Another dawn landing. We were beginning to feel like an invasion, with the element of surprise, instead of tourists.
Alexandria is magical in the sunrise. Alexander the Great founded the city on a large crescent at the mouth of the Nile Delta. No one else thought it was a good location, but history proved him right. [He went on from here to the Siwa oasis, where the priests proclaimed him the son of god.] The founding of the city proved to be symbolic of Egypt turning outward to the Med, instead of being Nile obsessed.
Nowhere near as large as Cairo, Alexandria’s heyday was during Roman times, when Egypt supplied grain to the Mediterranean world. The great library here was legendary. Alexander’s tomb was here, and the dynasty of his general Ptolemy held the throne for almost 400 years, ruling from this Greek city rather than the inland, traditional capitals of Pharonic Egypt.
Egyptians are some of the most cheerful people on earth; they love to bargain, make lots of noise and bustle, and they seem to really enjoy talking to other people. We had “conversations” with fish mongers, police officers, vendors—lots of vendors—people passing by, people on the beach, taxi drivers, potential taxi drivers, guards…. People were bustling about with a purpose. Well-dressed parents were taking their kids to school, leaving from a crumbling tenement. It was probably quite nice inside, judging by how well turned out the family was. The individual windows of most of the apartments in town were painted and decorated according to the taste of the renter [owner?], giving the exteriors a leprous appearance. But this indicated to me a pride of place, of ‘home’. The streets were literally dirty but not filthy, if you get the distinction; Alexandria didn’t stink. Feral cats abounded; clearly being fed. Evidence of cat feasts was everywhere, including one bonanza of sardines. We saw nothing else dead on the streets. Aside from the main boulevards arcing around the 2 main bays, the streets were narrow and overhung by protruding upper stories, like medieval towns. Busy, bustling, loud, friendly, purposeful, energetic, happy, optimistic—I love Egypt. I can easily imagine these people building pyramids and temples—lots of temples.
Our goal was the Alexandria National Museum, but we were very early, so we began to walk. Our first stop was Qaitbay Castle, built from the stones of the Pharos, the famous Alexandria Lighthouse. All along the waterfront were men with 15’ ocean fishing poles, surrounded by hopeful feral cats. Merchants were setting up tables of their wares, surrounded by hopeful feral cats. A city truck was hosing down the ‘boardwalk’, surrounded by feral cats drinking the water. We bought a couple of diet Pepsis, yes Pepsi! Our first warning was that the cans were a bit rusty and had the old fashioned kind of pop tops. I have never tasted anything quite like that Pepsi. We gave away the other one. Then some helpful fellows showed us where the restrooms were and, even though we had no change [since no where was open to shop yet] the attendants let us use the toilet. And, no, no feral cats helped us. They were waiting outside.
We walked clear around the half-moon bay on the Corniche, formerly a very glamorous street of the British Empire. Beautiful high rise apartments were fitted with every imaginable take on an apartment balcony. The streets teemed with horse drawn buggies, whose drivers wouldn’t take “lah” [no] for an answer.
We walked as far as a large monument with 2 pacing guards; we never have found out exactly what it was, so we presumed “war memorial,” though which war was impossible to discern. Tired, and realizing that the museum was due to open, we flagged down a taxi, whom we paid in advance. In this way, he could not ‘pad’ the bill, but he gave us a tour anyway, taking us past the new Alexandria Library. We had a great conversation, I think, though neither of us could make much of the other’s language. Did I mention I really like the Egyptian people?
The Alexandria National Museum in amazing! Elegantly housed in the former US embassy, the collection spans 5000 years, not with large numbers of artifacts, but the BEST of each genre.
Our brains full and our feet tired, we took a cab to the Tikka Grill, where a bevy of waiters served us a wonderful grilled chicken [“tikka chicken” say that 3 times fast], with hummus and yoghurt sauce. And some poufed-up bread that tasted like funnel cake without the sugar. And Coke Light. There was no one else in the place. The restaurant overlooked the bay, where the fishing boats were coming and going in colorful confusion.
The sad thing about getting older is that we do not have the stamina to keep going. The beautiful thing about not having the stamina is that we slow down and take in the scene around us. We found a spot on the beach of the bay and sat on some rocks. Everything was clean and fresh. We watched people come and go.
We saw a comedy unfold of 2 guys in a rowboat being dropped off by a motor boat. The 2 guys did not have any oars, mind you, but thought it would be simple to get across 20 feet of calm water. They paddled with some pieces of wood, were twisted around parallel to the very slight waves coming to shore, nearly capsized. They were obviously reluctant to jump in the water to bring the boat ashore, and, when they finally realized they had to, they were too far in shore. The boat had married itself to the wet sand and wouldn’t budge. At last, a few passersby went to help, and triumphantly brought the ship to shore. Homeric!
Our next scene unfolded. A large extended family came to the beach and helped an ancient man to the water. All were wearing flowing robes and tucked them up at the waist to wade into the water. All the ladies kept their faces covered, but displayed an amazing array of undergarments, ranging from what looked like PJ bottoms to blue jeans.
The frail old man was clearly having a supreme moment. Had he never seen the sea before? His wife [wives?] supported him as he waded, ecstatic. Pretending we were taking a photo of the bay, we snapped a picture of the moment. Exhausted, he returned to the rocks, while the younger member of the family cavorted, nay frolicked, in the sand and water. Then the young folk all whipped out cell phones and took photos, even asking if they could take ours. So I got up, and much giggling ensued, as photos were taken-- grins, attempts to communicate and sheer exuberance. Did I mention I love the Egyptians?
As the sun began to go down, we hailed a cab and went back to the dock area, where we went through security and crossed the bridge to the ship, as the muezzins began the call to prayer. One row of men had stopped to kneel in prayer, but many more continued about their business.
We had hoped to see the Greco-Roman Museum which had been closed. On inquiry we received an e-mail from Dr. Zahi Hawass, whose title is something like “Supreme Commander of the Egyptian Antiquities Council“ saying that the museum will be re-opening a little later than planned. Dr. Hawass is also overseeing the building of a new museum in Giza to take over the function of the antiquated [but fabulous] French-built museum in Cairo. He is also finding the tomb of Cleopatra. He found the missing penis of Tutankhamen. He also appears on TV and the speech circuit almost daily. You gotta love this guy; he himself says he is descended from the Pharaohs; his capacity for work and self-aggrandizement proves it.
All of this is to say that we shall have to return to Egypt. Besides, we are still looking for a replica of the head of Hathor, the cow goddess.
Note: We spent the next 2 days at sea, unable to make port again in Malta. We arrived in Barcelona, bussed to the airport and all went smoothly getting home. On Christmas Day, we unpacked, as we had not looked at any of our purchases on the boat. So we had much unwrapping with that—a most wonderful Christmas at home. We had just left the land where Joseph took Mary and Jesus for safety from Herod.
N4 31 Cruise 9
CTC = cheap tourist crap
[12-21-09] for photos, visit