Another reason I stopped in Sharm el Sheikh was to rest up and have a (hopefully) better impression of Egypt before I got to Cairo. The stories you hear about Cairo are quite endless, and few of them are good.
I decided to take the bus from Sharm to Cairo – to be honest, it felt easier than flying. So I bought my ticket online; in Egypt, there’s a service called Go Bus that has pretty nice busses and a pretty good website to find timetables, prices, and bus classes. I always worry in Egypt that things aren’t going to run on time or I’m going to get delayed on my way, so I showed up at the bus station an hour and a half early. The people at the ticket office looked at me like I had three heads.
Apparently normally people show up right as the bus is leaving. And this was another situation where I was clearly the only foreigner and the only non-Arabic speaker. If I could go back and do this over again, I would have spent much more time before Egypt studying Arabic. So I sat back and tried to figure out which was my bus, and asked a guy who looked like he might speak English (thank goodness he did) and he pointed out my bus.
There are a lot of really nice people in this world – he pointed out my bus, which wasn’t taking passengers, but then kept an eye on me to make sure I made my bus. When the bus came up, he made sure to point it out. So I made my bus! As I was putting my bag in the hold (which I always make sure to see my bag in the hold before going anywhere), the bag handler was about to hand me my baggage claim ticket. But wouldn’t until I tipped him. Welcome to Egypt.
I got on the bus and honestly had no clue how long it was going to take. I did know that the hostel I booked in Cairo was close enough to the bus station that “we can see the bus station from our windows.” So I wasn’t too concerned, but there was still some question in my mind of how I would escape the omnipresent taxi touts to just walk to my hostel.
The bus finally stopped in Cairo, and luckily for me, some girls across from me spoke English. They informed me of two very important things: 1. that this was not the Tahrir stop and I should not get off and 2. I should however get off quickly and make sure my bag was still in the hold. Everywhere, there are blessings of people who help you find your way!
They told me to sit and wait for the Tahrir stop, and then there was quite the commotion outside the bus. A woman was screaming very loudly and angrily. Again, the girls across from me turned and said “uh oh, sounds like her bag was left in Sharm el Sheikh and the bus company doesn’t know where it is.” I feel bad for that woman! Luckily she was Egyptian and spoke Arabic to handle the problem!
So with that commotion, they decided to move those of us going to Tahrir to another bus, and again – the girls made sure I got where I needed to go.
We got to Tahrir, and I was in the midst of the chaos of Cairo! I knew the bus station was across the street from my hostel – but we should probably discuss the street for a second. This is one of their most major roads, and it has a lot of on and off ramps. There were actually six roads and 10 lanes that I needed to cross. And crosswalks are not a thing here.
Luckily I learned a lot about crossing streets in Asia and in India, so I took a deep breath and went. It was fine! Though escaping the taxi touts was annoying as always. I was almost tempted to use one just so I could get across the road! But I also knew they’d scam the hell out of me for that.
I walked along the street on the other side looking for my hostel building, and a security guard sitting outside asked where I was looking for. I answered with my hostel name and he was like “here.” I was surprised because there was no sign on this building, but alas, I did know it was in roughly the right spot.
The hostel was on the seventh floor, and by this time, I was exhausted! I’d been on the bus for about 9 hours, and it was hot, I’d crossed however many lanes of traffic, and I was just incredibly ready for a shower and bed. But of course… the hostel check-in guy was somewhat difficult. They didn’t have the room I booked available, but for a cheaper price he’d give me a different one. I didn’t care so I just said “Sure, let’s go with that room.” He spent more time convincing me of what a great change this was and I was definitely losing patience. I’d already agreed to it, no need to sell past close.
Then the kicker came – my reservation through Agoda was still to pay at the hostel. But he asked if I’d cancel it so that he didn’t have to pay them commission. This was surprising to me, but he wouldn’t let me have my room (even though I’d paid cash already) until I agreed to cancel my reservation to help him cheat Agoda.
Alas, luckily they have a button on their site where you can’t cancel that easily and have to call. I didn’t have a phone, so thought I had the perfect out. Two days later, I got an email from Agoda about my cancellation. The hostel apparently cancelled for me. I emailed Agoda back and let them know about what had happened. And to note – this wasn’t a sketchy situation because it was a hostel. This was a sketchy situation because everyone in Egypt is out to cheat everyone else (or so it seems).
I got to bed, and then contacted a friend of a friend. One of my friends in the US has a friend who lives in Cairo, Youssef, and we decided to meet up in Cairo. We decided to hang out the following afternoon, so I had the morning for the Egyptian Museum.
I was in line at the museum and I heard someone say “Hi, there!”
It was Daniel, my friend from the ferry and Dahab! I can’t believe we just randomly ran into each other in a city as big as Cairo, but it was fortuitous! I was sad when I left Dahab because I realized I hadn’t gotten any contact info for him, so he’d just be one of those travel buddies I’d never see again. Not the case!
We enjoyed the museum together. It was the craziest museum I’ve ever been to – it’s much more like a warehouse. Daniel and I were remarking to each other that most of the rooms in there (the individual rooms) would be considered enough artifacts for a complete museum at home. And there are so many things they have just almost piled together that would be a wing in the UK or US!
There is also virtually NO signage. It’s incredible. There are so many artifacts, and only the barest explanations. Egypt is in the process of building a new, larger, museum out at the pyramids to better house the collection, and I think signage will be part of that.
But without it was such a fun and different experience. The Cairo museum is absolutely the kind of thing “Night at the Museum” is modeled after. You can imagine so much of it coming alive at night.
The treasures of King Tut were there too! And they were included in the standard admission! It’s funny because whenever they travel it’s such a big deal in the States and always an expensive ticket. In Cairo, it’s one room, little signage, and totally incredible. (And you can’t take pictures…)
One other mind-boggling thing about the Egyptian Museum is the renovations – they’re doing some renovations, but no need to close anything. You can just walk around/under the scaffolding. And throw a sheet over the ancient statues. For real. That’s how it was. I cannot even imagine how a museum director in the US must feel looking at things like that!
The other thing is that for so many things (basically every statue), there’s nothing to stop you from getting super close and touching the artifacts. There are occasional signs that say don’t touch, but they’re few and far between. It’s a different world from a US museum.
After we finished at the museum, Daniel and I decided to give our Western stomachs a break – so we went to Pizza Hut for lunch. Y’all… I needed that. It was so good! We had a large pizza (ate it all), and then had cinnamon bites for dessert. At a sit-down Pizza Hut, it came out to about $6 for each of us. And then we went next door to McDonald’s for a sundae!
We split ways then but decided we’d go brave the Pyramids together the next day.
I went back to the hostel to meet Youssef, who was going to show me around Cairo a bit. It was so fun! We went to a riverboat on the Nile that was turned into a restaurant and had a few drinks (non alcoholic – alcohol is not really a big thing here). I had watermelon juice and it was so amazing (and hugely refreshing after a crazy-hot Cairo day)!
Then we went to Al Azhar park – it was just beautiful. The gardens are incredibly well done, and there is a magnificent view of Cairo. We had dinner there at a fun restaurant (and I ate real Egyptian food!) and then I headed back to the hostel.
All in all, it was a fun first day in Cairo! (Especially after the crazy bus ride!)