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Getting around

Part 2: Alexandria, El Alamein

25.12: Munich -> Cairo -> Alexandria
26.12: Alexandria
27.12: Alexandria -> El Alamein -> Siwa
28.12: Siwa
29.12: Siwa -> Marsa Matrouh
30.12: Marsa Matrouh -> Luxor via Alexandria and Cairo
31.12: Luxor
01.01: West Bank -> Nile river -> Luxor
02.01: Abydos, Dendera, Luxor
03.01: Luxor -> Edfu -> Kom Ombo -> Assuan
04.01: Assuan
05.01: Assuan -> Abu Simbel
06.01: Abu Simbel -> Cairo
07.01: Cairo, Sakkara, Memphis
08.01: Cairo -> Munich

25.12: Munich -> Cairo -> Alexandria
Hotel Mediterranean suites, Alexandria, near to the costal corniche road. For 677 EGP we get a big apartment with a living room, kitchen, a toilet+shower (bathtub+curtain) and two big bedrooms. Clean, decently furnished. Breakfast included. The only problem with this place is the location, about 10km to the east of the citadel, far away from the centre of Alexandria. That would not be a problem with a fast road, but the corniche is always stuck with traffic.
Weather: +3C and overcast in Munich when we leave. Somehow fresh (perhaps 15C) in Cairo and Alexandria, but not cold. No rain.

We get up shortly after 8am, get ready and leave home at 11:15am and get to the airport. By 12:10pm we have checked in and head to the McDonalds outlet for a midday snack. At 1:30pm we are at the gate and immediately board the plane.

The Lufthansa flight is actually an Egyptair flight (MS788), the plane a Boeing 737. We are initially seated on seats in four different rows, then manage to get seated together on the plane. Friendly Egyptair staff. Enough space on the seats, not too narrow rows. The plane is full.

We take off with a small delay, caused by some passengers who checked in but didn't show up at the gate and whose luggage is now being disembarked.

We land in Cairo almost on time at 7pm. Getting through immigration is fast, Shirley doesn't need the 15 USD visa stamp because she is Malaysian. By 7:10pm we are at the baggage retrieval. Long wait for one suitcase, then at 7:40pm we get out and meet Sara. We walk to the counter of Cairo airport shuttle.

While Sara has some food I walk to a store where I buy four Mobinil SIM cards, of which two are with Internet access. The shop staff spends 45 minutes trying to activate one (the other one works fine). No success, and I lose a lot of time (a few hours later the problem miraculously disappears by itself). It's almost 9pm when we finally leave the airport.

Long drive initially across Cairo, then on the desert highway, supposedly a faster road than the shorter "green" road. However also this is a slowish motorway with many speed bumps and not smooth surface, way lower quality than the motorways in Oman.

We arrive in Alexandria around 12:20am, then lose time looking for the hotel and finally arrive at 12:40am. Cost of the trip with the Cairo Airport Shuttle minibus (an H1 van) is 475 EGP + a 75 EGP tip for the driver. In the hotel, surprise, surprise I finally manage to activate the Internet access of the second SIM card. Apparently you just have to wait for a few hours.

26.12: Alexandria
Hotel Mediterranean suites.
Weather: rain in the morning, overcast, fresh. The sky finally opens up at 3pm and there is a bit of sunshine.

We get up at 8:30am and have breakfast at 9:30am. Then it takes a while until everybody is ready, also because outside it's still raining and nobody is eager to rush exploring the city.

At 11am we catch a taxi (25 EGP) to the Biblioteca Alexandrina. There is heavy traffic on the coastal corniche road. I get a first impression of Alexandria.

It's sort of a beach city, with high rises and skyscrapers facing the beaches. Long endless waterfront and promenade. Could be a nice place, if the city was cleaner and and if there wasn't that mess of skyscraper wall along the waterfront. Like this it's endless km of messy skyscrapers, very few nice spots which invite one to walk around.

Then there is that horribly congested coastal road with permanent strong traffic and traffic jams and no traffic lights. Very difficult to cross this street to reach the beach. You are basically forced to risk your life when trying to cross the street.
No elegant shops along the waterfront where to buy stuff. The waterfront should be completely rearranged, but the only way to do so would be to demolish all skyscrapers along the beach and completely redesign the area.

At 11:35am we are at the Biblioteca Alexandrina. 10 EGP entry for foreign adults, 5 EGP for kids 6 and above, children below 6 not allowed in. Security scanners at the gates. Nice building with cool architecture, pyramid like design with a sloping roof with roof windows.

We visit the place, then take a guided tour until 12:15pm. Then we go to the adjacent Planetarium, manage to spend some time in the science museum and after 1pm have a snack in a cafe nearby.

At 2:30pm we get into a taxi (15 minutes, 25 EGP) to the citadel, also known as Fort Qaitbay.
This is a nice and well restored coastal fort. Aquarium nearby which we do not visit. 25EGP entry ticket per adult, Alissia and Natasha don't have to pay. The citadel is a very scenic building, with a large wall and an inner castle open to the public. Nice setting on a promontory.

We stay there until almost 4pm, then catch a taxi to the Carrefour shopping mall we saw yesterday. This is about 6km from the coast on the road to Cairo. Just 6km, but the taxi driver (again 25EGP) takes forever to get there because of the horrible traffic. Many dirty streets with ugly buildings. They should clean up this place.

The Carrefour mall is a huge building several hundred metres long, containing a Carrefour hypermarket and a shopping mall with lots of shops. We head towards the food court and at 5pm have a meal. Then we do some shopping in the Carrefour mall and return to the hotel by taxi.

In the hotel I arrange a taxi to bring us to Marsa Matrouh tomorrow (an H1 minivan, which will do the 300km trip for 600 EGP, pickup time 10am).

27.12: Alexandria -> El Alamein -> Siwa
Hotel Safari Gardens, Siwa. 400 for a nice double room on a half-board basis (two people). The room has a traditional "Siwa desert" setup, nice furniture, A/C and heating, toilet with hot water and shower, furniture etc. The dinner is also good. Only little issue is that the hotel seems to be a bit out of town.
Weather: sunny blue sky with clouds. Fresh, but warmer than yesterday. A bit windy.

We are ready with our bags at 10am in the lobby. Surprise, the minivan we booked yesterday for 10am is not there. The receptionist tells me it will arrive at 10:30. Some discussion, more updates. It appears that the minivan was involved in an accident, came yesterday from Sharm El Sheikh, and other issues. Finally the minivan is here at 11:20am.

Actually I should not be surprised. This is Egypt and if I wanted to leave at 10am I should have booked a minivan for 9am.

Because it's late and I'm no longer sure we'll manage to catch a bus in Marsa Matrouh for Siwa when we finally reach Marsa I extend the minibus Siwa, for an additional 500 EGP. Total price is now 1100 EGP for Alexandria-Siwa.

The receptionist still insists that it only takes three and a half hours to get to Marsa Matrouh, but I have serious doubts. In fact at 12:30pm we'll still be 240 km from Marsa Matrouh.

Lots of urban development along the coast. Many homes and residences being built, lots of holiday houses already there. A whole stretch, km and km, of coast completely covered with homes and marinas. The sea is beautifully turquoise, the beaches have nice white sand. Must be nice to spend a beach holiday here.

We reach El Alamein at 1:20pm. There we visit the German memorial first and the Italian memorial after. Both memorials and quite nicely set up. While parking at the Italian memorial the driver manages to hit the curbside and punctures the front wheel.

Shortly after 2pm we are back in the car and now look for a restaurant. After a few minutes of driving we find a roadside restaurant where we have a late lunch. There are actually a number of different places on the way but they are all closed. I guess in the right season this coastal area must be very busy with people. The cost of the meal for the six of us (us + the driver) is 185 EGP.

At 3pm we start driving again. There are now still 460 km to do until Siwa and I wonder if we will arrive before midnight. The terrain is now mostly flat and desert-like. The road is mostly good. Two lanes per direction, little traffic.

Driver stops in a couple of places looking for a car workshop where to get the broken tyre fixed. Finally at 3:50pm he finds one. 15 minutes stop to fix the tyre.

We finally reach Marsa Matrouh at 4:30pm. Then, instead or driving around the town, the driver loses some time driving into town, to fill the tank and perhaps also to catch another road to Siwa.

It's finally 5pm when we leave Marsa Matrouh. Although the road to Siwa has only one lane per direction it is good. Now the miracle happens: still 290km to go, but the driver is now averaging 120km/h. Nothing but empty, flat sand desert around us. The sun sets at 5:15pm.

At 7:24pm, 5km from Siwa there is a road block of the Egyptian army. Surreal scene of a group of heavily armed soldiers smiling at us.

At 7:30pm we are finally in the hotel. We have covered the 300km from Marsa Matrouh to Siwa in just 2 1/2 hours - I'm impressed.

We have a dinner at 8pm, then don't do much.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon