Queen Elizabeth’s Call to Aqaba

More than 1000 of us travelled to Petra from Aqaba. If you have not been to Petra, you need to add it to your ‘must visit’ list. Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is stunning.

The two hour drive to Petra was easy and took us through Bedouin territory littered with their distinctive tents, their sheep and their camels. And in some areas we saw settlements of concrete houses provided for them by the Jordanian government. Often a brown tent could be spotted alongside the concrete house because the grandparents refused to move out of their tent!

The city of Petra was built by the Nabataeons, who had moved from Arabia in the 6th Century BC. Work started in 169BC and most of the city appears to have been completed by 106 AD, when the Romans conquered Petra by cutting off the water supply! Amazingly the Nabataeons had constructed water channels which can still be seen. And to survive in the dry seasons they constructed dams and reservoirs.

The Nabataeons continued to occupy Petra, despite parts of the city being destroyed by earthquake. But eventually Petra became a ‘lost’ city and for nearly 2000 years its existence was forgotten by Europeans. But in 1812 a Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt found it again.

When you visit Petra today it is easy to see why it disappeared. It is approached through the Siq, a narrow chasm which wends its way for a mile through 100 foot high rocks on either side. The surface is uneven and although the majority of visitors walk, others ride through on horseback or in horse drawn carriages.

Regular World travellers with Cunard, Mary and Celia, with combined ages totalling nearly 180 years were determined to visit Petra. They each thought the other was too old to do so, but they both decided to go and felt that the horse drawn carriage was the option for them. The problem with the carriages is that the Bedouin drivers take the journey at speed and the surface is not flat, but Mary and Celia survived the bumpy ride and loved the experience.

The Bedouins occupied the lost city until 1985 when the government persuaded them to move to homes built for them on the hill above Petra to allow archaeologists to explore and excavate and to enable visitors to enjoy the site. In exchange the Bedouins were allowed to run the visitor facilities – the horses, the camels, the carriages and the market stalls.

At the beginning of the Siq you are confronted by the Djinn Blocks forming the entrance and after travelling through the narrow Siq you reach the Treasury which is the best known and most photographed monument in Petra. Standing some 130 feet high the building is carved out of the living rock. Some believe that it was a temple and others a Royal tomb.

If you continue to walk down the valley you encounter the Street of the Facades and then the dramatic theatre which is thought to have accommodated 6000 people. Wherever you look there are hundreds of tombs, many of which you can enter. At the end of the Paved Street you will find the Temenos Gate. You also need to find the Temple of the Winged Lions and numerous other beautiful structures carved out of the sandstone rocks.

Petra is an amazing place. Although it is not the easiest place to reach I recommend that you try it. In my view it is well worth the effort.


Queen Elizabeth Transits the Panama Canal – World Cruise 2012

At 7.30 on the morning of 26 January 2012 there was a buzz of anticipation on board Queen Elizabeth as we approached the Panama Canal. The decks were packed with guests, the majority of whom had not transited the canal before.



A million ships have passed through the canal since it was opened in 1914 and this was only the second time that the majestic Queen Elizabeth had transited the canal.

Queen Elizabeth had left Southampton on her 2012 World Voyage on 10 January and after calls at New York, Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman she made a maiden call at Cartagena in Colombia before heading to Panama.
Queen Elizabeth under the command of Captain Christopher Wells, approached the first set of locks – the Gatun Locks – and it then became clear to those of us who had not transited the canal before how narrow the locks were and how little space there would be between the ship and the lock walls.

The three sets of locks making up the Panama Canal lift each ship 26 metres from sea level to the level of the Gatun Lake and then lower the ship on the other side to sea level again.

At each of the three set of locks eight locomotives (known as ‘mules’) pull the ship through the lock keeping the ship precisely in the centre of the lock. In the case of Queen Elizabeth the clearance on each side was only two feet.

After passing through the Gatun Locks, we then had the wonderful spectacle of the Gatun Lake and its beautiful forests and wildlife. The lake then narrowed and we sailed through the Culebra Cut before arriving at the Pedro Miguel Locks which were swiftly followed by the final set of locks – the Miraflores Locks – which brought the ship down to sea level and the Pacific Ocean.

The transit had taken us the best part of ten hours but it was a magical day. The precision of the pilots and locomotive drivers and the efficiency with which the whole operation was carried out by the Panama Canal authorities and the ships officers and crew made it a breathtaking experience. And it was exciting to hear the cheers from the crowds that had assembled at the Miraflores Locks to watch Queen Elizabeth pass through.

Queen Elizabeth is now sailing north to San Francisco for her maiden call tomorrow before continuing her World Voyage across the Pacific.