Monday, November 3, 2008

Alexandria: "Welcome to Egypt"

Arrived in the Alexandria airport (4 walls and a roof) at 3:30 AM. We quickly jumped in a cab en route to our hotel. After sleeping for 5 hours we got up ate and set out exploring. Our first stop was the library (biblotechque) of Alexandria University. It is one of the coolest building architecturally you will ever see. Plus, on the walls surrounding the building there are inscriptions from all the different languages of the world. We tried to go in to the main part of the university’s campus but the guards stopped us.

Our next stop was a Coptic Christian cemetery. Similar to the Greek Orthodox cemetery we visited in Athens, most graves are family graves. Plus, a lot of the bones are dug up and put in “bone boxes” instead of being kept in the ground. We headed in to the Church next to it, St. Georges, where the kid’s choir was practicing. Just like the Orthodox every inch of every wall on the inside of the Church is covered in paintings. We opted for dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant. The food was amazing and the view of the city was spectacular.

Day two in Alexandria we got in to what turned out to the longest cab ride of my life. Not an official taxi driver, this man took us to the ancient catacombs, Pompeii’s pillar, a “modern” day Bazaar, and Farouk’s Palace. The catacombs were interesting because you got to actually go down in to them and walk through the old tombs. They have only recently been discovered so there is still a lot of work being done on them. Pompeii’s Pillar was like a smaller version of what we would end up seeing in Cairo. The coolest part of the site was the underground “library” that we got to walk through. The taxi driver then proceeded to interrupt our no’s as a yes to going to this bazaar. Inside a strip mall, he took us to a jewelry store. We later read that these kinds of drivers get a kick back from the stores for bringing tourists through. He made money off of me but oh well. Farouk’s Palace was gorgeous. You could not actually go inside but you got to walk around through the gardens and take pictures.

After dinner we went to grab so dessert from the cafĂ© at our hotel. This waiter ushers us in to the bar area and tells us we should sit and enjoy because his “lady friend” is going to be performing. Within the next 10 minutes this woman dressed in a short skirt but belly dancer like top starts singing for us and about 10 other men. We begin to realize we are the only women in the bar and are unsure of our place in the situation. So, we finish our dessert and head out unsure if we were supposed to be there or not.

Overall, Alexandria was interesting. It was a nice introduction in to Egyptian culture. I am glad we went there before going to Cairo so we had some idea of what to expect. The women wore very conservative Muslim garb. Most were full burkas and if not then they had head scarves on and their arms and legs were completely covered. We felt out of place with our hair showing.

We got our train tickets from Alexandria to Cairo (population 25 million) and looked down to realize the ticket was in Arabic. I headed for the office of the station master in hopes he could help us. He was so excited to hear that I was American because he had just applied for his green card and was wondering if I could help him in any way. I was so taken back that this man not only could speak good English but he could write it as well. Uneventful train ride but very lush scenery. Oh yes and should mention that the Egyptian pound was 5 for every $1 USD. So, our 1st class train tickets cost under $10. If only Amtrak was that cheap…

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