Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Adventures in Egypt: Alexandria

Over the past few weeks I've been sharing some stories from my recent travels through Egypt as part of an itinerary hosted by G Adventures. During my visit there, I explored Cairo, walked in the shadow of the Great Pyramid, visited the ancient site of Abu Simbel, and hiked into the Valley of the Kings and Queens. I also wandered through the White Desert and visited the charming Siwa Oasis. For the final leg of the journey, my traveling companions and I left the remote regions of the Western Desert behind and traveled to Alexandria, a city with a long history that is also modern and vibrant.

I have to admit, I was a bit sad to leave Siwa Oasis behind when we set out for Alexandria. As much as was looking forward to seeing the city that was once the capital of Egypt under the rule of Alexander the Great, Siwa was such an enchanting place that even after spending a couple of days there, I wasn't quite ready to move on. Still, there were things to see and do elsewhere in Egypt, and our 2300 mile (3700 km) journey wasn't done just yet.

We struck out from Siwa in the early morning, as there were many miles to cover before we reached our destination. Traveling north out of the desert, we eventually reach Egypt's Mediterranean Coast. It was a revelation to see that body of water after spending days wandering through the dunes of the Western Desert. To celebrate, we stopped in the city of El Dabaa to not only stretch our legs on the long (8+ hour) journey to Alexandria, but to get a good look at what Egypt had to offer in terms of beaches. Unsurprisingly, those beaches were beautiful, giving us a great look at a section of the North African coastline that was simply gorgeous.

After spending a brief time in El Dabaa we were back on the road to Alexandria, although for the remainder of the journey we never wandered far from the coastline. To the south of us the desert still stretched into infinity, but to the north the Mediterranean Sea glistened blue in the mid-day sun. It was a spectacular contrast to behold, in a country that is full of contrasts.


It took anther couple of hours to reach Alexandria, and after spending a few days in the quiet and peaceful Siwa Oasis, it was a bit of a shock to the system to arrive back in civilization. Much like in Cairo, the traffic in Alexandria is insane, with far too many vehicles on the road, and a constant dine of horn blaring at one another. It was a startling shift from the quiet time we had spent in the desert, and it took a bit of time to adjust properly.

Once we had acclimated back to the hustle and bustle of a big city, it was easy to see the appeal of Alexandria. This modern, and very cosmopolitan, town clearly has its roots in Egyptian culture, but also exhibits influences from around the Med and Europe as well. The streets are lined with shops and restaurants, thousands of people are moving to and fro, and the city has an energy about it that I didn't experience anywhere else in the country. The mood and setting there is just so different from a place like Cairo.

That isn't to say that Alexandria lacks in ancient wonders for visitors to take in. For instance, the Citadel of Qaitbay is an impressive structure built back in the 15th century on the site of the old lighthouse that was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This fortress was built by a Sultan back in 1477, and still stands guard over the Eastern Harbor to this day.

Other things to do in Alexandria include touring the Catacombs of Kom ash-Suqqafa, a large Roman burial site that was discovered back in 1900. Pompey's Pillar is also worth a look, as the 30 meter (98 foot) tall column is a great reminder of Egypt's amazing architecture and ingenuity. The pillar was named after Pompey Magnus, a Roman leader who was supposedly killed in Egypt not far from the site. But in reality, it is part of the remains of a temple that was constructed decades after that incident.

Of course, Alexandria is well known for once having a vast repository of ancient knowledge stored at the famous library that once stood there. That structure was destroyed by a series of fires and attacks, with its ultimate demise coming in the third century AD. When the library was completely destroyed, it took a great deal of information with it, creating a bit of a dark age that followed. It is believed, for instance, that the library had important information about how the pyramids were built, something that confounds us even to this day.

Today, there is a modern library in Alexandria that is still quite a sight to behold. The massive building continues to hold an impressive amount of information and knowledge, although much of it is now contained on computers, DVD's, and other modern storage mediums. Still, there are a tremendous number of books in the library. The site also hosts many conferences and seminars too, making it one of the top destinations in the world for scholars, students, and travelers alike. For my part, I wandered the halls there in awe and wonder of the incredibly modern building that is dedicated to learning.

Alexandria is a bit of an anomaly in Egypt in that it has a solid night life to go along with the other attractions that you find there. Because of its Mediterranean influences, there are a number of good restaurants and clubs, and it isn't too hard to find a place to enjoy a drink at the end of the day. This isn't necessarily the case in other Egyptian cities, where alcohol is at a premium.

Shopping is another area in which Alexandria stands out. While I'm not much of shopper myself, it was hard to ignore the streets lined with all manner of shops, not to mention street vendors hawking various other wares. Prices seemed quite reasonable too, although the city is more expensive than other parts of Egypt in terms of food and drink.

For me, Alexandria was the perfect way to end my trip to Egypt. It is a bustling city with plenty to see and do, even through the crowds and traffic could be a bit overwhelming at times. Still, the blend of history, culture, and modern sensibilities, along with a dash of Mediterranean flare, gives it a unique feeling that is all its own. The city is unlike any other place in the country, which makes it very special. Any visit to Egypt isn't complete, without first dropping by Alexandria.

After a few days in the city, it was back to Cairo to catch a late flight home. After 16 days of travel, over a wide range of destinations, I was ready to depart. But Egypt is a place that stays with you for a lifetime, and I've been fortunate enough to go there twice now. It is a special country to be sure, and with a history that dates back nearly 10,000 years, it is easy to understand why it holds such an appeal for travelers.

I want to thank my friends at G Adventures once again for hosting me on this amazing trip. We traveled by bus, plane, train, boat, camel, donkey, and bike on this tour of Egypt's wonders, and it was an incredibly fulfilling experience all around.

1 comment:

Selma Sahirah said...

Wow! Such a nice blog. Thanks for sharing with us. I guess you have enjoyed a lot your trip. I have also experienced on my adventurous trip and explored with Complete Egypt. I enjoyed a lot and gone also Alexandria, Dahab and Valley of King and Queen. Museum of Alexandria is one of the seven wonders, also Valleys of King are one of them. Keep posting...