Alexandria – Just the name of the city conjures up so many images of Egyptian history. Alexander the Great, the Library, the Alexandria Lighthouse, Cleopatra, the list could go on. So on our trip to Egypt, visiting this ancient city was a must do.
Against many a well wisher’s advice, we decided to do this day trip on our own. Our concierge got us train tickets to get out of Cairo early morning, returning back late at night. We also asked the concierge to write down the Arabic names for the library and the light house locations, so that we could get to these places easily.
We got to the train station really early for a 6:00 am departure and it immediately felt like I had been transported to Mumbai. The ambiance, the food stalls, and the people all seemed like a case of deja vu. The three hour 15 minute train ride took us through towns and villages, leading us through tremendously congested areas and open expanses.
Upon arriving in Alexandria, we were immediately accosted by multiple cab drivers. We walked briskly away from the train station, hailing a cab from a side street and quickly providing our destination to the driver. The drive was interesting to say the least. We passed through some poultry markets, witnessed a street fight, watched people shopping and then drove along the ocean side promenade to get to the library. (A side note – when we saw the uprising in Alexandria on TV, it was a bit eerie that we could recognize some of the areas).
The Bibliotheca Alexandria also known as the New Library of Alexandria was designed at the location of the old library to capture the spirit of the original which was completely destroyed. Designed by a Norwegian architectural firm, the library is a stunning masterpiece not just visually, but for all the usability issues that were considered in its design including lighting for the readers to avoid eye strain, energy recycling, etc.
The ultra modern design against the blue of the ocean and the palm tree-lined promenade is just an amazing juxtaposition of elements. We spent several hours admiring the various facets of the library, including partaking in a free tour that showed us the various rooms and special exhibits, including a very informative one tracing the life of Anwar Sadat.
To me, this library along with the Library of Congress in Washington DC are just very special places of learning. After several hours of immersion, we were ready for a leisurely lunch at the on site cafe, taking turns to watch the ocean and the people.
At the end of our visit, we took a long walk to see where the original lighthouse was in Alexandria. While this ancient wonder of the world is no longer there, there are plenty of divers trying to find artifacts in the Mediterranean Sea.
With mixed reviews on the Catacombs, we decided to spend the rest of the day perched on the wall overlooking the Mediterranean. We people watched for hours, our most entertaining moments coming from watching a persistent diver dive multiple times, each time emerging with the same prize….a soda bottle!
After taking a brief stop to have a coffee and some snacks, we continued to watch the people of Alexandria in this beautiful sea breeze soaked ambiance. We watched college girls giggling, tempo buses dropping people off from work, guys just talking and arguing and couples walking very respectably along the waterfront. It was also a great place to flood the mind with all the images from history, trying to imagine what this crucial historical city might have looked like thousands of years ago. It was one of those days where we could have just sat there forever.
But we needed to catch our 7:30 pm train back, so we headed back to the station. As we grabbed our magazines, snacks and drinks, a guy who had been observing us walked over and asked where our tour guide was. When we replied that we just adventure on our own, he told us we were a gutsy group! He was a businessman from California, back in Egypt to visit family.
We don’t remember much of our ride back, since we all fell asleep, only to wake up as the train pulled into Cairo at the end of a really full and enriching day.
To learn more about the Bibliotheca Alexandria, click here:
To get train timings from Cairo to Alexandria, click here: