Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Miracle at Mokattum

TRAVEL THERE: HUMBLED BY THEIR HUMILITY

There is a section of Cairo on Mokattum Mountain that is the home of the garbage people.  They are outcasts of polite society.  It’s enough that they are garbage collectors, but they are also Christians, almost 100% of them, and in a predominately Muslim country, that too is a problem.  Yet rarely have I been in a place with as much joy.

Curiosity Got Me There

Sometimes in Egypt it’s hard to discern what is fact and what is just tradition.  Take the Pompey Pillar in Alexandria for instance.  Everybody knows the pillar has nothing at all to do with Pompey, yet his name continues to cling to it.

Mokottum mountain has a lot of traditions attached to it, not just the story of the Coptic pope with the faith of a mustard seed, who got the mountain to move.  The name of the mountain, which means “broken mountain,” is considered proof of …I’m not sure what to call it – event, miracle, legend, tradition.  I’ve also heard a story of a Bible being found floating in the Nile opened to a particular verse which led to  the location of this church – or another church.  The details are fluid.  With so much smoke about Mokattum, I wanted to check out the fire.  

Mokattum Church

The Zabbalene (garbage collector) neighborhood of Cairo is not a garden spot.  It has a very distinctive, unpleasant and fetid odor in the air.  As we rolled through the area the reason became apparent.  Huge piles of garbage sit everywhere, waiting to be sorted through.  Someone opened the garage-like door of a warehouse as we drove by.  Inside were more mounds of garbage, which I presume were more valuable than those which sat in the open air.  At this point in the tour I was still a curious tourist.

We arrived at the entrance of the church and joined a small group being lectured to by someone from the church.  Izzat and Zuzu disappeared for this part.  At first it was the usual tour guide stuff.  This guy started this church this way in this year.  We have this many members. 

The facts buzzed around my head as I followed the guide from one area of the church to another.  I shifted from listening to observing.  This guy was neatly groomed, but it was obvious his outfit came from the piles of garbage.  He could have used a haircut, but you could tell he had a self assurance and self esteem many pampered US teens could benefit from.

I also saw joy.  He loves his church.  He was so excited to share each and every piece of information with us.  He was so proud of the carvings on the wall.  He is in awe of the huge number of people who show up each week to worship.  It’s the largest church in the Middle East.

His joy was not just associated with the church.  His personal testimony is that God loves him, protects him and provides for him.  He is so grateful to be a part of the Body of Christ.

I saw how I must look to him – a privileged tourist.  Imagine how many meals, how much education, how much medical care and other basic needs could be filled with the money Bill and I had spent to be right there at that time.  He had every reason to resent me and my intrusion into his life, but instead he was thrilled we had shown an interest in his community.  He hoped we’d come back and worship with him.  We spoke to him briefly to tell him how much we admired the church and were humbled by his joy.  He spoke to us as an equal, holding his head high and treating us like a fellow brother and sister in Christ.

After the tour, Bill visited the restroom and could not resist taking this picture.  It broke our hearts.  I thought of all our country club mega-churches with our slick-talking celebrity pastors.  I thought of the people who prefer to participate in ministries that will take them on vacation mission trips.  I thought of all the $1-3 donations people thoughtlessly tack onto their grocery bill or pet shop total, and then forget about by the time they get to their car.  I thought of all the money we spend on saving cats and dogs, when these people so desperately need a little saving.  How in the world does that stack up to the needs of those in Mokattum?

Those garbage collectors have it right and I admire them.  I walked away from Mokattum Church a little different than I arrived.  The guide’s love and acceptance of me expanded my own heart a little bit.  I didn’t come home and sell everything that I have, but I’ve got a new understanding of the joy of the Lord and I’m trying to practice it with the same abandon as my brother in Mokattum.

It was on odd place to go for our final tour in Egypt.  Luxury hotels, museum visits, yacht trips and a city of garbage collectors.  Next week, I’ll share our last few hours in Egypt.  I’m writing this particular post on a pretty day in February, knowing it will be posted in August, and that’s a little weird.  Who knows what adventures will follow this blog series!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

More Old Cairo

TRAVEL THERE: WRAPPING UP OUR TOUR

So after Abu Sargus, what else can I tell you?

The Rest of Old Cairo

We visited St. George’s.  It’s nice, but confusing.  There’s all these pictures of St. George and the dragon, but St. George is a Roman soldier martyred because he would not give up his faith.  No dragons in the story, so don’t ask me.  It’s also confusing, because it started out as a Roman Catholic Church, but is now is a convent for Greek Orthodox nuns and old George is a Coptic saint.

We visited the very old Jewish Synagogue which they call the New Synagogue, because the current building was built in the 1890’s and this building is one of three known synagogues on this site.  However, according to tradition, there’s been a synagogue here since ancient times.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that it was built on the site where Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses in the bullrushes.

Hanging Church Depiction of Moses in the Bullrushes

They say stuff like that all the time in Egypt.  St. Catherine’s Cathedral out in the Sinai has THE Burning Bush.  One of the murals at the Hanging Church depicts the Moses in the bullrushes story.  There’s also a mural of the documented story of when faith actually moved a mountain.  You really need to get to Egypt.

 

One of the sad things I learned was that while there was a large Jewish community in Cairo for centuries, it has virtually disappeared.  The Synagogue is a tourist attraction, not a place of worship.  Imagine a congregation, whose place of worship was originally associated with the story of Moses and which was perhaps the place Joseph worshiped when he was in Egypt, no longer having any Jews to worship in it.

Another important miracle recorded in the murals of the Hanging Church is the moving of Mokattum Mountain.  A Muslim Caliph was ready to do away with Christians altogether when a bishop made a deal with him.  If he could get a mountain to move then the Christians were safe.  According to tradition, the bishop had everyone pray and then they had a mass at the foot of Mokattum Mountain at the edge of Cairo.  Lo and behold the mountain jumped up into the air and the Christians were saved.

In recent years a church has been planted in a cavern out there at Mokattum and Bill and I would travel there before the day was over, but for now, I’ll round out my tour.  On the way into the area I saw a shop selling shawls.  I love shawls and capes.  Bill promised we’d stop back by on the way out, probably thinking I would forget all about it – and who knows, I might have – but Zuzu remembered and now I have this beautiful shawl.

The shawl I saw on the way in was not the one I ended up with.  I saw a pretty shawl that I thought would be great for evening wear and the price was minuscule.  When I went back I saw this gorgeous, heavy, reversible number and asked if all the shawls were the same price.  “Yes,” was his answer.  I know value when I see it.  I immediately abandoned the evening style and held on to this one until Bill paid for it.

Come to find out, the shawl I chose is hand woven goats wool.  A tag identified the Egyptian craftsman who made it.  We probably should have paid $100 for it.  I’d be surprised if Bill paid $10.  He’d bargained so mercilessly that he was embarrassed when we walked out of there.  Once again, not understanding Arabic saved me.  I would have told Bill to pay the man his price and quit bargaining.

Next week we’ll move on to Mokattum Mountain, but first, enjoy these beautiful photos.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Hanging Church & Abu Sarga

Courtyard of the Hanging Church

TRAVEL THERE: WONDER OF WONDERS

OK.  Get ready!  This is big.  The Hanging Church is a pretty marvelous place, but wait until you hear about Abu Sargus.

Why Is It Called the Hanging Church?

When you don’t know something, your brain can make up weird stuff.  I figured it was called the Hanging Church because they used to hang people there.  I was wrong.  It’s called the Hanging Church because of the way it hung over the city like a mirage, in the days before sky scrapers.

This church was one of the most pleasant tourist destinations we visited.  The Old City was not crowded and as you can see by the picture, this is a very lovely place.  The walls have pretty murals depicting the most significant events in Cairo’s Christian Community.  More about that later.

Abu Sargus

I have to confess to you that I’m not big on relics.  I’ve seen more bones, scraps of fabric and hair than your average traveler, because I’m always interested in churches and many churches are interested in relics.  Even palaces, like the Hofburg in Vienna, have their relics.  In fact, I probably saw more relics in one place in the Hofburg’s Treasury than I have seen in any church.

I feel the same way about religiously significant locales.  While I would like to go to Israel, I’m convinced that most of their religious sites are not sitting in the right place at all.  In most cases it is the traditional location, not the actual location and knowing there is a difference bugs me.

So, while I had probably read something that told me what I was about to see in the basement of Abu Sagus, known as the Cavern Church, it really hadn’t registered with me.  I just marked it up to, uh huh sure, would you like a piece of the True Cross?  

Hanging Church Mural of the Holy Family traveling to Egypt

Jesus in Egypt

Now we all know the story of the angel appearing to the Wise Men and warning them not to return to Herod after they had seen the Christ Child.  We know how Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped Bethlehem to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents.  We all know that the Holy Family went to Egypt, but have you ever thought about where in Egypt they went?  OK, me either.  I assumed it was some cave or small town.  That’s what you get for assuming.

So, if you are a Jewish Family looking for a place to wait out a bad political situation, wouldn’t you go find some other Jews to hang out with?  And wouldn’t you look for a community where you could ply your trade?

To this very day, Jewish families tend to gather in the same area, near their synagogue of choice – especially observant Jews and those who practice the Orthodox tradition.  Wouldn’t the Holy Family do the same thing?  And where was there a significant Jewish Community and synagogue in Egypt?  Well, Cairo, of course, and for good measure it was supposed to be built on the spot where Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses.

We went down to the basement and there was the remains of a two room house, but this wasn’t just any house.  This was where the carpenter Joseph lived with his wife Mary and the Christ Child.  OK, so it it the traditional two room house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived, but this space is more believable to me than most of these types of locations.

Oral histories are very strong in Egypt.  I can see the Gospel writer Mark arriving in Cairo sharing his testimony.  Someone says, “Jesus of Nazareth?  His dad was my family’s carpenter!  You say He’s the Messiah! Come on, they went to my synagogue.  I can show you the very house they lived in.  He died on a cross and was resurrected?  Well, I’ll be!”

Without the Jerusalem Temple crowd, who did everything they could to wipe out any hint of a Messiah, I can see the Egyptian Jews accepting this information.  Especially since along with the tradition that the family lived in the neighborhood, there are stories of events which demonstrated Jesus was known as someone special, even as a child. Our Muslim guide considers it common knowledge, more than a mere rumor or tradition – just short of a scientifically proven fact.

We don’t get this, because here in American we’ve only been around for a few centuries.  Egyptians talk about ancient Pharaohs like we talk about our 2nd cousin on our mom’s side.  We might not know them personally, but we know about them.  So can I prove Jesus lived in the basement of the Abu Sargus before there was a church there.  No, but it seems reasonable to me.

Come back next week and we’ll see some more of Old Cairo.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Sightseeing in Cairo

TRAVEL THERE: SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST?

This trip to Egypt was one best thing after another, but our day in Old Cairo was special for many reasons.  Let’s get started!

A Long Wait

During my 1996 visit to Egypt, my niece had plans to take us to the churches in Old Cairo, but those plans were always for bokra  (tomorrow) and bokra never came.  I really didn’t know what I was missing.  I was so focused on getting to the Pyramids and the Cairo Museum the churches weren’t even on my list.

This time things were different.  Old Cairo was on my radar and the research I did told me not to miss it.  It also told me not to let anyone squeeze it into some part of a day, but to keep demanding the outing needed its own day.

First, Bill and Ayman tried to squeeze it into the day of the wedding, but I said no.  Then they suggested I see it on the day we transferred from the Fairmont to the Mena House.  I kept saying no.  Then I was somehow supposed to drive from Alexandria to Cairo, see the churches and get on a plane.  Nope that wasn’t happening either.  I’m only occasionally stubborn, but on those occasions, I’m very stubborn. 

The Cairo Museum

And speaking of stubborn.  Remember Zuzu, our guide to the Pyramids?  Well, he was back for a repeat performance.  And remember how he was determined to take us to Giza before we went to Dashour or Saqqura?  Well, we had the second stanza of that.  We were going to the Cairo Museum before we went to Old Cairo and that was that.

I have been to the Cairo Museum and unlike my first trip to the Pyramids, my visit to the museum trip was very satisfying.  I felt like I had the time on that trip to process everything I saw.  If I lived there, I would go to the museum on a regular basis.  Since I didn’t live there, I wanted to spend my time doing new things.  That didn’t happen.  So here I am out in front of the Cairo Museum with Zuzu listening to whatever it is that he wanted to tell me about the museum.

 

Old Cairo, Finally!

Old Cairo is very, very old.  To impress this fact upon us, Zuzu started with this ancient fortress.  It was known as the Fortress of Babylon in the early AD years and once the Nile flowed through it.  That’s important later on in the story.

The Old City is a warren of churches.  There is St. George’s Church and Covent, The Hanging Church, St. Barbara’s, Abu Sargus Cavern Church and a Synogogue.  It gets a little confusing, because some of the properties have changed hands several times.  Several have been rebuilt several times.  As I researched this part of the trip, I imagined having to walk great distances to see these various sights, but they are actually cheek to jowl – right in the same place.

Next week we’ll go start touring the churches. You won’t want to miss that!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Yucatan Adventure

TRAVEL HERE: DISCOVER THE YUCATAN & THE MAYAN WORLD

No time for working out or a sit-down breakfasts today.  Our shore excursion met on the pier at 9:15, so we grabbed breakfast in the Windjammer Buffet and disembarked.

Progresso, Mexico

I love cruising and one of my favorite moments is stepping off the boat at a port of call.  Progresso was not new to us.  We’d been there several years ago on a Carnival cruise, but that was before I started blogging.  On that trip we visited the Dzibilchaltun ruins, which I highly recommend.  This time we were taking a tour called “Discover the Yucatan & the Mayan World”.  It was a sort of compromise somewhere in between going all the way to Chichen Itza and spending the day on the beach.

The city of Progresso is developing their port and I’m pretty sure the cute little market at the end of the pier was not there last time.  We didn’t see anything that tempted us to pull out our wallets, but it was a nice commercial enterprise and it gave us something to do while we waited for our tour to be called.

How do you spell relief?

On the Bus

Once everyone on the tour had been accounted for, our guide led us to our bus for the day.  For the most part it was in good condition, but I could tell it had been in service for awhile.  Our guide had a shtick about his name.  He complained that all of us tourists didn’t know how to properly roll the “R” in Carlos, so he’d prefer it if we called him The Big Chihuahua or Uncle Chewy.

Our first stop was Xcampo.  (Well, actually the roadside restroom before you got to Xcampo.)  Xcampo was a temple complex, like Chichen Itza or Dzibilxhaltun, but on a much smaller scale.  The visit was not very long, but long enough to wander around and climb on the pyramids.

And speaking of climbing the pyramids, we learned that the steps of the pyramid were so steep to be sure that no one could turn their back on the god and walk down.  They’d have to crawl down to do honor to the god.  In addition, That’s the reason the door to their huts were so low – to remind people to bow and do honor to the home’s inhabitants.

On to Dzemul

Dzemul was a small town primarily occupied by descendants of the Mayans.  Our first stop in the town was an architecturally correct replica of a Mayan home.  When the bus arrived our hostess was nowhere in sight.  We sat there a few moments as the guide tried to decide what to do about her absense.  Just about the time he decided we’d go to the next stop, up comes this darling little lady on the orange human-powered vehicle you see in the picture gallery.  These were the most popular vehicles in town and came in a wide variety of colors and themes.

As Uncle Chewy explained the details of Mayan home-building, our hostess went out back, stoked up a fire and made us some tortillas.  They were good!

The next stop was the local Catholic church with a long history.  There we were greeted by this beautiful woman in her traditional hand-made dress.  Just so you don’t miss it, that’s cross-stitch and it covers the dress.  Can you imagine how long it took to make it?

We were enchanted by this lady.  She exuded pride and self-confidence.  She and some associates performed some folk dances for us and one performed with a tray of water-filled glasses.  The the tray of dancer in the picture got a little off balance and dribbled water on her as she danced.  She was such a pro that it didn’t even cause her to blink.  She completed the dance without ever touching the tray and behaved as if the water dripping on her was just part of the act.  The dancers on the ship could take lessons from her.

Inside the church we were treated to a little history. Bill was amazed to learn that they used to make church doors so large in order for people on horseback to ride in, without having to get of their horse, in times of emergency.

Cultural orientation completed it was time to go to the beach.  Come back next week and join us there.  In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of Dzemul.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Cruising the Nile Like a Queen

TRAVEL THERE: THE PHARAOH’S DINNER CRUISE

Moksen, my nephew Bassem’s new father-in-law, invited us to be his guest on an early Nile Dinner Cruise.  He’d enjoyed our hospitality on a visit to the States and was eager to return the favor.  He returned the favor in spades!

An Early Arrival

Since we’d allowed plenty of time to visit the monastery during our trip from Alex to Cairo, we were early to the cruise.  Izzat entertained us a little by driving us around the elegant neighborhood near the dock of the boat, but that didn’t take very long and we really didn’t have time for anything else.  Hence we arrived at the boat long before anyone else – and what a boat!

I’m telling you Cleopatra would have been thrilled to take a cruise on this boat.  The photos really don’t do it justice, but the boat was covered in gilded pharaonic decorations.  The waiters wore the same garb as Cleo’s servants would have worn.  All that was missing was getting fanned by ostrich plumes and I have a feeling if I’d asked for it, they would have been able to comply with my wishes.

An Excellent Meal

If you remember any of the details about my nephew’s wedding and reception, then you know that no expense was spared.  This dinner cruise was similar – the best of the best. 

While we waited for our party, I checked out the restroom facilities and they were much improved over our roadside stop.  Then we wandered around the boat checking out every elegant detail.

Before long Moksen and his lovely wife Shahira, first on the left side, were coming aboard and the party started.  It was a huge, delicious meal and I was thrilled to be with my family once again.  

Once we’d eaten our fill (and a little bit more) we all wandered outside to enjoy the view from the decks.  Our hosts had invited us to the early cruise – about 2:30 – and this allowed us to see Cairo in all it’s daytime glory.  I’m sure the evening experience is romantic, but I would not have traded our daytime views for anything.

I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy this amazing trip.  It seems as if every time I travel I say, “This was the trip of a lifetime,” but each time it seems true.  From family tours of historic American sites when I was a child to wandering through the English countryside in my twenties to the Danube Cruise I took in 2016, they are all singular experiences many people never get the opportunity to enjoy.  This trip was no different.  Each day was an absolute wonder.  It has taken over a year to share it with you, but it is finally drawing to a close.  Only one more full day to share and then we’ll have to see what our next adventure will be.

Enjoy and come back tomorrow for our return to the Fairmont.  The second time around was a little more problematic that our original stay!

 

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A Sampling of Alexandrian Museums

TRAVEL THERE: HISTORY, JEWELRY AND MORE

Our second day in Alex began with the usual buffet breakfast and a quick cab ride to the Alexandria National Museum.  (No adventures this time!)

Ancient Artifacts

If you somehow landed in Alex and hadn’t yet figured out that Egypt is a country with very ancient roots, you should visit this museum.  It’s not as extensive as the famed Cairo Museum, but it is arranged in such a way that you can get a quick overview of Egypt’s history organized by deities.  If you’re just somebody like me that geeks out on history, well then you have even more reasons to spend and hour or so here.

Down in the basement is the Pharaonic section when Egyptians worshiped a pantheon of gods led by Ra, the sun god, and Isis, goddess of marriage, fertility, motherhood, magic, medicine and probably a few other things.  The main floor is devoted to the Greek and Roman eras of Egypt, when the Egyptian gods mixed and mingled with other religious traditions.  Many of the artifacts have, in fact, been fished out of the sea right there in Alexandria.  Our favorite floor was the top floor.  There Christianity faced off against Islam in a sort of duel by artifacts.  

Like many things in Egypt, if you visit this museum you’ll be on a constant seesaw.  One moment you are wowed out of your socks by an item you can’t even believe still exists.  Then you won’t be able to see into the next case at all, because the light has burned out.  It’s exhilarating, frustrating and totally unique.  Gorgeous white marble edifices with spectacular polished black granite floors and dust collecting in the corners.  It made me want to shake someone!

At this museum you can take all the pictures you want outside, but you are supposed to pay to take pictures inside.  Bill didn’t think he wanted to part with the coin, but once he got inside he couldn’t help taking a few pictures of the beautiful Christian artifacts.  They didn’t say anything right away, but when he left, they hit him up for the photography fee.  Since we had to pay to take them, I’ll share them with you.

The Royal Jewelry Museum

This trip to Egypt was so marvelous from so many standpoints I would be hard-pressed to pick out my favorite thing.  However, I can easily tell you the Royal Jewelry Museum is a strong contender for the position.  In fact, it is on my short list of favorite museums ever!

We took a taxi from the history museum to this gem of a palace. (Forgive me the pun, I couldn’t resist.)  It was immediately apparent this was something completely different from the previous museum.  Both buildings were magnificent, but the history museum was past its prime and showing its age.  It didn’t look like anyone loved it anymore.  The edifice holding the jewelry museum is pristine.  It’s well-loved and it shows.

The jewelry museum is in a lovely part of the city, obviously still home to the well-to-do.  An impressive rod iron fence guards the one-time palace.  The security procedure into the grounds is more than cursory, but it was very polite.  This is the museum-less-visited, competing with the well-known Bibliotheca and the official history museum, but I would like to see that change.  This is a rare and wonderful experience and if you go to Alexandria you should not miss it!  They were glad to have such obvious American tourists entering their facility.  So glad in fact they gifted me with a beautiful souvenir guidebook.

If this museum did not hold a single piece of jewelry, I would still say it is one of the best attractions I had ever visited.  The palace is just awesome – and I use the word in the traditional sense, not in the way it’s used to describe a hamburger.  I walked from room to room wishing I could live there or at least I would have had the opportunity to visit when Fatma Heidar herself called it home.  She was a several-times-great granddaughter of Mohammed Ali Pasha the Great.  I think she and I could have been great friends.

But there was jewelry, magnificent jewelry, in attractive cases spread throughout the elegant rooms.  The house looked as if they had only removed the furniture the day before.  It was easy to imagine dignitaries in gorgeous caftans and morning suits wandering around.  Among the treasures in the cases were items which once belonged to King Farouk I and his wife, the lovely Queen Farida.  Here’s a shot of my very favorite piece stolen from the gifted souvenir guidebook.  We saw it, but couldn’t get a good shot.

After a morning and early afternoon of touring, we were hungry.  Come back next week and find out what we did about it.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Rom & the Hantoor Tour

TRAVEL THERE: ALEX OVERTURE VIA HORSE & BUGGY

Stepping out of The Cecil on our way to the famous Library of Alexandria, we met Rom. He was waiting at the curb to offer us the services of his horse and carriage, which they call hantoor in Egypt.  The day was gorgeous – just right for taking a ride in an open buggy.  To my delight Bill was able to make a good deal with him and soon we were gliding around the streets of Alex as the horse’s hooves clip-clopped along.  

First to Fort Qaitby

Since the hotel was situated pretty much in the middle of most everything we wanted to see, we had planned on walking to most of the attractions on my list.  However, there were a few I wasn’t sure we could make it to on foot.  Fort Qaitby was one of them.  Located on a small peninsula near the ancient site of the Pharos Lighthouse, Fort Qaitby was the end of the line for Alex’s Corniche, the beautiful sandy crescent of beach along the Mediterranean.

Since the Fort was 2-3 miles away, it wasn’t that we couldn’t walk there, I was just concerned about taking the time to do so when there were so many other things I wanted to see.  Rom seated us in his buggy and took off for the fort.  This is a big time tourist locale, so there was a shopping opportunity and also a small museum inside the old English fort.  I was tempted to go in, because I love all museums, but with the Library of Alexandria calling for me, I managed to drag myself away.

We’d seen everything I was interested in seeing in just a few minutes, but then we stumbled onto a group of fishermen throwing their lines into the sea from a rocky beach on the other side of the Corniche.  Bill was fascinated.  Alex used to be a place he came on vacation and the coastal activities, like fishing and eating at fish restaurants were one of his favorite memories.  I reined in my urgency to get to the library and relished Bill’s childlike delight in the fishermen, the birds, curious cats and crashing waves.  Here’s a few pictures from our time near the fort.

Too Much of a Good Thing

After the Fort, Rom drove through a whole lot more of the rest of the city than we actually wanted to see.  It started out pretty well.  We were in the downtown area, where we got out and took pictures along the Corniche.  We saw Kom al-Dikka, some Roman ruins I’d wanted to visit, but knew we wouldn’t have much time for.  It was a great overview of the city.

Then we got into some of the residential areas and that wasn’t quite so pretty.  Alex is a city whose time has past.  While there are a few areas where there are new developments and hotels, most of it is old, peeling and falling apart.  There’s plenty of beautiful historic areas to enjoy also.  However, once you get off the main drags, things get a little scary.  The charm is completely worn off and the residents look at you with narrowed eyes, as if to say, “What in the hell are you doing here?”

We finally convinced Rom we’d seen all we needed to see.  He clicked his tongue and slapped the reins, heading towards the Library.  With the exception of the run down residential area, it had been a wonderful morning, but unfortunately, the ghetto was not the only ugly thing we were going to see that day.  When we arrived at the Library, Mr. Nice Guy Rom turned into somebody else.  He hit Bill up for a lot more money than we’d agreed to pay him for the tour.  A small disagreement erupted.  Bill paid the amount he’d agreed to and walked away, leaving a very angry Rom.  Apparently we had not committed too serious of an infraction.  We saw him later in the day and he greeted us like we were his long lost friends.

That’s all for today.  Come back next week and visit the library with us! In the meantime, enjoy some of the sites we saw on our tour.

 

 

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Welcome to The Cecil Hotel

TRAVEL THERE: FADED GLORY ON THE SEA

Ah! Civilization!  Crystal chandeliers, beautiful draperies, crisp linen sheets, thick carpeting.  Welcome to Alexandria’s Cecil Hotel!

So Happy to be There

Izzat pulled up in front of a glorious edifice right next to the Mediterranean Sea and set our bags on the sidewalk.  A bellman appeared and ushered us through a revolving door and the obligatory security equipment.  My mind registered old style elegance in the lobby, but I’d had a long day and was just ready for a decent room.

After the usual front desk rigmarole they pointed us to one of those antique elevators encased in black rod iron.  We rode it to our floor and WOW!  It wasn’t the Fairmont, but to my eyes it was even better.  This was elegance the way it used to be and for my money, I like it that way.  Gorgeous furniture, elaborate urns, ubiquitous crystal chandeliers and a floor that only creaked a little bit.  As we strolled down the thick elegantly patterned  carpet we were impressed with the way the magnificent door to each room was recessed to create a small alcove.

Then we entered our room.  It was small, but so lovely that I didn’t even care.  Of course my first stop was the bathroom and there I found some comic relief.  In the mode of luxury hotels everywhere, the ends of the toilet paper had been folded into a point, but this one was a little off balance.   It was just what I needed.

Moving In

Since we’d be in Alex for several days, I went through the motions of unpacking what we’d need in the way of clothes and toiletries.  As I got us organized for the next few days, Bill was inspecting the room.  He discovered the balcony which overlooked a park and the sea.  He even found the ice bucket and then went on an expedition to locate the ice machine.

In my unpacking, I’d found the bottle of Bourbon my nephew had bestowed upon me and when Bill went for the ice, he also found a can of Coke Zero.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a drink quite so much!

The Breakfast Buffet

After a good night’s sleep I was up early and raring to get out to the museum.  The Cecil didn’t have a gym, but we’d be doing a lot of walking, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Once we were ready to attack the day, we headed downstairs to breakfast.  Yes, it was another buffet, but the space designated for the morning repast was a delight.  Black and white marble floors, large bouquets of fresh lilies, huge windows, antique iron chairs and marble topped tables.  What was there not to like?

I was sick to death of breakfast buffets, but the space was so pleasant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere.  I was also very excited about the day ahead.  The days of leisure were over and we were going to start in on my long list of museums.  I could not wait! Come back next week and join us on our way to the Library of Alexandria.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

The Cathedral in Sharm el Shiek

TRAVEL THERE: SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT

After our amazing day on the Red Sea, it was nap time – only instead of napping, I washed my hair.  I had borrowed a towel from the room for our boat trip and the room steward (no maids) penalized me for it.  We’d started the stay with an armload of fluffy towels, but when I got back from the day on the yacht, the towel nazi had only left me one bath towel to accompany the one (I guess) he thought I was trying to steal.  It was funny how they all spoke such great English until that very moment.  Suddenly, we couldn’t communicate at all.  It was a small thing, but it left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. 

Out for the Evening

Niece Maggie and her family invited us out for dinner.  They wanted to show us the hotel they’d stayed at during their honeymoon.  They hadn’t booked an over-the-top suite, like Bassem and Mariam were enjoying at the Baron Resort, but Maggie and Shady wanted us to share their memories.  Except for some security rigmarole going in and out of the hotels we really hadn’t had to deal with much in the way of security in Sharm.  That changed on this evening.

They let us into the hotel with relative ease, but then we wanted to go take a look at the pools – yes I said pools, as in plural.  For some reason this was a problem.  Maybe they thought we were going to try to swim.  Maybe they thought we were trying to gain access to guestrooms.  I don’t know, but they certainly didn’t want us to visit the pool.  Bill and I weren’t all that worried about it.  A hotel pool is a hotel pool – am I right?

However, it was obvious Maggie and Shady were really disappointed, so Mr. Bill went into action.  He strolled over to the desk and gave them a piece of his mind.  He told them the honeymoon story.  He told them we were Americans (as if that wasn’t obvious).  Then he resorted to pressure.  He pointed out that we were guests at their sister hotel just down the street.  He mentioned Ayman’s name.  He told them I was a travel blogger.  I’m not sure what changed their mind, but Bill had to turn his room key or something like that over to them while we were poolside.

I will admit the pools were beautiful.  Deep navy tile with white trim.  We’re still not sure exactly what they were trying to protect when they wanted to prevent our visit.  We had some dinner, which was delicious, but then they gave us the run around on paying the tab.  We had to go to the front desk to pay and then the tip couldn’t be charged on the card.  Weird.

A Real Treat

Next Niece Mirette came to take us to the Sharm Cathedral.  An exterior view is above, but it does nothing to prepare you for the gorgeous interior.  I could wax eloquent about all the details, but I will let the cathedral speak for itself.  As amazing as the visit was from an architectural and religious standpoint, what was most apparent to me was the love the people of the cathedral have for my niece.  They opened up late in the evening just so they could show us.  Everyone onsite knew my niece.  They were obviously and ostentatiously fond of her.  I was so proud of her for this.  Enjoy the beautiful cathedral, then come back next week for our final day in Sharm.