I traveled to Istanbul, Cairo, Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos, and will be covering them in posts coming up!
Thoughts + impressions
- It's definitely a bustling city, and not somewhere you should go to if you're not in the mood for adventure and new experiences.
- There are a fair amount of soldiers, especially in the areas around the embassies; I only saw men.
- Navigating the city can be stressful if you don't speak or read Arabic.
- Traffic is crazy! It's like NYC, but louder (if possible) and even more people everywhere.
- There aren't a lot of tourists who visit Egypt because of the 2011 revolution, so many of the schoolchildren were very curious, and wanted to take photos with us! It was an interesting feeling, especially as I'm usually the one trying to get everyone to take photos with/for me at home.
- Everyone is quite conservative in their dress: although it was in the high 90s when I went, no one wore short sleeves, and shorts of any kind are out of the question for women. I wore loose and breathable black track pants for the 3 days I was there, and I felt very comfortable in them.
- I wouldn't recommend wearing open toed shoes of any kind either, as the streets are not the cleanest, and quite dusty as well.
- Taxi fares have to be negotiated every time! While I've heard that the white cabs are the newer ones that run meters, I would recommend agreeing on a price beforehand. When we went with the meter, the cabbie would take a longer route, or it would be obvious that he had altered the meter to increase faster.
- Carry change for taxis. They won't always want to give you change, or may not carry the right amount of bills.
- When paying for services like camel rides or tours, make sure to state the price you're willing to pay in the simplest terms; don't say anything like "£60 for the 3 of us". Also clearly state exactly what you will be paying for, so they don't try and charge you extra for something typically expected, such as dropping you off on the right side of the road.
- If you are a student, there is usually a student price for admission, but you can only get it if you bring your school ID. They won't make exceptions, even if you look younger/your age.
- The pyramids of course! We didn't go with a tour, nor did we visit the inside, so it was a leisurely 3 hours, including the commute there. Foreign tourists are the minority, most of the visitors were schoolchildren from outside of Cairo. They asked to take lots of photos (and snuck a few as well), and tried to start some conversations.
- We took a short camel ride, which I would recommend if you've never tried it before, but otherwise, I'm not sure it would be worth it. I've read that the "official" prices are £50/person, but we ended up with £120/person - we tried to go with £40/person for the 3 of us, but they misunderstood. The base price they give you is typically the shortest ride to whatever pyramid is closer; be aware that if you want to go farther, it will cost more.
- While I was a bit disappointed by the Egyptian Museum, it still contains many priceless artifacts. There was no coherent layout or map, and many of the works didn't have plaques explaining what they were or even their names. Parts of it were dimly lit, and it resembled a storage warehouse more than a museum. But I did get to see King Tut's tomb!
- The Citadel was a great change of pace from the noise and dust of the streets, and it has a couple of amazing structures inside, including the Sultan Hassan Mosque, as well as the Mohamed Ali Mosque.
- Zamalek is a nicer neighborhood to walk around in; there are a few embassies there, and it's more for the upper middle class.
All in all, visiting Cairo was a unique experience, though it did have its bumps. It would not be somewhere I would travel with with a first time friend, as traveling itself is trying, but when you add language barriers, heat, and lots of negotiating, it makes things rocky.
As with all places, I did meet some interesting and incredibly kind people, as well as some that drove me nuts.
What other places do you have a love-hate relationship with? What's a country you've been to that was the most different from home? Where would you like to visit?
p.s. things will be a little slow around here as I'm heading into exams, but summer's just around the corner (thankfully)!