Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Arabian Sea: Hot, Humid, Healthy and Happy!

We are at mid-point between Cochin and Mumbai, both cities on India's western coast. We are sailing on the Arabian Sea. We were lucky to be no where near the Nepal earthquake or surrounding areas that were impacted (thanks to those of you who were concerned about us). After this lazy day - a sea day, as they are called, we will be off exploring Mumbai.

 
Sunset over Indian Ocean - (c) Travelnwrite.com
Our cruise is providing us a sampler plate of exotic and tropical destinations -- just as we hoped we would have on this 35-night Far East Adventure that began in Bangkok, Thailand  and will end in Istanbul,Turkey. We knew it would be hot and we suspected humid - but what we've experienced as defied our imaginations. I dubbed Myanmar, "The Land of the Melting Makeup". 

It seemed cool on our deck while sipping morning coffee before 7 a.m. the other morning and that was because the temperatures had 'dipped' into the mid 80's and humidity to the low 90's. Yesterday  the temperature in Cochin was 94 and the humidity 97%.  Far more intense than Arizona in the summer or Puerto Vallarta in September. 

Exploring Cochin, India  by tuk-tuk - the only way to travel!

For those of you not on Facebook, I've been posting regular updates there - many of which show me wearing the same top in almost every photo taken (see above). It is the coolest one I brought with me - a tee shirt that soaks up the sweat (to put it bluntly) and that can be hand-washed between shore excursions. There's a lot of wearing and washing going on this trip by all of us - it is a nice feature of the ship to offer washing machines, dryers, and irons for guest use.

Indian Ocean - a sea day
Another plus for the cruise line is that while a great variety of ship's tours are offered there are options for do-it-yourself travel. Many of our fellow cruisers have organized their own land tours (primarily via Cruise Critic.com) and others of us have set out on our own to explore places. We're currently sailing with 140 of our fellow passengers still on land in India as they opted to travel from Cochin to the Taj Mahal and will rejoin the cruise just before we depart Mumbai on Friday.

Many of us opted to explore Cochin on our own and others chose the comfort of the air-conditioned ship-organized bus tours.
Oceania tour bus - Cochin, India
In Mumbai we will spend one day on a ship's tour - 'big bus' - to get oriented to the city and the second day plan to find ourselves another tuk tuk and set out on our own.

Heat and humidity aside, this is an amazing part of the world to visit. When back in the blogosphere world again I will show you more photos of the wonderful places we've been -- and yes, places that call our for return visits.

Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts as you read the world headlines.  We remain hot, humid, healthy and most definitely happy we chose this routing!  Safe travels to you and yours~ and to my fellow bloggers, I will get caught up with  your blogs once we are again on land and I've got some time for reading.

Linking up (we hope):
Travel Photo Thursday
Weekend Travel Inspirations

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sailing in the Bay of Bengal ~ Heading to HRA

We are India bound as I write this update! As I wrote in the last update, our internet strength is great, but Live Writer (the program I use for blog writing) is refusing to recognize my whereabouts so I am back to Blogger until sometime in the future. . .therefore posts will be brief; but I did want to write a quick update.

Leaving Singapore

We've left the "Far East" part of this Oceania cruise called the "Far East Odyssey" and are heading for India following an amazing three-day stop in Yangon, Myanmar (aka Rangoon, Burma - its old name). It was an amazing, yet-unspoiled-by-mass-tourism destination that deserves several blog posts when time and internet allow.



Yangon, Myanmar
It was a good introduction to the exotic and different ports of call we have ahead of us the next couple of weeks.  We are today sailing the beautiful Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world which is part of the northeastern Indian Ocean.  We are slicing through this triangular shaped body of water and will sail south of Sri Lanka en route to our next stop Cochin, India.

Saturday morning
Because many of you were a bit nervous about safety along this exotic route we've chosen to experience, I wanted to assure you that safety is taken most seriously here. This ship, Nautica, was attacked by pirates back in 2008 as it plied the waters we are heading to in a few days. The story has become like a legend among passengers and the bottom line is the pirates never reached the ship.

But for safety's sake we've been notified that we are going to be entering an area known as High Risk Area (HRA) for Piracy as we travel from India to the Gulf of Aden (yes, it is the one by Yemen, but we aren't talking about war - just pirates).  We also will have a pirate attack safety drill tomorrow and have been given certain instructions for on board while we sail the area.

"While sailing through the HRA we will be in permanent contact with an International Task Force, including U.S. and U.K. naval forces that are assigned to protect merchant vessels from pirate attack by a United Nations mandate," says the letter from our Captain.


Off Phuket Island Thailand


This ship kept watch over us while we were anchored off Phuket Island - another example of safety on our route.  So we are not worried. It is rather interesting and adds a bit of adventure to the trip. For now we sail the sea and sip morning coffee with nothing more off our port side than bands of dolphins and flying fish. Thanks for your time - safe travels to you!
Saturday Morning in the Baby of Bengal
Linking up with (maybe):
Weekend Travel Inspirations

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adrift in the Andaman Sea

Our ship is not adrift – it is us; our plans for organization, our vows to not overeat or indulge, my scheduled plan of blog posts to keep you up to date on our whereabouts and experiences. . .all are adrift. 



Strait of Malacca between Singapore and Phuket





















We’ve been lulled into the world of cruising – a timeless sort of being when the days are charted by ports of call and the passing of time by the rising and setting sun.

 I’d written a post further describing Bangkok to you but so many have written with questions about our ship and our whereabouts, that I bumped it in lieu of an update from the ship.

 
 
Oceania's Nautica - our home for the next month


And the wonders of technology are allowing me to write and post as our ship takes us to Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma) on the 1,200 kilometers long Andaman Sea, a part of the Bay of Bengal.  However, the wonders of technology did fail me, right after I wrote that sentence.  I am cutting and pasting this blog post together. So bear with the photo size and captions!


Our cabin - teeny tiny home sweet home

Our home has been Oceania’s Nautica since we boarded in Bangkok nearly a week ago. We’ve visited Singapore and Phuket, Thailand since sailing last Wednesday. (more on those as time allows – I don’t want to wear out the welcome in your inboxes or feeds). This mid-sized ship by industry standards is small in comparison to ships we’ve recently sailed. It has only 11 decks, 9 of which serve passengers.  We are not sailing at capacity, only 550 or so of the 684-passenger capacity was filled when we boarded; a few more came on in Singapore and some are disembarking in Mumbai. Flexibility is a plus with this cruise line.




The Lobby d├ęcor reflects the ship's elegant decor



Our cabin is small, very small. That was our mistake when we booked the ship – we’ll definitely book the larger room should we return to Oceania someday. The bathroom is beyond small – as The Scout describes it, ‘don’t drop your soap!’ in the shower that is 3-feet long and 19-inches wide.

The ship and staff are above board – the same high quality we’ve experienced on Celebrity and Holland America cruise lines. The culinary department is producing excellent morsels for us each day and alcohol prices are high (like all cruise lines) but tempered with a daily 2-for-1 Happy Hour that takes the edge off the over-the-top prices.

The Weather


Balinese day beds and lounges on the Nautica

It is hot. It is humid. Temperatures have hovered at or above 90-degrees the last few days and humidity has also been in the 90 percent range.  We have beautiful Balinese day beds that surround the pool – but there is no clamoring to occupy them – it is simply too hot. (And we’ve consumed gallons of bottled water, which on this ship is provided for free – another big plus!) And for my fashionista friends out there: the Chico’s hasn’t come out of the closet – way too hot to wear. I’ve purchased thin cotton tops on shore to wear – and they tell us the weather will be even hotter in India!

Our Fellow Cruisers

As I mentioned they didn’t fill the ship on this cruise but the cruisers who are on board are a great group of like-minded people.  They don’t wring their hands worrying about safety nor do they discuss age and health issues. They are too busy preparing for their next shore adventure – and a plus for this cruise line is that you can have those adventures on your own; you don’t need to be part of a ship’s tour unless you desire to do so.

Who are these people? Well let me introduce you to a few of them:






* A couple from Florida will have been on the ship more than 60 days when they finish their trip (this segment is 35-days). They were in Singapore a few months ago and Myanmar in December and last year took the first river cruise offered by Ama river cruises through Burma.

* A couple from Australia boarded in Singapore and between cruises and land adventures they have planned, won’t be home for another five months.

*On a small world note, one couple who live full-time in Arizona, still have a home in Kirkland, Washington (we’ve been catching up on Kirkland news with them).

*Even a smaller world tale is two attorneys from San Francisco who have done work in Wenatchee, Washington State and one of whom one of The Scout’s law partners from back in our Yakima days.

* We shared a cab back to the ship in Singapore with a woman who is sailing with her 91-year-old father.  She pushes him around in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop either of them from taking the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour in that city.

* Another woman is traveling with her 93-year-old mom (who only uses a walker).
Sunset from the Horizons Bar - Nautica



It is an adventuresome, fun-loving group of people we’ve surrounded ourselves with – we meet for cocktails to discuss our day’s adventures and plan for future outings.

We are all off in different directions when we reach Myanmar tomorrow.  A couple from England is sharing a taxi with us as we are all heading to a hotel in Yangon for an independent (on our own) adventure.  Four other new friends are part of a ship’s tour that involves flying to Bagan, a heritage town in the country.

That’s it for now. Safe travels to you and thanks for your time. You can catch more frequent updates on Facebook.

Linking I hope this week with:

Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bangkok: Happy New Year ~ Songkran

While sending you Songkran, or Happy New Year, greetings from Thailand, I will also apologize for the proliferation of posts arriving in your feeds and inboxes this last week.  I am making the most of our last few hours of internet connection. . .we board our cruise ship later today and internet – even the unlimited package which we’ve been promised --  is always hit and miss. . .

Songkran is Thailand’s New Year, also known as, Thailand Water Festival, a holiday of great significance here and celebrated each year from April 13 – 15. Lucky us, we arrived early enough for our cruise that we could have a peek at the festivities.

Thailand Water Festival

Water is sprinkled on family members and elders for good fortune during this holiday. In recent years it has gone beyond sprinkling to outright water fun and games with certain areas of the city drawing thousands armed with water guns, soakers, buckets and spray equipment ready to soak one and all.

Street vendors sell every kind of water spray toy and equipment imaginable. Bangkok police, however, have issued warning in the media that those selling high pressure water guns could be jailed for up to five years and be fined up to 500,000 baht, the Thai currency.

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Songkran Water guns are everywhere
Monday, the man sitting next to me on the SkyTrain, (a train that loops above the city with stops, much like bus stops) was heading out for water games.  By use of point-to-it sign language I asked to photograph his gun.  He insisted that he suit up with protective eyewear and hold the gun for the full effect. (Then he asked to have his photo taken with me).

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Songkran

The holiday has its basis though in visits to temples and family time.  Many Thais in Bangkok close up their mom-and-pop businesses and return to their hometown villages to celebrate with family. Which has eased both pedestrian and vehicle traffic immensely since our first couple of days here. Many who stay in the city make it a point to visit temples – those of the Buddhist religion participate in merit-making ceremonies and visiting temples is one sure way of making merit.

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We weren’t out to make merit, we were simply headed to the grocery store down the road to buy a bottle of wine, when we decided to stop in the temple across the street on Tuesday morning.

PicMonkey Collage

We’d no more than arrived when a kindly Buddhist monk approached, welcoming us, and invited  us to participate in Bathing the Buddha image – one of the merit-making ceremonies that takes place on this second day of the holiday.

We each filled a gold bowl with water from the large tub and poured a bit on each of the Buddha images pictured above. We were symbolically washing away the misfortunes of our past year.

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Our host then took us to the large temple where monks gather three times each day to pray. He told us that he knew of Washington State (many here don’t) because he had lived for a time outside Hollywood, California. He currently has a girlfriend living in Boston. After I took this photo, he offered to take our photo. He said that way we could remember our visit. . .

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He didn’t understand we didn’t need a photo to make this visit an unforgettable one!

Songkran Quick Facts:
* Thailand’s Tourism Council estimates that 470,000 tourists will visit between April 11 – 15
* More than 150 charter flights from Shanghai will bring 26,000 tourists for the holiday.
* Silom and Khao San Road are the ‘wettest’ places to celebrate the water festival in Bangkok.
* The Bangkok post reported that by Tuesday more than 60 had been killed in roadway accidents; 40% of which involved drunk driving and/or motorcycles.

Linking up (we hope!) this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Just a ‘dash of Dubai’ to spice up the trip!

I was disappointed that we had only a few hours in Dubai – that fascinating, modern metropolis that sits in the southern Persian Gulf, a part of the United Arab Emirates – en route to Bangkok, Thailand.

We could have spent the night there instead of having a three-hour layover but still only a matter of a few more hours wouldn’t be enough to explore this city which ranks Number 1 in the world’s destinations by Trip Advisor’s 2015 Travelers Choice Awards.

So our stop was just a dash of Middle Eastern seasoning; a taster for what we have in store on the cruise with an itinerary that allows time in other exotic Middle Eastern ports. Even though it was a brief visit, it didn’t take long for me to utter my favorite, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto!”. . .

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Just strolling through the long hallways of shops, was a clue. How often do we see camels in merchandise displays back home?

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We hail from the Land of Starbucks (that would be Seattle for those of you not familiar with the brand – but is anyone not familiar with this brand?) This was the first of our ubiquitous coffee shops that we’d seen displaying the name in Arabic. We suspect it won’t be the last time before our trip is over.

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The airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is as sprawling as the city/emirate it serves.  We were forewarned that it could take 45 minutes to reach gates of connecting flights once we landed in the early evening hours.  By the time our flight to Bangkok left, the gate from which we were leaving seemed to be at the end of an endless – and empty – terminal.

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Moving walkways help ease the distance between the gates.

 I told you in the last post about flying Emirates Airlines Business Class but I didn’t mention that waiting for flights and connections, we were able to use Business class lounges – also rather luxurious places that combined restaurant, lounge, and rooms to take showers and freshen up (which we did). I was so busy doing that in Dubai I didn’t take photos so just imagine it by looking at The Scout at the Emirates Business Class lounge in San Francisco.

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Pretty amazing we have to admit!  But even topping that was the First Class lounge. Remember, I told you they had 12 First Class ‘suites’ on our flight of nearly 500 passengers, well this is where they waited for connecting flights in Dubai:

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Yes, one can only imagine what that lounge must be like . . .

So we were off to Bangkok at 10 p.m. arriving the following morning about 7:30 am – rush hour traffic time.  It made for an hour and a half taxi ride (slightly over $20US, by the way) to our Marriott Vacation Club  ‘home-away-from-home’.  I’ll tell you about it soon - it wasn't the stereotypical Marriott, that's for sure!

Thanks for your time with us.  We can’t tell you how nice it is -- especially when on the other side of the world --  to find your comments on Facebook or here in the comment section – thanks to those subscriber/friends out there in the blogosphere who’ve written emails.  All are appreciated!! Happy and safe travels to you~

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Two days later ~ Whew, that was a flight to remember!

It is Thursday evening in Bangkok, Thailand. We are 14-hours ahead of those back in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. We arrived here Wednesday morning about 7:30 a.m. – two days after leaving Seattle; some 20+ hours in a plane and more than 30 hours after our departure.

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Waiting for takeoff Seats 14 E and F

The distance and time involved in getting here was mind-boggling back when we first planned the trip and I can tell you now that we’ve completed the flight, that is was one amazing experience. . .especially for this ‘white knuckler’ who declared the first time I saw the size of an Emirates 380 aircraft that The Scout would never get me in one. (I am reminded,‘never say never’!

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Our flight from San Francisco - Emirates A380
So large is this plane that two jet ways are used for entering and exiting (you remember we used Frequent Flyer miles so were flying top-tier in Business Class) so we never mingled with any of the 400 passengers who were flying in economy below us. There are 75 Business Class seats on the upper level and 12 First Class ‘suites’ (we didn’t mingle with those folks either).

We had decided to use our miles when planning our trip to Bangkok, Thailand – it is a long flight from Seattle no matter how you approach it.  In our case the first leg of the flight from San Francisco was 15-hours – so long that they actually had on-screen reminders for those wearing contact lenses to take them out and wear glasses (I heeded the advice).

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Flight Part I
Following a three-hour layover in Dubai, we set off on the next leg which (thanks to tailwinds) was only 5.5 hours long:

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Flight Part 2
I told you in a previous post about flying Business Class but I now have to say, there is Business Class and then there is Business Class – in the case of Emirates, they’ve knocked the ball out of the ballpark. For example:

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A toast to the Wright brothers!
There’s a fully stocked lounge with nibbles, bubbly and fine wine to keep you entertained. As well as accommodating flight attendants who pose guests behind the bar for photos.

PicMonkey Collage

And bathrooms with gold-toned seats and fixtures, fresh orchids, Bulgari toiletries and of course, a window with a view!

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Route maps kept us entertained
 
P1000028 Our personal viewing screens offered dozens of shows, movies and entertainment options but I preferred to watch the route maps and views from the cameras (on the tail, front and underneath the plane) showed real time photos of the aircraft.

I was a bit amazed to see us flying directly over Tehran, Iran. . .




PicMonkey Collage
A feast of wine and food
The food and wine choices rivaled high end restaurant offerings.  But perhaps the nicest thing about the flight was the flat-bed, complete with mattress pad, blanket and pillow!

So that’s how we spent our first two days of this  journey.  I’ll tell you more about Bangkok in upcoming posts.  Thanks for being with us today and hope you’ll follow along as we set sail next week for more stops in the Far East and then head to the Middle East. . .

We hope to be linking up this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter ~ Here and There

“For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover,”
-- from our Facebook feed
 
As Easter Sunday has progressed, other similarly softened social media greetings have been received. How odd they seem, I remarked to The Scout. “Why haven’t I noticed those politically-correct softened greetings before?”

DSCF2982We are ‘here’ this Easter holiday; the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States.

It is the first time in three years that we’ve been ‘here’ and not ‘there’ in Greece for this sacred springtime celebration.  That’s probably why I’d not noticed.

Our Easter celebration tradition has been to be on Crete’s southern coast in the small village of Loutro, – a place where internet can be sporadic so we didn’t see those Easter postings – and where, just like the rest of Greece, Easter is a really big deal. Really. Big Deal.

Wishes of ‘Happy Easter’ there ring out  with gusto and conviction.







That’s the kind of thing you notice when you see holidays from the perspective of ‘here’ and ‘there’. On the flip side, we were in Greece for Christmas and were surprised at how December 25th pales in comparison to their January’s Three Kings Day, which pretty much goes unnoticed in our U.S. part of the world. And how it comes nowhere near the holiday hoopla that takes place in the U.S.

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Loutro, Crete - Easter Saturday 2014

'Here’ the clerk at the local convenience store said Saturday had been ‘nuts’ with parents buying last minute chocolate candies and goodies for Easter baskets.  Saturdays before Easter in Loutro were been pretty laid back as families start gathering early in the day so they can attend church that night, watch the ‘burning of Judas’ and then head to the tavernas that line the waterfront. There they will feast on those slow-roasting lambs that have tantalized passersby all day. Feasting will last until midnight or later.

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Easter lamb roasting at a Loutro, Crete tavern 2014
In recent years the celebration of ‘our’ Easter has fallen on the same day as the Greek Orthodox celebration. This year Greece will be celebrating ‘their’ Easter next Sunday, a week later than ‘ours’. Next Sunday though we will be in Bangkok, Thailand preparing for that cruise we’ll be starting the following week. While we will miss Easter in Loutro we will get to celebrate the Thai Songkran (New Year) that spans two days, April 13 – 15.

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Loutro Crete - Church candles
‘Here’ and ‘there’.  It’s a good way to live. It enriches the celebrations. It changes the perspectives.

PicMonkey Collage
 
Happy Easter!
Happy Passover!
Happy Songkran!
Happy Springtime!
Safe Travels and Lovely Journeys to you all!
And, as always, thanks so much for stopping by~~
 
We are linking up this week with:
 
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

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