We started the day after breakfast on the roof terrace by visiting Luxor Temple as it was literally just across from our hotel. While looking for the temple we stumbled upon a mosque within its grounds which was built into the temple later on. We were given a whistle-stop tour by one of the men who worked there (for a donation of course). We located the actual entrance to the temple afterwards, wangling a student discount which was nice. We showed ouselves round the impressive ruins and open air museum before checking.out the Avenue of Sphinxes which originally led several kms from there to Karnok temple. They are trying to restore the entire avenue bit by bit but it means many buildings are having to be knocked down. From there, we walked towards the river and paid a few pounds to visit a mummification museum which was rather compact - interesting but not really worth the money. By the time we left our tummies were rumbling so we picked a place from the guidebook for lunch. It was called the Oasis Cafe, set in a 1930s building which was quiet and cool. We both opted for kebabs... pretty much our new staple diet.
We headed back to the hotel to decide in the afternoon's activities and there was a Swiss couple at reception arranging a trip to Karnok temple which was next on our list so we tagged along. Our guide Marmod showed us round explainung some if the historical highlights before giving us some free time to explore. The structures that remain are absolutely mammoth and paint a picture of a vast place of worship adapted through the dynasties by its rulers. The sun was starting to set which gave the stone a warm orange glow, really pretty and atmospheric. We avoided the hassle from traders and staff, we even had to decline the offer of two armed guards wanting to show us a better statue... Nah, fine with these free ones thanks. Who follows a man with a gun past a barrier that says 'No Entry' - not me!
Back to the hotel we went and we decided on another guestbook recommendation for food, following the day's earlier success. This place was in a hotel across town so we'd need a taxi driver (who definitely knew the way). After asking in reception there was a driver sitting right there who knew the place. After a lengthy drive we rock up to a rather dark and closed looking building. The taxi driver asked at the door and it was indeed very much closed... We didn't have a back up so the driver recommended a similar restaurant and took us there, offering to collect us after. The food was traditional. James had a mixed grill while I had veal and a mixture of sides, dips and breads too. We finished with a dessert made from sweet cheese and vermicelli. The whole time we were there we were convinced the cabbie had scammed us, but for closure we checked the picture of the hotel restaurant he took us too and it was the right place. Perhaps out of season they don't open the restaurant which was a real shame as it had great reviews. For the rest of the evening we snuggled up close to a heater on the roof terrace until bedtime playing words with friends. Rock and roll lifestyle right? At this time of year, we were starting to notice that there wasn't much going on in the evenings which was a shame, but we had a great view of the temple so we couldn't complain too much.
Day 5 started early for our visit to Luxor's West Bank and we began with the famous Valley of the Kings. Ticket entry gives access to 3 tombs and we went with our guide's suggestions. The vibrancy of the colours and visibility of the carvings inside the tombs is amazing, you can't believe it's been thousands of years since they were put there! We saw one early tomb which would have been hidden so it was just decorated in the burial chamber. Then two which were 19th and 20th Dynasty so were not hidden but had a stone door instead, and these had more decoration. After here we headed to Temple of Queen Hatshepsut which looks very impressive against the rocky mountain behind. Next up was Valley of the Queens where we visited 3 Prince's tombs - boys under 14 or so were buried in the women's burial area. After this we stopped at an alabaster factory where the staff deminstrated the process of working with the stone. James even had a go with the tools. Finally we stopped by some large statues on the way back to the city. We were so starving by the time we got back we opted for a long lunch at the hotel before relaxing and doing some reading as the sun started to set. We went for dinner at another guidebook recommendation called Lotus and I had a yummy chicken curry and BEER. It had been very hard to find in Luxor, so we grabbed some to take away too. As a Muslim country, the more traditional towns don't offer much in the way of alcohol and you do feel like you are getting it on the black market when you do finally locate some.
Our alarms were set for 4.30am which was definitely a struggle but it was for a good reason - a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. We were taken first to a boat where we all signed a release form and had to reveal our weight (eek!). The sweeten the deal, we were given tea and cake as we crossed the River Nile to the West Bank and our waiting cars. These took us to a field and we could just about make out lots of balloons not yet inflated, lying on their sides, in the darkness. We waited in the car until they started to inflate and James decided to pop to the loo before we set off. A minute later my group were being ushered to our balloon so there I was panicking, taking the guide with me to find James or else I might have been doing it without him! We all climbed in the basket... some more gracefully than others... and I was surprised that the balloons take around 15 to 20 people each. Before long the pilot had started burning the gas and we were airborn and it was so gentle, in fact the whole trip was. I took lots of pics across the river and the West Bank, of temples we had visited the day before and of all the other balloons in the sky. Breathtaking!
When we came in for landing, our pilot took us across sugar cane fields gliding so close we touched them. It was like gliding across treetops and very surreal. We all prepared for landing, very ready for the basket to fall to one side but the pilot managed to land us standing up, right in the middle of a farmer's field. We had to wait a few minutes for a team to help bring the balloon down but the farmer and his whole family came out to see us, with the farmer even helping hold the balloon down while people got out. It must happen quite a lot this landing in someone's backyard business. It was so nice to see a contrasting side of the Egyptians to the hagglers and hasslers of the city centre too. I had already got out but James was one of the last left in the balloon which almost fell onto the farmer's house before they rectified things. The family all waved us off as we drove back to the boats around 7.30am. What a morning!
We decided back at the hotel we were too awake to sleep so packed up for our next destination... Aswan. Let it be known, no public transport seems to run on time in Egypt. Our 9am train showed up at 9.55, an hour late just like the bus from Hurghada. We bought first class tickets for a fiver and enjoyed comfy seats and great views for the 3 hour journey. We arrived in Aswan not convinced about which hotel to stay in and walked around for over 2 hours looking at different ones. A felucca captain called Abdulah kept giving us directions to the point of hilarity, we bumped into him a few too many times to be cool. In the end we opted for the Keylany Hotel which was basic but with a decent roof terrace and little plunge pool. We'd had nothing to eat since breakfast so had to restore our energy before finding somewhere for dinner. We went for a recommendation... Salah Ad Din. We sat out on their boat terrace just in time for sunset enjoying a beer and some scrummy grub. The best we'd had yet I think. My oriental aubergine salad starter was amazing. The staff were very friendly, our waiter tried to teach me some Nubian and when we left we were invited to sit in the manager's office while waiting for our take-away beers... it was a long day, we deserved them!
More pics can be found at my Flickr account plus I'll be reviewing some of the places we visited on Qype.
Coming up next, more from Aswan...
Coming up next, more from Aswan...