It's exactly as you imagine it.
The smells, the colours, the sights, the sounds.
Street hawkers swoop the second they see you -- Would you like a postcard, a souvenir, a cartouche, a mint tea, lanterns, rugs, keychains, spices, wallets...? Please, special price, just for you!
There's a medieval feel about the place, with the beautiful old stone buildings, cobbled streets and labyrinth-like layout. Gates seperate different parts of the souk, which used to signal the change in wares, once upon a time when the markets were divided into sections of gold, silver, leather, brass and foods. It's almost as if you've stepped back in time to an ancient Cairo - shops display bags and buckets overflowing with spices, with their wares hung from the walls and sprawled about the streets.
In the past, before the revolution, Khan El Khalili was often painted as somewhat of an unsavoury place to visit - it was too busy, the hawkers were too persistent and it was the perfect setting for pickpocketing - but now, the streets are empty. The shopkeepers play backgammon and smoke shisha, greeting you as you enter their store, but not hassling. Some hang from their doors, and joke with you as you pass - I have the greatest gold chains in the whole of Egypt! You must buy one for all of your friends at home! Or, your friends will like you more if you take souvenirs home! I have them all in my shop, come and see! But most of all, the traders thank you. They thank you for visiting Egypt in a time when most don't dare - they thank you for recognising that it is safe again, and that it's time for the tourists to return. Tourism is the number one industry in Egypt, and most people rely on it to live, yet no one visits since the revolution, despite the violence being over. In most places we had the streets, temples and tombs to ourselves, save the locals - a wonderful, yet heartbreaking experience.
What struck me most of all was the way in which the bizarre was so colourful, yet so grey at the same time. Everything seemed slightly dulled by the dust and the hovering smog, but it was still vibrant and full of life. Once the sun disappeared, however, the grey seemed to fade, and the colours and lights took centre stage. It was like the movies. We lazed at a cafe, watching the streets come to life, and the stone buildings turn orange from the lanterns, which seemed to be everywhere. We drank mint tea and tried our first shisha, as hawkers came by our table one by one, trying to spruik their goods. Bizarrely, I think the smell I'll remember most from Egypt is apple smoke, drifting from the shisha's in every cafe, on almost every street...
Walk the streets with me in pictures, through the photo journal below. ✨
If you loved this journal, please let me know in the comments!
& don't forget to sign up for my newsletter below. x