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Getting around

Part 6: Abu Simbel, Cairo

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

06.01: Abu Simbel -> Cairo
Hotel Barcelo Cairo Pyramids, Cairo. Special offer of 33 Euro/night for a double room, but this does not include the breakfast, relatively expensive at 100 EGP (=13 Euro). The Barcelo is in the Giza area, not far from the Pyramids and is probably four stars. The room is high level, nice furniture, carpet on the ground, A/C, heating, LCD TV, fridge, etc. - nothing missing. Supposedly free WLAN in the rooms.
The only problem is that we have booked a non-smoking room and instead they give us a smoking room with a very strong nicotine smell. Then they are unable to move us to another room, because no other rooms are available.

Weather: as usual, sunny, blue sky, fresh. Warmer in Abu Simbel than in Cairo.

I get up at 8am, then manage to be at the Abu Simbel temple before 9am. I don't even dare to ask if I can reuse my ticket of yesterday and buy a new one instead. The temple complex is now overcrowded with tourists. These are the people who left Assuan at 4am and have been here since approx. 7am.

By 9:45am most of these people have left (the convoy leaves at 10am) and by 10am the place is now almost empty. I'm at the temple complex until 10:25am, shooting hundreds of photos of the temples from different angles and perspectives.

Then I walk back and find a taxi outside the temple complex, which for 10 EGP brings me back to the hotel. I pack my stuff, then ask the hotel staff to call a taxi.

At 11:20am the taxi is there and we drive to the airport to catch the 12:40pm flight. The flight is delayed by two hours. Why am I not surprised.

But at least the Egyptair staff arranges that we are brought into a hotel while waiting for the flight.

At 12pm finally the bus is here and brings us to the Seti hotel, the most expensive hotel in Abu Simbel. This hotel is clearly an upper range hotel, but looks quite old. There we are served a  good, multiple course lunch at 1:45pm. Finally after 3pm the Egyptair bus comes and picks us up. The flight finally takes off at 4:25pm, with almost four hours of delay.

The plane is completely full. After a stop in Assuan, where it takes up new passengers and disembarks others, it takes off again and lands in Cairo at 7pm.

Then it takes a long time to retrieve the luggage. When we exit the arrivals area, the hassle begins. There are two guys who insist that we use their taxi, one is charging 140 EGP, the other (an oldish guy who does not speak good English) 55 EGP.

I walk to the ATM area to withdraw some cash. The first ATM just gives me a receipt confirming the transaction, but no cash. I then call the customer service of my bank in Germany and they tell me that they cannot see any withdrawal from my account. So I withdraw cash from another ATM. Later, back in Germany, I find out that 2000 EGP have been withdrawn from my account for the first transaction. Apparently the first ATM is defective.

After this I ask about the prices for taxi trips at a couple of counters and settle for a limousine service for 120 EGP. It would have been great if the people had just left us alone, instead of persistently bothering us. This hassle of choosing a taxi really costs some nerves.

Anyway, it's 8:05pm when we finally leave the airport. We are in a comfortable Hyundai H1 minivan, after having been transferred from another minivan.

We reach the hotel around 9pm. Heavy noise in the lobby. Somebody is getting married and there is a wedding party with very loud traditional Egyptian music. Then there is the mess with the smokers room, which makes us lose quite some time.

We only manage to leave the hotel at 9:45pm and walk to the nearby Cairo mall. This is a, well, small and oldish mall, offering mostly cheap products. We have a brief dinner in the Italian restaurant in the ground floor, then shop around a bit. We are back in the hotel at 11:30pm.

07.01: Cairo, Sakkara, Memphis
Hotel Barcelo Cairo Pyramids, Cairo.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, fresh. Partially overcast in the late afternoon.

Because the plan for today is just to visit the pyramids in Gizeh and Sakkara we only leave the hotel at 11am. We immediately get adopted by a guy who promises to show us around for the whole day for 300 EGP.

We accept the offer and get into his car. The car looked imposing from the outside, but upon closer inspection it turns out to be a "stone age" 4WD car which perhaps has been manufactured in the 1950s. The space in the interior is limited and the suspensions are horrible - every smallest unevenness of the road immediately goes into the chairs. The car shakes even when driving on a smooth road.

On the positive side the driver, his name is Mohammed, is very friendly, reliable and customer focused, always trying to do his best to please us. If only he had a better car.

The first stop is at 12:15pm at the Memphis site. This is an area of perhaps 100m x 50m with some statues and other artefacts lying around and a building housing a broken statue of Ramesses. The ticket is overpriced at 35 EGP (adults, kids pay 20 EGP), given that there is not that much to see.

We then drive to the Sakkara site (pricey ticket of 60 EGP for an adult and 30 EGP for a child). In reality Sakkara is not one site, it's an area spreading over many km to the southwest of Cairo, about 15km from Gizeh. But apparently only a small section of this area is accessible for tourists.

We are there at 1pm and the first thing we visit are some tombs (Mereruka, Kagemni). Some of the tombs have nice painted bas-reliefs.

Discussion with the local staff who expect a tip for showing you around, even if it is perfectly possible to visit the site without any guidance. But it's a popular sport in Egypt to offer useless services in exchange for some bakshish.

At 1:30pm we are done visiting these tombs and get to the next place. This is very close to the first place and consists of more tombs and the stepped pyramid, which is undergoing restoration (there is some scaffolding). We end up spending quite some time here and only leave at 2:20pm.

Now it becomes clear that we will have to skip lunch, because we have to rush back to Gizeh for the pyramids. The car we have is not the fastest one and the traffic is also quite messy. As a result we only reach the pyramids site in Gizeh at 3:30pm, and are in the compound even later.

What we do not know is that the local staff starts throwing out tourists at 4pm. In fact shortly after 4pm, when we are at the panorama point, a local police guy tells us to leave the place. This means that we only have 30 minutes on the site. Not too terrible for me, because this is the third time for me at the pyramids, but Sara now does not have the chance to properly visit the site. We should have visited the pyramids in Gizeh first, before driving to Sakkara.

Anyway, we are still in the site until after 4:30pm, then drive into town. The ladies ask for a cookie shop where to buy Egyptian cookies and the driver finds one not too far away from the hotel.

Then we have a dinner in the Wang Fu Chinese restaurant near the hotel. The food is not too terrible, but is not original Chinese either. Apparently this has been adapted to the local Egyptian tastes. The dishes are quite pricey for Egyptian standards.

In the evening Sara drives to the airport to catch her flight to Malaysia.

08.01: Cairo -> Munich
Home, sweet home.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, fresh in Cairo.

We check out of the hotel at 11am. The plan is to charter a taxi, put all luggage inside it and drive to the City Stars mall in Cairo, which supposedly is the most splashy and modern mall Cairo has. While the luggage is in the car, visit the mall and then at 3pm drive to the airport. The City Stars shopping mall is in Heliopolis, which lies quite close to the airport.

The driver of yesterday is outside the hotel waiting for customers (and perhaps us), but I'm not too keen to sit again in that old car with the broken suspensions. So we ask for a taxi in the hotel and get one for 285 EGP. A trip to the airport should not cost more than 100-120 EGP, the extra amount is due to the fact that the driver is waiting for us and guarding our bags while we are in the mall.

Leaving at 11:20am it takes a bit over an hour to reach the mall in Heliopolis. This is because of the heavy traffic on the streets.

Lots of cars everywhere, most are Korean and Japanese cars, but also Chinese cars. Which is quite interesting, because the Chinese have only recently started making cars. Apparently they are expanding first to less sophisticated markets such as Egypt, where the car price is the most important factor. According to the driver, you can buy a Chinese made car for just 30000 EGP.

The Heliopolis mall is a bit less huge than I had imagined. It is much better than the Cairo mall, but far less sophisticated than the best malls of Dubai. There is security personnel everywhere. At some gates you are only allowed to enter. When getting in, you have to put your bags into an X-ray scanner.

The mall has an offering ranging from branded western goods to Egyptian, but high end products. There are several restaurants and more than one food court. There is also an indoor fun fair for children which has the A/C on despite the fact that it is winter and is cold enough.

We are in the mall until 3pm, having lunch, shopping around a bit and letting the kids play in the fun fair. Then we catch the taxi and drive to the airport.

Again heavy traffic on the street. People walking on the street offering all sorts of stuff. Either these people are desperate, or you can indeed make good money selling goods like this.

At 3:30pm we reach terminal 3 of the airport, a modern and new terminal. You have to pass a passport and ticket control to be allowed into the airport. You must arrive with a printout of the electronic ticket.

The luggage has to pass through an X-ray scanner and some guy insists that he will put my bags into the scanner. I'm perfectly able to do it myself, but the guy insists to do it for me and then asks for a tip. This is typical for Egypt: people offering completely useless services and then asking for tips. Like in a museum or an archaeological site where people immediately join you, explain you the obvious and then ask for bakshish for having been your guide.

Anyway, we get in, check in, change the remaining Egyptian money into Euro and go through immigration and then to the gate.

The Lufthansa plane leaves almost on time at 5:10pm. The plane is almost completely full. It lands on time in Munich and we are home before 10pm.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon