Sailing to Alexandria, Egypt
The Pearl of the Mediterranean
If we go back in time to the founder of Alexandria, Alexander the Great, and his descendants, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids had sailed these seas, speaking Greek for centuries, while splendid Hellenistic temples, erected to worship the gods, radiated their incomparable beauty. When this brilliant period was over, trade did not stop. Greek islanders migrated to the ports of the Levant and prospered by trading all over the Mediterranean. Many came to settle in Alexandria and the Greek community flourished with its cosmopolitanism and high standard of living.
In other words, I didn't feel as if I were sailing to foreign waters as the Greek aura continues to shine in the Eastern Mediterranean and the people of the Middle East love us, feeling connected with us from time immemorial.
Looking south, I concentrated on finding the coast while the gulls flew around me as precursors to our approach. There it was! Initially, it was a dark line and then it began to become lighter as the sun shone higher in the sky. I shivered, not because I was seeing the most beautiful sight in the world but because of the miracle of this divine energy that moved everything while the eyes stayed transfixed to one point.
The straight sailing of the ship, the slow, rotating motion of the Earth, the sun's rays penetrating the stratosphere and illuminating the fixed spot I saw spreading on the horizon and deepening as we approached. I was looking consciously and not romantically. My eyes were a channel through which this elusive sense we call vision passed. It was an enlightening moment. A hymn to God... The art of travel is much like sipping champagne, but it is also listening to God when He asks you to, when He unfolds such splendours as the city whose Lighthouse was one of the seven wonders of the world.
When the passengers left for their day trip to Cairo, the cruise ship was wrapped in a lovely peacefulness. Enchanted, I gazed out at the Pearl of the Mediterranean. I couldn’t see much of it as we had anchored quite far from the famous Corniche which, in its heyday in the mid-20th century, had brought Alexandria this title.
My friend, Chewikar Abdel, who was an active member of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, came to pick me up with her car. How glad I was to see her! A bright, highly educated Alexandrian lady who was a writer and spoke perfect French and English, was my chaperonne whenever I came for the international symposiums held at the Library. She always had something new to show me whenever I came to visit. I usually arrived in Alexandria by direct flight from Athens, flying high over the Aegean. We would land in the desert, and then the plane would go on to Cairo.
“Ma chère Chewikar!” I exclaimed, and hugged her.
How wonderful it is to have such friends! She had arranged to lighten up her schedule when I told her I would be coming for a few hours, before returning to the Greek islands. She took me for to lunch. And where else? The Greek Yachting Club, with its amazing view of the harbour where so many little fishing boats lay anchored, with the Corniche in the background. This is where the International Friends of the Library gathered for lunch, and the atmosphere was always a pleasurable one, with fresh fish available, just like in Greece.
The only Egyptian note was the red fez worn by the waiters. We would go up to the deck for coffee, sit on the comfy, striped cushions, and gaze upon the Fortress of Qaitbay, which was built with the stones from the ruined Lighthouse that had once occupied the same space illuminating the harbour in which Cleopatra’s palace had sunk and where excavations begun in 1994 to unearth its exciting treasures.
An excerpt from the book: GREECE, The Dance of the Seas