Alexandria and the Mediterranean Coast
Some 20 km long but only 3 km wide, Alexandria (or
Iskanderiya, as it is known colloquially) is an emphatic waterfront city, swept with Mediterranean breezes and tangible nostalgia for its legendary past. Though the glory days are long gone and age has made weary the city's face, the modern metropolis is still a fascinating place and is lately experiencing something of a cultural reawakening. The stupendous Bibliotheca Alexandrina is just the beginning - beautiful old museums are being restored, the city centre is having a face-lift, and most nights you can enjoy a theatrical, musical or cultural event. About five million people speak at least five different languages and live along a seashore on the edge of east and west, creating a world that is in between. Where else can you indulge in a glass of French wine and some Greek souvalaki followed by a
sheeshaand Italian espresso with the call to prayer and Lebanese pop music in the background?
Heading west from Alexandria, the Mediterranean Coast stretches 500 km to the Libyan border, encompassing ever-expanding beach resorts, to the poignant cemeteries of El-Alamein, site of the huge Second World War battle, which have a power and intensity that time cannot diminish. The government are targeting this area for residential developments, but still striking are the vast extents of coast unmarked by towns or tourism, mainly due to the shortage of fresh water and bureaucratic hurdles, which create a sense of isolation as you skim the edge of sea and sand towards Marsa Matruh. Here is the turn-off point for Siwa, which draws most travellers onward, although the electric azure of the sea at Agibah beach might tempt you stop awhile prior to being enveloped in the dust of the desert. With domestic tourism making up the majority of visitors, the beach culture on the north coast is considerably more conservative than that of the Red Sea and women may find that outside of the larger resorts with private beaches, hassles abound.
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