Dubai – World’s biggest, tallest and fastest!

Dubai -- viewed from The Mariner of the Seas. Look for the world's tallest tower, Burj Kalifa.

Dubai — viewed from The Mariner of the Seas. Look for the world’s tallest tower, Burj Kalifa.

The view from The Top of the Khalifa Tower -- world's tallest building!

The view from The Top of the Khalifa Tower — world’s tallest building!


If the city of Dubai set out to break all records for expectations of a modern city, it has surely succeeded! Here we found the world’s tallest building, Burj Kalifa. We entered the world’s fastest elevator to take us to the top – The Top! My ears popped three times going up and five times going back down! Yes, it truly is fast! The view from The Top was incredible, even with the haze that lingered over the vista; you could see the surrounding desert, water and spectacular cityscape. Looking straight down, the streets and cars resembled a diorama or mere toys. It was spectacular!
We toured this city full of skyscrapers, which are perfect examples of modern-day architecture, on May 21! Also, the Dubai Mall, which – by the way – has one of the world’s largest aquariums and the largest viewing panel on earth! Are you getting the picture now – everything here is bigger, taller or faster!
But, Dubai is full of contrast – the old and the new. Having only gained independence in 1971, it is part of the United Arab Emirates and is considered by many to be the financial and trade center of the Arab world. The old and new exist side by side in this extremely clean, modern city. Local people go about their day-to-day lives observing their centuries-old, Islamic traditions. While the city is also filled with westerners, tourists, and businessmen converging to give the appearance of any other European or American city, life outside the city, in stark contrast, consists of desert dwellers or Bedouins.
We knew on April 21, as we left the shores of Galveston, that we setting sail on a journey of a lifetime aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Mariner of the Seas – 41 days. By the time we docked in Barcelona, we had cruised 5,456 nautical miles. That was the first two-week cruise, which included Nassau, The Bahamas; the Island of Madeira, Portugal; Gibraltar; Alicante and Barcelona, Spain. All glorious and wondrous sights!
By the time we reached Dubai, the destination for the second, two-week cruise, we had covered another 5,050 nautical miles, making a total of 10, 506 miles for the first two legs of our journey. This time our ports of call included Alexandria, Egypt; The Suez Canal; Safaga, Egypt; Aqaba, Jordan, and ending in Dubai.
When we left Aqaba on May 14, one of many stops on this transatlantic journey from Galveston to Singapore, the guests were made aware of the precautions the captain would take, as we sailed from the Red Sea into the Sea of Aden to get to Dubai. On this day, Captain Flemming sent letters to guests and made PA announcements explaining his plan. He wanted to prepare us in the event of a pirate attack. That day we even had a pirate drill, where we were instructed to go to the inside hallways if we heard the “secret code” on the PA. We were also told to keep the curtains closed from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. during those days in the Aden Sea.
For four nights the upper, outside decks were closed and all lights extinguished. Last night was the first night the outside decks were once again open after dark, and we could open the drapes, as well. While this little bit of information was not in the cruise guide, we were very appreciative of all the efforts our captain took to make sure the guests would be safe.
Among those precautions was extra security. At one point in the middle of the sea an announcement was made to alert passengers that a small boat would be approaching our ship; however, this rendezvous was for the purpose of collecting our “security kit.” Indeed, it was a drop shipment of arms. We watched as the boat pulled along the ship to unload. On the last day, once again the boat came to collect the “security kit,” when it was no longer needed. Our thanks go to Captain Flemming for making a plan for our protection and for being cautious.
After leaving the Persian Gulf, we are now cruising the Indian Ocean. Next stop – Goa, India!
Bye for now…see you next time!
Look for a link to Trilla’s Travels on http://www.ourtribune.com.
Burj Al Arab - This building is amazing!

Burj Al Arab – This building is amazing!

Aqaba and Petra, Jordan – Spectacular!

The crowds of people, camels and vendors swarmed in front of The Treasury -- favorite site in Petra!

The crowds of people, camels and vendors swarmed in front of The Treasury — favorite site in Petra!

May 14, 2013
Our experience in Petra today has topped the list of most exciting tours on this 41-day cruise from Galveston to Singapore on The Mariner of the Seas. This tour followed our visit yesterday to Safaga and the Valley of the Kings, and coming in a close third is the excursion we took to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. These exciting port stops are all part of the second, two-week cruise from Barcelona to Dubai, with one more that will begin in Dubai and end in Singapore. (See previous blogs.)
When we entered the Port of Aqaba, Jordan, this morning there was no way to know the excitement awaiting us at the end of a 2-hour bus ride. Our tour guide said that Aqaba is referred to as Ayla in the Bible and it is part of the Holy Land. Today, it is best known as a sea resort town with phenomenal snorkeling and diving locations. Can you believe its ancient origins date back to 4,000 BC? Many cultures have passed through, including the Ptolemies of Egypt, the Nabateaeans of Arabia, the Romans, Muslim pilgrims, the Crusaders and many more.
Thankfully, we had very pleasant weather for the trek up and down a steep hill in and out of the siq at Petra. The magnificent treasures that awaited us around every bend were well worth the long walk. In the end, we decided to pay for a horse and buggy ride partway back up the mountain. One could also ride by horseback, as well as take a short camel ride, which were optional.
Neither words nor photos can do justice to the fascinating, ancient site of Petra. Hidden between 300 ft. high solid, rose red rock walls are the tombs of the ancients. One tomb in the vicinity is said to be the tomb of Moses’ brother, Aaron. What are so incredible about this site are the facades of buildings carved into the solid rock walls. Most impressive of these were the Temple of the Four Obelisks and, especially, The Treasury site with four enormous pillars. This particular rock carving is said to have taken many years to complete, working from top to bottom.
We spent the day looking up, as we meandered between the high rock walls, not believing what a magnificent hidden fortress this had been, serving so many in keeping safe the remains of their leaders, their treasures and preserving their customs. There are no dwellings at this site, which still harnesses many secrets, as the stories we hear are, for the most part, just theories.
A scene from the last Indiana Jones movie was shot at Petra, and sure enough there is an Indiana Jones storefront on the way to the siq. Many souvenir vendors hawked their wares but were not as intolerable as the ones in Cairo at the Pyramids of Giza or at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. It’s a matter of learning to ignore and to be aware of their conning tactics.
We had an excellent buffet lunch at the Movenpick Hotel in Petra, including excellent local dishes such as baby lamb. I don’t eat lamb, but I did try a bite and found it to be tasty, along with samplings from many exotic dishes. The dining room of the hotel is especially charming with mosaic tiled ceiling and wall decor. Loved the atmosphere there!
I could go on and on about Petra, but my blog on this topic must end here.
The Mariner of the Seas is now headed for Dubai, and we will be doing our pirates drill in about an hour in preparation.
Until we meet again…have a nice day! (Note: Internet connections are sporadic so please excuse any errors!)
Look for a link to Trilla’s Travels at http://www.ourtribune.com.

Temple of Four Obelisks

Temple of Four Obelisks


The Treasury was carved into the solid stone mountain at Petra thousands of years ago!

The Treasury was carved into the solid stone mountain at Petra thousands of years ago!

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Gateway to treasures of ancient Egypt — Safaga!

Luxor and the Valley of the Kings excursion!

Luxor and the Valley of the Kings excursion!

May 13, 2013
This was an incredible day – so hot I nearly died but so fascinating that I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
The excursion that we chose to take from Safaga, Egypt, was a 3 ½ hour bus ride to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. This one seemed to be the most interesting to us, but I’m sure the tours of the Giftun Island Hideaway, the Bedouin Experience, the Red Sea Submarine and Hurghada were also fun.
As a special note of interest, all of our excursion coaches thus far have been equipped with onboard restrooms. A lot to be thankful for!
We left the Mariner of the Seas early Monday morning to board one of more than 40 buses that were lined up waiting to take thousands of eager tourists away!
If I say it was a hot day, just know that we all now know why the people who live here cover up from head to toe. The sun can be brutal, so we splashed on tons of sunscreen, wore loose and baggy clothes and made the best of it.
Our bus journey took us over roads on barren mountains with wonderful vistas toward the awe-inspiring treasures of ancient Egypt at Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Our tour guide, Ghada, gave us the history of Upper Egypt – which, by the way, is in the south of Egypt. The northern part is called Lower Egypt. Yep, the Nile flows north so…you figure it out!
At the Valley of the Kings, our tour included a visit to three tombs. We paid extra to enter the Tomb of Tutankhamen, where the mummified body of the boy king lies. Even more impressive were the tombs of Ramses III, Ramses IV and Ramses IX. The hieroglyphs were spectacular and more impressive than I ever dreamed. For some reason I was later compelled to buy lots of Egyptian souvenirs!
We visited the magnificent funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut and Deir El Bahari, said to be the finest building in Egypt and one of the most impressive in the world. We stopped to take photos of Amenophis III, also known as the Colossi of Memnon, still standing where they once marked the entrance to the temple by Alexander the Great 5,000 years ago.
We took a mid-day break for a sumptuous buffet lunch at the Sonesta Hotel in Luxor.
The Luxor Temple was also a great photo opportunity, but the greatest and most awe-inspiring attraction of the day was the Karnak Temple. The breathtaking temple awed us with its unique Hypostyle hall, the largest hall of columns in the world! The next thing we knew, we were amidst the Avenue of the sphinxes not far from the sacred lake. One can imagine that, in its day, it was a sight to behold. We were told that only the high priests lived in the temple, however.
So, that’s enough about our visit to Safaga, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings! We survived the heat and barely survived the merchandise vendors – but that’s a whole other story!
Tomorrow, we go to Aqaba to visit Petra in Jordan! Now that’s something you won’t want to miss!
See you back here soon!
Look for a link to Trilla’s Travels at http://www.ourtribune.com.

My friend Janet Wallace and I were amazed by the Avenue of the Sphinxes!

My friend Janet Wallace and I were amazed by the Avenue of the Sphinxes!

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