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Eyewitness Guide Egypt

Ok, I'll admit it, I love the DK books. They are the first "pictorial travel guides", and well worth the oftentimes steep price. They're gorgeous -- each region of the country is displayed with color illustrations and photographs accompanied by vivid descriptions and just enough history to make them very readable.

The actual travel information is a bit less useful, but the major parts of Cairo are displayed as finely-drawn 3D maps with walking tours outlined for each area. Details of the major sites are brilliantly illustrated and I got a very good idea of what sites (especially the many many mosques in Cairo) that I wanted to see in person.

Eyewitness Guides seem to focus on the major cities, and Egypt is no exception. Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Alexandria are covered in depth. The outlying tombs and temples are also profusely illustrated -- the drawings of temples "as they were" are an interesting counterpoint to the other guidebooks which have, at best, floor plans or turn-of-the-century engravings. This is also the first book with profuse illustrations of architecture. And food.

Ok, you're thinking that having pictures of food is not the most useful thing in the world, but from someone who was served battered minnows once, I can attest to the fact that it's nice to get an idea of what things are supposed to look like. Ordering in a restaurant can be an interesting proposition when you don't speak Arabic and they don't speak much English, and I don't want to order eyeballs or anything by accident. Big worry for me.

The country is broken out into regions including the delta area, Cairo, the nile valley, Red Sea Coat, and Western Desert. In each region, the cities are covered by area (Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, east Harbor Alexandra, etc) and a suggested itinerary (usually a leisurely walking tour) is provided for each one. I think if you tried each one, you'd be traveling for months, but they're a great starting point for exploration of the cities.

Historic timelines and cultural information are interspersed with functional travel information. Hotels and restaurants are only briefly covered and you'd be better served by finding a comprehensive reference like Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Footprint, to make plans. Use this guide (and the similar Insight Guides) to get a visual idea of what to do. I wish that the 3D maps were reproducible without hauling the whole book along with me. I'm working on that.

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