Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cruising continued

Drums, strings and songs awoke us in the Port of Apia, one of the Samoan Islands. A large group of locals in colorful blue, white and red costumes were dancing and singing on the pier to bit us travelers on the Queen Victoria welcome. A rainbow lent special lighting to the performance, and stands with colorful trinkets and clothes were calling to us. We eagerly watched, listened and photographed. And after a hearty breakfast admired their wares.

The island is lusciously green with an annual rainfall of 114". Quite deservedly, they call it The Pacific Paradise. Cook Island and Bali Hai are part of the group. The ocean’s water was invitingly warm, much more so than the ocean surrounding Hawaii.

After a day in Auckland, a fine city with more sailing vessels than any other, we sailed to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand’s North-Easterly tip. A group of 144 enchanted islands make up the chain, truly a haven of beauty and peace. They are green and tropical, fanned by refreshing ocean breezes. An easy-going and happy people enjoy life at a contented, leisurely pace.

Dubai, my last stop, is a large city of two million, right in the middle of the desert, exhibiting its enormous wealth in extraordinary architecture and gigantic luxurious shopping malls. Taxis abound and are cheap—gasoline costs 78 cents; the major streets have seven or eight lanes in each direction and are packed with cars, mostly new ones. During the three days we spent there, dense smog clouded the sky. "How orange the moon looks," I exclaimed when we arrived around six in the morning to the taxi driver in a nun-like, white and pink uniform, "It's not the moon," she replied, "It's the sun."

Dubai's Hop-on Hop-Off buses provide audios that point out the city sights and allow you to get off and hop back onto the next bus to continue your long journey.

The Dubai Historical Museum gave an interesting glimpse into its 4,000-year history as a fishing village. Its great wealth and sudden growth dates to more recent days when oil was discovered and Sheikh Saeed of the Maktoum family summoned the world’s best architects and craftsmen to build his city.

It features the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khadafi, and some of the most luxurious hotels. No local markets or stalls, but extravagantly elegant stores representing every luxury brand you can think of. Countless shopping malls extend over many acres. You may pass a 100’ Aquarium swarming with fish right across from Dior, or you may stop in at a skating ring or a snow-covered hill equipped with a lift where you can ski down a modest slope, while the sun outside is baking the city.

One third of the city’s population is foreign-born. Its crime rate is one of the lowest. Construction is still going strong.

The city is attracting many sporting events. No camel race, though, while I was there. When I passed the tower of a Minaret, which grace most every block, I heard the musical summoning to prayer that occurs five times a day, and observed men in white garb and turban, no women, entering the sanctuary.

My favorite feature of Dubai is its Dancing Water. In the evenings when the lights of the day fade away, the sound of classical music summons visitors to the waterfront of the tall Burj Khalifa. And the water fountains, bathed in soft colors, begin to dance. You forget the smog and the crowds and the sales promotions, and rejoice in a mystical world of enchantment.

Nonetheless, it’s grand to be home again,


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cruising to Australia

On a chilly Sunday in early February in San Francisco I embarked on the Queen Victoria. The elegant Queen of the Cunard Line was bound for Australia. I had planned to get much writing done, but no such luck. There wasn’t time for it.

Every evening on the neatly folded-back bed next to the nightly chocolate lay the next day’s schedule of events—85-95 activities to choose from, every single day. They ranged from every kind of concert to Paddle Tennis and Golf Putting tournaments, Social Whist, Duplicate Bridge, Yoga, Trivia and Dancing, even Needle Work and Knitting were available. Daily lectures, shows and films rounded out the day.

In the spacious gym furnished with the latest equipment, passengers could enjoy a grand view of the sea while treading the mill or lifting weights. It provided a good balance to the joyful indulgence in superb meals and buffets, available twenty hours a day.

We learned about the impact of the weather that often has changed the course of history—the Russian winter that defeated Napoleon as well as Hitler’s mighty Wehrmacht; the heavy rains during World War I that turned the battlefield into a swamp and sucked in men, horses and equipment alike; the brief lull in the fierce stormy weather that made the Normandy Landing possible.

Col Steven Brown, Social Aid to the last five presidents, told us colorful stories about the social life at the White House. Why do men in a reception line at the White House always precede their wives? Simple. If women went first, they’d stop to chat, and it might take forever. Men, on the other hand, keep moving and their wives tend to follow them.

Mamie Eisenhower had a great gift for engaging her visitors in delightful conversation, but how did she end them? She’d change her handbag from one hand to the other, and an aid would suddenly appear telling her that she was needed elsewhere.

At afternoon teas, white-gloved waiters offered tiny cucumber and tomato sandwiches and delicate cakes. But beware when crossing the Equator; if you’re a pollywog never having it crossed before, you might be covered with food and thrown into the pool.

The lovely three-tiered Theatre offered comfortable boxes that could be reserved to drink fine champagne in privacy. Its 800 seats were often filled to capacity, watching Westside Story, the Comedian Adrian Walsh or the next port presentations. A two-story library offered a wide variety of books. Among my favorite spots were the Ping Pong corner and the Card Room where Bridge was taught, discussed and played under the guidance of two superb instructors, William and Dave.

The weather was perfect and the ship steamed along as steady as could be under the most capable of captains, a Woman. Not only a most capable woman, but also good-looking, charming, and active. She ran the ship, gave the Sunday sermon, made regular announcements, posed endlessly with passengers and signed certain items acquired on the ship. In an insightful talk about her life and running a ship, she also answered questions from the passengers with the greatest aplomb. No ship is running aground under her guidance.

May you too enjoy a cruise one day,