Monday, 17 September 2007

Last days in Africa

Our return to Cairo marked our final stint in Africa. We only had a few days left and planned to get to Suez and Alexandria, and finally to the pyramids and Sphinx of Giza.

We headed off to Cairo´s spectacular new bus station Turgoman early in the morning and got tickets on the 9.30 bus to Suez. We thought. Turned out that our tickets were for the bus that left at 8.30, and we had been the victim of someone with English not quite as good as they thought. By the time the confusion had been sorted out and we had reluctantly paid an extra 2 Egyptian pounds each to have our tickets revalidated for a later journey, we´d missed the 9.30 and ended up on the 10am bus. Just as well we´d benefited from the end of daylight saving in Egypt and had gained an extra hour. Suez isn´t that far, and we were in the port area at lunchtime, looking for somewhere to eat with a view of the canal. The Red Sea Hotel fitted the bill, but then we learned that the canal closed between 2 and 4pm so the ships could change direction - the canal is one-way. We spent a couple of hours eating very indifferent and expensive food, and admiring an empty waterway. Still, we can say we´ve seen it, and there were some ships on the horizon.

Back to the bus depot, with the idea of buying tickets for the 5.00pm service to Alexandria. Again, no. All sold out. It was getting close to Ramadan and Egyptians, and indeed people all over the Arab world, were starting to make their way home for the holidays. If you had ever thought it was difficult to buy All Black test tickets, you haven´t been in a bus queue in Egypt at Ramadan trying to buy a ticket to Cairo. There was a service at 5.30 and the tickets went on sale about 4.45. I stood in the women´s queue, unashamedly holding my ground, and watched in amazement as a fight broke out in the men´s queue. The bus guy left the safety of his office and started pulling people off each other and managed to instill some order into proceedings. I and all the other women got tickets, but I could´t be sure about the men - there were a lot of them. We got back to Turgoman about 7.30, and bought tickets for the 8.30pm service to Alexandria, this time being pedantically careful to check departure times and gate numbers. Eventually the Tourist Police got so tired of us that they personally escorted us to the bus when it arrived. It was late when we got into the port town, but we´d all got some sleep on the way, and were keen to head out and check out the Corniche on the shores of the Mediterranean. We booked into the Union Hotel on the waterfront and went walking. It was warm and pleasant, cafes were open and people were drinking coffee and enjoying the night air. We bought ice creams and wandered back to the hotel, pleased to finally be here. Alexandria was the most cosmopolitan city in Egypt at the time of the revolution in 1952, and as a consequence suffered quite badly. But it has retained its European air, and is now famous for the diving, the new library, and the scores of atmospheric cafes frequented by tourists and locals alike.

The next morning we checked out the diving - we were keen to use our new skills but the options that Dive Alexandria presented were expensive and not compelling enough to have us fork out more than $100US each. There was nothing for it but to go for coffee - the cafe next door was a gem. Shady, with lots of greenery, good coffee and service and the most sparkling loos I´d seen in a long while. We dragged ourselves away eventually and strolled along the waterfront, past the rather manky looking local beach and lots of fishing boats to Fort Quaisbey. The Fort had a great spot on the edge of the promontory, but these days houses a sort of diaorama aquarium - fine if plaster renditions of underwater scenes are your thing. After our walk, it was obviously time to eat again, and we were looking forward to a good seafood lunch. The Fish Market overlooked the waterfront and we selected crabs and sea bass from the ice display which we ate with many bowls of salads and dips, and even a chilled bottle of rose. It was a long walk back to Delices, our cafe of choice, for afternoon coffee and cake, and we decided that a horse and carriage ride to the eagerly anticipated Biblioteca Alexandrina was in order. I had been looking forward to seeing the Library and it didn´t disappoint. The building is fantastic and the work they are doing to scan and make freely available their ancient manuscripts, as well as the digital archive of the internet and a cutting edge print on demand system for the library´s publications were equally impressive. We decided we´d had enough of buses for a while and got tickets for the train back to Cairo, arriving in time for us to head to the Windsor for a well earned cold beer and a late supper.

It had been a bit of a whirlwind couple of days, and it was almost hard to believe that our six months was nearly over, but there was still something important to see - the pyramids and the Sphinx. We had, for some reason, avoided making the trip to Giza until now, but it could be put off no longer. After some minor fuss connected with retrieving our plane tickets for Madrid from one of the city´s DHL depots, we headed out to the site in a taxi. It was mid-morning, hot and dusty and the great pyramid poked out from behind a sand hill as we trudged up the hill, past the entrance gate, the dozen or so tour buses and the many horse and camel drivers, to get close to it. It was big - huge granite and limestone cubes (though there is some discussion that some of the upper blocks are actually ¨concrete¨) piled into that well known shape. The three remaining pyramids at Giza are fabulous and photogenic, but my favourite was the Sphinx. Mysterious, curious and other-worldly, it sat guard secure on its giant haunches and with its large paws extending out towards...Pizza Hut! Not quite the same as the reconstruction in my guidebook which had it overlooking the Nile, but that´s contemporary Cairo for you! After some debate, we hired horses and went for a short ride into the dunes so we could look back at the pyramids, and incidentally the city of Cairo. It was fun to do, and luckily my horse was terribly tame and mostly plodded along a well worn track and, on balance, I believe it was a better choice than a camel or a donkey.

Our last night in Cairo, our last night in Africa, was a bit odd because of Ramadan. The streets were quiet, only cafes with locals watching football seemed to be open, but we did find a Chinese restaurant only it wasn´t serving alcohol because of the season. No matter, we happily ate our spring rolls and chicken and cashew nuts and headed back to the venerable Windsor Hotel for a farewell gin and tonic. The ancient bartender greeted us warmly and we toasted the end of the adventure...for now.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

A bonus jaunt to Jordan

Waking up in Jordan's only seaside town (they don't seem to count the Dead Sea as the beach) we couldn't help feeling a long, long way from Africa. The roads were paved, the electricity sound, the English good, and the shops full of goods. It wasn't Western by any means, but it also was definitely not African.

But it was still warm. We drank coffee and fresh juice for breakfast, and then went wandering. Over breakfast we had the bright idea of avoiding the ferry trip back to Egypt, and instead checking out the cost of flights from Amman to Cairo. It took a couple of hours to visit the Royal Jordanian office, and to get a good internet fare, but we did it, securing ourselves a couple of extra days in this very attractive country.

So, a change of plan - our first stop here was now to be Wadi Rum, the desert oasis famous for its associations with Lawrence of Arabia. After a good fish lunch (we thought we should take advantage of our coastal location), we checked the minibus station. Sure enough, there was a bus departing "when you get back, no hurry". We translated this as meaning the bus would depart sometime in the next two or three hours, but no, once we'd got back with our packs they closed the doors and we were off. Remarkable. And the price was only 2JD each (about $4NZ). It was about to get better though. The bus conductor came down for a chat and told us about his brother's tour company - he said they could do an afternoon 4WD tour of the desert, an overnight camp under the stars with dinner and breakfast for 25JD each, and they'd get us back to the bus station to catch the 8.30 bus to Petra the next morning. Sounded good to us and was to prove a bargain too. We spent a while at the conductor's house, meeting his son, wife and father and enjoying mint tea while they got themselves organised for us. Bedouin hospitality is rightly famed - we were to drink many more cups of mint tea during our time in Jordan.

The afternoon 4WD tour was fun, passing Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom and the spring named for him. As you can imagine, in the desert springs are pretty important, and this one emerged from halfway up a fantastic rock formation, but these days is rather unromantically piped and feeds a channel that stock drink from. We were shown some ancient engravings in a gorge and then did a bit of rock climbing to a "bridge", all good fun. The real star of the show though was the landscape. The desert here is anything but blank endless sand; there are small bushes, it's sandy alright but broken up with the most amazing rocks. In fact the area is known as a rock climbers´"Mecca".

Dinner under the stars was accompanied by the Bedouin boys singing in harmony, all very atmospheric. Not for the first time on this trip did I feel a little culturally empty. One local was left to spend the night with us, while the others left in their 4WD for the comforts of town. Aoudi was nursing a broken heart and confided in us the details of the recent break up with his Swiss girlfriend. I felt a bit sorry for him; as far as he was concerned he´d done all the right things - built a house in the village and bought a flat in Aqaba, said lots of sweet nothings, and made visits to Switzerland. ¨Women,¨ he sighed and broke into yet another tuneful lament.

The next morning we were delivered to the resthouse at Wadi Rum village for the 8.30 connection to Petra, and were there by lunchtime. Petra, or more correctly the village of Wadi Musa, was a bit bigger than I´d thought, and prettily tumbled down the hillsides. The nearby ancient Nabatean city of Petra, one of the seven wonders of the modern world as determined in a decidedly unscientific and somewhat controversial poll, is really magnificent. There are lots of Bedouin stalls and shops at the foot of the Treasury, and we got chatting to a local who turned out to be the nephew of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealand woman who married into the Bedouin about 30 years ago, and has lived in Petra ever since. When they found out where I was from they insisted on ringing her so we could speak. Another insight into the way Bedouin tribes operate - it was unthinkable to them that Marguerite and I wouldn´t necessarily need or want to chat. I spoke with her, and she said she was never sure who was most embarrassed at such times, her or the tourists forced to speak with her by her enthusiastic relatives. She´s written a book about her life, which I dutifully bought. We spent a long day on our feet (no donkey, horse or carriage riding for us), climbed up to the Monastery in the hot midday sun which gave us the opportunity to admire it for at least two hours from the shade of a cafe. We enjoyed the rock hewn buildings, tombs and caves and also the natural scenery - fantastic gorges, valleys and mountainsides. After eating a late lunch/early dinner near the site, we caught a cab back up the hill to Valentina´s and Mohammed our taxi driver sold us on the idea of him taking us to Amman the next day, stopping at the Dead Sea for a swim en route. It appealed - inexpensive and easy.

Before 7.30 the next morning we were safely stowed in Mohammed´s taxi, and being driven along the King´s Road - the old spice caravan route that ran along the ridges of the mountains where it was cooler, from present day Saudi and Yemen, to Egypt. It was pretty here, with great views out across the desert. Our first stop was to Shobak, a Crusader castle still being excavated and restored and therefore without an entrance fee. Next, while getting a potted history of the life of Mohammed (the prophet, not the taxi driver) we were taken to a spot where we could admire the Dana Nature Reserve. As we reached the southern end of the Dead Sea, the rock pillar that was Lot´s wife was pointed out, as was the experimental oil drilling operation that an Australian company had started. Across the narrow band of water Mohammed pointed out the West Bank, and the minarets and mosques of Jerusalem. The oldest continuously inhabited town in the world, Jericho, was also visible. There had been lots of police checkpoints on today´s journey, more than normal apparently, and we were later to discover that Tony Blair had been visiting Amman. It´s one thing to see places on a map, but quite another to be driving in what appeared to be a progressive and moderate nation, and to realise just how close to international trouble spots we were.

The Dead Sea was good fun - we bobbed about as you do, and coated ourselves in the dark, mineral-laden mud. There was a nice restaurant where we had lunch, and we were delivered to the outskirts of Amman in the middle of the afternoon in good spirits. Mohammed put us into a local taxi, and headed back to Wadi Musa, and we made our way to the recommended Palace Hotel, a very well run operation with nice rooms and nice staff. Later that night we ended up in a smart restaurant in a smart part of town a taxi ride away from the Union and the old downtown. Amman was shaping up as a modern, sophisticated and easy city. We spent the next day touring the Roman ruins, doing some shopping and then went to Wild Jordan, a modern shop cum cafe where we had the best lunch we´d eaten in ages while enjoying the view overlooking the old town. More self indulgence was to follow as Sara and I visited Al Pasha, a Turkish bath, for a steam, scrub, soak and massage, before heading out to the airport for our flight back to Cairo. Even the airport was a dream, we checked in electronically, enjoyed coffee before the flight and a trouble free return journey.

Jordan had surprised us with the ease with which we could travel and get things done. The people were friendly, helpful and generally spoke enough English to make it unnecessary for us to use our dozen or so words of Arabic. King Abdullah´s smiling face accompanied us throughout Jordan. His picture is everywhere - variously dressed in a business suit, in traditional Bedouin gear (sometimes with camel), in the national football uniform, as a soldier, or as a policeman and is, so we were told, "a very good king". He is also taking a leading role in smoothing the way for the Blair-run talks which are scheduled to take place between the Palestinians and the Israelis in a couple of months. People here are pro-Palestinian (a poster of the world´s flags in the hotel in Wadi Rum had the Israeli flag scratched out, and the Palestinian flag drawn in), but there does seem acceptance that the current situation is intolerable. Even after such a short visit, I feel like I have more insight into the history and the future of this part of the Middle East.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Sinai - sun, sea and sand

After a couple of days in busy bustling Cairo, the beach on the Sinai Peninsular beckoned. We took a taxi ride to Cairo's spanking new bus station - so new it's still being built, but it already has an airline-like departure board and computerised ticketing, most unlike Africa. The bus even left on time, and before long we were on our way - under the Suez tunnel and through the sparse Sinai desert to the Red Sea coast. For the place where God was meant to have spoken to Moses, it looked pretty godforsaken to us. There were small desert outposts, quite a few military barracks and police posts, and not really too much else. Even when we got to the coast, there were only a few settlements.

The bus took us as far as Sharm el Sheikh, a fairly upmarket resort town. We had about three hours to wait till our "connection" to Dahab arrived, so took a taxi to town and had an early dinner at an Italian cafe on the waterfront. All very pleasant and easy till it came time to get a cab back to the bus depot. Sharm is not such a big place, and who would have thought it would boast two East Delta Bus Depots. But it does. And of course we were dropped at the other one. Eventually we were ferried back to our original depot to wait, enjoying the sight of the full moon glistening on the tarmac...truly romantic according to Max!

We finally arrived in Dahab around 10pm. The taxis here are pick up trucks and Max manfully rode in the back with the bags. We'd been told about the Jasmine Hotel, and decided to check it out. Very charming spot, with friendly staff and good prices, and a waterfront restaurant complete with rugs and cushions on the floor and low tables. We dumped our bags, and settled down to toast ourselves with a cold Stella, watching the moon over the Straits of Aqaba and the lights of a Saudi Arabian town, a mere 30km or so away.

Diving is what Dahab is all about, and we couldn't resist. Max and I enrolled in an open water diving course and spent the next four days learning about buoyancy, equalising, surface intervals and doing complicated calculations using dive tables. Relaxing or what! However, on day four we passed our written exam, and successfully completed the final underwater exercises and are now fully certified open water divers. Because we'd been so distracted during our days at Dahab, we could easily have spent some more time here. It's really a lovely spot, very relaxing and pretty, and the weather is just perfect - maybe a tad hot during the middle of the day, but wonderful in the mornings and the evenings.

However, it was time to go and climb Mt Sinai. This entailed an 11pm departure from Dahab to St Catherine's monastery. Again, a lot of police checkpoints on this most popular of tourist routes. We started the climb at about 2am, and used the camel track - which would have been fine if it hadn't been for the camels! It took a couple of hours up a sandy switchback trail, and then around 750 steps, and surprisingly we actually did get a little cold towards the top. It had been so long since I'd been cold that I found myself enjoying the sensation. We hired blankets from a man near the top, and settled down for a snooze before sunrise at 6.20. I was a tiny bit cynical about this, having gotten up early once too often for disappointing sunrises, but this was pretty spectacular. The mountains were lovely and we had a great view of the sun peeking over the dusty tops. The walk down was quite a mission though, over 3000 steps to the monastery, apparently all built as a penance by St Stephen. St Catherine's is around 1600 years old, so has been here in the desert for a long, long time, usually surrounded by Muslims. These days the monastery complex is home to a couple of dozen Greek Orthodox monks, and also contains a mosque. All very unusual, but it seems the monastery has a special protected status from the surrounding Bedouin people.

The day however had just begun for us. We were transferred from our minibus to another one and dropped off at the port town of Nuweiba so we could catch the ferry to the Jordanian town of Aqaba. Buying a ticket was quite a mission, and proved to be one of the few times it was useful to be a woman in this part of the world. Women have their own (relatively short) queue, and I managed to get our tickets in about 20 minutes - some of the men had apparently been queuing for several hours. It was an expensive purchase though, around $80US each for a trip supposedly lasting around 90 minutes. We also had quite a bit of trouble finding out just when the ferry was due to leave. There were several times quoted to us ranging from 2pm to 6pm. We figured there was still time for lunch, and nipped over the road to the promisingly-named "Cofe Shop and Restaurant". Coffee proved a problem (solved by ordering Cokes) and food was also tricky, with only omlettes and felafel available. We were in no position to quibble, being tired and hungry and ate and drank thankfully, before heading back to the port just in case 2pm was correct. Eventually we left around 7.15pm, which gave us the opportunity for a couple of hours' sleep on the wooden benches in the departure lounge. The ferry itself was pretty swish though, and seemed to be run in a seamanlike manner, which is always comforting. A nice man came and exchanged our passports for small pieces of paper, which we hung onto until we disembarked in Aqaba and went through immigration. We needed a visa, but at least it was free, which made a nice change.

It had been a long day, and we were pleased to finally get out of the port building and into a taxi for the few kilometre ride into Aqaba town. Our driver was a gem, taking us to the hotel we'd asked to see, and then to another one which he, correctly, said was better. The Petra was tidy, with air conditioning, a bathroom (would have been nice if the light worked!), and a balcony. Welcome to Jordan!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Egypt - a lot of culture

Egypt loves tourists, and tourists apparently love Egypt. Even in the middle of summer. The moment we got to Aswan we were definitely in a touristy environment, the like of which we hadn't seen since the national parks of Kenya and Tanzania, some weeks ago now.

Aswan's Cleopatra Hotel wasted no time in selling us a trip back to Abu Simbel, last seen from the decks of the Sudan-Egypt ferry. It had looked great from the lake, and we were sure it would be even better from land. And it was. The only thing is that the Egyptians are very protective of their tourists (with good reason, there was a massacre at Luxor round 10 years ago, and there have been bombs on the Sinai Peninsular also, more recently), and by road in the south we must all travel in convoy. For some strange reason, this meant to visit Abu Simbel from Aswan we had to leave at 3.30am. But it was worth it. The temples are fantastic, both inside and out. Because these were our first Egyptian temples I hadn't known what to expect; the beautiful heiroglyphs, the statues, the columns, the rooms and corridors were all a marvellous surprise.

Next up was the famed city of Luxor. We did this as an organised minibus trip also, but left at the more satisfactory hour of 7.30. The first stop was the temple of Kom Ombo, built on a curve of the Nile, a very pretty spot indeed only slightly marred by the dozen or so tourist cruisers that were moored there. Our little minibus was filled by people who'd travelled from Aswan to Kom Ombo on a felucca. Unfortunately they were too late to visit the temple - the convoy has set times and is not at all flexible on this point. I felt a bit sorry for them, to come all this way and be unable to see something because their felucca captain had slept in seemed quite harsh.

The convoy rolled on to Edfu. This temple was really remarkable - it was huge, so many rooms and rooms off rooms, corridors, stairways and really beautiful carved granite falcons guarding the entrances.

So, to Luxor. We stayed at the Sunset Hotel - again a 3 star hotel (we were getting soft). After a quick lunch break, the tour continued. First the Karnak Temple - again incredibly impressive; lots of columns (134 I think), and a temple within a temple. Nice to have a guide at this one, who also took us around Luxor Temple. I liked this one a lot. It was a bit smaller so easier to get my head around. It was only unearthed after having a mosque built above it, which is still there, and it had also been a refuge for Christians fleeing Roman persecution, so included some faded frescoes on one wall. Alexander the Great had also built himself a temple here, demolishing some even older columns to do so. Because this temple is in the middle of the city, we got to see it in the evening, all lit up. Very picturesque, specially as it's virtually on the banks of the Nile.

That was certainly enough ruins for one day, we were in serious danger of overloading, and had to keep ourselves fresh for the next day.

Our guide came to dinner with us, and somewhat sadly took us to a sort of McPizza place. The food was OK, but hardly what we have come to Egypt for. However, in his favour, we were upstairs and had a grandstand view of a wedding. The bride emerged from the hairdressers across the road, dressed in a classic western white wedding dress, and was greeted by her groom, and a paid band of trumpeters and drummers who blocked the street for 15 minutes while they loudly played their instruments and the whole event was videoed for posterity. There were a few guests, but apprently most of them were at the reception waiting for the bride and family to arrive. It was a raucous business, and both bride and groom were looking a bit shell shocked.

The Valley of the Kings was our first stop the next morning. It was in an incredibly harsh desert, and housed tombs of many of Egypt's later pharoahs. The tombs were all built on the west bank, where the sun sets; with the east bank, where the sun rises, used for temples. We learned that the Egyptians changed from building pyramids as tombs (which were too easy for tomb robbers to find), to burying their illustrious dead in holes (where unfortunately the jackals would dig them up - which apparently led to the cult of Anubis, the jackal-headed god), to finally using underground tombs deep in the desert. Didn't really work as the tomb robbers still found most of them, with the exception of King Tutankhamen's which was discovered by Howard Carter (and I suspect some local assistance) in 1922. Howard's house was still on the hill overlooking the valley, most of the booty was in the Egyptian museum in Cairo (which has got to be better than being in some European museum) and the tomb itself cost an additional fee to see. Ah well. Our ticket gave us entry to three of the four tombs able to be visited. It seemed that a pharoah's tomb was begun as soon as he became king - meaning King Tut's was very small as he died very young, and Ramses II's was very large as he reigned for 67 years (but his tomb was closed for restoration). We did get to see the tomb of Ramses III, very impressive, and because it was enclosed (unlike the temples we'd already seen) the paint on the walls and heiroglyphs was still visible and vibrant. It must have been an incredible sight to see them new. It was really hot here, but luckily we didn't have to walk far. The site thoughtfully provided a dinky wee train for us to use to go from the car park to the tomb entrances. Kind of funny, but also handy.

There had to be a shopping stop on a tour like this, and it was at the alabaster factory. In amongst all the tat, there were some nice pieces, and I ended up buying a hand-finished vase - but forgot to ask whether it was waterproof or not.

We stopped briefly at the funeray temple of Queen Hapshupet, but didn't go in. Her stepson, who she had usurped as leader, took umbrage after her death and destroyed the insides of many of her edifices. The Valley of the Queens was the last official visit. Pretty small compared to the kings, but still very impressive. I think by this stage we were a bit templed out, and happy to get back to town and some air conditioning.

Our next destination was Africa's largest city and capital of the Arab world, Cairo. Our arrival here would signal the successful end to our Cape to Cairo overland trip so some sadness mixed in with the satisfaction of having made such a journey.

But first we had to get there. We read there was a bus at 8.30am. The bus station in Luxor is quite a way out of town, so we took a taxi. It was the most suspiciously quiet bus station I'd seen in Africa. Only a few locals lying around, and two Japanese tourists waiting to go to Hurghada - a town on the coast. We checked at the ticket window. Yes there was a bus to Cairo at 8.30, and tickets could be purchased once it arrived. We settled down to wait. Sure enough, a bus arrived, the Japanese guys leapt up, and the ticket office confirmed it was the Hurghada bus, and the Cairo one left at 7 in the evening. Back in a taxi and to the railway station. There is a weird rule in Egypt that tourists can't buy train tickets unless they are sleeping class or first class. The next Cairo train was at 9.15, and there were no first class tickets left. We decided to get on a second class carriage and buy tickets directly from the conductor. The train was on time, and very comfortable. Nice seats, air conditioning, and we bought tickets without any problems. The 10 hour trip passed very pleasantly. Our fellow travellers shared their food, and chatted as much as they could. Cairo station seemed quite orderly and we managed to get a taxi for probably only twice as much as we should have paid.

The Richmond Hotel is a real classic. In a beautiful old building, and on the fifth floor, we were told it had been a hotel for 130 years. The lift certainly felt like it was that old - a six sided wooden walled and gated affair, it slowly and reliably creaked its way up and down all day. Our room was quite lovely too - very large with a high ceiling and a balcony. No air conditioning and a shared bathroom - probably no stars at all this time! But we did get bread, jam and coffee for breakfast and the management was very friendly and helpful.

I was prepared for a crazy town, but Cairo seemed much more developed, organised and orderly than I was expecting it to be, and the lovely architecture was also a pleasant surprise. There's quite a bit of French influence apparent in Egypt, I guess from when the French & the Brits ran things together here, and Cairo is full of really quite beautiful French-influenced buildings that you can still appreciate from the street - one of which is our hotel. There's also a colonial British presence, which we ferreted out one evening at the Windsor Hotel - former home of the British Service Club in Cairo and still a quaint old bar serving good food and cold delicious beer.

The final cultural outing for now was a visit to the Egyptian Museum. I had heard great things about this place from friends and from Paul Theroux. It was a bit more shambolic and less well catalogued than I'd expected, but still a wonderful place to wander around for a few hours. Highlights for me were, of course, the fabulous treasures from King Tut's tomb, and the many mummies and sarcophogi. But it was very, very hot. Next time, I'll visit late in the day when there are fewer people and it's cooler. The Nile Hilton over the road beckoned afterwards.