So I actually quite like Cairo. There. I said it. Is it noisy, busy, chaotic and a bit smelly in parts? Abso-fucking-lutely! But is everyone lovely and friendly and actually really helpful? I mean, mostly, yes. Some people want you to have a tea at their café or buy their stuff, but random blokes with nothing to gain will smile and wave, or ride past in cars and on bikes shouting, “Hello! Welcome in Egypt!” I even got a marriage proposal which makes that one-all with Tarrant.
Today we just wandered through Islamic Cairo and it was brilliant. We checked out of our hotel in Giza, found a place on Stasher to leave our bags then took the Metro to Bab el Shaaria. The eternal search for food began. I don’t know why it’s so bloody hard to find breakfast, it’s always the most difficult meal of the day to source so when I find a place I like I tend to immediately become a regular. This area was unfamiliar and we just ended up at the first place that invited us in.
Yeah nah, not a great tactic. The fuul (which is some manner of fava bean paste and varies significantly in quality from place to place) was liquidy and bland. The falafel from across the road though, that shit is the reason tastebuds were invented. Annoyingly, as we approached Hussein Mosque there seemed to be loads of places you could shovel food into your chops, I do wish we’d waited but we simply didn’t know and my hunger-o-meter was approaching murderous.
We weren’t allowed inside Hussein Mosque so we carried on with our strolling through the back streets, dodging tuk tuks and motorbikes, waving back at everyone who waved at us. I felt like a rock star. We meandered to Bab Zuweila which is an old gate with two minarets towering above it and in we went. A bloke started doing that thing they’re wont to do over here and began to guide us. Waaaaait a minute, buddy. If you’re going to guide us we need to know how much.
“Whatever you feel.” He told us. “It starts at maybe LE100 then goes to 50, 40, 35…” He paused then said, “Fifty is good.” Cool. Fifty is good. He took us up to the top of the gate and pointed out a few things. The skyline is dominated by minarets but you can’t help but notice the rubbish and debris strewn across the rooftops. He told us it was to do with the earthquake but I’m not sure when that was. He could have been referring to earthquakes in the 90s. The trouble is, during the revolution in 2011 a shit tonne of illegal buildings were put up by dodgy developers whilst regulations weren’t being checked. One more earthquake like that and half the city will collapse.
He took us up one of the minarets, listened to us gasping for air like fucking steam engines as we clawed our way up the steep spiral steps and said, “Maybe just to here for you. Maybe not to the top.” Yeah fair enough, buddy. You don’t want the death of two unfit lesbians on your hands. You wouldn’t believe we walked three National Trails back to back at the start of this year would you. A few more amazing views and we gingerly shuffled back down the steps, promising our knees it’d all be over soon.
We found Amir Aq Sunqur, the Blue Mosque, next and went in to read the information boards. No one seemed perturbed by our presence so we went a bit further in. There were a few blokes praying so I waited for them to finish before I took some photos of the blue tiles that give the mosque its nickname. They weren’t a part of the original design, they were imported from Turkey about 300 years after it was built. They look a bit like my parents’ crockery.
We wandered a bit more until we got to the Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifa’i Mosque, two absolutely massive structures next to each other. Like, you have to crane your neck to see the tops of them. You have to pay to get in but it’s not a hideous amount, then you have to abandon your shoes at the entrance to each mosque as you enter. My shoes are fucking awful and there’s nothing I can do about it. You could probably smell them in Giza. I think the only way I can get the stench out is with complete incineration. I wouldn’t be surprised if we came back to retrieve our footwear and the poor guy had been asphyxiated by the noxious fumes emanating from my Altras.
Anyway. The insides are spectacular. Like, they’ve gone all out on the wow factor. Columns, high ceilings, arches to the fucking sky. We padded around each of them in turn hoping their carpets wouldn’t disintegrate under my toxic feet until we were pretty much mosqued out. You could probably visit a few more of them if you were dressed appropriately but I don’t feel like I need to.
Today was actually really enjoyable but not just on account of the places we visited. The actual strolling made it, especially as Maps.me has a penchant for steering you through back streets. I can’t speak for the rest of Egypt because I’ve not been yet but it’s actually easier to walk in the road in Cairo. Pavements are uneven, sometimes broken and are littered with shop wares, café seating and motorbikes. Everyone walks in the road so I guess vehicles kind of expect it. It’s much less ideal after the ridiculous rain we had yesterday though, the roads are flooded in parts and you have to choose between the sometimes impassable ninja warrior course pavement or being ankle deep in water of dubious provenance.
Crossing the roads is an extreme sport, Tarrant is much better at it than I am so she’s been appointed Road Crosser In Chief but even she has to outsource on the particularly chaotic roads. I’ve always employed the “adopt a local” technique, whereby you find someone else who’s crossing and stick with them. You don’t look at the vehicles careering towards you at speed, you just watch the human as they expertly weave between the traffic and you follow them as closely as common decency allows. We were doing this over a really busy, quite wide road when the chap we’d adopted turned around to find two wide-eyed sweaty tourists staring at him intently. Scared the crap out of him! Though he did realise what we were doing, laughed then helped us across the second road like a boss.
But yeah, we had a great time in Egypt’s capital. I loved just chilling on the terrace at our hotel, gawping at the pyramids whilst applying tea to my facehole, occasionally chuckling to myself and muttering, “Pyramids,” like a complete psychopath. I enjoyed listening to the mosques simultaneously break out in song at call to prayer. Exploring the street, saying hello to people, fending off camel and taxi drivers, it’s all been brilliant. So far, Egypt, you’re smashing it.
Islamic Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
القاهرة الإسلامية ، محافظة القاهرة ، مصر
Stayed at: Slept on train 996 to Aswan. I use the term “sleep” loosely.
Useful shit to know…
- We left our bags at El Otel. You can book through Stasher or just show up. The lift requires a fob so you’ll need to call them to come and fetch you. It costs US$6 per bag per day, or LE120.
- Getting between the Metro stations cost LE5 each.
- There are some decent looking food places around Hussein Mosque.
- Bab Zuweila cost LE40 each. We paid our guide LE50 at his suggestion.
- Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifa’i Mosque are in the same complex and cost LE80 for entry to both of them. We weren’t asked to cover our heads but you do need to leave your shoes with the bloke at the entrance. We’d read you need to tip him LE2 each so we chucked him LE5 between us.
- The Blue Mosque was free to enter.
AC2 Train 996, Cairo To Aswan
- We booked our train ticket online for LE130 each and printed it out at a travel shop as our guesthouse couldn’t do it.
- See The Man In Seat 61 for details of how to do this.
- AC2 was fine. Not actually too cold and the seats were wide with loads of legroom. They recline far enough to get a bit of sleep too but you’ll 100% need earplugs and an eye mask.
- We took train 996 leaving Cairo at 10pm from platform 11.
- As soon as you’re spotted by tourist police outside of the station you’ll be steered into Tourist Information. If you’ve not bought your ticket yet these guys will tell you how, and if you have they’ll give you any Information you’ll need.
- We were told our train usually goes from platform 11 but sometimes it’ll change to 8.
- Making your way to your platform, you’re likely to be stopped by cleaners wanting to see your ticket so they can direct you to your platform and/or carry your bags for baksheesh. Men dressed in a white uniform will also ask to see your ticket to tell you where you go but they didn’t ask for money.
- The announcements are in Arabic only. Every time there was an announcement in the last hour of waiting I accosted someone and confirmed we were still in the right place.
- The train actually showed up a few minutes early, left a few minutes late, somehow lost half an hour by the time we got to Giza, and by the time we rolled into Aswan the following day it was four hours late.
- There’s a trolley service in AC2 but tea and food is more expensive than if you buy it from the vendors that walk up and down the train. Listen for the guys shouting, Shay, shay, shay! if you’re gagging for a tea. It should cost LE5.