Monday, March 31, 2008

Egypt Railways Timetables + Abela Sleeping Train

There is an extremely accurate site run by the Egyptian Railways with timings and classes and fares information for the Egyptian rail, train & Metro System.

It also has maps :)

&. its available in ENGLISH too!

Although this site does cover the sleeping trains (Cairo-Luxor-Aswan), those trains as I understand are run by a different company called Abela.

You can access that site directly at

Advice on the Sleeping train : The one from Cairo is good. Very comfortable. The journey back to Cairo from either Luxor or Aswan is not the best. The train tends to jerk quite badly and you feel you are being thrown off your bunk. This is not just personal experience but from
the experience of over 20 friends.

Otherwise its a great experience. Expats/ tourists need a copy of their passports and 60$ in cash per journey to book tickets at Ramses station. The train takes off and arrives at Giza station - note this is very different and far away from Ramses station.

There are little coupes for 2 with bunk beds. A sink in your coupe. 4 common loos for the bogey. You get served dinner and breakfast on the train. While booking you can request a vegetarian meal too. There is a club car which serves alcohol and parties the whole night. How rocking it will be depends on the crowd on board the train with you.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Review : Garden City Hotel and other budget places to stay at in Cairo

A lot of people have asked about The Garden City House Hotel in Cairo. Its recommended in a lot of guidebooks to Cairo as a budget location to stay in.

Here are some reviews of the place, by people across a couple of websites and information groups.

1. I have stayed in the Garden City House Hotel multiple times. It is a favorite place for archaeologists passing through Cairo on their way to sites. I think it is a favorite because of it's location -- close to the American Research Center in Egypt office (across the street) and the Egyptian Museum -- and because it traditionally was a good value. However, I have to say that I think 100 LE per night for a single room is over priced for what you get. The staff are nice and it's a very good location, but its nickname among people I know who've stayed there is the "Garden Shitty".

Sometimes you luck out and get a decent room, but sometimes you get one where the a/c or toilet isn't working (they'll repair it, but not necessarily the same day) and/or where the bed sags and the pillow is rock hard. Also, I don't think they've painted the walls in the building in a few decades -- the massive amount of dirt smudges is really unappealing. Don't get me wrong, I have many fond memories of my stays in this hotel, but that is partly because of the comedy that sometimes ensues from the state of the accommodations and the other people staying in the hotel with me.

That being said, I'm not sure you have much in the way of other budget options for that particular area of town. From what I've read, there are good budget places elsewhere, but none as close to the Egyptian Museum (if that is important to you). I'd suggest looking in the Lonely Planet guidebook if you want other budget suggestions. I've always stayed at the Garden Shitty because someone else was paying and choosing the place.

Another option, if you really want to be close to Tahrir Square and/or Garden City is the residence in the American Research Center in Egypt offices. I tend to think they are a little over priced too at 25 USD per night, but you get a lot more, especially if you'd like a place where you can make your own food. It's more like a shared apartment -- a few bedrooms, one bathroom, and one kitchen. But most of the time it is not full and you may be the only one staying in one of the rooms. The only catch is that you must be a member of ARCE to reserve a room, but this is not too expensive if you are a student. You can check them out at

2. Garden City House is basically a hostel, similar to other hostels around Tahrir such as Ismailiya House, and New Sun Hotel (over-priced for the rooms you get). This is convenient if you are working near Tahrir, Garden City, or even other areas such as Zamalek or Doqqi.
I've heard that a bit more expensive but nicer is Hotel Luna, Meramees Hotel, and Lialy Hostel, also near Tahrir. All of these are in the Lonely Planet Egypt.

My favorite hostel downtown is off of Midan Talat Harb. It's actually not in the Lonely Planet, but I found the rooms to be clean, prices cheaper than other places, and the manager to be fair. It's called Kings Palace, located at 3 Ibrahim El Qabbani which is about 2 minute from Talaat Harb Square. Tel #s are 23919374 or 23919689, fax 33920401, email or

Further from Tahrir, but still in downtown (on 169 Mohammed Farid street) is Pension Roma. This is in a classic downtown building, and rooms are in nice condition, with lots of wood decor. The beds are a bit uncomfortable, but the charm is high. Prices are about 45 for single, 75 for double, no bath. Higher prices for room with bathroom.

3. Zora : Garden City House: I've stayed there, and I found it to be dingy as described, but actually a lot more homey than some other, cleaner budget places. My bathroom was enormous and I had a full tub and a dedicated hot-water heater. I didn't use my a/c, so I'm not sure whether it worked or not.

I really appreciated the fact that the staff, while very nice and polite, did not want to get into my business at all--I could come and go as I pleased (I was staying there alone) and didn't get a single question. (More hostel-y places with younger staff can just be a daily battle with getting hit on.) The location in Garden City is nice too because you're not descended upon by touts the instant you step outside. The traffic noise is pretty severe, but I guess that's everywhere but Zamalek.

I also really, really liked Pension Roma. Equally homey feeling but much better kept, and very used to people staying for weeks at a time.

The only drawback is that there are no rooms with en-suite toilets (some have showers, though), so that can be a deal breaker for some people. Also no a/c, but super high ceilings. There's no online booking or email contact--just reserve by phone, but that's worth the effort (whoever answers will speak perfectly good English).

By the way, I wrote the Cairo chapter of the Lonely Planet Egypt that's coming out in May. I generally agreed with the recommendations in the previous edition (8th), but they tend to favor the chatty backpackers' places over the mellower places with less of a social scene (and Pension Roma does not rank high for this reason, I guess).

4. I stayed there for like 3 or 4 days when I first arrived in Egypt. It is a good location but you can DEFINITELY do better. It sucks. The showers are awful and the beds are the worst. Look into other hostels, they are all pretty much the same price. My friend stayed in the King Tut hostel and he said it was good. Don't stay at the Garden City- its awful.

5. Vivian : I agree with the previous post. The Garden City is simply dreadful especially arriving at 4am from Europe. ARCE has beds on site. But the Nile Zamalek Hotel is a great alternative and a 5LE taxi ride to Tahrir and ARCE.

Friday, March 28, 2008

My worst Day in Cairo! Ever!

Today just has to be the worst day I have ever had since we moved into this city.

We normally sleep in on Fridays being a holiday. I leave enough dry food and water for the cat on Thursday nights, so she doesn't have to wake me up on Friday mornings for breakfast and I wake up in time for her lunch.

dh was up half the night with food poisoning. He just kept rushing to the bathroom. Finally with his stomach emptied from the retching, he was kinda resting in the early morning, but the cat kept driving us bonkers and not letting us sleep. She scratches the headboard and the skirting around the bed when she wants to wake us up. So at 6am, I fed her some whiskas from the box on my bedside table, which I store there for expressly that purpose (to stop her scratching when I wanna sleep)

That kept her quiet for awhile. but by 10 am she was scratching up a storm again. dh was still retching, couldn't even keep water down, so I woke up and mixed him some ORS (the medicine cabinet is next to the bed too as is a bottle of water on each side for us to drink in the night.... see a pattern here?)

Then I walked into the kitchen to get some more water for him and to check if the cats food and water bowls were full. I almost slipped and banged my head, but stopped myself in time to realise that I was wading in a couple of inches of water.

A plumber had come in yesterday to change the washer on my hot water tap in the kitchen, but he decided it was unsalvageable and bought me an entirely new contraption for 120LE which he promised would not give me any trouble. 25 minutes after he left it started to drip a bit, but being a Thursday evening, i would have to wait until Sunday to get this fixed again!

By the time i did the dishes at night, I moved the taps around a bit and the dripping seemed to be temporarily solved. But it seems the drip came back with a vengeance at night and had a full 10 hours to flood the kitchen.

The water had gotten under every wooden cabinet and electrical appliance in the kitchen. Many of them unmovable and so I had black water all over the kitchen. There were glass pieces from God knows how many years ago which were stuck under these unmovable pieces of furniture, dust bunnies disintegrating in the water and of course cat fur and little bits of her dry food that she manages to kick under these impossible to reach surfaces that had turned into soggy lumps!

Took me 3 hours of cleaning to mop up 90% of the water. 3 buckets full. A family pack of kitchen rolls (thank God I had them in stock - toilet paper is woefully inadequate for cleaning up large water spills) and the kitchen is finally semi dry.

During the process I realised that no matter how much water I seemed to be emptying into the kitchen sink, there seemed to be more coming out from somewhere. I opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink and found that the sink itself was leaking (not at the joints, not near the pipes, the damn metal sink itself was leaking in over 15 places! In all my life and the 30 or more houses I have lived in (I've moved around a lot) I have never had a problem like this, nor have I ever heard of anyone having a problem of the sink itself leaking. But this is Egypt, so "Maalesh"

The drip wouldn't stop, so I had to turn off the mains for that circuit - this means no water in the kitchen sink, the washing machine is temporarily useless and the bathroom next to it has the water supply turned off too. Now remember hubby is still suffering from food poisoning and rushing to the loo every 15 minutes. Which effectively leaves the 2nd bathroom in pretty bad shape too and I don't want to be using water from this bathroom for cleaning dishes or washing anything else kitchen related because I don't want the bug in his system finding itself into something else in the kitchen.

So kitchen closed. The water that flooded the kitchen has seeped into the wooden shelves and cupboards and the wall skirting. I can't turn on anything electrical until its all dried out - because we all know how fantastic the wiring in these buildings are & I can't risk electrocuting myself.

the tilt of the kitchen floor ensured that the maximum water collected under the refrigerator. And the plug for the refrigerator is behind it and can only be turned off when the fridge is pulled forward. Catch 22 situation - I can't touch the fridge without turning it off because of the water all around and under it. I can't turn the fridge off because I can't pull it forward!

So..... I can't access anything in the fridge either. anyway, with hubby's food poisoning, I don't have much of an appetite left myself, but I would have liked a cold glass of milk :(

Today being a Friday, its obviously impossible to get anyone to come in to fix the damn sink and taps! i hate my situation here! All i can do is clean up the mess instead of getting it fixed!

Kitchen is semi dry, the cat has gotten off the microwave and is eating her food and drinking her water. Husband is sleeping quietly, so temporarily things seem to be ok.

But I still have a useless kitchen, a temporarily unusable fridge, no water supply in half the house, no more kitchen towel rolls, no washing machine, the knee which has an old injury (3 torn ligaments) is acting up and I can't get myself a glass of cold milk! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

Taking a deep breath, I resort to my highly over-used coping mechanism in Egypt of thinking - "what are the positives here ?"

1. well its summer so things are drying faster.
2. I could have fallen and hurt myself really badly in my sleepy state which I didn't.
3. the cat hasn't electrocuted herself - although she did cough up hairballs on the carpet too which I had to clean this morning.
4. the flooding was restricted to the kitchen.

So if you call me and I don't answer, please forgive me, I'm in too p!$$ed off a state to have a conversation with anyone (just as well the dh is fast asleep and has no energy to talk when he is awake, else he would have been at the receiving end!)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

One Day Itinerary for Alexandria

Given the number of visitors I have had in the last 6 months, and most of them wanting to visit Alexandria in a day, this is the itinerary I recommend for them.

If driving to Alex : stop midway at Master for breakfast (very good hot dogs)

In Alex, start with Catacombs, Pompeiis pillar (can see it just from outside, if you are in a hurry - don't bother buying a ticket here), Roman Theatre (+villa of the birds - wonderful ceramic work) - this completes the Graeco Roman ruins.

Quaitbay Fort - from outside (don't bother going in its very tiny & not worth it) walk on the promenade near Quaitbay. (also the spot of the ancient light house of Pharos)

Sea Food lunch at Abu Ashraf or any of the little joints within the fish market area. (very close to Quaitbay fort area)

al Mursi mosque (extremely beautful interiors, second in Egypt only to the Mohammed Ali mosque in the Citael in my opinion) - pre or post lunch depending on hunger.

Bibliotheca Alexandria - they have guided tours every half hour to cover the basics - you can still wander about after that. They have a mini graeco roman museum one flight down. Nice bookshop too.

coffee/ tea on the sea side, wade in the beach.

Drive back to Cairo

Its a one day program start at 7am, home by 10pm.

Transportation to St Catherine with prices

My friend- Ahmed- collected this information from his many trips to St Catherines.

As I go periodically to South Sinai (St Catherine and El Tarfa) I have found many means of transportation with different costs.

Sharq el Delta bus (Cairo – Suez—St Catherine ) :

2 buses daily from El Torgoman (Ramses) and then from Almaza Station (masr el gedida)

From Almaza they leave at 11.45 am and 2 am, tickets are for 30 LE

Description :

It takes a very long time as it passes through Suez first. Usually they have the worst buses on this particular route, so you may not be satisfied by the cleanliness of the bus. also they constantly keep stopping as the bus engine keeps giving trouble.

Any bus to Sharm el Sheikh :

Many buses leave from Cairo from different companies like El Gouna and super jet. They leave periodically at morning or at night, tickets range from 50 LE to 80LE according to time and company .


Buses on this line are more brand new and with high level of maintenance. You can ask the driver to drop you at (Mafareq St Catherine or lagnet el mafare2 ) .

You should coordinate with a driver from St Catherine to take you from el Mafare2 .

Transportation from el mafare2 to St Catherine cost about 100 +_ 20 LE .

Here is a driver whose number you can call :

Shick Eid 0693470040.

This means of transportation is suitable if you are an individual and need to go there quickly and inexpensively with flexible time of leaving Cairo.

Car Renting :

As I go there periodically, sometimes I need to rent a car to be more flexible in time and transportation so I made a good deal with the car rental agency which I think is offering me a good price.

From the start of Cairo-Suez road to El Tarfa (25km before Catherines) by a car model 2007/2008 ( mainly Mitsubishi) for 400 LE (not including transportation inside Cairo which you can add 10 LE to 50 LE depending on the deal between you and the agency ) .

This means of transportation could be suitable for a group of 3 persons as it is faster, flexible as you can take rest whenever you want, you will have less waiting time at police check points and if u have heavy luggage, the car could take you from home to your final destination.

The owner of the agency I use, is called Adel and his number is 0103979759

Best of luck and hope you enjoy your coming vacations

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bird flu hits staple of Egypt's streets

From Yahoo News

TAWFIQIYA, Egypt - Chickens used to roam every dusty street in every village across Egypt, and many of its city alleys too.

But bird flu is changing that. Chickens have nearly all vanished from sight, slaughtered, abandoned or locked away by a population increasingly aware of, and frightened by, the disease's stubborn grip.

Even as bird flu has dropped out of global headlines, experts are worried about its persistence around the world. With 47 human cases and 20 deaths, Egypt is the third most affected country after Indonesia and Vietnam.

For the past two years the government has been trying to change the deep-rooted poultry-rearing behaviors that have turned the country of 76 million people into a bird flu hot spot.

But only with the rising death toll — mostly rural women who traditionally tend chickens — have Egypt's poor finally grasped the need to alter their ways.
But while Egyptians may be safer from bird flu, they have lost a key source of protein.

Chicken once provided 43 percent of Egyptians' protein needs, but egg and chicken prices are doubling.

"It was very cheap before this outbreak, the cheapest meat you can get here in Egypt," said John Jabbour of the Eastern Mediterranean office of the World Health Organization. "Poultry in the backyard was a matter of breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Read the entire article at Yahoo News

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Highly Recommended : Gourmet Egypt

I've ordered off the website of Gourmet Egypt a couple of times.

They are a company that originally stating importing high quality meat and sea food to supply to the top restaurants of Egypt. But somewhere down the line, they realised that even regular citizens and expats would like to be able to buy this high quality protein. Thus started Gourmet Egypt.

The beef and lamb are top quality from Australia. I've ordered their meat and seafood pretty often. Meat is clean and low on fat. The seafood is delivered cleaned. The boneless crab meat is my favourite.

They have some ready to eat pies. I haven't tried them yet. But there are some of them sitting in my freezer and I will update what I think about them when I get around to heating them.

The 1kg New Zealand mussels arrive about 40 in a pack on the half shell. They were supplying this much before the occasional box found its way into some of the Hypermarkets. (This needs a bit of cleaning, if you plan to serve them in the shell)

They offer a lot of Sushi quality fish and cleaned shrimps!

The working of the service is pretty simple and straightforward.

You order off their English website. There's a 5Le delivery charge. You can specify any time constraints you have for home delivery. I have normally received my deliveries the next day itself and always within the time window that I have specified.

They have just last week opened their on ground store in Maadi near the Carre Four mall. It would be worth checking out if you are going that way.

I still love the Home delivery service though.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Airport Bus

This information too is gleaned from multiple sources.

Thanks to George, Sonja, Chad, Ian and Andy.

When you exit the arrivals terminal, just walk ahead for about 3-5 minutes or so and you'll run into a big parking lot with buses. You can ask the people around you and they should be able to direct you.
There are 2 buses:
1. 50 piastre bus, which tends to be old and very, very slow. I took this in late January when it was still cold. The doors never closed and it was an ice box for the 45 min trip back to Ramses station.
2. LE 2 bus--if you feel like it, you can splurge and treat yourself to this bus. It should also drop you off at Ramses or by the Egyptian Museum. The 2 LE bus is bus # 356. They are good buses. They are air conditioned.
To get to the airport, you should go to the area next to the Egyptian Museum, under the overpass with all the buses. The area is called Abdel Moneim Riad I've never done this, so you should check with others first...

When you exit the arrivals terminal, just walk ahead for about 3-5 minutes or so and you'll run into a big parking lot with buses. You can ask the people around you and they should be able to direct you.

Note that this is if you arrive in terminal 1 (the newest terminal, where most international passenger flights seem to come in). If you arrive in Terminal 2 (the old terminal), I read in the Lonely Planet that one bus picks up there (though I'm not sure exactly where) until midnight, and the other all night. The transfer bus from one terminal to the other is very well marked now! It seems to run all night, to boot (or at least until 2 or 3 am).

The easiest way that I've found to find bus stations or get help when at the airport or similarly touristy areas is the following: find a taxi driver (or anyone really) and indicate that 5 pounds is all you have to spend, and that you need to get to downtown. Taxis won't even take you from one terminal to the other for 5 pounds, so having already lost you as a potential customer, they will tell you where the bus is.

Also, if you want to take the bus from Abd el Moneam Riyad or Ramses, you may have to get off early (likely when a bunch of other people get off) at a central area where the transfer buses stop and hop on a transfer bus to the proper terminal. I asked the driver, and then asked him again when people hopped off - it worked out.

Added on 9 Oct 08: Check the Cairo airport website on for more details.

Egypt/Israel/Jordan border crossing

This is a series of information I have been given from different sources, but its useful information and deserved a post to itself.

1. Brian : Taba Heights is a newly-constructed tourist resort just 10 minutes down the road from the Egypt/Israel border.
They have an international Marina that has direct ferries to Aqaba. Egyptian citizens are not allowed on the ferry and I'm not too sure about recent prices, but it's definitely a whole lot easier/quicker than going through Israel or fighting through Nuweiba.

2. Andy : is one of the most valuable websites in existence. Train/bus schedules for every country including Israel/Jordan

Here's a good website:

For your route check this page:

Since I've never traveled there myself though, I'm not sure about the veracity of the info. A couple comments though about this page....

From what I heard, Israeli border people randomly stamp about 10% of passports, even if you specifically request them not to. Also, I have heard that the Egyptians at Taba WILL stamp a separate page in your passport if you ask them. So if you don't mind an Israeli stamp, or if you wanna take the risk to save a few $, you could travel by land through Israel.
Otherwise, I'd recommend the boat Nuweiba to Aqaba.
One more thing: I've heard that if you have an Egyptian Iqama for non-Touristic purposes, you can re-enter Egypt on the same Iqama, with no need for re-entry stamps. If your Iqama is for Touristic purposes, you need to go to the Mogama for re-entry stamps, or get another Egyptian visa (hopefully in Aqaba or Amman, because getting one int Tel Aviv or Eilat would again say "Egpytian Embassy Tel Aviv" and thus show evidence of travel to Israel).

3. Corrado : The re-entry stamp is anonymous, even if you ask to do it on a private paper, but actually I won't be surprised if anything changed after what happened in Rafah during January, so would be a good idea to ask to the Israeli Embassy each time you travel. Anyway you don't need a second passport to go back to Egypt, for sure.

There is a bus leaving twice per week from Sheraton Hotel at 8:00. It stops in Tel Aviv (12 hours) and Jerusalem (15 hours) , with extra stops included (so please consider two or three extra hours). the price is 80 dollars to Jerusalem (two way trip).

Another way would be go to the border (Taba, the only opened one) and take a taxi to cross the border, then a bus to cross the Negev. It would be more stressing, but cheaper.

4. I walked across the border from Eilat, Israel, to Taba, Egypt. It is true for Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Saudi, etc. you can ask for it not to get stamped. they will (probably) comply. probably.

5. Dan : A few old colleagues of mine had gone through a sponsored delegation about a year ago. You can google the organization and search for more details. Very organized endeavor, meet with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists and NGOs, etc.

6. Sara : According to my 2006 Jordan Lonely Planet:

"There are two boat services to Nuweiba in Egypt which leave from the passenger terminal just south of Aqaba. With both services, departure times can be subject to change so call the passenger terminal (03 2013240; before traveling to check departure time.

The fast boat leaves daily from Aqaba (except Saturday) at noon (gets there by 10.30am), takes about an hour and costs JD26 or US$36; children aged two to 12 pay JD14 or US$20. It's more expensive (US$45) to come the other way due to the difference in government taxes. You need your passport to buy a ticket. The return ferry leaves Nuweiba around 3pm.

There is also a slower ferry service (which doubles as a car ferry) that officially leaves at noon but often doesn't leave until 5pm or later, depending on the number of trucks trying to get on board. When it does leave, it should take three hours but it usually takes longer. There is sometimes talk of another service, at 6pm, but this is only during exceptionally busy times (like the haj). The cost for the slow ferry is US$25. A car in either direction costs an extra US$110.

Tickets for either service can be paid for in Jordanian dinars or US dollars. It's not possible to buy return tickets. Beware of buying ferry tickets in Amman because you may be charged extra for nonexistent first class seats - buy the tickets in Aqaba.....

If you are traveling from Egypt you will arrive too late for public transport to Petra or Wadi Rum so you will have to stay overnight in Aqaba or arrange for a taxi.

One thing to consider, if you don't mind an Israeli border stamp, is that it's quicker and cheaper to travel overland via Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Take a taxi from Taba to the border then another taxi on to the Arava border crossing with Jordan (or go by bus changing at the Eilat bus station); the whole thing takes about an hour. Going to Egypt bear in mind that you can't get a full Egyptian visa at the border with Israel and the Palestinian Territories at Taba, only a Sinai peninsula visa, so get one in Aqaba or Amman before you go."

7. Susan : I think we can take away a couple of relevant points from this discussion.

1) Everyone has had a different experience getting into the country, and while the majority of people have had hassles either at Ben Gurion or any of the border crossings, speculating on how or why they decide to discriminate is not getting us anywhere. They may hold you up based on the nationality of your passport, the stamps in your passport, your ethnicity, your name, presumed religion, male, female, whatever. I think it depends largely on the personalities of the border guards, their mood, how bored they are, their need for a power trip, individual reactions to the harassment... what have you.

2) While they may delay you for having a stamp from a particular country in your passport, it is unlikely that they will actually deny you entry.

I have personally flown into Ben Gurion on several occasions with stamps from many countries which would not accept an Israeli stamp, namely Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Kuwait. Although they personally walked me over to the "terrorist corner" as I like to call it, took my passport away (and presumably copied every page in it), and interrogated me, they eventually let me in every time.

I have never crossed into Israel at a border crossing, but based on the tales of many here, from many friends who have lived/worked there, and my personal experience in Ben Gurion, it seems that entry at Ben Gurion, while hardly a pleasant experience, is somewhat less of a hassle. On the other hand, flying out of Ben Gurion can be almost more harrowing, especially on El Al which has the most stringent security procedures of any airline I've ever flown (I do not recommend the direct flight from JFK to Ben Gurion, for example...).

The bottom line is that it can be time-consuming to get into the country, but it is really hard to generalize the reasons, and no matter what precautions you take to minimize the headache, there will be some. If you absolutely must travel there (for work or other reasons), I recommend flying in to minimize delays, and ensure that you will not get the stamp (I'm told that the "looking you directly in the eye while stamping your passport" phenomenon happens mainly at border crossings).

Although easier said than done, myself included, anticipate the delays, try to remain calm so as not to irritate them more, and take a good book...

8. Gabi : In Taba heights they organise 1 day trip to petra for their non-egyptian guests. The other side hotel (tala bay in Jordan) is owned by the same company, and there is a border crossing marine port there. (it is 24 km south to Taba and Israili borders).

you can contact them

Basic intro to Pharaonic Egypt

My sister & I were writing this article for a bunch of young students who have no idea about Pharaonic Egypt.

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in North Africa that includes the Sinai Peninsula, a land bridge to Asia. Egypt borders Libya to the west, Sudan to the south and the Gaza Strip and Israel to the east. The Northern coast borders the Mediterranean Sea; the Eastern coast borders the Red Sea.

Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization and some of the world's most famous monuments, including the Giza pyramid complex and its Great Sphinx.

Life in Ancient Egypt

Daily life in ancient Egypt revolved around the Nile and the fertile land along its banks. The yearly flooding of the Nile enriched the soil and brought good harvests.

The people of ancient Egypt built mud brick homes in villages and in the country. They grew some of their own food and traded in the villages for the food and goods they could not produce.

Most ancient Egyptians worked as field hands, farmers, craftsmen and scribes. A small group of people were nobles. Together, these different groups of people made up the population of ancient Egypt.


The most powerful person in ancient Egypt was the pharaoh. The pharaoh was the political and religious leader of the Egyptian people, holding the titles: 'Lord of the Two Lands' and 'High Priest of Every Temple'.

As 'Lord of the Two Lands' the pharaoh was the ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt. He owned all of the land, made laws, collected taxes, and defended Egypt against foreigners.

As 'High Priest of Every Temple', the pharaoh represented the gods on Earth. He performed rituals and built temples to honor the gods.

Many pharaohs went to war when their land was threatened or when they wanted to control foreign lands. If the pharaoh won the battle, the conquered people had to recognize the Egyptian pharaoh as their ruler and offer him the finest and most valuable goods from their land.


The ancient Egyptians built pyramids as tombs for the pharaohs and their queens. The pharaohs were buried in pyramids of many different shapes and sizes from before the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Middle Kingdom.

There are about eighty pyramids known today from ancient Egypt. The three largest and best-preserved of these were built at Giza at the beginning of the Old Kingdom. The most well-known of these pyramids was built for the pharaoh Khufu. It is known as the 'Great Pyramid'.

Historic development of Pyramids

Tombs of early Egyptian kings were flat mounds called mastabas. Around 2780 B.C., King Djoser's architect, Imhotep, built the first pyramid by placing six mastabas, each smaller than the one beneath, in a stack to form a pyramid rising in steps. (The step pyramid at Sakkara) It was designed to serve as a gigantic stairway by which the soul of the deceased pharaoh could ascend to the heavens. Like later pyramids, it contains various rooms and passages, including the burial chamber of the king.

The transition from the Step Pyramid to a true, smooth-sided pyramid took place during the reign of King Snefru, founder of the Fourth Dynasty. At Medum, a step pyramid was built, then filled in with stone, and covered with a limestone casing.

The largest and most famous of all the pyramids, the Great Pyramid at Giza, was built by Snefru's son, Khufu, known also as Cheops, the later Greek form of his name.

Also located at Giza is the famous Sphinx, a massive statue of a lion with a human head(possibly that of the Pharaoh Khefrem himself whose pyramid it stands in front of). Pyramids did not stand alone but were part of a group of buildings which included temples, chapels, other tombs of nobles and massive walls.


The earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert. The heat and dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, creating lifelike and natural ‘mummies'.

Later, the ancient Egyptians began burying their dead in coffins to protect them from wild animals in the desert. However, they realized that bodies placed in coffins decayed when they were not exposed to the hot, dry sand of the desert.

Over many centuries, the ancient Egyptians developed a method of preserving bodies so they would remain lifelike. The process included embalming the bodies and wrapping them in strips of linen. Today we call this process mummification

The level of mummification depended on what one could afford. The most fully developed form involved four basic steps:

1. All of the internal organs, except the heart, were removed. Since the organs were the first parts of the body to decompose but were necessary in the afterlife, they were mummified and put in canopic jars that were placed in the tomb at the time of burial. The heart was believed to be the seat of intelligence and emotion and was therefore left in the body. The brain, on the other hand, was regarded as having no significant value and beginning in the New Kingdom, was removed through the nose and discarded.

2. The body was packed and covered with spices and natron-a salty drying agent- and left to dry out for forty to fifty days. By this time all the body's liquid had been absorbed and only the hair, skin, and bones were left.

3. The body cavity was stuffed with resin, sawdust, or linen and shaped to restore the deceased's form and features.

4. The body was then tightly wrapped in many layers of linen with numerous good luck charms or amulets wrapped between the layers. The most important amulet was the scarab beetle which was placed over the heart. Jewelry was also placed among the bandages. At each stage of wrapping, a priest recited spells and prayers. This whole procedure could take as long as fifteen days. After the wrapping was complete, the body was put into a shroud. The entire mummification process took about seventy days.

Once preserved, the mummies were laid to rest in a sarcophagus (coffin) inside a tomb, where it was believed that the mummy would rest eternally.


The ancient Egyptians believed that temples were the homes of the gods and goddesses. Every temple was dedicated to a God or Goddess and he or she was worshipped there by the temple priests and the pharaoh.

The large temple buildings were made of stone so that they would last forever. Their walls were covered with scenes that were carved onto the stone then brightly painted. These scenes showed the pharaoh fighting in battles and performing rituals with the Gods and Goddesses.

There were two main categories: the cult temple, dedicated to the worship of one or more deities and the funerary temple, in which rituals were celebrated to ensure the well-being in the afterlife of a dead king.

Gods and Goddesses

The ancient Egyptians believed in many different Gods and Goddesses. Each one with their own role to play in maintaining peace and harmony across the land

Some Gods and Goddesses took part in creation, some brought the flood every year, some offered protection, and some took care of people after they died. Others were either local gods who represented towns, or minor gods who represented plants or animals.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Upcoming Easter Services

St Josephs Roman Catholic Church has an Easter vigil and mass today evening at 8:00pm. It will be in English and French.
They have an English mass tomorrow at 6pm.
The church is located in Zamalek on Ahmed Sabin Stret.

I haven't been to this church before, so I can't give better directions.

There is a Roman Catholic church in Maadi too but I don't have their Easter Service details.

All Saints Cathedral in Zamalek (they are just behind the Marriott - the last rt turn on 26th July street, just before hitting the Marriott) is Episcopal. Very good English preachers for the last 2 years that I have been here. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services were extremely good and meaningful.

Their service tomorrow is at 10:30am

More details about churches in Cairo are at

Cairo Celebrates holi

Written by my friend Anju and pictures by her husband Anil (we were too scared to take our cameras) :)

Marking the beginning of a warm spring, the Indian community in Cairo celebrated the festival of colors on an exceptionally merry note, on Friday 21st March. Colors, music and spirits.. created enough mayhem to attract quite a crowd to the venue, by the Nile. In spite of the long weekend coinciding with a public holiday, the Chancery gardens in Zamalek, saw quite a bit of action.

Stomping to a Himesh Reshamiya was a young and not-so-young crowd, drenched in colored water. Chasing one another with splashes of color were the youngest of the lot. There may have been no ‘tandaai’ to pep up the spirit of the festivity but going by the crowds that sang along to the “rang barase..” track from Silsila, there was no reason for tandaai. A few Egyptians attempted to shake a leg or two, but finally gave up in pursuit of the food counter.

As the afternoon wore on things had gotten so warmed up, people resorted to dousing each other with bottles of cold water. Might not be such a bad idea to offer ‘chaas’ and ‘lassi’ on the drinks menu. Hot parathas and biriyani stalls courtesy Kaval’s Masala proved a great attraction for the visitors, both Indians and other expats. A very green looking couple was spotted under the tree relishing the juicy jalebis.

“What kind of a festival gets people to drink from mid morning ..?” one very bewildered Egyptian was heard enquiring. Casualties were reported later, when one of the revelers with purple face and pink hair, while taking the stairs to his flat startled a woman causing a security alert. Another bunch of Jamaicans heard of the party and turned up at the gates at 11 pm, instead of 11 am !

As the party wound to late afternoon, Harish, selling the entry tickets was beaming with success, “we got more than 250 people in today.. !” Coming to think of it.. it was not the numbers that mattered. Every one had a blast, including one of the oldest members of the community Jan. Isnt that what Holi is all about.. ??

By Anjana Das

Photos by Anil Jayachandran

Sunday, March 16, 2008

History of Religion

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world's most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds?

History of the Middle East

Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans...the list goes on.

See this 90 second video for a quick but comprehensive overview of 5000 years of history.

Article on AUC's new Campus

Here's a link to the page:

New Campus, in New Cairo

Entrance to the AUC Press bookstore.

Out the window of the construction site office, “I’m actually looking directly out at the back of the playing field where we have our football field, as they call it, a soccer field, I call it (being from Canada), and the track that goes around it.... I can see the tennis court; I can see the back of our indoor facilities. I can’t see the pool but I know it’s right there beside it.”

Looking to the left, Paul Donoghue sees a cluster of academic buildings constructed around the new campus’s central spine, though his line of sight doesn’t extend all the way down to the 400 meter-long University Garden on the other end, all the plants but the date palms propagated and grown at the university’s Desert Development Center.

“It’s not just an issue of a quantitative difference in space, but also significantly a qualitative difference,” says Donoghue, vice president for planning and administration at American University in Cairo. The nearly 90-year-old institution is moving this fall from its historic, yet small and fragmented, location downtown to the new, $400 million, 260-acre campus on the city’s eastern outskirts in what’s called “New Cairo.”

Read the rest of the article at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Irish celebrations at the BCA's

The BCA at both Mohandaseen and Heliopolis are having a bit of a celebration in honor of St Patricks Day.

St. Patrick’s Night Celebration
Tuesday the 18th of March
(Great Irish Stew Guinness and much more)

Irish Live Band Night
Thursday the 20th of March
(Great Irish Stew Guinness and much, much more)

St Paddys Day @ the Rugby CLub

Salsa Verde
Latin music with an Irish twist - so come in your greens!
9:30pm - 2:30am 30le (members free)

Hosted by the Cairo Rugby Club

If you would like these event updates to reach you straight in your inbox, I run a group called whazzupcairo on yahoogroups & googlegroups at &

Its an email notification of all events in Cairo.

Sign up is free. You can post your own events too.

No spam (the group is moderated)

Events are only advertised once per occurence.

You can check the archives at &

If you would like to sign up, you can sign up at the site or by sending a blank mail to or

They are mirror groups. The members are different but the same messages are posted on both. But googlegroups archives attachments too, unlike yahoogroups. So its a better option if you plan to read messages on the web only.

If you like the concept, do get your friends to join up.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Controlled substances (medicines) in the UAE

Egypt - UAE is a 2.5 hour flight away, but so many of the substances and medicines that we easily bring into Egypt or take into other countries are not allowed in the UAE without proper prescriptions to accompany them.

There is no official list available on what these controlled substances are, but this website has made an attempt to list all the substances that they know of.

Its a really useful site to check before you make a trip to the UAE, because that harmless cold & flu medicine you got over the counter in Egypt or elsewhere could land you in a lot of trouble.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Irish Festival @ the Marriott - 13-20 March

Between March 13th & 20th, Marriott hotel in Zamalek is celebrating Irish Festival and St Patrick's day.

In Harry's Pub and the Promenade Cafe.

"Heartbeat" - 3 piece band from Ireland will be playing daily in Harry's Pub from 10:00pm to 2:30 am except on the 14th.

Irish Chef Kevin Garrigan will be dishing an a la Carte menu including rock oysters, Dublin Bay prawns, Irish smoked salmon, Irish beef, Irish Lamb, special seafood platters for one, two or four persons on the Promenade Cafe and specially imported Irish Beverages.

Egyptians hit by rising food prices

From BBC News

Butcher's stall in Cairo
Many families are having to cut back on meat

A crowd of people jostle each other as they wait for subsidised bread outside a small bakery on a narrow unpaved back street in Imbaba, a poor suburb of Cairo.

A worker comes to the counter with a tray of hot bread just out from the oven and starts handing out stacks of loaves of round, flat bread to the people at the front of the queue.

It is nine o'clock in the morning, and the queue is full of housewives and government employees who have signed in at their offices, then come to line up for cheap bread to take home to their families later in the day.

Read the rest of the article at BBC News

Saturday, March 08, 2008

CIB Womens Credit Card

Met with some representatives of CIB (Bank) who were marketing their Women's Special Credit Card.

One meeting was enough to show me how far the Egyptian Credit Card market has to grow. Credit Card acceptance is quite low in Egypt. Other than the top hotels & restaurants, the hypermarkets and airlines, there are very few outlets that accept payment via credit cards.

This is not a big problem, given that these are the only places where you spend in large amounts and don't want to be carrying all that, in cash.

But today's encounter with the CIB reps took the cake. As an expat wife, I obviously don't have a job in Egypt (expat resident wife visas don't permit you to work - with or without pay)

So the bank reps kindly informed me that to get a credit card with a credit limit of 10,000LE, I would have to pay them a deposit of 11,000LE. That's right - a deposit of 1000LE more than the "credit"they were willing to extend me! And I would still have to pay the bills at the end of the billing cycle.

They did advertise some discounts and some special invitations they would send out to cardholders.

But why would I want to tie up 11,000LE for the length of our stay in Egypt for probably credit card purchases of about 2000LE per month at a max.

Sorry maam, but the offer is of no interest to me at all!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Satyam launches new facility in Egypt

From The Economic Times

BANGALORE: Satyam Computer Services Ltd, the fourth-ranked software services exporter, said on Wednesday it had inaugurated a software development and support facility in Egypt to tap growing outsourcing business.

New York-listed Satyam, which specialises in business software and offers back-office services, said the centre would have 300 staff and serve customers in the Middle East, North Africa and European regions.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Online Education

Printed in This Month's CSA Magazine - OASIS visible online in plain text format at @

Online Education

By Karishma Pais (Kim)

Are you a trailing spouse? Have you followed your husband to Egypt because his job brought him here? Do you find you have a lot of time on your hands once your husband leaves to work, the driver takes the kids to school, the maid does the cleaning/cooking, and the gardener the gardening? Then maybe it’s the right time to get that degree you always wanted or research an area you have been interested in. Because lets face it, there’s no time like today, with the conveniences on an Expat life in Egypt, to get started in this direction.
The AUC has a School of Continuing Education (SCE) that allows you to take courses in subjects as diverse as Management and Education to English Language. The SCE provides certificate programs, non-credit term-length courses and variable-length customized courses to fulfill the continuing education needs of individuals and organizations in Egypt and the Middle East. Classes are held in the evenings twice or thrice a week in each 12 week term.
62.3% of the student population is male while 37.7% is female. 95.4% are Egyptians and 4.6% with other nationalities. The educational background of students is roughly split between secondary education (47.5%) and bachelor’s degrees (45.3%), with 7% of the population below secondary education level.
But if evening classroom sessions don’t fit into your schedule, you can always consider online education which is a type of distance learning.
Distance Education dates back to at least 1728 when an advertisement in the Boston Gazette advertised that Caleb Phillips- Teacher of the new method of Short Hand was seeking students for lessons to be sent weekly.
The University of London was the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its External Program in 1858.
Electronic learning or eLearning is a term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. The worldwide e-learning industry is estimated to be worth over 38 billion pounds according to conservative estimates. Developments in internet and multimedia technologies are the basic enablers of e-learning.
In 2006, nearly 3.5 million students participated in on-line learning at institutions of higher education in the United States. The Sloan report, based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their on-line classes as they are with traditional ones. According to the same report, about two-thirds of the largest institutions have fully online programs. Online education is rapidly increasing, and even online doctoral programs have been developed at leading research universities.
When choosing an Online Degree, what you need to watch out for is Accreditation, to ensure that the program provided by the institution meets acceptable levels of quality. In the area of online education, it is especially important to avoid diploma mills that offer fake degrees at a cost. If you are looking for a valid online degree, you should make sure you obtain proof of accreditation from a regional or national/specialized accrediting body. For example, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is recognized as the accrediting organization for online degrees in the USA.

How to get started:
Choose the area/topic that you are interested in studying/researching. (You could get a degree in almost anything: Archaeology, Art History, Alternative Medicine, a Teaching Degree, Law or even an MBA.)
Google for the website of the University/Institute you would like your degree from. You can start with this list if you like:

Then check if they offer a course to your liking.
If they do, sign up.
If they don’t, look for another institution or another course.
It’s truly that simple.

Costs vary across Universities and Courses depending on duration and topic. For instance UCLA offers a one week course in Writing for 125$ and a course on Principles of Accounting for 525$.

The good thing about online courses is that they are totally flexible.

  • You decide which time of the day you plan to catch up on your course work: early morning, when the baby is napping or after you get back from work. Anyone can take these courses at any time.
  • You don’t have to spend time or money on commuting to classes.
  • Your geographic location is not a constraint.
  • You set your own learning pace.

The potential drawbacks are that:

  • You need to be self motivated to complete your work on time. It’s very easy to slack off when you are setting your own pace.
  • There’s a lack of face to face interaction, everything is online in virtual classrooms. Auditory Learners may not be very comfortable with the visual medium of instruction.
  • You miss out on the social aspects of classroom training and traditional classes.
  • If your course requires practical sessions in laboratories, online learning is no substitute.

If after reading this article, you are considering online education, you can be assured that it will work well for you as long as you have reasonably good computer and internet skills and are self-motivated.

To get you started, here are some websites that will help guide you in the right direction with more specific information about courses.

Happy Learning!

Oasis Magazine, March 2008

Accident - Bloody Cairo Taxis !

Met with an accident today.

Was carefully opening my door at Kimo Market in Maadi where the driver had stopped to the side of the road. There was a car approaching in the opposite direction, I had enough margin to open the door without him bumping into me. There was a taxi behind us who had slowed down as we stopped, my friend was getting out from the door on the right and I was carefully opening the door behind the drivers seat.

Suddenly the idiotic traffic guy gets a burst of adrenaline, fancies himself as the next Bruce Willis in Die Hard 5 and decides to squeeze through at full speed. He banged into my door which I was carefully opening almost dislocating my shoulder with the force at which he hit it.

Fortunately with the grace of God, I suffered no more than a sore shoulder and broken fingernails from the impact. Can't say the same for the car though. Since he hit the door at the handle point where it was opening, the door isn't shutting completely although it can still be locked, but it has been bent out of shape, so it doesn't seal shut.

I'm just thanking God, that his rash behaviour happened a few seconds earlier, before I put my foot out of the door.

This is our first major accident in Cairo after more than a year and a half. We have had the regular bumps and scratches when the car has been left in parking but nothing as big as this. We are extremely careful passengers and we have a very safe and careful driver who has been with us for over a year. Unfortunately in Cairo, damage to you and your car is never in your control with all the other crazy drivers on the raod.

The taxi guys are quite a menace on the streets. Not all of them but most of them.

This particular taxi fiend just buzzed off with a noncommittal "maalesh" and little more than a scratch on his car ! (Nothing visible over all his pre-existing dents and scratches)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Art on Walls - A lovely workshop with SCIB

Was privileged to have been invited to a very interesting workshop with SCIB Paints - The Egyptian extension of Asian Paints in India.

Thanks to Mr. Kulkarni and his wife a few of us were offered the opportunity to have the secrets of wall painting demystified.

The Workshop trainer - Mrs Nafisa was really excellent and knew her subject very well. She has been a Consultant and Designer for the villas of the rich and famous of Egypt.

Normally this workshop has been conducted for painters in the business (of wall painting) in Arabic. This was her first experience of training in English to a bunch of women who had no technical knowledge of the process. For me at least, all I know about painting a wall - is looking at a palette of colours and deciding which colour and finish I want. The painter and the paint company then figure out all the technical details. In India, you leave the entire process of painting to the experts. Concept of paint your own walls does not exist yet.

I learnt so much at this workshop.

The basics are that you can use SCIB Paints on walls, wood or metal. All you have to do is prepare the base first, so that any of the paints can be used on any surface later on. How you prepare the base depends on the material (plaster/wood/ceramic/metal)

Preparation is key. Depending on the material the steps would include filling the gaps, smoothing rough edges, primers and sealcoats etc.

This workshop was not so much about the preparation of surfaces but on the many lovely effects one can get on these surfaces using different kinds of paints and techniques.

Paints can be either water based or oil based. Water based paints dry quickly and need to be worked on within 15 minutes. Oil paints take about a day to dry and can hence be worked on more slowly.

In the water based paints, SCIB offers a variety of suede, metallic, pearl and radiance finishes. The finishes are exactly as their name suggests. The metallic finishes are available in gold and copper and really look good when highlighting the walls.

Using regular paintbrushes, a trovel, a piece of cloth and common household sponges, we learnt at least 12 different techniques.

Now if we ladies can only convince our husbands and landlords/landladies to let us unleash our creativity on a couple of walls :)
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