Mike visited:

» Thailand
» Myanmar (Burma)
» Laos
» Cambodia
» Vietnam
» India
» Nepal
» Egypt
» Jordan
» Uganda
» Tanzania
» Malawi
» Mozambique
» Swaziland
» South Africa

View a map of his route.

 press/awards earned a few nice mentions in the press, including's vote as best travel blog on the Web. Read about it on the Press/Awards page.

The Other Side of Cairo, Egypt

The shoe stores were the first big indicator. The main drags in downtown Cairo are packed with stores that sell the most happening shoes I've ever seen. Slips-ons, boots, trainers, business-stodgy… Cairo's perfected them all.

lingerie store
And the lingerie shops – good Lord! Victoria's Secret shops in Chicago don't have negligees with "French openings" on display in the front window, do they?

Like most people, my vague preconceptions of Cairo consisted of pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, women in veils, men smoking big water pipes, medieval streets, and, well, that's it. I was too hung up on mummies and hieroglyphics to think about anything else.

In fact, Cairo is a bursting at the seams with life and progressiveness and passion and contemporary distractions. I'm fairly certain that Cairenes never sleep. Traditional life and modernization mash together here with greater harmony than I've seen in other capitals around the world. And the women are definitely not all hidden behind veils.

A Yardstick for Urban Progressiveness
I've developed a formula that uses sidewalks to gauge a city's progressiveness. In short, if sidewalks exist, the city is more advanced than most urban centers around the world.

public statue
Measured this way, downtown Cairo immediately asserts its cosmopolitan sophistication. Its broad sidewalks bustle night and day with strolling couples, window shoppers, ice cream eaters, and young men on the prowl. There are even zebra-striped street crossings, although by no means do these guarantee – or even suggest – pedestrian safety.

(I also believe that you can judge a city by its public statuary. Predictably, Cairo excels in this area as well.)

Young Urban Elite
It was 11pm on Friday night, a full moon bathed the Nile in shimmering sliver, and I was drinking beer with French ladies at a riverside open-air nightspot. The valet parking lot was filled to capacity with BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, VWs, and, strangely, a Chevy Blazer. Young and beautiful Cairenes packed the house. They chain-smoked cigarettes, puffed away on sheeshas (tall, ornate water pipes), ordered Johnny Walker blue by the bottle, and stood around looking good.

Five girls in their early 20s sat at a table next to us. Like Egyptian Shakiras, they all wore low-rise jeans, fat leather belts, and belly shirts. They smoked and flirted and shimmied to a mix of Arabic and Western pop; they stayed alluring and animated right up until the 4am closing time. I even managed to rap with them for a while; we talked about 50 Cent, a new Dr. Dre prodigy.

Yeah, Cairo is down with the Dri-zay.

(Incidentally, many of these young and beautiful conversed with each other in English. As in India, this phenomenon filled me with mixed emotions. In a way, these people are groomed for the international business world – and accessible to me as a traveler. But at the same time, I feel pangs of cultural imperialism guilt, as if McDonalds, Tom Cruise, and Baywatch have driven an even greater wedge between the haves and have-nots of the Third World.)

Cairo Symphony Orchestra program
Jacket & Tie Required
The doorman looked at my creased, straight-out-of-the-box shirt; 1980's tie; black belt; and brown canvas hiking shoes. He closed his eyes slowly and exhaled through his nose. "Rule number six on the back of your ticket," he said. "Jacket and tie required."

"Um, yeah. I heard I might be able to borrow a jacket here…"

He looked at me as if I'd said, ‘I heard I might be able to borrow a turtle here,' and directed me toward the information desk.

I'd come to the Cairo Opera House with two students from Wisconsin whom I'd met the night before (small world, etc.) to hear the Cairo Symphony Orchestra take on Beethoven. With some creative use of saris and a borrowed tie from the hotel staff, we'd faked just enough sophistication to meet the dress requirements.

Regarded with more than a little suspicion from our fellow symphony goers, we settled into the best (floor, 12th row, center) and least-expensive ($4 after student discount) seats I've ever enjoyed at a concert event. Together with well-heeled Egyptians and the wives of Ambassadors, we settled in for a night of Ludwig Van in Cairo's premiere performing arts venue.

window shopper
The Other Cairo Awaits
Of course, Cairo isn't all pop stars from the Americas and luxury German automobiles. The narrow streets of Islamic Cairo still elicit medieval fantasies. Donkey carts occasionally hold up traffic on the main thoroughfares. Calls to prayer pierce the air five times a day. And, to be fair, most women dress modestly, covering their hair with scarves.

Yes, the pyramids of Giza are still here, the Egyptian Museum too. I plan to explore all of Cairo's classic attractions – just as soon as I find the right pair of suede slip-ons.

Posted on May 21, 2003 05:18 AM


Comments (post your own below)

Hey Mike,
Glad you made it safely to Egypt! Quite a cultural difference from India, eh?!
What I have found with traveling is that you have to put all of your pre-conceived notions aside about where you are going. Go with the flow and be amazed!

Happy travels!

Posted by: Lance on May 21, 2003 07:29 PM

Mike- big ups! you superfreak. love the shoe intro. the knives came the other day. boo yah.

Posted by: Ben on May 21, 2003 11:19 PM

Really enjoyed your take on Cairo and Cambodia. We are also in Cairo, tomorrow we will explore the city, then Luxor and Aswan. One thing I would like to write in our blog is the actual scale of things is very interesting to see first hand, and Cairo, what a huge city. We will read more when we have free internet (budget travellers). Perhaps we will cross pathes some time. Best travels.

Posted by: John Stislow on May 22, 2003 01:57 PM

hey mike!

love your website...

if possible, ask around the underground for the famous taxi driver named Katas (we found him hanging around the Garden City Hotel) , and do the pyramid trip with him.

only this way you can experience 150km/h lada ride at 5am, morning tee on the rooftops in Giza, horseback riding around the dunes, bribing of the pyramid guards and watching the sun come up behind the pyramids...

or just do it your way...

best whishes and keep up the good work!


Posted by: jan on May 23, 2003 06:08 AM

Mabrouk! As we say...for deciding to make the trip. There is really no city in the world like Cairo (and I say that as a Manhattan resident), with so many different facets to it all worthy of its own individual exploration. I am curious to know just which club you got turned away from for lack of a suit and tie? I can only guess it must have been Jackie's Joint, that's social ground zero for the AUC set. Keep exploring, it's a crowded city but, you'll soon find out, not terribly big

Posted by: hK on May 26, 2003 11:18 AM

Mike, keep trucking cuz!

Yo cuz,

Posted by: Justin on May 26, 2003 02:20 PM

Gooooooo WISCO! Mike, the $5 to go to climb Mt. Sinai is highly worth the tourist front. just bring a few warm pullovers. Let's do Cairo symphony again someday (when they come to chicago?) Good cairo coverage as i read it on my way out of town...

Posted by: Eva on June 10, 2003 09:47 AM

Following your incredible trek from Sydney , your site has to be the best illustrated blog . How are you managing photos, video,web & travel all at once !!S

Posted by: Danny on June 10, 2003 11:07 PM

your trip sounds like it's going great, have fun and stay safe. your writing is great keep it up!

Posted by: Erica on June 11, 2003 01:58 PM

Thanks for not listening to my travel warning. Risk is relative where ever you go!!!! Glad to see you had such a diverse experience from the usual egyptian antiquity trail.

Posted by: Andrew Di Donna on July 15, 2003 08:21 AM

are u kidding , taking a room in DAR El SALAM area and complaining about cockroches !!
mister ,, this is one of the most dirty areas in Cairo ,u have had to choose better and cleaner place to stay in , it might be little bit expensive but what are money made for ,,,
An Egypt Lover

Posted by: Tarek on August 24, 2003 08:01 PM

Enjoyed your website. Which branch of the Scislowicz family are you from?

Posted by: Dominick Kass on April 26, 2004 08:05 PM

I've never been to Cairo but I'm dreaming of it. Perhaps next year...

Posted by: Lingerie Girl on May 5, 2004 04:07 PM

Comments closed.


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