Regina G Beach

The only constant is change.

Filtering by Tag: Cairo

Abraham and Castle Hotel Cairo

Abraham is a 48 year old, twice divorced hotelier who opened the Castle Hotel Cairo in January of this year. He’s worked in hospitality his whole life: in hotel restaurants, as a bell boy, receptionist, all the way up to reservation manager at a resort in Dubai. He wheels and deals withe the best of them. He intentionally overbooked and then rented out private villas for the overflow which made both the guests and villa owners happy while mystifying his boss.

“I see you have 302 guests booked tonight.”

“Yessir.”

“But we only have rooms for 225.”

“Yessir.”

“How are you going to deal with that?”

“I have my way. Don’t worry.”

Abraham and I at the check in desk at the Castle Hotel Cairo.

Abraham and I at the check in desk at the Castle Hotel Cairo.

Abraham’s gift of gab and way of seeing solutions to every problem eventually brought him home to Cairo after a long career abroad, a half Uzbek son, an ex-father in law who loved to get him drunk on vodka, and an ailing mother.

Abraham’s mom died a few months after he moved back to Cairo and he was shattered. He was at a crossroads and decided to stay anyway and start his own hotel. He started a venture Radwa, a 32 year old single woman who smokes cigarette and refuses to cover her hair (both rarities in Egypts ever more conservative culture.) She designed the rooms. Ours had London and Paris architecture and the British flag all over the wallpaper. And he handled the guests through HostelWorld, booking.com, Expedia and Trip Advisor.

Abraham wants to expand the hotel. It’s on the 15th floor of an office building and in the adjacent building the corresponding floor is vacant. He’s trying to buy it. He’ll knock out the walls and connect the two buildings. He wants more guest rooms, a sitting room and a rooftop terrace and restaurant. He feels the call to travel but thinks he’ll stay in Cairo for the next five years until he can realize his dream.

Abraham has an older sister and nephew in Austria. It isn’t easy for Egyptians to travel outside the county so I suspect he comes from some money. He says he studied hospitality but learned English from speaking to guests, as most service industry workers claim. He nonchalantly points out the balcony to the empty lot filled with dump trucks and pipes across the street. He tells me there used to be houses there but the people didn’t keep them up so they got bought up and new hotels will go in.

With the proximity to the Egyptian Museum and the Nile River, I’m not surprised to hear it’s prime real-estate. He seems non-plussed when I ask him where the people who lived there went. “Away,” he shrugs, holding an unlit cigarette.

Abraham is the epitome of hospitable. Sometimes he offers thick Turkish coffee, which I deny in the evenings for fear of never sleeping. He tells a story about his sister who drank his coffee then sat on the couch all night wide-eyed with caffein. Other times it’s Pepsi, or slices of cold watermelon from the fridge. Once he gave me some of his instant noodles. He seems incapable of possessing food or drink without sharing.

He complains about housing priced in Egypt and the bad economy and devalued money. He thinks someone should do something about it but he’s not sure what and he’s not sure who. He worries about getting older, about how skinny he is, about smoking too much, drinking too much coffee and eating too little. But I don’t get the sense that Abraham is the type of man who is wont to do anything about his worries.

He wears the same clothes for the first two days we stay at the Cairo Castle Hotel. He tells me he doesn't like to go the 30 minutes back to his apartment. It’s too lonely and then he doesn’t like to come back. He’d rather sleep on the couch in the reception and let the breeze come in from the balcony or sleep in an empty room if they’re not full.

Abraham says he needs a hobby and that he won’t take a third wife. He 18 year old son only speaks Russian and Abraham has given up calling him because he only knows two questions in Russian “how’s schools?” And “Have you eaten?” He seems wistful for connection but tells me, “It’s a strange and beautiful life. You can never know what will happen.”

Night Train Cairo to Luxor

Steve Goodman’s 1971 song City of New Orleans has always been one of my favorites. I’m partial to the Arlo Guthrie cover myself.

Good morning America how are you?

Don't you know me I'm your native son

I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans

I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

The Cairo train station is fancy.

The Cairo train station is fancy.

Aside from municipal subways, I’ve really only ridden one train any distance in the US. The South Shore Line runs between Millennium Station in Chicago, Illinois and the South Bend Airport in Indiana. I took it once to visit my aunt and uncle who live in Elkhart. The ride was only a few hours and I stared out the window for most of the it. The rail line goes through the south side industrial lands then through neighborhoods, rural land and small town on the way out of the windy city into Indiana.

Riding on the City of New Orleans

Illinois Central Monday morning rail

Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders

Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail

I feel a strange nostalgia for rail travel in America. People still ride Amtrak cross country, but it’s often just as expensive as flying. I’m not sure when the golden age of the railroad was but I always think of the Pullman porters tending to the wealthy in the fancy cars leased to the rail companies. They were made on the far south side of Chicago in what was at the time the company town and is now the Pullman neighborhood. I adopted a kitten that was found in the neighborhood and I named her Morty for George Mortimer Pullman. I had to give her up when my traveling life meant I no longer had an apartment of my own but I thought of her fondly on my most recent rail journey.

All along the southbound odyssey

The train pulls out at Kankakee

Rolls along past houses, farms and fields

Passin' trains that have no names

Freight yards full of old black men

And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

This model of the Cairo rail station makes parking look orderly and easy to understandable. It’s not. Cairo traffic is a nightmare.

This model of the Cairo rail station makes parking look orderly and easy to understandable. It’s not. Cairo traffic is a nightmare.

There are a few ways to travel the 400 miles between Egypt’s capital city and Luxor (known to the ancient Greeks as Thebes.) We opted for the night train, first class, which was a splurgy option that included dinner, breakfast and a bunk for the night. Megan and Chris had one cabin and I had another to myself. There is an adjoining room, but it’s on the opposite side of Chris and Megan’s so I don’t open the door. It remains a mystery person’s cabin. I offer to take Megan’s bag, which lives with mine on the bottom bunk, which converts into three chairs like a row on an airplane.

Dealin' cards games with the old men in the club car

Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score

Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle

Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor

Our porter is an elderly gentleman wearing a navy porter outfit and a cap with some English skills. He comes to check my ticket and asks if I want to sleep on the bottom, I decline. I fish the heavy metal ladder out from under the lower bunk and attach it to the hook on the wall. The door to the bathroom sink fits behind it. The toilets are down the hall. The air conditioner is on full blast so I tuck myself into bed to read when I hear another persistent knock on the door. The porter knocks loudly and doesn’t stop until I climb down, fiddle with the lock and the very sticky handle that never opens the first time. This time it’s the porter with two other men who he calls ‘security check.’ I must have passed muster because as soon as they announce themselves, they move on to the next cabin.

My train cabin had a sink cupboard, window and metal ladder up to my bunk.

My train cabin had a sink cupboard, window and metal ladder up to my bunk.

And the sons of Pullman porters

And the sons of engineers

Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep

Are rockin' to the gentle beat

And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

I climb up the ladder and tuck myself in again. The bed is much wider than the sleeping train I took in Danang, Vietnam where six beds stacked three high occupied the same amount of space as my single compartment. At 8:40 there’s another knock at the door. It’s dinner time and the porter “shows” me how to attach the TV tray to the wall, a job I most certainly could have done myself. I eat in silence alone as the train continues along the Nile river. There are some hangers hidden behind a curtained “closet” next to the sink. I don’t know if people actually unpack and change their clothes or what but I slept in day-old sweaty leggings and an Ohio University tee-shirt. There was a plug for a razor, but not one for a phone showing the age of the car.

My bunk had a metal bar and (thankfully) a blanket and sheet because the train was freezing!

My bunk had a metal bar and (thankfully) a blanket and sheet because the train was freezing!

Nighttime on The City of New Orleans

Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee

Half way home, we'll be there by morning

Through the Mississippi darkness

Rolling down to the sea

There’s another knock at the door and I think I’m going to go mad with the amount of “service” I’m receiving but this time it’s Chris with a report that the “fancy” dining car isn’t worth going down to. He hands me a Fanta and tells me it’s 6 cars down, past fancier sleeper cars that say they were made in “West Germany” for context of how old ours must be. The porter comes back and takes my tray and asks many times over if I would like to purchase a juice. I decline. It’s 9:45 and I’m exhausted. It’s a 5:15 wake up call to get off the train so I need to get to bed if I’m going to have any chance of a full night’s sleep.

But all the towns and people seem

To fade into a bad dream

And the steel rails still ain't heard the news

The conductor sings his songs again

The passengers will please refrain

This train's got the disappearing railroad blues

The Egyptian country side flew by outside the train window.

The Egyptian country side flew by outside the train window.

Laos has no train and neither does Senegal. The Chinese are building a railway through Laos and while Senegal has miles of tracks and cars, it owes money to the foreign investment company that’s making the rail line a reality. It’s doubtful the line will be completed by the original 2020 completion date. The Egyptian train experience was largely a good one. The train was on time, we had reserved beds that we bought online (a rarity in Egypt.) We made it to Luxor before 6 a.m. and walked to the Sofitel for a day of luxuriating in the gardens, pool and fluffy beds.

Good night, America, how are you?

Said don't you know me I'm your native son

I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans

I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done