Whoah. It appears I’ve been doing long-term world exploration since the spring of 2012, writing about it since that fall, and accumulating enough fluff and nonsense on this page to fill up 100 posts. That’s bizarre to think about. Even more bizarre? There have to be at least like 20 other posts I should have written (or maybe started and abandoned) about these travels but never got around to. That’s a lot of experiences, and a lot of memories.
And as you might know too well, a hell of a lot of rambling.
So, to the point of this post, as a continuation of yesterday’s escapades with Thai food with the roomies, I’ve had my first experience with Cairo’s grand bazaar, souq Khan al-Khalili, and it met expectations just delightfully.
Every Middle Eastern country I’ve visited minus Jordan (maybe I just never found it?) has had some sort of central grand bazaar, leftover dinosaurs from an early age updated with oriental flourishes to draw in tourists from far and wide. You get similar vibes in all–closed in streets, lanterns, spices and jewelry filling every nook and cranny, and vendors vying for your attention in any way possible. (My personal favorite: “You want Egyptian Husband? How many camels??” So charming.) On the one hand, these trussed-up markets aren’t exactly where the locals go most of the time nor do they necessarily sell things locals would buy, (in Cairo, Khan al-Khalili is still frequented by Egyptians mostly in the market for gold and silver jewelry) but on the other, they really are delightful to sneak around as a visitor, simultaneously filling your head with a dreamy sense of the exotic and emptying your pockets in exchange for purchases which, er, you are best not to question too closely when you return home and snap out of the trance.
My introduction yesterday was perfect, because both of my roommates have lived in Cairo a few years and had some favorite shops they steered us towards right away. I plan on going back alone in the future, meandering the winding corridors at my leisure, but it was nice to go directly towards some key shops to know. The first was a shop of fixed prices–saving you the immense headache of haggling, or at the very least, giving you a real sense of what trinkets are actually worth so you can fight it out with a vendor elsewhere.
The second shop was the kind in which I should never be left unattended, because it was filled with boxes and furniture with mother of pearl inlay or delicate wooden patterns. These are not uncommon throughout the Middle East, (I’ve been lusting after them for years) and prices range depending on how much of the design is authentic and how much is plastic–this store included all handmade pieces, so the real price was a painful balance between how minute the details were (more work= excessively more $) and the size of the pieces. I have at least 2-3 picked out that I intend to go back for at a later time.
The night growing later, and our stomachs still aching from our Thai feast not even an hour before, we gradually left the shops and found our way to an alley called Fishawy, where one can find the infamous El Fishawy, an old coffee house/café that has long cultivated a reputation for housing intellectuals, artists, and those of progressive thinking–most notably Egypt’s beloved author Naguib Mahfouz, whose works I intend to purchase little by little over the course of this year because they sound extremely rich in detail and history and I’m a huge nerd who wants a book.
Ahem. I digress.
So we ordered mint tea, turkish coffee, and eventually after letting ourselves fall into a lull of people-watching, one of my roommates ordered a shisha. The coffee house is at a constant bustle at night–particularly as we were on the eve of Eid al Adha, an Islamic holiday kicking off this week–and vendors selling anything from bobblehead dogs to henna tattoos to shoe-shining services weave and bob through the crowd in a complicated dance you’d be hard-pressed to follow.
We rested there a while, enjoying the atmosphere and eavesdropping on a neighboring table who had paid a local oud (think Middle Eastern guitar…ish) player to serenade them. It was my first trip to the souq, but it certainly won’t be my last.