Called to Serve

We have loved traveling and being with family for the past two years but we felt the call to serve another mission so here we are in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for the next year.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cruising 2013

On May 3rd we took flight for Barcelona, Spain. We were to board the Mariner of the Seas cruise ship on May 6th and decided that we should spend a little time in Barcelona before sailing. We arrived in Barcelona on May 4th.   Wayne had booked a room through Hotwire at the Barcelona Universial Hotel.  We were really surprised when we checked in and found that we were in a suite.  Our room was on the corner of the 9th floor and had a large wrap around balcony.  We had a beautiful view of the city and it was a nice place to sit and eat our breakfast in the morning.

After getting settled into our room, we took a walk around the downtown area to see what was there.  While we made efforts to guard against pickpockets we felt quite safe walking, even after dark.

The next day we took a city tour.  As we drove we came to a point where we got a view of one of Barcelona's most famous landmarks, the Sagrada  Familia Cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi.  Construction was begun in 1882.  By the time Gaudi died in 1926 only 1/4 of the building was completed.  To this day it is still under contstruction.
                      The Sagrada Familia dominates the view of the city.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Very intricate detailing on the outside.  
                     We spent most of our time looking around in the Sagrada Familia but we also saw other cathedrals, sports parks, and  older areas of the city.  One interesting place was a former bull fighting ring.  Bull fighting was banned in Catalonia about 15 years ago.  Someone decided to repurpose the bull ring into a mall.  So now they have this beautiful indoor mall in the middle of the old bull ring.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             At the end of the tour we got off the bus and did a walking tour of the old town. We went into the Jewish quarter, saw an old cathedral with pock marks from shelling during the war and ended up in a square where there were lots of little eating places. Wayne tried out Spanish Tapas. We were surprised to learn of the billing system. The tapas are all on plates at a counter. You just take what you want and when you are finished eating you take your plate to the check out stand. They count the number of toothpicks (all the little sandwiches had one) and you are charged for the number that are there. All on the honor system.                                                  That evening, we went to a Flamenco Dinner Show. It was nice to get a little of the local flavor but it was not really good. The food was so so and the show was a disappointment. We had gone to a Tango show in Argentina that was fantastic. I was expecting the same caliber of show here but it was pretty lame. There was a lady who sang and it almost hurt to listen to her. When I came home and saw Kelly Pickler do a Flamenco on Dancing With The Stars I thought she did a much better job than the so called professionals in Barcelona. The only redeeming factor was that the men doing the music were fantastic. We enjoyed it when they were able to play without the dancing.                     The next day we boarded the ship.                                                                                                                                                                                  Everywhere you went on the ship you saw works of art.  There was more than 8 million dollars worth of art.  Those found in the stairwells were the most interesting.  I enjoyed just walking the halls of the different decks so that I could see the artwork.  Each floor had a different theme.                                                                                                       Our table mates, Pam and Mark from Canada and John and Shiona from Australia.  They made for very pleasant dinner times.                                                                                                                The Captain giving his "Welcome Aboard" speech from the "bridge".  There were several parades down the Centrum and the singers would perform from this bridge also.                                                                                                                                                                       There was an ice skating rink where there was open skating but they also performed an ice show that was very good.                           The evening shows for the most part were very good.  Jonathan Clark was very good.  He is an impressionist, comedian and singer.  His wife, Coleen Austin also sang one night.  There was a Beatles Celebration show that was fantastic and an English pianist, singer and somewhat of a comedian named Brett Cave performed two nights and I wished for more.  We also had a performance by an electric violinist named Jane Cho that was outstanding.  There were many more shows but these were the best.  26 nights and we only missed one show (a raunchy comedian).  Some shows we went to twice since they were so good.                                                                                                                                                                              These were two of Waynes favorite pasttimes.  Even with all the deserts at dinner and multiple hits at the ice cream machine, neither of us gained weight on the cruise.  Wayne walked hours and hours each day and then several of the shore excursions were definitely a workout.  We tried to avoid the elevators if possible.                                                                                                          Libby's favorite pasttime was reading in the Library or on deck 4.  The Kindle was loaded and it was well used.                                                                                                                                     We enjoyed a game of scrabble and shuffle board with friends.  The shuffle board took us forever to finsh because the deck was a bit wet from the humidity and the pucks kept sticking.  Never mind the fact that it was the first time I had ever played and did not know what I was doing.  My arm hurt for days after that game.                                                                        We also enjoyed the miniature golf and Wayne tried the rock climbing wall a couple of times.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          After three days at sea, we pulled into Alexandria, Egypt.  The city was named after Alexander the Great.    As the ship was pulling into the port, we could see this wonderful exotic looking view.Obviously, things always look better from a distance.                                                                                                         Most people took a 4 hour bus trip to Giza to see the pyramids but since we had seen them eons ago, we opted to do a city tour in Alexandria.                                                                                                                    As we drove into the  city what had looked exotic from afar turned to buildings that looked like they had survived the war and streets filled with garbage                                                               .                                                                                                                We went to an old fort but did not get to go in.                                                                                                                                                                         We saw lots of Mosques.  These areas were actually kept very clean and the buildings were beautiful.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           We went to some catacombs but we were not allowed to take pictures inside.     The top picture shows the outside.  We went down a circular staircase.  The second picture was taken off the internet and is pretty much what we saw inside.  There were many rooms with just the niches carved out.    If I remember correctly, the catacombs were found when a mule fell through the ground and landed in them.                                                         Outside of the catacombs, there were pieces of statues and columns, etc, that had been found in various excavations.  And a short way from the catacombs we visited and old collosseum.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         After leaving Alexandria, we headed for the Suez Canal. There are no locks on this canal. It is very narrow, only wide enough for one large ship at a time, at the beginning and end. In between, there is a wider area called Bitter Lake. Ships can only enter the canal at specified times. Our time was 1:00am to begin our passage through the Suez Canal. Obviously we missed seeing us enter - although there were a lot of people who stayed up to watch. Our first glimpse was the next  morning after we were well into the canal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            After entering the Red Sea, our next stop was Safaga, Egypt. Safaga is just a small town in desert land along the sea. We got off the ship and into our waiting buses for a 3 hour ride to Valley of the Kings. The majority of the ride was in a desert waste land. As we got closer to the Nile Valley we began to see little villages and green areas of  crops.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            We saw a lot of sugar cane fields and corn fields. As we passed these little villages the people would wave and smile at us. Everyone, young and old, appeared to be very friendly.                                                   Since we were not allowed to take cameras into the tomb area, I pulled the next two pictures off the internet to show the area of the tombs and give an example of what we saw inside the tombs.  It was really amazing how well preserved the colors were.  On the ship, we had had a guest lecturer give some presentations on Egyptian artifacts so it was interesting to look at the hieroglyphics and recognize some of the things she had talked about.                                                       

The Valley of the Kings is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt).  The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile.
The valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers.  It was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, together with those of a number of privileged nobles. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. Almost all of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the Pharaohs.
                           There is also a Valley of the Queens. One of the more prominent tombs of the Queens could be seen way up on a hill side before reaching Valley of the Kings. This was a monument to Queen Hatshepsut, meaning Foremost of Noble Ladies. She was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an Egyptian dynasty. The tomb looked enormous compared to the others that we saw.                                                                                           Everywhere we went there were stalls set up with goods to sell. Egypt was the worst for having people latch onto you to try and sell you something. We were told that you needed to not make eye contact with them and just keep walking. I did this and it seemed to work but Wayne had a hard time following this advice. He would look at them and tell them no and they would follow him and keep trying to make a sale.                                                                                                                                                     On the way back to the town of Luxor we passed more statues and temple sites. I think that if relics such as these had been found in the United States they would have been destroyed long ago and new buildings built in there place. I am so glad that other countries have protected and maintained such wonders as these, that we are able to go and see them. They are truly amazing to see.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The next set of pictures was taken in Karnak. Although badly ruined, no site in Egypt is more impressive than Karnak. It is the largest temple complex ever built by man, and represents the combined achievement of many generations of ancient builders. The Temple of Karnak is actually three main temples, smaller enclosed temples, and several outer temples located north of Luxor, Egypt situated on 247 acres of land. This complex was built and enlarged over a thirteen hundred year period.                                                                                                                                                                                              From Egypt, we set sail for Aqaba, Jordan. Once on land again we boarded a bus for a 1 1/2 hour ride to Petra. Along the way, we passed through small villages, open land with camels and goats and every once in a while a bedouin camps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     On reaching the town we drove down into the valley  to reach the entrance to Petra.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Petra means rock in Greek.  The town literally was carved out of sandstone desert cliffs.  It was founded by a nomadic Arab tribe known as the Nabataeans several centuries before Christ's birth. The Nabataeans were renowned for their great skills in trade, agriculture, engineering, and architectural stone-carving.                             For those who did not want to walk, you could pay about $38 to ride a horse drawn buggy down to the Treasury.  Since the passage was narrow, those walking really had to listen for the sound of the buggy coming.  Once you reached the Treasury area, you could pay to ride a camel down to the end of the city.                                 At the entrance to the archealogical site, you can ride a horse down to the beginning of the narrow canyon area.  We walked the 1.2 miles down to the Treasury and then another mile to the end of the city.  On the return trip we made it back out of the canyon and decided to take the horses back the rest of the way.  It was very hot, humid and tiring.  A really good work out for the day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            For the next six days we were at sea.  As we left the Red Sea and headed into the Gulf of Aden we received a letter about Operation Safe Haven.  It was a code name that would be given IF we met up with PIRATES!  It seems that we were entering an area that had experienced high pirate activity and so a small boat came along side of the ship and dropped off "provisions" and 3 or 4 extra security guards.  For four nights we were not allowed out on deck after 6pm as they turned off all the lights on those decks and instructed people with balcony rooms to make sure their curtains were drawn so no light could be seen.  At all times, day and night, the extra guards were posted in various spots with binoculars watching for any suspicious activity.  Each morning, we were happy to hear the Captain announce that all was well.                                                                                                                                                                                          Day 16, we pulled into Dubai.  As we neared the city you could just make out the skyline through the dust.  As we got closer we could see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.                                                                                             Many of the passengers disembarked her and many new ones came on.  Since we were staying for the next leg of the cruise, we decided to take a tour of Dubai until it was time to leave again.   Our first stop was a huge mall where we waited for our appointed time to go to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.  It is located on the 124th floor of the tower.  There are another 44 floors above that.                                                                                          Example of the housing in Dubai.  Everywhere that we went it seemed to be fairly recent construction.  There is an old part of the city but we did not get into that part.                                                                                                                                                                                                        So ended the first leg of our month long cruise.  Stay tuned for India and Malaysia.  If I am lucky, I will have it ready to post in another week.