Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alexandria in a Day

By Claire
We grabbed a taxi at 7:45 am to catch a 9 am train to Alexandria where we would be meeting our guide and driver for the day. Chuck negotiated the price down from LE 30 to LE 20, €2.58, and we jumped into the cab, which reeked of gasoline. No seat belts, of course. The driver tried to drop us near a pedestrian overpass to the train station but we were warned not to let this happen—we still would have had to negotiate a very busy 5 lane highway to get across to the station. The traffic was insane, albeit structured insanity, but no way did we want to walk through it. He argued but we were firm and he had to drive another kilometer, taking a U-turn to get us to the front door. We hung out in the coffee shop then used the services of one of the blue uniformed men to take us to our train and help us find our seats. Our tickets had been purchased for us and delivered a couple of days ago. The price on the tickets said LE 50 but this was included in the day’s costs. We were also given detailed instructions about getting to the train station, finding a blue uniformed guy to help us, etc.

Everything went very smoothly and we settled in to read our Kindles.

The ride was uneventful and took 2-1/2 hours with nice views of the Delta.

Simple house along the Delta--no matter how poor, there are satellite dishes.

This once-great city is named after Alexander the Great. It once housed two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World--The Lighthouse at Pharos and the Library of Alexandria. It aspires to greatness again, as evidenced by, for example, the New Library of Alexandria.

Arriving at the last stop in Alexandria, we easily found Tamer, who was holding up a sign with our names on it. Tamer escorted us to our car and explained what we would be seeing and doing today. We started with the Catacombs—No photos allowed. They were discovered in 1900 by accident when a donkey disappeared through the ground in an area that had been explored for 7 years as the possible site of a Roman tomb. In fact, the archeologist was ready to give up. It is the largest known Roman burial site in Egypt. It was an interesting mix of Pharaonic, Greek and Roman styles. Originally it was a private family tomb but it was expanded and turned into a public cemetery housing 300 bodies with family members put into crypts together.

Next on the agenda was the Roman amphitheatre, this one just different enough to make it exciting. First, it was made of marble; second, there was a flat, round stone that when standing on it, our voices were amplified in a way that was simply fantastic. We each tried it several times. If you step off the stone, the amplification stops. Boy, those Romans…they really knew how to do things. The first music academy was at this amphitheatre and classes were held in adjoining rooms, designed much like the amphitheatre.

Chuck and Tamer discussing


The Qait Bey Citadel fortress was our next stop and it was right on the water. Driving there we started really appreciating Alexandria. The weather was perfect and it has far less pollution than Cairo. The architecture is French and Italian and it has a very cosmopolitan mix of people. We had fun wandering around this fort and Tamer is a wealth of knowledge.

Qait Bey Citadel

By now it was almost 3 and time for a seafood lunch on the Mediterranean. We chose our fish from a glass case then sat down to be served numerous appetizers including baba ganoosh, green bean dip, garlic dip, humus and many more. The pita bread was almost too hot to handle. A plate of huge shrimp arrived and then our Gray Mullet, similar to sea bass, arrived. I regret not taking any photos but was so caught up in the view and the food and the conversation, I completely forgot. It was all delicious and once again, it’s a no-dinner night.

We drove all the way across town to a small island where King Farouk had this eccentric Victorian style bridge built so that he could drive to take high tea on the island.

We wandered around the beach area and then through gardens to the Presidential palace. The architect was Italian and the design is Turkish Florentine. I loved it.

Our final and probably favorite stop was the New Alexandria Library. This library is a world class venue that includes a planetarium, museums, temporary exhibits, WiFi, computers and 700,000 books with the capacity for 8 million. It was built with private donations. It is gorgeous and right up there with the Amsterdam Bibliotheek.


We watched the sunset over the water then headed for the train station and back to Cairo.

Tamer escorted us to our train and found our seats for us. This is a tremendous service. Everything is in Arabic and we would not have been able to figure out which train it was let alone which car and which seats. We really enjoyed our day with him and highly recommend him as a guide for Alexandria. You can reach him at

Another uneventful ride home until we got into the taxi heading back to our hotel. First, the driver couldn’t get the cab started. I had visions of all the taxis leaving and there we would be with a stalled out cab. But, it finally roared to life and we were off. However, he had no idea where the hotel was and called his father then stopped and asked people on the street as we went along. Amazingly, he took us right to the door.

We really loved Alexandria and recommend the trip. It was a long day, we were finally home at 10 pm but you can even spend the night there. There was so much to see and we only wish we could have seen more. I would love to have seen a Planetarium show.

Catacombs, €5.16
Roman Theatre, €4.52
Qait Bey Fort, €6.45
Lunch, €22.19
Park, €1.55
Library, €2.52
Tamer, €150 plus tip €6.45
Driver tip, €6.45

There is nothing impossible to him who will try. ~ Alexander the Great

1 comment:

Karin said...

I missed this post somehow! Alexandra is the ONE city in the world I want to see. Your blog has encouraged me to go....someday soon, I hope! The library fascinates me, have read up on it just recently about the man who's job description read something like, "...a job running the oldest and biggest library in the world"...etc. I loved the architecture you showed...also Farouk's bridge to tea! How decadent....but King's can do that, right? Thanks for taking us to Alexandria!

Karin from Paros in Prague