Last year, the country received nearly ten million tourists, roughly a million of whom were British. There used to be plenty: women who looked like the newsreaders on Egyptian television, or the stars of the popular soaps – smart, with make-up and (the defining feature) carefully styled hair.But many Egyptians are returning to a more fundamental expression of Islam. If I'm struck by this evidence of a growing conservatism, the sights at the Egyptian Museum hit me all the more, but now I'm not talking about the exhibits. After only a day on the streets of Cairo, my eye has adapted to the culture's sensibilities; I enter the museum's precincts and am staggered at the sudden swathes of flesh. It has probably been this way ever since Thomas Cook brought his first group of tourists to steam up the Nile in 1869.I remember the first time I watched people crossing here; how they seemed to merge and blend with the stream of fume-belching, honking Fiats, Peugeots and buses in a kind of death-defying dance routine.It was an art I mastered once; it's time to do it again.
When hunger strikes, I conduct a quest for koshari in the downtown side-streets.It's hard to exaggerate the splendours of this museum, of which the treasures of Tutankhamun are only one highlight.Given the museum's touring exhibition (currently at the O2 in London) I was expecting it to feel a little diminished – but no.One of the first things I tackle is how to cross the road.My hotel is in Garden City, close to the swirling hub of traffic that is the Midan Talaat Harb, a focal point of downtown Cairo.He returns, unlocks the tomb and switches on lights. It seems incredible, but we're a stone's throw from Luxor's Valley of the Kings, where hordes of tourists troop to and from their tour buses. I think of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming, and his arresting black statue discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb. Moments like this bring Egypt's history uncannily close to the present.