Cairo - More than its cracked up to be!
Cairo Travel Blog› entry 17 of 36 › view all entries
Hostel Dahab is what I would term as functional. Found it easily enough, and very cheap too, a roof-top place a stone's throw from the Cairo Museum, comfortable enough and a decent crowd of guests, many fairly long-term. Couple of Yanks, some English gypsies, Ruskies and the normal mix of western Europeans.
I did not expect much from Cairo from all of the tales I had been told - a dirty city, full of hawkers, horrendously hot, very polluted with cronic conjestion. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to find a clean, non-smelling, friendly metropolis, cosmopolitan with a good backpackers scene. I would have around a week here before the Egyptians would want me out (visa expires), and a reasonable amount to fit in - Cairo Museum, Giza, Sakkara (there are various spellings in use), as well as the usual footpadding, the FA Cup final and finalising plans for the next leg of the Where's Olly Tour.
An early pleasant surprise was that Jessie, whom I had met and travelled variously with in Turkey and Syria, was in town and staying not too far away. Jessie is pretty sound and wise beyond his 20-odd years. He has a really keen interest in the Middle East and is hoping to study Arabian Studies at University, I wish him well (we are still in touch by e-mail and I lok forward to seeing him on my return to the UK whenever that may be).
The first major port of call was the Cairo Museum, a cracking building in the centre of town. Unfortunately what lies inside is not quite so grand as the exterior would lead you to believe - a wit mentioned to me that the displays have not been changed in the 100-odd years since it opened and this is very believable. A hotch-potch of sarcophogi (1,000's) with no descriptions and little order. Of course, the by now mandatory copy-exhibits abound, with polite notices advising that the originals reside overseas, such as the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum.
The King Tut exhibition is a stand-out, as expected, really very spectacular. The Mummy room was also worth a look, although the additional entrance fee was a little steep for a room with such few exhibits. The trip to the museum was intended as a precursor to the pyramids at Giza, I thought it best to get as much knowledge as possible before heading the 20 kms or so to the edge of Cairo, unfortunately expectations were not met!
And so it would continue. The problem with the pyramids is that I have seen far too much of them in the media, and its a case of "oh yeah - they're the pyramids, just like in the pictures". The Sphinx is disappointingly small and propped up by scaffolding - hardly a great Kodak moment. Paid the extra to enter the largest pyramid, that of Cheops. This is a very chlaustrophobic experience, and you exit with a very sore back. Not a lot to see, but an interesting experience non-the-less.
A further 20 kms or so out of town are the Step Pyramids at Sakkara, and these were altogether far more interesting. Much older and smaller than their more famous neighbours, and much less well-known, and for it a more memorable experience. There is a good deal more mystique here (and a lot less sight-seers), positioned as they are in the desert rather than on the edge of one of the world's great sprawling metropoli. One nice touch next to the largest of these tombs is a statue of the deceased king hidden inside a brick building with a small eye-hole to view him through. The other tombs here, of various nobles and priests, had wonderful frescoes, well preserved, depicting the daily events of life and ritual.
In amongst the various sight-seeing I did some reasonable socialising, including visiting the Windsor Hotel, an old British Army Officers Club that hasn't changed a jot since the 1930's, save a large screen TV in the corner pumping out BBC World.(Michael Palin came here during his 80 Days Around the World trip many years ago). A very colonial experience!
The Saturday was FA Cup Final day, and myself and Jessie headed out to find the match. After much searching we decided that the best bet would lie with the Hilton, and we were soon joined there by various other British backpackers who had clearly thought alike - incorrectly! They did not have the game, which we thought quite unbelievable given that every other country we had been to was hooked on English football. It was with some disgust that we later learnt that it had been one of the great finals, the one relief was that I had not been forced into watching the red scum of Merseyside win a football game. As a consequence we drowned our sorrows in a local bar, playing cards. Jim, one of the felucca people, also turned up and it was good to catch up with his forays into the western desert.
Cairo was full of surprises, and I would definately consider going back - some fantastic architecture, very friendly people (mostly), good food and nice bars. I also managed to arrange my onward ticket to Mumbai at a very reasonable rate (considering Egypt's high airport taxes - an unpleasant surprise). Egypt in total has been a real mixed bag, from the emotions of Dahab, the disappointment of Luxor, the serenity of the Nile to the city of Cairo, the heights of Sakkara to the diving depths of the Red Sea. Mostly enjoyable, none of it an experience to regret but much to move on from.
And this also brings to an end (almost as you will see) of my time in the Middle East. Prior to my departure many questioned why I would wish to visit this part of the world, but I couldn't be happier that I did. Yes there are real concerns about the security in this part of the world, as I can testify better than many, but the people, the cultures are so welcoming, friendly and warm. Many of the sights are truely spectacular, the food fantastic, and so much of it undiscovered by the average westerner, don't write it out of your next travel plans, indeed very much write it in. It would be a shame to miss out on so much so close to home (4hrs in a plane?), and these places can all cater to the broadest range of budgets.
And so to Egypt, and Syria and Jordan, I say to you Shukran and MA'A'Salama, thank you and good-bye, I may have gone but certainly will not forget and gratefully look forward to returning in the not-to-distant future.