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Published: February 15th 2016
In between our time in Lebanon and the excitement of a rendezvous with BV Chef in Cairo, we descended on the coastal city of Alexandria. In all fairness, we didn’t know much about this city, given our somewhat hectic schedule leading up to our departure on this latest journey about the Middle East and Europe. We knew some key points; it is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and looked like a good place to slow down for a bit. Our subsequent discoveries uncovered a great many things in our abbreviated time here.
This is no sleepy seaside town. Alexandria has over four million citizens and is the largest city directly on the Mediterranean Sea, founded by none other than Alexander the Great (which of course, makes sense) in 331 B.C. We chuckle because this city has a similar population of the entire country of Lebanon, which we just left. We read up on the location of the airport, which is located quite a distance from the city. So we settled in to watch the landscape around us. Even though it is technically winter here, a warm and sunny day greeted us. The scenery unfolded as we
expected—it is flat and it is brown.
The history of both Alexandria and Egypt is one of continual conquests, sackings and general meddling by other nations, until the middle of the 20th
century when they finally gained home rule. From the beginning of recorded time, they have been ruled by Greeks, Persians, Ottoman Turks, French and the British. Many Europeans lived here until the 1950s, when Arab nationalism hastened their exit.
With limited time, we toured as many sites as possible and came to realize a common theme; a lot of the history of this ancient city has been uncovered only in the last century or so. This is due to several reasons, including an immense tsunami in 365 B.C., which essentially covered up a fair portion of the original city. Other discoveries came about by accident, including the Roman Theater, parts around the Pompey Pillar and the catacombs, all of which are smack dab in the middle of the city but were either built over or literally forgotten for hundreds if not thousands of years. Loads of history for us to absorb in a three days.
Another stop was at
Along the corniche
View east from our balcony
the Library of Alexandria. To describe the library as impressive is quite an understatement, given its unique architecture and enormous capacity. There are few libraries in the world that can compare. Hopefully our photos will demonstrate what we are talking about. Interestingly enough, back in the days of Alexander the Great, ships that arrived in Alexandria had their books and scrolls taken from them and placed in a library. Copies were made and given to the ships. Fair trade? Probably not, but it is one sure fire way to populate your local library with books before the age of the printing press. Unfortunately due to plundering, fires and the like, only one scroll is left to see present day and it is apparently on display elsewhere at the current time.
And then there is the “Death Star.” First described as such by a fellow TravelBlogger (Not so) Lazy days in Alexandria
in about 2007, it is actually the planetarium, which is located at the Library of Alexandria. For anyone not familiar with the movie “Star Wars,” this is the mighty weapon of the evil Empire, which looks like a small planet, albeit quite deadly. At night the planetarium’s circular exterior has rings
Beginning to love coriander....need to find some recipes.
of dark blue lights and makes for some great photos. When you see photos on the web, it looks seriously cool. On our last night in Alexandria, we decided that at sunset, we would take a cab down to the planetarium, which is only about 5 km away from our hotel, jump out, take a couple of pictures and scurry back to the hotel. This turned out to not such a great idea. First of all, it was a Sunday, and they don’t turn on the cool blue lights of the planetarium. We inquired and were told that the lights would be on tomorrow night. Secondly, it takes no time at all to get there, but then you crawl back in traffic for about an hour….ughhh.
Travel tip # 427: when making plans to visit the “Death Star,” make sure that they are going to light it up that night and know that a return trip east from that location is going to take quite a while.
On another note, an observation we made is that in our opinion the city could use a good coat of paint. Most of the buildings are old
The "Death Star." Photo is from the internet. This is how it looks when lit.
and crumbly looking and yet they still stand and function. Some have some stately architectural features. In a way it resembles Havana, Cuba or Athens, Greece in that the buildings are quite nice, but their exteriors are the victims of time and weather. Certainly there are smatterings of bright and shiny new buildings but the old ones grab your attention and far outnumber the new. There is something intriguing about the stories they would tell if could they talk. Varied architecture throughout this city reflects Alexandria’s history through time and the resulting influence by other nations.
As with most large cities that are older, traffic is nightmarish. Many of the buses and automobiles have small dents and scrapes and one hears the incessant honking of automobile horns. Traffic moves at a snails pace, inching along and eager to move down the corniche. We observed mild road rage and irritation in our travels but one could expect it could become heated at times. Most cars have one occupant and there are far too few buses available.
After a full day of touring we decided to be lazy and eat at the hotel. We had a
wonderful Greek meal of lamb chops. The manager was checking on us and we asked what foods would be in a traditional Egyptian meal and why isn’t it on the menu. A few minutes later he brought the chef out to discuss Egyptian culinary delights with us. He said if we came back the next night he would prepare us a special meal. Ah well, of course we said yes.
The manager brought out the chef who would be assisting in preparing our traditional meal. We had been very specific that we didn’t want large portions that we generally share a meal and an appetizer. They smiled and agreed on small portions. Shortly there arrived a large platter with a soup tureen and 4 casserole dishes heaping with wonderful and amazing samples of fine Egyptian cuisine. We hope to have spelled these correctly. The first course was Molokhia which was a chicken soup in a puree of molokhia leaves, which could never be described, but it was delicious. They made dolmas out of green peppers and zucchini, with rice and the spices of parsley, dill, coriander, chili powder and black pepper danced on our taste buds. This turned out
Bar Manager and Sous Chef
Emad and Ahmed helped to create an authentic Egyptian meal for us! Thank you!
to be our favorite! Amazing, so moist! The rice with mixed with fermicelli pasta and again the wonderful spices. The best rice we’ve had in a long time. Our meat course was a mixed grill of kofta and kabobs in an amazing sauce piled with sautéed vegetables and spices. We also had a spiced ground lamb in a fill pastry.
Needles to say when we rolled away from the table we were extremely happy after a serious food orgasm.
On our way back up to our room, we were on the elevator when 5 or 6 women got on and continued their conversation. They were lively so MJ asked if they were celebrating. They explained they had come to the hotel for the weekend to enjoy Valentine’s Day without their husbands and they all began to laugh. We’re not exactly sure what to make of that.
Each day at the breakfast buffet you can have pastries, eggs, omelets, juices fruits and cereals. Of course MJ is always on the hunt for local foods so she began asking questions. They told her to sit down and the foods began to come to the table.
First was Belila, which is a warm cereal with whole milk and they’ve added sugar, almonds and raisins. Coconut is available also. Then they brought foul, which turned out to be a bean soup- actually it was more the consistency of moist refried beans and they added sliced cucumber, lemon, oil and a few spices. Happy now with her Egyptian breakfast. To embrace a culture you must eat the local foods.
We’ve learned the school teacher get paid fairly well, much better than they used to. Most Egyptians can speak two languages and many speak three. English and French are also taught in primary school.
Sarah, the guide we hired for the day had a degree in archeology and history before spending two years training for becoming a tour guide. She is fluent in Arabic, French and English. They pass a test for each language to lead tours. She was an outstanding guide and filled our heads with knowledge plus we liked her because she has spunk! We were wandering the dusty catacombs where people are prohibited from taking photos. Inside was an official of some sort with two Japanese tourists. She saw him
take money from the tourist and was allowing them to take photos plus he was taking some photos for them. She let him have it. The interaction was lively passionate for more than 5 minutes. Voices were raised and hand gestures were made. She made her point….. but they ignored her and continued to take photos. Of note is the fact that the man she was having the heated exchange with was carrying a submachine gun and a side arm as well. That girl showed us she has no fear as she did not back down to him.
Since the 2011 revolution, the tourist trade has suffered dramatically. The locals are happy to see us and hopeful people will return. Unemployment in Egypt is about 13%, so any increase in tourist traffic would be most welcome. They ask us to tell you that it is safe here and to come visit. Unemployment in Egypt is about 13%, so any increase in tourist traffic would be most welcome. We have not seen anything to give us pause.
We will keep you posted as we travel through the rest of Egypt with our friend, BV Chef.
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