Greetings from the Med sea as we start our second sea day as we cruise closer to Alexandria, Egypt. I’ve been wanting to write a bit more about my trip up to this point but for many reasons I have not been able to.
Saturday was a bit of a grind flying from London to Rome. We flew on Lufthansa via Frankfurt, it just seemed to take forever getting to Rome but eventually we made it. We checked in at the Marriott hotel midway between Rome’s Fiumicino airport and the city of Rome. As we made our way to our room we ran into our friends Carla and Shauna having dinner in the lobby dining room. Since we hadn’t eaten all day and were starving we decided to pull up a chair with our suitcases and join them for a pint and dinner; when in Rome!
We sell a lot of Marriott rooms world wide and have stayed in our fair share of Marriotts. One of the things I like is the tea and coffee caddy in each room. Rome Marriotts are the only rooms I have stayed in that do not have this perk. Thinking I was just too tired and didn’t see where the tea/coffee caddy was hiding I called the front desk to inquire where it was only to be told "This is Roma, we do not have coffee in the room, come down for an Espresso or we will bring one to you". Unfortunately the Room Service charge was more than the Espresso itself so I just ordered a double Espresso on the way out. There is nothing like an Italian Espresso to kick start your day!
The next morning I was up early, re packing, confirming our car for the ride to Rome’s port of Civitavecchia about an hour away. I was told our driver would be there on time and on time he was. If anyone needs a transfer recommendation let me know, the car was clean, pretty new, spacious, affordable.....well, as affordable as a private car and driver can get in Rome and our driver was friendly although he didn’t speak English but with my Spanish we managed to communicate with each other and he accepted American Express. Speaking of transfers to the port, you can save a lot of money by taking the train from Rome’s Termini train station to Civitavecchia but what you save in money you will spend in "Schlepping" your luggage. Trains are frequent between Termini and Civitavecchia, do yourself a favor and buy a first class ticket, it is not that much more than a second class ticket and the space you and your luggage will have is worth the added expense. From the train station in Civitavecchia, you will need to walk the half a mile to the gate of the port and then ride the free shuttle to your ship or you can hire a taxi outside of the station and be driven directly to your ship, should cost about EUR20 for the car. There is at least one set of steps you will need to navigate during this trek and many other cruise guests do this so be prepared to wait in a line for the free shuttle.
We are on Princess Cruise’s "Star Princess" built in 2002, just over 109thousand tons, with a capacity of 2600 cruise guests and 1150 crew. There are 17 decks on this ship, decks 4-17 are the public decks and 1-4 are for the crew. The Star Princess has lots of activities to choose from which is typical of most cruise lines. Every evening when our room is turned down, the "Princess Patter" is left on our beds, this is a daily activity news paper that has the next days activities listed; trust me, you will not be bored and if doing nothing is your thing, you can easily do that too. I find it takes me a day or two to settle in but eventually I do and then it’s very relaxing. One of my favorite activates is to just sit on a deck chair and stare off into the ocean, it’s a great way to clear the mind.
As I mentioned earlier, tomorrow we will be in Alexandria, Egypt, the four of us have signed up for a shore excursion to Giza where the Pyramids are located and then spend the afternoon on a mini cruise on the Nile river. In total this tour is scheduled for 12 hours, 6 of those hours are driving from Alexandria to Giza and back. I normally don’t like all day excursions but since this is our fist time in Egypt and we are with friends we thought an organized tour would be the way to go. I’ll be sure to give a full report how our day went.
I have been wanting to write a bit about each port because a lot of great things have happened, I just have not had the time to sit down and write so I’m taking the time to enjoy the sun while sitting out on a deck chair to share a bit of this trip. Egypt early in the morning and after a good breakfast boarded our bus for Giza which is where the Pyramids of Giza are located. The drive takes about 3.5 hours through mostly desert although our tour guide said that Egypt is learning to reclaim the desert and turn it into farmable land so half of our trip was green with farms and the other half was pure sand. In all of the pictures I have seen of the Pyramids it looks as if they are in the middle of the desert when in fact they are right in the city or I should say the city has built itself up to the Pyramids. The Pyramids are HUGE; pictures don’t prepare you for how big they really are. Our first stop was the furthest stop from the Pyramids so you can get a picture of the back side of all three Pyramids, then our second stop was to let those guests who wanted to tour the inside of one of the Pyramids off of the bus. I chose not to do this because I heard there’s nothing inside, the ceilings are low, and it’s difficult to breath. Our final stop was to let us off and take pictures in front of the Pyramids. I couldn’t wait to take plenty of pictures and if you are looking to ride a camel (who isn’t?) this is the place to do it. Let me just say the vendors selling souvenirs and offering Camel rides are all very talented salesmen and are considered very aggressive by American/Western standards. They will do things like place a hat on your head and when you try to give it back the games begin. Most people just give up trying to give it back and end up buying something they didn’t plan on buying. At one point as I tried to take some pictures I was corralled by three camels and their riders in hopes of purchasing a camel ride. When I tried to get around I was blocked by a camel! It was quite funny and eventually I did get free but this just shows you to what extent the vendors will go to make a sale. The young boys selling souvenirs were the cutest and they used their cuteness to make the sale, who could say no to an angelic 10 year old? I discovered I could! These may be 10 year olds but they will use all of their cuteness to make a sale! I did see one crafty older woman just walk away with the item that was tossed to her, the vendor now had to follow her and plead for her to return it; I think he got the message he wasn’t going to make a sale. The most fun we had was when Carla, Shauna, Terry and I chatted up the vendors and Carla would engage them in conversation which now turned the game on the vendors because they are only used to making sales not being asked questions about themselves but they seemed to enjoy the chit chat. The best advice I can give anyone when souvenir shopping is master the art of bartering. Don’t ever pay what the vendor’s asking price is, take about half of that amount and go from there. Never agree on a price and then back away because you are expected to buy at the settled price. Never pull out your wallet to demonstrate how little money you have because at that point you might as well hand the money over, the game is over. Don’t be afraid to walk away if the price is too high, chances are the vendor will give in and follow you agreeing to your offer, if he doesn’t try another vendor.
We sailed into the port of Alexandria,
After the Pyramids we drove down the road to see the Sphinx which makes for a great photo when you see the Pyramids in the back ground.
From Giza we drove about 10 miles to Cairo and boarded a very long ship for our dinner cruise on the Nile river. Any preconceived ideas of Cleopatra sailing down the Nile were erased when our dinner ship cruised up and down the Nile through Metropolitan Cairo. This part of Cairo is very modern with tall buildings, 5 star hotels and upscale shopping but on the way to the dinner cruise we passed carts being pulled by donkeys and at one point I saw a small heard of goats on a small street; Cairo is a city of extremes.
The next morning Terry, Shauna and I decided to take a self guided walking tour of Alexandria. Terry had a tour book that recommended the tour (Mediterranean Cruising by Thomas Cook). We were the only cruise ship in port which made it seem that every vendor and taxi driver in port was waiting for us as we exited the port. I have to admit, it was a bit intense being hounded by very aggressive vendors asking us to come to their carpet shops or give us a ride of Alexandria, the rates we were offered were EUR5-10 ($7.50-15) for a one hour ride which would be fine if we wanted a ride, all we wanted to do was to walk and explore. At one point we had to ask a very persistent vendor to leave us alone but the ultimate was when a young boy tried to get into Terry’s back pack as we walked down the sidewalk; Terry gave this youngster a stern warning about his behavior. I mention this not to scare anyone away from Alexandria but to just give you an idea of what life is like in Egypt and this is not how everyone behaves, the aggressive vendors are just a small minority of Alexandria’s population but unfortunately they are what most tourists experience.
After we walked about 6 blocks from the port we left the vendors behind and then the city of Alexandria becomes a great city to walk in especially once you get along the waterfront or "Corniche" as the locals say. The locals seemed as interested in us as we were of them. Another interesting item is women’s dress, in Alexandria the majority of its citizens are Muslim with a Christian minority. Women keep their arms and legs covered and most will wear a scarf but it is not required; we rarely saw women wearing the Burqa which covers the body completely except for the hands and eyes. Christian women wear the same dress as the Muslim women, we were told by our Cairo tour guide it was in solidarity with the Muslim women but I think it has more to do with Christian women not wanting to get harassed by the men. Our friend Shauna wore a short sleeve shirt and it seemed to attract the attention of young men from saying "hello" to whistles and stares so if you don’t want this type of attention I’d recommend doing as the local women do and cover up but wear something that is comfortable.
Crossing the streets and Egyptian driving was very interesting. Egyptians in general will cross a street anywhere; jay walking does not seem to be illegal. There is an art to crossing an Egyptian street while traffic is flowing however most Americans would never attempt this in the U.S. and if you did you’d only do it once! In Alexandria you just have to make the attempt to cross and the drivers will usually slow down and wave you to the next lane or they will just continue. It’s up to you to watch what the driver is telling you by hand signal so that you don’t end up under the car! The best way to learn to cross an Egyptian street is to stand and watch how the locals do it and then follow a local and continue to have faith that you will safely make it to the other side. After the third time it becomes less scary and easier to do.
My best memory of Alexandria has to be the Minarets and the call to prayer. Muslims are "called to prayer" five times a day. The Minarets are tall towers that each Mosque has with speakers. When the call to prayer begins it’s very captivating and loud but not so loud to be annoying but loud enough to make the noise of the city seem to disappear. I enjoyed visiting Egypt, I have to confess it’s not a country I had thought about visiting, but it was a bonus on this itinerary and I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit.
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