Few months earlier, Giulia (@giuliaccia ) came to me with this fabulous idea, that we should write a post about our city. Me about Seoul, Giulia about Cairo. We became really good friends during last several months, bonded really well. Moreover, Cairo is one of my wild dream to go to because of all the archaeology books I read since I was little!
Then I remember that I did ‘Sister city’ interview with Ashley from No Onions Extra Pickles. That gives me idea of the post, and series! I should do my ‘Sister’s’ city series. Sisterhood, yes?? 🙂 Not formed by governments, my own Sister’s city interview.
So there, we email back and forth with questions, and here are selected 15 questions and 3 extras. 3 extra questions I asked her due to the recent protest in Cairo.
I’m honor to publish Cairo as my first Sister’s city. It’s because of Giulia and I got so close, and it’s because of I am dreaming about Cairo quite a long time. I should add this fact. My girlfriends and I (Meaghan, Camber and I – we met in a hostel in Taipei, and became best friends like sisters. Meaghan lives in Hong Kong and Camber lives in Italy at the moment and they both are from America. ) made a pact that wherever we are, let’s meet at Cairo when we turn thirty and bring whoever with. I told this to Giulia as well, she might be there with us, right? 🙂
Let us see what she has to say about her city.
The weather in Cairo is enjoyable for most of the year: autumn is warm, winter is not too cold and spring is lovely. Summer is sultry but a/c will be your best friend! It’s (almost) everywhere. Anyway, I’d say the best time to go is february to may or september to november.
2. What Kind of street food to eat.
Cairo is the kingdom of street food! Every kind of food and drink is served on the street. Even shisha (aka hookah) can be smoked directly in your car.
The most typical meals you can have on the street are:
Foul (beans and vegetables in an arabic bread loaf), usually for breakfast!
Taammeya (fava beans and onions fritters with vegetables in an arabic bread loaf)
Shish tawook and shawerma (meat, onions and peppers in a sandwich)
Delicious fresh fruit juices, including the typical sugar cane juice (asab)
A plus is that everything is very cheap and fresh!
3. Transportation to use. and price.
Transportation in Cairo is a bit of a hassle. The most easy ways to move around the city are taxi and metro.
There are 3 kinds of taxi: black and white taxi (no meter, you have to haggle the price in advance); white taxi (with meter); yellow taxi (you call it in advance and schedule the pick-up, with fixed rates).
Metro is very easy to use, the names of the stations are both in arabic and latin alphabet so everyone can read them. Every train has 2 coaches for ladies only.
Buses, minibuses and microbuses are more for the locals or “trained visitors”: there is no bus stop and no schedule, except for the main stations, and they don’t really stop (basically you have to jump on them while they still move). Plus, there’s no indication about their route, so you may want to ask some locals before. Sometimes the route is shouted out loud by a guy leaning from the bus’ door while approaching. If you’re good at Arabic or you know Cairo very well, go for it! It’s an interesting experience, no doubt about it!
:: My friend told me about how he got ripped off by Taxi driver… and on and on. But I guess he just didn’t negotiate with the driver!
4. common drinks (water, coke, milk.. something local, you can get it from the store)
As you might know, as Egypt is a predominantly Muslim Country, alcohol is not very common (and for sure not served in the streets). You can still find some liquor stores and bars that serve alcohol but for sure it’s not a “common drink”.
Therefore sodas and soft drinks in general are very common in Egypt.
Everybody drinks tea (shay) at any time – with a looot of sugar!
Sodas, water and milk can be bought in little kiosks on the streets. Sometimes there are just fridges on the streets: you open it, take what you want, and pay to some guy that will show up when you approach. So handy, so cheap also.
Fruit juices are very common and cheap too. You will recognize the places where they serve juice as a lot of fruit is displayed, hanging from the ceiling. So colorful and inviting! Fruits are squeezed to order… you never had such a fresh and healthy juice!
:: Cheap fruit juice.. works for me!
5. Where to go/ what to do at night
Ok, this is a nice question! There are so many things you can do at night in Cairo. The City lives at night!
You can take a nice stroll in Downtown and see the chaotic neighborhood with traffic, lights and open shops!
You can sit in a cafe (aka “ahwa”) and spend the night chatting, drinking something and/or smoking shisha!
You can go clubbing in super cool clubs, such as Le Pacha or Purple!
Other than that, you can do whatever you would normally do in any city of the world, such as going to the restaurant or to the movies.
Cairo is also the city of house parties: there is no weekend where you won’t be spoilt for choice, as you’ll have so many invitations!
Whether you want to live a “local life” or the typical “expat life” you will for sure have a great time 🙂
::Shisha!! Do you do shisha much? There’s one shisha bar near where I live, and I went once. I liked watermelon taste shisha. hehe!
6. What kind of activities you can do at day time
The only thing that Cairo really doesn’t have is the space for a nice walk. Traffic and pollution screw it up a lot. Anyway, keep in mind that Cairo is mainly a “night” city, so people tend to wake up very late (unless they work early in the morning). So usually during the day the mood is lazy and slow. Basically you can do whatever you need to do (including shopping and grocery) after the sunset. So no rush!
Anyway, during the day I would suggest to go to Al Azhar Park, and wait for the sunset there. It’s so beautiful and you have an amazing view over the whole city, including the Citadel. And if you’re lucky you can even spot the Pyramids on the horizon.
I would recommend also to just sit in a cafe and do some “people-watching” (actually my favorite way to do so is riding the metro!).
Don’t miss a feluca ride on the Nile, at any time of the day or night… the dock is on the Nile Corniche in Garden City, right before the Grand Hyatt. The price is about 60 LE per hour.
Other than that, as a tourist you will spend a lot of time visiting the main landmarks, but this is question #9, so hold on a bit 🙂
::Nile, I forgot another great part about Cairo. Ahh…
7. Religion and religious habits
Islam is the main religion in Egypt, but there is also a small percentage of Coptic Christians.
Friday is the prayer day (al gomaa) so it’s holiday, together with Saturday. Sunday is a working day. Keep this in mind, as you might find that many shops and activities are closed on Friday morning!
What I found out is that many people don’t know about the 5 prayers every day. Basically you will hear a chant (adhan) 5 times a day, coming from each minaret. In every mosque, the muezzin sings the prayer and it’s a beautiful, spiritual moment. Some people will start praying, even on the streets (especially if it’s Friday).
What else? I think everything else is pretty obvious: some women are veiled, others are not. If you’re a woman and you want to visit a mosque you’ll have to cover your shoulders and legs, and most probably there will be a separate entrance. Even in the streets, it’s much better if you don’t dress provocative clothes. Believe me, you’ll feel much more comfortable!
8. Dangers, if any
Cairo is not a dangerous city. Lonely Planet even states Egypt is one of the countries in the world with the lowest rate of violent crimes.
I have been robbed once, but I was in a poor area… And anyway this can happen everywhere in the world!
The only thing you must pay attention to is being ripped off: as you are a foreigner, people may think they can ask you for crazy prices etc for usually cheap goods or services. So ask to an Egyptian friend what’s a fair price for the thing you want to buy first, to avoid paying too much.
9. Main landmarks
There are some places in Cairo you just can’t miss! Here we go:
1) Giza Pyramids: do I need to say more? I know it’s the first thing everyone wants to see, so I’ll just tell you how to get there:
taxi (not more than 30 LE from Downtown), metro (1 LE, get off at Giza station and then get a taxi or a bus on Ahram Road – straight until the Pyramids!), bus (2 LE from Tahrir Square, n° 357, every 20 minutes).
2) Egyptian Museum: here you will find the excellence of history and archeology. Just, make sure you have a guide, as the museum is not well organized at all and you might miss some very important pieces of art just because they’re not visible enough.
3) Khan el Khalili Market: a huge typical Arabic souq, with a touristic area and all the rest is much more authentic.
Get lost in its small alleys and enjoy the colors, music and scents of spices and food. Khan el Khalili is the best place to buy souvenirs… but you’ll have to haggle a lot, so take your time!
4) The Citadel: this is the medieval Citadel of Salah ad-Din, with beautiful mosques (such as Mohamed Ali Mosque) and view over Cairo.
5) Cairo Tower: a concrete 187 m high tower built in 1961, with a unique design inspired by the lotus flower. From the top you can have a 360° view over Cairo and eat at the revolving restaurant. The tower is on an island on the Nile called Zamalek – a very nice and rich neighborhood itself – just across the Opera House.
::Giza! and Market. Could you take me there? I love markets! traditional markets are great for local foods. scents.. mm..
10. Daily or short trips available outside of the city
One of the most common ways to spend the week end for people living in Cairo is to take a break from the city… and again, you’ll be spoilt for choice! In a few hours you can be in the desert (White and Black Desert, west of Cairo; Wadi el Hitan, Wadi el Rayan, south of Cairo; Sinai, east of Cairo; etc) or on the Red Sea (Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, Hurgada, Ein el Sokhna, etc.
Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, is also very close (just about 2 hours from Cairo) as well as the beach resorts on the North Coast.
::I personally would love to go Red Sea. Really hooked by your photography girl.
11. Average possibility count to encount with bugs (mosquitos, .. various)
There are no particular issues with bugs in Egypt.
12. Language skills (What kind of language do they use, normally)
The first language in Egypt is Egyptian Arabic (Aammeya). I’m not gonna lie, you will need some in order to make life easier for you! But it’s not that hard to learn the basics.
If you stick to touristic areas you’ll be fine with English anyway.
Young people usually speak at least some English, and if you’re very lucky you’ll meet someone who studied at the American University in Cairo, so they’ll probably be more fluent than you, ha!
::I will practice Arabic ahead before I forgot everything I know which is teeny tiny bit.
13. If you are traveling to your city, you are not going out without…. ( )
An open mind 🙂
14. Any extra ordinary custom
In Egypt you just have to be relaxed. Don’t be in a hurry. This is how it works. When you wait in line, or hold on the telephone, or ask for a service, food etc (even if it’s a “fast food”) it will take a while. It’s just the way it is. So relax, don’t stress, and wait. You might be offered some tea while you wait 🙂
15. Your secret tips
The only thing I can tell you in order to enjoy your stay in Cairo as much as possible is: take it easy and don’t stress! If you start bothering about traffic, being late, or waiting in line… then it’s not the place for you 🙂 But if you are in the right mood you will enjoy even the never ending journeys on the taxis!
::Yes, where I live, take it easy is just impossible to do. I am trying though. When I go to Cairo, I will print out your advise and keep it with me!
After all things happen, are you planning to go back to Cairo? When and why?
I am definitely going back! I booked the flight for Feb 25th and I can’t wait to go:) If you ask me why, I can tell you that I just miss home… Because I am Italian by birth but Egyptian by choice!
Now things look calm and I already spent too much time away. I want to go there and celebrate freedom with my friends who made history!
The protest made history. What if that kind of protest happens again? It was quite brutal and dangerous. What are you going to do then?
I believe that things will be ok. Anyway, if protests start again, they will be just in a few areas (as they were before) so it’s easy to avoid unsafe areas… It won’t affect my stay there. And I might just join the protests if they are pacific as in the last 10 days or so!
You answers things about Cairo you knew. Do you think that would be still same after the protest? People, street food stalls, restaurants, bars… If it changes, could you guess how they will be?
I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I can see that Egyptian people really want to change many things. I think things can just improve: cleaner streets, less corruption, etc. …and a better mood in general! Concerning traditions such as food, cafes, social life, I am pretty sure nothing will change.
Giulia, 27 y.o., Italian. She’s in love with Egypt and has been living in Cairo for 6 months now.
After 7 years doing the same job, she left and is now on a very slow RTW trip that may take years (she hopes!).
She writes and posts her travel photos on www.travelreportage.com