While one of the winter's worst rainstorms was going down on Alexandria, we spent a day in search of the city's past.
(for more recent Egypt photos, click here and here)
"Do you know the Café Pastroudis?" - The elderly man with glasses smiles helpfully: "Err, yes – it's in this direction! Just walk straight and then turn right the second street." It's the third time someone sends us along this very same road, but we have been shown into all possible other directions as well. Instead, we only found a small coffee roasters as well as the venerable Café Venus. The Venus still has shopping windows full of light-pink cake boxes, but they don't employ a pastry chef any more. Two single elderly men are sipping Turkish coffee in the otherwise empty high-ceilinged rooms of a formerly plush cafe.
Maybe the Pastroudis is shifting, or it is a fantasy altogether. Nearly everyone in Alexandria seems convinced to know it, but they all don't remember exactly where it is.
We had been planning to write something about old-fashioned Greek cafés in Alexandria. So far, only the well-known Cafe Delices has materialised, close to the Corniche and the big hotels. It is popular with students and tourists, elderly couples and the progressive middle-class. Nice interior and great cakes – but not very Greek. Further on, the Brazilian Coffee Stores Café – also a time-honoured establishment from the 1920s – has recently taken to playing Islamic chants at high volume.
In that last round around the block, someone finally explains that the Pastroudis has shut down, and a new upmarket restaurant chain, Abu El Sid, has moved into the building. Indeed we have passed Abu Sid several times. Exhausted we go back through the rain to the Café Delices for a slice of high-calorie Chocolate Cake.
Our last day in Alexandria is almost over. It had been raining the whole day, the streets have turned into rivers, we are wet and cold and we spent the better part of the day on researching a topic that didn't work out. Finally we decide to have a quick look at some colonial buildings we have marked on a map before it gets dark. And then, quite unexpectedly, we find a good story for the guidebook and another atmospheric Greek coffee-shop: Sofianopoulos!
In the evening we have dinner at the Athineos Restaurant on the Corniche, another remnant of the large Greek minority that lived here until after World War II. With mock Dorian columns and seafood other than grilled fish, it does have something Greek about it (not to forget the name!), but we give up on the Greek heritage article anyway - anyone harbouring nostalgia for the Greek heritage in Alexandria should certainly go sooner rather than later to find whatever is left of it.