Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cairo Pyramids Alexandria

4/4/10 Cairo



Boat docked at Alexandria this am, and the group going for the overnight in Cairo boarded our bus. Port building is gorgeous and ornate. Lots of police lots of dogs around.


Out of the city into the countryside o n some sort of a highway under renovation . Our guide is very articulate and knowledgeable and can answer just about any question we put to him. First bathroom stop approximately an hour into the trip. Lots of agriculture, vineyards, olive trees, and hundreds of pigeon houses which are these giant bullet shaped things that from a distance look to be at least 18 ft tall, probably higher.


Trucks passing full of bananas, and construction stuff, at bathroom stop we find out that it costs 50 cents to use bathroom if you want toilet paper. This didn’t surprise me since I have traveled before and everyone makes a living somehow. Freezing on the bus, so I got my sweater out. Comfortable outside but dusty.


In all of these countries windy, dusty and smoky. Pollution in the air, settles in your chest. Most everyone is coughing on the cruise, and several have become sick. I’m not sure if I was fighting a cold, allergies or whatever, but I’ve managed to hold it at bay. Our first glimpse of the pyramids was over the hotels and condos that surround it. I had seen pictures before we came that showed the pyramids in the middle of a city.


When we got up to the site, it was less obvious that it was built up. They’ve done a pretty good job of keeping them out of sight. Camels and horses everywhere, ground uneven and rough. Haven’t fallen once, being really careful.


First place we went was the solar ship that was discovered entombed under 21 giant stones, really amazing. Took a video of it. We all had to wear canvas booties over our shoes so we don’t track bugs inside like termites.


I got eaten alive on one arm by mosquitoes yesterday in turkey, so am really glad I brought the deet and anti-itch spray (although would have been happier if I had used it the day in turkey, oh well)


So after the solar ship we walked around the base of the great pyramid and the two lesser pyramids, and some of the ladies climbed down a ladder into one of them. I was already feeling allergies in my chest, and knew darned well I’d probably bump my head so I passed. Watched the vendors trying to sell postcards, camel rides, and desert draped hats.


Amazing how big the pyramids are, and when you are up there, it looks like you are in the middle of the desert. Back in the bus up the hill to the camel ride sand dune, where it had been arranged for us all to take a short camel ride, about 5 minutes, and it was really fun, especially when the camel is getting up because you have to hold yourself on its back with your arms, and upper body strength is not one of my strong points. It was very fun and most of the group went for it. My camel got a little wild when the handler wanted him to sit down and decided to go over near the edge of the dune to where he wanted to go, the ladies scattered, and for a second I thought I was going on a wild camel desert run, but he sat down. He also turned his head very cutely when I was getting my photo taken, so I think he liked me but was pissed off at the handler.


Back in the bus and down the hill to the sphinx (sp) a really amazing site. The guide said that Obama got to stand on the legs /arms and have his picture taken and I tried to convince him that Obama was a relative of mine and would want us to be able to go behind the gates too but he wasn’t buying it. An old man helped me to a place where I could get a great shot and I knew better and kept saying no money, no money, but he slipped a tiny piece of ceramic in my hand and said good luck and held out his hand for payment and I gave it back to him again saying no money. We were up around the pyramid area for a couple of hours, long enough to get tons of shots and it was windy and dusty up there too. My black shoes were completely covered with sand that was like cement, I scrubbed them with a washcloth later at the hotel.


Then we went into Cairo and had lunch at the Le Meridian Hotel, a giant buffet that was really good but of course I ate way too much. Then we were off to a cartouche and papyrus place to shop. This was a very high end shop, and I ended up buying a cartouche 18K that was marked $800 US and I got it for $650 with good fortune on one side and my name in hieroglyphics on the other. This was more than I wanted to spend, but I had checked my ship charges and it will be my only Egypt souvenir so I'm OK with it. The electricity kept going off when we were in there too, and there were a ton of men working there. We watched a papyrus demonstration really interesting.


Then off to the Egyptian Museum.. It was crowded, hot and smoky outside. We had the audio tour so we could listen to our guide, and I lasted about 45 minutes before the crowds, and the heat got to me and I went outside sitting on a ledge with broken tile, saying no to the shoeshine men even though my black shoes were completely white by now, and breathing into the bag that the audio device came in to block the cigarette smoke that surrounded me.


Then we went to our hotel a Grand Hyatt with a Hard Rock CafĂ© attached. It was 5:30pm Cairo time and we had to check in, shower the sand from the pyramids off, and get dressed up and down in the lobby by 6:20 for the dinner show on the Nile. We were on a nice boat owned by the Marriott chain, but it was a little like being on a dinner cruise anywhere except for the entertainment and the alcohol offerings. Couldn’t see much outside except other boats or hotels with lights on them, belly dancer and whirling dervish entertainment. Some of the ladies were shocked that the whirling dervish was a man. Here is a great example of how TV can ruin travel. I had seen the dervish’ on the amazing race, and they had 6 guys going at once, but at least our guy was lit up like a Christmas tree, and you got to respect him for whirling in circles for at least a half hour without tipping over. We had a bunch of people from Mongolia or China at the table next to us and both the ladies and the men (especially the men) loooooved the belly dancer with the bright red lips and the boobs hanging out. Love the music. I had had so much to eat I could barely touch dinner, but did have one beer.


I have just drunk water for a couple of days. Don’t know how the ladies can keep it up. Finally back to the hotel around 11:00pm and fast asleep on the extremely comfortable mattresses. But once again we got the time changes wrong and got up way too early, at 4 am instead OF 5, and were still groggy and half asleep at breakfast, which was Easter Monday. They had bread with colored Easter eggs in it. Cool looking. I tried the grain in milk sort of dish with raisins apricots and almonds. I have no idea what it is called. I also had fried tomatoes and baked beans, along with a chocolate muffin and some orange juice and good coffee. After breakfast, out into the lobby and our security guy (wearing a gun, in a pin striped suit) handed me a bouquet of roses. All of us got one before we set off for the station this morning. By the way, Phyllis who organized this trip has given us little gifts several times. First the evil eye bracelet in turkey, then a scarf with large metal disks in Egypt. Very nice touches. So back on the bus, and to the public train station. Normally the tours are not encouraged to do anything but bus in and out, but Phyllis managed to get us on the first class train, and the station was beautiful, although it was completely covered up for cleaning so it was hard to get a good photo. We were completely surrounded by various branches of Egyptian police including the antiquities police (I made jokes about that), so everyone seemed to think we were someone important because of the police presence. A few burkas, but mostly pretty women in traditional dress with head scarves, and some younger ones with jeans and a head scarf. All the women smiled and waved, and gave us friendly warm looks. The men were more curious, and the guards had to chase them away. Finally on the train, tons of leg room, comfortable seats and a two hour ride though agricultural lands with water buffalo, farmers, beggars, fishermen and more. Lots of cats in Egypt and in turkey, lots of dogs in Barcelona and Rome and Greece. Cats in Greece too, but pet dogs everywhere. So I nodded on and off on the train ride, trying not to miss anything but exhausted after our marathon the day before. Easter Sunday at the Pyramids pretty cool eh.


The Monday after Easter is a holiday, like spring break, and Alexandria is a destination for many of the people who live in inland villages. They eat some sort of dried fish. I asked the guide about if there was some rule about how far the minarets are placed from each other, and he said no, and I still wonder if all of the land is owned by the country/government and when you buy a house if you are also buying the land. It looks like they build the first floor, occupy it, then build on top of it, occupy it and keep going up. So the top is always unfinished. Did see what looked to be some gardens on the roof. And we were told that most buildings don’t have elevators so the people have to be pretty fit from walking up all those stairs, although the sand, wind, pollution and cigarettes have to be wrecking their lungs., Interesting to know the life expectancy of the people. Sometimes bizarrely there will be a room hanging off the side of a building on the 2nd or 3rd floor. I can’t imagine how stable that would be. I wonder how often one of them just literally falls off the building. Our ladies were horrified at the garbage and trash everywhere, and the condition of the buildings. But I think it is just their priorities are not with having a perfect building, but a shelter, and a place to sleep, and probably survival. Some of the roofs appear to have straw ceilings and there are huts along the river or irrigation ditches next to the train too, talk about the greening of the desert. It is amazing how much is growing from this sandy continent. I got up to use the WC (toilet) and the floor was soaked. At least there was a handicapped rail so I could suspend myself above the seat. Whatever works.


Finally got to Alexandria. Met by about the same number of heavily armed security guards and some undercover guys also and escorted to the bus at this end. Since it is Easter Monday and a holiday, most of the shops we passed were closed except those selling the salted fish, or coffee houses with dozens of men sitting around smoking hookahs. Pretty women and girls in headscarves, smiling and waving at the white women in the giant bus coming down their tiny streets. We went to a tomb attraction that was where the race horses’ remains were kept. And walked down several levels to the bottom over uneven ground. I finally decided it was time to go back up when we were in a cavern that required me to walk a wooden plank over ground water below, and hunch over. There were so many people down there I could have been hunched over for hours, so I made my way out. As we headed to our next stop we heard about the earthquake in Mexicali. I wondered if Joey had freaked because he does when there are earthquakes or fireworks, but I’m trying not to worry about him while I’m gone. I think we next headed toward the Med but did get caught in a traffic jam on the narrow streets and had to maneuver around all sorts of cars and trucks. It is a gorgeous sunny day in Alexandria and the road along the waterfront was jammed for miles. We were to have lunch at King Farouks palace and gardens and sat in the bus crawling along for over an hour smiling and waving back at all the thousands of villagers who had flocked to the seashore for the holiday. Mostly men in the water, which offended some of the ladies, but most of the women I saw with their husbands, families, at the beach or in the park looked haply and smiled and waved warmly. There seems to be some disconnect that every culture is not American, on the bus. Enough said.


I think I am reinforcing to myself what I already knew, I am not good traveling in a herd of women. I am better traveling on my own.


So we get to the palace and the gardens are full of families picnicking and playing games and enjoying the holiday. Hollyhocks blooming everywhere. Plants here very similar to California. Hibiscus, bougainvillea, etc. Palm trees and pine trees. Oddly enough this is supposed to be a five star lunch but it was set for the wrong number of people and the waiters were not very accommodating. All the women were saving seats for their friends and one woman kept being chased out of a seat by the waiters or other members of the group. It was silly. Then the waiters removed all the linen napkins replacing them with paper napkins, this was really odd, since we had already touched most of them. They even took them off some people’s laps. Never found out what this was about.


First dish was some sort of grain with fish balls, really good. Also hummus, baba ganoush and some other dip sort of stuff with bread. Then breaded sea bass, and calamari. I had 3 Stella beers @ $7 US each. They were small cans. In the garden outside was a live band there for the holiday and it added to the mood as we headed back towards the bus. We had no opportunity to purchase things like Egyptian cotton since our day in Cairo had been consumed with sightseeing and we got to the shops too late, and it was a holiday on our day in Alexandria so many shops were closed. Heading back to the ship, there were a bunch of souvenir type vendors lining the dock, so grabbed a couple of tourist items on the way back to the ship. Exhausted, I went directly to bed, took a pill and was out.


4/6 Day at Sea ON the way to Malta.


Got up around 9:30 and ate a little breakfast, then looked for a sunny warm, not too windy place on deck. Not easy to find. Finally lay in the sun above the soccer court where a bunch of men and boys were playing. Too sunny to see the computer so just laid there for 45 or so, relaxing. Then went down into the main lobby and had a latte, chatting with a couple of our group members, and then my friends from Brisbane sat down next to me, I met the second wife, and chatted with them until they left for the brunch at the French bistro at 11:00. I then went up to the spa, booked a hot stone massage for 6pm and headed to the room, where it is now almost 3pm. May take a nap before the massage. Really noisy in all the public areas, and I am not remotely hungry.


We found out that there was an earthquake in Mexico, and I got an email that my corgi-husky had escaped his babysitters, been picked up by some guy, and then returned to the babysitter. I am not sure how long he was out, and I am trying not to worry about it. I realized today that I had given everyone imaginable my contact info and itinerary, but I had left it at home so I can’t even call. There’s not a darned thing I can do about it from here. So I just have to trust that the dogs are safe and that Joey won’t escape again. Makes me a little ill thinking about it, but I have to let it go. That is part of the reason I booked the massage, I just need to relax. Its only the 6th and I don’t get home until the 16th provided everything goes smoothly. I have emailed my friends and asked them to send me my own itinerary so I can try to call from Morocco about Joey. Let it go, let it go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Earthquake did little damage at all to san diego, let alone carlsbad. Don'y worry about your dogs, as I am sure they are well. Nothing was tipped over or moved in our home, so I am sure everything is fine at your home. Relax, and enjoy your trip.

Mel