Friday, June 11, 2010

Cairo city.



Well, well, well, I'll try not to complain... too much :)

Cairo is CRAZY! Yes, you saw it right: CAPS and exclamation mark, because it can be that different (not necessarily in the good way); but it also has it's positive aspects as well.
We'll start with the negative ones, so that we can conclude on a positive note.

We've been warned about the "touts", the people trying to talk you into buying something from them, but we had no idea it can be that intensive. They search for you, they follow you (even for hundreds of meters), they constantly try to make you talk to them so that they can relate to something ("Romania great country", "Bucharest number one" and so on).
But that's nothing.. The problem is that most people here hope to gain something from you: "baksheesh" (the word sounds familiar, right?).
If you stop someone and ask for information, he might expect a few Egyptian pounds for the effort, or he will invite you to his shop to buy something, or he has a souvenir that you can buy from him - on the spot, or ...he knows the Pyramid's entrance and some Bedouins that can give you good prices for camel rides.
Ok, we fell for the last one, mostly because we had no idea where we were supposed to go.. and this "nice" old guy helped us with directions and in catching the right bus (this one is a lot harder than it sounds: in Cairo, most buses have no numbers/direction in English, and the route is yelled constantly by one guy sitting on the stairs, half-way out the bus).
Anyway, it was the second and the last time we decided to trust "friendly" locals, without double or triple checking the information.

Back to Cairo being a crazy city: imagine almost the entire population of Romania in one crowded, dirty, polluted, badly maintained city - with tourism as the main way of earning a living. I know it sounds harsh, but nothing here is exaggerated.
You, as a tourist, are a "walking euro coin" - as some friends put it.
Hospitality is almost non-existent. It can be bought though and it only comes after paying, ..before is just hassle.

Some other things that amazed us from the very first day:
- all the drivers use the horn as a second nature, especially the taxi drivers that use it every time they see you on the sidewalk, just to let you know they are there in case you need them. Also, they slow down, get near the sidewalk and ask if you need a taxi (50% of the time).

- people here stare at women all the time. I even got the customary "lucky man..lucky man" when seen together with Andra.

- almost the entire city looks like some of the worst districts in Bucharest: really dirty, with old badly maintained buildings. It's actually hard to find a safe-haven and the only one we found was at the Opera house. Also, me and Andra were the only ones looking (for 10 minutes or more) for a garbage disposal of any kind.. the other people just threw stuff everywhere.

- there are no new or nice looking cars, all of them look like they've been through many accidents and the fixing was done with the hammer. Also, most cars on the roads resemble the old Dacia model - and they look very very old.
We even witnessed an incident with an old car that was just driving normally and one wheel suddenly snapped and almost broke off from the car.

- most tourist attractions don't have direction signs on the roads. Also, in many cases we stopped and wondered if we were in the right place, since the area looked so bad or isolated.
You would expect that for the major attractions there's an infrastructure in place. Wrong. Even for the Pyramids, you have to take the metro and then walk for 25 minutes, or take a local bus that leaves you in front of a small street that has nothing special, not even asphalt in some areas.

There are other small things that could be mentioned here, but it's time to get to positive aspects :)

The culture is amazing and it's really interesting to learn about things directly on the spot. Especially as we learned: with examples and stories that our host Jenna was so kind to share with us.

The pyramids are impressive. Too bad that half the time spent there was lost with touts that constantly tried to sell something, from small souvenirs to horse or camel rides.
Even the policemen tried to earn a few Egyptian pounds by showing the best spot for a cliche picture with the sphinx (kissing, hugging, holding it etc).
Darn, I'm back to less pleasant facts, ..but that's Cairo: every positive aspect also has a negative side.

The Egyptian museum has a lot of impressive pieces inside. You can stay for a full day if you want to see everything. Now, I must mention that I wasn't that impressed because many expos did not have a description, so you looked but didn't learn/understand anything. Also, taking photos is not allowed, or you have to pay a lot of money for it (more than the price of the ticket - which was 10 euros). And a last thing: sadly the glass casings are full of fingerprints and some grease, probably because cleaners don't do their job or the museum authorities don't care that much about this aspect.
We found a funny description of the museum, in a guide, which seemed really fit: probably the most impressive collection in the world, gathered under the worst roof.

Food prices were quite normal for us, not expensive nor too cheap. You can try traditional food everywhere. But yes, there's a negative aspect here as well: many places don't look that clean and we had doubts about the safety factor in trying foods from such places. It was quite hard in finding a place that inspired thrust, where flies can not stay on the food, or where the food did not look like it was out in the sun for too many days.
It's a bit more expensive, but safer to eat inside restaurants.

To conclude this post:
In a nutshell, if you wish to see only the nice things in Egypt and fully relax for the entire period, then a complete tour booked through a travel agency can provide just that: hotel, nice resort, sightseeing, no hassling with touts, bus from and to each attraction - with not too much time spent in the dirty city..
The problem is that this is not Egypt.
If you wish to have the "full Egypt experience" then brace yourself for some tough, but interesting moments.


More photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com/IonRazvanCiuca/Cairo?feat=directlink

2 comments:

mina said...

we'll be posting about cairo this week too. unfortunately (and i'm sad to say), i hated it there.

Razvan and Andra said...

hey, sorry for the delay - just saw your comment. My notifications don't seem to work properly..

Sorry to hear that you hated there. We hated it as well, in the first two days, then we slowly started to accept it.
I can't say we liked it.. but it was interesting. It definitely helped us appreciate what we have back home..

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