Temple of Karnak

Boiling hot, breath-taking and ancient. There was no other way to describe it! I visited Egypt a couple of years back in the middle of summer and the heat was glorious! I say glorious – it felt that way by the pool. It didn’t feel quite so wonderful whilst I was wandering around ruins of the great Luxor temple in the mid-day sun!

Nevertheless, I slathered myself in sunscreen, donned a huge floppy hat (which I thought made me look like Audrey Hepburn but probably made me look more like Blossom), gathered as much water as I could carry and prepared to sweat non-stop for the day.

Karnak temple (or Luxor Temple as its otherwise known) is a mixture of huge pillars, statues and carvings across a mixture of temples and chapels. The hulking stone statues at the entrance to the temple loomed over visitors to the complex, reminding me of the two statues in the Never Ending Story, just waiting to snap open their eyes and shoot out lasers as I passed through.

Between the pillars, people walked, necks craned upwards at the sheer size of the structures. I felt like an ant, scurrying from one side of the open air museum to another.

One of the most incredible aspects of Karnak (for me anyway) is the lines of statues leading away from the main entrance towards a temple further across Luxor. In some places they were fully excavated, in others almost completely buried, the marked the procession route from a far away time. To imagine what this must have looked like blows my mind!

Requests for ‘Backsheesh’ (otherwise known as ‘tips’) were fairly common on my trip. Luxor was no exception. A couple of regularly used approaches included offering to take your photo- for a small fee (never give someone else your phone / camera as you won’t get it back until you pay money) and offering to ‘take you to a great photo location’ which is often far from it, but still requires payment! One of the best ways of dealing with any offers of unwanted tips or suggestions is through the use of ‘La Shukran’. This means ‘no thank you’ in Arabic. Using this phrase gives a firm but polite response and I found it to work well.

I had a private guide for the day who gave me a personal overview of the history of the complex and directed me to the most interesting parts of the site. Although this was slightly more expensive than doing it on my own, in my opinion, it was money really well spent. I had organised the guide from home before I set off for Egypt, getting a good deal which also included transport for the day. The guide was lovely and really knowledgeable, and having him around meant that I had far fewer people offering to sell me something or take me to something interesting to photograph!

Not content with a visit to Karnak during the day, I also revisited the site during the evening for a light and sound show. Although it was sometimes difficult to make out what was being said and the ‘light show’ was more a case of simply adding lighting to the statues, it was still well worth the money just to have the chance to wander round the site in the dark.

Karnak after dark is a whole different ball game. If the daytime showcases a place of worship and somewhere to place offerings to the gods, nighttime Karnak is where the gods come to share their secrets and devise their schemes. A warren of twists and turns, with the imposing columns holding sway over the activities at ground level. The carvings seemed to flicker in the low light and the shadows created a mysterious atmosphere – so much so that people spoke in hushed whispers despite the booming PA system. Heading home to the hotel, my head was full of a deeper appreciation for Karnak and it’s history.

My experiences in Karnak were a number of years ago. Have you been recently? I’d love to know if anything has changed!

24 Hours in Cairo

Like most people visiting Egypt, the pyramids were one of the highlights of the trip that I’d been most looking forward to.

Arriving in Cairo following a quick flight from Luxor at some inhuman hour, I was bundled into a private taxi with a bouncy, energetic guide who immediately took me to a local shop to get me ‘something to wake me up’. The ‘something’ turned out to be a strange mixture called Sugarcane Juice. It did the job, even if an inevitable sugar crash was hovering just around the corner.

Back into the cab, a quick, scary rush down the busy roads and the first stop was to the Giza plateau. Making my way over to the pyramids, crowds of people were looking to get tickets to enter and there was no queuing system – everyone pushing to get to the front. The guide jumped in with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary, surfacing a couple of minutes later clutching a small ticket that would let me into the centre of two of the pyramids of Giza. For some reason (possibly due to the environmental impact) tourists are only able to enter two of the three pyramids on any given day. I chose the Great Pyramid and the Second Pyramid to explore.


The Great Pyramid is also known as the Pyramid of Khufu and is thought to be the oldest of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The Second Pyramid or the Pyramid of Khafre is so called because it is the second tallest pyramid at Giza. Spending time during the earlier part of my trip to read up on the structures, I already knew that I wouldn’t be seeing ornately decorated interiors, similar to those in the tombs at the Valley of the Kings, however I was just excited to step foot in a pyramid – that’s not something you do every day and I’d always wanted to be Indiana Jones!

Approaching the Great Pyramid, I was surprised by how near I could get to the actual pyramid exterior, the blocks looking even bigger up close. It was fairly claustrophobic inside, the floor sloping upwards in a steady incline and the walls less than an arm’s-span apart. If you are not a fan of small spaces, this is not the trip for you! There were railings on the walls to help move up the incline and the flooring was boarded with slight raised notches every couple of steps. A small cadged light was perched above the passageway, providing dim lighting to direct my steps.

Although the inside of the Great Pyramid’s main chamber was sparse and undecorated, it felt incredible to be standing in the centre of such an iconic and historic landmark. I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt and despite the mustiness, dust and sand, I felt elated to be undertaking such an adventure.

Always one to let my imagination run wild, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like when the pyramid was first discovered, with the archeology teams taking their first steps into the darkness of the structure, unsure of what lay ahead of them in the darkness.

The Second Pyramid was just as exciting and my attention was captured by small shafts in the building, leading upwards to align with the stars. The attention to detail, coupled with the scale of the structure was hard to comprehend. Emerging from the depths of the pyramid, blinking into the light, I achieved my Indiana Jones moment, the noise of the crowds chasing away my imagined rumblings of the unseen, oncoming boulder.

Heading away from the pyramids, the Sphinx was my next destination. It rose out of the dust, flanked by the outlines of the pyramids in the distance.  The Sphinx was stretched out at the end of a long pathway, which ran the length of the monument. Actually touching it was just out of reach, but up close, it was stunning to see. Considered to be one of the oldest monuments in Egypt, it was incredible imagine how this must have looked when it was being discovered, half buried in the sand. The plateau was full of people, all being encouraged to take posed pictures to show the scale of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

The final couple of stops of the morning were to the Giza Solar Boat Museum to look at the boats which had been buried nearby, thought by some to have been used as funeral barges.

The afternoon was spent visiting Khan Al-Khalili, a large souk in the bazaar district as well as wandering around the Cairo Museum. The contrast between the hustle and bustle, bright colours and noise of the shopping market and the calm, collected and hushed tones of the museum perfectly illustrated the two sides of Cairo that I’d experienced.

There were multiple treasures within the museum, but unfortunately the unbearable heat inside made it difficult to stay for too long. Regardless of the heat, I was determined to visit the hall of mummies and, the highlight of the museum, Tutankhamun’s burial mask. It was absolutely worth the discomfort and incredible to see.

The day was rounded off with a meal at the Hard Rock Cafe Cairo where I was able to spot one last wonder – Micheal Jackson’s hat from Smooth Criminal! It was a whirlwind 24 hours, with so much packed in to such a short time. I would love to go back some day to take it all in at my leisure. For now, Cairo stays on my list of places to visit again.

Have you ever had a 24 hour visit to somewhere? Would you go back or did you get to see everything you wanted? Let us know in the comments!