Friday, July 31, 2009

And now for Alexandria

The Misr train station is rather centrally located, so we decided to do a bit of walking to get to our first tourist destinations. Since we are foreigners we were immediately swarmed by taxi drivers the minute we were in broad daylight. Blinded and blinking, we said no to all of them. They in turn acted gravely offended, except for one man who fell in love with our little nona, Rachel.

He tickled her and crooned over her and followed us around for a few minutes. When we got to the road there were even more taxi drivers waiting there. Andrew asked one man in a cab how to get to a certain street.

“It is very, very far away,” the man warned, “But I can take you there.”

Our random, friendly taxi driver ran over and yelled at the guy for giving us bad information and then stole that man’s business by pleasantly pointing us in the right direction.

Just a short walk across a few busy streets and we reached the amphitheater, which I believe is officially the only Roman ruins in all of Egypt. It was small, but it was worth seeing, if only for Andrew’s sake. He craves Rome and we have to satisfy that every now and then.

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Head shots of NancyAndrew climbed up and down the stairs of the amphitheater with Rachel on his back. I stayed down at the bottom of the amphitheater because I couldn’t imagine wanting to lug my pregnant self up the stairs moments after arriving on the “stage,” only to have to hike back down to hike back up the tourist stairs again. It sounded like too many stairs to me so I took pictures and admired the blue, unpolluted sky instead. I haven’t seen such blue skies in so long; I almost forgot what they looked like. Cairo skies never look like this!

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When Andrew and Rachel came back down, Andrew took a few pictures of me so that I could prove that I also went to Alex. Looking at these pictures has made me again notice that I’m not nearly as huge as I feel at this point but still doesn’t change the fact that I feel like a pot-bellied penguin.
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The excavated, tourable portion of the ruins is really quite small, but there are teams working at uncovering more. Andrew said that the ruins were discovered when digging the foundation for building some high rise apartments. The area was called Kom el-Dikka, or Pile of Rubble. No one knew what all those crazy rocks were for so they thought they’d build right over top of them. Little did they know, they were sitting on ancient Roman ruins.

After we’d had our fill of the amphitheater (it’s small, so it didn’t take long), we went to see some statues that were excavated from under the sea. Alexandria is slowly being swallowed by the sea and large quantities of her treasures are buried in the ocean, which really limits what the casual tourist can see. Now, if we were expert scuba divers, it would be another story.

Rachel’s favorite statue was what she so aptly described as the “lion-guy statue” (alternatively the “lion statue guy”). It was a sphinx, and that is the exact definition of a sphinx (animal + human head). She’s so smart, or simply observant.

Leaning in so Rachel can touch it

Andrew and I found the Greco-Roman-Egyptian statues interesting. At the amphitheater we saw a statue of a Greco-Roman woman wearing the crown of an Egyptian goddess. Later in the Alexandria National Museum we saw several other statues of people either wearing Egyptian garb and posed in the Greco-Roman style or wearing Greco-Roman clothes and posed in Egyptian style.

Apparently the thing on her head means she's deity

We walked from the amphitheater to the museum, which was quite trek. It didn’t look to far on the map and it didn’t even take too very long to get there, but it certainly wore us out! The museum was so worth it, though.

The museum was staffed with students, mostly Egyptian ones from what I saw, and the museum was labeled (*gasp!*), visually appealing, and had the more delicate artifacts (textiles and wood) in sealed glass cases with temperature and air controls built in. And the whole building was air conditioned. It was fabulous!

Part of a long mural across from the square with the LibraryAlexandria seems to be a very cultured and artsy city. It’s basically always been a “university town” of sorts and seems much more organized than Cairo. There were murals and statues and other artwork placed around the city; their intersections had beautiful fountains and centerpieces; and they even use traffic lights.

They actually use these here. It's a miracle!

We taxied from the museum to a restaurant called Taberna. They make pizza with hand-tossed crust, fired in a wood oven. It was so good. We also got a “shwerma pie,” which was also good. It was made with hand-tossed dough and filled with shwerma meat and vegetables. It was fun to watch the cook work; and he had fun watching up watch him work. He kept waving at Rachel.

We splurged and got fresh juice with our meal, both strawberry and lemonade. We couldn’t help ourselves; it was only 4.50 LE per glass. Juice is never that cheap in Cairo, at least not in a restaurant.

Fantastic strawberry-orange juice

From there, still too tired to walk, we taxied to the library. Taxis in Alex seem cheaper than Cairo and we never once argued with a driver about the fare. Maybe we were just overpaying? If so, we didn’t mind because we paid the same, if not less, for taxi rides than what we would have paid in Cairo.

The library is an amazing building and a wonderful tribute to modern architecture. I love when new buildings are interesting instead of blocky and boring. Unfortunately we were banned from going inside because we had Rachel with us. Children under the age of 6 are not permitted in the library. Sad day.

The tower has parts of every known alphabet

We had fun admiring the impressive exterior, though. Supposedly there are markings on the walls for every known alphabet, which I believe. In addition to what I’d consider “regular” alphabets, we saw brail, music notes, mathematical symbols and pictographs.

Minimum age for the museum is 6. Lame. Music is considered a language (although the notes are backwards) 

We walked around to the back of the museum, passing a little suq where I bought a cute and cheap dress (I’ve been wanting a dress since I’m sick trying to get my shirts to cover my belly when I wear skirts to church), and some nice street artwork.

 Part of a long mural across from the square with the LibraryPart of a long mural across from the square with the Library

We also saw some road work.

There, I fixed it.

The back of the library is supposed to look like a second sun rising out of the Mediterranean Sea. I’m not sure they accomplished their goal…but it does look interesting. It could just be me, but the statue reminds me of temple spires…

It's supposed to look like a 2nd sun rising from the Mediterranean
Probably part of the library complex

Rachel was happy to finally see the Mediterranean Sea. We told her about Alexandria the night before we left, mentioning that we’d get to see the Mediterranean Sea. When she woke up in the morning she asked if we were going to go to the “Meto-rano” yet.

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From there we went to visit Fort Qaitbey, which looked like it would have been a lot of fun to visit. However, it was closed early for some sort of a convention…Andrew was able  to convince the guards to let him take Rachel in to go to the bathroom, but that was the only thing they got to see inside the gates.

Awesome place. Too bad it was closed.

Instead of seeing that, we visited a ghetto fish museum just to the right of the fort. I think it was built like 70 years ago and has hardly been refurbished since it opened. Rachel enjoyed it, but we found it to be a little outdated and creepy. It was full of falling-apart dioramas duramas some with real, but long since dead, sea life and some with broken foam replicas.

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They even had this big whale skeleton that Rachel found fascinating.

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After fleeing the fish museum, we relaxed by the sea with some mango ice cream. There were vendors set up all along the boardwalk, which kind of reminded me of my visit to Helsinki a few years ago, except here they were selling Egyptian hud instead of Finnish hud. We were tempted to buy a shell sculpture until the salesman told us it was unbreakable and demonstrated his point by dropping it on the ground. It bounced. So we didn’t buy anything.

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Rachel, of course, got a lot of attention. One couple wanted pictures and a video with her, which they took using their phone. I swear, everyone here has cameras that do everything: take pictures, take videos, blare loud music… Anyway, the girl’s name was Rachel. She’s the first Arab Rachel that Rachel has met here. We always tell people her name is “Rasha” (pronounced like Russia) because that’s what people understand. Saying “Rachel” just confuses people.

I never thought that Rachel would have the nickname Russia. Or Dacher for that matter. I’m not sure how long either of them will stick…

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This particular Rasha was so excited that Rachel’s name was Rasha, too, which is why they needed the video, I guess. 

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We made it back to the train station in plenty of time to catch our train and probably could have wandered in several minutes late and still had time to spare thanks to the mess at the train station. The ride was much longer than expected, so I’m glad that I braved the squatter bathroom before we left.

As a general rule I avoid public restrooms, especially in the Middle East where the bathrooms are usually covered in gallons of mystery water. The floors are slippery and the bathrooms smell strongly of backed-up (or never flushed down) sewage. I don’t understand it, find it disgusting and unsanitary and therefore avoid public restrooms. Who wants to step into a mess like that? Not me.

But as strong as my dislike of public restrooms are, I would rather use a stationary one than add movement to the mix. Using the bathroom at the station was, in my opinion, much more likely to be a pleasant experience than using the bathroom on the train.

Cursing my flip flips, I waded into the bathroom and waited in line for the squatter. Once in there, I held the door shut with one hand, and kept my pant cuffs from getting too soggy with the other, while I squatted over a hole gurgling with putrid water and infested with who knows what. But at least I didn’t have to go on the train.

I basically bathed in hand sanitizer when I got out of there, lathering up my hands and squirting it between my toes. Yuck!

Rachel, on the other hand, had just gone at Fort Qaitbey so we didn’t take her before leaving on the train. It’s only a two hour ride…

Five minutes after pulling out of the station, she announced she had to go. Of course.

I told Andrew he could take her since I don’t enter moving restrooms. I would rather be peed on, I think.

He was awesome and took her, but she refused to go. She came back crying.

“I want clean bathroom! I want clean bathroom!”

I told her she could hold it for the next 2 hours until we got to Cairo or she could go back and use the messy bathroom. She told me she’d hold it. And she did.

Little did I know, our two hour ride would turn into a four hour ride. I asked her periodically if she still had to go and she’d say that she did but that she was holding it until we could find a clean bathroom. She held it all the way to Cairo and all the way home on the metro. I was amazed because I had to stop and use the washroom at the Ramses station, which she refused to enter, and which, despite having to pay to get in, rivals any other Middle Eastern public restroom in grotesqueness.

Rachel was one happy child when she saw her gleaming, yellow potty sitting on our clean and dry bathroom floor.

Hopefully the next time we go to Alex there won’t be so many delays. There are still so many things to see that we missed!


  1. I think your little girl is just about fully potty-trained.

  2. When she's awake she's 100%. It's the nighttime thing we're working on. She's only dry about 50% of the time, although she's downright refused diapers since turning two, so she sleeps in underwear now (with a diaper cover on so that I don't have to wash the sheets so often). I'm SO excited to almost be finished with this stage!

  3. Is a Red Sea Durama a Red Sea Diorama?

  4. I'm pretty sure I'd like to add a day in Alexandria to my Egypt itinerary. And, I love Rachel (and Miriam, I'm sure), but she's going to have to do something else whilst I explore the library. If I make it to Alex, I can't not visit the library. I suppose we could split up for part of the day. Anywho. Randomly pontificating. :)

    In other news, Rachel's smile slays me.