We arrived home on Saturday, 29/Apr from our 100 day cruise from San Francisco to Dubai. It was a wonderful journey and we visited many places we had never visited before.
As most of you are aware, I had many problems with the blog. First the emails were not sent out when a new blog was posted. I worked with my web hosting company for several weeks, but the problem was never resolved. We got several emails from friends asking if everything was all right as they hadn’t seen any blogs. I then developed a system with the help of my daughter, Laura, where I could send an email to blog subscribers when a new blog was posted.
That worked pretty well until WordPress and Jetpack in their infinite wisdom decided to split into two separate apps that did similar things. Neither one would work for me, so I was unable to post anything to the blog. I developed another scheme with Laura’s help to write the blog on Google Docs and share it with Laura. She would then send it out to the subscriber list. This worked well a couple of times, but most the time she only saw a portion of the post.
I continued to write the posts, as I like to create a book of the blogs for a year as a reference to help our senior memories. Now that I am home and have access to good wifi and a computer (I only use an iPad on trips) to work with, I have found a way to move the write ups from Google Docs to the blog. I believe all blogs are here and in the proper order (but the dates are not correct). If you want to review the blogs you missed, you can begin with the most recent blog and work backwards; or go back to the last Rio blog and work forwards. I am sorry that the blog was so erratic on this trip. That is the first time I have had any of these problems.
Thank you for following our blog in the past. I am not sure what I will do on future trips. I have the subscriber list and will keep you advised whenever we travel again.
On the morning of our last day in Dubai, we took a Tours by Locals tour of several neighborhoods. It was supposed to be a walking tour using public transportation to get around, but our guide suggested we make it a driving tour due to the heat. Even though it wasn’t terribly hot that day, it was a good decision.
The first neighborhood was the marina area. The towers are for misting on a very hot day. We were there early in the morning and the streets were deserted. Our guide said most people come out in the evening.
Of course, there were distinctive tall buildings.
Of course, this is the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. Unfortunately, the gears were not properly designed for the sand and salt air, so it is presently non functional until a solution is found.
This is a unique restaurant where you sit in small air conditioned pods.
Note the twisted building in the left center. I don’t know if it is the most twisted building in the world.
They had a play area for children.
I badly needed a haircut, but I thought it would be cheaper to wait until I was home in two days.
The next neighborhood we visited was Palm Jumeirah. It is man made islands in the shape of a palm tree. It is not really possible to see the palm tree from the ground. We essentially drove down the trunk and the side roads were labeled “Frond A”, etc. At the top of the tree, there is a strip around the top of the tree called The Crescent which can be reached through a tunnel under the water. In this picture we are looking across the water at the Atlantis Hotel on the crescent.
The Atlantis has built an additional hotel further down the crescent. It has 92 pools (some of which are hot tubs).
The Palm has a number of five star hotels on the crescent.
There were views across the water of the Burj Al-Arab or sail hotel, the only seven star hotel in the world with rooms costing $24,000 per night. The bottom picture is a hazy view of the business district with the Burj Kahlifa towering over the other high rises.
In the afternoon and evening we took a dune buggy ride in the desert followed by dinner and entertainment at a desert resort. As you can see the “buggies” were nice air conditioned four wheel drive vehicles with air conditioning. We got the senior ride which did not include some of the scarier maneuvers. It was still exciting enough for us and threw us around the car quite a bit. They let some of the air out of the tires for riding the dunes. This picture is at the end of the ride and he is preparing to refill the tires prior to driving on the highway.
The sand was reddish and the dunes were pretty. The sand was very soft and difficult to walk on.
This is the entrance to the resort where we had dinner. There might have been a hundred people there that night, but it could accommodate many more.
We were there for the sunset.
The entertainment included music, belly dancing, whirling dervishes, and much more. The food was a middle eastern buffet.
After dinner, we got back to our hotel, the Taj Dubai, at about 9:30. We got packed and left for the airport an hour later to begin a trip of over 24 hours back home. All our flights were on time and we got back home with no problems. We were exhausted, but happy to be home. The highlights of the trip for me were Iguazu Falls, Rio, West Africa, the Seychelles, and Dubai.
On Thursday we made a two hour drive to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. It still has a lot of oil which supports its economy. Dubai by contrast is out of oil and depends on tourism, and real estate to support its economy. Only 15% of the population are citizens or Emiratis. One third of the citizens are millionaires. The rest of the population are immigrants, mostly from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, with no path to citizenship. There are no taxes except for a recently added VAT of about 4% on purchases. Healthcare is free to everyone, and education costs are nominal for everyone. Only citizens have the functional equivalent of Social Security. Citizens also get free housing. The immigrants feel they have to leave once they turn 65.
There is no crime. There is no drug problem. There are no guns. There is a police department and any crimes are dealt with very harshly, so people don’t commit crimes because it is not worth the risk of the punishment.
Our first stop was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It can accommodate over 7000 worshipers in the main prayer hall and over 40,000 worshipers overall.
You enter the mosque through an underground mall complete with a McDonalds for the Americans and a Tim Hortons for the Canadians. There are shops selling a variety of goods. The long shopping hall above…
… leads to the nearly mile long Tolerance Path to the Mosque. This path resembles an airport concourse with moving walkways. The walls contain information about the construction of the mosque plus the promotion of tolerance and acceptance amongst all people and religions.
The marble used in construction came from North Macedonia, Italy, and India.
Top picture is the main entrance to the courtyard. The middle picture shows the main entrance to the mosque. Women had to have long pants that covered their ankles, long sleeves that covered their wrists, and a scarf covering their head. Men had similar requirements except they could wear short sleeves and didn’t need to cover their head.
The main courtyard is considered to be the largest example of marble mosaic in the world.
The columns are marble inlaid with semi precious stones.
The anteroom to the main prayer hall had what we thought was the prettiest chandelier. All chandeliers are made with Swarovski crystals.
The main prayer room had the heaviest chandelier in the world (the center one) and the largest carpet in the world. The carpet weighs 35 tons and contains 2,268,000,000 knots woven by about 1250 Iranian carpet knotters over a two year period.
The windows are Murano glass.
Reflecting pools surround the mosque.
We had lunch at another five star hotel. After a round of hearty appetizers, this is our main course served family style for a table of seven people. We didn’t finish it all. It is going to be very hard for us to ever stay at a Hampton Inn again!
After the morning visit to the mosque, we thought any other building would be anticlimactic, but we were wrong. After lunch we visited Qasr Al Wata, the Palace of the Nation or the presidential palace of the UAE. It was originally intended to be the home of the sheik, but he never lived in it. It is used primarily to host visitors, but most of it is open to the public.
The entry gate would indicate something impressive lies ahead.
The entry courtyard in front of the palace.
The entry. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all beautiful.
From the entry hall, the corridors go to the left or right.
One room contained the gifts that had been given by visiting dignitaries. The gift from the United States was a modest stainless steel eagle. It seemed rather insignificant in this building.
More of the hall.
These are the sinks in one of the men’s bathrooms.
Meetings were held in this room that contained another chandelier which claimed another superlative that I can’t remember. Of course it is made from Swarovski crystals.
A dining/meeting room.
Some details of the building. It was truly spectacular!
This was once a palace and is now a five star Mandarin Oriental hotel near Qasr Al Wata.
As if all this wasn’t enough, we ended the day with a visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, an art museum with a partnership agreement with the Louvre Museum in Paris. It is a cluster of buildings under a metal roof designed to let the light through but reduce the heat load on the buildings beneath it. The same principle is commonly used to reduce the heat load on the buildings. The museum had 12 galleries and we only made it through the first four. There are two other massive museums under construction in the area. We started the tour at 8:30 AM and got back to the hotel at 8:30 PM. It was an exhausting day but well worth the energy expended.
The Burj Kahlifa is the tallest building and the tallest man made structure in the world. To visit it, you start from the bottom floor of the largest mall in the world across from the food court. There are normally long lines waiting to buy the tickets to visit floor 124. As an alternate, you can buy tickets in advance to either tea or cocktails on the 154th floor. The cocktail hour was 5 PM which fit our tour schedule, so we paid the big bucks and bought the tickets. Our tour was late getting back from Sharjah, so we had to hustle to get to the mall on time. The cab dropped us off at the Fashion Avenue entrance to the mall and we asked several security guards for directions to the At the Top area. With our prepaid tickets, we skipped the long line and were shown to a waiting room where we were briefed on procedures.
At the appointed time, we were led through a maze of halls and escalators until we finally reached the fastest elevator in the world which took us in under a minute to floor 124. I was surprised at how little this elevator ride affected my ears. We then took a second elevator to our destination on floor 154 where we received our welcome drink. We had the run of floors 152, 153, and 154. They also had a modest selection of small appetizers on all three floors. There were places to sit scattered around each floor.
There is a large man made pond behind the mall. There are tour boats cruising the pond.
Dubai has a modern road system and traffic normally flows smoothly and quickly. The two towers joined by a pool at the top is reminiscent of a similar building we visited in Singapore.
There are modern tall buildings in all directions. Emaar is the name of the government construction company which built the buildings with its name on them.
We stayed for the sunset and managed to make a light dinner out of the appetizers.
With the help of more security guards, we then made our way down the elevators and through the mall to the area by the pond where we could view the fountain and light show. This is essentially at the foot of the Burj Kahlifa so you can look up at it from the ground.
The buildings around the pond.
Every thirty minutes on the quarter hour there is a light show on the face of the Burj.
Every thirty minutes on the half hour, there is a fountain show reminiscent of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. After the fountain and light show, we made our way to the mall taxi stand with the help of more security guards. There we had to wait in a 25 minute line for our taxi to the nearby Taj Dubai hotel.
There we were treated to the view of the mosque below our room.
The United Arab Emerites, or UAE, is a country made from a coalition of seven emirates each governed by a different sheik. The capital and by far the largest emirate is Abu Dhabi. The second largest and best known emirate is Dubai. On Wednesday we visited the Sharjah Emirate. It is more conservative than Dubai and Abu Dhabi as no alcohol is permitted and more of the population wears traditional clothing.
On the drive into the heart of Sharjah, we passed a traffic circle with a collection of prominent buildings. The statue in the center picture is the Koran.
Our main destination for the day was the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization.
The entrance in the bottom picture and detail of the windows on the bottom floor in the top picture.
One of the museum highlights is the interior tile work of the center dome. It is a creation of the night sky with particular attention to the signs of the zodiac.
The museum was huge with two levels of exhibit rooms on both sides of this hall. There is an equally long hall stretching behind me on the other side of the dome.
Detail of the door at the end of the hall.
A sampling of the museum exhibits.
The museum is on another man made creek which is an extension of the ocean.
Sharjah did not lack for tall buildings with distinctive architecture.
We made a shopping stop at the Blue Souk. From the top picture you can see it is two long buildings joined by a covered bridge between them. There were an abundance of gold and rug shops. Susan enjoyed using her negotiating skills at the tourist stores.
We had lunch at a five star hotel created from free standing buildings in the old town. It was a delicious served lunch featuring Mediterranean cuisine.
On our drive back to our hotel in Dubai, we got many views of the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building and the tallest man made structure in the world. That was our destination for tonight.
In 1974, the area that is now Dubai was a desert with no electricity and no running water. The people lived as nomads and slept under the few trees in the area. Today, it is one of the most prosperous and modern cities in the world. It seems that everything you see is a superlative: the tallest, the largest, the heaviest, the most tilted, etc. in the world. It is an architect’s dream with seemingly no two buildings alike. On our first day in Dubai, we took a ship’s tour that focused on old Dubai. Old here is forty years or so.
There are a lot of mosques scattered around the city They all have minarets with a moon on top. While Muslims make up only about 50% of the population, I only recall seeing one church and one temple. They were built side by side with a mosque as a symbol of tolerance.
Dubai has a lot of hot weather. The streets are relatively quiet during the day and are much busier at night. The bus stops are air conditioned.
The Burj Al-Arab is a landmark of the city. It is the most expensive hotel in town. One couple on our tour had an $800 dinner there for the two of them. They didn’t particularly like it.
There is a large water park in front of the hotel.
The Museum of the future in the foreground attempts to predict what life will be like in the future. We didn’t have time to visit it.
The old town is plazas with narrow lanes winding through the low, adobe buIldings.
The old town is located on Dubai Creek, which is really an extension of the ocean in a man made canal.
They had a fleet of water taxis called abras to cross the creek.
On the other side we visited the spice souk and the gold souk.
The gold souk was aisle after aisle of shops that looked like the one in the top picture. We wondered who the customers were, since so many of the women dressed in traditional garb with no visible jewelry. We were advised that the gold was worn mostly for special occasions.
This was our last day on the ship. The next day we disembarked for three full days of sightseeing in the United Arab Emirates.
We had visited the Sultan Qaboos Mosque on the Viking world cruise in 2018. It was a beautiful mosque but we were not able to get inside on the day of our visit. Our goal this year was to see the inside of the mosque. We booked a Tours by Local, but had been advised that we would not know whether the mosque would be open to visitors due to a possible conflict with the EID holiday. Several days before the tour, we got a notice that our guide wanted to cancel the tour so he could be with his family for EID and that most things would be closed that day. We decided to cancel the tour that day and just walk around the souk near the port. This proved to be a big mistake as those who took the ship’s tour were able to visit the inside of the mosque with it’s once world’s largest chandelier and carpet.
The view from the ship was pretty with rugged mountains, city on the left, and an old fort on the right.
The vendors in the souk were very aggressive, so I didn’t enjoy the walk through. The redeeming factor was the ceilings at the junction of aisles.
The sail away. I don’t know the purpose of the dome on the rock to the far left.
EID is a major Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan. The exact timing is based on the sighting of the crescent moon and the timing cannot be accurately determined in advance and the celebration lasts several days. The exact timing can vary by a day or so depending on the country. We learned shortly before our arrival in Salalal, Oman that our arrival day would be the first day of EID. This meant that many of the spots our tour was supposed to visit would be closed. We decided to proceed with our tour anyway as we had never been to this port before.
We first visited the village of Taqah where the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is an old fort on top of the hill, but it was closed for EID.
We walked through the old town and saw this mosque. Most of the old town is a ruin and no native Omani live there. Some refugees occupy the buildings as squatters.
The doors and windows were a highlight. Shoes are traditionally removed before entering the houses, which explains the first picture.
After the walking tour, we drove to a lookout for views of the town and ocean.
There was a palace belonging to a relative of the sultan on top of a hill overlooking the town.
The tomb of Muhammad bin Ali, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.
The tomb is surrounded by a cemetery.
The interior of the tomb.
Our guide explaining the history of the tomb. We all agreed she was the best guide we have had so far. She gave a lot of explanation of life as a Muslim man or woman in Oman.
There were many camels roaming the desert and the roads.
We drove back to Salalah for some cold coconut water before returning to the ship. We saw a store nearby that has no equivalent at home.
The cities and countryside had many large, modern buildings. Last time we were in Oman, it was after visiting India. At that time, it provided a major contrast with the dirt and shabby buildings of India. The contrast with Africa this time was similar. Despite the EID closures, we enjoyed the tour mostly because our guide was so interesting.
We spent two days in the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean. The correct pronunciation of the name is Say.shells’. Our first day was spent in Victoria, the capital and largest city.
Our first stop in Victoria was the botanical gardens. The coco de mer is found only in the Seychelles and is their national fruit. The seeds (the large green items) are the largest and heaviest seeds in the world at 16 to 20 inches diameter and up to 55 pounds. You don’t want to picnic beneath this tree!
The gardens were full of unusual tropical plants. There were a number of fruit bats throughout the islands and our guide shared her favorite recipe for curried fruit bat. I didn’t see Susan taking any notes.
Large tortoises are common and most parks and even hotels have a collection. They gave us plant stems to feed them.
The clock tower is located in the center of Victoria.
This building houses the national history museum.
The Seychelles was the cleanest and best maintained country we visited in Africa. It is the least populated, but has the highest GDP of any African country.
There was a vendor selling dried fish across the street from the market.
The country is primarily Catholic, and this is the cathedral.
Finally, we rode to the other side of the island for a beach break. On the way, we got a hint of the beaches we would visit on the next day.
The water was very warm compared to home, but it still felt good compared to the hot, humid air. We had a beautiful sunset.
On the second day, we were in the much smaller island of La Digue. It has a population of 2800 making it the third most populated island in the Seychelles and the forth largest by land area. We had no tour, and elected to visit Anse Source d’Argent, rated by many as the most beautiful beach in the world. The island is a granite island and the land and beaches have a number of large granite boulders. The options to get to the beach were walk, bike, or taxi. We elected to walk the mile or so to the beach despite the heat and humidity.
Of course, there was a nice church on the way.
We also passed an historic cemetery.
There was also a turtle pen with large granite rocks. I had never heard a turtle make any noise before the mating male in the picture.
After a walk of over a mile, we reached the beach. From palm trees, to large granite boulders, to fine white sand, to clear blue and green waters, to colorful fish you could see without snorkeling, the beach did not diasappoint. The water temperature was similar to our pool water in August, but it still felt good compared to the air.
So is it the most beautiful beach in the world? Even though we only saw a small part of it, we give it our vote.
This is a very small island near where our ship was anchored. We would love to come back, but it is a thirty hour plane ride to get here.
Madagascar was created millions of years ago when it broke off from the African continent. It is home to a large population of endemic animals, plants, and birds which according to our on board lecturer qualifies it as the eighth continent in the view of some scientists. The most famous of these animals is the lemur, so my tour was to Nose Komba or Isle of Lemurs where we would visit a park. Susan went on a different tour, but she saw a wider variety of lemurs than I did.
Periodically, visitors in dugout canoes would pull up to our ship. This one had bananas and other fruit. I am pretty sure the ship needs larger quantities than he had and the passengers have no need to purchase a banana.
When we first arrived, I thought Saturday must be laundry day as there were things hanging on a line at every structure.
We had a wet landing from the ship and the water was as warm as our pool water in August. The children were playing in the ocean.
As we started the walk up the hill to the lemurs, it became apparent that the things on the line were for sale. The island has no electricity and no vehicles. Some houses had one or two solar panels. I believe every family on the island made their income by selling to tourists. There was a constant string of sales stands until we reached the park.
Our guide explained the importance of this tree in constructing dwellings. The leafy part of the dead leaves hanging down are used to make roofs and the stems are used to make walls.
You can see the construction technique using the leaves in this building.
Many of the women had decorations on their face that also protected their skin from the sun. The men did not do this.
There is only one variety of lemur on the island. The brown ones are female and the black ones are male. The females are dominant. Many people had their picture taken with a lemur on their shoulder. You simply turn your back to the lemur and hold your hand in front of you with a piece of banana in it. I did not opt to do this, but they are exceedingly cute.
There were also turtles…
…and geckos. This gecko was about twice the size of those at home.
Our friend Mary tried holding the snake.
Madagascar is also home to several varieties of baobab trees, but we didn’t see any. However, there was a lot of foliage and interesting trees.
While it wasn’t as prevelant as in other African countries, the women still carried baskets on their head. Our guide said men carry things on their shoulder. I wonder if she modeled for the painting she is passing by?
There were dugout canoes scattered along the beach.
Susan had a tour on the larger island of Nosy Be, which was our port. She had a van trip around the island which also had a lot of vendors. The top picture is a village where the houses are concrete domes.
She visited a different nature reserve where she saw black and white lemurs as well as the lemurs I saw.
She also saw this very large chameleon. It was a very hot, humid day and both of us were drenched when we got home. Part of the problem is that the tenders are packed with people and have minimal ventilation. The tenders also serve as the lifeboats when they are filled with even more people. I can’t imagine being on the lifeboat in this weather.