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Guide to Egypt – Exploring Cairo and the Great Pyramid of Giza
Most people might think that Egypt is a hard and uneasy country to travel to especially under the current political problems just one year after the revolution. In the beginning of this year I made the trip anyways and although the impression occurred, that Egypt has still a long way to go it is a magnificent and interesting destination for travellers all over the world.
Arrival at Cairo Airport
Arriving in Cairo is an adventure for itself. First of all you have to make it from the airport to your hotel. In case you do have a personal pick-up, be aware that at least 20 different people want to drive you to your hotel anyway and that they will also tell you that your driver is not coming, so that they can charge you for a ride. The best thing to do is to smile politely and tell them that you will wait for your driver no matter what they say. Probably the best option to get to your hotel without a pick-up is to take a taxi. Negotiation with the driver beforehand is recommended and a one way fare to the city center should not be more than 60 EGP.
The most beautiful things in Cairo are the historical sights. Especially the Egyptian National Museum is fantastic. The pieces are priceless and the museum is organized in the way that you can walk through ancient Egypt from the beginning of the Old Kingdom (2.700 – 2.200 BC) to the end of the Ptolemaic and Roman time (300 BC – 450 AD). The mummy room is just breathtaking and the museum is a definite must see. The entry price to the time of writing is 60 EGP for adults and 30 EGP for students. Student cards are also available for sale at certain shops. People over the age of 30 will receive a teacher card. As it turned out these student cards sometimes worked better than my actual student card. Costs run between 100 - 120 EGP.
Visiting to the Great Pyramid of Giza
When experiencing Cairo a trip to the great Pyramid of Giza is probably the most astonishing thing to do. There are countless travel agents who can offer you a day trip to the pyramids and some might even be of better quality so that you can enjoy your trip and get one with these magnificent wonder of the ancient world. It is also possible to do this trip on your own. Simply take the metro to the “Giza” station and then take a mini-bus or taxi from there directly to the pyramids. Going there on your own will probably cost a total of around 4 EGP for getting there and back to the city. Once at the pyramids be aware of horse and camel riders who wish nothing more than to take you to the pyramids for a “very cheap” price. Even if I could see the pyramid directly with my own eyes, standing just 500m away from me, one of the horse riders told me that I have to go by horse because it would be 15km away and impossible to walk, in that situation I did not even know what to answer…
Once you have passed all these riders you reach the ticket office where you can buy your ticket which costs 60 EGP for an adult and 30 EGP for students. After entering the plateau new camel riders will approach you and try to get you on a guided tour around the pyramids. Even police officers try to get you to pay them for taking a picture with them or to climb on the pyramids which would be totally forbidden if you do not pay them (At least that’s what one of them told me).
Never mind the touts and the hassle the pyramids are astonishing monuments of great architectural value. The history laying behind them it magnificent and the view when you stand in front of them is spectacular. The great pyramid of Giza was the first of these pyramids and was built around 2560 BC for Pharao Khufu. The other pyramids became smaller and smaller and were built for his successors. It is possible to enter the Great Pyramid for another 60 EGP where you can see the Queen's Chamber, the Grand Gallery and the King's Chamber.
Enjoying Egyptian culture - Shisha and Bazars
When it comes to experiencing Egyptian culture than there is no better way than sitting down in one of the many shisha bars, smoke a shisha and drink some tea. When sitting around you can see Egyptian life passing by, listening to the honking of countless drivers and people buying living chicken and rabbits from the butcher. You will also listen to Arabic music and the preaching from the local mosques.
Another must see are the Bazars. There are two major bazars in the area known as “Islamic Cairo”. One of the bazars is the touristic one where you can buy souvenirs for back home, the other one is the Egyptian Bazar where you can mostly buy food or cloths.
In Arabic cultures bargaining is common and sometimes even mandatory because people overcharge almost everything and there are generally no price tags anywhere. The best way to find a proper price for something is to ask somebody trustworthy beforehand like somebody from your hotel. They can tell you how much a certain article should be or a taxi ride to a certain destination because if you do not bargain at all you might end up with overcharged products of poor quality but if you bargain right you might in fact find some treasures.
Moreover I have never seen as many vendors and touts who are trying to get you to pay for goods or services than in Egypt. As part of their culture Egyptians are well educated about the basics of selling things. No matter where you go it will not take long until somebody kindly asks you “Hi friend, where you from?”, followed by “Want to know how much? Very cheap”. Some people are more creative so that phrases arise such as: “Welcome to Alaska” or “Welcome to Egypt. Want to buy socks?”. My personal favorite though was a sweet girl who just said: “You dropped something”, while wondering what I could possibly have lost she added: “Your smile!”. It seems that although many touts are making your stay unpleasant there is always something to love about the genuine people living there.
Especially the Egyptian cuisine is fantastic. When looking for a restaurant, do not be shy of trying local food from the street stands. The golden rule is if many people are eating there, especially locals, it cannot be too bad and it guarantees that the food is rather fresh. High turnover at a restaurant gives you a certain level of safety so that you do not wake up the next morning and feel sick. There are some decent Egyptian Fast-Food chains which do offer authentic Egyptian food for a good price and with the certainty of being clean. One of these is called “GAD”. Surprisingly it was not the high class food that caught my attention but the simple food of the poor. “Falafel” (fried vegetable balls) and “Foul” (Mashed beans) created a tastier dish for me than “Shawarma” (French loaf filled with meet) or even “Filled Pigeon”.
In short the trip to Cairo was interesting and it was fantastic to experience an Arabic culture first hand especially the food and the shisha bars. Nevertheless the most interesting part for travellers is probably the history of the ancient Egyptians. The Pyramids are just breathtaking and the Museum is spectacular. Considering that Egypt is still a troubled country, just one year after the revolution, it is generally safe to travel to and people are friendly. Cairo is also the major connection to all other parts of Egypt.