The sleeper train we took to Aswan... not so awesome. But we arrived refreshed enough and checked ourselves into the most amazing hotel. We stayed at the Movenpick on Elephentine Island. It's accessible only by boat, and every single view from the island is stunning. If anything, I wish we had more time in Aswan. It's not that there was a laundry list of sites that we didn't get to... it's just so beautiful that I never wanted to leave.
Our first day in Aswan we left completely open. We had lunch on the water, I got a massage, and then we took a feluca ride at sunset. There's something about the way the Nile narrows and flows around the massive blocks of granite that make Aswan famous that is just breathtaking. On one side you have lush green palm trees and the city, and on the other are rolling hills of golden sand.
The rocks in the water look unreal; huge and striped with water levels of the past.
Thanks in large part to the pollution that is omnipresent in every Egyptian city, even smaller ones like Aswan, we were guaranteed a gorgeous sunset.
Aswan also treated us to some of the best food of our trip. Our second most delicious meal in all of Egypt came courtesy of El Doukka, traditional Egyptian fare of hummus, pita, and chicken tagine. It is widely recognized as some of the best food throughout the whole country, and the reputation is well-deserved. It's also where I first tried the hibiscus juice karkade. It is so good! Sort of like cran-apple, but lighter, and it definitely has the unique hibiscus flavor. I wish it was more widely available outside of Egypt.
The next morning we began our site-seeing. We kicked things off at the Unfinished Obelisk. The way they made obelisks in the ancient day, like all feats of construction, was truly interesting. They made a series of holes in a steady line around the intended shape of the obelisk, then put wood in the holes, filled the holes with water, and as the saturated wood expanded it evenly cracked the stone in a relatively straight line. They then use diorite, an extremely hard stone, to pound and polish the surfaces of the obelisk until flat and ready to be carved and decorated. It was during this step that the unfinished obelisk was abandoned. A crack was found in the rose granite, and to be structurally sound, an obelisk must be a single piece. Had it been completed, it would have been the tallest obelisk ever constructed. Finished obelisks were transported on the Nile during flood season, and raised by huge groups of men pulling ropes tied around the stone. The whole process took around just 7 months. There are only 7 left standing in Egypt today; 22 others have been stolen by or gifted to other countries.
Next up - Philae's Temple.
Until even 100 years ago, the bright colors of Philae's Temple were visible. But then... sigh... humans. They built a dam and decided "hey - nobody cares about this temple, right?" And so it was covered in water. Apparently, you used to be able to take a boat out and glide along the water's surface, looking down at the partially submerged pillars in the Nile. But then they decided that their initial decision was the wrong one, and over the course of 7 years they transported the temple out of their new lake and moved it onto a nearby island.
This was our first chance to really walk among an ancient structure and freely explore - not like the pyramids where you were cramped and the Robber's Tunnel was unadorned.
The detail of the hieroglyphs is astounding. And for the most part, you are completely unrestricted. I could walk right up and run my hand along the cravings, admire the sharpness of every line and the smoothness of every curve.
After Philae's Temple, we boarded our cruise ship for Luxor. At sunset, we docked at another temple. This was the Temple at Kom Ombo, or the Temple of Two Gods, Haroeris (a form of the god Horus) and Sobek (the crocodile god).
It quickly became too dark for photos, which is a shame. This temple had some of the most important hieroglyphic scenes - a seasonal calendar, and the depiction of the first known hospital in the world, but our guide did not get us to them until it was too late.
Still, it was an incredibly beautiful temple. I love the columns with the fluted tops, meant to resemble the lotus flower. Next to the temple was a museum for mummified crocodiles - an odd tradition, but they believed that the spirit of Sobek transferred from one crocodile to the next and historians think they kept this sacred crocodile on the temple grounds.
- Philae Temple - Stunningly gorgeous and extremely interesting history.
- El Doukka - Best true Egyptian food of the whole trip.
- Sunset feluca ride - The Nile has unending beauty, and it was never more apparent than at sunset on the Nile in Aswan.
- High Dam - Learning about the Aswan High Dam is more interesting than actually seeing it, unless you have never seen a dam before. If you have... it's a dam. Concrete wall on one side, big lake on the other. That's how it goes.
- Sound and Light show - They have one at Philae Temple. We were originally supposed to attend, but apparently it is cancelled 95% of the time, and we were in that 95%. Don't waste your time like we did for a show that is subpar and likely to be cancelled anyway!