Egypt - Cairo
If I have every seen a crazy city, that’s Cairo. Traffic is madness, lanes are just suggestions and I struggled with finding a place for pedestrians to cross. You just run with everyone else and hope to not get run over.
At the time of our visit it was Ramadan, and I can assure you sensitivity is key. When you’re hungry all day long you get irritated very easily and something serious can spark out of that. On the other hand, the evenings are a celebration. People in the neighbourhood around the hotel would sit together outside and enjoy sharing a meal. They seemed very friendly and familiar with each other, as if everyone knew one another. Something you don’t get to see that often in a traditional western culture.
As a group we didn’t spend that much time in Cairo itself. We got to glimpse briefly at the most beautiful alabaster mosque, the Coptic quarter, the Ethnographic museum and the market. If you’re visiting Cairo for its culture, these places are a must.
It was my first time inside a mosque. I think it was the most peaceful place in the whole city. The ornaments and the domes show the mastery of architecture. The reverence is almost tangible there.
The Coptic quarter is bit more difficult, part of the experience is learning about the prosecution in different stages of history. The market is plain crazy. You can find everything there, all kinds of spices, foods, nick-nags etc. And I don’t think I have to advertise much for the museum. Thousands of years of Egyptian history gathered in one place. It also helps to debunk a lot of myths about Egypt one might have grown up with.
As much as I have learned about culture and history, Cairo wasn’t a city for me to stay for very long. Too overwhelming. And not so much fun on a budget. When you enter a restaurant, people assume you have money to spend. With my hotel roommate we decided to go and have the famous hibiscus tea. The place we found was close enough to the hotel and we enjoyed it very much – hibiscus tea, cold or hot, tastes great – that is until we got the bill. We got charged for not having eaten. Almost as much as if we had eaten. I don’t have to tell you that we got pretty upset and there was a lot of loud bargaining with the manager. In the end we didn’t pay the whole thing but still much more than just for the drinks and we learned for next time to always ask at the entrance what their rules are.
I mentioned traffic earlier. The cars are also a sight in Cairo. Most of them are older models and they can break. Like the cab that was taking me to the airport at the end of my trip. After an initial freak out, because I wasn’t sure what was happening, the driver explained to me in his very broken English that he arranged for another driver to come and pick me up. However, the guy didn’t arrive in a cab. I decided to be trusting and forget all my uncomfortable earlier experiences from this trip. And I kid you not, these two guys restored my little faith in men in Egypt. The cabbie explained what happened to his friend, they moved my backpack and I was at the airport in no time. For a woman travelling alone an experience like that is worth a lot. I hope karma is and will be good to them.
More images from Egypt here.