The train from Cairo to Alexandria follows the Nile north out of the capital and so the views from the train window are of lush, green palm groves. The comfort of a train carriage and the verdant pastures flanking the world’s longest river formed quite a contrast to the bus traversing Sinai ten days previously.
Stepping out into the green, openness of the square—Midan Gomhuriiya—that fronts the Misr train station, with its crisp Mediterranean breezes, it felt a world away from the claustrophobia of Cairo. The streets are lined by colonial-style buildings, shaded by palm trees; the smell of the salty air guided me to the curving Corniche along which the city stretches, where couples sit on the sea-wall, enjoying the coastal wind. The cafés and patisseries of Alexandria have a much more European feel to them, particularly with the bright blue trams trundling past. The rising hotels and cafés that rim the sea-front are punctuated by needle-like minarets. These, along with the Arabic scripture that adorns the vibrant boats of the harbour remind you that this is indeed still the Middle East.
Away from the sea, one of the colonial buildings is the Alexandria Centre of Arts. I was taken around the building by someone who worked there, surprised to see a khawaaga here taking an interest in their work. Along with a small gallery, the building comprises a theatre, a recording-studio, an IT training centre, a library and a mediathèque that houses archives of concerts from here and from the opera house. They have studios, and organise workshops, with exhibitions of the participants’ work at the end of each session. Funded by the Ministry of Culture, their goal is to render the arts more accessible to those without the means. “Not everybody can pay for the opera, it is expensive. But here, they can watch it for free”, my impromptu guide explains.
He then recommends a great fish restaurant for the evening, inviting me out with him and his friends. Two of my main reasons for traveling to Alexandria have been fulfilled: the arts, and a fish-supper.