Monday, December 11, 2017

Sunday at the Souk: Spicing up life in Egypt

Souk: Arab marketplace or bazaar.

Just saying the word ‘souk’ conjures up images of exotic spice displays with pungent scents filling the air and tiny shops with dark interiors selling goods straight out of the tales of Arabian Nights.

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Spice for sale in Aswan, Egypt
Sometimes though, those conjured images are better than reality. So we set off to find out just how exotic this Egyptian souk would be. It was a blue-sky Sunday morning with temperatures in the pleasant low-80F as we reached our destination: Aswan's Sharia as-Souq, a market that stretched for several city blocks. Shops opened onto the street, their displays creating a colorful pathway and assuring us this would be as good as imagined.

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This wasn't just a tourist attraction, this was where locals shopped
Turns out Sunday morning was a slow time at the market as many shops were closed. There were still so many open and beckoning that we were on sensor overload by the time we emerged a couple hours later from this commercial area a few blocks back from The Nile River.

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Merchandise arrived
Without crowds of locals in which we could blend in, we stuck out like the tourists we were. Here I should note that we took guidebook recommendations seriously though and dressed ‘conservatively’ with long dark travel pants and long sleeves for me, short aleeves for The Scout. I kept my small camera in its bag only pulling it out for an occasional photo. Still, the vendors had us pegged and called out:
“Hey, lady! What you want? You want spice?”

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Shops lined the street in Aswan's souk

“Bon jour, welcome to Aswan!”  We were welcomed in French and German.

'Where you live?' Greece, we replied, causing each questioner a moment’s pause, then a quick, 'Kalimera!' The few times we said we were Americans, the jovial response was, “Welcome to Alaska!” (it seemed to be some new ‘clever’ phrase, as they used it often).

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Souk shopping to spice up life in Aswan
And yes, for those wondering: we felt safe!  I don’t think we’ve found a welcome anywhere in the world to be as warm and genuine as that with which we were greeted in Aswan. Everywhere we went. By all whom we met. We were made welcome. The souk was no exception.

Now there are the tourist touts who will offer you taxis, tours, boat rides and shopping deals but even they, who can be as pesky at times as the flies that populate this city, were kind, chit-chatty people. Everyone we encountered spoke  English . . .and many it seem speak German, French and Spanish and a few, Greek.

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From farm-to-table gardens here
The spices did fill the air with their pungent scents. Vendors would sprinkle spice onto my hand and have me guess its name and purpose. Vegetables – cabbages in particular - were huge and tempting. Caged birds, butcher shops and fish displays – all of which attracted those pesky flies were less appealing.

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Nubian woven items 
Nubian baskets, scarfs and skull caps, swords and daggers and African masks all left no doubt that we were definitely in Africa.

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Colorful displays filled the streets - Aswan, Egypt souk
Walking the full length of the market was not difficult. However the street surfaces were uneven and sidewalks pretty much non- existent.  Those that did exist were uneven and not easy to navigate.  Cars parked outside the souk area are within inches of each other so often times you must walk a distance on the street to even get to the sidewalk.

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The sights and sounds of the souk never disappoint
The souk didn't disappoint. It simply added to that magnetic pull that Egypt has on us. Our flights to and from Cairo were two hours or less from Athens. Aswan was another hour's flight south.  It is a shame, as we’ve said before, that tales of terrorism continue to keep tourism in a slump. For Americans the exchange rate is 17 Egyptian pounds to $1; making the place a shoppers paradise!

I'm still in that Scheherazade mood, so I have more tales from Egypt coming up in the next few weeks and hope they'll tickle your travel bug.

Whereever you are we wish you and yours happy and safe travels. As always, thanks so much for the time you spend with us!

Linking this week with:
Best of Weekend
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

29 comments:

  1. 'Souk' is such a wonderful word isn't, so exotic it has an almost hypnotic pull. I'm glad you enjoyed the market but how could you not with a word like that to describe it.

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    1. Lyn you've nailed it - it is almost a hypnotic pull for those of us seeking to experience the exotic! Thanks for such an on-target comment!! Have a great week.

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  2. The souk looks and sounds like a treat for all the senses.

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    1. It was - no doubt about it! 'We aren't in Kansas anymore Toto!' kept running through my mind.

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  3. I love visiting markets when we travel. All those delicious sights and smells and colour. One of these days I will visit a souk, I hope. I would probably stand out as a tourist too! Happy Christmas! and safe travels.

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    1. Oh Jill - what you and your camera could do in a souk! Thanks for the Christmas and travel wishes - same to you and yours!

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  4. These are marvelous shots - the energy in them is electric!
    Thanks for joining us at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2017/12/at-dusk.html

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    1. Thanks Sue! And thanks for hosting such a great linkup!

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  5. Haha, I like the "Alaska" greeting:) Wherever in the world, the shopping street is always fun and friendly:) Love the woven round mats(?)

    Since you have linked to a few memes, I'm inviting you to All Seasons, which is about the experience in a season. The photo link is open (every week) from Sunday through Wednesday 7 pm, Pacific time. Welcome, and hope to see you there soon!

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    1. Thanks for visiting and I'll drop by the All Seasons link up - thanks for the invitation!

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  6. O my goodness...your photos are like just right out of the movies. How exciting it must be to be a part of all this. Sooo cool.
    Now I am sure there's no FDA approved foods there...meats and dairy...??...and veggies right out in the open, warm sun..?? I am sure you have to be careful about what you eat...and how about water?

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    1. Afraid FDA isn't a concept in Egypt, BJ. The foods are fine - in fact fresh, and incredible spices at the hotels. Not sure I'd try the street stalls until my stomach became used to the foods it was receiving. Water was bottled except for one source we were offered (and I am writing about that next week). What you need to be careful about is washing your hands often so that you don't pick up the traveler's stomach bug! Thanks so much for the comment BJ!

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  7. I love wandering souqs (or souks) when I travel in the Middle East. The frustrating part is that since I stay in hotels, so much of the fresh wares (fruit, veg, spices, etc.) are things I can't use.

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    1. Well since we've moved to Greece we have fresh markets year round here so it isn't so difficult to pass up the foods when on a trip like to Egypt. We still will buy cheese and breads and wines and have impromptu picnics in our room! Thanks for stopping by - always love to see your comments!

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    1. so correct - I can never get enough of a public, street or municipal market by any name. . .even souk or souq! Thanks for stopping by and introducing me to your blog!

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  9. I felt like I was in the market with you! Thanks for this beautiful report. All good holiday wishes!

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    1. Oh and holiday wishes back to you Irene! Glad you enjoyed 'our' trip through the souk!

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  10. Oh, I love visiting souks. Husband and I travelled through Morocco for three weeks a few years ago and getting lost in the markets and seeing all the amazing produce is just a great experience!!
    #TravelPhotoThursday

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    1. Ester, Morocco is high on our must see/visit/experience list. I agree that there is nothing better than wondering through a market!

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  11. It was lovely to hear more of your Egyptian travels. The souk certainly looks very civilized. How did you go on guessing the spices and their use?

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    1. I hit the nail on the head with some and with others had no idea what their use. Take the bright blue 'indigo' - I would have guessed it a dye but they kept saying to 'make clothes white' so assume it is the basis of what we know as 'blueing'. Thanks for the visit!

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  12. So exotic and interesting with something new around every corner. How fun!

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    1. Jill - it really was one of those adult Disneyland kind of adventures but it was a real, everyday market!

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  13. I love a good market or two! I remember what a blast I had at Khan el-Khalili in Cairo. Hope more people get to visit Egypt. #TPThursday

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    1. Oh Ruth we were going to go there this time, but ran out of time and energy! Next time as I always say! Thanks for stopping by!

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  14. You have captured the essence and the detail of the souk very well. I an glad you had a positive experience.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Angie! Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. All your pictures help convey the sights and sounds of the souk but your first photo has to be my favorite. We visited souks in Morocco (Fez and Marrakesh) and your post brought back great memories of the pure sensory overload. Loved this post Jackie -You have me thinking again about Egypt for 2018 ... Happy Holidays to you and Joel!

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