Ronnie got an unexpected call from the manager of the Cairo Symphony asking if we would go play a concert in Luxor. After briefly discussing, we realized it would be the last opportunity to go while living in Egypt, so we agreed. (4,000 EGP each didn’t hurt either. Getting paid to go to Luxor? Sign us up!)
I took two days off from work and we went to Cairo for the rehearsals. When we got there, we discovered that the symphony had hired two people to play 2nd Oboe, so Ronnie was only playing one aria, and he had a lot of extra sitting-around time. Between rehearsals we managed to do several things we’ve been wanting to do in Cairo for a long time, like go to the IMAX theater (where we saw Infinity Wars a second time) and Stella (a hole in the wall bar near Tahrir Square).
You may have gotten the impression that Egyptians don’t do time very well. You’d be correct, and this trip proved that 100 times over! After the last rehearsal at the Cairo Opera House, we all left with no information about how we were actually going to get to Luxor. No bus information, no flight information, just a vague “sometime tomorrow” (bokra insh’allah).
At midnight, Ronnie received a text telling us when the bus was supposed to leave. We showed up to find a bus and about 6 people. Apparently they missed the part where you’re supposed to tell people what’s going on. After an hour of waiting in the hot sun, we got on the bus and took the worst bus ride I’ve ever been on. No air conditioning, 95 degrees, lots of traffic and smells for about another hour and a half — in a bus full of sweaty, breathing people.
When we finally got to the airport, once again no one knew anything about our tickets. First we were sent to an office to print our tickets so we could go through security, but then we were sent through security without tickets (which they didn’t appreciate). Eventually, we made it into the airport, checked our bag, and airport-walked to the gate, just in time. Just in time to wait, that is, because of course the plane was late. In the end, everyone made it to Luxor.
They put us in the Steigenberger Hotel, right on the Nile River. Our room was on the end of the hall, on the corner, next to the Omar Sharif Suite, and had a great balcony and a FANTASTIC view. The hotel itself was okay; there were various performers in the evening, a pretty nice pool, and a full buffet for all meals.
[Quick warning: We stupidly decided to leave our camera at home, so we’re stuck with only the few pictures we took on our iPhones. They aren’t great.]
The night we arrived, we were scheduled to have a rehearsal at 10 pm at the Luxor Temple after it had cooled off a bit. We decided to walk with a few friends the 20 minutes to the Temple rather than wait for a bus (we were quite fed up with waiting). On the way we stopped to stock up on drinks for after rehearsal and the guy at the shop said it was okay to drink in the street. So we did and it felt very weird. (No one paid attention to us. There’s an alcohol store a couple blocks from our flat in Alex, and the thought of drinking beer between here and there is inconceivable!)
When we arrived at the Luxor Temple it was about 10:30 and there was still no sign of the bus even back at the hotel. Upon entering the temple area, we discovered that the stage we were to rehearse on was not set up. They postponed the rehearsal to midnight.
Because we were already there, we decided to talk our way in and give ourselves a tour of the Temple. This was the best part of the whole trip. The lights in the deserted temple were breathtaking. Being in this giant place with just a few other people was amazing.
In the end, rehearsal was cancelled that night, so we went back to our room for some beers with friends. Surprisingly, we were still able to wake up the next morning around 6:30 and got up to go sightseeing. We took the little ferry across the river and hired a driver to take us to the Valley of the Kings. He was a nice guy and I thought we did quite a good job of not getting taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we chose not to visit Hatshepsut’s temple. Maybe next time.
Tickets at the Valley of the Kings include your choice of three tombs, but several of the more famous ones are open only to those with special tickets (such as Tutankhamen). Luckily, one of the tombs was unguarded, so we were actually able to see four tombs! It was certainly a neat experience, and three tombs is definitely enough to figure out that they’re mostly the same.
After the Valley of the Kings, it was heating up quite quickly, so we headed back to the hotel and went swimming. We weren’t alone, as several other orchestra members had the same plan. Rehearsal and the concert were that evening, after sunset. It was an event put on by the United Nations, the second of a Silk Road series of concerts around the world. (Another orchestra was supposed to travel to Egypt to perform, but plans changed, and the Cairo Symphony was asked to play instead. This explains the lack of preparation.)
The performance was uninspiring due to bad sound systems, but in the end we were more than happy to have had this experience.
We spent most of the next day in the pool, before our flight left that evening. Again, we weren’t given flight information until right before. The flight to Cairo was fine, then we got an Uber to take us the rest of the way to Alexandria.
All in all, you can’t beat a free trip to Luxor! We thought we wouldn’t get the change to go, but we feel very lucky to be able to squeeze it in before we leave the country!