Egypt – Ancient and Warm

We landed in Hurghada, shocked by the very blue water and the sky, with no jet lag but with a “climate lag”, since we came into a totally different climate. It is different when you travel in summer, or even spring or autumn, and the difference is more subtle. However, the fact that the difference in the temperature between Egypt and your country is over 30 degrees did make some of our friends envious. Some of us felt dizzy, while others were genuinely thrilled, enjoying ourselves like big lizards in the sun. Of course, these are sun- and spring-lovers.


The trip was organized thanks to Egyptian Embassy, H. E. Mr. Amr Aljouwally, and the Red Sea Governorate, and it was basically focused on the Red Sea area, but it also included the trip to the mighty Cairo, with all its lights and craziness. But first and foremost, there is nothing like the Red Sea in Egypt. Warm, friendly, luxurious, brimming with fish of different colours… Diving among corals and fish is one of the things no-one can ever get enough of. The Giftun Island, right across Hurghada, is one of the jewels of the Riviera, with its white sands and unforgettable sunsets. The corals are very sharp, so pretty much everyone got bloody in the end, but the beach doctors were excellent. The only scars you get in Egypt are on your feet. The resorts are magical – it is like a genuine fairy-tale of luxury-for-everyone and affordable paradise. The dominant colours of ochre and orange wonderfully blend with the blue colour of the water and the sky, the swimming pools and the sea. Then there is the night market, full of splendid and exotic fruits, with people dressed in local galabiyas.

The prices are written in local East Arabic numerals, so you’d better learn them! Here is a hint – two of them, 1 and 9, you already know. Just 8 more numbers to learn! Hurghada has a splendid new mosque, called Al-Mina, close to the sea, and a wonderful Coptic church dedicated to St. Shenouda. Just like Serbia, with the opposite Muslim-to-Christian ratio. We meet with H.E. Minister Ahmed Abdallah, Governor of the Red Sea Area, a vivacious gentleman who showed us the plans for the Red Sea tourism and its connections to Serbia. Some of his ideas included Niš Airport becoming the next hub for the Serbian tourists, since the plan is to establish a direct flight between Niš and a new Red Sea star, a resort in the deep south called Marsa Alam. Since Marsa Alam and Jagodina are twinned now, there is one more reason to believe in such endeavours. A jeep drive into the desert led us to see the Bedouin culture, with traditional bread-making under the clear sky of Eastern Egyptian desert, far from the city lights and smog. These people live like this from the beginning of time, and now, they first demonstrate to tourists their skills and then quietly leave for the hills.


Yes, these are names of two saints, but they are also two of the oldest monasteries in the world named after the two saints, and they are both close to Hurghada, making it a perfect day trip with a huge cultural significance. 15% of 100 million Egyptians are Orthodox Christians which makes this African country so similar to Serbia. The Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite dates back to the fourth century AD. It was built over the cave where Saint Paul the Anchorite lived for more than eighty years. The first travel narrative of the monastery was provided by Antoninus Martyr, a native of Placentia, who visited the tomb of Saint Paul the Anchorite between the years 560 and 570 AD. The first monks to occupy the monastery were some of the disciples of Anthony the Great after they knew the story of Saint Paul the Anchorite. Seeing the cave where he lived is priceless. Egyptian icons and frescoes have the striking round big eyes, and it is clear that they were directly derived from the Egyptian art, with a weaker Byzantine and Roman influence. The language used in liturgies is a language of pharaohs, not spoken anymore, only written, and it sounds like a mixture of the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets. St. Anthony, a bit further away, is the eldest monastery. What a fantastic moment to grasp! Up until now, I saw it only on History Channel, and now, there it is, in front of me! It is the oldest monastery in the world. St. Anthony himself was the founder of monasticism. The Monastery of Saint Anthony was established by the followers of Saint Anthony (born 251, when Christianity was pretty much illegal in many places), and is the first Christian monk from Alexandria who followed his peculiar wishes to go as far as he could to enjoy his deep thoughts and prayers. A moment of history, once in a lifetime!


Just like the title of the famous 1983 Yugoslav new wave song, the magnificent lights of Cairo overlook Zamalek and the river Nile. Noisy and crazy, Cairo is a bustling city which is a gateway to the pyramids in Gizah, which we also visited, and a place where the Grand Egyptian Museum will be located. A splendid preservation work is being carried out here, with the Serbian delegation given the opportunity to see the new discoveries and localities, including the process of restoring Tutankhamun’s underwear. Yes, pharaohs were gods, but humans too. The old Egyptian Museum is a classic treat. The Serbian Ambassador to Egypt, H. E. Mr. Jugoslav Vukadinović is a true match to Mr. Aljouwally as his counterpart in agility and ideas. We had a wonderful dinner in the location where the Serbian House will be built in a year or two, i.e. when the embassy is moved to the new capital. The Embassy building was bought when King Peter II of Yugoslavia found the refuge with his government in Egypt, prior to his departure for London. And what about this new capital city? It is still nameless, but our guess is that it could be Memphis, like the one in Tennessee (of course, named after the ancient Egyptian town). The city will be all-green, all-smart, allhigh-tech, a home to 6.5 million people, bigger that Paris in size. The first phase is almost completed, the city can currently accommodate 1.500 people, and the new mosque and Coptic cathedral are stunning. You can see the new government buildings rising from the sand, which resemble the similar buildings in Astana and Kazakhstan.


All in all, Egypt is brave, strong, after the tumultuous events earlier this decade, it is back on the triumphant track, with the spike in tourist visits, while building and promoting new resorts, and creating new opportunities for trading and cultural exchange. And there is, of course, a brand new Grand Egyptian Museum and a capital city, which Serbian press delegation was the first to see!


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