Historical Valley

April 9-12, 2014

My previous experience with Luxor hadn’t been positive. The town was overrun with touts and it felt like everyone was trying to take advantage of me in some way, from hotel prices to restaurants. In fact, I disliked it so much that I left earlier than planned. With less tourists in Egypt these days, I was expecting the situation in Luxor to be worse.

We were dwarfed by these massive pillars in Karnak.

We were dwarfed by these massive pillars in Karnak.

I was pleasantly surprised. One of the workers in the hotel took us for falafel near the train station. It was a small stand that was only set up at night. They were open for as long as they had falafel. Once they ran out, they closed shop. After the first night, we went back a few times. There was always a long line and it was always delicious.

We were hassled a little bit when we were near the corniche, but the guys weren’t too insistent. Once or twice we were followed by a horse and carriage, the driver pushing us hard to take a ride with him. When we went out on the bikes though, we were left alone. They became our preferred method of transport around town.

Satisfying an evening ice cream craving.

Satisfying an evening ice cream craving.

For the next few days, we would watch the sunset every night from the same spot along the corniche. The first day we were there all the feluca drivers tried to get us to go for a cruise with them. After the second night, we chatted and joked with them and no one tried to get us to go in their boat.

Felucas at the dock, hoping for some passengers.

Felucas at the dock, hoping for some passengers.

Luxor is full of historical sights and although we’d had our fills of ruins from Turkey, we went to visit Karnak and some of the tombs. Luxor was once the capital of ancient Egypt and the favored burial place of the pharaohs. The city and its surroundings are full of temple ruins and colorfully painted tombs

Karnak really was otherworldly in its expanse. We spent the whole afternoon marvelling at the huge pillars and intricate carvings. I wish I’d known a little more about ancient Egypt to understand some of the stories in the carvings.

More big pillars at Karnak.

More big pillars at Karnak.

To get to the tombs it’s possible to ride up the road and cross the bridge, but most locals just take the ferry. Bikes are permitted on the boat, so we saved the extra riding and took the ferry. It’s a few kilometers from the river to the various tombs and we were happy to have our own transportation.

Taking the ferry across the Nile.

Taking the ferry across the Nile.

Visiting the tombs was just as interesting. As with many other sights in Egypt, we found ourselves alone in the tombs. We chose to visit the Valley of the Queens and, a highlight for us, the Tombs of the Nobels. The nobels were not kings, but other high-ranking Egyptians with tombs nearly as intricate as the royals. We met some friendly guards who used mirrors to reflect light into the darker parts of the tombs and highlight interesting hieroglyphics.

In ancient times this sphinx avenue stretched from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple.

In ancient times this sphinx avenue stretched from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple.

The guards wanted to tell us a little bit about the history of the tombs, but they were much more excited to tell us about the cobra they’d killed that morning and to hear about our bike trip and the places we’d been already. We were surprised when we left that they didn’t ask us for any tips (baksheesh).

A colorful sunset in Luxor.

A colorful sunset in Luxor.

On the way back to the ferry we stopped to fill up our water bottles at a roadside fountain. It had been a hot day, we’d been riding around a lot and were parched. Just as we were filling up and about to drink, a well-spoken man came out of a house and told us we shouldn’t drink the water because it might make us sick. He was surprised when we assured him that we’d been drinking from fountains all through Egypt and were pretty sure we’d be fine. The cold water was refreshing and gave us an extra push to get home. Of course, our stomachs were fine.

The imposing entrance to Karnak.

The imposing entrance to Karnak.

In addition to discovering some of the historical offerings of Luxor, we enjoyed just walking around and taking advantage of being in the biggest city we’d seen in a few weeks. Even the small grocery stores offered us so much choice compared to the meager stores in the desert. We browsed the large bookstore and Scott went on an unsuccessful motorcycle adventure to look for more gas tanks for our camping stove. We tried to switch between eating koshary and falafel, especially once we discovered a koshary restaurant with a uniquely spiced sauce. I’m still not sure what they put into their sauce, but we never tasted another one like it in all of Egypt. We ate there nearly every day.

View of Luxor from the Nile.

View of Luxor from the Nile.

Nico and Julia were in Luxor at the same time we were, but we never managed to meet up with them. We were sure we’d see them again in Aswan though, the last city before taking the ferry into Sudan.

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