Back to the city...

The first glimpse of Cairo wasn’t encouraging…what you could see of it. Flying in at 10am, all that was visible was the desert road from the east Egyptian city of Ismalia leading straight and true into the heart of a very large, very grey cloud. It was purely educated conjecture that led me to assume 20 million Cairenes were in there, in amongst the smog somewhere.

For all the pollution, the weather is still sunny, warm and bright, a light jacket at night is the only concession to the concept that it still is winter.

It seems such a short time ago I was coasting Cairo’s motorways in the cool evening air, yet it is two months since I was last in town.

This time, it’s is going to be much different to my last visit. Instead of living Downtown, I’ve opted for the comparatively middle-class Egyptian region of Heliopolis, in the city’s north. The change is dramatic. In an exploratory amble today, I saw only a handful of foreigners, compared with the many that collect around Downtown’s hostels and hotels. It is quieter – no industrial tailors above my bedroom this time, the traffic is more a distant grumble than a shrieking roar, and when I leave my bedroom doors open to the balcony, I hear the twitter of budgerigars from the nearby pet shop.

I’m making it sound like I’m in the ‘burbs. But I’m just a handful of stops from the city centre by train, and a quick, 10-minute walk or even quicker tram ride takes me to El Korba, one of Cairo’s most spectacular streetscapes, a string of turreted, whitewashed Moorish-style buildings that I dream to live in. There are also palaces aplenty, a basilica and formal (albeit dusty) gardens open to the public for a few pounds (about 70c).

Some things never change, though. As ever, the industrial rubbish hoppers are a haven for Cairo’s animals. The cats, the cats! Spilling out of the bins, mothers first, followed by a slick of scrawny, big-eyed kittens. And beggar women sell packets of tissues for a pound (30c) from their staked-out posses on the streets. Urban myth has it that a tissue crone died and when she was buried, her body was found buoyed with money, and her miserly home a hotbed of riches.

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