Thursday, April 1, 2010


Map picture

Gateway to the Nile:

Alexandria, Eqypt

The city of Alexandria was once the intellectual and cultural center of the Greco-Roman civilizations. Today it forms the entrance to the mighty Nile River and serves as Egypt’s main port. With its beautiful long stretch of beaches, it is also home to a modern city of luxurious hotels lining the beautiful Mediterranean.

Having visited Alexandria several times in the past, Lisa and I chose a rather leisurely day. First we started with a bus tour to see the city’s many highlights. As the second largest city in Egypt, there is a great deal to see. We started with a drive along the oceanfront, along what is called the “Cornish.” Our bus stopped briefly at the old Fort Quait Bey.IMG_7828 On this site in ancient times, stood one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. That magnificent structure was destroyed by an earthquake in ancient times. On that site in 1400 AD, a fort was constructed which uses many of the stones from the earlier lighthouse. The fort itself is not of any particular note, so we stopped for a few photographs and drove on along the coast to stop for a picture at the largest Mosque in the city, the Abou Al Abbas Mosque. IMG_7841 I might mention that just as our bus was leaving this morning, a really big man boarded at the last minute. He was dressed in an ill fitting brown suit, and he had a great deal of trouble fitting into the first row seat. It seems that his trouble was trying to sit on the machine gun that he had strapped underneath his jacket. I mention this because when we stopped at the Mosque, I headed off down the street for a picture, and when I looked back this guy was clearly following me and rapidly gaining. The next thing I know, he bellows out, “Hey, what is your name?” At that point, I figured I was in trouble, but what was really happening was that he wanted to know if he could use my camera to take my picture. He was hustling the tourists for tips at the end, since I saw him repeat this same procedure several times.

From there we continued along the “Cornish” and next stopped for a few photographs at the newly constructed Library of Alexandria.IMG_7853 This building is not only an architectural masterpiece, but it is a highlight of the Egyptian Government’s effort to form the finest library in the world. The original Library of Alexandria was in its day, the finest in the world, but it was burned down by the Romans during their capture of Egypt. Egypt hopes this new structure will one day reclaim that grandeur. Following our quick photo stop, we went the length of the Cornish and entered the grounds of Montaza Park, once the summer residence of the former royal family. The palace today is home to a beautiful public park and is itself used by the Government to house visiting dignitaries. IMG_7900

That ended our formal tour and we returned to our ship, but the day was far, far from over. The next day was Lisa’s birthday, and I had silently been hoping to find a beautiful gold chain in Alexandria for a pendant she bought a few years ago. The big problem of course would be where to go that I did not get royally ripped off. Well, as luck would have it, our butler was English, but also Egyptian. He offered to go with us to a place he knew where we could find a high quality product at a fair price. This project took on a life of its own, and the next thing we knew, Lisa and I had been invited by several of the butler staff to join them for a traditional Egyptian lunch, after which, Samir, our butler, would help us locate a necklace. It gets a little more complicated. Several years ago Lisa and I invited our butler at the time, Engin, to visit us when he and his wife came to travel the United States. Well, they took us up on the offer, and we spent a wonderful week sharing our country with them. They were the absolute perfect guests and we have stayed in contact ever since. As it turns out, Engin is onboard this cruise and so he was able to arrange his schedule to join us. It was set to be a truly joyous afternoon.

We all met at the dock at 12:30. There was Lisa and I, Samir, our butler, Engin our friend, along with Url and Nigel, both on the butler staff. Our first challenge was to acquire a taxi at a reasonable price, which Samir after much haggling, managed to arrange. Next, came the challenge of putting all six of us in a cab. I got stuffed into the front, Lisa and Samir in the back seat, and the three remaining guys were squeezed like balled up laundry into the very back. I had to keep talking to them, just to be sure they were still breathing.

We arrived at lunch – and had to watch the three from the back roll out of the cab all scrunched over looking like little corpses. IMG_7931 We were shown to a small table in the back of the restaurant, and Samir ordered for the group. The next thing I knew I was seeing all kinds of small plates loaded with “stuff” being slammed down on the table along with baskets of hot pita bread. We each got an empty plate and a Kleenex, and the guys got to work. I learned that I was to use the bread to sweep up the different sauces, and when I tentatively tried some, I was amazed at how good it was. Next came a huge plate of rice in which was mixed nuts and cinnamon, topped with a phylo dough creation of minced meat and cinnamon. They insisted I try the meat, and it was excellent. Just when I thought we had finished, out came the plates filled with all different kinds of meat. In the end, the group left with a large bag of take home food for the staff onboard the ship, and we went with Samir to look for a necklace.

Before entering the shop, Samir told us not to say anything about the price. Once Lisa had selected what she liked, he would take it from there. Sure enough, once Lisa had made a choice, Samir took over. I just watched in awe – it was all theater, on his part as well as theirs. It was a well choreographed ritual that was expected. Just when voices were raised and Samir headed to the door, he would mutter under his breath for us to drag our feet and take our time leaving. We did this little stunt 3 times before out of the back of the store came the “big guy.” Clearly the top dog, he was also huge. This was to be the end of the negotiating. Some words, some discussion about cards vs cash, and it was done. The boss walked away in a huff as if we were robbing him, and minions ran over to complete the transactions before we changed our mind. All in all wonderful theater, and Lisa got a real treasure from Alexandria for her birthday.

We went outside and sat for a coffee to celebrate our purchase and to await the return of our taxi, which was scheduled to arrive any time. Over 90 minutes later and no cab, Samir is fit to be tried. He wants this taxi because any other taxi would not be authorized to enter the harbor and we would be dumped on the street and have a difficult time gaining entry into the port. Finally the driver arrives, Lisa and I get in the back, and Samir gets up front, and the two of them are going at it tooth and nail. The driver is clearly getting chewed out and just as clearly, he is determined to make our return trip as quick as possible.

Now the ride out was a journey in itself. This return trip was one for the record books. This ride was a good as any ride in any theme park anywhere. If he got an open stretch, he would accelerate to over 80, before slamming on the brakes to slide into traffic. Cars were coming from all directions. I never saw such aggressive driving. Most cars bore scratches and bent fenders as testament to the rigors of driving in Egypt. I do not know why they bother to paint stripes on the roads, because no one places any stock in they--they are not even advisory. Into this bedlam pedestrians venture with no hesitation; at times a mother will be dragging a small child whose eyes are wide with fright, while she is looking straight ahead and completely oblivious to what is around her. IMG_7928 It was nothing short of a madhouse. Start, stop, accelerate, beep horn, beep horn again and again, and all the while our driver was talking on his cell phone which also having to manually shift gears on the transmission. By the time we reached the ship, every one of us was just glad to be alive….. What a day!

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