Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Few Days in Alexandria

On Thursday, I went with my mom and aunt to Alexandria, their birth place and city of choice in Egypt. After a two and a half hour train ride, we arrived at the Mediterranean Sea. I could immediately feel the difference between Cairo and Alexandria. Most noticeably, it's easier to breath in Alexandria. There isn't as much smog and dust in the air. The city is also much smaller in physical size and population so it feels more open. It was very refreshing to be there. We saw and did a lot in Alexandria so I'll break it down by all that instead of by each day.


What would a trip to anywhere in Egypt be without visiting a church or monastery. We went on a four monastery tour on Friday--St. Mina, St. Wanis, St. George, and St. Philopateer Mercurius. St. Wanis was the first one we went to and it was a small church in the middle of a muddy field. We left about 10 minutes after arriving. People didn't like muddy shoes.

St. Mina's was next. Though it looked more like a monastery than St. Wanis, it didn't feel like it. It is the Disney World of monasteries. It has a huge parking lot to take in the masses of tourists and pilgrims and people there just hang out for the day. There are long lines for food, bathrooms, and seeing the relics of the saints. Kids are playing soccer in the complex, people are yelling on their cell phones everywhere, and you get a feeling that the monks here are not that happiest bunch because of all this. I didn't like the atmosphere but the grounds were beautiful:

St. Mina's Monastery is gigantic.


Chaos outside the relics of Pope Kyrillos

We then went to St. George's and St. Philopateer Mercurius' which were two convents. They were serene and beautiful and uneventful in the best sense possible.

In Alexandria, we also stopped by St. Mark's Cathedral, the home of many Coptic Orthodox popes and also their final resting place. It's the site of the first church in Egypt and was founded by St. Mark. Now, the Pope spends most of his time in Cairo. We stopped by the bookstore. To my surprise, they were selling computer video games alongside religious items. To my bigger surprise, the games they were selling:

Of all the places to find Grand Theft Auto Four and pictures of Jesus together.


Much of our time in Alexandria was spent seeing my mom's family. She still has cousins and other relatives there who were very eager to host us for a meal or dessert. My time in Egypt has exposed me to many relatives I've never met before and it's starting to get overwhelming so I think I'm going to make a family tree for us soon.


Alexandria's got a whole lot of history to it and we scratched the surface on Saturday. In a nutshell, pillars and tombs. All the places we went to had prices for Egyptians and for foreigners. Since they thought I was an Egyptian student, I always paid one Egyptian pound to get in. Foreigners paid between 20 to 35 pounds depending on the place. Crasy.

We went to a Roman amphitheater, some catacombs, Pompey's pillar, and the Citadel of Qait Bey. All of them old, historic, and important. Mostly old, though.

The old theater

Poor Pompey and his one remaining pillar.

The Citadel

We also made it to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Great Library of Alexandria. This library was open about five years ago on the site of the old library which was burned down a long long time ago. It is beautiful and huge. Annual membership for Egyptian students is 30 pounds, or about 5 dollars. Amazing.

This place makes me excited about studying.

The Match

Saturday night, Egypt shut down for a big game against Algeria. If Egypt won by 3 goals, the country would advance to the World Cup tournament for the first time in 20 years. If Egypt won by 2 goals, it would be tied in rankings with Algeria and have a do-or-die match on Wednesday with Algeria. The match would be held on neutral ground in Sudan. If Egypt won by one goal or lost the game, then Algeria would go to the World Cup.

Hype for the game started weeks ago. I took a taxi two weeks ago and the driver talked the whole way about how much he would cry if Egypt lost. The day of the game, a taxi driver told us, "Egypt gets excited about two things. Football and the war in '73." (When Egypt beat up on Israel). And going along with that, while we were at the library, one of the employees exclaimed, "People here are going crazy. It's as if we were playing Israel."

You can read up on all the hysteria before the game here. The match itself proved to be an exciting and nerve-wrecking 96 minutes. Egypt won 2-0, scoring in the first and last minutes of the game. Even though we still have to play again on Wednesday, the country erupted in victory since it wasn't eliminated. The rest of the night, cars were honking and people were dancing in the streets. I saw footage on tv of five Egyptians dancing in a circle shooting fire into the air with flame throwers. Flame throwers. If Egypt wins on Wednesday, the country will not be able to handle its joy.

The Views

Alexandria is beautiful. There's still much to explore there and I will be definitely going back. Tons of excellent seafood and a good breeze along with free housing makes for the perfect combination.

We're back in Cairo now and my mom's here for the rest of the week. Just enough time for a few more monasteries.

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