Today we are back in Cozumel, Mexico. We were here last year and took a tour of the Chitzen Itza ruins in Yucatan. Today we set out to explore the San Gervasio ruins here on Isla Cozumel.
These ruins were dedicated to the Mayan goddess of the moon and fertility. Leigh and Becky, who did not join us on the tour, were very happy to hear about the latter. 😉
It was hard to appreciate the meaning behind many of the ruins. Luckily our guide Cesar was able to give everyone the necessary background on Mayan mythology and numerology to understand the architecture and symbolism of the sites.
The ruins were more modest than what we toured last year. We saw the temple dedicated to moon goddess…
and another to both the sun and moon.
We also saw the gates and road to the city.
After the visiting the ruins our tour took us to a beach on the Caribbean side of the island. We spent about 90 min here relaxing in the cove and occasionally lying in the hammocks.
The evening show was the Broadway Intimate Cabaret. The ship’s singers sang a variety of Broadway hits.
Tonight, we also joined Becky and Leigh for dinner in Murano, the ship’s French specialty restaurant. The food was delicious.
We overnight in Cozumel tonight. And tomorrow we go on tour of an underground river cenote on the mainland.
Last night we posted the blog and tried to go to bed early for our early morning excursion to transit the Panama Canal. But things didn’t quite go as expected. Soon after uploading last night’s post we got notification that the ferry that is used for the excursion to transit the canal was down for repairs, and that our excursion was cancelled. Because it was so last minute, we were only given three options as a replacement:
Going to a shopping mall in Panama City
Visiting Portobelo, Panama which according to the tour description “is severely affected by poverty, the facilities are substandard”
Visiting the Gatun and Agua Clara Locks of the Panama Canal
Regardless of disappointment we booked the locks tour late last night. Our tour would limit us to one ocean, one continent, and no water transportation.
This morning Ryan was in a mood. But we still got breakfast and boarded a tour bus that first drove to Gatun locks area. Along the way we learned that there are no traffic laws in the Colon Province (this is actually true), and that most of the countries economy comes from the Colon province, but all of that money gets reinvested into the Pacific coast side of the country. And it really showed while driving through Colon.
We started our tour of the locks at the new (one year old) Agua Clara locks visitor center. These are the newest locks of the canal and are about 60% bigger, but use 60% less fresh water than the previous locks.
But because they are so much bigger they are also slower. We were at the visitor center for about 1.5 hours and only managed to see one larger super-carrier make it though 1 of the 3 locks.
After that we went to the older Gatun locks. We were there for about 45 minutes and saw a couple ships pass through the locks.
We also got to see the use of the mule trains which help move the ships through the locks.
And play engineer on a model mule near the entrance.
Overall it was a pretty neat tour. It’s still upsetting that we couldn’t transit the canal on this trip as planned. But we suppose it prevents us from doing it twice if/when we come back again to do a proper cruise ship canal transit.
We made it back to the ship in time for lunch. One “advantage” to having out tour cancelled and rebooking a different one was that we could take advantage of the “in-port” prices for a massage. A relaxing massage ensued later that afternoon.
In the evening we saw the production show Elysium. It was entertaining as always.
Today also marked the southern most part of the trip at (9.3 N).
Tomorrow we make port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, where we’ll go on a tour of the rain forest.
Total Oceans: 1 (North Atlantic)
Total Continents: 2 (South America – on foot, and North America by sight)
“But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space. ”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild
Location: Skagway, Alaska and Carcross, Yukon Territory
We made port this morning in the historic Alaskan port town of Skagway. This was one of the major ports of entry into Alaska (and the nearby Yukon Territory) during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Would be miners would make port here, expecting that gold was nearby, only to discover that they had to go another 150 miles north to Dawson City, Yukon. But first they’d have to get themselves, and 2,000 pounds of Canadian required gear over the nearby mountains. On foot! Some people overused animal labor to aid the passage. They had two paths, the longer White Pass, and the Chilkoot Trail. These long hard journey’s became the basis for a couple Jack London novels.
Today we explored the White Pass, because it’s where the road (and railway) is located. Unlike the rest of the Alaskan Inner Passage, Skagway is connected to the rest of North America via roads. Our guide today was James of Chilkoot Charters, someone who comes in from Arizona for the tourist season. He provided excellent background and narration during the tour.
We started the tour by going up the White Pass, stopping occasionally for pictures of waterfalls and other scenic shots. Initially, conditions were foggy and rainy/snowy which made for bad pictures.
But sure enough, as soon as we crossed the border in British Columbia, Canada, the sun came out, and the rain and wind stopped. This made for much better pictures. No one lived on the road we traveled upon and we rarely saw other vehicles. So we stopped at many of the scenic overlooks along the way, being treated to raw natural beauty.
We weren’t in British Columbia for long. We soon entered the Yukon Territory.
It was also a beautiful day for seeing wildlife. Apparently, black bears love to eat dandelions. So we were on the lookout for bears along the drive. Luckily we encountered a mother and two young cubs. She was mostly focused on eating flowers.
While the cubs we focused on rolling down hills, climbing trees, generally being cute to humans and annoyance to mommy.
We soon made it to the small Canadian town of Carcross. This was another major stop for gold rushers back in the day. After making it over the mountains, the miners would construct boats nearby to transport their gear and paddle along the many lakes and rivers until they made it to Dawson.
Today, its a tourist stop. Our major stop here was the Caribou Crossing Trading Post. We had lunch there, explored the Mountie and Taxidermy Museum, and got to play with huskie puppies!
We also stopped by to visit the Carcross Desert, the smallest desert in the world, only 1 sq mi in size. It’s not a true desert because it’s too humid. The sand dunes were deposited by glaciers during the last glacial period.
We also stopped by to view the nearby Emerald Lake.
On our way back to the ship, we were treated with seeing a different black bear and cubs eating along the side of the road.
In the evening we attended the premier showing of “City of Dreams” put on by the ship’s singers and dancers. It was an entertaining production show, with amazing choreography and great singing. It included a lot of music, from pop to broadway. And Ryan was surprised and delighted to hear the Diva Plavalaguna live.
Tomorrow we make port in Icy Strait, Alaska. We don’t have any excursions booked here, so we’ll just walk the nature trail on our own.
Today’s weather High 58, Low 43, Partly Sunny
Sunrise: 4:48am, Sunset 11:05pm
Total Countries: 2, US and Canada
Total States equivalent: 3, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Terrirorty
Today was the long awaited day where we got to tour ancient Mayan ruins. The excursion to see the city of Chichen Itza was the entire reason we booked this cruise itinerary.
The excursion itself is very long. Those on this tour are the first people to leave the ship, and usually the last ones back aboard. We left the ship a little after 930, walked along the dock until we boarded a ferry boat to Playa del Carmen. It was a large and comfortable ferry, and the excursion people on the Freedom told us that the weather was great. Sadly nobody bothered to tell that to the surf.
We had read that the ferry ride can be rough. So we took dramamine pills and wore wrist bands to help control the sea sickness. We boarded the ferry to and tried to stay in the back so even further reduce the motion. But we and everyone else on our tour moved to the fore of the ship to expedite our egress upon arrival. After about 20 min of waiting the crew then boarded several dozen 15-16 year old girls on quinceanera. It was a loud trip across the channel. And very rough too! The ships bounced on the waves and swayed back and forth, no one was happy with the ride, and many people couldn’t keep breakfast down. The pills and bracelets helped us maintain our composure.
After we docked in Playa, we were transferred to a tour bus. Then we went on a 2.5 hr drive on a highway through the jungle. We were given a small snack to eat during the drive. Our tour guide Luis spent most the time telling us about the area and Mayan history.
After a while we made it to the ruins of Chichen Itza. It took some time for everyone to get off the bus and for us to make it through the long lines to get into the site. By the time everything was done, we would have only 45 min on site. Not nearly enough time. We were also given bottled water to drink in the park.
We got to see the El Castillo, the giant ancient Mayan pyramid. Another tour guide, Armando, explained the significance of the pyramid and how it was used a giant solar calendar. He also demonstrated how sounds bounced off all of the structures in interesting ways. For instance the sound of clap coming off El Castillo sounded like a chirping bird.
We also got to see the Temple of the Warriors, where sacrifices occurred, the Venus Temple, and the great ballcourt. Everything was built with an astronomical purpose in mind.
The latter of which is the largest ball arena in the Americas. The playing field is over 550×230 ft. We were told that the games were played every 4 years, only on the leap day, and that it was the captain of the winning team who was sacrificed. Because only the blood of the victor would be worthy.
All too soon we were herded outside of the park and back onto the bus. We had to get back to the ship in time. We were given a box lunch and soda to eat on the way back. The 2.5 hour drive went by without note. We also had to take the ferry again back to the ship. This time, we sat in the back and the seas were calmer.
Tomorrow is our last full day on the ship. It is an “at sea” day. We plan to spend it relaxing by the pool.
Today was perhaps the busiest tour day we’ve have in all of our travels together. We woke up at around 7:15, got breakfast, then hit the road to get an early start on seeing Victoria Falls.
Yesterday we had a tour of the falls from the Zambia side. Today we decided to freestyle view the falls on the Zimbabwe side. To do so, we had to walk from our hotel (Zambezi Sun) to the Zambia border control station near the Victoria Falls Bridge. Leaving Zambia was easy enough. Once we cleared the station and entered the no mans land of the bridge we were followed by some very persistent locals trying to sell their wares. They weren’t rude, nor did they appear threatening, but they didn’t take ‘no thanks’ for an answer. This continued until we got to the midpoint of the bridge and crossed into Zimbabwe.
Things were uneventful until we got to the Zimbabwe border control station. After our passports were stamped, we ran into Aaron, our guide from yesterday. He assisted us through the rest of the process, saving us some time. It helps to be good tippers. He had to go to another committement, so we broke off on our own towards the Zimbabwe park for the falls. Along the way, we encountered some more people trying to sell us knick-knacks. They were marginally less aggressive than those on the Zambian side.
All told, it took about 45 minutes to walk from our hotel to the Zimbabwe national park entrance. We didn’t have much time to spend here, because we had to get back to our hotel for another tour in about 2.5 hours. But 90 minutes in the park was enough time to see the various views of Victoria Falls. The Zimbabwe side was much more active, with tremendous amounts of water flowing over the sides of the cliffs.
The falls generated a lot of mist. Which forced us to have to wipe off or glasses and lenses numerous times.
The mist also created a miccro-climate rainforest. The hike through this area was even more startling a contrast compared to our hike yesterday. It was the most rainforesty rainforest we had ever vistited.
As we walked along the trail, we got to see Livingstone island and the Devil’s Pool up close from across the gorge.
After more hiking we made it to the end of the Zimbabwe side of the falls. By this point, the falls were dry. So we got some pictures of the cliff-face.
We then walked back to the hotel, passing through both countries border control stations once again. We encountered the same hucksters again, this time they eventually took ‘no thanks’ for an answer.
Back at the hotel, we quickly changed into swimclothes then set off for our first tour of the day. We took a golf cart shuttle to the Royal Livingstone Hotel next door, and then boarded a small boat to go to Livingstone Island. This location is where Dr. Livingstone became the first European to view the falls. Interestingly, one can almost walk to the island without getting wet several months of the year when the water level is low (such as now). During the wet months when the water level is higher, it becomes a true island.
Our guides gave us a very brief tour of the island, then they took us to the highlight of the island, the Devil’s Pool. This natural deep pool of water has a high wall, trapping all but a few centimeters of water from falling over the edge. It makes for some great photo opportunities.
Before, one can make it to the pool, you have to walk through some water (with very weak currents) to make it the section of the island with the pool. And walking on hot and coarse rocks is required both near the pool and on the main island before getting into the water. Watershoes or sandles are highly recommended.
We weren’t allowed to jump or dive into Devil’s Pool. Instead we have to slide down into it. There are several great areas for photos inside, including “the jacuzzi” where you face towards the edge of the falls
and the overhang itself. The guides have done this all before and know the best places and poses to have photographs. They’ve taken photos with all sorts of cameras and no how to operate all of them. They took some great pics and video of us at the overhang.
Ryan used the gopro to take some selfies and underwater shots, and over the falls shots to get a better idea of how Devil’s Pool works.
After about 10 minutes, it was the next groups turn and we had to get out. The last part of the tour was a nice Zambian style lunch. Great food. After lunch, we took a boat back to the hotel.
We had just enough time to change to get ready for our last tour of the day. We had a sundowner river cruise along the Mighty Zambezi River.
We boarded the African Princess several kilometers upstream of the falls. We had a 2 hours cruise along the Mighty Zambezi River. We were served unlimited drinks and had a small dinner. The highlight though was that it also served as a river safari. We criss-crossed the river many times, and slowly traveled along the banks to see various kinds of wildlife, including hippos, elephants, baboons, and many kinds of birds.
Despite hearing stories and warning about baboons the whole trip, we only encountered them for the first time today.
As the name suggests, we got to see sundown on the Mighty Zambesi River.
This was our last full day of the trip. Tomorrow morning we plan to get in a little R&R near the pool before leaving for the airport to go home.
Total Countries: 2 (Zambia, Zimbabwe)
Total Watercraft: 3
Total Steps: 22,593 (second only to our day at Disney Land)
We awoke early this morning after a good nights sleep, very nearly in the correct time zone. We got a big breakfast at the hotel and made our way to the lobby to meet Wayne, who was our tour guide for the next two days. Today’s destination was the famous Cape of Good Hope. Prior to the opening of the Suez Canal nearly all maritime traffic between Asia and Europe had to pass around this Cape. It can be a rough sail, as different currents and winds wreak havoc on those sailing around during the wrong time of year. The European “discoverer” first wanted to call it the “Cape of Storms”, but the King of Portugal was much better at marketing and elected to call it the Cape of Good Hope to encourage ships to sail around it. The justification for the name is that if you make it around, you are halfway to Asia and the hard part is over.
The weather was very fortunate today, with sunny skies and a light wind. Ordinarily it is very windy, which could make some of the hiking later in the day along the mountainous coast less pleasant.
We started by exiting town and driving along the western edge of the Table Mountains. This was largely a scenic drive with very informative narration by our guide. We learned that the main mountain (Table) has a flat top which is frequently blanket by clouds which are thought of as a tablecloth. It’s also surrounded by about 18 peaks, which one former colonial governor referred to as the 12 Apostles. The name stuck. This strange numbering convention and marketing ploy reminded of us our trip to see the Twelve Apostles in Australia.
Before continuing to the Cape we went to the Gourmet Market in Hout Bay. Everything looked great, and we sort of regretted eating breakfast first, because their were lots of tasty things we could have gorged ourselves on. We were somewhat good and shared a small nutella gelato. Ryan also picked up some dried game meat to have later in the trip after workouts.
We continued along down Chapman’s Peak Drive, which was built by a and early 19th century English governor so that he could drive his car along a scenic path. We, along with countless other locals and tourist have since enjoyed the beautiful views ourselves. It reminded us of both the Great Ocean Road and the Amalfi Coast.
After the scenic drive we made it to the park which contains the Cape of Good Hope. Soon after entering we saw our first wildlife of the trip, an ostrich.
Our first stop took us to the aptly named “Flying Dutchman” funicular which took us up to see the Cape Point Lighthouse. But first Wayne took us down a side path to get a better, and much less crowded view of Cape Point and some nest cormorants.
Then we made our way up the lighthouse itself. The lighthouse is no longer functional, but it serves as a decent look out point and tourist marker.
Following that, we made our way back down the hill for lunch. Surprisingly, despite the popularity, the park is not very developed as a tourist trap. There were very few shops and restaurants, nor are there guardrails along the paths. They wanted to have a more natural look to the park, creating a view that we generally enjoyed. We had an excellent seafood lunch at Two Oceans Restaurant on site. Ryan went for shrimp and calamari, while Rachel had the first (of many?) sushi meal in Cape Town.
After lunch we took a scenic trail down to Cape of Good Hope itself. We took our time and plenty of pictures as we walked along the narrow boardwalk. At one point Ryan took a side path down to the beach, while Rachel smartly decided not to have to climb back up 300ft and continued onward until Ryan rejoined. Eventually we made it to the top of the hill and got more great pictures. The climb back down the other side of the hill to the other parking lot was a bit of a challenge at times, but we made it back.
Our last stop of the tour took us to the Boulder Bay penguin colony! This enclosed beach house over a thousand African Penguins, which were previously called jack-ass penguins because their call sounds like a donkey. This species is very endangered and the numbers are still plummeting.
Ryan became his usual giddy self in the presence of penguins. We spent about an hour here.
Wayne then drove us back to the hotel on the eastern side of the table mountains, giving a different view than earlier in the day. After returning to the hotel we planned to go back out again and have dinner at the Waterfront. But we were exhausted from the hiking and still a little jet-lagged so we decided to eat a small dinner at the hotel and make it an early night.
Tomorrow, we have an early day when we travel several hours to the actual southernmost point of Africa, Cape Aghulas.
We awoke this morning after a very long nights sleep. We had a quick breakfast then got on a van for today´s tour. Our destination was to visit Iceland´s Golden Circle of parks and try to see the northern lights.
Our first stop was þingvellir National Park. The park itself features some part of the North American-European continental rift, some waterfalls, and the site of Iceland´s first parliament. We began atop a ridge and walked down into the park through a chasm down into the valley. We then walked down a trail where we got to see a small waterfall and braided streams. We also saw what archaeologists believe was the site of the first parliament.
Our next stop took us for a snack at a tomato farm. We saw how tomatoes are grown in sustainable Icelandic greenhouses. While there, we were served fresh tomato soup and delicious bread.
Then we went to geysir park, home to several hot springs and geysers. There was one active geyser named Stokkur, which erupts every 5 minutes or so. It can reach heights of around 30 m, which is a little under the height Old Faithful regularly achieves. Nearby was Geysir, the geyser for which all other geysers get its name. It´s not active now.
We then visited the impressive Gulfross Waterfall. A huge amount of glacial meltwater flows down this waterfall. It narrowly avoided becoming a hydro-power station a few years ago. It was windy and cold up there, but it was well worth the effort. Gulfoss was also the northernmost point of the trip, and the northern most point either of us had ever ventured. We made it to 64°19´34″N.
We had time for another snack, so this time the tour took us to an Iceland cow farm. We saw some cows, and then sampled skyr and yummy ice cream. Skyr is kinda like yogurt, but it´s fat free and nearly all protein. They served it with cream.
Our next stop took us to a thermal bath for a relaxing dip, because… Iceland. Our guide told us that all Icelanders know how to swim, but in Iceland swimming is defined as sitting in a warm body of water. We spent an hour here in the naturally heated pools. Ryan was brave (read: foolish) and went for a quick swim in the very cold, ice-covered lake nearby (along with our tour guide and a couple other people) …and then quickly went back into the hot pool!
We had dinner at a restaurant nearby. Ryan and the guide exchanged notes on the cloud and aurora forecasts. The aurora forecast was for a dissapointing kp=2. But luckily the weather was good by Icelandic standards so the guide made the decision to make the attempt to try to spot the northern lights. We are glad he did.
We got in the van and drove south hoping to find clearer skies. Once we started seeing a lot of stars he pulled over and asked everyone to take long exposures on their cameras. Often times, the camera can spot a budding aurora before a human. We spent a few minutes at this spot seemingly without success. But as everyone started to pack up, he asked Rachel to take a picture of a seemingly dim but empty part of the sky. His hunch was right, because her picture showed a dim green arc. This was our first sight of the aurora from the ground! We stayed around hoping it would get brighter, but soon the clouds moved in and blocked our view.
He drove us all to another spot not far from þingvellir park. We were going to aim for the same spot as before, but he saw something else in the sky. To us it sort of looked like the light from the moon behind the clouds. But the moon wasn´t out and he knew better. Rachel took another photo. Hidden behind the clouds was a bright arc of green and red northern lights. We spent about 30 min here waiting for the clouds to pass and to better enjoy the light show. We stayed until that arc started to diminish.
We had one last stop this evening. Here we saw another dim arc of northern lights. But it wasn´t as active, and it was partially hidden by clouds. It was cold and very windy. It was worse than Elephant Island. So we spent less than 10 min and made our way back to town. Everyone was very happy for the opportunity to see the aurora!
Tomorrow we tour the south Iceland coast. Where we get to see more cool geology, waterfalls, glaciers, and the infamous Eyjafjatlajökull. In the evening, we make another attempt to see the northern lights.
We made port in Salerno, Italy early this morning. Salerno is at the southern end of the famous Amalfi Coast. And it’s only a 45 min drive north to get to the much larger city of Naples. But we weren’t here to look at scenic cliffs and seaside towns; we had loftier ambitions. We boarded our tour bus in the morning and made our way to Mount Vesuvius.
We eventually arrived near the top of the infamous Volcano. Our guide let us off the bus and told us to hike up the trail (300m up) where we will meet another guide who will give us a tour around the peak. He said it was a 20 min hike.
Forty-five minutes later we reached the top. Due to the limited time, we and several other people on the tour declined the additional guide, and explored the volcanic rim on our own.
It took us another 30 min to make it down the mountain and board the bus again. Our next stop was Pompeii. It was not a long drive. Naturally the lost city would be near to the volcano that destroyed it.
Our guide told us that it normally takes two days to explore Pompeii. We had two hours. He did a good job taking us through the city, hitting the highlights and carefully explaining their significance. We began at the theater where he explained and demonstrated the design and acoustics. Next, we walked along the elevated sidewalks beside the streets. The tough lava rock prevented the Romans from building a sewer system in the city. Instead the sidewalks and structures were built above the base of the roads. The roads doubled as means of removing water from the city during storms. Only carts, chariots and animals walked the streets. They even built ‘crosswalks’ so people did not have to walk in the water to cross a street.
Next we visited a Pompeii home. We saw the bath and courtyard, as well as the other normal rooms of a residence. We also saw human bones and broken volcanic-ash husks. This house was looted post-excavation disturbing and breaking the husks before they could be properly preserved. When the pyroclastic flow destroyed the city, it immediately enveloped the bodies of people. This created tight stone outlines of the people as they died. These statue like objects still exist today. Over time, the bodies would decay away inside the husks leaving only bones. The husks are fragile unless filled with cement.
We would see examples of intact husks later in the public baths.
Our next stop took us to the brothel. Detailed illustrations of the services offered still appear on the walls today. Rachel did get some pictures, but they are not PG rated. You’ll have to google it to see them. And FYI, the gift shops outside the city sold magnets and calendars with these illustrations. And no, we did not buy any.
Last we went to Forum. There was a very nice view of Vesuvius.
Later in the afternoon we made it back to the ship. We boarded and relaxed in the hot tub for the last time. Afterwards we packed our bags because we go home tomorrow. We had our last dinner with our cruise companions as well tonight. We’re sure to see them again on another vacation.
In other news, our cruise companions when on a scenic boat tour of the Amalfi Coast. They enjoyed it and shared war stories of their tour with us at dinner.
Tomorrow we disembark the ship early in the morning and fly back home.
Total steps: 16,001
Total time Rachel got out of a hot tub without injury: 12/12
We had another full today. We woke up early to catch the excursion “Taste of Sicily: Mount Etna and Taormina”. Admittedly we were only interested in seeing Mt Etna, but this excursion was the closest thing to getting us to the top of the volcano. We should also point out that this was our first tour in nearly two weeks that not involve the cats/cruise companions.
We boarded a tour bus to Taormina. The drive on the highway was uneventful enough until we got off the highway and started up the cliffs towards the town. The switchbacks were very tight and not built with tour buses in mind. Our driver had to honk before every turn to alert potential drivers coming the other way. Usually it worked, but one driver ignored the warning and nearly hit our bus on one turn. A collision did not occur.
The town itself was built above the coast up on a cliff. We had a short stay, which mostly consisted of window shopping. Taormina had a small road lined with high-end boutiques next to low-end tourist crap shops. It seems like every tourist city in Europe has one of these. We also ran into Rachel’s parents and the Barons while in town during our free-time. They were on a different shopping excursion. While in town we also picked up an early lunch. Ryan found a place that had calzones. It was the easily the best calzone we ever had.
Next we made our journey up the volcano in the bus. More switch-back fun ensued. We learned about the many times the volcano destroyed or devastated towns on the island. Despite the frequent destructions, the area near the top of the volcano was built up with restaurants, hotels, and tourist stores. The bus stopped at one restaurant for free cannolis and had the opportunity to get a larger meal, buy souvenirs and pay to use the bathroom. We spent an hour there, and were told that we didn’t have enough time to take the cable car to the top of the volcano. We spent most of that time walking around the lava-rock areas near the building and photographing a fox cub who happened by.
The last part of the tour took us to a different part of the volcano where we could walk around a cinder cone crater. We took lots of pictures and rock samples.
The drive back to port in Catania was uneventful.
Tonight was formal night, so once again we classed the ship up. Some of the other passengers did too.
Tomorrow we make port in Salerno near Naples. We are climbing Vesuvius and then touring Pompeii.
Today we made port at the sixth country of our trip: Malta. Malta is a tiny nation made up of 3 islands south of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean. It spent most of its history being conquered by various empires, before eventually achieving independence from Britain in 1964. It joined the EU in 2004. It is best known for its offshore banking, online gambling, and ship registry. Celebrity Cruises flags all of their ships (except the eXpedition of Ecuador) in Malta. More seasoned travelers know it for its scenic landscape and quiet villages. Nearly every structure in the country is made from limestone mined from the island.
This morning we and our cruise companions left the ship to go on a private tour of the island. Our tour guide, Godfrey, was once a lecturer at the local university and was a wellspring of information about the country. We started with a tour of the capitol city Valletta. This town is based around a natural deepwater port. It was founded by the crusader Knights of St John. The town was originally laid out in a grid (an oddity in Europe) and is surrounded by very thick and steep walls designed to keep the Turks out. Godfrey briskly walked around the city pointing out monuments, the Parliament, Prime Minister’s office, and stock exchange. We also saw the Barrakka Gardens at the top of the city walls overlooking the harbour and the castle used to defend the city during the last Ottoman siege.
Later we walked down commerce street and toured the inside of St John’s Co-Cathedral and Museum. The cathedral was ornately decorated. But each section of the cathedral was decorated by knights from different countries. Godfrey explained the differences between them. Before leaving Valletta, Ryan and Leigh stopped by the public bathrooms. They described the automated restrooms as the most interesting places they’ve ever conducted business.
Our next stop took us out of town to see the Blue Grotto caves and cliff formations. These limestone formations are one of the larger tourist draws of the country. We stopped by a viewing point at the top of the cliffs nearby and we able to get some nice photos.
Next we visited the Hagar Qim Temple and Museum. These ruins predate the pyramids and are the oldest free-standing stone structures ever discovered. They appear to be an ancient temple dedicated to a fertility goddess built around 3500 BCE. Whomever built them have long since disappeared. The ruins were forgotten until rediscovered in the 1800’s. The museum also premiered its 4D immersive movie about the temple and its history today. We were amongst the first visitors to actually see it. The movie was animated in 3D, and featured wind, rain, and scent effects. It was a pleasant surprise for us. Godfrey walked us through the museum pointing out theorized construction techniques, astronomical connections (equinox and solstice orientations), and other symbolism. Then he walked us around the ruins of one of the temples and explained the various rooms.
We had lunch in the small fishing town of Marsaxlokk. We ate alongside the harbor at a restaurant called Pisces. We unintentionally had a grand feast of fresh seafood. It was all excellent.
After lunch we visited another crusader city further inland called Mdina. This city has never been taken due to its massive defensive walls. Inside we found tight streets, lined with churches, palaces and stores.
All too soon we had to return to the ship. We arrived not long before the ship had to leave for its next destination. The journey out of the harbour made for some great pictures.
In the evening we saw the ventriloquist Gareth Oliver. He had a different take on how to do ventriloquist comedy without the use of dummies. He claim to fame is losing to Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent five years ago. It was not what we expected, but it was entertaining.
This is the southernmost point of our trip and the last new country. Beginning tomorrow, the rest of our trip is entirely in Italy.
Tomorrow we visit Catania, Sicily. We will tour Mt. Etna and the nearby village of Taromina.
Total Steps: 14,255
Total time Rachel got out of a hot tub without injury: 11/11