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!

 

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Alex to Cairo with Detours

Farewell to the incongruities of Alex. McDonald’s Delivery Bikes at the Montazza

TRAVEL THERE: ROADSIDE DETRACTIONS

Our time in Egypt is coming to an end.  We are on our way back to Cairo from Alexandria.  We had a couple of detours, but made it in time to get on the boat for a family celebration.  Come along for the ride.

Alex to Cairo

After our visit to the archaeological sites in Carmous, we’d planned to take in another important historical contribution to Egypt’s culture.  The early introduction of Christianity to Egypt had an interesting by-product.  Egyptians eagerly embraced monotheism and added their own particular brand of devotion – monasticism.   Egyptian monastic aesthetes  led the the way in creating places for men and women to withdraw from the world and serve Jesus Christ.

That was the plan, but then there were the Good Friday massacres.  In response to these horrific bombings, the Roman Catholic pope was going to make a visit to Egypt – unprecedented in modern times.   This was good news for Christianity in Egypt, but it had some side effects.  One of them was the closing of the monasteries to outside visitors in the days leading up to the visit.

In true Egyptian fashion, we had to arrive at the gate of the monastery to find out they were closed, but it was a nice detour.  We got off the main road to travel through some rural areas and small towns on the way to the monastery.  It was the Muslim holy day and it was great to see all the white clad men in their caftans and turbans walking to their place of worship.  I rode along thinking about the juxtaposition of these two forms of worship.  Then we got to the gate and discovered what had seemed like such a tranquil setting was actually hiding the age old conflict between Christian and Muslim.

Our Potty Stop

So, we’d enjoyed the restroom facilities near Pompey’s Pillar.  I assumed I’d be able to visit the restroom again at the monastery, but we were turned away at the gate.  Religious differences aside, I needed a toilet.  Besides the obvious issue, I had another problem.  Women are supposed to wear long sleeves at the monastery and if they are wearing a skirt, it should be long and there should be no bare legs or feet.  In other words I was about to burn up.

Izzat didn’t seem real happy about finding a restroom for us to visit, but as always he assured us he would take care of our needs.  Did you ever see the movie Deliverance?  Well there was no river with wooded shores when we stopped at a roadside convenience store, but I could have sworn I heard the soundtrack playing – just not on the banjo.

I made short work of my wardrobe adjustments and potty stop.  Then I high-tailed it back to the car.  I think Bill and Izzat got some snacks, but I wasn’t going to waste any time.  Izzat was a perfect driver, but he was awful at finding restrooms.  I don’t think that was from a lack of trying, but a scarcity of facilities.  We’d had difficulty with this at both ends of the trip to Alexandria.

Cairo is up next and you’ll love The Pharaoh Cruise.  See you next week

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Ancient Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: KOM ASH SHUQQAFA, POMPEY’S PILLAR & THE SERAPEUM

We’d chosen The Cecil Hotel, because it was right on the Mediterranean and right in the middle of most of the things we wanted to see, but from my first  bits of research I knew I’d have to get to the neighborhood of Carmous somehow, because it was Ground Zero for the Greeks and Romans in Ancient Alexandria.  We scheduled Izzat, our driver to take us there on the way back to Cairo.

Kom Ash Shuqqafa

As I’ve complained about before, researching Egyptian attractions is an exercise in frustration.  You get fifteen dozen sites listing various things to see and do, but they all say the same things about them and what they say doesn’t give you much of a hint about what you are actually going to see.  The information about Kom Ash Shuqqafa let me know I really needed to see it, but I figured that out more from intuition than actual data. 

Part of the problem is that you have a hard time trying to guess what to Google.  Arabic words must be spelled phonetically and you have to guess which spelling has the most information.  Google is very good about reading your mind – until it comes to spelling, then it goes wacky.  Once I’d been to Kom Ash Shuqqagfa, I came home and found this excellent article on Lonely Planet which does a better job than I could describing it, but nothing this clear was available when I was doing my research.

Kom Ash Suqqafa is a catacomb – as in people are buried there, but that information doesn’t prepare you for what you will see.  Above ground there’s not much.  In the picture above you see some stone burial vaults, but that doesn’t begin to prepare you for the visual feast you’ll see under ground.  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the catacombs so I can’t show you all the wonders.  The best I can do is tell you to imagine an elaborately carved dining hall and surround it with beautiful private mausoleums.  

The entrance to the catacombs is on the backside of a small mound.  The disarray and neglect of the surrounding ground could discourage you from entering, but press on.  Unfortunately, this is not a site for the physically handicapped.  Entry is via a spiral staircase – period.  The dead used to arrive by ropes, but no special effort has been made to be accommodating to anyone.  The staircase is a bit of a challenge, so be sure to wear study shoes.  Once down there, you’ll also need to watch your footing.

We thoroughly enjoyed this site.  It was a wonder of Egyptian ingenuity.  If you want to go, it’s really off the beaten path and you’ll need to make a special effort, but I encourage anyone headed to Alex to include this site.

Pompey’s Pillar & the Serapeum

This site was also under publicized, but totally worth it.  Once you’re there, it’s a little more tourist friendly than the Catacombs.  Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum are what’s left of an extensive Greek and Roman architectural dig.  Sometime ago they built a walkway around the site and added signage to tell you what you are seeing.

Pompey’s Pillar was not actually built by Pompey, but the misnaming stuck. It was built to honor the Roman Emperor Diocletian, but only the historians among us actually care.  The Serapeum was the name of a Greek temple of which only a single sphinx remains. 

The attraction was a perfect way to end our visit to Alex.  A very modern Egyptian neighborhood surrounds the ancient Greek and Roman site.  For awhile, these outsiders ruled Egypt, but time defeated them and now the Egyptians have won back their territory.  The site is on a hill and from there the view is great.

Enjoy these photos and join me next week for our trip back to Cairo.

 

 

DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Eating Good in the Alex Neighborhood

TRAVEL THERE: A FEW BITES

Yes, we did finally find The Fish Market Restaurant, but that’s not where we had lunch.  Let me tell you about our midday meal before getting to dinner.

Return to the Food Court

When Bill was finally able to drag me out of The Royal Jewelry Museum it was past lunch time.  Those big buffet breakfasts came in handy, but eventually you have to eat.  Bill recognized the neighborhood as being the one where the Four Seasons Hotel, Mall and Food Court had been and I found it on the map I was carrying.  We were only a few blocks away.  We’d been exploring new things for hours.  Something familiar sounded good.

We had a nice meal and did a little wandering around in the Four Seasons.  Then we headed outside to find a cab, because we were going to take a look at Montazza, one of King Farouk’s palaces.  Bill was quite excited by the prospect of visiting a favorite childhood memory, but it was a very different place than he remembered.

Montazza

Bill’s memories of Montazza were from the time when Nasser was still in power and it was still being maintained in its former glory.  Now the gardens are sparse and obviously not cared for.  I suppose they run the sprinklers to keep the grass growing.  A different class of people also seemed to be in charge.  Going to Montazza was a special occasion back then.  You dressed up and you behaved appropriately.  Now casually dressed people are spread out across the ill-kept grounds and they think nothing of getting up from their McDonald’s picnic and leaving the trash where it lies.

Still, we walked throughout the grounds and took these pictures.  There is a thin veneer of the former glory, but close inspection shows that everything is about to fall apart.  This is was a very sad visit.  Afterwards we took a taxi back to the hotel, but here’s some images so you can imagine along with us how beautiful it once was.

Snack Time

Remember when we’d gone back to Delices for ice cream the night before.  Well, while he was there, Bill bought some baklava.  I thought he’d eat if after the ice cream, but he didn’t.  I thought he’d eat it for breakfast, but he didn’t.  He waited until we got back from our museum adventures and had it as an afternoon snack.  Yep, that’s him on our balcony taking a selfie.

After snack time came nap time.  After some research we finally found out where The Fish Market was and planned to head that way.

Mitzergana

One Arabic word I know is mizergana.  I’m not sure of the spelling, but I know how to use it.  The evening we went to The Fish Market was mizergana.  Things were just broken and off.  Not anybody’s fault necessarily, but the finely-tuned engine that is our marriage wasn’t doing so well.  The plan had been to grab a taxi to the restaurant, but instead we walked.  I dressed for the taxi, so I wasn’t thrilled.

The Fish Market wasn’t quite what we expected.  Yes there were big ice tables full of fresh fish, but from the description of the place we thought that once you picked your fish, then they’d give you a wide variety of ways to cook it.  Basically you either got fried or grilled.  It was good, but not our vision.

Something else I didn’t expect was a mizergana tummy.  About halfway through the meal I began a series of restroom visitations.  I don’t know if it was the brisk walk to the restaurant, too much strange food or just par for the course.  Whatever it was, for the next hour or so I stayed in close proximity to a toilet.

Our visit to Alex was almost over.  I’d used Bill’s nap time to get us packed up for the road.  Come back next week and learn which attractions we saw before leaving town.

 

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

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.

DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

A Sweet Alexandrian Tradition

TRAVEL THERE: DELICES PASTISSERIE

After our five mile stroll from the Four Seasons to The Cecil, Mr. Bill was ready to get to our room and take a nap.  He suggested we forego whatever surprise I had in store, but I urged him to hang with me just a few minutes more.

Delighting Alex since 1922

Our balcony at The Cecil gave us a jaw dropping view of the Mediterranean Sea, but it also overlooked a lovely little park that filled the block next to the hotel.  In one of my visits to the balcony I’d spied people sitting along the sidewalk on the south side of the park, chatting over coffee and pastries.  Delices didn’t mean anything to me, but since they’d been around since 1922, I thought they must be doing something right.

With the front door to the hotel just steps away, I led Bill to my discovery and was he ever happy.  The pastry store fronts two different streets and inside is case after case after case of amazing looking pastries.  Bill’s desire for his nap disappeared completely as he wandered from case to case trying to decide which treat he would indulge in.  After narrowing it down to a few favorites, Bill gave me the final choice for something to share.  I chose the the chocolate treat above, of course.

Naptime

We took our treasure back to the hotel to enjoy and then Bill promptly went down for a nap.  I don’t do naps very well, so I used the time the way I usually did – updating my travel journal, catching up on social media (when there is wi-fi), doing a few crossword puzzles and reading.

It had been a long day for Mr. Bill.  Museums always tire him and the Bibliotheca Alexandrine had been a humdinger.  We’d had our stressful moments with the rogue hantoor driver and that wild taxi ride.  Then we’d walked five miles.  Quite a day!  Even though I don’t usually manage to take a nap, this time I eventually dozed off to sleep.

Late Night Stroll

When we woke up, we both wanted a little something to eat, but not a full meal.  Bill wanted ice cream and I reminded him Delices had ice cream.  We were out of that room in a flash!

I had on a snakeskin printed lounging set I’d gotten from my Aunt Edie.  It’s perfectly acceptable for wearing out in public, even though that’s not something I usually do.  I’ll wear it down to breakfast or perhaps put it on when I know we’re going to spend most of the day in the car on a long drive, but it’s not my go-to outfit for a stroll around a big city like Alexandria – especially when a peek outside tells me there are more people out and about than there had been during the day.  I  suggested I change clothes, but Bill insisted that all we were going to do was pop over to the pastry store.  I slid into a pair of canvas espadrilles and threw a windbreaker over my outfit.

Yes, we went right over to Delices.  Both of us got some ice cream.  Even though that’s not my usual snack, an ice cream cone sounded fun for our late night adventure. However, we did not immediately head back to the room.

Bill led me off down a side street full of action.  All the stores were open and the sidewalks were lined with pop-up vendors.  You could buy anything from toilet paper to an engagement ring along the street.  Crowds of natives wove between the stalls and the stores, laughing, talking and occasionally making a purchase.

I’d had a moment’s hesitation when Bill veered into the side street.  It was late.  I wasn’t dressed right.  I didn’t know if it was safe.  I could have made all kinds of excuses to scurry back to the hotel, but I’m glad we didn’t.  We got a look at the real Alex without any tourists (besides ourselves) in sight.

Water is a constant challenge in Egypt.  There’s the need to stay hydrated in the desert sun and heat, but you can’t drink anything out of the tap.  To meet this challenge every other store sells bottled water and on every block there’s a rickety wooden stand staffed by a burka-ed grandmother.  We opted for the grandmother every time that we could.  On our way back to the hotel we visited the grandmother we’d chosen to be our vendor in Alex.  We also bought a Coke Zero from her so we could enjoy a little of my nephew’s bourbon.

A sweet ending to an exciting day.  I’ll leave you with one final photo.  More museums are in store for next week.  Come back and visit me then.

DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

An Alexandrian Adventure

We were in no mood for another hantoor tour!

TRAVEL THERE: STARVING , DAZED & CONFUSED IN ALEX

The smallest things trip you up when traveling – like landing at the Library of Alexandria mid-day.  If there were vending machines in the Library we didn’t find them.  There was no coffee bar.  We found a sorry excuse for a gift shop, but all they had were tacky souvenirs.  We were about ready to eat a few books.

Where’s the Fish Market?

Instead of just finding the closest place to eat, Bill decided our next stop should be The Fish Market, a restaurant recommended to us by several people as the best food in Alexandria.  So Bill started a campaign to find this marvelous place.  There was one small problem.  No one knew what he was talking about.

One of the first people he asked directed us to go back towards Fort Qaitby, where we’d visited earlier in the day.  He was all ready to head that way when I pulled out my phone and showed him the directions he’d gotten would take us, not to a restaurant called The Fish Market, but to an actual open air fresh fish market in the old part of the city.

So, he tried another tack.  The people he was talking to were confused by his inquiry.  Most thought he wanted to buy fish and directed him to various grocers in the area.  Finally, he found someone who would listen long enough for him to explain that he wanted a restaurant where you were able to pick out your fresh fish for cooking and then have it served to you at the table.  Bingo!  Someone knew exactly what he was talking about.  They said they didn’t know if the name was right, but there was such a restaurant in a mall that’s connected to the Four Seasons Hotel.

Bill was beaming.  He decided we’d grab a cab and head to the other end of the Corniche where the elegant Four Seasons Hotel was the anchor of a popular mall.

Terror in a Taxi

Bill hailed a cab and negotiated the fare.  We headed off with the beach just over our left shoulder.  We anticipated a short ride along on the main drag.

Suddenly, there was a big traffic jam due to some construction.  Our driver left the main drag and headed off away from the beach.  I’ve already told you how scary it was when we got off the major thoroughfares in the hantoor.  I really wasn’t paying all that much attention to our taxi driver or his vehicle until he started taking short cuts through parking lots.

Remember those terrorist I was worried I’d run into in Dahab?  Well, suddenly I was afraid they’d found me in Alex.  I realized the noise on the radio was actually some sort of political rant.  Of course, I couldn’t understand what was being said, but the tone is the same all over the world.

Then I took a look at our driver.  He had the same beard and crazy look every terrorist on the television seemed to have.  Hanging from the rear view mirror were a selection of Islamic prayer beads.  Please understand.  I don’t think every Muslim is a terrorist, but I was beginning to think the one driving our car was.  There were a number of decals on the windows and none of them looked like they were devoted to a prophet of peace.

We had no idea where we were.  He’d made so many turns since leaving the Corniche I couldn’t even guess where the beach might be.  I started to think about the fact that this was our first day in Alex and it would be a few days before anyone expected to hear from us again.  What could happen to us before anyone even realized we were missing?

When I was young, my favorite Bible verse was, “What time I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee,” a verse from Psalms.  The rational person I walk around as most of the time was pretty sure everything would turn out OK, but that person who thought Dahab was the end of my line was quickly taking over.  I had forgotten about the verse on the way to Dahab, but suddenly, it was on my mind.  I began to repeat it silently.  Rational me thought everything would be OK.  Irrational me wasn’t taking any chances.

Before too long, my friend the terrorist was back in familiar territory.  His detour had taken him around the construction and he was about to turn right onto the Corniche.  Part of me felt a little silly, but I was reminded how fragile life can be.  All of us are one careless decision away from tragedy.  Keeping that in mind makes each moment sweeter.

Soon we were getting out of the taxi and heading towards the mall.  Would The Fish Market Restaurant be inside?

TRAVEL

Not The Fish Market Restaurant

TRAVEL THERE: WELCOME TO THE FOOD COURT

As it so happens, as we entered the mall, which was supposed to feature The Fish Market Restaurant, we chose the door closest to the Food Court.  There was Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and a variety of other recognizable restaurants, but we were looking for The Fish Market.

Great Mall

I want you to know this a was a great mall – even by American standards.  Everything was pristine.  The many modern shops had gorgeous merchandise.  There was lovely indoor landscaping to add color to the ecru stone everywhere you looked.  Well maintained escalators carried shoppers in several directions.  All thoughts of potential terrorism were erased.

We were on a mission.  We scouted every corner of the mall for the restaurant we wanted.  Finally, after asking a few people for directions we ended up in front of a market restaurant, but not THE market restaurant.  The very upscale market featured all kinds of fresh produce, specialty items and chef made entrees, like the popular Eatzi’s here in Dallas, but it was not The Fish Market.  The front of the shop was devoted to cafe tables where you could eat the items you’d just purchased if you didn’t want to take them home.

The Frantic Search Ended

We’d put all our fish in this basket and now we were starving.  We hated to have to admit it, but Alex had beaten us.  We would not be having fresh seafood for our late lunch.  In fact, we’d be having fast food.

Bill found a great little place offering up fresh entrees with an Arabic twist, but the Pizza had been calling out to me since the moment we’d opened the door to the mall.  Yes, I know it was very touristy of me to gravitate to something I could get back home, but right that moment I needed some comfort food and what’s more comforting than pizza?

Revived, Rejuvenated and Reluctant

It’s amazing what a little food will do for you.  We’d been at our wit’s end about half an hour before, but the mere ordering of food gave us hope.  We had to do a little fancy footwork to score a table, but we managed to do so and fed our very hungry faces.  Soon it was time to head back to the hotel.

I was reluctant to get back on public transportation.  The Hantoor Tour had ended with a wild goose chase and the ride in the taxi had just about done me in.  I pulled out a map and showed Bill how our hotel was just down the Corniche from us.  I extolled the virtues of a nice long walk and promised we’d have a good time.

I didn’t realize we were five miles from The Cecil.  Had anyone told me, I would have been horrified.  I told Bill we could just walk until we got tired and then we could grab a taxi, but I didn’t plan on getting back into a taxi on this day.

Somehow I convinced Bill it was a sound plan and we set off.  In truth it was a very pleasant walk.  There was a lot of construction going on which made it a little dicey from time to time, but we were never actually in any danger.

I loved walking along elbow to elbow with the Alexandrites.  Most of the women wore scarfs around their head in the style of a hajib.  There were many pairs of blue jeans.  Our fellow strollers ranged from toddlers to senior citizens. 

A Few Miles Down the Road

Eventually we did actually get pretty tired of walking.  It had been a long day.  We’d walked a lot inside the Library and clocked some distance inside the mall.  As reluctant as I was to get back into any taxi I finally agreed to ride along IF we found a cab.

We continued to trudge along watching for a ride.  In a city in which we’d seen cabs all day long, suddenly there wasn’t a single one in sight.  I’d started this trek and felt compelled to keep things on a high note, so a began to tease Bill with promises of something he would like close to the hotel.

We began to see hints that we were reaching our destination and we were much encouraged.  Soon the hotel was in sight, but we had one stop to make.  Come back next week and discover what I had planned for Bill.

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Museums of the Library of Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: MORE EXHIBITS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT

When we finally found the museums at the Library of Alexandria, we were stunned by everything there was to see.  Come along with us.

Arabian Artists

Confession:  I know little to nothing about Arab Art.  I like what I see, but I can’t name any favorite artist or tell you the life story of any of them.  In sixteen and a half years of formal schooling in the US and a degree in Humanities, that’s a pretty sad situation.  The Dallas Museum of Art’s Keir Collection is beginning to open a few doors for me on this subject, but I really do understand the blind spot in my knowledge.

This means that I had no idea of what I was looking at down in the guts of Alexandria’s famous library, but I can tell you it was beautiful.  In gallery after gallery I found plenty to enjoy.

There were sculptures and works on paper.  There were paintings, from the very modern to the very old, with a great representation of what is known as folk art, but some of it didn’t look very folksy to me.  It looked spectacular.

There was a whole gallery devoted to astronomy and scientific instruments, but they were so pretty you couldn’t believe they’d been designed for practical use.  I stood before their cases in awe of the men and perhaps women who had crafted the gorgeous items.

Perhaps my favorite section was the many examples of every day items which transcended the idea of crafts, like the lovely caftans and pottery in the picture above.  I moved from case to case wondering about the craftsmen who had envisioned these lovely pieces and envying those who had worn them, poured water from them or carried them from place to place.

There are several different galleries with a variety of Arabic names I wouldn’t even try to spell or pronounce, but I didn’t worry about the divisions.  You can’t make up for lifetime of neglected information in a few hours.  I promised myself I’d learn more about these talented artists and artisians, but on that day, I just resolved to enjoy what I was seeing.

The Sadat Museum

My ultimate destination in the Library was the Sadat museum.  This is the area with a personal touch to my favorite Egyptian, my husband.  Bill’s Uncle Raouf had been a translator for Nassar, president while Bill was growing up, but Sadat had been actively involved in Nassar’s  administration.  All of the personal items included in the exhibits of the Sadat Museum were familiar to Bill.

Bill was already hungry when we got to the Library.  He’d endured the hour of wandering around lost among the stacks.  Then he patiently stood by while I gawked at all the beautiful items in the art galleries.  The exhibits in the Sadat Museum were so interesting to him, that hunger stood still.

He lingered at each case, pointing out items similar to those in his own home.  He read headlines to me. He’d say, “We had a radio just like that.”  The suits Sadat wore were the same style Bill’s dad and uncles wore.  The newspapers documenting important events in Sadat’s life were the same newspapers Bill’s family shared around the breakfast table.  He looked for familiar faces in the photos.

I’d had a hard time finding the museums of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, but when we finally walked among these treasures, it was well worth the effort.  It would have been worth the effort if there had been no Sadat Museum, but because there was, I had a special peek into my husband’s history.  It’s something he doesn’t talk about very often, and I loved every moment of it.

If Bill was hungry when we got to the museum, imagine how hungry he was after all the time we spent there.  I collected my belongings from the area where they’d been collected and checked.  Now it was time to eat.  Join us next week as my hungry husband looks for the fish market.  In the meantime enjoy these few photos from the museums.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in the Sadat Museum, but there are other lovely things to see.

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

Don’t Bother Asking the Librarian

The Library of Alexandria

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.