I took a 12-hour overnight first-class sleeper train through the heart of Egypt, and it’s an experience I won’t forget anytime soon

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

  • While visiting Egypt in December, I found that the most cost-efficient way to travel from Cairo to Aswan and Luxor, two of Egypt’s top archeological destinations, was a 12-hour overnight sleeper train. I booked a two-person compartment for about $110 a person.
  • Ever since I was a child, I read books and watched movies where the setting was an overnight sleeper train. It has forever fueled a fascination with long-distance train travel and I have always wanted to try one out.
  • The experience both did and didn’t live up to my romantic ideal of train travel. The compartment was clean, the beds were comfortable, and the service was friendly and attentive, but the I hardly slept on the shaky train. The train was dated and didn’t have the hallmarks one associates with the golden age of rail — dining cars, bar cars, and fancy meals.

There are few things that evince a stronger nostalgia for a traveler than an overnight sleeper train.

Even in our age of fast, cheap air travel, if you asked most travelers if they would stuff themselves in a train compartment for days and watch the landscape whiz by, I guarantee most would say yes.

I mean, have you read Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express?” Seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest?” Watched James Bond stalk compartments in “From Russia With Love?” Or — to use a more current film — imagined yourself rolling through the India like Wes Anderson’s sad-sack brothers in “The Darjeeling Limited.”

Like most nostalgia-inflected things, sleeper trains are something whose imagined charm does not stack up to its grubby reality. Gone are the golden days of rail when wealthy snowy-bearded travelers in three-piece suits dined on starched tablecloths while nervously flicking the brass clasp of their pocket watches.

Not that reality was going to stop me from taking a sleeper train the first chance I got.

This past December, while visiting Egypt, I found out an overnight sleeper train managed by rail company Ernst Watania seemed to be the most cost-efficient — if not time-efficient — way to get from Cairo to Egypt’s southern border where many of its greatest archeological sites reside.

Game on.

I booked two first-class tickets for a double compartment and began to train  — cue locomotive-themed Rocky montage  — for the 12-hour, nearly 600-mile rail journey.

The trip was at once a romantic experience and one I likely won’t repeat again. Here’s what it was like:

To catch the train, I headed to the train station in Giza, about a half-hour drive from downtown Cairo. While many trains leave from Cairo’s Victorian-era Ramses Station, Giza’s station is far smaller and easier to navigate.
Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

I was scheduled to take the 7:45 p.m. sleeper train so I made sure to arrive a little after 7 p.m. The station was packed when I got there. But most people weren’t waiting for the sleeper train.
Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

The majority of the Egyptians on the platform were waiting for the second or third-class trains that travel the same route south.
Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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