Al Hambra Palace

In the afternoon we left the beautiful city of Toledo. The bus would take us to Granada where al hambra is located. The journey was long and tiring; by this time I was feeling weak. I hope to manage this tour as strongly as I could be but I was definitely coming down with something. It was dark when we arrived at the hotel. It’s only a few minutes walk to the complex of al hambra. Tomorrow will be the day that would put a whole meaning to this trip. I came all the way for this place and would not miss it for the world. The temperature is still under 10 degrees and I was feeling under the weather already.

Toledo

The bus ride to Toledo took about 3 hours from Madrid. It was late Sunday afternoon when we arrived at the gate of the old city. The sun was almost set. The driver told us he has to get permission to enter the city. The winding and narrow road uphill to the hotel makes it difficult for the bus to maneuver.   We were left halfway. As I dragged the luggage over the cobblestone path, the winter chill slapped my face and made my nose and ears numb. I struggled for heat. A few layered of clothing that I had on just could not negotiate the wild winter of Spain. I rushed inside a hotel lobby to find warmth and comfort. It was the moment I realized the value of heat that I’ve taken for granted back home. The day was almost over and I wanted to see this city badly. The sunset was breath-taking as I stood on the edge of the fortress looking down the whole city. The view from up here was so magnificent that made me wonder how at one time in a not so long distant ago Islam had reached this place; and gone. I braved the chilling night and walked to the town square. Despite it was early in the night, not many stores open so we headed back to the hotel. I needed a warm shower and a good night sleep really badly.

The next day we woke up early but still found ourselves late for the sunrise. The morning revealed what we have missed last night the awesome city of Toledo. The walls of the fortress still standing strong all around the city

Making it looks so secured and well-guarded.

Mezquita (Mesjid) Cristo de la Luz

We came across an old mosque that was turned into a church and now becomes a small museum. As I entered what used to be a prayer hall my heart just dropped for a moment choking in disbelief. 

An ancient mosque still standing strong despite the changing beliefs it has served over time.
The inscription on the wall can still be clearly seen. The proof that once this place had glorified Islamic faith.
Mezquita (Masjid) Cristo de la Luz
Inside where it used to be the prayer hall.

The time I lost my father-in-law

I remember the first time I met my FIL was when I visited his house to introduce myself. We chatted briefly and after a cup of tea I excused myself. That was almost thirty years ago after I finished my studies in the US. About two years later I married his daughter.  He was a respectable man in the community; everyone seemed to know him well. Being the only SIL of the house at the time, I could get anything I wanted…hehehe….close being a spoilt brat!. “Pa … can I  borrow the car?”,I asked him one morning after the wedding day. He had an old Fiat with that big round steering. “The key is on the wall”, he muttered without taking his eyes off the newspaper. He loved reading the newspaper and would read everything from cover to cover even the court notices in the advertisement section. And I loved that old Fiat; just rammed it over the puddles and potholes. It was so much fun I drove it for hours and hours. Alone.  He never really talked down or badly to me or any of his SIL (as I realized later on) no matter how ridiculous my behavior was. One time while I was resting in the afternoon a bloody big lizard crept into the room, crawling through under the lazy chair that I was resting. AArrrggghhhhh! I screamed my heart out like a crazy man running for cover. Everybody else in the house including my FIL just startled a little bit and looked away with a smile! Hey! That lizard is still in the house……how could you guys……my heart stopped for a moment as I tried to comprehend the whole scenario. My MIL took a broom and chased it away. I looked on as that beast leisurely crawled out of the house and everyone continued as they were like nothing happened. Apparently, the incident was normal and I should not freak out as I was and instead took charge of the situation. My FIL seemed to understand my predicament and talked some sense into me. Since having a lizard in the house is considered bad luck, my FIL held special prayers and assured me of nothing would ever harm me or my family. We are okay Alhamdulillah.

with one of his grandchildren

My FIL was a smoker. Althoughby the time I was married, I started to quit smoking, I would sit with him andjoined him rolling the cigarettes. Later, when I completely quit the cigarettes,I just could not pull it off and tell him to stop. I just couldn’t. I mean themotivation to quit should come from within. The energy and power come from yourown willingness to sacrifice smoking for something better in the long future. Idid not know how to tell him that and every time there was a chance to explainto him I felt it was so unnecessary; maybe later. Finally, that “later” time justnever came. I feel bad sometimes about it but keep telling myself that it wasbeyond my control. Ah well…life is so indecisive!

There was a time when he seeks advice from me. He wrote to me a letter during my study in the UK. It was about some family matters and I wrote back to him with a few advice that I thought appropriate for him to act. We never discussed about it later but I hope he understood everything I said. He was that kind of a person; humble with his fatherly status and willing to listen words of advice from anybody. A few weeks later I received a nice ring from him through the mail…..my advice was clearly indispensable…

my last ride with him …

My father-in-lawpassed away over a couple of months ago and coming back to the house now seems so empty. The fact that he is gone has not yetsunk in and the emptiness is still feltaround the house. The moment I miss the most was when he greeted our cominghome and even more so when we were to leave later on. And that would be the hardest part because hewould be sad and while I explained why we should go the tears would run downhis cheeks. I remember to hold his hands firmly and whispered to him that wewill come back for him so be strong and do not forget to take the medicine. Helooked up to the open road and then turned to me and smiled silently. No wordcould describe the painful goodbye but life had dictated the way we were. Therewere many goodbyes such as that one until he finally squeezed my hand that onelast afternoon. His hand was cold and weak. For a few days, he has beenstruggling to breathe as his lung was getting weaker and weaker. I let go ofhis hand and touched his cheeks. In silence, we were saying goodbye to eachother. He passed away peacefully with all of his children and family members gathered around him. May his soul rest inpeace.

Alex, the tram and a belly dancer

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-a Cleopatra statue in Matrouh, legend has it that once upon a time Cleopatra came to this beach and bathed; it turned her into a diva…

We arrived in Alexandria under the gray winter clouds from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Yet again I found myself travelling to this part of the world to celebrate the successful closing of my daughter’s medical study. I could not miss this special moment for the world; although I left at the office my students’ unmarked test papers and loads of research reports to be read and assessed. It’s a mad mad world at the office at this time of the year; more than what I can bear at this time and age. So, I just dropped everything, grabbed my bag and passport and took off…literally. Sometime if you just could not tolerate the circumstances, you have to make a drastic decision and shot off. It was a nice landing at the Borg El Arab Airport in Alex amidst a nasty winter crosswind and gloomy weather. We went through the Immigration and Customs without any problem. Outside, the chilly wind started to nip my face and ears. It has been awhile since I experience this winter season; the last time was during our stay  in the mountains of Hakusan in Ishikawa, Japan. But more than anything else it reminded me of my aching joints and aging body. It was a struggle just to keep warm and stay comfortable in the middle of a chilly breeze. Returning to Alexandria made yourself wonder if you could experience more than what you had in the last visit. I wanted to feel the grandeur of Alexandria; a mixture of Roman and Egyptian culture and traditions. They speak Arabic, but the environment is not similar to the one in Makkah or Medina. In Alexandria, life is more colorful and downright exotic. The most notable element of Alexandria is the tram. It runs through the busy streets and run down neighborhoods.

DSC_5373The tram cars were old and slow but for 50 cents they would take you everywhere. I think the people of this town deserve a better and modern set of cars.

Fajr was around 5.30 am. As I hurried myself through the dark alley to the nearby mosque, I saw people coming out of the building as well but they kind of not greeting each other or having a small talk as they walk to the mosque. As if going for Fajr prayer is a secret thing to do. May be someone was watching I would never know.

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But I love the atmosphere in the early morning here as you can feel and experience the stories of Hassan al Banna, Syed Qutb and Zainab during their struggles in Ikhwan al Muslimeen. Islam in Alexandria is alive but as vague as the winter sunshine; beaming high behind the gray cloudy sky. Friday prayer saw a full house and a spill-over onto the nearby streets. Ironically, the sermon talked about the miracles of the Qur’an instead of the fate of the muslim in dire straits in Egypt or elsewhere. A safe topic I reckon but I could not care less as I was busy thinking where these people would pray as every inch of the space had been occupied. But to my surprise, when the time for solat, everyone just made space and everybody could pray peacefully. I was truly amazed…hahaha!

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-a friendly Egyptian just stopped me in the middle of the street for a photo

The cold weather was really into me so I skipped most of the shopping trips and what not. I stayed home and watched TV. They have 700 channels to choose from and you know what? I flicked all of them. Christian channels were interesting as they sang Christmas songs in Arabic and recited prayers in Arabic also….better than myself saying the prayers. A few Syiah channels were also there as well as Saudi, Jordanian, Syrian etc. I saw belly dancing on one of the channels and it was the most exotic show I have ever watched. I was surprised that a beautiful lady can make that moves and it tickled every bone in my body…hukhukhuk. If I were to study in Egypt I could not guarantee whether I’d graduate or not … may be skipped classes and watched TV all the time.  All of the sudden I feel the need to explore more of Alex and places in Egypt. The long history of political struggles in Egypt since the time of Prophet Musa and Fir’aun up until now has undermined the beautiful arts, culture, people and places of Egypt. We went to Siwa the little oasis in the Sahara and Matrouh , the beautiful seaside town.

 

 

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-private garden at the university

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-at the library Bibliotheca Alexandrina

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-funny seller….

 

 

Siwa

DSC_4765 - Copy (3)The road to Siwa was long and lonely. 300 km to the west of Alex and then another 300 km towards the south into the Sahara desert. After a few road blocks, we reached this little town at around Zuhr time. We left Alex at 4 am. So by the time we arrived, it was lunch. The place seemed busy with people and tourists. We stopped by this restaurant and it served the best bbq chicken with all the salad, tahine,soup, bread etc. It was simply superb right out of the traditional oven to compliment the cool Saharan winter.

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Time seemed to stand still in Siwa. Donkeys were still pulling carts on the street. The dates farms were everywhere and this place is said to produce the best dates in Egypt. So what else is interesting about Siwa…..the Sahara desert of course. I have yet to comprehend the excitement of going into the desert. As my tour guide explained….let reserve the energy for later!.

DSC_4818 - Copy - CopyWe rode a monster called Land Cruiser 4X4. As I was about to experience the desert, I wonder what this SUV can do with the sand and dunes. And believe me if you own this land Cruiser thing you would never appreciate the performance of this monster until you take it out to the desert. There were sand everywhere and along the way it made up a dune as steep as 45 degrees. Our local driver would drive up the hill and stop at the top and kinda dive down where you could not even see the bottom of it. It dropped almost straight down and you better pick up your heart before it dropped again down the next slope. Again and again we went around this magnificent landscape…..and we just could not get enough of it. It was far better than the rollercoasters at the theme park. At the end of it we had tea and watched a beautiful sunset. Oh! My son went sandboarding and he seemed excited …… not my cuppa tea though!

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-with the tour guide and local driver

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-roselle at the oasis

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-a cold lake in the desert

 

Matrouh

 

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-can you see seven blue colors of the ocean?
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– where Cleopatra used to bathe

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-beautiful beach in Matrouh

 

It was the best of Egypt!