Cairo is one of the densely populated cities in the middle east. Traffic and pollution are unbelievably high. There are marvellous sites to visit though so my husband and I decided to book a short trip to Cairo for a couple of days. We flew from Riyadh, landing at Cairo airport around midnight.
Our trip to Cairo: Arrival
From what I had read online, all tourists will be harassed by touts trying to help you with baggage, immigration etc. and then demand money from you. Giving cash as tips for good customer service is acceptable, but these people demand money as though it is their right, whether they help us or not. So, I alerted my husband not to fall for their tricks and not nod or even look into the eye of anyone trying to offer help. That is the only way of avoiding them, it seems. But, I came to realize that these touts only go after westerners. They are very good at reading tourists’ nationality and attack only people who do not mind spending money on tips.
What surprised me, however, was that our travel agent Mr Mostafa came directly to our terminal gate. Yes, you read it right! He was not waiting for us outside the airport; instead, he came directly to the terminal gate where we landed and escorted us through immigration and out of the airport in no time. He even pushed our trolley bag for us and was adamant about it. None of the touts came towards us, sensing his presence.
The travel to our hotel Mercure Cairo le sphinx in Giza took a half-hour. Check-in was simple, and we rested for the day.
Our trip to Cairo: Day 2
The next day, our first visit was to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Tahrir Square, famous for its demonstrations and protests in downtown Cairo.
You can spend almost a week just looking at the various exhibits in the museum. Our guide Mr Ahmed did a great job covering as many interesting exhibits as possible in a short span of 2 hours. We were amazed to see stones, sculptures, sarcophagus, the actual jewels made of tons of gold and other items of the Pharaohs of Egypt. They certainly do reek of royalty. We had to pay extra to visit the Mummy room in the museum. I expected to see something I like I saw in the movie, The Mummy. But what I saw was nowhere near it. The actual mummies are quite small and not as terrifying as the ones you see in the movie.
Mr Ahmed took us to a papyrus-making shop, where we were shown a demo of how they make papyrus. This also serves as an exhibit of paintings and other artwork made in papyrus sheets. My husband was piqued, and we purchased a painting with our names written in ancient Hieroglyphic language for 120 Egyptian pounds. It makes for a cool wall hanging!
The pyramids of Giza
Any trip to Cairo demands a visit to the pyramids. So that was our next stop: the famous pyramids of Giza. Sheer majesty! How on earth did people build such a massive structure that is holding up perfectly fine for so long without the modern technology of our time? Sitting in the footsteps of the great pyramid of Giza, our guide explained everything and once again, we were astonished. We were really excited to climb inside the pyramid. Our guide told us if you have any leg or heart problems, do not try it. And we only knew what he meant after we started climbing inside the great pyramid of Giza.
We had to climb to the king’s chamber. It was immensely steep, and the passage was around 3 feet high most of the time. There are no steps as such. Just a sliding passageway with railings on either side. Mustering as much physical strength as possible, we climbed and climbed. We were panting for breath at the end of our first flight. There were people in their sixties climbing down, and here we were in our late twenties taking a rest!
Moreover, the airflow inside was low. Therefore, I would not recommend going inside the pyramid when it is crowded during summer; it can get hot! Luckily, while we were climbing up, the only other 10 people inside the pyramid were climbing down. So, I guess we had the pyramid entirely to ourselves! This is one advantage of travelling to Egypt when tourist in-flow is low.
Inside the pyramid
Finally, we reached the king’s chamber where the tomb existed, approximately 200 feet above the ground. But now it is just an empty room. We climbed up so far, to see nothing actually. Nevertheless, it was one in a million kind of experience that must not be missed. The climbing down was equally tedious as there are no steps, just a sliding passageway and gravity does a great job of trying to push you down. Beware that taking photographs inside the pyramids is not allowed, but if you still want to, then do it without flash in your mobile camera. If somebody caught you taking a photo, shove some tips, and you are good to go. My knees were wobbling when we came out, and I was never so happy to see the bright sunshine of Cairo!
We got to see the other two pyramids from the outside. We decided to give the second pyramid a pass, which is relatively of lesser height and not steep at all.
After the pyramids, I went on my first camel ride. Oh! I might say it was the most terrifying thing I experienced during our trip to Cairo! Is it something in the way camels walk? I always felt like falling down.
We gave tips of 20 Egyptian pounds to our camel guide. Tips are usually given to these people as they are very poor and solely depend on tourism for a living. With the political situation remaining unstable all these years, tourism was the first industry to take a bad hit. Now, Egypt is trying to revive tourism, and I can see many tourists from around the world. You will find street sellers trying to sell souvenirs and follow you everywhere, even if you say no. Again, our tour guide came to our rescue and politely refused on our behalf.
With more photos taken in the backdrop of the pyramids, our trip to Cairo couldn’t be complete without visiting the mysterious Sphinx. It is again equally grand, and we were in awe of it. This is where a light and sound show is held at night every day. The history of the pyramids and the Sphinx is told over a voice-over with music and colourful lasers. Worth a watch! Put on some blazers while coming to watch this at night, as it gets pretty cold with the desert wind blowing around.
Last part of our trip to Cairo
After this long sightseeing tour, we returned to the hotel to freshen up and headed for dinner. We tasted Egyptian falafel and shawarma at the Felfela restaurant near our hotel. It was mouth-watering! With the happiness of visiting a second-world wonder (our first being TajMahal), we spent some time relaxing and listening to live music at the hotel. Yet, throughout the evening, we discussed the pyramids and Sphinx. Such is the impact the pyramids have on you!