Saturday, September 18, 2010

home from alexandria

Okay, tons of stuff happened today, and I didn't have time to take notes on it all, so I'll just do my best not to forget anything.
We woke up this morning in the sketchiest hotel room I have ever been in. (And yes, that includes the one in Berkeley, Mom.)
Here are some lovely pictures to help you imagine the experience. I have to say, they don't do it justice.
my lovely camp bed. it tilted back and forth.
all the beds, three in a row
the bathroom, complete with no toilet paper
the sink with a faucet that would not turn off, ever

Jealous yet? Well, you should be. Because after checking out of the hotel, we visited the Alexandrian catacombs.
Sadly, we weren't allowed to take cameras in with us. Certain members of our group disobeyed this decree, and one part of the photographic evidence can be found below. I'd include more of his pictures, but as they were taken extremely surreptitiously (mostly from the hip) and without a flash (thank goodness for small mercies) they aren't really that great, so you're not missing out.
To get into the catacombs, we climbed down a spiral staircase, about three or four stories down. Although the climb was slightly unpleasant, we were informed that it was nothing compared to what the catacomb's discoverer experienced when he fell through the earth covering another shaft and plunged 30 meters to his death. Poor donkey archaeologist. Rest in peace, we owe you so much. (Speaking of donkeys, you might be surprised to know how many archaeological sites in Egypt have been discovered by them, not always fatally. I could quote a number, but I'd just be making it up, so I won't.)
Anyway, we learned that the catacombs originally contained four types of burial sites: private tombs, pit graves, public graves, and wall niches for urns holding ashes. We saw all four types on our walk through the caverns, but my favorite were the public graves.
The ground water in the earth of the catacombs is so high now that the floor is actually flooded in the public graves area, which meant we walked through balanced on wooden planks set between periodic stone blocks. The ceiling was also very low, which meant I had to duck most of the time. There were three layers of graves hewn into the rock, the lowest completely flooded with crystal clear water that glowed almost green in the dim light.
There was no trace left of who the tombs had originally belonged to, but we did learn that when the catacombs were first explored, the public area held at least 300 mummies.
Another interesting and/or extremely frightening part of the catacombs included the largest private tomb, complete with two small statues of its former occupants. I know not everyone reading this is a huge nerd, but DON'T BLINK. They were so so so freaky, and the lights kept flickering, and they were just staring at me, and... Okay, sorry, I'm done. I'd post a picture but you know what they say about an image of a angel. Or you don't know, and good on you for that. Moving on.
In the catacombs, we also saw the only human remains left behind (a kind of pathetic femur or humerus sticking out of the dirt in one of the graves), as well as a case full of horse bones, apparently buried there because the catacombs were near a horse racing track when they were in use.
With our visit to the catacombs complete, we moved across the city to an ancient Roman theatre. Our guide described it as an odeon, but I'm not sure he was correct. It definitely wasn't an amphitheatre, though, since according to our guide, 'two men didn't wrestle in it, like in that Russell Crowe movie.' Yeah, that's what that movie was about. Two guys wrestling. Now I remember.
It was pretty neat to see the theatre, though, and we all had a good time, especially when exercising our right not to sing when the guide asked us to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of the stands.
one of our tour guides, who kept hitting on emily.
we didn't really follow this sign very well,
as you can see from the previous picture
i spy with my little eye, something not built by the romans
brick arches of the theatre
i didn't know the romans baked giant cupcakes
myspace! um, i mean, no one was there to take the picture for me...

After the theatre, we visited downtown Alexandria, where, in defiance of the warnings of our guide that lunch was next, we purchased delicious cold chocolate frappes. I have never drunk something that delicious ever before, ever. It might be worth it to go back to Alexandria just to visit that cafe again and see what other delicious treats they have.
Lunch was a bit disappointing, making our chocolate frappes that much more delicious in hindsight. Although, there was a strange sculpture coming from the ceiling of the dining room that seemed to portray horses falling through a wormhole from an alternate dimension.
wormhole horses do not great art make
Then we hopped on the bus for a quick ride back to Cairo. Ha ha. (Before this trip even started, I looked at the itinerary, and based on my knowledge of how things work here, took a guess at what time we would be back to Zamalek if the schedule said we would be leaving Alexandria at 3 pm. My guess was 10 pm. I was only off by an hour and a half, and that only because we finished lunch early.)
Anyway, the bus ride was long and tedious and napping was difficult, but somehow I survived, thanks to the battery on my iPod, which somehow lasted a few hours more than it technically should have. The upside of the long bus ride? We got to see the sun set into the pollution over the city. Home at last.

one thing i have to say about smog:
the sunsets are always gorgeous

No comments:

Post a Comment