City of a Thousand Minarets

Cairo–the city of a thousand minarets. Five times a day, wherever you are in the city you will hear prayer calls from the mosques which surround you (they told us that if we memorized the times they did prayer calls we’d never have to wear a watch in Cairo, because wherever you are, there’s a mosque nearby to hear a prayer call).
We arrived late Sunday, after a generally leisurely flight from Sharm El Sheikh. The first day and a half, I think we spent mostly just getting used to how crazy Cairo is. Think of downtown London with 5 times as many cars–none of which follow any traffic laws, and 75% of which are taxis stopping every minute or so to ask people on the side of the road if they need a taxi. Everyone driving in Cairo is nuts. You have to be. Dave has a theory that no one uses their rear view mirror in Cairo. But since no one does it, it’s not a problem. Everyone is concerned with what is directly in front of them. If you can manage to relax during a taxi ride in Cairo you will notice that there is a definite fluidity in the traffic. It’s like a strange sort of dance. Even crazier to watch is the pedestrians though. We asked the first day we were there if there were crosswalks. Our guide looked at us and said, “Crosswalks? What are those?” Completely serious. He had never heard of a crosswalk. He said on the freeways there are designated places for pedestrians to cross…but…anywhere else, it’s every man for himself.One of the first days we went to Khan el Khalili, which is a huge market (called a “bazaar”). It’s completely intimidating and crazy, but if you keep your wits about you, you can find some interesting things and good deals. We had a very strange tour of the back streets of the bazaar to some of the smaller shops by a random man. He showed us a a little art gallery, a flatbread bakery, a printshop where they print the qu’ran. We even got our picture taken with the man at the printing press. Highly awkward. :)
A couple days later we went to the Pyramids, which is crammed full of tourists–but a must see nonetheless. One thing I would recommend NOT doing is going into the Pyramids. It sounds like it would be interesting, but there is nothing to see. The walk down into the Pyramids is about 4ft high, and it goes down a ramp for about 5 minutes and then up a ramp (remember, there’s only about 4ft–so you are not standing up straight.) and then into a little room that is completely empty and there is a man that tries to tell you in the most broken English possible what this room was supposed to be. It’s also ridiculously humid and hot. Oh, and you have to pay an extra $15 to get in. Not worth it.
What is worth it though, is going to Saqaara, which is another Pyramid site–also known as the Step Pyramids. These are earlier pyramids, and they aren’t as touristy as the Giza pyramids, but much better organized. One of them you are able to go into and it IS worth it. It’s a much shorter ascent into the pyramid and it’s not stuffy. When you get in, it’s totally carved with hieroglyphs, and in one room the ceiling is carved with stars all over it.
One of our last days in Cairo we went to the Cairo museum. The King Tut exhibit is really the only thing that is worth seeing. There is a lot of stuff there–unfortunately it’s not well organized and a lot of it is written in Arabic anyway. But the King Tut is definitely directed at the international tourists. All I can really say about that is that you have to see it for yourself. Amazing.One last note about Cairo-or, just Egypt in general. If you are a woman traveling there, be mindful how you dress. I never wore shorts or tank tops while there, only t-shirts with a cardigan and jeans–and even then I was gawked at. While in the Cairo museum I had lineups of young guys wanting to take their picture with me, and even had some guys try to grab my hand. When we went out in town I constantly had guys shouting at me and honking. Our guide kept saying “It’s because you are so beauty!” But I’m pretty sure it’s just that white girls are a novelty. But if you dress as modestly as possible it might deter some of the attention.

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