Cairo: getting the best from the vibrant city

Posted on March 11, 2010


Following our Pyramid experience, we decided that guides were maybe not the best route to go down. Even the more expensive guides at the hotel could not be trusted (one friend we met paid US$500 for 3 days and had similar experiences). From here on it we only took taxi’s with metres and that saved us a fortune in money, and time negotiating the fees!

We headed for the citadel on the edge of the old town (E£15). Getting there late we managed to miss the tourists who were being herded out. At first we were refused entry but a policeman said we could go through quickly, showing us around personally. There is a wonderful view from the citadel and the mosque is beautiful inside. The domes and half domes in the roof make sounds echo. The clock tower, which only worked for 3 days apparently, was a gift from Louis Philippe of France in return for the obelisk that now sits at Concorde.

After the Citadel we took a metred cab to Khan El Khalili, in  search of the café El Fishawy – another recommendation from a friend. Friendly locals pointed us to the café which was in the middle of an old bazaar, full of winding alleyways with shops and stall packed on either sides. As dictated by my friend, turning out to be a remote tour guide, we drunk cold Karkade, a sweet purple drink made from hibiscus flower, and sahleb, a hot milky porridge like drink. Many people also smoked shishas whilst being offered various products and services from knock off watches to henna tattoos. We started chatting to a local man who was horrified that we didn’t know where all the obelisks were that his country had given out – Concorde in Paris as we knew; Rome; New York City; the Washington monument and there is one in London which Wikipedia tells me is in Victoria Embankment. In fact there are 20 Egyptian Obelisks outside of the country.

We stayed chatting to this interesting man, that goes to the café every evening to chew the fat with friends, for around three hours. This is more like the Cairo that we were expecting.

After a shower and change at the hotel we went off to Arabesque, an old Egyptian bar that has a trendy but not pretentious crowd and is fabulous. That night Egypt and England were playing a friendly, pre world cup, football match. I was the only English person in the bar and the waiters and Maitre d took great pleasure in joking around, especially telling me malesh (sorry) as Egypt was 1-0 up for the whole of the first half. In the end we won 3-1 and the Egyptians there were equally light hearted. We ate, chatted to people and drank relatively cheap cocktails (E£35), it was a really great place and not to be missed on a Wednesday or Thursday if you fancy a party night.

The day or on our own was one of the best we had. With a few tips on places to go, I really felt like we saw the city as it is, rather than the show for tourists. And we loved it.

Posted in: Destinations, Egypt