Every day in Egypt is an adventure. I'm particularly looking forward to the night train from Cairo to Aswan. An environmentally friendly way to travel the long distance. The carriages are wonderfully old-fashioned! Outside, the Sahara desert and the Nile river pass by. Here you will find all the information you need for your trip.
The nostalgic Ramses train station in Cairo
The Ramses train station in Cairo looks nostalgic: with turrets, arched windows and blue mosaic tiles - a wild mix of Islamic and European architectural styles. Our guide leads us from the station forecourt through the hawkers who sell everything you could need on a trip (and much more) into the station hall.
The modern world has found its way here, there are escalators and digital display boards, the sky is glazed blue. But golden columns, rosettes and ornate decorations leave no doubt that this is an old building:
It was built in 1892 and is one of the oldest and most historic train stations in Egypt.
It owes its name to Pharaoh Ramses II, the builder of the famous temples of Abu Simbel.
Before we are allowed to enter the tracks, we have to go through a security check and a digital ticket check, like at the airport. The controller is a cat who has made himself comfortable on the scanner. She reluctantly leaves her post so we can scan our tickets.
Egypt - With the night train from Cairo to Aswan.
There is a lot to discover on the platform: this is where the new world meets the old. Excited tourists sit at the station kiosk and nervously eye their luggage, veiled women say goodbye to their husbands in traditional caftans. Men in suits rush past busily with briefcases and wheeled suitcases, others dressed in jallabiya (a floor-length robe) carry large sacks on their heads. At seven o'clock sharp our train arrives with a lot of steam and noise and our adventure can begin. The two of us share a compartment, the upholstery is made of green velvet, the walls and floor are covered with a red carpet. Normally I would say: cool retro look, but the interior is original.
Trains in Egypt - a long history
The Egyptian night train has a long and fascinating history. The first railway in Egypt was built in the mid-19th century, connecting Cairo with Alexandria. But it wasn't until 1902 that the first sleeping car was introduced, allowing passengers to rest comfortably during the long journey. Over the years, the sleeper route network has expanded to other popular destinations in Egypt such as Luxor, Aswan and even Port Said. During its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, the train was known for its luxurious amenities, including a dining car and a bar car with live music.
There used to even be a dining car and live music
In the 1970s, however, the sleeper train fell into disrepair and was eventually discontinued. It was only in the 80s that the Egyptian government decided to revive the train by investing in new carriages and modern comforts without destroying the train's historic charm.
Along the Nile Valley
12 hours and 14 stops separate us from Aswan, which is almost 900 kilometers further south.
The route follows the Nile, which is vital for Egypt.
With its 6,650 kilometers, the Nile is considered the longest river in the world
(although there is always debate as to whether the Amazon is not longer). The Nile starts in the mountains of Rwanda and Burundi, flows through Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan before flowing into the Mediterranean in Egypt. It is the only river in the world that crosses a subtropical dry belt and the largest desert in the world: the Sahara. Only through him could the first advanced civilization arise in Egypt - without him the empire of the pharaohs would probably never have existed.
I sit lost in thought in our compartment as our train rattles through the darkness. I can't see much through the window other than a few illuminated houses. I think about the long distance the river has traveled and the different landscapes and cultures it has seen along the way.
(Almost) luxury on board
A friendly conductor, well dressed in a suit, shirt and tie, pulls me out of my dreams. He also has a dual role as a waiter. With practiced movements he opens the folding tables and serves us two trays of cooked
Vegetables, rice and meat in aluminum bowls. There is an orange for dessert.
Not a fancy feast, but better than nothing. After dinner he shows up again to make our beds. To do this, the lower bench is folded out and the wooden paneling on the wall is converted into a second, soft bed. Both are equipped with freshly made pillows and blankets and voilà, our bedroom is ready. There is a small sink in the corner of our compartment, the toilets are in the hallway. At the beginning of the journey they are still clean...
At night the train stops a few times and every now and then I hear the loud warning tone of the macrophone. But I still sleep surprisingly soundly. At sunrise I get up, walk through the train and look out the windows: desert as far as the eye can see. Only now and then a small village with a mosque passes by. The brighter it gets, the busier the towns become, and the train also comes to life. Our conductor brings us breakfast. Wrapped croissants with cream cheese and jam. It could be worse.
At 8.30 a.m. we reach our final stop: Aswan train station
“Salam aleikum” - Welcome to Aswan
the street vendors shout to us, selling tea, coffee and fresh juices at their stalls. Welcome to the southernmost city in Egypt, welcome to another world - at least that's how it seems to us. It is significantly warmer in Aswan and compared to hectic Cairo we feel like we are in a village. The Nile shapes the cityscape; traditional boats and feluccas with large white sails float on it.
We don't know what to do first - should we visit the famous dam in Aswan? Or shop at the Nubian Bazaar? Or should we visit the Temple of Isis on Elephantine Island first? In any case, we need to organize our transport to the famous temple of Abu Simbel, even further south, the next morning. "Oh yes" - and of course we also want to take a ship to Luxor ... In the end we decide to have a strong coffee on the beach promenade, which is called the Corniche here. Because with a clear head, important decisions can be made much easier...
MY FAVORITE PLACES IN EGYPT
The pyramids of Giza in the sunset
the rock temple of Abu Simbel on the border with Sudan
the Islamic old town and the Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo
Luxor with its temples, the Nile and the Valley of the Kings
Taking a taxi is easiest and safest with Uber. The best thing to do is download the app. This makes it possible to track who picked you up, especially if you order it at the hotel reception.
A single cabin costs $130.
Accommodation on the night train is in two-bed cabins that are comfortable and air-conditioned. Bedding is provided and there are Western-style toilets in each carriage. The overall cleanliness of the train may not be up to the standard you are used to - especially towards the end of the journey. A simple dinner and breakfast are included and served on board. If you have special requests, you better bring them with you.
If you have strong nerves you can, for example, at www.billiger-mietwagen.de book a rental car from €140 per week. However, be warned: Cairo is one of the busiest cities in North Africa and notorious for its traffic congestion and air pollution.
FOOD & DRINK
If you've had enough of Egyptian food, head to Cairo for O's Pasta go where there is delicious Italian food. It's best to reserve in advance.
159 26th of July Zamalek, Cairo Governorate 11211, Egypt
The stylish restaurant LUUMA is located in Cairo on the island of Zamalek right on the water.
There are delicious smoothies, coffee and a good selection of food here... basically everything except alcohol.
Abou El Feda, Zamalek, Cairo Governorate 4271104, Egypt
The King Jamaica Restaurant & Cafeis located in Aswan on Elephantine Island directly on a rock above the Nile. The colorful, cheerful restaurant offers a mix of Nubian and Jamaican cuisine.
Elephantine Island, Sheyakhah Oula, Aswan 1, Aswan Governorate 81111, Egypt
I booked the 15-day package trip “Explore Egypt” at Intrepid Travel for €1,283:
In hindsight, I would probably choose another trip because Hurghada was too cold for me in January and I didn't really find the Alamein military museum near Alexandria that exciting. From the itinerary it sounds Egypt Experience - in retrospect - better. From €1,740
The paths around the ruins are often rocky. Comfortable footwear is therefore essential. It's hot in Egypt, especially between June and September, but I always recommend a sun hat and sunscreen. Avoid plastic waste and bring your own water bottle and fill it with boiled water. There are kettles in almost all hotels.