Taking Care of the Planet

Our Esoteric Quests take us to many wonderful places around the world, and we here at the Open Center are committed to caring for this planet. As always, our brochure is printed on recycled paper and this year we will be neutralizing the effect our staff air travel has on climate change. We invite you to join us in this commitment by visiting www.sustainabletravelinternational.org so you can find out how many greenhouse gases are generated by your journey and then purchase Green Tags which make your travel 100% climate neutral.

Travel Agents & Online Bookings

The New York Open Center will travel as a group by coach from Le Parc Meridien Pyramids Hotel in Cairo, to our main conference in Alexandria, on Saturday, the 9th of June, 2012.

For online bookings of discounted air tickets to Cairo, useful websites include www.kayak.com, www.orbitz.com, and www.cheaptickets.com.

For anyone preferring to work directly with a travel agent, Astoria, New York, based Azzazy Travel specializes in coordinating travel to and from Egypt (contact either Mr. Mahmoud or Mr. Alaa’ at 718-728-4900).

Telephones

The country code for Egypt is 20. The area code for Alexandria is 03; for Cairo it is 02 (omit the zero when calling from abroad).

The most affordable means of making international calls when in Egypt is through the use of Skype, which is either free when calling computer to computer, or available for a few U.S. cents-per-minute charge when dialing from computer to land line, or the reverse (SkypeIn or SkypeOut).

Calling Cards

The most economical way to phone internationally from within Egypt is with a calling card, obtained through your national telecommunication service before leaving home, where calls are billed directly to your home account.  It is much less expensive to make international calls from public pay phones (in train stations, for example), as opposed to private phones (such as in hotel rooms).

To call within Egypt, it is possible to purchase pre-paid phone cards in varying denominations.

Mobile Phones

You will need to purchase a pre-paid Egyptian SIM card (or a global SIM card, if you plan on traveling beyond Egypt as well) for use within a purchased or rented international GSM cellular phone.  The following websites may be helpful in researching mobile phone options:

http://intouchsmartcards.com/Egypt_SIM.htm
http://www.cellularabroad.com/egyptRcell.php
http://www.planetomni.com/RENT_CTRY_egypt_DTL.shtml
http://www.telestial.com/view_product.php?ID=LSIM-EG01

Internet

Inexpensive internet cafés are easily found throughout Egypt, especially in large cities.  In addition, many cafés, hotel lobbies, and major airports, have Wifi (wireless internet access).

Electricity

Egypt operates on 220 volts, 50 Hz, with two round-prong European-style plugs.

Laptops and digital cameras (appliances with their own power adaptors) can be plugged into either 110-120-volt or 220-240-volt sockets/points and will adapt to the voltage automatically.  These, however, will require a plug adapter that can fit into Egyptian outlets.

Information on your power adapter will indicate its voltage.  If it reads “INPUT: A.C. 100-240V”, then it can operate on either 110-120 or 220-240 voltage.  If instead you find something like “INPUT: 100-125V”, then it can’t run on Egypt’s 220-240 volts and you’ll need to bring a transformer (also called a power or voltage converter), as well as that plug adapter.

If you find yourself already in Egypt and in need of a plug adapter, many hotels have some on hand to lend to guests until you can get to the electrician’s shop (it’s best to bring your own power adaptor along to the electrician).

Identification & Visas

A valid passport (with at least 6 months remaining before its expiration) is required to enter Egypt.  Additionally, citizens of many countries (including the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.) need visas to enter Egypt.  A tourist visa is valid for a one month stay beginning on the date of arrival, and must be used within three months from the date of issue.

It is possible for U.S. nationals to obtain a visa upon arrival at many of the major ports of entry, including the airport at Cairo; however, please check with your nearest Egyptian Embassy or Consulate to confirm visa requirements applicable to your citizenship.

If you do need, or choose to, secure your visa in advance, you may do so by submitting an application to the Egyptian embassy or consulate nearest to your home.  Tourist visas for U.S. nationals cost $15.

Immunizations & Health

No vaccinations are required to visit Egypt; however, you may want to check with your health care provider’s recommendations for you. Visitors should know to drink only bottled spring water, and much of it (never tap water, not even in hotels and restaurants), to remain hydrated.

To minimize the risk of gastrointestinal ailments, it is wise to remember to eat and drink (coffee, tea, alcohol) in moderation only (as the body adapts to a new environment), to wash hands often with soap and water, and to exercise caution with food, fruit or juices from street vendors.

Safety

The crime rate in Egypt is low.  While most people you’ll encounter are friendly and honest and hospitable, it is still wise to be careful about pickpockets and petty thievery, especially in large cities.  It is best not to leave valuables unsecured in hotel rooms or unattended in public places; similarly, you should never hand your passport to someone whose authority is questionable, or let your luggage out of your sight.

The local number to dial in Egypt in the event of any emergency is 122.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is strongly recommended in the event of unexpectedly having to cancel or change your travel plans either before or during our conference, losing your luggage, needing medical assistance, or if the program is affected by circumstances beyond our control.  You can purchase this online or from your own travel agent. Travel insurance options are available at www.accessamerica.com, www.myinsurance.com, www.insuremytrip.com, and www.travelguard.com.

We encourage you to purchase an air ticket that allows some flexibility with itinerary changes, and to investigate the different “Airline Ticket Protector” policies available through providers such as www.accessamerica.com, www.orbitz.com and www.travelinsured.com.  We also suggest that you verify your chosen airline’s refund policy, as they vary, and at times offer ticket reimbursements where travel insurance may not.

Money

The local currency is the Egyptian Pound (E£), pronounced gin-EH in Arabic. One Egyptian Pound is divided into 100 piasters (pt), also called irsh (the plural is oo-ROOSH).

ATMs provide the easiest access to cash, and tend to offer the best exchange rates, although there is a daily withdrawal limit (usually around $500 U.S.).  You will need a bank card with a four-digit PIN number (check with your bank to confirm that your ATM card is equipped for international transactions).  Please remember to advise your bank that you will be making purchases abroad, since many banks will err on the side of caution and assume your ATM card has been stolen, and might suspend your card temporarily.

It is important to note that Egyptian ATM keypads usually do not have alphabetical keys (ABC for 2, DEF for 3, etc). If you know your PIN in its alphabetical form only, be sure to translate this password into its numerical equivalent (in emergencies, the keypad of a pay phone or cell phone will function as a guide).

However, while ATM access is fairly widespread, it is strongly suggested that you have at least some Egyptian pounds in cash on hand before your arrival in the country (enough to last 48 hours), for any emergencies or unexpected computer network failures.

Traveler’s cheques are not widely accepted in Egypt (except at the more upscale hotels) but they may be exchanged for cash at banks.

Banking hours are ordinarily Sunday – Thursday from 8:30am-2pm (with foreign banks open longer, between 8am and 3pm).  Money exchange, however, is available daily between 8:30am–noon, and 4-8pm.   Post offices are open Saturdays through Thursdays from 8am – 3pm.

Note that there is no sales tax, nor departure tax, in Egypt.

Food & Drink

Egyptian cuisine is built upon legumes and vegetables, and freshly baked flatbreads.  Fuul mudammas, fava beans with garlic, lemon and olive oil, eaten with bread and vegetables, is the most typical Egyptian breakfast.  Kushari, often considered Egypt’s national dish, is a mixture of rice, lentils, macaroni, and tomatoes, topped with fried onions.  Ta’amiyya are disc-shaped, mashed and fried chick pea and / or fava bean patties, known elsewhere as falafel, served with salad and sesame tahina sauce.  Other traditional foods include kofta, ground, spiced, beef or lamb grilled on skewers (or mixed with bulgur wheat and fried as koubeiba); kabab, chunks of lamb or chicken, marinated and grilled; shish tawouq, skewered and grilled chicken; and shawarma, shredded lamb, beef or chicken rolled in pita bread and served with tahina.  Among the favorite Egyptian sweets you will find ba’laweh, pistachio or almond-filled filo pastry, and roz bel laban, rice pudding flavored with rosewater.  As for drinks, Egyptian tea is taken without milk and is usually served with a hearty amount of sugar already added, while the brightly colored karkadeh is a beverage made by brewing hibiscus flowers, and drunk either hot or cold.

Tipping and Bargaining

Tipping (bakhsheesh in Arabic) and bargaining in Egypt are quite different and much more commonplace practices than most westerners are accustomed to.  Bakhsheesh is expected when receiving a small service (accepting a local person’s offer to act as a tour guide, for example, or when requesting a special favor); the giving of alms is also considered a form of bakhsheesh.  The equivalent of between $1 U.S. and $2 U.S. is an appropriate amount to offer attendants at Cairo’s historical buildings or public bathrooms, footwear supervisors in mosques, camel drivers, baggage handlers and tour assistants, all of whom will ask for something extra from those who can afford it. Because of low wages, the working people of Egypt rely on the generosity of visitors.

Taxi or service drivers do not expect tips, nor do waiters (a standard 10-15% service charge is usually included in the bill), although including something extra in recognition of good service will be greatly appreciated.  However, you are not obligated to give money to anyone insisting on opening a door before you can get to it or snatching your baggage from your hands and then demanding bahksheesh, and bribing government officials is a definite no-no!

Bargaining is a cultural tradition in Egypt.  Most private transportation fares and items for sale in the outdoor markets (souqs) are open to negotiation, with vendors and drivers quoting a high price to start.  You will not want to bargain on prepared or pre-packaged foods on the street or in restaurants, and may find “fixed prices” signs in some shops.  It is always possible to tactfully ask, “Is that your lowest price?” if in doubt.

Customs & Etiquette

It is quite customary for Egyptians to be physically close to each other, when in conversation or in public spaces.  Men tend to link arms and hold hands, although the same is not accepted of Western travelers.  Men will kiss each other in greeting, as will women; however, members of the opposite sex do not kiss in public.  Travelers will want to be familiar with a number of common gestures: holding up the hand with palm facing away, and fingers moving, means “come here” (as opposed to “good-bye”, as it does in the West).  When someone’s palm is held facing their face, and bobbing up and down (usually signifying “come here” to westerners), this is a gesture asking you to “wait a minute”.  It is important to avoid using the “thumbs up” sign, which is considered offensive in the Arab world.

Dress

Ways of dress in Egypt are relatively liberal, as compared to some other Middle Eastern cultures; however, revealing clothing will be seen as inappropriate, especially on foreign women.  Modest dress is appreciated; women will want to wear looser clothing that covers their bodies as much as possible, especially their legs and upper arms.  For both men and women, loose, long-sleeved, cotton clothing will also provide protection against strong sun and any mosquitoes.

As for beachwear, while there are some designated beaches or areas at beaches where foreign women may be seen in bathing suits, female travelers will want to have a long covering with them, even when swimming.  Most Egyptian women wear the traditional gellabiya into the water.

Climate

Egypt in June is quite warm, with average high temperatures in Cairo around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) and very little rainfall.  You can expect slightly cooler temperatures from the Mediterranean breeze in Alexandria, with evenings in the low 60s (around 17 degrees Celsius).

Time

Egypt is two hours ahead of GMT, 7 hours ahead of New York, and 10 hours ahead of Los Angeles.  The country observes Daylight Savings Time in summer.

Language

Arabic (Al-‘Arabiyya) is the official language of Egypt.  While you will find English spoken at most hotels and tourist areas, every visitor should learn some basic Arabic phrases out of common respect.  Even the most humble attempts at speaking the language will enrich your travels and deepen your experience of the country and its people.

Useful Phrases

Greetings

ENGLISH ARABIC
Informal hello Marhaba
Formal hello (response) As-Salaamu aleikum (Wa aleikum as-salaam)
Goodbye Ma- as-salaama
Good morning (response) Sabah al-kheir(Sabah al-noor / Sabah al-ishta)
Good evening (response) Masa’ al-kheir  (Masa’ al-noor)
How are you? Izzayyak (m)? / Izzayik (f)?
I’m fine Kwayyis (m) / Kwayyisa (f)
Yes (informal) / Yes (formal) Awya / Na’am
No La
Maybe Mumkin
Never mind, no big deal Ma’alish
Thank you (very much) Shukran (jazilan)
Please … Min fadlak / Law samaht…
I’m sorry Ana aasif (m) / Ana aasfa (f)
Excuse me (to get attention) ‘An iznak (m) / ‘An iznik (f)
Pardon me (to apologize) ‘Afwan
God willing; Praise God Inshallah; Al-hamdu lillah
I don’t understand. Ana mish faahim (m) /Ana mish faahima (f).
Do you speak English? Tatakalim inglizi (m)? /Tatakalimee inglizi (f)?

Money

ENGLISH ARABIC
How much is this? Bikam?
Change Fakka

Emergencies

ENGLISH ARABIC
Help! Saa’idoonee!
Stop! Waqif!
Shame!  Go away! Haraam! Imshee!
Passport Gawaz
(American) Embassy Safara (al-Amrikiya)

Pronunciation:

gh is slightly rolled at the back of the throat, like a French “r”
kh is like the “ch” in loch
r is trilled, as it is in Spanish
dh is pronounced like th in “this”
al
(as a prefix) is the definite article, although when it precedes t, th, j, d, dh, r, z, s, sh, or n, the l is not pronounced, but becomes the letter that follows
(x: al-noor is properly pronounced as an-noor).