Maybe I’m getting more sentimental as I get older, but I really enjoy adding special pieces to my life that are reflective of the country I visited. I’ve purchased a Kurta in Nepal, a rosary in Rome, a rug in Turkey, you name it. I’m not into the trinkets and shot glasses found in the airport, however if it is something truly unique to a country then I’m willing to open my wallet and coveted carry on space to a special souvenir. Here are several special Egyptian souvenirs to look out for on your next trip:
I was taken aback by how many gold cartouches I saw on actual Egyptians. A cartouche is the traditional way to display the name of a King, with hieroglyphs surrounded in a long oval. Our guide had several as both necklaces and bracelets. She even told us in hard times she would sell the gold to get a bit of money back. Typically people spend $200-500 USD on a gold cartouche and the shop will engrave it with your name written in hieroglyphics. While gold isn’t my thing, this is a beautiful memento to bring home from Egypt.
We were taken by our guide to a Papyrus Museum (aka shop) on our first day in Cairo. The actual demonstration of cutting, soaking and weaving the reeds was very interesting to see. The paper itself is very tough and sturdy. This is the one item we brought back that I’m not worried about showing to my nieces (ages 6 and below) since they wouldn’t be able to rip it up or destroy it without solid effort. The cool thing is we spent $10 USD for a small page of a traditional Osiris weighing of the conscious scene. It was both a piece of Egyptian history and on the original form of paper.
Alabaster from Valley of the Kings
Alabaster is a type of stone, traditionally white, that artisans carve into statues or practical homewares. There are many alabaster shops along your drive out to The Valley of the Kings that have beautiful handmade works. I was seriously considering getting a few serving platters before my small carryon suitcase came to mind. They have a lot of colors as alabaster can be dyed. Just double check what has been machine made versus hand carved before you buy.
Hand Woven Carpet
I’ll just say it, nothing beats rugs from the Middle East. Many countries in the region have strong carpet weaving tradition, and Egypt is no different. I view hand knotted carpets as works of art, so my threshold for buying a rug is much higher than what I would spend on any normal rug in the US. Materials are typically wool, Silk, Egyptian cotton or a wool / cotton blend. Rugs can take anywhere from a few weeks to nearly a year to complete depending on the size and pattern. I’ve purchased two rugs internationally (Turkey and Egypt) and have only regretted not buying more while I was there.
Egyptian Cotton Sheets
When in Egypt! The cotton I felt on the rugs felt just like silk, and truly there is something special about Egyptian cotton. This is a very practical and special gift you can bring home for yourself. Our guide told us about a tourist that asked her to ship a second set of sheets to her after several months because she loved them so much.
Egypt is known for essential oil extraction. After visiting the Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, our group headed to Thutmose Essential Oils to get a bit of history (and of course sold on) essential oils. Egypt has taken steps in recent history to capitalize on its essential oils business much like Turkey has done with their carpets. It is becoming a much larger export and has regulations on pricing and quality. What I love about our essential oil demonstration is the fact that it doesn’t have all the crap ingredients that our perfumes have. Essential oils is just that. As our salesman said, “there is no Chanel No5 plant where the perfume comes from.” We bought 4 bottles (3oz each) and have been using them as perfume. The quality is really great and it was a little under $100 USD. If you’ve looked at the price of high quality perfume lately, it is a deal.
Camel Leather from Alexandria
I realize this sounds weird, but camels are a dime a dozen. There is camel meat on many menus in Egypt as well. Use every part of the animal, right? Alexandria is known for producing leather goods particularly with camel, and you can get very beautiful hand stitched bags for less than $100 USD. I’ve also seen camel backpacks and smaller accessories too which are very unique to the region.
Egyptian Coffee (bonus #8!)
Egyptians love to put sugar in their coffee, but in fact, the ground coffee served is much different than typical American drip coffee. There is a mix of spices, largely cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. It makes coffee have so much more dimension and a small box of ground coffee would cost you about $3 USD or less at a grocery store. We’ve brought coffee back from a few countries now and it is one of the fun and inexpensive ways to extend the trip after you’ve returned.
Did you bring home anything similar on your trip to Egypt? Or have I missed a hidden gem along the way?
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