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  1. Report #91 Day at Sea April 19, 2019 Friday Partly sunny & 64 degrees Part#1 Of 1 8 Pictures If we ever appreciated a day at sea, this was one of them. After such a long stay in Barcelona, we needed a full day to relax. Most of the morning after breakfast was spent catching up on reports and pictures from yesterday. It’s always wise for us to keep up with as much as we can right away, because the memory tends to fade if we let too much time pass by. The next few weeks will be a test to see how we can handle several ports in a row with few sea days in between. Brings back many memories of times we took shorter cruises with intensive ports. When we returned home, we needed a vacation to recover. A few days ago, Bill received a gift certificate from the hotel director for a $50 spa treatment, but it was only good until the 20th. The only thing he could think to get was another haircut..…really more of a trim since he had one about three weeks ago. It is interesting how this coupon works. Whatever treatment you choose, the coupon will only cover that amount, but not the 15% gratuity. He would have gladly given the balance of the $25 men’s cut as a tip to Cherrie, one of the hair cutters. However, the gratuity cannot come out of the coupon amount. It has to be put on your shipboard account. For us, it is no big deal since we have plenty of credit still to spend. But for those folks that are running up a hefty tab, well, they resent it. In addition, these coupons are not transferable to a spouse. We have heard stories of folks ripping up the coupon in front of the spa receptionist, saying thanks, but no thanks. In the end, he ended up with a perfect cut that should last now until we get back home. Meeting up with Barb for lunch was fun as always. Seems that the trivia questions of late have been getting harder for all of the groups to answer correctly. Scores have been low, and that is probably on purpose. Many times Barb will bring a hard question to us to answer, and sometimes we get it….most times we don’t. It still is the most played game on the ship. Sometime today we need to watch the lecture all about what to see and do in Lisbon, Portugal as described by EXC guide Ian. Lisbon has been a one-stop port for us, but we landed there on a Sunday. Many sites were closed, so we took a tour out of town for the day. This time we plan to spend the day in town, even though it will be Easter Sunday, and perhaps everything will be closed. Two new guests are onboard now. One for the test kitchen, Erik Malmsten, who will more than likely prepare foods for the country we are visiting next….Portugal. And guest speaker, Brian Stoddart, gave a lecture on the Spanish world, which will be appropriate for one more port. Since today is Good Friday, a Catholic service was held in the Mainstage. And a Seder Dinner was celebrated in one side of the Lido as they always do. Our tablemates, Greg and Heo, attended this affair tonight, but they had to reserve their places a week ago in order to attend. So it was just the three of us at dinner, and two of us were happy to see Empire chicken on the menu. It is the Kosher chicken that is served upon request here for anyone that orders it ahead of time. Well, it was a huge disappointment when our meals arrived, and the chicken was served with two pieces of dried up chicken with gravy. Sure was not the good juicy and tender half chicken we would have gotten. Bet the fellows will have a different story when we ask what they had for dinner. Oh well, you can’t win all of the time, and Slam made up for it with two plates of biscotti cookies. The Spanish Rumba Kings did a show based on the Gipsy Kings of old. Sorry we missed it, because with a title like that, we were most curious what it could be. Instead we went outside to catch the last of the sunset, and the beginning of the moon rising. Both pretty neat sights this evening. By the way, we went past Gibraltar tonight, but not until after midnight, unfortunately. We have made two stops in Gibraltar, a small place of only 3 acres and a population of 28 thousand English-speaking people. It is strategically situated guarding the Straits of Gibraltar, the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. The “Rock” as it is locally known, has an interesting relationship between the British and Spanish. The Spanish want it back, and the British may be happy to give it back. The citizens love their curious corner of England, especially the upper rock with spectacular views and a colony of naughty Barbary macaques. They are Europe’s only primates. If we had been able to stay up that late, and were located on the starboard side of the ship, we may have seen the “Rock” lit up as we sailed on by. Would have loved having a stop here, but we seldom do on a world cruise. But all was not lost, because we did see the north part of Africa….Tangiers, Morocco. It was lit up and sparkling like gold as we sailed through the strait. Bill & Mary Ann
  2. Report # 90 Barcelona, Spain April 18, 2019 Thursday Cloudy & 64 degrees Part #1 Of 4 80 Pictures Besides today being Holland America Line’s 146th birthday, it was also a birthday for one of us – Bill. How nice to have a special day for him we joked. In addition, some VIP’s joined the ship as well. Namely, Arnold Donald, the CEO of Carnival Corporation, Orlando Ashford, the President of HAL, and his wife and youngest son, and at least one executive head chef from Seattle, we heard. But more about that later. Spain is one of Europe’s most exotic countries, according to some experts, with old traditional ways, but mixed with a tendency towards the future. The capital is Madrid and the total population is about 41 million people. Architecture ranges from Islamic designs to Gothic cathedrals. The food is just as exciting – spicy and tasty. Best time to visit is from May to October, avoiding July and August, their hottest and busiest tourist season. Things we have seen and done include a trip to the Alhambra to see Andalucia’s Islamic architecture, Barcelona and Gaudi’s art, the islands of Mallorca and Menora for their secluded beaches, or a day trip to Mijas where we saw donkeys as local transport and ate roasted chestnuts that were sold on the streets. Day trips or overnight adventures take you to see Madrid, Seville, and Cordoba….places we have yet to see. A must to eat in Spain has to be the wafer thin slices of jamon, their cured ham, and their favorite dish of paella, a mixture of seafood and rice in a red sauce. Paella was invented in Valencia, another port where we have never stopped. Favorite beverages are vino tinto (red) or blanco (white) wines, fine sherry from Jerez la Frontera, or sangria with floating fruit. Trademarks are the flamenco dance, paella, bullfighting (yes it still happens with a passion), football, fiestas, Costa del Sol, and creative pickpockets in major cities. A random fact is that Spaniards spend more money on food per capita than any other European country. So, we arrived on time to the harbor, but due to a flotilla of cruise vessels coming into the port, we were not docked and cleared by officials until 9:30am, an hour and half late. Once again, it had to be announced that everyone on tours should NOT go to the Mainstage until we were ready to debark. With many passengers leaving the ship at the end of their segment, they had priority, especially if they had flights home. The shore excursions were no longer than 5 hours, so they would not be shortened. And to help with the guest’s concerns, the all aboard time had been extended to 6:30pm. Usually, we have a 2 day stay in Barcelona, but not on this cruise. There were a total of six cruise ships in port today. Besides the Amsterdam, there was the Phoenix Reisen Artania, the RCI Spectrum of the Seas, and the MSC Meravasiglia….the last two were mega-sized. Across the harbor, closer to town, were The World, and Regent’s Explorer, one of their newest ships in the fleet. Since our book only includes ships up to 2014, we have no info on their stats. However, if we had a choice of who we would sail with out of the lot (exception of the Amsterdam), we might lean towards Regent, which is all-inclusive with gorgeous rooms….every single one of them. We are not totally sure of the reason, but today the folks on the Amsterdam scored with a free shuttle ride to the World Trade Center in the city center. Everyone we know has always complained about paying the 3 euro each way for the shuttle. It could be due to the fact that we were about the last vessel to dock at Terminal E, which is the furthest away. Normally we enjoy walking, but since we only had one day here, we rode the shuttle, giving us more free time in town. The day began well for two reasons….no leaks in our room overnight, and a slew of birthday cards for the birthday guy. That was followed by more greetings in the dining room. Gan and Feri, our waiters, had found some huge blueberries for our yogurt, and even located catsup for both of us. Gan even sang happy birthday to Bill. By 11am, we were ready to go explore the town. And for this port, we were required to pack our passports with us in case of any surprise identity check by the local authorities while in the city. Barcelona can be described as a blend of the old and new, reality and fantasy. You can see many objects of art and architecture from Gaudi, the resident artist such as La Sagrada Familia Church, an ongoing project for forever since 1883. Then there is the Picasso Museum with the most extensive collection in the world. Other places to see are Passeig de Gracia, the major thoroughfare with shops, cafes, and some of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The Barri Gothic is full of winding streets with squares, fountains, and palaces. La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian walkway, undoubtedly the most lively street in town. Palau Guell and Park Guell are the mansion of Gaudi and a hillside garden with whimsical statues. La Boqueria is their large public market with fresh produce, meats, fish, and deli, and the Hill of Montjuic overlooks the harbor with the remains of a Spanish village. To see out of town, you can take tours to the Monserrat Monastery with views from 4000 feet high. We have seen the Black Virgin Mary statue, the patron of Catalonia. But the most memorable experience we recall was hearing the oldest boys’ choir in Europe – the Escolans. Heavenly. All of the above sights could be seen on tours offered by the ship starting from $55 to $190, all short duration of 4 to 5 hours. It was easy to find our way from the shuttle drop-off point to the Christopher Columbus Monument at the bottom of La Rambla. It was crowded with six ships in port, not to mention the several ferries we saw. Today happened to be Holy Thursday on the Catholic calendar, so many local families were out and about town as well. This was one place that many hop on, hop off double-decker coaches were available for the tourists. The one day ticket was 25 euro ($28.41 USD) and offered two different itineraries. One went west, while the other went east. La Rambla began with street artists, the ones that are costumed and painted, posing like frozen statues. On previous trips, we had been warned that while mesmerized by these artists, pickpocket artists are working the crowd. One of us watched for that activity, which we have seen in motion unfortunately. There was a continuous row of tents with souvenirs, and street side cafes. We liked the pages of food photos of their entire menus, which one photo says a thousand words. This is what we suggested to add to the ship’s Navigator site so we can figure out what’s for dinner. Further up the really crowded street, we came across some of the sites like the Grand Theater and some museums. On the left was the entrance to La Boqueria, the local market with food of all kinds. This was hands-down, the busiest place in town….wall-to-wall people. You have to be careful taking photos, which everyone and their brother did, mostly with cell phones. Only one meat and poultry stand objected to cameras, so off-putting that few people bought their products. About the only thing we took was photos, but did purchase 5 euro worth of pistachio nuts. Some of the ready-made food to go sure looked good. Many folks buy sandwiches and meat pies to eat on the spot. Drinks like fruit smoothies are quite popular, as is the fresh produce they sell. Watching the expert butchers slicing the ham right off of the smoked legs was fascinating. They shave it almost paper-thin. We continued further uphill to the Plaza de Catalunya where the Hard Rock Café is located. Going inside was like going into a furnace…it was very hot. And it was so mobbed with shoppers, we skipped checking out their shop. A few years ago, we purchased a city t-shirt, and it had not changed since then. So that place was out for lunch. Since we were up here, we decided to check out some of the stores. Most of them were high end department stores. A few we did explore were Desigual, Zara, and a couple of other boutique-like shops. One thing we noticed was that there were no public restrooms to be found. The only option was to go to a café or coffee house, buy something, then use their facilities. We thought it best to back-track going into the Barri Gothic district with winding streets, hidden squares, fountains, cathedrals , and palaces. This has to be one of the most authentic spots in town as far as history is concerned. The Gothic Cathedral is an impressive sight. Years ago, while on a tour, we watched a group of elderly folks dancing in a circle with the ladies’ purses in the center. They did this after mass was over on Sundays. Today in the square outside the church was a man creating gigantic bubbles with a rope dipped in suds. Kids were chasing them to be popped. We did not see the famous Gaudi creation of Sagrada Familia Church, but we have toured that historical site many times before. Always a huge crowd there, and not always very safe. We found our way back to La Rambla by going through narrow alleyways lined with tiny shops and cafes. Most of the establishments looked like a night time venue. Back down to the Columbus Monument, we found the street vendors selling assorted things like designer handbags, shoes, sunglasses and trinkets. The most clever thing we spotted was a vendor with an umbrella covered with hundreds of pairs of earrings. From here, we made our way to Port Vell and Maremagnum or the La Rambla de Mar. There is a two story complex there with a mall-like atmosphere with restaurants and an aquarium. There is a wooden slat bridge to cross, which happened to be opening up for a boat to pass through to the sea from the marina. Always fun to watch the action when the bells ring, and the walkers have to scramble across. Also the best place to find an empty bench and relax for a few minutes. Extra-large seagulls begging scraps and fish in the waters below kept us occupied. Usually, we dine at a place called Gino’s, but today the place was jammed full of families with very young kids and no room for a table for two. So we went back to the entrance to check out some nicer places up on the second floor overlooking the harbor. We found just the perfect place at El Chipiron with a view of the harbor ferries and the swing span bridge. And they had more to offer besides seafood. The menu had cheese pizza with ham and mushrooms, which we ordered, and it came with four slices of tomato-topped bread (assumed complimentary, but was not). We had two ½ liter Gerra tap beers, and followed up with a shared dessert of carrot cake with ice cream. Most diners on the balcony were getting huge pans of steaming hot paella to share among themselves at tables for two or four. What’s nice about eating in countries like Italy or Spain, they never rush you. The bill will not arrive until you summon them. Since it was nearly 4pm, we thought it best to head back to the shuttle bus. On the way, we passed by several tables set with hundreds of antique items for sale. From housewares to jewelry and keepsakes from the past, many folks were seriously looking for bargains. Checking out the last of the street vendors, we ended up buying nothing today, but going back to the ship with many photos and full from a delicious lunch. After the short bus ride, we found that after we went through the local xray check, there were a few stores in the terminal selling souvenirs and liquor. Curious about the purchase of alcohol, and the policy of having to pay the corkage fee on wine, we wondered if anyone could buy bottles here, and take it onboard. Will ask tomorrow if anyone did just that. There was a collection table set up inside the ship, but the table was empty of bottles. Back in our room, we found a birthday card from the Captain and crew along with a chocolate candy bar. Nice touch. Then at 5pm, there was a complimentary Tapas Sail Away Party held in the Lido pool area. This included free champagne, sangria, wine, beers, or sodas. The tapas, we never did see, because we went at 5:20pm, mainly to take some pictures. The Station Band played music for the folks that like to dance. This would be the start of several Mariner Appreciation Days to honor the loyal guests. With the dome completely shut, it was really noisy and most people could not talk let alone think. We did welcome Bob, Martha’s husband, who joined the ship today for the next 18 days. Leta and Bill stopped on their way out after enjoying a few beers, like us, then exited when the party was over. Most of the heavy party-goers begged the band to carry on for at least one more song. They knew the free drinks would stop when the band did. One man had some kind of problem, since the medical team had to get a wheelchair to take him away. Hope it was nothing more than too much wine, and nothing more serious. By 6:30pm, we were underway, and we braved the cold and wind with Eddie and Susie to take some photos of the real sail away. None of us lasted long since the wind almost blew us all off the deck. Back in our room, we were surprised to find two plush fleece blankets, gifts for the 2019 world cruise. Now these will be useful, even on this cruise when we head further north. Dinner was in the Pinnacle Grill, and we ordered our usual items, but added the bacon on a clothesline this time, highly recommended by Heo and Greg. The clothesline was a metal frame with hooks on a wire. Three of those hooks held a piece of thick smoked bacon, cooked with herbs on the side and maple syrup and peppered. It was delicious, but rich. It also came with a slice of pickle and a lemon wedge to squeeze over the top. We shared one order. Then for dessert, one of us had the Key lime pie, and the other tried the new cheesecake pops – three small balls rolled in chocolate or strawberry icing. Tina called them fun food. Besides us, the big wigs happened to pick tonight to dine here as well. Each couple had their own table for a cozy dinner. It is their private time, as it was for us as well, but Orlando took the time to stop by our table, shake hands, and say hello. He laughed when we welcomed him onboard along with his wife and son. It had been a fun but exhausting day, but the good news was that our room was still dry….no floods. And the best saying of the day was: birthdays are nature’s way of telling one to eat more cake! Bill & Mary Ann
  3. Report #89 Day at Sea April 17, 2019 Wednesday Partly sunny & 69 degrees Part #1 Of 1 60 Pictures Today should have been named “ Scenic Cruising the Strait of Bonafacio”, the passage between the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, since that is where the Amsterdam was taken around 10am today. More about that soon, but first, here’s the latest news with the “leaking cabin”. After the second night in a different cabin, we checked to see if there was any progress made in our room first thing in the morning. Nope, both the drying units were still running, and no workers were anywhere in sight. But it was early, so we went off for breakfast, followed by a walk outside. Gan surprised us with giant blueberries for our yogurt starter we have every day. Since we were already approaching the strait between the islands around 10am, we went up to deck six forward, and stayed for an hour watching the strait sailing. It was quite scenic with Corsica on the north side and Sardinia on the south end. A few vessels were there too, like row boats for fishing, small and large sailboats, to a couple of sleek cabin cruisers and large cargo ships. It was cool in the shade, but perfect in the sun, while it lasted. Taking photos for an hour, we went back inside when the sun was behind the stacks. Thinking that the work should be done by now, we were even more surprised to find our room really turned upside down. Now the bed had been taken apart, and the mattresses had been laid up against the wall. Everything we had hanging was covered with sheets, including the bed, the desk, and the couch. The windowsill had been cleared of everything. Where were our potted plants? And the curtains? A good thing….the plants were all in the tub, and the curtains were gone. So we went immediately to Shiv, the executive housekeeper, and said, “What’s going on?” He had no idea what was taking place. So he phoned the departments involved, and with his assistant, and Christel, who appeared, we all went to our room in an attempt to solve the mystery. The carpenter was taking off the wall enclosure surrounding the window to check for leaks there. If he found nothing, the ceiling might have been next. But we knew the only leak was from the bathroom, and after satisfying themselves that nothing was in the walls, they agreed there were no wall leaks coming from gutters that have a drainpipe in the walls. Shiv told the plumber to change the suspected valve stem behind the toilet button, since it had not been done two days ago, by their own admittance. OK, hopefully this job will be wrapped up this afternoon. The best place for us was to meet Barb in the dining room for lunch and have a good laugh over the recent events. Barb and the guys had kidded us last night at dinner that we might be flooded out again. How did they know??? Since we still had photos to work with, we went back to room #2, and finished our reports and photos. Sometime after 4pm, our room had been restored to its original order, more or less. So we moved back in and thanked the nice room steward up the hall for his help for two days. Around 6pm, there was a knock on the door, and here was the plumber asking if he could come in and replace the part in the bathroom wall. Good grief….that should have been the first thing done. And here we thought this had been replaced this afternoon. Lucky for all of us, it did not leak for the third time. Even knowing that this part was new, we still plan on watching for leaks. Every day and every night. Going up to the atrium to listen to the Ocean Bar Band, we had visitors…..Henk, Christel, and Shiv…all checking to see if we were still staying dry. We were most happy to report all was well and thanked them for their intervention. So at dinner, we sure got a lot of razzing from our buddies. Greg and Heo said they would be anxious for days, worrying if the leak would appear again. We had been having a discussion about the two little dogs that are onboard as service dogs. That’s when we had the brainstorm that due to extreme flooding anxieties, we might qualify to have a toilet-watcher dog, who would stand guard for sudden leaks, then give us a warning. They all thought that was a great idea. Of course, this was all in good joking, since we do think the service dogs are a wonderful breed and perform such a most needed job for those who need it. Greg suggested that our stories were like following an episode of Faulty Towers, a hilarious British TV show several years. Today we were due for our President’s Club amenities of flowers and sodas. The flowers were recently shipped to Naples, and were really pretty. We were lucky. Recently talking to Calista, part of the florist team, she said the entire flower order had missed the ship in Aqaba, and had to be re-directed to Naples. By the time they received the boxes after it was held for another 8 hours by the Italian custom’s officials in Naples, much of the quality of the flowers was ruined…..past their lifespan, she said. So now, they will have to replace even more in Barcelona, along with a whole lot of other missing food items and supplies. We skipped the show of Duo Yalba, the multi-instrumentalists, since we were truly worried about finding our carpet flooded again. So when we went back, all was well. The goodnight card we got a few days ago said “Life is a journey, make the most of it.” Unknown author. Guess this bathroom leak was one of life’s journeys we can live without. Tomorrow we will be in Barcelona, the first of two stops in Spain. Looking forward to it. And tomorrow will be the end and start of another segment of the world cruise. We were informed that 72 guests were getting off, and 68 new ones were boarding. And during this sailing from Mumbai to Barcelona, we all consumed almost 39,000 eggs. Incredible. Bill & Mary Ann
  4. Report #88 Naples, Italy April 16, 2019 Tuesday Partly sunny & 66 degrees Part #1 Of 4 80 Pictures The port of call for today was Naples, and the only stop we will make in the country of Italy. Even though the ship arrived on time and was docked by 8am, we were not cleared by the local officials until well after 9am. The excuse was there was another ship in town, the NCL Spirit, and the customs and immigrations folks were busy over there. That ship is not all that much larger than the Amsterdam at over 75,000 gross tons, but she holds from 1976 to 2475 passengers, which exceeds our amount of 1200. It is described as offering an extremely casual atmosphere for the guests that seek a lively lifestyle. The cabins are very small with limited closet space, so their cruises are short in duration. Four to seven days we have read. Anyway, they were here first, and they got priority clearance procedures. But first, here is a little info on Italy. The capital is Rome and the 2012 population was 58 million people. And it seems that most of them drive Vespas or very small cars. A traveler’s experience in Italy has to be described as exuberant, effortless, earthy and sophisticated. Or in our words, just plain fun, but also steeped in ancient history that goes on forever. A few of the coastal cities, and some inland, not to be missed are Rome, of course, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast. These are sights you will never forget. The best time to visit are April, June, and September, but avoid the summer months because everything is crowded and the weather can get very hot. Things to see and do include all of Rome, the museums of Florence, all of Venice, and what’s left of Pompeii after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. And don’t forget Sicily, it has a charm all of its own. Some other places we have yet to see are the Alps and Milan, but that would have to be done on a different type of vacation. Their favorite dishes include tripe with potatoes, tomatoes, and pecorino cheese. Or try a T-bone steak in Florence, or devour meatballs and spaghetti with freshly-baked bread in Tuscany. And last but not least, order pizza in Naples. Don’t have to tell us twice….. Trademarks are Renaissance art, ancient ruins, pizza with olive oil pasta, espresso, vespas, and the world’s best ice cream or gelato. A random fact is that 3000 Euro, on average, is tossed daily into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It promises a return visit, and perhaps that is true, because we have been back often. Unfortunately, it will not be on this cruise. Hamish, our CD, happily announced after 9am, that the ship had been cleared, and everyone that was going ashore, could go. There were several excursions that were set to go off at 8am, so we can only imagine how crowded the show lounge must have been. We found out when going back to our room after breakfast that the stairwell and elevators were jammed with “sticky” guests. The good news was that the all aboard time had been extended an hour, so that meant none of the tours would be short in duration. We would all have to be back by 6:30pm. The best news to report was that the weather was going to be perfect with temperatures in the high 60’s or low 70’s and no rain. Naples is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to the 9th century BC. This epic city is chockful of ruins from the Roman and Greek periods. And also the place to see historical museums, theaters, and churches from the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. On the other hand, you’ll easily find plazas, [arks, gardens, and so many restaurants and cafes to relax and enjoy the best Italian food ever. And shopping? From street vendors, antique shops, and upscale high-end boutiques, it is a paradise to those who desire to indulge. It is also a good place for slightly illegal sales of knock-off treasures such as purses and “leather” products. But who’s looking? The upmost most impressive fact is that Naples is considered the birthplace of pizza. Now you’re talking. There is even a ship’s tour that will take the guests to a small restaurant to see expert pizza-makers demonstrate their art. Part of that success to their pies is the use of the wood-fired ovens. We have done that excursion and were pleasantly surprised to find that each of us was getting a 16 inch pizza pie. We were in heaven. There were ship tours that stayed in town. They included shopping with experts, a taste of pizza with two “foodie” tours which ran from $60 to $200. One excursion that has been added since we were here last was a drive out of the city to a dairy with 600 buffalos that are milked to make mozzarella cheese. All of the rest of the tours were out of town and included a jetfoil ride to Capri, one most wonderful way to spend a sunny day here. Then the longer tours went to the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Mt. Vesuvius. Prices began from $90 to $300, and all of those tours would make a stop at a cameo factory, a must when you visit this area. As for us, we left the ship at 11am after having spent a night in a different room due to the flood in ours. Later in the morning, our room had been restored to its normal state and was dried out. Sure hope this is the end of the problem…. We found our way out of the huge terminal, where the info gal had no maps and no info that was of use to us. This terminal is located on the second level, and you had to look to locate the elevator instead of taking the long flight of stairs to the street level. Normally not a problem, but the knee is still acting up. Going down stairs is harder than up. It was a long hike uphill on a wooden boardwalk to navigate the streets in town. There was still construction here for the underground transit system we believe. Once we got up by the ancient castle, we found where most of the hop on hop off buses were taking on passengers. Every significant site that was being sold on the ship could be accessed by these bus tours, but we did not pick up the flyer to check prices. Further up the street, we carefully crossed by the traffic signal. Carefully, because you will get run over in a nano-second of you’re not careful. Even though today was a weekday, it was really busy with locals and traffic. It was then we realized that this is Easter Week, and most schools would be closed for the holiday. There were also many groups of school kids on organized tours. A great building to see is the Galleria Umberto that is within a very historical domed building from centuries ago. The entire floor under multiple domes is tiled or made of marble. In the center are detailed mosaics with the compass rose and surrounding works of art encircling the compass. Many boutique shops, cafes, and bakeries can be found here. We ran into our buddies, Bill & Leta, who were relaxing at small tables outside a café. They had purchased a couple of sweet cannolies? from a corner bakery. And it was close to noon, so lunch for them with a couple of local draft beers were in order. From here, we exited the building and took a right turn up the almost pedestrian only lane. This cobbled street was lines with shops, cafes, and street markets. It was a paradise of souvenirs, clothing and jewelry boutiques – modern as well as old. Further up the hill were the meat, fish, and veggie markets, most of it right on the curbsides. Narrow alleyways produced people of all ages driving the motorbikes at a high speed. If you hear the noise of the engine, you had better move aside, as they might pass by you with only inches to spare. Life happening here has a heartbeat all of its own, as it seemed like at least one million local folks were shopping in the delis, bakeries, and veggie, fruit, and fish markets. We did find a few treasures to purchase as a keepsake from Naples. Two cotton scarves were a deal at 2 Euro each, and a handmade doggie purse was also a good buy. There were some Moroccan vendors selling the knock-off items, but they were not dealing very good. It would be better bargaining closer to the pier. Besides getting many colorful photos, we love being able to mix with the crowds to see how these people manage to live in a crowded by charming city. Everyone seems to know everyone here, as we saw many elderly folks kissing both cheeks and hugging in a typical greeting. Now, the best part of the day was to come…..lunch. The street traffic became much more crowded as we approached Plaza Tieste’s Trento and two major buildings. One was Teatro San Carlo, the oldest operating opera house in the world. And the other monumental structure was Palazzo Reale, a royal palace, one of four, that was used by the Bourbon kings during their rule. Obviously, they thought bigger was better. On the way to the area where we have found great pizza, we had to pass by the massive Plaza Plebisctio and the San Francisco di Paolo Church, a neoclassical design built to celebrate the end of Napoleonic rule. Other impressive buildings are there also. While taking pictures of the statues, we noticed a small crowd watching something. Turned out it was a puppeteer, who was entertaining the folks with a dancing, singing puppet that had a mini microphone and tap danced while he sang. One of the cutest things we had seen today. We had reached the district that lies above the harbor with wonderful views of the Bay of Naples. Several large hotels were here with dozens of cafes and restaurants in between. Since it was nearing 1:30pm, most all of the outdoor patios were full of customers indulging with plates of Italian food. Sure looked good. We kept going until we rounded the corner, and recognized where we had dined several years ago. It was a restaurant by the name of Aquolino in the group belonging to Antonio’s & Antonio’s. Most all of the tables were outside the restaurants, covered with awnings. Horse-drawn buggies were passing by this mostly pedestrian street. That’s when a waiter approached us and invited us to dine there. He had a table for two ready, and it was about the only one left. As long as they still had pizza on the menu, this would do just fine. We were handed the English version of the menu, and the waiter suggested the most popular pizza with the toppings we liked. Wood-fired and cooked to perfection, we were each served half of the pie with a large glass of Italian draft beer. Have to admit, it was so good, we decided to order another one….Margherita with parma ham and shaved parmesan cheese. Thinking ahead, we do know there is a good pizza café in both Barcelona and Cadiz, but it cannot compare to here in Naples. That was the reasoning for indulging with two pizzas. We added one dessert of baba rum, a new sweet treat we have never tried. Sure was good. Then as another surprise, the waiter brought two small glasses of Limoncello, a sweet but tart liqueur that finished our ample meal nicely. We lingered until 3pm, then headed back towards the ship. In the main square, we recognized many folks from our ship, including Barbara and Harvey, who had taken a 6 day private tour to Israel. They said they had the best time ever, and had spent the night in Naples. Exhausted, they were glad to be coming back to the ship. On our way back on the wooden walkway, we ended up bargaining for a small Moschino purse from a Moroccan vendor. The price was right, and he was happy to take US dollars. We resisted even looking at the shops in the terminal, because so much of the souvenirs can be tempting. Since the all aboard time had been extended for the extra hour, we took the time to work on photos. That’s when we had another surprise with the leak, or flood, in the bathroom. At least this leak only continued for about 15 minutes before we found it, but long enough to cause some carpet soaking anyway. Reporting it, Christel was calling us immediately. The plumber arrived, and when we asked if he had replaced anything in the bathroom, he admitted he had done nothing, as he did not see anything leaking yesterday. He said he would fix it, and since we had sopped up the water, we figured that would be the end of this problem. The ship left the pier around 7pm, and we watched from the aft deck eight, even though the official sail away party was held in the Crow’s Nest. An impromptu performance by some of the crew bar staff gave a little show, singing and playing their instruments for everyone back there. We stayed until the last rays of the setting sun went behind the mountaintops of Naples. The best one we have seen for weeks now. Dinner was fun catching up with what everyone had done today. The fellows had gone on their own to the island of Capri, and had a wonderful day. They also came back early to Naples to enjoy pizza too. Barb had gone off to explore the shopping areas with friends, so it was a good day for all of us. They all kidded us that they hoped our room had not flooded again. Oh boy, how did they know???? Surprise, surprise……when we got back to our hallway, we found the telltale sign of the extension cords coming across the hallway for the plugs of the heater and drying units again. Now what happened??? Our room was turned upside down once again, with everything piled on the bed and couch, both of which were propped up off of the carpet. We had the keycard for the room up the hall with a note of apology for the inconvenience. We had no choice but to sleep in the spare room once again. And since it was so late, we decided to follow up with this situation tomorrow morning. Obviously nothing had been fixed like they had promised. Bill & Mary Ann
  5. Report # 87 Day at Sea April 15, 2019 Monday Partly sunny? & 71 degrees ? Part #1 Of 2 80 Pictures Partly sunny and 71 degrees….we think not. These forecasts must be written without anyone actually looking outside or opening a door to feel how cold it might really be. Try no sun, but very cloudy, occasional showers, and temperatures in the high 50’s. If you add the wind factor, the temps were downright chilling. And for this time of the year, it is to be expected. Sometime last night, the internet connection had been restored to almost normal. The computer expert in our room woke up at 5am, and found that the system was working, and it was even fast. Hopefully this will last. Later this morning, we had a little chat with Henk M, our hotel director, and mentioned that it would be most helpful if we had the ability to know the amount of megabytes we are using at any given time. When we were on the by-the-minute plan, this helpful info was available. It is not the same with the new system. You would expect 300 or 500 megabytes to last all day, but depending on what you are doing, it is easy to exceed your allowance. So far as we know, no one has been charged extra. Now the digital communications manager can access everyone’s account and tell you exactly how many megabytes you have used, but the customer cannot see that. “We are working on that” is a promising reply, and we certainly hope that means sometime in our lifetime. For those guests that bought the 113 day Premium package for $799 (some couples bought a package for each of them), were extremely unhappy yesterday with the lack of service for the last three days, as well as many other previous problems. Can’t blame them, since that’s is a lot of money to spend. Perhaps the smart folks did not purchase anything through the ship, and decided to wait and use wifi onshore. So many more cafes and restaurants offer it for free these days, that they get by just fine. The lectures were full of people who stayed inside to keep warm and dry today. Ian gave a talk all about things to do and see in Naples. We are all keeping our fingers crossed for a rain-free day, since the trips to the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri can be outstanding on a sunny day. We have done both, but during the summer months when the weather is warmer. A more serious lecture was all about the story of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both cities in ruins after the volcano erupted centuries ago. But the best story has to be the history of pizza….right up our alley. We will catch that on TV later today. One of us has made all types of pizza from scratch over the years, and both of us love to eat it. A win-win. We met Barb for a dining room lunch today for a change. Sometimes the lunch menu is even better than the dinner selections. And we like the fact that the serving portions are smaller. We intended to have a hot soup, but the appetizer salad and Greek meatballs also sounded good. Two of us ordered the sweet and sour pork, small portions. Really good. Then……what a surprise we had when we returned to our room, and found that water from the commode had flooded the bathroom floor and was pouring out into the room. That must have been flooding for over 45 minutes. Although we were able to shut off the water and wick up the bathroom water with all of our towels, the carpet was soaked halfway into the room….and perhaps more that we could not see. Immediately, we called the front desk, and a room steward on duty came with more towels, then reported the problem to the plumbing department. With a little more clean-up, the mess should be cleaned up. Well, not exactly…. By 5pm, we began seeing land as we neared the southern part of Italy, and there was a good chance we would be able to see Sicily on the left, and the mainland of Italy on the right. Sure enough, it was there, and by now, the clouds had mostly blown away and the sun was actually out. So we have to take it back….there was some sun today after all. But it soooo cold and extremely windy, that we went back and got the arctic jackets and gloves before going back to deck three. We joined the handful of brave folks, including Susie and Eddie, who came out to enjoy the view as well as take tons of photos. At least we would have the sunlight for the best exposures. There was a glitch however, when the deck crew came outside with buckets and the big scrubber to wash the teak decks around 6pm. All of us stayed until the hoses came out, and we had no choice but to leave. A few people were really upset that with scenic cruising, the decks would have to be hosed tonight. The Sicilian pilot was due to board, although we never saw the boat arrive. We went up to deck six forward, and almost blew off of the deck, but stayed long enough to see the narrowest point between Sicily and Italy. Then we had to leave. At 7pm, we had an invitation to an exclusive cocktail party in the Officer’s Bar on deck A. And it was just for the President’s Club members only. Many of the ship’s officers and staff members joined us. The Captain’s wife, Karen, arrived without her husband, saying he was busy taking the ship through the strait. So she was not sure he would be able to attend this gathering. But most of the officers we knew such as Shiv, Christel, and Philip joined our table for much of the time. During our talk with Christel, we mentioned our “flood”, and she immediately phoned the proper department to have them follow up on the clean-up. Little did we know what that would involve, but we figured the room did need further inspection. Eventually Jonathon did come to the party, and after making a quick circle around each table, he came and sat with the four of us…..Barb, Karleen, and the two of us. Barb has gotten to know both the Captain and Karen, and also Hazel, so much better this year, since they spend some quality time together in the Crow’s Nest before or after dinnertime. The subject of retirement came up during the conversation, and the Captain shared his feelings about some of the things he will be doing for the last time as Captain now. Sailing through the two canals – the Panama and Suez, are among the last ones he will do, as next year, we will head down the east coast of South America, then sail to Africa. No canals. The Mercers have a bucket list like most couples have. And since he cannot travel any more than two hours away from the ship now on any given sailing, the major sights are off limits to them. Two such destinations for them might be Machu Picchu and a safari in South Africa for starters. Taking a cruise? Maybe not. The party ended after 8pm, and with all of the tasty appetizers and drinks, we really did not need much for dinner. But before we headed to the table, we wanted to check to see if anything had been done in our room. Looking down the hallway, we could see many workers with equipment ready to go into our room, so we left, figuring it would be done by 10pm. Well, not exactly. Tonight was a gala evening with Viva Italia as the theme. Our favorite Italian specialties were promised, except no meatballs and spaghetti unfortunately. Arriving a bit late, we found that we had a guest host, Mark, an officer from the engineering department. He was most friendly, and we did remember he had joined us two years ago at a similar dinner. A native from Scotland, he talked about his wife, who he met on a ship several years ago, and his two year old son. They will visit him when we reach the port in Scotland in a few weeks from now. And of course, you could hear the excitement in his voice. The most Italian dish we had was a bowl of Roma tomato soup and the dessert of limoncello soufflé. Surf and turf and chicken Caesar salad were the regular fare, although maybe “Caesar” salad could be considered Italian? We all stayed until 10pm, despite the fact that the entire lower level of the dining room had cleared out. Mark seemed to have enjoyed his dinnertime as we all did. Captain Jonathon had mentioned that we should be passing Stromboli around 10pm. So we stopped on deck three to see the volcano, and by golly, it was there. Even in the darkness of night, we were able to see the lights of the shoreline and the peak of the volcano. No activity tonight however. Now the fun? started, when we went back to our room, which was literally turned upside down. The couch had been pulled from the wall, and everything that had been on the floor was now on the bed and couch. Pieces of wood were under the bed and the couch because we think the room had been shampooed and suctioned. Then they added a very large heater with a blower along with a dehumidifier running full speed with a tube leading into the drain in the bathroom floor. The heat was turned on high. No way could we spend the night in our own bed, let alone even access it. Oh yes, we had gifts tonight. Under the pile of suitcases and life jackets on the bed, we discovered two pouches with grey neck scarves, matching mittens, and caps with the 2019 world cruise logo embroidered on them. Now that we are headed towards a colder climate soon, we did expect to see these useful items pop up as gifts. A note had been left outside saying that a room nearby had been reserved for us for one night. Going to the front desk, we were given keys for an outside cabin mid ship, right up the hallway. We packed a few things, changed out of our formalwear, and dressed for tomorrow. Now we hope that by tomorrow morning, we will be able to get back into the cleaned room, depending on what is needed to fix the bathroom. There was a reference to floor damage. And apparently, it must have leaked into the cabin next door to us, since there was a dehumidifier in that room too. So here we are, in a strange room that is flip-flopped in design. At least there was a vacant room for us to use, but we suspect this is where they house the visiting entertainers. And guess what? This room had a new flat screen TV, which we did not know existed on this floor. There was a performance by the dancers and singers called Amour, an upbeat, fun, and entertaining show for sure. Too bad we missed it. Oh well, we are looking forward to exploring Naples tomorrow and finding the best pizza ever……. Bill & Mary Ann
  6. Report # 86 Day at Sea April 14, 2019 Sunday Partly sunny & 69 degrees Part #1 of 1 We woke up to blue skies and even bluer seas. Sure looked nice outside, but how warm would it be? We went to breakfast like usual, but found most everyone had put on sweatshirts or sweaters. Perhaps they knew something we did not. It was not as crowded as it normally is, since today is Sunday Brunch at 11am once again. It would be the “shoot” glasses (accidently misspelled) with tiny servings, a three-course set menu. We’re not sure when this was added, but there was an advertised sparkling wine special as well until 1pm. Bet that enticed some new customers. Except us. Going out for our walk was a shocker as the temperature was only 58 degrees with 51 knot winds blowing across the decks. Welcome to the Med in springtime. There was not one person sitting on their private lounges outside their lanai rooms on the lower promenade deck. Not even with the wool plaid blankets that have replaced the beach towels. We do hope that by the time we reach the next port of Naples, it will have warmed up somewhat. We did pull out the warmer outerwear that we had stored under the bed, which included arctic down jackets and warm gloves. We are prepared for anything this time. Since we were so far behind with photo work, we spent much of the day working in our room, while catching up on port lectures and news. We think the only people at the back pool will be the smokers across from the Seaview Bar. That group will be out there no matter what the weather. Today we sailed around the south coast of Crete, according to the Captain’s PM talk. Tomorrow, we should be approaching the Straits of Messina located between the island of Sicily and the mainland of southern Italy. We are required to have a local pilot onboard to guide us safely through this body of water. If we recall right, this sailing can be very rough and extremely windy. There has been a major problem with the ship’s internet for the last three days. Not only slow speed, but the inability to even bring up the Navigator page has started to drive the folks nuts. Thinking that a good time to try going online during the first dinner service proved fruitless. After checking with the front desk folks, we discovered they had no internet either. Something is being done they said, but it might take changing to a different satellite before it works again. So after we listened to the Ocean Quartet playing, we went to the digital communications manager in the library. There was a line forming since she was beginning her 7 to 9pm session. Everybody had the same complaint, especially the couples that had purchased two internet packages. Some of the passengers actually work online and were quite upset with the answers they were getting. It might not be effecting the passengers, but the staff and crew as well. That might help getting this sensitive issue resolved sooner. Dinner was fun as always, and there were some good choices on the menu. Three of us had the German-style weinerschnitzel, Barb had the beef dish, and Bill had the bread salad with breaded chicken. The salad dressing has gotten better, but the regular dressings are totally gone. Hope their delivery gets to the ship in Naples, as we are noticing many missing items now. Coke Zero is one of them, and may not arrive until Barcelona. Guess we will live….. The entertainer of the evening was Kevin DeVane, a world traveling comedian appealing to audiences from the Us to the UK and more. Bill & Mary Ann
  7. Report # 85 Suez Canal Transit April 13, 2019 Saturday Sunny & 71 degrees Part # 1 of 4 80 Pictures Today was special, since the Amsterdam would be making the journey through the Suez Canal. By the time we went to breakfast in the dining room, they had already brought the first pilot onboard at Port Suez and then entered the canal by 5:30 am. It was obvious that we had gotten placed first, with the Mein Schiff 4 following in this convoy. Since we did not go to the aft deck today, we are not sure how many vessels were in our convoy heading north. Our only disappointment was that we missed out on the “Suez Rolls” that were served at 6am in the atrium, the bow, and the Crow’s Nest. Had we reminded our excellent waiters yesterday to please save two of them, we would have had them. But we forgot. Our next best guess that these rolls might be served could be in Amsterdam. Although we have enjoyed this transit several times over the years, we should have brought Fodor’s Egypt reference book with us. That way we would have had all of the important info with us as we made the trip through it today. Ian and the guest speakers did give narration off and on during the day, but the outside speakers left a lot to be desired. They were either too loud, or the lecturers did not speak loud enough most times. So we watched most of the sailing from the bow from the morning to the afternoon when the ship exited into the Mediterranean Sea at 3pm. It was much warmer than the predicted 71 degrees, as the ship slowed down a lot as we left the Great Bitter Lake. The entire length of the canal is over 120 miles long, up to 673 feet wide, and is 79 feet deep. For many years, it was single-lane, with passing places in Ballah By-Pass. Compared to the Panama Canal, there are no locks as the seawater freely flows through the canal. And here is an interesting fact: The canal that is north of the Bitter Lakes flows north to south in the winter, while in the summer, it flows in the opposite direction. It took 10 years of work to complete this ditch through the desert, as it can be called, with the grand opening in November of 1869. In those ten years, over 100,000 people lost their lives during the construction. The end result was an artificial waterway connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, eliminating the need to navigate around the tip of Africa. The Suez Canal Authority of the Arab Republic of Egypt owns and controls this waterway. This authority allows passage of ships in time of war as in time of peace by every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag. We have seen so much progress over the years in regards to the shorelines of this canal. There have always been settlements, small cities, and agricultural acreage most of the way, but now we have witnessed new massive apartment complexes popping up, expanding the existing cities. They are cities within themselves. Most of these projects are located on the east bank where there was nothing but mostly desert. We can only guess that these new builds are the modern bedroom communities for those who choose to commute to work in this canal zone. There is one main bridge that spans the canal, but now tunnels are being installed under the canal so the commuters will not have to take just the ferries across. The biggest change we have experienced is the fact that there are miles of separation lanes, where the north and south traffic are separated by an island of sand dunes. At one time, we had full view of both banks for the entire journey. Now with the split, most the ships we see passing the opposite way are only seen from the top decks. It gives you the feeling that they are traveling through the sand, and not in the water. Captain Mercer pointed out one of the largest container ships in the world passing on our left. We thought he had made a mistake when he stated that there were over 20,000 full size containers on that vessel. But it was no error, there were even more than that…..unbelievable. Anyway, with the expanded two lane traffic lanes, up to 100 ships can transit this canal in one day. One thing we did not hear was how much it cost the Amsterdam to transit this canal. Bet it was a whole lot of money. We passed by many monuments, statues, as well as military outposts, mosques, and the pigeon towers. The older swing span bridge was only visible at one break in the center island of sand dunes, but we did get great photos of the large bridge that spans the canal. Funny thing, there was absolutely no traffic on it. But then today was Saturday, which is like Sunday to them…..a day of rest. Besides the many fellows we saw fishing from row boats, there was little activity of local people along the route. The only animals we saw were a few dogs, some birds such as grey herons, egrets, crows, and terns. And we did see commuter trains on one stretch of the canal. At two times during the transit, food was served with the help of smiling waiters on the outside decks, even the bow. The 10:30am treat was a hot bowl of Mediterranean lentil soup. Even though at this point in the canal was quite warm standing the sun, the soup tasted really good. Then in the afternoon around 2pm, three waiters came outside with trays of chilled fruit soup, which were the color purple. The servings were a mixture of blueberries and maybe very ripe blackberries, since there were ground up seeds in the smoothie. Sure was refreshing, and made up for missing the tasty rolls in the morning. We think we picked up another pilot at the halfway point in Ismailia. Then another pilot came onboard from Port Said. By the time we reached the outskirts of Port Said, the temperatures dropped and the wind became chilly. Yep, we are in Europe now, leaving exotic Asia behind. Recalling this change in weather from previous transits, we knew that the extremely hot and humid days of this cruise were over. Time to get under the bed, and haul out the warm weather clothing and arctic jackets that we left in our suitcases. Hopefully we won’t need them until we head north out of the Straits of Gibraltar in a week from today. We stayed out on the bow until the last of the guests had left. Estimating that at least 1000 photos had been snapped between three of our cameras, our editing work would just begin after we ate lunch. That would take us to dinnertime at 8pm. Funny thing, by the time we got our lunch salad and sandwich at the Lido, the place was virtually empty of guests. It was suggested to us that most all of them were down for naps. And why not? It had been a long day for most, since the commentary and special rolls being served began at 6am sharp. And of course, we all received the personalized official Suez Canal certificates in our mail slots later in the day. All of us were back at the table with stories to share. The fellows had gone to the Pinnacle Grill last night and reported the changes they had noticed in the menu selections. Most everything was to their liking, probably due to the fact they are both food experts.….appreciating every aspect of fine dining. We lingered over shared desserts of chocolate brownies and biscotti cookies once again. This can be addictive we’re afraid. Showtime featured an international operatic tenor by the name of Lee Bradley. We could hear him singing all the way to the elevator lobby on deck three forward. A most powerful voice. For the first time this cruise, we had to turn the heat up in our room. By the way, we do like to try some local cuisine while traveling, but have to avoid dishes that we are not sure of the ingredients. Allergies to some foods is the problem, and not worth taking chances. Testing the ethnic foods while on the ship is by far safer, since we ask first what is it in it before testing. Bill & Mary Ann
  8. Report #84 Day at Sea April 12, 2019 Friday Partly sunny & 82 degrees Part #1 Of 1 62 Pictures This day at sea was a real transition in more ways than one. Once the Amsterdam turned north into the Gulf of Suez, the seas turned choppy and the winds were blowing at 51 knots across the decks. Despite the fact that the suggested temperature of the day was 82 degrees, it was only 63 degrees most of the day. With the wind chill factor, maybe less. The scenery on both shorelines was visible as the distance was close at times. We could have seen the jutting peaks of the desert landscape even better, if it wasn’t for the fine powdery sand that was blowing in the wind. It created a fog-like haze, that ended up on all of the outside decks and railings. Ever since we spent two days in Aqaba, we have been occasionally sneezing while outside. Thank goodness, it is not a cold, but that fine dust that is suspended in the air. The high humidity is gone for sure. Now that we are surrounded by Egypt on both sides, the Sinai Peninsula on the right and the mainland on the left, it seems appropriate to add a few fast facts on this country. Egypt is a country of about 83 million or more people with the capital at Cairo. The history is epic of ancient cultures, pharaohs, and pyramids. Their geography is mythical from the Sahara Desert, the Nile River, and the wealth of marine life in the Red Sea. With a mix of Middle Eastern, African, and Mediterranean cultures, at times they collide. And once again, this country so full of treasures to see is not on the tourist list….too unstable to visit these days. We are so glad we have seen the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, Cairo and the museum. We have experienced an Egyptian boat ride on the Nile. What we have not seen is Mount Sinai, but we did ride camels in the desert to a Bedouin camp…. not the most comfortable ride we have done, but such a thrill. Now there are no stops at all, which is too bad. Anyway, Egyptians like to eat “fuul”, a salty fava bean paste with falafel, kushari noodles, rice, black lentils, and dried onions served with a fiery tomato sauce. A good drink to go with it is Turkish coffee mint tea, or fresh fruit juices. A random fact is that you will not need an umbrella because Egypt is the driest country in Africa. We have friends that took a private tour to Israel, leaving from Muscat, Oman. Besides the major cities to tour, they will make an overnight stop at the Dead Sea. It is officially the lowest point on earth at 1400 feet below sea level. It has the most mineral rich body of water on earth and the density of that water allows swimmers to float easily on the surface. With the recent election in Israel, they may have some exciting stories to tell when they return in Naples. All day we have been passing an assortment of oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Suez. And since it was too cold to spend any time at the pool, we met Barb for a very light lunch in the dining room. Captain Mercer gave his PM talk and described what we should expect for tomorrow’s itinerary transiting the Suez Canal. Once the ship reaches Port Suez, the Captain has to register at 4pm for his assignment to anchor in the waiting area. We will wait here overnight, then follow the assigned slot that the ships will convoy through the canal. Like ducks-in-a-row, the Captain said. We will have three different pilots along the way, and the transit can take from 10 to 15 hours to transit. The exact details will be in tomorrow’s newsletter. Around 3:30pm, we were already at anchor when the Captain came on the loud speakers and said a convoy going southbound was exiting the canal. It was led by a French aircraft carrier by the name of Charles de Gaulle. It was escorted by another military ship. One of us made it to the promenade deck to take some close-up photos, and also spotted a small local boat making its way towards our hull. They pulled up right alongside and asked for food or anything people might give them. Hard to believe they would be allowed so close to a cruise ship, or any ship for that matter. It was quite unnerving for the folks watching on deck three, because this happen so suddenly. With all of the extra security, who knows what can happen at any given time, although this time, they went away to another nearby vessel, bugging them. Now that we were on anchor, the ship seemed to drift with the current. This caused interruptions with the satellite TV reception and possibly the internet connection. Emails and reports were sent numerous times as the connection cut off, and restarted. Watching the news feeds was impossible, and will remain that way until we commence sailing tomorrow morning. Both guest speakers dealt with Suez Canal history, so today would be a great time to catch up on the talks on TV. Either that or check out the many sales onboard in the Shops, or participate in the several happy hours in the lounges and bars. Dinner was just the three of us, with the guys in the Pinnacle Grill. Be interesting to hear about the changes they will notice tonight. The menu choices were difficult tonight, getting harder to find simple dinners. Tonight was more of a meat and potatoes evening, but hard to find on the menu. The closest was the cornflake breaded turkey breast with garlic mashed potatoes. Good thing there is always the alternate menu items, because there are no surprises there. We shared a fusilli pasta with smoked sausage, which was tasty, and then ended the meal with one bread pudding with berry compote. Slam added 6 chocolate biscotti cookies for good measure. Hard to escape the extra calories here. The show this evening was a performance by two multi-instrumentalists Duo Yalba. They promised a captivating show with a wide variety of musical styles with the help of the Mainstage Band. Looking out our window at 11pm, we saw the Tui ship, Mein Schiff 4, dropping anchor close to us. Bet they will join in tomorrow’s convoy with us. And thinking ahead, we figured that this transit through the Suez Canal may be the last one Captain mercer will do. Next year’s world cruise will go to Africa, and not to the Mediterranean….so no Suez Canal. And since the Amsterdam will travel down the east coast of South America next year, the final transit through the Panama Canal in January was the last for the Captain as well. Bill & Mary Ann
  9. Report # 83 Aqaba, Jordan April 11, 2019 Thursday Sunny & 82 degrees Part #1 of 3 80 Pictures Well, the Amsterdam finally received the much needed delivery of food and supplies this morning. Watching from deck three, we spotted beverages such as soda and beer, which will make a whole lot of people happy. Every box of produce was inspected very closely, giving us the idea that if everything was not up to snuff, the delivery may have been rejected. This shipment may have been a partial delivery, because more will come in Naples, Italy, we heard. Hope the regular salad dressings are among those supplies received. Lately, the ranch, Caesar, and Italian have been different, because the chefs are trying to duplicate Ken’s Dressings, which are the normal salad toppings. Remember, it’s not nice to “fool” Mother Nature…….ha-ha. Today we left the ship a little later, like around 10:30am, since most everything was not opened in the city yet. Our destination was really hotel explorations on the north shore of the gulf. From the bus drop off point, we walked across the roundabout (carefully) and headed towards the avenue of the hotels. At least, these are the largest and most elegant of the local hotels and or resorts. Along the way, we passed by the site of the first Islamic city built in this area called Ayla. It was the original port and the stopping place for Egyptian pilgrims on their way towards Mecca. We could see the remains of the city’s gates, walls, a large mosque, and other buildings. Compared to the city of Aqaba, it was relatively compact in size. Then we ran into friends that gave us the rundown of their day in Petra and Wadi Rum yesterday….all 13 hours of it. Although they did visit both sites, they wished to have seen more of Petra, as there was not enough time to make it from the Treasury further into the canyon. Maybe next time. We figured that would be a lot to jam into one day of touring. We walked past the Movenpick Resort & Residences, which was connected by a bridge across the road. It appeared that there was a swimming pool on that bridge, but we’re not sure. We could have taken the time to go into this hotel, but it was located across the busy road, and we did not want to jay walk here. The cars don’t always stop or even slow down. Continuing on, we went past the Kempinski Hotel, which was nice the last time we went inside. But our first stop was going to be at the Intercontinental Aqaba Resort, a very scenic property. To gain access here, we asked the gate guard if we could pay a visit to the hotel. The first thing he asked was if we were guests. Of course not, but we wished to view the hotel for a possible visit in the future. He said OK, and we walked up to the front entrance. Here we had to put our one bag through xray, and pass through the scanner before we would be admitted. Much the same as we did at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. We have been here two years ago, and we knew our way around somewhat. But right in the lobby entrance, we ran into Allan and Sandra with Hazel. They had also made their way here for cocktails and lunch. It really is a beautiful property, and we suggested the pool area was even nicer. It was still too early for lunch, which is served closer to 1pm. So we went down to the seaside swimming pool, lounge area, and beachfront. Many local people were there, but at the poolside, they were dressed a lot more casual than on the outside in town. Not so covered up and having fun. There was also a group of guests from the Amsterdam with sticky bus numbers on their shirts. So this must be the resort they would spend 5 hours using the pool or the beach with lounges and towels. Food purchases were not included with the $100 shore ex fee. Bet the hotel would have a day use fee for a lot less, then all you had to do was walk here from the shuttle bus stop. Easy peasy. Since it was still too early for lunch, we continued on to the next hotel, which is brand new. It is called Al Manara, a luxury collection hotel at Saraya, Aqaba. And we mean LUXURY. Two years ago, we saw this hotel and surrounding property being developed. We knew it would be something special. We passed by the security building that sat directly in front of the gates. There is a guard that will drop the barrier for the vehicles going up their driveway. Obviously, there was no problem with us walking in without a security check. But that happened once we entered the hotel, where we went through the same xray process as the previous hotel. Once through the checkpoint, the hotel greeter said welcome back. We answered thank you, as if we were guests there. Then we were on our own, and wandered through the lobby, checking out one restaurant on the way to the back. Outside on the patio presented a view to die for. It was a scene that we would expect to see in Dubai. A large opening to the gulf had been directly cut into this property, creating a bay with sandy beaches here and there. It was full of fish, which could be seen in the crystal clear waters. Directly across from the water, there was a city of condos or apartments rising up out of the ground. One day, these will all be sold, and a new area of the city will exist. They even thought to add a moving river with waterfalls that wove in between the condo buildings. As we walked around a massive patio, someone was waving from two lounge chairs on the edge. They happened to be the Tai Chi instructor, Ray, and his wife Gillian. Funny thing, we have talked to them for several years now, and did not know until this year, that he was the instructor onboard. We have never attended a class, and they never mentioned it. Most times, we have seen them on their bikes while we were hiking in many different places. One thing led to another, and we ended up chatting for quite some time. While we were busy talking, a golden eagle soared by quickly, chasing a pigeon. Too fast to snap a photo, at least we saw one. We still had enough time to continue checking out the swimming pool area with the best views of the gulf. We considered staying for lunch, but we would have had to dine poolside, and it felt a bit intrusive to us. So we left, and headed back to the yacht club. The waiter we had yesterday at the Royal Yacht Club did not seem surprised to see us back. We ordered about the same items as yesterday, with the exception of dessert, which was two scoops of pistachio ice cream in crispy waffle cone cups. Today we stayed until almost 3pm. We did leave our waiter a nice tip, since yesterday he swiftly returned a wallet, which had dropped on the chair unknown to us. This has never happened ever, but we certainly appreciated his honest gesture, as it could have been a huge problem. Money and credit card……yeah, huge problem. The ride back was quick, only taking 10 minutes. That gave us plenty of time for our homework on this port. By 6pm, we took the camera out to deck nine to snap photos of the sunset and the AIDAvita. There were four feral dock dogs that were keeping the rope pullers busy. When we saw the largest male dog wagging his tail, we knew that one of the workers had some food for him. When the happy dog consumed his treat, the worker gave him water in a plastic cup. Lucky dog, but he was in good condition, so this must happen almost every day. The fellows poured the last of their water on the ground, and the smart crows came down to suck it up. It’s survival of the fittest here. Anyway, the AIDAvita left the pier shortly after 6pm, and headed south to parts unknown. The sun disappeared behind the Israeli mountain range, giving a red hue to the jutting peaks on the Jordanian side. Walking back through the Lido, as we often do during the dinner service, we found the Arabian Dinner with cuisine from the region being served by waiters dressed in Arab-style garments. There was a quarter of a roasted lamb on the cutting board, and many specialties food selections brought onboard from town today. We decided to test-taste some of these at our dinner tonight. After some of us being gone for two days, all five of us were present tonight, although Barb was late in arriving. We learned from Greg and Heo that Barb had another major leak in her room today. The most frustrating thing is that when she reported it to the front desk folks, they had her room stewards check it out. Twice, they said there was no leak. But the carpets were wet, so there was a leak somewhere. Barb went directly to the housekeeping office to talk to Shiv, the Head Officer. He was not there, but his trusty assistant was. He followed up immediately, and discovered the leak had been coming from the walls or the windows in between the cabins. Not sure if she would have to vacate her room, but for sure, the carpets would have to be cleaned, and dehumidifiers would be added. Needless to say, she was not a happy camper, since this is the second time her cabin flooded on this cruise. Dinner was a mixed bag, with our orders of Arabic dishes. We have always wanted to taste falafel, which is balls of fried mashed chick peas, served in a pita bread. Ours came flattened with small slices of pita chips. It was rather bland and dry, and according to the fellows, not seasoned like it should have been. One of us ordered the shawarma, with sliced chicken, peppers and onions, but wrapped in a burrito shell. Once again, the seasonings were light, and it should have been served in a pita shell. The dessert was the best, however. The plate of baklava had three pieces of the filo pastry dough filled with ground pistachios and walnuts, and drizzled with a sweet sugar-based syrup, probably including honey. Greg had ordered a plateful, but then admitted that he snuck a serving of the treat while passing through the Lido earlier. Good for him. The ricotta/blueberry tart was really close to a cheesecake, but it missed the mark. Guess it is difficult to please everyone all of the time. During dinner, Ian announced a change in the 9pm promised Mainstage show of the traditional Arabic Dabke dances, as performed by a local group. They had been denied boarding for some unknown reason, and their dance had been cancelled. Instead, other entertainers on the ship substituted a show of some kind. Oh well, sometimes these things get sticky when it comes to getting clearances. That makes us even happier that we made it onboard the Ovation with a last minute notice. But that was Mumbai, and not Jordan. The Amsterdam left the pier at 11pm sharp, slowly turning around, and sailing silently out of the Gulf of Aqaba towards the Red Sea once again. Looking forward to a day at sea, and also getting an extra hour back on the clock tonight. Bill & Mary Ann PS If some of these reports show up more than once, it is not our doing, but a problem with the ship’s internet…..one of many problems we’re afraid.
  10. Report #82 Aqaba, Jordan April 10, 2019 Wednesday Sunny & 83 degrees Part #1 Of 3 80 Pictures After five days at sea, it sure was nice to see land in sight early this morning as the Amsterdam docked in Aqaba, Jordan. With a population 0f 6,400,000 people, Jordan has the reputation of being a country of remarkable stability in the toughest of neighborhoods. It borders Iraq, Israel, and Palestinian Territories. The capital is Amman, a very hip and sophisticated city, it is written. It is best known for Petra, crusader castles, Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum, and diving or snorkeling in the Red Sea. Or if floating on the incredibly salty waters is for you, a visit to the Dead Sea will work. Their favorite food is mensaf, a Bedouin specialty of spit-roasted lamb basted with spices and served with rice and pine nuts. Their everyday drink is tea, their symbol for Jordanian hospitality. Aqaba, where we are docked today, is the country’s only seaport, a beachside oasis and a place for vacationing Jordanians to get away from the bustling city of Amman. It is also the gateway to a number of important sites. There was a warning that we saw repeated in many places….women need to dress modestly. Especially if they want to see the mosques. Heads, shoulders, arms, and legs must be covered. And swimwear is only appropriate on the beach, unless you are a local, then it is not allowed at all. The tours offered today were many. Some were local with Aqaba highlights, or a resort stay, and even a sunset cruise, since we are over-nighting here. But the biggest most visited area had to be the rose red city of Petra, the ancient Nabataean city of red rock temples and tombs - a 3rd century BC trading route of 400 square miles. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. Equally of importance is Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon, a desert landscape with fresh water springs surrounded by 1000 foot mountain ridges. The stunning backdrop of this desert was the scenery in the epic 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. TE Lawrence participated in the Battle of Aqaba in the Great Arab Revolt of 1916. Under the leadership of the Hejaz Kingdom, British and French forces fought the Ottomans. Anyway, the tour to see Petra was 9 hours for $300, or a combo Petra/Wadi Rum was 13 hours for $310. Most folks opted for the long one. For the first time that we can remember, there was a very long warning in the tour book describing conditions and reasons NOT to go. Slippery unpaved paths with a 5 to 6 mile walk each way could be expected in possible temperatures of 105 degrees. And there is limited shade….that much is true. They advised that the horse-drawn carriage rides, the donkeys, camels, or horse rides can be done at your own risk. Nothing is insured. We heard that the round trip carriage ride to and from the Treasury could be as high as $150. Will definitely follow up on that rumor. In addition to this, there were four different overnight tours added. They ranged from $600 to $700. And finally, there was always the local hop-on, hop-off bus for the sum of 20 dinar or $30 USD. We need to add some info on passports and visas. Many of the guests going over night or traveling independently out of Jordan, were concerned about having their passports with them. They made it clear that an overnight stay would not require passports shown at the hotels. Only a copy of the passport was needed. However, if you were going to Israel, for instance, you would need to obtain a passport stamp from Jordanian Immigrations for about $100 USD. Always good to check this out well ahead of time to avoid complications. Another cruise ship was in port when we arrived……the Mein Schiff 4, we assume the newest of the Tui line. If this is a sister ship to the Mein Schiff 3, then it is 99,300 gross tons with a capacity of 2500 to 2790 passengers. It appeals to the younger German-speaking families who are looking for a casual setting. They ended up leaving their berth around 7pm tonight. And while we were gone this morning, another ship docked behind us….an Aida vessel, but we could not see the name on her. Since we have seen the marvels of both Petra and Wadi Rum many times, we decided to stick close to Aqaba. With the amount of buses on the pier, we figured a lot of folks were going on tours today. Some of these same excursions will also be available tomorrow as well. There were shuttle buses that took the passengers to the center of town, mostly due to the fact that no guests are allowed to walk in the port area. The service began at 8am and would end at 9pm. Even though it said the ride was 25 minutes each way, it was half that time. At the bus stop, there was a trailer with the best info that could be provided of Aqaba and the outlying areas. Better maps and detailed info is always appreciated. From here, we navigated or way through town to see the shops and restaurants in town. We did locate the big souk up high on the hillside by climbing a series of stairs up to a park. At the souk, there was a combination of Arabic clothing, as well as western-style jeans and t-shirts for the locals. It definitely is not set up for tourists, but for vacationing Jordanians with families. Much of the merchandise was for kids. With the help of the local map, we located the central vegetable and meat market that snakes its way through a few city alleyways. It is here that we could see the outdoor tables of fresh veggies, like gigantic radishes, cilantro, and herbs. Following the aroma, small shops displayed their fish selections, while further up the road, freshly-butchered goats hung in the windows. The heads were still attached, so you know what you are buying. They were the Nubian type of goat, which out our way in California, these are raised for milking as well as the meat. As we passed by the produce sections, we spotted discarded boxes showing that the bananas came from Ecuador, and the table grapes were imported from Afghanistan. Next we made our way downhill, past the gold souk streets, to the seaside and the Great Arab Revolt Plaza. We had noticed that the 449 foot flagpole was missing the 65.6 foot by 131.2 foot flag was not flying today. Once we made our way between the ruins of the Aqaba Castle, museum, and the home of Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the great-great grandfather of the current ruler, King Abdullah II. That’s when we found the reason why the flag was not present. This entire area was under construction and the plaza was totally dug up and fenced. The next time we visit here, we expect to find the area re-modeled and tourist-friendly. A long stretch of Aqaba’s sandy beach begins here. Many local families were enjoying the banana boat and tube rides, although it was still early for the jet skis, canoe rides, a submarine ride, and water skiing. There were several wooden glass-bottom boats to see the coral reefs full of tropical fish. We must have been asked one dozen times to take a harbor ride from the vendors. But the most interesting sight were the local ladies, dressed in the black chiffon robes and headdresses floating in the rubber tubes in the surf. Yes, completely dressed – perhaps not wearing shoes. We can say from previous visits, that some of the younger Muslim ladies, accompanied by the husbands, will wear swimwear, but only at the private resort hotels. It was getting close to lunchtime, and we headed towards the Royal Yacht Club, which was a short walk from here. This marina area is most civilized and upscale. It came as a surprise to see a row of newly-built small restaurants and shops on the marina grounds. There were a few customers, but for the most part, we think people dine later here, and much more on weekends. We went to the Romano Restaurant located at the hotel across from the marina. Although they did not open until 12:30pm, we relaxed for 10 minutes on their outside patio. The owner said that a sand storm had hit the area, and they were still trying to clean the sand out of the property. Guess we are lucky that the winds are not that strong today. The food and drinks in Aqaba are not cheap, mostly because the dollar is only worth 70 cents here. And anything alcoholic, is taxed even higher. The beer we ordered was Amstel draft, and ran about $10 USD each for a pint. So worth it though. And their pizza is very good here, so we ordered one Margherita to share, of course. Same goes for the apple crisp with vanilla ice cream we ended the meal with. In the end, we spent over $50 USD for lunch, but we expected to pay as much….no surprise. Yes, we could have gone to nearby McDonald’s, which is priced-right, but spending 1½ hours in a very uncrowded restaurant with the service of very friendly waiters was wonderful. It was close to 3pm by now, so we walked back to the bus stop which was right up the street. Tomorrow, we will explore the high-end hotels and resorts on this end of Aqaba. The ride back to the ship took about 15 minutes, since the driver waited until our bus was mostly filled. The rest of the afternoon was spent working with photos, taking more notes from the info materials, and snapping more pictures of the Aida ship docked aft of us. The last time we were here, dozens of golden eagles could be seen flying in a canyon, aptly named, Eagle Hills. A new housing complex has been developed, and perhaps they drove the graceful birds of prey out of the area. The only birds we saw were pigeons, a few gulls, and swifts. Dinner tonight was in the Pinnacle Grill featuring their new menu and revised dishes. All of our favorites were still on the menu, namely the filets and the lamb chops. Only the presentation had changed and the sides usually served with those entrees were different. Caesar salad is no longer made tableside. And the prawns with cocktail sauce were served on a rectangular plate instead of in the glass. And only three shrimp were given for us to share. Breaded onion rings came with the steak, and the sweet sides were gone with the lamb chops. Missing from both plates, were the “greens” sticking out from under the meat. So much better. Guess what dessert has been eliminated? Their signature chocolate volcano dish. Two new desserts we tried were tres leches cake and Key lime pie….both excellent. And if anyone had a huge appetite, extra entrees would set up back $15 each. When the ship is overnight in a port, there is never a live show in the Mainstage. But the scheduled movie, Green Book, could not be shown due to their inability to obtain a licensing extension for the movie. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) had been substituted. Interesting what goes on behind the scenes that we do not know. The seaside city in Israel, across the Gulf of Aqaba, was lit up and sparkled like gold. With the crescent of the moon shining brightly in the sky, it sure made for great view from our room window. Have to rest up for another day of walking in town tomorrow. Bill & Mary Ann
  11. Report # 81 Day at Sea April 9, 2019 Tuesday Partly sunny & 82 degrees Part #1 Of 1 18 Pictures Today at sea was not the typical one….not by a long shot. Beginning with a very light breakfast in the dining room, we took a short walk outside to discover that it was a bit cooler than yesterday. And some of that sticky humidity was gone. We do expect a sunny, warm day two days in Aqaba, but after we leave and transit the Suez Canal, it will change even more. Our breakfast was light, because we had been invited to a Cabaret Brunch on the upper level of the dining room at 10:30am. It was a mixed affair with the Pinnacle and Neptune suite guests and the President’s Club members. We guess there were around 114 people present. The printed title of this brunch was “Carried Away”, which made no sense. Barb thought our food would be carried away in a bag….like fast food. Then it dawned on us when we read closer that the music of this cabaret was featuring “Carrie” & the Ocean Band, along with the duo of Adagio. Not wanting to chance sitting with total strangers, the two of us with Barb and Don included two more friends and asked for a table for six. No problem, we would be escorted by the dining room manager to our (silently) reserved table. However, just yesterday two very good buddies Mike and Pauline, new to the President’s Club, had asked if we had room for them. Had we known sooner, we would have saved two seats for them. As it turned out, the two ladies that were to be seated with us were whisked away to a different table, and Barb hunted down our buddies, and brought them over. It worked out well anyway. Several tables had been removed in the center, and two platforms were set up for both bands. The program included twelve pieces of music, mixing familiar songs with classical. It was a real cabaret show, not backround music. Conversation among the guests was impossible due to the higher level of the music. While we listened, we were served a glass of champagne, a little jug of orange juice, and eventually, a glass of rose wine. Appetizers were a choice of a fruit plate, parfaits, pancakes, and a cheese/meat plate. Mains were lobster benedict, croissant with foie gras, steak and eggs, and a vegetarian tart. Desserts were apple crisp, oreo cheesecake, or a fruit sundae. The pancake appetizer was really enough for a full meal, and the steak and eggs were delicious. Apple crisps were our desserts. All in all, it was a really nice event appreciated by all. It was a wrap by 12pm, just in time for the lunch service down on deck four. The best thing to do after such a meal, was go to the pool and relax for a while. Like we said, it was still warm, but when we exited the door to the Seaview Pool, it was the first time we were not hit with that oppressive heat. By the time we set up our lounges, it actually began to drizzle rain. It had to be isolated clouds passing over, because it never amounted to anything. Before 4pm, we shared a small salad and a sandwich in the Lido, then found our seats later in the atrium across from the Ocean Bar to listen to the band. It’s also a good spot to visit with passing friends. Those that know us well know where to find us this time of day. Dinner for us tonight was with friends Leta and Bill at their table for four. Barb had been invited to a birthday party dinner, so the fellows went upstairs to dine with more friends. That gave our waiters a night off, since most of their tables would be empty by 9pm at the latest. As always, we enjoyed some quality time visiting with them. It had been a long day, so we missed the show of Celli, two of Europe’s leading cellists. So, there is one more country to address before we arrive to Jordan. We have been passing close to Saudi Arabia, with a population of over 28 million people. It’s capital is Riyadh, with Mecca and Medina being among Islam’s holiest cities. Saudi Arabia is a reclusive country, the birthplace of Islam, and one that is pulled in two directions at once…..into the future and into the past. Tourist visas are almost impossible to get, even though millions of Muslims take a pilgrimage into the country from all corners of the earth. They have Nabataean cities that rival Petra in Jordan, ancient fortresses, as well as modern architecture in the capital. You can dive and snorkel the Red Sea, see the world’s most famous deserts, the Rub al-Khalil and the Empty Quarter. They eat a dish called khouzi or lamb stuffed with a chicken that is stuffed with rice, nuts, and sultanas. They love to drink cardamom-flavored coffee. Trademarks are oil-rich sheikhs, Bedouin nomads, and vast shopping centers. Random fact is during the Bedouin feasts, excessive conversations among the usually boisterous Bedouin is considered a sign of bad manners. And once again, this is a country we will probably never visit. No doubt about it, the guests and crew members that are going to see Petra the next couple of days are so excited, you can feel the anticipation on the entire ship. Bill & Mary Ann
  12. Report # 80 Day at Sea April 8, 2019 Monday Partly sunny & 82 degrees The days seem to be racing by as we continue our voyage towards Jordan. So far, the weather has remained quite nice, even still warm and humid. Knowing these balmy days and evenings are numbered, many more folks are coming out of the overly air-conditioned ship to relax on the outside decks, and take advantage of the swimming pools and spas. Here are a few more countries that we are passing along the route. One that we got close to, but stayed well clear of, was the north coast of Somalia. Perched on the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia is an unstable war-torn country with the capital of Mogadishu and a population of 10 million. Seriously, it is a no-go area despite the fact that there are huge archaeological treasures and world class beaches here. First thing that comes to mind is the incident of October 1993 and the Black Hawk Down disastrous combat mission. And more recently, pirate attacks that occurred with the Maersk Alabama and Captain Philips in 2009. So if you travel here, according to some sources, you may be the only tourist in the entire country. Eritrea is another country we are passing on the port side. With the capital at Asmara and a population of 5,600,000, it is a country like no other. It has a wealth of culture and history with beautiful volcanic deserts and coral reefs of the Red Sea. Their fight for sovereignty and clashes with Ethiopia have brought on hard times. But it still remains a diver’s paradise, as well as a place of monasteries, mosques, and temples. Best known for macchiato and a snack of deep-fried dough balls sold in newspaper cones. And another country we have never visited. Sudan is also on our port side as we head north in the Red Sea. Khartoum is their capital and the population is around 45 million. This country stretches over part of the Sahara Desert to the shores of the Red Sea. Again, there are relics of ancient civilizations from pre-Pharaohic Egypt. It is also torn from civil war, now divided by the north and south. They are known for the hammerhead sharks in the Red Sea reefs, and the confluence of the two Nile Rivers – the Blue and the White where they meet in the capital. It is a place of pyramids more numerous and older than Egypt’s. The locals eat “fuul”, a stewed brown bean dish eaten with flatbread, eggs and cheese. The favorite drink is sweet tea or coffee with cardamom and cinnamon. And again, a place we will not stop. Happenings of the day included three lectures. What to see and do in Italy, Spain, and Portugal was discussed by Ian, and Barry Dreyer deal, an appropriate subject dealing with the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, perfect for our upcoming visit to Jordan. But of course, you would have to visit Petra and Wadi Rum to see the setting for this true saga. Then Miss Rowan spoke about the pyramids and how they were built. Too bad we will not have the opportunity to see them on this trip. The HAL Chorale group has been meeting on some sea days since the onset of this cruise. One of our friends sure enjoys this easy group activity and we look forward to hearing their performance later in the voyage. For a change, there was a gala night port wine tasting held in the Crystal Terrace at 7:30pm. However, instead of the usual $5 wine charge, it was $14.95. We had been relaxing in our chairs close by, but we left shortly before it commenced. As we indicated, this was another “dress up” gala night with the theme of 1001 Arabian Nights Dinner. The majority of guests dressed much the same as any other formal evening, but some did dress the part of exotic Arabia. But none could match the exotic headdress of our tablemate, Greg, who came to the table with a royal blue and gold lame Tutankamun hat. He even added a very bushy black mustache over his real one. Good thing our host for the evening happened to be the hotel director, Henk, who knows all of us very well. Good thing. When our laughter died down, we got through the evening just fine. Greg did catch the attention of Philip, who is the head of all culinary operations now. He insisted on taking a cell phone photo, as did another buddy Jane, who ventured down to take a tablet photo to capture the moment. All in good fun. And to answer a recent question regarding theme nights, we did receive a Know Before You Go booklet well before the cruise began. Every special event and theme dinner was included in the list, as well as the specialty wine pairing, Tamarind, and Sel de Mer evenings in the Pinnacle Grill. That way, we can come prepared with the assorted costumes. Or these items can be purchased along the way, which many guests do. The entire lower level of the dining room emptied out, leaving us the last to leave. But that is normal. We all like it when it gets quiet. It did give us the opportunity to go directly to the show, which was a dance and song performance by the singers and dancers of the Amsterdam. For a change, they played the music we like….country western, folk, and country rock. This group has got the moves and the voices to go with them. And once again, the clocks went back one hour, which was fine for all. Bill & Mary Ann PS Love the comments about the “dessert” sands, as we still chuckle about that. And yes, there are no calories in those desserts. Report # 80 Day at Sea April 8, 2019 Monday Partly sunny & 82 degrees The days seem to be racing by as we continue our voyage towards Jordan. So far, the weather has remained quite nice, even still warm and humid. Knowing these balmy days and evenings are numbered, many more folks are coming out of the overly air-conditioned ship to relax on the outside decks, and take advantage of the swimming pools and spas. Here are a few more countries that we are passing along the route. One that we got close to, but stayed well clear of, was the north coast of Somalia. Perched on the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia is an unstable war-torn country with the capital of Mogadishu and a population of 10 million. Seriously, it is a no-go area despite the fact that there are huge archaeological treasures and world class beaches here. First thing that comes to mind is the incident of October 1993 and the Black Hawk Down disastrous combat mission. And more recently, pirate attacks that occurred with the Maersk Alabama and Captain Philips in 2009. So if you travel here, according to some sources, you may be the only tourist in the entire country. Eritrea is another country we are passing on the port side. With the capital at Asmara and a population of 5,600,000, it is a country like no other. It has a wealth of culture and history with beautiful volcanic deserts and coral reefs of the Red Sea. Their fight for sovereignty and clashes with Ethiopia have brought on hard times. But it still remains a diver’s paradise, as well as a place of monasteries, mosques, and temples. Best known for macchiato and a snack of deep-fried dough balls sold in newspaper cones. And another country we have never visited. Sudan is also on our port side as we head north in the Red Sea. Khartoum is their capital and the population is around 45 million. This country stretches over part of the Sahara Desert to the shores of the Red Sea. Again, there are relics of ancient civilizations from pre-Pharaohic Egypt. It is also torn from civil war, now divided by the north and south. They are known for the hammerhead sharks in the Red Sea reefs, and the confluence of the two Nile Rivers – the Blue and the White where they meet in the capital. It is a place of pyramids more numerous and older than Egypt’s. The locals eat “fuul”, a stewed brown bean dish eaten with flatbread, eggs and cheese. The favorite drink is sweet tea or coffee with cardamom and cinnamon. And again, a place we will not stop. Happenings of the day included three lectures. What to see and do in Italy, Spain, and Portugal was discussed by Ian, and Barry Dreyer deal, an appropriate subject dealing with the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, perfect for our upcoming visit to Jordan. But of course, you would have to visit Petra and Wadi Rum to see the setting for this true saga. Then Miss Rowan spoke about the pyramids and how they were built. Too bad we will not have the opportunity to see them on this trip. The HAL Chorale group has been meeting on some sea days since the onset of this cruise. One of our friends sure enjoys this easy group activity and we look forward to hearing their performance later in the voyage. For a change, there was a gala night port wine tasting held in the Crystal Terrace at 7:30pm. However, instead of the usual $5 wine charge, it was $14.95. We had been relaxing in our chairs close by, but we left shortly before it commenced. As we indicated, this was another “dress up” gala night with the theme of 1001 Arabian Nights Dinner. The majority of guests dressed much the same as any other formal evening, but some did dress the part of exotic Arabia. But none could match the exotic headdress of our tablemate, Greg, who came to the table with a royal blue and gold lame Tutankamun hat. He even added a very bushy black mustache over his real one. Good thing our host for the evening happened to be the hotel director, Henk, who knows all of us very well. Good thing. When our laughter died down, we got through the evening just fine. Greg did catch the attention of Philip, who is the head of all culinary operations now. He insisted on taking a cell phone photo, as did another buddy Jane, who ventured down to take a tablet photo to capture the moment. All in good fun. And to answer a recent question regarding theme nights, we did receive a Know Before You Go booklet well before the cruise began. Every special event and theme dinner was included in the list, as well as the specialty wine pairing, Tamarind, and Sel de Mer evenings in the Pinnacle Grill. That way, we can come prepared with the assorted costumes. Or these items can be purchased along the way, which many guests do. The entire lower level of the dining room emptied out, leaving us the last to leave. But that is normal. We all like it when it gets quiet. It did give us the opportunity to go directly to the show, which was a dance and song performance by the singers and dancers of the Amsterdam. For a change, they played the music we like….country western, folk, and country rock. This group has got the moves and the voices to go with them. And once again, the clocks went back one hour, which was fine for all. Bill & Mary Ann PS Love the comments about the “dessert” sands, as we still chuckle about that. And yes, there are no calories in those desserts.
  13. Report #79 Day at Sea April 7, 2019 Sunday Partly sunny & 82 degrees Part #1 Of 1 75 Pictures Today we would be leaving the Arabian Sea, and venturing into the Gulf of Aden…. making an entrance into a very sensitive part of the world….namely sailing around the tip of Yemen on the starboard and part of the coast of Djibouti on the port. There is a narrow sea passage where both countries come very close. It is named Bah el Mandeb, or Gate of Tears for the tragic history here. And it happens to be a place where ships can be in trouble in relation to pirate activity, for instance. Although we have not heard of any recent take-overs, it does not mean these things are still not happening. For that reason, the Captain kept the speed of the ship at the max of 24 knots, we suspect. The timing on this passage was originally happening around 11:30am, but Captain Mercer seems to get a jump on the distance if he can, then slow it up. So by 10am, we went up to deck nine and began snapping photos of the islands we were approaching on both sides of the ship. Yesterday, we described Yemen, so today we can give some info on Djibouti, the country on our port side. With a population of 516,000, Djibouti is located at a point of three diverging tectonic plates. They have fumaroles that spew steam from the center of the earth. The lava flows resemble a lunar scene in the desert. It is a place to see whale sharks and manta rays. The local tribesmen and nomads eat roasted goat and fish suppers. It is served in newspaper. Djibouti has salt lakes, $5.00 cucumbers, as well as French and American military presence. Here is an unusual fact: There is a national obsession with a substance called “qat”, a mild narcotic herb, where up to 40% of a family’s income is spent. It’s estimated that two months of productivity is lost yearly due to the side effects. The only one we know on this ship that has actually stopped in the capital of Djibouti City is our former host, Tom. He said many years ago, a ship called on this port and there was one paid tour to a modern shopping mall. Then we were tablemates with the minister and his wife on a cruise 20 years ago. They also went to the capital city, and wished they had not at the time. Lots of poverty. These days we have not seen this country on the safe travel list, at least not from a cruise ship. Many ships either passed us going the opposite way or we passed them doing 25 knots. Of course, they are probably on their way to and from the Suez Canal or Jordan, where we are headed. We spent much of the morning and early afternoon taking photos as we entered the Red Sea. We sure do not remember the weather being as hot and even humid as it was today. But then, we have to remind ourselves that we are three weeks later than usual. While we were occupied outside, Ian, the port lecturer, had a fun time with travel trivia. He put on a slide show of places he has been, and turned it into a guessing game….like where in the world is Ian now? Great idea. Today was Sunday, and the brunch sampler day in the dining room at 11am. Advertised as all your grand favorites served as a 3-course set menu, sampler-style, and sparkling wine specials until 1pm. It has been such a hit, that the dining room was full to capacity, we were told. As far as the jewelry sales go, we were invited to a private showing of the newest collection in one of the suites on deck seven with sparkling wine as an enticement. They must have invited a select group, since the suites are not that large. However, this type of event was not up our alley, so we declined. Lunch service in the Lido was back on the noisy side, darn. But we switched to the opposite side to eat. Much quieter and cooler. On the port side of the Lido, where the doors go out to the Seaview Pool, we have noticed that one of the glass doors has been removed. That leaves the hot air to enter from the outside. The only reason we see for this has to be for the walker and wheelchair access to the back deck. That is one thing these older ships do not have is easy wheelchair access to the lower promenade deck and the aft pool. Newer vessels have automatic doors, making access much easier. The live entertainment with the bands and the lounges take turns with a day off each week. So tonight, the Ocean Quartet was taking their break. We took our seats there anyway, enjoying the silence for a change. Our form of entertainment is working the daily crossword puzzle, but verbally. Before we knew it, the time for dinner had arrived. All five of us were present, and we were happy with our meal choices of potstickers, sweet and sour shrimp, and a shredded beef salad, most likely prime rib. Profiteroles, all two of them, were shared by us, while everyone but Barb (she never eats dessert) was happy with plates of fresh fruit, and one small slice of Dutch apple pie. There was a curious note left with our nightly turn-down mail. It was regarding the new internet system on the ship, which apparently has caused some grumblings among the guests. Depending on the type of plan purchased, you are allowed a specific amount of megabytes. And since there is no way to track the usage on our end, people have been exceeding their time. The best suggestion that was advised was to log off, and don’t keep the wifi on. Our experience has shown that when the time reaches the limit for your plan, it cranks down to extremely slow, and ceases to send or receive anything. And perhaps the guests have been debited for overtime, but we are not sure of this. Since these plans are pricey, no one wants to have added charges to their shipboard accounts. There was a duel variety show in the Mainstage….Elliot Finkel and Helen Wilding…piano playing and singing. Both did it quite well. By the way, now that we are in safer waters, the outside lighting on deck three has been turned back on. The 24 round the clock security guards were not present on the promenade deck this evening also. Bill & Mary Ann
  14. Report # 78 Day at Sea April 6, 2019 Saturday Partly sunny & 82 degrees Part #1 Of 1 The calm seas and the pleasant weather has remained with us as we sail in a southwesterly direction down the coast of Yemen. Even though we will not be making any stops along the way to Jordan, we feel it appropriate to include some info with the countries that are in this area. Perhaps most everyone will recognize the names of these Middle Eastern countries, since they have been in the news for many years as most dangerous. And that is putting it lightly. The country we are passing by now is Yemen with a population of over 24 million people. Their capital, San’a, is 2500 years old and happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yemen has been dubbed the Arabian Peninsula’s poor cousin since it has none of the oil wealth of its nearest neighbors. Unless something has changed since 2012, their most precious commodity was frankincense. The history here is biblical because Noah reportedly launched his ark from here, and the Queen of Sheba once ruled the land. Today, you can find fortified villages made with stone walls or mud villages. Or visit Aden, Yemen’s most modern city with some of the finest beach resorts. Their favorite food is a meat stew with lentils, beans, and coriander. Tea scented with cardamom or coffee with ginger are their traditional beverages. In recent years, modern Yemen has had much internal conflict when the country was divided into two countries – South and North Yemen until 1990. Conflicts continue, even when we passed this area a few years ago. For safety reasons, we have stayed clear of these shores. During our morning walk, we did see some tiny flying fish. Sightings of these little creatures have been few and far between this trip. Although, like we always say, if you don’t stop long enough and watch, you can miss a lot of things. This is always the best excuse one of us uses to stop at the railing and take a break while on the lower promenade deck. Maybe we will see more later in the day. Yesterday, there were several boobys flying alongside the ship, even right at the Seaview pool railings. They stayed all day, then were gone by the morning. Around 2pm, Barb paid us a visit at the aft pool, and she brought some good luck with her. While we were chatting, a school of fish began jumping in the wake several yards behind us. They were not quite big enough to be dolphins, but could have been tuna. Once again, we have seen few sightings of these performers on this cruise as well. Barb needs to visit more often since she brings the luck with her. We had a note on our mail slot with the announcement of a special event for the Grand Voyage Mariners (everyone onboard) for an evening at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Holland on April 26th. It will be an opportunity for a private tour of the highlights in the museum which will include all of the works of Rembrandt. We will see as many as 22 paintings, 60 drawings, and 300 engravings, as well as his most celebrated masterpiece – the Night Watch. As President’s Club members, we will be transferred ahead of the crowd at 6:30pm, with exclusive early access in the Gallery of Honour. The main event will be from 7 to 10pm with complimentary drinks and dessert. Of course, shuttles will be provided for all. And we suppose dinner for the late seating guests will have to be much earlier than 6:30pm that night. No RSVP needed unless we decline. If this affair is anything like the cistern gathering in Istanbul in 2008, or the Ephesus party in Turkey in 2015, we think, it should really be special. Lunch in the Lido found a change, and a good one we hope will continue. Instead of the “noisy” side of the Lido being opened for sandwiches and salads, the opposite side (starboard), was opened instead. This way, we avoided the increasingly noisy Arts and Crafts class in progress. The loud speakers and the “artists” in there have been so loud that the servers cannot even hear the orders for sandwiches or salads. On the opposite side, we cannot hear any of the class instructions or the chatter of 100 or more people who participate. Much better. Tonight’s theme for the evening was Speakeasy in both the dining room and the Crow’s Nest later. All would be invited to let the good times roll from the depths of the Prohibition Era. Not that we remember these times in America’s history, but we sure recall the clothing of that time. So we went to the Ocean Bar around 6pm just to see how the folks were dressed. A few of the ladies wore flapper-type dresses and feathers in their hair, while the fellows wore what they always do. The staff were the ones that dressed for the occasion. When we began to see some of the early diners coming to the show lounge, we did notice that some of the ladies were wearing black felt hats with a felt flower, and the men wore a typical black-striped hat from that era. Also, the women had strings of pearls around their necks and white long gloves. Obviously, these had been handed out during the dinner service. Although this was not a gala evening, the waiters were dressed nicely with dark gray vests and white top hats at dinner in the dining room. They seem to like the changes of the outfits, except for the hats, which tend to be quite warm. The menu was not too exciting, but the spring rolls were very good. One of us pre-ordered the room service chicken “noodle” soup except without the spaghetti in it. Recently, we found out that all of the pasta is made onsite with a real pasta-making machine. So all it took was asking Slam if the chef can substitute linguine, and the answer was a definite yes. And it was so good. Both of us had turkey salads with a tasting of the Korean kalbi ribs. Barb had the fish entrée, but also tried the ribs and liked them much better. A small dessert of one scoop of rocky road ice cream with a small plate of cookies finished our meal. The Crow’s Nest Speakeasy Soiree Party had begun at 8:45pm, not convenient to our late seating time of 8pm. Guess the majority rules when it comes to these evening events. The roaring 20’s music would go on for quite a while, but the $2 drinks would cease by 9:45pm. Taking a walk outside was once again eerie, as it was dark with all of the curtains drawn tight in the cabins. But that gave us an opportunity to gaze at the bright stars in the night sky….a real treat indeed. Barb mentioned that her group went to the Seaview Pool late last night, and sat talking back there also taking in the star show. Bill & Mary Ann
  15. Report # 77 Day at Sea April 5, 2019 Friday Partly sunny & 82 degrees We have a few days at sea, five to be exact, as we sail south down the coast of Oman. We will pass by several countries without stopping on our way to Jordan. To say it is a most sensitive place in the world is probably putting it lightly. The security measures taken so far have been sobering, although, this year, we do not have the razor wire installed below the lower promenade deck. One factor we did not mention is the fact that this ship is capable of maintaining a fast speed. Currently we are fairly close to the coast of Oman and doing a speed of about 20 knots. If needed, that can be cranked up to 25 knots according to Captain Mercer. Spending a most relaxing day at the aft pool, we were joined by buddies Leta and Bill. The temperature was not too high and we had some cloud cover, so they felt it safe to venture outside for a while. Always concerned about burning, they tend to stay out of the direct sun for a long time. There has been more than once that both of them got sunburnt while talking to us. The new lotion we bought in Australia has worked really well for both of us. We never go out without using it. Captain Jonathon delivered his PM talk as usual, but he added something that we had forgotten about. To begin, last night after dinner, we strolled the outside deck in the dark. But we did notice that looking towards the land side of the ship, there was a glow of lights, much like you would see if we were passing a coastal city. However, there was no city here. So what were we seeing? Turned out it was a phenomenon that occurs in a few places in the world in tropical seas. It was a glowing illumination coming from the water from a type of plankton, tiny animals and plants floating in the water. It actually created a glow that mimicked a nearby city on the horizon. Now we remembered seeing this several years ago and probably in the same area we are now sailing. Pretty cool experience. We heard from a reliable source that the morning pastries that have traditionally been passed to everyone in the dining room at breakfast has stopped on the Rotterdam. Wonder if this is the same on the other HAL ships? Now we are curious if the afternoon tea time will continue, as we also were told the participation has been low. Time will tell on both counts. It took the rest of the afternoon to catch up on Muscat’s reports and photos. But it is always nice to have the time to do it, now that we have sea days and more time. Before we knew it, the time for our Tamarind dinner in the Pinnacle Grill had arrived. This venue has caught on with the restaurant being almost fully booked. Our appetizers were shrimp tempura, a Thai salad, and hot and crispy spring rolls. So good. While we snacked on shrimp crackers with three sauces, our mains were brought. Both of us ordered the wasabi-crusted filets with asparagus and breaded onion rings. Cooked perfectly, we added a bowl of Hainan rice and sauteed mushrooms. There was a tad bit of room left for dessert of a bowl of fresh berries, and one chocolate-dipped fortune cookie. Speaking of dessert reminds us of a very funny mistake printed in the daily newsletter today. Here is the message: Dessert sand fine and soft as silk will be blowing on board regularly until we have gone through the Suez Canal. We will best attempt to wash this off the ship regularly, but please know that it blows on board incessantly and continuously. Now can you spot the misspelled word??? A vivacious singer, Helen Wilding, was the entertainer this evening. She is credited with a career spanning 20 years which included theater, opera, film and TV. Bill & Mary Ann
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