The train station in Alexandra.
Alexandria. The city on the Mediterranean Sea founded by Alexander the Great around 331 BC is nowadays one of the favourites destinations even for Egyptians. In ancient times it was one of the most famous cities in the world. That was the place me and Pavel were just heading to right now. Our air-conditioned train was following the Nile direction north, a pretty pleasant 3 hours journey. We couldn’t complain at all and I really enjoyed the view from the window.
We bought the train tickets the day before and managed even to get the student discount.
Pavel’s ISIC card (International Student Identity Card) wasn’t valid anymore, but he carried it anyway. As mine was fine, we used a little trick. I went to the desk to buy the tickets and showed my card saying that my friend is a student as well. Then Pavel waved with his card from behind…maybe a shabby trick, but it worked, hahaaha. It saved Pavel quite a lot of money on the end.
It was around noon when we arrived in Alexandria, the 2nd largest city in Egypt. After getting out of the train we were approached by a young lady, she said she was from the tourist information center. It was only our second day in this country, but we adapted already a pretty cynical attitude toward Egyptians who wanted to “help” us. Usually they went for our money only, this came out sooner or later. But this nice woman proved that not all the Egyptians were the same, she leaded us to her office, gave us a map with some tourist prospects and explained us what we should see in the city.
Definitely a big help…and it didn’t cost us anything.
Behind me is a Roman amphitheatre.
Alexandria made a good impression pretty from the beginning on, even the train station building looked really nice. Our first stop were the remains of a Roman amphitheatre nearby. The entrance cost some 6 pounds, what we didn’t know was that this was the ticket only for the amphitheatre itself. The ruins of a Roman bath house were charged extra couple of meters further. Honestly, we could see enough from where we were standing, so we refused to pay that.
We were heading to the promenade when a group of 3 young Egyptian men stopped us.
They wanted a picture together with us. The wish sounded a bit weird, but we agreed. I prefer not to know what the guys did with the picture later. They seemed nice, but you never know, hahaha.
Pavel and me.
The Midan el-Tahrir Square we suddenly arrived at had some slight European touch, the whole city looked less Arabic then Cairo for example. The promenade was really nice, but the beach we saw nearby was more then crowded. Well, we didn’t come for swimming or sunbathing anyway. But before we could continue with our sightseeing we needed to get something into our stomachs. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook (it’s not always right, but it helped me already a couple of times) there was supposed to be a very good local restaurant nearby with really moderate prices. Lonely Planet was more then right in this case, the service was super nice (we were the only foreigners inside), the food just delicious and it cost us altogether (good tip included) something more then 3 euro for both.
If I ever get to Alexandria again I’ll definitely come to eat here.
A good lunch requires a good coffee, that was our thought when we sit down in a café by the promenade. The Egyptian coffee I got was…ehm…pretty viscous. And strong. Something to need to get used to a bit, but not bad. After this short intermezzo we made it till the Fort Quaitbey at the northern tip of Pharos, on the site of the ancient Lighthouse (one of the 7 ancient World Wonders, destroyed by 2 earthquakes in the 14th century).
Next to the fortress of Quaitbey we found a small naval museum, we decided to visit first. Why not? The entrance fee was ridiculous, 1 pound only. Honestly, after we entered I started to regret that 1 pound. Not because of the money itself, but we could have better gave it a beggar, he would be happy about it at least. The fish or seaweed figures inside looked like they were made by little children, like if somebody tried to save money when creating this museum.
Our delicious lunch.
However, the following visit of Fort Quaitbey made us forget about the tiny and ridiculous naval museum. The fortress itself is really a beautiful historical monument with lots of rooms, passages and wonderfully decorated doors. The whole visit wouldn’t have been complete without another funny “meeting”. While we walked around we passed several times next to an Egyptian family with daughters only. Don’t know why, but when we met them “coincidently” again for the 7th or 8th time in one of the halls, they approached me and tried to ask me something pointing at their camera.
I thought they wanted me to take a picture of them, but they just shaked their heads. They wanted me to be on the picture with them. Why????? I would have loved to ask them that but they spoke almost no English. I agreed but under one condition. I wanted a picture with my camera as well, hahaha.
A bus stop.
We walked the same way back on the sea promenade where we made a stop to enjoy a cool mango juice. That was such a delicious drink, perfect for a hot day. Refreshed we continued walking and passed next to a beautiful mosque. Its name was Abu El Abbas El Mursi. We weren’t sure if we were allowed to enter as foreigners, when I’ve been to Morocco it wasn’t possible at all for non Moslems. Then we saw a group of 3 young men entering, 2 of them were definitely foreigners. So why not? As in any other mosque in the world we had to put the shoes off, a guy by the entrance gave us a sign not to forget it.
Didn’t need them anyway inside with that soft carpet on the floor. The inside was cool and nice, most of the people were praying or just sitting around. Some of them were chatting quietly. A really peaceful atmosphere reigned in this place. We sit down and just watched the interior and the people around us. A smiling young man approached us, seemed to be curious about us. But unfortunately his English was very poor, so the communication worked very slowly and soon we reached our limits.
My favourite city in Egypt!
We stayed sitting till the official prayers started and left then a bit later.
Alexandria used to have in the antique times an impressive library which was famous all around the known world, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
The original was destroyed by a couple of fires centuries ago, its new modern version was inaugurated in 2003 near the site of the old library. The present building is huge and pretty impressive. We had to catch our train back to Cairo, so we didn’t have time to enter, but we made at least some pictures outside.
We were pretty tired when we got back to the station. Just wanted to sit down in the train and get back to Cairo. But we had to find our platform first what wasn’t as easy as we supposed. There was a shabby looking old guy that approached us, I asked him to point us the right platform for the train to Cairo, but he just gave us a sign to follow him. Why didn’t he just show us where to go? Our platform resulted to be very close. He pointed to the door and “showed” us his hand then…baksheesh.
Was he kidding? Well, whatever, Pavel had a 50 piasters (half pound) banknote so he gave it to him. The old guy looked surprised into his hand and said angry “1 pound”! That was too much, we just ignored him and entered the train leaving him swearing in Arabic. We sweared in Slovak instead.
A remark on the end, the trip back to Cairo took this time almost 5 hours, don’t know what the problem was. We were partly moving so slowly that a camel could have passed us easily. Our train arrived in Cairo pretty late, but hey, our hotel was opposite the train station, so why should we have cared too much.