A few months ago, a colleague gave us this great line – “If you don’t care, fly Egpytair.”
We were debating the best way to travel over our holiday break. We needed to fly from Accra to Cairo, Cairo Luxor, Aswan to Cairo, Cairo to Amman, Amman to Cairo, Cairo to Accra. And while we could bookend our trip with flights on Emirates, it would add considerable travel time and money. Egyptair was the airline with the most direct flights and at $1,000 a person, the best deal around.
It was easy to see where the airline had cut costs…the planes were old, really old. They only looked suitable for domestic flights, despite the fact that four of our flights were international. Instead of private screens, one dropped down from the ceiling every four rows. I’ve flown on dozens of airlines and this was the most inedible food I have encountered. And lastly, they closed the shades and turned off the lights, even on our day flights…I’m convinced they did this to get out of serving us. Not a single beverage cart came by during our required four hour “nap time.”
Oh, and they schedule their connecting flights too closely to allow them time to transfer checked baggage.
Which is how we found ourselves in Luxor, at midnight, wandering the airport with a man named Muhammad, trying to find our suitcase.
While in Luxor, we stayed at the Sofitel’s Pavillon Winter Luxor and Muhammad was the hotel’s driver. And I can honestly say that without him, I’m not sure we would have ever gotten our suitcase back, but that’s a story for later in this post. For now, it was after midnight, our checked bag hadn’t come in, and we were exhausted. It was time for some much needed sleep.
“Do you want me to drive slow or fast?” Muhammad asked. What he meant was: Do you want me to drive the speed limit or can I drive like I’m in the Fast & Furious franchise. All I’ll say is we got to our hotel quickly.
The next day we were up at 6:00am to meet Naama our guide with Emo Tours. As a certified Egyptologist, Naama studied archeology and tourism at university in Cairo.
We started at Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. Never meant to rule, she was named regent when her step-son inherited the throne at the age of two. Instead, she reined for 21-22 years, calling herself king and pharaoh – even going so far as to have herself depicted as a man in temples and art.
When her step-son, Thutmose III, finally came to power, he was so enraged that he spent most of his rule defacing her temples and statues. Desiring to do all he could to make sure no one in history remembered her, his actions have ensured that everyone knows who she was.
In fact, many modern scholars consider her one of the most successful pharaohs and Naama said that was because she was the only pharaoh of her dynasty (she began her rule in 1478 BC), who didn’t start any wars or military offences.
Despite the toppled statues and wall defacements, her temple is in much better shape than the one next door, which was brought down by an earthquake.
And historians and archaeologists have worked hard to piece together what was left behind:
Next we made our way around the corner and to the Valley of the Kings. This necropolis is home to 63 tombs that were built between 1539-1075 BC. Most famous is King Tutankhamun’s aka King Tut.
Photographs aren’t allowed inside unless you pay a special fee (costing more than the entry ticket!), so I declined and we explored sans lens. And if I’m being honest, the lack of camera wasn’t all that disappointing. Most of these tombs were found empty upon excavation and despite the surprisingly long tunnels, there’s not a lot to see. In fact, most of the artefacts that were found have been moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other museums around the world.
Rameses IV’s tomb has the best coloring, ironic because it was one of the most used tombs…the Greeks turned it into a hotel for a while.
Merenptah died earlier than expected and only the first half of his tomb was completed. Pharaohs were to be embalmed and buried within 70 days, so it was never finished.
The diggers of Rameses III nearly dug into a previous tomb before needing to reroute. Diggers were blindfolded so they couldn’t return and loot the tombs, so no one ever knew exactly where the previous pharaohs had been buried.
For me, the valley itself was more impressive than what was waiting for us underground. I was more than ready to head to our final destination on the west bank: the Colossi of Memnon.
These statues were surprisingly large and came with a great story. The statues were found in pieces by a German group of archaeologists. They tried to reconstruct them, but did a pretty poor job with the one on the right and every morning, when the wind blew, it made a whistling sound. It reminded those who heard it of the legend of Agamemnon and thus the statues got their names.
All this had happened and it wasn’t even noon yet, but we were more than ready to head to our restaurant. Emo Tours took care of everything for us and even though eyebrows were raised over our vegetarian status, we received a delicious lentil soup and at least four different salads to sample. Plus, they had the best mango juice I’ve had since leaving Ethiopia!
We spent the afternoon on the east bank at the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. If you had to choose only one thing to do in Luxor (and believe me, even spending our entire day there we still missed plenty of sights), I would recommend the Temple of Karnak. Inside the complex stand 134 columns. 122 of them are over 10 meters tall and the remaining 12 stand 21 meters tall. It is an awe-inspiring space.
The Temple of Karnak is argued to be the largest or second largest religious structure in the world – Angkor Wat in Cambodia being the competition. This temple is also believed to be the second most visited historical sight in Egypt, with only the Giza Pyramids receiving more visits.
Here you can also see some of the devastation caused by the anger of Thutmose III:
But there’s also some incredibly detailed work that remains:
My favorite part of the structure was the Hypstyle Hall, wandering through the columns that seemed to change color with the angle of the sun. Another incredible feature was the road of sphinxes that used to connect the Temple of Karnak to the Temple of Luxor. Three kilometers long, the city is trying to get funds to move all of the homes that have been built over it. In the meantime, both temples have a short pieces of the road extending from their entrances.
Our last stop on our very long day was the Temple of Luxor.
This poor temple has been used and abused by Muslims and Christians alike who both built over and on top of the site:
But it still has some beautiful statues and symbols of upper and lower Egyptian unity. And, of course, more gorgeous columns.
By the end of the day we were exhausted, but thrilled with our decision to book our tour. Naama was an incredible source of information and we never would have been able to travel to all five locations independently in just one day.
When we got back to the hotel, the driver found us and told us he had been contacted by the airport: Our luggage had been found!
Starving, but in desperate need of our suitcase (our Nile cruise began the following day), we raced to the airport only to be turned away by security. We didn’t have valid tickets, so we shouldn’t need to enter. Luckily, Muhammad was able to smooth talk my way in…Chandler having to take a seat outside and wait (the luggage was in my name).
Security, which should have taken a minute to walk through, took ten, as Muhammed spoke to more and more supervisors, explaining my presence in the airport.
We finally arrived at the lost luggage room (one has to wonder, if there’s a room dedicated to this issue, why are the security guards so ignorant of this possibility?), only to find the door closed and the lights turned off. Muhammed knocked. We waited. And then he decided to open the door. We surprised a very sleepy official who had literally been sleeping on the job.
After he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, he proceeded to take us to not one, not two, but three other offices in search of the luggage that I had been assured had arrived at the airport. We finally found our way to an old storage room with a dozen or so suitcases and there, in the middle, was ours.
Twenty minutes later, numerous papers signed, zero apologies offered, and we were finally on our way out, suitcase in tow.
The best question of the day came from the hotel when I notified them that we would need Muhammed to drive us to and from the airport to pick up our suitcase: “Did you forget your suitcase at the airport when you arrived?”
No sir, I did not “forget” my suitcase. But who was I to complain? We had all of our possessions, we had seen an incredible city, and we were about to start our week-long cruise along the Nile River.
All we had left to do was find ourselves some dinner. I remember telling Chandler that I didn’t care what we ate as long as the restaurant seemed quiet and relaxing. His response: “Okay, well this place has balloons, so I guess it’s out.”