We arrived at 9pm at night at Cairo and were really grateful for the free pickup offered by our hostel. We hadn’t realised how crazy the traffic was going to be…it took us over an hour to make it to our hostel. We parked on a crazy street with traffic piled up and honking, street vendors and people everywhere…yep, this was the street our hostel was on, and it was madness!
We stayed on Taalat Harb street, one of the main streets leading away from Tahrir square. Even though it was about 11pm when we went out in search for food there were still people everywhere – we had absolutely no problems finding delicious falafel wraps and ice cream from one of the hundreds of open stores (we were especially excited that two wraps and two scoops of ice cream came to a total of $2 NZD.) The next morning, which was also a Friday (one of the two weekend days in Egypt) was a different story. The streets were empty, and we walked to the Egyptian museum marvelling that it seemed like a totally different city that morning. We spent a couple of hours at the museum, marvelling at the treasures from Tutankhamen’s tomb, the animal mummies and hundreds of other amazing artifacts. Sadly, photos inside were forbidden – here is one of Tutankhamen’s mask from Wikipedia, which was a real highlight.
After the museum we wandered over to Tahrir square, site of the Egyptian revolution. It was relatively quiet, although we did spy one protest – we then headed over to find a snack at Tom and Basal and tried koshary, a delicious mix of pasta, noodles, rice, lentils and chickpeas with tomato sauce.
When we left the koshary place, we stepped out into another protest, this time coming towards us. We just moved to one side and were more or less left alone (except for one boy who tried to grab our bag – and was immediately rebuked by the people around him). We were surprised by how peaceful the protests seemed – more like a weekend activity than a serious protest! That night we ate more delicious food at Gad – we loved the cheap and tasty food in Cairo.
We had one last day in Cairo before we flew out, and we decided to spend this exploring Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo. Egypt has a very old Christian history, and when we visited Coptic Cairo we visited a church where the Holy family was supposed to have been, a hanging church suspended in the air, a couple of other old churches and a synagogue. We found this part of town really interesting and beautiful.
We also enjoyed Islamic Cairo, where we visited two different mosques, strolled the markets and appreciated the beautiful architecture – totally different in style but also beautiful.
As tourists travelling without a guide through Cairo, it definitely felt safe to us. We walked around, ate at local places and used the metro and felt like it was fine. As a woman I was careful to wear t-shirts that covered my shoulders, pants that covered my knees (not much fun in 30 degree heat) and I stuck close to Reuben, but actually we didn’t experience many hassles in Cairo at all compared to Aswan or the Pyramids. (Hassles in Egypt are a whole different post!) We did encounter one guy outside the museum telling us it was closed (we ignored him as we knew it wasn’t) and a couple of random guys trying to strike up conversations – we ignored them as we had been pre-warned that people might try to scam us into conversations that led to us going to their shops. The scariest thing we encountered was trying to cross the road – the drivers in Cairo are crazy!
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Cairo looks like a fascinating city of contrasts. And another contrast is between the relative peace/safety that you experienced in late June, and the protests and chaos of the last several days. You were lucky in your timing, I think.