Getting Pampered in Ancient Egypt, but first a night in Athens

As I hopped off the plane at CAI with a dream and scarf, I pondered my time since Budapest. It was quite a long journey, actually. Due to the cost of a direct flight from Budapest to Athens (from which my flight to Cairo was leaving), and my lack of planning for that jump, I had to sacrifice money for time. From Budapest, I took a 12 hour night bus to Sofia, Bulgaria, which was stopped on both sides of the Serbian border in the middle of the night for a freezing passport control experience, +2 passport stamps. I couldn’t get much sleep because I was very cold. Because of the heat in the middle of the day, I didn’t expect it to be so chilly and my baggage was below (should have checked the weather). From Sofia, I took a flight to Athens and then an hour train to the city center (and got 2 more passport stamps at either airport).

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I stayed in Athens for one night. In this time, I went to dinner with a nice boy from CouchSurfing who was about to head back to the States. His name was Jabir and he’s also a travel blogger, but much more established. We went to this great Greek restaurant (obviously) called Tabepna Kanuatapia where we were served shots of ouzo immediately. I got a Greek salad that contained no lettuce and an eggplant dish. It. was. delicious. After dinner, Jabir walked me back to my hostel and I began better organizing my bags and preparing for the next leg of my journey. My flight to Cairo was very early in the morning, and I was exhausted. I slept for a good 6 hours then made my way back to ATH.

There was a lovely girl who sat in my row on the plane. Her name was Sumayah and she was an Egyptian living in the USA. She was so nice and helpful and walked with me the whole way through the airport, waiting with me to get my visa and even helping me out with making change to pay for it. P.S. Happy birthday trip, Sumayah.

When I finally made it outside, my long last friend Yasmeen was waiting for me. She hired us a driver for the day. We caught up in the car on our way to her grandparent’s house in Ma’adi, a suburb of Cairo. First things first, Yasmeen made me a cheese platter and gave me some much needed water. Then I checked into my AirBnb a couple blocks away. My host was lovely and knew perfect English. She opened the door in a colorful kimono, introduced me to her two cats and gave me some tips about the city. Around her house, she had tons of books about sustainability and human rights. My kind of lady.

After refreshing, Yasmeen and I went over to a place called Osana that had yoga classes, different sorts of wellness treatments, and A VEGAN CAFE. I got a delicious green juice and we enjoyed the enlightening atmosphere as we talked about everything that’s happened in the last year. Then we went walking around Road 9 looking at shops a bit, and ended the day with a family dinner at Yasmeen’s grandparent’s house. I thought they were super cute, and her step-grandmother made us special vegetarian cuisine of spinach and cheese, as well as two types of salad. After dinner, we headed out to meet one of Yasmeen’s old friends and somehow ended up at a mid-Ramadan party where we got to chat with all sorts of Egyptian-based internationals. The hostess was moving and it was her last night in her apartment. Here she is dancing on her kitchen counter. Such a fun experience.

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Instead of sleeping in the next morning, we woke up early with a full schedule. First stop: the pyramids. Here, I got to physically touch one of the world’s oldest structures; one of the seven wonders of the world. On top of that, I got to ride a camel and take pictures of the Sphinx. I definitely got some great pictures that day, but…

 

Fun Fact: While I was taking photos at the pyramids, I went to go use my wide angle lens and I couldn’t get the cap unscrewed. I asked two adult men to help and neither could get it. Update: I’ve asked 5 more people, still can’t get it. (Nice pictures, nonetheless).IMG_8579

After the pyramids, we headed over to the Mena House Hotel where Yasmeen will soon be getting married. It had an amazing view of the pyramids from all over the property. We had a brunch of Egyptian appetizers and then met with Yasmeen’s wedding planner. The venue she’s getting married at has an amazing view of the pyramids. From there, we headed to a souq called Khan el Khalili.

Fun Fact: a souq or souk is an Arabic marketplace where you find cute and authentic souvenirs.

Here, I bought souvenirs for the first time of my whole trip. NO SPOILERS, except that I bought a leather backpack made of camel. It is the toughest material I’ve ever owned and I am sure it will outlive me considerably.

IMG_8592Then, I went to go get a pedicure at a place called Cleoz Spa, formally N Bar. My pedicure cost 90 Egyptian pounds, aka less than $5. (I love a good exchange rate). After, I took a bit of a nap… my favorite thing to do on a traveling afternoon… before meeting up with Yasmeen for dinner at a classy garden cafe.

Then we met a couple of nice, Muslims cousins named Ramy and S. We went out for shisha and their suhoor. Ramadan was such an interesting cultural experience, and I am so happy that I got to witness this age old custom.

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Fun Fact: during Ramadan, people break their fast at sunset (eftar), then can eat for a few hours. Suhoor is the last meal they can eat before sunrise.

Soon after, I made my way to bed just as the sun was starting to come up. Luckily, it was my first chance to sleep in days. I may have taken advantage of this opportunity… By the time I was up, ready and fed, both the Muhammad Ali Mosque and the Egyptian Museum were both closed due to the Ramadan holiday. Instead, we drove are Tehir Square and went back to Road 9 to get a couple more souvenirs 😉

IMG_8609While we were there, we decided it would be a good idea to get ice cream. There are children begging on the streets all over Cairo. Many of them come directly at you and ask for money, or sell something small like tissues. Yasmeen informed me that many of these children are run by gangs and that whatever they collect is taken from them daily. On Road 9, a boy came up to us and asked for ice cream. Not money. So, we bought him ice cream and he was ecstatic.

The next day, Yasmeen and I scrambled to get some errands done before she had to leave for Alexandria. Then she was gone, and it was time for me to get some business taken care of. I booked my flights to Hawaii, took a short nap, then went out for some Mexican food, bought a handmade kimono cover up at a store called Earth Gallery and came back home to pack. IMG_8612

In the evening, Ramy and S picked me up again to take me to a restaurant on the highest peak in Cairo with an amazing view overlooking the city. Magic was in the air as it was the final night of Ramadan and the fast was over. We stayed up late, ate some strange Egyptian pizza that had a crust on top (but wasn’t a calzone). Then, the boys took me to the airport. Ramy even walked me inside.

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Ramy and I on top of the mountain.
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S being a wonderful chauffeur. He was an excellent driver, especially considering that Cairo has almost no driving regulations. People drive both ways on one way streets, pedestrians walk across 8 lane highways, and children sit on laps in the front seat. Better him than me.

The Cairo airport was quite unusual. Before you could go anywhere, even check in, you had to go through security. Then, customs/passport control. At the gate, there was a more airport-like security checkpoint as well. As soon as I got on the flight, I went straight to sleep.

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