My first cruise included a stop at Alexandria, Egypt where we could take a very long excursion to Cairo. I was not sure what to expect. I’ve heard and read so many different stories about Cairo, but I doubt anything truly prepares for you what you will see — or experience.
Our first stop, of course, was to see the pyramids. We were warned about some of the scams you can encounter at the pyramids — like negotiating for a picture on a camel, then being told it is another price to get down! Being alone in the group, I must have seemed like an easy target. I felt like everyone was trying to push something at me to buy and even saying, “No, thank you” in Arabic did not seem to help. Then, there was the nice man wearing a “security” uniform who offered to take my picture with the pyramids, doing some of the funny poses. Fortunately, one of the vendors saw him and I was surrounded by more people who helped me get my camera back from the nice man who was trying to steal my camera!
Our next stop was the Great Sphinx. This time, our tour’s security guard decided to stay close to me and took my picture here.
We then drove through Cairo to visit a few more sites.
And then it was a mad dash through Cairo, partially along what was a canal, but now is little more than a ditch. There was every type of transportation you can imagine — and no street lights — absolute chaos!
Before going to Tunisia, the only thing I’d ever really heard about Tunisia is that it is the site of Carthage, a place the Romans destroyed. So, I was excited to learn more and see not only one of the best collections of mosaics in the Bardo Museum, but other sites around Tunis.
I also heard that this is one of the best places to find jasmine-scented oil – my favourite scent!
I embarked on an excursion that would take me to Carthage, The Bardo Museum, the souk in Tunis, and Sidi Bou Said, famous for its white buildings and blue roofs. It was a long day, but I was not sure when I would be back here.
Of course, all that is left of Carthage are ruins, but I enjoyed seeing it – and it has great views of the sea.
The souk is a crazy labyrinth of streets and alleyways. I was glad I was with a guide, because it would be easy to get lost. Of course, we visited a rug merchant and a perfumery where I got my jasmine oil.
The Bardo Museum is fabulous and well worth a visit. I loved the mosaics and the architecture of the building. There were also some very large statues of Greek and/or Roman Gods.
Our last top was at Sidi Bou Said. The town is very beautiful with the white and blue motif. We stopped at a jewelry shop where I found a really nice lapis necklace. Bartering is not my strongest skill, however I ended up with two necklaces, a dolphin statue and a hand of Fatima charm. The owners of the shop pointed me to a little tea house across the road that had a private garden and a view of the town.
I wish this post could move to April 15th, as that marks my ten-year anniversary as a landed immigrant to Canada! This is as close as I can get to celebrating my Canadian status as an immigrant and use this as an “I” word in the #atozchallenge. I do have other immigration stories to share from my travels, so I hope you enjoy them!.
Some immigration experiences are the same, no matter how you enter a country and, if you have come off a long flight, you are tired, hungry, etc. and this makes the experience very boring indeed. I’m sure we could find a more pleasant way to enter a country besides long lines to face someone sitting in a booth who stares at you and then stamps your passport. The immigration officers have to hear the same stories ad nauseum because they have to ask the same questions over and over again. They are probably bored, tired and hungry too!
Here are some of my more memorable immigration experiences.
Frankfurt, Germany airport When you plan flights and connections, do not book a connecting flight within an hour of your previous flight if you are going through this airport. Chances are very good you will not make the connection. To anyone who has done this and made the connection, BRAVO! If you are coming from North America to Frankfurt, chances are good that you are landing early in the morning – and that you have had a “marvelous” transatlantic flight with screaming children and snoring companions. When you land, they park large planes away from the terminal and load you into buses. But, instead of loading a bus and heading to the terminal, ALL passengers from one plane have to be loaded into multiple buses and then all the buses travel together to the main terminal. This has been my experience on two occasions. Once in the terminal, you “follow” multiple and confusing signs until you come to a dreaded line – everyone has to go through a security check & then immigration, even if you are connecting to another flight! You never leave a “secure” area, however you have to be scanned and checked again (and no liquids – so drink any water you have!). I now try hard to plan alternate routes that do not take me through the Frankfurt airport.
The Santiago, Chile airport is easy by comparison. When you arrive, there are two lines – one for people staying in Santiago and one for people with connecting flights. The connecting flights line includes a scan of your carry-on baggage and a check of your ticket and passport. The difference between this and the Frankfurt airport is the whole process is much smoother and faster. Then, once you arrive at your new gate – there are bars to get a pisco sour. Perfect!
Most places I arrived by ship are easy. Cruise passengers usually use their shipboard card or SeaPass as a “passport” to get in and out of the country (and very important to get on and off the ship) – and can leave your passport on the ship. I usually carry a copy of my passport and other photo id with me with me, in case there is a need. I had a panic moment in Venice while I was on the train that goes back to the cruise terminal — and I could not find my SeaPass. But, I did find it and all was good.
There are some ports that make do not allow usage of the ship’s card. In Tunisia, we had to take our passports and each person had to show the passport, but they did not stamp it unless you asked for it! In Alexandria, Egypt, I used my SeaPass card, but my passport was stamped on board the ship – it’s a cool stamp, too.
St. Petersburg, Russia was the most interesting. We had to fill out an immigration form and have a copy of either a visa or a information from the tour operator contact. If you book a tour, either with the ship or a private company like SPb Tours, your visa is taken care of. Without a vise, you cannot enter. Once off the ship, you go to a building and wait in one of several lines as one person at a time goes to stand between two sliding doors while the immigration officer (usually a woman) checks your papers and stamps your passport – without a word or a smile. Challenge – try making one of them smile. I think a got a little “smirk” but it was gone quickly!
My easiest experience was the Athens airport – there was no one to check any documents. I’m hoping it was because we had been doubly checked in Frankford, Germany. I will say it made me a bit nervous – that is until I got to me hotel and there was a little bottle of ozo waiting for me!
So, next time you are standing in one of the long immigration lines at the airport of sea port – take a book, keep your headphones on and bring a lot of patience. Maybe you can even get the immigration officer to smile!
One of the choices you have when taking is cruise is about whether or not to take an excursion when in port. The ship offers a number of excursions for passengers to take – and mostly you will be crowded into buses with 40+ people from the ship, a tour guide / mother hen and a driver. If you plan ahead of time, you can also arrange for private excursions with other passengers. These tend to be smaller – 8 to 16 people — and you have the ability to adjust the tour to your needs. One of the best ways to arrange a private excursion is to sign up on a ship’s roll call in the forums on www.cruisecritic.com! You can also “go it on your own” and see what happens when you get to a port. This includes following your own plan, or grabbing a private tour looking for people, or the “hop on, hop off bus” that tends to be close to where many cruise ships dock. I have done all of the above – and there are reasons to experience each one. It just depends on what your needs are and how you like to travel. For this post, I am focusing on my best ship-organized excursion experiences.
Ship-organized excursions have a guarantee that you will make it to the ship on time. If you need this type of security, than this is a good option. In most places, the tour guide is licensed. The guide also gives you a running commentary on all things about the country, culture and places visited (this can get a little annoying if you just want to watch the world go by). For my first cruise, I used most of the ship’s excursions because I was nervous about making it back to the ship on time and I was not sure about “doing things on my own.”
Taking the excursion from Alexandria to Cairo was very important because there was an accident on the only road between the two cities and the all the buses were late getting back to the ship. We also had an armed guard with us on the bus. He realized I was alone in the group, and took a few pictures of me – and helped me out when a scammer almost stole my camera at Giza!
In Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, I took a historic tour of the city that included visiting the Senor do Bonfim church that is important to the Candoble religion in Brazil. Our group was small – about 20 German and English speakers – so it was as close to a private tour as we could get on a ship’s excursion. He was extremely knowledgeable of all the different traditions and religions in Brazil, and even talked about the different meanings of the Candoble ribbons and blessings you can receive.
One last experience is courtesy of a traveling companion. On a tour to Olympus, she discovered her camera was missing as we were heading back to the bus after a long day. We both panicked as we listed our options (forget the camera, look for the camera, miss the bus, take a taxi back to the ship …). We found the tour guide and told him our dilemma. He called one of the museums we had visited and the camera was there. We thought we would just take a taxi back, when the entire busload of people voted to wait for her as she ran back to the museum to get her camera – and they all applauded when she returned, camera in hand.
On our return to the ship, she went to the shore Excursion desk to fill out a comment card. They are so used to getting complaints that our comment card filled with thanks and compliments really touched them. The next day, they delivered a bottle of red wine to our cabin. Bonus!
Few travelers spend a lot of time around the docks of a city. Docks are usually not in the best areas of a city and most people arrive by air or train. However, if you cruise, you will see docks at every port, obviously. The ship has to “land” somewhere! I grew up around docks, so I have a strange appreciation for the many things you will see — from tug boats to cargo ships to grain silos and warehouses. While some things will be the same, every port will have some unique feature that tells you that you are in a different place — and it is not the “Welcome to port X sign”! Here are just a few of my favorite “docks”.
I loved the dock at Palermo. It is very active and has a great view of mountains. From a cruise perspective, it does not have any amenities, however it is a quick walk to the gates — and various forms of transit to the city. I got this picture as a storm was moving across the mountains.
In many ports, a cruise ship does not have a special dock — so you are surrounded crates and cranes. On a trip to Alexandria, Egypt, the containers were joined by a LONG line of buses that stretched all the way down the dock. The buses were ready to take the ship’s passengers to excursions to Cairo — a 2+ hour drive to the south.
The Port of Piraeus is very active. In addition to the usual cargo ships, there are numerous ferries and cruise ships. To hide some of the typically bland warehouse space, There are these screens I thought were a nice touch.
One of my favourite places to dock is at Rhodes. The ship is literally at the gates of the Old Town. I love it!
I knew I was in a very different place when we docked in Tunisia. The buildings had a different shape — not square and boxy. They were also in the process of building a new area to create cruise passengers — so that might be why it looks so clean!
In Aregentina, the local wildlife can give you quite a show — like this sea lion trying to get on a cargo ship.
Or these seals playing on a floating dock!
It is also really nice when you are close to the city. At Funchal, you can get a really nice view of an arena that is shaped like a conquistador’s helmet.
The cruise ship dock in Copenhagen is perfect for just getting off the ship and taking a bus into the city centre. It is also a very easy walk to the Little Mermaid statue.
I could have added so many more — and as I post on other places, I’ll share more on docks. Who knew there was such a variety!