Chaos at Cairo International Airport

The first thing you come across whenever you travel is definitely the airport. As a travel fanatic, I have always been interested in studying the details of any airport I land in, such as the organization, cleanliness, ease of finding your way around and so on. And while Egypt’s main airport, Cairo International Airport has been renovated years ago, it has recently become a complete mess.

Let me start by saying that Egypt in general is going through unprecedented circumstances of political instability and unrest. There are a lot of issues going on with the transient government and the political battle between pro and anti Muslim Brotherhood supporters. However, this is in no way an excuse for letting things, critical ones for that matter, go out of control. In a country that has been suffering financial hardship for the past few years, every effort should be exerted to attempt resuscitating the knocked out national economy. With tourism being one of the leading sources of national income, Cairo International Airport represents the tourists’ first stop in Egypt and therefore, their overall experience could be largely affected by their “first impression” of the country.

What got me to start writing about this are my two trips to the airport last week. I was dropping some relatives off at the airport and I was just amazed by how chaotic and disorganized things are at the supposedly international airport. The first thing you notice is the military and police vehicles and tanks guarding the gates, something that is attributed to the current security status and is not really a problem. At the gates of the terminal, it is customary to pay a small fee (5 EGP) to be granted entrance if you are not a traveler. What I found there was a “security” guy in civilian clothes, sitting at the gate fondling with his cell phone and occasionally making calls while visually inspecting anyone attempting to enter. I thought there was a rule that is applied to everyone: buy a ticket, get in – no ticket, stay out. But no! According to this guy’s personal opinion he would let someone inside without asking them for a ticket, and prevent others from entering if they didn’t have one. I even saw him allow a family of about 9 members in with just one ticket. Come on guys, make up your mind! Are tickets mandatory or not??

Inside the terminal is another issue. The hall is flooded with representatives of car rental companies who literally “attack” arriving passengers with verbal bargains, even when the passenger clearly is not interested. I’ve had this happen to me personally, where one of those agents kept stalking me from the moment I got my baggage until I was about to leave the terminal, with our dialogue going like this “Do you need a car?” “No!” – “Why not?” “Someone is picking me up “ – “Just take a look at our prices” “Thanks”…etc until I finally shouted at him to get away from me.

Practically speaking, there is normally around 7-10 agents “hovering” around the arriving passengers freely, without any surveillance from the airport security personnel. On occasion, a security member would tell them to leave, but literally 10 seconds later they repeat their quests to make bookings.

So, for a country that is trying to regain its balance after financial struggles, this doesn’t help tourism at all. In fact, for a tourist, I think it would be a very negative experience and bad impression when they arrive at Cairo International Airport, and might overshadow their whole stay in Egypt and something must be done to restore order in the otherwise chaotic and disorganized main airport in Egypt.

How was your last airport experience? Where was it and what did you like/dislike about it?

 

 

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Saving money when you travel

Planning your own trip could be exhausting and time-consuming. However, all the effort you invest in planning ahead will pay off when you travel. One thing that people always ask me about travel is how to save money and get the best deals. Well, there isn’t one magical formula as to how to find the cheapest flights or hotels, but there are steps you can take to enjoy a magnificent trip. In all cases, I urge you not to rush into paying a lot of money to a travel agency to plan your trip on your behalf.

First of all you need to set your target destination. Are you traveling within borders or abroad? What’s your planned budget? Do you have fixed dates on which you must travel or are you flexible with your travel schedule? All these questions you need to ask yourself before planning. (For this post, I will suppose you are not restricted to a certain date and that you are traveling abroad).

Where do you want to go?

Where do you want to go?

Now that your destination is set, you need to find a flight, a place to stay and plan things to do while you’re there.

Flight:

We all know that the flight is usually the most expensive part of a trip. That’s just the way it is. Finding a cheap flight is very tricky and sometimes just not possible. Nevertheless, you might be able to get great prices if you follow these steps:

1) Forget about face-to-face booking. Go online! Most airlines offer special and exclusive rates for bookings made through their official websites.

2) Try to book your flight as early as possible. One to two months before your travel date is ideal. This way you can search for the dates on which to find the cheapest flight on your chosen airline.

3) Subscribe to the newsletter of as many airlines as possible. These periodic newsletters will keep you updated with any offers or special deals.

4) If you travel frequently, consider subscribing to the frequent flyer program of the airlines you fly with most of the time. This way you get free miles every time you book a flight as well as members-only deals. I recommend Turkish Airlines’ Miles and Smiles. Turkish Airlines have amazing on-board service and cover so many destinations worldwide, plus they are cheaper than most airlines.

Hotel:

This might be the easiest and most fun part of the planning. Cheap hotels are available everywhere, even in the most expensive cities. You just need to look carefully. Online booking websites are a very useful tool. There you can find a huge listing of hotels, hostels and stay-ins with photos, reviews (by other travelers) and every detail you need to know about a hotel. My personal favorite websites are Booking, Trip Advisor and Hotels.

The best thing about it is that many hotels do not charge you online, but rather use your credit card to confirm your seriousness and to make any penalties in case you cancel your booking without prior notice.

What I normally do whenever I travel, is to spend quite some time looking at my target destination through those websites, looking for hotels with cheap rates and special offers. You can find hotels that offer free pickup from the airport, or other sort of offer when you book a certain number of nights.

Then, when I have short listed 3 or 4 hotels, I start thoroughly comparing them across the three websites, looking for the common complaints from other travelers and reading some of the reviews to know what exactly to expect. This gives you a real-time expectation of what the hotel is really about. Booking.com for instance only posts reviews from travelers who have booked through their website, which ensures that all reviews are legitimate and were written by actual travelers.

TripAdvisor on the other hand allows anyone to post a review. The good thing about it though, is that it is not restricted to hotels only, but also covers places to go, tourist attractions, restaurants…etc which will be of use in the next step.

Things to do:

Well, let’s face it; you want to enjoy your trip to the max. Go to TripAdvisor, search for your destination and check out the huge listing of tourist attractions, restaurants, cafes and museums that your city of choice has to offer. You can find similar reviews by other travelers on all of these places. You can even find a forum for every city where you can ask any question and have expert travelers or locals reply to you with their advice. For example, how to move around the city, or the best places to buy souvenirs…etc.

It is also a great idea to check out travel blogs or blogs about the city you are about to visit. These blogs usually have great and unique ideas about places to go and restaurants to eat at. One of the blogs I follow is On The Luce, where the writer blogs about her travel experiences and the long list of the places she’s been to. Check it out.

You can easily save money, if you plan your own trip

You can easily save money, if you plan your own trip

A final piece of advice: When you’re done with your trip, write about it. Remember when you were checking other people’s words about hotels and restaurants and how much it helped you plan your travel? It’s only fair that you do the same. Of course, you are in no way obligated to do so, but it’s nice to be able to help others plan their next trip. Plus, it occasionally pays off to write reviews. Check out my review of The Peak hotel in Istanbul to see what I got as a reward!

With the issue of planning your next trip in your hands, you have unlimited choices. Just remember, it will take time and effort but will eventually pay off and result in a wonderful time and money saving.

If at any time you have questions about travel in general, feel free to ask me. You can do this on Twitter or by sending me an email on Simplistic.BS@gmail.com

A food fanatic’s adventures in Istanbul

If you know me personally, or follow me on Twitter, then you know I’m a food fanatic with a serious appetite for delicious and mouthwatering food. Therefore, one thing that I always like to explore when I travel is food. I’ve been to Istanbul 3 times: 2007, 2010 and 2013 and it offered me an amazing eating experience every single time.

If you’ve been to Istanbul, you’ve certainly heard of – and been to – Istiklal Street. It’s arguably the most famous street in Istanbul, packed with retail shops, lots of restaurants and cafes, bookstores, gift shops and bars. Anything you can imagine can be found there.

The first thing you notice as you walk down Istiklal Street is the large number of street food shops. You’ve got small carts selling corn on the cob, roasted chestnuts and baked goodies called “Simit” which are circles of bread with sesame sprinkled over them. Occasionally, you’d find a similar cart with molten chocolate fountains. Where you get a cup filled with either white or milk molten chocolate and choose some additives such as nuts, fresh fruits or cookies. Yummy!

Milk Chocolate fountain

Milk Chocolate fountain

A very famous and tasty street food is “Kumpir”. This is basically a large whole potato, roasted in a special oven and then cut open, stuffed with butter and cheese while hot to make the inside of the potato creamy. Then you have a large salad bar where you can choose up to seven additions to your Kumpir. This bar includes pickles, mushrooms, Russian salad, pasta salad, sausages, chili and other stuff. Imagine the possible combinations! Trust me when I say this, no matter how bizarre a combination you make, it still tastes amazing.

Kumpir (Roasted Potato) stuffed with...well a lot of things!

Kumpir (Roasted Potato) stuffed with…well a lot of things!

What would a visit to Istanbul be without having dessert? Turkish cuisine is known for mouthwatering sweets, such as Turkish Delights, or Lokum, which is like a gelatin based soft candy with many flavors. You can practically find it sold everywhere in Istanbul.

Turkish Delights have so many flavors and can be found almost everywhere

Turkish Delights have so many flavors and can be found almost everywhere

I can keep ranting about the different dessert shops in Istiklal Street and famous shopping malls, but I’d like to tell you  about a very special place that I stumbled upon in my last visit. It’s called Meze by Lemon Tree and it was truly the highlight of my trip.

It’s a small restaurant/pub off Istiklal Street in front of Pera Palace Hotel in the Beyoğlu district. The place is cozy and small and can host only about 20 people, yet is usually packed and reserved in advance. It is famous for its Meze’s or appetizers. They have a couple of shelves displaying their fine assortment of Meze’s that will make your mouth water in no time. The main courses are great too but the Meze’s are the highlight of the menu. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the appetizers, as they didn’t survive long on the table (went straight into my stomach). And for the sweet ending, I ordered a very delicious

dessert containing banana slices, cream, roasted almonds and cashews drizzled with sweet syrup. This one actually survived long enough for me to take a photo. I also wrote a review on TripAdvisor about the restaurant, if you wanna check it out.

Dessert at Meze by Lemon Tree

Dessert at Meze by Lemon Tree

Of course there are many other things I’ve seen, places I’ve been to and restaurants I’ve eaten at in Istanbul that are worth mentioning but maybe I’ll write about them later. If you’ve been to Istanbul, please share your eating experience.

P.S. All the photos in this post are mine. You can share them on other websites as long as you link back to my blog. Thanks.