Boy was I eager about leaving the commercial tourist trap of Sharm el Sheikh, all the large, extravagant all-inclusive hotels, package holiday tourists, tacky gift shops selling fake designer merchandise and being harassed to buy something every time you set foot outside the hotel grounds. This was going to be left in the distance for three days, as we jetted off to explore the striking culture and amazing sights of Cairo.
We got picked up from our hotel on the outskirts of Sharm el Sheikh around 5.30am to be transferred to Sharm el Sheikh’s airport. Check in and boarding was super quick as it was a short domestic flight. The plane was pretty small holding only about 50 people; flight was speedy taking just an hour before arriving in the fascinating capital city.
We collected our bags and headed towards the exit to look out for someone holding up our name to take us to our hotel. The doors swung open, the hot, humid dry heat hit you and hundreds of men were huddled around you instantly shouting at the top of their voices ‘Taxi’, ‘Taxi’, ‘tour’, ‘tour’ whilst trying to take your bags. Wow this was crazy, I felt like I was a pop star being swamped on the red carpet for a moment. I firmly held my bag, saying “no”, whilst trying to scan every piece of paper being held up for our surname. Bingo, we eventually found our guy casually stood at the back holding a small A4 piece of paper. We made a beeline straight towards him, shouting “It’s us”. He was happy to see us and gave us a lovely welcome, escorting us to his nice air conditioned van pointing out sights as we made our way through the crazy traffic to our city hotel.
This was one huge capital city, situated on the Nile, with excess of over seventeen million people living here. It was clear this was one of the world’s most densely populated cities, just from the short drive we had just experienced. The pavements were crammed full of people walking about and I soon became familiarised to the constant ‘beep’ of the horns; this seemed to be a normal part of driving and life out here. We soon arrived outside our hotel in the ‘Midan Tahrir’ district in the very centre of the city. It was opposite a busy, old shopping mall by the looks of it. With lots of bright, lights and people crowded around busy doing all sorts. There were lots of steps leading to our hotel entrance with a big gold railing. Our driver showed us in to the hotel reception area which was mad, loads of people chatting and standing around with luggage, what appeared to be local people too. It was a large hotel with a nice little coffee and cake shop and a few shops just in the reception area. We checked in and got the key to our room. This was a pretty average and on the small side. A double bed, small bathroom and a nice view of a pool outside, it was all we needed.
Pool was our first priority to take a refreshing dip. I wore a bikini; this was the norm for me on my holidays in a hot country. But I soon noticed this was slightly scowled upon being in a city hotel in a predominantly Muslim country. All the balconies in the hotel were looking out over the pool and I observed a few people staring and got a weird feeling. I later discovered it’s considered disrespectful to the Muslim inhabitants to see visitors walking around wearing revealing clothing. Surely I was reasonable by my hotel pool! We just carried on enjoying the facilities regardless.
That evening we had planned to get something to eat near our hotel and had reserved tickets to watch the ‘Pyramids Sound and Light show’. We ventured down to reception and all was explained with why it was so busy earlier, a large Egyptian wedding was being hosted. It was amazing, so vibrant, loud and colourful. Drums beating, people clapping the place were alive! The bride and groom come down the stairs and danced in the middle of the reception area. Everybody around them was dancing and playing instruments, it was a real party atmosphere. We stood back and watched for a while, could have joined in with the party all night it was so inviting. This was experiencing the culture to the max. Unfortunately we pulled ourselves from all the action, to leave the hotel and find some food.
Next mission was crossing four lanes of traffic to get across the road. We stood there and watched for a gap for about ten minutes, but it wasn’t going to happen. Cars, vans, motorcycles were constantly changing lanes in front of us. We watched the locals intertwining through the fast flowing traffic; the key was keep moving and don’t pause. So we attempted it and after a very close near miss we got across. Phew! It was like us trying to cross the m6 in the UK.
We entered into the mall, soon noticing we were the only western people in here. Majority of people walking around were Muslim women shopping in the full traditional dress with head and face niqaab. I found this quite intimidating, as you could just see their eyes. It was fine though, very busy, lots of neon signs advertising little shops pretty much all selling the same things clothes, mobile phones, shoes and house hold items. No food at all. We come out of the mall looking down the road to spot the amazing golden arches. Yes we did, we got a sneaky McDonald’s. Just what we needed to be honest, quick Egyptian food, which was much enjoyed. Now to risk our lives crossing the road back to the hotel to meet our transfer to the show.
Taking half an hour to get too by car, the place was softly lit on arrival and we were shown to a table and chairs. A waiter took our drinks order and then delivered the drinks promptly and we paid with cash. It was like a theatre atmosphere but open air and casual dress. The place was rapidly filling up with coach loads of people arriving, which was surprising how popular it was seen as it was a daily, year round show. There was a few hundred people sat ready to watch. I was excited and didn’t know what to expect as we, as we hadn’t viewed the pyramids in daylight yet. Well the dramatic music started the lights and lasers were on the mystical Sphinx, which then narrated the journey through Egypt’s remarkable history. The pyramids soon lit up, truly dazzling me, they were huge, yet so beautiful enhanced by the golden light. This awe inspiring backdrop of the illuminated sphinx and Giza pyramids was a very unique, memorable moment. What an extravaganza show if ever have I watched one. We were looking forward to seeing the pyramids in the day and being able to walk around them so much after this evening.
Back at the hotel the wedding was still booming, but in its own function room now and we could faintly hear the celebrations. We had a few drinks and laid our heads for the night, as we had a busy day ahead tomorrow. After a good night’s sleep, we were up bright and early for breakfast and ready for another day of exploring the incredible sights of Cairo. We headed straight to the number one tourist site In Egypt for opening at 8am, to beat the crowds that develop later on in the day, to visit ‘The Pyramids of Giza’. There were three main pyramids (The great pyramid of Khufu, The pyramid of Khafre and The pyramid of Menkaure) all built as tombs for Kings and Queens. It was an exclusive privilege to have a pyramid tomb in the old and middle kingdoms. You could actually enter the two smaller pyramids for a fee, but we chose not to. The great Sphinx was also as spectacular as you imagine, but larger, 65ft being exact. There were plenty of street sellers selling souvenirs of the pyramids around, reasonable prices too. This does make you cautious to remind yourself many pick pockets operate in this area as there were a few dodgy looking characters around. We opted to take a camel ride in the backdrop of the Giza Pyramids. This was an remarkable experience, first negotiating a price with the camel man, second mounting the camel, third holding on for your life whilst the camel stands up and then just enjoying it for half an hour. It was a fab experience and the views were very special to be fair, I was almost lost in the ancient kingdom for a minute. By midday the sun was beaming down on us in this part of the desert and we were hot, sweaty thirsty and hungry.
We wanted to experience a real Egyptian food for lunch, so stopped in a recommended café for food by our driver. It was small, not up to anything special from the outside. Inside the décor was dark red and gold with cushions and low tables. We tasted stuffed peppers with spicy vegetables and rice, fried falafel, grape leaves, skewers of lamb and minced meat and a selection of breads and dips. They seemed to have a stable diet of rice, bread, vegetables and what to appear lots on the menu ‘pigeon’. Not everything was to our taste, but we did enjoy the experience savouring everything. We were encouraged to taste Egyptian tea after lunch also. This was very black and sweet, I really liked it.
We chilled out for a few hours taking in the astonishing sights we had seen that day. This was much needed. Early evening we were taking a sunset cruise down the Nile, we met the cruise ship in downtown Cairo all glammed up for a change. Ready to cruise on the Nile we found a seat inside by a full length glass window, as it was a little blustery outside on the top deck. The cruise was soon packed and started to set sail. The views of the city were magnificent as the sun was going down. There was a buffet served and a folklore show and belly dancing later on in the evening, all very entertaining. At the end of the cruise, we did venture up on to the top deck to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful city lights.
We had half a day left in Cairo, before returning to Sharm el Sheikh later this afternoon. We decided to visit ‘Citadel of Salah el Din’ a medieval Islamic fortification, just out of the centre of Cairo on the Moqattam hills overlooking the whole city as a defensive point against the attacks of the crusaders. This was a grand building almost fortress looking with fantastic look out points. Definitely worth visiting.
We then visited ‘Mohamed Ali Alabaster Mosque’, which was a very unusual experience and my first visit inside a mosque actually. We had to leave our shoes at the door and wear a floor length green cape with a hood over our clothes. We had a guide which showed us round the delighting building and taught us about the history of a Turkish man who came especially from Istanbul to build the great mosque. People were actively preying whilst we were there so I was very conscious to be silent and respectful. We didn’t stay long, but long enough to feel the seclusion from the outside hustle and bustle and the true respect the people have for this building in the city. We walked through old Cairo, with a shawl over my shoulders and sticking carefully with our guide as we strolled down the narrow alleys. The atmosphere was bizarre with lots of people watching us. We seemed to be the only westerners about at this point, but our guide was an Egyptian lady full of confidence. She pointed out the hanging church, synagogue and church of St Barbara, All very interesting.
It was now time to make our way direct to Cairo airport to board the plane back to Sharm el Sheikh for some relaxation on the beach and sunshine. Cairo had been a holiday within a holiday, brought culture, new experiences, memorable, unforgettable sights and new foods to our lives. An extremely recommended trip we will treasure forever….