December 26, 2015
Last full day in Egypt. We got to sleep in a little bit, although I didn’t. This early to bed early to rise schedule has me waking up between 5 and 6 every morning. That and my stuffy nose and inability to breath had me laying awake hours before the alarm went off. We were headed to Alexandria with only 2 other people from our group. We had said goodbye to the rest of them in Luxor, lots of hugs and well wishes, and some tearing up when we gave Waleed his card. The other people we would be going to Alexandria with had taken the train the night before as we flew. A decision we do not regret making based on the less than stellar reports from the train riders. Nate and I showered then headed out for breakfast. We were set to meet the train group between 8:30 and 9AM. They arrived around 8:45.
Nate and I both had to quickly run back to our room to collect forgotten sunglasses when we saw Waleed. His mother was in the hospital due to a pacemaker surgery that had gone awry and he told us he thought she might die, so we weren’t sure we would see him again. When we did he hugged us and told us that he swore our card was the best he had ever received. I started to tear up as he told us how much he loved us. When he saw me holding back tears he grabbed my check. I love him. He is the most unbelievable human I have ever met.
So, after that close call with an emotional breakdown we got on the bus to head to Alexandria. It was supposed to be a two-hour drive north and didn’t seem half bad until we actually got near the city. We took the 100 Alexandria desert highway all the way there, but the city was packed. Our guide who didn’t speak as clearly or seem to know as much as Waleed, told us that there are roughly 5 million people in Alexandria and I believe it. There seemed to be more traffic than even Cairo.
The first site we came to was called the Catacombs and I couldn’t take pictures or video inside but I could on the outside. It was built during the time that Alexander had come to Egypt. Being the nice guy that he was, Alexander didn’t force anyone to assimilate but appreciated their culture. Thus the catacombs were a mixture of mummified and cremated graves with Roman/Egyptian influence. It was discovered in a similar way as King Tut’s tomb, on accident by a water boy. The catacombs were discovered after a Japanese team spent 12 years searching to no avail and then one day a donkey slipped into the sinkhole and ta-dah! The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, our guide told us, translates to "Mound of Shards." Visitors to the burial site would bring food and drinks in terra cotta jars and break them before leaving. Thus, leaving a mound of shards.
We walked down a very Roman inspired spiral staircase into the well. There were a few main areas that were dry and you could see the sarcophaguses of some wealthy people that had been mummified but had Roman style engravings on their tomb. The side corridors however, which housed urns and ashes, were flooded. Cement blocks held wobbly 2x4s as pathways for visitors to walk on. It was very cool. We spent about 30 minutes there then moved on to the next sight, which was two Egyptian minutes away. The next site was an old Roman amphitheater. It was rather small in size but cool nonetheless. It would have been used mostly for theater and entertainment. There were some lovely mosaics on the ground, well preserved too. The third stop was to Pompey’s Pillar. The surrounding area looked like a big cat exhibit at the zoo, very lush and green with the pillar in the center next to a Roman bath. The pillar was once part of a temple that had been destroyed in a series of natural disasters, leaving only the pillar standing. The pillar today is the largest of it's type standing outside of Europe. The weather here was noticeably more humid and while it felt nice with the breeze outside, in the car was hot! We got stuck in major traffic going through the market on the way to the next stop. A mixture of three funeral processions, a busy market and no traffic laws meant very slow moving (or barely moving at all) for about 10 minutes. Eventually, as we came down a main road the guide told us we would be able to see the Mediterranean Sea. It looked like a mixture of a California boardwalk and a Mexican resort town with buildings lining the peninsula (or delta) of the coast.
Alexandria University, which is apparently a prestigious school, was packed with students and right across the stress from the Bibliotheca Alexandria, or the great Alexandrian Library. The library had been rebuilt after 2 natural disasters wiped it out. Neither Nate nor I really knew what to expect and it truly surpassed anything we could have imagined. Part museum, library, planetarium, book making factory and on-line avenue to education. This place was amazing. The architecture alone could have been it’s own museum but below it hundreds of students worked, read and studied. The pillars were shaped like papyrus plants, the windows like eyes. Only letting in enough indirect, natural, light to be functional without compromising the books. The guide that led us around the museum/library was also amazing. She was dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, speaking fluent English, and sooo well prepared. We were sad we didn’t get to spend more time at the library because we only just saw a fraction of this amazing place. Nate and I agreed that on our return trip to Egypt we would make this a priority!
We walked around outside for a minute, playing with a solar powered fountain and looking at the structural eyelashes that cover the internal eye windows. We also saw the planetarium before leaving. Our last destination before heading to lunch was the castle, or what used to be the lighthouse of Alexandria. We only walked around outside for a little bit, taking pictures by the sea. I think our guide was tired, or board, or just not that good but he didn’t really tell us anything about it. Finally our last stop was to lunch, but it was 4:00pm by this point, so it was more like an early dinner. Lunch was included in our Alexandria trip costs, as usual except for the drinks.
The restaurant was very nice inside. Nate ordered the fish, which was tilapia and came with calamari. I got pizza with tomato and olives. I will never get tired of the plethora of olives available here. In addition Nate got a mango juice and I got banana. The banana juice had been hard to come by, even when it was listed on the menu it had never been available so I was glad I finally got to try it, and it did not disappoint. They also brought us pita bread with hummus and soup that was very good. While it was nice to see Alexandria it had been a long day and we knew we had a long drive ahead so we were all ready to head back as soon as we finished eating. The ride back through epic traffic was frustrating and our driver was aggressive, to say the least. Although I may have encouraged this by telling him to drive “Egypt fast” on the way there, which basically means recklessly.
When we were about half way back our guide got a call from the jeweler, who was at the hotel with my bracelet. It was clear that he would be waiting a while if he were to stay until we got back so he told me he would meet me in the hotel lobby the next morning at 9:30. Perfect. I was so excited to see my bracelet! We were wiped out when we got back to the hotel but still had to pack and get ready to leave Egypt the next morning. Nate’s flight left before mine so he had a 6:30 pick up time with several other people from our group. I had a 10:30 pick up just by myself. I also had to figure out my Phuket transfer information, which Ron had tried to help me with the night before at the airport. All of this on top of a busy day and I was feeling like crap, blowing my nose every thirty seconds. We got packed and I scribbled down some notes on the hotel stationary about what my flights over the next couple of days would be and where I was supposed to meet Mary. Eventually we curled up in our beds and fell asleep watching couples retreat.