Naturally we had to haggle for the taxi ride. Every transaction begins with an argument. We both really dislike it. We could pay the first price offered, but it is always wildly inflated. The train station is on the east bank of the Nile, where all the big chain hotels and most of the tourist scene is found. Our hotel is on the west bank, where the locals live and which is supposed to be great for great food. There is a bridge, which means quite a bit of extra driving, first south on one bank then north on the other. There are also ferries and many people with their own boats who will whisk you across.
After crossing the bridge, some guards stopped our cab, asked to see something from the driver, then asked him to get out of the car and follow them. We had no idea what was happening and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The driver returned, gesturing wildly, waving what appeared to be a receipt for something. He paid something to someone, and he was not pleased.
We drove down some tiny, winding streets, but these were in a cute little neighbourhood with clean streets and flowers in the window boxes. At the hotel, the driver tried to badger the person at the desk, still waving the receipt around, and he was quickly and definitively put down and shoo’d away. (This happened to us at the Pyramids View, too -- one final appeal from taxi driver to the hotel: save me from these terrible tourists!)
Then we entered the Hotel Sheherazade, and everything changed. This building is an Islamic-style mansion -- adobe and brick, red and white striped archways. courtyards and gardens, a fire pit, a pool, all spacious and green and serene. What a change after Cairo! We were helped upstairs to a nice clean room, and were just amazed. (Right now I am in the courtyard, drinking red wine, eating the desserts we bought in Cairo. It is warm and breezy. In the distance, someone is praying.)
Abdul had arranged for our Luxor driver to meet us at the hotel at 10:00 a.m. We went downstairs to meet him, and asked if he could return at 1:00 p.m. We showered and changed and decided to take the day off from sightseeing, to have lunch at a nice restaurant and do some shopping.
Here’s something we find very annoying. The driver picks us up and says, “Whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, just let me know, we will go there.” We thank him and say we’d like to go to Restaurant A. And he says, I know Restaurant A, but wouldn’t you much rather go to Restaurant B? sigh This happens every single time we ask to go anywhere, and we are totally sick of it. The Luxor drivers are supposed to be drivers. We’re not paying enough for guides, and we’re paying too little for touts. I hope the whole week is not going to be like this.
In any case, Sofra, the restaurant Allan picked out from Lonely Planet, was lovely. Spacious, on an upstairs patio, with beautiful fabric sails to keep it cool and quiet. The menu was amazing; I’d love to go back and order all different things. We shared basterma and egg (basterma is something like pastrami), meatballs in tomato sauce, and the world’s best babah ganoush, then I had stuffed pigeon, an Egyptian specialty, and Allan had a rabbit and rice dish. The main dishes were small and delicate. You’re supposed to eat a lot before they arrive.
Our next stop was the Habiba Gallery, a fair-trade craft shop that features the work of local women. The owner -- who was there, chatting away -- is an Australian ex-pat who sells whatever the crafts person makes, offering feedback and advice on what sells and what they might want to tweak. The prices were crazy cheap. The women are getting fair prices for their work, but there’s only one step between their work and our sale. We bought a inlaid wood picture frame (it will look beautiful with Tala in it), two beaded zipper pouches, two three-string bead necklaces, and a scarf. (Every purchase ends with the words ‘and a scarf’.) (There were some young archaeology students who said they were suffering from scarf addiction.)
From there we wandered into the souk, and had the experience we meant to have in Cairo the day of the crush. It’s a strange phenomenon, walking down the centre aisle between rows of stalls, and men are calling out to you from every stall. “Miss, look here, beautiful, only 10 pounds,” “Over here, miss, no hassle, special for you,” “Come look, great quality,” “Germany? US? Why you no speak to me?” Every. Single. Stall. I may smile and look at someone, and that is taken as invitation. It doesn’t feel at all threatening or dangerous; depending on our mood, it is either amusing or annoying.
I had an idea about a fun gift involving some CUPE-pink pashmina shawls. It started with me asking a shop guy if he could give me a good price for a quantity. Plastic chairs and tea with mint appeared. A boy was sent on an errand. A tablecloth was introduced to the mix. Calculators were tapped by both parties. In the end, we walked out with a haul. If I went a bit overboard, I’ll never be here again. The tablecloth fell from 500 LEs to 100 LEs. That means it cost seven dollars.
When we met up with our driver, it was almost dark. The nearby ruins were lit up for the evening. Our driver dropped us at the ferry slip, and a young man took us across the Nile on his boat. Lights were twinkling on both sides. A felucca sailed past. Here it is: the Nile. Although we technically saw it in Cairo, we had no sense of a river being nearby. In Luxor, the Nile is still sustaining life by bringing dozens of cruise ships to its shores every day.
On the other side, the young man had a taxi waiting, and we were two minutes from the Sheherazade.