Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Some more pictures at last!

Athena to the rescue!

It was hard to believe that our time on the Athena was coming to an end. We were all very much enjoying having the ship to ourselves when 80 guests disembarked in Nice. The 260 remaining guests thought it was wonderful having our own luxury yacht (OK maybe not luxury, but nice just the same). Being the good sorts that we are, we saved 200 English refugees in Lisbon. The poor people had been stranded for a couple of days. They were shellshocked and bedraggled from their experience, but we made them feel at home. Although there was some talk about creating refugee free zones- this was pasticularly relevant for those who regularly participated in the triva games as everyone had "THEIR" seats.

Many if not most found the whole experience of having their travel plans disrupted terrible but seemed to be further upset by the fact that it was due to the volcanic activity. The fear factor of not being in control, that mother nature could reek such havoc and the uncertainty of not knowing when travel would resume was almost too much for some. In saying that they all had a wonderful few days on the ship and there is no doubt that many would cruise again.

Lisbon is always a beautiful city and you can detect some of its former glory when you visit the Belem Tower and Monument and the San Geromino Monastry. We had a wonderful day there and enoyed the traditional custard pastries... not only in Lisbon but that night...some had more that 3 servings but I can't name names. They know who they are, and I'm sure some of you can figure out who they might be.

Sailing into Portsmouth was bitter sweet in many ways. We were all ready to get off the ship but it was also sad to say goodbye to our fabulous waiters and cabin attendants as well as the friends we made on bord.
What was impressive as we sailed in was the amount of naval ships were there. The boys were very excited!

It was time to say goodbye to Clive,Joan,Dorothy and Norm. They were off to visit Dorothy's family and to explore more of Britain.

Robin and Lorna stayed in Portsmouth for the day and visited the naval museum, while the rest of us made our way to London.

Our hotel was lovely, great rooms and wonderful location. We dined at the little english pub across the road. It was good value at 9.90pounds for a 2 course meal. Exceptional value for London.

Janice set off early Saturday morning on her Cosmos tour of the UK.
Berwyn and Elaine set off on Sunday for their Trafalgar Tour fo Europe and Angela set off on her Trafalgar Tour of the UK too.

Colleen, Adrienne and Dennis followed us to Amsterdam and then onto France.

I must warn you that I am biased. France is beautiful, full of history, good food and great wine and a je ne sais quoi.
We spent some time in the north in Le Qesnoy, which is the sister city of Cambridge. This walled city was liberated by Kiwis in WW1.The city was and is still so thankful that the Kiwis can and liberated them from the German occupation but more importantly while doing so did not destroy the city, saving their treasured walls.
Visiting walled cities in Europe is a big tourism industry.
Le Qesnoy and Beaudignies (another small village close by) celebrate ANZAC day every year. We unfortunately arrived a day late.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Suez to Roma

Suez Canal, Egypt, Cyprus, Malta and Roma

Passing through the Suez Canal was a magical day. The slow passage following other ships sailing to destinations unknown between the dry Sinai desert and the green and lush Egyptian is magical. Looking to the Sinai desert you wonder how anything can survive there and why the Israelis would want it. You are then amazed at the lushness on the opposite side and remember it is being feed by the Nile.

How do you describe the Suez Canal? It is like one of those one-way bridges, where traffic stops and holds in a bay, in this case 2 big lakes while traffic passes through in the other direction. It was amazing coming along one of these lakes and seeing all the others boats waiting to go south while we continued our way north. We have some great pictures of boats waiting to head south, which look like they are beached on the sand. Hopefully we can upload those pictures in Nice.

It was a day for the binoculars and sipping a cocktail on the deck. We commemorated with Dorothy her passage through the Suez 40 years after her first time. She assured us that nothing much has changed.

Arriving late in the evening in Port Said we all took advantage for an evening stroll. There isn’t much in Port Said, just a big industrial city really. However it was interesting walking along the boardwalk and seeing young families, couples and teenagers strolling in the evening air. Of course, our ship was cause enough to come out to have a look. And yes, the hawkers were out trying to sell their wares to varying degrees of success. Angela did get a lovely leather bag.

Cairo, you just have to experience. You just can’t describe it. You start by having to wait for all the buses to be ready for the convoy and then you can head off, lead by armed guards. No, it’s not so scary and in fact practical to have an armed escort as you get priority at intersections and in traffic.

The drive to Cairo is a long one; our guide was informative and made the time go by quickly. We then picked up our Egyptologist. Randa was energetic and loved to talk. A good thing for a guide. The museum is always amazing and Randa was an excellent guide, bringing a lot of things to life and relating thing to our reality. Did you know that King Tut’s sarcophagus was made of gold and weighs as much as 2 elephants? The Egyptians were very clever and had folding beds with hinges just like we have today.

The legend of the curse of his tomb is no more than chemistry. As our guide explained the sudden death of the young king took everyone by surprise and thus his burial chamber was not ready for him. True to the belief of the time the king was sent to the other world with all that he would need for the other life, fruit, vegetables, bread, and wine. A deadly combination with the still wet paint and foods for the after life which created life threatening bacteria that was only looking for a bit of oxygen, which the got when the tomb was opened. And so the mystery of the curse of King Tut’s tomb has been solved.

Cyprus was a lovely day, especially if you like wine! We shared our wine the following day as we celebrated from a distance our twins, Samantha and Emily’s 21 birthday. Cheers girls!

The day at sea between Cyprus and Malta we had great fun on board. The Miss Athena competition was hilarious. Dorothy and Adrienne were nominated, willingly and not so willingly. The competition was full of fun. You will never believe what can be done with balloons. We tried to get pictures but they don’t do it justice. Once again Kiwi elegance, beauty, talent and eloquence won out with Adrienne being crown Miss Athena. Her numerous speaking engagements and opening ceremonies has not hindered her enjoyment of her grand journey.

Malta is the jewel of the Med. It’s beautiful fortified harbour is magic to sail into. Malta is an island with a lot of history seeping through every cobble and street. For some it was a walk down memory lane and a time to reminisce about our foolish younger days! Marsaxlokk holds wonderful memories for Dennis who was able to find where he once lived and people who knew about the boat he helped to build in the 60’s.

Rome, the eternal city, was an introduction to the bustle of Europe. We made good time getting to the outskirts of Rome but then it took us an hour to get to Vatican City. The crowds were amazing despite the early hour, and appreciated that we had organised priority entry into the Vatican. Our guide Simona was wonderful and very passionate about her city. The Vatican as the smallest country in the world is impressive in its grandeur and wealth. Walking through the halls and marvelling at the archaeological artefacts and works of art is breathtaking. The Sistine chapel is beautiful, although its beauty is marred by the crowds again. It is hard to image Michelangelo a sculpture who had never painted before, designing and painting upside down the awe inspiring scenes. What amazes even more and confirms his talent, as an artist is that he could not afford to make any mistakes and had to get it right the first time, as frescos are really coloured plaster and once dry you cannot make changes. Imagine!

Of course it is in the Sistine chapel that the cardinal elect a new Pope. You can well imagine how this chapel would inspire and remind them of the message of Jesus Christ and help them in the difficult decision they most bear. Indeed the Catholic Church is where it is today because of the decisions made there. Ummm, so we are reminded that they are only men after all and are subject to all the frailties the rest of we mortals suffer from.

St Peter’s basilica is impressive and humbling by it’s grandeur and beauty, reminding you of the glory of God. The history and the heart of the Christian religion is embodied there, from a simple place of pilgrimage to splendour of the world. No matter what your religious beliefs are the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica forms an integral part of the fabric of our modern society.
By the time we had finished at Vatican City we were all shattered and ready for a drink and food. The lovely Simona organised for us to eat at her favourite restaurant for a truly Italian meal. We had REAL Italian pizza and local wine. Robin tasted his 1st pizza ever. I think he might be tempted to try it again.

From lunch we visited the Coliseum, inside and out. It is colossus and very modern in many, with sophisticated backstage equipment, like moving stages and pulleys for lower and raise platforms, not dissimilar to what we have today. Unfortunately it was a bit rushed as time was running out.
We then dashed to the Trevi fountain to throw in our coins and make a wish.

We regret to inform everyone that the gelato competition was a dismal failure. Clive, Berywn, Colleen and Ewan only consumed 1 gelato each. The record still holds at 6 gelatos in one day. Ewan remains the champion.

We really feel now that we are counting down the days on the boat. We have just left Nice where some of us went to Monaco, visiting the Palace and the tombs of Prince Rainer and Princess Grace, the picturesque Village of Eze with it’s medieval streets overlooking the azure blue waters of the Med. Of course there were some of us who almost ran off the boat to get their fix of French pastry and café crème. (Yes, that was Ewan and Monique).

We understand that there were some serious shopping conquests but this has yet to be confirmed. We have some serious contenders for best shoppers on this tour. Watch out Jenny (from our 1st tour, you know the one) you have competition.

I’m trying to convince Ewan that we really need a shopping tour…maybe next year!

Happy Birthday go out to:

Emily and Samantha- the twins
The triplets from Elaine and the rest of us
And to everyone else’s birthday we have missed while we are on our grand Journey.
We have been thinking of you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Jordan and Petra

We would definitely love to come back to Jordan. A strikingly beautiful country with delightful and welcoming people.

The sail up the Gulf of Aqaba was amazing, one side Egypt, Sinai desert, Saudi Arabi and Jordan and in front of us Israel. With the history of the Old Testament surrounding us. Aqaba however is the Riviera of the Gulf of Aqaba, or at least working on trying to position itself that way. We were so fortunate to arrive in the late afternoon, so most of us eat quickly and rushed off the ship.
Taxis were waiting in anticipation for us to flood the dock and to make the most of the opportunity. They weren’t as pushy as in some places but like all good entrepreneurs they tried their best. Lucky we had done some research and were able to let everyone know what they should pay for a taxi into town.
Aqaba is a beautiful city. People come out at night to do their shopping so it was very lively with families strolling in the parks and going out for dinner.
There was a wedding and we saw the groom’s cavalcade go by with all the boys hanging out of the cars making a lot of noise.

What was most amazing is as we were walking by we saw 2 camels with riders sitting at a crosswalk waiting to cross the road, then crossing the road in the break of traffic and sauntering towards us. Adrienne was clever, rummaging furiously to get her camera out to take a picture. When she finally got her camera out, the camel boy (Arab for cowboy) stopped his camel, asked it to kneel down and got off so Adrienne was able to get her picture. He then wanted her to get onto his camel. It was a proposition that was hard to resist but she did. A lovely gentleman then explained to us that the government funds the camel riders as a tourism attraction. Camels crossing at, as crosswalk is a sight you will always remember.

Petra- a Wonder of the World!

The drive to Petra was striking in its rugged beauty. Looking out and the sand carved landscape, you can’t imagine how people or anything for that matter can survive, and yet for 1000’s of years they have thrived. It is a land steeped in biblical history with being the land that Moses crossed and where his brother Aaron was lewd from “the way” towards god by the Golden Horn. Aaron’s tomb lies at the top of a mountainous crop.

As you arrive at Petra it is a steep and winding road, where you hope you don’t loose your brakes. The entrance into the gorge, called Siq in Arabic, widens and narrows and winds this way and that with camels and horse drawn carriages making their way up and down the passage. Everywhere you look you marvel at the rock formation. There were many school groups and we had a magical moment when some young girls started to sign.

Advertising was alive and well in the time of the Nebateans (the people credited with the building of Petra). You can still make out what would have been signs for this way for the camels.
Although you know that the Treasury is just around the corner, you are still not prepared to see it when you take the last bend. You will all remember it from Indiana Jones and the temple of Dome.

We spend some time in awe in front of the Treasury. Many decided to head back, knowing they still to walk the 1.5kms back while a handful of us carried on a bit further to the amphitheatre. Along the way, some beautiful young ladies, who just wanted to talk to us and practice their English, approached us ladies. They were part of a school group and were in year 7. Their English was very good and they were very inquisitive. It was a special moment.

A few of us decided to try out the horse drawn carriage for the ride up while the enthusiastic ones walked back up to the entrance.

It was a buffet lunch with traditional food. Lots of dips, hummus, abaganoush, a salsa sauce that was divine, kafta (lamb mince kebabs), Persian rice (saffron infused with raisins and almonds) and of course desert which consisted of honey cake and traditional donuts dripping also in honey.
As Ewan and I kept saying it was divine!

The drive back was a bit more sedate as we were all exhausted.

Satisfying the shopping bug.

Aqaba has good shopping if you like jewellery, particularly silver and Lapis as well as other colourful stones.

And yes, we did some damage! Angela was so pleased to have finally been able to get some cash out so purchased 2 beautiful necklaces. Janice also bought a beautiful ring and earrings.

The Suez awaits. We will be joining another convoy, so the boys will all be out ship spotting.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Salalah Oman


Saleem Alay kum (not sure if that is how one would spell it)

Peace be with you.

The traditional greeting in the Arab world. For most of us, Oman was our first experience of the arab world and a very surprising and pleasant one at that.

Our guide Ali was dressed in the traditional disdasha and cap. The disdasha is the long “dress” that you see men wear. He was a very smart man and understood the psychology of touring and men and women. What do I mean, you ask? The first place Ali took us was to the souq, arab for market/shop. Of course it was early in the morning so most of the shops were just opening. The men were relieved because the women could do minimum damage and yes the girls were pleased we got the shopping out of the way, pashminas being the purchases of the day and could then relax and fully enjoy the rest of the day. Very smart man!

Salalah is on the coast of Oman and so has more of a tropical climate, but none the less is surrounded by desert. Although Oman has oil and gas it is not as rich as it’s neighbours. The current sultan is credited for modernising Oman. The infrastructure is amazing and the place is pristine. The country side is stunning, imagine sparking sand and turquoise seas. It is a very religious land with Moses and Mohammed having passed through. Part of our tour was visiting the ever patience tomb of Job.

As one might think camels are everywhere and are very valuable. Farmers let their camels wander throughout the day and the camels bring themselves home at night. Believe it or not, they milk the camels too. Imagine milking a camel! Ever heard of camel bras? Yes they put a bra on the camels when they are lactating to stop their young from suckling. So there you have it… camel bras. Camels have right of way and we saw them everywhere, including on the road. Their equivalent of the kiwi traffic jam. If you hit a camel during the day there is a hefty fine, if you hit a camel at night the farmer is fined.

As we arrived back at the port, what looked like a small boat was off loading some cows that apparently came from Somalia. The boat didn’t look that big, imagine an ancient looking vessel, open to the elements, but it kept on discharging cows. We figured there must have been a couple 100 cows. An incredible sight.

All and all a wonderful and enchanting day.

We have just passed through pirate alley and all of the excitement of being part of a convoy and seeing the naval frigate sail close by and the Orion fly by. We did have a bit of real excitement when 3 fishing boats came zooming up. Everyone on board was on heightened alert. You will all be pleased that our Ukrainian security staff were on guard with water hoses and all.

We are now in the Red Sea sailing to Aqaba and the forgotten city of Petra.
It is tough, more sitting by the pool, playing games and eating.