Saturday, June 1, 2013

Day 5: Around Alexandria

On this, our fifth day in Egypt, we took the tram, which is located right outside of our hotel, to the fish market and Fort Qaitbey.  The tram ride was nice, although the train does move quite slow.  A man on the tram exchanged some small paper bills for coins with me.  I had read that the 1 EGP and the 50 piastre bills are rare and have been phased out, so I was happy to get them.  I hear they are hard to exchange now, but as a souvenir they are nice to have.

The fish market was just a small building with many people selling fish outside on small tables.  There were a couple of ice cream restaurants between the fish market and the fort, and we decided to go inside and get a plastic container of mixed flavor ice cream each (4 EGP for 1/2 a pint).  As we ate, we headed towards the coast where the fort stands.  The fort is built on the site of the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria and is made with some of the pieces of it.  The lighthouse was destroyed during an earthquake, but it remains at the bottom of the sea, shattered.

We only spent a while around the fort before walking along the corniche back towards the main part of the city.  We took the chance to take some pictures and videos as we walked along the sunny walkway.  Many tour buses were lined up and many people were selling goods.

On our way back we stopped by the tomb of the unknown soldier, which is surrounded by Roman columns. This area was packed full of people, many of which were vendors selling everything from clothing to corn on the cob.  The traffic here was a beast as well, and we found ourselves snaking through many cars and police vehicles.  We were not sure what else was going on, but it seemed as if there was something big happening.

The new Library of Alexandria
After lunch we made our way to our hotel to rest. Later in the evening we went out again.  We decided that we would take the old elevator down five floors to leave the building as it looked like there was some work being done on the stairs.  The elevators here are somewhat rickety looking and feel very old.  In fact, we have used a few, but don't really care for them.  Well, this elevator, like most, is open to the outside.  However, this elevator had no door, so you really feel like you are exposed.  On the second floor, between floors, the elevator decided to stop in between and we found ourselves hanging there, unable to get the elevator to move.  It was quite scary, but I held the button down for a moment and it eventually went down all the way.  That was quite a scare and we probably won't be using it again.

The elevator shaft.
After leaving the hotel, we headed east towards the Library of Alexandria, which is a new modern building that replaced the old library.  It is an impressive structure that rises out of the cement along the coast.  It is very modern compared to the incredibly old high rises that surround it.  We did not go in the library, but continued onward looking for a park that we read was nearby to relax in.

A juice vendor makes his way along the streets of Alexandria.
As we walked toward where we thought the park was, we came upon an old cemetery.  When we walked by we saw a line of people inside.  Then we heard a sound of wailing and screaming.  We realized that there was a funeral going on.  We realized then that we were going in the wrong direction and doubled back, making our way towards where the park actually was.

Beverly with ice cream!
When we reached the park, which is known as Shallalat Gardens, we noticed that much of it was closed.  In fact, we thought the whole park was closed at first, but as we walked, we saw people inside and found an open gate.  There was an area of grass and trees where we sat for about an hour and talked.  We discussed our thoughts on Egypt and what we thought of the culture.  I must say, that I do like a lot about the culture in Egypt.  For example, I think it's great that people are modest here.  Both men and women cover much of their bodies, and compared to what I am used to back home, it's a nice change.  Also, I believe that the media makes Muslim women seem unhappy and oppressed.  However, I have noticed that many of the women here are very happy and playful people who enjoy life just as much as Westerners.  I also think it's great that society in Egypt and in the Arab world is not as obsessed with alcohol as much as back in the US and Europe.

Of course, there are some things that I dislike about Egypt.  For example, the heat is a bit much.  It's very dry and that takes a toll on a person when combined with the dust.  Also, the constant honking of cars gets old.  However, I could probably spend a couple of years here happily.  In fact, I wish this trip was longer, as I would welcome additional time here.  It has been a great experience.

Near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As the sun went down we headed back towards our hotel along the main street.  It was starting to get busy as we made our way back.  The evenings in Egypt are very popular (another thing that I like) and people come out and do their shopping, eating, and smoking.  While alcohol is not a part of Egyptian society, smoking is huge here.  Sheesha, or water pipe, is very popular.  Cigarette consumption is higher when compared to the United States.  For example, I have never seen young eight year old boys smoking cigarettes at a train station in the U.S.

We grabbed an "Oriental Pie" or "Fateer" on the way home to take up to our room.  It's basically a piece of thin dough that is filled with toppings and wrapped up and baked in an oven.  It's a lot like Roti in Singapore, which is probably where it gets its name.  It was rather large, clocking in at a mere 28 EGP.  I posted a video of it below for those who are interested.  This video is not ours, but shows exactly how it is made.

Thank you for reading, tomorrow we are going to the Catacombs and Pompey's Pillar, as well as purchasing our bus tickets to our next destination.  

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