2005 World Cruise


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PASSPORT to PARADISE, RSSC Voyager 2005 World Cruise

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Greetings from the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager and the beginning of yet another world cruise. I'm hosting again for Virtuoso and our group this year is much larger than last year. On the first segment we have 180 guests! My co-host from the past, Svein Johnsen, is not joining until Sydney, so hosting with me on the first and second segments are my friends Kathy Aaron and Rod Hazard respectively. It was nice to come back to the same ship - it really felt like coming home, knowing so many of the guests, staff and officers. So, come along and enjoy the cruise! I'll post photos of the trip as I go at 2005 Photos .

Click on the link below to see a map of the Pacific Ocean.




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Chapter 1, January 17, 2005


The Voyager is a fantastic ship and this cruise has started well. Last year we had terrible seas and weather sailing from Los Angeles, but this year we have enjoyed beautiful days ever since we left. Many novice cruisers think they need a port every day, but this group likes the sea days and we had a good dose of them with 6 days on the Pacific before reaching our first port of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands.

There is not much in Nuku Hiva, but it's pretty and it was dry land! Radisson arranged a big feast for us on the island in traditional ceremonial fashion. They barbecued pig and goat and bananas in pits in the ground and served up quite a meal. They use breadfruit like potatoes and it tastes like whatever you put on it. Kathy was a little tentative, but I liked it all and had more than enough to eat. We also enjoyed the vividly colored flowers and trees on the island - flame trees (Poinciana), hibiscus, bougainvillea, frangipane, and poinsettia.

Our first Virtuoso event was in Tahiti. This is the commercial center of French Polynesia and it's a bit disappointing to people who are expecting unspoiled South Sea islands. It's industrial, busy, noisy and horribly expensive. However, our tour took us out along the coast where we enjoyed nice views of towering, green mountains and beautiful lagoons protected by the coral reefs. Lunch was at the Beachcomber Hotel in an open-air restaurant with views of the ocean and of the distant island of Moorea. We were entertained by a super Tahitian dance troupe while we dined on gourmet French food. Fantastique!

If Tahiti is too crowded, Moorea is the epitome of island paradise. Not many people live on the island and it's only about 12 miles across the water from Tahiti. Moorea is surrounded by a coral reef as well and mountains shoot straight up from the water's edge. The mythical Bali Hai mountain from 'South Pacific' fame is the centerpiece of the scenery. Kathy and I rented a car with one of the Australian entertainers, Darren, and drove all the way around the island. We ended up at one of the luxury resorts and went for a dip in the warm water. Just gorgeous.

Moorea's beauty is rivaled only by that of Bora Bora, where we spent Sunday. I was pleased we were there on Sunday, because I remembered the incredible music from a local church I had visited a few years ago. The service lasts over an hour, but singing accounts for nearly half of that. There were about 6 different choirs who took turns. Let me tell you, when Polynesians sing, they use every ounce of voice they have. It was amazing. After church we took a short drive around the island, then went back to the ship for lunch. For the afternoon we went to a private island Radisson had rented for the day. It's just a small private island with lots of palm trees, white sandy beaches, and coral, but it was perfectly idyllic. We had lovely views of Bora Bora across the water and we lazed around in water that was near bathtub temperature. Yes, I did get too much sun, but in a few days I'll look like one of the natives!

After 3 delightful days in French Polynesia, it was good to have a sea day again today. It's so much work when you have to get off the ship! On to Rarotonga.


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Chapter 2, January 26, 2005

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Ki Ora! Hello from Down Under. We've sailed from the South Sea islands to the very civilized islands of New Zealand where we are enjoying delightful temperate weather. Good seas have continued and this cruise has been absolutely superb in every way.

I was asked a question about the choirs in Bora Bora, if there had been any 'a capella' singing. Yes, in fact there was no instrumental accompaniment at all. The way those people sang, we wouldn't have been able to hear a piano anyway! Oh, did I mention the second Lettuce Lady joined the ship in Tahiti? Carol Farber was with Kathy and me at the church and just loved the singing. Those of you who read my updates last year will remember Carol and Babs as the Lettuce Ladies because of the way they went crazy over head lettuce in a store in Hobart. They're back and we will certainly have lots of new adventures this year.

After Polynesia we enjoyed 3 more delightful days at sea. Looking at our schedule it would appear to be 4, but we crossed the International Dateline, so lost a day completely. Kathy could not quite fathom how a day of her life could just disappear, gone, zapped, never happened. But when you go around the world westbound and gain an hour 24 times, you have to lose a day somewhere and the Dateline is where that has been designated to happen. Rarotonga was a surprise. I've been there by ship several times in the past, but never made it ashore. Ships have to anchor in the open ocean and the swell is almost always too big to operate the tender boats. It was right on the limit this time as well, but Captain Dag would not be deterred and we made it ashore. Kathy and I went with the Lettuce Ladies and John, one of the gentleman hosts. We walked around the town, then paid $3 each to take a bus ride all the way around the circumference of the island - it's only 20 miles. Rarotonga is mountainous with lush vegetation and we had torrential downpours 4 different times during our ride. It felt good to have the cool rain come in the window. Babs, the other Lettuce Lady exclaimed how good the water is for your skin and we reminded her she could get wet in the shower in her suite as well!

Our first port in New Zealand was the Bay of Islands in the far north. When we went out on our balcony in the morning there was a strong odor of blooming flowers, which we were told was the New Zealand Christmas tree. The tree turned out to be as beautiful as its perfume. We took the tender boats ashore to the little picturesque town of Russell, which was the first settlement in New Zealand. It looked more like an open-air museum with little shops and cottage industries than a real town. The people were delightful and pleased to show us their town. Then we took a ferry across the bay to the town of Paihia, which was a little bigger with more shopping. We sat in a bayside restaurant and enjoyed fish and chips. Monday in Auckland was the end of the segment for Kathy and the beginning for my next co-host, Rod. Friends of mine in Auckland, John and Julia, were most hospitable and played taxi, innkeeper, and chef for us. We had a beautiful day in Auckland, the City of Sails, where there is one boat for every 3 residents. Shopping was noticeably more expensive than in the past, due to the low US dollar, but the city is charming just to stroll around the downtown area. We had dinner at John and Julia's house, took Kathy to the airport, and headed back to the Voyager.

Our second segment will start with several ports in New Zealand's South Island and some cruising in the beautiful fjords of the far south.


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Chapter 3, February 1, 2005

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New Zealand's South Island has been fantastic. Our first port, Picton, was a new one for me and it was a cute little place. We went ashore with Carol and one of the entertainers, John, and just explored at leisure. Flowers and trees were again stunning and we had a bright sunny day. We found a little cafe with New Zealand specialties. The owner insisted we try one of her mussel fritters, even though we had just eaten, and she wouldn't let us pay for it. But we sat down and shared it and were hooked - delicious! We had to get two more, because one was just not enough! Then we had to wash it down with creamy ice cream and we were quite satisfied. Rod and I decided we had to go on a hike so we took off up the steep mountain near town. The view on top was well worth it, as we could see the fjords and lush hills stretching far away into the distance. I needed a nap after that day!

The next day was scheduled to be at sea until late afternoon, but we awoke in another lovely fjord for a surprise visit to Akaroa, an old French settlement. Most of the street and business names were in French and there were delightful little cafes and boutiques, not to mention more fantastic flower gardens and parks. Captain Dag was pleased to announce the extra visit, which they had planned in secret some time ago. Rod and Carol and I put a few miles under our feet admiring the vegetation and views of the bay. Of course, New Zealand is famous for fish and chips so that is what we had for lunch. A 'small' portion of 'chips' (French fries) was big enough for 3 of us and the local fish was superb. We all decided the cruise line could certainly schedule this lovely spot again. Imagine - a French village without the attitude!

That evening was our Virtuoso party and I had to advise guests that Radisson was considering not having groups like ours on board for the World Cruise next year. That started a firestorm and I suspect Radisson will hear how important group benefits are to these guests. It was a bit of a downer at the end of an otherwise fabulous day.

We continued on to Christchurch and woke to a chilly, cloudy day. Nevertheless, Rod and I went into town with 2 entertainers, rented bicycles, and pedaled all over Christchurch. This is known as the most English city outside England and it is neat as a pin with lots of flower gardens and picket fences.

Our last port in New Zealand was Dunedin and Rod, Carol and I took the shuttle into town. It's one of my favorite NZ towns, but I just wasn't in the mood for sightseeing. I was pondering more the whole situation between Radisson and Virtuoso. I will certainly be 'persona non grata' with Radisson for letting people know what was going on behind the scenes. I had an explicit directive from Virtuoso what to say at our party, but I'm still the one that said it and made RSSC management mad. Oh well, this too shall pass. Our last day in New Zealand was actually spent cruising the spectacular fjords at the bottom tip of the South Island. A cloudy day, as one expects there, but nevertheless a delightful cruising day. Dusky and Doubtful Sound are so serene. Milford Sound is stunning with high, sheer mountains and a grand display of waterfalls and glaciers. As Captain Dag loves to do, he nosed the ship right up into a waterfall so the spray was covering the bow of the ship. The guests just love it.

From there we headed out on the Tasman Sea for what is normally a wild ride. However we had remarkably smooth crossing towards Tasmania, where we will pick up our next update!


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Chapter 4, February 8, 2005

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Well, this was an exciting segment. However, first things first. The Tasman Sea got a little wilder as we headed to Hobart, but it was still good enough that Captain Dag was able to make good time and dock in Hobart the evening before our expected arrival there. So we enjoyed an overnight in port. It was most convenient being able to go through immigrations that evening so we did not have to waste time the next morning.

Hobart was our Virtuoso event for the second segment. It was a gray, cool morning, which was quite a contrast to the day before when it was 90 degrees. In spite of a few showers we had a nice tour of the city, high tea at the Royal Yacht Club, and a tour of the Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery. We topped off the tour with a super lunch at the Home Hill Winery out in the hill country beyond Hobart. It was a lovely setting and they were ready for us! Big plates of appetizers were placed on the tables, and for main courses they served plates of steak or chicken, alternating with each guest. We could then trade with others to get what we wanted. There was no shortage! Dessert was served the same way and everyone had a delightful lunch. I should comment on the Virtuoso situation for next year. I had a few questions about why RSSC would want to cut out the big groups. They don't want to cut out the guests; they just don't want to pay the big commission override, which Virtuoso uses to fund our tours. It costs the cruise line a lot of money. However, Radisson did back down and at this point we will apparently have our group benefits next year pretty much as in the past. I will no doubt remain on Radisson's black list, but at least our Virtuoso guests will be happy.

Our segment from Auckland to Sydney had some marvelous highlights, but it will likely be best remembered for the night after Hobart! We sailed for Melbourne with warnings of rough seas. I slept fine until sometime after 4am when I woke with a start at the beginning of the first big roll to starboard. I leapt from bed just in time to catch the fruit bowl and vase as they headed for the floor. I quickly put other things on the floor, then headed for the bathroom to do the same, just as the next big roll hit, slamming me against the cabin door. From the bathroom I went back to the sitting area to put a few more things down, when Rod opened his eyes as if to ask, "What's going on!?" He will be a fine sailor!

The next morning Captain Dag told us we had had 96-knot winds (115 mph) and 40' swell! The piano in the Horizon Lounge went over onto the dance floor and apparently we lost all the furniture from Deck 6 balconies and had thousands of dollars damage in the dining room. We had to skip our next two ports of Phillips Island and Melbourne, as the storm was just too bad there. Melbourne had their worst summer storm since they started keeping records with 60' seas! One of the ferries and another cruise ship limped back into Melbourne with structural damage and lots of broken windows and passenger injuries, so we were actually quite lucky. The Melbourne area also suffered severe flooding, so there wouldn't have been much for us to do had we made it there.

We headed straight for Sydney to get away from the bad weather and arrived Friday noon on a spectacular day. It is fantastic to sail into the Sydney harbor, one of the world's most beautiful, and we enjoyed perfectly clear weather, in great contrast to areas further south. The result was three and a half days in Sydney instead of two, so we got lots of exploring done there. But that will be the subject of the next update.


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Chapter 5, February 12, 2005

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This chapter we have another wild tale, but again, let me start where we left off in Sydney. We had picture perfect weather with temps in the 70's and low humidity, just right for exploring. Rod and I walked all over the city, enjoying the botanical gardens, Hyde Park, Chinatown, Darling Harbor, and the city center. Chinatown was a lot of fun, as they were celebrating Chinese New Year and the streets were jam-packed with people! Paddy Market has hundreds of vendors offering everything imaginable. Super shopping! Saturday night Radisson took us by boat across the harbor to Luna Park where they put on a real carnival for us with lively music, hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and a free pass to any of the rides we wanted to take. The Ferris wheel and carrousel were the rides of choice, but some of us went on the Little Mouse, a roller coaster with individual cars. I was sure it would come off the tracks when it zipped around 90-degree corners, and I was properly terrified. The fact that they are outlawed in the US because of that sort of accident, didn't help my comfort level any!

Sunday was a gorgeous day and Swiss friends, Marcel & Helena, picked us up in their Landrover and we headed for the southern beaches. We had great views of the city and harbor, and drove along Bondi Beach to Botany Bay, where we had a delightful picnic. We watched a snake expert handle Australia's most venomous snakes (from a safe distance of course!) and then headed around the bay to a secluded area where we went 4-wheeling on the dunes. That was great fun and we topped it off with a swim in the Tasman. After the warm waters of Polynesia, 70 degrees felt pretty chilly for swimming, but we got used to it.

It was a relief to have two days at sea after Sydney. Ports are so much work! But Thursday was our day for the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on the planet. We were taken by local boat to the reef, where we enjoyed lunch, snorkeling, underwater viewing areas, and a glass-bottom submarine. Unfortunately the water was murky, so viewing wasn't great, but still interesting. We did see a lot of fish. We headed back early, because the swell was getting bad.

I went up on the top deck to enjoy the sun and wind, and when we hit the open sea it was near disaster. Our boat was tossed to and fro like a balloon and the Voyager was a couple miles away! The boat captain announced we could not go to the ship, as we wouldn't be able to board it anyway in that swell, and said we had to go to the nearest land, about 1 1/2 hours away! People were already turning green at the thought. We had to go to a lower deck for safety reasons and I sat in the middle of the back deck in the open air. The waves battered us mercilessly and we had to hold on for dear life. We were drenched by wave after wave, but the saltwater and wind kept us feeling ok, whereas almost everyone inside lost their lunch. After a long ride we attempted to board the ship, but it was still dangerous. Half the guests made it before things got too violent and did too much damage to our landing deck and the boat. We had to go into a quiet bay, transfer to the ship's tender and go back out to the Voyager to finally board. I informed the Quarantine Officer we had broken Australian quarantine because we had left food in Australia! I was exhausted that evening, but had a dinner date, so had to go eat. I was falling asleep well before dessert was served. The next day we were in Cairns. Boys and girls, can we say HOT! I didn't have energy for much, so just walked around and bought a few souvenirs. I need a couple sea days!


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Chapter 6, February 22, 2005

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This has been a nice segment through the Western Pacific with interesting islands combined with relaxing sea days. One of my favorite restaurants on the ship is Latitudes, which has theme dinners. Our group of 8, consisting of the Lettuce Ladies and a few others, enjoyed a crazy evening there with an 'upside-down' theme. They started with dessert and worked through the menu backwards - my kind of meal! We of course dressed the part. I had slippers on my head, ball caps on my feet, a tie hanging from my belt, and a pair of pants worn like a vest. The gals got into it as well, including 95-year-old Babs (mother of Lettuce Lady Babs). She wore curlers on her toes, a hat inside out, and two of my dress shirts upside down. Hilarious. On Valentines Day we were in Madang, Papua New Guinea. The country is very poor, but the people are friendly and the local handicrafts are high quality. The vendors were lined up along the street for 3 blocks next to the ship, selling beads, necklaces, baskets, woodcarvings, masks, spears, and drums, and we had great fun looking and buying. Babs bought a 3' long wooden crocodile and 3 baskets, which I carried back to the ship. We enjoyed interacting with the people and I took a photo of one group, printed it onboard, and went back out and gave them a couple copies. The people chew beetle nut, which turns their teeth red, and that adds color to photos! Captain Dag and I hired a motorboat for half an hour and took a little tour among the beautiful islands in the bay. Madang was one of our favorite ports of the cruise so far!

Wednesday evening we arrived in Truk, Micronesia. This was a new port for me, as it is out of the way of normal cruise ship routes. It took 3 1/2 hours for immigrations to clear the ship so we didn't go ashore until the next day, but the ship took advantage of a quiet evening in port to throw a wonderful BBQ out on deck under the stars.

The next morning we went out to explore Truk and it was also very poor, but without the color and excitement of Madang. The official currency was the US$ and a taxi ride cost $1 per person anywhere on the (small) island. Svein and I gave a driver $6 to drive us around on a tour and then we went to the Blue Lagoon Resort, which is beautifully situated among the turquoise waters of the lagoon. Radisson had arranged for us to have complimentary beverages and snacks on the Resort's beach, so we enjoyed drinking the milk out of a coconut with a straw and munching on breadfruit chips and exotic fruits. Then we had them slice open the coconut and we ate the rest of the coconut. Delicious.

Saturday we were in Saipan in the Marianas Islands. It is not a US Territory, but they have a covenant with the US to handle their foreign affairs. They also use the US$ and have US Post Office and US telephones. What a great setup. Saipan is much more developed than Truk, with luxury hotels and duty-free shops. They cater to the Japanese, so although official signs are in English, most of the other signs and advertising are in Japanese. Like most of the islands in the area, Saipan was an important arena in WWII. The US National Park Service administers a big war memorial, with visitor center and park. I ran around with Elda, the assistant cruise director, and we got a day bus pass for $3 and went down island, shopping at Costco(!) and then local shops. It was fun being away from the tourist areas, but beach and lagoon views were everywhere. On to Okinawa, Japan to begin the next chapter.

Last night we had a passenger talent show and I played Music Box Dancer on the piano. I had 3 of the single ladies put on wigs and twirl around on stage for effect. A good time was had by all.


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Chapter 7, March 2, 2005

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The weather has definitely turned cold on us! I feel like I'm back in Montana, except that it was actually warmer in Bozeman than it was in Shanghai. We had nice weather until Okinawa, but there it was rainy and cool. Not a great day for sightseeing, so Svein and I took the shuttle bus into town and just walked around awhile. Not much to report from there. We got to Shanghai Thursday, February 24 and our Virtuoso event was a gala Chinese banquet that first evening in the Okura Garden Hotel. In the morning we went to the hotel to check out the venue and it was impressive. It dates back to the colonial era when it was the French Club, but now it has been remodeled into a five-star hotel, but retaining much of the old style. The ballroom has a stained glass ceiling and lights shine through it. Really elegant!

When our guests arrived they were treated to an array of traditional Chinese crafts like fan-painting, paper cutting, sculpturing, and calligraphy. When it was time to enter the ballroom for dinner we were met by Chinese lion dancers and drums to escort us in. The food was definitely Chinese, but with a lot of diversity and plenty of it. We were treated to Chinese Acrobats, which were amazing. Many of the performances just seem to be impossible, but they balance, contort, and juggle into an incredible show.

Shanghai is amazing. After our event we were left with a day and a half for the city, which was not enough. I was not ready to leave when we sailed away. If anyone has a doubt as to the future of this rapidly-awakening giant, China, they should just see the changes in Shanghai over the past few years. Out of an old, gray city is blossoming a most remarkable modern, beautiful metropolis to rival any in the west. Nanjing Road, affectionately called Pepsi Road for the big Pepsi signs on all the lamp-posts, is like Fifth Avenue in New York. The most elegant wares of the world are sold there, but at prices that can make a pauper feel like a king. Local markets boast a colorful array of goods that can be had for next to nothing if you know how to bargain. Silly things you wouldn't buy at home are irresistible in this setting. Two of the most popular buys are fake Rolex watches and silk scarves. At night the city is lit up brightly from 6:30 to 10:30. Nanjing Road looks like the Las Vegas strip, except a little less gaudy.

The segment ended in Hong Kong, where we stayed 3 days. There really is only one Hong Kong. Millions of people are crammed into a small area and often it seems like they are all on the streets at the same time. I always tell myself I'm not going to buy much, because prices will be lower in Vietnam, Thailand, India, etc., but the array of wares is overwhelming. With a little bargaining, prices are such that things you wouldn't buy at home scream at you, "Buy me! Buy me!" And of course that is just what one does. The experience of wandering Hong Kong is worth every misspent penny and every tired muscle after a long day. Actually, the most exciting time is the evening. The city starts off slowly in the morning but roars into the evening and night. Many shops are open until midnight and the sidewalk cafes and food vendors are doing a landmark business after 11pm.

On our last day, eight of us went to our favorite dim sum restaurant and had a marvelous, very local lunch. The ladies pass by the table with carts of various dishes and you just point and try whatever ends up on your plate. There were no other tourists there - it's a businessman's lunch spot. They come to eat, read the paper, and then put their heads on the table for a nap!

I could go on and on about Hong Kong, but we'll rest there and pick up with Vietnam.


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Chapter 8, March 6, 2005

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This chapter will only cover 2 ports, but I'm taking off on another adventure with the Lettuce Ladies tomorrow from Saigon, so thought I'd better get this out before going.

Captain Dag has had quite a drama with his leg. Way back in Truk he went diving with Jean Michel Cousteau and either cut his leg on coral or was stung by a fish. Over the next few days the leg swelled to double size and was very hot to the touch. He was taking antibiotics both orally and by injection, but nothing was helping. In Hong Kong he went to a Professor of Chinese and Western Medicine and she was shocked. She told him he was close to losing his leg. She cut open the leg again and treated him extensively. He is doing much better now.

Friday, March 4 we were in Da Nang, Vietnam and had our Virtuoso Event there, and an adventure it was. We visited a 4th Century historic site - the ruins of My Son Cham. We had been told it was 30 miles from Da Nang, but the bus ride was 1 3/4 hours. The ride through the countryside was actually quite interesting with endless shades of green in the rice fields and plantations. It's a mountainous area with lush jungles and many rivers. In My Son we were supposed to transfer from our buses to minivans to cross the river into the ruins area, but the bridge was under construction so our aged, decrepit guests had to walk across a makeshift, bamboo, swinging bridge over the river. Then came a jeep ride up to a staging area where we had a brief talk on My Son. From there it was a 15 to 20-minute walk on rough cobblestone to an arena where a local dance troupe performed for us. From there it was another 5 to 10 minutes to the first ruins. Not exactly what we would have planned for our guests! Those who made it as far as the ruins got some good photos for their efforts. We finally got away from My Son at 12:30 and had 1 1/2 hours back to Da Nang where we had a lovely lunch at the five-star Furama Resort on China Beach. It was a gorgeous place with a spectacular waterfront and the lunch made up somewhat for the rugged morning.

After a day at sea we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon. It doesn't do justice to try to describe the city and I always have to think how much fun it would be to have people from home here to walk the streets and experience this frenetic place. The first conspicuous thing is the traffic, mostly motorcycles and scooters. There are few traffic signals and the only rule of the road appears to be, 'Don't hit anybody'! At one enormous traffic circle, Svein and I stood for quite awhile just watching all the vehicles swerving to miss each other. Vehicles cross from all directions simultaneously and weave in and out like a complex tapestry. Slow moving vehicles like trishaws and bicycles with big loads further complicate the situation. There are no signals for pedestrians - you just start across the street at a steady pace and don't stop or make any sudden moves. All the vehicles just weave around the pedestrians without slowing down.

And of course there is the shopping. Saigon is why one tries not to spend too much in Hong Kong. In the past we have always had dozens of vendors on the pier, including those selling the famous ceramic elephants for $5. There are none this year and I've not seen the elephants anywhere in the city. What is Saigon without them!? However, there are still plenty of lacquer products, silk garments, wooden sculptures, jade and marble carvings, silk embroideries, and lots of t-shirts for $2 each. It was surprisingly cool today, only in the low 80's. I don't recall being here when it wasn't terribly hot and muggy so it was a pleasant surprise today.

Tomorrow I fly to Laos for 3 days with Carol and Babs. The Lettuce Ladies strike again!


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Chapter 9, March 12, 2005

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The Lettuce Ladies and their Laotian Adventure

Carol Farber, Barbara Cook, and Kent Kauffman explore Laos, March 7-10, 2005

The ancient Kingdom of the Million Elephants recently opened to tourism, but it will never be the same after being stormed by the Lettuce Ladies! Actually, the night before our trip it was not at all sure that I would be going, as I was hit with the dreaded midnight double-ender! But by morning I was fine, although wiped out, and I didn't tell Carol and Babs they nearly lost their fearless leader. Perhaps I should explain the Lettuce Ladies. Last year in Hobart, Tasmania we went exploring together and they found a grocery store. They went crazy over the beautiful lettuce and had a young man take their photos with the lettuce, to the extent that I told the clerks they were from Africa and had never seen fresh produce. They've been the Lettuce Ladies ever since and we've had a lot of fun exploring together in ports around the world.

At 11:00am, March 7, we were off to the Saigon airport. We had extra time there, so we all had foot massages before boarding. It was so relaxing - doesn't everyone start a trip with reflexology in the airport? We had a 45-minute layover in Phnom Penh, Cambodia so we ordered big bowls of noodle soup in the airport cafe. The food had not even arrived when our flight was called after only 20 minutes, but we decided to wait and eat anyway. The waiter brought us big bowls of hot broth full of homemade noodles and gizzards. The crew came looking for us so we wolfed down a few more bites and ran to the gate. Carol grabbed a few extra bites of gizzards from our bowls before following us to the plane.

Vientiane is the capital of the Popular Democratic Republic of Laos (translation - communist), and we were met by our guide, Khamtan, who took us to the lovely Lao Plaza Hotel. The weather for us was perfect, but had plunged to the low 60's that morning - polar conditions for Laos! The newspaper headline read, 'Laos Shivers as Cold Air Sweeps in from China'! People were bundled up in coats and caps! We immediately hit the streets and the first thing that brought raves from the Lettuce Ladies was a little sidewalk vendor selling French baguettes and pate. She was also selling French cheese, La Vache Qui Rit, and making omelets over a little fire on the side.

Then came the shopping and we discovered that every little store was like a museum. For a poor country, the handicrafts were of amazingly high quality. Hand-woven silk goods and wood products were tops. Jewelry stores also displayed a stunning array. The average salary is less than $100 a month and handicrafts rank right up there with agriculture and electricity (which they sell to Thailand) as the basis of the economy. A hand-woven silk scarf, which takes four days to make, sells for a little over $10! It appears Laos will stay a poor country for some time and they will surely find it nearly impossible to repay their debts to the WMF and World Bank.

Our guide, Khamtan, had recently married and he told us he had to pay $1000 for his wife. Some of that money is used to pay for the wedding reception and dinner, but that's a lot of money for someone making $100 a month. He said his wife was already 25 and getting to an age where she would be 'hard to sell'! We asked if he had gotten a discount! He didn't, but he was happy with her! Most women marry between 18 and 20.

Laos is a little smaller than Wyoming, but long and narrow, and is the least populated country in Southeast Asia, with only six million people. Roads are an adventure, with only about two decent ones in the country. Of course, their definition of 'decent' may be different from ours. Fortunately flying is cheap within Laos and there is much to be explored for the adventurous!

Our first dinner was at a typical Lao restaurant and Lao food is good and it's diverse. It was probably the first time I ate fox, but there were lots of other things on the table as well. A Lao folk group entertained us while we ate. Unfortunately, after our noodles at the airport and lunch on the plane, we weren't very hungry. After dinner we still had time for some shopping and found a crafts store with amazing artifacts. Babs bought a big wooden carving of elephants.

We were up at 5:30 the next morning to see the buddhist monks receiving alms from the people. It was a colorful sight to see the monks in their orange robes lined up, holding out large canisters. People deposited food into the canisters and that was the monks' food supply for the day. Then the people put incense at the base of trees and poured water around it, to inform their ancestors that they had given food to the monks and fulfilled their duty.

We returned to the hotel for a sumptuous breakfast with a strong French influence. There were beautiful French croissants and other pastries, in addition to a wide range of local fruits. With fresh energy we were ready for a great day.

Mid-morning we were off to Luan Prabang, the jewel of Laos and the former capital of the kingdom. Set on the banks of the Mekong River in the mountains of Northwest Laos, the city boasts 32 temples and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Town in 1995. Upon arrival, we enjoyed a poster in the airport explaining how to behave in Laos, complete with cartoon photos. A few of the tips were, 'Don't touch the monks - especially women', 'Don't be loud - this is offensive', 'Please take care of personal hygiene - or be prepared to be laughed at', 'Do not display public affection - this will embarrass your hosts', 'Please remove your shoes before entering a Lao home', 'Using drugs is illegal - this can cause difficulty for you and your hosts', and 'The word for hello is Sabai Dee - usually said with a smile'! We were hoping to get a copy of the poster, but never found it.

Our guide, Paichit, met us and we boarded a longboat for a 1 1/2 hour ride up the Mekong River. The mountains were lovely, though enshrouded with haze and smoke from burning the rice fields this time of year. During the ride we saw water buffalo in the river, small villages high on the banks, fishing boats, and villagers harvesting Mekong weed. The weed is like seaweed, but grows in the river. They dry it with garlic, onion, sesame, etc and eat it like potato chips. Not bad actually. We had lunch at a local open-air cafe overlooking the river, then crossed over to the Pakou Caves, a limestone cavern overlooking the Mekong. It has been a buddhist pilgrimage site for centuries and contains thousands of buddhist statues. We climbed the 100 steps into the cave to see the icons and to enjoy a great view across the river.

The van ride back to Luan Prabang was by bumpy, gravel road, but we enjoyed the real Laos. Water buffalo were grazing along the road, but not looking our direction. We wanted a photo with them looking our way. I mooed at them. They looked!

We stopped in a couple small villages along the way and it was Ladies Day, so there was plenty of celebrating. The three of us enjoy interacting with people, so they were inviting us to partake of food and drink with them, which resulted in more photos. One of the special things about Laos is that they have not had much tourism and people are happy to pose for photos for/with visitors. In one of the villages a large crowd was doing line dancing! In the weavers' village, six little girls were sitting in a row selling bracelets they had made. They all chanted together in English, "Please buy, help me. This one I made. Same same!" You had to know what they were saying, because the Lao drop endings from words, but they were cute. Of course we had to buy a few bracelets.

We checked into the Grand Luang Prabang Resort, sitting on the bluff above the Mekong River. It was beautiful. The manager from our local tour operator was there to meet us and he took me aside and explained there was a problem with flights. There had been a miscommunication between our Thai operator and Vietnam Air and no flight had been booked for us to return from Laos! There is one flight a day from Luang Prabang to Bangkok and we were now booked for Thursday and waitlisted for the Wednesday flight in our program. I told him that wouldn't work, because the Thursday flight wouldn't get us there in time to catch the ship! We didn't have much choice at that point. I didn't tell the ladies.

We were scheduled for dinner in a fine French restaurant, but we opted out and went to the night market. We ate some sausages from vendors there, and then hit the stalls. What an incredible market! A mile of the main street was blocked off and four rows of vendors stretched the length, offering an amazing array of wares. I've never seen so many silk scarves. There were also t-shirts, caps, silk shirts, dresses, pursers, bags, canes, wood carvings, story boards, quilts, tea-paper lanterns, silver, jade, coins, paintings etc. We stayed three hours and couldn't cover the whole thing. We bought traditional clothes from the Khmhu tribe including headscarves, which had to be wrapped around the head in a complicated manner. Babs had worn a long, red wig to the market as a joke, but when she bought a scarf, she had to remove the wig so they could show her how to put on the scarf. I picked up the wig and tried to get one of the vendors to put it on. It appeared none of them were brave enough until a tiny, old lady with her hair in a black bun said she would put it on. That was a sight to behold! She could hardly contain her giggle as she posed with Babs for photos. We finished off our memorable visit to the night market with slices of fresh watermelon from one of the street vendors.

Wednesday morning we enjoyed breakfast outdoors at the resort's restaurant, high on the banks of the Mekong River, and enjoyed watching the flaming red sun rise above the mist. At breakfast we met a woman who was a passenger on the QE2 world cruise and was doing a tour on her own through Laos. We had her join our table and we compared stories. She was our kind of traveler. She will likely join us on the Voyager world cruise next year.

Wednesday morning on the way into the city, the scene in our van was surely typical of any travelers from a luxury ship. Carol was in the back, laying out wet underwear over the back seat to dry, and Babs was applying her makeup so she would look beautiful in the market. The City Market was an experience! As we pulled up, a woman was arriving by bicycle, carrying a live turkey by the feet. She happily posed for us. Earlier we had seen a tuk tuk, packed to the hilt with lettuce, heading for market, but we never found it to take photos. The market itself was huge, boasting all the sights and sounds and smells of an Asian market. The meat section made for some good pictures, but the smells limited our time there. The fruit and vegetable area was much more attractive with lots of color. One lady was selling fish for breakfast. She speared them on a stick and fried them over an open fire. Too bad we had already eaten!

Soon the two ladies found the lettuce section and promptly started to 'help' the saleslady pack lettuce into bags. I reminded them that the lady assumed they were going to buy it, so they gave the woman a dollar and presented our guide with a big bag of lettuce. Carol wanted to tell the woman how beautiful her lettuce was so she asked Paichit how to say it in Lao. He pronounced a nasal, "ngam ngam." Carol repeated, "yum yum." Paichit said it again and Carol couldn't say anything but, "yum yum." The woman and nearby clerks got a good laugh out of it.

One of our favorite scenes from the market was two women counting a basketful of paper money - they don't use coins in Laos and a big basket full of money is not worth more than a few dollars.

From there we went to tour some of the cultural sites, which were the reason Luang Prabang was a world heritage town. We aren't too keen on museums, but the former palace was exquisite, with Japanese mosaic glass walls and gold leaf as plentiful as wallpaper. We walked through in awe at the exquisite and lavish workmanship. The nearby temples were equally stunning, and again, lots of gold. We had to take our shoes off to go into all the sites and Carol was wishing she had worn slip-on shoes. At the last temple I got a picture of her tying her shoes and then one of her standing on the steps in jubilation as if to say, "Look Mom! I can tie my shoes!" From the temple area we looked out across the Mekong River to see elephants walking down to the water. There was a pile of teak wood on the bank, which they were hauling up the hill. The area has endless teak forests and that is one of the main woods they use in their fabulous woodcarvings.

We proceeded to the airport and I told Carol and Babs the details of our predicament. We had our names put on the standby list and again went to the airport cafe and ordered noodle soup. As before, the noodles had not yet arrived when the agent came scurrying over to advise that two seats had come available and if we wanted them we had to go now! Carol and Babs didn't want to leave me behind, but I told them there would be no discussion and they were going on that flight to Bangkok. I would find my way back to the ship somehow. We got them checked in, waved goodbye, and then the guide and driver and I returned to the cafe and proceeded to eat the noodles! Delicious.

Since the flight the next day would not get me back to Bangkok in time to catch the ship, I had them fly me back to the capital, Vientiane, for the night. From there the flight to Bangkok is in the morning and I would have time to go to the Shangri La Hotel and catch the shuttle bus. I had several hours to kill in Luang Prabang before my flight, so we headed back into town and went to the China market and then I killed time in an internet cafe and had a massage. A full hour massage cost a whole $4 plus a dollar tip. After that I was ready to sleep on the plane.

I was back in the hotel in Vientiane by 7:30 pm and headed back out on the street. Carol had regretted not having a chance to try the French baguette and pate, so in her honor I had it for supper. Silly me, I expected a little pate on bread. First the woman toasted it, buttered it, then smeared on pate, sliced onions, sauce, another kind of meat, more sauce, more greens, more meat, etc. until she had a big sandwich! Delicious! I had tea with it and gave her $1. She started to get change, but I told her to keep it. She was most effusive in thanking me!

The next morning I caught the flight to Bangkok and made the transfer to the Shangri La without further ado. I had a full hour to explore Bangkok before boarding the shuttle bus back to the ship in Laem Chabang. The Lettuce Ladies were relieved to see that I made it out of Laos and we returned to the Voyager with lots of photos, some great souvenirs, and some wonderful memories, or as Carol would call them, 'a rose for December'!


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Chapter 10, March 22, 2005

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After our Laos trip we had a day at sea, which definitely was not enough. Saturday, March 12 we were in Singapore and I wasn't ready for another port. However, in the evening we were invited to the home of the Alliots, full world cruise passengers from Singapore. About 20 of us had drinks and hors d'oeuvres at their lovely home, then had dinner at the Seafood Center. The variety of seafood put before us was extensive and good. The evening affair took 7 hours!

The next day was very hot in Singapore and Svein and I took the shuttle into town and walked a couple miles. We found a huge technology fair with hundreds of booths boasting the latest products for computer, camera and stereo. There were so many people we could barely move. We rode the metro back to the ship and stayed on board for the afternoon.

Monday we were in Penang, Malaysia and I still wasn't in the mood for a port. But we had to buy flowers for some guests who had boarded in Singapore, so I went looking while Svein stayed in bed with bronchitis. I walked 2 hours trying to find flowers without success. Hot!

Finally we had 3 days at sea and I was much happier. Life is so much easier when we are at sea and there are no hectic ports to get in our way. I practice piano at 6:30 in the morning, have bridge lessons in the morning, bridge game in the afternoon, and spend a lot of time in the computer room in between.

Friday we were in Cochin, India, and it smelled like India. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just very specific to this country. It's a combination of overly fragrant flowers, spices, humidity, smoke, garbage, and clothes that aren't washed until you can no longer tell their original color! Captain Dag invited us, along with 25 other guests, to go on a boat ride through the backwaters of Cochin. We cruised the islands and saw Chinese fishing nets on long poles, which they just lower into the water and wait for something to swim into it. We saw nice beachfront homes with outhouses set out over the water - automatic flush! Dag treated us to a delicious buffet lunch at the Taj Malabar Hotel, where the ship was hosting an event for all guests later in the afternoon. We were greeted with traditional Indian dancers, musicians, and a live elephant. Entertainers with lavish, colorful costumes posed for photos.

The next day in Goa we were only in port for the afternoon so I went out and walked on my own awhile. The taxi drivers are such pests there - you almost have to be rude to get them to leave you alone. I paid a dollar and a half for a haircut, and then gave another $2.50 for a scalp, neck, shoulder, and face massage. The haircut was good and I came back to the ship glowing from my face massage! That evening Carol, Babs, and I put on a slide show in the theater about our Laos trip. We also displayed our purchases and wore our Khmhu Tribe costumes. Over 100 passengers attended and they loved it. We of course had a lot of fun doing it as well.

Sunday in Bombay we had our Virtuoso event, a gala luncheon at the Hilton Oberoi Towers. It went perfectly, which was a relief after our Vietnam tour. Luncheon was in the luxury banquet room with crystal chandeliers and gold-leaf walls. It featured all kinds of Indian dishes and was the best Indian food I've ever eaten. We had Indian traditional music while we dined and then enjoyed a show of Indian dance. It was all quite exotic and delightful.

I didn't have time for shopping in Bombay, though Svein and I did wander the streets some the next morning. I did manage to get a bag of giant balloons about 3 feet long each! Sea days will be wonderful after 4 days in India. On to Dubai, my favorite port of the world cruise!


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Chapter 11, March 28, 2005

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The word 'Arab' can conjure up all kinds of images, but to imagine Dubai, Muscat and Salalah, think of 'Arabian Nights', 'Sinbad the Sailor', magic carpets, and genies. They are the most magical of cities. I do not regret that our Arabian adventure is over - I'm glad that we had it!

I love Dubai! That's what one of my t-shirts proclaims under a photo of dancing camels, and every time I visit Dubai I like it more. There have been amazing changes in the past few years, including a new cruise terminal and dozens of skyscrapers. We were welcomed by Arab bagpipers (!) and a group of Arab men doing traditional cane dancing. At the door were young girls in costume, handing out roses and offering perfumed water. Inside the terminal we could see people in native dress demonstrating various local crafts. It was a nice welcome.

Carol, Svein and Libby and I took the shuttle to the gold souk (market) with its rows of shops of gold. Dubai is one of the best places in the world to buy gold. We continued on to the spice market and savored exotic smells and tastes of the Arabian world. Carol was in a hurry to get to the textile market, so we boarded one of the little wooden ferries and crossed Dubai Creek for 15 cents. Creek is a misnomer, as it is actually an estuary half a mile wide, and the 10-minute ride is delightful. We bought t-shirts, scarves, sandals, tea, spices and lily oil, and then Carol found the metallic thread she was hoping for. The merchant was happy to see her! Of course we had to enjoy Indian tea (with milk and sugar) several times during the course of the morning.

Dubai is such a fascinating mix of modern and ancient. Adjacent to ancient souks are gleaming skyscrapers of the latest architecture. Just south of the city is a whole row of metal and glass giants where there was nothing at all just 6 years ago when I last visited. Further south is one of the world's amazing hotels, the Burj Al Arab. It is only 27 stories high, but is 3/4 the height of the Empire State Building! It is shaped like a sail, has all suites, and the cheapest rooms run about $2,000 per night, though I did find an internet special of 7 nights for $7,000! There is an underwater restaurant surrounded by glass so you can see the fish and coral while dining. Lunch will run you a couple hundred dollars and you cannot just walk in and look around. Radisson hosted the full world cruise passengers for drinks and hors d'oeuvres Thursday evening, so we got to see this fabulous hotel. We were in the ballroom on the top floor and had super views out over the sea and countryside. Next to the hotel is a development out in the water, called The Palm. They are building a collection of artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree and will be selling exclusive residences when it's finished! It's amazing what money can buy.

Back at the ship I took the 9:00pm shuttle into the city and walked around alone for 3 hours, enjoying the atmosphere. Since Friday is their day of prayer and most things are closed, Thursday night is very busy and even shops are open till 11:00pm or midnight.

Friday morning Carol, Libby and I headed back in to get more photos and found that some of the shops in the gold souk were open. We wandered through the quiet alleyways toward Dubai Creek where dozens of small cargo boats line the banks. Because Dubai is such a shopping mecca, there is heavy trade with area countries. Carol wanted to see the inside of one of the boats so we approached an Iranian boat and gestured to the fellows that we would like to come aboard. They immediately invited us up. The 'gangway' was a ladder with rungs two feet apart, leaned up against the boat. Carol had quite a time navigating that, but made it into the boat with a big plop. Once aboard they happily showed us their little home. None of them spoke English, but they were all smiles when we said we were Americans and gave us a thumbs-up and said, "Friends!" This was the same reaction we got from everyone, whether Iranian, Indian, Saudi, Afghani or Jordanian. It makes you wonder how world politics get to be what they are, when people are so friendly meeting one on one. It's also amazing how much you can communicate when there is no common language. They let Carol sit in the captain's seat and showed us their sleeping area. Carol blew up a balloon and gave it to them, which they promptly tied on top of the boat. They offered us tea, so we sat down and joined them. The cook went and made some of their flat fry bread, which was delicious. Our visit was really special, though it almost ended in disaster when Carol nearly fell through the ladder trying to climb down! We then found an area of the city where the market and all the stores were open. We found lots more treasures, got more photos, enjoyed more Indian tea, and had lots of good interaction. We were buying a couple scarves when the bell sounded and the lights went out. It was a few minutes before noon and time to close up everything for mid-day prayers. We hurried out of their way and hailed a taxi. We went to Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club for a photo stop, and then had the driver take us back downtown to the boat docks for one more ride on the 'abra' across Dubai Creek. After one more cup of tea we returned to the ship.

The next day in Muscat we had our Virtuoso tour. In 1970 there were no paved roads, only one school and one hospital, and the Sultan ruled with an iron fist. The Sultan's son, Qabos, came home from school in England and told his father that times are changing and he should loosen up. The Sultan imprisoned him for 6 years! Qabos got out, deposed his father, and has been Sultan since. He has modernized Oman in a magnificent way, improving the lives of the people, yet maintaining Omani tradition. Now there are superb facilities throughout Oman. In 1990 I was aboard the Sagafjord when it made the first ever call by a cruise ship to Oman.

Our first stop was the souk, one of the most exciting ones in the Arab world. Each little stall had an array of exotic goods, tempting us to buy. The smell of frankincense permeated the market, adding to the 'Arabian Nights' atmosphere. From there we visited the Omani Museum, the exquisite palace of the Sultan, and then took a drive along the coast to Embassy Row, where we saw the most elaborate embassy buildings I've ever seen. A photo stop at the Grand Mosque capped our morning before we headed for the Al Bustan Palace Hotel. This is my favorite hotel in the world, built in the shape of a fantastic mosque. Lunch there was a true highlight! After getting the guests back to the ship, I returned to the souk to explore on my own for an hour.

Monday we were in Salalah, Oman and I took a taxi with Carol and another couple, Harry & Jan Hufford. We headed into the stark hill country. Camels roamed freely. We had to stop for photos when we saw a young Bedouin, herding camels by 4X4 jeep, talking on his cell phone. He stopped frequently to jump out and use his cane to herd the camels down the road. Another camel herder was a scrawny old man who smiled and waved and let us take photos of him. Carol made the dreadful mistake of trying to pose with him. Firstly, a woman does not touch a man, and secondly, she approached him waving her left hand, which is 'unclean'. He ran!

We continued to Job's tomb, situated high on a hill and surrounded by beautiful bougainvillea and hibiscus gardens. Job pre-dates Abraham in the Bible, so is also considered a prophet by the Arabs. We returned to the city and saw the palace and immaculate grounds, and then made our obligatory visit to the souk. Again, the frankincense numbed our senses and the ladies bought scarves and perfumes, while Harry and I had delightful visits and tea with the shopkeepers. After a drive along the white, sandy beach, we stopped for freshly squeezed lemonade, made from tiny Omani lemons. Delicious! Now our magic carpet has sailed from Arabia for Egypt.


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Chapter 12, April 4, 2005

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What an elegant Arab couple boarded our ship. While in Dubai, Libby and I each bought a complete set of Arab outfits and dressed the part for the formal evening. She was in a black burka, which showed only her eyes, and I had the full flowing robe with headdress and tassels. I hadn't shaved for two days and used mascara to create an Arab-looking beard, as well as black moustache and eyebrows. Sunglasses completed my disguise. Libby shadowed me around the ship, a proper distance behind me, never speaking. Walking around, I never smiled or acknowledged the existence of anyone else and grins quickly turned to quizzical expressions. The captain thought he would test me by saying "hello" and "how are you" in Arabic, but to his surprise, I instantly answered in kind. In the restaurant the manager laughed as we came in, but I just asked in a gruff voice, "Do you have family area for woman to eat?" He laughed and said no, but when I then turned and marched out of the dining room he had a horrible thought that he may have just committed the most heinous mistake of his career! A few figured out who I was, but nobody guessed Libby and we have just kept that our little secret. It was great fun.

Then came Egypt. Unlike the previous three ports, traveling here makes one muse, "And these people used to rule the world!?" It is fascinating, though. All guests were invited on an overnight tour to Luxor, a 3-hour drive from Safaga. 25 buses drove in convoy with police escort front and back. The first two hours was through barren desert and stark mountains. The last hour was in the lush green of the Nile Valley. There is a saying that Egypt is a gift of the Nile, and considering that 95% of the people live along the river, it's quite true. Many of the houses were unfinished - they just keep adding to them as they can afford it. Most of them are covered with sugar cane stalks and straw to insulate from the brutal heat.

That afternoon we explored the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, where they have found so many treasures and mummies of the ancient pharaohs, including King Tut. Some had long entries, deep into the hill and were adorned with ritual paintings to assist the pharaohs in the afterlife. We also visited the Queen Hatshepsut Temple, an impressive sight against the stark mountainous backdrop. We still had time for some shopping before dinner. Dinner was the highlight. Full world cruise guests were invited to dinner among the pillars of Luxor Temple. This has only been allowed twice in the past and they do not plan to allow it again. Egyptian TV filmed us and people all over Egypt were asking who these VIP guests were and how they were allowed to dine in the temple! As we arrived at the head of the grand entry, a two-block long stone walk lined with sphinxes, the statues and pillars were floodlit. The majestic strains of the opera Aida filled the air. (Aida was written for the opening of the Suez Canal back in 1869.) Young men in ancient costumes stood along the walk with flaming torches to light our way. It was stunning. We continued through the tall pillars to our dining area, where we were welcomed by Dr. Zafi Hawass, the Egyptologist who is leading research into the mysteries of the tombs and pyramids. During dinner a string quartet played classical music. We were all in awe, as it was truly one of the most remarkable events I've ever experienced. The next day we explored Luxor and Karnak Temples in depth, gazing on rows and rows of massive stone columns. I still haven't figured out why the Egyptians built so many ruins.

The next day we transited the Suez Canal. There are no locks and there is mostly sand on either side for miles and miles. We did get an hour of shopping that evening in Port Said though.


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Chapter 13, April 11, 2005

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Next stop was Kusadasi, Turkey, the port for ancient Ephesus. Carol was sick so I joined Jan and Harry for the morning. It was a cold, clear morning (45 degrees) as we drove up into the mountains to the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus. Admission was free that day in honor of Pope John Paul II. We continued to Ephesus and walked the 5000-year-old marble streets, the same ones the apostle Paul walked. Though in ruins, the marble pillars, walks, and statues are impressive. One has to think what the ruins of an American city would look like in 5000 years - rubble of steel, glass and metal? The two-story library was most impressive and the 30,000-seat amphitheater wasn't bad either. Peach and apple blossoms against a blue sky topped it off.

We enjoyed a typical Turkish lunch before heading back into Kusadasi, a shopper's mecca. I enjoyed wandering the streets on my own and bought some Turkish tea and sweets. The bazaars and shops are as fascinating as any on the world cruise, though prices are a little higher.

Since Turkey I haven't felt a great need to do too much sightseeing, and shopping is out of the question with the high Euro prices everywhere. In Athens, I took the shuttle bus into town and Carol and Svein and I explored the Plaka district awhile and had gyros for lunch. Carol amused the locals by pronouncing them 'gyros' instead of using the correct pronunciation 'heroes'. I don't think I even took any photos there.

We were in Sorrento, Italy the day of the pope's funeral so the city was a little quiet. Every shop had a TV on with the funeral proceedings. There I took up my camera again, because Sorrento is such a pretty little town. I walked around with Carol and Lois Field, but was content to just look in the little shops and tiny alleyways. We enjoyed down home Italian pasta for lunch, and then I went back to the ship and spent a quiet afternoon aboard. Saturday we were in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, but most of us didn't attempt the journey into the city, due to all the crowds there for the funeral. Svein and I just went to the local market and bought flowers for some embarking passengers. That day was also our segment break, so we got Virtuoso information for the last segment out to all our guests.

Sunday we were in Monaco and I had visitors from Switzerland, Anny and Rita, friends who have been on several tours with me. They could hardly believe the ship and took lots of photos on board. They were particularly impressed with the view down from the top of the ship, both inside and out! Later we climbed up the hill to the palace and old town, which was also in a state of mourning because of the death of Prince Rainier. The views from the hill were great and we enjoyed wonderful spring blossoms all over the palace grounds.

That night the seas were wild. I had to put everything on the floor before they ended up there on their own! No damage in our suite, but quite a bit around the ship. The Gulf of Lyon is notorious for bad seas, but the forecasters underestimated this storm by quite a bit. It certainly wasn't as bad as what we experienced back in the Tasman Sea, but bad enough. The next morning the storm continued and the waves were so rough they were cresting and breaking in the open sea. In fact, a surfer would have had a good time on them!

The weather has been cooler in the Mediterranean, especially after the nice, warm temperatures of Arabia. Also, we miss the warm welcome of the Arabian countries. It's ironic that some of our guests were leery of visiting Arab countries, and yet that is where we were made to feel the most welcome of the entire world cruise. The last two weeks I'll mostly just enjoy the ship.


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Chapter 14, April 22, 2005

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I hope you've enjoyed 'traveling' with me. This is the final chapter of another wonderful world cruise. I loved the sea days. I get to play the piano early in the morning, have bridge lessons and bridge games later, and in between keep a computer busy. What luxury!

We did have some good ports to end our cruise. Sailing into Malaga, Spain, we had great views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was surprising to see so much snow in April this far south. I've been to Malaga several times, so I just went walking with Carol and two other guests. The massive cathedral is impressive both by its size and its ornateness. We enjoyed the little alleys and shops, although in Euroland we don't do much shopping! It was a pleasant spring day with bright blue sky and the flowers were blooming all over the city. We had lunch at a local pub, sitting at a sunny table on the plaza. After lunch we visited the fortress, climbing to the top and enjoying views of the city, the bay, and the Voyager.

Our last Virtuoso event was in Funchal, Madeira. I've always said Madeira is one of the prettiest islands in the world and many of our guests on tour echoed that sentiment. Lush, green mountains tower over the port area and flowers and trees of all kinds adorn the island. We started by riding the new cable car from the city up to the old village of Monte. There we partook of an ancient tradition of riding back down in wicker toboggans. Two men run along side, guiding the sledge down narrow, paved alleyways at exhilarating speeds. Even most of our older guests came along for the ride and were ready to do it again! From there the coach took us through pastoral countryside on winding mountain roads up to Cabo Girao, the highest sea cliff in Europe. From the viewpoint it plunges nearly 2000 feet to the shore directly below. We had clear skies and vast views. Our tour concluded at the historic Reids Palace Hotel for a luxurious lunch in their banquet hall. It was a pleasure to finish up our Virtuoso responsibilities on the world cruise with such a lovely event.

Back at the ship, another guest didn't fare quite so well. At sailing time a woman was missing and they paged her and searched the ship to no avail. They helped her husband pack their luggage and they put him off with their passports and off we sailed. A few minutes later word came that she had arrived and the pilot boat was bringing her to the ship. We all watched as they climbed the rope ladder into the ship, and then as their luggage was loaded. We clapped and whistled, but the captain was not as amused. The couple had to pay $1000 for the extra boat ride. She says her watch stopped, but had I been in that position I would have made up a story with some good excuse. Either that or I would have just not come back to the ship! The Full World Cruise guests were treated to a special dinner in the crew mess, themed truck stop. We all dressed the part and had great fun as the officers and staff served us.

After five lovely days at sea we were in Bermuda for a gorgeous spring day with comfortable temps and bright blue skies. Svein and I walked around the town and took a few pictures, but I spent most of the day on board, finishing up projects. That evening there was a final event in the theater just for Full World Cruise passengers with lots of shared memories and video clips of highlights of the last 3 months. Captain Dag and Cruise Director Jamie came out dressed like Pipi Longstockings and sang a spoof on 'Of All the Ships I've Loved Before'. Hilarious. Thursday night was our last formal night and farewell party for all guests. Almost the entire crew paraded in and then sang for us. What a great cruise. Back to the real world now!


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