Summary – Long Delayed!

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

First, I would like to apologize to all who have been waiting for the final post of this blog. I had good intentions of completing the task in a timely manner, but we all know the saying about good intentions. The simple fact is, after returning home, real life intervened for the first few weeks and then the writing of a summary became a chore awaiting to happen instead of the usual pleasure I have doing my blog entries. Second, I would like for it to be known that the views, thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own. They may or may not reflect in all cases the views of my fellow travel companions. At any rate, here we go…

Instead for rehashing the trip port by port, I am going to try and give my impressions of our travels and the impressions our travels have made on me. In addition I will try to answer some general questions which have been posed to me either in person by friends or through emails from individuals I don’t know who have read the blog.

I will start with our Travel Service, Cruise Specialists (CSI), located in Seattle (www.cruisespecialists.com) . As the name indicates, they specialize in booking cruises. They are, I believe, the largest single booker for Holland America Lines (HAL). When we made our first long voyage we did a lot of searching and pricing of different agencies. We found that CSI was not necessarily the lowest cost agent for the cruise itself but their ADDED VALUE made the choice easy. Our adviser, Michelle Boots, whom we have used for the past 5 years is a dedicated professional who listens to what you want and makes every effort to deliver that for you. She is pleasant, informed and responsive. As always Michelle, it was a pleasure to work with you (and thanks again for the birthday and Easter cards as well as my favorite Sees candy you sent on Valentine Day.

And no, the cards and candy were not the added value I was talking about. CSI provides company escorts on all the longer cruises. On the Grand World Voyage we had three. Henk and Lucia Barnhorn, and Tom Mullen. The hosts not only act as resources to help with any problems, either personal or travel related but host several CSI sponsored cocktail parties during the trip. They are all lovely people who we have traveled with before and hope to again.

CSI also gives additional shipboard credit and provides excursions at many ports. Sometimes these are unique and sometimes they are the same as HAL provides, but with CSI you are with a smaller group, escorted by one of the hosts and they are generally less expensive. Oh, I almost forgot – CSI give you an additional credit toward their tours or they will give the credit to your shipboard account if you don’t take any of their excursions.

In the past, I usually have always booked my travel insurance on my own because I found it to be more cost effective (cheaper). With CSI, Michelle has provided trip coverage at comparable cost or even less than what I could acquire. Here I will admonish you readers to NEVER, NEVER, cruise without travel insurance. Sure it can be expensive, especially for a long trip like this, but what if you do have a serious medical problem on the other side of the globe? The costs could easily amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Don’t skip the insurance.

As you can probably see, I am very pleased with the service and price I receive from Cruise Specialist and from Michelle specifically. I can’t imagine booking a cruise with anyone else. And, no I am not a representative of CSI nor do I get any “perks” for my praise. I simply like their service.

Now, on to the cruise line – Holland America Lines. We travel with HAL for several reasons. First, HAL has the atmosphere we like, and this is very important. Many people who take their first or even second cruise are disappointed. Many times this disappointment comes from a mismatch between the client and the cruise line. There are many lines, and they each fill a certain niche. Some people want a lot of exciting activities like wall climbing, surf machines, etc. Others prefer a quieter atmosphere with lectures and classes. Do your homework and make sure the cruise line suits you before you book. A great place to start is the forum Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com).

Another reason we like HAL is because in addition to the major, have to see, tourist ports they also visit many smaller lesser known (or even unknown) areas which might not even have a port. On longer voyages, you are not a tourist, but a traveler. The ship is just a wonderful place to live while you learn about various cultures, religions, politics, etc. of the places you travel to. Again, this is why you should research your cruise line before booking.

Holland America, like all lines, gives you extra perks as you reach certain levels of travel as measured in days. This is to encourage you to remain loyal. The perks can be pretty good. We are at the Four Star Mariner level (200+ sea days), which provides us with FREE laundry, discounted wine packages and other beverage’s at 50% discount, priority check-in and priority boarding on tenders. The priority services weren’t too helpful on this trip because almost everyone aboard were at least Four Star and many fellow passengers had over 1500 sea days. Getting these perks does inspire you to return to HAL.

Another little known perk is the benefits of stock ownership. If you own 100 shares of Carnival Corp stock (CCL), you are entitled to shipboard credit for any cruise on any of the lines under Carnival ownership. This includes not only Holland America but also Princess, Seabourn, Cunard, Aida, Costa, P&O, and Fathom. This perk is easy to get and varies according to the length of the trip from $50 for 6 days or less cruises up to $250 for 14 days or longer. The stock has been a pretty good performer and currently pays about 2.5% annual dividend. If you cruise often on any of these lines a 100 share holding offers good returns.

Is Holland America Lines the most perfect, absolutely greatest line to ever float a ship? Certainly not. HAL is a middle of the road line, far above the mass, short trip ship lines, but below the true Luxury Lines. I will say again, you must find the line that fits your niche (and budget).

My biggest complaint with HAL, which I understand is the same with almost every other line, is their cost cutting measures which we have seen over the last five years. It is evident in several areas, particularly in the number of stewards aboard ship. This was our first sailing on the MS Amsterdam and we could not have been happier with the service and crew. The food was excellent and by the second week our attendants felt like family.

The ship did have some problems and was a little worn but she was going into dry dock at the end of our voyage and I am sure some of these deficiencies were addressed. My only complaints were not with the ship or the ship’s crew, but with HAL corporate. It is a fine line they have to walk to maintain competitive pricing and meet the expectations of their guest.

As stated earlier, the food quality was excellent as was the dining service, except for one problem which I feel evolved simply due to “bean counters”. Our excellent wine steward, Ernie, had to depart about two weeks prior to the end of the voyage. He has reached the maximum days allowed by the International board which sets the rules for ship workers. Prior to his leaving he told us that he was not being replaced and one of the other stewards would be taking over his duties. The simple fact was, there were not enough stewards to meet the needs of all the dining patrons. Our table seemed to have fallen through the crack and after three days of little or no service I met with the Cellar Master. He was most considerate and made no excuses which I appreciated. They just didn’t have enough help. I cancelled the remainder of my wine package for the trip which he handled very nicely.

This incident pretty much summarized the problems we encountered due to cost cuts primarily through reduced staff. This was seen with our cabin stewards (again, they were excellent but overworked). The shore excursion staff, who seemed to have plenty of staff but weren’t nearly as knowledgeable as the staffs we have had on previous long cruises. We had some excellent lecturers during the cruise, but it seemed that the number had been reduced in order to have “cultural enrichment teams” who for me offered nothing I was interested in. To be fair, this might not be a cost saving move but a change in the experience HAL provides. I am sure many people did enjoy the cultural enrichment programs, they were just not for me. I have no desire to learn to play the mandolin or weave a headdress from flowers or play the didgeridoo. I would have much preferred a lecture about the history, economics, religion and politics of the country.

Please don’t take the two previous paragraphs as a definitive statement that the cruise was horrible. It certainly was not. My disappointments were far outnumbered my wonderful experiences which are simply too many to enumerate. My point is, I feel HAL like all other cruise lines is struggling to find that sweet spot which will satisfy the majority of travelers at a cost which is affordable. Will I cruise again on HAL? – Certainly. Will I also look at other cruise lines in the future? – Probably, although I might not be as happy with them as I am with HAL J.

Another topic I wish to address in this summary is shore excursions. Unlike a five day Caribbean cruise, the variety and number of shore excursion on a cruise which encompasses more than 60 port days is overwhelming. When planning your voyage you should allow ample budget for your excursions. It would simply be senseless to sail around the world to these beautiful ports and not experience at least a sampling of the tremendous offering they present.

The four of us spent hours, meeting together several times, researching various possibilities for excursions. As a general rule, we try to book as many tours as possible outside the ships excursion desk. It has been our experience that you generally get at least as good a tour and usually a better one by booking with or through a local agency. Many times you are using the same tour company the ship books through but paying only a fraction of the cost and you enjoy traveling with a smaller group of people, many of which are often international travelers or even locals who are not a part of your ship. I enjoy the opportunity to meet people from other countries and backgrounds and hear their views on where we are visiting as well as their views about the U.S.. On one excursion into the desert in the U.A.E. we were a private group of four who met at a Bedouin camp for a meal and entertainment. I believe we were four of only six native English speakers. The other two were from South Africa.

For this trip we booked the majority of our excursions through several different agencies. We used CSI, our travel service, for the many tours they offered. In addition we booked several tours with Cruising Excursions (www.cruisingexcursions.com). They are an international company which offer a huge number of excursions in ports throughout the world. This was the first time we had used this company and were a little hesitant. After reading many reviews and doing some research we decided to take a chance. I believe we books about seven trips and they were all excellent. In many cases we were in a “small group tour” to be no more than 16 persons and it turned out we were actually on a private tour of just the four of us.

We also used Shore Excursion Group (www.shoreexcursionsgroup.com). We have used this company many times in the past and have always been satisfied with their tours. The only drawback is the more limited number of port cities where tours are offered.

Both Cruising Excursions and Shore Excursion Group offer a guarantee that they will get you back to the ship prior to sailing or they will arrange and cover your expenses to get you to the next port. This is one of the selling tactics the cruise lines use to encourage you to use their excursions – fear that you will be left in port.

We also used Tours by Locals (www.toursbylocals.com). We have booked through this service many times and have always had excellent experiences. Tours by Locals is a company which screens individual local guides in various cities throughout the world and provides the booking service for them. The advantage of using a Tours by Locals guide is that you can communicate directly with you guide and arrange a customized literary for your port visit. The downside (which we have never experienced) is that you are dealing with an individual and not a company. Your payment is held in escrow until after your trip. If the guide doesn’t show up or it is a catastrophe, your only recourse is you get your money back. Also there is no guarantee that they will get you back to the ship before sailing time so we always use a Tours by Locals guide on the first day of a two day port stop. But like I said earlier, we have never experienced being late or a no-show. We have used Tours by Locals in South America, Europe and Australia with excellent results.

Lastly, something we seldom do but have done with no untoward results is booking onshore after debarking in a port. In this case as in all travel in a foreign port, use good judgment. This is an especially good option for the second day of a three day port stay. You have the advantage of getting feedback from more adventuresome fellow travelers and often the shore excursions department of the ship will direct you to known reliable vendors.

In addition to preplanning your shore excursion agenda, it is of utmost importance to plan for what is happening at home while you are away. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Worrying about an unaddressed issue at home while you are thousands of miles away for months can completely spoil the enjoyment of a trip.

The standard issues must be addressed, mail, bills, security, plants, as well as preparing for the unexpected. Being gone for multiple months means you must make arrangements other than just a hold on mail. We used a temporary change of address to one of my sons for all of our mail. Another option is to have a good neighbor get the mail for you. Most travelers today pay the majority of their regular bills automatically online and that works for me for about 95% of our payments. The catch is those once a year items such as life or long-term care insurance, auto tags, etc. I went back through my payment records to spot these items and made appropriate arrangements.

Finally on to the trip itself. As stated earlier I am not going to do a port by port rehash of my previous posts. I will say that I personally did not have a single port I didn’t enjoy. But, to fully enjoy travel, one must be open minded and be able to push into the background any preconceived ideas, prejudices, and yes even expectations you might have. You must just embrace the moment life has given you and enjoy it for what it is. Sometimes this might mean being in one of the world’s most picturesque sights where you have been planning photography for months only to arrive in rain and fog. It happens. Rather than bemoaning your misfortune, get the best photos you can and then spend your time sampling the local food or just observing the culture. This way you might not come away with the photos you wanted, but you will come away with a better understanding of the people of whom you were their guests. As Samuel Johnson once said “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” And if you prefer to look at this maxim in more negative terms, famous author James Michener said “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” Unfortunately I see people like this on every trip I take. If you are going to go then GO! Immerse yourself in as many way as possible, study before you leave home, study while traveling and then continue to study from what you learned after you get home. Do this and you will truly receive the value of the cost of your travel.

In regard to terrorism, pirates, flying, etc., I am often asked weren’t you afraid of _______? My answer is always the same, NO. Sure there are risks. There are risks everywhere. The decision is always whether to travel or not. When I decide to make the trip, I do my homework, prepare for possible problems and use common sense to avoid getting into a situation which could be dangerous. Does this mean that on our travels I am never frighten or scared. Of course not. On this trip there were several situation where I ranged from being merely uncomfortable to being scared. The point is, these were passing incidents. You should not let fear rule your life whether at home or 10,000 miles away in a country where no one speaks your language. Again, use common sense, be careful and enjoy. As someone said, stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.

Always be respectful of your host countries customs, laws, religion and language. It is easy to see how Americans have the reputation of being obnoxious know-it-alls. Some of our fellow travelers have absolutely no regard for anyone’s culture except their own (of which most in this category have very little). By simply making a small effort to say a few words of greeting in the native language will go a long way to getting started with your best foot forward. Show interest in the local culture, ask questions. Almost everyone is interested in telling you about what is special about their village, town, country, etc. Avoid saying things like “In the U.S. we do it this way….” It is fine to compare and contrast our way of life to life of the villager in Myanmar’s, but don’t do it in a condescending way. Always be respectful and you will certainly have a more fulfilling and enjoyable trip.

What was my favorite thing and my least favorite? Again this is from my prospective only. The country I most enjoyed was Myanmar (Burma). I believe this was due to the fact that it’s still has a relatively primitive lifestyle. Having been essentially cut off from the western world for so long, it has a lot of catching up to do. Although the poverty was shocking and the living conditions in many cases deplorable, the people were so genuine. It was easy to elicit a smile from a child and a laugh from an adult. They were as interested is us as we were in them. The monasteries were fabulous!

I enjoyed all the ancient sites, Delphi, Ephesus, Pompeii, Masada and especially Petra in Jordan. As I walked through the streets, I tried to imagine what it must have been like 2000 years ago. You could almost smell the bread baking in the ovens in Pompeii, as well as the urine collection system… To think of all the great historic figures which had walked these same streets. It was almost overwhelming.

My least enjoyable excursion was also the ancient site of Masada in Israel. I loved the site for all the above stated reasons. My unhappiness was with the HAL excursion we were on. The ship had very incorrectly described this 12 hour trip as being wheelchair friendly. As a result there were many persons on the trip who really should not have been. This caused everyone delays and prevented us from seeing much of what we could have seen. It was as bad a situation for those with walking disabilities as it was for everyone else. In fairness it was the excursion which was disappointing and not Masada itself.

There are far too many wonderful experiences we had the opportunity to enjoy to cover again in this summary. For those who may not have read the entire blog, if you would like to share in some of these, read the blog.

This diatribe has continued longer than I expected and I know I have rambled. For those of you have persevered to the end, I apologize. In closing I will say that I truly wish everyone on our planet had the opportunity I was granted: To see at least a small portion of our great earth in the company of a loving spouse, great friends and pleasurable traveling companions. Traveling has widened my horizons. I have learned many things. No place is as bad as you were told it was going to be. No praise can prepare you for how great some places are. My way is not the only way, and not necessarily the best way. We can always learn from others, regardless of the language they speak or where they live. This trip has caused me to reexamine my life and try to see its place in the grand scheme of things. It is small but not insignificant. I will end with a quote from Mark Twain “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”

Until the next trip, I bid you adieu.

Wendell

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Days 107 & 108 – Wednesday & Thursday, April 22 & 23, 2015 – Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal

We arrived in Ponta Delgada, The Azores, Portugal early Wednesday morning. The weather forecast was for rain, but we again enjoyed another two beautiful days in port. We had arranged for a tour through Cruising Excursions. It was a “small group” tour with no more than 16 persons. It turned out to be only five, the four of us and a Polish gentleman who now lives in Liverpool, England.

We spent two days in Ponta Delgada due to the weather cancellation of Horta, also in the Azores. The city is beautiful!

As we left the city of Ponta Delgada, the largest city in the nine island group, we headed into the mountains to reach an altitude of about 3000 feet. This photo is looking back at the harbor. You can see two ships in port, the white one is a Princess and the white and dark one is the Amsterdam.

The Azores enjoy a temperate climate which borders on tropical. It rains some almost every day and the islands are very lush with vegetation.

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This photo was near the “fire lakes” area at about 2700 feet.

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Our guide Miguel. He did a great job and was a really pleasant person. Unfortunately, Miguel like so many other tour guides we have had over the past few months is highly over qualified for his position. Miguel has an MBA in Economics, but without moving to the mainland there are no job opportunities. He did live on the mainland for a while but missed his island.

Lagoa de Fogo, the lake formed in the volcano caldera.

We then visited Caldeira Velha, a hot spring on the mountain. Being islands of volcanic origin, there is still a great deal of geothermal activity. Although there are current no active volcanoes, there is enough geothermal activity to provide electrical energy to the island and also areas such as this for the people to enjoy.

The ancient giant ferns may be found here.

The public can bath in this naturally heated pool.

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The city gates.

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One of the unique features of Ponta Delgada is the black and white tiled plazas and sidewalks. The patterns are beautiful and varied.

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Janet’s Birthday!

The dining stewards sang Happy Birthday…

And served an incredible Decadent Chocolate Cake.

We sailed Thursday evening and expect to be in Fort Lauderdale in a week, docking on April 30th. Our four month adventure is coming to a close. As much as I have enjoyed the trip, I am ready to be back home and see the family! Unless something really exciting happens, I expect this to be the last blog post until my summary which will probably not be for a few weeks. If you are subscribed to the blog you will receive an email notification, if not periodically check back.

I appreciate everyone’s comments and hope you have enjoyed the journey along with us. I promise to recap the trip, give my final thoughts on the voyage and also answer some questions posed by readers about tours, etc.

Until then, happy travelling…

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Day 104 – Sunday, April 19, 2015 – Cadiz, Spain

Cadiz is a city and port in southwestern Spain. It is the capital of the province of Cádiz. Cadiz is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe and has been a principal home port of the Spanish Navy since the 18th century.

The older part of Cádiz within the remnants of the city walls is commonly referred to as the Old Town. It is characterized by the antiquity of its various quarters, which present a marked contrast to the newer areas of town. While the Old City’s street plan consists of narrow winding alleys connecting large plazas, newer areas of Cádiz typically have wide avenues and more modern buildings. In addition, the city is dotted with numerous parks where exotic plants flourish, including giant trees supposedly brought to Spain by Columbus from the New World.

Pre-dawn Cadiz as we sailed into the bay.

We scheduled an independent tour for Cadiz prior to sailing in January. We met our guide right on time and began the “panoramic” portion of the tour prior to a walking tour of the old city.

A beautiful morning in Cadiz!

Our first stop was the fortified wall to the city. This wall has been built and rebuilt many times with modern lanes for roads cut through the wall. This wall withstood an assault by Napoleon for over a year. He was never able to take the city and for a while Cadiz was the capital of Spain since the majority of the country has succumbed to Napoleon.

Kay, examining the “oyster stone” blocks from which the wall is made. We saw many old buildings constructed from this material. It is now unlawful to quarry the stone.

Taken just outside the wall near the modern fountain.

A watchtower on top of the wall.

These are two of the trees which Christopher Columbus supposedly brought back from the “new world”.

Low tide on Caleta Beach.

Santa Catalina Chapel. Dedicated in 1693 under the rein of Carlos II.

Santa Catalina Castle. Ordered built by Felipe II after the Anglo-Dutch looting in 1596.

The beautiful Parque Genoves. This large park contains hundreds of plant specimens from around the world.

A section of ancient Roman aqueduct. On end has a protruding lip and the other has an equivalent indention to fit the pieces together.

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The Constitution Monument. It was erected in 1912 to celebrate the Centenary of the Spanish Constitution.

In many of the former wealthy merchant houses you could see these towers. They were a symbol of wealth. The higher the tower or the greater the number of towers, the wealthier you were.

If you have any old canons lying around, plant them in the ground and they make for a great ash tray…

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Our guide for the day, German Ruiz Lara. German was very pleasant, very knowledgeable, and spoke very good English. He has a degree in chemical engineering, but with a 40% unemployment rate in Spain, he is doing something he enjoys for the time being. German obviously has a strong work ethic and lamented about the general laziness of so many in the city of Cadiz. Unfortunately due to the fact that the city is a confined peninsula, there is no room for expansion, the cost of living is very high and most of the people who work here live outside the city as does German.

I have seen these type balconies in other old cities of Europe but did not realize the design had a specific purpose. This design accommodated the ladies wearing the large flared skirts of the time.

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The Lion with a ring in its mouth signified the house of a slave trader.

The fish with coins pouring from their mouth on either side of the window indicated that this slave trader was also rich.

By stepping inside the “outside foyer” leading to the courtyard of the wealthier homes, you could see beautiful tile entryways.

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The Flower Plaza.

Here many flower venders could be found.

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This gate dates from the 13th to 15th century.

An interesting contrast.

I love the curved streets and alleys of the old cities.

A part of the ancient Roman wall.

The Mayor’s office building.

One of the dozens of beautiful squares in Cadiz.

The city of Cadiz was a surprising stop. The city is beautiful and is full of history. It is somewhere I would definitely return to if the opportunity arose. Our guide, German, also helped to bring the history alive with his knowledge and ability to relate in vivid details the city’s history.

Monday and Tuesday, days 105 & 106 are sea days. We learned that our itinerary has changed. We were scheduled to be in Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal on Wednesday and then on the island of Horta on Thursday, about 175 miles away. Due to the low pressure area passing through the port in Horta is expecting waves of 12 to 16 feet with winds up to 40 mph. Since this is a tender port the captain made the decision to spend the night in Ponta Delgada and skip Horta entirely.

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Day 103 – Saturday, April 18, 2015 – Malaga Spain

Malaga, Spain. Our second of three stops in Spain and the last on in the Mediterranean Sea. Malaga with more than 3000 years of history including being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso turned out to be a very surprising stop in the most pleasant way. Its heritage encompasses the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs all of which left its mark on the city.

Pre-sunrise as we were arriving in Malaga.

We decided to not do a tour since the city was supposed to be very pedestrian friendly. One option we did consider was the tour to Granada and the Alhambra. I would really have loved to visit the Alhambra, but a 2 ½ hour drive each way was enough to dissuade us.

We were in town before 9:00 AM on this Saturday morning. It was interesting to see all the streets being washed.

I don’t believe I have ever been in any city with as many pedestrian streets as Melaga.

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We visited the Malaga Cathedral. Although nice on the outside, but not overly impressive, it is beautiful on the inside. We stopped to listen to Morning Mass. I didn’t understand a word but the service and song were beautiful.

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This device (machine) was located in a corner of the church. I have absolutely no idea what it is and don’t have the internet time to run it down until I return home. It sure looks impressive. If anyone know about this device feel free to make a comment on the blog.

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This wall was not tiles or mosaic, but bricks…

In the garden outside the cathedral I found this orange tree.

The North Tower. Although work on the Cathedral started during the Gothic period (16th century) with the old mosque of the Arabian city, the current building is of Renaissance style and is still unfinished. Funds ran out in 1782 and so work was stopped, leaving the south tower unbuilt. This lead to it being given the popular nickname of “The One-Armed Lady”.

Our next stop was a strenuous walking tour of the Alcazaba area. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries it was the palace fortress of the Muslim governors. It is built upon the remains of an older Phoenician fortress on the side of the mount of Gibralfaro, in a position high above the city.

The climb to the top was long and consisted of steps and inclined walkways. The landscaping was beautiful.

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A view of the Plaza De Toros De La Malagueta. The local bull fighting ring.

Another view from our ascent, this one of the MS Amsterdam.

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Back on the pedestrian streets, we saw this baby stroller. It looks like a great idea but would never be allowed in the US. It is a standard stroller but has a small seat mounted in front for a young toddler to sit on. No restraints, belts or even a back…

While exploring we found a market. It turned out to be a market for fresh fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. I loved it!

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How about an olive, or a few hundred pounds of olives and by the way you have many varieties to choose from.

We decided to walk back to the ship rather than take the port provided shuttle. It was a little over a mile, but a beautiful walk.

Part of the way was along shops and restaurants and had this beautiful covered walkway.

When going through my photos after returning to the ship, I told Kay that I have been traveling too long when I can pass a view like this and really don’t pay it any attention until I see it again in the photo. We have seen and participated in so many tremendous sights and experiences on this trip that we have quite literally become numb. Marvels which a few months ago would have stopped me in my tracks now only receive a passing nod. I believe I am ready to return home and become desensitized so I can again better appreciate the little things this wonderful life has to offer.

On to Cadiz, Spain tomorrow!

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Day 101 & 102 – Thursday & Friday – April 16 & 17, 2015 – Sea Day & Cartagena, Spain

This first photo is actually from day 101, at sea. Cruise Specialists sponsored another cocktail party for their clients (which compromise about 25% of the passengers). I made a point to get a photo of Henk and Lucia Barnhorn our CS hosts. This is the third or fourth cruise which we have sailed with Henk & Lucia. You could not find a nicer couple. They are now not only old friends, but we think of them as a part of our cruising family as well.

Henk & Lucia

On Friday, Day 102, we arrived in our first port of Spain, Cartagena. Cartagena was originally settled in 223 BC and the city has flourished under Roman, Muslim and Arab rule. Located on the southeast coast of Spain, the city has been a major naval port for the region and one of the most important defensive harbors in the Mediterranean since the 16th century.

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Cartagena is a beautiful protected port surrounded by a number (seven, I believe) hills all of which once supported forts.

The port is a haven for small private boats today.

Today we scheduled a 4 ½ hour walking tour through Holland America. Unfortunately I was very disappointed with our tour. Our guide’s English was not very proficient and the ambient noise in the city made comprehension for me, who suffers from a hearing problem, almost impossible. As a result, I present the photos but in many cases I have no idea what they are of….

A statue of Christopher Columbus stands above the port and point the way to the new world.

A view from the top of Concepción Castle.

In this view you can see the Roman theater.

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Another Holland America ship the larger Eurodam was also in port. This is a good photo of the ships as well as the protected harbor.

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I did love their street lighting. It was quite unique.

Watching the Eurodam as it sailed out of the harbor.

Tonight we have a short sail to the port city of Malaga.

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Day 100 – Wednesday, April 15, 2015 – Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy

Someone had to remind me that today was Tax Day in the U.S., almost spoiled my day… One day in this port is so little time it was almost tempting to not even try to go into the city but we scheduled a “Panoramic tour of Rome” (ride through by bus) and a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, a 9 hour trip including the drive from the port to the city.

As with my latest posts, commentary will be kept to a minimum. I simply do not have the time to do the photos justice with my commentary so just enjoy the photos!

Dawn in Civitavecchia port.

New vineyards along the way to Rome.

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius.

The Coliseum.

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Lunch at Ristorante Zagara, located near the Vatican.

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The wait for security screening to enter St. Peter’s Basilica was over an hour, and the line became much longer as we waited.

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We finally made it through security!

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The letters along the top of the Basilica are about 9 feet tall to give you some reference to the size of the cathedral.

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Since it was a Wednesday, the Pope had his weekly appearance this morning.

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We of course saw only a small part of the Vatican and really only a small part of St. Peters. The Cathedral is tremendous in size, unparalleled in its structural beauty and artwork. Unfortunately, as an amateur student of middle ages history, my thoughts as I marveled at the grandeur was the cost in human suffering the church created in the building and furnishing of this grand structure. Of course to be fair, all the beautiful buildings we see in Europe and throughout the world really came at a very high cost to the people of the era.

As stated earlier, one day does not even scratch the surface of this great city. I would love to return some day to spend time walking the streets. That is the only way to really “see” a city of this nature.

We are at sea on day 101 and will then be in Spain for 3 stops, and the Portuguese Islands for 2 more, then homeward bound. I have enjoyed the trip, but after four months we are really missing our children and grandchildren. Less than two weeks now!

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Day 99 – Tuesday, April 14, 2015 – Naples, Italy – Pompeii

We arrived in Naples a little earlier than scheduled. We were docked and cleared to debark around 7:30 AM. Today we had scheduled an excursion through Cruising Excursions, headquartered in London. It was described as a small group tour, between 6 and 20 persons with an English speeding guide. Our tour was to start at 8:30 and we were to meet our driver at 8:15 outside the cruise terminal. We decided to exit the ship early, just before 8:00. To our surprise, when we left the terminal, our guide was waiting for us with a sign. After quick introductions, he called the driver to bring our transportation by. As a new Mercedes SUV pulled up, our guide Fernando explained that it was just the four of us, we had a private tour! We departed the terminal at 8:10. Our information from the ship said to expect a 45 minute drive to Pompeii, our first stop. We arrived at exactly 8:30, opening time and we were the first persons through the back gate. For the majority of our two hours in Pompeii we had it mostly to ourselves. Fernando proved to be an excellent and knowledgeable guide.

Dawn at Naples Port.

Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano which buried the city of Pompeii as well as destroying all forms of life from Herculaneum to Stabiae in 79 AD. This was the best photo I was able to obtain as it was hazy all day. Vesuvius is located about 15 KM from Pompeii.

Fresh lemons at the small market when we arrived at Pompeii. The lemons grown here are HUGE!

First of all, we only had two hours to spend at Pompeii. Fernando made sure we saw a lot, but there is absolutely no way to see the ancient city fully in less than 2 or 3 days. I had absolutely no idea of its size. In fact I still didn’t realize how big it was until I purchased a book and actually looked at a map and an aerial photo. We actually walked over perhaps 15 % of the entire city. I am providing a lot of photos, but unfortunately I haven’t had time to match all the photos with the actual descriptions in my book. For now, just enjoy the photos…

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Our first stops were the Forum Baths. These were the smallest public baths which were primarily for visitors to the city. Although they were small they were the most ornate. There were cold, warm, and hot baths with changing rooms. There were separate baths for both men and women. All rooms were heated by ductwork in the floors and the walls. Street leading to the public baths of the Forum.

Looking back you can see the level which the ash from the volcano covered the city.

Some of the many beautiful floor mosaics in the baths.

A wall fresco in the baths. Attached to the baths was a brothel which was apparently located upstairs. There is an entire sequence of fresco in the waiting area of the brothel. I took photos of these, but since this blog will probably be viewed by some who might be offended (and some who are simply too young to see these images), I will not post these photos. I’ll just say they are very graphic!

A beautiful mosaic which is almost complete.

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This is something which fascinated me. During heavy rains, the streets would flood. Stepping stones were placed along the streets to allow the crossing without getting your feet wet.

The streets were preserved in wonderful shape. You can see that the time was taken to produce pattern even in the streets.

Notice the white stones. These are now called cat’s eyes. Their purpose was to help pedestrians to see the street in low light.

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Marble was scarce and difficult to obtain. In its place, brick columns were made and then plastered over to look like marble. This is a good photo comparing the two.

The four travelers standing in the forum, near the Temple of Jupiter.

I found this very small room near the entrance to the market place. When I enquired as to its purpose, since it was an unusual looking room, our guide told me it was used to collect urine. Urine was valuable for its ammonia content and was used for washing clothes.

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This is one of the many bodies found buried in the volcanic ash. When discovered, the ash had hardened and the body had decayed leaving only the skeleton. Archeologists filled the cavity with plaster to create the exact position and shape of the body as it was when the person perished.

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This is a good example of the stepping stones and you can see the chariot tracks left in the stone road.

Found at the front door of one of the many private homes in Pompeii. Our guide said it basically translates as “Welcome”. A permanent welcome mat in stone!

This photo was taken in the House of the Faun, the largest home in Pompeii. It occupies a little over 45,000 square feet. It is generally supposed that the house was built for Publius Sulla, nephew of the conqueror of the Samnite city, who had the task of organizing and reconciling the old and new interest of the Roman Republic at Pompeii. In other words he was a politician.

The house is huge and has a number of beautiful mosaics. The most famous which depicted the battle of Alexander the Great and Darius, King of the Persians is now housed in the National Museum of Naples.

These stalls were for beverage sellers. Note the counter and the decorated marble.

The recesses were to hold jugs of wine or other beverages.

“Cave Canum” mosaic in the entrance to Casa Del Poeta Tragico. It was under renovation and I had to take the photo through a small opening with wire screen. The inscription translates to “Beware of Dog”. Somethings haven’t changed much in the past 2000 years…

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An oven at a bakery and grain mill.

One of several mills used to grind grain for bread.

In one storage area there were thousands of artifacts which have been removed from the site and are now being stored. They are locked behind bars, but fortunately you can take photos through the enclosure.

This famous plaster cast has traveled the world over and been on exhibit in many museums.

It catches a moment in time of the fatal eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

After leaving Pompeii, we traveled along the beautiful Amalfi Coast.

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After our sightseeing drive along the coast we made our way to the beautiful town of Sorrento where we had two hours for lunch and exploring the town.

We had a very enjoyable “real” pizza as our guide said. If it wasn’t from the Naples area it wasn’t a real pizza.

I could have spent the entire day in this shop. It is operated by the fifth generation of its founder. They specialize in wood inlay.

This is one of thousands of beautiful pieces they had. This is a game table which has multiple layers under the beautiful inlay top. The legs and side are also inlayed. The cost was 7,000 Euros.

Me with Marco Jannuzzi, a fifth generation owner. I had to get a couple of small pieces of the marvelous work.

On our way back, we took the shortcut through the mountain. This tunnel was over 5 kilometers in length.

Back in Naples we passed this apartment building. It looks like it was wash day…

The day was great. My only regret is we only had a few hours in Pompeii. I wish we had a few days! My next post will be for our visit to Civitavecchia, the port city for Rome.

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Day 98 – Monday, April 13, 2015 – Messina, Italy

I am so far behind in posting, that this one will be brief! We arrived in Messina, Italy on the island of Sicily, Italy Monday morning. Messina is the third largest city of Sicily and lies on the northeast corner of the island. With a bustling port serving as both a military and commercial port. Messina was originally founded by the Greeks in 8th century BC. With a rich history filled with ferocious battles devastating earthquakes, and debilitating disease, the island has a lot to offer tourists.

This is a port which was added due to the elimination of the Egyptian ports. We had booked a HAL tour to Mt. Etna, but after realizing the full days we had in Turkey and Greece leading up to this stop, we decided to cancel the Etna trip. It would have taken over 4 hour of bus riding with only a short time at the site. Instead we just walked around on our own. We stopping at a very local small shop in a mostly residential section for lunch. Kay had a calzone and I had a slice of a “pie” stuffed with vegetables. I also had a local beer, a Messina, the total was less than $5.00 US. Anyway, enjoy the photos.

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The famous mechanical clock tower. We were fortunate to be there at noon and got to see the “show”.

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Tomorrow is a sea day, followed by a day in Naples and then Rome.

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Day 97 – Sunday, April 12, 2015 – Delphi, Olympia, Katakolon, Greece

We were again up early for breakfast and on the bus by 8:00 for our travel along the southern Greek coastline on our way to Olympia for the Easter Festival Feast. The first thing I noticed this morning when I looked out was all the smoke. It actually looked like village was burning down! It was simply all the charcoal spits being fired up to grill the traditional lamb for Easter Sunday.

The view from the hotel balcony. It looks like everyone has a spit fired up.

Looking back toward the church, the smoke is even heavier.

This was at a hotel just down from ours, I took this as we were leaving Delphi.

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A smoky haze lies over the valley.

The smoke from the grills was unbelievable!

Honey is a major staple in Greece, as are bee keepers. This was a common sight along the road, often not near any houses.

The coastal ride from Delphi was beautiful.

Fish farms are a growing industry in Greece with the majority of exports going to Italy.

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We arrived in Olympia at about 12:00 noon. There were eight lambs on the spit, almost ready for the feast to begin.

Not very pretty to look at, but they were delicious…

It takes a big cleaver and a strong arm to cut up eight lambs!

After eating we walked the streets of Olympia. Due to the holiday the Olympia ruins were closed for the day, a disappointment for us but we did enjoy our sightseeing.

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One shopping stop I did make was at the Pharmacy. Kay once again had a defective bottle of latanoprost, or Xylatan, her glaucoma medication. It is not noticeable and would not be a problem as long as the bottle is kept upright but the tiny dropper had a crack which allowed the medication to drain when on its side or upside down. Since this bottle had been traveling with us for three months it has been tumbled in every direction. Fortunately I was able to communicate with the pharmacist and obtained a bottle to finish our trip with. The amazing thing is that here in Greece as it was in Budapest last summer when I had a similar situation is they do not have the generic, only the brand. What’s even more amazing is the brand cost less than the generic does in the States. I paid 8.26 Euro or about $8.80 USD for this bottle and did not need a prescription.

On the way back to the ship we saw this scene repeatedly. The sanitation workers are on strike. Greece has so many economic and political problems… It is a shame because the people are so nice and the country is so beautiful.

When we arrive back, the ship was patiently waiting for us.

We had a little time left so Kay and I walked around the small town of Katakolon.

The beach was a rocky, not sandy but it was beautiful.

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Day 96 – Saturday, April 11, 2015 – Delphi, Greece

We arose early, ate breakfast and were on our way south toward Delphi by 8:00 AM. It was another long bus ride, but again with beautiful scenery. Due to the Easter Holiday, we had to arrive in Delphi as soon as possible because the park closes at 2:30 PM. Therefore we went directly to the park before lunch.

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One of the numberless small villages and towns nestled in the mountain valleys. Occasionally we would see a Gypsy camp alongside the road. Some of these were quite large and as in all other countries where we have found this ethnic group, they are a problem for the locals to deal with.

Delphi is situated in Sterea Hellas. It is a mountainous area covered by the Parnassus range and the western branches of mount Helicon. The town of Delphi and the Sanctuary were built on the southern slopes of Parnassus at an altitude between 1500 to 2400 feet. The landscape is of spectacular natural beauty, full of sharp contrasts and is one of the most impressive and fascinating parts of Greece.

For many centuries this was a religious and spiritual center of the ancient Greek world. According to tradition, Delphi was the geographical center of the world, the meeting point of two eagles dispatched by Zeus from the ends of the universe to find the center of the world. The first traces of inhabitation in the region of Delphi go back to Mycenaean times (14th-11th century BC). Since this time a number of different cults and religions have occupied the area.

When we arrived at the Historical Site of Delphi, we first visited the museum. Here are a number of very important pieces which have been excavated over the years.

In about 560 BC, preceding the construction of the Siphnian treasury, another rich island of the Cyclades, Naxos sent a grandiose offering to Apollo of Delphi; the statue of the mythical sphinx, a female face with the mysterious smile, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird were placed on an Ionic column at the sanctuary of Gaia in order to protect her oracle. It is regarded as the oldest element in the Ionic order at Delphi. The Sphinx including the column stood almost 40 feet tall.

Statues of the identical twins, Kleovis and Byton who were immortalized as having been “the best of men”. After their mother prayed to the statue of the goddess Hereon to give the twins “whatsoever is best for a man to receive”, they went to sleep and never awoke. The gods took them with them and they were immortalized with these statues and dedicated to Apollo as eternal symbols of virtue (around 600 BC).

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A small bronze incensory circa 490-460 BC.

The prickly column with the “dancers”

Dionysus, one of a “family of philosophers” statues created around 270 BC.

The Charioteer, an exquisite piece of the beginning of the 5th century BC The Charioteer was part of a bronze complex which according to the prevailing view, was dedicated to Apollo By Polyzalos, tyrant of Gela in Sicily, in commemoration of his victory in the chariot race in the Pythian Games in 478 or 474 BC.

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Ruins of the Roman Agora at the entrance to the Delphi Sanctuary

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One of many stone tablets which can be seen in Delphi.

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The Iconic treasury built by the Siphnians near the end of the 6th century BC. The treasuries are small, elegant temple-shaped buildings erected by the Greek cities in commemoration of an historical event in order to house precious offerings. There were many treasuries.

Remains of the Temple of Apollo.

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The Theater. Built in the 4th century BC, reconstructed in the 2th century BC and took its final form in Roman times.

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The Stadium which dates back to the 5th century BC took its present form in the 2nd century BC when Herod Atticus restored it and built the stone seats which could accommodate an audience of 7,000.

Beautiful wild flowers grow everywhere!

The grounds closed promptly at 2:30 and we left for a much needed lunch!

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The setting was rustic, but the food was good.

The view from the front of the restaurant.

On our way back to the town of Delphi, where we were to spend the night, we passed through another slightly larger city which has a very narrow two-way main street. Meeting another vehicle was difficult and when we meet two other tour buses, it took 15 minutes for us to negotiate our passage.

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We finally arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Apollonia. Mark, our HAL tour “helper”, passed out our room keys. Ours was next to the last one passed out and it was explained that the entrance was on floor 3 and the restaurant was on floor 2. Our room was marked 414, so we took the stairs up one flight. Sure enough the 400 rooms were on this level but they only went up to 412. Tired and frustrated, I left Kay with the luggage an went back to the front desk. I had to wait several minutes because there was only one person at the desk. I what was probably not a really nice tone, I asked where this room was located. “No problem” she said, “follow me”. We got on the elevator, went up one floor to where Kay was waiting. She crossed the small lobby and opened the door to a suite which did not even have a number. It looked like we lucked out! We had a nice two room suite with dual balconies.

The entrance to our “suite”.

Actually, it was quite nice. The Hotel was rated as 4-Star, but certainly would not have received that rating in the States… Everything is relative I guess…

View from the Hotel front balcony.

Church visible from the balcony. This is where the midnight service was held, but we did not go.

On main street in Delphi. We took a break on this small wall to just enjoy the view. In the distance you can see the Ionian Sea (this part also called the Korinthiakos Sea).

Directly behind the wall was a drop of about 100 feet to a small ledge, after that it was another 1500 plus feet to the valley floor… You can see some of the olive tree orchards in the valley.

All along the roads you would see these permenate memorials to persons who died in auto accidents. They usually contained some religious icons and perhaps a photo or flowers. We saw several places along our travels where these could be purchased.

We continued walking through town and back down to the Delphi Sanctuary. Here we viewed the “gymnasium” area which we missed earlier today. The Gymnasium is on two parallel levels. On the highest level there was a big stoa or xystos, where athletes trained in racing when the weather conditions were unfavorable. When the weather was good, they used the paradromida, which lies in front of the xystos and parallel to it.

On the lower level there was the Palaestra, a square yard surrounded by a small sanctuary and chambers used for the various activities of the athletes training in wrestling and boxing.

Beside the palaestra were the baths. The cold water coming from the Castalia spring ran through eleven spouts into stone basins and from there flowed into a circular tank. In Roman times baths with hot water were added westwards.

Apollo’s temple as seen from the road in the evening sun.

We found this cover stone vessel. It looked like a tomb, and Janet is clowning around in it despite possible spiders…

The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia or the Temple of Athena. This dates from the 5th and 4th century BC.

The round trip walk was about 2.5 miles – a nice walk, especially coming back up the steep hill in town.

Here is a grill readied the Easter Sunday morning ritual of grilling a lamb for the Easter Feast. Tomorrow’s photos will show the incredible smoke created by the lighting of dozens of these grills.

Another blog down, currently I am only one behind but that increases to two tomorrow…

Goodnight.

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Day 95 – Friday, April 10, 2015 – Piraeus (Athens), Greece – Meteora

Today starts a very busy six straight port days with one sea day followed by another 3 port days! With so many port days and activities, I am not sure when or how much delay there will be between my postings. I will try to stay current, but I am sure there may be several days’ delay for which I apologize ahead of time. We arrived in the port of Piraeus, Greece (Athens port city) around 7:00 AM. Since we were leaving the ship for two nights for an overland tour, we had our luggage packed and ready. We debarked around 8:10 and were on the road by 8:30. The drive to Meteora was long, but the scenery was beautiful.

Greece is not exactly as I had pictured it in my mind. Most photos and movies concentrate on the coast and the beautiful coastal cities. I didn’t realize that the country was so mountainous. It is the 3rd most mountainous country in Europe, behind Norway and Albania. Greece is composed of 85% mountains.

I outlined in YELLOW our route over the next three days. We leave from Priaeus early Friday morning and travel to Meteora where we spend the night, then back down to Delphi near the southern coast to visit the ruins and again spend the night in the small town of Delphi. On Sunday, we travel along the coast and cross the bridge on our way to Olympia. After a traditional Greek Easter Feast, we then proceed to Katakolon to reboard the ship

Snow covered mountains in the background, solar panels in the foreground.

Mountains and Olive orchards…

Sweeping valleys, between the majestic mountains.

A brief glimpse of Mt. Olympus in the far distance.

After 5 ½ hours of travel by bus we reach Meteora where we stop for delicious lunch. As I have found most Greek meals to be, it was huge and consisted of a large selections of appetizers (which could have been the meal itself) followed by the main and dessert. I had my first Greek beer a Mythos, which is a Hellenic style brew. It was ok, but on this trip I have yet to find a beer which rivals those of Northern Europe But in all fairness, this is wine country.

A view of the mountains from the restaurant.

We saw many climbers. Meteora is a popular destination for hiking and rock climbing.

The Metéora , "middle of the sky", "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above" — etymologically related to "Meteorite") is one of the largest and most important complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. The nearest town is Kalambaka. The Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List

The Plain of Thessaly has been reorganized as the site of the most ancient habitation in Greece. Meteora is nothing other than a group of lofty and precipitous rocks crowned with monasteries, retreats and cells, while its various caves have been turned into hermits’ cells for Orthodox monasticism since the 11th century. These pillows rise to over 1000 feet above the beautiful plain of Thessaly. The pillows were formed over 60,000 years ago when an ancient lake forced its way to the Aegean Sea, eroding the mountain and leaving these unique pillows.

We were only able to visit two of the Monasteries which are now operated by nuns. Only two Monasteries still are occupied by Monks and one only has two devotees left. From the elevations, I was able to get photos of many of the Monasteries, but I haven’t had time to actually identify the specific ones from the book I purchased. Therefore, I will just present the photos for your viewing enjoyment.

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Rossanou was one of the sites we did visit. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside any of the churches which was a shame because the fresco decorations are incredible!

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One of our fellow travelers took this photo for us, unfortunately we are out of focus but the monastery is quite beautiful!

The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, built in the 16th century, has a small church, decorated by the noted Cretan painter Theophanis Strelitzas, in 1527.

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St. Stephens was the other site we visited. The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen has a small church built in the 16th century and decorated in 1545. This monastery rests on the plain rather than on a cliff. It was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was harboring insurgents and was abandoned. Nuns took it over and reconstructed it

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Looking down on the town of Kalambaka, where we spent the night.

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The view from our hotel balcony in Kalambaka. Our room is on the front of the hotel and Meteora is directly behind it.

I walked around to the back of the hotel and got this photo of St. Stephens just at dusk.

The timing of our visit to Greece was both a blessing and a curse. We of course celebrated Easter last Sunday. In Greece where the official religion is Christian Greek Orthodox and the vast majority of Greeks are of this religious persuasion. In Greece, Easter is recognized according to the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar (which is what is currently used almost worldwide). As a result the Greek Easter usually occurs after our Easter, in this case only one week later. The Greeks celebrate Easter for the full Easter week with various events each day. Since this is a Religious holiday weekend, the hours of stores, museums and historical sites are changed. Almost all are closing early on Saturday and opening late on Sunday. On Friday while we were in Kalambaka, we had the opportunity to participate in the Procession of the Epitaph, one of their most sacred ceremonies. In towns all over Greece, people gather at their church for a ceremony, then make a procession from their individual churches to a central location where members of all the churches join for a joint ceremony. It was quite impressive and massive, and this was in a small town.

This was our group making our way to the church, about a half mile walk from the hotel.

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The church where we met.

Alter boys getting ready to lead the procession.

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Not a great photo, but this was the Bishop. He finally had to stop to allow the parishioners the opportunity to kiss his cross

The crowd was body to body along the narrow streets, but everyone was patient and we observed absolutely no problems.

There were all ages and all forms of dress, from very casual to suits & ties.

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Gathering in the town square.

Children enjoying an evening out late…

Walking back to the hotel room, Kay and I stopped at a pastry shop. On the Procession night most businesses stay open quite late, with many people having dinner after the ceremony around 11 or 12 PM. The ship must have had 150 varities of pasteries! We selected three and had to leave the shop before we went crazy!

We got back to the Hotel for a goods nights rest and an for an early start tomorrow. We have another several hours of bus ride to reach Delphi before it closes at 2:30 PM. Everything is closing early Saturday because this is Easter Saturday and a holiday. Most people will be attending a Midnight church service and then having a meal. Early Sunday morning the people will begin to prepare the traditional Easter Feast. We have already seen wood and charcoal grills set up for the roasting of whole lambs which is an absolute requirement.

Hopefully I will get Delphi posted soon…

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Day 93 – Wednesday, April 8, 2015 – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

We arrived about 7:00 AM in Kusadasi, Turkey, a coastal city of about 100,000 people located on the country’s western coast. The first human settlement at Ephesus occurred during the Neolithic period, c. 6000 B.C.. The area is famous for its art, culture, history and especially its magnificent ruins. We were fortunate as we arrived at the very beginning of the tourist season, our guide told us we were the first cruise ship this year. The weather was cool, but comfortable in the high 60’s. That is much better that the 110-114 which may be reached during the summer.

Beautiful overcast morning as we sailed into port.

Our tour today took us to three major sights, the house where Jesus’s mother Mary is thought to have lived the last years of her life, the fabulous ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus and finally to the Basilica of St. John.

A view of a peach orchard along the way to the Mary’s house. The many valleys of the area are fertile and a number of different crops are cultivated.

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It’s hard to believe that this scene is only about 30 minutes from the coast.

The persecution of the Christians by the Romans and the conservative Jews increased during the reign of Roman Emperor Caligula (37-41 A.D.). It reached the point where the Apostles could no longer remain in Jerusalem and they decided to scatter to various lands in order to save their lives and spread their beliefs. Roman Asia Minor was given to St. John. The Apostle John, took with him the Virgin Mary who had been entrusted to his care by Jesus. They arrived near Ephesus between 37 and 42 A.D. A number of historical documents attest to the fact that they were here during this period. The “discovery” of the ruins of this house has a long and interesting history which I will not go into on the blog but those interested might Google “Gregory of Tours” and “Katerin Kmmerik” go find starting points of research.

Mary’s house as reconstructed for the foundation which dates to the 1st century.

Supplications and prayers to Mother Mary.

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After leaving the mountain with Mary’s house we traveled into the valley between two mountains to begin our exploration of the ancient city of Ephesus. The history of Ephesus can (and does) compromise volumes of books, but I will attempt a very brief outline of its history. Many of you I am sure will want to skip this section and for those of you who do read it, please keep in mind that many details and great gaps of history have been omitted, but if it sparks your interest I invite you to obtain one of the many books of the history of Ephesus.

As stated previously, the earliest human occupation has been dated to about 6000 B.C. Artifacts indicate that a Mycenaean settlement was in the area during the Bronze Age and the Hittite Period. At this time the city was called Apasas. Around 1200 B.C. with the wave of migrations from Central Europe there were Dorians, Aeolians and Ionians passing through the area. It is supposed that Andorklos established the Ioanian city of Ephesus and his rule was successively followed by rule of oligarchy and tyranny and then democracy. The first information about Ephesus dates from the 7th century B.C. that the city was a member of the Panionion, the Ionian League. There were a number of wars and rulers until the city was conquered in 34 B.C. by Alexander the Great and a period of prosperity for about 50 years began. Later when the Romans defeated the Syrian King Antiochus in 189 B.C., in his last testament, Ephesus was left to Rome. Again there were several rebellions but in the Augustan Period, Ephesus became one of the most important cities of Roman Asia. When the aqueduct was built between 4 and 14 A.D, it made the city the largest and most important city of the Roman Empire in Anatolia. In the meantime, Christianity was rapidly spreading in the city. In 57 A.D., the Roman population who opposed what St. Paul taught rioted against this new religion in the theater of Ephesus. (where we heard the concert tonight!). In 262 A.D. the Goths sacked both Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis and after this disaster the city was unable to return to its former prosperity and glory. However Emperor Constantine I, built a bathhouse and Emperor Arcadius constructed a street extending from the grand theater to the harbor. In 431 A.D. the Third Ecumenical Council gathered at the Church of Mary in Ephesus where the definition of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God was accepted. By the beginning of the Middle Ages the port of Ephesus had silted up, with the deposits made by the River Cayster and consequently Ephesus was no longer a seaport and center of trade, thus reducing its importance When Ephesus was conquered by the Seljuks in 1090, it was only a small town and after the short lived golden days of the Aydinogullari Emirate in the 14th century, Ephesus was abandoned.

The upper bath house on the northern entrance into the city. These baths were ruined many times due to seismic activity but were repeatedly repaired.

The city had an extensive water system as can be seen by some of the original pipes.

A part of the “Royal Walk” which was covered, as were many of the streets for protection from the fierce summer sun.

A long range view of the Library of Celsius.

The monument of Memmius. Constructed in the third quarter of the 1st century B.C. In 1960 an inscription was found which recorded the name Memmius in both Greek and Latin. It was erected in honor of C. Memmius, the nephew of the Roman dictator Sulla, by Gaius Memmius, one of the prominent residents of the city. The virtues of the Mimmius family are depicted in a personalized manner.

An early symbol of pharmacy.

The goddess Nike.

Only about 20% of the city has been recovered during excavations over the past 150 years.

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Another view of the Library.

We visited the latest excavations to open, the Terrace Houses. This is the first of the excavations of the hillside where most of the prominent families lived. The area is enclosed by a roofed pavilion to protect the delicate mosaics from exposure.

There were dozens of tables where fragments were laid out in an attempt to assemble this huge jigsaw puzzle.

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The largest house so far uncovered is about 3500 square feet in size.

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Our guide Oktay Elsever. Oktay was one of the best guides we have had on this cruise.

Some of the beautiful mosaics on the floor which date back 2000 years.

This one was at the home entrance and was probably 15 feet long.

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Some of the clay pipes used for the water system.

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Kay in front of the Library.

I know there are a lot of photos of the library, but it was truly incredible. Known as the 3rd largest library in the Ancient World.

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The public latrines.

In the private homes, the masters would have their salve sit on the cold marble to warm it for them!

The Grand Theater which seats over 25,000 persons. The exact date of construction is unknown, but from a small fountain located in the theater dates from around 100 B.C. A decorated stage was added between 87 and 92 A.D. There are three sections with different slopes to accommodate the most people and afford good sound. There are inscriptions on the different levels which indicated where specific groups were to sit.

As we left the site, there were many vendors. Even those who sold “Genuine Fake” watches.

Basilica of Saint John

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There were a lot of storks in the area. The city provides nesting supports atop the power poles.

We stopped by the mandatory Turkish rug sales room. Seeing how the rugs are handmade in what is basically a cottage industry was fascinating. Some of the silk rugs were beautiful but expensive!

We make it back home around 3:00 PM and have to be ready to travel back to Ephesus at 6:00 PM for our corporate sponsored party and concert in the Great Theater.

In just a few hours the site had been transformed into a beautiful party venue. This is only a fraction of the hundred tables set up along the old Harbor Road.

Sunset on the theater was beautiful.

To see the ruins at night was truly special.

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We learned that we were the first group to actually use the Great Theater for a concert in the past 10 years. Previously it was a venue for many famous performers including Sir Elton John and even Sting. The authorities became concerned about possible damage caused by the amplified music.

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It was cool, but beautiful…

We had a performance of a traditional dance group.

Then a few words from Holland America Lines, CEO Stein Kruse and President Orlando Ashford.

This was followed by a concert performed by the Aegean Chamber Orchestra.

I must say that I truly enjoyed my day in Turkey. The western coast is beautiful, the people are warm, friendly and welcoming. The visit to Ephesus was incredible and to be able to finish it off with a concert in the ancient Grand Theater where so many famous people have orated over 2000 years ago was really something special.

We rest tomorrow on Day 94 as we sail to Piraeus, Greece, the port city of Athens. Here we will be debarking for a three day overland journey and rejoining the Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece on Sunday the 12th. I am not sure when my next post will be.

Until then…..

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Day 91 & 92 – Monday & Tuesday, April 6 & 7, 2015 – Haifa (Nazareth, Capernaum & Sea of Galilee), Israel & Sea Day

Today is Easter Monday of Passover week in Israel. We were out early again for an 8:00 AM tour which lasted 10 hours. Since we have already gone through face to face with immigrations in Ashdod, the procedure was much easier and quicker in our second port of Israel. Our tour today was quite ambitious, and I am glad to say went much smoother than yesterday’s fiasco.

We departed the pier at Haifa for a one hour drive through the Jazre’el Valley to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus and the City of the Annunciation. Nazareth is revered as the spot where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her that she would bear the Son of God.

Haifa is a modern Israeli city which is built on the hilly coast. The most prominent of which is Mt. Carmel. Later there is a photo from the top of Mt. Carmel.

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Like every tourist site, religious or not, the city has been commercialized to take advantage of the tourist and pilgrims.

The city of Nazareth is no longer the quite sleepy village it was in Christ day. It is not a teeming city which is predominately Muslim as this sign and many similar attest to.

Pomegranates, in the foreground is a major product of this area.

The Church of the Annunciation, built on (over) the site where Mary is said to have lived and where she received Gabriel’s message.

Inside the church with what is thought to be Mary’s house in the enclosure to the left.

We then visited the Church of St. Joseph. Supposedly the location of the workshop of Joseph. Personally, I have a really difficult time believing that anyone knows the exact location of many of these sacred sites, especially when the place is not “pointed out” until 700 years after the birth of Christ. I have no doubt of that this is in the old part of the old city of Nazareth and it “could be” the exact location, but so could a number of other spots. I know I am a cynic, but it goes back to the “if you build it, people will come”. On the other hand, it really doesn’t take away from the wonderful experience of being around the location that these great saints lived.

The bath house located under the Church of St. Joseph.

Our first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee.

One of the hundreds of fertile orchards around this area. Many are operated by a Kinnerets, the particular Israeli communal farms.

We then visited a baptismal site on the Jordan River operated by a Kinneret. It was a very commercial establishment, but it was a lovely area along the Jordan.

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The Jordan’s flow is now controlled by a dam on the Sea of Galilee. As a result it is a small meandering stream. I would almost hesitate to call it a river.

This is of course Easter Monday and a holiday. As a result the coast of the Sea of Galilee was covered by people on holiday. In camping areas almost every square foot of space was covered.

We had lunch at a Kinneret, the Nof Ginosar, a vacation resort. The food was excellent, but as was the case yesterday the wine was terrible (although it was unlimited).

This sign was located over a urinal in the men’s bathroom. I had to ask our guide for an explanation and she couldn’t even interpret the meaning until she read the Hebrew. Basically, it means that if you are a strict observer of the Sabbath, the use of this facility would be improper because the flush mechanism is automatic (detected by a photocell) and would thus violate the Sabbath because it would be using electricity.

After lunch we proceeded along the western side of the Sea of Galilee, passing the village of Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding. From there we trailed on to Tabgha to visit the church of Peter’s Primacy by the lake and Capernaum, St. Peter’s village.

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The sea of Galilee as seen from the shore near Capernaum. The Golan Heights may be seen in the background on the other side of the Sea.

This is the Mount of the Beatitudes, site of the Sermon on the Mount.

Capernaum is perhaps the most established and historically defined area in the region. Above is the ancient Synagogue where Jesus taught. St. Peters house (actually St. Peters mother-in-law’s house is located only a few hundred feet away, and is now covered by a 20th century constructed church.

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Some of the beautiful stonework.

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The Sea of Galilee as seen from Capernaum. Only a short distance from the Mount of Beatitudes.

After arriving back in Haifa, we ascended to the top of Mount Carmel which gives a grand view of the city and the harbor.

It was a long day, the tour lasted about 10 ½ hours, but was really enjoyable.

Day 92 is a recovery day at sea. Holland America CEO, Mr. Stein Krouse, and Holland America Line president, Orlando Ashford joined the ship yesterday in Haifa. Tonight we had a Mariner Appreciation Cocktail Party followed by dinner where we received complimentary wine. Tomorrow we have an excursion to Ephesus which will last about 7 hours. We will be returning to the ship around 3:30. We will then be leaving again for Ephesus around 6:00 PM to attend a concert held at the coliseum at Ephesus featuring the Aegean Chamber Orchestra. This is really exciting to be able to actually attend a concert here since only one or two events are allowed here each year.

Good Night….

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Day 90 – Sunday, April 5, 2015 – Ashod, Israel

We arrived is Ashdod Port before dawn and the Israeli face to face immigration went smoothly. We had a Holland America tour to the famous mountain Fortress Masada on the Dead Sea. We went to our meeting area in the Queen’s Lounge almost 10 minutes BEFORE the indicated time on our tickets only to find that the buses were almost already loaded. Being almost the last passengers on left us with poor seats for the 2.5 hours each way journey. The tour was not getting off to a good start. And so it continued. This was absolutely the worst tour I have ever taken, not because the potential wasn’t there but because of poor planning on Holland America’s part and poor leadership by our guide and 40 minute bathroom breaks and the fellow passengers who simply were not physically able to make a trip like this. We wasted at total of at least 2.5 hours WAITING. People were late boarding at every stop. One person left her bag at the top of Masada with her passport, this entailed and extra 30 minute delay of everyone waiting for the guide to find and retrieve the bag. I became so frustrated, I ceased to even take photos during the second half of the tour. Masada was a very impressive place which unfortunately I was only able to see a small portion because of our tour structure, the slowness of our group and our leader’s unwillingness to allow faster individuals to move at their own pace. If I seem a bit bitter in this post, it is because I am. I hesitated to even post, but I thought I would include a few photos. Unfortunately photos do not do the great fort justice. There is just no way to get the feel for the scale of the mountain where this famous battle was fought.

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We arrive in Haifa today and have another full day tour of Nazareth and the sea of Galilee. I hope it is better.

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Day 88 & 89 – Friday & Saturday, April 3-4, 2015 – Suez Canal & Mediterranean Sea

Itineraries are made to be broken! Our Suez Canal transit which was originally scheduled for Monday April, 6 was changed several weeks ago to Saturday the 4th, due to the cancellation of all Egypt stops and the addition of Israel. As we left Aqaba Thursday evening the captain announced that due to dredging work being done in the canal, traffic was now being done in a convoy fashion and we must “hurry” because if we arrive by 10:00 AM on Friday we should be able to make the 11:00 AM convoy. Otherwise we might be delayed a day. We traveled at 20 knots or faster during the night and morning and did arrive before 10:00 AM. Unfortunately, it took several hours and visits by at least 6 different boats of officials before we joined the convoy as the 29th member. We didn’t enter the Suez until 4:00 PM. As a result most of our transit was during the night and we exited at 3:00 AM. We were very disappointed that we had a night transit. The transit of the Suez for us was almost a “nonevent”. We were now too early for our Ashdod, Israel port which was not scheduled until Sunday morning. As a result we spent Saturday pretty much just sailing around the Mediterranean killing time. I spent the day reading, walking, working out in the gym and made a visit to the thermal spa.

Ships waiting to enter the Suez Canal. At one time I could count over 50 ships.

This small boat was actually hoisted aboard the Amsterdam. I later realized that it would be used to ferry the Pilot after we departed the canal. I took this photo as well as the ones which follow from our veranda.

The driver of this boat enjoyed his water pipe while waiting for the official he had ferried out to the Amsterdam.

A couple of the boats which came alongside with officials. I can understand the need for security, but it would have been interesting to know exactly what all these people did beside eat in the Lido…

The entrance to the canal.

This photo taken from deck 3 forward. You can see the crowd of passengers on the forward veranda of deck 6 which is our deck.

This mosque is located just inside the mouth of the canal.

Security by the Egyptian Army was very prevalent. There were stations like this along the first several miles of the canal. They were so close they were in sight of each other.

This interesting ferry was transporting fuel carriers across the Suez.

Another security outpost. We were probably safer in the Suez than we have been for the past week!

We arrive in Ashdod, Israel tomorrow morning. After going through security and passport control, we have an 11 hour excursion planned. We are visiting Masada Fortress and the Dead Sea. We will be passing through Arad, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We really would have liked to go to Jerusalem but since it is Easter Sunday we were concerned that the crowds would be so large it would be almost impossible to see the Holy sites. Nevertheless, I am excited to be seeing this historical site and having lunch on the shore of the Dead Sea.

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

It might be a few days before my next post. We have two very full days. We are in Ashdod on Sunday and then Haifa on Monday.

Happy Easter to friends, family and faithful readers.

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Day 87 – Thursday, April 2, 2015 – Aqaba – Petra, Jordan

We arrived in Aqaba, Jordan just before dawn. We had a full day excursion to the loss of city of Petra. This blog is long with a lot of photos, so I apologize ahead for any spelling or grammar errors.

Our drive to Petra took about two hours. We passed through some most amazing terrain. What I found more fascinating than the mountains and desert were the sparse occupants, the Bedouins. The Bedouins are semi-nomadic desert dwellers who thrive throughout the arid desert. In recent years most have settled into communities and many have integrated in to normal work routines within their nearby locations. In Dubi, we met Bedouins who flourished by serving and entertaining visitors at a “typical Bedouin camp”. In Oman we had a university educated Bedouin for our guide. He worked in Muscat 5 days a week and then drove his big GMC truck for five and a half hours home each Friday to spend the weekend with his family. Our guide in Jordan explained that within each Bedouin community, they kept their own laws, customs and religions. Only when an issue could not be resolved by the community leaders was it brought before the civil authorities.

They could be spotted along the road side, usually several hundred yards at least into the desert, at seemingly random locations with absolutely nothing even remotely close by.

You would see mostly men, but occasionally a woman and in this photo a child along with the small herd of goats.

Although beautiful, the countryside certainly makes me glad I didn’t have to wander this desert for 40 years!

This isolated figure didn’t even have a small herd of goats. He was just walking in the desert, not even close to the highway.

Occasionally someone could be seen riding or leading a pack donkey.

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Temple monument to Aaron, brother of Moses. Located on Mt. Aaron. This photo was taken from many miles distant…

After our enjoyable two hour drive, we reached the town of Wadi Musa, where the main entrance to the old city of Petra is located. There are 12 water springs in Wadi Musa and they are believed to be linked to the famous story of Moses, when he hit the ground with his stick and broke open 12 water springs.

We reached the Petra entrance, acquired our ticket and began our trip back through time.

Situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and inhabited since prehistoric times, the rock-cut capital city Petra, of the Nabateans, became during Hellenistic and Roman times a major caravan center for the incense of Arabia, the silks of China and the spices of India, a crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Petra is half-built, half-carved into the rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges. An ingenious water management system allowed extensive settlement of an essentially arid area during the Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine periods. It is one of the world’s richest and largest archaeological sites set in a dominating red sandstone landscape.

The value of Petra resides in the vast extent of elaborate tomb and temple architecture; religious high places; the remnant channels, tunnels and diversion dams that combined with a vast network of cisterns and reservoirs which controlled and conserved seasonal rains, and the extensive archaeological remains including copper mining, temples, churches and other public buildings. The fusion of Hellenistic architectural facades with traditional Nabataean rock-cut temple/tombs including the Khasneh, the Urn Tomb, the Palace Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the Deir ("monastery") represents a unique artistic achievement and an outstanding architectural ensemble of the first centuries BC to AD. The varied archaeological remains and architectural monuments from prehistoric times to the medieval periods bear exceptional testimony to the now lost civilizations which succeeded each other at the site.

The approach walk to the entrance of the Sic, or narrow passage which leads to the city.

One of the first monuments seen are the “Blocks of Jinn”. These huge sandstone carved blocks were thought to be water reservoirs or a place of the residence of the jinn, but they are now known to be tombs. Behind the block, there is a hole leading to a room dedicated to the dead and there are many graves dug into the surrounding ground.

The next large monument to be seen is the Tomb of the Obelisks. By the way, all the current names given to the monuments of Petra were given by the Bedouins who occupied the city for untold years before it was “rediscovered” by westerners. The façade is decorated with four obelisks which show the influence of Egyptian art on the Nabataeans.

Finally we reach the Sic, an Arabian word which means “the passage” This narrow passageway which ranges from only about 15 feet wide to 50 feet wide runs for approximately three-quarters of a mile with cliff walls which can reach hundreds of feet high.

Here may be seen one of the water channels the Nabateans constructed along the Sic to not only supply fresh water to the city but also to help control flooding.

At this point I will curtail my narration with only a few captions, otherwise I could write for a couple of days and this blog would never get posted!

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The most famous monument in Petra, “Al-Khazneth” (The Treasury). Originally named by the Bedouins because they thought it contained a treasure. Instead it is now known to be a tomb dedicated to King Aritas IV.

Kay outside the Treasury.

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Here are many tombs of the Assyrian style. It is believed that these tombs were for ordinary people because they are smaller and with little decoration.

You can “rent” donkeys, horses, horse carts or camels for to help you with navigating around Petra. These and the vendors in Petra are operated by the Bedouins who were displaced from the ancient city in 1984 when the site became a UNISCO World Heritage Site. The Bedouins were relocated outside to a new community and were give the concession rights to Petra.

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Janet peering from one of the caves made into the sandstone cliff.

This theater house could accommodate between 7,000 and 10,000 persons. It was used for the holding of religious celebrations. Altar was discovered at the center of the theater. Sacrifices of animals were held here.

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This is one of the five royal tombs carved into the side of the mountain. These did not weather as well as The Treasury due to their exposure.

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Climbing to the top to view the tombs.

The beautiful sandstone inside the one of the tombs.

Carl, Janet and Kay outside the massive structure.

Kay and I delighting in the shade of the tomb. We were fortunate, the day was beautiful and although the temperature at Aqaba Port was scheduled to reach the high 80’s, here at approximately 4,500 feet it was comfortably warm, but the sun was still pretty brutal.

A view from the top.

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A couple of Bedouin camel jockeys…

Another view of the Treasury on our way out.

As we reentered the Sic for the uphill trek back to the entrance, I continued to be fascinated with the land formations.

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