Fancy a French Baguette for Lunch? Brioche Doree in Egypt

I love French pieces of bread stuffed with delicious fillings, buttery croissants, and fresh orange juice. Who doesn’t? Which is why I couldn’t pass Brioche Doree in Egypt without having a bite at Downtown Mall in New Cairo. I was happy that the second largest French Bakery/Cafe chain in the world had faith to open its doors in Egypt, what with the political situation. And I enjoyed the experience so much, when I spotted Brioche Doree at City Stars in Nasr City, I had to feign tiredness to sit down and have a memorable bite.

My usual is the Le Rustique Thon, 42.95 EGP, which is tuna mayo with boiled eggs, tomatoes, tiny pickles and lettuce in a traditional Rustique bread. The filling is gorgeous, the mayo making the sandwich juicy, while the other elements add a crunchy dimension. The only problem I had, however, was the toughness of the bread. It almost felt stale, my mouth and gums taking a battering while trying to chew the pieces gracefully. The bread has the same stale, tough texture at both Downtown Mall and City Stars.

When I commented on the toughness of the bread, I was told that the traditional Rustique bread is supposed to be that tough. Ouch, someone actually wants to eat hard, stale bread? They must have a strong set of teeth and very strong gums! But I was given a very helpful tip from one of the waiters: I could ask for the traditional French baguette for my Tuna mayo filling instead. The French baguette is exactly what I used to have for breakfast in Paris; it’s crunchy on the outside and soft once you tear into the sandwich.

While the service at Downtown Mall was quite relaxed– we were left waiting for a long time before someone came to take our order and our check for example– at City Stars the waiters stop by every five minutes to see how you are enjoying your meal. I think Brioche Doree’s service needs to meet the middle ground: not have waiters leaving customers waiting for twenty minutes, nor having waiters incessantly hovering over customers and asking them how the food is every five minutes.

That said, Brioche Doree’s ambiance and the food is a perfect place to interrupt your shopping trip and have an early lunch.

Brioche Doree
City Stars, Nasr City – in front of Starbucks.  Opening hours: 10 am – midnight. 
Downtown Mall New Cairo; 8 am – 1 am. 

Also in Zamalek, 21 Mohamed Mazhar Street; 6th October, Tivoli Dome Zayed; and Dandy Mall on the Alexandria Desert Road. 

Brioche Doree’s Menu

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The Rise and Fall of Merryland Park in Heliopolis

In the middle of the busy Heliopolis suburb in Cairo, Merryland Park quietly sways in the warm breeze. An oasis in the middle of the desert, it reminds me of a minuscule version of Central Park in New York City. Apartment buildings tower over the park in the distance overlooking luscious gardens and overflowing trees. During my visits to Egypt, Merryland Park was a wondrous place where as I child, I would play, eat at the many restaurants and cafes, and breathe in a breath of fresh air supplied by the hundreds of trees surrounding the park. But as I grew up, the park, too, grew up. It slowly deteriorated until it closed down and became a museum of memories for Egyptians, symbolizing a time when there weren’t as many cars, as many buildings, or as many people. A time when Cairo has looked after and well-maintained.

I used to visit Merryland Park during the 80’s when I was a young girl. There was a beautiful, large lake where my cousins and I would have fun on paddling boats and pose for our pictures to be taken. It felt exactly like home, being in a park in the middle of a busy city like London.

I used to love listening to stories of the history of the park whilst I sipped on my lemonade. How it was originally a race course during the time when Egypt was a monarchy. How horses used to run faster than we could even begin to imagine. And how it finally opened to the public, with an affordable entrance fee so that residents of Cairo could seek refuge in the shade during the hot summer days.

But like the fate of many parks in Cairo, Merryland Park became neglected and eventually closed down due to land disputes. These days the park is deserted, with only a handful of couples venturing in for privacy. Residents in the area jog around the park, since its perimeter has uninterrupted, leveled pavements; a rare sight in a haphazardly designed city. Now Merryland Park sways in the November breeze as a reminder of a glorious past, when urban planning existed for every citizen, much like the city of Cairo.

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My Top Few Favorite Things About Ain Sokhna: Cairo’s Nearest Red Sea Retreat

When the busy, overcrowded, and polluted city of Cairo gets a little too much, Egyptians flock to the nearest Red Sea resort: Ain Sokhna, or Hot Springs. Whether it’s the stunning mountains in the distance, the pleasantly warm and calm waters, or the peacefulness one finds with the knowledge that a noisy, polluted city is only over one hour away by car; Ain Sokhna is the perfect weekend getaway.

Ain Sokhna is very popular with families with young children because the sea is so calm there are hardly any of the waves that are present in the North Coast and Alexandria. Although the resorts and hotels scattered along the stretch that makes up Ain Sokhna have pools, the sea itself is enjoyed as nature’s swimming pool. Because of the Hot Springs nearby, the waters are always pleasantly warm.

There are many resorts and hotels to choose from in Ain Sokhna. Resorts can contain villas, chalets, or apartments for rent or sale and hotels. Most upper-middle-class Egyptian families like to buy property in Ain Sokhna, ideal for their weekend seaside getaway. It’s also a place where one can soak up a few rays during the winter when it’s still quite warm in this part of Egypt. I once got tanned in the beginning of February in Ain Sokhna, when it was still bitterly cold in Cairo.

 

There is a time during the day in Ain Sokhna when the most spectacular thing occurs: the tide moves out to sea, leaving miles of wet sand and shallow pools of water where just moments the sea had been. Small boats get stranded during this time. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to walk a distance with the knowledge that soon the water will be returning to occupy the very same space you’re walking on.

Even when the tide returns, the water is quite shallow a distance from the shore. As seen in this photograph, the water reaches the knees at quite a distance from the sea, making it the perfect playground for children and those who can’t swim.

Another magical moment that happens in Ain Sokhna is the moment the sun rises from the sea. I had to wake up extra early to witness this incredible moment, which was quite worthwhile. Watching the ball of fire rise from the sea is a million times more phenomenal than watching it set into the sea. It’s also so quiet during this time of day because most people are still sleeping, making it the perfect time for some reflective solitude. Because the sun rises from the sea in Ain Sokhna, it sets behind the beautiful mountains, which is another beautiful sight to witness.

Right after the sun rises, the sand on the beach tells a story of wonderfully bizarre signs of life also waking up and moving across the beach. There are patterns where crabs have dug out and moved out for the day and beautiful seashells adorning the beach where the sand is pristine and clean.

Because it’s so close to Cairo, the weekends are usually the busiest times to visit Ain Sokhna, which is Thursday and Friday, or Friday and Saturday. It’s also a popular holiday destination for Egyptians celebrating Christmas, the lesser and greater Eid, or the Egyptian Spring Sham El Neseem, which means prices for accommodation triples.

Approximately 120 kilometers east of Cairo, Ain Sokhna is a popular destination that attracts tourists wanting the convenience of visiting the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx nearby, but the population remains predominately made up of Egyptian families and couples wanting to escape the oppressiveness of city life.

Ain Sokhna
Red Sea
Egypt

Ain Sokhna Hotels

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The Cruelty of Pet Shops in Cairo

Pet shops in Cairo are a terrible, cruel place for cats and animals alike. Not only are the cages too small, leaving the cat little room to move, but they often look sick, their coats showing signs of mites eating away at their fur. It hurts to pass by pet shops, seeing large cats in small cages, as though prisoners for a crime they did not commit. My eyes usually zero in on the cage’s latch, and I often see myself freeing them.

But where would they go? Although living on the street would give them the freedom and movement they crave, it wouldn’t guarantee frequent meals, safety from cars, dogs, or serious diseases.

When I passed by a pet shop when one of the cats meowed out to me. It had no room to run or stretch, or basically be a normal, happy cat. Large pieces of cardboard acted as a lining for the cage’s base so that the cat could urinate and excrete out in the open. The pet shop staff looked like they had no intention of cleaning the mess anytime soon, although they weren’t busy with customers. Because of the lack of hygiene, swarms of flies filled the pet shop.

Pet shops in Egypt don’t require a license to sell cats and dogs like they do in the UK. With no laws to exert on pet shop owners, the animals are left in terrible conditions, until the day comes when they are bought. And the older the cat is, the less chance it has to find a loving owner. With most Egyptians preferring to purchase white, blue-eyed Persian kittens, the nightmare continues for cats, and animals alike, across the country.

Most people in Egypt laugh when someone complains and tells them of the animals’ rights, reacting with a popular statement, “Are there human rights here for there to be animal rights?”

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Cairo Festival City in Egypt

I’ve been passing the 3 million square meter Cairo Festival City in New Cairo for the past few years on 90 Street, watching them making progress on the construction site, willing them to finish. There were quite a few delays due to the political instability, but today Cairo Festival City finally opened its doors to the public. Exactly like Dubai Festival City in Dubai, it has a mall, an IKEA store — a first for Egypt –, plenty of landscape design, a Carrefour hypermarket and free outdoor parking. I was quite excited to attend the opening and couldn’t wait to see what it looked like.

You’ll ideally need a car to get to the mall, otherwise it’s going to be a long walk. There’s free outdoor parking and lots of spaces, over 6,500 of them. Once you drive in it really feels as though you’ve left the city of Cairo behind. The roads are wide, the buildings are the same level, and there’s so much greenery and space. There are also pavements around the parking lot. Although today was the official opening of Cairo Festival City, builders still had a lot of work to do paving paths, laying turf for the gardens , and marking spaces for cars.

There’s also an indoor car park for those who want access right next to the mall or Carrefour without walking too far.

And the IKEA store! Just standing in front of the iconic blue and yellow building made me feel as though I was back in Wembley in London, shopping for furniture.

Oval shaped, the mall is approximately 168,000 square meters. It’s conveniently located on the east side of the Ring Road in Greater Cairo, just a 15 minute drive from Cairo International Airport. The mall isn’t as luxuriously furnished as Sun City Mall, although also owned by the Al Futtaim group. It has a different style entirely; contemporary, practical for the hordes that will come through the doors.

But more importantly, there are over 300 stores in the 3 storey mall. There are also flagship stores, like Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, and of course IKEA.

Other features of Cairo Festival City Mall include what the mall boasts as “the region’s largest Kidzania, Egypt’s first edutainment destination as well as Magic Planet for the young visitors”. It also has a musical dancing fountain like the one in the Mall of Arabia in 6 October City, with an open terrace area for various restaurants.

Even if to some Cairo Festival City looks like just another mall, such a vast entertainment site is set to change the landscape of New Cairo and Cairo alike. Like the western side of Cairo, specifically 6 October City, the eastern side of Cairo finally gets a mega entertainment complex too .

Cairo Festival City
Fifth Settlement
off 90 Street
New Cairo,
Cairo

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Strolling on Stanley Bridge, Alexandria

Taking a walk on Stanley Bridge, Alexandria is a must. Although it is a relatively new bridge, built a decade or so ago so not part of the historic architecture of the city, it is still considered a landmark.

Stanley Bridge has four towers, modeled to compliment the Islamic design of the royal palace in Montaza. Many fishermen line up on the bridge, patiently waiting for their catch of the day. In the evenings, many brides and grooms take their wedding photographs on the iconic bridge.

The bridge was built to enlarge the corniche since a narrow two-way road was causing too much traffic in the area. Below the bridge is Stanley Bay, a beach with cabins. Instead of destroying this popular beach, the then governor of Alexandria decided it was best to create a 400-meter bridge out on the Mediterranean sea. The two towers on the side of the sea have a small opening that looks out onto the water below.

There is an underpass for pedestrians near Stanley Bridge, so it is safe to cross to the other side. On the other side, there are several coffee shops and restaurants, including a Costa coffee shop and a McDonald’s, where you can sit and enjoy a panoramic view of the bridge.

Stanley Bridge is an important development to the Alexandrian seafront, creating an easier flow of traffic and smoothly connecting commuters to the other side of Alexandria. But Stanley Bridge is not just a convenience for commuters, it’s also a beautiful landmark offering many recreational activities that Egyptians are quite fond of.

Stanley Bridge,
Stanley,
Alexandria

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Eid Al-Adha’s Sheep Fest in Egypt

Muslims across Egypt began celebrating the first day of Eid Al Adha this morning. Right after dawn men and women gathered to pray the Eid prayer in the mosque, where the Eid ‘song’ filled the morning air through microphones. After the special Eid prayer, Eid Al-Adha’s Sheep Fest in Egypt began, and people who could afford to began to slaughter their sacrifices to God; usually sheep or bull. Oblivious to their fate, these animals will be on a dinner plate before the day ends.

For the past few weeks herds of sheep have been arriving on the streets of Cairo, where butchers or shepherds set up camp on a pavement or on the side of the road. Butchers usually put a wooden fence around the sheep in front of their shop to prevent them from running off, but shepherds arriving from the country usually keep them on a pavement without a border and the sheep don’t try to escape.

Although Cairo is eerily quiet on Eid, butchers around the city are busy with queues of people waiting for their sheep to be slaughtered. The city is also very busy with beggars arriving from different parts of Egypt, waiting for their portion of meat and money. Luckily for these sheep, the land in front of the butcher’s was spacious enough for them to walk around.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to see animals being slaughtered, however humane it is carried out. But I guess this is the test we must endure, hoping to be obedient to God like Prophet Abraham.

What surprises me is that every part of the bull or sheep is eaten, almost nothing is left to spare! Speaking of bulls and sheep, these two had a bit of a brawl. I will testify that the smaller fellow started the fight first, ramming his horns into the bull. The bull provoked him for several consecutive rounds, however, but because he was tied up, it didn’t get very far.

Most of these sheep liked posing for the camera!

Although many people slaughter their sheep at the butcher’s, many others prefer to slaughter their sacrifice in either their apartment building’s garage or outside their house, hiring a butcher that comes right to the premises. They weigh the animal, and the price is set accordingly.

They’ll either rent a truck to carry their sheep or bull to wherever they’ll slaughter it. I have also seen many people put their sheep in the boot of their car!

After the butcher has completed his work, a portion of the meat is usually given to the poor and needy, while the rest is cooked for the traditional Eid dish Fattah. Those who weren’t able to slaughter a sheep on the first day of Eid do so on the second day. Because most of us have been up since dawn, a little nap is usually in order before gathering with the family in the evening for the Eid dinner, where most people overdose on meat. It’s that kind of day.

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How to Shoot Sunsets: 8 Different Ideas

A sunset is a spectacular moment in the day that nature shares, blooming deep rich hues before it plunges into the darkness. While the photograph above is a perfectly good example of a sunset in the Mediterranean sea in Alexandria, Egypt, it doesn’t think out of the box, making it look like the million other photographs people have taken of sunsets on the Internet. Thinking out of the box and taking a different approach to sunset photography is a learning process, one I find a lot of joy in. Here are my favorite 8 different ideas on how to shoot sunsets.

How to Shoot Sunsets #1. Include a heartbeat of the shot. A heartbeat can be anything that is alive with beating heart! From an animal to a human. It adds another dimension to the photograph; it tells a story. Like the three men in this photograph. I positioned the men on the left side of this shot while the sun was positioned on the other side, creating a balance to the story; man versus nature, for example.

How to Shoot Sunsets #2. A picture of a sunset doesn’t have to be a typical one. That’s why I don’t put my camera away if it’s going to be an overcast ending to the day. Clouds can add a dramatic effect to the scene, while the sun tries to peek through the clouds. Although you can’t see the sun setting clearly, the photograph displays an ambiance that tells a story or evokes an emotion. Including the small boat on the side of the photo also gives a depth to the photograph.

How to Shoot Sunsets #3. Add a foreground. It draws in the eye and adds a dimension to the photograph. If you look closely, there are people on the rocks watching the sunset. Again, this tells a story.

How to Shoot Sunsets #4. You don’t have to zoom in completely to shoot a sunset or shoot in a landscape orientation. Th portrait mode can work well with sunset shots too, while, again, adding a foreground avoids making the photograph one-dimensional or flat.

How to Shoot Sunsets #5. Silhouettes are one of the lovely things you can shoot during a sunset. These boats were floating peacefully while the sunset, silhouetted along with the rocks behind them. Pretty much everything can be a silhouette for your shot while the sun sets, including trees, people, fences, street lamps, umbrellas, and buildings.

How to Shoot Sunsets #6. Shoot during the golden hour, right before the sun sets. It creates a beautiful golden effect on everything it touches, turning the sea in this photograph into liquid gold. I also included a silhouette of swimmers in the sea to add depth to the photo and create a story. This example shows that you can add more than one idea in a sunset photograph, but not too many that it becomes too cluttered and chaotic. A picture of a sunset should have a calming, soothing effect as it does in reality.

How to Shoot Sunsets #7. Shoot an interesting subject on the horizon below the sun, leading the eye where the ball of fire is due to set. This creates a pathway for the eyes as it trails from the subject to the sun. If you’re lucky enough to catch a ship passing the sunset on the horizon, or perhaps a bird flying below it, snap away!

How to Shoot Sunsets #8. Play with props. My favorite prop to photograph during a sunset is the human hand, which creates an interesting silhouette. You can come up with many different types of poses while the optical illusion makes it look like you have the sun right in the palm of your hand.

If the sun isn’t set in the sea but in the mountains or over buildings where you are, you can still take a beautiful shot that marks the moment. The main thing is to be creative, revel in the special moment you are witnessing, and most importantly, have fun!

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Finding Europe in Montazah Gardens, Alexandria

I found Europe in Montazah Gardens Alexandria. Well, almost. Over the years Montaza Gardens’ enormous 370-acre landscape has slowly deteriorated with a lack of maintenance in some areas. Even so, most of the gardens are still as beautiful as it must have been when the royal families of Egypt spent the summer vacation there, King Farouk being the last monarch of the country.

The palace that was built at the edge of Montazah Gardens, built in 1892, is now a hotel called El Salamlek Palace Hotel that sits on the beach and overlooks the Mediterranean. Sadly my stay at the hotel was before I had a digital camera, otherwise, I would have gladly shared the beautiful high ceilings, the large spacious rooms, and the history oozing out of each and every corner.

The Montazah Gardens is a popular spot for couples to visit, as is any park in Egypt. The construction of the forests and gardens surrounding the palace always takes me by surprise, as I am not used to seeing so much greenery in this part of the world, and there is always something new to discover whenever I visit this part of Egypt.

The forests and tall trees in Montazah Gardens that almost block out the sun is something I thought I would only admire in Europe, not Egypt. Most of the trees at the time of my visit were heavily pregnant with delicious looking dates. Just listening to the trees rustling in the warm breeze brought me peace of mind.

Cars are permitted to enter the Montazah Gardens and there are several sites to park. I loved cruising around in the car, taking my time while spotting the perfect shot. At the time of writing the admission fee to enter with a car are 7 EGP and 7 EGP per person.

If you’re interested in architecture, there are many structures to admire around Montazah Gardens. I loved admiring this building and its different styled windows, including the arched windows.

There are many different types of trees to admire in the Montazah Gardens too. But it’s not just a park. There are many coffee shops and a McDonald’s in the grounds to rest and recharge.

I loved spotting this building with its gorgeous roofed tiles. Imagine the view from the attic!

Look at the roots of this tree! It’s quite incredible. There is also a clock tower which is easily spotted whilst entering the Montazah Gardens. It is said that King Farouk had requested the building of this clock tower so that at the strike of each hour a soldier would appear.

I also loved the style of this building with its symmetrical oval-shaped towers.

But what I loved admiring most was the trees that lead into the forest. The trees are everywhere creating a peaceful haven in a country that is quite the opposite.

Walking past the palace hotel, there is the iconic brownish-red bridge that leads you an island where there are beaches, coffee shops, a mosque, and chalets. On the opposite side, there is another hotel called the Helnan Palestine Hotel, a beautiful luxury hotel that overlooks the quiet bay. I have had many delicious lunches on the terrace overlooking the beach at the Palestine Hotel and can’t recommend it enough.

There is a yacht park in this part of town, with the Salamlek Palace Hotel quietly looming on the other side of the water.

I loved how calculatedly the trees were planted, leaving a path to walk in between the trees.

What I love most when visiting the Montazah Gardens is the notion that I’m walking in the footsteps of history. It’s a great place to spend the day with many activities for the entire family, from quiet reflections, photo walks, swimming or tanning on the beaches, to picnicking, taking the children to the (albeit run-down) playground, or relaxing at one of the many restaurants and coffee shops.

What I really appreciate is the fact that Montazah Gardens it’s not just a place for the elite like long ago during the royal reign. Those on a tight budget can enjoy the gardens too, only having to pay the admission fee and not having to pay another pound whilst they walk around the gardens, have a picnic on the grass, and sit on the many benches.

Montazah Gardens
Al Montazah,
Alexandria

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A Sweet Gift & Bite-Sized Cinnamon Pancakes


When my Canadian friend arrived in Egypt this month she came bearing a sweet gift: Maple Syrup! This is by far the sweetest gift I have ever received from another country. Now that I had an imported Canadian trademark in my hands there was only one thing to do: make pancakes. And because I absolutely love cinnamon, I usually make cinnamon pancakes. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Although I have made pancakes many times before, I felt like browsing around on the Internet for a different recipe approach. That’s how I came across a delicious food blog and was sold just by looking at the incredible photographs. Before I usually used white sugar for my pancake mixture, but this recipe uses brown sugar. The brown sugar, along with the cinnamon, gives the mixture a lovely caramelized look.

But the thing is, I love my pancakes bite-sized. Just popping them into your mouth like you would with chocolate is so much more fun. I also love having my pancake with scrambled eggs; the different tastes and textures make a delicious marriage that my family and I can’t do without.

With the smell of cinnamon pancakes wafting in the kitchen, memories of my childhood bubble to the surface like the batter in the pan in front of me. I remember Pancake Day; the children programmes on the television would mark the occasion with a song and a bite. I still remember one of the songs, which just goes to shows how repetitive they were. Back then we used to make pancakes with a lemon and sugar topping for breakfast on the weekends. We’d tuck into the soft papery-like pancakes with the delicious realization that we didn’t have to get ready to go to school; we had a whole two days of pure bliss.

This recipe uses what looks like a delicious cinnamon roll glaze topping, but because I wanted a much more savory breakfast, I topped up my pancakes with a cube of butter and a generous drizzle of the famous Maple Syrup starring the lead role. It just goes to show that being flexible can make you experience (and taste) new things; I didn’t stick to my much-loved-and-used recipe but went on the hunt for something new.

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