Monday, November 13, 2023

48 Hours in Aswan, Egypt

Trip date: December 2022

After departing from our Nile cruise, we were picked up by a private tour guide in Aswan for a day trip to Abu Simbel Temples. It's a long day, about 3 ½ hours of driving each way, and our guide was an hour late and was less than professional so I will not be recommending them, but I do recommend making your way to this fascinating site!

Leaving Aswan we crossed over the High Dam. When it was completed in 1970, it was the highest dam in the world at 364 feet. Its reservoir, when filled, would have submerged the Abu Simbel Temples so they were relocated to location we were driving to. 

About 1/2 way through the Nubian Desert, we stopped at a rest stop of sorts. There were toilettes, coffee, and snacks. As we sat having a drink I looked across the highway and saw a mirage! It was so cool, I have never seen one before! I ran across the road to take a few photos.

When we arrived at the site of the temples, our driver let us out and our guide walked us to the entrance, which is on the west bank of Lake Nasser and 12 miles from the border of Sudan. There's a town with a small airport nearby and that's about it. These massive rock-cut temples are in the middle of nowhere!

Started in 1264 BC, there are two temples; the Great Temple, dedicated to Ramesses II, and the Small Temple, dedicated to his wife Queen Nefertari. The four 66-foot tall statues of Ramesses flank the entrance, smaller statues of his wife and family members are around his feet. 
Inside, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt each have a side dedicated to it. The walls are decorated with scenes of battles, offerings to the gods, and life with his family. As you make your way to the back the rooms get smaller and smaller. It's not a great place if you are claustrophobic! 

Next door is the smaller temple dedicated to Nefetari; the statues on either side of the entrance are of her and Ramesses II.

Inside there are 6 pillars with scenes of the queen and various gods and goddesses. The walls in here are also decorated with scenes of the King's victories, his reign, and of both of them making offerings to the gods. 

Both temples are totally impressive on their own, but then you remember they were moved here to escape being submerged! But even before that, these temples were covered almost entirely by sand, having been forgotten by the now modern locals, until accidently discovered by a researcher in the area to examine another temple in 1813! You won't spend as much time visiting the site as you do travelling to and from it but we all thought it was a really cool outing.

We assumed we would stop for lunch before making the drive back to Aswan, but instead our guide ran into a restaurant and brought us out take out kefta, hummus, pita, etc. Not only is it impossible to eat on a bumpy road through the desert, but the food was awful. Our first bad meal in Egypt!

The road between the two towns actually closes at 6pm, so it was important to make it back by curfew. Luckily that wasn't a problem and we were dropped off at our hotel, Obelisk Hotel before sunset. 

This was a very good, although very basic, hotel for our one-night stay. It's right on the Nile with spectacular views of all the boats. We grabbed seats and drinks on the terrace (they also serve alcohol) and watched the sunset show.

That evening we went out for cocktails at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel. We were excited! This is where Angela Lansbury wrote "Death on the Nile" and is one of the grand dame hotels of Egypt!

The grounds were lavishly decorated for the holidays; fountains, monogrammed lamps, and twinkly lights everywhere. It was so pretty! 

We made our way inside the grand entrance to the busy bar area. Unfortunately here is where things went downhill. Maybe they were understaffed? They definitely were not interested in waiting on us! And when Forest and I finally did get our martinis, they were vermouth only! I explained to the waiter that we ordered gin martinis and watched as the barman added gin to each existing cocktail. No stir or anything. And they were crazy expensive. We left after one. 

We also were told that we were suppose to have paid to be on the grounds! We didn't but just an FYI if you are visiting. 

The next day we arranged for a late check out so we could spend the day relaxing by the pool. After packing we had a late lunch on the terrace of the hotel and then had the hotel grab us a taxi to go to the train station. Watching the driver pile all of our luggage on top of the car was both amusing and concerning! 

We got to the train station about an hour before our overnight train to Cairo which was more than enough time. Pro-tip: all over Egypt people will try to help you with your luggage for tips. It's easy enough to say no thank you, but some are pretty assertive and will actually just start walking away with your luggage!

The cabin manager greeted me as I boarded, took my bag, and lifted it up above the top bunk to the luggage rack. Very nice! Caitlin and I shared a cabin and Forest and Thibault had one next door. Unfortunately they weren't connecting even though there was a connecting available. We opened it up and used it to play some games and drink some wine (that we brought onboard). 

We were served dinner, which was better than the lunch we had eaten in our car the day before, and breakfast at a god awful early time the next day. The cabin manager was really great, fantastic customer service and super friendly!

The train was very old and very dirty, not for the faint of heart! And with middle of the night stops, none of us got much sleep. But it was a very fun experience and when we got off we were in Cairo!

All Aswan/Abu Simbel photos here.

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