Friday, October 24, 2008

Debarkation Day it is, Saturday morning in beautiful Athens, Greece. We are docked at port with EIGHT other large cruise ships. In fact, right next to us is the Grand Princess. She's a beautiful ship, but admittedly, I'm rather partial to our beloved ms Rotterdam. :-) The debarkation process seems to be going smoothly and we're burning up left over internet minutes. I'll be going outside shortly to take some final pictures, but aside from that, I'm ready to move on. I had a relaxing time in the hot tub last night and a fairly calm moment or two or 30 of packing. Needless to say, before the flight home, I'll most definitely have to repack!

Last night, the Compadres gathered around a couple tables on the Lido deck by the pool to go over final plans. We also shared our favorite moment. Honestly - I don't know that I can pick one. Each day held something fantastic and personal for me. Depending upon the reason, any day could have been my highlight. I loved the time spent getting to know Ashley and Kadar and growing closer to the rest.

It's almost time for our "Pink Debarkation 2" tag to be called, so until next time...sweet dreams.

The Journey's End

First, let me send a "shout out" to my brother Dan for his accomplishments with MS Certifications! Way to go, Brother!

Today is our last day at sea, and for all essential purposes, the last day of our cruise. Tomorrow morning ends the constant pampering, the Diet Coke placed at my seat at dinner time before I ask, and the cheerful "Good Morning, Brenda!" from Agung, the Lido dining steward. Our time aboard the ms Rotterdam has been fantastic. All our needs were met - sometimes before we even knew what we needed! The Events Staff were wonderful and are new-found friends. I can't say enough about the generosity of the staff on board in their smiles, greetings and assistance.

Today, Kadar and I had a special treat - we were invited to have a Bridge Tour. These are essentially non-existent since 9/11 for security reasons, but the Captain was kind enough to grant us one. As Kadar joins the Coast Guard very soon, and I work for Holland America, it was a very special treat, indeed. It was fascinating! Although Captain Krombeen was not on the Bridge, 2nd Officer Kevin was and he did an outstanding job of sharing hisk nowledge.

Today I traded in my DDollars for some goodies after participating in one final Sports of Call event. We ate dinner at 5:30 and we were treated to a fantastical, fun dining experience called the Master Chef's Dinner. Theatrical flair, great food and laughter all around made it a memorable event to be sure. We sat around afterwards and discussed plans for Athens and ordering pictures. There will be a few to be purchased, but I'm thankful for the ones on my camera!

I have yet to pack, so I'll sign off for now, but once again - thanks for reading, commenting and wishing you the adventure of a lifetime!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dreams Really Do Come True

Today, I stood in front of possibly the greatest ancient wonder of the world and cried. Yes, full-on, tears streaming down my face, cried. I couldn't believe that I could be so emotional about a life-long dream of visiting the Pyramids of Giza coming true. I won't write a lot here, because when I get back home, the pictures I'll add will be more telling. I will share a bit though. There's something to be said about seeing something for yourself to fully comprehend what you've read. And so it is true about Egypt. It's an amazingly eclectic mix of people, but they do have one thing in common for sure: Laws of the Road are non-existent! We boarded the bus at 7am this morning and one of the first things our lovely guide, Heba told us was to not worry about the driving, that our driver knew what he was doing and to just sit back and relax and not to look. These people drive three, four or five wide in a two-lane road. They switch back and forth, darting in and out and the tiny vehicles play "chicken" with the big ones just for fun as near as I can tell! Nothing like doing 90KM/hour and then suddenly slam on the brakes in a 47pax motor coach. Yikes! Donkey carts, camels, semi trucks and cars all share the same road, nearly on top of each other. Pedestrians are no better; darting in and out of the traffic where they please. Seriously - it's insanity on wheels. Oh, wait - it get's better. At night, they add to the fun by not using headlights. No kidding. Running lights are good enough for them until they want you to move. Then, the headlights flash and the horn goes on. I think I aged 10 years on the one drive today. LOL!

We visited the Pyramid of Sakkarah - the famed Step Pyramid; the Pyramids of Giza; the Sphinx and a palace for lunch. The low-light of the trip was a trip down into the tomb. I actually started having a panic attack and thought that I may spend my last moments sucking whatever little oxygen was available into my lungs before dying in the tomb. Uh, yeah - not for those that have breathing issues or claustrophobic or like cool air.

I'll sign off now, but will post more tomorrow as it is our last day at sea before returning to Athens on Saturday.

Thanks for reading, and here's to fewer "I wish I would have done's" in my basket.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sit Down, Kick Back and Settle In...

I've got a lot to share today! We were out on tour all day yesterday and today, so I apologize for the delay in updating.

Yesterday morning was met with much anticipation as we docked in Haifa, Israel. Now, as most of you know, Israel is near and dear to my heart and I've made life-friends there - both of people that live there and people that I've traveled with there.

The plan, because we had friends there, was to do our own private tour and not a Holland America (HAL) one. We just wanted the freedom to do our own thing and not be at the mercy of 45 other people on the same coach. Several months ago, I contacted Louie, our beloved friend and guide in Israel. He and I talked about what folks in the group wanted to do and what the best way to execute that would be. He agreed to meet us in Haifa and do a personal tour. Unfortunately, he was not able to meet us at the last minute, and instead, sent a good friend of the Dajani family to meet us. Danny was a great guide! We got off the ship bright and early and waited for Danny to meet us. And we waited. And we waited some more. By this time all other groups had been met and I was starting to get nervous. I talked to a few of the other guides there and learned that the Port of Haifa was causing some problems for them to get onto the apron of the dock. So...I immediately started praying that whatever issues were there would be resolved. In a moment, I see a man racing to the apron in a security vehicle. He hops out, displays a paper with my name on it and all is well. Sort of. He rode back with the security vehicle and we walked down to meet him at the gate.

We'd not been to Haifa before and as he said, "there's nothing of interest here". So...away to Jerusalem we went. I must say...Anchorage drivers have a reputation of being a little lead-footed and reckless. They've got nothing on Danny! Several times, we were driving on two lanes at once, nearly running over people...all at 100KM/hr! about getting people to pray! We arrived and did a whirlwind tour with a viewpoint into Bethlehem. We could not get our passports from the ship in time to enable us to actually go into Bethlehem, but we did get several viewpoints. We went to the Garden Tomb - one of my most favorite spots. We went to the Old City, saw a few of the Stations of the Cross. We ate lunch at Geo's and then went to Dajani's store. We were welcomed with open arms, fresh drinks, baklava and lots of smiles. It's so wonderful to meet friends after a year. They asked about my uncle, they asked about Doc Crowder, and asked about my family. :-) I found the bracelet I was looking for to complete my blue opal set and Liz found an original design of Louie's dad in a Jerusalem Cross. Unfortunately, Rachel - I wasn't able to find an olive wood cutting board! We walked the top of the old city walls and then went to the City of David, Gethsemane, the Western Wall, Mt. Scopus, Mt. Moriah, Mt. of Olives and the promenade that over looks the Old City. We also went to the Upper Room. We accomplished about three days of touring in 9 hours! After leaving Jerusalem, we drove through the West Bank, through the checkpoints and prayed for safety. No "fireworks" were seen, so all is well, Mom! We did see a lot of police presence due to the Festival of the Torah, but that made for easy traffic and good time back. We arrived in plenty of time to board the ship before sailing! We look forward to returning some day - Next Year in Jerusalem! One highlight for all of us was a phone call from Louie to us at the store. Frank, one of the uncles, handed me the phone and said, "It's for you!" What a pleasant surprise to talk to Louie and hear his voice. We've made yet another new friend in Danny and count ourselves blessed.

Today, we were off the ship a little after 6am (Yes, I actually rolled out of bed at 4:30, got ready, ate breakfast and was relatively awake by the time we debarked). We had a fantastic tour to Nicosia (nick-o-see-ah), the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is the last divided capital in the world and we were able to go to the Green Line - the military zone between North and South Nicosia. North Nicosia is occupied by the Turks and has been for the past 35 years. Only in the past 5 years has there been a checkpoint that allows intermittent passage between the two been available. What an amazing island! As the third largest in the Mediterranean, it has a lively population and a plethora of antiquities. It's absolutely amazing. We saw some of the best-preserved artifacts to date, including full-size statues, earthenware, and Roman glass pieces. We also visited St. John's Cathedral - the best example of painted church that I've seen. The depiction of hell is amazing: it's a fire-breathing dragon, but in his fire is depicted all types of people from the farmer to the church leader. It's a clear indication that no one is exempt from hell without the saving grace of Jesus.

We had a fabulous lunch in Nicosia - a traditional Cypriot feast with wonderful pork sausages, aubergines, mushrooms, and yes, wine. Wine is not my thing at all, but there was lots of Diet Coke! We were late back to the ship as it was a full day tour, but as it was a HAL tour, the ship waited for us. We ran on, went to earn some more Dollars, and then got ready for our Formal Night. Lobster, steak, and all the shrimp cocktail you could eat - I was in heaven! They also did a really fantastic presentation of Baked Alaska. All the chefs did a parade, each holding a Baked Alaska with a sparkler lit coming out of it. The lights were down low, so it was really neat to watch!

We interrupt this message to tell you that a genie just walked by me. Yep...complete with a hat and little pointy shoes. Not sure what that was all about, but funny.

The ship is rolling and pitching unlike anything we've experienced to date. In fact, we were in the pool earlier and it was like a tremendous wave pool! I've not been brave enough to go out on deck and look over, but I'm sure we'll hear about it in the morning from others. Folks in their formal wear are all looking a little intoxicated - whether they are or not - just because it's difficult to walk straight.

Tomorrow is the much-anticipated stop in Alexandria (Cairo), Egypt. We will be gone until late tomorrow night, but we're looking forward to it.

Oh, and about that basket thing...It's not so bad going out of my comfort zone to meet new people. :-) Maybe more about that later, but as I have to be up in a few short hours, I'll sign off for now.

Pleasant dreams and good friendships to all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lessons Out of the Basket

Today was another day at sea, and an absolutely beautiful one at that! As is usual and customary on sea days, there are a number of activities to participate in. The first one, was Salsa dancing! Aye Carumba!!! There was a large group of people in the class and our instructor (one of the dancers for the cast on board) was fantastic. He was knowledgeable, patient and encouraging. I've decided that this is a great workout - it smelled like a sweatshop when we were done, so I'm guessing we all burned some calories. :-) Next, it was on to Backward Basketball Toss. The concept is easy - turn around and shoot the basketball over your head behind you to the basket. The execution however - not so easy. Of course, in practice I shot one that was nothing but net. Not so once we were playing for Dollars.

One thing that Holland America implemented a few years ago was the Culinary Arts Theater. Now, I'm no chef, nor would I want to be one as a career. However, I do like to dabble in it, but not enough to actually take a class. Until today. Kadar and I had signed up to take a class from the chef in the Pinnacle Grill - Chef Das. We made filet mignon chops with a tomato salsa, mushroom risotto and a duet of bruschetta. Then - we got to eat it! It was absolutly fabulous and while I was intimidated to be cooking with obviously skilled chefs, it was a fantastic time. We got the recipes and the aprons to bring home - what a hoot!

We lounged around today and did various activities until meeting for dinner at six. After dinner we went to the game show that they do nightly. Last night, Liz and Larry won in the Newlywed Game. Tonight, it was Nowhere Near A Millionaire. Each person got a raffle ticket and they drew out of a bucket to pick the contestant. Who should win, but one of our Compadres - Judy! She did a great job (with a little help) and came away with a boatload of prizes (pardon the pun). Great fun! Suffice it to say, our little group of Compadres is becoming well known around the ship and with the staff. Hopefully, that's a good thing. :-) All around today, we seemed to be stepping out of our comfort zones in order to take another note out of our proverbial baskets.

Tomorrow we meet our friend, Louie Dajani, in Israel. We're praying that we are able to visit Bethlehem, but we're not entirely sure about that. Please pray for our safety and our expedient return.

Until next time, Shalom!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More About the People You Travel With...

I forgot to mention this one yesterday, but when we went to see the Madara Rider, we lined up to use the bathrooms. As is usual and customary, around the world, the women's bathroom has the same number of stalls as the men's. Well...the women's line was backed up and all the men on our tour had seemingly done what they needed to do, so some of us women used the men's. All was well and good until I came out of the stall and went to wash my hands...right next to a man using the urinal!!! Oh boy...I don't think I've ever done a 360* as quickly as I did then - forgoing the handwashing. Thankfully, I had wet wipes in my pack!

The moral of the story is: Wait in the Ladies Line and if you absolutely must use the Men's Line...make sure you have Wet Wipes. :-)

p.s. The guy didn't seem to make anything of it - I think he's from Europe...

When You Really Want to Get to Know Someone...

Encourage their participation in the Newlywed Game! That's right - right here on the ms Rotterdam, we learned more about our friends Liz and Larry than any of us thought possible. I had to come right out and blog this because I was laughing so hard!!! Liz and Larry were stellar contestants and they took home the prize! Can I just say, that I'll probably never look at a can of Dr. Pepper the same way again. LOL!

Today was an amazing day - our second at sea. I woke up this morning ready to go with my schedule of events all planned out and ready to earn my Dam Dollars. Most of us went from event to event collecting as we went. Although, I'm sad to report that my whale Spanky didn't fare so well in the whale races. I went to the dance class that Susan, our Cruise Director teaches and while I didn't have a partner (Kadar was still sleeping, the bum!), I did get to practice. My Evil Twin is trying to coerce me into going to the Black and White Ball with the officers tonight to try out my new-found skills. We'll see if I can last that long!

Today is a day of celebrating Dutch traditions. As you may or may not know, the Holland America ships are flagged in The Netherlands. This morning, they served Dutch Pea Soup out on the decks while there was commentary about the Dardanelles, the Strait of Marmara, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. Tonight, we will be able to experience the Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza - all chocolate - all the time. Yum! For this, I will stay up late.

It was formal night tonight, so once again, we're dressed to the nines in velvet and sparkles. I'm sure there is an entire psychology of cruisers and their clothing options. Suffice it to say, there is one guest in particular that wears the most outrageous clothes. Imagine something from a strip hall meets Gucci. What do you get? A very expensive feather boa in red feathers with a matching hair piece. We laugh at this, but someone is probably laughing just as hard at me. I did have the pleasure of having my picture taken with the Captain tonight. Poor man - he's so nice looking and then to have to have his picture taken with all the women...LOL!

Tomorrow is another day at sea and we'll be formally dressed again. Lobster is on the menu and more fun and games to follow.

Hope this finds you well, and if I might make a suggestion: If you're married, plan your answers in advance lest you find yourself on stage doing the Newlywed Game.