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TRAVEL THERE: LOST AT THE BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA
So Rom the Rogue Hantoor Driver dropped us off at the Library of Alexandria. We knew we were there, because the unique curved roof is unmistakable. What we didn’t know was how to get inside.
A Little Signage Please
We thought we were standing in front of the Library. Huge plate glass windows allowed us to look in, but nothing told us we needed to go around to the other side. We did eventually find our way to the front, but that was even more confusing.
The world was lined up at a building over to the side of the Library, but nothing suggested the crowd was headed into the library itself. Remember, I may not read or understand Arabic, but Bill does and we stood there at the curb reading every sign we could see and watching the people to figure out what they were doing.
Through trial and error (and an exasperated guard) we found out we had to join the crowd and check pretty much everything on our persons, except the clothes on our back at the place with the crowd. Then we got the secret sauce to entering the library. Once inside there are all kinds of signs directing you to the various stacks of books over many floors, but nothing seemed to direct us to the free museums we were there to enjoy. Now they have great signage to the museum that has a pricey entry fee, but I wanted the free stuff.
We even asked people for directions and they’d point vaguely in a direction which wouldn’t help at all or they’d give us very detailed directions to something that wasn’t what I wanted to see. We were literally about to give up and walk out when I decided to see if there was any wi-fi. Rest assured there was no signage to suggest they did, I just thought it made sense for them to have it.
VOILA! There was wi-fi, but the first thing it told me was the exhibit I had been asking about for the last hour was closed for restoration. It also sent me down a staircase I’d been down several times before and directed me to what seemed like a dead end. We’d been there at least four other times. We decided to give the dead end a try and suddenly we were in free exhibit heaven.
How to Get There
So, if you ever go to Alexandria, here’s what you do. First, find the front of the building. It will be on the opposite side from the part facing the beach. Go get in the huge line at the building next to the Library. At the counter, hand them everything not actually connected to you and pay them whatever they want. Move quickly during this process so you can follow the person who was in line in front of you or you won’t find the entrance.
Once in the foyer, look for a stairwell on the right side. Go down to the next floor. Right in front of you will be the museum you can pay to go into, but turn to your left instead. Go to the end of the hall and turn to the right, even though it looks like you are entering a warren of offices. If you walk down the hall past the offices, you will suddenly find yourself in a treasure trove of exhibits.
The pictures above are all of the library proper, which you enter through many doors all along the back of the foyer. I do recommend you take some time wandering around. We happened upon several interesting exhibits that way, which weren’t even listed in the cornucopia of materials I’d been studying for weeks before the trip. It’s also the only way to seem the amazing architecture of the place. But if you want to see the free museums, follow the instructions above.
I’m all out of words today, but come back next week and I’ll share some of the marvelous things we found down in the guts of the library.
TRAVEL HERE: WI-FI, SHOWS AND MORE
We’ve looked at shore excursions, specialty dining and beverage plans. If you’ve never cruised before you are already worn out. If you are a cruiser, then you know this is just par for the course. It takes a little time before you go, but it makes things much more seamless when you are on board – and I promise it’s easier to do the ordering than it is to explain the complexities of it. So if you were about to give up on the idea of cruising, hang on, we’re almost through with the whole pre-boarding thing.
Different Things to Order on Different Boats
Except for the headaches associated with having to make the food and beverage decisions, this Royal Caribbean Cruise was pretty easy. Before our Norwegian Cruise we had to schedule all the specialty dining and book times for the on board entertainment. We also took advantage of their wine program, where you pre-selected and paid for your bottles of wine ahead of time. On different ships you will have different opportunities. This might be one of the reasons some people like to keep cruising on the same line. Once they figure it all out, they don’t want to have to learn a new system.
One of the things I had a hard time figuring out was what shows would be available on this cruise. I’m a lot happier when I have an idea of what to expect, but it was pretty much a blank page. Had I actually known what they would be delivering, I might have jumped ship before I got there, but that’s for later. For now I just encourage you to be thorough and read through all the material they send you. It might look like fine print, but later you will be glad you did.
There are so many ways to deliver wi-fi that I couldn’t begin to do them justice. On Viking wi-fi was included. On Norweigan, the public areas had wi-fi. When we sailed with Carnival I still had a flip phone, so I didn’t care. On Royal Caribbean they have what they call VOOM and you pay for it. They also say in some of their materials they have free wi-fi in designated areas on board and they might on some ships, but not Vision of the Seas.
VOOM comes in two flavors, wi-fi alone and with streaming. You can also buy it in a combo package with your soda or beverage packages to get a few dollars of discount. Bill and I discussed it thoroughly a week or so before the cruise and since he thought he had a plan for off-loading his work for a few days and I thought they’d have an internet cafe with free wi-fi we decided to forgo any wi-fi. What could we miss in four days, right?
Well, we both figured wrong, so keep coming back, because eventually I’ll tell you the sad saga of VOOM, but next week we’ll head to Galveston.
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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.
TRAVEL HERE: STEPPING UP FROM SODAS
Some people think everybody on a cruise is looking for a multi-day drinking binge. To a certain extent, they have a point. There are a whole lot of people drinking a whole lot of adult beverages on most cruises – and I think I know why.
Pay As You Go VS Drink Packages
I’m a wine with dinner person, but big ship cruising isn’t geared for that. Glasses of wine hover at $10-12 – and who can drink just one? The bottled wine choices are limited and while I can understand why, they certainly charge through the roof for what they have. To make that even more challenging, I drink white and Bill drinks red. He’s fine with a beer, but they’re around $8 and his favorite, Bud Light costs more, because for some reason all American beers cost more. I consider beer to be wasted calories. We have a bit of dilemma in this department.
On Norwegian they did have a wine program and I embraced it the same way I have the soda programs, but apparently the Royal Caribbean cruises target those people who want to drink mixed drinks – and a lot of them. Margaritas, Mojitos, Pina Coladas and all their sisters and brothers are the beverages featured in the Adult Beverage Packages. In fact wine drinkers can’t even get bottles of wine through the programs, they only get discounts. So it’s not just my imagination that they discriminate against wine.
If you pay as you go on a cruise and you prefer beverages that aren’t on the free list, you can rack up a pretty penny pretty quickly
- A a bottle of water while you work out
- Breakfast with coffee and juices
- Mid-morning soda
- A beer with your hamburger for lunch
- Sitting at the pool in the afternoon a margarita or two & probably a bottle of water or two
- Dinner a couple of glasses of wine
- A Cocktail at the show.
Now, this would be a lot of drinking on a regular day, but you’re on a cruise, so you indulge yourself. Do you have any idea what you have just spent? The coffee and juices were free, but you have spent $4-12 on every other item. You just spent $64 dollars and to add injury to insult they will add a 18% tip to your bill for each drink. Your bill just went up to $75.52.
So, then you think you’ll look over the free beverages again, but remember you’re on a cruise. You wish you could splurge a little, so you go back over the beverage wish list, wondering how much of it you would actually drink. Somewhere along the way you must decide what works best for you. The all-you-can drink beverage package is about $65 a day. It includes mixed drinks, beers, wine by the glass and sodas. You also get a hefty discount on bottles of wine. I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting the package, so they can just order what they want when they want it without worrying about it.
But be careful, they still add something for tips. They also only cover beverages up to a certain price point – twelve dollars on my latest cruise. So if the drink of the day is $14 (and I saw some that were) you just got charged! A friend of mine said she and her husband used to get one adult beverage package and would just avoid ordering two drinks at once, but the cruise lines figured that trick out. If one person in the cabin gets an adult beverage program, any other adults in the room are also charged for one. They get you coming and going.
We decided to pay as we went. The cruise line allowed us to bring two bottles of wine on board and there was no corkage fee. For a four day cruise that was really all we needed, but guess who was drinking red wine. Besides, I knew they would be serving free champagne at some of the events and I had the soda program to fill in.
We were fine, but I can imagine that if you splurge for the adult beverage package, then you want to be very sure that you take advantage of it. Hence the boat sometimes feels like it is full of drunk people.
The big pool was the scene of several bacchanals. We didn’t spend much time there, but a few times when we passed by, there were very drunk ladies parading around the dance floor, showing us more of themselves than we really wanted to see. Not sure why there’s never a stunning looker among the drunks, but we’ve found that to be true on virtually every cruise. We also wandered into a bar late one evening to see an event that promised to be humorous, but the karaoke wasn’t quite over when we got there. Talk about drunk people!
So that’s the skinny on beverages. I’ll cover a few more pre-cruise choices you can make next week.
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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.
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.
TRAVEL HERE: WETTING YOUR WHISTLE
Beverages on a cruise can be a challenge if you have a specific taste you crave. However, there are plenty of free and inexpensive solutions, too.
Let’s Start with What’s Free
If you don’t drink alcohol and you’re not addicted to sodas ( like someone who will remain unnamed, but does write for this blog) then you need not read any further. You can get all the tea, coffee, juice, lemonade, milk etc. etc. etc. that you want on a boat. You’ll have to drink tap water, because bottled water comes at $4 each, but otherwise you’re golden.
With a little craftiness you can manage to get a few glasses of complimentary champagne or a free sample of rum. You might even score a bottle of water or two on a shore excursions. You just have to watch the daily schedule and go where the treats are – but you will never ever for any reason get a free soda.
Back in my early cruising, wine with dinner was included and sodas were free. Obviously, that was a long time ago. The wine at dinner wasn’t the greatest wine in the world, but I’m no connoisseur. I can talk wine all day long and love to attend tastings, but in reality I’m quite happy with a glass of pinot grigio from a box. Wine with dinner is part of the reason we like all-inclusive cruise lines like Viking, but outside of that, wine with dinner is not included and neither are sodas. Most cruise lines will allow you to bring a couple of bottles of wine on board, but be careful, some still charge a corkage fee.
Getting My Soda Fix
I’m not really addicted to soda. When I need to lose weight I restrict myself from having it, as a sort of carrot. “When you get down to your goal you can have a Diet Dr Pepper,” I tell myself, but while I’m not drinking it, I’m not really suffering. No headaches. No cravings. I just happen to like Diet Dr Pepper – several a day as a matter of fact.
However, cruising is supposed to be about having fun and indulging yourself a little bit. Being restricted from sodas detracts from the pleasure for me. The kicker is that a soda is $4. FOUR DOLLARS. Actually $4 plus 18% for tips. Were I to get charged almost $5 every time I had a soda, my husband would not be happy with me.
Enter the soda package. For $8 a day you can have all the soda you want and at that price someone else in this household can get a sip from time to time. You also get a nice thermal cup to carry around all over the place. And here’s a bonus for Mr. Bill. While I love wine, margaritas and rum drinks with little umbrellas in them, if I have a soda package I’m perfectly happy to have another cup of caffeine. So that $8 goes a long way.
Now if you’d like a glass of wine with dinner, a margarita by the pool or a cold one as you enjoy your day in the sun, beware! We’ll talk about that next week!
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