Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Day 2 & 3 in Luxor, Egypt

Trip date: December 2022

Day 2 in Luxor! After a lovely breakfast in the garden of the hotel (eggs, Egyptian pita with falafel, feta, cucumber, tomato, and fresh hibiscus juice) our guide Gaber and the driver picked us up. We'd be spending the entire day exploring the East Bank. And since there is only 1 bridge in Luxor it was a 40 minute drive around. There is a ferry but it's passenger only.

The East Bank is where the main city and big hotels are. But to be clear, this is definitely a developing nation situation so the roads are dusty, many are dirt, and all means of transportation are on them; cars, scooters, donkeys, bicycles, people walking, tuk tuk, horse and buggy...and we passed our first camel!

Our morning stop was at the Luxor Museum, which sits right on the banks of the Nile looking out to the west. We started in a small room, called the Luxor Cachette, that houses 15 statues that were discovered under the Luxor Temple in 1989. We'd be visiting the temple later in the day so it was very cool to see these. 

I really liked this museum as it was small enough to comfortably cover without being absolutely overloaded. Some of the highlights for me were the collection of almost perfect statues that had been excavated, the mummy that many believe to be Ramses I (which was originally stolen by grave robbers and sold to someone in Canada!), the collection of funerary objects, and original "blueprints" of tombs!

After a few hours at the museum we drove to Karnak Temple. As this was a Friday it seemed that every man in town was on his way to the central mosque when we drove past. It was quite a sight to see, not to mention the call to prayer that was blaring from loudspeakers around town. Friday is the most holy of the Muslim weekdays we learned, so many places will close midday for a while.

This complex is huge! About 200 acres huge! It was constructed over 1500 years, entirely for the worship of the god Amun, chief god of ancient Thebes (Luxor). It is believed to be the largest religious complex ever built. Gaber had some color prints of what it may have looked like in its heyday. Incredible.

Karnak is made up of over 200 structures including temples, chaples, squares, obelisks, a lake, and the famed Great Columns. 134 giant columns to be exact, all made out of sandstone. At the time they would have supported a roof and walls.

The complex use to have 17 obelisks, 3 are still standing. The one on the left is for Thutmosis I and the one on the right is for Hatshepsut. 

It's overwhelming to try to comprehend that anything is still standing from this 3300 year old complex. I was completely blown away and before coming didn't even know anything about it! It was definitely one of my favorite stops. 

It had been a big morning and we were all looking forward to lunch. We had chosen Sofra and had invited Gaber to be our guest. It's one of the better restaurants in town so he was excited, as were we. We sat upstairs on their terrace, had some delicious fresh juices (the restaurant is dry) and an assortment of mezze at our big round table that looked like a giant tray. I ordered the local specialty hamam mahshi (pigeon stuffed with rice) and when I went to cut into it with fork and knife Gaber let me know that locals pick up the entire bird and bite right into it. Done! It was excellent!

It was late in the day and we were headed to the Luxor Temple; the sun was just starting to set and the light was gorgeous on the banks of the Nile.

First we walked to the remains of the Avenue of Sphinxes, a 1.7 mile long road which was lined on both sides with more than 1,050 statues of sphinxes and rams that connected Karnak to Luxor Temple. That's a lot of statues!

As we walked up to the temple, the first thing we saw was the last remaining obelisk in Luxor. This one has a twin which was gifted to the city of Paris and is at the Place de Concorde.  

3,400 year old Luxor Temple was built over hundreds of years. Pharaoh Amenhotep III started the construction, both Tutankhamun and Horemheb added to it, and then Rameses II finished it. 
The temple was buried under the streets of Luxor for thousands of years. This mosque was actually built right on top of it and you can still see the door, red painted around it, where the street would have been!

You'd think we would have been "ruined" by this time but everything is so damn fascinating! It was also really cool to walk through the temple as dusk turned into night.

Luxor souk is just across the street so Gaber took us inside to do a little shopping. We all found the merchants to be particularly aggressive about making a sale. If you even glanced at something they were right there starting to sell you. 
We all did end up buying some scarves as the weather had turned colder than we had expected (and packed) for. But it was an ordeal even with Gaber! This isn't a locals market so they are use to tourists.

Phew! It had been a long day! We said goodbye to Gaber and headed to the Royal Bar at the Winter Palace Sofitel Hotel. Martinis were had! Maybe 2! Pro tip: if you are in need of a cocktail in Egypt your best bet is to head to one of the large international hotels. 
We called a driver that the hotel had introduced us to the night before for a ride back to the West Bank and spent the rest of the evening chilling out in the Embrace Hotel's lovely garden.

On our last day, Christmas Eve, we were supposed to go for a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the valley. Unfortunately this was canceled due to high winds. Fortunately we got to sleep in and had a ½ day to just relax in the gardens of the hotel. 

Gaber met us after lunch and we walked down to the banks of the Nile. He pointed out some interesting things along the way, including homes that had paintings on them signifying that members of the home had made the pilgrimage to Mecca.
We'd see this throughout our travels around Egypt. Much easier to decipher than hieroglyphics! 

Our afternoon was spent on a private felucca, a traditional simple wooden sailboat. We had invited Gaber to join us and we all had a great time sailing around the Nile, taking in amazing views of the Luxor Temple from the water, and checking out the other boats. 

We had an early dinner at Banana Island which is also a restaurant. After filling up on hummus, kefta, and a delicious soup we were given a huge bunch of bananas to take with us. It's a thing I guess!

Back on the boat, we shared them with the captain and his "sail boy" while sipping on hot mint tea and literally sailing off in the sunset.

What an outstanding end to an amazing time in Luxor! We absolutely loved Gaber our guide (see prior post for his contact info) and we all felt like we learned a lot about the pharaohs, temples, and tombs in the area. 

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