Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Egypt Travel Diary. Day 1: Arrival in Cairo and the market of Khan al Khalili

View from the rooftop at Dahab Hostel in Cairo.
It was 1:30 AM when the plane touched down in Cairo, Egypt.  We had spent the last few months planning for this trip and, after an eight hour long layover in which we explored Amsterdam, The Netherlands, we were finally in Egypt.  Upon arrival we made our way off the plane and onto a bus that was waiting for us below.  The city was lit up in the distance, the air was hot and dry, and we were exhausted.

How do you get a travel visa once in Egypt?

Upon arrival in Egypt most visitors must get a visa at the airport before going through security.  This was rather simple, as the arrival area at the airport that we were taken to was not that big.  There are a couple of money changers near the rear of the room on the side opposite of the passport checkpoint area.  There, for $15, you can get a month long visa.  If you need to extend your Egyptian visa later on you can do so in Cairo    (more on this in a future post).

We had reserved a cheap room at Dahab Hostel that is in downtown Cairo near Tahrir Square. We finally got to bed around 3:00 AM after checking into our room. We were brought from the airport via taxi for 65 Egyptian pounds and taken up a rather old and creaky elevator to the 7th floor of the building which houses other businesses and another hostel. The room itself is about $9 a night and it's pretty simple. There's two single beds, a table in the corner, a small window above one of the beds that faces the street and overlooks some very old buildings that have tons of satellite dishes on them. About seven floors down is the street, full of honking traffic. As I write this at 10:00 PM on our first day, cars are honking themselves silly.

We felt rather nasty upon arrival, so we took a shower before going to bed. On our way into the city by taxi we passed the market and the downtown area of the city. The downtown was pretty much closed up for the night, yet there were many people still out and about. Being from New York, I am used to that, but if I was coming from a place like, say, Spokane, it might come as a surprise.

We slept in until about 8 AM the next day. I would have probably slept in later if Beverly had not woke me when she did. I felt exhausted and wanted to go right back to sleep. Yet, on the other-hand I was thrilled at the prospect of to be soon exploring the city. So, we showered, shaved, brushed our teeth and got ready to head out. Before leaving we went to the roof top patio and took a video of the skyline. The weather was already getting quite hot. (videos will be available in the future at
View from our room at Dahab Hostel.
We took the stairs down, vowing not to get back into that old rickety elevator. The thing must be at least a century old. When we got downstairs we walked north east and met a person with a small restaurant. He asked us if we wanted breakfast and we figured “why not?” We went inside and had a pita sandwich with foul (beans) and vegetables inside of it. The meal was very good and it came to 2 EGP total, which is about 15 cents. Not bad for two sandwiches. We left the restaurant and walked north. We passed by Abou Tarek, which is a famous Koshery restaurant. We continued walking some, but went back after a while and got some Koshery to go. Two medium, but very large, containers of it was 14 EGP, or 2 dollars with the exchange rate as 1 dollar being worth seven EGP. We took the Koshery back to our hostel and I ate mine on the rooftop deck. We then went into the room to nap.

When we awoke, Beverly ate her Koshery and shared it with me. We decided that we would be going to Khan Al Khalili that night. It's a huge market in Cairo, and it's a LOT bigger than I thought it would be. In fact, it's insanely massive. However, before leaving to the market we were taken in by a man who gave us cold hibiscus tea and wanted to show us his perfume and papyrus. We told him that we were not ready to buy things yet, as we have another 37 or so days left in Egypt. He was pretty nice about it. We then took a taxi to the market from our hotel, which was 8 EGP (we paid 10 after tip).

When we got to the market we were immediately greeted by a man who wanted to show us the market. He took us through the market quickly to a mosque and told us that we should tour it for a certain amount of money. We figured that we would do that later and he really wanted us to go to his factory where they make jewelry boxes with real mother of pearl. We said thanks but no thanks and after a bit of discourse, he let us on our way. We spent the rest of the night wandering through the market, drinking amazing juices and eyeing interesting goods. The south part of the market is the area where many of the locals do their shopping. Beverly bought an Abaya there. She had to haggle a bit to get it down to 160 EGP from 200 and then she had to get it hemmed for 10 EGP. The person tried to charge us 15 for the hemming, but we stood firm on the price that was quoted. 10 means 10.

Before purchasing the Abaya, we went to Gad for a dinner of falafel and an Egyptian pancake. We also got some juice there. The whole meal came to about 50 EGP, or just a few dollars. The pancake thing was so huge that we had to take half back with us to the hostel. I am kind of eating on that as I write this. After Beverly bought her Abaya, the same man who took us around the market found us again and really wanted to show us his factory. We said no a few more times and after a bit of conversation he let us go. However, as we were making our way in his direction, he kept looking back, so we doubled back and high tailed it to another part of the market. We made our way to a part of the market where books and sweets are sold and met a man who wanted to take us to his mother of pearl box factory. We said no and he was quite pushy. He said there was nothing in the direction of interest we were heading. However, Beverly said it best when she said “nothing except delicious cake.” She was right, we were surrounded by cakes and sweets. Sadly, our hunger was gone after dinner at Gad. However, that did not stop me from getting some delicious sugar cane juice at a stall in the market. The juice people just pour you a glass and you drink from it while standing near the person. They then rinse it and pass it to the next person with juice inside. The juices are all quite cheap and they are delicious.  Sugar cane, Hibiscus and Grape are some of the ones we have tried so far, and they are generally 1 EGP each.

We eventually crossed to the other, more touristy, side of the market. In that part of the market we were greeted by many people wanting us to go into their stores. We just wandered a while and made our way to a courtyard by a Mosque where there are many restaurants. One man grabbed me with some force and tried to haul me into his restaurant. After telling him a few times that I was not hungry, I was able to pull myself away. Later, another man grabbed me and tried to carry me off into his shop. I was able to escape as well.

The market was loud, with motorcycles and trucks in places where they should probably not tread. However, that is how it is there and one has to learn how to deal with the noise. The dust is also something to get used to. However, even with that said, we enjoyed our night. We took a taxi back to our hostel and, after a long ride through the traffic infested city, we made it. We climbed the stairs back to our room on the 7th floor and retired for the night. Not bad for our first day in Cairo.   

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