January 27, 2016 Sea Day

The weather was much better than it has been since we left home. It was about 75 degrees and sunny, and the humidity seemed to have dissipated somewhat. It was very comfortable out on the deck where a large amount of guests were enjoying the pool and the sun.

The ship was having a cancer fundraising event called “On Deck for a Cause” where guests can walk a 5K around the ships deck to raise money for six international cancer organizations. Guests could sign up at the front desk to receive a free t-shirt and wristband. The Holland America Foundation sponsors this event.

Our first lecture was by KK, our locations guide as she discussed things to see and do in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The second lecture of the day was about sports and the British Empire. Games like cricket, rugby and soccer were discussed in great detail and how they evolved over time. The afternoon lecture by Werner Salinger was about his 2003 book titled “Tugboats and Towlines”. The book is a coffee table style picture book on tugboats and their Captains around North America.

We each did our walking separately before Mark’s watercolor class and Kent’s visit to the gym and sauna to melt off last night’s dinner.

The entertainment on this night was a new show by the vocalist Paul Fredericks that had performed a few nights ago.

January 26, 2016 Sea Day

This was another quiet sea day with few activities on the schedule. In the afternoon we attended a lecture on what some people call the “Little Tigers” known as South Korea and Vietnam. South Korean far outpaces Vietnam in Gross Domestic Product including the production of more than 5,400 Hyundai cars produced daily in a huge plant employing some 80,000 people. Korea has had more time since the Korean War to rebuild itself as compared to the short time since the Vietnam War.

Mark attended the watercolor painting class again while Kent went to the gym and sauna.

The LGBT group had cocktails in the Crow’s Nest and then had dinner in the specialty restaurant onboard called the Pinnacle. They charge a surplus of $29 to eat in the Pinnacle but the ambiance and food is a bit more special than the regular dining room. The specialty of the Pinnacle is the steaks that come in a variety of sizes from a 7oz filet mignon to a 36oz steak that comes with a $57 supplement charge. They have a lobster bisque soup, a couple of salad choices and a variety of sides including, French fries, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts with pancetta, mushroom caps and whole carrots. Since we were a large group they brought us all of the side dishes with our meal. After dinner they serve a few desserts like premium ice cream, a vanilla soufflé, and a chocolate lava cake, with hand made chocolates and coffee. We get a 50% discount on the specialty restaurants due to the number of days that we have sailed with the Holland America Line.

The night’s entertainment was a show by the Rotterdam singers and dancers titled “Variations”. It was a bit livelier than their last show but they just don’t have much pizazz.

January 25, 2016 Sea Day

This was another sea day as we exited the Red Sea and entered the Sea of Aden, between the countries of Aden and the horn of Africa. Our original itinerary included a stop in Egypt for people to visit the temples of Luxor but due to safety issues this port was cancelled some months ago. The sea was a bit smoother and the weather was warm and a bit more humid.

We had breakfast in the dining room with a couple from La Jolla, the husband a retired pilot for Delta and the wife a retired flight attendant for American airlines. KK and the shore excursions manger presented a talk on the upcoming shore excursions in India and Sri Lanka. Kent attended a class on the basics of the Arabic language while Mark attended a cooking class on making a Moroccan vegetable tagine.

After lunch in the dining room we walked for several miles on the promenade deck where 3.5 laps around the ship equals a mile. It is easy to loose count of the number of laps that you make so we find it easier to walk for about 45 minutes.

The afternoon lecture by Werner Salinger was on Japan and its shrinking population of 127 million people. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has worked hard over the last several years since elected to strengthen the economy and increase defense spending. Since World War II, Japan’s constitution has limited its defense budget to just 1% of its gross domestic product. With a shrinking population and GDP this has left little money for defense spending.

Mark attended the watercolor class where he finished his coffee filter flower from yesterday, and Kent went to the gym and the sauna.

The evening’s entertainment was a performance by the B.B. King’s All Stars who perform nightly in the crow’s nest. This group usually performs several shows nightly in the bar but on this night they took the big stage to perform music that made Memphis famous.

January 24, 2016 Sea Day

We continued transiting south in the Red Sea under warmer weather and clearer skies although it was very windy. The temperature was in the low 80’s with winds of about 45 miles per hour. The captain said that until we exited the narrow strait at the south end of the Red Sea, we would have high winds.

KK, our location guide, spoke this morning on things to see and do in our next port of call, Muscat, Oman. When the location guide gives these lectures they include practical information on things like the local currency, times that museums and shops are open, any dress requirements to enter places of worship, places you can walk to on your own and much more information.

At 11:30 the folks who are traveling on the entire 89 or 91-day journey were invited for a special Rijsttafel lunch in the dining room complete with complementary wine. This style of lunch is an Indonesian lunch that is very popular in the Netherlands because of the fact that Indonesia was once a Dutch colony. The lunch included a salad with peanut sauce dressing, a chicken consommé soup with coconut, fried rice, shrimp in a spicy sauce, pork in a sweet soy sauce, chicken skewers with peanut sauce, stewed beef Sumatra style, chili spiced green beans, banana fritters and Rice pudding with caramel sauce for dessert. With the exception of the salad, soup and dessert, everything was severed on one plate and was very delicious.

The afternoon included a lecture on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. These are ten nations located in south Asia who trade among themselves and work together for the common good of all involved. China is not a part of this alliance.

We did our walking on the deck to burn a few calories, Kent went to the gym and the sauna while Mark attended the watercolor painting class. The watercolor class created flowers using flat style white coffee filters cut into pedals. The petals were then attached to a wire using floral tape. Once assembled the flowers were painted with watercolor paint. Everyone was painting them very different colors so it was nice to see the variations of color and style of flowers even though everyone started with the same materials. Mark created a gorgeous pink and white rose.

It was another gala evening (read formal) this evening and the theme was black and white. We had dinner in the dining room with new friends Dennis and Alex from Berlin,Germany, Joakim from Sweden—living in Berlin– and our old friend Tom from London. After dinner a family of three performed a show titled “The Cruise Night of the Proms,” where they sang a variety of opera songs. Songs from singers like Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban and composers like David Foster, Puccini and Verdi.

They also had a black and white ball in the crow’s nest where the ships officers were there to dance with the guests. Mark really enjoyed dancing with the officers!! Not!

January 23, 2016 Sea Day

Kent's Birthday Lunch

Kent’s Birthday Lunch

Dinner with Friends

Dinner with Friends

Happy Birthday Kent!

We attended a virtual tour of the ship’s bridge presented with slides in the main showroom by a couple of the officers onboard. They gave us information on all of the ships officers’ duties, as well as the navigation tools used on the bridge.

We learned to make Dutch pancakes with the cruise director, Michael–who is from Holland–in the culinary arts center onboard. Michael is young and energetic, although he claims to not know how to cook other than using the microwave. The culinary arts center is the same room as the movie theater onboard and they present a variety of cooking related shows each day when they are not showing movies.

For Kent’s birthday we had lunch in the dining room with friends we had met on the 2013 world cruise: Tom from London, England; Robert and Dennis from Cambria, CA; and Kathy from PA and her friend and cabin mate, Carol.

In the afternoon we attended another lecture on China and how it struggles to maintain control of small-uninhabited islands. The islands are not of significance but if you control the island you control the earth and sea twelve miles around it. Kent attended a lecture on Damascus and Syria while Mark attended the watercolor class.

For dinner we went to the Italian restaurant onboard called the Canaletto. The menu had changed since we were last on one of the Holland America Ships. They now serve the meal family style with small or large shared plates rather than each person ordering off of a menu. New friends we met onboard John and Steve from San Francisco joined us, as did Tom from London. After we ordered, a woman, Marieka – Dutch, living in Calgary, Canada and Florida, came to our table and asked if she could join us, rather than eating by herself. She had followed us into the ship’s dining room before and joined us a couple of times, which had put us off somewhat in that she is not the most pleasant/interesting person. This was a difficult situation, but Kent said “Yes, of course,” to the others’ dismay. We did make it through the evening and Marieka did sing Happy Birthday in Dutch—a real treat!! The Canaletto staff brought Kent a cake to share, so all ended well!

The night’s entertainment was another show by the comedian Kevin Devane. There are two shows each evening, one at 8:00pm and one at 10:00pm. We usually attend the late show after we have dinner. Kevin is from England and has a very quick delivery of his material, one right after the next. He also wanders back and forth on the stage acting out what he is talking about and laughing all the way. Very entertaining. He reminds us of Mark after a few drinks! HA!!

January 22, 2016 Sea Day

We attended a lecture on the port city of Aqaba, Jordan and the town of Petra that is well known for its red sandstone carvings. We will be visiting Jordan for two days on our return to Rotterdam.

Lunch is available in the main dining room most days where you can select from several soups, salads and appetizers to start. Next you can choose from several main dishes like a burger of the day, pasta, a fish, or maybe an Indonesian dish or something unique. Lastly there is always the dessert menu to tease you with items you would never have at home but are difficult to turn down on the ship. We shared a table with an older woman from Iowa today who was very interesting. She is traveling with a group of 48 from Road Scholar, formerly known as Elder Hostile. She has taken 45 trips with them over the years. The Road Scholar group has its own onboard lectures as well as tours in each port that are included in the price of their trip. I’m curious what the price of the cruise is through Road Scholar.

Our afternoon included a lecture on the changing nation of China by Werner Salinger. China’s development has been extremely fast in comparison to other developing nations and the world is scared about it future development. Can this country that has such an impact on the entire world continue to grow and develop or will it falter and take the rest of the world down with it?

Mark attended another watercolor class where he painted a stained glass window in a rainbow of colors in the background of a large leafless tree. Kent went to the gym and sauna to burn off lunch. The weather was cloudy but the temperature continued to rise and was in the low 70’s today so we walked around the deck for 30 minutes. Yeah!

The evening’s entertainment was a production show called Iris and performed by the ships ensemble of singers and dancers.

January 21, 2016 Transiting the Suez Canal

We began our transit of the Suez Canal at the town of Port Said about 3:30 in the morning. Some of those who were very interested in the canal were out on deck at this time of morning to be sure not to miss a moment of the transit. Since we will be transiting the canal again on our return to Rotterdam, we slept in until much later.

The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through Egypt. The canal opened on November 17, 1869 after ten years of construction. The canal is at sea level so there are no locks to transit. The canal allows ships to transit between Europe and South Asia without having to go around Africa. The canal is approximately 120 miles in length and about 79 feet in depth. In 2014 construction was begun at the cost of 8.4 billion dollars to create a bypass allowing ships to transit more quickly and to increase capacity from 49 ships a day to 97 ships a day. The new bypass channel opened on August 6th of 2015. Prior to the new construction, the canal raised five billion dollars a year in revenue from ships transiting the canal. A small sailboat may be charged only $500 to transit while an oil tanker or a container ship may pay tens of thousands of dollars. It takes about ten hours to transit the entire length of the canal. Ships are only allowed to sail at a slow speed to prevent a wake that may cause damage to the shoreline.

The canal splits Egypt into two regions. The western portion is part of Africa while to the east of the canal you have the Sinai Peninsula that is part of Asia. The western shoreline is very populated with agriculture, houses, mosques and large cities. The eastern shoreline is mostly barren desert. There is one large bridge for automobiles to cross the canal and one train bridge, which is a swiveling bridge with one section on each side of the canal. We exited the canal about 2:00 in the afternoon at the town of Suez.

The weather had finally begun to warm up. The skies were clear by the afternoon and guests had replaced their winter coats with shorts and swimwear. The evening’s entertainer was a young magician/comedian by the name of James Long. He is a very talented magician but his delivery was a bit slow.

January 20, 2016 Sea Day

This was the first of eight sea days as we make our way to Muscat, Oman. We attended a lecture on the shore excursions available for our upcoming stops in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

We had a new lecturer named Brian Stoddard who spoke about the island of Crete and the roll that Crete has played aver the centuries due to its location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. We also attended a lecture on India and how the prime minister wants to raise the country’s GDP to equal that of China’s. His conclusion was that due to the lack of a single common language in the country that this would be extremely difficult.

In the afternoon Kent attended an Indonesian tea with several friends while Mark walked two miles on deck and worked on the community puzzle in the library.

The evening’s entertainment was a singer from England who had a very nice voice.

January 19, 2016 Iraklion (Crete), Greece

Iraklion Knossos Pottery

Iraklion Knossos Pottery



Iraklion Knossos Labryinth

Iraklion Knossos Labryinth

Iraklion Port

Iraklion Port

Iraklion is a town located on the island of Crete and is the largest of the Greek Islands. With approximately 175,000 inhabitants, Iraklion is the fifth largest city in Greece. According to Greek mythology, goddess Rhea hid the newborn Zeus in a cave on Crete, where nymphs brought him up and protected him from his enemies. It is also on Crete that Zeus took the form of a bull to seduce the maiden Europa.

We visited the Palace of Knossos archaeological site considered the center of the elusive and mysterious Minoan civilization. At the palace we visited the labyrinth built to confine the fabled Minotaur (half bull, half man), born out of the union between King Minos’ queen and a bull. Legend has it that the king fed his enemies to this monster until the secret of the labyrinth was finally unraveled. This extensive complex was first discovered in the late 1800’s and by 1900 a full-scale excavation was begun by an archaeologist names Mr. Evans. The excavations lasted for more than 40 years and the site has now been fully uncovered and partially restored. We also visited the living quarters of the king and queen, the storerooms, potters’ workshop and the theater.

Knossos has been partially rebuilt to allow you to see how the enormous complex may have once looked. It is believed that the site was built more than 1,700 years before Christ when 60,000 inhabitants lived in the area. The labyrinth included more than 1,4000 rooms and more than 600 people were thought to live within the walls of the complex. Both stone and wood were used to construct the complex including the use of large cypress trees for the columns. The columns were made of cypress trees turned upside down so that they would not continue to root after they were cut into columns. Earthquakes are very common in this area and it is believed that a volcano erupted on a neighboring island causing the partial wood structure to burn and collapse the entire structure.

Large pottery vessels were used to store wine, olives, olive oil and figs. Frescoes painted into wet plaster were used to decorate the walls. This must have been an incredible complex when it was in use.

After lunch back onboard the ship we walked with our friend Tom into the town of Iraklion to have a look around. The town has many nice streets filled with sidewalk cafes and shops of all kinds. Public parks and fountains are found throughout the town. The harbor houses many sailing vessels along side an Italian fort built many years ago.

The weather continues to be very cold and not very pleasant. We had rain and hail while we were out and the nearby mountains are covered in snow. The sun did come out shortly but not enough to raise the temperature much. The evening’s entertainment was a comedian by the name of Kevin Devane.

When we returned to our cabin for the night we had a letter in our cabin regarding upcoming safety precautions as we leave the Suez Canal towards Oman. The letter states that we will be having high powered fire hoses mounted on the deck, we will be traveling at speeds of not less than 17 miles per hour and guards with binoculars will be on deck 24 hours a day. In addition to this, they ask that we keep our cabin blackout drapes closed during the night to reduce the visibility of the ship from outside. We also received emergency alarm information and notice to vacate our outside cabins and move to the interior hallways in the event a suspicious watercraft approaches the ship. No word yet on whether they will be adding the razor wire to the exterior of the ship. We had this installed in 2013 when we travelled from Sri Lanka to the Seychelles.

The evening’s entertainment was a comedian by the name of Kevin Devane.

January 18, 2016 Piraeus (Athens), Greece

Athens Lunch Spot

Athens Lunch Spot

Athens Ruins

Athens Ruins

Athens Olympic Stadium

Athens Olympic Stadium

The weather has not improved much and it was cold with a predicted high for the day of 42 degrees. The skies were mostly cloudy although we did have a few glimpses ofduring the day. Most people went out bundled up in scarfs, jackets, hats and gloves.

Athens is the capital of Greece and is the largest city in Greece with a population of 665,000 residents. The greater metropolitan area is much more densely populated with an estimated 3.75 million people. Athens is estimated to be one of the oldest cities in the world dating back some 7,000 years.

We took a panoramic bus tour that took us to Panathinaiko Stadium where the first modern Olympic games were held in 1896. The stadium is constructed of white marble and was recently reconstructed. We drove by Adrian’s Arch, the statue of Lord Byron and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We saw Constitiution Square and the former Royal Palace where the Evzones National Guard keep watch, in their traditional costume, over the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

We stopped near the Acropolis and began a walk on foot around the Acropolis, passing an old partially restored theater, stopped at a lookout to take photos out over the city and then into the Plaka. The Plaka is the old historic neighborhood with winding streets, neoclassical architecture and many open spaces filled with ruins. We had a family style lunch at a local restaurant including roasted pork, moussaka, salad, bread, meatballs, a cheese turnover, wine and ice cream for dessert. We then had some free time to wander the streets of the Plaka where you find many souvenir shops and many restaurants. Not much unique or interesting to me.

Athens overall is very congested with traffic and is not a particularly beautiful city. Graffiti lines the streets; many of the buildings are in need of paint and repair. Most of the monuments are now secured and you pay an entrance fee to access them, although most are under some type of scaffolding and restoration. English is spoken by some of the locals, but many do not speak English, so communication with the locals can be difficult at times.

The entertainment on this evening was a young Flamenco and Spanish guitarist by the name of Dimitris Dekavallas.