Cairo, Cairo, Cairo…. where shall I begin? This adventure is probably my favorite to share.
This time last year, Caro and I decided to embark for a week in Cairo, Egypt. Luckily, a friend of a friend shared the city with us- as he showed us all of the local gigs that I honestly felt I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Upon arrival, we taxied to our hotel on Zamalak, the island in the Nile (sort of like Ile de la Cité, in Paris) to settle in and start our wandering.
We went with no real plans, and just high hopes of stumbling upon treasures in the souqs and doing the traditional horseride around the Giza pyramids. Boy were we in for a treat! Our first night we were picked up by some friends for a boat ride on the Nile, which was absolutely stunning and the perfect time to see the city lights of Cairo with some Sakara & Stella Egyptian beers.
The next day we decided to walk up to the city centre, which was quite the spectacle: to white girls with big Nikon cameras and Ray Bans ready to go! Little did we realize it’s almost nothing to taxi around, and it saves from some of the whistling, ha! As we snapped photos of graffiti, buildings, and storefronts, we discovered Downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square as well as the Cairo Museum, where many of the mummies are stored (you can’t bring your camera inside…literally… not even in your bag so heads up- but they provide free lockers just in case you do have one!) We then wandered back for a rest before roaming Zamalek a bit and our temporary little neighborhood. We had a glass of Omar Khayyam red wine at L’Aubergine, a cute hole-in-the-wall restaurant nearby.
The days flew by, and we managed to go back and forth from Khan Khalili– the famous souqs to find treasures. You can get lost in there, and you find many just about anything: bags, leather goods, jewelry, antiques… on and on and one. One of the best jewelers that our friend Omar took us to was in the depths at Mohamed Amin, where we found beautiful silver rings for really cheap (oh yeah, did I mentioned everything in Cairo is dirt cheap??)
We were also exposed in Khan Khalili to the varieties of Egyptian Cuisine such as stuffed pigeon (which you can try locally with some green tea & hookah at a café/resto called “Fishary” in the Khan Khalili Souqs, ….if you can find it :) ). However, the MUST TRY Egyptian meals remain to be: Koshari (the national dish they say, which is a mixture of lentils, macaroni and rice with lovely sauces and such… it is divine), Baba Ghanouj (mashed eggplant with seasonings), Ful Medames (mashed fava beans and olive oil, mixed with parsley, garlic, and lemon juice) and of course loads of pita bread with a lovely glass of the famous Egyptian lemonade.
A note on the traditional sightseeing & must-see’s:
To start off, naturally: the Giza Pyrimids. We were spoiled to go with our new friends who are locals, because they definitely hassled the homeboys and Giza to give us good prices and not rip us off— plus, they are a bit of a drive over from central Cairo (some hotels offer shuttles or day trips- definitely take advantage, it’s easy to get ripped off on taxi rides to Giza). We took the horse ride around the Giza pyramids with a young Bedouin boy who also so nicely took photos of us pretending to hold the pyramids and all that jazz. I mean, we couldn’t got here and NOT do that.
Back in the center, the view from the top (above) is from the Cairo Tower, which only costs a few bucks to go up to the top, on the south end of the Zamalek island. The views are breathtaking, even when a bit hazy. In terms of mosques, my favorite in Cairo is Mosque Ibn Tulun, which was beautiful, and they were quite nice about letting us in even without headscarves as long as we took off our shoes. Although there are many beautiful small ones that you pass by walking and roaming around. Mosque Aqmar, Abu Dahab, and the Mosque of Muhammed Ali are all worth a peek. Cairo is a mystery and a beautiful maze…no matter how dirty or deserted it may seem, everything has a beauty to it.
Although my notes are not as thorough, all of these sights are must see on your trip to Cairo. Roaming around is half the fun, and if you know some Arabic, don’t be shy and speak with the people. Say ‘shoukran‘ (thank you) all the time, and they’ll love it as you walk in and say ‘marhaba‘ (hello)! Make friends. Drink some Stella and chill out by the Nile, or in a bar with the locals.
It’s beautiful, in so many ways.
To Omar, Ziad, Mina & the boys: we miss you dearly! Can’t wait until next time.