The Hot Sun In Luxor, Egypt

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

11.10.09               Luxor, Egypt

Did you know that it can be hard to sleep on overnight train – even in a sleeper cabin?  This is especially true when one, apparently, has an amateur train driver, who – all through the night – brakes suddenly, speeds up too fast, and sometimes, even seems to hit things (but keeps on going)!  Alas.

Our train attendant knocked on our cabin door at 5:30am – one hour before our arrival in Luxor, but far too early for my liking.  Before too long, however, he redeemed himself by bringing us our breakfast trays with hot drinks.  After breakfast, I managed to slam my finger in our cabin door, which really, really hurt.  (Maybe in my exhaustion I was more clumsy than usual…?!)  So, I started today exhausted and with a purple pointer finger.  I am happy to report that the day did improve!

As we drove into Luxor from the train station, I think all of us were struck by how clean and quaint it was – especially compared with the dirty, rumbling Cairo that we had left the night before.  We checked into another beautiful hotel – the Steigenberger Nile Palace Luxor – then hit the streets for another full day of sightseeing.

Luxor is actually three separate areas – Luxor itself; the village of Karnack a few kilometers to the northeast; and Thebes on the west bank of the Nile (containing most of the ancient monuments and necropolis).

Our first stop of the day was about a 45-minute drive to Valley of the Kings, located across the Nile in Thebes.  Once called the "Great Necropolis of Millions of Years of Pharaoh" (my personal favorite), or the “Place of Truth”, the Valley of the Kings is the resting place for several mighty Egyptian kings who once lay there in great stone sarcophagi, awaiting immortality. 

The Valley of the Kings is set in astonishingly steep, scorching cliffs in an isolated valley with a pyramid-shaped mountain peak in the center.  Scattered throughout this valley, there are entrances to several different tombs – in fact, 63 different tombs in total from the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC)!  It was pretty impressive to walk through the valley (of the shadow of death?!).

Our ticket allowed us entrance to three different tombs of our choice, so Murray and I visited the tombs of Ramses III, Ramses VII, and Ramses IX!  Each of these tombs contained tremendous carvings, colorful paintings, and reliefs, all designed to represent the underworld.  Each also contained a tunnel descending into antechambers or pillared halls, and ending in burial chambers – designed to assist these kings with their journey into the afterlife.

[Side note: speaking of Ramses, did you know that Egypt has had eleven kings named Ramses?!  Ramses II may be the most famous – he had the largest number of statues of any Egyptian king.  He also had eight wives (including three of his own daughters), the most famous of whom was Queen Nefertiti, and lived to the astounding (for that time) age of 93.  During his long life, he was a busy guy – fathering 184 sons and daughters!]

We decided to forego the extra entrance fee to view King Tut's actual tomb, as Romani told us that it is quite unremarkable on the inside – and we already saw all of its treasures yesterday in the Egyptian Museum!  Once again, it’s very nice to have a tour guide to give us these kinds of tips.

After a lot of time spent walking through and touring the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, I was already pretty tuckered out.  The Egyptian sun is unbelievably piercing!  Still, the tour must go on, so onward we went to our second stop of the day – the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (to remember it: “Hat” “Cheap” “Suit”).  This temple was amazing, rising out of the sheer limestone cliffs like a mighty fortress – a partly rock-cut, partly freestanding temple.  Many consider this temple to be one of Egypt’s finest monuments – and unlike many of the sites we’ve already seen in Egypt, this temple remains in very good condition. 

The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut was not discovered until the mid-19th century.  It contains lower, middle, and upper terraces joined by grand staircases, with various chapels and promenades on each level.  The landscape of this temple also contains several remains of other nearby temples. 

In addition to seeing this impressive temple, I think the story of Queen Hatshepsut impressed me the most.  This queen was the first woman ever to rule as king (huzzah!)!  She ruled around 1500 BC – and donned a beard and men’s clothes to prove that she could rule “like a man”!  (I’m guessing that this was the preoccupation of others – not hers.  What do you think?)  Anyway, Queen Hatshepsut became known for making good relations with Egypt’s neighbors in times of war, which was a great boon for Egypt’s trade industries.  However, while Queen Hatshepsut successfully ruled Egypt for 20 years, still her name was excluded from the Valley of the Kings.  Yep.

Onward we went.  After the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, we made two quick stops.  The first was a visit to the Valley of the Workers – a large area containing the ancient ruins of 70 houses and three tombs of some of the many thousands of workers who labored building the monuments, Valley of the Kings, and other nearby temples and statues.  I had a quick look around and was mightily impressed by this site – but the A/C and the bus called me back before too long.  I needed a rest at this point!

Our second quick stop (heatstroke was setting in by this time) was to Colossi of Memnon, thought to be one of the most splendid Thebian temples ever built.  There we saw the remains of the two massive statues that marked part of the entrance to the bigger temple built long ago for King Amenophis III.  Sadly, however, the rest of the temple is now mostly in ruins – damaged by looters, an earthquake, and general neglect.

By late afternoon – after today’s sun and last night’s “train sleep” – we all needed a break (I know I did!).  Romani was kind enough to give us a few rare hours of R&R time back at our hotel.  And – while it wasn’t nearly long enough, it was much appreciated.  I slept for about an hour and a half! 

After napping and showering, we all boarded a convoy of horse-drawn carriages for a ride through Luxor and its surrounding villages and fields.  It was a very pleasant and interesting ride – made nicer still by the sun setting and an evening breeze blowing through.  The ride allowed us to look at the many facets of an Egyptian town – the markets and the poverty; middle class urban homes and rural farming life.

Around 6pm, the carriages dropped us off at the Papyrus Institute, where we saw a demonstration of how papyrus paper was made in ancient times in Egypt – and still is made today.  Afterward, we got the chance to look at and purchase local artisans’ hieroglyphic papyrus paintings.  Murray and I bought a large, beautiful papyrus painting to go along with the neat print that my sister-in-law, Taryn, gave us the year before, from her trip to Egypt!

From the Papyrus Institute, we again boarded our horse-drawn carriages to the Nile River – and then took a ferry across the Nile to waiting trucks that took us to El Nakhil Hotel and Restaurant for dinner.  (Note on that truck ride – bucket seats in the back of pick-up trucks.  Fun!)  Again at this dinner, we sat outside on rooftop terrace and enjoyed another beautiful evening outdoors.  We slurped up delicious lentil soup for starters (along with pita bread and dips) – and for our entrees, we were served large ramekins of Eggplant, beef, chicken, and potatoes – each baked with tomatoes and cheese.  Romani has gotten many of us hooked on freshly-squeezed lemonade made with mineral water and fresh mint, so I also enjoyed a few of those!  (Murray, of course, opted for some more beer!)

After dinner, Romani ordered an apple hookah for the group – Dad, the Christls, and several others gave it a try for the first time (and then coughed heavily afterward, of course!).  It was pretty funny.  After taking the trucks back to the ferry, and the ferry straight back to our private hotel docking area – we were off to bed, as we have a really early start tomorrow.  (PS – will I ever catch up on all the sleep I have NOT gotten these last several days?!  But what would I give up in order to get more sleep?  Nothing – so there’s my conundrum.)
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