Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to do Luxor

Luxor Temple
Linked within this post are some of the "What Would Katrina Do" adventures - the real-time, solo travels that accompanied me on my research trip when I was writing The Vesuvius Isotope. Also linked are some of the websites for locations mentioned.

They say that Venice is Disneyland for adults. I think you can say the same about Luxor. From filtering through ancient tombs like ants through a child's ant farm, to enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride along the Nile; from relaxing pool-side near a hookah lounge to searching for the hidden papyrus in Luxor Temple, Luxor has something for everyone.

You can arrive in Luxor by flying or by train. Overnight trains from Cairo are efficient and safe, but it is recommended that you avoid the food on them (I certainly did.) Because I was alone, I reserved an overnight cabin for one, which had a good lock and was quite comfortable.
Luxor train

Once you arrive in town, there's a lot to see in the vicinity of Luxor Temple. The area is walkable, but in the 120 degree heat you might want to taxi parts of it. Spend some time exploring the temple itself and check out the impressive avenue of sphinxes that leads to it.

One thing about Egyptian temples that I loved was the tributes to agriculture, and specifically to the papyrus (symbol of lower Egypt) and lotus (symbol of upper Egypt.) Many of the pillars are in the shape of papyrus plants, the sun is often represented as an inverted papyrus plant, and the lotus and papyrus are shown intertwined throughout temple reliefs.
Luxor Temple, featuring Abu al-Haggag Mosque

Another interesting feature of Luxor Temple is the fact that there's a mosque built right on top of it. The temple was once completely buried. The mosque was built on top, and only later were the temple and avenue of sphinxes excavated. But the mosque remains.

Across from the temple is a tourist bazaar and adjacent to that, the Winter Palace Hotel.

Winter Palace Hotel Suite
I stayed at the Winter Palace. I initially booked a "normal" room in the Winter Pavilion, which is a smaller, less opulent hotel next to the palace. Because it is part of the Winter Palace complex, the palace grounds are open to the pavilion. When I arrived, I was upgraded for free to a corner suite in the palace featuring views of the grounds from two sides.
Winter Palace Hotel Grounds
Because I was nearing the end of my Egyptian trip, I found myself feeling a bit lazy (and the Luxor heat didn't help.) So I spent a day in Luxor enjoying the vast swimming pools of the hotel, the beautiful gardens and the hookah lounge. And in the study, trying to follow in the footsteps of Madame Christie, who wrote Death on the Nile here.
Hatshepsut Temple

But I did manage to get out and see Luxor.

An air-conditioned van (thank GOD) takes you around the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and Tombs of the Nobles. You can also visit Hatshepsut Temple, and from there catch a breathtaking view of one of my favorite Egyptian phenomena: the sharp, drastic contrast between lush Nile valley and forbidding desert sand.

Colossi of Memnon
When you visit the tombs of the pharaohs, remember this: each of these tombs was built and decorated in the lifetime of the pharaoh by manual labor alone. POOF! Yep, that was your head exploding. And not only from the heat. Did I mention it's hot in Luxor?

Crossing back from the West Bank to the East Bank of Luxor, you'll probably get to stop for a photo op with the Colossi of Memnon, guards to the long-gone tomb of Amenhotep III. From these statues, the Nile/Desert Contrast Phenomenon is also evident (see above.)

Except for the pyramids, Luxor is probably the most touristy place in Egypt, giving it that "Disneyland" feel. There is always a bit of crowding at the tombs, especially during the "cooler" times of day (which is to say, low 100s instead of 120s.)  But because the Luxor/Thebes sites are so spread out, there is still a lot of solidarity and the feeling of an authentic vacation in an exotic land.

If you're looking for an adult Disneyland that features pharaohs instead of Plutos and ruins instead of rides, look no further than Luxor for an adventure trip of a lifetime.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

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