overnight train from cairo to luxor

The train was interesting -- and eye-opening about the divide between the first world and the third. We decided to take the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor, as internal flights are quite expensive, and we are already taking three of those. The fare includes a sleeper car, dinner, and breakfast, and it ends up saving a night of hotel as well. I also thought the train would be fun.

Locals talk about this train as being very special, because it’s made for tourists. There were many (apparently) Egyptian people waiting for the train, and they were obviously well-off. The Giza train station has two tracks -- one north, one south. There’s no board listing arrivals and departures, and the only clock on the platform is broken, permanently announcing the time as 10:55.

The train itself is run down and dingy. It’s not disgusting, but in Europe it would never pass as first class. Once we got settled in, putting our bags in an overhead storage space, it was all right. Dinner was delivered, airline style. We put two plastic trays into slots to create tray tables. The plastic trays themselves were dirty and worn. I know I’m not eating off them, and they’re not going to hurt me, so I feel uncomfortable even thinking, ew, this is dirty. But I know some of my co-workers wouldn’t touch them.

Dinner seemed like a sad attempt at mimicking an in-flight meal. It also made the cabin impossibly cramped. The attendant soon came to take away the trays, and asked if we wanted the beds down. We stood in the hall while he did this, and were pleasantly surprised by the results. We had more room sitting together in the bottom bunk than we did in the seats. There appeared to be clean, fresh sheets on the beds (this had been a concern of mine), and a small ladder had been placed at one end. The ladder blocked the sink, and didn’t appear to be moveable.

I had imagined that the train motion would be conducive to sleep, but it was very noisy and also herky-jerky. I’m sure we both dozed off and on throughout the night, but it was not at all relaxing. In the morning there was a mad dash for water bottle and toothbrush and scrambling into our clothes. Breakfast consisted of four types of bread-y things -- a white roll, a large croissant, some other sweet pastry, and a slice of cake-bread -- each in its own individual plastic wrapper.

I’m not complaining. I don’t need to eat luxurious breakfasts and I don’t need to sleep in a king-size room. We like to spend less money on hotel rooms and more money on having fun. My only requirements are a clean room, a bed, and a hot shower. So my point is not that I thought this “sleeping train,” as it is called, is beneath my standards. It’s that it is considered first class, and quite expensive, and it was passable, and a bit gross.

Our hotel was supposed to arrange a cab to pick us up at the station. We didn’t realize that the train was an hour late, and we waited a long time for the driver, who had already given up and left. Waiting, here, means being approached constantly by people offering to “help”. It was not a fun way to spend a morning. Yet it turned out to be a terrific day.


allan said...

The overnight train was awful. The cabin was quite small. I am not that tall (5-10) and I could not stretch my legs out without having my feet push up against the opposite side of the cabin. The dinner was edible, but looked absolutely disgusting. It fell well short of the quality of airline food. When I climbed up to the top bunk, I learned that the bed was for a shorter person than I am. I had to lie diagonally so my feet did not hit against the metal bars of the bunk. Also the blanket provided was smelly (Laura thought it had perhaps been damp when put into its plastic bag) and made of a scratchy material. The thin sheet seemed clean and was tucked in tightly on both sides. When untucked, it did not really cover the width of the bed, so remaining covered during the night was a challenge. ... What else? ... The cabin was overly warm and while there was some sort of dial that indicated that it controlled the temperature, it did not appear to do anything. I think I "enjoyed" breakfast more than Laura did, but I don't mind dry, bready items.

Good news! While waiting for our pickup and trying to call the hotel, we were pestered by one taxi driver, who spent many long minutes standing in front of us just staring while we talked to each other and made phone calls. Every so often, he would announce his services - and we would act like he did not exist. Finally, I said "Go away!" and made a motion with my hand like brushing away a fly. He got annoyed and walked away and did not come back. Later, I brushed another person away - and he also acted all insulted before leaving us alone. Amazing! I have found the way to make annoying Egyptian men magically disappear!

laura k said...

I meant to write that I "liked" (or maybe tolerated) the train more than Allan. It's also true that airline food would have been an improvement.

I try not to think of that smelly blanket, as the thought makes me retch.

johngoldfine said...

I smiled reading your description of the bed, Allan. I sleep in what ought to be a comfortable queen size bed with my wife...plus four dogs, two of them 60 pound poodles. Stretching my legs full length would be unimaginable luxury. And try tugging an errant duvet into position under your chin on a chilly night--when it's well and truly anchored at the foot of the bed by oodles of poodles.

allan said...

Having a dog in bed would have helped a lot. Take one of the nice street mutts we have seen, give her a bath, and cuddle up.