Monday, April 12, 2004

How to get back to Cairo?

We didn't anticipated that the train to Cairo will be full, although we had knew that it's a public holiday here. We still slowly enjoyed the night scene of Alexandria, and by the time we reached the Masr train station and unable to get even third class train ticket, we panicked, as we didn't prepared anything to overnight there.

Here, we met with a young pretty Egyptian lady who taught us how to get to the bus station after helped us to ask again that the train ticket was fully booked. She suggested we took a taxi there, as it's quite a distance from Masr train station, and told us that locals usually pay EGP 3.5 only. Ended up, we paid EGP 8 tourist price.

The bus station should be near the Sidi Gaber train station, but I was not sure. Anyway, we managed to get the bus ticket to Cairo at 12.30 am, and it costs EGP 35 each. But the bus (supposedly from Superjet company) was very clean and well maintained.

At bus station, we met with 4 Palestinian students who studied in University in Cairo. Here 2 of them. With them, I was not got lost again when bus reached Cairo, because the bus made not just one, but several stops to alight passengers. The last one supposed to be at Turgoman Garage, but they helped us to alight at Cairo downtown, where was closer to our hotel.

We reached Cairo at 3.30 am. The street in Downtown Cairo was completely empty. By the time we got back to the Safari Hotel, it was already curfew time. We had to shout and woke up the warden to open the door for us. Luckily he just slept at the lobby.

Midan Tahrir (Mansheiyya)

Midan Tahrir or Midan Mansheiyya was laid out in 1830 as the centrepiece of Mohammed Ali's new Alexandria. The Alexandria's souq district (or market area) is just beside it.

We had a walk around Alexandria at night. Here was Midan Tahrir. There were a few fine architecture around Midan Tahrir, and souq that sells a lot of things. We nearly got lost when tried to find here, this was the first scare we encountered in Alexandria.

Tip: Prepare a good map. :)

The Unknown Soldier Monument at Midan Tahrir, also called Midan Mansheya or Midan Mansheiyya

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

In ancient Alexandria, there used to be the Royal Library of Alexandria, which was once the largest in the world. Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built both for commemoration of the Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier center of study and erudition represented.

We didn't know it's a public holiday in Egypt, so the library was actually closed. The guard at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was very kind. After knew that we would be going back to Cairo later, he allowed us to go inside the library to have a look, without charge! This must be the most cultural place in the whole Egypt. Although we're just allowed to just the lobby, and it's not well lit, but nevertheless, the library was very grand!

Exterior of Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Statue of Alexander the Great at Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Sunset at Mediterranean Sea

Alexandria is located at Mediterranean Sea. The sunset was beautiful, with Fort Qaitbey at the side. How wish it's Pharos lighthouse.


The people in Alexandria is simple very friendly, and like to take photograph too. The 3 girls came and asked Wei Heng if she wanted to take photograph with them. Of course!

Alexandria (Al-Iskendariyya) - City of Alexander the Great

Alexandria is a very beautiful city. It is often said to be the greatest history city with the least to show. It was founded by Alexander the Great, yet it bears no trace of him; it's the site of one of the ancient Seven Wonders, but there is nothing remaining; it was ruled by Cleopatra and was the rival of Rome, but now its people is struggling to make a living.

But anyhow I like the city. There were a lot of kids saying simply Hello, although some of them did ask for money, but the tout and hassle was considerably less than Cairo. The scenery here is superb, with great waterfront and the people here is much more friendly than in Cairo.

View of Alexandria along the Corniche and fishing boat at the Eastern Harbour, which almost closed by two spindly promontories.

Alexandria by the Bay, along waterfront Corniche

Beautiful building in Alexandria

A nice sculpture near the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Fort Qaitbey

Fort Qaitbey stands on the site of the much more famous Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The lighthouse was brought down by earthquake in 1303 AD. In about 1480 AD, Mamluk Sultan Qaitbey ordered the construction of the a fort and mosque at the lighthouse site. Naturally, debris from the Pharos was used, and you can pick out some great pillars of red granite which in all likelihood came from the ancient lighthouse.

In front of the Fort Qaitbey, as when we reached there, it had already close. There was a lot of people everywhere, as today was a public holiday in Egypt.

Midan (Mahattat) Ramla and Tram

Mahattat Ramla is the main tram station for Alexandria, and is adjacent to Midan Saad Zaghloul. From here, lime-yellow colored trams go west, and blue colored trams go east. Like Cairo Metro, some of the trams have carriage that reserved for women only, so beware to avoid embarrassment.

At Mahattat Ramla tram station, with a tram in the background.

We met a very nice couple with their child at Midan Ramla tram station. Mohammed Salama was very kind, and taught us which tram to take in order to get to Fort Qaitbey. He even paid the tram fare for us, and invited us to his shop for eating. Their English was not so good, and we had a hard time tried to understand them. At last, they asked us to help them, but I really couldn't understand how to help, may be baksheesh again?

Midan Saad Zaghloul and Queen Cleopatra

On top is the statue of Alexandrine nationalist leader Saad Zaghloul, the side of it stands the statues dedicated to Queen Cleopatra. This location used to be the Caesareum, a temple begun by Cleopatra for her lover Antony. In this temple, completed by her enemy Octavian, Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC. The Cleopatra's needle, the two giant obelisks that used to stand in front of the temple, were moved to the Thames embankment in London and to the Central Park in New York, respectively, in 1877.

Mosque of al-Qaid Ibrahim

While walked to central Alexandria, we passed thru Mosque of al-Qaid Ibrahim

Graeco-Roman Museum

Entrance ticket costs EGP 16 (EGP 8 for student), it has huge collection of valuable relics dating from as early as 3rd century BC.

Carved head of Alexander the Great. What else to look out for at the city built by Alexander the Great?

Giant Apis bull found at the Serapeum

Statue of Falcon which was the sign of the Roman Empire

There are a lot of mummies in Egypt, not just the royal mummies in Cairo museum. Here is Mummy of a Roman soldier.

Gilded mummy of a man from roman period, found at Siwa (Marsa-Matrouh) decorated with local gods of the site: the two bulls the Menopis and Serapis, around the head a wearth of grapes.

Even animal had been mummified, for example this crocodile mummy, which would have been carried in processions devoted to Sobek.

Statue of the Roman Emperor Marcus Orilius, depicting him standing clad in military imperial attire and glancing distractedly. Inexplicably a cross carved on the white marble statue. Found under the present site of Sayed Darwish theatre.

Mosaic depicts a huge sceen of group of men crowd to watch a dancer , also there is scene of the Nile Source and fishing .

Ok ok, before you getting bored, I better stop here. For those who really interested about the collection there, Graeco-Roman Museum website has a lot of information.

This is the Graeco-Roman Museum front view.

Taxi in Alexandria

Taxi drivers in Alexandria were pretty aggresive too. We decided to take a taxi to Graeco-Roman Museum in order to save time. The fare was only EGP 4. But the driver later wanted to wait for us! I said better not.

Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa

Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa, or Kom Elchogafa Catacombs is just 5 minutes walk away, on the same street, from Pompey's Pillar. It's the largest burial site in Egypt, and discovered accidentally in 1900 when a donkey disappeared through the ground. To enter, we descended a spiral staircase cut into a circular shaft, in which the bodies of the dead would have been lowered on ropes down the centre of the shaft, to come to a rotunda. The catacombs consists of 3 tiers of tombs and chambers, with the lowest level been floeded.

Tip: Entrance ticket costs EGP 12 (EGP 6 for student)

At the compound of Catacombs. Too bad photography not allowed. We did bring in an underwater camera, and secretly took some photos, but the photos were in such a bad conditions. :(

Pompey's Pillar & The Serapeum

We walked to Pompey's Pillar and the Serapeum after came out of Roman Amphitheatre. It supposed to be close by, about 1.5km away, but we took some time to find it. There were a lot of taxi drivers that brought trouble, instead of pointing to correct direction. We met with a couple of Western tourists later, their map was better, so we just followed them to get the way. :) Lucky.

Pompey's Pillar which has a circumference of nine metres, was erected in AD 293 at the Serapeum complex for Diocletian, not Pompey. The Crusaders mistakely credited it to the Roman general Pompey. The Serapeum and library were destroyed in AD 391 by the Christians, leaving only the pillar as the only ancient monument remaining whole and standing in Alexandria.

Tip: Entrance ticket costs EGP 6 (EGP 3 for student)

Pompey's Pillar, it supposed to be straight, but my shooting skill a bit sorry.

Pompey's Pillar and one of the Sphinx

Roman Bath? How they bathed?

Sphinx of Horemheb

Villa of the Birds

Villa of the Birds, what a beautiful name, is within Roman Amphitheatre compound. It's actually remains of Roman-era nine-panel mosaic masterpiece depicts several colourful birds of a villa. To visit it, you need additional ticket. Buy it before you get in, and it costs EGP 5.

Birds mosaics in Villa of the Birds

Roman Amphitheatre or Kom Al-Dikka

Once we got off the train, we walked to Roman Amphitheatre which are located just besides the Masr train station. The 13 white marble terraces amphitheatre were discovered when foundations for a new apartment building were being dug. It's not grand in scale, but excellently preserved. Entrance ticket costs EGP 6 with ISIC.

The only Roman Amphitheatre in Egypt.

Train to Alexandria

We got off very early in order to catch early train to Alexandria. Initially we planned to stay overnight, but because of time constraint, we decided to make it a day trip instead. The plan should works, and worked, but not without problem (will detailed later in other post).

Ramses train station is located at Midan Ramses. To get to there, take Metro to Mubarak station. Once there, we purchased the ticket to Alexandria for EGP 13 (discounted price with ISIC card) for 2nd class with air-cond train. As still had a little time left, we also purchase train tickets to Aswan on tomorrow night. The tickets had to be purchased at another counter, it was a bit troublesome.

Train that took us to Alexandria, in about 2 hours plus. The train was very comfortable, and fast. Before arrived at Masr station, the train made a short stop at Sidi Gaber station, which is a bit way out of town.

Tip: It's always advisable and smart to book ahead. We didn't as we thought it's too plenty of trains that ply between Alexandria and Cairo, ended up nearly unable to get back to Cairo. (Will detailed in post follows soon)