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Legutóbbi cikkem az októberi számból: Egy helyi tippjei ha Kairóban jársz.
Upon arriving in the capital of Umm Ad-Dunya (“the Mother of the World” as Egyptians say), you may be astonished by the unchoreographed chaos on the streets, the tumbling mass of its 20 million residents and the blanket of smog perched on the seemingly innumerable buildings. But don’t worry; with the hypnotising charm of the city’s particular North-East African/Middle Eastern mood, the kindness of its people and the invaluable history it hides, it won’t take long to acclimatise to the pulsating metropolis of Cairo. Thus, let me show you around my absolute favourite places in this never sleeping city which I have considered my second home for the last four years.
Places to visit:
When visiting the land of the ancient pharaohs, there is not a single person who would not be eager to see the only intact construction of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: Giza’s famed pyramids. In fact, we, Muslims, should not miss this unique chance either to reflect upon Allah’s greatness and power as stated in the Holy Quran: “… so proceed throughout the earth and observe how was the end of those who denied.”(Al ‘Imran:137).
Visiting the pyramids is a great experience; you can actually go inside one of them or try out riding a camel in the sandy desert just like the Bedouins do. The only thing you need to be aware of is the local vendors: they can be quite intrusive and annoying.
After our little trip back to the ancient times, let’s get into the stuff of modern Islamic Egypt, stopping by some of the most notable Islamic places I just cannot ever get enough of.
I could mention now, just like any tour guidebook, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, one of the oldest intact and functioning Islamic monuments of the city, or the popular Muhammad Ali Mosque and Saladin’s Citadel, which was home to Egypt’s rulers for 700 years. But the thing is I am more attracted to places which might be just as significant as the most famed ones, but somehow don’t enjoy being in the spotlight (this also means that you spend less time in the queue waiting to enter and you may even get a chance to have a private impromptu tour). Such places include, on the way up to the Muqattam Hills, the Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As – the companion of the Prophet who conquered Egypt and founded its first capital named Al-Fustat, building in its centre the first mosque of the country and of the whole African continent. You can truly feel the great history these columns have seen!
If you’re fond of Islamic art – like myself – visiting the Islamic Art Museum is a must. The museum owns the world’s finest collections of Islamic applied art with 80,000 displayed objects. It’s just marvellous!
Not too far from the museum rise the capital city’s most impressive assemblies of minarets, domes and striped-stone facades. Where exactly? On the northern part of the famous bazaar, Khan Al-Khalili, in Cairo’s Islamic district, namely on Sharia Al-Mu’izz Li-Din Allah, the former thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, along with
Bayn al-Qasrayn, a reminder of the great palace complexes which have been replaced by minarets, educational centres, tombs and commercial shops, making the area a vivid street scene. Go at night to really enjoy the astonishing sight.
And if you don’t suffer from acrophobia, you must have a look at the panoramic view of Egypt’s capital provided by the 187 metre tall Cairo Tower which is located on the bank of the Nile. After downtown’s chaos and the rubbish of its streets (let’s just be honest about that), you will be surprised at how magnificent Cairo actually is.
While we are already near the Khan al-Khalili bazaar, let’s get shopping! It is the most famous shopping place among both tourists and locals in the neighborhood of the prominent Al-Azhar mosque. Stepping into an ‘Oriental’ bazaar is always a priceless experience: the intoxicating fragrance of perfumes and multicoloured spices surround you everywhere and among the beautiful hand-made merchandise you may even find your own Aladdin-style lamp or magic carpet, you can definitely find some lovely prayer rugs!
A convenient walk from Islamic Cairo takes us to downtown Cairo’s best market and transit hub, Attabaa. Literally, there is nothing you cannot find here: clothes, carpets, interior decorations, fabrics and more for a cost next to nothing. However, its best section – for me at least – is the enormous Ezbekiyya Book Market boasting dirt-cheap books in many languages.
Oh, I almost forgot: bargaining is a must everywhere in Cairo! After asking the vendor about the price, tell him that you will buy it for three-quarters of his price (you may try even with half the price). Be determined. If he is still stubborn and doesn’t want to accept the reasonable price you’re offering, just walk away slowly; he will call you back to make the deal.
Passing by the Nile’s riverine agricultural land, I always have a strong desire to jump out of the car and just run free, feeling the green grass under my feet. Unfortunately, the only place I might do that – in case you don’t have a garden villa in the suburb – is Cairo’s first and only park of significant size, Al-Azhar Park. It opened only ten years ago, replacing a mountain of garbage amassed over the centuries. You can find playgrounds, restaurants and a lake at the centre and you may enjoy a picnic, going for a walk, breathing in some fresh(er) air or just taking pleasure in the amazing view of old Cairo. It is best to visit during weekday nights when the crowd is lighter and the weather is pleasant.
Food and drink:
Kosari (national dish of Egypt), foul (no, not ‘fool’; it means fava beans in Arabic) and fattat shawarma are the most typical Egyptian foods you will want to taste. To do that in a place where you don’t need to worry about cleanliness issues, I would recommend Tahrir Kosari and El-Sabrawy. They are restaurant chains, so you will find them basically everywhere in the city.
Some special drinks to try are at one of the many juice stations in the city. I recommend fresh mango, guava, dates or ‘asab (sugar cane) juice. You cannot survive the summer heat without them!
In the Arab world, Cairo is considered to be one of the best places to study the Arabic language and religion, even for single sisters. Cairo’s suburban area of Nasr City is full of Arabic centres, which are easily accessible, and students coming from all around the world share flats together, so living in the capital as a female is safe, indeed. If you ask me I would recommend studying Arabic in Fajr Center or in Al Ibaanah Arabic Center – they have the best reputation.
General advice for your journey:
- Avoid drinking tap water.
- Have a medicine with you called Antinal for upset stomach and nausea (every tourist is advised to buy it upon arriving).
- Bargain everywhere (vendors actually enjoy it).
- Giving some Egyptian pounds as a tip (bakshish) is expected even in the most unexpected places.
- It’s better not to leave your shoes outside the mosque when you pray downtown.
- Be very firm with men (vendors, taxi drivers in particular); they love asking foreign women questions and can easily misunderstand your otherwise completely normal intonation and eye contact (yes, even if you’re a Muslim).
And the most important thing: regardless of the country’s unstable political situation since the 2011 revolution, Cairo feels safe to visit, so yallah bena (let’s go) – travel to and enjoy the unique charm of one of the Middle East’s most stunning historical cities!
Issue 61 SISTERS 60