My tour of Egypt is officially over but I booked an extra day here in case I wanted to either sit by the pool all day or go out exploring again. Guess what I choose? I’m doing a day trip to Alexandria! Because the mini tour is offered by Timeless Tours, I get to go with Ramez and a driver. No one else wants to join so it is just the 3 of us for the day and I have one of the best guides in Egypt all to myself!
It is a 2.5-hour drive from Cairo to Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt and major economic centre. It is located on the Northern coast, on the Mediterranean Sea. As you can tell by the name, the city was founded by Alexander the Great around 331 BC. He wanted it to be a link between Greece and the Nile Valley. But he didn’t stay long; he left shortly after its foundation and never returned! One famous landmark missing today is the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was destroyed by an earthquake the early 1300’s.
First stop today is the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, an important archeological site and burial chamber. It remained hidden for many years, until a rumored donkey fell in the access shaft in 1900. It still amazes me how no one knew it was there for all of those years! Inside they found tombs, statues, animal bones.
There are 3 levels that were cut through solid rock, but the bottom level is now underwater. We head down the spiral staircase that leads underground, the cool damp air makes it even creepier as we go down further.
It’s like a labyrinth down here – it’s dark so I use my phone light as I meander through the small rooms and narrow passageways – I even have to crouch down to get through some spaces. Ramez shows me the significant areas and we end up at the coolest feature of the catacombs – the temple.
On either side of the doorway are two serpents carved into the walls and they are wearing an Egyptian crown, and carrying both Roman and Greek style staffs.
This shows the merging of 3 different cultures in Alexandria. Inside they found many sarcophagi with mummies inside but also areas that were meant to hold cremated remains – another example of the merging of these cultures!
We head back up towards the sunlight, my hair in full poofy mode from the dampness. Before we go, we have a look at the temples and sarcophagi that were removed and put on display.
Next stop is Pompey’s Pillar, and I can’t decide if I want to pay the entrance fee and go inside. You can see it ok from the road so we don’t go in. Haha.
It’s a Roman column that once supported a statue of the emperor. This is the only thing that remains on the site that was once an ancient Greek temple. Before we get back into the van, Ramez asks if I’ve had sugar cane juice yet, and I have not! So he buys me a huge glass of it from a nearby street stand; it’s sweet and refreshing. And it gives me a bit of a sugar high.
As I’m finishing my juice, I’m swarmed by these adorable teenagers in their school uniforms and they want to ask me a ton of questions. They even ask for my phone number! So cute. We take some pics with their phone, and I kick myself for not getting any pics of them on my phone.
Traffic is crazy as you’d expect in any large city in Egypt, and we make our way to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Built in 2002, it was created to commemorate and rekindle the magic that was the ancient Library of Alexandria, one of the most significant in its time. This modern day library can hold 8 million books and there are also museums and art galleries inside the structure – and a planetarium beside it!
The inside consists of 11 cascading levels beneath a high glass paneled roof that provides controlled natural light to prevent damage by artificial light.
I wander around for a bit, grab a few books from the shelf for fun.
Before I leave I check out the permanent exhibition of the works of Shadi Abdel Salam, an Egyptian director, writer and costume designer. I am not aware of the no photography rule, so I manage to snap this pic before Library security gives me shit. Oops!
While I wait for Ramez to pick me up again, I wander around to see what the library looks like from the outside.
Back into crazy traffic to hit our last stop of the day – the Citadel of Qaitbay, a fortress built in the 15th century to defend Egypt from those damn Ottomans. Didn’t work though. Haha.
It was built on the site where the Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood. We enter the large stone structure and explore the hallways and small rooms in the fortress.
I look out some of the smaller windows where they would shoot arrows at the enemies below
Then Ramez and I walk along the outer walls, looking at the rocks below and wondering if they could have been part of the lighthouse…..
From up here, I look back at the city of Alexandria before we head to the van to make our way again through the crazy traffic and back to Cairo.
Since we only had a small snack for lunch, Ramez asks if I want dinner…should we grab something on the way or wait until we get back to Oasis Hotel. He mentions there’s a McDonalds on the highway, and you know what? That will hit the spot right about now! Even though I love trying local food, I’m not against swinging by a McD’s here and there.
Back at the hotel I say one final goodbye to the Great Ramez, King of all Tour Guides who is now a great friend. My final goodbye of my amazing trip to Egypt. I spend the rest of the evening packing and tending to my terrible bug bites while I sip on a sort of cold Egyptian beer. This country exceeded my expectations…like I knew it was gonna be good, but I am just blown away at how true that statement is. And what adds to that is when you meet a phenomenal bunch of people to share it with, and go with a tour company that takes great care of you. So my advice is…don’t hesitate…get to Egypt NOW!!