All posts by brucegk

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.

Karnak

We are talking about the UNESCO World Heritage site and Temple complex in Egypt here, not the character made famous by Johnny Carson which is spelled with “c’s” instead of “k’s”. Our visit there got off to a slow start as it took nearly an hour for our bus to get out of the port. The buses made several attempts to leave before they were sent to the cruise terminal where we were told to leave our bags on the bus and go into the terminal for a security screening similar to airport screening. Since most of us left our bags on the bus, it was truly an exercise in futility.

The drive to Luxor, formerly known as the ancient town of Thebes and site of the Karnak Temple Complex, was 3.5 hours. It was a really long 3.5 hours as the bus was designed by someone who thought Spirit Airlines is way too generous with their legroom.We first drove through a mountain range for an hour,a barren desert for an hour,before reaching the farm filled Nile river valley where we drove south for another hour and a half to Luxor. The water in the picture is a canal, not the Nile.There was a lot of security along the route. There were checkpoints every 40 miles or so. These checkpoints and many other locations had elevated guard houses with a rifle hanging out the opening. All of them had the rifle, but only half of them had a person holding the rifle.The overwhelming majority of houses we saw were what our guide called “perpetually unfinished houses”. People can’t get mortgages so they save a little money each year and put it into the continuing building of their home. He likened the home to a savings account. The typical home houses all the members of a family, so there can be a lot of people investing their savings in it. Once the ground floor is finished, one family can move in with other families following as more floors are finished. Completing a building this way can take twenty years or more.

The construction of Karnak began 3700 years ago and continued for about 500 years with each new Pharaoh expanding it.The Hypostyle Hall occupies 50,000 square feet and has 134 massive columns over ten feet in diameter. 122 of the columns are 33 feet tall and the other 12 are 70 feet tall. All the carved areas of the temple are original, and any smooth area is a reconstruction to stabilize the structure.Originally the entire Building was painted white with the hieroglyphics painted in bright colors. The original colors still exist in a few spots that are protected from the climate.Both of these obelisks are each made from a single piece of solid granite. Think of trying to erect them 3500 years ago. Again, the hieroglyphs are original.Most of the complex is to honor the god Amun. You will notice that the image in the center of the artwork has been carefully chiseled out. That is the image of Queen Hatshepsut (her name is pronounced something like “hot chicken soup”) who became one of the most successful pharaohs in history. Clearly someone was pretty jealous as every image of her in this room has been carefully chipped away.Many of the hieroglyphs are carved very deeply in the stone so they will probably last for several thousand more years. According to our guide, about 5500 priests would come to this temple on a given day. The Temple was taken over first by Christians who built churches inside it and then by Muslims who built mosques there. The site is huge and only a part of it is open to the public.The Avenue of the Rams or Avenue of the Sphinxes was first discovered in 1949. It stretches for 1.7 miles from Luxor Temple to one of the temples at Karnak. Approximately 1350 ram headed or human headed sphinxes line the road which is presently being excavated and restored. The bottom picture shows a well preserved section of the road at Karnak.Above are two pictures of the much smaller Luxor Temple, which we only saw from the bus. Our next stop is to snorkel in the Red Sea.

In the Footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia

T. E. Lawrence volunteered for the British Army shortly after the outbreak of WWI and was stationed in Egypt. In 1916 he was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission where he became involved in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. He mainly provided strategy and liaison with the British Army, but he also actively participated in some battles such as the defeat of the Ottomans at an outpost in Aqaba, Jordan. His exploits were immortalized in the David Lean film, Lawrence of Arabia. Today we visited Wadi Rum, or Valley of the Moon as it is also called, where much of the movie was filmed. Wadi Rum means “sand valley” in Arabic.This mountain is named The Seven Pillars of Wisdom after the book by T. E. Lawrence.We rode in the back of pick up trucks through the valley. Susan picked our truck based on the quality of the cushions on the seats in the back of the truck. That truck turned out to be the most beat up truck in the fleet. We eventually got pretty good at climbing in and out of the back of the truck.The truck ride was pretty smooth and there were scenic views wherever you looked.The valley has been occupied since prehistoric times and several of the rocks had petroglyphs.We stopped at this Bedouin camp. These Bedouins make their living from tourism today. Traditionally, Bedouins will greet any visitor to their camp and offer them food and shelter for up to three days. Perhaps this is the origin of “the three day rule”. Coffee or tea is always poured with the left hand so “it comes from the heart”. The cup is always offered to the guest with the right hand. If you are still in the camp after three days, you will be asked a lot of questions as this normally means you want to move in with them. This is greeted with a lot of skepticism as the Bedouin tribes are family groups and you don’t change tribes unless you were thrown out of your home tribe.Of course the Bedouins had lots of camels which noisily protested any work asked of them. Check out the eyelashes on the camel in the bottom picture.The canyon walls had an amazing variety of surfaces. These walls looked like the rock had melted and drooped down the side of the canyon.We stopped for tea and cookies at a Bedouin tented camp for tourists. This was the common area of the camp. Susan relaxed on the cushions in the center of the area. The camp also had hookahs, or “pubbly bubblies” as our guide called them, available for their guests.The camp had a unique way of identifying the men’s and women’s restrooms.

After the Wadi Rum tour, we stayed in Aqaba, Jordan where we were docked to explore some of the sites. Aqaba is on a narrow piece of Jordan on the Red Sea between Eilat, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, from where we were docked, we could see those three countries plus Egypt. Our goal in Aqaba was to see the ruins of the fort where Lawrence of Arabia defeated the Turks (closed for repairs), the giant flagpole (flag out for cleaning), the Mosque (closed for remodeling), and visit the souk (no one knew where it was). Fortunately, we loved Wadi Rum; so it was a good day.There was a lot more of the Mosque, but it was all obscured by the construction.While we didn’t find a souk, we did see this store with a colorful selection of bulk spices.

In case any of you have heard of problems in Tunisia (we have not) and were worried about us stoping there, we learned tonight that our stop in Tunisia has been cancelled. I am bummed because this was a new country for me that I was really looking forward to. We visit Luxor, Egypt tomorrow.

So Which Is Best?

It’s complicated! A world cruise with sixty some sea days gives you a lot of time to reflect on things. One of the things I have been reflecting on are the advantages and disadvantages of the three types of overseas travel we do: cruising, land tours, and staying in apartments for one to four weeks. Not one of them is perfect and not one of them is all bad. We have done land tours with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), Odysseys Unlimited, and Road Scholar. Of these, OAT is our favorite, so my land tour comparison will be based primarily on them. Apartment living would be renting an apartment and doing all touring on your own or buying individual tours from a company like Viator. I will give an item for comparison and try to evaluate each one. If this is not of interest to you, you might want to skip this one

1). Sightseeing. This is a clear win for apartment living as you can see what you want, when you want, and for as long as you want. If it is raining when you were planning to go on a hike, you can go to a museum instead and hike the next nice day. Cruising is the clear loser as they are only in the port for a limited time and have an inflexible schedule. It is impossible to see everything in a large city in the time allowed. Land tours tend to spend more time in a city and see it in more detail. Since everyone’s interests are different, any cruise or land tour is going to spend too much time at some sights and not enough at others.

2). Crowds. Cruising is again the clear loser. Our ship has a capacity of only 930 passengers but we still send out half a dozen buses with 30 to 40 passengers to a sight and create our own crowds. The larger the cruise ship, the larger the problem! And many times there can be multiple ships in port on the same day. Furthermore, most ports are in large cities which are inherently crowded. The land tours we like are small groups of up to a maximum of 16 with OAT, so we never create our own crowd. Apartment living is again the winner as it is only the two of us. We can plan our day to avoid the crowds.

3) Buses. In apartment living we walk and use public transportation. Since most of our travels cover a relatively small area, the time on public transportation is minimal. A cruise ship must always dock on water and bus you to the destination and back to the port again. Land tours can reduce the time in a bus as they can move from destination to destination without being forced to retrace their path. So time in the bus ranking is cruises worst and apartment living best.

4) Service. Cruising is the clear winner here as everything is done for you. Apartment living is the worst as you have to do almost everything for yourself. Land tours which utilize hotels are somewhere in between.

5) Packing and Unpacking. This is what everyone loves about cruises as you only have to unpack and repack once. Apartment living would come in second as we tend to stay each place for one to four weeks. Land tours would be last as you usually move every two to three days.

6) Planning. Land tours are the winner here as there is virtually no additional planning required. The same could be true of cruising, but the shore excursions tend to be very expensive and many of them are not so good, so we tend to spend a lot of time picking the right shore excursion or planning an alternate. Apartment living certainly requires the most planning as there is no one else to do it for you. In my case, I enjoy the planning almost as much as the doing.

7) Food. This one is a tough call. Since the food is included in the price of the cruise and the food on most ships is pretty good, I think we eat better on cruises than the other two. However, you are limited to the restaurants on the ship, so the menus can get monotonous. In apartment living, eating is totally in your control as you can eat in the apartment or any restaurant you want. However, since you have to pay for every meal, we don’t tend to eat as well as on a ship. Land tours give you no choice on included meals, but there are usually a few optional meals you can choose yourself. An advantage of both land tours and apartment living is you are eating authentic local food and not ship food.

8) Health. Catching something from your fellow passengers is a significant risk on both cruises and land tours either on the bus or the ship. On a land tour, any sick passenger must be on the bus when it moves from town to town. On a cruise, there is some remote chance a sick person will elect to stay in their cabin rather than expose all their fellow passengers on a bus tour. However, you are exposed to far more potentially sick people on a cruise ship. Apartment living presents no increased risk from living at home.

9) Accommodations. If you look at the whole ship as your home rather than just your cabin, the ship accommodations surpass any apartment we have rented and most hotels. A win for cruises.

10) Problem Solving. There are generally no problems that you will have to solve yourself on either a cruise or land tour. The cruise or tour company will resolve any problems that occur. With apartment living, it is up to you to resolve any problems.

11). Tour Guides. With apartment living, you are the tour guide. This is not a problem in Europe with a Rick Steves guide book, but can be a lot more work elsewhere. You can also use Viator, a Hop On Hop Off bus, or free tours by locals to get an introduction to an area. On a land tour, you have the same guide all the time. In our experience, the best guides tend to work for the land tour companies since it tends to be steadier work. Companies such as OAT are very selective about their guides and they are normally excellent. On a cruise, it is a different guide on every tour and some are very good and some are terrible. It is strictly the luck of the draw.

12) Entertainment. This one is no contest. There is a wide variety of nonstop entertainment on a cruise ship. With apartment living in a foreign country, we are normally limited to musical performances where the language is not important. The exception here would be San Miguel which we love because of the entertainment, but it still can’t top a cruise ship. Land tours have very limited entertainment.

So which is best? Since our focus is on experiencing the culture of an area in some depth, that is best done with apartment living or a land tour. In a developed country such as those in Europe or North America, we prefer apartment living. In a less developed country or one with customs markedly different from ours, we prefer a land tour. For comfortable living, continuous entertainment, and good food, it is hard to beat a cruise. However, we think it is definitely the worst way to see and experience an area. Any other thoughts or questions are welcome.

From One Extreme to the Other

We left India, the land of vibrant color, litter, and dirt and two days later arrived to the spotless white buildings and absolutely litter free streets of Muscat, the capital of Oman. The contrast could not have been more striking. Known officially as the Sultanate of Oman, Oman is an Arab country strategically located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It has always relied on the oceans for its livelihood and once controlled the coast as far south as Zanzibar. Unlike most Middle Eastern countries, it has only modest oil reserves so it is looking to tourism and trading fish and dates to develop its economy.

It is an absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos since 1970. He is also the Prime Minister, Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Central Bank. He is the 14th generation descendant of the dynasty that has ruled Oman since 1744. He came to power by overthrowing his father. At the time he took power Oman was a backward country that was just beginning to receive revenue from its oil reserves. Qaboos immediately abolished slavery, built a modern infrastructure, gave equal rights to women, and established a viable education and healthcare system. Our on board lecturer said he had no wife or children so his successor would be a nephew or cousin. Our local guide said he was very private and no one knew if he had a wife or children. He had nothing but good things to say about what Qaboos has done for the country. While he certainly spent a lot of money on himself, he has also done a lot to improve the lot of the ordinary citizen.The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was completed in 2001 and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshipers. Unfortunately, the interior was closed to foreign visitors minutes before our arrival, so we only saw the mosque from the outside.The Muslim religion prohibits images of living things including people, animals, and plants. Consequently, the art in the mosque is abstract and often features calligraphy. These images are all details of the exterior of the mosque. The bottom picture is tiles. I think the Sultan would be appalled if he knew you could see pigeon droppings in the next to last picture.

The Other Susan took a different tour that got to go inside the mosque. Thanks to her, I am able to show you what we missed.This chandelier above the praying hall is 45 feet tall; and according to Wikipedia, is the largest chandelier in the world.The carpet is the other famous feature of the interior. It contains 1.7 billion knots, weighs 21 tons, and took over four years to make. It is the second largest single piece of carpet in the world.I personally was more impressed with these doors and the area where the Imam stands to speak.This is the Supreme Court Building across the street from the Mosque. Muscat is a desert climate with only four inches of rain a year. I saw no naturally occurring vegetation. Where there is grass, it requires a lot of irrigation and it is mowed like a golf green. They get their water from five desalination plants.All the buildings were a pristine white. Everything looked freshly painted.The souk was filled with interesting products, all of which seemed to be imported. From top to bottom, a display of elaborately decorated wooden boxes, neatly folded men’s hats, an antique display, the ceiling of the souk, and perfume in the window of a perfume store. The perfume is packaged in a crystal container on an elaborate base in a fancy wood box. The price is 150 Omani rial or about $385. This is a relatively modest price as some of the most expensive perfumes in the world are made in Oman.There are many forts and watch towers scattered around the city.The Sultan found a little extra money to spend on his own needs. This is his yacht and the smaller yacht facing away from us is his also.This colorful and relatively modest building is his home.His home is on a huge plaza with numerous big white buildings of unknown use.The harbor is surrounded by rugged mountains with numerous watchtowers. The big white thing is a model of an incense burner. I think the scenery around the port was the prettiest since Komodo Island. Oman has been added to the list of destinations to which we would like to return. We now have six sea days before reaching Jordan.

Incredible India

On our last day in “incredible India” (the slogan emblazoned on most of the tourist buses) we took a bus, a boat, a mini tourist train, and climbed 120 steps lined with vendor stalls in the incredible heat to reach . . .. . . Elephanta Caves. They are located on Elephanta Island in the Mumbai Harbor. The island contains a number of Hindu cave temples carved from solid basalt rock. The best estimate is the caves and sculptures were created by various Hindu dynasties between the 5th and 7th centuries. When the Portuguese discovered the island, they named it Elephant Island because of the elephant statue they found there. Most of the sculptures are damaged, but there is some debate about who did the most damage. Our guide blamed the Portuguese who used the sculptures for target practice. However, there is also reason to believe that Muslims did the damage when they occupied the area.This is a sampling of the carvings in the caves. Most of them depict a legend related to Shiva or the other Hindu gods. The area around the caves had a lot of monkeys. Not all of them were as docile as this mother. We were warned not to show any food as they could be very aggressive trying to take it from you. One man had to be protected from a monkey when he tried to take a drink of water from a bottle.

This picture shows two iconic sites in Mumbai, or Bombay as many residents still call it. On the right is the Gateway of India built to commemorate the visit of the British Monarchs in 1911. The Gateway was not completed until 1924. On the left is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a five star luxury hotel built in 1903 that is on many lists of top 100 hotels in the world. It was the site of a major terrorist attack in 2008. The high rise behind the Gateway is a new wing of the hotel. The boats in the foreground are typical of the one we took to Elephanta Island.This is the main railway station in Mumbai. It serves more than five million people a day.There are a lot of pigeons in Mumbai!

What do you call a building that is 27 stories high and cost over one billion dollars to build?You would call it the home of a very wealthy India couple and their three children. They have a staff of 600 to take care of them and the building. If I spent a billion for a home, I would hope it would be more attractive. Despite half the population of people living in slums, Mumbai has the highest density of billionaires of any city in the world.This is the Dhobi Ghat, the largest open air laundry in Mumbai. About 7000 workers, almost all of them men, work here to wash, bleach, dry, and iron the laundry. Flogging is an important part of the washing process. They go throughout the city to collect the dirty laundry and return it neatly pressed. Many of their customers are hospitals and hotels, but ordinary citizens (even those who might own a washing machine) are regular customers.We visited the Gandhi Museum, located in the house of a friend who he stayed with when he visited Bombay.Shopping stalls lined many of the streets. This block was filled with used book stores.While this picture could be from Mumbai, it is really one I forgot to include in Goa. The thing to note is the workers on top of the bamboo scaffolding with no safety harness. OSHA would have a fit!

Mumbai was our last port in India. I think many passengers feel as I did when I first visited Mumbai many years ago – they don’t want to ever go back. But the more you explore India and get to know its people as we did on several OAT tours, it really is Incredible India. We have two sea days before reaching Muscat, Oman.

Goa

Goa is the smallest state in India by area and also its most prosperous. It was a Portuguese colony until 1961. When the British gave India its independence in 1947, Portugal refused to cede control of Goa despite the efforts of the India government. Things reached a head in 1961 when India sent overwhelming armed forces to take Goa back. Salazar was the Prime Minister of Portugal at the time and he ordered the Governor General of Goa to hold out for at least six days while he gathered international support, to fight until the last man, and to destroy everything rather than surrender it. However, the Governor General loved Goa and its people so he could not accept the loss of life. He surrendered the second day of the invasion. He was stripped of his military rank when he returned to Portugal and sent into exile until the fall of Salazar in 1974.We will start with a quiz. Who can identify this? Answer at the end of the blog.The Basilica of Bom Jesus was constructed between 1594 and 1605. Check out the size of those flying buttresses on the left wall!The Church is relatively simple except for the Baroque style alters.The Church is noted for housing the body of St. Francis Xavier in this coffin with windows. The Saints body was first buried in Portuguese Malacca and then after two years it was shipped to Goa. It is reported that his body was as fresh as the day he was buried. The people of Goa believe that as long as his body remains preserved, they will be free of natural disasters; and so far so good. The coffin is on a raised platform so all you can see is his cheek at the bottom of the lower right window. However, the coffin is taken down every ten years for public viewing. The next viewing will be in 2024 in case you want to start working on your reservations.

While at the church, our guide also showed us the seed pod of a carob tree. These pods are remarkably uniform in weight and in ancient times were used as a measurement of weight. Gold was sold in increments of weight equal to that of 24 carob seed pods. This led to the expression 24 karat gold which is pure gold.

The Chapel of Saint Catherine is no longer used. It was the original Cathedral in the area.The adjacent Se Cathedral was completed in 1619. It originally had two matching towers, but the one on the right collapsed in 1776 and was never rebuilt.There was a team of workers weeding the lawn in front of the cathedral. However, there was no effort to clean the area just outside the walls.In the new town they had a unique version of “The Thinker”. Any thoughts on what this is? It’s a motorbike taxi, the quickest way for one person to get around town.And this is the most photographed church in Goa. Despite the cars, I prefer the version with the brick stairs in the foreground. Since I risked my life crossing the street to get the top picture, I wanted to include it. Many Bollywood films feature dancers on the stairs of the church which means everyone wants their picture taken in front of it.

The fruit in the first picture is a cashew. It is unique in that the seed (the cashew) forms on the outside of the fruit. The fruit itself is called an apple and can be eaten fresh, cooked in curries, or fermented in vinegar or an alcoholic drink.