Do it like a local: Cairo on one side of the spectrum
I am a writer first and a traveller second.
In which city do you live now and where do you come from? I currently live in Cairo, EGYPT but I am originally from a small town in the Midwestern United States. Jeromesville has a population of about 400 people and has a very slow yet pleasant pace. Cairo is the opposite of that, thankfully. What was more difficult for you to get used to, as a kind of cultural shock, coming from Jeromesville? If you put Jeromesville and Cairo on a spectrum, they would be complete opposites. For the most part I like that, and I love living in Egypt. But unfortunately I am having trouble learning Arabic. And as someone who is here longterm, it is essential for me to learn. I am in a relationship with an Egyptian, and a few of his family members do not speak English or German. Sometimes I also feel like I need my significant other to do my bidding around Cairo, in instances where I cannot communicate in English or my limited Arabic. This has presented a bizarre dynamic that as an independent solo female traveller, I have had to get used to.
What are the essential rites you have, linked to this city? (coffee in this place, reading in that park, shopping in that store or in that street etc …)
My favorite time in Cairo is from 12:00pm to 1:30 pm on Fridays. That is when everyone goes to the mosque to pray. Cairo transforms into a slow, easy-going place during this time. I love going shopping in Mohandiseen and walking around Lebanon Street because everything is so calm, even the taxi drivers are relaxed. Afterwards I head to Sufi Cafe in Zamalek to have cinnamon tea and work on my blog for a bit. As an after work treat I walk to Diwan books and check out the selection before going to Geltato Mia for cookies gelato! And then I walk home.
Please, tell me about a place where you love to eat from time to time and what do you like eating in particular?
Egyptian food is very oily and full of carbs. Popular Egyptian cuisine includes falafel, shwarma, and koshary. Koshary is a bowl of rice, pasta, and chickpeas, topped with tomato sauce and garlic oil. But my favorite go-to is Desoke in Zamalek, which is just a kitchen in a wall type of place, with a few plastic chairs out in front. They serve traditional Egyptian food including molokheya (mixed green soup) with rice and roasted chicken. I stop there at least once a week because it’s so great, and cheap too.
An #Egyptian favourite… Koshary! Rice, chickpeas, pasta, lentils, AND fried onions smothered in a sweet tomato sauce. Hot sauce and garlic sauce optional. My go-to after a long day at school. #postcardsfromegypt #egypt#cairo Una foto pubblicata da Dara Denney (@thetravellerscookbook) in data:
Where you like to have shopping/spare leisure time and why?
Cairo has some of the biggest and fanciest malls I have even seen. They are like a deep labyrinth of consumerism: so they kind of freak me out. Instead I like heading to Mohandiseen for a more relaxed, street shopping pace. Zamalek has some decent shopping too and the vibe is great for walking around, but it is much more expensive.
Could you tell me the name – and address is possible – of a place where they serve good wine / beer / cocktails made to art or a typical alcohol drind where you like to go and that is very popular among locals?
The Rooftop Bar at the Nile Zamalek Hotel has some of the best views in the city overlooking downtown and the Nile. The vibe is chill and laid back, perfect for a night with a few drinks after sightseeing all day. It’s cheap too, with the selection of local brews and with cocktails to order.
Address: Zamalek, 21 El Maahad El Swiesri St. Enter the hotel and go straight to the back to the elevators, take to the highest floor.
A fancier option would be Pub 28, also in Zamalek. This is a European-style pub with quality food and a more elaborate and trusted cocktail list. Better on week days as weekends are really busy.
Address: Zamalek, 28 Shagaret El Dor.
If you want to drink like the locals, head to Horreya for the cheapest beers downtown. (“Horreya” means “freedom” in Arabic). Imagine your school cafeteria with everyone drinking cheap beer and smoking cigarettes. Just walk in and try to find a seat, preferably near a window. Downtown, 2 Off Bab el Louq St, El Falaky Square.
Could you short list me the most ‘touristic’ things to see? Do you like them?
The Giza Pyramids, of course, are number 1 for most people. And for good reason, they are pretty fucking cool to see and experience. Other stops include the Citadel, the Khan el Khalili bazaar, Tahir Square, and the Egyptian Museum. I have never been to the Citadel or the museum, but am told that I am missing out.
Could you tell me if there is, in your opinion, something that is overrated by tourists?
Khan el Khalili could be a difficult unless you go extremely prepared or with a guide. You will probably get ripped off, so come prepared to haggle. I’m not a huge fan of the bazaars in Egypt because a lot of it is little trinkets from China: you can find better places to spend your money on authentic souvenirs downtown.
Do you know any ‘mysterious’ place populated by legends and strange stories?
Egypt is a very ancient place, so there are hundreds of legends and strange stories waiting to be discovered. There are some obvious ones in Cairo, like the mysterious origin and function of the Giza Pyramids. However, I was surprised to learn that the city of Alexandria is known amongst Egyptians as the most haunted place in Egypt. (My boyfriend even told me that sometimes, when turning on a water faucet, the water will turn to blood in certain apartment buildings during certain times).
Are there any places that you think it’s worth visiting that is not part of the common tourist routes? (not only monuments, but also parks, libraries, small peripheral areas etc …)
Check out Fayoum. Fayoum is about an hour drive from Cairo. But here you can get a real taste of desert life outside of Cairo. You can go to the oasis here and relax by the water and go driving through the desert. Another amazing thing to see here are the whale fossils that are out in the desert. You will need a four wheel drive car, but the bones and fossils are amazing to see. It’s hard to believe that this part of the desert was once covered by water! Also check out the Saqqara Pyramids. The lesser known pyramids, located a short car ride (20 mins) from the Giza Pyramids. This is all about the experience: you have to ride by horseback or by four wheeler to get to them. But still very accessible from Cairo!
I can’t tell you that Egypt is safe. But I can tell you that I feel safe here. In fact, I was only suppose to come here for a few months for work, but I have been here for a year now. Egypt is my new home and I wish to encourage informed travel to the country, especially to Cairo.
With that said, I know that not even a month ago an Italian fellow was tragically lost in Cairo. His loss, and the anxiety felt surrounding the circumstances of his death, was not only felt by the international community, but also by Egyptians across all social classes.