Tag Archives: Tourism

Going to Khan el-Khalili

As I wrote earlier, the fantastic shopping mall close to my hotel in Heliopolis, Cairo, did not offer much in terms of authentic Egyptian shopping experience. So one evening during my recent visit, I and a few friends decided to explore the largest and most famous market in Cairo, Khan el-Khalili.

Khan was established in the 14th century and has a history of flourishing trade for decades. It was called the Turkish Bazaar during the Ottoman period and has been refurbished numerous times over the decades. The market occupies several quarters in the Islamic part of Cairo, bustling with activity from early morning until very late at night. The bazaar district has unfortunately been subject to two attacks in the past 10 years, which has probably somewhat affected its popularity as a major attraction to visitors.

Khan el-Khalili

My first visit to this market was about 15 years ago so I was eager to see what, if anything had changed. Not much had. Maybe the commerce was a bit slower now, but the shops were full of merchandise from clothing and all kinds of household stuff to souvenirs, antiques and jewelery. The many coffee houses and street food vendors were busy even at the late hour of our visit. And the shop keepers were as eager as ever to advertise their merchandise.

Walking through the narrow streets and alleys, I was offered scarfs in many glorious colors and materials. I was wearing a scarf but the eager shop keepers tried to convince me I needed one in each color to match all my outfits as well as for use in different temperatures. But I passed on the offerings of beautiful scarfs as well as the exquisite belly dancing outfits. The latter were a bit too daring and much too unflattering even for my occasional Zumba class.

I was looking for a few small gifts that would fit in my purse as my poor carry-on was already overloaded and also overweight, as it proved out later.

There were numerous shops specializing in souvenirs, mostly replicas of famous ancient monuments and symbols or of figurines found in the tombs of the pharaohs. These souvenirs were made of various metals, bone, wood, stone and clay. Many were hand carved and some were beautifully painted by hand. In one of these shops, my friend found a couple of small scary-looking mummies in their colorful sarcophagi for her grandsons.

The antique shops were many too, literally overflowing with all kinds of “old stuff” from light fixtures, incense burners and jars to cameras, telephones, microscopes, dolls and old decorations, just to mention a few items. Stepping into these dusty shops was like stepping at least 100 years back in time.

Some of the antique shops also boasted nice collections of interesting old photographs and paintings in their original frames. One of my friends ended up adding a beautiful old photo to his daughter’s antique photo collection.

Many jewelery shops offered new fine jewelery, not much different from what one could find in any large city in this part of the world, but others were specialized in more traditional Egyptian silver jewelery, like the ones pictured below.

 I found a pair of beautiful traditional silver ear rings and an interesting key chain. As nothing here has a price tag, I had to hone my bargaining skills to get a “fair” price. Lots of interesting back and forth!

Of course I also wanted to add a couple of scarab beetles, mythical symbols of resurrection, transformation and protection, to our collection. Hundreds to choose from, and another bargaining session! I have to admit I’m still not very good at this “sport”, the shop keeper usually wins, at least that’s the feeling I’m left with most of the time.

A visit to Khan el-Khalili is in many ways an adventure, an excursion into the past and the present at the same time. I hope you liked your visit.

The Smoke That Thunders

victoria falls

One beautiful December morning some 25 years ago, we stepped onboard a small and very old propeller plane in Lusaka, Zambia to fly south to the Zambia/Zimbabwe border. That was the first of many trips we would do over the years to experience one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Mosi-oa-Tunya. It means the smoke that thunders – a very descriptive indigenous name given by the Tonga tribe to the falls we now know as Victoria Falls.

This worlds largest waterfall stretches one mile (1.7 km) wide and 360 f (108 m) high, producing a huge continuing curtain of falling water during the rainy season.  The main streams have also been named: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Eastern Cataract. The wide basalt cliff over which the water falls into the ravine transforms the calm Zambezi river into a wild torrent with numerous dramatic gorges and true white water rapids.

We have come to visit these falls both from Zambia and Zimbabwe, both sides of the falls offer beautiful views and nice accommodations. Upon arrival, I’ve just liked to relax in the hotel gardens and listen to the ancient thunder of the falls and watch the mist raising towards the skies.

victoria falls

Then it’s been time to take a walk in the two national parks protecting the falls on both sides of the border. The vegetation in the parks is lush, rainforest-like, due to the continuous natural “irrigation”. But there are nice walking paths from which one can admire the wonderous beauty of the falls from many different angles. The  thunder is on “high volume setting” when you walk close to the falls, you can really sense the enormous force of the water rushing down. And you get a natural shower completely free of charge!

victoria falls

Often we have also crossed the walking bridge from Zambia to Zimbabwe side of the falls (or vice versa) to see the falls from several different perspectives.  It’s often a good time to get some lunch before walking back through the park.

The falls also change with the seasons, like everything else in nature. During the rainy season (November to April) when the Zambezi River swells, the falls are at their peak exhibiting the largest single sheet of falling water in the world. And an enormous spray display that can be seen for miles.

victoria fallsvictoria falls

Gradually during the dry season, the river stands lower and lower. And consequently, at end of the dry season the falls have much less water. To the point that some people have tried to walk over the falls – with disastrous consequences. The power of water is enormous even during the dry season – and should not be underestimated. Such daredevil acts are of course strictly forbidden.

If you want to see the falls from above there are other safer options: air safaris by helicopter or small plane, and it is even possible to glide fly over the falls. For me it has always been enough to climb to a safe place and look down into the gorge…

For those of us who want to experience extreme thrills at Victoria Falls, there is also white water rafting or kayaking on Zambezi in category 5 rapids, with the added excitement of possibly meeting a few small crocodiles en route.  Those not satisfied with the category 5 rapids can always add bungee-jumping to their itinerary!

dancers at victoria falls

We did not try the ultimate adventures but preferred more family oriented, safer activities, such as visiting the wildlife parks and craft shops in the vicinity.

After walking around the falls for hours and whatever else was on our program, we usually returned to the hotel to enjoy dinner, often served with traditional music outdoors. And after dark there was always something to look forward to: colorful traditional entertainment in the form of music, ancient dances and plays featuring dramatic masks. A little bit of mystique for dessert has always tasted good to me!

traditional dancers at victoria falls

Victoria Falls is one of my favorite destinations and I hope to get an opportunity to visit there again. It is a must-see natural wonder for those traveling to Africa. I hope you enjoyed the journey and did not get too much of a soaking from the smoke that thunders.

victoria falls