Biking in Egypt
We didn't; we won't ever; and I wouldn't recommend it.
I am sure some have and undoubtedly there is helpful information to support cyclotourists, but it would be an unusually difficult journey. Even in March in the cooler north it was very hot some afternoons and the wind was often fierce. Presumably it was the sandblasting from the sometimes gritty desert winds that had some Egyptians permanently covering their 'beater-bike' frames with plastic wrap and paper. They never see the paint it was protecting, but at least the paint was still there. And the distances between settlements to find food and water can be dauntingly long in Egypt for bike travel.
The strong opinions of the police about where, how, and when
you can travel would add an aggravation to touring that we've never contended
with. Camping is only officially allowed at a half dozen places in the country
and the police can stop or reroute your journey at any time.
In some areas in the south, only 4 tourists are allowed on intercity buses at a time and tourists aren't allowed on the smaller service buses at all between those cities. In the same region, tourists are restricted to a few specific trains each day and those traveling by auto must go in organized convoys. Given these kinds of restrictions for using regular modes of transportation, I can imagine that the police might bar your travel by bike entirely in some areas.
In April of 2009 while in Montenegro we spoke with a hardy solo Dutch cyclist who was returning from a year-long trip that had included biking along the Nile. His summary was: "It was OK; he wouldn't recommend it; he wouldn't do it again." He estimated that 250km of the 900km leg of his trip that was in Egypt was made not on his bike but in the back of a police van. They would not allow him to bike long stretches and so piled him and his loaded bike into their vehicle.
Before You Arrive
Hepatitis A Vaccination
We both were vaccinated for Hepatitis A & B before we began traveling 5 years ago and being in Egypt was the first time we were really grateful for that precautionary step. Egypt was the most disturbing country we'd traveled in from a public health stand point and its where we felt we had the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill as tourists.
Food handling practices reflected little understanding of disease transmission and all of the food we saw was handled a lot. Hands were often used for transferring blobs of soft cheeses or pickled produce and there was no sign of hand washing facilities for the street vendors preparing snacks or packaging food. Communal cups and passing the water bottle or cup of tea was a common practice. Bellmen at hotels put room keys in their mouth when their hands were full and people on the street put paper money in their mouths for the same reason.
We sadly didn't eat any food from the street vendors, especially the freshly squeezed juices touted by our guidebook. There was no reason to believe the fruit was washed before squeezing or that the glasses or preparer's hands were washed either. The one thing that did look safe to eat but wasn't available when we were hungry were the sweet potatoes roasted on the carts of roaming vendors. The potato skin provided a good barrier against what ever was on the vendors hands and the knife he used to cut the potatoes while they were steaming hot was likely kept pretty clean by the high temperatures involved. The only refrigerated items we saw were fizzy drinks.
Ironically it was the fruit and vegetable vendors that burned
incense in their displays, presumably to keep the flies away but the flies
freely roamed on the bread for sale. We always washed our produce but had no
similar recourse with the bread except to try to buy it directly from the
Having a Hepatitis A vaccination should prevent picking up this easily acquired disease from sloppy food handling practices. In the developed world, Hepatitis B is harder to get and is usually acquired from dirty needles or blood transfusions. But in countries where the public health standards are lower and more people are ill with serious diseases, even a disease like Hepatitis B can be acquired in a greater number of ways.
TB Skin Test
Consider getting a PPD skin test for TB before you travel and again 8-12 weeks after you return home. TB is common in Egypt and the skin tests are a cheap and easy way of monitoring your exposure to this sometimes very difficult to treat disease.
If you hope to eat fresh produce in Egypt, bring a small bottle of detergent or vegetable wash with you and a rubber disk designed for use as a drain plug. We found it that it generally took 3 wash/rinse cycles with detergent before visible dirt was no longer spotted in the wash basin when washing any produce. Oranges were usually caked with dirt, so much so that the peeled fruit would get visibly dirty from our hands if we didn't first thoroughly wash the rind.
Had we been more pristine, we would have given the produce a final rinse with bottled water but we did not. We used the tap water and shook off the excess before eating the produce.
We used our pocket knife to scrap the skins of carrots as we just weren't confident we were getting them clean enough to eat raw, though we normally don't peel carrots.
Arabic is overwhelming and we didn't even try to learn the language, except for recognizing the numbers. Take a few minutes to learn to recognize 0-9 from your guide book or other source before you arrive. The "1" and the "9" are recognizable but the number that looks like a "7" is really "6." Five looks like our zero and their zero looks like a dot. So,"1900" will roughly look like "19..".
Learning the numbers will be a huge help at the train station, when locating a bus, and for deciphering posted prices at the food market. And if you don't learn the numbers before you arrive, check out the number pad on one of the pay telephones on the street that are often bilingual.
Protecting Your Belongings
Bring a small padlock to lock valuables in your luggage, even if it is soft-sided. Lonely Planet advised that readers have been reporting thefts from hotel rooms and hotel safes. We stashed away most of our belongings in our 1 suitcase each morning if we weren't checking out and especially our laptop and other electronics. As a screen we carefully left out items that made our possessions look boring, like our plastic cup, toothpaste, flip flops, food and books. We are always meticulous about not leaving out attractive-nuisance items like folding scissors, high quality nail clippers and our tiny flashlights. We hoped that having uninteresting items left out in the room would make our luggage not worth the risk of violating. We had no trouble with theft during our stay.
If you will use public buses and service taxis
between the oases or cities, consider bringing a sturdy suitcase or pack but not
one that is dear to your heart. We had booked a seat on a large intercity bus
but it broke down and we were stuffed into a service taxi with 10 other people
and our luggage was tied on top rather than stowed in a luggage bin. The
bumpy 5 hour journey left its marks on the bag from the friction and coarse
rope. But it was the 7 hour, sometimes off-road journey between the oases that
stripped off the sewn on name tag holder and wore through several layers of
outer fabric to the metal frame. None of it affected the function of
the suitcase but it was pretty ragged looking by the time we left Egypt.
Fortunately for us, it was a cheap bag that would be discarded a few days later
when we rejoined our bikes. If you have a high quality pack or bag, you might
consider a protective oversack for these sometimes unplanned but high-friction journeys.
ATM's & Money
Try checking with your debit or credit card provider to determine if there are any restrictions on it for use in Egypt. We switched to using a Wells Fargo debit card for cash at ATM's in 2006 because of the lack of currency conversion fees but it was useless in Egypt. We later learned that Egypt was temporarily on a short list of western countries that Wells would not transact with, including other places we visit like Poland and Turkey. Wells does have a non "cash advance" option that one can use inside certain banks, but that isn't very convenient. We always carry 3 different credit/debit cards between us, though only intend to use 1. Fortunately our backup card worked at most, though not all, ATMs.
Keep a couple of your ATM receipts. We don't usually do that but were glad we still had one as it was needed when paying cash for our hotel room. We didn't need it when we converted our remaining Egyptian pounds to Euro's at the airport, but we had less than 20€. And in preparation for leaving Egypt, check the exchange rate for both dollars and Euros if you can use both. We had about 19€ Euros remaining in Egyptian pounds but only received 15€ back. The smallest paper money that is used in Euroland is 5€ and exchange offices don't deal in coins. Had we anticipated this, we could have asked for dollars and gotten most of our money back as $23 in bills.
Egypt is a 2-tiered pricing country. When I asked about the price of a cab for a particular journey, the hotel clerk said we would pay 5E£ though she would only be charged 2. I asked another hotel clerk what would be a fair price on the streets for a 1.5 liter bottle of water and was told 2.5-4E£ so was happy when I paid 2E£ and later 1.5E£--presumably the clerk inflated the price to tourists rates. Prices at the museums are doubled or more for foreigners. We learned to ask "How much?" in Arabic and to read Arabic numbers in hopes of keeping the prices we paid competitive in the markets. Once I established the going rate for our daily purchases, I would walk out without the goods if a shopkeeper charged significantly more.
Tipping is an essential part of the economy in Egypt and the expected rate seems to have skyrocketed. Our 2004 edition of Lonely Planet suggested 1 to 2 E£ as sufficient for most situations but we were always scoffed at when offering those amounts. A Cairo cab driver prompted us to dole out cash in 5 and 10 E£ notes to the guys in the museum that allowed us into rooms they had blockaded and the boldest tourist site "guides" urged us to fork over 100 or even 200 E£ in tips, which we didn't oblige.
As we were ending our stay in Egypt, I spoke with a young Singapore attorney that had less patience than I for baksheesh. His policy when an uninvited service was rendered and his baksheesh offer was belittled, was to take the money back and walk away. He had traveled extensively in "baksheesh" cultures and that was his remedy. That wouldn't be appropriate in most situations, but it certainly would be a way to extract oneself from the most extreme situations, some of which we experienced and befuddled us.
Consider bringing a hand fan to swish away the flies. They certainly interfered with our pleasure when we had an opportunity to sit outdoors and read. Usually when walking around they didn't bother us but occasionally I would have enjoyed moving them on their way while standing in line. (I thought the guys fanning Cleopatra in the movies were cooling her but now I think the fans were for the flies.)
We ended up not drinking as many liquids during a day as we normally would just because of the shortage of toilets. A tour group leader would probably solve this problem, but unless we were visiting a major museum we rarely found a toilet to use. Supposedly mosques have public toilets but the only one I used was a single room for both sexes with separate stalls. That's OK in some countries but it wasn't a situation I wanted to repeat in Egypt. There aren't normal restaurants with public rest rooms to use as most Egyptians dine at the freestanding food stalls.
Both a wide brimmed sun hat and a shade umbrella are very helpful for
keeping cool when the sun is strong though both will attract stares.
The winds can be fierce, so best to have a chin strap on your hat and
know that the umbrella won't be useful on those days.
If you are arranging your own transportation, especially in the desert, bring a generously sized cotton scarf to wrap around your head, face and neck when the sand blows. I would have worn one both inside vehicles and out but didn't really feel the need until our trip was almost over. I only had silky fashion scarves and didn't want to damage them with my sunscreen and the grit by wrapping them across my face. Something soft that doesn't show stains would be great. Both men and women can buy suitable scarves in Egypt and men are as likely to shield themselves from the grit as women.
Unless you are traveling in the hottest months, bring a wide temperature-range wardrobe. Even in March in the north the temperatures fluctuated quite a bit. One day could have us wearing our lightest weight summer wear and the next day we'd be pulling on the long johns and jackets.
And if you are planning an extended trip in developing world environs, consider planning in a rest day every 10 days or so, perhaps looping back to a pleasant location for a rest in the familiar. Even in noisy Cairo, having a familiar room in a familiar neighborhood was soothing after our loop through the desert.
Staying Healthy Once In Egypt
Both TB and hepatitis--including Hepatitis C, are common in Egypt. Washing your hands frequently with soap or hand cleaner; thoroughly washing your produce with a detergent solution or peeling it; eating well cooked, hot foods; drinking bottled water; keeping your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes unless you've just washed them; avoiding close extended contact with the locals; and not lingering around stray animals will all decrease your risk of acquiring these and other infections. During a long stay at one budget hotel, we even bought some disinfectant and a sponge to clean the bathroom and door knobs in our room to compensate for the lack of cleaning products that the less-than-healthy-looking hotel staff had available to them. There are also some nasty freshwater parasites in Egypt, so don't eat fresh salads made from greens that you don't recognize and don't go wading in fresh water.
The rate of traffic fatalities in Egypt is one of the highest in the world, especially in Cairo, so keeping safe in traffic is a challenge. Study how the local pedestrians are navigating through traffic before venturing out and don't count on much slack from the drivers. Seat belts aren't available in the taxis or buses for passengers. In Cairo, we thought the special taxi cab drivers our Victoria Hotel arranged for longer outings were more conscientious about their driving than other drivers and we would use hotel-arranged drivers again for that reason.
The threat of malaria from mosquitoes and the particularly nasty leishmaniasis from sandfly bites is relatively low, but does exist. Both of these bugs are most active at night, so using a DEET or pericardian based insect repellent would be wise if anything is biting you. We also use the presumably somewhat toxic pesticide devices that plug into an electrical outlet. We use 1/2 a tablet instead of a whole one and usually use it for 2 and not just 1 night to keep the toxicity lower.
The water isn't safe to drink, so buy bottled water. We had guessed that Egypt might be a place where entrepreneurs refilled water bottles with tap water and marketed it as bottled, so planned on inspecting the caps to ensure that they hadn't been previously opened. It must be a problem, as familiar European brands were selling their product with a cellophane wrap over the cap bearing the company logo, though not all brands did this.
Strategies for Arriving at the Cairo Airport
We felt like novice travelers when we arrived at Cairo, despite spending the better part of the last 5 years traveling in Europe. The entry regime is like none other that we'd seen and was a test of patience. If you are traveling with 1 or more people and it is crowded, split up immediately. One person heads for any of the bank or currency exchange windows immediately before you as you exit the ramps--which ever has the shortest line. Have at least $15 or 15€ in cash in hand for each person in your group to buy the visa stickers, which are good for 30 days of travel. Just tell them how many you need (1 for each person)--they don't need to see your passports. We gave them 50€ for the 2 of us in order to immediately get some pocket change. Just grab the visa stickers, which look like postage stamps, and head out looking for your companions in the other lines.
While you were getting your visa stickers, your companions should have split up into different lines in the likely huge throng creeping towards the "Passport Control" signs. The day we arrived the hall was packed and only after we had slowly advanced half way to the control point could we see how many windows in each of the 3 booths were being staffed.
We ended up in the middle of the mass, which was a terrible mistake. The lines along either wall ultimately moved much, much faster. Hopefully your companions will have staked themselves out in different sections of the crowd and you can all converge on the person in the fastest moving "line". While in line, affix your stickers to any open area in your passport.
We followed our Lonely Planet Guidebook instructions for taking public transportation into town, which didn't go well. We arrived at Terminal 2 and buses going in to town now only leave from Terminal 1. We took the Terminal 2 bus to the car park and finally found someone who could tell us where to wait for the Terminal 1 bus. After a long wait, we got our second free shuttle and were dropped off in another parking lot. We dragged our luggage over to the fleet of buses only to discover that their numbers were only written in Arabic. Finally Bill found some one to point us to the correct bus. While riding into town we located the Arabic number decoder in the back of our guide book and practiced spotting 0 to 9 on the license plates to avoid a repeat of that particular problem.
We got off the bus prematurely, though our driver didn't deter us when we showed him where we wanted to go. Bill picked a course and we walked ahead, hoping we weren't too many miles from our hotel. The few street signs and having only a couple of district maps in our guide made the going tough. A young man who spoke some English offered his assistance and both pointed us in the right direction and helped us cross a couple of dangerous intersections.
Next time, we'll probably take a taxi instead, knowing that we'll have to aggressively negotiate the price before getting in.
Arriving in Alexandria Instead of Cairo
Had we to do it over again, we would have arrived in Egypt at Alexandria, spent a couple of days there, and then gone on to Cairo. Cairo is so intense and Alexandria is relatively quieter, calmer, and easier to navigate. Alexandria gives a gentler introduction to Egypt and after getting the hang of the money, the tipping and the traffic there, one would be better able to handle the jostling about that comes with being in Cairo. It's a pleasant 2+ hour, nonstop train ride between the cites, with both train stations centrally located. A young German man who spent a month in Cairo on a prior trip agreed--he now never arrives in Egypt at Cairo.
The Alexandria National Museum also gives a more orderly introduction to Egyptian history that the much larger Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The basement and ground floor are best, with the upper floor being post-Roman and much less coherent. Consider taking a heavy sweater and perhaps a scarf and gloves as the warm day we were there the exhibit thermometers were all reading 60°, which was deeply chilling at the snail's pace of exhibit viewing. We warmed outside half way through our visit as we ate our picnic lunch on the small grounds.
Surviving The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Consider leaving your camera locked up in your suitcase in your hotel room as cameras aren't allowed in the museum. They will check your camera for you, though it adds another step in the gauntlet you run to enter the museum. We were lucky as the lines were short as we had hoped for our low-season holiday, but there were still 5 lines to negotiate. First, there is the cursory security check just off the side walk. Then there is the line to buy tickets. One ticket booth line wraps around the left side of the gate, the other the right and the several times we were there the line on the left was always longer.
Once you buy your ticket, dash past the lingering groups as you head for the entrance doors. Of course, you'll have to queue to go through the turnstile. Just like at the airport and at the ticket windows, not all lines are the same. We noticed that no one was passing through the far right turnstile and the ticket man didn't bat an eye when we used it.
Once inside you and your accessories go through an airport-styled security check, so be prepared to put jackets, bags and purses on the conveyor belt. The last hurdle is the counter with the guys that peek in your bag to see if you have a camera. At last, you are in the museum.
But unfortunately, the chaos of getting into the museum was matched by what was inside. Our first stop was to park at the 3 chairs part way across the first exhibit area to reassemble our gear and catch our breath after the ordeal and plan our next assault. Even for people like us who love museums and have spent days in a single one, the Egyptian Museum is a nightmare.
We rented 1 audio guide between us on our first day at the museum and won't do it again. It has some interesting information, but it is tedious to use. It isn't really set up for someone who wants an introduction to the museum's best finds, whether your idea of an introduction is 1 hour or 1 day. If you have 1 area of interest, like Tutankhamen, it might be satisfying. They do have 8 or so tours on the devices, but most are one and a half to 2 hours long.
It is a difficult museum to visit. It has 120,000 pieces housed in the museum itself and its stores of uncatalogued items are considered to be a significant archeological site themselves. Some pieces are labeled and described in English, but not all. It is difficult to figure out where to begin and what path to follow. The museum is huge, the number of exhibited pieces enormous and the aids to the guest few. Just ducking in for a few hours is frustrating. Perhaps hiring a guide would be a good way to go though we resolved our frustrations by going on 2 days.
What we will probably do next time we visit the Egyptian Museum is stop in at the shop and gallery across the driveway from the main entrance to the Museum and buy The Illustrated Guide to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo by the American University in Cairo Press. The hefty, 2005 edition of the book sold for about $25 and I'm sure could also be purchased at the Press's bookstore that is in the neighborhood but which has more limited business hours. It is too detailed for a brief visit, but looks like a good choice for museum buffs as it is arranged by room number. Ideally we will leave time for some background reading in the book before visiting the museum, then read some sections while at the exhibits. Two visits with a day or 2 between would be ideal to avoid feeling swamped. We purchased a general history book by the University and were pleased with it and liked the look of the Illustrated Guide when we spotted it for the first time on our last day in Egypt. Perhaps it would be possible to mail order it before leaving home which would be even better though it didn't turn up on the quick online search I did.
The various prices for visiting the museum of course keep going up and had about doubled since our 2 year old guide book was published. It's quite expensive if you do it all. In March 2006, the entrance fee was 40E£, the audio guide 20E£, and if you wanted to view the 11 royal mummies, you paid another 70E£ on top of the admission fee. Both the mummy room and audio guide rental office close hours before the museum, so best to go early. ($1 =5.7E£ in 2006).
Group Tour vs Individual Travel
More than any other place we've visited, a trip to Egypt warrants close consideration of what you want out of the trip before deciding how to travel. Especially if you plan on venturing beyond the usual high points along the Nile, it's important to consider what you want the trip to feel like. If you want to see the ancient history and yet have a relatively relaxing experience, I'd recommend a guided tour. If instead you long to spice up your life with some adventure and living beyond your comfort zone, you'll be instantly and amply rewarded in Egypt by independent travel.
Other experienced travelers we spoke with while in Egypt agreed that just crossing the big streets around the Egyptian Museum takes daring and is an instant immersion in life in Cairo. Independent travelers can shield themselves from these thrills by taking a taxi and tour group members miss the obstacle course as well as the buses unload on a restricted access street right at the front door. Never once did we see a tour group crossing any trafficked street in Cairo or Alexandria, they were always dropped off and picked up at the front door or on a traffic-free street, which leaves one's attention free to focus on the bigger sights.
Smaller group tours will still get one to the smaller places that the big groups don't usually go, like the oases. And tours have the benefit of prescreening the hotels, restaurants, and drivers for you. Being hassled endlessly for baksheesh or tips was quite draining in Egypt and a tour group would diminish (though not eliminate) these hassles. No doubt the tour guide would buffer you from some of the touts that latched on to us and when a tip was in order, the operator would give you guidance as to what to pay. I believe that their recommendations are often on the generous side, but in Egypt you are often talking a difference of 50¢ or a $1.
A surprising distraction in Egypt was getting dirty so quickly everyday and a tour group would likely spare you from some of that exposure. We rode in open-windowed buses and taxis to get to a number of remote locations and we were literally sandblasted. With a tour, you'd spend less time on foot and more time in air-conditioned buses, leaving you significantly fresher at the end of the day. We found ourselves frequently washing items we rarely wash, like shoes, hats, and jackets and would be washing our fanny packs for the first time.
There is precious little historical information at any of the Egyptian sites we visited, so being with a knowledgeable tour guide would be a huge help. Of course, the quantity and quality of that information varies a lot with the operators as we've discovered by doing some eavesdropping from time to time. Our guide book recommended finding tours sponsored by the Egyptology Department of some universities as a way to get higher quality lectures but at prices below that of tours offered by the Smithsonian and the British Museum. We are also considering joining an Elderhostel group for our visit to southern Egypt as a way to get spoon-fed more information at the sites.
Lodging In Egypt
Unlike many countries, in Egypt there seems to be one best place to stay for the budget-minded, at least in the northern cities. In Cairo it was the Victoria Hotel, in Alexandria, it was Hotel Union.
Cairo: Victoria Hotel
For $41 a night we had a large double room with a private bath in an aging but maintained hotel. The mattress was firm, there were plenty of lights in the room, the toilet accommodated the toilet paper which they supplied, and we had truly hot water on all but the first night.
Breakfast was included and was worth the time. The fare was a modified German spread, with boiled eggs, 2 types of ham, and several kinds of cheeses and white breads. We discovered that the spherical copper pot on the far left of the buffet spread was partially filled with cooked fava beans. They were tough and desperately needed some salt, but were a low fat and nutritious addition to the fare. We used the metal bowls at the other end by the cornflakes for the beans. We started with a couple of small pieces of cheese on the bottom, plopped on a drained scoopful of beans, and added a little more cheese and a sliced tomato to the top. At the table we drizzled some oil from the vinegar and oil set and sprinkled them with salt. Some days we crumbled half of a hard boiled egg on top for variety. We think the dark juice in the corner was pomegranate.
The helpfulness of the Victoria staff varied, but they all spoke English. We used the hotel staff much more than in other countries. From them we determined fair prices for taxi rides, where on the streets to look for buses, and where to find bottled water in the neighborhood. They also booked their preferred taxi drivers for our big outings to Saqqara and the camel market.
We definitely recommend the Victoria Hotel. For 3 times the price we spent 2 nights at the Ramses Hilton when we arrived in Cairo as we were unsuccessful in making a phone or internet reservation with the Victoria from Germany. The room at the Hilton was more modern and had a grand panorama of the city. But even on the 16th floor the traffic noise was loud. Their ailing HVAC system left the room too stuffy for sleeping without the window open but the noise from the traffic made it hard to sleep with it open. A good night's sleep is my highest priority from a room and the Victoria delivered that where the Hilton didn't. A Nile view room at the Hilton might be quieter (and more expensive). The TV screen at the Hilton was so shot that we could barely see the images on the screen.
At the Victoria I would ask for a room off the street, as we had by chance. One side flanks the mosque with the blaring minaret, the other the somewhat busy street. Our room overlooked their garden terrace and didn't take the brunt of any of the noise makers. The Victoria had BBC on the TV; we didn't try their internet room.
Victoria Hotel: 66 Al-Gomhuriyya, Cairo; Tel: 00 (or 011 from the US) 20 02 589-2290; Fax 00 (or 011 from the US)20 02 591-3008. (If your call doesn't go through, try again dropping the "0" of the "02" city code).
I never thought I'd rave about a place like the Union Hotel, but we felt lucky to get a room there as they fill-up even in low season. Their quoted prices almost double after they add on the sometimes obligatory breakfast and 22% in taxes, but our final price of $16.60 a night for 2 people with a private bath was a steal in Alexandria. (We did manage to get the room without breakfast). There is a complete absence of mid-range accommodations in this city of 7 million and the next options started at over a $100 more per night.
Like the Victoria Hotel in Cairo, the Union is an old place that has been maintained but not upgraded much. Both places did offer good quality beds and several English stations on the TV. And like the Victoria, the Union had English speakers at reception to provide needed "out and about" information and toilets that accept TP. The rooms are cleaned but lack that fresh feeling when furnishing are newer and the bathrooms are really scrubbed. .
For the first time ever when traveling, I did go out and buy $2.50 worth of cleaning supplies to freshen up our bathroom at the Union Hotel. Bill had left a 2E£ tip on the vanity as we left for the day, hoping housekeeping would change our towels and perhaps provide more TP. The TP and more soap arrived, but no fresh towels. Our bathroom however was noticeably cleaner than when we checked in. My cleaning supplies and 10 minutes of effort made a huge difference in the ambiance of the bathroom. The ScotchBrite-like scrubber worked wonders on the hard water stains on the mirror, faucet and sink as well as the caked-up grunge on the counter. The little bottle of disinfectant made us more comfortable touching the surfaces in the room as well as curing that persistent bad odor. I of course wouldn't have bothered with the exercise but we were going to be there 3 or 4 more nights and we stumbled into a store with the needed supplies. I had thought about borrowing the staff's supplies but saw that about all they had to work with was a toilet brush, a make-shift mop, and a rag.
You can't book the Union online and other guests complained that their phone reservations weren't on the books when they arrived, so maybe fax would be a good way to do business, though our phone reservation process worked. Their phone numbers are 4807312, 4807537 and 4807771. When calling from out of town, add "03" before the phone numbers. When calling from out of the country, add the access code of "00" (or 011 from the US) and then country code of "20". (If your call doesn't go through, try again dropping the "0" of the "02" city code). The fax is 4807350. Their address is 164, Avenue 26 July, Ramel Station, Alexandria