Chuck Cook

I am a native North Carolinian who served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church until retirement in 2012. I am a Vietnam War veteran and married to the same wonderful woman since 1972.
Living in: Asheboro, United States
  • Day142

    Final Thoughts

    May 5 in the United Kingdom

    We are back in the Western Hemisphere, on the 141st day, in the last of 60 ports, on a trip we never thought we would take. We are in London. This is the last post I will make on our World Cruise page, and it is difficult to describe how this adventure has changed me. I will begin by thanking the officers and crew of the Viking Sun for their impeccable service and dedication to the comfort and well being of us passengers. They have done everything humanly possible to meet not only our needs but also our slightest wants. It has been interesting to be treated like royalty, but tomorrow the wonderful business of being a regular human being resumes. I will be going back to a world where, when I drop the bath towel on the floor, it stays there. That’s not bad either. Even so, Viking Ocean Cruises has done an excellent job.

    Every place where Viking took us was interesting. Some were more entertaining than others, but often the others were more instructive. I have learned of the almost limitless adaptability of human beings. They have adjusted to every possible diet, climate, and government. They are extremely flexible in using the tools, resources and terrain available to them.

    I have learned that countries change over time. Vietnam now is not the same nation it was when I went there as a soldier in 1971. The people, the economy, the culture—all are different. About the only thing that has not changed is the language. At one time China and Cambodia were poor, agrarian orphans, crippled by politics. Singapore was a tropical backwater. Not anymore.

    I learned that my own country has changed over time too. This voyage has allowed me, as it were, to see the United States from a distance. I keep hearing my countrymen saying that if America doesn’t wake up, the rest of the world will one day pass the U.S. I learned on this voyage that in many ways, the rest of the world already has. I love America, but I have concerns about her future.

    Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that the people of the world genuinely like each other. Practically every person we met smiled at us, waved, tried to talk to us, not always successfully, because of language differences. However there was always a grin, a happy look, a glint in the eye, even from an old woman struggling under a load of vegetables in Bali. Our differences in language, income, color, and religion made no difference—not to her. To her, it did not matter that I was on an air conditioned bus and she was standing ankle deep in filthy water. She was genuinely glad to see us. In Kuala Lumpur a quartet of young men and I laughed together like fools when we each attempted to take each other’s photograph at exactly the same moment. There was an immediate connection when on a Friday a Muslim family coming from the mosque approached us and asked us where were came from. When she learned we were Americans, the matriarch touched Glenda’s arm and said, “I not hate you.”

    Could the nations of the world please send their political leaders on a Viking world cruise?

    The point is that I have learned that it is not the people of the world who start wars with one another; it is the governments of the world that do so. And I have learned that rarely do the interests of those governments precisely align with those of the people. They certainly didn’t line up in 1971.

    This conviction was hammered home to me today in London as we visited the church of St. Alphege and saw posted there this quotation from Aldous Huxley: “The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are human beings, and that these individual human beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own “

    Maybe other philosophers have said it as well. Bob Thiele and George Weiss said it in 1967 through the mouth of Louis Armstrong in the song “What a Wonderful World.” Glenda and I were deeply touched a few years ago when we were in Prague in the Czech Republic. We stood at the feet of a statue of one of my heroes, John Huss, burned at the stake, not because he was wrong, but because the world would not be ready to hear his words for another hundred years. A local jazz group started playing Satchmo’s song and Glenda and I both teared-up. We understood—really understood—that this little blue ball hanging from nothing out in space is all sacred ground—every grain of sand; every drop of water in the huge, vast ocean; every frightened boy and girl, regardless of age, location, condition—all are holy. And because Viking Ocean Cruises made it possible for us to see it all up close, first-hand, over the last 141 days, I now understand at an even deeper level that this is indeed a wonderful, wonderful world.
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  • Day141

    Greenwich, England

    May 4 in the United Kingdom

    At London, our final port, we decided that we would spend our time walking near the ship's anchorage at Greenwich. We walked past the Cutty Sark, and visited the Royal Greenwich Observatory with its excellent display about astronomy and the calculation of longitude. I especially wanted to go inside St. Alphege's Church to see the organ played by Henry Purcell. While there, I was surprised to find a monument to General James Wolf, who died at the Battle of Montreal in the French and Indian Wars. After lunch at the Crown & Anchor, a proper English pub, we went back up the hill toward the observatory to see the rose garden. Unfortunately, no roses were blooming, so we came back down the hill to see the wonderful exhibits at the Queen's House and the Royal Maritime Museum. We finished across the street at the Royal Naval College and were awed by its lovely chapel. We were back on the ship for our last night of sleep in our wonderful little stateroom, and ready for an early departure on the morning of May 5, 2018, the official end of our Viking Ocean Cruises Inaugural World Cruise.

    Here are some interesting facts from our cruise:
    Highlights included : 5 Continents, 35 countries, 66 port stops, crossing the equator twice, crossing the international dateline, going through the Panama Canal and Suez Canal. Distance traveled approximately 36,000 miles.
    Some interesting facts:
    Only 476 people did the entire cruise from Miami to London.
    257 people did the cruise from Los Angles to London.
    62,181 Lbs. of Potatoes were peeled and consumed.
    114,633 bread loaves were baked.
    289,137 Bed sheets and pillowcases were washed.
    55,000 rolls of TP were used.
    Most importantly 124,081 bottles of wine were emptied! That worked out to 2.6 glasses per day for each passenger. This was at least double what Viking had expected. I did not get my entire share but others more than made up for it.
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  • Day138

    Porto, Portugal

    May 1 in Portugal

    We are back in Porto after a year’s absence, and the place is more beautiful than ever. Porto is the town that gave Portugal its name. I visited the twelfth century Franciscan Church, and we were given a general tour of the city before going to a tasting of port wine. This wonderful sweet wine was invented when shipments of wine sent to England spoiled on the way. Winemakers found that by adding a little bit of liquor to the wine, the fermentation process was stopped, and shelf life could be extended indefinitely. There arose such a taste for port in England that it has remained popular there ever since. In fact, now whenever British naval officers toast the health of the Queen, they always do so with a glass of port wine.

    One of our passengers asked the guide when Portugal separated from Spain. The guide said that Portugal was never part of Spain. Portugal has been a single, united country since the twelfth century. Spain did not become a single country until the end of the fifteenth century. Portugal is a beautiful blend of the old and the new. There are parts of the city of Porto that are lifted right out of a medieval painting. Nearby are new apartment buildings, an oil refinery, and a city with all of the accommodations one would expect.
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  • Day136

    Malaga, Spain

    April 29 in Spain

    We docked at the southern Spanish city of Málaga today. On our previous trip here, this was our jumping-off place for Granada and the Alhambra. Today we chose instead to tour the hinterlands of Andalusia, and for the whole excursion we were enraptured with the sheer magnificence of the terrain. The name “Andalusia” was earlier something like “Vandaluz,” and comes from the name of the tribes of Vandals who settled here when the Romans left. Our course crossed and re-crossed the Guadalhorce River several times. This quiet, sleepy stream was given this name by the Moors, who were here for over 700 years until 1492. The name in Moorish means “River of Silence.” It is indeed a place of peace.

    We began with a breakfast in a small country inn near Pizzara attached to a citrus grove with the delightful name “Juanito Orange.” Then we went for a wine tasting in the village of Álora at a winery that won the gold medal for Spanish wines last year. Finally we had a tapas lunch amid the grand mountains of El Chorro, the canyon that is officially called El Desfiladero de Los Gaitanes. The picturesque little village has only 75 residents. As though the grandeur of the mountains were not enough, it so happened that every few miles we came across Roman or Phoenician ruins. It amazes me that the folks here say, as though it is perfectly ordinary, “Oh, yes, down at the end of the block just past the drugstore is a wall. It’s not too old. It’s Phoenician but it only goes back about 2500 years. There’s one much older on my uncle’s farm.” For them it’s really no big deal. For me, it’s huge.

    I had a nice conversation in Spanish with a couple here on vacation with their two young sons, aged 7 and 5. The family were about to catch the train back to their home in Granada. As this world cruise is winding down, it seems that the wonderful folks at Viking Ocean Cruises have saved the best for last.
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  • Day135

    Cartagena, Spain

    April 28 in Spain

    Cartagena in Murcia has been a major seaport on the southeast coast of Spain since the ninth century B. C. As its name reflects, its recorded history stems from the Carthaginians. It was won by the Romans, who built a lovely theater here that has been excavated in the 1990’s. There is Roman stuff everywhere—in the streets, at the port, under the city.

    This was a hotly contested area after the Muslims came in during the eighth century. The Kingdom of Castille under Alfonso X (El Sabio), whose writings I once read in school, gained control of this part of the Iberian peninsula in the twelfth century. He was noted for inviting Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars to study in his court. In Concepción Castle there is a wonderful exhibit about Alfonso, showing some of the actual books, illuminated manuscripts and legal documents from that period. This area went back and forth between Muslims and the most Christian kings of Castille until 1492 when the merger—uh, marriage—of Ferdinand and Isabella drove all the Semitic people out of the new kingdom of Spain. Miguel de Cervantes lived here, or rather he was enslaved here by Moorish slave traders. Europeans were bought and sold as slaves by the Muslims until the Barbary pirates were defeated by the new United States and Sweden in the early nineteenth century. Knowing that Cervantes was a slave gives an entirely new perspective on the story of Don Quixote.

    We visited Concepción Castle, the old Phoenician walls, the Roman theater, and finally stopped at a restaurant called La Taranta where we had some of the most delicious stuffed peppers imaginable. This is my idea of the best possible way to spend a day.
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  • Day134

    Algiers

    April 27 in Algeria

    Had it not been on the itinerary for our world cruise, I probably would not have come to Algeria. However, I am very glad we came.

    Much of the time allotted to our excursion was spent at the Independence Memorial in Algiers. I was struck with how so many things called attention—how many comments from our guide, and how many signs, parks, buildings and institutions—all called attention to the War for Independence that ended with the expulsion of the French in 1962.

    I remember that war. I remember following it on television. I remember the intense partisanship shown not only by native Algerian Muslims, but also by the French. On one hand, Algeria belongs to Algerians. On the other hand since the 1830’s Algeria was not merely a French colony; it was actually part of France. The three provinces of Algeria were actually three French states, like Bordeaux or Provence or Alsace. The result in the 1950’s and 60’s was intense guerrilla warfare not only by the Arabs, but also by the French. When the French government under President Coty couldn’t handle the situation in 1958, Parliament, in an extraordinary move, called General Charles DeGaulle out of his twelve-year retirement to keep France whole. Yet by 1959 DeGaulle saw the handwriting on the wall and said that Algeria must be independent. Four French generals then staged the Algiers Putsch of 1961 in which they attempted to foment another French Revolution. They wanted to topple the French government and imprison DeGaulle. They landed paratroopers in Algiers, sent paratroopers to Paris, and intended to take over all of France. DeGaulle stopped them. When it was all over 1.5 million people were dead in a struggle for independence that lasted from 1954 until 1962.

    Since then Algeria has struggled, first, as a republic. Corruption killed it. Then in a relatively free election the Islamic Salvation Front came to power in 1991. It decreed that Algeria was a theocracy with no ruler but Allah. Arts, music, and education were squelched, as in other nations ruled by Islamists. They cancelled all future elections. The people wouldn’t have this, so another long civil war ensued. Some 200,000 people were killed. As a result, Algeria is no lover of political Islamism. Algerians have been there; done that; and got the T-shirt.

    Abdelaziz Boutaflika was elected President in 1999, and has removed from the Constitution the two-term limit for the office of President. So now Algeria has a dictator. Still, he may be doing some good. This police state is now stable. He has made several Presidential decrees calling for such things as equal rights for women, religious freedom for all Algerians, and an end to discrimination based on race, creed or color. It is of interest to note that there is a Catholic Church here left over from the French that still has a small congregation of Christians. In the church, Notre Dame d’Afrique, there is an inscription saying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us Christians and for the Muslims.”

    Now Boutaflika is even encouraging free enterprise and entrepreneurship. These changes look to me very much like the state capitalism now advocated by the Chinese government.
    Algeria is not a free nation. The police led our bus procession through the streets today. We could not leave our guide. We could not even walk on the pier where our ship is docked. Algeria is still struggling. The people here are wonderful. They waved happily at our busses. We are the first big passenger ship in here since a spate of violence occurred about a year ago. Algerians are glad to see tourists again. Algerians want desperately to be a nation—a real nation, with commerce and education and art and culture and a history of something other than bloodshed. However, there is a part of the Algerian people that just seems tired. Tired of the violence. Tired of being used. I pray that their spark of hope has not died out completely.

    Coming here today was not so much entertaining as is was educational. Though I would not have chosen Algeria as a destination, I am very glad we came to this beautiful place to meet these lovely people. And I pray that God will be kind to them. Lord knows, they deserve some peace.
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  • Day133

    Cagliari, Sardinia

    April 26 in Italy

    We arrived on the island of Sardinia today, and spent the morning in its capital, Cagliari (whose name is accented on the first syllable: KAHL-ya-ree). This is a beautiful place with an illustrious history. It was founded in historical times by the Carthaginians, yet like so many places in Europe, the remains of Neolithic settlements abound. For 400 years it was owned by the Aragonese kingdom, which became part of Spain. Since the early nineteenth century it has been part of Italy. It is a lovely island with wonderful wine and cheese. One claim to fame is that per capita Sardinia has more people over 100 years of age than anywhere else in the world. It is unpretentious. Sardinia has its struggles with a youth unemployment rate of about 40%. Land here is cheap. In fact, one small town is selling homes for one Euro, if you will employ local labor to renovate the building. Still, this place is charming.Read more

  • Day132

    Because political instability caused Viking to cancel our port call in Tunisia, we get to spend an extra day just wandering around the lovely streets of Valetta. One of the high points of our visit today was a peek inside the Church of St. Paul Shipwrecked. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul found refuge here after his boat sank. The church is out-of-the-way, not too large, and absolutely beautiful inside. We also visited the Grand Master's Palace and its extraordinary collections of weapons it the armory.Read more

  • Day131

    Valetta, Malta

    April 24 in Malta

    There is no place in the world like Malta.

    It’s hard to know where to begin in describing Malta. One could start at 5200 BC when Neolithic settlements were here. Or one might start with the event described in the Acts of the Apostles when St. Paul was shipwrecked here and converted some of the local population. You could start in Africa or in Europe. This little group of islands in the middle of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Africa contains cultural elements of both places.

    Maybe you should start with their language—Maltese. It is the only Semitic language written with Roman letters. It is spoken nowhere else in the world. It sounds something like Arabic, but it looks like Latin, except for lots of strange consonant combinations, like double x’s, for example. It’s weird. And if all of that were not strange enough, Malta hosts the Military order of St. John Hospitallers, an order of knights like nothing else in the world.

    This order of knights requires some explanation. As Muslim armies began to conquer North Africa and move into Europe in the eighth century, Malta was strategically important to Christendom. Being a tiny place, however, Malta later became a royal plaything, given to several noble European couples at various times as a wedding present. In the sixteenth century, however, the strategic importance of Malta became rather important again.

    Piracy (and Islam) became a problem in this part of the world, and Charles I of Spain, who happened to own Malta at that time, really did not have the resources to deal with the troubles occurring here. Back during the Crusades there had been an order of Knights Hospitallers commissioned by the Pope in Rome to build hospitals for crusaders who were injured in the holy wars against Muslims. Later, when the fighting near Jerusalem died down, they built and operated hospitals and inns for pilgrims to the Holy Land. Periodically, though, things in the Holy Land would heat up, and the Knights Hospitallers of St. John were not above picking up sword and armor in their efforts to keep the Christians in Palestine and in the Mediterranean safe. They were healers, but they were also fighters.

    By the sixteenth century most of these knights had been recalled from the Holy Land back to Rome, but they were still under the control of the Pope, and they were still a commissioned military force. Charles I of Spain needed an army in Malta, and the Pope said that he just happened to have one Charles could borrow—the Knights Hospitallers of St. John.

    Charles gave Malta to The Military Order of the Knights of St. John. They came here and set up military rule and started, well, to kick you-know-what. They got rid of the pirates and restored stability. At first the local population was pretty happy with the change. Things here improved. Many churches were built (as you might expect), trade increased (the Knights Hospitallers had connections), and things were pretty good for a couple of hundred years.

    By the beginning of the nineteenth century, though, the Maltese got tired of the heavy-handed rule of the knights and welcomed Napoleon’s takeover of the islands. The Knights Hospitallers of St. John were called back to Vatican City. Within just a couple of years, the French had used up Malta like an old Dixie cup, and the Maltese asked for the British to oust the French. Lord Nelson was happy to help, and Malta became a British colony around 1815 until Britain gave Malta independence in 1964.

    There are lots of very interesting things about this lovely place. One of the most interesting things is that the Military Order of the Knights of St. John Hospitallers still exists. Though they do not have a nation to rule, the Military Order of the Knights of St. John Hospitallers are still a sovereign nation—with no nation! They still reside within the Vatican. A small group of them is now back in Malta, but without political power. They attend the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, where they have voice but no vote. With the possible exception of the Vatican itself, they may be the oldest sovereign entity in the world.

    Malta is beautiful. Queen Elizabeth II of England and Prince Phillip spent their honeymoon here, and I can see why. She still says that her year in Malta was the happiest time of her life. The land is lovely, but so are its buildings. We saw dozens of churches, palaces, and other baroque buildings whose opulent glory defies description. We went to three different towns on the island: Valletta, Mdina and Mosta. Each of those has a church that too beautiful for words. I will simply say that there is no place in the world like Malta. I’ve got to come back here and stay about a month.
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  • Day129

    Arab Night

    April 22, Eastern Mediterranean

    Tonight was Arabian night as we sail toward Valletta, Malta . I wore the dishdasha I picked up in Oman. Coffee in the sunroom will never be the same. Glenda says that these Arabic women are onto something. With the scarf you don’t have to spend time fixing your hair.

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