19th May 2012
Today we visited the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt. It was an optional side tour before the official tour even starts so it was only 9 of us.
We had the joy of waking up at 4:45 in order to get ready to go. We had a boxed lunch waiting for us at reception, and took it on the bus with us for our 3 hour car ride. For the first hour our guide Sharif talked A LOT about the new irrigation system and the pipes and stuff of that nature, and how they are reclaiming the desert to make fancy compounds for the richer folk, and the roosts that pigeons are raised in. It was cool to hear about the changes in the Sahara desert, but I was sure thankful that he let us sleep for the last two hours of driving.
When we arrived in Alexandria you can tell that there is a huge standard of living difference compared to what we are used to. Even compared to Cairo Alexandria isn’t looking so good. There are piles of garbage everywhere, and the bread that is subsidised for the people is thrown on the street for people to pick up. It just wouldn’t really go well in Canada.
Our first stop was the catacombs- a mass grave. We descended deep into the ground on a swirly staircase until we hit the bottom. At the bottom of the center of the staircase you could see water in a well. Apparently the catacombs where flooded for a long period of time due to a change in the water table. As we went further into the catacombs it got creepier and creepier. We saw the burial tombs of the first family who used the catacombs, before it was turned into a public grave. It would be very easy and very scary if you got lost or the weak lighting they had in there cut out.
After the catacombs we went to the pillar of Pompey- the largest pillar carved out of solid rock. Twenty people could eat dinner on top of the pillar comfortably. It is guarded by two sphinxes. Also at the same site there is the remains of an ancient library and a recreated statue of a bull god.
From there we saw the ancient city that was uncovered in Alexandria. To be honest it was very similar to the ruins we have seen in Greece and Turkey.
We headed over to the Museum of Alexandria, which is housed in what used to be the home of the American ambassador. We were told that most of the really interesting stuff will be in the museum of Cairo that we see tomorrow. They converted the cellar into a demonstration of what a tomb looks like which was very neat though.
After the museum we headed over to the new library of Alexandria- a very uniquely structured building which is attached to the university. It is supposed to be the most modern building in Egypt.
We took a little walk along the Mediterranean Sea, and then stopped to get a few pictures on the beach. The locals seemed very confused by us, but they seemed excited that we were there. Everyone waved whenever our tour bus went by.
After the beach we went to Qaitbay citadel fortress- the ancient palace of Alexandria. It was pretty cool to walk around a castle like that. They were also filming a movie while we were there, and the cast was pretty into joking around and taking pictures with us. Unfortunately for us, none of us spoke French so we lost the opportunity to play Napoleon in their movie. If only we were from the other side of Canada.
After the fort we got to try Gelati at the expense of the tour manager. It was delicious! It is supposedly natural ice cream and it is very good.
On our drive home just as we hit Cairo we were able to see all three of the Pyramids in the distance! It was super exciting, but it still didn't feel real. Maybe when we're up close and personal with them tomorrow it'll feel different.
We're lucky to be here during the first democratic election in Egypt’s history, and the excitement is palpable. There are election posters everywhere! On Wednesday the first president will be elected on Wednesday!
We are meeting with our tour group tonight, and then going out for dinner. Hopefully it doesn't go too late because I am exhausted.
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