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From world heritage sites, to some of the region’s most insistent tourist touts…welcome to Cairo.
January 16, 2010 10:21 by Austyn Allison
“I don’t know what you are looking for, but I have exactly what you want,” is the cry of tourist-tat touts in Cairo’s Khan Al Khalili bazaar. The spiel has a nice ring to it, but crudely carved scarab paperweights, papyrus scrolls and Pyramid ashtrays are not exactly what I want. What I’m after on this short trip is a snapshot of the bustle and history of Egypt’s capital city. And there are plenty of people waiting to tell me what I want.
I buy some knickknacks and grab a cab. These are black and white and ancient, or white and new and metered. If you are taking an unmetered taxi, then the standard rule applies: agree a price for the journey before you get in. A little haggling at the start will save you a lot of shouting at the end.
And that end will be a long way off. Cairo is not famed for the fluidity of its traffic. On a Friday morning during prayers you may get from the airport to a town-center hotel in reasonable amount of time – perhaps half an hour – but at any other time you’ll be in Cairo’s almost perpetual rush-hour. The traffic is constantly bumper-to-bumper, and occasionally closer. There are few cars in the Egyptian capital that have no dents, dings or battle scars. Allow at least an hour to get between any two points, and more if they are far apart.
I allow two hours to get to the Pyramids at Giza. Expect to pay around EGP100 to reach the most must-see sight in a city where there’s a lot to look at. It’s off-putting to find the Pyramids are in a rather ordinary suburb of the city. They are on a raised plain, though, which mercifully means that from most angles my holiday snaps are more Old Testament than old tenement.
The taxi ride to the Pyramids is considerably more expensive than the average fare within the city – usually between EGP 5 and EGP 10 (AED3.40 and AED13.50). However, for the extra money my driver waits for me at the Pyramids, and tries to scam me on the way.