Ketchikan is our last port-of-call before our cruise ends in Vancouver the day after tomorrow. This morning after having breakfast in the main dining room before going on a photo safari tour excursion, which gets me out of the city. The historic Creek district of the city is our first stop. We visit the outside of the Totem Heritage Center next, mainly to see the Fog Woman totem pole. We then go to the library for a scenic view before driving to the Totem Bight State Historical Parknorth of the city. This is a recreation of an aboriginal village, featuring a clan house, totems, and other decorated buildings, along with a gift shop. The excursion was fine, but it was certainly the most underwhelming of any of the activities I’ve experienced on this trip.
After I return to the ship, I post my White Pass and Yukon railway videos from a couple of days ago since I now have sufficient bandwidth with the roaming mobile service I’m using today. I get dressed for a 7pm Italian dinner at the Canaletto restaurant up on the Lido deck. While I’m enjoying a pre-dinner martini in the Ocean Bar, I dictate my journal for today using speech recognition on my iPhone. I enjoy a Calamari starter, Veal Florentine Cannelloni main course, and Tiramisu for dessert. I’m finding it so decadent to indulge in such gourmet food accompanied with cocktails and wine!
I attend BBC Earth Presents : Planet Earth II with the Lincoln Center Stage performers on the Main Stage this evening. The performance is well done, with the live performers doing a great job of syncing with the media being played, adding a welcome dimension to the work. I also stop in to enjoy the evening entertainers at the BB King’s Blues Club.
It has been a relaxing cruise, but the land portion was more active and stressful, mainly from the required COVID-19 testing, since failing a test would mean quarantine, the end of the planned travel, disruption and extra expense. Now that I have an ArriveCAN receipt, I’m clear to enter Canada in Vancouver without further testing. Traveling without a smartphone and connectivity would prove to be very awkward, since using apps and online form filling are required to travel right now during the pandemic.
As is usual with cruises, the older people are hacking and coughing in the common areas of the ship. I am hopeful that they do not have the COVID-19 virus. It was a cloudy day today but we had some sunny periods and no rain, which was much better than the forecast indicated.
I’m up at 7am, get cleaned up and dressed and go to the Explorations Cafe for a cappuccino and a couple of chocolate croissants. I decide I can’t live without an Internet connection while at sea, so I sign up for a plan that will cover me for the entire voyage. It is pretty expensive, but worth it for me, since I can now shut off my Canadian carrier’s data roaming I was using when ashore. I’m finding the on-board Internet is more reliable and faster than previous voyages, so perhaps Holland America has upgraded their satellite system.
After the main dining room opens at 8am, I join a table for six for breakfast and have another cappuccino along with a frittata. I meet a woman from San Diego who is seated across from me, and is an experienced solo traveller, so we have a lot to talk about.
The Captain announces that we are sailing south to the Falkland Islands in uncharacteristically calm seas and winds due to a high pressure system over us. He expects it to break down a bit over the next day and a half, but he isn’t expecting any weather problems, even by the time we arrive in Stanley.
I attend two presentations today. Kevin Saslavchik, the Cruise and Travel Director talks about what we should expect in Port Stanley, and Guido talks about Buenos Aires, describing and showing us the things you may have missed and the history of some of the places you did see. As it turns out, Kevin and Guido are both young Argentinians. Kevin is particularly cute, and has a dry sense of humour. Guido jokes around a bit, especially when describing the foibles of Argentina’s various regimes.
We get dressed up and go for Gala Night dinner in the main dining room. My friend has breast of duck and Rack of Lamb, and I just have the lamb, which is excellent. We both have escargot to start, wine with dinner, and I have a Chocolate Soufflé for dessert.
Since the skies are clear we go up to the Sports Deck (9) to observe the gorgeous Full Moon and then climb up to Deck 10 forward to observe the Southern Cross and an upside-down Orion in the northern sky. There are no lights on Deck 10, making it quite dark. I help a fellow passenger find the Southern Cross, which she is thrilled to see for the first time.
March 11, 2020 – Day 2 at sea
I sleep in until 8:45am this morning, but get cappuccino and pastry at the Explorations Cafe before attending a presentation in the Crow’s Nest Lounge by Seth Wayne on his activities as HAL Ambassador. He is a former Seattle weatherman and news broadcaster, and is responsible for Holland America’s online social media presence. He is a long-time cruiser, and gets to go on 2-week segments of cruises on a regular basis. I then go to the Lido to have a lox omelette for brunch before returning to the Explorations Lounge to work on my notebook computer and catch up with online news and email.
The Port to Table cooking show, hosted by Uruguayan Chef Amandine Bondoux appeals to me this afternoon. She makes two dishes: Pejerrey in Escabeche (a type of ceviche) salty appetizer and Dulce de Leche Rogel – a layered thin cookie with chocolate leche stuffing and Italian meringue on top. The ceviche is made with sautéed vegetables, water, vinegar, oil, and the tuna is cooked in the hot liquid with the vegetables, but the fish is still slightly raw in the centre. This dish can be kept refrigerated for several weeks due to the acidic vinegar, and the flavour improves over time. She makes everything from scratch.
The entertainment in the Main Stage this evening is Celli, two Polish cellists who perform a wide variety of music, from classical, to a Michael Jackson medley, and loud and powerful semi-rock tunes with a 4-piece band backing them up. I enjoy their performance!
I am up early this morning to take the tender at 9:15AM for my Segway tour. We are met at the dock by a driver who takes us across the island to the largest city of St. Johns, where we hook up with the Segway tour company. They spend quite a bit of time instructing our small group on how to operate the machines safely, since we are all newbies.
Then we are off, following our tour guide as she talks to us with radio earphones, keeping us on track, safe, and describing the sights. Our first stop is at the Minister of Tourism’s estate on top of a ridge, where we can take photos while overlooking the beautiful harbours, coastline, and an abandoned sugar mill.
We next stop at beautiful Runaway Beach (see banner image above) for a refreshment break. Before the new airport was built, small passenger aircraft would land on the hard sand on this beach. Fort James is our next stop – an abandoned fort with lots of cannons still on the rock walls overlooking the harbour. We scoot along Fort James Beach, and then back to the starting point.
Our driver takes us back across the island to Falmouth Harbour, where our ship’s staff are staging a barbeque lunch on the local beach. I stop to have some lunch, but take the next tender back to the ship and then relax with a beer while on deck overlooking the beautiful harbour. A steel band comes aboard in the early evening to play Caribbean beats before the ship sails out of the harbour.
There is a Deck Sale this morning beside the Lido Pool, which is always a good time to buy Holland America Line apparel at discounted prices, but I don’t find any t-shirts or golf shirts I like. The ship’s photographers are also there selling photo albums and cameras – a new sales angle for them!
Ginny Stibolt’s talk this morning: How Modern Farming Changed a Civilization – Beginning in the 1800s, farming crops such as sugar, pineapple, and others changed Hawaii in many ways. What I learned:
The last sugar mill in Hawai’i closed in 2016
Pineapples don’t ripen after being picked
Not much pineapple is commercially grown in Hawai’i now – new crops have taken over the lead, including Roundup-ready crops, GMOs, seeds, papaya, Macadamia Nuts, Cacao (source of chocolate), coffee, floral crops – native and exotic.
I go for a swim in the Ocean View pool in the stern of the vessel after lunch today. It is the first day which is warm enough outside for swimming. The water is cool, but I enjoy the exercise!
My friends have been raving about the quartet playing chamber music at the Lincoln Center Stage venue aboard ship (see banner image above), so I join them this evening. The Masterworks by Brahms is an absolutely stunning performance! People are raving about this group, and the venue is full for virtually every performance.
I have been setting my clocks back an hour most evenings before I go to bed since we are sailing westward. As of 2AM we will now be on Hawaii Local Time, so there will be no more time changes until we start sailing back to Vancouver.
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.
After parking in the Tronchetto parking area of Venice, we get our bags off the bus and take the Vaporetto (water bus) to the Academia area. Jennifer previously warned us that an historical regatta was happening along the Grand Canal, which means some bridges and portions of the canal are closed to traffic. We schlepp our bags through the crowds, but when we reach the Academia Bridge, it is jammed solid with a crowd and is complete chaos. At this point we can no longer roll our bags as we squeeze through the crowds. It takes us about 20 minutes to carefully cross to the other side and regroup before continuing the rather stressful walk to our hotel.
The Hotel Serenissima is located just four blocks from St. Marks Square, and it’s not much further to the Rialto Bridge area. My room is the tiniest hotel room I have ever stayed in, however it has a bathroom and a single bed, and is comfortable and quiet, since it faces the inner courtyard instead of the street.
We don’t have much time, but I manage to get cleaned up before we go out for a group dinner at Trattoria alla Madonna. The food and service is very good. The dinner includes salad, main course, wine, dessert, and some entertainment from a trio that wandered in from the street. They make out like bandits from all the tips our group give them!
Another highlight of the tour is a night time gondola ride through the canals, complete with a singer and accordion player! Our guide Jennifer arranges this extra (reasonable) cost activity for those of us who want to go, so we share four gondolas. It is great to experience this with the group. It is a beautiful night, the Moon is full over the Grand Canal, and the city is alive with people as we glide by listening to our musicians. Jennifer even serves us Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) before we start the gondola ride!
September 8, 2014 – Monday – Venice
After breakfast at the hotel this morning, we go on an early morning guided walk with a local guide. We see Marco Polo family’s square, then go to the Venice Hospital area, where we have a break. The hospital looks like a church to me. The walk continues wandering through Venice, and we eventually come to a little shop on a canal, which sells Venetian masks. Our guide takes the whole group inside to see how the Moroccan owner makes the masks. I’m not interested, although the rest of the group seem to enjoy it.
Our last stop on the tour is the famous St. Marks Cathedral on St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco), where our guides leave us. Timing is important, since at 11:30AM, the lights illuminating the ceiling inside the church are turned on. This is new for the cathedral and well worth planning for, since the ceiling comes alive with the extra light, and photography of the ceiling detail is much more rewarding. I decide to pay extra to see the famous golden horses, which are upstairs in the museum part of the church. This turns out very well, since I also have access to the balcony over the main entrance, which gives an unobstructed view of the flooded St. Marks Square, the Doges Palace, the intricate St. Mark’s Clocktower, and the nearby islands and canals. I skip touring the Doges Palace, since I saw it last time I was here in 2006.
I get my shoes soaked as I try to dodge the water in the square on my way back to the hotel. After a nap in my room, I go out walking around the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, take some photos, and just enjoy my free time in Venice. I join a couple in the tour group for dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant with a great view of a canal near the Rialto Bridge. Now that the cruise ship passengers have left Venice, the place is civilized again!
September 9, 2014 – Tuesday – Venice to Florence
We don’t encounter any problems taking the Vaporetto back to the Tronchetto parking area of Venice this morning, since the Regatta is over – things are back to normal.
March 14, 2014 – Friday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 5 Sea Day
I check on my flights home on the United Airlines website and find they are on schedule. I always check in at the counter when I arrive at the airport, since I have to check my big bag and get seat assignments. It is too complicated and time-consuming to check in online while aboard ship, although many passengers no doubt do this.
I attend two talks put on by the ship’s officers today. Both are informative, and there are lots of questions from the audience.
10AM – Virtual Engine Room Tour with Chief Engineer Silbert Whyte, the Chief Engineer talks about the engines, power, and other infrastructure systems in the ship.
2PM Virtual Bridge Tour with Statendam’s Navigational and Safety Officer (also the First Officer) talks about the bridge, navigation and other bridge functions.
We have our last formal night this evening, and it is also the Black and White Ball later this evening, so the Rotterdam dining room is decorated once again. The tenor and the soprano from the ship’s troupe sing classic songs this evening in the Showroom, and an orchestra is assembled from the various musicians aboard the ship to back them up. It was well done – I enjoyed it.
March 12, 2014 – Wednesday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 3 Sea Day
I have breakfast this morning in the Rotterdam dining room, but keep it light. I have the Mariners Brunch to attend at 11AM, where virtually everyone aboard is recognized for our loyalty to Holland America with a gift of a Delft ceramic tile. The Captain and Hotel Manager are on hand to greet everyone, and the Cruise Director emcees the proceedings. We have a lunch menu to choose from, but we are out of there by noon.
I go to Jonathan Nalley’s presentation on Mars and the missions sent there. I spend a few minutes online this afternoon in order to finish what I was doing yesterday when the connection to the Internet broke. I had to ask for a credit, since I couldn’t log back on to log off properly yesterday. This morning the connection wasn’t solid, so I waited until this afternoon to complete my posting to Facebook, and download email.
After dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening, I go to see the show Marcus Terrell & The Serenades, which is a Motown trio with some soul mixed in. I enjoyed their show a few nights ago, and this one is even better. They mix it up by adding in some pop/opera with “The Promise”, and pretty well nail it. They get a standing ovation and give the appreciative audience an encore. A concert reel video from 2015.
I set the alarm this morning in order to see our arrival in Suva. It brought back memories of sailing the SV Sequoia through the same channel in 2004, when I crewed the open ocean segment from New Zealand to Fiji with the Johnstons. This time my mode of transportation is a bit more luxurious!
Our arrival at King’s Wharf is heralded by the Suva Police Band – they march up and down the wharf playing some very catchy tunes. It is overcast today, so it is not as hot as Pago Pago was (our previous port of call in American Samoa). I call my Fijian friends several times this morning, but there is no answer, so I find my onboard friends and we go ashore together.
We walk along the waterfront to catch some views of the harbour. It is Independence Day in Fiji, so most shops and offices are closed. We meet several Fijian families who are enjoying the day off. We walk past the derelict Grand Pacific Hotel and take an obligatory photo of the guard dressed in a ceremonial uniform (including a sulu) who is posted at the Governor General’s mansion.
We then wander through Thurston Gardens and see the Fiji Museum. The last time I toured this museum was in 1975. At that time, cannibalism artifacts were prominently displayed, but there wasn’t a sign of them during this visit. When I pay for the admission to the museum for myself and my friends, the guy at the desk notices my “old” bills. I had saved them from my last trip six years ago, so Fiji have obviously updated their currency since then.
Despite the cloudy weather, we still find the walk to be hot and exhausting. We stop in town to poke around the few shops that are open. A friendly Fijian “sweeper” directs us to the shops that sell t-shirts, jewellery, and other tourist stuff. I buy a Fiji Bitter beer t-shirt for FJ$22 (CD$12). We also walk through Prouds, a high end department store. After returning to the comfort of the ship, I head for the Sea View pool to cool off, and then grab some lunch in the Lido.
The Suva Police Band is once again serenades us before our 5pm departure. They have an incredible repertoire…not just marching tunes, but also pop and rock and roll! Their performance has to be one of the highlights of this trip. What a change from the last time I saw the band in 1975, when it was a pretty ordinary marching band. I shoot some high definition video to capture some of their wonderful performance. The ship continues to wait in Suva harbour for the arrival of New Zealand customs and immigration officers, who are delayed about two hours. The band played on (as the old saying goes), giving everyone an amazing show – this is no ordinary marching band!