Today is a down day for me – no excursions booked. I have breakfast with a couple from my tour group. These buffet breakfasts are expensive at US$23 (with tip) / CA$30! I save money be skipping lunch.
We then decide to walk the few blocks to the Anchorage Museum to have a look at the exhibits, which include aboriginal artifacts in glass cases and multimedia info, and two floors of art exhibits, which change after a few months. Admission is US$15 for seniors for the day, or US$20 for adults.
Holland America arranges for everyone in the group to be tested at the hotel for COVID-19 again today in preparation for boarding the ship tomorrow in Whittier. Thankfully, I receive notice of a negative result an hour later, however our Tour Director tells me one of the group tested positive. They won’t be boarding the ship tomorrow, and will have to stay in Anchorage for a 5-day quarantine before flying home, if I remember the rules correctly.
I annotate my photos on my notebook computer this afternoon in my room, thinking I will make enough progress to post a new Denali album online, however it goes slower than I expect. I have a lot of photos from the first half of this trip!
I go for dinner across the street again to Orso restaurant, since I enjoyed my meal there last night. I splurge a bit more this evening, having a draft beer with Seafood Gemelli, a lovely seafood stew made with local gemelli pasta, mini clams, salmon and rockfish in a light cream sauce. I finish with a cappuccino, since the last time I had coffee was at breakfast. This meal ends up costing US$53.35 with tax and tip, which is a whopping CA$70!
The captain comes on the PA system this morning at 8AM to tell us our cruise will be ending when we arrive in Santiago. Holland America has decided to suspend operations worldwide for 30 days. Needless to say, all the passengers are upset, depressed, and rather anxious about what comes next.
I go on my excursion this morning, which is a standard city tour, including: the Plaza de Armas Muñoz Gamero which includes a statue of Magellan, Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint of the city and the Strait of Magellan, and Maggiorino Borgatello museum. Our last stop is Museo Nao Victoria, which has life-size replicas of three historic ships: HMS Beagle (Darwin’s ship), Nao Victoria (Magellan’s ship), and Goleta Ancud (a Chilean exploration and colonization vessel).
The captain makes another report this afternoon at 4pm, telling us that Argentina has closed their ports to cruise ships, so our scheduled stop in Ushuaia tomorrow won’t be happening. He outlined an enhanced scenic cruising schedule to fill in the time before our next port-of-call, Puerto Mont on the west coast of Chile. I adjourn to the Explorations Lounge, to consider all this ominous news today.
Free wi-fi and worldwide telephone calling is now available to all passengers so they can keep in touch with their families and friends, make any needed arrangements, and keep up on the world news.
I go to the main dining room and have a lovely prime rib dinner, and after go to see Planet Earth II in concert, a BBC Earth movie. I enjoy this well-done documentary, but the sound is far too loud.
I discover this morning that the hotel has two Level 2 chargers and dedicated EV charging parking spots opposite the reception area, so I ask them to turn the chargers on so I can top up before checking out later this morning. I see a full 48 amps from the J1772 connection, so I gain about 75 kms before I check out. I walk three blocks down Kingsway to get a cappuccino at a Starbucks and then go for breakfast in the hotel breakfast room (an adjacent Chinese restaurant) before packing up.
I drive over to the Kitsilano area of Vancouver to meet my cousin and her friend. We go to the UBC Museum of Anthropology, which I haven’t visited since it opened about 40 years ago when I lived in Vancouver! The artifacts, totems, textiles, and other displays in the Museum are spectacular. We stay about an hour and a half to take it all in before leaving to go for lunch at an Italian trattoria on West 4th Avenue, close to my cousin’s place.
I then say my goodbyes and drive to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. I arrive in time for the 3PM sailing, but I end up waiting while two sailings leave before boarding the 5PM ferry. I go to the Seawwest Lounge, pay $12, and help myself to coffee and snacks while I work on the photos and videos from my road trip. It is a spectacularly scenic sunny day as the ferry sails through the southern Gulf Islands to Swartz Bay. Although I have enjoyed this 2-week road trip, it is good to finally be back home!
I drive over to the Pima Air & Space Museum and spend several hours there on my last day in Tucson before I return home tomorrow. I took the tram tour last year when I visited Pima, and I take it again, since it is the most efficient way to see the huge number of aircraft on display outside. I check out Hanger 5, which has new aircraft displayed: a Spitfire, a PBY/Canso amphibian and a Mitchell bomber.
The other hangers have much the same displays, but I experience them again in a new way, since I take far fewer photos than I did last year. This gives me lots of time to delve a bit deeper into the more interesting aircraft and skip others without feeling I’m missing something. I have a nice lunch in the cafeteria before driving back to the hotel in the afternoon.
I go downstairs for breakfast and then check out of the Red Lion Inn. I head down to the University of Arizona, since a friend suggested I see their Optics Museum at the College of Optical Sciences. the University is located downtown, which is on the way to my new hotel on the south side of Tucson. I manage to find pay street parking only a couple of blocks away, and use Google Maps to find the building on campus.
The Museum of Optics is self-guided, with displays on several floors of the building. After starting in the lobby with several beautiful glass sculptures and some telescopes, the tour starts at the top of the building on the 7th floor. I then work my way down floor-by-floor. They have an extensive collection of eyeglasses, binoculars, monoculars, opera glasses, historic cameras, stereographs, telescopes, and much more. It is all fascinating, and free-of-charge!
The architecture of the Meinel Optical Sciences Building is quite striking, since it has a segmented glass front, the sides and back are wrapped in dark copper, and there are internal light shafts that go top-to-bottom.
Since I have well over an hour left on the parking meter, I go to the Flandreau Science Center and Planetarium which is across the street from the Meinel Building. I pay the $6 Senior’s admission and spend time taking in what is perhaps the most impressive collection of minerals on public display in the Tucson area. Their amazing collection of meteorites includes some as large as a suitcase! It is a shame the displays aren’t better lit, since it’s hard to appreciate the colours and textures of the minerals when they are in glass cases lit from above with fluorescent lights.
After leaving the UofA, I check into the Baymont Hotel and Suites. I enquire about the Tesla Destination chargers outside, and am told they charge $2/hour and they will turn it on when I’m ready to charge. I’m pleased the rate is reasonable…this is going to be so much more convenient than staying at a hotel with no electric vehicle support. The Tesla Supercharger east of Tucson is only about a 15 minute drive each way plus charging time), so I have options. I decide to try out their Tesla Destination charger. The front desk clerk is thrilled, since this is new to her, and she has never seen a Tesla up close before. As it turns out, several of the charge points don’t work, but I find one that lights up green on my Tesla’s charge port. It is a 40 amp 209 volt supply, so the charge rate is about the same as I have at home (Level 2 charger). I end up paying for 3.5 hours’ worth of charging at $2/hr.
I drive everyone to the Sonoran Desert Museum this morning, which is 15 miles west of Tucson. We stop to charge the Tesla for 20 minutes at the Tucson Supercharger, which is just east of the city. We then drive another half hour bypassing the city westward into the beautiful Sonoran desert.
It rains lightly while we are at the Sonoran Desert Museum, which keeps the daytime temperature down to the point we are wearing light coats for most of our time here. Since we arrive just after noon, first stop for most of us is to have a snack and drinks at the coffee shop before we walk the trails. We spot a beautiful Bobcat, nesting hummingbirds, a Peregrine falcon in flight, and lots of other birds, animals and of course all kinds of cactus. Our last stop before departing is the caves and a breathtaking mineral display.
After driving back into the city, we meet some friends for dinner at the well-rated El Charro Cafe restaurant in old town Tucson. Being Valentines Day the place is busy, however the Mexican food is terrific. The drive back to Dragoon Ranch starts out with pouring rain as we leave the city, but it thins out by the time we pull into Benson for a quick shopping stop at Safeway. I wash the ranch road mud off the Tesla outside before I park in the garage and plug it in to charge.
I had originally planned to stay aboard the ship in Lombok, however I booked the Fascinating Culture of Lombok shore excursion yesterday, in order to get off the ship and see some of this Indonesian island. The ship is anchored, and we use private tenders to get ashore today. These tenders are big and powerful, in order to cope with the currents and tides in the area.
When we arrive at the Nusa Tenggara Barat Province Museum, there is a local musical group using traditional instruments to greet us with music. The museum itself is modest, but there are interesting displays of artifacts from the area, including traditional Kris knives, drums, marriage costumes, and gold jewelry. We make a shopping stop at a pearl shop in the central city of Mataram. I stay outside and take photos and video of the traffic on the street.
Narmada Water Palace consists of a large artificial lake whose shape resembles Segara Anak in the caldera of the Rinjani Volcano. It was built in 1805 by the Raja of Mataram after he became too old to climb Rinjani to deposit offerings in the sacred lake there. Narmada’s temple, Pura Kalasa, is still used; the Balinese Pujawali celebration is held here annually.
There is holy water available to anyone, so several of our group partake. Personally, I would never trust such water, but our local guide insists it is pure spring water. There is also a public swimming pool on the same site.
Our second temple stop this morning is at the twin temples for both Hindus, Muslims and all others at Pura Lingsar. This is a large temple complex built in 1714, and is the place of worship for Wetu Telu Islam, and is open to all others. The second temple in the northern section is exclusively for Hindu worship, and features a fountain.
As we head north, the road rises over two small hills offering panoramic views of the sea. We have an Indonesian buffet lunch at the Sheraton Senggigi Resort.
In contrast, our final stop is in Banyu Mulek village, which is famous for handmade pottery. We are taken into the village on a traditional horse cart called a cidomo, to see the skilled villagers make clay into beautiful pottery. They seem to use rice straw to fire the clay instead of kilns.
On the way back to the ship, we are caught in a wedding parade (see banner photo above). The bride and groom walk down the main street, and all the villagers come out to see them. On Lombok, tradition dictates that the couple elope to get married, and then parade in their local community to let everyone know they are married.
The Volendam is docked about an hour’s drive south of Yangon in the port city of Thilawa, which is as far up the shallow Rangoon River as ships dare go.
My shore excursion into Yangon takes most of the day. Our bus is a bit dodgy, but our driver and guide are great, and the driver has a helper, so we are well-served, and we are offered lots of bottled water in order to stay hydrated in the heat. The drive from the port to the city takes almost two hours each way through very heavy traffic. As we leave the port through Thilawa, we encounter early preparations for a pagoda festival. There are circus rides, lots of food stands, and people everywhere despite the festival not starting for several hours. We cross the Rangoon/Bago River over the bridge into the city of Yangon, where we pick up a police escort. So for the rest of the day, we arrive at each location like rock stars!
Our guide explains that the change in spelling for the city of Yangon (from Rangoon) and the country of Myanmar (from Burma) was done by the past military government to correct historical misspelling of the two place names into English. She tells us land is very expensive in Yangon, development is sporadic, and is dependant on foreign investment and (in the past) sponsorship by the military regime. There are lots of homeless dogs, who obviously have to scrounge for food, however some are fed and adopted by the Buddhist temples, so they are referred to as “wat dogs”, after the Burmese word for temple.
First stop is the Sule Pagoda, which is right in the center of the city. We don’t actually go into the pagoda, but we get to hang around Mahabandoola Garden for a few minutes, where there are lots of street food vendors. Next is the Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, where we have some time to shop or just look around this massive market right in the centre of the city. There are clothes, shoes, precious and semi-precious gems and jewelry, inlaid wood, fabric, cosmetics and all sorts of handicrafts.
I’m glad to get out of the market, and go for lunch at the very elegant downtown hotel, the Sule Shangri-La. We are served (family style) a lovely Chinese meal with our choice of beverages, including beer or wine. I have a very nice lager-style local beer, and dine with several of my fellow passengers at big round tables. After lunch, our police escort takes us to the National Museum for a quick look at several interesting exhibits, including the 8-metre-tall golden Lion Throne used by the last Burmese King. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the highlight of a very full day. One of the wonders of the religious world, this Buddhist spectacle was built more than 2,500 years ago. The pagoda is located on the top of Singuttara Hill, so it is visible from all over the city, since the golden stupa is 100 metres tall. It is topped with more than 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones; the largest diamond is 76 carats at the apex! The top three components (the Diamond Orb, The Vane and the Umbrella) consist of some 86,000 jewellery items weighing over 5 tonnes. The decorations on the main stupa were recently redone, with the precious stones coming completely from donations. The pagoda is covered in gold plate (not gold leaf).
Everyone, including tourists have to take shoes and socks off and be modestly dressed before taking the elevator from the entrance to the main plaza that surrounds this huge pagoda. Since it is the middle of the day, the tiles are hot in the midday Sun, however since they are marble, it is tolerable providing you don’t step on the black ones! I work my way around the plaza, which has huge numbers of temples and shrines on both sides of the plaza.
The faithful walk around the pagoda in a clockwise direction (as do we), stopping at shrines and temples along the way. In particular, there are Planetary Posts, or shrines for each day of the week (two for Wednesday), just like there are buddhas for each day of the week. Speaking of Buddhas, there are worship halls and temples for the many different images of Buddhas surrounding the main stupa. Free wifi is available in the southeast area of the plaza, near the south stairway entrance.
Our last stop of the day is to see the Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha. Again, we doff our shoes and socks before entering the compound. This statue is 68 metres (223 feet) long. Buddha’s feet are decorated with astrology and other symbols. There are lots of wat dogs and their pups lounging around the compound.
Our trip back to the ship uses back roads after we cross the river, since our guide and driver want to avoid the local pagoda festival being held on the main road in Thilawa. I hear later from other passengers that they were caught for almost an hour in the festival congestion. Although the back road we took was a bit rough, we were back onboard the ship by 5PM.
Feb 22, 2016 – Monday – Yangon, Myanmar
I spend most of the day aboard the ship at the dock, and leave at 4:30PM to see the Shwedagon Pagoda at night. The traffic is very congested south of the main bridge across the river, but we arrive at the pagoda in time for sunset when the lights illuminate all the gold on the structures. One benefit of visiting at night: the marble tiles on the plaza around the pagoda are cool. Yesterday, I was burning my bare feet as I walked around the pagoda in the midday Sun. The Moon is full, making this evening even more picturesque.
While walking around the pagoda, a young Burmese man strikes up a conversation with me, asking about my country, how long I am staying in the country, how I got here and where I’m going after leaving. He speaks very good English, so we have quite a conversation. Two monks also approach me later on, although they speak poor English. They have similar questions as the young man posed, but they also want me to go with them for some reason. Of course I decline, since I have no idea what they want, and I have no intention of finding out!
This evening, the Thilawa Music & Dance troupe perform traditional Burmese music, dance and acrobatics onboard the ship. Their music is kind of screechy, but the performances are very interesting and the costumes are ornate and colourful. The last number involves two guys inside a giant elephant costume! I take video of portions of the performance.
Myanmar is going through dramatic economic and political change. As a privileged traveller, I only saw hints of the poverty and bad labour practices as we whizzed by in our bus. Here is an article from a reputable news service that describes the darker side of their economy, struggling to emerge from being one of the poorest countries in the world.
After breakfast in the hotel, we take the Metro to see The Louvre this morning. After connecting with our guide Vincent shortly after 9AM, we walk through the expansive foyer and through security. The place is huge, so Vincent has selected some highlights for us, and has also included some of his personal favourites, since we only have a couple of hours.
The Mona Lisa is not too impressive, and we can’t get close to it since there is such a crush of people in the gallery. We have better luck seeing the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite) statue, although both galleries are known to be frequented by pickpockets. I’m thankful that Vincent is guiding us through the endless galleries, since I’m really not into museums, per se. The crowds are hard to cope with, even at this early hour – many are loud, rude, and pushy.
As with the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, I find the display of wealth stolen by Napoleon and the Louis dynasty to be completely over the top. Despite my negative feelings, The Louvre is a place that needs a return visit. I have a feeling that spending a day in the less popular galleries would be more rewarding than our quick visit. After taking a coffee break in the foyer mall, we return to our hotel using the Paris Metro on our own.
Our group’s farewell dinner is held at La Terrasse du 7ème restaurant, which is only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. The meal is wonderful, and the wine is very nice. We start with Kir, which is a cocktail made with crème de cassis (black current liquor) and white wine, and then we have a three course dinner. We finish our farewell on the rooftop patio with some bubbly…a lovely way to end things and say our goodbyes.
We are delayed departing this morning because a couple are leaving the tour to return home because of a medical condition. We are now down to 24 in the group, since two people also didn’t show up. We finally get away from the hotel at 9AM, with Sylvain as our driver. Our bus is huge, so anyone who wants his or her own pair of seats can have them. I end up taking 4 seats, so I can slide from side to side to stay on the shady side and take photos of whatever goes by!
The bus has a restroom, however we are encouraged to use the facilities at rest stops whenever possible. The bus also is stocked with soft drinks, beer and wine in two fridges – we use a tally sheet on the honour system for our purchases at only €1.50 for each bottle. This is often cheaper than what is available at our rest stops, depending on the country we are in.
We cruise down the Autobahn, stopping once at a typical rest stop you would find along any expressway/freeway anywhere in the world. We pass Dutch farms with traditional barns and houses, and Utrecht, a modern city. It is fascinating to watch the countryside fly by us as we travel eastward.
We make a midday stop at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, where we have a couple of hours to wander around this historic park. The cultural history of the Netherlands is showcased, complete with windmills and recreated old towns with historic displays of life in the Netherlands in the old days. We have an authentic Pannenkoeken (pancake) lunch, which is delicious but filling. Three types of Pannenkoeken are served: a multi-cheese pancake, a savoury onion and egg pancake, and an apple dessert pancake. A not-too-sweet apple syrup is available to garnish the dessert pancake, but the first two are normally eaten without further garnish.
I catch up on my journal and annotating photos while we travel along the excellent Autobahns in the Netherlands and Germany. As we travel down the Rhine Valley to our destination Bacharach, the road narrows into a good two or four lane highway. There are lots of tunnels, and the views of the valley, vineyards on the steep slopes, and little towns along the way all fulfill my expectations of the “Rhineland” area of Germany.