Category Archives: Alexandria

alexandria: a bogus traffic violation, infinite wait time & a bad ending to a holiday escape

Monday, July 23:  This morning, I wake up in a different hotel than the one where I slept last night, and I wonder where on earth Basim is.  I try to relax and just wait to hear from him, hoping he is okay.  Finally, he calls from his hotel and asks me to meet him outside my hotel with my bag at 9 a.m.  After last night’s fiasco, I am anxious to get out of Alexandria.

Basim pulls up to the curb, opens his trunk and puts my bag in the trunk.  I hop in the front passenger seat of his old Mercedes.  As he pulls away from the curb, a policeman standing a few yards along the sidewalk motions for him to pull over.   He asks to see Basim’s driver’s license and then walks around to the front and the rear of the car to inspect his license plates.  He is pointing and gesturing and speaking animatedly in Arabic.   The policeman proceeds to cite him because his license plate has white letters on a black background rather than the “required” black letters on a white background.  He takes Basim’s driver’s license away from him and then dismisses us summarily.

I’m more than a little baffled by this, as is Basim, since the license plates on his car were issued by the Cairo government in the first place.  How can the color of the lettering and the background be wrong?

Basim believes, and I agree, that the police pulled him over and charged him with a bogus violation simply because he picked me up near the door of the hotel.  I’m a Westerner and a woman, and for an Egyptian man, that is simply not acceptable.

So.  Basim has to head to the police station to sort out this business because he cannot drive all the way back to Cairo without his driver’s license.  He cannot take another day off work to come back to Alexandria.  So he drops me off near the little cafe where I sat yesterday and takes off to the police station.  When he leaves, I have no idea how long he will be.

This is where I sit, sweating and dripping for an hour or more in the damp oppressive air of Alexandria, Egypt.

This is where I sit for hours waiting for Basim to sort out his bogus ticket

This is where I sit for hours waiting for Basim to sort out his bogus ticket

After more than an hour, I get bored of sitting here, so I decide to take a walk down the corniche.  I take some pictures of some colorful fishing boats.

Fishing boats I see along the Corniche

Fishing boats I see along the Corniche

more fishing boats

more fishing boats

fishing boats and the Alexandria Corniche

fishing boats and the Alexandria Corniche

I walk past the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, an historic mosque. It was built primarily in 1775 over the tomb of a Spanish scholar and saint, Abu El Abbas El Mursi (1219-86), and stands on Mosque Square overlooking the eastern harbor.

The cream-colored Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque stands 23 m high, with a minaret on the southern side rising to 73 m. Situated near the shore of the eastern harbor, the mosque and its neighbors can be clearly seen from the sea. The minaret has an Ayoubids design, with four sections of different shapes. The main part of the mosque is an octagon, with internal walls are dressed in artificial stone except for a 5.6 m-high mosaic (Sacred Destinations: Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, Alexandria).

Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, along the Alexandria Corniche

Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, along the Alexandria Corniche

After my walk, I return to the cafe along the corniche and sit some more.  When all is said and done, Basim has been gone for four hours!!

Upon his return, he tells me there were hordes of people at the police station and it took him forever to sort out the matter.  I am so hot, damp and miserable from this debacle that I’m ready to return to Cairo.  We begin our long drive back to the capital city.

As we’re driving down the highway in Basim’s old Mercedes, we suddenly hear a loud clatter and the sound of metal dragging along the road.  Basim gets out of the car to inspect.  He finds his exhaust pipe has broken and is dragging along the road.  He spends a great deal of time trying to rig it back up so that we can make it back to Cairo.  After he finally does this, we head down the road again.  There is so much tension in the air coming from Basim, I feel certain I couldn’t even cut through it with a chain saw.

Trying to lighten the atmosphere a bit, I say, “See what happens when you get involved with an infidel?  You’re being punished because of being with me.”  Of course I’m joking.  However, he, dead serious, says, “Yes, you’re right.”   And then he continues to drive in determined silence.  This infuriates me and I say, “I was joking, you know.”  He doesn’t laugh but continues to stare ahead.  I am by this time about to boil over, but I determine that I won’t speak to him the rest of the trip.  I simply sit and stare out the window with total absorption, as if he doesn’t exist in the car beside me.

When we get back to Muquttum, he drops me at my apartment building with hardly a word.   What a weekend!  A fiasco of epic proportions.

After getting settled in to our Muquttum apartment, I head downstairs where I write this email to R:

Hello dear R,
I have returned from my adventure in Alexandria.  It was a fiasco of such grand proportions that it can only be told in person, over a glass of wine, at the Tavern on the Lake at Lake Anne.  Suffice it to say that it was surreal, not unlike far-fetched things I’ve seen in movies.  You simply will not believe it.

But that’s all on that for now.  I don’t think I will be seeing Basim again as I believe he thinks Allah is punishing him for seeing an infidel.  I think he’ll be afraid to get anywhere near me ever again.

I hope you are well.  I totally wasted both days of my weekend sleeping and studying (Fri and Sat).  Sunday and Monday of course I went to  Alexandria.  It’s quite lovely, like a sad version of Nice, right on the Mediterranean.  Women were bathing in their hijabs and long gelabayas.

I am so sick of being hot and sweaty; I am now taking 2 showers a day as it is so miserable.  I think I’m going to go somewhere tonight with Abdul Basit, one of the Muslims in our group.  I think he needs to get away from the more serious Muslims.  And I need to get my mind off of the happenings in Alexandria.

So, I hope you haven’t deserted me.  Since I haven’t heard from you, I have to wonder.  Maybe I am a hopeless cause.  All I know is I am dying to see you in another week and all I can hope is that you feel the same.  I have so much to share with you.  I hope you will find me a changed person; I don’t know if it will be evident.  Of course, I have to face the reality of my life upon my return.

Take care and write soon,
Love,  C

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Filed under Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, Alexandria, Corniche, Egypt, Middle East

an escape to alexandria: bibliotheca alexandrina, fort qaitbey & montazah palace & gardens

Sunday, July 22: This morning I pretend to be sick so that I can take a two-day excursion to Alexandria with Basim, the brain surgeon.  Luckily I only have to play hooky one day, as tomorrow is a National Holiday in Egypt. Lisa takes a parting shot of me before she takes off on the bus to class.

me pretending to be sick so I miss classes at Al Azhar

me pretending to be sick to miss classes at Al Azhar

Of course the main excuse Basim has to come to Alexandria is to do some kind of business.  He has to take a paper somewhere, but he’s very vague about the nature of this paper.  No matter.  He drops me at the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina to explore.  He tells me he will call me when he’s finished with his business.

the pool surrounding Bibliotheca Alexandrina

the pool surrounding Bibliotheca Alexandrina

This boldly modern library is the 20th-century replacement for the legendary library of ancient Alexandria.  The original library was founded in the late 3rd century BC and was considered a classical center of learning.  This modern library resembles a giant angled discus with giant letters, hieroglyphs and symbols from every known alphabet engraved on its exterior walls.  The main rotunda is all windows and can hold up to 8 million books (Lonely Planet Middle East).

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

According to the library’s website, Bibliotheca Alexandrina aims to be a center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge and to be a place of dialogue, learning and understanding between cultures.  It seeks to recapture the spirit of the original ancient Library of Alexandria, which is said to have held 500,000 volumes.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina aspires to be:

  • The world’s window on Egypt.
  • Egypt’s window on the world.
  • A leading institution of the digital age.
  • A center for learning, tolerance, dialogue and understanding.  (Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Overview)
Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

After I explore the library for a good long while, I take a walk along 26th of July Street which lies on the corniche along the Eastern Harbor.  It’s extremely hot and humid and I am miserably dripping with sweat.

Eastern Harbor, Alexandria

Eastern Harbor, Alexandria

After a while, I decide to have a seat in the shade at an outdoor cafe along the corniche, where I drink a cold mango juice and wait for Basim to return from his business.

the corniche in Alexandria

the corniche in Alexandria

Alexandria was established in 332 BC by Alexander the Great.  It became a major trade center and a focal point for learning for the entire Mediterranean world, according to Lonely Planet Middle East.  Under the Roman Empire, the city continued as capital of Egypt and the Byzantine Empire, and was quite cosmopolitan.  From the 4th century on, the city declined.  After the Arab conquest in 641, the capital was moved to Cairo.   The 1952 revolution “put an end to much of the city’s pluralistic charm.” (Lonely Planet Middle East)

After a couple of hours Basim finally returns.  We head down to the end of the Corniche to visit Fort Qaitbey.  According to Wikipedia, Fort Qaitbey is situated on the eastern point of Pharos Island.  This citadel was built in 1480 by Sultan Qaitbay on the site of the Pharos Lighthouse to protect the city from the crusaders who attacked the city by sea.  The famous Lighthouse of Alexandria continued to function until the time of the Arab conquest in 641, then several disasters occurred and the shape of lighthouse was changed to some extent, but it still continued to function.

Fort Qaitbey

Fort Qaitbey

Inside Fort Qaitbey

Inside Fort Qaitbey

During the 11th century an earthquake destroyed the top of the lighthouse and the bottom was used as a watchtower. A small Mosque was built on the top. About 1480 A.D the place was fortified as part of the coastal defensive edifices. Later a castle-looking citadel was built as a prison. Now it’s a Maritime Museum (Wikitravel: Alexandria).

Fort Qaitbey

Fort Qaitbey

After we explore Fort Qaitbey, we seek out a hotel along the Corniche.  Basim drops me off and I go in separately to check in.  I get a room on the 10th floor.  After he parks the car, he checks in to a 5th floor room.  An Egyptian man is not allowed to share a room with a woman in a hotel unless he can show marriage papers.

I take a picture of the Corniche from my 10th floor balcony.

Alexandria Corniche from my 10th floor balcony

Alexandria Corniche from my 10th floor balcony

After we rest a bit, Basim calls and asks me to meet him outside on the Corniche.  He wants to take me to see Montazah Palace.  According to Wikipedia, the Salamlek Palace, built in 1892 by Khedive Abbas, originally occupied the grounds.  It was used as a hunting lodge and residence for his companion.

Montazah Palace

Montazah Palace

The larger Al-Haramlik Palace and royal gardens were added to the Montaza Palace grounds, built by King Fuad I in 1932 as a summer palace. It is a mixture of Turkish and Florentine styles; it has two towers, one rising distinctively high above with elaborated Italian Renaissance design details. The palace has long open arcades facing the sea along each floor.

Montazah Palace

Montazah Palace

President Anwar El-Sadat renovated the original Salamlek Palace as an official presidential residence. It was most recently used by former president Hosni Mubarak (Wikipedia: Montaza Palace).

Basim in the gardens of Montazah Palace

Basim in the gardens of Montazah Palace

We walk around the Montazah Gardens until the sun sets, then we go have a light dinner in an outdoor cafe along the Corniche.   All I know is it was great to miss my classes today at Al Azhar. 🙂

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Filed under Alexandria, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt, Fort Qaitbey, Middle East, Montazah Gardens, Montazah Palace