Don't get me wrong, Cairo is an amazing city, but it has come to my attention that its streets are littered with many less than desirable characters, including but not limited to:
-piles of trash
-cats, dead or alive
-discarded scraps of cloth
-pages of discarded books, magazines and newspapers,
-and cigarette butts (with smoke to match).
Most noticeable, however, is the smell and sight of the heavy smog that blankets each and every alleyway, nook or cranny that I encounter on the streets. I'm sure that countless visitors and citizens of Cairo have felt this sense of exhaustion with the pollution of this bustling metro, but luckily for us there is an oasis within this desert city.
And so, several of us students set out to find Al-Alzhar, a public park located in downtown Cairo, which opened to the public in 2005 and is listed as one of the world's sixty greatest public spaces by the Project for Public Spaces. Upon entering the gates, and paying less than a dollar in admission, we were greeted by a large fountain and several pathways winding through the expansive area. After strolling down one of these avenues for a few minutes, I completely forgot that I was in downtown Cairo. The consistent bleating of car horns was softened by the surrounding hedges, and the natural beauty of a nearby pond and the green lawns was certainly a sight for city-sore eyes.
Of course, the visit wasn't entirely peaceful. Immediately upon entry, we were surrounded by a gaggle of young teenagers, who giggled constantly while trailing several steps behind us and asking repeatedly for photos. Eventually, one of our number acquiesced and posed for a young girl's camera, but it wasn't long before we were approached again, welcomed to Cairo and dragged into the frame of a digital photo. At almost every turn we were entreated to smile for the camera, and at one point found ourselves pulled into some sort of birthday parade. Very sneakily, we extricated ourselves and escaped to the nearby back roads in search of one of the many highlights of the park.
Eventually we happened upon one of the top lookout areas, and were rewarded with a beautiful pre-sunset view of Cairo just beyond the flora and fauna of Al-Azhar. It was an extremely peaceful and aesthetically pleasing way to view the city, seated on a stone wall surrounded by blooming flowers. It soon came time for us to return back to Zamalek for dinner, but I fully intend to return to this natural refuge from the chaos of Cairo.