CAIRO and ALEXANDRIA
Hasheem, (Medo's friend) is our guide. He has excellent English and a doctorate in Egyptology so is very knowledgeable. The highlight is the Tutankhamen exhibition which must hold some of the most stunning exhibits in the world. It is such a treat to see these. The other highlight is the sculpture of Chephren.
After several full hours here of concentration we head off to have a lengthy lunch by the river Nile. After lengthy discussions with Medo and Hasheem we have a much better idea of life and society in Cairo and Egypt (included in notes after Tuesday).
Lunch overlooking the Nile
This afternoon we explore Coptic Cairo. This stems back to Egypt's early Christian days, about 40 A.D., before Islam was followed here. The cobble stone alleys are fascinating to walk through and it is interesting to imagine how exiled Jews found refuge here in 70A.D.
We meet up with Phil and Robbie again for dinner at Abu el Sid. This is a well known restaurant in the Zamalek area, again near the hotel. It is within a very interesting old building and appears to have a cosy atmosphere but we are very disappointed in the cuisine and service. We have a lovely night anyway, especially as the Melletts have managed to organize their visas.
ALEXANDRIA (North Port of Egypt to the Mediterranean)
We are off to a 7am start to miss the traffic, especially from the children going to school. We have been so lucky the previous 2 days in not having much traffic because they were holidays. Cairo's traffic is not a good experience.
We pass by many fertile farms which are watered by the Nile via canals. There were 7 branches of the delta once, but now there are only 2, so water could become an issue, especially as the Nile flows through Sudan first. The local farms are growing olives, watermelons and bananas. There are many pigeon houses, and the pigeons are bred to sell and to eat. There are many camels (they eat them), cows, goats, sheep and donkeys.
Alexandria is dusty with cobbled streets and trams. Men are sitting around in and outside cafes in groups playing dominos, which is their main game here. They also enjoy back gammon and chess.
This was found in 1900 by a man with his donkey when it fell down a hole and hurt its leg. It was built for a private tomb in C1 and became a public one C2.
C3 or C4 B.C. It is 26.15m. high and Pompey's ashes are supposedly on the top. The 4 Scuarp (good luck symbol) statues have been moved, as have the large lion statues to more obvious positions.
The walk through the extensive street market is similar to Petticoat Lane, Egyptian style, with hundreds of stalls selling many cheap cotton clothes and underwear. Most of the women are in traditional dress, but the children wear western clothes.
Walking through the street market
We drive through the CARMUS area to the Roman theatre built in C1. It was found in 1960 next to the mosque which was found when digging began to build new apartments. The pillars are examples from the Roman-Greco time.
Continuing on our way we pass the new, very modern library which is very impressive, designed as a discus set in the ground, facing the Mediterranean Sea. Then the Radas' statue which is placed along the cornice. Radas tried to lead a rebellion against the British Occupation in 1882. Also, nearby, is a large memorial to the unknown soldiers lost in the 1973 war, the 6 day war against Israel.
The fort has been built on the site of the old Pharos Lighthouse which crumbled with the earthquake some years ago. Inside is Mohammud Ali's mosque.
The fort and view over the Mediteranean Sea
The fort and view over the Mediteranean Sea
At Kadoura seafood restaurant (opened 1950) we enjoy one of the best seafood meals we have ever had. We select our own fish with our guides help. We are then served with seafood soup, followed by a selection of appertizers, eg. dips, salad, beetroot flatbread and then a magnificent platter of seafood each which has been deliciously charcoal grilled.
The old scales the fish was weighed on
Sometime later we follow a suggested walk in one of the guide books. This includes the famous Cecil Hotel, Ramla Square, the Great Synagogue, the intriguing Constantine Cavafy Museum (the Greek poet), Cinema Metro with its amazing decor, and finishing at Pastroudi's, a Greek patisserie for a coffee. This is a haunt of Durrell's characters.
Street scene in Alexandria
We are picked up here to return to Cairo. It is a long day, especially as we are caught in a traffic jam on the way back, but well worth it.
EXTRA NOTES FROM DISCUSSIONS WITH OUR 2 GUIDES (They suggest looking up: www.tour firstname.lastname@example.org)
80% of the monuments have been found by coincidence and only 20% by searching. Before A.D. Egypt just had villages. "D" = digression of the Prophet Muhammad, stands for the Prophet moving from Mecca to Medina one year after he became the prophet. Islamic history begins here, and is the beginning of the Islamic era.
These young men are surprised we learned about Egypt at school. They think we have no idea idea about their country at all.
They claim people are quite frightened on the streets since the end of the British occupation because they can just be taken off the streets by police for no reason, and for any length of time.
They don't watch the news because it has been the same for 26 years, during the time of President Marabak's office.
In government offices people work from 8am. to 2pm. (so the traffic rush hours are heaviest 7-9am. ,and 1-3pm. Many of them have another job latter in the day.
In Cairo now 45% of women work. This is not because of a change of mind but because it is necessary economically. Economic stress has caused a 45% divorce rate (the women can't cope with a job and caring for a husband, as is expected). Secondly, the average age for men here is 45, especially in the Delta area. The cause is usually something to do with the liver, so it may be the pollution in the water. The people drink the water from the Nile river, so perhaps this is the problem.
The doctors here are excellent but zero is spent on research.
There are very high inflation rates in Cairo, up to 50%, with real estate being exhorbitantly expensive. Car taxes are 300%, which explains why we don't see many new cars on the road. A couple of weeks ago it was difficult to get bread here.
We asked about authors, and Medo and Hasheem both think people feel if they write about religion they will become famous.
The Jewish population in Egypt is now only about 3oo and most of these are in Alexandria. Both these young men support Palestine, but now just want it finished. They feel this is the general feeling in Cairo.
In the country girls can still be married as young as 13, but in Cairo this is not accepted, and they must be 21.
Soccer is the favourite sport here supported by 95% of the population. Hand ball and Roman wrestling are also popular. Hasheem lives near the Giza pyramids. His house backs onto the golf course. He very much enjoys being able to use the course there, even though he hasn't much spare time with a second baby on the way. His attitude towards this is so different to new dads in Australia. He doesn't think it will disrupt his life much at all as his parents-in-law will move in and help his wife. Women here are still expected to run the home totally.
He is a reasonable golfer we gather. He has always enjoyed it and used to "run school" to do it. He says this is common here. There are private schools available but they are very expensive.
We realize that life isn't all that easy here and again feel so lucky to have brought up our family in Australia. The big question here in Egypt is what will happen when Mabarak finishes his term.
They say the traditional food here is falafel (was 30 piasteres but now it costs $1). Also, rice with a special sauce, which includes onion and lemon, was $1 and is now $5. Another popular dish is musaga - aubergine, tomatoes, garlic, oil and spices (being vegetarian this is a favourite of mine: Ross' favourite meal was the seafood one in Alexandria.
We have breakfast with Phil and Robbie to say "good-bye". They are returning to Free Spirit to continue on their way to meet their next commitments and travel plans. We have had a marvellous time together and shared so many experiences. Hopefully, we will meet up again in the Mediterranean. We will always remember the many occasions Phil has been able to offer us practical assistance for our many electrical and mechanical boating problems. It's also been a great help to have the benefit of Phil and Robbie's prior experience sailing through these waters in 2003.
The news today is announcing a 30% pay rise in salaries. This is wonderful news for the people in the short-term, but who knows how the economy will suffer?
We plan a day of rest. Later in the day we visit the Beit of Suhaymi.
Hasheem is most distressed today. He is a young father who works very hard. When Medo took him back to his car last night after our day in Alexandria it was gone. Apparently the police took it and said it was parked illegally and he didn't have it registered. This isn't true, but he can't pick it up until the end of the week and will have to pay a huge fine. This is a regular occurrence in Cairo.
Medo drives into the nearby Khan-al-Khalili Bazaar to park. This is an amazing experience in itself. He is concerned he will not be able to find a park anywhere nearby.We experience normal Cairo traffic and realize how fortunate we are to have been here for some holidays. It takes so long to travel only short distances. We wander back through the narrow alleys of the Beit-of-Suhaymi area. This area was closed off when we came to the bazaar on Sunday because of a religious festival. The Beit of Suhaymi was built as a commercial place for trade and with rooms for the traders to stay in. It's architecture is fascinating. It is now talked about as a traditional family mansion from the Mamluk period. We take the opportunity to go back to Fishawi's coffee house to just sit and watch life go by, and the antics of the buying and selling.
Parking in the Khan-al.Khalilli bazaar
Parking in the Khan-al.Khalilli bazaar
We walk by the Al-Hussein mosque near the bazaar. It has descendants here of the Prophet Mahommad's grandchildren. Outside there are 3 large mechanical umbrellas worth over U.S.$100,000- each, as a gift from Saudi Arabia. This evening we enjoy a peaceful stroll along the river bank and find a Moroccan dinner (Egyptian isn't available here), on one of the large river boats.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Marriott Hotel in the Zamalak area. It is an old palace especially built for visiting royalty at the time of the opening for the Suez Canal in 1869. The original section of the hotel still has an imposing forecourt and lobby area. The surrounding gardens are magnificent.
We are off to a 9am. start with Medo to visit the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx. We are so fortunate to strike yet another holiday in Cairo (Labour Day) and not get caught up in traffic. On route we drop our luggage off at the Mena Hotel at the foot of the pyramids. We have an amazing coincidence here to hear some one call us - a friend from Melbourne, Amanda Derham. We have a lovely dinner with Amanda and Mark this evening. It is always exciting to catch up with friends from home. We also see with them Tom and Sue Barrett, who are traveling in the same group in this area -what fun!
I had always been fascinated by the pyramids, the Nile river and their associated history since learning about them at school, so it is wonderful just to soak in our experiences in these areas.
The Giza pyramids are only 17kms west of Cairo. The 3 large pyramids are named after kings from 3 dynasties: Cheops, Chephern and Mycerinus. The history of the pharaoh's solar baroques (boats) is interesting. In the museum near the Khufu pyramid there is a restored one of these cedar-wood vessels. These vessels could have been used to carry the mummy of the pharaoh up to the valley temple. There was water surrounding the pyramid area in those times.
The sphinx has a human head and the body of a lion. The enormity of these structures is overwhelming. One can't help but imagine how they were built with the teams of workman and farmers during their off seasons.
Our visit to the "Atlantis" oils is fascinating. This is also a healing centre. Another amazing coincidence is that they have a close association with Sai Baba, a mentor of my brother, Ian.
Lunch is a delicious kebab at a local restaurant near the sphinx.
The Mena House Hotel was originally an old palace and then became a hunting lodge before becoming a guest house. It is a very attractive place to stay and oozing with atmosphere in the old buildings.