Spend a wondrous day in Cairo

Camel patrol at pyramids
An Egyptian camel-mounted policeman stands guard in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza as Colombian pop star Shakira performs on stage nearby on March 28. The Pyramids, the sole surviving Wonder of the Ancient World.Mike Nelson / EPA
/ Source: Special to msnbc.com

When “Good Morning America,” USA Today, the Swiss company New Open World Corporation and several other entities held a worldwide election last year to name the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, Egypt declined to participate. Why should it compete with such “Johnny Come Latelies” as the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal,  government officials sniffed? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon dangle no longer, the Colossus of Rhodes plunged into the sea several millennia ago, and the other wonders of the ancient world have fallen to dust … but the 7th of those original wonders, Egypt’s glorious pyramids, still stand, as dazzling today as when Caesar hooked up with Cleopatra and Napoleon’s troops used the Sphinx for target practice (legend has it they knocked off her nose). A day in Cairo will allow you to dash out and pay your respects to these famous triangles as well as see some of the other sights in this truly wondrous area of the world.  (By the way, if you’re interested, the 7 Wonders of the Modern World will be announced on July 7, 2007).

7:30  a.m. – noon: Pyramid time! Skip breakfast (or grab it to go) and drive out to see the Great Pyramid at , which ancient historian Herodutus, writing in the fifth century B.C., speculated must have taken a labor force of 300,000 and 20 years to construct (it was completed c. 2560 B.C.). At its sides are the smaller pyramids of Khafre, Menkaur and the surrounding “Queen” pyramids. Nearby is the Sphinx, one of the largest stone statues in the world; take a close look at the face, which Egyptologists today believe is that of Pharaoh Khafre.

Morning alternative
The Pyramids at Giza are largest, but they ain’t the only game in town. If you’ve already done the major pyramids, head to , home to the world’s oldest standing step pyramid (c. 2667 B.C.), the final resting place of the Pharaoh Djoser. An ancient necropolis for the nearby capital city of Memphis, it boasts 16 pyramids altogether, in various stages of decay (Saqqara was in use as a burial ground for over 3,500 years). And unlike in Giza, you’ll tour here without touts pulling at your sleeve, camel drivers offering joy rides, and swarms of tourists blocking your view.

Noon – 12:30 p.m.: Grab a falafel at one of the fast food places opposite the main entrance gates to the Giza pyramids. If you’re going to see the sights in Cairo proper, you haven’t the time for a sit down lunch.

12:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Make your way back to central Cairo and get ready to get lost in the labyrinthine, chaotic, fascinating, exhausting, exhilarating, 600-year-old . The art of haggling is alive and well here, and part of the fun, so get ready to be courted by the shopkeepers along these twisting alleyways who will offer you tea, sweets and perhaps the hand of a daughter in marriage, all in the attempt to make a sale.

Afternoon alternative
Though the Tutankhamun collection is currently on tour, with more than 120,000 other Egyptian artifacts on display at the , you won’t lack for precious ancient objects — mummies, statues, hieroglyphic tablets and more — to gape at. Consider to help you sort through all the poorly labeled, yet spectacular looking, exhibits.

5 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Rent a for a sunset sail along the Nile.

7 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Go where the Pasha couldn’t, to the restaurant . According to the house myth, a Pasha was so taken with peasant Abu el Sid’s cooking that he commanded him to leave home and become his personal chef. El Sid became homesick in the Pasha’s palace, however, and ran away. Enraged, the pasha had him executed. The owners here claim, tongue in cheek (we think), to have found the gourmet rebel’s cookbook, and his special recipes for stuffed pigeon, chicken in walnut sauce, shrimp tagine and other Egyptian delicacies. All are served in an opulent, Arabian Nights-esque setting the Pasha would certainly have appreciated.

9 p.m. – 11p.m.: Keep yourself awake with strong glasses of chai and competitive games of backgammon at one of the thousands of ahwas (loosely translated to tea houses) that line the streets of Cairo. They’re ideal for people watching.

11 p.m. on … Stare mesmerized at stomachs, undulating hips and twirling scarves at the . Belly dancer Soraya performs here, one of the most famous practitioners of the art in a city renowned for its belly dancing. 

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new guides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

There are a number of ways to get to the pyramid complex of Giza. Cheapest is to hop bus 335/337, which makes a stop under the overpass a Midan Abdel Moniem Road, but can also be hailed from nearly anywhere along the Midan Tahrir. It runs approximately every 20 minutes during the daylight hours and costs about .20 cents. Minibuses leaving from the Midan Abdel Moniem Riad bus station (you’ll see them near the Ramses Hilton Hotel, just ask for “Haram”), will also get you to Giza; these don’t run quite as frequently, but cost on .10 cents. If you decide a taxi is more your speed, expect to pay about $3.50 one way from Central Cairo to the entrance to the Pyramids (you can catch a cab back in front of the Mena House Oberoi Hotel in Giza).

The pyramid complex is open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The entry fee to the Great Pyramid of Khufu is about $26; there are separate entrance fees for the other pyramids, as well as the on-site museum.

Saqqara is located about 25 km south of Central Cairo and most visit it by taxi, combining a visit here with one to nearby Memphis and Dahsur. If you only have the morning, however, concentrate on just Saqqara. A taxi will cost about $4. It is possible to get here via cheaper public transportation, but it’s time consuming and requires changing from a train to a bus and then walking a distance. The complex is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October through the end of March, closing an hour earlier the rest of the year and two hours earlier during Ramadan. Admission via the North Saqqara entryway is approximately $6.

Most of the shops in the Khan el Kalili Bazaar close on Sundays, with some also closing up on Friday afternoons. Other than that you can expect to find them open from about relatively early in the morning until sundown.

Egyptian Museum, Tahrir Square, Downtown, phone 202/575-4319; www.egyptianmuseum.gov.eg/. Admission is roughly $2.50 and the museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.

Official guides can be hired at the museum and charge approximately $9 an hour.

To rent a head to either the Dok Dok landing stage (Garden City, near the Royal Nile Tower) or the mooring stage at the southeast end of Gezira near the Qasr el-Nil Bridge. If you haggle well (do your best), you should be charged about $6 an hour for the boat ride for your group (it doesn’t matter how many are with you).

Abu el Sid, 157 Sharia 26th of July, phone 202/735-9640; www.abuelsid.com/

Casablanca Club, in the Cairo Sheraton, Midan al-Galaa, Doqqi, phone 202/336-9700.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new guides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.