Around the World - almost - On the Island Princess
Note: The following is more-or-less a diary of the trip and has not been edited to "pretty" it up. Youíll just have to take it as it is.
Sept 16, 1998
Our easy trip from LAX to SFO became somewhat longer. Cloudy weather and the poor design of SFO delayed our departure from LA from 10 am to 11:30. Upon arrival in Frisco we reported to the Princess Meet-and-Greet staff who looked at us as if to say, "Why are you bothering us?" We wandered off to try to find our luggage. No one, including the aforementioned staff, seemed to have any idea as to which carrousel the bags would show up on. We finally found them at the very end of the baggage claim area and schlepped them back to the pile that had been created by the staff.
After standing around for some time, we all trouped off to the other end of the terminal and boarded a bus. Eventually the bus hauled us off to the ship, located at a pier very close to Fishermenís Wharf. We waited in a long queue to check in and surrender our tickets and passports. After we were issued our bar-coded cruise cards, we were allowed to embark. When we entered the ship, we inserted the bar-coded card into a reader and looked into a digital camera which recorded our image. We havenít left the ship yet however I assume that the next time we board we will stab our card into the reader and the gangway personnel will compare the recorded image to our faces.
One of the dining room stewards led us to our room where we dumped our hand-carry and then set out to refamiliarize ourselves with the ship. Since it was now 3 pm and we hadnít eaten since breakfast, we were pleased to find a buffet on the Sun Deck. When we returned to the cabin our room steward, Mar, introduced himself and then found two of our bags. Jodie found our third bag. We started unpacking until it was time for departure.
Departing from Frisco through or under the Golden Gate Bridge is certainly spectacular, especially with the approaching sunset. After the views had receded into the fog we went back to the cabin and finished unpacking before supper.
On this ship seating is assigned in the dining room. We had asked for a six-person table and wound up with a seven-person table. No one occupied the seventh seat however I suspect it belongs to some minor officer. The other two couples seem quite pleasant. I hope they remain so for the remaining 65 days.
Up a bit after seven after a pretty good nightís sleep, enhanced by the retarding of the clock by one hour. We will step back a total of 15 zones in the course of the trip. The first order of business was to walk 45 minutes on the top deck. It went well at the start but the last 15 minutes were difficult since quite a lot of people decided to walk, quite slowly. After the walk we dropped down to the Lido Deck for the buffet breakfast. The remainder of the day has been rather low key. About all we have done is rearrange the stuff in the drawers.
Tonight is the first of five formal galas. Since this is the second night of the trip it is, of course, the Captainís Welcome Cocktail Party and Dinner. The tuxes are coming out of the mothballs!
September 18, 1998
My, there were a lot of tuxes! I had no idea that so many people had them. The cocktail party was typical; a long wait for the mandatory photos first Jodie and me clutching each other outside the entrance, then posed with Captain Bob Oliver, and finally our carefully rationed single glass of wine. We learned that there are 589 passengers on the trip, being assisted by a crew of 362.
A few comments about the room, or cabin. There is a rather small double-doored closet with a couple of shelves on top, a desk or dresser with three larger drawers on either side along with two very shallow drawers, and a shallow center drawer. One bunk folds down out of the wall, the other is the couch in the day time and is parallel to the hull. A shelf runs the whole length of the room above the fold-down bed. There are two narrow medicine cabinets one on either side of the mirror in the bathroom. The shower stall is tiny. The shower is like standing in a heavy mist, the result of a water saving nozzle and erratic water pressure.
September 19, 1998
These days at sea have been quite restful. In addition, we have been picking up an extra hour every other night to compensate for our westward movement. The routine we have fallen into: up at 6:30 or 7, dress immediately in our exercise togs and climb to the jogging track at the highest deck on the ship. I start my stop watch when we reach the bottom of the first of 6 flights of stairs. We walk round and round until the stop watch indicates 45 minutes. We have usually completed 3x18 laps around the deck, 3 miles We then drop down to the Sun Deck and partake in the breakfast buffet. Then shower and dress for the day. Usually there are lectures, games, videos, etc, to occupy our time. Yesterday afternoon, for example, we attended a wine tasting which compared three Chardonnays. Today they will address reds. The two wine experts from Frisco, Sarah Floyd and William Sherer, will leave us at Lahina
I finished my first book yesterday, one of the C. S. Forester Hornblower books. After fiction I have switched to Endurance, Shackletonís Incredible Voyage. Jodie has been attending the line dancing classes and catching up on tax reading.
September 20, 1998
Cruising continues - on toward Lahina. The big event today was the Sunday brunch buffet. We chose to not participate and therefore waited for the hamburger bar on the Sun Deck. The hamburgers were unhealthy, greasy, beef patties - unfortunately quite delicious. Iíll have to double my intake of red wine to compensate. Our first semi-formal dinner is tonight.
September 21, 1998
"Here today, gone to Maui." Actually we will be at Maui all day today and tomorrow.
The big event today was doing the laundry. Upon leaving the ship we inquired at an al fresco information table for the location of the nearest Laundromat. We were given directions to the only Laundromat. So while our shipmates were off seeing volcanos and the like we hiked off through an almost endless succession of souvenir shops, art shops, fast food shops, and restaurants.
We had been told to turn at the second stop light and, although we had a map we missed the street we were to turn on. Turns out that there arenít any stop lights on the street we were walking and that we had misunderstood our directions. We realized our mistake when we found a shopping center that was listed on our map. Wasnít a serious error. There was a Longís Drug Store where we accomplished much of the shopping we had intended to do after the laundry. Some of the other shops in the center allowed us to finish birthday shopping for granddaughter Natalie and son-in-law Randall.
During our hike back to the dock we did a lot of shopping but no buying.
September 22 1998
Went snorkeling today on the Lahania Princess. After an early departure we rode for 1Ĺ hours to a little islet that once was part of a volcano. The ship offers breakfast however, since we didnít know, we had already eaten on the IP. There were at least 12 other boats already anchored at the islet like cars parked at the curb. Although the water was cold, the fish were terrific.
After snorkeling for about 1Ĺ hours, we moved to another location while having lunch. The feature at the second location was turtles and a turtle cleaning station. Other than that it wasnít as good, much deeper and fewer fish. After less than an hour I became too cold so we got out, turned in our fins, and partook of the free bar.
One on the little mysteries of the trip, we departed Lahania around 6 PM however the captain. announced that we were going to putter along at 12 knots, the slowest the engines like, and take a circuitous route to Honolulu so as to arrive at 6:30 am. Why not delay our departure?
September 23, 1998
We entered the Honolulu harbor at sun rise. It was quite pleasant. Since we had pretty well seen the place we didnít take any of the tours but shopped a bit. The information booth in the terminal told us that it was a very long walk to the closest bus stop and that we should take a cab. We set out to walk to the bus stop anyway and then encountered the free Hilo Hattie shopping shuttle. It took us to the factory and, after shopping, took us to the Ala Monana Center. We had a delightful lunch there, good shopping, and then caught the city bus back to within a short block of the ship. On the way to the ship we caught the end of a free noon concert at a nearby office building.
September 24, 1998
We departed Honolulu about a half hour late. One of the passengers suffered a heart attack and was removed from the ship, along with his belongings which had been packed by the crew. The modern, reflective walled high rise buildings of Honolulu were quite spectacular in the setting sun. A local hula group performed in the Carousel Lounge prior to our departure. It was a group of 20 to 30 young girls directed and accompanied by a couple who brought their two children along, a boy of perhaps 6 and his sister who has just turned 4. The dancers were quite good and the kids cute beyond words!
September 25, 1998
We are now on a long succession of days at sea. Our routine has become quite set. We get up around 6:30 am (one of us wakes up around 4:30.) We dress in our exercise togs and mount the stairs to the exercise track above the Sun Deck. The reasons for the early start are two-fold; it is less crowded earlier and also much cooler. At 18 laps per mile, we do 3 miles in 45 minutes then go down to the Sun Deck for juice and/or breakfast. At 8 am we join a stretching group on the stern and then eat breakfast if we havenít already done so.
After showers I usually read while Jodie crafts. Sometimes there is some sort of morning activity, such as Trivia or a lecture. Lunch is taken either at the Sun Deck Buffett or we wait until our turn in the Coral Dinning room for lunch at 1:30. The afternoon is much the same as the morning. Sometime after 5 or 6 PM we have a drink either in the room or in one of the bars. Dinner is at 7:45 and sometime we go to a show in the Carousel Lounge at 9:45. We are usually in bed by 11.
We have formed a Trivia team that had been quite unsuccessful, up to this morning. Our previous best effort had been two ties for first which we lost in the tie breaker. This morning we won, free and clear! The two most consistent members are Peg and Liz. They are childhood friends. Peg lives in Honolulu, was a publicist for UAL, and was married to the editor of the Honolulu newspaper, and after he died, to the gossip columnist. She seems to have known quite a few notable people. Liz lives in Philly and is a nurse. Two of our table mates, Phyllis and Bob sometimes join our team.
September 26, 1998
Another trivia victory! We again tied with another team and the director decided to award prizes to both since time was running short.
Two nights ago was the second semiformal night. Tonight will be the second formal night. I kept insisting that there wouldnít be a formal night without some excuse, such as crossing the Equator or the like. Well, its tonight and there is no excuse.
I have finished another book, a murder mystery set in Frisco, The Magicianís Story, by Hunt. I have now embarked on Apsley Cherry-Garrardís story of the ill-fated Scott South Pole expedition, The Worst Journey in the World.
September 27, 1998
We experienced a slight bump around 3 this morning as we crossed the Equator. We have thus transitioned from Fall to Spring. The weather, however, seems quite the same, scattered clouds and rolling seas.
There has been an unoccupied, seventh chair at our table. The Maître díhôtel kept telling us that someone would show up to occupy it. Last night he did. Our mystery dining companion is the shipís safety officer, Barry Sadler. This position used to be called second officer. Barry is married to a former assistant purser from the Spirit of London. They have two children, a girl and a boy. He has been with Princess for 13 years.
September 28, 1998
We reach Pago Pago, American Samoa tomorrow. Our visit will be from 8 am to 1 PM. Either there is not much to do there or we canít afford the time. Tonight we will lose our final hour before crossing the Date Line. In our constant trip around the globe we keep dropping hours until we arrive back home on the correct date after throwing a day away at the International Date Line. Confusing.
I have finally found that the circumference of the Earth at the Equator is 24,890 statute miles or 21,643 nautical miles. This re-enforces what I had vaguely remembered as the origin of the size of a nautical mile as one minute of longitude at the Equator. There are 21,600 minutes around the Earth at the Equator, actually everywhere. One trip around the jogging track takes a person the equivalent of 0.0002% of the way around the Earth at the Equator.
I donít think I have commented about the notable differences between this ship and the smaller ones we have traveled on since last we were on this one. Although it, and its sister, are the babies of the Princess fleet, it is a behemoth compared to the Clipper ships and the World Discoverer. This was most apparent when we put to sea. The motion was most stately even with the moderate swell in the ocean. The ship is fitted with stabilizers which greatly reduce roll. Pitch is another matter however its not too bad in the center of the ship where our cabin is. The sheer size also mitigates the affect of ocean movement. One other difference is the wider availability of places to go on the ship and, of course, the almost constant availability of activities.
September 29, 1998
After five days of ocean travel, we arrived at Pago Pago, 5315 statute miles from Hawthorne. There are more Samoans living in the United States than in American Samoa. We approached the harbor with a curious u-turn maneuver around 6:30 am. This approach was caused by a shallow bar extending out on one side of the entrance. Once we were inside, we saw a large number of fishing boats as the harbor opened up. As we approached our anchorage we hesitated and then pivoted in the center of the harbor, then sidled up to the dock.
Although it is hard to believe, the ship had to moor without our help. We had to eat breakfast so that we could leave on our tour at 8:15. There doesnít seem to be a great density of housing here. The houses are scattered over a wide area. Electricity and potable water are available in town. I donít know what the situation is out of town. I also donít know if there is a sewage system or if the houses use septic tanks. We saw no outhouses. The houses range from rather simple boxes to fairly decent sized ones. Some complexes may belong to one family. Most have an open, roofed platform that is used for family celebrations.
There is another thing next to many houses, the graves of their ancestors. Although we did see some cemeteries, it is common to bury family members next to the home. As you would expect from a tropic island, the overwhelming color is green. There are banana trees, mango trees, and breadfruit trees in profusion. There are, however, few flowers. There are some flowering trees and vines, but no massive displays.
Our tour consisted of a 45 minute ride in one of the jitneys out to a point where we enjoyed the view, then back part way to a demonstration of island cooking. We had breadfruit, papaya, and mackerel cooked in a umu, a rock heated oven. The rocks are heated in a fire and allowed to fall to the ground as the fire burns out. Layers of green banana leaves are laid on the hot rocks and then the food. The fish is cooked in half coconut shells. Layers of green banana leaves cover each layer of food. It was quite good. Our guides were high school girls. They giggled a lot and demonstrated their high school cheers. They were a lot of fun.
After we got back, we shopped a bit before the ship left for Fuji at 1 PM.
Alas, poor September 30th will never happen for us. We will loose it at the international date line.
September 30, 1998
We carried our cameras up to the jogging track so as to photograph the mail drop at Niua Foíoa. This is a very small, volcanic island. The volcano last erupted 50 years ago so it is still considered active. It is also called "Tin Can Island" since it used to receive its mail delivery via a sealed can that was dropped off of a ship and allowed to wash ashore. This tradition was resurrected, sort of, by the Matson liner Monterey in 1952. Ships stop near the island and drop off mail to be sent from the island, at a fee of $1.50. A plane visits the island twice a month to bring and pick up mail. The island has its own stamps which are supposed to be collectable.
We arrived as scheduled however no one seemed to be about. The ship horn blew and we drifted along the shore; the horn blew again and finally three people showed up at the little harbor, launched a small outboard, and came out to pick up the mail, and some fresh food and stuff that the ship donated. The man riding in the bow actually rode astride holding the Tongan flag.
Although my National Geographic Society map of the World shows the International Date Line very close to American Samoa, the navigator, or someone has decreed that we will not cross it until tonight. (Actually, I think it was a matter of practicality. It is easier to accomplish a momentous change like that at night. But it could have been done last night.) The chart posted in the foyer of the Rivera deck shows the International Date Line in an entirely different location. So, therefore, we will or have had September 30, 1998 but will not have October 1. Not that it has been anything out of the ordinary, just another day at sea. (In keeping with our World cruise, we have posted our World map on the cabin wall and have the cruise marked on it.)
One benefit of this trip is that I have learned how to use my GPS receiver. It has a lot of neat features that I never knew how to use. They are tailored for ship navigation, however.
October 3, 1998
Yesterday was spent in Fiji. We took one of the tours in the morning and then shopped in the afternoon. Siva is a large, modern city, complete with high-rise buildings. Our tour went out into the country for 45 minutes to a display of native living at the Pacific Harbor Cultural Center. As in American Samoa, the dwellings range from simple one-room houses on stilts to more sizeable ones. All seem to have electricity and running water. Most seem to have indoor plumbing although I saw a few out houses.
Most of our shopping was in various handcraft stores. We also wandered by the fish market and the Farmersí Market. The town is quite busy. Most transportation is provided by buses or jitneys. Traffic is rather heavy in town. Besides the profusion of buses there are many cars, trucks, taxis.
THE bridge tour was this afternoon. On the big boats, passengers are allowed only to tour the bridge. It was conducted by the cadet on board. This seems to be one of the standard duties assigned to cadets. My last tour was also conducted by a cadet. There were approximately 20 passengers, a reasonably sized group. The ship has four engines which are clutched and geared to two variable pitch propellers. The engines and propellers operate at a constant rpm; speed and direction are controlled by pitch. When entering and leaving port, a lighter diesel fuel is used; when at sea a heavy bunker is used. Navigation, of course, is with GPS. The cadet showed us the sextant and a really nice star globe and said he had been practicing with it. I talked to one of the navigators (one of 3) who said they all use it to keep their hand in. Iím dubious. They had photos of the ship in dry dock. The stabilizers fold into the side of the ship when not in use. While we were on the bridge, only one stabilizer was in use however the unsymmetrical drag didnít seem to have any affect on the ship. The submerged surfaces are studded with zinc sacrificial anodes. These must be replenished every two years.
Time to mention the general state of the ship. She had spent two weeks in a Vancouver Dry Dock before setting out on this cruise. In spite of that, things seem just a bit tacky. The water pressure in the cabins is quite undependable. Yesterday the water was coming out brown in some cabins. Our shower is like standing in a light mist, on those rare occasions when the pressure is good. When the pressure drops, the shower just drips. The wood deck on the Sun Deck is rotting in many places. Although the crew is painting constantly there are places where there has been obvious rusting that has been painted over. Rumor has it that Island Princess and her sister, Pacific Princess are not long for the fleet. Clearly they do not match their Brobdingnagian sisters, the 2,000 passenger liners. Perhaps only mandatory maintenance and some cosmetic maintenance are being performed. (The rumors were correct. The Island Princess was sold shortly after the cruise to a company that went broke. Last I heard she was sitting, unused, in a harbor somewhere.)
We have been treated to a lot of entertainment, most of it not too good. It occurs to me that vaudeville has been resurrected by the cruise industry. There have been two comic magicians, one fairly good and one not so, a banjo player, a female xylophone player, a couple of dreadful comics, two classical recitals by a soprano and her accompanist, and several "production" numbers. I guess the production numbers are to add to the Las Vegas atmosphere of the casino. We also had a famous has-been, Charo. She performed the night between Lahina and Honolulu.
October 4, 1998
Today being Sunday we had Sunday Brunch again. It was nothing remarkable however it runs from 10 am to 2 PM. I donít know if this is offered to give some of the kitchen staff a break or to provide variety for the passengers.
Our team won two of three trivia games yesterday, one was presented as a variant of Jeopardy. We have now won two sets of glass coffee mugs, picture frames, and book marks.
October 6, 1998
Yesterday was Bay of Islands, New Zealand. More specifically, we anchored in Paihai bay. A catamaran ferried us to shore where we immediately boarded buses which took us to Opua for the vintage railway ride. Years ago coal was discovered in Kawakawa. The railroad was build to move the coal to a river where it was placed on barges for further shipment. The engine was a small steamer. Part way through the trip, an antique diesel coupled to the rear since the steam engine didnít have enough power to take the "large" train up the hill. The climax of the ride was when we rode down the center of the Kawakawa business district on tracks that bisect the town. This is now a nonprofit operation run by volunteers. The steam engine has been modified to burn waste engine oil.
Back on the bus for a 45-minute ride to see the stone store (the oldest stone building in New Zealand) and the 3rd oldest wood building in New Zealand. Of course, we didnít know that that was the reason we stopped so we hiked off on a rain forest track to a historic hydroelectric plant and an itty bitty waterfall. We though we were to see some giant Kari trees. They were at the next stop, a further 45-minute ride. We had 15 minutes to see them. They really are quite large, growing straight out of the rain forest branching out near the top similar to Giant Sequoias. Sequoias are much, much larger, both in girth and height. Our tour ended with a 45-minute drive back to Paihai.
By this time it was 1 PM so we sought out a bite to eat which we found in a waterfront sandwich shop. We then shopped Paihai. There was a display of local handcrafts. One of the sellers had a decided American accent. When I commented on it he said he was originally from Florida. He and his wife spent 12 years sailing about before settling there and becoming residents.
After a half an hour of shopping we had pretty well exhausted Paihai so we took the ferry across the bay to Russell. This is a quiet little town as compared to the slightly greater tourist activity in Paihai. At one time it was know as the "Hell Hole of the Pacific." It features the first hotel in New Zealand. When we got back to Paihai we visited a liquor store that had an extensive stock of New Zealand wines. When we were first in New Zealand several years ago there seemed to be almost no local wines. Now there seem to be more than 100. We asked to clerk to help us select two good whites and two good reds.
As the ship departed the bay at sunset, we were joined by a phalanx of dolphins who escorted us to sea!
It was only 130 miles, or so, down the coast to Auckland. We were alongside by 6:30 am. Since we had no tours scheduled, we showered and had a leisurely breakfast before setting out to see the town. We walked over to Victoria Market Place, a collection of little shops built into the former town trash incinerator building. Then we walked to Parnell Street and had lunch and shopped. Then across Auckland Domain (park) to Queen street down through the center of the business district and back to the ship. In the course of the day we walked 9 miles. I also succeeded in reaching both Chris and Beth by phone.
October 7, 1998
At about 10 am, just as we were about to round the northern end of New Zealand, the ship reversed course and Capt. Bob came on the public address system. There is a critically ill patient in the infirmary who requires emergency evacuation. The course reversal was so that we could rendevous with a medevac helicopter. Toward this end, the stern half of the ship is off limits, including the interior areas. Although it is an emergency, we are proceeding southeast at a stately 14.4 knots.
This makes four people who have had to leave the ship due to medical emergencies. One left in Honolulu because of a heart problem. Two were removed by ambulance in Auckland, one because of a blood clot and one for uremia. These are probably statistically expected, given the average age and the number of passengers, rumored to be 71 years.
The latest word is that there are now two passengers requiring evacuation. Rendevous is scheduled for mid-day but will probably require two helicopters or two flights of the one. Still we sedately motor back down the coast at 14.6 knots. Everything, including cabins, in the back half of the ship has been evacuated. In spite of this, there will be the Mexican Buffet on the Sun Deck, starting at about the same time the evacuation is to occur. The evacuation occurred around 34o 49" S, 173o 59.78" E.
During the evacuation there were two black balls separated by a black diamond flying from the yardarm. In addition there was a red and white flag flying. The helicopter approached and lowered the paramedic to the stern. Then the first patient was lifted, all wrapped and tied into a litter. The chopper flew off with the first and returned sometime later after refueling. Then it picked up the paramedic then the second patient in the litter. As soon as all were safely aboard the helicopter departed, we turned and headed again toward Sydney. Later in the afternoon we reached speeds of 19.1 knots, but not for any sustained interval.
Rumors abound as to the problems; woman with bleeding ulcer, woman with stroke, man with detached retina, blood clot, diabetic problem.
October 8, 1998
Awakened to rain this morning. We did our 3 mile walk on the inside, through the Carousel Lounge, through the casino, across the foyer and then up around the Caribe Lounge, then back along the port side to the Carousel again. Today at 10:30 we must parade by an Australian Immigration officer who is on board. This is another example of the fine organizational powers of the staff. All 600 of us are to show up at the same time. (We showed up around 10:50 and encountered a long, unmoving line. It turns out that there were actually two lines feeding into the one door where we got our passports and saw and were seen by the immigration folk. The whole process took almost an hour.)
Capt. Bob announced that the two men who were evacuated yesterday are in satisfactory condition in the ICU in the Bay-of-Islands hospital. Still no official word or believable rumors as to what the problems were. Their traveling companions, I assume, are packing and will leave the ship in Sydney to fly back, quite an arduous journey. Hope they have insurance.
Tonight the parade of has-been, never-been, and wanabe performers continues. Susan Anton is putting on a show. She has been wandering around the ship with her companion. She seems to be at least 6 feet tall and quite slim. I vaguely remember her being on TV some time ago, I think as a singer on a variety show.
We have had a series of wine tastings. The first two were conducted by a couple of soumaliers from two different Frisco restaurants. They left the ship in Hawaii. The third was conducted by one of the bar tenders and Michelle, the ship soumalier. A "wine consultant," Peter Young, from Oakland, joined the ship in Auckland and has presented a tasting of first white wines and then reds. Each session costs $5 unless you order a bottle of wine. Since we are having wine every night it has not been a problem buying a bottle apiece.
October 11, 1998
Actually, Susan Anton wasnít too bad. She claims to be currently working in Vegas with the Rockettes and has been on Babewatch. Her performance here was vigorous and enjoyable. In addition, she was around the ship most of the time and was quite friendly.
Our long anticipated entrance into Sydney harbor was muted somewhat since it was quite rainy and there was a strong wind blowing. It was difficult to get the pictures I wanted from outside the twin entrance heads since the wind was blowing the rain right into the lense of the camera. It was, however, a spectacular sight. We tied up at the cruise ship terminal opposite the Opera House at the Circular Quay.
We left the ship and strolled over to the ferry terminals. The ferry to Manly had just left however the Jet Cat was due to leave in 15 minutes. So for a little bit more we took the high speed trip. Manly is quite similar to what it was when I lived there. The Curso, the main shopping street, still has the same mix of beach and tourist shops plus a lot of bars. There are also some ordinary stores including a nice grocery store in which we spent a fair amount of time just walking up and down the aisles.
The rain had become quite light and intermittent so we took the beach walk to the South end and back. There were a very large number of surfers in the water plus a lot of walkers and joggers on the walk. After our walk we shopped our way back down The Curso to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry back to the Circular Quay, had lunch on the ship, and then shopped the Rocks. While there we saw a curious sight. Four young women, identically dressed in orange outfits with orange hats were strolling in unison up the street. Each was towing a wheeled, carry-on suitcase with her right hand. They looked like stewardesses. All of their movements were identical; their left hands were held slightly bent from their arms as they swung in unison. They would look to either side and smile. Occasionally they all waved their left hands at the onlookers. At frequent intervals, the leader would peel off the front and take her place at the end of the line. I donít know if they were advertising something or were just street performers.
We departed the harbor just after sunset at 6:30 and are now motoring up the coast to Cid Harbor with the rugged coast of New South Wales on our port side.
The first third of the voyage ended at Sydney. All of our shipboard charges have been transferred to our designated credit card. The cabin steward and dining room personal have been tipped, with the tips put on the credit card. One reason for all of this is that there has been some change of ship personnel. It also seems that there are some new passengers.
October 12, 1998
Our uneventful cruise up the coast of Australia was enlivened this morning by a whale sighting. Actually there were several that, according to the captain, were "being naughty." We have been mostly out of sight of land and are headed inside the Great Barrier Reef.
I have finished Cherry-Garrardís The Worst Journey in the World. It is his telling of the ill-fated Scott Polar Expedition and is quite detailed. Sounds like they had a dreadful time. As one of the survivors I think he was haunted for the rest of his life that he didnít try to go to their rescue, even though he didnít know where they were and would probably have died himself in the attempt. (Later in the trip I read Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford. He was extremely critical of Scott and the British Admiralty. Scottís approach was destined to failure.)
I also finished Esau by Philip Kerr. I want to record his name since I donít want to read any more of his books. His writing is stilted and, although he is touted as "Michael Critonís smarter brother," he made several technical errors in things that I know about.
October 15, 1998
I forgot to mention the helicopter that buzzed all around the ship going into Sydney. It came around high and low; it hovered next to the water in front of the ship; it hovered alongside, all the time a video cameraman was taking pictures. Capt. Bob announced that it was making a travel promo for Australia. A cameraman and sound man were present at the side gate as we were departing. Another filming helicopter greeted us at Cid Harbor.
We have had a third helicopter evacuation. Shortly after we left Cid Harbor as dusk was approaching Capt. Bob announced that we had another emergency evacuation. This was accomplished with minimal disturbance while the bar-b-que buffet was going on on the Lido Deck. In addition, one person left the ship in Cairns because of heart problems.
We have a Reef pilot on board, Capt. Anthony Savill. He made a presentation the day before we arrived in Cairns about the history of reef mapping and the activities of the reef pilots; there are 40 pilots who handle 4,500 ships a year. In some areas of the reef their use is mandatory, in other areas voluntary. He will be with us until we round Cape York. This is the longest single hand pilotage in the world, meaning that the pilot doesnít get a lot of sleep on a freighter that doesnít stop, however passengers liners stop a bit so he should get a bit of rest.
Our day in Cairns was terrific. Since we have done the Kuranda train twice, we opted to take the Daintree River/Rain Forest tour. We left the ship at 8:30 and arrived at the Daintree around 10 am. We boarded the boat and slowly tooled down Barratt Creek to the river. Most of the land on the creek was still Rain forest. About all we saw was a large bunch of flying foxes. When we got out into the river we found a patchwork of cleared land and Rain forest. The areas of Rain forest were located on land that was too hilly and ravined for easy logging or cultivation.
We had lunch at the Daintree Tea House. They served barimundi and a selection of local fruit. We also had a fruit juice concoction to drink which was also compounded from local fruits, mostly mango. It was a very enjoyable delicious meal.
After lunch we went to the Rain Habitat Sanctuary. This is an open air zoo that features local birds and animals that are free to wander about. Our time there was quite limited, not much more than an hour. A day could be spent there easily.
Tourism has overtaken agriculture as the number one industry around Cairns. This does not indicate that agriculture has fallen but rather that tourism is growing.
The optional overland tour members returned to the ship while we were gone so our dinning table is back up to full strength.
We continue up the coast of Australia, threading our way along the reef.
October 16, 1998
It seems that there was an Irishman who longed to return to the Old Sod for a visit. He saved and saved for the trip and finally built up his funds to $50. He went to travel agent after travel agent trying to find a cruise that would take him to Ireland for $50. Of course they all laughed him out of their offices. He was complaining to a stranger on the street about his inability to find a cruise. The man said he could help him and that he should meet him at 11 PM at a certain dock on the waterfront. At the appointed hour, the Irishman showed up at the dock and was struck over the head from behind. When he woke up, he was chained in the bowels of a ship along with a large group, all pulling on huge oars. In front of them was a giant man, stripped to the waist, and pounding of a drum to maintain the rhythm of the strokes. They rowed for night and day and day and night and finally reached Ireland. As he was released from his chains, he turned to his bench mate and asked, "This is my first cruise. How much should I tip the drummer?"
We had a little tour of the galley yesterday. A woman sitting behind us in the Bridge Longue had requested a tour and was going down at 10:30. She invited us saying she didnít think they would mind extra people. The galley is quite a bit larger than any of the smaller ships weíve been on. During meals, 24 people work in the main service area. Other breakdowns are:
one under the kitchen deck to prepare
three to finish and cook
one butcher and two assistants
six to complete and cook
Garde Manger (cold kitchen)
Soups, pastas and vegetables
four during the day
one at night
seven clean dishes
two clean pots & pans
two clean & polish silver at night
October 17, 1998
Capt. Bob has announced that one engine had been shut down to repair the turbo charger. This reduced our speed to the extent that we will not arrive in Ambion as scheduled at 8 am but rather around 11 am. They are in contact with the tour operators to reschedule the tours and they are extending our stay until 8 PM.
October 19, 1998
I believe that Ambion could have been missed without too serious an impact. The island and town are quite pretty, as seen from the ship coming in to the harbor. Houses vary from rather nice to hovels. We were greeted by the high school marching band and a chorus. They started performing while we were some distance from the wharf. The two Drum Majorettes strutted around and through the band as it was playing. There were six bell lyres, six trumpets, and a bunch of drums. In addition, we were surrounded by a fleet of polyglot outrigger sail boats. Most were gaily decorated and had colorful sails. Some of the color was the result of patching.
Our tour was the first to depart and consisted of at least 12 small busses. Approximately 12 passengers plus a ship escort were assigned to each bus. With our police escortís siren blaring, we drove through the city and across the island to a small town that has a spring-fed pool or stream flowing through the center. This pool features a number of very large carp and some eels. It is also the community laundry, bath tub, swimming pool, and water source. We couldnít hear any of the presentation or see much of anything since we were among the last to arrive and there was no room in the crowd.
These islands are a major producer of cloves. Cloves are the dried flower buds from an evergreen tree. We saw them drying on tarps all over the place. When plucked from the trees they are a greenish yellow color. The shaft is the same diameter as the head. As they dry they change color and shape to what we are accustomed to.
From the village we drove to a very pretty beach where we had a snack and soft drink and saw how sego palm is prepared for human consumption. After the demo we tasted some. The best simile I could come up with was that it was like eating particle board. Then we saw the always thrilling "Crazy Bamboo" dance. It was overly long, and not even remotely worthwhile when the action finally started. Although the beach was quite beautiful, the time could have been much better spent driving through the country side with occasional stops. For example, we drove by a fishing village that had some very interesting looking boats in the harbor but we couldnít stop.
One of the entertainers currently on board is a clarinet player from Honolulu, Abe Weinstein. He has presented several Dixieland concerts with the shipís show band. In my view, they have blossomed from competent musicians capable of playing with the show tapes and as accompanists to skilled, inventive soloists. I have a much better feeling about them. In addition, there is a group, called The Rosie Trio, featuring a singer named Rosie. She is a good jazz singer and sang with the Dixieland group last night, in addition to with her own group, and Eric with Stone at his performance in the Carousel Lounge.
October 21, 1998
There is a typhoon named Babs that is hanging around off of the Philippines. It seems weak and will probably not cause us any problems other than rain. We have had sudden, strong rain showers both yesterday and today. She is due to hit northern Luzon later today. We are due to hit Manila tomorrow morning.
The Captainís Circle cocktail party was last night. This, of course, was a formal occasion which means that we have only one left, the Captainís Farewell Party. Since the boutique has had a sale featuring sequined clothes, many of the women were flashily dressed. With a few exceptions, most men were their usual drab selves. Tuxes are not very showy. The captain implied that the Island Princess will continue to sail for Princess. A woman sitting next to me said that the Security Officer told her that the Island Princess is for sale. Given the worn state of the ship, I think the rumors of sale are believable. I noticed that the upholstery on most of the chairs and benches in the Bridge Lounge is worn and threadbare in places. There are many places where the interior is worn and in need of replacement.
There was a meeting of computer users the other afternoon and there will be another one this afternoon. There were 25 people there. Of these, I suspect that 20 have their own computers on board. I thought I was the only one listening to CDs on one, however that is not true either.
During the regular noon position announcement, Capt. Bob disclosed that we will bypass Manila and proceed directly to Hong Kong. Typhoon Babs is predicted to have 50 k winds in the Manila harbor. We will arrive in Hong Kong noon Friday and leave, as scheduled, Saturday evening. This will be a great disappointment to the Filipino crew who were hoping to have a brief visit with their families.
Maître díhôtel (I never know how to spell it so I just put it in so I can use it if need be.)
October 23, 1998
We continue outrunning Typhoon Babs. We have run on a course of 332o all day yesterday and so far today. Our speed has varied from 14 to 18 KS. A very strong wind from starboard has kept us heeled to port as we bob and plunge over the boisterous and lumpy seas. At times I have guessed seas running 20 to 30 feet high. Babs has not curved northward as forecast but continues on an northwest course. Our projected arrival in Hong Kong is now very late afternoon rather than noon. Since we couldnít stop at Manila, the Hong Kong immigration people couldnít get on the clear the ship prior to arrival. We do have Philippine immigration people on board who didnít get to do their thing. It seems to me that they could fill in for the Chinese folks. (Our passports indicate that we entered and left the Philippines.)
We have been under clouds most of the time with occasional rain. In fact, throughout this entire trip we never have had really clear skies. There have always been scattered clouds, thick clouds, or haze. There has never been an opportunity to see the green flash.
I attended the second computer meeting. It wasnít too useful. They just explained the differences between MACs and PCs. I suspect it wasnít too useful for those who are contemplating the purchase of a computer.
We have passed the halfway point, timewise. I donít know where the midpoint in milage is.
October 25, 1998
We succeeded in racing evil Babs into Hong Kong. She is now scheduled to arrive there Monday. There were signs posted throughout the shopping areas stating, "Typhoon Stage 1 Warnings have been hoisted."
In the middle of the afternoon during our approach to Hong Kong, the ship suddenly slowed to 8 K. We continued this creeping approach all the way into the harbor when we came to almost a complete stop. Our initial slowing was caused by Harbor Control that had assigned our arrival time at the Pilot Station at 6 PM. At the time we received this notification, 3:30 PM, we were 40 miles away. Our later dawdling was caused by the Sky Princess which was tardy in vacating the dock. I donít know where we would have docked if we had arrived earlier as planned. Capt. Bob described the Sky Princess as Island Princessís ugly sister, an appropriate description.
This cruise could be called "A visit to the Worldís Most Beautiful Harbors." We started from Frisco which has the reputation as a beautiful harbor. Along the way we stopped in Sydney which is the most beautiful harbor I have ever seen. And then yesterday was Hong Kong, a very close second to Sydney. We approached at dusk, just as the city lights were coming on. All manner of vessels swarmed around us. This is the busiest harbor Iíve seen.
It was around 9 pm by the time we could leave the ship so we wandered off to see if the House Tailor still is in business. After getting lost, we found the tailor shop, closed for the evening but still very much in business. Then we went back to the ship for the local entertainment. It consisted of some lion dancers, two female dancers, and a magician. All but the females then performed some acrobatics.
Saturday was shop, shop, shop. Almost by accident we discovered Kowloon Park, right in the middle of the shopping area. It is quite large and quite beautiful. There are lots of facilities for children. At 6 PM the ship departed, leaving the harbor at dusk giving us a second view of the lights. Once clear of the harbor all four engines were fired up and we fled southwest, away from Babs.
October 28, 1998
During our last two days at sea, the Executive Chef for Princess, Alfredo Marzi presented two cooking sessions. He seems to be a very practical cook who is aware of the cost of things in grocery stores and also the caloric content of the dishes he prepares. His great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and some brothers are all chefs. He reminded us that you shouldnít trust a skinny chef. He is about 5' 5" and says he weighs 220 pounds.
We spent yesterday in Viet Nam. Today we are again at sea on our way to Singapore. Chef Marzi presented his third and final session this morning. He will leave the ship in Singapore, along with Capt. Bob.
Viet Nam was quite interesting. In some ways it was similar to China in that there are many, many small businesses in cubby-hole shops or just on the streets; there are fewer cars however there are many more motor bikes and motorcycles and fewer bicycles. I saw only two cell phones. The majority of the people are neatly dressed, many of the women in the traditional dress (a long top with long sleeves that reaches almost the floor but slit to the waist on either side over matching long pants.) Some of these women were riding bicycles and some motor bikes. Many people wear masks over their nose and mouth to filter out the ever present dust from the poor roads. Although they claim a very low per capita income, the people we saw seem to be in comfortable condition. I detected no anti-American sentiment. In fact, they seem to be strongly encouraging tourism. We received hats, backpacks, and post cards with postage as gifts.
As a part of the tour we attended a museum and a water puppet show. The puppets are operated from behind a screen in a shallow pool of water. The screen and the water conceal the sticks controlling the puppets.
We enjoyed a glass of wine (actually 2) on the after deck, along with some chips and salsa, as the ship left port.
October 29, 1998
The parade of has-beens continues. The featured entertainer last night was David Brenner. His routine was topical and amusing however his delivery was strange. He strolled back and forth across the floor, never making eye contact with the audience. He would occasionally pause in his pacing from side to side and walk to the front of the floor, still never looking at the audience.
October 31, 1998
Happy Halloween, or in this part of the world, Happy All Saints Day.
After two straight days in ports we are now off on five days at sea on our way to Bombay. I get a bit bored spending too many days at sea but on the other hand, they are also quite pleasant. We had a Q&A session with the new captain, Andrew Proctor. He referred to the new, gargantuan, boats as resorts in response to a passengerís question about what happens when a couple of big ships come into a small port. They are simply floating resorts that probably spend the majority of their time at sea with a few token stops in ports capable of supporting their passenger load. He did say that many ports have expanded their capabilities to match the new ships. He came in to the Carousel Lounge carrying a well-worn teddy bear dressed in a captainís uniform. He said the bear had been on the ship for 15 years and never goes on leave.
We were in Singapore two days ago. It is quite a clean, bustling city, in spite of the economic downturn in Asia. Since they have and enforce Draconian laws, it is quite safe. We took a half-day city tour which started on a nearby "mountain" to view the city. Mt. Faber is less than 1,000 feet tall. We drove around and eventually wound up at the botanical gardens where we saw a great variety of spectacular orchids. This warm, humid climate favors their growth. It is a very nice, well laid out garden. We also visited a factory that makes things out of semiprecious stones. This is the source of the globe I bought in Hong Kong when we were there three years ago. After the factory we went to Chinatown where we left the tour and shopped. Jodie and Phyllis both bought clothes. As we wandered around, Jodie kept trying to find some buttons for the sweater she is knitting. Finally one shop keeper pointed to the upper story of a building across the street. We climbed the stairs and found shop after shop selling fabric. After looking around she asked again for buttons and they pointed to the third floor. We went up there and looked around, finally asked again and they pointed to the far corner. There we found the button shop. There were 30 or 40 cards with 10 or 15 sample buttons mounted on each. When Jodie picked out the one she wanted the clerk rooted around under the counter until she found the properly numbered box and drew it out, took out the desired quantity, and put then in a little plastic sack.
We finally caught a cab to go to the famous Raffles Hotel. Cab stands feature a ride sharing arrangement. There is a key board on which you enter your destination area if you wish to share a cab. If someone in line wants to go to the same area, they join you in the cab. Since there were four of us we didnít offer to share.
It cost us 4 Singapore dollars which would be $2.66 US. When we drove up to the front of the hotel, a very large, tall, turbaned gentleman opened the cab doors for us, quite a greeting. We didnít have a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar since they cost $16, a bit much even though you get to keep the glass. While we wandered through the hotel and attendant shops, the skies opened and it really poured. By the time we were ready to leave it had stopped. We walked over to Orchard Street and caught a cab back to the ship. Jodie finished off her shopping at the terminal shops.
A giant ship moored on the opposite side of the pier after we tied up. It is the Super Star Leo, a gambling ship that makes one-week cruises from Singapore around the area. It has 1,000 cabins! Our poor little ship was dwarfed beside it. It looked like an apartment building lying on its side in the water.
One of the interesting laws in Singapore pertains to small delivery trucks and vans. Their speed limit is 50 km/h. Each sports a yellow light on top that lights up when they are exceeding that speed, allowing the police to easily spot them.
We enjoyed a Singapore Sling on the stern as the ship left port. It is a very busy port.
Our next stop was Port Klang, the port for Kuala Lampur. It is at least an hourís ride to KL, most of the way by privately owned toll road. These roads have separated lanes for motor cycles. Our bus tour took all day and took us through the downtown which features the currently worldís tallest office building, plus a bunch of other tall, spectacularly designed buildings. We also viewed the Blue Mosque with minarets that serve as water towers, visited the War Memorial, a pewter factory, a bogus batik factory, and the Batu Cave. This limestone cave is the site of a Buddhist Temple, is surrounded by hordes of monkeys and pigeons, and is reached by 230 steps. It is quite spectacular. In spite of the ongoing political unrest in Kuala Lampur, we saw nothing but tranquility. Careful bus routing, I assume.
November 1, 1998
Yesterday was a very busy day at sea. In addition to Capt. Andyís talk we had two trivia games plus Jeopardy. Our team won one trivia game and Jeopardy. We took advantage of the Halloween festivities and went into the dining room without shoes, ostensibly in costume..
We had mixed success in trivia today. We won the game in the morning and were a distant last in the afternoon. As punishment for going into the dining room barefoot last night tonight will be formal. Must be to welcome then new boy and girl entertainers.
November 3, 1998
We have now slipped into Indiaís peculiar Ĺ hour time zone. Since the country is so wide, it covers more than one time zone. Rather than having multiple time zones, they have compromised. Probably the Hindus and Moslems couldnít agree and had a violent war or at least many riots to decide the issue. Its amazing how two ancient religions that supposedly stress intelligence allow them selves to be dominated by illiterate, irrational leaders and resort only to violence to resolve issues. I should be able to make this same comment when we reach Israel.
November 4, 1998
Pirates! We have just passed through one of the most heavily pirated areas in the sea. Groups in fast boats use grappling hooks to climb aboard ships late at night and either rob them or seize the ship, kill the crew, and sell the ship and cargo. Measures taken on the Island Princess include leaving the side lights on at night, nets or grill-work blocking lower access points, two men who watch for small boats, one of whom has a fire hose. Also, there are armed night watchmen.
November 6, 1998
What to say about India? In spite of the beauty of the Taj Mahal, the memories that linger are of people sleeping in the streets, beggars, filth, vile odors, and pestering peddlers.
Our day started early, very early. We awakened at 3:15, had a continental breakfast and joined the rest of the group in the Carousel Lounge. Pretty much on time, at 4 am, we left the ship after picking up our passports and boarded our busses for the ride to the Mumbai airport. We had to walk around people sleeping on the sidewalk outside the ship terminal. Understandably, the streets were uncrowded at this time so we made good time to the airport. There were people sleeping everywhere, even on a beach.
On the way to the airport we had to remove the batteries from our cameras and put them in a manila envelope to be checked through. India doesnít allow you to fly with batteries in your cameras, ostensibly since it could actually be a bomb. The actual reason is that they donít want photos taken of their airports. It might help Pakistan. Amazing, India and Pakistan are beset with grinding poverty yet their leaders indulge their egos by building atomic weapons and military posturing. I wonder how they live their lives without seeing the suffering around them.
Security at the airport was interesting. We had to put a luggage tag on all carry-ons. When they went through the x-ray machine, the tag was stamped to indicate that it had passed. The passengers each passed through the metal detector and, regardless of whether you passed or not, then went through a manual check with a hand-held metal detector and a pat down. Women in one area, men in another. All 128 of us were then allowed to board our Jet Airways charter 737-400.
Contrary to my expectations, the aircraft was clean, modern, and seemingly well maintained. Unfortunately they used the United Airlines seating configuration; row spacing so compressed that your knees were around your ears and three toilets for the 128 passengers. Service, however, was excellent. There were at least twice as many attendants as on US airlines. We were served an excellent breakfast which included, among other things, a very tasty fried vegetable patty.
The Agra airport is actually an Indian Air Force base which, in turn, is a left over US WWII base. We boarded our over air conditioned bus and set out for the Taj. Although it was still rather early, the streets were teeming with people, pedal cabs, motor scooter cabs, cars, busses, cows, goats, donkeys. We saw women collecting the omnipresent cow patties, apparently for fuel. How about a genuine Indian meal cooked over an open fire made of dried cow dung?
We parked fairly near the Taj and rode the remaining distance on a government electric bus. Smog and acid rain are damaging not only that building but the Agra Fort (Red Fort) and other antiquities. The electric buses are a token gesture to reduce pollution and affects a very small area. Motor scooters and motorcycles arenít banned from the area. We had to fight our way through the peddler hordes to reach the busses and then again from the busses to the gates of the Taj.
One always sees pictures of the majestic Taj Mahal without realizing it is part of a much larger complex. There is a red sandstone wall and structures around it. The Taj itself sits in majestic elegance right in the center. There was a large queue to enter the central area. This queue was to pass through security. Once again, there were separate lines for men and women. My examiner found that I was carrying a 2" pocket knife which I had to check in before I could enter.
The white marble of the Taj contrasts nicely with the surrounding red sandstone structures and the green gardens. We paused before ascending the marble stairs to cover our shoes with cloth booties, to protect the marble.
As most know, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, Arjumad Banu Begum. They were married in 1612. She died in childbirth after having been almost continuously pregnant for their entire marriage, in 1631. The classic symmetry of the structure is marred by the presence of the Shahís tomb near his wifeís whose is in the exact center. It seems that he intended to build his tomb of black marble on the other side of the Yamua river and connect the two with a rainbow bridge. However, his son resented his spending any more funds on the endeavor so he imprisoned him in the Agra Fort (Red Fort) where he lived the remainder of his days, staring out at the Taj. When he died, his frugal children placed his tomb next to his wifeís rather than building him his own mausoleum.
After visiting the Taj, an electric bus took us to the Agra Fort (Red Fort). Then we had a very good Indian lunch at the elegant Sheraton Agra Hotel, shopped at an inlaid marble factory, then flew back to Mumbai. I should mention that Mumbai used to be called Bombay. The return flight was much like the morning flight including removing camera batteries. I donít know what the Indian Air Force is trying to protect at Agra. All I saw were some obsolete Russian bombers and a bunch of old turboprop transports. There were also some empty fighter ready barns that had been abandoned. After we took off I could see the entire area and saw nothing else.
The tour was completed with a mini tour of Mumbai on our way back to the ship. Even though it was after 6 the streets were teeming and traffic was horrible. Most workers commute via bus or train still the streets were a mess. After a final stint of shopping in the terminal building we were back on ship shortly after 7:30. Had dinner and a bottle of wine at 8:15 and immediately collapsed into bed.
November 8, 1998
We have now spent our four hours in Salalah, Oman. This is really desert. With all of their oil money, however, the place is quite prosperous. We took a tour of town and then went out to Jobís Tomb. I didnít go into the tomb however the drive through the country and up into the mountains was quite enjoyable. The tomb consists of a small rectangular building with a 12 foot long crypt covered with a green cloth. I didnít realize that Job was so tall.
While shopping in greater downtown Salalah, we bought some frankincense which is resin from a specific variety of tree. We saw some of the trees while on tour. Even the tree is flagrant. There are camels wandering free about the area. They apparently wander home at night since we were told that they belong to someone. We arrived at 8 am and left at 2 pm, heading off to the Red Sea which we will reach early Tuesday.
Barry presented a navigational seminar yesterday afternoon.
November 10, 1998
We have rounded the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, around 1:30 this morning, and are headed up the Red Sea.
November 11, 1998
Now we enter the really intense tourist areas. Perhaps because of this, the entertainment last night was a stage pick-pocket, Bob Arno. Mixed in with the usual tricks of taking peoples watches, ties, and belts were some cautions about avoiding becoming a victim. He showed some video he had taken of pick-pockets at work, including one taking a fake wad of money from Bobís pocket. He also presented a lecture today with more video tape.
November 15, 1998
Weíve done the Suez Canal and the Pyramids. Got into Suez rather late. Those going off on the Grand Cairo Overnight left the ship by tender at 4 am. I was awakened by the ship engines starting around 5, got up and dressed around 5:30, and got on deck in time to see the entrance to the canal. We were the first ship of a three-ship north bound convoy. The second ship was a big, ugly, slab-sided auto carrier. The third was a heavily laden container ship.
We had been advised that about five minutes on deck was enough to see all that the Suez Canal had to offer. This was completely wrong. We were on deck for the entire passage, with the exception of lunch time which we ate in the Starlight Lounge so we could see out.
The vistas on either side graphically illustrate the impact of irrigation on the desert. The Sinai side is nothing but sand. The other side is lush and populated with small farms and houses. Many of the houses have curious white cones on top with many holes. These are pigeon coops. The birds are allowed to fly free. These cones allow the eggs and the birds themselves to be harvested.
There are pontoons stacked up all along the way on the banks of the canal. In some areas the army is assembling them into bridges that could span the canal. I assume that these are for the rapid deployment of forces to the Sinai side in the event of conflict. I saw at least two hardened missile sites along the way plus several military bases. There are frequent two or three man outposts on the Sinai side. All are provided with solar panels and some sort of rude shelters.
There is a very large bridge under construction near the midpoint. This, and Under Canal Water Siphon, are tools to open up the Sinai Desert to settlement. The government will build towns and then give residences and plots of land to people who move there.
Shore access in Port Said is exciting. The ship ties up to floating mooring points and a pontoon bridge provides the walkway to shore. This is called the "Snake" since it is much longer than needed so it forms a serpentine path, undulating and twisting in the currents. Souvenir peddlers walk along it and one enterprising peddler tied his boat up to it. The shore end is heavily populated with peddlers. Actually everywhere we went in Egypt was heavily populated with very aggressive peddlers.
We went ashore immediately after the ship tied up and walked around the business section a bit. Port Said is a duty-free port for Egypt. The stores feature clothing and imported hard goods. Nothing much that we wanted. There was, however, a "fine" array of souvenir junk from the peddlers.
Our big trip to the pyramids started with a 6:20 am departure from the ship. Down the snake, through the peddlers, through the construction for souvenir shops, and on to the bus for the 3-hour drive to Cairo. All of the buses left in a convoy, accompanied by a police security escort. With lights flashing we drove through all red lights and onto the toll road to Cairo.
One clue to the value of the antiquities to Egypt is the schedule of camera fees.
Still Camera Video Camera
Egyptian Museum $3 $30
Inside Pyramid $2 Not allowed
Saqqara Step Pyramid $2 $8
Pyramids open area 0 0
When we reached Cairo, most of the group headed off to the pyramids at Giza while our two busses went on to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Although most pictures show the pyramid itself, there was quite a development around it, including three other pyramids. The Step is surrounded by a wall and fronted by a plaza. Entrance to the courtyard is through a columned temple. There is a high point there from which pyramids from six dynasties can be seen.
After our visit to the Step Pyramid we went off to lunch at the Mena Hotel, right next to the Great Pyramid. Although the hotel has been considerably enlarged and modernized, it is the place where the Empress Eugine of France and the Khedive of Egypt, Said Pasha, repaired for lunch after dedicating the Suez Canal in November of 1869. Iím sure that they didnít eat from a buffet as we did. The food, however was good.
We next went to a souvenir shop to buy cartouches and then off to the biggies. My whole visit was ruined by the crowds of people, 50 busses worth, and the persistent peddlers. It was not possible to look at anything or do anything without one of them latching on to you and making a complete pest of themselves. There are also camel drivers all over trying to get you to take a ride or have your picture taken with them. The three pyramids and the Sphinx are quite remarkable however it was a miserable afternoon. Jodie tested her back by going down into the one open pyramid. Down a cleated ramp with about four feet of clearance to one of the burial chambers.
We got back to the ship around 7:30 with enough time for a small drink before dinner at 8.
The ship left Port Said at 9 for Limassol, Cyprus, the replacement for Ashdod, Israel, skipped because of the possible US attack on Iraq.
Limassol is a pretty, old city. Hard to believe that it was continuously bombed by the Germans in WWII. Almost all businesses are closed on Sunday. We visited on Sunday, as did the M/S Rotterdam. They were supposed to be in Ashdod today, also. Although there were some tours offered, we elected for a leisurely day. Jodie and Phyllis took the complementary shuttle into town as soon as they could leave the ship. They came back for lunch and then Bob and I accompanied them for the really heavy duty shopping. It is a very attractive shopping area. The road along the waterfront is lined with open air restaurants and little snack shops.
November 17, 1998
After another day at sea we arrived in Kusadasi early this morning. Our stop here was to visit Ephesus, the ruins of an ancient Greek/Roman town. The Rotterdam showed up shortly after we arrived. The dock was packed with tour buses. Hard to believe that there are so many available. Since this is one of the big stops on the Holy Land Cruises I guess there are a lot of ships stopping here.
Ephesus was an important trading center until the harbor silted up. Abandoned by its occupants because of the loss of the harbor and the arrival of malaria, and knocked down by repeated earthquakes, it was all but forgotten and covered with several feet of dirt.
Our tour started with a visit to the Basilica of St. John. This is another ruin which contains the tomb of St. John. We next visited the alleged final home of Mary, in the rain. This was confirmed as the home of Mary by the visions of a German stigmatized nun.
After my distasteful visit to the pyramids, I was not looking forward to Ephesus. What a difference! To begin with, the peddlers were rather polite and left you alone when you said "No." In addition, they are not allowed inside the ruin. Although only one seventh of the city has been excavated, it is quite impressive. A lot of reconstruction has been done however there is much more to do and, the destruction is so great that much cannot be done. Ephesus was like a cold beer on a hot day after the bitter dregs of the pyramids.
Throughout our delightful visit I kept wishing I could have seen what it looked like when it was a bustling city.
We returned to the ship and lunch and then set out to shop! This is the second largest shopping bazaar to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We bought a couple of hand-woven carpets which we had flown back to California. The streets twist and wind around and are lined with all sorts of shops. The people are friendly, salesmen aggressive but not obnoxious. The city is lovely.
November 18, 1998
The Acropolis, the final antiquity of the trip! (Not quite, Red Buttons is entertaining tomorrow night after the Captainís Gala Farewell Dinner.) The port for Athens is Piraris although the two cities are seamless blended just like Los Angeles and Long Beach. Would the Acropolis be like the pyramids or like Ephesus? Actually it was somewhere in between but, thankfully, closer to Ephesus.
The tour bus picked us up and took us off to the city. After a brief tour around we arrived at the Acropolis. The Ancients certainly knew how to select a site for a temple! It soars majestically over the city and can be seen from all around. Much has been written abut the place so I donít need to. We had a beautiful, clear day which enhanced the white marble of the buildings and rubble laying about.
November 19, 1998
Two days of packing and then Rome for a day and then home. Tonight is the last gala. Jodie has spent most of the day packing and has one suitcase plus our overflow duffel bag filled to the bristling point. Most of the souvenirs and Trivia prizes are in one of these two. Tomorrow the remaining suitcase and the hanging bag must take what is left.
November 20, 1998
Captainís Gala was as usual, lots of good cheer, etc. Marchello, our waiter, is leaving the ship at Civitavecchia and joining a brand new Princess big boat as a head waiter. This is an excellent promotion for him. He has been the best waiter we have ever had. Bob and/or Chat had arranged with the Maîtreí dí to bring him a cake for celebration at the end of the meal. Barry facilitated the process when it appeared that nothing was going to happen. The cake came out, Barry sat him down at the table and pored him a glass of wine. Marchello cut the cake and we all enjoyed. I think he was surprised and pleased.
The venerable Red Buttons was a bit of a mixed bag. His show was basically an hour of one-liners delivered in a professional manner as you expect. Some were topical but most were not; most were funny but some were not. All and all, it was worthwhile. He claims his age to be 79.
We have just cruised around Stromboli. I almost missed it since we arrived early and there was no announcement down here in the cabin. The captainís announcement that we were leaving was all I heard so I rushed out and snapped like mad. It is quite overcast and rainy today which masked the venting at the top. There is a village and a town on the slopes. Amazing how people like to live on the slopes of active volcanos. This one is Europeís most active.
Our morning walk was interrupted since we were trying to take pictures of the Messina Straits, between the toe of Italy and Sicily. We passed through shortly after reputed sunrise however it was too dark for good pictures. I hadnít realized just how narrow the straits are. Ferries criss-crossed our path as we maneuvered through. We picked up a pilot shortly before entering and the dropped him off shortly afterwards.
November 24, 1998
We are now home and have some of the mail opened. All that is left to recount of the trip is the final day in Rome and then the long flight home. I guess it is then traditional to close with some profound observations about the World.
The ship docked very early at Civitavechia, the port for Rome. We opted for the dining room for our final meal on the ship. Our usual waiter, Marchello, and the assistant waiter, Karoli were their usual attentive selves, in spite of having received their final tips the previous night. On some previous Princess cruises it has been impossible just to get a cup of coffee the final morning. Marchello leaves the ship shortly after we do and flies to his new assignment as a head waiter or captain or whatever on the newest Princess mega-ship, the Grand Princess.
Our bus left right on schedule at 8:15 for downtown Rome, about 1Ĺ hours away. Initially we drove on a fine tollway with automated toll collection. The bus only needed to slow down to pass through the toll plazas. Eventually the tollway ended and we wormed our way through the crowded city streets, eventually ending up beside the Excelsior Hotel. After our bags were unloaded, the Princess personal helped find us taxis and told the drivers where we wanted to go. Our hotel, the Berni Bristol was close by.
Prompt check in was severely handicapped by the horde of Rotterdam passengers crowding the lobby. She was turning around in Rome and was collecting passengers at the Bristol. After over an hour we were able to get into our room, moving our bags ourselves. Then we set out to see the city.
The Berni Bristol is quite centrally located in Rome. Our original intent had been to take a half day tour however after looking at the map we decided just to walk. We set out down Via de Tritone, named for the statue of Triton gracing the piazza in front of the hotel.
What can you say about Rome? It must have more statues, monuments, fountains, obelisks, and antiquities than any place I have ever been! There is no order to the streets, either in naming or in layout. They seem to be a random collection of animal paths. Street names change, sometimes from block to block. Fortunately most corner buildings sport the names of the intersecting streets.
Our initial goal was the Trevi Fountain. As we walked down the street we noted brown signs that seemed to point toward tourist attractions. We turned when we found the one that called out the fountain and proceeded up a rather narrow street. When we entered a small piazza we found the fountain on our immediate left, surrounded by shops and buildings. It was also surrounded by people. I had expected the people but not the close buildings.
By this time, lunch time had passed and we were missing our regular feedings from the ship. We encountered a man passing out flyers telling of a nearby restaurant. We decided to try it and headed up a narrow street, turned per his directions, onto an even more narrow street and eventually found a very nice little restaurant and had an excellent meal, of pasta of course.
Then we wandered south past the monument to Victor Emanuel and more-or-less stumbled onto the Colosseum, surrounded by other exhumed ruins. The lowering Sun and lowering temperatures drove us back to the hotel. After resting we decided that we should go look at the Spanish Steps, which are also nearby.
As a result of my map reading, we got on the wrong street but found the US Embassy and the Excelsior hotel. A little more map study led us to the top of the steps. The piazza at the bottom was crowded with people. There was a strong buzz of their voices that carried to the top. We went down, expecting to find something going on however it is just a place where people meet on Saturday nights.
Back to the hotel and dinner at the hotel restaurant. We had a good meal, and the Italian version of Nouveau Beaujolais called Novello San Giocondo. This was a very pleasant, light red wine that had been picked November 6th! Enjoyed a good shower (hot water, generous spray) and then to bed for our 4 am wake up.
The hotel car picked us up at 4:30 and wafted us off to Leonardo da Vinci Airport. At this early hour on a Sunday morning the traffic was quite light. We made it in a half an hour. After check in we set out in search of a cup of coffee. There was nothing open.
At our scheduled departure time of 7 am we descended from the terminal building into the below freezing temperatures to board an open shuttle that drove across the airport to some remote spot where our plane was parked. We were the last on board and were freezing by the time we reached our seats.
As a sop to our aging bodies we had decided to fly business class. Our seats in row 2 of the Airbus were wide and leather, however the spacing between rows wasnít much better than back in steerage. Cabin service was ok but not extraordinary. The meal featured an omelet that seemed to be made of cardboard and filled with plastic vegetables. By this time we were feeling we had made an error in spending the extra money.
We arrived in Frankfurt, found our gate and checked in. Although the airport has gates with boarding ramps Lufthansa doesnít seem to use them. We again got to walk across the cold airport and board a bus to the terminal. When we were boarding the flight to LA we went out the boarding ramp, and down some portable stairs and onto another bus. It took us to our waiting 747. Now our decision to fly business class really paid off. We were in row 4, had more room than we could use, and had excellent service. The 12 hours passed more pleasantly than I could have imagined.
Now for the philosophical reflections:
C A big pile of catalogs accumulates from the mail when you are gone for 65 days.
C Travel by airplane is a lot faster than by ship.
CThe cruise industry, and travelers, take advantage of depressed labor markets to lock workers into 10 month contracts at substandard wages and working conditions all in the interest of economy.