When you are in Luxor for a longer period, say for study or an archaeological excavation, it may be useful to know where to find special products and services to keep you going during your work. For your convenience, I have compiled a list of favourite places:
There are three principal bookshops in Luxor, all on the East Bank. Both Aboudi’s are run by members of the same family, though they are not on best terms with each other (Luxor is a small community). Each of the bookshops has its own merits.
Centrally located behind Luxor Temple, this is my favourite bookshop because it is well-organized, has a great stock, and sells many AUC Press books. You will be able to get your fill of guides, travel writing and Egyptology books, but also language training, novels by contemporary Egyptian authors and Egypt-related fiction. The upper floor is devoted to souvenirs. After browsing, treat yourself to a McArabia next door at McDonalds, or a Frozen Chocolate at Snack Time (the Egyptian equivalent of fastfood), to be enjoyed on the balcony overlooking the temple.
Aboudi Bookshop behind Luxor Temple
Located around the corner to the Passport Office in Al-Gawazat or Passport Street, this branch also sells second-hand books and many postcards. As English books are scarce in Luxor, this is a good place to browse for a nice Agatha Christie while you wait for your visa. Be sure to get an ice cream at Wenkies in the same street. Run by a German couple, they serve home-made ice cream and a number of special flavours. For some true relaxation (and you know you have several hours to kill while waiting for your passport), go for a massage at the wonderful spa around the corner (see also below).
Finally, there is a bookshop in front of the Winter Palace Hotel. Partly a gift shop, it also sells Egypt-related books and novels, and has a fine collection of black-and-white photos. After browsing, be sure to stroll through the beautiful garden of the Winter Palace, spot some hoopoes, and marvel at exotic trees. Or take your newly-bought books and read them by the heated pool at the end of the garden where you can spend a lovely day for about 10 euros.
A hoopoe in the garden of the Winter Palace Hotel
There are not a lot of supermarkets in Luxor, and it’s always good to know where to find such basics as brown bread, Nutella and a Vodafone sim card.
For ‘western’ supermarket products, try Arkwrights (St Joseph Street) on the East Bank, or Yara Market (near the ferry, next to the bus station) on the West Bank. Here you should be able to find Twinings Tea, McVitie’s Digestives and Nutella, or at least its equivalant, Nussa. The latter you will need to put on the delicious brown bread you can find at Atta Bakery (near the stables, on the nameless street that runs off from the ferry road on the left side and runs parallel to it for a while). Here you can also buy delicious donuts, french pastry and christmas cookies, depending on the season and what’s on offer. The baker has worked for a large hotel chain. Ask what has been freshly baked, and treat yourself!
The baker with his amazing christmas cookies
Not unimportantly if you want to call for Egyptian rates, plan a little expedition to the Vodafone shop in Television Street to buy a sim card for a couple of euros. Be sure to bring your passport, as a copy is needed for the application form, and some patience, as the wait can be long (especially on Friday). Check if the sim card is working and top up your credit while you’re there (although credit can be bought just about anywhere). I always bring a spare phone to Egypt, a sturdy old Nokia, for the purpose of using my Egyptian sim card. That way you can keep using your regular (smart)phone for wifi without having to change sim cards.
Shampoo, tooth paste, pain killers, supplements and all kinds of anti-allergy products can be found at the countless pharmacies. Just act out your ailment by scratching, coughing or pointing to the affected area with the corresponding facial expression (I can do ‘sun allergy’ and ‘vitamin C deficiency’), and see what they give you. Usually it’s a perfectly acceptable remedy for a fraction of the price you pay at home. If you really feel like you’re dying, you can always call a doctor (someone around you should know a reliable one) and get any number of potions and/or injections. You will never know what they contained, but you will be up and running again in no-time.
A good lunch restaurant on the East Bank is Oasis Palace (Dr Labib Habashi Street), a Victorian-style mansion where you are served freshly-pepared food until you’re completely full. I tasted a delicious chocolate cake here for dessert. A refreshing drink during lunch is always lemon juice (‘limoon’). On the West Bank, in between sight-seeing, be sure to stop at Marsam which is an oasis in itself. Delicious food is served in a palm-shaded garden overlooking the fields, where you can spot the Memnon Colossi in the distance. It is part of an hotel that houses many archaeologists during the winter digging season.
Delicious lunch at Marsam
Dinner can be enjoyed at one of the hotels on the West Bank, such as Amon (with the tropical garden), Sheherazade (a fairytale-style hotel) and Nile Valley (which has great chicken curry). On the East Bank, be sure to try the classic Egyptian-style Sofra (Mohammed Farid Street). With its oriental tiles and inlaid furniture it has great ambience, and the fresh juices are delicious (my favourite is pomegranate, but I’m told you have to like it). The food is Egyptian chique, meaning tasty mezze (such tahina! such baba ganoush!) and lovely stews (bones included, side order of rice not included). For a taste of Italy, head to Pizza Roma (St Joseph Street), which serves wonderful pizzas, pastas and when there is mascarpone to be found in Luxor, delicious tiramisu for dessert.
One of my less favourite activities, it is nevertheless necessary to renew your visa after a while. The visa you bought at the airport is valid for one month, but then you still have two weeks to renew it. So in practice, if you’re staying less than one and a half months, you won’t have to renew your visa. If you do, here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Be sure to bring your passport, two copies of the principal page, two copies of the visa page, two passport photos, and an obcsure amount such as 11,5 Egyptian pounds. Obtaining the copies is easy, as there are copy shops in the neighbourhood of the passport office. Photos should also pose no problem (don’t mind too much about the quality). You will find that the moment you need it, no one in Luxor will have change, but things will be easier when you buy something at a shop.
- Enter the crowded passport office (Khalid ibn al-Walid Street, opposite the expensive hotels) and head straight to desk no. 8. Spread out your collection of photos, copies and the right amount of pounds, and fill in the A3-sized form you receive. Tips: ‘Christian’ is an easier religion to understand than something obscure or leaving it blank. ‘Student’ and ‘tourism’ are my favourite occupations that everyone gets. After handing in your materials, you’re probably told to come back as late as one or even two o’clock.
- Now it’s time for the activities described under ‘Aboudi 2’: visiting book shops, eating ice cream, getting a massage or exploring the city before you return to pick up your freshly-stamped passport.
It’s a bit of a drag to find out the prices of taxis and motor boats each time you’re in Luxor, but it will save you a lot of haggling in the end. At the time of writing, 1 euro was worth 8,5-9 Egyptian pounds, and the prices were about the following:
Ferry, one-way: 25 piastres for women, 50 for men (whatever the ticket sellers say).
Motor boat across the Nile: 5 LE straight, more when you want to go for example from the ferry landing on the West Bank to Karnak Temple (25-30 LE).
Taxi: 10-15 LE for a short ride, for example from the ferry landing on the East Bank to the Passport Office.
But please take into account inflation, the increasing price of gasoline, and the fact that it’s all extremely cheap anyway.
Motor boats along the West Bank
I would like to make a special mention of Arabian Glow Beauty Spa, which opened a couple of months ago around the corner in Passport Street. Run by the lovely Emma from England and her husband Waleed from Cairo, you will be sure to receive excellent care and professional treatment. The small spa is enirely clean and very cosy, and forms the perfect place for utter relaxation. How about a stress relief massage where your back, neck and shoulders are treated with the finest oils? Or a cinnamon sugar scrub after a honey foot bath? Reading the brochure alone is relaxing, and they often have special offers. You will want to return here every week.
Next year I’ll write about places to study (Chicago House, Kent Weeks Library) and the illustrious Moudira restaurant. Do you have any tips? Be sure to let me know!