Recently, I completed an epic trek from Cusco, near Macchu Pichu in Peru, to Cairo, Egypt.
Let me tell you, it took some serious, late-night internet hunting! I could have travelled via Sao Paulo, (Brazil) then across to Casablanca (Morocco) and on to Egypt, or from Sao Paulo via a 12-hour layover in Addas Ababa (Ethiopia) and on to Cairo. In the end, the best connections were flying from Lima (Peru) up to Madrid (with three hours cooling my heels in a secondary airport in Ecuador) with LATAM and from Madrid on to Cairo with Egyptair.
This is my review of the Egyptair flight – I’ve flown many times domestically and internationally with the national carrier – on the Madrid-Cairo route, a direct flight of 4 hours 40 minutes.
I’m going to paste my favourite para here, about the food on board:
Chicken or the beef? The beef arrives cubed in a sauce with spiral pasta, and is surprisingly comforting. It’s accompanied by a dried, tired salad, crackers, chocolate cake, a wholemeal dinner role, butter and a triangle of La vache qui rit (The Laughing Cow, incidentally, is the nickname of Egypt’s deposed military dictator, Hosny Mubarak). Because you needed to know that last fact : )
Over the past decade, I’ve watched Cairo Airport change and grow – definitely for the better – from the raucous taxi chorus and decaying bathrooms of the old Terminal 1 to the snappy design of its newest expansion, Terminal 3.
If you’re coming through the Egyptian capital any time soon, here’s my take on Terminal 2, which sees the major Middle Eastern carriers, Etihad and Emirates, passing on through.
What to remember: security is paramount, and there are plenty of screening points. What to forget: Facebook, as wifi is but a beautiful dream.
Far better to grab a seat and watch the parade of fashions, from central African men in patterned jellibiyas (traditional robes) and matching kufis (caps) to women from the Gulf states in well-cut abayas and heels. You can identify the rare Antipodean by their khaki zip-off pants. If you want to hang with the locals, they’re in the smoking rooms.
I’ve been poking around the back alleys and the big-ticket drawcards of Cairo for a decade now (How did that happen? One minute I was setting up this blog on a tiny little Juliet balcony in a pensione in downtown Cairo, the next minute, it’s 10 years later!)
In that time, Cairo’s fortunes have flowed, ebbed, and are now flowing again, after revolutions, currency flotations, elections and a whole vortex of world events that have shaped the old traditions and new fashions in this maniacal city of 20 million (give or take a few million).
It still blows me away, every time I visit. There’s the City of the Dead, which may be home to as many as a million undocumented (living) souls, the rock-carved cathedrals of Mokattam, the wild nights of horseriding around the Pyramids beneath a full moon, and the Nile. There’s always the Nile.
It scratches only the surface, but here are 10 of my tips on visiting the City that Sleeps In Shifts, published in this weekend’s Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
Lined with palaces, mosques, merchant’s mansions and markets, Cairo’s Al-Muizz is a contender for the Middle East’s most beautiful street.
It’s the ancient thoroughfare of medieval Cairo, the lifeblood of a dozen centuries: every time I return to Cairo, I find myself walking the length of Al-Muizz li-Din-Allah. Like most before me, I’m lured by the street’s imposing palaces and caravanserais, its dusty mosques and vivid markets.
I’ve walked this street countless times over a decade, and each time, I make a new discovery. A forgotten tomb. A synagogue. Cool, dark water cisterns that plunge deep underground or a merchants’ mansion, instructive in the ways of generations of traders, aristocrats, craftsmen and families who filled the streets of Islamic Cairo when it was established by the Shi’ite Fatamid regime in 969AD.
In case you haven’t twigged, Egypt is back on the tourism trail after seven years languishing in the doldrums after its revolution in 2011, which overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak, who’d run the country as his personal fiefdom for 30 years. They’ve now got another army brass running the country – plus ça change, plus c’est la même.
|Cairo’s Citadel, which overlooks the city. Photo: Belle Jackson|
But finally, with stability and growth taking place around the country (think, highways remade, new airports open, Nile cruise boats dusted off), it’s fabulous to see the return of one of Egypt’s major industries.
Cairo often gets but a cursory glance while everyone rushes to the Pyramids then down to Luxor, but spend the turn of the day in El Muizz for what I think is one of the world’s most beautiful streets.
Thanks to Vacations & Travel for again going ahead of the trend and publishing my feature on this beloved street.
A magnet around which the city revolves, this is the view of the Acropolis from the top floor of my hotel, New Hotel in Athens.
It’s ironic that the more I travel, the less I post on my poor blog. I’m just back from nearly two months in the Middle East, working from my base in Cairo.
Cairo’s my second home: I’ve lived here, and return most years to watch it race toward change – some good, some absolutely dire. This year, I also took a walking tour through Palestine’s West Bank and a brief island hop in Athens and the beautiful island of Hydra, about 90 minutes by ferry from the main port of Piraeus.
I got a lot of love from the @Traveller instagram account, and just spotted this clip in the weekend papers of my shot of the Acropolis, which I took from the top floor of New Hotel, Athens, a chi-chi little design hotel.
Sure, you can book the penthouse to soak it up, but the breakfast room is also currently on the top level, so we can all enjoy one of the world’s great landmarks.
I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.
While other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its key sources of income.
The people lean heavily on tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And they’re just three of its riches.
Egyptians say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return. Maybe you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will inspire you to visit -or to return.
We come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank, sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.
“Nowhere are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later, he’s still on the money.
Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.
|The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.
Photo: Belinda Jackson
I am so pleased to publish this blog about my recent article in Luxury Travel magazine. This is the first story I’ve written for a mainstream publication about Egypt since its revolution, back in 2011. The feature had the invaluable support of Abercrombie & Kent, which maintains
its Cairo office, staffed by charming, knowledgeable Cairenes.
other countries affected by civil unrest and terrorism events have
slipped back onto the travel pages within weeks of the events, I feel
Egypt – where I have lived and continue to return to every year – has
been punished too harshly, and it suffers deeply the loss of one of its
key sources of income.
The people lean heavily on
tourism with good reason: their undeniable treasures include the Pyramids
of Giza, the colossi at Abu Simbel, the gracious and eternal Nile. And
they’re just three of its riches.
say that once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you’ll always return.
you’re not up for a cup of river water, hopefully this article will
inspire you to visit – or to return.
come to visit the gods. Stern of face, empty of eye, they stare. Blank,
sightless eyes see nothing, yet see everything in the future and back to
the ancient world. The colossal sculptures of Abu Simbel are in Egypt’s deep south, touching on the border with Sudan, and are the jewel of the appropriately named Nile in Style journey with Abercrombie & Kent.
are there so many marvellous things, nor in the whole world beside are
there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness,” wrote
Herodotus of Egypt in the fifth century BC. Fifteen centuries later,
he’s still on the money.’
Click here to read on about my journey down the Nile.
|On the Corniche, at Alexandria, Egypt|
KNOW IT ALL: Five essential things to consider before you go…
1 You will get lost the minute you
turn inland from the Corniche, which runs along the waterfront. Just
2 Egyptians call it Iskandariyah, but most people understand
3 Steer clear of the city in July and August.
Cairo’s playground goes crazy in
summer: expect traffic jams and you won’t see the sand for beach
4 Avoid Alex’s grubby, public beaches and go private. Montaza
and El Maamoura are clean and funky, with paid admission. San Stefano
beach, opposite the Four Seasons hotel, also has a happening beach club
5 Historically inhabited by Greeks, and by the sea: eat fish! The
best include Hosny in Montazah Beach and the Greek Club, near Qaitbay
Fort, which has spectacular views.
This article by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald Traveller section.
|Miss Moneypenny’s, Noosa|
Yeah, I know it’s already 8 January, but I’m still looking back… maybe it’s because Australia really hasn’t kicked back properly into work yet. Consensus is that next Monday is the day we all turn our brains on once again. I had many great discoveries last year, including the new COMO hotel in the Maldives, Maalifushi, a villa in Lombok and the newly scrubbed Tahrir square in Cairo, but also a few fun finds locally, in Australia. Here’s my contribution to a recent round-up by the Sun-Herald‘s brace of writers on our best travel finds in 2014.
Miss Moneypenny, Noosa, Queensland
watching is a delight in Noosa, when the buff and the beautiful hit the
sidewalks. Take a ringside seat at Miss Moneypenny, one of the newest additions
to Hastings Street, and order up on the seafood share boards and an 80s cruise
ship drink, their signature pina coladas – we’re in the tropics, people! The
open-air bar-cafe-restaurant spills into the street, ideal for seafood Sundays
or Saturday’s late-night supper club.missmoneypennys.com
Jean-Paul Gaultier Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria
Playful, cheeky, self-deprecating: not the words usually associated with
fashion. Jean Paul Gaultier delights in smashing the mould; remember the
conical bra he strapped onto Madonna in 1990? Haute couture comes alive with
moving catwalks and interactive mannequins, the exhibition has already
travelled from San Fran to Stockholm. But in Melbourne, the only showing in the
Asia Pacific, Gaultier assures us, it’s almost perfect. Make a night of it with
the NGV’s fantastic Friday Nights program, with DJs and talks, includes
admission to the exhibition. Costs $22 adults/$10 children 5-15 years
(exhibition only), $28/$10 Friday Nights at Jean Paul Gaultier. Until February
8, 2015. ngv.vic.gov.au
Seahaven Resort, Noosa
A stalwart in Hastings St, Seahaven has enjoyed a $16 million refurbishment
and is unrecognisable from its former self. The resort eclipses the big names
for blockbuster location, bang on Noosa’s Main Beach. Accommodation ranges from
studio boltholes to two-storey penthouses, with fully kitted kitchens, rain
showers and laundries. Plan drinks on your balcony, overlooking the sea.
Seahaven’s three swimming pools and its beachfront barbecue. It’s a
two-minute trot along the beach boardwalk for morning coffee or for dinner at
Noosa’s sensational restaurants. Sunrise yoga on the beach is de rigueur. seahavennoosa.com.au
This feature was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.
My first (and last) English Christmas was a shock to many senses: there was snow (albeit very light, very dirty), there were Brussels sprouts (surely only the English consider them a celebratory food) and there was television.
As our Australian marketing machines constantly tell us, our Christmases are all about the beach, cricket and low-level sunburn. So to be huddled in front of the telly watching soap omnibuses seemed a curious way to spend the festive season.
It’s not quite television, and the weather here in Melbourne has been exemplary this year: not too hot, not too cold, but I’ve come over all Northern hemisphere and am catching up on a small mountain of unread fiction, with a travel bent, of course.
Here’s a little list of recent releases from Australian authors that have made a welcome appearance on the bedside table.
The most recent of the list is by prolific South Australian author Fiona McIntosh, who I have long admired for her adult fantasy series (think Lord of the Rings fantasy, not the other type, smutsters). She has turned out a fast-paced romance set in WWI Cairo, Gallipoli and post-war London. Nightingale ticks all the boxes, with handsome men, golden women and love found and lost in traumatic times. Does the girl get her man? It’s over to you… (Penguin Books, $29.99)
Action seekers know Matthew Reilly is the man to turn to when you want to be left breathless from reading (to give you a suggestion of his pace, the Sydney writer drives DeLorean DMC-12 – the car from Back to the Future). His latest book, The Great Zoo of China is, as the title indicates, set in China and has an absolute cracker of a premise, which I just can’t tell you about. His heroine, CJ Cameron, is a tad too tough, tenacious and intelligent for wimpy me to relate to, but I could not put this book down. That was a week of lost sleep (Pan Macmillan, $39.99)
And finally (not in the picture, as it’s already been nabbed by my mum), Stateless is the second in the Heritage trilogy about the evolution of the State of Israel. Written by Alan Gold and Mike Jones, it caused a ruckus in our house with the highly controversial throw-away line that the Egyptian army is known to be cowardly. Eeep! Otherwise, Stateless races along with plenty of secret plots and dastardly tyrants from Roman-occupied Jerusalem to post-WWII Russia. The first in the trilogy is called Bloodline, I’ll be seeking it out. (Simon & Schuster Australia, $29.99)
The next on the list is Tony Park‘s The Hunter (‘A missing woman, a serial killer at large… man is the most dangerous predator of all’). I’m not that into murder as entertainment, but this book moves from South Africa to Zimbabwe and the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya, which I love. And in the appendices, Park also shares travel tips from his extensive experience of travelling in Africa (Pan Macmillan, $29.99)
I hope you’re all enjoying a great summer read, or if you’re further north and not nose-in-book, the plotlines in the soaps have improved.
See you all in 2015!