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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Attention Egyptians: Study your Masters in the UK - Chevening Scholarship Applications

The British Government Chevening Scholarships Applications for doing your Masters in the UK are open for online applications 1st August to 7th October 2009. (All applications MUST be made online). - this is for study Academic Year 2010/2011.

Chevening Scholarships



Applications are invited for study in all subject areas; however priority will be given to the following: Sustainable Development, Environment,Education, Human Rights & Good Governance, Economics, Finance & Banking, Media, Middle Eastern studies, Politics and International law.

Check the link for further information on how to qualify:

Chevening Scholarships

Friday, 24 July 2009

One Fleeting Glimpse post: from Cairo to Alexandria by Train

A fellow Cairo blogger has just posted a video link on getting from Cairo to Alexandria by train.

Find it here:

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Trip to Wadi Rayan

Trip to Wadi Rayan - 18th July 2009

Yesterday, a friend, her son and I made a trip out to Wadi Rayan, in the Fayoum area, about 1.5 hours drive out from Cairo (Giza side).

Wadi Rayan is one of Egypt’s ‘protectorates’. These are approximately the same as Britain’s National Parks – designed to preserve or encourage natural habitats. Further out along the same route is Wadi Hitan where the prehistoric whalebones are located. You need to organize a four-wheel drive though for that apparently, so we didn’t pursue it this time though it is somewhere I am keen to visit.

There’s a downloadable PDF file with more information available in the links at the bottom.

My friend collected me at my home around 930am and we went down to the Fayoum Road (if you are coming from Cairo, then the head of the Fayoum Road is near the pyramids, at Al Ramaya Square (Midan Ramaya). The Meridian Hotel is on the opposite side, and it is the road to the left of the Alex Desert Road. (By the way, there are microbuses from Fayoum at all hours of the day and night from Al Ramaya if you wanted an adventure!)

At some point en route, there is a Toll – its 3LE for cars, and you also have to pay the Toll coming back out again.

We just drove straight until we started seeing signs for Wadi Al Rayan and followed those. In several areas the signs are just in Arabic so learn the shapes! Here I made a picture showing the Arabic, then – reading from right to left – how the letters are said in English (approximately), then at the bottom how you read it in English.

It’s really very surprising to come across these beautiful lakes out in the desert area. Lake Quaran is left over from when the whole of Egypt was under the Tethys Sea millions of years ago. The other remaining remnants of this sea are The Black Sea and The Caspian Sea. It used to be thought that the Mediterranean was also a remnant, but it is actually a much younger sea.

We drove round Lake Qaran. We enjoyed the drive out, it’s farming country so the landscape is quite green and attractive – though some of the ‘smells of the countryside’ are a bit strong! Around an hour and a quarter after leaving, we got to the entrance to the Protectorate.

Foreigners are sometimes required to have a police escort – I’m not entirely clear where this would have happened as we didn’t need to have one.

Entrance for foreigners (resident or non-resident) is $US3 (about 17LE). For Egyptians, it’s just 2LE.

The main visitor’s centre (with the waterfalls etc) is about 15km from the protectorate entrance. It’s a desert track so keep your eyes open for the signs painted on boulders (but they are in English!) indicating the way to go. If I remember rightly it was approx. 14km straight ahead, and then turn left for 1km. You will see all the vehicles and cafes on the edge of the lake.

We parked up and went over to the ‘conveniences’. The ladies’ was full of laughing and chattering Egyptian women changing in to their bathing gear - burquinis for the adults

The ladies’ consists of two ‘squatty bogs’ and two sinks. The whole place is swimming in water on the floor and don’t imagine you will be able to wash your hands! I recommend you take hand-sanitizer with you!

We found the waterfalls and were amazed. Ok, we’re not talking Niagara here, but the fact that they exist is amazing. I didn’t realise until just now that the waterfalls were only created in 1966 using excess water from Lake Quaran to create the Upper and Lower lakes. The waterfalls are from the Upper to the Lower Lake.

Slide show (can take time to load on slow connection).

Yesterday was Saturday, and we were the only foreigners there. It was heaving with people splashing in the water, jumping off the waterfalls, generally messing around! Other people I know have been during the working week when it’s much quieter.

I made a short video with my camera phone (nearer the top of the page). You can see guys jumping off the top of the water at around 1:09 on. There’s a group of women in the pool beneath the waterfall and every now and then they started ululating (traditional “singing” sound usually done at weddings).

You won’t see me jumping around in there because I have had sciatica for 3 days so didn’t want to risk skidding over (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it ;)

My friend and her son went down to the Lower Lake as he was keen to swim, but they said the water’s edge was actually full of rubbish and other unpleasant debris, so they didn’t risk it.

It’s a shame about the rubbish because it is such a beautiful area. We did see some vans parked around the place (further back along the road) indicating some kind of clean up going on, I don’t recall the name though.

There are a few cafes, but I didn’t see any offering food – though we didn’t look hard because we had brought fuul sandwiches with us. We just had colas.

There is a stall selling nice baskets (25-35LE the smaller ones), glazed ceramic pots (not sure of the price as we didn’t ask about those) and so on, and also cheap Chinese plasticons.
The Visitor’s Centre was not open when we got there, so we didn’t get to see inside it.
On the way back, my friend bought freshly-caught fish from the roadside vendors.

There seemed to be quite a few resort areas along the edge of Lake Quaran.

Apart from Wadi Rayan, there is Wadi Hitan (the whale valley where the prehistoric whalebones can be seen), Madinet Madi where Greek and Roman remains may be found and the area is rich in geological and biological interest.

We drove past a hotel called Helnan Auberge – we didn’t go in, but I have looked it up on the internet and it seems really nice – if you wanted to stop somewhere very different in Egypt!

A nice day out if you want a change from Cairo!

Links: (Links checked and replaced where necessary Feb 2012)

TourEgypt article about Greek and Roman ruins

Further info about Lake Qarun

photos of the area from 1999

PDF 5.3MB DOWNLOAD Official guide to Wadi Rayan and Fayoum Area

(The original link to this guide is defunct so I found a copy on my computer and have uploaded it here. If anyone in officialdom would like to contact me if this is not ok, please let me know.)

Helnan Auberge Hotel at Lake Qarun, Fayoum

Saturday, 11 July 2009

12th -14th July 2009 Private Education Exhibition Cairo

Exhibition link:
Edu Tech 5

I have been notified of this exhibition to be held 12th-14th July at the Cairo International Exhibition Centre in Nasr City.

"Edu – Tech is considered one of the vital educational exhibitions which is held in the Middle-East and is one of the most important annual events which is all the students , university professors , private schools and the private universities and institutes owners , as well as the training and teaching centers in Egypt and the Arab World are looking forward to it."

I was sent a flyer by email but it's all in Arabic.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

On the Buses - From Heliopolis to Pyramids by Night Bus

It is the early hours of Friday morning. I have been out to dinner with friends in Heliopolis, the exact opposite side of Cairo from where I live, and have decided to trust to fate and see how near home I can get on Cairo public transport.

I am in luck at the Roxy bus station where a number 200 bus awaits my arrival to transport me and my fellow passengers the many kilometres through the faded luxury of Parisian Heliopolis down through the heart of Ramses Street. For the princely sum of 1.50LE, I am about to be taken on an adventure of the senses; sights, sounds, smells and feelings.

The bus pushes its way through the thronging crowds, all trying to capture buses going hither and thither about The City Victorious – Mdinet Nasr, Msassa, Tahrir, even as far afield as Tanta, AlIskandria, and my way- Al Ahram – The Pyramids – last remaining wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The bus fills, empties, fills again. The bus crosses over the Nile on to Gezira Island – I don’t recall which bridge – 26th July Corridor? May bridge? It is dark, I am in a reverie and don’t notice.

I look up and see an old, fat woman with a huge bag, she is squashed in the gangway between seats. I invite her to let me hold her bag, it’s customary here to offer. I hold it there, perched on my knees, until the bus again crosses the Nile over in to Giza, and she dismounts in Mohandseen.

Making our way through the dark and quieter streets alongside the university, we come upon Midan Giza – crowded and busy even now, at 1am. “Haram, Haram, Haram” “Aktoober” “ramZaiS” call the young men leaning out of the jostling buses and microbuses, “Tahrir” “RamZais” “Aktoober” – the exotic names fill my head sending thrills down my spine. What mysteries were revealed therein. “One day”, I think to myself, “I shall visit the mythical land of MSassa on one of these beasts”.

We pass from Midan Giza to the head of Haram Street – The Pyramids Road. Slowly we make our way through the congested street, competing with cars, taxis, and horses. We see a small knot of people shouting and cursing and a staggering horse in the middle. A taxi had hit the horse in the chest – it was tugging a trailer. The men got on the trailer and the poor, bleeding, staggering horse is whipped off down a side road to meet its fate. This is the dark side of this wonderful land.

By the time we get to the Pyramids Road, only two other passengers – a young man and his veiled wife - and myself were left from our starting point at Roxy. I wonder where they were going, what was their journey for? Why are they out so late?

We inch our way along until the turning off for Faisal Street. Not so long ago, you could just carry on to Al Remaya, the big roundabout outside the pyramids, with Meridian Hotel and Sofitel on different sides. They’ve reconfigured the roundabout now, and it’s no longer round! A cross roads has been cut through, and large traffic lights with giant, unmissable, LCD timer countdowns fitted. Now, traffic coming from Giza to Al Remaya has to detour via Faisal Street.

My bus terminates at Haydeck Al Haram – a huge housing complex just passed Remaya, but it would be very difficult to get an onward bus from there as most of the microbuses and buses try to fill up at Remaya to make the most money.

I alight from the bus on the corner at the head of the Fayoum Road. Many microbuses stop here, waiting for passengers for Fayoum, some 90km distant. My destination is the simpler Aktoober (6th October City). Sometimes you will find a microbus for Aktoober waiting to start here, but it’s not common this time of night. Those that do overcharge everyone – you are a captive market, anxious to get home.

There are a crowd of us waiting, as ever, for the rare beasts which Aktoober buses or microbuses are at that hour of the morning. My fellow travellers are mainly men – a mixture of workmen – either going home or starting early, I’m not sure. Men with small white turbans and long galibayas and the inevitable hammers and drills tied in a bundle with rags, and men dressed in the short-sleeved shirts and smart trousers of the office worker, on their way home from their late night finishes – all too common among the Cairene workforce.

There are a few women, a young woman with a perfect figure dressed in the typical skin-tight clothes and higab of the unmarried Egyptian female and carrying a small suitcase, two older women dressed more traditionally in black abayas, and a stout woman around the same age as me, hair uncovered, in uncomfortable looking court shoes, the flesh of her feet flowing over them, and clad in matching black and white floral-patterned polyester skirt and blouse.

Suddenly, a minibus approaches, coming across the traffic lights, a slim, young man is leaning out of the door, his hand in that familiar, “thumbs up” gesture. “Aktoober”, the voice is still distant but we are all on alert. The bus careens across the mouth of the Alex Desert Road, narrowly avoiding an articulated lorry thundering round the corner and turning in to the Fayoum Road.

We are all ready, like athletes poised at the starting line, waiting for the firing pistol. The adrenalin starts to flow, the heart begins to race a little harder, tongues moisten lips. The bus approaches – where will it stop? We are all alert, waiting for the signal. The bus goes past and starts to pull in a little way down the road, just past a half-barrier.

We are off, the race has begun, the race to get a place on the bus. We have noted that the bus is only half-occupied, who will get the seats? We charge down the road, like the start of the London marathon – elbows akimbo, who will get there first!

I am about sixth, some men push in front of me, but then I push on. No time for manners here. The bus is already starting to move. I push in to the sounds of “hoosh hoosh” (move down move down) and wedge myself between two seatbacks to help me remain upright during the 7km ride home.

I am in luck tonight, a young man offers me his seat. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I accept it. The only problem is, this seat is near the back of the very full bus. That means keeping my eyes peeled for when my destination approaches, and shouting ‘a la gamb, lowsamat’ (beside, please) in appropriate time for the bus driver to lurch to a halt at the side of the road.

Two indistinguishable young men got on the bus – they are handcuffed together. Which is the detective and which is the criminal? – it isn’t possible to tell.

The money man starts to push his way down the bus collecting fares. I am intrigued to notice that the two handcuffed men both pay their own fare! Imagine being arrested and having to pay your own bus fare – someone should tell Gordon Brown!

At some point, the money man stands before me and I produce the requisite fare. On some of the numbered buses they give tickets and you have to keep them – ticket inspectors do appear with some frequency – and they are not uniformed!

We travel down the Fayoum Road, passing Haydeck Al Haram, people get off, people get on. Bowaba Ola, bowaba tani... the turning for the Al Wahat Road leading off to 6th October City approaches. A group of workmen waiting at the turning push on to the bus – even more necessary for me to plan my exit – I am going to have to get passed all these guys!

I see the signs for the hotels which are down the same road as me and grow more alert. I have to judge it just right, too soon, and the driver will deposit me at the 3rd gate of my compound, a very long walk home from there – too late and it will be the 1st Gate. I need the second.

I wait for the bus to pass the 3rd Gate. I shout out the name of my compound to the smiles of all around me – ‘bowaba tani – bowaba kabeera’ – ok you can all laugh, but the bus driver understands me, I want the second gate, the big one. People in the gangway start to press against the opposite side as I rise to make my passage down. With some shifting and struggling, I push my way to the front of the bus. “Shokran” I call as I step down “Arf” says the young man at the door.

The bus pulls away and speeds off towards its next destination.

I wait a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. I have to cross a 4-lane very busy road. Big lorries often drive with no lights. There are street lamps along the road, but I have to give time for my eyes to see if there is a darker patch of darkness rushing towards me before I try to cross. Luckily, late at night, the traffic on this road is a lot lighter and I see no patches of darkness.

I cross over to the long strip of land between the two halves of the road. I step on to the grass. Yuck, ankle deep in mud. Someone’s been watering it! Luckily I am on the way home and not on my way out. This is why I wear trainers most of the time – imagine if I had been in sandals?

With more care I cross the second half of the road – there is a big curve in the bend leading up to it and traffic hurtles round at a rate of knots. I succeed in my quest and approach the entrance to my compound. I wave to the security guard and call out ‘salam a laikum’ ‘alaikum wa salam’ he waves back, and I wend my weary way through the winding paths between the bushes back to the comfort of my den and the waiting arms of my loved ones (well paws anyway ;))

(All these things happened, just not all on the same journey and I have no idea if Heliopolis is Parisian or not :D )

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Tips for Keeping Cool During Egyptian Summers

Yesterday, someone posted this topic on my Facebook page for discussion. I posted a response and then decided to make it a blog post. If you have any handy tips, either comment here or on the FB page.

If you want some facts and figures about temperatures etc, I have put those at the bottom of the post so as not to be too boring straight off.

Firstly, the health warnings:


If you burn, you will burn here very easily. If you don’t normally burn, you may still find you do here. So, don’t forget your sun factors! This is a case of do as I say, not as I do. I only use sun factors for skin that’s never seen the light of day before – once it goes a bit brown I don’t – having said that, if I am at the pool for a day, I wear a long, light cover up over my swimsuit if I’m not actually in the water so that probably provides a sun factor of around 20-30 on its own.


Forget worrying about looking like a prat, if you are going to be out in the sunshine for more than 30 minutes, wear a hat, preferably one that shades your neck too. Sunstroke is not pleasant.

As you can see in my mugshot, I am seen sporting what I call “The Last Bastion of the British Empire” upon my bonce. With that perched atop my head, there is no doubt in the Egyptian mind as to my country of origin. This does not shade my neck. A friend obligingly left a bigger, floppier hat round mine when she visited from the UK which does shade my neck. This wondrous device is called “The Penultimate Bastion of the British Empire” and I tend to wear that now if I’m out and about.

If you can stay undercover between 11am – 3pm, do so.


Dehydration is a very real risk and I do have friends who have been hospitalised with it. You need to ensure that you drink a couple of litres of water throughout the day. Me, personally, I freeze 1-litre bottles of tap water in the freezer, and then take a couple of frozen bottles out in the morning. It thaws through the day and I sip on it constantly. If I’m going out, I put one in my bag.

When I went on a desert trip last August, we were drinking 3-4 litres of water each day and not even going to the loo much.

I find that I don’t need to wear moisturizer in the summer here because there’s a constant thin layer of sweat.

I have copied the main symptoms of dehydration from BBC Health - Dehydration and I urge you to read this article if you are coming here for the first time.

The main symptom of dehydration is feeling thirsty.

In mild to moderate dehydration, other possible symptoms include:
• Dry mouth, eyes and lips
• Headache
• Tiredness
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Decreased urine output
• Muscle weakness

When dehydration is more severe, a person may experience:
• Extreme thirst
• Very dry mouth and eyes
• Loss of elasticity in the skin, making it look shrivelled
• Passing small amounts of dark, concentrated urine
• Sunken eyes
• Lack of sweating
• Fast heartbeat

In addition, blood pressure may be low, and delirium and loss of consciousness may occur.


Before I moved here, I observed the male of the species on the buses.

Without exception, they wear cotton vests under their shirts. Now, did anyone EVER know a man do anything to inconvenience himself on a regular basis, let alone a whole country-full? So, me thinks, there might be something in this!

I purchased several cotton vest-tops from the UK to bring with me when I moved, and whenever I go out and about I have cotton vest top and light shorts on under my clothes, and to the particular grief of all who know me, I wear cotton socks with my trainers. (Why women go bare-footed and suffer the pain of blisters in the name of trying to look attractive I shall never in the world understand. Surely a foot full of blisters or covered in elastoplasts is not attractive? Answers on a postcard!)

The cotton undergear doesn't make me hotter, difficult to say whether it makes me cooler (as of course I can’t test the same trip with and without!), though I think it does.

Physiologically it should - the cotton layer holds sweat against the body and as it evaporates, it cools you (so the theory goes anyway!). It also means you don't get horrible, embarrassing sweat patches on your top clothes.

I always have one of my two hats shoved in my bag, so if I find myself out in the open longer than I thought, I can slap it on the top.

I typically wear a long-sleeved shirt or blouse when I’m out which I personally find serves to prevent sunburn, keep me cool with the wind up my sleeves, helps prevent me getting eczema on my arms (which I get when my skin is in contact with varnished wood, plastic or wool), and is culturally a little more acceptable than bare arms (if you’re not in a seaside resort, it’s better to cover your shoulders and upper arms).

Another friend of mine, though, finds long-sleeves make her too hot. I guess it’s a question of try it and see if it helps!


Most of the veils are nylon or polyester and the few women who have mentioned it to me usually say their heads are sweating and hot under them. I stand to be corrected by those who disagree though, I am just commenting on what veiled women have told me and have no personal experience of it.

Most of the clothes worn by Egyptian women do not seem conducive to staying cool with polyester featuring heavily.

I see male tourists wearing the kufiya when they visit the pyramids and the like. I would say men, in particular, need to be sure to cover their heads, even if you do think you look like an idiot! Women have a greater choice of headwear.

How HOT does it get in Egypt:

The first thing to note is that summer temperatures in Egypt vary quite markedly between Upper (Luxor etc) and Lower Egypt.

This link will show you the range of temperatures in major areas of Egypt:

Wunderground - Weather

As I write (around 11am local time), the coolest place is Sallum Plateau 24C (75F), northern (lower Egypt) – Siwa and along the Mediterranean coast – Marsa Matrouh, Alexandria etc is 26-28C (79-82F), Greater Cairo and much of the Delta around 32C (89F), down the Red Sea Coast line varying from 30C (86F) at Suez to 35C (95F)at Sharm El Sheikh, 36C (97F) at Hurghada, and Taba – on the other side of Sinai hitting 37C (99F). Luxor is 34C (95F) and Aswan 37C (99F). Yesterday in Cairo, temperatures reached 42C (108F) and temperatures in Upper Egypt can reach 50C (122F).

(Here’s a handy calculator for converting temperatures temperature converter. I didn’t use this, I use the trusty C=5/9 (F-32) or F=9/5C + 32 that I learnt at school.

Here is another link giving an overview of typical minimum and maximum temperatures in different parts of Egypt for the whole year Annual Weather Egypt.

How HUMID does it get in Egypt?

On the whole humidity is not too bad, though here in Cairo we get the odd very sweaty day. I’m finding this summer more sweaty than last – having said that I have had a very bad cold for the past 2 weeks which may be making me feel more fevery than normal.

How INTENSE is the sun in Egypt?

Egyptian sunshine is much more intense than British sunshine. For example, one day in June 2008 I went swimming for 1 hour with an uncovered back. In May 2009 (the next time I started swimming with an uncovered back) I still had the strap marks from the previous year on my back! Being out in the sunshine for a couple of hours in Egypt is a WHOLE different ballgame than being out in the sunshine for a couple of hours in the UK.
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