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John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III


Johnny B

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March 28 – Mumbai (or Bombay), India

Day 82

 

I do love India. There are so many wonderful things about it – the food, the kind people, the cows wandering the streets – even in Mumbai, the old English buildings, women in colorful saris, young men playing cricket (very well indeed) in the parks . . . and so on and so on. The irony of this is that when we applied to the Peace Corps in the 1960’s, they wanted to send us to India and we said, “Oh, no, we couldn’t possibly go there because it is such a horrible place,” and now we can’t get enough of it.

 

After staying up too late last night in the Crow’s Nest with Dale and Dale and then the Unexpected Boys, I woke up this morning at 6:00, looked out the window, saw some buildings and a young many sitting atop a truck right outside our window and promptly went back to sleep. When we finally got up at 7:30, we had a good view of the city from the gym while we worked out, and then agreed to meet our friend Sky at 10:00 for a taxi tour of the city and lunch.

 

When leaving the ship, there are probably two dozen taxis outside, but if you walk about five minutes to the Green Gate (its official name), there are dozens of cheaper taxis outside – and you feel like the world’s most popular person as the drivers compete with each other to get your business. We finally settled upon an elderly Muslim man who, with his white outfit, white hat and white beard, really looked the part of someone on the way to Mecca. In addition to seeing the local sights, we found that he was very knowledgeable about the world, and we discussed everything from politics to premarital sex (he’s against). This is one of the many reasons that we prefer private arrangements to ship’s tours. When was the last time a group tour guide gave you his opinions on sex?

The ship’s tour’s for 2-1/2 hours (with a loooong stop in an expensive store) cost $89, while ours was $10.00 each.

 

We had an abbreviated form of the tour we took in 2008, driving along Chowpatty Beach, stopping at Malabar park to walk a bit and appreciate the topiaries, seeing both the exclusive, expensive parts of the city as well as the more average areas, and then taking time for a walk through Mahatma Ghandi’s house. It is truly a moving and inspirational place, showing the power of non-violence through the story of his life. One of the most interesting parts is a room with a series of dioramas around the room showing scenes from his life. One may also visit his library, complete with card catalog, and his living/working room, with a mat on the floor and his spinning wheel so that he would never be idle. In fact, it is because of this practice of Ghandi’s that the Indian flag now has a spinning wheel in its middle.

 

Our driver dropped us off near the Taj Hotel so that we could make our way to Trishna, where we were meeting Alan and Sandra (Alsas) for lunch. We weren’t quite sure how to get there, but when a business man stopped and asked, “Where are you from?” we began a conversation about his living in New York and he gave us excellent directions.

Lunch was wonderful, with chicken tikka masala, prawn biryani, and the restaurant’s specialty: crab cooked any way you want it. By the time we rolled out of the restaurant, we did a little walking and then found a taxi back to the ship.

 

The only negative part of lunch was that I discovered that my little Canon Sure Shot camera had gone missing, and we didn’t know whether it had been taken out of my pocket or if I left it in the taxi. Very fortunately for me, Sky had taken a photo of our cab and when he enlarged it, there was the license number. When we arrived back to the taxi area at the ship, we asked a couple of fellows about the license number and described our driver. They not only knew who it was, but someone had his phone number, so I was able to call him, have him look in the back seat, and Voila! It was there. He agreed to have his son, also a taxi driver, meet us at 9:30 the next morning to return it (which we did). Talk about a series of lucky events!

 

Since we were still full from lunch, it seemed the right thing to do to get together with 7 friends and go to Khyber for dinner. It’s just round the corner from Trishna, and although the food probably isn’t as good, the place is just beautiful inside, with the interior divided into semi-private eating areas. A lot of crew go there for dinner, but there was only one other table of passengers that we noticed. There was so much food! We had grilled spiced chicken (my favorite), biryani, chicken tikka masala (again), two types of lamb, grilled prawns, papadams, an embarrassing amount of naan (which we couldn’t finish), and some other things that I can’t remember (probably because of a food coma). It was fun and ended up, with tax and tip, costing the princely sum of $24.00 each – fairly expensive in India, but well worth it. After dinner, it was roll into another cab and drive back to the ship for an early to bed.

 

March 29 – Day 83

Mumbai – Second day

 

Since I didn’t get to finish March 28 yesterday, I decided I’d just continue on with our second day in Mumbai. We got to sleep in a bit (that’s 7:30 to us) before heading up to the gym, then to breakfast and into the shower – our normal morning routine. We were at the taxi rank (or taxi mob) at 9:30, we met yesterday’s driver’s son and he gave me back my camera. We expressed our appreciation both verbally and monetarily, and we were off to the Taj Hotel, where my pedicure appointment was set for 10:00.

 

First, however, we had to stop at the Central Post Office to send a package to our granddaughter and hope that it would arrive before her April 11 birthday. Four years ago, we had an incredibly interesting post office experience, and this one was similar. At that time, we brought a plastic bag filled with gifts to the P. O. A man had us go across the street to a counter where another man wrapped our goodies in old newspaper (in Hindi), and then stitched it into a large piece of linen. We had begged a container about the size of a shoebox from the front office, and we filled it with the goodies that had been purchased before closing, addressing, and taping it. Because we had everything contained in a box, we didn’t think we’d go through the same procedure – but we were wrong! A man came up to us and asked “Are you mailing that package?” We answered in the affirmative, upon which he told us it couldn’t be sent without a linen covering. We really don’t understand this, but it seems to give more people work, so who can complain.

 

The other man then took out a rectangular piece of unbleached linen and proceeded to wrap the box in it, stitching it very nicely and neatly at the main seam and then at the ends. He then handed me a pen to address it, and he then turned it over and wrote, as the return address “Central Post Office, Mumbai, India.” Boy, didn’t we feel important.

Finally the package was ready, so the first man led the two of us back to the post office where he weighed and labeled our package. For 3-5 day service, I think we paid about $24.00 plus a couple of dollars to the “wrapper.”

 

We then continued to the Taj, where I had the most thorough pedicure of my life for about an hour and a half (for $14.00). John very patiently waited for me, reading four Mumbai newspapers. He can now easily identify any Indian sports star, Bollywood star, or corrupt local politician. He mentioned that an article in the paper indicated that while the USA currently has the world’s largest economy, we will be surpassed by China in about 2020, but that India will overtake China by 2050. I don’t think we’ll be around to verify that last figure. We walked all the back streets behind the Taj before heading back to the ship on foot. We figured that we probably walked about three miles, which eliminated the need for an afternoon gym workout.

 

After a quick lunch on board, we ran into Sky, who wanted to go find a pharmacy to buy some of the “magic cure-every-skin-problem cream recommended by Susie at dinner a few evenings ago. John was more interested in a nap, so Sky and I hopped into a taxi and headed over to the Oberoi Hotel (now with a new name) where we found the tiny little pharmacy in the Oberoi mall. We found the magic cream as well as large sheets of Ibuprofen and a few other things.

 

Our next assignment was to find two new printer cartridges for Sky’s printer. At the Oberoi, they had suggested we go to the Fort Street area, so we gave the driver our assignment, and he found the correct general location. It required a bit of wandering and asking directions, but we found a young man who, with his partner in crime, had a tidy little business refilling cartridges. Five minutes and $4.00 later, Sky had his cartridges ready to roll, and we headed back to the ship.

 

This time, our boarding was the final one of the day, and it was lovely to get back to air conditioning and a couch on which to relax and type. With four and a half sea days coming up, I can hardly wait to do nothing, something we haven’t been able to do for the last four port days, even though the ports themselves were fascinating and all places I’d like to visit again.

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I'm amazed at how "knowledgeable" you (and the other people who are on the world cruise) are about all the ports. You know where you want to go, you know how to get there....I'm sure it comes from research and from experience on the world cruises, but I'm still impressed.

 

I hope that if and when I ever get to go on a world cruise that I'll be lucky enough to "tag along" with some of you more knowledgeable people so I'll get the most of out of my trip (and will spend less in the process) :)

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It is wonderful reading all about your adventures as my parents (Gary & Barbara Hewett) are also currently on the MS Amsterdam and the narrative of your adventures helps me kind of keep up with them. If you happen to see them tell them that their son (Jim) said HI.

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March 31 – Day 85

At Sea en route to Safaga, Egypt

 

As much as I love India, it is exhausting. You may wonder at my emoting over sea days, but after four straight days of ports during which we tried to see everything there was to see and eat Indian food everywhere we could, I was exhausted (and full). Yesterday was just a recuperation day. I had a sinus headache and was incredibly sleepy. After Trivia and sari-wrapping lessons and lunch, it was time for a nap. Two hours later, I was feeling much more rested and ready for more time in the gym.

 

Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling that way; as we walked around the ship the places that usually have a lot of people, like the library, were pretty empty. Maybe it’s the age of the passengers (like us) that causes this fatigue, or maybe it’s just doing too much for too many days in a row. There have also been a lot of people with bronchial problems, whether from the pollution in Mumbai or just caught from others on board.

Our friend Heo missed dinner last night, stayed in his room today and will miss dinner tonight because of this kind of a problem.

 

We’re now speeding at 20.2 knots across the Arabian Sea toward Egypt. It’s really interesting watching the security measures taking place, since we’re now in “pirate waters.” Rolled razor wire has been added just below the Promenade Deck, apparently to make it more difficult for any bad guys to throw grapple hooks and come aboard. In addition, there are a couple of security officers on deck 24/7, armed with cell phones and binoculars, watching the seas around us. We haven’t seen the sound cannons yet, but I have a feeling that they are hidden somewhere. They are large round dishes, about the size of the old-fashioned TV dishes, which project high-pitched sounds focused on a target. If you’re the target, chances are you won’t hear anything for at least a year, and possibly forever. Not a pleasant thought. Each side of the deck also has high-pressure hoses to be used against anyone trying to board. The captain also mentioned today in his daily “Voice from the Bridge” announcement that tomorrow we will be in the proximity of a convoy of slower ships who travel together with air and sea protection through these treacherous waters.

 

At this point, we are fully expecting to arrive in Safaga on April 4 at 4:00 PM and sail at midnight the next day, giving everyone who’s interested a chance to take the three-hour drive into Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, see what they want to see and then take the same drive back. The interesting thing about the drive is that it is necessary to make it in an armed convoy. When we began our five-day Egypt overland in 2008, our travel company, De Castro Tours, had to register us, our car and driver for the convoy. There is an armed truck at the front, one in the middle, and one brings up the rear. If you don’t register and drive in the convoy, you don’t drive from Safaga to Luxor. It’s one of the realities of today’s world, dating from the terrorist attack at Hatsheput’s Tomb in 1997.

 

Tonight is Indian Formal Night, and there were nearly a hundred women at the “how to wrap your sari” class yesterday afternoon in the Ocean Bar. Two Indian crew members, one a man, gave a demonstration of how to wrap a sari properly, beginning with tucking it into something (a slip, a belt, or whatever) and then wrapping it around the body before making nine (it must be nine) pleats and then tucking those in so that the sari moves gracefully when the wearer walks. After that, the rest of the sari material is pleated and put up over the left shoulder – again, it must be the left shoulder. When done correctly, it is such an elegant and attractive garment made from just six yards of fabric. The bars and the restaurant will be absolutely lovely with all the colorful saris purchased in India or brought from home (from previous trips, no doubt).

 

Now we have several sea days until Egypt, so some relaxing is in order.

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April 1 – Day 86

At Sea

 

Today is special in two ways: it’s Palm Sunday and April Fools’ Day. Church had more worshippers than usual today, but I imagine next Sunday, being Easter, will bring all the holiday Christians out. What I really enjoy is the sunrise service at sea. The most memorable one was in 2008, in the middle of the Red Sea, on the aft deck and conducted by the priest and the minister. It was well worth getting up at 6:00.

 

April Fools’ Day on board is somewhat understated, but fun nonetheless. On the Daily Explorer, the music groups have slightly altered names. Debby Bacon in the Piano Bar is now Debby Bacon and Eggs, etc. The 3:30 Techspert Time says, “Techspert Christ is available to answer questions about how to sew your own fashionable clothes.” At 2:00, we can go to the Lower Promenade Deck (3) to see “the whales and dolphins are released.” When we entered the elevator this morning, the rug in it (which always indicates the day of the week) said “Friday.” Once in a great while they make a mistake, so we didn’t give it much thought. However, the next elevator said “Tuesday,” and another said “Monday.” The only day that wasn’t announced in an elevator was Sunday.

Someone said at dinner last night that the last time Bruce announced the release of the whales and dolphins on April Fool’s Day, several people were very annoyed because they had gone to the trouble to bring their cameras. This, after the headline article in the daily newsletter begins: Happy April Fools’ Day.

 

We’re now off the coast of Yemen and deep into pirate territory, so we’ve noticed several differences. We’re continually passing convoys of freighters who stay together with the idea of safety in numbers. The ship is now traveling at 21.7 knots per hour, pretty close to maximum speed for this old tub. The latest news is that, although we’re arriving in Safaga at 4:00 PM on the 4th, there isn’t a berth for us to dock, so we will simply stay at anchor until 11:00 PM when we can dock. The only people who will be allowed to tender off the ship are those who are taking an HAL tour and staying overnight in Luxor.

Today we were watching for pirates, but all we saw was a few dozen spinner dolphins – all in all a better choice.

 

Last night was Indian night, and the clothing was spectacular. There were saris of every color, some decorated beautifully with sparkling things of all kinds. Many men (including John) were attired in Indian formal wear, and Sky actually got to borrow a cool Indian hat from the manager of the shops. My sari (since I know you want to hear about it) was on loan from Susie. It is an orange-rust color embroidered with gold threads. It’s actually in three pieces: the sari itself, a short pullover top called a chupa, and an underskirt, which is necessary for tucking. You put on the chupa and the slip and then begin winding the sari around yourself, tucking it into the slip as you go. Since this particular sari already had the pleats built in, it made it easier, and then it continues to go around until you take the last four feet or so, pleat it, and throw it over your left (always left) shoulder.

 

On formal nights, the Crow’s Nest bar is much more crowded, and last night was no exception. Everyone wants to see everyone else’s outfits and of course to be seen. We saw lots of friends and sat around eating peanuts and drinking wine until it was time to go to dinner. Since it was a formal night, we had an “officer,” who turned out to be our friend Renee, the spa manager. Since Heo was feeling under the weather, our other friend, also named Renee, filled in for him, so it was quite interesting when calling out “Renee.”

 

After dinner the show was called “Opera Interludes,” and we had seen this particular show two years ago. Apparently it’s like The Unexpected Boys, in that there is a group of singers and they send out four for each “gig.” The opera selections they sang were, for the most part, unknown to me, but their voices were absolutely beautiful. There are two men, a tenor and a baritone, and two women, a soprano and a mezzo soprano. The best, as far as I was concerned, was their last song, “Nesse Dorma,” from Turandot. They’re performing again on Tuesday the 3rd, and I’m really looking forward to it.

 

Well, it’s getting toward 2:00, so I’d better get ready to see those whales and dolphins released.

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Diane and John,

 

Once again your posts bring so much of your life on board alive. The descriptions are wonderful and I could picture your beautiful sari as you were describing it. We only need the photos to really see it!

 

Thanks so much for posting and your love of life is showing through. I am reading about four or five blogs of the cruise and some posters do not seem as happy as others which is a pity as life is meant to be lived and enjoyed especially when on a fantastic cruise as yours.

 

Jennie

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April 2 – Day 87

At Sea – Entering the Red Sea

 

At about 10:30 this morning we left the Arabian Sea and entered the Red Sea, which will take us to Safaga in about 2-1/2 more days. We still pass the convoys, but as we enter the Red Sea, we can now slow down and not worry so much about pirates. As we turned the lights out last night, I checked the TV channel with ship’s info, and it said we were, at that time, traveling at almost 22 knots – just about full speed. Today we’ve slowed to about 20 knots.

 

We had heard good things about today’s speaker, Mel Foster, and after talking to him last evening at our “Specialists’” cocktail party, I decided to attend his lecture today. I had heard that he’s an interesting speaker, and found that he lived up to the hype. He speaks almost without notes and with an entertaining power point presentation. His topic today was “Egypt, her Pharaohs and the River Nile” and we learned a great deal.

 

Although the Nile only irrigates 6% of Egypt, that area contains 99% of the population. Egypt was a richest country in the ancient world because it was the world’s granary, growing wheat and other grains, which were coveted by the Romans. Because of this, Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar were very interested in having power over the country. The story of Cleopatra, then 21, being smuggled into Julius Caesar’s (age 55) room in a rug are apparently true, just like Elizabeth Taylor showed us in the movie.

 

In the 1800’s, a man named Thomas Cook decided that tourists would like boat cruises on the Nile, and a huge company bearing his name was born. One of his river boats was used by Agatha Christie as a setting in the 1930’s when she wrote “Death on the Nile.”

 

The single most interesting slide in Mr. Foster’s power point was of a very large crocodile with a human hand in his mouth. It turns out that a group of veterinarians was tagging crocs, and while they thought this one had been sedated, when one of the vets reached toward him, the critter bit off his hand and part of his arm. Fortunately, the doctors were able to retrieve and re-connect the severed limb, and another photo showed the vet in a hospital bed with a big smile on his face and an even bigger bandage on his arm.

 

Mel spoke of the 331 dynasties in Egypt, the 300 pharaohs, and the six who were women. All pharaohs wore false beards (usually horsehair) as a sign of their power, and even the female pharaohs did so. The most famous of that group was Hatshepsut, the widow of Thutmose II and stepmother of the 6-year-old Thutmose III. When her husband died, she jumped right in and ruled in her stepson’s stead, ignoring him. However, when he came of age, he killed her and took over his inheritance. Tough world back then. Hatshepsut’s tomb, which we visited in 2008, is probably the most beautiful of any in Egypt. It really was a fascinating lecture.

 

This afternoon there was a “Lido Pool Party” on the aft deck. Tables and chairs and two bars had been set up (in addition to the existing bar) and there were more people around than any time since the Rio sailaway party. There were games (John and I both participated, me voluntarily and John under coercion), dancing, music from the Amsterdam orchestra, and it ended with a conga line around the pool. The “last hurrah” was Bruce, the cruise director, and four of his staff jumping, fully clothed, into the pool. It was a great time.

 

Tonight we have reservations for another Le Cirque dinner in The Pinnacle. The first one was excellent, and since this is the last one, we decided to take advantage. Last time it was our whole table, but this time it’s just the two of us on a date. It’s coming up very shortly, so I’d better hop in the shower.

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April 3 – Day 88

At Sea in the Red Sea

 

Because we turned the clocks back (yet again) last night, we woke early this morning to the sight of the sun rising over the Red Sea and it was truly beautiful. As I’ve mentioned before, in 2008 we celebrated Easter Sunrise service in the Red Sea and it was such a memorable experience. This is a very special place.

 

We are not what I would call “foodies,” but we do enjoy a good meal. Because we enjoyed our time at the LeCirque dinner last time, we decided to do it again last night and it was every bit as good as the first time. I don’t usually write much about food, but last night’s food was well worth writing about. We began with an amuse bouche of a pate mousse over cranberry chutney. I know, it sounds horrible, but the flavors really went well together and I enjoyed every little bite.

 

Each of the courses had at least three choices, and for the started I chose a lobster salad, even though I really don’t like lobster, but I thought I’d try something different. It consisted of three leaves of butter lettuce topped by a very small lobster tail and decorated with tomato slices, avocado slices, grapefruit sections and a few “blobs” of a delicious dressing. It was gone in a heartbeat. I think that now I like lobster.

 

The best course of the evening, as far as I’m concerned was the soup. It’s called “Butternut Squash and Huckleberry Soup,” and it was amazingly good. We were served a bowl with about a tablespoon of huckleberries (looking like whole cranberry sauce) in the center, topped with chantilly cream and a small leaf of some herb. Then our servers brought out a lovely Japanese teapot and poured the butternut squash soup around the berries. They suggested that we eat each spoonful from the inside out, getting a taste of both the main ingredients with each bit. My mouth is watering right now thinking about it.

 

For the main course, John chose the rack of lamb and I chose the Chateaubriand, which was surprising because I almost never eat beef, especially in large quantities. It was brought to the table on a cart, looking like a small beef roast. The server cut it in half and placed both halves on my plate, before pouring a lovely brown sauce over the top. It really was delicious, but just too much. I had ordered it medium, but it was served medium rare, and strangely enough I think I preferred it that way. I guess I’ve had my ration of beef for the next two or three months now.

 

John’s choice for dessert was the chocolate soufflé, and he said it was as delicious as it looked. Since I’m not eating sugar during lent, I asked for a fruit plate, and it was not only delicious but beautiful. Truly, it was a wonderful meal.

 

This dinner is tightly overseen by the Le Cirque Restaurant in New York, to make sure it is up to their standards. I believe it must be, but the prices certainly aren’t “up” to theirs. This dinner is $39.00 (unless you add the $20 wine pairing), but as four-star Mariners, we only pay half of that. We found last night that at Le Cirque, the lobster salad alone costs $40.00. This is such a deal, and I’m sure we’d never pay the approximately $200 it would cost in New York.

 

Today is a full sea day, and we will enjoy our “Specialists” Pinnacle luncheon later. We are spending way too much time in the Pinnacle. Tomorrow we’re back there for a friend’s birthday – does the good food never end? I guess it will end on April 28, but as that’s another 3-1/2 weeks, it doesn’t do to think about it.

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I had ordered it medium, but it was served medium rare, and strangely enough I think I preferred it that way.
It took me decades to find out that I prefer my beef with a warm red center.

 

I am really enjoying your reports. Thanks for taking us all along.

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It took me decades to find out that I prefer my beef with a warm red center.

 

I am really enjoying your reports. Thanks for taking us all along.

I did the same thing & now I am disappointed if its not pink. The whole meal sounds fabulous.

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Diane and John,

 

Once again your posts bring so much of your life on board alive. The descriptions are wonderful and I could picture your beautiful sari as you were describing it. We only need the photos to really see it!

 

Thanks so much for posting and your love of life is showing through. I am reading about four or five blogs of the cruise and some posters do not seem as happy as others which is a pity as life is meant to be lived and enjoyed especially when on a fantastic cruise as yours.

 

Jennie

 

Jennie

 

I second that sentiment! I have given up reading one World Cruise Blog this year, since sometimes it is just a bit too snide, unfair and whiney for me. Some people seem to look for anything to complain about: I guess they have their personal reasons.

 

Johnny B

 

Thanks for a wonderfully informative, fairly written blog. It is the first CC thread I read each day! Especially like your posts on ports we have been to and take notes on the new-to-us ones. Keep enjoying!!

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Johnny B

 

Thanks for a wonderfully informative, fairly written blog. It is the first CC thread I read each day! Especially like your posts on ports we have been to and take notes on the new-to-us ones. Keep enjoying!!

 

Ditto! DH will say to me, so is there a new installment, where are they today?? We have so enjoyed the upbeat independence of your adventures! :D :D

 

Continued safe travels!

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April 4 – Day 89

At Sea (until 4:00 PM)

 

Today will be our first day in Egypt. Well – sort of. We take on our pilot at about 2:00, and then we’ll be in Safaga at 4:00, earlier than planned because of our “hell-bent for leather” ride across the Arabian Sea. However, since there’s no berth available for us when we arrive, we’ll simply anchor off Safaga, allowing those passengers who have an overnight excursion to Luxor tender in. Apparently there is a berth available at 11:00 PM, so then we will dock, and anyone who wants to will be able to disembark.

 

We were in Safaga in 2008, but it was only to get off the ship, get in our car, and join the convoy into Luxor, so we really haven’t seen any of the city. I guess it’s going to remain that way, since we’ll meet with our Cruise Critic group at 7:10, board our bus, and head off, with the convoy, into Luxor, not returning until about 9:00 tomorrow night (again by convoy). Since the ship doesn’t sail until midnight tomorrow, I guess we could take a taxi tour by twilight around the city, but I have a feeling we’ll be more interested in finding our beds after a 14-hour day.

 

Checking email this morning, we received a message from our daughter in Davis, California that the nice linen-wrapped package sent from Mumbai, India last Thursday was received on Wednesday of this week – six days for halfway around the world! Heck, it’s taken longer than that for mail to get from San Luis Obispo to Davis. I guess the Indian postal service knows what they are doing with those gift-wrapped packages.

 

Last night at dinner we hosted Mel Foster, the current lecturer and his partner Ruby. They were excellent company, as we knew they would be based on Mel’s informative and often humorous lectures. We even found out that they live about three hours from us, in San Mateo. They’ll be on until Ft. Lauderdale, and although he has come prepared with 16 lectures and accompanying power points, he thinks he’ll probably just be doing eight of them. He had planned to give a lecture today, but he was postponed in favor of Bingo. I guess the revenue-producing activities take priority – either that or the Bingo players threatened to revolt.

 

Since we’re anchored and can’t leave the ship until we’re docked, there is a two-hour “Dinner Music and Happy Hour” time at the aft pool. They’ve even put up a little stage for the orchestra and cleared out the lounges to make room for dancing. There will be drink specials and hors d’oeurves and generally a good time. It’s usually great fun to participate in these sorts of activities and we’ll be heading up there soon.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

We went up to the aft deck happy hour, and it was one of the best experiences of the cruise. We were anchored off Safaga in the Red Sea with perfect weather and an orchestra playing dance music. Late afternoon became twilight and then became dark with an almost full moon in the sky. It was just magical. We sat with a group of friends and danced occasionally while just appreciating the whole setting. Sometimes there are wonderful moments in life, and this was certainly one of them.

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Ditto! DH will say to me, so is there a new installment, where are they today?? We have so enjoyed the upbeat independence of your adventures! :D :D

 

Continued safe travels!

 

Agreed, love this blog and Legally blonde also.

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April 5,6 – Days 90, 91

Safaga and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

 

It seems that there are a lot of people crossing Egypt off their travel lists lately. In fact, during last year’s world cruise, Alexandria was eliminated because of the “Arab Spring” uprisings. Since there have been some recent election demonstrations, many have decided that any risk is unacceptable.

 

Well, perhaps Cairo might be a problem, but the southern part of the country (referred to as “Upper Egypt” because of the way the Nile flows) is still a wonderful place to visit. We anchored off Safaga on April 4 at about 4:00 PM and then docked at about 8:00. The next morning, April 5, we met our Cruise Critic group, headed up by Pauline, and took off for Luxor. Four years ago when we did this, the requirements for being in an armed convoy were strict, and we had to sit and wait with our car and driver for the convoy to depart. Apparently things have changed. When we stopped at the checkpoint outside Safaga, we boarded another passenger: an armed guard. He remained with the bus the entire day and evening, staying in the background but making sure everyone was safe.

 

We arrived in Luxor at about 11:00, learning that if you think you’ve seen everything there is to see here, you’d be wrong. Our guide told us as we approached a highway overpass that last year, during the revolution, the government had bombed a section of road, leading to the discovery of a long line of mini-sphinxes. As we drove across the overpass, we could see them stretching in both directions – a truly amazing discovery.

 

Our first stop was Karnak Temple, built over a 1,000-year period for the worship of Ra, the Sun God. All I can say is Wow! Even though we’ve been there before, we were again truly impressed. One of the amazing things about it is that, until about 1800, it was covered by sand. That doesn’t sound very surprising, but when we see the hundred-foot high walls, it becomes more surprising. Considering that it’s more than 4,000 years old, it really is in pretty good condition, with statues, carved pillars and walls, and two enormous obelisks. Leading into the main entrance are parallel rows of small carved sphinxes, with bodies of lions and heads of rams. The sacred pool in the back is still full of water, and the statue of the scarab (which sounds better than dung beetle) still entices tourists into walking around it three times for good luck or seven times for pregnancy. Three was enough for me.

 

Next it was lunchtime, and we ate at a nice little Nile-front restaurant, followed by a boat ride across the river to meet our bus. We then continued to The Valley of the Kings, an impressive place if ever I’ve seen one. It’s hot, barren, and one of the most fascinating places in the world, being the burial place of numerous Egyptian pharaohs. We visited the tombs of Ramses IV, I, and IX (in that order), and the most incredible things are the paintings. They haven’t been re-done or touched up since they were painted, more than 4,000 years ago, and many of them, especially deep in the mountain, are as bright and vibrant as if they had been painted yesterday. The old time grave robbers might have taken the riches and occasionally the mummies, but the paintings are still really beautiful.

 

Next we had the requisite visit to the alabaster showroom. What annoyed me about it was that we had ten (TEN) minutes in each 4,000 year old tomb, and 20 minutes in the shop. Of course the art of the kickback is in motion here, as it seems to be on every organized tour.

 

Our last stop was at the burial temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the most beautiful building in Egypt. In an earlier entry I wrote about that Queen’s moxie in ruling Egypt for about 16 years as a male pharaoh, complete with men’s clothes and the false beard characteristic of the ruler. During her rule, she built this beautiful structure as her eternal resting place. When she died, or was murdered by her stepson, whom she had ousted, he destroyed any representation of her, but fortunately for us, he left her tomb untouched.

 

We arrived back at the ship, after a loooooong day, at about 10:00, ready to get a bite at the Lido and then sit on the aft deck appreciating the warm weather and beautiful views. Just then we heard sounds that we couldn’t identify, and when we looked over the side of the ship, we saw what looked like a scene out of a 1930’s movie. There were hundreds of men in native dress (long robe and turban) with large bags of possessions sitting amongst metal luggage carts waiting to board a ferry to Saudi Arabia. We couldn’t see a single woman, so we assumed that these were men going across the Red Sea to get work. It was like a scene from a movie where we were watching refugees, sitting or standing with all their belongings, waiting to go somewhere. It was a strange ending to a wonderful day.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Today we anchored about 100 yards from the dock at Sharm el Sheikh at about 7:00 AM, and then the tenders began. We had decided that we were all toured out after our 14-hour Egyptian marathon yesterday, and since this is one of the snorkeling capitals of the world, John and I and our friend Sky would just get a taxi, go to the national park, and snorkel for a couple of hours before all aboard at 12:30. We walked out the gate above the port and began our adventures with “The Taxi Mafia.” We’ve traveled a great deal and had a number of taxi “experiences,” but today was probably the worst.

 

First, we were greeted by a man who asked where we wanted to go, and when we told him, he replied “One hundred dollars.” We just laughed and said, “I don’t think so.” He finally lowered the price to $50.00, but then another man agreed to take us for $40.00 – to the park, wait for 2-1/2 hours, and bring us back at 11:00 to be well in time for sailaway. We drove out of Sharm to the checkpoint dividing it from other towns, and the man there checked our passports and told us that the Egypt stamps that we had did not allow us to leave the Sharm el-Sheikh area. Smell something funny here?

 

We couldn’t very well argue with someone holding our passports, and didn’t think about offering “baksheesh” until later, so we headed back to the gate, asked to be taken to a beach in the area, and off we went. The young driver, new to the job, took us to a private beach/restaurant that was really quite lovely. We each paid $10.00 for admission, which entitled us to a padded lounge, shade, a huge beach towel, and a bottle of water. Not a bad deal for this part of the world. We had some of the best snorkeling off this beach that any of us had ever seen. Sky had been skin diving in Safaga the day before, and he said this was even better. We had all been to the Great Barrier Reef in February, and this was clearer and better. We could swim for about a hundred yards offshore in very shallow water while seeing beautiful coral, electric blue clams opening and closing, and some of the most beautiful fish I’d ever seen. My favorite was the 6-8” neon blue fish with spots of yellow, pink and green. At about a hundred yards, the ocean floor fell off sharply, with an underwater wall of coral that went down about fifty feet or more. It was incredibly dramatic. It was a wonderful experience and we loved our two hours there. We also met two charming (and lovely) young ladies from Rimini, Italy, very close to Pesaro, the home of Giorgia, our wonderful exchange daughter from last school year.

 

Our driver was right on time and we asked him to stop at a small market on the way back. When we returned to the port gate, we each gave him $15.00, covering the fare and a $5.00 tip. Another, older driver stuck his head in the driver’s window and announced that because we had stopped at the market, we owned the driver another $5.00. Not wanting to get into a fight, we handed over the $5.00 of extortion and walked back to the ship. I was soooo glad to be done with Sharm el-Sheikh taxis.

 

This afternoon, I sat down with Barbara Haeni, our incredibly knowledgeable port lecturer, and told her about our experiences. She said that our visa should have taken us anywhere in Egypt, and that the guy who refused us was either in cahoots with the taxi mafia or was holding out for a bribe. We’re betting the first. She said that as many times as she’s been here, she has never seen the taxi problems of this visit, and that the next lecture she gives about this port will include that information. However, we did discuss the economic problems caused by the uprisings and consequent lack of tourism and how this can easily lead to situations such as the one we encountered.

 

Ironically, even with the grief we had over the taxi, we’d really like to return to this beautiful port and stay at a hotel for a week. We’d snorkel and then take the excursion to St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, something I’ve wanted to do every since I learned that it existed.

 

We really did enjoy our two days in Egypt and are looking forward to our Suez Canal transit tomorrow.

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Who would have thought, that the best snorkeling you have seen on this voyage is in Egypt! :D

Sorry to hear about your "taxi mafia" experiences, we understand that there are countries where taxi's are to be avoided because of their extortionary ways with tourists.

Continued safe travels!

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JohnnyB. I am so enjoying your travels, thanks for sharing.

 

localady - the Red Sea has some of the most beautiful snorkeling sites in the world when looking for corals and colorful fish, or at least did up until about 10 years ago. I have not snorkeled (or dived) there since then.

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April 7 – Day 92 (only 20 to go)

Suez Canal

 

As I write, we are almost to the end of the Suez Canal, having begun our transit at 6:00 this morning. We were originally scheduled to finish at 6:00 PM and enter the Mediterranean, but it looks like it will be as much as three hours earlier than that. Actually, the announcement was just made that Port Said was in sight, and that city is the end of the canal.

 

Four years ago, we received certificates for transiting the Suez Canal. The irony was that, even though the ship made the transit, we didn’t, since we were on a five-day overland in Egypt. I really wanted to frame those certificates for the humor of the situation, but I resisted. This time, however, we do deserve them.

 

Most of our friends have done this trip several times, and all they could tell us was how boring it would be. “There’s nothing there,” they’d say. Well we disagree. On one side that may be true, but not for the whole canal. The east side of the canal looks just like everyone’s mental image of a desert: sand, sand, and more sand. Give it a Bedouin and a couple of camels, and it would fit into any Sahara Desert movie. On the west side, however, we could have been traveling through the Central Valley of California. There is obviously generous irrigation in place, because there are towns, crops, and lots of trees. There are a few places that are pretty arid, but most of that side of the canal is fairly pretty. Barbara gave us a travelogue from time to time, and we learned about towns and monuments and agriculture along the canal. The strangest thing I saw was the monument raised to one of the Arab-Israeli wars. It’s a hundred foot statue of a vertical AK-47, probably the strangest statue I’ve ever seen.

 

Because it’s a sea day, even though there’s a lot to see in the Canal, our happy little band of miscreants decided to set up camp on Deck 6 aft for a day of merriment. Raymond, the officer in charge of deck stewards, assigned his right-hand man Charlie to help us. Charlie delivered two tables and about a dozen chairs, and those, with the two lounges we had appropriated early in the day, gave us plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the day. Besides the eight of us from our table and the four from Barbie’s table, we had invited several other people, most of whom showed up for shorter or longer periods of time. Everyone brought liquid refreshment and our friend Jan, who has a suite, ordered a tray of cheese and crackers, lots of peanuts and Goldfish as well as contributing bottles of wine and Champagne.

 

It became warmer and warmer throughout the day, and even though we were in the shade, we found it necessary to go inside to the lovely air conditioning from time to time. After Trivia (where we had the worst score of the entire cruise), pizza was delivered from room service and everyone dug in. Surprisingly (considering the group), not much wine was consumed during the day, but it was good company, good food, good scenery, and not a penny was spent. It had been such a good idea.

 

The party broke up at about 2:30, just as we approached Port Said, and the weather changed very quickly. There is a lot of difference in temperature between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and it didn’t take very long for us to feel it. The afternoon called for a quite lovely nap before getting ready for the evening’s festivities.

 

Last night was Arabian Formal Night, and the outfits were quite varied. Our friend Eloise has a friend who taught in Saudi Arabia, and while her friend usually had only minimal restrictions on her clothing, when she traveled to some places to lecture, she had to dress in full burka and have a male escort. Before the cruise, the friend loaned Eloise two of her outfits, both of which covered everything except the eyes. Susie’s even had an option where the veil covered her eyes with a piece of fabric that was thin enough to see through.. (Being claustrophobic, I know I’d be a really bad Muslim woman if that outfit was required of me.)

 

They said that as they walked the hall on the way to the Crow’s Nest, people became silent and didn’t say “Nice costume” or anything like that. I guess they didn’t know if it WAS a costume or if they were Muslim women who had boarded in Egypt.

It was pretty funny in two ways: watching people try to guess who it was and watching two women in full burka drink their wine

 

If they were the proper Arabic women, I was the wild woman. I wore black palazzo pants and a brief halter top, over which I wrapped a piece of black fabric printed with Egyptian symbols. Over my hips I had a belly-dancing coin fabric which made lovely tinkling sounds when I walked. I was wearing a shoulder length black wig, covered with a crocheted cap with beads hanging from it. I wore more makeup than I ever have, and John said that he was glad that he got “the loose woman.” It was great fun.

 

The evening ended with the Amsterdam singers presenting a “Salute to Broadway,” and then off to bed, ready to get up at 5:45 for sunrise services at 6:00. It was a very good day.

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April 8 – Easter Sunday

Day 93 – At Sea in the Mediterranean

 

HAPPY EASTER! We rose before the sun, took a minimal amount of time getting ready, and then headed up to Deck 8 aft, next to the outdoor pool, for the 6:00 AM Easter Sunrise services. At home, the services are usually somewhat after sunrise, but this morning, as we found our chairs, the sun was just peeking above the horizon and the morning was absolutely beautiful (if a bit cool). The Easter Sunrise Service each year is an ecumenical one, with the Protestant minister and the Roman Catholic priest combining forces to create a lovely early morning experience.

 

As usual, the service was well attended, and we saw several of our friends there. It only lasted about thirty minutes, after which everyone headed into the Lido for breakfast. I usually have cereal, blueberries, yogurt, and fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast (I’m one of those people who doesn’t get bored with the same food), but on Sundays, I’ve begun having Belgian waffles with mixed berries atop and a couple of strips of bacon. At home, I never buy bacon (because then we’d actually eat it), but here, once a week doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing. I guess there’s no food that tastes better and is worse for you than bacon.

 

The regular Protestant service was held, as usual, in the Queen’s Lounge at 8:00, and, as you might expect, it was much better attended than usual. Afterwards, it was time to catch up on some reading and spend some time in the sun by the pool. I have a feeling that, having left Egyptian summer for Mediterranean spring, we’ll not have much pool time until we get close to Florida at the end of the cruise.

 

Each Easter on the world cruise the chefs and kitchen staff really outdo themselves with the Grand Easter Buffet. It’s absolutely wonderful, and so beautiful that passengers may come in for photos only between 11:00 and 12:00, with buffet service beginning at noon. The food is displayed beautifully and I wish I could describe it adequately or at least post photos, but alas, ‘tis not to be.

 

After Trivia ended at 12:30, we all headed downstairs for the buffet and were surprised to see the queue extending out of the dining room and into the foyer. We waited patiently the 15 minutes or so that it took, and then were handed a plate and off we went. There were (in order) decorative breads, lamb chops, a circular platter three feet across heaped with lobster, another one with shrimp, and then decorative displays with sliced tenderloin, pate, chicken, an eggs benedict station, and then came the hot dishes: beef stroganoff, sweet and sour chicken, and a couple of things I just passed up. I do love deviled eggs, and could have had my fill of those, but limited myself to two. The entire back of the serving area was covered with desserts – everything from sugar-free jello to dark chocolate and white chocolate fountains and dozens of things in between. White chocolate and milk chocolate bunnies stood guard, and when cleanup began, we snagged one of the milk chocolate ones and some foil-wrapped Easter eggs for our granddaughter.

 

We filled a table for eight, and by the end of brunch, everyone was groaning with the amount of food consumed – but it was absolutely delicious. The sad thing was that, due to health codes, food can only be left out for two hours, and since the viewing began at 11:00, shortly after 1:00 food began being swept into large plastic garbage bags. Yes, it was heartbreaking, but that’s how they keep us healthy. I would think that some of it, especially things like lobster, shrimp and tenderloin, would be offered to the crew, but that’s not possible – it all just goes into the trash. Such a shame.

 

The rest of the day has been pretty quiet. Of course that kind of a lunch called for a lovely afternoon nap, and then while John worked out in the gym, I went online to check email and pay property taxes. Even at this distance, we have to take care of those kinds of responsibilities.

 

I have a feeling that ordering at dinner will be fairly light, since most of us will still be full from brunch. Dinner at our table is actually more about the social interaction than the food anyway. The show tonight is “Trio Pasion Espanola,” which is described as “fiery Latin music.” Tomorrow (and the day after) is Athens, and since we haven’t been here for a few years, we’re anxious to take the Metro into the city from Piraeus to see what all those ancient ruins are up to. We’re also looking forward to a giro luncheon in the Plaka, and John has been craving a real Greek salad.

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