There can be no arguing that summer has finally arrived and with it the time for vacations, gushes Bjِörn Näf – the outgoing CEO of Gulf Air – in Gulf Life... that shining example of inflight magazines that captures the very essence of what living is all about.
Gulf has introduced three new holiday destinations to its schedules, and I have been invited to sample Alexandria courtesy of Bahrain's national flag carrier.
I'm not one to turn down a freebie. Surely it is time for a break from boring old Dubai…a break from the relentless sun, sand and sea. What could be more tempting than … sun, sand and … errr… sea?
I find myself deposited at Dubai Airport (Terminal 1 – that's the awful old one, for those not in the know) three hours before departure. Clutching my eTicket, I stride up to the Business Class check in and am greeted by a charming lady called Cuckoo. No, seriously. I kid you not. It's written on her badge .
What is your name please, Mr Brain, she asks me. Playing along to her seeming lack of intelligence, I proffer my passport to put her mind at ease that the name on my eTicket really does match the handsome guy in the photo . Cuckoo does what she has to do and soon I am able to rush off through Dubai immigration and on to the Business Lounge .
Do you have an invitation, I am asked by a somewhat bored looking female. I'm flying business class, I reply. Yes, but have you an invitation? You need one to come in here. I'm on the Gulf Air journalists visit to Alexandria, I inform her. The power of the press affects a rapid change of attitude and I am offered a piece of quiche with an alcoholic beverage.
Shortly after that it is time to board. Within a matter of moments, a luscious stewardess wants to know if I would be happy to partake of some Arabic mezze after take off. And what would I like to drink with it? Red wine? White wine? French? American? I ask if the American wine comes from California. No sir, luscious trolley dolly answers. It comes from Napa Valley. <sigh> She has obviously gone to the same geography school as the people behind Gulf Air's breathtaking maps in Gulf Life magazine which place Dubai at the northern-most tip of Oman, Doha due west of Abu Dhabi, and Manchester on the west coast of England .
I settle down to read up my final destination. "For a city that was once the rival of ancient Rome, Alexandria has little to show for it," remarks Gulf Life obviously anxious not to oversell on expectations. "Anyone lucky enough to be staying at the Four Seasons has access to the hotel's own private beach created with tonnes of specially shipped in white sand. The other decent beach is at Montaza… Otherwise join the locals as they drive out of the city…" This is a refreshing new approach to marketing, I decide and avidly read on, only to be interrupted as the tyres bump down on Egyptian soil.
We are met by charming tourism officials who ask for our passports and within minutes they have visas affixed and we are whisked at high speed to a fleet of waiting limousines that take us Monaco-Grand-Prix-style the 30 kms to the Four Seasons Hotel conveniently located on the Corniche.
I'm impressed. It's only 5.30 in the morning, but the hotel's PR girl is waiting for us in reception wearing a smile that looks more than half genuine. Would we like breakfast? Would we like mango juice? Would we like to go straight to our rooms? We go straight to our rooms – large palaces of luxury overlooking the seafront as the sun struggles awake to face another day .
A three hour top up of zzzzs reinforces the more hardy of us as we meet up shortly after 9.30; and then it's off on another whacky races ride in an old beat up Lada taxi to visit the Montazah Palace gardens – a stunning area which used to be the summer retreat of the not-much-late-lamented King Farouq .
Next we head to the National Museum before being rushed to the citadel; and on to the amphitheatre; thence to the Library. And finally back to the hotel for lunch which includes a local delicacy - sea bass, which surely would have no right in claiming to have given up its life in vain .
Another car; another dash to the other end of town – this time to visit the grand mosque, the opera house, and to experience the metro. No, really… experience is le mot juste. Think of a series of carriages that travel 100 metres or thereabouts before stopping for some five minutes before moving on another 100 metres before stopping another five minutes … and on and on all the way to the end of the line. We spend half an hour like this before jumping off and trying to flag down a taxi back to the hotel .
And thence to a restaurant enticingly called The Fish. Alex is famous for its fish restaurants. Afterwards, we are invited to partake of shisha and drinks on the beach. As the moon goes down over the horizon, the grueling hard work comes to a close.
It's tough being a journalist, but, we keep on telling ourselves, someone has to do it .