Luxor Day 1

Mon, 07 Jul 2008 15:45:25 +0000

Cairo Day 3 Index Luxor Day 2

It was around 5:30 when I got the knock on the door for breakfast, a pretty unpleasant time to wake up. The breakfast was perhaps one notch less than what you'd get on a typical airline: various bread rolls, some cheese, butter and jam, and a piece of cake. But good for a train service in a third world country.

That left me in Luxor around half past six. I found the hotel I was planning to stay at, after an initial wrong turn. But the place was completely closed up. It's called "Oasis", and there's a "Nubian Oasis" just down the road. Confusing, and possibly deliberately so. I wandered over to see if the Nubian was open, and it wasn't, but someone had seen me and followed me up the road trying to persuade me to come in. I stuck to my guns and waited outside the Oasis.

After about a quarter of an hour I was noticed and let in. I had been a little worried, as always, that they might not have a room free, but this is the off-season and the place is almost empty. I got a double with en-suite for 30 EGP, a very good rate. Unfortunately, the advertised free wifi was off due to the summer heat. That was the one reason I was so keen to stay here. But the room is much better than I'm used to.

After washing off the grime of the journey I headed out to Luxor temple. You can't miss it, a big complex right in the middle of town. What you can miss is the entrance: I was on the wrong side, and almost lapped the whole thing trying to find it.

When I got in, I found quite a fun place to explore. Lots of massive columns and colossal statues.

The "hanging mosque" is also pretty cool: a mosque built inside and largely on top of the temple, which was half-buried under accumulated silt until excavations started. Now that the temple has been uncovered, the mosque teeters four or five meters above the ground.

There were lots of people trying to provide unofficial guided tours for a consideration, including security guards. But I've gotten quite good at ignoring people now. I took frequent rests to avoid overheating, and after a while I found I was enjoying myself immensely. It's being back in control of my agenda that does it, although obviously the incredible architectural surroundings help.

When I'd photographed everything I could, I went for lunch at a place mentioned by Wikitravel. I got a rather good potato and beef stew, although the beef was a little tough. Nice to have a beer to wash it down though.

I also went to the train station to book my ticket back.

Again, I was slightly worried that booking only one day in advance was cutting it a bit tight, but it's the off season and there was no problem. It's great travelling in the off season, but I'll have to change tactics in southern Africa, where it's now the high season.

The project for the afternoon was visiting the temple at Karnak. This is 4km from the town, so I had to take my chances with the dreaded minibus. I went to the train station to make the jumping-on point as natural as possible, and luckily spotted a guy hailing a minibus to "Karnak" almost immediately. So there was no difficulty negotiating a destination and a price: the driver accepted my one pound offer immediately. I was also told where to get out by a helpful fellow-pasenger, but since you can't miss Karnak temple, I knew I wasn't being lied to this time.

There's quite a lot to see. Most impressive by far is the cyclostyle hall, full of monumental pillars. Egyptians clearly didn't care about maximising the usable space / tons of stone required ratio.

Also remarkable is how much paint has survived from all those millenia ago. In some places where the roof has survived, it's covered with yellow stars on a blue night sky, as clear as the signs in the street. It had me wondering about the convention that a star has five points. That convention is probably continuous since Egyptian times.

It's also an interesting comparison to Herod's temple in Jerusalem. The jews didn't make statues, but like the Jews the Egyptians had a "holy of holies" in their temple. There are probably all sorts of parallels if you start looking for them. Incidentally, the earliest written mention of the Jews is on a stela in the Egyptian museum in Cairo. I saw it, but didn't realise its significance until I saw it mentioned on a plaque in the Luxor temple.

There's also an open-air statuary museum accessed from inside the temple that you have to pay separately to go into. Not all that great, I'd have to say, compared to what's in the temple. In addition to the statues, the place is inhabited by a herd of goats and a guard who put forward his very best effort to give me an unasked-for and unwanted guided tour. I ignored him and pointedly walked in the opposite direction from whatever he told me to look at, but he never gave up. He also wanted me to step over the rope to walk into a small temple which had been transplanted from somewhere, clearly in violation of the rules he was supposed to be enforcing. No chance, mate.

The minibus trip back wasn't quite as straightforward as the one there, but still not too bad. I just had to go back to the main road where I got off, a couple of hundred metres from the temple entrance. The guy didn't even ask for money up-front, and when I paid a pound at the end he didn't blink. These people need to get in touch with their colleagues in Cairo and work on their ripping-off skills.

I retreated from the sun and spent a while in my room, watching videos to wind down the clock until sunset. My plan was to watch the sun set over the Nile, which is a thing you're supposed to do in Luxor. That implied walking along the Corniche, a rather fraught enterprise. The place is thick with hustlers, who randomly bellow "welcome" at you in a distressingly aggressive manner. In fact I realised that it's extremely close to bullying at school: it's not what they say, but the feeling of being constantly assaulted by superior numbers. At least here they're not allowed to physically attack you.

Anyway, I found a deserted spot with a view and a bench and sat down to watch the show. And actually, it was well worth it. The sailing boats on the water are quite relaxing to watch, out of range of the inevitable unasked-for and unwanted commentaries the passengers were undoubtedly being subjected to. There are flocks of birds swooping about and chattering in the palm trees. The hustlers seem to prefer a moving target and left me alone. So it was a very peaceful moment.

For dinner I went down to a place under the corniche, thinking I could afford to splash out a little. It also had a great view of the river. I had some shish tawook and a beer, and both were excellent. I followed up by getting some takeaway sweets from a vendor behind the temple. I was surprised to be called upon to haggle, which is how I ended up being given half a kilo (for only 15 EGP though). Somehow, I ate it all anyway. Probably a bad move.

Cairo Day 3 Index Luxor Day 2