Adventure, but not too much adventure
April 22, 2014 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I am planning on going to Turkey at the end of November for just shy of two weeks and am looking for a couple of pieces of advice: Is a side trip to Cairo alone for two days a terrible decision? And are there lodgings in Istanbul where it is easy to meet other travelers that don't involve giant dorms and drunken twenty somethings?

I am planning on going to Turkey at the end of November for just shy of two weeks and am looking for a couple of pieces of advice—I’ve Googled, but there is quite an array of sometimes-conflicting information. (And I am familiar with the Turkey Travel Planner site which has lots of great tips and suggestions, but the lodging info seems focused on a slightly older/creature comfort-seeking audience.)

1. I am thinking of doing a Cairo stop—I have always wanted to see the pyramids, and with Turkish Airlines I can do a multistop flight home to Cairo (via Istanbul) to Istanbul to home for just $30 more than a flight to Istanbul. On a scale of “Best decision you could possibly make” to “Are you out of your mind?” where might this fall? There’s an 85% chance I’ll be traveling alone, and I know Cairo can be iffy for lone women. (I've read other questions here and it has given me pause, but this is something I'd really like to do if it isn't totally reckless.)

I’d be arriving at the Cairo airport on a Tuesday evening, heading to a hotel for overnight, getting a (recommended, though if you have additional recommendations, I’m happy to take them) guide and doing the pyramids Wednesday, Cairo sites Thursday also with a guide and flying out Thursday night to Istanbul. I’d like to book this now because of the price, though I know the situation is ever-evolving. If things are dangerous when I go, I’m happy to forgo the Cairo leg, but would cancelling that portion invalidate my return home to Istanbul. (Alternately, I could buy a separate RT fare to Cairo from Istanbul closer to my trip, but that looks like it would be in the $350 range, and includes more airport to-and-froing, which I’d like to avoid.) Also, do I go through customs in Istanbul, or does baggage, etc. transfer to the Cairo flight? (Trying to figure out what kind of time I’d need to make a connection.)

2. My second question is does anyone have any good hostel or convivial guest house recommendations in Istanbul? This isn’t a budget issue so much as an opportunity to meet/hang out with other travelers. I’m in my mid-30s, so I don’t want a 16 person guest dorm with all-night drunken revelry, but some place with a nice mix of people and some sort of common area where people gather and chill is ideal. Private room a must, private bathroom a big plus. Ideally under $125/night if possible (though cheaper is better, just trying to keep options open). I prefer Beyoglu, especially Galata. I’ll likely be in Istanbul for five nights. (I've looked at Airbnb/used it for other trips, but I like meeting other travelers for sharing outings rather than just relying on hosts who are rightly going about living their normal lives/probably don't want to take a 2hr sightseeing ferry ride.) Triple bonus points for balconies/rooftops with amazing views.

I'm a reasonably experienced traveler/have experience traveling solo.
posted by HonoriaGlossop to Travel & Transportation (2 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I went to Cairo with a group in 2009 as a young married woman traveling without her husband. I loved Egypt and I'm glad I went but I was there about a year before things started getting hairy and it still felt rough around the edges. The group leader wouldn't let us go places alone, meaning we weren't just going with another group member but we also had a guy with a gun following us around. The organizer agrees that this was probably overkill but yeah. There was also a big soccer game taking place between Egypt and Algeria at the same time I was there and Egyptians allegedly threw rocks and damaged a bus carrying Algerian players. That did not affect me in any way but that's just to give you a hint regarding the atmosphere and that was before things started getting crazy.

While I was walking around the citadel in Cairo, a guy started talking to me about how he likes white women because he prefers white women's breasts, legs, and asses over black women's body parts. Good to know! We also took a cruise down the Nile (which was amazing) where I met a married couple made up of an Egyptian man and a Moroccan woman. The man thought it was The Funniest Thing Ever! that I was traveling without my husband as a married woman. Seriously, he was doubled over laughing.

That said, depending on how you roll, you could do Cairo in a day if you were ambitious. The pyramids and the sphinx are right in Cairo - you see them from the plane when you land so it's not like a lot of tourist attractions where it's not anywhere near the airport. Plus if you were to go first thing in the morning, it might not be crowded. The other things I'd encourage you to do are visit the Egyptian museum (King Tut!) and check out Khan el Khalily which I thought was more impressive than the souks in Istanbul but then again, it was my first souk.

I went to Istanbul a year ago and we stayed at the Pera Tulip Hotel in Beyoglu. It was fine - a little dark but fine. It was a hotel though so I'm not sure that's what you're looking for but the location was convenient enough. I felt pretty safe in Istanbul. A lot of people speak English (ditto Cairo) and it seemed less religious than Cairo.

Random note/derail - I think Cairo was the first place where I ever saw a woman wearing a full burka (eye covering included). I felt a little badly because I probably stared but it's a jarring sight. A woman in a burka actually started a conversation with me (people in Egypt are apparently super friendly). I don't think I felt uncomfortable because some view it as a symbol of oppression but more because I think as humans, it's confusing to be talking to someone when you can't read their facial expressions at all. That was just my experience and I think there were folks in burkas in Istanbul too but Cairo was the first place I ever saw it.

Also FYI - the State Department has a travel warning for Egypt.
posted by kat518 at 8:29 AM on April 22, 2014

I'm pretty torn about this. We visited Cairo in 2012, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Between the pyramids/sphinx, and the Cairo museum (which is just astounding), I will never forget the trip. However, with the amount of civil unrest there at the moment, I know I wouldn't be comfortable going back at this time. If you go, I would make sure you were always with a local guide whom you trust, and I would keep up with any local news in case there is an escalation before you go or while you are there.

I hope you do get to go, and have a great time seeing some wonderful antiquities. (We also did Turkey in 2012 and it was my husband's favorite place we visited that year. Ephesus is not to be missed!

As for a hostel rec, I have found the reviews on Tripadvisor to be pretty helpful.
posted by blurker at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2014

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