El Alamein and Alexandria, Egypt

Our tour operator, Isis, likes early mornings, so we are climbing out of bed before 6 to pack and have breakfast for a 7 or 7:30 start.  Those that know me well will understand that that is not my best time of the day…

We started from Cairo and because it was Friday and the Muslim holiday, there was little traffic, so our journey to El Alamein was quick, dodging between trucks, buses and donkey carts.

We were treated to a sound and light show at the war museum in El Alamein.  It took two staff – one to manage the stick that pointed to various locations on the table top relief map, shwoing where battles occurred, and the other to flick the lights on/off to show where the Allies and Axis forces moved.  Certainly an innovative display – 40 years ago.

The Commonwealth War Cemetry was the first war cemetary I have visited and when you see memorial stones for young men, younger than our own sons, your heart bleeds for their families.

The 120km from El Alamein to Alexandria was simply a very long line of condominiums hugging the Mediterranean coast.  Kilometre after kilometre of condos providing respite from the hot Egypt desert.  Isis tells us that they are occupied for 2 to 3 months in summer and empty the rest of the year.

On a wet and windy March day we stopped quickly to look at the old fort, then drove to our hotel.

Our hotel was on the 22km stretch of coastline in Alexandria called the Corniche.  A combination of rocky headlands and sandy beaches with bathing boxes stacked onto every bit of affordable space on one side of the road and 3, 4, 5, 6 and more storey apartments looking over the beach.  Three members of our group were born in Alexandria and it was an emotinal home coming for them.  They all talked warmly of long beach holidays in this area.

We started our day (early, of course) visiting the catacombes (Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa) which were unearthed in 1920 by a wayward donkey.  No photos allowed, but there were three levels where Christians were buried from about 68AD.  Interestingly, there was a dining area where relatives could come and recline on the marble stone to eat food whilst visiting their dead relatives.  I have a vision of bizarre picnics in a cemetary.

Next stop was Pompey’s column, a 26 metre red, Aswan granite column constructed in honour of the Emperor Diocletian. Medieval travellers thought Pompey, who had fled to Egypt, was buried here.

We stopped to see the Roman Greco theatre which was unearthed during a project to move an Islamic cemetry.  The acoustics in the theatre were outstanding, even to my rather poor “Baa Baa Black Sheep…”

The new Great Library in Alexandria is amazing.  We were delighted to see a well plannned public building, in good working order, with staff who were uniformed and appeared well looked after.  Certainly a contrast from the Cairo Museum.

During our time in Alexandria we struggled with wet and windy (howling) weather.  We attempted one walk and got wet.  I was forced to resort to the plastic bag on my head which amused many locals, as it was a poor substitute for a burqa!