“For me, it is the month of reading and of buying books,” said Demah Nasser, a 21-year-old student who had just returned from a trip to the Cairo International Book Fair. Nasser had also gone to Port Said a week before to visit the Logos Hope, the world’s largest floating book fair, which had moored there from 4 to 23 January.
Though it was the second time the famous ship had docked in Port Said, the last time was in 2010. This time round, it saw over 40,000 visitors coming from different parts of Egypt.
Since Nasser loves English classics and thrillers, she enjoyed visiting the floating book fair to buy the classic English novels she wants to read. Having spent more than three hours on the Logos Hope, she made plans to go to the Cairo International Book Fair as well.
As a voracious reader, she travelled all the way to Port Said from her hometown of Alexandria. “I got two books, a history book on the history of the world and a religious book,” she said. She was impressed at the cheap prices. “You wouldn’t normally find English books at these prices in Egypt,” she said.
She also relished her trip to the famous Ferdinand de Lesseps platform, where she enjoyed sightseeing at the Suez Canal. Though she spent more than four hours on the road to get there, she feels the trip was worth the exhaustion.
“Port Said is a very calm city, and it feels nice being there. My favourite part was visiting Port Fouad and the mesmerising scene of seeing the seagulls flying around so freely. I’ve never seen this anywhere before, and I would definitely visit again,” she added.
LOGOS HOPE: The Logos Hope is one of several floating international book fairs crossing the world today with a volunteer crew of 400 people from over 60 nationalities, including engineers, electricians, teachers, sailors, nurses, and cooks.
It is also famous for its cultural performances, international cafés, concerts, and global solidarity. The vessel has visited more than 150 countries since 1970, welcoming some 49 million people on board.
The ship is 132 metres long and carries more than 50,000 titles of books that are mostly in English but also include some in other languages, including Arabic, French, and German.
In Port Said, it opened its arms wide to Egyptians from the ages of 13 to 65 years old at the cost of LE5 per entrance. Children, adults over 60, and people with disabilities got in free.
A family of four was touring the fair with enthusiasm on the day Al-Ahram Weekly visited, sharing ideas and choosing their favourite books. They had come from Cairo for a one-day visit where they enjoyed the unique experience of being on board the world’s largest floating book fair.
“Regardless of whether we enjoy school or not or excel in our subjects or not, we always have a love of books topping our interests and priorities,” said Gana Mohamed, just 12 years old.
Gana and her brother Hussein got their passion for books from their parents who were busy going around the fair choosing books to interest them. “I love the smell of books, colourful book marks, the pencil marks I make to indicate the parts of books I love. Books are what makes me happy,” the curly-haired girl said.
“I love adventure books and books of science fiction,” she added, while trying to hold on to a basket loaded with different titles.
Despite the saying that young people in Egypt do not read books and the percentage of people reading is very low, the visit of the Logos Hope shows that many people will travel hundreds of miles to buy books and to get a sense of what it feels like to visit a floating book fair.
A NEW EXPERIENCE: Many tourist companies had planned one- and two-day tours of Port Said to visit the book fair.
“When we knew that the Logos Hope would be visiting Egypt, we had many people asking us to plan a trip to visit the ship,” said Ali Ezzat, the owner of a travel company in Alexandria.
“There were also many shows and concerts running throughout the day. We managed to attend one, so the whole ship was a cultural festival that we enjoyed very much,” he said. “There were volunteers from different parts of the world, and we talked together and shared conversations about common interests.”
Ezzat’s company focuses mainly on planning heritage excursions across Egypt, including camping overnight.
On the trip the company organised to the Logos Hope and Port Said, people were able to visit the city’s Italian house, Sadat villa, and Port Fouad and enjoy eating in the large fish market there. “We loved the fact that everything on the Logos Hope is done for charity. It is amazing how helpful everyone is, trying to help and support visitors,” Ezzat added.
“We still have many places in Egypt we are unaware of and that need to be explored. Young people want something different each time they travel,” he told the Weekly.
The Logos Hope has been much advertised worldwide. Some said the ship was overrated, but most enjoyed the Port Said visit. “It is a beautiful city that people enjoy very much,” Ahmed Salama, a tourism expert, said in an interview with the Weekly.
Salama is the founder of “This is Wonderful Egypt”, a popular page on Facebook with over a million followers. It aims to draw attention to tourist attractions and other destinations in Egypt.
Social media platforms advertised the visit by the Logos Hope to Egypt. People saw it as a new experience and the opportunity to visit a different city, Salama said, who has 20 years of experience in the tourism industry.
Since Port Said is near to Alexandria, Cairo, and other places in the Delta, people were keen to make the trip, he said. “People love to watch the ships crossing the Suez Canal. A ship is a universal landmark, and this one is one of a kind and is run by a German charity.”
Salama also praised the efforts made by the Port Said governorate, whose officials had organised the visit well, right down to the logistics of getting people on board and advertising.
In a statement, Port Said Governor Adel Al-Ghadban said that the popularity of the visit of the Logos Hope to the city had meant much investment in organisation. The governorate had welcomed the ship with a cultural event featuring a dance show and volunteer tours of the city, he added.
TOURISM OPPORTUNITIES: Port Said and Port Fouad are both beautiful cities. Built in a European style, they are full of historic landmarks and also host many cultural events.
Port Said is also known as a bustling shopping hub. “You can find things for much cheaper prices in Port Said than in other places in Egypt, and you can buy branded clothes and other items that are not found elsewhere,” Salama commented.
It is also easy to get to. There are new roads to the city, and these offer a wide variety of services. Many people also like to stop off in Damietta, which is famous for its sweet industry.
“Generation Z might find it difficult to read books sometimes, but they love going to visit historic places. They might not be interested in buying books at Logos Hope, but they will go there to get a whole new experience,” Salama said.
Salama also highlighted the fact that more and more people are interested in eco-tourism, a way of feeling connected to nature and of sharing marvellous photographs with friends on Twitter and Instagram. Bird-watching festivals and photography contests receive wide recognition.
Migratory birds from across Europe stop off in the Port Fouad Nature Reserve on the outskirts of the Port Said governorate, and this is a beautiful place to visit. It is like a free invitation for all nature and wildlife lovers, especially as they are able to watch the migratory birds on the Manzala Lake, the largest natural lake in Egypt.
“We must encourage this kind of bird-watching and nature tourism. We have over 200 species of rare birds at the lake and more than 500,000 birds visiting every year. We must make use of this to attract thousands of visitors each year,” Salama said, pointing to the first Port Said International Festival for Bird Watching held under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities last December that encouraged people to watch flocks of flamingos, pelicans, wading birds, egrets, starlings, quails, gulls, and storks.
While not everybody is interested in books, they will be able to find many other things to do in Port Said, such as watching flamingos, crossing the Suez Canal by ferry while feeding the storks, and watching the gigantic ships crossing the canal.
These are all sights that are off the beaten track and are very much worth a visit.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly