The Streets of Cairo and Alexandria
I have yet to see a place as busy as Cairo, Egypt’s capital and largest city, home to an
astonishing 20 million people. Believe me when I say that even large and metropolitan
cities like Toronto and New York City do not compare to Cairo and even Alexandria,
Egypt’s second largest city, home to another 3.8 million people. The streets in both cities
are constantly packed, especially in the downtown region. Roads are filled with all kinds
of cars, from private cars to cabs to mini-busses and large busses as well as all kinds of
people, from the young to the old; all going about their daily routines. Cairo is much
larger than Alexandria and has more activity spread across its numerous parts of town.
Alexandria, on the other hand, is a city by the coast; it is the streets and roads of this
coastal strip that are filled with action. As I explored some streets of both Cairo and
Alexandria, I learnt a lot about life in these parts of Egypt.
Streets of Cairo
Because Cairo is a huge city, it has a number of downtowns, which are home to many
high-rise buildings. . In the streets of Cairo, it is very common to hear cars honking, as
they make their way through the traffic and the people. Crossing the streets is one
difficult task, especially for those new to Cairo. I learnt the tactics of doing so pretty fast;
putting all my attention to crossing the streets, I often look around me to see when the
‘local’ people are crossing. When they cross, I look at both sides and do the same. The part of town that I stayed in is called Zamalek, which lies on an island on the River Nile.
Similar to many parts of Cairo, Zamalek is home to a number of shops, many eateries and
coffee shops. Cuisine from all over the world is found in these streets of Cairo. From
burgers and shawarmas to bread and all kinds of fruit juice, the streets of Cairo have it all.
Coffee shops are often filled with men sitting and smoking sheesha (water-pipe) while
the women and children drink coffee and tea. These can be found on nearly every street,
along with the regular kiosk or corner store that sells everything from water and sweets to
cigarettes and telephone cards.
Shopping in the streets of Cairo can be one very time-consuming process because for the
most part, especially in the bazaars, this involves a lot of bargaining. There are different
kinds of stores spread across town. Both department stores and smaller shops have fixed
prices, however, in the smaller shops, these can change depending on the buyer. I visited
one of Cairo’s bazaars to get a taste of the bargaining that goes on. As I was sitting to
have a cup of tea within the narrow alleys of the bazaar, one street vendor approached me
with the leather wallets he was selling. He took his lighter and pressed the fire against a
leather wallet, demonstrating to me just how good quality his wallets are. When he told
me it was ?65 Egyptian, we started bargaining until he lowered the price to a mere ?15
Egyptian. I actually had no intention of buying a wallet but when he lowered the price
that low, I didn’t want to turn him down. Now I can just see how easy it is to spend
money in these bazaars. You can find anything and everything in these bazaars.
Streets of Alexandria
I was quite surprised to find Alexandria as lively and energetic as it is. I expected to find
a calm city by the Mediterranean coast but to my surprise, this city is very busy and
active. Most of the activity takes place along the coast; where the main road is home to a constant traffic jam. As I write this at 11:21 p.m. on a weeknight and I can still hear the honking and the cars of the main road. The streets and roads are not just filled with cars and people, like in Cairo, but over here, there are horse-carriages ready to give you a ride for a mere ?10 Egyptian an hour (CAD $2). Every few minutes, I see and hear the streetcars (trams) pass by. Clearly, this city does not sleep; it seems to get livelier once the sun goes down. More people crowd the streets shopping, eating and walking around. Similar to Cairo, the streets of Alexandria are filled with coffee shops and eateries. You cannot go more than a few blocks without finding at least finding one of them. I spent a few hours in the streets of Alexandria, in the main shopping streets and the inner alleys and bazaars of the city. With about CAD $60 in my purse, I made my way to the bazaars to pick up a few typically Egyptian things. The alleys are very narrow, stalls and stores sit closely next to each other, leaving just enough space for the people to pass through. With colourful cloths hanging from the many stalls, spices fill the air as buyers make pick their choices. There are numerous jewelry stores in the bazaars, some with the most excellent jewelry I have ever seen. Everything from gold to silver, you are guaranteed to fall in love with quite a few things when enter these stores. I wanted to buy something typically Egyptian, something that an Egyptian woman may have. After passing by many fragrance stores, I decided to visit one. The shopkeeper told me he had any fragrance in the world, listing some of the world’s well-known fragrances such as
Chanel No.5, Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss, to name just a few. I looked around only to find that this is not your typical fragrance store. It is nothing like what you may see in parts of Sears or the Bay. Here, the fragrances are placed in identical white bottles, labeled with the fragrance name. All of the fragrances in the store are oil-concentrated, rather than the typical perfume which comprises of alcohol. I chose to get a truly Egyptian and Arabic scent, called Oud, for ?100 Egyptian (CAD $20), and that is after
bargaining. I also wanted to see how much head scarves (hijabs) cost in a country where
most of its women wear one. With the help of a beautiful Egyptian lady, I picked out a pink and a black one, both with hand-made embroidery. Here, I saved another ?30 Egyptian through the power of bargaining.
You can never get bored on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria; there is always something going on, whether its business or personal, the streets are always happening. With such huge populations of people concentrated in just one city, such as Cairo, the streets are the source of life, central to the lives of many.
-Streets of Cairo and Alexandria
-Pictures of the streets of Cairo/Alexandria
-Video of bazaar and shopping