Abdeen Palace, Cairo

Having lived in Cairo for almost a year we’ve ‘done’ the main tourist sites, so when we went into the city for a staycation we were a little bit lost for ideas! Greg suggested we went to Abdeen Palace but I was a little hesitant, the reviews on Trip Advisor were mixed and we couldn’t find too much information online. However, as it was only a 10 minute taxi ride from our hotel we thought we’d give it a try. As most of you will know traffic in Cairo is crazy and this ride was no exception as we maneuvered down narrow side roads passing cats, school children, rubbish collection trucks, and scooters to the background of incessant honking and the call to prayer. The driver pointed at a huge wall and gestured to us that it was the museum. Greg and I looked at each other because it was right in the middle of a residential area and didn’t look palatial at all! Regardless, we paid our 100LE each entrance fee and an additional 10LE for a ticket permitting photography, and after a quick bag check, we wandered out into the prettiest, most tranquil gardens. Completely unexpected!

After a couple of minutes of being surprised by how pretty it was, a gentleman in a suit came up to us. He seemed so happy we were visiting and pointed out to us the museums and declared we’d be ‘fascinated’ by the artifacts. But, before heading inside, we walked around the gardens. With only the sounds of birdsong it reminded us of Marrakesh when you walk into the peace of the riad after the chaos of the Medina.

The grounds were really well cared for, the flowers smelt lovely and we watched several fat cats stalking the pigeons! At the far right hand corner there was a bandstand built in 1921 and from this elevated position we could see more of the gardens.

After about 30 minutes of enjoying the outdoor space we headed into the museum. The palace dates from the 1800’s and now houses 5 museums, the upper floor is still used for visiting dignitaries. There is a clearly marked route taking you through each area and despite the renovation work, we managed to access most of them. Here’s a brief summary of each museum (the names of these museums differ depending on the information source you are reading from!)

Arms Museum

We probably spent the longest time here. The exhibits showcase how weaponry has developed through the ages. There is a huge selection of daggers, swords, knives and guns. It was really interesting to see how technology has changed and led to advancements but at the same time seeing the commonality of basic designs. There was some weird and wonderful exhibits here and everything was labeled in English and Arabic.

Peace Museum

We then went into the section where each countries medals were displayed. Some of these date back centuries and others are more recent. It shows the relationship between Egypt and other nations.

Presidential Gifts Museum

This was weirdly wonderful; a collection totally dedicated to gifts that Egyptian presidents have received over the years! From a huge portrait of Sisi made purely from thumb tacs to copies of the Quran, solid gold sail boats, paintings and football shirts. Some of them were mildly amusing in a ‘what were they thinking?!’ kind of way but it was interesting to see what world leaders send each other!!

Silver Museum

The final stop for us was to the silverware museum, there’s a lot of silver in that room believe me!! From huge serving plates, cutlery and drinking sets the workmanship on these items was incredible.

On leaving the silverware museum we stepped outside into the gardens. There is a small gift shop and a cafe selling refreshments.

We spent about 2hrs in the museums and grounds and enjoyed ourselves. All of the rooms had wheelchair/ push-chair access and there was ice cold a/c in every room. I noticed when we were leaving there were also wheelchairs to loan and an area to store bags and push-chairs. So, if like us you’ve seen most of the main sights, or you have an interest in military history, I’d recommend you set aside a couple of hours for a visit here. At the moment the museum isn’t particularly interactive, it is much more a ‘traditional’ museum with most artifacts behind glass cases. It will be interesting to see how the renovation works progress and the future developments that are made.

* When we visited the Documents Museum was closed

* I advise you to check directly with the museum for their opening times as these aren’t 100% clear!

A beginners guide to using Uber in Cairo

The recent news that Uber had been ‘banned’ in Egypt was discussed at length in the media, especially in the women’s groups I belong to. The common theme was ‘How will I get around now? Local taxis just aren’t safe’, ‘This is going to put women at the mercy of unregulated local taxis’ and ‘This is not going to help tourism!’. I feel privileged that I drive in Cairo; yes the roads are crazy but I’m too stubborn to relinquish my independence. However, for lots of people in Cairo, Uber is a fundamental part of their lives – it’s how they get to work, go shopping, meet up with friends and feel safe doing so. Luckily it doesn’t seem that the ban is imminent. It will go to through further judicial proceedings and it will be a drawn out process so, for the time being,  it continues to operate as normal and that’s a huge relief for people who rely on the service for a safe taxi ride. It is also important for tourists to know they can get an Uber rather than rely on less regulated services.

Official Uber Statement

However, in saying that I woke this morning to a series of tweets about a lady in Cairo who had been sexually harassed by an Uber Driver. Uber Egypt replied swiftly and have asked for further details but unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people having unpleasant experiences with Uber. I was going to say ‘I’ve been lucky’ that it hasn’t happened to me, but I think that’s the wrong phrase. Luck shouldn’t come into feeling safe or not being sexually harassed. The main issues we’ve had with Uber have been;

  • The driver who decided to reverse for several hundred meters down Suez Road because he missed the turn.
  • The driver who, after many near misses and almost driving over a roundabout, pulled over and after a few minutes of searching pulled out his glasses.
  • The driver who drove the wrong way down a dual carriage way because ‘it was better’!

So, in the light of this news, the reports from customers and my own experiences I thought I’d write a quick guide to ensure a safer Uber ride, whether you’re a visitor to Cairo or a resident.

Check the drivers rating– when I order my Uber I usually check the drivers rating. For me, if anyone with a rating less than a 4 accepts my fare I cancel because it suggests to me there’s been issues previously.

I don’t set my location precisely where I live – the pin for my pick up location isn’t directly outside my house. For my security I drop it close by, but nobody picking me up would be able to tell which house I came from.

Check the driver matches the photo on the app – if I’m getting in by myself I always check that the Driver is the person shown on the app. Once Greg and I got into a car that we assumed was our Uber. It was only after he’d driven for a few minutes and asked where we were going we realized we’d been complacent and got into a random car and we quickly got out!!

Check the driver is using the app – it sounds obvious but a lot of drivers don’t like using the app because it uses data. Quite often they’ll turn the app off and ask for directions. If it’s somewhere I know I usually don’t mind and I’ll direct them, but if it’s not a place your familiar with insist they use the app. If they refuse, get out!.

Check the condition of the car – Cairo traffic is notorious and so too is the quality of driving and the condition of the cars. I have had many online conversations with Uber when cars have arrived with no working seatbelts. This is something for your judgement but we tend not to get in a car without working seatbelts especially if it’s a trip using a main road. If you report this to Uber you will be refunded. I asked Uber if cars have to be fitted with seatbelts in Egypt but they wouldn’t give me a definitive answer simply saying that cars have to ‘comply with local laws’.

Continue to use your own GPS – if I am going somewhere unfamiliar I always have Google Maps on ( it works offline too) so I can track where I am.

Learn and use basic Arabic– a few key words will definitely help with navigation. I don’t speak very much Arabic but when I Uber I do! Ones to know shimal (left), ya – meen (right), ala tul (straight), hena (here), shukran (thanks), ma salama ( goodbye). It’s also good to learn Arabic numbers so you can recognize car number plates.

Think about your conversation – again this is personal, you may be a naturally chatty person but sometimes this friendliness can be misinterpreted. If you don’t want to talk a quick ‘hi’ and then putting in headphones is usually works. However, I’ve had lovely drivers who want to chat and develop their English skills! A lot of drivers have Uber as a second job and many of them are genuinely interested in your Cairo experience.

Have the right change– if you’re paying cash make sure you have money similar to the quote you were given before booking the ride. It saves the hassle of not having change. I know some people don’t like to tip but if a driver has driven well, looks after his car and is professional I always tip, not a huge amount just a gesture. For example is a fare is 85LE I’ll give 100LE or if there’s 4 people and it’s 25LE give 40LE. If you pay by card have small tip 5/10LE ready for a short ride and 20LE + for a longer drive.

Be dropped off away from your home – similarly to when I get picked up I’ll get dropped off close to where I live but not directly at the door.

Check your receipt – once, after a ride, the receipt was more than I’d expected. I looked at the timings and the ride had not been ended until 10 minutes after I’d actually been dropped off! I have no idea how this happened but I was refunded. Always check and only pay what is shown on the green screen. Tolls are included in the fare, you do not need to pay extra.

Don’t answer your phone – this may or may not be a coincidence but the nuisance calls I’ve had have often been after I’ve Ubered. My advice would be to answer and if the person constantly says ‘hello’ keep the call going but don’t respond. This costs the caller and they soon get sick of it. The longest I’ve had someone shout ‘hello’ down the phone for was 12 minutes. I just left the phone on whilst I gave a running commentary of the bechamel sauce I was making for dinner. They never called back………

Rate well – if a driver has been good rate them well. If they’ve been awful rate them badly. Eventually over time the good drivers will prevail ( I hope).

Report any issues with Uber – in my experience Uber is very good and responding to complaints and questions. You can do this via their website, app or using social media.

Uber complains form

This is by no means an exhaustive list and most of it is common sense,  if you have more to add please let me know. Personally I don’t think twice about using Uber  and I would always use Uber rather than a ‘normal taxi’ but there are so many scare stories and misinformation online I thought this practical advice might be useful. The vast majority of Uber drivers are kind, honest, hardworking people simply earning a living getting you to your destination safely. Please remember to report any incidents that do happen to Uber – by doing this you’re ensuring the safety of other customers.

Thanks for reading!

Why I think you should visit Alexandria 

Greg and I have quickly come to the conclusion that there’s so much to do and see in Egypt we probably won’t always travel overseas during our holidays. I have already added Sahel, Sharm, El Gouna, Hurghada, Luxor and Aswan to our ‘must visit’ list! However, we decided to spend October half term in Alexandria, a city neither of us knew much about other than that it’s on the North Coast and its famous for the light house which was one of the Wonders of the Ancient World. We chose the Four Seasons at San Stefano mainly due to its location and facilities plus the fact we’ve never stayed in a Four Seasons property before (I will write a separate review of the hotel in a future post but I can’t recommend it highly enough, it was just lovely).

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Four Seasons Alexandria

 

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Pool, Four Seasons Alexandria

History 

The city dates back to about 300BC and for history buffs it offers so much. To get the most out of our visit, and because we don’t know a huge amount about Egyptian history, we booked a guided tour of the main sights. I’d recommend this as a good introduction not only to Alexandria, but to Egypt as a whole because it was so informative. Our first stop was to the Catacombs which were discovered accidentally when a donkey fell down a hole exposing an underground burial chamber! Photography is not allowed so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s an incredible venture into the ancient practices of mummifying bodies and burial chambers.

Catacombs Alexandria
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99 steps leading underground

​We also drove past Pompey’s Pillar and through the old town which, rumor has it, was built on top of Alexander’s tomb.

Pompey’s Pillar

Many people are surprised that there is a large Christian community in Alexandria and our next stop was to St Marks, the oldest church in Africa. This religious complex is also home to the Pope of the Orthodox Church and it was a lovely oasis of quiet in the middle of the city.

St Mark’s, Alexandria

Our final stop was to the Roman amphitheater, again only discovered accidentally in the last 50 years when foundations were being laid for a new housing development. The site has lots of artifacts from the sunken city in Alexandria harbor, as well as an amphitheater. What is fascinating about this historical site is that it is actively being excavated and it’s obvious there is a lot more to discover.

Roman amphitheatre, Alexandria

Independently over the course of our stay we visited Biblioteca Alexandria which is a hugely impressive building inside and out. We also took a short trip to Qaitbay fortification which was built on the old foundations of the lighthouse and has magnificent views across the city and coastline.

Bibliotheca Alexandria

 

Fort Qaitby

Sea air 

Coming to Alexandria from Cairo it was so nice to breath in the sea air and smell the saltiness after a day out and about. Our hotel had a private beach and fabulous views across the beautiful blues of the Mediterranean Sea. It was lovely to sit and have lunch watching fishermen going about their daily business as well as people enjoying the beach.

Alexandria coast line
Alexandria corniche

Food

One of the things I was most looking forward to, and what everyone told us to do, was to eat the seafood here. Our most notable meal was at the Blue and White restaurant on the second floor of the Greek Club near Citadel. We sat outside on the terrace overlooking the harbor and it was stunning. The restaurant is renowned for its fresh fish cooked to order and we thoroughly enjoyed the red snapper simply grilled with lemon, herbs and oil. Although we found the service indifferent the food was very good and it’s a place we’d go back to.

The Greek Club, Alexandria

People 

The one thing I can hand on heart say about Egypt is that the Egyptian people are the nicest I’ve ever met and Alexandria was no exception. From the staff in the hotel who took time to chat to us about our day to our guides Mohamed and Omar who answered our (thousands) of questions about Egypt. We also met a lovely Uber Driver who told us that he used to be an engineer but as there’s is no work for him he now uses his car for a livelihood and, despite his circumstances, invited Greg and I for dinner with his family. Sometimes Egypt has a reputation for scams and hard sells but we didn’t experience this. Alexandria is also a university city and it was nice to see groups of students sitting reading and socialising along the corniche and in the parks, it gives the place a young vibe.


You can probably tell from this post that we both enjoyed our time in Alexandria and would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy history, good food and being at the seaside! Have you been?

Tips:

We hired a Driver from New Cairo to Alexandria, it cost 1700LE for a return trip which took about 3 hours eat way. If you’re close to the train station I know it’s significantly cheaper, perhaps 140LE return per person – I think the train takes a couple of hours.

As already mentioned, we stayed at the Four Seasons which was wonderful,although it is one of the more expensive options. If you’re looking for a bit of luxury I definitely recommend you stay there.

We booked our guided trip with Ramasside Tours who were very good at tailor making a trip to suit our requirements.

If you chose to have dinner at the Greek Club booking is recommended especially if you want a table with a view.

Keep in mind when planning your days out that the traffic, especially along the corniche, can get gridlocked. For example it took us almost 45 minutes to get from Qaitbay to our hotel so try to pick quieter times for longer journeys.