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Alexandria

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Revision as of 15:22, 12 August 2005

Aerial view of Alexandria - the new Library of Alexandria

Alexandria (الإسكندرية al-Iskanderiyya), Egypt's second largest city (after the capital Cairo) and the country's window on the Mediterranean Sea, is a faded shade of its former glorious cosmopolitan self, but still worth a visit for its many cultural attractions and memories of a glorious past. Alexandria nonetheless remains an important city, as Egypt's chief sea port on the Mediterranean and a home to at least 3.5 million Egyptians.

Understand

History

Sic transit gloria mundi - Alexandria was the eponymous foundation (in 334 BCE) of the Macedonian conquerer Alexander the Great (Iskander al-Akbar), a rival of Rome in its heyday, and the world's greatest center of learning for millennia... now a dusty seaside Egyptian town with an over-inflated population of 5 million. The French-style parks and the occasional French street sign survive as a legacy of Napoleon, one of Alexandria's many conquerors. But the final blow came when Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized most of Alexandria's Greek-owned businesses, leading to an exodus of 50,000 Greeks from the country - but the few remaining Greek restaurants and cafés still dominate the cultural scene.

Orientation

Alexandria's primary promenade is the seaside Corniche. At the western tip lies the fort of Qait Bey, built near the presumed site of the former Lighthouse (Pharos in Greek), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, while the eastern shore sprawls for miles on end with the slums and tenements of modern Alex.

Get in

By plane

The small Alexandria Airport (ALY) is served by occasional domestic flights, and two times a week from Athens on Olympic Airlines. Most tourists arrive via Cairo.

By train

Frequent trains from Cairo's railway station on Midan Ramses are probably the best way to get to Alexandria. Trains run at least once every hour from 6 AM to 10 PM, but try to choose either an express or the pride of Egyptian Railways, the French-built Turbo, which takes only 2 hours 10 minutes for the journey. 1st/2nd class tickets LE 25/20 one-way. Some trains (mostly slow ordinary ones) also continue on to Port Said.

Trains to Cairo depart from the aptly named Cairo Station, a 10-minute stroll south of the Corniche along Nabi Daniel St.

By car

By bus

By boat

Get around

By tram

Alexandria has a creaky, slow but very cheap tram system that dates back to 1860 and looks the part. There are nine lines, mostly running parallel to the coast; the yellow line to Ras el-Tin is particularly useful for traveling to Fort Qait Bey. The flat fare is a whopping 15 piasters and the trip across town will take a bare minimum of 45 minutes. Note that the first car (out of three) in each interurban (blue) tram is reserved for women only.

See

  • Fort Qait Bey. Built by Mameluke Sultan Abdul-Nasser Qait Bey in 1477 AD but razed and reconstructed twice since. At Ras el-Tin at the western tip of Alex, take the yellow tram to get there. Admission LE 6.
  • Bibliotheca Alexandrina. [1]. A huge modern library and research center constructed on the site of the former Library of Alexandria (destroyed c. 400 AD), located just to the east of the Corniche. Admission LE 10 (non-Egyptians). Open daily except Tuesday 11 AM to 7:00 PM, but opens only at 3 PM on Friday and Saturday.
  • Graeco-Roman Museum
  • Roman Catacombs at Kam-el-Shuqqafa
  • Roman Amphitheater
  • Pompey's Pillar
  • Montazah

Do

Learn

Work

Buy

Eat

  • Elite. 43 Sofia Zaghoul. Once the favorite hangout of Alexandria's intelligentsia including D.H. Lawrence, Laurence Durrell, and Edith Piaf, but now bears a distinct resemblance to an American road diner complete with vinyl seating and chipped white plastic tables. The staff are still French-speaking and appropriately snotty. Try the plat du jour (23 LE).

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Bars and Nightclubs

Visitors to Alexandria often complain that it can be hard to find a decent drinking venue in the city - what a change from the bars and nightclubs that used to fill the city before and after the war....! Even so, frequent travellers do recommend a number of reliable establishments:

  • the Spitfire Bar, Sharia Sa'ad Zaghloul - easy to overlook despite its obvious location on the corner of a square on this busy street. The building looks slightly derelict but is clearly marked above the doors. Walk west along Sharia Sa'ad Zaghloul from Midan Sa'ad Zaghloul for a few blocks until the road opens up in front of you into the beginning of a square. Turn right and the bar is a few doors down on the right.
  • the Havana Bar, Sharia Fouad, near Sharia Salah Salem - considered by many to be the best bar in Alexandria, a very small downtown venue with about six tables. Great atmosphere, however, and good food (no menu, just ask) alongside the usual Stella Local, Premium and Meister beers. Spirits also served at a reasonable price (unusual for Egypt). (Getting to the Havana Bar: walk west along Hurreya Street from Cinema Amir for about 500 m until the road splits with two forks to your left, one to your right and Hurreya Street carrying on straight. There should be a big building with columns on your left. Go over the junction and Havana is behind stained glass windows and a stained glass door on your right. There's no sign and you have to knock to get in).

Cafés

  • Cafe Trianon. Midan Saad Zaghlul (by the seashore), tel. 48220986. The poshest cafe in Alexandria, famed for the best om ali in Egypt — although LE 14 for what is essentially a bowl of sweet cornflour pudding is little steep. The food is also good and slightly more reasonably priced, try the moussaka for LE 13.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

  • Holiday Hotel. 6 Orabi Sq, tel. 03801559. A no-frills two-star hotel with private bathrooms and hot water, not far from the shore and within walking distance from the center of town.

Splurge

Contact

Stay safe

Street kids harass tourists with offers to sell bango (marijuana) and nimble fingers probing pockets. They will usually desist after a stern La! or two.

Although almost every traveler in Egypt has a safe visit, a bus in Cairo was blown up on April 30, 2005, killing three tourists. Travelers are advised to avoid political gatherings and demonstrations.

Cope

Get out

External links

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