This past weekend some friends and I went to Alexandria.
Alexandria, famous ancient city know for Cleopatra, the great library of Alexandria, the lighthouse of Alexandria. Not that any of that still exists.
What does exist is this tale of misadventures on top of misadventures.
Wednesday I get a text from Kate saying, “Hey want to go to Alexandria this weekend?” I haven’t left Cairo since I’ve been here, so I said sure, I’d go for one night. We arrange to meet at the train station at 7:30 am Thursday (it’s Islamic New Year so everyone has off) to buy our tickets for the 8:15 train to Alex. I proceed to go to a Scandinavian music party that evening (don’t ask, because I don’t know either) with my roommate. We’re there until 3:30. We toddle home, I get up at 6, get ready, get to the train station. The girls (Kate and Christine) had already arrived and gone to purchase our tickets. Misadventure #1: The 8:15 train is booked. The next available train is at noon. Obviously, we purchase tickets for that train.
We head back to Kate and Christine’s apartment in Zamalek to get a few hours of shut eye before our train. In the meantime, the final part of our quintet, Sam and Charlie (other AUC interns) attempt to purchase their tickets for the train. The noon train is booked, the next available train is at 2. Fail, trains, fail.
Kate, Christine and I get on our train and head to Alexandria, hoorah! About an hour and a half into our two and a half hour journey, we realize, we don’t know where our hostel is. Kate has one idea, Christine has another, and I wasn’t really paying attention when I booked it. Misadventure #2: Finding our hostel. We attempt to call the numbers given to us, but no one answers. We have the street name but our maps don’t have the street on them. We eventually figure out it is near a famous hotel. Once we get to Alexandria, we hop into a cab and head to this famous hotel and find our hostel by luck.
Misadventure #3: The elevator has no shaft to it. Or door. There is the door attached to each floor, but between the top of the floor door (ha) and the ceiling, there’s nothing but air. We could simply jump out of the elevator is we wish. In other news, the elevator breaks down. A lot. In any case, we check into our rooms (then consolidate to one room) and head out into Alexandria. We get some sweet potatoes because we’re hungry and eat them while sitting on the Corniche looking out over the Mediterranean.
We walked to the Bibliotheca Alexandria, also along the Corniche. The BA, opened in 2002, is a world-class library, museum and research institute meant to evoke the grand tradition of the great library of Alexandria, destroyed a thousand years ago. Since it was 1) a holiday and 2) already the late afternoon, the library wasn’t open, but we were planning to go the next day (Friday) anyway.
We walked back to the hostel at this point. Somewhere along the way, a piece of glass got embedded into the bottom of my foot (misadventure #4). We picked up Charlie and Sam and walked to the Greek Club, a restaurant that was recommended by all the guidebooks as well as people some of us knew. Misadventure #5: The Greek Club was a big fat joke. Expensive (we were paying for the view), the service was unbelievably slow even by Egyptian standards and we were cold sitting outside. Not fun in the slightest. We finished up there and decided we all needed a drink. We walk back down along the Corniche to find Spitfire, a well-known dive bar in town. Well-known but not well-marked. We all have some beers and just relax for a bit. One of the mirrors in the place had a ton of passport photos and business cards stuck into the sides. I just so happened to have a passport photo on me.
Charlie, Christine and I were all tired, so we booked it back to the hostel. Misadventure #6: No idea how to make the water in the bathroom run. We eventually figure out you need to turn various knobs under the sink and by the toilet to make things happen. This is an issue for the rest of the trip.
Next morning, we wake up and decide we need to go to the train station and get our tickets now. Charlie, Sam and I would be leaving that day and Kate and Christine the next day. Kate is not feeling so well, so we leave her to rest at the hostel. At the station we find out, you guessed it, misadventure #7 that the 4:45 train that day back to Cairo was booked (it’s 10 in the morning. Come on!). Next train is at 6pm. Charlie, Sam and I book that train and Christine gets her tickets just fine (lesson learned). Our plan had been to walk to the Greco-Roman Museum from the train station and meet Kate there. Misadventure #8: We can’t even find the Greco-Roman Museum. We suspect it is or is near the Roman Theater, which are the ruins of a Roman theater (surprise!) but we’ve no idea. We can’t even get to the entrance of the Roman Theater.
We decide we don’t want to pay for it anyway so we walk back to the Corniche and go into a patisserie (bakery/sweet shop) near our hostel and get some morning cake and coffee.
We discuss what to do next. Our plan had been: Greco-Roman Museum, lunch, Bibliotheca (which the guidebooks told us was open from 3-7 on Fridays), train. With coffee and tea obviously throughout. Since the first part of the plan was scraped, we needed to find someway to occupy our time. Since my two “must see things” on this visit to Alexandria were: library and some old shit (pardon my French), we decided to go to the catacombs (since one of my favorite things is cemeteries, catacombs fill so many interests) and Pompey’s Pillar, a misnomer-ed solitary pillar nearby.
Misadventure #9: We decide to take the tram. Alexandria has a rickety old tram system that supposedly takes you places. False. We get on the tram, thinking (from what the ticket guy tells us) we’re headed to the catacombs. Until he tells us to get off down the street from where we got on and take something else from there. We say screw that, and decide to catch a taxi.
Misadventure #10: All 5 of us. Let’s just say a bit of a tight fit.
We get to the catacombs. Which were WONDERFUL. Old, kinda creepy, dead people, all things I love.
Misadventure #11: Except when I stepped through a board and nearly twisted my ankle. And then stepped into a puddle and my shoes filled with water (and maybe oil or death or something, I don’t know Indiana Jones).
We rumble on out of the catacombs and meander our way (read: get lost) to Pompey’s Pillar. It’s actually misnamed, it has nothing to do with Pompey. It was built in response to Diocletian’s (Roman emperor) crushing of an Alexandrian revolt in 297 AD (IT IS OLD). So basically a really big pillar to make fun of the Alexandrians for losing. It was also built on top of ruins of another site, the Serapeum, the daughter library to the great library.
We all pile back into a taxi (oh the joy) and head to the library. Our first thought was to grab a fish lunch, but we didn’t want hassle so we grabbed some fuul/koshari/schwarma and ate along the Corniche until 3, when the library was supposed to open.
Misadventure #12: Except the library is never open on Fridays, despite our guidebooks saying otherwise.
We mope about a bit, then rock-paper-scissors to decide what we do next. Back to the hostel! Charlie decides to take a nap and the rest of us walk to a cafe along the Corniche (good lord so much of this day is eating.)
But before we leave I briefly check my email – and I’d been offered a job at an American school! But more on that in my next post.
Misadventure #13: The cafe gets practically EVERYTHING wrong. We ask for 1 tea, 2 teas with milk, rice with milk (kinda like rice pudding) and a chicken schwarma. What comes out is 2 regular teas, a rice with milk AND ice cream AND fruit. We eventually get them sorted out (they were trying to bs us because we’re foreign. WELL LOOK WHO CAN READ ARABIC, SUCKERS.) but Sam and I have to scarf and run, since we need to grab our stuff, grab Charlie and run/walk to the train station. Which we do, it’s fine, we get home.
So, Alexandria really was just a slew of misadventures. But it wasn’t a bad time! It could have been awful but the crew I was traveling with were great. Next time, we’ll plan better. Or at all. Ha.
P.S. All pictures come from Kate or Christine. I didn’t take a single photo with my camera the whole trip. Whomp.