Back from our cruise

We got back from our vacation a few days ago. Unfortunately, along with great memories, souvenirs, and pictures we also brought back some things we didn’t want: strep throat and sinus infections. Yesterday we went to the doctor and got antibiotics that should clear it all up soon. Until then, the kids and I are pretty miserable. Luckily my husband didn’t get them too badly and is no longer sick.

We went on a great cruise. It was on Holland America’s ship MS Rotterdam. The cruise left from Rotterdam in the Netherlands (Holland), went over to Southampton England, to Gibraltar, through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, 2 stops in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and the last 2 weeks were Indonesia. As you can guess, it was a long cruise; 51 days. The Suez Canal transit was supposed to be during the day. However, Canal authorities put us in a layby for most of the day while northbound traffic went through. It was late afternoon before we finally were on our way so much of the canal was in the dark.

Since we used mileage tickets, we had to get to Rotterdam a few days before the ship sailed. That gave us time to get over our jet lag. Since it was the end of their Christmas school break, I had trouble finding a hotel for 4 people in our budget. The one I finally found was in a nice town called Lieden. It cost as much for a cab from the Rotterdam airport as renting a car so we rented a car and explored a bit of Holland.

In most of the ports we didn’t take organized tours. We wandered around on our own instead.  There were 4 tours we did go on though. The first was in Kusadasai, Turkey where we went to the ruins of Ephesus and a place where they hand-make rugs. The next was in Athens up to the Acropolis. Those were both beautiful old ruins dating to Biblical times. In fact at Athens, you can still climb up onto the large rock where Paul was. They are actually doing reconstruction of both sites.

Then we went on a long, day tour up through the interior of Bali in a mini bus. Along the way we stopped at a temple where you can hold monkeys. That was fun and silly to see the kids with monkeys on their heads. Then we went up through the mountains to a rural cafe for lunch down a primitive 1-lane road. We stopped at a pullout overlooking a lake. There was a man who had some large bats (flying fox?), snake, and iguana that we patted.

The last tour was on Komodo Island in Indonesia. You were not permitted ashore unless you either were on a ship excursion tour or pre-arranged a ranger guide. It was worth the cost. We went on about a 1.5 mile guided hike. We saw several wild Komodo Dragons. These giant lizard like animals are amazing. They can be very fierce, but usually are quite lazy. In fact, most of the ones we saw were laying down. However 2 were walking around. We also saw a flying lizard about 4 inches long.

In Phuket, Thailand we hired a van for a few hours. It took us up a mountain where we rode elephants for half an hour. We didn’t have any local money so the cab driver paid for our trip and added it to his fare. Then at the top of the mountain there was Big Bhudda. It’s currently under construction but open to the public. The driver asked if we wanted to see monkeys but Richard wasn’t feeling well so we tried to decline. However, the place he wanted to take us to was literally just across the parking lot so we briefly walked over there. They were cute! The driver was chatty and spoke good English so he made a good guide for us.

In Lombok, Indonesia we also hired a van for a few hours to take us around to see the countryside. That was beautiful. This island is one of the most rural that we visited. We saw rice fields, temples, a brick factory, and a brief stop at a beach. Other things we did on our own during the cruise include a horse drawn carriage ride tour and a couple hop-on hop-off tour bus trips. A few places we just walked around near the port because there wasn’t much to see or do locally.

We left the cruise ship and begun our way slowly back to Alaska. Iit’s been a bit of an adventure. We did not have tickets home when we left Alaska because we were hoping for mileage but didn’t have enough yet. We bought tickets to Australia because there are never flights from Singapore on our mileage plan. When Ray checked a week before leaving the ship, there were 3 options available from Australia. The next morning when he went to book, they were all gone. Then we found one that left a day before the tickets to Australia so that wouldn’t be too great. We decided to let it pass and pray for better dates. It worked! The morning we left the cruise, tickets became available from Australia 5 days after we arrive there which is perfect for us. So we have 5 days to explore Australia. Oh, and we have a 12 hour layover during the day in Honolulu too  🙂

We spent 3 nights in Batam, Indonesia. That’s not exactly where we wanted to be. I thought I was booking a resort outside of Singapore since it was listed with all the other Singapore resorts. However, not only is it not near Singapore, it’s in a totally different country! We had to take a ferry that’s 45-60 minutes long, then a 20 minute drive to the hotel. Plus you have to go through customs leaving Singapore then again when arriving in Indonesia. So this $100/night resort is costing a lot more because of the ferry ($180 round-trip for the 4 of us), visa ($10/person each trip), time, etc. However the hotel itself is great!

Our friends from Sri Lanka were supposed to join us here but they couldn’t get an Indonesia visa on arrival and the embassy is closed on weekends so they had to stay in Singapore. Luckily the hotel here was understanding and is allowing us to leave tomorrow and only charge the one room for the few nights we actually stay here. We decided to stay here today and meet in Singapore tomorrow. Definately a study in flexibility, but I think it will work out ok even though it’s going to cost a bit more to stay in a hotel there on short notice at least we will all be together. Plus we will not need to spend so much money and time going between Singapore and Batam. We were spending about 3 hours each way including getting tickets, waiting on ferry, immigration, and the actual ferry trip. Plus there is a time difference so it’s an hour later in Singapore.

We moved over to a resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore. That was a lot of fun. However, the air conditioning had a problem. It made the room smell like a rotten sponge and caused Karen’s cough to get worse. I call the front office and they sent someone to clean the filter, but that didn’t help. We had to leave the balcony door open and just use the ceiling fan instead. There were peacocks and monkeys roaming the resort. One morning, there were monkeys on the roof of our hotel.

The day before our friends joined us, we played at some attractions on Sentosa. They have a luge which we did several times. That’s a cross between a sled and a go-cart. Then we went to a zip line where my son and husband convinced me to try it. You go zipping down a wire wearing a harness at about 30 mph. First you are over jungle then over the ocean to a small island. It’s about a minute ride. Amazingly we all (including myself!) enjoyed it so much we did it again. Karen was too small to go by herself so she was clipped with my husband. That meant we could all go down together since they have 3 lines. After the second descent, Karen wanted to do a bungee bounce. When the clerk asked who was going to be doing it, and I said my daughter, she didn’t charge us. I guess Karen’s huge grin was payment enough.

They really take good care of you on Sentosa. I had my walking stick and was slightly limping because my knee was sore that day. We were about 1/4 of the way up the hill to the zip line when a cart came by and asked if I needed a ride. I hopped in expecting him to turn around. Instead he went zooming up the hill in reverse the whole way 🙂 They met me at the bottom in another cart to get across the beach. Then they took us all up the hill. That was quite a ride by itself. Full throttle all the way, zooming around bends and twists in the narrow road. Later another cart picked us up after lunch for a ride back to the tram station.

We flew from Singapore to Sydney via Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines. We rented a car and headed north to visit Karen’s friend in Brisbane. It turns out they never got the postcards telling them of our visit so it was a complete surprise to them. They weren’t home when we got to their house. We were just deciding what to do when they arrived. It was a great day together. Then we drove back down to Sydney. We spent a little time at a wildlife park where they had native Australian animals including kangaroos and koalas you could pet. Finally, we spent an hour looking at the Opera House before it was time to return the car and get to the airport.

Our vacation didn’t end when we left Australia. We had a 12 hour layover during the day in Honolulu, Hawaii. It took us a bit extra time at the airport because we had to transfer our own bags to the next airline after clearing customs. Then it took some time to figure out how to rent a car since there was no one actually in the terminal at any of the rental counters. Nor did any of their counter phones actually work. Finally we had our car and headed out to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. I was feeling pretty lousy but went snorkeling anyway. It was worth it watching the kids reaction to seeing all the colorful fish. We were in the water about an hour. We took a scenic drive on the way back to the airport. Our flight was delayed so I managed to get some sleep at the airport. The flight back to Alaska was spent sleeping.