Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Feb 8 – At Sea

Today was MA’s 60+ birthday which she celebrated with escargots and lemon meringue pie at dinner.  Linda Starr sent a split of port to the table along with a birthday card she made in the arts program.  Of course, the waiters and other staff in our section of the MDR sang Happy Birthday [in Indonesian] and a good time was had by all.

This might be a good time to talk about the service on the Amsterdam.  Our cabin stewards are among the best and most responsive we have had to date, and the laundry service has been outstanding.  Our clothes are often returned the same day we send them, hygienic if not brilliant in color.  And there have been a few new stains which seem to have appeared after shirts went into the laundry bag.  Nonetheless, there have been no problems which can’t be fixed when we get home.  Like Jon in Jakarta, we could survive on 3 changes of clothes.

The MDR staff has been outstanding, period.  Because we changed tables at dinner on the second day of the cruise, we have 4 people looking out for us.  Our assigned steward and assistant are Kadek and Yuda, respectively, and our adopted stewards are Afid and Kiki; actually, Afid adopted us not the other way around.   They could not be more attentive responsive.  Yuda makes us special coffee every night, each time a little differently.  He is having fun with the coffee and with magic tricks he has learned from You Tube.  Afid is the class clown, always joking and playing tricks.  We look forward to eating in our area even at breakfast and lunch because of his antics.  In addition, he is often at the gangway when we are in port.  Needless to say, we tease him about not working.

Others in the MDR have also been attentive because MA has made a name for herself as The Basil Lady.  One of the standard items on the breakfast menu is a frittata which includes basil.  For the first week or so everything was fine, but then the basil turned to spinach.  Each time, she mentioned it to the waiter.  Soon, the section captains were involved but with no change.  Finally, D told the food services manager who promised that the basil would definitely be in the frittata, and it was the next day.  Even though both are green, he said, they are certainly not the same thing.  Yesterday, the string of successes was broken and spinach again appeared in the frittata.  Pressty, the captain, took it upon himself to get a fresh one which came steaming hot to the table even though MA did not want it; we think Afid ate it.  But now, everyone inquires almost daily about the basil.  For better or worse, we are known by almost the entire MDR staff.

TOMORROW -- Another Sea Day

Feb 9 – Resting up for Sydney

Again, we followed the sea day regimen of food and games.  Ginger and Dave joined us for dinner and then the four of us went to the show to see Black Tie.  We have all seen the group before and enjoyed them as much as ever.  The group consists of two brothers and their wives.  The men sang [and clowned] while the wives played piano and cello in accompaniment as well as in solos.  The music was entertaining – everything from Broadway to opera – and the humor was broad, even a little slapstick.  We plan to see their second show later this week.

We were later to bed than normal and have an early day tomorrow.

TOMORROW – Day 1 in Sydney

Feb 10 – The Dance of the Passports

As much as we would have preferred to sleep in a little this morning, we were obligated to present ourselves to the Australian authorities along with our passports and other documents.  The Australians are quite strict about immigration and customs and will fine violators “on the spot” if they are caught with contraband.  While groups were called to join the queue as early as 7:30, we were not called until after 8 o’clock.  We had been told that the procedure would take until approximately 9 a.m. and, once everyone had been accounted for, we could re-board the ship; those who were not getting back on board could simply leave the terminal and go about their business.  We were going back to the cabin to Skype with the children and grandchildren.  Shortly after 10, we were allowed back and proceeded to chat with the families. 

By the time we were finished, it was too late for breakfast in the Lido and too early for lunch [Yes, there is a time when you can’t eat on a ship], so we went ashore and wandered around the harbor a bit.  We started towards The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, which is adjacent to the cruise dock.  We soon realized that we were too early for lunch there as well and turned around.  We walked to the Circular Quay train station which is actually above lots of shops and restaurants right by the water.  We found an Italian restaurant where we sat outside and watched the people as we split a pizza and Cokes. We finished around noon and felt much better.

Just on the other side of the terminal was the stop for the HoHo bus and we were able to catch one just before it started its tour of the city.  Our plan was to take the circuit and then return to any place we wanted to see more closely.  The 90-minute circuit stretched to almost 2 hours and we had not seen any place we wanted to go back to, so we alighted at Circular Quay, the main section of Sydney’s harbor, and got ice cream instead.  We sat in a nearby park area and listened to a street musician serenade us on the didgeridoo which makes a sound like an elephant but less pleasant. 

We skipped the afternoon nap and ate an early dinner in the Lido because we had tickets for the opera at the Sydney Opera House for a performance which began at 7:30.  We had to pick up our prepaid tickets by 7 and did not want to be late.  Although the Opera House was practically next to the ship, we decided that we would be best served by taking a taxi.  When we went to the terminal, we were told, someone would send for a cab for us. 

As it turned out, that was not necessary.  Just as we got downstairs, D saw a cab pull down the street and raced outside to flag it down.  As it turned out, this cab had been called for another couple going to the opera and they agreed to share the taxi and the cost.  We all squeezed in and off we went.  The Opera House is perhaps a 15 minute walk from the ship; it took almost that long to drive it because of the one-way streets and traffic.  Tom, the other husband, had scouted out the territory, so to speak, and knew exactly where we needed to exit the cab to reach the elevator to get to the ticket office.  We went from there to the escalator to the main level of the Joan Sutherland Opera House and then began the slow climb to the very top of the auditorium.  The doors were not opened and there was no place to sit, so we stood for a half hour and waited until almost 7:10 for the doors to open.  Then we had more steps to climb before going down to our seats.

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was magnificent.  The costumes, the staging, and, most of all, the voices were simply unforgettable.  We are not opera fans, in general, but the time flew by without our noticing.  We were mesmerized.  Others who were more knowledgeable also raved about the production and, especially, the soprano who portrayed Butterfly.

We had agreed to meet Tom and his wife Mary after the show to share a taxi back to the ship.  After a few false starts, we finally were all in one place and returned via the escalator and elevator to the entrance we had used.  Taxis were not permitted to come there to search for customers, but D told one of the security team that we had a handicapped passenger [true] and he agree to call us a cab.  When it arrived, other people jumped before we could get to it, so the traffic officer send someone to the nearby queue [2 blocks away] to get one for us.  We finally got back to the room at 11 and fell immediately into bed.

TOMORROW – What will we do during Day 2 in Sydney?

Feb 11 – Follow the HoHo Road

We were exhausted after what for us was a late night and slept so late that we missed breakfast in the MDR.  Rather than fool with the Lido, we got dressed and left the ship.  The port lecturer had raved about Paddy’s Market and called it a “must see,” so that was our target for the morning.  We returned to the HoHo bus stop and again were able to board without a wait.  Soon after, we were on our way.

The stop at Circular Quay is really the start of the circuit, so there is normally a double-deck bus waiting.  They leave every 15 minutes but don’t start until the next bus pulls up to the stop.  We had looked at several maps before leaving, so D was sure that we wanted to leave the bus at Stop 4, Town Hall, to walk to Paddy’s Market.  The HoHo driver confirmed it when we asked.  Once we were off the bus, we started walking downhill to where we thought the market was.  The first thing we found was a WestPac ATM.  According to Bank of America, our debit card could be used to withdraw money without any extra charges, so D decided to get an extra $200AUD to finance our free time in Australia; we already had enough to pay for tours, but this would cover food and tchotchkes.

As we made our way along the street, we spotted a Gloria Jean’s coffee shop and stopped in for iced drinks which were, essentially, our breakfast.  Called “chillers,” they were so good we lamented the absence of Gloria Jean’s in the West Palm Beach.  These drinks were much better, we thought, than Starbuck’s frappuccinos. We’ll have to Google for locations when we return.

Back on the George Street, we continued downhill for several more blocks until we came to what D figured would be the correct corner.  When we turned, we saw the market directly in front of us.  We made the mistake of going up an escalator and into a Western-style shopping mall.  D asked about Paddy’s and was told to go down to the ground floor, which we did.

Paddy’s Market was really a flea market.  Indoors, it was a hodge-podge of curtained-off booths selling everything from crafts to domestics to costumes to groceries.  While other passengers agreed with the port lady, we were disappointed.  We have seen better markets in other parts of SE Asia.  After wandering for a bit, we opted to leave.  MA’s back and knees were bothering her, so we skipped other sites on our list and headed back.  Rather than walk up the hill to catch the HoHo where we got off or the free circulator bus #555, we found our way to the central train station which serves as another HoHo stop.  We walked through a park on the way and enjoyed the shade.  We sat on a bench watching people and birds in the middle of the park. 

Once again, we were lucky enough to have a bus waiting at the stop so we boarded as quickly as we could [which is not so quick any more].  Where the other HoHos we had been on played the narration over loudspeakers, this one was equipped for earphones which we declined.  The trip was more pleasant without the constant talking and we enjoyed our ride much more.  We passed places and landmarks we had seen yesterday and felt a little proud that we know where we were, sort of.  And so we journeyed back to Circular Quay.

Rather than returning to the Italian restaurant from yesterday [even though it was pretty good], we chose a different outdoor café for lunch and had sandwiches, fries and Cokes. First, however, there was the matter of the souvenir shop where we once again helped the local economy.  We could probably have bought the same merchandise at Paddy’s for less, but here we felt a bit more confidence in this merchant.  All in all, it was a good thing that we had found the ATM.

Even though we did not have to be on the ship until 5:30, we were in the cabin before 3 and had plenty of time to get our trivia bag.  The rest of the afternoon followed the daily format. 

After dinner, we were joined at the table for Linda, Arthur, Kathy and Bob who had sent 2 pieces of a sinfully fattening and delicious dessert called a Madagascar.  Despite our better judgment, we ate every bit.  We sat and talked for a little while until the wait staff started to give us the eye, and we and the Starrs went to the theater to see the encore performance of Black Tie.

Even though we spent most of our time in Sydney riding around on the HoHo, we had a good visit. If we ever return, we’ll know what to do and how to get there.

TOMORROW – A sea day

A typical sea day except:

·         We ate breakfast next to another guest speaker whose dinner table is 2 away from ours.  They might switch to the one Paul and Ann had so we can talk if and when we want to.

·         We rushed from the MDR to sit in on Arthur’s Rappin’ the Rabbi session.

·         MA went to crafts class this afternoon.

·         And so it goes.


TOMORROW – Melbourne, Australia


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