Tag Archives: Egypt

Al-Azhar Mosque – A Jewel in Cairo

By Lakshmi:

Who? Anyone who is visiting Cairo should plan to spend a few hours at this jewel.

What? The Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo was completed in 972 AD and has seen many a renovation and addition since its inception. This place of worship is indeed a serene, tranquil place in the heart of Cairo and is also the center of the prestigious university with the same name.

How? The Al-Azhar Mosque is located at El Darb El Ahmer in Cairo and is literally a short walk from the famous Khan el Khalili bazaar. There is no entrance fee, but when we entered, one of the administrators at the mosque offered to show us the madrassas and the minaret for a nominal fee.

Please remember that this is an active place of worship. So it is best to check with your hotel and avoid prayer times. Since it is a place of worship, visitors need to dress conservatively. A head scarf is necessary and clothing must cover the arms and legs. You need to remove your slippers before entering.

Why? In addition to being an important place of worship and learning, the mosque presents some exquisite architecture which has evolved with the additions over time. As you enter the mosque, you see the madrassas (schools) on your right where young kids come to learn. Immediately you walk into a beautiful open courtyard with architecture from the Fatimid period. You are greeted with a visual of people praying along the perimeter, kids running around with parents chatting and of course, tourists admiring the intricate, elaborate architecture that beholds them.

Tourists are allowed to walk into the carpeted prayer hall, the red carpet with signs pointing to Mecca forming a contrast against the alabaster columns. There is a beautiful interplay of light that you can see as it makes its way in through the doors.

If you do get a chance, please do visit the minarets. In addition to seeing the architecture from a different vantage point, you can also get some great city views.

To get a virtual, 360 degree tour of the mosque click here.


JW Marriott Hotel, Cairo – A Deal Ropes Us In, The Value Leaves Us Content

By Lakshmi:

As soon as we knew that we could redeem frequent flier miles to fly to Cairo on Egypt Air, we started looking for hotels that would be safe and offer a great value for the money.  Since I have worked for Marriott, have such fond memories of my time there and know some awesome people working behind the brands, I always look to see what is available locally. In this particular instance the cost prohibitive rate of $450 a night for an executive junior suite with lounge access seemed like a pipe dream.  That was until I saw an email stating that the company was having a sale and one could stay in a suite in the Middle East/Africa for as low as $100 a night.

Scanning the Marriott website, we were able to find the same junior suite for under a hundred dollars.  With lounge access providing free breakfast, snacks and drinks, we decided to snag the deal.

First, for those desiring a downtown Cairo experience (which is usually our preference), the property is situated close to the airport.  And there is nothing that is within walking distance of the hotel.  However, if you want a refuge from the hustle and bustle of downtown Cairo, the property is a haven.

Our room was lovely and spacious (see picture above).  Our breakfast in the lounge was very good each morning.  Plus, once we were done with breakfast, we could take some water and fruit along for our day trips.  In the evenings, we could have a cup of coffee, snacks or drinks, making us feel like we had hit the jackpot in terms of value.  The value added services also included a free shuttle to downtown Cairo and to the nearby Star of Africa mall, a service we used multiple times.

Unlike other trips, we tapped into the concierge quite a bit to help us find locations and particularly to write down addresses in Arabic.  The service provided was responsive and efficient.

On a couple of instances, coming back dead tired from a day trip, we did eat our meals at the hotel and the food did not disappoint.

When a hotel can be an enabler, it leaves you feeling so much more satiated about your overall experience.  And for us, the JW Marriott in Cairo did exactly that.

To learn more about this hotel, click here:


A Faluca ride on the Nile – A lovely evening with a dash of adventure

By: Lakshmi

For many years, Frommer’s travel guides have been our go to resource to get ideas on “must do’s” on trips.  “You shouldn’t leave Cairo without taking a sunset cruise on the Nile in one of these traditional sailboats (the Faluca)”, opined our guidebook.

Our first evening in Cairo, we asked the concierge at our hotel to write down “docks near the Four Seasons hotel” in Arabic, so that we could take a cab and be seamlessly transported to the spot from which we would take our Faluca ride.  As soon as we got in our cab, our cabbie was eager to converse with us.  Between the few words of Arabic that we knew and the handful of English words he could muster, he communicated that he was very excited to have Indians in his taxi.  We would find this to be an oft expressed sentiment during our time in Cairo, finding that the Egyptians have great love and affection for all things Indian….the music, the movie stars, the politicians and the people.

When we mentioned that we wanted to do a Faluca ride, the driver immediately suggested we ride with a friend of his and he would personally broker a great rate and an even better experience.  We kept insisting on him dropping us off at the docks near the Four Seasons, but he just decided to drive on.  We drove for several miles along the Nile and then he stopped the taxi and made us get out.  This was not a thickly populated area, and other than a few locals, we did not see anyone who remotely resembled a tourist.  We spurn guided tours and often take off on our own, but this time a sense of nervousness was setting in.  Was I being stupid and putting my kids at risk?  My colleagues in the US insisted that we always travel as part of guided tours with adequate security, and here we were off the beaten track with a cab driver who was brokering a Faluca ride with a friend.

He asked us for more money than the guidebook recommended and a few seconds later guided us to our Faluca that would be navigated by a teenager.   We scrambled on to the Faluca and were gently rowed away to the lilting tunes of an Egyptian melody.  The sound of the waves in the water, the beautiful melody being played, the everyday life along the banks of the Nile, the apartment complexes smushed together with colorful laundry flying on the balcony….it was Egyptian life encapsulated in a large frame.  Just as we were feeling more relaxed, watching the sun go down gradually, we were greeted by the loud noise of party goers singing and dancing on an adjacent boat.  As the boat passed by, we could glimpse young adults in their colorful attire, swaying to beautiful music, the happy smiles, the joyous beats, the clapping and the thumping.

Needless to say, my fears were baseless.  The ride was lovely and at the end of it, there was our cabbie waiting with the biggest grin on his face wanting to know if he had helped us have a memorable evening.

He drove us back safely to our hotel, not before offering to be our personal driver throughout our stay, including driving us to his home town of Alexandria.  The adventure certainly reaffirmed that the best experiences are to be gained when they are taken off the beaten track with a basic trust of mankind.