Flying over Cairo was a vision of sand – mazes of uniform brown buildings creating domino like displays wherever you looked. Driving into Cairo was an assault on our senses – the smell of diesel and burning plastic, the loud sound of never ending horns, the heat through the haze of pollution…45 minutes later we were in the serenity of our hotel at the Holiday Inn Express Maadi. The neighborhood of Maadi was and by some accounts is still considered to be a hip neighborhood of Cairo. Probably due to it’s proximity to the Nile and to some decent restaurants nearby. Sadly, it mostly looks like a war zone; dilapidated buildings, garbage on the streets, dire poverty and the continuous assault of the senses. Every outing from the hotel was purpose full and as short as possible.
To be fair we came to Cairo without a fully hatched plan – hence the long stay. We were here to work and to plan the next couple of months in the Middle East/Northern Africa.
Another cosmopolitan neighborhood that was recommended by many websites is the Zamalek neighborhood located on Gezira island just west of downtown. The Cairo Tower is there and just south is the beautiful Opera House. The island is home to many embassies, cafe’s and trendy shops. However, this area much like the others is run down and dirty.
Given that there are almost 10 million people in Cairo traffic can be horrendous. Thankfully the metro system up and down both sides of the Nile is very civilized, cheap and reliable. Although Uber is available in Cairo and for a tourist is quite inexpensive, it is best taken to/from the airport or to destinations that do not have access to the metro (which is so much more efficient due to the traffic).
The pyramids of Giza had been on both of our bucket lists for decades – for Rob since he was a small child. A quick 45 minute Uber ride and we were in front of these mythical 4,500 year old structures. They truly are breathtaking to look at up close.
Thankfully for us, there were few tourists when we arrived and we were able to walk about for a number of hours and enjoy our time in front of the Sphinx and each of the pyramids. But first we had to avoid the onslaught of attacks from multitudes of camel, donkey and horse vendors who all tried to get us to take a ride. Due to my love of animals and Rob’s allergies we tried to stay as far away from these poor creatures as we could. The level of abuse that we saw was absolutely heartbreaking. I understand that the Egyptians need to survive – somehow. I just will never understand the need for cruelty and the abuse.
Hoping to escape the chaos of Cairo for a few days, we decided to hop a train to Alexandria. The rail system in Egypt is quite good. There is a great write up about all Egyptian rail travel on Mark Smith’s website which has saved us a lot of time and agony.
The scenery up to the Mediterranean city of Alexander the Great showed the daily struggles of farming communities along the Nile – at times it was quite green and lush and at others displayed the half completed buildings that were nevertheless occupied. We arrived at the iconic train station 1.5 hours late – which is typical. Stepping out onto the street the chaos ensued. We grabbed a cab to the Radisson Blu hotel in Alexandria West. Our cabbie offered us a cigarette – when we emphatically said no thank you he lit up and continued smoking for the duration of the ride. Our cab passed oil field after oil field of destroyed muddy and tarred Mediterranean. My heart was sinking for this land which must have been stunning at some point in time….We hid in the serenity of the hotel for both days and were just too beat up by the pollution and chaos of the city to venture back. We grabbed a car back to Cairo without truly seeing any of Alexandria.
Although my report of our time in northern Egypt has been quite bleak, I must say that on the most part the Egyptian people are some of the most welcoming and resilient that we have every had the pleasure of meeting. Despite their poverty and daily struggles they are proud of their country and want to see it thrive again… and Southern Egypt gets so much better!