We Need to Talk About Cairo

For anyone who’s lived in Cairo or visited the throbbing, pulsating metropolis, they know how fragmented this city of 20 million can be. There are about 23 districts in Egypt’s most populous centre and people classify themselves according to their respective neighbourhood. Whether it’s Heliopolis, Mohandissen, Imbaba or Maadi, the fact of the matter is that most of the activities one engages in (give or take) are likely to take place in that specific district. Cairo is essentially two dozen self-contained cities that have everything you could possibly need in each one. This is partly due to Cairo’s physical expanse along with the rise of newer gated communities and informal settlements, but it is also because of the horrendous traffic that chokes the city and the absence of an extensive and fully functional transit system (the Metro will only take you so far and as for reliable bus lines…forget it). On any given day cars clog up city streets for miles on end and you can easily find yourself in traffic for hours regardless of the distance you’re travelling. Case in point: I was once stuck in traffic for 90 minutes as I attempted to make my way from the north end of Zamalek to Talaat Harb Street in the downtown core. I was travelling a distance under 4 kilometers. The trip should have taken no more than 15 minutes. This was not the first (nor will it be the last) time this happened.

Utter madness.

That being said, I’m a Zamalek-o-phile. I live on the island, work on the island and a large majority of my social networking takes place on this Nile-surrounded piece of land that is home to almost 500,000 people. In the past there have, ashamedly, been weeks where I haven’t left the island at all: the longest stretch where I’ve gone about my daily routine LOST-style (read: without crossing any of Zamalek’s 6 bridges to leave the island) clocked in at a staggering 17 days.

Gentlemen kick back in front of graffiti/street art near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.

*hangs head*   *groans*

Walking along the Corniche (Maspero towards Garden City) with the Cairo Tower (Zamalek) in the distance.

Admittedly, I’ve gotten far better at getting out since that self-imposed exile, but exploring new territory often winds up being a weekend affair, which is partly why a lot of what has been posted thus far (and ultimately will be posted) is Zamalek-based. Aside from the fact that there seems to be a new place opening its doors every couple of weeks, Zamalek is the place I know best. It’s where I’m most at ease. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any Intolerant-friendly restaurants, cafes and diners in the rest of Cairo. There are plenty, and I’ve been able to frequent quite a few  regadless of the location (be it neighbouring Dokki, ‘a stone’s throw away’ Garden City, the far flung outskirts of Nasr City or the affluent tree-lined streets of Maadi). I have a list…a rather extensive one in fact…with places that drift up from a sand and dust covered memory and require an intensive second look.

Shopping in the street markets of Boulaq.

The issue at the moment is steeling myself for the unyielding, suffocating traffic, but I’m getting there. Unlike those poor characters in LOST who – seemingly – couldn’t get off that damned island if they tried (admittedly they had to contend with a polar bear, time travel wormholes and a sadomasochistic, slightly manic, column of black smoke), I’m determined to get out and about each week in order to revisit several Intolerant-agreeable haunts and order away, take some pics and enjoy good food with pretty cool people in the process. It’s coming, I promise.

Everything always looks different in the morning. Gazing west towards Zamalek.

Any day now.


  1. Till the age of 14 I spent my summers in Mohandisseen. Now when I go back to Cairo, I’m a tourist and stay at Marriott Omar Khayyam. Last time was June 2010. I hope to come back soon!

    1. Great choice. The Marriott has an amazing garden, it’s a fabulous place to spend a Fall/Winter evening!

  2. […] the first to admit: I don’t get off the island very much. Zamalek has a way of making life very comfortable and there’s often no need for me to cross any of […]

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