1. The smell of incense burning everywhere
And I mean everywhere. Egyptians burn it in shops, on the street, in restaurants, hotels. Where there are people there is incense. Thin sticks of the stuff slowly burn away, filling the breeze with delicious smells of sweet vanilla, thick lavender, or heavy musk. Often different flavors mix together, creating a thin blanket of smoke in the air.
2. Tasty balls of Egyptian falafel
Egyptian falafel is not like regular falafel. Due to a lifetime of dislike for chickpeas, it wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I tried my first falafel ball. Luckily that was in Egypt, where falafel is made with fava beans (broad beans) instead of chickpeas, and my life changed forever. I could live almost exclusively off of those little fried balls, wrapped up with salad, or even just by themselves, served up in paper cones like chips at the seaside.
3. The call to prayer
It’s strangely comforting to have a daily routine of chanting ring out across town, and even stranger once you’ve grown so accustomed to it you barely take notice. Unless it’s to realize the time.
4. The sweet little Bedouin girls
Once you’ve made friends with them and they know you’re a local, they’ll stop harassing you. When you’re on first-name terms, and have bought at least a dozen of the bracelets they weave on their toes, they’ll stop trying to sell to you. Instead they’ll come over just to chat, play, and borrow your snorkel and mask to jump into the sea fully clothed.
5. Exploring the streets at sunrise
The sun rises at approximately 5am, so, unless you set a particularly loud alarm or pull an all-nighter, it’s pretty difficult to be up for sunrise. It’s absolutely worth it though. Egyptian culture lends itself to late, peaceful mornings and days that run well into the night, with most shops not closing until late evening. Early morning exploring means no people, just lots of cats.
6. Cats, everywhere
It’s perhaps not ideal for people with allergies or any amount of distain for the furry little guys. They’re everywhere in Egypt. They’ll be in every restaurant, cafe, or bar just waiting for your heart to break and your food to fall. Though, I don’t miss the wailing of cat fights, often indistinguishable from the screaming of babies.
7. Spending hot breezy evenings smoking shisha
I’m not a smoker but there’s something so beautifully peaceful about sitting in a cafe by the sea, slowly puffing on delicious flavoured air and laughing with friends. Your lungs might not agree, but nothing beats a sweet cherry shisha on a humid night out.
8. The best Thai restaurant in Egypt
Realistically I’m not sure how hard it is to be voted the best Thai restaurant in Egypt — Blue House may be only one of three. But it’s damn tasty, and when you can get a freshly made smoothie, spring rolls, and a veggie Thai green curry for less than a tenner, there’s no reason not to go daily. Except Mondays. They’re closed on Mondays.
9. Cozy evenings in the desert
Sipping sweet Bedouin tea, snuggled up in pillows, and staring into a sky filled with shooting stars. Of course you’ll have to get far away from Cairo to enjoy it. In the city you’d be lucky to notice anything through the smog and light pollution.
10. Hours spent playing in the sea
Living a five-minute walk from the Red Sea means an almost instant escape from the never-ending heat. Just throw yourself into the water. This won’t work in summer, though, when the water gets so hot you don’t feel any temperature difference at all. You might as well be getting into a bath.
But the Red Sea has some of the prettiest diving and snorkeling spots in the world. Coral gardens dot the coastline, fish swarm around your body, and if you’re insanely lucky, you may see turtles or dolphins.