The Pitfalls and Perils of Cairo Traffic

We’re on our way up to Cairo for ML to meet up with other members of the team and to finalise paperwork before a meeting with the Client.

ML will be busy but I am sure I can find something to amuse myself with even if it is using the hotel’s super-fast broadband to update everything (Who knew that the red blob with the number of app updates outstanding could be so blasted annoying every time you saw it.) and to sit in the shade by the pool.

The journey up was uneventful and it wasn’t until we were on the Cairo ring road that we hit traffic. The road may have three lanes marked on the surface but Cairo drivers can happily make that into seven lanes. This is okay if you had every been a rally driver or have ninja reflexes  and could deal with the antics of the other drivers. If you are a polite driver as I am then you might as well forget it because you won’t be going anywhere.I class myself as a good, safe driver; I’ve held a driving licence for 40 years but I wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car in Cairo unless it was a dire emergency. There are hidden perils (potholes, suddenly appearing pedestrians, random speed humps) and pitfalls (other vehicles, obscure lane changes, roundabouts) to driving in Cairo which would turn me into a nervous wreck very quickly.

I found a list of Cairo Traffic Rules  that are slightly tongue in cheek by Nadia El-Awady.

ML has stayed with this hotel group so often that we get put on the executive floor which is very nice and included a welcome gift of tiny macarons artfully displayed on a plate. Very swish, and unlike the hotel on the Red Sea there is no sound, it must have very good soundproofing. The wi-fi is super-fast and between us we are soon updating various iPads and iPhones in a fraction of the time it normally takes us and not eating into our mobile download total.

It turned out they had more drivers than were needed for the following day so  it was okayed that I could use our driver and visit the Egyptian Museum in Giza. Woo Hoo. I have heard about this museum for years from Mumpsy (my lovely mum) who visited in many years ago and often talked about its treasures.

Straight onto the internet to find out what information was available and to find out whether I could take photographs or not. I visit museums and galleries regularly and am used to being able to find out oodles of information before I visit and if time is limited find out where the exhibits are that I want to see so I don’t miss out.

After following a few dead ends I found the Supreme Council of Antiquities website that has a page on the museum. I found out opening times and cost but a note saying photography wasn’t allowed and I would have to check my camera in. In my searches, I had come across a number of references to photography now being allowable. I took a chance and when we went the following day I took my camera and paid 50 LE for the privilege of photographing within the museum. This is something that I came across in Singapore where entry was free to the Sri Mariamman Temple, but a fee was asked to enable you to take photographs.

According to the Google maps the journey should take 30 minutes, I knew from ML who followed this route to the company’s Cairo office that I was looking at nearer an hour so we agreed for the driver to pick me up at 9.30 the next day.

When will I learn, the next morning as 9.45 ticked by ML received a phone call to say the car was being swapped and the driver would be another hour. I hate waiting it is so boring so I walked around the hotel’s main floor only to walk into some sort of promotion for Coca Cola. Lots of corporate people in lanyards and sunglasses posing nonchalantly in the sunshine. There was a huge screen set up outside with Coca Cola branding around it. There were lots of white draped tables set out in front of the screen. I had a look to see if I could see any promotional t-shirts or lanyards but I was out of luck.

I headed back to the entrance to wait for the driver who eventually turned up, as I got in the car he asked if I had my passport with me.

Dash back inside, well actually a slow walk through the security screening having put my bag through the scanner, as usual I set it off but they let me through thankfully. Lift ambles down and I put my key card in and it chooses to ignore it. I’m getting flustered now but after a couple more attempt I gave up and rang ML who met me and gave me his card to use. Up to the room, find my passport and head back down, hand ML his card back and out to the driver who appears to have fallen asleep behind the wheel.

The journey to the museum was fine until we left the airport road then it just ground to a halt and we crawled for most of the 22 km of the journey. The only consolation was that I was able to get a few shots of things along the way. Unfortunately, lots of things were blocked by the build-up of traffic but I managed to get some photographs.

There are huge painted boards along part of the road that show iconic buildings, sculptures and events from Egyptian history, both ancient and modern. There seemed to be lots of war like depictions.

One very odd building that is raised on what I assume to be an artificial hill (all the other buildings in the area are on flat ground) and which wouldn’t have looked out of place in India. I found out it was built for Baron Empain and it has quite a history but I am going to save the information for a blog all about it.

If you look upward at any point on the journey you will see minarets, there was a time in Cairo’s past when it was known as the ‘City of a Thousand Minarets’. I’m not sure there are that many now but there are plenty to see and admire.

The route takes you past a mish mash of modern architecture and nods to Moorish, Arabic, Persian and a dash of Neoclassical architecture thrown in for good measure. There are areas that are obviously very affluent and glimpses through the advertising hoardings on the elevated roadway of the 6th of October Bridge of abject poverty.

Just before we crossed the actual bridge across the Nile we turned off and headed to Tahrir Square a place originally called Ismailiya Square but renamed Tahrir (Liberation) Square after the 1919 Revolution but not officially renamed until the Revolution in 1952.

The square became a focal point of the Revolution in 2011 when political demonstrations were held. In 2013 over a two-day period millions of Egyptians protested across Egypt including in Tahrir Square. Three days later, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced that President Mohamed Morsi had been removed. A country with a long history of revolution.

I found all this information out later but at the end of our journey it was the final obstacle to the museum. The square is actually a huge traffic roundabout and if there was any method in the madness that ensued as we made our way around it I couldn’t see it.

But having safely negotiated it Mohamad (the driver) tried to find the entrance to the car park, it took a couple of attempts but we finally found the right one and much to my surprise we drove down under the ground.

To be continued……..

If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

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