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Passionate about all things travel.

Semarang: City of Jamu

The largest port city of Central Java Province in Indonesia with a population of more than 1.5 million, Semarang is the main producer of Jamu which is why it’s called City of Jamu. You may be thinking, “What is Jamu?” A traditional Indonesian medicinal tonic, Jamu is made from herbs, spices, and fruits. I didn’t know this, however, until we returned home. I could kick myself when I travel somewhere and find out later I missed something major like this. When I read it’s on menus everywhere throughout Indonesia, I was stunned. How had we missed it?

Then when I saw the pictures and description, it looked and sounded so healthy and tropical, I was determined to give it a try. Since it’s not on menus here or sold in stores, I’d have to make my own. After considerable research, I settled on a recipe which I revised to substitute turmeric powder for turmeric root. I have no idea where to get turmeric root and I have the powder on hand. I created the recipe below then reduced the proportions down by 75% so I’d have 1 cup of Jamu rather than 4 cups just in case we didn’t like it.

FYI: I used the plastic squeeze container of fresh ginger rather than grinding my own. With turmeric powder and the fresh ground ginger, I didn’t have to strain my Jamu after simmering either.

Jamu simmering for 25 minutes

When it was done, I tasted it, added more lime juice and more honey, and tasted it again. I added still more honey but it didn’t help. I gave Jim a shot glass full. He took a sip and was noncommittal but he was in no hurry to finish it which spoke volumes.

Jamu

Apparently, the key word in the description was medicinal and I should have paid more attention to that word. It tasted strongly of turmeric with a hint of ginger. I didn’t taste much lime and I don’t think you could add enough honey to add sweetness. This concoction is widely used by Indonesians to maintain good health and I’ve read the medicinal properties are currently attracting even more attention as a preventative and/or remedy for COVID-19. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this view, anything that improves your immune system can’t be all bad–even if it tastes bad.

Jamu wasn’t the only thing we missed in Semarang. We missed much more because we hadn’t done enough research in advance. One port of many on a 19 day NCL cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel, we hadn’t booked an excursion in Semarang. The excursion to Borobudur, the largest Budhist temple in the world, appealed to us but the travel time on the bus was 2 hours each way and the cost was around $150 per person, neither of which appealed to us. It’s always a risk to book a private excursion even though the cost is lower since the cruise ship makes it clear they won’t wait for you if you’re delayed for any reason. Instead, we opted to explore the Old Town (Kota Lama) of the city on our own.

View of Semarang from the Norwegian Jewel
Containers, mosque, and refinery welcomed us to Semarang

Not realizing we couldn’t just walk from the ship, we were unhappily surprised to learn the cruise line had a deal with local taxis to drive us to Old Town. The cost was $40 for the four of us to go one way and round trip was an additional $40. We weren’t sure how long we would want to stay and we didn’t want to commit to meet the driver at a pre-arranged time so we declined the roundtrip option. The guy who worked the deal assured us we wouldn’t find a taxi later to return us but we decided to take a chance.

The driver, who spoke no English, dropped us at Blenduk Church in Old Town. Built by the Dutch in 1753 and remodeled in 1894, this Protestant church is the oldest in Central Java. The hundred year old pipe organ is still used in church services today.

Blenduk Church
Interior with pipe organ
Interior of Blenduk Church

The garden in front of the church provided welcome shade for tourists including these school girls.

Garden in front of Blenduk Church

As we looked around wondering which way to walk to see more of the Old Town, we decided to follow other tourists thinking they might know where they were going. We walked and walked in the heat and humidity but saw nothing which looked like Tawang Railway Station or Lawang Sewu, Thousand Door Building, the two historic sights we had hoped to see. We asked several locals along the way showing them our map but no one spoke English.

When we reached busy streets, we realized we’d left the Old Town and, rather than turn around and go back, we abandoned our plan to see more there.

We saw a western-looking hotel and decided to stop in for cold drink and hopefully, a wifi connection. Although no one in the New Metro Hotel spoke English, we were able to communicate our needs and soon we had a Bintang with wifi for a little over $3 each including tax and service.

Lobby in New Metro Hotel
Esqure Lounge at New Metro Hotel

Following our refreshments, we managed, in spite of the language barrier, to convey our need for a taxi to the staff at the front desk, no small task considering we also needed to obtain local currency to pay the taxi driver. Thankfully, the staff were very kind and helpful and before long the taxi appeared and returned us to the port. Amazingly, the return trip cost about $3 for the four of us.

We later talked to a young couple from Wisconsin onboard the ship who had booked a private excursion which broke down on the return. The bus from the cruise line’s excursion stopped to pick them up because the passengers on board chanted, “Pick them up, pick them up” until they stopped. They never would have made it back in time if that bus hadn’t stopped. What a great adventure story with a happy ending!

While we didn’t see much of Semarang, we did experience the bustle of a busy Asian city and the friendliness and helpfulness of the Indonesian people. Until next time, terima kasih (thank you).

Based on events from March 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Suksma Bali

We had arranged for a private tour on day 2 in Bali with Bali Paradise Tours as recommended by Toni and Brad, the delightful Australian couple we met in Darwin, Australia. Since we prefer to book directly with local providers, we were happy to learn about this independent tour operator.  The owner and guide, Wayan Yasa, was there to meet us as arranged and helped us narrow down our interests to use our time most efficiently. Although the island is small, the traffic is challenging and we didn’t want to spend the majority of our time in the vehicle. In the end, we left it up to Wayan’s best judgment and we were happy with the results.

We took off in Wayan’s large, comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle and headed first to the iconic Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park. Completed in August 2018 after 28 years of construction, this collossal monument of the mythical bird and national symbol of Indonesia, Garuda, ridden by the Hindu God Wisnu is decorated with kencana (gold), hence the name GWK Cultural Park. Taller than the Statue of Liberty and visible from many locations throughout Bali, the monument stands 121 meters (397 ft) tall and is reportedly the third tallest statue in the world.

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GWK statue from a distance

After we purchased our tickets for 125,000 rupiah each ($8.46), Wayan loaded us onto a golf cart for the ride to the statue. I’m not sure how far the monument was from the entrance to the park but the golf cart was a welcome relief in the blazing hot sunshine accompanied by high humidity. We didn’t complain about the heat but sunscreen, a hat, and water were absolutely essential!

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Jim, Lori, Wayan with our golf cart
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Lori, Jim, and me in front of the GWK statue
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GWK statue

Notice the use of black and white buffalo check fabric called Saput Poleng in the photo below indicating balance to create harmony according to the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda. (You can read more in my previous post here.)

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Interior of the monument
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Decorated entrance to the elevator

It’s possible to take the elevator up into the monument for a view of Bali from the top but the sign at the elevator indicated it was closed for maintenance during our visit.

The enormous cultural park also includes venues for events, an amphitheater, daily cultural performances, restaurants, and shopping but we were ready to move on.

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Leaving GWK Cultural Park

As we drove, Wayan told us he was the oldest child in his family. In Bali the oldest male or female is always named Wayan, Putu, or Gede; the second-born is Made, Kadek, or Nengah; the third child is Nyoman or Komang; and the fourth is always Ketut. (You may recall the Balinese medicine man in Eat Pray Love was named Ketut.) If the family has more than four children, they simply begin the rotation again. That information explained our experience upon disembarkation from our cruise ship. A number of guides offered us tours to which we responded, “We’re looking for Wayan; we booked with him.” Many laughed and reponded, “My name is Wayan” which, in retrospect, was probably true. We got quite a chuckle out of that.

I asked Wayan why we saw so much discarded rubbish everywhere. He responded that it’s actually much better than it used to be and it’s an issue of education. The people need to be taught not to discard their garbage on the roadways which is an effort the government is working on. In fairness, we did see many motorcycles carrying large loads of plastic bottles for recycling so there is an outlet for recycling. I mention this not as a criticism of Bali but to prepare other tourists. I’m always disheartened when I visit areas where the environment seems neglected and I was happy to hear about the government efforts in this area.

We stopped next at Lumbung Sari Coffee Plantation for a tour and a free tasting. Even Jim, who is not a coffee drinker, enjoyed several of the coffees, teas, and cocoa.

Tasting area at Lumbung Sari
Coffee beans at Lumbung Sari
Woman roasting luwak coffee beans
Assortment of coffees, teas, and cocoa for tasting

Lumbung Sari also serves the famous Luwak coffee which required a fee to taste but we were game to try it for a mere 50,000 rp ($3.40). Luwak coffee is made from partially digested coffee beans defecated by the Asian palm civet. Think “cat-poo-chino.”

Asian Palm Civet resting in a cage

Reputed to be the most expensive coffee in the world, it, honestly, didn’t taste any better (or worse!) than any other coffee but the idea of coffee made from poop is kind of a turn-off regardless of its reputation or cost. The employee accompanying us explained that the civets, which are nocturnal, roam freely around the coffee plantation and forage for coffee berries during the night and rest in the cages during daylight. When I later read treatment of the luwak (civet) is considered unethical because they are confined to cages and their diet is restricted to coffee berries to produce more of the kopi luwak (civet coffee), I was glad we didn’t buy any to take home. We did help the local economy, however, by purchasing another Bali coffee, mango tea, and cocoa to take home to our children.

Shop at Lumbung Sari
Lori and Jim shopping at Lumbung Sari
Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) purchased by another cruise passenger

We told Wayan the one “must see” on our list was a beautiful Bali beach. After all, isn’t that what Bali is known for? He took us to Padang Padang Beach which was also featured in the movie, Eat Pray Love. For a nominal fee of 10,000 rupiah ($.67) we entered the beach while Wayan waited for us in the parking lot across the street.

View from street level to the beach

As we descended the stairs to the beach, we were charmed by an added bonus, long-tailed macaques everywhere.

Lori descending the stairs to beach
One of many log-tailed macaques we saw as we passed through the temple on the descent

When we reached the beach, it was even better than the view from the street. Padang Padang, also called Pantai Labuan Sait, exceeded my expectations with the surrounding cliffs and jungle giving it a feeling of seclusion and intimacy. Reportedly one of the better surfing areas, no surfers were in the water while we were there, but the board rentals confirmed surfing was an option.

Padang Padang Beach
Looking at the street level bridge from Padang Padang Beach
Jim and me at Padang Padang Beach
Lori at Padang Padang Beach

We’ve visited many beautiful beaches around the world and I would place Padang Padang among the best. As we headed back up to the street level, we couldn’t resist more photos of the macaques.

Jim made a new friend
The climb tells you this was not a handicap accessible beach

After the heat of the beach, Wayan was waiting for us with cold drinks and aircon. What could be better than that?

Bintang break

We had an enjoyable day with Wayan. He was knowledgeable and personable and shared lots of interesting tales about his experiences as well as tidbits of his personal wisdom such as “No money, no honey,” meaning nothing is free. He also taught us a little Balinese language which is different from Indonesian. Suksma means thank you and mewali is you’re welcome.

Wayan and Jim

After Wayan delivered us back to the port, he called to ask Jim to come back for something he’d forgotten. Jim went out to meet Wayan and returned with a gift. Wayan presented him with the traditional male Balinese headgear, an udeng. Jim was surprised and thrilled.

Jim says suksma for his udeng

While we had only a small taste of Bali, it was a good first experience. I’ve read many tourists visit Bali only for the weather, beaches, and parties and never leave their hotel grounds. We experienced so much more than that. For all we experienced, Suksma, Bali. (Thank you, Bali.)

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Finding Balance in Bali

Prior to our visit, I pictured Bali as a serene South Pacific paradise with stunning beaches, volcanic mountains, lush jungles, fragrant tropical flowers, historic rice terraces, and Hindu temples. Honestly, I pictured something like Hawaii on steroids at a fraction of the cost. Admittedly, my expectations were influenced by the movie Eat, Pray, Love in which Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts, rode her bicycle along peaceful roads bordered by verdant, palm-covered landscapes, swam in inviting turquoise waters, and generally enjoyed life in a tranquil Shangri-la. As it turned out, some of my preconceived notions were confirmed but by the end of our brief 2-day visit, we were better educated.

Bali is actually in the Indian Ocean rather than the South Pacific. It is one of 6000 inhabited islands in the nation of Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world comprised of a total of 17,508 islands. In terms of population, Indonesia is ranked number 4 in the world with 267 million people dispersed throughout the islands and 4.2 million of them reside in the province of Bali. The island of Bali is the 11th largest in Indonesia measuring 230 miles (370 km) in circumference or 95 miles (153 km) from east to west by 69 miles (112 km) from north to south. It is roughly half the size of the Big Island of Hawaii. Of the 147 volcanoes sprinkled throughout Indonesia, 76 are active and 2 of those are located on Bali.

As our tender boat delivered us from the Norwegian Jewel to the cruise port in Benoa, Bali, we were immediately confronted with massive pollution in the bay.

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I was disappointed to discover Bali was not the pristine paradise I imagined. Seeing the debris reminded me of the television commercial for 4ocean, an organization started by two young surfers who saw the extensive plastic washed up on the shores in Bali and decided to do something about it. Although the organization has recovered 8,693,079 lbs worldwide since 2017, there’s plenty more where that came from. Go to their website and help if you can.

Fortunately, our poor first impression was countered by the traditional Balinese dancers who welcomed us to Bali. Following their performance, we were excited to experience more of this exotic culture on our bus tour to the Bali Terraces and Ulun Danu Temple.

Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world. In Bali, however, 83% of the population is Balinese Hindu, which is a blend of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, and pre-existing local beliefs including animism, the belief that everything has a soul or spirit. Throughout our tour, we observed how religion permeates all aspects of Balinese life and culture.

As we departed from the port and entered the city, we observed exotic architecture obscured by electrical wires; lots of signs, many of which had to do with the upcoming election; more debris; statues of Hindu gods; offerings to the deities; and congested traffic accompanied by roaring motors and blaring horns. Bali was, from beginning to end, an island full of contrasts.

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Balinese architecture

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Signs, traffic, and the ubiquitous KFC

The Titi Banda Statue on the outskirts of Denpasar was only one of the magnificent statues we admired. Rising 10m (33 ft) above the junction of several main roads, this massive monument depicts the mythical epic Ramayana in which Prince Rama rescues his wife, Sita, held captive by Ravana in Lanka.  Rama, aided by his monkey troops built the Titi Banda (stone bridge) to Lanka to mount the rescue attack. The photo below taken by my friend, Lori, from the bus is only a portion of this enormous monument.

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Titi Banda Statue along the road on the outskirts of Denpasar

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More statues along the roadway

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Debris along the roadside

From the windows of the bus, we saw Balinese offerings everywhere. Expressions of gratitude to the gods, these offerings vary in size from a grain of rice on a banana leaf to ornate towers of fruit, flowers, and sweets. The small daily offering called canang sari and banten are placed on small shrines or even on the ground. The shrine in the photo below held offerings to both the higher and lower spirits to ensure harmony and balance.  IMG_7559

Tall decorated poles, called penjor, also contained offerings. When I spotted an assortment of plain bamboo poles, I knew they must be the undecorated version waiting for ornamentation. The poles are decorated with coconut leaves, fruit, grain, and flowers for festivals or religious holidays and placed outside homes and businesses. Partway up the pole is a basket or platform where an offering is placed.

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Bamboo poles

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Penjor

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Penjor and offering

We noticed black and white buffalo checked fabric called Saput Poleng on umbrellas, wrapped around trees, and draped on shrines. The Balinese philosophy of Rwa Bhineda or balance is similar to Yin and Yang. It holds that in order to maintain harmony all things must be in balance. So white balances black, good balances bad, right balances wrong. The black and white of Saput Poleng embodies the essence of Rwa Bhineda.

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Saput Poleng

To break up the drive to the rice terraces and Ulun Danu Temple, we stopped for an unexpected tour of a traditional Balinese home compound where we learned about Balinese family life from our guide, Murya. Extended families live together and when sons marry, their wives move into the husband’s home. (My daughter-in-law can be grateful we’re not Balinese!) In such a warm climate, most living occurs outside so there are few walls but roofs keep out the frequent rain showers.

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Our guide, Murya, telling us about the family compound (notice the penjor behind)

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Balinese home

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Murya and family shrine

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Family members with drying rice in foreground

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Ceremonial pavilion

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I was looking forward to seeing the Bali rice terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop for photos and I was disappointed that all my photos were through the windows of the bus. The entire sustainable system of irrigation called the Subak System has UNESCO designation so all the rice terraces in Bali are included. A cooperative water management system of irrigation dating from the 9th century, Subak is based on the philosophy of Tri Hita Karan, which is to create harmony between man and god, man and neighbor, and man and nature.

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Rice Terraces

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Rice Terraces

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Rice Terraces

Nestled in the mountains surrounding Lake Bratan, Ulun Danu Temple is regarded as one of the most beautiful of the 20,000 temples in Bali. Erected in 1663 to honor Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, the temple consists of two small pagodas seeming to float on Lake Bratan. The mist rising over the pagodas added to the mystical quality of the experience.

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Entrance to Ulun Danu Temple

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Grounds at Ulun Danu

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Grounds at Ulun Danu

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Larger pagoda at Ulun Danu

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Two pagodas at Ulun Danu

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Lake Bratan

Following our visit to Ulun Danu, we stopped at Secret Garden Village for a typical sweet Balinese snack with tea.

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Balinese treats

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View from Secret Garden Village

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Trompe l’oeil at Secret Garden Village 

Most of us were quiet and sleepy during our return to the ship. I did take a brief video of the drive, however.

I admit I suffered from a bit of culture shock in Bali. Metaphorically, I expected a serene yoga retreat and got that plus a lively Zumba class.  In the end, the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda summarizes my experience. Finding your balance between rain and sunshine, noisy streets and contemplative temples, clear aqua waters and plastic pollution, will result in a harmonious visit. And above all, express gratitude.IMG_7943

For so much more in Bali including Balinese dance and a personal day tour with Wayan, check back here.

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Here Be Dragons: Komodo National Park

The old phrase “Here be dragons” historically indicated dangerous or uncharted territory and Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands with giant Komodo dragons roaming freely are dangerous indeed. Before our stop at Komodo National Park on our Norwegian cruise, we were warned of the dangers posed by the largest species of lizard. Stay with your group; don’t wear red; don’t visit during your menstrual period as they will attack the scent of blood. Although attacks on humans are rare, if provoked, the dragon can run up to 12mph and the venom from a bite can be deadly. By nature somewhat of a scaredy-cat, I approached this excursion with some trepidation.

In 1910, having heard sailors’ tales of large fire-breathing dragons, Lieutenant Steyn van Hensbroek, stationed on the island of Flores in the Dutch East Indies, visited the island, killed a specimen, and took it back to his headquarters for further research. In 1912, the newly discovered species was identified and named and by 1915 the endangered Komodo Dragon was protected by the Dutch government.

Although the Dutch colony declared its independence in 1945, it wasn’t until 1980 that the Republic of Indonesia established Komodo National Park consisting of Komodo, Rinca, and Padar Islands along with a number of smaller islands. The park was originally established to protect the Komodo dragon but its mission has expanded over the years to protect the entire biosphere. In 1986, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the national park is home to the remaining 5700 dragons living in the wild along with around 4000 human inhabitants who make their living mostly by fishing and tourism.

Our tour took us to Komodo Island but I understand national park tours are also available on Rinca Island. As we approached Komodo Island, the first of three ports we would visit in Indonesia, we were struck by the serene beauty confronting us.

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Indonesia

As we walked ashore, we were further stunned by the crystal clear water and colorful coral visible from the pier which explains why this area is also popular for diving.

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Coral visible from the pier at Komodo Island

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Sea Turtle visible from the pier

Tourists arriving on cruise ships can book excursions through their cruise line or independently from purveyors onshore but they must be booked in advance. No one is allowed to leave the ship without proof of a pre-booked tour of the national park. Taking no chances, we booked through the cruise line and met with others in group 4 as instructed.

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Entrance to the park

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UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Komodo National Park

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One of our guides trying to round up group 4

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Rofinus, our lead tour guide, and our third guide

We had 3 guides for our group; the lead guide provided commentary about the vegetation and other animals on the island in addition to the dragons; the other 2 guides carried large forked sticks which I assumed were for our protection if necessary. (I admit sticks didn’t provide me a great deal of comfort.)

It wasn’t long before we saw dragons. Fortunately, they seemed pretty lethargic in the hot sultry morning and I was grateful to have my fear somewhat assuaged.

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Komodo Dragon

When one of the dragons started to move, albeit slowly, guides went into action to make sure they stayed between the animals and tourists.

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Komodo dragon

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Dragon left of Jim

The Komodo dragon eats both live animals and carrion along with the occasional unfortunate hatchling dragon. Years ago, inhabitants of the island left the remains of their hunted deer for the dragons as a kind of offering. The adverse effect of this custom, however, was to draw the dragons closer to human-occupied areas. Today, hunting deer is prohibited (although poaching persists) and deer, as well as dragons, roam freely.

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Komodo Dragon

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Dragon on the left

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Dragon behind Rick and Lori

 

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Timor Deer

Following our guided walk, one of our guides directed us to the stalls of local vendors selling souvenirs, recommending one especially. Our friend, Rick, bought a souvenir but we stuck with tipping our guides as we’d brought limited cash from the ship.

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Souvenir stalls

Adorable children also flocked to us selling trinkets or asking for tips for photos. Who could resist them? Confronted with obvious need, we wished we had taken more cash ashore.

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Children posing for photos

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View of Komodo Island as we depart

Our visit to Komodo Island was one of many highlights on this cruise. I survived the experience but came away with my respect for these powerful beasts intact. By summer 2019 we were even happier we had chosen this excursion when I read the park would close to visitors by 2020 because of poaching and so many tourists were affecting the behavior of the dragons. Then by October 2019 the closure was revoked but limits would be placed on the number of visitors allowed in the park and the cost of admission would increase dramatically (some reports said $1000 but I haven’t confirmed this).

In yet another twist, as of this writing on 23 April 2020, the park remains closed for cruise ships until at least 29 May 2020, due to COVID-19.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Hooroo Down Under at Darwin

It would be an understatement to say Darwin is off the beaten path. Driving time from Sydney or Perth is over 40 hours and from our last stop in Cairns, it takes 25 hours to drive the nearly 1500 miles. By ship, it was supposed to take 2 days but because we turned back to Cairns due to a medical emergency, we ended up arriving late on the third day. Fortunately, we still had the evening and the next day to explore this tropical capital city of the Northern Territory.

The area was inhabited by the Larrakia Aboriginal people for more than 65,000 years before Europeans arrived on the scene in 1839. John Stokes, a surveyor aboard the HMS Beagle, named the harbor Darwin Bay after Charles Darwin but the town, founded in 1869, was called Palmerston until it was renamed Darwin in 1911. The discovery of gold in 1871 ensured rapid growth in the area.

A relatively young city of 140,000, Darwin has been rebuilt several times due to man-made and natural calamity. If you saw the epic movie Australia starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, you may recall the movie depiction of the bombing destruction of Darwin by the Japanese in 1942. Following WWII, the city was rebuilt only to be almost completely destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. As a result, today Darwin is one of the most modern cities in Australia.

When we arrived late in the day on February 23, 2019, we knew it would soon be dark, thus preventing us from seeing much of the city. We contented ourselves with a quick look around the Darwin Waterfront area followed by a cocktail at an Irish pub, Fiddler’s Green, so we could connect with their WiFi.

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Artificial beach keeps swimmers safe from crocodiles

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Darwin Waterfront District

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Norwegian Jewel at sunset from the Darwin Waterfront District

The following morning, we decided a Big Bus tour would be “The perfect way to discover and explore the tropical city.” (Big Bus brochure) Conveniently, the hop-on-hop-off bus stopped close to the cruise terminal at Fort Hill Wharf, so we boarded there. We climbed to the open-air upper level of the double-decker bus which felt exceedingly hot and sticky but it included a roof to protect us from the scorching hot sun.

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Big Bus Darwin

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The upper level of the Big Bus

After a drive through the CBD (Central Business District), we passed through the inner suburb of Larrakeyah, then near Mindil Beach before a stop at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). Admission was free at this cultural masterpiece but we elected to continue our ride to make sure we saw the entire route.

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Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Darwin was full of parks, green spaces, and coastlines with incredible views everywhere we looked.

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The Gardens, Darwin

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East Point Road on Fannie Bay

East Point Reserve is a popular area for both locals and tourists to enjoy the outdoors with coastlines, trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a lake, exercise equipment, and over 200 wallabies roaming freely.

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East Point Reserve

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East Point Reserve

The Reserve is also home to the Darwin Military Museum where the Defence of Darwin Experience, an interactive multimedia exhibit of the bombing of Darwin, is shown once daily.

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Darwin Military Museum

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Restored anti-aircraft gun emplacements at East Point Reserve

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Can you spot the wallabies?

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Lake Alexander in East Point Recreation Reserve

The largest single attack against Australia occurred on February 19, 1942, and to this day the bombing of Darwin is central to Darwin’s history. After 7 of 11 oil storage tanks were destroyed in the bombing, the construction of underground tunnels to store oil was initiated. Although the tunnels weren’t completed before the end of the war, today the tunnels are a popular tourist attraction.

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Darwin Oil Storage Tunnels

A fine example of tropical architecture, the Parliament House which opened in 1994 offers free guided public tours.

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Parliament House

We explored the CBD a bit where the canopy over the pedestrian walkway provided a welcome respite.

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Darwin Smith Street

The Palmerston Town Hall opened in 1883 and was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. The ruins have been preserved as a memorial.

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Old Town Hall, Darwin

The Yolngu people believe we all have spirits which they call mokuy. When someone dies   “the spirit must be sung through to the reservoir of souls from which it came, so it can return once more.” (Plaque near sculpture) Mokuy or spirits are depicted in the sculpture below. It is said if you’re nearby, they can be heard conducting their rituals at night.

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Mokuy sculpture by Nawurapu Wunungmurra

After enjoying the entire Big Bus route and some exploration on foot, we were ready to return to the Darwin Waterfront by way of the Sky Bridge.

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Entrance to the Sky Bridge

We decided to stop at Fiddler’s Green once more to spend the last of our Aussie dollars before saying hooroo (goodbye) to the land down under. While there, I noticed a superb dish of prawns delivered to the couple sitting across from us and I couldn’t help asking whether I could take a photo. They kindly agreed because Aussies are a congenial lot and we struck up a conversation. We especially enjoyed hearing about their daughter who plays semi-pro women’s Australian football. Coincidentally, Jim had enjoyed watching the women play just the night before on television.

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Prawns at Fiddler’s Green

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Laura, Lori, Toni, Bradley, and Jim

Toni and Bradley were in Darwin to see their daughter play football but they also mentioned that Darwin is a frequent departure point for Australians to visit Bali. When we said Bali was a port of call on our cruise, Toni gave us the contact information for Wayan, a self-employed tour guide. Look for more about our tour with Wayan in Bali in a future post.

Inevitably during the wet season, storms began to roll in as we chatted. By the time we returned to the ship we were soaked to the skin despite our ponchos.

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We chose this cruise mainly because it had more ports of call in Australia than other cruises. We arrived in Sydney on February 9 and departed from Darwin on February 24. While two weeks were not nearly enough time to explore all of this entrancing country,  we enjoyed a good sampling of the delights offered by the land down under.

We headed next to Komodo Island to see the dragons so don’t miss it!

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

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Cairns: Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

After a tender boat trip from our cruise ship to the port at Yorkey’s Knob, we boarded a bus for a 25-minute ride to the city of Cairns. When Jim noticed the sugar cane fields along the road, he asked the bus driver about them. We learned most of Australia’s sugar cane crop is grown in the state of Queensland and my later research revealed the majority of the raw sugar is exported making Australia the third largest sugar exporter in the world.

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Sugar cane fields

Cairns, (pronounced Kenz) considered the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, impressed us as a laidback tropical paradise with a small-town vibe despite its population in excess of 150,000. Since we had visited the Great Barrier Reef the day before, our plan for the day was simply to wander a bit in this tropical city and find a place with a view and wifi to sit for a while. The bus dropped us along the esplanade near the swimming lagoon where we began our exploration.

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Swimming lagoon

Opened in 1995, this 4800 sqm free salt-water swimming lagoon protects swimmers from nasty stingers which invade the area from November to May as well as the occasional crocodile.

Speaking of crocs, this baby saltwater crocodile held by an adventure park employee was intended to attract attention on the street and it did.  The area around Cairns is home to aggressive “salties” which can grow to 20 ft.

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Baby saltwater crocodile

We strolled over to the nearby Pier Shopping Centre and settled into a restaurant with wifi and views of both the marina and the mountains beyond.

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Wifi with a view

Once we’d caught up on our email and social media, it was time to move on and see more of the central business district of Cairns. Although the vast majority of storefronts housed operators offering Great Barrier Reef tours, Jim was intrigued by the shop offering didgeridoos.

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Didgeridoo shop

An ancient wind instrument traditionally used by Aboriginal peoples of northern Australia, the didgeridoo was originally made by termites hollowing out the trunk of a young living eucalyptus tree. Interestingly, termites are very sensitive to light which is why they eat the inside of the trunk rather than the exterior. Today didgeridoos are fashioned from a variety of materials including fiberglass, PVC, and various kinds of timber but eucalyptus remains the preferred material due to its hardness which produces the best sound.  The instruments sold in this shop were created by Aboriginals and sold for $200 to $2500 but they would ship them home for you. If you’d like to hear an authentic sample of traditional didgeridoo music, check out this YouTube video.

Soon after our visit to the didgeridoo shop, the rain began and quickly became torrential.

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Rain in Cairns

Since our exploration of Cairns was unexpectedly cut short, we dashed to the bus stop between downpours and rode back to Yorkey’s Knob where we hunkered down until it was safe to get on a tender boat for the return trip to our cruise ship.

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Boarding the tender boat

As we returned to our ship we could see the storm breaking in the distance.

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View from Tender boat at Yorkeys Knob

While Cairns didn’t get as much of our time as we would have liked, we were there long enough to learn it’s very tropical with lots of heat, humidity, and rain. That prepared us for our next port of Darwin which we expected would have a similar climate. Come back and check it out.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

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Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is at the top of many a bucket list. One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s largest coral reef, and the only living thing on earth visible from outer space, it’s no wonder it’s a top tourist destination.  Over 2 million tourists flock to the Great Barrier Reef each year and we were keen to join the throng before climate change destroys it. If you’re interested in the science about threats to the reef due to climate change, you can read the National Ocean Service report here.

Our cruise on the Norwegian Jewel in February 2019 offered two excursions to the reef. We definitely wanted to book a cruise line excursion because we wanted to safeguard our plan as much as possible. We didn’t want to take a chance on missing the opportunity to see this natural wonder. The first excursion, on day 6 of the cruise, departed from the port of Airlie Beach and the second left from Cairns on Day 8. My friend, Lori, and I studied them and decided to book the first excursion on Cruise Whitsundays from Arlie Beach. We thought if the first excursion ended up canceled for any reason, we’d still have a shot at the second one.

On the morning of February 18, we boarded our catamaran directly from the cruise ship for the 2 hour trip to the Outer Reef. With clear sunny skies and calm seas, we enjoyed the views from our boat as we sailed toward Heart Pontoon at Hardy Reef. Before our arrival, the staff on our Cruise Whitsundays ship instructed us about snorkeling.

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Our ride

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Snorkel instruction

When we arrived at the pontoon, we got in line for the semi-submersible ride right away. We figured the lines would be long and they were. Although we noticed shorter lines later in the day, we were glad to have the experience of underwater views before we snorkeled.

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Arriving at Heart Pontoon

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Semi-submersible

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Semi-submersible

Honestly, the views from the semi-submersible (think glass-bottom boat) were somewhat disappointing. The glass windows seemed dull and scratched and the views were murky. We saw very little color causing me to wonder if we were seeing bleached coral.

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Goliath grouper

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Coral as seen from the semi-submersible

Following our ride, we ate a tasty lunch prior to snorkeling.

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After lunch, we donned our stinger suits. Stinger suits are lightweight lycra suits provided by all tour operators to protect snorkelers from the venomous sting of the box jellyfish. While they’re not especially attractive, I daresay I look better in a stinger suit than a bikini.

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Jim and I modeling stinger suits

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Jim and Rick ready to snorkel

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Lori and I are ready

I researched underwater cameras before our trip, planning to take lots of underwater photos at the reef while we snorkeled. I bought one with good reviews at a reasonable cost. (You can see my camera on a strap around my neck in the first photo of the stinger suits.) I should have saved my money. The challenge of managing my snorkel equipment and take photos at the same time was beyond my abilities and I soon gave up.

Opinions about the snorkeling experience itself were mixed. I felt safer staying near the ropes and I didn’t see a lot of colorful coral. Jim, on the other hand, stayed out there until he had blisters on his toes from the flippers. He offered rave reviews. He saw lots of colorful fish and some color in the coral. His favorite, however, was watching the giant clams (Tridacna gigas) languorously open and close.

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Jim and I prepare to enter the water

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Jim and I in the water

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Snorkelers along the guide rope

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Lori snorkeling

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Photo of Jim and me from under the water

I think our experiences differed mainly due to skill level. For those who lack snorkeling ability, the underwater observatory offered views of lots of colorful fish with little or no effort.

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View from the underwater observatory

Upon reflection, I realize I had unrealistic expectations of the Great Barrier Reef. I expected to see what I see on nature shows and photos on the internet. Fortunately, I purchased a package of photos and I’ve shared several below. Enjoy!

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Overall, I would rate our experience at the Great Barrier Reef a 9. Although we didn’t see as much color as I expected, the reef was, nevertheless, amazing and it’s an experience like no other.

Based on events from February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

*Disappointment in Brisbane

As fires continue to rage across Australia, I gratefully think about our good fortune to have visited in February 2019 before the conflagration began. Coincidentally, I started writing this blog post in September 2019 just as the bushfires commenced. When my husband recently told me about a video of dead animals strewn along the roadway, (which I steadfastly refuse to view), I was finally spurred to action. I re-read my first draft of Disappointment in Brisbane while tearfully watching the morning news showing American firefighters cheered as they arrived at the Sydney airport.

Our opinions are certainly relative to the situation at hand, aren’t they? When I wrote this draft, I was focused on my disappointment because I couldn’t hold a koala. Today that seems silly. I would definitely choose another title now because, with new information, I appreciate and celebrate all surviving koalas without selfishly wanting to hold them. While I have no idea what future travelers will experience as they travel around Australia, I am inspired to record our experiences from February 2019.

Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the capital of the state of Queensland, but the most noteworthy fact to me was the opportunity to cuddle a koala at nearby Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the first and largest koala sanctuary in the world. I did my research prior to our arrival on day 3 of our NCL cruise and learned koalas can be held in only the 3 states of Queensland,  South Australia, and Western Australia. Our ship would not cruise near the other 2 states so this was our one opportunity to hold a koala and we signed up for the cruise line’s excursion to the sanctuary.

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I should have suspected a problem when our tickets contained a disclaimer to the effect that holding a koala was dependent on factors beyond their control. What that really meant is we would be there between scheduled holding times and it would be impossible to hold a koala. We arrived after all the tickets for the 9:30 photos were sold and departed before the 12:00 photo session.

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Needless to say, it was a disappointment. I wouldn’t have selected this excursion had the cruise line been honest about the activity. And, I definitely would have had my photo taken with a koala when we previously visited Featherdale Wildlife Park although we couldn’t hold them there. If you missed my post about our trip to the Blue Mountains, you can read about our visit to Featherdale here.

Although our plan to hold a koala was thwarted, we did see plenty of these adorable creatures and I especially enjoyed watching them munch on eucalyptus leaves which you can see in the video below. Just seeing a koala awake was a delight since they sleep 18-22 hours each day.

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A lucky visitor holding a koala

In addition to koalas, the sanctuary is home to kangaroos and wallabies. The mob below was taking it easy in the sweltering heat.

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Kangaroos at Lone Pine

Unlike the koalas, the roos roam freely with no restrictions while visitors wander about taking photos and hand-feeding them.

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Jim with Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Among the 70 species of native Australian wildlife found here, the platypus was one of my favorites. As we watched them dive and dart gracefully through the water, they almost seemed to be performing for us.

The bad-tempered Tasmanian Devil, the largest living carnivorous marsupial, is found only in the Australian state of Tasmania. Nocturnal by nature, this devil was sleeping during our visit.

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Tasmanian Devil

Likewise, the dingo was snoozing in the heat of the day.

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Dingo

Australia is also home to many colorful lizards, kookaburras, and large (creepy) bats.

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To date, over 1 billion animals have perished in the bushfires in Australia. Animals like the koala, kangaroo, platypus, wombat, and Tasmanian devil are found only in Australia and it would be tragic to lose these species. If you’re moved to take action to protect the animals and their habitat, you can help with a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

Following our visit to Lone Pine, our bus took us through the city, pointing out landmarks including traditional Queenslander homes. The distinctive architecture of the Queenslander from the mid to late 1800s included wide verandahs and was raised to protect it from flooding and to draw cool air from underneath.

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Queenslander home in Brisbane

We made a final stop at the Cliffs Boardwalk for panoramic views and photos of Brisbane before returning to the ship.

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*So now you know Brisbane was really not a disappointment. After all, who could be disappointed in a city that offers 300 days of sunshine a year? Cheers to Brisbane!

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

At Home on the Norwegian Jewel

I could live on a cruise ship except for the fact my son would hound me continually about my environmental footprint. And I agree, in theory, but ship life is so pleasant it’s easy to be selfish and forget about social responsibility for a few weeks each year. I also rationalize my behavior by telling myself NCL isn’t as bad as many of the other cruise lines. You can see the ratings here. So, we continue to cruise but we try to be environmentally responsible in other areas of our life.

Seven of our 19 days aboard the Norwegian Jewel were at sea which suited us just fine. We enjoy many of the activities offered on board but when we’re in port we feel obligated to explore onshore. On this cruise, we looked forward to having plenty of both.

My friend, Lori, and I began our first sea day by attending the Morning Stretch class at 7 AM followed by Fab Abs at 7:30 in the Aerobic Studio. We liked both so much, we began every day with the two classes unless we had an early excursion preventing us from being there. Jim often joined us for the stretching class, then went off to do his own thing while we developed our fab abs. Rick had his own fitness regimen which began much earlier than ours.

 

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Aerobic Studio in the Fitness Center

We fell into a routine pretty quickly. Following our workout each morning, our group met for breakfast in the area of the aft called the Great Outdoors, located outside the Garden Cafe. After a leisurely breakfast, we’d return to our stateroom to brush our teeth and change into swimsuits, then go in search of a deck chair in the shade. That was easier said than done with an aging cruise population, many of whom have also learned to prefer shade. At any rate, once we found a spot we settled in to read, people-watch, and doze. Often we could hear the musicians around the pool on Deck 12 from our lounge chairs.

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The Great Outdoors

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Lazing in the shade

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I’m not sure why we donned swimsuits to sit in the shade

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The pool area on the Norwegian Jewel

At lunchtime, we would join others in the buffet line at the Garden Cafe and find a table again at the Great Outdoors.

Some days we attended lectures regarding ports of call, excursions, or historical topics. A few of our favorites were the Great Barrier Reef, Darwin and Pearl Harbor, comments from the reef pilot, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, and Indonesian History and Culture. Lori and Rick also participated in some trivia contests and Jim went on the Behind the Scenes Tour of the ship where he was especially impressed with the machine that folded the beach towels.

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The reef pilot said the locals were friendly

Later in the afternoon, we would shower and dress for dinner, then rejoin one another to play bridge before we searched out our favorite table with a view at Azura for dinner.

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There was a lovely view even though it doesn’t show in the photo

The food was always well-presented and it tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Following dinner, if we had time before the theater show, we sometimes stopped by the casino to throw away a few pennies. I was surprised to learn very few slot machines allow a penny bet anymore. I had a $20 budget for the entire cruise so I didn’t bet more than one line in spite of common wisdom which claims you have to bet more to win.

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I had a hard time finding a slot machine which would accept a penny bet

If time didn’t allow, we headed directly to the show, which we enjoyed almost every evening. Generally, photos aren’t allowed during the show but I captured the few exceptions.

After the show, it was generally, back to our staterooms for bedtime where we usually found a towel animal waiting to bid us goodnight. Then, the following morning, we would begin our routine over again.

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A few exceptions to our routine inevitably occurred. Jim and I explored the bridge on this cruise, something we haven’t done before.

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Good to know someone is steering the ship

We never miss an opportunity to enjoy free drinks and appetizers at the Latitudes cocktail party.

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Not all of those cocktail toothpicks were mine

Early on the morning of February 21, I encountered a woman on the elevator up to the 12th deck for my stretching class who asked me why the ship had turned around. I had no idea and inquired what made her think we’d turned around. She explained she’d seen it on the television channel which shows our route and progress. Sure enough, in the night we headed back to Cairns due to a medical emergency. IMG_7083.jpeg

We watched from the window of our stretching class as the patient was lifted aboard a hovering helicopter. Later, we learned the announcements we’d heard the prior evening requesting the reef pilot report to the captain were so he could safely guide us back through the Great Barrier Reef.

Then the following day, the starboard side of deck 7 was closed off. We found out a small fire had been extinguished in one of the lifeboats. Yikes! I suspected a flicked cigarette may have been to blame.

On the 25th, we celebrated Lori’s birthday with dinner in a specialty restaurant and birthday cake.

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Without a doubt, however, nothing was more romantic and captivating aboard the Norwegian Jewel than sunrise, sunset, and a full moon over the water.

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Sunrise on the Jewel

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Sunset from the Jewel

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One more sunset

 

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Full moon

 

Come back and read about the port of Brisbane next time.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Heart and Coal in Newcastle

Have you heard the saying, “It’s like carrying coal to Newcastle”? The saying which means to do something pointless or superfluous originated in Newcastle, England, where the expression dates back to the 1600s, but the Aussies in Newcastle, Australia, also claim it as their own. It turns out both cities have a legitimate claim. Newcastle, England, was the United Kingdom’s first coal exporting port and Newcastle, Australia, is currently the largest coal port in the world. (Newcastle, Australia, however, is currently trying to move away from a carbon-centered economy.)

Australia’s second-oldest city was permanently established in 1804 as a penal colony originally consisting of 34 convicts and a military guard. The convicts were treated harshly, working long days mining coal. By 1826, however, the Australian Agricultural Company took over management of all government mining and the penal colony moved to Port Macquarie.

I think of coal as an especially dirty commodity so I assumed the largest coal port in the world would be among the dirtiest, most unappealing ports ever but I was in for a big surprise! Shuttle buses picked us up at the pier and transported us immediately to the attractive town center. I took a photo of the sign below with a map of the town to help us find our way first to Fort Scratchley. As it turned out, the photo was the only map we had since we were told the town was out of tourist maps due to the recent large influx of cruise ships. Our walking route is enlarged below.

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You can find several other self-guided walks and maps on the Visit Newcastle website but our route, while not planned in advance, showed us a good sample of Newcastle’s sights.

We walked along the foreshore, then climbed the hill to the fort.

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Customs House in the background

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Looking back along the foreshore with a view of the cathedral high on the hill

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View as we climbed to the fort

Fort Scratchley was established in 1882 in response to hostilities between England and Russia resulting in fear of attack by Russian ships to obtain coal.  Colonel Peter Scratchley was put in charge of planning the fort which would subsequently be named for him.

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A Russian ship, His Imperial Royal Majesty’s Ship Rynda, did sail into the port in 1888 causing great consternation but the feared attack never materialized. Instead, an attack came from Japan in 1942 when a submarine, the I-21, shelled Newcastle with over 30 rounds. The troops at Ft. Scratchley returned fire but the sub escaped unharmed. Today, the fort is an interactive museum with many devoted volunteers who love to share these stories and more with visitors. As cruise ships depart Newcastle, they fire a three-gun salute from Ft. Scratchley but it’s rather a point of pride that they’ve never hit a ship.

 

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Quarters at the fort

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No. 1 and No. 2 guns 

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Jim and No. 2 gun

 

 

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View from Ft. Scratchley toward the Norwegian Jewel

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Jim and I enjoyed the view of Nobby’s Beach and Nobby’s Lighthouse

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A volunteer regaled Jim with stories about Ft. Scratchley

The walk down to Newcastle Beach was easier than our climb up to the fort. We had a chuckle over the sign at the beach announcing the nudie Australian Boardriders Battle but we missed the competition which was scheduled several days after our visit. My research on the internet revealed no surfers competed in the nude so I’m at a loss to explain the name. It is, however, the largest surfing competition in Australia.

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Newcastle Beach

After enjoying views of the beach, we climbed back up the hill to Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle where the Bishop resides. Construction began in 1892 but was never completed. In 1974, the roof sustained major damage as the result of a terrible storm and the building was finally repaired and finished in 1979. Disaster struck again in 1989 when a serious earthquake occurred and restoration following the event was finally completed in 1997. Today, the cathedral is beautiful both inside and out.

 

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Cathedral Church of Christ the King

The banners on either side of the nave depict saints and angels

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Interior of Cathedral

I was fascinated by the beautiful needlepoint covers on the kneelers.

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Kneelers with needlepoint covers

When I asked an employee what the symbols were on the kneeler below, quite a discussion ensued.

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They finally determined the six symbols represent the six states in Australia.

 

New South Wales: the cross of St George with lion and stars

Western Australia: a black swan

Tasmania: a red walking lion

Queensland: a blue Maltese cross and crown

Victoria: the southern cross

South Australia: the Australian piping shrike

Following our visit to the cathedral, we walked downhill one last time and to our great delight, we discovered Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, the iconic pie cart. Established during the Depression by Harry Edwards to provide cheap food outside the Woolloomooloo naval dockyard in Sydney, Harry closed his business when he enlisted during WWII. He reopened after the war in 1945 and the business has operated ever since. This early version of a food truck became “de Wheels” because the city council required food caravans to move at least 12 inches each day so Harry’s became Harry’s Cafe de Wheels.

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Harry’s is known for pie and having pie in Australia was on my “must-do” list. This pie, however, is no ordinary pastry; it’s a meat pie. Lori and I decided to share the signature Harry’s Original Tiger pie made with beef, mushy peas, mash, and gravy. YUM!

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After our sustenance at Harry’s, we were ready to return to the Norwegian Jewel. We had reservations at the French restaurant, Le Bistro, to celebrate a romantic Valentine’s Day with our sweethearts that evening.

I know Jim looks either inebriated or totally smitten in the photo below but honestly, he was just hamming it up for Valentine’s Day.IMG_6448

Join us next time for fun at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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