A January 2004 trip
to Cairo by jim
Quote: I explored Cairo extensively, so I saw the "real" Cairo as well as the more touristy side. It was an amazing trip that I will never forget.
Other sites I highly recommend include:- Cairo Tower for a nice view of the city.- Coptic Cairo to see the Christian section of the city.- Islamic Cairo to really get a taste of the city. Stop by Khan el-Khalili while you are here.- Mosque of Amr and the Mohamed Ali Mosque.- The Citadel. It has lots of things within its confines plus a great view of the city.- Lots of restaurants. Make sure you try the kebab, the kofta and kushari.- The pyramids of Saqqara. Make sure you see a rug factory along the way.
Be prepared to firmly say no when walking through the markets. The hawkers are pretty persistent if you are not firm.
Get a guide and a driver. It will cost about a day, but you will see so much more and learn a lot more about each site.
Having said that, I walked quite a bit and always felt safe and found what I was looking for.
Except for rush hour, the subway is pretty manageable. You can even get out to the pyramids for about .
Hotel | "Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino"
The room itself was not particularly noteworthy, but it was clean. The bed was comfortable and I had a nice view of the city from my balcony. I also had plenty of room to spread out and arrange my many purchases.
The hotel is very large and has every possible amenity and service you need. I used the business center extensively to check email and keep in touch with people back home. Fortunately, the computer time was charged in Egyptian currency, which made it pretty cheap.
I also used the fitness center quite a bit. There were several bikes, treadmills and exercise machines. For a hotel, it was a pretty nice facility and it was open 24 hours a day. I used the treadmills at 2:30am a couple nights when I couldn't sleep. The pool was fantastic (beautiful and very large).
A few other notable features of the hotel included the many shops, four restaurants, and an exceptional concierge. I got many excellent recommendations. Just as importantly, they arranged for an superb guide that showed me around Cairo a couple of different days (for about $75 a day).
I also enjoyed the casino attached to the hotel. It was small, but classy. You couldn't just walk in with shorts or shabby clothes. Everyone was very polite and the dealers were friendly. It didn't hurt that I won a few hundred dollars.
The hotel did go beyond my expectations a couple of times. I was at the hotel on my birthday and they made sure I got my birthday package from back home before the day ended. A couple of days later, the hotel stored my bags for a couple of days while I went to Luxor. Finally, the hotel sent several postcards on my behalf after I left. I was running late for the airport and I just handed unstamped postcards to the concierge. He handled the postage and mailed the postcards for me.
All said, I thought this was a very nice hotel, particularly for the price. It was called a five-star hotel and I would agree with that assessment for everything but the room (which was fine but nothing special). But given the quality of service, I give it my unqualified recommendation.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 28, 2004
Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino
16 Saray El Gezira Street
Cairo, Egypt 11211
20 2 27283000
The namesake of the restaurant is a very famous Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author who wrote many stories set in the neighborhoods of Cairo. The menu had a little background and many of the menu items were named after characters in the books. It was nice to learn a little bit about the author as I enjoyed a very fine Egyptian meal.
The interior of the restaurant is very nicely decorated and comfortable throughout. The initial room very informal and people were socializing, singing, smoking, and having coffee. The more formal dining room was set off to the side in a series of rooms. Many people were dressed casually, but I could tell that this was regarded as more than just a casual meal (particularly for the local patrons).
The wait staff was very friendly and dressed in a nice Arabic uniform. It was always easy to get a recommendation and every waiter was relatively attentive. No one was in a rush to push you through your meal and I took my time to enjoy sishah, large meals, dessert, and coffee. The waiter kindly warned me that I had ordered too much a couple of times and explained how strong the Turkish coffee would be (he wasn’t exaggerating).
The food was absolutely delicious. I had a few entrees including kebab and lamb in a tomato sauce. In all cases, the serving sizes were large and the food presented in a very appetizing way. Even though I was pretty full after the main course, I always had time for dessert. I highly recommend the rice pudding (the best I had in Egypt) and the Om ali for dessert. The price was a little more expensive than other places, but reasonable when you consider the overall dining experience.
All said, I can’t recommend this restaurant enough. Make this restaurant your top dining priority while staying in Cairo. I can almost guarantee you will go to the Khan el-Khalili market, so incorporate Naguib Mahfouz into your visit.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 9, 2004
5, El Badistan Lane, Khan El Khalili
1. The city is massive and extends for miles in every direction. You get a birds-eye view of all the major landmarks and you can finally orient yourself. 2. Seeing the pyramids from a distance is pretty cool. It also drove home the point that they are right next to the city.3. Sports are important for Egyptians. You will see massive sports complexes, soccer stadiums, swimming pools, and parks from the tower.4. The smog in Cairo is horrible. You can literally see the pollution that you sense when you are stuck in all the traffic.
This was a relaxing way to end the day. Everything else I did had a sense of chaos, but I really got to unwind at the top of Cairo tower.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 9, 2004
Next to Al-Ahli Sporting Club
Attraction | "Khan el-Khalili"
At every step, you are propositioned by very aggressive hawkers. Everyone has the best deal or can take you to the best shop. Many times, you think a person is working for the shop next to you, but you find yourself being led to a shop several yards away. How you tell which shop is best is beyond me because there are so many places to buy the same things. I ended up buying a really nice backgammon and chess set, some nice but inexpensive jewelry, and a ton of souvenirs for friends and family back home. I probably paid too much for the stuff I got, but I didn’t feel like haggling too hard for everything. The little bit of extra money didn’t mean that much to me, but hopefully helped out the merchants, given the decrease in U.S. tourism to Egypt the last couple of years.
A few observations:
- You have to be firm. If you don’t want anything, politely but overtly say "No, thank you" and move on. You will not wear these people down by being passive. - Don’t jump on the first thing you see. Go to a few different places and see what the prices are. Feel out the merchants to see how much bargaining room there is. When you have done a little investigating, you are ready to jump into the intense negotiations that accompany every purchase.- Don’t be afraid to explore some of the less frequented alleys. Of course you should be careful and avoid being the only tourist, but many of the best shops are in more obscure parts of the market.- Take some time to enjoy the coffee at Fishawi's Café. It is a very famous café in the middle of the market. If you get a seat, you will have a great spot for people watching. Interestingly, Fishawi’s has been open for 200 straight years (day and night, 24 hours a day). The coffee is very strong!- It was pretty easy to get around and the people were very helpful when I asked for directions.- I particularly enjoyed visiting at night, but only after I got comfortable with the layout during the day.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 9, 2004
Khan el-Khalili Bazaar
Cairo, Egypt 11211
Attraction | "Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx"
The three pyramids are all impressive. The largest one (built for Cheopes) is 137 meters high. The most recognizable one (built for Chepren) has the distinctive limestone top. And the smallest one (built for Mekrinus) is the only one you can go inside.
I wish it were possible to go in the bigger pyramids, but it was still neat to go into the small one. The corridor is very small and you have to lean down to avoid bumping your head. The walk down is about 100 yards, until you come to an opening where you find the burial chamber. It isn’t overly impressive except for the fact that you are under tons and tons of rocks that don’t collapse on top of you. It is surprisingly cool, temperature-wise, and a guide will tell you all about the specifics of the pyramids.
Outside the pyramids, you can go on camel and horse rides. And I think the camel ride was one of my favorite activities during my trip to Egypt. Some very aggressive camel guys will approach you. Under the guise of getting your picture taken on a camel, you end up being up-sold to a ride. It cost about $60, but I had a great time. When the camel stands up, it is actually a little scary, given how high I was. And galloping was very jerky and makes you feel a bit like a little kid.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the pyramids, head down to the Sphinx. You get the classic photo of the Sphinx with the pyramids in the distance. The Sphinx is 66 feet high and 240 feet long – a lot smaller than I expected. It was swamped with tourists, and you can take it all in with about a 30-minute walk around. Once again, a guide was very helpful.
As for the surprises, I didn’t realize that the pyramids and Sphinx were so close to Cairo. They are literally on the outskirts. In fact, you can take the subway to Giza and avoid the expense of a cab or car if you like. Also, I didn’t like all of the trash swirling around. This is a common complaint for much of Cairo, but I didn’t expect it at one of the world’s great attractions. Finally, I was shocked at the sheer number of tourists. There were people everywhere. But none of this made the pyramids any less of a thrill.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 6, 2004
Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu)
Giza Pyramids Plateau
+20 2 383 8823
Attraction | "State Pyramids of Sakurra"
You will see three pyramids at Sakurra. There is a very large pyramid, a mostly collapsed one, and a medium-sized one. The burial tombs around the pyramid have some fantastic hieroglyphics, and you can spend a decent amount of time just wandering around. It is also interesting to learn about the false tombs and tunnels that were used to deceive grave robbers.
One other striking aspect of these pyramids is the desert view contrasted with the lush valley view. To get to the pyramids, you travel through a relatively lush strip along the Nile. But when you get to the pyramids, you cross this invisible line of lushness into rocky, barren desert. It was pretty shocking how big a difference a few hundred yards could make.
I recommend you see these pyramids so that you can contrast the different styles with the pyramids of Giza. Also, the crowds are much smaller, so you can really relax and move around in a very serene environment. But I chose not to venture out to even further pyramids. I guess you could say that I was "pyramid-ed out." As a nice pit stop on your way to Sakurra, make sure you stop by a carpet factory (see separate journal entry).
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 6, 2004
Step Pyramid of Saqqara
No phone available
Attraction | "Museum of Egyptian Antiquities"
I saved my last afternoon in Cairo and allowed about two hours for my visit. I wish I had allowed about two more hours. Friends of mine spent over five hours in the museum. It costs about $6 to visit, plus you should get a guide. The guides are lounging around near the ticket booth and won’t be shy about asking you to hire them for two hours. This costs another $20 for two hours, but it is essential to really understanding what you are seeing in the museum. These guides steer you toward the most important items and are extremely knowledgeable. My guide was full of facts, and he had a pretty good sense of humor as well.
As for the highlights, I really enjoyed Room 53 (mummified animals and birds). Everything from crocodiles to monkeys was mummified, and I learned a lot about the mummification process. I also thought the display was very well done. For a mummy add-on, you can go into the Mummy Room. This room has around eleven royal mummies. It costs an extra $10 to see the Mummy Room, but I didn’t mind, despite the fact that I thought it was a bit underwhelming. For me, it was worth seeing the human mummies to get some perspective on how small some of these people were back then. Plus, it was strangely interesting to see humans preserved from thousands of years ago.
I also enjoyed the Tutankhamen (King Tut) rooms. Tutankhamen’s tomb is the most complete (un-robbed) tomb discovered in modern times. Tutankhamen was not a particularly important pharaoh, but the tombs of the other pharaohs had been robbed long before Howard Carter uncovered King Tut’s tomb. The amount of treasure is simply amazing, and much of it is on display. One can only surmise how much treasure must have been in the tomb of a more important pharaoh. I really liked the gold room, which had many of the things people see most (i.e., the funerary masks). It was also neat to see more simple things like the games and other normal things that the ancient Egyptians would need to live in the afterlife.
In summary, allow enough time to see this wonderful museum. Although I particularly enjoyed some of the highlights, the totality of the experience and the thousands of artifacts guarantee that everyone will find something they enjoy.
+20 (2) 579 6974
Attraction | "Sultan Barquq's Mausoleum"
- the echo in the two domed tombs- the post that showed the height of Sultan Barquq (he was very tall)- the run-down condition of the site (although it was still beautiful)- the way the light comes through the openings in the tomb domes
Make sure you include this and the other mausoleums on your trip through the Northern and Southern Cemeteries (see other entries).
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 7, 2004
Attraction | "Northern Cemetary"
More than any other area, the Cities of the Dead really brought home the level of poverty in areas of the Middle East. The Northern Cemetery seemed slightly more livable, but you can't help but be moved by the trash, the living conditions, the crumbling buildings, and everything else. The fact that people actually have to live in tombs because they can't afford anyplace else is pretty sad in a modern world. Some of this is a choice (families look after the graves of their ancestors), but there isn't much hope on the inside of a tomb.
In addition to just taking in the cemetery, make sure you visit a few of the specific sites. The mausoleums of Sultans Barquq, Barsbey and Qaitbey were all very interesting. Plus, you got some great views from one of the minarets. Also, get some pictures of the kids. They love the attention and need the money. They were very friendly, but word did travel fast if you paid one of them. You suddenly had about a dozen kids eager to let you take their picture as well.
To be safe, exercise a good bit of caution in these areas. I recommend you go with a guide. Always leave well before dark. Dress inconspicuously. And don't flaunt your money. I didn't have any trouble, but I felt uneasy a couple of times when we were trapped in a narrow alley.
Allow about 1+ hours to see the Northern Cemetery.
City of the Dead/Cairo Necropolis
Below the Mokattam Hills
Southeastern Cairo, Egypt
Attraction | "Sultan Barsbey's Mausoleum"
We walked into the tomb and looked at the ceiling, which is inlaid with mother of pearl. I also poked my head into the mosque, but didn't stay because I didn't want to disturb the worshipers. If you find the curator, ask him to lift the carpet in the long mosque so that you can see the marble mosaic floor.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 7, 2004
Attraction | "Sultan Qaitbey's Mausoleum"
Attraction | "Southern Cemetary"
Earlier in my trip I had seen the Northern Cemetary so I wanted to complete my tour of the Cities of the Dead. I found the Southern Cemetary to be even more depressing than the Northern Cemetary. Once again, you get to see abject poverty on a level that most Americans are not used to seeing. There were animals and children running loose and residents of the cemetary were sitting around in all of the nooks and crannies of the tombs.
On a more positve note, the people were still mostly friendly (although a bit wary as you would expect). One resident even showed me inside his home. He lived in the tomb of his family partly because he couldn't affort anything else and partly to guard the tomb from squatters. He was very cheerful and welcomed the little bit of money for the tour. He had no running water and by all accounts the place was not particularly clean. But I was impressed by his optimism and his attempts to make the most of the place. He even had a sitting area for guests. There was no running water, no electicity and very little space.
If you visit this part of Cairo, bring some small change and bills to give away to the kids. You will be received much less suspiciously. Also, go with an Egyptian guide, be very careful about which sections you venture into and make sure you are out long before dark. I thought this was one of the more interesting sites, but I also knew that I was venturing into one of the more lawless areas of Cairo.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 28, 2004
There are many different levels of carpet weaver and many different types of carpet. The more experienced the carpet weaver, the more expensive and sophisticated the carpet. Amazingly, little kids at the age of seven were in the back rooms weaving carpets. Of course, there were also much older workers doing the more difficult jobs. Unfortunately, the little kids oftentimes have to work instead of going to school. They aren’t paid very much and this isn’t the most highly regarded trade, but the carpets are absolutely beautiful.
The display room itself was overwhelming but quite a treat. You are taken to your own area of the room. Then you are shown all kinds of rugs in an attempt to get you to buy one. I had no idea how to judge the quality or the value, but I was told (by my guide) that this is where some of the fiercest haggling in Egypt occurs. I saw hundreds of rugs I wanted to take home, but the nicer ones are still quite expensive (several hundred to several thousand dollars apiece). I decided a purchase of that magnitude was best left to a joint decision, so I used the absence of my girlfriend as my excuse for not purchasing (which was true, but not much solace for the merchant).
If you plan to purchase a rug, do some research and bring a decent amount of money (or a high credit card limit). You will definitely be tempted, and this is one of the nicest things you can buy during your trip to Egypt.
Charlotte, North Carolina