Sun, 29 Jun 2008 16:43:48 +0000
Cairo Day 1 Index Alexandria Day 2
I seem to have gotten over whatever sleep deficit I was suffering from, and didn't have any trouble getting up before 7:00 today for breakfast. I had my shower and checked out in plenty of time to get to the train station.
The train was a mixed bag. It was pretty filthy. For some reason there were drawings of bullfighters decorating the interior, making me think the carriages were second-hand from Spain. I was in the aisle right at the front, with the door to the vestibule and the next carriage in front of me. Since the toilet was there, the door had to be kept closed to avoid the smell. And since the door handle was a little bit broken, it became my job to properly latch it whenever someone passed by and didn't figure out how to close the door. This was a pretty irritating way to pass the journey.
On the other hand, the carriage was air-conditioned, and it only took about two and a half hours to get to Alexandria. There were two stops shortly before the terminus, but that was it. I almost got out at Alexandria East, but a friendly English-speaking Egyptian intervened and advised me to wait. So I guess there are a few genuinely helpful friendly English-speaking Egyptians out there. They're just a long way from being the majority.
The station was a bit of a nightmare, completely incomprehensible. Openstreetmap doesn't have very good coverage of Alexandria, and Google Maps doesn't have any at all. I stupidly hadn't downloaded satellite maps while I had the chance in Jerusalem. I did get a map from the tourist office, but it's not much good, not having any useful landmarks or very many street names. I found my way to the Corniche, the seafront here, but missed my street and ended up walking several blocks too far. Eventually I asked at another tourist office and found that the place I was after was just around the corner.
I'm staying at the Hotel Normandy, and it's pretty grotty. The room is large and has two very hard beds and one on springs. But no air-conditioning, not even a ceiling fan. I've got the windows open, but I'll have to close them at night to guard against mosquitoes. Only 40 EGP a night though, so you get what you pay for.
Since I'd got myself to Alexandria and checked in by 1:30, I thought there was time to do some touristing. I decided to go to the citadel, the marmeluke-era castle out on a promontory where the famous lighthouse (allegedly) used to be. It was a half-hour walk, and I got fairly sweaty, but it gets me out and about. I got to watch people hanging out on the beach, playing football, eating ice-cream, and swimming. I was surprised to see the middle-aged women taking a dip alongside their kids: wearing their full Islamic dress. I have to assume that they don't drive home in the car in all those wet clothes.
The citadel is fairly cool: you won't see a mediaeval castle in such good condition in England, that's for sure. But then, this one has been extensively restored in 1984, so mostly it looks brand new. It's completely empty, so it isn't all that exciting to explore. The kids clearly love it though.
I had a problem that one of the guards kept beckoning me over and then pointing out Interesting Things: the place where they pour boiling oil on invaders, the toilet, etc. Clearly he would have expected some baksheesh for this unofficial tour, but I had a hell of a job escaping him. I kept unexpectedly turning in the opposite direction from where he was beckoning and trying to get lost in crowds. Eventually I did manage to lose him, and kept my money. I saw him later guiding around another tourist who looked like he had been completely sucked in.
I walked back along the corniche, and sampled some of the Alexandrian ice-cream. It's different to the ice-cream I'm used to: oddly ductile, forming strings like melted mozarella cheese when you try to scoop it up. Not bad, but I prefer the usual kind.
For dinner I went to what looked like a cheap fast-food joint and ordered some chicken korma with rice and salad. It certainly wasn't fast food though: it took ages to arrive. And it ended up costing almost 50 EGP, more than it should. It was OK food though. I also thought I'd check out the patisserie down the street, and ordered some cake and coffee. But when that took more than 20 minutes to arrive, I got sick of waiting and just walked out. It shouldn't take 20 minutes to put a piece of cake on a plate and bring it to me.
Alexandria, I read, has a problem with crime in general and pickpocketing in particular, so I've changed my strategy to put my wallet in my handbag, zipped and clipped up, and just keep a wad of small bills in my pocket. This does put all my eggs in one basket a bit, since if my bag gets nicked now I'll hardly have anything. But I do think I'm fairly good about protecting my bag now, with it slung around my neck and with the clip locking everything up, it would be pretty hard for anyone to steal it, or steal from it. Much better than my pocket, anyway.
Cairo Day 1 Index Alexandria Day 2