I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Pyramid selling: Cairo returns to the sun

This year is a bumper year for Egypt and for travel in Cairo – it’s the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb by Egyptology Howard Carter. It’s also the 200th year of the cracking of the code on the Rosetta Stone, which led us to understand Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics. It’s the year that Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) was supposed to have opened – though there is a hint that it will open partially this year, just because 2022 is such a big news year, and because we’ve all been waiting for this museum for more than eight years.

The last surprising “Wonder of the AncienPyramid Selling: travel in Cairot World”. The liveliest of lively street cultures. Fabulous and affordable historic, luxury hotels. A familiar golden backstory prominent in school curriculums around the globe. Cairo, Egypt’s chaotic but captivating capital, is the megalopolis that seems to have it all.

This city, like a colossal bowerbird, has spent millennia sequestering new treasures left in the wake of a parade of invaders from Persia to Macedonia, Assyria to Rome, more recently France and Britain, the last colonial power, to be dispatched in 1956.

Yet for reasons I can never understand, Cairo is given short shrift on travellers’ itineraries, with just a day often allocated on either side of a Nile cruise, or worse, a half day on the way to the airport. The markets! The food! The architecture! The crazy, rushing, structured chaos in which this city survives and thrives. It is one of the world’s biggest cities, it’s inexplicable in its workings, yet it continues to work – in a fashion – to be simultaneously a major Middle Eastern hub and one of the most important cities in Africa.

Summing up more than a decade of ramblings around Cairo, and looking ahead to what’s new in the city, I wrote this story for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Traveller section, titled Pyramid Selling. Click here to read my story.

I hope you enjoy, and let me know what you love – or don’t enjoy – about Cairo.

 


Podcast: travelling in the Middle East

Recently, I went to Saudi Arabia for a holiday. Is that a weird thing to say?

Travelling in the Middle East is a guaranteed dinner party starter: travellers either love it or swear they’ll never set foot in any of its countries – from Egypt to the United Arab Emirate, Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

I love the architecture, the languages, the desert landscapes and the blue waters that fringe the Arabian peninsula. I guess that’s why I keep returning.

I chatted to host Ben Groundwater, with Lisa Pagotto, founder of the awesomely adventurous travel company Crooked Compass on the Flights of Fancy podcast to tease out travel in this most misunderstood of regions.

Click here to listen to the full podcast. Go on, you know you want to!

 


Egypt; The four unmissable sites of Cairo

With pyramids and gold pharaohs, towering temples and cursed tombs, it’s no wonder Egypt’s been on the tourist trail for the last 4500 years.

One of the stories in the inaugural issue of  Arrived, a new quarterly magazine by the family-owned The Travel Corporation, is about the upcoming, loooong-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). To complement it, I’ve listed a few more unmissable sights in Egypt including Coptic Cairo, with sites dating from the birth of Christ.

Built over Roman ruins, the Hanging Church (pictured above) is one of the earliest of Cairo’s churches, and definitely its most visited. But don’t bypass the nearby cave where the Holy Family sheltered from the wrath of Herod, which to my mind is far more atmospheric, hidden as it is beneath the Church of St Sergius and Bacchus. Last time I was there, there was talk that the cave was closed to visitors, but we mingled in with a government group to once again breathe the damp, sacred air in this subterranean cave. Walking through the chaotic laneways of Coptic Cairo really is the most extraordinary experience, don’t miss it.


Tips for visiting Cairo’s Pyramids: Egypt

Each year, I return to Egypt for so many reasons – family, kunafa, fresh, chunky mango juice and a hit of history.

This year, I teamed up with Ahmed Aziz, an Egyptologist with tour company Abercrombie & Kent, who I’ve been working with for years in Egypt. Ahmed’s been a guide through Egypt’s sites for 16 years, and together, we delved into the newly opened Bent Pyramid in Dahshour, about an hour from Cairo.

He shared some excellent advice for visitors to the Memphis necropolis, which includes the Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and the lesser-known, little visited Dahshour, including the best places to stay, when to visit and keeping a stash of small notes to tip the haras (the temple guardians, who are drawn from the neighbouring villages).

Click here to read the full story, which appeared in the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

See abercrombiekent.com.au


Airline review: Madrid to Cairo with Egyptair

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 : )

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age‘s Traveller section, you can read the full review here.


What to expect when visiting Cairo Airport’s Terminal 2

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.

 


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/


Summer reading: a not-very-definitive list

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!

Belle


Eid Mubarak (and no gory photos, this year)

Kakh al-Eid. Photo: Belle Jackson

Eid Mubarak (Happy Feast), every one.

This may be my first posting during the annual celebration of Eid al-Adha that doesn’t feature a photograph of a bloody carcass. Instead, I offer you a far more genteel photo of Kahk alEid, a sweet shortbread that’s traditionally eaten during the Small Feast, Eid al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

Eid al-Adha is the Great Feast, which celebrates the occasion when God asked the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham agreed, but at the last minute, God replaced his son with a sacrificial lamb. So today, if you can afford it, you sacrifice a four-legged animal and offer a third of the meat to the poor (of which there are many in the Middle East at the moment, it’s sad to note).

Back home, here in Australia, the Lebanese bakery where I bought these kahk al-Eid told me they call the tasty pastry ma3moul. Either way, its crumbly sweetness is perfect with a glass of dust tea (no sugar). This shortbread pastry is filled with walnuts and scented with orange blossom water and dusted with icing sugar. There’s also a pistachio and rosewater version which sounds great but leaves wanting, and yet a third with dates, which is sprinkled with sesame seeds.

And instead of watching butchers across Egypt sacrifice animals, and seeing the blood-red handprints
that people use as a talisman against the evil eye, we carved an enormous leg of Australian lamb (a really, REALLY big lamb), ate salads scented with cinnamon and cumin, and the homesick amongst the Egyptian diaspora in my house talked of home, and how it has changed couple of years.

The traditional greeting during the feast is ‘Eid Mubarak,’ where ‘mubarak’ means ‘happy’ – not to be confused with the deposed military dictator Hosni Mubarak. Now, as you well know, there’s a new military dictator, Fattah al-Sisi. The question on the streets in Cairo is: should we now be saying Eid Sisi?

(Oh you’re a bloodthirsty lot, aren’t you? Yes, those links will take you to postings from previous years. Please don’t click there if you’re a squeamish type. And if you do click there, and then get upset, don’t go complaining to me. I told you so.)


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