Where Are We?

What do you call a town where….

…Accuweather says there is a zero percent chance of rain for the next ten days.

…we have to make hard choices between competing events we would really like to do virtually every day.

…where we can get delicious margaritas like this for five dollars.

…where you can see one of the most beautiful churches in the world by day or by night.

…where something like this can pop up at your hotel doorway in the middle of the afternoon.

It is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico which is located – as the locals like to say – on the fun side of the wall. It is hard to disagree with that. We arrived for our two week stay on Valentine’s Day.The first order of business on Friday is to go to the Jardin in the center of town to buy the local paper, Attención. You then grab one of the benches and study the events for the week and develop your plans. This is not easy! For instance, on Tuesday afternoon there were three things we really wanted to do and we could only choose one. After developing our plans, we set off to buy tickets. A couple events were already sold out which forced changes to our plans. Two weeks is just not enough time, so we are reconciled to the fact we are not going to be able to do some of the things we were looking forward to.

And it is also true that you can’t go home again. We went over to see our favorite grocer, Leo, and found that he had sold the business. You may remember Leo from previous blogs as always giving me a big hug and Susan a big kiss when we came in his store. Also, our favorite empanada store was out of business. But most places we remember are still in business and the city is as beautiful and as much fun as ever. With apologies to Kaye for stealing her line, we love it here!

The Museums of Winter Park Florida

We are presently staying in St. James Plantation, NC house sitting for friends while they enjoy a trip in Scandinavia. It is a forty five minute drive from there to Wilmington so a blog about our life here would be all about visiting Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and similar venues in preparation for our move on 2/Aug. I feel that would be of limited interest, but we did visit two nice museums in Winter Park, Florida before heading north a little less than two weeks ago.

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art houses the largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the world. Tiffany housed many of his best works at Laurelton Hall, his 65 room mansion on Long Island. After his death, the home fell into disrepair and eventually burned in 1957. After the fire, Tiffany’s daughter contacted Hugh and Jeanette Genius (I love the name) McKean to salvage as much of the art as possible. Hugh had studied at Laurelton Hall in 1930. To make a long story short, they recovered all the art they could from Laurelton, Jeanette founded the museum and named it after her grandfather, and Hugh served as director for 53 years. If you like Tiffany, you will love this museum!The museum has a collection of Tiffany lamps, windows, jewelry, paintings, blown glass, leaded glass, and mosaics.A sample of the stained glass windows on exhibit.Perhaps most amazing of all, the museum houses the chapel that Tiffany created for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After the exposition it was moved to Laurelton and ultimately recovered by the McKeans. The bottom picture is the chandler in the chapel.

The second museum we liked was the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. Polasek was a Czech American sculpture who created 400 works in wood, stone, or metal in his lifetime. Half of them are on display at this museum and garden which was once his home. He served as the head of the sculpture department of The Art Institute of Chicago for thirty years. When he retired at age 70 to Winter Park, he soon suffered a stroke and was paralyzed on his left side. Despite this impediment, he created 18 major works using only his right hand! For some he would hold the chisel and an assistant would hit it with the hammer. The docent who led our private tour was very excited when she learned that we were familiar with Brookgreen Gardens (our former home was ten minutes away and we are members). She claimed we were the first she had met. Two of Polasek’s works are displayed there so we have to get back to see them before our membership expires.One of his most famous works, Man Carving His Own Destiny, was also one of his first from 1907.One of my favorites was this fountain where the water creates the strings of the harp.

We leave in a little over a week to visit our daughter Carrie and her family in Colorado and then go to St Paul, MN to visit our friends Ron and Jean. Carrie’s home has been the subject of several of my most popular posts, so we will see if anything is new there. We return to Wilmington just in time to close on our new home one day later. There is no rest for the weary!

The Space Coast

After a hectic and stressful 24 days at our Pawleys Island home, our boxes and bags were packed, the sale of our home was complete, and our new home was several months from being finished. What to do? We had all the boxes and furniture moved to a storage unit near our new home in Wilmington, NC, and we and our bags headed south to the Space Coast of Florida. Our first stop was in Wilmington to check on our new home.

This is the way it looked on May 30. It may look like it is being built on a beach or a desert, but it is really located in the city of Wilmington. We were there for our pre drywall inspection.

We then made a circuitous route through Charlotte, Columbia, and Charleston to see our children and grandchildren before heading south to St. Augustine, Florida. Perhaps we are jaded from so much more exotic foreign travel, but we were somewhat disappointed in St. Augustine despite it being the oldest city in the US. While there were some nice buildings in the old town, the ubiquitous souvenir shops detracted greatly from our enjoyment. One thing we did enjoy was the guided tour of Flagler College.

One of the campus buildings is the former Ponce de Leon Hotel built by millionaire developer and Standard Oil cofounder, Henry Flagler, in 1888. Flagler made his fortune first in grains, then in railroads, and finally in oil. He was fortunate to have two very good friends who helped build the hotel: one was named Tiffany and the other was named Edison. This meant the hotel had some very nice chandeliers and was one of the first fully electric buildings in the world. In fact, electricity was so new that that customers were afraid to flip the switches; so Flagler had to hire people to do this for them!

The two towers of the hotel were originally used as water storage tanks so the hotel could have running water.The building was one of the first in the country to be made of pored concrete. The trim on the doors, towers, and windows is terra-cotta.This picture shows four unique features in the former ballroom of the hotel: the clock was made by Edison (you can tell because he uses IIII as the Roman numeral four instead of the more traditional IV), it is a Tiffany chandelier, the stone in which the clock is mounted is one of the largest pieces of that stone type (Sorry, I forgot the stone type), and the ceiling color around the chandelier is the first use of Tiffany blue.The dining room features Tiffany stained glass windows. These windows are some of the first he made so they don’t reflect the more colorful style for which he became famous. Still, how many college dining rooms feature Tiffany windows?We also enjoyed the Lightner Museum, which is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built by Flagler across the street from The Ponce. At the time it housed the world’s largest indoor swimming pool.

After an overnight in St. Augustine, we drove to our destination, the home of our world cruise friends, Dave and Donna. They are in their Pittsburgh home while we are staying at their second home in an RV and golf resort on the Space Coast of Florida. Their community is unique to me as all homes must include an RV garage or carport capable of housing a motor home.Since most people here have a motor home, one or two cars, and a golf cart, the garage designs are a major feature of the home.

This is the typical morning view out our back window. The late afternoon view is quite different with ominous black clouds, the rumble of thunder, and flashes of lightening. We have been in Florida for fourteen days and there have been heavy thunderstorms in the late afternoon on thirteen of those days. There was hail on two of those days. It makes it difficult to plan any early evening activities as the weather can make travel difficult. The area is also somewhat of a wildlife reserve. There have been deer in the back yard, alligators in the lake, and a bobcat running in the road. Herons, egrets, and other shore birds frequent the lake. We have seen an eagle on the roof of the largest house across the lake.

Our stay here is very relaxing. There is a beautiful national seashore about a half hour away. We also spend a lot of time at the neighborhood pool. We are both reading a lot of books. The neighborhood is even more friendly and outgoing than the Carolinas. Every person you see when you are walking, whether they are walking, driving a car, driving a golf cart, or working in the yard, waves and says “hi” to you. The people at the pool also want to talk to you and invite you to neighborhood events. We notice that the space program is a common topic of conversation here. I don’t recall anyone talking about it in the Carolinas. It is clearly an important part of their economy.

On the way home from the beach last week, we stopped at the manatee observation deck in a national wildlife refuge.There must have been more than thirty manatees hanging out around the deck. It was the first time I had ever seen a manatee.

Mary Anne and Steve, more friends from our world cruise, have invited us to their house several times and taken us on tours of the area by car and by boat. They are docents at the lighthouse on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station so they have gate passes and free access to the station. Most of our space launches have taken off from this station from one of the more than thirty launch pads located there. It appears that every new space program requires a new launch pad as only three are presently active and the others are abandoned. The active ones all belong to private companies.This is one of the active launch sites. The two tall metal towers are glorified lightening rods. Before launch, the rocket is moved within the center structure to prepare it. This one is unique in that at launch the structure moves out of the way. In most launch pads, the rocket moves away from the structure before launching. The odd shaped thing on the right was used to divert flames from the rocket at one of the abandoned launch pads. That launch pad where I am standing was the site of the Apollo One disaster where three astronauts were killed during a training exercise.After our tour, we enjoyed lunch in Port Canaveral. We have one more week in Florida before we head to North Carolina.

Back to the Real World

The last time I wrote I was sitting in the American Airlines business class lounge in Heathrow at ten in the morning. Unfortunately, we were still sitting there at five in the afternoon, about three hours after we were supposed to leave, to hear the news that our flight to Charlotte was cancelled. They had strung us along for the last three hours with various stories about repairing the refrigeration or air conditioning system on the plane. Prior to that, we were told that the plane was too hot for us to board because of the extreme heat (70’s) in London that day and they had to cool the plane first. They should be in the Carolinas to learn what extreme heat feels like. I speculated that they had no need for AC in London so no one there knew how to repair it.

They switched us to a flight that arrived in JFK at 11PM with a connecting flight at 5 AM to Charlotte and then a third flight to Myrtle Beach. American offered to put us up in a hotel that was about 75 minutes from the airport, but we figured the three hours at the hotel wasn’t worth the hassle. Unfortunately, security was closed then and there are no chairs on the checkin side of the terminal. A lot of our fellow Vikings were in the same situation. Four of them had found the doors to the entry desk of the American Lounge partly open and occupied four chairs near the check in desks. There were two benches there which Susan and I occupied. Unfortunately, the cleaning lady reported us to security and we were thrown out after about an hour.

After wondering around the open area and finding lots of people sitting and sleeping on the floor but no open chairs, we found a group of Vikings that found a source of wheel chairs to sit in. I had never sat in a wheel chair before, so I used the opportunity to practice wheelies and parking. Susan did not like the image of sitting in a wheel chair, so she put on her iPod and sneakers and walked around the terminal. After being up for over 24 hours we had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.This worked for about another hour until someone came and said it was her job to collect all the wheelchairs and put them back where we found them. With no place comfortable to sit, we then stood, sat, or lay on the floor at the entry to security until it opened at 3:30 AM. It was a rapid comedown from life on the Sun! You will not find many Vikings with many good words to say about either JFK or American Airlines. You certainly won’t hear any good words about either from me! To add insult to injury, one of my bags didn’t get on the plane to Myrtle Beach! This is very much the Readers Digest version of our problems on the flights home, but I will say that business class is much nicer than tourist! The remainder of the blog was written prior to arriving in London.

After 141 days of being served gourmet food; having our room cleaned twice a day; beIng entertained every night by singers, musicians, comedians, or magicians; being only steps away from a bridge game or several bars where all the drinks are on the house; and having a different view out our window every morning (except on sea days when the view can be rather repetitive), it is time to see if we can still live in the real world. One of our biggest worries is that at the conclusion of a restaurant meal, we will stand up and walk out the door without paying the bill. I know Visa and Mastercard are both worried about me, and Target must be really concerned that they haven’t seen me in so long.

Let me try to answer a few questions you may have. Was it a great experience? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Yes. Would we do another world cruise? Maybe, but only if most ports are new to us. Did we see places we want to return to? Oman, Singapore, and Malta. Did we make new friends that we will see again? Absolutely! Did we like the excursions offered by Viking? Many of them. But some ranged from OK to bad. Would we travel with Viking again? Yes, but I am concerned that they are growing too fast and it is going to be hard for them to maintain their standards – particularly in ports that are new to them. Did we gain weight? Yes, but nothing too extraordinary. Was the weather nice? Most of the trip was very hot, but we only had one day in the whole trip that we had to use our umbrella during a tour. This is remarkable since it was the rainy season many places. Did you ever get sea sick? No for Bruce and only in the Tasman Sea and Bay of Biscay (both are notorious for their rough seas) for Susan. How many days did you play trivia? 67. How many trivia questions did you attempt to answer? 1030. How many did you get right? I plead the 5th. Did you pack enough? Too much for Bruce and there is never enough for Susan. Are we still in love? Yes!!!

While we love the overall experience of living on the cruise ship, we still feel that cruising is the worst means of travel to really experience the culture and see the sights of a destination. It is useful for determining what locations you would like to see in more detail. In our case, we had been to most of the countries on the cruise, so we already knew whether we liked them or not.

Another surprise was how illness spread around the ship. When you fly you are exposed to the germs of present and past flyers in the recirculating air and the surfaces you touch. The same is true on a cruise ship and there are more potentially sick people. Also, when you visit a different port every day, you get exposed to whatever might be going around that country. There was a cough/cold crud (that was the official diagnosis of the doctor) that started before Los Angeles and took a month to work its way around the ship. Several friends had three or four illnesses that laid them up at least a day each time that said this never happens to them at home. We are paranoid about washing our hands now. Another huge risk is falls. It seems there is a fall every other day. Some are inconsequential, but there have been many broken bones – most stayed on the ship, but some left. We were fortunate that we each had the crud only once and neither of us fell.

We will be very busy when we get home to Pawleys Island on Sunday. Some of you already know this, but it will be a surprise to others. Prior to leaving on our cruise, we purchased a new home at Del Webb Riverlights in Wilmington, NC. They broke ground on the house in April, and it is scheduled for completion in early August. We also put our condo on the market before we left on the trip. Since we live in a beach resort, we didn’t expect many lookers until Easter or even the summer. The condo sold in February and we have to move out on May 29. This gives us just over three weeks to say goodbye to our friends and get packed and out of there. If you are doing the math, it also makes us homeless for over two months. We will be filling this time staying at the empty houses of friends in Florida and North Carolina, visiting our daughter in Colorado, visiting friends in Minnesota, visiting our son in Charlotte, and checking out our new home in Wilmington. If there are some interesting travel adventures, I will be posting the occasional blog.

As always, we want to thank you for following our blog. Many of you we know as relatives and long term personal friends. Others we know mostly because of our common love of travel. Some of those we have met, and others we have never met. We are honored that all of you are interested enough to read the blog. We always enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments. We would love to meet all of you sometime in our travels. We will be in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for the months of December, January, and March. This will be our fourth winter in SMA and the first time we stayed for three months. If any of you are going to be in SMA during that time period, let’s get together! Have a good summer.

The dinner for the couples that are bridge partners.Our trivia team. Marti, Julie, Karen, John, Steve, Mary Ann, and us.A Cruise Critic meet and greet.

The Mahjong group.

A Sunny Day in London Town

I am sitting in the American Airlines business class lounge in Heathrow Airport writing this blog about our last port of call. I feel like I am sitting in the lounge on the Viking Sun as I am surrounded by fellow cruise passengers. When we boarded in Miami, our captain said that he was in charge of getting us to the right ports, but we were in charge of the weather. If I have to say so myself, we did an outstanding job throughout the trip; and that good work continued in London. After days of rain and cold in London, we brought brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s.Londoners love to give nicknames to buildings. The top building is The Shard and the bottom building tends to have changing names. Until recently when the name no longer made sense, it was named after Princess Kate.We didn’t have time to ride it, but it would have been a perfect day for the London Eye. You don’t dare call it a Ferris wheel in front of a Londoner; and unlike most Ferris wheels, its only support is on one side.Unlike the museums which are free, it costs almost 30 dollars and a long queue to go into Westminster Abbey. It was suggested that the smart people attend a Sunday morning service which is free and uncrowded.Parliament Square has many statues of people who have made the world better. Abraham Lincoln is one of the statues. This tour group from India is having their picture taken in front of the Gandhi statue.This is the view of Big Ben and Parliament House from near Parliament Square. The classic view is, of course, from the other side taken from across the Themes. In case you can’t recognize Big Ben, it is totally enclosed in scaffolding for renovation. They are also installing scaffolding for a renovation of the Parliament Building which is expected to take over forty years! I guess there is no hope I will ever see it without the scaffolding. The left side of the building is the House of Commons (or Kindergarten as our guide calls it) and the right side is the House of Lords (or adult day care).A mounted member of the palace guards.In the afternoon, we visited the Tower of London, the home of the Crown Jewels.Ravens are a fixture in the Tower. Legend says that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it will collapse and the monarchy will fall. The ravens have their wings clipped so they are unable to fly away. They have a guard assigned to feed them, let them out of their cages in the morning, and put them back in the evening.Over a hundred people live in the Tower. To get back in after official closing hours, they have to know a password which changes every day. I think I might have to spend some nights in town.The Scotch Guard outside the building with the Crown Jewels.The Tower Bridge. The city is full of traffic and buses. We spent much of our tours sitting in traffic. Our transfer from the ship to Heathrow took over an hour and a quarter with no traffic on a Saturday morning, and only the last few minutes were on a road that would pass as an expressway.

I will do a wrap up post after we get home.

That’s a Lot of Laundry

The Sun offers periodic tours of the ships laundry. Susan had a conflict when our opportunity came, so I took the tour by myself. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed. The laundry area is staffed 24/7 with 6 men working each twelve hour shift. I was surprised by how small the area was. They have four large washing machines with 12 cycles which wash an average of 235 pounds in each load. When we submit a bag of laundry, each item is tagged with our room number, and all of our laundry is placed in one mesh bag to keep it separate in the washing machine. All guest laundry is washed at 85F and linens are washed at 140F. Items from the doctors office are sanitized at 185F. All laundry products are by Ecolab and contain no phosphorous so the grey water can be discharged directly in the ocean.

The clothes and towels are dried in four large industrial dryers similar in size to the washing machines. The sheets and pillow cases are dried and folded by one massive machine affectionately known as “The Mangler”. Clothes are hand pressed and folded, and the towels are hand folded. Steam was used for most of the pressing. Staff uniforms were pressed by placing them over an inflatable mannequin and shooting steam through them.

Bedsheets and towels are changed twice a day in some cabins (must be the owners suite) to every three days in most cabins. The sheets and towels last about 70 washings before they are discarded by incinerating them. The average life is about two to three months. The math doesn’t quite work for me, but no matter which numbers you use, it is a big consumption of sheets and towels. I never dreamed that the sheets starting our cruise would not make it to the end.

The estimated laundry load per day on our cruise is: 2000 towels, 500 sheets, 300 table cloths, 1500 napkins, 250 crew uniforms, and 350 bags of passenger laundry (laundry is free for everyone on this cruise).

This is how we receive the laundry back in our room. The underwear and socks are neatly folded, wrapped in paper, sealed with a sticker, and delivered in this nice white leather box. I am looking for a box for Susan to use when we get home! Everything pressed is hung in the closet on a hanger. We grouse about having to fill out the laundry list and take our tee shirts off of the hangers, but it is very nice not having to wash any laundry. The rumor is that the free laundry is costing Viking a lot more than they anticipated. In any case, only the most expensive cabins have free laundry on the next world cruise.

The Penultimate Port of Porto

I first heard of the word penultimate when our bridge director used it to announce the next to last round of the day. It came in handy when one of our trivia questions was to name the penultimate port on our world cruise.Porto, Portugal is located at the mouth of the Douro River. This river is home to the grapes which can be legally used in wine called port. There are about 70 producers of port wine in the area. But even though all port wine comes from Portugal, the origin of port wine is really more about the British who originally got their wines from France. However, because of wars with France in the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain boycotted French wines; so they turned to Portugal to satisfy their wine cravings. These wines often didn’t survive the longer shipping time by sea from Portugal. The solution was to add some brandy to the wine which increased the alcohol content which in turn stopped the fermentation process leaving more sugar in the wine. The result was port wine which is sweeter than normal wines and has a higher alcohol content of about 20%. We had a port wine tasting with friends Graham and Sue on the left and Bonnie, Dick, Susan, Donna and Dave (hidden by Donna) on the right.This bridge spanning the Douro was built by the same company that built the Eiffel Tower.The trees in this park have a disease that causes the unusual trunks. The color distortion is because the picture was taken through the bus window.

We were in Portugal about five years ago on a Douro River cruise and saw the sites in Porto at that time. Susan had bought a cork handbag then and loved it. Consequently, one of our missions in Porto was to get her a new cork handbag.I am happy to let you know that we succeeded despite a lot of the stores being closed for the May Day holiday. Portugal produces about half of the cork in the world. It comes from the bark of an oak tree. The cork can be harvested every nine years without hurting the tree. The bark that is removed will grow back during the nine years between harvests, so it is an environmentally friendly product. Susan loves to look cool and help the environment at the same time.

We have two sea days before reaching our final port of London.

M & M

Sunday morning we visited the port city of Malaga, Spain; and in the afternoon we visited the white, hilltop town of Mijas, Spain. Malaga has been in the shadow of other towns in the Costa Del Sol until recent years when it emerged as a popular tourist destination.One of its claims to fame is being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. He was born on the second floor of the building above what is now a tapas bar. We visited the Picasso Museum, which contains 200 works donated by his family to establish a museum in his home city.The Cathedral was built between 1528 and 1782 when they ran out of money and never finished the second matching tower on the front of the church, thus earning the nickname of “one armed lady”. This side view with the complete tower is more appealing than the front view.The Alcazaba is a Moorish fortification that sprawls across one of the hills in Malaga.From this hilltop overlook we could see the bullring below as well as the harbor and the city and mountains beyond.

Mijas is known as a white town for obvious reasons: every building in town was painted white. Several streets were particularly attractive with all flower pots painted the same blue color.A unique feature of Mijas is their burro taxis. Each burro has an official number on the plate on their forehead. They are a hazard though as a woman got thrown off one that bucked while she was waving at her friends taking her picture. After seeing so many large churches, mosques, and temples on this trip, it was nice to see this charming little church built in a cave.This even smaller Church was located all by itself on the hills above Mijas. I was surprised to see a person outside of it when I looked at the picture as the location seemed so remote.But the best thing to do in a Spanish hill town is to sit on the street with friends and enjoy a glass of sangria! After a day at sea, we visit Porto, Portugal.

Embarrassment and Trauma But Success

As recently as this morning when we were sitting in the restaurant at breakfast looking over Cartagena, Spain, I confidently told everyone who asked that I had never been there before. I remembered going to Cartagena, Colombia several times but I was sure I had never been to the one in Spain. Susan thought she might have been there with her cousin Anita before we met. We decided to skip our included tour which required two hours on the bus and just to wonder around town on our own. As soon as I got into town, several things reminded me of someplace I had been before, and that someplace was Cartagena, Spain on the Celebrity transatlantic crossing several years ago. There are even a few pictures in the blog from that crossing to prove it. How embarrassing!!!

Those of you who have been following the blog from the beginning may remember that we have a serious addiction problem: salmorejo or Andalusian gazpacho. It is made with tomatoes, bread, olive oil, and vinegar with garnishes of ham and hard boiled eggs. One of our goals in town was to have salmorejo for lunch. You find it everywhere around Seville, but it is harder to find in the rest of Spain. We checked the menu in restaurant after restaurant, but no luck until we found one with salmorejo “shots”. After some discussion with the waiter, we arranged for salmorejo “grande” with all the proper garnishes. It was delicious and our addiction problem is resolved until our next stop in Spain tomorrow.

The trauma occurred at dinner last night. We were eating dinner in the restaurant as we sailed toward Cartagena. Suddenly the ship started to vibrate and make unusual noises. The next thing I knew my chair was sliding across the floor as the ship listed to the starboard side and dishes crashed to the floor in the galley area. After what seemed like forever, but was only a couple minutes, the ship went back to normal – the vibration stopped, the noises stopped and the ship became level again. There was no screaming, but everyone wondered what had happened. Soon the captain came on the PA to announce that they had to make a sharp turn to avoid a fishing boat that had sailed in front of us to protect his fishing nets. We learned later that many wine bottles and glasses fell to the floor in the lounge and many plates and some food slid to the floor in the buffet. It was probably much more traumatic for the captain than for us.

Cartagena is a beautiful town to walk around in with many pedestrian streets paved with granite tiles.There were many sculptures scattered around town. This one was especially whimsical.We visited the Punic wall which was a defensive wall built by the Carthaginians in the third century BCE. The wall consisted of two parallel walls ten feet high and sixteen feet apart. The remains are shown above.The crypt of St. Joseph shown above was located at the same place as the wall. It dates to the 13th century CE and was apparently where defeated gladiators found their final resting place. No word on whether the bones and skull are from real gladiators. Cartagena is full of ancient archeological sites and several of them are built one over the other.This elevator takes you up to a castle on top of the highest hill in town. By the time we got there, the blue sky in the earlier pictures had disappeared and the fog was rolling in from the ocean, so no good pictures up there.One of the highlights in town is the remains of this Roman Amphitheater. The seats had been carved from the natural rock of the hill side. This Amphitheater was built in the first century BCE and was only recently discovered with the ruins of an old Spanish church built over part of it.What appears to be a new building next to the Amphitheater is really only a facade apparently built to conceal another archaeological site behind it. There are a lot of facades like this throughout the town.No story here except that I like tree roots, palm trees, unusual statues in unexpected places, and harbors. Our ship is in the background.


Before each port we visit we have a port talk summarizing the history of the port, briefly describing each excursion, and giving us warnings or advice about things we need to know. The port talk on Algeria was over the top with warnings. First, the port itself is going to make us yearn for the dirty, decrepit ports of Goa and Cochin, India. While it isn’t needed, we will have police escorts wherever we go. Don’t take a picture of the police or military or your camera will be confiscated. Binoculars are considered an instrument of war and will be confiscated if you take them ashore. If you take a camera or jewelry ashore valued at more than $1000 you need to complete a customs form and it is better to leave it on the ship. Algiers is not accustomed or prepared for tourists. There is no tourist shopping. Despite all this, the Viking Sea became the largest ship to visit Algiers last year and most of the passengers were very happy with the experience.

Algeria was part of France for 130 years. According to our onboard lecturer, it was unthinkable to the French people that Algeria would be anything other than French. That ended in 1962 after a ten year revolutionary war where they won their freedom from France. This freedom was then followed by ten years of civil war. The economy is totally dependent on their oil and gas reserves. The military is the biggest employer in the country and Algeria ranks close to the bottom in friendliness for starting a new business.

The Martyrs’ Memorial, built to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their freedom from France, honors all those who died in the revolution. Russia gave them the three statues of a martyr that stand at the base of the concrete pillars.Most of the apartment buildings in town were quite dilapidated, but everyone seemed to have a satellite disk.The buildings in the French section of town were typically white with blue, wrought iron balconies. About a third of the buildings in this area of town were being renovated. Most of the others also needed renovation.The botanical garden was primarily trees, ponds, and statues.This tree is known as the Tarzan tree since one of the Tarzan movies was filmed in the gardens.Friday is the first day of the weekend in Algiers, so the park was packed with people. Since tourists and English speakers are both rare, we were quite a novelty to the locals. When our ship pulled into port, all the workers had their cell phones out taking our picture. These girls are taking a selfie with the guitarist on our ship. Most of the women wore head scarves, but they are free to wear traditional or modern dress.Algeria is 99% Muslim, but that still leaves enough Christians for this beautiful church.

There were policeman and military everywhere directing traffic, patrolling the streets, and walking around all the sites we visited. The only place we have been that had more police around was downtown Mexico City. Despite the plea from all the guides to visit them again, we did not add Algeria to our planned trip to Malta next year. Our next two ports of call are in Spain. It is hard to believe, but we arrive home a week from today!

The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce