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John and Diane's Lucky Number 7

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For most of us, changing 15 separate dinners into one Big Captains Dinner in the MDR wouldn't make any difference!  For most of us, the dinner was merely a special menu at a dinner held in the PG at which the Captain happened to be present.  It was very nice, and our table was "hosted" by a very nice senior officer, but we don't consider it to have been dinner with the Captain!  Maybe after another 5 or 6 world cruises ... one can only hope!

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Komodo Island, Indonesia

 

When we first looked out the window this morning, all we could think of was Skull Island from King Kong or the location in Jurassic Park.  We were in Slawi Bay, on Komodo Island, surrounded by the most beautiful green mountains imaginable.  We were here, of course, to see the incredible Komodo dragons, a species which looked veritably prehistoric and is the oldest living lizard.  Their average length is ten feet, they can run at up to 10 miles per hour and they can swim up to 500 yards.  In fact, since they are reptiles, in the mornings many of them come to the beach to soak up the sun.

 

Komodo Island is an Indonesian national park and, as such, no one is allowed to come ashore unless they are part of a tour.  It is just too dangerous to have people wander the  island without guides.  The most famous story is that of a Swiss tourist who, at the end of his tour in 1974, ran off to get “just one last photo.”  Nothing was known of him until a few months later, when guides found his eyeglasses and camera in the bushes.  Apparently the dragons eat everything, including bones.  Our guide also told us of a Singaporean tourist who managed to go off by himself, not to be seen again.  These stories sound like (bad) movie scripts, but they really are true.  

 

Each tour group has about fifteen people and is led by an English-speaking guide and followed by a local with a long forked stick.  When we were here several years ago, we wondered at the use of the stick until a dragon came trotting along the path toward our group.  The fellow bringing up the rear then came to the front, put the forked part of the stick over the dragon’s neck, and forced him onto a different path.  On this trip, both the guide and the backup man carry those sticks.  

 

We took the longer, two-hour tour, and as before, the most interesting place is the “water hole,” where dragons congregate. On our first trip there were about a dozen of them there, but this time it was three, but no less impressive.  They really are lazy devils, just lying around until one feels the need to head to the water for a bit of a drink.  We continued our tour, watching for more dragons and hoping not to see any snakes.  I’ve included a photo (of a photo) of one of the local snakes.  When a woman in our group asked if the snakes were dangerous, our guide said that there were only five types of snakes on the island and ONLY four of them were venomous.  Well, that made us feel a whole lot better.  Fortunately, we didn’t see a single one. 

 

One of the most interesting things we learned was that when baby dragons hatch, they find a hollow, dying palm tree, climb it, and make their home there until they’re larger.  Why, you may ask?  It’s so their mother doesn’t eat them!  Apparently Komodo dragons are cannibalistic.

 

Later we saw another group of three dragons, two of whom were apparently having their afternoon nap, but another who was wandering through the grass.  John got a great photo of him with his tongue out.  Then we finished up, walked (quickly) through the collection of tourist items for sale (if you like pearls, there are marvelous bargains here), and then headed back to the ship in time for a Dive-In burger to share and an order of fries.  

 

Today is Ginni’s birthday, so now it’s time to get the decorations to the dining room, dress up, and then meet up in the Crow’s Nest.  Tomorrow is Bali for yet another adventure.  

 

P. S.  The ship's internet has been down for about 24 hours.  Sorry for the late post.

 

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When we were there in 2012, we did the tour and afterwards I saw a dragon sitting up under someone's house!   Must say the island looks much greener than when we were there.  Great photos.

 

Ozcruizer

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Tuesday, March 18, 2019

Bali, Indonesia

 

It seems that Bali is one of those places on earth that people are drawn to.  It’s a favorite honeymoon spot, a place travelers look forward to, and a destination that, when you tell people you’re going there, they just say, “Ahhhh, you lucky duck.”  While we’ve been here before, it’s always a wonderful destination and there are always new things to see.

 

Our first visit here was in 2008, when a friend booked a car and driver and invited us to join the group.  We visited all the standard places, including several temples, downtown  Ubud, and the monkey forest.  After those monkeys, I really didn’t want to see any more of that species.  They reminded me somewhat of the worst behaviors of some of my eighth grade students.  

 

When we approach Indonesian ports, it is fairly customary for passengers to give their Indonesian room stewards “the day off.”  Both of our young men are from Bali and had their families coming to spend the day with them.  The front desk gives us a card on which we can express our wishes regarding our stewards and HAL is incredibly understanding of this situation.  Our friend Bob has one room steward from Bali and one from Semarang (tomorrow’s port), so his stewards took turns on those days.  The biggest problem we had was having to make our own bed (such a challenge!) and we managed that just fine.  We were so happy that in the middle of an 8-month contract, working ten hours a day, seven days a week, our young men were able to spend a full day with their families.

 

A few years ago, John’s birthday was the day before Bali, so we flew there from Perth four days early and spent an idyllic half-week at the Mulia hotel in Nusa Dua.  Our guide for three days was Komang, and we saw so much of Bali that we were ready to move there.  We saw temples in the water offshore, a ten-foot white python, family groups worshipping at temples, and even got in a bit of shopping.

 

This time, however, we had only a day to sightsee, so we tried to book Komang again, but he was out of the country so his nephew, Dodi, was our driver and guide.  There were seven of us from our table, since Handler didn’t feel up to a full day of touring.  We spent time at Batuan Temple, where we spent a dollar each for wrap-around “skirts” to show respect to the temple.  It was built in 1040, and while the evidence of age is on every stone, it really is in marvelous condition.  Because it was fairly early in the morning, it wasn’t too crowded, so we were able to get some great photos, including the requisite “everyone in a skirt” picture.  

 

Then we stopped at a batik shop which was made interesting by the ladies outside who showed us how batik is made.  We watched the application of wax and then the dye added to the fabric to make the designs.  Afterward of course, we went into the shop where John bought a new batik shirt (he already has two - from the same shop on different trips) and I bought a little triple-zipper case so I can keep various currencies in order

.  

 

Our next stop was a unique one.  If you like coffee, you’ll either love this one or be absolutely repulsed by it.  It’s called Luwak Coffee, because the coffee beans are fed through (yes, through) a little animal of that name, which we call a civit.  When the beans exit the animal, they are cleaned, shelled, roasted and become some very distinctive coffee which can be purchased for about $5.00 a cup.  Believe it or not, many people consider it a delicacy and it’s the world’s most expensive coffee.  As a non-coffee drinker, I took a pass, but two members of our group tried it and said that, other than the fact that it’s very strong, it was a perfectly adequate beverage, even considering its origins.  

 

We drove through some beautiful countryside, including absolutely amazing rice terraces and then up the hills to Mt. Batur, the closest volcano.  Indonesia is an active part of the Ring of Fire which surrounds the Pacific, and severe earthquakes are a common occurrence.  When asked if the volcano was active, Dodi replied that it had erupted ten years ago and was due for another.  He told us, however, that the restaurant we were headed towards would make up for any threat.

 

Our tables for lunch not only had a wonderful view of the volcano, but overlooked a beautiful lake which was partially covered with lovely fog when we arrived, then cleared, and then, by the time we were done, had come back in.  Lunch was an Indonesian and Indian buffet, and I thought it was wonderful.  Any lunch which includes fried rice, noodles, curry and sate (or satay) has to be delicious, and it was.  All this for the equivalent of $13.00 made for a great meal.  

 

Even though the all-aboard time was 10:30 for an 11:00 sailing, we decided when we drove to the ship at 5:00 to drop off Leslie that it was time to call it a day.  We were supposed to then go to a restaurant where tables are set up on the beach, but the fact that it was raining (and occasionally pouring) told us that our tour was over.  Contrary to what we had told Indy, our dining room steward, we all showed up right on time for dinner.

 

It was a really nice day in Bali and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.  In fact, since it’s one of our ports next year, we’ve already booked either Komang or Dodi and we’re planning to enjoy that dinner on the beach.  

 

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How nice that your cabin stewards got to see their families for the day.

 

Sounds like a great day in spite of the rain.  You all look great in skirts -- men included.

 

Great pictures.

 

Hope next year you get to enjoy dinner on the beach.

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Hi Diane & John!  I just started reading your Thread, and loving it already!  Thank you for sharing your adventures!  I just sent you a Friend Request on FB, since I don't want to miss a thing.  I hope you don't t mind!  

 

Mimi Woodward

 

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

At Sea en route to  Singapore

 

What a day yesterday was!  We were in Semarang, the capital of central Java, and 800 crew family members were at the port to greet us.  It was really tear-jerking to see reunions of family members after several months at sea, sometimes seeing babies for the first time.  Our assistant waiter, Oka, was met by his parents and his expectant wife.  In Bali, one of our room stewards, Wayan, was greeted by his wife on a motor scooter, and the two of them then rode tandem for two hours to their home to spend most of the day before riding another two hours to return to the ship just before all-aboard.

 

HAL is really wonderful to its (primarily Indonesian and Filipino) crew.  Not only were all 800 family members welcomed aboard, but box lunches were provided along with ice cream for dessert in the dining room.  All day, families wandered around the ship, seeing where their loved one lived and worked.  Our friend Don McDonald, a long-time President’s Club member, brings bags and bags of candy to hand out to the children.  It’s a highlight of his cruise and I think he even enjoys it more than those kids with a handful of chocolate.  

 

On our way to the shuttle bus into the city, we encountered many of these families and were given hugs when we told them “Welcome.”  Some wanted to take photos with us and others just gave us huge smiles, and there were tears all around.  Since we were headed into town, we missed much of the happiness, but we’ve seen it several times before and it’s always a wonderful experience.

 

The dropoff point was the largest mall in this city of 1.7 million, and the nicest thing about it was that it was almost entirely visited by locals, since Semarang is a business-

oriented city rather than a tourist center.  It is, however, the closest point to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world built in the tenth century.  We visited there in 2015, but because we knew it was going to be incredibly hot and humid and would get even worse after climbing its ten levels, we took a pass.  We wandered through the mall, stopping at Starbucks (hooray!) for cappuccinos and photo ops with several mothers and their children.  The kids were absolutely adorable, as you can see in the photos.

 

There was a huge city park across the street, so after we risked life and limb getting there, we walked its perimeter, trying to stay under the trees for shade.  This area of the world, eleven degrees south of the equator, is warm all year and provides a perfect environment for tropical plants and flowers.

 

After returning by the afternoon shuttle and doing a bit of business with the shops inside the terminal, the heat had really worn us down and provided a perfect excuse for a nap.  That was a good idea, since we had to turn our clocks ahead an hour to get to Singapore time.

Today was our King Neptune ceremony, otherwise known as “Kiss the Fish.”  If you’ve never had the pleasure of this event, it’s pretty entertaining.  The roof over the Lido pool is fully retracted, chairs are placed around the pool, and people crowd in.  In fact, one couple had their seats chosen by 7:30 this morning for a ceremony which began at 10:00.  We always stand on the deck above, where we get a great view.  

 

There’s a judge, King Neptune, and his mermaid wife, played by various members of the entertainment team.  Then there are five top officers, from the captain and hotel director on down, who serve to give “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to each of the “pollywogs” accused of something terrible.  After the officers are seated, the accused, all staff and crew members, are brought in and put into cages from which they’re brought out to be accused and kiss the (real) fish, a truly huge and ugly specimen.  Then they are put on long tables and covered in pastel colored goop before their judgement.  If they get thumbs down, they’re “into the drink,” or into the pool.  If they’re unlucky, they are given a thumbs up, which means they just sit on the side, covered in colorful goop which is made of unsweetened beaten egg white.  Of course at the end they all jump in, just to wash off the ucky stuff.  The pool, you will understand, is now closed for the rest of the day.  All in all, it’s a good time for all and we’ve never missed one.

 

We now have two more days on board ship and then we’re off to northern India, Nepal and Bhutan, rejoining the ship on April 4 in Muscat, Oman.  I’ll do my best to take you along for that trip, always depending on the internet of course. 

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What a wonderful day you had.

 

We have been on several ships crossing the equator and having the King Neptune ceremony.  The pool was pretty dirty when it was over.  Somewhere I have a picture of DH kissing the fish.

 

Glad so many of the crew got to see their families.

 

Love the pictures.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Singapore

 

If I weren’t going to move to New Zealand, I think Singapore would be high on my list of places to be.  You’re probably aware of some of their laws:  no chewing gum, no spray paint, no litter, etc.  You may be aware that several years ago the 18=year-old son of a diplomat spray painted some cars and, after having it result in an international incident, was caned for his trouble.  Laws are very strict here, but the result is a hard-working, well-ordered society where crime is almost non-existant and people are very happy to live here.  

 

Perhaps your other introduction to Singapore might be from Crazy Rich Asians, either the book or the movie.  If you’ve read or seen it, you also know that Singapore is one of the richest nations on earth and has more billionaires than almost any other country.  

The sight of limousines and chauffeurs is fairly common, and I hope they’re air conditioned because, as a city sitting one degree above the equator, the heat and humidity can be pretty intense.

 

Our tablemates all had great plans yesterday.  Ginni, Jane, and Leslie were off to leave as much money as possible in the shops, and Bill and Rich were off for Bill’s dream, an hour and a half in a flight simulator.  We saw lots and lots of photos and you’d swear they were in the cockpit of a real plane.  Bill just couldn’t stop talking about it, and even Rich, a retired Delta captain, had a wonderful time.  It seems like Rich and Captain Jonathan have a “date” to do the same thing next year, and as much as Bill would like to join them, he and Jane are doing the Grand Africa cruise instead of the WC.

 

John and I had absolutely no plans, so after we spent almost an hour in the immigration line, we headed for our favorite place in town, Clark Quay, the site of the first port in Singapore a couple of hundred years ago.  We wandered and wandered, and as it was about 12:30 by then, we found a row of restaurants which called out to us.  Ending up at a Thai/Chinese place on the water, ordering satay, fried rice, and chicken curry (which went well on the rice).  A beer and a cider helped cool the curry’s heat, and an hour later, we were on our way again to sightsee on foot, with our goal being the amazingly beautiful St. Andrew’s Cathedral, an Anglican church which began when the English moved into Singapore.  

 

Finally it was time to take the (spotlessly clean) subway back to our port.  We docked adjoining a three-story mall, and I think a lot of people never even left the mall.  We had time for a short nap, a welcome shower, and then it was one of our favorite evenings of the cruise:  Champagne Under the Stars.  At 6:30 we reported to Deck 9, just above the Deck 8 aft pool.  A platform had been erected so that the Piano Bar entertainer could perform for a couple of hours for our pleasure (and the pleasure of the passengers who brought their Lido dinners outside to listen).  For those of us “upstairs,” we began with glasses of a lovely French brut rose, and all six of us found it delightful.  Then the first “course” was served, a selection of four small bites, mostly seafood, that whetted our appetites.  Next was another French Champagne which was good, but not as good as the first.  Our second “course” was another plate of four bites, including a small roll of seasoned roast beef which was a general hit.  Finally came the plate of four different desserts (small again), and with it was served Veuve Cliquot, one of my favorite bubblies.  The nice thing about all of this was that the bubbles just kept coming.  I believe that Jacques, the cellermaster, tries to average one bottle per person.  I think our table managed that goal!  

 

We finished eating and drinking, chatted with Captain Jonathan, Karen and Hazel for another half hour, and then wandered off to bed.  There was a Singaporean cultural show, but we took a pass on that and fell fast asleep.

 

This afternoon at 4:25 we head off to New Delhi, and we can hardly wait.  We’ve skipped Indian restaurants for the last few days, just waiting for the real thing.

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Singapore to Delhi to Kathmandu

 

“I’m goin’ to Kathmandu” said Bob Seger.  After leaving Singapore yesterday afternoon, spending the night in New Delhi, and then taking a 90 minute flight, here we are in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.  Somehow, I expected it to be small and quaint, but it turns out that four million people live here, out of a national total of 30 million.  As we flew above the clouds, we could see snow-covered Himalaya mountains on one side of the plane, but by the time we landed, it looked just like a big city.  One of the interesting bits about Nepal is that the time is 15 minutes ahead of India.  I thought it was confusing when India (the whole subcontinent) was on one time zone a half hour different from its neighbors, but 15 minutes?  C’mon.

 

The major adventure last evening was getting through immigration in New Delhi.  You know how you stand around waiting for your luggage to come around the carousel? 

This was definitely NOT a problem last evening.  We spent 50 minutes in the immigration queue, watching it move with the speed of a glacier.  Finally, finally, it was our turn and we followed the directions to the letter, not wanting to impede the process.  By the time we finished and arrived at the luggage area, all of it had been removed from the carousel and placed on the floor next to it.  

 

Then our Indian travel agent Ajay (of Distant India Journeys) was waiting for us and we were on our way for a very short overnight stay at a very nice hotel.  We’ve used Ajay as our TA here since 2008, when he arranged the most wonderful tour of India’s “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur), staying at Oberoi hotels.  For five days, with airfare, car, driver, and private guides, we paid $1700 each.  For five days we shadowed the ship’s tour, which had 40 people at the same hotels, on a bus with a guide, and it cost $5600!  John’s comment was, “But they get lunch and dinner and we only get breakfast!”

 

After the stress of just sitting on an airplane for six hours and then the queue from hell, we were ready for a beer and a bit of a snack, so we found the hotel bar and unwound.  Then, with a few hours of sleep under our belts, we had a wonderful Indian buffet breakfast and were picked up at 8:15 for the drive to the airport.  Our flight was scheduled for 11:45, but then was rescheduled for 12:25.  Fortunately, part of that time was made up as we flew, so we were in Kathmandu by 2:00, and after being picked up by Sam, we came to one of the most unique and charming hotels at which we’ve ever stayed.  It’s called Dwarika’s Resort (even thought it’s in the middle of the city), and I’ve attached a couple of photos to illustrate.  Although it was only begun by Mr. Dwarika  in 1970 with two rooms and has now grown to 68 rooms, it looks like it must be several hundred years old because of the red brick buildings trimmed with carved wood as old as the 16th Century.  

 

We had our own happy hour in the courtyard with beer, Diet Coke, and a platter of Nepalese specialties.  Included were crunchy pakora, dried buffalo strips mixed with vegetables in a very spicy sauce, fried soybeans which had the consistency of roasted peanuts, curried chicken strips and fried naina fish, which was about four inches long and was meant to be eaten whole.  These were accompanied by hot garlic sauce, peanut sauce, and a nice, cooling mint sauce.  We’ve made reservations for dinner at their main restaurant, and then tomorrow we plan to try their Japanese restaurant.  

 

Tomorrow we’ll see all kinds of things around the city and environs and, luckily, stay another night in this wonderful hotel.  

 

  

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

At Sea en route to Komodo Island

 

After a quiet and restful day, it was our turn for the Captain’s Dinner last evening.  During the world cruise, each passenger who is sailing the entire WC is invited to a dinner with the captain in the Pinnacle restaurant.  This year was a bit of a record, with more than a thousand passengers in that category.  That meant 15 Captain’s Dinners, each with more than 80 guests.  Since last night was the last, we only had about 65 people in attendance.  Many passengers love these dinners since every table has an officer and they get to meet new people.

 

Our experience has been the same on our three last world cruises.  I think because I’m pretty good friends with Karen, Captain Jonathan’s wife, we’ve been placed at the captain’s table, with me sitting next to Captain Jonathan and John next to Karen.  This year they skipped the long 14-person table in the back room and simply put six of us at a much smaller table.  We were pleased to meet new friends, Jenny and Don from Canton, Georgia.  Coincidentally, they live in the same over-55 community as our friends Woody and Susie.  They don’t know them yet, so Jenny told us she’s going to introduce herself to Susie when they get back home.  

 

The Captain is a very funny guy.  As he sat down, he sighed heavily and said, “The Last Supper - finally!”  I really don’t know how he manages to get through 15 of these, smiling and being charming, not only during dinner but for “photo ops” outside the restaurant as people enter.  The conversation we had about these events was quite interesting.  I guess the problem is not that Jonathan doesn’t enjoy them; the  real problem is the loss of revenue for The Pinnacle.  He said that the estimate is that these 15 dinners cost HAL $80,000 to 90,000 in lost revenue.  The suggestion is to have some kind of a grand and glorious event in the main dining room next year and call it The Captain’s Dinner.  I know this will make some passengers unhappy, but as we told the captain, we’d be perfectly happy with the new arrangement.  

 

The food and wine were, as usual, excellent.  We began with an dish called “avocado tartare,” which consisted of pureed avocado served alongside all kinds of tasty little things.  Next was a tomato bisque, my favorite dish.  We were given a bowl with what they called “tomato jam,” a lump of pureed tomato.  Over that was then poured cream of tomato soup and, when combined, it created a treat for the taste buds.  The fish course was seared ahi tuna, which I usually don’t care for, but it had so many things atop it that I thought it was actually pretty good.  

 

Then came the main course, small rounds of roasted veal and lamb served with little vegetables, tiny round potatoes, and a cute little slice of eggplant wrapped around something good.  The dessert, called chocolate mille feuille, looked wonderful.  There were two rectangles of dark chocolate layered with whipped white chocolate and decorated with berry gel.  It’s lent, so I don’t eat anything with sugar, but I really enjoyed my plate of strawberries and blueberries.  

 

Since dinner finished before 8:00, we headed to our regular table where our waiters added two chairs for us.  We stayed through their dinner, but we didn’t have any room for any more food.  The “hit” on the menu last night seemed to be lobster mac and cheese, and several people at the table enjoyed it.  We just chatted, had a glass of wine, and then enoyed “cork forking” at the end of the meal.  

 

Today it’s pouring out, so I’m sitting here in the library hardly able to see the ocean since the rain is pounding so heavily against the windows.  It should be a good day to just stay inside, take a nap, and enjoy life.  

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Ahhh, Kathmandu.  What a wonderful place in spite of air quality that makes you not want to breathe, traffic that makes you take twice as long to get anywhere, and streets that have more ruts than level surface.  When we came here, I really didn’t have any idea of what to expect.  I guess I did expect a fairly small city, but I was clearly wrong about that.  What I really didn’t  expect was the richness of cultural understanding that we experienced today.  This is a place which is responsible for cultural overload; the colors, the sounds, the smells all join to amaze the traveler, and we were the beneficiaries of that overload today. 

 

After a wonderful breakfast, including a full buffet as well as a full breakfast menu, we were met at 9:00 by Sarita, our Nepalese guide for the day.  We headed out through a great deal of morning traffic to the the historic center of the city.  It’s necessary to pay about US $10.00 to enter this area, and all of the monies collected are used to help rebuild the damage from the 2015 earthquake, which destroyed a great deal of the city.  

As we wandered through this center, we first found an open air market where vendors were just setting out their merchandise.  I really wanted to buy a game called “Tiger Moving Game” or “baag Chal,” which we found in our hotel room.  It’s a lot like checkers, where tigers and goats move alternately, and the tigers try to “jump” the goats so they may eat them.  I found a few of these board games, but decided to buy one later.  Unfortunately, “later” never arrived.  That’s usually a bad idea - if you find it and like it, buy it!  

 

We wandered through the old town with vendors trying to sell us all kinds of things.  They’re persistant, but when they realize you’re not going to buy their merchandise (anything from carved elephants to jewelry to scarves), they are still very pleasant.  

 

Then it was time to drive up the hill to Swayambhunath, which is the highest point in Kathmandu,.  It is a Buddhist site, where monkeys run free and stupas (bell-shaped structures) are everywhere.  We took photos of monkeys and then walked up about 200 stairs to another level, where there were probably two dozen stupas and dozens of monkeys.  We found a really nice oil painting of Mt. Everest (it’s much prettier than it sounds), and then wandered back down the hill to find yet another mask for our collection.  It’s the face of Ganesh, the elephant god, and when the $80 price got down to $35, I said “Sold!”  

 

Afterward we went to Boudhanath, a site which surrounds an enormous stupa. One can walk entirely around the stupa and find little shops which sell almost anything. This was our lunch stop, so we found a lovely rooftop restaurant and spent about an hour with satay, peanut chicken, and chicken wings (in a delicious barbecue sauce).  After lunch, we had very little time, so we made a quick circumnavigation around the stupa and then bought a tee shirt for John proving that he’d been to Nepal.  

 

Our last stop, and probably the most moving one, was Pashupatinath, a holy Hindu site.  There is a circular route which is taken by pilgrims. beginning with Varanasi, near the mouth of the Ganges river, and ending here.  The temple is huge, but because we are non-Hindu visitors, we were not allowed to enter.  Instead, we ended up chatting with some high school age girls who had been here to pray, and among all of us, there must have been 50 photos snapped.  Then we walked through what seemed like a small village to the river which runs through the area.  This was the place of cremation for devout Hindus, and we saw one body ready for cremation, one in the process of burning, and another just finished, where the attendant was sweeping everything - logs, ashes, and whatever - into the river.  It was an amazing experience and we were honored to have witnessed it.  

 

Then it was time to return to our little bit of paradise, Dwarika’s Hotel, where some wine was brought down from rooms and the four of us sat around, talking and laughing, and making plans for dinner at the Japanese restaurant.  

 

We have loved our day in Kathmandu and wish we had much more time to experience more of the city.  Tomorrow we fly to Paro, Bhutan, thence to Thimpu, and I imagine we’ll be equally amazed there. 

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"Our" overland adventure is fabulous.  The descriptions and photos of Kathmandu are enlightening and amazing!!!  Sensory overload must be an understatement.  Thank you so much for including us in this journey.  Cherie

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We were on the 2017 World Cruise as 1 star mariners (to begin) so when it came around to our turn at the Captain's Dinner we were put at the equivalent of the 'kid's table'.  No officer just two young girls from the shops who enjoyed the free wine quite a bit.  Very disappointing to say the least.  

 

We may be on the 2021 World Cruise so hopefully they will change it to one big dinner or do as Cunard does and have an 'event' dinner off the ship at an overnight port.  Those are great.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Kathmandu, Nepal, to Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

 

Talk about a 180 degree change.  This morning we were fighting the million plus inhabitants of Kathmandu on the way to the airport (or at least it seemed that way), and by 11:00 we were in Paro, Bhutan, a primarily Buddhist country whose national goal is GNH, or Gross National Happiness.  This is a country full of smiling, friendly and relaxed people who have signs posted next to the roads telling drivers to slow down and enjoy the drive.  Patience is a national trait.  

 

It had been a bit of a challenge getting here.  We were at the small Kathmandu airport bright and early (waaaay too early) for our Drukair (Dragon air) flight to Paro.  We would have slept a little longer, but the mother of all thunderstorms began in the middle of the night and must have shaken the foundations of the hotel.  Even though the thunder and lightning had stopped by the time we took off, there’s nothing like a flight through stormy skies over the Himalayas (with a peek at Mt. Everest) to bounce your plane around.  Rich and Ginni, as a former Delta captain and flight attendant trainer, don’t even seem to know that it’s bouncy, but John and I were pretty much white-knuckled all the way.

 

Arriving in Paro, Bhutan’s international airport, the first thing we noticed was the clean air.  It reminded me of mountainous Swiss towns where the air is so clean it almost squeaks.  This is similar, and our 45-minute drive to Thimphu along the Paro River, was just beautiful.  Bhutan is extremely conscious of having a “green” country.  They allow almost no industry and with only 800,000 people, the countryside as well as the cities are clean and beautiful.  In fact, the only “traffic light” in the country is the police officer who stands in the main intersection in Thimphu, the capital city, directing traffic.  

 

We first went to the largest fortress in the country, built in the 16th Century and now used as both a temple and a Buddhist school.  We had to remove our shoes, as we do at most temples, but my bare feet weren’t happy about the stone floors on a cold day.  Then we continued to visit a huge stupa where dozens of people were walking around it clockwise, all holding beads and a few carrying small prayer wheels.  Afterwards it was time for lunch, and we stopped in The Cousins Cafe, where a buffet awaited us.

 

Then it was time to get to our hotel, the beautiful Taj Tashi in the middle of Thimphu.  By now we really just needed some rest, so after we found the requisite ATM, we spent time in the hotel.  John and Rich really wanted a beer, but when we asked about the hotel bar, we were told that every Tuesday is a “dry” day in the entire country.  This is the only time I’ve ever heard of this practice.  I know that there are dry cities and even countries, but one day a week?  New customs and practices are always so interesting.

 

Dinner in the hotel’s dining room after a show of Bhutanese singing and dancing was really good.  We also enjoyed seeing their national costume, one which is worn by all citizens at their jobs and really just most of the time.  The men wear what looks somewhat like a bathrobe, knee-length and often in a reddish plaid pattern, along with knee socks.  The robe always has white “cuffs” that are about six inches wide and can be easily removed for washing.  The women wear ankle-length wrap-around skirts with lovely embroidered blouses.  

 

Tomorrow it’s a bit more sightseeing in Thimphu and then back to Paro for two nights. So far we really love Bhutan and are looking forward to the next days here.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Thimphu to Paro, Bhutan

 

The longer we’re here, the more I like Bhutan.  Our guide, Dorji, and driver Tshering are taking excellent care of us and make sure we don’t have to lift a finger.  That’s a little more care than I’m used to, but I guess I can get used to it.

 

They picked us up at the Taj Hotel in Thimphu this morning at 9:00, and our first stop was at a relatively new site:  the grand Buddha, the largest one in Bhutan.  Dorji told us that while the Buddha itself is complete, the entire complex is still under construction.  We were surprised to learn that while the Buddha was designed here, parts of it were constructed in China, and then shipped to Bhutan and assembled by Thai workers.  While we were there, a group of Buddhist monks was having some type of spiritual gathering, so we stayed away and left them to their prayers.

 

Our next stop was an interesting school.  Children in Bhutan have compulsory education until the equivalent of grade 10, beginning their instruction in English at age 5.  At the end of grade 10, there are examinations, and only those who pass are allowed to go on, usually to one of the four universities in the country.  For those who don’t pass, there is the National Institute for Zorig Chusum (or cultural arts and crafts), a vocational boarding school which teaches students in painting, sculpture, carving and sewing. What these subjects have in common is that they are part of the culture.  For example, in the sewing class, students make the school uniform of a goh (robe-like garment) for men and the long skirt and top for the women.  In painting, carving, and sculpture,  they learn to paint scenes of Buddhist characters.  Because every home and public building is decorated with traditional carving and painting, these skills help to reinforce the culture as well as provide high paying jobs for these students.

 

Then it was time to drive back to Paro, where we’ll stay for the next two nights. The best part of this visit so far was what we did next.  Bhutan’s national sport is archery, something we learned on “60 Minutes,” and today was an archery contest between two top teams.  The course is 145 meters long (one and a half football fields) with a team at each end.  The goal, of course, is to have your arrow hit the approximately 2’ x 3’ target at the other end.  Please consider here the challenge:  shoot an arrow that far and hit a small target.  The incredible bit is that they usually succeeded.  Of course they were dressed in traditional costume, and each time the target was hit, each team did a ritual “dance” and chant.  We were totally absorbed in the competition for about a half hour until it was time to go to lunch.  

 

After lunch we headed up, up and up the mountain to the Bhutan National Museum where we saw exhibits of photography, cultural crafts, and native animals.  I was really surprised to see that some of the native animals were rhino, crocodile, snow leopard, and, increasingly, elephants which come from India to avoid slaughter for their tusks.

The photo exhibit included several pictures of the third, fourth, and fifth (current) kings.  The present monarch took over when his father abdicated.  He is 35, his wife is 32, and they have two small children.  (Trivial information:  while Bhutanese are generally very good looking, the kings have been drop-dead gorgeous).  

 

From the museum we hiked down the hill, across the cantilevered bridge and back to our car.  From there, we headed downtown for about a half hour of a few errands.  John needed a shoemaker, Rich needed deoderant, and I found that I “needed” a solar powered prayer wheel as a gift for our (very funny) pastor.

 

Then - finally - it was time to drive waaaaay up the mountain to find the Hotel Como, a lovely 28-room place tucked away in the trees.  It’s has a very zen feeling, which I think we’ll need tomorrow afternoon after we complete (or at least try to complete) our trek up to Tiger’s Nest, a “must do” when you’re in Bhutan.  I’ll report in about our efforts.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Paro, Bhutan

 

            NO HURRY, NO WORRY

 

That was the road sign we saw on our way up to hike The Tiger’s Nest, a 17th Century monastery which really is up a “long and winding road.”  It’s described on Tripadvisor as “high altitude, steep incline and rough terrain.”  Boy is it!  We knew that this is the #1 attraction in Paro, so our Indian travel agent booked it for us.  We found that the road sign was the best way to get to the monastery, so if you get here, take the official Bhutanese advice.

 

We had read up on Tiger’s Nest in detail and found that one should plan 5-7 hours for it.  It’s about 2-1/2 miles each way, and I swear it was uphill both ways.  Since Paro is at 7,000 feet, and our hotel is about 1,000 feet above that, our final altitude of 10,240 feet took us up an additional 2,240 feet until we thought we could touch some clouds.  

 

For the first part (about 1/3) of the trail (to the cafeteria), one can rent a horse for $25 US and cut out some of the walking.  Rich and Ginni took that option, but John and I decided we wanted to tough it out, so we walked.  We met at the cafeteria, a really rustic  combination coffee/tea and vegetarian cafe with a very small souvenir shop.  We had planned for about 45 minutes on that segment, but 1-1/4 hours later, we got there.  After a cup of tea, it was time to continue our climb, and that’s when it got really interesting.  We continued on the wide dirt path for quite some time, and then came the steps.  Oh my, the steps are the devil.  When approaching the monastery, there are about 500 steps down to a bridge and waterfall, followed by 250 steps (they advertise 200, but I counted) up to the monastery itself.  You’d think going down steps wasn’t too difficult, but they’re cut out of rock and you’d better hold on to that railing (which was added several years ago after two tourists fell over the side).  

 

Dhoji, our guide, had accompanied us.  He has done this hike so many times he’s lost count and covers the whole thing like a walk in the park.  He told us that when he’s by himself it usually takes him about 2-1/2 hours round trip.  Incredible.  He took us on a tour of part of the monastery where devout Buddhists were worshipping and making offerings to the gods.  

 

The entire hike uphill (and down the stairs) was such an adventure.  We were excited to be doing it and although we weren’t very fast, we remembered the Bhutanese advice.

Returning downhill was a whole other story.  Walking down the 250 steps we’d gone up was pretty easy, but then came those 500 steps - uphill this time.  At one point I had to stop for a few minutes because I was getting a bit lightheaded from the altitude, but then I soldiered on.  We walked and walked until we returned to the cafeteria, where lunch awaited.  After some mixup about whether we would sit inside or outside, we were all fed and began the last segment, which turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic.  We just wanted to get down that hill and head back to our hotel.  Even though it took us an hour and a quarter to walk up that part, we got down in 45 minutes.  We were so proud! 

 

This had been the most difficult hike we’d ever taken and it did take us seven hours (including 40 minutes for lunch)  but it was so satisfying to find out that we could actually accomplish it.  A few people along the route inferred that it was wonderful that we could accomplish it “at our age.”  They weren’t just kidding.  We’ve done it, we’ll never do it again, and that’s just fine.  However, if you do get to Bhutan, you’ve just got to hike to Tiger’s Nest. 

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