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Cruising through Egypt's treasures; HANNAH JENNINGS PARRY takes to the water to discover the mysteries of ancient Egypt - without the usual crowds.

SITTING on deck under the warm afternoon sun, the quiet of the Nile is interrupted only by the occasional braying of a donkey and enthusiastic greeting of children as we pass.

ITTING on deck under the warm afternoon sun, the quiet of the Nile is interrupted only by the occasional braying of a donkey and enthusiastic greeting of children as we pass.

Like the ancient pyramids and temples, it's a scene which has remained unchanged in Egypt for thousands of years.

Like the ancient pyramids and temples, it's a scene which has remained unchanged in Egypt for thousands of years.

Since the revolution of 2011 and subsequent turmoil, tourism has taken a devastating blow. Even as tour firms are beginning to return, tourists have been slow to follow.

Since the revolution of 2011 and subsequent turmoil, tourism has taken a devastating blow. Even as tour firms are beginning to return, tourists have been slow to follow.

But for this very reason, there has never been a better time to go.

But for this very reason, there has never been a better time to go.

The ancient wonders are as stunning as ever but without the pressing crowds and lengthy waits you can actually begin to imagine the beautiful tombs and monuments as they were so long ago.

The ancient wonders are as stunning as ever but without the pressing crowds and lengthy waits you can actually begin to imagine the beautiful tombs and monuments as they were so long ago.

We began our six-day riverboat tour around Southern Egypt in Luxor, the ancient world's former capital and home to some of its most spectacular temples including the world's largest - the Temple of Karnack.

We began our six-day riverboat tour around Southern Egypt in Luxor, the ancient world's former capital and home to some of its most spectacular temples including the world's largest - the Temple of Karnack.

The scale is awe-inspiring. Each of its innumerable stone blocks took 50 men to drag it from the river, and the reed-shaped columns towered above us.

The scale is awe-inspiring. Each of its innumerable stone blocks took 50 men to drag it from the river, and the reed-shaped columns towered above us.

But it is the intricate decoration that is truly impressive. Almost every surface is covered in hieroglyphs.

surface is covered in hieroglyphs.

Egypt has previously suffered a bad reputation for its aggressive hawkers but, with so few tourists to ply their trade to, we had little bother.

Egypt has previously suffered a bad reputation for its aggressive hawkers but, with so few tourists to ply their trade to, we had little bother.

For the sellers themselves, and their families, it is a disaster. With around 80% of employment associated with tourism in the Nile Valley, the economy is relying on a significant increase in tourists.

For the sellers themselves, and their families, it is a disaster. With around 80% of employment associated with tourism in the Nile Valley, the economy is relying on a significant increase in tourists.

Even our guide, Ahmed, a fount of knowledge and enthusiasm on every facet of Egyptian culture, had far less work than previously. But the country is making a gallant effort to put itself back on the tourist map.

Even our guide, Ahmed, a fount of knowledge and enthusiasm on every facet of Egyptian culture, had far less work than previously. But the country is making a gallant effort to put itself back on the tourist map.

Thanks to the efforts of the energetic and enthusiastic tourism minster, Hisham Thanks to the efforts of the energetic and enthusiastic tourism minster, Hisham Zaazou, an advised ban on travel to the country was lifted last November.

Zaazou, an advised ban on travel to the country was lifted last November.

Millions are also being poured into new excavations and exhibitions. In Luxor, archaeologists are working to revive the 2,700mlong Avenue of the Sphinxes, a former road lined with the pharaohheaded lion statues which ran between the Luxor and Karnack temples.

Millions are also being poured into new excavations and exhibitions. In Luxor, archaeologists are working to revive the 2,700mlong Avenue of the Sphinxes, a former road lined with the pharaohheaded lion statues which ran between the Luxor and Karnack temples.

Over the millennia, the new city has been built on top of the old so the project means relocating family homes and churches that have been there for centuries. No mean feat but, from the artist's impressions, the Avenue and new bridges will be worth the effort.

Over the millennia, the new city has been built on top of the old so the project means relocating family homes and churches that have been there for centuries. No mean feat but, from the artist's impressions, the Avenue and new bridges will be worth the effort.

Most of the day tours leave early to avoid the heat so we were back to our boat by lunchtime for an afternoon of sunbathing and Most of the day tours leave early to avoid the heat so we were back to our boat by lunchtime for an afternoon of sunbathing and swimming in its open-air pool.

swimming in its open-air pool.

We were travelling in the old-school glamour of the Royal Viking, a five-star 64-bed cruiser, part of tour operator Discover Egypt's deluxe fleet. Its polished wooden decks, brass fittings and grand stairways all bring back the golden age of river cruising.

We were travelling in the old-school glamour of the Royal Viking, a five-star 64-bed cruiser, part of tour operator Discover Egypt's deluxe fleet. Its polished wooden decks, brass fittings and grand stairways all bring back the golden age of river cruising.

We particularly enjoyed the tradition of afternoon tea, while the high levels of hygiene meant everyone felt comfortable to tuck into the buffet meals without fear of any upset tummies.

tuck into the buffet meals without fear of any upset tummies.

The next day was the undisputed highlight of the tour - a trip to the Valley of the Kings and the famed resting place of Tutankhamun, the only tomb to have been discovered intact by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

The next day was the undisputed highlight of the tour - a trip to the Valley of the Kings and the famed resting place of Tutankhamun, the only tomb to have been discovered intact by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Nothing quite prepares you for the beautiful, vibrant paintings and symbols that adorn the walls but it was the 3,000-year-old mummy of Tutankhamun himself, amazingly well preserved, that is breathtaking.

for the beautiful, vibrant paintings and symbols that adorn the walls but it was the 3,000-year-old mummy of Tutankhamun himself, amazingly well preserved, that is breathtaking.

The kings' wives and children were buried in the nearby Valley of the Queens, which is on a smaller but still impressive scale.

The kings' wives and children were buried in the nearby Valley of the Queens, which is on a smaller but still impressive scale.

Then it was on to the Temple of Hatshepsut. Set back into the rock overlooking Then it was on to the Temple of Hatshepsut. Set back into the rock overlooking the desert, it was dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty.

the desert, it was dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty.

A pleasant sail upriver and short coach ride the next day brought us to the Ptolemaic Temple of Edfu, one of Egypt's best-preserved temples and, as the sun set, we took a trip to the beautiful Temple of Kom Ombo, overlooking the Nile and dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek.

A pleasant sail upriver and short coach ride the next day brought us to the Ptolemaic Temple of Edfu, one of Egypt's best-preserved temples and, as the sun set, we took a trip to the beautiful Temple of Kom Ombo, overlooking the Nile and dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek.

Our last adventure of the trip took us to the beautiful Temple of Philae, which was painstakingly dismantled and relocated from Philae Island, before it was flooded by the Dam, to the nearby Agillkia Island.

Our last adventure of the trip took us to the beautiful Temple of Philae, which was painstakingly dismantled and relocated from Philae Island, before it was flooded by the Dam, to the nearby Agillkia Island.

Surrounded on all sides by the Surrounded on all sides by the deep blue waters of Lake Nasser, it must boast the most beautiful setting of any temple in Egypt.

deep blue waters of Lake Nasser, it must boast the most beautiful setting of any temple in Egypt.

Of course, it wasn't all tours and temples and the free afternoons gave us a chance to visit the souks which sell everything from camel bone letter openers and bright blue scarab beetles, and where spice merchants sell saffron by the pound.

Of course, it wasn't all tours and temples and the free afternoons gave us a chance to visit the souks which sell everything from camel bone letter openers and bright blue scarab beetles, and where spice merchants sell saffron by the pound.

Tourists have been visiting Egypt for thousands of years, with the ancient Greek historian Herodotus describing the country as "the gift of the river" in 450BC.

Tourists have been visiting Egypt for thousands of years, with the ancient Greek historian Herodotus describing the country as "the gift of the river" in 450BC.

And with so much to offer, it won't be long until visitors return in their droves.

And with so much to offer, it won't be long until visitors return in their droves.

My six-day cruise was an My six-day cruise was an unforgettable experience. With so many spectacular temples and monuments dotted along the way, the Nile really is the best way to see all of the unmissable sights the country has to offer.

all of the unmissable sights the country has to offer.

Go now, and you'll have them all to yourself.

Go now, and you'll have them all to yourself.

NEED TO KNOW NEED TO KNOW HANNAH JENNINGS PARRY travelled courtesy of Discover Egypt. Prices start from PS898 for seven nights onboard the Royal Viking deluxe cruiser. Flight and tour operator options can be found at www.egypt.travel FLIGHTS: EgyptAir flies outbound from Heathrow to Luxor, starting from PS350 for a return flight. Inbound flights run between Cairo and Heathrow. EgyptAir also runs flights out of Manchester. Visit www.egyptair.com CATEGORY: Discover more about Egypt at www.egypt.travel, www.gotoegypt.org and Facebook.com/LoveEgyptUK Luxor, starting from PS350 for a return flight. Inbound flights run between Cairo and Heathrow. EgyptAir also runs flights out of Manchester. Visit www.egyptair.com CATEGORY: Discover more about Egypt at www.egypt.travel, www.gotoegypt.org and Facebook.com/LoveEgyptUK HANNAH JENNINGS PARRY travelled courtesy of Discover Egypt. Prices start from PS898 for seven nights onboard the Royal Viking deluxe cruiser. Flight and tour operator options can be found at www.egypt.travel FLIGHTS: EgyptAir flies outbound from Heathrow to

CAPTION(S):

| The Temples of Hatshepsut, above, and Edfu, below, are just two of the fantastic sights on this six-day Nile cruise on the Royal Viking | The Temples of Hatshepsut, above, and Edfu, below, are just two of the fantastic sights on this six-day Nile cruise on the Royal Viking

| The old-school glamour of the Royal Viking and right, a grand stairway onboard, and one of its elegant bedrooms | The old-school glamour of the Royal Viking and right, a grand stairway onboard, and one of its elegant bedrooms
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Sep 9, 2014
Words:1951
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