31 January 2012]
The schedule for today was:
I was sound asleep when the pre-programmed 4.15am alarm call came on the phone. So although I’d agreed to get out of bed to lift the receiver, Janet did it. That gave us plenty of time to get ready and go down for breakfast at 5.30am. Had to make do with Rice Krispies, then toast (some with Marmite, some with marmalade), and coffee, because the bacon, sausages, etc., that I wanted to eat hadn’t been put out yet. Janet checked with Reception that it was OK to sit with me when she wasn’t having breakfast, and they gave us breakfast for free! We checked out just before 6am and waited in the Reception area for the “shuttle bus”: a minibus which we shared with another couple. They were flying from a different terminal from us to Australia. The driver charged us £6. The terminal was a vast, bustling place, initially confusing as to what we should do and where we should go. We saw a counter signed “Thomson Airways”, though, so headed for that. There was no-one in the “snake” of barriers, so we bypassed it, and only one or two in front at the counter; then a helpful and friendly lady checked our hold-luggage in. The cases weighed only ca.15kg each so we had 5kg to spare (my scales at home, then, were reasonably accurate; I suspect that they under-weigh a bit). The lady gave us boarding cards and pointed us in the right direction: up escalators to the first floor, to the security check — slightly longer queue there, but not much delay. The man asked me if I had a laptop computer, which I had to remove from the bag for it to be sent through separately. Bag, belt, coins, keys, etc., went through the X-ray scanner on a tray to be collected on the other side, and I went through a sort of glass door (magnetic resonance scanner?). I didn’t set off any alarms — neither did Janet — so there we were: through in a very few minutes. So there was no real need to check in three whole hours in advance! On this side were shops — high-street brands and a duty-free — and cafés, a bureau de change, and farther along “gates” and their corresponding waiting areas, etc. We had a drink at one of the cafés, looked in shops, bought batteries from Dixon’s because I’d forgotten to bring spares for my camera, and sat and waited near our gate. The time passed by fairly quickly — didn’t seem to drag. A frequent visitor to Luxor who had an apartment there advised us. She had arthritis, so went to that warmer clime “to recharge” as often as business back here allowed. Eventually we joined the queue to be allowed on board. The seats in front of us were unoccupied, so because there was a woman to the right of us on the booked seats we moved there. During taxiing and take-off Janet closed her eyes. She told me she wept. I was occupied with the excitement — the sights, sounds and sensations — of taxiing and take-off. I held her hand a bit later. The announcement came that we would fly over (Corsica, I think) and the toe of Italy, before crossing the Mediterranean and proceeding along the Nile. We sat over the left wing. I seem to remember from flying previously that some movement up and down of the wing was visible, but this one seemed rigid. The engine seemed to nod a very small amount when we hit occasional turbulence, though.
- 09:30–17:05 Thomson Airways flight TOM668 from Manchester to Luxor
We were given cards to complete, with headings in English to the left, and Arabic to the right, and a “watermark”-style picture of Nefertiti on it: visa application forms. Janet gave me her passport, and I completed her card and mine. We flew over cloud for most of the journey: clouds in a sort of vast pattern of cotton-wool blobs, clouds in billows, and continuous cloud like a blanket, at different times. (I thought the cloud would disappear over the Egyptian desert, but it persisted there.) I saw on the horizon poking out above the clouds a row of mountains, which got closer till we flew over them. You’d have thought at one point that the clouds were snow and we were flying over Antarctica. Then it was all mountains, no cloud. Then quite suddenly we were passing over the coast, then there was a blanket of clouds below us.
I noticed the moon out of the window.
12:27:58 Some idea of the position of the moon relative to the horizon
It was cool on the aircraft so I was glad I wore my long-sleeved pullover from yesterday. Two aircraft flew by in the opposite direction, one some seconds after the other. I photographed the second.
Ca.1.40pm, it was announced that the flight had 1hr 15min to go. A bit later I saw reddish land below, which I took to be sand, then reddish land with bodies of water in it which seemed to go on forever. Could this be the “sand bars of Syrtis” that Luke wrote about?[i]
- [i] What I perceived as “bodies of water” were more
than likely shadows of the clouds.
Janet thought she recognised a woman two rows in front of us, but when she asked her, it turned out she’d been on the TV food “reality”-show Come Dine With Me. Ca.2.20pm the announcement came that we were about to go down the Nile. We would approach Luxor from the south. Nothing but cloud was visible, though, most of the rest of the way. 2.26pm: Saw a stretch of water, though very hazy, with obvious signs of human works at the left edge. The shore seemed just sand — so where were the fertile strips Mrs. Jackson told us about in Class 4? After that, through the haze I glimpsed mountainous terrain.
14:32:16 Sandy, hilly terrain through the haze
It was after we had to belt up and switch off anything electrical that we flew through craggy, sandy-coloured mountains which seemed quite close. By now we were decelerating and losing height. It was overcast and distinctly cool when we emerged and boarded the transit bus to the terminal. We found our way to the visa application desks. We were charged £10 each, which we were able to scrape together. We hadn’t counted on needing much sterling currency. They would accept pounds sterling, dollars, euros, but not Egyptian pounds (which I had plenty of). When we proceeded to a barrier, the first word I recognised, on a poster on a pillar, was «Здравствуйте» — strange, because we quickly learned that our Egyptian hosts, and other guests who’d been here before, hated Russian tourists because of their rudeness, arrogance and antisocial behaviour. (This write-up has been done bit by bit. The bit immediately foregoing was written 3 Feb. 2012.) At the barrier a man looked at our passports and rubber-stamped the visa sticker that had been put in the passports.
Visa with “arrival” stamp (upside-down) dated “2012 February –1” and “departure” stamp (also upside-down) dated “2012 February 15”
Beyond there was the luggage carousel. Our first case arrived fairly quickly, then the second seemed to take a long time. As we waited, an Egyptian who introduced himself as David caught up with us. Janet had seen him with the sign “Cooper” in the first part of the terminal, but thought that was the name of the tour operator — not us! He had a luggage trolley with him. He was very friendly, as all our host Egyptians have proved to be. He led us to a minibus, and we had a mini-tour of Luxor on the way to the boat. This was an experience! Most of the motorised vehicles travel on the right, but riders of mopeds, bicycles, donkeys (we only saw one guy ride a horse), donkey-drawn carts, horse-drawn carts, etc., go on whichever side they choose! We passed a horse being transported on the back of a lorry. Our road crossed an avenue of sphinxes that led to Karnak Temple, which we also passed. David also pointed out another temple: “That’s Luxor Temple, and there’s the American Temple.” We weren’t quite attune to his humour, but he meant the branch of McDonald’s that’s there. As we walked from the minibus to the boat, we heard many very noisy, chattering birds in bushes as we passed, and wondered what they were. Not starlings, but what? (Sparrows, we thought a day or two later.) And there was an ibis wading at the water’s edge between the boat and the quay. The muezzin of a mosque somewhere was chanting. We walked up a gangplank onto one boat then through that to a second moored against it. We were offered a sweet red drink — which Janet later suggested was made of hibiscus petals — which Janet declined and I accepted, and sat on a settee. Then we were given a door key and one of the staff carried our cases to the room. I enquired when the information session would be: 7.30pm in the lounge bar two decks up. So we went there an hour or so before time. I ordered two Pepsi Diet at the bar (it was in fact Coca Cola Zero when the waiter brought it), and was asked to show my plastic wristband — which confused me. When I didn’t have one, someone came along later to get me to sign a chit (the drinks were fourteen Egyptian pounds each). Many others came into the bar, who had wristbands, and later some reps appeared — but they were Thomson ones. So it turned out that the “wristband” people were Thomson. When the rep came to us and asked us our names and it became clear that we weren’t on her list, we asked her what was happening with the Hayes and Jarvis passengers; she didn’t know, said she would find out afterwards, and told us we were welcome to sit in on their session — which we did. Afterwards, she did come back to us: our rep had been delayed on a train from Cairo, and was expected ca.9.00pm. We went down to the lowermost deck below for dinner, and were seated at a table with a Scottish couple — Drew and Ruby — about our age. He had a “seasoned traveller” air of confidence when dealing with the waiter, whereas we were quite deferential. One served oneself: there was a variety of hot foods in covered bains-marie on one side of a long table in the centre of the room; salad items, and sweets and fruit, and other things, elsewhere on that table (the other side and ends); breads in various shapes and sizes, seeded, plain, and sweet, on a separate table; and a chef appeared who cooked things on a hotplate at one end of the food-serving area (the opposite end to where the entrance was) — on other days, other cooking devices were used; on some other days another chef also cooked (e.g. stir-fried) food next to the bread table. Ca.8.40pm, we finished dinner. Ahmed our Egyptian guide arrived shortly afterwards; we saw him standing at the reception-desk as we were heading for our cabin and guessed it was he. He said he wanted to meet us in the lounge bar at 9.00pm to give us an outline of the programme for the week. So we found Drew and Ruby and informed them. When we gathered there and sat, he told us about optional trips, also what was the plan for tomorrow: a trip to visit the west bank; then setting sail for Esna, reaching there in the evening and transferring by coach to the Jaz Regency. The boat we were presently on was the Jaz Legacy, for the Jaz Regency, the one we should have been on, was on the other side of the lock at Esna, stranded there by a workers’ sit-in. There was another couple in our Hayes and Jarvis party, but their flight had been delayed and they wouldn’t arrive till after midnight. We retired to our cabin after that: 214, on the same deck as the reception desk. There were two large single beds pushed together.
2 February 2012]