Nick’s Cairo, Egypt

Hello, city-lovers! Today Nick Rowlands brings us the best of Cairo, which has more to see than just the pyramids.

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Cairo is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Pyramids: you’ve got to catch them while you can, as you never know how much longer they’ll be around!

When I crave a decent shisha pipe I always go to Cedars Lebanese restaurant.

To escape the traffic fumes I head to al-Azhar Park (former rubbish dump, now Cairo’s most attractive green space).

If I want to play backgammon I go to my local coffee shop and challenge the locals (and lose)!

For complete quiet, I can hide away on a felucca in al-Maadi.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the Sphinx – cheesy photos of you kissing and patting him on the head are compulsory.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Aboul Sid it has to be the super-traditional rabbit and molokheiya (a slimy green soup made from a vegetable similar to spinach).

Ataba market is my one-stop shop for great junk-rummaging and people watching.

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Locals know to skip the Cairo Tower and check out the view from a rooftop bar instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go for a hearty bowl of koshary.

For a huge splurge I go to the Hard Rock Café at the Grand Hyatt hotel and enjoy the surreal experience of chomping wings whilst watching the Nile float lazily by.

Photo ops in my city include soaring architecture, vibrant street bazaars, and surreal transportation techniques, and the best vantage points are the minaret of a mosque, or just wandering around the streets, finger on camera trigger.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Hulk Hogan:  huge, crazy, brash, but with a heart of gold.

The most random thing about my city is the elastic nature of time. The same taxi ride can take 10 minutes one day, and 90 minutes the next.  “In exactly half an hour” means “probably in a few hours.” The Pyramids have been standing for over 4,000 years, yet many new buildings don’t last 4 months.

My city has the most hirsute men.

My city has the most resilient women.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves horse riding in the desert, or playing football with the kids in the middle of the street.

My city’s best museum is the politically incorrect but grotesquely hilarious Manyal Palace Hunting Museum.

My favorite walking route is south from Bab al-Futuh (one of the medieval north gates), past the elegant old Islamic monuments that stand watch over the chaos of the local bazaars.

For a night of dancing, go to the Cairo Jazz Club (thankfully, they don’t play jazz). Or, for live music, check out al-Sawy Culture Wheel, for everything from heavy metal to traditional folk.

Gad is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Croc–Cairo’s monthly entertainment and culture guide (in English).

You can tell a lot about my city from watching the traffic: order somehow arises from the chaos, and heated arguments over creative driving quickly dissolve into laughter.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they understand the true meaning of insha’Allah.

In the spring you should attend the Moulid al-Hussein, an energetic local festival with singing, dancing and lots and lots of fairy lights.

In the summer you should make friends with someone rich and lucky enough to have a swimming pool!

In the fall you should seek out the juiciest fresh dates.

In the winter you should drink hot karkade–made from hibiscus flowers, it’s Egypt’s answer to warm Ribena!

A hidden gem in my city is al-Azbakia Book Market: an eclectic treasure trove of old books and magazines, including 70-year-old National Geographics!

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For a great breakfast joint try fighting your way through the crowds at any street stall selling falafel and fuul sandwiches. Follow it up with a fresh sugarcane juice to really get your day buzzing.

Don’t miss the Eid al-Fitr festival that follows the end of Ramadan–three days of joyous celebration to mark the end of the fast.

Just outside my city, you can visit the picturesque and pottery-proud oasis of al-Fayoum.

The best way to see my city is to wander the streets and get terrifically lost.

If my city were a pet it would be a huge, hairy dog, incessantly chasing its own tail and barking.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in an airy cave behind a waterfall.

The best book about my city is the Yacoubian Building by Alaa al-Aswany.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Welcome to Paradise,” by Green Day.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss Dr Ragab’s Pharaonic Village–Cairo’s best-loved pharaonic theme park!

Taxi drivers refusing to accept payment for a trip because they’ve enjoyed talking to you so much could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it is an exotic, exhilarating and bewildering assault on all the senses, yet is one of the friendliest and safest cities in the world. It truly deserves its appellation “Umm al-Dounia,” the Mother of the World.

Note:  You can follow Nick’s adventures in the Middle East on Trazzler and Twitter.

Photos: Mickle Huang, Federico Lucchini, and Tracy Somerville via the Intelligent Travel Flickr pool