Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Horton hears a Who

Took 5 seven year old boys to see gold ol' Horton to Maadi Family Land and more than once through the movie wondered why?

The movie is nice but meant strictly for children (unlike a Madagascar). There is a limit to which you can stretch a Dr Suess book and make even an one and a half hour movie out of it. But the kids know the character from having read Horton in school and they absolutely loved it!

The "wondered why" stems not so much from the movie as from the kids. Stepped out to buy popcorn in the break, and came back to a hysterical scenario. Inspired by Horton, the kids were doing a butt dance on the platform next to the screen. Had to rush to pull them down and interrupt the audience's unexpected intermission entertainment. I must admit, it was rather funny, and, it kept them occupied!!
All in all, an entertaining afternoon for the kids. Family Land is quite decent and easily accessible.

Sham el Naseem

Has it ever struck you how Egyptians manage to get every holiday to coincide with either a Thursday or a Sunday? A well hatched conspiracy with the powers-that-be to ensure a long weekend, no matter what the excuse..

Decided rather late that Cairo was not so entertaining for a 4 day break, and, maybe, just maybe, we should head out but there was not a place within decent driving distance from Cairo that was available. Who says Egypt is a poor country, not if you go by all the Red Sea resorts that seem to be perinially full!!

So the loooooooong weekend was spent cursing myself for waking up so late. And just to make up for my stupidity, have decided to go to Sharm next weekend. Better late than never...

Josef Fritzl

Am aghast after hearing the news of this completley messed up man, who rapes his own daughter, keeps her imprisioned for some 20 odd years, fathers children with her, all with his wife living in the same house and not knowing anything. Are these people for real? How much more sick can you get?

I have a 7 year old son, and, I shudder to think of what that child must have gone through. Her own father, and the mother had no clue? Nah!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Daylight Savings

Oh darn it! Completely forgot that the clock moves one hour ahead from today...

Was most upset with my housekeper cos she landed an hour late esp when I had someone coming over for lunch. Unfortunately, she does not speak Egyptian so we just exchanged some very confused gestures, and I let it go...

Was surprised at my guests, cos they landed late as well..

This really sets my entire system out of gear the first day...

Online DVD rentals in Cairo

Ok, so maybe I am a slow on finding out stuff, but just discovered that you have an online DVD rental company in Cairo. Yipee, now maybe I can get to watch some decent movies in the comfort of my home, and, on my version of a home theatre!

You can log on to http://www.egdvd.com/

They ship everywhere inside Cairo; Giza; 6th of October; Alrehab and 5th District. The service is 7 days a week. You receive the DVD same day if you order before 12:00 pm or next day if you order after that.

There is no limit for number of rental times during the month. No. of DVDs you can rent depends on your subscription plan and number of extra DVDs you order. The delivery service is free. technically theer is no time limit on keping the DVD, but they recommend max of a week.

The subscription plans are

Plan 1: 1 at a time. Unlimited monthly rentals. Price: L.E 50
Plan 2: 2 at a time. Unlimited monthly rentals. Price: L.E 80
Plan 3: 3 at a time. Unlimited monthly rentals. Price: L.E 100

It sounds great, but I have no idea what are the kind of titles that they keep... Will have to browse their website and then figure out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The mystery of the missing Bohab!

Life in Cairo apartment block is pretty much dependent on the ubiquitous bowab.

He's the one to get you your morning newspaper without which the morning abulations are a herculean task.

He will, if he feels kindly towards you, also run errands for you like fetching some urgent grocery that you just must have to complete the dish that's on the gas.

He will hopefully pay your telephone bills, saving you the frustration of trying to explain to the telecom department , after your phone has been disconnected, that back home, telephone bills get delivered home enabling you to pay them on time.

He will replenish the gas cylinder when your gas runs out in the middle of that fancy thing that you were frying for a big dinner.

He will change the bulbs in your house which seem to go kaput every other week. I suspect Philips / GE have this unspoken agrement with the cable companies. Nothing else will explain the regularity with which your bulbs go on a blink.

The bowab is essentially the doorman who stays in the lobby floor. He is your best friend in the apartment building! He can do, get, or arrange anything for you if you need.

And he is the ultimate ESCAPE ARTIST!! The amazing thing about him is that he is never to be found when you need him!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Vodafone visa service

While on the subject of visas, in course of this wasted exercise, I discovered the Vodafone Visa Service. Instead of calling up the embassy of each country, waiting as various officials play volleyball with your call, and getting your blood pressure up, you can call up Vodafone and they will arrange a visa appointment for you.

With the Embassies Visa Appointment service, you can learn about visa application procedures and schedule appointments for visa interviews, all through your mobile phone.

Just prepare your passport and call Vodafone from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM through out the week.This service is available for the following embassies:
  • US Embassy
  • Embassy of Germany
  • Embassy of Belgium
  • French Consulate in Cairo and Alexandria
  • Greek Consulate
  • Italian Consulate in Cairo and Alexandria
  • Embassy of Austria
  • Embassy of Portugal
  • Embassy of Hungary
For the American Embassy, just dial 2100 from your mobile phone or 090070600 from a landline.

For all other embassies and consulates, dial 2101 from your mobile phone or 090070678 from a landline,all with a minute rate of just LE 2.00.

Of course you havethe option of calling the embassy directly but you'll find that they are very keen to push you into Vodafone's outstreched arms.. Believe me even at LE 5 per minute its preferrable to being tossed around on the embassy lines!

Visa on arrival for Indian passport

A few days ago, when we were trying to figure out where to go during the upcoming break, I was searching the web for a list of countries where an Indian passport does not require a prior visa. I came across this very interesting article written by someone called "Rainbow" who appears to have done a lot of work and research on visas for Indian passports. Thanks Rainbow!

I am providing the link, and, I hope you find it useful. Of course, I would recommend that you double check with the embassy of the concerned country.

Also check this out

The Swan Lake

The National Academic Bolshoi Ballet from Belarus is performing the Swan Lake in Cairo. Decided to go see the performance with a bunch of friends.
Having seen the original Bolshoi Swan Lake many years ago, I was very keen to see it again. Also, wanted to hear the musical score once again, because this was the first time that Tchaikovsky or a symphonic composer had composed music for a ballet. Otherwise, it was always done by specialist composers who composed only for ballets. Also, it is amazing that at the instance of the ballerina playing Odette, Tchaikovsky had to change the score for the Grand Paus, and, actually copy another ballet composer's music. Can you imagine what he must have gone through? This was unheard of at that time!


Prince Siegfried, heir to the kingdom, must chose a wife at his birthday ball. Upset that he cannot marry for love, Siegfried escapes into the forest at night. There he spies a swan, and, learns that she is none other than a beautiful maiden - Odette - who has been cursed to be a swan by the evil sorcerer - von Rothbart - and only true love would free Odette.

Von Rothbart arrives in disguise with his own daughter Odile, making her seem identical to Odette. The prince mistakes her for Odette, dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he intends to make her his wife.
Only a moment too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake.

Realizing that the spell can never be broken, Odette and Siegfried drown themselves by leaping into the lake. This causes von Rothbart to lose his power over them, and he dies as a result.


While this is not the original Bolshoi from Russia, the performance was not bad. I thought the ballerina playing Odette and the dancer playing the sorcerer were very good but the lead dancer playing the Prince left much to be desired. He lacked the grace, the flexibility and the emotions that he should've have displayed. I suspect the ballet company realized as much, cos the part of the Prince was much shorter than it should have been.

Also, they changed the end of the story. In this version, the true love between Siegfried and Odette defeats von Rothbart, who dies after the prince breaks one of his wings. Odette is restored to human form to unite happily with the prince.

The stage decor was very interesting, and the costumes were quite decent. I thought the Cairo Orchestra was quite good.

While it may not have been a fantastic experience, it was nevertheless enjoyable.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Of pots & more pots

Have this set of three long pots, with a serated surface and the most interesting finish, occupying a place of pride in my living room. Have been asked by everyone who comes over, including old timers from Cairo, where I've got these from? Most of them can't believe that they are available right here in the middle of the city of Cairo.

Right behind Souq el Fustat is this whole line of potters selling the most amazing pottery including some statues. Saw a wonderful 5 foot long statue of Ramses II, but it was too heavy to cart it all the way home.

So next time you want a little different something to add that "something extra" to your living room, just take a quick drive to this pottery heaven. You'll be spoilt for choice!!

Around Egypt in 12 days

This also includes a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. If doing this cruise, it must be kept in mind that generally the 3 nights cruises start on a Friday morning, so you need to plan your trip accordingly.

Day 1
Guided full day tour of the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum.
  • Early start to the Pyramids & Sphinx (Solar Boat optional)
  • Break for an early lunch at Mena House (This was the Khedive's Hunting Lodge and the coffee shop offers a gorgeous view of the pyramids.)
  • Museum – See the “Mummies Room” and the Tutankhamen section first, time permitting anything else
  • Be back by 5/6 p.m.

Dinner cruise down the Nile on Nile Maxim / Grand Hyatt Boat / Nile Pharaohs though my personal favourite is the Nile Maxim, I think it’s a classier, fine dining experience. You'll get to watch the Tanoura dancer and a Belly dancer - both very enjoyable! Please do not take the last sail which is around 10.0 -11.00 o'clock, the belly dancer is terrible!!

Day 2

Morning, go see Coptic Cairo

  • Coptic museum (don't miss it, its worth a see, esp. after its been recently renovated)
  • Hanging Church (its incredible to see that a building was built on top of the fortress and is still very much in use today)
  • Ben Ezra Synagogue (the Church needed money to pay taxes, so had to sell off some of its land, the only ones who could afford to buy were the Jews! Local myth has it that it is on the site of where baby Moses was found)
  • St George’s Church (the only round church in Egypt cos its built on top of one of the towers of a fortress)
  • St Sergius Church (see the crypt where the holy family rested while on the run)

Afternoon visit the Citadel (http://living-in-egypt-manisha.blogspot.com/2008/04/citadel.html)

Evening go to Khan–el-Khalili (http://living-in-egypt-manisha.blogspot.com/2007/04/khan-el-khalili.html)

Day 3

Early morning to Abu Simbal. See the temple, then fly to Aswan at around 11, and board the boat.

  • visit High Dam, Unfinished Obelisk & Philae Temple
  • Sail to Kom Ombo & Visit Kom Ombo Temple – Sail to Edfu & Overnight

Day 4

  • Visit Edfu Temple
  • Sail to Luxor via Esna & Overnight Luxor

Day 5

  • Visit West Bank
  • Visit Karnak & Luxor Temples & Overnight Luxor

Day 6

Disembarkation in Luxor and fly back to Cairo in the morning.

Relax, shower, change, and drive to Saqqara & Dahsour to see the Step Pyramid, Red Pyramid (in volume this is as big as the Great Pyramid of Giza) and the Black Pyramid. If you still have the enthusiasm, go see Memphis.

Egyptian dinner at Abu el Sid in Zamalek.

Day 7

Roam around City Stars, a big shopping mall in Heliopolis. On the way, have a look at the Baron’s Hindu Palace which is inspired by the Indian Orissa temples and the Angkor Wat.

Hire a felucca for the evening and have a take away dinner while sailing on the Nile. Trust me, the experience is worth it!

Day 8

Leave for Sharm early morning (http://living-in-egypt-manisha.blogspot.com/2008/03/sharm-el-sheikh-drive.html).

On the way, visit the St Catherine Monastery. Just remember that the monastery is closed to the public on Fridays and Sundays.

Reach by afternoon, check in, chill, relax, have a swim, go down to the beach.

Spend a relaxed evening. If enthusiasm, at night head out to Nama Bay which is where the action is. Eat at the many open air cafes that dot the stretch of land, and browse in shops selling every thing from fake glares to fake bags to fake crocs and lots of souveniers and some really quaint stuff..

Day 9

Morning, ask your hotel, and, book a seat on the glass bottomed boat. At approx $15 is definitely worth one trip. They take you out into the sea where you can see the coral and the multi-hued fishes. Its breathtaking...Alternately, you can ask the hotel to book you on what they call a half-submarine where half the vessel is submerged in water with glass windows and you can see the marine life. Its a tad more expensive at LE 250 per head.

Come back, swim some more, chill and snooze a little.

Evening hit the night spots, and, there are plenty to chose from - Camel Bar (for a good local experience, the specialty being that you have to shell your own peanuts are allowed to throw the shells all over the ground), Little Buddha, Bus stop etc...

check with your concierge. On certain days of the week, a Bedouin night is organised in Sharm where you can stay out late, watch Bedouin dancers, and eat Bedouin food.. its quite enjoyable.

Day 10

Have breakfast and start on the drive home. You’ll reach around 4 o'clock if you leave around 10 a.m.. Shower, change, relax.

Go have dinner on one of the stationery boats. I would recommend the Le Pasha in Zamalek or the Garden Cafe boat in Giza. The latter has a restaurant called "Fish Market" which is awesome for fish lovers. Or if you've had enough of looking at boats, try out the Thai at either the Semiramis or Four Seasons. They're both highly recommended.

Day 11

Drive to Alexandria - Egypt's second largest city after, and, its main port. Go see the Roman Amphitheatre, Pompey's Pillar, The Great Library of Alexandria, the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqqaffa and the Fort of Qayet Bai (Citadel). Drive back to reach Cairo by nightfall.

Day 12

If after 11 days of doing what you've done, you still have the energy, enthusiasm and will to explore the city further, then there is still some stuff for you to do!

Visit some of the mosques like Ibn Tulun, Al Azhar and, then climb up Bab Zuwalya, the old Fatimid city’s southern gate, and get a fabulous view of the city.

Afternoon drive to Ramses Wissa Wissaef Centre to buy some beautiful kilms and some nice pottery (http://living-in-egypt-manisha.blogspot.com/2007/06/ramses-wissa-wassef-art-center.html)

At night, go watch the Sound & Light show at the Pyramids.

Alternately, if you have kids, spend this day doing stuff for them. Take them to Fagnoon Art School, The Sun Bird Farm etc.. See the following link for things for the kids to do.

After this, board the plane back home, close your eyes and sleep, and hope to God that you have at least a couple of days of leave left to recover from a hectic but very exciting holiday!!

Around Egypt in 7 days!

This includes a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. I always recommend the 3 night / 4 days cruise as one can do the Karnark / Luxor temples by oneself rather than spend another night and day on the boat. If doing this cruise, it must be kept in mind that generally the 3 nights cruises start on a Friday morning, so you need to plan your trip accordingly. (A decent 5 star deluxe boat, along with airfare from and back to Cairo will cost you around $ 2600 for a family of 4 – 2 adults and 2 children).

Day 1
Guided full day tour of the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum.
  • Early start to the Pyramids & Sphinx (Solar Boat optional)
  • break for an early lunch at Mena House
  • Museum – See the “Mummies Room” and the Tutankhamen section first, time permitting anything else
  • Be back by 5/6
  • Dinner cruise down the Nile on Nile Maxim / Grand Hyatt Boat / Nile Pharaohs though my personal favourite is the Nile Maxim, I think it’s a classier, fine dining experience

Day 2

Morning, go see Coptic Cairo

  • Coptic museum, Hanging Church
  • Ben Izra Synagogue
  • St Sergius & St George’s Church see the crypt where the holy family stayed

Afternoon visit the Citadel

Evening go to Khan–el-Khalilih

  • Buy souvenier
  • Dinner at Naquib Mahfouz Café
  • Coffee at El Fishawey

Day 3
Early morning to Abu Simbal. See the temple, then fly to Aswan at around 11, and board the boat. (http://living-in-egypt-manisha.blogspot.com/2007/04/nile-cruise-sail-through-egypts-history.html)

  • visit High Dam, Unfinished Obelisk & Philae Temple
  • Sail to Kom Ombo & Visit Kom Ombo Temple – Sail to Edfu & Overnight

Day 4

  • Visit Edfu Temple
  • Sail to Luxor via Esna & Overnight Luxor

Day 5

  • Visit West Bank
  • Visit Karnak & Luxor Temples & Overnight Luxor

Day 6
Disembarkation in Luxor and fly back to Cairo in the morning. Relax, shower and
change, and drive to Saqqara & Dahsour to see the Step Pyramid, Red Pyramid / Black
pyramid. If you still have the enthu, go see Mphesis.

Egyptian dinner at Abu el Sid in Zamalek.

Day 7
Visit some of the mosques like Ibn Tulun, Al Azhar and, then climb up Bab Zuwalya,
the old Fatimid city’s southern gate, and get a fabulous view of the city.

Roam around City Stars, a big shopping mall in Heliopolis. On the way, have a look at
the Baron’s Hindu Palace which is beautiful.

If you still have the energy, try and see the Guy Andersen Museum , and, the Mr. & Mrs.
Mahmoud Khalil Museum, and, have a coffee at J Groppi in Downtown.

At night, if in the mood, shake a leg and sample some of Cairo ‘s most happening night
spots – Budha Bar, Darts, After 8, La Bodega etc.. (http://living-in-egypt-manisha.blogspot.com/2008/02/budha-bar.html)

Go to bed happy that you’ve done fair amount of justice to what Egypt has to offer
though not completely!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Around Egypt in ? days!!

One of the biggest positives of coming to Cairo has been rediscovering and strengthening bonds with old friends. Over the years, as you get involved with work and your lives, you don’t end up spending as much time with friends as you did when there were no kids, no work pressures, no family lives to plan out.

However, when you live in a place like Cairo, and have friends visit, you rediscover those bonds and closeness especially cos you’re living together and spending lots of time with each other. To me, it’s almost like going back in time, and, revisiting my youth! And in a place like Cairo, this happens all the time! Over the last one year, we’ve had 15 families stay with us, and, it has been so much fun!

Some have been here for 4 days and some much longer. In fact, one of them mentioned that I should compile a guide – Egypt in 7 days! What to see and what to do! While it was said in jest, it seemed like a very good idea to have a handy reckoner especially when friends are planning to visit and need to figure out what to do.

So here goes – Egypt from 4 to 7 to 12 days!!

Around Egypt in 4 days

Day 1
Guided full day tour of the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum.

  • Early start to the Pyramids & Sphinx (Solar Boat optional)
  • break for an early lunch at Mena House
  • Museum – See the “Mummies Room” and the Tutankhamen section first, time permitting anything else
  • Be back by 5/6
  • Dinner cruise down the Nile on Nile Maxim / Grand Hyatt Boat / Nile Pharaohs though my personal favourite is the Nile Maxim, I think it’s a classier, fine dining experience

Day 2

Morning, go see Coptic Cairo

  • Coptic museum, Hanging Church
  • Ben Izra Synagogue
  • St Sergius & St George’s Church see the crypt where the holy family stayed

Afternoon visit the Citadel

Evening go to Khan–el-Khalilih

  • Buy souvenier
  • Dinner at Naquib Mahfouz Café
  • Coffee at El Fishawey

Day 3
Early morning to Abu Simbal. See the temple, then fly to Aswan at
around 11. See the Unfinished Obelisk / High Dam and the Temple of Philae and fly
to Luxor at night.

Alternately spend the night at Aswan at the Old Cataract (the hotel where Agatha Christie stayed when she wrote Death on the Nile)

Day 4
Early morning, fly to Luxor, visit the Valley of Kings / Queen / Karnark temple / Luxor
temple. Fly back to Cairo late at night.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Storm in a teacup?

Just read an article about a new book by a Muslim woman that has generated a lot of anger, excitement and discussion. The reason that I am reproducing this article is that it fascinated me that a woman published a book like this. It made me wonder whether the reaction was so because it was written by a woman and would it have been less vitriolic if the author had been a man?

Article Reproduced

Book on Prophet’s sex life draws anger, threats
DUBAI (Farrag Ismail,

Muslim leaders have issued fatwas calling for the death of the female author of a controversial new book, Love and Sex in the Prophet’s Life, which was circulated at the Cairo International Book Fair last month.

In a statement to AlArabiya.net, Egyptian writer Passant Rashad said the book tackles sex as a branch of science, deemed as important in Islam for its role in preserving the human race.

“I wanted to explain sex from the real Islamic perspective and to make it the reference for having a healthy sexual life,” Rashad said.

“When I mentioned the prophet I meant to demonstrate how his relationship with his wives was the perfect example of a healthy sexual life that is devoid of the complications Arabs try to impose on it these days.”

But the book has drawn sharp criticism.

Independent Egyptian MP Mustafa al-Gindi complained to the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosny, earlier this month saying the book insults the Prophet and his wives, especially his third wife Ayesha.

“The book contains parts about positions and orgasms, which is totally inappropriate for a book that had the prophet’s name in its title,” said Gindi.

A religious TV channel in Egypt denounced the publication and hosted a series of sheikhs – Islamic leaders – who accused her of apostasy and called for her killing, even if she were to repent.

“I kept silent, hoping this campaign will end or those sheiks will contact me to discuss the book, but none of that happened. Now I fear for my life,” Rashad told AlArabiya.net, saying she is not an apostate and would never insult the prophet.

On the contrary, Rashad said she aimed to refute the myths propagated by the enemies of Islam, who portray the prophet as obsessed with women.

In the aftermath of the fatwa, Rashad said that a bearded man came to her house on Thursday and threatened her.

“He banged on the door at two in the morning and asked my husband if I was the author whose bloodshed is sanctioned. He told him that many problems are coming my way, then left.”
At the same time, Islamic thinker Gamal al-Banna called for an end to the fatwas on writers.

“This is a backward way of understanding Islam. We have to eliminate this torrent of fatwas through reasoning and refutation of these lies. It is only then that those bloodshed Sheiks will find no audience.”

He called upon Arab information ministers to ban televised fatwas that wreak havoc in society and make intellectuals live in constant fear.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Citadel

Cairo Citadel, al_Muqqatam Citadel, Qal'al - Jabal.. a rose by any other name would have smelt as sweet...

Its amazing that I have visited the Citadel so many times, but somehow never written about it, especially since its one of the most well known non-pharonic monuments in Cairo. My son's class was going for a field trip to the Citadel, so happily volunteered to tag along...

One would've thought that after going there a number of times with guests, I would've had my fill but there's something so majestic about the Citadel perched on its rock throne, watching over Cairo as the city goes about its business...

The Citadel was built by a lieutenant of the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din between 1176-1183 as a royal residence and military barracks. It has a long history and had the distinction of being the seat of government for four different dynasties - the Ayyubid, Mamluk, Ottoman, and Khedival rulers of Egypt.

It is said that the spur on which the Citadel is built was actually carved out from the Muqattam Hill, and was chosen for strategic reasons - it was high up on a mountain so easy to protect, it overlooked the twin cities of Cairo and Misr, and formed a barrier between the cities and the dessert..

Among its extant monuments, the 13th/14th c. hypostyle mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad from the Early Bahri Mamluk period, the 16th c. Mosque of Suleyman Pasha, first of the Citadel's Ottoman-style mosques, and the 19th c. Mosque of Muhammad 'Ali al-Kabir indicate the influence and existence of the different dynasties..

As you enter the complex on your left is Mohamad Ali's Jewel Palace which was destroyed to a large extent in an elctrical fire, and, now is in the process of being restored.

As you walk down on your left is the famous Mohammad Ali mosque, also known as the Alabaster mosque because of the alabaster used on the exterior and interior walls and the courtyard. It is said that it was designed to emulate the style of the royal Ottoman mosques of Istanbul, and, that the architect was the same man who built the Haga Sophya in Istanbul.

The mosque has 3 domes which are designed to be utilitarian. I believe the domes help to keep the mosque cool and also cause resonance which is useful during prayers. The domes on the exterior are covered with lead sheets which is what gives the mosque is silver sheen in sunlight.

If you look at the walls of the mosque, there are only 3 types of decorations - floral, geometric and calligraphy.. Islam does not permit worship of statues which is why you dont see any.

In the centre of the courtyard is an octagonal gazebo like structure which is the ablution fountain which is very much in use even today. A little ahead, on the right side is the ablution well from which the water was drawn before taking it to the gazebo to complete the cleansing process..

In the middle of the western side of the outer courtyard, stands a brass clock-tower, which was
presented in 1845 to Muhammad'Ali by Louis Philippe, King of France, in return for the obelisk which adorns the Place de la Concorde in Paris today. It is said that from the day it was gifted, the clock never worked! So clearly, King Louis Philippe did not appreciate his gift too much!!!

When you enter the mosque, the first thing that strikes you is this huge circular rail on which hundreds of lamps seem to be twinkling. While I did not have the energy to count, it is said that the rail has as many lamps as the number of days in the year i.e. 365. Can you imagine the plight of the vassal who had to light the oil lamps every day at sunset, and , then put them off after sunrise!!

In front of you, is a small curvature in the wall which prepresents the dierction of Kaba, and, is called the Mehrab. On the top part is a gilded half-sun which was the logo of the Ottoman empire. In fact, this logo can be seen in many places on the exterior and interior walls...

On the right of the Mehrab, you can see two sets of decorated flight of stairs. This is the "member" and from here the priest calls out the noon prayers. The original member is made from wood and decorated with the logo of the Ottomans. The new green one was gifted by King Farookh who was the last ruler who ruled Egypt.

Adjacent to the entrance, on your right, is where Mohamad Ali was buried. A stone reproduction of his hat adorns the grave at the top, and, a Holy Quran is placed on the grave.

When you look up, there is a balcony running along the walls of the mosque. This is the segregated prayer area for women when they come to pray at this mosque. This moque is an actively used mosque, so is closed to tourists for Friday afternoon prayers. So plan your trip accordingly, if planning to visit the Citadel on a Friday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Crave - the new hip eatery in Maadi

Restaurant: CRAVE
Address: 30 Road 213, Degla, New Maadi
Tel No: +2 (02) 2519-8443
Timing: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Crave is the latest eatery to open in Maadi, Jan I think is when it opened its doors to the public. I believe they've had an outlet in Zamalek for a long time, and, only now, have ventured into Maadi.

Pasta & pizzas from Italy, burgers from the US, Jalapeno-stuffed mushrooms from Mexico, the menu on offer at the new eatery "Crave" in Maadi is a lesson in culinary geography. And just to ensure that you do get it right, each item on the menu has a stick figure giving a clue to the dish's region.

The first thing that strikes you when you walk in, is the incredible buzz to the place. At lunch time, it’s crowded, and, you can feel the vibrancy. The restaurant is full of light and is airy, the seating is modern and muted, and the walls have black panels running across the eatery with figures of different ethnicities caricatured in white.. It’s almost like the wall panels reflect the variety of cuisine that is on offer. The most interesting feature of the decor are the chandeliers - they have tableware hanging upside down giving a really cool and hip feel to the place. The restaurant has a smoking and non-smoking area and is reasonably large.

We ordered our drinks, and, my favourite lemon did not disappoint. The restaurant does not offer any alcoholic beverages like beer, whiskey etc nor wine. Neither are you permitted to carry your own and pay corkage. So its strictly juice and soft drinks.

We decided to order the Mushrooms Four Seasons. Actually, as a vegetarian, I really did not have too much choice for the starter, unless I wanted a Caesar’s salad, which I was sure I did not! At LE 33.95, the portions were decent enough for a starter for three without it filling you up completely. The mushrooms sautéed in butter were nice as were the deep fried ones.

For vegetarians, its Italian to the rescue again. There is a decent choice of pizzas and pastas. I settled for a Spinach and ricotta ravioli while one of my friends ordered a roccola and cheese pizza. The last order was Stake Diane. The waiters are extremely friendly and attentive, and willing to walk you through the menu if you so desired. Also the service is quick, and, we found the food at our table pretty fast.

I must warn you that the portions are really large at Crave. The pizza is actually good for two people if you've had a drink and a decent appetizer. My friend actually had to get her pizza packed cos she could not finish it.

My ravioli was ok. It was a little hard, and the tomato sauce a bit too tomatoey, but the filling inside was delicious. My friend said that her pizza was very good. The Stake Diane was not bad either.

We also ordered the Chocolate Fondant, which is described as a chocolate volcano, and I must admit it lived up to its name. The vanilla ice-cream is just what is needed to balance the intense gooey chocolate, and, it is a really satisfying end to the meal.

We enjoyed the meal thoroughly, and, I think more than the meal, we enjoyed the feel and the atmosphere of the place! For lack of any other words, it pulsates with life unlike many of the other eateries in Maadi which tend to be very quiet. Definitely, worth another meal, and this time, an evening out!

Edit 1: Went for dinner to Crave again. The food did not dissapoint. The crab covered with fried kunafa (LE 32) was delicious (and served very artistically), so was the risotto with spinach and mushrooms. The farfalle primvera was ok, while the vegetarian pizza was very good.

Ordered the Chocolate Fondant (volcano) again. The gooey chocolate oozing out of the cake and you dig into it, is sheeeeeer decadence...Its to die for!

Edit 2: Had some freinds visting from India. Took them to Crave for lunch. The food as usual was great except for a crab ravioli (LE 38) which smelt terrible. It appears that they do not use fresh crab, or they told us. The Chilli Shrimp (LE 62) and the Stir Fried Chicken (LE 38) was deliciously spicy, close to what the Indian palate is used to. The Fried Fish fillet with lemon suace (LE 42) was just right. of course, we had to finally end the meal with the Chocolate Fondant which, as usual, was to die for!! If there was a chocolate heaven on earth, it is here, it is here!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Turkey's dilemma

By Alfred Stepan

First Published: March 21, 2008

The Chief Prosecutor of Turkey’s High Court of Appeals recently recommended to the country’s Constitutional Court that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) be permanently banned. Only last July, the AKP was overwhelmingly re-elected in free and fair elections to lead the government. The Chief Prosecutor also formally recommended that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul, and 69 other leading politicians be banned from politics for five years.

Clearly, banning the AKP would trigger a political crisis that would end Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union in the foreseeable future and threaten its recent strong economic growth. So the Chief Prosecutor’s threat should not be taken lightly — all the more so given that the Constitutional Court has banned 18 political parties (including the AKP’s predecessor party) since the current constitution was introduced in 1982. Indeed, the recent call to ban the AKP is directly related to its efforts to change Turkey’s constitution.

The underlying charge in the Chief Prosecutor’s indictment is that the AKP has been eroding secularism. But the origins of the current Constitution, and its definition of secularism, are highly suspect.

Turkey’s existing Constitution was adopted in 1982 as a direct product of the Turkish military coup in 1980. The five senior generals who led the coup appointed, directly or indirectly, all 160 members of the Consultative Assembly that drafted the new constitution, and they retained a veto over the final document. In the national ratification referendum that followed, citizens were allowed to vote against the military-sponsored draft, but not to argue against it publicly.

As a result, the 1982 Constitution has weaker democratic origins than any in the EU. Its democratic content was also much weaker, assigning, for example, enormous power (and a military majority) to the National Security Council. While the AKP has moderated this authoritarian feature, it is difficult to democratize such a constitution fully, and official EU reports on Turkey’s prospects for accession repeatedly call for a new constitution, not merely an amended one.

With public opinion polls indicating that the AKP’s draft constitution, prepared by an academic committee, would be accepted through normal democratic procedures, the Chief Prosecutor acted to uphold the type of secularism enshrined in the 1982 Constitution, which many commentators liken to French secularism. Yet the comparison with what the French call laicité is misleading.

Certainly, both French laicité and Turkish secularism (established by modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk) began with a similar hostility toward religion. But now they are quite different. In Turkey, the only religious education that is tolerated is under the strict control of the state, whereas in France a wide variety of privately supported religious education is allowed, and since 1959 the state has paid for much of the Catholic Church’s primary school costs. In Turkey, Friday prayers are written by civil servants in the 70,000-member State Directorate of Religious Affairs, and all Turkish imams also must be civil servants. No similar controls exist in France.

Similarly, until the AKP came to power and began to loosen restrictions, it was virtually impossible in Turkey to create a new church or synagogue, or to create a Jewish or Christian foundation. This may be why the Armenian Patriarch urged ethnic Armenians in Turkey to vote for the AKP in last July’s elections. Here, too, no such restrictions exist in France.

The differences between French and Turkish secularism can be put in even sharper comparative perspective. In the widely cited “Fox” index measuring state control of majority and minority religions, in which zero represents the least state control, and figures in the thirties represent the greatest degree of control, all but two current EU member states get scores that are in the zero to six range. France is at the high end of the EU norm, with a score of six. Turkey, however, scores 24, worse even than Tunisia’s authoritarian secular regime.

Is this the type of secularism that needs to be perpetuated by the Chief Prosecutor’s not so-soft constitutional coup?

What really worries some democratic secularists in Turkey and elsewhere is that the AKP’s efforts at constitutional reform might be simply a first step toward introducing Sharia law. If the constitutional court will not stop a potential AKP-led imposition of Sharia, who will?

There are two responses to this question. First, the AKP insists that it opposes creating a Sharia state, and experts say that there is no “smoking gun” in the Chief Prosecutor’s indictment showing that the AKP has moved toward such a goal. Second, support for Sharia, never high in Turkey, has actually declined since the AKP came to power, from 19 percent in 1996 to 8 percent in 2007.

Given that the AKP’s true power base is its support in democratic elections, any attempt to impose Sharia would risk alienating many of its own voters.

Given this constraint, there is no reason for anyone, except for “secular fundamentalists,” to support banning the AKP, Erdogan, or Gul, and every reason for Turkey to continue on its democratic path. Only that course will enable Turkey to construct a better constitution than it has now.

Alfred Stepan is Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Democracy, Toleration and Religion at Columbia University. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (http://www.project-syndicate.org/).

Dutch film ‘Fitna’ gets muted response

By Sarah Carr
First Published: March 28, 2008

CAIRO: Dutch MP Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna” went online Thursday evening to a mostly muted reaction.

The 15-minute film — which opens with an image of one of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed which inflamed Muslim public opinion in 2005 — places Quranic verses against a background of images of attacks by radical Islamist groups and sensationalist Dutch newspaper headlines.

It ends with an image of a page in the Quran being turned before the screen fades to black and the sound of paper being torn is heard.

“The sound you heard was a page being removed from the phonebook. For it is not up to me, but to Muslims themselves to tear out the hateful verses from the Quran” is the message which next appears.

The film ends with the words “stop Islamisation, defend our freedom.”

There had been speculation that the film would prompt a response like that provoked by the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, when Danish embassies were attacked.
The BBC has reported small protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende condemned “Fitna”, reportedly saying in a televised reaction ''The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this … 'We ... regret that Mr. Wilders has released this film. We believe it serves no other purpose than to cause offense.''

Wilders has frequently criticized Holland’s immigration policy and has called for the deportation of dual-nationality Dutch citizens as well as a five-year freeze on immigration.

While he claims to be protecting Dutch values, critics have accused him of racism and publicity-seeking for his political ambitions.

Cornelius Hulsman of the Cairo based Center for Arab West Understanding told Daily News Egypt that it has sent a petition against the film to the Dutch parliament.

“A Dutch delegation was here in Cairo a few days ago and we have sent with them a petition signed by one hundred Christian and Muslim clerics which will be presented to the Dutch parliament,” Hulsman said.

“This film is causing polemics and we ask for a rational response.”

Rather than being an isolated incident, Hulsman regards “Fitna” as the product of a wave of secularism sweeping Europe.

“The film is a consequence of Europe becoming more and more secular,” Hulsman said. “This secularism has resulted in the development of a new religion — ‘enlightenment fundamentalism’ — which doesn’t care for, or respect, the feelings and convictions of others,” he explained.
Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa thinks differently.

In a statement given to Daily News Egypt he said, “The goodwill from the European public and their governments who have distanced themselves from this man and his ideology demonstrate that this is an isolated incident,” Gomaa said. “It is not representative of Europe or the West,” he continued.

Statue of Pharaonic queen discovered in Luxor

March 23, 2008

LUXOR: Egyptian and European archeologists on Saturday announced they had discovered a giant statue of an ancient Pharaonic queen on the spectacular south Egypt site of the Colossi of Memnon.

The statue represents Queen Tiy, the wife of 18th dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and stands 3.62 meters high.

It was discovered around the site of the massive Colossi of Memnon twin statues that command the road to Luxor's famed Valley of the Kings.

Two sphinx representing Tiy and Amenhotep III as well as 10 statues in black granite of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, who protected the pharaohs, we also found by the archeologists and presented to reporters and senior officials.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni hailed the discovery as a "formidable" enterprise and told reporters he expected the statues to be erected for public view next year.

They will be joined by two 15-meter-high statues, excavated in recent years, which will be placed 100 meters behind the Colossi of Memnon as part of an "open air museum."

"Once these new colossi and the other new discoveries are put in place... this site will become one of the most important open air museums of the Pharaonic period," the head of the archeological team Hourig Sourouzian said.

The Colossi of Memnom are massive quartzite sandstone statues, some 20 meters high, which used to guard a temple dedicated to Amenhotep III that was destroyed in a devastating earthquake in the 1st century AD.

Over the centuries the rising waters of the Nile River inundated the rest of the site.

Archeologists hope to rehabilitate the site within five years. –AFP

El Matbakh’ brings the kitchen to your doorstep or desk

Guess, what I found while surfing the Net? Its definitely sounds worth a try.... will try and find the telephone number, though it would appear that Maadi residents will have to wait a little longer to be able to use this service!

El Matbakh’ brings the kitchen to your doorstep or desk
By Anna Woolfolk
First Published: March 14, 2008

Personal chef delivery services, home-meal replacement companies, and prepared-meals from the grocery store for home consumption — do you ever feel like you need a degree in economics or engineering to feed yourself properly these days?

How many cups of orange vegetables do I need today? And teaspoons of oil? I’m too confused to eat anything! I’ll just get another McDonald’s combo.

It may seem silly, but isn’t this basically how it goes? We know it’s wrong, but stressed by work and enveloped by hunger we give in and pick the same old delivery we’re familiar with, even the same combo number. If we splurge on a restaurant, how often does your order arrive wrong, cold, and/or incomplete? Still we eat what we’ve bought.

In addition to the feeling of subsequent satisfaction, we feel guilty for neglecting our health further by spending the day plopped behind a desk.

Thus — in the midst of fad diets, carbs this and saturated fats that — meals freshly prepared using real ingredients are the best bet for staying healthy (as if you didn’t already know this as well).

Of course “freshly prepared” doesn’t mean freshly defrosted or unpacked items from a corporate truck; even if the invisible coat of chemicals gives the illusion that the item is quality, it isn’t. A healthy meal consists of fresh, local produce that has been cleaned, cut, seasoned and cooked in a real kitchen not far from where you will be eating it. For the business crowd, this is a critical obstacle in trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

After the office all day and then subsequent Cairo traffic, who has time to spend in the kitchen, or ‘El Matbakh’ in Arabic, to make real food? Underused in today’s world of workingwomen, take-out, delivery, microwave ovens, and chemistry labs, the kitchen needs a revival.

Here comes the plug.

A team has been capitalizing on the missing link in Cairo’s food delivery culture, under the name of El Matbakh. The company prepares two homemade meal options each day for clients and delivers the orders complete with bread, a salad and dessert. You get a square meal in a nifty square box for about LE 48.

It’s slightly pricier than your average fast food restaurant, but it’s food of a much higher quality, cooked in a proper kitchen. There’s really no comparison, and not too many better options. Because of the focus on delivery alone and the decision to have only two entrées offered each day, El Matbakh is able to do something unique.

“There is nothing that we outsource,” says co-owner Heba Jammal. “We prefer doing so in order to keep a tight control on quality.”

Tarek Khaddaj, Heba’s husband and partner, has 15 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. He is also the one with the culinary skills in the marriage, making the enterprise all that more contemporary. Heba takes care of all the managerial and marketing responsibilities while the men, Tarek and Chef Simon Nehmi plan and execute an ever-varying menu. And they do it well.

On the day we decided to partake in the El Matbakh experience, we ordered fish curry that came in fashionable packaging with everything one would need to immediately start dining. What was more than the obvious thought that went into the packaging was, of course, the taste. It was like mom had sent me to work with an impressive packed lunch.
A couple of boneless sea bass filets piled over a bed of basmati rice seasoned with curry, raisins and apples was happily devoured. The salad was just as flavorful too — tomato and cucumbers in a lemon and mint dressing. Even the crème caramel dessert was enjoyed by a friend who doesn’t prefer custard-like sweet courses.

Living the average Cairo delivery lifestyle, we were obviously real-food-deprived.
El Matbakh is located in Agouza and ensures a half hour delivery time to Zamalek, Giza, Downtown, Cornish el Nile, Garden City, Mohandiseen, Dokki and El Manial, six days a week between 9 am and 7 pm. They accommodate all sorts of catering situations and in the wake of all their new success are ready to expand their operations with more kitchens.

Apparently we are not the only ones who have discovered El Matbakh

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pizza Cream - A Kid's treat

In the last few months, have often come across this fast food chain called Pizza Cream which offers pizza in the form of an ice cream cone. The shape intrigued me, but never got around to trying it...

Had taken my son to Toys R Us at Arcadia Mall, and decided to grab a bite. While my son feasted on the Big Mac, I chanced upon a Pizza Cream counter, and decided I would try it today.

Ordered a Margherita Cone which has mozzarella, tomato and oregano. It comes in two sizes, ordered Picolo (the smaller one).

It is like holding a really hot ice cream, and while the experience is enjoyable for its novelty, the taste was average and the eating really messy. But my son really loved it, and forgot all about his Big Mac. He wanted the Pizza Ice cream!! At approx LE 9 for the Picolo, it’s quite reasonable.

Pizza Cream is available at City Stars, Maadi City Centre, Dandy Mall, Wadi Degla Club, Genena Mall, Rehab City and Dream Park.

So next time you take your kids out, try it for the novelty…