10 Things that Surprised Me About Cairo

The more you get to know a place, the more you get to learn its many quirks. As a city I only held pigeonholed ideas about – think camels, mummy’s and sexual harassment (*cue dry laughter*) – Cairo was just waiting to surprise me.

Road lanes? What road lanes?

The very first thing I discovered was that Egyptians have absolutely no concept of road lanes (or road rules, for that matter).

When I was picked up from the airport at 2am and driven across the city to Giza, I genuinely feared for my life. People were treating the highway like they would Gran Turismo, and the blatant disregard for the law – and common sense – was mind-blowing. If you’re not quite grasping the sheer terror of driving amongst people like this, bear in mind that highways in Cairo can have up to eight lanes. And a donkey or two.

Pass the mango

I’m no stranger to mangoes. They’re one of my favourite fruits, and I have had the pleasure to try them from many different corners of the globe such as Thailand and the south of Spain.

But the embarrassing truth is that, prior to Egypt, I had never eaten a fresh mango on its own. I know, I know. Such the traveller. I’ve only ever had mango if it was in the form of a smoothie or dollop of sorbet. Even in Southeast Asia, I didn’t think to buy some from one of the countless street food stalls.

On my very first day in Cairo, I tried a real mango. Woah. It was like all of the taste palates on my tongue had just been reborn. It was so juicy, so sweet… I don’t think I can ever return to preserved, tinned mango every again. It turns out that Egypt is actually known for it’s mangoes, which – according to Fruit Link Co. – are “a tropical delicacy with no equal”.

Tip

If you’re a mango fanatic like me, make sure you visit Egypt during mango season (July to November).

The City of Unfinished Buildings

Cairo may be known as the City of a Thousand Minarets, but perhaps a more appropriate nickname is the City of Unfinished Buildings.

One of the things I noticed every time I drove into the centre was the myriad of unfinished apartment buildings. I’m not just talking about one or two of these, either. There were long stretches where I couldn’t spot a single completed building. From a practical point of view, they’re unsafe. From an aesthetic point of view, they’re just plain ugly.

When I inquired into the reasoning behind this, I was informed that there exists something of a legal loophole in that owners in Cairo do not have to pay taxes until a building is structurally finished. Given this, there is little motivation to achieve completion.

Representation

If the nickname of the City of Unfinished Buildings doesn’t catch on, then maybe the City of a Thousand Billboards will.

Cruising down the 26th of July Corridor, you are treated to advertisement after advertisement. Airbrushed models smile down on you with their photoshopped, white smiles, marketing everything from Coca Cola to Vodafone to KFC. The oddity? None of the female models are veiled.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be strange if it weren’t for the fact that up to 80% of Egyptian women are believed to wear headscarves. That’s no minority. Presuming that these advertisements are targeting Egyptian citizens, this lack of representation seems a little unusual.

Paris along the Nile

When I first heard this next fact, I burst out laughing. Did you know that Cairo was architecturally modelled after Paris?

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Downtown Cairo was transformed into what was at the time called the ‘Paris of the East’. This was because the then-ruler was raised in France and wanted Egypt’s capital to reflect European modernity. This meant that the Downtown area was to be characterised by linear, gridded streets, geometric harmony, and reflect Parisian architecture.

Let there be light… please 🙏

If the lack of consideration for road lanes doesn’t already make driving a near-death experience for you, then the lack of street lamps will. There are so many stretches of highway where there is just no lighting. When you’re zooming along at 100km/h with half of Cairo on your tail, that’s the last thing you want.

I have no idea how you would navigate anywhere if it weren’t for the head and tail lights of surrounding cars – and even then, it’s near impossible to spot potholes or barriers that suddenly jump up out of the concrete. I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents. But on that note…

Desensitisation

If you travel to Cairo, you will probably see a dead body.

I’m not talking about roadkill. I wish I was talking about roadkill. Rather, I’m referring to the 12,000 human lives that are lost due to crashes every year in this country.

I remember driving down one of the more remote highways and passing an ambulance. Upon further inspection, I realised that two paramedics were tending to an unmoving body that had been flung from an also unmoving motorcycle. I didn’t have to look too closely to fathom their fate.

It was the juxtaposition between how Egypt deals with this sort of thing compared to the response from my home country of New Zealand that really shocked me. Back home, a crash – even one that leaves no fatalities – will halt traffic, block roads and make national news. Here, it was as though nothing had even happened. If I hadn’t had my eyes peeled, there is a good chance I wouldn’t have even noticed it.

Death has been normalised.

Green

On a lighter note, one thing that pleasantly surprised me about Cairo was the amount of greenery present. For a desert city, this wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Cruising down the Nile along Downtown’s Promenade especially draws attention to this welcome inhabitance of vegetation, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to temporarily forget that I was in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

The haze

Coming from a small town in an environmentally-friendly country, air pollution had always been something of an abstract problem. But for Cairo – the city ranked as having the worst air pollution in the world – this is an unavoidable issue.

The effect this has on the landscape is striking. Standing beneath the Mosque of Mohammed Ali in the Citadel and beholding Cairo’s skyline gave me the impression that I was looking over a civilisation on some distant planet. The horizon is a thick gray as a consequence of the fumes. As it ascends, the sky gradually fades into a dull blue. There are no clouds. There is no sun. There is only the haze.

Egypt is very… Egyptian

What amused me the most about Egypt was just how Egyptian it is.

If that sounds to you like an obvious statement, then allow me to elaborate. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, there are certain icons of Egypt that thoroughly tie into the stereotypes and conventions that the tourism industry thrives off. You know what I’m talking about.

But when I arrived, I didn’t actually expect these cultural symbols to manifest in absolutely everything. Everywhere you look is Egyptian iconography. Sphinx Bakery, Pyramid Gardens, Pharaoh Towers… walking in Cairo is like stepping into a three-dimensional postcard. I found it entertaining, to say the least.

I don’t intend for this blog post to deter anyone from visiting Cairo. In fact, I would go as far as to say that all these little quirks – good and bad – are instrumental in the formation of it’s character.

I highly recommend that you read about my experience at the Great Pyramids of Giza. Furthermore, if you want to learn about what it’s like to be a ginger in Egypt, then this post might be your cup of tea ☕

Last but not least, stay tuned for my Egypt vlog that is currently in the works! Show some love and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss out on any exciting updates.

All photographs courtesy of the talented photographers at Unsplash

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The French Way: A Succulent Food Tour of Nice + Recipe

It was mid-morning when my family and I shuffled sleepily to Place Masséna on a Sunday in mid August. Our arrival to Nice the previous evening had offered us a peek into the lazy, sun-kissed life of the Côte d’Azur, and we were ready to explore the city through our tastebuds.

At 9.30am on the dot, our lovely tour guide, Marion, bounded into the square. We had booked a food tour with the French Way, a local company specialising in art, food and wine tours in Nice and Paris. The rest of my family were proud foodies, and whilst I was still developing an appreciation for gastronomy, I was excited to tease my palate with the iconic tastes of Niçoise food.

While I’d always thought of French food as confined to croissants and vintage cheese I can’t pronounce, this tour would open my eyes to the fresh and simplistic flavours of the French Riviera. Described by the French Way as, “not quite French, not quite Italian”, French cuisine is characterised by the use of locally-grown vegetables that are chosen according to the season. The dishes focus on modest, reductionist ingredients so that the consumer can enjoy each component in its own right.

Marion lead our tour group from Place Masséna, through the Old Town and to Cours Saleya Market. There, we wandered through the bustling stalls with eyes as wide as a child’s on Christmas morning, trying to take in everything all at once. The colours, the smells, the atmosphere… it was almost too much to process. All the while, Marion was throwing information and samples at us left, right and centre.

Highlights included Torta de Blea (a local cake made of sweet and savoury ingredients), Socca (a chickpea pancake of sorts), and hard candies made from violet flowers. Oh, and I can’t forget all that gorgeous fresh fruit.

Fifteen tastings later (yes, you read that right), and we had arrived at Maison Bremond 1830. Maison Bremond 1830 is a mouth-watering shop specialising in olive oils, truffles, tapenades, terrines and confectionery, all sourced from the Mediterranean and Provence. There, we were treated to olive and truffle oils that would change my standards of cooking forever. Without a shred of doubt, my favourite was the lemon-infused olive oil. I thought that was quite impressive for someone who doesn’t particularly like lemons or olives 🍋

The ‘Deats

Name: Maison Bremond 1830

Website: Here

Address: 15 Rue de Pont Vieux

Phone: +33 (0)4 93 92 50 40

Email: nice@maison-bremond.com

At the end of the tour, we bode farewell to Marion and retreated back to our apartment with full stomachs and inspired minds. As someone who had never been passionate about the kitchen (I think to even say I am tolerant is quite a stretch), I was amused to find myself motivated to practice recipes and dishes influenced by Niçoise cuisine. I really relish the idea of modest, delicious food that is easy on the tastebuds and easy on the waistline. I guess that’s the key word here: easy. None of the meals Marion delighted in showing us required much preparation or effort, and they were all sourced from local producers without any of that synthetic shit imposed through processes of importation or preservation. With French food, what you see is what you get. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Recipe

Salade Niçoise

2 hands full of red radishes

4 hard-boiled eggs

1 branch of celery

2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes

200g of tinned tuna

4 big handfuls of mixed salad leaves

1 tablespoon of dijon mustard

10 tablespoons of olive oil

3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

1/2 red pepper and 1/2 yellow pepper

4 spring onions (or 1/2 red onion)

1 handful of broad beans

4 purple artichokes

16 tinned salted anchovies

black olives de Nice

salt and pepper

vinaigrette

The ‘Deats

Name: The French Way

Website   Facebook   Twitter   TripAdvisor

Address: 31 Avenue Malaussena

Phone: +33 (0) 6 27 35 13 75

Email: info@thefrenchway.fr

If this article has whetted your appetite for all things French, then make sure you take the time to enjoy my two Parisian blog posts: Fluctuat Ner Mergitur: A Paris Photo Diary and How to Spend a Layover in Paris (Sans Eiffel Tower) 🇫🇷

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How to Fall in Love with Cromwell (In 5 Easy Steps)

Step One: Take a Step Back in Time…

Cromwell – located deep in the heart of Central Otago – pays tribute to its rich heritage with a precinct called Old Cromwell Town. Here, you’ll find art galleries, cafés and boutique shops all operating out of authentic historic buildings. The heritage precinct – also known as “Central Otago’s best kept secret” – overlooks the stunning Lake Dunstan and hosts the Cromwell Farmer’s Market (catch it every Sunday from 9am-1pm over the warmer months).

Step Two: Save Water, Drink Wine

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” – Charles Baudelaire

I like to think of Cromwell as the Barossa Valley of New Zealand. It may not be as vast nor as renowned, but does that really matter as far as excellent wine is concerned?

Cromwell is celebrated for it’s orchards and it’s not hard to see why; a patchwork of vineyards cloak the bountiful landscape, and the view is almost as sweet as the taste. My winery loyalties are divided between Mt Difficulty and Scott Base. You’ll find the former perched above Bannockburn whilst the latter is a short walk from ‘the fruit’ (as seen in Step 5).

Step Three: Fall for Cromwell

Hehe – geddit? Fall? Well, you Americans may have caught my embarrassing pun, but us Kiwis might need a ‘lil helping hand.

The best time to visit Cromwell is in autumn. Between the months of March – May, you may miss cooking like a baked potato in the summer heat, but you will be treated to a rustic palette of nutmeg leaves and amber dusks. My favourite time of the day is late afternoon when the sky blushes, the sun sinks low upon the horizon and you would be forgiven for mistaking the mountains to have caught fire.

Step Four: 5 a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

(Okay, so there’s only 4 here, but you catch the gist.)

There is perhaps nothing more iconic about Cromwell than the enormous painted fruit sculpture on the main road. The gigantic pear, apple, orange and – I think nectarine? – welcome you into the town that is famed for it’s abundance of orchards. You haven’t had the full Central Otago experience until you’ve gone cherry picking at Cheeki Cherries, or demolished a blueberry real-fruit ice cream from Freeway Orchard.

Step Five: Say Cheese!

Cheese is one of the best goddamn things on earth and you cannot convince me otherwise.

Nothing goes better with a good old glass of pinot noir than a slab of gorgonzola, and what better place to enjoy a succulent cheese platter than Cromwell? The beauty featured below is from Scott Base Vineyards, which I enjoyed one balmy evening preceding my reluctant journey home.

If you’re keen to see some more of what Cromwell has to offer in action, then check out my Central Otago Travel Vlog – and don’t forget to show the love and subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel!

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How To Spend A Day in Bangkok

“Behind a bend… the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking; this Asiatic Venice…”

Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

As the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok is one swarming, electrified, confused hub. No matter where you are, there’s always something going on, and it can be difficult to know what to do if you only have 24 hours in this introduction to Southeast Asia that has been described as an “attack on the senses”.

10am

Embrace Heights

Bangkok isn’t a city that has an iconic skyline like Paris or New York, but that’s not to say it’s not worth the climb. If you’re especially motivated (unlike me), then I would recommend setting your alarm for 6am to catch a breathtaking Thai sunrise. Or, alternatively, if you’re like me and jet-lagged out of your mind, sunset does the trick as well 👌

11am

Practice Your Bartering Skills

Make like the tourists and catch a tuk-tuk to weave through the zig-zagging streets of Bangkok. Although the tuk-tuks here aren’t as crazy as they are in Cambodia, it’s nevertheless an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

There isn’t a set price for a tuk-tuk ride, and you will be expected to barter with the operator to determine a price. As someone who hates being assertive with a passion, I had been dreading this ever since I set foot off the plane. For the most part it went without a hitch, but I’m not going to lie; being a young and unaccompanied white woman in the middle of Bangkok definitely draws attention to yourself, and there were many times tuk-tuk operators tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected the exceedingly high price one requested, he gestured towards my wallet and made a rude comment about me being a rich white tourist. I tried to explain to him that I don’t just carry around wads of cash in my pocket, but it was no use. In times like those, you just have to walk away and trust in the fact that there is always going to be someone else just down the road who will take you where you want to go without trying to scam you of all your money.

3pm

Recline with the Buddha

There’s countless places you can wile away hours of your time in Bangkok, but if you’re looking for somewhere cultural, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Wat Pho. Located by the river in the Old City, Wat Pho – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha – used to be the first public university in Thailand with specialities in religion, science and literature.

As it’s name suggests, Wat Pho features the gold-plated reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. 46 metres! I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Also be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees; it is a sign of respect in Thailand not to expose skin in these areas whilst in sacred places.

8pm

Explore the Asiatique

Just a nifty ten-minute (and free!) boat ride down the river from Saphan Taksin BTS station lies the Asiatique. This riverfront bazaar is the ultimate night fusion market. There are more restaurants and shops than you can count, with different live performances on offer to entertain you every night. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, then you’ve come to the right place; with over 1,500 boutiques selling everything you can imagine – and for prices that seem too good to be true – you’ll be shopped out before long. Even if you’re not the biggest spender, it’s certainly an experience to simply meander through the warehouse and take in all the sights.

Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the ferris wheel to see some stunning views of Bangkok lit up at night, and if you’re looking for something a little bit quirky, why not book in a session at the fish spa? Wallow in a small tank whilst flesh-eating fish nibble at your toes for an eccentric Thai experience. If your excuse not to do this is that you’re too ticklish, then don’t worry – if I can stick it out for 15 minutes, then so can you!

11pm

Expand Your Palate

If an evening at the Asiatique hasn’t exhausted you, then finish off your day by dropping by some street food stalls on the way home. After all, who doesn’t a love a sneaky midnight snack? Thai street food is dotted all over Bangkok, and vendors operate well into the night. I’ve had some of the most succulent fresh fruit I’ve ever from these stalls, including fruit with names I can’t even pronounce.

If you’re feeling adventurous (or still adrenalised from the fish spa), then this is the best place to expand your palate and try some bugs. Yes, you heard me right: bugs. Grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crickets… you name it. Oh, and don’t worry – they’re seasoned.

If all this talk about eating bugs has whet your appetite, then don’t forget to check out 5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (And 5 Foods That Won’t). Also, feel free to give my Thailand Vlog a watch if you need some more convincing on how incredible this city is.

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5 Foods That Will Make You Go WTF (and 5 Foods That Wont)

Oh, Thailand.

One of the highlights of traveling to a faraway and exotic country is having the opportunity to try weird and wonderful foods. In France, that may be escargots. In South America, that may be roast guinea pig. In Thailand… well, let’s just say you’ve come to the right place to find out.

1

Insects

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Traveling to Southeast Asia as a vegetarian, the last thing I expected myself to do was eat a bug. But, as it would stand, I am not very good at being vegetarian.

Feeling a little bit like a contestant off Fear Factor, I decided to expand my palate on the very first night of the trip by having a nibble of a grasshopper. In Thailand, insects are fried in a wok, seasoned with chilli, salt and pepper, and enjoyed as snacks. Whilst I cast my doubts on the Thai people’s relationship with the word ‘enjoyed’, I will admit that it wasn’t the absolute worst thing I have ever eaten. Did it taste like bitter, burnt popcorn? Maybe. Did it require me to run to the kitchen and spit out the remnants immediately afterwards? Maybe. But rest assured, it looks more gross than it actually is.

2

Fried Chicken Heads

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When I passed these at the market, I actually had to do a double take. I’d heard of chicken feet being a delicacy, but chicken heads? I felt a little sick just looking at them.

Whilst our tour guide informed us that these are mostly used for the purposes of pet food, that doesn’t stop people (including a few questionably brave tourists) from indulging themselves. Apparently (because, y’know, there was no way I was trying these in a hurry) they consist almost entirely of bones and gristle with a little bit of fat in the neck. If these little guys whet your appetite, don’t forget to crack the head so that you don’t miss out on the “unique buttery flavour” of the brain.

I think I’ll pass.

3

Whole Fish

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Arguably this isn’t as crazy as the other foods listed, but hailing from somewhere like New Zealand, it’s still a shock to see an entire fish for sale – head and all – as opposed to cuts of meat.

What really took me aback was the price. One of these fish were worth 30 baht (the Thai currency) which is roughly equivalent to USD$0.80!

4

Fried Worms

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Poppy enjoying her fried worms.

Mmm.

Fried bamboo worms are a Thai treat that you will most likely find in the North.

My friend Poppy and I brought a small bag of ‘lesser’ worms (because apparently you have high and low quality fried worms… who would’ve known?), and I plucked up the courage to try one.

In all honesty, I preferred the grasshopper. These little rascals tasted like gravel with a vaguely peanut-esque aftertaste. “Just like popcorn!” our guide grinned.

Yeah right.

5

Whole Fish 2.0

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If you thought I was done with the fish, then you were wrong.

I have no idea what kind of fish this was, but I’m sure it was an ugly mother******. This entire fish – teeth and all – was placed on the table in front of us, complete with chopsticks and dipping sauce. Had I not been vegetarian, I don’t think I could have even eaten anything, what with it staring back at you. If you fancy watching Poppy’s ethical dilemma, check out our travel vlog.

1

Ice Cream

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The first thing I decided when I arrived in Thailand was that I would have put on 5kg worth of dessert by the time I returned home. How can you not when you’re constantly walking past places like this?!

Aside from the miscellany of ice cream flavours, the toppings alone are to die for. Toasted marshmallow? Buttered popcorn? Oreo crush? Froot loops? You name it – they’ve got it.

2

Street Food

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You cannot travel to Thailand and not try the street food. Aside from the fact that it’s so insanely cheap, it also tastes infinitely better than anything you would ever buy out of a package. Plus, you’ll find yourself eyeing up foods you never even knew existed.

Durian? I have no idea what that is, but I’ll take three.

3

Watermelon Juice

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You got me; this isn’t a photo of watermelon juice. But it is a photo of fresh watermelon (and some sneaky papayas) at a local Thai market, which I think we can all agree is far more photogenic than juice in a cup.

Watermelon is one of my favourite fruits, and the only thing better than fruit is liquid fruit. The beauty of watermelon juice in Thailand is that – like everything – it is so much cheaper than the same product would cost back home (or even in neighbouring countries, for that matter). An average watermelon juice in Thailand might cost around USD$0.60. To put that into perspective, when I ordered one during my stopover in Singapore on the way home, I was charged USD$5.60. Case in point.

4

Gelato

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I tend to think of Italy when I think of gelato, but that doesn’t mean the Thai don’t know how to do their frozen desserts.

I became obsessed with matcha green tea gelato during my stay. The taste is ultra refreshing and perfect for a snack on the go during a hot, sticky day tour in the sun. One of those crispy waffle cones don’t go amiss, either.

5

Dragonfruit

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I think the name of this fruit alone is enough to warrant a mention.

If you don’t think you’re familiar with these, then you might be able to jog your memory by scrolling through any Instagram tag along the lines of #smoothiebowl or #nalubowl. Dragonfruit are white on the inside with distinctive black seeds dotted throughout them. They taste somewhat like a less tangy kiwifruit, and are popular for their gorgeous colours.

What weird and wonderful foods have you encountered on your overseas travels? Comment below – I’d love to hear about your experience!

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