Prepaid GSM

Red sea coast, Luxor, Upper Nile, Abu Simbel, Cairo
Part 2

21.12: Munich -> Hurghada
22.12: Hurghada -> Luxor
23.12: Luxor
24.12: Luxor -> Assuan (Aswan)
25.12: Assuan
26.12: Assuan
27.12: Assuan -> Abu Simbel
28.12: Abu Simbel -> Assuan -> Cairo
29.12: Cairo
30.12: Cairo
31.12: Cairo
01.01: Cairo -> Hurghada (Sigala)
02.01: Hurghada (Sigala)
03.01: Hurghada
04.01: Hurghada -> Munich

Go to Part 2

28.12: Abu Simbel -> Assuan (Aswan) -> Cairo
Odeon Palace Hotel, Cairo. US $42 for a double room with TV, fridge, bath with shower, big enough and well furnished. Breakfast not included. Perhaps a bit overpriced at $42, as for $60 you can stay in the five star Hurghada Marriott and there the breakfast is included.
Weather: sunny, dry and cold. Less cold in Cairo, but some clouds in the sky.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

I'm supposed to wake up at 5:30am for the sunrise photos of the Abu Simbel temple, but I wake up already at 5am and can't sleep anymore. I'm ready at 6:05am waiting for Nasser, the taxi driver who promised he would come at 6am to bring me to the temple. At 6:15am he is still not there, so I decide to walk to the temple (in fact I run). I'm lucky as a car picks me up (of course not for free) and brings me to the temple (the same car will bring us later to the airport).

Actually I just want to spend a few minutes time at the temple to shoot some sunrise photos, but the staff at the entrance insists that I have to buy a new ticket for 36 L.E. - in spite of the fact that yesterday I already bought two tickets. I'd like to tell the guard where he can put my ticket, but then I control myself.

Anyway, there is a small group of people gathered at the temple waiting for the sunset. After five minutes I have the photos and I rush back. At the hotel Shirley tells me that the hotel manager refused to prepare the breakfast for her - not clear why. We reach the airport at 6:50am and pay the driver 35 L.E. (20 to go and come back from the temple and 15 to go to the airport).

The flight takes off on time at 7:45am. At 8:30am we land in Assuan and I rush to the ticket counter, to buy a ticket for the 10:25am flight to Cairo. Unfortunately it is fully booked and at 9:50am they finally tell me that no seat is available on the 10:25am flight. So I just buy two tickets for the 2:25pm flight - for which luckily I have a reservation. Each ticket for the (one way) flight costs 1013 L.E.

Since we have about three hours to kill we take a taxi to the Philae temple in Assuan, which we have skipped. The temple is nice, but not too impressive, if compared with Edfu and Kom Ombo. The entry fee is 20 L.E. per person and to reach it you have to take a taxi boat (another 20 L.E. per person for the return trip). At 12 pm we leave the temple and drive to the unfinished obelisk in Assuan, a huge obelisk cut from granite rock, which wasn't finished as it developed a crack. Kind of interesting, but the 10 L.E. are not worth the entry.

At about 1:30pm we are back in the airport, where again I have to take off my shoes and have them scanned, because the metal detector keeps on beeping. There is a huge chaos at the airport, as the computer system are down and lots of people on waiting list show up. Later in the plane we note that every single seat is taken (and it's a big plane - an Airbus A320-600R).

We reach Cairo shortly before 4pm, take a taxi (50 L.E.) to downtown and drive to the hotel Odeon Palace. In the evening - have a dinner in the (good) restaurant of the hotel, go out, check the emails and go to bed relatively early.

29.12: Cairo
Odeon Palace Hotel, Cairo. The breakfast for 15 L.E. is not bad.
Weather: sunny, dry and quite fresh.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

In the morning we sleep until almost 10 am, then have a late breakfast shortly before 11 am. The idea today would be to 'do' two things - the Pyramids and the Citadel. A bit after 11 am we leave the hotel and walk to Tahrir square, where we fetch the Metro (0.75 L.E. per person). We get out at Giza station, where after walking a bit we find a taxi (10 L.E.) which brings us to the Pyramids (tickets are 20 L.E.). It would be possible to hire horses, dromedaries or horse carriages for prices between 10 and 30 L.E. per hour if I'm not mistaken, but we simply walk into the complex.

Our tour of the Pyramids starts at 12:30pm. It turns out that the pyramid complex is huge, with considerable distances (1 - 2 Km) to walk. We basically lose a lot of time walking from one point to the next. It would have been better if we had some kind of transportation. In the end we hire dromedaries and horse carriages to get around. Until about 2 pm we walk around the pyramids (and we could easily have spent more time there), then we head to the Sphinx, where we stay until 2:45pm. I guess I didn't budget enough time, as a visit to the Pyramids and the Sphinx probably takes a half day or so.

We have some fast food at the KFC restaurant near the Pyramids complex, then we catch a taxi (asking price is 30 L.E., then later we give the driver 40 L.E. because the distance is huge) to the Khan El Khalili bazaar, where I'd like to visit two mosques in addition to the bazaar. Leaving at 3:35pm we reach the destination 50 minutes later. With the Metro it would have probably taken longer as we would have had to take twice a taxi and walk a lot.

Once there I take some nice sunset shots of the mosques. After that we take a rest in a cafe in Midan Hussein square. After sunset we walk into the bazaar. In a shop where Shirley is looking for a hair ribbon, we have a conversation with some young Egyptians. They put the usual question of where we come from and Shirley jokes and says she's from Malta and muslim. I then add that her name is Latifah and that she's my wife. When they ask me if I'm muslim, I reply that I'm (Christian) greek orthodox. They seem surprised and later one of them says to Shirley, with a very serious voice "but Latifah, do you know that a muslim woman cannot marry a christian man ?". That's indeed true as I remember later, as a non-muslim man must convert to Islam before marrying a muslim woman. But I'm astonished at how serious young people here are about religion. In Europe most young people don't care at all about religion and in fact we never ask what religion somebody has. For a second or two I'm even concerned that something might happen now, but then one them says (to Shirley) "... hmmm, I don't believe you're muslim from Malta ... I'm pretty sure you are from Singapore or Malaysia" - very good guess, Shirley probably has a 'Made in Malaysia' written on her face.

In the evening we don't do much. Tomorrow we'll visit the Egyptian National Museum and the Citadel. I'm starting to think that we'll spend one more day in Cairo, just because there is so much to see here. We'll probably do more extensively the Islamic quarter. Not clear yet what to do between Jan 1st and Jan 3rd - would be interesting to visit the Sinai, but I'd like to rest a bit and not rush so much. By the way, I've already shot over 1200 photos in these eight days.

30.12: Cairo
Odeon Palace Hotel, Cairo.
Weather: sunny, dry and quite fresh. A bit warmer than yesterday.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

Cairo is an incredibly dirty town, perhaps the dirtiest town I've ever seen. It's also totally run down, with an infrastructure in a very desperate state. The public taxis are also in a terrible state. Today we took taxis which had broken seats, broken seat belts, broken windows, doors without door knobs and handles to open the door - all this while being stuck in the Cairo traffic with the worst possible air (totally polluted, full of dust and exhaust fumes). To all this add the constant hassle by street vendors. Staying in Cairo as a tourist is very tiring, which is why we are leaving this town one day earlier than planned. We'll try to get to the Marriott in Hurghada and relax there for a few days before getting back to Germany.

It's a real pity that Cairo is in such a sorry state, because the city has an exceptional cultural heritage and a breathtaking variety of monuments and ancient buildings. If they cleaned the town, cleaned the air, restored the infrastructure, fixed the traffic problem and stopped hassling the tourists, Cairo could become a magnet for travellers and a prime tourist destination.

Anyway, we get up at 9:30am and after the breakfast, manage to leave the hotel at 11am. We walk to the Egyptian National Museum, where after getting the tickets (20 L.E. each) and passing through all security controls, we start our visit at 11:25am. We end up spending three full hours there, walking along the exhibits of the ground and first floor. The mummy room (for which you need an additional ticket for 40 L.E.) is not too impressive.
In the museum photography is allowed, but understandably not the flash. In spite of this there are lots of tourists who do use the flash.
While in the Tutankhamun room with the gold funerary mask and the sarcophaguses for instance, a bunch of extremely stupid tourists arrive and like sheep in a herd bombard the Tutankhamun funerary mask with their flashes - one after the other, fast fast, before the guard shows up. What these clueless people don't understand is that the photos will all look terrible, because the mask is in a glass casing which reflects (part of) the flash light, so they will see their flash lights in the photo instead of the Tutankhamun mask, but they still manage to damage the mask.
On the first floor I even meet a jerk with an SLR camera and a powerful external flash - which this guy uses.
These dumb people are probably the reason for which now in the Valley of Kings and Queens near Luxor all photography is forbidden - because even if you only allow photography without flash, there will always be some idiot who will use the flash.
We get out of the museum at 2:37pm and then have some quick food at the KFC restaurant in Tahrir square. Then we take a taxi to the Citadel (15 L.E.). There are traffic jams everywhere and by the time we reach the Citadel it's almost 4pm. We then walk up the hill and get into the Citadel (tickets cost 20 L.E.). The only reason I visit again the Citadel, is that I'd like to shoot some panoramic photos of Cairo from the Citadel and the beautiful interior of the Mohamed Ali mosque. Unfortunately Cairo is covered by a layer of smog, which considerably restricts the view and the roof of the Mohammed Ali mosque is not illuminated - which basically means that I can't shoot the photos I'd like to shoot and I came here for nothing (Shirley is also not too impressed by the Citadel).
At 5pm we take a taxi and go back to the area near the hotel. We decide not to stay in Cairo one more day and to leave as soon as possible. We enquire about tours to the Sinai. One agency suggests to take a bus, go to Dahab, stay in a three stars hotel and do day trips by jeep to the interior on Thursday and Friday, then transfer to Sharm el Sheik on Saturday (early) morning and fetch the 9 am ferry to Hurghada - all this for US $360 (includes the hotel and all transfers and day trips). The package is overpriced, but not too overpriced. However we decide that we also need to relax for a few days in this holidays - spend some days doing nothing in a quiet and clean place before getting back to Germany. So we decide to get back to Hurghada early. Tomorrow we'll make the bookings.

31.12: Cairo
Odeon Palace Hotel, Cairo.
Weather: sunny, dry and quite fresh.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

This morning we get up at 9 am and call the Marriott in Hurghada to make a reservation. The unpleasant surprise is that the Marriott doubled its room rates - now we have to pay US $110 for the same room for which we paid $60 nine days ago. Also, only superior rooms are available - at a rate of US $140 per night. I'm reluctant to pay twice the price without getting any value added. So we make a quick trip to the Internet cafe in Talaat Harb square (5 L.E. per hour, fast connection) and try to book a room in a four star hotel in Hurghada from the 31st for four nights. It turns out that nothing convenient is available - cheapest room we can find is 88 Euro (= US $110).

In the meantime it's 11am something and we are wondering what to do. Should we fly to Hurghada today, we'd have to quickly pack our things and check out by 12 pm. But we still don't have the accommodation in Hurghada and this complicates the decision process. We get back to the hotel and start calling some mid-range hotels in the LP guide. In the end we find a double room in the Hotel Eiffel in Hurghada. We'll fly to Hurghada tomorrow evening and stay in that place for two nights, then move to the Marriott for one night.

At 12:30pm we get out of the hotel and walk towards Tahrir square. We briefly stop at the EgyptAir office, but since there are too many people waiting, we just walk out and look for a restaurant. The Fu Ching Chinese restaurant in Talaat Harb street, to which I wanted to go, is out of business. We end up again at the KFC restaurant in Tahrir square.

At 1:30pm we get out of the restaurant and take a taxi to the Ibn Tulun mosque, which according to the Reise Knowhow guidebook is one of the earliest and interesting mosques in Cairo. We get there around 2 pm. The mosque is undergoing a restoration and is not that impressive after all. What's worse, the walls and everything are very dirty, covered by a greyish light brown layer. Any colours, frescoes, paintings or decoration seem to have gone.

After that we walk into the adiacent Gayer-Anderson museum, which the LP guidebook recommends and the Reise Know-how guidebook very highly recommends, putting it on the same level as the Egyptian museum and the Pyramids. After paying 16 L.E. per person for the entry tickets and walking through two security gates I wonder what great things we are going to see. The disappointment builds up slowly as we walk from room to room. It turns out that this museum is basically an old house filled with boring stuff - old Islamic furniture, some carpets etc. We spend maybe five minutes there, before getting out again.

After that the idea would be to walk to the nearby Ar Rifai and Sultan Hassan mosques. We walk for a while in the extremely dirty streets of Cairo, breathing the exhaust fumes of the cars which pass by. Along the street there are a couple of minor mosques which are closed for restoration. A pity, because the buildings look interesting and these mosques probably are quite old. While we walk, we see the body of a dead goat rotting in the sun, full of flies. The road is full of mud, as people have emptied the buckets used to clean the floor of their homes on the street (which is full of dust). Since Shirley and I have got enough of all this, we simply decide to get back to the hotel and relax there. This may be a town full of history, but it is just too dirty and polluted.

We take a taxi and after one minute I spot the Ar Rifai and Sultan Hassan mosques. I ask the driver to stop and wait for us. We walk to the mosques, which look quite impressive from the exterior, even if the colour is the grey muddish, typical of all older Cairo buildings. To get in, non Arabs must buy a ticket for 12 L.E. So I buy this ticket and walk to the first mosque to the right. It turns out that this is the Ar Rifai mosque and that my ticket is only valid for the Sultan Hassan mosque. To get into the Ar Rifai mosque I would have to pay another 12 L.E., which frankly I'm not willing to do. So I walk into the Sultan Hassan mosque. Big disappointment again, as there isn't much to see in the interior, but the entire mosque is very dirty and has no ornaments or paintings etc. I leave the mosque after a few minutes.

The driver is already waiting for us and brings us back to Talaat Harb square. It's now about 3:40pm and we walk to the EgyptAir office, where we buy two tickets for Hurghada (759 L.E. each, flying tomorrow at 7:30pm). Since we are both tired (I don't know why walking around in Cairo is so tiring) we go back to the hotel and relax there for a while.

At 7:40pm we get out again and go to the Kowloon Chinese-Korean restaurant, where we have dinner. Around 9pm we walk back to the hotel.

01.01: Cairo -> Hurghada (Sigala)
Eiffel Hotel, Hurghada. 90 L.E. for a double room with A/C, TV, bath, fridge and telephone. This hotel sucks, as they first give us room 122, above the restaurant where loud movies play until after midnight, not to mention the discotheque nearby on the beach which plays loud music the whole night. Then they move us to the more quiet room 103, in which the toilet has no cold water (only very hot water). Finally at 1am we move to room 114. The rooms by the way are full of mosquitoes and in a very sorry state.
Also the LP guide sucks, as it recommends this hotel (together with just another few mid-range ones in Sigala), in spite of the fact that there are tons of (probably better) mid-range hotels in Sigala.

Weather: sunny, dry and getting warmer. We finally no longer need a jacket outdoors in Cairo (during the day).
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil (Cairo)

I wake up at 8am and since Shirley is still sleeping I spend about one hour sorting through the photos. At 9 am Shirley wakes up and after a shower we start packing everything. Around 11 am we have breakfast in the restaurant on the 10th floor, then I go out to an ATM and get cash to pay the for the hotel. We check out around 12 pm, then look for a taxi to go to the pyramids. The idea would be to reshoot some photos and take new ones from different viewpoints, this time with better transportation.

We leave for the Pyramids at 12:10pm and reach the pyramids about 45 minutes later. As soon as we are there locals approach us (with the complicity of the driver) trying to sell us a dromedary or horse trip. After several minutes of shouting, during which they even try to get into the taxi, we finally get rid of the last of the very persistent horse owners. This turns out to be a very smart move, as we now have a taxi to drive us around the pyramids complex, while most other tourists either have to walk or are stuck on slow and uncomfortable dromedaries, horses or horse carriages. We buy two entry tickets for us (20 L.E. each) and a 2 L.E. permit for the taxi. Until 2pm we drive around the pyramids taking photos from different positions.

Then we drive back to Talaat Harb street and have a late lunch in the restaurant of the Odeon Palace hotel. When we get out of the restaurant it's 3:40pm and we have a bit over an hour of time to do some shopping. I noticed yesterday that Talaat Harb street is full of shoe shops (almost every second shop is a shoe shop) and prices are incredibly low - less that 100 L.E. for a pair of shoes (13 Euro at the current exchange rate). That's a fraction of what shoes cost in Munich. After some searching (not all shoes are of good quality) I buy two pairs of shoes for 260 L.E. The quality seems ok, despite the low price.

At 5pm we get into a taxi for the airport, then get out again one minute later, when we notice that the exhaust fumes of the engine are getting directly from the engine into the car and the taxi is in a terrible condition (among other things it is not possible to open the doors from the inside, because there is no handle for that - imagine what would happen in case of an accident). At 5:15pm we are finally in another taxi, which also sucks (smells like fuel inside), but at least it is possible to open the door from inside. We reach the airport half an hour later, then it takes until after 6pm to find the right terminal (apparently the flight to Hurghada leaves from the international terminal, not from the domestic one).

The flight to Hurghada leaves 20 minutes late, at 7:50pm on an Airbus A320 of EgyptAir and reaches Hurghada airport around 8:30pm. We are in the Eiffel hotel at 9pm. We get a "nice" room above the bar, where loud movies run until after midnight. The hotel is in Sigala, which is a part of Hurghada full of hotels, shops, restaurants etc. This is a tourist zone, completely tuned to the needs and wishes of foreign tourists. The good thing is that it is very easy to find a restaurant with western food and that the level of harassment while walking on the streets is relatively low. Apparently these locals have understood that it is counterproductive to hassle tourists. Surprisingly the price level here is lower than elsewhere in Egypt. Perhaps competition drives down prices. We have a simple dinner for instance for 30 L.E. - cheapest dinner elsewhere in Egypt was around 60 L.E.

02.01: Hurghada (Sigala)
Eiffel Hotel, Hurghada.
The Royal hotel one block away from the Eiffel hotel has better rooms for almost the same price (US $16).
Weather: sunny and dry. I finally wear shorts (with a thin jacket) during the day.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

We get up around 9 am and Shirley manages to get the breakfast while I just continue to stay in bed. We get out of the hotel after 11 am and go to an Italian restaurant nearby, where I have kind of a late breakfast. Then we have a look at the public beach near the hotel.

The beach is about 100m long and at both ends it is limited by walls of concrete. To the north there is an ugly building site, with cement bags, building materials and machinery directly on the beach. To the south there is the tiny (50m long) beach of a nearby hotel. We walk further south, pass a gate and get into another beach, this time nicer and a bit bigger. However some security personnel soon stops us and tells us that this is the private beach of the Hotel Regina.

Great - apparently every single piece of beach in Hurghada is the property of some hotel and is limited by walls of concrete. This wasn't the case with other beaches where I've been - Goa, the Algarve, Langkawi, Koh Samui etc., where all beaches are public and you can walk even for hours along the beach. Here in Hurghada you walk for a couple of minutes and then you walk back because there is a wall - like a tiger in a cage. From a beach perspective Hurghada sucks.

This is a massively overdeveloped place, full of building sites. It's not even sure if these building sites will be completed or if they were just abandoned as the money ran out. So we walk back to the main (shopping) road, the one which runs parallel to the coast. We walk for a while and then get into a restaurant, because it's already 1:20 pm and it's lunch time.

After lunch we walk back to the public beach near the Eiffel hotel, where we rent a place for 7 L.E. The sea water is surprisingly clear (actually it's crystal clear), despite the huge concentration of hotels in the area. It's not too cold, so it would be possible to swim, if it wasn't for the cold wind. The sand is a bit rough.

We stay in the beach until about 4:30pm, when the sun disappears behind the hotels (the beach is oriented to the east), then go back to the hotel. Shirley takes a rest, while I sort through the photos.

At 7pm we get out again and have a dinner in the Italian restaurant near the Eiffel hotel. Then we do some shopping. As a shop owner tells me, 85% of all tourists who come to Sigala are Russians. That would explain all those writings in cyrillic characters in the shops and restaurants.

Overall Sigala is kind of a Khaosan road (the tourist road in Bangkok) - a tourist "ghetto" full of shops, restaurants, hotels and travel agencies. There is less harassment than in Cairo or Luxor, but there are enough people actively promoting their business and after a while it gets tiring to walk around. We are back in the hotel a bit after 11pm.

At 00:15am the music in the discotheque below starts, but never mind, we have ear plugs. Tomorrow we'll move to the Marriott hotel.

03.01: Hurghada
Marriott hotel, Hurghada (five stars). Double room for US $110 - the same one for which we paid $60 twelve days ago. According to what they tell us, after Jan. 15th the rates will drop again to $60.
Weather: sunny and dry, but the sky is covered with a layer of clouds. Too cold for swimming.
GSM coverage: Egy Click GSM and MobiNil

We get up at 9 am and pack our things. Around 10:40am we got out to the Italian restaurants for a late breakfast and, surprise, they increased their prices by 30%. After that we go to the Hotel Royal, where we check our email.

Shocking news this morning - a plane crashed over Egypt and all 141 people on board died. It was a charter flight which left from nearby Sharm el Sheikh, full of French tourists. Tomorrow we are going to leave from Hurghada with a charter flight back to Germany - the same thing could have happened to us. I call my mom and tell her that we are ok, otherwise she might worry.

We check out from the Eiffel hotel at 12 pm and take a taxi to the Marriott hotel. We then spend the day not doing much. We are briefly down at the swimming pool, but there is almost no sun and a fresh wind is blowing. In the evening we have a (buffet) dinner in the Shorouk restaurant, then watch a movie (The Lion King). Interestingly there are no flies in the Marriott hotel, neither in the pool area nor in the restaurant. Probably they spray insecticide in the area, or perhaps it's because there are no waste dumps near the hotel (as is the case with the Eiffel hotel).

04.01: Hurghada -> Munich
Weather: in Hurghada sunny and dry, with a thin layer of clouds in the morning. Warmer than yesterday.

After getting up at 6:30am and having breakfast we check out of the Marriott hotel at 8am, then drive to the airport by taxi. Lots of people this morning at the airport flying back to Europe (most to Germany) at the end of their holidays. It takes some effort to change back to Euro the remaining Egyptian pounds, as the change offices are reluctant to do the trade.

The flight leaves at 10:30am (a bit late) local time and reaches Nürnberg airport half an hour late at 2pm local time. The flight this time is better than the flight to Hurghada, as if the airline wanted to make up for the bad starting flight. The temperature outside is -5°C and it is snowing. After getting our bags we drive back home, reaching home at 5:45pm, after a stop at a restaurant. The plants are still alive - managed to survive two weeks without being watered.

Copyright (c) 2003 Alfred Molon