Whenever I tell people I’ve traveled to Egypt, the most common response I get, after the whole “are you insane?!” part, is what did I think about it? Did I like it? I usually murmur yeah, uh-huh, sure, along with accompanied hand-shake motion in the air that in Spain means más o menos (more or less). What people don’t realize is that this is a pretty complicated question! I would describe my feelings about Egypt as a love-hate relationship. One minute you are feeling like you are on-top of the world, that all your travel dreams have come true, and the next you are wanting to catch the first gypsy cab to the closest airport and hop on the next flight back to civilization. Would I go back to Egypt? Maybe. I definitely want to go to the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea, you know, once the Bedouins stop kidnapping Americans. See what I mean? Love-hate.
After 3 full days in Cairo ( you can read about here, here and here), M and I were ready for a change of scenery and we hopped on an overnight train down to Luxor. If only it was that simple. Most people who go to Egypt nowadays, go on tours. I hate tours; I avoid them at all costs. But on this trip, sometimes I wish I had booked one. Just finding the station in Cairo and buying our train tickets were complicated. Imagine a giant, hot, dusty train station, filled to the brim with locals, all the signs are in Arabic. Our plan of attack was to stand still staring at the guidebook until someone took pity on us and came over to help. This only worked about 25% of the time. The rest of the time we just got hassled and proposed to, you know, like marriage proposals. When we showed up at night to catch our train, it was about 3 hours late. So we hung out on the train platform, chatting with locals about life in Egypt, soccer, and America. The usual.
If you go to Egypt, you MUST head down to Luxor. Normal people fly, but M and I were feeling adventurous and took the train. If you’re insane, you can take a local bus. Luxor (modern-day Thebes) is one of the most important places to check out the ancient Egyptian sights. Across the river is the West Bank, where the Valley of the Kings is located (cough, cough King Tut AND his actual mummy!!), along with tons of great burial sites and tombs to see. We spent most of our time over there, but make sure you save a day to vist Luxor itself.
If you are staying in Luxor, you should try to stay at the Nefertiti Hotel. Seriously, this place was off the hook! Super cheap and in an incredible location, they picked us up from the train station, and helped us every which way planning our trip, even treating us to rooftop hookahs and hibiscus tea whenever we wanted. This is exactly the kind of paradise you imagine staying in when traveling to “exotic” Egypt. We spent almost every evening watching the sun set over the Nile, Luxor Temple and the Valley of the Kings while drinking mint tea and eating baba ganoush, intermittently running to the bathroom to barf our brains out. Love-Hate, see what I mean?
There are basically three things to see in Luxor: Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, and the Luxor museum. The Luxor Museum is much better than the Egyptian Museum, but with less mummies. And it is air-conditioned, a huge bonus. Karnak Temple is a few kilometers north of the city center. Do yourself a favor and take a carriage or taxi there. We walked there mid-day in about 110+degree weather being continuously pestered and hassled. It was brutal, and it made for short nerves. It was so hot once we got there, we pretty much spent our afternoon hopping from shadow to shadow, chugging liters of bottled water with ease and eating overpriced ice-cream. Karnak is famous for it’s giant temple entrance filled with rows of wide, hieroglyphic-covered pillars, and it is a must-see if you are ever in Egypt.
We made our way back downtown (via cab) to watch the sun set while exploring the Luxor temple. We actually got completely lost and couldn’t find the entrance to the giant temple, walking around the huge complex before finally giving in to one of the annoying horse-carriages (calèche) who followed and pestered us constantly (pretty much our entire time in Luxor). Read here the full details of my experience getting harassed in Egypt.
Eventually, I only agreed because I was so hot, sweaty, dirty, tired and downright angry at this point. “Why is it so hard to find the damn temple entrance? And I don’t want to ride in your damn carriage, leave me ALONE!” I felt bad because the driver was a 10 year old boy named Ali. I agreed to ride in the calèche if he let me drive it. Deal!! M was shaking her head the whole time, no, no, no. But seriously, how could I say no?
So that is the story of how I got to drive a horse-drawn carriage in traffic (cars and donkeys) in downtown Luxor to arrive in style at Luxor Temple at sunset. An incidentally not the last time it happened in Luxor either. Sorry M! With the ancient pillars and statues of the Pharaohs all lit up with the dusky pink and gold sunset in the background, it made up for such a hot, tiring and uncomfortable day. Just ignore the touts, calèche drivers, and guards with big guns, and it’s fine. Love-hate.