Friday, June 20, 2008

A quick tour around Cairo

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Egypt kept its cultural peculiarity which historians divide into Pharaonic Era which lasted for 3000 years, Greek Era which also lasted for 3000 years, Roman Era which interacted with Coptic Era after Christianity entered Egypt, and finally the Islamic Conquest of Egypt and the Ottoman Rule till the Modern Era launched by Mohamed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt, for that what's to be seen is almost endless, and one could go on touring days and days, till they may say they've seen "most" and it may take a life time to actually see all of Egypt.

A good start to tour Egypt would probably be Cairo the capital, Cairo's main square is Tahrir, at the centre of Cairo and home to the Egyptian Museum, with downtown Cairo, the busy commercial district.

Not so far from down town, you may start by visiting the old fortress built by Salah El Din Al Ayoubi, founder of the Ayoubbid Dynasty (1171 to 1250). The Citadel encompasses the mosque of Mohamed Ali, the magnificent architectural masterpiece, the "Madrasa of Sultan" Hassan (Quranic School) and the Police and Military Museum. There is also the Well of Joseph, 90 meters deep, which supplies the water for the whole of the Citadel. Within a few minutes drive from the down town Cairo.

Another must visit site not so far from down town Cairo would be the Ibn Tulun Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world and among the finest in Cairo. It was built between 876 and 879 and is decorated in a plain yet sophisticated style that achieves a powerful, simplistic beauty. Standing 40 meters high, a splendid view of Cairo can be seen from the minaret.

Now that you had a reasonable introduction to what history has kept from the Islamic era, a visit to the Egyptian Museum, approximately a five minute drive from the down town Cairo, would serve as a quick sneak peak to the Pharonic era, this unique museum, with well over 100,000 exhibits in 107 rooms and galleries, contains some of the world's finest ancient Egyptian relics. The golden sarcophagus and treasure of Tutankhamen has the power to hold visitors in quiet contemplation for hours. One of the favorite rooms contains a large collection of mummies.

Just before ending your quick tour around Cairo, it would compliment your day to have a typical Egyptian meal, and since one wouldn't want to try foods that are dramatically foreign to their stomach, then I would recommend koshary, it's a meatless dish, layers of common grains, such as rice, red lentils, chick peas and pasta with a tomato, garlic sauce and a spicy chili sauce, all topped with fried onions.

Koshary is a traditional Egyptian meal, It is sold from carts by street vendors, in restaurants or even made at home and each is considered a different taste experience, another pro about koshary it's that it's suitable for vegetarians too.

After such a meal, an iced glass of the Hibiscus drink, the infusion made from the sepals of the Hibiscus flower, a herbal drink consumed both hot and cold by Egyptians and other African nations, in Egypt they call it "Karkadeh" and considered one of the traditional drinks, this is just about it for the day, if still some energy is left. A walk by the Nile will be spectacular to cool off.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Visiting Mount Sinai

Visiting Mount Sinai has a special affect, just the thought of ones presence in a location were many events took place is enough to make your mind wonder...not to mention that the place has strong energy, suddenly you are dragged into a journey back in time.

Located at the foot of Mount Sinai, Saint Katherine's monastery is an old Greek Orthodox Monetary founded in the 4th Century BC near the spot where they supposedly found the remains of Saint Katherine of Alexandria, who was killed by the Romans for being Christian. The modern fortress that you see today was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Currently about 20 monks occupy the monastery and you can take a tour of it, most visitors if not all are impressed with the age of the complex. Some have said that they have never visited a church that really felt as timeless, the priests seem to be out of a painting, serious and focused.

Among the sites in the monastery are a beautiful chapel featuring original doors from the 6th century, as well as the remains of Saint Katherine, the supposed Burning Bush through which is believed that God talked to Moses, and a well from which Moses drank. There is also a macabre room full of all the bones of the former monks of the monastery. Saint Katherine can be done in about an hour or an hour and a half. It is a beautiful monastery tucked into the mountains of the Sinai, and worth a visit.

There are many reasons why tourists from all over the world find Egypt attractive specially Sinai, but when it comes to Saint Catharine its like setting foot in a movie set, except its not fake décor it’s reality, though I have to mention visit the monastery you have to see it before 12, because after 12 the monastery closes to the public.

Shopping in Egypt

Visiting Egypt does not necessarily mean visiting tourist sites and buying typical monuments specially made for tourists.

Shopping at Egypt can become an adventure; you can go chic and sophisticated urbanized shopping, at malls and designer brand shops, if your stay in Egypt is long enough then you may want to know were you can buy a jeans a hip shirt, a top or just a made in Paris perfume you may also have thirst and need to satisfy the cultural artistic intellectual side in you, as well as knowing where you can by a book, CD or just enjoy some great artwork.

In that case I would recommend that you consider finding out about art galleries, book stores especially if you speak or have a special interest in Arabic language, also a music CD with Egyptian rhythms so that you'll always have the facility of taking a mind journey back to Egypt when you are back at home, Egyptian tunes could be the perfect soundtrack for this moment.

Some of the art galleries I would recommend would be Zamalek Art Gallery specializes in the promotion of Contemporary Art...Where it hosts a series of monthly exhibitions for the most prominent and exclusive artists. The Gallery houses a permanent collection for pioneer Egyptian artists, as well as for promising young talents. It is located in the heart of Zamalek, the cosmopolitan quarter of the capital, where most of the cultural events take place... A 200- square- meter of exhibiting area, one of the most spacious private galleries in Cairo. In this Art gallery you will find a selection of art works by known and unknown artists, but what is clearly obvious that all the displayed work is done by extremely talented artists.

Diwan Bookstore in Zamalek too, it opened its doors in 2002 as the first American-style bookstore in Egypt. Building on Cairo's growing concept of modern leisure, the shop sells books, music CDs, videos and DVDs in a concentric layout centered on a small coffee shop. Diwan stocks an impressive selection of titles in English, Arabic and French, covering fiction, classics, political science, Arabic novels in English translation and children's books. The obligatory Egypt section includes some very nice coffee-table books, tourist guides and maps.

As for visual media, American movies as well as classic Arabic films are for sale, and an equivalent spread of music is available on both CD and cassette. Educational CD-ROMs occupy another niche, attracting parents and repelling their children, these include encyclopedias and compute program tutorials. Magazines, comic books and a wide variety of small items fill in the gaps, made up mostly of Diwan brand stationary, cards, candles and pencils that clearly have an artistic Egyptian touch.

Virgin Megastore

The 2,200-square-meter Virgin Megastore is an anchor of Egypt's 550-store Citystars shopping center. The UK-based company launched a flagship store in Egypt last October and has lived up to its "Megastore" label, cramming its shelves with an impressive selection of English-language books, as well as music, DVDs, games, IT, multimedia, mobile phones and electronic gadgetry, CDs and DVDs in collaboration with has expanded the reach of Virgin even further. Special orders are an option if you can't find a book among the diverse selection of titles, some of which can only be found at Virgin. If you feel the need to recharge after scouring the shelves, the store features a café next to the book section complete with gourmet coffee and a menu of light items.

So now you know that its not only tourist markets, or ethnic costumes that you may wear or not, you can still enjoy a vacation in Egypt with an updated modern style and attitude.

Farafra, One of the Most Beautiful Egyptian Oases

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During ancient Egyptians time, Farafra was named “Tahet”, meaning the land of the cow, in reference to its agriculture.

Farafra Oasis is the least populated of all, the oases of the Western Desert of Egypt and the least irrigated due to the lack of water resources, consisting nowadays of 40 wells. Recent discoveries revealed many resources especially in Karaouine.

The most famous crops in Farafra are dates and olives. The depth of the wells vary between 800 to 1200 m below the surface, the water rising form the wells, is rich in iron and manganese. The irrigated land produces organic food which supplies the hotels and the desert safaris in the area.

There are four main families of Farfaronis (that’s what the locals call themselves) mainly deriving from Libya and the rest from Assiut in Upper Egypt. The families are Al-Hassayba-Rekabeya, from which the tribe of Awlad Ali derives, Ayadeya, Hananwa and Kadadra. Some people carry the name Sanusi, in reference to a person named Al Saeidi Sanusi who resided in Farafra years and years ago.

The Western Desert is becoming one of the major attractions in Egypt, where people come from all corners of the world to see its beauty and its dazzling scenery.

Farafra's depression is the home of the White Desert, perhaps Egypt's foremost nature attraction. This area is shaped from sandstorms forming massive sparkling white chalk rocks.

As tourism spread in the Western Desert, the oases people, generous and hospitable by nature, took responsibility upon themselves to serve the tourists. Therefore, many of them have become guides and drivers.

A variety of hotels and lodges could be found Frarafra so settling down is not an issue to worry about at all, after being settled one must be aware of the must see spots since they are plenty.

A good start would be a visit to the Temple of Ain el-Muftella, a Roman Water Source, the Tomb of Bannantiu, the Temple of Alexander the Great, the Museum of Bahariya where the Golden Mummies and the English houses 'Gebel al-Ingleez' are.

It is almost a must to arrange for a 4X4 jeep to drive you to the White Desert, also to visit the Black Desert and the dune area..

On the route to Farafra you can pass by the Crystal Mountain, the area of the wonders with the desert roses, and just not to miss anything visiting El Akabat and then heading to the White Desert, will make it a perfect tour, to wrap up a day filled with many activities and after seeing many sites a final destination would be the New Desert, as you relax the sun sets, just to make it more special at evening, a barbeque dinner can be arranged, a good night sleep in a tent under the stars is what one would need after such an exciting day.

Farafra is also famous for old Egyptian artifacts to Roman ones and the Sand Museum of that gentle soul named Badr who gave his entire life to create art from whatever the desert could offer him.

Many expressions of symbolic art are found, unique drawing from the sand, sculptures from sand and rocks, oil and water colored paintings describing love, agony and the desert. It is free entrance and most of what he created is for sale while others are his intimate and private collection.

A special treat would be a dip in the hot springs that could reach 60 degrees and its rushing waters which could ascend in some wells from 1000 meters deep and enjoy its healing powers, this is just what would one need to ease all the fatigued muscles and a final relaxation moment before you end your trip. But it's better to wait until nightfall so the spring waters will somehow be cooler.

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