Final Thoughts about Our 2015 World Cruise.

Ports of Call

Before we left home, we were expecting to be amazed and moved by the physical beauty and even strangeness of our ports of call. And we were. Coming upon the Treasury at Petra, climbing to the top of the monument at Borobudur, walking the streets of Mumbai, reaching the top of Mt. Vesuvius, emerging from the museum at Yad Vashem into the view of Jerusalem – these are just a few of the extraordinary experiences which have enabled us to become involved in the world in completely new ways. We also learned about the history and culture of each location, and we now have context for any news that comes from these countries. But we think something else is even more important: Everywhere we went people are just going about living their lives and getting along with their neighbors, despite differences in religion, culture, and language.

The Cruise Experience

Although we have taken many cruises and met many wonderful people, we didn’t realize that during such a long cruise we would be so affected by the other passengers, the crew, and the ship’s enrichment activities.

Spending four months seeing the same 1,000 people every day gave us many opportunities to become friendly with people we would never meet in the course of our normal lives. Whether or not we will stay in touch with them after the cruise, taking the time to wave hello, to stop for a chat, or to have dinner together has been one of the highlights of our cruise.

We interacted with members of the crew every day. They were always friendly, helpful, and willing to connect with us even though we all knew our time together was limited. They represent 50 cultures, languages, and religions, and they are all getting along and working together under sometimes very trying circumstances. We admire them and their commitment to their work and to their passengers.

We took full advantage of several of the enrichment programs offered aboard the ship, such as the Digital Workshop technology classes, the drawing class, and lectures about the culture and history of the locations on our itinerary. We particularly enjoyed the options for evening entertainment, especially the pianist in the Piano Bar and the production shows of the Amsterdam Orchestra and the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers. The quality of each performance was top-notch, and it was fun for us to mingle with these “stars” on the ship.

Now that we’re home, we are missing the people and the ship and the open ocean. We loved the experience of the cruise and feel fully enriched by it. We will undoubtedly take another long cruise someday, although there are many other types of trips that we want to take as well. Even though we’ve gone around the world, our travelling days are not over.

April 20-23, 2015 – Portugal.

April 22: Ponta Delgada, Azores.

After another night of heavy seas, we docked this morning in the city of Ponta Delgada, which is on San Miguel Island, in the island group Azores, which is part of the country of Portugal. Sometime during the day yesterday, we got word from the Captain that we would not be able to call in our second Azores port because of an impending storm system. So we will be in Ponta Delgada for an overnight instead. About the Azores: This is a group of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean, each island having its own unique landscape, traditions, cuisine, and architecture. According to a tourist brochure, “the Azores are considered to be a sanctuary of biodiversity and geodiversity and one of the best locations for Nature Tourism.” During our excursion today, I saw nothing that would make me doubt that statement. It’s a beautiful island, lush with vegetation, orderly, well cared for, free of litter, with awesome natural areas that people on our bus today were comparing to Oregon, the Amish country in Pennsylvania, and Switzerland. Anyone interested in hiking in this spectacular setting might want to visit www.trails-azores.com.

We started our day at the port, of course. From our vantage point on the ship, we could see the main street of the harbor area. It was lined with apartment houses, hotels, and shops. There was also a marina, but many of the slips were empty. Maybe it’s too early for sailors to be here. Included in the harbor were a recreation area with a swimming pool and children’s play yard and a waterfront promenade with several restaurants and souvenir shops. The green mountains behind the town completed this pleasant scene. Everything seemed to be well designed for the comfort and convenience of the cruise tourist.

The focus of our excursion today was a drive around the island to visit the crater of an ancient volcano which has given its name to the small village of Sete Cidades (Seven Cities). We took a four-lane highway out of town but soon turned off on a two-lane road into the countryside. Once we left the houses of the city behind, we saw mostly lush, green pasture land, dairy cows, and cultivated fields. Often, the fields were bordered with high stone fences, maybe 6-7 feet high. The guide told us later that different materials had been used for windbreaks over the years, so I assume these high and perfectly straight walls served that purpose as well. One detail I noticed during our drive struck me as particularly charming. Road and street signs were often made of white tiles painted with blue lettering and decorative flourishes. These tile signs were used not only for street names but also for signs which explained the history of a monument or the importance of a scenic vista. We were also taken with the fact that hydrangeas and azaleas had been planted along the entire mountainous portion of our route today. The azaleas were just starting to bloom, and April is too early for the hydrangeas, but I could just imagine how spectacular that drive would be in a few weeks with all the hydrangeas in bloom. Another interesting fact about the plants we saw, such as Japanese cedar, bougainvillea, tree fern, and lily, is that none of them are native to the Azores. Our guide said that Europeans brought them here from all over the world and that native plants are found in only a few remote locations on the island.

Our drive took us over the lip of the eight-mile-wide crater and down its steep sides to the village of Sete Cidades. We had a short stop here where we could walk around the town park, visit the very clean public restroom, order a drink or snack from a nearby restaurant, inspect a local church, or just admire the small stone houses that look like they could stand forever. Looking up at the greenery-covered crater walls from the vantage point of this town was quite a contrast to our view at Mt. Vesuvius a few days ago. Even though this village seemed to us to be in a truly remote location, it was nevertheless able to participate in one of the prerequisites of the modern world – garbage collection. A garbage truck was making its rounds as we were taking our break there. This service particularly struck me, I think, because of all the countries we’ve seen on this trip which seemed to have no concept of public cleanliness. Our route then took us back up to the rim of the crater where we could have a beautiful view of the two lakes which lie at the bottom on one side of the rim and a similarly spectacular view of the ocean on the other side.

The second part of our excursion was to visit a pineapple plantation, where the fruit is grown in hothouses. Pineapple has become an important export crop for the Azores, and one purpose of this plantation is to help tourists understand and appreciate this key product. The guide explained the growing cycle of the pineapple and its propagation and led us on a tour of several hothouses with pineapple plants in various stages of growth. FYI, it takes almost two years for a pineapple to reach maturity!  As is usual with such excursions, we also got a chance to do a little shopping in the pineapple store: pineapple jam (I bought some), pineapple embroidery, pineapple jewelry, pineapple scarves, etc., etc.

As the last port on our itinerary, Ponta Delgada did not disappoint. It was another amazing part of the world which we can now claim to have seen and loved.

Cows Walking through Village of Sete Cidades in the Azores

Cows Walking through Village of Sete Cidades in the Azores

Typical Tiled Road Sign in the Azores

Typical Tiled Road Sign in the Azores

Santiago Lake

Santiago Lake

Us in the Azores

Us in the Azores

Green View within the Crater of Sete Cidades

Green View within the Crater of Sete Cidades

Two Lakes and Village of Cete Cidades

Two Lakes and Village of Cete Cidades

Azores Pineapple

Azores Pineapple

View 1 of Ponta Delgada Harbor from the Ship

View 1 of Ponta Delgada Harbor from the Ship

View 2 of Ponta Delgada Harbor from the Ship

View 2 of Ponta Delgada Harbor from the Ship (with Mountains)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double Rainbows over the Harbor

Double Rainbows over the Harbor, Taken from the Ship Dining Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 16-19, 2015 – Spain.

April 17: Cartagena.

Late this morning we docked in Cartegena, on the southern coast of Spain. The harbor is enclosed by rugged mountains with impressive ancient military fortifications both at the water level and on top of the peaks. We could see military ships, commercial activity, and pleasure boats, so it must be a thriving port. The city has a long history, beginning at least in the third century B.C.E., and has been under Roman, Muslim, and Arab rule, as well as Spanish, of course. For us today, however, we wanted a relaxing, no-hassle day, and didn’t want to do any sightseeing, so we just walked up and down the main street, looking at the shops, sitting in a café for lunch, and doing a lot of people watching. We were so impressed with this city. The port area is fully paved, with frequent benches and inviting sidewalk cafes. Every street in the pedestrian area was paved with marble or other tile across the entire width of the street, i.e., between the buildings, so that no sidewalks were necessary. Even the gutter was nicely designed. It was a slight indentation down the middle of the street, and it was covered with the same tile as the rest of the street. So the streets were beautifully paved, but they were also perfectly clean – no litter, no garbage anywhere. Shops and stores were on the first floor of the buildings, and apartments were above them. Each building was unique in design, many with decorative iron railings, others with a more sleek and modern aspect. We found a small grocery store at the end of the pedestrian street, bought some typical (supposedly) Cartagenan pastries at a small bakery, and had wifi access and lunch of panini and paella at Il Caffe di Roma. As expected, we kept running into friends from the ship who were also enjoying the beautiful weather and easy walking. Another Holland America Line ship, the Eurodam, was also in Cartagena today, but the additional shipload of people didn’t make the crowds too oppressive, as has happened in many of the ports we’ve visited. The city actually seems very well equipped for giving cruise passengers a good shore experience, so I hope we bring in enough money for them to maintain their high standard of hospitality. This is a port we would be happy to return to.

April 18: Malaga.

Our port this morning was Malaga, one of the major cities of Andalusia, Spain. As in many of the other sites we have visited, the history of the area has been dominated by one major power after another. Phoenician, Roman, Moorish, and Spanish peoples, and probably others as well, have left their mark on this city, and our bus and walking tour today brought us to some of them. After a bus tour which gave us a flavor of the downtown area (wide and clean streets, parks, trees, fountains, 10-12 story buildings but no skyscrapers), we took a narrow and winding road up through residential areas to Gibralfaro Castle, which is a 14th century Moorish fortress located on the summit of a mount where a Phoenician lighthouse once stood. This structure has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Today, I found it a moving and peaceful place with stone walls and steps, ramparts, terraced planting beds, unusual plants, and expansive views of the harbor and the surrounding countryside. It reminded me a little bit of the grounds of the Alhambra. Our guide took us through a small museum about the history of the area. We needed his explanations because all descriptive text was in Spanish.

The Moorish influence on the architecture of Malaga appears in many of the public buildings but in the residential areas as well. Some of the characteristics that I noticed are widespread use of colored ceramic tiles, both ornamental iron and shaped wooden railings, orange roof tiles, and ornately patterned ornamental bars over windows.

Next, we drove back down into the city and began our walking tour among the narrow lanes (all fully paved with stone and perfectly clean) near the cathedral. First, we had to see the house where Picasso was born. He lived in Malaga with his family until he was nine, and Malaga has not forgotten its favorite son because his name is all over the place. [I wonder if I recall correctly from my reading that he didn’t like it here and couldn’t wait to get away?] We walked past a Roman theater in the process of restoration, with the bustle of city life going on all around it. The guide next conducted an in-depth tour of the interior of the cathedral, to which we were not attentive. But it was a good place to sit for a while. We next had a half hour or so to explore on our own, but the guide made a point of directing us to the main pedestrian shopping street, so off we went. As we found in Cartagena yesterday, this street is beautifully maintained and full of happy people. Malaga is a much larger metropolis however. On the way back to the ship, we drove past an 11th century Moorish fortress (Alcazaba), 140 year old ficus street trees, and a two-story carousel ride.

April 19: Cadiz.

During the night, we sailed from Malaga to Cadiz, Spain, through the straits of Gibraltar. We were near Gibraltar about 2am, so we didn’t even think about trying to see the Rock again. Besides that, we had a stop in Gibraltar on our Barcelona-to-London cruise a couple of years ago. As we were sailing into Cadiz this morning, we got to see a beautiful sunrise, since we were up early to meet our excursion bus. During breakfast, we looked out the windows of the ship to try to understand the nature of the harbor we had entered. It did not seem to be a natural harbor like the one in Malaga, but it had a breakwater and several piers to which different kinds of ships were docked, such as freighters, container ships, and even another cruise ship.

Our tour today was to be a walking tour of Cadiz ending with a flamenco dance performance, and our guide Dori was very helpful in orienting us to the city, to the history, and to the culture of the area. We started with a bus ride around the city, during which she gave us a few facts: this area was first settled by the Phoenicians in the 11th century B.C.E. (guides from other cities have said this as well); it was also ruled by the Carthaginians, Visigoths, and Muslims, and probably other peoples that I don’t remember; a cigar factory built in 1741 was recently closed and is being renovated for other uses; the mayor is a woman, the first in the 3000 year history of the city; the botanical garden was opened in 1892 and contains many plants brought from both North and South America; people from elsewhere in Spain regard Cadiz as different from other Spanish cities (I believe this is because the architecture has no Moorish influence, as we have seen in Cartagena and Malaga). Our bus tour brought us to a lovely beach area with a promenade along the waterfront, and we had a photo stop here. The morning was chilly, so there weren’t many people on the beach, but given the number of apartment houses nearby, I’m sure this area gets crowded during warmer weather.

We disembarked from the bus in the old city at Plaza de Espana. This is a lovely park which features a monument to the first Spanish constitution, which was instituted in 1812. The park is conveniently located just across the street from the cruise terminal and was to be a helpful landmark for us when we walked out on our own later in the day. During the walking tour, Dori took us past historical buildings and churches, and then gave us some free time at the flower market, which is found at the center of the city. This being Sunday, most stores were closed, but a flea market was underway. Curiously enough, the stuff being sold looked just like the flea market stuff that’s available in the U.S. We continued our walk, learning about historical figures who have passed through Cadiz, such as Christopher Columbus and Miguel Cervantes, and about more general types of visitors, such as shipping magnates and hotel speculators. At 11 o’clock we had an appointment for a special performance of a flamenco dance troupe in a “taberna flamenco” named La Cava. This was amazing. There were five performers: a guitarist, a singer, and three dancers (two men and a woman). Wow! The guitar playing, the unique singing style, and the moves of the dancers blew us all away. And the ambience of the restaurant contributed significantly to the whole experience. We were in a small, windowless space shaped like a T, with the stage placed at the intersection of the two parts of the T. We sat just a few feet away from the performers at wooden tables on wooden chairs. We were served tapas (ham, cheese, frittata, crackers) and drinks (sangria, wine, sherry, soft drinks). The intensity of the performance was riveting, and the whole experience was just like what I’ve read about in books (except no one was smoking). As we left the restaurant, the performers had formed a receiving line, and we bought their CD.

Our walking tour route then brought us back to our starting point, La Plaza de Espana, where a few people returned to the ship, but we decided to continue walking. The narrow streets of the old city would be a perfect place to wander for days because every street seems to have something interesting to look at: shops, old building facades, plaques marking some event or circumstance, entryways decorated with all different patterns of ceramic tile, etc., etc. And then when a few streets come together, there’s a plaza, which becomes a gathering point for families and children and passersby. We found a café with seating on the plaza before it and sat there for a while with hot chocolate and internet. Some ship friends came by and chatted for a while, so we felt like we were participating in the local life in an entirely appropriate way. We eventually left our table, continued walking a few more blocks, and then returned to the ship.

We have been so surprised and pleased by our ports in Spain. Each city is unique and full of the kinds of sights and experiences which we value as travelers.

Us in Front of Our Ship in Cartagena

Us in Front of Our Ship in Cartagena

Street in Cartagena, Spain

Street in Cartagena, Spain

Lunch Café in Cartagena, Spain

Lunch Café in Cartagena, Spain

View of Harbor in Cartagena

View of Harbor in Cartagena

Street Scene in Malaga, Spain

Street Scene in Malaga, Spain

Birthplace of Picasso in Malaga, Spain

Birthplace of Picasso in Malaga, Spain

City Beach in Cadiz, Spain

City Beach in Cadiz, Spain

Old Arch between Modern Buildings in Cadiz

Old Arch between Modern Buildings in Cadiz

Market Square in Cadiz, Spain

Market Square in Cadiz, Spain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side Street in Cadiz, Spain

Side Street in Cadiz, Spain

Gibralfaro Castle in Malaga, Spain

Gibralfaro Castle in Malaga, Spain

Fountain in Roundabout in Malaga, Spain

Fountain in Roundabout in Malaga, Spain

Male Flamenco Dancer in Cadiz

Male Flamenco Dancer in Cadiz

Female Flamenco Dancer in Cadiz, Spain

Female Flamenco Dancer in Cadiz, Spain

Plaza in Cadiz, Spain

Plaza in Cadiz, Spain

 

Tiled Entryway in Cadiz

Tiled Entryway in Cadiz

 

 

 

April 13-15, 2015 – Italy.

April 13: Messina, Sicily.

During breakfast this morning, we watched several groups of sea animals, apparently dolphins, playing near the ship. The ocean was unusually flat today, with no visible swells, and we had land to the starboard. As we approached the Straits of Messina, the wind came up making the water choppy, but it dropped off again as we entered the harbor, where the ship did a 180 to line up with the dock. We had previously arranged to walk around Messina with our tablemates Juliana and Roger, so we met them off the ship and started on our way, along with others from the ship, to a famous clock tower a couple of blocks from the dock. We arrived about noon, just as a lion was roaring. At least that’s what it sounded like, and sure enough, there was a lion holding a flag and moving its tail at the top of a series of figures on this clock we had found. Next, a rooster crowed a few times. Then, an orchestral version of Ave Maria began playing as other figures began a parade around their levels on the clock tower. When the music stopped, we didn’t see anything else moving, even though some of them had been still during the whole performance. By this time, we had lost patience with the whole proceeding and left.

Other than to find a place for lunch, we didn’t really have an agenda for Messina, so we started walking toward a restaurant which had been recommended to Roger by an Italian friend of his from the ship. By following Fabio’s directions and asking a few passersby, we found the restaurant and went inside. We were warmly welcomed and grateful that Roger speaks Italian because it seemed that no one there spoke English. Arancini (rice balls) were the important item on the menu in this restaurant, so we ordered them and a couple of pasta dishes. Everything tasted good, but what was more interesting than the food was the life of the restaurant, clearly a popular neighborhood place with regular customers who know each other and the staff.

When we left there, we walked in the direction of a shopping area, but since it was siesta time, not many stores were open. We came to the Piazza Cairoli, which is a city block in size and planted with a dozen or so fully grown trees, giving the piazza a somewhat exotic aspect. We were having a cool and sunny day, but I imagine that this piazza is wonderfully cool on a hot summer’s day. Since we had different shopping needs, we split with Roger and Juliana and went into an electronics store, one of Denise’s favorite kinds. We continued around the perimeter of the piazza and came upon a gelaterie, which had gelato in popsicles, rather than in scoops. It was delicious. We made our way back to the ship late in the afternoon.

As a city, Messina did not meet my expectations. For some reason, I thought it was going to be small, quaint, and backward. But it was none of those. Our port lecturer told us that 20th century earthquakes and wars have dictated the modern look of the city. It’s a busy port city with very substantial, but not very tall buildings which fill the space between the water and the base of the nearby mountains. It seems like a real city, not just a tourist destination (for example, many stores were closed for the afternoon siesta), and has any number of historical sites and cultural activities to offer the visitor.

April 14: Naples.

Walking out on deck this morning, I was particularly taken with the hulking presence of Mt. Vesuvius off in the distance, because that was to be the destination of our excursion today. We walked off the ship into the full-service Naples cruise terminal, where we noted a number of shops we could look at upon our return. Our tour guide, who is from Naples, gave us lots of facts about the history of the city, beginning in the 15th century B.C.E. when Greeks first settled here (somehow, that date doesn’t sound right for Greeks, but that’s what she said). One of her observations about Naples I found quite interesting: People in Naples are very religious – and very superstitious, although she didn’t give us any examples. Anyway, we drove quite a distance to get out of the port area. It’s huge. Warehouses, containers, cranes, and other port-support facilities cover many acres of the waterfront.

The bus followed the autoroute for a few miles, and then turned off onto local roads which were clearly built without buses in mind. We wound through neighborhoods of houses and apartments and shops, making 90 degree turns and squeezing through spaces that seemed big enough for at best a Smart Car! These neighborhoods were similar to many others we’ve seen on our trip, with some buildings crumbling and in disrepair and others nearby well maintained and decorated with pots of flowering plants. As we advanced higher up the mountain, we saw many catering facilities and hotels, as if people wanted to celebrate their occasions right next to the volcano. We found that interesting.

As soon as we left the buildings behind, we entered a national park, where we had to leave our tour bus and board a four-wheel-drive bus, which looked really intimidating, with huge wheels and army green paint. We wondered what we were getting into. This vehicle had a shorter wheelbase than our touring coach, and this feature plus the big wheels enabled it to tackle the task ahead – the next segment of the road to the top of the mountain. A really bumpy ride was ahead of us. At the point where we started, the road had been paved at one time. But maintenance has been needed for years, and today potholes and unpaved areas have made a mess of it. Where the road started, there was a low masonry wall on both sides which served as a guardrail, sort of, but as we continued further up the mountain, the wall became just a loose rock wall and then went away altogether. So did the pavement. At any rate, we were driven to a point about a mile from the top and had to walk the rest of the way. We had expected to walk some, but didn’t realize how much of a personal physical contribution we would be making in the trip to the top. The path went through volcanic ash and was generally edged with a post-and-rope fence which seemed particularly ineffective, since many of the posts were no longer stuck in the ground, but we took our time and made it to the top without any real difficulty.

Of course, the effort was worth it. The views as we were walking up and as we looked down into the crater were spectacular. We could see steam escaping from a few places within the crater, and the guide pointed out the different layers of rock which are the evidence of earlier eruptions. Even though it was a Tuesday morning, we were not the only people on the mountain. Several groups of school children were there as well. I wonder if they realize how lucky they are to have had this first-hand experience of Mt. Vesuvius at such a young age. When it was time to head back down, we picked our way through the lava rocks and ash, remembering to keep our balance because we could not rely on the rope railings to save us from a too-quick descent. On our way down, Denise and I discussed how the ascent of Mt. Vesuvius would be handled in Switzerland – undoubtedly with a smooth and efficient gondola ride.

Once off the mountain, we had to make one more stop to complete our day’s tour – at a cameo factory. I think this was really a rest stop, as I didn’t see anyone showing any interest in buying any of the cameos that were being offered. When we arrived back at the ship, Denise decided to walk into downtown Naples, and she returned late in the afternoon. She saw the Galleria Umberto, shopped in the city, had pizza lunch with Beverly, had a coffee break with Juliana and Roger, and shopped in the cruise terminal stores.

April 15: Civitavecchia (Rome).

Today is the 100th day of our cruise! This morning we docked in Civitavecchia, which is the port city for Rome. This is a busy commercial port with many fishing boats, ferries, and other cruise ships, but it also shows evidence of its ancient past, with a castle, ramparts, and Roman wall fortifications, all within the port area and sharing space with the modern commercial elements. Our excursion destination for today, however, was not Rome, but its former port city, Ostia Antica. Founded in the 4th century B.C.E., Ostia was Rome’s main commercial port and military base. It was located at the mouth of the Tiber River, which runs through Rome, but it declined in importance as the result of barbarian invasions and malaria and eventually died as a city and was buried in sand for centuries, thus explaining its preservation as a significant architectural ruin today. We had a wonderful guide who knows the city inside and out and who took us on a walk through some of its highlights. These were some of the types of structures we visited: cemetery, private home, laundry, bakery, restaurant, hotel, theater, forum, temples, warehouses, and shops. We walked along stone roadways, under arched doorways, and along brick walls which had all once been covered with a layer of plaster and then of marble. During recent times, in an attempt to preserve these artifacts, a topping of cement has been applied to the top of exposed walls. Walking in the footsteps of the long-ago Romans and their foreign trading partners and then being able to almost visualize where they lived and worked has been one of the many fascinating windows into the past which we have experienced on this cruise.

Since Ostia lies about an hour’s drive south of Civitavecchia on the autoroute, we got a good look at the Italian countryside on this beautiful spring morning. Unlike in some of our earlier ports, here we had cultivated, green, rolling hills often irrigated by sprinklers, numerous greenhouses, and several fields filled with solar panels, rather than crops. Since it was springtime, flowering trees and bushes and fields of yellow flowers were everywhere. Although we saw many eucalyptus and cedar trees, the ubiquitous Mediterranean pine tree is the one most characteristic of Italy to my mind (see Denise’s pictures).

Just as on our previous trips, we have been fascinated by the ancient history that is evident everywhere in Italy. We will be back.

Clock Tower in Messina

Clock Tower in Messina

Messina Lunch Restaurant

Messina Lunch Restaurant

Gelato Pops in Messina

Gelato Pops in Messina

Mt. Vesuvius Park Vehicle

Mt. Vesuvius Park Vehicle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path to the Top of Mt. Vesuvius

Path to the Top of Mt. Vesuvius

 

Standing Next to the Crater on Top of Mt. Vesuvius

Standing Next to the Crater on Top of Mt. Vesuvius

Looking Inside the Crater on Mt. Vesuvius, with Steam

Looking Inside the Crater on Mt. Vesuvius, with Steam

 

Galleria Umberto in Naples

Galleria Umberto in Naples

The Main Road in Ostia Antica

The Main Road in Ostia Antica

Mediterranean Pine in Ostia Antica

Mediterranean Pine in Ostia Antica

 

 

Baths Complex with Mosaic Tile Floor

Baths Complex with Mosaic Tile Floor

Ostia Antica Theater Behind the Pines

Ostia Antica Theater Behind the Pines

 

Arched Passageway in Ostia Antica

Arched Passageway in Ostia Antica

Example of Tiled Floor in Ostia Antica

Example of Tiled Floor in Ostia Antica

 

Laundry Building in Ostia Antica

Laundry Building in Ostia Antica

Inside a Private Home in Ostia Antica

Inside a Private Home in Ostia Antica

 

Restaurant in Ostia Antica - Note Marble Facing Stone

Restaurant in Ostia Antica – Note Marble Facing Stone

 

 

April 10-12, 2015 – Greece.

April 10: Piraeus (Athens).

Last year when we decided to take this cruise, we discussed with my Serbian cousin Jovana the possibility of getting together while we were docked overnight in Athens. We were so happy when we found out that she and her brother Jovan would be able to meet us. Before we left home, we booked a hotel for the one night. What a great hotel it was! As usual, Denise’s sleuthing turned up a gem: the New Hotel, 16 Filellinon Street, near Syntagma Square, in Athens. We would recommend it to anyone who likes a modern, comfortable, conveniently located hotel with a friendly and helpful staff. It was a nicely appointed, small, typically European room with 22 magic eyes arranged on the wall opposite the bed. The Greek superstition is that this charm wards off evil spirits, or something like that, but we just felt like someone was watching us.

We left the ship after a leisurely breakfast, walked through the cruise terminal, found taxis outside, negotiated for a €20 fare, and left Piraeus on our way to Athens. Thinking we might want a personal tour, the driver took us through the harbor area of Piraeus, with its cruise port, big marina, and small marina. The marinas were full of yachts, some of them as big as a house. When he understood that we just wanted to go to the hotel, he picked up speed and got us there without further discussion. When we arrived, the room was ready and we instantly logged on to the internet just because we could. Actually, Denise had business to attend to and was thrilled to have fast response time for a change. We got a text from Jovan mid-morning saying they could be at our hotel before 2pm, so we finished our computer work for the time being and went down to the hotel restaurant for a very nice lunch, complete with really good, dense home-made Greek bread, which was delicious with Greek olive oil. Jovan and Jovana arrived soon, and we spent a little time catching up with family news, then set out for a walk. The reception clerk had outlined a walking tour for us, so we took off in the direction of the New Acropolis Museum, which our port lecturer on the ship had recommended and which we all found to be perfect for our needs. It’s a new museum, clean and modern and containing artifacts from the Parthenon and other Greek sites. The map provided at the entrance clearly identified the best route through the museum’s collection, so we followed it and were amazed by the sculptors’ skill in depicting folds of fabric, horses in various poses, and of course all the people.

We wanted to allow enough time at the Acropolis, so we walked there next, going up the south slope, which was a little steep at times, but which had some interesting piles of stones and the Theater of Dionysus along the way. As we approached the top, we came to the structure before the Parthenon (I don’t know what it’s called), where crowds of tourists had gathered. After catching our breath on a bench with a great view, we continued up the steps and the hill to the Parthenon, walked along beside it as we tried to peer inside, and ended at the viewing platform just past it, with a 360° view of Athens. Before us was a solid mass of mostly white buildings stretching to the base of the mountains ringing the city in the distance. We could even see the Aegean Sea past the mountains. It’s really an impressive view, and one surely enjoyed by the ancient Greeks as well (without all the buildings). The fierce wind at the top reminded us of our last visit here, but it was also raining then and somewhat more uncomfortable.

We then took the more gradual route down from the Acropolis and started walking along Apostolou Pavlou, a pedestrian street with occasional vendors selling things like beaded bracelets, paintings, evil eye charms, bags, and jewelry. Ready for a break, we stopped at a café where we could sit in the sun (the air was chilly in the shade) and have refreshment and more conversation with Jovana and Jovan. I got a cup of hot chocolate, which was very thick, creamy, and delicious. We continued walking along streets with markets selling everything, past the Monastiraki metro stop, a cathedral, and a very small old Greek church until we came to Syntagma Square, the “modern hub” of Athens. Here we sat for a while on a low wall and watched the people and talked some more. Since evening was approaching, we decided to return to our hotel for dinner since we had enjoyed our lunch there earlier in the day. We had a good meal and more good conversation, and then Jovan and Jovana returned to their hotel and we returned to internet-land, where I was able to publish our Israel post.

April 11: Piraeus (Athens).

After a peaceful night of sleep, we were suddenly aroused at 7:36am by a wild clanging of bells from the Greek church across the street from the hotel. It was just discordant nonsense that lasted a minute or so, and may have had some significance for the Greek Easter Saturday observances, but it was a shock to us so early in the morning. After great showers, where the water flowed out in a steady stream of warm water, unlike on the ship, we went down to breakfast. Since we were in Greece, I wanted to try the nonfat Greek yogurt since I have Chobani Greek yogurt for breakfast at home all the time. It was good but just like what I have at home. I don’t know what that means really, if anything. We sat at breakfast until Jovan and Jovana arrived and then went out for a walk in the neighborhood. The hotel is a block away from the National Garden, so we headed there, strolled among the plants, visited a small zoo with birds and goats, enjoyed the smell of orange blossoms everywhere, and marveled at how this peaceful space is available to everyone in this busy city. We could see the columns of the Temple of Zeus ruins nearby and walked towards them for a few pictures.

By this time, we needed to start heading back to the hotel because we were due to be back at the ship by mid-afternoon. We shared sad good byes with Jovan and Jovana. We don’t have a specific date for when we’ll be seeing them again, but we’ll always try to get together whenever we can get to Europe. And Serbia is one of the stops on a Danube River cruise we’d like to take. Spending time in Athens with these two very special people has made this stop one of the highlights of our cruise.

After they left, we packed up our stuff and sat in the hotel lobby (because of its good internet access) for another hour so we could finish the Turkey post. We then asked bellman Spiros to call us a taxi to take us back to the ship. A female driver arrived, who wasn’t particularly friendly and who drove very fast, but she knew where the port was and how to find the cruise terminal gate for our ship. When we arrived and were settling the bill, Denise remarked that it’s great to find a woman cab driver. She smiled, agreed, and said women are always better. So maybe she wasn’t so unfriendly after all.

April 12: Katakolon.

We docked in Katakolon this morning, our second port in Greece, on a partly cloudy and cool morning. Wanting a quiet and leisurely morning for a change, we took our time with breakfast, did the laundry, worked on the journal, and read back issues of the Times Digest. After lunch at the Lido, we walked out of the dock area and were in the main street of Katakolon within five minutes. The part of this town that we visit is only one street long, with shops on both sides, and a waterfront promenade lined with cafes. There are longer walks that one could take, but we just wanted to be lazy and were happy not to be on a tour bus. After a little shopping and using local internet, we returned to our wonderful life on the ship. For the rest of the cruise, we’ll be heading due west!

New Archaeological Museum and Theater of Dionysus

New Archaeological Museum and Theater of Dionysus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon with Scaffolding

The Parthenon with Scaffolding

Jovana and Jovan Below the Parthenon

Jovana and Jovan Below the Parthenon

Denise and Susan Behind the Parthenon

Denise and Susan Behind the Parthenon

 

Family Behind the Parthenon

Family Behind the Parthenon

City of Athens with Temple of Zeus

City of Athens with Temple of Zeus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the National Garden

In the National Garden

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Katakolon, Greece - View from the Ship

Katakolon, Greece – View from the Ship

 

 

 

April 8-9, 2015 – Turkey.

April 8: Kusadasi.

We docked this morning in the port of Kusadasi, in Turkey. The day started out cool and cloudy and remained so for the rest of the day. The normal sight to see here is Ephesus, but we visited there on a cruise several years ago; and although Ephesus was archaeologically impressive, we wanted to see something different. So we signed up for an excursion which went to the city of Miletus, further south on the Aegean Sea coast, and to the Temple of Apollo a few miles away. This turned out to be a great choice. Our Turkish guide Izzy, who is a Sunni Muslim, told us a little about his country. Three languages are spoken here: Turkish, Arabic, and Kurdish. In 1924, Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet and decided to be a secular country, even though most of the inhabitants are Muslim. He said he always gets asked whether Turkey wants to be in the European Union; his answer is maybe. Evidently, they would be hurt economically in terms of everyday prices, but they would be better off in developing business relationships. He made a point of saying that Turkey is a significant member of NATO and takes the responsibility seriously.

As we drove towards Miletus, we got to observe the countryside here at the western edge of Turkey in the springtime. Once one gets away from the seashore, the terrain is mountainous, green, and forested. Olive trees are planted both in orchards and randomly around the villages. Eucalyptus trees are also common, I assume as the result of the Australian presence here during World War I. Even though English is widely known in Turkey and it’s taught in the schools, most signage is in Turkish. In the larger communities, apartment houses were the norm, all with balconies. The villages have smaller homes, where everyone has a small yard and often fig trees and a garden. Often a brand new home has been built next door to one that has clearly seen better days. Many houses and apartments have solar panels for heating water on their roofs, and we also saw several wind turbines in one town. We noticed that many of the homes are unfinished and asked Izzy why. Evidently, finished homes must pay more taxes, so they leave them unfinished for that reason. The Meander River is the important river in this area, and the wide, flat valley seemed to be completely under cultivation. Once, Izzy asked the bus driver to stop so we could see a group of ancient columns standing by themselves on the side of a hill. It seems apparent that ancient artifacts are commonly unearthed everywhere in this area. With evidence of settlements here since the 18th century B.C.E., that’s not surprising.

Our first stop was Miletus, the oldest and most powerful of the twelve Ionian cities in Asia Minor. Today, it’s a forsaken ruin in the middle of nowhere. Since ours was the only bus taking this excursion, we felt practically alone as we toured these ruins, a Greco-Roman theater and Roman baths. The massive stones and the engineering skill are still impressive even though weeds and the results of vandalism dominate the site today. As in several other places, we were accompanied by cats for most of our tour, but I don’t know if they were actually feral cats since they were friendly and obviously wanted our company. Our guide took us to the top of a hill behind the theater to show us the location of the ancient port. Today, it’s marked by a column poking above a puddle of water, and the ocean shoreline is now several miles away. As another illustration of western Turkey as a crossroads of civilization, we could see off in the distance the dome of a 14th century mosque. Before leaving Miletus, we got a chance to do a little shopping. They had turned a 14th century caravanserai into a tourist rest stop, complete with refreshments and some locally made (supposedly) hand crafted ceramics. So we bought a couple of heavily decorated bowls (as if we needed more). A few miles away was a small museum containing artifacts recovered from the many ancient sites in the area. The displays were nicely presented, aerial photographs of the sites were helpful, and the explanatory text accompanying everything was in Turkish and in English. I could have easily stayed here a couple more hours.

Our other stop for today was the Temple of Apollo, which dates from 560 B.C.E. If I understood the explanation correctly, this was not a temple for worshipping the ancient gods, but was rather an oracle, where people could come to get advice about the future. At least two other temples had been erected on this site, but they were destroyed by fire. Because of the nature of the carvings on many of the stones, the archaeologists believe the existing structure was never finished. The building today is a few standing walls and paved pathways, and the grounds are littered with blocks and clumps of partially carved stone. Unlike our experience with many ancient temples, we were able to walk inside the perimeter of the building and get a sense of the impression the edifice might have made on the original visitors.

Back in Kusadasi, our tour continued on to a presentation at a carpet factory near the ship. We left the tour at that point and headed for the shopping district, which was within a block of the ship. There were several nice stores in the area, but all of them had people outside urging shoppers to come inside just for a look. We came upon our friend Jim and several others while strolling here, and Jim’s recent purchase of a leather jacket convinced Denise that she might need one as well. So she entered a shop and eventually bought two jackets, one of them for Susie. She didn’t like the bargaining aspect of the transaction, but Jim had told her what should be her top price, and she did come pretty close to that. The sales people kept trying to get me to try on something, but I was adamant, and they finally gave up. In the meantime, they had given me a glass of apple tea while I was waiting, which I did enjoy. I had seen a sweets shop and wanted to stop in there before we returned to the ship because I was in need of Turkish baklava and decided I’d like a box of apple tea tea bags as well.

With all our purchases in hand, we returned to the ship to prepare for our big night out at Ephesus. HAL management had decided that the best way to show their appreciation to their 800 passengers was to host an evening of food and entertainment at the ancient site of Ephesus. So we all piled into buses and left the ship after 6pm. We arrived just before sunset, and Denise got some good pictures of the theater just catching the last rays of the day. We were served drinks and what they called “heavy hors d’oeuvres,” which just meant lots of them; in other words, we were not having a sitdown dinner. As one might expect at such an ancient site, walking here in the dark on the uneven paving stones and boardwalks was difficult – not necessarily for us, but for the physically challenged folks on our ship, who are considerable in number. But after dinner we all traipsed off to the Celsus Library for a selection of Turkish desserts and then back again to the theater, where we watched Turkish folk dancers and then listened to a concert of classical chamber music by the Aegean Chamber Orchestra. In addition to the energetic dancing and the familiar music, the ancient monuments were beautifully lit, and we had a most enjoyable evening. The evening was a little chilly, and having to negotiate the uneven pavement and the stone seating of the theater were often-heard complaints, however. One of the reasons there were no accidents that we heard of had to do with the crew. Many of our familiar stewards and staff were on hand throughout the evening to help the passengers in need of assistance. Their kindness and thoughtfulness were amazing.

When we returned to the ship, we were exhausted and went to bed right away. The next day I heard someone saying that they’d gone up to the Lido deck for more food after we got back. I found that remarkable.

Faustina Roman Baths at Miletus

Faustina Roman Baths at Miletus

Old Harbor at Miletus

Old Harbor at Miletus

Theater at Miletus

Theater at Miletus

Roman Road near Miletus

Roman Road near Miletus

Temple of Apollo with Rubble near Miletus

Temple of Apollo with Rubble near Miletus

View from inside the Temple of Apollo

View from inside the Temple of Apollo

Outside the Temple of Apollo

Outside the Temple of Apollo

Sunset at Ephesus Theater

Sunset at Ephesus Theater

Sunset at Ephesus

Sunset at Ephesus

Celsus Library at Ephesus

Celsus Library at Ephesus

Turkish Folk Show at Ephesus

Turkish Folk Show at Ephesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 5-7, 2015 – Israel.

April 5: Ashdod (Jerusalem).

This morning the ship docked at the Port of Ashdod in Israel. We had to be up and ready to go by 7:15 in time for Israeli immigration procedures, which was quite early for us. After that, we picked up our excursion bus number and made our way through the cruise terminal to our bus. It was a dry and sunny day, somewhat cooler than what we’ve been having in our previous ports. Ashdod is a major commercial port for Israel, with hundreds of containers and parking lots filled with new cars, and our bus took a while to get out to the highway. Our destinations today were to be Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum), the Israel Museum, and a walk through old Jerusalem to the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall). Our guide David was knowledgeable and competent, but he told us practically nothing about himself, unlike some of our other guides. But he knew what we needed to know about our destinations, and he did his best to help us deal with the city traffic, which was a headache all day. (We do have one reservation about him, which I’ve explained below.) The city was full of people observing both Passover and Easter, so we were there on an unusual kind of day.

The drive through the countryside on the 3,000 year old road towards Jerusalem was interesting for us because it provided such a contrast to the countries we’ve been traveling through lately. Both Jordan and Oman had desert landscape with very dry conditions everywhere. Israel is in the desert also, but irrigation and thoughtful agricultural practices have “made the desert bloom,” as they say. Orange groves, vineyards, many other crops, and pine forests give Israel an entirely different aspect, at least in the areas that we drove through today. As we made our way through Jerusalem towards our first stop, we could see that it’s a city of hills, white stone buildings, forested areas, and traffic. Traveling along city streets, we often had lovely views of the hills and valleys, some areas with green trees and others with closely spaced apartment houses. The guide told us that the overgrown terraced hillsides seen around the city are evidence of earlier farming practices which are no longer being used. He also pointed out the Hadassah Hospital, a big complex of buildings on top of a mountain that dominates the area. People from all over the Middle East come here for medical treatment.

Our first stop was at Yad Vashem Museum, which has been dedicated to the millions of Jews who died during the holocaust. This facility is on top of a hill and includes a number of buildings other than the museum itself, such as a children’s memorial, research facilities, and gardens of trees planted to honor righteous gentiles. The museum has a long and narrow shape, with rooms branching out on each side. The material is arranged chronologically, and the layout of the building makes it easy to follow the progression of events. In addition to displays of normal museum-type artifacts, such as items of clothing, children’s playthings, and family heirlooms, this collection is a media powerhouse. Printed and handwritten paper documents, art work, photographs, slide presentations, motion pictures, and individual interviews are all employed to impart a human face to this inhuman period of world history. The far end of the long building is an open window which overlooks Jerusalem and the surrounding area, as if emerging from the horrors of the holocaust the viewer can see the safe haven which was denied to the victims.

We then returned to the bus for a short drive to the Israel Museum. A visit to the museum itself was not on the itinerary, but we did see outdoors a model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period (in preparation for our visit to the Old City) and the Shrine of the Book, a round building which holds fragments of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a reproduction of the book of Isaiah. Our next stop was to be for lunch, and our drive took us through several more neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Most of the buildings and apartments have flat roofs and are made of a yellowish-white stone. Traffic was heavy, on this holiday weekend, but also orderly – few motorbikes and no tuk-tuks here. Highway and traffic signage is provided in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, but most signs for businesses and public announcements are in Hebrew only. In what has become a familiar theme to us, our guide spent some time as we were driving explaining to us how well the different ethnic groups in the state of Israel get along with each other. It’s like this: Palestinians live in one neighborhood; Jews live in a different neighborhood; and everyone is happy with this arrangement. And they all get along just fine.

Our lunch buffet was in a Jerusalem hotel which is owned and operated by a local farming and tourism kibbutz. The food was good and plentiful, although some people complained because only matzo was offered as bread (duh!). However, we felt rushed through the meal. According to our guide (we question his motives), the itinerary required that we visit a diamond and jewelry store during the afternoon. This shopping stop was not mentioned in our excursion description, and we think this time should have been allocated for the museums and a more leisurely lunch instead. We, and most others on our bus, left without buying anything, considerably annoyed at having had to make this stop. Next, we drove up to Mt. Scopus for a panoramic view of the Old City. Our guide pointed out to us the major landmarks and explained the route of our upcoming walking tour.

As the afternoon wore on and the foot and vehicular traffic became increasingly heavy, we were deposited at Zion Gate to commence our stroll through the Jewish Quarter, our goal being the Western Wall and the Dung Gate exit. We proceeded very slowly through the crowds of people of all ages. Perhaps because they looked so unusual to us, the orthodox families drew our attention and seemed to predominate, especially as they tried to corral their many children and maneuver their baby carriages over the large and very uneven stones which pave the streets and sidewalks. Intense socializing was going on, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the experience of the crowds and (what seemed to me) confusion of the afternoon. There was an additional element to the crowds which surprised us. Groups of young Israeli soldiers were also making their way through the masses of people. We had seen similar groups at Yad Vashem, and our guide told us that one aspect of a soldier’s initial training is to tour Israel’s historical and cultural sites as a way of teaching them why they have to be soldiers in the first place. It seems like a great idea to me. As for the city itself, there seems to be little to say except that everything is old, old, old. That’s not necessarily bad – just old. As we left the city to return to the ship, we passed buses and bus stops that were jammed with people and overflowing parks where barbeque cookers and revelers gathered together every few feet.

April 6: Haifa (Caesarea).

This morning we sailed into Haifa, a 3,000 year old city and our second port in Israel. The day started out cloudy but later was sunny and warm, almost hot in the sun. This is another large commercial port, with the normal cranes, containers, and parking lots full of new cars; there was even a train station nearby. Aside from the usual boring tan buildings which we could see from the ship, one tall structure with a distinctive pointy top caught our attention. The locals say it looks like a sail, and that’s where they have to go to pay taxes.

Our excursion today was to Caesarea, which is a coastal town and national park several miles south of Haifa. Our guide Sharon was one of the best and most passionate guides we’ve had so far. She loves history, her country, and Caesarea, and in her enthusiasm made us do the same. Before we left Haifa, however, we visited a site important to the Baha’i faith, a shrine situated within a series of beautifully maintained terraced gardens. Sharon’s commentary explained the origins of this monotheistic faith and its main tenets. It seems to focus on peace, which we could all use more of. As we continued on our way, she told us about Haifa, a city of 300,000 inhabitants. She thinks it’s a perfect city: religious tolerance is promoted and practiced, it’s clean, has great weather, is not crowded, has many parks and museums, and is the home of Israel’s premier technological university. She may be right about all this, but it’s also a very hilly town and probably not suitable for biking, if anyone cares particularly about that sort of thing. Aside from that, I would agree that it looks like a very attractive place.

Leaving the city, we drove along the completely undeveloped coastline directly to Caesarea, which has been populated almost continuously since the Phoenicians first settled here around 400 B.C.E. Roman general Herod, who ruled in the Roman colony of Palestine between 37 and 4 B.C.E., named the city for his patron Octavian Augustus Caesar. Herod was able to realize his grandiose plans for the city, and it became the headquarters of the Roman government in Palestine. The fortunes of the city changed over the years as it was ruled by Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, and Ottomans. The ruins that we can see today are the remnants of those earlier civilizations: a theater for 4,000 spectators, a racetrack, a harbor, a temple platform, and aqueducts. Our guide Sharon, who admitted to a special fondness for the site, was largely successful in helping us to visualize the magnificence of Caesarea at the height of its power.

Denise was moved by the experience of being in Israel, and we look forward to going there again in the next couple of years.

Landscape of Israel

Landscape of Israel

Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem

Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem

 

Yad Vashem Museum

Yad Vashem Museum

View of Jerusalem from Yad Vashem Museum

View of Jerusalem from Yad Vashem Museum

 

Shrine of the Book

Shrine of the Book

Model of Jerusalem During Second Temple Period

Model of Jerusalem During Second Temple Period

Traffic Sign in Three Languages

Traffic Sign in Three Languages

Jerusalem Houses

Jerusalem Houses

 

View of Old City - Note the Gold Dome

View of Old City – Note the Gold Dome

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Western Wall in Jerusalem

In the Old City

In the Old City

Baha'i Gardens and View of Haifa

Baha’i Gardens and View of Haifa

Caesarea Theater

Caesarea Theater

Caesarea Harbor

Caesarea Harbor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israeli Flag

Israeli Flag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 29-April 4, 2015 – Jordan.

March 29-April 1: At Sea Days.

We have come to enjoy our at-sea days more than we had anticipated, so for this post we’ll give you an idea of how we occupy our time aboard ship when we’re not off on an excursion.

  • Classes: Digital Workshop (Word, Windows 8.1 apps), drawing
  • Lectures: countries we’re visiting, Indian Ocean, Arab culture, Rappin’ with the Rabbi
  • Activities: family photos project, writing posts, laundry, walks around the deck, reading
  • Evenings: cocktails with friends or at the Piano Bar, dinner with our tablemates or other friends, shows (music, dance)

Holland America offers many more activities, such as fitness, Tai Chi, meditation, games of chance, bridge, watercolors, arts & crafts, dance, wine, cooking, trivia, but our list above keeps us occupied and happy.

April 2: Petra, Jordan.

Our excursion today was to Petra, first brought to our attention many years ago in the opening scenes of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Carved out of the red sandstone rock in the desert mountains of “Arabia,” Petra was, to my mind, the ultimate exotic location, and we knew that experiencing it would be one of the highlights of this around the world cruise. Access to Petra is via Aqaba, the port city at the southernmost tip of the country of Jordan.

This morning, we docked in Aqaba, which is Jordan’s only access to the sea. From this area we could see lands in Jordan as well as in three other countries: Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Our guide, a Jordanian native, gave us a few facts about Aqaba and about Jordan.

Aqaba:

  • It’s the largest port in the Middle East.
  • The impression is that “All Jordan comes here to work.”
  • The city is growing fast but only to the north since the Gulf of Aqaba is to the south, Israel is to the west, and Saudi Arabia is to the east.
  • In our drive through the city at the end of the day, we could see that it’s generally prosperous and attractive.

Jordan:

  • The language of Jordan is various dialects of Arabic.
  • About 12% of the population is Christian; the rest are Muslim. Religious tolerance is strictly observed: they celebrate each other’s holidays, support each other as needed, and receive equal treatment from the government.
  • It has the highest tax rate in the Middle East, with much of the revenue being used to improve infrastructure.
  • Although Jordan doesn’t have natural resources available for export, such as oil, two important sectors of its economy are manufacturing and tourism.
  • The government requires that Jordanians achieve a high level of education and that everyone study English. On our tour of Petra we found that even the youngest vendors were able to speak some English.
  • Women in Jordan can choose whether to wear the black robes and headgear which we’ve seen in other Muslim countries, but they can also drive, travel, and work in all sectors: government, education, medicine, army, police, etc.
  • Jordanians can travel freely except to Saudi Arabia, where they are not welcome because Jordan chose to remain neutral in some recent conflict.

Our guide today was a Bedouin, you know, those nomadic herders who ride camels through the desert and live in black goat-skin tents. But this Bedouin is also a tour guide. He was born in a cave in Petra during the 1960s (one of 16 children), was educated in Amman (the capital of Jordan), has studied abroad, and has served as tour guide to important people, such as Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and the Prime Minister of Indonesia. His commentary throughout our time with him was full of insights and facts which we would never have known otherwise.

For most of the two-hour drive from Aqaba to Petra, we followed the highway that leads north to Amman. This is a major truck route from the port to the interior, as we could tell by the numbers of trucks and truck stops along the way. Curiously, there were speed humps every few miles, which caused the bus to shift into a lower gear and sometimes almost to stop before we could continue. I wonder if this is the Jordanian way to control speeding.

Eventually, we turned off the highway onto a secondary road as we made our way towards Petra. The scenery for the entire trip was amazing. It reminded us at various times of parts of the desert southwest that we love so much: southern Utah and Colorado, Joshua Tree National Monument, the Grand Canyon, etc. There were steep, rugged mountains with no greenery except what was struggling along in the bottom of washed-out gullies. At higher elevations, there were places where rocks seemed to be emerging out of the alluvial plains, some in rounded piles, and others just in jagged clumps. Occasionally, we would see small herds of goats or sheep, always attended by a nearby human being. So there must have been some kind of vegetation which we couldn’t see from the road. There were no fences except around holding pens. Our guide also pointed out to us several Bedouin campsites, with the characteristic long black tents and people wearing long robes and headgear. Most spectacular were the distant views: from the bus we could often see for miles and miles into deep valleys with all kinds of rock formations which had been created by the wind and rain of the desert.

As we approached the modern town of Petra, which lies outside ancient Petra, the road descended through the mountains toward the town center. Off in the distance, we could see our destination, the red sandstone cliffs behind which ancient Petra was located. Built only during the past 40 years or so, modern Petra is a collection of exclusive hotels and of tan and white flat-roofed houses clinging to the hillsides. Stone stairways connect some of the streets, olive trees are everywhere (olive oil can be a family business), and signage is often, though not always, in English as well as in Arabic. Our tour bus had to negotiate the narrow streets of the town and deposit us near the gate in a parking lot with at least two dozen other tour buses. That gave us a hint about what to expect in terms of crowds. Actually, there were lots of people at the site, but given what we were seeing, they didn’t really detract from the experience.

When we arrived inside the gate, our guide started his commentary about the site. It has been populated throughout recorded history and before, but the monuments we see today seem to have been built during the first century B.C.E. by an Arabic people called the Nabateans. The influence of other civilizations, such as the Greeks and Abyssinians, can be seen in the architecture as well. To reach the monuments, we followed a well-worn path and then walked about 1.5 miles along a deep, narrow canyon, slightly downhill. This passage is called the Siq. The walls of this canyon have been sculpted by water and wind, and with our guide’s help we also noticed severely eroded man-made figures which reflected the business of Petra as an important trading center. At the end of the Siq, the space suddenly opened up into a wider canyon, and the Treasury was before us. What an amazing achievement! This is the most famous and outstanding of all Petra’s monuments. The space in front was full of tourists, camels, donkeys, and vendors, but the sculpted red sandstone is what attracted the eye. Our tour group stood together for a while as we took in the experience and the guide gave us more history; then we moved on down this wider canyon another half mile or so to view some of the other sculpted rock faces. We could see openings for caves everywhere and there was even a theater which could seat 3,000 people. We were given a map of Petra which identifies 36 different monuments which can be found nearby. We saw only a few of them. We would have loved to have seen the others but had neither the time or the hiking ability to see more at this time.

As for what we saw at Petra, we have to fall back on the picture is worth a thousand words concept. Denise’s pictures will show you what we saw in the hour or so we spent in the canyon. Just being there among the sculpted architectural structures and the naturally eroded stone passages was among the most moving travel experiences we have ever had.

April 3: At Sea Day – Transit Suez Canal and Passover.

Today, we passed through the Suez Canal. This is a sea-level waterway (it needs no locks) which connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. It was opened in 1869 after 10 years of construction. It is owned and maintained by Egypt, but according to international treaty, it may be used by ships of any country. We had to lie at anchor most of the day as we waited our turn to pass through. Dredging operations, the Captain told us, had disrupted normal procedures, and ship traffic was able to run in only one direction. Our forward decks were full of onlookers as the ship entered the canal about 4pm. We went up to the 6th deck, but there wasn’t much to see, actually. A few ships were anchored nearby, ships were ahead of us and behind us in line to enter the canal, a community of apartment buildings was on the left side (displaying hundreds of satellite dishes on the roofs), and sand was on the right. As we continued, we could see past the sand banks on both sides to the communities beyond. There was also evidence of the recently undertaken construction project which is supposed to markedly increase Egypt’s revenue from the world’s use of its canal. The ship was due to exit the canal after midnight, but we knew we would be too tired to stay up to watch for that.

Dinner tonight was the Passover Seder. It was held in one side of the Lido restaurant and included about 170 people. At our table were our neighbors from across the hall and our normal dinner tablemates, none of whom was Jewish. The meal was somewhat shorter than Denise was used to, but I thought the pace and amount of detail were fine. The food was also good except that each of us was served half of a chicken – too much to eat, so Denise and I shared one. Rabbi Starr runs a good service, and our tablemates seemed to enjoy the evening, as we did.

Jordan Desert Landscape

Jordan Desert Landscape

Modern Petra

Modern Petra

 

On the Path to the Siq and Petra

On the Path to the Siq and Petra

Obelisks on the Path to Petra

Obelisks on the Path to Petra

 

Our Bedouin Guide for Petra

Our Bedouin Guide for Petra

Entering the Siq

Entering the Siq

 

Walking through the Siq - 1

Walking through the Siq – 1

Walking through the Siq - 2

Walking through the Siq – 2

 

Narrow Canyon 1 in the Siq

Narrow Canyon 1 in the Siq

 

 

 

 

Narrow Canyon 2 in the Siq

Narrow Canyon 2 in the Siq

 

 

 

 

 

Eroded Carvings of Camel and Man

Eroded Carvings of Camel and Man

Walking through the Siq - 3

Walking through the Siq – 3

 

First View of the Treasury from Inside the Siq

First View of the Treasury from Inside the Siq

The Treasury at Petra

The Treasury at Petra

To the Left of the Treasury

To the Left of the Treasury

Us in Front of the Treasury

Us in Front of the Treasury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camels in Petra

Camels in Petra

Streets of the Facades in Petra

Streets of the Facades in Petra

The Theater at Petra

The Theater at Petra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jagged Mountains in Jordan

Jagged Mountains in Jordan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Desert Scene with Goats and Herder and Camel

Jordan Desert Scene with Goats and Herder and Camel

Tomb of Uneishu at Petra

Tomb of Uneishu at Petra

March 26-28, 2015 – Oman.

March 26: Muscat, Oman.

Early this morning, our ship docked in the town of Muscat, which is in the Sultanate of Oman, which is around the corner from Dubai on the Gulf of Oman, which is at the northern end of the Arabian Sea. From the 8th deck of the ship this morning, I found the view of the harbor in Muscat to be very impressive. The buildings are white, punctuated by minarets in shades of blue or green, and the town is confined along the water by rugged desert mountains immediately behind in shades of dark, medium, and light grey-brown. There were a few boats in the harbor, and on the other side of the ship we could see the breakwater and then the open ocean beyond. Our first impression that this would be a neat, clean, and orderly place was never challenged as we toured the area on our excursion.

Our guide for today was an Omani man of 22 who is studying tourism management at a local university. Ameer was personable, friendly, and well-versed in the customs and culture of Oman. And he spoke English very well. Like our guides for other locations, he gave us some facts about his country: Muscat is the capital city; Oman’s population is 4 million, of whom 98% are Muslim; Arabic is the first language, English is the second (this is reflected in signage throughout the city which is almost completely bilingual); the leader is Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled since 1970 and is very popular with his people; the country of Oman has no enemies – they get along with everybody; the government provides education, health care, and often housing for its citizens; there are no taxes; Omanis must marry only citizens of Oman or one of five other Arabic countries or risk losing the advantages of Omani citizenship; the economy is based on the export of oil (70%), fishing, gold, and diamonds; gasoline costs less than water; the favorite cars are Japanese because parts are more readily available for repairs; low-level jobs are done by the foreign population.

We drove inland a few miles over a completely modern highway to our first stop, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Along the way we drove past the same kinds of highway scenery we would encounter in the U.S.: car dealers, retail establishments of all sorts, apartment complexes set back a few blocks from the roadway, gas stations, government buildings, etc., etc. Also, we passed the biggest opera house in the Middle East! When we reached the mosque, we were immediately impressed. Normally, a mosque may not be visited by non-Muslims, but for some reason this one is open at certain times, so being able to walk around inside was a real treat. It was completed in 2001 and is organized in several sections. We entered through a gateway (here, we women had to cover our heads with scarves) into a lovely courtyard, with carefully tended lawns and flower beds, fountains and running water, and polished marble pathways. We proceeded up a few steps, removed our shoes (not socks), put them into numbered cubbyholes, and entered the women’s prayer room. This is a large room, maybe two or three stories high, with no furniture whatsoever but fully carpeted. Intricately carved wainscoting, ornate chandeliers, Rolex clocks high on the walls, stained glass windows, wooden beamed ceilings, and full air conditioning were some of the features of this room. We stayed here a few minutes while our guide explained the significance of what we were seeing, and then we went outside again and walked to the men’s washroom. It’s a room without doors and with a couple of dozen places with faucets where men prepare themselves for prayer by engaging in a washing ritual. Ameer showed us what has to be done as he washed his face, arms, and feet. Women do the same ritual but in a different building. Next, we walked into the main building, the men’s prayer room. This one had everything present in the women’s prayer room but on an even greater scale. It was actually breathtaking. I’ve never seen a more beautiful chandelier. It was made by Swarovski and weighed six tons. The entire floor was covered by one piece of carpeting, which had been woven in place by 400 weavers over the course of two years. Ameer opened for us a copy of the Koran and read one of the prayers. As we left the building, I tried not to be overcome by sadness that the beauties of Islamic culture cannot be more appreciated in the West. We returned to our shoe cubbies, retrieved our shoes, and returned to the bus, not much older but considerably wiser. [At least, some of us were wiser.]

Our next stop was a complete contrast. We drove back to town and got off the bus in front of the Muttrah Souq. A souq is a market, and this was one of the better open-air shopping experiences we’ve had on our cruise. As usual, stalls were set one next to the other along a pathway, and you could not take two steps without having someone imploring you to stop and look at a great bargain. We ran into several people from the ship, saw many local families with children, and even bought a couple of pieces of fabric (my idea of a perfect souvenir).

The last two stops were a few blocks away. First, we went to the Bait Al Zubair Museum, a privately owned and funded museum of Omani historical artifacts. It’s not a big museum, but the collection is thoughtfully and tastefully arranged in several themed rooms. I especially liked a display of wedding costumes, each with luxurious fabrics and incredibly intricate embroidery. The tour program allowed only 15 minutes at this museum, unfortunately. After a short drive, we visited the grounds of one of the palaces of Sultan Qaboos. When foreign heads of state visit Oman and Sultan Qaboos is in the country, they all reside in this palace. We, of course, could not go inside, but we were impressed by the location next to the mountains, the well-manicured grounds, and the colorful façade on one of the buildings (see Denise’s picture). When the bus brought us back to the ship, we briefly considered returning to the souq via shuttle bus but didn’t after all because we realized we’d had enough heat and walking for one day.

March 27: At Sea Day.

During breakfast as I was watching the sun on the water, I noticed that the ship had suddenly changed its orientation to the sun. Soon after, the Captain announced that he had changed course to avoid colliding with a pod of whales and that we should look to starboard to see them. I rushed over and actually saw them, not jumping out of the water and making a spectacle, however. Several of them were just swimming along the surface, blowing out of their spouts from time to time. Aside from flying fish, sea birds, and a sea snake, this is the first sea life I’ve seen since being on the ship.

March 28: Salalah, Oman.

After sailing all night in the Arabian Sea, we docked this morning in the port of Salalah, which is in the southern end of the Sultanate of Oman. This is definitely a commercial port: stacks of containers, four-wheeled cranes, pyramids of white limestone gravel, dump trucks thundering by, storage tanks, and no sign of a cruise terminal. The title of our excursion today was Leisurely Salalah, which perfectly describes our morning. Our bus drove us to the ocean, to the mountains, and around the city itself, as the tour guide, who is from here, explained to us the significance of what we were looking at. Before we had gone very far, the guide told us all about the Sultan of Oman, who was born in Salalah and who has a summer palace here, so he’s the local boy who made good. Having received some of his education in Britain and Germany, Sultan Qaboos returned to Oman in 1970, when he was 30 years old, took control of the government somehow (not explained), and started modernizing the country. He’s done a great job, from what we can see. Salalah is not quite as neat and modern as Muscat in the north, but it seems to have good infrastructure, and lots of construction projects are underway.

As we left the port area, we observed the countryside of south Oman from the comfort of the bus. The highway was modern, although the bus sometimes had a hard time negotiating the hills. The scenery was mountainous desert, sometimes with long views into nearby valleys. Occasionally, wall-enclosed houses appeared set back from the highway, some still under construction, but none with any greenery at all. Often, we saw camels walking in the distance or even next to the roadway; there was always a shepherd nearby because these are not wild animals; they’re too valuable. In many places where the road bed had been cut through the mountains, the cuts showed the pure white limestone which forms the mountains. Evidently, this limestone is a valuable commodity which is exported to India and other countries and is used in making cement, among other things.

Our first stop, strange as it may seem, was to experience a frankincense tree. Frankincense is a resin taken from this tree. It is burned in a little container and produces a fragrance which seems to be important for worship in certain religions (I assume Islam and Hindu, but there may be others). It has been a fixture in the spice trade for centuries, and our guide seemed to think that the tree originated in south Oman. [Not having good internet access, I can’t vouch for that statement.] At any rate, our bus stopped at what was evidently a well-frequented turnaround on the highway, where everyone got out and traipsed a short distance over a dirt path into a gully to see the tree that he wanted to show us. I noticed that passengers in other buses were led to different trees.

Next, we drove back along the way we had come and stopped at Mughsail Beach, which we had passed earlier. Our destination was at the far end of the beach, where high cliffs hung over a promontory on which walking paths and a ramp had been built to provide public access to blowholes generated by the action of the waves. We never saw any blowhole activity, but the views of the ocean and the cliffs from the pathways were stunning. The beach itself was beautiful, with a few amenities such as trash cans and shelters, but no people. Not one soul was on the beach. I don’t know why. A few minutes after the bus took off again, the passengers asked the driver to stop so they could take pictures of some camels which were wandering around near the beach. Being mostly Americans, they were thrilled to see real, live camels up close and not in a zoo. The guide told us that they are free to roam around on the beach during the day but that they come home to their owner at night for food. Nice life.

Our next stop was to be at Job’s tomb. As you might imagine, there is some disagreement about whether this is really Job’s tomb (not to mention whether there was someone named Job in the first place), but we decided to get what we could out of the experience. The location of the tomb was high up in the mountains above Salalah, and the drive up there through the mountain desert was beautiful. Just past the parking lot on the way to the tomb, bougainvillea had been planted and was in full flower – spectacular pinks and reds and oranges. Along the way up and down the mountain, we saw rural homesteads, more camels, power lines (the guide was proud that electricity has been provided everywhere), schools, and a number of infrastructure construction projects.

The rest of the tour we spent in Salalah, a community of 300,000 inhabitants and 200,000 camels. It’s on a flat plain between the mountains and the ocean. Other than coconuts and bananas there are few trees and little shrubbery. Landscaping around the sultan’s summer palace and, interestingly, in the middle of the roundabouts was beautifully done. That’s about it for greenery. In the residential areas, the houses seemed pretty big, and the guide pointed out that one house typically is home to multiple generations and to one’s extended family as well. The most common style seemed to be a two or three story box with a flat roof. All houses are fully enclosed by a high wall (to give women of the house some privacy). Stained glass window panels and arched windows and doorways are the norm. The commercial district of Salalah had a small-town look, but there were the hotels, car dealers, government and commercial buildings, mosques, and malls that one would expect. Many construction projects were also active. One of the nicer areas of town is near the royal palace, which has dozens of beautiful yellow limestone buildings which are used for the sultan’s business when he is in town.

We stopped at a row of fruit stands just on the edge of town which were offering several different kinds of fruit grown in the area, notably, coconuts, bananas, and papayas. I had a couple of the bananas, which are tiny, only about three inches long, and very flavorful. The fruit crop here is not seasonal. The climate is such that the trees can produce all year long. Our last stop was at a souq near the town center. They had many stalls selling frankincense and other spices, as well as souvenirs, perfumes, Islamic head wear for men (caps and turban cloth), and pashminas. We didn’t need anything there.

On our drive back to the ship, our guide told us a little about himself and stated that he’s very proud of his home town. I’m sure that’s true of anyone who has been there through the recent modernization efforts. South Oman and Salalah in particular seem to be prosperous and ready to take a place in the modern world.

At the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

At the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Inside Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat

Inside Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat

 

Sultan's Palace in Muscat

Sultan’s Palace in Muscat

Viewpoint at Mughsail Beach near Salalah

Viewpoint at Mughsail Beach near Salalah

 

Camels on the Highway near Salalah

Camels on the Highway near Salalah

Camels on Mughsail Beach near Salalah

Camels on Mughsail Beach near Salalah

 

Baby Camel Having Lunch

Baby Camel Having Lunch

Flowers near Job's Tomb

Flowers near Job’s Tomb

 

Main Street in Salalah

Main Street in Salalah

Sultan's Summer Palace in Salalah

Sultan’s Summer Palace in Salalah

 

March 23-25, 2015 – Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

March 23-24: Dubai.

This post will be a little different from our others because I’m going to write about what we learned while staying in Dubai for two days, not just about the excursions we took. Our sources of information were our tour guides and our observations. I have transcribed my notes from our excursions, but I’m not willing to say that my information is 100% accurate. Someone on the ship reminded me that free speech is not a given in this country, so we may have heard only the politically correct “facts.”

History

Fifty years ago, Dubai was a small fishing village, with no infrastructure and no cars, only camels. The first oil was exported from Dubai in 1966. The British, who had been using Dubai as a military base, left in 1969; their presence may explain why English is the second language here. On December 2, 1971, seven sheikhdoms unified and created a new nation, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Modernization started in the 1970s; as money from oil started being made available to the ruling family, they decided to develop the country’s infrastructure. Other countries involved in the modernization efforts were Germany and the United Kingdom. Architects from many other countries designed the skyscrapers which characterize today’s skyline.

Currently

Dubai is a leading center for business and tourism in the Middle East, with a population of more than two million inhabitants. Of these, 20% are Emirati citizens and 80% are foreigners, who represent more than 200 countries. More than once, the guides pointed out that everyone lives in harmony in Dubai, and we never saw anything to contradict such a statement.

Why Dubai is popular:

  • The country is very safe; there is very little crime
  • It combines sensibilities of both East and West
  • All signage is written in both Arabic and English
  • There are no taxes
  • Society is more open than in many other Islamic countries

Dubai has two seasons: hot and hotter. During the month of February, the jet setters come to Dubai.

City Life

The rulers understand that greenery is needed in order for a country to appear modern; therefore, 10,000 gardeners are employed in Dubai. Water for irrigation is from desalinization plants or recycled wastewater. This is clearly still desert, but trees and bushes are flourishing, and in many public spaces, such as in front of malls or along traffic intersections, beds of petunias are providing welcome spots of color. Dates are one of the most popular foods in Arabic countries, and there are 50 million date trees in the U.A.E.

The metro is totally automatic; no drivers are needed. Two metro lines plus several bus routes serve the city, but clearly the most popular means of travel is the one-person auto, just like in the U.S. Traffic was very heavy every time we were on the roads. Gas is cheap ($.30 per liter). Highways are modern, and retaining walls and walls of underpasses are often beautifully tiled with scenes of sand and sea.

In the financial district, skyscrapers with unusual designs display the names of familiar global companies, such as Accenture, Microsoft, Canon, IBM, Oracle, and Honeywell.

Government

Dubai is ruled by a sheikh, who is an absolute monarch and who is very popular because he takes care of the people and keeps them happy. These are some of the social services available for Emiratis: free education; free medical care; a new home and $20,000 for newlyweds (purpose is to provide financial incentives to enable locals to remain in Dubai when starting married life). Foreigners, however, have to pay for the social services. Although Islamic law allows men to have four wives, most have only one because of the expense and headaches involved.

Dubai law, unlike the legal system in other Arab countries, is a mixture of Islamic law and Western law.

The seven sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates live in harmony. Abu Dhabi is the capital and the richest sheikdom and provides financing as needed to other sheikhdoms, which have less or no income from oil reserves. For Dubai, most of its oil is found in the desert, with a smaller amount in its ocean waters. It is expected that Dubai’s reserves will be totally depleted within the next ten years.

Women

Muslim women all wear the distinctive black robes and head scarf, but they also form the majority of college students, participate in government, and work in business. We saw several signs for “Ladies Clubs.” These seem to be organizations with facilities which cater to women, allowing them to be unencumbered in a male-free environment. There’s probably more to this idea than we realize, but we’ve no one to ask about it.

Clothing

The clothing worn by men and women is based upon tradition, rather than religion. We did see some people in Western clothing, but there was no way to tell where they were from. So here are some general observations:

Muslim clothing

  • Men – long white robe, with or without a head scarf
  • Women – completely covered with a black flowing robe and with a head covering: the face may be showing, only the eyes may be showing, or the face may be completely veiled

Clothing worn by foreigners

  • Men and women: long shirt with matching pants; garments made from ethnic fabrics, for example, from Africa and India; Western clothing, such as t-shirts, shorts, jeans, hiking pants
  • Men: long robe in subdued colors such as tan or blue

Sights We Visited

Burj Khalifa: This is the tallest building in the world (at the moment). As we were driving from the ship towards the city, it was the most striking feature of the skyline. It’s a narrow, sharply pointed tower which is almost twice as tall as any of the buildings nearby. Our tour took us to the observation deck, which is on the 124th floor. The elevator ride took one minute and was actually comfortable except for a little ear pressure adjustment. This was the first stop on our first day’s excursion, so while we were looking at the objects far, far below, we didn’t really know where to focus our attention since we had not been to see anything yet. Nevertheless, we loved seeing the buildings, streets, desert, and ocean from that high vantage point. Access to the tower is via the Dubai Mall (see below), where we shopped and had dinner later in the day.

Jumeirah: This is a section of Dubai with 2-story residences and many important hotels. One is shaped like the dhow (Arabian open sailing vessel), one like a wave. These are 5-star hotels with every possible amenity [not that we saw any of them – tourists are not allowed inside unless they’re guests]. The room rate is $5,000 to $15,000 per night. Also in this part of Dubai is Palm Jumeirah Island. This is a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree with trunk and fronds, which are lined with residences and hotels. We also drove by the Atlantis Hotel, I believe the largest hotel in the area, with more than 1,000 rooms. Nearby is a public beach – breakers, clean sand, not crowded, a few surfers; but I saw no facilities for bathers, such as restrooms, snack bars, or equipment rentals.

Mall of the Emirates: This is one of the 52 malls in Dubai. It is huge, and its main attraction seems to be Ski Dubai, a 400 meter ski run, complete with ski lift, places to play in the snow, a luge run, and equipment rentals. We were surprised to see so many American chain restaurants in the mall, such as Fridays, California Pizza Kitchen, and the Cheesecake Factory.

Driving around town: We saw the monorail, many malls, car dealers, home furnishing stores, all kinds of services and businesses, and new construction everywhere. Many tracts of land were totally flat and barren, with construction activity nearby. The skyline is very impressive. The skyscrapers have varied silhouettes. I don’t recall any straight-up-and-down buildings; rather, they feature spiral shapes, open spaces that look like cutouts, curved lines, pointy tops. One even looks like the Big Ben tower in London.

Dubai Mall: This is world’s largest mall, with more than 1,200 retail outlets. We came here both days we were in Dubai via shuttle bus service from the ship. The stores in the mall are arranged by type of merchandise, for example, fashion, electronics, sports, jewelry. This mall was always very crowded, even during the day and early evening. Actually, people didn’t seem to be shopping that much. They were just walking back and forth, often with their children, sitting in cafes, and socializing as if the mall was really the gathering point of the community. It has many, many attractions to keep people entertained: outdoor fountain shows which flow nightly accompanied by either Eastern or Western music; a waterfall; an ice rink (the Zamboni was operating when we walked by there); movie theaters; an aquarium; prayer rooms; broadcasts of the Muslim call to prayer; global brands; many American restaurant chains (we ate at Rosa Mexicano and P.F. Chang’s); a great bookstore, Kinokuniya, with mostly English books; ATM machines; etc., etc. Since I’m not a great shopper, my only criticism was that there were not enough places to sit and watch the people, unless you wanted to sit in a café and have something to eat or drink (at great cost).

Jumeirah Mosque: An example of modern Islamic architecture built in 1979, this mosque was one of our tour stops, but Islamic rules do not allow non-Muslims to go inside. It’s a beautiful building, sandy in color, with domes topped by gold finials, and a grassy space in front. In an attempt to foster understanding among people of different faiths, the ruling sheikh has ordered this mosque to offer to the community tours of the interior and the opportunity to make reservations for shared meals and cultural events. (There are 500 mosques in Dubai.)

Dubai Museum: From the outside, this museum looks like a desert fort, but most of its collection of artifacts is underground, many in rooms with very detailed dioramas depicting village residents of the past, such as blacksmith, herbalist, spice purveyor, and carpenter. The exhibits were very interesting, but the rooms and passageways were very dark, which detracted from the presentation, as did the great number of tourists milling about.

Dubai Creek: Rather than being a real creek, Dubai Creek a long and skinny ocean inlet, from which in historical times, dhows left for trading journeys throughout Arabia. We walked from the Dubai Museum to a water taxi through a street full of textile vendors, where we were unfortunately not able to stop. On the other side of the creek, we walked through the spice souq and then through the gold souk, where Denise shopped and I sat on a comfortable bench and watched the people, who seemed to be from every ethnicity. (The souqs are like department stores but each stall has its own vendor, each vendor very intent upon attracting one’s attention.)

This is a fascinating city. How it has developed over the past fifty years from a fishing village to a modern metropolis is truly amazing. Dubai reminded us of a spread-out Las Vegas, a man-made spectacle with lots of glitz and glamour. Whether it will be able to diversify its economy and maintain a balanced society as its oil reserves are depleted remains to be seen. Let’s hope it can.

Dubai Skyline

Dubai Skyline

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

 

View from the Burj Khalifa

View from the Burj Khalifa

Mall of the Emirates - Cheesecake Factory

Mall of the Emirates – Cheesecake Factory

 

Wave and Dhow Hotels at Jumeirah Beach

Wave and Dhow Hotels at Jumeirah Beach

Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque

 

Dubai Museum

Dubai Museum

Textile Souq in Dubai

Textile Souq in Dubai

 

Water Taxi on Dubai Creek

Water Taxi on Dubai Creek

Waterfall in Dubai Mall

Waterfall in Dubai Mall