I spent most of today walking the streets of Alexandria. There is no better way to get to know a city than to walk around for a day and get lost in the process.
In some ways, I find Alexandria really depressing. This is a city where almost every building is 100 years old and looks as if nothing has been repaired in all that time. The buildings are old, the buses are old, the street cars are old, there are rotary telephones all over, and you get the feeling you’ve stepped back in time about 50 years. It is on a par in terms of development with Vietnam, except Vietnam is growing and Egypt is still living in old, dilapidated buildings. They are like Benjamin Button countries meeting in the middle. Alexandria seems to have its best days well behind it.
All of that needs to be considered when you realized that Alexandria has one of the nicest buildings, and certainly nicest library, in the world. The New Library of Alexandria, the Biblioteca Alexandria, was built as an international effort with several foreign corporation and NGO’s pitching in. As the collection of books goes it probably has less than most university libraries in the US, but it is still a feather in the cap for Alexandria and all of Egypt. That being said, it is really, really out of place here.
Today I managed to see most of the few remaining ancient sites in the city: the Roman theater, Pompey’s Pillar (which was erected 250 years after Pompey was killed in Alexandria), and the catacombs. The sites were managed much better than the Pyramids, but still had a lot of room for improvement. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of tourists in Egypt right now. I guess winter isn’t the high season.
I should also address the bomb blast in Cairo. Just so everyone knows, I was in Alexandria when it happened. I’m not scared or worried. In a country with 80 million people, things happen all the time. Almost every attack like that happens to groups of tourists on package tours and I travel alone, which paradoxically, is safer when it comes to this sort of thing. I haven’t even heard a word about it in the news here….not that I’d really know because I can’t read/speak Arabic.
Tomorrow I’m going to investigate doing some dives in the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria and visit Fort Qaitbey. The next day I’m off to Abu Mena and then Upper Egypt (confusingly in the south of the country. The Nile flows to the north).