Alexandria

Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
1
43
59
Trip End Apr 30, 2007


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Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, April 9, 2007

World Cruise
Monday, April 9, 2007
Alexandria, Egypt
Excursion: Highlights of Alexandria, 7 hours, $100 each

Captain Dag decided to change our itinerary before we got to Cairo so we travelled overland by coach, on better roads, from Cairo to Alexandria.  We actually arrived in Alexandria (by bus) the evening before (April 8). The overland excursion to Cairo and then back to Alexandria meant missing the Suez Canal transit which we didn't think would be all that exciting (a 10-hour cruise through picturesque sand on both sides). This was confirmed by folks that stayed aboard. We were all happy to be back at the Voyager after some really hard touring days and were greeted by champagne-bearing staff and the Voyager Quintet; a very, very festive return.

Alexandria, as the name implies, was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 b.c. and became the capital of Egypt and the home to the country's most famous queen, Cleopatra, under the Ptolemic pharoahs until the arrival of the Romans in 30 b.c. Much of the ancient city lies at the bottom of the Mediteranean due to an earthquake that eliminated an island.

The port of Alexandria is, to-date, the most beautiful of all the ports we have visited. Security has been high in all of Egypt and here we  had   bomb-sniffing dogs as well. One each of our excursions there was a representative of the government tourism bureau travelling with us. One of our guides explained that all this was an effort to improve their tourism industry but soldiers everywhere with semi-automatics seemed a bit much. As always in mostly Muslim countries there was the beautiful Abu El Abbas Mosque right at the pier.

The city is a typical mixture of old fishing boats and new modern infrastructure. Tourism is being expanded and even guides are being drawn from other professions. This day our guide was both a medical doctor and an Egyptologist. She practiced medicine in some depressed and dirt-poor districts where basic medical care was non-existant. We don't know why she's not practicing medicine anymore.

Capt Dag shortened our stay in Alexandria by a couple of hours, for reasons unknown to us, so our excursion, which left at the ungodly hour of 7am, was shortened by an hour and a half and it's cost was reduced 20%. The cuts in the itinerary were 1/2 hour each for lunch (down to 1 hour), the library, and the museum. Cynthia napped each time we got back in the bus--she was really, really tired.

Our first stop was at the Catacombs of Kom El Shuquafa, the largest Roman cemetary in Alexandria, buried 90 feet in solid rock. No pictures were allowed inside and the outside wasn't worth a picture. The catacombs were like other catacombs, pretty much, as well as I can remember the others in Rome. Today was a holiday so the crowds weren't as bad as they might have been. I really enjoyed seeing this--you could see the Roman influence in the carvings down in the catacombs. The walkways were pretty rough--just loose planks laid along the path. The corpses were mummified before being put in the catacombs, but none survived because it's damp down there. We also saw where they mummified and buried their horses--some horse bones were on display.

After a drive along the Mediterranean coast, our next stop was the Montaza Gardens, 115 acres of gardens surrounded by huge walls. Within the walls was the Montaza Palace built in 1932 by King Fouad and inherited by King Farouk, his son, last of the Egyptian Kings. . He donated the site to the citizens of Alexandria which to this date has become a popular site for its citizens. He was a railroad enthuasist, after building a city-wide rail system, became the Chief Engineer of the line. We didn't go inside the palace, of course. It isn't used for much of anything now.

Next a visit to the Roman Theatre (forum), unearthed as recently as 1960.. Forever it was believed that this was a Roman theatre, now they believe it was a Roman Forum. And as always, the poor we have with us everywhere.

Next a quick visit to the Alexandria National Museum which chronicles the three major periods of Egyptian History, Pharaonic, Greco-Roman and Coptic and Islamic times, including also, Egyptian artifacts found at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. As always, John passed this site and spent time walking around. He had to cross a round-about which natives just crossed in every possible way, oblivious to the traffic which just slowed to let them pass. The traffic, I guess, targets foreigners; a hair-raising experience. It's been holiday time for the past few days, and there were many families out this Sunday, picnicing, playing soccer everywhere. Little boys and girls learn early that women are subservient as one little boy made one of the girls get him water during play.

The museum was very disappointing (Cynthia here). Our guide didn't go with us, she just stood in the atrium available in case we had questions. The English descriptions of the exhibits were generic, so almost useless for me. I don't know if the exhibits were poor, or just the English descriptions. Anyway, John didn't miss anything. Of course, this may have been a reflection of how exhausted I was--I would have been better off, in retrospect, to have napped on the bus.

A major stop was at the Alexandria Library. The original library was conceived at the beginning of the 3rd century b.c., this multinational library (and museum) transposed Alexander's dreams of creating an empire into a quest for universal knowledge. In the 4th century A.D., however, disaster struck when a fire destroyed both the library and the museum.

Since rebuilt (it opened in 2001) it now contains almost a million volumes and some of the most sophisticated computer software for libraries in the world. For example, ancient manuscripts have been scanned into their data-base and can now be browsed by touch-sensative screens simply by hand motion over the screen, in 4 different languages. Also in the library is one of two book publishing computers, The Expresso Book Machine (one in San Francisco). They didn't know who makes it, but it can duplicate a complete book in 5-7 minutes, including a cover. We'll research the internet to find more information.

The library, surprisingly, was my favorite stop on this tour (Cynthia again). It was beautiful and had amazing exhibits of both original ancient papayri and manuscripts and replicas. The first Egyptian printing presses, from the 1800s, were also on display. The tour guides, Muslim young ladies, were articulate and knowledgeable.

On our way to our last stop, a lunch at the Seafood Restaurant, a famous landmark of Alexandria, we saw the Citadel of Quait Bay in the far distant background.

Our lunch was served in the world-famous Seafood Restaurant on the banks of the Mediteranean. The restaurant was totally prepared for our arrival, except that  a whole bunch of our fellow passengers were so hungry and rude as to keep asking for the delicious hot, freshly-baked (pita-like) bread along with the teriffic salad and dips which they kept stealing from other tables. Well, when the entree was served they had no room for it.  It was sooo goooood. I'm always amazed at the 'second-class but rich' behavior of my fellow passengers. I'm pretty familiar with that behavior in my prior life. Note from Cynthia: this is apparently where I picked up my stomach bug.

On our way back to the ship on the Corniche (road that runs along the water), we could see the Citadel of Quait Bay in the far disant background and the typical city scenes of a city on holiday .

This was a thoroughly enjoyable tour of a very ancient and interesting city of Egypt.




  
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