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Seek Timeless Treasures with Bill & Mary Ann - 2019 World Cruise -131 days


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Sorry that you can't go to Komodo island on your own.

 

Never would have thought there were so many contractors on a cruise working behind the scenes.  Don't know how the crew work in such hot conditions.  I know they live everyday at home in the heat, but they dress differently there.

 

No meatloaf for us -- don't like it.

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Report #55   Darwin, Australia   March 14, 2019   Thursday   Cloudy & 92 degrees       Part #1 Of 5    80  Pictures

 

Darwin is a small city located in the tropical area of the Northern Territory of Australia.  It is also called the Top End, and is home to the Aboriginal culture, as well as the diversity of Kakadu National Park.  Too bad we are not here long enough to see it all.

 

The Darwin Harbor is reportedly twice the size of Sydney Harbor, and it an important part of the area’s economy.  Much of the local history ties back to Australia’s part in World War II. The Darwin Military Museum offers viewers displays of war artifacts, artillery pieces, vehicles, and firearms. 

 

Tours through Shore Excursions include seeing the city sites with a walk, a bus ride, and even riding a Segway in the park.  Out of town excursions were bus rides to a riverboat ride on the Adelaide River to see crocodiles, or visits to two parks….one at Litchfield to view the termite mounds and waterfalls, or the Wildlife Park, with 988 acres of bushland. 

 

And while we are thinking about it, an interesting random fact about Australians are some of their clever inventions.  They include the bionic ear, the black box flight recorder, the note pad, and the wine cask. 

 

As for us, we have taken most all of these tours…even one they don’t have anymore….a trip to Kakadu to see the billabongs, crocodiles, termite mounds, rock art, Aboriginies, and eucalyptus trees.  We never knew how incredibly hot it could get in this national park, nor did we expect to be invaded with flies, the likes of which we have never seen again. Nor do we wish to.

 

So we recalled what we did the last time we visited Darwin back in 2016, and re-traced our path once again.  Waiting until 9:30am, we packed two bottles of water, cameras, and one umbrella to use for the sun, or rain, in case we would be graced with it.  The rain never happened, by the way.  No doubt about it, today was going to be one hot mama.  Add the humidity of over 90%, and we can call it oppressive. 

 

The ship docked at Fort Hill Wharf, which was located opposite of Stokes Hill Wharf.  The last time we were here, a large Princess ship was docked there. Today that terminal was empty.  Walking through the terminal building, we met with one of the local volunteers who could not have been nicer.  He handed us a large map with a matching hand fan, and explained where the main sites were located.  We thanked him but did not have the heart to tell him this was really our fifth visit.  

 

From here, we could have jumped on the free shuttle that took the folks to the Tourist Info Center, but we wanted to walk by the waterfront and check out the restaurants there.  Had to make sure the one that served a great pizza was still in business.  Luckily, it was, and we would be back here later for sure.  To get to this Waterfront, we walked a newly-built pedestrian bridge that was now covered for shade.  Crossing over the lagoon, we were there.  This area is surrounded with modern high rise apartments, but the best feature has to be the Big Buoy Waterpark Lagoon with a connecting Wave Lagoon.  The waterpark is free and even has a sandy beach, while the wave section has a charge of $7 for each adult.  If you wish to spend a “day at the beach”, this is the spot for you.  It is salt water, but is netted for the jellies and other large sea creatures.

 

From here, there are two sets of elevators that bring you up to the level of the town.  From here, we followed the map to see the main historical spots.  Crossing one main street, we entered into the pedestrian-only Mall, with many stores, shops, and cafes.  Everything was air-conditioned, so that is where most of the people were….inside the stores.  We continued uphill on Smith Street, and followed the map towards the Garden Park Golf Links near the top. While we were taking photos of ibis, geese, and lapwing birds, it was here we ran into Howard and Gyl, also on a hike like us.  It never fails, we end up seeing each other in almost every port.  Now we all agree that our day was complete, like a good luck charm that our paths crossed once again.  They were heading back to town, but when we told them about the botanic garden, they ended up turning around, and walking there also.  They both have been on the ship since the Grand Asia/Pacific cruise, but had never gone that far to see the park.

 

The George Brown Botanic Gardens consists of 100 acres of tropical plants and trees – at least 1500 species.  We entered the park where their small café, Eva’s, was located. It was the best place to stop and enjoy much needed ice cold sodas, and make a pit stop.  There was a continuous path that led us to rainforest, mangroves, and open woodlands.  Many of the native trees were marked, and surrounded with fountains and ponds.  Also, there was a lot of work ongoing in this garden.  A few of the major trails were closed. Some buses arrived with guests from the ship, so it was time to leave.  We did see a small group getting instructions on how to ride the segways on their 1½ hour excursion.  We spent about an hour here, until the heat began to get to us.  There was no escaping it, except for the occasional breeze.

 

On the way back, we stopped in Woolworth’s, one of the largest grocery stores here besides Coles.  Besides picking up some sodas, it helped cool us off since it was beautifully air-conditioned.  Then the difficult part is going back outside…..why is it that the heat feels twice as bad?  The good news was that the rest of the walk was under the canopy of many large trees.  We even went in and out of some of the stores, checking out their sales.  Many shops in this mall were dedicated to Aussie souvenirs, and it was the last chance for the cruise guests to buy some.

 

Stopping at the Waterfront, we found the lunch rush was over, and there were plenty of tables outside Il Lido.  Like the majority of bar/lounges, the drill is…..order your food, pay for it, and bring your beverages with you to a table.  You are given a number, a the food arrives.  We figured this prevents eat-and-run behavior when business is hopping at night.  Pretty much the same deal as going to any fast food restaurant anywhere in the world.

 

We had to laugh when several folks we recognized from the ship that asked if we were having Margherita pizza.  Of course, the pizza was perfect here…..thin, crispy crust, tasty sauce, and plenty of melted cheese.  And the beer we ordered was Northern Draft, brewed in Australia.

 

While we dined under the breeze of an overhead fan, we watched some people swimming in the lagoon.  The lagoon side had the blown-up water toys, where you climb to the top, jump onto the lower pillow, thus propelling the person on the edge up and into the air and into the water.  Fun to watch, but we sure would not try it. 

 

Back to the ship by 4pm, we spent some time cooling off, but not at the Seaview Pool.  When we went back there at 5pm to watch the sail out of the harbor, we found the empty pool still covered over with the net.  Guess the leaks had not been fixed yet.  The sail away party was held in the Crow’s Nest with the happy hour special.  Barb says that always packs them in like sardines.  It was a little more tolerable outside, because somewhat of a breeze had cropped up by this time of day.  And one nice thing was it brought the birds out of hiding.  Two such interesting birds were a pair of brahminy kites, which at first, we thought were a type of sea eagle.  Fun to watch, but difficult to photograph.  Other bird species included terns and later on, brown boobys.

 

People were gathering at the opposite terminal at Stokes Hill Wharf, where there was a dinner venue right on the pier.  They would have a great view of the Amsterdam leaving the Darwin Harbor today.  The ropes were finally dropped around 6pm as we had to wait for a late tour bus once again.  The sunset time was around 7pm, so we stayed with a handful of folks that enjoy these nightly events.  Two of them are Susie and Eddie, friends we have met on a previous cruise.  Like us and many others, they know that it takes time and patience to get the best shots once the sun is down.  The colors intensify well after the sun has dipped below the horizon.  Tonight was no exception.

 

As the clouds got darker in the distance, we could see rain coming down behind the city of Darwin.  Then we could see flashes of lightning dancing across the skies every now and then.  This activity would continue through the night, which is sort of a treat for us, since we do not have much thunder and lightning where we live in California. 

 

At dinner, we shared our exploits of the day, all agreeing that the temperatures of the day were incredible.  We heard that living in Darwin has to be one of the most hot and humid places in the world.  Even the sea water was almost 90 degrees.  And we all came to the conclusion that the Australians are a hardy group, as well as most welcoming.  As always, we are sad to leave this most diverse country. 

 

We now have a couple of days at sea as we head northwest towards Indonesia.  And the clocks went back ½ again tonight, and mostly welcomed by all.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

  

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Report # 56   Day at Sea   March 15, 2019   Friday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees

 

Well we did not think the weather would cool down, but as we sailed northwest towards Indonesia, we have picked up a breeze that saved the day.  Yes, it is still warm and humid, but nothing like we experienced yesterday.  One thing for sure, if you are not careful, that extreme heat can drain you.  Good thing we have sea days to re-cooperate.  It also helps to have the extra ½ hour of sleep we all got last night with the time change.  As it turns out, we will also have another hour back tonight, putting us on the correct time for our first Indonesian port of Komodo.

 

Speaking of Komodo, we had decided that we would stay onboard that day, since we have been to see the dragons several times in the past.  But then we figured we still have lots of shipboard credit that needs to be spent, and this might be a good way to do it.  No bus will be involved because it is a tender port to a tiny island with few vehicles.  And the tour is a walking one for only 2 hours.  We do hope to get some good photos if we do in fact see the dragons.  The good thing is that our tour time is 10am, and we will not have to get up super early.

 

We were so backed up with yesterday’s port photos and reports, that we spent some time today working on it.  But first, we decided to check out the Seaview Pool to see if it was fixed.  When we got there, the fellows were just starting to fill it.  It did take an hour before we saw them add two buckets of chemicals to it.  Heavens knows what those were, but maybe we don’t really want to know.  So far, we have never had an adverse reaction to the treated water, although some folks are sensitive to it.  Once the nets came off, we were the first to try it out.  Expecting the water to be cool, it was warm, like 90 degrees.  It still felt wonderful cooling off in there.  We were joined by several others that had been waiting four days for the re-opening.  Hope it does not leak ever again.

 

The guests have been most busy with their blankets that they either knitted or crocheted for the Linus Project.  They had them displayed in the Explorer’s Lounge this morning.  What a nice way to contribute their talents for a special cause.

 

A new guest speaker, Adele Thorne, lectured on statues of the deep, while George Friend spoke about World War II battles in Papua New Guinea.

 

The third movie screening for the Academy Awards was shown in the Wajang.  It was A Star is Born.  So far, we have not seen these movies hit the TV.

 

Dinner had some familiar entrees and appetizers for a change.  Duck pot stickers, mac and cheese with lobster, and even Salisbury steak and calamari salad.  The appetizers were good, but the steak was more like meatloaf, only in a different shape.  Barb says she would love to contribute her recipes for these simple meals.  And they sure would not include gravy on everything.  All of us have learned to ask for the gravies on the side, just in case they are not what we expected.  Slam tried to sell us dessert, but all of us declined.

 

Looking forward to another day at sea tomorrow, although when we walked the promenade deck after dinner, it was raining pretty heavily.  We also came across a gull that must have flown on the deck in the dark.  Sometimes they do this when the ship’s outside lights go on, attracting them.  Hope it survives.

 

Instead of going to the show, a guitar virtuoso, Nils Klofver, we opted to continue the blog work instead.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report # 57   Day at Sea   March 16, 2019   Saturday   Partly sunny…..really?  & 82 degrees      Part #1 Of 1    41  Pictures

 

 

Partly sunny….who are they kidding?  Certainly not us, although it was mostly cloudy while we were eating breakfast this morning.  Within the hour, the skies got darker, and the rain began.  And it was not a drizzle, it was a downpour.  Like a river running down the dining room windows, it sure helped clean off the salt deposits.  If nothing else, the ship got a much-needed bath.  Doubt that we will get in any pool time today.  But considering we are into day # 53 so far, we have had very co-operative weather on this cruise.

 

During the wee hours of the night, we passed by several oil or gas drilling rigs that are in this area.  What we might assume was a passing ship, turned out to be these well-lit platforms.  Adding to the scene was more lightning, also common to this part of the world.

 

About a week ago, a few guests began to tape messages on their cabin doors telling everyone that they were excusing their room stewards from servicing their rooms during our stay in Indonesia.  Namely, Bali and Semarang. Actually, the request was for a reduced service, since we still need fresh toweling and clean bathrooms. And maybe the pillow chocolates.  The beds….we can manage to make our own.  We know from previous cruises the last couple of years, decorations of anything possibly flammable are forbidden on the doors.  Day after day, more notes appeared, until today, when we all received a message from the hotel director to stop doing this.  Henk gave everyone a card that can be left in the mailslot, or inside your room, but only the day prior to the call in the port.  A couple of hours later, most all of the messages had been removed.  We have always informed our stewards in person, choosing not to advertise to everyone else on the floor what our intentions were.  One sign did stay up however, but it was an offer to trade some pillow gifts for the powerbank for cell phones we recently got as a gift.  This is a first for us, but we intend to keep ours.

 

The Princeton Custom Tailors are back this year.  Since Hong Kong is not on the itinerary, we wondered if the clothing experts would be back.  We suspect they boarded in Darwin, and will be sailing with us for a short time.  They were available on deck 5 in the atrium today.  We will have to check out their clothing and prices.  On past trips, we found their custom tux shirts, vests and bowties to be of a high quality and well-made.  A bit pricey, but a good way to use shipboard credit.

 

We had two jobs for the day.  One was signing Sri Lanka and India arrival cards to be turned in at the front desk before tomorrow.  We already have the necessary visas, or else we would be denied entry in both countries.

 

The second chore was purchasing more Zero Water bottles at the Explorations Café.  With the upcoming ports in Indonesia, we would not leave the ship without the water.  Especially in Komodo, where Captain Jonathon has warned the folks that we can expect high temps and even higher humidity.

 

Since it was still raining lightly, we met up with Barb in the dining room for lunch.  A small salad, a bowl of soup, and one shared appetizer was all we needed.  And lots of ice tea with lemon.  At 10:30am, we had gone for our second walk on the promenade deck and earned two DAM 10 cent notes to donate to  Barb’s stash.  She will need 50 of these for one Amazon gift worth $5.00. 

 

Back at our room, we took the time to watch Adele Thorne’s excellent talk on the Lair of the Giant Dragons on TV.  She had up-to-date info on the Komodo dragons, filled with details not provided on any of the ship’s brochures.  The more we listened, the more we wondered why we are going over to the island to see them again.  Hope the  dragons are in a good mood tomorrow. 

 

Number 4 of 5 academy award winning movies was shown in the Wajang.  This one was: If Beale Street Could Talk.   By the way, yesterday’s movie, A Star is Born, was on today’s TV list. If there is time, we may watch it. 

 

The sun set was early tonight, with all of the recent time changes.  So at 5:30pm, we went up to deck nine to see what might be developing.  Even though the sun was still higher than predicted, the dark clouds covered most of it.  What concerned us more were the black clouds dumping rain right in our path.  We only lasted two minutes before the rain began.  In this part of the world, you cannot wait to take shelter, because once it starts, it can be heavy.

 

So it was back down to deck three to wait it out.  The flying fish have begun to appear, and they are fun to watch.  These are the small ones that remind us of popcorn when they explode from the sides of the ship.  Lucky for them, there were no birds to gobble them up.  We sort of knew it was a matter of time when friends Susie and Eddie would appear to watch for the upcoming sunset.  Sure enough, they came outside and joined us for a not-so-spectacular sunset, but a nice way to end the day.  Way too many clouds this evening.  But the company was fine.

 

At 7pm, we were invited to a cocktail party with our travel group in the Piano Bar.  We know about half of the sixty people that are in the group this year, so it is always a fun gathering.  The Captain, his wife, and a few of the officers also mixed with our small group.  We sat with Barb, who had to leave early since she had dinner plans with a few folks in the Pinnacle Grill.  Martha joined us, and we had a chance to catch up on news with her.

 

We had a table for two this evening which was nice, because we only had two courses.  The appetizers at the party were so good, we indulged a bit more than we should have.  So, we had one minestrone soup, one entree dinner salad, and meatballs and spaghetti.  A few nights ago, Phillip had stopped by and asked how we were liking the dinner menu.  All of us said we sure would like to see some of the old favorites.  By gosh, he listened, and for two nights in a row, there have been some good choices on the dinner menu.  This evening there was fried chicken, steak salad, and of course, the meatballs and spaghetti.  If we were not so full, we may have split the Key lime pie for dessert.  Maybe next time.

 

Tomorrow will be our first port in Indonesia….Komodo Island.  A group of crew members have a tour there, and they are more excited than the guests.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Bill and Mary Ann, before I forget to thank you, just a note to say that I have again enjoyed your postings about the world cruise. You write so well, so it is a treat to take a few minutes and read about your "doings".  Thanks for sharing. 

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Report # 58   Komodo Island, Indonesia   March 17, 2019   Sunday    Part #1 Of 5   80  Pictures

 

We have entered into a much different culture with our first stop in Indonesia, which is the world’s largest archipelago consisting of 17,505 islands.  It is an area of earthquakes, tsunamis, monsoons, and volcanoes with a most diverse variety of cultures and religions.  There are Muslims in Java, Hindus in Bali, and animist tribes in Papua New Guinea.  It is a land of temples, rice paddies, stunning beaches, lush jungles, and animals that are not found anywhere else in the world.

 

The capital is Jakarta, on the island of Java, and the total population in 2012 was 241,000,000 people.  The best time to visit is not now, but from May to December when it is the driest.  We have always found that the day might begin dry, but the afternoons can experience monsoon-like showers, flooding streets in minutes.

 

The top things to see are the Buddhist stupas of Borobudur, the largest one of its kind in the world.  We have been there twice, climbing to the top and touching the Buddha stupa which gives one good luck.  Doubt we are limber enough to do that now.  Also famous in Indonesia are the shadow puppetry arts and batik dyeing in Java.  Touristy, but mysterious Bali is a highlight of a visit to this country. 

 

We have yet to see the orangutans, named the old men of the forest, that live in the jungles of Tanjung Puting National Park.  That would take a side trip away from the ship, or done independent of a cruise. 

 

The favorite dish in Indonesia has to be fried rice called nasi goring.  It can be served with steamed beef with roasted coconut and lemongrass.  Or any combination of chicken, beef, or seafood and even fried eggs on top.  The favorite drink is called kopi, or coffee.  This is the place to be brave and try the civet coffee, made from the beans retrieved from the droppings of civet cats.  Eeewww!

 

The best random fact has to be:  Komodo dragons live in Indonesia and are the largest lizards on earth.  They are occasional man-eaters with a lethal bite.  But more on that later.

 

So our port of call for today is Slawi Bay, Komodo Island, and it is a tender port.  About 2000 residents live here in houses that are built on stilts.  Besides being cooler, the dragons cannot climb stairs to access the houses.  Most of the natives live in fishing villages.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992, Komodo is home to about 5700 dragons, according to the ship’s port guide (which may or may not be accurate).  As we mentioned, these are the largest lizards in the world, often measuring over 10 feet in length, weighing over 150 pounds.  They can live up to 30 years, and have been in existence for 8 million years according to the scientists. 

 

Here are a few fast facts on these creatures.  They have long sharp claws and 60 serrated teeth that grab and tear their prey.  Their snake-like forked tongues are sensitive to smell, although their eye site is poor, especially at night.  Their tails are most powerful, almost half of their body length.  That makes them very strong swimmers capable of going from island to island if they choose to.  They have bony scales that work like a suit of armor.  The dragons are able to run at speeds up to 13 MPH.  The females lay from 15 to 30 eggs that are soft shelled and the size of a peacock or goose egg.  When the babies hatch, they immediately take to the trees, since the adults will devour them.  That includes the mother.

 

What do they eat?  Anything and everything such as Timor deer, macaques, water buffalo, and wild boars.  They can devour an animal whole, bones and hooves, and consume as much as 80% of their body weight.  However, they can survive on only twelve meals a year.  Big meals.  They will fight with each other, especially the breeding males.  But they are all immune to the bacteria in their bites.

 

And that is what they use to bring down their prey.  It is the nasty bacteria in their saliva they produce that is toxic to animals when bitten.  All it takes is one good bite, and the animals slowly bleed out and eventually die.  The dragons sit back and simply wait.  We have seen videos from the old days, when a huge pit was dug, and the trapped dragons devoured freshly-killed goats or pigs for the tourists to watch.  Outlawed now, this is never seen.

 

It is reported that as many as 5000 Komodo dragons exist in the world, with many of those living in zoos.  Since this number came from the expert speaker, we assume it is up-to-date information.   Sometimes in the wild, they will attack people when provoked.  We have been informed that there is an anti-venom treatment if that does happen, but tourists are not usually on their menu.  Hopefully that holds true for tomorrow.

 

Other things to see on the outlying islands are coral reefs and pink-hued sandy beaches.  There are 1000 species of tropical fish, whales, dolphins, dugongs (similar to manatees), manta rays, and sea turtles.  There is one tour offered that takes folks on another boat to a village of 1100 people.  They will have a chance to visit a school and mix with the local kids.  A swim in the warm waters is also included on this excursion, but there will be no sightings of the dragons.  Hopefully, none of them are swimming from island to island.

 

Two tours that take in the dragons are the short version, glimpse of the dragons, or the 90 minute walk called Komodo Island adventure.  And there is no guarantee that you will see them.  And we may have already mentioned this, but no one will be allowed to tender over unless you have an organized tour, either with shore excursions or proof of a private tour.  And of course, there is some shopping time for typical dragon souvenirs, with a warning this is NOT a shopping spree.  Yeah, right, you better believe most folks will stock up.

 

So, we went to breakfast like we always do, then eventually we went to the Mainstage to get “stickered”, and wait for our group to assemble.  There were six tours leaving every ½ hour, and we were scheduled for 10am.  While watching the tendering to shore from deck three, the rain began to fall.  But it was more of a passing shower.  Not extremely heavy, we figured it was best to bring umbrellas and a large plastic bag for the good camera.  We would not melt if we got a little wet.  Actually, having a mostly cloudy day with occasional showers would keep things cooler.

 

It has been a long time since we took an organized tour from Shore Excursions, but it did bring back some very funny memories.  Like people jockeying to get to the exit door to be the first on the bus or tender boat.  You would be surprised how the folks barrel down those stairs to be first.  Today there was no problem like that, since this group only numbered 20 at the most. 

 

An alternate excursion was one that went to the secret village of Kampung Komodo, where you go by a wooden boat to the village where the locals live.  There was a visit to a school, but probably not today, because it was Sunday and not a school day.  After a short stay, you would go by boat to nearby Pink Beach, and have the chance to snorkel, swim, or sunbathe.  We do know people that took this tour, as well as many smart folks that pre-booked this on their own, and also got the short tour to see the dragons.

 

Our tour was almost identical to the one we did several years ago.  Back then, we were given wooden bracelets, locally-made.  That did not happen.  But we did get a bottle of water, and a blue plastic poncho when it started to rain lightly.  Some people put them on, and soon discovered they were dying of the humidity, sweating to death.  Led by a park ranger with two assistants with forked sticks, we followed a trail through the brush and tall trees.  Stopping along the way, the guide explained many details about the dragons and their surroundings.  This had a double purpose, keeping the groups ahead of us separated from each other.

 

The guide asked all of us to keep silent so we could hear the dragons and birds too.  He did not think to shut off his cell phone, which kept ringing every few minutes.  Sort of took the wind out of our “treacherous” hike.  Eventually, he turned his phone off.  We reached the center area, about a mile into the park.  That’s where more rangers were holding three of the dragons in the ring that had a puddle of muddy water.  Not really big ones, the three Komodo dragons were listless, but alert enough to be watching all of us.  Most everyone posed for photos with these creatures in the backround. 

 

Now the last time we were here, a very large dragon broke loose, and decided to run through the middle of our group.  A man stepped back too fast, and knocked people in the group over, causing some cuts and bruises.  Those forked sticks did nothing to stop that dragon.  This did not occur today, thank goodness.

 

We did learn that the females laid their eggs in sandy mounds, much like the crocodiles do.  These eggs were due to hatch sometime next month.  Their only chance for survival is to climb into the tallest of the palm trees, or else they get eaten.  If other dragons don’t devour them, then the sea eagles do by plucking them out of the trees.  Must be a tough life, but enough of them survive to live a long life, which our guide said up to 50 years.

 

We did spot a few birds of the forest like a soaring eagle in the bay, extra-large crows, some cockatoos, green imperial pigeons, and a couple of colorful black-napped orioles.  At the beginning of the trail walk, we saw some wild boar roaming near the entrance.  Also, we got an education on the different trees that grow here, and what they are used for by the locals.

 

Our hike ended back at the beach, where there was a long tented area full of souvenirs.  This display had increased double since we were here.  You could purchase many sizes of carved Komodo dragons, which we already own.  In addition, there were t-shirts, hats, and magnets and postcards.  Some of the lady vendors were selling sarongs, along with pearls of all sizes and colors.  They looked decent, but for $5 to $25, we doubt anything was close to authentic.  We managed to make it through the maze unscathed. 

 

There were several small tents set up with locals selling snacks and beverages.  Spotting some nice folks we know, we sat for a while to exchange tour info.  Just as we were about to leave, we spotted movement behind us.  Low and behold, a dragon was making its way towards the sandy beach just 20 feet from all of us.  Our waiter, Slam, and three other crew members followed us as we tracked this monster on the move.  Several rangers came alongside the dragon to keep people away from it.  They advised us all not to block its way.  No problem there, we let it go where it wanted, taking great photos until it reached the other side of the cement pier on the beach. 

 

There were two noticeably injured Timor deer sitting near the water.  Not natural behavior, we think this dragon was watching their demise.  He was joined by two more smaller dragons, making three of them.  If they were hungry enough, they might have fought over them.  Our guess was they were not quite ready for that meal, so we would not see any attack today.  For certain, it would not be a pretty sight, and we are not sure we would want to see that.

 

The rain was beginning again, so we headed back out that pier to wait for the next tender boat.  Local wooden ferries were dropping independent groups off, and picking up others who had completed their tour like us.  One such group was 20 young ladies from Bali. Although the Amsterdam was the only cruise ship at anchor, many people came from the nearby islands with resorts.  The locals have a gold mine here.

 

Back at the ship by 3pm,  we cooled off for a bit, then went for a Lido lunch.  By the way, the dining room was closed for lunch today.  When they do this, the Lido’s full service side stays open for a little longer to take care of the tour people when they return.  And that is another stampede……making sure they get lunch immediately.

 

All aboard was 3:30pm, with sail away around 4pm.  The rain held off as we sailed away from the group of islands.  We are now headed for Benoa, Bali, a short distance away from Komodo, over 200 nautical miles we believe.

 

Today was St. Patrick’s Day, and some sort of green was worn by all.  Even the dinner menu had themed-titled entrees.  To keep the appetizers and meals “green”, a lot of peas were used in most everything.  Barb hates peas, so she was careful what she ordered. 

 

To add to today’s activities, there was a Pub Crawl at 8:45pm ($22 charge), as well as a comedy and music variety show full of promised Irish bull and blarney.  Of group of three ladies, called The Biddys, sang silly songs, dressed in the funniest get-ups, well, like old biddys.  Barb said they had gone to the Crow’s Nest the day before, and brought the house down with laughter.

 

Tomorrow will be a busy day with long tours and many Indonesian guests visiting their loved ones onboard.  Always nice to see.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report #59   Benoa, Bali   Indonesia   March 18, 2019   Monday   Chance of rain & 84 degrees    Part #1 Of 2    80  Pictures

 

One of the most sought-after destinations for an unforgettable vacation spot, has to be the Indonesian island of Bali.  The once small village of Benoa, where the Amsterdam is docked, has developed into a thriving cruise ship port over the past 20 years.  In fact, the locals are in the process of constructing a new terminal as we write this.  Judging from the size of the new build, it will have many shops as well.  We recall the days when we tendered to shore at Padang Bay, and walked in a very tiny fishing village at the time.  Boy, things have sure changed with the demand from world-wide tourists.  One other thing worth mentioning, is the fact that while we were docked here, airplanes landed on the average of every 10 minutes or less.  All day and evening.  The Balinese have a gold mine here.

 

There is one drawback to being docked here…..we are not able to access anywhere on our own without taking a taxi or a tour.  And you can forget about a complimentary shuttle, since according to the When & Where newsletter, due to the remote location in relation to the most desired point of cultural interest, we will not feature a bus service today.  And we might add that the taxi drivers here are the most competitive to the point of a harassing experience.  Once outside the terminal gate, they are on you like bees on flowers.

 

So to see the best that Bali has to offer, you need to book tours, either through booking the ship’s excursions or privately.  Since we have done most all of them, we can say that Bali’s tours tend to be less expensive than in some other ports.  A few excursions were 3 to 5 hours at $95 to $100, or the longer ones at 6 ½ to 9 hours at $125 to $225.  Most of those include lunch.  On the other hand, if you did your homework and pre-booked a private tour for a small group, it is possible to spend most all day seeing many sights for under $50 a person.  The best part of the private tour is the fact you are not dealing with large buses with too many people.  Remember, you will moving as fast as the slowest guest, and that can be mighty slow at times.  Another fine way to spend a day here, especially if you like swimming, is by  taking a taxi to a resort, as some of our buddies did today.  The only problem some ran into was the awful traffic getting back to the ship.  But that is probably why all aboard was at 10:30pm. 

 

Highlights in Bali for us had to be the various temples, mountain drives, unexpected Bali ceremonies, and the rice paddys.  Since some of the elevations of the volcanoes are over 10,000 feet, to learn how the rice paddys are terraced off impossibly steep hillsides was fascinating.  Using water that is gravity-fed, as well as supplemented by rain, we have learned how they have managed to squeeze three crops of rice a year.  A visit to the Sangeh monkey forest was fun, especially when one naughty male monkey plucked a cell phone off of a selfie stick, and scampered up a tall nutmeg tree.  Not so funny if it was our phone, which we don’t own anyway.  But anything is game for these primates, such as cameras, hats, and sunglasses.

 

We have also seen the Barong Dance twice with the gongs and percussion instruments, the Kecak fire dance, and the villages of Ubud for the artist’s colony, and Mas, where woodcarvers create masks, wall hangings, and religious figures with teak and ebony. 

 

Another recent memory was when the sky opened up at a temple complex, and the streets flooded within minutes, filling up our shoes with water.  Our umbrellas did not help a whole lot.  And we wondered why the majority of the folks had stayed on the bus.  And now we know why the locals wear nothing but rubber flip-flops on their feet.  What fun we had.

 

So with all that info, we decided to make today a “sea day”, only leaving the ship to explore the nearby marketplace near the terminal.  Remember we told you that a lot of construction was happening here?  Well, the souvenir market on the outside of the fence has been reduced to a few stalls.  Getting through the onslaught of taxi drivers was a chore in itself.  “No thanks” is not an answer they accept readily.  Even though we stated firmly that we were not leaving this area, they still bartered with prices and destinations to entice us.  After looking briefly at their tables, we went back through the gate, and headed for the other larger market where there were no taxi guys. 

 

There was a huge variety of souvenirs and clothing here, and the vendors were most willing to sell at good prices.  We did purchase one beige woven purse that resembles a canteen, and one length of turquoise and gold batik fabric that will eventually become a blouse someday.  All we can advise is that unless you are interested in really buying an item, don’t touch it or ask questions.  They will follow you everywhere until you agree to buy it or not.  Good thing we went early before the worst heat of the day, but also, later on, the rain began and never stopped.

 

Another thing to keep people busy onboard was the showing of “Crazy Rich Asians” in the Mainstage.  Normally when we are in a port late into the evening, there is no entertainment…..only a good movie.

 

Since about 30% of our crew is Balinese, many of their families and friends had been invited to come on the ship today.  We found out later that a self-serve lunch had been set in the dining room for 300 visitors.  However, only about 75 actually showed up.  Nothing goes to waste here, because the food was brought to the crew mess and was eaten later.  One of the head waiters said that since many crew members lived close by, they decided to go home for the day instead.  The Amsterdam recently stopped here on the Asia/Pacific cruise last fall, and most of the families had visited then.

 

We spent the day working on yesterday’s photos and reports, visiting with friends onboard, having several walks, and eating lunch in the Lido.  We also watched the nearby ferries leaving with party-goers from the local resorts doing a dinner cruise in the harbor.  Before we knew it, the time had come for sun set, but because of the rain, there really wasn’t a good one. 

 

Dinner has become the art of combining favorite items into one entrée.  Or ordering several appetizers has been working for the three of us.  Caesar chicken salad has become a staple for dinner, and for one of us tonight, it was linguini with London broil strips of steak.  Like we have already stated, our waiter is so accommodating. 

 

Looking forward to a day at sea tomorrow.  Also, we want to thank everyone for the nice comments on the blog, and giving us some answers about what we cannot find, like info on the orange-footed scrub fowl in Darwin.  In regards to the money exchange, we have bought it on the ship, or, sometimes better, onshore.  Many countries accept credit cards, but we are most careful where we use it.  Many countries will accept the US dollar for street souvenirs, but not in the stores or restaurants.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report # 60   Day at Sea   March 19, 2019   Tuesday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees    Part #1 of 1   36 Pictures

 

A run-of-the-mill day at sea, it was NOT.  After a leisurely breakfast, we had a delivery of the $50 beverage card that went with the nicest flowers we have received so far, a 2 week perk for us old timers.  It sure brightens up our room, and with the Asiatic lilies ready to open, it will smell up our room as well.  It should remind us of springtime, which we are missing at home. 

 

Even though we had much more work to do with photos, going to the Seaview pool was a much better idea.  The sun was peeking out of the clouds, and if we waited until later, it may be raining.  Showers can be so frequent and brief here, that it isn’t even in the forecast.  The most people that were outside today were the smokers, who use the starboard side of deck eight. 

 

Anyway, we got our lounges all set with towels, and it began too sprinkle.  The two other guests near us took their stuff and ran.  We simply covered up with towels and waited it out.  It stopped, and we stayed.  Actually it felt really good.  Right now, we are sailing in a northwesterly direction, and getting closer to the Equator again.  Have to remember to use the sun block, since the rays are intense here.  With a strong breeze blowing across the decks, it was deceivingly comfortable. 

 

Time for lunch, we headed for the Lido, where Doreen made the perfect sandwich on a ciabatta roll.  She always insists that we try the pizza, so we always make her happy and take two small slices.  We are so happy to have this sandwich service, since it only happens on the grand cruises, we understand.  One day we will have to try the wraps that are made with a large tortilla shell and whatever fillings you want.  Doreen puts these in griddle, and they sure look tasty.  As we seldom indulge with sandwiches at home, this is a treat for us now.

 

Lectures went on as usual, with Ian speaking about Semarang and Singapore.   It has been a few years since we visited Semarang, and we needed to watch his presentation to bring it all back to us.  The big attraction there has to be the temple complex at Borobudur, where we have toured at least twice.  We’ll probably navigate our way to town on the shuttle.

 

The final movie screening of the Academy Awards winners was shown in the Wajang.  It was Green Book, the winner for best picture.  We shall catch this one when it comes to the TV. 

 

We had a special event for the President’s Club members before dinner, the second one of this cruise.  It was an invitation to an Indonesian-Themed Cocktail Party, held in the atrium deck three. It went with tonight’s gala theme in the dining room. The entire area was cordoned off and set with cocktail tables and a full service bar.  We were all greeted by Captain Mercer, Henk M, and Hamish as we entered the atrium.  Strips of lighting with red bulbs added to the Indonesian theme, but sure played havoc with the camera.  Everyone looked very sun burnt.  But we did have some tasty appetizers of chicken, beef, and lamb satay skewers, as well as shrimp, assorted nuts, and small shrimp crackers. 

 

We always stand at a high table with Barb, and eventually several other people we have known for a long time joined us.  Officers were present, including the Captain and his wife Karen.  They made their obligatory rounds through the crowd of about 48 of us, then ended up at our table for a bit.  We all must have been talking about some interesting things, because both Jonathon and Karen ended up coming back towards the end of the party to see what they had missed in the conversation.  Guess we were talking about the “old days” and some amusing stories we all remembered.

 

The party broke up shortly after 8pm, but we took our time going to the dining room.  We had forgotten that it was a gala evening, and the fact that we might have an officer.  By the time we all arrived, we found the ship’s doctor, a young fellow from Cape Town, was just being seated.  Actually, he was the crew doctor, but he has taken over for the lady doctor that went home in Auckland or Sydney.  Barb cracks us up….the first thing she asked Christian was are you married and how old are you?  The answer was no and 29 years old.  Golly, they are getting younger by the day.  Anyway, Barb said she had a granddaughter that was just right for him, jokingly, of course.  But from then on, the evening went just fine.  It was her way of breaking the ice and it worked.  The doctor has worked for HAL only a short time, so many upcoming ports are new to him.  We had learned at the cocktail party from a reliable source that the special event will take place in Amsterdam, and it will be very special we understand.

 

The dinner menu was almost 100% Indonesian.  We did have spring rolls, a shrimp appetizer, and bami goreng and ristaffel (sp?).  One of us had Caesar salad with chicken again.  It is always consistently excellent.  For dessert, we shared a small slice of carrot cake, probably the best one we have tasted yet.  All in all, it was a nice evening.

 

The show tonight was A La Mode, a musical journey around countries of Europe, performed by the singers and dancers of the Amsterdam.  As always, they did a great job. 

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Report #61   Semarang, Java, Indonesia   March 20, 2019   Wednesday   Chance of rain & 87 degrees     Part #1 Of 3     80  Pictures

 

A city of one million people, Semarang is located on the north side of the island of Java.  The Chinese were the first to live here in the 15th century, but that changed with the arrival of the Dutch East India Company in the 18th century. They built roads, railways, and basic infrastructure, helping to make Semarang a thriving trading area.  Many remaining samples of their colonial Dutch buildings can be seen throughout the city today. 

 

In 1942, the Japanese military occupied Semarang until 1945, making this important to their history.  But the most important find outside of town, was the discovery of the well-hidden ruins of Borobudur Temple, constructed by Buddhist kings prior to 850 AD.  The largest single monument in the Southern Hemisphere, this 10 stone-tiered terrace monument was buried over 1000 years by dense jungle growth.  Discovered in 1914 by Sir Stamford Raffles of the Dutch East India Company,  this restored monument has 72 stupas (resembling upside down bells) and statues, which have been put back together with 2 million pieces of andesite stone.  With one Great Stupa on the very top, or Nirvana, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has become the most visited of all sites in Indonesia.  And we have had the pleasure of making three trips to see it since 2001. 

 

Tours there today from shore excursions ran $220 for a round trip bus ride, or $260 for a train ride up, and a bus ride back.  We have done both, but found the antique train ride to be a hoot.  Other tours included a city trip for $100. or a ride to the highlands and a tropical plantation for $135.  All of the excursions included a lunch.  Also, many smart folks arranged independent tours.  That included Captain Mercer and Karen, who took a private car to the temple with a police escort.  Had to laugh when we reminded him last night that he best be back by 5:30pm, or the ship might leave without them.  Got a hearty chuckle out of them for sure.

 

Well, the weather was quite warm and sticky, as the morning began with mostly sunny skies.  The clouds increased early on, and the humidity seemed to rise very high.  It never did rain here in the port, but we did hear it rained heavily as the all day tour guests were on their way back from the temple.  Lucky.

 

After breakfast, we went outside on deck three to see a group of Semarang dancers and another percussion band.  Their dance performance was over, but the group was posing for photos as some of the tour groups ran by them.

 

Back on the ship, many of the Indonesian crew members had family arriving for part of the day.  Shiv told us when we paid him a visit, that they had prepared box lunches for 800 family members.  The dining room was set up once again with the box lunch and beverages for all of the visitors.  The left over bowler hats we got as gifts a month ago, were piled by the dining room entrance for the kids to take home.  We saw some of the parents wearing them too. 

 

Those who chose not to stay on the ship, went off with their wives, husbands, and kids for a day in the city.  Or if they lived close enough, they spent a day at home.  Slam said that his family had been here on the ship twice already, and he intended to leave for the day.

 

We left the ship after 10am, and passed through the terminal, which was a rather long walk in the heat.  In the waiting area inside the terminal, an Indonesian band was playing country western music, and they were really good.  Passing through another small building, we strolled by several stalls with souvenirs, much the same as we saw in Bali. Bet their prices were even better here.  But since we did not need anything, we continued on to the waiting shuttle bus.  The bus was fairly new and comfortable for the 30 minute 6 mile drive to the Ciputra Mall, although the newsletter mentioned taking us to the Simpang Lima Mall.  This turned out to be the very same shopping complex we saw back in 2016, the last time we were here.

 

Getting out the coach, we encountered many street vendors and taxi guys.  Prior to debarking the bus, the driver told all of us to be very careful with hiring a taxi driver for a tour.  His suggestion was to negotiate a price, but don’t pay the money until your tour was complete.  Otherwise, the driver might take you for a useless ride.  Good to remember in the future.

 

The shops and restaurants in this shopping complex were much like any other mall you might find world-wide.  There were at least three levels of mostly shoe stores, some clothing, and lots of electronics.  A couple of department stores were there like Robinson’s and Matahari.  They do not accept the US dollar here, but they will gladly take credit cards or local cash….the rupiah which was worth 14,000 to $1 USD.  Sounds incredibly high, but when a Big Mac meal deal cost 40,909 rupiah, that equates to under $3 USD.  What a bargain.  We could have exchanged the money at the front desk, but decided we did not need anything here, nor would we eat lunch out.  The only pizza we saw was Pizza Hut, with a café that was mostly for the younger set.

 

We wandered deeper into this mall, and found that we were in the more Muslim side.  It was probably an older mall that had been connected to the new one.  The small shops became more like a flea market that sold clothing for women that included the head scarves.  There was table after table of cell phones and small electronics at this end.  Since there was little circulation of air at this end, we turned around and left.

 

Covering all three levels, we left the mall and went back to a waiting shuttle.  The driver did not leave until every seat was taken, which took about 15 minutes.  During that time, the vendors came to the bus windows hawking their stuff.  Using fingers, they showed their treasures and asked for bids on them.  A set of wood carvings looked interesting, but the fellow would not go down to $5…all they were worth.  He knew there would be many more busloads of passengers coming there today.  Although, he did come down to $10 at one point….a long way from the $25 he asked in the beginning.  The bus filled up, the door was closed, and we were off to the ship.

 

By now, it was after noontime, and the traffic was already at a standstill.  Once again, it took over 30 minutes to go the short distance.  Gave one of us a good opportunity to take many pictures of city life and the scenery on the way back.  Closer to the port, we passed by fish ponds where some men were using nets to catch a lot of shrimp, we think. This really is not the nicest part of town, so we were lucky to have the use of the bus today.

 

We wanted to check out the treasures in the terminal, but before we went back inside, we strolled over to a make-shift pigeon coop and aviary.  Going back to the building we spotted one lone vendor set up outside the fence.  He was selling the same wood carvings as the guy at the mall.  This time, he was happy to take $5 for the four wooden stick family.  Really looks more African than Indonesian, but we liked them.

 

At the far end of this terminal was a building with locals selling snack food.  We bet that most all of the crew will load up on these chips and crackers sold here.  One fellow was barbequing meat skewers on a charcoal grill.  Sure smelled good.  Sure enough, crew members were sitting there enjoying every bite.

 

Many folks were shopping for gifts and stuff in the terminal, as prices were really good.  And with Semarang as our final port in Indonesia, the sales today were probably really good for these locals. We bought nothing more, but did get a lot of colorful pictures. As we passed through the building, we noticed that ship people were still using the port’s free internet.

 

Sail away was delayed because the seven bus tours were late coming back from Borobudur, but only by 15 or 20 minutes.  The Captain and Karen were not among them, because he came on the ship’s PA system, and delivered his usual daily report before 6pm.  As he spoke about the upcoming sailing towards Singapore, we watch from the Seaview pool while the remaining passengers scurried to get back onboard.  Many of them had stopped on the way, and purchased souvenirs in the terminal. 

 

By the time the ropes were dropped, friends Susie and Eddie had joined us to watch both the sail out of the harbor and the last of the setting sun.  They  had been to the temple with our old travel group, and had a wonderful but exhausting time.  Bless their hearts, they still had plenty of energy  to grab a quick plate of food in the Lido, and be ready for the first show in the Main Stage, where a comedian, Glenn Hirsch, was promising a funny performance this evening.

 

Dinnertime found us joining Barb for a run-down of the day.  Barb had stayed onboard, also having been to the main sights in Semarang probably more times than us.  She was able to see and enjoy the many families that came on the ship today, reporting about the crew members that were seeing their new babies for the first time.  So sweet.  Our buddy, Don McD spent hours handing out the chocolate candy that he brought on the ship with him in Ft. Lauderdale.  Bet he made a lot of little ones very happy.

 

The dinner menu was still part Indonesian, and we ordered some of those appetizers, soups, and entrees.  It had been a long, hot day for many guests that had gone on all day tours, so the dining room emptied out earlier than usual.   And to shorten the day, we had to put the clocks ahead on hour this evening.  Odd, but we needed to be on the same time as Singapore.  Good time to keep a Clint Eastwood quote in mind:  Keep your eyes on the horizon and your nose to the wind.  Will do, Clint.

 

Tomorrow will be a special day at sea as we cross over the Equator once again.  This time, we will have the ceremony that insures our safe passage.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

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9 hours ago, WCB said:

Report #61   Semarang, Java, Indonesia   March 20, 2019   Wednesday   Chance of rain & 87 degrees     Part #1 Of 3     80  Pictures

In 1942, the Japanese military occupied Semarang until 1945, making this important to their history.  But the most important find outside of town, was the discovery of the well-hidden ruins of Borobudur Temple, constructed by Buddhist kings prior to 850 AD.  The largest single monument in the Southern Hemisphere, this 10 stone-tiered terrace monument was buried over 1000 years by dense jungle growth.  Discovered in 1914 by Sir Stamford Raffles of the Dutch East India Company,  this restored monument has 72 stupas (resembling upside down bells) and statues, which have been put back together with 2 million pieces of andesite stone.  With one Great Stupa on the very top, or Nirvana, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has become the most visited of all sites in Indonesia.  And we have had the pleasure of making three trips to see it since 2001. 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

Thanks for your informative thread, we enjoy it every day ! Your description of Borobudur Temple inspired me to google for more info. It is an incredible story. I did find one thing to correct, maybe it was a typo: the discovery was in 1814 not 1914.

Keep on posting and enjoy the cruise. We are joining the cruise in Barcelona.

Tom and Jerie

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Report #62    Day at Sea   March 21, 2019   Thursday   Partly sunny & 82 degrees     Part#1 Of 1     60  Pictures

 

We had a different type of sea day, because we needed to have a ceremony to insure safe passage for our vessel and the officers, crew, and her passengers.  Of course, we are talking about the King Neptune Ceremony, which was held in the Lido Pool at 10am this morning.  Guess it will count as we will not physically cross the magic line until later this evening.

 

Anyway, an average amount of passengers showed up, taking the seats around the pool.  We always go directly to deck nine, where we can get the best over-all shots of the happenings down below.  Considering the heat of the day, many folks who are already “shellbacks”, or frequent sailors, passed on the show, or like us, stayed for only part of it.  We may have stayed longer, but a rude man was stepping on our heels trying to get photos for himself.  Funny, there was room at the railing, but he must have thought we had the best spot.  Go figure…..

 

In the old days, a willing group of passengers were the prisoners to be slimed and dunked.  These days, with the danger of accidents happening, only crew members participate in the festivities.  And besides, who else really wants to kiss that big old ugly fish?  When we got back to our room later in the afternoon, we had nice certificates affirming that we are truly initiated into the Royal and Ancient Order of Shellbacks, which gives us all freedom evermore to cross the Equator.  Yes, we are good forever.

 

Despite the winds blowing a force 5 on the Beaufort scale, we went to the Seaview pool, and relaxed in the warm sun.  It has been a while since we were back here, and with two days in port coming up, it was a good day for the pool time.  Many passengers we have not seen around the ship were coming to the back and taking pictures.  We suspect these folks may be leaving in Singapore.  Not sure of how many are going, but this will be the halfway mark, and the end for some.

 

We discovered that our assistant room steward was headed home in Singapore.  His contract is up, and he will have a 4 month break.  Then our head room steward will be leaving in Amsterdam.  This will be the first grand voyage that we have lost both of our guys.  Once again, in the old days, the majority of the crew began the world cruise at the beginning, and stayed until it ended or beyond.  Now they are required to leave exactly the day their time is up.

 

Today we were required to pick up our passports at the Explorer’s Lounge between 1 and 3 pm for our stop in Singapore tomorrow.  The landing cards we signed will also have to be taken along to be checked by the Immigrations Officials on shore.  We did not see that notice in the newsletter until 3pm, so we were able to get the passports at the front desk.  Actually, it was easier.  Once we come back to the ship on day two, we will turn these back in for the onward ports.  And while we were there, we bought enough Singapore dollars to purchase our MRT tickets for two days.

 

Lunch was a light one in the Lido, because we had reservations in the Pinnacle Grill at 8pm.  We did take the time to watch the sunset, in hopes it would be great.  But with no high clouds in the sky, there was little color.  The best thing was we always seem to meet up with Susie and Eddie, who also film every sun set that happens.  Sure enough, they popped out at 7pm, and watched until they realized it was not going to be super special.  Visiting with them was special anyway.

 

So for dinner, we ordered Caesar salad, but asked for the dressing to be made the old way.  That is…..using a lot of garlic, tabasco, and a hint of Lea and Perrins sauce.  Finally, they got it right.  One of us ordered the lamb chops and the other had a seven ounce steak.  Both came perfectly cooked with sides of mushrooms, creamy potatoes, and fries to share.  Dessert was the best…..the berry sabayon stack.  The last two days, we have been deprived of all fresh berries for breakfast, so we knew they were holding out, and saving some for this venue.  There happened to be a special dinner happening in the back room, but it did not affect our service.

 

By the way, we have learned that one of the antennas is broken for the internet service.  The second one is still working, but when the ship’s stacks get in the way, it interferes with the signal.  Hopefully the parts to fix it will arrive in Singapore tomorrow.

 

We are SO looking forward to the next two days in Singapore….a most wonderful city to visit.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

 

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Report #63   Singapore, Singapore   March 22, 2019   Friday   Chance of rain & 91 degrees   Part #1 Of 5    80  Pictures

 

It’s not often we visit a country where we are forbidden to bring certain items ashore such as chewing gum, chewing tobacco, imitation tobacco products, pistol or revolver-shaped cigarette lighters, controlled substances and drugs, or endangered species.  And they added firecrackers, obscene articles or videos, and any type of reproduction of copyrighted materials.  Violating these restrictions, you could be subject to severe fines and or jail time.  Caught with selling drugs, you could be sentenced to death.  And here, in Singapore, they mean it.  And that is a good reason why this country is one of the safest in the world.  It works.

 

When Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British colonial administrator arrived in 1819, he found a tiny fishing village.  Five years later, the Sultan of Johor deeded this site to the East India Company, and it was then that a major British trading post was launched.  Over 40 years later, the British crown took control and made Singapore one administrative unit. 

 

For a short period, a dark one at that, the Japanese took over the island in 1942 until the war was over in 1945.  Eventually, this city/country became an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations.  What we see today is a most affluent city, attracting visitors worldwide.  And there is no doubt that it is one of the most expensive places in the world to live.

 

Guess we can describe Singapore as a melting pot of cultures with native Singaporeans, Chinese, Indian, Muslim, and dozens of other nationalities.  In a day, you can visit districts that belong to each culture.  Historical buildings reflect the British colonial influence, as well as being able to see churches, parks, gardens, numerous malls above ground and underground, modern hotels, and a massive financial district.  Even the hotels, such as the Marina Bay Sands, can be a destination in itself.  The underground mass transit system is the best way to access all of these sites, in our opinion.

 

The ship’s tours were numerous with short ones for the highlights to all day excursions with lunch.  The tour prices ran from $70 to $210.  Many of these sites can also be accessed by taking the MRT, and that was what we intended to do for both days we are here.

 

Even though our arrival time was 10am, Ian, the port guide, gave a Singapore Sail In talk at 7:30am.  The best aspect of the talk was the offering of Merlion Rolls, which of course, are the Panama Rolls.  These are such a special treat, we asked for a few at breakfast in the dining room.  Our waiter sent his buddy to hunt some down.  These puffy sweet rolls are filled with a tangerine/tapioca-like filling, although it tastes a lot like apricots. Dusted with powdered sugar, we love them. 

 

Going ashore was not simple.  We were required to bring our passports along with the landing card to show to the Immigration officials.  The good news was that we were docked at the Singapore Cruise Center, which is located at Harborfront Center.  It has been a few years since we were here, and it was most appreciated.  This terminal ties into the huge VivoCity Mall, and more importantly, it links directly to the MRT and taxi or bus services.   Getting through the checkpoint took a lot of time, since there were only eight agents and 1000 or more passengers and crew coming off of the ship.  Also, the Azamara Quest was in port with even more passengers. 

 

Besides stamping our passes and passports, we had to have a two thumb fingerprint photo taken.  Security is taken extremely seriously here.  Once through the checkpoint, we had to put our bags and ourselves through the xray check.  When we came back later in the day, we went through the same process, only in reverse.  The whole process this morning took an hour.  Then we were free to explore.

 

We know the way well, getting to the MRT.  What surprised us was the long line for the ticket counter, but then, we recalled that Ian had given detailed info on how to do this.  Probably with his suggestions, more people decided to go independent today.  The line seemed to be moving at first, but then it stopped.  Something was wrong, and we soon learned what it was.  The ticket machine had malfunctioned and no tickets could be sold.  Since you can only buy the visitors one or two day passes at a manned counter, the only other choice was to purchase another ticket at a wall kiosk, and find another station that sold these passes.  Not all of them do. 

 

With that news, many people bailed out of the line, and went that route.  We waited for a while, and lo and behold, the machine was up and running, and the vendor was back in business.  At least there were only two customers in front of us at this point.  Two tourist passes for two days cost $16 each, with a $10 refundable deposit.  So for $8 Singapore dollars ($6.00 USD) each, we can ride the MRT for many miles to our heart’s content for a day.  On San Francisco’s BART, we would have to pay a lot more than that for a one way ride from the East Bay where we live to the city’s downtown area.

 

Following the convenient booklet and a map of the system, we navigated our way to Chinatown, Little India, the Botanic Gardens, and lunch at the Orchard district.  Each stop was as different as they could be, which the photos will show. We called it a day of being like “moles”…..going underground with a series of escalators and long stretches of hallways, taping our cards at every entrance and exit to the various platforms. The trains are computer run and are set up with north to south, or east to west lines.  Each line is designated with a color, so it makes it easier to follow the signs and maps that are posted along the way.  We should add here that owning and driving a vehicle is quite expensive in Singapore, and the daily traffic jams are historical.  For that reason, this subway system is the best way for locals and school kids of all ages to commute every day. 

 

So our first stop was at Chinatown, taking the purple line from Harborfront.   Besides a plethora of shopping bargains, they have a huge building that houses food hawkers in tiny stalls.  You will see how the locals eat “fast-food” Chinese style.  And some of the items are beyond description such as duck heads, spicy intestines, pig trotters (feet), savory liver, as well as fresh veggies and fruit.  Did we mention that durian products are sold here?  It is mostly made into baked goods, but there is also a candy form that almost looked appealing.  Just don’t smell it, or bring it back to the ship in a raw state.  We cashed in a bit of New Zealand cash we had with us, and if we had missed getting money exchanged on the ship, this would have been a good place to do it.  Needing a couple of small calculators, we easily found them here for really cheap. 

 

Back down to the MRT, we went to Little India, home to many shops selling spices, snacks, saris, jewelry, brassware, and flowers.  The first visit was to a small store where we bought a poncho-like top last year.  Negotiating for two this time, we got a better deal.  Then the second visit was to their “wet” market where the meat, fish, and produce markets are located.  Know why they call it a wet market?  Because the floors are always wet from being hosed.  So wet, you have to be careful where you walk.  Here we saw lamb and goat meat, poultry, fish of all kinds, and lots of fresh produce.  After taking loads of photos, we went back down to the MRT.

 

The highlight of the day for us was a walk in the park, namely Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Singapore’s first nomination.  The beginnings of this garden began in 1859, where the British tested the collecting and growing of potentially useful plants.  The rubber tree happened to be of their major successes.  Another plant to emerge was the orchid.  A section of this park is dedicated to the National Orchid Garden, the largest one in the  world, featuring more than 60,000 orchid plants. We must have taken a picture of almost every bloom we saw today. It is a big “wow” and well worth the $1.00 Singapore dollar entrance fee (senior discount).  Over 4 million people visit this park a year, making it the most visited botanic garden in the world.  Although we had a limited time to stroll from end to end, we did make it to the major spots.  Walking around Symphony Lake, we saw small turtles and one rather long and nasty-looking monitor lizard swimming along the shoreline.  All of the lakes in the park seemed to be rather low, but we did not find anyone to ask if there was a water shortage here.  The last couple of years there has been a draught, although the grassy fields and plants all look really green and lush.

 

Did we mention that the day was hot and extremely muggy?  So much so, that the park was almost empty of visitors while we were there.  It felt like it could cloud up and rain at any moment, but it never did.  Bet it would have felt good and temporarily cooled the air off.  It was time to head back down in the MRT and cool off for a bit. 

 

It was time for lunch and something really cold to drink.  That would be the Hard Rock Café in the Orchard area, where most of the hotels and most exclusive shopping can be found.  Even though it was getting close to 4pm, they were serving a late lunch or early dinner.  Recalling that the hamburger meat was more like meatloaf, we opted for a salad and a duo of nachos.  Beer is taxed so high, that it is not a good deal.  So we had the bottomless Coke Zeros, which comes in cans.  We could not resist ordering a serving of mud pie to share.  It was the most expensive part of our lunch, but the most savored.  It was almost too cool sitting under their strong air conditioning, because when we went back outside, the heat hits you like a punch.

 

Usually, we would have made a final stop at Clarke Quay, but it was getting late, and we still needed to go through the reverse process of screening back at the terminal.  And besides, we will have another partial day here tomorrow to do more.

 

Back on the ship, we had what seemed like thousands of photos to sort through, especially the ones from the orchid park.  How these most beautiful delicate blooms hold up in this humid heat, we do not know.  Before we knew it, it was time for dinner.  Barb was there, as always, and we all realized that this will be our last night as a table for three.  It has been such a pleasure having such an intimate meal almost every night for two months, we will have to adjust for a table of five.  Knowing the two guests arriving quite well, we will have a great time with them too. 

 

At 9:30pm, there was a one-time showing of the International Dance Performance with a group of ladies from Singapore sharing their culture through song and dance.

 

We did receive two more pillow gifts today……ballistic nylon expandable carry on travel bags with wheels and handles.  These have to be the most useful gifts so far, and the same type we got last year.  They supposedly will fit under the front seat of an airplane if you choose to carry it onboard.

 

Looking forward to tomorrow, and seeing more of Singapore’s favorites.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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