Where We Be
The pool at the Meridien Luxor offers a modern oasis with views to the Nile and the west bank. Heavenly!
Luxor, Egypt -- East Bank "Bonus Day"
Look how closely packed these enormous columns are
What a treat to wander through the Great Hypostyle Hall once more
Our second visit to Karnak gave us the chance to look for unusual photo angles
We love nothing more than a "bonus day" to explore
on our own an amazing sight like Karnak Temple
Explorations near sunset let us capture the interplay of sunlight
and shadow on this stone column with papyrus etching
Hieroglyphics with papyrus leaves -- How much more Egyptian can you get?
We wandered to parts of the temple complex less often visited
If we hadn't explored on our own, we would have missed these views across the Sacred Lake to Queen Hatshepsut's obelisk
Flowering vines droop from the balconies
The view down to the large tiled courtyard from our second-floor room at the Meridien Luxor
The fee to enter Karnak on your own is quite low --
20 Egyptian pounds (about $4 US) when we visited
Doorway view of Queen Hatshepsut's obelisk
Our favorite view of Karnak Temple Complex, from the far side of the Sacred Lake
Egyptian priests stood in this exact same spot before purifying themselves
Our horse-and-buggy driver insists on waiting
for us while we explore Karnak Temple, then he
takes us on the return trip, but hardly in a direct
line. Instead we find ourselves in the midst of
Luxor's central market as dusk falls. This is the
real deal, where the locals shop. Our horse
clops through narrow alleys with vendor stalls
crowded to either side. Men with turbans
smoke sheesha pipes at outdoor cafes and
women purchase food for dinner. At a butcher’s
shop we watch three men struggle mightily to
attach an entire cow’s carcass to a meat hook
hanging just outside the shop. We get a
glimpse inside a mosque of men bowing and
praying. Narrow side alleys sport hundreds of
fluttering triangular flags, their meaning
unknown to us. Bowls brimming with colorful
spices fill vendor stalls. It's intoxicating to be
virtually the only tourists making their way
through Luxor marketplace at night.

We pass a shop and our driver insists we get
out and take a look around. "Just look," he
assures us. Okay, we look, and we end up
buying a pretty piece of papyrus artwork and
some perfume for our moms. So much for just
looking. Our driver stops once again at a spice
store. The spice merchant has us smell each
spice by rubbing it with his finger against our
palms. He asks us to try to identify what each
spice is. Confidingly, he whispers in my ear so I
can impress Robin with my great knowledge.
Cardamom, I say -- and what a surprise, I'm
right. Coriander. Red saffron. Oregano. Robin is
duly impressed before being let in on the
secret. Of course by the end of all this we've
purchased five small bags of spices. We
manage to barter the price down from a
ridiculously high 350 Egyptian pounds to 85
(about $14). I have no idea if this is a good deal
or not (probably not), but what the heck.

I tell the driver, "Please, no more stops, we're
out of money," and it's not far from the truth in
terms of what we've brought with us. He nods
pleasantly and we continue on our way, clip
clopping through back alleys and poorly lit
streets that are alternately packed with people
and alarmingly empty. In one dark alleyway our
only company is a stray cat bounding over a
stone wall. But we finally find ourselves within
sight of the Luxor Meridien. We've been gone
much longer than expected, but we can hardly
regret it because we've had such an adventure.

Now all that's left is haggling with the driver. A
ride that was supposed to cost 20 Egyptian
pounds round-trip (a very low sum we never
expected to pay) has now blossomed into 100
Egyptian pounds. The driver would like more, of
course, but that's all he's going to get because
it's all I have left in my wallet after all the stops
we've made. In any case, we're quite sure he's
getting a cut from the shops we visited. In the
end, the $20 US we spend isn't much, especially
when you consider the ride to and from Karnak,
the long wait at the temple, and the “bonus
detour" through the marketplace that we didn’t
ask for but did enjoy. They say it's good to stay
open to unexpected experiences when you're
traveling, and this was certainly an unexpected
but highly memorable experience.
There is so much to see and do in Luxor that
we're very glad to have two extra days here.
After a relaxing morning poolside, we're ready
to explore Karnak Temple again, this time on
our own. We take a horse and buggy to the
temple and have several hours to explore at a
relaxed pace. We start at Avenue of Sphinxes
again but take it more slowly this time. There
are two small temples near the entrance, for
example, that we enter for the first time, one
honoring Ramses III, the "Last Great Pharaoh."

I can never get enough of the Great Hypostyle
Hall, so I'm glad to wander through it more than
once. But our favorite experience is walking
around the Sacred Lake, just off the second
axis of the temple. There are no tourists here
besides us -- a surprise since the views are
fantastic looking back over the artificial lake to
the immense complex of Karnak. Robin stands
atop a short flight of stone stairs leading down
to the lake, knowing hundreds of priests from
ancient times have stood in exactly this same
spot before heading down to purify themselves.

Back at the temple’s second axis, we join other
tourists in circling three times clockwise
around a statue of a scarab, which is supposed
to bring good luck. Seven times around is said
to get a woman pregnant; we keep it to three!
Late afternoon sunlight bathes this ancient doorway in soft light
Exploring Luxor's Central Market
Start of our horse and buggy ride from the hotel to Karnak