Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jewel of the Nile: Final Days

We woke up extra early to catch a pre-sunrise flight to Abu Simbel.  This trip was not part of the original itinerary and I was pretty on-the-fence about whether I wanted to pay extra to see the temple.  But then our tour guide Sal said that Abu Simbel is one of the top three must-sees in Egypt; I was sold.  I am so grateful too!  It was amazing!!

Large chunks of granite prevent river boats from reaching Abu Simbel, so we flew.  One amusing fact: you can't bring instruments to kill cattle; a spear; or roller skating shoes on the plane.  But you can smoke!

When we got to Abu Simbel, it was still pitch-black.  Sal led us to the sight and gave us some background while we watched the sun rise over Lake Nasser.

Even at night we could see how special Abu Simbel is.  It has four enormous seated Ramses statues at the temple's entrance.  Each statue is more than 65 feet tall!

Abu Simbel

We had the whole temple to ourselves, which was a unique experience.  The carvings were very detailed and there was still a lot of color left on the walls and ceiling.  There were also huge statues of Ramses inside.

By the time we got back outside, the sun had risen.

We also explored the temple Ramses built for his wife Nefertari.  It was equally impressive.

Both of these temples had to be moved in the 1960s when the High Dam was built because otherwise they would have been flooded.  Archeologists did a fantastic job.  You can hardly tell that it's not in it's original location.

Even though it was only around 8 a.m., it was time to head back to Aswan.  We made it back in time for breakfast and a nice morning nap.  Then, since we had some free time, Dan and I explored the Aswan market.  It was really bustling.

Fresh Spices

The most interesting vendors were the butcher and the guy selling the live pigeons, chickens and rabbits!

Live Pigeons

Later that afternoon the group went for a nice, relaxing felucca (sailboat) ride.  We followed that up with (of course) some shisha and card games.

The next day we toured the high dam and Philae Temple.  The dam was built in the 1960s and today provides power and water to Egypt and five other countries!  It also created Lake Nasser, which has a large enough reserve to supply Egypt with water for more than 300 years.

Lake Nasser

We reached the Philae Temple via motor boat, and the approach was beautiful.

Philae Temple

The temple itself was really beautiful too, though one part in particular was extra interesting.  After the Romans invaded they ordered the Egyptians to create carvings honoring them.  Since Romans couldn't read hieroglyphics, they only saw the finished product and thought it looked great.  What they didn't know is that one pillar is filled top-to-bottom with curse words and insults!  We had Sal read some of it to us...Wow!

We only had a couple of hours left in Aswan before we took another sleeper car back to Cairo.  Dan and I managed to find a shisha that we liked enough to bring back with us!  In fact, everyone from the group bought one!  Ours is a really beautiful frosted glass bowl with an ornate silver top.  And it only cost us $30!  Like I said earlier, shisha really is a lifestyle.  Ha!

Our last day in Egypt ended with a city tour of Cairo.  We saw an ancient Coptic Christian church called "The Hanging Church."  It's called that because the nave of the church is suspended over pillars and there is no foundation holding it up.

Hanging Church in Cairo

We also saw the Greek Orthodox St. George's Church.

St. George's Church

But my favorite was the Mosque of Muhammad Ali (not the boxer).  It is built in the Ottoman style and is supposed to look like a smaller version of the Hagia Sophia in Turkey.  It was gorgeous.

We spent a few more hours just wandering around the city, but then it was time to go home.  It was an incredible adventure--one that I won't soon forget!

Read about our other stops along the Nile:
Edfu and Kom Ombo
Luxor I
Luxor II

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