We can't wait to set off on a long cross-country trip across Tunisia. "What time tomorrow?" I ask our guide.
"Oh, about 800 BC," replies Ahmed Fezai, talking about Carthage, the first call on our classical itinerary.
"Boy, that's an early start," I quip.
I idly study the classical image of Hannibal, the first hero of Tunisia, on a five-dinar banknote. We are travelling back in time to the Africa of antiquity. For 1 000 years, Carthage was one of the great cities of the ancient world. The metropolis of the Mediterranean was the stronghold of Hannibal, the legendary military leader who led an army of men and elephants across the Alps and brought the Roman Empire to its knees.
Dido, a modern pop icon, is playing on Radio Tunis on the short trip to the coast. Now that's what you call synchronicity. Her namesake, Queen Elissa Dido (meaning the wanderer), fled King Pygmalion in Lebanon and founded the great Phoenician city of Carthage.
Coming to Carthage triggers long-forgotten memories of my cultural-history studies and the tragic romance of Dido and Aeneas, Virgil's version of Romeo and Juliet, which ends in the suicide of the lovelorn Queen of Carthage in The Aeneid.
What's left of antiquity? Ravaged by time, Carthage, now a Unesco World Heritage site, lies in ruins today. The marble rubble on Byrsa Hill overlooks the quiet harbour that sheltered the Phoenician fleet during the lengthy Punic Wars. A falcon shackled to the remains of a Roman column poses sadly with the tourists for a few dinars.
If you studied Latin at school, you too may recall the epic rise and fall of Carthage. We were following in the footsteps of Major Grenville Temple, a scholar who wrote in 1832: "I walked to the site of great Carthage, the mistress of powerful and brave armies, of numerous fleets and of the world's commerce - to whom Africa, Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Italy bowed in submission as to their sovereign."
Standing on the cypress-treed summit, our guide spins a wonderful tale. When the inhabitants said Dido could take as much land as could be covered with an ox-hide, the wily queen cut the hide into long, thin strips and wrapped them all the way around the hill of Byrsa (which means ox-hide, though historians say it derives from bosra, the Phoenician word for "fortress").
Fact or fiction, we are spellbound by the myths of Dido who ruled the world as Queen of Carthage long before her modern namesake became the Queen of Pop.
Today a seaside suburb of Tunis, Carthage is littered with modern villas and classical ruins. The sculpture of a boozy Silenus (companion of the Greek wine-god Dionysus) stands among the many marble statues and mosaics in the modern Carthage museum.
We walk among the postcard-sellers in the abandoned amphitheatre where 40 000 spectators watched gladiators in mortal combat with wild beasts. (I wonder if they could stage re-enactments with the occasional busload of tourists?)
We are impressed by the colossal Antonine Baths, the third largest in the Roman Empire, watered by the 132-kilometre-long Zaghouan aqueduct.