Category Archives: Egypt

Egypt 6


IMG_9468It goes without saying that we are not cruise ship types, and we should have gone without cruising the Nile. Granted, it wasn’t the QEII but let’s just say we expected a lot more from Thomas Cook than a well-appointed cabin in the bowels of the engine room; food that could be appreciated only by the starving street cats (see previous post); portly Europeans (whose body image is way too good for their overflowing Speedos) who were, evidently, bulking up for a record cold, long winter ahead; and a docking schedule that made us wish we had instead taken a few long bus rides with some of those heritage sheep or hired a couple of camels. Okay. Lesson learned. VISA card company notified.

IMG_9428IMG_9508We had barely enough time to see Kom Ombo temple the first evening, so the next morning we bolted off the boat as soon as we could in order to reach Edfu temple before the throngs of other tourists. Very good move.

The evening entertainment was brief but decent. Great musicians, excellent belly dancer, one very good whirling dervish. Not exactly Las Vegas on the Nile, but a good distraction from the engine noise for 30 minutes.

Food highlight: None whatsoever.


Eat Like An Egyptian


IMG_9161Again, anything with eggplant has been fabulous and the koushari has remained a good fall-back food. The tahina (tahini) has been consistently good as have been the shawarma (grilled meat sandwiches), kofta (spiced, ground, grilled meat balls), the yogurt (full fat) and honey. Pizza is everywhere but we’ve only seen and enjoyed “Egyptian pizza” in Aswan. Filling choices are not particularly unusual but the stuffed crust is a cross between flatbread and a flaky phyllo. Excellent.

Alan and our new Lyonnaise friend (more on him later) enjoyed a chicken and vegetable stew that was redolent with cardamom. I’d like to figure out the recipe for that one.

There’s a condiment of sorts at some of the better restaurants. It’s a mixture of salt, crushed caraway seeds and crunchy bread crumbs. It adds a nice texture and subtle seasoning to just about everything.

Tomatoes are still in high season here and they’re sweet and juicy. They served at every meal with cucumbers that have almost a mild melon flavor and, of course, feta.

Biggest disappointments: The ice cream is similar to Turkish ice cream which is sort of chewy. It’s a little weird and not in a particularly good way. The pastries, no matter what shape they take, all seem to be one note – sugar syrup. The Egyptian equivalent of Greek baklava has no nuts and no honey. The cookies are dry, overly sweet and lacking in butter. (Please remember us if you happen to feel overloaded with too many Christmas cookies this upcoming season.)

Favorite beverage to date: fresh pomegranate juice (and Diet Pepsi in the 1-liter bottle, of course)


IMG_9391The eggplant here is incredible. Sweet, smoky, and aromatic. My moussaka, (Marla’s recipe) made with ground turkey instead of high-fat, high-cholesterol lamb and grilled instead of fried eggplant, is really quite good but it would, I’m afraid, benefit from some of that high-fat, high-cholesterol lamb… and probably copious amounts of oil…

Our friend, great cook and editor of Edible Santa Barbara had this to say: “Of course it’s the lamb. They probably have incredible, free-range, heritage breed lambs there. My mouth is watering just thinking of it.”

With that in mind, click on the photo to see our album with more of those woolly heritage breed critters ranging freely in front of their feed trough in the little alleyway a few steps from our hotel.

Egypt 4


For those of you not (yet) into Twitter, here’s Alan’s first tweet from Aswan: “Aswan is a sleepy little town. Harriet bought two souvenirs and then slept for 12 hours. Bargaining is hard.”

IMG_9164Aswan is a nice little city on the Nile – sort of the Cancun of Egypt with dozens of cruise ships disgorging tourists on a daily basis. The major souk street is several blocks long and partially shaded so it makes for a pleasant enough pedestrian mall despite the constant badgering by shop keepers dependent on tourists for their economic survival. There are the usual lines (in English, French, German, Spanish) — Where you from; Special price for you; No charge for looking; No hassle; How much you want to pay? — and there were a few that actually got our attention: Aloha; Only one million; and our favorite, Hello Mrs. Kojack.

IMG_9236The stuff is mostly schlock, except for the pashmina scarves that I’m pretty certain are imported from India, so there was little temptation to shop. (For those of you joining us for Thanksgiving, don’t despair; we’ll be sure to pick up your schlock – I mean, party favors — in Cairo.)


After shunning the touts who wanted to charge 25 Egyptian pounds (about $4.50), we joined the locals for a short ferry ride (about 18 cents) across the Nile. Steered by the Duffus Brothers, as Alan named them, men were seated in front, women in back. (No Rosa Parks anywhere in sight.) Engine failure, panicky brothers, boat change, no one surprised – just like an average day on MUNI.

IMG_9238Quick fashion note: Speaking of women in back or in black, Nubian women, for the most part, wear the all-black jalabas with black beading (nice tone on tone) or vertical silver designs for a little fashion flair. Except that I know they must feel like portable saunas, I appreciate the interesting patterns and subtle differences.

IMG_9218Once on the western bank, we hiked up the sandy hill to the Noble Tombs which were carved out of the granite mountainside, the final resting place for the priests, princes and governors who controlled the Nubian trade. This was our first encounter, up close and personal, with columns and walls elaborately etched with hieroglyphics and drawings – in situ. And save for a nice guy from San Francisco and the camel taxis at the base, we had the entire site to ourselves. Very cool.

From there we decided to follow the lush shoreline toward the mausoleum of the Aga Khan and St. Simeon’s monastery. Problem: nowhere to walk along the water’s edge. Solution: walk along the sand dunes. Problem: Sand … and heat (Alan describes the hike as stupidly long, idiotically hot. I would describe it as wandering in the desert for 40 years cloaked in a fleece-lined down jacket.) So NOW where are the freakin’ camel guys when you need them? Evidently, even the camels stage a strike every now and then. Those beasts of burden are smarter than we give them credit. They were certainly smarter than us.

IMG_9223After one hot eternity, we arrived at the mausoleum where the tourist policeman sized us up as the sort of people who wouldn’t pay baksheesh (bribe), which is true, and told us the joint was closed. Fine. So we shuffled back down toward the water in hopes of hitching a falucca (boat) ride with some tourists who might soon be returning from their camel trek to the monastery. We failed at hitching a ride on their 30-seater ferry and instead paid someone to row us back to the east bank in his tiny dingy with oars of rough chopped 6x6s. No blades, no handles, just barely squared, splintered logs. For a mere 10 pounds Egyptian, the going rate for this sort of thing, this guy really needs to consider joining the camel union.

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Kudos to Laura L who caught our 80s girl band gaff. It was the Bangles, not the Go Gos who sang “Walk Like an Egyptian” however, the Go Gos did “Vacation” so we were writing with the same spirit (and big hair).

As for the pop quiz about the Great Pyramid of Cheops being only the second largest structure ever built, the correct answer (from my Cadogan Guide) is the pyramid of Cholula in Mexico. That was built 4,000 years later and mostly destroyed by the Spanish, so we’ll give partial credit to those who guessed the Great Wall or care to do more extensive research.

IMG_9738For those of you feeling creative, we’ve added a new feature to the blog called, “Caption, My Caption.” Challenge number one: Provide a caption for this mosaic on the terrace wall of Happy Land Hotel, Luxor.

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Next up: Dam(n) Good

Egypt – Cats


The ancient Egyptians may have revered their cats but the present-day Egyptians… not so much. It’s not uncommon to see bands of felines begging for food. Some are a bit aggressive, although their small size is a testament to the failure of their approach.

If one were to believe in reincarnation, the sweet kitty we encountered at Edfu Temple would fit the bill. It wandered around among groups of tourists, doing some serious people-watching in that weird way that only cats can focus on a single subject for an inordinate amount of time, and seemed to be welcoming everyone to her/his granite digs. It loved being stroked although I never heard it purr…. or maybe I just didn’t understand the accent.

Egypt 3


IMG_9138Our hotel is in the relatively quiet island neighborhood known as Zemalek. The shops are more upscale and cater to employees of the many embassies located in the area. (The U.S. embassy, however is not in Zemalek and we seriously doubt it looks like one of the many colonial structures guarded by a single skinny dude trying to stay awake in his tiny wooden guard shack.)

Though taxis are cheap and plentiful, I am unquestionably the former and we prefer to walk anyway. So walk we did. For hours. Many of them lost. Most of them lost.

When I say “lost” I don’t mean we were all alone with no one to ask for directions. We were far off the beaten path of tourists, but fully merged into the heavily pummeled path of locals. I mean we were two grains of sand amidst this infinite desert of people, cars, micro buses, more cars, trucks, taxis and… have I mentioned cars?

Our maps were useless at this point as what little signage there was was in Arabic, and stopping to ask for directions posed a threat as moving to the left would land us under a bus, moving to the right would get us creamed by a guy with a blow torch, and stopping would cause a major break in the flow for the cart piled precariously with 4x4s or a burro carrying a few hundred pounds of aluminum tubs. So on we walked.

We decided that a little street food would fortify us in our traffic-phobic meandering and stopped at a clean(ish) place with a friendly proprietor and what appeared to be his enthusiastic following. Turned out that he’s popular because he makes some of the best liver and mokh (deep-fried brains) in town. Maybe we didn’t need so much fortification after all.

IMG_9130Eventually, we bumbled into Islamic Cairo and found sanctuary within the Medieval walls along stone-paved, car-free streets, with ornate mosques and historical merchants’ homes. It also happened to be the wholesale hookah district. Good to know had we been in the market for a water pipe.

Food highlight: Ravioli stuffed with lamb and apricots in a light cream sauce; ravioli stuffed with chicken in a mallow sauce. The pasta was fresh and perfectly al dente but very chintzy on the stuffing. Mallow… the taste is similar to parsley but it produces a glutenous, slimy sauce. Think oozing okra. The “light cream sauce” was really a cheap white sauce and needed a heap o’ Parmesan for some flavor. Must try making my own lamb & apricot stuffing for ravioli. (Anyone want in on the experiment?)


IMG_9133The next day, we chose to walk fewer kilometers, save a few hours, and experience Africa’s first metro. An excellent move. (pun intended)

The Coptics came to Caro around the second century A.D. We showed up on Friday.

Housed in the fortress of Qasr el Shamah, the Coptic museum boasts a small but stunning collection from Egypt’s Christian era which linked the pharonic with the Graeco-Roman periods. Within the complex are several churches, the Ben Ezra synagogue (founded in the 9th century but occupying the shell of a 4th century Christian church), and the church of our hometown gal, Saint Barbara. Nothing like a good story of beheading and martyrdom to end our day in Coptic Cairo.

We took our dinner and accommodations on the overnight train to Aswan.

Food highlight: Inedible dinner; breakfast of 4 different forms of white bread plus processed cheese spread. Excellent service.

Oxymoron highlight: “Sleeper” car


NOTE: Clicking here or on any picture will take you to the album