There are a variety of options in terms of transport in Egypt. They range from:
*Back of a donkey cart (or donkey itself)
*Horse and Cart (or carriage… or horse only)
* Metro (Cairo underground)
* Local mini-bus
… and they all come in various levels of maintenance, cleanliness and styles of driving, depending on which version or price you pay!!
SO WHICH ARE MY FAVORITE WAYS?
In Alexandria, by far my most preferred way of getting around the city (well, most of it) is the tram! It is slow, sometimes crowded (very), the windows are grimy, the floors not well maintained, some seats are broken…. but this is where the people are. You can learn a lot about life as you trundle through the city, by watching who is on the tram, what they are wearing, carrying, where most people get on and off.
There is a relatively simple plan of the tram: 2 routes, which criss cross and divide up a few times. So have a look at the large maps on the station… well most stations! There is arabic on the one side and English on the other! There are often no maps inside the tram… so count the stops! Also be prepared as there might be several stops which are not official stops: traffic jams are regularly across the tram lines and cause the trams to stop and wait (amid much hand waving, shouting and horns honking!)
You will also need to learn the tram seating dance! There is a preferred seat (depending on where the sun is) but it is usually the seat facing in the direction of the journey next to the window. So watch how those standing keep their eye on these seats, try and position themselves in a way to grab the next free preferred seat!
If you are “older”, then usually a younger person (if they notice you) will offer for you to sit in their seat. You are expected to refuse, and when they insist, gratefully accept the seat…. and then try and work you way into the preferred seat of the section you are in!!
Also, trams in Alexandria have the first carriage as a ladies only. Our first tram ride found our family (2 males) being glared at by the older women in the carriage and giggled at by the younger girls… until finally someone came and made it known (pointing and hand actions) that this was a ladies only carriage.
But for the price of 25 piasters (1 pound if you are in the single carriage “antique” tram) this is a wonderful way to pass the time, and in an unhurried way, learn about the people and culture, from within and without the carriage.
With the roads being so crowded and the traffic being so congested, my choice for getting between the 2 large cities (Alexandria and Cairo) is the train. There are various kinds:
- the “fast train” (non stop)
- the 1 – 3 stop train
- and then the “how many more stops?” train (AVOID THIS ONE)
Take the fast direct train (arabic=mubashr) and it usually takes around 2.5 hours. There are first and second class options available, but the difference in experience is not that noticeable. Don’t expect clean and pristine, or you will be disappointed. Most windows are usually caked with dust and Egyptian grime (but you will come to realize that this is everywhere all the time) but you can still get a glimpse of the beauty of the villages as you pass through.
There is a small “refreshment” trolley that will be wheeled through your carriage (about 3 times) selling tea, coffee and sandwiches. Most people will bring a bag of snacks or their own sandwiches, but do take a glass of steaming tea or coffee…. it makes for a pleasant experience.
There is a toilet on each carriage, but don’t expect much… and take tissues.
Also remember to allow for delays: and never cut your time too close for airport transfers. Rather have at least 4 hours built in for unexpected delays…. you will get there when you get there.
Having grown up in a family who often took overnight trains to reach our holiday destination, for me there is something wonderful about sleeping on a train. The tourist sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor (or Aswan) is a must. It is the cleanest train in Egypt (again, don’t expect too much) and the bedding is fresh and the meals just fine.
You will get to see some lovely views from your window (again, through a layer of dust) and feel that sense of awe as you approach the ancient capital city, and see the majestic Nile River, remembering all you learnt about the Ancient Egyptians at school.
But, however you get around in Egypt, know that it will be crowded, noisy, grimy… but if you can get over all of that and look around and enjoy the experience, you will meet some wonderful people and get a deeper look into the culture of modern Egypt.