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Old May 12th, 2007, 05:03 PM
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Default Egypt

NCL Jewel - Virtual Cruise
May 11 & 12 - Egypt.

We arrived at the Star Dust Theater this morning, at the time stated on our excursion tickets (8:30 A.M.), to find that our excursion had already begun to disembark the ship, and head out to board the tour buses. We boarded our assigned bus, and shortly afterwards the buses pulled out and our tour began.
Today’s tour was a scheduled 5 ½ hrs. dubbed “Highlights of Alexandria?.

Fortunately on today’s tour we had a much better combination of guide, driver and bus-mates. Our driver for yesterday’s tour seemed to be the only driver in this hemisphere who was wanted to go the same speed as the camels.

Our guide for yesterday’s tour warned us repeatedly to be VERY careful of the people who would accost us at all the sights we were going to be visiting, and be very careful making any purchases from them as we were sure to be ripped off in one way or another. He then proceeded to spend half the time of the 3 hr. ride to Cairo trying to sell things to people on the bus. “For our convenience? the “special people? on his bus could pre-order merchandise from catalogues, that they could pick up later at the Bazaar, which was going to be our last stop of the day. The purchases would be from suppliers at the Bazaar who he knew to be “trustworthy? (and amazingly he said this with a straight face <wink>).

As well, while traveling on the bus, he tried to sell us books and DVDs on Egypt. When he chose to share actual information about the sights with us he was quite informative. However I felt like I had been captured and held captive by an infomercial, and it made me more uncomfortable than the small space between rows of seats on the bus.

Once we approached Cairo I was amazed and shocked. I’m not sure what I expected, but our guide told us Cairo is a city of 18 Million people. It’s of course a sprawling city, but what shocked me the most as we traveled through the city towards the Pyramids, is the incredible number of unfinished, and seemingly abandoned buildings. They are everywhere, and anywhere… good areas, or bad areas, it didn’t seem to matter.

The guide explained that normally when getting married it is the responsibility of the male (or his family) to supply the “flat? or home for the bride. And these flats (apartment/condominiums in “western? terms), can be very expensive in relation to what the average Egyptian earns. Therefore, a family may start out building a one storey “flat? or home on a small piece of land in the city, then as the years pass, and the families grow they build another “flat? above their own, then another above that, and another, and so on. In many instances this process can go on for a very long time, so many of these buildings can stand unfinished for 20 years or more. The differences between the standards of living here, as compared to the western world, are obvious, and quite startling.

There are satellite dishes atop most of the structures, even the unfinished, or barely standing residences, and that type of access may help explain how some people in this part of the world may feel “hard done by?, or resentful of the western world.

As we arrived at the Pyramids, some of the depressing thoughts that had been running through my mind while seeing the city and it’s people disappeared, at least for a short while. The sight of these structures is nothing short of spectacular!

The hucksters and local thieves are evident all over the sight… though the Tourist Police are present to try and watch over them. We got to witness police on camels chasing after suspected thieves who were also on camels.

The guides took us to three different areas to view the Pyramids from different perspectives, and then we moved on to visit the Sphinx. To get a more up close view of the Sphinx requires going along with large crowds through some narrow passageways. I had become a bit friendly with the “security officer? from our bus (the one with the machine gun) <G>, and he offered to speed our way through the crowd. Somehow, with a man in suit, who everyone in the area was armed, the crowds got quite passable. We had a fair bit of free time at the Pyramids and Sphinx to explore.

From there we moved into downtown Cairo and boarded very nice river cruise boats to “cruise? the Nile for about an hour. They served a buffet lunch onboard that was very, very tasty. So good, in fact, that it surprised me. I guess my expectations were low. The lunch service was friendly and efficient, and the experience quite enjoyable. During our time onboard we were entertained by a belly dancer (who interacted with the crowd) as well as a “Tangora dancer? ( a mid eastern male dancer doing a traditional dance).

After our Nile River cruise we were taken to the Citadel of Cairo, and the large Mosque, which sit high on a hill with panoramic views of the city. This is the Mosque containing the tomb of Muhammed Ali (not the boxer). We were allowed to tour the Mosque freely, and take pictures freely as well.

Once outside, on the grounds, the views of the city, the skyline, and the Pyramids in the distance are breathtaking.

Our last stop for the day was at the “Bazaar? our guide talked about early in the day. This was not what would come to mind when one thinks of a mid-eastern Bazaar. It was a high priced three storey high shopping center. We were given a short explanation/demonstration of the ancient process of making Papyrus, and then time to shop.

Our bus was late leaving here as some of our bus mates just had to hold up everyone else on the tour to save another $10 off their purchase, and then, at the end yet more time as the guide had to go back in to get his “commission? on all the sales for our bus.

Today’s tour of Alexandria went much more smoothly, and was much more relaxing. Alexandria is a much larger city than I had expected as well; over 6 Million citizens. While there’s no doubt it shares some of the same problems as Cairo, there’s also some very beautiful areas, and upscale hotels, as well as beautiful beaches. A very long road, the Corniche, runs for a very lengthy stretch along the ocean, with no traffic lights. There are underground cross walks for pedestrians to get from one side of the road to the other.

As it’s getting quite late, I’ll begin another post on the Alexandria portion of our visit tomorrow.

Here’s a link to a photo gallery of our Cairo visit.
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