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EGYPT | Thursday, 23 October 2008 | Views [2257] | Comments [3]

Cairo is a loud, HUGE, rambuncticous, dirty, old, hustling, crowded (17.8 million people in the metropolitan area), amazing city. And we have fallen in love with this place. First off, we are safe and sound after a harrowing taxi ride into the heart of downtown (more to come on that). We are staying at an amazing hostel located in the Yacoubian Building which is one of the most famous 19th century buildings in Cairo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yacoubian_Building). The elevator dates back to 1934 :) The drivers here are absolutely mad. Painted lines indicating lanes and turn signals are a joke to the Cariean driver. Instead, drivers float back and forth between what should be 2 lanes in the states, but instead 2 turns into 6 and then 3.5 then to 2, back up to 4.25 and so on. It's like a very fast, very real game of Tetris, with the cars being the pieces. And crossing the street is equally life-threatening. No one uses crosswalks and the streetlights blink yellow...all the time. To cross any street one must step into traffic and squeeze between the ever-changing lanes of traffic. Hesitating means certain death, necessitating the use of other people as human shields. Egyptians are extremely nice and hospitable. While I do get stares and one woman told Marshall to get me a burka, I am generally very well received. Everyone greets us with smiles and helps us when we fumble with everyday tasks (e.g. ordering food, trying to find our hostel and this Internet cafe). Like the Greeks, people stay out very very late here. We roamed the streets until 12:30 a.m. and most shops were still open by the time we retired. We explored Khan el-Khalili today, a bazaar dating back to 12th century. The northern section is quite touristy, and the shopkeepers are extremely aggressive. Nevertheless, it is a treat to walk through narrow lanes, crammed with sacks of spices and rolls of colorful fabric. We climbed the narrow staircases of the minarets of Bab al-Zuwayla, giving us a view from the Citadel to the Northern Graveyard. The last section of the staircase was a swaying iron spiral, leading up to the final tower. Feeling the whole staircase sway as we walked up it made us reconsider the last part of the climb, so we settled for the second highest. :) Climbing down, we headed into the southern part of Islamic Cairo, which was thankfully devoid of any tourist attraction. The streets were filthy, and the flies were everywhere, but most importantly, the people were friendly. And, there was one aspect that was there that we hadn't even realized was missing from the tourist section, the children! Every kid that we passed would greet us with a Hello! or handshake, before riding off on their bike. The adults that weren't selling the live chickens or wide variety of produce were sitting idly on the side, smoking a sheesa and taking it all in. We ducked into a koshari restaurant to escape the hustle outside. Koshari is Egypt's national dish, a mix of macaroni noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and a spicy, savory tomato sauce that is poured over the top. It is accompanied by a bottle of apple vinager (or lemon) and some INSANELY spicy chili oil. It has been our fuel for walking around Cairo, as it is cheap (around $1 for a large, satisfying bowl) and filling. As an aside, it is probably important to talk about the other tasty things we have been finding to munch on. :) There is a felafel stand around the corner, which sells a felafel pita for around $0.30. There is also a pastry shop down the street, renowned for the super-sweet, miniature treats it sells.

The best we have found is a sort of shredded-wheat roll, filled with ground pistachios and soaked with honey and melted butter. Actually getting them from the shop is a bit of an ordeal though. You order the pastries you want, they weigh them and give you a receipt. You then force yourself through the twenty other people waiting to pay, up to the register and shove the receipt and your cash through the other hands, and get a separate receipt to take back to the first people, where they have the pastries neatly wrapped up in a box, tied with a lovely bow. Delicious. The last local treat is fresh squeezed fruit juice. At around $0.50 a glass for pomegranate, mixed up with sugar, it has been our other way to recharge during the day. Other than wandering, we have been doing, well not much. There is SO much to see in this city, and it is so easy to get around on foot (with the exception of road-crossing), that we are quite content with just getting lost. We met up with Monica and Megan last night, so our section of the group is all here! We head out to the White Desert tomorrow morning at 7am to camp in surreal rock formations. As soon as we can add some photos, we will! (It's hard to find an internet cafe here with a SIM card reader) Right now, we are headed out to have dinner on the Nile in a houseboat.

Tags: cairo, egypt, market, minaret




holy crap, that all sounds delicious! Hows campping in the egyptian desert?

  Nicky Sweets Oct 25, 2008 3:09 AM


I can almost smell, see and hear the city. Your descriptions are rich and exciting. Keep it up. I am looking forward to your pictures and hearing of camping in the desert.

Yer mama

  Pat - M's mom Oct 25, 2008 8:28 AM


Wow, that just made me ridiculously hungry. I'm so excited for you, it sounds amazing! Enjoy camping:)

  Staci Oct 27, 2008 4:12 PM

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