Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An Egyptian Holiday - Day 2

Day 2 - Alexandria

We had to start early to Alexandria since its 3 hours drive from Cairo. We had our wake up call at 5 in the morning and were in the bus ready to go at 6:30AM. Since the breakfast in the hotel opened around the same time we collected our BB (breakfast boxes) from the restaurant. On the way we came across state of the art buildings where all the software companies were housed. Also we crossed the Cairo prison which had a lot of visitors waiting outside the gate (too many defaulters in Cairo i guess). We stopped at 8 AM to have breakfast in a highway motel called Master. The climate outside was very cold. Dont ever think Egypt is a hot country just because you see pyramids in the desert. Its exactly the opposite. There were a few people who had the same view and did not bring any warm clothing from India. I pity them. Thanks to my jacket, i was a little better.

One more thing i got to tell you about the Egyptian rest rooms is that they are costly. You got to pay 1 Egyptian pound each time you visit the rest room. So keep the change handy. Also it would be better if you convert your dollars to egyptian pounds in the airport itself. That saves time. We made a mistake hoping to convert it at the hotel but by the time we reached, the bank in the hotel had closed. At the time when we were there the exhange rate was 1 US dollar = 5.5 Egyptian pounds and people in this country avoid the decimal when they ask you in dollars. So you would be paying more than you actually have to.

After breakfast we continued on our trip to Alexandria. The moment you see large massive columns with the lettering Alexandria in English and Greek (i guess, am not sure) you know that you have reached. Our first stop was the Roman Amphi theatre. It has a semi-circular audience seating and a slight projection in the ground at the centre where the speaker is supposed to have maximum audibility. Archeaologists are still going through the site for artifacts and hence we visited only a part of it. We came across some egyptian school girls there who were very pretty. But mind you they tried to get away with one of our troop members' camera when we found the girl and retrieved it. So beware of beautiful girls.

The amphi theatre was followed by the Catacombs meaning a tomb for a hundred people. In fact it is supposed to be a tomb for 300 people of one big family. The egyptian name for this place starts with 'kom' meaning a huge hill. In fact it is supposed that when the people found this place it was a huge hill of broken cups and plates and hence the name. However when we went inside we first went to a tomb of three people for the father, mother and son. We then entered the catacombs which was like a well and stairs circling it spirally downwards.

In ancient times when romans died they did not bury the bodies, instead they were burnt. So when people died they were lowered thorugh the well with people walking around the well. Once the reached the footsteps of the well they pulled the body inward and then took it to another short well where the body was burned. The ashes were collected and put in an urn and placed in a casket inside the tomb. There was a small sitting place where people used to sit and dine when they came to visit their kith and kin. After eating they broke the plates and left it in a pile. However when the floods had come in egypt all the urns and ashes had been washed away. We could find only rows and rows of small 2 feet by 2 feet places where the ashes were kept and the doors sealed. Now all of them were empty. We then visited a central room where the head of the family was buried. In all egyptian and roman tombs they drew the picture of serpents on either side of the entry walls to ward off persons from entering the tombs.

Next we stopped at the Pompey's pillar. We heard many versions of the pillar's story. I will recount one from that. In earlier times people were charged 50% of their salary as taxes by the government. As a result a lot of people were famished. When pompey came to power to reduced the taxes to 5% of people's salaries. To this the people rejoiced and built him a pillar to commemorate his move. Although you may hear other versions its upto the reader to decide on the authenticity of the story he hears.

Finally we stopped at a bank near the Qaitbay castle. As a result the dads were gone exhanging their currencies whereas we found time to click away our cameras. It was close to the sea and hence a nice spot for pictures. Once done we entered the Qaitbay citadel built by Qaitbay(Obviously, what else did you expect? however i cant recount his full name) to prevent enemies from entering Egypt by sea . The structure of the castle was a little defensive (i wouldnt say foolproof). If the enemies happened to land after all the canon's firing they had to come to the main gate above which was a hole. The army inside would pour hot oil through this hole on the enemies. Even after this if they managed to enter the gate, there is a small room from which there are two iron doors. Directly above the room is a big hole which was used to push big stones down. If the enemies still withstood this attack and made it inside then only god can help the army inside. Inside we also saw the spot where earlier the light house stood and which was replaced by this castle.

We then had food at an egyptian restaurant with some egyptian delicacies too. The food was OK. Some dished we could eat, some others we couldnt have. After lunch we were on our way back from Alexandria going to the Montazzah palace. On the way we saw the Cairo library, a huge building with slanting glass walls which made it all the more beautiful.

The Montazzah palace was used by the Egyptian president who stays two days every month in the palace. We also saw the El Salamek palace nearby which is now being used to house foreign dignitaries before the meetings. You can find the letters F F on the wall of the palace meaning that the last king Farooq and his wife Farida stayed here. There was also a picture of them inside but we couldnt go in. We then saw the boat house used by the king to drink tea. This story is really nasty. So you can hear this directly from me. The palace also had a tunnel which opened out and which was used by the king everynight for his mischiefs.

We then had dinner at an Indian restaurant (Sahara restaurants) somewhere near Cairo. The food was good here. If you want to look at the pictures of the places that i mentioned do visit my album in orkut.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Egytian Holiday - Day 1

Day 1 - Flight to Doha & Cairo

Our Qatar airways flight was scheduled for 4:45 AM on the 20th of December 2008. We reached the airport early around 11:30 PM and started waiting. Once we were through with the ticketing, we had to go through immigration followed by security check. Then the waiting continued until finally we boarded. At 4:45AM the flight rose into the sky taking me on my first journey outsite India. Although i was excited about my first trip outside India, i soon fell asleep and woke up only when we were about to land at Doha.

Doha international airport was the biggest one i have seen till date. (The reason being this was my first international trip). It was 7AM local time and we immediately went to the transit area. Here i saw the prayer rooms, quiet rooms and a huge duty free shop in the centre of the airport. My god, the place was huge and definitely lots of time to kill. Qatar airways offered us an option of either having breakfast or lunch whichever people preferred. I was starving (i missed the 5AM breakfast in the flight, thanks to my sleep) and chose to have breakfast. We had french fries and sandwich. Then we went around the airport clicking pictures and whiling away our time to pass off the 6 hour transit. On our brief trip of the airport we found two browsing centres (free) and a gift shop (you can use ur dollars for this).
Our flight to Cairo was at 12:45PM and we promptly filled in the Egyptian immigration forms before boarding. The meal onboard the trip to cairo was really good and i watched a movie during the entire flight duration. We landed 6:00PM Cairo time and the sun was still out. We had a look at the new cairo international airport which was supposedly opened the previous day by the Egyptian president.
The tour manager (Sakkara travels Egypt) took us to the bus and we proceeded to the heart of cairo. Throughout the bus travel from the airport we saw a lot of paintings on the walls and lots of multi-storeyed apartments. We went by a 45KM fly-over supposedly the largest in that part of the world and saw a green coloured gigantic mosque, one of the three big mosques in Cairo.

On the way we took our tour guide Beshoy (we call him mottai) who carried a weird black stick which he claimed as his sign. Our initial plan was to go to our Hotel (Oasis Hotel), fresh up and then proceed for dinner. Unfortunately due to the traffic we had to directly hit the dinner restaurant first. The restaurants were already chosen by Sakkara tours India and we went to the Maharaja hotel. The food was OK. Following our dinner we had a brief photo-shoot and then proceeded to our hotels to rest. Thus day 1 had been fully consumed by travel. More on day 2's trip to Alexandria in a later blog.

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Egypt trip

Hi folks,
It was a trip that i would remember for a long time to come. In the month of october my sister had come home from office announcing that there was a trip in the offing and that we needed to give our consent for the same.
We immediately jumped for it. It was really worth the trip. Personally too i found some new friends.
In the following blogs, i would detail my entire trip to egypt including the cost and the travel involved. Hope it becomes useful for others who plan to take the trip.