Monday, October 30, 2006

Me, dad and the mummies

The Sunday Times
April 02, 2006

Me, dad and the mummies

Grown-ups love ’em, but tombs and pyramids for kids? Cool, says Madeleine Wickers (13)

Cairo is huge, everything is written in squiggles, and there are mosques everywhere with neon lights. We arrived late in the evening, went straight to the suburb of Giza, the home of the pyramids, and checked in at Mena House, which has been a hotel since 1869. It has brownish photos of Winston Churchill and the American president Roosevelt making wartime plans on the back of a napkin.

There were roses on our beds and chocolate-covered strawberries on the table. A man brought a tray of juices and cool flannels. I was exhausted, but I had just enough energy to take a look at the Great Pyramid, which was right outside our balcony.

Next day, our guide, Salwa — very nice — took us over to the pyramids. They were ENORMOUS! If you built a wall from all the stones, 10ft high and 10ft wide, it would stretch round the whole of France. Me and dad climbed up one — a bit. We also saw the Sphinx: its face has been worn away by the wind.

Next, we drove to the Egyptian Museum. Everyone in Egypt drives like a maniac, and I clung onto my seat for dear life while trying not to be travel sick. This was the worst part of the holiday: the travelling.

Brilliant Giza: Dad shows Madeleine around the pyramids

We saw Tutankhamun’s tomb, his sarcophagus made from solid gold, and the actual death mask he wore. He was only 18 when he died, and Salwa said he was probably the poorest of all the pharaohs. There were mummified children, fish, crocodiles, cats and dogs, plus 3,400-year-old socks. Really weird.

If we had spent one minute looking at each piece in the museum, we would have been there for nine months. We had lunch instead, then went to see Mohammed Ali’s mosque, which was more like a castle. Just outside, there was a little shop where they dressed me up in a Cleopatra outfit and took my photo. Very embarrassing.

On our third day, we flew to the Nile, where we boarded our boat, the Philae, then went exploring. First stop, Yorkshire Bob — which was the name of a tiny jewellery shop. Dad asked the owner if he’d ever been to Yorkshire. “Never,” he said. “I heard it’s cold and freezing wet.” I doubt whether he’s called Bob, either.

I bought six cartouches — pendants with names spelt in hieroglyphics — for my friends. On the back of each, there is an ankh, a symbol for life, and a scarab beetle, symbolising luck.

We went for a fab ride by horse and carriage. Every driver makes the same joke — “This is Egyptian Ferrari” — and asks for a tip (“baksheesh”), for the horse. It was amazing to ride past the ancient temple of Karnak, built in 250BC, on one side, and a McDonald’s on the other. The temple is ginormous. It could swallow two or three cathedrals.

We also went to the Museum of Mummification, where there were lots of bodies in bandages, plus a mummified monkey and a goose, which both looked gross. We saw a spatula used to remove the brains from skulls. Ugh!

On the way back to the boat, a man across the street yelled to dad, “You have beautiful daughter!” — which was sweet, but really embarrassing.

Next morning, we went by coach to the Valley of the Kings. It was eerie inside the tombs, even though the pharaohs’ bodies are no longer there. The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun was born each morning in the east, then died each night in the west. That’s why they built their temples on the east bank of the Nile, the tombs on the west. I felt tired, and the guide seemed to go on and on.

WE WENT cruising down the Nile next. There were only five children on the boat, including me, and although there was a pool, it was tiny. I liked sitting on the deck, sipping hibiscus juice, looking at the riverbanks.

One evening, we had to dress up as Egyptians. During the afternoon, a load of little rowing boats pulled up beside ours. It was like being attacked by pirates. There was lots of shouting and the boatmen threw up dresses called galabayas — we had to catch them from our cabin balcony and throw back those we didn’t like. If we missed, they were lost in the Nile. The whole thing was absolutely mad.

We bought one each, put the money into plastic bags and chucked them down again. My dad also wore one of the galabayas, and I put on lots of eye liner, very Egyptian-style. Everyone clapped when we came down to dinner in our costumes. The food was FAB, and there was Arabic dancing.

Back in Cairo, we met Salwa again, in a bazaar called Khan el-Khalili. She gave me three presents — a scarab-beetle necklace, an ankh and a little jewellery box. It was so nice of her. The bazaar was amazing, like an ancient Brent Cross, and really crowded. We saw Ian Hislop from Have I Got News For You sitting in a cafe where some people were smoking tobacco through things that looked like hose pipes. Not him, though.

I was so sad that it was our last night in Egypt, but I’d had a brilliant time. Here are my final scores: food, 8 out of 10; comfort on boat and hotels, 10; staff, 10; atmosphere on boat, 7; fellow passengers, 1; cultural interest, 8; Salwa, 10+; shopping, 6; prices, 8.

  • Madeleine Wickers was a guest of Scott Dunn

    Dad's view

    EGYPT CAN work brilliantly for older children, but you’ll need to follow a few do’s and don’ts:

  • DON’T be tempted to go super-cheap in July and August. Your kids will fry.
  • DO book the best boat you can afford on the Nile. Some have poor comfort and dubious hygiene.
  • DON’T skip Cairo. Some packages fly straight to Luxor, but that leaves out the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, both of which kids love.
  • DO consider a week on the Red Sea at the end. The ancient sites can be hot and heaving: the prospect of a beach break will pep the kids up when history overload beckons.

    How to do it: Scott Dunn (020 8682 5070, has a seven-night itinerary similar to ours from £1,660pp (£1,445 per child under 12), including all flights and most meals. UK regional connections start at £69pp. Or try Thomas Cook (0870 111 1111,, Discover Egypt (020 7407 2111, ) or Explore (0870 333 4001, ).

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