• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 11:28pm

Cairo

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2005, 12:00am
 

1 The pyramids


A camel ride around one of the world's most celebrated attractions alone is worth the airfare for many. Set out early or late to avoid the inevitable crowds and offer a polite 'la shukran' (no thanks) to the touts. For 45 centuries the pyramids were the tallest man- made objects on the planet. The Great Pyramid of Cheops, at 137 metres, required an estimated 2.5 million limestone blocks to complete. Tourists are no longer allowed to climb the structures, a decision based on wear and tear and safety. Carved from a single piece of sandstone, the heavily eroded Sphinx, nearby, was used by invading armies for target practice, although pollution from ever-encroaching Cairo is now a bigger threat. Timing your arrival for just before sunset means perfect conditions for photography, and you can watch the sound and light show. Find out beforehand when the Sphinx will address you in your language. See www.sound-light.egypt.com/pyr.htm.


2 Khan El Khalili bazaar


All five senses are assaulted during a visit to Khan El Khalili, the largest bazaar in Egypt. Situated in Islamic Cairo, it's a town within a town, down a tangle of passageways that seem random but eventually make sense. An Aladdin's cave of shops and stalls are grouped according to their wares. Seek out bargains among the antiques, perfumes, spices and ornate backgammon boards. Craftsmen, wholesalers and foreigners crowd together along narrow alleys hammering out deals, as they have done since 1382. Expect to bargain hard because this is no place for the faint-hearted. If that ancient papyrus turns out to be banana leaf you'll kick yourself.


3 Belly dancing


Hollywood had almost as much to do with the evolution of belly dancing as did the tastes of the pharaohs. The sequined bra-and-belt style costumes found their way into early American movies and were in turn adopted by dancers in the Middle East, then re-exported around the world. Many of the five-star hotels and casinos put on shows for tourists and top performers command huge appearance fees. With perseverance you can still find authentic performances about town. Try the Palmyra Club off 26th of July Street. The fun begins when inebriated punters jump up and join in. Check to see if your hotel arranges lessons if you want to learn the difference between hip circles and shoulder shimmies.


4 A felucca ride


Triangular, white-sailed feluccas have been gliding along the River Nile since ancient times and are almost as much a symbol of Egypt as the pyramids. Used to transport freight and passengers, taking one for a cruise down one of the world's great waterways is an ideal way to absorb the city, and a pleasant alternative to negotiating the busy roads. Hotels can organise half-day trips and will include refreshments and a picnic. If you feel your bargaining skills are up to it, wander over to the Corniche waterfront near the Semiramis Hotel and strike a deal for a trip on your own terms. The suburb of Maadi, south of Cairo, is a good place to embark because the scenery is greener and the environment more peaceful than in the city. Aim to pay about $30 an hour.


5 Egyptian Museum


With an archaeological collection second to none, it's said that if you spent a minute looking at every exhibit in the Egyptian Museum you'd need nine months to see everything. Set up to safeguard artefacts from looters, its highlights include the treasure from Tutankhamun's tomb - the only tomb in the Valley of the Kings found intact and unplundered. There are exhibitions of mummies and coffins, statues and collections of Greco-Roman coins (www.egyptianmuseum.gov.eg). If you find wading through more than 120,000 objects daunting, clear your head with lunch at the Nile Hilton next door.


6 Football


A clever diversionary tactic when bargaining in Khan El Khalili is to change the subject to football. Egyptians are soccer mad and negotiations may well be suspended while chairs are pulled up and tea served. The hard part will be bluffing your way through the relative merits of bitter rivals Zamalek and Al-Ahly (it's best to remain neutral). The season runs from September to May, and games are well attended. Standards are respectable, Egypt having won the African Nations Cup in 1998. Passions run high and if you're lucky enough to find a ticket for a derby or international match at Cairo Stadium you're in for a thrill. But if the though t of standing among 100,000 rabid fans intimidates you, head to the nearest ahwa (cafe) and watch the action on TV.


7 The Citadel


The heart of medieval Cairo is the Citadel of Saladin, perched on a hill to the southeast of the city. Saladin constructed the fort to guard against invading crusaders in 1176 and it became the home of Egyptian rulers until the late 19th century. The fortress and battlements are now a complex of museums, mosques and tombs. The Mohammed Ali Mosque, with its slender minarets and half-dome roof, dominates the southern enclosure. There are superb panoramas of Cairo from the terrace at the National Police Museum, and on a clear day you can see the pyramids, 15km away. Open from 8am-5pm. Admission is 18.5 Egyptian pounds ($25).


8 The Cairo Marriott


A hotel and tourist attraction in one, the Cairo Marriott is a former royal palace that's been converted, extended and refurbished - and with 1,250 rooms it's the largest hotel in the Middle East. Built to mark the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the palatial premises are situated in 2.4 lush hectares on an island in the Nile. Besides American, Italian and Japanese restaurants, the ever-popular Harry's Pub is a focal point for tourists, locals and expatriates. The decor is British (www.marriott.com/property/propertypage/CAIEG).


9 A bite to eat


From street snacks to fine dining, the city offers a wide variety of eating options. Most passers-by can direct you to Felfela, a Cairo institution, at 15 Hoda Shaarawy Street. The reasonably priced menu includes Egyptian standards such as babaganoush, molokhiya (green soup) and roasted eggplant served with Arabic bread. If you're busy sightseeing, ubiquitous ta'amiyya stalls serve pita pockets crammed with falafel, hummus and salad. In the evening, relax and enjoy the Arabic ambience of Abu El Seid (157, 26th of July Street, Zamalek; tel: 20 2 735 9640), where traditional dishes are the speciality. You'll need a reservation at weekends. If you crave a distinct sense of place and a hint of romance, head to the Nile, where floating restaurants compete for your custom.


10 Alexandria


When searing heat and ferocious Khamsin winds sandblast the capital, copy wealthy Cairenes and take an express train to Alexandria. Two hours later you'll be greeted by a cooling Mediterranean breeze and an array of inexpensive restaurants near the harbour. Join the regulars and tuck into grilled mullet or huge bowls of seafood soup full of clams, shrimps and crabs. At sundown follow the crowds to the Corniche and walk like an Egyptian. Friendly suggestions of tea and a chat usually mean that someone wants to try out their English on you. Your new-found friend might throw in an informal tour of his home town, during which you shouldn't miss the Roman amphitheatre. The Cecil Hotel combines history and elegance with good views of the harbour. Rooms from $950. Tel: [20 3] 487 7173 or e-mail h1726@accor-hotels.com.


Share

Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Login

SCMP.com Account

or