On the advice of various people, I took a long day trip to Alexandria, by train. The ‘turbo’ train was sadly booked out, but first class on an ‘express’ train is spacious and ridiculously cheap. Only problem was the train didn’t quite make it to the Alexandria station – we came to a halt just before it, and sat there (next to another train) for some time. After a while I became bored, and followed the locals in opening the door, jumping down, and walking the last five hundred metres to the station myself.

The city feels much fresher than Cairo (the sea breeze helps), but it was a hot day; I wandered around the site of the Pharos (now occupied by a fort), trying to dodge all the flirting young couples, who seem to like the place. The fort itself is a tribute to the art of defensive architecture, with all manner of features to efficiently maim and slaughter would-be attackers, and a vaulted underground cistern for good measure, so tough to besiege.

After that, I visited the library, which is a big room full of books. That might sound obvious, but you should understand that it’s a really big room, containing a lot of books. It’s an amazing space, a giant cylinder tilted at an angle – internally the eleven floors form giant steps / balconies, with shelves extending back underneath each floor above. The roof is supported by slender concrete columns, and contains a regular pattern of skylights – taken as a whole, the sense of light, height and peace is wonderful.

I returned home on the 7pm train, which turned out to be one of the elusive turbinis. The ride and accomodation was pretty much the same as the ‘express’ (average to poor, but on jointed track, not bad) but the train is actually composed as a push-pull formation, with power cars that look positively European. At one point on the (non-stop) return journey we hit the awesome speed of 140 km/h. ScotRail take note.

Posted Tuesday, April 15th, 2008 under books, history, travel.

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