If only I could summarize Cairo in three phrases then they would be: dysfunctional trash bin resulting in litter strewn streets, very functioning horns, and culture of baksheesh. And all of them, fortunately with the rich history backgrounds that spanning more than five thousands years from the Ancient Egypt to Islamic era and minority Coptic community to today’s modern Cairo.
We spent the whole day exploring Cairo. Afwan, our guide, took us not only to those tourists usual sites but also the backside of Cairo not usually in the tour agent itinerary. He showed us areas full of student dormitories from Indonesia and Malaysia in Nasr City, visited student-run businesses such as restaurants serving the students, to Al Azhar campuses, or to mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i. He insisted us to aboard public boat ride on the last night in Cairo, which we’re grateful we accepted later.
Started at 8.30 in the morning we hit the road for the Mosque of Amr bin Al-Aas, the first mosque ever built in Egypt. Within walking distances to it is Coptic Cairo areas with as many churches in one single area as could be in Cairo.
We’re trapped in typical Cairo traffic trying to get to Asfour Crystal (hey check your purchase!) on the north Cairo before recharging ourselves with simple West Sumatra cuisines in Nasr City.
Then, tuck into a slum area of the City of the Dead, where 500,000 people depend their daily life to the eery city, for a mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i before going to the beautiful mosque of Ibn Tulun. The latter has inspired I.M. Pei to build Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art based on cubism architectures in the mosque.
Khan el-Khalili was the next stop, the perfect place to practice your haggling skills! We’re fortunate we had Afwan as he is fluent in Arabic and with his sense of humor he always managed to get big discounts. Prices for souvenirs here are cheaper by Qatar standard.
While in here, we visited El Fishawy coffee shop, tempted by a good review in Lonely Planet. With a glass of coffee as cheap as 4 QAR and shisha for 10QAR this two-century old coffee shop is a treat after that shopping marathon in the bazaar or if you fancy people watching. Prepare your refusal words though as no single minute passed without roaming vendors!
We closed our Cairo chapter by taking a cheap public boat ride (70 EGP for 3 adults 2 children?); a 20-min ride on the river Nile, accompanied by blaring Arabic music, tacky dances by the youth and with glittering views of building alongside the river.