Juliana Hotel - The Cheapest Karma in Cairo
We ended up staying at the Juliana Hotel and Hostel in Cairo Egypt, because of the high recommendations on the Internet. While I was fully prepared to say upon our return, that the hotel offered me exactly everything I expected, on the last day, our hotel reserved and provided arrangements to taxi us to the Cairo airport were either ignored, forgotten, or lost in translation. We were left at 4 AM in the heart of Cairo with no ride to the airport. After a somewhat amazing feat of endless running to Al-Tahrir Square, we somehow brokered a deal with the non-English speaking taxi driver, knowing hardly any Arabic, and using hand gestures to imitate an air-plane taking off. I still wonder was the failure to appear on purpose, or simply a mistake? You may be wondering why I'd even ask such a thing, but I have an odd feeling our predicament was the result of our hesitation to tip our driver on a previous excursion. Being poor students, we felt it was justifiable (this is a hostel after all) if we could wait and see how much money we had on our final day, and offer our driver a lump-sum tip at the end of our visit to thank him. Perhaps he disliked our innovative tipping strategy and chose to teach them two American girls a lesson in Egyptian karma? Or was it simply all a big mistake? Despite this rather unfortunate series of events, prior in the week, our driver did stand in as our man-proxy when local merchants or hucksters attempted to take advantage of our western naiveness, or wouldn't talk to us to us because of being women. We did want to tip him.
|The view from the balcony.|
The first thing to understand about the Juliana Hotel is that the reviews online are often authored in the Juliana lobby on a computer that "smile happy" Jimmy ("Jimmy?" did his mother hate him?) has set up. Personally, I can't say I'd necessarily give a completely honest review, if those whom I was reviewing are standing over me, or God forbid, necessary for my ride back to the airport. Since no one showed up that morning, we weren't persuaded to make such a obedient review, though I did witness several other victims, I mean guests, during the week who weren't as lucky. As karma would have it, (and I bet Jimmy never saw this one coming) I just happen to own a website where I can post my unbiased review.
|Hannu, our driver through Karma and Cairo.|
|Clearly they don't understand the various meanings of can.|
|Don't all hotels decorate with tinsel and white boards?|
Where the Juliana Hotel really shines is its location. Sure the arm-rails to the stairs are falling in, and the the elevator only goes up, and then only on certain days; but you're two blocks from the Nile River, and less than a half mile from Al-Tahrir square. You can't get more Cairo than this. On the corner of the street is a blue gas station (that you'll become very familiar with) that sells nothing but gas, but across the street, and to the right (the opposite direction of Tahrir) is several authentic Arabic language only Egyptian street food eateries. You're also near the embassies, if that makes you feel any better about a hotel that had tanks parked out front earlier this year. It's also worth pointing out, if you absolutely must eat American, at Tahir Square, there's a Hardees. Yes a bloody Hardees. Nothing says revolution like country music and biscuits.
|One Double Bacon Western Cheeseburger Please.|
Where Juliana appears to make their money is on the excursions. Three hundred-fifty Egyptian pounds ($70) for an all-day driver who took us around to the pyramids, the Memphis museum, and eventually back to the Juliana Hotel. The bad part is there's several "upsell" destinations (which they don't tell you when you book) with which they stop at along the way, and where you're pressured into everything from camel rides, to papyrus paper paintings, and eventually dinner. Of course this is part of coming to Cairo, but as two poor students who just wanted to see the pyramids, it became a bit overwhelming and monotonous. Eventually, covered in sweat and tired from the day, we skipped the dinner to obtain our own meal once we found it it was 50 EGP a person. While that may seem cheap, (less than $10 a person) you can go around the corner from the hotel, and buy two huge containers of Kushari (true Egyptian street cuisine) for $12 EGP or $2 USD. Juliana, like much of Cairo, will nickel and dime you till you leave their country in poverty, if you don't stand up for yourself and know exactly what you want. Bring a huge bag of Egyptian-pound coins, (and exact change when checking in) and if you're a British or Australian who isn't accustomed to tipping for normal stuff, let alone everything, be prepared!
|Was a perfect tasting recipe for Kashuri.|
What you'll want most is water. Buy it soon, and buy it often. Take two to three times the money you expect that you'll need, even if you're a poor student staying at a hostel like Juliana. Never say anything in English- especially with regards to you being American. But if you want the adventure of a lifetime, and some amazing stories to tell your grandchildren, then hold your karma close, because there is only one place to stay in Cairo: The Juliana Hotel.