March 20, 2014 - Port Louis, Mauritius
Mauritius is one of three islands making up the Mascarene group; located 560 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. It has been heavily influenced by Asian customs although it is said a Portuguese navigator was given credit for discovering it. In the 1500's, the Dutch arrived and by the 1900's, the French and The British left their mark.
Mauritius has been earning various forms of independence in the 1900's. In 1970, its beautiful beaches and landscaping were discovered by tourists and has since become a favorite vacation spot. I was taken aback by the spectacular landscapes, little fishing villages, great hotels and some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Indian Ocean.
Bob and I rented a taxi-guide, who was a local and who was willing to take us around for the day, at a set price. We do this a lot, as we feel we really get a truer sense of what the destinations are all about by hiring a local, plus it is definitely less expensive than signing up for a ship excursion. As I mentioned earlier, there are times when I feel the ship's tour is the better choice, but more often than not, we explore on our own so we can set our own itinerary and time schedule.
We also are not big on eating at local restaurants, when touring, as we have more than enough to eat while on the ship. Thus, we bring water and a light snack with us and wind up with more time to explore.
Because you really cannot see this whole island in one day, we decided to travel around the southwestern part of the island, as well as a short visit to the town center, Le Caudan.
A full day of exploring dramatic landscapes and stunning views was enjoyed by both of us. We visited the Trou aux Cerfs crater. This dormant crater offered beautiful panoramic views of nearby towns and mountains. We then visited the historic marine town where we saw built-to-scale sail ship models, precisely crafted by expert artisans. The ships were done with such detail. How did they do it? The bad thing about the town was the great gift shop located there. Good thing I had very little time to shop, otherwise I would have been in deep trouble! The beautiful replica ships were so. . .tempting!
We finally left and proceeded to another scenic spot, the Grand Bass, a beautiful sacred lake where Hindus go to pray and worship. You don't need to be Hindu to appreciate this peaceful place.
Next stop: the town of Chamarel where we saw two natural wonders: the great Chamarel Falls and the Seven Colored Earths, which is a volcanic creation of volcanic rocks that cooled at different temperatures creating hillsides of striking patterns of color.
It was time to start our return to the ship but not before we did a quick tour thru the city Of Port Louis. We drove by one of the oldest temples on the island and marveled at the beautiful gods and goddesses that peer down from their perches on the temple facade. We drove thru Chinatown which was not as impressive as others I have visited in other cities.
Overlooking the harbor is an ancient British fortress that gave us striking views of the city and port. Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to wander through the market where spices, fruits, vegetables, personal items could be purchased. It was great mingling and bargaining with the locals.
As the last point of interest, we passed but did not tour the Eureka Colonial House, built in 1830 and surrounded by magnificent gardens and waterfalls. We had run out of time! We made it back to the ship just in time...
HELLO CRYSTAL SERENITY. GOODBYE PORT LOUIS. We both hope to return someday and travel to the northeast beaches.
Our day was full. We were ready to share our experiences with others and hear what they did.
It's too bad there is such a distance to travel from New Jersey to Mauritius. I would love to come back here to stay longer. Hopefully, I will.
Next port of call: Durban, South Africa - The land of the Zulus.
Until then, remember: Travel opens the mind to understanding...
Lillian...and Bob too!
March 24, 2014 - Durban, South Africa
Before this first call, three days at sea was again thoroughly enjoyed by Bob and me. In preparation for South Africa, lecturers were on board to acquaint guests about its history and culture. The first was Rob Ciskei, who for 12 years studied with the late David Rattrap about the battles between the Zulus and the Anglos. He told the history in the form of stories, which held your interest and wanting more when he finished. If I had only had a history teacher like him!
Since I knew nothing about the Zulus or their time in history, I found his stories fascinating. I won't give you a history lesson right now, but you may want to read about the strength of these people and their eventual fate. There are many Zulus in the area of Durban today. They are noted for their brilliant bead work.
Speaking of beadwork…for those of you who know me well, I was late in making a decision to buy a 3 foot hand-beaded giraffe. Bob kept reminding me I really didn't need another giraffe, so I left the giraffe in the store for approximately 2 hours. By then, we had walked the beach and visited other stores. I then decided the giraffe needed a home a new home. So, back we went to buy the giraffe, only to find out someone else had come to the same decision. He was walking out the door with what should have been my giraffe, under his arm!!!!!! HE WHO HESITATES…!
Next port of call: Port Elizabeth.
He who stays in his own back yard, only knows his own back yard!
"Get Out and Travel"
Hello from the Crystal Serenity
It has been quite a while since I last wrote; March 17th to be exact! So, you may be wondering: what has happened in the past two weeks that caused a void in Lil's correspondence?
The ship's activities and people we were meeting created an automatic daily calendar. I was now set into a comfortable routine for my sea days experiences which patterned as follows:Up by 7:00Breakfast sent to the stateroomReady to go to Yoga by 8 to8:45.Spanish lesson at 10Yamaha lesson at 11LunchA lecturer at 1:30Rest of afternoon to relax around the pool, read, or go to another scheduled activityNordic Walk from 5 until 5:45Time to get ready for the evening activities which included shows, movies, dancing to Big Band sounds, cocktails with new acquaintances, etc…
We were busy!
Now, this schedule changed if I had been out too late the night before. 7 am wasn't going to happen. Or, if there was a guest speaker scheduled to give a seminar on something I wanted to listen to right away....I’d skip a class to do that. The nice thing about a seminar of interest was that they were all taped and replayed on your stateroom TV screen for 12 hours after the presentation, so you could listen to them while getting ready for dinner.
The day's activities were flexible. Bob woke up earlier then me and usually attended the morning lectures, after he had attended a Catholic Mass and had his morning coffee. There was a mass given every morning and Jewish services every Friday.
Our plan therefore, was “See you at 12:30 for lunch.”
The World Cruise Games continued. The closing ceremonies would take place on the 23rd, 10 days after it began. The ship was busy with so many activities but she never seemed crowded or hectic. This continued until our next port of call, March 20th, Port Louis, Mauritius.
My next blog will explain my pleasant surprise concerning our next destination.'Til then..."Get Out and Travel"You'll be glad you did!Lillian...and Bob too!
March 17, 2014 - ST. PATRICK'S DAY ABOARD THE CRYSTAL SERENITY..........
I had heard St. Patrick’s Day is special on Crystal. Other than green beer, what could a cruise ship offer? Boy, were we in for a treat! Neither Bob nor I are Irish, but we enjoy being "want-to-bes." We both had something green in our wardrobe and therefore felt we would fit in.
Half the ship had green on! We went to the atrium of the ship and the whole area was decorated with green and white balloons, shamrocks and leprechauns. Green was everywhere; even at the Bistro, cakes and cookies with green decorations were there for one's pleasure. It was a great day. People wearing their green hats, green beads, green socks, green anything! Some were really clever with their outfits.
To celebrate the holiday, the day's schedule included:
· A special Lido Luncheon Buffet with Irish specialties
· Dancin' in the Cove with a special band until midnight
· An Irish sing-along in the Avenue Saloon
· A special Crystal Serenity St. Patrick's Day Show
Bob couldn't wait for the luncheon so he could enjoy one of his favorites: Corned Beef & Cabbage. Even though corned beef really was not the meat of use, back in those dark Irish times, it seems to have become the Irish dish of choice. Everyone seemed to be in a festive mood and Irish music could be enjoyed throughout various sections of the ship. I went about by morning as usual; I was now in a routine.
First a nice leisurely breakfast in the Lido Cafe. Here, a lovely buffet of breakfast choices was available. Staff waiters are around to carry your trays to your table, in or outside the cafe. They also will bring your beverage selections or wait for your special breakfast order of eggs, owlets, etc. and deliver it to you when ready. It's a lovely service you don't receive on most ships, especially the bigger ones. Of course, you could have a formal breakfast in the dining room, a continental breakfast in the Bistro, or a full breakfast delivered to your stateroom. There are plenty of choices and SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE!
After breakfast, I then went to my Spanish lesson. A lovely Berlitz teacher, Bertha Alvaraz, with 18 years of Berlitz teaching under her belt, was there to take on the challenge of teaching me some Spanish. Each day at sea, I was scheduled to attend a 45 minute class. Of course, if something else comes up, you are not obligated to go, but it was fun so you really didn't want to miss a class.
Right after Spanish, I attended a Yamaha Music class for 45 minutes. I'm trying to reacquaint myself with the instrument I hated to practice, during my early years. Now, of course, I wish I had “stuck it out"! So, after my two classes, I met Bob for lunch.
Could it be? NO CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE! We went to all the lunch venues because he couldn't believe it was St. Patty's Day and there was no Corned Beef & Cabbage on the menu. We settled for the rest of the choices of the day, which were delicious.......but...... no green beer or corned beef put a damper on the afternoon. I thought we might be surprised at dinner, but we would have to wait.
The day progressed with music, the continuation of the World Cruise Games, and some R&R........another nice day at sea. Who ever thought sea days were boring? Our evening was planned: we would go to the special Irish show, dinner and a movie. The show was titled: THE LORD OF THE DANCE and featured one of the Crystal ensemble dancers. He had danced with Michael Flatley and was multi-talented. He loved choreographing and volunteered to produce a special show for this evening. In three weeks, the entire Crystal Ensemble, put together a tribute to the “Lord of the Dance" that was perhaps, the best show I have ever seen on a ship. It was such a great performance, many passengers skipped dinner so they could see the show again. Bob and I would have done the same but we were meeting others for dinner. It will be, however, one of my all time favorite performances, seen while cruising.
Dinner did not disappoint Bob. The Corned Beef and Cabbage he did not have for lunch was on the menu for dinner! It was delicious and completed our expectations of the day. We ended our evening by going to the movies to see an oldie but goodie: GOING MY WAY featuring: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald and Frank McHugh. A great movie to end this great day!
Before I end this, I'd like to mention another special festival that took place yesterday, on the ship. All were invited. It was the Jewish festival of Purim. Not being familiar with this special day, Bob and I decided to attend. As we walked into the decorated lounge, noise makers were being given to attendees. The celebration included the reading of the Scroll of Esther, a klezmer band, folk dancing and a Purim Party with hamantashen. I enjoyed the reading and the celebration, and learned something about the terrible trials, tribulations and saving graces of the Jewish faith. Persecution is a terrible thing.
The next few days will be the "same old, same old”. I can certainly get used to this way of living for at least a few months out of the year!
Next stop: PORT LOUIS, Mauritius
REMEMBER: GET OUT AND TRAVEL WHILE YOU CAN!
2014 World Cruise Games
After a good night’s sleep, it was time to get down to business. How was I going to spend my days and what activities, if any, did I want to participate in? As I was walking around the atrium area I heard Bob calling to me. He was in front of a long table where guests were signing up for various events. As they signed, they received a rather nice t-shirt. Of course my curiosity got the best of me, so I asked Bob what was happening.
It was at this time I found out about Crystal's World Cruise Games. The 19th World Cruise games, the 11th on the Crystal Serenity, was about to begin. There is even a guest Olympian that is invited, each year to oversee the ceremonies. This year it was Dain Blanton. Dain and his partner, Eric Fonoimoana, struck gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when they beat the world's top-seeded Beach Volleyball team from Brazil. It was a stunning upset that over 10,000 fans watched.
Crystal's world games, evidently, is much anticipated by past guests. Some train all year for the events they will enter! I just wanted the t-shirt. Can't I just ask for one? I'm sure Crystal would accommodate my request. But Bob felt it needed to be earned...and therefore, we needed to sign up and compete to get our shirts. OK, I decided he was right; what's fair is fair. So, we both signed up; I for one and Bob for two events.
What were the events, you might be wondering by now?
The list went on and on: Backgammon, Chess, Cribbage, Darts, Duplicate Bridge, Free Cell, Gin Rummy, Golf Putting, Lap Swimming, Paddle Tennis, Photo Competition, Scrabble, Social Bridge, Solitaire, Sudoku, Table Tennis (men and women's), Walking Relay, and the two we entered… Free-throw Basketball (men and women’s) and Shuffleboard (singles and doubles).
I signed up, got my shirt, and finished my day, not thinking much about the whole thing. At dinner that night, everyone was talking about the various events they were in and how they needed to practice.....PRACTICE? Did I hear them correctly? I'm sure they said these things in jest.
The next day our events were held. Bob's shuffleboard competition was first. There were quite a few men competing and the seriousness of all was noticeable. Bob held his own and made it to the last four contestants. He then lost in the semi-final match and just couldn't believe his defeat (he talked about it for days afterwards, how he beat himself). I felt bad for him but he also had signed up for the basketball competition, so he still had a chance to win a medal.
Oh, did I mention there were three medals that would be presented at the medal ceremonies? Bronze, Silver and Gold.
That afternoon it was my event........as I went to the basketball court, I saw women actually practicing their shots. Some of them looked like they had been practicing for hours. What was I in for? I thought I was a shoe-in because I had played some basketball in college.
Bob had just finished his second competition and again did not place. It was now up to me to bring home a medal and save face for our family's name. My palms started to sweat, especially when I saw some of the spectators, including Bob taking pictures. I watched some of the women practicing and decided maybe I better do the same. After a few minutes of shooting, I realized this was not going to be an easy task.
HAVE YOU EVER SHOT BASKETS ON A SHIP THAT IS ROCKING AND ROLLING?
The competition began....11 ladies competing for 3 medals.
Round one: each athlete needed to make at least 2 shots out of 5 to make it to round two. The first two ladies did...the next two didn't. Then the lady, who almost could be my Mom, made 4 out of 5. Hey, she was a ringer! She had competed in this event in years past.
Then it was my turn. I could hardly hold the ball, I was so nervous. I couldn't let Bob down, and what about my sons?
The first shot goes in..........the second and third don't .......pressure! I needed one out of two to remain in the competition. I held my breath and shot. Around the rim and in.......I advanced. Just for a little more practice, I took the 5th shot. When it also went in, my confidence was back!
And so it went until the last round when only two out of the remaining athletes shot four out of five. It was now down to me and the lady in front of me. She went first; this time only 3 shots would be taken until one beat the other. It took 2 out of 3 to win the Gold!! She went down in defeat but was a good sport!!!!
I was taking the gold home.........The medal ceremony would be in a couple of days.
What a day this was. I was exhausted from the stress of the challenge but knew I
would rally in the evening for all those wonderful free cocktails and beautiful wines Crystal would be serving at dinner.
It was the first time Bob and I experienced Crystal's World Games. Hopefully, it won't be the last. No wonder why the world cruise segments usually sell out so early. Those who have sailed before know the specialness of these times, which offers a spirit of friendship, camaraderie and fair play. The drive to succeed, or at least talk about it, seems to bring people together.
It may not be grandiose but it sure is fun!
GOOD JOB CRYSTAL!
Next Blog..........Irish Day,
Remember: "Get out and Travel!" It's well worth it!
Home Away From Home
As Bob and I watch Fox News in our stateroom, we feel quite fortunate to be on a beautiful cruise ship, away from the continuous Northeast snow storms.
I can't complain about the 80+ sunny days we've been experiencing. The Indian Ocean has shown her personality at times, making a couple of days rough enough that the pool had to be closed. Many were still enjoying the comfortable lounge furniture that surrounds the pool and the warm weather though. For most of the days, the ocean has been more like a lake allowing all to enjoy the outdoor activities offered.
As I mentioned earlier, the Crystal Serenity is the sister ship of the Crystal Symphony. As the younger and larger of the two, she instantly invites you into a large greeting area as you board the ship. The "cove" or atrium area, is decorated in warm woods, a nicely appointed bar area and the promenade shops on the sixth level, are visibly a part of the atrium's personality.
The ship is comfortably designed, so it’s easy to navigate around after the first day. She just completed a $17 million redesign and is more beautiful than ever. The latest facelift brought about a brand-new Lido Cafe, Trident Bar & Grill and Tastes Dining venues.
Also, every Crystal Penthouse has been elegantly redesigned and decorated. The least expensive category will accommodate you in a 226 sq. ft. stateroom with a large picture window. The staterooms then begin offering at least 269 sq. ft with a verandah, up to a Crystal Penthouse, offering you 1,345 sq. ft. with verandah. Let me pre-warn you about the CP ... there are four of them and they usually sell out at least 18 months ahead of the sailing date!
Bob and I are looking forward to our sea time. We have sailed many times on the Crystal ships and we know we will be facing some difficult decisions ... what are we going to do with our time? Crystal is the best at sea, offering so many options to help "pass the time away." The CU@Sea (Computer University), is a high-tech learning environment on just about everything you need to learn about your computer.
There are Bridge courses and games for beginners to advance players. Perhaps you would prefer Mah Jongg, which is also offered every sea day. How about a Berlitz course in the language of choice for your sailing? For me, it's Spanish. Or how does Yamaha music lessons from a top notch instructor sound? For the photographer at heart, there are Photography workshops. Golf anyone? How about a golf clinic every day with a top notch instructor. All this plus couple dance lessons every sea day!
If, this isn’t enough, you can go to an average of four lectures a day. Oh, did I mention that recent-release films are played in the Hollywood theatre every afternoon and evening for movie buffs? Of course, all ships offer exercise classes and Crystal is no exception. They offer several throughout the day, including Spinning, Yoga and Pilates. ALL THIS..........FREE OF CHARGE!
At night, there are cocktails in the Cove, listening to a terrific pianist or the Avenue Saloon to sing along with other passengers. A disco, for the young or the not so young, and of course Crystal slips in every now and then, Karaoke. For those who like to indulge in quieter activities, there are watercolor lessons, a knitting program, Library at Sea program and BINGO, just to name a few!
I can go on and on but I'm getting exhausted just thinking about all this. But, that is what is so great about time at sea.......you can choose to do as much or as little as you want........It really is YOUR choice.
So for my program, I decided to take the Spanish course and try playing the piano.......again. I'm also trying one of their walking programs; the Nordic Walking course using Nordic Walking Poles. Others have elected to do the Walk on Water using walking vests. Sounds interesting, doesn't it?
There is something for everyone. The hardest decision of each day is what to wear and what to eat. Tonight it will be a concert by a Virtuoso Violinist and then off to the movies to see August: Osage County.
I'll write again soon.......until then: Get Out and Travel!!!!!!
Lillian.....and .....Bob too
We sailed from Singapore on the evening of the 11th with our next stop ... JAKARTA.
Before our first port of call, we had our first full day at sea. It was a time to meet new faces and get a feel for our “home away from home" for the next 18 days. The Crystal Serenity is a beautiful ship. It is the sister ship to the Symphony but has its own personality. She's a little larger, which lends to a larger reception area. She also accommodates 100 more passengers. Having just sailed on the Symphony, it has been easy to see some of the differences. I will mention some of the differences in a future blog.
It was the first "black tie optional" night, which for most meant formal wear. Everyone was ready for a good party. With drinks included throughout the cruise, the partying started early and continued until the last person went to bed! This sailing is actually part of Crystal's World Cruise, and as the fourth leg of their five leg journey, many knew each other. Bob and I, however, had no problems meeting people who were eager to talk about their experiences.
We actually wound up having dinner, the first evening, with people who had just been to our favorite pizzeria, or “tomato pie" place in our home town ... small world, isn’t it!
For us, the evening was an early one, as we wanted to be fully rested for our visit to Jakarta. So, after visiting the ship's bistro to enjoy some fruit and chocolate fondue, we called it an evening. There we were, Bob in his tux, me in my gown, having chocolate fondue while a string Quartet was playing in the ship's atrium. What a way to begin our sailing adventure!
We decided to explore the city on our own, as we do quite often. By doing so, we can usually combine several areas of interest the ship is offering thru their excursion program, and wind up seeing a bit more. You take a chance by doing your exploring this way, because at times, it is difficult to find a driver that speaks good English. Of course, there can also be a safety factor, so one must be aware of their surroundings.
If I feel we will have a problem getting someone qualified in one of our ports of call, I will plan for a driver to be at the pier waiting for us. This particular time, I did not have the time to pre-arrange. I knew what we wanted to see and I was aware of the heavy traffic. I was hoping we would find a good driver in town.
As we got off the ship, Bob and I were approached by what seemed to be the only taxi driver in the port area. Later, I asked our driver how he was able to get into the restricted area. The response was “My friend is a police officer.” INTERESTING.....
I asked him if it was raining and he knew it wasn't a plus, he knew the things we wanted to see. So, after we agreed on the price, we were on our way. His car was clean and air conditioned, which on this very hot and humid day, was welcoming. Then came the first realization that was going to be a LONG day; traffic was almost at a standstill.
With Jakarta's city proper, of almost 10 million people, it seemed like everyone had a car or at least motorcycles. It also felt as though 10 million people were traveling in the same direction we were going. Greater Jakarta is the home to an estimated 28 million people and thus ranks among one of the world's largest cities.
As we were heading towards our first stop, the old harbor Sunda Kelapa, we passed hundreds of living areas that shouted out “third world country." Shanty towns, water villages, living areas with less than the mere essentials. It took us approximately 45 minutes to travel 10 miles to the harbor, and once we arrived we were looking at history still operating. Phinisi schooners and traditional two-masted wooden sailing ships lined up like a taxi queue. As old and in disrepair these ships appeared to be, many of them were still being used as inter-island freight ships throughout Indonesia. The famous “fish market" was across the river from us and we were approached by the owner of a motorized rowboat who wanted to take us across. Reviewing the cleanliness of the river, I decided I was not going to chance getting into this little boat. I'm sure it would have been a fascinating experience, but this we decided to pass on.
We then headed for Fatahillah Square, the 18th century head of the colonial administration in Old Jakarta. The administration building was closed for restoration, as were other old buildings in this area. We were, however, able to visit the famous Wayang Museum, which boasts a great collection of the Wayang shadow puppets. These puppets, intricately crafted, usually from buffalo hide and leather and then mounted on bamboo sticks, could take several months to complete.
They are two-dimensional and are manipulated by one puppeteer who narrates a story while singing and chanting. In the museum, we saw hundreds of them and could have spent many more hours, but had to leave as there was much more to see.
From the old city, we now began to travel through the new. The President's Mansion, which looks like a much bigger version of the "White House" is actually only used as government offices. It sits on a huge piece of property, in the middle of a city trying to be modern. The traffic was chaotic and the streets had more potholes than not. But all around you, you could see the attempt of a city trying to be part of the 21st century.
Our next stop was the National Monument. This 432 foot tall monument is completely constructed of Italian marble and is topped with more than 75 pounds of gold plate. It reminds all of the country about the heroes who fought against colonialism. Nearby was the National Museum, where history buffs can get lost in the collections of costumes, musical instruments and household items, to name a few. It is considered one of the best museums in Southeast Asia.
Time was now forcing us to conclude our exploring, as we needed to be back on the ship in time for departure. With the traffic being as heavy as it was, we didn't want to chance being late. We did, however, stop to take pictures of Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and the twin-spired 1901 Catholic cathedral, right across the street.....
We could have visited Obama's elementary school, which he attended as a child, the Indonesia Miniature Park (with its pavilions dedicated to Indonesia's 27 provinces), or some of the markets that carried the famous Batik, pewter and silver specialties, but we had to leave these for our next visit!
Our trip took us almost six hours. It was an interesting day, with interesting discussions, with our driver. We said our goodbyes and he was off to his home and we to ours. At 6PM we listened to "It's a Wonderful World," Crystal's theme song, and one that is played as the ship is departing a port of call.
All I could think of: IT IS A WONDERFUL WORLD..........BUT NOT FOR ALL.
Next stop: Port Louis; but not before we sail across the Indian Ocean for 6 days!
Wishing you well and remember: Get Out and Travel !