January 5th. 8am. Somewhere between Cairo to Aswan.
I’m sitting on the overnight sleeper train, a few hours away from our destination of Aswan in southern Egypt. We (wisely) decided to upgrade from seats to a private sleeper, which includes two bunk-style beds, two meals, our own sink, and total privacy.
It was an investment well worth it! Aside from being a little chilly (as Egypt is this time of year), it was a very pleasant way to pass the evening. And now that the sun’s up, we’ve got a never-ending view of palm trees, barren hills, rural villages, and the occasional lake.
It’s stunning, really. Don’t get me wrong – I love beaches and mountains as much as the next person. But there’s something about the desert, too, a sense of quiet and tranquility I don’t experience in any other setting.
Its beauty is its starkness.
But anyway. I’m not a poet, especially not this early in the morning. Let’s move on.
After our epic day touring Saqqara, Memphis, and the Pyramids, it was time to explore the city of Cairo. Makmud once again picked us up, this time with a lovely Egyptian woman, Fatima. Having spent four years studying inside the Egyptian Museum – among her other education – Fatima, I believe, knows everything about everything relating to Egyptian history!
We spent a starry-eyed two hours wandering the famed Egyptian Museum, hearing stories of pharaohs, mummies, hidden tombs, and buried treasures. We saw Tutankhamen’s gilded funerary mask and all the treasures buried in his tomb. We saw canopic jars, ancient jewels, alabaster sculptures, and dozens of sarcophagi.
The museum even has a section dedicated to mummified animals, which included birds, dogs, a horse, and a 22-foot-long Nile crocodile.
Why anyone would want to mummify a crocodile is beyond me, but hey…it was kinda cool.
Our next stop was Coptic Egypt, where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus supposedly stayed during their exile here. The narrow, partially underground streets are a veritable maze connecting centuries-old churches, synagogues, and Roman fortresses. There’s even a secret passage from the Hanging Church all the way to the ancient Citadel, which was used as an escape route for persecuted Jews and Christians.
After lunch and a quick stop at a perfumery/essential oil shop, we braved the city traffic and arrived late afternoon at the mighty Citadel. Perched high atop a hill in central Cairo, this was the seat of the Egyptian kings for over 800 years. Today it houses a military academy, several military museums, and the beautiful Mohammed Ali mosque.
Through the sunset and the sand, we even caught a glimpse of the Pyramids off on the horizon.
But time was slipping away, and we still had a train to catch. We bid farewell to Fatima and Makmud delivered us at our hotel, promising to return in an hour to pick us up. We stocked up on goodies at the local grocery store and snagged a quick bowl of koshary for dinner before heading over to the train station.
As you might imagine, the train station in Cairo is sheer chaos. Fortunately for us, Makmud escorted us all the way through security and to our platform and waited with us until the train arrived.
But that was last night, and this is this morning. In a few hours we’ll arrive in Aswan to continue our tour to Philae Temple, Aswan Dam, and Abu Simbel.
Stay tuned – our tour of Egypt is just getting started!