If you consider a continuum of litter or a continuum of decorum with Oman being the cleanest, quietest, and most civil and India being the dirtiest, noisiest, and most in your face, Alexandria, Egypt lies somewhere closer to India. As soon as we stepped off the bus to explore on our own after our tour, we were assaulted by taxi drivers and carriage drivers who would not take “no” for an answer. Crossing the street was only possible by stepping bravely in front of the cars and hoping for the best. We usually tried to cross by walking one step behind a local.Most of the buildings had some architectural style but could really benefit from a pressure washing and/or painting. In general, the litter was much less than in India.The hookah bars were filled with men watching the soccer match on TV. I have to confess to some fake news in a previous post. The local slang for “hookah” is really “hubbly bubbly”.
Most people went to Cairo to see the pyramids, but we had seen them previously so we elected to stay in Alexandria to avoid another seven hours on a bus. Our first stop on the tour was the Alexandria National Museum, an archaeological museum located in the family home of Omar Sharif and former US consulate building. The museum contained artifacts from the pharaonic, Christian, and Islamic periods of Egypt. Rising sea levels have covered ancIent buildings and artifacts including what is believed to be Cleopatra’s palace just off the coastline in the heart of Alexandria. There are plans to build an underwater museum so you can view her palace in its present location. As with all things in Egypt now, money to fund the museum is a problem. The museum we visited had a few artifacts recovered from these underwater sites.
Alexandria is famous for its ancient library. That library is long gone and has been replaced with a new library opened in 2002.The building is very modern and features 120 different human scripts carved in the exterior walls.The main library is huge with room to hold eight million books on eleven cascading levels. The library presently only has one million books, half of which were donated by France making it the sixth largest French library in the world. At the current level of funding, it is estimated that the library will not reach full capacity for another eighty years. The complex also includes a children’s library, a youth library, a library for the blind and visually impaired, a planetarium, four museums, art galleries, exhibits, and a conference center/performance venue.The manuscript museum featured many ancient books and documents as well as this collection of miniature books.One museum was devoted to Anwar Sadat and included the uniform he was wearing when he was assassinated. In the antiquities Museum our guide explained the Egyptian process of mummification. All the organs of the deceased except the heart, which was believed to hold the soul, were removed and stored in jars. A special salt from Egypt was then used to desiccate the body. In the Egyptian underworld the weight of the heart was compared to the Feather of Maat, the Egyptian goddess who personified truth, honor, and virtue. If your heart weighed the same or less than the feather, you had led a good life and would proceed to a better place. If your heart weighed more, you had led a bad life and would stay in the underworld forever. I could only think that I had no chance of getting out of the underworld since almost any dry heart must weigh more than a feather. However, I have since learned that it was an ostrich feather, so maybe I have some chance.
I want to say a few words about our guides in Egypt. All the guides had relevant college degrees and were uniformly excellent. I can’t say that about any other place we visited. We first visited Egypt eleven years ago and our guide, Tarek, remains our all time favorite guide to this day. With all the problems in Egypt since we were first there, we have been worried about him. To our amazement, our guide to Luxor knew him and we were pleased to hear he is doing well and still guiding.Tarek always called the armed guard riding with us Wyatt Earp. Well Wyatt was riding in our bus in Alexandria dressed in a shiny, black suit. In addition, we had three armed guard following us in a Jeep. While all the rifles and guns were for our safety, it is still disconcerting to think they are necessary. We have two sea days before arriving in Malta.