I recall Geoffrey Chaucer's words "All good things must come to and end" on my last day in Cairo with resigned acceptance after spending a few memorable days in this fascinating city. Cairo is a city of superlatives - geographically and historically. Being the largest city in Africa and the Arab world it is also the repository of magnificent treasures from one of the greatest civilizations in the world as we all know, but one thing is to know and another thing is to experience it with all your senses.
My first introduction was marked by chaos and an adrenaline induced drive from the airport to the Ramses Hilton. i will never forget the words from the person who met me for my arranged pick up. After a warm welcome he confided to me that in Cairo there are traffic laws, but people usually don't follow them. Yet despite this dire warning, there is an underlying sense of order that is not discernible at first. The car honking has its secret codes and drivers/pedestrians have an intuitive sixth sense as to when to stop or charge ahead. But I digress since we are here for the flight report and let's get to the point. For those who are interested, I will provide a bonus at the end with snapshots of my experiences.
i leave the hotel by 5p through a van that I have arranged with the concierge the previous day. As I pass through the city I am fascinated by the contrast of the intense afternoon light against some of the buildings and get my pocket camera out to shoot the passing scenes from my moving vehicle.
My last glimpse of Cairo is the Baron Empain Palace - an Indian styled mansion in Heliopolis reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the city. Baron Empain's company - Compagnie Generale de Traction won a bid in 1897 to build the Paris Metro.
I was deposited at T3 and proceeded to security where everybody's bags had to be scanned. A guy expedited me through the line and helped me place the bag in the x-ray machine. I gave him a good tip at the other end. One aspect about Egypt that some travelers might find annoying is the culture of "baksheesh" or tipping which is prevalent and expected everywhere you go. It's a voluntary act, but if at the end of the day it makes your life easier, then why not spread some "generosity".
The TK check-in counter is right after security and it was fairly empty. I understand that in Cairo you can check in as early as 3 hrs before the flight, not sooner. The agent was pleasant and issued the boarding passes quickly. I then went through Immigration followed by last minute shopping at Duty Free.
There was a food court behind the shops with views to the tarmac. A couple of MS planes were at the gates with their beautiful livery. MS might not be regarded as one of the top airlines in the world, but its logo and livery is one of the most beautiful in my book.
MS operates several lounges at T3 so I went to the Gienah one first and the agent politely told me to use the one at the other side of the terminal closest to my departure gate. I explained that I had plenty of time and wanted to check this particular one, but he was firm and advised me that all the lounges are the same with the exact offerings, so I left to the other side.
I then stumbled upon the Kochab one and the agent informed me that this was a smoking lounge and kindly referred me further down. I arrived at the Almesian where I was finally allowed to enter.
MS Almesian Lounge
The entrance was decorated with Ramadan motifs which gave the lounge a welcoming impression. I thought that the round windows were unusual and they reminded me of the ones found in a submarine. There were several partitioned areas and a buffet with snacks and limited hot food which consisted of beef stew, rice and savory pastries. The WC inside the lounge was convenient but basic.
I guess the lounge encourages pax to take hot drinks outside, but where are the lids?. :P
A smaller buffet with hot soup and seating area in the back of the lounge.
The lounge never became crowded which was nice. I guess there are enough lounges to distribute the number of visitors who have access to them. The gate was located a few steps from the lounge and I was surprised to find another security checkpoint there. The staff was friendly and made the process more bearable. Once I was on the other side I walked towards the gate where a special corner was set for *A Gold pax.
When all the pax from the incoming flight disembarked, it was time to board the plane starting with pax in wheelchairs and families traveling with children followed by J and elite pax. A smiling FA greeted people as they stepped inside the A320 which had a typical intra European configuration in J with the middle seat blocked.
I noticed that the bulkhead row on the right side was unoccupied so after the door closed I asked the FA if I could move there. She gave me the OK and I settled on 1F - a window seat. Pre-dept. drinks were offered followed immediately by the distribution of menus. I had a glass of orange juice.
The meal service began with hot towels followed by the appetizer tray with your drink of choice. I accompanied it with a glass of ayran. A small salad, cheese and dessert were already on the tray set up.
Then the main dish was brought out. The sea bass en papilotte was one of the best fish dishes that I have ever tasted in an airplane. When fish is offered inside an airplane there is the risk of drying it out through overcooking but not on today's flight. I was presented with a firm piece that was moist and cooked perfectly. My first bite was a flavorful revelation that validated TK's catering as one of the best. The sweetness of the julienne vegetables complemented the delicate saltiness of the fish beautifully.
Finally the Mascarpone passionfruit dessert was the perfect ending to this exquisite meal. It was a contrast in layered textures that was brilliantly conceived with a crunchy bottom placed under the creamy cheese which in turn was topped by a smooth and thin layer of passionfruit.
Arriving in IST.
We parked in a remote area where a dedicated bus for J pax took us back to the terminal.
Bonus : Click here to displayhide
The property is centrally located in downtown Cairo right behind the Egyptian Museum but the rooms are in need of a major renovation. The decor is reminiscent of the 80's or 90's and wait until you see the hairdryer - it is a piece that belongs in a time capsule. As it is customary for most 4* or above hotels, your vehicle is inspected before you are allowed to enter the hotel and guests must go through a metal detector and have their belongings x-rayed. I found the staff to be professional and cordial during my stay.
On a positive note, I used a combination of "points and cash" to stay at this hotel. In the end it cost me about USD 151 (EUR 130) for a 3 nights and 4 days stay. I was assigned a spacious corner room and received an early check-in and late check out.
Views from the room. I had a balcony and window with a view.
After a nap I explored the Executive Lounge and had dinner there. The lounge had spectacular views of the city but it could get pretty crowded. There was a nice assortment of snacks and hot food in the buffet.
Views from the lounge.
Buffet with cold and hot items.
Pieces of kebab.
Strips of beef liver.
Stuffed grape leaves.
The tourism business has not quite rebounded to its normal level despite the devaluation of the Egyptian pound and the uncrowded attractions. I walked around during the day and night and never felt unsafe. To get around I used a combination of local taxi, Uber and metro. Uber worked fine most of the time and the rides within downtown came to less than USD 1 on average which were a bargain. There was one time that Uber did not work after 2 drivers canceled on me so I took a taxi. I went from Zamalek back to the hotel and the taxi driver wanted to charge me 5x the normal rate, so I gave him what the ride should have cost and exited the cab hastily. I thought about using Google translator and play the translation of "do you think I am stupid" in Arabic but I refrained from doing that and just left. :)
Walking through a local neighborhood I noticed a huge concrete wall curving towards the street which supposedly is built that way to deflect a potential explosion from a car bomb. A grim reminder that you cannot let your guard down. Ironically the wall on the other side facing this protective one had an intriguing design that compelled me to stop and look at it. One was foreboding while the other one was inviting.
Drive thru shopping
Located in Zamalek, this eatery offers local food in a "sanitized" and stylish setting. I ordered koshary (rice with pasta, lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce), taamiya (similar to falafel but made with fava beans), pickles and hot tea. Total for dinner came to USD 2.75 or approx. EUR 2.39
El Abd Patisserie
With several branches in Cairo, this popular bakery has the reputation for being the best in the city. The basboosa (semolina cake) was sinfully addictive.
Standing at 187 m or 614 ft., this landmark is considered by some to be the second most popular in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza.
For a museum that holds some of the most compelling and impressive works from the Ancient World, I find the premises disappointing. First you go through security where your belongings are x-rayed. Once inside you realize that the exhibits are sparsely labelled and there is a lack of maps or printed materials with a clear layout of the place. Maybe that is why you see a lot of tour guides outside offering their services.
The main attraction is the Tutankhamun Galleries and photography is forbidden inside. This is the only area of the museum that is air conditioned by the way.
Toilets were filthy and I found a staff member sleeping on the floor stretched out in front of the sinks. Another cleaner gestured me to walk around him and later asked for a tip. Incredible!
I understand that a new museum in Giza is in the works and is supposed to open in 2018. It would be nice to see these great pieces housed in a more deserving facility.
MS Gienah Lounge T3
Cairo - CAI
Istanbul - IST
Cairo T3 was a perfectly acceptable terminal and the MS lounges were fine. For some reason I was under the impression that food was limited to snacks so I was pleasantly surprised when I found hot food, although this was limited. Perhaps during dinner time they offer a bit more food.
TK used an intra-European J cabin on this route which is understandable due to the flight length and market. Catering excelled as always and the fish that I had was one of the best seafood dishes that I have had in an airplane. Service aboard was polite and efficient.
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