On to Alex

Today in the Alexandria museum, we came close to observing "Guide Wars" or "Who can outshout whom". In this case, it was French 1 - English 0, but really the whole scene was lose-lose all round. After all, time was short and a little co-operation on all parts would have won through. But our guide, Eternity, wouldn't let us roam free, such is the tight rein on tourists here, and we were compelled to remain as one group and be addressed in the loudest possible voice the whole time. Of course, if that's how things are done, then it's only to be expected that when three or four large groups are in the same confined space at once, speaking different languages, then it's going to sound something like tuning a radio station in. A morning of this left us all exhausted.

But, lets rise above it and instead, focus on the fantastic things we saw here. Firstly the museum, where the exhibits were beautifully displayed - sharp contrast with Cairo yesterday, we felt. Here, there were rather different things from the classic Egyptian artefacts we'd seen yesterday, and we enjoyed getting to hear about another aspect of Egyptian history. Roman coins and sculptures, Coptic treasures and stelae, glassware and pottery, all beautifully lit and begging to be photographed - ok without a flash.

To be honest, even though we had only an hour or so here, we'd had enough by the time it came to leave - though the exhibition was worthy of much longer, the assault on our eardrums was simply too much. But the message came through from ? that our time was up and we were moved on, through the busy streets to the new Library.

Here we were faced with much the same situation, unbelieveably, for everyone was taking the same route. Not only that, but there were many local schoolchildren here too and it seemed as though the only way to see these places was to be with an organised group. It made the idea using the library for its principal purpose rather a joke - how to study with coachloads of sightseers trooping through this showcase?

The building is remarkable, however, and well worth the niggles to see it. Built around ten years ago as an attempt to reinstate Alexandria as a principal city of learning and with a good deal of international support, the architecture alone is fascinating. Cleverly, the roof design allows for daylight but no direct sunlight, and the result is an airy and functional space.

The side walls, made of concrete, are designed with rectangular holes to minimise the echo of such a large space. These also pay tribute to the niches in which papyrus scrolls would have been lodged in earlier times, we were told. We enjoyed a demonstration of the online resources being compiled by the library at http://www.bibalex.org/ too.

Finally, we took a look around a couple of extra exhibits, one of which was of manuscripts and ancient books. I particularly liked the "Kiswa of the Holy Kaaba" - a kind of altar cloth, embroidered in metal thread on a dark linen background - though not especially old, was shown to best advantage, I thought.

So that was that. Back to the ship and time for lunch!

On the way back, we drove along the Corniche, to see the site of the former Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, one of the wonders of the modern world was blowing in the breeze too...

Our views on our brief Egyptian experience? Perhaps best summed up in the photograph I took as we arrived back in the port, of a stall selling tourist souvenirs.

Of course, you'd get a free plastic bag with any of those.

An Afternoon in Rhodes

In Cairo