Difference between revisions of "Cairo"
Revision as of 13:56, 23 January 2009
Cairo (القاهرة al-Qāhirah) is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 16 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (which regions it conveniently straddles). It is also the 13th largest city in the world, and among the world's densest cities.
Situated on the River Nile, Cairo is famous for its own history, preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and Coptic sites in Old Cairo. The Egyptian Museum in the center of town is a must see, with its countless Ancient Egyptian artifacts, as is shopping at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. No trip to Cairo would be complete, for example, without a visit to the Giza Pyramids, to nearby Saqqara.
Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society. The Midan Tahrir area, built in the 19th century under the rule of Khedive Ismail, has strived to be a "Paris on the Nile". There also are a number of more modern suburbs including Ma'adi and Heliopolis, while Zamalek is a quiet area on Gezira Island, with upscale shopping. Cairo is best in the fall or spring, when the weather isn't so hot. A felucca ride on the Nile is a good way to escape from the busy city, as is a visit to al-Azhar Park.
Cairo is vast: with more than 17 million people, it's the largest city in Africa and the Middle East. The downtown core consists of the following districts:
Situated along the Nile, Cairo has ancient origins, located in the vicinity of the Pharaonic city of Memphis. The city started to take its present form in 641, when the Arab general Amr ibn al-As conquered Egypt for Islam and founded a new capital called Misr al-Fustat, "the City of the Tents", in what is now Old Cairo. The Tunisian Fatimid dynasty captured the city in 969 and founded a new city, al-Qahira ("The Victorious") just north of al-Fustat. Al-Qahira gave the city its English name, Cairo, but the locals still call it Maşr (مصر), the Egyptian dialectal version of Amr's Mişr. Confusingly, this also the Arabic name of the entire country of Egypt!
The best time to visit Cairo is during the winter from November to March, when daytime highs generally stay below 25°C, with nighttime lows around 10°C and occasional rain showers clearing the air. (Don't bother packing an umbrella: even the rainiest months of the year rarely top 5 mm.) If visiting during winter, be aware that not all buildings, including some hotels and hostels, are equipped with heaters. The brief spring from March to May can be pleasant, but summer temperatures, on the other hand, can reach a searing 38°C, which is compounded by the city's terrible pollution which is at its worst in the fall before the rains.
Today's Cairo is a city with at least 17 million inhabitants, where the rich and impoverished live side by side and skyscrapers and fast food restaurants nestle up to world heritage. Originally, Cairo was the designated name of the city on the eastern bank of the Nile, and this is where you'll find both the modern Downtown, built under influence of French architecture, today the center of commerce and popular life, as well as historical Islamic and Coptic sights.
Outside the core on the eastern bank, you'll find the modern, more affluent suburbs of Heliopolis and Nasr City near the airport, and Ma'adi to the south. In the middle of the Nile is the island of Gezira and Zamalek, more Western and tranquil than the rest of the city. On the western bank is lots of modern concrete and business, but also the great Giza pyramids and, further to the south, Memphis and Saqqara. The city might seem like a lot to handle, but give it a try, and you might come to love it!
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country so say nothing that might be perceived as an insult to Islam or the Egyptian culture. Women should wear modest clothing. Do not enter a mosque with shoes on. This is extremely disrespectful. Also, avoid walking in front of persons in prayer. As well, do not make any comments on Egyptian heroes like Gamal Abdul Nasser because you might end up in a heated argument.
Cairo International Airport (IATA: CAI),  is well served by EgyptAir , the national carrier, and others such as British Airways , Air France , KLM , Singapore Airlines  and Lufthansa , as well as budget carriers TUIfly  and JetAirFly . When you arrive, you will likely walk down stairs (even from a jumbo-size Boeing 767) onto the tarmac, where a shuttle bus will be waiting to take you to the airport terminal. Go ahead and exchange some money in the airport - best to do this before going through customs.
There are four public terminals and a fifth (would be the biggest) one under construction in addition to a private jet terminal, which may or may not open sometime in 2009. Terminal 1 (aka the "Old Airport" or "Domestic Terminal") is used by EgyptAir for all flights, domestic and international, while most but not all other airlines use Terminal 2 ("New Airport"). The two are 3 km apart and a free shuttle bus runs between the two every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. Taxi drivers trying to lure you at the airport will try to tell you otherwise regarding the shuttle bus, but go outside the terminal and you will find the free shuttle bus.
The airport is located on the north-eastern outskirts of the city at Heliopolis. If you want to spend the night near the airport, the Novotel Cairo Airport hotel is located next to the airport, and there are other lodging options in nearby Heliopolis. Getting to downtown Cairo can be a pain. LE 40 is a good price by taxi, although it can be quite difficult to negotiate this price if you are not an Arabic speaker. Refuse to pay the "ticket" (airport parking fee) for the driver. If you are going to downtown Cairo, you may be able to share a taxi with other tourists or backpackers. Another option is to use transportation arranged by your hotel or hostel, though this service is often not complimentary.
For the adventurous, catch a public bus to Midan Tahrir or Midan Ramses. Walk 5 minutes out of Terminal 1 to the big undercover bus station, and ask a local, but don't catch the notorious (non-aircon) green buses. Rides are just under LE 2. It takes around 1 - 1.5 hours to reach downtown. To get from downtown to the airport, board an aircon bus at the bus terminal just north of the Egyptian Museum (under the highway bridge). Runs every 30 minutes, takes about an hour, costs 2 Egyptian Pounds, drops you off at Terminal 1. To get to Terminal 2 (international departures) take the free shuttle. Finally, there are also direct express buses from the airport to Alexandria every 30-60 minutes; however, the buses operate only during daylight hours (4 AM - 7:30 PM).
When returning to the airport for departure, allow plenty of time (2 hours to be safe) to get to the airport, as the roads can be very congested. If you depart on Friday morning or mid-day, the trip to the airport will be quick, as roads are deserted while people go to the mosque for Friday prayers. Upon arriving, you need to pass through a security checkpoint before you can get to the ticket counter/check-in area. You must bring a print-out with you of your itinerary or ticket to show the security staff, in order to pass through the checkpoint. For EgyptAir, there is a separate, usually shorter, check-in line for European destinations. You will pass through a second security checkpoint just before boarding your aircraft. Allow plenty of time for getting through the security checkpoints and checking in, as lines can be long.
Cairo's main railway station - Ramses Station (Mahattat Ramses) - is located on Midan Ramses. Trains run to Cairo from most other regions and cities within Egypt. Trains in Egypt don’t generally run on schedule, as a matter of fact they run consistently at least 15 minutes late, if not later. Train service is available from Ramses Station to Alexandria, while service to Luxor and Aswan is available at the Giza Railway Station. Trains also depart to the canal cities, but buses are much faster.
It is best to purchase tickets in advance to be assured of a seat. Online ticket purchases are not available, so you need to either go to the train station and buy your ticket there or go through a travel agency who can arrange this for you ahead of time. Especially in the summer months, trains running between Cairo and Alexandria do sell out, so advance purchase is advised. Sometimes it is possible to buy train tickets in the morning, for a train later the same day or if not busy, you might get on the next train. There are multiple windows for different classes and destinations, so check that you are in the correct line.
There is a baggage room in the station, situated righthand from the entrance. The price of one box is 2,5 pounds/24 hours.
Alexandria is served by a large number of departures through the day. Among the best trains are the Espani (Spanish) which has a morning service from Cairo at 9am. The Espani and Turbine (Turbo) are the best services, going non-stop to Alexandria and taking 2 hours and 40 min. The next best service is al-Fransawi (French), which stops at the major Delta cities on the road. The Express (French) and Turbo trains to Alexandria have first and second class, all air conditioned. Refreshments are available for purchase on the train. First class is recommended, but second class is also reasonably comfortable.
Trains heading to Luxor, Aswan, and other Upper Egypt destinations also depart from the rail station in Giza. The Sleeping Trains (Abela Egypt)  leave Cairo 8 pm and arriving in Luxor 5.05 am and Aswan 8.15 am. There also is a 9:10 PM departure from Cairo. Check the website for more departures, including one three days a week from Alexandria. It's relatively expensive at 60 USD for a bed in a double-person cabin one way. Tickets are bought at the office to your left as you enter the train station from the Metro and taxi station. The tickets are payable in US dollars, Euros, or British Pounds only. There are no exchange offices at the train station itself. It is also possible to make reservations in advance, by calling or faxing your request to Abela, and then pay for and pick up your tickets at the station. Since these trains are designated for tourists, you will stay in special cars guarded by armed plain-clothes policemen.
Going to Upper Egypt, the alternative to the expensive sleeper (or flying) is the ordinary trains. One of these departs at 00.30 to Luxor and Aswan and is supposed to take 10 hours to Luxor and 13 hours to Aswan.
See also: Cairo to Jerusalem by bus
Buses arrive to Cairo from virtually all over the country. The two main destinations are Midan Ramsis and Cairo Gateway, formely known as Turgoman, but vehicles also sometimes stop at other destinations, notably Abbasiya. From Midan Ramses and Cairo Gateway it's a quick 5 LE taxi cab ride to downtown, 7-10 LE to Zamalek. Cairo Gateway is a new, modern indoor station located appoximately 500m from the Orabi metro station.
Sharm el-Sheikh - East Delta buses take approximately 8 hrs (80 LE) while Superjet buses take 6 hrs. Some East Delta services continue to Dahab. A cheaper option to get to Sharm by bus is to take a bus, a train, or a minibus to Suez (10LE) and from the main bus station there, take the 11AM or the 13:20 bus to Sharm for only 31 LE.
Siwa - Direct buses leave Cairo Gateway Sunday and Wednesday nights at 7:45PM (60 LE)
Uncomfortable, but cheap, microbuses leave from Cairo to a large number of destinations. The main garages are Midan Ramsis and al-Marg metro station (for the north-east and Sinai). They are faster and might as such be an option for shorter trips, but have a terrible toll of accidents. There are also other places these buses leave from depending on your destination, ask locals. Be aware that at least for the Sinai, foreigners are prohibited to use the microbus system.
Driving in Cairo is not recommended, nor necessary. The traffic is, at the least, overwhelming for the common traveler. The driving has a consistency, but not in any official way. Road signs, lanes, right-of-ways, etc. are not adhered to, and there are a large number of junctions and flyovers. Traffic signals exist in only a few locations and are routinely ignored. Though, sometimes police officers are directing traffic at busy intersections. In downtown Cairo, drivers will sometimes bump other cars that are blocking their way. And, don't be upset if your side-view mirror gets hit. At night, many drivers do not use headlights, so use extra caution or avoid driving at night. In Egypt, vehicles travel on the right side of the road. Instead of making a left turn, you will often need to make a u-turn and backtrack, or you can make three right turns.
Parking houses or official parking spots are rare. Cars may be parked two or three deep on the side of the road, and will often be left unlocked, and out-of-gear, so they can be moved. In many places, people work to look after parked cars. A small tip is expected for this service. Or, you can use valet parking.
If planning to hire a car at the airport and drive directly out of Cairo do not assume that this will be easy, due to the chaotic conditions. Getting in and out of Cairo, the roads to and from Fayoum and the desert cities in the southwest and Alexandria, Delta and Marsa Matrouh in the north-west pass through the Giza and pyramids area. The road to Beni Suueif and Upper Egypt (Aswan, Luxor) is located south of Maadi and Helwan. North from Heliopolis are the road to the canal cities (Port Said, Ismailiyya, Suez) and Sinai. Ein al-Sukhn and Hurghada is best reached by the tolled road after New Cairo City.
The American University in Cairo has made a good map of Cairo . It is a must-have when you want to get around on your own. CAIRO A-Z from The Palm Press offers a more detailed city map in 300 pages.
Cairo has the only metro system on the African continent, and a modern and sleek one at that. While its two lines are all too limited in scope, they're a major boon in the areas they do go to and the flat fare of 1.00 pound per trip is a steal. The key interchanges are Mubarak, at Midan Ramses, and Sadat, below Midan Tahrir.
The Cairo Metro has stations in Dokki and Maadi, among other places. The Metro is also a hassle-free way to get to Giza to see the Pyramids, although you'll need to complete the trip taking a microbus all the way (change to microbus for "al-haram" at the Giza station). Plans have been made to add new lines to include Mohandiseen and Zamalek, as well as the airport; however, little progress seems to be made on this.
Note that there are two cars of each train reserved for women, which are located in the middle section of the train. The metro stops running at approximately midnight and starts up again around 6am. There are no timetables, but departures are very frequent. The metro is better to use if you wish to avoid traffic jam. It is secure, costs one pound one trip and has a clear european navigation system.
The fleet of black-and-white taxis that ply Cairo's streets are convenient but a hassle — communication can be an issue and the meters, which are heirs from antique eras of gas prices, are not normally used. Prices are, however, not erratic, and any Cairene knows how much the driver expects depending on time and distance spent in the car, and perhaps the traffic (relative to normal Cairo levels, of course). Because of a recent 20% raise in gasoline prices, prices could be slightly higher, but still very cheap for most tourists. Additionally, it is highly recommended that you have exact change before you enter a cab; drivers are reluctant if not resistant to giving change, but if you can present them with the exact amount for the journey they will more likely accede without haggling or complaint.
Ordinary Egyptians will never state prices beforehand. Instead the correct sum is paid through the window after leaving the car. Some drivers might protest as they expect tourists to pay more than the standard rates. As a tourist it's probably best to meet these expectations as it only represents a very small increase in hard currency terms. Avoid negotiations - it takes lots of time and you end up at a price you won't like. Instead, use the "walk-away"-technique if they don't agree to your (reasonable) price. As long the driver does not leave the car, you're all right. If this happens, consult someone nearby.
As a tourist you might prefer to state a price beforehand, which may prevent ripoffs but will require you to quote slightly above the local price to get a quick nod.
Try to get a taxi on the fly instead of those loitering outside 5-star hotels and restaurants to minimize price inflation. Using a big hotel as your destination may also inflate the price. Always choose the taxi, don't let the taxi choose you.
In March 2006 a new fleet of 500 bright yellow taxis hit the road. They run on natural gas, and will soon add up to a total of 1500 cars, all equipped with air-conditioning, meters that actually work, and credit card readers. The meter starts at 3.50 LE, and then 1 LE for every additional kilometre. The drivers are not allowed to smoke in the cars. They are referred to as 'City Cabs' or Cairo Cabs', and can be a bit more expensive (and less of an adventure) than the black-and-white cabs for short hops. However, for longer distances they are the way to go for price and comfort. From within Cairo call 0104343438 - 19155.
The large red, white and blue public buses cover the entire city and are much cheaper, but are usually crowded. However, there are the similar air-conditioned buses that charge 2 L.E. for the trip and prohibit standing on the bus. They can be found in the main squares in Cairo. Also found in main squares are the smaller mini-buses that are usually orange and white or red, white and blue. Because of problems with sexual harrasment women travellers are advised only to take the small micro-buses and buses which prohibit standing.
Apart from the main bus stations, buses can be hauled down from street-level. Buses are seldom marked with destination, instead passengers shout out their destinations and if the bus goes this place it will stop. On micro-buses, the fare starts at 25 piastre and goes up to 1 EP. Travelers unfamiliar with Cairo can ask bus drivers or passengers to let them know where there stop is. Don't be shy - even if you don't speak Arabic, simply politely blurt out the name of your destination to the bus driver or a friendly looking passenger and they will take care of you.
There are a number of major bus stations (mawqaf) throughout the city. One of the largest is conveniently located behind the Egyptian Museum in Midan Tahrir. Note that there are actually two stations - the main bus station for the city buses, and the micro-bus station behind it. Travelers who want to visit the Pyramids, for example, can catch a seat in a micro-bus for approximately 2 pounds. The micros in the last lane to the right all go to the pyramids - just ask for "haram."
There are also bus stations in Midan Ramses, under the overpass. Buses run from Ramses to Heliopolis, City Stars Mall and other destinations not covered by the Tahrir bus station.
A selected list of Cairo highlights:
Coffee & Sheesha
Have a coffee, mint tea or Cola at El Fishawy's coffee shop in Khan el-Khalili. Smoke a shisha water pipe (try the "double apple" flavor) and watch the world go by. Great cheap entertainment.
Ride a felucca along the Nile River. A great way to relax and enjoy a night under the stars in Cairo. Feluccas are available across from the Four Seasons Hotel in Garden City. To charter your own, negotiate a fair price of no more than 20 to 30 LE for about a half hour for the boat, or 50 LE for an hour, no matter how many people are on it. Pay after your ride, or you may get much less than you bargained for! Public boats with loud Arabic music and a giggling crowd are also available for LE 2 for 1/2 hour.
Go horseback riding in the desert from one of the Nazlet El-Samaan stables like FB Stables in Giza. Ride in the shadow of the Great Pyramids or further afield to Saqqara or Abu Sir or camp out over night with a barbecue and fire. Popular with expats who keep their horses at livery, FB Stables is also great for a 'tourist' type ride to view the Pyramids from the desert. Ask for Karim ((+20) 016 5070 288). Longer rides to Saqqara and Abu Sir can be arranged in advance, as can overnight rides with barbecue in the desert and sleeping under the stars. Other than the horses and good company, one of the best things about FB is their amazing rooftop terrace with unrivaled views over the Pyramids - a great place to relax with a drink whilst watching the Sound and Light show.
Cairo has a shortage of parks, but you can take a stroll along the Corniche el-Nil, and there is a river promenade on Gezira Island. Al-Azhar Park near Heliopolis is a good place to escape, with a good vantage point of Islamic Cairo and the city skyline. Wadi Digla Protected Area is a 60 square kilometer, near Ma'adi, that offers opportunity for taking a trek, jogging, rock climbing, and cycling. Wadi Digla is also a good spot for bird watching, and viewing the various reptile species, plants, and deer that reside there. You can take a cab from Ma'adi to the entrance at Wadi Dilga. Cab drivers in Ma'adi should know where to go.
Other options for relaxation include visiting the Zoo and the Cairo Botanical Gardens, or watching horse racing at the Gezira Club. Or when you need a break from city life, try a round of golf on the famous Mena House Golf Course overlooking the Pyramids.
Music and Culture
If you have professional qualifications there are possibilities for work in Cairo. Try the English weeklies al-Ahram and al-Waseet.
ATMs are conveniently located in various places throughout downtown. A more secure option are the ATMs in the five star hotels (the Nile Hilton, the Semiramis Intercontinental, etc.).
Cairo has an enormous number of restaurants, catering to most needs. Cheap food can be found everywhere in street restaurants and snack stalls. The top notch restaurants are often, but not always, found in hotels and Nile boats. The borders between restaurants and cafes are not crystal-clear in the Egyptian capital. In many places it is perfectly acceptable to just have a drink or shisha. Medium and high-range outlets might have a minimum charge. Cheaper restaurants will normally not serve alcohol as well as some more expensive outlets.
For those with a greater interest in Cairo's culinary life, look for Cairo Dining, a magazine with a half-yearly update of 1000 Cairo restaurants (and places to go out) sorted by price, kind of food and area. Otlob.com delivers food from a large number of Cairo restaurants, including fast-food places like McDonalds, as well as higher-end places. Otlob is also useful because it offers a list of restaurants by type of food, area, and even covers menus, conveniently all in English. Almost all but the highest quality Cairo restaurants offer delivery or takeout.
Egyptian and Middle Eastern food
Traditional Egyptian staples are available almost everywhere. In stalls and street restaurants you will find traditional dishes like fuul (bean paste), taa'miya (falafel), muzagga (the Egyptian version of the Greek moussaka), kushari (macaroni, lentils, chick peas, and sometimes a tomato sauce), fatayeer (pancakes with different fillings) and shawarma (a recent import from Lebanon and Syria — pieces of roasted meat usually wrapped in bread). Cheaper places will only serve up vegetables and maybe beef hot dogs or corned beef. Eggs, fried potatoes and salads are also usually available. Hygiene varies wildly and the best advice is to go for the most visited places. Avoid empty restaurants as the food will be less fresh. Especially downtown you can find many good kushari shops, including many outlets of the excellent Kushari Tahrir chain.
In the medium and upper price range your choice of traditional Egyptian food will be more limited. Although the situation is improving, traditionally Egyptian gastronomical experiences are still mostly restricted to private homes. Quality chain restaurants like Felfela (several outlets) and Abou Sid (Zamalek, Maadi and Dokki) offer authentic Egyptian food. Otherwise Arabic and oriental restaurants tend to mix styles or completely go for more Lebanese-style eating, considered more stylish by rich Cairenes. The good side of this is that Cairo is blessed with many quality Lebanese outfits, from chains like Dar al-Qamar to stylish restaurant establishments. Additionally, Turkish food and restaurants catering to Gulf visitors can be found.
Western and Asian food
Cairo has a growing number of Western fast food outlets available - these are, incidentally, some of the best places to see young Cairenes relaxing together, as fast food restaurants are apparently considered amongst the hippest places to hang out. McDonalds, Hardees, Pizza Hut and KFC are spread about the city, but they are relatively more expensive.
Lighter meals like sandwiches and salads as well as pastries can be found in western-style bakeries and cafes. Popular chains like Cilantro and Beanos and The Marriott Bakery as well as individual outlets all offer more or less similar dishes. Most of these places also offer wireless internet.
There is also a cute TGI Friday's on the Nile banks at the entrance of Maadi, serving beer but no wine. Gezira also boasts its very own Chili's. For burgers, you can also try Fuddrucker's (Maadi and Mohandesseen) or Lucille's in Ma'adi (Road n° 9) which is owned by an American woman. Maison Thomas has several branches throughout Cairo, including Mohandiseen, Zamalek, and Maadi, and servess some of the best pizza in Cairo. There is an Italian place called the Mint in Mohandesseen, which boasts a very stylish interior, however it's alcohol free. If it's more stylish international dining you're into, Cairo offers a wide variety: Italian, Chinese and Japanese outlets in addition to the ambigious continental cooking abound, especially in areas like Zamalek, Mohandesin and Dokki.
Hygiene and diet issues
For health reasons it is advisable not to drink tap water or eat unpeeled fresh fruits and vegetables -- at least for the first few days of the visit. There are few solely vegetarian options, L'aubergine in Zamalek is a good restaurant for vegetarian food. Otherwise, Egyptian cuisine is dominated by vegetable courses, but be aware of "hidden" meat in stock, sauces and the like. One should also be cautious about sushis or ice creams sold outside of main hotels. Also, if served eggs, one should be cautious to ensure that they are fully cooked (sunny side up eggs may allow certain organisms to be transmitted).
The Metro chain and Alfa Market in Zamalek are convenient supermarkets. Otherwise vegetables and fruit are plentiful and cheap. Bakeries such as The Bakery chain sell western-style bread and pastries. Organic food is available at Sekem in Zamalek.
By far the cheapest and most satisfying option, buying from Souks and outdoor markets makes for a crash course in Arabic and haggling, not to mention that the produce is often superb! Bread can be found on nearly every corner and comes in two types - whole wheat aysh baladi and white flour aysh shami. Both are baked fresh daily and delivered by thousands of kids on bicycles to every corner of the city. Every neighborhood has a few streets dedicated to produce and other goods.
Small bakeries (furun) sell every kind of baked good imaginable - ranging from Italian style bread sticks with nigella and sesame seeds to croissants, donuts and anything with dates in it. Fresh goods from these bakeries offers a nice alternative to the standard Egyptian breakfast of beans, beans, beans.
Cairo has a wide range of drinking options from the very traditional to fashionable and modern. At the other end of the scale, almost any street in Cairo has a traditional coffee house, ´ahwe, a traditionally male institution of social life tracing many hundreds of years back in history. Besides that you'll find everything from fruit stalls to patisseriés and bakeries and modern cafés whipping up all varieties of modern European coffee. In addition to the traditional Turkish coffee and shai, tea, virtually everywhere you'll find drinks like hibiscus tea, kerkedeeh, served warm or cold depending on season, sahleb, a coconut drink usually served in winter, fakhfakhenna (a kind of fruit salad), sugarcane juice, mango and tamarind juice, Tamr hindi.
Traditional Coffee Houses
Cairo remains one of the best cities in the world to sample the traditional coffee house culture of the region. They are called maqhâ in Standard Arabic, but in the local dialect this is turned into ´ahwa. The Turkish coffee remains an invariable ingredient in any Cairene coffee house, and water pipe (shisha) and tea is even more popular. While considered "old fashioned" for a time, these places are again turning fashionable among younger crowds and even smoking a waterpipe is no longer a male-only pastime. Places vary from just a small affair--plastic chairs and tables put out on the street--to more elaborate cafes especially in upscale and tourist areas.
Turkish coffee (´ahwe turki) is served either sweet (helwa), medium sweet (masbout), with little sugar (sukr khafeef) or no sugar (sâda). Sweet means very sweet. Tea (shai) is served either as traditional loose tea (kûshari, not to be confused with the Cairo macaroni-rice stample kushari), known as dust tea in English, or in a tea bag. Most coffee shops usually offer fresh mint leaves to put in your tea, upon request. A range of soft drinks are usually available. Most typically you will find hibiscus tea (karkadee), served warm in the winter season and hot during the warmer parts of the year.
Fruit juice stalls
During the hot Cairo summer, fruit juice stalls selling fresh juice (and occasionally fruit salads and other soft drinks) are a delight not to be missed. Basically these places sell fresh-pressed juice of whatever is in season. Typical choices include orange (bortoqâl), lemon (limon), mango (manga) and strawberry (farawla), guava (gawafa), pomegranate (Rummān). Prices and quality depend on season and availability. These places are spread out around the city and available at almost all the places tourists typically visit and in all local residential districts. Traditional coffee houses or fruit juice stalls might sell all or some of these drinks.
Modern cafes and pastry shops
Modern cafes and patisseries are spread out around the city. Typically they serve light food like sandwiches and salad in addition to espresso-based coffees and pastries. Many of these places are chains, like Cilantro, Beanos, Cinnabon, Orangette, The Bakery and Coffee Roastery. Most of these places, including all the chains mentioned above, offer wireless internet connection as well. International chains such as Costa Coffee and Starbucks are also widely available throughout Cairo.
The main post office of Cairo is located on Midan Ataba (open 7am - 7pm Sa - Th, 7am - 12 noon Fr and holidays). The poste restante office is to be found along the side street to the right of the main entrance to the post office and through the last door (open 8am - 6 pm Sa - Th, 10am - 12 noon Fr and holidays) - mail will be held for 3 weeks.
There are two kind of mail boxes for international and domestic use. They are typically found on the street in pairs, coloured red and blue. It is said that your mail will be delivered no matter which one you use.
The Internet is rapidly growing in Cairo as in many other Egyptian and Middle Eastern cities. There is now a profusion of established internet cafés and venues, with many more opening for business each month. An hour in a downtown net cafe will set you back 3-5LE. A growing number of cafés including Cilantro and Beanos provide wifi for free, and if all else fails, you can always drop into a McDonalds and try their network. Luxury hotels often provide WiFi at a premium.
If you have access to a traditional telephone line in Cairo, then you will be able to access the internet through dial-up connection for free by dialing 0777 XXXX numbers.
You can walk around the main streets anytime you feel like roaming. It's fairly safe and you will always find lots of people around smiling and offering to help. Women alone can expect to be the target of an excessive amount of catcalling, but it rarely, if ever, goes beyond that. You should bear in mind that around the more touristy locations there is an abundance of 'helpful' people, but be careful who you go with and under no circumstance let anyone push or guide you anywhere you don't want to go! If you get lost look for the security and police officers. Many speak a little English, and most know their local area very well, as well as the tourist spots.
Crossing streets is another major challenge in Cairo. Traffic lights, which only exist in a few locations, are routinely disregarded. In downtown Cairo, police officers may be controlling traffic at key intersections at busy times. To cross the street, it's like playing the video game "Frogger", hurrying across the street one lane at a time, when there is a small break in traffic. Also, when riding in a taxi, the driver may go quite fast and drive erratically.
As elsewhere in Egypt, be careful with what you eat. Raw leafy vegetables, egg-based dressings like mayonnaise and minced meat are particularly risky. Opinions on tap water vary, but most visitors choose to stick to the bottled stuff. Large bottles of water can be purchased for 2 or 3 LE.
Smog can reach extreme levels, especially in late summer and fall before the rains. This, coupled with the summer heat, can make spending time outdoors in the summer quite unpleasant.
For medical care, hotels usually have a house doctor on call. Any major operations are best performed outside Egypt, but the following hospitals are generally considered the best in Cairo: