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Published: November 5th 2008
When the overnight train from Aswan arrived in Giza, we were less than 10 miles
from the Giza pyramids, so we decided to visit. After refusing to part with 40
Egyptian pounds for a taxi ride there, we found a much more reasonable driver
and set off. We reached the pyramid site without incident and were deposited on
the edge of a scruffy village beside them. The taxi driver agreed to wait for
us - I guess his chances of anyone wanting a ride back to town at 8.30am were
slim - and off we went. We wandered about and took a few photographs and
admired the sphinx (very small), but I guess we were suffereing cultural
overload and weren't as appreciative as we might have been. It was also
freezing cold and looked about to rain really heavily, so off back to the
village for a hair-raising ride back to Heliopolis and a pancake breakfast.
Next day, Yvonne went off to school and we headed off to Alexandria: this time
we were freelancing and had neither train tickets nor a place to stay. Before
we left Yvonne's Willy booked two nights in the Windsor Palace Hotel on the sea
But the mounts are camels not horses
front. We headed into town by taxi to Ramses Station, where the Tourist Police
jumped me to the front of the queue and hlped me buy a ticket. (I'm getting
huge mileage out of reciting the numbers 1 - 10 in Arabic, when asked if I
speak the language, which must mean that your average Western tourist knows
even less than that!). In Egypt, woman have the right to jump to the front of
any queue of men, which feels rather strange).
I've also been looking at the way women dress here and the variety of ways in
which the command to "dress modestly" has been interpreted is quite astounding.
There are those in black from head to foot, with face and eye masks, there are
long slinky skirts or tight jeans with figure hugging polo neck jumpers.
Headscarves are brightly coloured, some are fashionably "distressed" or with
patches and sequins on. The headscarves are generally colour co-ordinated with
the rest of the outfit. Sometimes make up is worn - often quite heavy. The
coffer bar waitress in our hotel is dressed up like a French maid with the
shortish skirt and white apron etc and her modesty is
Not climbing the Great Pyramid
Climbing the pyramid used to be popular, but people kept falling off and getting killed, so no more climbing
only preserved by the
incredibly thick black tights worn under it. The piece de resistance - and I've
seen it several times - is the bum-hugging skirt with the visible panty line!
The norm is a coloured headscarf, a jumper and long skirt or trousers.
Ticket purchase takes ages, but once done, our Tourist Policeman escorted us to
the right platform, then onto the train and to our seats: can you imagine
VisitScotland or ScotRail providing that kind of service to bemused foreigners?
Our second class seats reclined and had more leg room than ScotRail trains. It
was three hours to Iskandereyya. We were delighted to see the flat grren
agricultural land of the delta after the grime and greyness of Cairo: it looked
a bit like Tarleton or Hoole moss, but the peasants working in the fields wore
gelibayyas and flowing robes.
I saw what I think was some kind of brightly coloured kingfisher flash by on an
irrigation canal, but it didn't stay for long enough for me to be sure.
When we got to Alexandria, we decided to buy our return tickets, but this time,
the Tourist Polce just pointed us to the
ticket office and left us to it. Using
a mish mash of English and Arabic, (I'd just learnt the Arabic for "Tuesday"
and was desparate to actually use it.) I purchased more train tickets. They
were 5 pounds cheaper than for the same journey in reverse, though they seem to
be just the same: second class.
Then we walked down to the Corniche to check in at the Windsor Palace. En
route, Willy spotted a phone compatble with his phone card and phoned home,
while I chatted to a group of 11 year old girls. They taught me numbers 11 - 19
in arabic and showed off that their command of English was far superior to my
The Windsor Palace was built in the early 1900s and has recently been restored
and refurbished in sumpuous style. The guests generally look scruffier than the
staff. On arrival, we were given a red carnation each and a glass of fresh
lemonade and mint, which was a vile, plae green colour, but tasted very
refreshing. We have a private bathroom, with a bath and marble tiles, which are
very cold on the feet, and the toilet roll has been subjected
to some form of
origami, as it's folded in a beautiful fan shape. We have a balcony overlooking
the Corniche, which is hoaching with tooting traffic, especially siren-wailing
ambulances. We also have a TV, which gets BBC World Service and an Arabic
sports channel which shows European football.
We then walked along the Corniche, where lots of people stopped to say "Hello,
welcome". Can you imagine walking along Princes Street welcoming foreigners?
On Monday we visited the new Library of Alexandria - it's an impressive
building both in and outside and is built on the coast overlooking the Med.
The pavements in Alex are bad almost beyond belief. They are covered in loose
sand, rubble, glass, concrete, piles of stones, sand and rubble: it si
genuinely safer to walk in the road with the traffic. It seems like this month
is "Dig Up All the Pavements Month", but of course they aren't screened off,
just left unfenced for the unwary to stub their toes and trip up on.
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