Saturday, February 28, 2015

Feb 24 – On the Road to Bali

Today was a typical sea day, so there is no need to go into detail.  We got all dressed up for another formal night [think escargots and lobster tails] and shared our table with Kathy and Bob.  Arthur and Linda had been invited to join another table for the night and were literally right next to us.  The meal and the company were both excellent.

The big news today came from Kadek, our waiter, who has been able to secure transportation for us in Bali.  Instead of our original 4 p.m. arrival, we will be able to disembark around 9 a.m. and have a full day.  At least something good came from missing Geraldton the other day.

TOMORROW – More of the same

Feb 25 – Getting Closer

Our last sea day before Bali was like all of the other sea days except there was an air of expectancy about the ship.  Indonesian crew members will get to see their families for the first time in months, so they are more excited than the passengers.  The same excitement will stay with us as we visit Semarang and then Jakarta after we leave Bali.  Kadek and Ari, one of our cabin stewards, live in Bali and Kadek has yet to see his 2-week-old son.  He hopes to spend tomorrow night at home if he can arrange his schedule.

We ate in the Canaletto Italian restaurant tonight with the same crowd as last time.  This time, however, we did not order 2 of everything as we had previously because we knew we could not eat all of the food.  On the other hand, we were able to manage dessert this time.

Tomorrow is Day 1 in Bali and we are anxious to find out exactly what we are doing.  We think we know, but there are no guarantees.

TOMORROW – Bali, Indonesia

Feb 26 – Beach Bali

As previously reported, we relied on Kadek, our waiter, to find drivers for our two-day visit to Bali.  He came through like a champion.  His cousins Putu and Kadek were waiting for us when we exited the ship this morning.  They each had a 5 passenger minivan, so we had no trouble fitting everyone in although there was a bit of a discussion about who would or could climb into the back seat.  We suggested Chines fire drills so that everyone would switch seats and/or cars after each stop, but no one else seemed too interested.  “Our” Kadek told us that we should ride with Putu because he had the better English skills and we were joined by Bob and Kathy and Arthur.  Ken and Lois and Dave and Ginger rode with Linda in Kadek’s car for most of the day.

Since our original schedule called for a 4 p.m. disembarkation, we had a lot of time to fill.  Luckily, Putu gave us good advice and we started the day at the Bali Safari and Marine Park.  Even though he said we needed 3 – 4 hours to fully enjoy the park, we told Putu that we would meet them in 2 hours, time enough to see everything.  That was our biggest mistake.  We did, in fact, take almost 3 hours and could have stayed longer had it not been so hot and humid.  By the time we returned to the car, we were all drenched in perspiration, hot and tired.

The Bali Safari was a cross between a zoo, a circus and Lion Country Safari in Florida, a drive through wildlife park which has an amusement park attached to it [Carter and Caiden’s favorite part of LCS is the miniature golf].  From the main entrance, we took a tram to the park itself and began wandering through the lobby of the main building.  We were just in time for a short Barong dance with male dancers and the inevitable two-person “dragon.”  They were accompanied by a small group of musicians playing traditional instruments including the gamelon, a local version of a xylophone. 

After the brief performance, we started into the park itself, stopping along the way to look at water gardens and statuary.  Several in the group took the opportunity to have their pictures taken with an orangutan before joining the rest in the theater area for the Animal Education Program.  This presentation brought trained rodents [guinea pigs and rats]; snakes; birds of prey; and orangutans.  Despite the heat, we enjoyed the show; having a circulating fan in front of us was a big help.  There were other shows scheduled throughout our stay, one following another.  Shortly after the Animal Education Program concluded, the Elephant show began, but we skipped it.

Along the way from the theater area, we saw the elephant washing during which Linda got sprayed by the elephant’s trunk [captured on video by Arthur]; the white tiger exhibit; elephant feeding [another photo opportunity]; Komodo dragons and lots of caged birds.  Once we were able to get everyone in the same place [not an easy task], we walked back from whence we came to take a ride on the Safari Train.  The train took us through three regions – Asia, Africa and Indonesia – and let us see indigenous wildlife like lions [males and females in separate enclosures], hippos, zebras, rhinos, assorted deer and hoofed stock and others.  We compared it favorably to Lion Country because we were much closer to the animals.  Unlike LCS, we were not allowed to go around a second time, something we can do in Florida.

We did not know how quickly the time had gone by.  We had arrived around 10:15 and all of a sudden it was 12:30!  There was no way we could see everything in 2 hours.  We grudgingly started back to the main building, hot and sticky from our time outdoors.  When we saw the Gloria Jean’s coffee stand in the lobby, we all agreed that this would be a good place for a quick, inexpensive lunch.  We each had Chillers almost as good as ones we had had in Sydney.  Others ordered a variety of drinks and several got solid food as well.  Gourmet it was not, but it filled a need, especially for liquids to combat dehydration.  Once we finished, we caught the tram back to the entrance where we found Putu and Kadek waiting for us.  We all agreed that the $45 admission fee was rather steep but that the experience was worth the price.

The first stop on our planned tour – the one that never happened – was to be the Hindu Temple at Uluwatu, a magnificent view with a mediocre temple.  We had been here before with Jon and his family when we visited in 2007.  Uluwatu Temple affords an unparalleled view of the Indian Ocean.  Despite having spent the past six weeks on or near water, this was still breathtaking.  The visit was not without its perils.  Based on our previus experience, we were prepared encounters with aggressive monkeys.  Putu and Kadek broke small branched to make switches to keep the monkeys at bay, but the monkeys never showed themselves until we saw them playing in the bushes as we left.  As a precaution, we had all left our jewelry and watches in the car to discourage their interest, but it proved unnecessary.

We were required to “rent” sashes or sarongs before entering the temple grounds.  Those of us with long pants needed only brightly colored sashes but visitors in shorts or short skirts were provided with ankle length sarongs.  Either way, we had to pay 10000 rupiah apiece as a “donation.”  [Note – the dollar is now valued at 12600 rupiah, so our contribution was less than 2 dollars.]  Once inside the grounds, we were led by our drivers down a long and occasionally steep hill to the edge of the cliff.  We turned right and continued downhill, albeit not as steeply, to the end of the paved path.  There, we were able to look across a small inlet at the temple at the highest point of the opposite cliff.  The weather was perfect for looking if not for walking, so we took pictures and enjoyed the breeze.  Some clouds would have cooled us off even more but would have diminished the vista.  D took pictures of the Flat Grandchildren but the temple is barely visible in the background.

Pictures taken, it was time to assault the hill.  We walked past our entry point and then continued increasingly steep steps to the top of the cliff.  The temperature was in the upper 80s and the humidity was about 90 per cent making the unofficial Wind Chill Index approximately Hell.  The climb was withering that D had to lie back on the top terrace while waiting for the laggards who kept stopping to take pictures.  He recovered quickly and was fine after about 5 minutes.

Once everyone was together at the top, we looked briefly at the Temple itself.  The complex is small and made of stone as compared to most that we have passed which we dark red brick.  The sanctuary was barred and locked so that we could only look through the gate.  It was just as we remembered.  It did not take long to complete our inspection and then begin the descent to the bottom of this hill.  Of course, we had to walk back up the next hill to return to the parking lot, but the ascent was easier here than it had been earlier and we were able to see the monkeys playing or fighting under the trees.  When we finally reached the car park, we stopped and got cold drinks before climbing back in our minivans.  Coca Cola, either regular or diet, remains the drink of the gods.

Somewhere during the day, we stopped at a tourist tchotchke shop because Linda Starr wanted to buy things. She did not find what she wanted but found other stuff instead.  We, who had not wanted to stop, ended up buying a box for our coffee table collection; a t-shirt for MA; and a shawl/scarf she will use as a head covering when we visit mosques in other ports. [It should be noted that most of Bali’s residents are Hindu even though Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country.]

The highlight of the excursion today awaited us at Jimbaran Beach.  We visited here in 2007, too, and made a return our first priority for Bali.  Jimbaran is on the southwest corner of the island, about 30 minutes from Uluwatu.  There are a dozen or more almost-identical restaurants in a row on the beach.  While each has indoor seating, we came to eat dinner on the beach and watch the sun set.  Putu told us that regulations require the restaurants to offer the same seafood choices and the same prices.  We told him to select whichever one he wanted because we didn’t care.

We looked at the dinner options on the way in and explained to the others that they would be able to select the fish/shellfish they wanted and it would be cooked to order.  We saw squid, clams, oysters, shrimp, snapper, crab and lobster on ice as well as live fish in a tank.  Then we were taken to our table where we sat in the sun and ordered drinks [for the record MA had a LARGE Bintang beer and D had watermelon juice, one of his favorite Indonesian memories].  As we approached 6:30 and the sun started to get noticeably lower, we all went to order.  The menu we looked at at the table listed the choices and their price per kilogram [about 2.2 pounds].  D order 1 kg of large prawns and 1 kg of squid, both to be grilled.  Others in the group ordered whole fish, crabs and lobster in addition to prawns and squid.

The sun was going down as we waited for our food to arrive and almost everyone except us had their pictures taken with the sunset in the background.  D planted the Flat You-Know-Who in the sand and attempted to take their pictures, too, but they cast their own shadows with the sun behind them and using the flash would have been counterproductive because of reflection off of the laminating film.  Still, it is obvious they are on a beach and that was the whole idea.

We ate like we hadn’t eaten all day which was true, really.  We shared dishes with abandon and there was no food left on the plates when we finished.  Our squid had been over-cooked and was rubbery but the fried ones someone else ordered were perfect.   Nonetheless, everyone was full and in the happy place by the time melon was brought to the table for dessert.  Putu and Kadek ate with us and we agreed to split the cost among the 5 families.  D charged our entrees and theirs as well as the group bar bill and will let everyone know what they owe after tomorrow’s adventure when we will undoubtedly buy lunch for the drivers.

We had had a long day by the time we arrived home at 8:30 and were ready to unwind and go to bed.  However, we had one more adventure awaiting us – there was no power in the terminal building and we had to make our way up the steps by flashlight and then through the building using the light filtering in from the Amsterdam.  The lack of power did not discourage some people, though, because there quite a few sitting in the dark trying to connect to the free wi-fi.

TOMORROW – Our second day in Bali.

Feb 27 – Busy in Bali

In an effort to avoid bad traffic and insufferable heat, we left early this morning.  We were outside with Putu and Kadek just past 8 a.m.  At least this time we knew what they looked like, so there was no confusion.


Our original, not-so-lamented tour was to take us to the north from the port to see terraced rice paddies, a picture-postcard temple in the middle of a lake and whatever else happened to come our way.  Putu said that to do that would require a two-hour drive each way which he did not think was a good use of our time.  He proposed visiting rice paddies closer to home, as it were, as well as a different temple and some other things.  We agreed without hesitation.

We still had a drive of 75 minutes before we stopped at the paddies.  Once we were away from the city area, we were one two-lane roads all the way.  For the most part, they were lined with small shops open to the street with goods for sale displayed on what would have been the sidewalk if there had been one.  There were no doors visible and almost no illumination in the interiors of these shops.  We assumed they had pull-down garage doors to secure them at night.  Interspersed with these shops were more traditional [i.e., Western] buildings as well as vacant lots filled with trash and rubble.  Once again, we saw racks of liter bottles filled with gasoline for sale; a motorcycle will go a long way on a liter of fuel. This was Bali as we remembered it – still a third-world country at heart. 

Of course, the road congestion was only made worse by the throngs of motorcycles which filled every gap in the traffic.  The cyclists paid no attention to the niceties of the road like painted lines, traffic lights or oncoming vehicles.  Complicating the traffic even more, there were U-turn lanes which were too short to keep a car out of the regular travel lane and too small a turning radius to allow for easy maneuvering by drivers.  And it will only be worse when we get to Jakarta.

The rice paddies we saw were across a chasm from the road.  There were several warungs on the side of the road selling food and drinks.  The one closest to us actually had several durian fruits available as well as mangosteen and bananas.  The durian had not started to smell yet, but no one was interested in trying it. [Durian smells so bad that it is not allowed on public transportation in Singapore.]

We could look across the valley before us and see the paddies carved into the natural contours or the opposite hill.  There no straight lines anywhere, but the rows of rice were perfectly parallel in the individual paddy.  Most of the rice plants we saw had been harvested recently, but we saw what appeared to be an old man planting new seedlings at one end of the little valley.  Because of the irregularity of the paddies, all of the work from planting to harvesting must be done by hand making this a very labor-intensive crop.

On the way to our next stop, we had to take a little detour so Linda Starr could do some shopping.  She had wanted to make a visit to a name-brand jewelry designer’s store, but we scotched that idea early.  This time, she was looking for something in bamboo, so we sent the other car on to the next stop while we and the Starrs stopped in Ubud.  She did not find what she came for but managed to spend time and money anyway.  We bought a little painted butterfly, but we did not agonize over it and were done long before she was.

The temple we visited today may not have been as picturesque as the one in the middle of the lake, but it was stunning in its own way.  The Batuan Temple, named for the town where it is located, was constructed primarily from brick rather than stone.  The dark red brick, typical of buildings in Bali, was much more attractive than the dull grey stone of Uluwatu.  Once again, we had to wear wraps.  At Uluwatu, wraps were required for anyone in shorts; at Batuan, everyone had to have a full-length “skirt” regardless.  There was also the semi-obligatory 10000 rupiah per person donation.

The pavilion where we donned our skirts was across the street from the Temple, so naturally we had to climb up and down and up sort of like yesterday but only about 5 steps each time. [On the way back, it was down and up and down].  Some of the wraps were a bit long, and several people stepped on them on the stairs. The temple complex contained several small open-air buildings, typical of Hindu temples.  The back wall of each of them was covered in artwork.  Of course, there were statues and shrines scattered around the area; the shrines are used for offerings to the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. 

We knew from previous trips and conversations with HAL personnel that everyone has a shrine in his or her home.  Putu, who rents a room in Ubud, told us his is only 30cm by 30cm on a shelf on the wall, but he also had a container of flower petals and other things on the dashboard of the car.  These offerings can be seen all over Bali, usually by the front door of houses and businesses.  The HAL people we have asked say they also have offerings they display every day.

The Batuan Temple had a distinctive pattern in the courtyard, alternating stripes of grass and brick pavers.  There were perhaps 30 or more stripes altogether.  Putu explained that the worshippers used the paved areas and place their incense sticks in the grassy ones.  The priests walk down the grass strips [carefully avoiding the incense, no doubt] during worship.  This arrangement helps maintain order and avoids having crowding near the altars.

Having seen and photographed everything we could, we returned to the pavilion to return our skirts, enjoy the shade and prepare for the next destination, whatever it was going to be.  Those who in need used the facilities while the others wandered over to the little stand selling fruit and drinks next to the parking lot.  This display included durian, mangosteen, rambutan, snake fruit and dragon fruit as well as bananas, pineapple and limes.

Because Linda had asked about Bali housing, we went next to a compound of stone buildings which represented typical historical Bali living conditions.  Putu contended that the people we saw there actually live in this compound which was rustic, to say the least.  There was a communal kitchen in the walled compound as well as a working wood carver who was accompanied by his children.  We saw two women pressing sticky rice through an extruder as if they were making sausage but they were really making slices of the sticky rice to make into something like bread.  There was a rambutan tree, loose chickens and fighting roosters in wicker cages.  On the way out, we were again “urged” to pay the patriarch 20000 rupiah.  All in all, we were reminded of Sturbridge Village or Plymouth Plantation, historical sites in New England.

It was still too early for lunch, so Putu and Kadek took us to see a lovely waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.  The falls was so attractive that the lunch counter and tchotchke shop next to it wasn’t too disrupting.  Once again Bali ingenuity was at work – we had to pay 10000 rupiah each to walk through mud to see the falls.  Nature may have made it, but the locals knew how to capitalize on it.

Lunch time arrived and we told Putu to take us some place that served Indonesian food and that would not be overrun by Westerners or tour buses.  We drove back toward civilization and then down any alley to Rapuan Cili whose sign advertised it as a restaurant and swimming pool.  We ate on a patio overlooking, yes, a beautiful pool below.  The rest of the view was not much to talk about, but the food was.  We got nasi goreng and mie goreng; nasi means rice; mie means noodles and goreng means fried.  Put it all together and we had fried rice with chicken and spicy satay and fried noodles with chicken.  And Diet Cokes, of course.  Once again, we paid for the guides’ food but will share the cost with the rest of the group just as we did at Jimbaran.

Putu asked if we would like to see anything else, but we decided that returning to the ship would be a good idea.  Although we did not have to be on board until 5:30, we had been aiming for 4:30 and Putu thought we should return earlier to beat the traffic.  As it was, we were back around 2:30.  Some of the group went to see what was on sale outside the fenced area at the terminal, but we went to our cabin.

Shortly after we returned, D went back to the terminal to exchange US dollars for rupiah and found himself a millionaire.  He, too, succumbed to the lure of the vendors and ended up buying 3 alleged batik shirts for a total of $22.  He wore one to 28 instead of the standard blue Oxford.  If they last until we get home, it will have been a good deal.

TOMORROW – A sea day



Monday, February 23, 2015

Feb 21 – Free Time in Fremantle

First, some corrections:  Fremantle has only hat Jon said that two e’s, not three.  Second, both of us were convinced the old Dutch port area and the CafĂ© Batavia in Jakarta were only 5 minutes from where we will dock.  To prove he is reading the blog, he texted that our destination is actually 23 km from the dock which could mean a taxi ride of an hour in Jakarta traffic, possibly the worst in the world.  Now back to our story.

We have rounded the corner, so to speak, and are now on the western coast of Australia [That’s the left side for those of you who are directionally challenged].  We will be here tomorrow as well before sailing to Geraldton and the on to Bali, Indonesia.  Fremantle is a delightful town on its own, but it also serves as a gateway to Perth.

We were in no rush this morning and left the Amsterdam just after 10 to catch the shuttle into town.  It was a short ride on a trolley replica and we were delivered to the town hall right in the middle of the action.  Since it was Saturday, the town was crowded with locals as well as cruisers.  It was a happening place.

We started by walking to the Fremantle Market.  Established in 1897, it is still in the original building.  It was a typical Market with a mixture of produce, prepared foods, eateries, souvenirs and “real” stuff.  While many in the throng were cruise ship passengers, most were locals doing their shopping.  MA bought a new sun hat to replace the HAL bucket hat she has worn for several cruises and we picked up a couple of other things-to-be-revealed-later items for family.

Once we had exhausted the possibilities of the Market, we started walking just to see what we could see.  We soon realized that we were in the area known as the Cappuccino Strip, a very long block of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.  Many had sidewalk seating and, even though it was only 11:15, there were people eating and drinking and generally having a good time. 

When we finished walking the Strip, we were at a pedestrian shopping area with more tchotchke shops and eateries.  We sat on a park bench in the shade and watched the people while a guitarist sang and played for tips.  On our stroll from the Market, we must have passed at least a half dozen others doing the same thing; in front of the Market itself there was a busker, an entertainer who did tricks and told jokes strictly for tips, much like the performers at Baltimore’s Harbor Place.

Just before noon, we retraced our steps to the Market to have lunch at a “recommended” restaurant opposite the Market.  We sat at a high top outside and ordered fish and chips.  We were surprised when we were told that we could give the waitress our credit card to start a tab or we could pay for lunch at the time we ordered.  We assumed that there had been problems with customers literally running off without paying.  We were very near to the aforementioned busker who was doing his act rather loudly, but we enjoyed watching the world go by.  The fish and chips were too greasy compared to others we have had, but the portions were tremendous.  The Cokes were a perfect accompaniment on a warm day.

After lunch, we returned to the town hall just as the shuttle was pulling up for the return to the ship.  We read until it was Trivia time, read some more and then had round 2, Pub Trivia.  For the record, we beat the other 3 teams who showed up for the first game and were far back in the second.

D tried several times to use the free wifi in the terminal.  It seemed that only people who had an internet connection were crew members talking to their families in Indonesia and the Philippines.  Maybe he will have better luck before bedtime or at 3 am.

There was an Australian BBQ on the Lido tonight, but we decided to eat in the MDR with Ken and Lois at their table since the rest of the regulars there will be elsewhere.  D went up to the Lido just before dinner to scavenge some of the decorations before they were trashed.  We hope that one of our gifts this year is the rolling duffel bags given on other Grand cruises because we will need one just for the junk we have accumulated from HAL, not to mention our purchases.  Speaking of gifts, we returned to the room last night to find two Tumi luggage scales on the bed, the latest pillow gifts.  The boxes indicated that they cost $50, but we are skeptical.  They are good scales, though, and will replace the one which broke when D tried to weigh one of our bags the day we left home.

TOMORROW – More free time in Fremantle

Feb 22 – A Sea Day in Port

We had every intention of returning to Fremantle or even venturing to Perth today, but time and age caught up with us.  We were out of bed way too early, by or standards, so we would be dressed and presentable when we called the children and grandchildren on Skype.  Having given up on the alleged free wi-fi in the terminal, we booted up the computer at 7 a.m. to chat with everyone at dinner time on the East Coast. 

We wasted a little time because neither household answered the “telephone” when it rang.  Finally, we got through to Jon who was home with The Boys while Briton and her friends had a girls’ weekend in our house in Florida.  [We are sure they had a good time despite the 40 degree weather.]  Once again, the connection was spotty, but it was good to almost see and hear the male side of the family.  The Boys had been out of school all week because of snow and cold and did not seem the least bit upset.

Our chat with Emily and Harper was again clearer in both sight and sound.  We watched Harper assert her independence and push her high chair around.  Em told us that HJ will move up to the next level at daycare and will once again be with friends and her cousin Liv [HJ’s BFF].  My, how they grow!

The rest of the day was a blur.  After breakfast, we returned to the cabin and went back to sleep, waking up [or at least getting up] around noon.  We read and played trivia the rest of the day, just like a sea day.

TOMORROW – Geraldton

Feb 23 – An unexpected sea day

We were awakened at 7:15 this morning by the captain apologizing for his decision to cancel our port call on the western edge of Australia.  We had been warned about this possibility yesterday and no one on the ship was surprised.  Geraldton would have been a tender port had we made it that far, but the winds and swell were such that he said he could not safely navigate the channel leading to the town.  As for putting passengers in tenders, that would have been dangerous even if it were possible.  As the captain said, his first responsibility is to keep everyone – passengers and crew – safe.  We had expected to spend our remaining Australian dollars on lunch in Geraldton but will exchange them for rupiah when we arrive in Indonesia.

So we had an unexpected sea day and followed the routine of reading and trivia.

We have had one curve ball thrown at us, however.  The driver who committed to taking us around Bali later this week has not answered emails sent to re-confirm the arrangements.  After D sent 2 messages, he looked in the email history and discovered that he had not heard from this man in a year; there were 2 other unanswered emails in the folder.  Panic struck, but we are hoping our MDR steward Kadek, a Bali native, can find someone for us for Thursday and Friday.  It is going to cost us 3 to 4 times as much on such short notice, but at least we will not spend another 2 days on the ship while it is in port.  Stay tuned for further developments.

We still have 2 more sea days before we arrive in Bali, so we will be relaxed as we enter the busy part of the cruise.

TOMORROW – Another day at sea







Friday, February 20, 2015

Feb 17 – A Busy Sea Day

Today would have been D’s father’s 104th birthday.  Sparky never took the entire world cruise but he and Grandma Jane took segments of it several times. 

Today saw the latest Cruise Critic meeting.  This was the third since we boarded in Ft. Lauderdale and attendance was nowhere near as high as the previous meetings.  As the cruise has progressed, passengers have become involved in a variety of activities including attending presentations by guest lecturers.  Our meeting was scheduled opposite one of these this morning and there was nothing we could do about it.  Our schedule was set months ago, but the speakers often don’t know from day to day when they will be working.  Still, we were pleased that 50 people showed up. 

The Cruise Director and Hotel Manager both came and spoke briefly.  Gene, the CD, brought koala clips [like bulldog clips with koalas on them] and managed to upstage D who was going to give some out, too.  No harm, no foul.  Everyone had a good time and that is the important thing.

Today was also Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras.  We dressed up in our finest Louisiana beads which were a present from friends Don and Beryl from Baton Rouge.  Very few of the other passengers wore anything suggesting Mardi Gras, but the MDR was decorated for the holiday and the wait staff was in costume.  Each had a fool’s hat complete with bells; a multicolor bow tie; and a matching vest.  Our waiters brought D a hat which he wore with pride if not dignity throughout dinner.  As we left, one of the waiters gave him a bow tie to go with the hat.

The Jewish holiday of Purim celebrates the defeat of an evil tyrant Haman as told in the Book of Esther.  It is one of the few happy Jewish celebrations and people dress up in costumes and generally act the fool.  On the Amsterdam it will include a parade of passengers in costumes as arranged by Arthur.  MA brought Emily’s Cookie Monster costume from Halloween, but D had none.  Since he already had the hat and bow tie, he asked one of the MDR captains if he could borrow one of the vests.  Getting the vest was no problem; getting into it was.  Although it was marked “large,” it must have been based on the Indonesian concept of large.  The costume may actually be more ridiculous with the tight vest than it would have been if an extra large had been available.

TOMORROW -- Another sea day.


Feb 18On the Way to Albany

Today was a normal sea day full of trivia and reading, rest and relaxation.  We did attend the talk on Bali but found it of little value to us since we have our plans already made.

Feb 19 – Albany

We were docked in Albany today.  Pronounce Al-bany [not All-bany], it is near the southwest corner of Australia.  We had no tours planned and thought we would just check out the town.

Others who had been here said it was a good place to stock up on supplies for the rest of the voyage, so we made a short list and hopped on the shuttle to the town which was about a mile or so from the dock.  Following a map supplied by the port authority and information from Ginger, we found the local mall with little difficulty.  Even though it was a full-service shopping center, it was practically in the center of town.

We stopped first at a “dollar store” where we bought supplies to package baby presents for Kadek and Mukti’s new babies and snacks for the cabin [as if there is not enough food on a cruise ship].  Readers may remember that D already bought shirts for them in Waitangi, NZ.  From there, we went across a parking lot to Target [yes, that Target].  It was much smaller than stores in the US, but the staff was friendly even if we could find only one item from the list.  Back in the shopping center itself, we bought a Coke from a kiosk and MA waited on a bench while D explored Cole’s, the local grocery store.  The priority item on the grocery was Tim Tam cookies which Arthur and others have raved about.  There were 7 varieties on the shelf and D bought 6 of them, leaving only the raspberry.  Tim Tams are chocolate covered cookies which are a cross between Twixt and Oreos.  We are hoping to save ours until we get home, but the odds are not good.  Ken and Lois brought coconut ones to Trivia this afternoon and they were really good.

After we finished shopping, we found our way back to the shuttle stop and then onto the ship for lunch, Trivia and Tim Tams. 

Ken and Lois joined us for dinner tonight to help celebrate D’s 70th birthday.  D was forced by MA to wear a button which said “Aged to Perfection,” but that wasn’t the worst part.  After the main courses were cleared, Kadek brought a chocolate birthday cake and fried ice cream [Indonesian style] for dessert; the fried ice cream had been Ken and Lois’s idea.  As if this were not enough attention, we found ourselves surrounded by a dozen or so of the MDR staff who serenaded us with the Indonesian birthday song and the Chinese birthday song in honor of Chinese New Year.  For better or worse, Ken captured the Amsterdam Chorus and the laughter on video.  As he said later, “It was the longest minute and 47 seconds on record.”


Feb 20 – A Sea Day Like All the Rest

We stayed in bed so late this morning that we never got breakfast but went straight to the port talk on Semarang and Jakarta.  Like the others in the series, we did not find this one particularly useful.  The traffic congestion in both ports was stressed and Barbara discouraged anyone from trying to travel to see the Borobadur temple on his/her own.  Time, tide and the Amsterdam wait for no one.  We are familiar with the traffic in Jakarta from our visits to see Jon, Briton and The Boys.  After the talk, D asked Barbara how long it would take to get to the old port [the Batavia area] because we want to go there for lunch.  She said it could take 60 – 90 minutes and seemed affronted when I said that Jon told us it was 5 minutes away.  Once again, we have found an “expert” who isn’t. 

Insert the sea day routine here.

At dinner tonight, we asked Afid, our “old” waiter, about the HAL hiring system.  We wondered if the staff applied for specific departments or if HAL decided on who went into which area.  He told us that people apply for either the dining, housekeeping or “other” by which he meant the below-decks jobs such as maintenance, engine room, etc.  The requirements for each are different; dining room staff must have better English skills and 1 year of experience, but housekeeping applicants need only 6 months of prior experience and do not need to be as proficient in English.  We had noticed a marked difference in English between our cabin and dining room stewards, so this explained it for us.

TOMORROW – Freemantle





Monday, February 16, 2015

Feb 13 – Sweating with the Oldies

The captain assured us for 2 days that the weather in Melbourne would be partly cloudy with temperatures in the low to mid-70s by the afternoon.  He was wrong about both; it was bright and sunny with temperatures at or above 90 most of the time we were out and about in suburban Melbourne.

We met with today’s group of intrepid travelers at 8:15 and were among the first people off the ship.  Eight of the 10 of us had been together on the trip in Bora Bora, so it was no surprise that everyone was at the meeting point early.  As we descended the escalator to exit the terminal, we spotted Brian, our guide, waiting at the bottom holding a sign with our names.  This was a good omen.  We walked to his van and were on the road out of the city by 8:30.

We had been warned that there would be lots of time spent driving today, so we were not surprised that our first stop was an hour away.  We left the city behind and started to climb into the Dandenong Range, low mountains which are part of a north-south chain east of Melbourne.  Brian says that this chain of mountains changes names over the course of its 3000 miles [or was that kilometers?].

We drove to Grant’s Picnic Ground in the Dandenong Ranges National Park and had warm, freshly baked scones and tea or coffee as an introduction to the area.  Outside, Brian pointed out the big trees which he said were a variety of gum tree.  Gum trees have a brittle bark which does not expand with growth, so the bark is shed almost like a snake’s skin to reveal new bark underneath.  This particular variety can grow to 300+ feet tall and is prized for its straight, know-free wood. 

Outside the coffee shop, there was a display of cockatoos which behaved rather tamely and were being examined and held by tourists.  There were pans of bird feed set out for them which probably explains their presence.  Brian said that the cockatoos can be a nuisance to homeowners and others because they will eat wood if they think there is any food nearby.  He said they especially like window sills and frames and that people have to be quite careful about leaving food around.

Once we were finished eating and browsing the inevitable gift shop, we drove to the Puffing Billy Steam Train.  Brian warned that the train left on time and he did not want us to be late arriving.  We were on the platform with plenty of time to spare and actually had to kill time in the crowd before the passenger cars were opened for us. 

This narrow gauge rail line was originally built to bring timber and, later, food crops from the top of the mountains down to the valley.  People started to ride it back up to the heights since it was empty on the return leg and eventually passenger cars were added to the freight cars.  The narrow gauge rail line was later abandoned in favor of “heavy” rail and the Puffing Billy fell into disuse.  It was rescued as a tourist line which now features open-sided cars with bench seats all of which face outward.  While there are no windows, there are openings which have horizontal rails to prevent passengers from falling out.  Part of the charm of this train is that many of the riders now sit on the window ledges and ride with their feet outside the cars.  As Brian explained it, it is reminiscent of the crowded trains in India without the goats.

We had a car reserved for us which we shared with a young Asian couple and two women from the Amsterdam.  There is no escaping the big bus, and we had seen the HAL group at the coffee shop and then on the platform for the train.  Everyone with a camera was hanging outside the pseudo-windows taking photographs as we rounded curves and could see both ends of the train [and all those people sitting in the windows].  The locomotives were, indeed, steam engines and they spewed forth a noxious smoke which would have violated every anti-pollution law in the US.

Brian met us at the first stop, about 25 minutes after we left the station and proceeded to drive further into the Dandenong Range.  He pointed out the different agricultural areas as we drove.  Some farms specialized in tulips which had been imported by Dutch immigrants who arrived after WWII.  Other farms had sheep or cattle and some, of course, grew vegetables. 

After a while, when we had descended from the mountains into the Yarra Valley, we saw field after field filled with grape arbors.  Many had netting over them to protect the grapes from birds, a technique we had seen on a smaller scale outside of Auckland last week.  Many of the grape plants were not covered and we assumed that they had already been harvested.

We stopped at the Rochford Winery for a wine-tasting and lunch.  As we drove in, we could see workers at the vines although we could discern whether they were pruning or harvesting.  Brian told us they were pruning the plants to increase the fruit’s exposure to sunlight.  We started with the wine-tasting before having our lunch which also included more wine for those who wanted it [and soda for those who didn’t].  There was an observation platform and D took photos after lunch while others purchased wine or just looked around. 

Our final destination on the tour was the Healesville Sanctuary, a former animal rescue facility which now serves more as a zoo even though it has one of Australia’s largest and best veterinary hospitals.  The Sanctuary is a non-profit operation and most of the staff are volunteers; the Puffing Billy is also a volunteer organization.  At Healesville, Ray, our docent, said he has been volunteering 2 days a week for 22 years not counting some summers when he has worked almost every day.  He said it is a calling and who can argue with that?

Ray led us through the Sanctuary pointing out animals on exhibit and discussing their habits and peculiarities.  Among other animals, we were able to see kangaroos, pelicans, emus, cassowaries, black-headed ibis and echidnas [which we had seen as we drove through the mountains].  We spent some time trying to see the platypus, but they are nocturnal aquatic animals and were hard to see in their dimly lit exhibit.  Likewise, the wombat hid in a hollow log and the Tasmanian devil hid behind something, so we didn’t really see them, either.

What we did see was a demonstration of raptors, birds who hunt for their food.  Two handlers had owls, vultures and eagles flying from one to the other as they moved around an open-air amphitheater.  The birds swooped low over the audience and some looked as if they would hit audience members.  We were a few minutes late for the start of the show because we spent so much time looking for and at the platypus, but we did not miss very much.  Once the show ended, we trudged through the 90-degree heat back to the entrance and the van.

Brian had estimated that we had a 90-minute drive to the ship, so when we left Healesville Sanctuary at 3:15, we felt confident that we would be back by 4:45, well before our 5:30 deadline.  We even teased Brian a bit about his consistently getting red lights.  We did not start to worry until we got on the M1 highway heading into town and discovered it was one long traffic jam.  The clock was ticking but there was nothing to do except be patient.  Some people in the group were becoming visibly agitated and Brian telephoned the port agent for HAL to let them know we were running late.  As it turned out, we returned to the dock at 5:15, later than planned but with time to spare.  Brian was as relieved as anyone although he had hidden his anxiety well.  In fact, a HAL tour returned at the same time and we all walked through the terminal and onto the ship together.  One group was not as lucky: The captain announced at 5:35 that we would be a few minutes late leaving Melbourne because a tour had been caught in traffic!

We were hot and sweaty for a variety of reasons, but we had a great day.

TOMORROW – A day of rest

Feb 14 – Valentine’s Day at Sea

Valentine’s Day was like every other sea day and yet wasn’t.

D took the laptop to the onboard “techspert” because MA’s mail was not loading in Outlook.  The “expert” had no solution to the problem, so we have to access the mail the old-fashioned way through Hotmail.

We ate lunch in the Lido with Arthur and Linda and the self-appointed Cultural Ambassador from Tribal Australia.  Dhinawan has presented a series of programs on everything from the didgeridoo to aborigine painting.  A well-spoken young man, he has had the unenviable task of explaining a completely alien lifestyle and culture to a group of old people.  Surprisingly, none of the passengers has said a word about his full-body tattoos and there has been so much interest in his painting that 4 sessions were scheduled with the passengers reminded that they could only attend one in fairness to others.

At lunch, he and Arthur discussed the similarities between the aboriginal and Jewish views of life and ethos as well as comparing the treatment of the aborigines to that of the American Indians [oops, native Americans]. It was a short lunch because Dhinawan was late arriving and had a 1 p.m. program, so he and we ate while we talked.  Ironically, today was the day that the food service crew barbecued emu, kangaroo and crocodile on the back deck.  We had brought some to the table to sample and Dhinawan gobbled up the kangaroo and some crocodile but would not touch the emu which, he said, contained the spirit of his aboriginal tribe.  Shinawan hrried off and we continued the discussion without him.

Tonight was a formal night.  The MDR was decorated all in red and the stewards wore red or white vests rather than the regular uniform.  Each table had decorations, too, including helium-filled balloons weighted down with little “LOVE” sculptures.  We shook our heads when we saw people walking out with the decorations, but then our stewards handed them to us as we left.  We guessed that they would rather give them away than have to pop the balloons.

TOMORROW -- Adelaide, AU

Feb 15 – Eat, Drink and Drink Some More

It was hot.  Period.  Our guide, John, estimated that the temperature was about 97 degrees, and none of us in the group argued the point.  Today’s tour to the Barossa Valley was one of only a three out of twenty private   tours we did not schedule.

We left promptly at 9:30, met John, and drove for over an hour to the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s many wine-growing regions.  Naturally, the people here believe theirs is the best wine produced in the country.  Based on the reactions of the group, they might be right.

The Barossa Valley is approximately 1200 square kilometers although that seems too high.  While wine grapes are the primary crop, farmers also raise almonds and olives.  Other food crops are raised outside the Valley and we passed numerous farms driving to and from the wine-tasting tour.  The valley was discovered in 1840 by the British, but real development of the area did not begin until the first wave of German immigrants came in 1842.  There is a monument on Mount Mengler commemorating the 150th anniversary of their arrival.

The German immigrants brought several things with them.  First was their knack for small-plot farming.  Each could produce enough to sustain the family with some left over to help any who had not been as successful.  The second thing they brought was the feeling of community.  They also brought a desire to practice their religion freely.  The charter for the Barossa Valley specified that there would be religious freedom.  For a struggling Lutheran population, this was a miracle.  Each Lutheran sect could practice its version without interference from anyone.  This is evident today in the village of Tununda where the population of fewer than 4000 people supports 7 Lutheran churches [and probably at least one Anglican one].

There are many vintners in the Valley and many vineyards, but many, if not most, of the vintners do not grow their own grapes.  Instead, they contract with the growers to purchase the grapes and then process them.  In order to be labelled a Barossa Valley wine, at least 85% of the grapes used to make it must have been grown here.  Anything less than that will bring a designation of “Southeast Australia” if 85% come from that rather large region.  If a winery is using its own grapes, then it can be called “estate bottled.”  We saw grape vines which were over 100 years old and still producing. That is an exception, but it reinforces the idea that grape vines can be productive as long as they stay healthy.

We visited 4 wineries today, all boutique ones which sell most of their output in Australia.  Some of the wines they produce are sold only at the winery.  Our group of 17 had been scheduled for a specific time, but wine-tastings were available at all of the vintners to anyone who drove up.  It may have been Sunday, but there was money to be made.

We ate lunch at our second stop, after the sampling, of course.  The previously mentioned German roots in the Valley were visible on the plates we shared.  Each couple had a plate containing thick-sliced bread; almonds, olives; summer sausage; chipped beef; and pickles.  John, the guide, said that he had eaten this same lunch at the winery 3 – 4 times per week for the last 4 years and still enjoyed it every time he brought a group.

We were a bit ahead of schedule after lunch, so we drove to a lookout on the ridge separating the Barossa Valley from the Eden Valley.  Because the elevations are different, temperatures are as well, so the grapes from the Eden Valley are different from the Barossa’s.  The Barossa has a warm Mediterranean climate which differs from the Eden and the other growing areas.  This difference accounts for the variation in grapes and also in the other food crops grown.  We also stopped in Tununda in order to kill time before our next tasting; we split a muffin and a Coke.

The Flat Grandchildren did not visit the wineries today because we worried about the reputations they were getting.  We were not as worried about ours and bought a bottle of 20-year-old tawny port for ourselves and a bottle of Merlot for Afid, the silly “waiter next door.” 

We attended tonight’s show which showcased a brass band from Tununda in the Barossa Valley.  The music was familiar – everything from Cole Porter to Tom Jones to Les Miserables – and enjoyable.  The band is an all-volunteer group and had marched in a parade earlier in the day in Tununda.  We must have just missed them.

TOMORROW – Day 2 in Adelaide

Feb 16 – Computer Games

We decided to stay on board today rather than taking the 45-minute train ride to the city     .  Others who went said they had a good time but did a lot of walking.  Even though temperatures were 25 degrees cooler today, we did not regret the decision.

Instead, we decided to utilize the free wi-fi in the terminal and had some initial success.  We were able to check email, Instagram and Facebook without too much waiting.  We even chatted with MA’s sister on Skype.  We texted the children about Skyping with them but then could not get a good connection.  By this time, there were more passengers and crew trying to use the internet and the terminal’s system could not handle the load.  Our computers showed the children were off line and theirs said the same about us.  When we tried to connect with MA’s tablet to call Jon, we heard it ringing but he didn’t.  We gave it up in frustration and returned to the cabin where we had no better luck.  Somehow the connection problems in the terminal fouled up the program so D had to use the ship’s connection to uninstall and reinstall the program.  When it opened, it showed that Jon was on line but by then The Boys were in bed.

Other than that excitement, it was like a sea day without moving.

TOMORROW – At sea once again