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Egypt 2020: A Journey Back in Time, via a Challenging New Era

Egypt 2020: A Journey Back in Time, via a Challenging New Era

Old Dec 7th, 2020, 04:10 AM
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bniemand, you're welcome. I'm happy to give back after I've enjoyed and benefitted from so many others over the years. Hoping the pandemic wanes soon and we all expand our travel horizons again.

Where the Middle East and Africa Meet

The southern Egyptian city of Aswan sits at the crossroads of peoples, civilizations, cultures, and trade for millennia. Traditionally regarded as the southern boundary of Egypt proper and the northern reaches of Nubia, Aswan is also where to Nile ends its long journey coursing through higher terrain and flows straight through the river valley on its way to the Mediterranean.

Upon arrival in Aswan, we checked in at the fabled Old Cataract Hotel, freshened up, and enjoyed a lazy lunch overlooking the beautiful Nile (This section of the Nile is the most beautiful in Egypt with bluer waters, tall green palms, desert sand, and large rock boulders in the water. One of the best places to view the Nile in Aswan is from the Old Cataract Hotel.). After lunch, we spent a couple of hours visiting the extensive Nubian Museum, which accounts the history and culture of the Nubian people and its influence on ancient Egypt. The exhibits date from prehistory to the present including one on the controversial construction of the Aswan High Dam, which submerged 42 Nubian riverside villages under what is now Lake Nasser and displaced 60,000 Nubians from their traditional ancestral lands. We also visited the gardens next to our hotel before heading out to Philae Temple for our sight and light show among the ancient monuments. We capped the evening with a large and very good dinner at El Masry and wandered the souqs on the way back to our hotel.

The next day was another busy day of sightseeing. On our agenda were a visit to Philae Temple, followed by the Unfinished Obelisk, and a tour of Elephantine Island. While we went to Philae yesterday, the nighttime visit meant we did not had a chance to see the temple itself - so we went back the next morning. Dedicated to the goddess Isis, wife of Orisis, the god of the underworld, the ancient Egyptian temple was built and expanded upon over several centuries. The temple to Isis was built here as it was believed to be where Isis found the last of her husband's 14 parts and brought him back to life. It was later used by Greeks and Romans before it was ordered closed in the 6th century when the Roman Empire decreed that only Christianity would be allowed. As a result, Philae is home to the final known connection to ancient Egypt, thanks to the faith of the Nubians. Philae is situated on an island in a small lake between two dams - the Old Aswan Dam and the High Dam. The current site is a relocation of the old after the building of the High Dam.

The island is assessed by a small boats from the mainland. Immediately upon landing we were treated to a long row of columns that led to the main temple. The temple, as other ancient Egyptian temples, was constructed from the sanctuary outward with pylons added by successor pharaohs. In addition to Isis, there are many reliefs depicting her husband Osiris and their son Horus, the ancient Egyptian holy trinity. Surrounding the main temple are other smaller buildings serving different functions. For example, one housed an ancient ship used in religious ceremonies. Others were for Greek then Roman rulers. We spent about an hour and an half here before heading back to the ferry and onward to the Unfinished Obelisk.

As Aswan was home to many of ancient Egypt's pink granite quarries, the stone was cut and fashioned here before being transported up the Nile to cities such as Thebes and Memphis. Not too far from the dock heading back to the center of Aswan is the site of one of these quarries. The feature is a large obelisk with three sides cut. Perhaps worked on during the reign of Hatshepsut it may have been abandoned along with her death. Or it may have been when a crack appeared and rendered it unusable; there is a large visible crack near the top.

From here it was back to downtown Aswan, from where we took one of two ferries bound for Elephantine Island. One of the larger islands in this section of the Nile, Elephantine was the political, religious, and economic center of Aswan during ancient times. Ruins dating back to the ancient and subsequent Greek and Roman eras remain on the southern part of the island. We spent about 90 minutes walking among ancient footsteps, visiting temples, viewing the remains of homes, etc., before walking through the Nubian villages that occupy the island today. We also visited the small Animalia museum about Nubian life. There are about 3,500 Nubians living on this car-free island, farming and raising animals. We followed up the visit with lunch and an afternoon sail around the island in a felucca.

We were back at our hotel at 4:00, from where we enjoyed one final Nile sunset on the terrace. As of this writing, we flew back to Cairo for one overnight before going home via Istanbul.

For those of you who've joined along, I hope you found the read enjoyable. For those of you planning a trip of your own in the near future, I hope some of it is useful to you. Feel free to ask any questions you may have. I will post some final thoughts in the coming days and share some photos after catching up on other business if anyone's interested. Thank you.
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Old Dec 15th, 2020, 08:46 PM
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Would love to hear about the rest of your trip. Our Viking trip to Egypt and Jordan for March was cancelled.
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Old Dec 20th, 2020, 01:20 PM
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MarySch, sorry about your trip cancellation. Hope you make it there someday.

Final Thoughts

If Walls Could Talk

We typically like to travel independently. We enjoy lingering at places that pique our attention and catch our interest and move on from places that don't. This also allow us the freedom to get away from tourist crowds, and drink in the places we visit. For these reasons, we do not participate in group tours, especially the large tour bus kind. From time to time, we do employ the services of tour guides, and usually in places that require driving as the means of transportation as we do not drive ourselves. When we do so, we like to go on private tours. Given the expenses involved, we keep the number of places that involve guides to a low number. Egypt is different. We used guides on most of the days and would have been served with even more guiding. Here, a good guide, one that specializes in Egyptology really matters, as they bring the stories written on the walls of temples and tombs to life. Our visits were enhanced by the storytelling of our guides. The stories of ancient Egyptian mythology were not only informative but entertaining. We very much appreciated how the stories interrelated, as if unraveling a giant mystery puzzle over our days of touring. Having the same Egyptologist guide over seven days was definitely the way to go, as he kept on adding to our knowledge.

Shopping Fail

A must-do on all of our trips is souvenir shopping. We like purchasing a handful of high-quality pieces as well as the cheap tchotchkes. The browsing is part of the joy of travelling. Egypt is different. For the first time, we avoid wandering shops and markets. Even during the time of COVID, shopkeepers get in your face - unmasked. Rows of shops are set up at every major tourist attraction. And the shopkeepers never stay inside their stores. They come up to you and offer their wares and most don't take no for an answer. The routine grew old after a while. Even going off the beaten path and to places not frequented by tourists, we could not shop in peace. And everything required extensive haggling, which I must say is the least enjoyable in Egypt. Other than two papyrus works of art we purchased with the help of our trusted tour guide, we made almost no purchases.

Even strolling the streets was less than fun. We typically like taking leisurely walks, and make a point to chat with locals or at least greet them in the local language. In Egypt, we avoided eye contact and any exchanges of hellos with locals, especially along the Nile riverfronts in any of the cities. Greetings were always followed by some type of solicitation, whether for a cab or horse carriage ride or some worthless purchase. These hasslers make a point to steer you in the wrong direction, whether it's the old "this place is closed" or "check out...". Even when least expected, the times in which we greeted people sitting on a park bench or in front of a house of worship turned out to be a couple of minutes of trying to get away.

Air Quality

The air, especially in Cairo, is very dusty. I suspect it is sand from the desert. It took us a couple of days to get used to, but it is worth knowing especially for those who may suffer respiratory issues.

Photographs to follow...

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Old Dec 20th, 2020, 02:04 PM
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Our first glimpse of the Sphinx, from atop camels, Giza

Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Khufu, Giza

Djoser's Step Pyramid, Saqqara

Bent Pyramid, Dahshur

Red Pyramid, Dahshur

Mosque on Al Muizz Li Din Allah Street in medieval Cairo

Al Azhar Mosque, Cairo

Prince Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo

Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo

Cairo city skyline
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Old Dec 20th, 2020, 02:23 PM
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First pylon, Temple of Amun, Karnak Temple

Hypostyle hall, Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple in the late afternoon sunlight

First pylon, Luxor Temple

Hypostyle hall, Luxor Temple

Valley of the Kings, West Bank, Luxor

King Tut's tomb, West Bank, Luxor

Ramses V and VI tomb, West Bank, Luxor

Depiction of day and night, inside tomb, West Bank, Luxor

Queen Nefartari's tomb, West Bank, Luxor

Hatshepsut's Temple, West Bank, Luxor

Ramesseum from hot-air balloon, West Bank, Luxor

Statues of Ramses II, Ramesseum, West Bank, Luxor
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Old Dec 20th, 2020, 02:28 PM
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Relief at Abydos Temple

Ceiling, Temple at Dendera

Statue of Horus, Edfu Temple

Myth of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, Temple of Horus, Edfu

Rock cut during ancient times from quarry, Gebel el-Silsila

View of Nile from Gebel el-Silsila

Mummified crocodiles, Kom Ombo

Daraw Market

Our home for 4 nights, the Dahabiya Miran

Fishing, Nile style

Typical Nile River scenery

Sunset on the Nile
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Old Dec 20th, 2020, 02:34 PM
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Temple of Ramses II in the morning, Abu Simbel

Temple of Ramses II at night, Abu Simbel

Philae Island from the water

Temple of Isis, Philae Island

Nubian village, Elephantine Island, Aswan

Nile view from Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan

Felucca on the Nile, Aswan
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