Journal: Sunday 24 September 2000
September. Jenny and I are once more in Egypt, this time flying into Cairo airport instead of Luxor, my usual destination. On my first visit to Cairo in 1995 I had hated the bustling monster of Cairo city with its teeming population and ochre-coloured smog hanging over the buildings. It took me three days to get used to it, but after a week of peaceful tranquillity cruising on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan, Cairo just couldn’t compete, it was too much of a culture shock. Since then I have based myself in Upper Egypt, sometimes travelling as far north as Abydos and as far south as Aswan, but almost always staying either on the East or the West Bank at Luxor. The town has become like a second home for me and I have been comfortable in the knowledge that I know many people there and can find my way around easily.
Jenny wanted to see the Pyramids and I agreed that we should give Cairo another chance. Maybe I will get to like the city if I know it better. There are so many wonderful things to see, not to mention the Egyptian Museum, so we decided to spend a week here and afterwards travel by train to Luxor, flying back home from there in three weeks time.
Our flight landed at 9.00pm and after the scurry for visas, passport control and baggage, we eventually found a taxi to take us into the city. The airport is quite a long way out of Cairo towards Heliopolis, a journey by road of about 45 minutes, so it was quite late when we arrived at the hotel. I had telephoned the Ciao Hotel from England and made reservations for us on the recommendation of my friend Sam, who stays here when she is in Cairo. The main attraction of the Ciao is that it is just across the road from Rameses Station, from where we will get a train to Luxor.
It was unfortunate that when we arrived the reception staff had no booking for us – the manager who I had spoken to had forgotten to write it down! Hey, this is Egypt, what else should I expect but the unexpected. The hotel was full and the only room available was a suite, which we were given for the same price as a double room, so it all turned out in our favour. The Ciao is an Egyptian-owned hotel and fairly basic, but our suite on the top floor is spacious and clean and we have everything we need for LE35 each a night (£3.50). By midnight we were settling into our room when there was a knock on the door and we were asked if we would join the manager in the rooftop restaurant for a welcome drink.
From the roof, Cairo was laid out before us and just over the road, the railway station and dozens of tracks containing lines of train carriages. Beyond this, there were cars, cars and more cars in an endless stream along Sharia Rameses (Ramsis), a multi-lane raised road that crosses the city. The manager, Mohammed and his assistant, Mustapha, could not have been more welcoming if we were English royalty. They tried to ply us both with food and drinks (that we really didn’t want) and were very apologetic about the booking mix-up. I think it is probably the fact that Sam has stayed here many times that has something to do with the welcome we were given. Sometime in the small hours we were allowed to go to bed, though the restaurant was still quite full. The saying is true then, Cairo never sleeps!