Monday, September 6, 2010

exploring zamalek (and beyond!)

I live on an island. I've never lived on an island before, and it's a little strange knowing that my dorm is no more than ten blocks from the Nile river in any direction. It does make it a nice place to explore, though. I haven't gotten lost yet, and I don't plan to, but I know that if I do, I'll definitely be able to find my way back home.
Tonight I ventured farther than I had gone before, in the company of three friends: Maggie, Jen, and Amy. We were looking for dinner, specifically a restaurant that Amy had heard about from one of her friends, the general location of which had been pointed out to her from the bus. How hard could it be to find, after all? One restaurant, sure to be packed with Egyptians breaking the fast seemed sure to stand out.
All Amy really knew to look for was a certain bookstore, located on 26 of July Street, which is also, somewhat confusingly, known as 15 of May Bridge. We found the bookstore with no problem, but the restaurant seemed to be invisible. We wandered for a bit, and found a really interesting scarf store, which was unfortunately closed.
After about ten minutes, we decided to look elsewhere, when a man across the street yelled to us, "Abu al-Sid?" I had heard of a restaurant named Abu al-Sid before, and knew that it was roughly in that area of Zamalek, so I shouted back, "Aiwa, fein?" (Yes, where is it?). Upon which, he came across the street and opened the door we had been standing in front of, pointing to a tiny plaque on the wall, which stated the name of the restaurant. D'oh.
the hidden door (not my photo*)
(And that is as far as I got in my blog for tonight before being willingly dragged off to another adventure in downtown Cairo. Be patient, I'll get there.)
Anyway, dinner was completely delicious. I tried koshary for the first time, which is a traditional Egyptian food made up of noodles, lentils, beans, rice and other carbs, mixed with spicy tomato sauce. My friend Amy ordered some traditional Ramadan drinks, and was nice enough to share, so now I know that tamarind something-or-other is definitely my favorite Egyptian juice.
Our waiter and his boss at Abu al-Sid were big jokers, kidding us all the time about what we were eating and how much we paid. The boss took our money and check, counted it, and said very seriously, "No change," then walked away. We didn't quite know what to do, but then we saw him laughing in the corner as he counted out our change to bring back. Hilarious.
this restaurant comes highly recommended!
After dinner, we wandered a bit more, and explored the nearby scarf shop, where I made my first real concrete purchase in Egypt, of a turquoise scarf which I am currently wearing wrapped ridiculously around my head. I promise, there will be pictures soon. The bookstore nearby was also nice, and had a huge English and huge French section as well as Arabic. I didn't buy anything, but I'll definitely be going back.
Here's a map of Zamalek, just to show you where we were and how far we walked. It probably took ten minutes to walk from the restaurant back to the dormitory.
dorm = O, restaurant = X *
When we got home, I came upstairs to write my blog, expecting to do some homework and go to bed. Instead, I typed for a bit, then got a text message from my friend Geoff (who also goes to UCSB, you can find his blog here) inviting me out to downtown Cairo with a group of people for drinks at a hotel bar. (Since it's Ramadan, and since Muslims aren't technically supposed to consume alcohol at any time, most of the drinking in Cairo is done by foreigners in hotels. Way for us to live up to the stereotype.)
Somehow, after I had 'dressed fancyish' and met up with my friends in the lobby, we crammed 5 people into one black (read: unlicensed) taxicab whose driver promised to take us to the hotel for 10 pounds. This seemed reasonable, since downtown really isn't that far.
Unfortunately, traffic was horrible. It was as bad as I'd ever seen it in Cairo, and that's saying something. Apparently one of the bridges off Zamalek was shut down, so we had to take an alternate route. As if that weren't confusing enough, one of my friends struck up a conversation with the driver about Hitler, since we saw a picture of him on a billboard. A very interesting conversation ensued, as the driver spoke Egyptian Arabic, and my friend spoke only Modern Standard. Eventually, this disintegrated into an argument about traffic and cab prices, and the driver let (read: forced) us out a few blocks from the hotel. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I gave him an extra pound or two for putting up with us.
The hotel was very pretty and secluded, and we took a rickety elevator up to the 10th floor bar and balcony. Geoff ordered a Stella (Egyptian beer) and a shot, and then I tried to order a Stella. The bartender was having none of it, though. He insisted that Geoff had already bought my drink, there was no need for me to pay twice. My Arabic definitely isn't good enough to talk my way out of that one, so I just paid Geoff the money so he could get himself another. The beer wasn't very good, and the one bottle lasted me the two and a half hours we were there.
There were tons of other AUC students there, both Egyptian and study abroad, all ostensibly there for one girl's birthday, but since no one I talked to seemed to actually know her, I think everyone really just came to drink. We played some games, like Never Have I Ever and Animals, and thereby cemented the traditional loud and drunken (or at least very strange) reputation of American college students firmly in the bartender's and waiters' minds. We had fun, though, so I don't think it really mattered.
Eventually we moved outside to talk more, and smoke, for some. Eventually the smoke was getting to me, and when a few other students from Zamelek got up to leave, I went with them.
I thought the adventure was over then, but it definitely wasn't. Only about twenty feet out the door of the hotel, we spotted a cart that we thought was selling french fries. It turned out that they didn't actually have french fries, but said they could get some if we waited, which we did. While we waited, they offered us all sorts of drinks, and eventually free samples of the sugary fried dough dessert they were selling. Those vendors sure knew what they were doing, and they smirked when we bought a tray for 5 pounds immediately after trying them. We waited about ten minutes for the french fries, and when they didn't arrive, we left, trying to avoid eye contact with the vendors. It worked, and we escaped and caught a white (licensed) cab back to Zamalek, safe and sound.
Here is a map of Zamalek and downtown Cairo, showing where we were:
sorry for the blurry writing. hotel = A (i think that's where it was, at least)*
*(thanks to google maps for the maps, and queenpud for the picture of abu el-sid)


  1. "the beer wasn't very good"..... is this compared to a variety of beverages, or is it compared to the taste of many beers in past experience???
    Love, Mom

  2. lol ok gotta laugh at Ms. Laura's comment!

    and all i gotta say is "Elise got caught!" lol jk thoughi doubt your mother didnt know and im just teasing you because i can. =3

    anyway... i should be paying more i didnt know you were living on an island....which i have got to say is really really cool!