A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Cruise Day 14 to 17 - Egypt

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Day 73 Saturday 27 November - “Cruise Day 14 – At Sea”

The sea is calm and the wind is slight as we wake up this morning. There's a mist or haze over the water creating an eerie effect as we're unable to see the horizon. I suspect it is due to the ocean temperature being higher than the air temperature, both are in the low to mid 20s.

Just after 10 we sail through the Karpathos Strait with Rhodes Island on the Port Side and Karpathos Island to Starboard. We exchange library books and collect our passports that have been endorsed with the Egyptian short stay stamp.

After lunch we attended a one hour presentation by Gary during which he covered 5000 years of Egyptian history. He rounded it off with warnings regarding uncooked food, water and the use of public toilets. There was also a general advisory regarding the elections being held there and possible disruptions to public services.

After dinner we sat through a repeat of the SHOUT! Show we saw last week. Picked up a few lines we missed last time and enjoyed it again.

Day 74 Sunday 28 November - “Cruise Day 15 – Egypt”

Up early this morning, along with most of the other passengers we're at breakfast before 6 am. We have docked in Alexandria in serious fog which blots out most of the features of the city. By 6;45 we're ready to go ashore and meet up with our tour guide for the day.

We form part of a queue at the head of the stairs and we wait, the queue grows and we wait. An announcement from the bridge, we will not be going ashore until 7:30 because the road to Cairo is closed due to the fog, it is suggested we clear the corridors and use the lounges. Yeah right !! No one moves, we've waited a long time to get this position.

Eventually we're released from the ship and ushered though the terminal building into the arms of waiting tour guides. There must have been over 100 of them holding up name cards. Eagle eyed Jenny spots ours and we hurry over to meet her. Christina makes us welcome and escorts us past all the big tourist coaches to where the mini vans are assembled. Ours is a 12 or 14 seater bus, I ask if we're expecting any others to join us, no this is just for us. A driver, a guide and a complete vehicle for ourselves.

We sit for a while and get to know something about each other. The Tourist Police take down our vehicle number and the driver's details. All this is for our safety we're told. The road to Cairo is still closed but should be open soon. By about 10 am we're feeling the need for a comfort stop, so we get out and head back to the terminal building just as the drivers all start heading back to their vehicles. No worries, we weren't that desperate and there's a promised stop along the way. Back to the van.

We set off in what looks like a Formulae One race. Close to 100 mini-vans, 50 or more coaches all 'managed' by a dozen Police. We sit in a jam for another half hour, we're impressed that there’d been no fender-benders by the time we leave the port area having been checked by the Police again on the way out. The 'race to Cairo' finds its way though Alexandria being joined now by all the local and commercial traffic that's been caught up in the same road closure. Just for good measure we add some local colour in the form of donkey carts and Tuc-Tuc taxis.

There is no traffic control, lane markers are totally ignored or used as aiming lines. Three lanes become five when the shoulders are also pressed into service. Huge trucks with huge loads battle for space with any and all other modes of transport including pedestrians just casually crossing the highway.

As we head out of Alexandria we are checked again by the Police and continue the 'race to Cairo' along sections of new highway, old highway and construction site detours. All the way hemmed in on both sides by all forms of transport. Speeds vary from stopped to 100 KPH plus.

Not unexpectedly my need for the loo has increased dramatically as we've gone along until finally I'm begging for anything including just a large tree. Being Egypt, even big trees are in short supply. Finally at about 12 we, and just about all of the other mini-vans, pull into what passes for a Highway Service Centre. The place looks very grand and has a very obvious sign to the WC. I dash into the Men's brushing aside the outstretched arm of the attendant.

Suitably relieved, both physically and financially, we re-board our van and continue to Cairo. Along the way we pass at least four trucks and a bus that have come to grief. The trucks have rolled over and spilled their loads, the bus had been rear-ended by an over zealous driver of a small truck loaded with farm produce.

The other feature of the drive into Cairo was the number of substantial buildings along the way that were either in the process of being constructed or of being demolished. It was hard to tell as many appeared to have just been abandoned. I suspect it was just part of the haphazard nature of this country.

At about 1:30 pm we're embroiled in the free-for-all that is Cairo's traffic and catch our first glimpse of the Pyramids through the fog/smog/haze. Christina organises the tickets and we head off in the direction of the number 2 pyramid. When you get up close you get a real appreciation of the size. The individual blocks are enormous and we humans appear like ants on a stack of sugar cubes. We decline the invitation to 'climb' the pyramid or to crawl inside for an extra fee.

There are a number of pyramids on the Giza site, the first we visit is more recent than the second one which is showing more signs of weathering. Then there are a number of smaller ones which are some distance away. Just about every passenger off the Jade and some of the crew are here. In addition there are other tours and of course some locals as well.

Where there are tourists there are opportunities to make a dollar. Vendors offering tacky souvenirs compete with each other and with those offering camel, horse and donkey rides. The continued haze softens the whole picture and size of the structures destroys you sense of distance. It is only when seeing the relative size of the people that you regain the perspective. With more to see we head off to the Sphinx. According to Christina, when the second pyramid was being constructed they 'found' this ugly big rock, the king directed his architect to make it more beautiful and as a result we have the Sphinx.

We dive into the Cairo traffic again and find our way to the Papyrus Demonstration. It is a government sponsored high end souvenir shop. There was fine jewellery, crystals, clothing and all manner of items Egypt. The papyrus paintings were particularly striking with many of them featuring gold leaf, naturally the prices also reflected the unique character of the objects.

By now it is approaching 5 pm and the Museum closes at 6 so we hurry as fast as traffic allows and dash around the Museum in about an hour. Christina tries to ensure that we've seen all the most important exhibits. The museum is extensive and many galleries were very crowded even at this late hour. We got out just before closing time having admired again the incredible skills of the ancient artists.
Dauntlessly, Christina continued to provide all the elements of the tour stopping at the Queen Cleopatra restaurant for 'lunch' (at about 7:30 pm ??). She explained that nothing much happens before noon, with many places open until well after midnight. The restaurant was extensive and we were the only ones there !! Service wasn't a problem but having requested a 'traditional' meal we were presented with a buffet with only two or three dishes that could be described as Middle Eastern.

By about 8 pm we're heading back to Alexandria passing through the obligatory 'police' checks. The traffic is lighter but just as chaotic as it was this morning. Lane markings are ignored, speed limits are treated with scorn, there's no concept of fast and slow lane. Trucks appear crazily overloaded and it is obviously a sign of weakness to move out of the way of other traffic. When there's a need to really slow down the traffic they place a set of speed bumps right across the roadway. They are well marked and have the desired effect for about as long as it takes to bump over them. There must have been at least ten of these and are used when the traffic has to make a sharp detour around some construction site.

At about 11:30 we arrive back at the port and pay for the day's adventure. A very long day for two old people. Happy to have been there and done that but not likely to repeat the visit.

Day 75 Monday 29 November - “Cruise Day 16 – Egypt”

Not surprisingly we woke up rather late this morning. We notice that the “Self Service” in the Garden Cáfe has been replaced with 'server' service due to the possibility of Gastric conditions resulting from calls to Egypt.

After breakfast I showed signs of diarrhoea and we cancelled the planned visit to down-town Alexandria. Two or more urgent visits and I figure this is not normal, so call the Medical centre which resulted in a visit from the nurse. She tells me that I'm confined to my cabin and need to limit my menu to 'Room Service' - consomme, jelly, crackers, dry toast, rice and grilled chicken. This regime to remain in place until 24 hours after the last discharge.

So here I am, nowhere to go, nothing much to eat and Jenny has been told to avoid me as much as possible in case it is a viral infection.
Late afternoon and my condition hasn't improved a lot so the nurse has been in to see me again. She's brought me a bottle of “Pepto Bismol” - active ingredient is Bismuth subsalicylate – looks pretty pink and tastes foul, so must be good for me. She tells us that I'm still the only case aboard so my condition is likely to be something specific to me and I don't show any of the other symptoms normally associated with Gastroenteritis. Another small, bland and limited tray from room service – chicken broth and dry crackers – doctor's orders.

Sailing has been delayed because some shore excursion buses are held up in traffic but we are now on the way out of Alexandria harbour. Clocks go back an hour tonight, we're heading back to Barcelona time.

Jenny had her dinner in the main dining room and has decided she doesn't need to see the repeat of the magician’s show tonight.

Day 76 Tuesday 30 November - “Cruise Day 17 – at Sea”

An uneventful night, Jenny has breakfast and I dine out on Saltine Crackers and hope the diarrhoea has gone for now. I'm still confined to the cabin and fill in time reading.

The ship is cruising at 21 knots and we are scheduled to arrive in Malta at 11 am tomorrow.

While Jenny is having dinner, I receive a visit from the medical staff. It appears I'm free to leave the cabin – thank God.
Sorry for the length of this entry, wanted to make sure the whole story was covered.

Posted by greynomadm 10:01 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Cruise Day 13 - Ismir & Ephesus

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Day 72 Friday 26 November - “Cruise Day 13 – Ismir & Ephesus”

We sailed into the port of Ismir – the fourth biggest city in Turkey – arriving at 9 am. This was the first time we'd booked a 'Shore Excursion' through NCL. We paid US$ 60 each for a six hour tour to Ephesus leaving the ship at 10 and returning at 4 pm. The coach was very comfortable and we were escorted by a Turkish guide who spoke excellent English.

We travelled South through mainly agricultural land with some impressive hills along the way. Most of the one-hour trip was on a multi-lane divided toll road stopping along the way at a 'service centre' which sold a variety of items including Cashmere Shawls, traditional shirts, guide books and olive oil. The tour guide bought two cans – one for him and one for his mother-in-law. (to keep her happy).

We arrived at the ruins of the city of Ephesus which was originally founded in the 10th century BC. Much of the visible ruins are from the third building of the city during the time of Christ. Much of the structure was of local marble in a variety of colours. Many of the infrastructure features – running water, central heating and water borne sewage – were well before their time. There is also evidence that the people of the era were aware that the world was a globe and not flat.

One of the most striking structures is the theatre with a seating capacity of an estimated 24 thousand. Archaeologists estimate that the capacity of these ancient theatres represented about 10% of the population. Based on theses estimates, Ephesus was a city of about a quarter of a million, not bad for it's day.

Down from the theatre was an area where local Turks re-enact the scenes that would have occurred at the time when the Romans rules the city. There are also a number of connections with the early Christian church and a local tourist attraction is the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived out her life.

The city bustled with life today as almost half of the 2,500 passengers from the Jade crowded the marble paved roads. Guides are equipped with short range radio sets which are tuned to receives issued to each member of the group. Provided you were within about 50 meters of the guide you could listen to the commentary though the supplied earpiece. At least 20 groups of about 40 people crowded through the ruins.

After the tour we were given some time to browse the local stalls selling a range of items, the most honest of which advertised it's wares as 'Genuine Fake Watches'. Yes, fake high end watches alongside real Turkish Delight, dried figs and Baklava. A short distance out of Ephesus we visited a traditional Turkish Rug Weavers. The co-operative is supported by government subsides in an effort to sustain the traditional skill.

We were shown the art of extracting the thread from the silk-worm cocoon and then the knotting of the traditional rugs. They range from cotton based with wool of various grades to all mercerised cotton up to the finest rugs made from 100% silk. Rugs can take as much as 18 months to complete. We were supplied with various refreshments whilst the rug dealer displayed examples of the various grades.

There was no hard sell and were told that the government subsidy covered packaging, shipping, insurance and import duty, COD to any address in the world. Sounded like a great deal but the prices started at about US$ 1,200 up to US$ 30,000 for a large 100% silk carpet to cover a large room.

The trip back to the ship was quite relaxed and despite the threatening clouds we experience no significant rain. Back at the ship we enjoyed another great dinner and then attended the Stardust Show 'Journey South' featuring Andy and Carl Pemberton who made it to the big time in the UK TV show 'X Factor'. They've been touring the world for the past 4 years and were certainly one of the best acts we've seen.

I'm posting this blog tonight because my Internet time is half price. I know, I'm cheap.

Sea day tomorrow, then Egypt on Sunday the weekend of general elections! I wonder what effect that will have.

Posted by greynomadm 12:16 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Cruise Days 11 & 12 - a Sea Day & Crete

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Day 70 Wednesday 24 November - “Cruise Day 11 – At Sea”

The clocks have been set forward by an hour as we sail Eastward. Before dawn under a leaden sky we sailed past Stromboli Island – one of three active volcanoes in Italy. Later in the morning we sailed into the Messina Strait, the body of water dividing the toe of Italy from the island of Sicilia. The sun broke free from the clouds and I managed to shoot off a few photos.

It took about an hour to pass through the Strait. As we turned to Port – East – another of Italy's volcanoes came into view. The light conditions were far from perfect but we did get a good look at Mt Etna, the top clad in snow and shrouded in clouds.

After lunch we attended the Latitude Party in the Spinnaker Lounge. To start proceedings the Captain made an announcement to the effect that we would NOT be docking in Athens on Thursday because a general strike had been called and there would be limited or no public facilities available. He also felt there was a possible threat to the safety of the passengers if they went ashore. As an alternative we will be calling in at Heraklion, the capital of Crete.

We attended an interesting talk on the Greek Gods and the ancient mythologies. After dinner we sat through a shrill rendition of Beatles songs. I'm no expert but the guitars with all their amplification drowned out the mediocre voices of the group calling themselves “Beatles Celebration”. They tried very hard and received appropriate applause for their efforts.

Day 71 Thursday 25 November - “Cruise Day 12 – Heraklion”

The ship arrived on schedule and was docked by about 9:30, we had a fairly late breakfast and decided to do about an hour ashore. The shuttle took us to the port entrance and we managed to avoid most of the taxi drivers. One of them was more persistent than his cousins, he was looking for two people to make up a party of eight – no, sorry, not interested. He herded us towards a group of four Chinese and an Afro-American mother and daughter. The mother had made the arrangements over the internet last night. She almost begged us to join the tour.

Well, a lady in distress has always been a soft touch with us, so we went along for the ride. The two taxis were both late model Mercedes cars and immaculately maintained. Our driver Lefteris piloted us around the city, stopped at impossible places and gave us ample time to photograph the main cathedral. He then parked at the head of the market area in the old town. We walked for a while and on return to the appointed place he'd collected ten chairs at a local cafe and we were treated to local pastries and coffee or soft drink. One is a shortcrust sweet cake with goat's cheese and the other a delicate turn-over filled with spinach, both very tasty.

When we tried to leave we were caught up in a student protest march – sound familiar?? Eventually we broke free and with considerable driving skill he squeezed us past a gridlock of buses, trucks, taxis and motor scooters. Much waving of arms and a few choice words we made our way to the highest point of the old city wall. A magnificent view over the city and the site of the monument to Nikos Kazantzakis author of 'Zorbas” and “Last Temptation of Jesus Christ”. From there he took us to the ruins of the Knossos Palace where archaeologists have uncovered buildings dating back over 4,000 years.

Further out from the city we stop at an olive grove where we see how the olives are harvested. They are only small olives and grown primarily for oil production. A small percentage is processed for eating as a snack food. Past the old aqueduct and into the square of a small village where we enter a tiny cafe. The old lady produces plates of goat cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. The olives are much sweeter than those we find in bottles at home. To top it off we're provided with a shot of the local white lightning, a traditional spirit made from grapes – it makes brandy taste like ginger beer by comparison.

Back to the port entrance where we each put in 35 €, a good day's income for him and a relatively inexpensive excursion for us.
Thanksgiving Dinner today, Jenny ordered the traditional Pumpkin soup, turkey and pumpkin cheesecake, I went against tradition and had smoked duck, pasta with veal shanks and apple tart with ice-cream.

Tonight's performance was both colourful and very energetic. We were treated to a Spanish Ballet by Maestranza, three elegant ladies and a debonair gentleman. Many costume changes and high energy dancing, castanets and fans and swirling skirts. Most enjoyable.

Posted by greynomadm 11:18 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

Cruise Days 9 & 10 - at Sea & Rome

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Day 68 Monday 22 November - “Cruise Day 9 – at Sea”

As predicted, despite there being no port to visit, we had a very eventful day. After breakfast I had to have the password reset on my Internet account and Jenny visited the library to check out some reading material.

At 10:30 we attended an Asian Fusion cooking demonstration and tasted the results. The Chinese Chef prepared and presented Kung Pao Chicken, even the sauce was prepared from scratch. Both the appearance and taste were excellent. Then the Sous Chef prepared a Shabu-Shabu on one of the restaurant tables that has a hotplate built in. An interesting and very tasty combination of vegetables, tofu and beef.

We stayed around the vicinity of the restaurant and a short time later joined a crowd in the Tappanyaki room where the Japanese Chefs displayed their skills. Again all the dishes were passed around for tasting. We almost didn't need lunch.

After lunch we joined Gabby in the Stardust for a talk on how to get the most out of the visit to Rome. She presented a number of excellent tips for those of us who were planning to do our own exploring. As she said, the guide books recommend from three days to a week to explore the city, we are only going to have about eight hours and the train trip will be about two hours each way.

I attended a gathering of Veterans for a while, I was the only Australian and spent some time swapping yarns with a US Navy type who had been to Vietnam. All the others looked to be much older.

Caught up with Gary in the Spinnaker for a very amusing lesson on how to communicate in Italy without knowing more than about 6 words. His advice – carry a map and a pen and write your questions or point to places on the map.'Mille grazie' and 'Mi scusi' were two phrases I think I'll use frequently.

After diner we skipped the 'show', seen it and didn't think much of it. So we went to the Spinnaker and played Trivia. Twenty questions with a choice of four answers each. We scored 13/20 – the winners made 17/20. The game was fine but the Russian MC didn't do much for us.
By the time I finish this it will be past 9 PM and we have an early start tomorrow.

Day 69 Tuesday 23 November - “Cruise Day 10 – Rome”

Up early this morning and ready to step ashore even before the gangplank is in place. It doesn't look good weather wise, there's thunder and lightning and horizontal rain. The weather gods must have decided that enough was enough and the storm passed and the rain stopped as we walked ashore.

Shuttle bus to the entrance to docks and then a brisk walk to the station. Arrived with ample time to spare and when the 8:41 hadn't shown up we took the 8:51 from another platform. The train is a suburban service and could do with a bit of spit and polish. Despite appearances she rocketed along at 145 Km/Hr. The train became very crowded as it stopped and picked up commuters along the way.

With a map of Rome in hand we stepped off at a station some distance to the South of the Vatican and amazed ourselves in finding the place. Huge courtyard and people from all parts of the world. Joined the queue to check through the security scanner and walked into St Peter's Basilica. The place is like a small city with chapels and little nooks on both sides. Some areas were closed off including a considerable area near the main altar.

There are so many sculptures, statues, paintings and other works of art that it is difficult to focus on this being a 'church'. There is an attached museum (6 € each – no photography permitted) containing many of the treasures of the church. There was also the inevitable gift shop to help lighten your pockets. By about 12:30 we started wandering towards a Metro station just North of the Vatican. Without guidance from anyone we found the station but then had to ask someone which direction we needed to go. The Metro trains are quick and frequent and quite crowded.

Before long we'd arrived at the 'central' station and must have walked close to two Km to get from the Metro to the surface trains. What an enormous station. Our train was to depart from platform 27. We found 1 to 23 and were wondering if someone was having a loan of us. But we found the sign “Lines 25 to 32 400 meters”. So another half kilometre and we found our train.

An uneventful trip back to the ship and we had time for a short nap before diner. When we sat down there was hardly anyone in the dining room, many were still on their way back from Rome. The Starlight show tonight was an aging comedian – Lenny Windsor. He was for many years a writer for the Benny Hill show. As you can imagine he was most disrespectful of anything and anyone. A hilarious hour as he managed to take the 'mickey' out of everyone that caught his eye.

The ship's a bit lively tonight and if there any typos or other errors, put it down to the fact that my keyboard is moving beneath my fingers.

Posted by greynomadm 13:08 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Cruise Days 7 & 8 - Palma de Mallorca & Barcelona

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Day 65 Friday 19 November - “Cruise Day 6 – At Sea - PS”

This Post Script is mainly to record our impressions of tonight's Stardust performance. The stage set-up was way beyond what we've got used to and the show took all the members of the ensemble, the magician and the strong-man. The title was “Elements” and the theme were the traditional elements of earth, air, water and fire. There were mermaids 'swimming' from the ceiling, the strong man and his partner took to the air and the magician performed illusions involving water and fire. As a finale every member of the cast came out decked in white and sprinkled what looked like snow flakes from every possible vantage point. A truly amazing show.

Day 66 Saturday 20 November - “Cruise Day 7 – Palma de Mallorca”

The ship arrived at about the scheduled time and after a relatively early breakfast we went ashore. The shuttle bus took us around the harbour to just below the Le Seu Catedral. All along the road the seaward side is packed with sailing yachts and power cruisers of various sizes.

We found our way to the cathedral but were turned away as there was a service in progress and the signs indicated we should return after 10. We wandered through the many alleys and lanes of the old quarter locating many of the significant buildings marked on our map.

By about 9:45 we'd been walking for the best part of two hours and the inevitable call of nature had to be satisfied. Jenny needed to buy some salve and we asked the lady in the pharmacy where there was a public toilet – her reply “There are none. What you have to do is buy a coffee at a cafe or bar and use their toilet.” There was a bar of sorts just around the corner and that's what we did. You don't pay for the loo as such but you don't get to go unless you buy something. I guess we'll just have to get used to it.

After satisfying nature's call we climbed back up to the cathedral and paid the entry fee. The structure is ancient, massive and impressive. In addition to the main altar there are a number of chapels along both sides of the main church. Each chapel is dedicated to a particular saint or religious event. In addition to this central attraction there are a number of display cases two of which housed a single silver candelabrum that must have been over 150 cm tall and weighed many kilos.

We spent well over an hour in the cathedral and then wandered along the city wall to finally find our way back to the foreshore and a waiting shuttle bus. On return to the ship we had a late lunch and spent what remained of the afternoon in our cabin.

We were most impressed with Palma de Mallorca. It is beautifully located on the Bahia de Palma, it is clean (a feature not shared by many places we've visited) and the traffic – at least on a Saturday morning, appeared to adhere to some set of rules. Looking at the map of the island it would appear to be a place where one could spend a week or two poking around the many small ports and villages.

On the way to diner we met the magician in the corridor. Jenny made some smart remark along the lines of “could he make him disappear?” pointing to me. Quick as a flash he produced an iPod out of Jenny's right ear. Then he muttered some mumbo-jumbo and asked her to blow on it and it turned into a golf-ball sized sphere which he then swallowed. A hearty wave and he continued on his way.

The 'crew' show was along similar lines to that on the Star on the Alaska cruise. Very entertaining and some seriously good talent aboard this ship. The most unlikely act was the executive chef from “the kingdom of Bavaria” who had a remarkable voice and all together enjoyed himself way too much.

Day 67 Sunday 21 November - “Cruise Day 8 – Barcelona”

We wake up along side in Barcelona. An early breakfast and we pack our bags for the transfer to our new cabin. All very simple and painless. We then retired to the Spinnaker Lounge to avoid the activity as over 2,000 people found their way off the ship. It was a bit like ants scurrying out of a net being flooded. Quiet descended and the only activity was the crew preparing for the onslaught of over 2,000 new passengers coming aboard. It was interesting to observe all this activity without being a part of it.

Spent part of the afternoon unpacking our gear in the new cabin and attending the Emergency Evacuation Drill. Then diner again in the Grand Pacific and working out what to have from the same menu we had a week ago. A number of the staff had already apologised for the duplication but we didn't have a problem finding something else to eat.

We decided to give this evening's show a miss and spent the time catching up with this blog. Tomorrow is a 'sea' day and we've already found four or five things we may like to do. One thing is for certain, we won't be bored.

Posted by greynomadm 00:23 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

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