Alexandria, or Iskandariya, or simply Alex is Egypt’s second largest city, a major economic center due to its strategic location on the Mediterranean coast.
We started from Nasr City, east Cairo at 8:30am, and it took us close to 4hrs to Alexandria (233km), including one stop in one of the rest areas along Cairo – Alex Desert road. The Desert Road is a highway, however, its northern end close to Alexandria suffers from bottle necking due to ongoing road construction hence slowing down the trip.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was our first stop (EGP 5 Egyptian, EGP2/5 Student, EGP70 Non Egyptian). This vast library (enough shelf space for 8 million books, though it’s not in full capacity today) is intended to revive the grand old library once stood close to its current site, before it was thought to be burnt or destructed.
- Admission into the Main Reading Area is restricted to ages 16 and above.
- Children under 6 are not permitted in the Library. They can stay at the on-site daycare facility, located behind the Conference Center, provided they are accompanied by a parent.
- Youth aged 6–16 are not permitted in the Main Reading Area unless with a tour group
- Bags and other items are not allowed inside the Library and must be deposited at the safekeeping facility next to the ticket booths
We managed to visit main reading areas, some exhibitions and Library Shop but not to its 4 museums, planetarium nor Culturama.
Citadel of Qaitbay is our next visit. The citadel is basically a 15th-century defensive fortress was established in 1477 AD by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay. The Citadel was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
There was a very long queue when we arrived on site that we aborted our plan to go inside. Instead we rather had a walk around the citadel. The pedestrian entrance to the citadel was lined with street stalls selling Egyptian souvenirs as well as sea-based souvenirs with some offers a horse ride service. The Mediterranean Sea was so inviting that some people took a plunge to its blue water.
What could be better next than taking a respite from a hot day by licking roadside ice creams!
After a prayer in the Mosque of Al Abbas Al-Moursi with its beautiful interior decorations we headed to one of the Indonesian restaurants in Al Ibrahimeyah area located between the Bibliotheca and Alexandria Sporting Club.
We arrived at Montaza Palace just few minutes before sunset. To arrive here was a struggle in itself. Although the Palace is located only 15km from where we had our lunch, it took us nearly an hour owing to heavy rush hour traffic clogging the coastal road.
The Palace and its extensive gardens in the Montaza district of Alexandria is popular with residents seeking a lovely view of sunset, or simply picnicking on its large green park complex. Unfortunately, the palace is not open to the public.
Sunset in Montaza concluded our day in Alexandria. We went back to the city center to check-in into Le Metropole Hotel. Strategically located in front of Midan Saad Zaghloul by the corniche, the hotel was believed to be constructed on the very location of former obelisk of Queen Cleopatra, now it is a gift to the city of Paris.
It was an eerie feeling entering into the hotel’s 18th century building with classical decorations, small and old elevators, high ceilings, carpeted corridor and dimmed rooms. It’s paid off however with stunning view to Mediterranean Sea, or the nearby square and Corniche Street from our room balcony.
See my review to the hotel here.
The next day, waiting for our flight back to Doha, I and my eldest son decided to take a short walk to nearby Roman Amphitheater. A 15-min leisure walk (1.1km) took us to the site which is very close to Misr Railway Station . Beware that it is not as grand as you would expect, including the nearby (within the same complex) Villa of the Birds.
We proceeded to Graeco Roman Museum only to find it has been closed for renovation since years ago (2008).
An hour limo ride took us to the isolated Borg El-Arab International Airport (50km – southwest) (200 EGP normal taxi, 300 EGP limo if arranged through hotel. It could have been cheaper if self-arranged).
It is here where the blatant “where is my tips?” demand from the staff at the First Class Lounge in El Borg Airport seemed to justify the generalized accusation of ‘baksheesh’ culture in Egypt tourism industry, unfortunately.
Taking off Qatar Airways flight to Doha would only mean that we had to end our mixed feelings of experiences in Egypt. We’re glad we had an opportunity to sample Egyptian life, to dive into past rich history of Ancient Egypt, or the grand of Islamic era. We believe that each place has its unique charm and travelling is always an experience you can’t buy.