Friday, I took a train with Mahmoud and his family to Alexandria, which is located in Lower Egypt about two and a half hours north of Cairo. (FYI: The area is considered Lower Egypt, because the Nile River flows from south to north, which is the opposite of most rivers.) The trip was pleasant and allowed me to see some of the countryside of Egypt. The area that we traveled through was mainly agricultural with crops of okra, cotton, and corn able to be seen from the train.
Once we arrived in Alexandria, we hired a taxi to take us around the city for the day. Our first stop was at the Roman Amphitheater. The ruins were absolutely amazing! The stadium seats were made from marble; the floor had a nice mosaic, which you were not allowed to stand on.
Our next stop was the Alexandria National Museum, which was the complete opposite of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Alexandria National Museum was housed in the old US Embassy building, which was previously a palace. The Museum was air-conditioned, and the artifacts were housed in nice display cases that were climate-controlled, unlike the Egyptian Museum. The Museum tried to capture all of Alexandria’s history from the Pharaohnic Period through the periods of Greek and Roman control through the modern era of Egypt. We were not allowed to take pictures at all, and no sweet talking or bribing by Mahmoud was going to make it happen! When we exited the museum, I wanted a picture in front of the museum so that I could remember my visit. However, the museum officials would not let me take even one picture! (I even offered to let them take the picture, so that they could insure that I wouldn’t take the camera inside.) The only way I was able to get a picture was by staying inside the gates of the museum while Mahmoud went outside and zoomed in to take the picture!
Afterwards we drove to the Citadel, which is located right on the Mediterranean Sea! We arrived right at closing time, so they wouldn’t let us enter. L Instead we visited the small aquarium located next to the Citadel. The Mediterranean Sea was beautiful and very choppy. The boats were very colorful and looked like I had walked onto the set of a movie!
Next, we finally made it to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina! The library at Alexandria was the first library ever in the history of Man! Obviously, the original library no longer exists, but the new library was built in approximately the same location. The new Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built in 2002 and was designed to look like the rising sun. The external walls are inscribed with characters from many different languages to represent the information and books of the world. The windows of the library are shaped like an eye, which represents the all-seeing eye that guards from evil, a belief that dates from the Pharaohnic Period. The library is dedicated to digitizing as many books as possible and currently digitizes approximately 200 books per day! They also have an auditorium that is used for special lectures, where they hold 700 lectures per year. The library hosts 27 guided tours per day in Arabic, English, French and German.
The library holds several art galleries and museums in its lower levels, including a museum dedicated to Anwar El Sadat, Egypt’s President that was assassinated in 1981. In the Sadat Museum, there was a letter that was written to Sadat from the Creek and Osage Tribes commending him on his peace talks that he had arranged with Israel and Palestine (I think). The very last display case was the uniform that Sadat was wearing when he was assassinated with the blood stains visible to the visitors!
I thoroughly enjoyed the Antiquities Museum, which housed some of the artifacts found during the excavation of the new library. The most amazing piece that was discovered was a Dog Mosaic that showed the Graeco-Roman influences on the area. The Manuscripts Museum held mostly Arabic manuscripts dating all the way from 900 AD! They had several copies of the Qur’an, which were very ornate. They even had a facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible and a scroll of the Torah. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was one of the highlights of the entire trip!
Once we finished visiting the library, we attempted to take the taxi to eat supper. However, the taxi died in the middle of the road! The taxi driver was so upset; he started mumbling in Arabic (I’m pretty sure that he was cussing, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying!) He then proceeded to start an argument with Mahmoud telling him that we were bad luck, because he had never had problems with his car before we rode with him! Needless to say, we had to get out of the taxi and find a different mode of transportation. Well, we couldn’t find a taxi that wanted to take us, so we ended up having to take a bus! Now I know you are all picturing an American public transit bus. No! This was a 15-passenger Microbus that was crammed with 20 people! Every time someone had to get off, they either crawled over everyone or someone had to get out to let them out. Oh! And there was no air-conditioning! Needless to say it was quite an experience!
We finally made it to Hosny Restaurant, where I was able to try Stuffed Pigeon! It was actually delicious! When they brought it to me, I was a little overwhelmed, because it was the whole bird (head and everything!). I had no idea how to attempt to eat it! Thankfully, Mahmoud helped me out. After I was halfway finished eating it, I realized I had forgotten to take a picture. Sorry!
Our return train left Alexandria a little after 10, so we began making our way back to the train station. We started walking and quickly realized, we wouldn’t make it on time so we decided to take a taxi. Shortly after we got in, this taxi car died too! Maybe we really were bad luck! I have no idea where the taxi driver took us, but it took us forever to get back to the train station. By the time we made it to the station, the train had just left 5 minutes earlier! The only other option was to take a Microbus back to Cairo! That was definitely an experience that I will never forget! It was a 15-passenger Microbus with 17 people, which meant that Haneen and Habiba had to ride in our laps. The bus driver kept turning the air conditioning off, so we were sweating like crazy. Halfway through the trip, the driver took everyone’s fare money. I guess one of the guys didn’t give him enough, which meant that a yelling argument ensued where the driver ended up pulling over on the side of the road and opening the sliding back door to get in the guy’s face! Thankfully, the fight did not come to blows, but it was close! Needless to say, as soon as we saw the lights of Cairo, we got off and caught a taxi to take the rest of the trip back to Aunt Deborah’s flat. It was a very eventful trip to be sure! We finally made it back about 2am, where everyone collapsed into bed utterly exhausted.