Saturday April 13th, 2024
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How to Spend a Weekend in Egypt's Port Said

A melting pot of cultures, cuisines and cafes, Port Said is the perfect city for a weekend getaway.

Hassan Tarek

How to Spend a Weekend in Egypt's Port Said

Background

Few cities in Egypt have had a history as tumultuous and vibrant as Port Said. Born from the grand ambition of the Suez Canal, it became a cosmopolitan melting pot, attracting Greeks, Italians, Armenians, and Egyptians alongside transient sailors and traders. This fusion of cultures fueled its lively cafes, bustling markets, and a unique, multilingual dialect. Yet, beneath the surface, tensions simmered. Port Said witnessed waves of political resistance, from anti-colonial uprisings to labor strikes, fueled by the city's strategic importance and diverse working class. This charged atmosphere fostered a spirit of rebellion and resilience that continues to define Port Said's identity – giving it the sobriquet of The Valiant City.

Day 1 - Friday

7:00 AM: Morning stroll in Gomhoreya St.

We begin the day with a leisurely walk through one of Port Said’s most popular streets: Gomhoreya. Famous for its arched pathways and vaulted ceilings, the feeling of walking through Gomhoreya street is one of grandeur. As you cross the length of the street, bound by the Mediterranean from the north and the Suez Canal Authority from the south, you find yourself surrounded by everything from bygone architecture to street vendors selling everything from fish to nifty apparel. A turn in either direction takes you to any of Port Said’s most important streets, making it convenient for spontaneous adventures, especially if you have the time to explore everything the city has to offer.

9:00 AM: Breakfast at El-Ayouti

A five minute cab ride from Gomhoreya takes you to El-Ayouti, one of Port Said’s staple breakfast spots. For over seventy years, El-Ayouti has served breakfast for virtually everyone in Port Said, cementing it as a must-visit destination. Serving traditional Egyptian foul and falafel, El-Ayouti has a lot on offer but the number one recommendation from the chefs and clientele is foul with olive oil. For an authentic experience, make sure to get a streetside table out on the patio to take in the coastal breeze — a welcome accompaniment to any meal in Port Said.

12:00 PM: St. Eugénie Church Excursion

Step back in time at St. Eugenie's Catholic Church, Port Said's oldest church and a 2017 heritage site. Built in 1890, its European-inspired elegance blends classicism and neo-renaissance styles. The first church rose in 1867 on donated land before this grand structure graced the same spot. Cool marble floors and intricate ornamentation — floral and geometric designs adorning the walls. You can really feel the weight of history as you explore this architectural gem.

2:00 PM: Lunch at Alam El-Behar

A trip to Port Said without indulging in seafood is by every measure an incomplete trip. For this, the destination is incontestably Alam El-Behar. Locals and tourists alike swear by it, saying it is the most important venue in the city for butterfly shrimp, cod, and fried shellfish. For a seafood restaurant to stand out in Port Said, especially with the abundance of choices in the iconic fish market, something must be very special about the place. Once you’ve had your fill of food, you’re even offered a complimentary guava milk concoction to seal the deal and set you on your way.

7:00 PM: Shopping at the Bale Market

What better place to go thrift shopping than the city of free trade. For many decades, shipments of used clothes from France, Italy and other Mediterranean ports would dock in Port Said and arrive at the Bale Market to be sold at absurdly low prices. Here, you can find original brand names by the hundreds, if not thousands. It would take several days to delve thoroughly into everything the Bale Market has to offer.

9:00 PM: Street Food

Finish your first day in Port Said with something sweet. There are so many options to pick from: Tamreya, a kind of fritter similar to zalabya, is unique to the city. Samneya, a close relative of tamreya, differs slightly, in that it’s fried in ghee. But by far, the king of Port Said street confections has to be the cassata. Native to Sicily, this dessert of gelato combined with cream and nuts, has found a new home in Port Said, and now plays an integral part of the cuisine.

Day 2 - Saturday

Now that you’re well rested from yesternight’s adventures, you can start fresh with a tranquil stroll through the Feryal Garden. Named after Egypt’s last princess, it played host to some of the world’s most important leaders of the time, including French empress Eugénie and Austrian emperor Franz Joseph. With its prominent red windmill and lush foliage, Feryal Garden is home to a wide variety of trees, including Cottonwoods, Camphors, and Bald Cypresses. If there’s any place in Port Said to unwind with a long novel and a bottle of red, this would probably be it.

9:00 AM: Recharge at Salsabila

After basking in the morning sun, you might be in the mood for a cold glass of fruit juice. And there’s no better eatery to get it than at Salsabila, Port Said’s most beloved confectionery store and juice bar. While you’re there, treat yourself to another cassata for maximum energy — the more the better, especially for the next item on the list.

12:00 PM: Ferry to Port Fuad

When you board the ferry and sail east, you are not just leaving the city, you are also entering Asia. This is Port Fuad, the eastern counterpart of Port Said. It is a place that was created almost exclusively for foreign employees of the Suez Canal Authority prior to nationalization. French and Italian architecture come to life in radial boulevards, giving the area a subtle Riviera charm. Quaint stone homes with wooden balconies pay homage to the North African traditions of Moorish and Islamic art.

2:00 PM: Lunch at El Gendy Seafood

For your second (and by no means should it be your last) filling of seafood, go to El Gendy, one of Port Fuad’s foremost fish places and a five minute walk away from the luxuriant Montazah Park. Special to this place is the zesty twist of orange. Small wedges accompany your dishes, giving a tangy pop to your food.

5:00 PM: The European Quarter, Port Said

By now, you’re back in Port Said with only a few more hours left. It’s time to travel back in time with a visit to the European quarter. There has always been a notorious divide between the native and the foreign sections of Port Said. You can clearly see this by looking at the architecture. Here, ethnic groups like the Italians, French, and Greeks built their homes. This is where the arches and vaulted ceilings come into play. One of the more prominent examples of European traces is the old Italian consulate, built during the reign of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A wall still bears his name, etched in stone beneath a portentous inscription reading: “ROME ONCE AGAIN AT THE HEART OF AN EMPIRE”. Inaugurated by Mussolini himself in 1938, his plans of imperial expansion fortunately failed at the onset of the second World War.

8:00 PM: Dinner at Pizza Pino

One very welcome remnant of Italian legacy in Port Said is the food. To end your trip, give Pizza Pino a visit, one of the city’s most iconic places for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Located on Gomhoreya street, it offers much more than the name would suggest. Particularly special here is the seafood pasta. If you still have time, end your meal with a manga’ona, a Port Said pastry available on many street carts. It got its name many decades ago when an Italian street vendor would hold them up and yell “mangia una!” meaning: “eat one!”

Verdict

There’s so much about Port Said that remains to be explored in other trips. For a place that was founded in 1859, it seems the history of this coastal city is both trapped in time and perpetually endless all at once.

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