Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A Desert Adventure

We have spent the last two days on 'Cairo to Cairo', our hosts' improvised version of 'Paris - Daccar' (the ultimate in rallies). Ours might only have been a round trip from Cairo, but driving over 100 km in the desert, off-road, up and down sandy escarpments with a height difference of 200 metres, was quite challenging.

There were 11 of us, in 5 cars, and we saw just one other group of people all weekend. The smog and 20 million people of Cairo were soon left behind. The camp site we chose in the middle of the desert was idyllic, with a magnificent sunset (pictured above), followed by fine dining and a '60s classics night of music and revelry.

Brad was very proud of the twigs he had brought for the camp fire

Tricky, this desert driving, especially for women drivers!

To be fair, most of us got stuck from time to time, but the magnificent fleet, aided by tow ropes, shovels and aluminium boards,always managed to escape from the quicksand!

'Bunny hopping' down some of the dunes was great fun, if a little scary


But we all made it to this idyllic camp site in the middle of nowhere.


Today, Bill's scrambled eggs and John's sausages set us up for a second 6 hour drive in the desert. The sand was deep at times and all 4 Pajeros had their difficulties, with the Land Cruiser performing impeccably. Periods of driving flat out at 30 mph just to (not always) avoid being stuck were interspersed with speedier sections through a desert full of hidden dips, ridges, rocks and dunes. The absence of a safety net for the luggage in our Pajero did make life interesting for the rear passenger when the car took off - but for the driver it was great fun!

There was a 'girlies' car for Alison, Sue and Ruth

Bill, David and I hammered a rented Pajero in between stopping to collect a few sharks' teeth and rummage through whale bones and coral from the ancient sea bed from which the is desert formed.

Sharks teeth (above)

The hunt for whale bones (below), with Tina admiring her cache




Thanks go to Bill and Alison and their ex-pat friends for organising this trip, inviting us along, and giving us loads of driving opportunity.

It was brilliant.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Religion and Boats

Sue lounges outside the library in Alexandria

Coptic Cairo was clean, uncrowded and peaceful! The museum was a delight and the nearby streets featured Coptic churches of St George (Girgis), a synagogue and the oldest mosque in Cairo.


The afternoon saw us (except Martin, who was confined to bed with 'Cairo Belly') escape to the wide Nile under the sail of a feluka, sipping chilled bubbly as the sun sunk lower in the blue sky.

Then followed an evening of packing for our next adventure!


So you may not hear from us for a couple of days.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum


This museum was today's highlight, in particular the Tutankhamen Galleries which feature all things 'Boy King', including the 11kg funerary mask - a gold headdress inlaid with lapis lazuli, quartz and obsidian. The Rough Guide to Egypt devotes an intense 11 pages to the museum; thankfully (dear reader) I have no intention of competing with it!

Photography is banned inside the museum, so the picture was taken outside.
The lilies were in full bloom - very pretty.


A walk through busy streets was quite satisfying. Two legs in Cairo are definitely quicker than 4 wheels!



To our right the River Nile stretched through the city, a vast waterway and amenity, with frequent bridges linking the divide.



Back in Maadi, Alison, Ruth (Bill's sister) and David had now joined the party, and the evening was spent enjoying an excellent Chinese meal á la Alison, and a further slide show in the villa's large, cool, comfy lounge.

It's snowing at home, so we are told.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Egyptian Taxis

For the last few days we have been savouring the delights of Egyptian taxis. They are black and white in Cairo, black and yellow in Alexandria. Mainly old Fiats and Ladas, with a few Peugeots thrown in to the mix - the latter are possibly the safest as they have the loudest horns.

In my youth I enjoyed dodgem cars. We bashed into each other a lot but never suffered from 'whiplash'. I understand that Health & Safety paranoia now rules that dodgems must live up to their name and actually dodge each other in the confined spaces of their rings.

Egyptian taxis are like these modern dodgems - testosterone fuelled macho dodgem cars with hi-fi, lots of flashing lights, nodding dogs, fancy steering wheels and gear sticks, a huge array of mirrors, and much more besides. It really is amazing how they manage, most of the time, to dodge!

Today's postcard shows them in a quiet boulevard outside the railway station in Alex, from where we adjourned after the excitement of Selwa and Amro's wedding celebrations, for our journey back 'home' to Cairo.

Monday, 27 October 2008

An Egyptian Wedding

Here are Selwa and Amro with their bridesmaids, at their wedding in Alexandria on 27 October 2008.

Sue and I can take the occasional reasonable landscape photo. We are not much good at indoor or 'people' photography. But we (mainly Sue) did our best, whilst many others did likewise, and a professional trailed around with a ladder, and an assistant to carry the heavy electrical cables for his powerful equipment. So Selwa and Amro will have a video of the entire proceedings.

Our own video is a little shorter, and comprises mainly of 'stills'. It concludes with the lengthy Cake Ceremony, which may stretch some of your attention spans...

Here it is:




It was raining as we strolled over to the ballroom venue! We found our table and conversed with amiable strangers from Manchester. After a while the band struck up and we returned to the vast atrium to see Selwa and her father come down the stairs, to be greeted by Amro and his father, ascending. Swathes of white cloth adorned the balustrades. Everyone swapped around and Selwa and Amro continued to the bottom of the stairs together. We all stood in the atrium, whilst the band played noisily, before adjourning to our tables in the ballroom.

Selwa and Amro sat on a bench on a stage, again backed by swathes of white material. Then they danced, surrounded by billows of dry ice, then joined by lots of the guests. Music was contrived from a mixture of Arabic and Western influences.

Sometime after midnight we ate, from a buffet of salads and hot food - a fine selection. It had been a long time since lunch! Selwa and Amro were brought food at a table set for two, in front of the stage. Photos were taken (that took some time) and the cake cutting ceremony was then undertaken. The 5-tier cake was erected on what looked like a pile of cardboard boxes in one corner of the room. This involved the pair climbing the precarious construction, slicing each layer of (sponge) cake, and feeding it to each other. All very serious and amusing at the same time.

Next came a live band with a macho singer who insisted on solos from Amro, then Selwa. Then more dancing before proceedings wound up at around 2.30 am, actually rather earlier than we had expected!

It was good to meet the guests and see everyone having such a good time. We enjoyed it a lot.

A long lie in was most welcome before we checked out next day at 11.45 before enjoying an indulgent breakfast of brownies and coffee in the Plaza.

Then it was back to the station,where we had plenty of time to wander amongst ornate lamps in the gardens opposite, and to admire the stained glass windows of Masr station's canopy.


Monday 27 October - Pompey's Pillar and The Catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa

Whilst waiting in Alexandria for the purpose of our visit - which commenced at 10.30 this evening - we enjoyed the day in the huge city of Alex.

Pompey's Pillar (pictured above), dating from before 200BC, may tower 25 metres above a limestone ridge, but the lofty heights failed to attract Orange's Egyptian partner. So yesterday's message finally went late today when a freak burst of reception was encountered. Who knows when this one will hit the airwaves.

The pillar dominates a well groomed area of antiquity. There isn't much left of the nearby temple of Serapis, but there are the remains of a library and some underground galleries where the sacred Apis bulls were interred. The library was destroyed by Christian mobs in AD391. There are also three sphinxes and a Nilometer to attract the hordes of tourists who arrive by coach rather than by our form of transport - a battered yellow and black cab. The cabs here are truly manic, they make the taxi men of Cairo seem like Sunday afternoon drivers.

It was a good place to spend an hour before wandering through interesting streets to the Catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa. On the way we passed stalls laden with luscious fruit and veg - the Nile delta is after all the bread basket of Africa.

Looking down a side street, we expected to see thirsty tourists enjoying the ambience of a street café.

The extensive Catacombs (no photography allowed, sorry) were discovered by an unfortunate donkey in 1900. It's a complex on three levels, reached by a spiral staircase past the 35 metre deep shaft (right down to the water table) through solid rock down which bodies were lowered. These catacombs were in fact an extensive burial chamber dating from before 200BC. They are truly magnificent and amazing to wander around. Different chambers house the dead, depending on their social class, with places for relatives to toast the dead from stone couches.

We were still some way from our next target, the waterfront, so we braved another taxi before enjoying a late, enormous and delicious lunch at the 'Fish Market' restaurant, with fine views over the harbour.

Scallops, Grouper and Sea Bream accompanied a salad with a massive array of dips. Easily enough to last until our next meal, which was scheduled for midnight.

Our perambulations concluded with a walk along the waterfront to Fort Qaitbey, a Toytown citadel buffeted by spray. It was built in the 1480s, which may sound like a long time ago, but it was constructed on the site of the Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, which itself was completed in 283BC. The ravages of earthquakes and treasure seekers put paid to the Pharos, but since 1990 divers have found over 2500 stone objects, including the head of Ptolemy and some huge 50-70 ton monoliths that can only have come from the ancient lighthouse.

Then it was back to the hotel for a rest and a read before 'The Main Event', which started at 10.30 pm!

Sunday 26 October - Bibliotheca Alexandrina

This is a view towards the Mediterranean from outside the new library in Alexandria. More images will follow when we return home (see below). The library cost $355 million and was inaugurated in 2002, some 15 years after being approved by UNESCO.

It's a magnificent place, with a museum and exhibitions. There is still angst surrounding the taking of two 'Cleopatra's Needles' from the city by the Americans and the English in the late 19th century.

We had taken the train to Alexandria, where this Roman Theatre is a short walk from the station.


The theatre is thought to be connected with Alexandria's ancient university, with an annual enrolment of 5000 students. Within the complex is a villa with mosaic floors depicting nine species of birds. Here's a detail:

Next we trundled along to the Corniche - a busy, unforgiving road, almost impossible to cross, to reach the modern library, outside which this white sculpture was redolent against the deep blue sky.

Inside the library a wall of intricate metalwork incorporates some nice touches.

Whilst from the outside the building does look rather futuristic. This image was taken on a horizantal plane from the front of the library, so the building looks a bit like a huge spaceship from Star Wars.

We adjourned to our new home, Alexandria's Hilton Green Plaza Hotel, and a meal at the Splash Restaurant where a very jolly waiter displayed a lovely sense of humour.