By March 28, we passed through the Sombrero Channel, passing by the Islands of Little Nicobar and Katchall Island and on clearing, a West South Westerly track was set towards Sri Lanka.

After lunch, we had to attend a wine tasting event because we received an invitation from the World Club Cunard. How did we do it? The sommeliers chose the wines to feature but unlike the way the Wine Spectator does it where wines are tasted blind, the ones we tasted are out in the open and we are not experts after all and will not be asked to rate the wines on a 100-point scale or the vintage ratings as follows:

95 - 100 Classic: a great wine90 - 94 Outstanding: a wine of superior style and character85 - 89 Very good: a wine with distinctive qualities80 - 84 Good: a solid well-made wine75 - 79 Mediocre: a wine that is drinkable but with some flaws50 - 74 A wine that is not recommended

Wine experts though are of similar yet different breeds. There’s Matt Kramer a regular contributor to the Wine Spectator since 1985 who once wrote on why he buys less expensive wines not driven by the recession but due to a surprise factor.

There are bargain bubbles to be had for a good bottle of the bubbly does not have to break the bank. There’s the Marquis de la Tour Rose at $10.99 which is not technically champagne, but the bubbles are bright pink and have a strawberry flavor hint. So expensive wines are predictably good whereas you could be surprised by an inexpensive one.

In fact, savvy wine drinkers should pay attention to wines rated 88 - 89 points; you never know when you will discover a fine wine, a testament to the global surge in the quality of wines. There are now fewer flawed wines and winemakers are more in tune with their vineyards. In fact, in a recent year, almost half of the 1100 wines tasted scored 90 points or higher.

But a successful Napa winegrower begged to disagree. He said there will always be people discreetly spending for expensive wines. Ask any good sommelier at a high-end restaurant worth his salt, and he will verify this just like he is good at pairing wines with food.

The sad thing when it comes to wine and grape growers is that the Human Rights Watch has slammed South Africa. The report came out that the workers lived in dilapidated housing sometimes in a pig stall for ten years. “The wealth and well-being these workers produce should not be rooted in human misery”, so said Daniel Bekele, director of HRW, South Africa.

Then after dinner as if we didn’t have enough wine we attended the cocktail party. Here’s the invitation:

Commodore Bernard WarnerCordially requests the pleasure of Dr. and Mrs. Rogelio GuzmanTo join him and his officers on Monday 28th March 20At 7:30 pm in the Queen’s Room for cocktails

Dress Code: FormalThis party is by invitation only. Kindly present your invitation at the entrance. Guests who would like to meet the Commodore should enter the Queen’s Room via the port side.

Would you believe we each had a Singapore Sling at this event and had fun with Bonnie and Linda which together we took with us to the Royal Court Theatre to see a wonderful show called ‘Viva Italia”? Mingling and chatting were encouraged because the mood was kept light and lively with fun upbeat music in the background.

We did our usual activities on March 29, but by the afternoon we reached the Traffic Separation Scheme off Dondra Head which is the most southerly tip of Sri Lanka. We then went on a North Westerly heading towards the coast of India. After the semi-formal dinner we caught the early show that featured an evening of songs with Robert Meadmore. Then on to the illumination we went for the movie entitled ‘Black Swan’ starring Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder among others.

Our day was not over yet for we had to prepare for India by reading the materials on Cochin as follows: Kochi (Cochin) Kerala’s (a strip of land characterized by coastal low lying rich tracts) fertile ribbon of land lines India’s indented southwest coast.

Because the rivers flowing from the Western Ghats (lying parallel to the west coast of India) empty into broad alluvial plains, the coastal fields produce a rich crops. Rice, mangoes, cashews and coconuts are grown in the tropical climate. Geography and natural harbours assured the Kerala coast distinction on the route between Arabia and Southeast Asia.

As they say, he who controls the spice controls the universe and so spice trade dominated most of the long history. Although the area produced its own share of spices, a huge volume of spice traffic like the Cinnamon Route and the Clove Route passed Kerala ports.

Scholars say Kerala translates in Classical Tamil that means “land of the Cheras” in reference to the native people. No one is sure about the origins of the name Kochi, but there are theories. In Malayalam, the Dravidian Keralan language, Kochazhi means ‘small sea’ and Kaci is “seaport.” Another theory is that Cochin means “co-chin” that means like China.

Portugal built the port, and many colonial period old homes still line the streets which pass through several island and peninsular sections. Bridges and ferries link all these. The mainland district is Ernakulam which refers to the western part. A series of islands, some of which are man-made, dot the harbour.

Some of the islands are Willingdon, Vypeen, Gundu, Bolgatty and Willingdon, a wonderful man-made island named after Lord Willingdon, a British Viceroy to India. On the peninsula opposite Ernakulam, the oldest districts are Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. Most of the historic sights are on the peninsula, where the main avenue is Princess Street.

Ernakulam has good shops and restaurants. Its central district is on Mahatma Ghandi Road (“MG Road”), where one can find lots of shops. There are rationalists who some think are admirable beings, but others think rationalism is a dreadful monster when it claims omnipotence. The Science and Rationalists Association of India wants to stamp out superstition and blind faith.

“I plead not for the suppression of reason, but for a due recognition of that in us which sanctifies reason” -Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian political, spiritual leader revered in India as the Father of the Nation. Young India (Oct. 14, 1926)

Nothing remains of Portuguese merchant Vasco da Gama’s Fort Kochi except for the St. Francis Church he commissioned that still stands. Not exactly though for a standing stone structure replaced the original wooden church a few years after da Gama died. It is India’s oldest European-built church.

Da Gama died during his third visit to Kerala. His burial site is well marked, but his body was returned to Portugal in 1538. The Portuguese church was dedicated to San Antonio, patron saint of Portugal. Later, Dutch settlers converted and redesigned it as a Protestant Church, and re-dedicated it to St. Francis.

The Dutch Palace, or the Mattancherry Palace was built by the 16th-century Portuguese merchants as a gift to the Raja Veera Kerala Varma of Kochi. This was so the Dutch could have exclusive trading rights. It’s a marvellous construction with a two-story unit built around a quadrangle, where the Hindu temple is dedicated to Bhagirathi (mythological Sagar Dynasty prince who brought the goddess Ganga to release a curse).

It utilized the typical Kerala style of conventional architecture nalukettu which makes the structure a tetragon shape. The collection of Rajas’ clothing and accessories are proudly displayed inside the palace, but the series of interior murals is the main attraction. The 16th-century art shows parts of the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata which contains discussion of four goals of life. Many Rajas of Kochi were crowned inside the palace.

There is a series of permanent cantilevered fishing nets along the Fort Kochi that is run with a system of pulleys and weights. The Chinese merchants were thought to have brought these to India in the 14th century. A scenic beach adjoins the netted area. There are western style bungalows around and sailing ships form an ideal counterpoint for the nets.

Built by the Raja of Kochi, the 19th-century Hill Palace was seat of provincial power. Now the Hill Palace Museum displays a collection of the Rajas’ personal articles as well as the focus on Kerala development and history. There are paintings on important events and life-size statues of the state’s famous personalities.

Practically Speaking Currency: Indian rupee Shop: 8:30 am to 5 pm Info: Pierside Tourist Office, Taj Malabar Hotel or www.cochin.org PO: Fore Shore Rd (Ernakulam) Browse: Mahatma Gandhi Road (“MG Road”) (Ernakulam) Buy: Carpets, gold jewellery, antiques, handicrafts Arrival Information: The ship docked at Ernakulam Wharf. There is a large shopping complex north of the pier area and ferries link to Fort Kochi.

There used to be a large local Jewish population in Kochi, but only a few remains. Paradesi synagogue (the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations) was built in the 16th century, but was later ruined during a conflict with Portuguese fleet. It was rebuilt when Holland took control of Kochi in the 17th century.

Kochi’s Jews are also called Malabar Jews and are a mystery. There have been two Jewish colonies in India for centuries dating back from King Solomon. The community is divided into Black Jews and White Jews and both speak Judeo-Malayalam. Most of the Cochin Jews emigrated to Israel and only very few remained and facing extinction.

Just west of the Mattancherry Jetty is the synagogue. The white Jews built it with a pleasant airy interior. They used imported handmade Cantonese tiles to finish the floor and antique Belgian chandeliers adorn the place. The torah is prudently preserved with the original copper plate indicating the privileges granted to the community by the Kerala Rajas.

Kochi, formerly known as Cochin which is the colonial-era name, is a city in the state of Kerala located on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea. Another origin of the name “Kochi“ is that it came from the Malayalam word Koch ozhi, meaning ‘small lagoon‘.

The name Cochin stuck after the Portuguese first arrived followed by the British. In 1966, the city went back to a closer Anglicisation of the original Malayalam name, Kochi. They still widely refer to it as Cochin. It is one of the main seaports of India.

Located in the district of Ernakulam, Cochin is about 220 km (140 Miles) north of the state capital. Thiruvananthapuram is one of India‘s most beautiful cities. Its population is estimated at 600,000 but with the surrounding area, it is about 1.5 million.

Kochi was the seat of the Kingdom of Cochin which traces its history to the Kulasekhara empire. Kochi is proclaimed as the Queen of the Arabian Sea and was a key spice trading centre on the Arabian sea coast. Writings of tradesmen and travellers referred to Kochi Cocym, Cochym, Cochin and Cochi.

Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Kochi was the first European colonial settlement in India. It stayed as the capital of Portuguese India until 1530, when Goa (412.65 km away) became the capital. The Dutch, the Mysore (a key French ally in India) and the British then occupied it. Kochi was the first state to the Indian Union, when India became independent in 1947.

Kochi had a metropolitan area population of 1,355,972 by 2009 and a literacy rate of 94%. The population includes the tribes and castes of around 14% of the city’s population. The major religions are Hinduism (47%), Christianity (35%) and Islam but other religions are also practiced in Kochi.

Most of the city’s residents are Malayalis, but it is virtually a melting pot of cultures including Tamils, Gujaratis, Jews, Anglo-Indians, Sikhs, Konkanis and Tulus. Malayalam is the chief language of communication and used it as medium of instruction for primary education.

There are a number of schools that offer English as the medium of instruction. The higher education is regularly in English which is the preferred language in business circles. Tamil and Hindi are widely understood, although rarely spoken.

Kochi twinned with the city of Norfolk, Virginia USA in 2010. Kochi was admitted into Norfolk Sister Cities Association for cooperation in city development exchange programs in culture, art, and education and to improve business possibilities.

Those who occupied Cochin from Portugal, Holland, Arabia, and Britain have all left their influences in the way of life of the people and in the architecture. Cochin, Queen of the Arabian Sea, is also the gateway to the maze of canals known as the backwaters.

Adopted at a meeting of the Constituent Assembly held on 22 July 1947, the flag of India became the official flag of the Dominion of India. The term “tricolour” refers to the Indian national flag. It was also retained as that of the Republic of India.

Here is the official description of the flag: ’a horizontal rectangular tricolour of deep saffron, white and India green; with the Ashoka Chakra, a 24-spoke wheel, in blue at its centre’. Designed by freedom fighter Pingali Venkayya, the flag, by law, is to be made of khadi, a unique sort of hand-spun cloth of cotton or silk made popular by Mahatma Gandhi.

The manufacturing procedure and details for the flag are laid out by the Bureau of Indian Standards. The wheel at the flag’s centre was at the start to symbolize Gandhi’s objective of making Indians self-sufficient by producing their own clothing.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, who later became India’s first vice president explained the symbolism of India’s newly adopted flag as: “Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work.

The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to direct our behaviour. The green shows our relation to the soil and plant life here, on which all other life depends. The “Ashoka Wheel” in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma.

The controlling principle of those who work under this flag should be truth or satya, dharma or virtue. Again, the wheel indicates motion for there is death in stagnation. In contrast, there is life in movement. India should not oppose change, it must move and go forward. The wheel stands for the dynamism of a peaceful change.”

There were three announcements we had to pay attention to. The Indian rupees would not be available but a local currency agency would be on board. There would be a big event on The Night of the Raj Ball so we were encouraged to take advantage of shopping in Cochin if planning to come in a themed costume. Then at Todd English, they would be having an event as well for the guests to experience the taste of India.

We slowed down early in the morning of March 30 as we approached the Port of Cochin and embarked the local pilot who would help guide us to our berth. We had breakfast at 8:30 after which we headed to Queen’s Room to meet our tour group.

Cochin, IndiaAfter cruising the Indian Ocean from March 28 to 30, we arrived in Cochin on March 31. We were originally scheduled to go to Mumbai, the former Bombay, but there was a change that may have been political as well but we’d not go into that; we’d leave that for the pundits to rehash. We’re too busy to indulge in controversies for we had places to visit and sights to see.

Now time is playing with our mind because the clock says it’s 7 am and we know because we were keeping track of it that in Toronto it’s already 9:31 pm making us ahead by 9.5 hours. Oh well, at least we’re on the same day.

Jacob was our tour guide on this hot day of 29 degrees. He said Cochin is the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Karela is in the southeastern tip of India and is fairly small with 35 million people. Kochi is the largest city here but it’s not the capital. They usually change the name of the city.

We could see bikes which are easy to travel on in these narrow roads. He said we’d go and see the Chinese fishing nets. The Chinese sailors introduced the net with bamboo. Then we’d visit a small fishing market where auctions would be going on.

There were coconuts everywhere and karela means coconuts which have 1000 uses from the leaves and nuts. One could even make alcoholic drinks from it for you can cut the branch before it flowers and that is the way to make coconut beer. There are also industries like making mats and rugs.

There were sea fishing boats at the right side. India imports logs from Indonesia and Malaysia because India is very strict and rightly so for there are not enough trees to cut down. There are 20% Christians, 20% Moslems, 60% Hindu. The tour guide pointed to the old bridge that is not working. It used to be a drawbridge and the joke is that someone lost the key.

Kochin also has a shipyard for they build ships. Movie is also a big industry for they make 200 to 300 movies a year. Traffic is everywhere. There’s a dotted line in the middle of the road to show the drivers where to go but no one pays attention to it. They have a seafood industry.

He pointed to the San Sebastian Catholic Church and also to the Bunyan trees as well. We could see some wearing saris but some liked wearing modern dress. There’s a two-piece clothing worn by the young women in the last 25 years. We saw small shops famous for spice. The Europeans tried hard to get a route looking for spices.

Vasco da Gama came before the Arab and Jews had traded and before the sea route was discovered. The Indians live peacefully; they don’t mind different religions. The literacy rate is 95% but there are no jobs around so they go outside Karela looking for work. They export a lot of health care workers.

History of Christianity started 2000 years ago. One of the apostles, St Thomas, came and so churches were built but they didn’t look like churches because they just put a cross on top of the temples. The tour guide said we’d go to one where mass is still held.

Fort was destroyed during the battle between the French and Portuguese. There were mangoes around in the trees. He pointed to the hammer and sickle because it is communist government, just something used to get something they wanted.

In two weeks there would be an election and the communist government would be out. The communists are not coming back. In Calcutta, communists are there for 20 years but in Karela it’s only for five years. There were posters of smiling people all around and that’s because of the coming election.

He said something about Sonya Gandhi who accepted the post of Congress president in 1998 and just underwent surgery in the US. There are more women than men in Karela because people are more educated and don’t mind girls not like in some other places where there’s still female infanticide.

Then we stopped by a laundry cooperative with clothes hanging without pegs on bamboo poles. Someone asked if beating the clothes will make them last and he said the first ones to go are the buttons. Cricket is popular. To the left is the naval training centre. Rain trees are all over.

As we drove by, we saw a mixture of houses big and small. There’s a 200 year old tree planted by the British. Colonialism was on until the Dutch arrived. They gained independence in 1947. There are old homes to the right and the Dutch are good architects. There are old lighthouses converted into a hotel. They maintain colonial houses and old bungalow houses.

Horn is important for driving. There are three things you need, a good horn, good brakes and good luck. We arrived at St. Francis Church built in 1503 where Vasco da Gama was buried but the body is no longer there. It’s watermelon season and there are ferries everywhere to take you to the other side taking 15 - 20 minutes compared to driving there that would take over an hour.

The next stop was the synagogue where there used to be a large population of Jews but they left for Israel and only four families are left with 11-12 people. Among them is 90-year old Sarah who is still active and healthy but it’s hard to get a service because they need 10 Jewish men to get a service started.

There’s the Santa Cruz Basilica that remained Catholic because the battlers didn’t destroy it and used it for storage instead. The Dutch Palace was built by the Portuguese. People in Karela are the highest consumers of alcohol. Everyone drinks no matter what religion is. Tax rate is 75% for alcohol but it does not stop people.

They used to have the #1 suicide rate in the world and now that has shifted to something else There are lots of pressure. They still have arranged marriage and he arranged his own marriage himself. He just got the best from a website and try each one.

There are Jackfruit trees where you eat the bright yellow sweet meat inside. There’s Durian which is King of Fruit with powerful smell that smells like hell but tastes like heaven. Goats are everywhere; some of them could be tomorrow’s mutton. Everybody eats beef; people are less conservative and it’s cheaper, all according to the tour guide.

Then we headed to the Dutch Palace with artifacts, portraits, history of people, interesting paintings from 300 years ago but the stairs were steep. We saw this sign in the street: Dutch Palace 0 km God’s Own Country. The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 by the descendants of Spanish, Dutch and other European Jews.

It has served as a functioning synagogue throughout the centuries and preserved a unique record of Jewish presence in India. The clock tower was added later in 1760. After the conservation is complete, it will become the symbol of the synagogue once again.

There are 22 official languages. In the Dutch Museum we saw a list of rajas the first one being Unni Rama Koil I -1503, the last one being Rama Var 1948-1964. The Portuguese Period is from 1637-1663; Dutch Period 1663-1721-1775; British Period 1790-1851-1864. Phase 1 is Conservation and Restoration and it’s called Mattancherry Museum.

We saw carvings, history, portraits, murals. Weather is 35-36 degrees but in May it’s 22-25. There was no cell phone 15 years ago but now there are 600 million cell phones out of 1 billion population. You can get a tuk tuk driver for there are 46 cruise ships and is growing by 20%

Then we were dropped off at Malabar Mall which is nothing to write home about. It looks like 44 rupees is = $1. Hindi Language is the national language and spoken only in the north. English is the only language linking them.

At this point, the tour guide told us a lot of things. English is the official language. Life expectancy is 72 for men and for women it’s 77. The chief of state is an 87-year old lady who was able to contest all. The best catch of fish is sent to factories to be exported. Motor bike law on seat belt is only for the driver. There are official and unofficial fines.

After the tour, we headed to King’s Court at Lotus to have a bit of lunch and then did some work and had a little bit of rest before the dinner. Then we went to see the movie entitled “Love Happens” starring Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart and Martin Sheen.

Before going to the movies, we watched as the gangway was raised and we cleared the harbour and set a North Westerly course in the Lakshadweep Sea. We were on our way to Dubai a distance of 1610.7 nautical miles away.

By March 31, we entered the Arabian Sea and left the coast of India behind after which we set a Northwesterly course towards the Gulf of Oman. The formal dinner was okay but we had quite a sombre announcement from the commodore. He said that between March 30 and April 6, from Cochin to Dubai and onto the Suez Canal, we would be transiting an area well documented in the world’s media for piracy, in particular the Gulf of Aden, which we would transit on April 5 and 6.

He said that onboard Queen Mary 2, they put in place a security plan in order to protect the ship. As part of this plan, he requested our assistance and cooperation with the following: Deck 7 external promenade deck and Deck 6 aft would be closed on both sides at night and no guests or crew would be allowed access for the duration of the transit.

During hours of darkness, only essential open deck lights will be on, as it is important to reduce the ship’s external lighting. With this in mind, the captain requested that we turn off our cabin lights when not required and close the curtains of cabin window or balcony.

In order to familiarize us with these additional measures prior to transiting the Gulf of Aden, there was a Guest and Crew Drill. This drill was conducted in the interests of our personal safety and security and the captain respectfully requested our full participation in this important exercise.

In the event of pirate activity, announcements would be made from the Bridge and the initial actions required by the guests would be to proceed to their staterooms. Guests with the window or balcony should proceed to the corridor outside their stateroom and sit on either a chair or on the floor and close their stateroom door.

Those who were in an inboard stateroom could remain inside. The stateroom steward would do a check of their section area to ensure everyone is accounted for. During this time, guests would not remain on any open decks or near any external windows.

You can tell that the safety and the security of every individual on board is the highest priority of Commodore Bernard Warner, Master RMS Queen Mary 2 and the implementation of this procedure was an important part of the ship’s security plan. That is why we were never afraid at all. Besides, you can’t let fear hijack your world cruise.

Then we saw the movie “Edge of Darkness” starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone and Danny Huston. We also tried to check out the theatre presentation on the evening of magic and illusion from an award-winning performer Paul Dabek but ended up finishing the movie because Roger liked it.

On April 1, Roger had a scheduled appointment with Entertainment Director Paul O’Loughlin to talk about our plan to write a book on the World Cruise, hence our need for more relevant information on QM2. He was very cooperative.

We went to dinner and to another cocktail party again with the following invitation:

Commodore Bernard WarnerAnd the Senior OfficersCordially requests the pleasure of your companyTo join them for cocktailsOn Friday 01st April 20At 7:30 pm in the Queen’s Room

Dress Code: FormalKindly present this invitation at the entrance.

We had our picture taken and we ordered for a Singapore Sling each. Then we went to the show called Apassionata. But before that was an announcement from the commodore that there was a large object that fell from the boat and he had no recourse but to go back and check it out. He didn’t find anything so he requested everybody to go back to their cabin for a nose count.

It took some time because not everyone followed the request. In fact a Mr. A. T. was asked to go to his cabin or call. Then of course the company has to be checked and that took sometime before we could leave for the show and what do you know, there were hardly any seats left so these are the people who did not follow the rules. All is okay though as throughout the day we continued on our North Westerly course across the Arabian Sea towards the Gulf of Oman.

On April 2, we met with Peter and Jackie and told them the world cruise is turning to be quite an adventure. They agreed and mentioned the earthquake at Light Christ, Tokyo and then added that just after we left Phuket, there were heavy rains and landslides and several died from it. They also said about the earthquake in Minamar and another one in Tokyo.

We passed by the tour office requesting for an airport transfer but they said they can only do it at Southampton. I told them how a Cunard agent told us not to delay getting the transfer and get it about April 1 or 2. They said they didn’t have the information yet but assured us we won’t be late at all.

We were informed that the we would not be needing our passports while in Dubai. Instead we would be issued a landing card and our passports would remain on board as they would be processed by the immigration officials. The landing card would be issued at the gangway on our way out to go ashore.

We went to line dancing afterwards and worked a little bit before the ballroom lesson on the Viennese Waltz. At the Winter Garden where the world voyagers usually congregated, we had an informal get-together with the guest speakers, Jeremy Bitz, Robin Oakley, Jeff Roberts, Captain Routledge and Dr. Durrans.

The formal dinner was fine and so was the double bill at the Royal Court Theatre on the award-winning magician Paul Dabek and Star West End Vocalist Robert Meadmore. We were also able to take in the movie entitled “Made in Dagenham”.

By the evening, we entered into the Gulf of Oman passing the coast of Iran. By late evening we went through the Strait of Hormuz off the North tip of Oman as we entered into the Persian Gulf passing the coast of the United Arab Emirates. It was time for us to go through the information materials provided for us:

Meantime we added the following as research for the book we were planning to write. Besides we would be better prepared for the tour we signed up for. From Daily Program April 2 “Sooner or later we must absorb Islam if our own culture is not to die of anemia.” - Basil Bunting (1900-1985), British poet. Omar Pound, Arabic and Persian Poems, Foreword (1970)

Dubai showed evidence of human settlement along the shores near the Strait of Hormuz dating back more than 5000 years, yet facts about the wandering people who lived in them are vague. Each time there is a new local construction project, more evidence is “unearthed.” But there are few records so they rely on pottery fragments and oral history.

About 600 years after Christ lived in Israel, Mohammed was born in Mecca, and Islam spread across the Arabian Peninsula. By that time, the European groups were still fighting for control after the fall of Rome. Medieval Crusader invasion fired up Islam.

Mini-empires appeared by the 15th century after Assyrians and dominant Persian kingdoms subjugated the Gulf. There were Inter-tribal conflicts that easily advanced regional turmoil. It was at this time Vasco da Gama, first European navigator to reach the Persian Gulf, arrived at the Strait of Hormuz (1498).

Oil turned into a vital commodity with the arrival of commercial air travel. Thus a refuelling station was established close to Sharjah in the 1930s. British Iraq Petroleum and Abu Dhabi and the British Iraq Petroleum Company signed an agreement to allow exclusive right to use the reserves.

The UAE only existed as a body in 1971. That was when they had a treaty establishing a council of Sheikhs (also spelled sheik means elder but really it means leader or governor) to retain control over their emirates (kingdoms). They also have to rule, as a council, over the region. The seven Emirates are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Qaiwain, Ras Al-Khaimah, and Fujairah.

Knowing the oil reserves are limited, the emirs have broadened their horizons. One long-term goal was to export inborn expertise in port management. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, like his brother before him, has built Dubai into a futuristic wonder. He promoted the building of Burj Khalifa which is now the tallest free-standing structure in the world.

Dubai is two incredible cities. Dubai is in the south bank while Deira is on the north side of the Dubai Creek. You see right away the prominent modern architecture, like the remarkable World Trade Centre with its spherical cap, Jumeira Beach Hotel, consistently voted by the readers as the best resort hotel in the world.

It was a good thing tradition has remained. The old Bastakiya district, for instance with tall wind-towers and narrow lanes gives one an enticing peek of the old Dubai. Al Fahidi Street lies at the heart of the Bur Dubai souk where the shops are filled with many of the latest videos, TVs and electronics.

Deira and Bur Dubai souks are linked by abras or water taxis. If you walk along the Creek, the natural inlet that cuts through the city centre, you will see the dhows or the middle sized boats and the trading operations. Once you get to the Deira side, you will see the paved promenade which goes all the way from the Corniche to Maktoum Bridge.

The former 30-room palace near the port was home for the Al-Maktoums until 1958 when the sheikh died. The Al-Maktoums - especially Sheikh Zayed, (ruler of Abu Dhabi and first president of UAE for over 30 years) are revered in Dubai for making the city into a modern success story.

The celebrated Shindagha home was in use from the late 19th century until 1958. The leader could monitor harbour traffic from the balcony. Several generations lived together in the house that featured wind-towers and rooms arranged around a courtyard in the middle.

Dubai Museum at Al-Fahidi Fort dates back to 1787. The museum has a remarkable collection of cultural and military artifacts. Dating back to 1800s, it is the oldest building in Dubai. The ruling family used to live in the old fort until the Sheikh’s home was built.

The citadel was restored in 1971 as a museum. Photographs on the local development are at the entrance. They are especially amazing for only a short time ago, the city was just a sandy plain. The traditional barasti (date palm reed house) is also preserved there. This type of home is good in the Gulf region for air flows through the straw and provides superb airing.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Arab emirates dirham Shop: 8:00 am- 1:30 pm; 4 - 5 pm Info: Murshid Bazaar or browse: www.dubaitourism.ae PO: Umm-Hureir Runabout Transport: Taxi, abra Browse: Gold Souk (Sikkat Al-Khail Street, Deira), Dubai Old Souk, Al Rigga Road, Karama, Al Diyafa Road and Bani Yas Square by Le Meridien Buy: Electronics, spice, gold Arrival Information: The ship docked at Port Rashid, Port of Dubai where we saw QE2.

Dubai is absolutely suited to the uniquely Arabian sport of sand boarding. In contrast to skiing there are no dune-lifts to take you to the top. Walking is the way to reach the summit but the lack of trees and cliffs makes it safe to indulge in sand boarding.

If you go to the Dubai races, you might be surprised to see a camel at a race track. Camel racing is a traditional sport and must be seen for the humped animals are remarkably fast. The camel track is two and a half-mile long and is the most popular sporting facility in the area.

Fossils prove the ancestral camel was native to North America, but now they are only found in Asia, Africa and the Australian outback. The Arabian camel has one hump used to store fat, not water. They are perfect racers and can run as fast as ten miles per hour. The races can get pretty wild.

If you want to go slow and ride a slower camel, you can go visit the desert in a four-wheel drive vehicle if you are looking for a less adventurous day (Not! Because the camel ride we had was full of excitement). We didn’t take the trackside seats knowing that the lumbering animals can turn to the crowd!

The man-made Palm Islands are remarkable. They started the islands in 2001 that extends into the Persian Gulf making Dubai shoreline longer by 520 kilometers. There are hotels, luxury condos, marine parks, and shopping centres there but the news is that the islands are sinking back into the sea.

We were advised as to the general dress and behaviour code while in UAE. Ladies are not to wear scanty or revealing clothes when going ashore, depending on which place one is visiting but it is better to be a little conservative. As for the behaviour code, avoid public display of affection like hugging and kissing. In addition, no one is allowed to photograph any Arab lady wearing the traditional clothing without permission.

Signs of affection between people of the same gender is not accepted. Going ashore and moving about under the influence of alcohol is an offence. Any odd behaviour due to excess alcohol intake can lead to problems with authorities. Alcohol consumption in the cruise terminal and ashore is not allowed and can result in legal complications. Possession of drugs/pornographic material is punishable by law.

Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf. The official language is Arabic but English is widely spoken by the residents. Some other languages spoken here are Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Chinese, Malayalam and other languages.

Abu Dhabi is largest in area and Dubai is the second and has the largest population. With lots of construction and development in different industries, the world has taken notice of Dubai’s sports events, conferences and through innovative real estate projects, and Guinness records.

The hope and desire of the ruling sheikh can be seen in the ultra-modern architecture of the city. Aside from this, the government’s has diversified from trade-based and on relying on oil to one that is service-oriented. The tourism also has grown making the property in Dubai appreciate from 2004-2006.

The value has depreciated now though, some by as much as 64%. The large scale development has led to construction of the tallest and largest projects such as the Burj Khalifa, Emirates Tower, the Palm Islands and second tallest and most expensive hotel in the world, the Burj Al Arab.

The variety of cuisine in Dubai is a sign of the multi-ethnic nature of the society. Arab food is available everywhere from small shawarma diners in Deira and Al Karama to the posh restaurants in Dubai’s many hotels. There are also fast food, South Asian, and Chinese cuisines.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 after the independence from Britain. It has now grown to one of the Middle East’s most important economic centres. Although each state of the seven maintains a large degree of independence, the UAE is governed by a Supreme Council of Rulers made up of the seven emirs. They appoint the prime minister and the cabinet.

Dubai had large debts during the 2008 economic crash to foreign investors. Abu Dhabi gave Dubai 10 billions dollars in December 2009 to pay off the debts of Dubai World, the government-owned company that was established on March 2, 2006 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Dubai, United Arab EmiratesOn this world voyage, we felt bad at the start due to the Dubai Visa that was not available all the way to departure day. Knowing that it took sometime to get the visas for China, Brazil and India, we resigned ourselves not to tour Dubai.

But surprise! On April 3, with the efficiency and the well-run machinery of QM2, they managed to secure information on getting the visa and to signing up to tour the place. So we were given instructions on how to obtain the visa at $125.00 per person and to fill out the forms that required a lot of information, and photograph.

We could not understand why Dubai dragged its feet in telling us all these requirements even a month before the start of the World Voyage. We almost didn’t sign up but in honour of the efficient QM2 staff and our very capable travel agent Wendy Cline of Jet Setters Travel who amazingly supplied us with an extra photo in anticipation of this dilemma, we signed up.

So at sunrise we watched the sail-in as they opened Decks 6 and 7 at 5 am as the pilot boarded QM2 when we were within the port limits. Based on our calculation we are now only 8 hours ahead at 6:00 am on April 3 with Toronto’s time at 10:00 pm on April 2.

We had a very early breakfast because of the tour we signed up called Panoramic Dubai to see its main attractions from the coach. This was good for the ones who prefer not to walk a lot. For one thing the tour lasted about 3 and ¾ hours long. The tour started with a drive along Sheikh Zayed Road, the home of most skyscrapers in Dubai like the Emirates Towers and the Burj Khalifa.

We easily noted the excess and opulence in Dubai during our April 3 tour. The tour guide made sure to let us know they have the tallest building in the world, the man-made islands and other best of this and best of that. They also have this iconic hotel, Burj al Arab, where inside is a ski slope. We regret not to have done some skiing there the way our new-found friends Karl and Pamela did.

We went on to Jumeirah, the charming residential area of Dubai. It is where the modern-day palaces and the well-known Jumeirah Mosque, an excellent example of Islamic architecture, are located. It is also one of the few mosques that is open to those who are not Muslims.

We were served some refreshment at a local restaurant before going to the old section of Dubai, Al Bastakiya, the old part of Dubai. There we saw the skilfully preserved old merchants’ homes that had ‘Barajeels’ wind towers. These helped cool homes during the hot summers before the arrival of electricity and air conditioning. Then we went through an underwater tunnel for a short visit to Deira, Dubai’s twin city, and also went to the most famous sight, The Gold Souk.

The name of our tour guide is Rajean Singh. He said that we would drive down Jumeirah, the course Dubai is known. Then we would go to the 7-star hotel and to the second largest mall - the Mall of the Emirates. There we would see the largest ski hill. In downtown Dubai, we’d see the tallest free-standing structure.

Then we’d see the oldest part of town the Bastakiya. Deira is in the south bank where there’s the largest gold market in the world. Our hearts were pounding when we saw QE2, bringing back lovely memories when we cruised on that grand boat about two decades ago. That was also my sister Nita’s favourite boat as she cruised there practically every year. Its last cruise was from Hamburg to Dubai in 2008.

The first port was built in 1968 and named after the first prime minister of Dubai Sheikh Maktoum. Known as the Father of Modern Dubai, he did the work from 1950s to 1980s and his son is now carrying it through. The population is 5 million people in the entire UAE, consisting of 82% expatriates and more than 200 nationalities. There are many cultures but they co-exist. The majority are from India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Indonesia.

This area is used as marketing loading port but later on it was called Maritime City. Crude was exported from here in 1968. In 2008 they moved it to 35 km away. The biggest man-made port is located right in the heart of Dubai. The flagpole to the right used to be the highest standing at 121 meters.

The agreement of December 21, 1971 was when UAE was born. It is one of the youngest babies that grew significantly. It is hard to believe that in the 1950s, there was no electricity and no water supply. The story of Dubai is from rags to riches and it happened only in the last two generations and made a 180 degrees turn around, from scratch, for everything is brand new. Everything was barren land before.

This most beautiful mosque in Dubai was built in 1980, This inscription says: Open doors, open minds www.culture.ae at Sheikh Mohammed Centre for cultural understanding. There are more than 1000 mosques; the oldest place of worship is in Bidiya built in 200 BC but some said in 1446 AD.

The four significance of the polar tree is that it’s used for shade, to eat as food, to feed the animals and to make mats and baskets. Actually we found out poplar trees are used to make paper, plywood, matches, boxes for camembert cheese, snowboards, guitars and drums, for tanning leather and making chopsticks.

There are also churches and Hindi temples. The government is open to freedom of religion as long as you’re not disturbing anyone. Dubai is the safest place where ladies can drive and walk alone in the middle of the night with families and children as well.

UAE is comprised of seven states and every emirate is named after its captain. Dubai is the capital of Dubai. Everyone has its own monarchy style, ruler is known as sheikh and is highest decision maker responsible for making the decisions for the good of the community. How it works is that they have a supreme ruler with seven rulers with highest decision making.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the most important and have a veto power. There’s a parliament with 39 ministers, among them are women. There’s no difference between the status of men and women. Both enjoy the same status. Women form 55% of the national work force. It’s unlike in Saudi Arabia where women can’t drive and walk alone. Here, the rulers want women to participate.

Jumeriah Beach Park charges a small entry fee just to monitor the groups entering on certain days when families are the only ones allowed. This development is a cluster of 200 islands, freehold project, development not connected to any bridge. Whoever can afford and buy here can also buy a yacht and a chopper. Area is 83000 square km.

The biggest emirate is Abu Dhabi which has 87% of the entire land in the whole country. Dubai has 5%, and the third is Sharjah with 2.5% of the land. The fourth is Ras al-Khaimah followed by Fujiriah the only one in the east, and Al jiman which is just 400 square km and Umm al-Qaiwain but everyone has its own ruler and government and executive council, police force and various government departments.

All revenue of Dubai is for Dubai only and so on. They have federal funds. They have common ministries like foreign and education. We saw Chili, Subway, MacDonald and Burger King at this point and the beautiful beach with the only 7-star hotel that stands 321 meters built on the man-made island. There are no rooms here, just suites with private butler, and none faces the land for they all face the sea.

Gasoline is 41 cents a litre. We went to another place where there are five 5-star hotels belonging to the same chain to ruler of Dubai Jumeirah. You can see on top is a helipad that takes one from the airport to the hotel. Madinat Jureinarah is a city unto itself where there are three five-star hotels, 44 bars and restaurants.

We arrived at the Kempinski hotel www.kempinski.com/dubai where there is also the Mall of the Emirates www.malloftheemirates.com, the second largest in the region. We were given some drinks here and I saw the restaurant was selling the following: Bento Box Small AED 55 (US$15.28) and large for 65 (US$17.18) This was accompanied by the soup of the day. sushi and sashimi small AED 28 (US$7.67) and large for 60 (US$16.44).

For the celebration of the 5th anniversary, there is free parking on Friday, Saturday. and public holiday and on week days, the first 4 hours are free. We also saw this ad: (20% discount for hard work does pay off! Enjoy great dining discounts if you’re a team member of any retail shop at Mall of the Emirates or Ski Dubai).

Benefit from a tasty 20% discount at places located in Sezzam, like the Evory Lounge, which is the coolest place to be. All you have to do is present your business card or staff ID upon arrival. Have a wonderful time. For table bookings, please call 04 409 5999 or visit www.kempinski.com/dubai

Dubai is known as shoppers’ paradise and there’s no tax, no income tax, no rent tax, 360 days guaranteed sunshine which is always shining. There are no casinos for gambling is not allowed by the religion. There’s horse-racing but no betting as it is illegal in UAE. .

While on the highway to drive downtown to Abu Dhabi, we saw the metro line connecting the airport 70% of which are over rollers while 30% is underground. It goes for 75 km with no driver. The population is 1.7 million with 1.3 million right in the city while Abu Dhabi has 1.4 million with 975,000 people living in the city.

Abu Dhabi ruler automatically becomes the president while Dubai’s ruler automatically becomes vice-president. The tallest free-standing tower is Burj Khalifa dedicated to the president of Abu Dhabi. Regarding financial health, Abu Dhabi is committed to help. There are the twin towers - 5 star hotels belonging to emirates founded 25 years back.

Dubai has become the business capital of the Middle East, 30% of which is residential free hold. There’s the building with 200 stories. The spider man started scaling it at 6:30 and finished at 12:30 midnight. The spire is visible from 90 km away. It took six years to build it and has the world record of maximum elevators, 54 in all, and the highest observation tower in the world, 386 meters tall.

Then we got to the business financial district with the stock market. The old Dubai world trade centre was built in 1980. The rental is one of the highest properties belonging to emirates and no expatriates can buy here. The rent for a two-bedroom and three-bedroom is $30,000 US per annum at this Al Karama.

The inhabitants of the country are called emiratees. Before 1958, luxury never existed. During summer, they moved to the mountains in the eastside because it gets hot up to 44 to 46 degrees C here. They come back in winter to coastal areas where there’s fishing.

The Dubai Creek that runs 14.4 km, has been dredged so it can be deep enough for large ships to go through. Before the oil discovery, Dubai was trading capital of the east because of this creek. Then we saw the oldest quarter of Dubai for rich Iranian merchants in the early 19th century.

We arrived at Bastakiya (a step back in time) where there’s bargaining to be had. In 1798 Al Fayette, the white structure is the biggest mosque. Behind it is the Hindu Temple which goes to show they co-exist. There are wholesale textile markets here from different areas and exported to different ports of the world.

We saw the water taxi station which is how people commute between two sides and it‘s the most economical way. We went through the Al Shindagha Tunnel (goes under Dubai Creek) to go to one of the biggest markets of the world for the highest stands of 22, 24, 18 karat at the Gold Souk.

There we opened our eyes to a unique shopping and retail experience with influences drawn from four different corners of the Islamic World, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and Syria. We walked through the streets of merchants and markets of gold and visited the mysterious markets where merchants have traded for centuries.

We smelled the aroma of the fragrant spice souk before we actually entered it. We explored the world famous Gold Souk where, with luck and a bit of bartering, we were able to pick up a bargain or two. This exciting walk showed us the hidden treasures and mysteries that Dubai has to offer. The magic was ours for the taking and we let our tour conjure it up for us.

Our tour guide said that for the first marriage of a resident, $20,000 is given to encourage population and discourage too much expense for weddings. Health care is complimentary for everyone and when the disease can’t be handled, the patient will be sent abroad for help with two family members all expenses paid. Education is complimentary from kindergarten to the highest degree. If they study abroad they will be provided with stipend.

Dubai is a city of fascinating contrasts, offering a distinct blend of old and new. It‘s where East meets West. In less than a century, under the visionary leadership of Dubai’s ruling Al Maktoum family, it has been transformed from a small fishing village into a modern vibrant city full of surprises.

There are good buildings all over and were told by the tour guide that these have 5-7 star service. We were taken to a market but it was difficult to shop there for you have to haggle. The good thing though is that we were told men and women are perceived to be equal. There are so many mosques there I lost count of them. The tour guide provided us with a lot of info but was quite frustrating because he was on his cell phone a bit much.

What a remarkable story Dubai has had since 1966 when oil was struck. It set the stage for the accumulation of wealth and the building of grand designs when Dubai showed its mettle by not doing anything by half measures. They went on with ambitious projects one after another and even bought our beloved Queen Elizabeth 2.

We were able to eat lunch at Britannia after the tour. We watched as the gangway was raised and we sailed for Safaga, 2672 nautical miles away. Then we did some work before the elegant casual dinner and the mass at 5 pm.

We watched a little bit of the movie entitled “The Informant” starring Matt Damon and took in the show at the Royal Court Theatre on Donny Ray Evins’ tribute to Nat King Cole while going through the Strait of Hormuz thus taking us clear of the Persian Gulf. Then we set a South Easterly Course across the Gulf of Oman.