“ Address: 26th July Road / Tel: 03 480 7537 164 / Rating: 2 star „
* I commiserate with all the people and their families who died or were injured in the latest barbaric assault against Christians celebrating New Year in a Coptic church in east Alexandria just last Saturday. *
To escape the madness and pollution of Cairo, my boyfriend and I decided to spend a weekend in Alexandria in the run-up for Christmas. The hotel was recommended to us by colleagues from the French Consulate who regularly choose this hotel for their city breaks, and was described as 'cheap and decent for an Egyptian 2 star hotel'.
FINDING THE HOTEL
Alexandria is a big city of more than 4 million inhabitants and spreads along 20 miles of the Mediterranean coast. We arrived by train in the heart of the city to the terminal Misr train station after a pleasant and short 2-hour journey. It is less busy than the non-terminal station, Sidi Gaber so I recommend you alight here when coming from Cairo.
A taxi we flagged had the meter in working order, so there could be no mistaking at the end regarding the fare, and he took us to the hotel in about 10 minutes for the total fare of LE10 which is about £1. Always flag the white taxis with the taxi sign as everyone here does 'taxi' but will charge you 10 times more and will get you into unnecessary arguments. Even white taxis will try to do this with you if they see you're not familiar with the real fares.
Union is situated in a rather unassuming little street and as we approached it from the back, little did we know it opens onto the magnificent 'Corniche' from the French 'coastal road' and sweeping views of the Mediterranean.
Signposted but rather tucked away on the fifth floor of the building, we took a small, rickety lift with just the single outer door to the reception area. Lifts are like that everywhere in Egypt and usually made for two people with reasonable small luggage to enter comfortably.
We phoned the day before to book so they knew about us arriving. Despite the 'high season' as they describe December and January here as the main touristic season, the hotel was practically empty. However it's best to phone before anyway as if they're busy they may charge you extra even though rooms are available. As our passports were being registered and given back immediately, we were asked for the type of room we wanted. There's a long list of prices / room types displayed on the wall. This is because they have street-view rooms and panoramic-view rooms overlooking the aforementioned 'Corniche'. You can see the fantastic sea view from the reception so we decided we wanted one like that.
We were showed to our room by a porter of respectable age who unlocked the door for us then hovered for a few moments (presumably for baksheesh which we don't give if no service rendered) before shuffling away. Just tell him 'Khlass, shukran' (That's it, thanks) and he'll go away.
It costs a couple of British pounds more to have a more spacious room with a balcony and view and indeed the first thing we inspected were the fabulous view from the balcony from which we could see the lavish bay and the busy Corniche. We thought it was really worth it especially as the weather was sunny. The noise from the street below was quite noticeable, make sure the sliding doors to the terrace are sealed well or you won't have a good night's sleep if you're sensitive to noise.
The general impressions were fair, the beds were neatly made and everything seemed to be clean and dusted. As usual in Egypt, the fittings and furnishings were in bad order from the tricky door handles and horrible, hollowed or downright ripped-out sockets with wires sticking out of them! During my two-week stay in Cairo I've got used to this but this may come as a shock to someone just arriving in Egypt. There will always be at least one socket in working order though.
The room was quite large too; it was actually a three-bed room, each bed with its bedside-table and overhead reading lamp as per the 2-star standard. There was also a dressing table, a desk and TV. There were two large linen cupboards so we had no trouble putting our stuff away.
The bathroom was tiny, dimly-lit and very basic but clean and surprisingly the fittings were ok. There was a shower curtain which is kind of a luxury at hotels like this. We noticed that there were no soap and toilet paper at all which had to be asked for. There were towels though, a single one for each person not two as at other hotels.
We then went out for a bit of sightseeing before dark and to have dinner afterwards about 8 o'clock which is unusually early in Egypt but we were tired and hungry after the busy day. So it wasn't until we finally got back to the hotel around 11:30 and went to bed that I realised that the bed I chose the furthest from the balcony door to avoid the pollution and the cold at night was hard as a rock and had a huge dent in the middle so impossible to sleep on!
Luckily the other two beds were none the worse for wear so after a bit of a rearrangement we managed to get a good night's sleep. Nights can get cold in Egypt even when the days are hot and Alexandria is always cooler than other parts of Egypt so we made use of all available blankets in the room to cover us for the night.
Breakfast is served from 7-10am this is the standard time in hotels in Egypt. The selection is continental with bread, croissant, butter, jam, honey and two boiled eggs per person. For drinks, tea or coffee are served.
The breakfast area is in front of the reception in the window bay overlooking the Mediterranean. It was fairly badly lit and as it was a bit cloudy that morning as well, it looked a bit unkempt. Not to mention the run-down sofa in front of the overhead telly and the small, round breakfast tables and equally basic chairs that came right out of a school canteen!
You can help yourself to fizzy drinks and beer called Stella from the fridge, they cost LE1 and that's an amazing 10p! The beer is an Egyptian-made brew established over a hundred years ago based on Stella Artois but is of course nowhere near the original.
The service is very nonchalant and we had to wait a good fifteen minutes after having asked the waiter for the breakfast and twice for tea/coffee. There were two other tables with guests, two local businessmen already served and a Frenchwoman and her daughter who arrived before us and still waiting to be served. The breakfast costs LE15 / person and will be added to your bill at the checkout.
Checkout deadline is at 12 noon so it's generous enough and you can always leave your luggage at reception and collect it just before you leave town.The process was smooth and we were presented with a bill coming to a total of LE175 that was LE130 for the room, LE15 tax, LE30 for breakfast and LE5 for drinks that is roughly £17 for the two of us! The room prices displayed are without tax, so the sales tax of 12% will always be added to the final as well as breakfast and any drinks you consumed from the fridge.
The receptionist was a lovely, young lady who was very helpful, quick and efficient all the way and had a friendly, smiling disposition. Most importantly she also had a good command of English, a welcome change to the usually not-so-smiley male staff (waiter and porter spring to mind) who usually struggle with basic English.
It is said that in Egypt you'd better go for the five-star palaces or nothing. Budget hotels that are not in a catastrophic state and full of bedbugs and cockroaches are indeed few are far between. Due to our restricted budget and quite frankly our disregard for luxury we always tend to go for low-cost whenever possible, especially if it's for one night only. We're independent travellers who aren't too fussed about lacking standards as we never stay in a place for more than a couple of nights.
We've stayed at lot worse hotels in Africa so given the rating and price, we found Union Hotel quite adequate and consider the few niggles (bad bed, lack of attention to detail, waiting for no reason) as being part of their own living standards and way of life so it's only reasonable not to expect five-star or even three-star service and facilities at such a hotel.
Another big plus for us was the location of Union as it's situated in the middle of the Alexandrian Bay. Take a barely 10-minute walk to the right on the Corniche when you leave the hotel and pop in the futuristic oddly-shaped New Alexandria Library. Or take a left and explore the sea front, have a 'kawa' at one of the authentic, dingy cafés (Alexandria is a coffee-drinking population unlike the rest of the country). Further away on the seafront, there's the really really smelly fish market (for strong stomachs only) and the shipyard with the wonderfully painted repair hangars.
Already a favourite amongst divers and archaeologists thanks to the ancient sunk city of Cleopatra being just a few hundred yards away in the bay between the two posts where the Pharos used to be, I recommend this hotel to budget travellers for a short stay who want to explore Alexandria's ancient heritage, enjoy some of the 140km beach along the coast or to be immersed in this living, lively, noisy and unpretentious Middle-Eastern city.
PRICE AND CONTACT DETAILS
The address is: Union Hotel, 164 Sharia 26th July (26th July Road) Alexandria, Egypt
To book, call 03 4807771 locally or 00203 4807771 if you're calling from abroad (20 is the country code for Egypt and 3 is the area code for Alexandria)
Single rooms from LE90, double rooms LE120 - 150 depending on view.
Thanks for reading.
©powered by lillybee also posted on ciao.co.uk