Welcome to Egypt!

After the challenges of Cairo we were ready for a break. Our friend from Portland, Hassan, had suggested that we should visit his family in Alexandrya. Since it was only two hours from Cairo by train it seemed like it would be a good choice for our next stop.
On the train we met a major in the Egyptian army who chatted with us for a bit. When we mentioned Thailand he frowned and said he had been there and did not like it. He said that the people there were unfriendly, especially the women. We tried to relate our experience of the Thai people, but he was adamant; the Thais wee mean-spirited and impolite. It took a while for us to figure out that he had only been to Bangkok and was probably in uniform when he went. Anyone familiar with Bangkok could see his experience would probably be less than stellar, but he chose base his view of the whole country on his interaction with a few people. It was a strong reminder to us to not base our view of Egypt on our interactions with a few touts in Cairo. Alexandrya would give us the chance to see the real Egypt.
We arrived in Alexandrya at 4 PM, and Nader was there to pick us up at the train station. Nader is the classic vision of a young Mediterranean Arab: tall, dark and handsome.
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His shoulders were broad from years as a competitive swimmer (#3 in Egypt in the crawl, #1 in the breast stroke) and Nader loved anything to do with the water (skiing, diving, surfing, fishing, windsurfing, sailing, etc…) and he loved his home-town of Alexandrya.
Nader thoughtfully dropped us off at our hotel for a rest before dinner. We were staying at a suite at the Corillan Hotel, a small boutique hotel in the center of town. Although he room had some street noise, the view of the sea was spectacular.
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With two adjoining rooms, private bath and breakfast included, it was one of the nicest places we had stayed on our trip so far (and only $37 US/day!)
The next morning we went to Fort Quaitley which dominates the view from the harbour. The fort is over 600 years old and was built to defend the port. It was build from the ruins of the Pharos, a massive lighthouse that was one of the Wonders of the Ancient world. The Pharos was knocked down by an earthquake 17 centuries after it was erected, and the fort was built from it’s remains.
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The kids had a great time at the fort and it seemed that every Egyptian were met asked where we were from and said “WELCOME to Egypt!”. this included many children that followed us around the fort and the young people who took photos together with the kids.
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This felt much closer to the real Egypt than our Cairo experience. Alexandrya is not covered with Western tourists and there are not any touts looking for cash.
We met up with Nader in the afternoon to got to the famous Bibliotecha Alexandrya. This amazing library was completed 3 years a got and was designed to put Alexandrya back on the cultural map vs. Cairo. It is an incredible structure: 7 floors both above and below ground level. It includes a planetarium/Omnimax and has room for over 8 million books. There are two large children’s libraries with tons of books in English.
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After the Bibliotecha we went to Nader’s part of town to have some drinks on the beach. This was the beach where Nader learned to swim, with some help from his brother Hassan. Actually Hassan helped by throwing him into the water and shouting “Swim!”. Nader was 3 years old at the time and apparently it worked.
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The following day was a real treat: a nice dinner at Nader’s favorite restaurant, followed by a visit to meet his family. Nader is the younges of 5 kids; his sisters are in Alexandrya while his brothers (including our friend Hassan) are in Portland. His Mother welcomed us into their home, treated us to a mango smoothie, and spoke to us about our travels (with Nader doing translation into Arabic). We felt so welcomed and were really touched by our visit.
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The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Alexandrya and Nader. We stopped by a lovely Mosque
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and Nader took us to the train station. It was really sad to say goodbye and Dave said to Nader, “You love Alexandrya, and now we love Alexandrya too”. Nader really had been our Arabian knight, giving our whole family a sense of comfort, welcome and safety that was missing from our Cairo experience. We hope to see him again soon in Portland if he comes to visit his brothers, Hassan and Ahkmed.
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Although were were sad to leave, we also knew that by the end of the day we would be far from the city in an oasis in the massive Western Desert. It was time for a safari, Egyptian style.

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