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New Dubai

February 22, 2015 – Muscat to Dubai

We drive from Muscat, Oman back to Dubai, U.A.E. today. We are staying in the new section of Dubai at the Manzil Downtown Dubai hotel. This is perhaps the poshest hotel we have stayed at on the whole trip, and when I check out the room rates, they start at 1,400 AED (CD$400) per night. There are multiple concierges in the lobby, all eager to be helpful. I have dinner in the hotel restaurant this evening, since I don’t feel too adventuresome. The boneless beef ribs in date sauce with french fries are very tasty, and I chase it down with a Tiger beer. Service is impeccable. Cost is AED130 (CD$43) – about what I would pay for a nice dinner at home in Canada.

February 23, 2015 – Dubai to Atlanta – last day of the tour

Today is a free day to do what we want in Dubai, since our flight home doesn’t depart until 11PM. We have a late check-out from the hotel at 6PM.

Joe takes a selfie on the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Joe takes a selfie on the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Last night I booked a ticket for the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck (140AED or CD$50). When I initially went online, the standard tickets were booked until the mid-afternoon, however when I selected having a cappuccino and a cake for 15AED more, I suddenly had my choice of time slots!

So this morning I navigate my way through the Dubai Mall to the observation deck entrance at 9:30AM. The elevator zooms up to level 124, and I experience the tallest building in the world! There are inside displays and an outside deck. Although the deck is glassed in, there are gaps in the glass so photographs can be taken without window reflections. As I sip my cappuccino and pastry from the coffee shop below, I gaze up a this imposing building. It is visible from virtually anywhere in the city of Dubai, and casts its shadow for blocks.

Most people on the tour are shopping in the Dubai Mall, which is right across the street from our hotel. Since I’m not into shopping and I’m feeling it’s time to return home, I spend the afternoon in my hotel room packing, napping, cruising the Internet, and annotating my many photographs from the trip.

Our bags are picked up at 5PM and we depart the hotel at 6PM for our farewell dinner. The restaurant is near the airport, and the food is underwhelming, so I won’t mention the name. I guess we have been spoiled with all the good food we have had on our tour. Our flight leaves the airport at 11PM, so we have plenty of time to wait. The flight to Atlanta will take 16 hours and 4 minutes according to the pilot.

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Rome

September 11, 2014 – Thursday – Florence to Rome

Upon our arrival in Rome, our driver Sylvain has to maneuver through some pretty challenging turns and narrow streets to get us to the drop off point in the city at Repubblica Square. Driving a vehicle that large in Rome is a real challenge! After we schlepp our bags a few blocks to Hotel Nardizzi Americana in sprinkling rain, a bunch of us have lunch on our own at a nearby salad bar deli. I have a delicious prosciutto panino (we say Panini in North America, which is actually the plural form of panino in Italian).

We go on an extensive walking tour of Rome this afternoon from with a local guide. She succeeds in bringing the Colliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon alive for us all. Several of us are tired after all the walking this afternoon, so we return to the hotel on our own using the Rome subway. Jennifer taught us well earlier in the day when we started our tour by taking the subway, so we have no problem reversing the route.

Three of us have dinner at Ristorante Esperia, which is a trattoria only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. I have Spaghetti Carbonara, which is very rich and tasty. We all enjoy our meals, although the wine is a bit expensive.

September 12, 2014 – Friday – Vatican City

After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we take the subway to the Vatican to take an escorted tour of the Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, and other amazing displays. I missed the Vatican Museum last time I was in Rome in 2006 due to a screw up with the arrangements, so it is great to finally see this astounding collection of friezes, tapestries, and paintings. Actually, I find the opulence to be obscene. I am fascinated with the painted maps of Italy in one hallway, since they were created so long ago and yet are very detailed.

Bernini's Baldachino in St. Peter's Basilica

Bernini’s Baldachino in St. Peter’s Basilica

We are then led through a side entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, where we are on our own for the rest of the day. I think there is more lighting than the last time I was in St. Peter’s in 2006, which makes taking photos easier. I still find the place rather creepy, especially seeing the popes and cardinals who are embalmed and on display in crypts with glass windows in the side so they can be viewed. There are several worship services going on as I walk through the basilica taking photos.

I meet up with several members of my tour group in St. Peter’s Square, and we return to the hotel on our own using the subway ticket Jennifer gave us earlier. I’m completely bagged, so I have a two-hour nap this afternoon. I had great plans to work on my travel journal, but that doesn’t happen!

Nine of us go to the Oratorio Bistrot for dinner this evening, which is in the same block as our hotel. They have a wine bar downstairs and they have an upstairs patio where lunch and dinner is served. It is very nice on the covered patio, and the meals are very tasty. I have rolled veal with bacon as a main, and start with grilled zucchini, which turns out to be more of an omelet. I have an Italian beer with dinner, but the rest of the group order two glasses of wine each, since they don’t seem to have house wines served in jugs like the other restaurants we have eaten at up to now.

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

We have breakfast in our hotel and then everyone walks a couple of blocks to the bus, which is waiting for us at Repubblica Square with the beautiful fountain and the metro station beneath. We drive by St. Peter’s on our way out of the city, and pass Civitavecchia as we drive up the coast. This is where the cruise ships dock, and then the passengers are transferred by bus to Rome for the day.

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Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 – Day 24 – Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

The cruise ship port in Puerto Quetzal is a welcome change from most of our previous ports, where we usually docked at container terminals. Today, there is a nice, clean dock, with lots of souvenir vendors, and a café and bar serving snacks and beverages, including coco loco (coconut cocktail with or without booze).

JoeTourist: Antigua &emdash; Volcan Fuego emitting smokeWe take the Antigua On Your Own shore excursion, which provides transportation to and from Antigua, a small Guatemalan town designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide refers to Antigua as St. John, since this is the patron saint of soldiers, and the Spanish conquistadors established this town after the original site was destroyed by the nearby volcano. It takes the bus about 1.5 hours to travel from the port to the city. We pass three volcanoes along the way: Volcan Fuego and Volcan Acatenango to the West, and Volcan de Agua to the East. Volcan Fuego decides to put on a little show for us as we pass by, sending puffs of smoke skyward.

I can see that Antigua is normally a nice town to visit, however with all the cruise ship passengers drifting around, there are scores of Guatemalans selling trinkets everywhere. They are constantly after us to buy stuff, so it quickly becomes annoying. We wander the few blocks from our drop off point to the big town square with a cathedral and shops all around. There is a large tour group about to enter the cathedral, so we decide to walk a bit further to see La Merced Church, which is very ornate and very quiet, since it is off the beaten path. Along the way, we see the famous arch at El Carmen, and take photos of the Volcan de Agua framed by the Arch.

We stop to have some cappuccino made with genuine Guatemalan coffee, which has to be one of the best-tasting coffees I have had on the trip so far. I distract myself from all the persistent street vendors by giving myself a photographic assignment as we find our way back to the drop-off point: take photos of all the beautiful and ornate door knockers found on many of the big wooden doors to be found as entranceways to shops, restaurants, and inner courtyards.
JoeTourist: Days at Sea &emdash; Sea turtle with fish trailing it

Thursday, December 15, 2011 – Day 25 – At sea

Our position this morning is 14° 19’ N 93° 13’ W and we are drifting along at 8.6kts, just off the coast of the Mexico/Guatemala border in very smooth seas. After breakfast this morning I see a turtle drift by my cabin portholes, so I put my telephoto zoom lens on my camera, grab my binoculars, and go out on the Promenade Deck. There are lots of Sea Turtles drifting by, and I get some terrific shots. One photo in particular is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. I also see dolphins and flying fish.