CROSSMOLINA PARISH CRUISE
Two buses transported our Parish cruise group to Dublin airport on the 2nd February for our flight to Dubai where we were to embark on a ship called Splendida. A total of 123 from Crossmolina and surrounding areas made the trip the majority of our group had never cruised before and so there was a great sense of excitement at the prospect of a totally different type of holiday.
Following a seven and a half hour flight over a distance of 5,932km we arrived in Dubai. As our flight path took us over such war torn countries as Syria and Iraq one couldn’t help but feel how lucky we were and to feel for all those suffering below. The flight which was much longer than most of us would have been used to was pleasant. We were excellently catered for with two nice meals served by the beautifully uniformed hostesses of the Emirates airline.
As we approached the port and from a distance we could see the ship which was to be our home for a week towering above the dock. The length of the ship is 333.3 metres long, 37.92 metres wide. Just imagine it being two and a third times longer than St. Tiernan’s park and half as wide. It accommodates 4,263 passengers in 1,637 cabins. A total of 1,332 staff work on board and their 16 decks. The Italian cruiser was launched in 2009 by the famous actress Sofia Loren.
Having boarded around 11 am and being on the go for nearly twenty four hours some caught up on a bit of sleep after a quick exploration of the ships facilities.
During Saturday night we sailed to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. We were hardly aware we were moving it was so smooth. Described in some of the literature Abu Dhabi is described as the Manhattan of the Arab world with all its skyscrapers. One of the biggest tourist attractions in the city is the Sheik Zayed Mosque. It is capable of holding 41,000 worshipers. It has hundreds of columns inlaid with precious stones and gold leaf decorations too. There is marble everywhere and the carpet was hand woven or knotted by a team of 23.Tabide with Muslim culture the ladies were obliged to don hooded gowns and everyone had to go in shoeless. Another most elaborate building is the Emirate Palace Hotel. One has to be properly attired to enter and we were suitably dressed to go in and see the grandeur. Afternoon tea would set one back around 80 euro. You would want jam on both sides of your scone for that.
According to our taxi driver the city streets are cleaned twice daily and you won’t see any litter on the streets. He also informed us as we passed a courthouse that it doesn’t have to deal with many cases as crime is very low. Couldn’t we do with a bit of that here. There are acres of flower beds in great bloom and we heard they are changed four times a year. Rain apparently only comes five or six times a year. But for all the modern architecture in the city it lacks character.
On Sunday night we sailed to the island of Sir Bani Yas. The ship had to anchor a mile off shore as there is no port there. We were brought ashore by tender and four of the lifeboats were used for this. Sir Bani Yas Island is the largest natural island in the United Arab Emirates and its name originates from the Bani Yas tribe who were the first inhabitants of Abu Dhabi. Half the island is home to Arabia’s largest wildlife park. Some of our group took a trip to see the wild life while others jus soaked up the sun.
Through Monday night and all day Tuesday and Tuesday night we sailed to Muscat, the capital of Oman. Fr. Francis said mass for our group as it was the only day we would be all together. To view the city some used the hop on hop off buses while most had a leisurely stroll through a very large market. The scent of burning incenses was everywhere and if you couldn’t get a bag or scarf there you’d be very hard pleased. If you happen to see some people, in the St, Patrick’s day parade or at festival time, dressed as Arabs you will know they were on the cruise and they were in the market in Muscat. As a large group of us rested in the sun, around midday, in a square at the top of the market where a group of Muslim men did likewise, we heard the loud call to prayer from the local mosque and the men promptly obeyed. We just headed back to the ship.
Thursday morning we arrived at Khasab and again we had to anchor offshore as the port wasn’t big enough. The main attraction there was a boat trip of around 15 miles to view the fjords. The fjords are known as the Norway of Arabia. The long open boats used to get us there are traditional Arabic craft called Dhows. We sat on cushions on the floor along the gunwales and up the centre. A half upper deck provided room for the Siege of Ennis, Stack of Barley and Shoe the Donkey to be danced to the music of the Bumblebee. We saw dolphins and some small sharks and coves where small fishing communities dwelt tucked under the rocks with no apparent means of access except by boat. It was a lovely day out and we saw spectacular views.
We were back in Dubai on Friday morning and with a full day at our disposal. Some went on pre arranged trips while others just did deals with taxis to get to places of interest around the city. One such place was the Burg Al Arab hotel which boasts of being the only 7 star one in the world. We saw the tallest building in the world and it stands 828 meters high. It is called the Burj Al Khalifa. Nearby is the largest shopping mall in the world. There are 1200 shops and the prices seem to match its size. There is a wonderful aquarium in the Mall. There are countless cranes on the skyline indicating lot of ongoing construction. Our taxi driver told us of the 75 km of rail track on columns above the city and the trains are driverless.
And so on Saturday morning after a wonderful week of great weather, food and drink, spectacular sights, wonderful shows and music to suit all tastes we departed the Splendida for the airport and home. We should all be thankful to Fr. Francis for giving us the opportunity to enjoy a special holiday. As we sat in the departure lounge at the airport I couldn’t help but think of the song which goes “There’s no place like home. Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home. ‘Home Sweet Home’. Coming back from 25 degrees to being greeted with hail and snow this notion was severely tested but I still don’t doubt the songs sentiment.