Have you ever gone to a city where the first thing someone tells you is “Make sure you go to the library?”. The library? I will explain why further down in this post.
I wasn’t actually planning to go to Alexandria, but on a trip out to the western Egyptian desert. I was on the train heading north from Luxor when I found out the trip was cancelled as the desert access had been closed by the police due to suspected extremist activity. So instead I continued on the train to Alexandria, and smelling the salty sea air as I stepped off the train at 1:30am was oh so wonderful.
I spent two and a half days here just relaxing and wandering around. I caught up on some personal admin, wrote some of the long blog posts I had been putting off for a while, ate great food and just enjoyed being by the mediterranean sea. The general vibe here was quite relaxed and the people were friendly.
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. It became the second most powerful city of the ancient world after Rome. Due to it’s location it became a central area for international trade, and it has been influenced by many regions of the world evident in both art and architecture. Unfortunately not much of the ancient city has survived until the present day, but the Alexandria National Museum gives a nice historical recount of the changes to the city over time, the interesting melding of art styles in artefacts that were discovered in the region, and at 40LE to enter it is worth a visit.
The Ancient Library of Alexandria was one of the largest and most significant libraries in the ancient world. It was created in the 3rd century BC and housed many papyrus scrolls (an unknown number, but estimated 40,000-400,000), lecture halls, meeting rooms and gardens and functioned as some sort of research institute for the scholars of the time. The library is famous for having been burned down resulting in a loss of all of these ancient writings and detailed cultural knowledge.
This is obviously not the library that I visited, but the new library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina that was completed in 2002. An absolutely huge library, with shelf space for over 8 million books and a reading room that can cater for over 2000 people. It is architecturally impressive and really interesting to explore. Besides housing books from all over the world, it also contains a conference centre, museums, art galleries, permanent exhibitions, a planetarium and a manuscript restoration lab. A complete cultural centre! Take a book and join the hundreds of others in the reading room. But make sure to eat all your snacks before you enter as no food is allowed in there. I had to down a banana and a packet of chips before I could go inside.
I also visited the Citadel of Qaitbay that was built on the site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, that was destroyed over the centuries. This area of the harbour is also great for people watching and browsing the small street-side souvenir stands – why not take a dried-up pufferfish home as a memento of your trip?
The nitty gritty:
- The train from Luxor took about 13 hours. I paid around 150LE for a 2nd class ticket. I then returned to Cairo from here for my flight to Amman, the trip to Cairo taking approximately 2.5 hours, costing about 50LE. See my post on taking trains in Egypt here.
- I stayed at Fouad Hotel – it is on the waterfront, but is very cheap and I got what I paid for. But it was clean and had a pretty good location.
- I ate at Delices every morning – do yourself a favour and order their turkish coffee and chocolate croissant – you’re welcome 😉
- The seafood here is fresh and delicious, there are a few places along the harbour where you can get a fish dish at a reasonable price.
- I had dessert at the local hangout of El Sheikh Wafik. I had already tried Om Ali in Luxor (a sweet pastry pudding with nuts and sultanas) so I went for the rice with milk (basically a rice pudding topped with crushed nuts). It was also delicious! One of my other favourite Egyptian sweet treats is Basbousa (a sweet semolina cake).
- On my last day just before I was leaving I found some cute cafes right on the beach just near the library, I think they would be worth checking out as it looked really nice to sit there by the sea with the waves crashing right below you.
- You have to pay to enter the library, but it is definitely worth the 70LE fee.
- The Citadel of Qaitbay cost 30LE to enter.
- I walked everywhere in town, but there were also buses and a tram.
For more of my adventures in Egypt check out these pages: