Alex - it's like Cairo-lite

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 15, 2008

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Where I stayed
New Cabry Hotel

Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

By the time we got to Alexandria I had not really slept in over two days (on account of Mt Sinai/the Dahab-Cairo night bus) so I was barely even conscious when the bus full of yuppie Cairenes pulled up at about noon. This was, of course, followed by the ritual of dragging our rucksacks from place to place in the blazing heat trying to find a decent room. This was made more annoying given the fact that Alex has no hostels or dorm rooms - the budget end consists entirely of decrepit old hotels, whose owners buck the Egyptian trend by not allowing any debate over the room rate.

The one we settled on was on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of an old colonial style building. The lift that occasionally came about 10mins after you hit the call button (sometimes requisite with a little guy in a shabby uniform and hat who came in and pressed the button for you - I think he gave up when we didn't tip him the first time) was impressively dodgy. While in motion a tinny loudspeaker in the lift plays what sounds like Arabic prayers, perhaps against the thing breaking down. Like many Egyptian lifts there is no inner door, so as the thing is travelling you can see the doors to the other floors as they move past. Many have dusty, broken windows and open onto floors of the building that seem to have been abandoned some time ago. On the gaps between the floors, someone has written the floor numbers on the side of the lift shaft in magic marker. Despite the state of the building, the hotel is by far the most reputable place we've stayed in so far - it's clean, fairly bright and does in fact come with a sea view and a tiny balcony.

My birthday yesterday wasn't exactly a huge party - I slept until about 8pm, went out and had fattah at an Egyptian restaurant (a super dense stew made with beef, rice and soggy bread), then had cake and coffee at an old cafe-patisserie. Whoop whoop! Today we hit up the Bibliotheque Alexandria, the huge modern library that's supposed to be a cultural centre for Alexandria. The building was undeniably pretty impressive, and some of the exhibits were kind of interesting, but in the end there's only so much you can do in a library if you are just a tourist. Mostly I enjoyed the air con in the huge reading hall. We also checked out the National Museum, which was, frankly, more of the same stuff as in the one in Cairo, although presented better and with better air con. Tonight I'm planning on scoping out some of the bars further up the waterfront, and maybe tommorrow we'll see the catacombs and the fort.

Alexandria is a little cooler than Cairo, and its streets are noticeably cleaner and the buildings are a bit nicer. It's supposedly famous for its cafe culture, though since it's Ramadan, all the Egyptian coffee houses are closed during the day, so you can't just hang around and have a coffee and a shisha by the waterfront to kill time. I'm starting to get really sick of Ramadan. It is always possible to find food and drink in the middle of the day somewhere, but it usually means that all the best local places are closed due to lack of customers (unless you can afford to eat in a hotel), and we're pretty much forced to go to Gad, a chain of Egyptian fast food places, for a burger or felafels to take out for lunch. Even more irritating, the beer shop seems to be completely closed over Ramadan...
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