Now I know why I don’t usually blog. It takes way too long. I’ve been traveling through Hong Kong, Macau, and Thailand over the past week and haven’t had much access to affordable internet. Now I’m in Alexandria, which feels like a different century altogether. I’ll have to fill in the blanks on Asia later.
Mary Anne and I got into Cairo after a 9 hour flight which almost didn’t happen. The tour agency we used forgot to confirm our Egypt Air flights from Bangkok to Cairo so our reservation was automatically cancelled by their system. Despite getting to the airport 3 hours early, we ended up rebooking the flight on the spot with 50,000 baht cash and sprinting from immigration to the departure gate to make the plane 6 minutes before takeoff. Really makes me hate how big the new BKK airport is. After catching our breath and sleeping the entire flight we arrived in Cairo at 6am to wait around for the domestic leg to Alexandria. Turns out our return flight is cancelled, so we'll have to take a train back to Cairo. A little tip, trains are much cheaper, more flexible, and nearly as fast as flying if it's a bullet train. Probably could have done without the flight in retrospect.
A few impressions about Cairo. Their airport needs a lot of work. Despite having a new international terminal, the airport is incredibly dated and security is laughable. There’s also nothing to do there when you have a 5 hour layover. Also, apart from tourists, 95% of the people there are men. I guess women just don’t fly domestically that much??
Not sure why they bother carrying around automatic weapons. The security is really laughable. Must be the intimidation factor.
Flying into Alexandria felt like traveling back in time and to the equivalent of whatever middle-America is over here. In contrast to Cairo, where every 5 seconds someone asks you if you want a taxi, we had to wait around the Alexandria airport for 10 minutes to get a taxi who eventually tried to charge 3 times what it should cost. Luckily we had asked one of the Egypt Air flight attendants how much it should have been ~ no more than 15 LE (Egyptian pounds). The exchange rate is something like 5.6 so that works out to somewhere around $2.50 USD. Since we had no luck bargaining with the first driver, we walked out of the airport on foot with luggage in tow. It was only a 5 minute walk to the street where we found that every other car was a yellow/black city taxi. Unfortunately, the first 4 we talked to didn’t have any idea where our hotel was. Not a great sign. The 5th guy figured it out from the street name and we finally bargained him down to 15 LE.
So what is this picture about? We hop into the taxi and the next thing we know the guy pulls over at a road side mechanic and tells us in Arabic that we have to wait 5 minutes. The taxi was broken? Seriously? Yeah, broken enough to pick up some passengers on the way to the mechanic.
I’ve had taxi’s drive me to a gas station before in Beijing, but never to a mechanic. 5 minutes turns into 15, but there was a cool breeze and some local explained to us that Egyptian minutes are long. Haha, very funny. A couple of people tinker around under the engine and finally we head off, pop a u-turn and crank up the radio. With the background music and all the weird stuff happening it really felt like we were in a movie.
Thankfully, the hotel was a really nice surprise. Super decked out boutique with a cool antique elevator, 15 foot ceilings, classic architectural features all over, and a well-trained staff. The front desk is almost as good as Thailand. (For anyone coming to Alexandria, definitely consider Le Metropole Hotel.) So apart from the hotel, Alexandria is probably the filthiest city I’ve ever been to. China looks clean compared to this! I haven’t really been to Cairo yet, so we’ll see. Everything here is covered in dirt, people are sweeping black sewage off the sidewalk, and there’s polluted traffic everywhere. After one evening, my lungs feel worse than 5 days in Vegas.
On the bright side, we’re one block from the Ocean drive and very centrally located. The first night we played it safe and ate at the Sofitel. That was followed by a banana split at one of the sidewalk cafes where people chill in the evening and people watch in front of the Ocean drive. FYI, this is really not a tourist destination. . . yet. So far, I’ve seen only 3 Westerners outside the hotel, probably French, and no Asians at all! Every 5 minutes we get some bus full of locals shouting “hello” to us. Pretty funny actually, especially when the little kids just stare.
After Hong Kong and Singapore, there really isn’t much shopping that looks appealing. We’ll probably pick up some souvenirs later during the tour. For now we’re keeping our luggage light and stomach happy with KFC, Pizza Hut and bottled water. There’s plenty of opportunity for breaking out the Pepto and Imodium in the days to come.
This morning we woke up early and walked over to the Library of Alexandria. Definitely the most modern building complex I’ve seen in the city. Probably more money spent on that library than any other public project here. I snapped a bunch of shots from the outside but they wouldn’t let us in until 11. So instead of waiting we took a cab to the National Museum, which was basically the size of a two story 4,000 sq ft house. Interesting display system but just not very large of a collection. Tackled the entire thing in about an hour. Around noon time we caught another cab to a semi-private beach that’s located just under and behind a 6-lane bridge. I don’t think I’ve ever run across 6 lanes of traffic before. There are no cross-walks here so everyone just walks between cars. It looks like human Frogger but with cars barreling full speed. Quite crazy when you think about it. The beach was really filthy – you could see a foamy string of trash floating on the surface right up to the sand – but it was interesting to see how the locals chilled at the beach under their umbrellas.
Mosque on the way to the Library
Outside the "Modern" Library of Alexandria
Suicide Bridge + Beach
Staying at the Metropole one more night and then catching a bullet train back to Cairo to meet up with Jennifer Yu and the rest of our tour group at the King Hotel. I suspect that we’ll pretty much be on the move non-stop for about 10 days.