Ceylon if you collect stamps, otherwise Sri Lanka

Remember the temperature is 95 and no refrigeration.










Sri Lanka is an island off the south-west coast of India.  Originally a Dutch colony and then a British colony, the name of this country was changed from Ceylon in the mid 1970’s.  Since that time the government has attempted to eliminate the name “Ceylon” and has been relatively successful with the exception of its number one export—Ceylon Tea.  They have decided from a marketing standpoint it would be a mistake to change the brand name.

Always nice to display the Canadian flag as you visit.











Wanna buy a watch-cheap?

The capital of Sri Lanka is Colombo and that is where we docked for our one day stay.  The population of Colombo is greater than 5 million so you can imagine how busy it was.  The Chinese, interestingly enough are investing billions of dollars here, especially along the waterfront and in the industrial port.  As an aside the Captain of the Amsterdam noted that the Australian navy had two large naval vessels in port.  Their purpose is seems is to “fly the flag” and make the point that there are countries other than China that can be relied upon to support Sri Lanka.

Dried fish of every description can be purchased at the market.










A highlight of our stop was a trip to the market and the classic shot of the local butcher.  The dry fish merchants have an unbelievable collection of products as do the vegetable merchants.  The colonial buildings are stunning.  Our mode of transportation was the “tuk tuk” which is a two person cab fitted over a standard motorcycle.  For less than $5. American they scoot you back and forth around the city.  You can literally reach out the side of the vehicle and touch whatever is passing you—cars, buses, trucks, other tuk tuks and motorcycles.  It is quite an experience and everyone was talking about it at dinner.

Vegetable arrangements imply daily shopping by the locals.










Next up are the two stops in India.  (The temperature today in Colombo is 95 degrees)

Temple locations are everywhere including the port area.

The harbour is financed by the Chinese and we were squeezed in by the container ships.

More About Singapore

Singapore is in some respects like Hong Kong.  You are not sure how the two distinct locations have developed to the point where they are both examples of the best of the best.  How did this happen and what type of government control exists so that so much could be accomplished in such a short period of time?   In Toronto we build a mile of subway in ten years.  Here in Singapore they are building daily and for the most part it is all underground and very expensive.  The cruise ship terminal where we docked has its own subway station called Harbourfront.  You never go outside from the ship to get there as it is all under cover.  In addition to the direct subway connection you are in two high end shopping and commercial malls built as part of the docks.  Commercial shipping does not share these docks and is in a totally different part of Singapore.  You cannot smoke outside in Singapore and no chewing gum is allowed.  Our visa to enter Singapore states that “death” is the penalty for selling drugs.

Singapore as stated in an earlier post is totally cosmopolitan much in the way Toronto is.  We visited Chinatown, Little Italy and Little India with no fear for our security and in each community the streets were vibrant with activity.  Here are a few more pictures.

Somerset station is home to many high end shopping malls.

Calls to prayer are now announced electronically.

Colonial buildings remain all along the Sinpapore river.

At the mouth of the Singapore river is a natural lake that provides the drinking water for the city and country.

Everything seems perfect in Singapore!

No matter where you go in Singapore everything appears perfect.  If there was a negative it had to be the extreme heat and humidity which according to everyone, never lets up.

Singapore is an island without any natural resources (no fresh water either), and has only been a country since 1965.  An amazing amount has been done since that time to turn the country into an economic powerhouse—and it shows.  The transit system, for example is high speed, goes everywhere and is totally automated, cheap to use, on time and spotless in all aspects.

The harbour, the business district, and the shopping centres are something to behold.  The city is also a total mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and those of us called “other”.  The city is in constant motion and the sheer number of shopping malls and blue ribbon companies is mind boggling.  As there is no empty space on the island, construction is either down below ground or high as in skyscrapers.  The Marina Bay Hotel seen in one of the pics has got to be one of the world’s most amazing hotels.  Some of the ship’s passengers elected to spend a night there to experience the setting and to swim in the pool that graces the roof and its 360 degree view.  Because there is very little open space, gardens and greenery are frequently planted and found growing on rooftops and in pods on various, higher levels of buildings.  It makes for a very attractive city.

In Singapore we visited the Sultan Mosque, located in the centre of Little India where we learned the 5 pillars of Islam.  Once again we heard the electronic “call to prayer” and witnessed first hand the importance of the mosque in the centre of town.  Unknown to me was also the significance of the Singapore River which winds through the island.  We had an opportunity to take a river boat cruise and seem many of the original market homes that line the river and now sell for millions of dollars and rent for almost the same price. The realistic sculpture below, affixed to the side of the Singapore river,  depicts five youngsters jumping into the river—a scene we have all seen at our local harbour.

After the negative reviews of some of our past island experiences in Java, Singapore was a welcome relief and another location where we ran out of time for our explorations.  As we head out we are now part of an armada of ships of all sizes and shapes making their way along the most crowded waterway (Straights of Malacca) in the world.

By tonight we will be in the Indian Ocean as we head to Sri Lanka.


Semarang, Indonesia

Semarang Is Easy to Forget!

Semarang, Indonesia will not be a place to rush back to. In spite of having one of the most ancient temples in the world, the traffic, the state of the roads and bridges and appalling poverty makes it a forgettable city.

Needing almost eight hours to travel less than 60 miles made it an easy decision to avoid the ship tour and travel only into the centre of the city. Even that was an adventure in itself. While other Indonesian cities have a mix of cars, trucks, bicycles and scooters, here it seems everyone has a motorized scooter. There are no lines marking lanes on the roads and there is another roundabout coming up at the next turn.

Highly illegal in North America, it was not uncommon to see a mother, father and two children on a scooter carrying the shopping of the day. While the parents wore helmets, the kids do not—go figure.

The majority of the residents live in shacks alongside the roads. Women, for the most part have their heads covered. As distinct from Bali where 85% of the population is Hindu, in Semarang the majority is Moslem. As the ship was leaving we could clearly hear the “call to prayer” being broadcast over tower loudspeakers across the city.

We did, however, visit a very modern and exclusive mall for some retail therapy. In the midst of all this poverty, someone has built a shopping mall with every high end shop you could imagine. Ships’ passengers seemed to love the batik shop as most passengers that night seemed to be wearing traditional patterned Indonesian designs.

Tomorrow is a sea day and then we enter the busiest shipping channel in the world as we dock in Singapore.

Bali – A Tropical Paradise or Not!

Today we are in Bali, deep in a busy harbour with a progression of jets from around the world passing over the ship, landing at the adjacent airport. It is amazing to see the progression of aircraft and ship arriving and departing with tourists.

Traffic is almost unbearable as one tries to travel across the island. Thousands of motor scooters buzz around you in all directions, passing at the strangest locations and ridden by residents of all ages and gender. While back home only two people are customary on a bike, in Bali whole families ride on the scooters along with a myriad of packages.

Our tour went first to the beach community where the shops and hotels were five star and opulent and known for their beach locations and Indonesian cuisine. After the beach we headed for two of the larger Hindu temples on the island. Bali is 85% Hindu and the temples date back to the mid 1600’s. It is interesting to note that offerings are made to the gods each morning in Bali in the form of a small plate of flowers, food and incense. Outside of all shops, high class or low class, a filled plate is present in the morning. The Imperial Palace temple, as do all temples, have a number of courtyards. The outer courtyard is for cock fights which continue to this day in spite of being illegal at locations other than temples. The origin of the cock fight is the shedding of blood which is essential to their religion as a form of sacrifice.

With the majority of the ship’s crew being from Bali, the day in port enabled them to either visit with family in their homes or bring family members on board for a tour and a visit to the ice creme stand on the Lido deck. The ship bends over backwards to facilitate this day and passengers join in by leaving notes for the staff to spend time with their families and NOT make up our beds, freshen our towels or clean the bathrooms. Not really a hardship for any of us!

Like the last time we were here, Bali will not go down as a highlight as there are just too many people, too much traffic and almost an obscene contrast between the poor and the rich. While the countryside is lush, the terraced rice fields unique, the beaches beautiful and clean, the very hot tropical climate is not one in which I can get comfortable.

Komodo Island—We have seen the dragon!

We have seen the dragon, lived to get back on the ship and will not ever need to see it again.

After Darwin, our next stop was Komodo Island in Indonesia, home to the very rare Komodo dragon. This island along with two smaller adjacent islands is the only place in the world where this species of lizard lives. It’s diet consists of deer (swallowed whole, antlers and all), wild boar, smaller Komodo dragons, and anything that might come in its path including humans. Fortunately the dragons do not eat very often and spend much of their time near watering holes and basking in the tropical sun. They are roughly 8 feet in length.

Komodo Island is a national park and as such, the species is protected. To visit, we travelled as a small group with a ranger at the front of the pack and one bringing up the rear. Each of the rangers carried a forked pole in the event of an attack. Fortunately we made our way without incident to a fresh water source where three of the dragons were ready to be photographed and appeared full. Good for us!

The dragons are fast runners, very proficient at swimming and can appear out of nowhere. A fellow traveller was sitting on the beach at Komodo having a drink when one very large male strolled right by her. Quickly walking backwards she got a great video on her IPAD of the dragon and has been showing us all her accidental filming and counting her lucky stars.

As a national park the scenery is stunning with foliage of a green colour that is not like any other shade. The water is clear and the beaches are magnificent but the presence of the Komodo and and a species of alligator that jumps in the air out of its water habitat kept most passengers out of the water.

We are at anchor here as there is no dock big enough for us. The next stop is Bali where many of the ship’s staff have family members so they will get the day off to visit. Passengers will head off on various excursions across Bali, primarily to see the Hindu temples that are located in every village with many of the bigger temples dating back to the sixteenth century.

Leaving Darwin and Off to Indonesia-Revised

The Flying Doctor Service now has a modern fleet of aircraft stationed at the Darwin airport


Since the last post we have travelled north and then around the north-east tip of Australia and then west to Darwin on the north-west tip.  Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory and is truly a city of stories.

This is Christchurch Cathedral in Darwin. The original front entrance was included in the new construction after the church was destroyed in 1974 by a cyclone.

In February 1942 the Japanese bombed Darwin in two raids.  The attack squadrons were the same as those that attacked Pearl Harbour.  In the battle, Darwin was destroyed including a hospital ship that was at anchor in the harbour flying the Red Cross.

Following the war Darwin was rebuilt as its strategic importance as a port was essential.  Darwin’s port is actually almost twice as large as Sydney Harbour and is very well protected from the sea.  Unfortunately on Christmas Even 1974 the city was again destroyed by a typhoon/cyclone.

These two stories and the impact on this city of those events are never far from people’s minds and remnants of the destruction can be seen amongst the rebuilt city.

While in Darwin we visited the home of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  This service, based in Darwin is famous for providing medical care across the outback of Australia since the advent of bush flying.  Today it still services thousands of square miles of territory where no health care facilities exist.  It is quite a story in itself.

Another story, pictured below is about a gunner/soldier during the aerial attack on Darwin. A plaque at the airport tells the story.  During the early stages of the raid a gunner was in the shower at the base.  In a hurry to get to his post he donned his helmet, his boots and wrapped a towel around his waist  Dressed like that he lifted his anti-aircraft gun and started shooting.  The inevitable followed with the loss of the towel and the rest is immortalized on the plaque to demonstrate the dedication of the soldiers stationed in Darwin.

Darwin also has a Aviation Museum at the airport which we visited.  The highlight of the collection is a B-52 Bomber which literally takes up the whole hanger.  All other aircraft are tucked underneath the wings and the body of the monster aircraft.  We were fortunate to have on our tour bus two individuals, both former Air Force pilots who flew the B-52.

The Amsterdam is now two days at sea prior to anchoring at Komodo Island in Indonesia.  Komodo Island is home to the Komodo dragons which we hope to see when we take a tender ashore.  Hopefully some dragon pictures coming up next.




Did We Have Enough To Eat?

Several of our readers have asked about the menus and the amount of food we eat on the ship.  Our schedule and ritual is very much the same as at home or at the cottage.  We go to breakfast in the Lido (A large buffet like cafeteria with floor to ceiling windows) around 8:30 am and read the daily “Canadian” as prepared overnight by the ship.  It is a summary of the Canadian news.  We then do our emails and read our favourite accounts online, all the while sipping our coffee and orange juice.  An hour of so later we finally hit the buffet table for whatever we feel like.  Items are prepared for you as you wait and staff are eager to carry your breakfast back to your table.

We don’t have lunch but every once in a while we might get a snack mid afternoon.

For dinner we go every night at 7:15 to the main dining room where we have our own table for two, our own wait staff and fortunately for us, only two tables away from where the captain and his wife eat.  Dress in the dining room is smart casual and on some nights formal which does not necessarily mean a tuxedo.  Dress in the LIdo, for me,  is my usual uniform of jeans and a golf shirt or sweatshirt.  Susan dresses more smartly in both locations but is not into the ball gowns that some of the more seasoned world travellers seem to be able to haul out for each of the formal evenings.

Below is the menu from last night’s dinner.  As you can see there is lots of variety and there is no limit to the number of items that you might like to have.  For me, the choice last night was very easy for each of the courses.  In addition to the printed menus which change each day there is a standing list of items that are always available should you not be able to find anything of interest on the menu.  This happens very rarely.  Enjoy as we we do!



Green Island and the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

It is really hard to decide what pictures to attach to a post.  In any given day I take more than 100 shots.  I download them to my iPad at night and then try and choose a few for the blog.  When I have a few chosen I then have to reduce their size and resolution as they will not send if they are a very large file size.

Today’s blog adds a few more pictures from our trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Stinger suits are rented to everyone that wants to go in the water to prevent jelly fish poisonous stings.  The stinger nets as show in the previous post go all the way to the bottom preventing any type of jelly fish or other organisms from getting in to the swimming areas.  Unfortunately most individuals do not swim within the designated areas.  Bottles of vinegar are strategically situated along all the beaches as an antidote for a bite.

I couldn’t figure out why all the snorkelers also wore life preservers.  It is a regulation that you cannot touch the coral reef in any manner.  With a life jacket on you can view the reef but not get down to the bottom due to the jacket’s buoyancy.  The bottom is less than a metre deep so you can see how easy it is to stand on the coral.

You can charter any type of vessel to get you out to the reef including a fleet of helicopters that land on small floating platforms on the water.  The bird life and fish life in and around the reef and adjacent rain forest is spectacular and like nothing else that you have seen before.

We are now making our way up to the tip of Australia where we will then turn to port and head for Darwin. The water is a deep green, very shallow and we still have the reef pilot on board to guide the ship through the very treacherous waters.  Once we make the turn to Darwin we can speed up.


The Great Barrier Reef—Another Bucket List Item Checked Off!

For many years, the idea of actually going to the Great Barrier Reef was only a dream. On our last trip in 2013 the ship travelled clockwise from Sydney, Australia going around the southern end of Australia and up the western side.  This time we left Sydney and travelled north up the east side.  This route took us directly into the UNESCO Heritage site and the Great Barrier Reef.

For most of the trip to date we have been travelling in water over 1000 metres in depth.  As we travel through the Reef the depths are dramatically different.  Most of today, for example, we are in water less than 30 feet deep.  Travelling this area we needed to take on a Reef Pilot (different from the various Port Pilots that guide us and take us in and out of their respective harbours).  In a presentation to the passengers he noted that in many spots we would have less than one metre clearance under the ship, hence his assistance was vital to our safe passage through these waters.

The two main harbours that are the jump off points for the Great Barrier Reef are Townsville and Cairns; two relatively small towns north of Sydney that during the Second World War played major roles in the battles of the Pacific.

Both these towns were immaculate in their appearance; each had waterfronts that were catering to the walking tourist and economies based on the export of coal and sugar cane and the tourist.  As with New Zealand, it would be very easy to come back and spend months further exploring.

To get to the Reef for exploring we took a high speed catamaran from Cairns some 50 minutes northwest.  There we had an opportunity to wander through a rain forest that has developed as more and more vegetation grew up on the coral, and experience some of the finest beaches we have ever seen.  It is, however very, very hot and too many tourists. We have been told that, like Antarctica excursions, there will come a time, very likely within the next few years, when trips to the Reef are no longer available.  As we were walking from the catamaran to the shore with our bathing suits at the ready a shark swam by and that finished us for the snorkelling.  We were content to walk the beach, and sample the underwater scenes from the safety of a glass bottom boat.

Stinger organisms are also present here in the water and swimming areas are netted off to prevent entrance by these poisonous creatures.  Divers and those going snorkelling rent “stinger suits” similar to wet suits to prevent such injuries. Read the warning on the sign and one of the photos shows the netted off area for swimming on shore.

More later!