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John and Diane's 125-day Adventure at Sea


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Friday, March 24, 2017 - Day 79

At sea en route to Aqaba

John and I really do enjoy sommelier dinners. They generally have outstanding food and the wine pairings are excellent. As I mentioned yesterday, last evening’s dinner was on a French theme of “Moulin Rouge” and the food and wine were chosen with that theme in mind.

We had arranged to sit with our friends Susan and Michael, and then we were joined by their friends Tom and Tina, the Future Cruise Consultants, and another friend, Nancy. Since various ship’s officers always join in on these dinners, and since we had two extra seats, Gene Young, the Cruise Director, and his wife Jodie, who teaches fitness classes on board, joined us. It was a very congenial group, but the long table for eight or ten has the drawback of separating groups into two parts, so we primarily talked with Susan, Michael, and Nancy, while Tom and Tina spent their dinner chatting with Gene and Jodie. I think everyone had a good time, though.

As we were seated, we were given flutes of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne, and it can really be called that because it is from the Champagne region of France. It was introduced by the “Wine Guys” on board, Jeff and Mike, who have been everywhere on the ship with classes on all kinds of wines from moscato to port. The Champagne was enjoyed for awhile and then refreshed so that it could accompany the amuse bouche of green mussel in a tasty sauce, served in a demitasse cup along with a piece of dill and something crunchy. It wasn’t until after I ate it (and enjoyed the crunchiness) that I re-read the menu and saw that it was fish skin. I guess it was a good idea not to read first!

Next came the first course, tuna tartare in a saffron sauce with a bit of caviar and a nice, crispy crostini. Now I generally don’t like any uncooked fish, but this was seasoned so nicely and the sauce was so good that I really did enjoy it. That was followed by an interpretation of a salade nicoise, which was made up of a bit of frisee, a couple of battered and deep-fried white anchovies (another thing that I usually avoid, but I think anything deep-fried is good), some chopped tomato, chunks of potato, and a green bean. It wasn’t what I think of as a salade nicoise, but it was good.

The wine with the tuna and the nicoise was Laroche Chablis Premier Cru from France. It is made, we were told, from 100% chardonnay grapes, and while I don’t like chardonnay much, this chablis was nothing like the cheap stuff we bought in college. It was crisp and light and the perfect accompaniment.

Then we had to have the necessary “palate cleanser.” This one repeated an earlier bit of cleverness with green apple sorbet in a wedge of green apple skin to look for all the world like a wedge of green apple. Since I’m not eating sugar, I skipped that one.

We’ve become friends with two of the singers, Oliver and Maddie, and last evening Ollie was having a “spotlight” performance from 7:30 until 8:00. We were really disappointed not to be able to go for the whole show, but between the sorbet and the main course, we snuck out and were able to see two of his songs. That young man really has a bright future!

The star of the evening was the filet au poivre, a medium rare piece of beef filet on a bed of seasoned and sauteed onion, with little vegetables on the side. I’m not much of a beef eater, so I had asked for fish instead, and the Pinnacle staff is so helpful in accommodating everyone’s requests. Susan is a vegan, and she has met with both the head chef, Peter, and the Pinnacle chef, Joseph, and they do whatever is necessary to meet her needs. The most amazing bit of magic they perform, however, is that even though her food is vegan, it is somehow prepared to look just like everyone else’s dish. My fish, which I think was sea bass, was excellent, and just light enough to suit me.

Our wine with the main course was F. Jeantet Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a French red wine from the area around Avignon, where the popes lived for a couple of hundred years. It was really an excellent wine, and I was told that it was the perfect complement to the beef.

The dessert was one we’ve also had before, and it certainly did get mixed reviews. Its name was “texture of foie gras” and it was basically foie gras flavored ice cream. I know, I know, it sounds really awful, but when they had it before I tried some and while it will never replace strawberry, it wasn’t too bad. I guess “interesting” would be the best description. Although it wasn’t mentioned on the menu, a nice port was served with dessert.

It was a great evening with unexpected but good food, good wine, and good company. We enjoyed it so much that we’re going back tomorrow evening for a food and wine Mystery Dinner. I’d better check in on that scale in the gym more often.

 

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Saturday, March 25, 2017 - Day 80

At Sea en route to Aqaba, Jordan

I hadn’t given much thought to how fast this cruise is moving along until I wrote “Day 80” in the line above. My gosh, we only have 31 days to go and a lot of ports to visit. These five sea day intervals are really quite wonderful, but they’re pretty much at an end until we sail across the Atlantic. In fact, once we enter the Mediterranean, it gets fairly port intensive, which I find somewhat exhausting. We may just have to live dangerously and stay on the ship for an entire port day eating Dive-In burgers - shocking!

Our “avoiding the pirates” activity continues on, and now we are being shadowed by a Saudi warship, which I guess under some conditions might be scary, but they’re there to protect us and it just makes me feel more secure. In addition, our position is being constantly monitored by an agency in England that does that sort of thing. The only teeny tiny bit of discomfort comes today about noonish when we pass through the extremely narrow gap between Yemen and Somalia - you saw Captain Phillips, right? It’s called Bab al Mandab, or “Gate of Tears” and is only about 15-20 miles wide at its narrowest point. The captain’s daily update comes on about 12:30 or so, and we’ll hear how we’re doing and how close we are to land on both sides. Once through there, we’re in the Red Sea and fairly well protected. Overall, it’s a very safe passage; It’s just the drama of it all that catches our attention.

Off subject: one of my best memories of a world cruise was Easter Sunday morning in 2008. The sky was blue and sunny and we celebrated Easter sunrise services watching the sun come up over the Red Sea. It was an experience I will never forget.

As you know, there is a show in the Queen’s Lounge each evening, usually at 8:00 and 10:00, and on the last two nights there have been two of the best shows of the cruise. The first one was a “spotlight” show, occurring at 7:30, before the main show, and it featured our friend Oliver who is one of the best entertainers we’ve ever seen. Although he’s a member of the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers, his solo performance really sets him way above almost any performer we’ve had on the ship. His stage presence is excellent, his repertoire varied, and his piano playing exceptional. His songs ranged from “Bring Him Home” (from Les Mis) to “Maria” (dedicated to his girlfriend Maddie), and many in between. The best part of it for us was seeing that the Queen’s Lounge was packed - something that usually only happens for crew shows and free cocktail parties. Unfortunately, we had the sommelier dinner that night, beginning at 6:30, but we snuck out to enjoy as much of his performance as possible. Fortunately, Maddie promised to video it for us, so we’ll collect that from her and see the whole performance.

Ollie would like to make his career on the West End in London, but I understand there is also some thought now to making him a featured performer on HAL ships across the fleet. Whatever he does, he’ll do himself proud.

Last night’s show was performed by a group called “Graffiti Classics,” and they were great! They advertise themselves as “16 strings, 8 dancing feet, 4 voices” and that’s exactly what they were. The lead (one of the funniest men we’ve seen on stage) played a bass fiddle while the two girls and one young man played violins. That sounds dull, but the combination of types of music (country to pop to classical) and the humor kept the audience enthralled. There was laughing, clapping along with the music, and singing along with the group. We loved it! I didn’t see a single person leave the theatre and, believe me, that’s unusual. They received a standing ovation at the end and everyone was happy to hear that they’ll be on again tomorrow evening.

 

Tonight is our second Murder Mystery Show and we’ll be sitting with Jane and Bill and Woody and Susie. It should be great fun and we’re looking forward to it. More later.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017 - Day 81

Still at sea

Well, we got through the “Gate of Tears” yesterday with no problems. While we usually cruise along at 13-16 knots per hour, we tore through there at 24.9! Land was quite close on either side, and while I said that we had Yemen on one side and Somalia on the other, it was actually Eritrea and Djobouti that we were passing on the port side.

Now we’re into the calm waters of the Red Sea and have two sea days left, today and tomorrow, before we have our two days in Aqaba.

Last evening we had as much fun as we’ve had on the cruise. It was the Murder Mystery Dinner in the Pinnacle and it had been sold out for weeks and weeks. We had arranged to sit with our table friends, and that’s what we did, so we were front and center for all the drama. The play (written by Gene) revolves around an incredibly rich man named Alexander (played by Gene) who has made his fortune by selling Kosher cat food. It’s his birthday party and all the people who are invited have something against him. There’s his wife, who hates him; Colonel Robert Limon Souffle, the chef with whom she’s having an affair; his illegitimate daughter; the food critic who is his ex-lover; and Alfie Stigmata, whose catering business was ruined by Alexander. The “script” is apparently just suggestions, and while the play takes place between courses of our dinner, most of it is ad libbed. Of course Alexander is murdered (off stage), Dr. Dave comes in wearing a blood-stained lab coat to announce the murder, and the play ensues with Detective Richard Johnson (AKA “Big Dick”) working to solve the crime, deciding which of the characters hated Alex enough to kill him - by shoving a silver spoon down his throat, of all things.

All the characters were played by crew members, including three of the singers, the “Techspert,” Gene’s assistant Mark, and Jessica, who arranges all food-related programs. Somehow, midway through the evening, Gene decided that John and I should be written into the action, so the “suspects” began to come to where we were seated and interact with us. When it was time for the diners to vote on who they thought was guilty, we were right on the ballot and actually received some votes.

As I said, it was just too much fun!

Afterwards we headed up to the Crow’s Nest with Bill, Jane, Oliver and Brianna where we sat and talked and laughed and danced, very happy that the clocks were to be set back another hour. What a wonderful evening.

I actually preferred last evening’s menu to the Sommelier dinner. We began with an amuse bouche of one deep-fried scallop, followed by butternut squash soup with pumpkin seeds. That’s my favorite soup, so I almost licked the bowl. The fish course was chunks of dungeness crab coated with guacamole (what a great combination!). The white wine to accompany those courses was Seven Daughters White Blend from California. It was good, but a bit on the sweet side for me.

Our “palate cleanser” was red beet and grapefruit sorbet, an unusual combination which actually worked. Then the main was a petit (actually very tiny) tenderloin along with a short rib terrine. I was OK with the little steak but the short rib was excellent. I’m still not much of a beef eater, but I didn’t think to order fish, so I managed. The wine for this course was Laboure-Roi Pommard from France, and it was superb. Dessert was a beautiful chocolate cake with strawberries, which I skipped.

We do love special dinners, even though there’s always too much food and too much wine. A couple of our friends were suffering this morning, but I was up and at ‘em and ready to get to church on time.

 

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Monday, March 27, 2017 - Day 82

Last Day at sea before Aqaba, Jordan

I really think there’s nothing more relaxing than grabbing one of the five recliner chairs (with ottomans) in the library, sitting back with a cappuccino, and opening a good book while glancing out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the sea passing by, in this case the Red Sea. I had about sixty pages of our current Book Club selection, behind the beautiful forevers, left to read and that seemed to be the perfect place to do so. The book is non-fiction, researched in one of the Mumbai slums for four years, and yet reads like a novel. It was eye-opening in the way it showed how the thousands of Mumbai slum-dwellers manage to eke out a living in really terrible conditions. One of my friends told me it was “the most depressing book I’ve ever read,” but I found it more informational, although pretty sad.

 

The ship puts on infrequent cocktail parties, usually around the midships pool, and last evening was one such occasion. It was scheduled from 9:00 until 10:30, which was a very smart decision. Many of the people who eat early (5:30) have already gone to bed, and those who eat at 8:00 probably didn’t get there until about 9:30 or so, consuming less alcohol and creating fewer people with drinking problems. We don’t know exactly what the occasion was that we were celebrating, but we think it was the successful passage through pirate waters. Gosh, I feel like we just escaped Long John Silver. The party had a great band playing as well as about six bars, so there was something for everyone. I had one of the bar servers made me a rum punch, which lasted me for the entire hour we were there. The current Crow’s Nest band, Sirius Four, was playing in the gazebo and the dancing was great fun.Afterward we headed up to the Crow’s Nest, where the Amsterdam band was playing some pretty good dance music. When they began playing “Old Time Rock and Roll,” I knew it was time to dance. We made it until about 11:30 and then headed down to home, sweet home, to hit the sack.

 

Tonight we have Oliver and Maddy at the table for dinner, and it’s amazing how good natured they are about having dinner with a table full of old folks. We’re now on Facebook with them, and Maddy’s going to upload the video of Ollie’s concert onto a data stick (which I’ll take to dinner) this evening. Can’t wait to watch the whole thing, beginning to end.Today is the last of our five sea days, so tomorrow will be Aqaba, the port for Petra. Since we have two days here, it gives us the first day to just wander around Aqaba, which Barbara says is a “lovely little town,” do a little shopping, and then find the true goal: free wifi.

 

The second day we’re on a looooong shore excursion to both Petra and Wadi Rum, leaving at 7:00 AM and returning at 10:00 in the evening for an 11:00 departure. We visited Petra in 2015, and it’s just amazing, so we’re glad to be going again. It features in the second Indiana Jones movie, so I think we’ll check out that DVD on the ship and watch it one day. Then we head to Wadi Rum, where we’ll have exploring and dinner. The most recent Star Wars had some scenes filmed there, and it’s also famous for T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), because he spent a great deal of time there. We’re now heading into numerous and frequent port days, so I think it was a good idea to have these five days of rest.

Edited by Johnny B
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Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - Day 84

Aqaba, Jordan

We’re sitting quietly reading on the verandah, listening to the haunting sounds of the Muslim call to prayer that is repeated five times a day. It is a reminder that “we’re not in Kansas any more” and fits beautifully below the arid and rugged mountains above Aqaba.

The last time we were in Aqaba, we barely saw it. We were off early for the beautiful “rose red city” of Petra and back late. On this visit, however, we have two days, so today we decided to take advantage of day one to explore Aqaba itself before heading out to Petra and Wadi Rum tomorrow at a ridiculously early hour.

The shuttle bus dropped us off in the middle of a modern, prosperous town where virtually every woman wore head covering and a few had their faces covered, too.

First we wandered a street that we couldn’t even find on the map which the tourist office had given us, and then we turned around and, drawn by our noses, ended up in a bakery that had rounds of fresh pita bread coming directly out of the oven on a conveyor belt. Two curly-haired young men grabbed them as quickly as possible to stack them in piles that would be placed in plastic bags for sale. It reminded me of the old “Lucy” show about the chocolates.

We kept walking, looking at various modern stores until we came to a cafe with cool shaded tables outside. It was time for cappuccino! Of course the cafe had free internet, which killed two birds with one stone. The nearby tables were occupied by men who wore everything from business suits to long flowing white robes with red and white checked headdresses, and one of them was chatting with his friends while smoking a hookah.

After catching up on email and Facebook, we continued our walk through the city, finally finding the meat and vegetable open market, where the heads of four goats decorated a post and advertised the meat found within the shop. There were bananas and tomatoes and fresh fish and all kinds of good food, but I just can’t get those poor goats out of my mind.

Some friends had recommended a pub called Rover’s Return for our lunch, and at 1:00, when it opened, we headed there, to sit on a shaded open terrace atop the building, enjoying the view of the Muslim ruins next to this little shopping center. With a slight breeze, a view of the sea, a tall, cold beer, and some crispy and delicious fish and chips, we spent the better part of two hours enjoying life and realizing how lucky we were. Coincidentally, our Scottish/Canadian friends Margaret and Donald came up the stairs and sat at the next table. Since this is an overnight stop, they’re staying the night at the Movenpick Hotel, something that we can’t do because of our 6:45 meeting for tomorrow’s tour.

After lunch it was time to head back to the shuttle bus, return to the ship, and indulge ourselves in a late nap. Now we’re just hanging out and enjoying the evening breezes. We’re going to have dinner at the Lido tonight, go to the 8:00 big-screen movie of “La La Land,” and get to an early bed to be ready for the 5:00 alarm tomorrow morning. I have a feeling that a 15-hour tour to Petra and Wadi Rum will be both fascinating and exhausting. Can’t wait to find out.

 

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You've been doing a lot of walking around, and, if you don't mind me asking, I've been wondering how well John's knee is holding up.

I have to say I admire that he is getting around as well as he is, considering that he is considering knee replacement. I hope he can keep it up.

I love following along on your adventures, as you tend to do a lot of the things I would want to do if I were there. Thanks for that.

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I had to laugh out loud at the mental picture of the two men stacking pita bread, "I love Lucy" style. You have a real gift of painting a picture.

 

I can't recall whether Amsterdam has a special movie theatre, but I am impressed that they are showing recent release movies on a big screen. I hope you enjoyed "La La Land" as much as I did.

 

Good that you are able to enjoy an overnight at Aqaba, Jordan. Are your friends, who are staying overnight at a hotel, intending to return to the ship? I have heard of people doing that at Bali to avoid the heavy traffic and lengthy tender ride each day.

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I've seen your comments about the upper respiratory infections several passengers have come down with. I would imagine the close quarters on the ship as well as the fact that you went to several cold weather ports didn't make things any better.

 

I've really enjoyed your blog report and am really looking forward to taking the FLL to Hong Kong portion of the 2018 WC. That will be the longest cruise we have ever taken even though we have a few hundred cruise days under our belts with other lines.

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...........................

 

I can't recall whether Amsterdam has a special movie theatre, but I am impressed that they are showing recent release movies on a big screen. I hope you enjoyed "La La Land" as much as I did.

 

................................

 

Amsterdam and her three sisters have the Wajang Theater which is a dedicated movie theater (as well as the Culinary Arts Center) so movies are shown in there

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Wednesday, March 28, 2017 - Day 84

At Sea en route to the Suez Canal

There are special places on the earth that you wish everyone could see and experience and yesterday we visited two of them. Although we traveled to Petra in 2015, we wanted to see it again - and it was as fabulous as ever. We had never been to Wadi Rum before, so we took advantage of the tour set up by our friend Marianne to visit both of them in one day. It was an extraordinarily long, 14-hour day, but it was well worth it.

Since the eight of us were to meet at 6:45 for our tour, we took advantage of waking up early (at 5:00) to call our kids in Davis, where it was 8:00 the evening before. We love talking to Jessica, our 10-year-old granddaughter, since she’s still at an age when we will tell us the mischief she’s been up to. Yesterday it was that “Mommy took me to Chuck E. Cheese’s, but I had a tantrum and had to go home.” If only teenagers would be so upfront about their behavior.

We traveled the two hours to Petra with Ihab, our Jordanian guide, as he gave us background about the country and about the city of Aqaba where he lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. When I asked him if the Bedouins really traded camels for wives, he said that that was akin to an urban legend, although gold does change hands. He also told us that most marriages are arranged, and although he chose his wife, both families had to meet and approve the pairing.

Petra is, IMHO, very expensive for a visitor site, but since it is now in the top three of places to see in the world, I believe the $70 is worth it. I know it’s on the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, and after going there twice, I certainly agree. Add it to your bucket list - you won’t be sorry.

Shortly after the entry, there are Bedouins with horses who will let you ride the kilometer to the official entrance for free - except for a $4.00 tip. We decided that the walk would do us good, so we said “Thanks, but no thanks.” When we arrived at the official entrance of the Siq, there were horse-drawn carriages willing to take us either one way or round trip, and we turned them down, too. The most entertaining part of this walk was the bracelet salesmen. They had both narrow and wide “silver” bracelets with very pretty designs. They offered them for $1.00 and then when they had reeled someone in, they’d say, “$1.00 per gram.” Yeah right. After a bit more bargaining, the narrow ones were indeed $1.00 and the wide ones were $5.00 for two. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they turned their wearers’ wrists green, but we bought some for gifts anyway.

Petra was used for many, many years as a location in which to carve tombs, and some of them are quite wonderful. There are many which almost invite you inside, but all of them just beg you to photograph them.

The Siq, or canyon, is a narrow walkway between high stone walls which was used as a defensive barrier when Petra was first used as a type of fortress a few thousand years ago. At the beginning of the two-kilometer walk the walls are shades of grey, but as you progress, they become pinker and redder. At the end of the Siq, the canyon opens up to the incredible beauty of The Treasury, red and pink and carved to be a combination of a Greek and Roman temple. You can actually hear people gasping with surprise and delight when they see it. If you’ve seen the second Indiana Jones movie, you’ve seen the Library, but it’s much more impressive in person.

From there the walk continues to more tombs, 3,000-year-old stone walkways, and camel rides for those who are interested. The best climb is up about a couple hundred steps to the tombs on the top of one of the mountains, which not only gives an “up close and personal” view of the tombs, but provides a vista over almost all of Petra. Farther along and around the corner are the ruins of a beautiful Roman temple, and then “the back gate.” It’s a wonderful walk through this beautiful site. One of our tour members said that her Fitbit told her that we walked about 5.8 miles from the bus back to the bus.

After our boxed lunch, we headed to the reason we’d signed onto this tour: Wadi Rum. As I said before, a wadi is a dry riverbed, of which there are a lot in the desert, and this one is the largest in Jordan. It is spectacular! It’s been in dozens of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, The English Patient, and the most recent Star Wars.

The rocky mountains in this area look rather like lumpy loaves of bread set on end or the rock formations in Sedona, Arizona. At the beginning of the wadi are the famous “Seven Pillars,” which inspired T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) to write The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

We rode in a four-wheeled vehicle to the end of the road of the Bedouin village and then right into the sandy desert. Our first stop was at a red sand dune, which some of us climbed, barefoot, up to the top and then slid down in the manner of skiing. It was next to a Bedouin tent where we were served hot sweet tea and offered the opportunity to buy some really pretty pashminas.

We continued to an opening in the rocks where we saw not only petroglyphs but some of the first writing with actual letters. There were two little boys right outside with their camels, and we found out that their father owns ten camels, which at $5,000 per camel, makes him rich in the Bedouin culture. Later we had an opportunity to ride the camels, and it was great fun and a little scary. They are rather bumpy to ride.

Finally it was time to head to the Bedouin tent village for dinner, where we first were offered more of the sweet tea and then enjoyed a dinner including lamb, chicken and vegetables cooked underground, much like a Hawaiian luau. Everything was quite delicious and I think everyone ate a little too much.

Then it was time for the hour drive back to the ship, where we arrived after 8:00, showered off the red sand and, crazy people that we are, headed up to the Crow’s Nest to dance until 11:30. What a day!

P. S. Regarding John's knees, since he has no cartilage in either knee, his current philosophy is just to put up with the pain until surgery Regarding the Wajang (Wah Yang) theatre, it is rented out for the entire cruise to a 60-person Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) group from 3:00 until 5:00 each day, requiring that people watch the movies in the evening, making it difficult for most people. There are a lot of hard feelings about this situation.

 

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P. S. Regarding John's knees, since he has no cartilage in either knee, his current philosophy is just to put up with the pain until surgery

Thank you for answering my question. I sure do admire John for him putting up with the pain, especially on such a long walk as you did at Petra.

 

As I read your account, wishing so much I could visit there, I couldn't help but think how hard that site is for those of us with mobility problems. Is there any way to get a ride from beginning to end, and see much of what's there? I'm not sure I could even get on a horse, or climb into a carriage (but I would give both a good attempt!)

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Wednesday, March 28, 2017 - Day 84

At Sea en route to the Suez Canal

There are special places on the earth that you wish everyone could see and experience and yesterday we visited two of them. Although we traveled to Petra in 2015, we wanted to see it again - and it was as fabulous as ever. We had never been to Wadi Rum before, so we took advantage of the tour set up by our friend Marianne to visit both of them in one day. It was an extraordinarily long, 14-hour day, but it was well worth it.

Since the eight of us were to meet at 6:45 for our tour, we took advantage of waking up early (at 5:00) to call our kids in Davis, where it was 8:00 the evening before. We love talking to Jessica, our 10-year-old granddaughter, since she’s still at an age when we will tell us the mischief she’s been up to. Yesterday it was that “Mommy took me to Chuck E. Cheese’s, but I had a tantrum and had to go home.” If only teenagers would be so upfront about their behavior.

We traveled the two hours to Petra with Ihab, our Jordanian guide, as he gave us background about the country and about the city of Aqaba where he lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. When I asked him if the Bedouins really traded camels for wives, he said that that was akin to an urban legend, although gold does change hands. He also told us that most marriages are arranged, and although he chose his wife, both families had to meet and approve the pairing.

Petra is, IMHO, very expensive for a visitor site, but since it is now in the top three of places to see in the world, I believe the $70 is worth it. I know it’s on the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, and after going there twice, I certainly agree. Add it to your bucket list - you won’t be sorry.

Shortly after the entry, there are Bedouins with horses who will let you ride the kilometer to the official entrance for free - except for a $4.00 tip. We decided that the walk would do us good, so we said “Thanks, but no thanks.” When we arrived at the official entrance of the Siq, there were horse-drawn carriages willing to take us either one way or round trip, and we turned them down, too. The most entertaining part of this walk was the bracelet salesmen. They had both narrow and wide “silver” bracelets with very pretty designs. They offered them for $1.00 and then when they had reeled someone in, they’d say, “$1.00 per gram.” Yeah right. After a bit more bargaining, the narrow ones were indeed $1.00 and the wide ones were $5.00 for two. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they turned their wearers’ wrists green, but we bought some for gifts anyway.

Petra was used for many, many years as a location in which to carve tombs, and some of them are quite wonderful. There are many which almost invite you inside, but all of them just beg you to photograph them.

The Siq, or canyon, is a narrow walkway between high stone walls which was used as a defensive barrier when Petra was first used as a type of fortress a few thousand years ago. At the beginning of the two-kilometer walk the walls are shades of grey, but as you progress, they become pinker and redder. At the end of the Siq, the canyon opens up to the incredible beauty of The Treasury, red and pink and carved to be a combination of a Greek and Roman temple. You can actually hear people gasping with surprise and delight when they see it. If you’ve seen the second Indiana Jones movie, you’ve seen the Library, but it’s much more impressive in person.

From there the walk continues to more tombs, 3,000-year-old stone walkways, and camel rides for those who are interested. The best climb is up about a couple hundred steps to the tombs on the top of one of the mountains, which not only gives an “up close and personal” view of the tombs, but provides a vista over almost all of Petra. Farther along and around the corner are the ruins of a beautiful Roman temple, and then “the back gate.” It’s a wonderful walk through this beautiful site. One of our tour members said that her Fitbit told her that we walked about 5.8 miles from the bus back to the bus.

After our boxed lunch, we headed to the reason we’d signed onto this tour: Wadi Rum. As I said before, a wadi is a dry riverbed, of which there are a lot in the desert, and this one is the largest in Jordan. It is spectacular! It’s been in dozens of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, The English Patient, and the most recent Star Wars.

The rocky mountains in this area look rather like lumpy loaves of bread set on end or the rock formations in Sedona, Arizona. At the beginning of the wadi are the famous “Seven Pillars,” which inspired T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) to write The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

We rode in a four-wheeled vehicle to the end of the road of the Bedouin village and then right into the sandy desert. Our first stop was at a red sand dune, which some of us climbed, barefoot, up to the top and then slid down in the manner of skiing. It was next to a Bedouin tent where we were served hot sweet tea and offered the opportunity to buy some really pretty pashminas.

We continued to an opening in the rocks where we saw not only petroglyphs but some of the first writing with actual letters. There were two little boys right outside with their camels, and we found out that their father owns ten camels, which at $5,000 per camel, makes him rich in the Bedouin culture. Later we had an opportunity to ride the camels, and it was great fun and a little scary. They are rather bumpy to ride.

Finally it was time to head to the Bedouin tent village for dinner, where we first were offered more of the sweet tea and then enjoyed a dinner including lamb, chicken and vegetables cooked underground, much like a Hawaiian luau. Everything was quite delicious and I think everyone ate a little too much.

Then it was time for the hour drive back to the ship, where we arrived after 8:00, showered off the red sand and, crazy people that we are, headed up to the Crow’s Nest to dance until 11:30. What a day!

 

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What an inspiring couple you are! 5.00 am wake up to speak with your family in US, a fabulous, but no doubt exhausting, full day tour with lots of walking/climbing, then you go dancing until 11..30 pm when you get back to the ship!

 

PS I love that your granddaughter still shares her mischief with you!

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Friday, March 31, 2017 - Day 86

Suez Canal

I know that many people have the transit of the Panama Canal on their bucket list because of its tropical beauty and the fascination of watching the locks fill and then empty the water within. I’ve really never heard anyone say, “Gosh, I wish I could sail through the Suez Canal because it’s in the middle of brown desert sand and you just sail on and on for twelve hours and then come out into the Mediterranean.” That’s pretty much it.

On the port (left) side of the ship the land is irrigated, has green as well as brown, and there are many houses, huts, and vacation condos - for vacationers from Cairo. On the starboard side, where our cabin is located, there is only brown sand as far as the eye can see, except for a few green oases, but we had breakfast on the port side and I was sitting in the library watching out the left side windows to see the places where there is something other than palm trees and sand. However, later in the day we passed much new development on the Sinai side, including a new planned city 90 minutes from Cairo with blocks and blocks of new apartments, man-made lakes, and greenery. It is part of Egypt’s effort to settle the Sinai side and will be connected to the Africa side by three new tunnels.

There are 22 more miles of Suez Canal that has been added since we transited it last for the purpose of facilitating traffic both ways for part of the Canal.

The most fun we’ve ever had transiting the canal was in 2012 when we commandeered the back of Deck 2, had all of our friends bring wine, beer, or soft drinks (that’s when you could bring on unlimited wine), had the catering department bring us a huge snack tray with meat, cheese, chips and dip, and just spent most of the day back there watching the canal go by and occasionally waving to the military guards who take very good care to make sure the canal remains safe.

In 2008, our first WC, we disembarked at Safaga, well south of the canal, did a five-day Egyptian overland, and re-joined the ship in Alexandria. Upon our return, we found in the middle of our bed two certificates showing that we had actually transited the Suez Canal. We were certainly surprised to know that!

The French, under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps, built the Suez Canal from 1859-69 from Port Said on the Mediterranean to the Red Sea as a way to avoid the navigation around Africa when sailing to India and the Far East. From 1888 the canal was a neutral zone under British protection, but it was nationalized in 1956, prompting the Suez Crisis. The United States sided with the Egyptians, and the British and French stepped back.

 

Although today is listed as “Enter Suez Canal,” “Transit Suez Canal” and “Exit Suez Canal” on three separate entries on our itinerary, it really seems to me just like another, slightly more interesting, sea day. Tomorrow is a real sea day and then we arrive in Rhodes, our first Euro port and our welcome port to the Mediterranean.

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I don't know what your plans are, but I found the little town of Lindos on Rhodes very picturesque. A bit touristy these days (we were there 40 years ago and it's very different today). You can also climb up a lot of steps to see some temple ruins. I did it the first time but found it was beyond me in 2014 - had to rely on DH to take photos for me! The Old Town in Rhodes is also interesting but again rather touristy these days. Enjoy, whatever you do.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017 - Day 88

At Sea en route to Rhodes, Greece

Happy April Fools’ Day! On board ship we’re used to finding the day of the week carpets in the elevators all wrong on this day, but ‘twas not to be. The closest we’re getting to an April Fool joke is the daily newsletter, which has the inside upside down and backwards. This evening is a gala evening, and there will be a costume ball after dinner, but strangely enough, no one may wear a costume to dinner. Go figure!

We exited the Suez yesterday with no problems, and we’re now in the Mediterranean with an almost instant drop in temperature. In the canal it was about 80 degrees; this morning it was 59. I guess it’s time to get out the long-sleeved shirts and a sweater or two. The real advantage of being in the Med is that we only have one currency for the rest of the cruise: the euro (except for Casablanca). In Rhodes we’ll find a friendly ATM (the very best way to get a good exchange rate) and take out enough euros to see us through a few ports.

Last evening in the Piano Bar, Debby Bacon put on a show that only occurs once each world cruise: she and her husband Ron close the piano, sit on bar stools, and with Ron’s guitar, the two of them just sing some of their favorite songs for an hour. We love Debby and Ron and loved the show - as did the standing room audience that watched.

That was our before dinner entertainment. After dinner, the show last night was the Amsterdam singers and dancers and it was fantastic. The theme was “Love,” and the songs they sang and danced to were all on the same theme. As much as I love the singers (and know 3 of the 4 pretty well), I also admire those dancers and their talent.

I think they have one more show before the end of the cruise, and we won’t miss it.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but Gene Young, the world’s best cruise director, had to be medically debarked in Aqaba and flown to Salt Lake City. About a year ago, Gene had surgery on his throat, and this time it is a serious problem again. We miss him, but Jodie has stayed on board (a necessity because of her contract), so we get updates from her - but we’ve decided not to bug her about the situation. I imagine it’s hard enough for her to be several thousand miles away from her husband and not know exactly what’s going on.

We have no definite plans in Rhodes, so we’ll probably spend most of the day exploring the old part of the city and possibly hire a taxi to go out to Lindos, an ancient Greek city. When we get to Athens, however, we’ve got it all worked out. John and I, along with Rich and Ginny, have hired a car and driver to pick us up at the port in Piraeus, drive us to ancient Corinth and then Mycenae, and end up at our next port where we’ll spend two nights at a cute little inn before re-boarding the ship. It should be fun.

Today was our once-a-week treat at lunch: a Dive-In burger. We always get the same kind of burger with gouda cheese, bacon, sautéed onions and “special sauce.” To be more well-behaved than we’d like, we split one, but also split an order of their fries, which are some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Somehow each fry is dipped into something like a very light batter and then deep-fried, which makes them ever so crispy. What a treat! We were also feeling extra naughty today, so we also shared a hot dog. Now I don’t even like hot dogs, but when we order the kind with sauerkraut, dijon mustard, and bacon bits, I find I like them quite a bit. Such an indulgence, but it’s only once a week.

Because we had to turn the clocks forward last night (Daylight Savings Time), everyone seems to be a little slower today. We’re using this time to rest up because, beginning tomorrow, it will be the port to port to port race of a Mediterranean cruise. That’s one thing I’m NOT looking forward to!

 

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Sunday, April 2, 2017 - Day 89

Rhodes, Greece

If you’re going to spend some time on one of the Greek islands, you could do a lot worse than Rhodes. It’s a good sized island, so there’s more than one city, the weather is excellent most of the time, and the ancient walls and buildings are a source of fascination on their own.

We docked here at 8:00 this morning, and by 9:00 we were off to see the sights. We’d been here on a Greek Island cruise several years ago and liked it a lot - just like today. I went into the small shop near the ship to buy a postcard and stamp for our card to Jessica and discovered dice that showed a whole lot more than numbers on each side. My goodness! I’m certainly not a prude, but that would certainly not be a souvenir to take home to Grandma.

John had decided that he really should have brought that jacket, so while I went on postcard duty, he headed back to get something warmer. I bought the postcard and a stamp, wrote a message and put it into the handy postbox right outside. When he returned, he brought Rich and Ginni as well as Will and Nancy with him, so the six of us headed off to town, less than a ten-minute walk away. I just love it when we dock almost in the middle of town. We passed through the old wall at St. Mary’s Gate, and immediately fell in love with Rhodes all over again. Ancient ruins are everywhere, people are very friendly, there are cute little cafes on every corner and, happily for Ginny, there are plenty of places to shop.

We walked into the middle of town, admiring the old wall, complete with turrets and gun emplacements, and found ourselves in the central square where cafes and restaurants were everywhere, along with nice young men telling us why we should come in for a meal or “at least a beer” at 10:00 in the morning. Thanks, but no thanks. We lost Will and Nancy at the archeological museum when the rest of us decided to just explore the town further, and headed up the narrow cobblestone street toward the Palace of the Order of the Knights of Rhodes. We passed small side streets where hostels had been built for the Crusaders of various countries, with each named after its country. Finally we found a street just chockablock with little cafes, and even though by now it was only 11:30, we decided it was time for a beverage. The guys had Mythos, a popular Greek beer, while Ginni and I settled for a latte and a cappuccino. As a snack, we order pita bread, which came hot out of the oven, and tsatziki, a wonderful, creamy sort of a dip with chunks of scallions and a sharp feta-like taste. I’ve always avoided it because it looked sort of ooey-gooey to me, but on the warm pita it was just wonderful.

Then it was time to continue our wandering, where John and I bought a table runner, a couple of Greek shirts for him, and some wonderful Greek olive oil. My sunglasses, which run a little tight, were beginning to give me a headache, so I found a street shop where I could buy a pair of “Ray Bans” for 5 euros. Such a deal! I was even given a glasses holder to go with them.

By now it was almost 2:00, so we decided it was time for lunch. We passed up all the nice young men in the main square who wanted us to eat at their restaurants and ended up at a side-street place which only had outdoor seating, perfect on such a beautiful day, and the two of us ordered the platter with two chicken/pork gyros (pronounced “yeeros” I learned) along with fries, a beer and a soft drink - all for 12.50 euros. That, along with a Greek salad, was lunch - and it was way too much. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more, and it was time to head back to the ship - shopping along the way, of course.

 

Here we are now, with a verandah on the “good” side of the ship, overlooking the city and its walls and waiting for sailaway at 5:00. We have loved our day in Rhodes and only wish that this was the overnight port instead of Athens. Oh well, we’re not spending the night in Athens anyway, and we’re just hoping that Nafplion, where we ARE spending two nights, is just as charming as Rhodes has been.

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Rhodes is beautiful. Nafplion is nothing like it. Nice town. Nice taverna's but a quiet place. Lots of ships stop there.

 

 

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The ship is overnighting in Athens and then sailing overnight to Nafplio. We've just arrived (by car and driver) in Naflion where we'll spend two nights. Thanks for asking. Are you on the ship?

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The ship is overnighting in Athens and then sailing overnight to Nafplio. We've just arrived (by car and driver) in Naflion where we'll spend two nights. Thanks for asking. Are you on the ship?

 

 

 

Ah, okay. Yes. I've been on for the whole cruise.

 

 

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Monday, April 3 and Tuesday, April 4 - Days 90, 91

Piraeus to Nafplion, Greece

What a wonderful whirlwind we’ve had for the last two days. Here’s the Readers’ Digest version of my thinking: In 1970, when we took a Methodist work team to Greece, a day was planned to take the train from Athens to Corinth in the steps of St. Paul. John and I decided it was more important to stay in Athens to do our laundry, a decision we’ve always regretted. So . . . this was an opportunity to right that 47-year-old mistake.

John and I and Rich and Ginni hired a car and driver to pick us up at the ship in Piraeus, drive us to Corinth Canal and then ancient Corinth and then to Mycenae, which goes back to at least 2,000 B. C. and was home to many of the characters in Homer’s Iliad. We would end the day in Nafplion, the Amsterdam’s next port. We’re staying in a small (five rooms) family hotel called Aetoma, run by a very nice woman and her 28-year-old son. We chose it because it was #1 on Tripadvisor, and we haven’t been disappointed. It’s right in the middle of town on a small square and the best part is that it’s quiet at night and it’s really quite wonderful.

Corinth was everything I had expected, with ruins in various states of disarray all over the archeological site. The most important part, however, was the elevated platform where two important things occurred: St. Paul preached from it and he was tried there in response to complaints from the Jewish community that he was trying to disrupt their membership by converting them to Christianity. The case was thrown out by the judges, however, as a simple religious disagreement. On a stone at the edge of the platform is carved, in Greek and English, the text of II Corinthians 4:17. Corinth is truly an amazing place to visit.

We continued on to Mycenae, located on a hill which crowns a series of ruins and houses the ancient palace ruins. It’s quite a hike up there, but we do pretty well for four “oldies but goodies,” so we made it to the top in no time at all, stopping for a photo under the Lion’s Gate entry and a few panoramic photos of the valley and the other ruins.

Then we were off to Nafplion, a beautiful little town of 20,000 on the shore of the Aegean Sea which was the first capital of modern Greece (before it moved to Athens). It also houses the first public school in modern Greece. Now Nafplion is a summer resort for wealthy people from Athens, Germany, England and other European countries. We thought Rhodes was wonderful, but we love Nafplion even more. In the old section of the city, where we’re staying, the streets are paved, not with asphalt but with large stone tiles. There are little restaurants on the side streets as well as along the waterfront, and boutique shops pull Ginni in like a magnet. We love it!

* *

Today was our full day in Nafplion, and we had it all planned out. We headed down to the town’s taxi rank near the bus station where we negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to both Epidaurus, about 25 miles away, and Palamidi Castle, 999 steps up the hill above our town. We rejected the idea of the steps, so the taxi was a great idea.

Epidaurus is an unusual “town,” in that it was not where people generally lived, but it was a center of healing dedicated to the god Asclepius, whose shaft and serpents are the symbol of today’s doctors. The most interesting part of the place for me was the theatre, the most complete in Greece. It has perfect acoustics, so that an actor standing on the stage can, with a normal tone of voice, be heard all the way to the top of the 12,000 seat theatre. We tried it and it worked! We then wandered over the archeological ruins, where we saw the Temple of Asclepius, the holiest place on site, the hostel, where more than 500 people could be housed, and several other temples and buildings.

After our time there, Niko, our driver, took us back to Nafplion and Palamidi Castle, built in the early 1700’s by the Venetians, but taken over by the Ottoman Turks even before it was completed. It sits high above the city, supposedly almost a thousand steps up the hill, but most people agree that the number is closer to 900. It’s still too many for us, however. The taxi option was excellent!

Then it was time to head back to our cute little hotel, have a 15-minute break, and head out for lunch. Rich’s only two requirements were that it be outside and that it serve beer. We found a new square in town with several restaurants and chose one called Mentor, named after the tutor of Ulysses’ son. Some pita and tsatsiki, grilled chicken and sausage, a few beers, and lunch was good.

 

Now it’s time for a break - finish writing, take a nap, and then accompany Ginni while she tries to spend some money in the shops. She’s quite the shopper; I’m not, but I don’t mind keeping her company, so that’s the afternoon’s plan. Tomorrow the ship comes in, and by then we’ll be able to hire out as guides to Nafplion.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - Day 91 (got off there somehow)

Nafplion, Greece

We were so sad to have our last (delicious) breakfast in our hotel, and when we ever come back to Nafplion we will certainly stay at the Aetoma Hotel. It has all the charm of a small hotel, along with amenities you’d find at a large hotel - and some that you wouldn’t find there. It’s quite typical, I understand, to have breakfast included in hotels outside of Athens, and ours was wonderful. We were asked for our preferences the evening before, and we had eggs (of various styles), bacon, a basket of bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit salad, Greek yogurt, sliced ham, turkey and cheese - we just couldn’t eat even most of it!

In the afternoon, we could order tea or coffee which was served along with various types of cake, and then in the early evening, the hotel has its own red wine which is quite good - and at no charge. The recommendations for restaurants were excellent, and the restaurants themselves turned out to be quite reasonable in price. In fact, our first dinner out with souvlaki, Greek salad (no lettuce, of course) a liter of wine and roasted potatoes, cost the four of us a grand total of 34 euros. After we asked for the bill, they also brought out a plate of cake and honeyed apples and an additional half liter of wine. We almost rolled back to the hotel. Last evening we ate at an Italian restaurant where our two appetizers could have been dinner. At the end of the meal, the “little surprise” was a container of Tiramisu liqueur, something which we had never even heard of, let alone tried. It not only smelled like tiramisu, it tasted just like it. When I googled it (every restaurant has free wifi), I found that I could buy it at Bevmo. That will be an outing as soon as we get home!

Overall we thought this was a brilliant mini-overland. It checked all of our boxes, including Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus and Palamidi Castle. Not only that, but we did it for a fraction of what the excursions would have cost through the ship. For example, the ship’s tour of Mycenae and Palamidi Castle cost $79.95, and the four of us paid a grand total of 95 euros - and that included a generous tip. The single best thing about doing the trip on our own was to stay in a beautiful old city for two days without hoards of tourists from the ship. That sounds a bit hypocritical, since we’re ship passengers, but it really was quite lovely. Also, although it was a bit chilly, it was wonderful to be here just a click away from high season and a very crowded city. We’d like to come back in May or September for weather that’s a bit warmer but avoid the thousands of tourists who come in high summer.

We took our small bags to one of the early shuttles, put everything away in our cabins, and then returned to town for a last bit of shopping and another meal - as if we needed it. After lunch we just wandered along a few little streets and alleyways toward the tender, and as we boarded our shuttle back to the ship, the rain began in earnest, making us feel sorry for those people still in town. Now we’re warm and dry in our cabin, ready for a nap, and very happy for the way we saw this part of Greece. Just because you don’t speak the language or have ever been to somewhere, don’t hesitate to try this sort of thing, because it may turn out to be the best part of your cruise.

 

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I went on one of the ship tours to Mycenae and Palamidi today and really enjoyed it. We were the first ones out to the ruins and it was so lovely and peaceful out there. Stunning vistas. Then we spent the afternoon in town until the rain came. What a cute town! We remarked that next time we come here we would rent a car and strike out on our own. And I agree, ship tours are fine, but always costly and sometimes you just want to go your own way. I always end up doing a combination of ship, private and solo tours. Works for me!

 

 

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