Never in my life have I received so much advice as before departing for Egypt. If my crêpe-hanging friends and family were to be believed, Ian and I were doomed to spend the entire ten day holiday sweating to death in intolerable heat whilst being systematically robbed, attacked, sexually harrassed and shot at by machinegun-toting terrorists. Provided we ever made it off the toilet, that is.
But we've always dreamed of going to Egypt and seeing the remains of the world's most fascinating and mystical ancient civilisation, and we weren't going to let a few poxy terroists or a case of jippy tummy put us off. And so, armed with £72 worth of pharmaceuticals and suncreams, a suitcase stuffed full of demure cotton outfits that would let not one inch of pasty flesh reveal itself to a searing sunbeam or offended Arab eye, we set off.
And embarked upon the holiday of a lifetime.
Because don't believe the anti-hype, folks: Egypt is wonderful. And as for its supposedly scurrilous population, they're the friendliest people I've ever encountered, welcoming tourists with open arms - and outstretched palms. Okay, so you do get hassled by hawkers at every turn, you have to tip people just for smiling at you and you never get any change when you buy things. And yes, my loving husband did get a little sick of the 'you a lucky man… how many camels?' comments, but it's all part of the Egyptian experience, and the Egyptian experience has to be, well, experienced.
It took us 24 hours to get from Edinburgh to Cairo, via a gruelling combination of sleeper, taxi, train, six hour wait at Heathrow airport filled with window shopping (Chanel shoes to die for, incidentally - a snip at £221…) and many drinks in the wholly delightful Shakespeare pub, then a four hour flight courtesy of Egyptair. (Who, incidentally, are not nearly as scary as we'd been led to believe - all right, so you don't get free booze, the films are a bit pants and if they give you a choice between beef and chicken, choose chicken, okay, just trust me on this one. But you get a lot more leg room there than you do on a lot of most flights, so it's not all bad...)
We were travelling on a package tour with Bales Worldwide - another new experience for us, that, having always travelled independently before. But hey, if we were going to be mugged, hijacked and held at gun point, we figured we may as well do it in the company of some stalwart British pensioners who could still remember what it's like to survive a war… Okay, so I exaggerate: although we were the youngest in our party, the company was very congenial, mercifully free of the usually obligatory Irritating Couple That No-one Else Can Stand... unless, of course, that was us...
On arrival in Cairo, exhausted and bleary-eyed, we were met by our Bales rep, who guided us through the airport only to leave us standing forlornly near a beaten up old Skoda, chortling nervously as we each in turn made the same half-hearted joke about hoping this wasn't our transport. The rep was clearing something with the police, apparently. There is a lot of red tape in Egypt.
Thankfully, if you're travelling with Bales, you don't have to worry about it, because everything, absolutely everything, is organised for you. Haul your suitcase from the carousel at Cairo airport and you won't need to lift it again till you drag it from the carousel at Heathrow (breathing a deep sigh of relief, incidentally, and greeting it like a long lost friend you feared you never might see again, after failing to produce a tip for the baggage guy at Cairo airport… but I digress).
Of course, all this fetching and carrying comes at a price - and I'm not talking the price of the holiday (which, if you go off season, as we did, is surprisingly reasonable, especially when you consider the standard of the accommodation). No, I'm talking about the tipping. Everybody, from the guy carrying your suitcase to the driver of the bus, to the guy who stands on the gangplank of the cruise boat and tells you to 'mind you head' as you embark, everybody has their hand out. Which is fine, as long as you have plenty of small change, and rather embarrassing or expensive if all you have is the LE20 notes issued by Thomas Cook. LE stands for livres égyptiennes (Egyptian pounds) and it's about four quid sterling, which is a lot in Egypt. And it's what we ended up tipping our porter in the Giza hotel, as it was quite clear he wasn't going to leave the room empty handed and we quite wanted to go to bed without some guy in a brass buttoned uniform prancing round the room switching the lights, telly and air-con on and off all night.
While we're on the subject, the Meriden Pyramids hotel in Giza was pure Las Vegas. From the huge pharoanic statues in the lobby and alabaster cats on the lamps in our bedroom to the 'Nubian Village' restaurant, the whole place screamed 'Egyptian theme bar'. But then that's a feeling you get a lot in Egypt, that the whole country is in fact one vast theme park, 'Ancient Egypt World', and that the 'real' ancient Egypt is somehow always out of reach.
You catch a glimpse of it occasionally, in a soft, dark shadow cast by a soaring, needle-sharp obelisk as the sun begins to set behind a crumbling temple; sheaves of wheat in green and golden fields, hand-bundled Biblically; lazy water buffalo hunched up by the riverside, long tails whisking flies from their bony backs; in the slow-flowing waters of the River Nile as it courses up from Darkest Africa towards the Mediterranean, surrounded by vast tracts of orange-glowing desert that stretch away as far as the eye can see.
But it's fairly safe to say that you never see it anywhere that is designed for tourists. Take Cairo's Pharoanic Restaurant, where we dined one night. Burly black slaves dressed in gold kilts and headdresses, bearing golden staffs tipped with ankhs, stood to attention as we waltzed up a red carpet onto the barge, which was almost sinking under the weight of its gold and blue décor, its portly waiters dressed as Pharoahs and the gilded fibreglass statues of Horus propped up in the prow. Even the famous Egyptian Museum seemed a bit gumbie, its façade adorned with huge, bewigged Cleopatras, arms outstretched across the peachy stone walls like a poster created by the tourist board.
But who am I to wax lyrical about the 'real Egypt' when I was there with a tour party, cocooned in my air-conditioned tour bus, protected as much as possible from anything too real?
Because the poverty in Cairo is certainly real enough. The city is possessed of some of the most squalid areas I've ever seen: whole neighbourhoods of half-built houses, rooms open to the sky, strings of blankets and galabbiyas hanging out to dry, the obligatory satellite dishes studding the walls, all surrounded by derelict wastelands of broken masonry and rubbish. Swarthy, moustachioed men in grubby turbans and wizened old women, muffled in headscarves, squat on doorsteps, boxes and traffic islands, amidst piles of rotting fruit or dirty straw, drinking coffee and smoking scented tobacco from exotic hubbly-bubblies, whilst children, dusty feet clad only in flip-flops, play football amongst the rubble and hairy goats pick their way daintily through piles of refuse. A large proportion of Cairo's population actually live in the vast, sprawling necropolis, the City of the Dead. Squatters, in a way, but with water, electricity, phones, a shop, a school, a clinic; and yet a race apart - 'I'd never have a friend from the City of the Dead,' said Naleem, the guide who took me round Old Cairo.
The Old Cairo trip is the only part of the tour which isn't focussed on Ancient Egypt, taking you instead through narrow, filthy streets into the heart of the Medieval city, past the ramshackle stalls of local souks, with their walls of bulbous watermelons, strings of small green Egyptian bananas, huge, red carcasses of raw meat suspended from hooks in dark doorways, skinny donkeys dragging carts piled high with cages full of scrawny poultry.
Old Cairo is a melting pot for the city's three religions, Islam, Coptic Christianity and Judaism, each leaving its own indelible mark on the architectural landscape. First on my itinerary was the Church of St Sergius, Cairo's oldest Coptic church, famous for its subterranean cave, where Joseph, Mary and Jesus supposedly sheltered after fleeing Bethlehem. It was quite like a Western Christian church really, apart from the towel-like tapestry of Christ which hangs from the rood screen, and which fervent young women clutch at and kiss as they pray. I peeked behind it when we were supposed to be looking down a staircase into the famous cave (I hope it didn't smell that bad when the Holy Family were there's all I can say!) and discovered a lonely font surrounded by bits of broken furniture and a picture of Jesus that looked as if it had come from a car boot sale propped casually in a niche behind.
After a quick look round the beautiful golden Ben Ezra Synagogue, we visited three mosques: the Sultan Hassan, Rif'ai and Alabaster Mosques. I've never been in a mosque before and for some reason was amazed to find them so vast, with high, echoing, domed ceilings and wide, sunny courtyards. And so peaceful too, with only the low respectful murmurs of the guides to break the silence - and the distant drone of a hoover, as some poor guy tries to keep the carpets free from pigeon shit.
All this peace and tranquillity was in sharp contrast to the mad bustle of the Egyptian Museum, our first port of call that day. Again, Bales proved to be a cut above the average with their provision of our guide, Wael, who accompanied us all the way to Aswan. With his encyclopaedic knowledge of Ancient Egypt and real talent for story-telling, he ensured that not only did we see the great sites of Egypt, but we understood what we were seeing as well. Over the six days he had us under his wing, my knowledge of Ancient Egypt shot up from 'pretty non-existent really' to, er, 'basic'. Now I've just got to try to remember it all…
We were certainly glad of his presence in the Museum, which is absolutely vast and crammed so full with artefacts you could easily spend a week there and still not see the half of it. But Wael cut straight to the good stuff, starting with the treasures of Tutankhamun, which in themselves occupy several large rooms. I must admit, however, that the fabulous golden mask was a bit of a let down: having seen so many photographs of it, the real thing looks a bit, well, like it always does in the photos, really. Somehow it's hard to believe it's really gold, it's just too bright and shiny and yellow. The Royal Mummies are cool, though: that of Ramses II is particularly compelling, a tiny, brittle figure of a man, wizened, clawlike hands starting out from his body as if he's trying to get up. Apparently the mummies are all radioactive, sending bomb-detecting machinery into overdrive. This, it appears, was the secret ingredient in the embalming fluid. So now you know.
Although our hotel room boasted a 'pyramid view', it wasn't until the following morning that we got to see these wonders of the ancient world up close and personal.
Nothing, but nothing, can prepare you for the sheer immensity of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Each block of stone reaches almost to shoulder-height, row after row soaring up above you till you reel backward, dizzy, unable even to see the summit.
Inside, however, it's a different story. Squatting on your haunches as you creep along the narrow, dimly-lit corridors that slant steeply upwards into the heart of the tomb, you can almost feel the weight of all those thousands of tonnes of stone pressing down upon you. Fortunately it wasn't too crowded or it would have been time for a screaming panic attack, I fear.
As it was, getting stuck behind two old ladies as they advanced, crabwise and immeasurably slowly, down the sheer corridors, breathing rather unpleasant onion fumes out into the hot, suffocating air as they went, was bad enough.
As for the Sphinx, well, yes, it is much smaller than it looks in pictures, and yes, its face does look as if it's done a few rounds with Mike Tyson (Napoleon, I think it was, actually) but somehow seeing that familiar battered yellow body stretched out serenely amongst the sand dunes was a very special moment for me.
The Solar Boat Museum is not to be missed either. The dismantled boat was discovered at the base of Cheops' pyramid in 1954, but it was another thirty years before the experts worked out how to put it back together again; the mighty Pharaoh may have been left with a flint hammer with which to reconstruct the boat in the Afterlife, but sadly, he wasn't issued with any Ikea-esque instructions. Bogus.
We arrived at Luxor airport at about 9am, gritty eyed and weary after a 4.15am wake up call, and from there we were bussed to the banks of the Nile, where our boat, the Oberoi Sherayer, awaited us. The peaceful pace of life in Luxor seems a million miles away from the noisome bustle and squalor of Cairo. The dusty streets are clean(ish), enlivened by colourful caleches drawn by fly-ridden underfed horses; smart hotels line the banks of the slow-flowing Nile, whilst palatial cruise boats berth up to six deep along the banks.
We were amazed at the luxury of our boat. Expecting a tiny twin-bedded cabin somewhat akin to the claustrophobic box we'd shared on the Scotrail sleeper, we were amazed to find that our quarters not only comprised two small toilet and shower rooms (so that we could both be ill at the same time? we wondered somewhat nervously) but a huge room and (very hard) double bed. We were at the bottom of the boat, and our windows were right on the waterline, which made for great Nile-high views, but which would probably have meant instant death if we'd sunk…
According to Wael, Luxor boasts a quarter of the world's ancient monuments. And we had just one day to seem them all. One very hot day, at that - not only is Luxor quieter and cleaner than Cairo, it's also a lot hotter.
Our first port of call was the astounding Temple of Karnak. My God. It's just vast. Before entering, Wael explained to us the layout of a typical Egyptian temple - pylons (those huge sloping stone walls at the gate), outer court, hypostyle hall, storage room and shrine - but Karnak has dozens of different halls and minor temples, all flanked by huge pillars, beautifully carved and still retaining traces of the original rich colours with which they were once painted: bright blue, deep red, green and gold.
It was searingly hot there, sweaty, dusty and crowded, but that didn't detract from the awesome power of the place: it was an indescribable experience, wandering amongst the ancient stones, whilst skinny black goats picked their way delicately over the mud brick walls, just as they must have done in the time of the Pharaohs.
After a buffet lunch on the boat, we headed across the Nile to the West Bank, where, stopping briefly to see the huge Colossi of Memnon, we headed into the Valley of the Queens. It was hot as hell over there, dry and dusty, and I felt as if I'd landed on an alien planet, so far removed was the arid landscape from anything I'm used to. Vast, crumbling mountains descended into rock-strewn valleys, into which the sun beats down relentlessly; at any moment I expected some scaly lizard creature to drop a rock on me from above. It's life, Jim, but not as we know it…
Creepy as any alien was the tiny, desiccated corpse of a six-month-old foetus that was discovered in the tomb of Prince Amun-herkhopshef, and which the galabiyya-clad 'guide' in the tomb was most anxious for us to see. Grey as ash, you can still see its tiny ribs and limbs and huge, hollow eye sockets. Spooky.
Leaving the Valley of the Queens, we stopped off at Deir el Medina, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This feisty madam had the audacity to assume the role of Pharoah on the death of Tuthmosis II, her husband (and half brother - Ancient Egyptians! Tsch!) usurping her stepson in the process, the child who would later become Tuthmosis III - and would then devote his life to erasing systematically every known record of the presumptuous Queen. Still, Deir el Medina has survived - although many carved ../images/photos of Hapshepsut have been painstakingly chiselled off the vast walls. It is, perhaps, the hottest, whitest, driest place on earth, or so we thought anyway. And it has to be said that the elegant white columns cut into the rugged rock of the mountain do look rather like a Hilton hotel from a distance - evidently Hapshepsut was ahead of her time in more ways than one.
Bypassing the tombs of the Nobles and the Ramesseum - a pity, that, I would have liked to see the fallen colossus of Ramses II: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair' - we proceeded to the Valley of the Kings, where a bizarre little electric choo-choo train chugs you into the main necropolis. It's very hot and sweaty in the tombs, not at all the cool depths I'd imagined, and in many tombs you have to climb down several flights of uneven steps into the humid depths before reaching the actual burial chamber. As you descend, you can't help noticing the way the tomb carvings and paintings deteriorate as you approach the burial chamber, starting out beautifully intricate and detailed and gradually becoming more and more hurried, at times little more than naïve stick figures, as the Pharoah ages and weakens and the workmen find themselves racing against time to finish the tomb before the old king carks it.
We recrossed the Nile in a motorboat (reassuringly named 'The Titanic'…) in order to squeeze in a quick visit to the Temple of Luxor before dinner. This was definitely one of the highlights of the whole tour, the temple unspeakably beautiful in the balmy golden evening light, fronted by two huge colossi, before which an elegant obelisk surrounded by pink and purple flowers cast a slender shadow across the dusty ground.
During the Diocletian persecutions, the temple was used as a church by the outlawed Christians. In places, where the walls had collapsed, the Christians rebuilt them, although with scant regard for the heathen images carved on them, most of which are now, rather amusingly, the wrong way up. Also, as if to bring together on one sacred spot all the great religions of Egypt, there is a small mosque built halfway up one of the huge walls, at what was at once ground level, before centuries of river silt was removed to excavate the temple hidden beneath.
That night we set sail, the boat juddering gently to life as we slept, beginning our magical cruise down the ancient River Nile. We spent the next morning up on deck, watching the scenery slide slowly by as we cruised slowly down the river, Nile water sloshing and lapping round the sides of the boat, palm trees and papyrus lining the banks, a patchwork of small green fields surmounted by the elegant spires of minarets beyond. To the East, the rocky beige slopes of desert mountains stretch out towards the misty horizon; on the west bank, a man and donkey, laden with straw, amble slowly along the edge of the water and camels bask lazily in the sun, one sitting down, the other standing up. Other boats pass us, horns tootling in mutual greeting, and feluccas drift by, bourne by the wind, triangular sails bellying in the breeze, whilst the sound of wailing Egyptian music drifts across from the front of the boat.
Our next stop was Edfu, to visit the beautiful Temple of Horus. This is Egypt's best-preserved temple, and is breathtakingly lovely. Here you can really imagine what the temples must have looked like in the time of the Pharoahs, with every inch of the walls painted brightly, red, gold, green and blue.
The Temple of Sobek and Haerosis at Kom-Ombo, which we visited the following day, was equally delightful. The temple was built by the Greeks in a vain attempt to unite the squabbling factions who worshipped these two very different gods. The Egyptians, however, weren't fooled that easily, and the lovely temple soon fell into disuse.
At this point I shall draw a discreet veil over the 'Galabiyya Party', which, besides decking ourselves out in Egyptian dress, involved very strange party games such as dancing with an orange on your head and passing a bottle of mineral water around. Just don't mention the potato game to Ian…
As we sailed down into Nubia towards Aswan, the waters of the Nile became increasingly choppier, rippling into waves like the sea, and up on deck we found ourselves buffeted by hot desert winds that I thought couldn't possibly be cooling - until they briefly abated, and prickles of sweat rose instantly on the back of my neck in the sudden heat.
We docked over night in Aswan, and from the boat's deck we could see our next hotel, the Aswan Oberoi, a hideous concrete affair with a huge structure that looks like an airport control tower protruding from the top, yet set amid lovely gardens of hibiscus and palm trees on Elephantine Island, reached only by a somewhat dilapidated 'pharoanic barge'.
In the morning we visited the Aswan granite quarry, where we saw the famous unfinished obelisk, half-hewn from the the gleaming pink rock, then bowled across the arid desert towards the Aswan (or British) Dam and from there up to the High Dam.
Like everything in Egypt, the High Dam is immense and breathtakingly powerful. On the north side, a mass of coiled cables tangles like the skeins of some enormous web, from which emanate hundreds of huge metal pylons, striding across the desert like giant insects, carrying hydraulic electricity the length and breadth of Egypt. Not exactly attractive, mind, until you look over to Lake Nasser, that is, which stretches limitlessly, smooth as glass, into the misty horizon. (The Lake, incidentally, is the size of England - but then they did flood a whole country, Nubia, to create it.)
Then it was back to the boat, where we bid a fond farewell to Wael and were abandoned to our own devices in the Aswan Oberoi, 1970s The Shining style carpets and all.
That evening we ventured out alone (!!!) to brave the dirty, crowded streets of the Aswan bazaar. In between the obligatory piles of rubbish and horse manure, we found stalls selling everything from melons to spices to the usual Tutankhamun tat.
Turkeys and chickens pecked hungrily at the litter, whilst donkeys dragging laden carts vied with big white dirty Peugeot taxis and smelly caleches to knock any pedestrians off their feet, tooting, jingling or shouting spirited warnings as they did so. From all sides we were beset by eager Egyptian salesmen: 'Come see my shop - it's free to look…' But once inside you'll never escape without parting with a bit of cash. Mad, vibrant, exciting, funny - and for poor old Ian, never one of life's great shoppers at the best of times, a bit of a nightmare. Plus I don't recall being told about 600 times how I was a lucky woman to be with him. Aw. Still, we managed to make a few successful purchases, before heading back for the haven of the hotel.
Our trip to Abu Simbel was to be the jewel in the crown of our Egyptian adventure, the Holy Grail of our holiday. It cost us £120 each to get there, and involved not only getting up at 4.15am (again) but the most horrendous, stomach-churning plane journey I've ever made, skimming smoothly over burning desert and the huge Rorschach blot that is Lake Nasser until beginning its descent, whereon it immediately started pitching and tilting alarmingly from side to side, the whole craft rocking on the heatwaves in the air, before thudding to a screeching halt, flinging us forward in our seats like extras in a disaster movie. Clutching our stomaches, we emerged, blinking and nauseous, into the stifling, oppressive heat of the western desert - at just 8.30am.
So was it worth it, I hear you ask?
Oh yes. Oh yes.
Because, as you trudge round the dusty mountain ridge, suddenly it's just there: the Temple of Nefertari, with its mighty standing statues, arms folded regally, and exotic hieroglyphics, all set in a mountain that is a patchwork of sandstone blocks - for the whole edifice was actually built 60 feet lower down, but was cut into careful pieces and raised clear of the waters of the lake when the High Dam was built.
And then you turn and see the massive profiles of the seated statues of Ramses II, hewn into the rock outside his own temple, and suddenly the tribute to his wife seems almost (almost) small by comparison. Vast, staring eyes, huge, sensuous, curving lips, massive hands laid flat on solid knees like mountain plateaux, legs mightier than tree trunks, ending in feet the size of boats: the statues are redolent of the indomitable power of Ancient Egypt's mightiest Pharaoh.
Inside the Temple of Nefertari, despite being hot and sweaty as hell, despite the thronging tourists jabbering at each other in a dozen different languages, an unexpected aura of calm reigns. Beautiful carvings of Ramses' beloved queen line the walls, as, in a catwalk array of different costumes, she presents the gods with offerings, a graceful, slender figure in her scanty, clinging robes.
Very different is the interior décor of Ramses' own temple, where all is power and might, vast murals celebrating the great king's epic battles in all their gruesome detail. Huge standing statues line the passageway to the shrine at the back of the temple, some still with their original and somewhat garish face paint on (Essex orange, anyone?), although the four pitiful, crumbling figures seated in the shrine, on which the sun falls like a laser beam every solstice, were perhaps a bit of a disappointment.
Too hot to stay inside the temples long, we sat outside beneath the shade of a scrubby little desert tree, simply staring at the epic façade, unable almost to believe we were there. The fact that the whole thing has been moved from its original site somehow only serves to make the whole thing all the more incredible, a mind-blowing conjunction of Ancient Egyptian engineering and modern expertise.
If you ever go to Egypt, my friends, do not miss Abu Simbel. You cannot miss Abu Simbel.
That evening saw us skimming across the dark waters beyond the British Dam towards the mysterious Philae, the Island of Isis. None of the motor boats on the lake have lights, and as our tatty little craft scudded across the silent waves, I felt almost as if I'd been transported into a Dennis Wheatley novel, and was on my way to some secret cult meeting - although the phut-phut shudder of the engine did its level best to broadcast our presence to anyone within earshot.
The Temple at Philae is extraordinarily beautiful, especially when illuminated, as it was that night, soft lights playing over the ancient walls like a caress. Much of the structure is still intact, despite its submersion under the waters when the British dam was built. Now resurrected on higher ground, its elegant columns and massy pylons have a strange and haunting beauty in the dim twilight. Okay, so the script of the Son et Lumière show we'd come to see was pretty naff, but we did learn a fair bit about the island and the different people who've visited it - the priests and priestesses of Isis, the Greeks and Romans, Christians, Arabs, Napoleonic soldiers - and the sight of the temple bathed in red, green and triumphant golden lights was unspeakably moving.
Our final outing of the holiday also saw us taking to the water, this time in a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailing vessel, wide and shallow bottomed, set low in the water, so that you are only a few feet away from the rippling surface of the Nile, beneath which small black fish dart busily back and forth and green glowing algae trails in sinuous clingy fronds. It's a wonderfully tranquil experience, tacking gently back and forth in the wind, with no engine splutters or petrol smells to disrupt the peace, watching egrets and moorhens paddle in and out of the papyrus reeds, a lone kingfisher swoop silently across the surface of the water.
After disembarking on Kitchener Island and wandering through the shady avenues of the botanical gardens for a while, we transferred to a motorboat, which was decked, like a tacky seaside stall in Whitby, with dangling necklaces, plastic flowers and little rubber dolls, suspended by their necks as if they'd been hung. Nice.
Aboard this strange craft we sailed towards the First Cataract, our boatman steering confidently between the jagged granite rocks. The sun was starting to set across the sand dunes, casting long shadows across the smooth orange slopes, over which camels were trekking in solemn cavalcade, colourful tasselled harnesses swinging in the light breeze.
Eventually we landed at a Nubian village, to be greeted by hordes of pretty little children, who, of course, tried to sell us things. The village was surprisingly pretty, the mudbrick houses painted bright colours, pink, blue, gold, often with bold patterns adorning the walls. Our guide, Ibrahim, led us to his house for a cup of refreshing mint tea and a chat. Far from feeling like a nosy rich Westerner poking about in the home of poor natives, we were made to feel like welcome guests, and it was a lovely way to end our holiday.
Because, well, that's it really. For ten whole days we'd lived like kings - like Pharoahs, in fact - but the show was over and it was time to return to reality. It was a magical rollercoaster ride of a holiday, and although, like the Pharoahs, we may have been sheltered from the harsher realities of modern Egyptian life, we certainly gained an insight into the Egypt of the past, its extravagant art and OTT architecture, egocentric Pharoahs and bombastic religions. And so what if occasionally we suspected that we'd stumbled into some strange, overblown Las Vegas theme park? Glitzy, egotistical, theatrical, and, dare I say it, even a bit tacky - the Ancient Egyptians would have loved Las Vegas. As the costume designer for The Mummy pointed out: 'If you over-egg Egyptian, you end up with glam rock.' I think that explains a lot, don't you?