Before the Arab Spring, Egypt was bustling with tourists intrigued by the pyramids, the Sphinx, mummies and beaches (yes, there are beaches in Egypt). Nowadays, this country with a very long history is often associated with protests and violence more than the mummies and pyramids she is famous for.
With the series of posts I’m going to write on Egypt, I hope to revive some of the curious minds out there about this mysterious country to the “outside world” thanks to stories and movies surrounding the pharaohs, Cleopatra and the mummies (especially The Mummies trilogy).
Alexandria International Airport (El-Nohza Airport)
In mid-November 2010, AC and I flew to Alexandria from Dubai. We were shocked by our very first encounter with Egypt – the Alexandria International Airport (I may only be speaking for myself). The airport wasn’t falling apart but the conditions and systems were not the best.
Egypt is one of the few countries where Singaporeans have to obtain a Visa and we knew we could do that upon arrival. An officer told us that we could “buy” the Visa from “that counter over there” – it sounded like a grocery store to me. Anyway, we walked over to the counter and were then told to pay US$15 each, after which the man behind the counter passed us a sticker. This was THE Visa. He literally just sold the sticker to us with no checks or questions asked! I was shocked to say the least.
Walking back to the immigration counter, we were told to “just stick the sticker on a blank page then pass your passport to the immigration officer”. Hmmmm… ok….. Anyway, we did as we were told then just stood there with the rest of the people who were surrounding the immigration counter, waiting for something to happen.
I don’t know how long we stood there for then all of a sudden we heard names being called out by the immigration officers; to hand back the chopped passports to the respective owners. It felt like teachers marking attendance in a class, a really strange thing to do and see in an airport. I wish I had taken a photo or even a video then but that could also possibly mean you won’t be reading my blog right now.
Being the only 2 Chinese girls in the sea of Arabs (95% of them were men), we stood out quite prominently. When it was our turn to collect our passports, the immigration officers insisted on pronouncing our full name and getting them right before reaching over to us. It was funny how they tried and I guess that’s probably the highlight of the day for these friendly but stern-looking officers.
City Half-Day Tour
We collected our luggage and met our Guide who then brought us around Alexandria for a half-day tour. We went around a few of the famous tourist attractions and to my surprise, the city was clean and the drivers were not as crazy as I thought they were (sadly this was only true in Alexandria). The roads were spacious and it was not crowded.
The day ended with our bizarre but interesting experience at the airport, beautiful sceneries in Alexandria and a 3 hours’ drive to Cairo with our trustworthy driver.
Do you have any peculiar experiences at the airports? Tell me about it. Read more about my trip to the Pyramids here!