The Land of Pharaohs

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
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35
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Trip End Jun 19, 2006


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Where I stayed

Flag of Egypt  ,
Saturday, March 25, 2006

It's very easy to over-romanticise about travel, and even more so when you're writing about it. However, there are some places that cannot help but be viewed through eternal rose-tinted glasses, and Alexandria is most definitely one of those.
The home of pharaohs and conquerors, Alexandria was for centuries Egypt's gateway and the centre of the known world, and so, perhaps fittingly, this was where I first set foot in Egypt, after many many years of dreaming about doing that very thing.

Described as the greatest city with nothing to see, Alexandria is long bereft of monuments from it's proud Ptolemaic legacy, and all that remains of Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra are memories. Even the famous Pharos, the mighty Lighthouse that proclaimed Alexandria's power and glory to the ancient world is vanished, toppled by an earthquake in the 14th century. This city though more than makes up for its lack of tangible remnants of its storied past with an exuberant personality and the palpable sense of pride that blazes in every Alexandrine.
I knew I loved the place by the time I arrived at my hotel. The sapphire Mediterranean gleamed like liquid jewels beyond The Corniche, a mere stone's throw from the balcony off my room. Everyone I met on the streets smiled at me, and welcomed me to Alex with such genuine and unabashed warmth, that even after jetting through 3 countries in 30 hours (if it's Saturday, it must be Egypt) I was feeling a million bucks. Alex is easily the most cosmopolitan city I have encountered yet on this trip, not surprising in a city that for countless generations has been the crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe.

I explored the city on foot for the day, wandering with a vague sense of purpose towards the Graeco-Roman Museum to see what artifacts from Alexandria's history as they had. I hadn't gone far when a local mistook me for an Egyptian and started asking me something in Arabic, so I knew I must be doing something right. I love walking through a city when I first arrive - you get an such an immediate feel for where you are, the vibe of the people, the new exciting smells and sights. After a few hours of this, I did eventually stumble across the museum, only to find to my dismay that it was closed for renovations. This wasn't mentioned in my guidebook, so I thought I'd better ask. How long has it been closed for, I asked. "Two years" And when will you reopen? "Two years. In sha 'Allah"
Ah. I knew that much Arabic - "in sha 'Allah", God willing , the Middle Eastern equivalent of a shrug, or Island Time. I knew I'd been defeated, and that the museum would have to wait for another time.

After a long afternoon visiting the former site of the Pharos, and the incredible architectural wonder that is the new Biblioteca Alexandrina, I found myself sitting at one of Alex's many fine cafes, nursing a tar-like Turkish coffee and sharing a sheesha (water-pipe) with an few fine folk from England I had collected along the way. I watched the sun set behind the harbour, the sky ablaze with fire, and was most content.
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