Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rough days at Sea

What day is it? I forgot to look in the elevator this morning.  For two days we had rough seas with waves around 16 feet.  Me, who had been doing quite well warding off seasickness succumbed.  Threw up. Yuk. Was sick for two days, then seas calmed and I was fine.  Then the next day my heart went into artial fibrillation during my class.  Thought is was the same old spells I get, but it wasn't.  Went to the infirmery. Long story short, I'm on extra meds until I can get home to my cardiologist. 

BUT I am doing fine and back on track.  Winding up my class on creative writing and looking forward to getting home--at least for a while.  :-) 

Hugs to all.  Pat

Unexpected Vistas

Madeira—an Island Panoramic

Day 104; April 19, 2011

We arrived in Port at Funchel, which means Fennel—so named because it grows profusely here.  Bananas grow here too—like weeds.  They are a small bananas and are very sweet.  We took our final tour today and at times as we rode our bus through the mountain switchbacks, I worried that it really might be our last.  I had expected hills, but not mountain peaks.  At one place we stopped to walk a trail out to a point that is the second highest sea cliff in the world.  What a gorgeous view.   The island is actually part of Africa. With its multi levels and high humidity is tropical but it also is cool. Tourism is big here.  They have many four and five star hotels. Churchill loved the place and in the place he stayed (Reiz) they actually have a painting of his and a photo showing him paint. 

Though the area is hilly, it is quite a farming community. The crops are grown in terraced plots on steep hillsides. They have many vineyards and produce Madeira wine for export.  And they grow every fruit imaginable. 

One of our stops was at the top of a mountain 1800m high. We had a fennel cake or scone, coffee and coke at the restaurant/gift shop up there.  It was cool and while we were there clouds rolled in, but not before we got some fantastic photos.  The mountains were similar to ours, only most of the trees were Eucalyptus and pine. 

After our tour we had lunch on the ship and took the shuttle into town.  We had an early sailing so we didn’t get off the bus, just rode it into town enjoyed the sights and wished we could have stayed longer.  

Palm Sunday in Spain

Cadez, Spain—Palm Sunday

102 days; 4/17/2011

Cadez is situated on the East Atlantic Coast. While we had to walk a bit to get out of the port area, we were pleasantly surprised.  We stopped first at a beautiful plaza, continued on to a street too narrow for cars and then into another plaza. Lots of statuary or important buildings in the plazas. We went down another street and found San Antonio Plaza and a very old ornate cathedral and a more shops.  One of the buildings surrounding the square had ornate tile work and a lovely balcony. I thought it should be overlooking the sea.  We then headed toward the water and were treated to an amazing park.  Much of the ancient sea wall still stood. The park and walkway greeted us with arbors and tiled seats, fountains and Banyan trees as old as time.  We found another beautiful and ornate church and watched the congregation march in from down the street.  I think there is such a thing as visual overload.  We must have walked seven miles before heading back to the ship.  Even though we have a ten o-clock sailing we stayed on board. My legs were worn out. I do wish we’d have gone out again because we missed a spectacular Palm Sunday procession where all of the churches participated in an extravagant and an awesome parade.  Quite something to see, or so I was told.
Only one more port before we sail across the Atlantic.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been gone so long.  On one hand, I’m anxious to get home. On the other, I hate to say good-bye.  What an incredible journey this has been.

Sea day tomorrow and then Madeira, Portugal.  Formal night tonight with a Roaring Twenties theme.

Cartegena, Spain—A Mediterranean Jewel

101 days; 4/16/2011

What a great port. We walked off the ship and into the most beautiful port area we’ve seen outside of Sydney.   Cobblestone streets took us right onto a palm-studded promenade along the waterfront, then into a lovely plaza area, which lead into town.  Older ornate buildings mingled with new. The main street bustled with tourists from two large cruise ships—ours, the ms Amsterdam and our sister ship, the Neau Amsterdam.  We toured the new ship, which is huge and new and quite lovely. I could get used to it, but this is home.  At least for the next few days. 

After a couple of hours we made our way back to the ship. Sailing time was around four, so a short day here. 

Roman Holiday


Day 99; 4/14/2011

We docked in the port of Civitavecchia, Italy.  It is a lovely city north of Rome and I wish we’d had time to explore it, but this was our day for a nine hour tour in Rome and celebrate Ron’s birthday.  We boarded the bus and for one and a half hours, drove through the Roman countryside.  I was the ship’s escort on this trip so had to work a bit keeping track of errant passengers—and there were a few. At a rest stop one sweet little lady with a walker had her latte and just when we were supposed to be boarding the bus—went to use the bathroom. 

And then on to Rome. Soon we were in the city—heavy heavy traffic met us and stayed with us throughout the tour. It is Easter week and soon Palm Sunday.  Tourists are in Rome to visit the Vatican, the Citadel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

The first thing we saw was the original wall that circled for sixteen miles around the ancient city.  Much of the wall is still there and intact.  Then the ruins of the Roman baths. Everywhere we went, we saw signs of the ancient and glorious Rome. Statues, cathedrals, palaces and squares. As we entered the forum, all I could do was weep.  I have seen pictures of these ruins, I’ve heard the stories, but nothing can compare to being in the midst of the forum.  The coliseum left me awestruck.  Since this tour did not allow us to get out to walk around the forum, we could only see it as the bus slowly drove us around.

We must have taken a 1000 pictures as we made our way through the city. Then it was time for the Vatican.  We waited for half an hour in line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. While we waited our eyes feasted on the exterior.  The columns, the statues, the courtyard, the marble. I took our little lady with the walker in through the handicap area where we waited for the others. The tour guides handed out listening devices so we could hear her throughout the tour. 

Once inside I was so taken by the beauty, I found it hard to breath.  Elegant, extravagant, exquisite, holy.  I walked around with my mouth open the entire time, at times so astounded, I couldn’t speak.  I was face to face with Michelangelo’s work.  Behind a plastic fa├žade stood the magnificent statue of Mary holding her crucified Christ.  In a dome high above us was a signed painting by him. Many of what looked like paintings were actually mosaics, which  allowed visitors to take photos inside. I could go on and on, but suffice to say we were impressed, blown away, awed by the visuals depicting our Lord and the people who have brought Christ’s message through the ravages of history. 

After viewing the basilica, we went to lunch in a lovely Italian restaurant.  Red wine, salad, lasagna, tiramisu—all authentic and all delicious.  If you can believe it, several of the people from the ship didn’t like the lasagna because it didn’t have flour in it.  FLOUR—for Pete’s sake.  Ron and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal if not the company.

Then we were off again to complete the tour. We went through the more modern Rome, past more ruins—saw Circus Maximus and far too many places to mention. We stopped for an hour at a lovely Plaza  and were given 45 minutes to walk about and shop. Here things went a bit sour.  We were to meet at three and be on the bus by 3:15.  Several were late, but one little lady decided to go shopping for a hat at three.  The tour guide had to make two trips back to the plaza to find her.  People were ready to leave her there.  A taxi back to the ship would have run around $300.  Fifteen minutes later, she arrived with the tour guide, gaily showing off her purchase.  Sigh.

At any rate, despite the problem travelers—some who should not have been on the tour-we had a fantastic time in Rome.  Rome is more than photos of ruins and beautiful buildings and traffic. It is a feeling—it  is knowing how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things.  It is a place where Christians lost their lives for their faith. It is history come alive.  I want to come back. As our tour guide says, you can’t see Rome in a day.  We made a valiant effort. 

We drove back to the ship and after cleaning up and getting dressed in fancy duds, spent the evening with Barbara and Waldo, our tablemates, who treated us to dinner in the elegant Pinnacle Dining room for Ron’s Birthday.  Great food, great conversation and great ambiance.  We say goodbye to Rome and set sail for Spain. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Athens, the Parthenon and Acropolis

Days 97 & 98; April 12-13, 2011

We are docked in Piraeus, Greece, near Athens.  Ron and I had a tour today to Athens and the Parthenon and Acropolis.  Acropolis means high place and getting there meant hiking up the often slippery hillside (as in a few hundred stairs).  The first residents moved up to the mountain in about 3500 BC .  It is colossal and one wonders at the brilliance of the architects in that time.  The stairs pass through the Proylea or colossal entry to the upper terrace. Here we saw the Pinacotheca and the small Temple of Athena Nike, which is anything but small.  The structures are breathtaking.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  Standing there amidst the ruins and the rebuilding efforts –the columns and the statues takes your breath away as you consider the civilization that lived here thousands of years before.  Below the Parthenon we saw the stage and amphitheater where the great orators such as Plato and Socrates shared their knowledge and philosophies.

So many ruins and so much rebuilding.  And the marble.  You can see where the old tan marble meets the new white, but because the marble contains some iron, the white will turn color and eventually you will not be able to tell old from new.  

We also stopped at the site of the 2006 Olympic Games. We saw dozens of important places, palaces, gardens and statues and such, but none as amazing as the Acropolis.  

Turkey Day!

Day 93;  April 8, 2011

Kusadasi is the gateway to Ephesus, The Virgin Mary’s House, and the Basilica of St. John.  We did not book tours here. We walked out to an island and explored an old Venecian Fort, then walked back into town and had Starbuck’s coffee. Then I walked the streets—and bazaars—hundreds and hundreds of little shop.  The vendors were as pushy as the Arabs, but in a friendly way. A little too friendly at times.  I bought a beautiful silk scarf.  There are many rug merchants here, as well as jewelry and leather.  All beautiful and spendy.

The second day here, I stayed on board and worked on my book.  One can grow tired of merchants, however cute, pleading with you to come into the store—“just to look.”

Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient cities, is on my list to visit next time I come this way. The Great Temple of Artemis there is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 

Ancient Ruins of Jonah’s City

Day 91 at Sea; April 6, 2011

Ashdod, Israel is situated 16 miles south of Tel Aviv.  I took a tour to old Jaffa and Tel Aviv. It took us over an hour to drive from Port due to heavy commuter traffic. Our first stop was at old Jaffa. Our guide, a delightful older woman who wore her long, light gray hair in two ponytails and looked a bit like a hippy, led us through the most amazing maze that was once Jaffa, the fishing village where Jonah met his match with God and the Whale. 

The passageways might have been suited for donkeys or horses, but no cars.  Everything was built of yellow stone.  Think 12th century BC.  Many of the ruins have been renovated but still maintained the texture and of the ancient city.  What a tour. I must have taken 300 photos as we wove our way through. It is now the home of artists and crafts people.  Every shop has its own unique appearance.  We meandered around for over an hour and eventually came to this park above the city and could look down the coast to see modern Tel Aviv.  

We made our way back down and went past more of the old city, much being restored in the same manner it was originally built, to the fishing dock.  After our walk through Old Jaffa, we drove through modern Tel Aviv.  Some interesting architecture and history, but not nearly as wonderful as the old. J

Turkey is beautiful.  Very Mediterranean. I want to come back here

Our next stop Kusadasi, Turkey

Sailing Through the Suez

Day 89 & 90 at Sea; April 5, 2011
April 4th finds us at the south end of the Suez Canal and waiting with a dozen or so other ships to make out way to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Suez Canal takes us from Suez on the Red Sea to Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea.  The Egyptian side is generally green and fertile, primarily due to the River Nile delta.  The Sinai side is arid (no fresh water only salt) and littered with army posts built along the shore at strategic intervals. You even see some army tanks and vestiges of wars.  The difference is staggering. It was finished in 1869.  Did you know that Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Aida was written to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal.  It premiered at the Cairo Opera House in 1871.

At the north and south ends, the channel is too narrow for ships to pass so ships line up on either side to go through, pass in the middle, at Great Bitter Lake, and continue on.  Each ship is given a number and only so many are allowed through.  We were the first!

We celebrated coming into the Mediterranean Sea—I think we were all relieved to be out of the strict Muslin area and into a more western culture again.  Our first port is Ashdod, Israel.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Aqaba Jordon

Day 88 at Sea; April 3, 2011

Though we are docked in Jordon.  As I sit in the library writing I can see Eilat, Israel across the narrow Gulf of Aqaba. A Costa Cruise ship is docked in Eilat after having been here in Jordan. Aqaba sits at the very tip of Jordon. From here tours go to Petra, and Wadi Rum. Aqaba is a beach and diving city. After lunch, we took the shuttle into town and explored the ancient ruins of Ayla, an archeological dig in progress, which is near the pier. In 1980s serious excavation began on the site. They have build a museum to hold and protect the artifacts found there.  It’s quite amazing to see the walls of the city and what look like arched rooms. The shopping didn’t pan out. We walked along the beach, had a coke at MacDonald’s and visited an elegant Swiss Hotel.  Then, yes, we were hot and tired and took the shuttle back to the bus.
And we are now lounging by the pool. Such a life.

I would have loved to see these amazing places. Other passengers come back delighted and awed. Maybe next time. We found a packet of post cards on Petra, but how wonderful it would be to see it in person.

Safaga, Egypt

Day 87 at Sea; April 2, 2011

Today I waded in the Red Sea buried by feet in Egyptian sand sat in the shade of an umbrella enjoying a cool North African breeze.  I did not get a tour to Luxor or the Valley of the Kings or Karnac.  I didn’t get to take the long drive with buses and vans caravanning across the desert. We did walk out to the Port gate and take a taxi with eight other people from the ship. For $60 our driver took us to the Holiday Inn Resort where we paid $15 each to enjoy the lovely grounds and use their beach and get a towel and swim in the pools or in the sea. The water was much colder than I expected.

As we disembarked we were puzzled to see hundreds of people with large carts of furniture. Someone said they were returning to Egypt after having fled to safety. We never did find out for sure.  There weren’t a lot of tourists around.

We came back to the ship around one for lunch and spent the rest of the day luxuriating on Lido Deck.
The buses with all the touring passengers did not arrive until seven thirty, which was our sailing time.  They made it without incident, though I heard one woman fainted in one of the tombs—probably heatstroke.