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Published: April 5th 2007
Days 67-70, Sun 1st Apr - Wed 4th Apr:
I escaped Egypt's polluted capital to spend a few days in it's second biggest city, Alexandria, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. There I explored muddy street markets and tried to enjoy being at the seaside, although the sea was spoiled by the vast amount of litter floating in it.
I visited the main attraction of the city which is the Biblioteca Alexandrina , a well-stocked library in an imaginatively designed modern building, and I explored the Kom-El-Shogafa Catacombs, which date from the 2nd Century AD and contain dozens of tombs and carved reliefs in a mix of Egyptian & Graeco-Roman styles. Near it I saw the Pompeii Pillar which dates from the same era and is a substantial 30 metres tall.
One day I went into a cafe to drink salep and met a retired sea captain called Sayed Ali. He was sixty four and had visited many english ports in decades past, and thus his english was very good. He invited me to join him for lunch which I did, although it was no normal affair. We walked to a butcher's together where we bought half a kilogramme of minced beef and some kind of onion-based spicy paste, and then we proceded to a bakery. There Captain Sayed ducked into the oven area and reappeared with a baking tray in which were four rounds of pastry. He placed the meat and spices on two of them, mixing them together at the same time, and then put the other two pastry rounds on top as lids and crimped them together around the edges. They then went into the bakery oven and ten minutes later we had two large meat pies ready to eat. It was news to me that people could help themselves to a bakery's oven to cook their own meals! We returned to the cafe where we'd met and ate this dinner there. It seemed unusual to sit in a cafe and eat a meal you brought in yourself, but no-one blinked an eye so it must be a normal event in Alexandria.
I also made a side trip to Rasheed, otherwise known as Rosetta, the site where the famous stone was found which led to a breakthrough in deciphering the Ancient-Egyptian hieroglyphs. The town is on a branch of the Nile Delta and is known for its fish, so naturally that was what I ate there, straight from the river and cooked before my eyes. The place where I ate was very basic though as there was no cutlery and I had to eat with my hands. I also visited an Ottoman era government building adorned with detailed geometric designs, its adjacent mill and some 'ancient' baths.
On my last day in Alexandria I met Captain Sayed again in the cafe and we repeated the meat-pie experience before I headed back to Cairo.
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