Tag Archives: Cairo

Time Travel. And Associated Musings.

Sometimes the travel bug bites me unexpectedly. My toes itch and I start looking for flights to some faraway locations. But then the reality hits, such as work and other commitments, and I go for a much quicker and cheaper alternative. Time travel. Back to a location that has captivated me in years past.

architecture-in-cairo-5-ud103A few days ago, I did some work that reminded me of my visits to Egypt, of which the latest was about three years ago. So I traveled to Cairo. And I invite you to join me as I revisit some disparate memories – through pictures taken on my small Canon Powershot or on my first iPhone.

I fell in love with the history and culture of this ancient country on my first trip in 1999.

tiny-at-the-pyramids-ud103When I visited the pyramids, a sand storm suddenly blew up. I still remember how my hair was full of sand and how a tiny sand corn found its way into my left eye. The latter was not fun, but it was all worth it. Walking inside and around the pyramids, life as it played out around cairo-market-tut-replica-ud1032500 B.C. became palpable. I could almost see and hear the builders and the large funeral processions. I remember lingering around the Great Sphinx for a long time listening to the echoes from the past.

I also visited the Cairo museum and was fascinated by the many ancient objects, in particular all the treasures from King Tut’s tomb that were on display at the time. He was the ‘boy pharaoh’ Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt for ten years until his death at age 19. There were rooms full of his things. I remember a golden mask, a golden throne, a small wooden chair, his chariot, his bed, his small gloves and other clothes, among other things – all beautifully preserved for over 3300 years. I was mesmerized by the workmanship revealed by these objects.

The ancient mythology was still alive in the works of many contemporary artists in Giza. I bought some of their works on papyrus, which was produced by the craftsmen pretty much the same way it always had.

egyptian-papyrus-art-ud103On one of my following visits, I attended meetings at the historic Mena House in Giza, about half a mile from the pyramids. I will never forget the sight when I was seated at my breakfast table the first morning. The Great Pyramid, built by Pharaoh Khufu around 2540 B.C., rose towards the sky right in front of my eyes.

the-pyramid-of-khufu-was-built-by-pharaoh-khufu-around-2540-bc-ud103And during my stay, I could admire the pyramids right there in the hotel gardens during the outdoor coffee breaks.

the-pyramid-of-khafre-was-built-around-2520-bc-ud103On my two most recent visits, I stayed in Cairo due to security concerns at the time. I travelled from the hotel to my client’s offices through Heliopolis, famous for its architecture. I snapped pictures of its beautiful, old buildings with my iPhone from a moving vehicle.

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minarets-2-cairo-ud103Being ‘stuck’ in Cairo, I also visited some famous food establishments with my colleagues. The one that I truly loved was the classic Egyptian restaurant, Abou El Sid. I think its ambience of ‘old Cairo’, dating back to 1940s, is best presented in sepia and soft, warm hues.

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ligthning-at-abou-el-sid-cairo-ud103We sampled various types of traditional Egyptian foods – all delicious. A highly recommended experience if you get a chance to go there.

But the jump from traditional to hyper modern was short. We visited, mostly for its many dining options, the City Stars Mall. Despite a sculpture of a pharaoh on its side wall, it is a sprawling luxury complex with impressive architecture and shopping alike.

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Back to the traditional, I visited (again) the famous Khan el-Khalili market, first established in the 14th century. It is an intriguing place. Local merchants are offering everything from real antiques and souvenir replicas of ancient statues to food, clothing and traditional Egyptian jewelry.

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cairo-market-souvenirs-ud103A set of copper plates is one of my cherished souvenirs from Cairo, along with the papyrus art from Giza.

the-pyramds-on-copper-2-ud103And looking at them now, I arrive back home. With no jet lag or hole in the wallet. I think I will do a few of these time travels before rushing to buy new tickets. I hope you enjoyed the journey back in time. I wish you peace.

 

 

Kushari and the Thousand Crunches

When you have back to back meetings the whole day, live on coffee and don’t get a lunch break, what do you do? I know what I do. I have a nice dinner! If this happens on a business trip, I have a perfect excuse to have even a nicer dinner. In a nice restaurant. This was the case practically every day during my latest trip to Cairo.

Cairo Nile at night edited

So now I pay for those late meals…Don’t get me wrong, money-wise I already paid for them, but the calories are still on the credit card. I eat salads and force myself to the gym to reduce my debt little by little. But it was worth it. Let me explain.

The first evening I was so jet-lagged from the 24 hour trip and 7 hour time difference, that I just wanted to eat fast, anything would do. It seemed like colleagues were feeling the same way so we ended up in the hotel cafeteria for a quick meal quite late at night. I had some pasta and slept like a baby for a full 7 hours. You know, waking up every two hours thinking it was morning already.

The second evening, after a full day of work and more than half a dozen small cups of strong Arabic coffee, we decided to explore some Egyptian food in a famous restaurant nearby, Abou El Sid. Walking into the restaurant was like being moved into the glorious era around 1950s. The ambience was spectacular with the antique rugs and furniture, intricate tiling and beautiful light fixtures.

Lightning lamps in Egyptian restaurant Cairo

The menu was both in Arabic and English. After a nice selection of appetizers that we shared, I wanted to try traditional Egyptian food. Looking at the menu – and listening to a friend who spends a lot of time in Egypt, I selected the Kushari (also spelled Koshari or Kosheri), sometimes dubbed as the Egyptian national dish. Under the name of the dish on the menu it said “feel like a real Egyptian”, so my choice was clear.

Kushari (2)

Kushari is a vegetarian dish of rice, pasta, onions, chick peas, lentils and bulgur wheat, topped by a spicy tomato sauce. It was truly delicious! My portion was XL as is customary in Egypt. So like a real Egyptian, I left some on my plate. And didn’t have much room for the delicious desserts brought to the table, just had to taste…

The next day I tried Indian food in a restaurant close by. It was excellent, just as one would get in a first-rate Indian restaurant anywhere in the world.

The following night it was time to try something different: colleagues and I decided to meet some friends at the Cairo Fish Market Restaurant located on the Nile on the Giza side of the river.

This restaurant offers an excellent selection of fresh seafood. You just go and point out the fish or whatever sea creature you want to have, and tell the waiter how you want it prepared. The rest follows “automatically”, all the side dishes come to the table: spicy rice, different types of potatoes, a variety of spicy sauces, salads, a huge bowl of lemons in little squeeze bags, and the traditional, delicious pita bread.

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And then it is just to enjoy, both the plentiful, delicious food and the views of the Nile outside the windows. It was a wonderful and enjoyable dinner sharing many different sea food dishes with colleagues and friends.

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The next day was my last in town and I ended up eating a delicious Indian meal again with colleagues, late at night before leaving for the airport in the wee hours of the morning.

These food adventures were worth every single crunch and plenty of miles on the treadmill. I hope you enjoyed these (completely calorie-free) dining adventures.

Modern Times

Cairo is a fascinating city, the largest in Africa and one of the largest, most densely populated and polluted in the world, with a population of over nine million.  The bustling city is located along the Nile River, about 100 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and close to many of Egypt’s historic sites. It is the political, economic, commercial, cultural and educational center of Egypt.

My third, recent visit to Cairo was quite different from the two previous ones. This time I didn’t stay in a small traditional “boutique” hotel in the buzzing city center or in one of the historic hotels in Giza close to the pyramids, but in the modern suburb of Heliopolis, established in the early 1900s in eastern Cairo, relatively close to the International Airport and about 30 minutes ride from the city center. My business clients as well as my hotel were both situated there.

The first thing that hit my eye as I was coming from the airport was the traffic. It had become even more congested since my last visit a few years ago. I didn’t think that would be possible, but obviously I was wrong. A myriad of cars were negotiating their way at each intersection (there are very few traffic lights in Cairo), traveling in high speeds in three lanes on a two lane street, and passing around each other horns blaring, many times with an inch or less to spare.  Most cars were newer models but many bore more or less visible signs of frequent close encounters.

Death-defying pedestrians crossing the streets between the vehicles added to the somewhat nervous excitement of travelling by car in Cairo. It’s a miracle that not more accidents happen, but I assume everyone is so accustomed to the unspoken rules of the road that somehow the traffic moves without a constant gridlock. The fast and the brave definitely rule the streets!

Cairo buildings 1 Heliopolis edited

The second thing that caught my eye was the frequency of many beautiful buildings, both residential and for office use, in this new part of Cairo.

Cairo building 2 Heliopolis

I learned that the specific style common in Heliopolis was a result of a merger of Moorish Revival, Persian Revival, traditional Arabic and European neoclassical architectural styles. These different styles were integrated successfully with an eye pleasing end result visible in the detailing of the facades. I also had an opportunity to visit a few newer buildings where the meld of these different styles had created stunning interior spaces with beautiful detailing and functional floor plans.

This part of the city is also diverse religion-wise, hosting mosques as well as Coptic and catholic churches.

Heliopolis is an affluent suburb, which also means it has modern shopping centers. To my surprise I encountered here the biggest and most extravagant shopping mall I have ever visited, the City Stars Mall. I ventured there to visit a restaurant serving Egyptian food, but that is probably the only authentic feature of the mall – it could be situated in any busy metropolitan city in the world.

This mall is huge, eight stories high above ground (if I counted correctly) and accommodates all possible designer shops and clothing stores you can imagine, shops for art, electronics, toys, you name it. It hosts a huge food court that could be found in any large mall anywhere in the world – complete with fast food from every thinkable country.

It also hosts many restaurants, some serving authentic Egyptian dishes and others featuring Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Mediterranean and American fare. Starbucks is also represented here, in the country of great Arabian coffee. Modern times indeed.

Due to a busy work schedule, I didn’t get an opportunity to visit the pyramids again on this trip, but I ventured to other parts of the city on some of the evenings after work for dining and more authentic shopping adventures. I will share some of these experiences in separate posts in the coming days.