Ramadan has begun! Looking forward to learning more about the Islamic holy month of fasting in the U.A.E. and will probably write more about it as the month goes on.
I'm back from Egypt. What an adventure. Cairo is such a crazy and historic city, unlike any place I've been before. Obviously I can't provide a perfectly accurate description, since I was a foreigner and I was only there for a week, but I definitely felt like I got to see a lot of different parts of the city in the time I was there.
I'm not sure why, but when I was a kid, my mom had this inside joke where we would pretend that my brother and I were secretly adopted from Egypt. Those who know my mom well enough will understand her silly sense of humour. I'm not sure exactly why it was so funny at the time, but it was probably that Egypt was sufficiently random and far away to sound impossibly ridiculous, and it kept us from bothering her with questions. "Mom, tell me the story of when I was born!" "Don't you know, you were adopted from Egypt!" "No, mom, no...I was born in Utah...we have pictures" *cue laughter* I guess now the tables have been turned though, because I was more or less "adopted" by an Egyptian family this week! I'm seriously so grateful that they took the time to show me around and come with me to most of the places, because Egypt can be a difficult place for a foreigner/ solo female traveler/ non-Arabic-speaker to navigate.
Crossing the street in the downtown area pretty much involves walking straight into moving traffic, staring at the drivers until they hopefully slow down enough to walk between them, and praying that you don't get hit. The taxis may or may not actually take you where you intend to go, and sometimes refuse to take you in the first place. We mostly used Uber instead, but even those are sometimes hard to find. I definitely felt the effect of heightened security: metal detectors and bag searches outside many public buildings, soldiers stationed along major roads, and just sort of this underlying sense of desperation that I can't quite describe. The tourism industry in Egypt has declined quite a bit since 2011, so the salespeople at the tourist sites are pretty pushy. Also, random strangers kept asking to take pictures with me- people definitely were not shy about trying to start a conversation, haha.
That being said, the downtown was so fun to explore-- unique cafes and restaurants, racks selling knockoff branded sports jerseys, walls covered in graffiti and street art and dirt, street booksellers that line the sidewalk, little juice shops and ice cream shops, and so much historic architecture. There are areas that reminded me of Jordan and areas that reminded me of places in the U.S. I did a lot of walking around along the Nile and around the Tahrir Square area. The history and culture in Egypt is absolutely incredible and influenced by many different civilizations. By the end of the week, I embraced the craziness and fell completely in love with Cairo.
In addition to exploring different areas of Cairo (and the 2 days in Fayoum last week), we made a day trip to Alexandria. The city of Alexandria was a little more laid back, better traffic, cleaner air, by the Mediterranean Sea, and full of Roman history. I enjoyed it as well.
|Alexandria train station|
I haven't had time to properly go through all my photos yet so prepare for a bit of a photo overload... Here are some highlights of the trip.
The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx
You can't go to Egypt and not visit the pyramids. Obviously this was a really touristy place, full of people selling trinkets and offering camel rides, but it was also one of the most interesting places to visit. There are two main large pyramids, and we were able to go inside one of them, the pyramid of Khufu. We had to bend down and crawl through a narrow passageway to reach the burial chamber on the inside. It's so incredible to think that things like this were built so long ago and are still standing.
|Me being as touristy as it gets|
|See the random guy standing next to the pyramid? Gives you an idea of the scale|
|Inside the pyramid of Khufu|
Egyptian Museum of Cairo
This was one of my favorite places in the entire trip. I spent at least 3 hours there and didn't see everything. Imagine every picture you've seen in history books with artifacts of ancient Egypt-- then imagine all of it right there in front of you in real life. Mummies, the sarcophagus and gold mask of King Tut, ushabti statues (said to be servants in the afterlife), scarab beetle amulets, sphinxes, decorated papyrus, hieroglyphics carved in stone, and enormous statues of ancient Egyptian deities.
Cairo Citadel/ Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Not the boxer- this Muhammad Ali was an Ottoman leader who was an important figure in Egyptian history. This mosque had lights all around the inside and stained glass, sort of like the European Christian cathedrals. One recurring theme in the buildings we explored was the mix of influences on Egyptian architecture- Ottoman style minarets, Roman style columns, Arabic calligraphy and Islamic patterns, etc. It had such intricate domed ceilings and chandeliers.
|View of Cairo from the citadel|
Khan Al Khalili Market
This outdoor market was packed with items and people. We hit it during rush hour, as well, so we had to walk through it for quite some time searching for available taxis.
Museum of Islamic Art
This was a beautiful museum full of more architectural pieces, Arabic calligraphy, decorated pottery, decorate Qurans, etc. The museum was damaged in a 2014 bombing, damaging some of the pottery pieces. They were meticulously glued back together, and I was so impressed that someone had taken what must have been countless hours to repair these works of art.
This street was full of historic mosques and architecture. I could write a paragraph on each one if I had the time, but I'll just include some photos for now.
This was a nice, green, open area not too far from the citadel, where we ate lunch and went for a walk. There were lots of groups of high school students taking graduation pictures here.
|These Egyptian palm trees naturally have smooth trunks... they look so majestic|
This landmark has a spectacular view from the middle of Cairo. We went to the top just before sunset, and then took pictures of the city as the sky gradually darkened and the city lights turned on one by one. Such an amazing view.
Library of Alexandria (Bibilotheca Alexandrina)
This is a modern library, located near the site of the original ancient library of Alexandria which was burned down centuries ago. There were several museums in the basement area of the library, and a planetarium, so it was a nice place to see.
We stopped for dinner and ice cream at this beautiful place overlooking the sea.
Roman Theatre of Alexandria
While it was much, much smaller than the Roman Theatre in Amman, Jordan, these Roman ruins were worth a look around.
Also a touristy place, it's a little island on the Nile made to look like a village in Ancient Egypt, with actors demonstrating traditional handicrafts and such. There were several museums there as well. My favorite part was getting to watch a glassblowing demonstration. The artist made elegantly shaped perfume bottles by hand, by heating a tube of glass over a flame, then blowing air into the tube to expand it into a bottle shape.
In the Zamalek district of Cairo, we stumbled upon an old palace that was renovated into an art gallery, open and free to the public! It had gorgeous vintage furnishings, and a room entirely inspired by Japan, with wood paneling, a cherry blossom patterned ceiling, and even Buddha statues.
Cafes and Food
Cairo had so many wonderful cafes where I got to try Egyptian foods. One delicious combination I hadn't tried before: rice pudding with ice cream and fruit on top. We got this from a little shop in the downtown area. I also tried molokhia, a green spinach-like vegetable in a soupy broth which we ate with rice. We had a lot of hummus and baba ganoush dip with flatbread. Chicken in various dishes, liver, sausage, ful (beans), grape leaves stuffed with rice. For dessert we tried kunafa and besbousa (Egyptian kunafa is a bit different than the Lebanese kind). By the way, there are really no standard English spellings for any of these foods, so if you're curious, you can find them on the internet spelled in many interesting variations.
|Isn't this cafe the cutest?|
There's so much more to Egypt that I didn't get a chance to visit- I would love to come back sometime for the historic sites and temples in Luxor and Aswan or to visit the Red Sea. I am so thankful that I got this opportunity to travel and learn so much from another country.
I spent most of today unpacking, doing laundry. and getting ready for my summer semester, which starts tomorrow and lasts until June 25th.
Hope you have a great week.
Goodnight from Saadiyat Island,