Simon Calder: What joyless advice. Port Said is like Liverpool – with sunshine
While some of the grandeur has crumbled with Egypt's fortunes, the main arteries are infused with commerce and humanity
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Monday 16 April 2012
You might not want to spend a full fortnight in the city at the head of the Suez Canal, but as a day-trip destination Port Said is one of the most richly rewarding in the Mediterranean.
As elsewhere in Egypt, desperation among people who rely on tourism to feed their family means the hassle factor has intensified. One couple who arrived last week aboard the Thomson Spirit stayed on shore for only eight minutes before retreating to the all-inclusive sanctity of the ship.
Yet once you shrug off the souvenir sellers and taxi drivers in the vicinity of the port gates, you discover a handsome, lively and remarkably friendly city.
Port Said owes its existence to the French-built Suez Canal, opened in 1869, which explains its unique architectural character. The core of the city adheres to a strict grid pattern. The streets are lined by late-19th-century and early-20th-century mansions and hotels, mosques and churches; and embellished by wrought-iron lamps. While some of the grandeur has crumbled with Egypt's fortunes, the main arteries are infused with commerce and humanity. Escaping the hubbub is easy: you simply walk north to the long curve of beach.
To the south of the city, the green domes of the Suez Canal Authority preside over the "Highway to India". Free ferries shuttle every few minutes across the waterway between Port Said and its sister city, Port Fuad. On the far side, cafés spill out on to the pavement, while fruit vendors' barrows add splashes of colour to the scene.
Michael Palin described Egypt's other great port, Alexandria, as "Cannes with acne". Port Said is Liverpool with sunshine. And everywhere you wander, from everyone you meet, there is a single sentiment: "Welcome."
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