Monday, November 23, 2015

Postscript

I'm up ridiculously early, but that's no surprise. Not only are we dealing with jet lag, we forgot that the time had changed while we were away....the clocks don't read the correct time. When you travel, you are aware that it's always a mixed bag of experiences. Getting home was difficult, but worth the price of a great trip.

27 hours after waking up in Dubai, we pulled into our driveway. From the glitz of the Dubai landscape and the barren hot desert only miles from downtown, we arrived to see fallen, snow-laden trees and 16 plus inches of snow in our yard. Our thoughtful children tried to find someone to plow the driveway and it was our son, in California, who miraculously found a service to help.

The day started according to plan. We woke at 4:00 am and arrived at the Dubai airport by 5:20 am. By 6:00 am we were ensconced in the lounge having a light breakfast. Our flight from Dubai to Istanbul left the gate 20 minutes early. I was filled with excitement waiting to be dazzled by the Turkish Air Lounge in Istanbul. I had heard accolades about this spot and my friend had asked me to bring her tea from their lavish buffet. I was psyched, thinking I'd have an extra 20 minutes to enjoy the opulence of the Club.

We were due to arrive early, but alas, nothing at the airport in Turkey was running smoothly. Our two hour layover with a bonus 20 minutes, kept dwindling as we circled endlessly above the patchwork Turkish landscape. Like a whirling dervish, we spun in the sky, and the only “music” I heard was own high anxiety.

With 50 minutes to make our connection, our plane pulled to a stop on some out-of-the way tarmac. No gate! We lumbered off the plane, down stairs with warm air and a strong wind whipping our heart beats into a frenzy. A bus packed with anxious people brought us to a transfer point. Thank goodness we had our boarding passes for the second leg of the trip, but we still needed to go through a security check point before we could even think about finding our gate in the massive airport.

Hoards of people surrounded the departure monitors. We were all suspend in time looking for our flights...which one among the 50 or so that were posted, was ours? Luckily, I spot it...Gate 218...all thoughts of the Club are dashed. No more Turkish Delight or tea for a friend...I need to find the gate which is somewhere far away beyond the endless maze of duty-free shops.

“FINAL BOARDING” the sign flashes. We “dash” (in our heads, it was more like a slow crawl through the check-in process) to the boarding ramp....thoughts of the security of sitting in our seats flash through my mind as we “sprint” (not) toward the plane. A yellow barrier prohibits us from boarding, confused I see stairs to my right and the horror of it all crystallizes ...we need to walk down three flights of stairs to another bus. Barely making it before the doors close, we “speed” off toward the plane, somewhere on the opposite side of the airport on a remote tarmac.

You know how elegant Kate Middleton looks walking up or down the airplane steps when she arrives at an airport? Not I, as I join 350 + traveling companions all anxious to get on board the aircraft. I have no softly fluttering skirt as the wind lashes at me while moving in unison with hundreds of people.

At this point, I know the plane won't leave without us, but the tension from the “sprint” and the crowd doesn't dissipate until I am seated and given a delicious glass of raspberry juice. I may not have the tea bags, but I am homeward bound.

10.5 hours later, as we fly over Lake Michigan, I see the Chicago city lights twinkling a warm welcome, though it's a brisk 23 degrees outside and there's snow everywhere. No circling this time, just a direct, smooth landing.

I love when things go as they should, but oh no, we might have landed on time, however, there is an unidentified problem getting luggage to the carousel. We wait....and wait....and wait, until two hours later, our luggage, marked “priority” are two of the last pieces to be expelled from the chute and the cute beagle looking for illegal fruit being brought into the country, has long given up on our motley group.

My taxi app is not working, 411 calls for the phone number for American Taxi yield everything but the correct cab company. I spot a cab outside and ask the driver if he's waiting for a fare. He is, nor does he want to drive us 45 minutes to our house, but he has a change of heart and we pile in.

He deposits the luggage on the icy driveway and takes off while Harry falls in the snow trying to get to the door. Thank goodness he didn't lose the key, and like runners in a tag team race, he passes it to me. Success! 

As I open the garage door, I see Harry standing, but his hands are too frozen to bring the luggage inside the dry garage. As he thaws, I wield the huge suitcases inside. Home sweet home!

The Voyager is en route to Cape Town without us. Someone is enjoying the crisp sheets on “our” bed and the outstanding service from a wonderful, dedicated crew. It was a delightful journey. I may have been in the Middle East, but people, literally, from all over the world shared this adventure with me. Thank you!


The chef on Turkish Airlines

Beyond the glitz of Dubai

Who can find what's missing on this map?

Tea service...very elegant!



Friday, November 20, 2015

Finale

The flag of the U.A.E. is red for bravery, green for prosperity, white for peace and black, the most beloved color, because it represent oil. Oil took a small fishing village where pearls where the hot commodity, to untold riches. The city is spectacular with architecture that rivals Singapore and Shanghai and surpasses our hometown of Chicago. It is immaculate with not a single plastic bag fluttering in a tree. There are no homeless people. There is very little crime because cameras are everywhere and punishment is swift and severe. Jobs are aplenty with ongoing construction and landscaping throughout the city. It's beaches are gorgeous and stretch for miles along a beautiful corniche. This is a peaceful, orderly city that reflects the power and wealth of the King and the royal family.

We had a city tour last night and covered much of the same ground today on a “hop on-hop off” bus. We fidgeted driving around, our minds drifitng to another place...preparing for our journey home. We are packing....as always, with bittersweet feelings.

Turkey, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and United Arab Emerites...seven countries, 10 ports of call, 24 days and 17 portraits drawn. I am certain I exhausted the internet using close to 8,000 minutes....how did I have time to vacation?!?!

Easily, the highlight of this voyage was our day in Jerusalem. In the best possible sense, it was overwhelming and inspiring. The memory of standing at the Wailing Wall will be with me forever.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises did a stellar job of “delivering,” in every possible way. We always felt safe, well-fed, entertained and cared for by lovely people who gave us impeccable service. It's been a joy to return to the Voyager.


When we first sailed in 2004, a car brought us to the pier in Copenhagen for a one week cruise to the Baltic. We stepped out of the vehicle and we were greeted by a sweet young woman, a stewardess, wearing white gloves. She assisted me by taking my small bag to carry up the gangway. She asked if this was our first voyage and we said “yes.” Beaming, she replied, “Welcome to paradise.” 

Her voice still echoes in my ear every time I come home to this ship...I am in paradise.


Largest mosque in U.A.E. I wasn't allowed in because my arms were exposed

The King and his family live here...the palace stretches beyond the frame of this photo


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Woulda'-Coulda'-Shoulda'

Hey Daughter, this could have been your home. No broken water pipes, no electrical issues, just great views. We might have dropped in for lunch today or taken a spin on the Sultan's yacht (see below). One might mistake it for the Voyager, it's so big.  Nah...you'd look terrible wrapped in black from head to toe.  

Old Muttrah Souk in Oman is a fascinating place to shop. Locals and tourists alike patronize the stalls.  Merchandise is marked and priced, but it's all an illusion...everything is negotiable.  Haggling is a sport and everyone who "plays," wins. The game is as much fun as the final "score." And, score I did. I am very pleased with my purchases. You know it went well, when there is a handshake at the end. 


Muscat is a delightful, beautiful city and always a joy to visit. Thank you for the warm hospitality!
Daughter's "house"- the Sultan's Palace
Sultan Qaboos yacht


The symbol of Oman: the incense burner

Shel

Ann

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ooh La' La' Salalah

Jill from Canterbury, England
Jill sat and chatted with me, very animated, a smile beaming across her lovely face.  It was a sort of "free for all" kind of conversation with one thing leading to another.  I sat, nodding and urging her to continue.  She needed very little prompting, she had much to say and all of it was really interesting. She asked to have her portrait drawn.  Ready, I lifted my iPhone to snap some study photos to work from. Suddenly, and with great surprise, Jill became very pensive. I liked how serious she had become, as if the moment had taken on great importance.   

She was thrilled with the outcome.  So am I...another contribution to the Crew Fund!

The Sultan of Oman has a magnificent second home in Salalah.  It's the summer getaway for him, and others, who wish a respite from the brutally hot weather in Muscat.  I shook my head in wonder.  With winter approaching, it was blazing hot in Salalah.  Summer must be unbearable.

Its mountains grow frankincense trees and provided cave homes for Omani's up until the 1970's.  I found it unfathomable that people lived in rock shelters like prehistoric men.  Apparently the Sultan felt the same way, because he decreed that the rock shelters be closed and provided modest homes for all of his people.  In fact, every citizen receives land from the government at the age of 18 to build their own home.  The Sultan is a generous 76 year old man, rumored to have full blown AIDS. He has no children from a quick and early marriage.  His nephews will be fighting for his title when he dies.  

Our daughter knew one of these fellows in college.  He had proposed to her, wanting to whisk her off to Muscat, Oman.  We sent her photos from a previous visit of the palace she passed up for her "under renovation" house with a lot of "issues" in Chicago.  Still, she made the right choice!

As for Salalah, cement capital of the Gulf, it was a brief visit, thankfully.  The highlight was the friendliest camel I've ever encountered.  He actually walked over to the tour bus, peeked inside and wanted to be admired by people.   I wisely kept my distance.  They are really very disagreeable animals, but, this one was a sweet fellow.

Vive la France!
Room for one more?

Sultan suncreen

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Morning Confessions

Sunset in the Red Sea
Confession #1: One of the reasons we love sailing is because the sunsets are incomparable to any where else in the world.  It is a majestic, magical moment to look out over the sea, with no obstructions, and watch the sun slowly set. We've spent many days at sea, but have still never seen a "green flash."  It's on the bucket list, but, totally out of our control.  

Confession #2: A group called "Artful Travelers" is on board.  They are associated with PBS and are giving a series of lectures and insider preveiws to many programs, including a wonderful, funny movie called "Meet the Patels."  Watching the film is the only "AT" program we've attended. We thoroughly enjoyed this witty, true life "docu-comedy."  Please see it when it comes to a theater near you. Others are really enjoying the dinners, lectures, etc. with this talented group of artists, however we'd prefer being outside to sitting in the theater.  


Confession #3: The Food....We have eaten too many desserts and they have all been worth every bite!  Everyone wants to know how the food is on a cruise.  I confess, it is far better than my cooking!  


Here are the dining options: La Veranda serves breakfast and lunch; however, in the evening it becomes Sette Mari. Wish I could make such a fabulous transformation, but alas, in the evening, I am still same ole' me.
The food is really, really delicious!  The past couple of nights they've switched things up and what was Italian is now French. Magnifique'  We dined there last night and enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled lobster tails and a veal chop that was perfectly prepared.  

When we aren't being dazzled by that venue, there's the Compass Rose, the main dining room that offers three wonderful meals every day.  Since this is Sunday morning, there will be champagne and caviar to compliment the regular breakfast fare. The speciality restaurants, Prime 7 and Signatures have been stellar, with service as well as food. We've partaken at the Pool Grill and have enjoyed the Ice Cream Bar.  If so inclined, we could order food all day from the 24/7 room service menu, but why "eat-in" when you can “dine out?”

Confession #4: The beds on this ship offer up my favorite place to sleep. It may be the gentle motion of the sea or the comfortable mattress, but I am sure of two things: one, for as long as I am on board, I don't have to make my bed daily and two, the sheets are perfect! Perfect weight, ironed perfectly smooth, perfectly crisp against my skin. It's a simple, but perfect pleasure to crawl into bed.

Confession #5: I like this idle feeling....limited responsibilities, unlimited options for relaxing. I took another three hour nap yesterday. Devine!

Confession #6: Buzz is missing and I don't care. You know the old adage about company that overstays their welcome...well, it applied to Buzz. He may have opted for the spacious suite at the end of our hallway. Their butler delivers beautiful canapes in those guests every evening...Buzz may have preferred that to our fruit bowl. Whatever the case, we wish him the best.

Confession #7: We will be home in a week and I have very mixed feelings about that reality.


View from our balcony

Heavy cargo

Ichero, the sweet young man who helps Hazel




Friday, November 13, 2015

Paying it Forward

I met Peter and Irene on the ship, yesterday.  They were interested in my drawing...one thing led to another and well, here they are....on paper.  Peter and Irene have a unique keepsake of their voyage and to express their appreciation of my gift to them, they are making a donation to the crew fund.  

They love their portraits!!!

O.M.G. It felt wonderful to create this art and to give a gift that pays forward. 


Peter


Irene

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meet Buzz



Meet Buzz, our buddy. He's making an exodus from Egypt en route to the glitz and glamour of Dubai. We don't blame him. Egypt is a dusty, dirty place and our suite is immaculate and well-appointed. What fly wouldn't want to opt for something better? Buzz is now along for the ride. The Captain has the “pedal to the metal” at 19.4 knots, zipping past Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea. At this speed we will soon enter the Gulf of Aden, pirate country.


Harry is sitting on our warm, sunny balcony gazing at the open blue sea. Four glorious lazy days on board the ship reading, going to fascinating lectures, eating delicious meals and meeting interesting people.



We've enjoyed the company of Brett and Pamela, from the County of Kent, UK and we exchanged details about our favorite Chicago hot dog joints with Mary and Ken, former “Windy City” residents who have moved on the the good life in the Bay area of San Francisco. They've been great company in the Sette Mari and Prime 7 restaurants, complimenting the fabulous meals with great conversation.



Dinner in Signatures was sublime...the best it has ever been on the Voyager. Adding to the ambiance and magnificent food, was Julie from France. A lovely young woman with a very pretty name that sounds extraordinary when said with a French accent. She provided outstanding service with a calm graciousness. 

In fact, that is the hallmark of the entire crew – service with sincerity. They truly enjoy connecting with guests and offering the best care with an incomparably warm demeanor. It's a joy to sail on this wonderful ship with such delightful people.



Franck, General Manager of the RSSC Voyager
Meet Franck, Mariana and Buzz
Lovey Mariana, the Captain's wife.
Buzz, the Egyptian fly




Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wadi Rum...Not a Beverage!

Author T.E. Lawrence, commonly known as “Lawrence of Arabia” played out his story during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18, in this valley (wadi) near the Jebel Rum Mountains in an utterly out-of-this-world landscape also called “Valley of the Moon.”

As British officer, T.E. Lawrence, spoke fluent Arabic, making him valuable during the war effort. Also valuable, was the man sitting in the vehicle with us as we crossed the desert floor surrounded by stunning sandstone mountains. Suddenly, Bob was speaking Arabic with our driver. Stunned, I turned to him with questioning eyes. It turns out this Parisian, living in Dallas, was born in Alexandria, Egypt. A delightful gentleman, he had us covered by knowing the language.

We've enjoyed our treks to Petra, so it was time to see new territory while docked in Aqaba. The beauty of Wadi Rum is difficult to describe: herds of camel roam freely over granite and sandstone that has been ground by time and wind into a fine sand. The surface of mountains and outcroppings look like “dripping bowls of ice cream,” the surface flowing, caught in time. The stone is not one color, but many, and on the darker surfaces, petroglyph's were scratched like road signs to tell stories, often warnings to the travelers carry goods through the valley....”beware of bandits.”

I thought of the sharp contrast between my life at home – hectic, filled with responsibilities, the ease of driving anywhere to buy anything and the life of the Bedouin who live in small villages with goats and camels. The walls and roofs of their tents, consist of black handwoven fabric made by the hardworking women of the tribe, while the men sit, drinking tea, smoking and talking all day.

It was a stunning drive though the Wadi. One vista more beautiful than the last. A day like today is an important reminder that there is so much to see in the world and it is often, thankfully, very different from what we see during our narrower day-to-day lives. While I brew a cup of morning tea at home on my cooktop, a Bedouin is removing an ancient kettle from an open fire and pouring hot tea in his small glass cup, sitting on a colorful handmade rug that covers a rock ledge.

Jordan is a welcoming country and Aqaba is one of our favorite ports in this area of the our great big wonderful world.


Petroglyphs from around 2 -4 AD



OK, I did take a few camel pics!

The surface of the sandstone is "melting"



Tea time in a Bedouin tent

Lawrence of Arabia carved in the sandstone surface ,

Bedouin version of Starbucks

Tea brewing in the kettle over an open fire




Monday, November 9, 2015

Safaga!

Very early this morning about 2/3rds of the ship's guest left for tours to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.  Some are staying overnight in Luxor, while others are returning to the ship late this evening.  It's a three hour drive each way -  then challenging walking over loose rocks, in and out of tombs with narrow steps, while everyone broils in the blazing hot sun.  It's well worth the effort, but since we've "been there, done that" we eschewed the caravan out to the Egyptian desert.

Our plans were to swim in the Red Sea this morning.  However, mother nature interfered.  As we sat having breakfast on Deck 11, a mighty wind blew the outside chairs across the veranda floor.  We felt the ship move. Both are rare occurrences while docked.  Then a code "Echo" was called at the pier.  We added "2+2" and figured out there was a problem.  Genius, huh?!?!

The wind was so fierce that as it pushed against the ship, a ballast on the pier gave way.  One of our lines pulled it right out of the concrete dock.  The gangway was lost as the ship moved away from the pier.  Thank goodness, no one was hurt, however it did create a lot of problems.  The remaining tours were put on hold while the ship was moved to a more secure area.  Lines were tied again and the gangway from Deck 4 was dropped instead of the one that had been at Deck 3.  This all took quite a bit of time. In the interest of being productive, we threw our dirty clothes into the washing machine.  Make a note here to always do laundry on days when most everyone is off the ship.  It's actually easy and there is never a wait for open machines.

Once the washing machine was humming, we were committed to hanging around.  There was another snafu, that delayed the other tours, but by then we had decided to pretend this magnificent ship was our (almost) private yacht. Nice dream!

The clothes are clean; we had a nice lunch in our (almost) private dining room and one of us is reading, while the other is drawing.  You guess who is doing what.

We'll try for the Red Sea tomorrow!

I'd like to take a moment to thank all of you who are following my blog.  It's very exciting to know that I have so many visitors from all over the world!  Thank you, dear readers, from the US, UK, AU, Russia, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, India, Israel, Turkey, Argentina, Egypt and Canada.  One of the greatest joys of travel is connecting with people around the world...I am happy to be able to do that in this kind of forum as well.


Happy Regent guest!

Fishing in the Suez Canal

Suez Canal convoy behind the Voyager.  Oh my, look at all that sand!





Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pics, as Promised



Stone upon which Jesus' body was laid
Church of the Holy Seplucure

1,000 year old olive tree

Jesus prayed on this stone the eve of his crucifixtion

Rapt student 


Just a casual day with buddies and a rifle

There's a whole story waiting to be told about driving in a mine field


River Jordon 

Baptismal site


Church of the Holy Seplucure

The Wailing Wall



One of many Bar Mitzvahs at the Wailing Wall

Stations of the Cross - where Jesus touched a stone wall for support

Bar Mitzvahs