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 Mediterranean Cruise 2008 - 10/06 - Alexandria

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10/06 - Alexandria
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In Alexandria, my sister and I signed up for a half day tour so that we would have free time to search for some local eats. After breakfast, we hopped on the tour bus and went the Alexandria catacombs.

The catacombs were pretty interesting, but they do not allow pictures inside. The catacombs are a family grave site that was accidentally discovered when a drunk man lost his donkey down a hole. When he sobered up the following morning and went to find his donkey, he discovered the tomb.

The tomb was of a Roman citizen who had moved to Egypt and begun to adopt Egyptian traditions. This is apparent in the primary tombs for the Roman and his wife which were decorated in a combination of Roman and Egyptian designs and artwork. Additionally, both bodies were embalmed in Egyptian fashion. After this time, the tombs were expanded for the rest of the family and possibly for public use as well.

With the temperature in the 90's and the sun beating down on us, I was eager to descend the spiral staircase surrounding the well to the bottom, unfortunately, the small passages full of tourists turned out to be hot, humid and stuffy. Several tour buses arrived at the same time so there were hundreds of people in the catacombs which had multiple passages and levels to accommodate hundreds of tombs. My sister and I explored several passageways before returning to the surface.

The next stop was the Alexandria National Museum. The building once belonged to the US Embassy but after they moved to a larger, newer building, this location remained uninhabited until Alexandria purchased it from the US at half the asking price. This building is fairly modern and, unlike the big museum in Cairo, is air conditioned. The three levels are dedicated to different eras in Egyptian history with the Pharaonic era in the basement, the Greco-Roman period on the ground floor and the Coptic (Christian) and Islamic periods on the first floor. I was pretty tired so after we perused the basement and first floor, I took a 15 minute nap on a bench while my sister explored the ground floor.

The next stop was the Montaza Gardens, which belonged to the Royal Family until Egypt became a Republic. Since then the grounds have been a national park and the Montaza Palace has been used for foreign dignities because the Egyptian President is not royal or divine and therefore should not be given such a luxurious residence.

The gardens are full of huge date palm trees and lie on the coast line where a boardwalk is decorated with lion sculptures leading to a hotel and lighthouse. On the other side of the gardens lies the Palace and another hotel and casino.

Next we piled back on the bus and drove on the Alexandrian coastal road along miles and miles of beaches. We saw all sorts of things from a statue of Muhammad Ali (founder of modern Egypt), the tram system, the football stadium, the Alexandria Library and more.

The next stop was Fort Qaitbay but we only had time to explore the boardwalk and vendors in the area outside of the fort. I saw some interesting ice cream carts and potato chips and some local sweets that some vendors were carrying around in clear plastic boxes. I didn't have a chance to buy any of them, besides the tour guide warned us about the lack of hygiene in Egypt, especially from random street vendors.

Our last stop on the tour was Abu el Abbas mosque. Our tour was almost 1 hour behind schedule (which is a good thing since it means our 4 hour tour was 5 hours) and my sister and I were concerned we wouldn't have enough time to explore Alexandria on our own so we requested that the tour guide leave us behind at the mosque. We then walked to a nearby bank to get some Egyptian pounds and then headed west in search of food.

We had only walked a couple blocks when we started smelling something tasty. It was a trio of small restaurants so we walked up to the single host desk and asked for a table. They stared at us blankly as they apparently knew no English. After some useless gesturing, they somehow figured out what we wanted and gave us a table.

A few moments later, the waiter came by and I asked what they had. His answer was, "Pizza, Koshari." At the mention of Koshari, a word I learned from Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations," I quickly repeated it and asked for one order. After the waiter left, my sister took a look at the restaurants sign and discovered that their logo was Fido Dido holding up a pizza.

When the waiter brought our koshari (see pictures) I read a list of Egyptian foods off my list to see if they had any of them. He acknowledged two desserts: belial and sahleb, both of which turned out to be excellent and tasty. In terms of local food, I think these three Egyptian foods top my list as my favorite items during the whole trip (and I'm starting to drool over them as I type this).

I finished the meal with a Turkish coffee and then we flagged down a taxi. The driver did not speak English but the tour guide had been nice enough to write down directions in Arabic so we could get back to the port. The driver took us there and waved us out of the taxi. We weren't sure how much the ride was so I just waived a 10 pound note ($2) which he grabbed and drove off with.

Back on the ship, we cleaned up and took a nap before heading to dinner at Paniolo's, the TexMex and tapas restaurant with the rents a few family friends. They were all interested in tapas so I went ahead and ordered two of everything for our appetizers. Unfortunately, they weren't that good. Most of us ate light for dinner since we'd all been eating a lot recently.

10/06 pictures are here.
Posted 10/21/2008 08:12 PM in Dessert, Egypt, Food, Pictures, Ramblings, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | Total Comments: (1)
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YUM
those desserts look amaaazing (the ones @ the pizza place). hm...wonder if there's a recipe for them online? hm....
Submitted by caroline on 10/22/2008 11:22 AM



     
Breakfast included mandarin oranges, pears, stewed figs, cottage cheese and pancakes with bananas foster sauce. The figs were interesting but tasted a lot like other canned fruits: boring and muted. The bananas foster sauce actually tasted of rum more than bananas or brown sugar.   The Alexandria Catacombs were discovered when a donkey disappeared down a pit. It was found to be the cemetary for a Roman family, though the head of the family adopted many Egyptian traditions and beliefs resulting in an interesting mix of Roman and Egyptian decorations.   A sarcophogus from the catacombs with Roman decorations. Pictures were not allowed in the catacombs.

     
Many Egyptian soldiers carried firearms in plain site. There were three common models of machine guns, two of which looked like the H&K MP5 (left) and AK47 (right). On the left you can see that two clips have been rubber-banded together, which gives the impression that they are anticipating a need for quick re-loading in combat. There were also checkpoints where soldiers sat behind thick metal shields. Interesting.   Pompey's Pillar was constructed in honor of Emperor Diocletain but medieval travelers believed (incorrectly) that it marked the burial site for Pompey, hence the name.

     
The Alexandria National Museum now resides in the old US Embassy. It is a nice modern museum (meaning air conditioned) with three levels dedicted to different historical periods: Pharaonic, Greco-Roman and Coptic/Islamic.

     

     

     

     
Various displays from the museum

     
Entrance to Montaza Gardens   Date trees surround a central watch tower in the Montaza Gardens   Lion sculpture in the bay.

     
Some gazebos by the palace   Seal on the palace gate   Montaza Palace where the Egyptian Royal Family used to live. It is now used for foreign dignitaries.

     
View of the sea from Montaza gardens.   Interesting currency display in the Montaza hotel

     
In front of the Montaza hotel and casino

     
The road by the sea is quite large, but still people drive wherever they want.   Above-ground tram system   Football (Soccer) Stadium

       
Various views of Alexandria   Ooh, shooting club!    

     
Alexandria Library - Once the largest library in the world, it has been rebuilt to be a state-of-the-art library. Inside the library (pic from my mom) you can see the windows that have been designed with a combination of colors to reduce eye strain while reading.   Planetarium at Alexandria Library

     
Fort Qaitbay   Mrs. Shieh and my mom   Mr. Shieh and my dad

     
Views of the sea

     
Austin Power's style u-turn for a bus and all the traffic that is waiting.   Interesting looking ice cream carts   Some interesting potato chips, including Windows chips on the right

     
Shisha/Houkas for sale   A man fishing in the sea. I wonder how he goes back and forth?   Random Alexandria beach view   More date trees which are common in the area.

     
Art that was created by locals as part of the Alexandrian sea side drive.   Abu el Abbas mosque

     
Just a couple blocks west of Abu el Abbas mosque a wonderful smell spurred us to stop for lunch. The menu was in Arabic and the waiter didn't speak much English but the mother of these twin brothers helped us out a bit. It turned out to be a pizza shop but they also serve Koshari. Look for the Fido Dido logo.

     
Koshari, a typical carb heavy Egyptian meal made with chick peas, lentils, fried onions and marinated tomatoes. Usually these are made with rice but this restaurant makes it with pasta instead.

       
Believe it or not, this simple meal that costs 5-6 Egyptian Pounds (about $1) was one of my favorite meals and I found myself craving it long after I left Egypt. I thought the marinated tomatoes provided an excellent tangy but sweet flavor taht balanced with the savory starches and the sweet fried onions. Here you can see a typical hot oil container which lets you add just the right amount of kick.

     
I read my list of desserts to the waiter and he said yes to two of them. The first (I think) was belial, kind of like a sweet oatmeal or muesli. I think it was a mixture of bulgar and barley with milk, raisins, nuts and coconut. Both my sister and I assumed it was cold but were quite surprised to find it quite hot! It turned out to be very yummy, like a fancy rice pudding.   I believe the other item was sahleb. The easiest way I can describe it is like a bread pudding made with baklava instead of bread. That's not quite accurate because it wasn't phyllo. It was many layers of dough baked with milk, raisins, fruit, nuts and coconut. This dessert was served hot and was just as tasy as the belial.

     
Ahh, Turkish coffee, finely ground, unfiltered and lightly sweetened. The only problem is that I never figured if I'm supposed to drink the sludge left at the bottom or not.   Is this the Chili's that was the top recommended restaurant on TripAdvisor?   To get back to the cruise ship on time we flagged down a taxi. He didn't speak any English but we knew we should only be about 10 pounds away. When he dropped us off, I waved a 10 and he nodded, grabbed it and drove off without a word.

       
Just across from the port was this mosque, though we don't know which one it was.   The entrance to the port.    

     
Tapas Menu   Sauteed Mushrooms in Garlic and Olive Oil, Selected Olives and Caperberries, Fried Red Skin Potatoes (all okay, but not great)   Grilled Chorizo (most boring chorizo I've ever had), Spinach Empanadillas (tasty and crisp, but not enough spinach), Calamari with Garlic Mayonnaise (chewy and boring)   Roasted Piquillo Peppers with Toasted Garlic (very tasty), Potato Fritata (boring) and Bruschetta with Tomato and Jamon (very tasty)

     
TexMex Menu   Southwest Chicken Caesar Salad - fairly standard   Three Cheese Quesadilla - fairly standard

     
Mariscos en Banderilla - Shrimp and Swordfish Skewers. The swordfish was mildly seasoned and tender but the shrimp was overcooked.   Taquitos with Pulled Pork, Beans, Jack Cheese and Ranchero Sauce - I did not try these.   BBQ Pork Back Ribs with Chili Barbecue Sauce, Stuffed Potato Skin and Corn Relish. These were tender but pretty fatty ribs and seemed more like St. Louis ribs than back ribs. The barbecue sauce tasted a bit like ketchup and reminded me of Maul's or Sysco Food Service sauce.   Casuela de Pina con Mango Coupe - same as I had on 10/1

 

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