We took a sleeper train to get from Cairo to Luxor. At $120 per cabin, it was a little pricey for our budget, but it was nice to be able to sleep in a bed during the long journey. It also saved us a night’s hotel as well as allowed us more daylight hours for more sightseeing. Each cabin has two seats that convert into two bunk beds. And, each cabin comes with a sink, which is nice bonus.
In Luxor, we stayed at the Nefertiti Hotel (which has got to be the best budget hotel in Luxor). It had a fantastic rooftop patio with views of the Luxor Temple and the Avenue of the Spinx.
On the rooftop is where we enjoyed breakfast each morning, and it was a great spot for watching both the sunrise and sunset.
And at sunset, enjoying a cup of hibiscus tea as we watch the sun go down…
At our hotel was one of the oldest restaurants in Luxor, Al-Sahaby Lane. The restaurant fills the lane running along the hotel. They serve traditional Egyptian food – beef and lamb shwarma and kabobs, tahini, baba ganouche, hummus and pita bread. They also serve a delicious greek salad and tasty french fries. The food was quite good and we ended up eating at the restaurant several times during our stay.
Our first day in Luxor, we explored the city a bit. It’s not a very large place, so didn’t take long for us to see most of it. Just behind our hotel was the Souk (a marketplace).
After wandering around for a while, we finally gave in to one of the horse carriage drivers and took a short ride.
Then we visited Luxor Temple, which is a large temple built on the east bank of the Nile River in 1400 B.C. In ancient times, the city was called Thebes and for centuries it was the capital of the Egypt.
We stayed at Luxor Temple for sunset. It was beautiful to see the lighting and shadows change within the temple as the sun was going down.
Our second day in Luxor, we did a day trip to the West Bank. Our first stop was The Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings is where they buried all of the kings from approximately 1539 BC to 1075 BC. During this era, they stopped building the tombs as pyramids and instead built them down into the hillside in order to prevent looting. Of course, over time, tombs that were discovered were looted. They have found scribes describing 200 tombs in the Valley of the Kings. So far, only 63 have been found, which means there is much more yet to be discovered. They open and close different tombs in intervals to tourists, so depending on when you visit, you will see different tombs. We went into three tombs. Unfortunately, they don’t let you take any pictures at the Valley of the Kings…not even outside the tombs. So I don’t have any pictures from our time there, but here are a picture we found online.
After the Valley of the Kings, we visited the Temple of Hatshipsut. Which our guide said, if you pronounce it “hot chicken soup”, that is close enough.
Our next stop was the Colossi of Memnon, two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III.
Our final stop on the West Bank was the Medient Habu Temple, the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III.
This site happens to be on the cover of the Lonely Planet Guide for Egypt. Our guide did an imitation of the book cover for us…
Our third and final day in Luxor we rented bikes and rode them to Karnak Temple.
Karnak is a vast complex, containing a mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings. Building began in the Middle Kingdom and continued into the Ptolemaic period, during the reign of over 30 pharaohs. It’s a massive site.
It is fascinating to think about how long ago the sites were built and how many years they have been standing. All of the sites we went to around Luxor were built before Jesus walked on earth. There is graffiti on the walls from biblical times. If only those walls could talk. So many things have come and gone over the course of time, and yet these structures have survived. Of course, like all things built by man, they have deteriorated over time. Walls and towers have fallen; rock has crumbled; colors have faded away from the sun; hieroglyphs have been vandalized. But I think about what life was like way back when these structures were built. There were no machines, no heavy equipment, no cranes. And yet, they built these magnificent temples. It’s mind boggling to think about how it was even possible and how many man hours must have taken. The carving of each stone, the detail in every hieroglyph…and all of it done with such precision. I can’t even fully wrap my brain around it. But to see the sites with your own eyes and ponder about such things is, in my opinion, the best thing about visiting Egypt.
At the end of our third day in Luxor, we boarded the sleeper train for Cairo. The plan was to sleep on the train, arrive in Cairo early by 8am the next morning, then get on another train to make it to Alexandria (on Egypt’s northern coast) by late morning. Oh, how things did not go according to plan. After boarding that sleeper train, what followed was 24 hours of traveling fiascos. Things started off just fine – the train left on time and we immediately went to bed. Then Jay woke up early in the morning and noticed the train was no longer moving. At about 7am, we were finally able to track down a crew member to find out what was going on. There had been a train accident on the tracks ahead of us. They didn’t know how bad it was or how long it might take for the tracks to reopen. They told everyone they needed to wait on the train. So we waited for a couple hours. In the meantime, we learned from other passengers that it was a horrible accident. Turned out it was a train packed full of new military recruits that had two cars derail. Nineteen people died and 107 were injured.
At about 9:30am, the crew advised us that it could be all day, or multiple days, before the tracks were reopened and that they were arranging for buses to come pick us up. At about 10am, all the tourists got off the train and were escorted by military to the buses. After loading the buses, they said each passenger must pay $10 before the bus will depart. Long story short…many passengers were refusing to pay and the police wouldn’t let anyone go anywhere until each person paid (they wanted to keep all the tourists together and transport us all to Cairo via one big police escort). It took over 2 hours before each person paid and we were able to leave. We sat on the bus for two hours outside the Minya train station, watching as different people talked and argued about the situation.
At about 12:30pm, once payment was all settled, we we’re finally able to leave. We then had an almost 6 hour, police escorted, bus ride to Cairo.
When we got to Cairo, we made our way to the train station to catch a train to Alexandria. The seats on the next train to Alexandria were all full, so we booked seats on the one an hour later. People were protesting in the train station. They were protesting the train accident from the night before. Apparently, the accident could have been prevented if the train and tracks were properly maintained. And, many of the deaths could have been prevented if the train hasn’t been packed far past its capacity.
As we headed through the station, we had an interesting encounter with an evangelical Muslim. A nice lady, probably about 30 years old, who was concerned about our safety in the train station and wanted to help keep us safe. Turns out, her family all lives in Detroit, Michigan. Her dad is a doctor and they had relocated there years ago. Against her family’s wishes, she had recently returned to Egypt to help spread the truth about the real Islam. Her family didn’t want her in Egypt because they think it is too dangerous. They want her in Detroit, where it is safe. We laughed as we shared with her that Jay is from Michigan and would not consider Detroit safe. We had a nice conversation we her and at the end, when we had to leave to catch the train, the lady asked if she could say a blessing over us. We said yes, and she did. In hindsight, I wish I would have prayed with her in return.
When we reached the platform to board our train, we found out that protestors were blocking the tracks – which was preventing any trains from coming in and out of the station. Seriously, what a day and what is going to happen next?!? I began to wonder if we would ever make it to Alexandria. Well, the trains eventually started to run again and we did finally make it to Alexandria…it was after 11pm when we reached our hotel there. It was late and we were exhausted, but after 24 hours of traveling fiascos, we had finally made it.