Alexandria has the kind of old movie star kind of beauty to it. There’s the air of glamour, you believe that it really was something once and, in spite of its crumbly nature, you can still see the glamour peeking through the edges. In many ways, it’s an active attempt to remain beautiful in spite of the effects of time trying to prevent it.
For example, we started the day at Cafe de la Paix, across from the Corniche, in a building that was crumbling on the outside but proudly boasted of being open for over eighty years, with it’s faux-marble steps, chandeliers and white plastered columns. Breakfast was delicious, if slow, with waiters serving you in bow ties and white shirts, at prices that were definitely reasonable for the environment.
Once we started walking through the city on the way to our first destination, the National Alexandria Museum, you see the crumbling facade of the old city represented in its balconies and old trams. It has a European air to it, lacking the polish, which makes it even more intriguing. After about twenty minutes, we ended up at the Museum, housed in a building resembling a large white mansion, featuring works of art from all over Egypt, but specifically from Alexandria. You start to see some of the fusion of styles between the Egyptian and the Roman, for example, a granite sculpture of a Roman Emperor with an Egyptian headdress, or a Ptolemaic queen with Egyptian features on her head but a very sculpted body underneath. There are also exhibits about how Alexandria adjusted to various historical events, being life under Mamluks or Ottomans, or how the city handled invasions by Napoleon and the Brits. Good way to start the day.
Next stop was an attempt of modern Alexandria to recapture its past glory, the Bibliotheca Alexandria, the modern version of the ancient Great Library of Alexandria, which at one point, was the greatest source of knowledge in the world. The outside is covered in different languages from Africa and the Mediterranean. After figuring out how to get in – the library is mostly walled off from the rest of the the world by security barricades, with only one defined entrance – you’re in the main study area, which features grey pillars with lights highlighting them green and blue, and locals using it as an actual library. Now, it definitely appears as if there is a membership to get in, as there are metal detectors and security keeping people from walking in freely, and some of the bookshelves are a bit sparse and, in certain cases, comically stocked, with books like “Cold Call Techniques That Actually Work!” So when you scratch behind the gloss, you see there is still some work to do, but considering that the building is still relatively new, and that it has some great exhibits, including an art gallery, a tech exhibit, and a beautiful antiquities museum, you leave believing that this beautiful building could, in fact, become something even greater as it goes along.
From here, we stopped at Selsela Beach Cafe for some delicious pizza before grabbing an Uber to the Citadel of Qaitbey, which was built from the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. If I had to equate it to any other site we’ve been to, it would be the castle at Bursa, not only because it was built with parts of another ancient wonder (there, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus), but because of the constant photo shoots going on by local Egyptians who had made their way to Alexandria for the weekend. Not even good photography. One family spent about five minutes in a turret taking pictures of themselves with a view of the harbour in backlight, which either resulted in the person being too dark, or the background being invisible, yet photo after photo was taken. At one point, I saw a few people moving toward someplace for a photo and Daina stopped me, saying “I don’t think lots of people taking a photo here means anything.”
For the Rick and Morty fans out here, the Citadel reminded me of the episode where an Evil Rick was kidnapping Mortys and using their inferior brainwaves to hide his superior brainwaves. I know Daina is a great photographer, and I consider myself a pretty good one, but here, it’s drowned out by all the bad photography that surrounds you. Part of that bad photography was pictures of us. I learned a few days ago, in the lineup for the Cairo Tower, that Egyptians who aren’t from Cairo or Alexandria will often ask non-Egyptian tourists for a picture, because they haven’t seen any non-Egyptians ever. We played along for some, avoided others (like one group that wanted a picture of us on a really crowded staircase, Morty), but it definitely added an extra strange dynamic during the day.
we walked back to the hotel for a little rest before checking out Alexandria’s other Dive bar we had read about, Spitfire, which was extra divey and lacking a bit of the old-timey atmosphere that Cap D’Or had last night. We stuck around for a drink before heading to the kitschy Calithea, for serviceable food and some drinks, plus a wall of ceramic poultry.
I like the fact that Alexandria seems to have an accessible nightlife right in th centre. It’s been a fun stopover and, while we still have a few things to do before we head to Cairo tomorrow, feel like we’re making the most of it.