Being a 90s kid and growing up watching cartoons and movies on Egyptian pharaohs I have always dreamt of immersing myself in this mystical civilisation. Hence we decided to spend a few days in Cairo.
Egypt, over the last few years had had a bit of unrest and as a result we decided to restrict ourselves to the most touristy city - Cairo.
We planned about 3 days in Cairo hoping to get a complete flavour of the country.
Where to stay in Cairo - this was a dilemma - whether to stay with the view of the Pyramids or the city. We chose the city since we did read (and later experienced) that the area around the Pyramids is quite a slum. We chose one of the Hiltons over looking the Nile.
Understanding how things work in Cairo! English isn’t a commonly spoken language. Even taxi plates are in Arabic! Post checking-in the first thing was to book an Uber. Only to realise we couldn’t figure out which was our car - couldnt read the number plate you see.. with some difficulty found our car and headed to Cairo tower. In Cairo many people try and make you spend more since you are a tourist. Even uber went an additional round to get more out of us. Our learning.. follow the map and tell your driver you know where you are going.
Cairo does get cold in winters and being here in December, the weather was pleasant in the day and cold in the evenings. We got off, bought tickets to the tower and got into the queue. Ensure you budget atleast about 1.5-2 hrs to see the tower. There are queues to go up and down. After a bit of waiting we got up to the tower and the view was magnificent! The tower also has a revolving restaurant to catch these views while you enjoy dinner. The Cairo tower offers great views of the city. Go up there during twilight so that you can enjoy the sunset and see the lights go On. After our first Egyptian dinner we headed
back to crash after a long first day.
The highlight of Cairo is ofcourse the Pyramids. I am a research person and after spending time to evaluate whether to uber it or take a tour guide, we decided to take a private tour - and boy that was a wise decision. Giza is located on the outskirts of Egypt and is a bit of a slum area. Getting around is a challenge considering no one speaks English. We booked a 8 hr tour through GetYourGuide.com and met our very knowledgeable and friendly guide Akim from Emo tours. We were looking to cover the Great Pyramid, Sphinx, Sakkara and Memphis. Quite a bit, all not next to each other, but the convenience of the private tour helped a lot!
Our first stop- The Great Pyramid. Along with our guide tickets i had also booked a ticket to enter the Pyramid! And its a must! Beware - its tiny, you need to crawl, crowded and claustrophobic. If you are not up to it, I would recommend ditch it. It was an awesome experience crawling back in time to go see the sarcophagus of the king.
After that workout we headed towards a view point which offered panoramic views of the pyramid and the desert. Many photos later our next stop was the Sphinx. The Sphinx who was the guardian stands tall and majestic. The Egyptians should be given credit for their architecture so ahead of their time. Very well constructed structures, but can be better maintained.
After Sphinx we headed to the ruins of the city Memphis, this was the earlier capital of the empire. A huge statue of King Ramsees 2 welcomes you as our guide explained to us the entire embalming process and preparation for the next life.
Enroute to our final destination we stopped for lunch at an Egyptian restaurant in Sakkara. Food wasn’t much of an issue though I was vegetarian. Lots of options of hummus and pita bread, falafel etc. After a fulfilling meal we headed to visit the first pyramid that was constructed - the step pyramid. After walking around the ruins, going inside one of the tombs, almost calling it a day. A day well spent in understanding another of our world’s history.
In addition to the Pyramid overdose our guide also took us to a Perfume outlet. Egypt is known for perfumes and sell to many major fashion houses. We also visited a Papyrus factory/institute where they demonstrated the art of Papyrus making.
Day 3 was not too packed. We started off by visiting the oldest souk in Cairo - Khan El Khalili bazaar. Mind you this is a very local bazaar. So please be prepared for huge crowds. We wandered Around the stores looking at various artefacts and items that Egypt had. After some souvenir shopping and a quick lunch at the very famous Naguib Mahfouz Cafe we headed to the Egyptian Museum. This museum, with a little ongoing construction inside, gives you the feeling of being in an excavation site. Surrounded by mummies and their coffins and their sarcophagus you come to realise how much importance Egyptians gave to their death and the ways of glorifying it. After spending an hour or so we decided to call it a day.
My impression of Cairo is of a city which is stuck in the 90s. There is construction everywhere, lots of slums, no one speaks English and people take lots of advantage of tourists. But I must say the minute they look at you and ask you “Are you from India” the respect and humility just increases. A city with a historic past, a major hub in North Africa, Egypt has a lot to offer anyone who is visiting. The challenge will be to navigate through all the barriers and find the beauty in the madness.
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