Wednesday, October 24
I enjoyed a restful night in the hotel by the sea. We didn’t set off until 9:00 when we headed for the Montazah Gardens which surround the palace of the last kings of Egypt. The palace was built in 1900 ad the last resident was King Farouk, who was displaced in 1952 when Egypt became a republic. The grounds are beautiful with lots of palm trees, green lawns, and other interesting plants. It is right on the sea with beautiful clear water and some sandy beaches. We walked across the little bridge to the island where he liked to take his afternoon tea. There was a separate palace for the wives, but neither are open to the public.
Alexandria was known for its lighthouse, which was one of the seven wonders of the world, but it was destroyed by earthquakes. The other landmark was the extensive library. This was destroyed by fire when there was a battle with the Romans. The loss was tremendous as they had over 700,000 scrolls. A modern library has been built with a huge collection of antique and modern manuscripts, as well as extensive digital resources. The website is www.bibalex.org. It is a very impressive facility, and I think it is a wise investment as opposed to restoring and opening the palace.
On from the library we headed towards Cairo, stopping at the City Centre mall. This is a modern shopping mall with a branch of many major retail outlets, including a food court and cinema multiplex. You would think you were in the US until you go in and see the signs. Some of us ate Chinese food at the food court which was not bad, but was quick which gave time to explore the mall. My main stop was the Carrefour supermarket (French chain). It was like a really big Fred Meyer, and provided interesting shopping. Grocery stores are always interesting. We were shopping for train snacks and water for our trip tonight.
The drive back to Cairo covered the same route as on the way down, and we got back into the wild traffic about the time we could see the pyramids out the window. We made good time and had some time to wait at the hotel before heading for the train station. We got there early to be sure we didn’t miss our ride. The train came in on time, and we got to our little compartments. They make up into a upper and lower bunk, have a little sink, a place to hang a couple of garments, and a fold out table. The toilet is at the end of the car. It is western style, but similar to the old design—don’t use it in the station! Since I paid the single suppliment I have the compartment to myself. It would be pretty crowded with two! The conductor brought my dinner (chicken, rice pilaf, some potatoes, garbanzo bean salad, chocolate cake); not bad, just typical train/airline food.
As soon as I finish writing, I’m going to have my bed made up. I think I will nod off early with the rocking of the train—I hope! In the morning we arrive in Aswan. One of the other street mysteries her is that the curbs are all 10-12 inches.
Thursday, October 25
All things considered, I slept OK on the train. If two people were to share the compartment, they had better be really friendly! At one point I thought I’d locked myself in, but I figured out the latch eventually. I also figured out how to open the louvers on the blinds and looked out on a sunny view of Egyptian countryside. (Unfortunately, between the blinds and the dusty windows, I didn’t get good pictures to share. The train goes close to the Nile evidently which would make sense because that is where the population is. It was quite green with agriculture and palm trees, and we passed through several towns.
The breakfast was tea and rolls, with a little pack of Laughing Cow cheese, butter and some honey. I had a little peanut butter left, so it went toward bolstering breakfast.
On arrival in Aswan we stepped out into 100 degree heat. Fortunately it is pretty dry. We got on a bus and made our way through light traffic to the hotel. It is not as luxurious as Alexandria, but it beats the train by a lot! We look out on the Nile and cruise boats, with the Sahara in the distance. I know that west/sunset was associated with death, but I think the Sahara desert added to the concept. Of course it is desert pretty much any time you get away from the Nile.
We had a rest in the room for a while before heading out to look around Aswan a bit. We boarded a felucca boat near the hotel. A traditional felucca goes under sail power, but there are some modern ones. We were on a sail one, but we started out being towed upstream a bit before we got under sail power. There was just one guy doing sail management and running the tiller. There are several islands in the Nile in this area and we spent a happy couple of hours meandering about, looking at the islands, some monuments, the modern city, and the sandy ridge that marked start of the Sahara desert on the west bank. There were a lot of other boats out, and it was especially lovely when there were no motor boats, just the breeze and the sound of the water rippling against the boat. It was especially nice because the high today as a contrast to the heat of mid-day. As the sun began to set on the Sahara side, we made landing on Elaphantine Island to have our home dinner. The island is home to many villages of Nubian people. These are the black African Egyptians who live in the south of Egypt. Some of them moved to Aswan when their villages were displaced with the building of the Aswan dam that controls the flooding on the Nile. The Nubian language is oral only, not written, but effort is made to keep the language alive even though they speak Arabic as well.
We transferred from the sail boat to a motor boat (yes, in the middle of the Nile) and were transported to the island’s west side at a little sandy area where; we needed to ‘walk the plank’ to come ashore. Thankfully I had a helpful hand on each side! We were greeted by our host, and walked up into the village through a maze of narrow streets to his home. We sat on cushioned sofas on three sides of the room, and proceeded to enjoy a traditional Nubian dinner. First we had a cold drink of guava juice, followed by a lentil soup with croutons. The main course included a salad of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and peppers with some cilantro. There was also a delicious eggplant dish, a potato dish, falafel, rice, incredible fried chicken (NFC not KFC) that was marinated in some spices before being fried, and also a cheese/filo pastry. Then it was topped off with your choice of mint or cinnamon tea and a peanut baklava dessert. We all agreed it was the best mean of the trip thus far. Cumin, coriander (cilantro) and garlic seem to be major spices in Nubian cooking. We had a good time discussing and learning about the courtship and marriage rituals of both the Egyptian and Nubian cultures. Both are very strict on how much contact they have before marriage, and both are dowry cultures. One interesting thing is that for the first 40 days of Nubian marriage, they live at the bride’s house and the mother in law cooks and takes care of them! Also, the rule is that the groom can’t touch the bride on the wedding night until he can make her smile! For both, the bride keeps her maiden name, but the children take their father’s name. Also, they can’t get married until the groom is financially able to provide a home for them. In both cases, the wives work; our guide’s wife is an assistant principal and our hostess works at the universisty.
After a lovely evening, we walked to a boat landing on the east side of the island (no plank!) and went across to the river bank near our hotel to call it a night. The traffic here (so far) is tame comparedto Cairo and Alexandria, but crossing the street was still a challenge. One of the guys in the group has Maltese heritage and is six foot four, so he looks like a local and has got a good command of the crossing procedure, so a group of us followed his lead.
Now it is back to the room to catch up on my posting, and get a good night’s sleep in a bed that isn’t moving! By the way, for those who remember the China trip, this room also has a shower with a view (a window between the shower and the bedroom). Fortunately there are curtains, much to the relief of the mother and son from England who are in the group!