Our ten-day visit to the incredible countries of Egypt and Jordan included four days on the Nile River, aboard the beautiful Alexander the Great river boat. Spectacular, both boat and scenery, we are in awe of our surroundings. Here is how we spent our Nile River Cruise;
We left Cairo and flew an hour and twenty minutes south to Aswan where we met a representative of Memphis Tours, the company we have hired to manage our visit to Egypt. I can’t say enough good things about Memphis Tours. They do not miss a single detail.
We were escorted to our boat, and our beautiful lodgings on board. The ship can hold about 60 passengers, but since it is just the start of the tourism season here in Egypt, we were on board with only thirteen other people. There were probably more staff than guests. And the staff is incredible.
After checking into our room we relaxed before enjoying a remarkable six-course lunch of Egyptian specialties. After lunch our Memphis Tours guide Azab escorted us to four wonderful sites for the afternoon.
The unfinished obelisk dates to about 1500 BC is nearly one-third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected. It measures around 42 m (approximately 137 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,090 metric tons (1,200 tons).
The obelisk’s creators began to carve it directly out of bedrock but cracks appeared in the granite and the project was abandoned. The bottom side of the obelisk is still attached to the bedrock. Seeing this quarry and the unfinished obelisk was a window into the incredible stone work of the ancient Egyptians and their talent and craftsmanship.
Usually referred to as the High Dam, this dam was built on the Nile beginning in 1960 and completed in 1970 and signified a turning point in Egypt’s modernization by providing electricity for industry and agriculture, it brought Egypt into the 20th century. The dam was partially funded by the Soviet Union.
Temple of Philae
This stunning temple served both as a worship site as well as a center of commerce. Originally on an island near the expansive first cataract of the upper Nile, the temple flooded when the first Aswan Dam was built in 1902. It remained underwater until 1972 when conservations excavated and moved it to the current site as part of the UNESCO Nubia project. Today it’s hard to imagine how anyone could flood this beautiful and stately temple which has seen thousands of years of history including pharaohs and kings, British rule, Christian disfigurement, and the ravages of the Nile River.
Essence of Life Perfume Factory
At first I really didn’t want to go here. Because of my sinus issues I don’t wear fragrances and I can’t abide being around anyone who is too liberal with their perfume or cologne. But I’m glad we made the visit. We learned they create essense from the petals of many flowers as well as leaves, resin, and bark from trees. Essence is an oil, which then perfume manufacturers mix with other ingredients (mainly alcohol) to create the highly lucrative perfumes for sale around the world.
My favorite part of the tour was watching the artists hand blow the glass containers used for the essence. I didn’t buy any perfume, but I’m bringing home a beautiful four-inch high perfume bottle.
After our busy afternoon we were ready to get back to the ship for a cold drink, as the afternoon temperatures had soared to 98 degrees fahrenheit. Dinner was served at 8pm and again, course after course was delicious and interesting.
I slept like a mummy.
Our ship stayed in port in Aswan until 4:00am when we began a slow cruise north to our first stop of the day:
The Kom Ombo Temple
This temple is unique because it honors two gods. Built from 180-47 BC the double temple also has courts, halls and sanctuaries. One side of the temple is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world. The Northern half of the temple is dedicated to falcon god Horus. The temple is atypical because everything is symmetrical.
At first I thought we were going to a museum about crocodiles (similar to something I did in Vietnam) but I realized after visiting Kom Ombo Temple that the Crocodile museum is about Sobek the Crocodile God. And more specifically it is about the mummified crocodiles that have been unearthed here. The mummified crocodiles show how revered the animal was, as well as feared. The crocodiles were given funerals and sent to heaven as a way for the crocodile god have the animals close.
After just a couple of hours on shore we continued our cruise north for four hours. We sat on deck under the shaded umbrellas and enjoyed the scenery. It’s like a movie set. I needed to keep reminding myself it was real. Though the landscape is arid, brown and incredibly dry, along the river banks is an oasis of green and lush palms and tropical plants with people going about their daily lives on and in the river.
After another amazing meal (I’m surely going to gain weight), we left the ship for our afternoon excursions;
One of my favorite things we saw on our Nile Cruise was the Edfu Temple built around 237 BC to honor the god Horus. It is one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt. It is the second largest temple in Egypt. The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth and religion during the Hellenistic period in Egypt, as well as detail on construction, tools and techniques used.
We arrived in Luxor after cruising overnight and passing through locks on the Nile. We had an early excursion so we were awake and looking out the window we discovered the sky full of beautiful hot air balloons at sunrise over the Nile. A very special picture to wake to. After breakfast on board, we took a small boat across the Nile to the East Bank where we met our driver and began our very busy tour of Luxor.
Valley of the Kings
One of the most significant sites in all of Egypt is the Valley of the Kings, where 62 tombs, including that of of Tutankhamen, are located. Many of the tombs were looted in ancient times, others only discovered in the last few centuries. Many of the artifacts, such as tombs, sarcophagi, and mummies, can now be seen in museums around the world.
So visiting Valley of the Kings is to see the actual tombs, which are dug from the soft limestone deep into the earth. We visited three tombs; Ramses II, III and IV. We did not visit Tutankhamen, which requires another ticket. However my husband and I have seen the treasures of Tutankhamen twice when it has visited Seattle, and we will see this again when we return back to Cairo.
The tombs we went to were very fascinating. I am astounded at how they could dig these remarkable tunnels into the earth so deep without modern tools. The tunnels are lined with fantastic artwork, well-preserved and still retaining much of its original color (unlike most of the outdoor temples). We loved seeing this.
Stone Workers Factory
Because so many people try to sell imitation stone work in the markets and on the street, the Egyptian government maintains some authentic factories. Here you can visit to see how the work is done, still today, using the ancient tools and colors (and after the tour buy something to take home – of course I did!).
Temple of Hatshepsut
This temple honors Hatshepsut, “Foremost of Noble Ladies”, who was the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh. She also was one of the longest reigning and most successful pharaohs. This incredible temple was unknown and buried under the sand and lost for thousands of years. The temple is an example of perfect symmetry predating the Parthenon. After Hatshepsut chose this site for her mortuary temple, the nearby valley became a favored site for tombs that we now call the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut also commissioned two obelisks constructed to mark her 16th year on the throne. One of those is the uncompleted broken obelisk mentioned above on day one. This was one of my favorite sites.
We returned to the ship for our lunch and an afternoon rest and then continued on the West Bank of the Nile in Luxor where there are two significant temples:
Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple
Karnak is the largest temple in Egypt and the second most visited site in this country. It is a marvel. The two temples (Karnak and Luxor) were once connected by a 3km road (some still visible) lined with innumerable sphinx statues. Karnak was a sacred site, and it’s easy to see why. Only partly restored, the towering pillars and cavernous spaces are remarkable. There are 122 columns over 10 meters tall and 12 columns that are 21 meters tall. Decorative architraves sit on top of these columns, each estimate to weigh 70 tons. It is so incredible to imagine how these were constructed and positioned; archeologists and physicists have marveled and studied this question for generations.
The Luxor Temple built around 1400 BC was also buried for ages. Partially reconstructed, with work ongoing, this religious site has been used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptian Christians and of course is a revered site in today’s Islamic Egypt. A Christian church was built on the site before the rest of the temple was discovered buried below. Today after excavation, the church door is 20 feet above ground, and serves as a mosque.
These two temples are both within sight of the Nile River and in the center of modern-day Luxor. Their historic significance as part of the cradle of civilization is mind-boggling.
Back to the ship we went for our final dinner and night on board. The crew of Alexander the Great sang to us at dinner and we all danced and sang along. We have enjoyed our time on board so much, and highly recommend this boat as well as Memphis Tours.
We now return to Cairo, where we will spend a full day at the pyramids, sphinx, and Egyptian museum before continuing on to Jordan.
If you have ever hesitated about visiting Egypt please stop. It is truly remarkable, beautiful and fascinating. With our guides we have felt safe constantly. And the people could not be any friendlier. I am so glad we came.
More soon from Cairo. Fabulous! رائع
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