor, we went to Cairo.

Here's the Nile again, this time from our hotel balcony in Cairo. We stayed at the Sheraton; aaaahhh if only I could always live in 5-star luxury.

Cairo traffic is scary. There are no crossings and drivers ignore the traffic lights. The drivers don't make any allowance for pedestrians, they don't slow down at all.

You can't go to Cairo without visiting the pyramids! We went into the Great Pyramid; an incredible feat of engineering. We visited quite early in the morning so we were the only people inside as we climbed up in the Great Chamber.... creepy and not for people who can't handle confined spaces.

Ever wonder what the back of the Sphinx looks like?

We also visited lots of beautiful mosques and other historic buildings with amazing architecture. One place we visited was the Citadel, where we saw Cairo all laid out. It's a very "packed-in" city as you can see.

It's a prime spot for spotting invaders, which is why Salah-al-Din
(the great Saladin of my history lessons) fortified the area to protect it from Crusaders.

One of the gates of the medieval city, located in Khan-al-Khalili market. You can spend all day walking around looking at the stuff in the bazaars, but there is a lot of hassle as you are walking around.

One of the mosques we visited. Strictly speaking, there is no entrance fee to visit the mosques - although you will be required to make a "donation".

Also, please make sure you are dressed appropriately. Have some respect, it is a holy place after all. I wore jeans and a long sleeved hooded jacket; very handy as I could just pull the hood over my head whenever we wanted to visit the mosques.

So, if you are thinking of a holiday where you can do lots of exploring and walking around - consider Egypt! We felt 100% safe (although watch out for traffic) - just be a bit streetwise OK, no one does you a favour for nothing.

We also saw belly dancing and roamed around the streets of modern Cairo. It was just before Eid-al-Adha, so the streets were full of people busy doing their shopping and getting ready for the festival.

Just do your research first, there are lots of quirks eg getting taxis. Do not get into a taxi and say how much to Giza? You should know beforehand. A local would just get in, knowing what the price will be at the end. For tourists; get in, say Giza, 10 Egyptian pounds. And the taxi driver might grumble, but if it is a fair price he will take you there. The trick is knowing what a "fair price" is - luckily the Lonely Plant has a guide to fair prices.

Also note it is normal for taxis pick up other passengers on the way, so don't be alarmed if someone suddenly gets into "your" taxi!

Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit the Coptic Churches. Did you know that Egypt was the first Christian country in the world?(Islam was brought to Egypt in AD640 by Arab invaders.) So there are lovely historical Christian sites and churches to visit in Cairo, although sadly we didn't have time.

So it's not just about the Pyramids and pharoahs - there's medieval Egypt, Christian Egypt, Muslim Egypt and last but not least, modern Egypt. Well worth a trip.

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