One’s first impression of a country usually has a big impact on the rest of the time you spend in a place. If you get a good vibe after stepping off the plane, that can often last with you for quite a while and make your experience somewhere positive. In exact contrast, if you have a bad start to a journey, it may be hard to shake. In this new little series ‘First Tastes’, I will explore my memories of the first place I saw in various countries.
Today I am starting with Egypt. After reading another great post from Maverickbird, I realised I had never really explore my experiences in Alexandria on my blog, and I thought it would make for an interesting post. That then had me thinking about the ideas of first tastes and first impression, and thusly this concept was born. Please do check out her brilliant blog, the time and effort that must go into it produces amazing work and fantastic pictures as well.
Alexandria. 1999. Yes it was a LONG time ago. It seemed like a worthwhile place to visit in Egypt when planning my round-the-world trip, so I decided to fly in there (and subsequently leave from Cairo). I was to be joined on this part of my trip by my good friend Greg. Greg nearly missed the flight to Egypt as his connection was late, and although he made the flight by the skin of his teeth, his baggage did not.
We touched down in the early evening at a pretty small airport. In fact it was a tin shed and not much more. There was no conveyor belt for bags, they were just lined up once delivered to the shed. Visas and passports were checked, but there wasn’t a great amount of fuss or chaos which I was kind of expecting. I should add that I would think the airport is much bigger and more permanent today. Alexandria is a city on the Mediterranean of millions, and it receives international flights. So, it was very surprising that the airport should be so small!
Greg and I negotiated our way into town via taxi into town and the HI Hostel there. It was an amusing experience hitting Egypt with Greg, who has done a quite a bit of travelling but only to Europe and North America. I’d already been to India on the same trip and I was expecting a bit of craziness. In fact, I felt that Egypt and Alexandria in particular was pretty chilled compared to India, whereas Greg had never been anywhere like Egypt in his life before.
The taxi took us down some pretty narrow streets up and down hills before arriving at the hostel. We wondered if we were going to the right place – or if the driver knew where he was taking us, but we ended up at the hostel in the end. It was now pitch dark, we hadn’t been able to take everything in because of the light, but the room was a twin and it was spacious and clean enough. It would be the best room we would have in Egypt, and the most expensive at around $20 for the whole room. (remember – 1999!)
It was nevertheless a dusty place (the hostel) and I remember the breakfast was an egg and some bread and not much more. Alexandria as a city seemed to be in the midst of change. There was a bit of building going on about the place. There were a selection of things to see in the Lonely Planet and we tried to get around and see as many as we could, but the map was completely wrong in many aspects and we spent a lot of time lost.
One thing I remember is a complete lack of other travellers. Even at the hostel it seemed the other guests were there for business, and that they were Egyptian. There wasn’t a lot of hassle in the street – although I do remember one guy coming up to us from a long way away (we saw him coming) and I’d just been to Russia and picked up as many as five words of Russian. I thought it would be a great idea to spout these at the guy and he’d think he couldn’t communicate with us and leave us alone. WRONG! He spoke Russian as well as English!
All in all though, Alexandria was a good introduction to Egypt, a country I really enjoyed over all. It was actually quite an attractive city in many ways, although we were none to impressed by the beach which wasn’t very clean. There are a number of Roman ruins around the city including an impressive amphitheatre, and so there were plenty of opportunities to take some nice photos. Compared to Cairo – well it doesn’t. It’s a much easier, calmer place to start a trip to Egypt than the madness that is Cairo and for that it was perfect. It’s even a few degrees cooler than the capital with the sea so close, and the train ride between the two is rather spectacular.
Did I get to delve deep into Alexandria? Not at all. Did I get to see a lot of sights? No. But sometimes that’s not what you need most. There’s nothing wrong with a chilled introduction to a place (everything is relative). I believe Alexandria is a much different place today. Perhaps one day I’ll back there. For now though, May the Journey Never End!