ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 24

November 27, 2018 – Sydney Australia

Day1:  Sydney, spectacularly draped around its glorious harbour and beaches, has visual wow factor like few other cities.Scratch the surface and it only gets better. We are almost all on deck as we sail into Sydney Harbour for some of the best views of any port we have docked in.

Of course the most recognizable landmark in Sydney is the Opera House.  Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, this World Heritage–listed building is Australia’s most famous landmark. Visually referencing a yacht’s sails, it’s a soaring,commanding presence. The complex comprises five performance spaces for dance,concerts, opera and theatre. There is ongoing renovation work, scheduled to be completed in 2021, but we did not notice any of the work.

The ms Amsterdam is a small enough vessel that we are able to sail under the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, unlike the massive Royal Caribbean ship, Explorer of the Seas which you will see in some of the pictures above.

Sydneysiders love their giant ‘coathanger’ (Harbour Bridge), which opened in 1932. The bestway to experience this majestic structure is on foot. Stairs climb up the bridge from both shores, leading to a footpath on the eastern side (the westernside is a bike path). Climb the southeastern pylon to the Pylon Lookout or ascend the arc on the popular but expensive BridgeClimb.

The harbour bridge is a spookily big object – moving around town you’ll catch sight of it in the corner of your eye, sometimes in the most surprising of places.Its enormous dimensions make it the biggest (if not the longest) steel arch bridge in the world.  The two halves of chief engineer JJC Bradfield’s mighty arch were built outwards from each shore. In 1930, after seven years of merciless toil by 1400 workers,the two arches were only centimeters apart when 100km/h winds set them swaying.The coathanger hung tough and the arch was finally bolted together. Extensive load-testing preceded the bridge’s opening two years later.  It is a sight to see.

We have been to Sydney a few times before, so we were not as excited about seeing the sights but rather happy to be meeting up with our friends Gary and Chris O.  It was so good of them to pick us up at White Bay Cruise Terminal and take us out for a walk about of the city.

We parked the car near St Mary’s Cathedral and started off from there.  Parking near downtown Sydney is expensive -$10.00 per hour.  We were gone for 4hours, so yikes $40.00! 

Our path took us around the Opera House, through Darling Harbour and into an area called “The Rocks”.

Sydney’s oldest colonial neighborhood, The Rocks is a warren of atmospheric sandstone warehouses, quiet courtyards, and cobbled alleys on the western side of Circular Quay. The birthplace of modern Sydney, this was where the First Fleet of British colonists and convicts stepped ashore in 1788. Enjoy spectacular views of Sydney Harbour Bridge looming over this historic district, and Sydney Opera House opposite. The oldest remaining building is 1816-founded Cadmans Cottage, beside the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), a handy starting point for a walk around the area’s 19th-century buildings, heritage pubs, cafes,shops, and galleries.

The Rocks was a destination because the last time we were in Sydney, we went to a beer festival there and had pizza at the Australian Hotel.  Not just any pizza mind you but Karen loved a tandoori chicken pizza with mango chutney and mint yogurt dressing on top.  We had to go back and try it again!

While it was good, they have changed the recipe and it was not as we remembered it.  We actually liked the kangaroo meat pizza better and the local brew was excellent.

Some great sights on our walk back to the car but again, we were enjoying the company of our friends mostly.

A drive over to Manley Beach which is one of Sydney’s most famous surf spots just to re-acquaint ourselves. It is a huge sweep of golden sand backed by pretty pine trees. It’s actually three beaches in one—South Steyne, North Steyne, and surf-friendly Queenscliff, stretching almost two kilometres—and is the first of the city’s Northern Beaches which run from here up to Palm Beach.

The real destination was to the North Heads, a scenic spot on the cliff side from which to get great views of the city.

Luckily the weather was very cooperative today,although not as hot as Sydney can get at this time of year.  Our next stop and the one we have really been looking forward to is to Gary and Chris’s house!  They are such wonderful, warm people and both are excellent cooks, have great taste in wine and love to entertain.  It was a fantastic evening!  Thanks to our very good friends!


Day 2 – Oh dear, the weather has become very nasty. We are being pelted with sheets of rain and they are forecasting a month’s worth of rain in one day!

However, not to be deterred, Chris and Gary show up to take us first to an aboriginal art studio named Kate O Gallery where we were introduced to a large variety of original art that ranged in price from a few hundred dollars to over a million dollars! It really was spectacular!

Braving the rain, we went for lunch to an Israeli restaurant called Kepos & Co. with a very unique menu.  The food and wine were exceptional and we really enjoyed the hummus made fresh at the table and warm bread baked in their wood fired oven.

As our time was winding down, we took Gary and Chris on board the ship for a tour (pre-arranged) as they have never yet sailed.  It was a lovely way to finish our visit, showing them where we are living for our 82 day experience.

Sadly, we bid them farewell as we prepared to sail away from Australia and start our South Pacific journey back home.  As the weather was not very favourable today,we experienced some rather rough seas…the worst we have had so far on our journey.  It was interesting watching the small pilot boat navigate 20 – 30 foot swells.  Our evening entertainment was also cancelled because of the motion of the ocean.

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 23

November 25, 2018 – Mooloolaba Australia

Our first time to the Sunshine Coast in Australia and a port of call that is on many ship itineraries but rarely do they actually get into port because it is a tender port where they use a couple of the ship’s lifeboats to ferry passengers into town.  The swells can get quite high there and it becomes too dangerous to run the tenders.

In our case, it looked like we would make it and I was invited along for a round of golf.  I was quite excited about this because I hadn’t played in the last couple of months and I have never played golf in Australia.

Unfortunately, just before anyone disembarked the ship, the Captain announced that we were abbreviating our stop in Mooloolaba by 2.5 hours.  This made it too tight to get in a round of golf and so the decision was made to cancel golf and perhaps try for another port of call.

What was a huge disappointment turned out to be a delight!

Mooloolaba sits on a spit of land between an international standard marina on the Mooloolah River and beautiful ocean beaches with great surf that the Pacific Ocean has to offer.

Visitors can enjoy the intimate restaurants, shopping, sparkling white beaches with highly patrolled areas for swimming and surfing, walks along the boardwalk and through tropical foliage. The town – with approximately 17500 residents – is situated approximately 100 km (1 hour) from Brisbane.

The ship’s tender dropped us off at Mooloolaba Wharf, one of Mooloolaba’s best drawcards. If you’re into boats then it is a great place to wander about and pick out your dream cruiser or yacht. If boating’s not your thing then content yourself with a wander around the great clothing and specialty shops. There’s also a variety of restaurants and bars to choose from which offer great al fresco dining.

 

We started off with a stroll along the waterfront and made our way to the Mooloolaba Esplanade which is a shopping destination and is the perfect place to go in search for the perfect cup of coffee, lunch, bathing suit or special dress. There’s a variety of clothing boutiques offering fashions from Australia and around the world. There are also specialty jewellery stores, galleries and specialty stores selling homewares and gifts.  After some retail therapy, we opted for one of the many, many restaurants and in this case a coffee and wine bar.

A lovely lunch of some tapas and a nice cold glass of white wine before we had to start back, along the spectacular beach toward the Wharf to catch our tender.

 

Mooloolaba Beach is one of the most picturesque on the Sunshine Coast with its clean, white sands and azure waters. The beach is patrolled every day of the year by lifeguards and is perfect for those a little more timid in the sea as the waves aren’t too big. The beach is the perfect hang out as long as you remember the sunscreen!

 

True to the Captains best judgement, the seas were significantly rougher on the ride back to the ship and we were happy it wasn’t worse at that point.

Now for a day at sea before we arrive in Sydney, home to our friends Gary and Chris who we are excited to visit with.

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 22

November 22, 2018 – Cairns Australia

What started off as a goldfields port out in the swamp is today one of Australia’s best cities. Cairns lies nearly 1,200 miles north of Brisbane and is a city where nature meets concrete. The rainforest and human civilization co-exist gracefully. Pronounced “Caans”, Cairns is a great starting point for those interested in exploring northern Queensland which is raw and wild, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

It is well known as a base for those interested in sports and activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, boating, parasailing, hiking through the rain forest, etc. Wildlife is one of Cairns’ main attractions for tourists. The rain forest is home to some incredible flora and fauna including animals such as wallabies, gray kangaroos, crocodiles, snakes and even poisonous jelly fish. In fact, the jelly fish is so lethal that for half the year, some of the most stunning beaches in the area are cordoned off from the public and swimming isn’t allowed. The wildlife, the forests, and the activities on offer here make Cairns the perfect spot for tourism marketers to sell to tourists. The fact that it is in such close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef also helps.

Our activities in Cairns were at the invitation of our table mates, John and Margaret, who although originally from Australia, now live in Calgary.  They had rented a car and were driving up to Port Douglas via Kuranda and invited us along.  Since John was used to driving on the left side of the road, we thought that was a good option.

The drive to Kuranda was very nice…a windy road through the forest and the town itself was like a Waskesiu, a small resort town with lots of shops and cafes.  We did a quick walk through and stopped for an Aussie Meat Pie.  I had the steack and kidney pie and I must say it was excellent.

Cairns 1

We stopped at the Barron Falls which in normal times is a raging river with spectacular falls through the deeply cut gorge.  Unfortunately, Cairns and area has had a severe drought and as a result, the spectacular falls turned out to be a small version of its former self.  The gorge was very impressive.

I don’t think this wild turkey realized it was American Thanksgiving…

We followed the coastal road up to Port Douglas and the scenery was amazing!  Being landlocked in Saskatchewan gives me a great appreciation for the ocean and the magnificent views we saw along the way to the beachfront town.

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However, now we are ready for some beach time at Four Mile Beach!  In the pictures below, you will see a “roped off” area in the water.  This is the safe swimming zone as box jelly fish are known to infest the waters.  These nets around the area keep the stingers out of danger for people in the water.  It was low tide and the water was not very deep and very warm.

Look out point:

Compared to Sydney, Cairns is very laid back and easy going. There are several bars, pubs, restaurants, smaller eateries, cafes, and social hangout spots to cater to the hungry and thirsty tourist. One sight that we could not miss out on when we were back in Cairns is the stunning 3 km Esplanade boardwalk.

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The ship is docked downtown so access to the Esplanade was very easy.  It was also docked right next to Hemingway’s Brewery and since all aboard wasn’t until 8:30PM and the night was so lovely, why not enjoy a local brew and some snacks!

A couple of days at sea next and then Mooloolaba, Australia!  Yes, there is such a place and we are looking forward to it!

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 21

November 18, 2018 – Darwin, Australia

Darwin 1G’Day Mate!  We have finally reached Down Under.  Our first stop is Darwin.  For me, the Japanese air raid after Pearl Harbour is what Darwin is most famous for.  If you ask the locals, they would say the perfect weekend is going fishing for barra (barramundi) in a tinny (small boat) with an esky (cool box) full of beer.  There does seem to be a plethora of pubs and restaurants.

There are a variety of sights and activities to do in and around Darwin, from crocodile performances to national parks, giant termite hills and botanical gardens.  We chose to do none of those at all.  Instead, since my camera is still not working, we hunted down a camera shop in the hope of getting it fixed.  Unfortunately, the one person there (it was Sunday) tried very hard to help but to no avail.  It seems that the shutter curtain is locked down…I’m hoping that perhaps in Sydney I might find some help.

Feeling sorry for ourselves, Karen opted for some retail therapy and after, we decided a nice lunch overlooking the water would be just the thing.  Off to Stokes Hill Wharf for a nice feed of Barra, calamari and fresh oysters accompanied by a lovely bottle of southern Australian Yulumba Pinot Gris and that completed our short but enjoyable stay in Darwin.

Next stop is Cairns…we better decide what we want to do there soon.  Cheers.

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 20

November 16, 2018 – Komodo Island, Indonesia

Enter the Dragon’s Lair!  Komodo island, part of the Lesser Sunda chain of Indonesian islands, is the rugged habitat of the 3m-long Komodo dragon monitor lizard. Komodo National Park covers the entire region and is home to more than 4,000 dragons, and is made up of rusty-red volcanic hills, savanna and forests. Its surrounding waters of seagrass beds, mangrove shrublands and coral reefs are famous for diving.

Originally established to protect the giant lizards that share its name, today Komodo National Park preserves all species of vegetation and wildlife found on its 29 islands, where the biodiversity has earned it World Heritage Site status. On the rugged slopes and open savannas of the three largest islands, Komodo dragons live alongside buffalo, deer, monkeys, snakes, and many colorful species of birds. Many of the local islanders still live in traditional stilted dwellings, around which goats and chickens scratch.

We have a short stop on Komodo Island with the only purpose to see the Komodo Dragon.  We anchor off shore and around the ship are several small “boats” manned by small boys who are supposed to be learning to be fishermen but are actually just begging.

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The ship used some of the lifeboats to tender into shore arriving at a rickety, old wooden dock.  Not sure how many people could be on the ramp at any one time, but it held.  From here we met our guides, one of whom carried a long stick with a fork in it (see below).  This was the protection from the Komodo Dragons.  Apparently, they are very sensitive around the head area.

Komodo Island 5

The weather was extremely hot and very humid, so hydration was key to staying upright.  I had opted for the long trek around the island in search of the elusive lizards.

Known as oras to the roughly 2000 local Muslim Bugis fishermen, this prehistoric monitor lizard pretty much has the lay of the land. Because the locals don’t eat the abundant Timor pigs – the dragons’ main food source (alongside deer and water buffalo) – the reptiles have been left to flourish. It also helps that the Komodo dragon is enshrined in ancient folklore, stemming from an old legend that tells of a man falling in love with a dragon princess, who gives birth to twins: a human boy and a female komodo dragon. The story paints the animals and native humans as kindred spirits, and thus should live in harmony. The fact the Indonesian government banned hunting them in 1915 may have also had something to do with the reptile’s long-term survival

The island itself is very arid, almost desert like and we saw no dragons during the hike until we arrived at the man-made watering hole.

They pipe in water quite away for this.  So, seeing the Komodo Dragons is really a staged event.  However, even so, it was quite impressive to see these prehistoric animals.

Despite all the warnings to stay hydrated, there was one passenger that collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.  She was fine once she cooled down but it happens quite frequently on this tour.

Back to the rickety old dock, onto a tender and settled back aboard the ship.

That ends the “Asia” section of our cruise.  Next stop is Darwin, Australia and the start of the “Pacific” segment.

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 19

November 16, 2018 – Bali, Indonesia

Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, and resorts, great and small, but it’s the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat. It is possible to take the cliché of the smiling Balinese too far, but in reality, the inhabitants of this small island are indeed a generous, genuinely warm people. There’s also a fun, sly sense of humour.

This is certainly the case with all the Indonesian staff and in particular our dining room host and waiters.  They are so willing to talk about their homeland and what to see and do and in the end, we hired our waiter’s brother Agus, to tour us around Bali.  He is a tour guide on Bali complete with his own lovely 7 passenger Mazda vehicle and since there were 4 of us on our own private tour, the $150 he charged for the entire day was a good deal!

We gave him a list of a few things we wanted to see on Bali but a must for us was Tanah Lot Temple, one of Bali’s most important landmarks, famed for its unique offshore setting and sunset backdrops.

Really not all that far from Benoa where the ship docked, we were lucky that it only took us an hour to reach the temple.  The traffic was incredible and not as bad as it can be!

An ancient Hindu shrine perched on top of an outcrop amidst constantly crashing waves; Tanah Lot Temple is simply among Bali’s not-to-be-missed icons. The onshore site is dotted with smaller shrines alongside visitors’ leisure facilities that comprise restaurants, shops and a cultural park.

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After centuries of large waves persistently crashing at its rock base, Tanah Lot faced the constant threat of erosion, reaching a significant decline in 1980. The authorities carried out preservation efforts to Tanah Lot and other historical sites island-wide. Fully restored, a third of the present Tanah Lot is actually artificial rock. At high tide, waves flood the causeways making it impossible to cross.  We were lucky that we were there at low tide.

It was at this point when my camera stopped working.  I think it was a combination of both the heat and humidity that took its toll.  I am only hoping that somewhere along the line I can get it repaired!

At low tide, which was the case when we were there, we crossed to view the rock base to the Tirta Pabersihan fountain. This natural spout is the source of holy water for all the temples in the area. Priests at the fountain bless visitors by sprinkling holy water over their heads. You can cup your palms and take a sip to prove it is apparently fresh water.  I didn’t drink from the fountain but was welcomed to wash my face with its holy waters.

I thought perhaps this was something arranged for the tourists but our guide also performed the same ceremony.  Also, because of the low tide, we were able to visit a small cave where a sacred snake was being kept.  For a small “donation”, we were able to touch the sacred snake and be blessed with good fortune…I should have done that before my camera crapped out!  Pictured below is our friend Margaret touching the snake and then, I followed suit.

Onshore temples include the Penyawang, a spiritual proxy to Tanah Lot that hosts pilgrims when the main offshore temple is inaccessible during high tide. Other smaller temples around the site host prayer sessions for various aspects of the villagers’ agrarian life, from good rice harvests to rites of passage.

North of Tanah Lot is Batu Bolong, similarly built on a rock formation with a ‘hollow’ overpass linking to the mainland.

Convenient pathways and well-kept tropical gardens line the grounds from Tanah Lot to Batu Bolong, with resting spots offering shades and good viewpoints to both outcrops.

From Tanah Lot, we had really wanted to go see the Tegallalang Rices Terraces north around Ubud, but given the amount of traffic (now even worse), we opted to stop at some of the roadside rice paddies for a look.

When I think of Bali, I think of beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters.  So, off to the beach at Nusa Dua we went.  It was a lovely beach but honestly, I expected nicer. We have access to nicer beaches in the Caribbean and Hawaii without travelling the distances from Canada.  Having said that, Bali does have much to offer.

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Lunchtime!  We did not want to go to a tourist restaurant but rather an authentic Indonesian restaurant for some local food.  After some time driving, we ended up at Warung Bakas for the traditional Babi Guling (suckling pig) that came with spicy soup, rice and spicy beans.  A large, cold local beer was needed to put out the fire!  We asked for local and got it!

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We are now in search of a Batik shirt that I need for supper in a couple of nights.  While I was not able to find shirt to fit me in two different markets (I didn’t think I was that large), Karen was able to find lots of different things to buy!

Our time is running out, so we do a quick stop at what our guide said was their largest monument for a couple of quick pictures, then one last market to try at Kuta Beach (a very busy tourist beach and market).  Success!  A shirt that fit for a hefty price tag of $10 (lol).  Pictures of new shirt to follow after Komodo Island.

Our final stop in Bali was for a traditional Balinese massage.  We were greeted with cups of cooled green tea before going up to the treatment room where we both had our feet Bali 41cleansed/massaged in aromatic water.  Up onto the table for an exceptional full body massage although it freaked me out when she climbed onto the table to get better leverage.  An hour of bliss and then washed down with a wet towel.  Finally, a cup of ginger tea before heading back to the ship to sail away from Bali.

Thanks again for travelling along with us.  Read about our dragon experience in the next blog!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 18

Located on the north coast of Java right about its center point is the busy port city of Semarang…the city where we are docked. Although not as well known as other cities, Semarang is the Capital of the province of Central Java. We are greeted by beautiful dancers accompanied by traditional local musicians.

 

 

According to history, Semarang was given by the Sultan to the Dutch East India Company, in 1708, from which time this town was built into a Dutch enclave. For this reason, Semarang has an Old Town which was built during Dutch colonial times.

The port city of Semarang is a melting pot of beautiful architecture, rich history, delectable food, and colourful multiculturism. Borobudur, the majestic and world’s largest Buddhist temple, is a 105km scenic car ride away. It’s the only sightseeing we will be doing during our stop.

Located on the island of Java, the magnificent Borobudur temple is an ancient site widely considered to be one of the world’s seven wonders. The temple sits majestically on a hilltop overlooking lush green fields and distant hills. Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Syailendra dynasty, the temple’s design in Gupta architecture reflects India’s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian.

It covers an enormous area, measuring 123 x 123 meters. The monument is a marvel of design, decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The architecture and stonework of this temple has no equal. And it was built without using any kind of cement or mortar!

 

 

The temple has remained strong even through ten centuries of neglect. It was rediscovered in 1815, buried under volcanic ash. In the 1970’s the Indonesian Government and UNESCO worked together to restore Borobudur to its former majesty The restoration took eight years to complete and today Borobudur is one of Indonesia and the world’s most valuable treasures. The temple is decorated with stone carvings in bas-relief representing images from the life of Buddha. It is claimed to be the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world, unsurpassed in artistic merit.

 

 

The best way to explore this site is on foot. Our guide was able to walk us around the site and explain the history of the temple, beginning with its construction during the Syailendra dynasty. As we climbed to the top of this magnificent temple we marveled at the intricate detailed stone carvings displayed on the temple’s walls. It is said that Nirvana can be attained at the top of the Temple. I don’t think we experienced Nirvana but we did enjoy the magnificence of this Buddhist Temple and the beautiful surroundings as evidenced with the pictures below.

 

 

Luckily, we finished our tour and were heading down to the restaurant just as the skies opened up. We had both an umbrella and a rain poncho so we didn’t get too wet, but the rain came down in sheets.

The bus ride from port is about 3 hours long each way and it would be a lot worse if it were not for the police escort that our busses were provided for. Police lights on, sirens where necessary and traffic cops at major intersections facilitated an exciting and interesting bus ride each way.

 

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We are currently enjoying a day at sea before reaching Bali tomorrow. Some of you have asked what we do on our days at sea. Frankly, we are way too busy on our sea days by choice. For example, we start our day with a stretch class at 07:00. This is followed by an ABS class at 07:30. From there, a shower and breakfast after which (or before depending on the day), we walk on the deck where I try to get a 5 km brisk walk in before a talk by the ship’s guide on our next port of call (in this case Bali). At 11:00, we go to America’s Test Kitchen for cooking classes. Lunch at Noon. First guest lecturer at 1:00, work on this blog at 2:00, second guest lecturer at 3:00, Free time until 5:00 when it is time to get ready for supper. Supper at 5:30 – 7:30. A brief stop at the Piano Bar to hear a few tunes before the show (tonight are the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers with a tribute to the Rat Pack) at 8:00. At 9:00, we are beat and head back to the cabin to finish the blog and get caught up on emails. That’s a typical, wonderful day at sea…we are so spoiled not having to make our bed, or clean our cabin, or make our meals, or do dishes, or change our towels. The biggest decision of the day was really what to eat! We are very blessed to have this experience and do not take it for granted.

 

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