It started as a beautiful day for a trip to Alexandria. We got up early to get the metro to the train station. Five adults (Ed, Karlice, Ruth, Ellen and I) walking in single file behind Tish on our way to the metro station. (Sidewalks are not very good, so one walks in the street trying to stay out of the way of the cars.) We dutifully waited for Tish to give us our metro tickets but, unlike the lemmings we had been to that point, we pushed and shoved our way onto the already packed metro.
We got off at the Mubarak metro station and walked to the adjoining train station. The train was faster than we enjoy riding on Amtrak in Michigan and, a little more than two hours later, we were in Alexandria. We had sped through miles and miles of farmland heading to the lowest part of Lower Egypt. On the train, we all looked at Tish’s tourist guide and suggested a few sights that we might like to see though mainly we wanted to see old Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea. The train stopped and as we started gathering our things, Tish told us that there are two train stations in Alexandria and we would not get off the train until we were at the second, “end of the line” train station.
Since there were six of us, we had to take two taxis to the Corniche – the promenade along the Mediterranean Sea in the harbor of Alexandria. It was gorgeous: sunny and warm. In other words, it was a great day – a great day for a day trip. We stopped at an historic coffee shop for breakfast. We then walked along the Corniche to the new Alexandria library built on the site of the original library. Ellen almost became one with the fender of a car and/or the pavement as we tried to cross six lanes of traffic to get to the library entrance. Ellen avoided injury but we all wondered why Ptolemy – who built the original library – would chose to put the library on the wrong side of the road when he first ordered its construction.
We backtracked along the Corniche to a hotel that had a roof-top café from which we got to see the whole harbor and to enjoy 25 £-minimum drinks. (About £ 5.60 Egyptian equals one dollar.) While on the roof-top café, it actually started to sprinkle thus validating the weather forecast that we had read the evening before and the prediction of the taxi driver who said: “Rain? Maybe one minute!” We continued west to the fish market enjoying the rainbow that the few seconds of rain brought. We had an early dinner so that we could get the 7:00 PM train back to Cairo.
Then the beautiful tapestry we had woven with the experiences of our day started to unravel. We started walking east along the Corniche slowly as we tried to hail a taxi. When the first taxi stopped, Ellen or Ruth asked the driver how much to go to the train station. The taxi driver didn’t seem to understand, so I said “Train station – 20 pounds?” to which the taxi driver nodded okay. Ruth, Ellen and I climbed in and sped away. We had never been to Alexandria before but we had studied Tish’s book some and knew when the driver sped past the right turn to the train station that we were heading for trouble. I asked Ellen for Tish’s guide book but Ellen had given it to Tish. Ellen got out her cell phone and tried calling Tish without luck. We told the driver who was heading east along the coast at breakneck speed that he was going in the wrong direction. He stopped and asked a young woman if she spoke English. We told her we wanted to go to the train station to go to Cairo. Ruth was in the back seat making “choo-choo” sounds. The young woman seemed to understand us and tried to explain to the driver where he needed to go. A second woman/friend seemed to confirm what the first young woman had said.
The driver said something and we were off again racing east along the harbor road. I said “la” which is "no" in Arabic. I then began singing “la, la, la, la” from “Deck the Halls” and the driver finally pulled over again and asked for directions again. We offered our pleas. After another exchange in Arabic, we were off again but this time, we went only a short distance and turned right. Right into what appeared to be a 12-lane traffic jam. Actually, there were only six lanes but lane lines are pretty much a waste of paint for the way people drive in Egypt squeezing cars into spaces not made for another car.
The taxi driver inched his way through the traffic and, after what felt like a half hour, pointed to a building off to the left and started saying: “Train! Train!” He then pulled off to the right and let us out. We jumped out and I paid him but he wanted more money because he had driven so far. (Now he speaks English!) I sang another chorus of Deck the Halls and we started inching our way across the 12 lanes of traffic and then went quickly to the train platform. We started asking about which platform was for Cairo and folks told us/pointed to the middle platform. Ellen kept trying to call Tish but without luck. Ellen said this is not the right station but I disagreed and pointed to the name on the wall. The name on the wall in English spelling was “Mahattat Sidi Gaber.” I can be so assertive when I am wrong! The train station where Tish, Karlice and Ed were – and where we should have been was “Mahattat Misr.” We started asking each other if we should go and try to buy tickets (Tish had the tickets!)
Ellen said that she was going to go outside to look for Tish, Karlice and Ed. Ruth wisely told her that we needed to stay together and then started asking people about the train to Cairo. While she was trying to make herself understood when talking to an Egyptian soldier, a man who overheard her interrupted saying: “I can help you.” He said that we were at the second train station but that the train would stop to take us to Cairo. Ruth asked him if he had a cell phone. He did and he called the number and connected with Tish. Tish said that they were looking for us at the first train station. Ellen told them to board and we would get on at the second station and all would be fine. Then Ruth or Ellen asked about our train car so that we could be ready to board at the right place. We heard “Car 4” and the man confirmed that we should wait at the spot where Car 4 would stop. He told us that he was in Car 7 if we needed his help again. (The man in the picture was our interpreter/cell-phone owner/savior.)
About two minutes later, the train to Cairo pulled into the station where we were waiting. We boarded Car 4 – but Tish, Karlice and Ed were not there. We went running for Car 7 and our interpreter (and his telephone) checking the cars as we passed. When we arrived at Car 7, we saw Ed sitting at a window seat. Karlice was with him. Tish had left the train and was on the platform yelling our names but we found her a moment later.)
We all hugged. Tish gave us our tickets and we sped off into the night toward Cairo. For the next two and one half hours, one could hear spontaneous laughter coming from Car 7 as we looked at each other and laughed our relief.