Posted by Paul Groves on April 29, 2017

Last Morning on Ship

Day 111 of 111. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

The last morning on the ship was full of moist eyes and details with which to deal. Our “breakfast club” got a picture one last time. As we said good bye at the end of the meal, the fact that we were all going our separate ways hit home and emotions were running high. We had already packed our bags the night before and left them in the hallway where they magically disappeared. We also ran into one of the dancers from the stage shows who was nice enough to pose for a picture. I hadn’t realized he was so tall! He is Romanian and did not speak a word of English when he embarked four months ago but during one of the last shows, he actually sang a duet with one of the singers. Pretty cool.

We got off the ship and all of the luggage was organized in a huge space. Each piece of luggage was tagged with different colors and numbers. Our luggage was Green 1. We hired a porter who helped us locate and fetch our luggage and then helped us as we passed through customs. It was pretty easy since we really didn’t buy anything that had to be declared.

After getting through customs, we dropped off four suitcases and a box to a huge FedEx truck. These will be delivered home so we don’t have to worry about them! We kept a couple of small suitcases and a backpack and got on yet another bus. We were off to the Sawgrass Recreation Park, the Everglades. We boarded an airboat and drove around for about 25 minutes looking for alligators. We saw one from a distance as well as fishing birds, cormorants. The chance to visit and learn about this unique biome was really the fascinating feature of this excursion. The water in this region was only about a foot deep (it has just rained) and is actually a huge slow-moving river rather than a mass of standing water. After the boat ride, we saw some alligators a little more close up. Ron held a baby alligator for a few moments. This area in the park is a preserve where hurt or abandoned animals are kept and cared for. This is much like the Wildlife Waystation back near our home in Sylmar. After the visit, the bus dropped us off at the airport. For many, they were catching flights home. For us, we picked up a rental car and drove to Orlando.

Posted by Paul Groves on April 23, 2017

The Keys to Heaven

Day 108 of 111. Atlantic Ocean

We are halfway through the seven day journey from Europe back to North America. Our Grand World Voyage is coming to an end and everyone is a little sad, a little nostalgic, and a little glad to get back home. I heard one person describe the feeling as, “It’s like we’ve been asked to give back the keys to heaven.” A lot is happening these last days. The crew onboard is largely Indonesian and Filipino. Each group put on a show on the main stage in the afternoon. The shows featured native dances, popular songs from their countries, skits, and featured soloists. The shows are at 3:00 p.m. and you have to get into the theater at least 30 minutes early to even get a seat. We staked out our seats at 1:30.

We had our final gala night. We wore our light-up bow ties (pretty classy, huh?). Everyone has medallions that we were expected to wear. Bronze, for those with 100 days at sea, Silver, for 300 total days at sea, Gold for 500 total days at sea (more than a year on ships!). There are also Platinum Level (700 days) and then President’s Club (1000 days or more)! There was a recognition event before dinner where they announced the newest inductees in each category and had them take a picture with the Captain and the officer in charge of the Hotel portion of the ship. When we first came on this amazing adventure, we considered it to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but we soon met people who had been on 3, 7, or even 15 Grand World Voyages!

Others have been busy, too. There was a display of the 135 blankets that have been knit or crocheted during the cruise for charity. These will go to young cancer patients in hospitals as well as some sick children who are treated to a camping trip. Table after table were filled with these volunteer-made gifts. I have continued my watercolor and drawing workshops. I donated nine of my watercolors to a Silent Auction onboard that raised over $5,100 for an orphanage in our last port of call, Funchal. The fellow in the white suit is Ben Sack, our drawing teacher. He is the Artist in Residence who has been on the ship since Day 1 and has commemorated the 2017 Grand World Voyage with two huge pen-and-ink drawings showing all of the ports we have visited. If you have good internet, try searching for “Ben Sack artist” and look at some of his work. He is a very talented artist, a great teacher, and a friendly and unassuming person.

Finally, we took a group picture with our dining table buddies. We meet every night at 5:30 p.m. at Table 42 and laugh and joke and inform each other of our day’s activities. Ron and I joined this table after Hong Kong when our original table mates all disembarked. We knew Paul and Linda from a few excursions and breakfast and they invited us to their table to replace two of their table mates who also left the ship in Hong Kong. I remember back to the first day of the cruise when there was a big get together around the pool. Ron and I felt pretty awkward and alone but we saw all sorts of people greeting and hugging each other as old friends. I can certainly relate to those feelings now. If I ran into any of our table mates or some of the other special friends we have made on this trip, I would be hugging them warmly as well.

We have been setting our clocks back an hour each night lately, so we are now on East Coast time. Today we will begin our packing… clothes, a few souvenirs, and a ton of good memories.

Posted by Paul Groves on April 19, 2017

Funchal, Madeira

Day 104 of 111. Funchal, Madeira

Our final foreign port on this Grand World Voyage is the city of Funchal on the island of Madeira. Our excursion first took us to the highest cliff in Europe (and the second highest in the world), Cabo Girao. Of course, they have built a glass-bottom vista point at the top of the cliff which gave a beautiful view of the city of Funchal 560 meters below and allowed us to see some of the terraces that have been built all over the island to allow farming of bananas, sugar cane, and wine grapes. (Madeira wine is famous and was what Ben Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson toasted with after the signing of the Declaration of Independence). We also saw a beautiful lavender-blue flower called the “Pride of Madeira”.

On the trip back to town, we saw more of the terraced hillsides (all terraced and worked by hand) and stopped at a spot where Winston Churchill painted a picture of the boats, water, and cliffs of the Camara fishing village. You can tell from my photo that the town has not changed too much since 1950.

The end of the tour included tea at the famous Reid’s Palace Hotel. This hotel is owned and run by the people who run The Orient Express. The hotel was elegant and we would not have been too surprised to find Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot wandering around the grounds. If you look in the upper right corner of the four of us at the tea table, you can just see our ship, ms Amsterdam, in the harbor.
The tour was great, but we had to wear nice clothes, slacks and dress shoes to visit the hotel. We were dropped off at the ship, we changed clothes and went back out to the town to explore. This is the last land we will see for seven days.

We went to a little park in the city next to the water. It is spring and many different types of flowers are blooming. Funchal has been voted one of the best tourist destinations and they pride themselves on their flowers, native and imported. We saw some beautiful examples in the hotel gardens, but more in the park with a pond inhabited by swans, ducks, and fish. The streets had mosaic pictures embedded along the avenues. We really liked this one of a ship. We worked our way through the town to the open market, but my eye was caught by a bakery with homemade chicken and mushroom pie (only seven euros). At the market, we found several fruit sellers, some souvenir shops and a huge fish market that was just finishing business for the day. We stopped at a cafe for some snacks, some drinks, and some good internet. It was a restful break and then we started back for the ship.

The local cathedral, designed in the late Gothic style and dating back to 1500 A.D. was our last stop. The gold and detail inside was very impressive. I said a little prayer asking for safe travels and we returned to the ship.

Posted by Paul Groves on April 17, 2017

Rabat, Morocco

Day 102 of 111. Rabat, Morocco

After we finished our tour of Casablanca, we traveled further up the coast to Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. After visited the royal compound, we went to a Moroccan restaurant for lunch called Le Ziryab. When the waiter brought us water, he asked “Distilled” or “Gas”? That kind of threw us for a loop until we figured out that the choice was “bottled” or “sparkling” water. We were brought small plates of foods such as cauliflower, carrots, eggplant, cabbage, and courgette. Each dish was spiced or pickled or some other process that made it delicious. We also had little rolls filled with chicken, fish, or vegetables. The main course was brought in a large silver tangine (a cone shaped cooking vessel) with chicken and pink olives. Ron and I tried the olives again and we have still not changed our opinion of their flavor. For dessert we had a puff pastry with vanilla cream (not shown) and then tea in a glass with an assortment of delicious pastries. Some were like long empanadas filled with almond paste, some were like dry cookies flavored with cardamom, some were a little like baklava and some were like biscotti. All were delicious, especially with the tea. It was a wonderful meal, but we were glad to get up and do some walking afterwards.

A visit to the Kasbah of the Udayas, Rabat, Morocco

On the Bou Regreg River, there are places for recreational boating, some beaches, and a kasbah. Walking into the area we found women along the street holding syringes ready to do henna tattoos. Inside the city walls we passed a gate into the Jardin Andalou and found some very nicely painted doors. We sat in a cafe and were served mint tea with a little sugar. I kind of expected iced tea, but the tea was hot but still refreshing.

Mausoleum of King Mohammed V, Rabat, Morocco

Soon after our refreshing tea, we departed the kasbah to the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V. The mausoleum was built by his grandson, the current king, Mohammed VI on the site of a huge ancient mosque that was destroyed by a great earthquake in 1755. The large tower on the site was never completed, but remnants of the original walls remain and stacked cylinders of granite represent the columns from the original mosque. Entrances to the mausoleum complex are flanked by royal guards on horseback and the mausoleum itself has guards standing at attention outside and inside the building.

The mausoleum contains the remains of Mohammed V (in the large central crypt) and King Hassan II (the current king’s father) and Prince Abdallah (King Hassan II’s brother) in the corners of the mausoleum. Next to the smaller crypt in the corner is a chair where a cleric reads/recites verses from the Koran. Looking up above the crypt area, the dome is just as spectacular to view. In addition, the complex also contains a mosque and a library that looks similar to the mausoleum in materials and style. Soon after our visit we returned to our ship in Casablanca.

Posted by Paul Groves on April 17, 2017

More Morocco

Day 102 of 111. Casablanca, Morocco

There is a region in the older part of the city called the Habous Quarter, kind of a marketplace or city center. We walked through some small streets lined with carpet sellers, a few souvenir shops, and cafes. We visited a very fascinating small cul de sac with about ten different olive vendors. There were olives of many different varieties and processed different ways. Some had spices and some were mixed with chilis. Tubs of chili paste and preserved lemons were also available. Neither Ron nor I like olives, but it was still a great visit. We tasted some cornichons that were delicious, however.