Monday, January 19, 2015

Museum visits in the Caribbean

Museum visits in the Caribbean.

Yes, I will admit it, I took an 11-day Southern Caribbean cruise that included five port stops in St. Thomas, St. Kits, St. Lucia, Curacao, and Aruba, and I actually visited history museums in two cities.

The Kura Hulanda museum in Willemstad, Curacao and The National Archaeological Museum in Oranjestad, Aruba.   Of note, both islands are parts of the (former) Dutch Empire.  Surprisingly, I was greeted in all the shops with words in Spanish.




 First I will give a brief summary of my visit to the island of Curacao.

The sail-in was lovely as I saw all the bright, pastel gingerbread buildings, the turquoise blue water in the canals underneath the Queen Emma Bridge, and the vendors setting up their colorful wares alongside the port.

As I disembarked the cruise ship, I walked over to the vendor area and listened to the sales pitches of several tour operators.  I was immediately sold on the first gentleman with whom I spoke. He showed me a map that highlighted all of the points of interest on the tour, in a van minivan,--a two hour tour in an air-conditioned vehicle, for only $20.

Since I had not taken any tours on my first three ports of call, I decided I would like to visit this lovely island.

Here are some of the things that I learned: Curacao probably means “healing island” in Portuguese. Curaçao has 100 UNESCO monuments and 80 plantation homes; Jews were a very powerful economic force here since the Dutch took them in after they were expelled from Spain; there is free Wi-Fi in the downtown area of the capital city; they have 0.5% crime, they are 3 to 4 hours away from Venezuela by boat, the leading industries in order of importance are oil, tourism, ship repair/dry dock, and they are a free zone. 

Curaçao was a major player in the slave trade because the Dutch were leaders in the international slave trade. Taking over major Portuguese trading posts on the west coast of Africa, they purchased enslaved Africans and transported them to Curaçao and Brazil, where they were sold to wealthy plantation owners from across the Americas.  Curaçao became one of the largest slave depots in the Caribbean. By the time the last slave galleon arrived in the harbor in 1788, the Dutch had transported some 500,000 Africans to slavery.

 "Bon Bini" means welcome.

 We even made a stop at the Curacao Aloe Plantation and Factory where we took a tour of the various stages of production of aloe vera, renowned for its healing powers.   It was founded by a Jewish family (Cohen) who aided the original Dutch settlers because they spoke Spanish that came in handy.

The tour lasted from 10:20 AM until 12:20.

It was a delightful two-hour tour where I was able to witness the beauty of this island.

Kura Hulanda Museum in Curacao

The next part of my visit to this charming island was not beautiful.

I visited the little-known museum dedicated to the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas.

I left the port area, map in hand, searching for the museum. I knew I was close but uncertain of precisely which street to take so I asked a policeman for help.   He stopped what he was doing walk to me for a block and a half and pointed at the tiny street where the museum is located. Such hospitality!

Our tour guide informed me that our bus driver’s wife conducted tours of this museum. I sought out Evelaine there.  I found her to be rather dour and depressing and I could only understand one out of every five or six words because her English was a very difficult understand.  Fortunately, I am aware of much of this history and there was a clear signage throughout each exhibit.


There were exhibits on The Arab slave trade, the Atlantic slave trade, slavery in different parts of the Americas, slavery in the US, Blacks in the USA- from slavery to civil rights, the middle passage and more.

Included in this museum is a concentrated collection, one of the few worldwide, of artifacts such as: part of a hull of a slave ship, traps used to entrap perspective slaves in West Africa, 2 Ku Klux Klan robes, newspaper clippings, signage, and posters communicating various elements of the slavery industry dating as far back as the 1600s.


I was moved by this historically accurate, compelling, in-your-face, no-holds-barred, portrayal of the brutality inflicted upon a people all driven by wide scale greed.  Empires derived massive wealth and famous corporations such as Lloyd's of London attribute their origins to profits from the Atlantic slave trade.

After my tour ended with the guide, I went back and reviewed many of the sections on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the role of European empires in slavery in Africa, the history of blacks in the USA, and more, on my own.

In all, I spent at least two hours in the museum.

 Punda, Curacao

After the visit, I took the exhilarating walk across the Queen Emma Bridge from Otrabanda to the Punda side of Willemstad.  I enjoyed the walk across the bridge, creepily shaky at times, and lined with colorful colonial buildings along the waterfront.

Punda--found it to be a bit commercial as it was peppered with souvenir shops, designer shops, and tacky clothing shops, something I could see anywhere.  The architecture, well preserved from Dutch colonial days, is intriguing.  On my next visit, I will actually visit the floating market known for its Venezuelan ships laden with tropical fruits and vegetables that arrive early every morning.


The National Archaeological Museum in Aruba


This museum provides an interactive educational experience celebrating more than 5000 years of Amerindian culture. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, Aruba was not involved in African slavery nor in broad scale agriculture using African slaves. According to Henry Loius Gates, Aruba has virtually no African past.  Today, only 20% of Arubans are descendants of Africa, rather 40% are European and 40% are Amerindian.  I cannot believe that Siri knows the word Amerindian, including how to spell it with an A.

It was the only part we visited on this itinerary with the faces of the residents were not 99% Black or East Indian (shopkeepers).

Here I learned that the primary industry (after Aruba was dismissed by the Spanish crown as a useless in the 1500s), was ranches (horses, donkeys, and goats) and ship repair by the Dutch who conquered the island in 1636.

I enjoyed my visit to this charming museum and gain a true appreciation for Aruba's history here.   Of note, the museum is only a 10 minute walk from the port.


After leaving the museum, I walked through the surrounding streets that were lined with shops and restaurants, mostly filled with souvenirs and electronics. Nothing distinctive.

I learned a lot from my visits to history museums on 2 Caribbean islands on my 11 day southern Caribbean cruise.

I recommend them both.

update: I just read a question posted on Facebook by a cruise director from a major cruise line. He asked readers to discuss their favorite activities in the ports of Aruba and Curaçao.  Out of 190 comments, no one mentioned a museum.  I know I am in anomaly.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Saudi Arabia: women drivers are terrorists!

Once again, Saudi Arabia makes the headlines for criminalizing virtually everything a woman does outside the home.

Attached is a direct excerpt from an AP article by Aya Batrawy that describes the latest arrest, and classification as terrorist, of women Saudi drivers.

Often, what I enjoy most about such articles is the comments.  Here are a few:
Reader Comments:
Our allies......worse than many of our enemies.
The United States needs to put their foot down and not do any business with these countries and to ban all their flights into the United States until they change their policy about women. Treating them like second class slaves is disgusting. Just because of the oil we allow these crimes to be accepted and their treatment of women would never be allowed in our country.
This Saudi terrorism court has plenty of wealthy Saudis to prosecute who have been funding terrorism for decades and haven't touched a single one of them. They funded the terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and they funded ISIL. Yet here they are, prosecuting women for vile (non) crime of getting behind the wheel of a car.
It tells a lot about you by the friends you keep
"For example, this year it sentenced a revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the government, to death for sedition and sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer, Waleed Abul-Khair, to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting public opinion."

The US supports one of the most repressive regimes in the world, yet Republicans are upset about normalizing relations with Cuba?
The United States needs to put their foot down and not do any business with these countries and to ban all their flights into the United States until they change their policy about women. Treating them like second class slaves is disgusting. Just because of the oil we allow these crimes to be accepted and their treatment of women would never be allowed in our country.


Saudi Women Drivers Referred To Terrorism Court

By AYA BATRAWY Associated Press12/25/2014

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month in defiance of a ban on females driving were referred on Thursday to a court established to try terrorism cases, several people close to the defendants said.

The cases of the two, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were sent to the anti-terrorism court in connection to opinions they expressed in tweets and in social media, four people close to the two women told The Associated Press.

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They did not elaborate on the specific charges or what the opinions were. Both women have spoken out online against the female driving ban. Activists say they fear the case is intended to send a warning to others pushing for greater rights. The four people spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of government reprisals.

The Specialized Criminal Court, to which their cases were referred, was established in the capital Riyadh to try terrorism cases but has also tried and handed long prison sentences to a number of human rights workers, peaceful dissidents, activists and critics of the government. For example, this year it sentenced a revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the government, to death for sedition and sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer, Waleed Abul-Khair, to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting public opinion.

Human Rights Watch recently warned that "Saudi authorities are ramping up their crackdown on people who peacefully criticize the government on the Internet." It said that judges and prosecutors are using "vague provisions of a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge and try Saudi citizens for peaceful tweets and social media comments."

This was the first time women drivers have been referred to the court, activists said.

The detention of al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33 — both arrested on Dec. 1 — has been the longest yet for any women who defied the driving ban. They were vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban, and have a significant online following with a total 355,000 followers on Twitter for the two of them at the time of their arrest.

Though no formal law bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia, ultraconservative Saudi clerics have issued religious edicts forbidding women from taking the wheel, and authorities do not issue them driver's licenses. No such ban exists anywhere else in the world, even in other conservative Gulf countries.

The four people close to the women said their lawyers appealed the judge's decision to transfer their cases. An appeals court in Dammam, the capital of Eastern Province, is expected to decide on the referral in the coming days, they said.

Authorities have a history of clamping down on Saudi women who attempt to drive. In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving. They had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. More than 20 years later, a woman was sentenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driving, though the king overturned the sentence.

Ultra-Orthodox Men Cause Flight Delay by Refusing To Sit by Women, Again

Here is an article by Antonia Blumberg about another case of patriarchal religions disrupting society and violating women’s civil rights.  Why are we allowing this to happen in 2014?  Shouldn’t religious people stay home if they cannot adapt to society’s norms or should women continue to suffer while accommodating them?

Ultra-Orthodox Men Cause Flight Delay by Refusing To Sit by Women, Again By Antonia Blumberg


An international Delta Airlines flight was reportedly delayed for roughly half an hour when several ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refused to sit next to female passengers.

Israel Radio first reported that Delta Flight 468, bound for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport from John F. Kennedy Airport, took off 30 minutes after its scheduled departure time due to commotion onboard. Several Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox men, refused to sit in their assigned seats, which placed them next to women. But other passengers also refused to swap seats with the men, causing the prolonged delay.

In Ultra-orthodox Judaism, physical contact between men and women is forbidden unless they are first-degree relatives or married to one another.

HuffPost reached out to Delta Airlines for comment but did not hear back.
A similar incident affected an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv in September when Haredi men began asking women seated next to them to move and even offered compensation for seat changes. Many called the flight an "11-hour long nightmare" and several women started a petition after the experience to pressure El Al to prevent future harassment of female passengers on its flights.

Posted: 12/29/2014 3:03 pm EST Updated: 12/29/2014 10:59 pm EST



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My December 2014, 11-night cruise will bring my nations visited total to 79!!!

My December 2014, 11-night cruise will bring my nations visited total to 79!!!

I look forward to visiting 5 beautiful ports and relaxing on my balcony for 5 sea days!  I will also enjoy the holiday festivities in ports and on the tastefully decorated ship!




Monday, September 22, 2014

Romania-my 75th Country Visited!


Country Background

This nation's history can be traced to the Roman colony of Dacia. However, there are both strong European and Turkish influences, as Romania was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1877. Romania's political history of the past century has been marked by instability, violent revolution, and a current move toward economic restructuring in hopes of joining the European Union. Between 1930 and 1940, there were more than 25 different administrations.
After World War II, newly crowned King Mihai was forced to abdicate, pressured by the Communists, and Romania became a "People's Republic." In the 1960s, Nicolae Ceausescu took over the Communist Party leadership and instituted increasingly oppressive measures. He was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Currently, the Social Democratic Party forms a nominally minority government, which governs with the support of the opposition Democratic Union of Hungarians.
Romania has a chain of resorts, a "string of pearls," along the Black Sea coast. The largest urban center and seaport is Constanta. The sun, air, Black Sea water, and thermal mud treatments at these resorts are said to have restorative powers.

My Visit on October 5, 2014

One of the two following Itineraries:

Guide 1: For Bucharest tour - 10pax group - the price is 125$ or 90euros per person. The tour is for 11 hours, starting as early as possible, 6.30-7am, 2.30-3h transfer on highway with comfort stop. Bucharest tour by minibus, visit the Palace of Parliament, stroll the streets from the old part of Bucharest where there are lunch opportunities, afternoon continues the tour of the city, reaching the north part and visit the Village Museum, 3-6pm return to the ship. The price includes: transportantion - 16 seater minibus with AC, english guiding, entrance fees to Parliament and Village Museum.

Guide #2 Bucharest City tour - 100 euros/ person or 140 $/ person
The schedule for the day would be the following:
half past 6 - half past 9 - drive from Constanta to Bucharest
10 - 15. - visit of capital of Romania which will include:
- visit to Ceausescu's Palace/ Parliament Palace
- tour of Bucharest to include all the important monuments (by our bus)
- short visit to the historical center of Bucharest - opportunities for lunch
- visit to Village museum - after lunch
15 - 18 - drive back to Constanta
Price includes: 11-hour trip with A/C minivan, English guiding, entrance to Parliament Palace and Village Museum in Bucharest.
Price does not include: photo tax inside Parliament Palace, lunch (around 10 - 15 $/ person - Romanian currency or credit card), incidentals and personal expenses.

Photos and complete post will follow......................

Bulgaria-my 74th country visited!

Bulgaria-my 74th country visited!

I spent time in several interesting cities in Bulgaria from the ports of Burgas and Varna.

Country Background

The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, formed the first Bulgarian state in the late 7th century. In 1389, Bulgaria was overrun by the Ottoman Turks and nearly 500 years later regained independence with Russia's help.
Bulgaria fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when the country held its first multi-party election since World War II and began moving toward democracy. In 2001, Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg, the former king of Bulgaria who was forced from his throne after World War II, returned to power as prime minister.

Bulgaria has a lively mix of ethnic groups — Bulgars, Slavs, Thracians, Armenians, Greeks, Romans, and Turks. Some villages have a church, some have a mosque, and some have both. The former Soviet satellite is a peaceful nation — a rarity in the Balkans.

Bulgaria relies on the Black Sea for fishing, commerce, and tourism at major beach resorts. Varna is the country's largest seaport and second-largest city. Bourgas and Sozopol are the primary fishing ports

My October 2014 Visits

Burgas Port to Nessebar Pomorie Sozol, Ravadinovo

8:00 Meet your guide at the port and departure to Nessebar

8:30- Arriving in Nessebar, The Old Town

Walking tour in The Old Town that features: The churches of St. John the Baptist, Christ Pantocrator, St. Sofia, St. Spass (visit inside, entrance fees included), St. Paraskeva and Arch. Michael and Gavrail, St. Stefan (visit inside, entrance fees included), the Roman baths, The Turkish hammam etc.

11:00 departure to Pomorie

11:30 a visit to the monastery of St. George

12:00-12:30  a visit to the Thracian Tomb

12:30 departure to Sozopol

13:30 arriving in Sozopol, walking tour in the Old Town+ 20 min time for a coffee

14:45  departure to Ravadinovo

15:00 visit the castle

16:00 departure to Burgas

16:30  arriving in Burgas

Duration of the tour: 8.5 hours

Price per person: 65.00 Euro (includes: transport, guide, the entrance fees for St. Stefan and St. Spass church in Nessebar, the monastery and the tomb in Pomorie, Ravadinovo castle)
My Observations: TBD
Varna Port
Meeting at port;
> Drive to the Archaeological Museum - visit;
> Walk from the Archaeological Museum to the Cathedral – visit;
> Drive to the Aladzha monastery - visit; Walk around the monastery;
> Drive back to Varna; LUNCH at: a Varna Restaurant
The White House Restaurant and hotel
> After lunch: Drive to Galata Cape overlooking the town great panorama of the whole city and resort area;
> Return to Varna downtown: follows a walk after lunch in the sea gardens viewing exteriorly the Planatarium; Aquarium, Public Beaches, Naval Museum;
> Roman Baths –visit;
> Drive to Stone Forest - visit;
> Drive back to Port of Varna;
My Observations: TBD

The Black Sea a vital trading center linking Europe with Asia.

The Black Sea

The Black Sea is steeped in history and culture, a vital trading center linking Europe with Asia.

Soon, I will embark on a 12-night (round trip from Istanbul), cruise of the Black Sea (plus Greece).  I will visit ports in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria.  I will have visited 4 of the 6 countries bordering the Black Sea, including Russia.  Of note, The Ukraine was originally part of the itinerary before the military conflict with Russia, earlier this year.
The Black Sea
Named Pontus Exinus ("the inhospitable sea"), the Black Sea was navigated and its shores colonized by the Greeks as early as the eighth century before Christ and later by the Romans in the third to first centuries B.C.


Many of the colonial and commercial activities of ancient Greece and Rome, and of the Byzantine Empire, centered on the Black Sea. After 1453, when the Ottoman Turks occupied Constantinople (and changed its name to Istanbul), the Black Sea was virtually closed to foreign commerce. Nearly 400 years later, in 1856, the Treaty of Paris re-opened the sea to the commerce of all nations.

Among its vast historical riches, the Black Sea region is home to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and their search for the Golden Fleece, and the Biblical account of Noah's Ark. Troy, Constantinople, Istanbul, Sevastopol, Odessa, and Yalta are just a few of the names in this coastal area that have been etched in world history.

From the Crusades to the recent collapse of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea has witnessed often-tumultuous religious and political change. In the face of countless conquests through the ages, the people of the Black Sea region have endured, and today represent a remarkable mixture of cultures and religions.


Today, this ancient sea means many things to the people who live on its shores. Still vitally important as a regional trading center, with major ports dotting its coast, the Black Sea continues to provide its inhabitants with treasured resources — major commercial fisheries, a diversity of marine life, world-class beaches, and perhaps a more tangible record of our past than previously imagined. The recent discovery of ancient wooden ships in the Black Sea, well-protected from shipworm attack in the oxygen-deprived waters, points to the new wonders these ancient waters may yield.

The Black Sea and its six bordering countries — Bulgaria and Romania on the west, Ukraine on the north, Russia and Georgia on the east, and Turkey on the south — each have rich histories and cultures worthy of considerable exploration.