Cairo, whose official name is Al-Qahira and called by Egyptians as Masr, is a city with unparalleled history in terms of length and variety. A journey through Cairo is a virtual time travel: from Saqqara, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Old Coptic Cairo and Heliopolis, to Al-Azhar, Citadel, Fatimid Cairo, Khan al-Khalili and more recent Zamalek district and Cairo Tower. It also provides a life-time photo opportunity that occurs on each step in these places.
Unlike many people think, although it is somewhat chaotic, Cairo is a very safe city, even for western travelers. There are many tourists, including females who travel alone, walking on the street during the night. They may attract attentions or even verbal harassments, but that’s just the way it is. Taxi drivers never turn on their meters, but as long as you negotiate the price beforehand, they are generally dependable too.
But our impressions of Cairo are not all good. First and foremost is the traffic. If you think driving in New York or Beijing is hard, welcome to Cairo! Maybe because the gas is so cheap, 0.6 USD/gallon=0.9 LE /liter, the streets are crowded with cars everywhere. Driving in the lane is the least thing you should worry about. You’re suppose to race the car not drive it. The traffic can be totally jammed at any time, so it always takes longer than you thought to get where you want to go.
Another thing that often frustrates us is the “baksheesh” culture – money is asked for everything. Some people are sitting in front of temples waiting for you to take pictures; others show you some places you might skip; the tour guide can suggest you to follow him to smell the essence of flowers; even polices may ask you for baksheesh after showing you directions. Egyptians are generally very hospitable. It’s common that people try to start talking to you on the street, asking “where are you from?” or “你好”. But, it is very hard for us to tell if it’s simple hospitality or just try to get you to buy something.