Hot Air Balloons from the Guesthouse.

Egypt Part Two: Luxor

Luxor for Seven Nights.

This was my wife’s ‘bucket list trip‘. I did all the booking without her really knowing what was going on. She knew the basics:

A week in Luxor.

Five nights on a dahabiya cruising the Nile.

Two nights in Aswan.

Two nights in Cairo.

In terms of actual details, she was kept unaware. This really wound her up at times and on occasions, she was genuinely concerned about where we would be staying. I think she was also concerned from my disability perspective. I used to joke;

‘my management style is to never have a plan, because if I don’t have a plan, then nothing can ever go wrong’!

In reality, I generally have multiple plans, a ‘Plan A’, but if there is a problem, then a ‘Plan B’ and if needed, a vague idea of a ‘Plan C‘. Especially since becoming a disabled person, it is important to plan & research. I read a lot of Trip Advisor reports and asked questions on forums etc and read other people’s blogs. I knew what was happening… I just didn’t let her know! 

And this was her first surprise.

We arrived in Luxor after dark. As a wheelchair user, I was last off the aircraft. It was a ‘hard stand’ arrival, so no walkway to the airport. I was sat at the rear of the aircraft. Instead of walking through the cabin, as I expected, the crew arranged for the lift to come to the rear door, which was good of them. My wheelchair was waiting for me in the lift (Manchester can’t/won’t bring wheelchairs to the aircraft anymore but most places do). In to arrivals, pay the visa fee and head through passport control. Egyptian passport control really have to work on their general demeanour, our passports were checked and stamped by someone who smiled and greeted us in a friendly manner… that’s not what we’ve come to expect!

We then had to have our passport checked by a random bloke, sitting in a chair. He checked the stamp and waved us on. Despite being last through, most people were still waiting for their luggage.  All our luggage was x-rayed as we left the reclaim area. I had a ‘steady’ arm for videoing when using my phone-camera. They were particularly interested in this and pulled me to one side in order to explain what it was. Other than that, we were through reasonably easily. Our driver, Mahmoud, had been arranged by the guesthouse and was waiting for us. I’d exchanged emails to ensure they understood that I had a non-folding wheelchair & attachment, so the driver was in a mini-van, with plenty of space. In to the taxi and off we went. Being dark, we couldn’t really see a great deal. We were staying on the west bank of The Nile. Luxor is a reasonably large city of slightly over half a million people. The vast majority live on the east bank. The airport is in the desert, further to the east. With the only road bridge some distance from the city, we had quite a long drive. Elaine was really beginning to wonder what was going on. No sooner had we crossed The Nile and driven back in to a slightly built up area, than we turned off and headed back out in to the country. When we turned off the road and on to a rough track, I think she finally resigned herself to the fact that we were being kidnapped!

If you look at the map, the airport is at the bottom right (east). Our boarding house, Beit Sabee, is the pink dot, top left. The only road bridge is further south, not even on the map.

Google Earth image of Luxor
Google Earth image of Luxor

Eventually we arrived at Beit Sabee guesthouse and received a very warm greeting… “Welcome! We want you to be happy here, please this is your home. If there is anything you want or need, please just ask.” This level of friendly, helpful service continued for the whole time we were there. In fact, sometimes the staff there were almost too eager to be helpful! On one occasion, I stood up and two of the guys leapt to their feet. One asked “is there anything I can get you?” I replied, “no thank you, I’m just going to the toilet,” at which point the other gentleman rushed to the toilet and opened the door for me!

Entering to an inner courtyard, with settees & a table, we were given water and offered juice. There is a ground floor room with easy, level access but this didn’t have air-conditioning. We were also offered a first floor room. I can manage stairs without too much difficulty, so we went and had a look at the alternative room. It has air-conditioning, so we took this one. Ahmed asked if we were sure that we were happy and offered to show us other rooms if we weren’t. We were happy. To be honest, we just wanted to go to sleep at this point! But we forced ourselves up to the roof terrace for a beer. It was cool and peaceful. You know that feeling when you’ve been travelling, you arrive and just take a deep breath and the world just slows down as you breath back out? That...

After a good night sleep and a refreshing shower, we went back up to the roof terrace for breakfast. Now Elaine was able to appreciate her first surprise. Beit Sabee is in the last row of buildings before the hills that hide The Valley of the Kings & The Valley of the Queens. Although we were technically in a city, this area feels more like a village. Location, location, location.

View from Beit Sabee to the Mountains
From the Terrace at Beit Sabee towards The Valley of the Queens

Ragrab, another member of the Beit Sabee super-team served us breakfast. Fresh bread, yoghurt, fresh figs, eggs, Greek style cheese, mango juice & tea.

We’d already decided that today, Elaine’s birthday, would be a relaxing, chill out day. Dinner was arranged for the evening, up on the terrace. That night we had an Egyptian style chicken tagine. It’s a bit like a Moroccan tagine… only Egyptian. Then the three guys (Muhammed was the young guy, third member of the team) appeared carrying a birthday cake. After finding out it was her birthday, Ragrab had gone and bought a cake especially for her. They then sang ‘Happy Birthday‘ in English & Egyptian. The guys also blew up balloons and strung them up, making sure Elaine had a party!

Cream cake with mango and apple
Elaine’s Birthday Cake

The following morning, we went for a hot air balloon flight. Now I don’t like flying. And I don’t like heights. Obviously, hot air ballooning is high on my list of ‘things to do on holiday’

NOT! 

But this was Elaine’s trip, and she loves hot air balloons. I contacted them in advance regarding my mobility restrictions. I’ve been in a hot air balloon previously, in Morocco, so I knew what to expect and I confirmed to them that I could do the ‘brace’ position for landing. Getting in & out of the basket could not be called ‘elegant’ but with help and my feet being directed on to steps and some upper body strength, I managed. I actually enjoy being in a hot air balloon. As long as I don’t look straight down, I am fine. When the burners go out and you just float, it is so peaceful. And the views are quite special too. Our pilot was very safety conscious, which was confidence building for the passengers. He had us practice the landing position three times before we actually needed to do it.

[click on small images twice, once here & once in the new window, to view full size]

While airborne, I realised we could see Medinet Habu. This temple is right next to Beit Sabee, we can see it from our bedroom window. If we could see the boarding house, then the boarding house could see us.

With this in mind, the following morning, we were up at 5am again, to see the balloons taking off. This was so lovely, that we repeated it every morning! Seeing the sky filled with balloons as the sun rises was a great way to start the day.

If you want to see more hot air balloon photos taken from Beit Sabee, there is a gallery HERE.

Some of them were particularly low! We actually spoke with the people in this one…

Missing Stuff Out.

The plan was always, get up early, do ‘stuff‘, then rest during the hottest part of the day, before going out and doing more ‘stuff‘ later. The problem is, we were getting up VERY early! That led to us being tired in the afternoon/evening. We got in to a routine of:

balloons>breakfast>’stuff’>chill out in the evening>food>more chilling.

A bit of this was down to my disability. I don’t sleep very well, waking up frequently. As a result, I become fatigued easily. A non-disabled person would have pushed more in to their trip. That said, Elaine did a lot of walking, while I was rolling everywhere. The temperature in Egypt at the end of October/early November is really nice, but still hot (low 30 degrees C) so she was happy to chill out too. But it meant we missed out on some of the interesting sites. That said, we got around an awful lot too! Our big ‘misses’ including the night show at Karnak Temple & Luxor Museum (we’d been to Karnak earlier in the day and originally planned to stay on the east bank for the evening too) and The Valley of the Queens.

But we still got good value from our Premium Luxor Passes.

Premium Luxor Passes.

If you are in Luxor for a few days, then the Premium Pass is good value. Basically, with these passes you get entry to all the historical sites and every tomb. They cost $US200 or €180. Even if only in Luxor for two full days, you can still get your money’s worth by buying one of these. Here for longer and definitely get one. Also, if going to a site during busy times, you will save on queuing too. You need a passport photo and a photocopy of your passport. You can sort these out once in Egypt, but it will be much easier if you bring them with you.

Luxor Premium Pass, or as my wife called them “Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket”

Crossing The Nile. 

For most people, crossing The Nile involves the local ferry boats. I can’t remember the exact price but I think it was about five Egyptian pound (5LE), which is about 25 pence. Unfortunately, I never found out. While I was up for it, Elaine was becoming increasingly stressed about the idea, fearing that either I would fall in The Nile or the crew would drop my chair or Batec in the water. I’d decided that if I fell in, it would be better to drown than live the rest of my life with ‘I told you so‘… Elaine won, the boat was ruled out. The problem for us was, if not using the twenty-five pence, ten minute boat crossing, we had a forty-five minute taxi ride via the bridge. That’s the main reason why we only visited the east bank on one occasion. Well, that and the fact that most sites are on the west bank.

Getting About.

The easiest way to get about is taxi. The staff at Beit Sabee arranged transport for us on most occasions. We had Mahmoud (our driver from the airport pickup) take us to Karnak & Luxor Temples on the east bank, then back, and also on a different day, to The Valley of the Kings, where he waited for us. We paid him €40 & €50. I’m sure we could have got a much cheaper driver but it was easy and we were able to trust him. Elaine walked from the guesthouse down to The Nile and also to Hatshepsut’s Temple, (both about three miles). The walk to the Temple was early, about 7:30am, and it was nice & cool but by the time we got there, it was roasting hot. On both return journeys, she jumped in to a cab. One flagged down on the road and the other was ordered by the cafe owner where we’d stopped for lunch. On my return from Hatshepsut Temple, while she was in the taxi, I put the Batec up to full speed and rode home. I got some looks! A wheelchair driving on the road at about 15 mph attracts smiles & waves everywhere!

Sat in my wheelchair at the steps to Hatshepsut Temple
Morecambe Fan at Hatshepsut Temple… Yes… I drove up that ramp! 

Don’t Miss…

Medinet Habu is the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III. Because it is slightly off the main route, it is often missed, especially by people who only have one day in Luxor. Which is a shame because it is a very well preserved temple and probably our favourite. We picked up a guide as we entered. Generally, I prefer not to have a guide latch on to me, but on this occasion I decided to let the guy join us. It was a good decision as he was very knowledgable and showed us things that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen, including the engraving of a pile of penises… who wouldn’t want to see a pile of penises? (they were cut off the defeated enemies of Ramesses III).

Colour preserved in Medinet Habu
Colour Preserved in Medinet Habu.

 

Mind you, you probably won’t have the same ‘celebrity’ draw as me! As we were leaving a couple of coaches of school children arrived. They saw Elaine & I from the other side of the entry/exit barrier. About ten very excited girls rushed in, through the ‘exit’ and surrounded us both…

Hello, what’s your name and where are you from?”

“Hello, what’s your name and where are you from?”

“Hello, what’s your name and where are you from?”

This appeared to be the most commonly learned English phrase for the children! The security guard came rushing up and shouted at them to get out, but they crowded around the exit, waiting for my wife & I, like we were the worst members of a teeny-bopper band! As we left, we were mobbed!

Hello, what’s your name and where are you from?”

“Hello, what’s your name and where are you from?”

“Hello, what’s your name and where are you from?”

Then we moved on to selfies & high fives! Eventually their teacher came across. I thought he was going to chase the excited children away and tell them to calm down, but no, he wanted to shake hands and have a selfie! At least he spoke enough English to understand the response when he asked my name and where I came from?

Food, Drink & an Explanation!

Standing with your back to Medinet Habu, turning right you will see a village ‘square’, probably with a few vehicles parked up. On the other side, there is a police checkpoint. next to this is Cafe Desert Rose. We visited here a couple of times and chatted with Adam, a really nice, friendly bloke. His family owns the cafe. If you eat there, his mother cooks in their home directly behind the cafe and they bring the food across. And it is well worth eating here, the food was very reasonably priced and good. While talking with Adam, I told him about being mobbed by the kids. He said that they probably came from a school in an area that is away from tourist area, so they probably hadn’t seen foreigners before. A foreigner in a cool* wheelchair too! For people out of town, tourists are ‘interesting’. We found this everywhere. Although to be honest, a lot of Egyptian people, and children in particular, were always keen to say ‘hello‘ and ‘high five‘.

*While we were going around Medinet Habu a German child, about five years old, stopped dead and stared at me and the wheelchair, then excitedly turned to his mother & said something in German. She burst out laughing, then explained to us; “he said it is like a wheelchair, only cool!” So my wheelchair is officially “cool”.

We chatted with Adam and he offered me a Turkish coffee. Elaine asked him how he made it, so he invited us to visit his home and meet his family, then he would show her it being brewed. We spent some time there, meeting his parents and brothers and being shown family photos of his sister, who is married and lives elsewhere. His mum is a good cook!

There are another couple of restaurants in the area, all within easy walking distance of Beit Sabee guest house. We ate at Habu Garden once, which was okay. We also ate at Beit Sabee three times, which was excellent on each occasion. There are plenty of restaurants on the banks of The Nile. We also ate at Wolf Restaurant one evening. This is a short taxi ride from the guest house. Well worth the effort.

Karnak Temple.

On arriving at Karnak Temple we were, as expected, approached by a gentleman offering to be our guide. Initially we refused and continued past him, but having taken a guide at Medinet Habu and benefited from his knowledge, we changed our mind. I asked him how much? He said €7 (£6). Price agreed, we set off. Mohamed began his tour before we even got to the temple, by explaining how the moat was built and silted up. He spoke quickly with authority and in depth. I realised that we were going to be overwhelmed with information. I asked him if I could video him so that we could watch it back later. He paused, then smiled and said, “yes, but it will cost you more“. How much? “Twenty Euros“. I’m sure that we could have negotiated, but it wasn’t a lot for a guide who clearly knew what he was talking about. The problem is, I now have loads of videos to go through and may need to learn a bit more video editing! He then met us later at Luxor Temple for another interesting history lesson. Here is one quick clip. Mohamed uses a mirror to reflect sunlight to specific points that he is talking about. Did you know that ‘Sarah’ is an Egyptian name?

In Short…

Luxor is well worth visiting for a longer period rather than just a quick day or two, as part of a tour package. There is plenty to see and it is best enjoyed at a slower pace. Hatshepsut’s Temple is incredible to take in, yet we saw coach parties arrive, see, photograph & leave within about thirty minutes, then head off somewhere else. It was more like collecting stamps in a book than really experiencing the history. Likewise Karnak Temple, we arrived before the crowds and left well after they had gone. Within minutes of the coaches leaving, Karnak was almost empty of visitors. Then shortly afterwards, another wave of coaches arrive for a swift visit. If you are in Luxor for longer, then you can really take your time.

We both enjoyed Beit Sabee guest house. The staff are friendly and welcoming, the food is good and the price is reasonable. We loved sitting on the roof terrace and relaxing, feeling the history all around us. The west bank is really nice, peaceful and friendly. We walked (rolled) around the area and were greeted everywhere.

Bedroom at Beit Sabee
Keith using internet in the public area of Beit Sabee
WiFi in the Public Area

The rooms at Beit Sabee are ‘rustic’ but comfortable. The air-con worked well and the shower had good pressure, so that was my main concerns met. WiFi is only available on the ground floor, which is a bit frustrating nowadays, but not a big issue. Staying here had to be preferable to paying more to stay in the busy, noisy city on the east bank. With the daily balloon show too, I definitely recommend Beit Sabee as a base to explore Luxor.

You don’t need to be part of a tour to go to Luxor, in fact, I’d recommend going alone.

Part Three of my Egypt trip will be coming soon.

 

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