United Arab Emirates – April 13th, 2017

Day 3 – Dubai – 103 degrees ~

The convenience of an eatery, not only familar, but next door, led us to Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast.  Then we took cab to the Dubai Mall.  To say it was hot is an understatement.  It was 103 degrees.  We got on the Big Bus Tour, where it was air conditioned inside, but if we wanted to take photos without shooting through a tinted, smudged window, we had to go up on top and brave the heat.  As the tour started, we drove around the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building!  Then, we drove by the Al Fahidi Fort and Dubai Museum, Al Bastakiya, Heritage Village, and then got off  in the old part of town, where we looked through the Old Souk.  There were spice shops, textiles, and lots of tourist shops where we wandered through and tourists could haggle over the prices on local crafts.  It was pretty interesting.  We hopped back on the bus and drove past the Dhow Warfage, Dubai Creek, and got back off at the Gold Souk, where we walked through a couple of jewelry stores and finally bought a pair of simple 18k hoop earrings for $50 at place called Mega Star.  Then we stopped at the  Al Kahf Cafeteria, where a British couple gave us a thumbs up on the food.  I had a chicken shawarma that was pretty tasty.  We sat under an umbrella and sweltered in the heat.  We walked back to the bus stop and continued the bus tour, past the Old Shindagha Watchtower,  Spice Souk,  Hindu Temple, Persian Mosque, Wafi Hotel, and finally back to the Dubai Mall, where we hopped off the bus and took cab back to hotel.  We walked next door to Safestway Grocery Store and bought a couple of bananas, box of blueberries, yogurt, honey.  We relaxed for a bit and went back over to the mall where there was a water fountain display that is reminiscent of the Bellagio fountain show.  There was a crowd, and no way for someone as short as me to see the spectable of the show.  Ces’t la vie.  We took the Big Bus Night Tour.  The night lights of the city were beautiful and the architecture is amazing.  The highlights were the Burj Khalifa (the worlds tallest building), Burj Al Arab (which resembles a giant sail), Jumerah Lakes Towers, Atlantis the Palm, Sheikh Zayed Road, Financial Center, and the Tallest Block, which is the tallest block of skyscrapers in the world.  The views were truly stunning.

We ended up at the Wafi Mall for  a light and sound show, called Return of the Pharaohs. They had a projection laser light show that beamed images on the Pyramids Entrance of the Khan Murjan Souk along with synchronized music, including Pink Floyd.

People kept walking out of the of the building, and onto the stage while the show was going on.  They were always surprised to realize that all eyes were on them.  One lady walked out, freaked, and ran back inside!  Then a black and white cat walked by.  It was weirded out too and quickly made its way into the night.  We took a cab back to the hotel.


United Arab Emirates – April 11-12th, 2017

Days 1 & 2 – Travel to Dubai ~

Lufthansa Airlines, brings warm damp cloths a couple of times during the flight and free wine or beer with the two meals.  They also provide a nightcap of Cognac or Baily’s Irish Cream.  It’s a nice touch that the other airlines we’ve traveled on don’t provide.  On the flight to Frankfurt, we crossed several time zones.  We landed at 10:30 pm, on April 12th, and took a cab to our hotel, the Villa Rotana hotel.

15 Night Arabian Sea & Suez Canal Cruise…plus 3 days in Dubai, 2 days in Abu Dhabi, and 15 days at the end of the cruise in Italy!!!

The idea for this trip began when the Porterfield’s called to say that they had seen a good deal for a 15 day repositioning cruise, (Celebrity Cruise Lines) that would take us from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.   We started in the Arabian Sea (in the Indian Ocean), and traveled through the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden (connecting the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea) through the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, and traveled through the Suez Canal via the Isthmus of Suez and finally ended the Mediterranean Sea.  Then, we continued on and sailed through the Levantine Sea, the Sea of Crete, the Ionian Sea, and passed through the Strait of Messing and ended up in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The cruise started in Abu Dhabi, where we boarded the Constellation.  The ports would be Muscat, Oman; Aqaba, Jordan (where we will visit Petra – one of the 7 wonders of the modern world); Athens (Piraeus Port) Greece; Katakolon, Greece (where we will visit Olympia and the Acropolis); and we end in Rome (Civitavecchia Port) Italy.

We decided to fly to Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi as the fares were less expensive.  We also decided to go a few days early to spend a few days in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Then we decided to extend our vacation and go by train and car to visit Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast Line.  We would drive to Siena and Florence, and then we will take the train and finish the trip in Venice.  This will be close to a five week trip.  When a good deal presents itself, it’s nice to be able to say, “let’s go for it!”

India – October 14, 2016

Day 19 – Matiari ~

We got an early start this morning at 6:30.  We disembarked and walked through the town.  We visited a bazaar that featured exquisite handcrafted copper items using traditional and primitive methods passed down for generations.  These master craftsmen use recycled metal and create beautifully engraved pots, platters, and other items in their workshops in the village.

Matiari lies on the banks of the Hooghly River, which is a distributary of the Ganges River.  Some of the locals refer to the town as the Brass working village.  This name comes from the town’s rich history of making utensils from brass that dates back over 100 years, when the village’s senior elders who worked in brass factories in Calcutta were sent back to Matiari as they became less efficient.   As they still needed to provide for their families, they started making the brass utensils at home.  This is how the tradition got started and continues to this day.  It has become a main source of income for the people living in Matiari.

As we walked through the narrow streets, there were curious people looking at us from their doors.   We passed a woman packing cow manure patties onto the wall for drying, which they use for fuel.  We also saw a few tiny baby goats that were very cute.

We stopped in a couple of brass shops and bought a couple of brass serving spoons that nested together.  They’re kind of heavy, but a good souvenir from this little town.

We returned to the ship for a late breakfast and set sail.   We passed the site of the 1757 Battle of Plassey, when Robert Clive of the British East India Company defeated the Nawabs of Bengal, the then rulers of Bengal and their French allies, thereby establishing the company rule in India which expanded over much of South Asia for the next 190 years.

At 4:30 pm, we took the ferry to the shore and enjoyed a leisurely walk past local farmers’ fields to Nawab Ali-Wardi-Khan’s (1740-1756), a private and peaceful manicured Mughal style garden complex, where his entire family is buried.  It’s also called, “The Garden of Happiness”,  His grandson, Siraj-ud-Dawlah (1756-1757), was defeated by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in the year 1757 which changed the course of Indian history.  Also buried with the walled compound is Danish Fakir, shot dead by the British, to whom he betrayed Siraj’s hiding place, leading to his death.  At the far end of the garden is Khusbagh Mossque built in 1740.

At 6:30 pm, there was a short dance program performed by a small troupe of 12 dancers (male and female).  The dances were a combination of both tribal and classical styles, and were accompanied by traditional recorded music.  The adult troupe comes from the Behrampur Kala Khestra Dance School a local dance school from the area.  There was some sort of large gnats by the thousands that were drawn to the lights, and they were getting in our hair and we kept having to swat them off.  I don’t think they were biting, but it was distracting.  The program, was interesting and they really put their heart and soul into the performance.

India – October 13, 2016

Day 18 – Kalna ~

After starting the day with a Yoga workout, we set out on a morning excursion to the Rajbari complex,  with the highest concentration of temples in the region.  We started with a ferry ride from the ship to shore and then boarded human powered rickshaws.  Mark and I got our wires crossed and we were going to go individually, but when he  went get on one by himself, it turned out that there were none left, and he settled for a motor-driven rickshaw…bummer; I wish he had squeezed in with me.  We rode through the narrow streets, until we got to the Rajbari complex.  On one side of the road lies the walled complex with various styles of finely detailed, terracotta plaques depicting themes of Hindu epics, Durga images, and various aspects of day-to-day life in the region.  Other temples within the complex include Lalji Temple, built in 1739 with 25 steeples, and the oldest in the complex.  A bright yellow Garuda with green wings faces the main deities, Radha and Krishna.  Miniature panels which surround the base of the temple, depict scenes from the Puranas.  The temple is dedicated to Shri Radhika and Shri Krishna. In front of the temple is a Natmandir or a dancing hall.

We also saw the Krishna Chandra Mandir, which was built in 1751, with its 25 steeples and is adorned with scenes from the famous Ramayana and Mahabharata.  Opposite the walled complex lies the Naba Kailash Temple.  It was built in 1809 by the Bardhaman Maharaja.  The complex contains two concentric circles of 108 aat-chala (eight sloped roofed) temples, separated by a beautiful garden.  The outer circle consists of 74 temples of alternating black and white lingas (the representation of a penis), while the 34 temples of the inner circle contain only white lingas.  It was fascinating.

The Shiv Lingas in the outer circle represent the world we live in, where white symbolizes good deeds and black symbolizes sins.  It is only through prayers to Lord Shiva that one gets to see the world filled with pure thoughts and deeds.  Such a world is symbolised by the inner circle of temples.

Afterwards, we walked back to the river through a farmer’s market and a bread bakery.  We also walked through one of the Durga festival tents.  It was really pretty.  When we got back to the river, there were some women with tiny babies, one was nursing.  The children and women are so beautiful.  People were bathing in the river and we are once again reminded how important the Mother Ganges River is.  We took the ferry back to the boat and had a nice lunch.  Then we headed out to the deck to make a 360 degree GoPro video and photograph fisherman, farmers, women doing laundry, and kids playing in the river.  We attended an informative lecture on “The Ganges River: The Environmental Outlook and Socio-economic Impact of the Local Population,” given by Arvind Singh.  People consider the Ganges as “Mother,” so they feel connected to the river spiritually, and have faith that the pollution won’t affect their health.

We then learned how to play a new game called, “Sequence.”  It’s fun.  There was a beautiful sunset tonight.  Dinner was good – large prawns.  Party boats from Matiari kept coming out from shore and circling our boat.  There was loud music, dancing, and fireworks.  We took a short video when they stopped by our boat and we cheered from the boat while they cheered from their boat.  What great fun this Festival of Durga is.  Today is the last day of the eleven day event.

India – October 12, 2016

Day 17 – Kolkata ~

I started the day with a Yoga group, on the upper deck.  After breakfast, we took a panoramic city bus tour of Bandel where saw the British colonial area. We drove past the Writers’ Building, General Post Office, High Court, Raj Bhawan (Governor’s House), and more.  We continued on to St. John’s Church.  It was built in 1756 and is the oldest Anglican church in Kolkata.  It contains the oldest functioning pipe organ in India and there is also a painting of the Last Supper by Johann Zofanny.

Afterwards, we visited the Mother Teresa home.  It was a moving experience, considering Mother Teresa was just made a saint in the shortest time on record – about 20 years.  Her tomb is plain marble and there were decorations of marigolds adorning the lid.  Pilgrams came to pay their respects, while we observed the moment of  their somber prayers.  A small adjacent museum room displays Teresa’s worn sandals and battered enamel dinner bowl. Located upstairs is the room where she worked and slept from 1953 to 1997, preserved in all its simplicity, just as she left it.

We were able to see her personal things:  bed, chair, journals, etc., and learn about her life and last days.  Nuns were in the courtyard washing their habits on the stone floor.  While we waited for the bus outside, we saw Muslin women, one in a black burka, that only left room for her eyes to show.  Seeing the women of two different faiths in their traditional clothing was interesting.

Next, we were off to visit the Victoria Memorial Museum, containing the largest collection of British colonial historical items in India.  There also was an impressive marble structure paying homage to the British Queen in India.  To us, it seemed an odd thing to see so much attention paid to the British.

We took the ferry back to the ship for lunch, and had the rest of the day to relax.  We washed our clothes in the sink and rinsed them in the shower, then hung the quick-dry underwear out to dry on our surgical braided material clothesline.  We must look like the poor-folk on the ship.  The shirts and pants were hung on hangers and suspended from the shower door, air conditioning vent, and wall sconces.  I bet the staff wouldn’t be happy, but they charge a lot of money to do laundry here.  We had our first sit-down, 4-course meal and choices.  They provided wine and beer.  It was good!

India – October 11, 2016

Day 16 – Agra / Delhi / Kolkata / Embark RV Ganges Voyager ~

We left Agra and took a 4½ hour bus to Delhi.  We were at the airport three hours early.  The security is really thorough.  After our bags went through the scanner, men and women walk through seperate scanners and into seperate booths, where you get felt-up by the agent.  It’s nothing like in the US.  They checked our ID’s and boarding passes again, and had us take our tech devices out of our carry-on luggage, including chargers, batteries, and cameras.  At the gate they checked our ID’s and boarding passes again, and then as we were getting on the plane, they checked them again.  Wow.  Our flight to Kolkata was on Air India 787.  There were nine seats across, and the bathrooms had ultra-violet lights, to sanitize between usage.  I’ve never seen that before; perhaps it’s a new plane.  Once in Kolkata, we met with our new City Guide.  It took us a little over an hour to get to the Ganges and on the way, the city was lit up with festival lights everywhere.  Every few blocks, there was a display to the Goddess Durga.  It really was magical. The Durga Puja (worship) is an 11 day festival, ending with the immersion of the Durga idols where she is returned to the river.  We were taken by a rinky-dink ferry, that chugged along and almost sounded like it was going the die.  It was like the story, “The Little Engine that Could.” Our ship is moored in the middle of the river as it isn’t deep enough to dock at the shore.  We boarded the brand-new RV Ganges Voyager, had a glass of fruit juice, had our safety briefing, and went dinner at 7:30 pm.  This was the beginning of our seven-night Ganges River cruise.

So is it the Ganges or the Hooghly?  On the map, it’s labeled the Hooghly.  But, we’re told that it is the Ganges…technically, but not exactly.  Until the 12th century the river now called the Hooghly was the main arm of the Ganges.   To the people of Bengal, it never was the Hooghly, it is not the Hooghly now; it is the beloved Ganga or Ganges.  Like the rest of the Ganges, the Hooghly is considered sacred to Hindus, and its water is considered holy.