Bye Bye Dahab, hello Alexandria! This is the place where Hubs was born and where her family all live. It is also the place where you can find the best seafood in Egypt, the best rice pudding in the world, and the best sheesha cafe in Egypt, according to Hubs. I was looking forward to trying all those things.
Alexandria is in the north of the country and has beaches flanked by the Mediterranean Sea. Don’t forget we are in a Muslim county, so the beaches are not like European or Australian beaches and not really the kind of places we would like to go. There are some private beaches where you can wear swim suits and be normal, but that’s about the only places where you can go.
Settled by Alexander the Great (Greek), and the Romans, Alexandria has a lot of Greco-Roman influence, evidenced in the architecture. It was also predominately Christian. When Hubs’ mum, Madeline, grew up in Alexandria, she used to wear mini skirts and have her hair in the modern bee-hive style. Not any more. The Arabs took over, the dress code dramatically changed and there are more Muslims here than Christians now.
Madeline’s flat is on the cornish (promenade), with views to the Mediterranean Sea. Luckily she lives near an underpass so she doesn’t have to cross the 10-lane road! Under her flat is a nice coffee shop where Hubs and I smoked sheesha and played dominoes.
It was so lovely to be in a home again, rather than a hotel room. On our first day, we washed all of our clothes in our backpacks – yay. Madeline gave me some of her clothes to wear and we went to get a manicure and pedicure that cost A$6 each. It was no where near as good as the manicure and pedicure I had in London, but for the price, ‘I no complaaaiin’. In fact, the lady working on my hands drew blood in two places when cutting my cuticles. Ooowwww!
After getting our nails done, all three of us went to the hair salon to get our hair done. I was so worried about letting an Egyptian loose on my precious locks. I kept getting reassured by Madeline that he would do a good job – I wasn’t convinced so I kept a very close eye on everything he was doing. We got to the salon for our appointment at 8pm, but there was a bride and the grooms’ family getting hair and make up done and we had to wait for them to finish. At 10pm our hair started getting attention. We left the salon at 1am. Five hours in that little grubby salon – far too long. But the result was worth it and it cost me A$40 for a base colour, highlights, cut and blow wave. Salid the hair dresser blow dried my hair Farrah Fawcett style – hilarious! The scary thing is that it kind of looked good!
After getting our hair done, Hubs and I were walking the dirty streets of Alexandria with great hair, wearing Madeline’s clothes. We both had a good laugh at that!
During our three days in Hubs’ home town, we had lunch with her gorgeous cousins Asraf and Mariam and their two boys David and Danny at Alexandria’s famous seafood restaurant Seagull. This place is amazing. It has animals there – like a fun park. Camels, parrots, baby rabbits, pony rides for the kids. There was also a little train, some swings and things for kids to climb on, ducks, flamingos, etc. It was pretty amazing! The good thing is that the kids were occupied and had a great time playing while the adults could sit and enjoy a nice lunch. The food was ok – the seafood soup was made with frozen seafood and not very good – disappointing.
The other good thing about staying with a local is that they know where to get everything, and how to get anything home delivered. We had “the world’s best rice pudding” home delivered at 11.30pm. Hubs was oo-ing and aaah-ing as she ate her rice pudding, loving every minute of it. It was nice – the sprinkled hazelnuts added a nice touch, but it had nothing on Gina’s rice pudding she used to make when I was a kid. Sorry Hubs – it’s good, but not the world’s best. The other thing we had home delivered was cooked fish. Yep, you need to stay with a local.
Hubs, Mariam, the kids and I also took a trip to the beautiful jewellery museum that was once the palace where a princess once lived. The jewels of King Farouk, is wife, and other princes and princesses, were amazing. So many diamonds! A whole solid gold tea set, including tea strainer, a platinum and gold baby rattle, solid gold stationary sets, and even a solid gold ash tray!! Just as impressive was the palace itself – amazing stained glass windows sporting Victorian era scenes, frescoes on the walls and ceilings and mosaic floors. The bathroom was something else too. It had a shower that was also a steam shower, a foot bath, a baby bath, a hand bath, and a full size bath. It also had scenes of naked women bathing in a lake – all very tasteful, but hardly Arabic! I found it hard to believe that the Arabs would leave scenes of such flesh on show, given their women cover up head to toe in public – and this palace was now a public building. Well worth a visit.
We also had lunch at Balbaa, the Hanna family’s favourite seafood restaurant. You go there for amazing food, not for a dining experience. There’s fresh fish, live prawns, crabs, pippies, etc on display, you choose what you want and they bring it to you cooked – all at once! There’s no such thing as waiting between courses – even waiting for one course to be finished before another one is brought out. It was a little over whelming for me – there was food everywhere – so much of it, plates piled on top of other plates, arms reaching everywhere, plates being passed everywhere – it was full on! The food was seriously good and FINALLY we had a fantastic delicious amazing seafood soup. Hurrah! I can see why the Hanna family loves this place.
Hubs’ cousin Asraf is the family dominoes champion. He is the one who taught Hubs how to play and he has never ever lost a game. Hubs, Asraf, Mariam and myself spent an evening in the downstairs cafe having sheesha and playing dominoes. They are such a lovely couple and good company. Playing dominoes with Asraf is nerve wrecking because he is so good. But not good enough for the Bortoletto! I WON!! I beat him by 3 points and Hubs and Mariam by more! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!!! Asraf was a bit confused – how could he have lost? He never loses! And a bit upset – probably upset with himself because I think he got a bit complacent and didn’t play his usual cunning strategies. Who cares – I WON!!
Our time in Egypt was coming to an end, and I was glad. I’d had enough of Egyptian food, dirty streets, getting ripped off, being in a Muslim country, having Hubs having to argue with everyone all the time (so we didn’t get ripped off) and the hot sweaty weather. I was more than ready for a change and could not wait to be back in Europe. ESPANA! Barcelona Spain was our next destination and we had a week there – yay! Hubs’ lovely mum Madeline was coming with us to Barcelona.
Before I go, here are some Egyptian observations:
- traffic lights have timers on them so you know how long you have left on a green light or a red light
- the green man that tells you to cross the road is a green running cartoon in Cairo and Luxor – “hurry up run! you’ll get hit by a car! run run run!” and it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages!
- the Nile river is amazing – it is clean in Abu Simbel (and full of crocodiles on that side of the high dam) and filthy in Cairo
- Cairo is a city better enjoyed at night when it looks beautiful
- our cheapest meal was $A0.40 and most expensive was A$50.
- only in Dahab and by the Red Sea can you wear whatever you want. In other cities you really need to cover up
- everyone stares at you in Egypt, no matter what you are wearing – which makes Hubs’ mum say ‘wear what ever you want!’
- the tap water in Dahab is salty and disgusting
- the historical sites are breathtaking and truly amazing – worth putting up with annoyances of the country
- always book in some time to enjoy the Red Sea after tripping around the country – you need it to relax and unwind
- the toilet paper in Dahab only lasts about 4 uses – so hide your rolls and get the hotel to give you new ones so you don’t run out in the middle of the night!
- don’t trust anyone in Egypt
- lanes marked on roads are in vain – drivers in Egypt make up their own lanes
- taking a taxi in Cairo or Luxor is almost always a near death experience
- no one wears seat belts, only the taxi drivers when going through a military check point
- buy your own sheesha hose if you like to smoke sheesha – they are cheap and so much nicer than smoking through a plastic disposable hose
- when in doubt what is safe to eat, turn to McDonalds – I ate maccas three times in three weeks, more times than I have eaten it in the last three years!!
- stay in a five star hotel in Cairo – that city is crazy and you need a nice place to go home to
- Friday in Egypt is like Sunday in Australia – no one works and many shops are shut.
- Going to Egypt in August is hot, but it means that there are less tourists so no queuing up for anything which is great
- don’t trust anyone in Egypt!!!!
Ma salema! Good bye Egypt!