Monday, 16 April 2018

Dubai, Muscat, Petra, Herculaneum and Vesuvius

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After flying out to Dubai we had four nights there before embarking on the P&O “Arcadia” for a cruise back to Southampton. Having been before we knew the way around so one of our first ports of call was the lovely souks in Old Dubai.

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Old Dubai is split in two by the Creek and the journey from one side to other is done in a very heavy (and noisy!) wooden boat.

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Another “must”(which we’d done before but this was another chance to repeat the pleasure) was to go up the Burj Khalifa.

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Friends Geoff and Pam, who’d flown in from India and who were to join the ship with us, came with us for the journey up the world’s tallest building.

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We were to have a few challenges with getting Geoff, who is not as mobile as he used to be, to the places on his bucket list but the Burj was an easy job. We were given priority access everywhere during our visit!

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Going to the 124th floor of a 147 floor building leaves a whole lot of building above us! It’s an awesome sight to look upwards to the top!

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However, the 124th floor was enough for us to see for many miles and to look down on the skyscrapers below us.

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Directly below us was the lake and fountains in front of the Burj Khalifa which we’d enjoy at a later date.

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One sight, way off in the distance, was the iconic “Queen Elizabeth 2”, now beautifully painted and restored and at rest in her permanent position as a hotel ship.

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A Burj Khalifa selfie – James, Geoff, Pam and Doug.

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We went back and enjoyed the fountains and music in front of the Burj ….

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……… and also after dark, when the crowds get really big!

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After our four days in Dubai we were taken to the port to board “Arcadia” and we had an even better view of QE2 as she lay waiting for her grand opening.

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Sailing from Dubai, our first stop was Muscat. Amman is a very wealthy place and it’s Sultan makes sure that it looks the part on the World’s stage. We toured for the day with friends Anita and Alan, who’d also flown from England to join in the happy band (in all there were 10 of us!) and we took a taxi for four hours to show us around. The driver, very kindly, got us to the Grand Mosque before it closed for the day’s cleaning.

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Like everything we were to see that day, it was simply stunning. It has the world’s largest chandelier weighing over 40 tons! It even has a staircase inside to allow for maintenance and cleaning. While were there it was being cleaned on the outside – the man cleaning it is in the ‘cherry picker’ at the top!

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Here’s Anita and Doug standing outside the stunningly decorated apse which faces Mecca. The carpet which covers the entire floor of the mosque is the second largest in the world.

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Here we all are suitably dressed to enter the mosque. James was fine, Doug wore his Dish-Dash which he bought last time we were in Muscat. Anita and Alan borrowed their clothing from our very well prepared taxi driver! (Anita looked stunning!)

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The storage areas for the Koran speak for themselves!

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After our visit we were taken for hot spicy coffee and dates …….

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……… and we had a lovely conversation with the staff about the building of the mosque.

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We’ve never seen so much polished marble ……..

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….. and such beautiful contemporary architecture.

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Across the road from the Grand Mosque is the prison! Never has there been such a fabulous looking prison!

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A quick trip to the shores of the Arabian Gulf ……..

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…. where Doug raised the hem of his Dish-Dash for a little paddle.

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Next on the itinerary was the Opera House. Now, having visited the mosque we thought we were prepared for Amman’s “money no object” approach to building …….

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……. there were seemingly acres of polished marble before we got inside.

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Photo’s do not do this building justice – words are not enough either!

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The auditorium is immense and sumptuous beyond anything we’ve experienced. The ceiling is in sections which can be raised or lowered to change the acoustics ………….

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…….. and the organ is one of the world’s largest with some 4500 pipes.

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In the centre at the rear is the Sultan’s private box.

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Our driver briefly took us into the mountains surrounding Muscat which was a real treat as it gave us an appreciation of just how barren Amman is.

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Back in Muscat we viewed the front of the Sultan’s Palace …….

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…. and then our driver took us around to the other side which faces the sea. The painted building is just one part – all the white painted buildings are part of the palace and they extend on both sides of the main coloured building.

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The palace is protected by four very large and prominent fortresses …..

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…. and the Sultan’s two enormous yachts sit together in the harbour.

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Life on our own “yacht” isn’t unpleasant either. We have quite a few formal evenings on the cruise when we can dress in our finery.

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Here’s a selfie of us prior to the ship’s Tropical evening …….

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……. and with Alan and Anita one evening during dinner.

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It’s a very small world and cruising makes it even smaller. Doug thought he recognised someone when playing deck quoits one day and it transpired that his father’s school friend Duncan, and his wife Eileen, were on board for the whole world cruise which “Arcadia” has almost completed and which we’d joined for the last leg. Doug hadn’t seen Duncan and Eileen for twenty years so a catch up drink before dinner had to be arranged.

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Oh, here’s Doug in his Indian “Modi” suit on one of our formal nights. Our Indian staff were so thrilled he’d made such a gesture.

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The on-board entertainment in the Palladium Theatre has, as one of it’s highlight for us, the Headliners Theatre Company. We’re so lucky as friends James and Ben are on board and part of the company as singer / dancers. 

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One of our favourite shows (and luckily it was scheduled for this last leg of the cruise) is Killer Queen. It’s a superb 45 minutes of the music of Queen and the Headliner’s talent is amazing. Ben – second from left and James – second from right.

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Here’s James doing a solo …….

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….. and the finale is really special with the entire company, lighting and sound at full tilt!

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After the show the exhausted cast briefly say goodnight to the passengers and that’s our opportunity to have a quick catch up and to say thank you. On this occasion we found Ben but James had already gone to change (don’t blame him!)

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Our next port of call, after leaving Muscat and travelling through pirate infested waters into the Red Sea and up the Gulf to Aquaba in Jordan.

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Our two day stay in Aqaba was our opportunity to visit the ancient city of Petra – one of the world’s wonders! The two hour journey through Jordan’s mountains and deserts gave us amazing views.

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Our ‘happy band of pilgrims’ included Pam and Geoff and, this time it was a little more difficult to get Geoff about but, with wheel chair, horse and buggy and his faithful stick we all achieved our goal. Here’s Pam and Geoff on the smoothest bit of the buggy ride! Doug and James walked the two kilometres.

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The start of The Siq was awesome enough. A half mile long narrow chasm, eroded through the giant sandstone escarpment by wind and water, …….

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……. finally brought us to one of the most magical and stunning views. The Treasury of Petra.

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We were again lucky that it was a Sunday and working day. The week end in this part of the world is Friday and Saturday and the two days just gone were also Easter and Petra had been overwhelmed with tourists. But, on this day, things were much quieter and we were able to enjoy the place much more.

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Petra is a huge site and you have to walk miles to see everything. This is the Street of Facades (20BC – 50 AD)

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Everywhere there was evidence of habitation dug into the soft sandstone cliffs, whether it was a temple of just peoples homes

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This is the Theatre (25 – 125 AD) – a massive semicircle carved out of the rock.

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More homes ……

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….. and travellers on camels, horses and donkeys making these ancient ruins almost come back to life.

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This was the site of the Royal Tombs ……

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……. and this, a Colonnaded Street with the original flag stones.

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Here’s Doug standing in the middle of Petra’s Great Temple ……..

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……. the catacombs and vaults are still being excavated.

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The Temenos Gate – 125 – 225 AD

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The Qasr al-Bint Temple Complex (25 BC – 25 AD)

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And on we trekked – up, what seemed a thousand steps (900 actually, but we were not to complete them!) through some very desolate terrain towards Petra’s “Monastery”.

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It was a long way to say the least but the advice from people who had made it was that it was another 30 minutes of hard climb and we were running out of time! Here’s Doug making a valiant attempt at a steep set of steps but that was as far as we got. You really need four hours and a good state of fitness to achieve the final goal of the Monastery – Petra is a very big site!

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However, the views on the way down were stunning and very atmospheric and, after we’d got most of the steep climb out of the way, Doug found a nice man with two donkeys and we started back on a momentous donkey ride. Doug’s donkey decided to go head first towards another visitor and knocked her flying! Then both donkeys got frightened and, while the donkey owner was picking the lady up and apologising, they both charged off towards a very rocky Wadi. The owner chased after us but didn’t arrive until we were well into the Wadi and negociating some very big rocks!

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James took this pic when things had calmed down and we’d dusted ourselves off and the donkeys were back on the path they knew!

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Our two rather naughty donkeys didn’t think twice about heading into a group of camels and other donkeys and causing more mayhem! BUT, we survived and didn’t fall off so we count the experience as a success!

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Well, after the glory of Petra we were off again for another tick on the bucket list – this time the Suez Canal. Unlike our first attempt on “Queen Mary 2” a couple of years ago which took us through at night, it was a success. It was more interesting than we’d been lead to believe but you do have to like sand!

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We had an escort of two tugs which kept with us for the entire journey of about10 hours duration.

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Part of the canal is ‘duelled’ so the south bound ships can be seen as if they are sailing through sand!

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Many passengers were happy to enjoy the last few days of hot weather sunning themselves around the pool but many were keen to see as much sand as they could ……..

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……… including one passengers who should be nameless!

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Punctuating the sandy bits there was much to interest the observers – including this rather clever floating road bridge which swings across the canal to the other side when its not busy.

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All along the canal we had tooting of vehicles and whistling of onlookers who wanted to wish us a good journey.

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On sections which ran parallel to the road, and where there was the added possibility of an attack, we had a police escort car which slowly made it’s way with us ………

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………. and every few hundred yards along the security walls were sentry boxes with armed personnel.

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At the end of our ten hour, safe and enjoyable passage we disembarked the pilot and, together with a number of other smaller boats were sent on our way into the Mediterranean Sea amid a cacophony of hooters and horns.

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This is a great pic looking back as we left the Suez Canal, Port Said is on the right hand side. We were now in the Med and heading towards our next port of call – Naples in southern Italy.

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Naples gave us the chance to tick off another two items from our bucket list – the first Herculaneum. It’s much smaller than Pompeii but suffered the same fate during the massive eruption off Vesuvius. The approach to the site is from high up and the first impressions, with the Bay of Naples behind, are wonderful.

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The general preservation and detail is terrific – the streets are almost as they were all those years ago.

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The interiors of the dwellings still have much of the original wall art and mosaic flooring.

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The richer Romans did not eat or cook much at home but preferred to eat out at fast food joints. This is just such a “kitchen” where they could order and have the food served to them.

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Preservation is still going on and has been for the last ninety or so years.

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Someone’s found a quiet corner in which to sit and read the guide book.

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The interiors of the Male Bathhouse were really well preserved ……..

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…….. and the mosaic floors are still intact, even if part of it has slumped into the hypocausts underneath.

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Some of the streets are so well preserved it needs little imagination as to the day to day activity in Roman times.

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Part of the impressive decoration in the College of the Augustales.

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Augustales were a group of freedmen. Their college was built in Herculaneum during the time of the Emperor Augustus. The charred wooden beams are still evident on each side of the central area.

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More charred wood.

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Well preserved Amphorae.

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Some of the wall mosaics have suffered very little damage.

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Intricate carved wooden column tops still exist intact.

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A charred wooden bed.

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This is a Taverna with drinking rooms at the rear.

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It was an amazing visit to Herculaneum – a very compact site but the preservation is wonderful. As we left the ruined city we got this great view of Vesuvius, the reason for the disaster and the site of next adventure.

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A posterity pic to say were there!

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Within an hour we’d got the bus and 45 minutes later we were deposited at the car park near to top of Vesuvius to walk the rest of the way on foot.

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It was still quite a climb to get right up to the rim and to look down into the crater but well worth the effort (and we needed the exercise!)

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The views from the top over the Bay of Naples was exhilarating …..

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…….. with Isle of Capri in the distance.

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A close up view into the crater shows steam rising from the vents in the rocks and a remainder that, even though there’s not been an eruption for over 40 years, the volcano is only dormant and not extinct.

The recent couple of weeks has seen us tick off some really wonderful items from our bucket list. The cruise itinerary includes quite a lot of sea days but the ports of call have really delivered the goods this time.

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