Tag Archive: egypt


Alexandria…and the end of Egypt

On our last full day in Egypt, we did another tour with Mahmoud up to Alexandria. It has it’s own history with some catacombs, which they only found about 100 years ago on accident when a donkey fell into a collapsed hole. The Lighthouse, which was one of the original wonders of the world, use to stand there (the fort now stands there). And the infamous Alexandria Library, which was destroyed and they have no record of it, but replaced it with a state of the art $225 million new library which is the nicest one I’ve ever seen. Do note, I haven’t been in many libraries, but for the ones that I have been in, this was pretty spectacular. There wasn’t much to see from the road on the way up to Alexandria, which is about a 3 hour jaunt from Cairo. The air is more clear, which is nice, and there is no honking…but that all ended once we got into Alexandria. The city is more modern that Cairo by far, and has a different flair as it’s a city on the water, and has a very strong European influence. Until recently, many considered Alexandria to be a European city because of it’s history and architecture.

from the fort in Alexandria looking out over the Med

from the fort in Alexandria looking out over the Med

While we were there, we saw some catacombs, some more ruins, and a small sites which would remind of you of being in Greece or Rome. We drove out to where the Lighthouse once stood, and checked out the fort. It’s pretty much a huge building that has more torture chambers than anything else, but gives you the best view of the city from a seascape, as it’s out on a peninsula for the most part.  Honestly, there wasn’t all much to see in Alexandria except what has been mentioned, but it is a nice city right on the beach, and one of the main vacation spots for the people of Egypt.

On our way back we had the usual daily debacle, today at FedEx, where it was a nightmare to get my package back to the states, but we made it work. The cost of doing this is another story, but I will argue that once we get back home. All in all, we are glad we came to Egypt to see the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, the Carpet and Papyrus Shops, and finally Alexandria. Will we come back? Probably not, at least not to Cairo. With touts all over the place, the smog and pollution, and the lack of any kind of order on the streets, it reminded us of Beijing quite a bit, which we were also not a fan of, besides seeing the Great Wall and having some Peking duck.

View of the Nile from our room

View of the Nile from our room

With guys walking around with machine guns pointing out of their cars, and the fact that women really are second class citizens there, only added to the fact that Cairo is at the bottom of our list as a return destination. By the end of the day after we got back from Alexandria, we were both pretty excited about heading to Europe. There is just a comfortable part about Europe that we both think agrees with us, hence our desire to live there for a couple years. Seeing the Mediterranean while in Alexandria also reminded us how much we liked Barcelona and the fact that’s it located on it as well.

But how could I end this post without a little Egyptian reminder. So we headed to the airport, and argued a price with the cab driver to take us there for 80 Egyptian pounds (about $13). They refused, we walked about 10 yards, they agreed. We get to the airport in record time, only to be dropped off at the wrong terminal….on purpose! Of course I planned this into our finances, so we didn’t have any Egyptian pounds left. The shuttle bus to the other terminal never came around in 30 minute period, so we paid a taxi to take us there….and I gave him $10.00 (equivalent to 56 pounds) LOVELY.

How fitting to leave Egypt knowing you were had on your way out. The charm of Cairo. We’re outta here!

Next update will be from Budapest on our 24 hour whirlwind adventure in Athens.

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Let me say this. If it weren’t for our tour guide that we found for the Pyramids and Alexandria over the last two days, I think Egypt would’ve been a major bust. Instead, the last two days rocked, and besides downtown Cairo which is a bit out of control, we rather liked Egypt and all the history that it has. The first day we were in Cairo we pretty much did nothing but catch up on work, upload pictures, and relax in the hotel room. We did this because we couldn’t breathe outside, the pollution and smog was that thick. We got our tour guide, Mahmoud, the next day and he took us to the Pyramids. We hit some less popular Pyramids first, Memphis and the Step Pyramid, which is actually the oldest one in Egypt. As you can see here, it’s quite a bit different looking from the set that most people see in postcards, but just as impressive:

Our guide told us to do this....Kings and Queens pose!

Our guide told us to do this....Kings and Queens pose!

While we were here, we obviously took a lot of pictures, and the touts started coming at us from all corners. Once decided to grab Annemarie, take off his head gear, and wrap it around Annemarie and reveal that he had a baseball cap on underneath. Of course the whole reason he did this was so we would tip him…for grabbing us? Welcome to Egypt. This happens….everywhere, honestly. Every person expects to be tipped for everything. Want to go to the bathroom? Tip. You want to move your luggage one foot in the hotel? Tip. You get shown to your room and they open the door to your room….tip!!! It’s beyond ridiculous. You constantly have to have small change in your pocket and sound like a meter maid around Chicago. More than a few times I caught myself asking for directions because I know they would grab me after they were done and say….”what, no tip?” Here is what we thought was a nice guy who wanted to take a picture who ended up only wanting, what else, a tip:

Ah, you will now have nice picture...now pay me!

Ah, you will now have nice picture...now pay me!

One similarity between Cairo and Beijing on our trip thus far is that there is no sincerity in either place for the most part. Our tour guide was the nicest guy in Cairo by far, and didn’t expect anything from us, hence we tipped him well. This same guy took us around the pyramids and then took us to Alexandria the next day which was a 6 hour round trip. That’s a lot of time to spend with the same two tourists, but he was very good. Anyway, of course we hit the Pyramids that 99% of the world know, and they lived up to the billing, as did the Sphinx. You really don’t realize how big these things are until you see them close up. These pictures don’t do it justice, but none the less, they are pretty big:

The Great Pyramids of Giza

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Like I said, pretty impressive. The Sphinx is very impressive looking from the angle above. If you look at it from behind, you see a beautiful building sitting behind it…KFC/Pizza Hut restaurant!!! It doesn’t fit into the area whatsoever, but is of course packed with tourists and locals alike. Kind of sad, but the city really bumps right up against these places. Kind of sad really.

On top of the Pyramids that day, we also hit a Carpet Making School, which in the words of Annemarie and my brother Conor, a child labor sweatshop!! Kids go here to learn the trade, and also earn money to go to secondary school. They start working here at the age of 6, and learn how to make carpets with wool and silk. It’s pretty amazing to see them create one. They have the fastest hands I have ever seen, it’s almost second nature to them to make these carpets….was that not PC? Anyway, we took some shots of an older gentleman who was making a carpet, and is the only one allowed in this particular factory to cut all the lose string at then end to finish the carpet. If one area is not cut right, the whole carpet is ruined:

Making multiple carpets at the same time...all same design

Making multiple carpets at the same time...all same design

We also stopped by a Papyrus factory on the way back to our hotel to see how paper was made back in ancient times. There are many shops in Cairo that still make paper in this old way, and then have custom paintings done on them and sell them to the public. Our host there as Abrahim, and he was a comedian in his own kind. He was almost too happy about his job, and loved the LA Lakers, and continued to bring that up since he knew we were from Chicago. I think he was on something, just like the ladies in Vancouver who loved their Visitor Info job too much, although he was bouncing off the walls and didn’t just have a smile on his face like the Joker! But, his enthusiasm must have worked, since we bought two, and had one customized with our names in ancient Egyptian alphabet symbols. You have to see it to appreciate it. All of these stores, along with the cotton shops and carpet shops in Cairo are owned by the government, so tour guides don’t make cuts on sales when they bring tourists to them, and all the prices are pretty much set (although everyone barters in Egypt).

I’ll throw an update up tomorrow about Alexandria and some other fun bits about our time in Egypt, and our excitement of getting to Athens (where we just go to today).

Shukran and Good Night!