Luxor Part One: the Nile, the souk and the locals

23-24 July 2014

I think I’ve been starting most of my posts abut Egypt by saying that I had wanted to go since the age of 10, after watching The Mummy and deciding I wanted to dig up pyramids for a living. I could barely believe it when my friend and I finally booked a trip for a week in Luxor with Thompson. You can therefore imagine my frustration when our trip started with us getting delayed in Gatwick and sitting for about an hour on the runway whilst some petrol was getting cleaned up. I just wanted to get to Egypt.

We finally arrived in Luxor after a 5½ hour flight. It was pretty late by the time we touched down and we all climbed onto a shuttle bus which took us across the airport. As we drove along, one of the sets of doors slid open. We all edged away to avoid falling out. No one did – so far so good.

Our next step was to change our money into Egyptian pounds, which was easily done at the airport. There was a bit of a queue as everyone on the plane had the same plan but it still didn’t take too long. Once we were all sorted, the group was divided into separate coaches so that we could all be taken to our hotels. As we left the airport, people outside immediately started trying to take our luggage for us. We managed to avoid handing it over until we got to the coach and a man lifted our bags into the hold before demanding a tip. We hadn’t really got any change at this point and felt a little indignant that we were already being asked to hand over money, so we apologised and got on the coach. I then spent the rest of the journey worried that our bags had been swiftly removed when we weren’t looking. They hadn’t been – of course.

As we drove through the city, I gazed out of the windows, craning me head to catch sight of Luxor Temple and the Alley of the Sphinxes. The town was busy, even at this time. The days of July in Egypt are long and hot and this was Ramadan, so the locals tend to come out at night, when it’s cooler and they can eat and drink.

Our stop was the last one on our coach trip but finally we were dropped off at the Sheraton Resort. We were handed over some hibiscus tea on arrival before a porter took our luggage to our room. My holiday buddy and I were delighted as we stepped into our room. There were two double beds (instead of the two singles you often get in twin rooms), a sofa and a nice, clean bathroom. We were also right next to one of the pools – that would be very convenient.

By this time it was too late for us to grab something to eat at the restaurant but, thankfully, the hotel was still running room service so we ordered some barbecue chicken wings and spring rolls for a midnight snack before bed. Those might not have been the most cultural options for our first Egyptian meal but it was the comfort food we were craving.

In the morning, we were finally able to see our surroundings. We had been told that we could upgrade to a Nile-view room but, once it was light, we realised we could just about see the river from our bungalow room already – if we stood on the sofa and peered over the top of the building in front of us. Of course, we could have moved into a room with a full view of the Nile but, still, a view is a view and we already had one.

There were several options available at our inclusive buffet breakfast but it was the pastries that really caught our attention. Along with some olives and melon. We were also taught some new Arabic words by some of the staff: “ṣabāḥul kẖayr” (sabaah el-khee) meant “good morning” and “shukran” (shook ran) meant ‘thank you’.

As eager as I was to dive straight into some sightseeings, our first day was always going to be a pool day. We were on holiday after all and our hotel gave us the choice of two – a circular one overlooking the Nile and a lagoon-esque one with a hot tub, which was conveniently placed right next to our room. Before arriving we had thought the Nile pool would be where we spent the majority of our week but the latter one ended up being our pool of choice. It was a nice depth and shape and it was just so close by – not that the other one was particularly far!

We picked a couple of sun-loungers and lathered up in layers of suncream. I was determined to return to England with a tan but I could already tell that this Egyptian sun was brutal. We stayed lying by the pool for a couple of hours, until it was time to meet our holiday representative in the hotel lobby. He told us about various options that were open to us during our stay, including further trips we could book, and recommended some places for us to visit in Luxor, including local restaurants. As I sat there listening to the rep, I noticed that my legs had started to get a bit pink. I didn’t seem to have burnt yet – hopefully I would start to tan soon!

Before returning to the poolside, my holiday buddy and I decided o get some lunch in the main hotel restaurant, where we’d had breakfast that morning. We ordered a couple of pizzas, which were sadly disappointing. As we sat there, I realised my pink legs were getting worse. My stomach was red as well. In the end, I turned a couple I hadn’t been before – or at least not in a really long time. And it wasn’t comfortable. Instead of going back in the sun, I decided to take a nap under our room’s air-conditioning instead and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the call-to-prayer, which I was to become very familiar with over the next week.

Since we hadn’t been particularly cultured so far, we made plans to go to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Temple of Hatshepsut the next day. It seemed the norm to do these three sites in one go, as they all sit together on the west bank of the river, opposite Luxor on the east side.

There were two taxi drivers who were parked up in the hotel’s driveway, waiting to drive visitors around. They both offered to take us to all three the next day at various, relatively low prices. After we’d expressed an initial interest, they both started following us and trying to persuade us to go with them every time we saw them. They’d even argue with each other over who would take us. It was rather uncomfortable and did make walking down the drive a bit of a hassle. In the end, we thought we’d go with the one that hassled us a bit less.

In the evening, we caught the free shuttle bus that went between our hotel and the town centre, by Luxor Temple. We asked to be dropped off by the souk so that we could find some food and start our souvenir shopping. As we wandered down the avenue, market sellers continuously tried to get us into their stalls on either side. Eventually, we met a guy called Adam, who started to walk alongside us as we wandered around, talking to us about the city. He stuck with us and helped us bargain with the marketers and suggested places where we could by the things we were looking for.

After a while, we told Adam that we wanted to find somewhere to eat and he ended up taking us to a restaurant that had actually been recommended to us earlier that day at the hotel. I have no idea what it was called but we recognised it from a flier we had been given. Adam didn’t want to stick around for dinner so told us he would come and meet us once we were done. My holiday buddy and I ended up at a table next to a mother and daughter from Germany and ended up eating with them. They told us that they knew a taxi driver and tried to get us to confirm our sightseeing trip the following day with him. We didn’t really want to be tied down to anything so we declined but took his card if we ever needed it. I did feel like we were being sold something but it was still nice to chat away as we ate our tasty mixed grill dinner.

Once we’d finished, we found Adam waiting for us downstairs and he took us somewhere for a cup of Egyptian tea. It was bitter and needed quite a lot of sugar but I liked it. I started to feel more at home with a nice cup of tea (or a nice small glass of tea, as it was served here). Adam invited us for lunch with his family but, once we realised they themselves wouldn’t be eating since it was Ramadan, we suggested dinner instead. He also had a friend with a taxi and promised that they’d both take us on our trip the next day. This was now our fourth offer and, this time, we agreed. We had a plan.

Read about the rest of my trip:

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5 thoughts on “Luxor Part One: the Nile, the souk and the locals

    1. I went during July this year and didn’t experience any trouble- having said that, the country has experienced a lot of turbulence and tourists have been targeted before. There are some places, like the Sinai, to stay away from but I generally find the Foreign Office information useful for knowing what’s going on.

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  1. The Shearton looks pretty solid. It’s a little weird in Egypt as the hotels are kind of “another world” than everything else. Anyway, the culture is amazing, so it’s always worth a trip. Thanks for the nice review 🙂

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