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Trip to Ismailiyya and Port Said

Last week we went with our students to Ismailiyya and Port Said. On Friday morning, Ahmed our driver, drove us to Ismailiyya, passing lots of fields filled with orange or mango trees, for which this part of Egypt is famous. We checked in at our hotel and caught a first glimpse of the ships navigating themselves through the Suez Canal. After acclimatizing to the fresh air and the sunny weather we entered the bus again and drove to the center of Ismailiyya to go for a walk through the European part of the city with our tour guide Asmaa'. In this part, all the high ranked officers and engineers lived with their families. There used to be a sharp line between the European part and the Arabic part of the city, but nowadays the borders are blurry and the community is mixed. After the interesting tour through the city, we went to the Suez Canal History Museum where all kinds of artifacts from the excavation of the Canal between 1859 and 1869 were gathered. After our visit to the museum, we went for lunch at Eltayben, a very nice fish restaurant. Due to some delay in the programme we were very hungry so we all attacked the delicious fish soup, shrimps, calamari, and other fish and salads like hungry lions. After dinner, we spent some time on the beach, which was very relaxing after a long day, to process all the new impressions and information we received. Some of our students took a swim or rented a pedal boat to have some fun on the water. After the beach, we went to a simsimiyya party. The simsimiyya is a typical instrument for this region of Egypt. Its predecessor is called the tamboura and was already played in Egypt in pharaonic times. We all had a lot of fun clapping and dancing to the music that the (old) men were making. The musicians were not planning on stopping the festive music so around 9:30 pm we told the musicians we had to go to dinner and we all left to have a quick bite in a restaurant not so far from our party. We were all very pleased when we got to go to our comfortable beds when we were back at our hotel.

The second day we started with a magnificent breakfast on the terrace of the hotel with a view on the swimming pool and a lake. We were already told that this hotel was not the standard of Egyptian hotels so we enjoyed the food and views as much as possible. After the satisfying breakfast, we went to the Arabic part of the city for a tour. We drank some tea or coffee at the local qahwa where the owner told us about the history of the Nubians in Egypt. After our drink we went for the smallest tour of the weekend; 5 minutes later we were driving to our next stop. This was a restaurant next to the water where small fishing boats were waiting to go out for fishing. Again, we had a marvelous lunch. For the vegetarians there was a whole separate table prepared with all kinds of salads, rice, dips, spaghetti, and bread. After dinner, we were offered a tasty dessert. We were fully prepared to leave Ismailiyya and go to Port Said. Once in Port Said, our new tour guides entered the bus, the three Mohammeds. We crossed the water to Port Fuad with a ferry, which meant we left Africa and entered Asia. The group split up and we got a tour through the French parts of the city with villas and an old summer residence of Sadat. After the tour we were ready for a nice dinner at Central Perk. Indeed, like the café from the American sitcom Friends. They did a very good job trying to recreate this famous café. Due to some problems in the kitchen we had to wait for a long time for our hamburgers and Mac & Cheese, but in the end the food tasted pretty good. When dinner was finished we went to an old cinema for our second simsimiyya party. In the cinema we were accompanied by some members of Clean Shores Egypt who joined us in the dancing. Afterwards, a lot of students contributed to the Clean Shores Egypt project by buying some jewelry they made from products of the sea. The party was great again and after some time the young musicians played their last song and we went to our hotel. Although the hotel was not as good as the first one, the beds seemed fine to rest after an intense day with lots of new impressions.

The third and last day of our trip started with a breakfast which was not as bad as expected and satisfied we boarded the bus. Another guide, again Mohammed, joined us and gave us a tour through the European and Arabic quarters of Port Said. It was very interesting to see the different architectural styles of the houses and the differences between the two parts of the city. We visited a mosque and a church. Relatively, there used to be not so many mosques and more churches in Port Said due to the big number of Europeans living in the city. After the tour we visited Mohamed Ghaly, the last person who makes the simsimiyya instrument. Many students bought the little instrument after having danced to its music so joyfully the two nights before. We had lunch at a fish restaurant in the middle of a small market with fruit, vegetables, living animals and a butcher. Again different kinds of delicious fish were served for us on long tables. After a small photoshoot with the staff of the restaurant we left the typically Arab neighborhood for a last break on the sea. Due to the strong wind we drank our tea, coffee or sodas inside the café. The bartenders weren’t prepared for a group of over 50 people coming at once, but they did the best they could to provide everybody with a drink. After some time we said goodbye to our tour guides, who had done an excellent job organizing the different activities in Port Said, and we began our trip back to Cairo. The police escort, consisting of two or three officers, guided us back to the highway to Cairo and took off as well. They had accompanied us everywhere by foot or in their car during our tours through Ismailiyya and Port Said. Our ride back to Cairo took a bit longer due to the traffic in Cairo. Around 10 pm we were back in Zamalek, tired but very satisfied.

We all had a wonderful experience, learning about the history of the two cities and the Suez Canal. For the students it was also nice to spend some time together to get to know each other a little better. We would wholeheartedly like to thank Waziri Band, our Ismailia guides Asmaa' Gharib (اسماء غريب) and Hussien Elsherif, our Port Saidian guides Mohamed Mas’ad, Mohammad Alaa’, Mohammad Salah and Mohammad Hasan from بورسعيد على قديمه, and Clean Shores Egypt for the time and effort they put into sharing this fantastic experience with us.

 

Laurence Peelen

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