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January 2005 trip to Egypt.

Part 1: Cairo, Lake Nasser and the Temples of Nubia

My solar-powered watch had stopped so we needed to go abroad for some winter sunshine! We could just about afford a short cruise on the Nile so we booked a long one instead, to include 3 days on lake Nasser (the lake that was created by the building of the Aswan dam). This page has an overview of what we saw; if you have a particular interest in boating on the Nile you may like to look also at the Boating page. And if you find that these few pictures have whetted your interest, there are links to plenty more pictures (over 200 of them in all).

We originally booked to stay just one night in Cairo before flying on to Abu Simbel, but when we saw the schedules we realised that we'd have less than 2 hours sleep so we booked an extra night there - which was lucky as the outgoing plane was delayed by 2 hours so we wouldn't have got any sleep at all! The hotel in Cairo (Le Meridian Pyramids) was fabulous, and our one day in Cairo was amazing. Cairo is the craziest city you could imagine, running on pure adrenaline for 24 hours a day; I can't begin to describe their driving style, you just have to experience it for yourself. Suffice to say it is terrifying, it involves a lot of use of the horn, and it makes you appreciate just how much sanity is contained in our own Highway Code.


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The view from our hotel room
Inside Qar's tomb at Giza
Among the pyramids of Giza
The Sphinx
The world's first clock
Prototype pyramid at Saqqara

As we'd been to Cairo before and had seen the Museum (briefly) we decided to concentrate on the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. It was only a few minutes walk from the hotel but the concierge advised us to get a taxi as (a) it was quicker and safer than trying to cross the road on foot and (b) for about 9 (Sterling) the driver would bring us back to the hotel again 3 hours later. In fact the taxi driver was so good as a historian and guide that we engaged him for the whole day. He took us into tombs that aren't normally open to the public, he took us on to the rooftop of a cafe to look down on the Sphinx, he took us 20km out of town to Saqqara to see other (older) tombs and the prototype "Step" pyramid, he took us for a tour of the villages to see some "real" Egyptian life, and he bought us delicious drinks of freshly -squeezed cane sugar. All this, with detailed commentary and lasting nearly 8 hours cost the two of us just 40. Of course, we took lots more pictures of Cairo, Giza, and Saqqara.

Most domestic flights are early in the morning to avoid the mid-day heat which can be up to 45C in the Summer, but this was winter and a nice comfortable 20C. Catching the flight meant a 1.45 am call (it was still yesterday in the UK) but we made it and arrived at Abu Simbel early in the morning. Kuoni had organised everything perfectly and we were shown straight to a cabin on our ship so we could sleep for the morning. The ship was wonderful. Called "Nubian Sea" she had been refitted a year ago and was absolutely first-class in every way. About 70 metres long and 14 metres wide, she was very comfortable indeed with superb cabins magnificent food and wonderful service - and so stable that there was even a snooker table!. It was great to see that the captain handled her just the same as we handle our boat on the canals; no namby-pamby bow thrusters, just use plenty of power and hang on tight, then ram the bows into the bank and keep the engine slow ahead instead of mooring, etc.


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Our ship (the one on the right)
Temple of Rameses II at Abu Simbel
Rameses' temple in the early morning
Nefertari's temple in the early morning
Temples of Rameses and Queen Nefertari
"Moored" with bows to the rocks

We spent an afternoon exploring the temples of Rameses II and his favourite Queen Nefertari; these were excavated into the solid mountain, which is why they were so difficult to rescue when the lake was flooded, as the whole mountain had to be raised by 250 feet and placed on top of another one! After dinner on board we returned for the sound and light show which, with its multiple state-of-the-art laser images and incredible surround-sound, is a spectacle not to be missed (note that you cannot include it with the day trips which go with the usual Nile cruises). Then the next morning the ship stood offshore by a quarter of a mile to give us the breathtaking spectacle of the early morning sun lighting up the face of the temple. The temple is designed so that for a few minutes at dawn on just two days of the year, October 21st and February 21st which are believed to be Rameses' birthday and the anniversary of his coronation, the sun penetrates 200 feet into the depths of the temple and illuminates his statue.

Cruising lake Nasser is very relaxing as it has not been commercialised at all and we saw only 3 other boats in 3 days. There are no towns or villages, and there are just a handful of temples to visit. At each site the ship's boat is lowered to ferry you ashore, as there are no jetties or landing facilities; in fact there are no facilities at all, just a lot of desert sand and rocks. In all you can enjoy the temples in an atmosphere of peace and quiet, far from the crowds; this interspersed with a spot of sunbathing or swimming in the ship's pool, is the ideal way to wind down into the holiday mood. Two of the temples are about 1km apart, and the best way to see them both is to borrow a camel to ride (cost about 3).


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The tops of hills submerged by Lake Nasser
Ancient fort of Ibrim
Nothing but desert sands
Inside the temple of El Derr at New Amada
Debbie finds a crocodile
Nubian dancer

The voyage to Aswan finished with a Gala dinner of Egyptian speciality food by candle-light, and a display of Nubian dancing. Normally I'm not impressed by folk-dancers (at first these seemed like Nubian "Morris Dancers" in night-shirts) but as this short movie clip of their whirling display reveals, their dances telling traditional Nubian stories were simply stunning!

We took loads more pictures of Abu Simbel, Lake Nasser and its temples as well as ship-board life.

The following morning we flew to Luxor to join our next ship, M/S "Sun Ray". Once again Kuoni had arranged everything perfectly: while we were cruising they had completed the formalities including visiting the airport to confirm the flight 3 days beforehand, so that when we arrived at the airport their rep was waiting for us with our boarding passes. Now read on for the details and pictures of the rest of our journey on the Nile ...


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