Monday, September 19, 2011

Land At Last; Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Our seven day odyssey across the North Atlantic finally came to an end when we arrived yesterday morning into Halifax, Nova Scotia. What had begun as a straight four day crossing from Ireland to Newfoundland had instead turned into a seven day adventure in which we roamed the North Atlantic dodging one storm after another. We first had to avoid the tropical low off of Ireland, then dodge hurricane Katia, and finally came the mad effort to avoid hurricane Maria. All in all over our seven day journey, we traveled more than 2,800 miles.

However, yesterday morning that all came to an end, when we awoke to find the ship was not rolling about as had become the norm. When we opened the curtains, we were greeted with a marvelous sunrise.

Halifax, Nova Scotia I am absolutely certain that not a single person, crew or passenger, failed to go ashore yesterday. I myself came down the gangway, and promptly leaned over and kissed the ground. I was thinking to myself, enough already!

Halifax is the provincial capital of Nova Scotia, itself a part of Canada. The city has a long history dating back to the 1600’s. We met our car and driver at the pier and set off immediately to visit Peggy’s Cove, one of the most famous and most photographed spots in Canada.

Halifax, Nova ScotiaThis small fishing village of no more than 40 homes hangs precariously to solid rock outcroppings. The homes are all colorfully painted and its small harbor is home to a colorful collection of fishing boats and colorful buildings. At the end of the peninsula is a picturesque lighthouse.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

The morning had dawned bright and sunny, and the early chill quickly dissipated into comfortable warmth. Our driver chose to drive the coastal road to Peggy’s Cove, so along the way we were able to catch a number of truly beautiful pictures in the quiet of the early morning. Our drive there took almost one hour, and while we did not beat all the tour buses, the little town was not yet crowded when we arrived. I must tell you that in all honesty, I was somewhat disappointed in the Peggy’s Cove of today as compared to when I first set eyes on it almost 40 years ago. Then the little harbor was full of small brightly painted fishing boats, and there were no tourists’ facilities. That has all changed over time. Now there is a large parking lot for all the tour busses and private cars that flock to this little cove. In fact, our driver said that by noon, it would be virtually impossible to get into the town itself. The next thing that I noted is that I saw only a few boats in the harbor, and several of them were to provide rides to the tourist.

Halifax, Nova ScotiaThe wide open little harbor that I remember has now been encroached upon by piers and galleries, so that it is only a remnant of what it once was. I guess the lack of small fishing boats only shows that the locals have found tourism more profitable than fishing. Anyway, not to detract from a beautiful day, we did get some very nice pictures before the crowds descended and while we still had sunshine.

From there we continued our drive southward to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luneburg. This picturesque old city can trace its founding to 1753, and as with Peggy’s Cove, it is a protected site. The thing I found most amazing about Luneburg, as well as the many little towns through which we drove on our 6 hour ride, were the number of churches in each town. There was literally a church on each and every corner, and they were all old and quite beautiful.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Eventually we headed back to Halifax, and along the way our guide shared with us a unique part of the history of the area. I had seen signs to the Titanic Museum, but really did not understand the connection to this city. As it turns out, when the Titanic sank, the White Star Lines maintained a large regional office in Halifax, and even though Newfoundland was closer to the tragedy, it was from Halifax that the company was able to send a fleet of vessels to assist in the search for survivors or remains. The survivors were taken to New York, but the deceased were brought to Halifax, along with a large amount of wreckage which was found floating at the site of the disaster site. That wreckage has become the basis for the large maritime museum in Halifax. We then visited a cemetery where many of the victims from Titanic are buried. Here the simple graves are laid out in the pattern of a ship. In some cases, the tombstone bears the name of the victim if it was known when buried, but if later DNA revealed who was buried, then the tombstone was later modified to put the name on the side of the tombstone.

Halifax, Nova Scotia Many of the victims have been identified over the years, but of course not all. Interestingly there was a tombstone to a J Dawson, and even today it had fresh flower placed in front of it. There is also a tombstone to an unknown child, and it is always covered with small plush toys and coins dropped onto the tombstone. It was a sobering moment to stand amidst so much tragedy.

We reluctantly climbed back onboard our home away from home, and set sail once again towards the end of our journey. Tomorrow we are to briefly visit Newport, RI, before continuing onto New York the end of our cruise. When we awoke this morning, it was sunny and the seas were calm, so the ship had setup chairs around the pool and arranged seating for people to eat outside for lunch. However, sometime around mid-morning, the skies begin to cloud over, and before long the ship was rolling pretty badly again. The wind came up as if from nowhere, and started to blow all those carefully arranged chairs and tables around, forcing the crew to quickly secure everything again. At this point the Captain came on the PA system to inform us about our arrangements for tomorrow, and he announced that as unbelievable as it may sound, yet another low pressure has developed just off the coast of New York. This system will give us high winds and seas for the remainder of the day and early tomorrow, but fortunately it is headed east into the Atlantic and should not impact our arrival into New York on the 21st.

I am going to make this my last blog for this trip since our day at Newport will be so short, and then we must pack to depart the ship the following day. I have posted the final pictures from Halifax, and I do hope that everyone has enjoyed our journey. With any luck, we will be arriving home late on Wednesday, the 21st.


Friday, September 16, 2011

A Personal Briefing by Captain Arma


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I just enjoyed a fascinating experience which I want to share with everyone. Shortly after I finished writing this morning about our status, the Captain gave a general update to everyone over the PA system on our progress, but concluded by saying that if anyone would like to visit the bridge, that he would conduct a personal briefing and explanation of our situation. All we had to do was to register our interest with reception, and we would be taken to the Bridge in groups of 20. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, and was, therefore, among the first group.

Captain had prepared all the navigation charts, weather charts and printouts for us to see. It became apparent very quickly that our situation was potentially much more serious than I had realized, and it also became apparent that the Captain is a wily and quite experienced seaman, who was boasting just a little at having outsmarted the situation and the competition – but more on that later.

First as to the issue of Maria; until yesterday morning, Maria had been progressing northward along the Atlantic coast, pretty much as forecast, staying over the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream and moving rather slowly. At this point, the Captain had decided on the run to St. John to seek shelter. However as the morning progressed, the Captain noted that two High Pressure systems had developed, one on each side of Maria, and he correctly deduced that they would alter the course of Maria, and literally squeeze her northward at a rapid rate. So, at this point he started to calculate alternatives if that proved to be the case, which within a few hours it did. From a slow moving storm, Maria suddenly picked up speed to over 60 mph, and the high pressure systems nudged her out of the warm Gulf Stream and over the colder Atlantic.

One of his alternatives had us running to Sydney, Nova Scotia, but with the advancing speed of Maria, he showed us where we would have collided with extremely dangerous conditions with winds over 100 mph and waves of over 30 ft. At the same time on an updated weather chart, he picked up the beginning development of two different low pressure systems, which he described to us as systems that would be sucked into Maria. One of the passengers remarked that this had the markings of “the perfect storm.” “Well,” the Captain remarked, “it would not quite be the perfect storm – I encountered that at this same location in 2006, but it will be one of the most dangerous of the season for shipping.” He then said “the Perfect Storm” occurred with not just two low pressures fed into a hurricane, but three, which is what, happened to him not so long ago.

Seeing the trap developing, he then developed the plan we are following today, which is to run south around the storm and allow it to pass off our right side, and when it has moved north, for our ship to turn in behind it and make a run for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because the storm is so fast moving, he expects that by staying 300 miles from the center, we will find that while rough, the water will not be so dangerous as if he had stayed north and tried to cut in front of the system.

Apparently his experience has paid off. One of the Cunard vessels made a wrong call and has had to abandon its course and head to the open ocean. With any luck, they hope to join us in port in Halifax. However, the captain of a Holland American vessel did not see what was coming and got caught by surprise and in the process some passengers have suffered injuries and the ship has been damaged. I got a little lost in the Captain’s discussion because he is an Italian, and while he has good English, his accent at times makes him difficult for me to understand. He was explaining how the Holland American Captain allowed the huge waves of the storm to come from behind the ship, which is a very dangerous situation. Captain Arma was explaining that in that situation the ship cannot make any turn without running the risk of having the propeller come out of the water. That is what happened to this ship, and the runaway propeller tripped the automatic systems and the ship suffered a “blackout.” Until the situation could be brought back under control, the ship was helplessly adrift and at the mercy of the seas. With a twinkle in his eyes, the Captain explained that just in case, he had order our ship to take on water last night as ballast, so that we are now much heavier and riding much lower in the water, in order to minimize the risk from something like that happening to us as we try to get around this strong system.

For the next 12 hours conditions will worsen, and in all likelihood, we will experience strong winds and high seas. As soon as he can, the Captain will try to turn west and eventually northward to reach Halifax. We will be at sea all day today and tomorrow, arriving into Halifax on the following morning. However, the Captain said that if it is humanly possible to reach Halifax tomorrow evening, he will do so because everyone on this ship needs a rest, including himself. He said that he had not been able to sleep for the last three nights. He described our crossing as one of the most difficult he has experienced. First we had the low pressure off Waterford, Ireland; then we had to experience hurricane Katia; and before we even had time to catch our breath, we have now had to deal with hurricane Maria. That should be quite enough for one crossing.

At the end of his presentation, I did ask if the ship had enough Johnnie Walker Black to insure I got through the evening, and the Captain replied “certainly, and I will have another bottle sent to your cabin immediately as an insurance policy.” Everyone laughed, and we all thanked him for taking so much time to update us on the situation.


The Door Slams Shut – Have A Nice Day!

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Today is our sixth day of a scheduled four day crossing of the North Atlantic, and I still have no idea when we will once again make landfall.

When I wrote yesterday, I explained that in advance of Hurricane Maria, the Captain was pushing the ship at maximum speed towards the little port of St. John’s, Newfoundland in the hope that we could enter the harbor before the storm arrived. At that time, the Captain promised that he would update the situation by late afternoon.

Late afternoon came and went with no word from the Captain. I figured that was not a good sign, and my intuition proved to be correct when at 10PM the Captain addressed the entire ship once again. As incredible as it sounds, once a formal hurricane warning was issued for the area including St. John’s, the Port Authority closed the port to all traffic, and basically told us to go take a hike. If I could read anything into the Captains remarks, he was incredulous at this action. This left him with very few options. The closest port to St. John’s was the harbor at Sydney, Nova Scotia. However, the Captain had determined that even running at maximum speed, the eye of the hurricane would reach us by around 4pm tomorrow, well before we could seek shelter at Sydney.

And so, regretfully he was left with only one option. We are proceeding at maximum speed south and east back into the North Atlantic in an attempt to circle around the storm at sea. The Captain has said that for a storm of this size he wants to be 300 nm from the eye, and he will do his best to achieve that distance, but it all depends on many things. During the late afternoon yesterday, Maria had picked up speed and was now moving northward at almost 60 mph.

I guess we are going to be in for yet another rough ride, so I am going in search of a fresh bottle of Johnnie Walker Black before we start the battle.

I’ll keep everyone up to date, but not to worry. I have no doubt that we will be safe on the ship. It is more a matter of comfort, and unfortunately it is causing us to miss many of the ports we had hoped to visit.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Say It Isn't So

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This quick blog is to give everyone an update or our ever-changing situation. When I awoke this morning, the ship was so still that I thought we must have stopped or something. For the last several days the conditions on-board have reminded me of what it must feel like living in a washing machine. I looked outside, and just as the Captain had forecast yesterday, we were in calm seas and shrouded in a very thick fog. In fact, what awakened me was the incessant howling of the ship’s fog horn.

By mid-morning the fog had lifted and we had a mostly cloudy sky, but the barometer was rising and the winds were light. I started to believe that all this talk about another hurricane was going to prove incorrect. In fact I went online to CNN to see if there was any mention of hurricane Maria, and nothing was written as part of the current news cycle. A quick search did find a two day old reference to the hurricane season in general, in which it mentioned that Maria was no longer a threat to the mainland, and was passing harmlessly out to sea.

Well, all that changed when the Captain addressed the entire ship around noon today. The good news is that with the calmer seas and lighter winds, the ship is now making better time and we are proceeding at full speed towards the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland. The bad news is that we are in a race to get into port; if at all possible, before hurricane Maria hits the area tomorrow with winds of 70 mph or stronger and driving rain. Right now Maria is 300 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, and moving rapidly northward directly towards St. John’s.

If I understood the Captain correctly, he is hoping to reach St. John’s before the storm becomes so bad that it would be unsafe to enter the little harbor there. He stated that the harbor has no tug to help if things started to get out of hand, and he implied that we might well have to ride out the storm at sea. For now I can see the barometer starting to fall, and the winds increase. The fog is back, and the temperature is much colder, but the sea is still relatively calm. The Captain has indicated that he will address us again in the early evening about the rapidly developing situation. As he somewhat jokingly said, this type of weather is not only outside of his control, but also somewhat typical of the North Atlantic this time of year.

So, stay tuned. I figure as long as the Johnnie Walker Black holds out, I can pretty much handle anything.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

And The Hits Keep Coming


When I got up this morning and decided that things had calmed down enough to get caught up on my writing and picture upload, the sun was out and the weather warm with light winds. The seas were still rough, but I reckoned that was to be expected. By the time I finished all my catch up work this morning, it seemed to me that it was getting darker and the ship moving a little more, but I did not pay too much attention; that is until the Captain came on at noon to address the entire ship.

It seems that an unforecasted low pressure system developed rapidly this morning over Nova Scotia, and is moving rapidly in our direction. For that reason, the winds are up to Force 6 already and forecasted to rise during the day, along with the seas. The sky has clouded over, and I just went upstairs for lunch, and the temperature has dropped by 10 degrees from the early morning high of 65 degrees. The winds and seas are starting to kick up once again as well. According to the Captain these conditions will not last long, but will continue at least until late tonight, at which point heavy fog will develop tomorrow morning.

We are scheduled to arrive at St. John’s, Newfoundland day after tomorrow, which is a day later than planned. The Captain is hoping that we will be able to enter the harbor and dock, even though we will be late, because it now appears that during our stay at St. John’s, hurricane Maria is headed directly for us. The center of the storm is forecast to pass within only 200 nm of our position during our day there. At this point, the Captain is uncertain if we will be able to leave the shelter of the harbor because of the storm, and so he has canceled our next port of call into Sydney, Nova Scotia.

We are certainly getting the full treatment of a North Atlantic crossing on this cruise, so stay tuned because I am certain there is more yet to come.

A Night To Remember


We have been plagued on the last part of this trip with miserable weather. Frankly, I cannot remember when we last had a pleasant day. Apparently, a low pressure system developed in the Atlantic and parked itself over the British Isles. As I have written, we have had trouble docking, and our days have been windy at best, but generally cloudy with drizzle most of the time. So, why should our trip across the North Atlantic be any different?

During our stay at Waterford it was obvious that the ship was making preparations for a rough crossing. Everything that could be tied down was. All outside cables and lights were removed, and even our balcony furniture was moved into our room. So it came as no surprise that as we sailed from Waterford, the Captain addressed the entire ship about our upcoming passage across the North Atlantic.

Because of the low pressure system parked off Ireland, he could not navigate directly West as scheduled. Instead he was going to travel at high speed to the South in order to avoid the worst of the weather, and then try to make a turn towards the West. However, waiting for us in the North Atlantic were the remnants of Hurricane Katia. So only time would tell what was to come?

Our night out of Waterford was quite an adventure. Eventually we experienced winds of almost 50 mph and swells of over 20 ft. At times the bow of the ship would rise out of the water and then crash back with a deafening roar and pounding of the entire ship. The Captain has done an excellent job of minimizing the ship’s motion, but still the ride was pretty rough. Seasickness pills were being handed out like candy.

Eventually we made our turn westwards, but conditions are still pretty bad. Today the Captain informed us that generally when avoiding a hurricane it is necessary to stay around 325 nm from its center, however Katia was so large that he had to circumnavigate the storm by over 460 nm. We experienced conditions that were described as Gale Force 8, while had we approached the storm closer, conditions would have risen to a Force 11 situation.

While Katia is moving northward now at a rapid pace, she has left behind in her wake an extremely agitated sea which we must navigate to reach our next destination of St. John’s, Newfoundland. We have already been told that our arrival there will be late on the afternoon of the day AFTER we were scheduled to arrive. However, as the great Yogi Beara once said “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

The Captain also announced that he has some concerns about Hurricane Maria. Current forecasts show it is expected to reach the North Carolina coast only three days before our scheduled arrival into New York, which puts us right in yet another bull’s eye for bad weather.

So stay tuned – the adventure is far from over. I predict that the likelihood of our making all the remaining ports of call are very slim. After St. Johns, we are scheduled to visit Nova Scotia, Canada, stopping one day at Sydney, and the next at Halifax. After that, we would make port at Newport, Rhode Island and then end our trip in New York on the 21st.

So, from our small room surrounded by our balcony furniture accompanied by the thundering of the bow going up and crashing into the oncoming waves, I bid you good evening.


Cork and Waterford, Ireland


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Today is Monday, September 12th and our ship is at sea. I waited to write about our visits to Cork on the 9th and Waterford on the 10th, because those days were a blur of activity that left little time to write. Since our departure from Waterford, the ship has been fighting a mighty duo of storms, and frankly, sitting at a table and writing was simply out of the question until today.

First, let me begin with Cork, Ireland. There we experienced one of the more memorable days of our journey. In order to explain, I first need to back up just a little. Some while back Lisa and I were sailing on the Silver Wind down the East coast of Africa, and while on that voyage, we made the acquaintance of two wonderful ladies, both from Cork-- Joyce Kingston and Patricia O’Mahony. Each owns a farm in the Cork area, and after their husbands passed away, they became acquainted and eventually best friends. On occasion they will travel together, and that is how we met them in Africa. As is sometimes the case at the end of a cruise, people exchange contact information. We did this with Joyce and Patsy, and in so doing mentioned that we had a cruise scheduled to Cork in September, 2011. They graciously invited us to visit with them when we were in the area, and I made a note of it in our trip file. When time for this cruise arrived, I found the note, but hesitated to get in contact. As many of you know, I have had several bad experiences from opening my mouth to invite people to visit “when you are in the area,” and so I did not want to be a bother to these people.

Well, imagine my surprise when out of the blue I received an e-mail from Joyce at the start of our cruise saying that she had us on her calendar for a visit to Cork on September 9th and wanted to know if we would be willing to join her and Patsy for lunch! What a wonderful surprise.

Joyce met us at the ship at 10:15 am and whisked us off across the estuary on a nearby ferry on our way to Patsy’s house. After picking up Patsy, we set out on a scenic drive through Cork’s picturesque countryside on our way to the historic town of Kinsale. Believed to have been founded by Anglo-Normans in 1177, this lovely little town has a unique character. Sadly for us, the darn weather continued to ruin our picture taking. We were being plagued by an almost constant barrage of drizzle, sometime light and sometimes “drizzling by the bucket full.” We drove around the narrow streets and saw the many interesting sights, but in the end sought refuge in a wonderful little Irish tea room known to Joyce, where we could get a good coffee and a pastry.

Home of Patsy O'Mahony, Cork, IrelandWe drove back to Patsy’s lovely home where we would have lunch, and I did manage to stand in the drizzle to grab a quick picture of her 300 year old farm house. It is of course completely modernized inside with a spanking new kitchen off the back, but it has more character than almost any place I have had to honor to visit. We started our visit with champagne served in Waterford crystal for the ladies and an Irish Jameson Whiskey for me, before proceeding to the kitchen for a wonderful lunch, accompanied by white wine and more Waterford crystal. Before we finished, Patsy’s daughter, Katherine, stopped by for a quick visit and lunch.

Patsy O'Mahony and Joyce Kingston

I will relate two quick antidotes which I found interesting. In a recent census count, it was revealed that in the local district comprising 500 homes, Patsy’s house was the only one that did not have central heating. Each room of course has a fireplace, and a hot water system was added during the remodel, but it is a very unique home. For that reason, I was fascinated by the warmth of the kitchen and enamored by the AGA Stove she used for cooking. Well, actually as I learned from a little research, it is actually a “stove/heater” having been invented in 1929, but still manufactured today. It is powered today by electricity, and is left on all the time. The stove tops are covered with very heavy insulated caps which only need to be lifted and the pot placed on the stove. Otherwise it is just the residual heat from the stove which keeps the kitchen and adjacent rooms warm. Since the climate here is typically cool and damp, it is a perfect device for the situation.

Anyway, the time came way too soon for the girls to have to drive us back to the ship, where we parted with hugs and kisses all around. All I can say is a very sincere Thank You to Joyce and Patsy for an absolutely wonderful day.

Our next visit was only 80 miles north of Cork, to the city of Waterford, Ireland. Considering the short distance, it was somewhat of a surprise that the ship actually moved overnight to Waterford. Our scheduled departure was set for 5pm, but the Captain delayed the sailing until midnight in order to spare us the discomfort of the storm that awaited us outside the harbor. It was a rough night, and once there we were supposed to anchor offshore and tender into town. However, because of the high wind and seas, our Captain once again found a way for us to enter the harbor and tie up alongside a real dock; thank goodness.

We had arranged for a private car with a driver/guide for a 4 hour tour of the area. I did not want to just see the little city of Waterford, so I had made some notes about things in the surrounding countryside that seemed to be of interest. I was completely caught off guard by what greeted us dockside. Our driver was a very jovial Irishman who had taken this “gig” as a favor to a friend of his who was taken ill. He had been doing this sort of thing since “forever” and within minutes the two of us were “chatting it up” as if we were lifelong friends. While standing there, I pulled out my little list to discuss our plans, and he laughed and said, “Let’s be getting in the car and stop wasting time here. We can be on the road and talk at the same time – we have a long day ahead.” Once inside before I could get a word out he said “I have just a few questions; do you want to spend two hours walking around a dusty old castle? And if not, then what are you looking for?” My answer to the first question was “no” and to the second, I said we loved good pictures and wanted to see the area. “Good, then that settles the day” and off we roared. Our 4 hour day turned into 5 ½ hours of pure fun. I can’t even tell you all the places we saw or photographed, but I bet there was nothing in the area we missed.

Jerpoint Abby, Thomastown, Ireland I do know that we visited the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey, which was founded C. 1160. It was a beautiful old structure and as if to tease us, the sun briefly came out to provide some good photographs, before the drizzle returned. We drove through little towns, stopped at churches along the road, crossed bridges, ended up sitting in a little pastry shop in some small town, and thoroughly enjoyed the blur of activity.

Finally he said “I have to show you the three most important things in this area, but I have waited to the end, so the crowds could clear, and in the hopes the weather would improve. First, we drove into the historic city of Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland. Parking was non-existent, and so he let us off for 30 minutes to photograph the famous Kilkenny Castle, but as he said, we did well in deciding to avoid the 2 hour dusty tour of another old castle.

Kilkenny, IrelandAgain, the sun tried to peek out just long enough to tease, but quickly disappeared again in a steady drizzle. Then we drove into the town of Waterford itself. Here there were only two things to see. First was Reginald’s Tower, the earliest fortification erected in Ireland. It was pouring down rain when we got there, so we simply drove by, and checked that off the list. Lastly he insisted we go to the remaining “House of Waterford.” He said that not to do so would be like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. However, the famous Irish Crystal that is synonymous with the city of Waterford is no longer made there; in fact, it is no longer even made in Ireland, but rather in Eastern Europe. All that remains in Ireland of that legacy today is the Waterford showroom, where tourists ship out the crystal as fast as it can be packed. According to our driver, David, the labor unions had such rich contracts, that they were pricing themselves right out of work. The company did everything it could to keep the plant in Ireland, but in the end, the unions would not budge and so the company moved its facilities to Eastern Europe. I pushed Lisa though the showroom as fast as possible for fear that the buying urge would overcome her, and we departed in just a nick of time for our ship.

David refused to let us pay him for our extra time, nor for the many admissions fees he paid on our behalf. I did manage to sneak some money into his pocket, but not nearly enough for the value of the experience. Our hats are off to David – thank you!

Finally the moment arrived when we would set sail to cross the North Atlantic. All of us knew that a storm awaited us outside the harbor, and there were rumors that hurricane Katia was going to be a problem, but at least for now we were safe and waved good bye to the people dockside as we pulled away.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Truant at Fowey, United Kingdom

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The alarm clock duly started its ring at 6:30am this morning, but unlike our usual response – we both groaned and turned over, shutting the clock off. I had taken a quick look out the window and it was foggy with drizzle; we were so tired after so many days of going ashore that we just could not muster the strength to get up. Anyway, since today was a day we would anchor offshore and tender ashore, I figured with the rough seas and the bad weather, we would probably by-pass this port anyway.

Believe it or not, we slept until after 9, and when we awakened, to our surprise, the ship was quiet and at a standstill. I can remember in my sleep hearing what sounded like the engines vibrating a lot, and I do recall that I never heard the anchor drop overboard, and so I was confused. If we were not at anchor, how could the ship be so quiet and still? I opened the curtain, and to my utter surprise we were sitting right in the middle of a very, very small harbor, where we were nestled up among the little sailboats at anchor.

DSC_7647Out of our window we were only yards from the little town of Fowey, and on the other side of the ship, you could almost reach out and pick a leaf off the overhanging trees. As I later learned from one of the ship’s officers, the weather was so bad outside the harbor, the local agent advised against any tender operations, and also advised that the harbor was so small that our ship would not be able to enter the harbor itself. Well, the Captain agreed with not attempting to tender from outside the harbor, but he felt certain that he could back our huge ship safely into the little harbor. And that is exactly what he did--to the amazement of everyone!!!!! Somehow he managed to maneuver backward through the narrow entrance to the harbor, and thread his way past the multitude of little boats until he could drop both the forward anchors and then pass lines from the stern to a buoy in the harbor. This captain has done some amazing things on this trip, and my hat is off to him.

Anyway, we had planned on taking the day at leisure, however, since the tender ashore was all of a two minute journey, we decided to at least go ashore and walk the main street.

DSC_7656The clouds were hanging low, and most of the morning there was a light drizzle, but around noon things seemed to be better, and so we took a chance on going ashore. As luck would have it, just after we landed the drizzle started again. It was light at first, but over time it grew increasingly steady, until we finally threw in the towel and scurried back to the ship for lunch.


Fowey is located in Cornwall, which is itself situated on the southwestern peninsula of Great Britain. It is a very small picturesque little village that would have been fun to wander around in on a nice sunny day, but as it is, I can at least say I have been there.

Right now the tug has arrived to assist with our departure for Ireland, and tomorrow we will be visiting some friends whom we met or an earlier cruise with SilverSea, and who have invited us to join them for lunch; it should be great fun.

The pictures today are nothing to brag about, but at least you can see what the little town of Fowey is all about.


P.S. Just as I finished this blog, it was time to depart. So I grabbed my camera and ran upstairs to watch the action. I ended up on Deck 10 right above the Bridge overhang from which the officers were directing the ship.

DSC_7692From this vantage point, I got to see firsthand what was involved, and the first thing that was very obvious was that this was no ordinary departure. The wind was blowing us towards the shore and a line of very small sailing boats that were anchored. While the Captain had a great deal of power at his disposal, he had to be very careful not to damage the nearby craft. At one point, the water under the boat dropped to 5.7 meters, or about 20 ft. of clearance.

DSC_7701Clearly a ship of this size in the harbor is a rare occurrence, and for that reason it looked as if the entire town had turned out to watch our departure. From both sides of the shore people waved and shouted. I will let you see some of the pictures from the bow of the ship, but the little entrance to the harbor looked awfully small for our exit.


In any case, the Captain just came on to announce that he hoped everyone had a pleasant day. He said it was quite unusual to try to put a ship of this size into the harbor, particularly with the winds as strong as they are, but with what is facing us in the North Atlantic during the crossing, he felt we needed a calm day onboard. I believe our passage over to Ireland tonight will be OK, but after that he said he was monitoring the developing situation from the remnants of hurricane Katia as well as a rapidly developing low and would advise more tomorrow when he had updated weather. I have noticed that objects up on deck are being tied down all of a sudden, so I suspect we may be in for a bit of a rough ride ahead. Oops!

The Little Car That Could

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Our trip last evening from Cherbourg, France to Southampton, UK was an interesting experience. To my surprise, about two hours before our scheduled departure, the wind and rain started a slow improvement, and as scheduled, our ship departed port at 7pm. The Captain warned that our crossing of the channel would be rough, but that for much of the evening, he would keep the ship at an angle that minimized the effects of the storm. And so, true to his word, while it was choppy, it was bearable, until 1am that is. Apparently once all the venues were closed, the Captain turned towards Southampton, and to put it bluntly, all hell broke loose. Things in our cabin that were not well secured ended up on the floor, doors opened and then slammed shut, and walking was out of the question. We were so tired, that after making sure everything was buttoned up, we both fell asleep rocking back and forth feeling like babies in our cribs. When we awoke, the ship was docking, and outside there was just a small amount of sun peeking about the clouds.

Our day here in England has been an absolute joy, thanks in no small part to our good friends, Bill and Jayne Davison. We met them several years ago on a cruise to Egypt, and in the intervening years, we have had the pleasure of their company in our home on two occasions. This was their first opportunity to return the favor, and return they did. Learning of our plans, they both took a week’s “holiday” and moved down to this area in their motor home so that they could be close by when we arrived. They showed up this morning bright and early dockside to greet us, prepared to show us the nearby city of Salisbury and its magnificent Cathedral. There was only one little problem, and I do mean little. Actually I mean tiny, really, really tiny. Bill and Jayne tow a Toyota IQ behind their RV, and when Bill pulled up curbside, I took one looked and gasped!

Southampton, UK I was reminded of the great Ringling Bros. circus act where a small car would enter the ring and then an impossible number of clowns would somehow magically squeeze in and drive off. That was the situation we faced. Slowly we contorted our bodies, all the while laughing with great fun, and after a modest amount of grunts and groans we pulled away while the surrounding onlookers either laughed or looked outright flabbergasted and thus “the little car that could, did.”

Our visit to the Cathedral was a highlight of our trip. I took way too many photographs, but it was a building of superlatives.

Salisbury, UKThe Close was first laid out in 1197, and the actual foundation stones laid in 1220. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1258. It boasts the tallest spire in England, 404 ft. It houses one of only 4 copies of the Magna Carta from 1215, has the oldest mechanical working clock from 1386, and is home to the largest medieval Cloisters in the world. More impressive to me was the “feel” that I got in the building. I have certainly seen my share of impressive Cathedrals, but somehow this building was different. It seemed alive and very much loved by its people. The lights were on, and it was clear that the church plays an important role in the life of the city even today. Whereas most old Cathedrals seem cold and dark, quite the opposite was the effect here. Anyway, this is one case in which I need to let the photographs speak for themselves.

Salisbury, UK

After spending a large amount of time enjoying the Cathedral, we prepared to leave when a sign directed us down a long walkway to see the Magna Carta. We were so tired. I stated that certainly it could not be the original document but just a copy anyway, so why not let’s move on. A man doing construction work on the Cathedral overhead me, and to my surprise came over and kindly set me straight – there is not one, but four actual documents, all originals. One of those originals is indeed housed in the Cathedral of Salisbury.

When the document was executed in 1215, the way that the official “word” could be spread across the land was by having several copies that went to the far reaches of the Kingdom; hence this document was sent to the Cathedral. The 1215 Charter was issued by King John of England under pressure from his Lords and covers many issues. By far the most important meaning of the document was that in it the King grants certain “liberties” to his people and agrees that no “freeman” could be punished except through the law of the land. This law is still in existence today. Considering that the document is over 800 years old, it is an amazing state of preservation, and I consider it a real highlight of our trip to have actually seen it.

Anyway, as with all good things, the day finally had to come to an end. We “squeezed” back in the tiny car, and set off back to Southampton, where to the amused witness of the security guards, we all tried to gracefully find our way out of the vehicle.


So, my hat is off to Bill and Jayne for a wonderful day and a really fun time.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Full Retreat


Honfleur, St-Malo, and Cherbourg, France

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If any of you are watching our schedule, you might notice that we are supposed to be visiting the British Island of Guernsey, but instead we are sitting at a dock in the French port of Cherbourg watching a bloody gale roaring outside. This is a new experience for us. Last evening just before dinner, the Captain came on with a ship wide announcement. At the time, we were at anchor in the port of Saint-Malo with sunny skies and only moderate winds. However, the weather forecast for the next day called for Gale Force winds and “dangerously high seas,” all of which required the Captain to cancel our trip to Guernsey, since it was going to require us to anchor offshore and use the tenders to go ashore. However, the approaching storm was forecast to be so severe, the Captain did not feel it was safe to even stay in Saint-Malo, nor was it wise to try to ride out the storm in the English Channel. After consultations with SilverSea, and some rapid footwork, dock space was acquired in the port of Cherbourg, France. We are not the only cruise ship that took cover; we were told that several other ships also have taken refuge in the harbor.

My hat is off to the shore excursion staff because with almost no advance preparation, they were able to assemble a quick tour of the Cherbourg area for early morning. We were lucky to get a spot on the bus, and while the winds were very strong, we were able to see the area before the rains hit about noon. Right now the rain and winds are so strong that I cannot even see the adjacent docks, and I can only imagine what it would have been like at sea.

Normandy, France

Since I have started with Cherbourg, let me complete our day. Our bus tour was around 4 hours, and for the most part it was a drive in the Normandy countryside, commonly called the hedgerow country. This is perhaps the most rural area in France.

Normandy, FranceWe drove through small country towns that looked little changed from the days of World War II. The countryside is covered with “hedgerows” which were planted in the Middle Ages to control water flow and still serve that same function today. However, it was the existence of these hedgerows that caused US troops so much difficulty during the invasion of France. The Germans could easily hide behind these and surprise our troops who had only the narrow lanes on which they could travel. It was a nightmare. Our guide told us that in this area, some 4,000 allied troops died per square mile during the Normandy invasion.

We stopped at a few towns for 30 minutes or so to look around, and then visited a lookout from which we could see the beach on which the Americans landed.

Normandy, France It was pretty in a way, but also very sobering. Because of the high winds and threating skies, I got almost no pictures, but at least the rain held off right to the end of the tour.

I do have one funny story to tell. In these small towns, they have men’s urinals literally right out on the street. Now call me prudish, but that did not seem like a great idea. I did learn that the best way to find a restroom was to visit a coffee shop or restaurant, order some coffee, etc., and then make use of their facilities which are always kept clean, unlike the outside stalls. Needing to “go,” we found a little restaurant and went to order some coffee. Unfortunately, not planning on being in France today, I had no euros, and to our surprise the establishment would not take a credit card. Chest fallen and ready to leave, a gentleman on the side told the owner to “put it on his tab.” He kept insisting, and finally I relented and kindly accepted his largesse. Feeling as if I should do something in return, I finally took a $20 bill over to his table where he sat with two other people. I said “I don’t know if you speak English, but I do want to thank you,” and as I did so I put the $20 bill in his hand. The entire table just broke out in a roar, and I stood there not having a clue what was so funny. Well, it turns out that the three people at the table were all on our bus and were sitting just behind me. I did not recognize them, obviously, so they were laughing all over the place at my feeble attempt to say “thanks” to a frenchy!

Now, having missed a couple of days, I will quickly try to get caught up on our travels. Two days ago we visited the city of Honfleur. We had arranged for a private car with the intention of seeing Honfleur, and then driving to Bayeux, France where the UNESCO World Treasure called the “Bayeux Tapestry” is housed. As we went down the gangway, I spotted a new BMW limo waiting, and assumed that was for us. Instead, I was cut off by a little guy named Erik who was holding a sign with our name. He quickly guided us off to the side where he had parked the family Renault! I knew we were in trouble when he asked what we would like to do for the day, meaning he had no clue. Fortunately, I have learned to be prepared for that question, so I suggested we visit St. Catherine’s Church in Honfleur. He seemed a little hesitant, but set off, first turning left, then right, then left again, until it was obvious he was lost. In the process, he had turned the wrong way up a one way street, been honked at by numerous drivers, and was already in a sweat. So I suggested he go to the City Center, the way for which was clearly marked by signs. Sure enough the Church was there. He pointed to it, and said to go ahead and visit the church, and he would park someplace nearby. When I asked if he could at least tell me a little about the church, he said he had not had time to read up on it, but he did hand me the Michelin Guide book to read; only one problem, it was in French!

Honfleur, France

At this point I am starting to fume – how can this happen yet again on this trip. So, Lisa and I wandered the center of Honfleur on our own, and then set off to Bayeux to see the tapestry. Curious now about Eric, I asked if he lived in the area. Well no, he said. It seems that he lives and works as a guide in Paris. When I asked how long it took to drive in from Paris, notice his answer; “the drive is about two hours for most people, but it takes me three hours.” I very soon learned why it takes poor Eric so long – he is terrified of driving. We spent almost 5 hours with him, much of it on high speed highways, and not once did he pass a car. If someone got behind him, he would slow down until they passed us by. When going up a hill, he even pulled over in the right-hand “slow lane” for use by trucks, even though traffic was roaring past us in a steady stream. He had both hands firmly gripped on the wheel, and he stared straight ahead with occasional nervous glances in the rear and side view mirrors. A few times, I attempted conversion, but it was fruitless. Poor Eric was at the limit of his capacity just driving, and adding conversation in the mix was way too much. So we rode for hours in complete silence, bouncing around in his little family Renault.

I was completely unprepared for the Bayeux Tapestry. I had assumed that I would witness some huge work of art that would cover an entire wall of some magnificent palace.

Bayeux, FranceInstead, we found the Tapestry in a converted seminary, where long lines awaited us to gain entry. The Tapestry turned out to stretch over 225 ft. in length, and was only around 2 ft. in width. It was completed in the 11th century, and today is probably the world’s most celebrated piece of needlework depicting the story of the Norman conquest of England. On our way out of town, we stopped at the Notre Dame Cathedral, Bayeux’s most important building. It was Sunday morning and services were just ending, so we got to hear the organ – a special treat.

Bayeux, France

Bayeux, France

As we were leaving Bayeux, Eric once again went right, left, right, etc., until after 15 minutes, we ended up where we started. Clearly puzzled, he turned left, this was the exact opposite of the way we had entered the city. In other words, unless the city had turned around during our visit, he was going the wrong way. It seemed to me that it was time for the trusty iPhone to once again come to the rescue, and in just a minute I had a map, and directions back to Honfleur. Eric did not want to listen to me, but finally admitted that perhaps he could use some help from my little toy. Thank goodness I intervened because the road he had taken would have gone a very long way in the wrong direction before connecting with the highway back to Bayeux, and then onto Honfleur.

When I got to the ship, I was furious about what had happened and determined to write our travel agent about the problem, when I took out the confirmation and noticed that we had been promised “a private car with an English speaking driver.” That is exactly what we got – no guide services involved. Kinda sad he was not at least a good driver, nor even knew where to go.

Yesterday, we once again had a private car with an English speaking driver, so I knew what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised when a very properly dressed young man showed up with a Citroen Limo. He was not a guide, but he sure knew the area and where we were going, and in the end, he thanked us for a fabulous day together! Go figure!

We left as early as we could and drove directly to the famous Mont Saint Michel.

Mont Saint Michel, FranceThis spectacular granite mountain with its abbey spiraling high above the sea is considered a “Marvel of the Western World.” Originally, the mountain was completely surrounded by the ocean, and could only be reached across the sand when the massive tidal flow exposed the sandy beaches. Long ago a causeway was constructed to allow visitors to drive to the rock, but that causeway completely disrupted the tidal flow, and today the mountain is surrounded by sand, not water. However, while we were able to drive right up to the mountain, that will soon be history. The causeway is being removed, and a massive project is underway to return the tidal flows to their original form. In the future to reach the mountain, one will have to travel on an elevated tramway.

To reach the Abby at the top, requires climbing over 200 very steep steps under very crowded conditions. In fact, it becomes so crowded as the day progresses, that the crowd becomes gridlocked and people try to get down, while others are fighting to climb upwards. We climbed up to the first ramparts, grabbed a coffee and croissant, and got out while the going was good. It is worth seeing once, but climbing the top was not in our game plan. Instead, we had our driver take us to the medieval town of Dinan.

Dinan, FranceBy this point, Lisa and I were so tired of walking medieval towns, that before long we gave up the ghost and went for a quick drive around the city before calling it a day.

And so, we sit here in Cherbourg, where if anything, the storm outside has grown even stronger as I have been typing. The ship is scheduled to depart this evening at 7pm for a quick run across the English Channel and into Southampton, where we have a scheduled “turn around” day. I don’t know, the ship, even though it is tied up at a pier in a secluded harbor, is being tossed around like a tin car, so I am wondering about that 7 pm departure.

So, there will be more to follow. I have the pictures for everything except today posted, and if I can, I’ll get those up today. Hope everyone is well.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

The “Belgium” Waffle Is A Myth

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Remember how you felt when you learned that there is no Santa Claus. Well, Lisa and I felt the same way today when we learned that there is no such thing as a “Belgium” waffle, per se’. According to our guide, waffles in Belgium are a big deal, but there is no one waffle, in the country, which is known as the “Belgium” waffle, except some “stuff” they sell the tourists. In Belgium, there are two types of waffles: the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. So there you have it my friends; yet another myth exposed!

As you may guessed by now, our stop today is at the seaport of Zeebrugge, Belgium, and the main reason for coming here is to visit the nearby town of Bruges. Bruges is a medieval city that is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city was originally founded as a Roman fortification by the legions of Julius Caesar in the first century BC, and by 856 AD, it was granted a town charter and became an important trading hub during the Middle Ages.

Bruges, Belgium

Now in all truthfulness, before today I had never heard of Bruges, but that was clearly my loss. The city is a fascinating town of narrow cobblestone streets and magnificent churches and cathedrals. It receives over 4 million visitors annually. Remember my discussion about how most medieval cities today exist merely for the visitors. That is not yet the case with Bruges. People live and work in the city, and therefore it is very much alive. In all honesty, it is in transition to a tourist city; with the first floor, on most buildings, a quaint little shop or café. However, just a few blocks off the main square, the city is very much a residential area of carefully preserved homes and buildings.

Bruges, BelgiumIndeed the exterior of all buildings must, by code be maintained in their original state, even if the interiors have been completed and gutted and rebuilt.

We had a private car today which allowed us to quickly drive into the city before the hordes of tourists arrived for the day. On our way there, we made a few stops in some quiet and picturesque little towns, before arriving at Bruges. Once there, our car let us off at a back, and little used entrance into the city, where it was tranquil and very peaceful.

Bruges, Belgium Beautiful white swans adorned the nearby ponds and lakes. We slowly walked along the cobblestone streets in an almost fairytale world. As we approached the center of the city, the traffic began to build, and now there were more and more tourists on the narrow streets. Soon the streets reverberated with the sound of hoofs, as carriage after carriage plied their trade. The many canals were soon filled with small canal boats overflowing with people snapping pictures of everything. Clearly the time had come to get out of town before we could no longer move. We stopped at a chocolate shop to grab some famous Belgium chocolate, and then made our escape.

As we drove from the city back to the ship, the line of cars driving towards the city stretched for well over three miles all crawling along at a snail’s pace. Our driver told that that on weekends and during the summer months, this was a common daily occurrence. We made a few camera stops along the way back to the ship, and then it was over.

On a side note, I have engaged each of our drivers over the last few weeks to a similar discussion about what was happening within their countries, and what each thought about the European Union. Today was no exception, and what struck me is the similarity of what I was hearing from each of them, and the similarity to what we in the US are discussing. Each of the European countries we have visited is engaged in heated debate about how to handle social services in general and for older people in particular. The “baby boomer” phenomena is not confined to the US alone, and in Europe, as the population ages there are fewer workers to support the benefits which have been promised. In Belgium, for example, a worker can retire in their mid-fifties, which to most people is no longer practical, however, there is a political faction that refuses to make changes to the system. In Belgium in particular, the social network is so bizarre, that a young person getting out of school today, can, if they play the system right, retire within six months for life. Our guide was explaining that if a new graduate cannot find employment within six months of graduating, then they receive a pension from the State of around 700 euros per month. He explained that there were ways to increase that over time, and to make it essentially a permanent retirement benefit.

Next, the issue of medical care seems paramount in each country. They each have dealt with the issue a little differently, but in most countries where we have been a person is required to purchase a very modest amount of health insurance. However as people age, the underlying system is beginning to break and everyone agrees it needs to be fixed, but no one seems to know how to fix it.

Finally there is the issue of immigration. Prior to the creation of the EU, countries had very clear guidelines regarding immigration. However, by joining the EU, each country agreed to an “open border” policy. Now all of Europe is being besieged by people from Eastern Europe, who come to places like Belgium and expect to receive benefits and services as with any citizen. These people also bring with them an influx of crime and background that is quite different from the new host country. They do not even speak the local language, but expect to be treated as any other citizen. Each of the countries is now aware of the problem and each is trying to address it, but it is a very contentious issue.

Anyway, I am trying to keep up as best I can. Tomorrow we head to France. With any luck I will get some pictures posted later today.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Entire City Under Water


My best description of Amsterdam, Netherlands is that is it very much like San Francisco on steroids! I was blown away with the vitality of this city, and wished I had more time to see what it has to offer.

Anyway, our day started early once again with a private car. We begin our day by a drive into the countryside to visit Zaanse Schans, a quaint, old Dutch village that has been lovingly preserved.

Amsterdam, NetherlandsOnce in the Zaanstreek region, there were literally hundreds of windmills covering the countryside, but today only a few remain. Twelve of the remaining mills have been carefully moved to this quaint village where they have been lovingly restored and maintained in working condition. Our driver took us into the village by a back entrance, thus avoiding the hordes of tourist pouring into the main gate. The village is a thriving community which is owned by a Foundation. Residents receive up to 70% of the cost of any renovations to their properties, and properties can be purchased at a big discount. However, the family must then agree to maintain the homes in their original condition and to live there for at least ten years. They must also accept that it is a living museum, and so they may not surround their property with gates or fences, but must maintain everything in its original state.

On our arrival, it was so quiet and peaceful that you would not have known we were so near the city of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, NetherlandsChildren were at play, mothers were out walking their babies, and it was a glimpse of Dutch life that was very interesting, right down to the wooden shoes being worn by the locals. It was a beautiful day, and I was able to grab some very good photographs, which I hope to get on the net later today.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Arriving at Amsterdam itself, we entered a blur of activity. Narrow streets, canals everywhere, and the hustle and bustle of traffic; all added to the aura of organized chaos. Crazy as it sounds, buildings are purposely tilted forward on their fronts, in order that goods can be lifted by rope to the upper floors without hitting the lower floors. If you look carefully at some of our pictures you will see the buildings leaning.

DSC_7146Adding to that impression of chaos were the bicycles. They were everywhere, and they always have the right of way. Along every sidewalk and street there are bike lanes, and believe me, if you so much as set one foot inside that lane, you do you at great personal risk. I had seen something like this in Copenhagen, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is populated by some 16 million people, of which around 800,000 live in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, however, there are over 1,000, 000 bicycles! Add to that the fact that the city is spread over 70 islands, boasts 60 miles of canals, and has over 1,000 bridges; then perhaps you can begin to get the picture.

Since its inception in the 13th century, Amsterdam has been a melting pot of cultures. It has a rich history in the arts, and is a major trading center in the world. People from all over the world can be found here: hence my comparison to San Francisco. However, as with New Orleans, it is a city which lies below sea level! The city was originally kept water free by the giant windmills which pumped water outside the man-made dykes which surround the city. In 1932, a 22 mile long dam was created to seal off part of the Zuider Sea, thus allowing large landfills and a huge growth in the area of the city. In order for our ship to enter the harbor, we first had to pass through a lock which lowered us down to the level of the water inside the dammed area.

Lisa and I were so fascinated by our visit to the city, that after our private tour ended and we ate a quick lunch on the ship, we got back out and had a taxi take us to the world famous Rijksmuseum. While the museum is undergoing restoration, they have accumulated their most famous works into one massive exhibition. Thank goodness the museum was not open all the way, because we were so tired after viewing only a portion of their items, that it was all we could do to drag ourselves back to the ship. We did get to see some of the most famous Rembrandt paintings in the world and they had all been cleaned and looked better than any Rembrandt I had ever seen before.

So, tired but happy, we set sail tonight for Zeebrugge, Belgium and yet another day of adventure,