Sand storms, libraries and fish (oh, and sheesha of course)
Alexandria Travel Blog› entry 9 of 12 › view all entries
The next morning I opened the window to a terrific view: there was the Mediterranean and the corniche. However, after I returned from breakfast that very same view was almost entirely gone and you couldn't see more than 20 metres ahead. Not fog, no: sand! I had been warned about sand storms this time of year, but when I checked earlier this week there was no sign of them. Guess it is just typical, I get here and after a week of sun the sand storms start.
But that was not the only disappointment. It quickly dawned on me that Alexandria is in fact not a very nice city to visit. Might be a great place to live in (all the people I spoke to prefer it over Cairo) but for a visitor it doesn't hold that much merit.
Alexandria is quite literally a waterfront city, sprawling for 32 kilometres along the coastline, yet only 3 kilometres wide. When reading about the city I had hoped for something like Beirut, where strolling along the corniche is a favourite pastime in the afternoon. Well, the corniche here also serves as the main thoroughfare. And with Egyptian traffic being officially the worst in the world, crossing 10 lanes of speeding car traffic to reach the Mediterranean waterfront is only recommended to those with a serious death wish. Anyone remember that 80s computer game Frogger? Well, crossing the Alexandria corniche more than resembles that game. With the exception that at least with Frogger you start out with three lives.
I have never seen so many road accidents in such a short time as I have in my two-and-half days in Alexandria.
Mohamed came to pick me up in my hotel and together we travelled to the library. As most people know Alexandria once had the largest library in the world and while nobody really knows when exactly the original library was destroyed, it has been long gone and hardly any traces of it remain in modern day Alexandria.
In 2003 the new, modern “Bibliotheca Alexandrina” was inaugurated with the goal to revive the old library and once again have the largest library in the world. Though the place still has a long way to go to become this, it has made impressive progress by digitalising almost all of its books, including thousand year old scriptures which can now be read and studied online.
Another cool thing is the web archive it is maintaining - the only one of its kind.
It was good I had my own personal guide with me, as Egypt has the nasty habit of charging tourists up to 10 times as much as nationals. Mohamed explained at the ticket booth I was working in Cairo though (not even a lie!) so I got in for the Egyptian fee.
There are free tours available at the library, so we took one of these to get some information about the building and the concept. Even if this meant we had to join a group of Americans of which the average age was at least double that of ours.
The library also houses some interesting museums. The first we visited was the scripture museum, which displays some very old works, including some that have been salvaged from the original library.
The other main museum, in the basement of the library, holds a small collection of artefacts found in the surrounding area, but can in no way match the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Although it does have a very cool gimmick that you are given a PDA when entering the museum, to get explanations on all the artefacts on display. The most modern 'tour' I have ever seen.
As it wasn't much fun to spend too much time outside because of the sand storm and we were getting somewhat hungry, we went for a very long lunch. Alexandria is famed for its seafood, so that is what we opted for.
We passed by a pharmacy where a friend of Mohamed works to get some advice on the best seafood restaurant in Alex.
By the time we finished lunch the weather had cleared somewhat, and since we only had a couple of hours left before Mohamed would have to return to Cairo (he's working the day shift tomorrow) we decided it was time for sheesha.
Near the fish market, in a grand café style garden setting we had some wonderful fakher sheesha (hehe, he said the f-word again) which I washed away with -quite rare in Egypt- a nice cold beer.
Next door was a dive shop and I had read about a unique diving experience that can be done in Alexandria: much of the ancient city lies now submerged below the sea level, so you can actually dive in between ruins and artefacts. Seemed like quite a cool thing to do tomorrow, but unfortunately here too the prices for tourists were ridiculously high. They charged 100 euros for two dives, which I thought was very expensive for Egypt (last time I dove in Egypt it was at a Hilton resort no less, where I 'only' played 65). But worse was that had I been Egyptian I'd only have to pay 40. That was too much for me. It's not as if a dive shop has less costs or anything if an Egyptian person dives, and as the trick of telling how I was based in Cairo at the moment didn't work here, I decided to leave the diving for what it was. As much fun as it had seemed.
With Mohamed gone to Cairo, I didn't really feel like exploring the Alexandria night-life on my own, so I spent the evening checking e-mails at the hotel and went to bed early.