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’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
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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