Egypt 2010 - Following Lawrence Durrell to Alexandria

My visit to Egypt in April 2010 

I had never really wanted to go to Egypt before, many people want to see the pyramids or die, but I never had felt like that. Then I read the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and from then on I just had to see Alex, it was a see Alex or die situation.

My hotel in Cairo (top floor, yes, the tent)
Zaphod Beeblesphinx (I have two heads here)

I don't do "tourist standing in front of" but a man insisted I needed a guide to go around the pyramids and he took my camera, so I was stuck with him, and hand to hand over cash for hiring him to get it back. I only went to the pyramids as I thought, well, I really better just have a look at them. I was taken by a worker at my hotel in his personal car, and he dumped me at the gate.

The surface of the pyramids is very uneven closer up, doesn't look like a smooth pyramid at all. This is because the cladding was robbed by people until the authorities thought they better stop it. I maintain that if the pyramids weren't so huge they would have been carted away for building materials.

Cairo from my hotel room

My Alexandria hotel. Windsor Palace Hotel
I got a really good cheap deal on the five star Windsor Palace Hotel, an old Victorian place with the life up the middle and enormous rooms. It wasn't until I left that I believed how cheap it had been. Very noisy there with the endless sound of car horns and the call to prayer.

Yellow and black taxi - similar to my 2CV!
Not far from here was the Spitfire pub. Alex is short of pubs. Here I got a taste for Stella, a lovely spicy beer. Similar to Stella Artois, but better.

Sunset view across the grand corniche and bay
Egyptians like cats
Villa Ambron - Alexandria
This is where Lawrence Durrell wrote. His study used to be in the top of the tower. It was here that he made notes for the Alexandria Quartet and wrote Prospero's Cell. He used to be able to see Pompey's Pillar from his window. Now tower blocks are in the way. When I was there the interior had been gutted as the owner was attempting to make it fall down so he could build a tower block. I think he won. See also my article on Alexandria: In the footsteps of Lawrence of Alexandria

Inside the Bibliotheca
The new great library - Bibliotheca
Madness really, Alex probably built over the original Great Library, so they have to make a new one to replace what was lost.

View from my breakfast
Buildings on my walk to the Villa Ambron
Buildings on my walk to the Villa Ambron
Pompay's Pillar, this is it: the most ancient thing in Alex. Sad isn't it?
I thought this was sweet
An Alex steeet
Grand Corniche and Alexandria bay
The way to cross the road in Egypt is just to step into the road and hope for the best. It takes nerves of steel, or shadow a local across the road works quite well.

Alexandria National Museum

Hotel Concorde El Salam
Concorde El Salam inner gardens
Volcano forcast from CNN
The last three photos were when I went to go home after a week in Egypt I found that the Iceland volcano had stopped the planes flying. British Airways gave me 3 free days in a five star hotel. But the man didn't thick the 'tea' box on my complementary form for food and board. So for the three days I had nothing to drink. I was stuck in the hotel compound and unable to afford to drink as 'tea' covered all drinks.

After this I went back to my original hotel in Cairo. I felt horribly stuck in Egypt. However in the extra week I did go and see the Egyptian Museum where they have taken everything belonging to the pharaohs and stuck it in a big building.

I also found a cafe I liked "The Cafe Ritchie"

Unfortunately the company I worked for insisted that the extra week "had to come from me" as they said. So the week I had earmarked for visiting Berlin was out, and, so far, I have not managed to get there.

See also my article on Alexandria: In the footsteps of Lawrence of Alexandria

Through my article above I made contact with Michael Haag and we spoke of Lawrence after I saw his very interesting Michael Haag blog. There you can find much information on Durrell and Egypt.

Michael sent me this piece of text which I replicate in full as it is a fascinating insight, not only to Egypt but to cultures in general and preserving the past or indeed skills in the present day:

Taking from Alexandria to Build Cairo, 1577
Filippo Pigafetta
[Filippo Pigafetta, Viaggio o itinerario dell’Egitto e delle Arabia, translated by Giovanni Curatola in Alexandria Real and Imagined, pages 196-7, Ashgate 2004.]
The walls of Alexandria are all built not of bricks but of square-cut stone, and these stone blocks were part of the old buildings of Alexandria. ... In another street, parallel to the one in which I said the church of St Mark stands, you can see the wonderful temple adorned with various beautiful columns, which, in Christian times, was the seat of the Patriarchate, built as a square, open in the middle.  Now it is the chief Mosque of Alexandria.  ... An astonishing thing about Alexandria is that the whole city is hollow beneath (except for the foundations of the major buildings which stand on earth), and stands over vaults and on columns; and in the vaults and wells water is stored. ... In the people’s dwellings you can see many pieces of marble and stone of different colours, cut in squares, circles, star and other shapes which, with exceptional skill, the good people of ancient times employed to cover the floors and the walls of their houses; a really wonderful work as much for the shaping and fitting together of those well-cut stones as for their quality and excellence, and the diversity of their colours; there are some houses there in which such construction remains intact and you can admire the mastery of the work in the floors and walls.  That art is now completely lost, and no one is able to make new things, but they are so much valued that people gather up the pieces and transport them from place to place, and I myself have seen that in one old house they had taken up a most beautiful floor and transported it to Cairo to be used in a new house.  Nowadays all the beautiful things of Alexandria are moved to Cairo, and of late you can see so many of these works both in the houses and in the mosques, Cairo having increased so much in grandeur through the ruination of Alexandria.