When exploring a town, we normally head for the market to get a bit of local colour, but what made this trip so rewarding was that this time we weren't just passive voyeurs, but we were actually going to be interacting and buying things.
As expected, Alexandria's market was as typically chaotic and noisy as the rest of the city – a mass of people shouting and jostling, sound systems blaring out tinny music, livestock on the street, puddles and mud everywhere, and a remarkable range of meat, fish and vegetables. If you were easily put off, you'd probably turn straight around after walking about 100 meters – some of the sights, sounds and smells were not what we're used to in the West.
If you looked up at the depressingly crumbling buildings, you could easily think that this would be an incredibly poor and downbeat place. But, in contrast, the market was stuffed full of delicious looking produce and its people were exuberantly welcoming towards us – even if a group of 16 wide-eyed westerners stumbling around their market, buying up eels, odd-looking vegetables they'd never seen before, and fragrant spices, must have been a rare sight for them.
We passed fly-covered stalls proudly displaying decapitated sheep heads, disembodied goats feet and disembowelled cows, while their live brethren lurked about unawares in the side alleys, waiting to join them after their appointment at the butchers block – it took you aback a little at the start of the trip, but it's amazing how quickly you take it in your stride. This was a day not to be too precious about sanitisation or cleanliness, so we tried delicious freshly fried falafels and sampled freshly picked dates.
Even if one local came up to one of our group and told her that he'd "like to fxxx her" ("her best offer in years" she proudly told us), pretty much everyone else was full of smiles and hellos – an excellent day to break down some of our preconceptions about Egypt.