A travel journal
to Cairo by Marianne
Quote: Cairo: juxtapostion of old and new, rich and poor. You either love it or hate it.
Just imagine this:Cairo: 214 square kilometres, so roughly 10 x 21 kilometres.Population: 16 million.
Holland: 41,528 square kilometres, so roughly 282 x 177 kilometres.Population 16 million
Do you realise what this means?
Take a city twice the size of Amsterdam and put all Dutch people in it. The rest of the country is empty.
Cairo bursts at its seams. It is chaotic, but pleasantly chaotic.
The average temperature is 33 degrees, in the evening it is cooler. And it is polluted. You can see the smog when you are at the citadel, it is a blanket that covers the city.
Let this not deter you. Cairo has many attractions.
Giza and the pyramidsSaqqara and the tombsMemphisThe Egyptian MuseumThe CitadelKhan el Khali and it’s winding streets full of merchants selling their goods.
Crossing the streets is a true art. Cars never stop. Courageously you will have to throw yourself in front of the cars, and hope they stop.
Cairo is a juxtaposition of old and new, of rich and poor. Expensive chauffeur driven cars share the road with donkey carts. Beautiful Islamic monuments next to concrete apartments blocks, 15 storeys high.
Go on foot and absorb it all!
I soon found out. These two stamps represent your visa. You have to stick them in your passport and the custom official will smile at you and stamp it.
I had to give up my place in the queue to go to one of the banks in the arrival hall, give them US 15 in exchange for these stamps.
There are public buses. They leave from terminal 1. It’s a 5 minutes’ walk from terminal 2 to terminal 1. There are also direct buses to Alexandria. This will set you back Egyptian pounds 20. The route is via Giza, the Egyptian Museum in the centre and then via the desert road to Alexandria. It takes 3 and a half hours. Don’t pay more than 5 pounds for coffee / tea and ‘service’. ‘Service’ consists of two individual pieces of cakes. We were asked three times this amount but a friendly Egyptian who thought this outrageous helped us.
Hotel | "Novotel"
And there is more!
Showercap in a neat little carton box. Tiny bottles: shampoo and shower gel. Toilet paper folded to a V-shape. Glasses wrapped in plastic. WC sealed by a paper strip indicating it has been cleaned.
I’m in Cairo. I’d better tell you as this room could have been anywhere in the world. Nothing shows in which country I am.
Generally speaking I don’t like these international hotel chains. I only stay here because it’s 5 minutes (on foot) to Cairo Airport and my flight is at 5.45 AM and I have to be there two hours in advance.
No fear to oversleep. I will be woken up by a call from reception at 3.30 AM. Their shuttle will take me to the right terminal. It leaves on the hour and on the half hour.
There is round the clock food and drink. But we have decided not to have breakfast as this would mean getting up even earlier.
This Novotel is very comfortable. Enough opportunity to spend my last Egyptian pounds either on food or on souvenirs. If you buy souvenirs don’t forget to haggle!
I didn’t use their swimmingpool. It looked attractive with its sun lounges and brightly green and white striped bath towels.
We did not make a reservation and I was slightly worried that the hotel might be full. No way! There are four floors each with 58 rooms.
We paid US$145 without breakfast. With breakfast it would have been US$160
Central Cairo is 22 kilometres and Giza Pyramids is 40 kilometres
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 19, 2002
Novotel Cairo Airport
P O BOX 8 APT POST OFFICE
All along the front there is a terrace with a view of the French Embassy opposite, a beautiful old villa. We sat here in the evening and had breakfast: two rolls (40 centimetres long), one glass of tea or coffee, boiled egg, one wedge of spreading cheese (le Vache qui Rit type), butter and jam.
We paid 70 Egyptian Pounds minus 10% (31 euros) because we are ‘Rough Guide Readers’. You must show your copy.
The hotel is on Gezira, which means island, and indeed it is an island in the Nile. The elevated 26th July Road is one of the main thoroughfares in Cairo and runs across the island. It is two blocks away from the hotel. We had an inside room so no window on to the street only to a light / air shaft. At first I did not like this, but I soon found out that this a great advantage as there was no traffic noise to keep me awake nor did the sun shine in to the room to make it unbearably hot.
The island has leafy streets, there are many embassies, the apartment blocks are well maintained. It’s a pleasant place to be. It’s a 15 minutes walk to the nearest metro station: Nasser. The Egyptian museum is a 20 minutes’ walk.
Next to the hotel is a small shop selling bottled water. Water in Cairo is not dangerous to drink but it has a very unpleasant taste: too chlorinated. On the 26th July Street there are some restaurants.
We wanted to visit Giza, Memphis and Saqqara in one day. The hotel can arrange a taxi with or without guide. We paid 150 Egyptian pounds (35 euros) for a full day without guide.
If you let them know your flight number they can also meet you at the airport. This will set you back 50 Egyptian pounds (12.50 euros).
9 Sharia Aziz Osman
20 2 7357315
We went to the Oriental restaurant because it is was outside and I’m not particularly fond of air-conditioning. This is also the place where men can smoke waterpipe.
It is a comfortable place to sit with live music (although not when we were there). There''s a big TV screen showing an old-fashioned romantic Egyptian films -- no need to listen to the dialogue because the pictures were enough.
I had fresh flat Egyptian bread and a platter with chickpeas, green salad, garlic yoghurt, stuffed vine leaves, and tahina (sesame spread spiced with oil, garlic, and lemon). My husband had kofte kebab (minced lamb meatballs) and could choose between rice and french fries, but he wanted vegetables, which was a bit of a problem. Finally the waiter said he could offer him okra. This vegetable looks vaguely like green beans, there are many small pips inside, and they are a bit slimy. But I can assure you it’s delicious. In the end he got all: okra, rice, and french fries.
I had fresh lemon juice and my husband had Egyptian beer. The beer was definitely the most expensive item on the bill. We paid $17, which was an extremely good price. If you have spent all your Egyptian pounds, like we had, they accept US dollars (and most likely euros as well, but I didn’t ask).
. Papyrus reed is a water plant which grows on river banks in Africa and the south eastern corner of the Mediterranean. The Ancient Egyptians revered the papyrus plant because of its pyramidal shape, which signifies immortality. In ancient days the stem marrow was eaten, the stem was used for wicker work. They peeled off the skin which they made into ‘writing paper’. Papyrus was also used in mummification. In other words a versatile plant. These days there are special papyrus farms, as it is still used.
This is how you make papyrus. It’s dead easy!
Take a stem and peel it. Because of its pyramid shape each stem produces three strips. The strips have to be dehydrated so beat them with a wooden hammer.Next you use a rolling pin to extract more water. Now it must soak in water. Leave it for one week and it is white, leave it for two weeks and it will become brown. You now cut the strips to the required length. Put one strip horizontally the next one vertically and so on. This way you get interweaving. The result is put on a cotton sheet and put under a press for two weeks. The natural gelatine sticks the strips together.Now you can use it as writing paper. Usually it is decorated with paintings copied from tombs. Next to it you can have your name in hieroglyphs.
It’s really easy to make it, the only problem is that the papyrus plant I have at home has a very slim stem and I can hardly peel it.
After this demonstration the young man handed me a piece of paper on which I could write down the numbers of the exhibits I liked. He explained to me what the numbers meant, one was the price and the other one I did not understand as he could make himself clear enough. Just to please him I walked round, and returned the piece of paper. He was not too much disappointed when he realised that that we didn’t buy. Actually the prices he asked were ridiculous. Sometimes tourists are seen as walking banks. I wonder whether he realises that I have to work for my money, just like him.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 19, 2002
Avenue Of The Pyramids
Attraction | "Museum of Egyptian Antiquities"
A babel of voices.
Guides forcing their voices into a higher pitch so that all in the group can hear. But do they want to hear? The eager ones stand in front position and ask ‘intelligent’ questions. Those at the back look utterly bored.
I usually don’t like museums because the curator has decided what to exhibit so in other words he decides for me what I should see and what I should admire.
But The Egyptian museum is a gem. The interior hasn’t changed since the day they put the exhibits on display. There are clumsily typewritten labels telling you what is on display. We did not hire a guide as they often recite dull facts. You can join a group for some time to get some snippets.
We came for Tut. It is not difficult to find the right section: follow the din. Even though I had seen innumerable pictures, Tutankhamun’s life size gold mask, the real thing was even more beautiful than I had thought.
In surrounding glass cases there is a collection of wonderful jewellery, exquisite workmanship.
Tutankhamum was not a very famous pharao, he ruled only for 9 years during 14th BC. The incredible contents of his tomb made me wonder what wealth had been looted from the tombs of the greater pharaos.
The English archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tut’s tomb in 1922. It was below the ransacked tomb of Ramses VI. Looters and archaeologists were happy with what they had found and didn’t dig deeper.
Tut’s mummified body was found in three mummiform coffins in a stone sarcophagus, together with lots of funeral treasures. All this can be seen on the 1st floor in the Tutankhamun Gallery.
Entrance fee is 20 Egyptian pounds (5 euros). A photo permits sets you back another 10 Egyptian pounds. Tripod or flash is not allowed. Most object on display are well lit so it is not too difficult without a flash. Only the centre piece: Tut’s gold mask is dimly lit. I wonder if it is done on purpose.
Don’t think you can sneak in with your camera without a permit. On entering you will go through electronic gates. The alarm goes when you have a camera or any other metal on you. You will then have to show your camera ticket. If you haven’t got one you must hand in your camera..
If you want to see the mummy gallery you will have to pay another 40 Egyptian pounds. I did not do this because I think this is somehow taking advantage of tourists, just ask, they pay.
If you have never seen a mummy it might be a good idea to go to the mummy gallery, on the other hand if you plan to go to Saqqara , here there are also a few mummies. And anyway we can’t see the difference: a mummy is a mummy.
+20 (2) 579 6974
Attraction | "Pyramids of Giza"
Tourists equal bakshees. I’m quite willing to give a tip, but not for a photo of a camel and a pyramid. Invariably you will be shown "hidden" hieroglyphs, which you would have found anyway and you will be told what place is best to take photos. I hate this. I’m quite willing to tip, but only when someone has helped me in a special way. I know wages in Egypt are low and a tip is an essential extra, but it should not be an obligation.
The pyramids are huge, yet I was slightly disappointed as I had seen so many books and photos all showing these pyramids. The pyramids are on the boundary of the city on the edge of the desert. They are built of limestone blocks. Inside and also underground, there are burial chambers: one for the dead pharaoh and another one for the funeral goods.
You can visit the interior of pyramid of Cheops, the largest of the three. Actually there is not much to see besides other tourists and a vast empty chamber. You will have to pay another 20 Egyptian pounds (4 euros) on top of the general entrance fee, which is also 20 pounds. A photo permit is 10 pounds.
The Great Pyramid took 30 years to build. In about 2,550 B.C., King Khufu, the second pharaoh of the fourth dynasty, commissioned the building. Over two million blocks of stone each weighing 2.5 tons were used. It is still not quite clear how the old Egyptians moved these massive stone blocks. It is generally believed that gradually sloping ramps, built of mud, stone, and wood were used as transportation causeways. These blocks were hauled up by using ropes of papyrus twine.
Khufu’s son, Khafre, commissioned the building of his own pyramid complex which includes the sphinx. Menkaure, Khafre''s son, built the third and smallest of the three pyramids. So it’s a family tomb.
The outer casing stones have disappeared from all three pyramids except the very top of Khafre, which can clearly be seen. This was due to natural erosion, but men helped a bit. The precious white limestone was good building material and was used in the construction of buildings in Cairo.
The Sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a pharaoh, which is believed to be the head of Khafre. It is carved from the natural limestone of Giza. Recently, the sphinx has been renovated because over the years, entire pieces had dropped off. It is 57 metres long and 6 metres wide, so huge!. It’s best to come in the morning if you want to take photos because then the sun shines on its head.
Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu)
Giza Pyramids Plateau
+20 2 383 8823
Attraction | "Cairo Citadel"
’I’d rather’, he made a gesture as if cutting his throat, ‘than ask you for money. Besides I’m not a guide, I’m a student’.
He now pushed a card under my nose and read it out to me: Cairo University 2000-2001. ‘It’s my old card’.
Yes, I could see that. The only Arabic I can read are the numbers. He turned out his pockets, ‘I must have left this year’s card at home’.
I smile at my husband. I’m sure this card is real, but I can’t read it. He may well be a cleaner and this is his authorisation to enter the university. But does it matter? We are on our way to the Citadel. Our new friend follows us closely pointing out things, it’s difficult to get rid of him, so we allow him to follow us.
The view from the Citadel is stunning. Below me I can see all of Islamic Cairo in the distance the pyramids of Giza. Only on clear days you can see them. Most of the time Cairo is covered by a hazy blanket of smog, caused by dense traffic, exhaust fumes, 18.000.000 people in Cairo, it’s unbelievable.
The citadel is perched on a hill above Midan Salah ad-Din. There are three mosques and several museums.Opening hours: 8am–5pm winter/6pm summer. The museums close at 4:30pm. Entrance fee is 20 Egyptian pounds (4 euros). There is a separate entrance fee for each of the museums. If you want to take photos you must buy a photo permit.
In the Police Museum, you can see the assassination room, with a series of photos and captions showing the attempt on president Nasser’s life.
The Gawhara Palace and Museum shows costumes and scenes from court life in the 19th century. Some of the rooms have been reconstructed to show what they must have been like when Mohamed Ali lived here in the 18th century. Mohamed Ali rose to power after Napoleon’s French army had left.
National Military Museum here you can see ceremonial costumes and a scale model of the citadel. But why would you like to see this when you can see the real thing?
Carriage Museum contains some 19th century horse drawn carriages.
The Mohamed Ali Mosque looks like a Turkish mosque and reminded me vaguely of the Aya Sphia in Istanbul. This is the mosque with the two slender minarets.
None of these museums or mosques were particularly interesting. But the view over the city is worth going to the citadel.
We now wanted to continue our walk and who was waiting for us at the gate? Yes, our ‘friend’.
’Goodbye, and thank you’.
’Money’, he begged.
’I thought you’d rather’ I made a gesture as if slit my throat . . . .
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 22, 2003
Salah Salem Highway
20 2 512 9619