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Sailing from Bali to Singapore

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

Volendam's route from Bali to Singapore
Volendam’s route from Bali to Singapore

It takes two full days for Volendam to sail across the Java Sea from the Island of Bali in Indonesia to Singapore, giving everyone aboard some days at sea.

Mar 14, 2016 – Monday – At sea heading to Singapore

Our morning out of Bali starts with a fire alarm at 7AM in the crew’s laundry area, which is quickly investigated and dealt with. The Captain addresses the ship over the PA system to keep us informed. I do a load of laundry this morning since I need some fresh clothes, and manage to beat the crowd. I end up washing everything that is dirty in order to fill the load, and I’m all done with the self-serve laundry in less than an hour. I decide to have breakfast in the dining room, but there is a huge line and the dining room is close to capacity. Crowd mentality on a sea day takes over!

Chris at the Explorations Cafe espresso bar aboard Volendam
Chris at the Explorations Cafe espresso bar aboard Volendam

Same goes later on for the Explorations Cafe, where crowds gather to order specialty coffees all morning as I sit in the library area working on my journal. I love sea days where I can drink cappuccino and work on my MacBook Pro annotating photos and journalling. This is all preparatory work for my JoeTourist travelogues.

Mar 15, 2016 – Tuesday – At sea heading to Singapore

A media Polywog kisses the fish - King Neptune Ceremony aboard Volendam
A media Polywog kisses the fish – King Neptune Ceremony aboard Volendam

The King Neptune Ceremony is held on the stern deck at the Sea View Pool today. There are some seriously cute shirtless young crewmen, including a stunning Merman as part of King Neptune’s court, and two male dancers from the ship’s troupe. The officers and crew have fun with the ceremony, and the passengers enjoy the spectacle of the mock court trials, kissing the fish, sliming, and dunking of the polliwogs. I later receive my third Crossing the Equator Certificate as a member of the Royal and Ancient Order of Shellbacks, signed by Captain James Russell-Danforth and Hotel Director Jason Hale.

Mar 16, 2016 – Wednesday – at the dock in Singapore

Today is weird. I’m ready to return home, but my flights don’t leave until tomorrow. I meet friends for brunch at a downtown hotel, who are using the MRT passes, so they pick me up just inside the cruise ship terminal at the nearby VivoCity Mall’s HarbourFront station. We navigate downtown on the MRT, and afterwards, I find my way back to the cruise ship terminal without a problem, and get busy packing. After a month, it takes some effort to get everything back into my big checked bag!

Rotterdam Dining Room aboard the Volendam
Rotterdam Dining Room aboard the Volendam

I was going to join some fellow passengers for an early dinner of Chilli Crab in a local restaurant ashore, but I end up having dinner in the dining room on board the ship one last time. I have prime rib and pavlova for dessert. I’m going to have a shock when I return home and have to prepare all my meals again! After finishing my packing, I go to bed around 9PM, and sleep soundly until my alarm wakes me six hours later at 3AM to catch a shuttle to Changi Airport.

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Fly to Singapore on Feb 14th

On February 13, 2016 I fly out of Victoria Airport on WestJet to Vancouver airport, and then onward on a red-eye Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong (Feb 14th), and take a connector flight to Singapore. I overnight in Singapore (Feb 15th) and then embark Holland America’s Volendam for the 30 day  SE Asia Solar Eclipse cruise.

I’m excited and ready to go, but let’s review some pre-planning tasks I’ve completed over the last few weeks.

Finances

  • I have ensured I have sufficient funds in my main chequing account, should I need to draw money while traveling.
  • My credit card balances are all paid to zero, so if I need to meet any major expense while traveling, I have the resources available.
  • I have advised my credit card companies of my travel plans.
  • I purchased some currency for most of the countries I will be visiting, so I don’t have to waste time seeking out currency exchanges or banks. I am also carrying US Dollars in small denominations, which are accepted in virtually any country in the world for small items. Tipping people with US$ is often appreciated!
  • All shipboard expenses are charged to a passenger’s account, which is guaranteed by a credit card, but which can be settled with US$ cash if preferred. It is very important to keep track of expenses while aboard ship!
  • Aboard the ship, all tipping is discouraged, since Holland America assesses a gratuity on behalf of all staff to each passenger’s onboard account. That said, cabin stewards are usually given a bit more of a tip in US$ cash by most passengers at the end of a cruise, so I have to take US$ cash with me for that occasion.

Emergency Plan

  • If there is an emergency at home, I have left instructions for family on how cope with them without depending on me.
  • I have left instructions on how to reach me while I travel: hotels, cruise ships, and my mobile phone number.
  • I carry the same emergency lists with me, both printed out and in electronic form.

Communications

  • I know what roaming option I will use from my Canadian mobile provider to keep me connected, but limit costs.
  • Internet access is available aboard ship, but it’s expensive, unreliable, and slow. I will be using it, but I won’t depend on it!
  • Internet is available ashore, however I really don’t have time during our ports-of-call to seek out Internet cafes. Additionally, there is significant security risks while using some shore-based Internet services.
  • In addition to my Canadian-based mobile phone, I also take a second unlocked mobile phone with a “Global” UK number to use as an alternative, should my primary mobile service not function as I expect.
  • Since half of the cruise is in Indonesia, I may take some time to seek out a pay-as-you-go cellular plan for that country if it looks like it won’t take too much of my precious time.
  • As a last resort, ship-to-shore telephone is available from every cabin. This is an extremely expensive communication option, but it is good to know it is there, should other methods fail.

Health & travel medicine

  • I have travel medical coverage through my VISA credit card, so I don’t have to purchase this coverage.
  • Last week, I took a booster dose of Dukoral, a vaccine which provides protection from Cholera as well as Travellers’ diarrhea caused by ETEC.
  • My packing list includes both my prescription medications sufficient for 30 days, as well as over-the-counter remedies for various minor ailments.
  • The cruise ship has a well-equipped hospital staffed with a doctor and nurse, should I need more immediate medical attention.
  • I have verified that no special vaccinations are required for entry into the countries I will be visiting.

Travel documents and identification

  • My cruise and airline flight confirmations are printed out, and three copies are stored in strategic places on my person and in my carryon travel bags.
  • All of my travel arrangements are stored in cloud storage, as well as on my smart phone, laptop computer and tablet. All copies are on secure services and encrypted, but available from a simple web browser, providing the proper credentials are given.
  • I am carrying my vaccination records with me “just in case”, and they are all scanned and stored on the online services and electronic devices along with my other documents.
  • My Canadian passport is current and valid for more than six months after my return date.
  • Entry Visas are required by some of the countries I will be visiting, however Holland America has assured me they can handle the issuance of entry Visas aboard ship for a modest service fee.

Entertainment & tech

  • My iPad contains lots of e-magazines and e-books, so I have lots of reading material.
  • My iPhone contains my complete music collection, so I will have no shortage of tunes.
  • My notebook computer has become my essential travel companion for trips I’ve taken in the last decade or so. I use it to download and view the photos and video I take each day. I try to tag all photos with titles and locations as I go. This is especially important on a long trip such as this, otherwise it is easy to forget particulars about photos. I also use my notebook computer to keep a travel journal, post blog entries to my JoeTourist website, and I can even use it to place VoIP calls over the Internet if need be.
  • I have pre-booked numerous shore excursions with Holland America. This ensures I don’t waste time negotiating with shore-based excursion companies or operators. My time is precious, so I can justify the more expensive cruise line excursions. Also, if a Holland America excursion is late, the ship will wait…not so if you make your own excursion arrangements!

Photography & video

  • I have my trusty dSLR, underwater point-and-shoot camera, and a video-cam in my camera bag, complete with spare batteries, chargers, lenses, and tripods.
  • Since we will be observing and photographing a Solar Eclipse, I also have solar filters for my cameras.

Eclipse observing

  • I have image-stabilized binoculars in my carry-on bags, and also have solar filters to fit over them, so my visual eclipse observing will be from a chair unaided eye and binoculars.
  • My Kestrel portable weather station provides essential observing instrumentation, measuring changes in temperature and other weather-related data.
  • I will use the same photo setup as on my 2012 Solar Eclipse cruise
    • Photos – a telephoto lens and Canon dSLR mounted on a ball head on a tripod
    • Video – Canon video cam on a small tripod, strapped to some superstructure to “capture the human emotion – a the moment of Totality”

Packing

  • I pack at the last minute, since I have well-proven packing lists I have used many times. This ensures I don’t forget anything, and it means I start packing a day before departure.
  • Cathay Pacific has very generous checked baggage allowances, and of course the cruise line has virtually no baggage limits, however I will still pack carefully and stick to the essentials!
  • The ship has self-serve laundry facilities, so I plan to do laundry each week during the cruise, which reduces the amount of clothes I need to pack.
  • I am allowed a carry on bag and a personal item aboard the airlines I will be using. I always carry my camera bag as my personal item, and a small briefcase as my carry on bag, containing my notebook computer, tablet, and other techie essentials.

Bottom line: I’m ready to go!

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Departing Athens for Victoria

Greece 2006

April 14, 2006 – Friday – Athens, Greece -Milan-Toronto-Victoria, Canada

My alarm goes off at 3am and I am picked up by Jimmy (Paul’s alternate) at 4am. It is a bit confusing picking out Jimmy, since there are so many cabs going by. Exarhia is still going strong at this late hour! Jimmy and I have a nice chat on the way to the airport, and I pay him the €500 I owe Paul for the taxi services over the last week.

As I board my Alitalia flight to Milan, it is raining lightly at Athens airport. We taxi over the airport’s main access road on an overpass to get to our runway. As we takeoff, the rain is increasing. What luck I’ve had on this trip. At most we had some overcast in Venice, otherwise it has been sunny every day. We fly the length of Italy’s east coast south to north, and land on time in Milan. I end up only two gates away from where my group left Malpenza for Tripoli three weeks ago! This is the old part of the airport, and it is very crowded. Destinations for the four gates include: Prague, Bucharest, Tunisia, Timisora, Cairo, Istanbul, Krakow, Dublin, and (of course) Toronto – my flight.

Flight map - Athens to Milan
Flight map – Athens to Milan

The Tunisia flight seems to be popular with the Italians by the look of the passports. Lots of tired, squalling kids, and they all appear to be waiting for the Toronto flight. I observe two common types of passengers for Toronto: Indians with kids returning home (after already spending many hours in the air), and older Italians obviously going to visit their family in Toronto. We board Alitalia AZ652, a Boeing 767-33A (ER) about 20 minutes late, then once we are aboard, another 30 minute delay is announced due to ATC traffic congestion.

Flight map - Milan to Toronto
Flight map – Milan to Toronto

I take some nice photographs of Lago Maggiore and the Italian Alps, where my eclipse tour group stayed in Beligerate on our last night (just north of Milan). We are flying over Guernsey and the south coast of Wales while having dinner. I also spot several large ships in the Atlantic shipping lane off the coast of England. Flying over Newfoundland reveals endless frozen lakes and not a tree in sight. I think the Italian woman sitting beside me was impressed, and perhaps a little worried about finding the same thing in Toronto! Unfortunately she doesn’t speak English, so I can’t reassure her about Toronto’s milder climate.

I’ve noticed as we fly over the Atlantic that aircraft in the traffic lanes fly very close to each other – at times I could almost make out the aircraft markings. One of the female Alitalia cabin crew sees my digital SLR, and tells me I can’t use it in flight. This doesn’t make any sense – it’s normal to prohibit use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing, but not during flight. Alitalia’s own announcement states this, but I wasn’t going to argue the point with her so I put my camera away. Despite this warning, I took some great aerial shots all the way from Athens through to the St. Lawrence!

After 9.5 hours in the air, we finally arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Alitalia lands at a skyway equipped gate, but it is off in some remote area of the airport. Everyone has to get on a shuttle bus and go for a 20 minute ride to Terminal One. We then go through Canadian Immigration. There are a dozen officers, however two flights are being processed: ours from Italy, and one from China. The Chinese take a long time to be interviewed, since many don’t speak English, and it appears some haven’t filled in the form. Once I am finally interviewed by an officer, I breeze through in less than a minute. I also am lucky to find the correct luggage carousel and grab my bag right away. Customs decides they don’t want to talk with me, so that was easy!

I now have five hours to kill before my Air Canada direct flight to Victoria departs. I sip a Cappuccino Grande, which is my first cappuccino since we left Italy. While in Athens, I made coffee with my breakfast in the apartment. I really didn’t feel comfortable spending time in the numerous cafés in Athens for some reason – perhaps it was all the smoking that put me off.

Pearson International Airport is quite impressive, now that the expansion is completed. The new Terminal One is grand-looking, with soaring ceilings and glass, new car displays, bars, restaurants, coffee bars, duty free shops, bookstores and all sorts of other shops.  Even the cleaning staff are impressive: they wear black and white suit-like uniforms complete with ties, and the airport is absolutely spotless.

While I’m waiting for my flight, I call home and let them know I’m in Toronto and the flight appears to be on-time, so they should plan to pick me up at 10:30pm. After this call, I watch a young Chinese guy try to use one of the pay telephones without success. He then asks me for help, and I see that the number he is calling is Ottawa (long distance). I coach him through the process of using a credit card, but the telephone rejects his Chinese card. I then offer to let him use my cellular telephone, which works fine. He is very grateful, shakes my hand, and runs off to the gate to board his flight.

Flight map - Toronto to Victoria
Flight map – Toronto to Victoria

I am extremely tired when I finally arrive at Victoria Airport. It takes me about five days to fully recover from the jet lag.  The westward journey was certainly the killer.  I wouldn’t let a travel agent talk me into a 30 hour elapsed time flight again…that’s for sure.  I should have had an overnight stay in Toronto on the way back, as happened for the start of my trip.