Upon leaving Casablanca we sailed north and entered the Mediterranean Sea the next morning, October 22, sailing through the Pillars of Hercules past the Rock of Gibraltar.
By the morning of October 24 we were docked in La Goulette, the port for the city of Tunis. It lies across a large but shallow salt lake from the city. Dating back some 2,500 years or more, Tunis was originally a Berber settlement that was taken over by Phoenicians from Tyre in modern Lebanon after they founded Carthage nearby. Today it is one of the largest cities in northern Africa with a metropolitan population of about 2.7 million. This was our first visit here.
As mentioned, ancient Carthage was located near Tunis on Byrsa Hill and this was our first destination. As we walked to our excursion bus there were camels and musicians in the port area.
Founded in the 9th or 8th Century BCE, Carthage grew to become a great power in the Mediterranean world. After three major wars with Rome (the Punic wars), Carthage was completely destroyed in 146 BCE by the Roman general Scipio Africanus. About a century later Julius Caesar established a colony on the site which later grew to become the largest Roman city in Africa. The Romans levelled off the hill, pushing what was left of Carthage to the sides and burying it. So little is left to see of Carthage itself, because of its destruction & burial and because the Romans and others later built on top of its remains. Byrsa Hill provides a panoramic view of Tunis laid out below.
We stood on a large open area in front of the Carthage Museum (which we didn’t get to visit). At one end was a large ancient column in good shape. There were a few statutory remains in that area. Below the column on a lower level were the excavated ruins of the “Hannibal” section of the city, one of the few remnants of ancient Carthage that have been uncovered. This was a residential neighborhood built in the 2d Century BCE on a site previously housing metal workshops. In the distance below is the site of ancient Carthage’s ports (they had two, one commercial and the other military).
Dominating the view of Byrsa Hill behind us was the Cathedral of Saint Louis. Built by the French in the 1880’s while they controlled Tunisia, it sits on top of the ruins of a Punic temple. It was dedicated to King Louis IX of France, canonized as St Louis, who died near here trying to conquer the area during the 8th Crusade in 1270. It has not been an actual cathedral for several decades but still dominates the skyline. Across the parking area from the cathedral was a row of vendors, one invoking the name of St Louis.
We next visited the Roman amphitheater, which supposedly was the site of some Christian martyrdoms. It looked pretty much like all the other amphitheaters we have seen. It has been restored (notice the smooth seats nearby and the stone ones further away) and is used for performances.
Our next stop was the Tophet, a cemetery for children. The Romans promoted the view that the Carthaginians regularly practiced the sacrifice of children. This Roman propaganda about their greatest enemies is neither supported nor refuted by Carthaginian records because they were virtually all destroyed by the Romans in 146 BCE at the end of the Punic wars. It seems likely that there was child sacrifice here, but probably only in times of extreme crisis. Many children are buried in the Tophet but there is no definitive evidence of which we are aware as to which were sacrificed and which died naturally. The grave stones generally lack inscriptions but contain simple carved images, probably to represent who was buried there. Below the graveyard we walked through a Roman cistern.
We were told that the Emperor Hadrian (we think) visited Carthage and was appalled by the lack of water, necessary among other things for a public bath. He ordered the building of an aqueduct to supply water, which took some 20 years to complete. We passed by the remains of the aqueduct as well as some huge pipes that were used to distribute the water. The public baths were built and their remains can still be seen, although we didn’t visit them.
Although it wasn’t on the excursion agenda, we were taken next to the WWII American North Africa cemetery. In addition to lots of graves of Americans who died here during World War II laid out in neat rows, they had large mosaic maps of the North Africa campaigns. In Egypt we have seen cell phone towers disguised as very tall palm trees. Here we passed some cell towers disguised as some sort of evergreen trees, looking something like ornaments in the branches of an artificial Christmas tree.
Sidi Bou Said is a town perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean. The name is derived from a holy man who lived here centuries ago but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that it became a fashionable retreat for the rich and famous. Many well known artists and authors have lived or visited here. Since the 1920’s the buildings here have been painted blue and white. It would be a very charming place but for the hordes of tourists and vendors crowding the streets of the town and the challenging steep uphill walk to reach the Mediterranean views, but it is well worth a visit regardless. The vendors here are known for their ceramics, some very fine and some just souvenirs.
After Sidi Bou Said we went to a local restaurant for lunch. Happily the restaurant served Tunisian food (and lots of it). Our Zaandam table mates Robert, Bill, Karen & Mel were at a table behind us and beyond them was a patio with a nice Mediterranean view.
After lunch we drove into Tunis, passing what looked likeit might once have been gates to the city.
Begun in 698, about the time the Muslims took control of Tunis, the Medina covers some 700 acres and houses a population of more than 100,000 people. We left the bus in Kasbah (or Government) Square and walked past a famous old Madrassa (school) and the National Monument of Independence toward the Medina. A large mosque was on our left and some government buildings were on our right. We think the mosque is the Kasbah Mosque, built in the 13th century. After entering the Medina we walked past the Youssef Dey Mosque. Built in the 17th Century, it was the 11th mosque in Tunis and its large eight sided minaret was the first built here in the Turkish style. Next to the Mosque is the mausoleum of Youssef Dey and his family.
The streets of the Medina are mostly narrow, crooked and crowded with visitors, vendors and cafes. Some are open and some are covered. It is a fun place to explore. At one point we spotted what we think is the minaret of the Al-Zaytuna Mosque looming above the rooftops. This is the oldest mosque in Tunis, built mostly in the 7th – 9th centuries. Its current minaret was built in 1894, replacing a much shorter one constructed several centuries earlier.
As we came to the exit from the Medina we stopped for a while to permit the rest of the group to catch up before leaving. On our right was a colonnaded wall that we think is the eastern wall of the Al-Zaytouna Mosque. We have read that rooftop patios are important social venues here and we saw one above where we were waiting. And of course there were vendors, including one with a stack of stuffed camels.
So we left the Medina, climbed on the bus and headed back to the port after a very interesting day. Driving past the salt lake toward the port we saw pink flamingoes (standing on the very shallow lake bottom), but they were too far away for a picture. There was no dramatic sunset today, so I will leave you with one we saw out in the Atlantic.
We stopped in Agadir on the morning of October 20. Founded by the Portuguese in the 15th century, Agadir was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 that killed thousands of people; it has since been rebuilt into a city of close to half a million. Last time we were here we took an excellent excursion to the 1000 year old walled city of Taroudant and visited the Agadir Kasbah on our return. You can see that visit here:
Today was scheduled to be a rather brief stop (7AM to 1PM) so there was no time for a long excursion like that. We planned to visit a museum and walk around the streets for a while and perhaps visit the souk (market) if there was time. But the museum turned out to be closed and then upon our arrival the local officials surprised the ship with a requirement that everyone coming ashore present a new negative Covid test. The ship distributed rapid Covid tests to everybody, which had to be displayed to the locals when leaving the ship. This was a little silly in our view since we had been warned that the tests are no good after 15 minutes and you had to wait 10 minutes to see the result, so by the time you reached shore the test results would be invalid. We were told later that an overnight trip to Marrakesh was delayed more than an hour longer because a few people’s tests were inconclusive by the time they reached the bus & they were sent back to do it over.
Anyway, with the short stop, the closed museum and the substantial delays going ashore we decided that it was not worth the trouble of taking the test & then a shuttle bus to an area where we were only going to be able to walk around the streets for a short while. So we stayed on the ship. Here is a picture of Agadir’s beautiful long crescent shaped beach front taken from the ship as we sailed away.
Casablanca & Rabat, Morocco
The next day, October 21, found us in Casablanca. Everybody knows this city from the great film of the same name but nothing in that movie was filmed here, it was all shot in Hollywood. Last time we were here we took a very long one day bus excursion to Marrakesh:
This time, after a couple of excursions we had booked fell through (remember, we have been planning this cruise for three years), we ended up on an excursion to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Founded in the 12th century, Rabat today has a metropolitan population of about 1.2 million. In the 17th century Rabat and its close neighbor Sale (sometimes called Sallee) were home ports for Barbary pirates. In 1912 France took over Morocco as a protectorate with Rabat as the capital and in 1956 Rabat became the capital of an independent Morocco.
We set out for Rabat in the morning through the very congested traffic of Casablanca. At a rest stop shortly before reaching Rabat we encountered some dogs who were so sacked out they didn’t even notice all the people around them and also a lovely pink hibiscus. As we reached Rabat we drove down streets lined with trees (some kind of ficus, we think) pruned to look like one long plant with many trunks.
Built in 1864, the official residence of the King of Morocco is a palace called Dar al-Makhzen. In addition to the palace there is a mosque, presumably for the King’s use, a large parade ground for official ceremonies, and a wall surrounding the whole complex. We parked near the mosque and walked across the parade ground, past some fountains, to the palace.
The palace itself is a very long low building with numerous guards at its entrances. The palace contains several schools and a library housing the royal collection of manuscripts, but there is no admittance for visitors so we were unable to see anything on the inside.
We drove through the wall to exit the palace. And later we drove through a large gate in what we assume is the old city wall.
We next visited the Hassan Tower. Built at the end of the 12th Century, this was intended to be the tallest minaret and the largest mosque in the western Muslim world. However when the sponsoring Caliph died in 1199 the construction stopped with the minaret only half completed and one wall of the mosque and 348 pillars to hold up the roof partly finished. And so they stay today. If completed the mosque would have measured 600 x 456 feet and the minaret probably about 260 feet tall. The existing portion of the tower is 140 feet tall. Inside the minaret are ramps instead of stairs, which would enable the Muezzin to ride a horse to the top. We entered the grounds through a gate manned by two mounted guards.
Across the complex from the tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammad V. It was completed in 1971 and contains the tombs of King Mohammad V and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. A mosque sits next to the mausoleum on a lower level so as not to detract from the view. We left the complex through the same guarded gate through which we had entered.
Rabat’s Kasbah is situated on a cliff overlooking the river Bou Regreg that runs between Rabat and Sale. Kasbah means citadel, and this one was not only on high ground but surrounded by an imposing wall. The uphill part of the Kasbah (left in the picture) was built in the 12th century and the lower part (on the right) in the 18th century. If you look closely at the picture you will see that the old part is darker in color and is made of stone while the new part is lighter and has a smooth surface.
The main entrance (top left in picture above) is a monumental gate called the Bab Oudaya, built in the 12th century. Its inner façade opens into the Street of the Mosque, down which we walked.
Mosque Street is notable for its many beautiful carved doors. Some have a knocker in the shape of a hand, which is called the “hand of Fatima,” named for Mohammed’s daughter.
At the end of the street we turned right and walked down a steep street with stairs toward the river.
We came to a level with a café where we stopped for mint tea and a cookie (just one cookie, more would have cost you). On the other side from the café was a broad view of the river with Sale on the other side. Today Sale is a commuter suburb of Rabat but back in the day it was a notorious refuge for Barbary pirates.
We left the Kasbah through a gate in the lower portion, passing a very tall bush with pink flowers trained up the side of a wall and another wall near the exit gate that was built on top of an outcropping of natural stone. Walking past the walls of the Kasbah we boarded the bus for the trip back to Casablanca. Among other things, we passed a couple of Muslim cemeteries full of graves raised above ground (apparently to keep people from inadvertently sitting or stepping on them). A number of buildings had what looked like covered lounges or laundry facilities on the roof covered by an awning. And the street lamps here are rather distinctive.
After our return to Casablanca we had hoped to visit the humongous Hassan II mosque, but it was too late to have a tour of the inside and we had seen the outside on our last visit to Casablanca. So we took the ship’s shuttle bus to United Nations Square in downtown Casablanca and walked through an underground passage beneath a busy street to the old walled Medina. Next to its wall is a smaller copy of a clock tower that had been built here some time ago by the French. As we entered the gate we were met by a vendor who told us his goods were genuine but everything we would see inside was made in China. Yeah, sure, heard that kind of come on before. Well, we don’t know whether his goods were genuine Moroccan crafts but he sure was right about all the other tchotchkes we saw for sale inside.
We walked around the Medina for a little while but saw nothing very interesting so we returned to the ship. After dinner we went up to the aft pool deck to see the Hassan II mosque all lit up. Most mosques have a piece of metal near the top of the minaret pointing toward Mecca so people will know which direction to face when they pray. Bringing this practice into the 21st Century, the Hassan II mosque has a green laser pointing into the sky toward Mecca. It was a pretty striking sight to bring an end to our visit to Casablanca.
October 19 brought us to our first new port on this trip: Arrecife, capital of Lanzarote, a Spanish island in the Canary Islands. It was a beautiful sunny day as we docked in a spot with a nice view of Arrecife’s mostly white skyline. One landmark we could see from the ship was (we think) the Castillo de San Jose, built in the late 1770’s for protection from pirate attacks.
First populated by the Majo people who arrived from Africa around 1,000 AD, Lanzarote became the first Canary island captured by Europeans in 1402. The Majos were mostly sold into slavery and the island was battered by pirates from North Africa and Europe over the next few centuries. Massive volcanic eruptions devastated the island in the 1730’s, destroying at least 11 villages but without a single death. This left almost a fourth of the island covered in lava, which cooled in many places into very fertile soil particularly good for growing wine grapes. But the central area of the eruptions, now called the malpais, or badlands, continues to be largely free of flora and fauna because the temperature reaches well over 200 degrees just a few feet under the surface.
In 1852 Arrecife became the capital of Lanzarote. Today the island has a population of about 150,000, of which about a third live in Arrecife. We didn’t visit Arrecife, however, opting instead for a three hour hike through the badlands in Timanfaya National Park. While the city residents appeared to be living mostly in multi-unit dwellings, the area through which we drove was characterized by very bare looking hills and mostly white houses.
Lanzarote fields are divided into small pieces of land dug into the ground and surrounded by walls of lava rock. These serve the dual purposes of concentrating waterfall into the pit where the plants (often grapes) are grown and protecting the plants from high winds. We saw a variety of ways these fields are laid out; mostly devoid of plants either because of the time of year or because many of these fields now lie within the national park. While there is a flourishing wine industry here, we were told that Lanzarote wine is rarely exported because this intensive growing method makes it too expensive to compete with wine from other countries.
We were dropped off along a roadside in the park and began our walk. This turned out to be a challenging hike for those of us who are of a certain age, since it was quite warm, the paths were very irregular and often strewn with rocks that required care to remain upright, and the guide was not disposed to slow her pace to accommodate the older group members. At least one fellow dropped out well before the end and the van came by to pick him up. You will see a lot of pictures today of very bleak and craggy landscapes.
The mountains in this area are known as the Montanas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), probably because they were formed from burning lava. They appear to be lifeless, but some have very nice colors, particularly red.
While most of the terrain is barren there is some life here and there. You have already seen cactus and palm trees. We saw orange and white lichen as well, along with several kinds of succulents. At an old well that was inside a small stone building we saw a lizard and even some flowers.
Beyond this we mostly just hiked through very rough territory. Mary fell down twice despite being very careful and using a walking stick. A lot of it was very beautiful, but it seemed somehow to get less beautiful as the walk dragged on and we got more tired. One interesting feature was some rocks at the top of a valley in which you could actually see what appears to be the flow of the lava.
We were glad to get back in the bus (pretty unusual because we don’t like bus rides) and rest our feet. We drove back to the port and after we left the dock we watched the pilot jump from the ship to a boat to take him back to the port. Then we sailed away during a nice sunset to complete an interesting if tiring day on the island of Lanzarote.
On October 18 we finally stepped off the ship in Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira near the coast of Africa. We have visited here twice before and you can learn more about Madeira in these posts.
Last time we were here we planned to take the cable car up to Monte, a mountain above the town, and visit the church and gardens up there, but the top was covered in clouds so there was no point in doing that. This time we planned to finally do that, but guess what? Monte was covered by clouds again, so no go. Maybe next time.
So instead we took the shuttle bus into town and walked to the Municipal Gardens. It is filled with many varieties of flowers and trees. There is also a pond with a fountain and a sculpture; last time it had swans but not today and the fountain was off. Oh, well, the gardens are still beautiful.
One feature of current and former Portuguese cities that we always enjoy is the mosaic sidewalks and plazas. We have seen these throughout Brazil as well as here. Made with about two inch square stones these often have intricate designs and even pictures. It must be a lot of work to create and maintain them because it is all done by hand. We saw a fellow today who was trimming small white stones in preparation of restoring part of a sidewalk, sitting on the ground with a hand chisel and large piles of stones on each side.
We walked down to the center of town where a large Jesuit church sits on one side and the city hall on another. Currently called St John The Evangelist Church, this was originally built by the Jesuits in 1640. The paintings and sculpture inside are also from the mid 17th Century. Deceptively plain on the outside, this church is surprisingly elaborate inside. A man was playing the pipe organ located above the entrance, a nice extra.
The town hall was built in 1758 and renovated in 1940, the year the blue tiles on the walls were created. The fountain sculpture in the interior courtyard dates from 1880 and originally stood in a fish market. During our first visit here a small labor demonstration was in progress outside this building but today all was quiet.
We walked on to the cable car station, hoping the clouds would clear in time for us to go up to Monte. But no luck and the cable car costs too much to just take a flyer on it being clearer from the top. So we walked back toward the Mercado dos Lavradores through the Zona Velho, a neighborhood of shops and restaurants on narrow cobblestone streets oozing character. It is known for painted doors and windows on many of the buildings.
We went into the Mercado, a delightful market in the interior courtyard of a building open to the sky. Usually the street level is filled with umbrellas over vendors’ carts but this was a rainy day so no umbrellas were there. Still there were many stands under partial roofs on both floors displaying colorful flowers and produce. It rained cats and dogs while we were there & we had to wait a few minutes after our visit before we could venture back out onto the street. There is more Portuguese tile work on the walls in the market.
Continuing back toward the port we came to the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. It was built in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. We had been here before but had never been able to see the inside. Today we did.
It was drizzly and gray as we headed back to the drop off for the shuttle to the ship, but there was one more thing we wanted to see. Those who have followed this blog at all know that Mary is a retired librarian with a great love of libraries. We always visit them when possible and we have seen many beautiful ones on our travels. But the one in Funchal, a steep uphill walk at the end of a full day, was not one of those. Sadly, the only part of the library visible to the street was an entrance to what looked like a office, tucked away behind a row of parked busses under a car park garage. Rather a disappointment but here it is. On top of a hill across the street we spied the Fortress of S. João Baptista do Pico, built in the early 17th century, of which we had not previously heard. It looks pretty formidable and was part of the defense of the city from pirates.
We returned to the ship after our first port on this voyage, tired but looking forward to visiting another in the morning.
Note: As this is posted our Grand Africa voyage has been over for several weeks. For some unknown reason we were unable to connect to our blog from Rick’s laptop to post these episodes during the cruise, but his home desktop seems to be doing this OK. So in the spirit of “better late than never” the postings from the Grand Africa cruise will roll out over the next several weeks (schedule uncertain because not all of them have been written yet & at home other obligations get in the way).
On October 10, 2022 we set sail from Ft Lauderdale on Holland America’s Zaandam for a 71 day voyage to circumnavigate the continent of Africa. We originally booked this cruise more than three years ago for a sailing in October of 2020, but you know what happened. The pandemic shut down all cruise ships in the Spring of 2020 and this cruise was postponed to 2021, then again to 2022. The ship was also changed twice, first from Amsterdam to Rotterdam for 2021 then, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam were sold, to Zaandam for 2022. All three of these ships were built at about the same time and are of virtually identical construction and layout, although internal furnishings and decoration are different. So we ended up still in the same cabin on the Starboard (right) side of the Lower Promenade Deck that we booked in 2019 but on a different ship. This is the Zaandam:
Our cabin was between the last two lifeboats in the picture. This gave us a nice ocean view and enabled us to walk through the exit doors next to our cabin onto the walking deck under the lifeboats on either side of the ship.
So finally, after three years of preparing and waiting and packing, it felt great to be on board. Like everybody else on the ship we were vaccinated against Covid and for the first week (at least) everybody had to wear a mask inside when not eating. We were rather nervous right up until we left home for the two day drive to Florida because we had to pass a monitored Covid test on Oct 7, within 3 days of boarding. We had visions of receiving a positive result from our tests after driving a couple hundred miles south and having to turn around and spend the next 10 weeks at home after all. But at 4:30 AM Saturday, about 5 hours before we left, we both received our negative test results and we were good to go.
We don’t know whether any other potential passengers tested positive & had to abandon at the last minute (HAL generally doesn’t tell you things like that) but we were told there are a little over 1100 passengers on board the ship, which has a capacity of about 1400, so some of that difference might be folks who tested positive. It would have been quite a kick in the teeth to be left behind after waiting three years! We know of at least one couple who had to cancel during the last week after being booked for a long time because of health reasons; not Covid but that probably doesn’t make it feel any better.
Here is our itinerary, in map form (half moon means late departure & a black half sun means a two day overnight stay) and then a list of the ports with arrival and departure times:
DATE DAY PORT ARRIVE & DEPART
Oct 10 Monday Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Embark 4:00 PM
Oct 18 Tuesday Funchal, Madeira, Portugal 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Oct 19 Wednesday Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain 11:00 AM 6:00 PM
Oct 20 Thursday Agadir, Morocco 7:00 AM 1:00 PM
Oct 21 Friday Casablanca, Morocco 7:00 AM 9:00 PM
Oct 24 Sunday Tunis (La Goulette), Tunisia 8:00 AM 5:30 PM
Oct 26 Wednesday Soúda, Chania, Crete, Greece 11:00 AM 10:00 PM
Oct 28 Friday Transit Suez Canal- Cruise Only
Oct 29 Saturday Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Oct 30 Sunday Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan *7:00 AM —
Oct 31 Monday Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan — 5:00 PM*
Nov 1 Tuesday Safaga (Luxor), Egypt 8:00 AM 12 Midnight
Nov 10 Thursday Dar es Salaam, Tanzania *10:00 AM —
Nov 11 Friday Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — 8:00 PM*
Nov 12 Saturday Zanzibar, Tanzania *8:00 AM —
Nov 13 Sunday Zanzibar, Tanzania — 5:00 PM*
Nov 15 Tuesday Andoany, Nosy-Be, Madagascar *11:00 AM —
Nov 16 Wednesday Andoany, Nosy-Be, Madagascar — 3:00 PM*
Nov 19 Saturday Maputo, Mozambique 8:00 AM 3:00 PM
Nov 20 Sunday Durban, South Africa 11:00 AM 11:00 PM
Nov 23 Wednesday Cape Town, South Africa *8:00 AM —
Nov 24 Thursday Cape Town, South Africa — 11:00 PM*
Nov 26 Friday Luderitz, Namibia 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Nov 27 Saturday Walvis Bay, Namibia 10:00 AM 11:00 PM
Nov 30 Tuesday Luanda, Angola 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 4 Sunday Takoradi, Ghana 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 5 Monday Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 8 Thursday Banjul, The Gambia 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 10 Saturday Praia, Ilha de Santiago, Cape Verde 7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Dec 11 Sunday Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Dec 17 Saturday San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA 8:00 AM 11:00 PM
Dec 20 Tuesday Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA 7:00 AM Disembark
*overnight stay in this port
We were hoping to make it to all these ports, of course, but we have had last minute itinerary changes in the past because of disease or political unrest or weather. You may have read about unrest in some of these places recently and there was no telling how Covid or weather could disrupt things. We had already had some itinerary changes about a month before departure, so who could tell? Stay tuned.
Crossing the Atlantic takes seven consecutive sea days, so everyone would be happy to set foot on land in Madeira. Among other things, on Wednesday we had the Captain’s toast to introduce the main officers and wish luck for the journey (free champagne for all) and on Friday we all had to take a self test for Covid, the results of which were reviewed by crew members. Even though every person on the ship had tested negative within 3 days of boarding, just 3 days after boarding some (we heard 15 and 25, but no official numbers were released) tested positive and were quarantined for seven days. A couple of them are friends of ours and they would miss at least the first two ports. It was a chilling reminder that this insidious virus can take a hunk out of your voyage at any time. I guess if you have to be quarantined, crossing the ocean is a better time for it than when we stop at new and exotic ports. We tried to be careful and kept our fingers crossed.
As I mentioned earlier, Zaandam is laid out just like Amsterdam, but with different furnishings and art works. In the Atrium in the center of the ship is a three story pipe organ. It was played one day in the first week but we were disappointed that it was just a recording (similar to a player piano we guess) with no one sitting at the keyboard. Among a lot of other eclectic art around the ship are a couple of paintings overflowing their frames outside the main dining room, a floor to ceiling sized painting in the hall near the Explorations Café, and a sculpture of a couple of seahorses near the entrance from the deck just outside our cabin. Several large MC Escher pictures were displayed on the walls of stairwell landings. And almost qualifying as a work of art, we received a box of Grand Africa themed chocolates after the first “dressy night.” (These are nights when men are expected to wear a tie & jacket to dinner, formerly called “formal nights,” then “gala nights”; no explanation for the name changes.) Other shipboard pictures may show up in later episodes.
In the Explorer’s Lounge a young classical pianist named Luca presented concerts twice every afternoon. This was supposed to be a cello-piano duo but at the last minute the cellist was unable to sail with us, so Luca performed solo piano pieces, and quite excellently. He assured us that the cellist would join us soon. As on all the older HAL ships, the Explorer’s Lounge features a naval painting (or a reproduction) about 15 feet long.
So that is enough introduction and the next episode will be the first of our ports. Until then, we will leave you with the first of what we hope will be many beautiful sunsets on this voyage.