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|Cunard Queen Mary 2
World Cruise 2010 - Part 3
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.
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All the pictures on the pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover a cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox)
Our first port of call in India was Cochin on the South West coast in the State of Kerala. Cochin was one of the first ports used by the Europeans in India and important as part of the Spice Trade. Its importance started in 1498 with the Portuguese who seized the town in 1500. The English settled the city in 1634 but were driven out by the Dutch in 1663. The British recaptured it in 1795 and from 1814 it was administered by the East India Company. In 1936 it became a major port and was placed under the direct administration of the British government until India gained independence in 1947.
India is huge with a population of one billion and Kerala is one of the smaller 28 States - it is between the countries of Holland and Belgium in size with a population of about 32 million. It is a fertile coastal area with broad alluvial plains. The large natural harbour at Cochin (Kochi) and Verhana Lake which stretches tens of kilometers are shallow and prone to silting up and since the 18 century have been continually dredged. Willingdon Island where we were moored is artificial and made from dredgings. It is linked by a bridge and ferries to the long (12 miles) and often narrow (one mile) natural peninsula with Fort Cochin and the Mattancherry at the end. It is separated from the mainland by inlets, islands and the estuaries of many rivers draining from the Western Ghats. During the rainy season these backwaters are navigable but in the dry season some are less than 3 foot deep and only the deeper parts of the dredged harbour are operational. Coconut oil and coconut products are a major export item alongside shipbuild, fishing and sawmills. The name Kerala may come from Kera Ala - Coconut Place. Spice merchants still abound in Cochin and the spice trade dominated the history of the Kerala coastline and the port of Cochin, some were produced locally but a huge traffic passed through on route from China and Asia to Europe.
The original itinerary had one day in India in Mumbia, but this was changed to Cochin because of security issues and problems with being at anchor - we were not sorry as we had been to Mumbai (Bombay) twice and had enjoyed Cochin much more than we expected on our previous visit. The locals in Cochin, who were very friendly, described the inhabitants of Bombay as rogues and thieves. We had found that whilst Cochin could not compete with Hong Kong or Singapore for cleanliness it was much better then we had expected and although the locals would push their services or wares they knew when to take a no. We would have missed a lot if they had not been forward in their offers!
We arrived in Cochin early in the morning to be greeted by a hazy but very hot day, the forecast was that it would reach 34 centigrade (93 deg in the old money) during the day. We came in past the Chinese fishing nets which we could see on either side and turned in to moor in the same place as we had on our previous visit in 2007 on the QE2. Our plan was to leave early and cross from where we were moored on Willingdon Island to Fort Cochin and the adjacent Mattancherry district by local ferry rather than find a taxi or Tuk Tuk which would take about 30 minutes as one has to cross the toll bridge to the mainland town of Ernakulam, some 6 miles away, and then go around the coast to Fort Cochin.
left the dock and walked down the road past a lot of local stalls and hopeful Tuk
Tuk drivers towards the nearby Taj Malabar Hotel which Cunard has an arrangement with. We had to start on an inland road but then joined the riverfront 'promenade' at one of the larger ferry points. It was from this ferry station we had enjoyed our own private river trip in 2007. We then found we were passing through an area of government buildings including the harbour control buildings and there were a lot of armed guards although they let us pass freely. We stopped to admire an old river launch named Dorothea in a public park; it was the Chairmans Launch and had been commissioned in 1927. Pandit Jawaharial Nehru had travelled in the launch in 1952, in 1966 Indira Gandhi used the launch, and more recently Mother Theresa used the launch in 1988. She still looked in good condition although she was sitting in a shallow grubby pond and within easy reach of passers by. Soon after we reached the gated entrance to the Taj Malabar Hotel.
It was too early to stop and rest, so we continued to see if we could find our friend Nasha with the rowing boat who had ferried us across last trip to Fort Cochin. Pauline had a print of the picture she had taken as he rowed us last time and he was quickly found and presented with the picture. It turned out he had damaged his boat and was trying to earn enough money to repair it but he had a friend he was working for/with who had a motor boat who could take us and he came along as well. This time we were not surprised when no payment for the outward trip was required and we just agreed a time of three hours later for our return. He told us to turn left at the main road for Mattancherry, and right for Fort Cochin. We decided to turn right to visit the Chinese nets and the fish market. Because it was a Sunday, and early in the morning, all the shops in Old Cochin were closed. We expected the shops in Mattancherry to be shut too.
From the ferry we had a long walk through streets little used by tourists which were full of goats. We passed two more ferry points, including one for a vehicle ferry at the Vasco de Gama Square, and on along the coast to admire the Chinese Dipping Nets. Chinese traders introduced the original nets between 1350 and 1450; they were reintroduced by the Portuguese from Macao and it is said that the different parts of the nets have Portuguese names. The structure comprises a special line of permanent cantilevered fishing nets and are operated with a system of pulleys and weights. There are lots of craft stalls nearby, as well as a number of stalls selling todays fish; the idea was to take the fresh fish across to one of the local outdoor restaurants where it would be cooked for you and served. Unfortunately it was too early in the morning, and the restaurants were not yet open.
We walked back
along past the fishing nets then cut inland to the Church of Saint Francis. Founded in 1503, it is the oldest Christian church established by Europeans in India. Unfortunately we arrived on Sunday, and at the time of morning service. We were able to look through the windows, and stand at the back of the church, but not walk around inside. The great Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died at Cochin on Christmas Eve 1524, and was originally buried here. The burial spot was well marked, but his body was returned to Portugal in 1538.
We then set off in what we hoped was the correct direction to reach Mattancherry and have another look at Jew Town and the Paradesi Synagogue. Our first find was the catholic Cathedral of Santa Cruz which we could only view from the back as there was a standard Eucharist service which also incorporated a wedding service going on with bright lights and video cameras running. The first church was built on the site in 1505 and a cathedral was erected in 1558; the present cathedral was blessed on 19 November 1902 and it became a basilica on 25 August 1984.
We then saw a lot more of the backstreets and local shopping streets than we had intended as our maps were those provided by Cunard and lacked detail and accuracy, even the scales indicated a kilometer was longer than a mile. We were navigating by the sun, which was almost overhead, the temperature estimate of the mid 90s seemed to be on the low side - fortunately we were carrying some water. After some interesting detours we returned to familiar ground but further from Mattacherry and the Jewish quarter, museums etc than we had hoped.
After the long time walking - only mad dogs and Englishmen walk for over 3 hours in the mid-day sun- we were glad to get back to the little wharf and find that Nasha and his friend with the boat were waiting for us. We wondered if they would be prepared to take us round the corner to get some pictures of the Queen Mary 2 from the sea but the temptation of a cold beer at the Taj Malabar Hotel was to great. We never even discussed a fee and gave them $7 rather than the $5 the previous time when we were rowed, it was probably much higher than the going rate but only the price of beer to us, such are the contrasts in India. Nasha had indicated that he would expect to earn the equivalent of about £7 a day and we had noted that another tourist crossing had paid much less in local currency.
Once we were safely ashore we ran the gamut of Tuk Tuk bargains to reach the Taj Malabar Hotel where we settle down with a few of the big bottles of Kingfisher local beer at a high price for India of $6 for a 660cc bottle but we were buying a seat in a fancy hotel and conference centre to watch life pass by on the water in shade and with a cooling breeze. We ordered the beers and they were brought to us along with a tray and table to put them on in front of our waterside seat. We had a quick look round the inside of the hotel as we expected a friend to be sheltering there for the day; our assumption was correct but somehow we missed her. After we had quenched our thirst and cooled down it was time to return, we had had enough, or slightly too much beer - it turned out to be 5% strength and was lovely and cold so went down very easily. We settled for $1 to get us back by Tuk Tuk - we showed disinterest and kept walking until we got an offer we liked.
Tuk Tuks are happier with two passengers. They only seem to have a 100 cc motor bike engine driving the front wheel but are driven enthusiastically at what seems a high speed with more use of horn than brakes - great fun. Away from the ship they become very cheap and we heard of one 3 hour guided tour costing $5 and were offered a half hour trip back from Fort Cochin for $1. Pauline also wanted some postcards but the bargaining over prices did not get low enough outside the Taj and Pauline got her bargain as desperation set in amongst the sellers as we were entering the dock gates and beyond their reach.
It was still light as the QM2 eased her way slowly away from her berth, and turned to head out to sea. To our surprise, all the waterfront areas were full of local people, waiting to see us pass. Our route took us past Dufferin Point and the Taj Malabar Hotel, and then past Fort Cochin and we took more pictures looking down on the Chinese Fishing Nets.
The first sea day after visiting an Indian port there is always a formal Day of the Raj Ball and ladies (and gentlemen) are invited to wear indian clothes. Pauline had brought a sari with her, which had originally been purchased from a market in Waiheke. Other ladies had been taken to a very expensive sari shop, designed for foreign tourists, during their tours in Cochin. Pauline found one lady who had been taken by a Tuk Tuk driver to the place where his mother bought her saris, and had got a much better bargain. Local saris were made of a cotton muslin material whereas saris from northern India are different. Pauline also has a sari made of red silk with gold thread which she bought in Little India in Singapore. It is difficult to tye a sari and one of the cruise staff who was indian organised a meeting for ladies to learn the skills.
the first of four ports in four days, and in order the countries we would be visiting were Thailand, Malaysia, Malaysia and Singapore before Thailand again after a day at sea - it is most unusual to have so many in a row. It was also the first port since we joined in Southampton where we would be at anchor and need to use the tenders. There had been one crew exercise with tenders so we knew everything would be ready for us. Phuket is a narrow island, being 48kms long but only 21kms at its widest point. There is no dock and the ship anchored just off Patong Beach and it was necessary to board a tender to get ashore. As you can imagine, it can be chaos if everyone tried to get ashore at the same time and the organised trips have priority. Getting ashore requires collection of a numbered tender ticket, and we were advised to wait until just before noon when the queues would have gone. We collected the last tender ticket before it was opened to unrestricted access.
Patong Beach is a glorious stretch of yellow sand, full of local fishing boats and water taxis, and edged by tourist shops and hotels. Visiting Patong Beach is good because we just blend in with all the other tourists, and there are no special inflated prices for QM2 passengers. Instead of tuk tuks there were songthaews lined up along the road, vans with bench seating, offering to take us up the hill and over to Phuket town, some 12 miles away. We wandered around the streets behind the beachfront road, changed some currency, and bought postcards and a bottle of locally made Mangosteen wine. Mangosteen is an interesting exotic fruit, shaped like a round plum with a hard dark purple shell. Inside the white edible part looks like a cluster of garlic pieces. At breakfast on the QM2 there is usually something interesting on the fresh fruit displays, often dragon fruit, fresh figs, passion fruit, papaya and mango. These are all in our local Waitrose back home so there was no problem identifying them. The mangosteen was unusual and different, and we liked the taste so there was no doubt when we saw it that we would buy a bottle of the wine. In addition, the writing on the label explained that as well as being a delicious tangy-sweet fruit mangosteen is rich in vitamins and has medicinal values. It cures stomach upsets, heals wounds, reduces chlorestoral and is an antioxidant and the edible part of the fruit and its thick skin help to prevent osteoperosis and tooth decay. It cost 350 baht, which is quite expensive, but was the cheapest wine for sale in the local 'pharmacy'. We also bought some bottles of beer, the Singha and Chang beer brewed in Bangkok and Leo brewed in Phuket. It is amazing what can be bought in a pharmacy, and the owner, an Australian, offered to send his wife across to the bank to change our currency for us when he realised we wanted to do some shopping.
Phuket looks a beautiful and idyllic island, and Patong Beach looked exactly the same as we remembered. It is a popular tourist resort. We had not known what to expect because Phuket suffered from the Tsunami, which had its centre to the east of Thailand, off the Sumatra coast, and which destroyed many small local homes on 26 December 2004. Part of the Patong Beach had indeed been damaged but there was no evidence now. We rented two sunbeds and an umbrella to give shade, and sat sipping cold local beers. Judging by the bags being carried, if we had walked further along the beach we would have found familiar shops - Boots and a proper supermarket (Carrefour??). The sea was very warm, in the 80s, almost as warm as the air which was mid 90s - even Pauline went swimming. Pete will swim in most temperatures on principle but usually Pauline only swims in nice warm (hotel) pools which Pete hates because of all the chlorine. A range of watersports were on offer, including parascending, and there were rows of the traditional long tailed boats waiting to take people to other beaches by water taxi. These boats have an old car engine mounted at the back balanced by a long shaft connected to the back of the gear box with a propeller on the end - health and safety rules OK. Boats and water scooters could be rented by the hour, and some managed to get out to see the QM2 and the Costa Allegra which arrived in the middle of the morning. It was a maiden call for the QM2, whereas the Costa Allegra is based in the region and visits Phuket regularly.
We had not visited the island of Penang before, and it was also a maiden visit for the QM2. Our original paperwork had said that we would be at anchor in Penang, so we had booked a full day excursion, partly to make sure we had priority going ashore. Instead we found our berth at Swettenham Pier in the capital town of Georgetown was easy walking distance to the Indian area and adjacent to the Clock Tower, the State Assembly Building and Fort Cornwallis. The Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower commemorates the 60th year of her reign and was built in 1897, and was Penang's millionaire Cheah Chen Eok's symbol of wealth and opulence. Georgetown became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2008. From its humble beginnings as the first British Straits Settlement in the late 18th century there followed an influx of traders and the island is now a harmonious mixture of local Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabs and many others alongside Europeans. Fort Cornwallis was built as soon as the British arrived and served as the administrative centre of the island, housing the Supreme Court of Penang and later the Sikh Police Force. More recently, Penang was occupied by the Japanese during WWII and then liberated by the Allies in 1945. English is spoken widely, and the British are especially welcome. The locals still remember the Japanese. Georgetown would have been interesting to explore independently, and it is small enough it can be done on foot, then perhaps take a taxi to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel for lunch. QM2 shopping addicts were provide with a shuttle bus to the Prangin Mall.
Prices in Penang are reasonable; our full day tour including lunch was $89 whereas typical prices for something similar elsewhere were $119, $129 and $159 depending on the length of the coach journey. It was an early start and we arrived at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion just before 0900 to find the gates were still locked. Peranakan refers to 'Straits born Chinese' who are the descendants of the early Chinese community who settled in the Malay archipelago from the 17th century. The unique culture, which can be found in Malaysia and Singapore, is a rich blend of Chinese and Malay cultures with some influences of the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Thai and Indonesian civilisations as well. The beautiful house was built at the end of the 19th century and was the residence of Kapitan Cina Ching Keng Kwee, a famous local personality. It incorporates Chinese carved-wood panels with English floor tiles and Scottish iron-work. The house had been purchased about 5 years ago and then refurnished at vaste expense with precious items and collections to show the typical home and opulent lifestyle of most affluent of the Chinese. We were rushed through the various rooms by a local guide and wished we could have spent longer there.
Leaving Georgetown, our route was to take us in an anti-clockwise direction around the island, so we began our journey along the north coast, passing a number of large houses. Our next stop was at the Wat Chaiyamangalaram Thai Buddhist Temple so we could see the famous 108 foot Golden Reclining Buddha. We were also shown the twelve Buddhist statues for the birth year - Pete was a Rat and Pauline was a Dragon. We found our personal statues for photos. In the wall behind the statues were lots of cremation urns. It is possible to pay a fixed price to guarantee your space, and the higher up the wall, the more it costs. Immediately opposite was another temple, the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple. We were able to visit inside, as long as we did not take pictures of the monks.
Then it was back in the coach, and off to the Botanical Gardens; it was not far from the two temples. Visiting any garden always involves a lot of walking and many people could not do that, especially because it was hot. Fortunately there was a little tourist train which went around the garden, at a small charge which converted neatly to $1. It was soon full. As we walked around it passed us twice. The first feature was the tribe of wild long tailed monkeys who were everywhere in the trees at the entrance. We were warned strongly that feeding them was not allowed; firstly it encouraged them to breed and secondly they got aggressive. It did not prevent some people handing over bananas.
The Botanical Gardens are pretty and its was delightful. Once we wandered off the tarmac path we had it to ourselves. We found a little pond which was perfect for sitting and contemplation. Back on the tarmac path we surprised a red tailed squirrel. Unfortunately the greenhouses were not all open, so we could not admire the orchids, although we purchased an example for $10 at the garden shop. We think we paid slightly more than the price and the staff tried to force us to accept local change, but we were already late for our coach.
We had now been travelling for almost 3 hours and there was still a long journey ahead of us. The north coast of Penang had been the part to suffer in the Tsunami in 2004, although it was only the local people living in their small houses who had suffered. No tourists had died. The area of Batu Ferringhi contains many modern tourist hotels, and our next stop was a buffet lunch at the Golden Sands Resort, a nice beachfront hotel. Sited on a clean sandy beach with palm trees, it was a typical European-style hotel with swimming pool and sunbeds. The buffet selection was good and we tried the typical ice dessert, which we already knew from meals in Singapore. The exotic fruit were also different, including jack fruit and something crunchy similar to a pear and an apple.
Back on board we passed more hotels and beautiful quiet white sandy beaches, and then turned south. There were definite groans when it was announced that our first stop after lunch would be to visit the Penang Butterfly Farm. We have always avoided such places and although we often stay at a camping ground in Thames in New Zealand which has a butterfly garden we have never been inside. This was differe
nt. It is described as the World's First Tropical Live Butterfly and Insect Sanctuary, and was set up in the 1980s as a research centre for breeding butterflies, of which the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing, the National Butterfly, is the most famous. It was named after Sir James Brooke, the First White Rajah of Sarawak. As well as all the beautiful butterflies there are interesting leaf insects, bugs, millipedes, lizards, scorpions and hairy black tarantulas. We wished we could have stayed longer. There are also two enormous souvenir shops.
We were less than half way around the island but had been to most of the tourist highlights. As we continued down the main road on the west side we were in the main fruit growing area. Our coach, as well as all the other Cunard coaches, stopped on the side of the road by a fruit and spice stall. We had been shown a list of local fruit so could identify them. The most famous is the Durian fruit, which smells terrible but tastes delicious. There was an example we could look at, but nothing to buy. In Singapore, later, we discovered it was illegal to get on a train with durian fruits.
Our final stop was to see daily life at a typical small Malay village. We were nervous of wandering into their houses, but the guide seemed to think it was normal. One old lady was working outside threading wooden sticks with spicey chicken.
It was only another hour to complete our circular drive, finally passing the enormous long Penang Bridge which joins Penang Island to the mainland of Malaysia. In the past there was only the ferry from Georgetown to Butterworth. Overall we enjoyed visiting Penang Island and would consider a longer holiday. There is a lot to see and do, the hotels look good and the local people welcome British visitors.
We arrived at the Star Cruise Terminal on time but then it was a late departure on tour due to chaos with disembarkation. Costa Allegra arrived next door and we had to close one of our two gangways. From Port Kelang it was 1.5 hours drive to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
We passed the famous Moorish-style Old Railway Station with its seven stately minarets and then arrived at Independence Square, where the mock-Tudor buildings of the British Royal Selangor Club overlook their former playing ground. The Square was built by the British in 1884 and there is a fountain that was built in 1897. It was here that the Malaysian flag was raised for the very first time at 12.01 on 31 August 1957, on what was then the tallest flagpole in the world, signifying the end of British rule. One corner of the Square has the pretty textile museum, and at exactly the opposite corner is the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin. We just had enough time to look inside, although the tour did not include a visit. The main feature should be the Sultan Abdul Samad building, another Moorish-inspired building, topped by a shiny copper dome with a 40metre high clock tower which was built in 1848 by the British. Unfortunately it was all covered in scaffolding and netting. Our guided walk continued along the river, and past the Jamek Mosque. Built in 1907 it is the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur and was officially opened by the Sultan of Selangor in 1907. It is at the confluence of two rivers, the Gombak and Kelang. Both were narrow and it reminded us of the canal junction at Lapworth.
Our walk continued to the Sze Ya Taoist Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur which was built by one of the founders of the city, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy in 1864. The patron deities are Si Sze Ya and Sin Sze Ya. In the side temple dedicated to Tai Sui Ye there was a famous tiger statue, and we were expecting to see something large and significant. Instead there were two small tigers, each about the same size as a household cat, and gifts of food were placed between the tiger's jaws.
It was almost noon and we had several more sights to see before lunch, so we stopped at a cafe for tea and roti. The local tea is served in cappuchino style, and this is done by pouring it. The typical roti canai and spicey dall was served alongside. The cafe, Restoran Yusoof, was within sight of the Central Market. In 1888 there was a market on the site selling meat, fish and vegetables. It expanded and in 1930 the current Art Deco Facade was built. Towards the end of the 1970s it was converted into a Centre for Malaysian Culture, Arts and Handicrafts. There was hundreds of small shops and stalls selling local merchandise, and our meeting point was outside a silversmiths who had beautiful unique table pieces. Pewter in Malaysia is good quality too.
There was still no mention of lunch but more walking and a visit to another temple; the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. Built in 1873 this temple is one of the most ornate and elaborate Hindu temples in Malaysia. Our final stop was at Petaling Street in Chinatown. The entire street is closed for shopping and there are lots of traders selling every type of bargain. The fruit stall were interesting with a red dragon fruit, which does not go with white shirts!
It was almost 6 hours since we left the QM2 and we had been promised a Malay buffet lunch, and this was at the Restoran Seri Melayu in Jalan Conlay. It began to rain. We enjoyed the food and grazed; nice spicey soup and nice spicey main courses. Rice was served on a bed of palm leaves, inside a carcass and there were lots of side dishes to add more flavours. We enjoyed it all but some people were complaining there was nothing they could eat; even on the QM2 there are always a few who only like chips and burgers. We had been recommended the durian dessert, which was a ball of white rice covered with durian sauce. Unfortunately the durian fruit on display were artificial.
We had glimpsed the Petronas Twin Towers as we had arrived for lunch and we expected the next stop would be to go there but our guide had different plans. The next stop was to go to the KL Tower. It is over 1300 feet and so is the fourth tallest communication tower in the world and offers a spectacular view from the observation deck. Unfortunately it was still raining hard. We were asked to vote on whether to go u the tower or simply view it from the parking. The vote was to go up, and we were given little plastic ponchos to keep us dry. In fact, we were dropped to the covered entrance. At the observation deck there were views, but it would be exceptional on a clear day. Although we were late, we had a final stop at the Petronas Twin Towers with their mid-level air bridge. The towers are 1483 feet high and were the world's tallest building when they opened in 1998.
Our coach finally got back to the QM2 just after the deadline for All Aboard, as did most of the tour buses.
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