October 13-15, 2010
Adjusting to life without Lee was hard. On my first day alone, I decided that I would go to the Egyptian Museum since I was close by and because Lee and I never made it in the end. When I finally got out of the hostel and headed there it was past 1:00PM; the guards stopped me and told me that the Museum closed at 1PM due to renovations. WHAT? So, I decided to make my way down to the bus station to get tickets back to Nuweiba port (finally going back to Jordan) then the train station to look for tickets to Alexandria.
I ended up finding my way first to the bus station then to the train station by foot. Everyone was helpful and helped me to find my way. One lady even left her little food stand and walked with me for a good 200m. For a moment, it seemed almost easier to be by myself and without Lee; I felt as if I had better treatment being a female traveling alone….I still missed him though! When I finally got to the train station, I solicited the help of a young college student who spoke English and was kind enough to show me where the ticket window was. It was a good thing he did because the train station was under massive construction and there was no way I would have known where to go. I managed to buy my ticket for Friday, leaving the following day open for the museum.
Later that same guy found me again outside the ticket office and tried to ask me about my opinion on Islam and even gave me some reading material (it was a stack of about 20 pages!). He was happy to hear that I was open to Islam (hence he tried to convert me) because he believed that all of us in the West had the perception that it was an evil religion.
After I got my ticket, I decided to go back to Giza since I had time. I wanted to go back so I could find Mohammad; I really didn’t want him thinking that we used him and that we did not want to stay in touch. I’m the type of person that really values relationships and if our paths meet, I want our lives to continue to be intertwined and not pass it off as a chance meeting. This explains why I am still in touch with people who I’ve traveled with back almost 10 years ago.
I took the Metro there from the train station and found my way into Giza. I didn’t know which was the best station to get off at since Lee and I would always be dropped at different stations. I ended up getting off at Giza and tried to find a minibus. As I exited, I was told that I was not in the right area and was directed to go around. When I got around to the other side, one of the security guards tried to help me. They wanted me to ride a taxi but I had felt that in doing so, he would expect a cut which would mean that I would have to pay a higher cab fare….that is one thing I noticed here, people are in cahoots with each other. So I gently declined and he pointed me in the direction of the buses. It was about 4:30PM so I thought I would possibly check out the Sound and Light Show (6:30PM) first then go to Cathy’s house.
When I got to the buses, I asked if they were going to the Pyramids and made a mountain shape with my two hands…that seemed to work and people knew what I was talking about but they shook their head. Then, the second guy I asked seemed to say ‘no’ at first and then told me to hop in. I looked at him, gave him the quick run-down and decided that he seemed ‘safe’ so I hopped in.
No one was in the minibus. We tried to have a conversation but he spoke no English and my Arabic was limited to points of interest and bargaining words. So we exchanged names and to my surprise, he was Mohammad too - my phonebook had about 4 Mohammads! We drove and then he picked up a bunch of people. I quietly sat in the front and was hoping he would take me to the right place. Traffic was really bad and we must have driven for about an hour or so. People would get off and get in and I just quietly waited in the front. At one point, I asked Mohammad if I could take his photo and he pinched his fingers together and made an up and down motion (as Italians are infamous for doing though I’m told it’s a really negative hand gesture). I didn’t know what that meant but I figured that was a ‘no’. So I put my camera away. After driving down the road for over an hour, he made everyone get out of his minibus. I asked if I should get out too and he motioned me to stay. He then motioned me to take his photo so I did…I later found out that in Egypt, when you pinch your fingers together (pointed up) and move it up and down, it means to wait…but don’t do this in Italy because they’ll think you want to fight.
Mohammad drove another 5 minutes or so, came around and then dropped me off and motioned me to walk straight. Initially he had said that it would only cost me 1EGP but I felt that it was really more than one ride that he took me for so I gave him another pound. I’m lucky that I got to meet a nice guy who helped me otherwise I don’t think I would have made it there for as cheaply as I did.
I made it to the Pyramids and was heading to see the Sound and Light show that Lee and I never managed to make. It was a visual showcase of the Pyramids with a bit of history and legend all with colorful lights beaming on the Pyramids. There is an English show every night at 6:30PM and two other shows presented in other languages. If you happen to go to a show that is not narrated in your language, there is an audio guide (20EGP) that you can rent.
The show was decent and since it was my first Sound and Light Show (they have others at other ancient sites) I will say that it was a good experience and don’t regret going. It was however the one and only Sound and Light Show that I went to in Egypt. The show which lasts for about an hour was supposed to start at 6:30PM but was delayed for about 30 minutes so we didn’t get out until about 8:00PM leaving the other two shows delayed…this may be a common problem. *TIP* Should you decide to see this, sit on the right side, facing the stage. I got there around 6:15PM and asked the guards which was the best place to sit and they advised me as such; sitting here gives you a better view of the Sphinx who is the one narrating the show. There also seems to be (more comfortable) seating in the café that sits in the back. There is also a website where you can purchase online but I had no problem buying it just moments before: http://www.soundandlight.com.eg/Index.aspx
After the show, I walked out and tried to catch another minibus to go to Cathy’s house. It was a bit late and normally I don’t hang out alone at night but somehow I did feel safe; maybe it was because I was familiar with the area. It took me a while to find a bus that went to the road that I needed to go. I think I waited for about 30 minutes on the side of the road and in the meantime made friends with two other women communicating with only hand motions.
I got to Cathy’s apartment but no one was home; the people who looked after the apartment building seemed agitated that I had gone upstairs without receiving permission. When I came down, I asked if I could leave a note for Cathy and they agreed. I left a message and asked them to call me and that the number Mohammad had given us was wrong. Then, I got back to the road and tried to jump on a bus to take me to the Metro. I really am proud of myself for doing all of this by myself!
The next day I finally made it to the Egyptian Museum! I spent a good chunk of time there. I was glad that Lee and I never made it together because I think he would have thought 3 hours was way too long; but I like taking my time in museums. There I saw Tutankhamen's Treasures and the Golden Mask…I also paid an extra admission to the Royal Mummy Collection. I had seen many Egyptian exhibitions before but this was so cool to be able to see the entire collection in the land that it originated from. Also here were Greek and Roman statues dating back to the Hellenistic Period. Oh, I even saw mummified animals which was strange but neat!
That night, my friend Mohammad and Sam came over to my hostel. I was so glad to see them and glad to know that they got my message. I told them that I wanted to take them out to dinner to thank them but the reunion quickly turned uncomfortable as Mohammad seemed to be a different person and incredibly aggressive. He asked me why I was staying there at that hostel and insisted that I leave the place and stay over at his house in Giza. I was a little afraid in this change of character and secretly tried to send messages to both Lee and Abdil to let them know my location and where I was going. He was also insistent that I give him copies of all my photos but I didn’t feel comfortable doing this especially if he wasn’t in them…I didn’t know what he was going to do with them especially since he was no longer the nice guy that had hosted us just days earlier!
We ended up going over to a famous koshary place nearby; thank goodness because I started to get nervous that we would get in a taxi and I wouldn’t know how to find my way back! The dinner was great and I complained that I was tired and just wanted to get back. Sam confided to me that Mohammad really liked me and that he wanted me to stay over. I told him, ‘what about my boyfriend Lee?’ Mohammad didn’t seem to care (which was weird) and said that Lee was a player! Ha ha! He said that I shouldn’t be with a player but uh, we weren’t really together so none of this mattered. It was just weird how he lied to me in my face and how he was not the same guy that I met a few days earlier. I was afraid of him and no way I would go his house alone!
For days, Lee and I had planned to make the 3 hour trip out to Alexandria. Somehow, we could never wake up early enough or if we did, didn’t have enough energy to make it happen. Going to Alexandria was a bit tricky because it was 3 hours away. It’s said that the sites in Alexandria can all be seen within a day**. When we tried to see what there was to see and do in Alexandria, we read that there were two main sites: the Catacombs and the Library but through experience and looking it up, we knew that almost everything would close at 4:00PM. So, unless we left Cairo and were on a train before by 9AM, it really made no sense to go all the way there. So the morning that I finally resolved to go, I woke up at 4:45AM so that I could walk to the train station at 5AM. I got there within 20 minutes and found my train easily.
I was tired from the night before, slept late as usual, so I immediately fell sleep upon boarding the train. I got up at around 9AM when a majority of the passengers were getting off the train. I wasn’t sure if that was my stop so I waited to see if everyone was getting off. I had been told that it was a 3.5 hour train ride and since it was only 9:00AM I had a feeling we still had a bit of a ways to go. There were still some people left on the train so I figured that we weren’t at the right station yet.
When our train finally pulled into Alexandria, it occurred to me that I had absolutely NO clue as to where I was going! I suppose I got used to having Lee with me so even without a plan, we always managed to keep ourselves entertained. I got off the train station and started to look for the tourist information center. Alexandria is a large enough tourist attraction, with many coming out here on day trips, that I knew there’d be a tourist office somewhere. WRONG! The tourist information was closed even though the sign on the door clearly stated that it was open from 8AM until 6PM. Someone told us that someone would be coming after 10AM but how could we trust that the information he was giving us right? Suppose he wasn’t, we’d be waiting for at least half an hour!
Also looking for the tourist office were three Chinese – a man and two women. Since the tourist office was closed, I asked them where they were going and if I could possibly tag along with them. It looked like they had some sheets printed out with information on the area so was hoping they could share whatever information they had. I also thought that since they were Chinese, they would love the fact that I could possibly save them a dollar by splitting the costs with them. But, they didn’t really give me a straight answer so I wasn’t sure if they were okay with me going with them. Regardless, I followed them outside and followed them as they proceeded to take a cab. The three of them spoke English fairly well so we spoke in English. As much as I wanted to practice, I thought I would not tell them that I studied Chinese just in case they wanted to say something about me… So we went outside and the girls were negotiating a cab to go somewhere.
I like to think that I am the queen of bargaining (though there are the occasional times that I get duped) and am confident that I am as good as the Chinese, if not better. So, as one of the girls tried to negotiate the price, I finally spoke up and said ‘tai gui le!’ – too expensive. They continued on with the bargaining but I knew that they were shocked that I spoke Chinese. The guy then turned to me and said ‘oh, you speak Chinese’. I admitted that I spoke a little and that I wanted to speak to them in Chinese so that the Egyptians wouldn’t know what we were talking about. Meanwhile, it must have been obvious – though I’m not sure why since we were all Asian – but there were some other guys on the side that told me that I could take my own cab. I told them that I was with them but they insisted that I wasn’t and that I could get my own cab. BUSTED. After quickly considering my options, I declined their other offer and went with the Chinese. The girl had negotiated the ride for EGP15 ($2.65) telling me that it would be EGP4, $0.65 each. In the end, I paid EGP5 ($0.88) and was not happy that she didn’t give me any change back!
When we got to the first site, the Citadel, I continued to sense that they weren’t very keen on having me around. So after a few minutes, I excused myself and told them that I would be going on my own. I didn’t want the rest of the trip to be where I’d have to pay more especially if I could negotiate a better deal on my own in the first place; the price they paid was way too much!
The Citadel, the old fort during Roman-Greco times was not entirely impressive as far as the insides go; it was just a bunch of open spaces. I suppose if you consider how old the building is, there is a feeling of awe but that rubs away quickly as you walk through humid heat and no descriptions of what you’re looking at. The highlight was probably the fact that the Citadel overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. I believe it was the first time for me to see the Mediterranean (I can’t remember if I saw it from Italy). This is also said to be the site of the old Lighthouse of Alexandria which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; too bad there is nothing to see and that we couldn’t find the exact location of where the lighthouse stood.
The other memorable part was that EVERYONE had stopped to take photos with us. I had met two Australian women, Karen and Lauren, at the entrance and they were very nice to me, trying to give me tips on where I should and could go during my time in Alexandria. The two were traveling, Karen with her husband, to celebrate their 50th birthday year together! I hope that I will have a friend that I can celebrate a milestone birthday with when I’m older…these ladies didn’t look a day over 40! But anyway, everyone wanted to take photos and say ‘HELLO! What is your name’ to us. I politely declined most requests because I knew that there would just be no end. The ladies as nice as they were though, couldn’t say no and probably spent about 20 minutes of their time taking photos. I did manage to give in and finally take a few but I really didn’t want to spend my entire day there having my photos taken - especially because I charge for these sorts of things.
Karen and Lauren realized that they should be on their way because they actually booked a cab for the day and a third friend, Ann, was waiting for them outside. I exited with them and with their help, decided to head to the Catacombs since it was next to Pompey’s Pillar, and that way, I’d be able to hit two sites on one visit. They had advised that I should pay about EGP10 but having been in Egypt for now almost 3 weeks, I knew better; did I mention that I was the bargain queen? So, I went to the cabs and tried to get something for EGP5. After trying to bargain 3 or so drivers, one driver finally conceded and agreed to drive me there for EGP5.
The site was about 2-3km away and when we got to the place, a tourist police officer was there and approached our cab, asking the driver if he was going to wait for me or if it was just a drop off. I am not sure if this is a gift or it’s because I travel a lot but I understand a great deal even though I don’t speak the language. Knowing what he was asking, I shook my head. So then he asked the cab driver if I spoke Arabic and I shook my head again and said ‘no’. Then I handed the driver my EGP5 and the police officer was baffled; how was this tourist able to get here for so cheap and understand Arabic but claims to not speak it! Ha ha, I smiled and thanked the driver as I walked away.
Pompey’s pillar is actually a misnomer; the Crusaders mistakenly thought that the pillar held the ashes of Roman general Pompey, in its capital. The general was believed to have come to Egypt in an effort to escape Julius Caesar only to be killed by the Egyptians. The actual story tells us that the pillar was made in honor of Diocletian in the final years of the 4th century. After the breakout of a large revolution, Diocletian ordered that the city be besieged but then decided that a portion of the tribute (corn) that was to be sent to Rome would be reserved for the people of Alexandria. For this generous act, the people of the area raised this pillar to express their gratitude. Pompey’s pillar is known to be the tallest ancient monument in the city.
The pillar was okay, nothing to write home about. I walked around for a bit and had my lunch – bread and cheese, my breakfast from the hostel – in the shade of the pillar. I was about to walk out and then I saw an area that could be entered so I ventured out that way and saw some underground sites. I had read about the explanations at the entrance but since there was nothing written on site, I couldn’t remember what exactly was what and what I was looking at. I hung out here for about an hour or so and then finally went off to find the Catacombs.
I was smart to ask a tour conductor for instructions because 1) he spoke English 2) knew exactly where it was and wasn’t supposing but it seemed a bit complicated. I’d have to turn left, hit the fork in the road then go right. I seemed to follow his directions but then some kids had stopped to say hello to me and when I asked for directions again, they sent me in the direction that I came from. So I headed back in the direction that I came from and saw two Caucasian guys walking toward me. Since it was the first foreigners that I had seen since I left the Pillar, I thought I shouldn’t miss my chance to talk to them; maybe they had an idea where the Catacombs were. But they too had no clue and had been told directions different from mine. I asked if I could join them and they said that it was okay. So we walked in what seemed like circles and eventually found it!
The Catacombs didn’t allow me to take our cameras in so I don’t have any good photos of the place. Instead, I have some mediocre photos taken from my backup camera, my iPhone. After we got in, a tourist police approached us and asked us if we wanted to see the Catacombs and started to lead us down toward a ‘Keep Out’ area. I stopped him and said in my limited Arabic, ‘tip?’ and he smiled and nodded. I asked the guys if they were okay with going down there and paying him some money to take us there. Up until now, I had been adamant about not tipping out people to do things that were prohibited. But since the guys were keen on going down, I offered the police officer EGP5 ($0.88) and he agreed. We got down there and it really wasn’t anything special. Just a dusty underground area with deep rectangular cells flanked on both sides. We stayed for a minute or two to try to understand what we were looking at. I was just about to ask the officer if I could take photos but then thought that maybe he would ask me for more money so decided to take the photos secretly instead. Afterwards, we found the real Catacombs and went down to see almost the same things but in fact better, with some paintings and writings on the wall.
After we got out, I asked the guys where they were going and they said that they were probably going to head down to the Bibliotheca. Just then I saw a couple sitting across the way from us reading their Lonely Planet. I decided to approach them to see if there were some sites that I should see. My best friend Abdil had mentioned something about a Palace and King Faroud but all the other tourists that I had asked didn’t really know what I was talking about. I found another site – Mahmoud Said Museum – which I remember Abdil mention so I decided to take a photo of the page to refer to when I made my way down there. A few minutes later, the two guys walked over to me and said that they were heading out; they also seemed not so keen on having me around either (what is wrong with these folks?!) so I told them that I’d be on my way and maybe I’d see them there. I miss Lee!
I had run into Karen and Lauren at the Catacombs and they let me know that the Bibliotheca was actually closed and would reopen at 3PM. So I decided that I would check out the other museum first since it closed at 5PM and was further away and it was just after lunch. I read in the Lonely Planet that I could get to the Museum by tram, or at least close by. But the people I asked didn’t really understand where I was going and it seemed like the one I needed never came. So I ended up walking and walking! I didn’t have a map so I ended up buying a cheap postcard map from one of the tourist shops and thought I would later send it off to Lee since he never made it; killing two birds with one stone! Looking at the map, I had an idea that I would head towards the sea and then walk along the sea to get to the city center. I didn’t even know where I was going but the town seemed small enough that it was pointless to ride a taxi for such short distances. I must have gotten lost for about an hour or two. My legs were finally getting tired and I decided to rest at the park. I sat there and met a friendly Egyptian family and took photos with them.
Finally, it was nearing 2:30PM so I decided that I didn’t have time and didn’t really want to go all the way to the museum be rushed, and then come back. I was also trying to ride the 6PM train back to Cairo so I couldn’t do both. I decided on the Bibliotheca as the one in Alexandria is said to be one of the oldest in the world. Cool, I like old things.
So, I ended up getting on a minibus, finally found one, and rode down the street to get dropped off at the Bibliotheca…the hardest thing about getting here was that I didn’t know the word for it in Arabic, I still don’t, so I couldn’t really tell people where I wanted to go. All I had was that postcard map and I could just barely point out the area in which I wanted to go.
I got dropped off right in front of the Bibliotheca and the large glass modern building made you question where you were; definitely not in Egypt! It was a building you would find in Tokyo or New York perhaps. To the side, there is a strip of Western stores and restaurants waiting to service I suppose all the Western tourists that make it up here. I walked in amazement as I approached the large building. It’s a bit confusing because the ticket sales are around the corner (opposite the Mediterranean) and then you have to go to the main entrance of the building but before you do that, you need to register your laptop with security. I am not exactly sure why but you show them the serial number of your computer and your passport and they take down the information and give you a small paper pass; I suppose to make sure you are not stealing someone’s computer? When I finally did all that they needed me to, I attempted to go in. You go through metal detectors and an x-ray machine (they don’t play around) and they stopped me because I had remnants of my bread and cheese lunch; the lady didn’t want to let me in. So, I went back to security and decided to eat what I could and reposition the foods (take it out of the tupperware) and see if they would hold some of my food for me but the guard wouldn’t and instead called the security inside and asked them to let me go through. So when I went back in, I was let through, no questions asked. I think it took me about 20 minutes to get through. The ironic thing is that you can bring drinks in here!
I was immensely amazed with this building that sits on the old site of one of the oldest libraries in the ancient world. Inaugurated in 2003, it is very modern with state-of-the-art facilities and resources. For example, it is the only place in the world that can retrieve websites, in its entirety, dating back to 2006 - a type of internet archive. It also houses several museums, including an Antiquities Museum which requires separate entrance fees. There is also a really big copy machine, if I’m not mistaken, only 1 of 2 in the world, which can copy an entire book in just a few minutes. The machine is not in use however as there are some intellectual property issues at hand (duh). The library also offers free guided tours in English which I found very informative. There is also free internet here (which made me think I should have just come here first so that I could get more information of where I was going) and I actually sat here and made some phone calls on skype.
I ended up chatting way too long that when I finally left the library, it was already 5:20PM…I was trying to ride the 6:00PM train but didn’t even have a ticket yet! I quickly packed up my computer and rushed out of the building. I didn’t think I was very far from the train station so attempted to walk back. According to my google map on my iphone, it was only 1km away. Somehow I couldn’t find it and I began to get frustrated because no one could help me and kept pointing to the TRAM when I was asking for the TRAIN. There was no way I was going to make it, even if I rode a taxi at that point. So, I gave up and asked someone for the best place to get foul (a popular traditional bean dish pronounced full) and was pointed out to GAM. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that I was there specifically for foul so gave me a falafel instead. It cost me a $1.25 and I ran with it to catch the next train.
I got to the train station at about 6:10PM and was told that the next train at 7:00PM (getting me in at 10:00PM) was already sold out. I asked if I could ride 2nd class and they told me to go to the office from where I already came from. When I went back to that office, they told me that I could try to buy the ticket on the train. What I found weird though was that the ticket was almost double! I went to the platform and saw a lady seated. I thought I would try to see if she could help me and asked her if she spoke English. To my great surprise she did! A university graduate, she spoke English very well! She went to the train people and asked if I could buy a ticket onboard. At first they said no then she explained that I was from Hawaii (that got me extra brownie points!) and then they got excited! They ended up being really helpful and said that they would try to help me and in the worst case, I could sit in the cafeteria car and order coffee. The lady also asked why I was wearing a hajib and explained to me that I was supposed to have my arms and legs covered too. I was surprised and embarrassed; Lee had told me this before too but what did he know? He was a White guy! I even told him I would find a girl who had a hajib that wore short sleeves and/or shorts. I never did find that one girl (maybe cause it was me?!). We laughed together as the lady commented the whole point of the hajib was to cover yourself up…oops…I learn this on my last day in Egypt…now I know why I attracted so many stares in the three weeks that I was here…
When I boarded the 7:00PM train, I stood near the door and shortly after we left the station, the train guy called me over and gave me the last remaining seat. I heard the guys nearby mumble ‘say-ah-ha’-something which I understood to mean ‘tourist’. Sometimes it was nice to be the tourist and get special treatment. Paid my ticket and slept the rest of the way on the train.
I made it back to Cairo at 10:00PM and still walked back to my hostel…I’m so crazy but I did feel safe because with so many people (the city has close to 9 million) around. It took me another 20 minutes to walk home. Along the way, I stopped to get some ice cream, at a famous place Lee had pointed out to me, as well as some foul! It was actually pretty good…
I got back to the hostel around 11:00PM and needed to get to bed early because the next day I had a 6:00AM bus to Nuweiba to catch my 4:00PM ferry back to Jordan! Sucks that I have to do it alone!
** For me, the main sites in Alexandria can be done in a day but I would have preferred to have spent the night and take my time here rather than rush through.