Egypt Stole My Heart

First – book your flight now. 100% serious. Just go to Egypt.
Secondly – I regret it was a ‘layover’ destination. Austin, my travel companion, and I were slated to have a week in Egypt. A Moroccan taxi driver straight up ruined that and a flight was missed and delayed us over two days.  Now I realize a week would never have been enough; I could spend months in Egypt.

PEOPLE

After having hit over a dozen countries in the last few months prior, I can say with confidence, Egyptians are the friendliest and most welcoming people I’ve met along the way; we heard “Welcome, welcome to Egypt!” more often than “Taxi, Taxi!”
Strangers stopped at train stations, mosques and sidewalks to personally escort us where we were going – unlike Morocco, they wanted absolutely nothing for their time; they wanted us to simply enjoy their home country.

Egyptian hospitality goes above and beyond, leaving us fighting more than once, not only with our friends, but business owners themselves to allow us to pay the bill.  We made a new friend just before leaving Morocco and sure enough, before the week was out, we were staying at his home in Cairo, sharing a plate of incredible food his mother just cooked that weekend. Not enough can be said about the love we were shown in Egypt;  I left this country crying in the back of an Uber because I knew part of my heart was staying with the people I met along the way.

HISTORY

Mind blown. I was emotionally overwhelmed entering the Tomb of the Nobles at Qubbet el-Hawa; hieroglyphics and burial chambers surround you, rich in history of families, politicians and cultural clashes dating back over 4,000 years.  Watching the sunset over Elephantine Island, golden hour lights up the archeological site that once separated Egypt from Nubia.  As you venture along the Nile, you witness the fertility of the soil; vibrant palm trees and crops line the riverbeds in the heat of summer and you’re reminded how an ancient civilization came to thrive based on this natural resource.  The traditional Feluccas, ancient Egyptian wooden boats, still sail beautifully down some parts of the Nile today.

As if all of this was not impressive enough, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, or Cairo Museum made my jaw drop.  Although I was suffering from dehydration and the heat the day we visited, I could not be pulled away from many exhibits and sheer wonder of it all.  With over 100,000 items on display, the Museum stores artifacts and sarcophagi outside along with a beautiful garden dedicated to famous Egyptologists.  With childlike naiveté, I learned about the challenges and multinational cooperation it took to physically relocate the Abu Simbel temples based on the construction of the Aswan High Dam.  Hours can be spent admiring the bold colors of hieroglyphics, learning about the many written languages that have influenced Egypt and getting up close and personal with sarcophagi, busts and mummies of ancient kings.  I left slightly pissed off that I failed to follow Indiana Jones’ path as an archeologist, but truly I was beyond astonished by the excavation and findings of a beautiful cultures’ history.

It’s worth mentioning that modern history stands just outside the museum, at Tahrir Square.  Over the course of one week in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in protest against their government while the world watched – I recall leaving work early to share in celebrations on Steinway Ave., aka little Egypt of Queens, NY.  Spending a morning there, reflecting on democracy, dictators and our current global political landscape made for a heavy start to the day in Cairo. Luckily, it was just after successfully having the Ritz-Carlton hold our bags for us while we wandered the city, so we were able to strike a semblance of balance with humor.

FOOD

In very exciting news: a UNICORN was spotted in Egypt.  It’s true! 10¢ falafel!!  It was glorious and after locating it late one night, we returned for a half-dozen of these delicious incredible sandwiches for our overnight train ride to Cairo. Do not doubt my ability to eat falafel for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To our surprise, we devoured the last of these unicorns while sitting in Tahrir Square for breakfast.

Another notable snack found in Egypt that I still crave was the simple chickpeas we bought on the train to Aswan.  For £5 EGP (roughly $.25USD) these were covered in lime and salt; it was the first time I’ve ever seen a black chickpea. I’d take the freezing train ride all over again for these.

Breakfasts included seasoned omelets, komounia (tomatoes with garlic and vinegar), olives, pita, cucumbers and fresh yogurt.  We shared incredible meals with friends that included hawawshi (bread stuffed with spicy meat), koftas, babaghannough and ended in loukoumat (egyptian style donuts) for dessert.  Egyptian flavors are incredible and I bought some Egyptian chilies during my stay, used specifically for mixing with a bottle of whiskey picked up at duty free, knowing beers and drinks were few and far based on cultural norms. I’m a big fan of heat in my cocktails and these chilies surely did not disappoint.

WHAT SURPRISED ME ABOUT EGYPT 

I never would have guessed there was a serious salsa following in Cairo, but it’s true! Weekly practices, competitions, just sheer joyful gatherings…I found myself in the heart of a passionate group of salsa dancers (and clearly out of my league).

There were hardly any tourists visiting during my stay. The economic challenge facing the country is palpable and upset me as I fell in love with Egypt.  Rising financial, political and economic struggles face the majority of those we met, with inflation and government fiscal policies permeating their society.

The overnight train experience from Aswan to Cairo exceeded my expectations! A private sleeper cabin, dinner and breakfast delivered, an attendant offering turn down service and personal wake up calls, even an individual sink for brushing your teeth.  The overall experience allowed us to save a day of travel and afforded us a full night of sleep. 10/10 would do again over the day train trip, despite its steeper cost as a foreigner.

The Pyramids. I basically loathe this iconic attraction but care to shed more light on this later.

As a general practice, anywhere with plastic seats on the street is fair game for smoking shisha and having a coffee.  Same goes for rooftops.  Mixing mint in with other flavors is a true art form, so we learned to test it out first and readjust when necessary.  Also, everyone is willing to bring more coal if you just smile and ask nicely. Admittedly, many of the afternoons were spent on the sidewalks while in Egypt.

 

My stay was too short and there is so much more on my list to see when I return to Egypt. Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh and hiking Mount Sinai, the National Parks, Marsa Alam and so many more destinations will draw me back, along with the warm hearts of Egyptians. I’m still in awe of my entire visit weeks later and will personally be keeping a flight alert for another adventure there.

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