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Alexandria

We headed off to Alexandria with a new tour guide. He started the day by telling us that there were issues in ancient Egypt, and the people welcomed the Romans as a solution and as better rulers. We were going to see that influence today. He pointed out that my name is an Arabic name (which meant he was about the 10th person to do so), and informed us that we couldn't be Americans today. Again, if we were Americans, the tourist police would require us to have an escort. So, for today, we were Canadian. If the whole country didn't seem to have a culture where breaking the rules was the norm, I might have said something, but since apparently nobody follows that rule and there aren't issues, I didn't really care. Alexandria was quite a drive, so we stopped at a rest stop for an opportunity to get anything we'd need. I didn't really need anything, but went inside to see what they had. Basically, it was your standard rest stop with drinks, snacks, Hannah Montana dolls, and High School Musical toys. Our driver tipped a guy on the way out- I think for watching his car or something. As my sister had been wearing a scarf on her head the whole trip, we ended up on that topic. She had been asked before if the scarf had meaning to her, and she said that it was just our of respect. To which, everybody told her she didn't need to, that people didn't expect tourists to. This time, I don't think she was listening to the question and started making up some story about a Christian head covering, that I set straight. Yes, there are Muslims, Christians, and Jews who wear head coverings for modesty, but she wasn't going to be able to hold up some story about doing it for religious reasons, and I don't think that was the road she wanted to go down anyway. Our guide basically echoed what everybody else said- that tourists weren't expected to cover their heads. Then, he expounded. He explained to us that he felt it should always be a woman's choice as to whether to cover her head or not. Of course, the Koran says she should, but a husband should never force her to. If she doesn't want to wear a head covering, she shouldn't, but he shouldn't marry her as they are clearly not compatible on religious issues. Additionally, he had a great amount of disdain for women in other nearby countries who wear full burkas (which are not required by the Koran, per him) around their country, but as soon as they take a plane elsewhere, they dress in standard clothes. He also was perturbed by the youth who wore "American clothes" and a head scarf, since he feel that they should "leave something up to the imagination" per the Koran and wear looser clothing. Of course, this is only in public. In a private home, a woman can wear anything she wants (or nothing at all) unless a man comes to visit who would be able to marry her if her husband died. (For example, she can wear anything around her father, but not her husband's brother.) All in all, it was a very interesting conversation, and I learned quite a bit about his opinions. It was actually refreshing to hear some of these opinions as it left me with hope for the women in the more progressive Muslim countries. Eventually, we arrived in Alexandria. Our first stop was the catacombs. One day, a donkey fell into a shaft. They dug out that shaft, and discovered tombs that mixed Greek/Roman style with Pharonic style. The royal tombs were decorated in a mix of Pharonic and Roman art as the Romans adopted the Egyptian gods in order to help subdue the Egyptians. Near the royal tombs were rows of "shelves" designed to hold many urns that would contain the ashes of non-royals. Toward the entrance to all of this was a room where the relatives of the deceased used to come and eat. It originally contained large quantities of broken dishes. The whole catacomb area was pretty small, but it was neat to see. They also have a restored area, but for me, seeing restored items is not as exciting as seeing what's left of the originals. On the outside area, Cleopatra had pulled up statues from other part of Egypt as tombs had to have statues. Our next stop was Pompey's pillar, which actually has nothing at all to do with Pompey. Here, the ancients pulled up stone from the south to build a temple for the gods and all that's left is the one pillar and a couple of sphinxes. This site was not lost in time to be rediscovered later as the pillar itself if huge, and stands out from everything. We then went to the Roman ampitheater. This was another buried site that was actually still under excavations. So far, they had excavated the seating areas and the stage. They discovered some old mosaics and now have them where everybody can see them, and exposed to the elements. They were cool though. Around the ampitheater, they also have artifacts that were pulled up from the bay. The statues are somewhat rounded as they have suffered hundreds of years of water damage. However, you can still tell what most of them are. How cool of a job would it be to go SCUBA diving for ancient Roman/Egyptian statues? Actually, it was pretty hot outside, so I think any job in the water would be great in that area. It definitely made me miss the snow. The last place we were going to go to was the Library of Alexandria. However, right nearby was the Sadat museum, and our guide really wanted us to go there. Our guide was a huge Sadat fan because Sadat worked with the US and Israel for peace. Our guide felt that the next leaders should have stuck with Sadat's policies, but that they didn't and now it's too late. Later, he compared Mubarak to your favorite food- if that's all you have every day for a month, all meals, you might want something different. I was happy to learn his take on Egyptian politics, and wanted to ask him for some clarifications on some of his points and opinions, but I didn't want to spend all afternoon in the Sadat museum, and my sister clearly exhibited the feeling that certain topics were off-limits. While I disagree and wanted to learn more, I wasn't going to upset her like that. We moved on to what we were there to see, the library at Alexandria. The library is HUGE. We're talking stadium size. Sure it has a few display areas, but mostly, it's full of books. And it is a real library. There were people there studying, reading, and researching. In addition to the tons of books, it hosts several displays of early printing presses, and a couple of small rooms of art. For an additional fee, you can see the ancient manuscripts. If you're into history or books, it's well worth it. Most of the books are in Arabic. They had a Koran from the 900s and most of the books on display were created between that and the 1500s. I was actually able to read and understand a medieval Ladino bible, and was able to see a very old torah scroll. Even though I couldn't read the words, it was still fun to see an old math book, with all the pictures of triangles and a medieval medicine book, with detailed drawings. Overall, it was pretty exciting to be next to manuscripts that ancient. That was our last stop in Alexandria, and our guide asked us what we wanted to do for lunch. While my sister would continue to eat food she brought from the states, I had yet to have koshari, and had been told by everybody before coming that was the dish to have. The only problem was, Alexandria had a lot of fish, koshari was more likely to be found in Cairo. So, we started to drive back, with the promise of a koshari stop. At the sound of the call to prayer, we stopped at a little mosque next to a convenience store, with nothing else around. One of the guys at the convenience store offered to get me koshari for 10 LE, and I agreed. For some reason, they got me 2, even though I told them 1, but I really didn't care. I tipped them, at the reminder of the guide (I had thought htey'd build that into what price they told me.) I was finally having the long-awaited koshari! Actually, the koshari I got wasn't that exciting, maybe because I was expecting so much. What I was eating was basically noodles and rice with a red sauce on them. Maybe at a fancier place the koshari is so much better, but at least I had it and I was full. At the rest stop, I realized how poor air quality there was in the country. I had just been thinking that in the city there was a ton of pollution, which I expected. However, outside the city, where there really weren't a lot of cars, there was particulate matter floating around due to the sandiness. I was pretty happy I was wearing a bandanna to keep a lot of that crap off me. Except for the wind blowing the dust around, the rest stop would have been very pleasant to sit at. Even the flooring was tiled artistically enough for me to want a picture, and it was peaceful out there (except for the wind.) When the driver was finished praying and resting, we went back to the hotel, and again, tipped the driver amount that the guide suggested (50 LE since it was a long day of driving to and from Alexandria). Based on his suggestion, we may have been undertipping the other days, but we really had no way of knowing that at the time, and for all we know, we were over tipping the last day. We spent the rest of the evening in the hotel.

Roman-style sarcophagus

Roman-style sarcophagus


Pompey's pillar

Pompey's pillar


Ampitheater mosaic floor

Ampitheater mosaic floor


Ampitheater

Ampitheater


Library at Alexandria

Library at Alexandria


koshari

koshari

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Egypt

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