What to expect when visiting Cairo Airport’s Terminal 2

Cairo Airport review

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.

Click here to read my full review, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section.

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.

 

The grand dame of Aswan: hotel review, Egypt

Aswan, Egypt

In Egypt’s deep south (aka ‘Upper Egypt, because it’s closer to the source of the south-north running Nile River), is the golden city of Aswan.

A world away from the smoke and insanity of Cairo, the city on the banks of the Nile is famous for its granite quarries that helped build the monuments of the ancient kingdoms, and its laid-back inhabitants, Nubians who seem more connected with the African continent than the Arabian north.

It’s also the home of one of the continent’s best grand hotels, and finally I got to visit the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. 

The terrace, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile.
Photo: Belle Jackson

Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile on its terrace, and I wrote my hotel review for Fairfax Media’s Traveller section (the question is, of course: which will have greater longevity? :))

With an unsurpassed setting, smooth service and the undoubtedly fabulous
history, I rate it this of my top historic stays around the world. Armchair travellers should binge on Secret of the Nile (2016), which is the first Egyptian series on Netflix. The subtitled murder
mystery was filmed in the hotel, which is the undoubted star of the show.

You can read my story, published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website, 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

Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

Giza Pyramids.JPG
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.

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.

 

 

Of pharaohs and heroes: Journey to Egypt

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.


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.

Egyptian style makes a comeback in ‘balady chic’ movement

lanternsLast year, I was building a kitchen in my apartment in Cairo. I knew the tiles I wanted – classic arabesque style. You know, I wanted something out of an Andalusian palace or a Turkish mosque in my kitchen, please. I showed a photo to the tile salesman, who smarmily told me that they don’t have those tiles in Egypt.

“You don’t have those tiles? They’re along the walls of the ahwa (traditional café) downstairs!” I fumed.

The roll of his eyes said what his mouth wasn’t saying: “So old-fashioned, crazy foreigner.”

Happily, I found the traditional tiles, now made by a savvy Spanish company (and paid a bomb for them). Since then, I’ve spotted these (new) tiles everywhere, as part of a resurgence in what’s been dubbed ‘balady chic’. The word balady translates as ‘my country’ or ‘local’. So balady chic celebrates traditional Egyptian design, and it’s coming from the cool kids of Cairo.

This trip, I found an awesome tray featuring a reworking of the Hamza, or hand of Fatima, a powerful symbol that wards off evil, from local manufacturer Joud (it’s website is joudness.com – but Egyptians pronounce the ‘j’ as a ‘g’ – cute). I also raided the fabulously haphazard, historical market Khan al-Khalili yet again for yet more beautiful metal light shades (nagafa), belted into elaborate forms in the noisy, dark metal workshops spotted throughout Islamic Cairo. And they’re not a new story, but the handmade soaps (think: milk & honey, and olive oil – how much more Arabian can you get?) and organic cotton towels from Nefertari found their way into my bag for Christmas presents (see nefertaribodycare.com).

Easy on the eye, and better in the stomach, the hottest place in the upmarket, Nile-side part of Maadi is Baladina, for classic Egyptian food such as fatta and shawarma, beautifully done and served, rather ironically, by slim-hipped waiters in gellibayas and little white cotton caps. In fact, there are a few cool, new Egyptian food chains in town: try the ‘healthy’ koshary, made with green wheat and brown rice, at Zooba, Cairo Kitchen published its fantastic cookbook last year and I love El Dokan’s balady décor.

So great to see Egyptians taking pride in their own design history. Long may it last (before it gets copied by knock-off foreign companies).

Notes from a roadtrip: Egypt

I’ve been told to sit and be quiet while we gun it to Cairo, along the Red Sea coastline.

 

roadtrip4

The Driver needs to concentrate, dodgung potholes and trucks covered with pictures of Mickey Mouse – which doesn’t make them benevolent road companions in the slightest.

From the road from El Gouna, in Egypt’s south coast, we glimpse the Sinai peninsula – that much maligned buffer between Egypt and its arch-rival, Israel. We also spy container ships lurking in the bright waters, waiting their turn to pass through the Suez Canal.

At 3in el Sokhna now, having paused for a speeding ticket and salmonella at a roadside petrol station.

I can hear prayers from the mosque while we wait to pay the road toll, admiring the colours of the desert at sunset.

 

KNOW IT ALL: Alexandria, Egypt. Five essential things to consider before you go…

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
accept it. 

2 Egyptians call it Iskandariyah, but most people understand
Alex. 

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
umbrellas. 

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
scene. 

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.