Live From the Longchamps
by Jimmy Dunn
Well, today I am completely alive, as well as being settled in at the Hotel Longchamps. I have the internet situated and I have retrieved my bag from the airport. Need I say what a hassle that was?
But all is done now and tomorrow I will begin to do some of the antiquity and other research that was the part of the purpose of this trip. Mostly, I will be investigating sites that are a little less well know, particularly in and about Cairo. Very regrettably, I missed heading out to Saqqara with Egyptologist Stephen Harvey today for a visit to some of the new tombs, but I had intentions of doing that on my own anyway.
By the way, the main reason I was having trouble with the internet was related to my laptop. Actually, internet service is free in Cairo. All one need do is dial the access number, of which there are several, without entering a username or password. The access number I am using is 07770777. Not the fastest in the world, but it will do.
Anyone who has read much of Tour Egypt knows that I write much about Zamalek, an Island in the Nile. It is an upscale place, where there are many embassies, a number of private schools and lots of security. There are several reasons I like this location, but the reason I write about it more than any other place in Cairo is simply because I know it so well. Of course, there are some other very fine neighborhoods in Cairo, but take a taxi from one area to another, and even the taxi driver may have to ask directions. Cairo I a huge city, with some corners that are fairly useless to write about, and others that might be just as interesting as Zamalek. Yet outside of some specific sites, none offer more for the tourist then Zamalek. It is fairly centrally located, very safe and pleasant. Hence, I focus on this area because Cairo is simply too large and dynamic to explore every neighborhood in detail. By the time we cycled through each neighborhood, stores and restaurants would be closed and the reference would be inaccurate. And in the final analysis, Zamalek offers a terrific blend of merchants, restaurants, hotels and other establishments
This is, of course, where the Hotel Longchamps is located, but there are a number of other Hotels on the island, including for example, the Cairo Marriott which is built around an old palace. There is also the Sheraton on the tip of the island, but unfortunately it seem very isolated and it requires a considerable walk to find anything of interest. However, there are actually some fairly good hotels in various price ranges, mostly between the three and five star range.
Zamalek's streets are simply packed with a variety of restaurants, upscale nightclubs and all manner of merchants. In fact, there is little here that a tourist might want that he or she will not be able to find. Tour Egypt readers should, by now, understand that Cairo is a shopper's paradise. If anything, there are perhaps just too many stores selling everything from very fine jewelry to souvenirs, and it would seem that Zamalek is in this respect a microcosm of Greater Cairo. Here, there are flower shops, English bookstores, including a convenient branch of the American University bookstore, toy shops, grocers, both large and small, gift shops, many clothing stores and even liquor stores. It is quite easy to find exquisite jewelry, modern, stylish clothing, leather products, candy and pastries and specialty ice cream shops. There are large malls, and stores that seemingly take up the tiniest cracks between buildings.
When one thinks of shopping in Egypt, what perhaps does not come to mind for many is home decor. Yet, here one may find any number of such merchants. Many sell rather typical items, while others sell furniture and decorations that are specifically typical to the Egyptian market. Typically, this latter category offers many antique reproductions which may be of some interest to tourists. However, and specifically in Zamalek, perhaps because of all of the embassy personnel, some stores offer very unique and very classy items. Today, I dropped in on several of these merchants.
One of my favorite must be Beit Sherif, which winds about into small rooms and nooks up some three stories. While I had walked past this store any number of times, I had never explored it, and to do so is almost an experience in itself, though a bit exhausting going up so many stairways. Be careful about that, or while goggling a chandelier, it is easy to miss one's footing, as I almost did. Various rooms contain unusual furniture, wall hangings, pots and apparently even ornate doors. Some of these items are clearly purchased, while it would seem that other items are made in a small workspace near the back. This is certainly an upscale store, but since most tourists do not buy their products, the prices are very good, fit for the Egyptian market. Beit Sherif is at 3 A Bahgat Ali (phone 7365689)
Another store not very far away is El Zaabalawy. However, this place is more specialized, with items apparently exclusively built of wrought iron. Many items in this store or rather ordinary, but here one finds a beautiful swing, and there a wonderfully intricate table. Perhaps most interesting, however are the wall hangings that appear to be unique.
Of course, strolling down from the Cairo Marriott along 27th of July Street, one passes so many unique shops, some offering real antiques, others with dusty elephants, fountains, clocks, paintings, often in golden frames mixed in amongst the fine jewelry stores, coffee shops, grocers and clothing shops. At home, like most men, I am not much of a shopper, but here, even I can hardly resist an exploratory stroll among the shops.
Now one might ask about shipping a large item of furniture home, and one might be very justified in asking that. In fact, my initial inquiries about shipping were met with some skepticism, but our Virtual Khan el-Khalili partners in Cairo ship fairly large containers of merchandise to us in the states frequently, so while I don't have the answer to that just now, I should have more information on shipping in a few days. However, many items in these stores are small enough to pack aboard airlines and in fact, relatively large items can be carried with you on a flight for a relatively inexpensive fee.
By the way, though I like shopping in Zamalek, in the coming days we will take a look at a number of other shops. Besides antiquity research I have also come to Cairo to look for new and interesting items for our on-line store, the Virtual Khan el-Khalili.
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