All posts by brucegk

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.

Algiers

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!

A Day with Trumpy Tours

On Thursday we visited Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia which is part of Italy. Sardinia has a similar story to Malta. Since they are both in the strategically important Mediterranean Sea, many civilizations have had an impact on their culture and they were both heavily bombed in WW II. It is estimated that only 20% of the buildings in Cagliari survived the bombing; but since it was part of a Italy, the bombing was by the US and Britain.

Sardinia is supposed to be an autonomous region of Italy, but our guide was having none of that. She and her husband tried to start a snorkeling and diving company, but Rome took 70% of what they made in taxes. They had to close within a month. This was about the only thing I understood in her tour, since she spoke very quickly and mispronounced many of her words. The name of her tour company was Trumpy Tours. I have been trying to come up with something clever to say here that wouldn’t get me in trouble no matter your political beliefs, but I failed. You will have to come up with your own punch line.

There were many shallow pools of water for producing salt on the outskirts of town. To my surprise, there were quite a few flamingos in the ponds.There were a lot of old city walls.The old town was full of squares, tunnels, and narrow streets. Every Italian town has to have a lot of churches.We could go down into the catacombs beneath the church alter. All the designs on the wall are made with marbles of different color.The Tower of the Elephant was once used as a defensive rampart and then a prison. It takes its name from the small elephant sculpture on the left side of the door near the top of the door.Because the town is built on a hill, it has many viewpoints and you could see our ship from most of them.The city had a lot of graffiti and many of the buildings needed a little work. We did not add Sardinia to our hypothetical trip to Sicily and Malta next year. This banner hanging from an apartment window caught my attention. I guessed that the sign related to rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean and some humanitarian rescue group. With the help of Google I learned that Open Arms is the name of a rescue boat operated by an NGO that rescued 218 migrants from a raft off the coast of Libya earlier this year. Shortly after the rescue they were approached by the Libya navy with guns drawn and ordered to return the refugees. They refused and fled to southern Sicily where the boat was impounded and the captain arrested. Earlier this month the boat was released, but the captain is still facing charges.

Our next stop is Algiers.

You Can’t Judge the Inside of a Building from the Outside

Malta is an island republic located near Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta’s location in the middle of the Mediterranean has historically given it strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British have ruled the islands. It is one of the smallest countries by area and most densely populated countries in the world. Most of the buildings are made from the brown sandstone found on the island. We docked in Valletta, the capital city.

We loved Malta! I could probably do at least four blogs on what we saw and did here. We are starting to plan a trip back to Malta for next year, so I can cover the details then. For now we will do an abbreviated version focusing primarily on pictures.The Order of the Knights of St. John was made up of noblemen of the most important families in Europe and they took it upon themselves to protect the Catholic faith from the attacks of the Ottoman Turks. After the Great Siege of 1565, the knights turned Malta into a fortress worthy of their noble background. Consequently, there are walls within walls and watchtowers everywhere.These streets are typical of the city. The columns in the right of the bottom picture are the ruins of the old opera house, which is still used as an outdoor performance venue.

Finally, we get to the title of the blog. This is the outside of St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The outside walls are plain and resemble a fort more than an ornate Baroque church.For over 200 years, it was the conventual church of the Knights and they outdid each other in contributing gifts to enrich the church. And indeed, every square inch of the interior has been enriched. The top picture is the alter. The second picture shows the side chapels that line both sides of the nave. Each chapel is dedicated to one of the “langues” (language viewed as an abstract system used by a speech community) of the Order and also to a different saint. The third picture shows one of the side chapels. Each panel on the floor is the tomb of one of the Knights and tells something of his life. These tombs cover all the floors of the church. The bottom picture shows some details of one of the side chapels.The Oratory features “Beheading of St. John the Baptist” by Caravaggio. It is the only work he ever signed and the largest he ever painted. It was painted for this specific location.

The Palazzo Parisio is another example of the subject of the blog. This is about as plain as it gets in Malta.Yet this is the ballroom in the interior. There was also a nice garden and conservatory.

Barrakka Gardens in Valletta was filled with geraniums and had beautiful views of the harbor.This church, which is claimed to have the largest unsupported dome in the world, has an interesting history in WW II. It was a British colony at the time and because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean, it was one of the most heavily bombed areas by Italy and Germany in the war. The details of the story vary a little from guide to guide; but during a service a bomb penetrated the dome and hit a wall just above the figure of Jesus and fell to the floor without exploding. No one in the church was injured seriously. If you look carefully, you can see where the dome was repaired a little down and to the left of center. The interior of this church is much simpler and more to my taste. All of the churches we saw in Malta had very tall candles on the alter.

We never got to explore this area across the harbor from where we docked. They have some nice looking yachts docked there.Along with trees, I have a love of photographing windows and doors. This is one of my favorites! Our next stop is the island of Sardinia which is part of Italy.

Somewhere Between Oman and India

If you consider a continuum of litter or a continuum of decorum with Oman being the cleanest, quietest, and most civil and India being the dirtiest, noisiest, and most in your face, Alexandria, Egypt lies somewhere closer to India. As soon as we stepped off the bus to explore on our own after our tour, we were assaulted by taxi drivers and carriage drivers who would not take “no” for an answer. Crossing the street was only possible by stepping bravely in front of the cars and hoping for the best. We usually tried to cross by walking one step behind a local.Most of the buildings had some architectural style but could really benefit from a pressure washing and/or painting. In general, the litter was much less than in India.The hookah bars were filled with men watching the soccer match on TV. I have to confess to some fake news in a previous post. The local slang for “hookah” is really “hubbly bubbly”.

Most people went to Cairo to see the pyramids, but we had seen them previously so we elected to stay in Alexandria to avoid another seven hours on a bus. Our first stop on the tour was the Alexandria National Museum, an archaeological museum located in the family home of Omar Sharif and former US consulate building. The museum contained artifacts from the pharaonic, Christian, and Islamic periods of Egypt. Rising sea levels have covered ancIent buildings and artifacts including what is believed to be Cleopatra’s palace just off the coastline in the heart of Alexandria. There are plans to build an underwater museum so you can view her palace in its present location. As with all things in Egypt now, money to fund the museum is a problem. The museum we visited had a few artifacts recovered from these underwater sites.

Alexandria is famous for its ancient library. That library is long gone and has been replaced with a new library opened in 2002.The building is very modern and features 120 different human scripts carved in the exterior walls.The main library is huge with room to hold eight million books on eleven cascading levels. The library presently only has one million books, half of which were donated by France making it the sixth largest French library in the world. At the current level of funding, it is estimated that the library will not reach full capacity for another eighty years. The complex also includes a children’s library, a youth library, a library for the blind and visually impaired, a planetarium, four museums, art galleries, exhibits, and a conference center/performance venue.The manuscript museum featured many ancient books and documents as well as this collection of miniature books.One museum was devoted to Anwar Sadat and included the uniform he was wearing when he was assassinated. In the antiquities Museum our guide explained the Egyptian process of mummification. All the organs of the deceased except the heart, which was believed to hold the soul, were removed and stored in jars. A special salt from Egypt was then used to desiccate the body. In the Egyptian underworld the weight of the heart was compared to the Feather of Maat, the Egyptian goddess who personified truth, honor, and virtue. If your heart weighed the same or less than the feather, you had led a good life and would proceed to a better place. If your heart weighed more, you had led a bad life and would stay in the underworld forever. I could only think that I had no chance of getting out of the underworld since almost any dry heart must weigh more than a feather. However, I have since learned that it was an ostrich feather, so maybe I have some chance.

I want to say a few words about our guides in Egypt. All the guides had relevant college degrees and were uniformly excellent. I can’t say that about any other place we visited. We first visited Egypt eleven years ago and our guide, Tarek, remains our all time favorite guide to this day. With all the problems in Egypt since we were first there, we have been worried about him. To our amazement, our guide to Luxor knew him and we were pleased to hear he is doing well and still guiding.Tarek always called the armed guard riding with us Wyatt Earp. Well Wyatt was riding in our bus in Alexandria dressed in a shiny, black suit. In addition, we had three armed guard following us in a Jeep. While all the rifles and guns were for our safety, it is still disconcerting to think they are necessary. We have two sea days before arriving in Malta.

The Big Ditch

Friday we transited the Suez Canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike the Panama Canal, the entire canal is at sea level therefore no locks are required so it is really just a big ditch. It was built between 1859 and 1869 using an estimated 30,000 people a day to dig the ditch. The original canal was one way with two lakes for the northbound and southbound ships to pass. The capacity of the original 120 mile long canal was about 49 ships per day, In 2016 a new 22 mile long parallel canal was opened which doubled the canal capacity. We used the new parallel section on our transit. In general, the Nile side had some buildings and farms scattered along the banks, while the Sinai Peninsula side was primarily sand.The banks of sand on each side of the new section of the canal were once where the water is now. The entire section was dug in one year. While the section appears wide, it is one way northbound and the southbound traffic uses a parallel ditch.There were guard houses similar to this about every half mile. It was difficult to judge how many were occupied, but there were clearly people in some of them.This new modern Bridge was the only one I saw crossing the canal. It does not appear to be in use yet, as nobody saw any cars on it.

Our next stop is Alexandria, Egypt.

Sharm

Sharm Al Sheikh, or Sharm as it is known locally, lies on the Red Sea at the bottom tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Since the Red Sea divides the continent of Asia and the continent of Africa, the Sinai Peninsula lies in Asia and the rest of Egypt lies in Africa. Sharm was a surprisingly clean, modern resort town with Sheraton, Four Seasons, and many other resorts on the banks of the Red Sea. We chose to go snorkeling here, and since I don’t have an underwater camera, I can’t show you pictures of the beautiful corals. For a number of reasons, this was our first snorkel of the trip. Those who had done a lot of snorkeling on the trip, said it was the best! We snorkeled at two different locations, both of which had abundant and colorful corals. The surprising thing was that the water was pretty cool. The boat ride to and from the snorkel sites was a pleasant way to warm up in the sunshine.While there was a lot of water front, the sandy beaches were limited.Sharm was full of US restaurants, modern shops, and snorkel/dive shops. The shops and most of the hotels did not appear to be very busy. It is late in their busy season as it is very hot in the summer. Also, their tourist industry is just beginning to recover from the impact of the Arab Spring. All of our guides in Egypt have been very grateful that we were there.Sharm had one of the prettiest mosques I have seen.The harbor in Sharm was also very scenic.This rocky Peninsula with the ruins of a building and what looked to be a lighthouse was adjacent to the pier where we were docked. There is a vehicle next to the lighthouse and there was someone standing watch all the time. This appeared to be for our protection, as I saw them leave as soon as we pulled out of port.

If you look at the map of our route, we sailed around Somalia about a week ago. This area was notorious several years ago for pirates capturing ships and holding them for ransom. While there were no pirate attacks last year, ships still take precautions that we were asked not to post on social media at the time. I’m sure we didn’t see all the precautions, but the ones we did see were additional security guards on the ship in the critical area and razor wire around deck two.This is looking down from our veranda at deck two.Our favorite was this guard who was able to stand on watch all day with no sign of movement which might draw the attention of the pirates. We were also supposed to keep our blinds drawn at night, but many public areas of the ship had lights at night with no curtains. In any case, we all survived and enjoyed a lot of pirate jokes as we sailed the Gulf of Aden between Yemen (another great place to be near) and Somalia. Our next event is transiting the Suez Canal.