Thursday, July 21, 2011

CAIRO

BARS & NIGHTCLUBS
Eros – 1 Gamaet El Dewal El Arabeya Street (Giza, on Sphinx Square); 011-20-02-3347-2791; central, contemporary, cool club; waiters wear long, white robes and red fezzes; Greek mezes; ask for table on outdoor terrace.
Greek Club – 3 Sharia Mahmoud Bassiouni (Downtown, near Tahrir Square, through unmarked door); 011-20-02-575-0822; private club (pay cover for admittance); bazouki music plays on leafy, outdoor terrace, where cats clamber on shady pergola; nice place to have beer & light meal; expat hangout.



HOTELS
Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino – 16 Saray El Gezira Street (Zamalek); 011-20-02-2728-3000 or 888-236-2427; marriott.com; former 19th Century palace; on 6 acres gardens with outdoor pool and Nile River views; rooms with balcony and Nile River view; reasonable.
Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza – 1089 Corniche Il Nil (Garden City); 011-20-02-2791-7000 or 800-819-5053; fourseasons.com; easy walk from downtown Cairo; designed in Art Deco and Belle Epoque styles but only 3 years old.
Four Seasons Cairo at the First Residence – 35 Giza Street (Giza); 011-20-02-3573-1212 or 800-819-5053; fourseasons.com; riverside property with Nile River and Pyramid views.
Mena House Oberoi – 6 Haram Street (Giza); 011-20-02-3377-3222 or 800-562-3764; oberoihotels.com; built in 1869; on 40 acres jasmine-scented gardens; opulent; legendary suite is 1102 has 4 balconies looking straight into pyramids.



RESTAURANTS
Abou El Sid – 157 Sharia 26th of July Street (Zamalek); 011-20-02-2735-9640; abouelsid.com; behind large, ornate wooden door; Royalist Egyptian meets Andy Warhol décor; try fattah (sort of beef, tomato, and yoghurt risotto); reservations; taxis available for return trip.
La Bodega – 157 26th of July Street; (Zamalek, at Balmoral Hotel); 011-20-02-2735-0543; labodegaegypt.com; westernized, Egyptian experience.
Café Riche – 17 Shar’a Talaat Harb (Downtown); 011-20-02-2391-8873; since 1908, Cairo’s literary and theater communities’ social headquarters; cabaret where Umm Koulthum got her start (1922); standard French-influenced Egyptian grill dishes; steak with pistachios is innovative & quite good; all usual local options, including fatta (meat or vegetable casserole) and tahini; can also get good breakfast here.
Citadel View Studio Misr – Al-Azhar Park (Al-Azhar); 011-20-02-2510-9151; alazharpark.com; Islamic area location, thus no alcohol and have driver wait.
Dar El Amar – 9A Saray El-Gezira Street (Zamalek, on Blue Nile Boat); 011-20-02-2735-3112; cairodining.com/restaurants/Dar-El-Amar-Terrace-5850; popular Lebanese restaurant; river views and large mezes array.
El Fishawy Cafe – 5 Sikkit Khan al-Khalili (Khan al-Khalili, in El Fishawy Alley); 011-20-02-590-6755; oldest coffeehouse in Khan el-Khalili souk, open for over 200 years; Naguib Mahfouz was regular; specializes in tea and waterpipe; women are welcome; try karkaday (deep, red hibiscus tea).
Naguib Mahfouz Café – 5 Al-Badestan Lane (Khan al-Khalili); 011-20-02-2593-2262; facebook.com/KhanElKhaliliRestaurant; haven of air-conditioned tranquility, in chaotic, Medieval souk.
Le Riad – 114 Muiz Li Din Allah Street (Islamic, at Hotel de Charme); 011-20-02-2787-6074; leriad-hoteldecharme.com; 2nd floor of this boutique hotel has tearoom; curl up on sectional sofa and sip iced karkady (deep, red hibiscus tea).
Sequoia – 53 Abu El Feda Street (Zamalek); 011-20-02-2735-0014; sequoiaonline.net; among Cairo’s most fashionable restaurants; features Egyptian food and sushi; great people-watching.



SERVICES
Indagare Travel – 551 Madison Avenue (New York); 212-988-2611; indagare.com; ask for Sherine Barakat, sophisticated Cairo native; incredibly plugged in.



SHOPPING
Atlas Silks – 15 Khan El Khalili Street (El Gammaleya, Azhar); 011-20-02-2591-8833; kaftans and traditional and Western clothing, as well as bags and slippers; all crafted from beautiful, embroidered Egyptian silk.
Diwan English-Language Bookstore – 158 26th of July Street (Zamalek); 011-20-02-2735-3460; diwanegypt.com; go-to place for English-language books.
Foustat Traditional Crafts Center – 1 El Emam Street (Islamic); 011-20-02-2363-3018; psta.org/uk; locally made bowls, coasters, jewelry, plates, and vases.
Khan al-Khalili Market – Al-Azhar Street (Islamic); 011-20-02-2590-3788; touregypt.net/khan.htm; goods from all over world; part tourist trap, part real thing.
Mounaya Gallery – 14 Montazah Street (Zamalek); 011-20-02-2737-7726; mounaya.com; accessories, clothes, home goods, and jewelry (all sourced from Egypt & Lebanon).
Nakhla – 10 El Nil Street (Giza); 011-20-02-3571-3457; 24 karat gold jewelry by father and daughter, Ikram and Malak Nakhla.
Siwa Creations – 17 Ahmed Heshmat Street (Zamalek); 011-20-02-2737-3014; siwa.com/SiwaCreations.html; clothing and scarves from Siwa Oasis women; also, organic food products.
Townhouse Gallery – Hussein El Me-mar Pasha Street (Downtown, off Mahmoud Basyouni Street); 011-20-02-2576-8086; thetownhousegallery.com; cutting edge Cairo art scene.



SIGHTS & SITES
Al-Azhar University & Museum – El Darb El Ahmer (Islamic); 011-20-02-2588-1153; azhar.edu.eg; University is among world’s oldest still operating; connected to Al-Azhar Mosque; both named in Fatima Az-Zahraa’s honor (Muhammad’s daughter, from whom Fatimid Dynasty claims descent); built in 2 years (971-973 CE); theology school (madrassa) founded in 988 as Ismaili Shia school, but later became Sunni school, which it remains today; Mosque structure reflects many centuries of styles; entrance is through 15th Century Barber’s Gate, where students traditionally had heads shaved; leads into great courtyard (sahn), dating from 10th Century, overlooked by 3 minarets; courtyard’s white facade, accented by keel-arched panels and rosettes, mostly from Fatimid period; latticework-screened, madrassas’ residential quarters (on right side) date from Mamluke period (rarely open to visitors, but tourists may enter prayer hall); university’s library (not open to visitors), consolidated in 1897, is 2nd in importance and range only to Dar Al-kotob Al-Masriah; 100K books include 600K rare books and manuscripts, some as old as 8th Century.
Al-Azhar Park – Salah Salem Street (Islamic); 011-20-02-2510-3868; alazharpark.com; created in 2004 by Aga Khan Trust for Culture on former, 500 year-old rubbish heap.
Bab al-Futuh Gate – Muizz Street’s end (Islamic, north of Khan Al-Khalili); archnet.org/library/sites/one-site.jsp?site_id=3317; in Old City’s walls, facing north; finished in 1087 by Commander-Vizier Badr al-Jamali (of Fatimid Imam-Caliph Mustansir); Futuh indicates “victory” gate; rounded towers have shafts (for pouring boiling water or burning oil on attackers) and arrow slits; covered in geometric and vegetal motifs; part of rebuilding campaign that included 2 other gates, Bab al-Nasr and Bab Zuwayla; Armenian al-Jamali employed Armenians from northern Mesopotamia, as well as Syrians, in this vast building campaign; used, in particular, 3 brothers from Edessa, each building 1 gate (they were possibly Christian refugees who fled Edessa after its capture by Seljuqs from Byzantines in 1086 and sought asylum under Fatimids’ tolerant rule).
Bab Zuweila Gate – only remaining southern gate of medieval city of Al-Qahira (“Victorious”), from which Cairo derived; can climb either of gate’s 2 top minarets and gain view over Old City.
Bayt El Suhaymi – 19 Shar’a al-Darb al-Asfar (Islamic, north of Khan Al-Khalili); egyptianmuseums.net/html/bayt_al-suhaymi.html; 2 adjoining 17th & 18th Century houses next to Al-Aqmar Mosque; passageway and stair maze filled with colorful mosaic floors, marble fountains, painted wooden ceilings, and windows covered with latticework; considered domestic Islamic architecture’s best example in Cairo; coolly luxurious 16th Century merchant’s house is huge (more than 6K' square); flour mill, gardens, well; resembles self-sufficient hamlet; entrance passageway leads to lush courtyard, totally unexpected from outside; on ground floor are salamlik (public reception rooms); upstairs are haramlik (private rooms).
Citadel – al’Qala’a, Shar’a Salih Salem; built by Saladin in 1176 to defend city from Crusaders; make sure to visit Mohammed Ali Mosque.
Coptic Museum – 4 Fakhry Abd el Nour Street (Abbassia, in Maser El Qadema; alternate address is 3 Shar’a Mari Girgis, Mari Girgis); 011-20-02-2363-9742; coptic-cairo.com; in Roman Babylon Fort ruins; newly restored; world’s largest Coptic Christian artwork collection; 1st floor has carved stone and stucco, frescoes, and woodwork; 2nd floor includes icons, manuscripts, metalwork, and textiles; several pieces noteworthy for quirkiness and/or syncretism.
Egyptian Antiquities Museum – al-Mathaf al-Masri (Downtown, Midan El Tahrir); 011-20-02-2575-4071; egyptianmuseum.gov.eg; make sure to see Rooms 3 (Tut’s death mask); 56 (royal mummies), and 14 (Fayoum Portraits).
Egyptian Textiles Museum – 121 El Muez Street (Islamic, behind Wekalet Sobhy Zakaria); 011-20-02-2786-5227; facebook.com/EgyptianTextileMuseum; in structure built by Mohamed Ali Pasha to commemorate his son, Ismail, who dies in 1822; features more than 250 pieces from late pharonic times forward.
Gayer-Anderson Museum – 4 Maydan Ibn Tulun (Sayyida Zeinab); 011-20-02-2364-7822; sca-egypt.org or ; fascinating pair of old houses, joined together, where British army doctor who was avid art collector lived from 1935-1942.
Pyramids & Sphinx – l Haram Street (Giza, at Saqqara Road); 011-20-02-383-8823; en.egypt.travel/sub_product/index/pyramids; 10 miles southwest of Cairo; open at 8:00 a.m.; stop at Solar Barque Museum (Khufu Pyramid’s base, air-conditioned), housing 140' cedarwood barque belonging to pharaoh; walk to Sphinx, 10 minutes downhill; lunch at Mena House Oberoi’s Khan El Khalili restaurant (near Pyramids) Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) is last surviving 7 World Wonders’ representative; Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren), Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus), Sphinx & Temple, Various Queens’ Pyramids & Nobles’ Tombs (located in regimented cemeteries surrounding royal pyramids) see, especially, Seshemnufer IV’s Tomb, which you can explore from inside, descending to sarcophagus.
Ibn Tulun Mosque – Shar’a Tulun Bay (al-Basatin); archnet.org/library/sites/one-site.jsp?site_id=2070; huge congregational mosque built in 879 by Ahmad Ibn Tulun; architectural masterpiece separated from streets around it by ziyada (walled-off space), in which Friday market once held and where famous, spiral minaret located; mosque covers more than 6 acres; 4 arcaded aisles surround vast courtyard; arches’ soffits covered in carved stucco (1st time this medium used in Cairo).
Khan el-Khalili Market – Al-Azhar Street (Islamic); 011-20-02-2590-3788; touregypt.net/khan.htm; 14th Century souk; narrow alleyway maze; jewelry stores, spice shops, etc.
Museum of Islamic Arts – Shara Bur Said (Downtown, at Maydan Ahmad Maher); 011-20-02-390-9930; facebook.com/pages/Museum-of-Islamic-Art-Cairo/108084315880871; among Cairo’s finest museums; extensive collection.
Umm Kulthoum Museum – Al-Malek Al-Salah Street (Roda Island); 011-20-02-2363-1467; umkalthoum.gov.eg; small museum in former 1830s Turkish palace dedicated to singer, Umm Kulthum, who, more than 3 decades after her death, remains Egyptian nationalism cultural icon.
Zamalek Island – Nile River (Downtown); erstwhile expat and upper middle-class residential enclave of leafy avenues and bourgeois apartment buildings and villas, now bit shabby.

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