10 April 2016, 11:35am Aboard the MSC Musica, cruising on the Red Sea, close to Egypt. The disappointment of the boys was immense, when they came to the realisation that the colour of the sea water, is in fact still blue and not red, as the name suggests. According to a conversation with one of the locals of the area, the name is derived from a specific sea plant with a distinct red colour in these waters.
We have been on the ocean for five full days now and are extremely excited about the fact that we will be walking on mother earth again when the sun rises in the morning. One of the main motivations for us cruising with children (and loving it), is the fact that there are loads of entertainment for the children, so five days at sea sounds much worse than it actually is and indeed a holiday where you can actually relax! It has been relaxing to the point where I had to check my calendar to know the day and date, when starting this post… WE LOVE CRUISING!!
Our two previous stops at Abu Dhabi and Muscat, Oman were incredible and we are hoping for yet another great day on land in Aqaba, Jordan tomorrow. Although we would have loved spending the day in Petra, as it has always been a dream for us to visit it, the time we have at our disposal will just not be enough to justify a visit to this secret city. We are all however keen on finding a nice beach and just relaxing next to the ocean, instead of on it for a change…
I can almost not believe we have been on the cruise for nearly a week. Our intention at the beginning of this tour, was to update our blog weekly, but time flies when you are having fun and we tend to forget just how precious of a commodity time really is.
The blog is our way of keeping a diary for our own recollection, years from now. It will also be a great way for Ernest and Anric to relive the adventure once they are older, seeing that some of the experiences we have and places we are visiting, might not be something very impressive to them at the moment, but once they are older and read about the amazing places they’ve been at, they will realise just how fortunate they were to experience something so exciting. It is off course also an easy way to tell our family, friends and other travellers, of our experiences in a bit more detail. So for the critics out there, that is our motivation and reason for having a blog…in our second language! Like it = GREAT, Don’t Like it = NO PROBLEM
Here is our recap for the past week. On the second of April, the day we are boarding the MSC Musica and very excited about our awaiting two week cruise. We spent the afternoon with our newly made friends, Ernest and Mercia Paul. We are so happy to have met them on recommendation of our Dad Dries, Mom Elna and our friends Alwyn and Yvonne, whom all said that we HAVE to meet the Paul’s once we arrive in Dubai and being the obedient children we are, very thankful we listened to the good advice 🙂 The Paul’s were transferred to Dubai a few years ago and know the city inside out. This comes as a fantastically, refreshing turn of events, after our frantic road experience in Dubai the past few days (www.yepaworld.com/2016/05/12/firststepsoutofafricadubai/ ) which I am sure you can imagine. It went something like this : “Hi, I am Paul Ernest Groen. This is my son Ernest Hensley Groen, my youngest son Anric Paul Groen and my wife Yolande”. “Hi, I am Ernest Paul and this is my wife, Mercia Paul…needless to say, a perfect ice breaker! After setting the washing machine to work (which Mercia graciously offered for us to use) in their beautiful apartment, with the most impressive views of the Dubai sky scrapers, we headed out to The Palm, Atlantis.
The excitement was great driving through the Subsea Vehicular Tunnel on our way there and the boys were delighted to see the GPS screen turning to seawater around us and Ernest (Groen) just had to take a photo to show Ouma & Oupa how cool it is.
After enjoying delicious burgers together at the Nakheel Mall at The Palm, we took a short walk to Atlantis and were blown away by the magnitude and detail which greeted us.
It was a proud moment to spend time in Atlantis, knowing it was a South African whom commissioned this beautiful project. We so many times made mention of how great South Africa can be, once we get our acts and politicians together, but in reality it may take decades at best. We often cry for our home country, thinking how much potential there is, but greatness and potential means nothing without proper leadership….
We have made such nice memories with Ernest and Mercia even though our time spent together was limited and we are very thankful for their hospitality and friendliness towards us. After saying our goodbyes to the Paul’s, we get to the harbour around 7pm local time, expecting long ques and a challenging boarding process (as has always been the case on previous cruises), so we were surprised to be standing in our cabin within no more than about 15 minutes from arriving at the harbour…WHOOHOO!!
Intrigued to see how our creativity can be stretched with regards to fitting 2 adults, 2 children and 10 luggage items into our 16m² cabin, was our next point of fascination… We started by measuring the room by the inch and discovered that the two additional life jackets in the one wardrobe, had to be removed in order to make everything (and everyone) fit! Yup, it was really that crammed!! Every item had a place and every item had to remain in its place, in order to make life functional in this limited space for the next two weeks. As we finished organising our cabin, all the guests were called for the routine safety drill. Much to the boys delight, they could wear the life jackets as we marched down the isles to our muster station for further safety instructions. Ernest (being our little safety sergeant of the family) had to know every single detail regarding possible emergencies. By the time we were done with the drill, he told us exactly what we needed to do, how the lifeboats work, how far we’d be able to swim and what the chances of survival would be, should an emergency evacuation become necessary. We set sail at 10pm and started quieting down around the dinner table, having something to eat and seeing the shore lights drifting away in the distance, before heading to bed. While mom and dad suspended the boys beds hanging above ours, they had a quick shower and we could watch our little angels (very closely…almost too close for comfort) fall asleep as we drifted away on the ocean, towards an adventure of a lifetime…
Very few things in life, beats the feeling of being woken by the ever so gentle rocking motion of a cruise ship. We opened our eyes, and looking out of our window, were greeted by the Capital City of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi.
We are delighted, because today we won’t just see another beautiful destination, but we will also be meeting a very old friend from South Africa, Micheline. We enjoyed a feast of a breakfast, packed our day bag and disembarked for the day. MSC had arranged bus transfers to the Abu Dhabi Mall, which is where we found a Mugg & Bean of all places!! While enjoying a coffee and getting in touch with Micheline, the boys were all too eager to start plotting our route on the map and getting a feel for the surroundings.
Before long, we were in the car with Micheline and what an amazing feeling seeing a familiar face again!!
Micheline knew exactly what kind of experience would leave us in awe and if we had to plan our day ourselves, we would never have been able to put together such an unforgettable experience. The fact that she is a school teacher, also helped in knowing that she had a perfect idea of what the boys would appreciate and enjoy and after a short drive, we arrived at the most magnificent, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
A structure which unites the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art, and also the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. We were all at a loss of words to describe the breathtakingly beautiful structure in front of us. The sun was glistening down on the pearl white building, for which natural materials were chosen for much of its design and construction due to their long-lasting qualities, including marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics and with the blue sky as a backdrop, the holiness of this place was tangible and as if planned, we arrived during prayer time at this amazing Mosque which is large enough to accommodate 40 000 worshipers, thus hearing the Quran being read and echoing through the sun-illuminated passage ways.
Wearing our Abayas and covering our heads out of respect, we left our shoes outside and entered the main prayer hall.
Opulence in the highest degree!! Here we walked on the world’s largest wool carpet, weighing 35 tons and measuring 5,600m². The 96 columns in the main prayer hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl, one of the few places where you will see this craftsmanship. The detail in this hall is unbelievable!
We spent all of about 3 hours exploring the beautiful Mosque and the most interesting experience for Paul and the boys came about, when the boys needed to visit the Gents room. After walking down three flights of stairs, they were politely asked to remove their shoes. Not being accustomed to this tradition, the curiosity started mounting as to why exactly they had to remove their shoes. The thought of maybe being at the wrong place came to mind first, but they were soon guided through a beautiful atrium, as if the person new exactly what they came there for… They left their shoes in a pigeon whole specifically for this purpose and were given alternative footwear which came in quite handy, when they realised that the aiming this time round, will have to be into a small hole in the ground
Anric calmly finished his business wearing his size 10 shoes, after which they freshened up by washing their feet, had a drink of ice cold water and ascended up the escalator, to meet a very curious mom and Micheline. For the first time ever, mom was the one waiting and could not wait to ask “What took you so long?”. Very interesting bathroom routine indeed! The time spent at the Mosque created unforgettable memories and we will always think back to that moment with smiles across our faces.
Upon leaving the Mosque, everyone suddenly realised how hungry they were and Micheline once again had the perfect restaurant in mind. Al-Fanar, a restaurant where we could experience authentic Emirati cuisine. We were seated in our own Barasti hut, with the smell of Bukhoor in the air and mesmerized by the beautiful setting, amazing décor and great company.
Drawn back in history, to a time where an ambience like this, would be the norm in the lives of the Arabs. With the sun starting to set, we feasted on dishes like Margooga and Harees and started realising that our day with Micheline is drawing to an end.
Feeling sad having to say goodbye again, we had a feeling of utter content and peace in our hearts. Micheline dropped us off at the harbour at about 8pm and the boys were starting to get very creative with their plans on how we could sneak Micheline on-board the ship with us. Their way of showing that they’ve had a very good time and not wanting to admit that it is busy coming to an end…bless their souls. Thankful for people like Micheline who go completely out of their way for us. People like her, that make this family adventure a life changing experience.
Next stop Muscat Oman. The boys had enough of sightseeing for the moment and desired to stay at the kiddies club for children fun and entertainment. Paul and I climbed off the boat with muted expectations, thinking a quick walk around and back to the ship, would be as much as we can expect from this day. Paul made an error, scared we would not be able to pay for things by Credit Card whilst ashore (as it looked very rural), he took a balance of our cheque account, did a quick calculation and thought that the monthly expenses had already gone off the bank account for the month (which it hadn’t). So with more money left in the account than we thought there should be, we decided to draw some Riyals, so that we had some currency for drinks and a few other things if we needed. He received a message from the bank shortly after withdrawing the cash and realised it was R40 to one Riyal, not around R5 to 1 as we wrongly assumed! Laughing at the incident, he thought we will resolve the Riyals later on. A few Riyals can buy a lot and we don’t have space or need for any possessions as our journey has only just begun. We visited the local Souk (Flea market) and found that 3 Riyals can buy a good pair of slops and about 6 Riyals can buy a nice pair of smart gent shoes, and that is still before any negotiation.
So we had no idea if we would be able to exchange back to currency that was usable again in future, and doubted that the ship would buy it. To complicate matters even more, the currency exchanges closed for prayer around the time we wanted to return to the boat. So we took advantage of the closed Exchange once Paul saw their calculation method and negotiated with some merchants and taxi drivers to exchange Riyals to Euros. Realising that they would have to pay a fee to exchange their Euro’s and dollars they received for their services and managed to capitalise on the situation by us effectively becoming the currency exchange. After feeding some stray cats milk, we had a local street café meal, stopped at an internet café to have a quick chat with our loved ones back home, Paul got a lovely thin wallet, a pair of slops and we bought several litres of water as it is so expensive at about 3.5 euros (so you could get 8 x 1.5 litres on land for the price of 1×1 litre bottle aboard, a no-brainer as this is not just a short holiday and we need to consider the budget) and some local snacks, all in all the whole outing with some foreign exchange profits, cost us less than R200 for the whole day, and in my opinion, we got around 10 times the money spent in value. We also have some cash in the correct currency for where the road is taking us now.
Muscat Oman took us completely by surprise with what it has to offer. It turned out to be such a good value for money destination, where one would be able to find the most beautiful ornaments and furniture at a very reasonable price. Those friends who know me well, will know that one of my favourite items to shop for, is perfume and with perfume being one of Muscat’s biggest export products, we were surrounded with perfumes at every turn. I especially liked the fragrances on offer, which were mostly very musky and spicy than sweet and florally. Seeing that we are only at the start of our journey and me already carrying 3 bottles of perfume around the world, I had to contain myself in not going overboard with the perfumes and managed to buy only 1 very small bottle of perfume. We liked the mystical feel about this place as well as the very humble and friendly people and would love to go back to Oman one day.
Our last sight in Muscat Oman was of a few elderly gentlemen thoroughly enjoying a game, which reminded us a lot of chess, played with white rounded pebbles/marbles. They were concentrating so much, that they barely acknowledged our request to take a picture. Out of courtesy, they agreed and went on with their game as if we did not exist. We still wonder what this game was all about, but they were immersed in this game like it was the only thing on earth that matters. A quick lesson was taught to us by this moment, one which we will think fondly of as a gentle reminder to how little value, material possessions carry. Bless their souls and thank you for the subtle reminder.
Back to life on-board, our days would mostly start with an education session, which we call “ship schooling”. It has been so nice sitting in one of the very quite lounges in the front part of the ship, helping the boy’s with their schoolwork. They also loved the idea of being surrounded with blue waters, for as far as the eye can see, while being taught. Once that was out of the way, we could start relaxing by the pool, soaking up the sun (with temperatures around 32˚C) and bonding-time. As we sit enjoying something to drink with our boys, listening to the song “In the Jungle” from the animation Lion King, we feel a strong sense of nostalgia, as the song reminds us of home and although we are loving the exciting times together, we do miss our loved ones very much and need to remind ourselves regularly, as to why we have decided to give up our lives of certainties for a live of full-time traveling for the next year. The evenings would either consist of a Captain’s Dinner in one of the A la Carte restaurants or of a more relaxed, buffet dinner on one of the restaurant decks.
We believe that we will be receiving the necessary guidance along this journey, to know where we are supposed to settle again. For now, we are thankful for this opportunity, to share the most unforgettable locations and moments together. We are realising more and more, that our path has already been laid out before us and that the road will lead us, exactly where we are supposed to be.
Until next time…