Mediterranean cruise

Port Said & Cairo, Egypt

     On April 8 we docked in Port Said, a city at the Mediterranean entrance to the Suez Canal.  Port Said was built in the 19th century to house the workers and administrators who built the canal, so there is nothing very old there.  You may have read about this city over the last 6 months, during which it has witnessed a number of demonstrations that have resulted in dozens of deaths.  The trouble started with a riot at a soccer match in which a number of people died.  Then a couple of dozen people were sentenced to death for their roles in those riots, which stimulated demonstrations that turned violent.  More people were killed during the demonstrations, and more people have been given death sentences.  So Port Said has been very volatile and we were pretty convinced we wouldn’t make this stop.  But we did, and we learned later that ours was the first cruise ship to stop here since January.

     Well, there is little to see in Port Said (and Holland America was urging passengers not to go into town by themselves), so we opted for an excursion to Cairo to see the Pyramids & have lunch on a boat in the Nile river.  It was another long & exhausting day (about 12 hours altogether, 3.5 hours each way on the bus) but well worth it.  All the buses going to Cairo went together in a convoy, with police accompaniment (men with guns in each bus & trucks carrying men with rifles driving along side).  Police protection of tourist groups has been standard in Egypt for some time (their police have a special tourist division), since an incident in the 90’s when several dozen foreign tourists were killed by terrorists.  As we drove out of Port Said we passed soldiers & tanks posted at intersections, presumably to discourage any more violent demonstrations (or probably any demonstrations period).

1. Port Said3. Port Said

18. 108. Port Said

    We drove south parallel to the canal to Ismailiya (another city that has had a lot of unrest), then west to Cairo.  Along the canal we saw villages, vendors & irrigation canals, of which there is a sophisticated system.

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We passed the “peace bridge” (I think that’s what the guide called it) that connects most of Egypt with the Sinai Peninsula, which was financed jointly with Japan.  Also interesting were the large pigeon roosts that resembled giant beehives that are kept by many farmers in this area.  The Egyptians eat the pigeons (called “squab” when they appear on your plate) and they also use the pigeon guano that collects inside for fertilizer.

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As I said, we were traveling on a road that paralleled the canal just a few hundred yards away, with farms and fields between.  Occasionally we saw ships traversing the canal that looked like they were going through the fields because we could not actually see the canal from our vantage point.  Because the land is so flat & the water levels in the Red Sea & the Mediterranean are within about 5 feet of each other, the French were able to build the Suez Canal without any locks.  This made it easy for sea life in the Red Sea to migrate into the Mediterranean & thereby changed the ecology of the region.  The canal is not very wide, so ships convoy south in the morning & north in the afternoon.

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From Ismailiya we turned west, and the land very quickly turned to desert.  More than 90% of Egypt is desert like this.  We were told that the Egyptian desert is so dry (less than 2” of rain per year) that even cactus doesn’t grow in most of it.

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The population of Egypt has increased by several times over the last few decades, with the result that housing has become scarce & very expensive in the city.  So in recent years housing developments have been going up in the desert outside Cairo, where middle class people can now afford more than a small apartment.  We were told that Cairo is now the 3rd largest city in the world with some 20 million people.

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Ironically, there was a huge housing bubble in Cairo when everyone was building housing projects (that look pretty much like slums) for the expanding population with the result that it was overbuilt & contractors just stopped work in the middle of their projects.  Cairo now has a large number of incomplete buildings that are nothing more than eyesores.  Traditionally there has been another kind of uncompleted building, in which a family would live on one or two floors, then when the children grew up they would add floors above for their families.  At one time leaving rebars sticking up from your house gave you a tax advantage because such uncompleted buildings were not subject to property tax (we saw this in Peru last year as well), but the government got wise to this & now property taxes apply once electrical service is added to a building.  You will notice that these buildings all look pretty much alike, and there are huge swaths of them in the eastern part of Cairo through which we passed.

107. Cairo181. Cairo

29.Cairo32.Cairo

     So now we came to Giza, where the Great Pyramids are.  When they were built the Pyramids were on the west bank of the Nile, the opposite side from the city of Memphis.  This was  because the Egyptians believed that the sun died every night and was reborn in the morning, so the direction of the sunset was the place for death.  For many years Giza was in the desert isolated from the city of Cairo but the city has expanded in recent years to the point where our first view of the Pyramids was while passing through nearby residential neighborhoods.

41.Giza (Pyramids)45.Giza (Pyramids)

There are three large pyramids at Giza.  The great pyramid of Khufu (called Cheops by the Greeks) was the largest structure in the world for many centuries and is the only one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world still standing.  His son, Khafre (Khephren to the Greeks), built the second pyramid, which is smaller than Khufu’s but looks bigger because it is situated on higher land.  It still has some of the outer facing of smooth stone at the top which once covered all of these pyramids but was apparently carted away at some point to build newer buildings (this is a common fate for ancient buildings in this part of the world).  The third pyramid is a good bit smaller than the other two (but still pretty big).  The engineering of these buildings is quite extraordinary for their time; for example, the sides of the Great Pyramid are equal in length to a tolerance of 4 centimeters!

62.Giza (Pyramids)

64.Giza (Pyramids)65.Giza (Pyramids)

67.Rick at pyramids crop

Of course the visitor spots at the Pyramids are loaded with vendors & camel men. We were warned that they are basically crooks.  One favorite ploy is to agree to let a tourist get up on a camel for a picture for a couple of dollars or a short ride for 5 dollars, then demand $50 or $100 to let them down.  If you refuse they may lead the camel out into the desert where you are totally defenseless.  This actually happened to a couple of men on our tour; one of them was able to negotiate the dismount price down to $5 from $100, which he paid.  The other one got off (since he was back in the bus) but I don’t know how.  They all crowd around you, demanding that you buy some piece of junk, or asking you to take a picture with them (after which, we were warned, they would demand compensation).  It was irritating constantly having to argue with these guys (they were all guys) when you only have a short time to see the Pyramids.

71.Giza (Pyramids)55.Giza (Pyramids)

70.Giza (Pyramids)74.Giza (Pyramids)

     So then we moved to a spot where we had a little time to get up close & personal with a pyramid.  We chose Khephren’s pyramid because it was a shorter  walk & looked most interesting with the stone facing still on the top part. Some of the characters in Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile climb to the top of a pyramid, but that is not allowed any more.  There is one place at Khephren’s pyramid, however, where you can climb up a couple of levels, so I did.  The stones are about 4 feet high, so you have to climb just with your arms.  Not easy for an old guy, but your intrepid adventurer managed it.  Mark Twain says that he paid three locals to help him climb to the top of a pyramid: two of thm would pull his arms from above while the third pushed from below.  He also said one of them ran down the pyramid, up another one, then back in 5 minutes on a bet, then did it again.  The first story might be true, but believe me the second one is not possible!

85.Giza (Pyramids) 86.Giza (Pyramids)

91.Giza (Pyramids)87.Giza (Pyramids)

Nearby was the Great Pyramid.  You could see Cairo in the distance (Giza is high ground).  Near one of the great pyramids there were three much smaller pyramids for (you guessed it) the wives.  We were told that there are more than 400 pyramids in Egypt, although none of the others are this big.

93.Giza (Pyramids)99.Giza (Pyramids)

77a.Giza (Pyramids) Queens' pyramids94.Giza (Pyramids)

102.Giza (Pyramids)83.Giza (Pyramids)

Modern scholars have concluded that, contrary to popular belief, the pyramids were built by skilled volunteers rather than slaves (and certainly not by the Israelites, who came to Egypt long after they were built).  Recently uncovered are a necropolis nearby for people who helped build the pyramids and a town for workers.  I’m not sure whether these pictures are of those excavations or something else on the site, but for what its worth I’m including them.

103.Giza (Pyramids)104.Giza (Sphinx)

     Next we visited the Great Sphinx.  A sphinx has the head of a man and the body of a lion, which symbolizes a combination of wisdom & strength.  There are a lot of sphinxes in Egypt, but not like this one.  It is not only huge but impossibly old (some think it predates the pyramids). For many centuries it was covered by sand.  Originally it would have had a beard, & there is a legend (which our guide said is not true) that its nose was blown off by Napoleon’s troops taking artillery practice.  Mark Twain said he saw a tourist climb out to the head of the Sphinx with a hammer & chisel to obtain a souvenir (his travelling companions seem to have taken pieces of most of the interesting sites they visited), but he was unable to chip off a piece, thus emphasizing how much this statue has survived over the centuries.  Anyway, its really is interesting, and its almost impossible to take a bad picture of it, so I will burden you with several of our better ones, from all angles.

109.Giza (Sphinx)

116.Giza (Sphinx)117.Giza (Sphinx)

127.Giza (Sphinx)108.Giza (Sphinx)

130.Giza (Sphinx)

     After an all too brief visit to Giza we drove to the Nile for our lunch cruise on the river.  This turned out to be a very short trip up and back on a relatively uninteresting stretch of the river, on a boat full of hokey ancient Egyptian style decorations, with a buffet meal that couldn’t hold a candle to the one in Alexandria the day before.  If we don’t look particularly happy in these pictures, that is why (plus the fact that we spent more time in a gift shop than we did at the Sphinx).

148. Cairo110. Cairo

115. Cairo120. Cairo

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124. Cairo149. Cairo

Notice the super tall palm tree on the side of the Nile in the next picture.  Its not real: its a cell phone tower. These were all over town.

117. Cairo126. Cairo

The lunch boat also provided entertainment.  First a belly dancer, then a guy with a colorful getup who performed a whirling dance.  He was not a whirling dervish, because they dress in white and their dance is a religious rite, while this guy was very much an entertainer.  The belly dancer later posed for pictures behind diners & they tried unsuccessfully to sell those pictures to the diners.

131. Cairo132. Cairo

     After lunch we began the long drive back to Port Said, again in convoy with the other buses & police escort. Passing through Cairo we saw colorful fruit stands, folks sitting in cafes and a surprising variety of animals right in the city.

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173. Cairo150. Cairo

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     One thing I should mention before leaving Egypt is the way Egyptians dress.  Many men (though far from a majority) dress in long robes called galabiyyas, like the shepherd above is wearing, though often in darker colors and sometimes with a small hat.  We were told that, although it looks hot to us, this is actually a time tested method of keeping relatively cool. Most women wear scarves on their heads, although our guide in Alexandria told us that this is more fashion than religion. She said if she were in the United States she wouldn’t wear one; she probably doesn’t know that such scarves are now fairly common in large American cities. She told us that young women color coordinate their scarves with their more western looking clothing, and after she said that I noticed this quite a lot.  So, while I’m not sure that I am entirely buying the idea that this is nothing more than fashion, I am sure it is true for many women.

172. Cairo117. Alexandria

178. Alexandria10. Alexandria

   So, after the long drive your exhausted travelers arrived back at the ship.  As I mentioned at the beginning, this was the first cruise ship in Port Said since January, and people were genuinely happy to see us.  Many waved & smiled at us in the bus, and at no time in Egypt did we see any sign of hostility (although folks on a different tour in Alexandria said they did – must be something about them, I’m sure). The Egyptian economy is very dependent upon tourism (it is their fourth leading industry), and they are anxious that the news focus on the unrest in the country not discourage people from visiting.  Anyway, our visit was enough of an occasion that there were bands there to serenade us upon arrival and before departure.  But before the ship left for Israel, we had a new towel animal to accompany us.

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Alexandria, Egypt

     We arrived in Alexandria early on the morning of April 7.  Alexandria was founded by (surprise!) Alexander the Great.  It is thought that he was buried here, but archeologists have so far not been able to discover his tomb. Sounds like a job for Indiana Jones! As you may know, Alexander assigned provinces of his empire to his leading generals, & Egypt was assigned to a general named Ptolomy. The Ptolomy dynasty ruled Egypt from Alexander’s death in the last third of the 4th Century BC until it was incorporated into the Roman Empire by Augustus Caesar after he defeated Antony & Cleopatra at the battle of Action.  Alexandria  was one of the premiere cities of the Hellenistic world, unusually rich & cosmopolitan in its population.  It had important Jewish & early Christian communities & its library was renowned as the greatest center of learning in the ancient world.

     We considered it something of a triumph that we even got here, since we have been somewhat worried that all the political trouble in Egypt & Israel lately would convince Holland America to skip some or all of these ports.  We actually heard a rumor after we finished all four of these ports (yes! we got to all of them) that Holland America had anticipated that we would need to cancel these stops & had made contingency plans to spend a few days in the Black Sea instead (I have no idea whether this is true; there are a lot of rumors on cruise ships).  Anyway, we were very glad to get here. This was the first of four long and exhausting tour days in a row.  Many passengers went to Cairo on this stop to see the Pyramids, etc., but we really wanted to see Alexandria.  So, since this is a notoriously difficult city to get around on your own, we signed up for a 12 hour tour (the only one offered that visited all the places we wanted to see). 

     Alexandria is a city of contrasts.  It has some beautiful older buildings & homes, but it also has many slums.  Although it has a reputation as a sophisticated & cosmopolitan city, many of the streets are littered with trash (sometimes in huge piles).  We were told that since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime two years ago the garbage men have not been paid regularly & that is why Alexandria (& Cairo & Port Said as well) is not clean.  Our Alexandria guide, a young woman who has little sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood or the Morsi government, told us that her monthly utility charge suddenly went up substantially and when she inquired about it she was told it was for trash collection, even though she still has to dispose of her own trash. As you can see, many people hang their laundry on the apartment balcony to dry; we saw this all over Alexandria & Cairo.

11. Alexandria12. Alexandria

20. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar26. Alexandria

We also saw lots of men sitting around in cafe’s talking, drinking & smoking from large hookahs. It was Sunday, but we understand it is a common sight on any day, and we saw this in Cairo on Monday as well. If so, I don’t know how it fits in with working; maybe their wives do the working or maybe work days commonly include time for this.  The hookahs are provided by the cafes (for a price) & we were told they burn a combination of tobacco, straw & molasses.  This is common in Turkey as well as Egypt.

27. Alexandria114. Alexandria

164. Cairo167. Cairo

     The first place we visited in Alexandria was the Catacombs.  We walked down a lengthy circular staircase(original) in the ground to reach a level full of crypts (mostly holes in the wall; the bodies have long since disintegrated from moisture).  There were some impressive reliefs & paintings from a couple of thousand years ago & a dining hall where friends & families bid farewell to their loved ones with a celebration of their virtues.  I would show you pictures, but they don’t allow cameras inside.  If you google “Alexandria catacombs” though, you should be able to find some.

     Anyway, these catacombs had long been forgotten & were unknown when in 1900 a donkey fell through the ground into an underground chamber.  They have been excavating ever since, but it is believed that most of the catacombs have yet to be uncovered.

7. Alexandria Catacombs9. Alexandria Catacombs

I was able to get some pictures of interesting old stone works that lie around the catacomb grounds, but we were told that these were all brought here from other sites, not out of the catacombs.

6. Alexandria Catacombs4. Alexandria Catacombs

8. Alexandria Catacombs3. Alexandria Catacombs

     Next we went to the site of Pompey’s Pillar.  In fact this pillar had nothing to do with Pompey; it was built by the Emperor Diocletian and originally had a statue of him on top.  I have read that the Crusaders mistakenly called it Pompey’s Pillar, and our guide said it was someone else (can’t remember who).  The Roman general Pompey’s primary association with Alexandria is that he was murdered here by Cleopatra’s brother. There are sphinxes (man’s head on lion’s body) on either side of the pillar.

23. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar24. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar21. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar18. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar

This pillar is unusual in that it is made of a single piece of stone, whereas most pillars are made of disk-like pieces stacked on top of each other.  We were told that the pillar was made at the quarry near Luxor (I think) & then floated down the Nile.  At that time there was a canal from the river to this hill, which was essentially the center of town.  Also associated with that canal was the “Nile-ometer,” which measured the depth of the river by the waterline on a stairstep construction that has been excavated near the pillar.  A lot of excavation was being done around this site & there were a number of large artifacts on display.

16. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar17. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar

2. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar1. Alexandria Pompey's Pillar

We next visited the Roman Theater of Alexandria.  There was a lot to see here, and it is a very active ongoing excavation site.  It seems that most of ancient Alexandria is under modern Alexandria, and so it isn’t available to archeologists. So the sites that are available are very active.  This is another site near the center of ancient Alexandria. There was quite a lot to see beyond the theater, which is in remarkably good shape.  On the hill above the theater a lot of artifacts were displayed, including a stone from the ancient Pharos Lighthouse (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world) & some artifacts recovered from under the harbor, where a good part of ancient Alexandria lies. There is a plan eventually to either create a glass underwater museum for these extensive ruins, which include a good bit of the lighthouse, or to use glass-bottom boats for visitors to see them.  Even today you can scuba dive among these ruins, if you are into that sort of thing.

50. Alexandria Roman Theater41. Alexandria Roman Theater

59. Alexandria Roman Theater33. Alexandria Roman Theater

36. Alexandria Roman Theater38. Alexandria Roman Theater

The theater had interestingly carved pillars (or at least the remains of pillars) & sidewalk mosaics (the great granddaddies of those we have seen in Brazil, Madeira & Spain).

40. Alexandria Roman Theater47. Alexandria Roman Theater

53. Alexandria Roman Theater65. Alexandria Roman Theater

In addition to the theater, a Roman bathhouse & a philosophy school have been unearthed on this site.  I’m not sure how they know it was a philosophy school, as opposed to, for example, computer engineering.

44. Alexandria Roman Theater61. Alexandria Roman Theater

57. Alexandria Roman Theater58. Alexandria Roman Theater

We next visited the Alexandria National Museum, which had a relatively small but very interesting collection of Egyptian antiquities.  We saw a mummy in its case (built like a Russian doll, with one coffin inside a second inside a third) & a large head of Akhenaton (the pharaoh who adopted monotheism & was largely wiped from the records after he died and the old religion returned).  There were some large sculptures of family groups (with the woman’s hand around the man’s shoulder to show that she was his support) & a lot of other interesting stuff.  Unfortunately, this was another place where cameras were not allowed, so I can’t show you any of this.  However, cameras could be used outside & the museum building itself is an interesting old villa for a wealthy family; this is the house in which Omar Sharif grew up.  There were some unidentified artifacts on the grounds outside as well.

71. Alexandria Museum70. Alexandria Museum

74. Alexandria Museum76. Alexandria Museum

We had lunch at a very good restaurant on the Corniche, which is the curved promenade that runs for miles along the Alexandria waterfront.  It is a fashionable area with many apartment buildings & hotels & is lined with palm trees.  The restaurant served 8 kinds of hummus & other dipping sauces (one very garlicky . . . yum), then a huge plate of several different kinds of kebobs plus a barbecued chicken breast and potatoes, then an array of sweet baklava-type desserts. This was one of the best meals we have had on a shore excursion.

79. Alexandria Corniche95. Alexandria Corniche

81. Alexandria Corniche84. Alexandria Corniche

82. Alexandria Corniche92. Alexandria

After lunch we paid a quick visit to Fort Quaitbey.  It is built on the spot where the Lighthouse once stood, on the island of Pharos just off the Alexandria waterfront.  It is connected to the mainland by a causeway built in Alexander’s time.  The fort was built by the Turks in 1479, and it reputedly is constructed partly of stones from the old Lighthouse.  This is also a good place to show you a few of the ubiquitous vendors who accost you everywhere in Egypt, trying to sell you junk for really low prices (10 postcards for 1 Euro!).  Its probably a good deal if you like this stuff, mostly cheap trinkets & jewelry, but also watches and scarves, etc.  They can be pretty aggressive & persistent, which is really irritating if you only have a few minutes to visit the site you came to see.

100. Alexandria Fort Quaitbey104. Alexandria Fort Quaitbey98. Alexandria Fort Quaitbey101. Alexandria Fort Quaitbey

78. Alexandria Museum105. Alexandria

     OK, now for all the library fans, this is the Big Kahuna.  Alexandria was famed throughout the ancient world for its great library containing, of course, scrolls rather than books.  There was a law that any ship docking at Alexandria had to make available for copying any scrolls onboard (sounds like the Library of Congress’s system entitling it to a copy of any book copyrighted in the United States).  As a result, it accumulated a repository of much of the scholarly literature from throughout the mediterranean world and made Alexandria a center of intellectual activity.  In 48 BC it was partially burned during Julius Ceasar’s invasion and later Mark Antony gave Cleopatra the library of the city of Pergamum to compensate.  Some 300 years later the library was completely destroyed by Christian mobs who disapproved of all the “pagan” literature it contained. Only one scroll survived.  It is now in Vienna & the Alexandria Library only has a copy of it (but you had to pay extra to see it – for a copy! – so we didn’t).

     Anyway, in 2002 Alexandria opened a new great library (sponsored by UNESCO & financed with contributions from many countries) near the spot where the ancient one stood (the actual spot is now probably under water).  Called colloquially “BibAlex” (short for Biblioteca Alexandrina), it contains some 8 million volumes, and has the largest indoor reading space in the world.  The library is nothing short of spectacular.

122. Alexandria library inside panorama

144. Alexandria library173. Alexandria library

159. Alexandria library outside panorama

The reading room is lit by all the skylights in the tilted oval roof, & there are green & blue lights in the ceiling because these colors are supposed to be conducive for study. Books in all languages are filed together on the shelves (ie. different language copies of a book are shelved together). The library is digitizing its collections, particularly its Egyptian works, & it has a number of museums & display areas for temporary installations.  The Alexandria University is next to the library, & students can join for a few dollars a year (its not a free public library; we had to pay to go in). There are also a planetarium & a conference building at the library.

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118. Alexandria library151. Alexandria library

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    Well, it was a long & exhausting day in Alexandria, but well worth it.  It is a fascinating city & would be worth a longer visit. I will leave you with some miscellaneous pictures that are interesting enough to include but don’t fit in anywhere else. 

95. Alexandria94. Alexandria

106. Alexandria largest mosque182. Alexandria


Larnaka, Cyprus

    We arrived at Larnaka (also spelled Larnaca) on a beautiful morning on April 5.  For the most part this was a fairly nondescript seaport city of about 75,000. The locals have had little interest in preserving its interesting past but have instead preferred to build new & largely uninteresting buildings. It’s too bad we didn’t have this nice of a day in Iraklion.

54. Larnaka Church of St. Lazarus

     Before we get into Larnaka, I have to tell you about an incident at dinner during the sea day the night before.  We were the first to arrive at our 8 person  table for dinner, a formal night (11 nights on the cruise we have to dress for dinner) and immediately noticed that there were wine glasses at each seating.  This means that a member of the ship’s staff will be at your table, a welcome occurrence because they are often interesting company, but more importantly because the ship will spring for unlimited wine for everyone at the table.  Anyway, the next person to arrive was the ship staff member, a lovely Australian woman named Liza, who turned out to be in charge of acupuncture in the ship’s spa (never having been to the spa we had not met her).  We had a full table (which is not usual).  Because Liza was sitting next to me we got to talking.  She asked where we live, & learning it was near Washington, D.C., she told me she has a niece who lives in Friendship Heights.  I told her that we had worked for the federal government & she told me her niece had done so as well up until last year, so I asked what agency.  She said it had to do with elections & that her niece had done something involving finances; the only other thing she remembered was that her niece’s boss was a woman.  Well, I told her that would be the Federal Election Commission & that this was also the agency where I worked, and I told her a little about Tommie Duncan.  She had told me her niece had only been there about 4 years, so I figured I wouldn’t know her since I retired 6 years ago, but on the assumption that some of the FEC people who might be following this blog might know her I asked her name.  Her niece’s name is Claire Rajan!  You could have knocked me over with a feather (for those of you not familiar with the FEC, Claire was on my staff for the last 2 or 3 years I was at the FEC).  Here I was on the other side of the world, with a person from Australia randomly assigned to sit next to me, and the one person out of 300 million Americans to whom she is related worked 4 doors down from me at the FEC.  These coincidences never cease to amaze me.

     Anyway, I was fully recovered from this by the time we left the ship in Larnaka.  A ship shuttle bus took us into town & we began to look for the archeological dig at Kition (I keep confusing this name with Kitymer, where Worf’s parents were killed, if you are familiar with Star Trek).  Occupied by Greeks i the 13th Century BC, Kition was colonized by Phoenicians around 800 BC and was an important seaport in the ancient world.  The island was a primary source of copper (pretty important in the Bronze Age); in fact, the island’s original name, Kypros, is the source of our word copper.  Really, the whole city of Larnaka is built over ancient Kition, so it can’t be excavated (& the British didn’t help by removing much of what remained above ground as “rubble” to fill marshes).  But there are a few sites that have been excavated, so we went there. On this walk we saw many beautiful flowers, interesting cacti & lemon & quince trees.

4. Larnaka9. Larnaka

13. Larnaka12. Larnaka

5. Larnaka6. Larnaka

We came first to a spot called the Acropolis of Kition.  This spot was fenced & there was no admittance, but it looked interesting with ancient ramps leading up to the top.  This may have been the site of the Phoenician port, although it is far from the water today.

10. Larnaka Kition Acropolis7. Larnaka Kition Acropolis

The larger site is accessible to visitors.  It is a Phoenician settlement built atop a late Bronze Age foundation.

18. Larnaka Kition temples

The site contains a large temple, thought to have originally been dedicated to an ancient Cypriot goddess, who was later merged into the Phoenician goddess Astarte.  Astarte, in turn, may have been the basis for the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who they myths say was born here.  You may recall that Aphrodite was married to the Greek god Hephaestus, who was a metalworker, and there were copper smelting buildings found by this temple.  As I mentioned earlier, copper mining & smelting were important industries in Kition.  I can’t tell you which rooms are which, but here are a few pictures of the structures at Kition.

16. Larnaka Kition temples17. Larnaka Kition temples

20. Larnaka Kition temples36. Larnaka Kition temples

28. Larnaka Kition temples29. Larnaka Kition temples

26. Larnaka Kition temples

After Kition we walked back into town & visited the Pierides Museum.  Despite its good reputation, we were disappointed.  Lots of small items, some of which may have been interesting or important but you would never know due to lack of explanation.  Many items were not identified & those that were had only a useless catalogue-like description you could have written yourself after looking at them (ie. “polished white finish with a handle on the left and a spout on the right”).  No pictures were allowed inside.  Interestingly, the museum is sponsored by Laiki, the large Cypriot bank that was closed down last week as part of the outrageous European bailout of Cyprus’s banking system, in which money was taken (really stolen) from people’s bank accounts to give to wealthy international lenders.  We spoke at some length with a vendor in town, who told us about how she is not permitted (for at least another month) to draw more than $300 Euros or so out of her own bank account, and is therefore unable to pay her bills (including her child’s school tuition) or operate her business properly.  Why would anyone put their money in any EU bank after they have demonstrated their willingness to appropriate parts of bank accounts for wealthy international lenders?  I sure wouldn’t.

41. Larnaka40. Larnaka

     We walked along the seaside promenade to the fort, first built in the Byzantine era and expanded in 1625 by the Ottomans.

44. Larnaka50. Larnaka Turkish fort

46. Larnaka

Then we visited Agios Lazaros, the church of St. Lazarus.  This is the same Lazarus that the New Testament says Jesus raised from the dead after 4 days.  It seems that things got pretty hot around Jerusalem for the early Christians, so Lazarus came to Kition and became the first bishop of Cyprus.  He lived here for 30 years before he died again, and from all reports this time he stayed dead.  This church was erected on what is supposed to have been his burial site, although his relics were stolen and taken to Constantinople, after which they had more adventures.  It is, however, a lovely church.

53. Larnaka Church of St. Lazarus

66. Larnaka Church of St. Lazarus67. Larnaka Church of St. Lazarus

On the evening of April 5 we had Greek food at a special restaurant the ship set up in the Lido for 5 days.  We enjoyed hummus, lamb souvlaki & baklava, among other things.  Then we went to a classical guitar concert by a guitarist named Carlos Bonell, who studied with John Williams (the guitarist, not the Star Wars composer) & now teaches at the Royal College of Music in London.  We were particularly interested to hear him because a few days earlier he had been seated with us at dinner & we had a very enjoyable time with him.  Carlos was born in London, but both of his parents were Spanish.  He is currently working with Paul McCartney (who can neither read nor write music) in composing a concerto for classical guitar & orchestra.  Last year, in honor of the 50th(!) anniversary of the Beatles’ first hit record Carlos arranged 15 late Beatles tunes for classical guitar, which he recorded and played on his “Magical Mystery Guitar Tour.”  One of the places he played was the church on Penny Lane where “Sir Paul” (as Carlos calls him) served as a choirboy.  He said that standing in front of the church he saw the barbershop & police station mentioned in the song & was struck by how little had changed there in 50 years. To his surprise, the album was number 1 on Itunes for several days.  Anyway, his playing was extraordinary, & we went back for his second concert this afternoon (April 6).  He played two of his Beatles arrangements, “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, works by Bach, Villa-Lobos, Albeniz, Vivaldi & Rodrigo (and probably some others I am not remembering).

94. Larnaka Carlos Bonell

So after that we went to bed, and tomorrow we will be in Alexandria, Egypt.  Right now we are told that we expect to make both of our Egyptian stops, but there are demonstrations planned in Port Said day after tomorrow, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to dock there & take our scheduled trip to see the Pyramids.  Meanwhile, here is some more fruit (& vegetable) art & some towel animals to keep you satisfied until you hear from us again (it could be awhile since we have a lot of long shore excursions coming up).

88. Larnaka89. Larnaka

2. Larnaka3. Larnaka

70. Larnaka90. Larnaka

0. Larnaka92. Larnaka


Iraklion, Crete, Greece

105a. Iraklion, Crete panorama

     Iraklion (also spelled Heraklion) was named for the Greek hero Hercules.  We arrived on the morning of April 3 after a particularly rough day at sea.  We had thought that once we left the Atlantic & entered the Mediterranean the seas would be much calmer.  But no!  This was the roughest day we have had this side of Antarctica.  I tried taking some pictures of the ocean, but because they are taken from such a high angle it really doesn’t convey the turbulence. So instead here are a couple of pictures of the aft swimming pool (you have seen this pool in earlier displays of ship turbulence) with the water shooting up as the ship rolls to one side.  The pool was almost empty by the time I took these photos; it was even more dramatic earlier when it had more water.

10. Iraklion, Crete Rough Seas9. Iraklion, Crete Rough Seas

     It was a gray & rainy day as we set out from the ship.  The two places we wanted most to see here were (1) Knossos, the archeological site of the ancient palace of the legendary King Minos and the habitation of the Minotaur, a mythical half-man half-bull that lived in the labyrinth in the palace’s lower level, & (2) the archeological museum that contains most of what was uncovered at Knossos.  We didn’t need an excursion for this (yay!) since Iraklion is relatively small & Knossos is easy to reach by municipal bus.

     Knossos was the seat of the Minoan civilization, one of the oldest in Europe.  This site was inhabited since Neolithic times (7,000 – 3,000 BC).  The first palace here was erected around 1900 BC, and after it was destroyed (probably by an earthquake, the most common cause of destruction in these parts) a larger palace was built on the site, which was destroyed around 1450 BC, which is when the Mycenaean Greeks took over.

     Almost as interesting as the palace itself is the controversial story of its modern recovery.  The site was discovered in the 1870’s by a local man, but in the 1890’s it was purchased by an English archeologist (who had worked with Schliemann at Troy) named Sir Arthur Evans.  He led digs here from 1898 until the 1930’s.  Archeology was in its infancy then, & unlike modern archeologists who carefully sift and preserve as much as possible, Evans decided to rebuild the palace as much as possible.  This has been done to decent effect elsewhere in more recent times, reassembling the fallen pieces of buildings at ruins according to a broader understanding of what had been there before (we will see some of this, for example, at Ephesus).  But Evens built the site according to his own imaginative “interpretation” of the site, and he used liberal amounts of cement, paint & newer stones & mortar to make it look like what he imagined.  The result is that today it is difficult for the visitor to distinguish what was original from what Evans added.  I know for sure that the painted parts are all added, because the original frescoes were removed to museums. There is an extensive ongoing archeological project to recover what was original and liberate it from Evans’ constructions, but it has a long way to go.  So with that caveat in mind, here are some pictures.

12. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace14. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

17. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace22. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

You can see the red and black pillar above, probably erected by Evans (I think) and certainly painted by him.  We are used to seeing Greek antiquities in natural white marble, which looks so elegant & “classical,” but in fact the Greeks usually painted their statuary & buildings in bright, sometimes garish, colors.  Evans apparently took the colors of the pillars from a fresco (which you will see in the museum section below) thought to depict this palace and including red pillars like this.  Here are some storage rooms in the palace (I don’t know if the pottery is real or new).

25. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace26. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

49. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace54. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

Visitors can no longer enter the most famous room here, which Evans called the “throne room” because it has a stone chair on one wall.  It is now thought to have been a reception room rather than a throne room in the modern sense.  The wall paintings are Evans’s, but still quite attractive.

38. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

37. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace36. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

And here are some visitors.  The red bull’s head on the building in the background is a reproduction, but you will see the original below since it is in the museum.

42. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace49a. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

50. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace44. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

We saw some archeologists at work.  We were told that the current project is to repoint the original masonry with materials that would have been used at the time (Evans used modern materials, which they are now removing, along with his modern cement which turns out to be harmful to the old stone).

30. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace29. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

The palace had an elaborate water system for its time, some of which remains.

53. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace56. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

And here are some lower level rooms, which I suppose may have been the origin of the myth of the Labyrinth.  You can see pillars that once held up a higher floor (I suspect these were “restored” by Evans since the outside finish looks like cement) & an interesting pattern of mortar with small stones in a wall.

46. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace57. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

59. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace63. Iraklion, Crete Knossos Palace

Finally, here is what we were told is the oldest road in Europe.

69. Iraklion, Crete Knossos Palace64. Iraklion, Crete Knossos Palace

And while we were there we saw many beautiful flowers, and a very loud & raucous peacock sitting in a tree.  I had never seen that before; I didn’t even know they could fly!

24. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace20. Iraklion Crete, Knossos Palace

     Then we took the bus back to town & got off at the Museum of Archeology.  This museum has been undergoing renovation for a number of years, so much of its collection is unavailable.  They have been showing some of their prize possessions in a small temporary exhibit space in the basement during the renovations, but luckily for us they recently reopened two of their remodeled galleries: statuary & frescoes. We visited the temporary exhibit & both galleries.

     The temporary exhibit contained a lot of figurines & pottery from Knossos, some of which I had seen pictures of before.  I will just show some of it to you & put what little I know about it in the captions.  I really liked this stuff; it is surprising how sophisticated (and playful) some of the artwork created this early was.

70. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum71. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

73. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum72. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

75. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum79. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

80. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum84. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

82. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum83. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

Of particular interest for the board game fans is one of the world’s oldest board games, dating from about 1,500 BC.  It is called the “chess board,” although it obviously isn’t that.  If anyone knows how this game was played, it sure wasn’t explained on the exhibit. 

86. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

We didn’t find much of great interest in the statuary room, which mostly contained later Hellenistic & Roman-era works (although there was one statue purportedly made by Praxidiles[sp?], one of the great Athenian sculptors, but I doubt this was one of his best).  But the fresco room was fascinating.  Here we saw the originals of some of the reproductions we saw at Knossos.  We also learned that these colorful frescoes, pictures of which I have seen in books, are actually modern elaborations upon the fragments of the originals that were found at the site.  Some of these elaborations were informed by items found elsewhere, but sometimes it looks like parts of the elaborations are completely independent of anything in the fragments.  (It said that one fresco fragment was originally interpreted as the body of a boy, until they found another fragment nearby with the muzzle of a monkey, and then it was re-interpreted as the body of a monkey).  You can see the original fragments in the pictures, which look like raised sections, while the elaborations are the flat painted parts.

90a. Iraklion, Crete Archeology Museum panorama76. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum77. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum87. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum88. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum98. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum97. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum95. Iraklion Crete, Archeology Museum

When we left the museum it was raining cats & dogs.  We had brought our umbrellas, which helped keep us a little drier, but they didn’t work their usual magic (if you carry an umbrella it won’t rain).  So we gave up on our plan to explore the city a little & instead headed back to the ship.  It wasn’t a very long walk to the port, where there was a sign touting their expertise in servicing cruise ships.  Just before we entered it the sun came out & it was beautiful for the rest of the afternoon. But we were too soggy & tired by that time to turn around & go back out, so that was the end of our visit to Iraklion.  From the Lido deck on the ship (where we went for refreshments) we noticed an impressive mountain standing alone on the other side of the city (I would tell you its name, but I don’t know what it is).

98a. Iraklion, Crete Port sign110. Iraklion, Crete

OK, I owe you some towel animals & fruit art that I promised at the end of the long Malta post.  And there were more here, so enjoy.

11. Iraklion, Crete242. Malta

348. Malta Valleta349. Malta Valleta

So we sailed away from Crete to make our way to Cyprus.

113. Islands off Crete & sailaway

 


Valletta, Malta

     And now for something completely different!  We sailed into Valletta, the capital of the island (really archipelago) nation of Malta, just after sunrise on Easter Sunday, March 31.  Malta has been inhabited for more than 6,000 years.  The people speak a language that is Semitic in origin, but is written with Roman lettering (with lots of k’s & x’s & apostrophes).  It is a very Christian country, filled with impressive churches & cathedrals.

2. Malta Valleta Sailin

     In the early 16th Century Malta was given to the Knights of St. John by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who built the eyesore palace in the Alhambra) when the Turks drove them from their previous headquarters on Rhodes.  The Knights, also known as the Knights Hospitalers, were an international religious order organized during the Crusades.  One story is that they originated as an order of monks dedicated to providing medical care in a Jerusalem hospital dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who expanded into military activity when they began accompanying pilgrims through the area.  I have read elsewhere, though,  that they were a group of crusading knights who were assigned to billet in a hospital named for St. John after Jerusalem was captured by the Christians during the First Crusade.  (Similarly, the Knights Templars derived their name from having been billeted in a temple in Jerusalem).  I don’t know for sure which is correct; perhaps the order developed from an amalgamation of hospital monks with the military group that was stationed there.  It certainly cannot be denied that the order continued to be dedicated to caring for the sick, in addition to its martial activities.  Indeed, in their hospital in Valletta (see below) they cared for the sick without regard to religion and the patients ate from silver plates & were often attended by the knights themselves, & sometimes even by the Grand Master, the head of the order.

226. Malta Valleta Knights' Hospital225. Malta Valleta Knights' Hospital

     Charles V gave Malta to the Knights in exchange for a Maltese Pergrine falcon to be provided to him each year.  So this much of the story of “The Maltese Falcon” is historically accurate (the rest, not so much, even though there is a plaque in San Francisco commemorating the spot where Bridget O’Shaunessy shot Miles Archer).  The Knights were from noble families throughout Europe, and consisted of 8 national groups called “Langues.”  They apparently earned their living partly by preying on ships in the area, and in the 1560’s the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent decided to seize the islands and drive the Knights out.  This led to “The Great Siege of 1565,” during which the Turks tried, but failed, to take Malta.  The Knights ruled Malta until 1798 when Napoleon drove them out (Napoleon decided to invade only after the Knights refused his request to land and re-provision his troops on the way to Egypt).  The Maltese asked the British to help them get rid of the French a couple of years later; the British responded and remained in control until 1964. Be careful what you ask for!

189. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace 

     During World Ware II Malta was situated in a strategic spot controlling sea lanes the Germans needed to supply their troops in North Africa.  They subjected Malta to relentless bombing and made it difficult for the Allies to resupply the islands.  But the Maltese (and the British military) held out, an inspiring story during the war.  King George presented them with a medal & 50 years later Queen Elizabeth built a monument with a large “siege bell” in commemoration.  We watched a movie about this called “The Malta Story” starring Alec Guinness before coming on the cruise.  It wasn’t a great movie, but it was interesting because it was filmed in Malta & gives an idea of the privations & terror bombing endured during this siege.

205. Malta Valleta227. Malta Valleta Siege Bell

     The sail in early in the morning was quite impressive (although unfortunately another cruise ship went in ahead of us).  Valletta & the cities across the harbor are heavily fortified, with walls that are about 30 feet thick in some places.  The buildings in the harbor & throughout the island are made of an off-white colored stone that gives it all an unusually homogeneous appearance.  And the early morning sun gave a warm glow to the whole scene.

18. Malta Valleta Sailin8. Malta Valleta Sailin

96. Malta Valleta Sailin87. Malta Valleta Sailin

59. Malta Valleta Sailin

79. Malta Valleta Sailin75. Malta Valleta Sailin

55. Malta Valleta Sailin53. Malta Valleta Sailin

105. Malta Valleta Sailin82. Malta Valleta Sailin

Before exploring Valletta we decided to take a HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) bus to Mdina (em-dee’-nuh), which was the old capital before the Knights arrived.  HOHO buses are garishly painted open top double decker tourist buses that are available in a number of European cities.  You pay one price for the full day, they drive through a set route (in this case the northern part of the island of Malta), and you can get off to visit any sites you want & then get back on the next HOHO bus (15-30 minute intervals) to continue the route.  They also have narration in multiple languages through earphones.  Altogether, its a pretty good deal if it is going where you want.  Anyway, we got to Mdina early in the day, so it wasn’t very crowded yet. As we were leaving we saw many worshipers dressed in their church clothes departing Easter morning services.  Mdina is an old city with very narrow streets that retains much of its medieval charm.  It is built on a hill & has great views from its walls, where you can see Valletta & other towns in the area.  It also has a large cathedral that can be seen from far away.

108. Malta Mdina

115. Malta Mdina117. Malta Mdina

119. Malta Mdina120. Malta Mdina

125a. Malta Mdina_Cathedral square fixed143. Malta Mdina

126. Malta Mdina128. Malta Mdina

There is a lot of public statuary in Mdina on churches, walls & elsewhere.  Mdina is also known for its variety of elaborate door knockers.

141. Malta Mdina145. Malta Mdina

146. Malta Mdina129a. Malta Mdina Church statue

132. Malta Mdina148. Malta Mdina

As I mentioned before, the view from the walls was spectacular.

139. Malta Mdina136. Malta Mdina

134a. Malta Mdina Rick on wall cropped137. Malta Mdina

Two more views of the red-roofed cathedral from Inside & outside the walls & then we returned to Valletta.

140. Malta Mdina149. Malta Mdina

Holland America had carefully planned our visit to Valletta for one day on Easter Sunday when most places are closed in this very Christian city.  To emphasize this stupidity they distributed a newsletter saying that the one thing not to miss in Malta is St. John’s Co-Cathedral, even though it was closed to the public on the one day we were to be there.  So, on Sunday we visited what was open & walked around the walls of the city. But when we returned to the ship we learned that because the weather would prevent our anchoring & tendering in Gozo (another island of Malta that was to be our next stop) we would spend a second day in Valletta.  We were sorry to miss Gozo, but on balance this was an improvement since it enabled us to visit this spectacular cathedral, among other things.  We could have used our time to better effect if we had known in advance that we would have two days in Valletta, but we were happy with what we were given.  Anyway, from here on I will depart from strict chronology so that each site can be fully treated in a single section.

There are three main buildings in Valletta I will cover in some depth.  The first (which we toured on Sunday) is the Grand Master’s Palace.  The Grand Master was the head of the Knights & seems to have had quite a lot of authority.  The palace was occupied by the British governor until 1964 and is now the home of the Maltese legislature & also houses the President’s offices. 

196. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace203. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

The hallways inside have marble inlay floors, elaborately painted walls & ceilings, & are lined with suits of armor (the knights left a lot of armor, much of which is in the museum).

185. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

200. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace198. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

179. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace187. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

190. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace193. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

183. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace195. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

181. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace182. Malta Valleta Grand Master's Palace

     This was, altogether, a fabulous building and would have been the highlight in most cities, but not in Valletta. As everyone had said (including Holland America), it was outshone by St. Johns Co-Cathedral, which was really over-the-top (Co-Cathedral means, as I understand it, that it shares the status of Cathedral of Malta with the one in Mdina).  The Cathedral is relatively plain on the outside, and apparently it was rather unadorned on the inside as well when built by the Knights after they moved their headquarters from Vittoriosa across the harbor to Valletta after the Great Siege.

161. Malta Valleta St. John Co-Cathedral166. Malta Valleta St. John Co-Cathedral

Later, however, they made it over inside in high Gothic style, with every inch covered in some kind of fabulous decoration: statuary, painting, inlaid marble, gold and silver.  The effect upon entry is stunning.

304. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside305. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

306. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

317. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside332. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

326. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

The floor of the cathedral is made entirely of inlaid marble.  It comprises the tombs of more than 400 of the Knights, with writing in the languages of the countries from which the knights came & dramatic pictures that often reflect death.  Unfortunately, most of these tombs are covered with carpets & chairs for worshippers. I guess the carpets will help preserve them from the feet of all the visitors (high heels are not permitted inside).

310. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

311a. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral detail of a tomb312a. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral detail of tomb

336. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside339. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

336a. Malta323. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

As you can tell, I really liked these.  I wish more of them had been uncovered and visible.  There are eight side chapels in the cathedral, one for each of the “Langues,” or regional groups of Knights.  They were extremely elaborate, with beautiful paintings, reliefs, sculpture & gilded decoration.  My favorite was (I think) the chapel of the Langue of Aragon, with a painting of St. James in the center.  I am no longer sure whether all these pictures are from that chapel or not, but they give you an idea of how elaborate they are.

324. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside328. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

322. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside331. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

334. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside338. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

330. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside327. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

337. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

Finally, the Cathedral has an Oratory that contains two of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio, “St. Jerome” & “The Beheading Of St. John,” the only painting he ever signed.  Caravaggio was, to say the least, not a nice guy.  When he came to Malta in 1608 he was on the lam, having killed a man in a street brawl in Italy.  He was assigned to paint a portrait of the Grand Master & then was inducted into the Knights.  It wasn’t long, however, before he lost his legendary temper once again & stabbed another knight.  He was imprisoned, then escaped, & they drummed him out of the order.  He died shortly thereafter.  These two paintings are extraordinary (really, to me most of his work is), but no pictures can be taken in the Oratory so you won’t see them here.  However, in the main part of the Cathedral there is a cross with a painting of Jesus on it by Carvaggio, so I will show you that instead (although it isn’t really a fair substitution).

321. Malta Valleta St. Johns Co-Cathedral inside

     In a place of honor right between these two magnificent buildings is the Biblioteka Nazzionali (national library).  The Knights were forbidden to destroy any of their papers, so there is a huge archive of the order’s records in this library (also an original copy of the letter in which Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church in England, which must have shaken up the knights who were from English noble families).  There was too much paperwork to gain admittance, but the outside of the building was a treat.

169. Malta Valleta Bibliotheka

340. Malta Valleta Bibliotheka173. Malta Valleta Bibliotheka

174. Malta Valleta Bibliotheka175. Malta Valleta Bibliotheka

  For the rest of the afternoon we strolled around the walls of the city.  Even some of the ordinary houses we saw on the streets of Valletta & in some of the other towns as we drove by in the HOHO bus were interesting & unlike what we have seen elsewhere.  Most of them come right up to the street; I don’t know whether  there are courtyards inside, but it would be nice to think there are.

208. Malta Valleta232. Malta Valleta

157. Malta Valleta155. Malta

Fort St. Elmo is at the tip of the harbor on the Valletta side.  It was captured by the Turks in 1565, but looks awfully secure to me.  It is not open to the public although they are working on restoration of it.

213. Malta Valleta213a. Malta Valleta_stitch

Fort St. Anselm, on the other side of the harbor entrance, took the brunt of the Turkish attack after Ft. St. Elmo fell, but the Turks couldn’t capture it.

230. Malta Valleta356. Malta Valleta Sailaway

We also visited the Lower Barracca Gardens, which commanded fine views across the harbor (I am running out of adjectives).

235. Malta Valleta Lower Barracca Park233. Malta Valleta Lower Barracca Park

236. Malta Vitorioso from Valleta233. Malta Valleta

By the time we got back, & found out we would have another day here, we were exhausted.  So we didn’t go into town that night, as many people did.  We had been scheduled to sail away at 6:00 the next morning, which would have given great views of the city lighted up at night (trust me, I have seen some pictures).  But we went out on deck after dinner & there were some nice lighted views in the harbor.

248. Malta Valleta  & Vitorioso by night from ship245. Malta Valleta  & Vitorioso by night from ship

     I mentioned at the beginning that Malta has been inhabited for about 6,000 years, and on Monday we took a HOHO bus to visit two of the sites where archeologists are excavating neolithic settlements.  Unfortunately (for us) the best items recovered from these sites are in a museum in Valletta we didn’t have time to visit, and they have been replaced at the sites with reproductions.  But the reproductions are pretty good (we had a hard time distinguishing the real from the reproduced), and visiting the sites gives you a feel for their context that a museum visit would not.  The bus goes all around the southern portion of the island, so we saw some other interesting sites as well.

    The first neolithic site we visited is the Tarxien Temples in a town celled Paola   We walked and walked through the neighborhood of the relevant bus stop following the signs for “Neolithic Temples,” only to find it finally about half way back to the bus stop after we had given up.  It was mostly rocky holes in the ground, but there were some interesting round chambers & some (probably reproduced) decorative items, including the legs of a statue & some stones decorated with a spiral design.

253. Malta Tarxien Temples254. Malta Tarxien Temples

255. Malta Tarxien Temples261. Malta Tarxien Temples

260. Malta Tarxien Temples256. Malta Tarxien Temples

Our bus took us through Vittoriosa on the other side of the harbor from Valletta, the city where the Knights first settled. 

267. Malta264. Malta

We also drove through the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.  The fishing boats have eyes painted near the bow in the yellow sections to ward off the evil eye.  We saw a fellow with a Maltese Falcon on his arm at the harbor here, but I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture before the bus pulled out (d’oh!),

273. Malta Maxxlocks harbor & fishing boats275. Malta Maxxlocks harbor & fishing boats

We stopped at the Blue Grotto, a lovely place on the water, but we didn’t have time to leave the bus to explore.

280. Malta Blue Grotto281. Malta Blue Grotto

Finally, we came to the other Neolithic site, Hagar Qim, where we left the bus to visit.  This site has been dated to about 3,600 BC.  These sites are all called “temples,” but we have very little idea of what they were used for.

291a. Malta Mag . . . Temples_stitch

279. Malta Mag . . . Temples287. Malta Mag . . . Temples

282. Malta Mag . . . Temples289. Malta Mag . . . Temples

We returned to Valletta & visited the Cathedral which you have already seen, then headed back to the ship.  Here are a picture of the fountain outside the main gate of Valletta (the gate is undergoing restoration, so I couldn’t photograph it) & of Republic street, the main street of Valletta, which was a busy pedestrian walkway on Monday. And you can tell that the Maltese are civilized by the way they treat their stray animals (although supporting feral cats doesn’t seem like good policy to me).

344. Malta Valleta302. Malta Valleta

240. Malta Valetta Cat Cafe240a. Malta Valetta Cat Cafe sign

346. Malta Valleta

As we sailed out of the harbor about 5:00 PM the Maltese fired a six gun salute from their guns atop the walls.  This was pretty cool.  And after this extra-long post (which I hope is justified by the glories of Malta I have tried to depict here) I will save the fruit & towel art for the next time.  On to Crete!

350. Malta Valleta Sailaway353. Malta Valleta Sailaway

 


Almeria & Granada, Spain

     We arrived in Almeria, Spain early in the morning on March 28, our fourth port day in a row (exhausting!).  Almeria is a very old city; the irrigation system in this area was laid out by the Romans, and improved but not really changed from that time.  It used to be a thriving port and, like all of this part of Spain, was under Moorish control from the 8th to the 15th Centuries.  During the Spanish Civil War Almeria was a trade union & Republican stronghold (while Granada, which we visited today, supported the Fascists).  Almeria has an impressive old Moorish fortress overlooking the harbor called the Alcazaba.  One story about the city’s name is that it was named after this fortress and means “Watchtower.”  The other story we heard is that it means “Mirror of the sea.”  I think I like the second one better.

264a. Almeria_Panorama

4a. Almeria & Alcazaba Fortress270. Almeria

   We took a bus excursion to Granada to visit the Alhambra, the best example of Moorish architecture still in existence.  Built in 1013, the Alhambra is having its 1000th birthday this year (decacentenial? millenial? something else?), although most of it was only completed over the next few centuries.  It was the last holdout of the Moors in Spain during the reconquista (the Christian reconquest).  Its young king, Boabdil, surrendered the fortress to Ferdinand & Isabella on January 2, 1492 after a long siege (it was pretty much impregnable to attack) pursuant to a treaty in which they promised to respect the rights & religion of the inhabitants.  But the Jews who failed to convert to Christianity were booted out before the end of the year & the Moslems were expelled within 8 years.  So much for treaties.  After leaving the Alhambra, Boabdil reputedly turned for one last look & shed a tear (“the last sigh of the Moor”).  His lovely mother, seeing this, gently consoled him: “Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.” Life must have been hard with a mother like that.

     Anyway, it was a long bus ride to Granada but the various territories we traversed were quite interesting.  We drove through some sparsely vegetated hills with ridges & dry riverbeds (called Ramblas in Spain, like the Wadies in North Africa).  This country may look familiar to you.

6a. Road to Granada243a. Road to Almeria

If that looks like the Old West to you, it is because you have seen it playing the old west in many movies.  Almeria is a film mecca, and hundreds of films have been made here, most notably the Sergio Leone / Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns (also Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, Conan the Barbarian, & many more).  Not far from Almeria we saw some of the buildings erected for sets in the Leone / Eastwood films.

253a. Road to Almeria Sergio Leone sets

We also saw a whole lot of power generating windmills.  Spain is a leader in this industry because it has to import 100% of its oil.  We saw several interesting villages, a castle built by Christians during the Reconquista in the 15th century, and buildings that are built into the side of mountain cliffs.  This idea apparently started with the Gypsies that live in this area, but now it is very chic (& it saves on air conditioning, although I imagine most of the rooms don’t have a view).

15. Road to Granada22. Road to Granada

34. Road to Granada33. Road to Granada

35. Road to Granada242a. Road to Almeria house built into hill

We also drove past the Sierra Nevada mountain range, whose snowcap provides much of the water for this region.  Some of the mountains in this range are higher than the Pyranees.

251a. Road to Almeria Sierra Nevada252. Road to Almeria

     So finally we reached the Alhambra.  The Alhambra is not just a palace, but a citadel on a mountain overlooking Granada.  It has massive defensive walls, and housed military barracks and a small town full of civilians along with an elaborate palace complex for the sultan & his family.  We entered through the Gate of Justice which, if I remember correctly, was so named because it was the place of execution for offenders.  40. Alhambra, Granada47. Alhambra, Granada

45a. Alhambra, Granada Rick inside Gate of Justice49. Alhambra, Granada

So now, another book.  In the mid-19th Century, American writer Washington Irving (of Rip Van Winkle & Ichabod Crane fame) lived in the Alhambra for several months.  As you might expect, he wrote a book about the Alhambra’s history and his experiences there called “Tales of the Alhambra.”  It was a huge success and led directly to a movement to save and renovate the Alhambra, which had fallen into abject disrepair particularly after Napoleon’s troops had demolished some of it & turned it into an army barracks & stable (they tried to blow up the whole palace, but fortunately one soldier removed all the fuses & saved the palace).  The work of renovation, which picked up steam at the beginning of the 20th Century, continues today.  I read Irving’s book a few weeks ago, and found it pretty interesting.  The first part is mostly history & a vivid portrayal of the people who lived there in his time (many people lived there; whole families were born & lived out their lives in the Alhambra at that time).  The last part contains some stories & myths about often supernatural goings-on, including tales of buried Moorish gold, an enchanted Moorish army underground waiting for the time to retake the area, etc., which I found less compelling (but you might like better).  Its certainly a classic & a book that had a large impact in its time.  There is even a plaque on the wall outside the Justice Gate commemorating Washington Irving.

48. Alhambra, Granada52. Alhambra, Granada

The first thing we came to inside the Alhambra was the rather ugly palace built there by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the grandson of Ferdinand & Isabella.  He demolished part of the Moorish structure to build this Renaissance palace, which would look more at home in Vienna than Granada.  His plan was to make this his capital, but he abandoned it early on & never even visited it after its completion.  But we did, as you can see below.

58. Alhambra, Granada60. Alhambra, Granada

68. Alhambra, Granada61. Alhambra, Granada

We visited the famous Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions), named for a fountain in the middle surrounded by sculptures of lions.  This is a violation of Islamic law, which forbids artistic representations of people or animals.  A poem inscribed on the fountain says that they would look much fiercer if they were not so restrained by respect for the sultan.

134. Alhambra, Granada137. Alhambra, Granada

147. Alhambra, Granada

149. Alhambra, Granada

145. Alhambra, Granada146. Alhambra, Granada

152. Alhambra, Granada168. Alhambra, Granada

Off this court is the Sala de los Abencerrajes, where 16 members of the prominent Abencerraj family were murdered by the sultan (read about it in Tales of the Alhambra).  It has a particularly beautiful ceiling dome.

177. Alhambra, Granada

175. Alhambra, Granada172. Alhambra, Granada

On the other side of the court is the Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters), the principal room of the Sultan’s favorite (full disclosure: I have lots of pictures & am having some difficulty remembering which picture goes with which room, so dividing these out is really just my best guess).  It has another ornate domed ceiling.

162. Alhambra, Granada

155. Alhambra, Granada156. Alhambra, Granada

171. Alhambra, Granada173. Alhambra, Granada

We visited another courtyard with a pool in the center.  Water was an important part of the Alhambra, and really to all Moorish architecture, since it was highly valued by these people whose history was largely in desert areas.  There are no pumps to supply the pools & fountains in the Alhambra.  The water was diverted from a river about 8 kilometers away, which in turn is fed by the snow atop the Sierra Nevada.  They used an elaborate system of aqueducts, above & below ground, to route the flowing water to the Alhambra’s fountains.

81. Alhambra, Granada

233. Alhambra, Granada77. Alhambra, Granada

76. Alhambra, Granada75. Alhambra, Granada

78. Alhambra, Granada83. Alhambra, Granada

85. Alhambra, Granada88. Alhambra, Granada

117. Alhambra, Granada112. Alhambra, Granada

There was quite a lot of elaborate tile work on the walls of many of these rooms, sometimes topped with a border of stucco carvings to stunning effect.  Often the carvings contain sayings or names written in Arabic (We think the one above says “There is no Conqueror but God”).

73. Alhambra, Granada131. Alhambra, Granada

169. Alhambra, Granada164. Alhambra, Granada

There is a large open area between the Alhambra palace & the military fortifications, from which there is a great view of Granada below the hill on which the fortress sits.  The Alhambra was once a working town with many houses & shops, and even after its demise there were a lot of people living there (several portrayed by Washington Irving), so there are a number of other structures in that area that are of interest.

46. Alhambra, Granada70. Alhambra, Granada

179. Alhambra, Granada183. Alhambra, Granada

186. Alhambra, Granada189. Alhambra, Granada

Next we walked up to the Generalife, which was the summer palace that included elaborate gardens.  Its an easy walk today because they have built a bridge to it, but when the sultans lived here you had to ride a horse down the mountain and up another hill to get to it.  Unfortunately, it was too early for the gardens to be in full bloom, but they were very interesting nonetheless.  They are divided into courtyards surrounded by cedars pruned into the shape of castle-like walls, some of which contain fountains.  The sidewalks were mosaic; our guide pointed out that the mosaic tradition was picked up by the Moors from the Romans, although the Iberian mosaics look very different from the Roman ones.  There is also a fabulous view of Granada beyond the Alhambra walls from the Generalife.

218. Alhambra, Granada199. Alhambra, Granada

211. Alhambra, Granada213. Alhambra, Granada

214. Alhambra, Granada206. Alhambra, Granada

231. Alhambra, Granada198. Alhambra, Granada

216. Alhambra, Granada

Inside the Generalife was yet another beautiful courtyard, this one with fountains bordering a pool the full length of the courtyard that is planted with flowers.  Remember that the water here is natural flow & not pumped.

229. Alhambra, Granada

225. Alhambra, Granada224. Alhambra, Granada

Well, that is really just a glimpse at the Alhambra.  There is so much of beauty everywhere you look, and there is insufficient time on a tour to really take in all the details or to contemplate the harmonious whole.  But some 3 million people visit it every year now, so crowds are inevitable even though tickets are restricted (you can’t expect to walk up and buy a ticket on the day of your visit).  It would be nice to be able to stay in Granada a couple of days for a more leisurely visit, but of course on a cruise that is impossible.  After leaving the Alhambra we ate lunch at a hotel nearby, with musical accompaniment consisting of well-worn Spanish flavored standards.  Also touring the Alhambra were some of our friends, John & Mary Ann Darcy & Ed and Mary Ritter.  So hello to the Darcy grandchildren from their grandparents! And because I have one more picture space to fill, here is the towel animal we received that night before departing for Malta.

236. Lunch, Granada271. Almeria

238. Lunch, Granada

 


Gibralter

     A little before noon on March 27 we docked at the British territory of Gibralter, just south of Spain at the entrance of the Mediterranean.  Just 17 miles from Africa, Gibralter was one of the Pillars of Hercules that marked the boundary of the known world to the ancients (the other was probably Mount Acho on the African shore).  Like much of Spain, Gibralter was under Moorish rule from the 8th until the 15th Centuries.  The name evolved from the Moorish name “Jabel Tariq” (Tariq’s rock) in honor of the Moorish general who invaded Spain in the 8th Century.  The English took over in 1704, and there is a cemetery in town for sailors who died at Trafalgar.  The British fortified it by digging tunnels through the rock for gun emplacements (you can visit them, but we didn’t).  During World War II the civilian population was evacuated & it was made into a fortress controlling entry into the Mediterranean. 

128a. Gibralter_stitch

     The town of Gibralter is actually pretty small, about 2 square miles & 30,000 people, so we decided to walk around on our own, although we only had about 6 hours before departure.  Gibralter is very British, with pubs & red telephone booths & currency (there is a Gibralter pound, but it is interchangeable with the pound sterling) & British stores like Miarks & Spencer.  They drive on the right, and there are signs painted on the pavement reminding British visitors to “look left.”

19. Gibralter117. Gibralter

126. Gibralter21. Gibralter

     The first place we visited was Casemates Square, which is a large open area in the center of town.  Beyond that we walked down Main Street, which is a pedestrian only street lined with British stores & local shops.  The streets in Gibralter are pretty narrow, and there are more motorbikes than cars.

125. Gibralter4. Gibralter

122. Gibralter124. Gibralter

5. Gibralter105. Gibralter

    OK library fans, here is your first spot.  Gibralter has a very nice little library originally built for the British regiment here (called “Garrison Library”), located on a street called “Library Ramp.”  It has a walled courtyard with flowers & trees, including a tree-like plant whose branches look like very long stemmed Yucca.  A very nice attendant showed us around & told us some if its history.

113. Gibralter17. Gibralter

9. Gibralter108. Gibralter

16. Gibralter12. Gibralter

     We continued on toward the cable car that will take you to the top of the rock.  In the panoramic picture at the top you can barely see the route of the cable car  just to the left of the big dip on the right hand side.  But first, for our firehouse fans, the Fire Station is right next to the cable car station.

24a. Gibralter fire station 99. Gibralter   

101a. Gibralter fire brigade

     So we went to the top on the cable car and walked around.  The rock is some 1400 feet high, and we got up over 1200 feet at least.  The views were spectacular; you can see all the way to Africa on a clear day, but it was a little hazy so we could just make it out in the mist.  You can see the whole town far below, including the airport runway.  You can see the end of the runway in one of the pictures below, but in fact the planes approach from the other side of the rock & have to stop there short of the water.  The only road to the mainland crosses the runway, so they have to stop traffic to Spain in order for a plane to land.  Not surprisingly, this was recently voted the scariest airport in Europe.

90. Gibralter68. Gibralter

64. Gibralter72. Gibralter

    The most entertaining thing in Gibralter is the Barbary Apes that live on the rock.  They are actually monkeys (technically Macaques), about 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.  They are wild animals – the only wild primates in Europe – but are used to tourists.  They have a reputation for stealing sunglasses & cameras, although we didn’t see any of that, and there is a 500 pound fine for feeding them (but we saw some taxi drivers give them food to attract them to approach their passengers).  As you can imagine, the tourists love them & sometimes get closer than they should.  No one knows how the apes got here (probably brought originally by people from Africa), but there is a legend that if the apes ever leave Gibralter the British will too.  Because of this, during World War II Winston Churchill issued orders that the apes be well cared for, and today they are still fed regularly by (presumably) officials.

44. Gibralter

48. Gibralter42. Gibralter

36. Gibralter87. Gibralter

There were some moments that reminded us of the Robin Williams film Jumanji, when one or several of these monkeys would jump on someone’s back or leap onto the windshield of a taxi.  They are not at all shy.

57. Gibralter56a. Gibralter Ape on girl's back

58. Gibralter88. Gibralter

We walked quite a way around the top, which was very rocky & steep, often without handrails.  It makes you wonder how many people they lose up there every year, especially kids.  But the views, the rocks & the flowers were quite beautiful.

37. Gibralter53a. Gibralter Rick on rocks

60. Gibralter69. Gibralter

62. Gibralter76. Gibralter

61. Gibralter81. Gibralter

After descending on the cable car we visited the botanical gardens & saw the 11th Century Moorish castle (although it may have been started as early as the 8th Century) on our way back to the ship.  In total we walked close to 7 miles.

96a. Gibralter96. Gibralter

92. Gibralter95. Gibralter

121. Gibralter144. Gibralter

As we sailed away before sundown, the ship circled around Gibralter from west to east, and we saw (inter alia) the mosque (only a few years old) & the lighthouse, both on the southernmost tip of Gibralter called Europa Point.

157. Gibralter156. Gibralter

167a. Gibralter Costa del Sol

166. Gibralter174. Gibralter

And so, as the sun sinks slowly behind the Rock to our west, we bid a fond farewell to enjoyable Gibralter & head for bed (& Spain).

169. Gibralter

176. Gibralter175. Gibralter

 


Casablanca & Marrakesh, Morocco

     On March 26 we arrived in Casablanca, Morocco.  Despite Americans’ romantic notion of this city from the movie of the same name (which was actually shot entirely in Hollywood), Casablanca is a large commercial city (3.5 million people) with a reputation for having little charm.

2. Casablanca174. Casablanca

We opted to spend the day on an excursion to Marrakesh, about 150 miles to the south.  We travelled by bus, rather than the Marrakesh Express, and managed to get there after a long drive (about 3.5 hours each way).  We saw many villages, each with a minaret, & flocks of sheep & goats. One interesting thing was the widespread use of prickly pear cactus as hedgerows & fencing for grazing animals.  We were told that they don’t eat the cactus, but they do make oil from it & some other products.  We even saw a large hill planted with rows of prickly pears like a farmer’s field.

10a. Road from Casablanca to Marrakesh-village with minaret

12a. Road from Casablanca to Marrakesh village with prickly pears8a. Road from Casablanca to Marrakesh-hill of prickly pearYet another village with prickly pear cactus hedgerow

    Casablanca is known as the “white city”; the name means “white house” & originated in the fact that it had so many white housesthat sailors could easily identify it from sea.  Marrakesh (which is inland, at the foot of the High Atlas mountains) is called the “red city” because most of its buildings are made of reddish materials (originally they used the local red mud).  It is a pretty large city & very busy and crowded on the streets.  The name of the country, Morocco, is derived from the name Marrakesh.  Our first stop was at a hotel for lunch.  It was a beautiful hotel, but the lunch was disappointing in that it was not Moroccan cuisine (we did get some very good Moroccan cuisine, but it was on the ship after our return!).

13a. Marrakesh housing22a. Marrakesh hotel ceiling

17a. Marrakesh tilework at hotel19. Marrakesh

     The air conditioning in the bus didn’t work during the long hot (sun in my face) drive to Marrakesh, but while we ate lunch they fixed it.  The guide told us (with a straight face) that the bus driver had explained that someone on the bus must have been using a computer, which caused a virus to infect the air conditioning system.  This is the “computers work by magic” school of technology, which reminded me of the film Independence Day, in which Jeff Goldblum was able to tap into the alien computer system in a few minutes through wifi internet with his laptop & read their plans to conquer Earth (apparently the aliens not only had the same technology we do, but also communicated digitally in English, even though they also possessed scary mental powers).  These aliens also generously provided free Earth-style wifi in their mothership, without even using password protections, to enable Jeff to upload a virus to their system that destroyed all their ships in just a few minutes (but there was no wifi on our bus, so  even that theory wouldn’t apply).  Isn’t magic technology wonderful?

   The first place we visited after lunch was the Bahia (“Brilliant”) Palace.  It is relatively new for a Marrakesh landmark, having been built in the 19th century.  But it is full of lavish Moorish decoration.  The intricate carving in the walls that looks like sculpted stone is actually sculpted stucco.  The ceilings of this building are made of carved cedarwood.  You are going to see a lot of this stuff, both in this posting and in the Grenada, Spain posting yet to come, because we really liked it.  So bear with me & enjoy it.

56a. Marrakesh Bahia fountain38a. Marrakesh Bahia palace

40a. Marrakesh Bahia palace39a. Marrakesh Bahia palace41a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling48a. Marrakesh Bahia corniche

49a. Marrakesh Bahia tile work47a. Marrakesh Bahia palace

58a. Marrakesh Bahia mosaic floor

51a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling corniche76a. Marrakesh Bahia doorway

57a. Marrakesh Bahia window68a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling & wall

67a. Marrakesh Bahia doorway66a. Marrakesh Bahia ceiling

     We also visited the Saadian Tombs.  Members of the Saadian dynasty (15th & 16th centuries) are buried here.  The first sultan of the next dynasty wanted to eliminate all such recollections of the Saadians, but because it would have been bad luck to desecrate the tombs he left them intact but blocked off all access.  They were mostly forgotten until rediscoved in 1917. 

95a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs84a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

96a. Marrakesh Saadian womens' tomb93a. Marrakesh Rick at Saadian tombs

102a. Marrakesh Mary by Saadian womens' tomb85a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

88a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs - graves of entourage94a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

90a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs105a. Marrakesh Saadian tombs

Outside the tombs is the Kasbah Mosque, built in the 12th Century.  We continued to the carpet store (don’t ask), through the colorful streets of this part of Marrakesh.  The city is home to storks, who nest on top of urban walls & buildings here.

106. Marrakesh_ShiftN33a. Marrakesh street scene with carpets

113. Marrakesh116. Marrakesh

32a. Marrakesh street scene82. Marrakesh

114. Marrakesh115. Marrakesh

   Last, but far from least, we visited the Djemaa el Fna (assembly of the dead) and the nearby Koutoubia minaret, which is the symbol of Marrakesh.  If you have seen the remake of Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” you may recognize the Djemaa el Fna as the large colorful plaza where Jimmy Stewart learns the secret from a dying man that causes him and Doris Day so much trouble for the rest of the film.  It is a large open area surrounded by cafes & vendors that fills up as the day lengthens with food carts (particularly orange juice – Moroccan oranges are bitter and tough, not great to eat) & snake charmers,monkeys,  acrobats & other entertainers (who charge a Euro, or more if they think you are gullible, to take their picture).  We were there in late afternoon, so many people were still setting up their stalls; things reportedly get really interesting at night.  Although you have to be careful (you have seen Indiana Jones, so you know how easy it is to get abducted in such places); I turned away for a minute to take a picture and some guy came up and took Mary’s hand & tried to pick her up.

132. Marrakesh134. Marrakesh

135. Marrakesh139. Marrakesh

140. Marrakesh137. Marrakesh

The Koutoubia Minaret is about 180 feet tall.  It was built in the 12th Century, and the mosque associated with it had to be rebuilt twice (once to correct its alignment with Mecca).  It can be seen all over the old part of the city & is quite beautiful.

144a. Marrakesh_Minaret stitch24a. Marrakesh Rick at Koutoubia Minaret

28. Marrakesh

   Then there were a few more random things worth seeing: the Theatre Royale, a view of the High Atlas mountains from Marrakesh, and the city walls (which look a lot like Taroudent’s, but aren’t quite as old).

14. Marrakesh124a. Marrakesh High Atlas Mountains

163a. Marrakesh city walls

   The trip back to Casablanca was long, but there was a dramatic sunset about halfway there.

167a. Road from Marrakesh to Casablanca sunset

Back in Casablanca there were two more stops before reaching the ship (where they had kept the dining room open for us, and we enjoyed a terrific Morrocan style dinner).  First we stopped to see the Hassan II Mosque, which was near the ship.  Built recently (1989) this is supposedly the largest mosque in the world.  It holds about 20,000 worshipers inside the sanctuary and another 80-100,000 in the courtyard.  It has a retractable roof (3.5 minutes to open) & has the world’s tallest minaret at 689 feet.  OK, that was pretty impressive, but the other stop was at (what else?) Rick’s Cafe.  As I mentioned at the beginning, the film Casablanca was filmed entirely in Hollywood, so Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman never set foot in this place.  It was built just 9 years ago by a woman from Portland Oregon named Kathy Kriger, so it is strictly a tourist attraction.  I am sure that if we had gone inside Sam would have played it again (and again), but we didn’t get out of the bus for this one, and were only too happy to finally reach the ship.

179. Casablanca

183. Casablanca184. Casablanca


Agadir & Taroudant, Morocco

     Early in the morning of March 25 we docked at Agadir, Morocco.  Agadir is pretty old: the Portuguese established a trading center here in the 15th Century or so, and there was a famous incident at Agadir in 1912 when the Germans sent in a gunboat to challenge the French & almost ignited World War I a couple of years early.  But in 1960 there was a devastating earthquake that destroyed more than 80% of the city & killed about 15,000 people in 15 seconds, so little remains of historic Agadir.  It has been rebuilt as a resort town, and also seems to have a busy commercial port, but there was little to see here that interested us. 

102b.  Agadir, Morocco panorama from old Casbah

So we opted instead for a land excursion to ancient Taroudant, about 50 miles inland at the foot of the High Atlas mountains.  Taroudant is a walled city that is about 1000 years old, and was the capital of Morocco for a while in the 15th or 16th century.  It was also an important trading stop on the old caravan routes.

    On the way to Taroudant we saw vast areas, both flat & mountainous, that are full of Argan trees.  This is a tree that only grows in this part of Morocco, and produces a fruit similar to an olive but much harder.  We visited a women’s cooperative in Taroudant that was producing an impressive variety of oils & creams from this fruit, which is still stone ground by hand.  What was most interesting, however, is that goats actually climb into these trees to eat the fruit; we had heard of this but never seen it before.

7.  Agadir, Morocco (goats in tree)6.  Agadir, Morocco (goats in tree)

     Just outside the walls of Taroudant we stopped at a restaurant for coffee & a cookie.  We ate in a courtyard & the grounds were lush with orange trees, palms, etc.

33a.  Taroudant, Morocco (restaurant)11.  Taroudant, Morocco (restaurant)

15b.  Taroudant, Morocco (restaurant)

     Taroudant is surrounded by high medieval looking walls with a reddish color that comes from the local soil.  The walls are somewhat in disrepair in some areas, but are pretty impressive nonetheless.  This is pretty much the signature view of Taroudant (I think we will see more of this at Marrakesh tomorrow).

37.  Taroudant, Morocco_ShiftN34.  Taroudant, Morocco

39.  Taroudant, Morocco77.  Taroudant, Morocco

10a.  Taroudant, Morocco (walls from restaurant)

   We spent most of the time at Taroudant walking around the souks (open air markets), which were labyrinthine.  It is amazing that no one was lost from the group.  Many of the vendors were nixing photos, but I got a few of the souks & of some of the wares, including spices, fruits, clothes & art objects (read the captions).

43.  Taroudant, Morocco44.  Taroudant, Morocco

46.  Taroudant, Morocco51.  Taroudant, Morocco

53.  Taroudant, Morocco57.  Taroudant, Morocco

55.  Taroudant, Morocco 58.  Taroudant, Morocco

We spent some time in an artisan cooperative store that had many beautiful things, probably at good prices (if you bargain effectively), but still quite a lot of money.  And after all, how could we tell if something is really worth what they are charging?  Mary bought an unusual  pair of moonstone & silver earrings.

63.  Taroudant, Morocco62.  Taroudant, Morocco

67.  Taroudant, Morocco64.  Taroudant, Morocco

You might have noticed in that last picture that the silver piece has a star of David in the middle and Hebrew lettering on tablets at the top.  Our guide told us that, until the Arab conquest in (I think) the 8th Century, the Berbers who were the indigenous population of Morocco (she is a Berber) were Jews & Christians.  Many Jews moved to Morocco after the Spanish reconquista in Spain, and they were known hereabouts for their metalworking skills.  She says that there were many Jews living in Morocco until 1948, when almost all of them moved to Israel.  Anyway, Taroudant has a Jewish Quarter to this day (although I think it is now a geographic designation rather than an actual Jewish neighborhood).  We saw a number of items in the craft cooperative with Jewish themes & Hebrew lettering, although I doubt they are still made by Jews today.

65.  Taroudant, Morocco66.  Taroudant, Morocco

As I mentioned, the Berbers were the original inhabitants of this area; they are not ethnic Arabs and have their own language, which is one of the three official languages of Morocco (along with Arabic & French).  The ancient Greeks called them “barbarians,” as they did anyone who didn’t speak Greek.  From this they became known as Barbary (as in Barbary pirates, of Thomas Jefferson fame), and this was later updated to Berber.  We saw many of them around Taroudant dressed in traditional robes for men & veiled outfits for women.  I only have a few pictures, since I didn’t want to offend anybody.

38.  Taroudant, Morocco40.  Taroudant, Morocco

78.  Taroudant, Morocco77a.  Taroudant, Morocco (gate & pregnant woman)

So, to finish up Taroudant, I told you we visited a women’s cooperative, & it had beautiful old tiling on the walls.  We saw a bridal boutique and some familiar looking signs with Arabic (or maybe Berber?) writing.  And a gas station selling Libyan oil.

72.  Taroudant, Morocco 71.  Taroudant, Morocco

76.  Taroudant, Morocco75.  Taroudant, Morocco

79a.  Taroudant, Morocco stop sign82.  Taroudant to Agadir, Morocco

  On the trip back to Agadir we passed the High Atlas mountains & some currently dry riverbeds that are called “Wadies” in North Africa & the Middle East.

84a.  Taroudant to Agadir, Morocco High Atlas Mountains92a.  Taroudant to Agadir, Morocco - Wadi

    Before returning to the ship we visited the old Casbah of Agadir, among the few buildings to survive the earthquake (although its not in great shape).  It is on top of a hill, giving a great view of Agadir, and there were some guys there selling camel rides.  One of our party rode a camel, & seemed to come through it OK.

99a.  Agadir old Casbah (camels), Morocco100a.  Agadir old Casbah (camels), Morocco

120a.  Camels & Walls at Agadir old Casbah, Morocco98a.  Agadir old Casbah (sleeping camel), Morocco

116.  Camels & Walls at Agadir old Casbah, Morocco118.  Camels & Walls at Agadir old Casbah, Morocco

115.  Mary overlooking Agadir from old Casbah, Morocco127a.  Views from Agadir old Casbah, Morocco (cactus)

   So that’s it for a very full day on an excursion that was finished by 1:30!  No towel animals, so I will leave you with some fruit art (I bet you weren’t expecting that).

1.  Agadir, Morocco (fruit art)2.  Agadir, Morocco (fruit art)

 


Madeira (day 2), Around the Island

  On our second day in Madeira we were on a private bus tour that took us throughout the western portion of this beautiful island.  Madeira really has everything: seashores & fishing villages, cliffs & mountains, flowers rocks & surf.  This was a long (8 hours) tour & we visited a number of places, so this post is going to be mostly made up of pictures (I’m sure you are grateful to hear that).

   First we visited the picturesque fishing village of Camara de Lobos, a favorite vacation spot during the 1950’s of Winston Churchill, who liked to paint the scenery here.  The town was full of beautiful plants & flowers.  I wish I could name all the flowers, but I can’t (as you will see from the captions).

90. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos94. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos

98. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos97. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos

91. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos103. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos

106. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos107. Funchal, Madeira Camara de Lobos

     A little further along the coast we stopped at Cabo Girao, at 580 meters the second highest sea cliffs in the world (our guide thought the highest might be in Taiwan, but wasn’t sure).  There is a glass platform to walk on extending out over the cliff.

112. Funchal, Madeira Cabo Girao (cliff)

113a. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13 contrast109a. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13 corrected

114a. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13 corrected115. Funchal, Madeira Cabo Girao (cliff)Funchal, Madeira from Cabo Girao

     OK, next was Ribeira Brava, a small resort town (village).  They had a lot of construction going on, apparently moving rocks & rubble from the river to the shore, where they are building up the area behind their sea wall, which held off a roaring surf.  There was a lovely little 16th century church, all dressed up for Lent.  Mary bought a t-shirt here with an embroidered bird of paradise on it – less than half the price asked for the same shirt in Funchal.

124. Funchal, Madeira Ribeira Brava127. Funchal, Madeira Ribeira Brava

129a. Funchal, Madeira Ribeira Brava fixed136. Funchal, Madeira Ribeira Brava

134. Funchal, Madeira Ribeira Brava131. Funchal, Madeira Ribeira Brava

  Next we drove way up into the mountains and, after a stop for some photos & to visit a tourist store, we drove across a relatively flat, soggy high plans called Paul da Sierra.  It was really foggy during this part of the trip, so very few pictures (and much sleeping).  I may have mentioned that, in addition to wine, Madeira is known for its fine embroidery.  Not cheap though: we saw an embroidered table cloth in a Funchal window selling for about $9000.00!  And you know that if you bought it someone would spill the wine the first time you used it.  In the mountaintop shop was some nice embroidery selling for hundreds rather than thousands of dollars, but we took a pass anyway.

137. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13139. Funchal, Madeira Paul da Serra (boggy high plains in mountains)

140. Funchal, Madeira Paul da Serra (boggy high plains in mountains)141a. Funchal, Madeira Paul da Serra (embroidery)

142. Funchal, Madeira Paul da Serra (boggy high plains in mountains)146. Funchal, Madeira Paul da Serra (boggy high plains in mountains)

     We stopped for lunch (marinated tuna for us) in the little village of Porto Moniz on the northwest tip of Madeira, about as far (47 miles) from Funchal as you can go without getting wet.  About 4000 people live there.  We stopped for pictures on the mountainside above the town, but the best views were at the ocean where the surf pounded some fabulous black rocks.  Madeira is a volcanic island (some say it is what is left of the lost continent of Atlantis) & we saw quite a lot of volcanic rock, natural and used to build walls & buildings.  I mentioned that the whole island is heavily terraced for houses and small fields, and you can see below some of the terracing above Porto Moniz with grape vines (not yet green) on some levels.

148. Funchal, Madeira Porto Moniz (lunch stop)

151. Funchal, Madeira Porto Moniz (lunch stop)155a. Funchal, Madeira Porto Moniz (terraced hill)

156a. Funchal, Madeira Porto Moniz (terraced hill)162b. Funchal, Madeira (Rick at Porto Moniz)161. Funchal, Madeira Porto Moniz (lunch stop)159a. Funchal, Madeira Porto Moniz (cactus & rocks)_ShiftN

   You are probably wondering by now how many more stops, but there are just two more.  Seixal is a very small village with a profusion of wildflowers on the hillside, including a whole field of wild lillies.

164a. Funchal, Madeira Sexial view with cliffs

179. Funchal, Madeira Sexial169. Funchal, Madeira Sexial

170a. Funchal, Madeira Sexial (blue flowers cropped)174. Funchal, Madeira Sexial

   And finally, Sao Vicente.  This village was originally at the seashore, but was repeatedly pillaged by pirates.  So in the 16th century they moved the whole village inland about a mile & rebuilt it in a valley behind some cliffs & rocks where it could no longer be seen from the sea.

182. Funchal, Madeira Sao Vicente (16th century house)185a. Funchal, Madeira Sao Vicente (prickly pears in cemetery)181a. Funchal, Madeira Sao Vicente (bird of paradise in cemetery)187a. Funchal, Madeira Sao Vicente (houses on hill)

   And so back to Prinsendam, well in time to make the all aboard deadline of 4:30.  But then the Captain announced that they were about to replace the capstan on one of the engines, a huge piece of metal that could prove dangerous at sea.  So our departure was delayed until 8:00.  And Funchal looked quite beautiful after dark.

192. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13_stitch

But then departure was delayed until 10:00.  Then about 1:00 in the morning the ship was filled with a loud grinding sound that lasted quite a while, which seems to have been the testing for the work that had been again delayed.  So we didn’t set sail for Agadir until about 2:00 AM, but we still made it to Agadir Morocco on time early Monday morning.  However, that is another story.  I will close this installment with a couple of more towel animals.

224. Funchal, Madeira towel swan88. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13


Madeira (Day 1), Funchal

     Land! At last!  After more than a week with nothing to look at but water, the sight & feel of solid land is more than welcome.  The last few days at sea were quite rough.  We detoured to the south to avoid a big storm paralleling our path about 250 miles to the north.  We didn’t see much rain, but the sea was very rough.  Glassware was jumping off the shelves, plates were migrating across tables, chairs would move across the floor (sometimes with people in them), & wine buckets fell from their pedestals in the restaurant, spilling bottles & ice across the floor.  At night doors would move if not latched & everything had to be secured.  This also made walking difficult; it seemed that walking across a level floor was always an uphill climb as the ship rocked back & forth.  This was a big change from the first few days when we were crossing the relatively calm Sargasso Sea, where the water was deep blue & the ship remained mostly upright.

51. Atlantic Crossing 03-17-1367. Atlantic Crossing 03-18-13

85. Atlantic Crossing 03-24-1391. Atlantic Crossing 03-24-13

     We arrived in Funchal, Madeira at about 3:00 on the afternoon of March 22, which was about 3 hours late.  This meant that most things were closed by the time we got into town.  Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, located off the coast of Africa.  It is an archipelago of several islands, the largest of which is (surprise!) Madeira.  About a quarter of a million people live there.  Madeira is most famous for its wine, also called Madeira, which is fortified with brandy or spirits & made with a heat process.  The heat process was discovered when the wine was left in a hold during a tropical voyage, and instead of being spoiled as expected it was improved.  After that discovery Madeira wine would be shipped in the holds of ships on tropical voyages just to cure it by the heat of the voyage, and later someone developed a way to duplicate the process by keeping it heated on land.  They began to add spirits to the wine to preserve it during the years when its delivery to Europe was interrupted while Napoleon blockaded Madeira’s shipping.  Madeira wine was often called “sack” (see Shakespeare’s Henry IV, in which Falstaff calls it that) because pirates routinely sacked the shipments.  Another term is Malmsey (the American founding fathers used Malmsey to toast independence), which is a factory that produces one kind of Madeira wine.  So much for drinking.

    Madeira is very mountainous, and Funchal is situated on a harbor that is surrounded by high land. 

188a. Funchal, Madeira daytime_stitch

So, with little time left on the first afternoon we headed right for the cable car that takes you to Monte, a mountain overlooking the city.  Its a 4 mile trip suspended high in the air; you could see the port & the ship, & also look down into people’s yards and patios.  As you can see from the picture above Funchal, and in fact most of the island, is extensively terraced so just about everyone has a view of the water over the top of their neighbors’ houses.

30. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1327. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

21. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1318. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

24. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1326a. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13 straightened

16. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1334. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

On top of Monte is a community with a church & several formal gardens.  The signature Funchal experience involves climbing into a wicker sleigh-type thing, and then a couple of Madeirans wearing white shirts & a straw boater hat push you down the hill at great speed.  By the time we got to Monte they were in the process of closing up for the day & no one was actually riding in the sleighs. So, we walked around for a little bit & then caught the return cable car before they closed up at 5:30.

     We then walked around the town for a while.  It is a nice walking city, & we saw (inter alia) the legislature (no admittance), the cathedral (didn’t enter because they were having mass) & an interesting enclosed produce market.  The buildings were mostly white stucco with red tile roofs & a number of them had tile work as well.

42. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1340. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

37. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1344. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

Among the most interesting features here were the mosaic sidewalks, similar to what we saw in Brazil last year, but very different patterns.  This must be a Portuguese thing, I guess.  Here are just a few of the interesting patterns we came across, along with a closeup that shows what the black & white stones look like.

9. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1310. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

50. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1341. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

54. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1353. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

Madeira was discovered in 1419 by a fellow named Zarco (sounds like a space villain).  There is a statue of him and also a sidewalk mosaic tribute.

6. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1346. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

Another discoverer who lived here for a couple of years about 50 years after Zarco was Christopher Columbus.  He came to Madeira, married the governor’s daughter, who died in childbirth a year or so later, after which Columbus left the island.  Apparently nothing else is known about Columbus’s sojourn here, but that doesn’t stop enterprising Madeirans from maintaining a house that tourists can visit & imagine that Columbus lived there.  We did not visit that one.

    While walking around town we saw a fellow with a golden eagle, some swans in a park, a sparsely attended political rally near the city hall (there seems to be an election campaign going on; we saw communist party posters several places), and many beautiful flowers.

3. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1358. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

51. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1311. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

55. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1335. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

The first night there was a show on the ship by a Grupo Folclore da Ponta do Sol, a Madeiran folkdancing group from a village called Ponta do Sol not far from Funchal.  Very colorful costumes & an interesting performance (although it would have trouble living up to the Samba show we saw in Rio last year).

70. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1359. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

76. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-1368. Funchal, Madeira 03-24-13

So ended our first (short) day in Madeira, and this post is already pretty long.  So I will save the second (long) day for the next posting.


Crossing the Atlantic on Prinsendam

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale, as seen from our cabin window

     Goodbye Ft Lauderdale!  We left Ft Lauderdale at about 5:30 PM on March 14.  As I write this we are in mid-Atlantic and there is nothing around but water.  It has only been a few days, but I can see why Columbus’s men got spooked after a month or more of nothing but water and no reason beyond their weird Captain’s theories to think they would ever reach land.  But we know we will reach land this Friday, so all is well.    

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    Before going any further, I want to welcome those of you who don’t know us but are following this blog at the invitation of friends or relatives who are fellow passengers.  These are the voyages of Rick & Mary Bader, whose continuing mission is to boldly go where no one . . . no, wait a minute, that’s not right.  But it is true that this blog is about our experiences and interests and things we think our friends and relatives might find interesting.  Although all of us on the Prinsendam are traveling on the same ship to the same ports, your friend’s or relative’s experiences on board and in the ports may be very different from ours.  So while this blog will give you a general idea about the voyage and some of the ports we visit, don’t assume that everything you see here was part of your friend’s personal experience or that the blog covers everything that your friend saw or did.  With that caveat, welcome aboard.

     I also want to remind everybody of two things about reading this blog.  First, the most recent blog post will always be at the top, so the chronology is from bottom to top.  This means that when (like today, if all goes well) there are multiple postings on a single day you should scroll down to the earliest one if you want to read them in order.  Second, if you scroll your mouse over a picture a caption will pop up.  Sometimes it will just identify the picture, but often it will contain explanatory text.  So if you don’t take advantage of that feature you will be missing some brilliant writing that might be illuminating.

     As I have mentioned before, the Prinsendam is a very small ship by cruise industry standards.  It has a capacity of 835 passengers (along with about 450 crew), but on this cruise we are told there are only between 450 and 550 passengers (estimates vary).  Of course, this makes the ship even less crowded than usual, and there is generally no problem finding a table in the Lido (the buffet restaurant) or a seat in the library.  I expect it also will make it easier to get off the ship in tender ports (where the ship anchors offshore and ferries passengers into port with the lifeboats, called tenders).  There are many empty seats in the main dining room and they have closed the small extra dining room.  So this will be a more intimate cruise than the last one, and maybe that will minimize some of the sharp elbows and frayed nerves we sometimes saw on our last cruise.  So here is the Prinsendam (we didn’t take these).

Prinsendam at sunset 1Prinsendam cabin cropped

In the second picture look at the deck just below the orange lifeboats, the first deck painted white, which has an outside deck on which you can walk all the way around the ship (a quarter mile).  Counting from the left, the second window is our cabin (if you count 7 more windows you get to the cabin we had last year on the South America cruise). From this angle the window looks tiny, but it is actually about 5 feet wide and provides a very nice unobstructed view (mostly just water so far, of course, but we expect more later).  This cabin is about 2 feet longer than the one we had last year, which makes a significant difference in using the room.  It has a bathtub as well, which I think is pretty rare at sea (last year we had just a shower).  It is a pretty big step up into the tub, though, and I can’t imagine how some of the older people who are plentiful on this ship are able to handle it.  We actually have 2 kids on the ship this year, a 7 year old & a 3 year old.  I expect them to get very bored!

Mary in our cabin_ShiftN

DSC00124 straightenedDSC00123

The Prinsendam was in drydock for a couple of weeks in November & we were interested to see all the changes.  Most are not really visible, such as a new propeller that is supposed to be quieter & more fuel efficient and upgraded air conditioning & plumbing, which had been troublesome.  I am told they replaced all the verandas, but we don’t have access to those.  There was a lot of talk about the Showroom at Sea being completely redone, but it looks exactly the same to us as it did last year.  The primary visible change is that the open eating deck on the back of the Lido restaurant, where we spent many enjoyable hours outside looking at the ports during breakfast & lunch, has been completely enclosed.  They did a nice job of it:  it is surrounded by large windows, about half of which can be opened (although Gildas, the restaurant manager, told us that the engineers go nuts if they open the windows because the space is air conditioned) and large skylights that let in the sun in the afternoon.  This space now  becomes the new Canaletto restaurant at night, serving Italian food by reservation (happily, it is free on this cruise).  This is still a nice place to sit and eat, out of the way from the often crowded buffet, with a different variety of orchid on each table.  We understand why this was done (it makes the space usable in bad weather), but we still miss the outside space.  The first picture below shows how this looked last year, and after that its new look.

Aft dining verandaDSC00139a

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One thing that seems to be much better this year is the coffee.  Last year it was pretty dreadful, particularly in the Lido, and it was a constant source of complaint, but so far this year it seems to be pretty decent.  Passenger complaints about coffee served on ship are as old as cruising, as Mark Twain memorably explained:

I am reminded, now, of one of these complaints of the cookery made by a passenger. The coffee had been steadily growing more and more execrable for the space of three weeks, till at last it had ceased to be coffee altogether and had assumed the nature of mere discolored water—so this person said. He said it was so weak that it was transparent an inch in depth around the edge of the cup. As he approached the table one morning he saw the transparent edge—by means of his extraordinary vision long before he got to his seat. He went back and complained in a high-handed way to Capt. Duncan. He said the coffee was disgraceful. The Captain showed his. It seemed tolerably good. The incipient mutineer was more outraged than ever, then, at what he denounced as the partiality shown the captain’s table over the other tables in the ship. He flourished back and got his cup and set it down triumphantly, and said:  "Just try that mixture once, Captain Duncan."  He smelt it—tasted it—smiled benignantly—then said: "It is inferior—for coffee—but it is pretty fair tea."  The humbled mutineer smelt it, tasted it, and returned to his seat. He had made an egregious ass of himself before the whole ship. He did it no more. After that he took things as they came. That was me.

     One thing we really enjoyed last year was the nightly concert by the Rosario Strings in the elegant Explorer’s Lounge before dinner.  We were disappointed when boarding to see that the Rosario Strings were not listed among the entertainers & that instead there was a group called Adagio.  But we went to see them before dinner our first night anyway, and were overjoyed to discover that it was the same musicians with a new name.  They are now a violin/piano duo instead of a trio, but little if anything seems to have been lost in the transition.  They are still playing an eclectic repertoire including popular tunes, broadway overtures, challenging classical works and a version of Orange Blossom Special that always brings down the house.  We were surprised that the pianist recognized us & welcomed us back after more than a year (as did Gildas & Widi in the restaurant and Annette the Hostess, among the very few familiar faces we have seen among the crew).  These people have an amazing memory for names & faces; they have seen quite a few passengers in the year since they last saw us.  Here is the Explorers Lounge & Adagio/Rosario in action

DSC00153.DSC00138Adagio playing in the Explorers' Lounge

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     When we left Ft. Lauderdale the ocean was quite rough, and the Captain decided to detour south through the Bahamas to avoid some of the bad weather.  We were seated in the main dining room at the same table as last year, but on the Starboard (right) side of the ship instead of the Port (left).  Our table for eight included 4 Australians and an American couple who had emigrated from Germany about 50 years ago.  We took a particular liking to the woman seated next to me, an Australian with bright blue hair in front of her head who was travelling with her father, who was not at dinner because he was feeling ill.  In the middle of the night the Captain woke us all up with the announcement that one of the passengers was about to be evacuated by Coast Guard helicopter, and requested that people not take flash pictures.  We heard later it was quite a moment; since there was no place on the ship for a helicopter to land they hovered over the ship and removed the passengers by rope lift (we didn’t see it from our room).  As we feared when we heard the announcement, the evacuees were the woman at our table with the blue hair and her father.  We have since heard that he is still in a hospital in Nassau with a bleeding ulcer.  Pretty lousy to fly all the way from Australia for a 2 month cruise, only to be evacuated with a serious health problem just a few hours after sailing!  I hope they had trip insurance; it would be a lot of money to lose.

     Our second day at sea was Mary’s birthday, so I took her out to dinner at the Pinnacle, the gourmet restaurant on board (for which they charge an additional fee).  The food was first class; Mary had the large filet & I had the 22 oz. Porterhouse steak (oink!).  We had terrific crab cakes for an appetizer, Mary had chocolate soufle for dessert & I had a Volcano cake (which is made in a covered bowl).  Since it was only the second day at sea, there were no other passengers in the Pinnacle while we were eating; only two other tables were occupied, one by the Captain & his party and the other by Firmin the Hotel Manager (who was supposed to be retiring when we left the Prinsendam last year, but is somehow still here).  The staff had too little to do, so someone would come up to the table about every two minutes to inquire how our dinner was.

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I will close this entry (finally!) with some random views around the ship, and then the first of the bread animals & towel animals produced by the artisans among the ship’s crew.  Hopefully the next dispatch will be filled with pictures of Madeira.

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Prelude: The First American Cruise to the Mediterranean

   We usually think of cruising as a relatively recent phenomenon, but in fact the first American pleasure cruise to the Mediterranean came right after the Civil War, in 1867.  Of course, ships were not as fast as they are now & the cruise lasted months longer than ours.  The ship was called the Quaker City and there were 65 passengers who paid $1200 apiece to make the trip (a whole lot of money in those days).  Here is the Quaker City at sea on a not very nice day:

image

The trip was something of a sensation in the United States.  A big crowd turned out for its departure and people followed the cruisers’ exploits in the newspapers.  As well they might, since the dispatches were being written by a very young Samuel Clemens writing under his byline of Mark Twain.  After the trip ended Twain compiled and extended his newspaper reports into a book called “The Innocents Abroad,” which was his first best-seller.  Like most of Twain’s works, it makes highly entertaining reading, both funny & enlightening.  Anyone interested in Mediterranean travel, and in how much has (and hasn’t) changed in 150 years, would likely enjoy it.  If you have an ereader, you can download it for free at:    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3176.  (A more contemporary, though in my view much less companionable, account of a trip around the Mediterranean – but mostly not by cruise ship – is “The Pillars of Hercules” by Paul Theroux, which is also available as an ebook, but not for free unless you can borrow it from your library.)

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     As Twain explains, this cruise was widely viewed as an exciting new kind of adventure (he makes it sound even more exciting than ours, which seems pretty exciting to us):

     For months the great pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy Land was chatted about in the newspapers everywhere in America and discussed at countless firesides. It was a novelty in the way of excursions—its like had not been thought of before, and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale. The participants in it, instead of freighting an ungainly steam ferry-boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day’s laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun, were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history! They were to sail for months over the breezy Atlantic and the sunny Mediterranean; they were to scamper about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter—or read novels and poetry in the shade of the smokestacks, or watch for the jelly-fish and the nautilus over the side, and the shark, the whale, and other strange monsters of the deep; and at night they were to dance in the open air, on the upper deck, in the midst of a ballroom that stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon—dance, and promenade, and smoke, and sing, and make love, and search the skies for constellations that never associate with the "Big Dipper" they were so tired of; and they were to see the ships of twenty navies—the customs and costumes of twenty curious peoples—the great cities of half a world—they were to hob-nob with nobility and hold friendly converse with kings and princes, grand moguls, and the anointed lords of mighty empires! It was a brave conception; it was the offspring of a most ingenious brain. It was well advertised, but it hardly needed it: the bold originality, the extraordinary character, the seductive nature, and the vastness of the enterprise provoked comment everywhere and advertised it in every household in the land.

In the conclusion of the book, Twain looks back on the experience and eloquently expresses some of the same reasons that many people today  favor this mode of travel:

      And I will say, here, that I would rather travel with an excursion party of Methuselahs than have to be changing ships and comrades constantly, as people do who travel in the ordinary way. Those latter . . .  have . . . that other misery of packing and unpacking trunks—of running the distressing gauntlet of custom-houses—of the anxieties attendant upon getting a mass of baggage from point to point on land in safety. I had rather sail with a whole brigade of patriarchs than suffer so. We never packed our trunks but twice—when we sailed from New York, and when we returned to it. Whenever we made a land journey, we estimated how many days we should be gone and what amount of clothing we should need, figured it down to a mathematical nicety, packed a valise or two accordingly, and left the trunks on board. We chose our comrades from among our old, tried friends, and started. We were never dependent upon strangers for companionship. We often had occasion to pity Americans whom we found traveling drearily among strangers with no friends to exchange pains and pleasures with. Whenever we were coming back from a land journey, our eyes sought one thing in the distance first—the ship—and when we saw it riding at anchor with the flag apeak, we felt as a returning wanderer feels when he sees his home. When we stepped on board, our cares vanished, our troubles were at an end—for the ship was home to us. We always had the same familiar old state-room to go to, and feel safe and at peace and comfortable again.

I have no fault to find with the manner in which our excursion was conducted. Its programme was faithfully carried out—a thing which surprised me, for great enterprises usually promise vastly more than they perform. It would be well if such an excursion could be gotten up every year and the system regularly inaugurated. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Twain also addresses the closest 19th century equivalent to this blogging enterprise — passengers keeping journals of the trip:

     Behind the long dining tables on either side of the saloon, and scattered from one end to the other of the latter, some twenty or thirty gentlemen and ladies sat them down under the swaying lamps and for two or three hours wrote diligently in their journals. Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days’ voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

One of our favorite youths, Jack, a splendid young fellow with a head full of good sense, and a pair of legs that were a wonder to look upon in the way of length and straightness and slimness, used to report progress every morning in the most glowing and spirited way, and say: "Oh, I’m coming along bully!" (he was a little given to slang in his happier moods.) "I wrote ten pages in my journal last night—and you know I wrote nine the night before and twelve the night before that. Why, it’s only fun!"   "What do you find to put in it, Jack?"   "Oh, everything. Latitude and longitude, noon every day; and how many miles we made last twenty-four hours; and all the domino games I beat and horse billiards; and whales and sharks and porpoises; and the text of the sermon Sundays (because that’ll tell at home, you know); and the ships we saluted and what nation they were; and which way the wind was, and whether there was a heavy sea, and what sail we carried, though we don’t ever carry any, principally, going against a head wind always—wonder what is the reason of that?—and how many lies Moult has told—Oh, every thing! I’ve got everything down. My father told me to keep that journal. Father wouldn’t take a thousand dollars for it when I get it done."    "No, Jack; it will be worth more than a thousand dollars—when you get it done."  "Do you?—no, but do you think it will, though?  "Yes, it will be worth at least as much as a thousand dollars—when you get it done. May be more."  "Well, I about half think so, myself. It ain’t no slouch of a journal."

But it shortly became a most lamentable "slouch of a journal." One night in Paris, after a hard day’s toil in sightseeing, I said:  "Now I’ll go and stroll around the cafes awhile, Jack, and give you a chance to write up your journal, old fellow."  His countenance lost its fire. He said:  "Well, no, you needn’t mind. I think I won’t run that journal anymore. It is awful tedious. Do you know—I reckon I’m as much as four thousand pages behind hand. I haven’t got any France in it at all. First I thought I’d leave France out and start fresh. But that wouldn’t do, would it? The governor would say, ‘Hello, here—didn’t see anything in France? That cat wouldn’t fight, you know. First I thought I’d copy France out of the guide-book, like old Badger in the for’rard cabin, who’s writing a book, but there’s more than three hundred pages of it. Oh, I don’t think a journal’s any use—do you? They’re only a bother, ain’t they?"

"Yes, a journal that is incomplete isn’t of much use, but a journal properly kept is worth a thousand dollars—when you’ve got it done."  "A thousand!—well, I should think so. I wouldn’t finish it for a million."  His experience was only the experience of the majority of that industrious night school in the cabin. If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

     So Twain was apparently the only one to complete his journal of the cruise, not only because he was a professional writer but because he was financing the trip at least partly through his newspaper accounts of the journey.  Unlike Twain we have no financial incentive to complete this blog, but we expect to do so anyway.  Many entries will be delayed, sometimes substantially (I had hoped to post this entry earlier, but had technical difficulties), because this is a time consuming effort & our port schedule is crowded (sea days are really the only ones in which there is enough time to organize photographs & write blog posts).  There is likely to be a flurry of overdue posts at the end of the trip.  But stay with us; we will complete it, even if we do not finish until after we get home, and the timing really doesn’t affect how much you enjoy the blog postings, does it?  Meanwhile, get a copy of The Innocents Abroad to keep you entertained and on message until our pictures of these places begin to arrive (I am pretty certain that this is the only post that will have so many words & so few pictures).