I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Egypt (2)


On to Alex

Today in the Alexandria museum, we came close to observing "Guide Wars" or "Who can outshout whom". In this case, it was French 1 - English 0, but really the whole scene was lose-lose all round. After all, time was short and a little co-operation on all parts would have won through. But our guide, Eternity, wouldn't let us roam free, such is the tight rein on tourists here, and we were compelled to remain as one group and be addressed in the loudest possible voice the whole time. Of course, if that's how things are done, then it's only to be expected that when three or four large groups are in the same confined space at once, speaking different languages, then it's going to sound something like tuning a radio station in. A morning of this left us all exhausted.

But, lets rise above it and instead, focus on the fantastic things we saw here. Firstly the museum, where the exhibits were beautifully displayed - sharp contrast with Cairo yesterday, we felt. Here, there were rather different things from the classic Egyptian artefacts we'd seen yesterday, and we enjoyed getting to hear about another aspect of Egyptian history. Roman coins and sculptures, Coptic treasures and stelae, glassware and pottery, all beautifully lit and begging to be photographed - ok without a flash.

To be honest, even though we had only an hour or so here, we'd had enough by the time it came to leave - though the exhibition was worthy of much longer, the assault on our eardrums was simply too much. But the message came through from ? that our time was up and we were moved on, through the busy streets to the new Library.

Here we were faced with much the same situation, unbelieveably, for everyone was taking the same route. Not only that, but there were many local schoolchildren here too and it seemed as though the only way to see these places was to be with an organised group. It made the idea using the library for its principal purpose rather a joke - how to study with coachloads of sightseers trooping through this showcase?

The building is remarkable, however, and well worth the niggles to see it. Built around ten years ago as an attempt to reinstate Alexandria as a principal city of learning and with a good deal of international support, the architecture alone is fascinating. Cleverly, the roof design allows for daylight but no direct sunlight, and the result is an airy and functional space.

The side walls, made of concrete, are designed with rectangular holes to minimise the echo of such a large space. These also pay tribute to the niches in which papyrus scrolls would have been lodged in earlier times, we were told. We enjoyed a demonstration of the online resources being compiled by the library at http://www.bibalex.org/ too.

Finally, we took a look around a couple of extra exhibits, one of which was of manuscripts and ancient books. I particularly liked the "Kiswa of the Holy Kaaba" - a kind of altar cloth, embroidered in metal thread on a dark linen background - though not especially old, was shown to best advantage, I thought.

So that was that. Back to the ship and time for lunch!

On the way back, we drove along the Corniche, to see the site of the former Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, one of the wonders of the modern world was blowing in the breeze too...

Our views on our brief Egyptian experience? Perhaps best summed up in the photograph I took as we arrived back in the port, of a stall selling tourist souvenirs.

Of course, you'd get a free plastic bag with any of those.


In Cairo

An early start today, because we were leaving the ship in Suez and driving to Cairo for the day, rejoining everyone in Port Said this evening. The canal convoy was scheduled for 8am and our convoy of coaches was due to leave at 5.30am, though we had been warned that the Egyptian authorities were somewhat relaxed about the timetable.

We gathered in the restaurant and waited patiently until it was our turn to take the tender ashore - around 6.30am. We hopped on a shuttle bus for all of 100yds to the passport control point, and then climbed aboard the tour coach, guided by Viva - a lively and knowledgeable Egyptologist and our guide and hostess for the day.

The convoy assembled. Around ten or twelve coaches in all, each with a security guard on board and with black police pickup trucks interspersed through the group. When we reached a junction, the other traffic was brought to a halt so that we could pass through unimpeded and from time to time (maybe to relieve the boredom?) the police vehicles would pull alongside the coach and the young policement squatting in the back of the trucks would peer inside and smile.

We drove through vast urban sprawl, firstly that of Suez and then to the outskirts of Cairo. Rubbish littered the dusty streets and the general state of building was unfinished - to save on tax, according to Viva.

Eventually, we spotted what we'd come to see, over the tops of the blocks of scruffy flats. We'd heard that the pyramids were close to the city and the approach is less that impressive, but that was probably an understatement.

Though there were a few coaches there, we felt it was nowhere near as crowded as it might have been and having pinched ourselves to prove we were really here, we headed for the Cheops boat as recommended.

It was truly amazing and hard to imagine it was 4000 years old. Comparisons with the Mary Rose and the Vasa seemed inadequate, and I couldn't quite believe it was stitched together!

Much to see and little time though, so after another photo opportunity, we headed for the Sphinx, trying to avoid the countless (and persistent) salesmen along the way. So much tat!

It's unbelievable how quickly the time passes at such places and with everyone feeling peckish, it was time to drive over to the Mena House Hotel for a spot of lunch.

I loved the huge chandelier in the entrance portico.

Next stop was the inevitable "shopping opportunity". Don't you just hate such places? Surely we can't be the only ones who hate wasting good time hanging around amongst the tacky souvenirs on offer. But hang around we did, wondering what kind of a home could accommodate such chairs? Not ours, that's for sure!

Final stop of the day was the Egyptian Museum where Tutankhamun's treasures lay in store for us, the mummy room was said to be fascinating and countless other antiquities awaited our attention. No photographs here, sadly, so I will simply have to say that we were awestruck by the exhibits. To view Rameses 2nd's mummified body, with hair intact after 3000-odd years, view the beautiful craftsmanship in the items for the Pharoah's tombs and last but not least, that oh-so-familiar King Tut's death mask itself rounded the day off brilliantly.

After tea at the Nile Hilton, we jumped back on board our coach, reassembled the convoy and, having fought our way through the incredible Cairo traffic, we sped up the motorway to Port Said, where the ship (and hundreds of T shirt salesmen) were waiting.

"Welcome Home" said the officer on the gangplank.