A Travellerspoint blog

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DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Day 2 of three days to explore Dubai

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Dubai has an endless supply of water because all of their water is desalinated sea water. There are flowers and green grass everywhere here in the desert!

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A classic teak dhow on Dubai Creek

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Dubai grew from a small fishing village along the “Pirate Coast” of the Arabian Sea (Persian Gulf). The village was next to the “Creek”, an inlet here lined with dhows that are loaded with cargo for export.

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We took a boat trip on the Creek on a dhow – we got prime cushion space up on top.

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The biggest bargain in Dubai is a ride across the Creek in an Abbra (shown here). It only costs 30 cents!

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Someone has nicknamed the shoreline around Dubai the “Pricey Coast” instead of the Pirate Coast. Easy to see why – here we are in the super upscale Wafi Mall, in the Khan Murjan, a recreation of a legendary 14th century Bagdad Souk.

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This was little Dubai, nestled by the Creek, in 1822. This model is in the Dubai Museum, an excellent museum housed in the 150 year-old Al Fahide Fort.

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The museum has a range of interesting artifacts and dioramas from the pre-oil days, focusing on historical links with trading and pearl diving. Want to buy a camel?

Posted by Swenigale 03:51

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Day 3 of three days to explore Dubai

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We headed out on the Big Bus Beach Tour – got off the bus hoping to get a great picture of the Burj al Arab – well we did, lots – but first we took this picture. Any shade is welcome in 100 degree sunshine!

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Our kids say always take pictures with people in them – so here I am on the Jumeirah Public Beach (where there are loads of pretty sea shells!). Oh, and off in the distance is the most recognizable landmark in Dubai, built on a man-made island (something Dubai does a lot). The Burj al Arab is the world’s second tallest hotel (and only 7 star hotel) – see the heliport where that golfer guy who shall not be named hit a ball into the Arabian Sea?

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We drove out onto Palm Jumeirah, one of the three artificial Palm Islands, with its luxury homes and apartments and monorail that runs through it right into the Atlantis Hotel.

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The grand opening celebration of the Atlantis in late 2008 could be seen from the moon! The massive resort is billed as a hotel/shopping center/aquarium/water park/dophinerium.

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Aha! They have discovered and here display for us the Lost City of Atlantis!

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Okay, so this mall WAS the biggest mall in Dubai: the Emirates Mall. It has the world’s largest indoor snow park, with 5 slopes and a ski lift! The 242,000 square foot park is covered with real snow year round.

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Inside Ski Dubai the temperature is 25 degrees Fahrenheit. We stood in the snow and tried to explain to a local man that our winter back home is just like this. He was totally amazed, and didn’t quite believe us!

Posted by Swenigale 06:17

KHASAB, OMAN

Delightful Dhow Cruise

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Khasab is a small city within the Sultanate of Oman, right on the Strait of Hormuz. The fast speed boats coming and going in the port carry on the local commerce – smuggling goods to Iran.

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The sheep and goats are brought into Oman from Iran (as payment?).

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Never saw such a thing – they were tossing the sheep and goats up onto the dock and then herded them onto the waiting trucks.

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Our excursion for the day was on this comfortable Omani dhow – we headed out into a nearby fjord.

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The coast of Oman is often called the “Norway of Arabia” – dry and barren, perhaps, but still spectacular!

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We snorkeled near Telegraph Island, which is surrounded by corals and reefs. In 1864, the British built a telegraph station on the island. They laid an underwater cable from India to Basra in Iraq to get a telegraph connection between England and India. The island was manned for only a short period of time.

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The absolute highlight of the day was when dolphins raced along side our boats in the crystal clear water!

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We headed back to the port in the late afternoon light, and our Omani boat crew offered us tea, coffee (which is more like tea flavored with cardamom), fruit and dates.

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A fisherman holds up one of his catch for us to see – he had a boatload (Blue Fin Tuna?).

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The old and the new – motoring back to the Serenity.

Posted by Swenigale 10:54

AL FUJAIRAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Rocky Mountains

AL FUJAIRAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Rocky Mountains

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Each port we enter has a local pilot who comes onboard the Serenity – the tugboat gets close to a ladder at the side of our ship and the pilot hops onto it and climbs aboard. This port, by the way, is the 4th largest in the world –and it is a giant repository for gas and oil.

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We climbed up into a restored 13th century watchtower and got a good look down at an oasis filled with date palms.

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Fujairah is mountainous, unlike the other 6 mostly desert emirates of the UAE. They actually need those pick-up trucks! In fact, the country exports rocks to Dubai for building their off-shore islands.

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A sign of wealth for the Emiraties is to have an elaborate gate to their family home.

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The country is crisscrossed with wadi, deep crevices created by Nature. Since water is under the ground in the wadis, fruit trees, date palms and vegetables can be grow in them.

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Time to go home from daycare.

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The Friday Market – a roadside market.

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The Fujairah Fort, first constructed in 1670 – now partially restored as a museum. The small villages and forts were situated in remote valleys away from the seashore in an attempt to be hidden from Pirates in the days of old.

Posted by Swenigale 12:27

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA

Gateway to Mecca

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We have sailed around the Arabian Peninsula and we are now in the Red Sea, half way between Egypt and Saudi Arabia! We sailed through the Gulf of Aden with extra security. In addition to the Indian guards who have been on duty on the outer decks since we left Cape Town, there was a period of 24 hours when passengers were not allowed on the outer decks and we were also guarded by the Japanese Navy!
The entry card for our morning tour in Jeddah makes it clear that punishments can be harsh in Saudi Arabia, to say the least!

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Many of the ports we have been in are not accustomed to having cruise ships. They are working ports for shipping and commerce. This Maersk container ship may be the largest in the world! Jeddah is the 2nd largest city in Saudi Arabia and is the gateway to Mecca.

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At one of the largest Camel Markets in Saudi Arabia we were able to get up close and personal with these “ships of the desert” (or “dessert” as pronounced by our Saudi guide).

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Every day this market comes alive with vendors and buyers making deals on camels, sheep, goats and goods such as saddles, halters and blankets.

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We watched this little flock respond to the smallest hand gestures of their shepherd as they were herded through an intersection.

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Also on sale are wood and charcoal for outside fires – indoors they cook on gas. The shelter in the photo is used by the vendor to escape the heat of the sun. I can’t even imagine how hot it is here in the summer! Not to mention how much riper the smell.

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The southern part of the city looks like a really big land fill – kind of a surprise after our last ports in Oman and the U.A.E.

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We had some time to walk around in the Old City – and found that we visitors were the main attraction!

Posted by Swenigale 22:42

AQABA, JORDAN

Desert Safari to Wadi Rum


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From the Red Sea port of Aqaba, Jordan’s only seaport, you can see Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We travelled north toward the Jordanian desert - the granite hills dramatically show the colors of different minerals.

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We arrived in the rose-colored sands of Wadi Rum (the site of the filming of “Lawrence of Arabia”), and our drivers stopped to map out their routes in the sand.

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We were deep in the Valley of the Moon and the ancient trade route that made its way through the desert to the Red Sea. Behind us in the photo is the unique formation “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.

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Our driver was present at the birth of this camel baby – just 15 days before.

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I climbed a sand dune barefoot – our guide said the sand is great for your feet! Look way behind the boy and donkey – that must be what all those people are doing on that sand dune.

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The wind-sculpted sandstone is a perfect fit for Lille Hästa – most people think we have a Trojan horse, not a Swedish one!

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Why does everything seem like a movie set? This is real!

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Looking back on some of the 4 by 4’s in our convoy.

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At the base of this cliff in Al Khazali is a Bedouin-run rest area – we have been told that there is only one tribe of Bedouin left that is still nomadic.

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After our desert adventure we went on a shopping adventure in Aqaba. The shuttle dropped us at the Ali Baba restaurant (I am not making that up!). Do I look like I just stepped out of my tent?

Posted by Swenigale 07:47

SAFAGA, EGYPT

Red Sea Riviera


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Beautiful as the snorkeling is said to be in this area of the Red Sea, we left it all behind and embarked on a 12 hour excursion to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. The farmers we passed along the canal live in mud brick houses and rely on their donkeys for transportation just as much as their ancestors ever did.

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Sugar cane is their chief crop – the extra stalks are dried and piled on roof tops to provide insulation from summer sun, and eventually extra fuel.

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Wow. Lunch on the banks of the Nile! The harsh mountains in the background, the lush valley and the ancient river, the riverboat and felucca sailing by – priceless!

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These guys are priceless, too. Actually, they were not. They don’t pose for free.

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Cameras are not allowed in the Valley of the Kings, the tombs of the Pharaohs. Believe me when I tell you that the paintings and the hieroglyphics we saw are incredible! We visited four of the tombs, all of which had been cleverly concealed to thwart grave robbers (not concealed enough, as it turned out).

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The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is a short drive away. She was the only female pharaoh in history.

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Luxor dates back to 3500 BC. It was the richest city of the ancient world and the former capital of Egypt. We visited the Temple of Luxor with an expert guide, who is, justifiably, extremely proud of Egypt’s contributions to civilization.

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The raised relief of the 18th century BC – preserved by the sands of time and now uncovered for all the world to admire..

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Ed is standing on the road of the Sphinx. The “magic hour” of golden afternoon sun was the perfect time to visit the Temple area.

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As we left the ruins of antiquity, present day scenes leapt back into life. What a gift – to be able to see and appreciate both.

Posted by Swenigale 03:37

SUEZ CANAL, EGYPT

From the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea

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We had anchored overnight in order to be in position to join the convoy of ships transiting the canal going toward the Mediterranean. Banks of sand line each side and hundreds of guards are stationed all along its length.

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These oil trucks are being ferried across the canal. Oil is Egypt’s leading export. Tourism and Suez Canal revenue vie for 2nd place.

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Some cities and date palms break into the desert surroundings.

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Today was Palm Sunday. Services on board ship are held in the “Hollywood Theater”. Mid-week “Protestant Perspectives” are held in the “Avenue Saloon”. You do what ya gotta do!

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A look back at some of the other ships behind us – we were in a convoy of more than 20 ships, dwarfing the little fishing boats working in the canal.

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Our transit was stalled somewhat when an oil tanker ran aground! Fortunately for us, it could be towed out of the canal (it was towed into the path of the old canal) and we ended up being first in the line of remaining ships. Ironically, the mired tanker’s name is “Mire”!

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This bridge is in two parts, one on each side of the canal. Apparently, they swing together when there are no big ships passing. Ship traffic is one way in each direction, passing each other in Great Bitter Lake, which is about a third of the way into the canal from the south. There are no locks in the Suez Canal.

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The Mubarak Peace Bridge and Japan – Egypt Friendship Bridge spans the canal, but we didn’t see much traffic on it.

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Near the bridge there was a long line of cars and trucks waiting for the ferry – it is far cheaper than taking the bridge! Over 100 ships go through the canal every day with perhaps 14% of the world’s trade. (A transit takes about 10 hours.) We entered the Mediterranean Sea late in the afternoon.

Posted by Swenigale 02:57

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT

Ancient Treasures


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We sailed into Alexandria’s West Harbor with a nice view of the palace of the last King – now used by the Egyptian Navy.

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Traffic in the city is chaotic and noisy. This monument is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, viewed from the rear..

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Somehow, carriage drivers find room to “park” their horses.

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We toured the National Museum of Alexandria which contains 1,800 pieces of art- none of which have ever been exhibited before. This photo of a photo shows a diver discovering treasures of ancient Alexandria. Just within the past 20 years artifacts were raised during underwater excavations in the ancient port.

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Remember Hatshepsut’s Temple from our Valley of the Kings trip? Here she is! (To help us remember the Queen’s name, our guide called her “hot chicken soup”.)

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The Alexandrian Library, originally built in 283 BC by Alexander the Great, existed for 600 years as the world’s center of learning. A fire in the 4th century destroyed the Library and its museum, along with half a million volumes. In the open reading area seen here, sunlight coming through the glass windows is filtered through the calming colors of blue and green.

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The present library was started in 1995. It is a complex of three buildings and so much information that you’ll have to check out its website for yourself! (www.bibalex.org)

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Fort Qaitbey is visible here at the entrance of East Harbor. It is built on the site of the ancient Pharos Light House.

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Abu Abbas Al Mursi Mosque

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A friend for Lille Hästa – let’s call him Alexander.

Posted by Swenigale 20:07

ASHDOD, ISRAEL

A Beach town


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Early Wednesday morning walk on the deck – the first full moon of Spring – Easter is coming!!

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Ashdod is a tidy, planned community built on golden sand dunes and is southern Israel’s only Mediterranean harbor. We popped into a couple of their malls – let’s just say the parrot was a highlight!

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Israelis had a vacation day for Passover, so families were out and about. It’s Spring, just like home.

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Another mall – decorated for Spring and for children.

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Ashdod is mentioned in the Old Testament and archeologists have found 4000 year old ruins – the modern art is above ground.

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This is the Wednesday market, held in the parking lot of one of the many beaches – vendors and locals and lots of hubbub….

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…and olives, as you might expect.

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We climbed up Johan’s Hill – supposedly where Jonah of the Bible is buried – not sure what the plans are for this whale. Maybe a big Chia Pet?

Posted by Swenigale 05:09

ATHENS, GREECE

Beginning of “Black Sea Intrigue”, Segment VI


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This amazing itinerary is taking us to ever more exotic places! Look at the route we are taking – I’m not sure I ever even knew where the Black Sea was before!

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This segment started in Athens, actually in Piraeus, which is the nearest port and has been a gateway to the Mediterranean since 482 BC. This is the Old Marble Olympic Stadium, reconstructed in 1896 on the original Roman foundation.

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The remains of the Parthenon crown the Acropolis-from the 5th century BC, when Athens led the way for European civilization.

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Our first day in Athens was Good Friday, and church bells tolled throughout the day and flags were flown at half mast. Greece is more than 95% Orthodox and Church and State are closely intertwined.

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We had a Good Friday service on the ship at 5:15pm. Later in the evening we walked about in Piraeus and watched the Procession of the Epitaph at 9pm. At this large Orthodox church two brass bands accompanied the priests and bearers of a cross and what looks like a flower and electric light- bedecked bier, the Epitaph. It was a solemn, candlelit procession. Very moving.

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We had time on Holy Saturday to wander around in the Plaka, the old, preserved district of Athens at the base of the Acropolis.

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The port of Piraeus is filled with all sizes of ferries with their Greek island destinations.

Posted by Swenigale 21:54

CRUISING THE BOSPORUS

To the Black Sea

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Happy Easter, everyone! We are just now catching up to real time in our blog. Easter Sunday was beautiful on the Crystal Serenity. Our sunrise service was well attended by both Protestants and Roman Catholics. This photo is from the later Protestant service, where the anthem, “Christ is Risen, Alleluia” (Ed’s favorite, that he brought along) was sung by Crystal’s A capella quartet.

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Can you believe this adorable marzipan bunny? It was a small dessert choice in the extraordinary Easter buffet.

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This was a day at sea as we sailed through the Strait near the coastlines of Istanbul. We will return to Istanbul and stay for 2 days after our Black Sea ports.

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Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are all on the Western side of the Bosporus.

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The Strait is where the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea connect – it is 20 miles long, 1,500 feet deep and only 500 feet wide in some spots. Two bridges connect the western (European) and eastern (Asian) sides of the city.

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Easter Day celebrants crowd the banks – here they are near a fortress built (in just 40 days) by Mehmet the Conqueror.

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The Black Sea is straight ahead – into that fog bank! The air temperature, already cold, quickly dropped another 10 degrees or more.

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We ducked inside, out of the cold, and soon there was nothing to see! Thank goodness for radar!

Posted by Swenigale 07:59

ODESSA, UKRAINE

Out of the fog - Day 1


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Somehow, Captain Glenn found Odessa! Fog horns sounded throughout the night, but we arrived on time and when the fog lifted we saw that we were right where we were supposed to be. Odessa is on the northeastern banks of the Black Sea.

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These kids are enjoying their Easter vacation with a ride on the Grand Pris.

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In “Innocents Abroad” Mark Twain in 1869 wrote of Odessa, “It looked just like an American city, fine broad streets and straight”. With more than a million citizens, the city is rich with cultural diversity.

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There is a bakery counter right on the sidewalk – see the Easter cakes on top?

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The historical architecture in the city was heavily influenced by French and Italian styles.

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The Potemkin Steps – designed so that if you look down them all you see is the landings.

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When you look up, all you see is steps (and Ed declining to change money with a local).

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There are a lot of poor – the ritzy shops are visited by Russians with a lot of money.

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A special treat on our night in Odessa (no not just the champagne) – we were in the Philharmonic Hall to hear a special concert by the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. It was marvelous!

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The 70 piece orchestra is led by American Hobart Earle and they have just returned from an eleven concert tour on the East Coast of the US. In fact, they performed on March 12th in Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts! The musicians and their conductor love Mechanics Hall!

Posted by Swenigale 22:08

ODESSA, UKRAINE

Day 2

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Tuesday dawned bright and clear. This picture shows how close we are docked to the Potemkin Steps.

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An old woman hopes for a few coins – she sat on a stoop not far away from a new statute of Catherine the great.

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Hear is our Ukrainian guide and the Catherine the Great statue. After Russia defeated the Turks and took possession of the city in 1789, Catherine had the seaport created and named.

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Odessa became prosperous and was the leading city and capital of the “New Russia”. This is one of the many Orthodox churches in the city.

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There are vineyards and two wineries in the city.

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These students form an honor guard…..

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….at the Tomb of the Unknown Sailor.

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The limestone used to build these fine buildings is crumbling, requiring extensive repair, but there is little money available for that.

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The beautiful Odessa Opera House – a world famous Viennese designed opera and ballet theater.

Posted by Swenigale 06:45

YALTA, UKRAINE

City on the Crimean Peninsula

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Wow. We are in Yalta, on the Black Sea shore in Crimea. Believe it or not, the climate is Mediterranean (not that it’s warm today, though!) with palm trees, vineyards and orchards. No wonder it was a resort for the Russian aristocracy and gentry.

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This is Livadia Palace, or the “White Palace”, built by the Czar in 1860. The Romanoff family spent every summer here. In 1945 this was the site of the Yalta Conference where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin decided the fate of post-war Europe.

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One of the four sets of lions that surround the White Palace – find little Hästa, Soren and Marika!

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The round table in the Great White Hall is where the Yalta meetings took place. FDR stayed in this palace because of his ill health (he died two months later).

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We were reminded of the sad fate of Czar Nicholas and his entire family (they are shown in this photo taken 8 years before they were all murdered by the revolutionaries).

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Farther along the coast, in Alupka, is Vorontsov’s Palace which we reached by walking through a beautiful park. This was the home of Russia’s wealthiest person. Since it was constructed of local diabas (which is twice as hard as granite), it took twenty years to build. It is where Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference. Not bad!

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In the 19th century Yalta glittered with the talents of Tolstoy, Chekov, Gorky, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff. But the big three in this photo are Lenin, the Crystal Serenity and world famous McDonalds!

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We rode on the “Rope Road”, up Darsan Hill, overlooking Yalta. Aren’t they the smallest tram cars you have ever seen? I think they look like popsicles!

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The Nevsky Cathedral’s golden domes as seen from above on the “Rope Road”.

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Along the Naberezhnaya (the Sea Promenade) we can see that popcorn is just as popular here as in the USA!

Posted by Swenigale 11:21

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