"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Alexandria: wherein "My Queen" visits the major sites

I debated whether or not to go to Alexandria pretty much right up until I got in the car.  The city was apparently 2 hours away from Cairo, which adds up to a full half-day spent in the car.  Also, given the distance and what not, this was a pretty expensive tour.  And they were going to make me get up all early in the morning again. :)

But, I paid, and I went.  And I really don't mean for this to sound bitchy, but I kind of wish I hadn't.

My guide and driver met me in my hotel's lobby at some insane hour.  5:30 AM I think?  Anyway, it was bloody early.  And so began what was not, in truth, the two-hour ride I had been told to expect.  With traffic in both Cairo and Alexandria, and a lovely queue to buy gas halfway, it was definitely approaching closer to four.

My guide's name was Ahamed (sp?), and he sported an Indiana Jones hat and not much in the way of practical, in depth knowledge of his subject, as far as I could see.  Ismail from the Tower Prestige this was not.  He had this awesome habit of prefacing sentences with "As I have told you" when he had done absolutely nothing of the kind.

And he kept calling me "My Queen".

Eventually we arrived in Alexandria and pulled up to our first stop, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa.

As always, it seemed these days, photos were forbidden inside but I got a few anyway.  Ahamed was convinced that this was the place that Cleopatra is buried; in fact there is a particularly beautiful tomb, with bas reliefs showing a woman bearing symbols and styles of both Egypt and Rome.  But for some reason, the Egyptians can't or won't open this tomb, so it appears we'll never know.  Anyway, there were lots of guards at this spot, so no photos.  Sorry.

The catacombs were extremely cool and creepy.  This being Egypt, Ahamed let me venture into some roped-off areas, and even go down to the next level that had been closed for flooding.  In the limited light provided my illegal sojourn, I saw lots of dead cockroaches and a few live ones.  Headed back up.

The catacombs were extremely creepy and awesome, and I very much enjoyed my guide-given liberty to climb around a little.  But then it was back into the car and across town to Pompey's Pillar.  And I began to see that these catacombs were maybe going to be the highlight of the day.

Seriously, it is only a testament to the incredible awesomeness that had suffused almost every hour of my trip so far that the sites Alexandria had too offer seemed lackluster by comparison.  But let's be real, the day after climbing into the heart of Khafre's pyramid, one lone Roman pillar is not going to make you squee with uncontainable joy.  It's just a perspective thing I suppose.  Jaded by ancient splendor after four days, who would have thought? :)

It's a cool site, even if there's not much left.  One of the best things were the underground tunnels.

With the lighting, this reminded me of a Predator spaceship
It was also here that Ahamed and I would get our signature photo taken, at his request.  This was the end result of several Egyptian teenage girls in traditional dress asking if they could take their photo with me.  "Look, here I am with this silly, giant, half-dressed, bright pink person!"  You're welcome, Egyptian Facebook.

Then it was time for more Roman ruins, and Ahamed and I headed back to mobile air-conditioning on our way to check out one of several Roman amphitheaters.

And then, it was time for lunch.  Fresh from yesterday's extreme and expensive awkwardness, I very nicely told Ahamed I wanted to go somewhere very quick and casual for lunch.  "A chicken schwarma place would be fine," I said.

Well, wouldn't you know, but apparently there just wasn't one single place in the entire city of Alexandria that would fit that description.

I was trying, as I had been trying my entire time in Egypt, to not be bothered by small stuff.  But this fired me up something fierce.  We are in what is probably Egypt's second-greatest city, and you're telling me you physically cannot take me to once single goddam cafe where they have goddam chicken schwarma on a stick so I don't have to throw back another 150 EGP for a fucking awkward lunch?

I'm sorry, but this was my tour.  My private tour.  I was paying no small amount for this, and I really did not think it was too much to ask that my guide honor a very simple preference request for lunch.  Apparently, it was.

Ahamed sulked through the entirety of our next stop, which was the Citadel of Qaitbey, built on the ruins of the Alexandria Lighthouse.  I did not get much "guiding" here, that's for sure.

I was basically ignoring him and romping around, but it cannot be denied that my time at Qaitbey was my first experience at a major historical site while dragging along a small child.  I now have appreciatively more respect for parents with recalcitrant toddlers.

Ahamed did not let his sulk get in the way of asking for our second picture together.

After the Citadel, we walked down to the end of a nearby pier.

It was here that Ahamed took my hands, looked sorrowfully into my eyes, and said: "My Queen, I wish so much to honor your request.  But it is just not possible."

Of course.

At which point, I sighed, smiled, and said: "That's okay, Ahamed.  You take us wherever you like.  I'm sure it will be great."  There is only so much one woman can do against the onslaught of Egyptian shenanigans.

And so it was that my hapless guide and I arrived at a seaside fish place which was inevitably where we were fated to be all along.  Once again, it had an expensive fixed menu but at least, praise the sweet Lord, had beer.  And Ahamed sat with me while our driver did not, which was a mixed blessing because it meant I didn't have to eat lunch alone again, but it did mean I had to have lunch with Ahamed.

The mezes, or the equivalent of what they call them in Arabic, were quite good, and the fish wasn't bad either, although I kind of did get my fill of heads and tails while in Georgia.  A chicken schwarma would have been really ideal here.  I scandalized the waiter by ordering a beer, and then scandalized him further, plus Ahamed and everyone else in the entire restaurant, when I ordered a second.  It was... necessary.  I was wondering if Ahamed sitting with me meant I might be paying for his lunch as well, but thankfully when the bill came, this was not the case.  Small favors.

Finally, lunch was over and we were off again, this time to the Library of Alexandria.  Of course, the original Library has been completely destroyed, but they've built a new one, very modern.  (I had to check my backpack in a separate kiosk, this will be relevant later.)  Inside... it's a library.  I was feeling a little bit of... "Why did we come here?", but there happened to be an interesting modern art exhibit which we walked through.  Ahamed kept poking at the art to try and impress me.  Best guide ever.

After the gallery, there was a Rare Books and Manuscripts Room which you could pay extra to see.  Not wanting this site to be a total loss, I paid, and was very glad I did.

The manuscripts room was excellent, and Ahamed actually translated some texts for me, this making it the first time he had made himself useful as anything other than a protective male escort in Egypt.  (Which really was most of what I wanted when I booked the tours anyway, so no giant harm done I suppose.)

On the way back to the car, Ahamed forgot about my backpack and I had to remind him.  Once again, best guide ever.  Top notch.

And that was it for Alexandria.  I really enjoyed it, and was really sorry I happened to see it with Ahamed.  We had a log ride back with traffic once again in both cities, and a gas queue.  (The gas situation in Cairo was kind of critical while I was there; frankly I felt really lucky to have gotten to drive to Alexandria at all.)  On the drive home, Ahamed reviewed my itinerary and start times for tomorrow (Egyptian Museum and downtown Cairo), and mentioned specifically that he would not be my guide on the following day.  I thought: "Good", because I had been planning to say something to my hotel, but if the situation was taken care of, I saw no reason to make a fuss.

Big mistake.  Huge.

Guide shenanigans and hilarity continues in the next post!  Stay classy, internet.


  1. Which request was impossible to honor? The light Shawarma lunch?

    Though what you ultimately got certainly looks good.

    1. Yep. And the lunch was fine, just literally ten times the price and way too much food. :) But I was pissed mainly because I was being so obviously and blatantly lied to. There are NO quick casual lunch places in the entire city of Alexandria? Really?

      Oh, and because he was such a complete child when he thought he wasn't going to get his way. This is the tour and guide that I paid for.

  2. omg this is awesome. I love it.