Eat. Sleep. Repeat: An Update

June 2018

Greg and I sat in a beautiful restaurant in Greece and over a cold beer shook hands on a decision that would shape the next year of our lives. We decided to end our contract early and leave Egypt. In some ways it was the easiest decision to make, in other ways it was the hardest.

Santorini, Greece

I particularly had found Egypt very difficult. I can’t even put my finger on what I found challenging other than ‘everything’. It had all come to a head before the summer holidays when I sat with silent tears streaming down my face at the thought of staying another year to see out our contract. Greg would have stayed but he could not cope with how upset (and to be honest quite depressed) I was and we decided that at the end of the day our happiness is everything. When we returned to Cairo at the end of the summer we resigned our positions for the end of autumn term. It was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders, but then came the big questions; What would we do? Where would we live? Would we survive the cold? Should I buy a onesie? What about the dog?

Milos, Greece

October 2018

We decided that Dyson would fly back to the UK before us and our family in Liverpool would care for him until we arrived. We threw him an amazing party (at which he dug himself a hole and laid in it all night ignoring everyone) then, with the help of a pet relocator, he flew from Cairo to Heathrow.

Dysons leaving party

November – December 2018

Over the next couple of months we tried to fit in as much sightseeing as we could, got ourselves organized and decided we wouldn’t look for a job with a January start. We chose instead to take some time out and travel, rest and enjoy life and look for something for September 2019. We held our leaving party on a private yacht and I wrote a blogged for what was to be last time until this post almost a year later. Greg activated his Search Associates account so he could keep an eye on jobs and I occasionally looked at TES but that’s as far as it went.

Djoser Pyramid, Cairo
Cristina Yacht, Cairo

December 2018

We arrived back in the UK just before Christmas after a delay of 8hrs, Egypt really didn’t want us to go! Us and our 8 bags were reunited with Dy in Liverpool where we also welcomed in the new year before we headed up to the North East to see my family.

Christmas Day 2018

January 2019

Greg signed up for the Search Associate job fair in London so we decided to make a holiday of it. The fair was very disappointing, there wasn’t really any management positions available for Greg so after just 1 day he withdrew. We decided we would stay in London and enjoy the tourist attractions and restaurants.

London
Brewdog, London
Tower of London
Launceston Place
Dishoom, Covent Garden
Plum and Spilt Milk

We stayed at the Travelodge in Covent Garden as we find the location really convenient and the prices for central London reasonable. They certainly aren’t the most luxurious of rooms but they are comfortable and clean. Out of the places we eat in London I’d really recommend Launceston Place and Dishoom, we both enjoyed both our meals there. I was disappointed with Plum and Spilt Milk a restaurant I have wanted to go to for ages. The service was quite ‘cold’ and the food didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t a bad meal but I think I’d built it up in my mind to be so much more.

February 2019

We spent most of February up in the North East eating comfort food, going for wintry walks along the beach, taking advantage of pavements.

Winter beach walks
Never to cold for ice cream
Dyson loved being by the sea again

We spent a lovely weekend in York catching up with friends and I went to visit my brother and his family who I hadn’t seen for 4 years.

The view from the top of York Minister
Family time

Soon our attention turned to travel and we kept going back and forth with where we should go. First we chose Sri Lanka, then the USA then Europe. Eventually we decided on a train trip around Europe so we bought Euro Rail passes and started to plan out a rough route. Greg started to fill in some job applications and two schools really caught our attention – one in Lebanon and one in China. In all honesty I’d pretty much rejected China, I didn’t think it was somewhere I wanted to live and I’d heard less than wonderful reports about weather, pollution, traffic and schools. I kind of dismissed it but at the same time I had a gut feeling about that school in China….!

March 2019

I flew to the UAE for a week to finish my final stage of training to be a school inspector for British schools. It was a really interesting week and I loved being back the Middle East. Getting searched by security when I arrived back in Manchester wasn’t so much fun. Greg had inadvertently bought me flu medication which had a derivative of cocaine in it and the sniffer dogs did their jobs well! We had our Eurostar tickets booked for mid March and Greg was interviewed again for a position at the China school which went very well. The day before we caught the train to Bruges we both accepted jobs in Shenzhen so we went away knowing we had secured jobs for September. We had done quite a bit of research into Shenzhen and it seemed like a good fit for us. The tropical climate, proximity to the sea, lots of green space, good international airports, excellent transport infrastructure and its reputation as a young, tech center appealed to us. The package from the school was also excellent with proper work visas and HR support.

Shenzhen parks
Shenzhen light show
Shenzhen street life

March – May 2019

We spent 8 weeks traveling Europe by train; what an incredible experience. We didn’t really have a set itinerary or budget, just places we’d always wanted to go with places that sounded interesting thrown in. In the 8 weeks we traveled to Bruges, Antwerp, Dresden, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Seville *, Valencia and Paris.

Just before we set off to Bruges
Bruges really is so quaint
Antwerp train station
Dresden
Vienna Opera House
Dachau
Bernina Express UNESCO heritage railway
Sagrada Familia

Beautiful Toledo

The Louvre
Heading back to the UK

We both celebrated our birthdays when we were away, mine in Dresden and Greg in Monaco (Monte Carlo casino to be precise!). Our trip was like a mini retirement and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Our highlights were the Green Vault in Dresden which was just jaw droppingly beautiful, the somber bleakness of Dachau, the scenery of the Bernina Express, the stunning architecture of the Familia Sagrada and the fun vibe of Sitges. Not to forget the food. All the food!

Waffles in Bruges
Fries with Flemish stew, Antwerp
Belgian chocolates
Sausage with potato salad, Zurich

Pintxos in Sitges

Madrid food market
Paella in Valencia
The best pasta I’ve had….. in Valencia

Duck with potato, Paris

* Greg didn’t enjoy Seville quite as much. After complaining of stomach ache, which I dismissed and left him to go shopping, he was admitted to hospital and within 12hrs had his appendix removed. This slightly messed up our travel plans as we had to skip Granada and Benidorm whilst he recovered from his operation. Luckily our travel insurance covered everything and helped us with all our medical, hotel and transport arrangements. I think Greg was just pleased we hadn’t gone to Sri Lanka as we’d originally planned!

Greg post surgery

May 2019

When we arrived back to the UK our visas application process for China began in earnest. I am not going to exaggerate but getting this visa was so incredibly stressful and time consuming. If you’re planning on working in China start your application early and check everything, then check again. Photocopy everything and photocopy it again. Take photos of everything and photograph them again. Literally blood, sweat and tears went into those visa applications and bless Greg for being so organized and thorough for getting us both through the process. I don’t think when we started the application we expected to ‘milk’ blood from each other but hey, that’s what happened and it is as weird as it sounds.

So many needles and bruises for so little blood

June 2019

At this point the realization that we didn’t have long left in the UK hit home. We had a few weekends away visiting friends and catching up with people and 2 bigger holidays.

Aysgarth Falls

Whitby donuts are the best!

We had a lovely week in Cornwall with Greg’s family staying in a wonderful house right on the beach. I’ve never been to Cornwall before so it was nice to see the places that Greg told me about, the places he spent his holidays as a child.

The view from our place in Portscatho
St Ives

St Michaels Mount
Padstow

We also went over to the Lake District to stay at my sisters caravan for a couple of weeks. The weather was wonderful and we enjoyed walks, pubs and Greg’s recent obsession with tattoos!

Caravan life
Pooley Bridge
Windermere

July 2019

We started packing and sifting through all the various boxes of our belonging we have scattered across the country including visiting our storage container in Sheffield. When we left the UK for Qatar in 2014 we put the contents of our house which we had sold into storage. It has now been sat there for 5years and we really need to make a decision what to do with it! It was odd to discover we have had an ironing board in storage for the last 5 years when I don’t even remember owning an iron!! Seriously, the things we kept.

We received the news that our visa application had been successful and we booked our flights for the end of the month. We packed and unpacked. Wrote lists, ticked things off, started new lists and repacked. Greg had a parcel arrive from amazon everyday and then he repacked and repacked again when another parcel came. Then, with one week to go we headed back to Liverpool for Greg’s graduation. In the midst of all this madness for the last 3 years he had been studying for a Masters. Despite moving countries, jobs and schools he had succeeded in achieving an MA in Educational Leadership and we had a fantastic day celebrating his awesomeness.

Graduation at Edge Hill
Such an achievement 🥰

Then the day arrived. We squeezed the last of our bits and pieces into 8 cases, said goodbye to our families and on July 29th we flew to Shenzhen ready to start the next chapter of our lives.

Manchester airport
A reminder why we put ourselves through relocation stress!

What I wish I’d known before I moved to Egypt

I wrote this post in January 2019, shortly after leaving Cairo. It has sat in my drafts for ages as I couldn’t find a time when it felt right to publish but now seems like a good time.

1. Moving here will be one of the hardest things you will do and you will nearly book flights back to the UK on a monthly basis. In the next 18 months you will experience the highest highs and the lowest lows.

2. You won’t travel to Jordan and Lebanon as you plan, there is so much to see in Egypt you won’t need to leave. In the next 18 months you’ll visit Alexandria, Sahl Hasheesh, Luxor, Ain Sokhna and have many Cairo staycations.

Ain Sokhna

3. Kayaking down the Nile on a Friday morning is magical, but it’s a lot less work to hire a private yacht and do it in style.

Kayaking the Nile
Cristina Yacht hire

4. You will massively lose your shit and cause a huge scene at Cairo airport when a taxi driver tries to charge you 170LE to get from T1 to T2. Eventually you settle on 50LE which will still kill you a bit inside.

5. Despite being asked to sign your name 1,783 times in front of a CIB member of staff until it is perfect, the name on your bank card will still be spelt incorrectly.

6. You know that you definitely want a burial chamber with hieroglyphs inspired by ancient Egypt.

Egyptian hieroglyphics

7. You’ll learn a bit of Arabic and you will use it daily. The sense of achievement when you can read a car registration plate is a small victory!

8. Driving home one night you’ll hear a weird sound in the car, then you realise it’s your indicator which you haven’t used for so long you’ve forgotten what it sounds like.

9. Egyptian vodka is lethal.

Egyptian vodka should come with a warning

10. Nefertari mandarin body scrub is the best thing ever

11. You will be shocked at the severe poverty here – never take for granted how fortunate you are.

Zabbaleen ‘garbage city’

12. You will find a good kennels for Dyson and it isn’t the place you go to check out where they simply shut dogs in a cupboard, no exaggeration.

Dyson spent his holidays at Hounds Club

13. You’ll become a pro at using your horn. One quick beep means ‘I’m in your vicinity’ a longer beep means ‘I’m overtaking / right next to you’ and a long beep means ‘ we’re about to die’

14. The banking system here is designed to test every last bit of patience you have. You must psych yourself up before a visit and if it goes well you’ll be confused why it went well and assume you’ll need to go back a few days later.

15. Koshary is delicious, go to Abu Tarek frequently.

Koshary Abou Tarek

16. The Oberoi in Sahl Hasheesh will be one of the best hotels you’ll ever stay in.

The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh

17. You will get used to doing a Gourmet shop on a Friday morning and wait for them to tell you what they don’t have so you can then do a Dakakyan shop followed by a final Metro shop. Even then you probably won’t have what you need so you’ll Otlob a KFC and Nola.

Nola rainbow cake

18. You will fall in and out of love with Egypt on a daily basis.

Cairo Tower

19. You will find a good beauty salon (Josy), hairdresser (Christie) and dentist (Cairo smile).

20. The gym is a waste of money – don’t join. The 1hr class will last about 25 minutes by the time the instructor has arrived, greeted everyone and had a chat. Most people in the class will wander in late, answer their phone in the class and use the mirrors to apply their make up.

21. Take advantage of Egyptian resident rates. The Hilton is Luxor is beautiful and you’ll get a HUGE discount.

The Hilton, Luxor

22. Don’t attempt Zumba, you will feel like the person who turned up sober at a party 3 hours late when everyone else is wasted.

23. You will get used to getting ready for work using a jug of tepid water between two of you because the water has been cut …….again.

24. You will meet a lovely bunch of people and make some awesome memories.

The Rehab 7

25. You can pay all your bills using Fawry at an ATM and online using the Fawry app (when the internet is working).

26. Bring ear plugs, Egypt is LOUD. A white noise app will become your best friend.

27. Fayoum is magical

Magic Lake

28. You’ll never feel as much disappointment at a restaurant closure than when you hear Sequoia has shut down!

Sequoia

29. Seeing Ramses IV tomb at the Valley of the Kings will blow your mind and make you a bit emotional.

Valley of the Kings

30. Never expect a tradesman to come with anything he needs to do his job. The painter will come without a bucket to mix his paint, the electrician will come without ladders and the guy who’s coming to measure for doors won’t have a tape measure

31. Stock up at Boots, especially tampons.

32. The BCA in Kattameya is good for a pie / fish & chip fixed every now and then.

BCA Kattameya

33. You will stop using the 4th exit of a roundabout. Like the locals you’ll learn to just do a U turn instead

34. Walking around a Christmas market listening to carols, eating sausages, drinking beer and making way for Mary riding her donkey feels surreal.

Christmas in Cairo

35. You’ll never find out what half the switches in your apartment are for, there’s a high probability you’re controlling next doors lights.

36. Don’t think that roundabouts are there to help the flow of traffic. They are for socialising, selling bananas, oranges, plants, rugs, fish, crabs and cuddly toys which make great gifts.

Dysons rescue birthday present

37. Bring warm clothes, December and January are fairly chilly, bizarrely it’s colder inside than out.

38. When you hear people talking about pyramids you don’t think of Giza, you think of their evolution and the poor bent one at Dahshur.

The bent pyramid

39. There will be far too many random experiences including your private driver bringing his mother in law and a picnic on your rode trip to Alexandria. Breaking down because the oil in the car engine was ‘too heavy’ and accidentally ending up in a high security water treatment plant

40. You’ll never regret the 18 months you spent in Egypt, professionally it was fantastic and personally there were some amazing highlights………..but you made the right choice to leave.

Our leaving party

An ethical horse ride by the Giza Pyramids

If, like me, you are disgusted and upset at the treatment of some horses (and camels) at the Giza Pyramids but you’d love to have the unique experience of seeing the pyramids on horseback then I think you’ll like this blog post! Last weekend myself and some friends booked a 2hr desert ride with Cairo Horse Riding School. My friends are regulars at the stables, they have weekly lessons there and even sponsor their own horse, AJ. It can be difficult to know which businesses are trustworthy and ethical but as they have been visiting these stables for a while they know Tamer is completely committed to rescuing horses and rehabilitating them.

Horse being rehabilitated

Tamer’s stables are located in Giza. The back gate of the property leads straight onto the desert South of the pyramids and catching a first glimpse of these ancient wonders was, as always, breathtaking. The stables house about 10 horses, the majority of which have been rescued from a terrible life giving rides at the pyramids in horrendous conditions. If you’ve been to Giza you will know many of the animals don’t receive adequate food and water, shade, rest or medicine. It’s hard not to see how emancipated they are, covered in sores and cuts from accidents and heavy handed owners. It’s beyond me why anybody with a conscience or any compassion would consider riding these poor things but I digress. Tamer also has a small menagerie of rabbits, sheep, dogs and a couple of donkeys! He’s more than happy for you to have a wander around while he gets the horses ready.

In need of some attention
The menagerie

Our horses were brought out to us and we were fitted with our riding hats. The stirrups and reigns were adjusted to our comfort and safety then we spent about 10 minutes walking around the paddock getting acquainted with our horses. Riley, my horse was a ‘feisty female’ I have no idea why Tamer thought her and I would be suited!

Getting our safety equipment set up
A trial walk around

Once we were all ready and comfortable we headed into the desert. The walk out took about 30 minutes and we could see the Pyramids very clearly. Tamer gave us instructions and advice throughout, checking on us often. He encouraged us to canter which was terrifying but exhilarating. You could tell the horses loved getting out into the breeze and having exercise.

And then out into the desert

Soon we arrived at a makeshift tent/cafe where we drank mint tea and sodas in the shade. The horses were tied up and given water although that didn’t stop them from sticking their heads under the tarpaulin to get to the dates and nuts we were eating. We sat with the view of the pyramids and the urban sprawl of Cairo before us then the Friday call to prayer rang out and it felt quite special.

Refreshment time for the horses
What an amazing view of the pyramids
Giza horse riding

After a rest we got back onto our four legged friends and took the same route back. It was amazing to be able to see Saqqara and Dahshur in the distance and really get a sense of the landscape. As soon as we arrived back at the stables we dismounted and the horses were given some time in the paddock, they threw themselves down, rolling in the sand to cool off.

As you can tell I loved my desert riding experience and it was made even better knowing that I was supporting a business which is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of horses. My ride cost 400LE and this included all equipment, a drink in the cafe and supervision. Tamers Facebook page is called Cairo Horse Riding School here you can check out more photos, see the map showing the location and a price list for different services, there are also reviews on Trip Advisor. His English is excellent so if you have any questions you can contact him directly. Although I am really sore (I’m so unfit!) I really enjoyed my morning and seeing the pyramids from a different perspective.

*please note that this post was written in 2018*

Esca, Heliopolis (Iftar)

I was living in Doha during Ramadan in 2016 and 2017 so this year Ramadan, my first in Cairo, has been slightly different. I think it would be fair to say as a non-Muslim the holy month hasn’t affected my life as significantly as it did when I was in Qatar. Most shops are still open (all be it with slightly different hours), people are still working almost ‘normal’ hours, the radio is playing music and we aren’t restricted to eating and drinking behind a blacked out windows at school. We also haven’t been to as many Iftar / Suhoors as we have done previously, so on Friday we decided to try the set Iftar menu at ESCA, a restaurant I’ve wanted to go to for a while.

ESCA Iftar Menu

First off, I have to say how good the ESCA team are on social media. I made the reservation through their Facebook page and received almost immediate confirmation. Even when we arrived later than expected due to a combination of Uber cancellations and the craziest traffic, they didn’t seem to mind. The design of the restaurant is lovely. The tables are well spaced and several are divided up to give privacy, creating a more intimate feel. The floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and the greenery allows for an outside/inside feel. Clever use of a mirrors on the ceiling reflects the lights and makes the restaurant feel spacious despite the dark furniture and fixings.

ESCA, Heliopolis
ESCA, Heliopolis

After a few minutes we were brought a ‘Ramadan’ drink which was fruit based and extremely sweet, a bottle of water and the Iftar set menu. As usual I had pretty much decided on what I was going to have as soon as I booked the table, so it didn’t take long for us to place our order. We confirmed our main courses – chicken and beef – but we weren’t asked about our soup choice. When we mentioned this we were told it was tomato, the soup of the day,  so it wasn’t actually a choice. Shortly after ordering the shared appetizers arrived, I really liked the small serving dishes and the portion size was generous. However, as we started to tucked into the appetisers our soup arrived. This was a bit odd as some of the starters were hot so we could either eat the hot soup and leave the starters, eat the starters and leave the soup, or eat both at the same time which wasn’t really practical. We chose to eat the soup and pushed our starters aside.

Iftar, ESCA

The soup was good. It tasted of fresh, earthy tomatoes with a hint of spice and had a lovely gooey ball of buffalo mozzarella dropped into it which added a creamy texture. It also a sensible sized portion keeping in mind this was one of 4 courses.

Iftar, ESCA

We then returned to the starters, I think it is fair to say we enjoyed some more than others. I loved the salty, cheesy, crunchy feta croquettes and single handedly I ate them all despite the lack of fig chutney. Greg really enjoyed the hawashi which he said was just the right side of spicy for him. We dipped fresh bread into hummus, tahini and aubergine, these were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. The arugula, tomato and onion salad could have been better, the arugula (actually spinach) was tough and several leaves were past their best with holes and yellow tinges to them. Also, neither of us like liver so we didn’t try the chicken liver with walnuts although it did look good!

Iftar, ESCA

Bizarrely, while we were in the middle of our starters our mains arrived. By now we had been in the restaurant for less than 30 minutes and it was starting to feel a little rushed. I am not sure why this happened, the staff were watching closely as we were the only people there and they could quite clearly see we hadn’t finished. We sent the main courses back but we were aware they were probably just being kept warm. Once we were ready to move onto our mains both dishes definite had the ‘wow’ factor, they were very nicely presented other than the fact the flowers had wilted and the gravy for the chicken had started to congeel as they had been kept warming in the kitchen. As we tucked in to the food these small issues faded away. Both dishes were excellent. My steak was cooked perfectly ( medium) and the sprinkle of sea salt helped bring out the flavour of the beef. The accompanying crunchy, buttery potato dauphinoise were moreish and the sweet baby carrots added a freshness to the dish.

Iftar, ESCA

Greg loved the roast chicken on a bed of risotto, the chicken stock gravy brought all the flavours together. The skin was crispy and again the contrast of textures worked well. By now we were getting full and I was defeated by the size of the steak!

Iftar, ESCA

Once again as soon as we had finished our main course the sharing dessert was brought out, it would have been nice to have a rest between courses but this didn’t seem to be the case. I am not sure if it was because we arrived ‘late’, they were closing soon ( it was just before 8pm) or if this is the usually serving style at the restaurant but for us it felt too rushed. The desserts were a bit hit and miss. We both really enjoyed the sobya semi freddo – creamy, fruity mousse encased in a white chocolate shell on a bed of kunafa, it was just sweet enough without being sickly. The dense date cake with meringue was just a bit too heavy after the previous courses but tasted nice. We really enjoyed the rich, creamy rice pudding but the menu said it was cranberry and cardamom and there was no evidence of either, it was plain creamed rice. Unfortunately the apricot tart was far too sweet for both us but if you like sugary, fruity dessert you’ll love it!

Iftar, ESCA

Overall it was a rather mixed experience. We really enjoyed some of the dishes, namely the feta croquettes, hawashi, both of the main courses and the sobya semifreddo but for us it just felt that the meal was over too quickly. By the time we had finished dessert we had only been in the restaurant an hour. I know that Iftar usually only runs for a couple of hours at the most, but to have been served 4 courses in under an hour seemed odd. The service was friendly and we loved the setting so we would definitely go back and try their regular menu after Ramadan. Do I recommend it? On the whole I would say yes. I think for 40OLE each (ignore the printed price on the menu, it isn’t 500LE) it is good value for money and if you maybe ask for more time between courses I think it would be a very tasty way to break your fast or just enjoy a nice meal.

Bella Italian Restaurant, Four Seasons, Cairo

I’m going to start this review by being completely honest and saying I have a bit of a weakness for the Four Seasons brand. In Qatar we often ate breakfast at the Four Seasons pool grill and had some wonderful meals in Elements. Our first ‘Friday Brunch’ back in 2014 was at the Four Seasons, Doha and we recently enjoyed a fantastic holiday in Alexandria where we stayed at the Four Seasons San Stefano. Our staycation at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza was excellent and, having been impressed with the Italian restaurant in the FS Alexandria, we decided to try ‘Bella’, the Italian located on the 3rd floor of the hotel. The first thing you notice when you walk into Bella is the large, open kitchen on the left where you can see the chefs at work. I always like this in a restaurant firstly because I’m nosey, but secondly because I feel it shows that they have pride in their standards and are happy for customers to wander over and take a look; in fact I was encouraged to do so! To the right your eyes are drawn to the huge windows which have a wonderful view of the Nile. We’d asked for a window table but these were all taken, nether the less the view was still lovely.

The design of the restaurant is plush but relaxed and comfortable. When we were there as a couple, there were large family groups and guests with small children, it’s suitable for all.

Once we were seated the menu was brought over and after ordering we were brought a bread basket with a variety of fresh Italian breads, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was a little disappointing when we came to order our drinks that there was no Desperados ( we’d been able to get them in all of the other F&B outlets without a problem which seemed odd) so Greg ordered a Sakkara and I enjoyed a fruity organic Egyptian rose. Greg chose eggplant parmigiana for his starter and I decided to go skip starters as I wanted dessert!

The eggplant parmigiana was fabulous. A tasty balance of soft eggplant, a well seasoned tomato sauce and good quality buffalo mozzarella drizzled with fresh basil oil. It was really nicely presented too and a perfect sized portion. I think they felt sorry for me because I didn’t have a starter and I was brought an amuse bouche of cherry tomato, basil and the creamiest, softest mozzarella pearl –  simple yet so tasty. After a suitable gap our main courses were brought over.

Oh. My. Life. I had opted for veal cannelloni and it was jaw droppingly good. The veal ragu was still quite chunky yet the cannelloni was silkly soft creating a perfect mix of textures. Oh and the cheese, it was rich and salty and had melted into the oil. It was unbelievably good. In fact, I’d drive back into Cairo just to have this dish again (and I hate Cairo traffic).

I was so absorbed in my cannelloni that I didn’t pay too much attention to what Greg had ordered but he was happily tucking into his dish of Seabass with prawns. The Seabass was light and the delicate fish broth with prawns wasn’t too overpowering- each element of the dish came together well. The only negative was that the skin had been left on and it wasn’t crispy so it was a bit of a faff to remove it.

As you can see from the bill the cost of our meal including taxes and service came to just under 1400LE. Bella isn’t a cheap place to eat but it’s one of the nicest meals we’ve had since we arrived in Cairo and, for me, the cannelloni (bold statement warning) is one of the best Italian dishes I’ve ever had. The service throughout was the perfect balance of friendly, professional and discreet. My plan to skip the starter and have dessert was pointless, the cannelloni was so filling I didn’t have room for dessert –  a good excuse for a return visit!

Top Tips 

  • booking is recommended especially on a weekend
  • ask for a window table for Nile views or a kitchen view to watch the staff
  • ask for the daily specials
  • order the veal cannelloni – but leave room for dessert!
  • if you are planning on staying at the Four Seasons and you have valid Egyptian residency they offer very good discounted rates -call them for more information

For more information a here is a link to the website and sample menus

Abdeen Palace, Cairo

Having lived in Cairo for almost a year we’ve ‘done’ the main tourist sites, so when we went into the city for a staycation we were a little bit lost for ideas! Greg suggested we went to Abdeen Palace but I was a little hesitant, the reviews on Trip Advisor were mixed and we couldn’t find too much information online. However, as it was only a 10 minute taxi ride from our hotel we thought we’d give it a try. As most of you will know traffic in Cairo is crazy and this ride was no exception as we maneuvered down narrow side roads passing cats, school children, rubbish collection trucks, and scooters to the background of incessant honking and the call to prayer. The driver pointed at a huge wall and gestured to us that it was the museum. Greg and I looked at each other because it was right in the middle of a residential area and didn’t look palatial at all! Regardless, we paid our 100LE each entrance fee and an additional 10LE for a ticket permitting photography, and after a quick bag check, we wandered out into the prettiest, most tranquil gardens. Completely unexpected!

After a couple of minutes of being surprised by how pretty it was, a gentleman in a suit came up to us. He seemed so happy we were visiting and pointed out to us the museums and declared we’d be ‘fascinated’ by the artifacts. But, before heading inside, we walked around the gardens. With only the sounds of birdsong it reminded us of Marrakesh when you walk into the peace of the riad after the chaos of the Medina.

The grounds were really well cared for, the flowers smelt lovely and we watched several fat cats stalking the pigeons! At the far right hand corner there was a bandstand built in 1921 and from this elevated position we could see more of the gardens.

After about 30 minutes of enjoying the outdoor space we headed into the museum. The palace dates from the 1800’s and now houses 5 museums, the upper floor is still used for visiting dignitaries. There is a clearly marked route taking you through each area and despite the renovation work, we managed to access most of them. Here’s a brief summary of each museum (the names of these museums differ depending on the information source you are reading from!)

Arms Museum

We probably spent the longest time here. The exhibits showcase how weaponry has developed through the ages. There is a huge selection of daggers, swords, knives and guns. It was really interesting to see how technology has changed and led to advancements but at the same time seeing the commonality of basic designs. There was some weird and wonderful exhibits here and everything was labeled in English and Arabic.

Peace Museum

We then went into the section where each countries medals were displayed. Some of these date back centuries and others are more recent. It shows the relationship between Egypt and other nations.

Presidential Gifts Museum

This was weirdly wonderful; a collection totally dedicated to gifts that Egyptian presidents have received over the years! From a huge portrait of Sisi made purely from thumb tacs to copies of the Quran, solid gold sail boats, paintings and football shirts. Some of them were mildly amusing in a ‘what were they thinking?!’ kind of way but it was interesting to see what world leaders send each other!!

Silver Museum

The final stop for us was to the silverware museum, there’s a lot of silver in that room believe me!! From huge serving plates, cutlery and drinking sets the workmanship on these items was incredible.

On leaving the silverware museum we stepped outside into the gardens. There is a small gift shop and a cafe selling refreshments.

We spent about 2hrs in the museums and grounds and enjoyed ourselves. All of the rooms had wheelchair/ push-chair access and there was ice cold a/c in every room. I noticed when we were leaving there were also wheelchairs to loan and an area to store bags and push-chairs. So, if like us you’ve seen most of the main sights, or you have an interest in military history, I’d recommend you set aside a couple of hours for a visit here. At the moment the museum isn’t particularly interactive, it is much more a ‘traditional’ museum with most artifacts behind glass cases. It will be interesting to see how the renovation works progress and the future developments that are made.

* When we visited the Documents Museum was closed

* I advise you to check directly with the museum for their opening times as these aren’t 100% clear!

A beginners guide to using Uber in Cairo

The recent news that Uber had been ‘banned’ in Egypt was discussed at length in the media, especially in the women’s groups I belong to. The common theme was ‘How will I get around now? Local taxis just aren’t safe’, ‘This is going to put women at the mercy of unregulated local taxis’ and ‘This is not going to help tourism!’. I feel privileged that I drive in Cairo; yes the roads are crazy but I’m too stubborn to relinquish my independence. However, for lots of people in Cairo, Uber is a fundamental part of their lives – it’s how they get to work, go shopping, meet up with friends and feel safe doing so. Luckily it doesn’t seem that the ban is imminent. It will go to through further judicial proceedings and it will be a drawn out process so, for the time being,  it continues to operate as normal and that’s a huge relief for people who rely on the service for a safe taxi ride. It is also important for tourists to know they can get an Uber rather than rely on less regulated services.

Official Uber Statement

However, in saying that I woke this morning to a series of tweets about a lady in Cairo who had been sexually harassed by an Uber Driver. Uber Egypt replied swiftly and have asked for further details but unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people having unpleasant experiences with Uber. I was going to say ‘I’ve been lucky’ that it hasn’t happened to me, but I think that’s the wrong phrase. Luck shouldn’t come into feeling safe or not being sexually harassed. The main issues we’ve had with Uber have been;

  • The driver who decided to reverse for several hundred meters down Suez Road because he missed the turn.
  • The driver who, after many near misses and almost driving over a roundabout, pulled over and after a few minutes of searching pulled out his glasses.
  • The driver who drove the wrong way down a dual carriage way because ‘it was better’!

So, in the light of this news, the reports from customers and my own experiences I thought I’d write a quick guide to ensure a safer Uber ride, whether you’re a visitor to Cairo or a resident.

Check the drivers rating– when I order my Uber I usually check the drivers rating. For me, if anyone with a rating less than a 4 accepts my fare I cancel because it suggests to me there’s been issues previously.

I don’t set my location precisely where I live – the pin for my pick up location isn’t directly outside my house. For my security I drop it close by, but nobody picking me up would be able to tell which house I came from.

Check the driver matches the photo on the app – if I’m getting in by myself I always check that the Driver is the person shown on the app. Once Greg and I got into a car that we assumed was our Uber. It was only after he’d driven for a few minutes and asked where we were going we realized we’d been complacent and got into a random car and we quickly got out!!

Check the driver is using the app – it sounds obvious but a lot of drivers don’t like using the app because it uses data. Quite often they’ll turn the app off and ask for directions. If it’s somewhere I know I usually don’t mind and I’ll direct them, but if it’s not a place your familiar with insist they use the app. If they refuse, get out!.

Check the condition of the car – Cairo traffic is notorious and so too is the quality of driving and the condition of the cars. I have had many online conversations with Uber when cars have arrived with no working seatbelts. This is something for your judgement but we tend not to get in a car without working seatbelts especially if it’s a trip using a main road. If you report this to Uber you will be refunded. I asked Uber if cars have to be fitted with seatbelts in Egypt but they wouldn’t give me a definitive answer simply saying that cars have to ‘comply with local laws’.

Continue to use your own GPS – if I am going somewhere unfamiliar I always have Google Maps on ( it works offline too) so I can track where I am.

Learn and use basic Arabic– a few key words will definitely help with navigation. I don’t speak very much Arabic but when I Uber I do! Ones to know shimal (left), ya – meen (right), ala tul (straight), hena (here), shukran (thanks), ma salama ( goodbye). It’s also good to learn Arabic numbers so you can recognize car number plates.

Think about your conversation – again this is personal, you may be a naturally chatty person but sometimes this friendliness can be misinterpreted. If you don’t want to talk a quick ‘hi’ and then putting in headphones is usually works. However, I’ve had lovely drivers who want to chat and develop their English skills! A lot of drivers have Uber as a second job and many of them are genuinely interested in your Cairo experience.

Have the right change– if you’re paying cash make sure you have money similar to the quote you were given before booking the ride. It saves the hassle of not having change. I know some people don’t like to tip but if a driver has driven well, looks after his car and is professional I always tip, not a huge amount just a gesture. For example is a fare is 85LE I’ll give 100LE or if there’s 4 people and it’s 25LE give 40LE. If you pay by card have small tip 5/10LE ready for a short ride and 20LE + for a longer drive.

Be dropped off away from your home – similarly to when I get picked up I’ll get dropped off close to where I live but not directly at the door.

Check your receipt – once, after a ride, the receipt was more than I’d expected. I looked at the timings and the ride had not been ended until 10 minutes after I’d actually been dropped off! I have no idea how this happened but I was refunded. Always check and only pay what is shown on the green screen. Tolls are included in the fare, you do not need to pay extra.

Don’t answer your phone – this may or may not be a coincidence but the nuisance calls I’ve had have often been after I’ve Ubered. My advice would be to answer and if the person constantly says ‘hello’ keep the call going but don’t respond. This costs the caller and they soon get sick of it. The longest I’ve had someone shout ‘hello’ down the phone for was 12 minutes. I just left the phone on whilst I gave a running commentary of the bechamel sauce I was making for dinner. They never called back………

Rate well – if a driver has been good rate them well. If they’ve been awful rate them badly. Eventually over time the good drivers will prevail ( I hope).

Report any issues with Uber – in my experience Uber is very good and responding to complaints and questions. You can do this via their website, app or using social media.

Uber complains form

This is by no means an exhaustive list and most of it is common sense,  if you have more to add please let me know. Personally I don’t think twice about using Uber  and I would always use Uber rather than a ‘normal taxi’ but there are so many scare stories and misinformation online I thought this practical advice might be useful. The vast majority of Uber drivers are kind, honest, hardworking people simply earning a living getting you to your destination safely. Please remember to report any incidents that do happen to Uber – by doing this you’re ensuring the safety of other customers.

Thanks for reading!