Saturday, March 26, 2016


Alexandria, Egypt
9 Feb 2016

Today we would be making a day trip to Alexandria, located by the Mediterranean Sea, about 250km away from Cairo by taking the train from Cairo Ramses railway station. To get to the train station, we walked from our hotel to Naguib Metro station, then took the Metro to Al Shohada station. The Metro only cost EGP 1 Sadat Metro station is nearer to our hotel, but unfortunately, this station has been closed since the uprising in Egypt, probably due to its vicinity to Tahrir Square where the riots took place. The Metro coach is segregated by gender, so we were separated for the short ride to the railway station.

Metro ticket

Metro Naguib station
incoming MRT

Cairo Ramses train station

Our train was scheduled to depart at 9am and would take 2 hours 45 mins and the ticket cost EGP 45 per person per way. There was much confusion in buying the the train ticket. There was no signage on which counter to buy the ticket, so we had to ask around. The first counter we went to pushed us to the next counter as she did not speak English. The next counter asked us to go to another connecting building next to the station as we wanted to buy the Special (Express) train second class ticket. Apparently, the first counter we went to were only for first class tickets.

inside the Express train
printed Cairo - Alexandria ticket

The train ride to Alexandria was smooth, passing through the green countryside to the Mediterranean coast. The train was comfortable and air conditioned. Refreshments are available on sale if one feels hungry or thirsty.

some green pastures along the way

crossing a river

From the Misr Railway Station, we walked to the Kom El-Dikaa Roman Amphitheatre, the only such structure in Egypt. The entrance fee is EGP 30 per person and EGP 20 for our tripod. The amphitheatre was used as an odeum for musical shows during the Roman period; as a conference hall in the Byzantine era and various other events up till the 7th century.

We are here in Alex!

Alexandria Misr Railway station facade

Roman Ampitheather surrounded by modern buildings
the Roman Ampitheathre

To the North of the Roman theatre, there are large mud brick structures which are ruins of the Roman baths that were constructed  in the period from the 2nd to the 4th century AD.

mud brick structures

pillars and mud bricks
the  Roman ruins within city vicinity

Roman baths

Below the amphitheatre is a small Roman home which date from the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian. This house is called the Villa of the Birds with beautiful mosaic displays of various birds. We saw the signage to this villa, but we couldn't find the entrance, so we somehow missed this villa.

There is also an outdoor exhibition of Pharaonic and Greco-Roman era objects that have been excavated from the Mediterranean Sea at the nearby Qaitbay Fort.

Facts excerpted from here and here

exhibits from the sea

We then walked back towards the Misr Railway Station to take a taxi to the Qaitbay fort which is just about 10 minutes away. We agreed to pay 20 EGP for the fare. The cool breeze of the Mediterranean Sea was a welcome relief from hustle and bustle of the city. We walked straight to the Fort and paid the entrance fee of 10 EGP per person, thinking it was quite cheap; only to realize that we were actually entering the Maritime museum! Nothing much to see there, we quickly made our way out and walked a bit further to the correct entrance of the Qaitbay Fort. The entrance ticket is 30 EGP per person. We left our tripod at the ticket counter for collection later as the fort was quite packed so we wouldn't have much space to set up the tripod anyway.

boats by the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea

souvenirs on sale. Fort Qaitbay in the background

Qaitbay Fort is a 15th-century defensive fortress, established in 1477 AD (882 AH) by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa'it Bay. The Citadel is situated on the eastern side of the northern tip of Pharos Island.

Qaitbay Fort
Mediterranean Sea view from the fort

View from the Qaitbay Fort

Fact excerpted from here

boats by the beach

road along the beach

From the fort, we walked along the beach road to the El Morsi Abou El Abbas mosque for prayers, before continuing to walk to the train station to catch our train back to Cairo at 6pm. We initially planned to go to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, but had to cancel as it was already getting late. It was another challenge to buy the tickets back to Cairo, most at the counter did not speak English and kept passing us around until finally the last one standing understood what we wanted. To our disbelief, our tickets were handwritten in Arabic, luckily we could read the numbers. We had to ask a few other passengers in our train to double confirm that we were in the right train. We safely made our way back to Cairo, again taking the Metro back to Naguib station, then bought some takeaway food from Kazaz before reaching back at our hotel around 9pm.

El Morsi Abou El Abbas mosque

cheap freshly baked pretzels at 1 EGP for 5 pieces

our handwritten ticket
inside the train back to Cairo


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Curse of the Nile

Downtown Cairo
8 Feb 2016

We would be heading to Downtown Cairo today, checking in at Paris Hotel today, located within walking distance to the Egyptian museum. We walked a bit from our guesthouse to the main road and hailed a white taxi from there. We agreed on EGP 60 to downtown Cairo (about 30 mins journey, we estimated EGP50 for the taxi fare). It was a bit tricky to find the Paris Hotel, so we had to ask around. It's actually located on the 3rd floor of the 19th century French neoclassical buildings along Talaat Harb street, named after a leading Egyptian economist and founder of Banque Misr. The building is reminiscent of Friendship Place in Rome. The lift wasn't working, so we had to climb up the stairs. Our room cost USD 35 / night, including tax and breakfast.

Paris Hotel

Since our room was not yet ready, we went to the Egyptian museum first before checking in. Actually it was ready, but the owner didn't let us use the room until check in time at 1pm, but he did let us keep our bags in the room. The museum was just a 10 minute walking distance from our hotel, but it was challenging to cross the road as the traffic light was not working and it was a main road with 3 lanes each way near Tahrir Square! We followed how the locals did it, and finally managed to cross the road.

Egyptian museum facade

We had to scan our bags before entering. The entrance ticket cost EGP80 per person and EGP 40 for camera. The museum has now allowed visitors to take photos of the artifacts without flash. To view the mummies, it would cost another EGP100. We opted for the general entrance only. The galleries are divided by the period  - Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and Late Period; Graeco Roman, Meroitic Nubian and Ptolemaic period. Exhibits include mummy coffins; statues of Pharaohs, Horus (falcon headed) and Seth (jackal-headed), hieroglyph carvings or paintings; jewelleries; Pharaohs' beds, chairs, chambers and shrines, amongst others. It could take hours to cover all the exhibits in the museum. We spent about almost 3 hours at the museum before our stomachs started growling.

chamber from tomb of Tutankhamun, storing treasures and belongings

mummies coffins


Bed of Tutankhamun supported by 2 cows with elongated bodies with sun disks between their horns

statue of Horus (falcon-headed) and Seth (jackal-headed) crowning King Ramses III

We went back to the direction of our hotel and found an Egyptian fast food chain- Kazaz nearby and had lunch of roast chicken with rice. We then checked into our hotel and refreshed ourselves before venturing out again to catch the Nile cruise.

our room

It was a walking distance to the famous Nile river. We walked along the Nile Corniche on the East side of the Nile ( Tahrir Square side), but couldn't find any felluca Nile cruise rides. We read that the felluca cruise would cost around EGP 60 - 80 / hour. We decided to try our luck on the opposite side, crossing the Kasr Al Nile bridge. On the West side, we had to pay EGP 5/ person to enter the promenade, it was somehow controlled by a local gang. We were approached by a man at the entrance to take the Nile cruise (which we were looking for). He quoted EGP 40/ person for a 45 minute ride on the boat with other passengers or EGP 100/person for a private cruise. We agreed to the public ride. We waited and waited (with loud music blaring) until finally the boat took off, moving for a mere 300m or so, turned back and that was it! The 45 minutes was more on waiting on the boat. We have been conned real bad this time, I argued with the man and demanded at least to pay back half of the money paid as it was totally not worth it. Of course he refused, we walked back to the hotel feeling dejected. I vowed not to fall into this deception ever again! It was a Nile curse, rather than cruise! 

traffic jam at Tahrir Square
fellucas - none was operating

the Nile river
Kasr Al Nile bridge
the more expensive Blue Nile cruise with dinner

our supposedly cruise boat

the con man