Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Last Day in Egypt


Before beginning today's recap, there are two things I left out yesterday. The area of the Mediterranean Sea near the Fort we walked around is the proposed site for an underwater museum. This project has been in the works on and off since 1996. There are many ancient Egyptian treasures down there that have either been discarded there by the Muslims or have been lost to the sea after many years.
Two years after the Egyptian revolution, in September 2013, UNESCO and Egyptian authorities rekindled the project once again, and a group of specialists and archaeologists selected the Mediterranean city of Alexandria as a location because of its priceless underwater treasures and relics.
Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, the Alexandria bay holds such sunken treasures as Cleopatra's Royal Court and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The other point I forgot to mention, is that we ran into the head of Medusa again. Just like Istanbul, she is underground - this time we saw her in the catacombs.
The façade of the main burial chamber is decorated with some Greek elements, such as the shield of the Goddess Athena, on top of which is the head of Medusa, and as we know, according to the ancient Greek myths, Medusa was able to petrify anyone who looked into her eyes. The representation of Medusa here was to protect the tomb.

We started today off with a visit to the Montaza Palace. Absolutely, perfect morning. We walked along the sea wall to watch the fishermen. What a spot to spend the morning. Next we drove up to the Palace area. There are two palaces here but the smaller one is closed for renovations.
The extensive Montaza Palace grounds first had the Palace, built in 1892 by Khedive Abbas II, the last Muhammad Ali Dynasty ruler to hold the Khedive title over the Khedivate of Egypt and Sudan. It was used as a hunting lodge and residence for his companion.
The larger Al-Haramlik Palace and royal gardens were added to the Montaza Palace grounds, being built by King Fuad I in 1932, as a summer palace. It is in a mixture of Turkish and Florentine styles, with has two towers, one rising distinctively high above with elaborated Italian Renaissance design details. The palace has long open arcades facing the sea along each floor.
President Anwar El-Sadat renovated the original Salamlek Palace as an official presidential residence. It was most recently used by former president Hosni Mubarak.
Our final stop leaving Alexandria was the library that stands where the ancient Alexandria library stood. Ash explained that they had hired a machine to do all the writing on the walls, but it wasn't going to get there in time for the opening, a month and a half away. So they hired stone cutters from all over upper Egypt to do it by hand. They were able to get the job done in only one month. The writings are a collection of many different languages. It is a spectacular building right on the sea.
The Royal Library of Alexandria or Ancient Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BCE until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE, with collections of works, lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens. The library was part of a larger research institution called the Museum of Alexandria, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.
The modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina is trilingual, containing books in Arabic, English, and French. In 2010, the library received a donation of 500,000 books from the National Library of France, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The gift makes the Bibliotheca Alexandrina the sixth-largest Francophone library in the world. The BA also is now the largest depository of French books in the Arab world, surpassing those of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, in addition to being the main French library in Africa. 
We are now back in the bus heading to Cairo. Stopped at the Dina Farms rest area. Very nice cafe and mini-market. Looked for hot sauce but still only found Heinz. Not going to give up the pursuit. We ordered our first feteer. Ash says they make the best around. Didn't really have anything to compare it to but it was pretty darn good. Time to get back on the road - about another hour to Cairo.

Back into the hustle bustle of Cairo. Stopped into a perfume and oil outlet to try to pick up some massage oil. No luck. Sorry Lucy, but the prices were just too steep and I just couldn't justify the purchase. The oils from Southeast Asia seemed more effective. But we tried. We were still on the hunt for the hot sauce. Ashy took us into a local supermarket - no photos please. That was fabulous, even though all we saw were rows and rows of Heinz products or it said "made in USA." So no luck there either. But walking through the supermarket was well worth the stop. Again our senses were overwhelmed with aromas, colors and people of all kinds. Ashy says he is friends with an owner of a Kosheri restaurant and that he makes his own hot sauce. He is going to try to get some from him. Big score if he succeeds.

He also has the photo of us with Jehan Sadat so hopefully we will get that before we leave. Plus, Ashy has a few Suez Canal commemorative coins that he might part with. Last  year they issued about 2 million coins to commemorate the new Suez Canal expansion project. Let's hope he remembers all this stuff.

This is our last check-in at the Mercure Sphinx Hotel. They all know us by now we have come and gone so much.  For our last Egyptian meal, we are going back to the Caviar restaurant  for dinner with our last view of the Pyramids. This is a Muslim restaurant, so no alcohol - but Ashy said he will send the office boy out to get me a bottle of wine so I can BYOB. This might be a first for these people.

I have talked about history and culture, it might be a good idea to talk about the political environment before we depart. In our observation it appears that most people seem to take a neutral position about their  government. When the revolution of 2011 came, it had an extremely negative effect on the tourist industry and it still hasn't recovered. Hotels, roads, tourist destinations, the Nile River boats, all suffer from the last five years of neglect. But everywhere we go people seem genuinely glad to see foreigners. Of course spending money makes them happier.

When the Muslim Brotherhood became a political power they did so, in part, by calling home ex-patriot radical Egyptians who were in Afghanistan, Syria, etc. Once the Brotherhood fell out of favor these supporters have gone "away". The country is still trying to find it's way and things are slowly returning to an equilibrium. Still there is a great wealth gap between the rich and everyone else. The middle class is very small. Within the last five years, they have had as many as four or five administration changes and it really doesn't seem to matter who gets in - the effect is still the same. The poor stay poor.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have poured into Egypt and they are integrating well. They start off in low level jobs and with hard work they become successful business and shop owners. Some Egyptians would rather deal with the Syrian owned businesses because they are more honest and the quality of their work is better. A lesson is to be learned here.

Egypt has been a very kind country to us.  The people have been nothing but welcoming. We have learned and experienced so much. It is a shame so much fear is generated by the media prohibiting people from enjoying all this country has to offer. We would like to thank Sito Tours, who provided all the arrangements in Egypt and made sure we saw and did everything we wanted and more. We thank all of our Mohammad drivers and guides who helped us along the way. And, most importantly, we will especially miss our newly adopted son, Ashy. He has been so kind and patient and more than
accommodating. After all, we are not your average tourists. Ah, my wine has arrived!

Good-bye to the Land of the Pharaohs and thank you.

Next time... Finally...Israel


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