Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Or Alex as the locals call it. With 5 days in Cairo in a very comfortable Hotel I found that I had that extra day for a day trip I was hoping for. My goal for this trip was to be able to cover the Nile from North to South completely and possibly reach the Sudanese border. Accomplishing this meant a day trip from Cairo to Alexandria on the Mediterranean in the due North; the furthest point north off the Nile.

I love local trains and was skeptical about the trains in Egypt but was very pleasantly surprised. Rail Travel is available very inexpensively ($20.00 for a first class ticket R/T) to most destinations up and down the Nile. The worst part of doing my day trip to Alexandria was actually the process of buying the ticket. My Hotel preyed on me at every corner to charge me 5x as much to do something for me I could with a little study myself. The concierge offered to arrange to grab my tickets for me at the train station and charge me, I think, an additional $50.00 to do this. I balked and suffered with another local smoke choked taxi ride to the train station that took almost 2 hours round trip due to the traffic. But I got the ticket. And it was in fact cheap.

Next day I made off with a day pack filled with camera equipment for the the 2 hour ride from Ramses Station to Alex. The station itself was a bit intimidating, but once arriving in the first class cabin I had a large comfy chair in a smoke free cabin for 2 hours. Cars in first class were not even 1/8th filled. 2nd and 3rd class was another story. Think Slumdog Millionaire. Regular train travel for locals did not appear nearly as comfortable. I don't think people rode on the roofs of the cars, but I would not be surprised if they did. Nonethless it is places like trains and buses and other local forms of transport that you can really get a feel for how locals live. Do it.

After a relaxing ride North along the Nile river we arrived in Alex. There may have been 4 or 5 stations total in Alex and it was a challenge making sure I got off at the Central Station, but I figured it out and was promptly lost. No local maps. No local guides. This was a spur of the moment trip. I did know from my pre-trip study that there was not alot to actually see in Alex, and the few things to see were on the coastline. So I made for the beach.

At one time Alexandria had quite a bit of ancient historical sites, all of which are long gone. Don't quote me on this but I believe at least one of the 7 original wonders of the world was there. The lighthouse at Alexandria. No longer there, it is replaced by a Crusaders fort which is worth a look. Along the way to the fort by way of the coastal route are mostly fisherman tending to their brightly colored boats hauling their trade in from the Med. You can't beat the location of Alexandria and it was so nice to be breathing Ocean air after 4 days in Cairo.

Alex is still a City though with some of the same traffic issues as Cairo, but on a much smaller more tolerable level. If I had not mentioned there is only one rule of the road in Egypt; don't get killed. There is little effort at all made at traffic control. Crossing streets is an exercise in a mass game of chicken. No one slows down for the pedestrian. No one stops. You just.....run. It's crazy. So to get back and forth from the coastal walk to the main road I would have to play Egyptian chicken.
After 4 days of Egyptian chicken in Cairo I figured out a fool proof way of winning. I would find either a single pedestrian or a group waiting for their turn of chicken and position myself about ten yards further from them than the traffic and just wait for them to run. To be completely safe I would also try to run behind women if at all possible. Galant, ey? Hey, it worked. I lived.

Anyways after checking out the Crusader fort I found one of the old and now run down European Cafe's near the water and had a comfortable lunch and a beer. Alex has a much more European feeling than any place else in Egypt due to the earlier presence of the English and French. The City must have been a gorgeous resort city at one point. And It looks like the government is trying to go that direction with the CIty again with a new Four Seasons going in and a few other high end hotels along the waterfront. But it's not there yet. It's a day trip.

Alexandria was once also famous for its Library. There is some history there but I won't guess at this one because I would be wrong. Google it. But from what I recall Alex once housed one of the world's greatest libraries. In an effort to resurrect that history a new state of the art Library and learning center was built in Alex which is astonishing. Financed by private industry and a number of Arab government donors, the facilities are amazing. Probably more so if you speak Arabic. The architecture too was world class. Pictures of the Library in Alex can be found somewhere on my FB Egypt Picture Page. It's the big silver building with the Arabic sript. My tired legs spent a good 3 hours wandering the halls and exhibits. If you see nothing else in Alex see this.

I concluded with a cab ride out to see one of President Mubarak's "castles". A home on the shore and its ground which was undoubtedly some kind of English seat of government at one time. From there it was a cab ride to the wrong train station for the evening ride back to Cairo. I bought a return ticket, since it was the wrong station, for about 8 dollars. Well worth it, I could stake my claim to Alex and the North of the Nile River Delta. If you have an extra day, Alex is a nice escape from Cairo.

Next- Luxor

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