Boarding the 3 hour long train ride to Alexandria, we had little expectations of what our weekend away in Egypt’s second largest city would be like. We’d heard good things about Alexandria, but had done very little planning in the way of what we might see or do once we got there. The journey there was without incident, that is if you don’t count having merchandise (socks, gum, toothbrushes, Chinese nic-nacs, etc.) literally thrown at you on the train every 30 minutes in hopes that you would buy something. Becca and I were traveling to northern Egypt with our friends Meghan and Trevor and planned to meet our friend Sarah who was already there.
When we arrived in the afternoon, we grabbed a yellow and black cab common to the city and headed for our hostel. The hostel itself wasn’t much to write home about, but it was conveniently located right along the Mediterranean and was central to several other local attractions. We then walked the boardwalk looking for dinner. The next 30 minutes or so included several groups of young boys becoming pseudo members of our little entourage, asking questions like “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?” After some “pre-dinner” ice cream at a local parlor, we took a horse drawn carriage to a fish restaurant that had been recommended to us by a friend. We picked out some fish and shrimp and a little while later enjoyed our delicious selections. Becca doesn’t normally like seafood, but she enjoyed the fare as much as the rest of us!
Later that evening, a friend we met along the way and an Alexandrian native, Karim, took us to witness a Muslim wedding reception happening just outside a mosque. The area was crowded with well over 150 people. They circled around the bride and groom who were being paraded around in some seemingly unorganized dance. The event involved no less than 1 clown on stilts, a man in a gorilla costume, an American Indian chief, and 6 or 7 other young men in Arabian style costumes. Meanwhile, a drum line of Egyptians wailed on their instruments beat after beat as a man shouted Arabic songs into his mic. The whole thing was sensory overload. We felt a little bad for the bride who, as Becca was watching, did not smile AT ALL during the entire procession. Is it not customary to smile and look happy? Or was she regretting her decision to marry? We’ll never know.
The following day we checked out a fortress off the sea, the Citadel of Qaitbay. It was built in the 15th century as a defensive stronghold against the threatening Turks. With the blue water as its backdrop, the fort made for some really stunning photos. Later that afternoon we visited one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. One hundred feet underground, the 2nd-century burial chamber was discovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. The bones of the donkey are still there to be seen. The tomb has evidence of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian influences.
We hopped the 3:30 train back to Cairo and tried our best to stay warm while our air-conditioned cabin was on overdrive. There was a temperature gauge in the train that at one point said 4 degrees Celsius. For all you Americans, that’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit. 39 DEGREES. Soon after, someone must have complained because they finally turned the heat up! Alexandria was similar to Cairo in a lot of respects but it was great to get away for the weekend. It was a little less polluted, its buildings a bit more colorful, and the traffic seemed to flow smoother than in the capitol. We hope to return to the city by the sea next spring and maybe try out scuba diving around Alexander the Great’s long lost sunken fleet.