Today is a sea day, as was yesterday, with nothing to break the views of the Med except the odd oil tanker.
I keep meeting new people on board (though not my neighbours, oddly), all of whom are interesting in themselves, but also have great stories to tell about other characters.
So yesterday I learnt about Captain Jablin who trumps those world cruisers I wrote about in my previous blog as he actually lives on the ship.
He’s been here four or five years now and he has the same routine every single day. He sits in the same place in the Compass Rose restaurant at the same time of day and has exactly the same meals, breakfast lunch and dinner. You can catch him at 11am every morning walking round the top deck or if the weather is bad, in the Constellation Theatre.
Then there’s Jerry, a delightful gentleman who I met in the cigar bar. When we were visiting the Golan Heights I saw a helicopter take off near where we were visiting the kibbutz and I just assumed it was connected with the army. It turns out Jerry had hired it for the day as he didn’t fancy the coach rides.
Jerry and his wife were passionate skiers and moved from South Florida to Idaho to indulge their passion. But his wife hurt her back and was advised by doctors not to ski again. “There’s not a great deal else to do in a ski resort if you can’t ski,” Jerry succinctly put it, so they moved back to South Florida and started cruising. They went every year for many years, usually taking a top suite on what was then Radisson (the predecessor to Regent) and Silversea, until his wife passed away. He’s been on since January and already has his next cruise planned.
I also met Jeff who is president of a company he founded called luggagefree, which ships luggage back for people who’ve been on board for a long time and accumulated a lot of stuff. We got to talking about volumes, as in what sort of amount of luggage are we talking about – 10 suitcases? 20 perhaps? On this cruise one woman has accumulated 48 pieces of luggage. But that’s not the record – the largest number of pieces of luggage he has ever shipped back for one person is 106 suitcases. The woman in question bought the suite next to her just to store her stuff.
So this is what makes these cruises fascinating, it’s the colourful cast of characters you meet along the way and sea days are often the best time to do just that.
Having said that, my one excursion on this short trip was truly memorable, to Safed, a kibbutz overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan and the Golan Heights.
Safed is historically significant in that it was here that the mystical side of Judaism, the Kaballah, which has become in vogue for a number of Hollywood A-listers, was founded. It’s also home to 20 synagogues, we visited two in the old quarter which is pretty run down and needs a bit of care.
Next it was onto Kibbutz Kfar Haruv, which is built at the top of a ridge atop the Golan Heights, looking down on the Sea or Lake really of Galilee. It’s a breathtaking spot, with views for miles. It’s a fascinating place both for its modern and ancient history: Jesus of course lived and preached round here, and near the point at where the River Jordan flows into the lake was where he was baptised by John the Baptist.
But more recently the spot I am now standing on was Syria. The Golan Heights only became part of Israel after the six-day war in 1967. Less than 30 miles to the north of here is Majdal Shams, right on the border, where the troubles were just a couple of weeks ago.
Our guide points out where the three borders of Syria, Jordan and Israel used to meet and explains how there is a peace accord with Jordan, but only a ceasefire agreement with Syria. I wasn’t around in 1967, but I do remember how those two words – the Golan Heights – always cropped up in news reports about Israel. I’m here on the very day Obama endorsed Palestinian demands for a state based on pre-1967 borders, though that refers to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, not here, but still it’s a hot topic of conversation back on board.
Our final stop is the Baptismal Site on the River Jordan, which – how can I put this politely? – is pretty tacky. The whole area is one vast gift shop with steps leading down to the river where you can get baptised and have it all captured for you on DVD. I watched a few people get dunked and even went in for a paddle myself, but opted not to go for the full immersion. Maybe next time.
And then it was back to the ship where as I said in my last blog, we were welcomed back like movie stars.
• Read the third and final installment of Adam’s blog here
• You can see more pictures from this trip at Cruise International’s Facebook page