ALEXANDRIA (and CAIRO), EGYPT--Tuesday and Wednesday, April 30 and May 1, 2013

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May 1st 2013
Published: June 1st 2013
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ALEXANDRIA (AND CAIRO), EGYPT--Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. It became the major trade center and a focal point of learning. The ancient library had 500,000 volumes and it was here that Euclid invented geometry. It was also in Alexandria that Julius Caesar met Cleopatra and after her death, it was taken over by the Romans who ruled until 395 B.C. Few of the ancient landmarks remain except for the ancient library and the ruins of the Roman Theater.

Our ship made port about 5:30am; we finished breakfast, and were on the bus by 8:00 am. Today, we were driving to Cairo to see the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, take a boat ride and have lunch on the River Nile, and then see the Citadel of Salah-El-Din and the Alabaster Mosque. Another very long day!

We were again traveling in a convoy of buses and although we never saw them, we were told that we were being escorted by the tourist police. I do know that when we were in the Temples of Karnak, I asked one man why he was wearing a pin-striped suit and tie in that heat and he pulled back his jacket to show me his side arm. I think each bus had an armed man on it.

Although the view of Alexandria from the ship, along the curved bay, was great, the reality of the dirty, run down tenements we drove through from the port were in very sharp contrast. Dirty with garbage all over the sides of the streets---plastic, bottles, paper, and everything else just thrown down when you are finished with it.

We wound our way from the port into the more central part of town and came upon several parks and nicer streets and homes. The bus driver hesitated one second at the Roman Theater (thankfully on our side of the bus so we could see it) and then continued past schools, a big hospital, and shopping malls until we hit the 4-lane out of town. The buses still had to slow down for speed bumps and police check points.

We drove across a wetlands area around Lake Maryut that is a salt water lake that forms the southern border of Alexandria. Fishermen could be seen poling their narrow boats through the reeds on both sides of the road. Egrets could be seen everywhere on the banks of the water and flying overhead.

As soon as we left the lake area, we were driving through a large agricultural area with small farms, vineyards, and orchards. Olive trees, wheat, onions, sugar beets, banana trees, and tomatoes were just some of the produce we recognized growing.

Stuck here and there were narrow beehive shaped structures that were about 10-15 feet in height and had holes all though them. We had seen smaller ones before and thought that there might be grain stored in them. However, here, we got up close enough to see that they were pigeon coops. Our guide confirmed this and said that Egyptians ate squabs and that this was how they were raised for market.

As we traveled along, at every junction, overpass, and check point there were vendors selling drinks and whatnot from the back of little trucks or stands. Sometimes these stands were in the middle of the median strip. The big trucks drivers would hardly pull off the road and park their rigs to purchase stuff from these “truck stops.” Many times it forced the traffic down to one lane.

After about 3 hours of riding, we came into the outskirts of Cairo, home to 18 million people. The area we first came to was filled with newer villas that the tour guide said cost several million in US dollars. Frankly, I didn’t see any that would be worth even a million. We turned the corner in the midst of these new villas, and drove right into the area around the Pyramids.

There they sat, surrounded by the city buildings and not out on the flat sand as we had it pictured in books and in our minds. They are actually situated on a plateau/hill with the Sphinx located at the base of the hill. All around the 3 major Pyramids and the three small Pyramids are hundred of tombs of the nobles and ruins of the houses and other structures used by the people who did the building of all the Pyramids. These thousands of people had to be fed, clothed, medically treated etc., so there were cities built to care for all these workers.

Recent excavations/studies by some US archeologists have been counting the number of bones of beef, sheep, and goats and estimating the amount of food that was consumed on a daily basis. The amount of animals needed was staggering.

The vendors here were the worst we have encountered even surpassing the ones at the Great Wall of China. They invaded your space and were nasty when you told them NO you were not interested in their goods, nor riding their camels or horses.

With the big buses, vans, the vendors, tourists, camels, and horses the area around the Pyramids was pure chaos! After walking around a bit, we boarded the bus and it drove us down the hill to view the Sphinx. It was carved almost entirely from one tremendous piece of limestone and is about 165 feet long and 73 feet wide.

Valerie got out and walked around while I stayed on the bus as I thought I could see it well enough from where the bus was parked. Seen against the Pyramids sitting on top of the hill, the Sphinx looks really dwarfed in size. I guess the photos of it alone were taken from a very different angle.

Everyone got back on the bus, and we wandered through the streets of the dirty city until we came to the Nile River and the river boat we were to have lunch on. It was painted in bright colors and made to look like it was an old Egyptian wooden barge. We had a nice lunch and were then “entertained” by a belly dancer and then a whirling dervish type dancer. We were more entertained by watching the people watching the dancers.

We then cruised down the river to the first bridge and returned back to the dock. I guess we can claim we cruised on the Nile, but it really wasn’t much of a cruise--maybe ½ mile one way!

The tall buildings all over the city look strange with window air conditioning units sticking out on the sides and then rooftops covered in dish antennas. Also saw lots of new brick construction where solid walls are built and then windows are cut out later. My guess is that people buy a flat and then design it the way they want as windows shape, colors, and sizes were different floor to floor. Many of these buildings also had bare rebar sticking out of the roofs to save on the taxes of “finished” construction.

We arrived at the Citadel of Salah-El-Din in the oldest part of the City, which was built between 1176 and 1182 AD. The huge fort sits such that you have a panoramic view of Cairo below.

Inside the Citadel is located the Alabaster Mosque made of alabaster blocks and built by Muhammad Ali over a 4-year period. It took 14 years to decorate the insides. We have no idea why we were allowed to tour this Mosque, but we took off our shoes and went inside with the group.

In the center of the courtyard was a pretty round carved piece of marble with faucets around the bottom to be used to wash before going inside. Inside the mosque was an open pillared room with the floor covered with carpet and a huge crystal chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling.

The guide told us that women do worship here, but must do so against the back wall and in back of the pillars since it is not modest to have men look at the backside of women when they are in the kneeling position. We decided that the bottoms of our sox were so dirty from walking in them that we would just throw them away, which we did when we got back to our stateroom.

We all trooped back on the buses and headed through traffic, which was now really congested. There are no stop lights nor round-abouts in all of the country that we have seen. The drivers just “pushed” the buses through when we got to major intersections. Several times everyone on the bus, just gasped, at how close he came to an accident. There are also no cloverleafs so if the bus wants to turn left it often went down the road quite a ways until he could make a U-turn and then went back to turn the way he wanted to go. All the traffic would do the same at big intersections---madness!

The buses made a stop on the way out of the city at a Papyrus Factory and gave everyone another chance to buy stuff. We declined the offer to hear another spiel and stayed on the bus.

After a harrowing ride home, with the bus driver fighting a mass of large trucks that must wait until dark to hit the roads, we got back to the ship about 10:00 pm too tired to go up to dinner. Had the foresight to put some sandwiches in the mini-frig, so had them for dinner and called it a day.

Wednesday, May 1,2013--Alexandria, Egypt

Today we stayed on board and hand washed some clothes, rested and napped. We just didn’t feel like going through the dirty, grungy city again to visit the Library of Alexandria which was about the only thing listed to see, that we didn’t.

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