Landing in Cairo is a blast to your senses. The air is thick and sticky and the smells are pungent. People are everywhere, wanting to say hello or show you the way or take you for a ride, literally and figuratively. The heat is stifling and you’ll soon feel the sweat trickling down your back. You won’t find what you may consider to be ‘safe’ transport. Most cars have missing seatbelts and child car seats are a joke, if even existent. Your driver will most likely be lively and engaging but you’ll be gripping the handle on your car door as the car swerves and zips around the crudely designed roads, scarcely adorned with adequate traffic lights and lane markings. The noise of life on the streets buzzes in your ears but is quickly drowned out by the insistent hooting of horns in the traffic which serve as a means of communication between drivers and pedestrians.
Feeling happy that you’ve survived your first car ride in the capital, finding accommodation is another hair-raising experience. On the outside, all the buildings look dusty and scant so it’s hard to judge an establishment on its appearance but if you have a reliable travel guide (book, not person!) then you should be fine. You’ll be coaxed and lured into visiting all kinds of shops, hotels and sites by absolute strangers who feign a love for your city. As soon as you tell them where you’re from they will surprise you with a line in your mother tongue or a familiar greeting. Every man in Cairo ‘has a cousin or an uncle’ from your city. These friendly folk really know how to pull on our heart strings! Enjoy the people you meet, the tricks they get up to and the memories you’ll be talking about for many years to come. Try to get a hang of the way things work there because if you follow every man into every shop you’ll soon be taken advantage of but by no means should you avoid these situations altogether. They are a huge part of the experience. Visit a carpet or perfume shop and let them offer you some ‘Egyptian Hospitality’….. a cold drink or cup of apple tea, maybe an apple tobacco bong to pass around. This is what Egyptians consider good customer services and a warm welcome to their visitors.
The Egyptian Museum, Giza Necropolis (the three pyramids), Al-Azhar Mosque, the Pyramid of Djoser, the Cairo Opera House, Khan el-Khalili, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Al-Azhar Park, Mokattam, Giza Zoo, Aqmar Mosque, Gayer-Anderson Museum, the Hanging Church, Muizz Street, Museum of Islamic Art, Al-Hussein Mosque and Cairo Tower are among the many ancient and magnificent sites to visit in Cairo.
Take time out to sit among the people in a bustling café, enjoying some traditional cuisine and meeting friendly locals. Try the Egyptian coffee – not for everyone but you may enjoy it. You’re supposed to be able to stand a spoon up in it!