If a trip to Egypt is in your future with two or more days in Cairo to see the Giza Pyramids; Egyptian Museum; and the wonderful market, the Khan el Khalili; you have time to add a short side trip that no guide book will detail. This side trip may not interest you until your first venture into the crowded, crazy traffic of downtown Cairo or the tiring pursuit of vendors at the Giza Pyramids and the Khan el Khalili. After the rush and crush of these typical tourist experiences a traveler may be desperate for a quieter way to observe daily Egyptian life and do some peaceful souvenir shopping without bombardment and haggling. If you are going to Cairo you might print this article and take it with you, just in case, Cairo is more overwhelming than anticipated.
El Ma’adi is a suburb about six miles south of Cairo. During the British occupation of Egypt many British ex-pats built weekend villas in this area. The villas are now dwarfed by apartment buildings but the streets are still lined with trees planted by the garden-loving British. A large ex-pat community continues to live in El Ma’adi. Many Cairo guidebooks mention El Ma’adi but usually with a snub that it is an ex-pat enclave and not the “real” Egypt. But as a former ex-pat of this suburb I can assure you, if you are looking for authentic Egyptian life, you can find it in Maadi (what most ex-pats call El Ma’adi). If you are looking for a less hectic shopping excursion with almost all the variety of souvenirs as the Khan el Khalili then Maadi is a welcome relief. Because so many ex-pats shop in Maadi the prices are generally set at reasonable prices since residents know the typical prices. Tourists do not usually go to Maadi, only the Khan el Khalili and the pyramids where merchants may charge ridiculous prices to tourists.
It is easy to get to Maadi. It is on the Metro line in the direction of Helwan. From downtown it is about a 20-minute ride and the cost is less than an Egyptian Pound, 1 LE, which is less than 20 US cents. If mass transit does not appeal to you, taxis are abundant. The metro, though, is a perfectly safe but often crowded way to travel in Cairo.
A taxi from downtown Cairo to Maadi should not cost more than 20 – 25 LE. This is a generous price, much more than an Egyptian would pay. Do not take a driver that insists on more, which many taxis drivers at tourist hotels will try to charge. You may find more reasonably priced drivers on the road rather than in the hotel driveway. Be sure to agree on the price and that the driver knows where Road 9 is in Maadi before you enter the vehicle, though taxi drivers with simply an address are able to find any location in Egypt. They ask directions along the way, unlike many American males. Still, I recommend the Metro for price and speed if your hotel is near a Metro stop.
Below is a basic tour of the Road 9 shopping area. If you have time and would like to see more of Maadi, there are other tours to add on-Road 231, another shopping street; the local produce market; and a Nile trip. If you want to do all four short tours allow yourself at least four hours.
*Note: Many of these stores are not listed with names because there is no name on the outside of the store. Just follow the directions and look for articles for sale outside the shops-you will find the shops.
SUGGESTED TWO HOUR SHOPPING ITINERARY
Road 9 Shopping Trip:
This tour is simply a walk down Road 9 from one Metro station to another. It is no more than a half a mile in distance with many shops and cafes along the way.
Disembark at the Maadi Metro Station. (Note: not the Hadayeq El-Maadi or Sakanat El-Maadi stations) Follow the crowd out of the station onto the street, which is Road 9. Turn to your right and begin walking down the street. You will pass a mosque on your right and a gas station on the left; walk under an overpass for cars, called fly-overs in Cairo. The road splits to the left and the right, stay to the right to continue on Road 9.
There are several types of shops on both sides of the road but most souvenir and jewelry shops are on the same side of the street as the Metro station. If you need to exchange money there is also a Thomas Cook on the right side of the street. Across the street you will find Fuji and Kodak stores for any photography needs. Most of the stores on Road 9 are everyday needs stores; stay alert as a window shopper for the souvenir shops. You will not miss them as you pass them unless you become absorbed in people watching.
For souvenirs there are many kinds of small shops. The secret is just to walk into the stores and poke around, the merchants are glad to see you but are not pushy salesmen. They have established clientele of ex-pats and do not solely rely on the tourist trade. Along the right side of Road 9 you will occasionally find cul-de-sacs, where the crossroads became dead ends when the Metro tracks were built. Wander into the stores in these cul-de-sacs as well. Most of these shops are hardware, electrical shops, or food shops but there are some souvenir shops as well. A particularly good alabaster shop is in one of these.
Along Road 9 you will find a bookstore with picture books of Egypt. Jewelry stores that specialize in either gold or silver. Several shops that sell souvenirs and gifts such as papyrus, scarves, carvings, brass, t-shirts, mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes, lamps, and galabayas (the traditional gown both men and women wear). If there is something in particular you are looking for be sure to ask a merchant. If they know where such an item can be purchased they are happy to help you find it. Egypt is known for its customer service and merchants are the best for finding your desired item, even in another’s shop.
Along this walk keep an eye on the left side of the street. There are merchants who sell baskets and rugs along the side of the road.
There is a Baskin-Robbins on the left side of the road if you need some ice cream to cool down. Above the Baskin-Robbins is an Egyptian sweets store. Take a peak or buy a few samples of candy and other sweets.
About halfway through your walk you will pass CafÃ?Â© Greco (a decent place for coffee or cheesecake). On the right side of CafÃ?Â© Greco is an interesting silver shop filled with jewelry and antique silver pieces. On the left side of the cafÃ?Â© are woodworkers. Their handy work is placed outside in front of the workshops. Some specialize in mashrabaya, the wood screens that covered harem windows so the women could see out but men could not see them. This woodwork is not needed for this purpose anymore but these craftsmen use it in tables, mirror frames, trays, or other furniture items.
Just beyond the woodworkers is a green building, an excellent bakery. Earlier on your walk you passed a Marriott Bakery and City Bakery for ex-pat tastes but this simple bakery has excellent Egyptian breads and macaroon cookies, which I desperately miss! Even though the cooling racks are outside, the food was always safe. Have a macaroon for me!
Across the street from the bakery is an interesting antique shop. The items are too large for a suitcase but the shop is filled inside and outside with old plows, Arabic doors, gates, windows, and furniture. Definitely worth a look.
Further down the road you will pass Lucille’s Restaurant, which serves American food. A McDonald’s restaurant is on the left. Continue down the road. The shops beyond McDonald’s tend to be more oriented for locals rather than ex-pats or tourists. The Metro station is a few hundred yards down the road. Buy a ticket and hop back on the train to downtown. After buying your ticket and passing through the station, you will need to cross over the pedestrian bridge to be on the right track headed in the El-Marg direction.
There are a few shops near Road 9 worth shopping if you want to venture a block from Road 9. This building has several shops; a few are souvenir type items. It is on the street Moustafa Kamel. Several yards beyond the Metro station where the road splits to the right and the left, the left street (which runs diagonally to Road 9) is Moustafa Kamel. Walk down the street on the left side of the road. The large building on the corner of Kamel and the next cross street has an interesting appliquÃ?Â© shop, Mahmoud Farag. AppliquÃ?Â©s are pictures made of cloth and thread stitched only by men. This shop has many interesting pillowcases, wall hangings, Christmas stockings, and scarves. The shop is up the small set of stairs and then at the back of the building. On the other side of the building, downstairs, you will find an excellent shop with interesting Arabic styled lamps, many small enough to take home in a suitcase.
THREE-HOUR SHOPPING ITINERARY
Road 9 and Road 231 Shopping Tour:
Same as the tour above but once you reach the McDonald’s, flag a taxi. You are headed to Road 231. It is about a mile away. The roads in Maadi are not on a simple grid. They run at confusing diagonals and the street number/name system does not make sense. It is safer on your first trip to Maadi to take a taxi and not chance getting twisted and lost. Unless equipped with a detailed map of Maadi and a good sense of direction, take a taxi!
The taxi cost from Road 9 to Road 231 is 3-4 LE. No more! Once again settle on price before entering the car. Ask the driver to take you to Road 231, La Rosa Restaurant. If you want an inexpensive, tasty Italian meal this is one of the best places to eat in Maadi. (I recommend the tomato soup and the Primavera pizza!!) Even if you do not want to eat, you want to shop at Nashat’s in the same small complex as La Rosa.
Nashat’s shop is half silver jewelry and half glass items. He also has a shop in the Khan el Khalili but the shop in Maadi is easier to find than his Khan shop. His Christmas ornaments are excellent gifts and souvenirs. Be sure to ask to see the camel ornaments if they are not on display. The biggest complaint from friends when I moved from Egypt was the realization, no more ornaments from Nashat’s. (He has a web site and orders can be sent around the world. But buying them in Egypt is a fraction of the cost online.)
Once loaded up on silver jewelry and ornaments, turn right from the store and continue down the street. On the corner is the Green Mill Restaurant and Fino’s Bakery. Both owners are Egyptians who spent several years in the restaurant business in the United States. They serve food and drink tourists and ex-pats enjoy.
Beyond Green Mill is a wrought iron shop, fun to take a look but most objects for sale will be over your luggage weight allowance. Under the iron shop is an excellent shop, Catacombs. This store has interesting art pieces, furniture, and household items all made by Egyptian artists. This store alone is worth the trip to Road 231. But there is still more to come!
Continue down Road 231. You will pass electronics stores and small grocery stores. On the left you will find a carpet store and an interesting souvenir/import shop. The man who runs the carpet store is very knowledgeable about carpets and has an interesting collection. Further down the road on the right over on the far side of a courtyard is an interesting shop, which sells Bedouin artifacts: jewelry, stitching, rugs, pillows and much more. You will see objects in front of all these stores to easily identify the shops.
At the corner of Road 231 and the busier cross street, Road 216, there is a bank with ATM if you need to refill the wallet. This is also a good place to pick up a taxi to head back to a Road 9 Metro station.
If you are curious to see more shops (but few are interesting as tourist shops), turn right at the HSBC bank (with the ATM) walk up to the next block, turn right and walk the length of Road 233 for a look at local shops.
A TASTE OF A LOCAL EGYPTIAN MARKET
Nearby Produce Market:
If you want to see a small produce market, more authentically Egypt than the shops on Road 9 and a great place for people watching, there is a small market steps from the Maadi Metro station. Rather than turning right when leaving the metro station, turn left. A few yards down is a blue pedestrian walkway over the metro tracks. Climb over the steps being careful to watch your step, the condition of the steps would make the toughest OSHA inspector cry. The steps lead down to a produce market area. People are friendly. Photography is welcomed if you ask first. Many women will not let you photograph them but kids and teenagers will make up for it, enthusiastically. You may be asked for baksheesh, a tip. It is considerate to pay. Piaster notes are acceptable but no more than a one LE note!! Most will consider it an amusement to be photographed by a tourist and will not ask for a tip. Once you have wandered to your fill, head back over to the pedestrian walkway to continue the Road 9 tour.
OUT TO THE NILE
Felucca Rides in Maadi:
If you have time and it is near sunset, a great addition to this tour is a felucca ride on the Nile. A felucca ride is a MUST if you are traveling in Aswan, suggested if you are traveling in Luxor. If Cairo is your only stop in Egypt then ride a felucca in Maadi rather than downtown. It is cheaper and more scenic. If the air quality is decent the tops of the Giza pyramids are visible from a felucca in Maadi. Sunset is a romantic time to ride and practical since this is when the wind kicks up to power the sailboat. When there is no wind feluccas may have to be towed back to shore.
A taxi from Road 9 to “The Corniche” costs about 5-6 LE. Ask the driver to take you to TGIFridays. (Just say Friday’s) on the Corniche. If you are not interested in a boat ride but would like to watch the sunset over the Nile, Friday’s has a nice riverside courtyard, great for viewing the Nile. I spent many afternoons and evenings watching birds, the fishermen on the river, and sunsets from that patio. If a felucca ride is in order, while facing Friday’s turn right (north) and walk up the sidewalk. Just beyond the restaurant you will find feluccas moored to the shore. The very first felucca company, closest to Friday’s was my favorite. Look for a picture of President Hosni Mubarak over the gate, walk down the steps and head toward the boats. One of the workers will direct you to a boat.
The cost is 20 or 25 LE per hour, no matter how many people in your group. One or 15 the cost of the ride is still the same. You will tell the worker that you want a one or two hour ride but once out on the river you will still need to tell the driver it is time to turn back.
Bring food and drink to make a picnic of the ride; perhaps you picked some food up from the bakeries on Road 9 or 231. Once out in the river the noise and crowd of the city melts away. On the west side of the river many thick reeds grow and it is easy to imagine the baby Moses story. Look for the pyramids to the northwest. As the felucca heads upriver look for a large church on the east shore. Coptic Christians claim this as one of the sites Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived during their time in Egypt.
At the end of the trip as you disembark the felucca give the driver a tip of a few LE. You will pay the guy at the dock for the entire cost of the trip, not the driver, at the end of your trip.
It may be easier to take a taxi back to your downtown or Giza hotel rather than to take a taxi back to the Metro station and then a Metro ride. The cost should be no more than 25LE; again, this is more than a fair price.