A Tour of "Modern" Cairo and Alexandria

When we arrived back in Cairo, we took a break from ancient temples to focus on the Cairo of AD (modern by our new standards!).  We visited the breathtaking Muhammad Ali Mosque that has gorgeous domes covered in alabaster.  Yes, marble!  (Side note for the sports fans: The mosque is named for Muhammad Ali of Egypt, whose same name was later used by the great American boxer, born Cassius Clay, upon his conversion to Islam.  So no, they didn't build a Mosque in honor of an American boxer!) 

We sat inside the Mosque as our guide told us about the Muslim traditions.  We loved this unique glimpse into Islam and learning more about Islamic beliefs and perspectives.  And wow the mosque is gorgeous!  If the domes weren’t enough, the veranda outside has breathtaking views of Cairo.

Afterwards we visited The Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo, which has a history starting in 300AD.  It is the seat for the Coptic Pope, which we knew very little about until now!  

After this, we went to one of the best museums on Earth: The Egyptian Museum.  Don’t be fooled, it isn’t the best museum in appearance or how it’s run.  As we've seen throughout this troubled country, Egypt doesn’t have the resources to maintain such an incredible museum.  Cats wander around, there isn’t any air conditioning, many of the descriptive labels on ancient treasures are outdated and handwritten.  Also, there have been multiple burglaries and an alarm system wasn't installed until recently. 

But despite all of this, the museum is world class (which shows just how impressive the the contents are).  It houses some of the oldest and most precious relics of ancient Egypt and therefore our world.  Pharaoh antiquities, ancient papyrus scrolls, mummies, and contents of King Tut’s tomb are just a few examples of the treasures found here.  Definitely get a tour guide!  Pictures aren't allowed, but check some out if you want your mind to be blown.  And thankfully, a new museum is under construction that will do justice to these precious relics.

Lastly, we went to the famous Khan Al-Khalili bazaar.  We recommend taking a lap and then retreating somewhere for a calming cup of tea.  The piles of goods are overwhelming and Egyptian vendors are very aggressive.  Don’t make eye contact and ignore calls of “Where are you from?”!

For our last day of touring, we took a day-trip to famous Alexandria.  While its ancient glory has certainly faded, Alexandria continues to be a gorgeous seaside city with tons of history to see. 

We first stopped to view the ancient Roman ruins at Pompey’s Pillar and the Roman Amphitheater.  We could’ve been in Rome!  Just like the ruins in Rome, these ruins are smack in the middle of a very modern city to make a fascinating contrast.  We had no idea this wealth of Ancient Roman ruins were in Egypt.  It’s clear now that Egypt has it all!

We next visited one of the seven wonders of the Middle Ages: the Catacombs of Kom al-Shoqafa.  These tombs are fascinating because, due to their time period of, the decorations blend Roman, Greek, Christian, and Egyptian religions and cultures.

Next, we stopped by for a quick seaside walk to see Fort Quaitbey.  We happened to be in Alexandria during a holiday so we got to witness hundreds of Arab families on vacation at the beach!  It was wonderful to see, but being the only foreigners caused a bit too much attention for our liking.  Everyone is wonderfully friendly, but we attract stares, points, and many people will take pictures without asking permission. 

This is the most inoffensive version of the photo taking phenomenon.

Our last stop in Alexandria was the Alexandria Library.  Unfortunately, while the modern architecture and displays are well done, today’s version of the library simply can’t compete with the Ancient Wonder that held the treasures of the world.  Why oh why did it have to burn!!!

So ends our time in Egypt proper.  Our experience was as full as one could be and, to be honest, we left feeling exhausted and overwhelmed with all of it.  Our heads were crammed so full of new facts and memories, we needed a little vacation to empty them again.  Luckily, Egypt has one of the best retreats in the world: Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea.

For our vacation, there was no question on where to stay:  the gorgeous Four Seasons of Sharm el Sheikh was the place for us!  The service, the rooms, the diving, wow, wow, WOW!  We’ll let the pictures say the rest and only say it was the perfect end to our trip through Egypt.

To see more images, check out the gallery here!  Next up: Jordan!