#2 Egypt, January 29, 1999

Dear Everybody,

Jan and I flew to Aswan where we wanted to stay in the old and famous Old Cataract Hotel, but unfortunately it was full. This historic hotel was used in the movie of Agatha Christie’s “Death On The Nile,” because Agatha Christie had stayed and done some writing there. So we found another. Unfortunately Jan had a bad cold so we kind of took an R and R day overlooking the hotel pool, read and visited.

The next day we walked downtown and engaged a felucca, which is a small, anciently designed sailboat for travel on the Nile.






We saw the Tombs of Khnum and a Nubian village where I bought a necklace. We engaged this felucca to take us to Kom Ombo on Tuesday as we really enjoyed this mode of travel on the Nile. It made us feel kind of like we were back in ancient times.

We did visit the Old Cataract Hotel, having a beer and soaking up the atmosphere.

The next day we visited the new Nubian Museum. The Nubians are an ancient people—our felucca sailor, Shahar, was of this heritage. Then we went through a Fatamid cemetery and later stopped to see the unfinished obelisk that is still in the quarry. This obelisk was three-fourths finished, and was 42 meters long (140 feet!) but a flaw in the granite had appeared and so it was abandoned.

We really liked downtown Aswan—we shopped at the souq and then had a beer and pizza at the Aswan Moon restaurant overlooking the Nile. We booked a flight to go to Abu Simbel for the next day—visitors cannot go there by road right now after a terrorist incident that happened recently. We took a horse and carriage back to our hotel and when I paid him, the driver told me that I had given him a ‘one’ (which he showed me) instead of a ‘ten’ so I paid him more—realizing later that he was scamming me. He also asked for a tip and when I said no, he then asked for a tip “for the horse!” Oh yes, Egyptians have been dealing with tourists for 2000 years and it’s ‘buyer beware!’

Jan and I ate dinner at the Old Cataract Hotel in a beautiful Moorish restaurant where it’s even very difficult to get a dinner reservation. Unfortunately the dinner was very mediocre even though the atmosphere was stunning.

The next day we flew to Abu Simbel to see the magnificent Temples of Ramses II and his beloved Nubian wife, Nefertari. We had seen Ramses II’s mummy in the Egyptian Museum with his little gray wisps of hair. He was 97 years old when he died! The temples were huge and completely covered with carvings showing events of history, suitably embellished to show Ramses II in the most favored way. We had a very helpful guided tour of the temples. How did they ever get these enormous temples with their exterior gigantic statues moved before the Aswan dam inundated their original site. Thank goodness they were saved! What a treasure.

Our trusty felucca took us to see the tombs on the West Bank of which there are many, mostly in a poor state of repair. But, my goodness they are ancient so of course they show their age!



Jan took a camel ride and I took her picture. We went to see the Island of Philae which was mostly flooded since the building of the Aswan Dam. The temples, however, were relocated to higher ground on the island of Agilika. The oldest part of Philae dates to the 4th century BC but the temples on Agilika Island were from as late as the 3rd century AD.

Tuesday morning we set out in the felucca with Shahar, our sailor, to go to Kom Ombo, to see the temples there. We brought a picnic lunch along and it was a beautiful day, but cool.



We stopped at Shahar’s village and ate our picnic lunch with his little brother. We were met by many gigantic cruise ships on the Nile, which dwarfed out little felucca.By 4:00 PM it was clear that we were not going to get to Kom Ombo by boat that day, so we got off and got a pick-up truck/bus to take us to Kom Ombo. It turned out that the only hotel was closed so we went on by taxi to Edfu, which also has a spectacular temple. We stayed in the only available hotel (a dump), bought some beer, which turned out to be non-alcoholic, and ate some chips for our dinner! Some days are like that—but really, the felucca ride was worth it!

The Edfu Temple was wonderful in the morning light. Some of this temple had been built by Cleopatra’s father, Ptolomy XIII, in the 1st century BC although begun in 237 BC by Ptolomy III. Many historical happenings are depicted in the carvings on this huge temple.

We got a taxi to Luxor, our next stop on the Nile. We had to wait for over an hour, though, as we had to go in a caravan with a police escort. After getting settled in our hotel, we visited the beautifully lit Luxor Temple after dark. What a grand, huge place. It was built by Amenophis III on the site of an older sanctuary and added to by Tutankhamun, Ramses II, Nectanebo, Alexander the Great (!), and various Romans. At one point the Arabs built a mosque in one of the interior courts, and there was also a village within the temple walls. I bought and read a book by Lucie Duff Gordon called “Letters From Egypt” which she wrote while living in a house that was on top of/within the Luxor Temple while she was dying from TB in the 1860s. I also read Amelia Edward’s book, “A Thousand Miles Up the Nile” which trip she did in the 1870s which covers much of the same sights that we are visiting.

During the day we again visited the Temple of Luxor, with its enormous entrance and statues, great courts, obelisks, columns, and a 13th century mosque. It really goes on and on until your eyes glaze over. From here we went to the even older and bigger Karnak Temple, which goes back into history for many, many centuries. The main additions to an older part were built during 1570 and 1090 BC! It was modified and expanded for 1500 years! One could spend a month examining this Temple, but Egypt is like that—-there’s always MORE!

At the Karnak temple in Luxor I met and spoke to the guard that was pictured on the cover of my Lonely Planet Guidebook. He saw me carrying it and so was calling, “Madame, Madame, your book—look, look, it’s me!” Everyone, of course, is calling “Madame, Madame” all of the time so that normally doesn’t get my attention. He persisted, though, and yes, there he was on the cover of my Lonely Planet Guidebook!

Today we visited the West Bank—first the Vally of the Kings where we saw Tombs of Merneptak, Ramses VI (the Pharaoh mentioned in Exodus in the Bible), and Queen Tawaert/Sethnakt. On to the Temple of Hatshepsut in honor of a woman Pharaoh. Following the death of Hatshepsut’s father, Tuthmosis I in 1495 BC, she was in a power struggle with his grandson Tuthmosis III. Hatshepsut won and declared herself ‘Pharaoh.’ She had married her half-brother, Tuthmosis II but didn’t produce any sons to succeed her. Unfortunately when Tuthmosis III did succeed her after her death, he obliterated her image or name wherever it appeared on the temple.

While it was very hot that day, we pressed on to the Valley of the Queens to see the Tombs of Amunheerklepshep and of Titi. All of these tombs are wonderful, and it’s frustrating that one cannot spend much more time in each one to take in these wondrous things, but there is only so much one can absorb in one visit.

Now we’re back at the hotel, after negotiating with our taxi driver to take us tomorrow to the Red Sea for two days. Cooling off in the pool felt really good. Later we ventured out again and Jan bought 12 handmade perfume bottles—beautifully delicate.

Stay tuned—-


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