I woke up in a cloud of a bed and rolled out to get ready and eat breakfast. Breakfast was quite the affair at the Four Seasons, it was the breakfast buffet of anyone’s dreams and I sampled everything.
We drove out to Montazah first, a 300-acre palace with grounds built by the modern kings and Farouk’s family in the 1930s-40s. It sprawled across the tip of Alexandria and boasted a huge forest, fancy living quarters and originally a zoo of sorts.
Covering the Greek history came next, first at the Alexandria National Museum where we saw ancient art and pottery found underwater, painstakingly-detailed mosaics and then the modern housewares of the royal family, including fancy jewels, crystal, gilded purses and huge bronze stein for holding champagne bottles. Eman knew everything about everything and guided us through the ancient art into the Byzantine era, even deconstructing old Coptic clothing. She could even tell me where I bought my scarf solely based on the design!
Eman always explained how the museum could do better and remonstrated at how poorly things are taken care of sometimes. I remember her saying, “We love our antiquities in Egypt, so we leave them outside to get rained on.” In most of Egypt this isn’t an issue, but Alexandria’s proximity to the sea and the salt air really devastate the sites and artworks.
We saw some of that at the ancient amphitheater, where you could still hear your voice project when standing in a specific spot. Cats dogged our every step as we walked through what could have been classrooms for the ancient Greeks.
Changing directions and time periods, we next arrived at the Citadel of Qaitbay, a more modern structure that felt very medieval in nature. It was a great site for defense, but I liked sneaking a peek out of the many tiny windows to catch a glimpse of the bright blue sea. This was the supposed site of a famed lighthouse erected in Cleopatra’s age.
Now around 3 p.m., we were starving and stopped at a more local fish market restaurant, we even saw the fish sellers on the side of the road displaying their dead or dying lunch options. We filled our bellies with fresh fish soup and some fried mullet fish before venturing to the Library of Alexandria. It was spectacular. Huge, modern, filled with books and students pouring over them.
There were a few exhibits as well, one with all of the things they found underneath the museum site when erecting it, mostly Greek statues and some early Christian mummies. A famous Egyptian film director had his own exhibit too, with drawings of costumes and set designs displayed on the walls. Apparently his depiction of Akhenaton is how we think of him today.
Overall, Alexandria was very different from the rest of Egypt. It felt like Greece, which is why Alexander chose it for his main city. It was far cleaner and prettier with the blue sea in the background, but I still preferred Aswan I think to all other cities. The great thing about Alexandria though is that it’s a mixed town, a fish town, where people from all over settled. So the people and food are varied, as is each street. Most building fronts looked very French in style, but as you crawled into the city to the smaller streets, you could see entire store fronts covered in car bumpers and other parts (an Egyptian car dealership). My favorite was seeing a man driving around a small cart filled with fruit and yelling into a microphone everything he had to sell that day. Women in the streets would lower baskets from their windows if they wanted something and trade cash for food, an ancient but incredible system. He said, “tomatoes red like the girls’ cheeks,” Eman translated.
Eman and I discussed the women of her country and she made them seem relatively free. Male oppression is difficult, she said, especially when it comes to street harassment. But I found she gave the same sort of advice as I learned living in New York City: travel in pairs, hold your purse close, etc. Eman stayed close to me as we walked to an even more local fish market for dinner (literally where the fishers eat their catch), and though she is tiny, she seemed a formidable mother bear. This was my favorite meal of the trip. We had Eman and Aleck, fresh fish, local people, and local cats at our feet begging for fish heads, of which we of course obliged them. We finished the evening with tea and coffee before gearing up for the ride to Cairo and the last day in Egypt.