Plant your tongue firmly in cheek and just say it: the Pyramids are so last millennia! Who wants to travel half way around the world to see Toblerone-shaped piles of old stones? And the Egyptian Museum? No more than a glorified vanity wall of long dead despots. Here are ten far more compelling reasons to visit the shock and awe of Cairo.
- Egyptians really are as friendly as the guidebooks say. Where else in the world can you find people that will fleece you of half your holiday budget with one breath, and then happily invite you to stay with their family with the next? The funny thing is, the offer is a genuine one.
- For a city of indeterminate millions (best guess is around 22), Cairo is remarkably safe. You are at virtually no risk of personal violence, and the only robbery that occurs is consensual, and disguised as haggling. You do, however, have to run the gauntlet whenever you cross the road – an exercise remarkably similar to those old-school computer games, but without the extra lives.
- The main legacy of the Pyramids – hanging around on the outskirts of the city like unwelcome guests at a party, overstaying their welcome – is that time has no meaning in Cairo. You never need to worry about being late in a city where “after exactly 30 minutes” translates more accurately as “later on, not quite sure when”!
- At any time of day or night you can wander in to a local coffee shop and find people of all ages playing games. Whether it’s backgammon, dominoes or chess, the pieces are slammed down on the board with intimidatory flair, and playful banter and insults fly back and forth. Let battle commence!
- Egypt’s national dish is a carbohydrate bomb known as koshary: a mixture of pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions, tomato sauce and chili. It’s cheap and cheerful, available everywhere, and tastes much nicer than it sounds! One of the best places to sample koshary in Cairo is at the famous Abou Tarek restaurant in Downtown.
- Chief of Cairo’s many surreal experiences is the hilarious, but politically incorrect, Manyal Palace Hunting Museum. Never seen a carefully arranged diorama of a lobster attacking a crab, or an ostrich with head and feet, but no body? You’ve never lived! Unfortunately, nor did these creatures, once King Farouk got them in his sights.
- Why bother with shoes and socks when you can flip-flop your way around the city in ship-ships, as they’re known here. Sure, the streets are on the scummy side of filthy, but it’s a lot easier to clean your feet than it is your shoes. There’s nothing quite like feeling the life of a city oozing between your toes.
- Now, severe air pollution is not often high on people’s lists of reasons to visit a city. However, without all those irritating air-borne particulates, Cairo sunsets would be nowhere near so spectacular as they are. Try al-Azhar park for one of the best views. Also, having experienced Cairo’s air pollution, your home town will feel like a Himalayan mountain retreat!
- Whether you love it or hate it, a Cairo taxi ride is a simultaneously life affirming and life threatening experience. Taxi drivers are a law unto themselves, and the only thing in Cairo more insane than the traffic is the cavalier way in which the drivers negotiate it. There’s nothing to do but hold on tight, and try to convince yourself that true traveling is more about the journey than the destination. Just pray you don’t get one of the taxis with musical brakes, because you really don’t want to know how seldom they get used!
- Finally, you never know what colorful, arresting or just plain crazy sight you will see when you step out on to the street. Camels riding in the back of pick-up trucks, a family of six balancing on a tiny scooter, an impromptu gathering of Egyptians dancing around a crackly stereo system … Cairo is a bewildering assault on all of the senses, but it is never dull!
Photo by Manhoi/Creative Commons