August 22, 2011

Three days in Alexandria

The start of this journey, could have seen it ending badly. I left the hotel Ange and I had been staying in, and we found a "taxi".  It had all the signs of a taxi, until you got in, and the driver attempted to start the car and put it into gear. With a look of fear on my face, I looked out the window at Ange and mouthed "I love you" fearing I may never see her again. I then faced the longest 20 minutes of my life as I was taken to the Cairo railway station. What an experience. The driver offered to drive me to Alexandria a couple of times, saying he'd do it for 300LE. I quite politely thanked him and declined. God, could you imagine the horror. Three hours in the back of a car that stunk equally of petrol and tobacco, had no air con and no suspension.

Once aboard the train, a little boy, about four maybe, came on with his parents and stopped still. He stared at me in open amazment. The parents smiled at me, and pushed him into the nearby seats. The little boy was having none of the sitting still business - much like most kids his age. His intent though was different. He came over to me, placed his little hand on my arm and started stroking me like a cat. I may have been the first white woman he'd ever seen close up. After that, he got shy, and ran to his mother.

Part of me wanted this to be the ultimate part of the journey. A place both Egyptian and Roman, located on the Mediterranean. It almost was. I don't know what was missing, but it was something.

When I arrived at the hotel, I sent this email to family and friends;

On 27/09/2010, at 3:11 PM, Brooke S wrote:

Oh my god you guys!! I wish you could experience this with me. The salt air, the virtually clean streets, the splendour of this hotel. Egypt tourism gives it 4 stars and from what I've seen, it's totally worth it.
There was a moment this morning as I got in the taxi where I feared you may have heard the last of me. Thankfully not. 
Arrived at the train station alive but couldn't see it. There are sheets hanging over all the awnings. Got inside, and found an "English" Information booth and was advised to wait on platform 8. Within minutes the train pulled up. I have never seen such a long train or platform. 2 and a bit hours later I was bundled off the train, onto a half completed platform that smelt of urine. Ten feet later, about 6 taxi drivers swooped on me. 15 minutes later we pulled up out the front of a grand building, built in 1906. 
The foyer, as I walked in had Frank Sinatra playing. There is a chandelier in the middle of the room. There are gold gilt edges, and marble, and carpet and people wearing suits as uniforms. The original elevator still works, there are mirrors everywhere. I was shown to my room by a lady who opened the door and the curtains and turned the aircon on. A bell-hop brought my luggage up. There is a kingsize bed. The bathroom has complimentary shampoo, conditioner, and body scrub. The toilet has a hygiene label.And yes, I did take a photo. My view is exactly what the internet shows.
This internet is free!! but the keyboard is shit.
I'm going to find food and a map now.

And I wrote this email for these reasons...

The view from my balcony

Same balcony, opposite direction

Having deposited my suitcase in the room, I had a quick wander around the hotel, and headed off in search of lunch. I found a little place a couple of blocks away that were doing an Egyptian version of pizza. I was going to take a picture but it wasn't it very good condition by the time I got home cause the toppings fell off. It was amazing though to watch the guys swinging the bases around their heads making them bigger and bigger and cutting them off as they reached the perfect size.

Inside the hotel, aptly named Windsor Palace, looks like this...

Night time...

The first day here I was lazy. I let myself rest in the glory of to cold aircon.

On my first full day, I went up to the dining room where the included breakfast was being held. So much fresh fruit and cereal and real coffee (not the mud I'd paid for the day before). After breakfast I headed downstairs, out the front door and turned right. It will not be a surprise to those who know me that I was headed for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. An amazing site. The curator in me, is so impressed with what the Egyptians have done with this site. It is amazing and huge.

Heiroglyphs around the outer wall


There are about 4 or 5 levels inside. This is from the second looking up. All along the levels are computer bays for anyone to use.


Looking down one of the rows of stacks

Glass and resin light

I got up the next day and decided I was going to see the sites. I set off to find
On the walk back I did come across some strange looking wedding cakes...

I also came across a church of St Mary's. It was closed though, and the tourist police wouldn't let me in to have a look around. I think the only English they had was 'no service, no enter'.

The next morning, I was up and ready to go quite early. I didn't want to miss my train, and I also didn't want to see one of the hotel managers. The evening before, I had gone up to the restaurant for dinner and he was all charm and very helpful. As I went to leave though, he made it quite difficult. He wanted me to stay for the musical entertainment that was being set up on the balcony. He wanted to offer me a free desert. He wanted to offer me all my meals for free if he could come to my room when he finished his shift. That's right. You read correctly. I got propositioned. By this point, I was so freaked out I bolted the door to my room, I put the chain across, and then I put one of the chairs under the handle.  Not one of the more pleasant aspects of the trip.

Made it alive to the train station and was met with another frustration. Very few of the staff spoke English, and I kept getting sent back and forth across the ticket floor trying to buy a ticket. I was so hot and agitated I could feel the tantrum building. It was at this point I was rescued by an Egyptian man heading to Cairo. He was able to ask the ticket seller for the right ticket and show me where I had to get the train from. Just as I was starting to wonder if it would get awkward his phone rang, he moved off a ways down the platform, answered the call and that was the last I spoke with him.

Taken from the moving train...

In the end, I made it back to Cairo. The trip back took longer than planned, but unsurprisingly, there was a taxi waiting for me at the door, who conveyed me to the Cairo airport. Another life before your eyes drive later, I was in the terminal, my baggage was being scanned and I was through to the waiting area. A two hour delay later, I was on the plane, winging it back to London.

I had no difficulty getting back into the UK. The strangest thing was being able to put toilet paper in the bowl and flush it, followed by how quiet it was once I got off the train at Turnpike Lane to walk home. I know. Quiet. But after the noise and the honking of horns that I had been used to for the last month on and off, the city was still.

I had a fabulous time on the tour. I'm glad I did it when we did, given what is going on now. I will go back one day. I loved Jordan. It was a beautiful place. Who knows. Maybe I'll even get to Israel one day. I won't tell you till I'm back.

Two Western women in Cairo Zoo

This was the first day Ange and I were 100% on our own in Egypt. Drew and Teegs very kindly dropped us off at the Cairo Zoo and the adventure continued.

Being a white western woman in Cairo is a unique experience. Most of the population are used to seeing others like me because of the massive tourist turnover every year, however, walking around the zoo, Ange and I were almost part of the attraction. We had groups of young men following us around saying "hello" over and over and over again. It was novel to start with, but got a little bit weird after a while. 

True love is de-lousing your partner...

So regal, even in fairly tiny cages.

As we stood looking at the lions, a zoo photographer came up to us and wanted to know if we would like to have our pictures taken with some of the animals in the zoo. A lion cub and a 3 month old chimp were offered. Given the price you would pay to do this in Australia, we figured why not. The cub was not impressed at being held and passed around. He made a growling noise the entire time. Ange does quite a good re-enactment of it. You should ask her. 

The chimp was adorable. I wanted to take him home with me. He sat quite happily on my lap, staring at me. The handler couldn't get him to come away, he kept coming back to me. We were paying bakshish to the handler as we left, and the chimp started slapping my leg because we weren't paying him any attention. Cheeky thing.

Outside this enclosure, was the very small cage for a gorilla and an orang. It near broke my heart to see these amazing creatures penned up in such small areas. They were all making noises like you wouldn't normally here in the wild.

We of course, had to go and find the elephants for a certain person...

This fella didn't look to happy with his picture being taken.

Handler fed the black bear so we could get a better photo.

Walkling towards the camel Ange and I wondered what was wrong with his legs. Side on it looked as though he may have had an injury. Closer, and from behind, you can quite clearly see the animal is having a pee. Yes. We did need to take a photo of this.

Unfortunately, the pictures taken by the "professional" are on film, and I don't have them available to show you. They're ok given the circumstances, and for the six we purchased, they probably only cost about $20 Aus.

After the zoo, we decided on lunch and a walk over the Nile.

And then, as it was so hot, we decided a cab would be the best idea to take us back to the hotel. More fool us. After a month of watching drivers in the Middle East, we should have known it would not be an easy journey. Combine this with the driver getting turned about and unsure of where he was going. Ange and I had more of an idea than he did. We came along one street, and saw the grocery shop and KFC we'd been frequenting, paid the cabbie and walked the rest of the way.

The signage outside the hotel we stayed in. Inside it was quite nice. Why is it only after the fact, you remembe that photos of the interior would have been a good idea.

This street is a "block" away from the hotel, and runs along side the Nile

And then because it had been a long day, things got a little bit silly in the hotel room. We were watching old re-runs of "So you think you can dance" which, in the hands of Ange became, "So you think you can prance"

So cute

TGI Friday - Last official Night

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.  ~Garrison Keillor*

Last night together, we went to TGI Friday. Here are the crazy crew I got to hang out with for a great adventure. Project Mongoose was officially passed on to those continuing...

Glen and Mumma Dawn

The lovely Rowan and the lovely Ange

Peter and the awesome tour leader Teegs

Helen and Bruno - never a dull moment with this pair.

Adrean and Drew (driver, dancer, larikin)

The loveable puppy, Joel

No idea what Ange is laughing at, but given table position its probably something Bruno did.

Karl and Cat

John and Tara - Team Ireland

Tambi and Sean

* - quote attributed to