Caroline in Cairo: Observations

Over winter break I traveled to Cairo, Egypt where I spent a month with Lamis and her family. I had an amazing time, learned a lot of Arabic, saw some crazy stuff, and returned with a lot of stories! Here are some observations I made while in Egypt.

 

TRANSPORTATION

I’ve taken all forms of transportation available in Cairo.
Train- pretty cool. average train ride. my ticket from Cairo to Alexandria and back was 90 Egp.
Bus- no. never again.
Minibus- so so so crowded. also scary.
Microbus- super cheap and generally pretty trustworthy. Most tickets were 4 Egp.
TukTuk- So much fun! They’re usually decorated with feathers, lights, or stickers. The only downside is how slow they are.
Boxtruck- Yikes. Crammed with people, nails sticking out of the sides, guys hanging on the back, and a very bumpy ride.
Taxi- some drivers have timers that determine the fare. These drivers are suuuuper slow. Downside of taxi is that sometimes the drivers try to be funny.

1st Microbus ride! In a boxtruck with Salwa (Lamis's friend) before it filled with people! a camel counts as transportation, right?! a mean taxi driver In Lamis's father's car on the way to her mother's village! a man in a village outside of Tanta driving his cart a donkey with a job I rode a donkey sans saddle. it was scarier than the camel.  Lamis's cousin was very patient and only laughed at me a little bit. the train to Alexandria. round trip= 90 egp a boat we rode in Alexandria

There are no rules for driving. At all.

Cars will try to run you over. Especially female drivers.

Crosswalks either don’t exist or they’re not visible. Crossing the street basically just means jumping in front of cars and looking mean enough to hopefully make them stop for you.

Sidewalks are where stores conduct business, the street is shared by pedestrians and cars.

Traffic lights and stop signs are suggestions.

Animal-drawn carts aren’t the weirdest thing. If you leave the house you’re most likely going to see at least one donkey pulling an orange cart

 

FOOD

While in Egypt i ate pigeon, rabbit, quail, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, ful, t3mayya, kufta, koshary, mulukhayya, and just about every other thing you could think of. The food was always so good. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent host mother (my friend’s mom) who was continuously cooking for us.

1st meal in Egypt! kufta from down the street 1st breakfast! (Lamis's mom said "Don't port this picture! they'll think i'm starving you!") cotton candy at the souq! I wanted the heart and i didn't even ask, the guy just knew. snacks and drinks by the Nile (Lamis and her dad got a hummus drink) Lemonade with mint and pomegranate juice with seeds eating Libyan food with Lamis's old neighbors posing with a dead pigeon Lamis's aunt cleaning the rice for our lunch Lamis's aunt baking the rice a delicious home cooked meal in a village outside of Tanta creeper shot of the meal Koshary (not at Abu Tarek's place) Egypt has Chili's and Johnny Carino's ??? cotton candy by the sea (not pictured: the sea) a very popular seafood restaurant in Alexandria my plate of seafood

Nescafé is love. Nescafé is life.

Guests are served coffee, tea, juice, or Nescafé made to their specifications on a silver tray.

Every meal must have side dishes. Grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, other meats.

Black tea usually follows a meal.

There are endless types of cheeses and everyone has a different favorite. *Cue weird looks if you eat the wrong cheese with the wrong meat.*

You can get a sandwich for 2 Egp (shoutout to Shabrawwi) that tastes amazing.

Falafel is called T3mayya is Cairo. Just go with it.

Abu Tarek has the best koshary and that’s final.

Lemonade will probably never be the same for me. I drank a lot of Lemonade with mint, 2hwa mazboot (sweetened Turkish coffee), and tea with mint. I also tried fresh mango, strawberry, and guava juice!

 

 

SOCIETY

There is a song for everything. Everything has a movie or TV show reference, a little chant, a song, or some connection to pop culture. 

Key gestures and phrases made my life 1000x easier.

ex: there’s a gesture to show someone you’re actually full and not just being nice.

there’s a phrase to tell the person asking for money that you don’t have any but you hope their life gets easier.

*sidenote* sometimes shopkeepers will tell you that your items are free and you don’t have to pay. they’re just being nice %99 of the time and you really do need to pay

I’m creating a second post dedicated solely to shisha and coffee shops.

The Quran is absolutely EVERYWHERE. This might’ve been the biggest shock for me when I got to Egypt. Almost every car has بسم الله, ما شاء الله, الله اكبر or some other religious phrase written in sharpie, painted, or (the most common) attached as a sticker. Taxis, buses, microbuses, and minibuses are especially decked out in written prayers asking for God’s protection. Quranic recitation is unbelievably prevalent. I heard recordings of the Quran being played in: taxis, microbuses, grocery stores, on the street, shops, etc. I was touring the Citadel in Alexandria and i even heard one of the cleaning men reciting the Quran.

*sidenote* One of the mechanics across the street from Lamis’s house blared the Quran non-stop 24/7 the only exception being during soccer games.

Idle chitchat is mandatory when a guest comes over. I really value alone time so i occasionally struggled to keep up with the Egyptian social life.

People stare. A lot. Some people make weird comments. No one ever touched me or was hostile. 

Personal space doesn’t exist outside of the house. There are a ton of people in Cairo and it’s very apparent when there’s a big event or holiday. (like New Year’s Eve)

Foreign brands are everywhere (they have cheetos).

People yell in the streets at all hours of the night. It’s fine. Most people are awake anyway. 

Being late is normal. Meeting times are just general suggestions, give or take a couple hours.

Men will invoke the name of God while catcalling you because that makes it fine???

 MONEY

Haggling is a must. Speaking Arabic helps. Being Egyptian helps even more.

The conversion rate during my time in Egypt was about 18-20 Egp/ 1 USD.

Egypt was very affordable for me but worsening economic woes have exacerbated class tensions as purchasing power decreases and prices of basic goods continue to rise.

I gave my dollars to Lamis’s dad to convert for me at the bank. I didn’t mess with conversion companies but I did see some around.

I bought lots of gifts and spent rather freely and i ended up spending ~1100 Egp / Week. (including a train to Alexandria and frequent trips to coffee shops)

 

I know that generalizations aren’t the best way to obtain a nuanced perspective of a country or a culture; however, the aim of this post is to provide a fun and funny glimpse into Egypt as I saw it.

Travel: Italian Adventure!

When studying abroad in Europe travelling can feel like an obligation- you’re so close to everything! I’ve decided to write a series of posts which will be personal reflections about the trips I’ve taken so far.

Paris/ITALY

I was fortunate enough to have my mom, aunt, and grandmother (hey me-me) come to France for a visit on December 31st. They came to Clermont-Ferrand (my mom’s first time off of the continent!) where I met them at the train station.

We had a few hours in Clermont so I showed them my residence, the city center, and my favorite kebab shop.

PARIS

We then took a train to Paris where we were to spend the next couple of days. We went to an amazing restaurant for New Year’s Eve dinner. We ate foie gras, had champagne, and counted down to midnight in French.

 

Yum! A NYE treat

Yum! A NYE treat

2016 here we come!

2016 here we come!

I showed them around Paris and we saw most of the “must-see” tourist attractions. The following day we went shopping at an outlet mall (my mom’s pick) and we had a lot of fun popping in and out of shops like Diane Von Furstenberg, Burberry, and Longchamp. We ate waffles and European hot chocolate (the kind that is literally just melted chocolate) before having lunch at a cute little café.

Shakespeare & Co. Notre Dame le Tour Eiffel

We took an overnight train to Milan which was absolutely hilarious.

the train to Milan was a tight fit!

the train to Milan was a tight fit!

the cutest person alive

the cutest person alive

The “room” was TINY with enough room for a bunk bed, a sink, two suitcases, and nothing else. We had about six hours in the Milan train station which we spent sitting like zombies in the McDonalds. (my aunt had about 4 cappuccinos) This was the point in the trip where I became unable to communicate in the local language which was bizarre. I’d never been to a country where I wasn’t at least conversationally proficient in the local language and it was messing with my head!

 

BOLOGNA
We hopped a train to Bologna where we spent 2 nights. Bologna was BEAUTIFUL. The city was the least “touristy” city we visited on the trip. I pretty much ate my weight in pizza there. Our guide for the walking tour never showed up (bummer) but, armed with a map and giant coats and scarves, we did get to see some of the major sights.

ascending into Bologna we have arrived it's cold! "take a picture with the menu so we remember the name of the restaurant" arguably the best pizza ever this place had really good snacks

VENICE
We took a day trip via train from Bologna to Venice.

Venice was amazing. Every street looked like a postcard. Lunch in Venice was delicious. I ate seafood pasta and they had lemon Schweppes which became my beverage of choice in Italy.

delicious pasta with fresh seafood

delicious pasta with fresh seafood

We walked across the city (I used google maps and my grandma asked every few minutes “are you sure we’re going the right way?”) and made it to St. Mark’s Square. We toured the waterways of Venice in a speed boat and saw Elton John’s house!

a little bit of rain can't stop us gondolas everywhere this is real life homes of the old merchants of venice

 

FLORENCE

After Bologna we ventured on to Florence. We were all excited to shop for leather in Florence as we’d heard they have some good stuff! Unfortunately my aunt was sick for most of the Florence leg of the trip. (One morning I ran to the pharmacy to get her some medicine only to discover that it was a national holiday and I’d stumbled across the only open pharmacy in the city.) Our hotel was an old monastery and since it was the end of the Christmas season we got to see their nativity collection. We saw il Duomo  and walked around the city for a while.

"okay so just lean a little bit, i'm going to take a picture"

“okay so just lean a little bit, i’m going to take a picture”

We had a morning tour of the Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze where we saw the statue of David! (It was enormous.)

Stradivarius viola owned by the Medici family the David

It was raining for most of our trip but that didn’t stop us! That afternoon my grandmother was tired and stayed at the hotel to take care of my aunt. My mom and I braved the rain and ran (literally ran) across Florence to make it to our next tour. The Uffizi Gallery where we had a 4 hour tour!

this painting is all original except for the bottom right panel which is in the Louvre selfie with the Birth of Venus The Birth of Venus only finished painting done by Michelangelo to survive-- The Holy Family this place is huge! Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca this room was really fancy

That night we shopped until we dropped at H&M and finished the evening with a spaghetti dinner where the Russian tourists next to us stared at us the entire time.

Our last day in Florence was spent shopping for leather purses and wallets!

 

ROME

Next stop: ROMA!
Thankfully, my aunt was much better and well rested for Rome. We took a bus to Vatican City for a day-long tour. We saw St.Peter’s Basilica, were blessed in the Sistine, and saw lots of nuns.

 

rome at night ready to take on the city! busts inside of the Vatican what a view 20160108_093008 20160108_093023 20160108_093258 intricate tiles on the floor 20160108_093958 20160108_102932 St. Peter's Basilica St. Peter's Basilica St. Peter's Basilica Pope John XXIII

Our Colosseum tour didn’t pan out (another bummer) but we got to see lots of ruins and the Trevi Fountain!

the Colosseum a gate near the Colosseum the Colosseum detail ancient forum ruins the Trevi Fountain the Trevi Fountain selfie time make a wish! me-me contemplating the fountain Saluti!

POMPEII
We got up super early the next day and took a guided tour of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Our guide, Davide (pronounced Dah-vie-day), shuttled us, an Irish couple, and two Filipino girls across Italy to the site of the ruins at Pompeii. The guide at Pompeii was excellent and we learned a lot about the lives of the ancient people who lived there. (This part wasn’t really my mom’s thing, but it’s a must-see for history buffs!)

i found a cat inside the town square it was hot but we were learning a lot! primitive refrigerators for vats of wine at the site of an ancient wine bar cool steps ancient spa/bath house preserved artifacts columns preserved artifacts town square town square

 

POSITANO

Then we all squeezed back into the van (I was sitting on the six-inch space between Davide and the passenger seat…) and headed to Positano! If you haven’t heard of Positano, you’re missing out on a truly beautiful place. The homes, beached, and storefronts are unlike any other place in the world. We had a lunch mishap (the restaurant was closed, another restaurant made us wait 45 minutes and didn’t even take our order) but we ended up having a slice of pan pizza (and schweppes of course) at a cute little restaurant with a view. I bought an orange and a lemon (specialties of the region) which were both delicious.

citrus fruits! wow selfie stop taking in the views citrus growers found an Italian flag! walking through town beach views at the beach cool tiles i found another cat My mom loved the beach in Positano! Limoncello

AMALFI

The next stop was Amalfi. Amalfi was incredible. It’s such a unique place with a really relaxed vibe. We tasted limoncello from a local producer, had some delicious lemon gelato, and took in the seaside views before heading back to Rome.

Limoncello producer in Amalfi "let's take a selfie with the gelato" -my mom Amalfi nice view our tour guide Davide and the Irish couple that was with us

The next morning I said goodbye to my family at the Rome airport and boarded a plane to Lyon.

boarding the plane "window seat"
Overall, I had an awesome trip and i’m so glad i got to see Italy with some of my family!

 

The next travel post should be about my trip to Barcelona and Sitges. Until then!