Live From the Longchamps

Live From the Longchamps

by Jimmy Dunn

Hebba, owner of the Hotel Longchamps, and I on one of the hotel's terraces, enjoying a little Egyptian beer.

Well, its off to Egypt for me. It's interesting how many people, upon finding out that I spend much of my time writing about Egypt, ask me if I have ever traveled there. Of course, the answer is, "more times than I can count", but after having experienced a serious illness last year, it has now been far too long since my last visit. I do love Egypt and particularly Cairo, so I am eagerly awaiting this trip. I have many friends there I need to catch up with, and of course, I will be exploring both archaeological and touristic sites for future Tour Egypt Articles.

Hence, my next article will come from the road. Beginning next week, I will be "broadcasting" live from the Hotel Longchamps, a small hotel on Zamalek that I, a number of Egyptologists, diplomats and other fortunate travelers like to think of as our home away from home. With a little luck (my laptop, my digital camera and my internet connections holding up), I will be providing a blow by blow account while I am in Egypt over the next three weeks.

I am not going to Egypt during a particularly slow period for tourism. During the Iraqi War, there was a tremendous slowdown in tourism, but almost immediately afterwards, things picked up again and now many of the normal tourists sites are once again crowded with visitors. And yet, I continue to have people ask me if I am concerned for my safety, particularly Americans. Of course, the answer is a resounding NO! One thing you can say about the Egyptian government is that they take exceptional care with their tourist's safety. That is why we so very rarely hear of a tourist even being robbed, and there have been no violent tourist deaths related to crime or an act of terrorism since 1997. I feel much safer walking the streets of Cairo than many streets in the US. Still, there are those who will never believe how safe Egypt is, so as I leave the frigid Panhandle of Texas and find my way to the much warmer terraces of the Longchamps, I will toast their reluctance to know Egypt's charms.

Though I have made this journey countless times, I can still remember my first visit to Egypt very clearly. There is nothing really like experiencing a very different culture than one's own. My first trip to Cairo was on business, in at the request of the tourist authorities to talk about their presence on the Internet. Since I was not a part of a tour group, I was completely submerged into the Egyptian culture and was even given lessons on how to act and present myself to high officials by Arab businessmen. I stayed in an Arab business class hotel and my short stay was punctuated by an endless series of meetings and preparations for more meetings.

That really did not stop me from enjoying the experience. I, perhaps like many tourists, stood in awe at first seeing the famous Nile River. It's a feeling that cannot be properly expressed and can really only be understood by someone who has stood upon its banks for the first time. But as my time in Cairo passed, what I really began to appreciate was the busy life on the streets, the crowds and the pure energy of the city. I fell in love with Cairo's personality, and the people who call it home. They are a gracious people, kind and polite for the most part, with a tradition of hospitality that stretches back thousands of years. Though I still enjoy Cairo's hustle and bustle, its fine restaurants and endless entertainments, it is the people who I miss most when absent from this great city. I know that many people tour Egypt without no interest other than to see its monuments, but when they isolate themselves from the culture and the people, they miss a great deal of the Egyptian experiences.

While I hope to visit all of my friends in Egypt, this is another business trip. I suppose one could say that I have never really been to Egypt simply for pleasure, though many would admonish me for calling what I do work. Nevertheless, I will be very busy gathering new information of one form or another. I will be spending considerable time at Giza, Saqqara and a few other surrounding pharaonic sites as well as investigating Christian and Muslim sites, mostly close to Cairo. However, I will also entertain myself on your behalf, reporting on some new nightlife hotspots, great restaurants and other non-antiquity related distractions. In fact, our readers can count on me finding some little known nooks and corners of Cairo that are a little less frequented by the throngs of tourism. In addition, I will spend some time in the Bazaars, faithfully reporting new finds and interesting merchants. There will probably also be a few interviews with Egyptologists, antiquity authorities and others.

So I hope our readers will keep a close eye on this column over the next few weeks and I will do my best to bring you the Egypt that I love, and I will do my best to make those who've visited Egypt envious, and those who have not long for its pleasures. After all, one can read about Egypt all of their lives, but that will never replace the joy of experience.

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