Among friends in Cairo central

WHAT Pension Roma

WHERE 4th floor, 169 Mohamed Farid Street, Cairo, Egypt.

HOW MUCH From 60 Egyptian pounds a night (about $16) for a single room without a balcony up to 170 Egyptian pounds (about $45) for triples with a shower.

WHY GO Set on the fourth and fifth floors of a 19th-century building in the heart of downtown Cairo, Pension Roma is a budget traveller's dream: it's cheap, clean and friendly. Take a birdcage lift up to the fourth floor. The long corridor to the front desk is lined with long white curtains that lend an air of drama to your arrival.

Forget hanging with a bunch of Australian backpacker cooks and kitchenhands. The staff are all Egyptian and those on reception speak both English and Arabic fluently, with French thrown in for measure. They can answer every question - from how to get to the Pyramids to finding an apartment in the city - and pride themselves on their honesty, so there are no alliances with dodgy tour guides or shonky taxi drivers.

There are 32 rooms, including singles, doubles and family rooms - children are welcome and extra beds are available for the larger rooms. Each room has polished floorboards, high ceilings, a fan and washbasin. Eight rooms have their own shower; the rest share clean bathrooms. The best rooms have their own balconies which either look over busy Mohamed Farid Street or into the quieter laneways.

Pension Roma includes a communal lounge with a television and public balconies for those who have rooms without, where you can while away the hours in the sun, or get an earful of the call to prayer from the small mosque below. The hotel has a super-fast, cheap laundry service, a hotel safe and the reception is open 24 hours a day, which is important as international flights often arrive and depart in the dead of night.

The sunny breakfast room has long white fluttering curtains. The Kitchen serves lunch and dinner on request. Don't expect miracles from the kitchen. The food is basic and the portions big - great if you're knackered after a day horsing around the pyramids on a camel.

FREE STUFF Pension Roma has free wireless internet available if you've brought your laptop and the tariff includes rooms cleaned daily. The continental breakfast is also included, with tea or coffee, juice, cheese and jam with bread served from 7am to a relaxed 11-ish am. You can supplement your breakfast with fruit, yoghurt etc as the hotel has a fridge set aside for guests' food, though there are no cooking facilities for guests. The rooms include linen and towels.

BONUS Downtown is oozing with cheap ahwas (cafes), where tea and coffee costs about 40 cents. There are a few bottle shops selling locally made spirits: think Finelandia vodka and Ronnie Walker whisky, wine and beer and local bars nearby including the uber-local Cap D'Or, just one block away. Expect a smoky welcome, plenty of free bar snacks (avoid the salads) and Egyptian Stella, which costs a lean $1.60 a pop.

The Tawfiqiyya fruit and vegetable market is five minutes' walk away and is open until midnight. Just across the road, off Adly Street, is a fantastic little cafe in that block's courtyard that always seems to have just pulled hot, fresh ta'amaya (falafel) out of the hot fat - a sandwich in pita bread with salad and tahina costs about 25 cents. The city's main post office, telephone offices and a government-run (but fairly useless) tourist information office are just around the corner. It is 15 minutes' walk to Ramses train station, where the trains for Luxor Alexandria depart and two metro stops, Nasser and Ataba, on different lines, are within 10 minutes' walk of the hotel. Nearby, the Intra@Net internet cafe (1st floor, 36 Sharif Street) is a rarity in Cairo - it's smoke free - and super-quick access is about 80 cents an hour, with clean toilets and even a to-your-computer tea service. Twenty minutes' walk will bring you to the Egyptian Museum and taxis are always loitering about to whisk you across the city. Unbeatable.

DETAILS Phone +20 2 2391 1088, see pensionroma.org.

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