29 January, 2013

Hotels in Cairo

Cairo is fogged up by teargas and riot police are shooting at demonstrators around Tahrir demanding a second revolution. In times like these, you'd better lay low as tourist, but traveling to Egypt will soon be easy again, so I will now give you my best advice in where to stay.
    You really should go. Mainly for your own sake but also for the sake of a country that really, really need you and deserve your visit. Let me recommend two very different hotels, both great value: The Golden Hotel (homepage / Trip Advisor) downtown in Talaat Harb Street and The Hotel El Hussein (Trip Advisor -entertaining reviews...) in Midan Hussein.

Midan Hussein, hotel in the middle, mosque to the right

I suggest these two cool places in a deliberate order. My personal advice is to give your Kairo-visit a boost by spending two or three nights in Hussein before settling in the much nicer Golden for the rest of your stay.
    There are obviously many other possibilities, also in the price range in between these two, but generally you get what you pay for.

Best balcony in town, because of ...
... best balcony view in Cairo! 

Hussein Hotel

This old hotel could be so much better if it was renovated. It looks pretty graaceful from outside, but turns out to be everything but, inside... It certainly is cheap, and for being that cheap it also seems safe.

The pro's: Has the best location in Egypt. Right on the square of Midan Hussein, skirting the amazing maze of a market called Khan Il Khalili. You will be entertained around the clock in this place, as you have two of Cairos biggest mosques on either side of you, the grand Hussein Mosque and the elegant Al-Azahr. Having the mighty call for prayor in stereo on your private balcony is a near must when you visit Egypt.

Ash in the ashtray!
The con's: The historical elegance of the building has faded into serious decay, with dirt in the stairs, dirt in the rooms, dirt on the balconies, unwashed ashtrays, peeling paint falling from the ceiling, no towel but cockroaches. My parents decided never to touch the floor, and kept teir luggage on chairs to avoid an invasion of critters.
Simple breakfast.
    The breakfast is the classic cheap one, consisting of two semi-dry breadrolls, butter, jam and coffee or tea. If you want juice, you must pay extra.
    It is also somewhat unclear how to pay how much tips to who, as the staff in the restaurant indicate that they get nothing if you pay the boss and tell him to share... but I will try to deal with the tip-subject later.

Golden Hotel has clean and good bathrooms.
13. Talaat Harb Street!

Golden Hotel

Moving upmarket to find a truly comfortable atmosphere as a safe haven in a hectic city, I can think of nothing better than Golden Hotel. Still a lot cheaper than the expensive ones, offering all you need, really!

the pro's: This is everything that Hussein is not. It is spotlessly clean, newly renovated with beautiful blue tiles in the bathrooms, great beds, Wi-Fi and a very central location. It is run by the lovely and helpful Sophia, which may end up mothering you with knowledge and advice. She is Swiss and a part-owner of the establishment.

Beautiful ...
... clean ...
... rooms!

    The rate of the room is nearly the triple of that in Hussein Hotel, but you will quickly understand why, if you spend one night in each place. You here have a clean fridge, new air condition and a flatscreen with the channels you need.

Huge rooftop area, sit inside our outside as you like.

A memorable breakfast.
Needless to say, the breakfast is also considerably better than in the hotel first mentioned, with fresh toast and an omelette being prepared for you as you sit there. Drink as much coffee and tea as you need, and have yogurt and a glass of juice, fresh cheese and marmalade.
    For hot days, or just if you need some time away from everything, the roof terrace is great for getting away from it all. You will be surprised by how nice it is up there, even with some flowers that managed to survive the last dust-storm that tormented the city...
    Need a guide or a long distance taxi? Sophia is good friends with taxi-Ali, who also became my friend, and now also with Amira, who was first my guide and is a wonderful person. More of that later. The Egyptian Museum is practically next door, by the way.

A lovely staff keeps everything spotless!
the con's: The only drawback I can think of, is the proximity to the revolution.     It is situated on 13. Talaat Harb Street, which is just a block and a half away from Midan Tahrir - The Revolution Square. This means that in times of trouble you might have difficulties reaching this hotel. If you are unsure, call Sophia and ask about the conditions, she is honest and frank about it. I rather trust her than an embassy. The present unrest will certainly subside.
    (You might find these photos on their homepage, they got them from me in exchange for a couple of nights...)

Suvenirs in Tahrir...


I have never experienced, nor heard of, any kind of theft or trickery in any of these hotels. Egypt is in general a very safe country to travel in, thanks to culture and religion. Stealing is simply not an option.
    I left Cairo just a few days before rioting started in January. During my month in town I hardly saw police on the streets, as they were laying low not to provoke. Street vendors jammed road lanes in the centre, the main Square was all blocked off and things simply did not run as smoothly as before - but I never ever experienced, saw or heard of a pickpocket. Egypt is indeed a remarkable country. Go there!

Welcome to Egypt!

25 January, 2013

Winter in Paris

Try to visit Paris without seeing the tower. Or the arch. Not even the most famous shopping street in Europe or the Church of Our Lady or The Holy Heart. Just settle in a corner - an "arondissement" of this huge city and stay there.

    My base was the 10th. It is fairly central. It has a rather spectacular park, which is now under vague influence of some snow.
    Parisians are afraid of snow in the city, by the way. At least it seems so. It is probably really difficult to look elegant on snow, with parisian shoes (although they manage extremely well in Moscow, but they have more practice, of course).

one chique, one running and one dogging

    I am not nearly as afraid of stepping in snow, as of skidding in turds. Dogshit, I mean. And you normally find a lot more of that, than of ice in this city, be it summer or winter.

You'll see - and possibly step in - a lot of this.
  In the early morning, they have a big market here in my area, where I felt almost like back in Egypt. I heard more arab language than French , among vegetable and fruit in that street. Actually, every district has a character. You may find one street consisting of entirely japanese restaurants, if you need one, or ten.
    Wherever you go, however, central Paris has become too expensive for poor people. That is, of course, not soo good for the poor people, but it is very nice for the rest of us, as it means that it is pretty safe all around, 'cause as you well know, poor people are a bit dangerous. Except in Cairo, but that is another story.

Not Alice, still red.
Alice and beardy men...
    Talking about Cairo, I have to say that I miss the smiles from down there. Parisians do not smile unless you really trick them into it. Some say it is because of the hard financial times. Others blame the winter. Personally, I think they only smile two days in spring. And most of them dress in uniformed black. I get so happy when I see something red, like I did one day in the subway. And when I walk with Alice. She has a red coat, so I will not easily loose her.

Talking about poor and rich, the reason why the traditional buildings have balconies on the second and top floor only, is that those where meant for the wealthy parisians. The rest of us could not afford that, and stayed in between. I like to see the stairwells of these houses, and Alice's stairs are not nearly as nice as Kristell's. But maybe even more charming.


That's the thing about Paris. It has charm.
    You can say a lot of nice things about Cairo, but charming is probably not the first word that would come in mind. Paris on the other hand, has charming bars and charming bakeries, cheeseries, restaurants and so on and so forth. I wish the people would be a bit more charming, though ... actually it is a mistery how they can generally be so good looking and chique practically devoid of charm. Charm probably comes from the inside, that might be why it is hiding behind the fanciness of garments and style.

  Even animals are styled here, if I am to believe what I see in pet shop windows. You can learn a lot from window shopping, I guess. And from avoiding the Tower, The Arch and The Sacred Heart, next time you visit Paris.

Enjoying a traditional French breakfast.

 Bon Voyage!

23 January, 2013

Cats of Cairo

There are good and bad sides to littering and garbage. A good effect is that cats are well fed on both trash delicacies and rodents. Cairo has an abundance of both and the cats generally look healthy and fine.
    Unfortunately, there are some mistreated and sick ones, but people in general do not seem to bother the stray cats. And for the unfortunate ones there might also be a rescue. More about that later.

Ruler of cats.
A good catch!
    Egypt is a great place to be a cat for more than dietary reasons. I am sure they are all aware of the Great Sphinx is set to guard the biggest of their monuments. Such a task only a cat could fill, they would say. The cats, I mean.
    They will walk proudly around the touristic area and maybe halt for a pose next to a gracious cat statue in onyx or bronze, showing off with a twist on the tail.

Surely, I am a cat man. Not a dog man. Cats make you proud, they make you silly, they make you hopeful and they break your heart. Dogs are just waiting to be fed. Studying a cat is endlessly more interesting than studying a dog.
    Dogs are just dogs, but cats are individuals. They choose their own friends and allies and look elsewhere if they do not profit sufficiently from the relationship. You can never take a cat for granted in any other way than knowing it will act according to its own egoistic needs and preferences.

Get my point? Cats are cool. And Cairo cats are special among cats. They are more willing to pose than European cats, who turn their head away exactly a the split second your finger has pushed the button beyond the focusing point, but before the shutter has opened, preserving the image on the chip.
    Cairos cats are right out photogenic. Inspired by the Great Sphinx, they keep their pose gracefully, to be sure their beauty is captured, before they scornfully turn and walk away, signaling that they do not really need you for more than that.
One of three ... my favorite!

I've got my favorite cats in Cairo. Three of them, actually, they are siblings. All painted in golden freckled stripes and dots, teasing their patient mother and playing around the chairs and tables of my favorite cafe in Khan-Il-Khalili. No, not Fishawy, I have changed my mind a bit about that place.
    You ought to continue through the next shisha-place and turn right towards the Hussein Mosque. Thats were you will find the local family inviting to a chat or a chant, and the friendliest waiters. You can even sit upstairs if you are in the romantic mode or want to observe the hustle from a distance.

... always loved ...
... and graceful.
But this is about cats, and cats speak for themselves, so just lean back and enjoy the photos. Do click on the first one and flip through the gallery. You might see Cairo in a new way through its cats. And I will get back to this in a later blogpost. You see, I have been to a cat-place. You've never seen a place like it. Just wait. I will show you... but first: more cats:

Do you like them? Next time you see a cat, try to learn something!