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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.