Algiers and the Casbah.
Anyone reading this knows that good current information about Algeria is hard to find. There are no recent guidebooks though i did find an electronic copy of the last LP Algeria guide which is from 2007 and does have good history , culture and all that stuff. For all else, i researched others blogs on line. I chose to spend my 9 days in the north so as not to dilute the visit.
Applied to Consul in London and used express trackable post. Just fill out all the forms they ask and provide whatthey want. No biggie. I am self employed and wrote myself an employers letter. Make bookings on booking.com. Make sure you only pick hotels that have free cancellations and no payment.(you have to enter credit crd details but not an issue). Give embassy these reservations with hotel names, addresses and booking confirmation number. Once you have your visa, cancel bookings. Do note, it took me almost 5 weeks from posting to receiving passport back.
Arrived late on Lufthansa (£204 rt from Manchester). Immigration easy, inspector showed me the highlights of the Liverpool/Roma game on his phone as my passport shows birth in Liverpool. Football is huge here and any reference is a great icebreaker. Changed 60 euros with a security guy for bank rate of 155Dinar. Everywhere else i got 200 consistently. Taxi from the airport after midnight was 2000 dinar. My airbnb host said this seemed fair. I thought a bit pricey. I chose airbnb both first and last nights in Algiers. Enjoyed, as on both occasions i found authentic apartments with shutters and balconies on Rue Didouche Mourad. Both ran me around 40-50 pounds sterling a night. Both were large and both hosts proved very helpful. The first changed my money for me and lent me a spare sim card for data. Sim cards are easy to get in many phone shops(passport and form filling but nothing onerous) and i used around 6 euros of data on mine, depending heavily on google maps. Apartment location gave me less than 15-20 mins walk to either the Casbah or The Bardo as well as the train station. Enjoyed the Casbah, walking among market stalls and exploring winding streets. Figured out the train station and tickets. Found a restaurant via trip advisor, upmarket, a couple of beers and a mediocre meal for 12 euros. Food was not to be a highlight of this trip!!
Took the 7.25am to Constantine from Algiers main station, by the port. 12 euros first class had USB charging points. No assigned seating. Bought on the day, at the station, though it was hardly very busy so no problem. Was adopted by a young conductor with great English. The route passes some lovely scenery including passing south of the snowcapped Djurdjura National Park. I was surprised at the rolling green hills that i saw on most of the 9hr train ride. The train was slow but i was glad to do this once, as i would not do it again as the shared taxi is cheaper and faster. Arrived to Constantine and checked into the Protea (ask taxi driver for the Panoramic as it is widely known) £60 a night though if i had reserved and paid cash it would have been about £45. Excellent deal with balcony overlooking the city and some bridges. Has a bar. Constantine, city of bridges was great. Wandered till dark, the medina is lovely and the suspension bridges fantastic against the sheer drop. Passing back through the middle of town i ran into an intimate crowd of 10-12000 football supporters celebrating the CS Constantine's victory in the league. An alcohol free crowd of Algerian football supporters is an unbridled joy and mostly harmless sight to behold. Spent time in the middle of the crowd photographing and being pulled into everyone else's photographs. As it got dark, a policeman grabbed me out of the melee telling me to watch my stuff. To be honest, i don't feel there was an issue, merely he was being over cautious to an out of place foreigner. Still, seemed like a good time to go chill as the crowds got bigger and happier. Spent the next day exploring the Medina and market. The Medina is quite old and winding. Do try and visit the remnants of the Aquaduct which sit incongruously next to the ring road uncared for and mostly forgotten. All but one of the seven bridges connecting old Constantine to new Constantine are worth seeking out and walking across.
Shared taxi from Constantine to Setif, 350 dinar for 1.5 hrs. All shared taxis in Algeria are found at the bus station where there is a separate area for them. They leave when full and are generally with 6 passengers in each. Checked into Setif IBIS hotel, opposite the museum and close to the Park Mall for 35 eur a night. Had them organise a taxi for Djemila for 4 pm as i wanted to catch the light. 4000 dinar (20 euro) for a nice car and driver (no English) for 4-5 hours which i thought fair. You could get to Djemila by public transport though it would take longer getting there and back including your time on site. It cost 100 dinar to get in and the policeman asked for my ID though i was able to give my passport number which i memorized. Might be good to take passport. I am not big into ruins in general but i was impressed by the site especially it's setting in green rolling hills. Saw two other threesomes of French tourists and twenty or thirty locals so i was able to wander freely and peacefully. There was also a group of Archeology students from Setif University i spent time shooting talking with. Visited the museum in Setif the following morning before leaving. Mostly in French and Arabic but i did really like the Mosaics. I am sure Setif has more to offer but i chose only one night
Shared taxi from Setif to Bejaia for 850 dinar- 4 hours. The route into the Kabiyle region is very picturesque and was enjoyable by itself including a long and dusty tunnel with minimal lighting that passed under a large mountain. Once we hit the coast after three hours, we saw towns with lots of holiday complexes/villages which were quiet due to low season. The beach we passed is beautiful in places and a rubbish dump in others. I imagine the whole coast has much to offer if you had time. Stayed in Hotel du Nord, 7200 for two nights. Ok restaurant. There is also a shop around the corner that sells beer and wine. Big room, good deal. Spent next day walking up the hill to the remains of the fort at the top. I went through the medina and into the park, probably 5.5 kms, some quite a hilly. Once you get into the park, there is a paved path you can walk up or get a taxi to the carpark below the last hill and walk the last bit. i walked up and down the whole shebang. Barbary apes by the cafe on the way down. Several hundred years ago, the hillside was fortified with several fortresses, so what you see is remains of some of these fortresses and some remains of the wall in random places. The view at the top is spectacular except i went on a cloudy day! I found the medina interesting and the people very friendly. There is also a very good restaurant in town in the little square. The lady who runs it used to work in a Michelin starred place so the standard is pretty good for Algeria. Had a lovely whole fish of some description for 8-10 euro with water and salad and starter. Spent the rest of my time wandering the Medina which is quite nice including a nice overlook towards the harbour and all the unemployed hang out watching the ships load and unload.
Shared taxi back to Algiers, 750 dinar-3.5hours, for my last two nights, another airbnb further up Rue Didouche Mourad and close to the Bardo Museum, awesome balcony. The Bardo was not that interesting to me, except the musical instruments from all over Africa, but the building it is housed in is fantastic and you get to see the courtyard and some rooms at the end of going through the exhibits. There is another museum further up the hill of Islamic Culture which i would like to have seen and there is a lovely park just below it. I took a taxi back to the airport in the late morning which my host found on Yassir for me which was only 650 Dinar.
If you want to buy duty free cigarettes, i found them in local shops for 350 dinar and i think they were more in the airport plus you had too pay in Euros
After that ramble, a few points.
I felt totally safe all over northern Algeria. From being in the middle a celebrating football crowd to wandering the back streets of random Medinas and getting shared taxis. No threat of crime or violence or even particularly bad manners.
Get a sim card if only for data and google maps/translate. If you cannot get one at the airport, there are a gazillion little phone shops. You will also need a local number to use yassir(local uber type app) for cheap taxis.
The food is not good.
Beer and alcohol are available but not widely. Depends on the area. Kabiyle has shops, Algiers i found a bar but they are few and difficult to get into as they have a closed door policy after early evening.
Shared taxis are the way to travel, planes only good for a big jump south. Trains too slow though comfortable.
I budgeted 30-50 euro a night for hotels. Easy enough to book as you are going. Best is too book a day or two ahead, reserve and pay cash with your dinars. I do not think it would have mattered if i had no reservations but on a short trip like this, i do not want to waste time finding accom once in town. I think you could go cheaper but not much.
Other costs were minimal. Plenty of eats for 2-5 euro though mostly fried and not tasty. Good restaurants on trip advisor generally 8-14 euros but still good decent for what you get and often wine available. Taxis in town varied from 150 to 650 dinar.
Everyone drinks little shots of coffee all day which cost 30 dinars everywhere. It is interesting to sit in these coffee shops for a bit.
I speak very little French and a similar amount of Arabic though i had no significant issues. I once read that communication is not all about language and that is my approach. however, i do realise i missed plenty because of this.
The country has clearly come through a lot and the economy is awful with high unemployment so there are a lot of people hanging out all day. The litter is also pretty bad in most places.
I very much enjoyed Algeria. It was very different from anywhere i have been in a while, the people are very pleasant without being too much. There is loads to see on established routes but clearly, if you speak French you could go find a lot more, especially in the mountains.