Our flight to Dubai was at the very respectable time of 12pm. Nice leisurely start to the day, a short taxi ride to the airport, and a shortish flight to Dubai. We were booked to travel on WIZZ Air for the 4.5 hour flight. We checked in fine and proceeded through security where the nightmare began!! Well it wasn’t really a nightmare but just a really disappointing experience. Firstly they were pretty unfriendly, and then they basically hassled everyone as they went through. I mean to say – we have got pretty good at the airport / customs security process, so are usually reasonably relaxed about it, BUT Sofia took it to a new level.
I was putting my stuff on the trays as per the normal regulations and as my trays were going through I went to follow them and then was asked to take off my shoes and sweatshirt. While I undid my laces, they processed the other people behind me and then they made my take off my watch as well. I absolutely hate it when I don’t follow my personal things through. Then I had to have my hand luggage searched and it turned out I had half a bottle of water in it!!! Usually you would get a telling off, drink it and keep going but no, not here in Sofia – bottle confiscated! Not really a big deal, but you would have thought it was something sinister not merely 150mls of water. Anyway the rules are the rules so my lovely green ribbed bottle that I have had for at least seven years is now destined for the dump. The whole time you are being hassled to move along, and there wasn’t really an area to ‘get dressed’ again.
We then proceeded to our departure lounge (it’s not a big airport) and I am sitting there and realise that I don’t have my watch!!!!!! I immediately return and they say they don’t have it and it hasn’t been handed in. By now I am a little bit annoyed (precious watch – one my Mum and Dad gave me). I have to re-present my things for scanning again in case I have hidden it in my things! Really! Then I had to be scanned by the video cameras so they can verify that they actually made me take my watch off. Anyway, as it transpired I flew out of Sofia without my watch. It was most likely stolen, either by another passenger or maybe the security themselves. Gutted!!
We have done 14 flights so far and although our flight with WIZZ was okay (except the boarding process!) Sofia airport left me feeling totally frustrated, but looking for that silver lining, it could have been worse if I had lost my purse / credit cards!! If Sofia wants to become a destination they need to sort out their airport!! I have emailed a complaint and received a reply. I have to tell them what the exact time it was, if I passed through their east or west scanner (really, who would know that!!), and everything about me – height, hair colour, eye colour, what I was wearing (fortunately Colin took a photo there) and describe my watch in exact detail ! I will do all of that, but I don’t feel much hope that my watch will be returned. Anyway, onwards to Dubai.
Because of the way our dates worked out with our house sit and the cruise we decided to spend a bit more time in Sofia than Dubai … figuring that we would get to Dubai again before we got back to Bulgaria! We arrived in Dubai in the evening and were on the ship the next day, so no time really to explore. After a lovely night in a gorgeous hotel (I think that maybe they are all like that here or better) we caught the hotel’s free shuttle to the old town as we had thought the port was close to that area. After wandering around a bit by the river we finally realised that we were nowhere where we needed to be – Colin was in charge of this part of our travel!! A 15 minute taxi ride later and we were finally at the cruise terminal for checkin. Now that we are ‘GOLD’ passengers we can queue jump, so our checkin was pretty speedy! Anyway, we dumped our luggage had a super quick lunch on board and then did the hop on/off bus tour for a couple of hours.
Dubai is A-MAZ-ING!! It is like some sort of futuristic place with all these incredible buildings, islands of the shore like palm fronds, the Burj Khalifa and that fancy pancy hotel on the beach that looks like a sail and is apparently a 7 Star hotel. It was so clean and modern with beautiful Mosques everywhere and funnily enough a lot of very good graffiti art. Our audio tour on the bus told us that the vision for the city, that has risen from the sands, is only a small way into its development – the motto being that nothing is impossible, nothing is too hard and that reminded me of the Monks building there Monasteries in Meteora. There are so many spectacular buildings, everyone trying to build better or bigger ones. The small part of the old city [Al Seef] was incredible as well and I can’t wait to visit Dubai again!
So after that quick tour, and only time to drive past the biggest shopping mall in the world [apparently you could spend a week in here …. not sure I like shopping that much!] we headed onto the ship to unpack. I just love this cruising business, especially on this trip. The chance to empty my suitcase and not have to lug it around with me is fabulous. We had an internal room but with a window into the atrium so I was a happy camper. This cruise was a relocation cruise and we only did it as Dubai was close to Bulgaria and it ends in Barcelona, so we are close again to France. It only had two port stops – one in Athens and one in Malta but we did cruise through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal – a total of 9 days at sea (from Dubai to Piraeus, Athens).
Unfortunately there was a cold on board the ship and within two days Colin was feeling miserable and then I got it!! So we have both relaxed with lazy late starts to the day and then finding a quite place to read during the day. So for the first 9 days we were laid low. It was just wonderful to have someone else doing the cooking and cleaning!!
There was some great entertainment on board, and some awful !! In fact I think that it was the most disappointing of all the cruises we have done. We have loved the ‘enrichment lectures’ on other cruises, but the monotone, boring Professor on this cruise (who has done every single presentation) could put a person who was hard of hearing to sleep!! I decided he couldn’t inspire anybody and that I could have done a better job – much more punchy, with a bit of humour and definitely some passion.
Anyway we have met some very interesting people, and have enjoyed catching up with Jeannie and John who are neighbours of Mum and Dad’s from Ryman. Mum messaged and said she thought they were on the same ship, so after a bit of messaging back and forwards it was confirmed they were and were only a few cabins along the corridor from us!! Very small world sometimes. Jeannie has WiFi on board to I was able to talk to mum and dad a couple of times: once while cruising through the Gulf of Aden [while we were on ‘pirate watch’] and once cruising through the Mediterranean on our way to Valletta in Malta.
So let me tell you about the ‘pirate watch’ – this was for real and we had a very serious letter delivered to our stateroom, saying that for 3 nights that the ship would be closed on the outer decks and that the lights would be turned off where possible, that anyone with a balcony was to remain inside and their curtains were to be closed. The doors were all taped up with cardboard onto the main decks (to prevent light seepage) and they had spotters on the decks ready to use the water cannons if required. We had a drill on how to remain safe – it was all very serious! When I talked to mum she told me she had watched the Captain Phillips movie a few days before! Cruise liners are not usually the target for the Pirates, but no chances were being taken as we made our way towards ‘The Red Sea’ for our passage through the Suez Canal.
Our trip through the Suez Canal was just amazing and nothing like I had imagined. Firstly it is huge! And secondly, in one part of the canal is two ways!! We spent 6 hours cruising up here – bit like a slow boat to China – we saw beautiful Mosques, lush green towns dotted along the way, cities being built and so, so much construction along the nearly 200km of canal. It was 38 degrees, hardly any wind and a sort of like being on a slow moving train.
We spent the whole time on deck and just absorbed the amazing landscape – really wanted to see camels riding by, but alas it was only cars, trains and construction equipment, not forgetting all the other maritime traffic – from big cargo ships to little fishing boats!! As we passed through the canal our ship (Explorer of the Seas) led the marine procession and for us first timers it was just magical.
Then we were back in Greece for the day in the port of Piraeus. Most people all headed into Athens for the big ticket items, but we had already planned to have a leisurely walk around the port town. It has the main port docking area on one side which is where our ship was berthed [it is so busy with all the island ferries coming and going, all the cargo ships and a naval vessel in as well] and then a short walk around you find yourself in a marina with lots of posh boats, lovely cafes and shops. We walked a bit further round to where there is a beach (not a patch on a NZ beach!) and sat in a cafe above it and just watching the world go by and the Mediterranean sparkling below us. Just a lovely relaxing way to spend the day.
Next port of call was Valletta in Malta. It was a lovely sunny, but very windy! We had been offered a ‘2-4-1’ deal for a trip up to the Blue Grotto and the village of Marsaxlokk. We hadn’t visited either of these places back in January so took the opportunity to do this. Being a Sunday Marsaxlokk had the markets on and it was a very busy bustling place, especially with two cruise ships in port. Lots of bargains to be had but the best purchase we made was the nut/toffee/chocolate brittle – only half of it made it back to the ship! If you had never been to Malta before and you did this trip, it certainly wouldn’t have left you in love with Valletta and the three cities … it is so charming, magical and a lot romantic! I felt a bit sad for those who chose this trip and had never been to Valletta before. I should have got organised and done my own tour of Valletta and the Three Cities for those interested in a walking tour – of course if would have been free 🙂
So 13 nights on Explorer of the Seas have been wonderful. Of course nothing is perfect and there has been a few niggles on this ship but nothing that spoilt it for us. It was a great way to travel. So we have arrived in Barcelona and now need to focus on getting ourselves up to Toulouse for our next ‘Mr & Mrs Smith assignment’ which starts in a couple of weeks. Time to explore the North-east of Spain, the South-east of France and hopefully Andorra.
“Take time to do the things that make you happy”