Buoyed by my enjoyment of the bus travel in Cairo, I went to the bus station and headed to Alexandria. The second largest city in Egypt, it arguably comes with its most famous name. Once the envy of the world, now it resembles a big city. But big cities are interesting in Egypt and it was nice being the only western face in town.
I had been hoping to learn more about Cleopatra or Alexander the Great, but this seemed to be missing in the city. The museum was good though. In that it was actually museum, unlike the Cairo version (which was also very good, but in a different way). Things were labelled here, and from reading the information boards you actually learnt about Egyptian history. Incredible idea for a museum really. I also visited the new library. Weirdly, it was the principle reason I came to Alexandria. The old one, before it burnt down, was the envy of the world and one can only imagine what it must have looked like. The new one is a modern day take and they’ve done a fine job. It’s visually stunning and the main reading room, which has space for over 2,500 people, does take your breath away. What was interesting as well, was seeing the library very busy and mostly with women. Egypt seems to be fairly progressive in this area and it was nice to see.
The rest of my time in Alexandria was spent sitting in a delicious eatery. It was a fantastic place, where I sat down and ordered pretty much the entire menu all for around £3. On each occasion, I left feeling a little ill, but the temptation of another mezze kept pulling me back in.
Unusually, I left Alexandria by train. Traditionally, I’m very much a bus person, but that’s impossible for a journey to Aswan. It’s pretty much trains or nothing. The logical train was the direct service between Alexandria and Aswan, but apparently tourists aren’t allowed on that train. I’m assuming it’s to do with the security situation and wanting to group the tourists together. Instead, I had to take a train to Cairo and then catch an Aswan overnight train from there. After a five four hour wait – I filled the time with another mezze – I found my way onto the train after much confusion due to my train not existing on any information boards and found I was the only tourist. Figure that out.
Aswan is not the greatest place. It exists as a starting or stopping off place for cruises coming from or going to Luxor. I didn’t have the time for that. I was in Aswan primarily to secure my visa to Sudan. As soon as the overnight train arrived into Aswan, I found a hotel and walked to the embassy, which is around three miles out of town. I had initially wanted to take a micro there, but despite my hotel writing Sudan embassy in Arabic, it only seemed to cause more problems. “You’re going the wrong way!”, “This is my town, I know!” and so on was the general response. The best was a wonderful conversation with one guy.
“Where are you going?”
“To the embassy of Sudan.”
“How are you going to get there?”
“No! Not possible.”
“Well then by foot.”
“You can’t walk to Sudan!”
Eventually he told me I was going the wrong way. But I knew the location had changed, so I followed the corniche all the way to the mosque around three miles away. I arrived and was told that they don’t process visas on a Wednesday. The following day I went again and was met by the same helpful man who took my fingerprints and asked me to fill out a form. He then told me to come back on Sunday.
Aswan is a depressing place. It relies on tourists and it really isn’t getting any. The odd cruise ship was docked, but very few were getting off them. I, a fun couple from Mexico and another guy from England seemed to be the only independent travellers in town.
It is worth the trip though. Mainly for Abu Simbel, which is a three hour drive away from town. To get there, you have to take a tourist bus, which leaves at 4am in the morning. There is no flexibility on this as it requires a police escort. In the past, I think this was to do with Sudanese civil war, but now acts more as a simplifier at police control posts. All the tourists together means they don’t have to search them.
I went to sleep with us at the back of the convoy and woke up with us having left the convoy behind. Despite being confused how that was possible, I was happy as it allowed the eight of us in the bus to gain access to the temples before anyone else. Not that that was a problem, because other than a bus load of Korean tourists, that was it.
Photos of Abu Simbel speak for themselves. It sits in a beautiful location just above Lake Nasser, which is the second largest artificial lake in the world. It’s a formidable size and the interiors are incredible. Like nothing I have ever seen before. They are so well maintained. You are not allowed to take photos inside, but I got a sneaky one when the guards weren’t looking. Unfortunately, it was not possible to get one of the entrance hall, so I’ll use one from the internet instead.
The next day, I went back to the embassy and picked up my two month visa. I then booked a place on the ferry for the following week. It’s an annoying process, because you can’t book the ferry without a visa, but then the ferry can book up and you can become stranded. With the road opening up between Aswan and Sudan, this is less of a problem, but I didn’t want to take the risk as I’ve read that the ferry is one of the most thought after border crossings in the world.
So that was it for Aswan. A weird, bureaucratic stay with a dose of incredible Egyptian temples. Next stop, Luxor.