Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book Review : Egypt Pocket Guides - Alberto Silioti

The AUC Press has brought out a wonderful series of pocket guides for Egypt by Alberto Silioti.

Each of the books gives a quick glimpse into the area it covers, in just enough depth for the average tourist.

The aerial view maps reminiscent of the DK Eyewitness guides are much easier to navigate than flat maps.

The books are printed on glossy paper which brings the photographs used to life. There are just enough technical details for those mildly interested in them but not too much to bore those who aren't.

Egypt Pocket Guide : The Pyramids covers the pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, Dahshur and Meidum. It also includes Memphis just to complete the Pharonic circuit around Cairo.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Luxor, Karnak and the Theban Temples includes everything that you would want to see in and around Luxor. Luxor Temple, Avenue of sphinxes, Karnak Temple, Colossi of Memnon, Medinat Habu, Ramesseum, Hatchepsuts Temple, Luxor Museum, Mummification Museum and Dendara.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Islamic Cairo gives the historical time frame of the various Islamic dynasties. It also covers the major Islamic Monuments in Cairo : Ibn tulun Mosque, Gayer Anderson Museum, al Ghuri Complex, Al Azhar mosque, al Hakim mosque, Khan al Khalili, Qalawun & Barquq Complexes, Sultan Hassan Madrassa, al Muayyad Mosque, Blue Mosque, Citadel, Mamluk Tombs, Nilometer and the Museum of Islamic Art.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Coptic Egypt starts with an informative section on Coptic Christianity and monasticism. It only covers the Synagogue of Ben Ezra, Coptic Museum and Hanging Church in detail. The rest of the churches in the Coptic area; it just skims over. It does give details of all 4 monasteries in Wadi Natrun and the 2 monasteries of the Red Sea but not those of Upper Egypt.

Egypt Pocket Guide : Alexandria and the North Coast covers everything of interest in Alexandria: the Qaitbay Fort, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Serapeum, Pompei's Pillar, Roman Theater, Catacombs, Greco Roman museum, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Jewelry Museum, Montaza Palace and some of the Ncropolis around Alexandria and Abu Qir. It even covers Alamein.

Each of these books costs 30Le if you buy them in Egypt.

Book Review : An ABC Escapade through Egypt

An ABC Escapade through Egypt is a wonderful book for children within Egypt or outside to learn a little about things uniquely Egyptian.

It isn't just for the little ones who are learning the alphabet, but can be a reading tool even for slightly older children.

Cactus Crunching Camels and Underwater Urchins share space with crunchy konafa and jumping jerboas. Bernadette Simpson uses alliterations to create a fun reading experience accompanied with some lovely colorful photographs that make reading fun as well as informative.

Bernadette first moved to Cairo in 1993 with her parents and did a part of her schooling in this country before returning to the US to study further. She then came back to Cairo and was inspired with all the activity around her to write a book that would be fun, educational, informative and have content that would be familiar to its readers. This book is the result of those efforts.

Her book is available in Egypt in most of the major bookstores:

Also available on Amazon:

If, after reading the book, you still want more, you can visit her blog which lists more alliterations for the alphabet.

Her mother Ginda Simpson is also a writer and painter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

One stop shop for Interiors and Furnishings

Designopolis is a mall that has opened in 6th of October which will soon be completely occupied (currently only 3 stores have opened doors) with shops selling every need you have to furnish your house.

They also plan to open a similar mall in New Cairo.

I haven't been here yet, but it sounds like a great idea.

I just read about the 3 stores in an article in Business Today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Samir and Aly - Stationery shop - Cairo

I haven't really needed any stationery after coming to Egypt as I had a surfeit of branded pens, folders and notepads from my client companies that accompanied us during our move here. I tend to store most information on my computer though and don't use too much stationery either.

But today, we needed some canvas and we tried a couple of stationery stores in Mohandaseen. Samir & Aly was the only store among those we checked which carried canvas. Not just any canvas, they had different sizes, pre-stretched on a wooden frame.

They also carry a ton of different stuff. They have a lot of Pidilite/Fevicol products for those familiar with this Indian brand. It was interesting to see the Fevicol craft idea books in this store. The books are dual language and it was surreal to see books with Hindi script being sold in an Egyptian store. (instructions are also in English)

Any kind of pens, pencils, paint brushes are available. It seemed like you just had to think of a stationery product and it was available, including spiral binding machinery and computer printers.

One section I found really interesting was products to make miniature models of houses. Tiny lamp posts, hedges, palm trees, cars etc. I remember that earlier we had to make each of these items ourselves to use in our models. Now they are imported cheap from China :)

They have a section on childrens books and a few educational toys too.

The branch I visited was on Shehab Street in Mohandaseen. But they do have other branches across the city.

Its a one stop shop for your stationery needs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cattery/ Cat Sitting in Cairo - Cairo Animal Inn - Cairo Suzi

There is a lovely lady named Suzi who has a cattery in Maadi. I leave our cat with her when we travel.

She has an open cattery. The cats are allowed to roam around the house through the day and she only boards them at night.

The single room option is 25LE a day.

There are other options like 4 large cages in a room for 10-20 LE. These are really large cages - half the height of the room and different lengths and widths.

If it’s a long term cat sit and depending on your cats personality, she may even take the cat to her own home. (she has her own cats at her home)

If you have more than one cat, they can be boarded in the same enclosure.

You pay her 50% in advance and give her the dry food for the duration (she feeds them the wet food herself) and she has a form which she needs you to fill regarding your cats habits and other details.

She really loves cats and I feel comfortable leaving ourbaby with her when we travel away for more than 2 nights. I've been doing this since the last 2 years.

Suzy's number is +2 0100 567 0915. Her boarding facilities are called Cairo Animal Inn.

I did research a lot of catteries when I was initially searching for a boarding option for our cat 2 years ago. Most of them boarded the cats in tiny cages, that barely had space for the cat, her feeding bowls and a litter box.

Anyone who knows cat behavior, would know that they do not like their food bowls and litter boxes in proximity to each other. These cages were quite cramped.

Suzy's Cairo Animal Inn was the only place I saw that had open boarding and space.

She does occasionally board a dog or two, but away from the cats.

The cats get human contact for more than a couple of hours each day.

The money she collects, she uses to spay and neuter the stray cats in her area and get the strays medical attention when necessary.

I would highly recommend this place.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sushi Recommendations in Cairo

Sushi is one of the few foods, that I do not like. I've tasted it in different forms and locations, but it is not something I have developed a taste for.

Hence I cannot provide a primer on the best sushi in Cairo. But my friend Mona Daoud, loves sushi and this is her list of recommendations for sushi in Cairo.

"Mori Sushi. There are two in Zamalek; one which is right before the fish gardens and the other is a branch in Sequoia (reservation essential) It tops the other branch because they serve alcohol and have a pretty view. There is also a branch in Mohandessin.
In Maadi, there is Gaya on Road 253 next to seoudi market (stick to their temaky, it's awesome)

Then there is the Makani chain (excellent fresh salmon sashimi) but their other stuff is good too. There is a branch in Maadi next to Maadi grand mall and one in Mohandessin somewhere near Syria street. I heard the one in Heliopolis was horrible. There are other branches but I have no idea where.

There is also Sapporo (Fresh and basic, no fusion, no experimentation, authentic and positively succulent) at the Sheraton in Dokki. The prices are like sushi everywhere.

(Gaya and Makani are the cheapest two in Cairo)

Jo Sushi
on Mohamed Mazhar street in Zamalek has it's on days and off days. Depends on your luck... just make sure to tell them not to use wasabi while preparing sushi for you because they mistakenly think that if they're generous with it, it will taste better.

There's also INakaYa , 6A Midan Aswan in Mohandessin. They have all you can eat nights for 90 LE on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. I haven't tried them though, so I'm not sure if they're good. I only heard about them.

Asia Bar on Blue Nile (boat in Zamalek) They have amazing sushi though it's more expensive than all other places, but it's worth it.

And there's Hanami in Giza, overlooking the Nile. 70% of the time their sushi was spot on.

There's L'Asiatique in Le Pacha but I don't like their sushi.

Bon Apetit"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Weekend Breaks from Cairo

Living in Cairo can be an extremely stressful experience. Weekend breaks with family and friends are an ideal way to de-stress and Egypt has plenty of options for every kind of weekend break, no matter what your interests are, or how hot or cold the weather is.

If relaxing on a beach with a book or building a sand castle is your idea of a holiday, you can choose from a range of options. Ain Sukhna is the closest beach retreat from Cairo. If you opt for Alexandria, you can also catch up on some Greek history while visiting the catacombs, the Roman Theater and the museum. The Bibliotheca Alexandria is definitely worth a visit and the kids may love the planetarium.

Marsa Matrouh is a bit of a drive away, but has the calmest lagoons and softest sand of all the beaches that I have visited in Egypt. Halt midway, at the International memorials in Alamein where soldiers from all over the world who died here during World War II are buried.

If you have even the slightest interest in diving and snorkeling, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Hurghada, Nuweiba and Taba offer a range of diving spots of varying difficulties. There are PADI institutes at these areas which can train and certify you for dives. But do check their credentials and equipment before entrusting your life in their hands. While these spots may seem a bit of a distance from Cairo, you can easily drive there Thursday evening and be back by Saturday evening. Some of these towns have their own airport and you have the option of catching a domestic flight from Cairo. If you book in advance, its easy to get Cheap Flights to travel within Egypt.

Whether you are a history buff or not, you cannot leave Egypt without doing the mandatory Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise. There are 3, 4 and 7 day options to this cruise and cruise ships to fit a variety of budgets. Normally all meals, entry tickets, transport and guide fees are included in the package and this is a convenient way to visit all the main Pharaonic monuments in Egypt

If sailing is not your thing, but you still want to catch up on some history, then a 2 day trip to Luxor (the largest open air museum in the world) is a wonderful appetizer. Spend one day on each bank. The East Bank has the must-visit Karnak Temple and Luxor temple. The Luxor museum is exceptional: uncluttered, well lit and with short printed descriptions to accompany most of the major pieces, it is easy to navigate on your own.

On the West Bank you can choose between the Valley of the Kings, Queens, Nobles or Workmen and visit underground tombs that are beautifully decorated. Deir el Bahri (Hatchepsuts Temple) is a popular attraction as are the Ramesseum and Medinat Habu.

If you have an extra day free, you may like to make the trip to Abydos and Dendera where the reliefs and construction are in much better condition than those in Luxor.

There are direct flights from Cairo to Abu Simbel, but in case they are booked, you can fly to Aswan and then travel by the 4am or 11am convoys. The original temple itself was a marvel, but combined with the international relocation effort to higher ground, it makes the very existence of these temples nothing short of a miracle.

If you would like to get back in touch with nature, then desert camping is an option that you could explore. Egypt has 5 Oases in the Western Desert, Bahariyya, Farafra, Dakhla, Kharga and Siwa. Follow basic precautions when offroading or camping in the desert. Always travel in more than one car. Have someone familiar with the desert in your group. It is very easy to get disoriented when you can see the horizon 360 degrees around you. Carry enough fuel, food and water.

Having a good guide to the desert, will make the difference between you enjoying your camping trip and wanting to return again and again. Sleeping in a 5 star can never be compared to sleeping under a million stars with the occasional shooting star or comet.

If a quick day trip to an oasis is all you have time for, then Fayoum is the place for you. Bird Watchers will revel in the multitude of birds which hover around Lake Qaroun. Fayoum also has a number of hotels and eco lodges, if you would like to spend the night. The water wheels, ancient Pharonic temples and pre-historic fossils at Wadi Hitan are just some of the sites you can visit at this oasis.

The Sinai Plateau offers hiking and trekking opportunities aplenty no matter what difficulty and stamina level you are looking for. From the Colored Canyon to Gebel Musa (Mount Moses).

Towns like Port Said, Suez, Damietta and Rosetta are great options for picnics from Cairo if all you have is one day off each week.

If you are interested in Monasticism and Coptic History, the monasteries of Upper Egypt and Wadi Natrun are worth a visit. While it may be more difficult to organise permits to visit Upper Egypt on your own, Wadi Natrun is a day trip from Cairo. Just be sure that you don’t visit during one of the many fasts in the Coptic calendar, otherwise you may just find everything closed.

Egypt offers a wealth of travel opportunities for every kind of traveler. There are tour agents who can manage every aspect of your travel, so you don’t have to worry about anything. With a little planning, you can ensure that you recharge your batteries in different locations regularly, to help you face the coming week in a better frame of mind.

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behaviour. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at
Pictures are by her and her husband Brajesh Bajpai

Published in The Oasis, April 2009 issue and

Saturday, April 04, 2009

My Favorite Time Outs in Cairo

Been in Cairo for awhile and seen the pyramids a hundred times?

Here are some ideas for Cairo which are slightly off the beaten path.

Take a walk through Al Azhar Park. You will be surprised to find such a vast green oasis in the midst of the madness that is Cairo. Catch the sunset that is heralded by the calls from the muezzin from multiple surrounding mosques. At just 5Le entry, this is great value for money. If you would like to jazz it up a bit, there is a wonderful restaurant on the premises that you can sit at to catch the sunset and a wonderful dinner surrounded by the twinkling lights in the distance of the multiple monuments around the area.

Climb the gate/minarets of Bab Zuwayla. This is one of the three surviving main gates of the Khan el Khalili and the only one that can be legally accessed. The view from the top of the gate is marvelous and for the more adventurous, both the minarets can also be climbed. It is easier to access the pinnacle, in the minaret on the left (when facing the tent makers street). Entry is just 10Le but the view is worth much more than that; and if you are lucky, you may be the only people on this edifice.

Catch a Sufi Performance at the Wikalat al Ghuri. This is a free performance at 8pm every Wednesday and Saturday. The performance here is more devotional and less commercial than those on the Nile cruises and can transport you into a mystical world. Just watching the whirling dervishes can put you into a trance. (Turn right after accessing the street adjoining Al Azhar Mosque in Khan el Khalili) Go early for good seats.

Sakiat El Sawy and Makan are 2 other places to catch a performance. While the former has different performers at different locations within their compact premises, the latter has traditional Egyptian and African performances every Wednesday at 8pm.

By now, the weather should have improved enough to take a picnic basket on a felucca. Hire a felucca on the strip adjoining the Grand Hyatt hotel. They charge around 50Le per hour (if you bargain hard) plus tips. The charge is for the felucca itself, no matter how many people get on board, so it’s a great option for family outings too.

If you want a more luxurious option then you may want to take a Nile Cruise aboard the fancier cruisers. These are available as sunset cruises or dinner cruises. Our personal favorite is the Golden Pharaoh (opposite Four Seasons, Giza). They offer open buffets and 3 course meals served at your seat. Golden Pharaoh also allows you to opt for an Indian menu if you book at least a day in advance. This works out to approximately 200Le per person with meals included.

For a truly extraordinary experience, I would highly recommend a meal at the Revolving Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt. The food is not outrageously priced. This is one of the 2 locations within the hotel where alcohol is still being served. The ambience, food, service and view all combine to make this one of the most wonderful places to enjoy a leisurely dinner in the city.

Christo’s is a lovely sea food eatery opposite the Mena House Oberoi. They offer a wonderful sea food spread (where you choose your sea food and tell them how you would like it cooked) during dinner. The reason, we keep going back here is not just for the food but the wonderful color bathed view of the pyramids while the Sound and Light show is on. Do try their salads and sea food soup too.

Sapporo at the Sheraton (opposite the Opera House) offers a special kind of dinner theater. The Master Chefs prepare Teppenyaki at your table and watching them at work is to view poetry in motion. They offer combinations of meats and seafood and can customize the seasonings to your taste.

For a less pricey meal but one with ambience, chose one of the many eateries on the stationary boats in Zamalek for lunch. They are reasonably quiet at this time and you can gaze at the Nile as she flows past in her eternal journey to join the sea. The Fish Market, TGIF, Chillis, Maharani. . . You have a choice of cuisine and budgets among these boats.

The various bookstores in town are an interesting place to catch up on the latest in the literary world and enjoy some peace and quiet in serene surroundings. Some bookshops have cafes attached where you can sip a cup of coffee while perusing your latest purchases. Diwan has opened at many more locations outside of Zamalek. Kotob Khan on Lasilky road and The BookSpot on Road 9 in Maadi are 2 other locations which offer extremely friendly and non obtrusive service. The AUC bookstores offer a great variety of English books on Egypt that make for great gifts.

Other places that offer unusual gifts while contributing to a worthy cause, include Tukul Crafts at the All Saints Church in Zamalek (products created by prison inmates, Sudanese refugees and other disadvantaged groups), the Fair Trade Center on Yehia Ibrahim street in Zamalek (where the artisans are given fair prices for their creations), Touch Her World Inc (017 280 0756 - products made by young Egyptian women seeking self sufficiency)

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behaviour. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, is the editor of DIVA, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at Pictures are by her and her husband Brajesh Bajpai.

This article appeared in the February Oasis and on
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