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" …nowhere are there so many marvellous things nor in the world besides are there things of unspeakable greatness" ( Herodotus, Greek historian)
Having spent several months during 1984 (how old??) wandering aimlessly around Egypt, with little more than enthusiasm, the clothes I stood in and a smile, we decided it was time to return with information at our fingertips and a slightly higher budget.
So, the holiday was booked and I made it my mission to learn a little about the country I had previously spent some considerable time wandering. We had booked to go to the Red Sea Coast, and I wanted to know something about the area rather than leaving everything to chance…too old for that wandering now.
It was with this in mind that I perused the bookshop for relevant literature, and decided on this one, primarily because I had used the Lonely Planet books when travelling before, and had always found them useful.
The first double spread in the book is a map of the country, which is an obvious and excellent idea, given that the country is so large, and I have no sense of direction. The map shows all of the major areas and includes a very brief outline of the area and the page in the book where the information can be found. It makes a mockery of the book which suggests that women can't read maps, because I found this very informative rather than confusing.
After the map, there are several pages of the Highlights of Egypt, namely Pharaonic Egypt, City Life, Islamic Cairo, Nile Cruising, Deserts and Oases and Sand and Sea. Each section suggests places of interest to visit, again, with the page which will give more information, and lots of pictures.
The general introduction also includes suggestions such as when to go…not in July or August, apparently…OOPS!! I got it wrong again, we were going in August!
Although these bits were no doubt interesting, I didn't want t read about the classic routes and the fortnight jaunt, or about the authors, so sped on to the next chapter.
**History and Culture**
All of this information is contained in several short chapters…History, The Culture, Environment, Food and Drink.
These are interesting in that they give a lot of general information about the country, as well as some obvious information, such as a suggestion that you avoid the food street sellers- no food safety qualifications here!
We decided that visiting an "ahwa" was a must, this being the great Egyptian coffee tradition, and thankfully now open to women.
There are bits of information to help you decipher what could be on menus, which is always useful for me as I like to try the local delicacies. Look through it and if you like things such as bulgar wheat, cheese and lamb, you know you are in for a treat. If not, steer clear of the local food, and go all inclusive in a large resort.
The guide then goes on to describe Egypt in areas: 1. Cairo 2. Egyptian Museum 3. Around Cairo 4. Nile Cruises 5. Nile Valley-Beni Suef to Qus 6. Nile Valley-Luxor 7. Pharaonic Egypt 8. Nile Valley-Esna to Abu Simbel 9. Western Oases 10. Alexandria and the Meditteranean Coast 11. Suez Canal 12. Red Sea Coast 13. Diving the Red Sea 14. Sinai.
Each chapter is divided into sections, starting with a brief description and history of the area, and accompanied by a series of maps showing specific areas in great detail. All of the main sights are described and there are lots of pictures, making it easy to flick through and peruse at leisure.
The chapters then give advise and suggestions for things to do with children. Having travelled for the last 16 years with children, this is one of the reasons I like the lonely planet guides…children are not ignored and parents are given ideas for activities for children and more importantly, local attitude towards children.
So…where do you sleep if you are traveling and find yourself in Cairo or Sinai? This is catered for, and there are suggestions for places to stay for all budgets, and all areas within a region. All kinds of eateries are also described, again for every budget and include quick food, restaurants, and cafes. All good stuff if you have to eat and are confused by the seemingly endless eating places; it's good to know someone has been before, and has recommended the place.
Taking this book away with you will also ensure you can find entertainment, whether it be casinos, nightclubs, cinemas, and live theatre. If you do travel to Cairo, and casinos are your thing, try one of the 4 or 5 star hotels, because last time I was there, each had its own casino.
If shopping is your thing, each chapter has lots of shopping information, both souks and shopping malls. There are lots of ideas for souvenirs, although I did find it strange that it suggests tapes and cds because I was more inclined to bring back things from the markets…I can get cds in the UK!!
The last part of each chapter concentrates on getting to the area by rail, road and air, and describes the region around.
Each chapter is absolutely full of information; I can't think of anything they haven't covered.
For general information, this is probably the most useful chapter, and is one I read almost completely. It covers the whole of Egypt in general, and covers such topics as the practicalities of life; electricity, radio, currency, temperature, customs and embassies. There is information for gay and lesbian travelers, information on festivals and opening times.
I am not going to go through all the information since I think people pick out what they need. For example, if traveling with children, you may pick up on the fact that there tends not to be car seats, and so if hiring a car, may want to take your own.
At the very end of the book, there is a section with useful phrases, although how often you would use "miHtag a mekaneeki" (I need a mechanic)is debatable!
**ISBN** 1 74059 463 0
I paid £13.99 but check out Amazon for great prices
**Other useful publications**
If traveling to Egypt, Lonely Planet have published the following: Egyptian Arabic Prasebook Middle East
**Hit or Miss**
Before we went away, I did flick through this book quite often, to find out a bit more about where we were going. It is an interesting book to glean information about a country, and has some interesting and useful points. One of the things I like about the book is that it is cross referenced throughout, so it is easy to move from chapter to chapter. There are lots of maps and pictures, which is great for people like me who want easy reading as opposed to a penance.
It's probably not something you would read from cover to cover but would read generally before your visit, and then intermittently while. We did make use of it for information on restaurants, and went to one of the suggested restaurants, which was as described. I also used it for information on the markets (souvenir gathering-scarab beetles!).
If you travel lightly, and don't like to carry a big bag or don't have big pockets, just leave it in your hotel, and have a flick through it at night or during siesta moments. It is too hot to carry too much around.
Recommend it…yes if you want a guide book that lets you, for a short time, "walk the walk, talk the talk" of the country.
As an aside…Lonely Planet have publications for many many countries. Before you travel, it's worth checking out your local bookshop or the website, www.lonelyplanet.com