Sarah and I got up at about the crack of dawn. Well, I'd set the alarm to wake us at 4:00am, on the basis that with the taxi due at 5:00am, we'd need the time for a shower. In the event, Sarah couldn't get any hot water, and even if we had been able to, I frankly didn't fancy faffing around with the complex mechanics of the shower at Rita's, so we did without and just settled for packing what little still needed to be packed, and then killed time until the cab arrived. Rita awoke and said her goodbyes to us, and we briefed her on the need to get the proxy vote forms in to Three Rivers District Council by tomorrow evening at the latest, and then we were off, me Tweeting occassionally.
We were slightly worried that, even though he was using a satnav, the cabbie seemed confused by the instructions for getting onto the M25. Mind you, they were in American - turn right on the rotary???! Tch. To be honest, I was also rather wistfully saddened by what modern technology has done to cabbies; The Knowledge must now consist of where to find the local branch of Halfords, and what the best make and model of Satnav is...
We nevertheless made it to Gatwick Airport in good time - I think the journey took us about an hour. On the bright side that meant we got check-in and security checks out of the way nice and early. On the negative side...well, as Douglas Adams said, "it can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression 'As pretty as an airport.'". Admittedly, there are probably far worse places to kill a couple of hours than the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport, but on the other hand once you've grabbed a light breakfast (cheese and tomato panini with a cup of tea) from Frankie & Benny's, there's a limit to the number of times you can keep heading back to WH Smith's and HMV, particularly when your account is a couple of quid off its overdraft limit. (Note to self - must get a copy of Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley..)
The cover of Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley, based on the BBC TV Series of the same name.
At about 9:00am, the gate for our plane opened and we all shuffled on board. It wasn't, if I'm honest, the most enjoyable flight in the world - everybody seems to be agreed that the plane was small and uncomfortable. However, what it lacked in comfort it made up for in brevity - the flight was a mere five hours, during which Sarah slept whilst I whiled away the time watching episodes of Chuck series 3 - episodes 5 (Chuck Versus First Class), 6 (Chuck Versus the Nacho Sampler), 7 (Chuck Versus the Mask), and 8 (Chuck Versus the Fake Name). I'll hopefully watch the rest of the ones I've got on my iPhone on the way home on Friday week.
We touched down at Luxor International Airport at about 1:30pm local time (allowing for the one hour time difference, we'd had a five hour journey), and were shuffling off the plane by a quarter of an hour later. We were informed that it was 38 degrees. My wilting body concurred with this assessment. It was rather achingly hot. Still, you go to Egypt, you have to expect - and learn to cope with - high temperatures.
We were taken by bus over to the terminal building, where we met the rep from Eastmar (the receiving company in Egypt for The Classic Traveller, through whom we've booked this holiday), and then joined the "queue" for passport control. That's "queue" in a very loose sense of the word. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it was rather disorganised, and at one point another group of people "joined" (i.e. pushed into) the main "queue". Still, it was fairly fast-moving, and once that was done we didn't have too long to wait for the baggage carousel to dispense our bags, after which we rejoined the Eastmar rep and met up with some of the other folks we're going to be spending the next ten days with.
Once we'd all gathered together, we were taken to a coach which took us from the airport to the Eastmar dock, about ten minutes drive away. The scenery we passed en route was rather surprising to me - when I think of Egypt, I think of sand and deserts, but although most of Egypt is indeed such, the *inhabited* portion is about 4% of the country, a narrow strip either side of the Nile occupied by some 77 million people. Although tourism is these days the nation's main industry, agriculture is also important - canals feeding off the Nile help to irrigate the land; the areas we passed through were surprisingly lush and verdant. In Luxor, at least, we were told that harvesting and processing sugar cane was a major part of the economy.
At the dock, we boarded the boat, M/S Ra, that would be our home for the next week. Titanic it ain't, but nevertheless it's a very comfortable place to be staying. The rooms aren't large, but are on the right side of "compact and bijou", which for what they contain (two beds, chair, coffee table, writing desk and stool, fridge, TV, fitted wardrobe, and a little table that we used to store our bags) is quite impressive. They're light and airy, especially when the curtains and balcony door are open. The balcony door doesn't actually lead to a balcony per se, but to a narrow strip of metal on which it's just about possible to stand and watch as the Nile goes by. Possible, but not necessariy a good idea.
The M/S Ra, our home for the week on the Nile.
As soon as Sarah and I had been shown to our room, pretty much the first thing we did was to shower and generally clean up, making up for not having done so back in England. This left us feeling much fresher, more awake, and generally ready to face what was left of the day. We also 'phoned our respective mothers, who were pleasantly surprised to hear from us, and spent a bit of time up on the sun deck. The sun had set by this point (it was about 6:30pm), but it was very pleasant nevertheless to sit up there gazing out at the stars (and possibly Venus; certainly one of the celestial bodies we saw was particularly bright, and Sarah suggested it was either Venus or Mars; I'm opting for the former).Dinner was announced at 8:00pm with a gong ("Why do they always have to announce dinner like a damned cavalry charge?"), and consisted of a buffet at which I was able to find a few things which I could cope with eating; this continued to be the case for most of the week, which was a relief. Also, we got to know some of the other folk who are in our group, as well as the man who's going to be our guide while we're on the boat, an Egyptologist by the name of Yahya Lasheen. Our tour group has been named by him "The Royal Family". Our wake up time for tomorrow's visit to the Valley of the Kings is 6:00am. There will be quite a few early starts over the week ahead. I've got to confess, I'm not entirely looking forward to that...