Cairo: More than just the Pyramids

Cairo is a city of contrasts and it is so diverse. So different to anywhere in the world we have traveled before. I love how it is normal to see a 4×4, a donkey, a scooter, a camel and a horse and carriage – all in the same scene on a road. I really wish I had caught a photo of that when I had the chance!

As we spent an entire, wonderful day at Dahshur, Saqqara and Giza seeing the pyramids, we had a second full day in Cairo to see some more of its sites.

The first stop of the day was the Citadel where the Mohammed-Ali mosque is (no, not the boxer – as we were reassured several times). It was quiet here. The mosque was very pretty inside and out. The Citadel has a great vantage point over the city, but other than that, it was not a very exciting stop – we were there for only 30 minutes.

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A must-do is without a doubt the Egyptian Museum.

It is really worth hiring a guide to go inside with you as this museum is mad. There is very little information about any of the exhibits and there are many artifacts scattered around unlabelled, that you could miss some amazing treasures with an incredible story behind them. The quantity of artifacts is staggering, and this is only the few they have out on show, there are many, many more in storage!

Our guide gave us a choice of 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours. I wasn’t feeling very well (horrible cold) so, normally I would have said 3 hours, but I was struggling. J. said three hours though on our behalf and I didn’t feel I could go back. I wanted to make the most of the visit after all. Half-way through, we were both waning, and when I asked J. , he agreed he wanted to wind things up soon. Our guide sensed this and after two hours he called our driver to pick us up half an hour earlier. We were so lucky that we were able to do this. In the meantime J. carried my handbag around and looked very elegant.

We paid extra to go into the mummy rooms. J. asked – do you want to see the mummies? YES I do! These rooms are well labelled and you can meet so many of the famous kings and queens in here through the ages of Ancient Egypt. Some still have hair and jewellery on, it’s fascinating.

I was half expecting one to move and scare-jump me though. The Egyptians don’t really like the American film ‘The Mummy.’ Apparently Imhotep was a good guy and scarab beetles don’t eat you alive – actually, they are a sign of good luck and were a symbol of the sun-god Ra, as they would come out of the sand in the morning to greet the sun (so cute!).

Of course, the highlight of the Egyptian Museum is seeing all the artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb –  So. much. gold! We would later visit the actual tomb in the Valley of the Kings in a few days time. It was amazing how so much stuff fitted inside it!

After the Egyptian Museum, food was of priority. We made our way to the souk – Khan el-Khalili.

Khan el-Khalili – the souk (market)

Here our guide took us to an Egyptian falafel wrap place. I am not a massive fan of falafel, but he assured us that Egyptian falafel was different and better than any other kind of falafel (of course). In fairness to him, it was really good. We had a falafel wrap each and a chip wrap each. So. much. carb. He really made us eat local for the two days we were with him, and I’m glad for that. I was absolutely stuffed but we couldn’t just sit around, we had shopping to do!

We had about 45 minutes to ourselves to walk around and find some bargains. It was the one time in central Cairo when we were on our own and we felt totally safe. It might have been because the souk was so empty – we didn’t see any other tourists. I would have thought we would have been hassled more because of this, but no, not really. Most sellers tried to initiate conversation and get us to visit their shops, but they didn’t push us or make us uncomfortable.

My first purchase was a small wooden jewellery box which was pretty. I got it down from 750LE to 250LE. It was a hard bargain I was pleased with but it took a lot of negotiation. A lot of shops were selling identical items.

James bought some incense, an incense burner holder and an essence oil tealight burner. I also purchased some small perfume bottles to put my essence in from the day before. That was it. We wandered around and meandered through the little alleyways but not much else caught our eye that day.

I wanted a necklace with my name on in hieroglyphics – it’s inside a symbol called a ‘cartouche’ – our guide knew a guy. He called them and only an hour after arriving back at our hotel, he returned with it for me all finished. It was 12$ – I did get it checked and it is proper silver, not plated, so I am chuffed with that – although for the rest of the trip, if anyone could read hieroglyphics (you’d be surprised by how many!), they instantly knew my name…

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View from the Citadel

Visiting some extra little pockets of Cairo made the visit feel less rushed.

 

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Enamoured by Amsterdam

I was surprisingly impressed by Amsterdam. The city is a hotspot for tourists and I was initially concerned that a four-day trip to the Dam for Easter break might have been madness.

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On the train from Brussels to Amsterdam

We chose to stay in a hostel south of the city center, only a twenty minute ride on the metro from Centraal Station. We were far enough away to get some peace and quiet when we needed it, but close enough to ensure that we did not miss out from making the most of our time there.

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The best thing about Amsterdam is that it is flat, like the rest of the Netherlands. While most people were cycling on the designated cycle paths, I enjoyed walking around the various districts, discovering interesting shops and views as I went along, not worring about climbing up steep hills for the first time in a long time. Sheffield is such a hilly city; it is one of its worst characteristics for those of us who live here without cars.

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The Van Gough Museum was a definite highlight (order tickets online if you wish to skip the long queue). Though, like I mentioned above, walking was the best way to see Amsterdam. The Jordaan District was beautiful and completely void of tourists during my visit. I found some great bargains in some of the city’s incredible Vintage shops by stumbling upon them at random. I ate the most delicious Indonesian food, which I must say hands down is the best meal I have had in a long time! Kam was ill for a few days of the trip though and she was not very appreciative of the food, or me dragging her around the shops!

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We hardly spent any time in the historical center. It is touristic to the point of excess, and that is where you will most definitely find some of the more negative stereptypes associated with the Dutch capital. Yet within only a ten minute walk down the road, it is easy to find cafés, restaurants and shops which offer a much more authentic (and affordable) experience, away from the crowds.

I would definitely return to Amsterdam. The food, culture and shops were all fantastic, and it was so relaxing to spend hours strolling along the canals, people-watching and admiring the distinctive architecture of the tall, thin canal houses.

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