Uneventful drive back to Cairo. A stop half-way to fill up with gas, coffee and tea…the desert lasts almost all the way to Cairo, although as we come closer, the fields are green with many crops. New sub-divisions are being built with speed; some of them look quite fancy, although it’s a long (slow!) drive into Cairo. In the distance we can see the Giza Pyramids. The roads are crowded with enormous advertisement boards (some even animated!); interestingly, those featuring women have them scarf- and burqa-less, and all very “pale”!
Back home in Zamalak we decide to try a well-recommended restaurant that turns out to be a tented affair on the banks of the Nile; very nice and fancy!
Up early to grab a bite for breakfast and on to the station for our 8 am train to Alexandria. Arrived around 10:30 and cab to our hotel. The guidebook recommended a couple of old hotels, and ours – Windsor Palace exceeds expectations, certainly in terms of grand old rooms. The online booking didn’t work, but no fear they have plenty of room, and we have a huge “junior suite” on the 4th floor overlooking the Corniche, and alive with blasting horns. We have 2 balconies and fabulous views to left and right (old Fort and Bibliotecha Alexandria respectively).
We visited the lovely, and very well laid out and described Alexandrian National Museum (Pharaohic, Greco-Roman and “modern” – Islamic to 19th century floors). Then we made our way to the Bibliotecha (BA for those in the know!). We spent an hour or more touring the floors, seeing all the public art. It’s a very busy place (and not free!), with people coming and going non-stop. No bags are allowed, except computer bags for some reason. The kids’ library is for kids only! Outside it there were some plastacine models, one of which looked like a kids’ attempt to recreate Tahrir Square! We then went in search of a friend’s art exhibit, which was at the adjoining Convention Centre – nice!
Outside there was a demonstration in progress; people were carrying crosses so we assumed it was a Coptic protest of some sort. Later in the English language newspaper I saw that there has been a long-standing Coptic demo in Cairo and maybe this is in sympathy.
The guidebook talked about a café down by the water (the BA isn’t quite in the water; I thought it was, but it has its own reflecting pool), which we went in search of, passing first numerous very small, very cute kittens. Refreshed with juice and tea, Anna and I made our way slowly back to the hotel along the Corniche (more than the 10 minutes the hotel said!), while Colin went off to chase trolley busses. Some R&R in our lovely room, followed by dinner at a recommended fish restaurant where you choose the fish: the counter was almost as large as an old-fashioned English fish monger’s, full of fish, huge prawns, crabs, crayfish, etc. You choose your selections, they get weighed and you pay the price. We had a huge sea bass (old-time’s sake: in Tunis 34 years ago we ate amazing loup du mer!!!). half a kilo of huge prawns (about 6) and 3 small crabs. Once chosen we had to walk up some narrow windy stairs to the dining room, where the table was wiped because I asked, but then covered in paper place mats. The table was then covered in dips and mezzas of all kinds. We had only just started in on them when the fish came: wonderful and an enormous amount of fun! Luckily most places appear to take plastic, although this feast was under 200 pounds (divide by 6).
We were sitting at a window table and downstairs there was a man and his caleche, who was quite determined that we would take his carriage back, but they pester you so much it’s a real turn-off. A man selling huge shells also waved them up at us. Anyway, after dinner the caleche-man was determined that we’d go with him, but we were more determined that we would not. Eventually he gave up and we got a taxi (very few know any English, but passersby stop to help and explain to the taxi driver where you need to go). Although our hotel was actually only a few blocks down the Corniche, our taxi driver got lost and ended up fighting traffic in the left lane of a one-way road!!! Driving in Alexandria is not for the feint of heart!