Alexandria Day 2

Thu, 03 Jul 2008 13:18:58 +0000

Alexandria Day 1 Index Alexandria to Siwa

Today's major mission was to visit the catacombs. I'm not in Alexandria to dash madly around seeing the sights, I just thought it would be a cool city to visit. But one or two sights wouldn't go astray.

The Normandy Hotel doesn't do breakfast, so I wandered around outside for a bit looking for somewhere that did. I found a fairly swish-looking coffee shop called the Brazilian coffee house, and gave them a go. For 18 EGP, they did me a pretty spectacular spread of bread, a roll, a croissant, tomato, cucumber, butter, jam, and three different kinds of cheese. Oh, and a coffee thrown in as well. Extremely good value.

I have a bit of a problem in Alexandria with maps. I have Openstreetmap, which only has a couple of streets on. I have Wikitravel's map, which has every property finely delineated, but hardly any landmarks and no street names. And I have the map from the tourist office, which has a spattering of street names but is pretty inaccurate and without much to navigate by. So I got well lost trying to find the catacombs. I could always find my way back to the train station, at least, to try again. Eventually I got there.

Photography is forbidden in the catacombs too, but this time there was no mistake. I'd been photographing the entrance and so the woman knew to tell me no photography was allowed. In fact, you're not even allowed to take in a camera: I had to check it at the gate. I'm a little sensitive about my camera now, and wasn't too happy giving it to a stranger. Oh well.

The catacombs themselves are fairly good. There's no bones of course, apart from a stand full of horse bones. I overheard a tour guide saying this was because the Roman emporer Caracalla had crushed a rebellion and executed the horses as well as the rebels, although this theory as to why horse bones were discovered there is now out of favour. Anyway, there is one tomb in particular that has some excellent Egyptian/Roman carvings in, and even traces of paint. For the rest it's just lots and lots of empty boxes carved into the rock. It's an incredible place to have underground. I've never visited catacombs before, maybe I should visit some of the more famous ones in Rome or Paris.

Just nearby is Pompey's Pillar, a 25m high pillar commemorating the famous general. There's quite a complex of ruins around it forming an architectural park.

The highlight for me was the "small library", presumably the big one being the famous Library of Alexandria. The small one is rather like more catacombs, and in fact I overheard another conversation saying it was also used as a tomb.

I walked back via the markets around the train station. These had scared me stiff when I got lost in them yesterday, what with the warnings about pickpockets. Now that I'm settled in, they seem a lot more benign. Even the stall selling what looked like donkey's heads. I'd be willing to try that, if I could find a clean-looking restaurant to serve it, and if it could be made into a meal for one. I didn't get a photo, since I'm still nervous about flashing it about, but here's a butcher's shop specialising in what look like pig's trotters, but surely can't be, in a Muslim country?

I was really looking for a cheap mobile phone to use in case of emergency, but it didn't look like that kind of market. I did get some bananas though.

I walked back up to the centre of town. I found a place that would sell second-hand mobile phones, but the cheapest one they had was 100 EGP for a real piece of rubbish. Better off at ebay. I'll find one in some other market.

I decided that, since you can never have too many backups, it'd be a good idea to burn my photos to DVD and post them to my parents, so that was the next job. I found a place to do that no trouble. I have about 1.2GB of photos by now, so copying them onto DVD took a good 45 minutes. I was stuck there with the guy running the store waiting. How to pass the time? He came up with a great idea: why not try to convert me to Islam?

He was a nice guy actually - Ali was his name - and didn't push particularly hard. There was no trouble taking the conversation onto other topics, like his studies, languages, other countries and so on. But definitely the benefits of a life in Islam were a running theme. He gave me a free CD of Islamic texts in English and other languages. In fact, he was going to give me a whole stack to give to my friends, but I pleaded limited luggage space. He did get an email address out of me, although only a Spamgourmet one. (You should check out give out email addresses to anyone who asks, and switch them off if the address is abused.) If he actually does email me, and I expect he will, he'll be lucky to get past my spam filter, which I'm pretty sure has registered the word "Ali" as being highly suspect. Blame Nigeria for that.

As a small project for the afternoon, I decided to wander past the new Alexandria Library, a spectacular piece of modern architecture erected to fully capitalise on name recognition. It's right on the corniche in the opposite direction from the citadel, so it makes a nice walk.

Along the way I noticed a couple of places that described themselves as a "pub and restaurant", and marked them down for dinner. I got a lamb kofta with chips and a beer, and it was pretty good.

After dinner my last mission was to find an Internet cafe. I walked all the way down to the train station without finding one, but managed to find one on the way back. I did, however, pass an Arabic sweet shop, and felt I deserved some dessert after a busy day. Why not?

Alexandria Day 1 Index Alexandria to Siwa