Al Hayat Hotel

Posted: May 14, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

Wednesday 12th May, 1915
Well here we are again, but in a different town than before. This Army seems to be a regular tourist party. The Convalescent Hospital has been moved, lock, stock and barrel, down to the Al Hayat Hotel, Helouan. Yesterday morning we packed all our stuff in the midst of a blinding sand-storm. Early in the afternoon about sixteen Ambulance Motors called for us, and transported the whole crowd into the Helouan Railway Station in Cairo. It is known as the Bal-al-Luk Station. The run to Halouan only takes about 40 minutes, the distance from Cairo is 15 miles.

From the station at Helouan we were driven in the motors up to the Hotel. It is a fine big place, the building forms three sides of a rectangle with gardens all round. Everything is fixed up on a most elaborate style. Of course there is no furniture at all, but one can get a fair idea of what it must have been like when decked out in all its oriental magnificence. There are 200 rooms capable of taking 250 beds, but of course we could get quite a 1000 in. Nearly all the rooms are grouped into suites.

The building is on rising ground, so that one wing is three stories high, and the other is four. The Al Hayat is built above the town, and is supposed to be the highest hotel in Egypt. From the front verandah we can see all over the town, and behind the Nile winds about. On the other side are the Pyramids of Sakkara with the famous step pyramids. Away on our right we can see the Pyramids of Cheops. On our left are the Mokkattam Hills. They run parallel to the railway line from the famous quarries behind the Citadel. All along these hills at various places are round forts built by Napoleon. To the south (as a guide book says) stretches the illimitable desert, shrouded in a haze of delicate and sombre colours giving the impression now and again of desert waves shimmering in an ocean of sand, and now labouring as in a gale, and, again, looking in the distance as if held spell bound in a dead calm.

The ship of the desert sometimes a fleet of them, camel trains of varying length, bearing merchandise apparently, from nowhere to nowhere, are traversing those trackless wastes as their hump-backed progenitors have done for thousands of years before them.

Helouan or Helwan, as it is sometimes called is one of the most famous health resorts in Egypt, being patronised by royalty and hordes of the aristocracy of Europe. The most notable feature is hot sulphur baths. Old Helouan was to have been the capital of Egypt at one time. Most of these big hotels are run by big European Companies. The Gezireh Palace Hotel which was at one time the Khedive Ishmail Pasha’s Palace, is on the banks of the Nile in the most fashionable European quarter.

I am in a room with Cpl. Cowan and another chap, up on the second floor. You can imagine how we are revelling in the baths, we can have a plunge or shower bath at any time of the day or night.

The Al Hayat Hotel Helouan, Egypt May 1915
The grounds are fairly extensive; there are shrubberies, grottos, and tennis courts, but it is too hot to venture out. At meals we are served by natives dressed in the red tarbosh with a sort of white overall dress with a gaily coloured sash at the waist, and with red pointed toe slippers. Have I ever told you about the Cake Shops in Cairo? Saults & Groppis are the biggest shops there. They make lovely cakes. Instead of sitting down and ordering your afternoon tea, you take a plate and fork and wander round the shop peering at all the cakes and harpooning the ones you fancy. Next you pass a pay desk and settle for what you have on your plate, and find a seat in a garden or lounge. Native waiters next bring you tea or coffee and ices. It is a much better system than ours, as you can get what you want. It is funny to see the “very dignified” ladies prodding amongst the pastry.

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