09 April, 2010

Adventuring in Alexandria

I lied. I'm a day late on updating the blog, but at least its only a day and not seven. So, without further ado, here's the Alex Adventure. (Also, please note that I took 230 photos while in Alex and have chosen to only place ones of the actual locations in this post. Thanks!)

Spring Break began with a trip to Alexandria, Alex for short. It was the place that I had been waiting to see since I arrived in Egypt. The thrill of the new library standing where the old one once stood, the legend of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra and everything that has become so popularized in Ancient Egyptian history was to be found in this Mediterranean city. 

We left on Thursday at 12:30pm and began the trip to Alex. It was a short 3 hour bus ride compared to the trip to Siwa. I was awake for most of it, except for the very end when I started to dose. 

Arriving into the city was one of the beautiful things I've seen since I've been in Egypt. The sea line is a brilliant blue and the city resembles that of an old European city, as opposed to Cairo. It was also so much cleaner than Cairo, I wasn't sure if I would be able to make myself leave. 

We checked into our hotel, the Windsor Palace, an old fashioned hotel from the 1920s or so it seemed. It was almost like an episode of the twilight zone, but it was perfect for me to sit in and think about the current movie projects that I'm trying to write. 

I once again roomed with Shruti, which is always fun. Our room this time was extremely big and open and the beds were the comfiest beds I have slept in since I started traveling. We spent a little bit of time in our room where I wrote some plot outline for one of the movies I've picked back up and I read some more of the "Yacoubian Building" until 8pm when it was dinner time. 

Dinner was pretty much a food stipend that allowed us to eat wherever we wanted. So, I went with Garrett, Moose, Haley, Ann, Shruti, Will and Lindley to the China House for some pretty awesome Chinese food. I got some wanton soup, honey chicken with fried rice and I finally got the spring rolls that I've been craving. Sadly, my honey chicken took a really long time to come out, which makes me feel like they forgot it, but I did eventually get it and it was delicious when I did. 

After dinner Will, Lindley, Moose and myself stopped for some tea and to get some sheesha. The tea was awesome, but a little more expensive than in a cafe you get in Cairo, and I did try the sheesha, though I'm not sure if I would try it again. But, sitting on the street outside of the cafe was just wonderful. You could really feel the energy of Alex and see the people move about. It was almost like being in a movie. Everything working together to create a moment; nothing going wrong, and nothing out of place. 

We finished up at the cafe and then wandered back to the hotel, where I went back to reading and writing until about 12:30am when Moose called and asked if we wanted to come out. Well, because I was already still awake, I said sure and met everyone to go. We didn't leave until about 1:00am and by that time I was already pretty tired. So, when we found the bar we were going to go to, I was almost entirely exhausted though still ready to have some fun.  

The bar, however, did not feel the same way. It was crowded, with standing room only and I was not particularly happy with that. Neither were the other girls, so I followed them to try and find something else to do. We ended up finding Tyler and Will who had stopped at a desert cart and were talking to the gentlemen running the cart. We chatted for a bit, got some desert from the cart which was absolutely amazing (it was basically a fried dough ball coated in melted chocolate) and then headed back to the hotel. I believe I got to sleep around 2:30am or so, which gave me a decent amount of sleep having to be up bright and early the next morning. 

Friday morning started with a wake up call at 7am. I showered and got to blow my hair dry with a hair dryer...I've never been so happy and then I wandered to get breakfast...which was not in the lobby area as I thought it would have been, but on the roof of the hotel where the view was amazing. 

The breakfast was good and relaxing. It was definitely a great way to start out sightseeing day. 

Our first stop was the Roman Amphitheater (see left) where they also have some artifacts that have been found underwater. It was pretty neat to sit where the ancient Egyptians would have stood. I tried to imagine when I was there what it must have felt like and I concluded that it probably would have felt just like it does now when I sit in large lecture halls listening to a professor...a bit boring...oh well. 

We left the amphitheater and moved on to see Pompey's Pillar (see right), the only remaining structure of a once great temple. The remains around it are statues and areas of underground tunnels. I wandered down into some with Dr. Nicole (my hieroglyphs and arts professor). I love wandering through tunnels and old places and these corridors weren't any different. 

After we left the site, we went to our final site before lunch...the Catacombs. These were some tombs from the Greco-Roman period in Ancient Egyptian history and they were pretty cool. Climbing down into them reminded me of climbing down into the mines in Kutna Hora. I wasn't allowed to take any pictures, but seeing the tombs was pretty interesting, especially because I was able to talk a little about the tombs and see some similarities to the older periods of history. The only complaint I had about being down in the catacombs was the amount of Korean tourists that were in there with us. They were rude and loud. 

Lunch soon followed at Anthineos, where I got some kind of grilled fish dish with rice. It was ok, but it wasn't the best thing I've ever had. 

After lunch we resumed our sight seeing with Fort Qait Bey (see left), now a mosque. This was a rather interesting adventure as there were boy scout-type people dancing and singing. Some of the kids on the trip with us danced with them and I caught it on video. There were also a lot of people taking pictures of us as we toured the fort. For some reason, Egyptians think it's ok to take pictures of us without asking, but if we take pictures of them, they get angry. It's kind of annoying actually. I did get some really pretty pictures of Alexandria from the fort though. 

Our last stop for the day was the Library. The one thing that I had been hoping to see since I arrived in Cairo 2.5 months ago. It was gorgeous. I looked around in the antiquities museum first and that was much more enjoyable than the Egyptian Museum as everything at least had a small label of some kind. I then went and into the library and stared in awe at the books. It was beautiful. The tour we took was quite enjoyable as well.
The library from the inside down on the floor with some of the books.
 Inside again, but from above. Taken during the tour. 
A part of the library from the outside. This place is huge
We left the Library of Alexandria and headed back to the hotel exhausted. We only had about an hour and a half to kind of just chill, so I took a quick nap, but ended up cutting it short as the hotel was working on painting a room and the paint fumes had started to make me sick. So, I left and went downstairs to wait until dinner time, which was only 15 minutes away anyway. 

Dinner was at the Greek Club and I got some pretty delicious Shrimp Alfredo. I don't really know what to say about dinner, it was a pretty average meal. I talked with people and we joked around. And for once I felt very comfortable and like I fit in again. 

But, as usual the cliches resumes after dinner and I don't know where the other half of the group wandered to. I got ice cream with Ann, Shruti, Haley and Professor Sherinne (one of the professors on the trip with us) and spent the rest of the night hanging out with Shruti, Ann and Lindley watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico before crashing for the night.

Breakfast the next morning made me extremely happy. I got an omelet made for me with roast beef bits and cheese, plus a pastry. So delicious! I once again enjoyed the view so very much, but I could have done without the wind that had started to blow a little bit. 

We left the hotel around 9:30am or so and headed to go and see the old walls of the ancient city(see right), which were pretty cool to look at. Sadly, though they have been kept in disarray and not really kept like a historical site. There is not much to indicate what they are except a small sign with bad English. We wanted to see the cisterns of the city too, but sadly they have been closed to the public.

We then headed to see the palace. I'm not talking about an ancient Egyptian palace, but a more modern one built by King Fuad in 1932. It is known as Al-Haramlik Palace  (see left)and is a Presidential residence. We were not allowed to go inside, but looking at it was beautiful. And for those who know me well, you know that I judge a country based on their castles/palaces and this one just bumped Egypt a little higher on my list. 

After seeing the palace and taking pictures of us in front of it as we normally do when playing tourist, we headed down the road a little to the beach. 

This was my favorite part of the trip. I sat on the beach and watched the waves roll in and I even went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea with Garrett, Will and Tyler (no one else would get in). The water was cold at first, but the more you stayed in, the more comfortable it became. We swam for about half and hour or so before getting out to lounge on the beach with the others. 
The beach along the Mediterranean Sea. It was so blue!
 Ann plays with Mohamed in the sand.
A little bit later, Dr. Riham (our new academic adviser here), Professor Sherinne, Mohammed (Dr. Riham's little boy) and myself rented a paddle boat and went out on the sea for a little bit of time. None of them really knew how to steer the paddle boat, especially when some of the other boats in the area started creating more waves than necessary (boating rules obviously don't apply here either). Luckily, my years of paddle boating experience took over and I prevented us from falling over board and such. 

We returned to the shore and then shortly after left for lunch at Chili's (ahhh...chicken strips and delicious American food) before heading back to Cairo. 

The ride home was pretty standard. Lots of sleeping, lots of people planning out where they were heading once we got home, and lots more sleeping. We did make a stop on the way home for a quick bathroom break and the place we stopped had a playground. Naturally, we all became 5-year-olds again and had to play before being called back to the bus by Dr. Nicole. 
Everyone playing on the playground like we're 5.
We made it back to Cairo around 7:30pm. It was dark and the city was abuzz as if we had never left. And that was the start of Spring Break Egypt.

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