An Egyptian odyssey … come with us on a visit to one of the most amazing cities on the planet and the last remaining ancient wonder of the world.
In Arabic, Egypt is referred to as "mother of the world", which means Cairo is the heart of the mother. A place made by rich, lounging pharaohs and sultans, it now teems with merchants and disreputables trying to relieve tourists of their money. Despite this, its deep-rooted history is the most overwhelming experience the city offers. Not only pharaohs and sultans, but early Coptic, Islam, Rome, Greece, Ottoman Turkey and colonial rule by France and England have left evidence of their presence. But the Islamic heritage is most obvious.
Africa's largest city has around 16 million citizens and is a city of contradictions chaos, bustle, pollution, sophistication, history and culture. Shiny black European cars mingle with donkeys, goats and camels in the main streets and palatial hotels stand next to mudbrick houses.
Khan al-Khalili is just one square kilometre and was established as a market in the 1380s. Today the souq is a frenzy of people aggressively hawking perfume, papyrus, backgammon and chess boards, copperware, spice, gold, silver and the ubiquitous sheesha or water pipe. Most souvenirs are tacky, but bargaining is alive and well if you want to buy.
For a relaxing respite, Fishawi's traditional teahouse is in the centre of the old bazaar and has Egypt's most famous sheesha
. Furnished in 19th-century European style, locals order mint tea, cold rosehip drink and an aromatic sheesha
Your nostrils will lead you to al-Muski Street, where the spice market is stocked with colourful piles of cumin, caraway, sage and mint, lemons and olives, sandalwood and brightly coloured beans.
Al-Azhar Mosque in El Hossein Square is the world's oldest surviving university. Porticoed in style, it was established in 972, soon after the founding of Cairo. It is in the centre of an area crammed with some of the 10th century's most beautiful Islamic monuments.
Cairo's finest old house is the 16th-century Beit es-Suheimi. It was built by the sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque as an elaborate residence for himself and his many wives. It has carved wooden ceilings, stained glass windows, tile mosaics, marble floors and fountained salons.
While all of that is entertaining and interesting, the real reason most people visit Cairo is to see the Pyramids at Giza, the only survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The three main pyramids were built for Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus, pharaohs from the 4th dynasty. Standing sentinel over the entire site is the Sphinx, which has the face of a man and the body of a lion, so is all about power and strength. It was carved 4500 years ago from a single piece of stone and is so architecturally precise, it is just 4cm out at its base! It is 80 metres long and stands 22 metres tall.
Le Meridien Pyramids, just 15 minutes from the centre of Cairo, provides wonderful views of the Giza Pyramids. It has beautifully landscaped gardens and a spectacular pool complex, with health club, sauna and massage. Rooms comprise standard, deluxe, royal club and a presidential suite which offers total luxury.
There is a good choice of wining and dining. The Med has an elegant atmosphere and serves Mediterranean cuisine. Laredo serves Tex-Mex food in a fun and informal setting. Al Shams is open 24 hours and offers an international buffet and à la carte menu. The Nubian Village serves oriental and Lebanese cuisine and overlooks the pool. Harris Café is where you go for coffee, tea, cakes, pastries and breads. Shisha Café is for a traditional Egyptian evening with flavoured sheesha and drinks.