Thursday, November 30, 2006

#86 Food on the MV Explorer

Through November 28, we’ve consumed:
  • 28,400 lbs red meat 
  • 19,100 lbs poultry 
  • 14,300 lbs seafood 
  • 5300 lbs pasta 
  • 13,000 lbs potatoes 
  • 2000 lbs butter 
  • 60,000 eggs 
  • 757 gallons of ice cream 
  • 1600 lbs peanut butter 
 Remarkably, neither of us has gained much weight.

Yours in not counting calories,

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

#85 Camera Obscura

First, punch a hole in your roof. Then arrange a mirror and lens to project light through the hole onto a horizontal screen. That’s a camera obscura.

In Cadiz, we visited one (that's me on the left, Mary on the right). Cadiz is surrounded by ocean on 3 sides, so watching the ships come in has been a local tradition for centuries. With the camera obscura, you can watch the ships come in all day and never get rained on or sunburned. It’s the low-tech version of a video camera and monitor…no electricity-no problem. Now I want one. Do you know anyone who has the home version of camera obscura?

Yours in low-tech gadgetry,

#84 Does anybody know what time it is?

Last night we turned our clocks back one hour. Today we are on Greenwich Mean Time + 0, as are Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon and London. We’ll turn back our clocks 5 more times as we cross the Atlantic before arriving in Florida. After being so far away, 5 time zones seem like just next door.

Yours in living on GMT today and Azores time tomorrow,

Monday, November 27, 2006

#83 The Rain in Spain…

Stays mainly on the plain.

Yes, we’ve had some rain here in Spain, but only enough to get us wet. We spent our Spain time primarily in Seville. Even though Spain’s Alhambra is in the competition for the new Seven Wonders of the World (Thanks for the list, Zoya), we didn’t get all the way to Granada to see it.

Seville called to us for 2 reasons. I know what you’re thinking – flamenco dancing and bull fighting. But no, we didn’t see any dancing flamencos or any fighting bulls. We wanted to visit Seville 1) because Seville and Kansas City are sister cities and 2) because we wanted to see the Alcazar (a UNESCO world heritage site.) My parents’ wedding reception was held in Cleveland at the Alcazar Hotel and it was high time we saw the original.

009 Alcazar Hotel steps

As you can imagine, the Alcazar in Cleveland and the Alcazar in Seville are slightly different. The Alcazar Hotel was originally built as a hotel with a Spanish-Moorish motif in the 1920's. The Alcazar was originally built as a fort in the 900’s. Over the 11 centuries since then, it has been expanded and rebuilt many times. As we wander from courtyard to courtyard and from garden to garden, it’s one wow after another.

5451f Alcazar garden

Of all the fabulous sights to behold, wouldn’t you know that Kelly focused in on a map? It’s a huge tapestry of the Mediterranean where north is down, from the Spanish perspective a few hundred years ago.

5458f Map tapestry

Our timing was right to see a temporary Alcazar exhibit we deemed a highlight: Descubriendo a los descubridores, la vuelta al mundo de la Nao Victoria. The first circumnavigation of the world in 1522 proved the spherical shape of the earth. In 2004, 20 young sailors recreated that voyage in a replica of the original wooden vessel. Realizing the substantial differences between their voyage and ours, there are also many similarities. One voyager said the land looks better from the sea than from the land. Another says that he now has a before and an after. A third emphasizes the importance of sailing with 3 guides: course, altitude, and imagination. We spent a long time listening to the wisdom of these modern circumnavigators.

When you leave the Alcazar and walk across the street you’re standing in front of the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. So we entered, enjoyed a mini-concert from what must be one of the world’s largest pipe organs, then climbed over 300’ to the top of the cathedral bell tower for a panoramic view of Seville.

5502f Giralda Tower view of Cathedral

From the tower, we could see the train station in the distance. The street leading to the train station is Avenida de Kansas City, the only evidence we saw of the sister-city relationship. We found comfort in this tie to our Midwestern roots.

5542f Kansas City Avenue

Yours in finding ties to la familiar,

Thursday, November 23, 2006

#82 A Thanksgiving celebration in Cadiz

Gracias Susanne and Johannes!

A few years ago when I met Susanne at a library meeting in Indianapolis, I didn’t realize that one Thanksgiving Day we would wander the streets of Cadiz together. But that’s just what happened. Susanne is an Ohio native who now lives year-round in southeast Spain with her husband Johannes. This morning, they greeted us as we stepped off the ship and we spent the day exploring Cadiz - and occasionally reminding ourselves that it was indeed Thanksgiving Day.

5315f Cadiz street

This was their first time in Cadiz too, so we used the map to find our way around what may be the oldest city in Europe – more than 3000 years old. Cadiz, now with a population of 135,000, is where Columbus sailed from on his 2nd and 4th voyages. We wandered, window-shopped along the narrow streets, tasted a variety of tapas, visited a University of Cadiz library, and celebrated the holiday with some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
5321f M and Bjorners in Cadiz

Thanks to Susanne and Johannes for exploring Cadiz with us, for introducing us to tapas, for helping us with our Spanish, and for giving us a look at life in Spain.

Yours in wondering about the possibility of our lives in Spain,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

#81 Gobble Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving!

To celebrate Thanksgiving 2006, we will arrive in Cadiz, Spain on Thursday. There’ll be no parades or football for us this year, but the ship’s crew plans to offer up a traditional turkey dinner tonight (Wednesday) for everyone. Yum!

Those of you who’ve shared Thanksgiving dinner with Mary know there comes a point in the meal when she suggests we should all go around the table and list the things we’re thankful for. So I’ll start:
  • Calm seas
  • A port in a storm
  • Non-Navy showers
  • A quiet year for pirates 
  • Mature college students 
  • Food prepared by others 
  • Ropes to keep the library books on the shelves 
  • Cameras that start up quickly from the off position 
  • Batteries that last and last and last and last 
  • Friends who follow our travels and post comments to our blog 
  • Buses with bathrooms 
  • Clean drinking water 
  • Plumbing 
  • New daughters 
  • Old friends 

Happy Thanksgiving
Gobble, Gobble.
Don’t eat so much
You start to wobble!

Yours in thanksgiving,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

#80 $1300 to be the first off the ship

To raise money for a variety of charities around the world, the Students of Service organization held an auction. Here are a few of the auction items and the prices they brought. 
  • Luxurious bubble bath in the dean’s office: $300 
  • Cooking lesson with the ship’s chef: $250
  • Manually steer ship for 5 minutes: $525
  • Game of Risk with Dustin, the 4-year-old son of a professor: $100
  • Make the day’s announcements on the ship’s loudspeaker: $600
  • Inflatable globe used at all pre-port meetings: $875
  • Navigational map signed by crew: $1100
  • First off the ship in Fort Lauderdale: $1300
  • Sound the ship horn as we come into Fort Lauderdale: $60
  • Raise the American flag as we pull into Fort Lauderdale: $800 

Yours in wondering at the depth of the pockets of our fellow passengers,

Monday, November 20, 2006

#79 Our visit to Bosnia

We added another country to our list while visiting Croatia: Bosnia

The only road from our port in Dubrovnik to our destination in Split passes through a tiny sliver of Bosnia bisecting Croatia jutting to the Adriatic Sea. When our bus stopped there briefly, we stepped out and touched Bosnian soil, satisfying our rule that we must touch the soil to say we’ve visited a place. How this border oddity came to be, I do not know, but I suspect there’s a story.

Take a look at the long regular border between the US and Canada. Note the odd appendage of northernmost Minnesota, separated by water from the rest of the state but within the US border. There’s a story there about control of the presumed Mississippi headwaters. Let me know if you hear the story about the oddly configured Croatia / Bosnia border.
Yours in enjoying a good geography story,

Sunday, November 19, 2006

#78 Croatia is not a land of contrasts

Just as you’d be wrong to begin your next novel “It was a dark and stormy night…” you shouldn’t begin your description of any country “It was a land of contrasts.” Although India almost demands the “contrasts” introduction, Croatia does not. Croatia is not a land of contrasts. We spent 5 days driving and walking around a country slightly smaller in size than West Virginia. The Croatia we saw was a land of consistent pervasive natural beauty. Everywhere. All of it. Granted we did not visit Zagreb, the capital, in the area described as the “Iowa of Croatia.” But let’s ignore that disruptive detail for now.
5024f K at Makarska harbor

The entire Croatian coast is the most naturally beautiful landscape we’ve seen on our voyage. Combine southern California’s Mediterranean climate with Maine’s rocky coastal beauty, then remove almost all the people. That’s the Croatia we saw: quaint seaside villages, clean water and air, little traffic, no chain hotels or restaurants, mostly mom and pop stuff. We’re told it’s ‘hectic’ here in tourist season, but that’s relative. Most all the tourist hotels and shops are closed now because it’s the off season.
4943f M in Krka NP

We drove to the gorgeous Krka (buy me a vowel) National Park less than an hour from Split, the second largest city in Croatia, on a sparking new interstate highway, and had the park completely to ourselves. Other than Semester at Sea people, we did not see another soul for 2 hours there. All park facilities were closed for the season.
5010f Croatian coast
And did I mention it was sunny and 65 degrees all 5 days we were here?

Yours in enjoying natural Croatia’s consistency,

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

#77 Arrival in Dubrovnik

Hello all!

On Tuesday morning, we have just arrived in the fabulous port city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. We will spend 5 days exploring Croatia and will keep you posted as we can.

Yours in anticipation,

#76 The Turks love Ataturk

In lectures on Turkey history, we learn the rags-to-riches story of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. But it isn't until we arrive in Istanbul and see memorial after memorial dedicated to Ataturk that we begin to understand the ongoing love affair Turks have for “the father of modern Turkey” who died nearly 70 years ago.
  • Ataturk’s picture is on all Turkish paper money.
  • You fly into the Ataturk airport in Istanbul. Ataturk Street passes under the historic city aqueduct.
  • Street vendors make a business selling a single product: Ataturk photos.
  • Trophy shops sell Ataturk plaques with a 3D version of his face.
  • On a Times Square-like electronic billboard atop one of the city’s tallest buildings, a tightly cropped picture of Ataturk’s piercing eyes look down on the masses.
  • Grade schools put his statue by the entrance.
  • And each time we leave our ship, we pass a nautically themed Ataturk shrine in the port building.

4338f Ataturk flags and banner at Taksim
Friday marked the anniversary of Ataturk’s death. Mid-morning at the precise time of his passing, sirens sounded across Istanbul, all vehicles stopped where they were, drivers stepped out of their cars, city buses unloaded, pedestrians stood at attention, and for two minutes all of Turkey stopped in silent respect.

Towering temporary banners with Ataturk’s likeness were draped from many public and private buildings including the Conrad Hotel. Television stations inserted a small picture of Ataturk in the upper right corner of the screen all day long. Turkish soldiers stood at attention as an honor guard around a well known Ataturk statue surrounded by flowered wreaths. All flags flew at half staff. This impressive display makes me want to learn more about Ataturk.

Yours in researching Ataturk,

Sunday, November 12, 2006

#75 It's Istanbul, not Constantinople

We left you, dear reader, about a week ago speeding our way through the Mediterranean toward Turkey.

I’m happy to report that in Captain Roman’s capable hands and by kicking in that 3rd engine, we arrived in Istanbul right on schedule at 08:00 on November 7. Since then, we spent 5 glorious days in this city where Europe and Asia collide. Our ship’s port at the Karakoy Maritime Terminal left us perfectly positioned to explore this walker’s city. Using the light-rail public transit, the subway, the funicular, the ferry and our feet, we spent all our time exploring Istanbul and did not even travel outside the city. The Topkapi Palace, the Sancta Sophia, the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), the Hippodome, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, Taksim Square and the Kariye Museum are some of our favorite attractions.

We even spent a couple hours watching a new film called Iyi Bir Yil (A Good Year) with Russell Crowe. It was in English with Turkish subtitles which worked out well for us except when the conversations were in French and the subtitles were still in Turkish. Will someone tell us what Russell said at the end? We’re on the ‘road’ again now – heading toward Croatia.

Yours in enjoying our favorite city of the trip – so far,

Monday, November 06, 2006

#74 The end of summer

We’ve enjoyed our last summer day of the voyage.
0753 aft view

Those gale force winds in the Mediterranean brought some cooler temperatures. The pool has been emptied and sweaters have now replaced bathing suits on the pool deck. There have been times along the way (in Myanmar and in India) when we were wishing for cooler weather, but now that it has come with just a month left in our voyage, we are accepting the cooler weather with just a tinge of regret. Where did September and October go anyway?

On Sunday night, we left Alexandria nearly 24 hours behind schedule. We headed into the most turbulent seas of our voyage – which according to trip veterans, were not all that turbulent. All the books in the library were tied down and we secured everything in our cabins. Today, on Monday morning, we’re speeding along through mostly calm seas at over 23 knots toward Turkey.

Yours in hoping the fastest passenger ship in the world can make up some time before Turkey,

35 degrees 42 minutes North 27 degrees 24 minutes East

Sunday, November 05, 2006

#73 Extending our stay in Alexandria

It’s Sunday 17:40 and we’re still in Egypt.

We were to leave Saturday at 23:00, but just before departure, Captain Roman announced the Alexandria port was officially closed due to high winds, rough sea, and dangerous maritime conditions in the Mediterranean. Rumors are we’ll leave tonight into the turbulence headed for Turkey.

Yours temporarily in harbor,

#72 The city with THE library - Alexandria

On our voyage, Egypt is the only country where we stop in two ports. So although our arrival in our second Egyptian port, Alexandria, is not accompanied by the familiar routine of pre-port meetings and hoards of disembarking students, this is the port I’ve most anticipated. I make sure Bibliotheca Alexandrina anticipation fills the air in Cabin 5046. Our city orientation tour includes an afternoon stop at THE library. So we first “endure” four stops: 1) a centuries-old catacomb; 2) a treasure-filled museum; 3) an emperor’s palace; and 4) lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean near a fort built with stones salvaged from one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Once all that hooey was thankfully out of the way, then we could get down to business.
3929f Biblio panorama with text

3938f Locals visiting the library
How often do you get the chance to wait in line to enter a library? Kelly tells me that experience did nothing but heighten the anticipation for him and I’m sure the students agreed completely.

This library is a stunner. It’s built near the site of the original library founded in the 3rd century. The new building opened in 2002 with shelf space for 10 million items. The main reading room is eleven levels of open space overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It’s something of an international attempt to recreate the glory and scholarship of the ancient library.
3946f Biblio main reading room

They treat visiting librarians well, giving Erika and me (and Kelly) a private tour of the huge place led by Sherine, a business librarian. So we heard all the info, good and bad, about this library but are inclined to only put the good in writing.
4107f Erika Sherine Mary

I’ve visited libraries in almost every port without encountering folks from our ship, but here in Alexandria, THE library was a center of Semester At Sea activity.

Yours in library heaven,

Saturday, November 04, 2006

#71 The Suez Canal

Here’s my running recount of our voyage through the Suez Canal:

05:50 – My alarm buzzes. I shut it off in our shade-darkened cabin and snooze for an extra 10 minutes.

06:05 – I’m on the 7th deck forward, the sun is shining in my eyes, and people are convinced I’ve just missed the best sunrise of the entire voyage by about 10 minutes. Weak sauce. We were scheduled to enter the southern end of the Suez Canal at 06:00, but we’re sitting dead in the water at the same spot we anchored last night. More weak sauce.

08:25 – Per (say ‘Pair’) Abbe, the MV Explorer’s Swedish safety officer arrives 7 forward and tells me we’ve been reassigned to the 10:00 Suez ship caravan and won’t be going anywhere until then. Cameras in hands, we chat as he explains in halting English that passing through the Suez is a badge of honor for a seaman and this will be his first time through. I sense he’s as excited as me about the day ahead. Back when the canal opened in 1869, the opera Aida was written just for the occasion.

08:30 – I sprint back to room 5046 for some snuggle time with Mary and find her leaving for breakfast. Weak sauce.

09:55 – Captain Roman fires up the main engines and the MV Explorer falls in line with our ship convoy to enter the mouth of the Suez Canal. The canal has no locks since there is no change in elevation along its 87.5 nautical mile route between the Red Sea and Mediterranean.

10:05 – The southern end of the canal is green and lush on the west bank with palm trees and resorts while the east bank is desert sand from water’s edge to the horizon. Looking ahead, I see at least 4 ships in our convoy headed north. The Suez main channel is not wide enough to allow large ships to pass in both directions. So convoys headed south pull aside and anchor at Al Ballah Canal and Great Bitter Lake where they await northbound convoys to pass before resuming their southbound journey. The logistics of this waterway dance are the subject of academic research papers intent on maximizing canal throughput.

10:48 – We pass under the only power lines we’ll see crossing the canal in its entire length. The lines were built in 1998 and are carried above the canal by twin steel towers over 220 meters tall. Three horizontal arms carry the power lines, and a fourth arm below serves as a safety net to catch a fallen line to avoid blocking the canal. Each day Egypt collects around $3 million US dollars in canal tolls. Blocking the canal with fallen wires = bad. The MV Explorer’s toll for our 11-hour voyage is over $160,000 USD.
3815f Power lines crossing Suez
10:54 – We’re guessing these green boxes are bridge sections positioned to be easily dumped into the canal and connected to form a pontoon bridge. But that’s only a guess. We see similar installations all day long.
3817fSuez  pontoon bridges
11:10 – On the East bank, an endless line of tank trucks wait their turn to board a ferry to the West bank. Same story on the West bank. The ferry times its departure based on our speed so it can skirt our ship aft mid-canal and completely clear the waterway just before the next ship in our convoy arrives.
3827f Suez tank truck ferry
11:18 – We’re passing a West bank checkpoint with a flashing electronic signboard displaying the canal time and status. We see similar installations all day long. Safety Officer Per is back on deck, camera in hand, distributing Suez Canal information sheets with all the facts and figures.

11:49 – It’s new. It’s in the desert in the middle of nowhere. It looks like a stage overlooking a huge asphalt parking lot. What is it?
3836f Suez unknown structure
12:39 – For Mary and all the other Captain Roman fans out there…here he gives a sexy wave to fishermen in a rowboat. Look closely. I think I caught Captain Roman wearing white nail polish. Weak sauce.
3848f Captain Roman waving on Suez
12:45 – I go to lunch and miss a bunch of desert and sand and stuff, but dessert is good.

13:55 – All day we passed forsaken military outposts likely manned by the lowest of the low ranking Egyptian military draftees. Their entertainment is giving shrill whistles and gesturing to passing ships. We respond with our best whistles, and they respond in kind until out of earshot. Sometimes they wave. Sometimes they stand rock still, quiet, holding rifles. This goes on all day and continues with a spooky resonance in the evening when the whistles come from dark invisible whistlers.
3851f Suez military outpost
15:33 – For 30 minutes, we can pick out a large structure ahead near the canal on a port side hill. Upon closer inspection, the monument with twin tapered stone columns is labeled “1914 Defense DV Canal DE Svez 1918”. It shares its lofty perch with military vehicles laden with complex antennas and missiles. Through binoculars, we see evidence of damage where random chunks of the monument are missing at the base and along the shafts of both columns.
3859f Suez monument
15:56 – At Ismailia where the Suez joins with a canal spur to the West at Lake Timsah, the floral signs are welcoming. The same can not be said of the golden-pointed bayonet and gun barrel monument in the distance.
3860f Suez bayonet monument
16:26 – A railway parallels much of the length of the canal, but 20 km north of Ismailia the tracks cross the Suez via the El Ferdan Railway Bridge. It spans about 340 meters making it the longest swing span bridge in the world. A mirror-image of this east bank structure sits on the west side, and both pivot over their central axes to span the canal. This structure completed in 2001 replaced one destroyed in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967.
3874f Suez rail bridge
16:35 - We’re losing our light, picturesquely.
3865f Suez sunset
16:51 – We’re deer in the headlights of the southbound convoy anchored in the Al Ballah Canal at dusk waiting for us to pass.
3877f Al Ballah Suez
17:37 – It’s dark as we pass under the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge at El Qantara. With 70 meters of clearance above the canal, the MV Explorer’s mast passes safely under, and we hear the echo of our exhaust reverberate from the underside of the bridge.
3886f Egypt Japan friendship bridge Suez
18:00 – The crew prepares a special outdoor dinner on deck 7 aft with salmon, steak, sausage, baked potatoes, salads, vegetables, and more desserts than I can count.

18:05 - As the lights of the bridge at El Qantara fade into the distance, I see Per, camera in hand, looking back down the length of the canal, smiling.

As we wrote on September 7, sailors who pass through the Suez Canal are awarded the Safari to Suez. Now I know passengers who pass through the Suez Canal are rewarded with an experience of the few and sights seldom seen.

Yours in smiling through the Suez Canal,

#70 The pyramids and more…

At dawn Halloween morning, we bundle against a cold desert wind and watch the sun rise behind the pyramids in Egypt.
3526f pyramids at sunrise

Four hours later when we leave the pyramids, we can check these things off the life list:
• See the pyramids
• Touch a pyramid
• See a policeman riding a camel
• Hear a policeman yell Andele’ to make his camel run faster
• See the sphinx
• Sit in a metal folding chair and take pictures of the sphinx in the foreground and pyramids in the background
• Obtain a thin layer of windblown sand over every square inch of our persons

One odd thing about Egypt is 92% of the land is desert. And the line between desert and non-desert is striking. On one side of the street are grass and palm trees, and on the other side is endless desert that stretches as far as you can see. Now the pyramids are really in the desert, but they are just across the street from non-desert. So if you stand just east of the pyramids and look west, all you see are pyramids and endless desert. But if you stand just a half-block farther east, then you are in our hotel parking lot looking across the street at the pyramids and endless desert.
3458f pyramid from hotel

3712f Librarians at Cairo library
Had Mary written this blog entry, she might have put our personal tour of the Greater Cairo Public Library ahead of the pyramids. Sure, a personal tour of the historic library led by the long-time library director in a magnificent former palace building on the banks of the River Nile is for sure no weak sauce. But I put it second.
3703f Cairo public library exterior

Yours in saving the best for last,