02 May 2006

Egypt - 2001

I am riding on the train between the two cities after having spent 24 hours in Alexandria, or Alex as it is called by Egyptians. In my ears I am hearing the CD-ROM soundtrack from The Choir, a BBC production. As I look out the window, I am seeing land that has been continuously tilled for the past 3000 years, if not more. Added to the landscape are power lines, roads, and the rails I am riding upon, but the way of life has probably not changed much over time. Prior to leaving for Alex I had read that it was a city missing life, and beauty, sitting on the Mediterranean Sea. The author of that piece could not have been further from the truth. During my travels through Alex, which took me from one end to another, I saw a vibrant and colourful city full of well-dressed people walking from store to store. I was rather pleasantly surprised.

My day in Alexandria started when I was greeted at the railway station by my pre-arranged guide. He took me to my hotel, the Hotel Metropol where I was immediately impressed. When you walk in the front door, you are met with the smell of “clean”. I am one of the few people in the world who finds joy out of cleaning house. I recognise the smell of cleanliness and it was present in this hotel, more so than my much larger hotel in Cairo. In order to get to my floor I stepped onto an elevator that has been operational for at least 100 years. Barely large enough for three people, and located in the stair well, it ascends in slow but sure fashion. I feel as if I have stepped back in time. My room was more than adequate and very clean – not a spot of dirt or grime anywhere. I immediately go to the window and open it to see a sight I have never before seen, the Mediterranean Sea. There it is breaking against the sea wall. I also get my first view of the city crescent lying along the Sea for what seems like miles.

Not wanting to waste any time, I leave the hotel, with my guide, and we go off to the Citadel. This is a fortress built over 1400 years ago to protect the city from attack. Like the pyramids, it is a marvelous example of the enormous capabilities that the Egyptians have historically possessed. As I walked though the building, I tried to imagine what life must have been like when this building was first built. I also thought about how close I was to Turkey almost believing that if I just squinted a little I might be able to make out some details of the land. We left the Citadel and drove on the coastal road through town until we reached the Castle of King Farouk, the deposed king of Egypt. I will give it to Farouk; he certainly knew grandeur and how to locate the most beautiful site in Alexandria. The entire grounds are now full of hotels and special clubs intended for the richest people of Egypt, but during Farouks time, the majestic quality of his castle alone would have been astounding. President Mubarek presently uses the Castle to entertain important dignitaries. Just prior to leaving I walked along one of the many beaches on the grounds and touched the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Another Sea added to my minds collection. I have now touched all of the largest oceans in Seas in the world.

We left Farouks Palace just as he Sun was beginning to set. We drive back to the hotel where I freshened up a bit before leaving for a Seafood restaurant that had been recommended to me for both the view and the quality of the food – the Tikka Fish Market did not disappoint in either respect. When you arrive you asked to walk up to the fist counter and select your meal. The fish, shrimp, and crab are absolutely fresh. When I returned to the table, an assortment of appetizers, garden vegetables and breads were neatly lined up along the full extent of the dining table. My fish arrived very quickly, cooked to perfection. In all, the meal was absolutely perfect.

After dinner, my guide took me back to the Hotel and my evening was just beginning. For the next couple of hours I traversed the streets and back alleys of downtown Alexandria. The stores are different than in Cairo catering less to the needs of tourists. Unfortunately for me I was searching out purely tourist goods such as Papyrus and something for my children. I settled for a few Cokes along the way, and the joy are seeing Egyptians in their element.

The next day started late. I did something I have never done in my lifetime, I slept until Ten o’clock in the morning, I guess my walks through Alexandria tired me out. I went down to the free breakfast provided by the Hotel and it was as grand and opulent as the Hotel itself. My guide picked me up after the breakfast to deposit me at the train station for my return trip but not before stopping at a Tea Restaurant where we sat for awhile while he enjoyed the joys of the houka. While I did not partake, it was interesting to sit there and watch the people in the restaurant. I felt like I was part of a movie scene. I soon boarded the train back to Cairo leaving Alexandria behind vowing to return someday with my children.

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