The Nile at sunset from a felucca is stunning! Beautiful hues and scenic silhouettes. An experience you will never forget! This video conveys to you the magic of the region put to lovely music. Enjoy.
This morning the air felt much cooler as we had our morning coffee on the roof terrace and I noticed the haze that has been around since we arrived in Luxor seems to have finally cleared. Sam and I decided to drive over to the West Bank again.
Once more crossing the bridge and turning right along the pretty tree-lined road towards the Gezira cross-roads, I noticed again the activity involved with the sugar cane harvest. Trucks, tractors and donkey carts trundled along the road piled high with canes. One interesting development I’ve noticed this year is the arrival of a new type of vehicle in the form of a motorcycle with a pick-up back, like a motorised donkey cart but much faster. I guess this progress is inevitable and I wondered how long it will take before we no longer see donkeys on the roads. Is this a good or a bad omen for the donkeys who will become redundant?
We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon, the statues of Amenhotep III at the entrance to his Kom el-Hettan temple, because the sun was lighting them perfectly in the late morning. After mid-day the front of the statues are in shadow. A long screen has been erected in front of the excavation area so there was no chance of seeing any work in progress. We had a glimpse from the road of the statue of the king that has been re-erected in the temple area with its replica head. Knowing that visitors are quickly turned away, there was no point in stopping.
Sam drove along Monument Road again slowly so that we could see what has been going on excavation-wise. How lazy is that? But we were on our way to the Carter house, where the famous discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb had lived and worked.
I had expressed an interest in seeing the recently re-opened ‘Castle Carter’ last week. I remember from my first excursions onto the West Bank years ago, several people told me that ‘Castle Carter’ was the domed building on the hill at the entrance to the road to the King’s Valley. I was even once taken inside part of this building, which was also a dig house. Later however, I learned that Carter’s house was at the foot of this hill and surrounded by overgrown trees that went a good way to hide it. The larger and more prominent house on the hill is in fact Stoppelaere House, built to a plan of Hasan Fathy in the 1950s as both a guest house for the Department of Antiquities and the headquarters and apartment of Dr. Alexander Stoppelaere who was the chief restorer of the Department at that time.
The real ‘Castle Carter’ was in fact Howard Carter’s second home on the West Bank, his first being near Medinet Habu. The one we visited today has been beautifully restored and we, the only visitors, were welcomed free of charge and shown around by a guide. A fantastic job has been done on the restoration of the house. It is an Egyptian traditional mudbrick house with a dome in the centre to keep it cool. Each room is furnished with lovely period pieces from the time when Carter lived there and even though I knew they were not original to the house they felt like they belonged there. It certainly captured my imagination. There are many copies of photographs and reproductions of some of Carter’s original handwritten notes and his drawings to add extra interest and the present Lady Carnarvon has done a beautiful job of designing posters and history boards with photographs of the two famous men.
Howard Carter built this house shortly after beginning his association with his benefactor Lord Carnarvon of Highclere Castle in England, in 1910. He lived in Luxor for many years and it was his base while excavating in the Valley of the Kings and searching for Tutankhamun’s tomb. Carter’s story after his 1922 great discovery is well known and his last years are rather sad, but it was lovely to see the life this house must have had while he lived there.
The most interesting part for me was the darkroom, now lit with the traditional red light and looking like Carter or his photographer Burton might step out at any moment. The walls were hung with black and white photographs and there is even a huge wooden plate camera on display. The restored house is surrounded by a newly-planted garden that will be very pretty when the plants grow and there are shady rest areas where visitors will be able to get refreshments. Outside there is a wonderful view of Thoth Hill, and with my long lens I was able to take a picture of the temple on it’s peak. I’ve never yet managed the two-hour trek to the top.
After leaving ‘Castle Carter’ Sam and I decided that Deir el-Bahri, where we were headed next, would still be too busy with the morning rush, so we went into the Ramesseum rest house for a drink to while away an hour or so. We finally arrived at Hatshepsut’s Temple around 2.00pm when most of the visitors had gone. Deir el-Bahri has also changed since my last visit and now has a big new visitor’s centre. We were told we were not allowed to walk up to the temple but had to go on the little taf-taf train. It’s becoming like Disneyland here. We bought our tickets (30 LE plus 2 LE for the taf-taf) and off we went.
I visited each terrace in turn taking photographs of the walls. because many of the reliefs have been newly cleaned since I was last here. The right-hand second terrace is looking especially good and the shallow relief depicting the divine birth of Hatshepsut now shows up well. The Chapel of Anubis has also had a face-lift and the painted walls are now bright and colourful. I love to visit the little Chapel of Hathor with its lovely Hathor-headed columns and today with my zoom lens I got some good pictures of the adjacent Middle Kingdom Mentuhotep Temple from there. I also got some pictures of the old Metropolitan dig-house, a magnificent huge building to the south of the temple that for many years has been used by the Polish Mission working at Deir el-Bahri.
We left Deir el-Bahri when the temple closed at 5.00pm, making our way through the bazaar that is now the only exit. Sam had to park on the road because the enormous car park is now for coaches and taxis only. We drove back into Luxor in the crazy evening traffic, trying to work out why drivers mostly ignore the red traffic lights.
Luxor is not a place to go for large, glamorous shops. There aren’t any. There are, however, bargains to be had, as well as souvenirs.
Typical souvenir items include carvings and mouldings of gods, pharaohs and queens, papyrus illustrations and glass scent bottles. The bargains include egyptian cotton, leather, gold and silver (but in all cases be careful about manufacturing quality).
Prices in hotel shops will normally be beatable, but they are worth checking if only to give you a benchmark for when you go to town.
It is also worth visiting non-tourist shops in town, where prices are marked and where, as far as we can tell, the tourist pays the same as local people. Most of these shops are in and around Station Street and Television Street. Station Street is the wide road that leads from behind Luxor Temple towards the railway station. Here you will find shops selling shoes, clothing, small electrical items and an optician. Television Street is a long road that leads from behind the Old Winter palace and runs more-or-less east (away from the Nile).
It helps to have a note of Arabic numbers because although prices are often displayed, they are usually only written in Arabic.
Haggling – the price you have to pay
You don’t have to haggle in normal shops, such as the ones along Television Street and Station Street.
Elsewhere, you haggle for most things, especially in the market and in the tourist shops. Once upon a time the general advice (which is still given by some tour reps) is that you start to haggle at half the price asked for by the merchant and meet somewhere in the middle. The shop and market people are wise to that, so they up the starting price. It is not at all unusual for a seller to start the haggling process six, eight or even ten times higher than the price they would accept.
The best bet is to become familiar with value of things by checking the price charged in the government shop, other fixed price shops, non-tourist shops used by local people and hotel shops. There is no magic formula. Do your homework and with that background information decide what you are prepared to pay, then barter. If you buy for that or a lower amount you have a bargain. If you want to know the lowest price, just show interest, barter a bit, then walk away. The price he shouts after you as you begin to disappear back into the crowd is probably as low as he will go.
Fruit & Veg shopping
There used to be plenty of fruit and veg stalls in the tourist market, but most of these have now gone. There is a new fruit and veg market just across the railway line, behind the station. This is where local people buy their fruit and veg, so look for one with the prices marked, go armed with the arabic number list (above) and shopping is easy!
There are also lots of fruit and veg shops and stalls in Medina Street, which turns off Television street at the Vodaphone shop and more scattered around town, especially close to the railway crossing near the station and between Station Street and Television Street.
There used to be a big and dusty Government Shop in the maze behind Luxor Temple. There is now a new Government shop at the southern end of town. To get to it, go down the road opposite the Lotus hotel, past Joan’s, Snobs, Casablanca etc to the end of the road. The Government shop is on the corner of that road and the busy main road. On the ground floor are clothing and linens, such as sheets, table cloths etc. Downstairs there are fabrics and domestic machines. This is not the same as a duty free shop. It is simply owned by a government company.
It helps to know the procedure for buying here. The shop is similar to a British corner draper from the 1950s. There are counters and each member of staff has their own territory and specialty. Prices are marked in arabic. Staff speak English. They will willingly show you what you want to see and tell you the price. Prices are fixed but seem to come with an automatic discount.
When you have chosen your purchase(s) you are given a chitty. Take the chitty to the cash kiosk opposite the main entrance. Give the chitty and your payment to the cashier. He will receipt the chitty and return it. Now take the receipted chitty to the dispatcher who has his own counter to the right of the cashier. If the goods have not already arrived at the dispatcher’s desk he will go to the place where you started, to collect your purchase. He then wraps it and gives it to you with your receipted chitty. If you buy things from more than one counter, collect your chitties as you go round and take them all to the cashier together.
Many of the people involved may ask for tips, but this is out of habit. Tips are not really expected or normally given.
Tourist shops in town tend to be clustered and they all sell similar things, especially alabaster, resin mouldings, leather, t-shirts, other cotton and jewellery. The goods in tourist shops are rarely priced. Hassle and bartering are the order of the day. One cluster of tourist shops is along the main Corniche either side of the Winter Palace, extending into the Marhaba centre, to the left (as you face it) of the Winter Palace. There used to be more around the Horus hotel, between the market and Luxor Temple, but these have been cleared as part of the town improvements. For a while they were relocated along the main road on the town side of the El Luxor hotel. They are now in a new purpose-built shopping centre, called Savoy Market (see below). At the other end of town there are plenty of shops along the main road from the Nile Palace hotel (previously called the Meridien hotel), all the way through to the Sheraton and down some of the side streets along the way.
The Savoy Market has replaced many of the tourist shops that used to be clustered close to the Luxor Temple. This is part of the thrust to improve facilities for tourists, but it was also necessary as part of the clearance of a tract of land between Luxor and Karnak temples to reintroduce the ancient avenue of sphinxes.
The Savoy Market is on the town side of the El Luxor (previously the Mercure) hotel. It has an arcade at ground level, which goes through to the road at the back, and two further floors. There are dozens of shops, selling the full range of tourist souvenir things. There are also several toilets, which were once quite acceptable by local public toilet standards but have not aged well, and an internet cafe. Some of the best known local low-cost restaurants have also been relocated to the Savoy market with the shops. Altogether there are three restaurants, El Hussien (yes, it is spelt that way outside) and Amoun are on the second level and King Tut is at the top.
For atmosphere when shopping, a must-visit is the traditional market in Old Market Street. There are many access points into Old Market Street. For one, start at McDonald’s. With your back to McDonald’s, go right, past a few shops and to the junction with the main road. The main road is Station Road. Cross this road and look for the new sign “Le Souk”. This is the entrance to the market.
At this end of the market most of the shops sell jewellery, bags and leather goods, souvenirs, spices, scarves, T-shirts and other clothing, and other items aimed at the tourist. As you progress through the market, the emphasis changes, with fewer shops targeting the tourist. There used to be lots of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, household utensils, tools and other goods providing for the needs of local people. However, most of these, especially the fruit and veg, have now been moved to a new fruit and veg market on the other side of the railway line, not far from the station.
Some guides and occasional visitors to Luxor will advise against shopping in the market. Their reasons may include the inevitable hassle from shop or stall holders and the possibility that you will pay too much for your purchases.
As far as the hassle is concerned, certainly there will be plenty of local people keen to ‘help’ you and you will not progress far in Old Market Street without being ‘encouraged’ to go into shops or to look at wares on a market stall. That kind of hassle is hard to avoid anywhere in Luxor. A little tolerance and good humour will usually be enough to get you by.
What you pay for your purchases is largely up to you. Many of the stall holders work on commission. Everything has a minimum price that the owner will expect. If the seller can get more than the minimum then the difference will probably be his earnings so yes, many may maximise their earnings when they have a chance. Some guides will suggest that you offer half the starting price. The sellers are wise to that advice and so will often start much higher than twice what you need to pay – even ten times as much.
There is no magic formula. Do your homework in the hotel and local shops.
With that background decide what you are prepared to pay, then barter. If you buy for that or a lower amount you have a bargain. If you want to know the lowest price, just show interest, barter a bit, then walk away. The price he shouts after you as you begin to disappear back into the crowd is probably as low as he will go.
By Laura Bly, USA TODAY
LUXOR, Egypt – The setting is already surreal: a warm breeze wafting off the Nile, a muezzin’s call to prayer, and a full moon glinting against a giant stone visage of Ramses II, the most powerful pharaoh in Egyptian history.
After being on “pins and needles” about the status of the trip they’d booked before Egyptian protesters ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power in mid-February, the Scarsdale, N.Y., couple [Mary and Pierre Combal] are here despite a U.S. State Department travel warning — and couldn’t be happier about it.
“One of my colleagues told me, ‘I hope you come back,’ ” says Mary Combal, one of a handful of awestruck spectators ambling among the Luxor Temple’s 3,500-year-old pillars.”But I feel strongly about supporting Egypt, and this is a magical time to be here.”
Two months after the revolution that ended Mubarak’s 30-year stranglehold, Luxor and other Egyptian cities remain eerily bereft of the 15 million annual visitors who contribute 11% of its gross domestic product.
U.S. tour companies are resuming their operations here, several floating discounts of up to 50%, and this week the State Department eased its warning to remove a recommendation that Americans defer non-essential travel. Other countries have lifted advisories as well. But by many accounts, tourism is down by 75% to 90% — still better than February, when foreigners made a mass rush for the exits.
During the peak winter season, 300 vessels typically jostle for space on the 125-mile stretch of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. Now, the few ships back in service ply the river like apparitions, their deck chairs and hot tubs all but deserted.
In the serene southern town of Aswan, an ancient crossroads for African caravans, shopkeeper Hassan Eldesokey leans disconsolately against a window that reads “No Hassle Free; Hassle 5 Pounds Extra.” He spent last month in front of a TV set, transfixed by the upheavals in Cairo and elsewhere, and isn’t doing much bargaining these days.
No matter: Before the revolution, Eldesokey says, those who crossed government authority “were taken to a place behind the sun.” Now, despite the fact that his official teaching salary of $100 a month must feed four children, “money is not everything,” he insists, just before launching into a spirited pitch for a purchase of jasmine perfume.
“Freedom,” he says, “is more important than food.”
A horse-and-carriage driver in Edfu, another popular cruise stop along the Nile, isn’t so sure. When asked whether he thinks life will be better post-Mubarak, Ahmed Mohamed frowns and points to his skin-and-bones steed, Rambo. “With no tourists,” he says, “we are desperate.”
This week’s easing of the U.S. State Department’s warning on travel to Egypt coincides with a survey from the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) that indicates more members are resuming programs:
Since the last informal poll February 28, seven out of 11 responding USTOA companies say they’re returning to Egypt earlier than anticipated, with three-quarters of respondents heading back by May 1.
At the same time, several tour companies are trying to kick start bookings with steep discounts. A sampling of deals:
- Sunny Land Tours has cut prices by 50%, from $1,299 per person including round-trip airfare from New York to Cairo, for a 10-day “Memorable Nile Cruise & Tour” through April, 2012.
- Vantage Deluxe World Travel is offering savings of up to $800 per couple on its 14-night “Egypt & the Nile: Land of the Pharaohs” trips this spring and fall; prices start at $2, 299 per person including round-trip airfare from New York to Cairo.
- Cox & Kings’ 10-night “Egyptian Sojourn: Summer Special” private tour now costs $4,995 plus internal airfare – a “two for the price of one” discount. Trips must be booked by May 31 for travel through Sept. 30.
- Caravan-Serai Tours, which specializes in Middle East travel, offers a “New Egypt” tour focusing on post-revolutionary changes April 11-20 for $1,050 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare.
It’s a different story in the capital, Cairo.
Already formidable traffic jams have intensified here since the revolution, filling a vacuum caused by the precipitous departure of the much-hated police (who are making a gradual return). And while the military’s presence is diminished, armored vehicles and soldiers toting machine guns remain civic fixtures.
At the Egyptian Museum just off Tahrir Square, smiling soldiers now flash victory signs for the few tourists who pass by. In the backdrop: the burned-out shell of the former headquarters for Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party.
Inside the museum, where gleaming treasures of the past are displayed under peeling ceilings and dim, flickering lights, tour guides regale their charges with more recent history. Over here: an empty case that held one of the still-missing objects stolen during the early days of the revolution. Over there: the back door the looters chose as their entry point.
Reinder Prins, 26, a visitor from the Netherlands, is making his way to the room that holds the gold- and jewel-encrusted funeral mask of King Tutankhamun. Normally, the packed confines would permit only a brief inspection of the boy king’s paraphernalia. But in these anything-but-normal times, fewer than two dozen people stroll unhurriedly — with plenty of time to press noses up to the case with Tut’s dazzling mask.
“If anyone asked me, ‘should I come? Is it safe?’ I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes,” Prins says.
[…] “I don’t have a single picture with another tourist in it,” he says.
How long it will take to refocus Egypt’s crucial visitor economy — and return other travelers to those snapshots — is anyone’s guess.
But back in Luxor, where he is leading Mary and Pierre Combal on an inadvertently private tour of Karnak Temple, Egyptologist Mohamed Abu Bakr is optimistic: “Tourism in Egypt will never die,” says Abu Bakr, who in 17 years as a tour guide has seen the industry recover from such body blows as the 1997 Luxor massacre, the Iraq War and a series of 2005 suicide bombings at the Red Sea beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“It is like a sick man, but it will never die.”