Day 4, Alexandria and the Lost Passports

For our final day in Cairo, Sara and I decided to take a train to Alexandria.  It is about a three hour trip, each way, and our sleeper train did not leave Cairo for Aswan until 8pm, so we felt we could have a good day by the Mediterranean before hitting the extreme heat of Upper Egypt.

Alexandria was founded by none other than Alexander the Great, who was the first Greek to conquer and rule Egypt.  Because the pharaohs were considered gods, Alexander came to Egypt to become a pharaoh and therefore, a god.  Quite an ego this guy Alexander.

The whole story of Alexander is quite a bit long for a simple blog post, but I thought I would share a story that I learned by listening to Bob Brier on cd from The Teaching Company's The History of Ancient Egypt.  He recounts that Alexander conquered all the way to India and then decided to turn back and return to Greece.  On his way home, he paused for quite some time in Babylon, where he met his unfortunate demise (there is still quite a debate amongst Historians as to the cause of his death, but for our purposes, he is just dead).  His generals commissioned a huge portable gold tomb in which to temporarily place his body until it could be returned and buried in Greece.  After a year of building this great mausoleum, they finally carried it throughout the conquered lands amongst an enormous procession on the way to the homeland.

In Egypt, Alexander had left one of his finest generals in charge in his absence, General Ptolemy.  When the procession neared Egypt, General Ptolemy brought his entire army out to greet it and pay their respects.  Unfortunately, Ptolemy felt that since Alexander was a god in Egypt and merely a mortal in Greece, he should be buried properly in Egypt like all the other pharaohs before him.  Ptolemy and his army took the tomb by force and brought it back to Alexandria for burial.  He was not challenged by the Greeks and Alexander was buried in his gold tomb in Egypt.  The tomb has never been found.

Since Sara and I would be taking an overnight sleeper train that evening, we packed up everything and brought it all with us on our day trip to Alexandria.  I have a money belt where I store our passports, credit cards, and most of our money.  Being the obsessive-compulsive that I am, I check frequently to make sure that I still have it.  It has been my faithful companion on five continents, tucked away between my underwear and my pants.

Sara and I set out to the train station to purchase our tickets to Alexandria.  Upon entering the station, it was not readily apparent where the ticket office was located, so naturally, I asked one of the Tourist Police (yes, that is their official title) for some assistance.  He was very friendly and took us right to the window and even helped us order the tickets.  Funny, though, the ticket price did not match the one that we had been quoted earlier online, so Sara went to another window and asked the price.  You guessed it, even the Tourist Police, the very people who are supposed to protect us naive tourists, were in on the scamming.  He was going to get a kickback from the teller.  The good news was, we (again, Sara) figured it out and got our tickets for the correct price.  The bad news was, he helped us out, so we had to give him baksheesh (a tip) anyway.  However, because of the tip, he kept the riffraff away from us, and there really were a few people that he chased off as we stood waiting for our train.

Once we boarded and took our seats, I got out my novel, Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabetth Peters, a mystery set in Egypt near the turn of the century (19th to 20th, not the current one).  It was perfect for this trip and recommended reading for anyone interested in early Egyptology.  After a while, I felt nature's call and headed for the bathroom.  As I was taking care of business, I had one of the worst panic attacks I have ever had:  my money belt was gone!  I quickly felt around, but there was no question, it was not there.  My mind was racing, where had I last used it?  I had had enough money to buy the tickets at the train station, so I had not touched it then.  I could not, for the life of me, remember when I had felt it last.  It could be anywhere and we were on a three hour train ride going away from it.

I know my face must have been pale when I saw Sara.  She, too, had no idea when we had last seen it.  We searched all of our things, but I knew I had put it on in the morning.  It was gone.  In my mind I went over exactly what we needed to do:  call the Embassy, call the credit card companies and call the bank.  It was not going to be a pleasant afternoon.  I cannot explain the incredible sinking feeling that I had.

Sara told me to check one more time for the belt, maybe it was still in there somewhere.  I stood up to go back to the bathroom, feeling all around 'down there'.  Suddenly, on the outside of my left leg, through my pants, I felt an unusual bulge.  I stuck my hand down my pants and, omigosh I can't believe it, there it was, hanging by the belt clip on my underwear, halfway down my leg.  The utter relief and joy I felt was amazing.

Now, the money belt goes inside the underwear.

Alexandria turned out to be very pretty, especially by the water, but a bit anti-climactic .  There weren't really many ruins to see, so we spent most of our time eating lunch (yes, we found meat on a bun again) and sitting by the water enjoying the peace.

We got back to Cairo with a couple of hours to spare before our train to Aswan.  Unfortunately, the train station was in a shady area, so we didn't wander around at all.  We sat down to wait and I reached for my novel...crap, I left it on the train from Alexandria.

The overnight to Aswan was fun, but uneventful.  Sara met a girl, Charlotte, from Taiwan, and they talked for quite some time.  Charlotte is a big time traveler whose passport was as thick as my missing mystery novel.  She was there by herself and had just planned her trip the week before.  Very brave.

If you decide to take the sleeper train in Egypt, it is nice and clean, but nothing like the advertisements.  They have pictures of a couple in fine evening wear in the dining car eating steak with a glass of wine.  We got bad airplane food in our cabin.  However, it was still really fun and I recommend it as a good way to save money by spending the night and traveling at the same time.

One last note before I go.  For what it's worth, upon returning from Egypt, I checked my missing mystery novel out from the library and finished it.  It was quite good, although a bit predictable.

  • Egypt is agood place to watch. I`m in a hurry to purchase tickets to Egypt. Nice to here all your experiences. All the you got the tickets for correct price but paid him the baksheesh. I think you have enjoyed well.

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