Spring 2018. It all started with a Facebook Save the Date. To a wedding in Cairo, 2 months away. I would know no one aside from the groom, albeit vaguely. So vaguely that I literally texted him to ask if he accidentally invited me to his wedding?! His response: nope, no mistake and it’s not a wedding to be missed!!!
I was told the wedding was to be a spectacle. A once in a lifetime experience with 1200 people, at the pyramids with half the Egyptian parliament present. It was starting to sound like a borderline royal Egyptian wedding… and I figured that as a Mexican Jew I’d only be invited to a borderline royal Egyptian wedding once in my life! Must seize the day!!!
Carpe Diem I say!!!
Since I was already destined to be in Israel that same spring, dates completely TBD, the possibility of being in Egypt from Cali seemed all that much more doable. I jumped in, two feet first, into this unknown Egyptian wedding adventure extravaganza and booked myself for a 5 night stay…
Cairo here I come!!!
Below is a re-cap of my trip. I hope my post inspires you to jump in, two feet first, into an unknown international adventurous extravaganza too!
Cairo was a whirlwind! The trip was filled with staying up past sunrise, late night bazaar visits, dawn Nile River boat rides, pyramid shenanigans, old Cairo meanderings, mosque n’ museum visits and 3 full nights of over the top ultra glamorous wedding party R-A-G-E-R-S!
The city was founded by the Fatimid dynasty in 969 AD and is the capital of Egypt. Nicknamed “The City of a Thousand Minarets” for its preponderant Islamic architecture, the city sits on the Nile River and is the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world.
My experience was all about dichotomies. The glamorous extravaganza of the wedding juxtaposed with the oppressive poverty of the streets. Massive inflation and a sharp drop in tourism since the 2011 revolution have ushered in a period of austerity in Egypt, which is acutely felt. The increase of prices throughout the country paired with stagnated wages has meant that Egyptians who were once just about getting by are now slipping deeper into poverty. Hopelessness and despair are in the air.
I arrived at night and immediately befriended some wedding party folks at the hotel. Being that we were all jetlagged and wide-awake at midnight, we naturally decided that the very best idea would be to tour Cairo on foot, all night long. Meandering the streets and exploring unknown places, ending up in historical landmarks such as Tahrir square. Without the heat, humidity and traffic of the daytime to slow us down and wear us out, we covered a lot of ground and it was a blast!!! Ending up on a dawn/sunrise Nile River boat ride back to our hotel. First night was an EPIC success!!!
There was lots of catching up on sleep to do on day #2, lots more wedding folks to meet, a quickie visit to the Egyptian Museum, and a late night visit to the bazaar Khan el Khalili and the neighboring mosque, Al-Azhar.
Egyptian Museum: was about a 25 min walk from my hotel and I saw it in a delirious state! I can confirm it’s not to be missed! With an absolutely staggering collection of antiquities on display, you could easily spend hours upon hours here! The highlight was the Tutankhamen Galleries.
Khan el Khalili: Cairo’s Famous souk (bazzar).
In the historic center of Islamic Cairo, it sure reminds me an awful lot of the shuks in Israel! It’s full of shops, coffeehouses (maqha ), restaurants, street food and souvenir vendors selling all sorts of antiques, jewelry, papyrus, spices, oils, artisanal one of a kind pieces and some junk too. This bazaar district is one of Cairo's main attractions both tourists and Egyptians.
Pro Tip: Bargaining encouraged and expected!
Don’t miss the spice market!
The finest building of Cairo's Fatimid era and one of the city's earliest surviving mosques, completed in AD 972.
Pro Tip: shoes off inside!
Woke up all jazzed to get my touring game after a good rest the day before. Finally took out the camera out and the images below are from my meanderings in Old Cairo.
I was lucky enough to bond with the groom’s first cousin, Whalid. He’s Egyptian and had spent years in his 20’s living here which meant he also served as my de-facto tour guide... lucky me! Always appreciate touring a city with as close to a local as I can get! He shared all sorts of interesting info, history, and personal stories of his time there … so stoked and grateful for him!
Old Cairo is full of sites dating from Egypt’s Christian past and the dawn of Islam’s presence in Egypt. It’s both magnificent and very run down.
Highlights: Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, Ben Ezra Synagogue, and the Babylon Fortress.
Then we made out way back on the busy, congested streets to the hotel to pretty ourselves up for the evening. Beginning with a felucca ride on the Nile River followed by a posh rooftop cocktail party until the wee hours of the night.
WEDDING DAY!!!! The DAY that brought me here!
Lots of chilling and relaxing, both to recover from the night before and get ready for the night ahead.
My new bud Whalid showed me around the affluent and residential neighborhood of Zamalek, along the Nile. This hood is quiet, with lots of security, art deco architecture and filled with fine hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants, art galleries and museums.
The images below are from Zmalek.
These images are from us wandering the streets out of Zmalek.
Recap: 1200 person wedding at the Greats Pyramids of Giza. Right there!!! An elegant red carpet entrance equipped with gold life-size mummies. 6 musical acts: raditional instrumental began the night, folk music, the legendary pop star Amr Diab, the Gypsy Kings, some Motown singers and lastly a DJ.
There was a never-ending buffet with every type of international cuisine imaginable! We danced until the sunrise over the pyramids of Giza. In a nutshell: glamorously EPIC
Woke up my last day feeling like a camel had run over me! But I was determined to get a daytime pyramid visit before the Cinco de Mayo party that evening. Yep that’s right, a Cinco de Mayo themed party in Egypt, also the day-after-the-wedding-party!!!
The Pyramids of Giza
Out of the 100+ pyramids found in Egypt, the Giza Pyramids are the most famous. The Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) is the largest Egyptian pyramid, and the only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World The Sphinx is the largest monolith statue in the word. These fourth dynasty funerary temples have been wowing travelers for centuries and continue to be one of the country's major highlights.
Pro Tip: be prepared for intense heat, dust and the tourist hustle.
The last night ended with an over-the-top Cinco de Mayo party past sunrise.
Come up next… Israel here I come!
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Country Code: +20
Egyptian Weekend: Friday & Saturday
Electric Current: 220 Volts
System of Units: Metric System
Name of Currency
Useful Arabic Phrases
Hello/Welcome - Ahlan
Goodbye – Salam
Good Morning – Sabah el kheir
Good Evening – Misaa’ el kheir
How are you? – Ezayak (m) Ezayik (f)
How can I get to… ? – Ezay arooh le…?
How much does this cost? – Bekam dah?
Egyptian Pound - Geneih
I am sorry – Ana assef
Please/Excuse Me – Law samaht
Thank You - Shokran
My Name Is… - Ana ismi…
Number – Raqam
Ok - Mashy
Street – Shara’
What time is it? – El Sa’a kam?
Where is… ? – Fein el…?
What is this? – Ein dah?