Travel Date 28th March 2008
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One of the things I really enjoyed in Egypt was travelling up and down the Nile. I did that in three different ways: the night train from Giza to Aswan; by air from Aswan to Abu Simbel and also from Luxor to Cairo; and by boat from Aswan to Luxor. Later I'll write about floating down the Nile on the boat but first, the rail trip.
I've always loved train travel, especially to new and unknown places. I wrote a short nostalgic piece here when they closed my local line: Sentimental Journey - a Lost Railway. I haven't travelled a lot by rail overseas: Washington DC to New York City; New York City to Buffalo (surprisingly pleasant and scenic); London to Oxford and also to Manningtree; Dublin to Limerick via Tipperary; Madrid to Granada and a few others. In a couple of months I will be on the Andean Explorer from Puno to Cuzco and, if the track is repaired in time, the Vistadome from there to Macchu Picchu. Some day I'll do a tour that is essentially just rail. Some possibilities that fascinate me are the Trans-siberian, the Orient Express, the TGV in France, or our own Indian Pacific and the Ghan.
So I was looking forward to the train journey. I wasn't disappointed despite some glitches, partly because I had lowered my expectations of the tour agency and partly because I just like sitting in trains watching the world pass by.
The station in Giza was like stepping back in time over fifty years to my childhood, waiting on platforms and waiting rooms in country stations in New South Wales. They may have been designed by the same British architect in the 19th century. My tour agent explained how to recognise the correct train and then left, a couple of hours before departure time in the late evening.
I had a light meal in the cafe at the north end of the platform and then sat in the waiting room. I had not realised how busy it would be. Several trains came and went with lots of passengers departing. Some trains appeared to be military troop transport.
But my train did not appear. I had some fascinating conversations in broken English and sign language with some fellow-travellers in the waiting room but as time went by I became more than a little nervous and started to worry if I had missed my train. I was re-assured when I met an Aussie couple who were booked on my train in the same carriage. Their tour agent was still with them and didn't mind me tagging along for information.
Eventually the train arrived, over an hour late, and the conductor boarded us. Slowly we left for the south. By this time it was dark. About an hour later my Osoris tour agent rang to check that I was on board. I have to wonder what he would have done if I had not been.
The compartment was compact, as I expected, not luxurious but clean and quite acceptable. I sat up for quite a while, watching outer suburbs flit past, feeling like a voyeur looking into people's lives as we glided by. It was a different view to that from the road, into backyards and small streets. Slowly the suburbs changed to sporadic villages. Looking out my window to the west we passed close to some villages, sometimes we seemed to pass right through the middle. From the corridor windows to the east there were flickering lights across the shining waters of the Nile.
At some time during the evening the conductor provided an unmemorable meal; it was probably OK. I vaguely recall it being similar to airline fare. Possibly I don't recall it well because I washed it down with some equally unmemorable Egyptian red wine. The bed was made up and I dozed off watching the night glide past. I slept well and woke refreshed as we crossed the Nile an hour or so short of Luxor.
Breakfast was a different matter. My agent had supposedly made special arrangements for a low-carb meal. The first picture is breakfast as served, the second is as I returned it. Even so I ate too much; I paid for it later with high blood glucose levels. The conductor said he would help. After a while he re-appeared with some extra tiny little cheese wedges. Of course, the agent had done nothing at all. I should have bought some ham and cheese before departure.
I was fascinated by the stark contrast between the edge of the lush, green Nile valley and the harsh, khaki hills and desert beyond the irrigated areas. The boundary was very clear and varied in distance from the shore, sometimes very close, but at others over the horizon.
We stopped at Luxor for a few minutes and then continued on to Aswan, stopping a couple of times en-route. The scenery wasn't dramatic or exciting but to me it was fascinating watching the unhurried pace of the lives we passed and the timeless Nile with it's feluccas, cruise boats, islands and villages.
After my earlier dramas I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted on arrival by Emad, my tour guide and helper for the next few days. After my negative comments on Osoris and their other staff I have to give credit where it is due. Emad did everything he could to make up for the Osoris disasters; I could not have asked for a better guide and the help he gave me, limited by the restrictions of the Osoris itinerary, went a long way to helping me enjoy the rest of my Egyptian experience. I recommend him unreservedly.
If you ever go to Egypt, I recommend the sleeper train as a civilised way to travel from Cairo to Luxor or Aswan.