Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Day 12 – Sea Day

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Grand Pacific Restaurant

 

Library

 

Sadly, the last full day of the cruise had finally come. We enjoyed breakfast at the Grand Pacific Restaurant and picked up the daily Sudoku from the library. We headed to the Spinnaker Lounge to complete it and wait for Bingo Time! This was the day they were going to draw for a 7-day Caribbean Cruise for two and we had purchased a few raffle tickets. Of course, since we were there, we decided to go ahead and play Bingo. They played four games and the cheapest package was $39 for three cards per game. This would have been an expensive activity if we had played every sea day! Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything at Bingo or the Caribbean Cruise, but we did win $5 after spending $40 on the instant win, pull-tabs. I guess winning two raffle prizes at the Art Auction was the extent of our luck!

Brandon at Bingo Time!

 

After Bingo, we grabbed some lunch at the Garden Café buffet before heading to the last art auction. Over the past day we had seriously discussed purchasing the Rembrandt we had seen the first day. It was still the piece of art we liked the best and we wondered if we would regret not taking advantage of this opportunity to collect it. When we talked to Miguel about it, we learned that we could possibly still purchase it for the “mystery” (aka special) price. That sealed the deal for us, so we are now the proud owners of a Millennium Impression Rembrandt etching! Of course, we won’t see it until we return to the States because it needed to be shipped to a physical address in the U.S. to avoid customs and duties. It was extremely interesting learning about this world of art collecting and I wouldn’t be surprised if we purchased more in the future.

So, the worst part of the cruise followed the art auction—packing. I hate packing. And we knew that we were overweight flying to Barcelona so we knew it wouldn’t get any better flying back home. Thankfully, we had extra room in the carpet bag, so we put our heaviest shoes and sweaters in there to carry-on. We also overloaded our backpacks to try to lighten the checked bags. These bags had to be outside our door by 22:00 to be picked up and taken off the ship the next day.

With the packing done, we could enjoy the rest of our last evening on board the Norwegian Jade. We ate dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse, attended the Christmas Show, finalized our art purchase, attended the Crew Talent Show, and enjoyed a final drink at the Champagne Bar.

Advertisements

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Day 11 – Malta

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Norwegian Jade arrived in Valetta, Malta around 11am. We enjoyed watching the boat dock from Deck 12, as this was definitely the most beautiful port featuring limestone fortifications built by the Order of St. John beginning in the 16th century. Our shore excursion, Knights and Mdina, didn’t meet until 12:05, so we grabbed a quick lunch at the buffet before heading out. Again, we picked one of the most popular tours so there were several buses and ours was full. We have discovered that the quality of the shore excursions is significantly influenced by the tour guide and the other passengers on the bus. Unfortunately, these factors are out of your control and are unknown until you are actually on the excursion. Up until this point, our excursions were great, but this tour guide was not forceful enough and our fellow passengers were easily distracted, wandering off, getting lost, and delaying the whole group. One of the Production Singers was on the excursion with us, and he tried to help the soft-spoken tour guide get everyone’s attention at various times. Still, we were able to get a taste of Malta and would love to go back!

The excursion started in Valetta. After a short orientation drive, we left the bus for a walking tour of the city. We stopped at the gardens overlooking the harbor for a beautiful view and photo stop. Then we walked through the city to the Co-Cathedral where we saw Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John. Finally, we toured some of the Staterooms at the Palace.

After a short amount of free time in Valetta, we got back on the bus and drove about 20 minutes to Mdina, the Silent City. Mdina is the oldest city on Malta and is a well-preserved walled, medieval town. It reminded me of Rothenberg o.d. Tauber a lot! We entered the Cathedral dedicated St. Peter and St. Paul and walked through some of the narrow streets. Mdina was built on the highest point of the island, so again there was a beautiful view from the city walls.

Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity for any free time in Mdina because we needed to drive back to the ship. We did have a few minutes to look at the shops along the port and we found a couple of bottles of local wine to bring home.

This evening was pretty busy! We ate dinner outside on Deck 12 again so we could watch as the ship sailed away from Malta. Then we headed to the Art Gallery to claim the free art I had won at the Art Auction raffle drawing the day before. We made sure to be outside the Stardust Theater at 19:00 when the doors opened to find a good seat for “Elements.” We had been hearing about this production since we had boarded the ship, so we were not going to miss this. Every seat in the theater was full for the 19:30 show and they even told some to come back for the 21:45 show! We had excellent seats right in the center and behind two kids so we could easily see over them. J The show was amazing! It consisted of dancing, magic, and acrobatics, including bungees from the ceiling. There was so much happening in the last scene that you didn’t even know where to look!

After the show, we went up to Spinnaker Lounge to listen to the Jade Orchestra play Big Band music. By this point, one of the waiters recognized Brandon and knew that his drink of choice was a Sam Adams; however, we surprised him this time by ordering our bottle of wine for the day. We enjoyed the wine and the music, but the evening was not over! The Chocoholics Buffet began at 22:30 at the Garden Café, a whole buffet of chocolate items with sculptures made out of chocolate and ice! It was heaven!

As usual, there are more pictures of Malta and the Chocoholics Buffet if you are interested.

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Day 10 – Sea Day

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


After our busy days in Egypt, we were ready for a relaxing day at sea! Here is how we spent it:

  • Slept in!
  • Ate breakfast at the Grand Pacific Dining Room.
  • Arranged for airport transportation in Barcelona and dinner reservations for tonight.
  • Completed the Sudoku Puzzle of the Day outside on Deck 12.
  • Took a nap and read my magazine.
  • Ate lunch at the Blue Lagoon Café.
  • Attended the Lightning Fast Art Auction and won a free work of art!
  • Relaxed in the room watching the sunset, checking email, labeling pictures, and blogging.
  • Ate dinner at Papa’s Italian. The food was really good, but it was super warm in the restaurant…Brandon almost melted!
  • Attended the Spotlight Showtime: Fourever in Concert. This group of four male vocalists was really good!! They were classically trained, but also sang pop songs. The best was “Time to Say Goodbye” as the finale.

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Day 9 – Egypt

Monday, 20 December 2010

Our second day in Egypt started about as early as the first! We received a wakeup call at 06:45 so we could get ready, eat breakfast, and be on the bus by 07:50. Our first stop was Saqqara where we were able to see the decorated tomb of Mereruka and entered the Pyramid of Titi. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside either. The tomb of Mereruka was richly decorated inside with colorful reliefs depicting daily life. Inside the Pyramid of Titi, we saw his sarcophagus and hieroglyphics on the walls.

In front of the Titi Pyramid

Then we stopped at the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser. Iman told us about the sight and then let us explore it on our own.

I should mention that everywhere you go in Egypt there are street vendors trying to get you to buy something. Everything seems to be $1! (In Egypt, they consider $1 and €1 to be the same. Of course, they are not the same, so we should have brought more dollars than euros!) Most of them will get pretty aggressive if you show any interest at all. By this time, we were pretty good at ignoring the vendors, but here, I was led to a “panoramic photo spot” by a security guard. He pointed up a steep set of stairs that led to the top of the Colonnade Entrance. The view was great; but shortly after we got up there, his “partner” came and told us to get down because it was “unsafe.” Then, he told us that he expected a monetary tip for this information. Brandon ignored him and I responded that I had no money in German. We continually ran into people that wanted tips. Iman told us on the bus that it is expected to tip those who provide a service, but security guards and those that do nothing should not be tipped. That is begging.

Step Pyramid of Djoser from the "Panoramic Photo Spot"

Next we visited the Mit Rahina Museum where the large statue of Ramses II lays. While the statue was quite impressive, my most memorable experience here was using the toilet. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience! I paid for toilet paper and ended up using a stall in the Men’s restroom since one of the two toilets in the Women’s room was clogged. I don’t mind paying to use the toilet, but that raises my expectations for cleanliness!

The "Sphinx of Memphis" in the Mit Rahina Museum

Giant Statue of Ramsis II in the Mit Rahina Museum

Finally, our next destination was the famous Giza Pyramids! We made three stops there. First, we stopped at the Panorama where there is a good view of all three large pyramids and we also had the opportunity to ride a camel. This was the highlight of my time in Egypt! For some reason, this is all I had wanted to do, and I was so glad we were able to make that a reality. Brandon did not have this same desire to ride a camel, but he humored me. His camel obviously sensed his disdain because the camel turned around and spit at him when he got on!

Camel ride at the Giza Pyramids!!

Giza Pyramids

The second stop was about 30 minutes next to the two largest pyramids. We took lots of pictures at this stop and might have wandered a bit too far because we were the last ones to get back on the bus!

The Pyramid of Khufu - The Great Pyramid

The Pyramid of Khafre

The final stop at the pyramids was by the Sphinx. Unfortunately, the area was mostly blocked off due to unstable ground, but Iman knew where the best photo opportunity was and she had the bus drop us off there.

The Sphinx & The Khafre Pyramid

After the Pyramid stops, we had a buffet lunch at the Mena Hotel before getting back on the bus for the three-hour drive back to Alexandria. This time it was perfectly acceptable to sleep. We arrived at the port about 30 minutes before the boat sailed and after spending almost every available minute in Egypt to see these amazing sights!

We took lots of pictures in Egypt and you can see them all here.

Back on the boat, we went to the Spotlight Showtime: Sander & Alison Magic at 19:30. They have even performed their fantastic illusions and animal show for Steven Spielberg. It was a great show!! Then we met Doug and Francis for dinner at the Grand Pacific Dining Room. We had met Doug & Francis on the Egypt excursion. Their camera battery died so we shared our pictures with them. They helped us out by lending us some dollars since we were getting ripped off using euros. This was the only evening that we were social and ate with another couple, but we had an enjoyable time and were the last ones to leave the dining room when they closed!

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Day 8 – Egypt

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The boat docked in Alexandria, Egypt at 07:00 this morning, and we were already in the Stardust Theater waiting to get off to start our overnight excursion in Cairo. This was definitely an early morning (the alarm clock should never go off at 05:30 when you are on vacation!), but we needed every available minute for this excursion!

We were assigned to bus #7 and our guide was Iman. She was born in Alexandria, but lives in Cairo now. She studied Egyptian history at the University and has been leading tours for 24 years; in other words, she knew her stuff! Our bus was not full, and Iman set the tone at the beginning by referring to us as “Family 7” instead of “Bus 7.” She was correct that we would get to know each other pretty well over the next 2 days! Our tour began with a three hour drive to Cairo along the dessert road while Iman gave us an overview of Egyptian history and what we would be seeing. I tried really hard to stay awake, but that is almost impossible for me on long bus/car rides and I know I dozed off a little.

Man on a donkey along the Desert Road

Once in Cairo, our first stop was the Salah Al-Din Citadel and the Mohammed Ali (Alabaster) Mosque. This Ottoman-style mosque was quite impressive, but the entire experience was tainted by the fact I was pickpocketed. Luckily, it was just my entrance ticket that was taken from my back pocket. Still, I was careful to not put anything in my pockets for the rest of the day! I think Brandon was almost more upset by it all since his past experiences in a Muslim culture have not exactly been pleasant.

Salah Al-Din Citadel

Mohammed Ali (Alabaster) Mosque

Mohammed Ali (Alabaster) Mosque

Mohammed Ali (Alabaster) Mosque

View of Cairo from the Citadel

Next, we visited the Egyptian Museum. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but as recent as five years ago, photos were still allowed in the museum. The museum was huge and we only had about two hours to see about 3000-years of history. Of course, one of the highlights was seeing the famous items from King Tut’s Tomb up close and personal! Most of the exhibits lack accurate descriptions, so having a guide explain the most significant things was extremely advantageous.

Although it was already about 16:00, we went to our hotel for “lunch” and to check-in. We stayed at the Marriott Cairo, a five-star hotel that is probably fancier than any other hotel we have ever stayed! Lunch was a simple, but delicious buffet with a selection of salads, hot dishes, and desserts. Our room was a suite on the 14th floor of the Zamalek Tower. It had a living room, kitchenette, bedroom, huge bathroom, and two balconies!! I was very sad that we would have very little time to actually enjoy the room! We were supposed to have some time after lunch, but traffic was terrible from the Citadel to the Egyptian Museum due to a Presidential speech at the People’s Assembly Building. Iman chose to not shorten our time at the Museum due to this delay, which we greatly appreciated!

Room at the Marriott Cairo

Room at the Marriott Cairo

Room at the Marriott Cairo

View of the Nile from our room at the Marriott Cairo

Next on our itinerary was the Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids. I had high expectations for this show, and was slightly disappointed. It was more educational than performance. It was still interesting though to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx lit up in different colored lights and learn a little more about them.

Pyramid Sound and Light Show

Pyramid Sound and Light Show

After the Sound and Light Show, it was time for some souvenir shopping. We stopped at a papyrus shop where they showed us how papyrus was made. They had some beautiful things, but nothing jumped out at us. Above the papyrus store was a jewelry store. Earlier in the day, Iman had given us the opportunity to order personalized cartouches from this store. A cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line at one end and indicates that the text enclosed is a royal name. We ordered one made out of 18kt Egyptian gold with my name on one side and Brandon’s on the other in Egyptian hieroglyphics. They also wanted to sell me a chain for it, but I am using a gold chain that Brandon bought me when he was still at West Point!

Papyrus demonstration

Our Cartouche – Erika

Our Cartouche - Brandon

Our final stop of the day (which already felt like two days!) was a dinner cruise on the Nile River called The Pharaohs. We had another buffet dinner and then were entertained by a Whirling Dervish and a Belly Dancer. I was extremely tired by this point and just wanted to eat and go back to the hotel. Still, the Whirling Dervish was really good and the Belly Dancer was interesting, to say the least!

Before The Pharaohs Dinner Cruise