21.23 - The earliest start of our tour so far meant waking up at 06.30. A quick breakfast of the usual bread, yoghurt and honey, scrambled eggs, salami type meat, fruit and pastries before we loaded our bags onto the bus and got under way. It was good to be leaving the hectic life of Cairo behind and with it the traders. I think we were all tired of hearing "lovely jubbly" and "come have a butchers"! We were soon out of the smog and congestion, heading north-west towards the coast. Our first stop of the day, after an hour or so of driving, was the Coptic Christian church of Deir Anba Bishoi. To get there we had to go through some of the 'real' Egypt with squalid conditions for locals and loads of poverty. One of the continuous themes we have seen in Egypt so far is that a lot of building seems to be going on, presumably to try and ease the overcrowding in Cairo, but none of it is completed and even worse, does not look like it will be completed any time soon. We have been told that this is because tax is less on uncompleted houses so I guess it makes sense in a crazy kinda way!
Anyway, back to the point. We were ushered into the monastery where we were immediately struck by the beauty and tranquillity of the place. The architecture was simple and elegant with lots of domes and towers. Shorty after arrival, our guide turned up to show us around. He looked crazy to begin with but as soon as he started talking, we felt sure this was the likely case! He turned out to be ok and very knowledgeable. We were taken round the church itself, shown the flour grinder and fort at a fast pace to make up for our late departure this morning (something that particularly displeased him) before we had to leave.
From here, we went for lunch at the best motorway service station you will ever see. It doubled as a mini zoo and there was even a lion cub waiting on a table for our arrival! Possibly the best thing was the toilets though. We paid heavily in tips just for paying a visit though which was only adding to my annoyance with this policy of having to tip for absolutely everything, no matter how big or small. After a couple of falafel sandwiches, we were on our way to El Alamein for about 11.30.
Our trip there started off interesting enough as it was the first we had seen of the desert. The novelty soon wore off though and before long we were bored of the continual emptiness with not so much as a hill in sight! I nodded off for a few minutes before we arrived at the museum. We were shown a short demonstration of the key moments in the battle before being allowed to wander around. The museum was not very good in my opinion and could have done with some funding to bring it up to the standard it deserves. From here, it was a short walk to the cemetery which was much better. It was crisp and clean which you would expect. What I didn't expect was to find so many graves of Australian and New Zealand soldiers. It seems they had a big part to play in this battle.
After our time of quiet reflection, we set off on the last stage of the day, the 150 miles to Mersa Matruh. This part of the journey was even more tedious but not as hot with the sun rapidly sinking on the horizon. We arrived at Mersa Matruh glad to get off the bus at last and all very hungry. We quickly checked into our 5 star hotel before heading back into town, a 10 minute drive away. The town itself felt deserted. It is a seasonal place where mostly Egyptian people come for their holidays but not as this time of year thankfully. We had a fabulous tea in a local cafe which included stuffed pigeon which was nicer than it sounds!
Leaving thoroughly satisfied, we hit the town, stopping at another cafe for drinks. I have been wanting to try a Sheesha since we got here and I finally got my chance. It was odd at first but easy to get the hang of and although I could taste the apple flavour I requested, it was not strong. We also had the nicest lemon juice I have ever tasted and we all had a good chat. Our group is very good and we all get on well. It is a shame they are all considerably older though. Tomorrow we get a lie in!