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Getting to know Cairo.
The traffic is unbelievable in Cairo and its absolutely dangerous trying to cross the road. I thought China was bad until I experienced the traffic of Cairo. I highly recommend hiring a taxi to get you around the city. They are extremely cheap and we found all the taxi drivers to be friendly. Just make sure you have a fixed price before hopping into the cab.
Do not drive in Cairo unless you are totally mad !!
I used a private guide for some tours and used a local taxi most of the other times and found them to be excellent. I actually hired a taxi for the day as I was alone and my driver was toothless but gorgeous and I felt totally safe with him. We negotiated a price for the day before heading off.
We used a very good guide to take us to the Pyramids and out to Memphis for the day. Our hotel told us of the travel company which was located across the road from the Sheraton.
Our guide took us firstly to the entrance of the Pyramids and organized all our tickets. The Giza plateau is located on the west bank of the Nile River approx 12kms from Cairo. It takes approx 30 minutes by car through the hectic Cairo traffic.
Our guide walked us around the main Pyramid and briefly told us a short history of the Pyramids and Egypt.. This brief history lesson was excellent as it gave us a clear insight into the creation of the Pyramids. This alone is worth having a guide for as it saves all the hassle of waiting in queues lining up at the entrance..
There are hundreds of tourists and many tourists buses so don't expect to have the pyramids to yourself. Our guide used his air-conditioned car to take us from one Pyramid to another which we were pleased about , as walking in the hot sunshine would have been extremely tiresome.
Three massive pyramids in Giza were built for King Khufu and his family , they certainly dominate the sandy desert landscape. The biggest being for King Khufu . Next to the three big ones are three smaller pyramids which were built purposefully for his wives. There are also many ruins of the city in front of the main Pyramid. Evidently the Pyramid has approximately over 2 million limestone blocks and the average weight around 2.5 tons.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is basically the largest and oldest sculpture and monolith statue in the world, the Sphinx sculpture is modelled and shaped as a lion but has a head of Pharaoh Chephren of Egypt.
Its located just near the Giza Pyramids and both can be seen together easily. The statue has been made from limestone and the name means strangler but the purpose or meaning of it still remains unknown today. However, many think the Sphinx was made to protect and guard the tombs of the pharaohs.
The Giza Pyramids are an awe-inspiring sight and truly an amazing wonder of the world. I don't think anyone would tire from looking at the them. They are so enormous , gigantic and mystical which makes observing the pyramids a humbling experience.
Allow a few hours or half a day to really take in the total complex site. There is plenty to see and heaps of small wonders to discover. You can also take a camel ride through the desert which most tourists seemed to enjoy. I also highly recommend having a guide
We used our local guide to organize us for a visit to the Egyptian Museum. The museum is located just a short drive from our hotel across the road from the Nile Hilton Hotel. The museum contains over 120,000 items of ancient Egyptian antiquities and many treasures of King Tutankhamun and Pharaonic treasures. Evidently, Tutankhamun ruled Egypt between 1334 and 1325 BC and died around the age of 18.
On arrival we had to go to the office and hand our camera in as its forbidden to use videos or cameras in the museum. Basically; there are two main floors of the museum, the ground floor and the first floor. The 2nd floor houses all the treasures of King Tut’s tomb.
Our guide did all the other formalities regarding getting tickets and led us firstly upstairs to see the treasures of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and including four gilded shrines the jewellery, gloves, and other stunning antiquities regarding King Tut’s collection. The whole assortment is absolutely magnificent and truly exceptional.
The Royal mummies room is another wonderful treasure to see and for someone like myself who is not into museums I found the whole Egyptian Museum absolutely captivating, mesmerizing and a spellbinding experience. .
Another room we enjoyed was the mummified animals section which included dogs, cats, birds and fish. Some of the items are not labelled which is a huge disappointment regarding these treasured antiquities. Hopefully, when the new museum opens up in Giza it will be more organized and cared for.
Overall : We loved this museum and its just wonderful experience to see these treasures. We used our guide but really didn’t need him as basically he just directed us to the best things to see which could easily be found by a guide book.
Tip: We arrived around 11.30am and found limited crowds. Allow 2hrs at least or come back another day to get the best .
Old Cairo also called Coptic Cairo, its full of interesting Egyptian Christian history and is a fascinating place to stroll around as there are many historical churches and mosques to visit . I carried a scarf in my bag to cover my hair so not to offend anyone.
The entrance is guarded by police and you can walk in free there is no entrance fee. My taxi driver dropped me off at the entrance and was still waiting there in the taxi stand for me later. You can also reach Old Cairo by taking the metro to Mar Girgis Station.
Coptic Cairo is ancient walled enclave of alleyways and numerous churches and mosques . I managed to visit a few like the Hanging Church which still has services throughout the day and has beautiful mosaic pictures in the courtyards. Its noted as one of Egypt’s oldest churches dating back to the fourth century. The church has 13 main columns which represent Christ and his 12 disciples and one representing Judas.
The Greek Orthodox Cemetery is wonderful to stroll around it’s a little oasis in a large and very polluted city. This is the place to come if you want a to just relax and take in the many facets of Egypt’s mixed religions..
Other attractive churches was the Covent of St George, churches of St Serguius , St Barbara , Ben Ezra Synagogue was originally a Christian Church but later came a Jewish Church , the mosque of Amr Ibn Al-As was the first mosque in Africa built in 642 by the Muslim Army. The Coptic Museum was another I visited which has a wonderful Roman collection of ivory, pottery and excellent samples of textiles and frescoes.
It’s a lovely place to stroll around as its less crowded and extremely peaceful with limited traffic allowed. There are many little alleyways which are super to explore and the stalls here have some very appealing Egyptian arts and crafts.
Across from the entrance to Old Cairo is a small indoor shopping market with excellent toilet facilities and a good clean café
The Citadel sits high on Maqqatem hills overlooking the entire city of Cairo, it makes a perfect place for taking photos of the city.
The famous landmark is surrounded by many other buildings including the Al- Gawhara Palace , Mosque of Sulayman Pasha , National Military Museum , Royal carriage Museum and the Police Museum.
Firstly, I strolled around the grounds taking in the views of Cairo and noted how polluted and big the city is compared to other cities in the world. After strolling around I ventured inside the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the entrance fee is included in your ticket.
The mosque was built by Mohammed Ali Pasha from limestone and alabaster around the mid 1800’s in the grand Ottoman manner of Istanbul . You do need to be dressed appropriately otherwise they provide a green gown to wear. Being suitably dressed I was ushered inside however I had to take my sandals off. (ladies bring a head scarf).The ceilings are lovely all covered in beautiful mosaics patterns with large crystal chandeliers and lanterns hanging down from the roof.
The Police museum is small but also very interesting , I was escorted around by a Policeman who told me the history of the prison. The last prisoners were the assassins of President Sadat on 6th Oct1981 and they were held here whilst waiting trial.
There is also a small bazaar located just outside the mosque and also just near the entrance to the Citadel. Clean toilet facilities are also located near the Police Museum.
Visiting the Citadel is one of Cairo’s landmarks and its best combined with visiting Al –Hussein Mosque and Mosque of al-Rafai which are located just below the Citadel.
Overall : I just organized a taxi driver from my hotel and paid a day fee for him to whisk me around all the major attractions …he patiently waited for my return and I felt extremely safe in his company. However, his taxi was a little worn and battered, a little like his friendly face.
We took a tour with our guide which we used continuously throughout our stay in Egypt to Saqqara. Its located approx 45 mins ? 60mins (40kms) drive from Cairo and 25kms south from Giza. The drive is rather interesting as you see some rather luxurious houses and lush palm tree plantations along the way which is completely different scenery from the congested traffic hell of Cairo.
On arrival to Saqqara we firstly visited the new and modern Imhotep Museum which opened in April 2006. The museum is air-conditioned has a caf�nd modern toilet facilities. Before entering the museum we watched a short film in the theatre made by National Geographic about the Museum.
There is also a large model which was created by Jean Philippe Lauer, a famous archaeologist that made many discoveries at Saqqara. Inside the museum you will also find his fascinating library. The museum houses some fabulous pieces and its well worth a visit. Afterwards we drove up to see the pyramids and tombs.
Saqqara is famous for being the main burial grounds of the ancient city of Memphis and for the first and earliest Egyptian pyramid which was built for King Djoser in 2650BC . Other attractions include the Mastaba of Ti, the Tomb of Mereruka, and the Pyramid of Teti .
The step pyramid stands approx 60 metres high and is built from the local sandstone and it?s also the worlds first ever building. The best thing about Saqqara Pyramids is its not so touristy as the Giza pyramids , however I did get totally scammed whilst looking at a donkey.
Basically I was kidnapped and found myself riding high on a donkey through the desert. I finally had to yell at the man to let me off ! at least my friends found it hilarious..
(tip : Don't take a pic of a donkey or camel ! )
From Saqqara another 10mins drive away is the marvellous outdoor museum of Memphis which contains some remarkable monuments and also a limestone colossus of King Ramses and a enormous alabaster Sphinx which originally stood outside the temple of the God Ptah. ( the local God of Memphis) . Memphis was originally the capital of Ancient Egypt.
Overall : a fantastic day trip from Cairo and well worth a visit. I highly recommend you hire a guide and car. Bring a camera / hat / sunscreen / good walking shoes and most important a bottle of water.
IMHO the best itinerary is to see Giza Pyramids / The Egyptian Museum and then Saqqara.
Dahshur has only recently been open as it was a military zone since 1996. Dahshur forms the southern most area of the Memphis Necropolis and contains a number of pyramid complexes and monuments.
its heaps quieter to view than the other Pyramids. Two of its five extant pyramids date from the 4th dynasty (c. 2575Bc. 2465 bce) and were built by King Snefru (reigned 2575BC51) The good thing there is limited camel drivers touts, hagglers at Dahshur than at Giza.
Arrival : On arrival our first observation was one of disappointment, the lobby and reception area looked outdated and passé .
We had booked the Sheraton Hotel via the Starwood Hotel webpage and received a good deal which included the Club Floor , free breakfast , Nile river view and balcony.
Check-in : We were guided into the Starwood executive lounge for check-in which was comfortable and efficient we were also offered coffee and snacks whilst waiting.
Room : Our room 1807 was located in the Nefertiti Tower on the 18th floor with stunning views of the Nile River and city downtown. Our room was spacious and consisted of a comfortable king size bed. The decor is not trendy or modern just comfortable. No tea or coffee facility however a mini bar was available and a good size TV.
Bathroom : Shower over bath – average size.
Staff : Very friendly, efficient and helpful. We often had the staff ring us asking how everything was regarding our stay .We thought this gesture to be delightful.
Swimming Pool : I’m not sure what was happening regarding the state or standard of the pool. It appeared very neglected especially the weedy gardens and it looked totally uninviting. The pool also is located in a bad position regarding traffic noise…hence we never used it. (maybe, we were out off season ? )..
Restaurants : Due to the heavy Cairo traffic we opted to dine at most of the Sheraton restaurants . We loved them all especially the Aladdin Lebanese restaurant and Stiletto Lounge which is located opposite on the waterfront.
The Z Pub : We enjoyed mixing with the locals and other guests especially watching the football Egypt V Algeria first play off for the World Cup - Egypt won…a really crazy fun night !
Breakfast : A good variety of both Arabic and Western buffet food.
Casino : We only went in for a few minutes as we realized the Casino only used US $$ . Passports are needed for entrance.
Overall : originally we were disappointed with the first glimpse of The Sheraton Towers and wished we had booked either the Grand Hyatt, Four Seasons or the Intercontinental which were located across the river and seemed to be in a perfect position.
However, after visiting them all we finally realized the Sheraton offered a comfortable stay at a very reasonable rate. All the major attractions are a short taxi ride away and its one city you DO actually need a taxi. ….its madness to try and navigate the streets yourself.
This hotel somehow seduced us with its simplicity and it turned out to be perfect for our stay in Cairo.
Sheraton has it own drivers or you can use the normal Cairo taxis which are easily obtained by asking the doorman to arrange one for you. Ask the concierge for directions to the travel agent across the road for booking tours, we found them to be excellent or just book a local taxi for the whole day...
Staying in Cairo for a week we enjoyed some lovely restaurants which I can highly recommend.
The Sheraton Hotel has a few restaurants which are worth mentioning as we found them to be excellent.
Aladin - is a traditional Middle Eastern Restaurant and we found the food to be fabulous
Stiletto lounge - opposite the hotel on the waterfront. A trendy bar and casual dining overlooking the Nile River. It later turns into a nightclub. We enjoyed our tapas type meal - very chic and awesome views.
ZPub - located on the lobby level of the Sheraton - rustic bar where you can sit and chat with other guests and watch football.
Bella Italian - Located in the Four Seasons hotel on the Nile. - Fantastic views - fine dining and the food is good too.
Spice - Four Seasons Hotel on the Nile - Cantonese Chinese.
For something casual and cheap - Felfela's to experience authentic Egyptian cuisine. There are two in Cairo - one located at Giza and the other in Harb Street in Downtown. They had a good selection of Egyptian/Middle eastern foods.
For a cocktail with the most amazing views - The revolving restaurant lounge on the 40th floor in the Grand Hyatt Hotel. However, its extremely expensive so bring your credit card !
Absolute - Chic nightclub - you need to make a reservation as its extremely busy.
For Belly Dancing - we took a river dinner cruise which had belly dancing for entertainment - food was buffet style and evening enjoyable.
The biggest market for shopping is called Khan el Khalili and its here you can buy anything from rugs, clothing, jewellery to whatever...it has everything ! However, it can be overwhelming with all the touts trying to get you to buy something...bargain hard in the markets, start at a quarter of the price mentioned or even lower and work hard to get your price.
For other food items - There are plenty of supermarkets which are well organized and clean.
Downtown can be interesting to stroll along, however the crowds and traffic gets the better of us and we cannot wait to head back to the hotel.
Cairo is also known for its beautiful Egyptian Cotton - there are numerous large stores dotted around Cairo - just ask and it won't take long for your guide or taxi driver to find you one.
However, you are best to take a taxi and ask the driver to wait outside - as a guide gets commission and will hassle you more regarding taking to different stores. Just ask your hotel concierge to give you a address and then hire a taxi. .
We were meet by our Cairo delegates and quickly shown through customs with the help of our guides. Again feeling extremely lucky we had a car waiting for us to drive into Cairo.
However, regardless of our privilege we always take into account what other travelers are coping with as its not always we have people waiting for us.
The custom seemed to flow relevantly well and we didn't have to wait too long for our luggage.
SHUTTLE SERVICE: Go to the service desk at the airport - Prices are fixed & the van are airconditioned -max passengers is seven. You are best to book ahead.
http://www. cairoshuttlebus.com for more info.
For Taxis - www.thebluecab.com
Departing : our guides pick us up and delivered us to the airport, however they quickly disappeared as we had to wait until our gate terminal was opened. We waited and waited until I thought something is wrong here and went and inquired and found our gate had been open for ages but they just didn't show it on the boards.
We saw heaps of touts confusing tourists at the gates - do not give anyone your passport or money - just walk away and do not listen....follow your own intuition.
The most important thing to remember when in Cairo is to have heaps of smaller denomination notes and coins. Its amazing how many times the taxi drivers say " sorry I have NO change" so you end up having to give them extra. We learnt quickly and every day before heading off I broke up money so I had a sorts of denominations in notes and coins.
I had read up about what to wear before leaving Australia, so I was totally prepared as we were also traveling onwards to other Middle Eastern countries. Its relevantly easy to pack : I just wore light weight cotton long sleeve shirts and Capri trousers for the day. I also carried a head scarf in my bag for visiting any churches or mosques etc... night time I wore long trousers and a dress shirt. open sandals.. so very easy to pack - I brought my swimwear to use in the hotel - but never had a swim as I felt slightly uncomfortable with the staff looking at you.
The predominant religion in Cairo is Islam and 10% are Christians which belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. As most people are Muslims Friday is their Holy Day and most things are closed. (its like our Sunday).
Mostly I explored Cairo alone as my hubby was working through the day and at all times I felt very safe . I just ignored any touts or over eager friendly people and stuck to doing things alone with my guide or taxi drivers. I also dressed appropriately for exploring as a woman alone - light cotton trousers and long sleeve cotton top. Footwear I just wore open sandals. I found most of the people to be extremely helpful and friendly and at no time did I feel unsafe.
Carry small change for tips. The Egyptians do appreciate you tipping however its not a necessities just polite to do so.
Do NOT drink the water - carry a water bottle with you at all times. Sunscreen and a hat is also vital items to pack.
Beware of touts being around all the major attractions - just ignore them ...however, you can easily be conned by doing something stupid like taking a pic of a donkey !
Learn a few Arabic words like :
Thank You - shukran