day trip in Alexandria

While I was in Cairo I went along with my friends Svati, Sanjay, Tammy and Nehal to Alexandria for a day. I was kind of semi-aware of it - it's Mediterranean, somewhat European inflected history and that Lawrence Durrell had of course written a book there and various literary types had hung out there as they seemed to do with astonishing flexibility until World War II. How come we don't? How come we have to sit at our desks and wait for the monsoon to come so that we can write? Some of us anyway, sigh....

But I digress.

Alexandria lived up to its image as a fancy holiday resort but that was after. First of all we had to negotiate a highly tedious conversation with the Tourist Police (yep, a fine Egyptian institution specialising in befuddled expressions - and pictured below). Then, we ate breakfast in Rameses station and commented on how like VT it was and nodded wisely about the Brits.

Then finally we were on the train and all said how much nicer than Indian trains it was although a bit same - and how the sights outside were similar to those seen when leaving Delhi. I will say though that the train loos were foul requiring simultaneous levitation, eye closing and breath holding. Try peeing with all that going on - boys.

Then... we got off at the station but rather than the picturesque period scene we expected we came out of a rather dank tunnel onto a rather dispiriting office type area like Nehru Place. We conquered our sinking hearts (oh gosh maybe it's changed and become like this in Modern Times) and thereby discovered we'd gotten off at the wrong station - apparently Alexandria has three. So, we got in a cab and drove.

And then there it was - the sea, or Corniche as they call the promenade with a row of art deco buildings along it, glamorous looking hotels where surely they serve a high tea with scones and in the far distance a 12th century Citadel.

Since we were told the citadel was only a 15 minute walk we set off. It was a lie - but it was fine because we had several interesting diversions on the way. First was a man who leaned out of his window to talk to us.

Then we discovered he was from Melbourne! And so was Sanjay so they had a happy animated conversation and he called his girlfriend out to meet us while another couple watched from above.

After a few more blocks we chanced upon the most baroque fruit juice shop - it reminded me of tablemats some relatives of mine used to have with a giant cornucopia from which grapes and cherries and figs spilled out in technicolour, plump abundance.

Along the way we were frequently solicited for tonga rides, which we didn't accept (till later, with consequences), but we saw some cool vehicle decorations alright.

The Citadel meanwhile was seeming very far yet near. When we got there I have to say it was worth it - it's huge and it looks almost as if it's new - the white stone next to the deep blue sea and lovers at every corners or sometimes groups of girls or groups of boys listening to music on their cell phones and giggling. Here Tammy and I also bought some highly touristy camel toys and while bargaining she uttered - no, please, I am unemployed, you cannot charge me so much. Needless to say the man was too stunned to argue anymore.

By now we were exhausted and hungry and made our way to a fish restaurant where there were huge fishes we could choose from which they would then fry or grill for us to eat along with hummus and baba ghanoush and sour pickles. I was too hungry to take pictures although I was moved by the soup..

Feeling sated we became falsely confident. At this point we began our misadventure with the tanga. We hired one of the solicting horse carriages thinking it would be a fun way to see the city - but it also turned out to be a real s-l-o-w way to do so. No cantering for our horse, oh no. It was all at a stately pace. Meanwhile Svati, who took a turn sitting up front discovered she was terribly allergic to horses and got an asthama attack. We might have had to go to hospital if it hadn't been for Sanjay having an inhaler (see, it pays to be prepared). At the end there was a huge fight because suddenly our driver said he had meant 20 pounds per hour and not for the ride, at which point the news read at slow speed pace became a little easier to understand. Svati, encouraged by her brush with death was very vocal in the fight and said various strict things to the tanga vala like - Sir! Be honest! and also, You don't only have to talk to him - you can also talk to me.

But either way - via the tanga we did see lots of the old city and could also take pictures while riding of the lanes, the buildings, the cafes - although no pictures of the catacombs (which were discovered in the 20s when, er, a donkey fell down the shaft).

After our tanga adventures we decided to resume trusting cabs and after getting directions written in Arabic from the tourist office, took off in cabs for the old Jewish souk which would apparently feature some striking architecture.

The cabs dropped us off at some market which had many exciting things in it but did not seem particularly to have any semitic connection. Of course this does not stop me from buying (cheap earrings, peachs and strawberries) and staring, although the other were a bit more dignified.

Sanjay pointed out that the sign here said "Oriental Antics" which is definitely a good one. I of course was too busy staring at the vampy ladies above it. Well that's why it's good to have company.

In this market I found a pair of 'bedouin' earrings that said I love you - and the salesman expressed the desire to take a picture with me - as also matrimonial/romantic interest which seemed to be an Egyptian sales tactic in general. If someone can tell me it's not a sales tactic but a real thing then baby, I am moving to Egypt very fast.

Anyway after a while it became clear that we were not in the old Jewish souk and people were also getting fed up with my frivolous behaviour and it was suggested we do something to salvage our last two hours. So we made enquiries and trustingly followed directions (tourists do not learn, that's half the fun boss), to a synagogue, which, if it was there, was constantly receding, and coqettishly hiding, the closer we got. In the end, we gave up, and ate ice cream - apparently Alexandria is famous for a particular type of icecream - and though I tried to ask some nervous looking girls if what they were eating was it, I don't think it was (they said yes yes gigglingly and scuttered off, as if I was going to pull of their scarves any minute). So anyway, we ate ice cream at a shop with a rather extravagant sign.

After that, feeling resigned, we used their fairly clean loo and made our way back to the correct Alexandria station. It must be said, it was every bit the picturesque building we had hoped to find on coming. So if not our entry, our exit was picture perfect.


Anonymous said…
Fabulous just fabulous. Looks like there are so many different Cairos within Cairo. And a burqa on the beach - One thought one'd seen it all in Laksh!
Banno said…
Completely condone your frivolous behaviour. And your shopping style completely coincides with mine, earrings, peaches and strawberries.
Deepshikha said…
Kya baat hai.. nohot khoob :)

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