Our last day in Cairo was a fairly quiet affair after the hectic pace of the previous week, we all slept in late, ate a leisurely breakfast and chilled at the hotel, playing games, watching some TV and catching up on some work. We had paid a supplement to keep our hotel room into the evening to save us any worry about transporting or storing our luggage and I'm glad we did as it meant we could make the most of our down time.
We had a wander out to grab some lunch and see Tahrir Square. Reem, our guide, had told us how her and her family had been part of the huge demonstrations back in 2011 when the Egyptian revolution had happened and the will of the people had overthrown the then president Murbarak. She spoke with such passion and pride of being out in the street, singing and shouting, demanding change. She said the chanting had been so loud you couldn't hear yourself think and the streets so packed with people that you had to walk arm in arm with your friends or family or you'd be swept away from them.
The square is very highly policed and I was moved off more than once for trying to take photos and videos. I'm not sure of the reason why they didn't want me taking pictures but I wasn't going to argue with armed police for a travel snap.
We had booked tickets for the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor. I was apprehensive as I get travel sick fairly easily (not a great attribute for a travel enthusiast I know) and couldn't imagine spending so many hours travelling (it stated 10 hours on the website) but Jake was super keen and we concluded that even if it was a horrible experience it would be an interesting one.
We had a car booked to take us to the station and so, hotel room packed back into suitcases we set off for one last time through the city.
We arrived at the station and were quickly pounced upon by a man with a trolley offering to take our bags. We decided to let him, and pay him a tip (baksheesh) as we knew he'd take us to the right platform! After getting us to the right place we were told that the train was running a little late but that there was a little coffee shop we could sit and wait in. Luckily for us the young man who worked there took pity on us and found us a nice table tucked in the corner. While chatting with him and ordering some teas and juices he pointed out that our tickets were actually for a different station. Thankfully the train we needed would call through this one but it would be a little later than we were expecting and there would be two trains coming through before ours. He told us not to worry, he'd make sure we got on the right one. Although there had been times in Cairo we'd felt overwhelmed and out of our depth, the people we had met there were all so friendly. Yes they'd hassle you to buy their stuff or visit their restaurant and there were absolutely times when our patience ran thin with their persistence, but every time we needed help someone was there.
We happened to be in Egypt during the African Cup of Nations finals and the country were doing pretty well. As we sat in the cafe the TV was showing Gambia vs Cameroon in the quarter finals and as it progressed a group of football fans soon gathered round the screen to cheer and boo as needed. It was a great party atmosphere and the (all male) audience found Dexter very amusing as he cheered and shouted at the game and I tried to keep up with his questions about the names of the players.
Eventually our train pulled in, and after getting the thumbs up from our new friend in the cafe we joined the throngs of people, baggage and animals all trying to get on. We'd booked two private double rooms right next door to each other. They were both bunkbeds, the plan was that Dexter and I would use one room and Kris and Jake the other.
The rooms were pretty basic, but clean and the beds fairly comfy. There was room for bags etc plus a little sink to brush your teeth and wash your hands and a fold down table. Jake was over the moon to finally be on a sleeper train, nabbing the top bunk in his room and settling himself in.
Not long after we had set off some food was delivered to the rooms, there was chicken, rice, potatoes, vegetables, some sort of bread and a cake. Not much of it was eaten but it was more the fact that it was late and we were all a little overwhelmed rather than the taste of it I think. A tip to anyone booking the overnight trains here in Egypt that there are vegetarian options available on board if you book them ahead. Our super helpful guide had booked our tickets for us and unfortunately hadn't asked about dietary options hence meat being served to us. (Another note was that our tickets were booked under Mr Victor and Mrs Kirsten which was obviously amusing but caused some stress from Jake who was convinced they wouldn't let us on the train. Spoiler alert, no one cared).
It soon became apparent that Dexter was not going to be very happy sleeping in a bunk on his own and so I dutifully squashed in beside him in the single bottom bed as we turned out the lights and tried to drift off.
Dexter went off pretty quickly, I on the other hand did not! It was by far the worst night's rest I've ever had! The train was loud as it clanked over the tracks and the horn was blasted with alarming frequency, as were the horns of passing trains. The train also came to a complete stop, A LOT. Not at stations we soon discovered, but just at random points along the route. Sometimes for just a few minutes and sometimes for ages. Every time it pulled away again the whole train would shudder and shake and it meant that even if I did start to nod off I was soon woken abruptly.
After hours and hours (and hours) of this un-restful rest sunlight soon began to filter through the curtains and I got up to stretch my legs and take a look out of the window in the corridor. I was met with a beautiful sight. Lush green grass, tall palm trees and the prettiest pink sunrise. A group of herons were startled by the train and all took to the sky at once, it was honestly like something out of a film. I started to wonder if the horrors of the journey had been worth it just for that. Sadly I was proven wrong as more and more unscheduled stops hit us and the journey dragged on and on. As breakfast was served (bread, jams, pastries and juice) I had started to feel really quite sick and my head was thumping. Luckily Kris, although having not had much more sleep than me was feeling OK, so he took over sorting breakfast, getting the boys dressed and packing our belongings up as I moaned and groaned my way through the last hour of the journey.
Arriving in Luxor 2 and a half hours later than scheduled and after almost 13 hours of travel I was overjoyed to get off the train. We must have had a dozen people on the station platform try to help us with our bags and offer us taxi rides, but we were meeting some people from the Worldschool Hub the boys would be attending so we politely but firmly turned down all offers of help and made our way through the station out on to the street.
This was the first time we would meet Abdel Raheem, who would become a dear friend by the end of our visit here. The hub in Luxor is run by him and his wife, a woman called Louise, originally from the UK but who has settled here in Egypt and they, along with Louise's children are one of the nicest families you could ever hope to meet.
But I'll chat more about them in later posts, for now, Abdel was there, our saviour after our very long journey with a taxi all ready and waiting to whisk us away from the East bank train station and over to the West side of the Nile to the house that would be our home for the next 7 weeks.
Our driver was Bedaway, Abdel's cousin and he was so kind as he drove us the 40 minute journey along the edge of the Nile to the bridge and then back down the other side. Pointing out landmarks and giving us tips on where to go for food plus how to make sure we didn't get overcharged on taxi and boat rides during our stay.
He dropped us to our house where Abdel, who had beaten us there by getting the ferry boat across the river, was waiting to meet us once more.
The house was glorious, huge high ceilings, plenty of space and the most gorgeous garden. As we looked around we realised that the Nile was on one side of us and the Valley of the Kings rose on the horizon on the other. All the stress of the journey immediately began to drift away and as we said goodbye to our welcoming committee and began to explore the house and unpack bags etc I could tell this was going to be a really happy place.
We had been in touch with our hub organiser Louise and some of the other families we'd be meeting via a WhatsApp group and were invited to dinner that first evening.
I was a little worried we'd all be too tired but we decided to head out to join them and I'm so glad we did. Another travel family who had been in Luxor for a few months met us at our house and took us on our first of many walks along the path running alongside the Nile to a lovely little hotel with a great restaurant that just happened to be serving Thai inspired food which is our favourite. That dirt path would become very familiar in the coming weeks and Kris and I would remark on numerous occasions just how amazing and surreal it was to be living right next to the Nile. Like we were in a documentary or playing a film role, it never quite felt real.
We met some people that night who would become good friends, the boys played for hours with kids from all over the world while we adults ate and drank too much and we all left feeling content.
That first day and night in Luxor will stick in my head as being one of the most intense but loveliest days of our whole trip and I can't wait to share more about all the amazing things this part of Egypt had in store for us.