Sarah Coles



AirEgypt to Cairo – all fine except it was Muslim and dry so no chance to down the vino, dreamily floating over the clouds below.

IMG_4195Cairo airport at 10pm, get visa, then luggage collection, except as everyone’s vast suitcase popped onto the carrousel, Bob’s did not. Other travellers dispersed, and there was just us and another man minus luggage, and a few weary officials. They were concerned, and pointed us to one desk, which said we should be at another office at the other end of this vast concourse. They searched cubby holes and rooms: nothing. Then an official pointed at the carrousel, there! he said, they were there all the time. Oh yes …!

So, a taxi to the shabby airport Novotel, and a vast shabby room with lobby with spare beds, and to an empty restaurant where they willingly served falafel and rice and a glass of wine..

Then to the Barcelo hotel at Giza near the pyramids. It’s nice ( & great late in life to always go to decent hotels, thank you Bob), modern glitz, even a outdoor pool several floors up where the attendant who thinks himself a sports coach tells me how to swim, down and up, gasp, down and breath out, and so on. Very kind and I am sure correct, but when swimming as shown I can only splutter and my only use for a swimming pool is to breast stroke up and down in a mindless trance, in sun and warm water.  About £90 a night, a lot for Egypt – you can’t tell whether it is cheaper booking on line, or coming in and asking at Reception – it varies.   After lunch, take hotel taxi to Giza station, where the driver escorts me nannyishly, ‘don’t have your money on show’ etc, to a wooden hut, the office for the de luxe overnight sleepers to Luxor and Aswan. The walls hang with glamorous posters of a dining car and couchettes. Four young men sit opposite me and stare and stare. Eventually, two tickets paid in 90 euros each – hard currency is essential – for Luxor.


A day or two later, a taxi to Giza station, crowded. Off one train goes, another comes and goes, then ours and into our de luxe carriage, rather falling to bits with dining car defunct and our little couchette with the odd handle missing and the seat keeps falling down into a bunk. Kind comptroller tries to fix it, then ushers us into another cabin because he can’t. Warmish supper supplied on a tray which we balance on our knees, can’t remember what it was but we didn’t eat much. Comptroller drops down our bunks, fixing a ladder for me to climb and crawl into upper berth – nice clean sheets. The train hoots through the night. Woken at 5.30, given tea, Bob bitten by bed bugs, red pin pricks and blood on his ankle.


IMG_4100It’s not dawn when we reach Luxor station, grandly built pre-war in the Pharaonic style, and we stagger out. Price agreed for taxi, and off we go IMG_4141to the Steigenburger Nile Palace, entering it to the delicate song of the muezzin. Immaculate receptionist tells us to sit, then comes and tells us gently as if announcing a relative’s demise that the booking I made on the internet is the price for Egyptian residents and nationals, not us. Eventually Bob hands over a £50 note, so, we are here for a week.

Room has more a Nile squint than the view I paid for, but it’s nice and large and we collapse into bed and sleep. A week here, eating in the Italian restaurant or the Lebanese for supper – waiter Hamdi asks me to post his photo on Tripadviser, but his face comes out black like a negative. (That’s the difficulty photographing black people, their features, nose, mouth etc are not picked up by the camera.) Dawn glimpses of milky white Nile and misty blur of mountains, later view of blue Nile, feluccas, and sharp mountains.  The girl at the bar is humming Lara’s Theme from Dr Zhivago, and our corridor has massive photo of Omar Sharif.  Of course!  Egypt’s great Hollywood export.

IMG_4327 (Edited)Then to the Garden Pavilion of the Winter Palace Hotel (nearer to Luxor IMG_4410 (Edited)Temple and the ferry) where our desk has an arrowed sticker saying ‘Quibla direction’ for our prayers to Mecca, and a wide balcony overlooking a garden of Eden where we can see through the trees two minarets, each like a pencil carved into lace. Hoopoos, bulbuls, hooded crows, turtle doves purr, others go chirrup thripthripthrip. Lawn immaculate as Chelsea, curiously bouncy, and tended by twelve gardeners. Palms. Ficus. Green papayas hang like the multiple breasts of Artemis of Ephesus. At breakfast under a IMG_4497IMG_4359 (Edited)IMG_4354 (Edited)canopy I watch our elves working, watering, sweeping silently. In the main building up theatrical steps are vast ancient public rooms with shabby gilt furniture, chandeliers, faded carpets, and brown velvet curtains looped like a dowager’s dress. All quiet, grand and oddly less expensive (about £45 a night for the two of us including breakfast). Few tourists anywhere – because, there are hardly any direct flights to Luxor.

A party of women arrive for a Business Women’s Conference, they’re wealthy (one says she just loves London and the park view from her Bayswater flat), overweight, wearing bling galore golds and pearls and earrings like doubloons and, how they laugh at breakfast, what fun they are having, how they wipe tears from their eyes, then off, shaking again – I can’t imagine a male conference looking so twinkly or having such fun.

So, nearly a month in Luxor. The daily Egyptian Gazette gives not only prices of gold (26th February, 24 carat is 746 a gramme) and exchange rates (£1 sterling is E£ 24.60), but prayer times with calls from the minarets.




Fajr – dawn 4.58 am

Dhuhur – noon 12.08 pm

Asr – afternoon 3.24 pm

Maghrib – sunset 5.52 pm

Isha – evening 7.09 pm

Something magical about the floating songs of dawn call, and through the day praying and moving in perfect time to the sun and its slow shadows. Though on Friday the main square by Aboudi’s coffee shop (shut but IMG_4127 (Edited)usually with an upstairs view of Luxor Temple and the mosque) is filled with ranting voices from the Abu al-Haggag mosque = cacophony. Baksheesh essential, for swimming attendant, waiters (oh so charming) tomb guardians etc, so, at an Arab money office I change about £40 into a massive wad of 5, 10 and 20 Egyptian pounds. Handy. But before this, when I tried to get a caleche, I only had £E100, about £4, and the driver said he’d no change and his friends drew around and had no change, then one said ‘I have change’, took my note and ran off. Well … Oddly, I felt sorry for him.

Egyptians and language!  Feel 100% safe in streets, but the touts and traders are desperate for money, and gabble away as if they had all the time in the world,  It’s as though they have no concept for verbal exchange as the west understands it – as though words are counters, and you toss them around as you feel like it, or where it may be to your advantage.  Haggling is typical.  It’s all good natured lies and fairy talk.  So, I bought most of my cushion covers (traditional tent designs) (thank you charming young man!) at a set price in the hotel, for a third the price of those bought through hopeless and unhappy haggling in the souk.

Sail (E£l = less than 5p) to the West Bank on the public IMG_4614ferry which has bits falling off, a broken pink rubbish IMG_4489IMG_4492basket tied to a railing, prow curved like a vessel of the Pharaohs, I make it sound dreadful but it’s wonderful.  One day Bob has his shoes cleaned, which he is v. pleased about. Down the clanking gangway to the crowded lower deck, and up steps to the canopied IMG_4294upper deck with benches and we sit looking at Luxor temple and the water swaying in khaki & blue & dazzle patches, or the pink mountains on the far side, hazy early in the morning.  On the first day a tout pursued us, crossed the river with us – he had such a harsh unhappy face for one so young – and then when we disembarked he kept after us, standing in our way, warning other touts to back off, we belonged to him. B found a taxi driver but the tout shouted You give me some of their fare – I presume – and the driver grabbed him by the galabia and shook him. Never saw the tout again. Our routine emerged – Abdul alternate days – except for Friday mosque – drove us to the ticket office in the middle of nowhere and then to the tombs or temple of the day.


Elaine who we met on our last Luxor visit arrives for a drink. She is wealthy Nottingham working class, blousy and in her 60ties and sends emails in misspelt capitals. We sit outside so she can smoke and Bob orders her a gin and tonic – and then the manager rushes out and asks her, who’s paying for this? B quickly says, I am. She tells us of a fracas she had, when she ordered a double or was it triple Remy Martin. When the bill came (= about £6O) she didn’t have the cash and accused the hotel of swindling her. Police were called. I think, heavens, she was quite brave coming here again! She and her young Egyptian husband, ‘the Nijinsky of Egypt’ are now divorced, and she has a husband her age, ‘proper papers this time’, who’s ill in Cairo, where she too has been ill with coronary trouble. Later she rings us sounding slurred. Let me tell you, Sarah, Egyptian men are only interested in two things, sex and money. She repeats this. I say Really, and she mimics me back in a pseudo upper class voice, Rheeally. She intrigues me but …

Kings Island, about a couple of miles up river, with the Movenpik Jolie Ville reached over a bridge – security sweep a metal plate under the taxi. Place is covered with hexagonal double storeyed chalets, the nicest facing the Nile, and Richard and Sally Pim waxed lyrical over it all, the birds, the puddings, sitting with their books by the pool or on their patio, having a trip with their Abdul to the desert, and other islands with birds, plus (I was envious of this) to his home which Sally said apart from a very low divan was free of furniture. A few oldies like us, occasional coaches of Egyptians there for a night, or two max, and I walk round this vast almost empty holiday resort, with a multiple activity routine pinned to a board, and there is a heron and little palm doves and gold striped lizards sneaking along. But in all a bit boring, masses of chalets and curvy paths. There used to be a regular boat down to central Luxor and back, but no more. I walk round the island, which is more fun, getting outside the manicured resort and walking dirt paths with huts and a sandy cliff darting with luminous green bee eaters, fields of crops and a stretch of marsh with goggle eyed plovers, and crops, and a fisherman in his canoe as silent and solitary as a painting by Puvis de Chavannes. I am spotted and a young man comes bounding over. I can’t understand a word and I retreat within resort confines. Should learn Arabic.


Time to go home.  On our last day, I take a photo of Abdul with Bob, and then he gives me scratchy kisses on both cheeks, and grabs Bob and kisses him too.  ‘It was like being kissed by a porcupine’ he says.  Then, ‘I’ve never been kissed by a taxi driver in my life before.

Woken at 3.45, roll our little wheelies (soon grabbed by a porter) to a taxi and whisked through the gloom to the airport. Frisked twice before getting on the plane – they are as appalled by terrorists as any country in the west. From the air watch dawn, the streak of gold, then the miraculous sun rising to flood a vast cloud field with light, which on the horizon it becomes like a horned mountain range. So many miracles. IMG_4698Cairo, frisked again, twice, before boarding the plane to Heathrow. Steve meets us.

Arabesque appliqué cushions lie in the sitting room, and every time I see them they look more beautiful.




Comments are closed.

Copyright Sarah Coles 2018
Privacy Policy
Website Design & Creation Forum Media and Design - Alresford