Thursday nights are the best in Egypt because it signals the start of the weekend and some much needed rest. Cairenes sure know how to party and then at the end of it, how to chill out. Friday mornings are the chill out session, with the usual manic streets now deserted and eerily quiet. The only other time the streets are this quiet is during Iftar when people are at home, too busy stuffing their faces with 15 hours worth of food. Making up for lost time you see.
Friday mornings are the best time to explore Cairo, as the experience is entirely different, and you get to see another side to the smog filled city. Fridays are like a breath of fresh air, and its all yours for the taking.
Jumping into a beat up taxi, we rolled down the windows and enjoyed the fresh morning breeze as the driver whizzed his vehicle along the deserted roads. His dirty finger nails, blackened by the cheap cigarettes he smokes constantly, tapped against the stirring wheel as he turns the dial of the radio. Traditional music blares out from the speakers as we pass the Citadel mosque and the amazing view over the city and its abundance of minarets. I’m surprised no ones thought to build a viewing platform at this point, as the view is breathtaking.
We pass The City of The Dead with its flat roofed plain housing and the numerous minarets dotted in between, and the densely green terrain of Azhar park. Soon enough we are outside khan al Khalili and thats where the adventure begins. It was 10am by now, and already the market was filling up with sellers setting up their stalls. Mini tambourines, cheap looking caps with the Egyptian flag sewn on, tacky belly dancing costumes, fragrant spices from all over the world, and the ubiquitous cheap tourist tat. Helpers set up straw prayer mats outside Hussain Mosque, where in a few hours time, worshippers will be pouring in ready for friday prayers.
Whilst waiting for a friend, I sought respite under a tree, with the sun already out in full force. It just turned May for gods sake! Spotting her, we made our way to Fishawy’s cafe for a morning drink.
Those of you who have not heard of this cafe (do you live in a cave?!) it is one of the most famous cafes in the area, mainly due to the fact that it never closes and is open 24 hours. The place is alive and kicking especially at night and especially during ramadan. The joyful sounds of the oud serenades customers whilst people congregate and dance, and street hawkers dodge in and out of the small alleyway selling all kinds of things ranging from the useful to plain weird (we were once approached by a man selling stuffed dead animals, and an irate seller who couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to buy a doll). I thought this youtube video summed up the atmosphere.
We managed to easily navigate a pram through the crooked alleyways, grateful for the quiet time we chose.
Because it was friday before midday prayers, only a few shops were open. We explored the depths of the market taking in the streets and architecture.
I even spotted this Sisi outfit for children in the market, amongst police uniforms. Forget superman, now your little dear ones can dress up like the new superhero on the block, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Insert sarcastic face).
It’s been getting hotter as the days countdown towards the peak of summer. As soon as the sun rises the temperature slowly starts to become unbearable, and you find yourself confined to the dark and cool rooms of your house.
Now that we are parents, gone are the days of blissful lie-ins and leisurely meals. Instead I find myself being woken up by a small cry, and opening my eyes I am confronted by a smiling face, mouth wide open exposing the first signs of two white baby teeth on the lower gum. Meal times are no longer eaten in a relaxed manner. To get through each meal requires you to gulp down each mouthful in haste without even thinking about the food. Why would you need to think? Leave that for when you finally get to shut your eyes at night (only to be woken up yet again..).
It was another early wake up call today that was the deciding factor in going to Wadi Degla. Within an hour of jumping out of bed, we were dressed, fed and in a taxi speeding our way along the rough roads at 8am.
Wadi Degla is a protected area (founded in 1999) located in Maadi, and is a rocky valley, ideal for hiking, jogging, cycling or just spending time with your family and friends having a BBQ. The scenery is nothing spectacular, and far from beautiful, but its the closest thing you’ll get in Cairo to a ‘park’.
The taxi had to snake its way through waste land and uneven roads pockmarked with craters and random decaying sofas. The area is full of the offices and factories of different businesses, with the constant banging of heavy machinery. I spotted drilling equipment behind a gate and lining the road that leads to the entrance of the Wadi (valley).
People who are lucky enough to have a car are able to bring it into the Wadi itself and drive around until they find a suitable spot to picnic or start their hike. There is a flat pathway, surrounded by mountainous terrain on either side, that winds itself around the valley for roughly 14km.
Milestones (or kilometrestones) mark how far you have gone..
The area is full of stones, that resemble some kind of crumbly cheese
Trash drums are located all around the Wadi
but some people fail to get it in
It was quiet this early, with only the occasional dog walker or hard core jogger. Every now and then a cyclist would zoom past us leaving a trail of smoke in its path. The sun was getting higher in the sky and the temperature was rising quickly. There is little shade in the valley, but we did manage to find some along the ridge of the mountain and sat down on a large sandy rock. The temperature was mild out of the sun and once you drench every part of your clothes and body in water it was amazing. Soon enough a gentle breeze was blowing, cooling the sweat from our backs.
The sun was too bright so I experimented with my sunglasses, using it as a filter. Love the dirty dream like effect that I got
Recently we decided to purchase a new camera and were debating the merits of an SLR over a smaller camera e.g a Leica. Then I came across a blog post by Eric Kim on the merits of using a smaller camera. It’s given me something to think about, and I would recommend it if your having trouble just like me, in deciding.
Shopping in the beast that is Carrefour yesterday, I was reminded of the genius photographer Andreas Gursky who did a whole series of pictures set in a discount store in the U.S. I admire the composition of the shots and the colourful nature, along with the serious message of over consumption. It makes you view your surroundings in a totally different way.
Check out this site for more of his wonderful work
There’s been a few earthquake tremors lately, and apparently there was a tiny one today, but I was washing the dishes at the time and didn’t feel a thing. I wonder if it’s a sign of things to come?
Walking around Cairo I can’t help but notice the abundance of classic cars dotted around the city. Old Fiats that look at though they’re past retirement age still continue to dominate the roads, confusing me into thinking we’re living in the 1950’s. One thing that stands out though is the scores of classic VW Beetles. Everywhere I go I see them parked up on the main road, in alleyways, in driveways, being driven erratically or lovingly and in dire need of a wash. Some have punctured tires, numerous scrapes and bumps or badly rusted where the paint has peeled off, further adding to it’s charm. I see a multitude of colours from bright yellow, sun yellow, maroon, silver, blue, white, turquoise and dusty black.
I’m now officially obsessed about this classic curvaceous car.
Spring is a time when Egypt is totally transformed from an area of brown dust to a burst of colours. Dirty streets are lined with exotic trees, their branches flowing with blossom-pink, red, purple, green, orange, yellow, all competing with each other. They are the makeup added to a dull canvas.
The spring breeze gently blows away the layers of dust and grime that colonised all stationary objects during the winter months. The luminous colour of a retro Volkswagon beetle basks in the sun, oozing sex appeal. An idle dog sleeps under the shade of a car, half stirring when a small family of four stroll past. Two friends sit on worn plastic chairs deep in conversation about the upcoming elections due in May. As the day moves on, one friend decides to make tea in the tiny faded hut, its roof made from sticks intertwined to form a giant sombrero. A cart burdened with woven baskets sits vacant under the shade of a tree, its deep basket used as a bed by a jaded street cat.
Slowly though as the season comes to an end, so to do the flowers. The intense colours are steadily fading, the edges shrivelling and turning brown. The bottom of a tree is covered in a carpet of pink, momentarily disturbed as a speeding car cruises past. Soon the trees will be naked, only green leaves to cover the bare branches. Soon the dust will settle once again, and soon the streets will go back to the dull tinge of brown.