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 whazzupcairo@yahoogroups.com and whazzupcairo@googlegroups.com among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at http://whazzupegypt.blogspot.com Pictures are by her and her husband Brajesh Bajpai.

This article appeared in the February Oasis and on desicritics.org.

2 comments:

Rhonda said...

Kim, this is a very nice piece. I like the original with pictures from the other publication. I find your work and your life fascinating. You have such wonderful experiences to draw from!

Kim said...

Thanks Rhonda,

The article and pictures in the other publication is what this article looks like once it is in a print layout.

But it difficult to upload the print layout in a readable size, because of the size of the file. so I compromise :)

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