Cairo – the city that never sleeps

From El Gouna I started the long way home by taking the 7-hr bus ride back to Cairo. When I arrived, I lost the data connection on my mobile and had a frustrating time trying and failing to order an Uber whilst surrounded by persistent taxi drivers. I didn’t want to take a taxi off the street since my accommodation was located in a very unusual, hard to explain, place – but one that was listed on Uber.  After restarting my phone a few times, I finally managed to get a connection and soon arrived at……..a houseboat on the River Nile, which was to be my base for the next few days.

My home in Cairo

Equipped with a new sim card that I had bought the previous evening, the next day I set off to explore Cairo. Mostly I used Uber to get around, which removed all the hassle of negotiating a price and explaining where I wanted to go – most taxi drivers didn’t speak English. Uber’s “Comfort” category even offered the possibility (but not guarantee) of a seat belt in the rear seats. My first destination was Cairo Tower, an attraction popular with locals which offered views over the city – including, once the morning haze had cleared, the pyramids at Giza.

The view from Cairo Tower
Another view, with the Giza pyramids in the distance

From there I visited the Manial Palace, built between 1899 and 1929 by Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik, a member of the Egyptian royal family in the period when Egypt was an monarchy under British “protectorate”.  His palace comprised several different buildings in large, pretty gardens – the prince was a keen collector of rare plants.

The Gardens of the Manial Palace

Most interested was the Residential Palace in which the prince lived, which was richly decorated in a variety of styles – Ottaman, Moorish, Persian and even European.   

The entrance to the Residential Palace at Manial
A reception room

Also interesting was the Throne Palace, which was built to impress.

The Throne Palace at Manial

Manial Palace was spectacular but for some strange reason, the gardens and many of the most interesting rooms were roped off, meaning you could only look at them from a distance.

It was approaching noon, and one of the guardians insisted I share his lunch with him – falafel and eggplant in a piece of bread. Such small acts of kindness are common in Egypt; the previous night someone had spent twenty minutes helping me buy a new sim card. Unfortunately, many offers of help later turn into a request for baksheesh or pressure to buy something, but I was getting better at guessing which proposals were genuine and could be accepted without later being hassled.

Next, I headed off to visit the nearby Monastirli Palace to find that it had been long since closed. However, there was a curious attraction nearby – a nilometer for measuring the depth of the Nile. There were many such instruments along the Nile in Egypt (see my Aswan post); this was built in 861 AD.

The Nilometer

From there I headed back to my houseboat to enjoy some of the afternoon sun. Having such a relaxing place to retire to for a break was a real pleasure. Cairo is a bit like an Arab New York – sprawling, full of interesting places to visit, but also busy, dirty and crowded. Visiting takes a lot out of you.

Recharging my batteries on my houseboat in the early afternoon

Having recharged my batteries, I made a second visit to the chaotic collections of the Egyptian museum, one of the highlights of my first two days in Egypt.

More treasures of the Egyptian Museum
Yet more priceless relics….but no explanation or labelling anywhere

It was late afternoon, and my guidebook recommended a walk around the Garden City, an area of pretty but crumbling mansions from Egypt’s colonial period.  Sure enough, it was a very pleasant part of the city, and I took lots of photos.

A mansion in the Garden City
Old wooden building in the Garden City

I discovered that walking in Cairo requires bravery. There are few pedestrian crossings or underpasses, and to cross the street you need to stride forward confidently into the dense traffic, holding out your arm to the oncoming traffic (pleading? praying?). Since I am small and easily overlooked, I didn’t dare try this on my own, but waited until someone local ventured forth. I would then cross with them, making sure that they were between me and the onrushing cars.

I survived my walk, and after another couple of hours chilling in my houseboat, headed out for dinner in the upmarket area of Zamalek. Cairo was an exciting city, but the continual bustle and noise makes it a tiring place. Back in my comfortable houseboat, I settled down to sleep, using a pair of earplugs to keep out the sounds of traffic (all night), partygoers in passing cruise boats (until 2am) the mosque’s call to prayers (5am), and the shouting of rowing coaches to early morning rowers on the Nile (from 7am). Cairo is a 24-hour city.

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