High Over Dubai

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

We have such a short time here in Dubai. There’s absolutely no way we’ll be able to see everything. To make it easier, we signed up for a Hop On Hop Off Bus with City Sightseeing Dubai. We’ve used this type of tour in several other communities and find it to be a good way to learn some history and see some of the highlights, of which there are far more than we’ll see today. By using the bus, we don’t have to deal with traffic ourselves. It is horrendous here, with a spaghetti network of freeways. Merging can be challenging, with two of more lanes of traffic aiming for the same exit or turn. We listened to one taxi driver honk and yell his way through to our destination. That was the exception, most of the drivers were competent and calm.

The Dubai Metro is designed to combat the heavy traffic burden. Construction began in 2006, with the first stations opened in 2009. There are currently two lines, and more will be added. We have a station just outside of our hotel, but we don’t have time to learn how to negotiate it on this trip.

We boarded the bus and started our tour, going through some of the residential areas, outer commercial and retail districts and beaches. Many buildings and structures are quite colorful. There are many medical facilities here. It’s clear to us that Dubai is competing directly with the Mayo Clinic for those wealthy middle east patients.

We went to Palm Jumeirah, one of two artificial palm shaped islands, made from sand and rock, in Dubai. In addition to the palm islands, there are 300 artificial islands that are intended to represent the world. Most of those islands remain undeveloped and some are being reclaimed by the gulf.

We stopped at the Atlantis Hotel on The Palm,  to take a helicopter ride with Fly High Dubai. Although the sky was still hazy, we enjoyed the flight which allowed us to see some of the more impressive sights, like the Burj al Arab with its helicopter pad, the islands, Ski Dubai (enclosed ski resort,) the downtown landscape and more.

Back on the bus to view more of the city, including the soon-to-be completed Dubai Eye (intended to be bigger than the London Eye,) Dubai Creek, and more skyscrapers.

Our last stop was the Dubai Mall to see the water fountain show. Needless to say, it was pretty crowded, but I can usually find a way to see. It was an impressive show, but we still like the one at Las Vegas’ Bellagio better. Tomorrow, we have a 28-hour day, and a temperature drop of 50 degrees (not bad, really) from the time we arise in Dubai to the time we hit our bed in Minnesota. Then, it will be time to start planning the next trip to “?”

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It’s Just Too Much!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We arrived in Dubai at about 5:30 this morning. This airport is enormous, sitting on 7,200 acres of land. Our bus ride from the airplane to the arrivals hall must have taken 15 minutes. It’s also the busiest airport in the world for international travel, third busiest for all passengers.

Even though we got a few hours of sleep on the airplane, we were exhausted. We knew that we probably wouldn’t be able to check into our room until 3:00, but we were hoping for the best. Thanks to loyalty programs, we were able to get a room, upgraded as well, right away. It’s so nice to take a shower after traveling all night.

The view from our 44th floor window wasn’t great because the air is pretty hazy, a combination of salt air, dust and pollution. We had considered going to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in Dubai, as well as in the world, at 2,722 feet, but why bother when we wouldn’t see much anyway.

 

We had considered going to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building as well as in the world, at 2,722. However, with the haze, we figured we wouldn’t see much anyway. We did see the the structure, though, when we went to the Dubai Mall. The Burj Khalifa is indeed an impressive structure.

Although not the largest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall comes in at 5th place, just ahead of Minnesota’s own Mall of America. The Dubai Mall boasts 3.77 million square feet, with more than 1,200 shops, an indoor waterfall, an ice rink, 22 cinema screens, and one of the largest aquariums in the world. You can find all of your favorite chains, both stores (Banana Republic, Gap, Levi’s, etc.) and restaurants (IHOP, TGI Fridays, Pizza Hut, Subway and more,) as well as Arabic specialty shops.

The mall is part of a larger complex that includes a 5 star luxury hotel, office buildings, and a lake with a fountain show rivaling the one at Las Vegas’ Bellagio. It plays twice in the afternoon plus every half hour from 6pm – 11pm. We might have to go back at night to see it.

There are plans to build an even larger mall here in Dubai, 48 million square feet, to be called the Mall of the World. There’s construction going on all over the city, in preparation for hosting Dubai Expo 2020. It really is excessive.

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A Full Day in Mauritius

Monday, January 22, 2018

Our cruise ended early this morning. Since we have an 11pm flight to Dubai, we decided to take a private tour – we figured that would be better than spending most of the day in the airport. It was.

We stopped first at Pride of the Island, a ship model factory and shop. All of the ship models are handcrafted at this site, with workers specializing in specific techniques, such as carving the pieces, sewing the sails, assembly, painting and varnishing. These are truly beautiful pieces of work, very detailed. They are available for sale, but we have no room left in our suitcases!

Our next stop was at Trou aux Cerfs crater. This dormant volcano is believed to have erupted here only once, less than 2 million years ago. It’s not dead, though, and could become active again. According to our guide, scientists say that it’s not dead because the ph level of the water in the caldera changes occasionally. It’s surrounded by trees and other foliage. We walked around the caldera, a fairly short walk, and were rewarded with some great views of the surrounding mountains and towns of Mauritius.

We made a quick stop at Mare aux Vacoas, the largest reservoir in Mauritius. It was a little larger than normal because of all the rain the island had received in the recent cyclone.

The Black River Gorges National Park is home to so many beautiful features. We stopped first at Alexandra Falls, where we were greeted by some Macaque monkies, and more great views.

Then, there was the gorge itself.

We paid a visit to The Rhumerie de Chamarel, a rum distillery. It was necessary to taste about nine different rums, dark, light, and flavored, each containing from 35-44% alcohol. After making sure we were no longer in total control of our faculties, we were shunted into the shop, where, of course, we made a purchase. I’ll find more room in those suitcases one way or another.

Lunch, then Chamarel Falls, simply stunning. Even though we’ve seen some of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Gullfoss, Iguazu and Victoria, we never cease to be in awe of each one we see.

Then, to The Seven Colored Earth, a field of sand dunes, that evolved as they converted from basalt to different clay minerals that naturally repel each other. Supposedly, if you mixed the sands together, they would eventually separate into various layers again.

Our last stop before going to the airport was at Ganga Talao, the Lake of Ganga, a crater lake that is considered by Hindus to be the most sacred place in Mauritius. The first thing we saw as we drove up was a huge statue (108 feet in height) of Durga Mata Murti, the Hindu warrior goddess. This statue was just dedicated in late 2017. Further on is a statue of Mangal Mahadev, the Hindu God Shiva, also 108 feet high. There are many other statues of various gods on the premises.

Pandi Sanjibonlal originally came to Mauritius in the mid-1800’s as a contract laborer from India. He later became a successful merchant in India, then returned and purchased the land to establish this temple, which was consecrated in 1866, and declared a sacred lake in 1998. Once a year, most Hindus on the island make a pilgrimage by foot from their homes to the lake.

We were free to enter the temple as long as we removed our shoes.

Then, to the airport for our 11pm flight to Dubai.

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Pamplemousses, Mauritius

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Like Réunion, the island of Mauritius has gone through many name changes: Ilha do Cirne (Island of the Swan, Dodo bird was mistaken for a swan,) Isle de France, and Mauritius, as control passed from one European country to another, Holland to France to Great Britain. At the end of the war between France and Great Britain for control of these islands, Réunion was awarded to the French and Mauritius to Great Britain.

Named for Prince Maurice van Nassau of the Dutch Republic, the island gained its independence from Great Britain in 1968, and became a republic in 1992, including the island of Rodrigues, with only about 400 citizens. Sir Seewoosagur Ramguolam became the first prime minister of the newly independent Mauritius. The botanic garden that we visited later in the day was named for him.

The island was uninhabited until Europeans landed here. Now, it’s home to about 1.2 million people. Mauritius was the home of the Dodo bird, which became extinct within a few years of sailors stopping here for food. The Dodo was a flightless bird, thus easy prey. In the early days ebony was exported, but due to its very slow growth, taking between 60-200 years to mature, it was soon nearly wiped out.

We were greeted by dancers as we left the ship this morning.

Mauritius was hit fairly hard by the tropical cyclone and suffered some damage throughout the island. We could see cleanup continuing in a number of areas, and there are still some flooded fields. Mauritius has been suffering from drought for about ten years so this rain was truly welcome. The island is surrounded by coral reefs that protect it from tsunamis.

We went to the town of Pamplemousses, which means pomelo, a citrus fruit that looks a bit like a grapefruit. Our first stop was St Francois D’Assise Church, constructed in 1743, one of the oldest buildings of Mauritius. It serves the oldest parish on the island.

From there, we crossed the street to the  Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden, established in 1736, the oldest Botanic Garden of the Southern Hemisphere. We saw giant water lilies, beautiful lotus flowers, many palm trees, including the Talipot palm, which flowers only once in its lifetime of 30-80 years and then dies. The garden is home to quite a few fruit bats, the only mammal that is endemic to Mauritius.

The giant water lily pads live about three weeks, but the blooms live only 4 days. On the first day the flower is white, on the second day it is pink, the third day dark pink, and the fourth day it dies. The pads have thorns on the underside to protect them from predation.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the lotus pond which was inaccessible yesterday because of flooding.

Our final stop was L’aventure du Sucre L’aventure du Sucre (Sugar World Museum, ) which chronicles the history and production of sugar here in Mauritius. It rained fairly hard while we were there, but it’s a warm rain, so we didn’t mind too much.

We sampled a few types of sugar, from light to very dark (full of molasses,) as well as a few rums. Now we have to find room in our already overpacked suitcases for a few bottles of rum and packets of sugar. Oh well, I suppose I can throw out some useless shoes!

Speaking of packing, we have to have our bags out the door by 11pm. Every time I think I’m almost finished, something else shows up in the closet. I think the few items left there get busy reproducing when I turn my back.

Posted in Crystal Cruises, Gardens, Mauritius, Rum | 1 Comment

The Peak of the Furnace

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Welcome to France! The island of Réunion is an overseas department of France. It’s a small island, only about 970 square miles, with a population of over 800,000 people. The island is one of three Mascarene Islands, including Mauritius and Rodrigues. It has a relatively young coral reef, only about 1,000 years old.

The island was first discovered by Europeans in the early 1500’s when Admiral Pedro Mascarenhas of Portugal was exploring in the area. It has had a few different names over the centuries: Santa Apolónia, Mascarenhas, Mascarin, Île Bourbon, Île Bonaparte,  Île de la Réunion, and now La Réunion by the French. Encouraged by King Louis XIV, the French sent settlers to Réunion in 1665 to establish plantations. These plantations were soon producing spices and coffee, followed later by sugarcane. Today, the island produces about 180,000 tons of sugar each year.

Many of the people here call themselves Creole. The term originally indicated mixed race, but it has come to mean people who were born on the island.

Réunion suffered some damage from the tropical cyclone that passed through these waters in the past week. Earlier in the week, our captain mentioned that we might not be able to dock here. Fortunately, the weather cleared up and we docked this morning. There was indeed some damage and shore excursions to the northern part of the island were cancelled. Ours was to the south, so we got on a bus yet again to explore Réunion.

We rode along the Tamarind Road on the east side of the island. The beaches are beautiful. Waves were still high today, and we didn’t see anyone out on the water.

We then turned west toward Piton de la Fournaise, the Peak of the Furnace. Scientists estimate the age of this volcano at 530,000 years. It is about 8,000 feet tall and is among the world’s most active volcanos, experiencing three eruptions in 2017. The eruptions are mild, with lava oozing out of the volcano, causing little devastation. On our way to the caldera, we drove through a huge sand field. When a fresh layer of lava is laid down, the sand washes out beneath leaving some interesting terrain. Also, nature is continually reclaiming the area, with plants growing in the middle of the sand and lava. It’s important to start out early in the morning because the clouds start moving in around noon, completely fogging the caldera.

Like Hawaii, the islands here are slowly moving away from the hot spot in the ocean bed. The old ones are slowly eroding and sinking, while new ones are growing to replace them. Also like the Hawaiian Islands, Réunion has a dry side and a wet side.

We stopped for a typical Creole lunch at a restaurant in Plaine des Cafres. Rice factors heavily in their dishes, topped with beans or meats. We also sampled a spicy peanut sauce which made us sweat. Yummy!

After lunch, we visited Volcano House, a volcano museum. Although we’ve visited other volcano museums in Hawaii and Iceland, it was still very interesting, very well laid out. We can still learn more.

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Cruising the Indian Ocean

Tuesday, – Friday January 16 – 19, 2018

We have four sea days with no scheduled stops. The original itinerary included Madagascar, but that stop was removed because of plague. That’s right – plague! The outbreak began this past August, and spread quickly. Madagascar has a “plague season,” usually involving bubonic plague which is spread by the bites of fleas from rodents. This outbreak is far more dangerous because it is pneumonic, that is, it can be spread by breathing in the airborne droplets from a plague victim.

Even without scheduled stops, there is plenty to do. Anyone who gets bored is simply not taking advantage of the lectures, classes, movies and live entertainment that are available. Today we listened to John Hare, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society talk about a remote area of the Gobi which is home to about 600 (out of a total of only 1,000) wild camels. From Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi, we are learning about the impact Africa is expected to have globally – both politically and economically.

On the lighter side, the ship presented its Grand Gala Buffet on Tuesday, an opportunity to showcase their culinary creations. It’s hard to say no to all of these delicious items. I try to stop before I feel full, but asThomas Jefferson advises in his Canons of Conduct, “We never repent of having eaten too little.”

We are cruising along the west side and then around the north side of Madagascar. The route to Réunion, our next stop, would be shorter if we went around the south side, but there is a tropical cyclone in those waters. Winds up to 40mph plus rain and thunderstorms are projected. Even on our current route, we lost the sunshine on Wednesday, and encountered fog and rain on Thursday.

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We’ve enjoyed some wonderful performances, from singers, pianists and dancers. Thursday’s show was exceptional. Michael Bacala is a young violinist from Poland. His repertoire includes modern as well as classical music, and he plays with visible emotion. He actually brought us to tears twice during his performance, once with “Danny Boy,” and again with “Time to Say Goodbye.”

The fog cleared up, the waves got a bit bigger overnight, a few items got tossed to the floor. On Friday morning, we could see small rainbows that were created when the waves from the ship met those of the sea. The waves continued to be high throughout the day, and one of the song and dance shows was postponed rather than chance any injuries to the performers.

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Posted in Africa, Crystal Cruises, Indian Ocean, Wild Camels | Leave a comment

Maputo, Republic of Mozambique

Monday, January 15, 2018

Formerly called Lourenço Marques, for a Portuguese trader believed to be the first European to explore the area in 1544, Maputo acquired its current name in 1976 following Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975.

Responding to the state-wide discrimination by the Portuguese, the Mozambicans initiated a war for independence that lasted about ten years. Education of the native populations was focused on teaching them the Portuguese language and training them for what was considered suitable employment. After the war ended, most of the Portuguese fled the country, leaving a significant brain drain. They had not received the kind of education that would prepare them for self-government.

The first president of Mozambique was Samora Machel, who was supported by the communist regimes of Cuba and the Soviet Union. Machel died in an airplane accident in 1986.

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Just two years after independence was won, anti-communist forces started a violent civil war that lasted fifteen years, until 1992. The country has operated as a democracy since 1992, but is still experiencing political turmoil. The economy is very poor here which contributes to political instability.

We took a walking tour of Maputo in the morning. Our first stop was at the beautiful Central Railway Station, constructed in the early 1900’s in the Beaux-Arts style. It has been recognized by a few publications as one of the most beautiful train stations.

Near the railway station is a statue commemorating Mozambican soldiers who fell in the First World War. Popular legend holds that this statues of of a woman who had
killed a large snake that had been terrorising the local population, dropping out of a tree and then attacking the villagers. The woman prepared a large pot of boiling porridge that she carried on her head. She stood under the tree where the snake was in residence and stood there until it dropped into the pot and was killed.

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We stopped at a local market, the Mercado Municipal, that has many stalls devoted to fish, meats, spices, fruits and vegetables as well as clothing and crafts.

We also visited Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, a Portuguese fort built in the mid-1800’s to protect the town from pirates. The structure is used as a museum, primarily to teach about Ngungunhane, the last Emperor of Gaza, now part of Mozambique. He rebelled against the Portuguese in the late 1800’s, and was exiled to Lisbon, and then to the Azores, following his defeat. Some years later, his remains were returned to Mozambique and are now buried in an ornately carved coffin at the fort.

On our own, Mark and I visited an artist’s market, FEIMA, or Féria de Artesanato, Flores e Gastronomia de Maputo. I really did want to purchase some kind of memento from Mozambique, and there were some beautiful wood carvings of interest, but there was so much repetition that I had to question whether these vendors had actually created the items. Also, I really hate being pestered by everyone who has something to sell. I know that’s how it works, and they really are just trying to earn a living. It was just too hot to have to deal with today. I do feel guilty for not buying something to help the beleaguered economy here.

The longest suspension bridge in Africa, almost two miles, is being constructed here in Maputo, the Maputo-Catembe Bridge, which will cross the Maputo Bay to connect Catembe with Maputo. Currently, the only connection is by a 40-60 minute ferry ride. It is a beautiful structure that stretches three kilometers. The $725 million project was expected to be complete by December, 2017, but is not yet finished. It does look like it’s close to completion, though.

 

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