Aswan, Egypt

 In Honeymoon Planning
Al salaam a’alaykum!  That’s hello in Arabic, native tongue of Aswan Egypt.     Aswan is the gateway oasis between Nubian and Arab culture in Africa.  Its epicenter is Lake Nasser, which separates Egypt from Sudan.  The Aswan Dam is Africa’s top producer of hydroelectricity.  The Nile is the longest river on earth and provides plenty of power.  The dam was completed in 1971 and has been instrumental for drought relief in the region.  The most notorious inhabitants are the Nile crocodiles.  Crocs are revered in Egyptian culture and have a cult following among the locals.  Ancient Egyptians would keep crocodiles in pools and temples. They ornamented the crocodiles with jewels in honor of their beloved god, Sobek. The people of ancient Egypt worshiped Sobek in order to appease him, the crocodiles, and to insure the fertility of their people and crops.
Aswan is a strategic location which currently houses a garrison of the Egyptian army, but which has also seen ancient Egyptian garrisons, as well as that of General Kitchener, Turkish troops of the Ottoman empire and the Romans.  It is primarily Muslim but not as devout as northern Egypt.
The most popular excursion from Aswan is Abu Simbel.  Abu Simbel is a Unesco World Heritage Site consisting of two massive rock temples carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharoah Ramses II in the 13th century BC as a lasting monument to himself and Queen Nefertari.  It was constructed to commerorate his victory at the battle of Kadesh and intimidate his Nubian neighbors.  The entire complex had to be relocated in 1960 due to threats of flooding from Lake Nasser.  The feat is considered one of the greatest in archaeological engineering and cost forty million dollars back then.  Abu Simbel is 290 kilometers southwest of Aswan and best reached by small plane or helicopter. It looms over the Sudanese border to the south.  That’s about as close as we wanted to get to Sudan.  The Sudanese were in yet another civil war during our stay.
Another famous landmark of Aswan is the Old Cataract Hotel.  This is where Agatha Christie lived when she wrote “Death on the Nile”.  The hotel was constructed by Thomas Cook, who organized the first tourst trips to Egypt. The hotel opened on 11 December 1899 with all the luxuries – electric lights and all. It was originally designed for 60 visitors, but was enlarged dramatically in 1901 to accommodate the poeple who were sleeping in tents on the grounds in some seasons.  It remains the most renowned hotel on the continent and boasts a clientele of Czar Nicolas II, Sir Winston Churchill, the Aga Khan III, King Farouk of Egypt, the Shah of Iran,  Mohamed V King of Morocco, Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Queen Noura of Jordan, Lady Diana and the Princess Caroline of Monaco. Defined by a fusion of Victorian architecture and Orient-inspired decor, the Sofitel Old Cataract is set amid verdant gardens, complete with a picnic area. The heated outdoor pool is surrounded by a sun terrace equipped with loungers and umbrellas, and features a poolside bar. Traditional French cooking is offered in the Moroccan palace-style restaurant, while drinks and live music can be enjoyed in the bars, one of which features a terrace offering panoramic views over the Nile. In typical British fashion, high tea is served every afternoon at 3 pm.  Our tea included a delicious bevy of pastries and petite sandwiches all for 75 Egyptian Pounds (about $15 U.S.).
The fashionable recreation of Aswan is falucca sailing.  A falluca is a small Egyptian sailboat.  We boarded our falluca from the Cataract and spent a few hours sailing around Elephantine Island and the Botanical gardens of the Nile.  The island was a key military position for Egyptian defense of the Nile from the Nubians.  Lord Kitchener, British Consul of Egypt, was deeded the island by the Egyptian government for his campaigns in the Sudan in the 19th century.  Most of the structures on the island have significantly eroded, but the natural beauty still remains.
Egypt is seven hours ahead of Ocean City.  To get from BWI to Aswan requires an eight-hour flight to London  followed by a four-hour flight to Luxor.  From Luxor,  a cruise ship can sail you south to Aswan in about two days. Amazingly, nearly everyone speaks fluent English.  Egyptians were generally friendly and have a lot of pride in their culture.  The weather in Aswan was consistently sunny and 80 degrees in January.  We really enjoyed this little adventure.  Cheers!
– Sean Rox

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