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Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion... Points of Note

This time around, we chose to take our vacation to Egypt. 10 days of fun in the sun, or baking in the oven whichever way you look at it. 10 days of taking in views of monuments that have made it past thousands of years worth of hardships.

I'll be updating the blog regularly (once every 3 days or so) with descriptions of each day (and what I saw there) of my trip. They'll be more like travel notes than fully formed paragraphs I suppose, since I'm a bit short on time. Before that, a few points you should note:

  • Greet people with As-Salāmu `Alaykum (just say "Salam aleikum'), i.e. Peace be upon you. Even if you want to ask the receptionist to send someone to get the luggage from your room, say the aforementioned line or ask how he/she is and then proceed with your request or question. Helps a lot.
  • Egypt's currency is the Egyptian Pound. Smaller units are Piastres. Sadly for ye who are from India, 1 Egyptian Pound = 8.xx rupees. Yup, even Egypt costs you a lot.
  • Despite all the advice I'd read on the net about touts being a constant bother, just say 'No thank you' "La Shukran" (that's pronounced Shook-Run) a few times while you keep walking away and they'll leave you alone without you having to put the cops on them.
  • The police are always around. Plainclothes, with a handgun. Uniformed ones in white or cream with AK-47's (yes, police with AKs, not sticks).
  • Friday's a holiday here for prayers, but some places might be closed on that day. Plan accordingly.
  • Drivers say Cairo is the worst place to drive. They apparently are yet to drive in an Indian metro like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai or Kolkatta. Drive in an Indian city and you can tolerate driving in any place in the world.
  • Cairo taxi drivers may be quite insistent. They'll keep lining up offering you a ride. Saying no again and again is made a little difficult because of the language barrier (unless you're fluent in Arabic).
  • There are lots of cats around. Not too many dogs, but plenty of the feline kind.
  • Everyone has plenty of makeup, and hair gel for guys. Even little kids seem to sport a perfect haircut and quite a bit of makeup.
  • Many Amitabh Bachchan fans, they put him on a pedestal above their own stars, but not too many know Shah Rukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai. We did meet a guard who just loved Amir Khan's movies though.
  • No Swensen's here, that's one thing I noticed. No big ice cream shops. Only smaller eateries and big bakeries have ice creams. And most often they're the packaged kind (Nestle).
  • 10am to 4/5pm is the only time when most attractions are open. Sightseeing places close beyond 4pm (eg. Saqqarah) and 5pm (eg. pyramids of Giza)
  • In case you're a student (doesn't really matter what you're studying, could be fashion, could be could be medicine, could be meteorology), bring your university ID card or school ID. Quite a few sightseeing spots offer tickets at half price if you can prove that you're a student.
  • Quote Amitabh Bachchan to shopkeepers and tell them you live two blocks away from him ;) , everyone likes him, and you may end up getting a discount. This of course, is because they jack up prices by a few pounds when they see that you're a foreigner.
  • If you're vegetarian, you're gonna find it very difficult. Most eateries (even five star restaurants) will use animal fat to cook the rice. It'll have that characteristic sticky rice feel to it.
  • Folks drive on the right side of the road here, not the left.
  • During summer, the temperature is very high, but the humidity's low, so you won't feel like you're sweating. But it tires you a lot.


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