Navigating the Suez Canal

Cruising the Suez Canal

Cruising the Suez Canal

Sunday, May 12, 2013
From Alexandria, Egypt, we sailed on The Mariner of the Seas east to the Suez Canal where we cruised from one sea to another! The Suez Canal separates two continents – Africa and Asia. It’s fascinating that after many years of trying to join the east and the west, in 1858 the Suez Canal Company set out to build a man-made, salt-water passage between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The canal opened 10 years later making the connection between Europe and Asia possible, without sailing around the southernmost tip of Africa.
We entered the canal Sunday morning around 1 a.m., May 12, and could see from our port side balcony nothing but sand – lots of sand! That would be the Sinai Peninsula.
From the beginning of the canal at Port Said, through the Great Bitter Lake and ending at the City of Suez, the canal measures more than 100 miles in length.
This was a great day to enjoy the ship and spend some time on deck! Temperatures at this time are still mild and breezy.
Preparing for a big day tomorrow, Monday, May 13 – we’re going to Safaga, Egypt, and then take an excursion to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings!!! Can’t wait!
See you back here soon!
Look for a link to Trilla’s Travels on http://www.ourtribune.com.

Modern day meets antiquity in Egypt

Tourists at the base of the pyramid, like ants at an ant hill!

Tourists at the base of the pyramid, like ants at an ant hill!

Pyramids of Giza!

Pyramids of Giza!

The City of Alexandria is a modern day port city once the capital of Graeco-Roman Egypt and the learning center of the ancient world. The Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood here. It was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.
I’m still speechless – our excursion on Friday, May 10, through Alexandria to Cairo, anticipating the experience of the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, was a trip back in time.
The tour guide with our bus was an expert on all things Egypt. Her expertise on our tour, along with the photos we took, will make a long lasting impression and many good memories.
Our tour guide warned us about the souvenir vendors before we arrived at the pyramids, so we could be prepared, but even that warning did not help. The only unpleasant experience of the tours was the relentless pursuit by the vendors, even when we said a firm “no.” We paid for photos with a camel (on our own camera), a few small souvenirs, but other vendors never gave up. It’s a poor city with more than 30 million people, so this explains their desperation.
But nothing prepared us for the overwhelming size and majesty of the pyramids! Or the mystique of the Sphinx! We walked inside the Sphinx temple among the many tourists, like little ants on an ant hill…it is just so surreal!
Lunch aboard The Pharaohs, a unique riverboat on the Nile River was also surreal and a very pleasant surprise. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but this boat and river cruise for lunch did not disappoint. It was a buffet lunch, including dessert with coffee and tea. We enjoyed entertainment by local folk dancers, including a whirling dervish and a belly dancer.
Views of Cairo from the Nile River were like no other…it made the city a lot more photogenic! Imagine, we actually were on the River Nile in Egypt…the cradle of civilization!
Two more exciting stops along the way included the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, where his tomb is found; also, the Merit Papyrus Shop, where we saw a demonstration of how papyrus paper is made, and scouted out souvenirs.
We are resting on The Mariner of the Seas in the Port of Alexandria today, after that long day’s excursion (13 hours) yesterday, Friday, May 10! Some cruisers are touring more of Alexandria today. Tonight, we will celebrate our impending arrival into the Suez Canal in the wee hours of the morning (1:00 a.m., May 12). We will leave the Mediterranean Sea and tomorrow we will be in the Red Sea…how exciting is that? Just the name “Red Sea” brings all sorts of biblical history to mind.
I’ll give an update from Safaga, Egypt next time. Our excursion there will take us inland to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings! See you back here in a couple of days…
Find the link for Trilla’s Travels at http://www.ourtribune.com.

An update on our 41-day Trans-Atlantic cruise to date!

Just to recap – it’s been a while since our continuing cruise statistics were gathered. I forgot to post the total mileage from Galveston to Barcelona, where the first of three, 2-week cruises ended.
When the Mariner of the Seas pulled into the port in Barcelona on May 6, the total cruise distance was 5,456 nautical miles. I’m amazed that time seems to be flying by…
We left the Port of Galveston on April 21, with our first stop Nassau in The Bahamas. From Nassau we sailed to Funchal, Madeira, then on to Gibraltar. The next stop was in Spain – Alicante, and ending in Barcelona, which is also the beginning of the second cruise!
We had many wonderful adventures at every destination, each with its own special memories. If I had to choose a favorite, I could not!
I will remember the tropical, beautiful surroundings of Paradise Island in The Bahamas; the fabulous, floral countryside and wine tasting in Madeira; the vistas from the Rock of Gibraltar and the Barbary Apes greeting us there; the quaint setting of Alicante, Spain, and view of the Castle of Santa Barbara, plus a visit to Town Hall Square and the Cathedral of Alicante.
Last but not least, Barcelona – the city of tourists! You can see why people love this lively Mediterranean city! The architecture, the castles, the museums, its proximity to Montserrat – and the list goes on and on.
Uh hum! There are some things not listed in the brochure, and we found out about one of them this week. A letter from Captain Flemming was delivered to our stateroom, which contained a warning about pirates in the Sea of Aden and how the ship would react in the event of an attack. In fact, he said we will have a drill to instruct passengers about pirate procedures. We were told not to be alarmed if we see small crafts approaching the ship. Ship security will be on high alert and, if necessary, the captain will zig-zag the ship to avoid the pirates. We are asked to keep drapes drawn during this period so that no light can be seen at night. Wow, I feel much better now… Well, at least until May 16-18 when this adventure will occur.
In the meantime, we were treated to uproarious laughter by John Martin’s comedy show last night in the Savoy Theatre. If you ever get a chance to see Martin, get ready for a real treat! He has CDs for sale, but you’ll have to check online to see if you can order them. Do it, if you can!
Now that we’re cruising through the Mediterranean, many well-known geographic names are passing by on both sides, even though we cannot see them. We sailed west-to-east by the island of Sicily off the tip of Italy to our north, and Benghazi south of us.
Today looks like another nice day to enjoy the Mediterranean sun on deck, with mild temperatures hovering around 70. As I write this at 8:30 a.m. on May 9, the air temp is 59 degrees F; sea depth is 7,780 feet and the distance from Barcelona is 1,147 nautical miles. Total distance for us on this day (19 of our 41-day cruise) is 6,603 nm.
The Mariner of the Seas will arrive at the City of Alexandria tomorrow morning, May 10, where our excursion to Cairo takes us to visit the pyramids! We will also take a boat ride on the Nile River, where they say we’ll be treated like Pharos…so come back soon for my next report!
Look for a link to Trilla’s Travels at http://www.ourtribune.com!

Mere words cannot describe Montserrat near Barcelona!

Mere words cannot describe Montserrat!

Barcelona – A city of tourists!

Montserrat

Montserrat

Today, May 6, marked the end of our 15-day cruise from Galveston to Barcelona on the Mariner of the Seas. It also marks the beginning of our 16-day cruise from Barcelona to Dubai!
It was a day to do some sightseeing in Barcelona and surrounding points of interest.
We had a rocky start this morning getting off the ship, as there seemed to be too many people who needed to get to too many different places, with very unclear instructions. There were cruisers getting off the ship in Barcelona; cruisers getting off and taking an excursion before flying home; cruisers getting off for excursions then continuing on the ship for the next cruise. Mayhem ensued! Somehow it all got sorted out and everyone went on their way!. Things don’t always go smoothly on a cruise but most of the time it’s like a dream!
Our onshore excursion was by autobus, which took us one hour out of Barcelona to Montserrat, whose name means serrated mountain. We have never seen anything like this mountain before!
We visited the mountaintop monastery with magnificent views of the city and countryside. In the cathedral here you will find the Black Madonna, which is so named because of its appearance following a fire that once burned everything to the ground. The wooden Madonna statue was still standing and had turned black from the fire. It is considered to be a miracle and attracts visitors who wish to view and pray before the Black Madonna. On this day, the crowd was huge due to many buses from several cruise ships docked in the port, as well as groups of school children on a field day.
After enjoying the unbelievable vistas and sights of the rock formations, our bus took us back off the mountain and into Barcelona. Here we were amazed by the many different styles of architecture. Views from the coach included the Columbus Monument, Catalunya Square, Passeig de Gracia Boulevard, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo Montserrat.
All of these things were truly amazing; however, even more amazing were the crowds of people we saw in the city and the numerous motorcycles and scooters that were parked on every street! Barcelona seemed to be the city where everyone in the world who is on vacation gathers at once!
If we ever come back to Barcelona, I’d like to visit the Gothic Cathedral, built from 1298-1450 on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Hercules, and some famous art by Gaudi and Picasso. But there is only so much one can see in a day!
We departed Barcelona sailing across the Mediterranean to Alexandria, Egypt! After three days at sea, we will arrive in Egypt on Friday.
Happy birthday to our son, Matthew Dale Cook – May 7!
See you back here – until next time…

Look for a link to Trilla’s Travels at http://www.ourtribune.com

A day in Alicante!

Yes, here we are in Spain! We arrived at the Port of Alicante about 9 a.m. Sunday (today), and proceeded to our onshore, bus excursion for an “Alicante City Tour!”
We just left Gibraltar yesterday, which is British, so now we switch gears! We’re enjoying many cultures along the way on this cruise!
The Alicante city tour was great, especially seeing all the different architectural styles of many old buildings. Our first stop was to visit a museum – “Museu de Fogueres.” The main exhibit consisted of amazing papier-mâché art associated with the Alicante Fogueres de San Chuan Grandes Fiestas. Each piece was captivating, making one wonder how such art could be created with papier-mâché! Fiesta Princesses dressed in specific San Chuan Fiestas costumes are also part of the annual festivities. In many ways, this reminded me of the royalty associated with Mardi Gras in the U.S. (Making a mental note to do some research on that!)
The highlight of our day in Alicante was a grand tour of Castillo de Santa Barbara, which is a Moorish fortress perched atop Mount Benacantil. The views of the city and the harbor from the castle were breathtakingly amazing! This intriguing fortress is one of the first things visitors notice in the city, as it is huge, imposing and sits high above the city protecting the harbor.
We took a stroll along the Explanada de España, a palm-lined promenade with shops and cafes. Alfresco dining is the norm here, it seems! Every restaurant we saw included many outdoor tables, some with umbrellas or awnings and some in the open. Today is Sunday and the tables were beginning to fill up as we came through. Our tour guide told us that people revere their Sundays for dinning out, and will scrimp on weekday meals in order to partake in this cultural tradition.
I enjoyed the best pistachio ice cream ever at Kiosko Peret at Explanada De España! What a sweet memory.
Back at the ship, we are getting ready to end the first cruise and begin the second of our three, two-week consecutive cruises. Barcelona is the end and it’s the beginning! See you in Barcelona tomorrow!
Gracias por su visita! Come back soon…

Explanada de Espana

Explanada de Espana

Sights of Gibraltar!

After leaving the Portuguese Island of Madeira on May 2, the Mariner of the Seas navigated further across the Atlantic and through the Strait of Gibraltar, passing by many exotic places on the northernmost coast of Africa, such as Casablanca and Morocco. By 5:00 this morning, the Port of Gibraltar was nearing.

Our decision to take in Gibraltar’s sights via taxi/van turned out to be a very good idea!

Paul, a native of the area who spoke excellent English, was our driver and tour guide, and was extremely knowledgeable about the region. Unfortunately, ours was one of many taxis, vans and buses making their way around town and up the mountain. Some excursions included a ride on the cable car and others included attractions such as dolphin/whale spotting or WWII historical tours.

Most excursions included a ride through town and to the top of the mountain, encountering Barbary Apes, which are actually tailless monkeys, along the way. Gibraltar’s population is 30,000 people and 300 apes! The monkeys live on the “rock” and the city subsidizes their food intake by placing fresh fruits and vegetables in certain feeding stations. Visitor need to be aware that the apes will grab anything that is loose, hoping to find a yummy treat! They are not afraid of visitors and seem to by saying, “Come on in, we’ve been expecting you!”

Europa Point is fabulous! It is one of the southernmost points of Europe with breathtaking views, directly across from Morocco. Harding’s Battery is located here, as well as Trinity Lighthouse, Mosque of the Two Holy Custodians and the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.

The Moorish Castle, dating back to 1160 was a highlight of our tour, even if was only viewed from a distance.

It must be emphasized that vistas from high points on the mountain are spectacular, with views of the bay and marina, the Mediterranean and, on the other side of the airport/ airstrip, La Linea, Spain.

Only a few of the many interesting points at Gibraltar are included in this brief blog, so I hope you will Google it and explore more for yourself! You may want to see it in person!

More excursions are scheduled for us – Alicante, Spain on May 5 and Barcelona, Spain on May 6! (When the ship reaches Barcelona, the first two-week cruise comes to an end. Some voyagers will leave the ship and new travelers will come aboard. The next two-week cruise for us goes from Barcelona to Dubai. The last two weeks will take us from Dubai to Singapore.)

Come back soon! Photos by Estel D. Cook.Image

Look for the link to Trilla’s Travels at www.ourtribune.com.

Moorish Castle looking out over Gibraltar from the "rock."

Moorish Castle looking out over Gibraltar from the “rock.”

Day 12 – We made it!

Madeira is a beautiful mountain island of Portugal. City of Funchal in foreground.

Madeira is a beautiful mountain island of Portugal. City of Funchal in foreground.

A Taste of Madeira:
Today marked the end of our Mariner of the Seas Trans-Atlantic ocean voyage to Europe. We sailed out of Galveston on April 21 and left the port of Nassau on April 24. Eight nights and seven days later, we docked at Funchal, Madeira, before dawn – around 6-6:30 a.m. today.
Madeira is part of an archipelago, which belongs to Portugal. It is spectacular, to say the least!
Our only complaint of the day was an overcast sky! Otherwise, we were astonished by this little Portuguese Island!
I will never forget the sight that sparkled in front of my eyes as we were approaching the dock in Funchal. It was as if I were viewing a Christmas village, as every part of the island was aglow with thousands of lights that were the homes and businesses on the hillsides and mountainsides of the island – I was simply amazed!
As daylight approached, and as we paused at the first stop of our excursion, we could see the picturesque marina and the many terracotta-tiled roofs of all the homes and businesses.
Madeira means “wooded island” in Portuguese and it lives up to that name. However, we found that the island’s small fishing villages, crops of bananas and grapes to be most surprising.
Although there are no parcels of flat land anywhere in sight, the island is covered in thousands of patches of terraced gardens packed full of banana plants, grape vines or flowers, making this island an absolute wonderland!
Our tour guide told us that Madeira earned a prestigious title – something like, “Floating gardens of the Atlantic.” A pleasant, constant temperature that stays within a variation of merely 10 degrees is said to be the reason why.
We learned that the crops are grown on the island according to the altitude levels on the mountain. For example, different flowers are grown plentifully year around at different altitudes, depending on the species of plants. Near the coast, you find flowers and bananas in abundance. The next level is the vines – grapevines and floral vines. Higher up the mountain is European forest, and at the highest level only smaller shrubs. Not one inch of the island is idle.
Madeira claims the highest coast in all of Europe at the cliffs of Miradouro Do Cabo Girao! The view is truly breathtaking! They welcome cruise ship passengers into their world for the sake of tourism.
The people here learn to speak English as part of their curriculum, and at matriculation they are expected to know perfect Portuguese, speak English and their choice of French, German or Spanish.
Wine is produced and exported here in abundance, along with bananas, leather, flowers and textiles. They are respectfully known for delicately embroidered goods and lace. We sampled a couple of local brands of wine, while enjoying cheese and fresh-baked bread. Yum!
In a phrase – I fell in love with Madeira and the island’s beauty and resourcefulness!
See you Saturday, after we have toured Gibraltar. Remember, we are cruising all the way to Singapore so come back often!
You can also find my link at http://www.ourtribune.com.
Highest coast in Europe is found at Madeira!

Highest coast in Europe is found at Madeira!

Fun at sea!

The sun is shining, the sea is calm and the Mariner of the Seas is bustling with activity. At 1:30 p.m. today, “The Hobbit” was showing on the giant screen poolside – what better way to relax and enjoy the show?
Speaking of shows, during the first two weeks of this cruise, the headliners have certainly been some of the best! Today we were given a unique opportunity to meet four of the entertainers in an informal setting, followed by a Q&A session.
What do an Olympic gymnast, a singer/impersonator, a world-class violinist/personality and a magician/comedian have in common? They are headliners on cruise ships around the world!
I was curious about their backgrounds and how they found their way into the cruise entertainment world.
Gold medal Olympian and world champion gymnast Lance Ringnald amazed the crowd with his athletic abilities at age 42. Although the ship has no uneven bars or pummel horses, Lance has managed to put together an exciting routine that includes silks, juggling, piano and singing, all woven together with his easy-going manner and a lot of humor that wraps the audience around his little finger. He was once asked to sub for a fellow gymnast on a cruise ship and has never looked back! Lance was born in 1970 in Des Moines, Iowa, and trained in gymnastics since age 10. Not knowing what to expect before his show, I came away simply amazed!
Hannah Starosta is a personality that lights up the stage! She is a world-class violinist who can keep the audience laughing with an ease that rivals the best of comedians, while performing the world’s most loved music! She is of Polish and French ancestry, with dual citizenship in Great Britain and Poland. Hannah has been playing violin since age four, and is amazing. Her charismatic energy and talent is incomparable!
Paul Tanner is a talented singer/impersonator who impressed everyone with voices that included Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Elvis, Johnny Cash and many others. He’s a fellow Texan from Killeen who now lives with his family in Florida. He has been a voice impersonator all his life. Paul’s ability to impersonate voices is unrivaled…Great job, Paul!
Nick Lewin gave the audience good laughs and remarkable talent! Without giving away his secrets, he amazed one and all with mesmerizing magic. Nick, who is from England, said all he ever wanted to do was perform magic, which he has been doing since age seven. His performance left us wanting more!
On the night of Day 10, John Bressler took the stage – piano and all! John’s musicality and comedic presence was astounding! His performance made me wonder why his name is not one we hear more often…this is talent, including his piano performance, singing and comic relief! Loved it!
Rumor has it that these talented headliners will leave the ship in Funchal/Madeira on Thursday, May 2. We assume this means that more talented artists will join the Mariner of the Seas at that time.
Headlining on cruise ships is the best kept secret in the entertainment world!
Yesterday was our 10th day at sea on this 41-day journey on The Mariner of the Seas from Galveston to Singapore. Our journey has taken us more than 3,900 nautical miles from the Port of Galveston. Tomorrow, May 2nd, we will see land again for the first time in eight nights and seven days – that’s how long it takes to cross the Atlantic Ocean!
Hope you’ll come back soon for another update! Find my link on http://www.ourtribune.com.

Entertainers on the first leg of our 6-week cruise: Paul Tanner, Hannah Starosta, Nick Lewin and Lance Ringnald

Entertainers on the first leg of our 6-week cruise: Paul Tanner, Hannah Starosta, Nick Lewin and Lance Ringnald

Day 10 – Another exciting day at sea

This day started out like all the others, in addition, there was unexpected excitement in the air.
Captain Flemming came on the intercom to announce that there had been a chemical spill in the laundry area of the ship. He said he would keep everyone informed and that the crew was handling it.
I was thinking it could be serious, but chances were, it was not. So we didn’t know for a time just how bad it was; was anyone injured; could it be contained?
A while later the captain announced that it was a minor spill, and that the spill was cleaned up and the crew was healthy. Disaster averted!
This afternoon we heard another intriguing announcement from the captain. This time he said what looked like an orange life raft had been spotted floating nearby on the port side of the ship. He said the ship was slowing down to investigate. Sure enough we slowed down to seven knots, give or take, and made a wide swing in the direction of the orange object.
Soon we saw a small boat with the rescue team onboard speeding toward the floating orange object. We watched as the small boat approached, then circled, the orange object. We were anticipating a rescue about to happen. The small boat then immediately headed back toward the ship…no one needed rescued this day! Thankfully!
Very quickly, the captain reported that the object was not a life raft, but a containment buoy like those used to contain oil spills. Excitement over!
Ten days down and 31 more to go before we get to Singapore! There will be many stops and excursions along the way, so stay tuned…

I’m posting this on the 11th because we didn’t have Wi-Fi last night!

Not a life raft -- just a floating containment buoy!

Rescue excitement! Not a life raft — just a floating containment buoy!

Grand opening of Casino Royale on Day nine

Today was an exciting and much anticipated day for those passengers awaiting the grand opening of the newly refurbished Casino Royale! A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on the Promenade at 6 p.m. and free champagne was served! (I’ll post photos later when they are downloaded from my iPhone. The ship’s Wi-Fi works best when I use my laptop, so photos from my iPhone will have to wait.)
As with any grand opening, there were a few hiccups in the new casino. Machines didn’t seem to want to print out tickets, so at one point every machine in our row was blinking “call attendant!” However, things are sure to smooth out nicely along the way, we hope! Everyone was very excited and one slot player had already hit a $7,000-plus jackpot!
I don’t think I’ve mentioned that about 80-90% of the passengers on board are what you would call “Senior Citizens,” or retirees. Of course, there are a few young folks, and some even have small children.
At our dinner table, all are retirees! One couple is from Illinois and they are traveling with their 18-year-old granddaughter. They found out about the cruise when their Texas cousin sent a gift that was wrapped up in The Tribune newspaper with an ad by Kingwood Travel. Funny how fate works sometimes!
The rest of the diners at our table are either from Kingwood, Texas, or they used to live there. The table next to us is also filled with retirees from Kingwood. These two tables make up most of the group that booked this cruise through Kingwood Travel. A very nice bunch of people!
Since my last update, we’ve enjoyed excellent stage presentations in the evenings in the Savoy Theatre, with acts such as Hannah Starosta performing world class music on her violin on Saturday. Sunday night we were entertained by two-time gold medal gymnast, Lance Ringnald. I had a chat and took a photo of Lance, and I hope to talk with Hannah soon. Look for more talk and information about some of our entertainers in upcoming posts.
Today we decided to spend the afternoon enjoying the movie “Jack Reacher” on the big screen in the Savoy Theatre. Our friends Janet and Steve decided to take in “The Hobbit” poolside tonight. Of course, we had to check out the casino for a while – sadly, with no big jackpot to report!
It’s always our choice to make as to whether to stay busy with ship activities or just relax, read a book by the pool, take a class or take in a lecture, go to the spa, walk on the jogging track, play golf, climb a rock wall, play basketball or in-line skate. There is no end to the activities – the hard part is making up your mind. However, this morning was my time to catch up on lost sleep, after setting our watches up one hour each day, including today! Does anybody really know what time it is?
Until next time…

Golf in the middle of the Atlantic anyone?

Golf in the middle of the Atlantic anyone?