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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