Cairo in a nutshell

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.

 

Of myth, graves and art: Tasmania, Australia

Hobart
Photo courtesy of Henry Jones Art Hotel

Back in the mists of time, nobody used to admit they were from Tassie, the heart-shaped island state of Australia. If you escaped from Tasmania, you rebranded and moved on.

Now, it’s deeply fashionable to be from somewhere other than Melbourne or Sydney, and Tassie is as hot as it gets, with a bumper food scene, fabulous scenery and its Henry Jones Art Hotel, which claims is position as Australia’s first art hotel.

I popped down just as winter was kicking in – a little too early to catch snow on kunanyi / Mount Wellington – but with a wind imported directly from Antarctica, which howled down the wharves, sending shutters shuddering and reminding me,  in the dead of the night, of the myth and graves on which this island is founded.

You can read my review of the recently renovated Henry Jones, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers here .

Cairo: The palace walk

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.

https://www.vacationsmag.com/palace-walk-cairo/

New groove in ancient Athens

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.

Athens_clip.JPG

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

Catching up on my poor, neglected blog. The reason for my neglect is
good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically
Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still
retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of
bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead
to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little
housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I
cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage
to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime
juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in
this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

Oh I’ve been bad – this poor blog! But the reason for my neglect is good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

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The Elphie, Germany’s answer to the Opera House

It’s been dubbed the project of the decade and also the new Sydney Opera House. Finally, the Elbphilharmonie, in Hamburg, Germany, has opened to the public, six years late and 10 times the original budget – but who’s counting?

Hamburg’s new concert hall (it’s been nicknamed the Elphie – if that makes it easier to remember) has got it all: public plazas, rooftop views and even a Westin hotel tucked in there, which seems to have been lost in all the astonishment about its cutting-edge architecture.

To read more about this latest opening, click here for my piece in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ Traveller sections.

Behold Germany’s answer to the Sydney Opera House

It’s
been dubbed the project of the decade and also the new Sydney Opera
House. Finally, the Elbphilharmonie​, in Hamburg, Germany, has opened to
the public, six years late and 10 times the original budget – but who’s
counting?

Hamburg’s new concert hall (it’s been nicknamed the Elphie – if that makes it easier to remember) has got it all: public
plazas, rooftop views and even a Westin hotel tucked in there, which
seems to have been lost in all the astonishment about its cutting-edge
architecture.


To read more about Hamburg’s applaud-winning concert hall, click here for my piece in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ Traveller sections.

The most amazing man-made structures in Asia

Faster, higher, longer and older: there’s no doubt Asia plays the one-upmanship game when it comes to architectural statements.

It’s a tough call, making a list of the top 10 architectural statements in Asia. You could go crazy on weird shopping malls or kooky skyscrapers, or totally old-school with a list of heroic monuments and temples.

I’ve earmarked some of the newest, such as Shanghai Tower and Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, and sought balance with some of the oldest and (in my eyes) most beautiful, such as Indonesia’s Borobodur and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Uzbekistan.

Would love to hear your thoughts on my list, which was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers’ Traveller section.

top10architecture
Sunrise at Borobudur temple on Java. Photo: iStock