My first trip to Egypt was when I was 19 on my school holidays in Britain. It was a tour package which included hotels, the famous museums, camel riding around the pyramids and Abu Hawel (Sphinx), Luxor's attractions, a falucca ride down the Nile River in Aswan, Abu Simbel, all the food and and a comfortable train ride.
The price was very reasonable, but I saved even more when I booked my own flight to Cairo, using Tarom Romanian Airlines, via Bucharest. (Romania was still under socialism then and prices for those kinds of airlines were a bargain.)
I am much older now and this time came to Cairo by myself, avoiding the tourist scene almost completely and really discovering intimately a taste of "real" Cairo.
Able to struggle again using my broken Arabic, travelling by using public transport (Cairo has an excellent and cheap Metro!- The young sporty guys who were on the train were giving hungry looks making the train like a big cruising place! ), wandering around back roads and alleyways, an Cairo neighbourhood called Old Islamic Darassa, and elsewhere- I fell in love with Cairo, and love the relationships I made with the gracious people (sitting and talking together over tea/qahwa) and discovering that not everyone wants "baksheesh", but lovingly hold your hand and guide you through their (frustrating but rewarding) system of things in their city. My short but sweet experience put Cairo in my heart and now I want to return and discover it again and again!
I wandered out from my guest house in Darassa's old back streets hoping to find some sweets to nibble on before trying to go to bed when a bunch of older men were playing cards and watching a game on the telly. One of the men shouted for me but I gestured and pointed in a direction suggesting that I wanted to continue walking on, but they insisted I come in to their man den and join them all for some tea and conversation, smoke filled the room as the sports programme on the TV competed with our small conversations. I also saw a small shop with a showcase of Hummus beans. The guy behind the counter was flirting with me and the other men in the shop were smiling with him. I didn't get any hummus but I do remember all those smiles!
These small encounters and are precious to me and the feelings are unforgettable. Moments like these are the highlights of visiting Cairo and other cities in Egypt and not just the pyramids and tourist saturated places like that. I hope on another trip to Cairo I will be invited to a home and experience Egyptian hospitality like I have in other places in the world.
Featured photo by Ronald Woan via Flickr.