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...

Safety:

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!