Driving in to Cairo, Egypt, from the airport I could immediately tell it’s the kind of city I love: a heaving mixture of modernity and history. Gazing out the taxi window I saw mosques with minarets that reach to the sky, and giant billboards atop crumbling tenements that were once fine Belle Epoque buildings.
From the hotel window the ever-splendid Nile River reflects the busy city in apricot tones as the sun goes down. Soon the bright lights and roaring traffic along the Corniche usher in yet another perspective on Cairo with a constantly moving kaleidoscope of colour. Triangle-sailed felucca boats make their peaceful way between the busy river banks. The Cairo Tower with its latticework concrete shaft and lotus finial provides a stylish counterpoint.
Where to stay in Cairo, Egypt
At the end of a day of sightseeing, enjoying Cairo’s intensity from the lofty height of one of the Nile View Rooms or the rooftop swimming pool of the Kempinski Hotel is highly recommended.
At first I wasn’t sure what to do with the complementary butler service. I soon thought of something – a lighter for the candles around the bath. It wouldn’t do to waste the delectable bath oils and crystals provided. Soon it seemed we were call on him every half an hour – to arrange a simple meal of egg on toast for our young daughter.
The Pyramids at Giza
If that phrase doesn’t set your travel bucket list pulse racing, I don’t know what will. This stupendous Unesco World Heritage site does not disappoint. As long as you can ignore all the touts trying to sell you souvenirs and camel rides.
Just thinking about the effort of manpower it took to construct these edifices to supreme power is overwhelming. The hotel arranged for a taxi to take us out for the day and this dropped us within easy walking distance of the Sphinx and the Pyramids.
For a quieter experience get your taxi driver to take you to Saqqara, the step pyramid. The monuments here are on a plateau of desert that rises above a sea of waving palm trees. From here you can see Dahshur and even back to Giza.
The route to Saqqara is through a lushly green cultivated landscape bordering the dry desert. Donkey carts loaded with colourful produce and snow-white egrets picking their way on canal banks. At one point our progress was interrupted by a herd of goats.
The Egyptian Museum
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is a must-visit, with the most extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world (some 120,000 pieces, not all of which are on display. The historic red building was built in 1901.
Very soon the collection will move to the new purpose-built Grand Egyptian Museum, which is out near Giza. I’m quite sad that this grand old building is to be superseded but excited to go back and see the story of Egyptian history told more effectively in a modern museum. My favourite mental image is of Akhenaten worshipping the slender sun goddess Knut, all covered in stars and with her arms outstretched.
Exploring Islamic Cairo
Getting lost in the narrow streets of Al-Qahira (the triumphant) is to step back in time. Perhaps not quite back to the time of the Fatimid dynasty, who founded the city in 969 AD.
But the cafes are full of old men in long, comfy-looking robes and white cloth wound around their heads setting the world to rights. We started wandering from the mighty Citadel, founded in 1176 by Salah-ad-Din. You can peer through gaps in the walls to see the 19th-century mosque.
Getting to Cairo and moving on
With many airlines offering flights to Cairo International Airport, from Flynas and Air France to Air Algerie and Royal Maroc, the land of the Pharaohs has never been more accessible.
Eating out in Cairo
We dined at Taboule, a fabulous Lebanese restaurant around the corner by the British Embassy. The low-ceilinged atmospheric and softly lit room serves delicious food to a mix of local and international customers. A table-full of serious-looking headscarved older women were puffing away on their hookah pipes.
Enjoy your time wandering in Cairo, Egypt!