By Monday morning, it seemed our providential timing had run out. We had hoped to leave the resort by 7am so we could start the long drive to Luxor as early as possible but Reception hadn’t opened yet. We discussed our options while we waited and decided to take the shorter trip to Alexandria first. I was excited to see “my city” but was especially looking forward to visiting the library.
The Library of Alexandria was easily decided upon as our first stop. Driving along the crystalline coast, it made for an impressive sight, slanted circle facing the ocean and carved stone wall protecting it from it’s very own half-moat. We parked the car around the corner and walked up to the plaza-like space next to the library, watching as people milled about taking pictures but never seeing anyone actually go inside. I found what looked like a possible entrance and approached the uniformed man standing nearby. Turns out the library was closed.
For the entire week.
No chance of gaining access.
More than a little disappointed, we decided to see it as an excuse to return to a city that, from what little we had seen so far, looked beautiful. Determined not to let this setback ruin our trip (or our impression of Alex) we set off to explore the city on foot.
Alex’s bumblebee-painted taxi’s stood out along her evenly-paved streets as we wandered the city. Picking a direction at random, we eventually saw a cluster of trees in the skyline not too far away and wandered over to find a group of people standing outside of a cemetery.
I have what some might see as a rather morbid fascination with cemeteries. I thoroughly enjoy wandering amongst tombstones, looking at the different places and ways people are buried, how they are remembered. Checking the dates to find the oldest person, the youngest child, the oldest grave. Wondering what their life was like, why that epitaph was chosen, who came before…
So we wandered our way past the group of people and through the gate into the cemetery. Walking along the main path we found workers doing construction on a rather large building. Turns out we had taken the back way into a Coptic Church. Navigating the ropes and scaffolding, a man appeared from what was probably the front entrance and showed us into part of the church itself. A lot of it was blocked off but it was really interesting seeing Christian iconography next to Arabic script. We left out of the “front” entrance to find we had been in the Saint George Church.
Continuing our explorations of the city, we were often greeted by friendly Egyptians. One Arabic phrase in particular was used on multiple occasions that I did not recognize. It took a few times, and one friendly group that knew some English, to learn that it was the equivalent of “Happy New Year”. We were traveling during Eid alAdha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham (or Ibrahim as he’s known in the Islamic world) to sacrifice his son. Upon learning this phrase, I thought it might mark the Islamic New Year as well. However, I have since learned that the Arabic equivalent for “Happy New Year” (كل عام و انتم بخير) is said for just about any festival, and does not signify that the start of a new year exclusively.
We continued our wanderings, seeking some form of sustenance as it had been a long time since we had anything to eat.
We found McDonalds =) You know how I love MikkyD’s. So healthy, and delicious, and nutritious, and authentic, and pure.
I had hoped that there might be other food options nearby, but we were in the wrong part of town. There were cafe’s galore (from my experience it seems cafes are pretty much omnipresent in Islamic countries) and a few butcher shops along the way, but we never even came across a place that grills meat. Gosh how those grilling places are good! You pick out what (freshly chopped) meat you want and you tell the guy who grabs it for you and takes it over to a grill where it’s cooked right in front of you, smoke rising and juices dripping until it’s handed back to you along with خبز (“khobz” is bread) and probably some olives to snack on as well. You can’t get any fresher, simple, or more delicious than that.
But I digress. I soon gave up and asked some people on the street where a good place to eat nearby was. They told us to keep walking, five minutes straight ahead. Past the local souk, dodging blood and feces from freshly butchered animals, and numerous cafes later we found something. I ordered an entire kilo of kofta for us to share and we carted it back to a nearby cafe to eat. The khobz there was more like pita-bread, and this time the kofta (which lay on a bed of cilantro) came with sides of pickled vegetables, onions and tzatziki-ish sauce. I was thrilled. And we had leftovers for days (or at least a few more meals).
Eventually, we returned to an internet cafe we had passed earlier to scope out a place to spend the night, or at least the area in which such a place might be found. We ended up staying at an interesting hotel that took up the fifth floor of a building with an awesome old-fashioned elevator.
The night was still young so we went back out to explore some more and ended up going to the movies. Boy was that an interesting experience! I’ll cover it in the next post but for now here are some pictures of Alexandria: