New adventures in Luxor

In February of this year I again visited Luxor with a small company. This time especially to try the Luxor Pass and to visit the tombs of Seti I and Nefertari.

After an hour’s delay due to snowfall in Amsterdam, extensive security checks at the various airports and a rather awful flight on a cramped plane, we arrived at our destination around midnight. Again we stayed at Nile Valley Hotel, which is conveniently located near the ferry on the quiet West Bank, an ideal starting place to visit all the sites. It has a roof terrace and balconies with Nile view, friendly staff, and yes, a heated swimming pool.

The Nile Valley Hotel in Luxor

The atmosphere was pleasant in Luxor, with more tourists than before, but nowhere near as booming as it was before the revolution. The Egyptian pound (LE) stood at an all-time low due to its recent floating against the dollar, which is very unfortunate for the Egyptian people (gasoline had doubled in price), but meant that we could spend money easily. I sincerely hope that by taking different motor boats and taxis, dining out, shopping and tipping we have contributed ever so slightly to the local economy.

We spent our first day settling in and getting hold of the fabled Luxor Pass. We had found some information online beforehand that proved rather useful. The office where the pass can be obtained is located just around the left corner of the Luxor Museum when you stand in front of it. The price for a non-student including Seti I and Nefertari was 200 dollars, in this case 180 euros. Students pay half of this, but you are likely asked to show an ISIC (international student card). You also need to bring your passport, a copy of your passport and a photograph. All of this will be copied, stapled together and stamped. The pass is valid for five consecutive days, and you can choose the starting date. Mind that the pass can only be paid for in cash with dollars or euros, not with Egyptian pounds. It gives access to all the museums and monuments in Luxor for which you can normally buy a ticket. Seti I and Nefertari can be visited once every day for a limited amount of time.

No photos inside the tomb

The Luxor Pass proved to be a charm. Seti I and Nefertari alone cost 1000 LE each, and for the rest of the five days you can visit as many monuments as you like. Most of all it saves time and hassle, getting tickets for the various monuments at several ticket offices. Also, it produces a smile on the face of most gafirs, as they can see that you’re serious about visiting their sites. We managed to visit all tombs in the Valley of the Kings in one day, including Seti I, where we spent much longer than the set 15 minutes (it also helps if you are not part of a large group, and if the hour is quiet).

The next day at Karnak we enjoyed ourselves at the White and Red Chapel in the Open Air Museum, which we normally always forget because it requires an extra ticket. At dawn, we popped in to Luxor Temple because, why not. On day three, we had a pleasant time at the Valley of the Queens with the splendid tomb of Nefertari, as well as the princely tombs of Titi, Amunkhepshef and Khaemwase. We then went on to Deir el-Medina, where Inerkha, Sennedjem and Pashedu were open, but also three new tombs rolled into one: Amennakht and his sons Nebenmaat and Khaemteri. The latter three require some serious crawling. That Friday, the Minister of Antiquities would furthermore open the tomb of Nakhtamon (TT 335), which will hopefully soon be accessible to visitors. After lunch we visited the tombs of Qurnet Murai (Amenhotep Huy, Amenemopet and Amenemheb).

The White Chapel of Sesostris I at Karnak

Luxor Temple by night

The next day, we saw a selection of the Tombs of the Nobles, which still amounted to 10 tombs. Menna, Nakht, Sennefer, Rekhmire and Ramose are still among my favourites. But Djehutimose (TT 295), Nefersekheru (TT 296) and Neferrenpet (TT 178) were also very nice, Amenemipet (TT 41) has an impressive courtyard and Djehuty (TT 110) was recently opened. That afternoon we were blown through the Ramesseum by an exceptionally cold wind. On the last day of our Luxor Pass, we decided to revisit Nefertari and Seti I, and while we were at it, Tutankhamun as well, where a team of conservators was cleaning the wall paintings. The afternoon was spent at the wonderful temple of Deir el-Bahri. Another place we usually skip, the Mummification Museum, proved to be a nice surprise.

Hatshepsut was here

After some well-deserved rest and relaxation, we spent another day visiting sites. Carter House made my 19th century traveller cum Downton Abbey heart beat a little faster, while in its annex can be found a perfect replica of the tomb of Tutankhamun. It is amazing what Factum Arte has achieved here and to be able to see the wall paintings up close, which are only slightly more pastel than the real thing. After a nice cup of tea in Carter’s garden, we went on for a final visit to Medinet Habu.

Carter’s study

Real or replica?

Of course there were other entertainments besides the antiquities: a stroll through the garden of the Winter Palace Hotel, with its unique plants and lovely hoopoes. Home-made ice cream at Wenkie’s, with their special flavours of date, doum and hibiscus. Book shopping at Aboudi Bookstore (behind Luxor Temple, with drinks and snacks to be enjoyed upstairs at Aboudi Coffee Break), AA Gaddis Bookshop (in front of the Winter Palace Hotel) and Aboudy Bookshop (opposite the Steigenberger Hotel), with its many second-hand books and post cards. Rounded off with souvenir shopping at the souk and at Habiba Gallery, run by a delightful Australian lady who sometimes misses the ocean. There was plenty of time for pasta and tiramisu at Pizza Roma, Egyptian cuisine at Sofra, and copious Egyptian meals at Marsam, Amon Hotel and al-Fayrouz on the West Bank.

The Winter Palace garden

Delicious ice cream at Wenkie’s

Books at AA Gaddis

The gentlemen of Aboudy Bookshop

Habiba Gallery at the souk

Chicken curry at Amon Hotel

Artwork at Marsam

In short: Luxor was charming as ever, and the Luxor Pass is a great invention. I really hope that an atmosphere of leisurely bustle can be maintained, without it becoming too crowded, but with plenty of tourists to keep business going. Luxor deserves it!

The colossi by night

The pyramids of Dahshur from the sky