Thursday, April 28, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Yesterday we were on the island of Madeira in the city of Funchal. This
port off the northwest coast of Morroco is our last stop before we head
across the Atlantic toward Fort Lauderdale. This is, I believe, our
third visit to Funchal. Most transatlantic cruises stop at least one of
three island groups before hitting the continent, the other two being
the Azores and the Canaries.
This was the first time that we opted not to take the cable car to top
of the island but rather we took the "hop-on hop-off" bus that takes a
couple of hours tour around Funchal and nearby villages. This gives you
a view of the entire area from different spots.
This again was a short visit as some of the others on this cruise.
Because of a storm in the Atlantic, the Captain chose to leave the port
at 3:00 PM and to sail around the bulk of the storm. As it turns out the
storm is not as strong as predicted although today the seas are rough.
We'll make it though! Now for six days of rest and relaxation (plus Bingo).
Monday, April 18, 2011
Today we are in the Atlantic where we will land tomorrow morning at
Funchal on the island of Madeira, a part of Portugal. Yesterday we were
in Cadiz, Spain and on Saturday we were in Cartagena also in Spain. Both
of these ports we have visited on a number of occasions. In both towns
we just walked from the ship and strolled along the streets and watched
people. Yesterday we 'camped' on the steps of Cadiz's Cathedral with our
laptop and checked Nancy's Yahoo mail (193 emails!) and listened the
voicemail messages on Vonage. It takes too long and too expensive to do
those things on board the ship and its WiFi service.
Just an update on Friday's post concerning the Roulette tournament.
After the preliminary rounds I moved down from forth place to sixth
place. Still enough to qualify for the finals. After four spins I was
probably third in number of chips left but was lucky on the fifth spin
after betting all of my chips, most on number seven. Even today in the
casino the results of the tournament - "Patrick 1st Place." And the
prize was $175. Not too shabby.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Yesterday we docked early in the morning at the port at Civitavecchia,
the port city for Rome. It was cold (low fifties) and looked like rain
but later in the day became quite nice. After an early breakfast we took
an bus tour to the site of early Christian catacombs. Although there is
a legend that early Christians hid in the catacombs to avoid capture by
pagan Roman soldiers, such is just that - legend. The catacombs were
burial sites for Christians. The one that we visited was the Catacombe
Domitilla. There are additional ones in the same area south of Rome.
Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the catacombs.
Following our visit to the catacombs we traveled further south, crossing
the ancient Appian Way, to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence.
When I had always read of the Pope staying in Castel Gabdolfo in the
news I always picture it as high on a remote hill, secluded by itself.
As you can see from the enclosed photo, it is at the end of the street
in a small town.
From the Papal residence, we went to what used to be an old farm house
high in the hills. Today it is a restaurant, winery, pizzarea, etc. for
lunch. The location is called Mount of Tow Towers although the two
towers no longer stand. During the second World War the Germans occupied
the area and they used the towers as a look out point. At the time of
the landing at Anzio, the towers were shelled and demolished by the allies.
Today is a day at sea as we sail for Cartegena, Spain. This afternoon is
a roulette tournament and yours truly is currently number four in the
tournament. In 30 minutes, the top six players will contest for the
finals. We'll see.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Yesterday and today we are in Naples, Italy. Yesterday we traveled to
the ruins of Pompeii and today we are sticking close to the ship because
of the weather . . . it is raining. We had planned to take a tour of the
city on the "hop-on hop-off" bus but the rain and the temperature (58
degrees) has put the kabosh on that. In lieu of that we walked over to
the terminal and wandered through its shops and had an espresso.
Yesterday we went to visit the ruins of Pompeii as it had been more than
twenty five years since we had been there. It is still in ruins! I would
have included a photo or two with this post but I am composing this post
in the ship's library and I have yet to copy yesterday's photos from our
cameras to the netbook. (Our cabin is currently being cleaned.) I don't
know the original size of Pompeii but it was quite large and only a
portion of it has been excavated. It is quite an interesting site and
the portion that has been excavated shows a rich port city of almost two
thousand years ago. A large portions of some homes remain and a large
"shed" contains pieces of furniture and utensils are there. Also are
bodies (encased in hardened lava) shown as they were struck down by the
eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
This afternoon at about 5:30 PM we will leave Naples and sail up the
coast about 150 km to Cittevecchia, the port city for Rome where we will
spend the day tomorrow.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Yesterday we were in Athens, Greece. We arrived at the port of Piraeus
early in the morning and after breakfast we boarded a bus to travel to
Athens itself for a tour. This was our third time in Athens so most
places were familiar to us. The tour consists of a bus tour of the
downtown area and the Plaka area where a number of excavated site are
found. In addition we also climbed up to the Acropolis to see the
Parthenon. Being a Sunday it was very crowded all the way up and down.
The weather was nice although a bit breezy but a very nice way to spend
part of the day.
Today we are on our way to Naples, Italy where we will spend two days
and then on to Civitavecchia, the port city for Rome. This morning we
also booked a cruise for next June that will be two weeks up and down
visiting the fjords of Norway.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Friday and Saturday, the 8th and 9th of April, we were in the port of
Kusadasi in the western part of Turkey on the Aegean Sea. For the first
day we did very little other than a stroll of the seaside portion of
On the second day we took a tour sponsored by the American Express
Mariner Club. We motored from the port to Ephesus for a quick look at
this 2,000 year old city a portion of it excavated. We opted not to take
a longer tour to Ephesus as we spent time there twice before on cruises.
From Ephesus we drove a short distance to the small town of Selcuk, the
site of the ruins of the ancient Temple of Artemis. Very little of the
temple still stands although a couple of columns are still there. On the
top of one column is a nest of storks. In fact we noticed quite a few
(maybe a half dozen) nests perched on top of columns and unused chimneys.
Also in Selcuk we visited the Basilica of St. John the Apostle. Based on
an item in the New Testament, locals note that St. John was there and
legend has it that he is buried here. The tomb in the Basilica is
clearly noted but the tomb site is of fairly recent origin.
From Selcuk we drove to the town of Sirince for a wine tasting and then
lunch. All in all a nice day. When the bus returned to the ship we were
dropped at a large carpet shop near to the ship. We and quite a few
others opted not to visit the shop and hoofed it to the ship. Shopping
is not for us.
Friday, April 08, 2011
Yesterday we stopped at one of our "extra" ports added as a result of
the cancellation of two of our Egyptian ports. We arrived very early in
the morning at the port of Asdod in the southern part of Israel, After
breakfast we boarded a bus for Jerusalem to spend the day. The drive
from Ashdod to Jerusalem was about an hour and just prior to stopping in
Jerusalem we swung around and stopped to overlooked the city of
Bethlehem which is just a short distance south. From atop one of the
hills it was difficult to see much other than the border fence as
Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
From Bethlehem we returned to Jerusalem and left the bus just outside
the Jaffa Gate, one of the eight gates in the wall of the Old City.
Jaffa Gate is an entrance into the Armenian Quarter of the Old City.
There we strolled the market of that quarter stopping at one point on
Muristan St. at the site of the old Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem,
run by the Knights Hospitaller in the 12th and 13th century.
From there we entered the Christian Quarter. (The Old City comprises
of four quarters controlled by four religious groups: Armenian,
Christian, Jewish and Muslim.) In the Christian Quarter we visited the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site according to legend the site of
the burial of Jesus. Many of the sites in the Old City were pointed out
to Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, by locals in the fourth
century. Whether these sites were truly the locations concerning Jesus
we'll never know. The church contains a stone slab purported to be the
stone where Jesus was laid out to be prepared for burial. This is shone
in the photo. In addition there is a shrine in the church that leads
down to what is supposed to be the tomb of Jesus. People wait for over
an hour to view it. We did not have the time in our tour to go down.
From the Christian Quarter we entered the Jewish Quarter which is much
more 'modern' than the other quarters as large portions were destroyed
before Israelis recovering of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. After
strolling through the Jewish Quarter we exited the Old City through the
Zion Gate and headed to lunch at the Olive Tree Hotel. As the name
implies, it is near the Mount of Olives.
Following lunch we went to the Home of the Last Supper which is outside
the Old City walls. This was one of the sites pointed out to Helena and
it very well have been the site of the Last Supper. It is a normal size
room on an upper floor and very bare. From there we motored up the Mount
of Olives where you can see city laid out and the eastern wall of the
Old City and the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. On the side of the
Mount of Olive are a number of large Jewish cemeteries. Jewish families
pay a premium to be buried on this site as it is the closest spot where
when the Messiah returns to Jerusalem he will enter the Old City through
the Golden Gate (the only gate never opened) which is just at the foot
of the Mount of Olives.
From the top of the Mount of Olives we went down to the Garden of
Gethsemane where Jesus was apprehended by Roman Soldiers. There, next to
a large olive grove is a Church of Gethsemane and next to it another
smaller church believed by members of the Greek Orthodox Church to be
the burial spot of Mary, mother of Jesus. Some Christians believe that
Mary is buried in Ephesus and others believe she was ascended into
heaven. In this church is also a tomb purported to be the tomb of
Joseph, the husband of Mary.
From Gethsemane we reentered the Old City and went to the Western or
Wailing Wall. This is a remaining wall of the Temple Mount and the only
portion left of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans. Jews pray
before the Wailing Wall and insert paper slips containing prayers in
cracks between the blocks of the wall. There are actually two separate
portions delineated by a mesh fence - one fairly large section for men
only and a much smaller section for women only. When done praying at the
wall Jews are to leave the area backward, never showing their back to
the wall although we saw most just turning and walking away.
Jerusalem is a city of antiquities and archaeological sites. Inside one
building next to the Wailing Wall is a large cut out portion of a wall
covered by plexiglass and inside a portion of an ancient arch. Where is
this archaeological site? In the Men's Room right next to the urinals!
Thursday, April 07, 2011
I am a bit behind on describing our cruise so I had better catch up. On
Monday April 4 we sailed up the Red Sea and into the Gulf of Suez,
arriving about 5:00 PM. Because transiting the Suez Canal is allowed
only during daylight hours - as opposed to the Panama Canal - we
anchored at the entrance to the canal along to a number of vessels which
were also transiting the canal to get to the Mediterranean Sea. These
ships would constitute a convoy going north up the canal. Because
shipping in the Suez Canal is only one-way, the north bound convoy goes
only as far as a large lake, moves to the eastern portion of the lake
while the south bound convoy passes.
In the morning of Tuesday, the 5th, we entered the canal at Port Suez at
about 6:00 AM followed by a number of ships following us up the
southernmost man-made portion of the can up to Little Bitter Lake and
then into Great Bitter Lake where we waited as southbound traffic
passed. The two sides of the canal couldn't be more different. As going
north the land on the western side is developed and farming land as
shown in the photo. This side is in Africa. The eastern side of the
canal, the Sinai Peninsula, is desert and is in Asia.
After waiting for the southbound traffic to pass we continued north into
Lake Limsah (also called Crocodile Lake) and then into the northern,
much longer, man-made portion of the canal up to Port Said and then into
the Mediterranean Sea. We arrived there about 5:00 PM during Bingo
where, by the way, we won $46. (We won an additional $46 on the
Because of the narrowness of the canal and the consequent one-way
traffic, only about 50 ships pass through the canal on a single day.
However, even if a ship may have to wait a few days (and some do) the
time and cost savings outweigh the alternative of going around Africa.
According to the Captain, the average fee to transit the canal is about
$205,600. I believe he was referring to a cruise ship the size of the
Monday, April 04, 2011
Yesterday was another very long day. Early in the morning the Amsterdam
after sailing up the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea arrived at the port
of Aqaba, Jordan. About 8:00 AM we boarded buses to head for the ancient
city of Petra. Along the way we traveled through the Jordanian desert
where we spotted numerous Bedouin camps in their large tents and their
flocks of sheep and goats. In addition to seeing the Bedouin camps we
stopped to looked at a small white building (the photo will be included
in the Flickr set) atop a mountain that purports to be the burial site
of Aaron, brother of Moses.
After about a two hour drive we arrived at the site of Petra, an ancient
Nabataean city discovered in 1812 by a Swiss researcher. The city,
hidden for centuries by high cliffs, has not been fully excavated but is
a 52 square mile city in total. Entrance to the city is through a one
kilometer ravine (after walking a half kilometer path) between huge
boulders of various colors. The first photo shows the path of the
corridor to the city buildings. Along the way are carvings on the rock
walls and numerous caves high up on the walls. As you walk out of the
corridor you are presented the huge Treasury Building, the building's
facade carved in the rock. The Treasury (al-Khazeneh) is the tomb of an
important Nabataean (I don't know his name).
Following the trek down the corridor and pass the Treasury we followed
the path back and had lunch at the hotel at the entrance. After lunch
and resting at the hotel we headed back on the bus for another two hour
drive. Along the way we did stop to do what most cruise ship excursions
do . . . shopping. What a waste of time!
This morning we are docked in the port of Safaga, located on the east
coast of Egypt on the Red Sea. Outside of the Amsterdam there are
probably three dozen semi trucks unloading all sorts of "stuff." This
includes beds, mattresses, bicycles, doors, all types of household items
and I don't have a clue as to what they are doing with it. They are
loading all of the stuff on hand carts and will probably take it
someplace but I don't know where. (UPDATE: Our tour guide informs us
that these are Egyptian families coming back to Egypt from Kuwait.)
In a little bit we will be heading on a bus to the city of Luxor to
investigate the Valley of the Kings. It is about a three and a half hour
bus ride to Luxor so it looks to be a long day.
Monday April 4, 2011 8:30 AM (1:15 AM EDT)
I started this post two days ago but have not got back to it as these
last two days have been long and busy. As I noted in the previous post,
early in the morning of the second we started out for Luxor which is
west of Safaga and across the desert near the Nile River. The drive is
he about three and a half drive. Our first stop near Luxor was the
Valley of the Kings, the burial sites of ancient pharaohs. Unfortunately
no photos are allowed in the Valley of the Kings area. We visited three
tombs - Ramses II, Ramses IV and another whose name I forget and cannot
find my map of the tombs. The tombs are brightly decorated with
hieroglyphics and it is amazing that they are so easily read after a
couple of thousands of years. The tomb of King Tut, the boy king is open
but it costs to visit it. I do not know why would pay extra for seeing
it as most of the treasures have been removed and are found in different
After our visit to the Valley we had lunch aboard the riverboat
Dahabeyas on the Nile River and then on to the Karnak Temple (not to be
confused with the Johnny Carson character with the same name). This
photo is at the entrance to the temple. Originally there were huge doors
here at the entrance. Everything at the temple is huge! Only as portion
of the temple and associated facilities have been excavated but it was a
Friday, April 01, 2011
Last evening while having Martinis before dinner, the Captain went on
the PA system and announced that the US State Department had eased
travel restrictions for some of the Egyptian ports along the Red Sea. As
a result, the m/s Amsterdam will make a stop in the port of Safaga
tomorrow before heading up the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan. This is good
news for us as Egypt was the primary reason for taking this particular
cruise. This will give us an opportunity to visit the city of Luxor and
the Karnak Temple. Also we will be able to go to the Valley of the
Kings. Things are looking good.