Underwhelmed in Alexandria, Egypt

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We got up early to make our way to Alexandria, Egypt with the police escort still in tow. In Cairo, a relatively short drive can seem to take forever because the traffic is terrible! Four cars drive side-by-side on roads with only three lanes. People merge in an instant without any indication. And volume is so heavy, you could stick your hand out the window and touch the cars next to you, or have a conversation if you’re gridlocked.

Once we got out of Cairo, the roads opened up considerably, and the drive to Alexandria took about 3 hours. We stopped once along to get something to drink. My iced coffee would later come back to haunt me. But more on that later.

Streets of Alexandria Egypt filled with cars and people
The bustling streets of Alexandria
Goats in an alleyway in Alexandria Egypt
Also in the streets of Alexandria? Goats. Under the Egyptian flag.

On arriving in Alexandria Egypt, we went to the Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa. Having visited the catacombs in Paris and Lima, Peru in the past, we’re very familiar with subterranean burial grounds, but these catacombs were different – no human remains – and underwhelming in their simplicity.

The Greco-Roman architecture of the tombs is characteristic of the time, and the layout around the central shaft is ingenious, allowing light in. Over the years, groundwater has seeped in, making it necessary to walk on boards in some parts of the catacombs to avoid the several inches of water now on the floor. You can certainly see why so many of the structures of ancient Alexandria disintegrated into the Mediterranean. Sadly, no photography is allowed.

After the catacombs, we went to the Bibliotheca Alexandria, a structure built just a few hundred yards away from the site of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. While the building is a stunning architectural achievement and the site has several thousand years of history, it really is just a building.

Bibliotheca Alexandria in Alexandria Egypt
The reconstructed Bibliotheca Alexandria. Fascinating for the history of the site, but still just a building

The guides spent about 10 minutes teaching about the website, which is kind of lame. They also showed us a few photographic and art exhibits on the lower levels.

Reading room of the Bibliotheca Alexandria in Alexandria Egypt
The reading room of the Bibliotheca Alexandria

We LOVED the area dedicated to the late President Anwar Sadat. It included a number of items from Sadat’s life, including a letter from then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter praising him for his role in bringing peace to relations with Israel as well as the clothes he was wearing when he was assassinated. Being American and woefully ignorant of Egyptian history, seeing this room (especially in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution) helped bring context to the political struggles of the country.

On the way to Fort Qaitbey, the site of the original lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Wonders of the Ancient World), we stopped for lunch at the Fish Market. The restaurant is built right out to the water, so the ambiance and delicious seafood and salads we all great. We all had the sea bream and shrimp that were fresh from the Mediterranean that day.

After lunch, we went to the Fort but didn’t go in. The Fort is nice enough from the outside, and I got some good photos. It was at this point where the iced coffee from the morning caught up with me…in a bad, bad way. I spent the rest of the day popping Antinal (a local anti-diarrheal).

After our stop at the Fort, we drove a long way out on the Corniche to the Montazah Palace Gardens where we saw the President’s (currently uninhabited) summer palace. The gardens themselves were pretty, but skippable.

Presidential palace in Alexandria Egypt
The abandoned presidential palace

Our hotel, Azur Grand Mediterranean, was our next stop. And what a fabulous stop is was! We got upgraded to a junior suite (room 1507) with a balcony looking out right on the Mediterrean Sea and over one of the hotel’s pools.

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Alexandria Egypt
Beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean behind our hotel

Our dinner was an uneventful stop across the street at Pizza Hut. After the huge seafood lunch, we wanted something simple and quick, so pizza hit the spot. After a quick drink back at the hotel bar, it was time to call it a night.

2 thoughts on “Underwhelmed in Alexandria, Egypt”

    1. Everyone needs to make their own choices. We were underwhelmed. Ancient Alexandria is NOT modern Alexandria. The modern library is wonderful. It’s a modern library (I’m sure your hometown had a nice library too). If you’re going to Egypt, there are lot of other places and things to see that offer more interest.

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