Sunday, June 21, 2009

Four star digs, courtesy Swine Flu


By Alexandra Moe

When I first entered my hotel room at the Shepheard Hotel in Cairo, I was in disbelief at the view. After hearing about the cases of swine flu in the dormitories of AUC, Caroline rescheduled our group to stay at the Shepheard in downtown Cairo. None of us thought that would translate into staying at a four-star hotel overlooking the Nile.

Small balconies with tables and chairs adorn each Nile-front room. It is breathtaking to sit outside and admire the skyline of Cairo and watch the cruise liners float down the river. I can’t say it is an all-around peaceful experience, as there is a major road beneath us on which drivers are constantly honking and slamming on their breaks - we definitely get a firsthand look at how people drive from up on the balcony.

My roommate Jen and I really enjoy relaxing on our balcony, sitting outside and enjoying the scenery. We have eaten dinner on the balcony, written postcards, and chatted about our experiences. It is surreal. We have been learning about the Nile since second grade and now we are staying in a hotel that overlooks it.

The view isn’t the only good aspect of the Shepheard Hotel, but is definitely what I consider to be the best.

The hotel was built in 1841 and has been a staple in the city ever since. In 1952, a fire damaged the hotel but the building was successfully restored. It has very historic architecture that is quite charming. With 300 rooms and six restaurants, plus numerous conference rooms, the hotel offers something for everyone. Many in our group love to sit on the 10th floor outdoors at The Terrace, sipping on Egyptian beer and smoking shisha while taking in the distinct-smelling air of Cairo and watching the Nile. In the lobby there are gift shops, a casino, and a small bank.

If I stopped writing now, the Shepheard Hotel would seem flawless and perfect, but it has its downfalls too.

The biggest hassle is Internet access. “I wish the Internet would work,” said Rachel, another student in our group. Being students, not to mention journalists, we rely on the Internet constantly to stay connected with family and friends and report on our stories. Back at our compound in Qatar, we took our wireless access for granted. Here in Cairo, Internet is only available in the lobby and mezzanine level of the hotel, causing all of us grief. The wireless is also spotty and consistently delayed. We are making the best of the situation but the lack of wireless and the quality of it is unfortunate.

Having said that, the hotel has been around for a while and undoubtedly is very old. But that is no excuse for not updating. Our room has a broken drain, another room has a broken toilet, and yet another has a broken doorknob. The elevators are slow, the chairs uncomfortable, and there is only one key per room. Perhaps I am just accustomed to hotels in America, but the issues we have with the Shepheard, a four-star hotel, seem as if they could be fixed relatively easily if the management wanted. We had to call three times until someone came to look at our drain and they still were unable to fix it. That seems unacceptable at such a well-known hotel.

Yet even with the poor wireless and broken appliances, I would not give up staying at the Shepheard Hotel. We are in the heart of downtown Cairo at a historic hotel with a breathtaking view of the Nile at a great price—what more could a tourist ask for?

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