Cairo, Egypt. Blog Two.

Our first day in Cairo, Egypt. After breakfast, we decided to visit the Egyptian Museum, which is about half an hour’s walk from the hotel. I donned a long-sleeved shirt and trousers, and wrapped a scarf over my hair. Although many women wear western clothes, most people wear very conservative clothes, and I didn’t want to stand out too much. We also followed the guidebook advice, and carried valuables in money-belts, and things like water bottles in cheap bags slung over our shoulders. (This was one of several good tips—I recommend the ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebook.

We stopped at an ATM to withdraw some Egyptian pounds. It’s a closed currency here, so we couldn’t buy Egyptian money before we came. They will accept dollars in most places, so it’s worth bringing some, especially one-dollar notes, as they make good tips until you have some local currency. In Egypt, everyone expects to be tipped, it’s how things work here. Another good thing to carry is toilet paper. When you use a public toilet, an attendant will try to sell you toilet paper as you enter. If you learn enough Arabic to say ‘No, thank you,’ politely, then you avoid paying an extortionate amount. You will then be shown to a cubicle (these vary, but most were very clean). There were no locks on the doors, but as everyone is shown to one, a closed door is enough privacy. Then, as you leave, it’s good manners to give a tip and say thank you. This is rewarded with nods and smiles. Taking your own paper means you can decide on the amount you want to tip, and you don’t appear rude. Politeness is very important in Egypt.

We left the hotel, and walked across the Nile (The NILE! Oh wow! Can’t believe I am writing this!) Even at 9am in October, the sun was hot. At Tahrir Square (which is not a square, it’s a roundabout, famous for the Arab Spring protests) anyway, at Tahrir Square you can see the Egyptian Museum. It’s prawn-pink, and fat. The lines weren’t too bad, though there were several. You queue to go through a metal detector into the complex. Then you queue to go through another security check at the gate, then you queue to buy tickets. If you are a tourist, it costs more than a local ticket (this seems to apply everywhere in Egypt – which I think is good). If you want to take in a camera, you pay extra (but taking photos on a mobile is free).

The museum was brilliant, even though I don’t usually like museums. Built about 1900, it really hasn’t changed much, with old-fashioned display cases and typed information cards next to them. There are wooden bannisters, and windows that don’t quite shut, and a maze of corridors. Some parts were too dim to see properly (so take a torch if you’re serious about seeing something particular). Other rooms were flooded with sunlight, which shone directly on ancient artefacts ( presumably fading them). There were signs saying ‘Do Not Touch’ but lots of people ignored this, and the guards didn’t seem to stop them. It was all wonderfully relaxed and dingy and more like Grandma’s loft than a major museum. (There’s a lot I could write here about who should own world history and how it should be preserved, but for now, just enjoy the jumbled atmosphere of the place.)

We walked back to the hotel. Attempted to stroll in a park, but a man told us we needed to buy a ticket. This was probably a lie, but we were too hot to care, so simply left. Being tourists here makes us a target for scams, but I think if we are careful there’s nothing threatening about it. Mostly they are trying to persuade us into giving them money, or selling their services as a tour guide, though it’s all very polite and good-humoured. Many people who speak are simply being friendly, and we found that answering politely, and always smiling, worked much better than a rude rebuff. Lots of people said hello and asked where we were from. When we smiled and said ‘London’ they usually ended the exchange with a big smile and a Welcome to Egypt! I expect there are conmen – most cities in the world have them – but in Cairo I only encountered people who were friendly and polite. (Actually, that is not quite true, but I will tall you about my airport experience another time.)

We showered and changed. While we were here, we found going outside to be a hot, sticky affair. The sand from the desert has coated all the buildings in dingy brown, and lots of men and dogs pee on the street, so when we returned to the hotel we wanted to change into inside clothes. We went to the lounge and drank cold cokes, then realised that we could see the pyramids through the haze on the horizon. This was very exciting!

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Hope you have a lovely day. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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