Luxor Day 2
Khyry was our guide for our first full day of touring the area. We started at the Nobles Valley, which is under-visited and a great starting place. It helps contextualize the royal burials, which are extremely grand and colorful. The nobles have more intimate burials, but still intricate and colorful, sometimes more colorful, because they have been less damaged by time and tourism.
The Temple of Hatshepsut was our next stop, as the sun was at its zenith and it felt like even the rocks could melt. It was extremely crowded, and it was hard to find a moment for reverie, but the structures were striking. It is absolutely worth the visit, although I would recommend going the moment it opens to beat the heat and the crowds.
We ended our afternoon at the Queen’s Valley, where we arrived right as the ticket office closed. The valley is open for a full hour after ticket sales stop, so we were nearly alone – it felt magical and almost eerie after the clamor of Hatshepsut. The monuments are spectacular, the scale and drama of them is absolutely unbeatable, but the tombs were compelling and felt eternal. Queen’s Valley had such an impact on me.
Our ticket got us in to 3 tombs of our choice, and we added Nefertari’s tomb – the ticket price for Nefertari is steep at ~$80USD per person, and you can only spend 10 minutes in there to aid its preservation and conservation. Because it was the end of the day, we got a few extra minutes, and it was overwhelming. The color and the details were staggering, and each new room and antechamber was filled with color and life from thousands of years ago. Of all the tombs we visited, it is the most dynamic, colorful, and memorable – well worth the visit if you can budget for it.
Luxor Day 3
Once again, we spent the day with Khyry, who seems to know everyone. After another invigorating breakfast, we got to the Valley of the Kings early. A few days before we arrived, there was a massive discovery of mummies and coffins, and Luxor was abuzz with energy. Excavation was active during our visit, so even though we could not see the discovery itself (not yet in the museum), the excitement was there. The King’s Valley tombs dwarfed the tombs in the Valley of the Queens, and were phenomenal. One of our favorite things was the representation of the celestial sky goddess Nut.
Afterwards, we went to Deir el-Medina, the ruins of the worker village for the workers who built and decorated the grand tombs – many of whom had their own individual tombs. Once again, I was shocked by how colorful these teensy burials were. Deir el-Medina is also the first place to have a recorded worker’s strike. Highly worth the visit, and extremely inexpensive. Of course, everywhere you go, people in the tombs expect a small tip (or “baksheesh”) for showing you a room or details you may have missed, or (too often) for inviting you to touch the walls. We were absolutely not willing to touch anything, or tip anybody who suggested it, but it was important to carry small Egyptian cash to tip otherwise.
After this full day, we went back to the house for a late afternoon siesta, then took a long walk around the west bank. We planned to grab a felucca for sunset, but there was absolutely no wind, so we just talked with local boat owners. We ended up talking to Abdul, and his brother Abdullah (“Our father, his name is Abdul…”), who were working on their felucca’s sail. A felucca needs a new sail every 1-2 years. When the time comes, his friends and family come together to help him stitch it. Abdul and Abdullah were happy to show us their stitching, and let me help wind bobbins. We showed them pictures of our boat (I learned how to say “I live on a sailboat”), and hung out until it was time for our dinner.
Luxor Day 4
After another phenomenal breakfast, we started our day at the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Ramesses II. It is on the East Bank, in ancient Thebes, and is unbelievable in scale. The wall is enormous, and its carvings are in relatively good shape. The wall depicts the Battle of Kadesh, seemingly Ramesses’ favorite story, fought between Egypt and the Hittites. It ultimately resulted in a peace treaty, and the Kadesh Agreement is the earliest known peace treaty – and both sides’ versions of the treaty still exist! Seeing the battle writ large on the wall was incredible.
That afternoon, we separated from Mark and Dawn and popped to the east bank to take a walk around. We wanted to walk to Karnak, which we did, and try to get lunch on the way. Unfortunately, there was nothing open. The park by the riverside was full of picnicking families, but there were no grocery stores we could find. Other than walking around, we had nothing to do (which was unhelped by it being a Friday, so things were largely closed). We had an unpleasant experience with a carriage driver, who doubled his rate after the ride ended, and then got furious when we did not tip on top of the doubled rate.
We never found something to eat (the only shawarma place was filled with flies), so we ate a Clif bar each and found a felucca to take us sailing and back to the west bank. Another beautiful sail, back to the house for another fantastic dinner on the roof.
Luxor Day 5
This was a big, early, exciting day. We had breakfast at 5 a.m., to get on the road to Abydos and Dendera by 6 a.m. It is quite a long drive, and since you travel between different “governates,” you need to get government permission to travel ahead of time, then the car must stop for a military checkpoint. The car is checked, destinations and travelers are confirmed, and then the next military checkpoint is alerted that you will be arriving. This happens each time you cross a county line, and despite being closely monitored, the roads are not particularly safe or well-lit – so we had a hard deadline of being back in Luxor by 4 p.m. If we missed our exit deadline, before the 3 hour drive back, we would not have been allowed to leave until the next day.
We visited Dendera first, since most visitors go to Abydos first, and we had such a love of being alone with the monuments. It was so quiet and empty, and air was crisp. Dendera has plenty of big structures, but it also has tight and intricately carved tunnels, which were very cool to explore.
Abydos was wonderful as well, and the power went out right as we stepped inside, so none of the harsh lighting was on! Instead, everything was illuminated by the most spectacular beams of light.
We had lunch with a host family near Abydos, then began the long drive back – arriving just before the road would close! Another marvelous dinner, this time focused around aubergine, and the deep relaxation of nighttime after a big day.
Luxor Day 6
On our last full day in Luxor, it was finally time for Karnak. We took a boat over, the little motorboat called a “lunch” which we had tried to avoid altogether.
Karnak was absolutely packed, and boiling hot, but the hypostyle hall was by far the most spectacular one we visited. I felt – and was – dwarfed by each pillar.
We went to a beautiful local place for lunch with Khyry, where Charles and I ate pigeon – apparently a traditional honeymoon food and aphrodisiac. Review: quite bony, and the meat is not worth the effort it takes to eat it. Charles and I caught our final felucca in Luxor, while Mark and Dawn and Khyry drove home.
Luxor Day 7
We began the morning by visiting Edfu, which was wonderful and grand beyond belief. We said goodbye to Mark, and brought Dawn along to see the boat before we cast off.
We drove through winding streets to a cul-de-sac, hopped out of the car, and two men came to grab our bags. We walked behind them, through a banana tree grove, until we reached the waterfront and saw our new home for the next 5 days. Beautiful, romantic, cozy, small, and very open, I felt relaxed just looking at it. So began our sailing trip to Aswan.