Our trip across south Asia took place from 11 March until 6 April 2015. Last September/October we had toured Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the British Isles, coming very close to the Arctic Circle. Our south Asia trip started in Singapore which is less than two degrees of latitude from the Equator. Ironic that the coolest place we visited outside of our stopover in Paris was Dubai. Still, we managed the heat with copious amounts of water.
Air France (France is in the air) was our airline, which had the best price to take us to the other side of the world and return. We have found that airline to be one of our favorites and we still receive Delta Skymiles. The meals were about as good as you get in coach and the wine flows. Guess what, it is French wine. Our trip started 11 March with a stopover in Paris the night of the 12th giving us a day and a half there. We did not want to do a transatlantic flight back to back with a 12 ½ hour flight to Singapore. I booked a hotel room at IBIS Paris CDG Airport, which is located right outside the doors of the Roissypole RER station, accessible via the internal CDG airport rail network. The price was good at 95euros. We checked in a few hours early and paid a modest rate for that.
I had been to Versailles years ago, but Ginny had not, so we planned to go there. We took the RER after checking in the hotel. It seemed to take us forever since it was during rush hour. Also, most of the area between CDG and the city center was not the best part of town. We saw much graffiti, slums, and poor areas until we reached the Sacré Cœur in Montmartre. The second half of the RER trip from the city to Versailles went through a much better area.
It took us about three hours to get to Versailles, but we had a 30 minute wait catching the train to Versailles. The RER station was walking distance to the Chateau and we joined the large crowd headed in that direction. Walking up to the Chateau, we could see the magnificent structure as massive as it is, with all the sparkling gold leaf. We used an audio guide that didn’t function in some rooms, but found that the tour was a large improvement from when I visited in 1983. There were many displays, some video that showed the history of the structure and the improvements added over the years. Louis XIII was the first French monarch to live there, but Louis XIV turned it into what it is today. Louis XIV lived and held court there, since we was not fond of Paris.
We spend at least three hours there and were starting to tire at the end with our jet lag. We skipped touring the gardens, since the weather turned chilly and very windy. We took a warm coat each, just for our day in Paris (didn’t need coats near the equator) but the wind seemed to chill us a bit. We made our way back to the hotel, had dinner there and slept for 12 hours. That helped us to recover for the next long flight. Our flight departed at 7:55PM, so after checking out we found our way via the internal rail (and what appeared to be a bomb threat) to our terminal, checked in and had a few hours in the terminal prior to travel. We were on a Boeing 777, which has most seats with three or four together, so I booked an aisle seat and Ginny a window. Air France or its computer assumed Ginny and I would sit next to each other and moved me to the middle seat next to her. The attendant on the plane managed to move people around so I got my aisle seat. When checking in at Dubai, we discovered that AF had done the same thing, but the attendant found us seats together at the rear of the airplane with no middle seat, we were happy. Just be aware if you book with a vacant middle seat that AF may move you.
We arrived in Singapore a little before 4PM and took a taxi to our hotel. The cost was modest as we learned that taxis are very inexpensive in that City. Apparently, the government heavily taxes private automobiles. The fees to bring a car into Singapore are $100,000 and you have to buy the car as well. There must be a tax break for taxis?
Our hotel was The Royal Plaza on Scotts, a 4.5 star hotel priced at $175 US per night. The hotel was in the Orchard Road (big shopping area) two or three miles from the city center. The same quality hotel would have cost about $100 more per night downtown. Since we took taxis (cost to city center less than $10 Singapore dollars ($7.5US), if we wanted to go downtown being on Orchard Road was not a problem. Also, all our tours but one had a bus to pick us up at the hotel.
The hotel had a new appearance with generally spacious rooms. We had free coffee and tea in the room, as well as a mini-bar. The room came with a “free mini-bar” but we discovered that no alcoholic drinks were included in the mini-bar, just sodas, orange juice, water and cookies. The hotel staff was very friendly and we would definitely stay there again if we return to Singapore. There was a nice computer center that was free as well. We did not eat in the hotel restaurant, since the cost (buffet) for dinner was $71 Singapore dollars ($53 US). There were many good restaurants in the neighborhood. We had some meals in the lower level of the Shaw Center, where a food court had good local fare as well as other Asian food for about $5US per meal. After dining on Asian food for four days, we did find a very good restaurant near the hotel called “The Ship,” which is a chain restaurant in the area. It was located at 1 Scotts Road in the Shaw Center (local food in the basement of the same building).
I had booked four local tours on viator, which we have used in the past, as well as the tour to Malaysia. All the tours turned out very well. The local tour company that provided the tours was Tour East.
Singapore City Bike Tour (with Druthers Singapore) was our first tour the next day after our arrival. We slept 12 hours to recover from the jet lag. We had the advantage of this biking tour on Sunday, when traffic was light. Also, our tour started at 9:30am when traffic is even lighter. Traffic did pick up by the time the tour ended at 12:30pm. We found biking around the city to be a great way to see the city. We covered a lot of the downtown area as well as Chinatown, the scenic harbor and Gardens by the Bay. The tour included the following:
Bicycle tour of Singapore city streets with a local guide
See sights from the ultra-modern Marina Bay Sands to traditional neighborhoods like Chinatown and Kampong Glam
Explore narrow alleyways with hidden architectural gems and amazing shops
Bike along easy routes past the Singapore Flyer, the Esplanade Theater, and Gardens by the Bay
Safety equipment and beverages provided
Small-group tour with a max of eight people gives you a more personalized experience
We had a group of six and we managed quite well getting around the city. It was hot, but while biking you have a breeze from the movement. While we visited Gardens by the Bay, we didn’t have time to visit the domed indoor gardens. Also, we did not pay to go up to the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel/Casino, which is built like a ship held up by three very tall buildings.
After the ride, we walked back to the Singapore river area, which has a lot of restaurants. We had a great meal at a Vietnamese restaurant. On the way back to the hotel, we found the famous Raffles Hotel. First opened in 1887, the hotel has been a landmark since then. We settled into the long bar and had our $36S dollars Singapore sling cocktail, which was invented there. The drink was good, but I would have preferred a beer. Still, we checked off that experience. We walked back to the hotel, down Orchard road past a lot of shoppers, malls and shops. It was a good day and we were done after all the walking and biking.
Singapore Jurong Bird Park Tour was our first tour on the next day. The tour was described as follows:
Take a ride on the air-conditioned Panorail for a panoramic view of Singapore's Jurong Bird Park, also referred to as Wings of Color, and into a tropical world of jungle mists at the Waterfall Aviary. With this 4-hour tour you'll also enjoy the spectacular Penguin Exhibit with an underwater viewing gallery and do not miss the Birds & Buddies Show, reputed as world-class.
Jurong Bird Park, with a collection of 9,000 birds from 600 species it's the largest in Asia Pacific
Explore the world's largest walk-in aviary with the tallest man-made waterfall
Ride on the air-conditioned Panorail for a panoramic view of Singapore's Jurong Bird Park
Hotel pickup and drop off
The bird park was great. Our guide first took us on a tram around the park. We could see some of the birds from the tram, but stopped twice to see the waterfall (inside an aviary) as well as the wonderful lorry loft (an aviary with many of the beautiful birds). In the lorry loft many of the birds come up very close to you. We saw Antarctic penguins, a lake full of colorful flamingos and another with pelicans.
We saw two bird shows. The first show was a birds of prey show with eagles, vultures, hawks and owls. The handlers ably showed off the talents of the birds. The second show was even better with a variety of colorful birds performing for us.
You can visit the park without a guide, but the park is some distance from the city, having transport and a guide was a plus.
Singapore's Chinatown Trishaw Night Tour was our next tour, that same evening. We were picked up at our hotel at 6pm and taken to Chinatown. We had a Chinese meal first, which was good, not exceptional. We then had about an hour for shopping in Chinatown, which was way too long for most of us. We then were picked up by Trishaw’s, which are partially motorized with our driver providing additional locomotion via pedaling. We rode around Chinatown and then over to the Singapore river where we were loaded onto a bumboat for an evening river/harbor cruise, with a guide pointing out key landmarks. It turned out to be great fun and we happened to catch part of the light show over the Gardens by the Bay during the cruise.
Singapore Round-Island Tour with Changi Prison, Kranji War Memorial and Gardens by the Bay was our final tour in Singapore, the next day. The tour was a full day and described, as follows:
Retrace Singapore's WWII history with this round-island tour that will take you to Changi Chapel and Museum and Kranji War Memorial. Explore both sites with your guide to discover the small details of the lives of POWs that were imprisoned in Changi and the countless men and women who bravely defended Singapore against the Japanese invasion. Admire the intricate architecture of the structures of Bright Hill Temple and the modern developments of Gardens by the Bay. Your tour includes hotel pickup and drop-off and lunch at a local restaurant.
Round-island tour of Singapore with expert guide
Insights provided by a knowledgeable licensed guide
Pay respects to the brave WWII heroes at Kranji War Memorial
Explore Changi Chapel and Museum to learn about the lives of POWs imprisoned in Changi
Enjoy lunch at a local Singaporean restaurant
View over 250,000 species of rare plants in Gardens by the Bay
Hotel pickup and drop-off and scenic drive by air-conditioned vehicle
The tour took us over quite a bit of the island, focusing on World War II history. We saw where the Japanese invaded the NW shore of Singapore, an allied cemetery and the Changi museum of how the allied prisoners and Singaporeans were treated during the war. Also, we visited a large Buddhist temple known as Bright Hill Temple. The tour ended at Gardens by the Bay, were you could leave the bus to see the two domed gardens. We had seen the outdoor gardens on the Bike tour. After a full day, we elected to go back to the hotel, since we had plans to visit the Singapore Botanical Gardens the next day.
Singapore Botanical Gardens we did on our own the next day. The gardens were about a mile and a half from our hotel, so we walked there. We spent about five hours at the gardens, with one hour having lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant. The gardens were fantastic, probably the best botanical gardens that I have ever seen. There were many exhibits of various plants, but the highlight was the Orchid exhibit. The gardens were free, but there was a fee for the Orchid exhibit. It was only one Singapore dollar for us (seniors). The orchid exhibit was great. We very much enjoyed all the beautiful flowers and took several photos. Also, the gardens had an interesting evolution garden where they traced the evolution of plants through the ages.
2-day tour from Singapore to Malacca and Kuala Lumpur with a knowledgeable guide
We arranged to leave our large suitcases at the hotel and packed carry-ons for our two night/three day trip to Malaysia. I found the tour on Viator and we were not disappointed. The tour cost $ 262.60 per person and the highlights were as follows:
Relax on a train ride from Singapore through the countryside to the state of Johor
Discover Malacca’s history, culture and heritage on a walking tour of Malacca City
Visit main sites such as St Paul’s Hill, Porta De Santiago, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and Jonkers Street
Venture to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, to visit the National Palace, the National Museum, the National Monument and more
See the Petronas Twin Towers, the two second-tallest buildings in the world!
Coach transport and overnight accommodation in a 4-star hotel included
The tour details were, as follows:
Day 1: Singapore – Malacca (L)
After pickup from your Singapore hotel in the morning, enjoy a relaxing train ride across the causeway and into the state of Johor, passing through the rural countryside and fruit and vegetable plantations along the way.
Disembark in the city of Kluang and continue the rest of your journey to the state of Malacca by coach. You’ll arrive in time for lunch followed by a historical walking tour of Malacca City, whose city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Discover Malacca’s history, culture, heritage and Dutch influences as you visit sites such as St Paul’s Hill, Porta De Santiago, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and Jonkers Street, also known as Antique Street. Your knowledgeable guide will provide interesting information about the sites you visit.
For dinner, your guide will provide great recommendations on places to enjoy an authentic meal.
Overnight: 4-Star Hotel Equatorial or similar in Malacca
Day 2: Malacca -- Kuala Lumpur (B,L)
After breakfast, you’ll drive 2 hours north to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Your tour of this city will cover sites such as the National Palace, the National Museum, the National Monument (sculptured by the creator of the Iwo Jima monument in Washington, DC), the National Mosque, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Royal Selangor Club. You’ll also pass the Petronas Twin Towers, the two second-tallest buildings in the world!
You’ll be served an authentic Malaysian lunch at midday. At the end of the day, relax on the drive back to your Kuala Lumpur hotel, where your 2-day Malaysian experience will conclude.
We expected to be part of a large group, but were the only persons on the tour. In effect, we had a private guide. Our guide was excellent.
The tour bus dropped us off at the Woodland’s train station, which also acts as the immigration clearance for exiting and entering Singapore from Malaysia. It is a busy place. Our initial guide provided us with rail tickets and after processing through immigration, we took the train to the Malaysian city of Kluang. The train was not a typical European train, it was well worn and noisy, but comfortable enough. We were on the train for almost two hours, then transferring to our small bus, with our driver and guide. On the way to Malacca (on the southwestern shore of Malaysia) our guide pointed out various trees and explained the industry associated with the trees. There were many palm trees, since palm oil is a major industry in Malaysia. We stopped once on the trip to see rubber trees. Out guide pointed out how the rubber was harvested from cuts into the trees. We learned that cars are manufactured in Malaysia and saw many. The highway system was fairly good, especially the toll road from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (like an interstate). The driving was relatively normal, unlike what we found later in India.
We arrived in Malacca and had an excellent lunch at our modern hotel, The Hotel Equatorial. In fact, the food that we had in Malaysia was superb. It shows Indian, Chinese and Thai influences.
After lunch we did a walking tour of Malacca, which was a key Portuguese port dating back to 1511. In the 15th and the 16th century, Malacca was the capital of the Malaccan Sultanate after the Malays moved over from Sumatra. However it was colonized by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch and British. We saw the old fort at Bandar Hill, colonial building, and the site where Malaysia declared its independence in 1956. We saw Cheng Hoon Teng temple, a Chinese temple practicing the Three Doctrinal Systems of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Nearby was a mosque as well as walking down Jonkers Street with all its shops.
After a good breakfast at our hotel, we checked out and proceeded to Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. We stopped at the national palace where the Sultan lives. The position more or less rotates among the nine Sultans in the country. We visited the national museum, national mosque (not inside), as well saw the Royal Selangor Club and the colonial building known as Sultan Abdul Samad Building. We saw the twin towers of the Petronas Twin Tower, which are the tallest twin tower in the World. While on the tour in Kuala Lumpur, we had another wonderful lunch at a very nice restaurant. The restaurant was Songket, located at No. 29, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, Kuala Lumpur 50450.
The tour ended when we were dropped off at the hotel that I had booked. The hotel was the five star HOTEL ISTANA KUALA LUMPUR. It was a fabulous hotel with free breakfast, all for $95 per night. Malaysia is inexpensive to visit. The hotel upgraded us to a suite that overlooked the city and a wonderful view of the Petronas Towers. The hotel was great, people there great, but we found the bed to be harder than we prefer. If it had a sleep number from 1-100, it would have been 95. Still, we slept well and prepared to head back to Singapore.
This portion of the trip did not go as I expected. I had researched taking the train back to Singapore, as well as a bus. There were many private bus companies and I found one that departed from a nearby bus terminal at 9:45am, with a 4 ½ hour transit time.
We arrived at the terminal early and went upstairs to the directed ticket booth to find no one in attendance. A note was provided that our bus to Singapore departed from gate 13. The bus company was known as StarQistna Express. I had a voucher from our tickets and looked all over the station for a bus with StarQistna Express painted on the bus, without finding one. Finally, at 10:15, someone runs up to gate 13 (down in the hot, non-air-conditioned area) asking for someone going to Singapore. Ginny was standing there while I was looking for our bus. Fortunately, that was our bus. We hopped on, not happy, but relieved. Then the fun began, our bus spent over an hour going to another bus terminal to then fill up the bus, finally getting on the toll road to Singapore. I asked when the bus arrived in Singapore and was told 3:30pm. NOT, we stopped again at a bus terminal just over the border from Singapore and entered Malaysian immigration at about 3:30. Then, we proceeded to Singapore immigration, catching a taxi about 5:15PM. We got to our hotel in about 20 minutes. We were wiped out after our 7.5 hours of travel. My advice, if you need to go from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, take an airplane.
Not arriving at 5pm was a little bit of a problem, since I had arranged for a pre-cruise greeting at nearby wine bar. When we arrived in Singapore, we found that the wine bar was closed for renovation. I tried to arrange an alternate location, even with the help of the hotel concierge, but had to cancel the greeting. I had put the cancellation notice on the cruise critic roll call a few days before, but wanted to be there and explain, in the event someone showed up. As it turned out Patti and Dennis from Wisconsin, who we cruised with on the Black Sea cruise showed up and found the closed bar, but then found us checking in to our hotel (they booked the same hotel).
The hotel made up to some degree for our terrible day. We were upgraded to the “club,” on floors 14 and 15. There was a club that provided free drinks (alcoholic) as well as food that qualified for dinner. Also, we had a free breakfast there the next day. Patti and Dennis had been upgraded as well, so we got together that evening.
Comparing Singapore with Malaysia
Singapore is a thriving city-state that is prosperous. It has made full use of its assets, such as it location as a key port. It is more expensive to live there, but the standard of living is clearly near first world levels. It was once a part of Malaysia and went its own way. Malaysia a more agricultural country with some industry, and but it is not at Singapore’s level. Still, Malaysia seems to be moving in the right direction. Both countries are multi-ethnic, but Singapore has a majority of Chinese ancestry, while Malaysia is predominately Malay. Also, Singapore’s population only has about 13% Muslim population and Malaysia has a majority of Muslims. In Singapore few headscarves are evident, while they are common in Malaysia. The people in both countries are friendly and the food is excellent in both, especially in Malaysia. The infrastructure in both countries is far better than in India.
Our taxi to the cruise port was $15S tip included. We were processed quickly and found a good seat in the Rendezvous Lounge while we waited for our cabin to be ready. Heather, our roll call manager had posted photos of many of us and I recognized Frank and Norm, so I went over to meet them. Our cruise critic meet and greet took place in the Crystal Lounge the next day. We were able to meet those who had signed up for tours. Since I had organized tour for each of the four Indian ports, I wanted to let everyone know what I looked like.
Back to day cruise day one. Our cabins were ready and we proceeded to our Sunset Veranda cabin, which was an aft cabin on deck 12 overlooking the Sunset Bar and a large tarp on deck 11. We were in cabin 1246, which had an extra-large balcony. The cabin was great, but I did not anticipate the heat in late March. The balcony was too hot to use for most of the cruise. I think an aft balcony would be better for an Alaska cruise, with chilly weather, since you don’t have much wind at all there. We would have appreciated more wind and more shade as well. There were a couple of issues that were irritants. First, our bed was curved at the corners (first time we have had this kind of bed) and at 6’1” I could not stretch out my right leg out completely. Therefore, I had to sleep at an angle or undo the covers that were tucked under the bed. Also, from time to time we seemed to have only lukewarm water for our shower. This was particularly true if we wanted to shower in the late afternoon after a hot day of touring. Others complained about the same problem.
Before I selected Cabin 1246 for this cruise, I read about a dozen reviews on cruise critic from people that had stayed in the cabin. Most had a positive evaluation, however one reviewer complained about the bird poo on the tarp above the sunset bar. Ginny thought this was funny and every day we examined the tarp for bird poo. We never saw any on the tarp, but one day, late in the cruise, there was a huge splat of bird poo on our balcony, close to the sliding glass door. Ginny took a photo to show others and we had a laugh about that.
Our first night dining in early dining found us a table for eight, no problem, but it was in a noisy area. Our tablemates complained about this and moved. They called us later to explain and invite us to their new table, but we had already moved to select dining (anytime dining). When we arrived for our meal the second day, all new people had taken over. It was a family with small children as well. We would have been the only others at the table and asked to be moved to select.
This is the second cruise were our early dining table failed. We will probably go with select dining in the future.
We found the 20 year old Century to be in pretty fair ship, however the longer we were on the ship; we noticed items that needed repair. Still, the Century was in pretty good shape considering her age. This was the next to last cruise of the Century, which was sold to be a gambling ship out of Shanghai.
Food and Service
We found the food and service to be similar to our other Celebrity cruises. Both were consistently good. One exception, our favorite dessert, the crepe suzette was not up to par.
We didn’t see every show, but what we did see was very good to excellent. Opening night was very good, we saw the Celebrity Singers and Dancers, Aerialists Alex and Vlada as well as Charlie Butler and Tammy Rafferty. The show was not flashy, but entertaining.
We enjoyed the production show with its singers and dancers. There was A Touch of Broadway, Century Rocks and Dance Around the World. It was all well performed; however, the Century Rocks (British 60s music) had poor song selection. It seemed to include every second rate song. Still, it was well performed. Dance Around the World was similar to other World shows we have seen on Celebrity and we enjoyed the show.
We saw Greg Scott, the world’s tallest violinist, twice and his shows were excellent, while poorly attended. Marco Romano, an Italian vocalist performed a range of show music as well as some opera. He was excellent.
Getting off the Ship
We had quite a time getting off the ship in Cochin (first port in India) as well as the second port, Mangalore. In Cochin, we waited in line for an hour and twenty minutes, largely because of the Indian immigration authorities. In Mangalore, Celebrity was poorly organized in arranging for all the passes to be set up by deck delaying us for about 45 minutes. I will say that the Century learned from its mistakes, because in the next two Indian ports, Goa and Mumbai, everything went very smoothly.
There were four sea days between Singapore and Cochin, so we had time to explore the ship, visit the fitness center and socialize with friends, many we met on cruise critic. Heather was the key organizer. Ginny participated in an earring exchange where one would draw lots for earrings. I didn’t participate.
I did organize a Cabin Crawl with about 25 persons participating. We visited 8 cabins, including suites, balconies, concierges, an aft balcony, an inside and an ocean view. After that we crawled to a bar for a drink.
Cochin was our first port in India, and we were excited to be there. After the tedious immigration process, we met our private tour guide with Cochin Day Tours-Muziris Heritage. Lijo Jose was my point of contact and may have been the owner of the company. We met Lijo while on this tour.
Our tour was the Cochin Backwater Tour that included a peaceful two hour ride on a houseboat. We had a nice Indian lunch on the houseboat. We cruised the waters of Alapuzha, and then drove back to Ft. Cochin. Back in Cochin, we had an opportunity to shop and visit the Paradesi Synagogue. It is the oldest active synagogue in the British Commonwealth of Nations. It was constructed in 1567. The tour was seven hours and cost $75 per person.
The two hour road trip out to Alapuzha introduced us to the Indian highways and white knuckle travel. Driving in India was very suspenseful. Many times our small bus would be passing a motor scooter (lots of them) and find ourselves in the middle of the two lane highway. Another vehicle would be approaching us, almost like we were playing “chicken.” At the last second either our bus or the other would slip back from the middle of the road, averting a collision. Not sure how the drivers seem to read each other’s intentions, but we saw no collisions. Still, the drive was a bit stressful. However, just going through the countryside, we were able to observe the state of the area. The road infrastructure in India was very poor and with 1.2 Billion people in the country, the roads always seem full.
However, our two hour houseboat cruise was very peaceful and refreshing. All on our tour very much enjoyed this experience.
Our next port was Mangalore. The tour was with the same company of Lijo Jose. Our guide was excellent on this tour. His name was Anup D’Almeida. This tour included a lot more to see, but we were out in the Indian heat for six hours. The cost was $85 per person.
The tour is described in this link. It included:
1. Pick up from the cruise terminal
2. Cashew factory visit
3. Kadri and Gogarnatha temple visit
4. Visit Central market
5. St. Aloysius Chapel visit
6. Orientation tour of Mangalore city
7. Drop you at the cruise terminal according to your schedule.
Anup took us to two Hindu temples and provided some background on the faith. Our guide in Cochin had provided us with some information as well. We were told that the Hindu faith has three main gods (a trinity) as well as many other gods. However, they all go back to god the creator. In this way the Hindu faith is not like the ancient Greek and Roman religions. First, we visited a cashew factory (and purchased some cashews). It was interesting to follow how cashews are processed. The process seems tedious, since there are several stages before you arrive at the edible nut.
Our first Hindu temple was the Gogarnatha temple. The temple was about 100 years old, but very elaborate and impressive. The second, temple, Kadri Manjunatha dates back to 1068 A.D. Both temples required us to take off our shoes. At the end of the day, the soles of our socks were black. Still, it was instructive to see the various shrines and understand their significance.
We visited the St. Aloysius Chapel at the site of a Catholic compound that included a large Catholic school. Our guide had graduated from that school and was familiar with the people there. The art work on the interior of the chapel was amazing.
The Central market was one of several markets that we visited in India. Warning, the fish market will overcome your olfactory senses. We saw a huge fish market with row after row of fish, first the dried fish, then the fresh fish. Apparently, fish is dried out if not eaten soon after the fish is caught, since proper refrigeration is not always available.
This tour exceeded our expectations for Mangalore, since I had assumed that this port would be the least interesting. However, we were out in the heat most of the tour and wiped out when we returned from the ship.
Our next port was a former Portuguese colony until annexed by India in 1961. There are a higher percentage of Catholics in the state than in the rest of India. Our tour in Goa was provided by Lijo Jose’s company, as in Cochin and Mangalore.
The tour was described as follows:
We start the day to a visit to the former capital of Goa “Old Goa where we visit Churches built by the Portuguese. Visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus where the relics of St Francis Xavier been kept, later visit the Se Cathedral this church is the second biggest in Asia.
The Shri Mangueshi Temple is set atop a hill at Priol, northwest of Ponda leading to Old Goa. The temple has a seven-story lamp tower (which is a unique trait of Hindu temples in Goa), a Nandi bull (Lord Shiva's conveyance), as well as shrines to Parvati and Lord Ganesha. During the festival of Mangesh Jatra, the rath (temple chariot) is pulled by several devotees.
The Mahalsa Narayani Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu's consort Laxmi, though some people believe it is the Lord Vishnu's female form Mohini. A lamp tower, which is seven floors high, can also be found here. Garuda, the great bird that was Lord Vishnu's conveyance sits atop a pillar, which rests on the back of a turtle. There are intricately carved columns and painting of the 10 avatars or incarnations of Vishnu.
From here we drive to the spice plantation. Tour guide will then take you on a tour of the plantation which will last about one hour, the guide will explain about all the spices and plants you discover and tell you about their medicinal properties. Black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, chillies, coriander and all spice are just some of the spice plants you will find in the plantation. Varieties of Cashew trees, betelnut palm trees and some tropical
fruits like Star fruit, Custard apples, Papaya, Bananas, Pineapples and the Citrus fruits are also found in the grounds.
After you turn round the plantation, you will be served lunch. The lunch is a very tasty local meal served on a banana leaf plates, accompanied by a sweet dish and a tipple of cashew feni (Goan specialty).
Then proceed to Margao City , which was once considered the Capital of Goa during its early centuries, left the job of capital to the river port of Chandrapur or now presently called as Chandor.
Our tour was $70 and included a wonderful lunch at the Spice Plantation. We visited the Churches described above, but only passed the temples mentioned. Also, we visited another market. It was very colorful, especially since some of our group saw three or four dead rats in the streets. The inside of the markets were clean. We would see more markets in Mumbai, but no rats.
The highlight of this tour was the spice plantation. It was shaded there and cooler. Our guide at the plantation pointed out many species of spice plants. There was an elephant in the creek on the plantation and some young people were riding the elephant.
After the Goa tour four of our party that were scheduled to go on my Mumbai Magic tour the next day indicated that after three days of touring in the heat, they were opting out for the Mumbai tour. I was able to find additional persons to replace them.
This city was the one that I had most anticipated visiting. The tour was with a company known as Mumbai Magic. It was a seven our tour of the city and markets at the cost of 3000 Indian Rupees (about $52US per person (lunch not included). It was two tours combined.
The tour was described as follows:
Mumbai By Day
This tour tells the story of the transformation of Mumbai from a mono-cultural sleepy fishing hamlet into a melting pot that is today the commercial capital of India. The tour will showcase all aspects of Mumbai – the narrow geographical layout, the coastline, the daily commuting, the various communities that make up the city, the old heritage district, the old commercial and residential districts and the upcoming districts.
The tour includes a short walk through the Heritage District and the Kala Ghoda Art Precinct.
The tour covers all the must-see places on any traveler's itinerary:
• The Gateway of India, and the area around it
• Regal Circle and the heritage buildings there, including the Prince of Wales Museum, NGMA, Police Headquarters, etc.
• The Kala Ghoda Art Precinct
• Bombay University and cricket at the Oval Maidan
• Flora Fountain
• Town Hall
• Victoria Terminus and the Municipal Building
• Crawford Market
• Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach
• Mani Bhavan, home of Gandhi
• Malabar Hill
• The popular Dhobi Ghat
Mumbai Bazaar Walk
The tour covers Crawford Market, Jama Masjid (meet India’s oldest Muslim community, who came here in the 6th Century), Mirchi Galli (spices market), Mangaldas Cloth Market, Zaveri Bazaar (where everyone’s crazy about gold), Phool Galli (Flower Street), Mumbadevi Temple (where the city gets its name from), and the quaint Madhav Baug.
You’ll also get an inside look at the Jain community, visit a Panjra Pole (animal shelter) – and you’ll finally figure out what this ‘sacred cow’ thing is all about!
Sancia was our guide. She was intelligent and articulate and provided much information about the city. Our tour required the bus to travel a lot in heavy traffic, but we saw everything on the city tour and did visit markets, however, by the time we visited the markets, it was late in the day and we were tired and time was short. Still, the tour was excellent.
Our first stop was at the famous Gateway of India arch. The landmark Taj Mahal Hotel is nearby and we went through security to go inside the hotel. Ginny found an Indian cookbook at the hotel bookstore. The hotel appeared to be the model of luxury. We stopped at the Victoria Terminus rail station for a photo opportunity, but were unable to go inside the terminal. We drove on Marine Drive and saw Chowpatty Beach, then on to Malabar Hill and had time to walk around the hanging gardens park and take photos of the city. We had a brief visit at a Hare Krishna temple. It was elaborate and one lady there was trying to convert me.
Sancia took us to a nearby restaurant, which was very nice and we had a light lunch with a tasty yogurt drink and thin flat bread with a kind of potato spread. It was just what we wanted and only cost us 500 rupees for two.
After lunch, we visited Gandhi’s home (in Mumbai- he was from another city in Southern India. The home was interesting, but crowded. It did provide some history of the man’s life with photos and a nice diorama. At some point we went back to Victoria Terminus to see the men that deliver home cooked meals on their bicycles. They bring the food from homes and then transfer the containers (many on the bikes) to the assigned person for delivery, via bike.
Dhobi Ghat was our next stop, where we saw a large area with many concrete pools where laundry was hand washed and you could see many places were the laundry was drying in the sun. Apparently, about five thousand persons from outside the city come temporarily to launder for many clients, including some of the local hospitals and hotels. A shanty town has grown up in and around the area as well. There were hawkers selling other items as well in the area. It was a very interesting visual for us.
The market part of the trip took about an hour and our guide took us through different markets. Then on to the ship, which was to sail to Muscat, Oman that afternoon.
Sancia told us that the population of India is 55% male and 45% female. She explained an interesting policy instituted when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister some years ago. In an effort to limit population growth and educate women more, the policy stated that if a family was limited to three children that the women were provided free education, including college. I cannot find this policy on an internet search, but I did find policies that reserved 30% of spaces for women.
India was fascinating, but I would advise not to go in March. Go in November-February, when it is cooler. Also, the rich culture, history and friendly people are worth the visit, but the country is generally poor (we were told that half the people in Mumbai live in slums and largely unemployed). The highways are not for the faint of heart. The food is fantastic and I wish we had an Indian restaurant in our community.
Oman is a country with about 4.5 million people on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It has been a stable country lacking in internal conflict and terrorism. The country is largely Sunni, Muslim and moderate in nature.
We were now in a largely desert country with a dry climate, but the high temperature during our visit reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, we found the heat less oppressive than the heavy humidity nearer the equator in India.
Ginny and I took a Celebrity excursion (cost $99 pp). It was called Fabulous Forts. It was described, as follows:
Overview: Venture into Oman's mountainous interior to visit historic forts in Nizwa and Jabrin. At Nizwa, the country's historic capital and longtime religious center, you'll explore the fortress with its massive tower offering spectacular views, and stroll the new souk complex where artisans sell their wares. The nearby town of Jabrin is home to Omani fort, whose 17th century structures retain a medieval atmosphere and decor. Relax over lunch at a hotel before returning to port.
Highlights: Nizwa Fort: This impressive fortification's massive tower offers expansive views of the mosque, this ancient city and surrounding landscape. Nizwa Souk: Stroll past stalls selling everything from fruits and spices to local artisans' fine handmade leather and silver goods. Jabrin Castle: Admire the exquisite decor as you wander through rooms and courtyards of this spectacular 17th century fortification.
What to Bring: SeaPass card and photo identification Camera Cash/credit cards Sun protection
Our tour guide was Achmed, he was an excellent guide with a good sense of humor. We visited the two forts after a two hour ride past some scenery that reminded us of Arizona. The forts were in the interior of the country. The forts had ingenious ways of keeping the interior of the buildings cool in the intense heat. One method was an interior courtyard shielded from the sun with massive walls kept the heat from permeating the interior of the structure. Another method, which we saw as well in Dubai, was a venting system that diverted wind down into the building. We had an excellent lunch at a nice hotel. The food was Arabic and everyone specifically raved about the Arabic dessert that was some type of custard or pudding. It had cinnamon, raisons and more, with no calories.
On the way back to the ship, Achmed stopped at the Muscat Grand Mosque for us to take photos of the outside. Since it was prayer time, we could not go inside the mosque. The mosque was massive, but in a couple of days we saw the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which surpassed this mosque.
Our final port was Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which includes seven emirates, each with an Emir. The Emir of Abu Dhabi is the elected head of state. Ginny and I signed on to a marathon private tour with Fiona, from NSW, Australia.
The tour was named the '7 Emirates in a Day' tour. The tour was advertised as 12 hours in length, but turned out to be over 16 hours. We departed at 8am and returned after midnight. The ship was still there, since our disembarkation was later that day.
The tour was $65, an amazing value for a tour that took us over about 600 miles to all the emirates.
There were 21 of us on the tour, most were from Australia. Aussies are always fun, so we enjoyed the group. The tour was great, but exhausting.
In some emirates, our tour was largely a windshield tour, but we stopped at important sites and very much enjoyed the trip.
Our tour began at the old Dubai fort, which is also a museum. The museum was interesting and we only had about 30 minutes there. From there, we proceeded to the famous creek and took a boat ride across. Then, we had a walk through the gold suk. , We then proceeded toward the emirate of Sharjah, which is the next one east of Dubai (Dubai is the second largest emirate, Sharjah is the third). Each emirate is like a state and has its own laws. Dubai is more relaxed and cosmopolitan while Sharjah is traditional and conservative (like Saudi Arabia). Sharjah has sharia law and punishes for crimes like kissing in public. Many live in Sharjah and commute to Dubai, since real estate prices are lower. The Ajman emirate was next and we could see the beach from our bus. We then drove on to Umm Al Quqain emirate. We stopped about noon at the rak-al hamra mall in Ras Al Khaimah emirate. The mall was modern with two floors and a large open area. There was a Johnny Rocket’s restaurant in the mall, as well as other restaurants. We bought takeout from Nando’s restaurant (which all our Australian friends were familiar with). The food was good, but we had to eat while the bus was moving and avoid spilling sauce on or clothes.
After lunch, we drove off into a more remote area (there was a new road being constructed in the area). To see the RAK Queen’s Palace, reputed to be 3000 years old and the Queen of Sheba’s palace. The small building remaining was at the top of a hill that required some effort to climb. There were steps part of the way, but at some point using hands and feet was required. Still, it was worth the effort. Not sure is it was the Queen of Sheba’s palace, but was probably 3000 years old. There were great vistas of the landscape.
Moving on to Fujairah emirate, our sixth, we first saw the oldest mosque in the UAE, the Bidya Mosque. We were told it goes back to the 15th century. It was small, but we were able to go inside briefly, until prayer time began. This emirate faces the Arabian Sea, not the Persian Gulf and we learned that there is a pipeline underground from Abu Dhabi to this location (avoiding a potential cut off of shipments out of the straits of Hormuz. Our last stop in Fujairah was at the massive Fujairah Fort. The fort is the oldest in the UAW, over 200 years old.
Our last emirate was over two hours away and it was late afternoon. We were tiring, but told by our guides that the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi was worth the time.
About half of our group, including some children opted to head back to Dubai without going to Abu Dhabi. Our guide Kafir, arranged for another bus to meet our bus, off the freeway and our group of 21 was down to 11. We were all tired, but pushed on. Upon arriving at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, it was discovered that our reservation was lost, so Kafir had to make another. Further, Ginny and I, as well as Patrick and Sandra did not meet the conservative standard for clothing. Our guide knew how to go around that, by calling taxi that would take us to the other side of the mosque, so we could walk underground to pick up the proper apparel. We managed this and entered the mosque with a little over ten minutes until it closed. The mosque was virtually empty and we made the most of that with our several photos. The mosque was huge and cost 2 billion dollars.
The mosque is the largest in the UAE and can hold 40,000 persons. From the carpet to the chandeliers, the place was awesome. There was fantastic air work all around. The chandeliers were from Germany and carpet from Iran. The carpet is considered the largest in the world. There three large domes on the mosque inspired by Persian, Mughal and Moorish mosque architecture.
Leaving the Mosque, we proceeded back to Dubai and arrived after midnight. It was an amazing day with all that we had seen, but we were very tired and had to finish packing our large bags to put outside our room for the luggage handlers later that morning. We only had a few hours of sleep when the wakeup call rang.
I had booked a city tour of Dubai that ended at the airport. The tour description was not detailed by Celebrity, so we were not too happy when we discovered that about half the tour duplicated yesterday’s tour. Once at the airport we took a taxi to the Holiday Inn Express, Dubai Airport, where we checked in for about 8 hours. We were able to sleep a couple of hours, relax and take a shower in preparation for our 26 hour trip back home. We were on Air France to Paris, then a five hour layover in CDG airport (fortunately same terminal), then on to Atlanta.
It was great to be back in our home state and country. I can remember when the airplane would erupt in clapping when the plane landed.
Upon entering the immigration room in Atlanta (we have been there many times), it became apparent that there was gridlock somewhere. Non-citizens were directed to line up in front of booths with real persons checking their passports. US citizens were confronted with a mass of idle machines. The machines appeared to be non-functional. After about 20 minutes, some of the machines were working and the line moved slowly. People were angry and worried about missing their connecting flights. Fortunately, the computers started working and we were processed through the system and made our way to our Jacksonville flight.
We made it home before 8pm to find our cat Simon waiting for us. He wanted immediate love and affection.
Our trip was great, but I am convinced that Ginny and I need to complete our long distance flights while we can still handle the brutality of back to back 9 or 12 hour flights. .
We were in cabin 1246, which had an extra-large balcony. The cabin was great, but I did not anticipate the heat in late March. The balcony was too hot to use for most of the cruise. I think an aft balcony would be better for an Alaska cruise, with chilly weather, since you don’t have much wind at all there. We would have appreciated more wind and more shade as well. There were a couple of issues that were irritants. First, our bed was curved at the corners (first time we have had this kind of bed) and at 6’1” I could not stretch out my right leg out completely. Therefore, I had to sleep at an angle or undo the covers that were tucked under the bed. Also, from time to time we seemed to have only lukewarm water for our shower. This was particularly true if we wanted to shower in the late afternoon after a hot day of touring. Others complained about the same problem.