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[Thanks to Guardians.net]
Wednesday January 7th 2004
Our taxi arrived promptly at 6:30am. We sped off and picked up my friend, Eddie, then we headed for the M62 motorway that would take us to Manchester Airport.
It was surprisingly busy at that time in the morning and our taxi driver did not dawdle. I was petrified.
As we neared Manchester, the traffic slowed to a crawl and I feared that we may not make our final check-in time of 8:05am. Thankfully, we arrived with plenty of time to spare and made our way towards the check-in desk. It was just my luck that out of the dozens of people making their way through the security point, I was the one whom had to remove his boots on the orders of the guards!
One disgusting cup of 'espresso' (that went untouched) and several cigarettes later, we were sitting on the plane whisking our way to Egypt.
The flight went very smoothly and we had some spectacular views of the Austrian Alps. Wouldn't it just be the case that my camera was packed away!!? Our pilot informed us that, because of a 100mph tailwind, we would be arriving at Luxor slightly early. We touched down at about 5:20pm local time.
A swarthy, young Egyptian approached us in the airport's Arrival Lounge and gestured furtively for us to follow him.
"I get visa for you - ten English pounds," he whispered.
Scared, we handed him our passports and he disappeared. Had we just been mugged? I thought, but as quickly as he had vanished, he appeared again, our passports containing the required visa stamps. He had saved us a lot of time and effort, so we gratefully handed him a couple of pounds each. This sort of thing is probably frowned upon by the Egyptian authorities, so I would suggest going the regular route for your visa and queuing with everybody else (unless you acquired yours before travelling, of course).
A short bus ride away was our hotel, the 5-star Sonesta St. George, where we had another surprise waiting for us!
Our room had only one bed! We were promised another bed and a move to another room on Friday (we actually stayed in the same room the entire holiday, though). The spare bed duly arrived and everybody was happy.
Once sorted, we decided to nip across the road to the King's Head Pub and Restaurant. We didn't get five yards before we were accosted by a caleche driver named Ali. A caleche is a small, horse-drawn taxi.
Ali promised to take us to an excellent Egyptian restaurant and then to a bazaar. Not knowing what the hell we were doing, we climbed aboard and off we trundled.
As we wobbled along, miraculously avoiding death on the hectic, Luxor roads, Ali pointed out various landmarks:
Novotel (?!) - I actually thought he said 'No futa hotel' which means a hotel without towels! Durr!
Luxor Temple (right), which looked splendid in the early evening light.
and various nondescript stores and vendors, all vigorously touting their wares.
Eventually, we came to a halt and were ushered down a short flight of stairs to a small, but pleasant, restaurant.
We had no idea what we ordered, but it was delicious. Our plates contained rice, vegetables and some sort of meat in small pieces. We washed it all down with a cola and a very sweet dessert of pastries. The whole lot only came to 78 Egyptian pounds (LE 78) for both of us, so we gave the chap LE100 and called the change his tip (baksheesh is what they call it here).
Back outside, Ali was still waiting for us and we asked him to take us back to the hotel as we were getting tired. It had been a long day of travel for us, after all. He did, but made a brief stopover at a papyrus market, where we bought some lovely pictures on the traditional, Egyptian paper.
Back at the hotel, Ali would not accept any money from us, and insisted that we see him tomorrow.
After a wash and brush-up, we headed for the Noble's Bar in the hotel. This is supposed to be a 'traditional English bar', but if it is, then I'm Noel Coward!
We sat there for a while, soaking up the ambience (and a couple of beers), then considered heading back to the room. At that point, two young ladies asked if they could sit down. Emma and Jules were staying at the Le Meridien Hotel next door and were relieved to find two English blokes to talk to. They had arrived on Monday and had spent their time dodging the salacious advances of the local vendors and drivers!
After a pleasant evening chatting, we parted company, promising to meet up on Friday to visit Karnak Temple as a group.
At just before 2am, Eddie and I hauled ourselves to our room and partook of a cigarette on the balcony. The constellation of Orion beamed down on us from the south and we would quickly become accustomed to this beautiful sight.
All text and images copyright 2004 Steven Johnson
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