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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Blogging Will be Paused

It is bright and early on a sunny Cairo Sunday morning and I am putting the blog on "pause."  We have guests from the Twin Cities for a  couple of weeks and we are leaving for southern Egypt this evening after a whirlwind tour of the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara today.

We then will be taking an overnight train to Luxor, then a Nile cruise to Aswan.

Many pictures are promised upon our return in about five days.

Fixing Stuff

It seems like there is always something that needs repair at the Cairo Condo.  The telephone service usually needs some work when we arrive.   That is important because we get our Internet service through a DSL connection on our local landline.

As has been the case in the past couple of years, we had no dial tone on the phone when we arrived even though we paid throughout the year to keep our line alive.
Somewhere between our condo and the Central Office, the line was out.

If you follow this blog regularly, you are familiar with what we know back home as the POP (Point-of-Presence) for our building.  You probably call it the "telephone box" on or near your home.

Now it is hard to believe that problems could arise in those wires - but it does happen.  Fortunately, we know someone who knows someone and were able to get a repair technician on the job in just a few days.  The connection is working fine now.

The Internet connection allows us some access to U.S. television via our Amazon Firestick.  For example, Linda can monitor the lives of Gracie and Frank and tonight we watched a back episode of Fargo.  We can also get the Channel 5 weather report  from Minneapolis and keep up to date on all winter storm warnings.  Assorted fires, mayhem and other disasters from the Twin Cities also come via Channel 5.  But, not all TV makes it this far.  The networks are pretty stingy with their licensing and most Internet television services just present us with this type of a message:
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 There are some interesting ways around this but you don't want to hear them described and I don't find them worth the bother.  We just accept the fact that I will miss the NFL playoffs and Superbowl and life goes on.

This year's other major maintenance project has been the doorbell.  It had ceased working near the end of last year's stay.  I had looked briefly for the doorbell transformer and hadn't found it.  Surprise!  Doorbells here run on 220 volts, run out to the switch and back to the bell.  If you ever need a hot circuit in Cairo, you can probably just go to your neighbor's doorbell and get some juice.

When I took the bell down, and dismembered it, I found that the plunger was stuck inside the solenoid coil.  Perhaps I could sand it down a bit and fix things?  I had it moving smoothly but broke off one of the coil wires trying to reassemble the unit.  We need a replacement - so we are off to the electrical store.

The trip to the store (I had the help of friend Roshdy) took us part way by taxi and then the remainder of the trip by Tuk-Tuk.

Of course, the taxi had to stop for gasoline - not having enough to make it around the corner and a half mile up the street.  This time we put in 80 octane - not the 92 octane that I showed you on a previous post.  It's only 6.50 EGP per liter versus the 7.75 we discussed in a previous post.  The driver took the opportunity to discuss the inferiority of his Chinese taxi versus his previous Peugeot or any other car he has ever owned.  Back in 2010, the government "encouraged" upgrades to the Cairo taxi fleet by refusing to renew licenses unless the cars were of a recent vintage.  A subsidy was supplied to help the owners.  Forced to upgrade in this fashion, most owner/drivers chose lower priced Chinese models.  Our driver explained that these now have maintenance problems.  Riding in taxis is always an informative experience.

We transferred over to a Tuk-Tuk for the run through the side streets to an electrical store.


We were in luck; a "high quality," proudly Egyptian, Ding Dong Doorbell was available for 60 pounds or just under $4.

I tested it and installed it on a temporary basis.  I need to fit a wall-colored plate between the doorbell and the electrical box to compensate for the slightly larger size of the previous bell.  I'll take a picture for the blog later when that is done.

Cats of the Cairo Condo - by Linda

It makes us so happy to see that the same cats as last year are still living and thriving in our building. The life of a cat in Egypt is tough and short. Those cats who choose our building are among the luckiest cats in the country; not only because of us. Other residents feed the cats during the nine months we’re not here. Granted they feed the cats human food scraps while we feed them actual cat food but the cats still look healthy.

Graycy, female and friendly but once again needs an open door for her safety.

Benny, a male, the shiest of the threesome. Last year before his gender was evident, we named him Penny for his penny-like coloring. When we realized he was a male we began to call him Benny. It fits better because there is no “p” in Arabic.

Stormy, female and the oldest in the group. Also the least shy. We're quite sure she's related to a cat from several years ago that we named "Bat Girl".  I think that you can see the reason.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Pictures from the Pyramids of Giza

"Back in the day," the whole area surrounding the pyramids was not fenced off as it is today.  Energetic young men were available to help tourists make the climb to the top of them.  This situation persisted into the late 1980s when the area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  With fencing in place, it will now cost you about $12 to gain admission - and there is no climbing allowed (legally, that is).

The boutique hotels (featured below) offer the tourist a way to enjoy the view and take pictures from a reasonable distance and angle without enduring the constant bombardment of souvenir hawkers and "expert guide" offers on the surrounding streets.  Breakfast or lunch at any of the hotel restaurants, usually found on the top floor, is rather calming after wading through the offers of street touts to get there.

This taxi driver was quite persistent at first but easily dismissed with the word, "after!"

We paused for a lemonade at the shiny new Pyramid Edge hotel where we took in the pyramids and surrounding area.

This was a cloudy morning.  Another advantage of these hotels is to allow the traveler a chance to photograph the pyramids during different lighting conditions.  Morning and evening lighting along with cloudy or sunny conditions cause interesting variations on the pyramids.

Our next stop offered the opportunity to ride an elevator to the top floor and breakfast area - the view when the elevator door is opened is quite spectacular.

Here the hotel manager, on the right, discusses the sphinx with Linda.

With only a modest zoom capability on the camera, a close-up of the sphinx is possible.

Another view displays the solar boat museum at the foot of the great pyramid.

Here two restaurant patrons are texting home their descriptions of the "selfies" they just took with the sphinx and pyramids.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Boutique Hotels Near the Pyramids

Now here's a room with a view.

And it is not expensive.  Rooms with a view in the immediate vicinity of the Pyramids are currently going for $55 to $90 per night.  Its the law of supply and demand and supply is winning right now.

There have long been a few small hotels near the pyramids but you can probably find close to fifty of them now.  Most of these are conversions of stately family homes in the "village" of Nazlet el Samman.

The younger generation who might inherit a very nice home in this area are not enthusiastic about living among the crush of tourists, camels and horses that wander the streets.  They would much prefer a home in a suburb like Six October with a two or three car garage and an easy commute to their job at Microsoft, Oracle, Vodafone or one of the large accounting firms in that end of the metropolitan area.  So the family homestead gets sold, divided and remodeled and a new boutique hotel is open for business.

One of the newest in the area is the Pyramid Edge.

It's located along the road that most tour buses use to exit the pyramids area near the sphinx and then head to their next stop.  For "people watching" you probably can't beat this location sitting on a balcony with the pyramids in the distance and all manner of pedestrians passing by.

I suppose it is called the Edge because it is on the far edge of the area that you would call pyramid hotels.

There are a great many hotels now just across the road from the entrance to the sphinx and the famous "Sound and Light Show."  Here are a few of them including not one but two "Cleopatras."
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It was still Christmas season as we passed through and Santa Claus was visible in many places including playing a saxophone in the lobby of this Hyat Hotel. We jokingly called him "saxy Santa".
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Some hotels have a very modern look while others try to preserve more of a 1940s style.

I love the clocks above the front desk in these two lobbies - they give sort of a "Casablanca" look to the scene.

Of course, you may wonder how it could be 9:55 in Cairo and 9:30 in New York - but a lot of things in Egypt should not be taken literally.

There are a variety of informational signs in the lobbies - almost always in English, the common language of travelers.
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Note the middle sign on the right side - just in case you were thinking of photographing the pyramids with your own drone launched from your balcony.

The breakfast areas of most of these hotels will be found on the roof top with a great view of the pyramids.

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The art on display in each of them can vary from ancient to modern.


You might even encounter a collection of television or movie stars since you are close to a couple of Egypt's major studios.  (Omar Sharif is at the top, you are on your own after that.)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Annual Gasoline Price Post - 2020

The price of gasoline continues to increase in Egypt, much to the frustration of the country's motorists.  Over the past year the price per liter has increased almost 15% from 6.75 EGP to 7.75 EGP.

Where does that leave us in terms you can relate to?  The citizens of Cairo now must pay $1.83 per gallon.  I suppose most readers just lost their sympathy.   But look at it from the local point of view; in the last six years, prices have soared from 1.85 to 7.75

We stopped in at a station on Thursday and the first thing I noticed was some shiny new pumps.

We are buying the 92 octane gasoline on the right side.  That is slightly cheaper diesel on the left.

Gasoline sale is a cash business here.  While other attendants wash your windshield and perhaps even fill the tank, the head attendant looks after payment.  He always has plenty of cash in hand.  Yes, that is a bundle of cash in his hand.
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This station is government owned but has the same prices as the Total, Mobil and other privately owned stations.  Some motorists prefer to patronize a line of military operated stations expecting higher quality of fuel but at the same government mandated price.

Here is a table of previous prices showing both the nominal price per liter on the pumps and the equivalent in US prices per gallon at that time.

Year per liter per gallon
2007 1.50 1.04
2011 1.42 0.93
2013 1.85 1.04
2014 1.85 1.01
2016 2.60 1.26
2017 3.50 0.74
2018 5.00 1.11
2019 6.75 1.46
2020 7.75 1.83

Since the Egyptian Pound has strengthened against the dollar over the past year - it now only takes 16 pounds to buy a dollar versus 17.5 a year ago - your humble tourist author has actually seen a 25% increase in price.

ATTENTION, NEW READERS.  If you check the bottom of this post, you will see a line marked "Labels:" - This post has two labels, Egypt and Gasoline Prices. Click on either of those and you will be taken to all of this blog's posts with the same label.

Friday, January 10, 2020

What Do Groceries Cost?

I am sometimes asked what it costs to live in Egypt, and get to explain that it depends on what you buy.  Generally, any local products are a true bargain by U.S. standards.  Our first stop upon arrival was to purchase a few groceries for the next few days.

We stopped in at the local "supermarket," Ragab Sons, and found these potatoes selling for 8.45 Egyptian Pounds (EGP) per kilogram.  That translates to 24 cents per pound.
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For some reason, sometimes you get a lot of dirt with your potatoes.  Shrink wrapped with dirt. That is usually not the case for supermarket potatoes.  Sounds odd but we get excited over washed potatoes for sale when we find them.  But they clean up OK with a little effort.

Tomatoes were not so expensive.  They sell here for 5.95 EGP per kilo or 17 cents per pound.  That made this half dozen into a 20 cent purchase.

You can probably beat these prices at the vegetable or fruit markets on the streets.  Here you see oranges going for a remarkably low 3.50 EGP per kilo - 10 cents per pound.  Local bananas have increased quite a bit over the past two years and now are a pretty standard 10 EGP per kilo or 28 cents per pound..
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Prices for most things have been rising steadily over the past few years.  These delicious rolls from our favorite bakery used to cost 1.5 EGP but are now up to 3.  That is  19 cents apiece.  They weigh in at a full five ounces each and are one of Tom's favorite reasons to come to Cairo.

Yesterday we made a trip out to the Carrefour hypermarket in the Dandy Mall.
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This is a top-notch French market and they are celebrating their seventeenth anniversary operating in Egypt with several large stores in Cairo.  The anniversary sale is always quite a madhouse.  The big items on special this year are an array of large-screen televisions, mostly in the $400 - $700 range.  In this picture you will see five in three carts - there may be more!  It is hard to believe the number of shoppers that can move through these aisles.
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We both find it peculiar that televisions made in Korea and China and sold in Egypt are measured in inches.  There are no other inches to be found in this country!

Some imported "luxury" items can be quite expensive.  For instance, this tiny can of Fancy Feast turkey and giblets cat food goes for 21.75 EGP ($1.36) - that is equal to the price of 5 pounds of bananas.

I certainly hope that our cats appreciate the treats they get from us during the winter - the other nine months they pretty much live on scraps.

Chicken for people is quite reasonable.  Boneless cut pieces of chicken thighs come pre-packaged at two pounds for 81.95 EGP or $2.57 per pound.  You can certainly beat that price in the street markets but you probably don't want to hear what you have to do to the bird. We always purchase our chicken (or any other meat ) prepared to cook.

Linda combined the chicken, some mushrooms and a little magic to produce this main dish for dinner tonight in the cast iron skillet that Terry gave us as a Christmas gift a few years ago.  We frequently have unusual items in our checked bags, from Jalapeno peppers to skillets.  There are a few things that are hard to find here.