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A week a go today, in Zamalek, a solidarity concert was being held at the Sakkia El Sawy Cultural Wheel to raise money for the victims of the explosions in Alexandria.
It was organized and put together by the cast members of the newly released Arabic movie, Microphone, directed and written by Ahmad Abdalla.
The MC for the night was the very talented and well spoken Khaled AbulNaga. When he took the stage he spoke of the unfortunate event of New Years Eve in Alexandria and of the ‘Egyptians’ who had unjustly been taken from their families and lost their lives.
He asked all the attendees as a sign of respect to turn off their mobile phones and anything else that had a light and would be of a distraction while we gazed upon the faces that we had lost in a minute of silence, as their photographs appeared and faded off and on to the screen. It was heart wrenching to see the faces looking out in to the audience. When the minute had passed Abul Naga continued to talk to the crowd of supporters and said ‘I hope that we can come together and stop this from happening again. This was a slap in our faces, a wake up call to stop the seeds that have been sown and growing over a long period of time. What happened was not God’s will, it was the terrorists and their interpretation of God’s will.” As the actor spoke out in to the crowd he was greeted by a mix of reactions. Some people hung their heads in sadness; some had tears welling up in their eyes, while others nodded in agreement. “Egyptians have been around long before any religion came to be’ he continued ‘ “I Am Egyptian” was a phrase used not only to identify where you were from, back then it was a feeling, it was a state of being” The brothers and sister’s that we lost were Egyptians, they were one of us”. This statement was received with applause, cheers and with members of the audience repeating the phrase ‘Ana Masri”, (which means, I am Egyptian).
He went on to explain that the money from the tickets and the half the price of the solidarity t-shirts were to go to the victims of the attack, he encouraged everyone to buy a t-shirt before the night was over.
From there the majority of the bands that appeared in the movie Microphone took turns coming on stage to perform in front of the Egyptians who came to stand in solidarity. I stayed to just before the end. I can tell you that the ambiance although relaxed was a roller coaster of emotions for the musicians and the viewers. The performances were well put together, but one song stood out the most. I didn’t catch the singer’s name, but he moved everyone to tears with the song that he sang and the emotion that he put in to it. He himself had tears running down his face as he sang out the words that there is no difference between Muslim’s and Christians. When his song came to and end the audience had fallen silent and were just blown away by the lyrics as well as the performance that no one could speak. When they did come out of their trance like state they not only applauded, whistled and cheered they demanded an encore! The artist, although drained and out of breath, granted their request and sang it again, with even more gusto and emphasis than his first performance. It was, a moment to witness.
Between each band members of the cast or other fellow supporters from the entertainment industry took the mike to say a few words and to encourage everyone to help put an end to sectarianism. I just hope and pray that those attended took their words to heart and truly understood the fight that we are up-against, because if we do not stand as a united front, this will undoubtedly happen again and I fear the devastation will be on a much larger scale.
I would like to extend my gratitude to the cast of Microphone, for being so quick to respond to the aid of my fellow Egyptians and Alexandrians. I would also like to applaud them for taking the initiative and setting an example for their country men and women.

If you would like to see pictures taken at the concert, go to The Irish Alexandrian group on facebook;

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=217138771946

I feel like a fish out of water! I can’t believe it has been over a month since I have posted anything. I have been caught up in whirl wind of events. Let’s see what, have I been up to?

Well;

I started one of my final Masters courses last month and I have 3 more weeks to go before it comes to an end! It’s a bitter sweat feeling. I am bitter because it’s taking up so much of my time and when I’m sat with my face glued to my lap top reading the material required for completing my course work, my friends are out enjoying themselves, while I have to force myself to be disciplined and get on with my work and convince myself that it will all be worth it in the end! The sweet sensation is knowing at the end of the journey, the money I saved up to be able to complete this and endless hours of writing, researching and reading I would have earned the title of ‘Master’ and the salary increase is always an added bonus too.

 On top of that my sister FINALLY got engaged! So, in the midst of my studies, there was a lot of planning, drama and celebrating. I am really happy and thrilled for her, because the groom to be is a really nice guy and he is going to be like the big brother I never had, but always wanted!

 I recently had to bid farewell and good luck to a dear friend of mine. He has been offered a position in the UAE and I’m feeling a bit lost without him. He was my confident and sounding board. I’m finding it rather difficult having to come to terms with the idea that I can’t just pick up the phone and call him when ever I like, or arrange to meet up for lunch to vent or to get some sound advice. I have to text, email or Skype now to keep in touch. I know everything I’m mentioning is quite selfish. I am genuinely happy that he is starting a new adventure in the chapter of his life, but apart of me wishes that I was one of the characters in that new adventurous journey.

 I can’t remember if I had previously mentioned this but, I was approached by an editor, who is launching a new magazine in Cairo, he had been reading and following my blog and thought I had an interesting perspective of what life in Cairo/Egypt is like from a half Egyptian, half Western point of view and would like me to write a column every month! So, look out for ‘Nadia, In The City’! The Magazine that is set to launch in November is called ‘Moments, Life Style Magazine’, keep a look out for it at a news stand near you!

In addition to all of that I am working full-time! The school year has finally kicked off and my new students have now been with me for the past 4 weeks. I have to say that I it’s good being back in the classroom. I don’t know what it is about being in a classroom, but to me it feels like it’s my stage or domain, where I can make magic happen. This year’s batch of second graders are a handful! They are very opinionated, have fascinating characters and are full of ENERGY!! To keep up with them, I have to get up earlier than usual and do at least half an hour on my elliptical bike to get my endorphins jumped started for a day of teaching!

There are times when I just need to drop everything I’m doing and have some ‘ME’ time. Which either means getting out of Cairo and going up to Alexandria and visiting my family OR doing something fun and joining ‘Weekend Trip’ for an adventures day of fun and some times spontaneity. The owner of Holiday tours and co-founder of ‘Weekend Trips’, Yehia El Decken, has asked me to blog about EVERY ‘weekend trip’, I go on with his team. So, you’ll be reading a lot about my adventures with them this year.

 My romantic life you ask? Emmmm…..Well, what do you think? Do you honestly think with all that I’m juggling right now, I have time for a romantic interlude!??! I will say this though, since I’ve started focusing on myself and looking after myself more, I seem to have re-ignited ‘The Old Me’, which is attracting some attention. Other than that…there is nothing to report!

How about you? What have you been up to?

I love traveling abroad and visiting my family and friends who are scattered around the globe. I love buying them trinkets and gifts from Egypt too, but it can be difficult finding something that doesn’t look cheap, isn’t made in China and is authentic to the country or region. This summer I’m traveling to England to visit family and see a few friends and for the past couple of months I have been racking my brain trying to think of gifts to take. I’m sure that there are many people going through the same dilemma that I am experiencing so, I thought I would give you some insight.
The first time I take something to people, who are not from Egypt or have never visited the country, I take papyrus (paper the ancient Egyptians made) with ancient Egyptian scenes painted on or hieroglyphics. They are really nice when they are framed and hung on the wall.
Silver here is quite cheap, so some times I may buy silver khartooshes as bracelet charms, key chains or necklaces with their names written in hieroglyphics (ancient Egyptian writing). There is also the key of life and evil eye charm that could be bought and put on a chain. They also have a wide selection of Bedouin jewelry too that is very nice. I am a fan of the bracelets and necklaces.  I do need to point out that Egyptian silver tarnishes easily, so you may want to ask the vendor to dip them in platinum or something so that it stays nice and shiny.
Alabaster is a type of stone that is very Egyptian and you can find some small vases and statues made out of the sand colored stone. To test the quality of the alabaster you need to hold it up to the light. If the light shines through the stone and lights it up, then its real alabaster. Don’t buy too much of it, you fortune in access baggage.
In some shops you can find small clay statues of Egyptian men and women selling vegetables, smoking a sheesha (hubbly bubbly), sitting reading the Quraan and other typical scenes you would see while you are here in Egypt. I think they are very cute! I bought a few for myself to have at home.
Leather in Egypt is of good quality. Wallets, shoulder purses, hand bags and Aladdin like shoes are a popular item to buy as gifts. Some people even prefer buying the small leather poof cushions to take back with them.
If baggage isn’t a problem, then you could buy your very own sheesha (they come in all sizes and colors) or a Tableya, a large bras plate that is the top of a table with designs etched in to it and the wooden legs that hold the table up an in place. The Bedouins use these in their tents.

If you are in to smoking Sheesha’s then I strongly recommend that you buy the tobacco for it here, it is highly over priced when you buy it abroad. Plus another advantage is that here we have all the flavors, while back home they don’t have the variety.
While we are on the subject of smoking, I know a lot of people like to burn incense to make their homes smell nice. This is the place to buy it!
If the gifts that I am taking are for kids then I get them little statuettes of pyramids to take for show and tell at school, camels, Bedouin head-dress with the white galabeya (long shirt like dress), belly dancing costume, both are good for Halloween costumes. Then you have the tabla (the drum musicians place under their arms to play) and sagaat (finger castanets that belly dancers wear). In some toy stores you might find Egyptian puppets. There are also the touristy T-shirts with hieroglyphics on them and the death mask of Tutankhamen (the youngest Egyptian Pharaoh). One of my favorite things to get kids is an inexpensive watch where the numbers of the face are in Arabic.
A place to go to buy all the trinkets and souvenir’s your heart could possibly desire is at Khan El Khalili, in Cairo. There you will find every kind, color, shape and price possible. I personally like going there to buy the Bedouin embroidered shirts, linen tops, Bedouin cushion covers and to haggle! In Alexandria, you would want to take a guided tour of Zanet El Sitat. Both are market like places.You have to be a good bargainer. Never settle for the first price they offer you!
The above are some of the typical gifts that people would buy as souvenirs or gifts, but what do you take the next time you go? You can’t keep getting the same things! I am quite creative and I like to put a lot of thought in to the gifts that I buy people. This year I have really racked my brain and kept my eyes peeled for something less touristy and more tasteful. I am happy to inform you that I have been successful.
Carlito’s, jewelry store in Maadi is will make you a bracelet, pendent or even a key chain with your name in Arabic. It is done in Arabic calligraphy, which is very artistic. They will make it to your specification. By that I mean on the size of the pendent, charms for the bracelet and key chain. You also have 3 other choices; all silver, all gold or silver and gold (I like the silver and gold combination). I have had 7 pendants made for necklaces, 1 silver key chain and 1 charm bracelet and they have all come out really well! Another thing that he does which I think is pretty cool, is that he takes the new Egyptian 1 pound coin and makes it in to a necklace too. Why is it cool, because one side of the coin is Arabic writing and on the other side is King Tut.
Zafir in Zamalek is one of my new favorite stores to go to, to buy gifts for friends in Egypt and abroad. They print Egyptian designs on t-shirts that are unique to Egypt. I just bought my cousin a t-shirt that says ‘Shit happens’ but in Arabic writing. They have a few other English sayings written in Arabic as well as famous Egyptian quotes too among other designs too. I will have to pay them a second visit before I am due to leave to get a few more. They are so popular that they go out of stock quickly. .http://zafir-tshirts.com/

A colleague of mine had a gorgeous leather bag that she had bought in Maadi from a shop on road 216. It also has very cool arabic caligraphy on the exterior! The price tag on a bag like that is 300LE which is the equivalant of 30 sterling pounds or 60$.

If you have Egyptian female family members abroad and you want to take them something patriotic and elegent, famed and reouned jewelry designer, Azza Fahymy has designed bracelets in honour of #Jan25. The collection is known to many as ‘Anna Masry’, (I am Egyptian). The price tag for each bracelet, I have been told is 250 LE.

 

It’s a small street on 15b Taha Hussein Street.
Zia Candles in Alexandria, in the new extension of Carrefour city center has a stand near Debenhams. If you ask them to make a candle for you and have a name written on it in Arabic Calligraphy, they will do it for you. It will take about 2 weeks for them to get it done, but it is well worth it! We had one made for our cousin and it is so well made and original that we have asked them to make two more for us. They will be bringing their original idea to Cairo soon.

*** Update! Unfortunately due the recent Revolution the owner has closed shop! If they ever re-open I will let you know
There are stands in City Stars and Carrefour that sell soaps and other beauty products along with bath robes and towels. The stall sells things made from natural products grown here in Egypt. The stall in Alexandria is called ‘Nefertari’; I am not sure what the one in Cairo is called. Some of their hand towels have ancient Egyptian symbols stitched on them or the words ‘Ahlan Wesahlan’, which is welcome greeting we say when guests arrive at our house and some times when you meet someone for the first time.
Egypt and the Middle East are known for dates. Some times it’s nice to take back some of or oriental treats for the people back home to try. Quaidar in Cairo makes chocolate covered dates that can be quite addictive. Manna in Alexandria sells an assortment of date treats. We bought 5 boxes last summer and took them to our cousins in Ireland and my Uncle in Canada.
If the person you are buying a gift for is a book-worm or in to photography then I highly recommend ‘Impressions of Alexandria, The Awad Collection’. The pictures in the book show the evolution of Alexandria. Mr. Awad has spent years searching and collecting pictures of the ancient city belonging to Alexander the Great and has compiled his findings in to a book. If you are interested in seeing the collection first hand you will find it on display at the Alexandria Library. There is also a book of Poems and Prose written by an Irish man, Desmond O’Grady, who used to teach at AUC, (The American University of Cairo) and Alexandria University, it is titled ‘My Alexandria’. If your friend is from the region and can read Arabic, a book that has been getting a lot of hype and is said to be very funny is ‘Taxi’, (I just bought it for my Dad’s cousin).
If there’s someone that you know that likes music, Arabic CD’s here are cheap. I would suggest buying Oriental Belly dancing music, it’s just instrumental. If you want to buy a CD of famous singers, the classical ones would be Um Kathoum and Abdel Halim Hafez and Dalida. Modern day Egyptian Pop singers would be Amr Diab, Hisham Abbas, Tamer Hosni, Sherine, Wust El Balad and Hakeem. Other popular Middle Eastern singers are Asala, Elissa, Nancy Ajram, Nawal El Zoghbi, Ragheb Allama just to name a few. One of my favorite CD’s to buy as a gift that can be found at Virgin Record Stores is ‘Belaaks’, (opposite) it’s easy on the ears and the tunes are familiar English classics but sung in Arabic, plus there is a DVD that goes with it too.
I hope these ideas help you if you have found or know of something that would be a great gift to take to family or friends I would REALLY appreciate the input.

At least once a week  the Tuesday Nighters, used to (my friends and I) go out for dinner somewhere in Cairo. The majority of us were residence of the Heliopolis or Masr El Gideeda area, but we try to break the habit of convenience and staying close to home. We wanted to give our friends who don’t live near us a break from having to battle against Cairo traffic.  We had tried quite a variety of restaurants in Zamalek, Mohendiseen, Maadi and of course Masr Gideeda. I think if we were paid to be restaurant critiques every restaurant would dread seeing us cross the threshold of their restaurant. The majority of us all cook for ourselves and for pleasure, our pallets are quite mature and we have high expectations when it comes to our food. Our toughest critique would probably be Fat Sam, founder of Not Hungry Cuz I Ate.

So, in my latest entry I am going to give you the names of restaurants that I have enjoyed dining at. If you can think of others that you would like to recommend then please tell me and I’ll even make the effort to go and try it out myself or with my friends.

If you want a nice light breakfast or meal then I highly recommend Casper and Gambini’s. I have no complaints about the place. Every time I have been, I have enjoyed my meal. They make really nice pancakes and fritata’s

In the Heliopolis Area of Cairo, we are really spoilt for choice. The humongous mall, City Stars is home to many restaurants. When I’m there for lunch or dinner, I don’t mind  Ruby Tuesday’s because they have a fresh wholesome salad bar (I love salad!) and the quality of the meat that they use to make their burgers is really good. The service is friendly and good (located on the same floor as the cinema)

Blaze is a new restaurant/cafe and sheehsa joint that has opened. I have to admit that I like the atmosphere and the food is good too.

One of my new favorite places for a late night of dancing, spirit and cusine is CAVALLINI!! You can find this awesome place at SunCity Mallon the top floor. It reminds me of Summermoon in Agami way back in the day. Thursday and Friday’s rock!!

Opposite where Waga mama used to be is the Macaroni Grill, the times I have eaten there, I have really enjoyed my meal. I have heard mixed reviews about the place, but I have no complaints. There are 5 stone hearts hidden on the walls of the restaurant, if you find them you get a prize. I have yet to find them all. I have found 3 of the 5.

Cafe Supreme has come to Cairo and has hit the Korba area with a BANG!! If you are into healthy choices, sushi, sheesha this is the place for you!

If you like traditional Egyptian food then there is the popular restaurant Abu Sid. I haven’t tried the restaurant in the Mall, so I can’t vouch for that location but I have been to the branch in Zamalek, and I enjoyed it. It can be a bit pricey so make sure you have money with you.

If you are a fast food junky, then City Stars has all the junk you could want to satisfy your cravings. There are 2 food courts to choose from. There’s the one in the old section, the floor before the cinema and the second is on the ground floor in the new section of the mall. You can’t miss either. They are always the most crowded places in the mall and the noisiest too.

Tivoli Dome is the newest hot spot in the Masr El Gideda area. It’s an area where there are many restaurants to choose from  there is Noodle House ( i think you can guess what is on the menu),  Out Back Steak House (it’s an Australian chain, I really enjoy going there. Their steaks and burgers are very tasty, for an appetizer, you have to try the Bloom’n Onion), Crave is another restaurant that is well worth your money. The food is creative and definitely tickles your palate with its interesting flavours. Then you have Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Cilantro, Chili’s, Burger King, Cedars, Popeye and Bon Appetit. Parking there is a pain in the rear end!! So, If you don’t want to drive round and round in circles, then i recommend you walk there if you live near by or take a cab to save yourself from parking frustration!

Sonnesta Hotel

If memory serves me correctly, Sonnesta has an all you can eat Sushi night every Tuesday. I am not a big fan of Sushi, but I will eat the vegetarian rolls.

Makani is a restaurant located behind the famous Asian looking mansion called El Baron. If you are driving on Salah Salem you can’t miss it. It’s a spectacular building. Makani has an interesting array of salads and sandwiches as well as Sushi. I am a big fan of their chicken corn salad.

Le Chantilly is a swiss restaurant located in Korba. It’s very eloquent and simple in its decor but it’s food is yummy. I love their veal sausages with home-made gravy and  their breakfast buffets. There is an inside section and there’s an outdoor are too.

Karven Hotel is the place to go to have Indian food in Masr El Gideda. I used to cringe at the though of indian food before had even  tried it. For some un known reason I didn’t find it very appealing. When I tried it for the first time at Massala  I couldn’t get enough! The taste lingered in my mouth for days and I couldn’t stop dreaming about it. There is also a Chinese restaurant at the hotel. When my friends and I go to Karven, we like to go up to the Roof Garden and have our meal up there. The atmosphere is very pleasant and more spacious to take all of us.

Who doesn’t love Pizza?! I could eat it until I become round and my hear turns in to Mozeralla. I have grown tired of the fast food Pizzas and want to enjoy eating one made with fresh vegetables, herbs and close to the real Italian pizza. The closest I have come so far is Maison Thomas. I have enjoyed ever pizza and bite of their Pizzas.I especially like their Fungi Pizza

Zamalek Area

Zamalek is one of my favorite areas in Cairo. It is an Island in the Nile inhabited by some of the most cultured and influential people. In my opinion it’s the focal point of the original aristocrats that lived and ruled the land. I enjoy walking around Zamalek and looking at the fascinating Architecture, visiting art galleries  as well as going to its many restaurants.

As soon as you come off the 25th of July bridge, on your left hand side above Drinkies (a place to buy alcohol) is a restaurant called, La Bodega. The restaurant takes up the entire first floor. It is split in to two. One is a quiet and dimly lit dining area. While the other is semi casual and is split in to 3 sections. You have a dining area, bar area and the lounge. The food there is leaning towards French cuisine with a twist of oriental. You won’t regret eating there. I have yet to hear of anyone not having gone back again. You will find that a lot of people from the expat community in Zamalek go there. ( I hear this classly place might be closing it’s doors soon…I would go and check it out if you haven’t already)

Cairo Kitchen is the new sha3by chic! It makes traditional Egyptian dishes and drinks.

On the same block as La Bodega, Maison Thomas is a renowned and established restaurant best known for its Pizzas. This I believe is the original restaurant that has been opened since 1922. Once you try their Pizza, you may never order any other  kind again.

Just around the corner from Maison Thomas is a cluster of small pubs and restaurants. But the one many people flock to taste traditional Egyptian food is Abu Sid. If you have guests coming from abroad or have just moved to Egypt, this is where you should try Egyptian food.

Sequoia is another popular place to go in Zamalek. As soon as you come of the 25th of July  bridge, keep going straight until you come to the first set of traffic lights. Take a right at the traffic lights and keep going straight. It will be opposite you. Dinner overlooking the Nile siting in a marquis like tent. It’s a really nice place to go and chill or to watch a soccer/football game with your friends whilst you have diner. The food there isn’t top-notch but it’s good. I like their Mezza’s, salad selection and my friends like the Sushi there. If you are in to smoking Sheesha, it’s a great place to go for that.

Pub 28 is further down the road from these restaurants. It’s a small pub with wooden paneled walls. For some strange reason it reminds me of some of the small pubs you might find in villages in the UK. Not many youngsters go there to enjoy a night out, it’s for a more mature age group. However, the food there is really good.

Zamalek is where some of the AUC dorms are. To make food wholesome as well as enjoyable, students go to Dido’s. It’s a little restaurant on Ahmed Heshmat Street. It’s speciality is Pasta. The meal although cheaper than most restaurants is of good quality and portion. When I need my carb fix, this is the place to go.

On the street parallel to Ahmed Heshmat is, Mar3ashly Street. On that street you will find Tabasco Cafe and Costa Coffee. Both are usually full of students. La Toratoria is a restaurant specialized in Haute Cuisine. If you are taking your lady friend out on a date and really want to impress her with your taste in food, then this is one place you could go to.

Marriot Hotel is a beautiful palace that has since been converted in to a hotel. It’s a great place to go to spend the day in the hotel garden and another great place to bump in to celebrities. I met one of Good Morning America’s anchors there. Hotels, often have great restaurants. The two that I really like there are Roy’s Kitchen & the Italian restaurant. Roy’s’ is more  Western/Country style cooking. Their open buffet is really good and their burgers are made with good quality meat,  and are HUGE.

A long the Nile there are quite a few river boats that have many restaurants. One of my favorite boats to have diner at is Le Pacha, Le Steak. I was taken there on a first date and I just loved the place and the food. I have sensed a slight slip in the standard but not enough to not want to go back. The staff and service they provide is excellent. I recently celebrated my 32nd birthday people with over 20 people!

Blue Nile Boat  is another one of the many boats with a restaurant. Asia Bar has really good Asian food. The decor is really funky and so is the lazy Susan on the table. If you go on a Thursday or a Friday night you may find that quite a lot of the females who are, (hmmm….how should I put this politely?) are willing to provide entertainment services to gents but at a price, (if you catch my drift).

For really good sushi, go to Mori Sushi in Zamalek. Like I said, I am not a Sushi person, but I like the variety they have and it’s a very popular place.

* If you can think of other restaurants in these areas that should make this list, let me know.

Bon appetite!

I have always been a fan of the arts. As a youngster I used to really enjoy performing on stage in plays, musicals and talent shows, (it’s the family blood line apparently). I would have loved to have tried my luck in the industry, but my father strongly opposed the idea. Many of my teacher’s on the other hand couldn’t imagine me being anything other than an actress or a TV presenter.

When  my family and I would travel on holidays my mother would take my sister and I to museums, the theatre, ballet, musicals and galleries. At the time I didn’t realize what a huge appreciation she was instilling in me. Now that I’m older, I am very grateful that she did. I find that being able to enjoy ‘The Art’s’ enables me to look at life differently and see things from different perspectives.

When my family and I moved to Egypt in the early 90’s, the freedom of not being  able to just walk out of my front door and ride my bicycle to the recreation center or just around the neighborhood was something that really irritated me. As well as not being able to go and watch pantomimes. When the Alexandria Library opened and the Sayed Darweesh theater was restored,  I would hear of performances and would save up to buy tickets to go and attend. There is a captivating magic about going to places like that. For a few hours you forget who and where you are. Your troubles can be put aside for some time and then turn your focus back to them once you have returned from your mini mind vacation.

The Alexandria Library, is (in my opinion) becoming the cultural focal point of the city. They have guest speakers, movie screenings, performances by local Egyptian talent, bands like ‘Wust El Balad’ and my favorite event of all was the International Dance Festival. The Sayed Darweesh theater is not only a building built baring the name of a local Alexandrian but it also represents a local history. The theater I believe collaborates with the Cairo Opera House, some if not most of the performances held at the Opera House make their way to the Sayed Darweesh theater.

Another thing that I enjoyed doing whilst I was living and growing up in Alexandria, was going to the different cultural centers. The Russian Cultural Center, offers ballet, exercise sessions and in my day they even had art. The French, Spanish and German offer language courses. The most popular two were the British Council and the American Cultural Center. I believe they still are. If you live in the Roushdy area on Kafr Abdu street. Across from Cilantro there is a fitness center that offers a large array of courses. Tamarin Center is where I took my first jab at salsa dancing. The partners who own the center are amiable, social and helpful women.

When I moved to Cairo, I became spoilt for choice. There are so many places that offer so many things that it is impossible for me to know of all of them. What I can do is tell you about the places I have been to.

If you are really in to listening to live bands playing then you will enjoy going to a restaurant/pub called, The Cairo Jazz Club or After 8. Both places offer live entertainment, with performances by local talent. I am a huge fan of ‘The Riff Band’, ‘Wust El Balad’ and ‘Crash Boom Bang’. Each have their own uniqueness and sound. There are others but if I was to list them, I would be sat here for quite some time. http://www.cairojazzclub.com/ ,   http://www.after8cairo.com/Default.aspx

Then there is the ‘Cultural Wheel’, or otherwise known as Sakia El Sawy. It’s located in Zamalek, (one my favorite places in Cairo) 26th of July street, just below 15 of May bridge. ” El Sawy Cultural wheel is an Egyptian cultural center based on a vision to create an ethical environment that motivates people to develop and strengthen their culture through arts, enlightenment & creativity.”(description taken from their facebook group). It was there when I first went to watch ‘The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour’ and the Cairo Jazz festival. If you want to know what is going on there, join their facebook group. http://www.facebook.com/?sk=2361831622#!/group.php?gid=2243177865&v=info&ref=ts

I am not one who enjoys getting dolled up, I prefer being comfortable and natural,(My mother strongly disproves). There are VERY rare occasions where I will and that is if I’m attending a formal function which requires me to wear war paint (make up), crippling contraptions on my feet (high heels) and the (dreaded) dress! Having said that, I enjoy getting dressed up to go to the Opera. Yes, I realize how geeky this makes me sound, but I love listening to classical music, opera and watching a ballet. There is never a dull month at the Cairo Opera House. I would be quite happy spending all my earnings and going to the Opera House every month. They have their own orchestra, dance troops and they have many foreign companies come to perform too. It was there where I first heard Verdi’s ‘Aida’! http://www.cairoopera.org/

Cairo is littered with historical places to visit and experience. Book yourself a tour with a travel company or buy yourself a travel guide and go on an adventure. There is so much to see and learn. I’ve lived in Egypt for almost 19 years and I still haven’t seen a fifth of the countries treasures.

If you know of any other places, please let me know. I’d love to go and check them out for myself.

‘Weekend Trips’ a branch of the Holiday Tours travel company, came up with another interesting day trip. The trip was to spend a few hours trekking across an island located in the middle of the Nile in the heart of Cairo. Gazeerat El Dahab, (Island of Gold) is approximately 9Km in length. It is inhabited by people who farm the land. There are no bridges, roads or cars that take you to the island. The only way to get to and from the island is by boat. Many of the inhabitants work in the city so they take the 1Le Faluka (Egyptian sail boat) to the shore every day. The available forms of transportation on the small island are on horse/donkey back or by foot.
On the morning of the trip my colleague and friend, Nora accompanied me and other eager explorers at Sky Lounge in downtown Cairo, for coffee and mingling before making our way to the deck to board our private boat. The weather was clear, the sun shining as bright as always and there was a cool gentle breeze to dull the heat.
Aboard the boat we were greeted and briefed by the Weekend Trip team. We were told that the residents of the island are wary of strangers. They are constantly being visited by people who are trying to coax and even force them off the land. Rumor has it that the government may want it as a base; there are also other rumors of wanting to turn the island into a resort or a night club scene. We were asked not to ask them any questions pertaining to the ownership of the land and other related questions that might make them feel uneasy. We were highly encouraged to be courteous towards them; after all we would be their guests on their island.
The boat ride was beautiful. The view on the Nile looking towards to shore lines was fascinating. It gave you the opportunity to look at Cairo from a different perspective and angle. It is a wondrous city, and I can understand why many are captivated by it. Having said that, I don’t think Cairo can hold a torch to Alexandria. Perhaps my opinion is a biased because I lived in Alexandria for well over a decade and I am and always will be Alexandrian.
When we docked at the island, our eyes were greeted by a vision of a girl not older than fifteen years old with 2 younger girls by her side washing their clothes next to the Nile bank. They looked upon us like we were intruding on their privacy. I have to admit that I did feel like I was imposing upon their privacy at the beginning of the trek, but as time passed the residents became more relaxed and were friendlier towards us.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day spent walking the length of the island. I found it hard to get my head around the fact that I was on an island walking through fields of plantations in the middle of the city’s capital. Never the less, the scene on the island was a pleasant change from the concrete pillars of buildings and endless streams of vehicles crowding the main land. It was just relaxing to see open space. I was dumbfounded by the locals and their ability to live the way they do. It reminded me of the film ‘The Village’. Where the inhabitants were cut off from the modern-day world and lived a similar life style to the Amish. I felt as though I had stepped back in to a different era, where houses had no electricity or running water. Water had to be pumped and fetched for cleaning, washing and cooking. Their freshly grown produce is part of their nutritional diet. No fast food delivery or microwave meals. Animals were around every corner in every field. The animals that I saw on the island were better looked after than the donkeys and horses you see on the main land. All though the people of Gizeerat El Dahab lead a much simpler life style, they have a better understanding and appreciation for nature and God creatures that the educated individuals on the mainland. The sound of congested traffic was a distant memory. Instead your ears were filled with sounds that are usually downed out by the cars, the breeze rustling through the trees, birds twittering away to one another, sound of your footsteps on the dirt path and the sound of water irrigating the fields.
I am a nature girl at heart. I really appreciated being able to walk in the fields and see the patch work of the fields and not worrying about being hit by a car. It reminded me a little of the summers I sued to spend in England and the pleasant walks I used to take.
 On the island I was surprised to see a gigantic church. I think my surprise is due to the number of mosques I see everyday. So, I automatically presumed that it was Muslim dominated. Seeing the church there actually comforted me. It meant that on the island both faiths co-exist with one another. It also gave me a little hope too. If these people can do it, then so can everyone else.
         The sounds of the call for prayer rang out from the mosque and could be heard throughout the island, calling its followers to come and pray. I can’t remember the last time I went to pray in a mosque. So, since the majority of the group was going to, I thought why not! I washed for prayer (‘wudoo’ is a certain way of washing, before you pray) and went up to the ladies section of the mosque and waited for the prayer to begin.
When the Emaam started the prayer, everyone came together as one and were united in their faith and all quarrels and differences were laid aside. I found it fascinating how things can change in a matter of seconds. Just moments before my friend and I were being looked upon as strangers by curious individuals and then we were no longer strangers, we were sisters of the same faith. If only people of the world could recognize that we are all made the same way. There would be less hatred and more understanding.
      After successfully walking the entire length of the island it was time to retrace our steps and head back to the meeting point under the ring road bridge that runs through the island. When we got there we sat on the ridge, under the shade of the bridge with our feet inches above the Nile. Some of the group wanted to experience the Feluka ride the locals take every day to and from the main land first hand. From there we went to the local bakery or ‘Fino’ as they call it on the island, to have a taste of the traditional ‘Fiteer Mesheltit’. It’s many layers of filo pastry baked in a circle and cooked in an oven. It can be a sweet or savory dish. The locals laid down mats for us to sit on and served us the freshly baked fiteer with ‘aasal iswid’ (molasses) and ‘mish’ (aged and spicy cheese) on the side. From the way everyone dug in, it was obvious they had all worked up an appetite. Once we had satisfied our pangs of hunger, we walked back to the dock to board our boat and headed back to the main land.
       I really enjoyed the hours spent on the island. To me, that was seeing ‘the real Egypt’ in its natural form. I really do hope that the residence of the island will not be tempted by money and give up their land and way of life.

To see some of the photo’s I took, click on the link.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=152130&id=512092363&l=3e18df71ae

Egypt is mainly known for its ancient history but aside from that it is also rich with talented musicians and artists

Satruday, 16th of January 2010 was the one year anniversary of the Hafaninaha Studio Gallery was taking place in Zamalek. I was eager to go and see the exhibit because 3 colleagues of mine were showing their works of art and I had never been to the Hafaninaha gallery.

 The invite to the event read;

“We would love to invite you to our one year anniversary on Saturday the 16th of January 2010, celebrating the arts and artists of Cairo. This group exhibition is a joint effort between a select number of carefully chosen talents, that we guarantee you’ll enjoy.
Live music, delicious cupcakes, creative jewelry and lots of interactive art, are all part of our opening night so make sure not to miss it.

Opening Reception, Saturday January 16th 2010, 6:00 – 10:00 pm.
Open daily Sat- Thu, 12:00 to 9:00 pm.

Exhibition Concludes on the 30th of January, 2010.”

I have to admit that I am very glad that I did go to the Gallery. I arrived quite early and was able to get a very good look at the pieces of art that had been put on display. The gallery isn’t like the ones you are probably accustomed to abroad, where there large floor space and wall space. This gallery was split in two. The first section was a long rectangular area where the painting were hung and displayed. The second section is a room on the ground floor of the villa where the hand-made jewelery was displayed.

Art Gallery;

There were a few artist who were exhibiting their work. I have to say that some of the pieces were very intriguing. What I enjoyed about the exhibit is that the art reflected the city they lived in. More specifically ‘Usr El Nil Street’.

Marwa Afifi who is an art teacher at  Hayah International Academy, the school I work at surprised me with her art work. I had seen her jewelry but never her painted canvases. The mix media she used for her pieces gave a malanged appearance reality and dream. The vibrant colours of oil paints and water colors painted along side the cut out pieces of photographs made a very nice contrast.

Tasneem El Mashad, a talented young lady, who has painted colorful murals and had her art displayed in a few exhibitions is also another member of the Hayah Academy Staff. The last exhibition of Tasneem’s that I went to was about a year ago. The lively and bright colors that she used to interpret the scenes of Cairo, were a mirror reflection of the cheerful bright individual that she is. In this exhibition I was surprised to see that she had put aside her yellows, greens and reds and adopted different shades of grey. I am no art expert but if my interpretation of her art is right, from her work I would have to say that she is confused and depressed. The work looked busy which made me think that she’s really confused. Her art work never the less is still eye-catching.

Perihan Abou Zeid is another member of our teaching staff, her display of her art work was in my opinion a mix of traditional oriental egyptian scenes with a modern twist. The choice of media and colors that she used is the kind that I am drawn to. Simple yet expressive.

This what Perry had to say to describe her work;

“When I first reflected on the idea of down town (kasr el nil) I immediately visualized layers, maybe because I am fond of the concept of layers but it’s also because this how I see down town. An assemblage of layers made out of textures, colors, images, spirits, blocks, shapes, bodies and even noises created through years and years and which are often ignored in our busy lives.

Through my close observation I managed to reveal a remarkable diversity of which I tried to apply in my presented art pieces where I mixed various medias one of them is collage

In my pieces I tried to focus on the matters that caught my eyes the most like the buildings, the women and the ironic combination of this district. I also combined news paper with most of my pieces ,the printed words small and big reflects in my opinion  the feel of the sounds of down town, incorporated some words that we usually hear ,lyrics from an old forgotten song .I used stenciling and graffiti like calligraphy & painting style to add some roughness and texture to the work.

Mixed media gives me a lot of freedom and a bigger space to experiment specially when am working on a rich theme like down town (kasr el nil).”

Sarah Rafae a talented photographer had an interesting collection of photographs that she had taken down town. Her images had been taken with a shutter lense with a 5sec gap between each photo leaving  ghostly images of people and vehicles. It reminded me  of photos that some people have taken where images of ghost appear.

Artists Basem Samir and Hala Sharouny had a different approach to the theme of Kasr El Nil, they thought of the people walking through the city and the shoes that they wear. Which brings to my mind, ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’. The painted a pair of stiletto heels and in side the out of the heels were buildings. The colors were formidable and eye-catching. It also reminded me of a well-known chocolatiers in New York City, also a former employee of Ralph Lauren who  decorates, designs and makes edible chocolate high heel shoes. Each shoe is authentic colorful and original! I just loved Bassem and Hala’s interpretation of the theme! They got my vote for most creative.

I truly enjoy going and visiting museums and exhibitions. The artists there see things from a different perspective and some times we are too busy or blind to see what is that they see. When I am out and about walking along the pavements, driving by in a car or at an exhibition I tend to see another side to the amazing city I live in and I fall in love with it and its people all over again.