GETTING THERE: All things that begin or end with EgyptAir fill me with trepidation. The only flight from Cairo to Abu Simbel leaves Cairo at 4.20am. And this is in the high season for tourism! The result is that you arrive at Abu Simbel around 7am a sleep-deprived zombie. (If you are travelling from Luxor or Aswan, the scheduling is more decent). Which is a shame really, because the flight left on time, the journey was smooth, the plane was big, and the service not all that bad.
Tickets for Egyptians are around LE700 round trip.
If you are picking up the cruise at the High Dam, you can also opt for the sleeper train from Cairo costing $50 which takes you straight into the dock where your cruise ship is moored. I should warn you, however, that your trip will not be even half as romantic as the Orient Express. The ride is bumpy, the cabins unpleasant and the food bad. If you are already in Aswan, you can simply take a cab to Abu Simbel -- the trip lasts around two hours, and costs around LE300.
AIRPORTS: Cairo airport is in a constant state of flux these days with all the seemingly endless renovations taking place. It is often difficult to find your terminal -- especially in the small hours of the morning -- and directions are hard to come by, so give yourself an extra 20 minutes to figure out how to navigate the increasingly complex maze of parking lots and unsigned service roads.
Abu Simbel Airport is clean, small and without facilities of any kind. So if you are leaving from Abu Simbel, make sure your flight is on time -- you probably do not want to be stranded there for long. Aswan Airport, on the other hand, is new and slick. A 20-minute taxi ride from downtown Aswan, it boasts a Sbarro pizza outlet, and countless shops that all sell the same touristy paraphernalia. It is airy, clean and the waiting room is pleasant, so if you are stuck for a bit you needn't feel too bad.
FOOD AND MEDICAL RESOURCES: Belle Époque has a doctor on board, although we never had the need to use his services, so I can't vouch for how extensive the medical care is. Keep in mind you will be literally out in the middle of nowhere, so you might want to pack some basics like Aspirin and Primpran. Also stock up on any regular medications you take -- until you get to Aswan you will not have access to a pharmacy. Further, if you have specific dietary requirements, you might want to inform the boat's management in advance.
IN ASWAN: If you have time to kill in Aswan before your flight or train back to Cairo, in addition to Philae and the Nubian Museum, you might want to head to the souq for traditional cotton-wear, spices from the Sudan, hibiscus and peanuts, not to mention all sorts of African handicrafts. The more intellectually inclined may prefer a visit to the Aswan Museum, Elephantine Island or the Agha Khan Mausoleum.
And if you have time for lunch or dinner, and you're looking for a spectacular view of the Nile and surrounding environs, go straight past the clichéd Old Cataract Hotel, and head on up to the Nubian House, where you can enjoy great moussaka overlooking the city.
Atlas of Ancient Egyptian History : John Baines and Jarmoir Malek, Les Livres de France.
Nubia and Upper Egypt, Jill Kamil, Egyptian Inernational Publishing Organisation.
Nubia: Sketches, Notes and Photographs, Margo Veillon, AUC Press.
The usual travel guides, my favourites being The Rough Guide and The Blue Guide.
All of the above can be found at both Diwan and the AUC Bookstore.