Luxor, land of contrasts

This time back in Luxor, the tourist Mecca of Egypt, we were a bit more worldly wise. We sailed through the sea of touts waiting at the train station, found a bakery for a sample of local delicacies and ambled our way back to our accommodation – a bit further than we remembered, but we walked without hesitation through the streets of Luxor.  On return to the original hotel we stayed at in Luxor, we were met with a big smile by Mostin (Man Friday of the hotel) and Anna the owner. This time other guests joined us for dinner, a lovely young couple from Hong Kong – we spent a good few hours talking about many things, including world cinema, swapping the names of some good films we had all watched. A very enjoyable evening was had, followed by a cosy sleep.

The next day we ventured to Karnak – one of the must see sights of Luxor. A giant of a place on the East bank, a few miles up from Luxor Temple. During Egyptian times this was the epicentre of Egyptian life with some 85,000 living and working in Karnak, a very important place which is hinted at by the aisle of ram headed sphinxes at the entrance, which once stretched all the way to Luxor Temple. (The sphinx took the head of the God whom the temple was devoted to – I think, where is our Egyptologist friend Abdullah when you need him?) Awash with a sea of tourists and a few school trips, you could almost imagine the hustle and bustle of the original place. The hypostyle hall was impressive with 134 columns stretching skyward to emulate a papyrus swamp – the biggest such hall in Egypt. With the right light it is a photographers dream, as the cover of Lonely Planet guide to Egypt testifies. After a good few hours here we bumped into the taxi driver who took us sandal shopping a week ago, and he took us back into town to an excellent falafel stall, and later we headed to a good restaurant, where we bumped into our friend, Jebeb, one of the crew from the dahabiya. Luxor is a small place it seems.

A new day and a new adventure… Martin had a busy early morning with a trip to Luxor Museum (museums are one of his many passions, as well as food and a nice cigar). Another very well presented  museum, well catalogued and with plenty of space to amble around at you own pace. Some superbly carved, granite and basalt of gods, kings and queens, with great attention to detail for muscle and bone structure. Meanwhile I had a leisurely “Alie-up” and was as fresh as a spring daisy when he returned. Sadly we had to say goodbye to Brian our resident gecko who lived on the ceiling of our room. We voted against spending the end of our holiday in the hustle and bustle of Cairo to instead retreat to the quiet haven of the west bank. Our home for the next few days would be nestled between the Nile with its grassy plains (flooded in the height of summer) and the arid rocky hills that comprises the valley of the kings, queens, nobles, workers, temples, alabaster factories and anyone else who cares to get a look in.

Our new hotel was a little piece of heaven, it is self-sufficient in organic food, growing maize, tomatoes, bananas, mangoes, guava, lemons, courgettes, tomatoes – you name it. Run by a gentle man and his wife, and staffed by very friendly locals, this has been built through much hard work and love into a small complex of traditional dwellings, each with its own garden – more like a home than a hotel. The veranda is built up to overlook the shady swimming pool (which was great) The addition of Molly and Bruno, the very friendly resident dogs and my little friend, “Meooow” the little kitten and the presence of a pool table – made this into a little paradise. Good choice, thank you Trip Advisor! The remainder of the day was spent absorbing the atmosphere and relaxing –a really nice break after much sight-seeing and walking through temples.

But onwards… the next day we were picked up by taxi and taken to the tourist tour of the west bank sights, picking up our guide on the way. First stop the valley of the dolls / kings / very hot sand (delete as appropriate). Don’t forget your water! One thing that’s really impressed me in the museums is the scale models of the temples, the Nile journey, Abu Simbel above and below water etc provided in the Museums/ entrances to sites, and here was no exception. Here we saw an ingenious clear-ish translucent model of the rocky valley, but from underneath you could see the warren of steps and chambers that made up the tombs. Absolutely fascinating. You are allowed to visit three tombs, and our guide took us to Ramases I, IV and IX, providing a fascinating tapestry of paintings and hieroglyphs depicting symbols of protection, passages from the book of the dead, battle victories, offerings to gods and the odd scarab beetle and duck thrown in for good measure. A shame you can’t take photos, but unless you have a good camera, stay very still without some numpty walking into frame and don’t use flash, you can see why.

Then the temple of Hatshepsut (enough temples yet?) and finally mid-afternoon saw us in the often missed and underrated Temple of Medinat Habu / Temple of Ramases III. Many reliefs, gateways, and some colour remains in the height of the protected columns. We finished the day in a café opposite the entrance to the site for a well earned refreshing drink, a hot mint tea and a cool can of coke. The winner of the most refreshing drink on a hot day was 2 to 0 in favour of the hot mint tea. The most refreshing drink on a very warm day.  Back to the hotel for a homemade lemon drink, the2nd most refreshing thing on the planet. The evening saw us with many hours of fascinating conversation with another hotel guest, a fellow traveller like Martin and freelancer like me, Gordon from Toronto. While Mart and Gordon continued to swap tales over a sheesa pipe, I tried unsuccessfully to regain a winning streak at the pool table with Mr Mahmoud the owner, some very close games on a good old robust, but cracked pool table. To use the words of Mr Weaver “Marvellous”.

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