Cruising from London to Scandinavia, the Baltic, the Netherlands, Guernsey, France, Germany, and Spain.
August 23, 2010
June 25th began a new cruise for us, this time to places we didn't see on our recent QE2 World Cruise. The ship was the Prinsendam (Holland America). Stops included Copenhagen, Tallinn in Estonia, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Lorient and Bordeaux in France, A Coruna and Bilbao in Spain, Le Havre in France, Vissinge (Netherlands), Brussels, and London.
We are not sure of a book this time, but our world cruise resulted in a book, AROUND THE WORLD ON THE QE2. It is available as a quality paperback at: http://www.northshire.com/siteinfo/bookinfo/9781605710556/0/
An e-book version of AROUND THE WORLD ON THE QE2, with many photographs added, is also available for reading online or for downloading in formats for Kindle, Sony, and most other readers. This link should take you to it.
George and Barbara
From Ann Arbor, we managed to check in and get boarding passes on line, a procedure that made Detroit Metro much easier than usual. With a couple of hours to spare, we bought a couple of Stieg Larsson books, checked into the Skyline Lounge, and relaxed until flight time. We checked all our bags except the laptop and settled in for a Business Class flight of nearly seven hours of comparative comfort. Seats arranged so that it was possible to spread them out as beds without affecting the spaces of seats behind and in front. So that was it, quick and easy to Heathrow and then another six or seven hours to get to the Prinsendam and into our stateroom.
Cleared Customs quickly, met Holland Am reps easily, waited and waited for bus. Driver looped south around London, passed Gatwick, stopped for rest break, found Tilbury and the ship. And then we waited an hour or more to board, and another hour and a half or more to get into our cabin.
Room pleasant but small. Not much space for our things, bags stowed under the beds, no tub in bathroom, only shower. Problems with getting email connection, but works well (if a bit expensive) now that we have succeeded. In other ways, the ship is very impressive. Large public areas, swooping curved stairways, chandeliers, three pools. Other friends have praised the food, and they are right. It is very good. Unfortunately, we are still making comparisons with the QE2, and by that standard, the service falls far short. Dining rooms much too crowded, no permanently reserved tables (not quite true—we have a table reserved for dinner at eight, but cannot use it at other times if we want to go to an early show, for example, or dine late for some reason. In those cases it becomes catch as catch can again). We have a balcony, and during the day it is pleasant to sit and watch the river slide by, as we remain docked at Tilbury, one of the earliest English settlements, not very far from where our earliest European ancestors set sail to reach the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
From Tilbury town did Prinsendam, a stately cruising ship, set sail, where Thames, the sacred river, ran, through waters measureless to man, to reach the Baltic without fail (apologies to S. T. Coleridge and his “Kubla Khan.
And, yes, we have now reached the Baltic. To get there we spent many hours on the Thames, watching and passing through an endless parade of container ships and more than few ferries, some pleasure sailboats and small motor boats. Overwhelmingly the impression is of commerce. As we sailed onward toward the North Sea (a very long way) we began to pass endless clusters of tall three-bladed, energy-generating windmills. They came at us in groups of a hundred or so, and the total was certainly several hundred, possibly a thousand. England seems far ahead of the U.S. in harnessing this technology.
After that, we entered the North Sea and sailed many hours more before we rounded a point, and sailed south along the Danish coast toward Copenhagen, passing the castle supposed to be Hamlet's Elsinor. Then, as we entered the harbor toward our berth in Copenhagen, the skyline began to sprout wind towers again. As we sit here typing we can look out the window to our balcony and count twenty of them continually turning in the wind. Back a bit, near the harbor entrance, we had already passed twenty others similarly spinning. If we remember correctly, we were told that the windmills supply 12% to18% of the country's energy needs. Denmark is very small and seems in this respect far ahead of the U.S. we argue almost endlessly about the handful of towers planned south of Cape Cod. Nationwide we have how many? Our first Danish tour was to Dragoer, a small fishing village where most of the buildings are brick and plaster, half timbered in black and white, with thatched or slate, or red tiled roofs, some on them together on the same building. Many date from the 16th or 17th century., but new ones continue to be built in the old styles. Boats continue to go in and out, but most of the herring have now moved further north and out of the Baltic. Fishermen got by, barely, for generations, but most of the inhabitants, however they make their money, now live in a lovely village where small houses can cost a million dollars.
On the second of our two days in Copenhagen, we toured by bus and canal boat, discovering that the city is very small. However you approach it, up or down, east or west, you you keep seeing the same streets, buildings, squares, and monuments, and hearing the same historic highlights from different tour guides. That by no means diminishes the city's attractiveness. Rather, it convinces that it must be a very livable place when you learn to use public transport and know the city well enough to walk around on your own.
As in Dragoer, many of the buildings are very old. Blocks of them that for several hundred years had served as military barracks, survive now in substantially the same shape, but broken up into apartment or condo units, two stories high, with to units sharing the front door, but with the twist here that sometimes the up and down residents share a single kitchen or bath. There is substantial age to all of the city and very little height to the buildings, aside from the occasional Lutheran Church or other public structure. We went first to view what remains of the Little Mermaid on a point near a small boat harbor, but the famous statue wasn't there, It was on temporary loan the Danish pavilion at the Shanhai World Exposition. In its place stood a large electronic display depicting it live in current time. You could tell it was live by the lone man walking in the background of an otherwise empty square.
We had booked a bus and canal tour because the ship was docked too far out to make touring on foot a comfortable option. We fully enjoyed both bus and barge. Sometimes sights from the water gave better perspectives than those from a bus window, so we wound up with some nearly duplicate photos. As our guide helpfully expressed the situation, “Copenhagen is a small city in a very small country. You could pick up the whole island and drop it in Lake Michigan and it would still be surrounded by water.” In another reference to our famous home, one of the male passengers asked, “Isn't that the capital?” No, no, we replied, that's Washington.”Washington?” he queried, frankly puzzled. 'Yes, Washington, D.C.” “Oh,” he said, “I meant the car capital.” “Not any more,” we said.
Our guide, born in Seattle and educated at Syracuse, had done some post-graduation travel, arrived in Copenhagen, and never left. With her we visited the four baroque palaces built around a square where Queen Margaret II and other Royals live (one is a guest house). The queen, Barbara's age, must have been a pre-teen during the German occupation. Watching the changing of the guard, we were told they had already lost three members to the Afghan War. In front of the palace square, on the canal, an immense black yacht, Octopus, provided striking testimony to the enormous wealth of its owner, Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Directly across the canal, the opera house, a modernistic structure of steel and glass that juts over the water, was built in 2005. Mr. Maersk, the shipping magnate, donated the money.
At 11:00 p.m. we attended an Indonesian Crew Show, where we expected to see Greg, our favorite waiter, perform with a singing group. Unfortunately, after presenting two singers and a display of intricate “hand” dancing, the show ended, with no appearance by Greg and his group.
At breakfast in the Lido at a little after 6:00 a.m., we were served by Greg who told us that the evening show was cut short because he had not yet finished his duties. Aside from the officers, almost all of the crew are Indonesians, heavily overworked from morning to midnight, but happy, perhaps, to have the jobs.
The East German town of Gustrow, near Warnemunde, had the good fortune to be largely ignored during the Communist rebuilding of the 1960s in which strategically important cities had their war-torn buildings turned into ugly modern structures of concrete, glass, and steel. Only recently has reunification money made its way to Gustrow, where the residents had the wit to begin to restore rather than level and rebuild structures that had badly deteriorated from the glories of their Renaissance past. Many are completed, many more yet to come.
We took a walking tour that culminated with a visit to the 17th century chateau, the Schloss Gusrtow. To get to it we walked through narrow streets, with shops and homes generally no more than three or four stories high, to a public square by the town hall. The churches were the big buildings, thrusting medieval steeples far above the surrounding homes and market places. The Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary's, which turned Lutheran during the Reformation has not yet been fully restored, nor has the private church of the Duke of Mecklenburg, which now serves as a Catholic Cathedral. Both remain reminiscent of past glories, but there is much gilding and other restoration going on within them. The cathedral has a very striking feature in a human statue of indeterminate gender, called The Hoverer, suspended by chains with an expression of grief above a memorial to the dead of World War I. The sculptor, Ernst Barlach, lived in Gustrow. During WW II, the Nazis judged the statue to be degenerate art and melted it down to make guns. Fortunately a plaster cast survived and two more bronzes were made, the first for Gustrow, the second for Cologne Cathedral.
Homes and public buildings often fared better than the churches. One stood out during our visit for its green facade ornamented with white plaster motifs that gave it the look of a giant Wedgwood platter standing on end. Much remains to be done, but the work goes on and it is clear that the city fathers have the right idea.
The Schloss Gustrow proved less interesting than the city around it..Imposing in size, with interesting displays of guns and swords, it has a very fine ballroom. There the plaster ceiling is ornamented with surprisingly detailed figures that stand in relief and actually thrust arms and legs and elephant trunks downward toward the viewer. The plasterers who created it were enormously skilled, as were the Polish plasterers who have worked on the restoration. Outside lies a formal garden. Planted mostly in lavender, in beds trimmed in boxwood, and providing a purple contrast to the brown of the castle walls and gravel walkways. On three sides of the garden lies a tunnel walkway of beech trees trained to provide a shaded path around the whole.
Estonia has been occupied a dozen or so times since the twelfth century by Swedes, Danes, Germans, and Russians. It finally earned its independence from Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Tallinn we woke on July 2nd to find ourselves berthed beside a U.S. Navy frigate, the U.S.S Simpson. On shore was a temporary military installation of soldiers in camouflage uniforms who could not be distinguished as to country. Estonia is just now being integrated into NATO and this seemed one result of the process. In any case, the rifles they carried seemed both real and forbidding. Later we guessed this had something to do with the upcoming 4th of July.
From the ship, Tallin displayed a clear line of demarcation between the red tile roofs of the old town and the glass rectangles that dominated the new. The old town is a small area within a much larger city. In the fourteenth century a wall and a moat kept the inhabitants safe. Today, these defenses remain largely intact, as does the inner city itself, with relatively minor changes. Outside the walls lies a large, modern city with high rise apartment buildings, fashionable stores, a McDonald's Restaurant and other signs of progress. We sped through this outer city in ten or fifteen minutes, parked our tour bus outside the walls and followed our guide through the winding and long-neglected streets within. The old town had both walled and moated, and archaeologists are now at work uncovering the past. We were fortunate enough to watch briefly as two young men dug into the foundation of a house dating to the 1360s. We walked through narrow alleys with cobbled streets and walls of Estonian limestone, past the remains of old churches, some of them supposed to be druidic in origin, with worship of trees and
other natural forms. They came late to Christianity. One interesting relic was a statue of a black cat perched on a chimney. Legend has it that a Scottish witch flew to Estonia, where the watchman at the Town Hall waved a flag to chase her away. She misunderstood and thought he wanted her to land. When she did, she was turned into a black cat. So now, if a black cat crosses your path you should spit three times over your shoulder to avoid bad luck.
At Rocca da Mare, a folk museum, we had apple tea and barley bread in a replica of an old barn and then went outside to watch a troop of young women in peasant costumes perform folk dances. In the end, we were even enticed into joining them, hand to hand, in a kind of one, two, three, bend, and skip circular performance.
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Ports on the Baltic Sea are crowded with cruise ships and ferries. We docked at St. Petersburg near a Costa ship, a Royal Norwegian, the Celebrity Eclipse, and at least two other ships, several of them much longer and a good many decks higher than our relatively small and sleek Prinsendam. Some of the countries are small and their ports not far apart—so small and so near that workers commute from one country to another, or one port to another, arriving in the morning, going home in then evening. The sea lanes are often crowded with such ships, an unusual sight for travelers accustomed to the wide and often empty horizons of ocean travel,
Ginny Hornbeck's tip to try some shore excursions with DenRus, instead of taking them all from the Prinsendam, proved very helpful during our two days in St. Petersburg. Prices seemed lower than tours from the ship. Our guide, Yelena Zaitseva, was terrific, as was our driver, Victor. Russian officials. however, seemed less than enthusiastic to see us. The female passport official who several times checked us in and out never once gave a glimmer of recognition or cracked a smile during her solemn checking and stamping of our documents. Ten Americans and Canadians in our group, traveling in a spacious Mercedes van, found themselves in much more comfortable circumstances than was common on buses carrying thirty or so that was usual in tours sponsored by our ship.
The glories of St. Petersburg relate mostly to the many palaces of the Tsars. They span periods designated as follows in our DenRus handout: The Rurik Dynasty (1462-1598), which includes Ivan the Terrible; The Times of Troubles (1598-16258), including Boris Gudunov; and The Romanov Dynasty (1618-1682). The palaces change over time and go by a bewildering variety of names, include summer palaces and winter palaces, and are sometimes more showplaces than actual residences. We began our tour by driving along the Nevsky Prospect, a main shopping area, and then drove south about 30 kilometers to the area now called Pushkin, where the summer palaces are located.
The Catherine Palace takes its name from Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great. It was expanded and improved by Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter I, and later by Catherine II, the wife of Peter III. Elizabeth was a very elegant Tsarina who left tens of thousands of dresses and matching shoes when she died, because she would wear each dress only one time. Because her taste favored the Baroque, the rooms she decorated have elaborate plaster moldings, many mirrors, Chinese and Japanese ceramics and Meissen porcelain. Catherine II favored Neoclassical .design, and her Scottish architect, Charles Cameron built rooms in a much more restrained style, including an elevated walkway where Catherine could admire her private garden, entertain her approximately 60 lovers, and visit her private chapel by the shore of a man-made lake. In that chapel we were treated to a capella singing by a male choir.
That Catherine, of course, was a larger than life figure, so there are many stories about her, including how she found out that her husband, Peter III intended to kill her so he could marry one of his mistresses, so she had him killed first.
This palace, with over fifty rooms, was heavily damaged by the Nazis, who occupied it during the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The ceiling collapsed in several rooms and fires were set in others. They left bombs behind when they evacuated (these, fortunately did not detonate). Hitler had plans to wipe St. Petersburg off the map, but the city withstood the siege. Millions of people died of starvation during one especially harsh winter. Yelena recommended a book called The Madonnas of Leningrad that describes the suffering. Hitler was so sure he would win that he planned to celebrate in the Hotel Astoria and had invitations printed with the date of the celebration left blank. A copy of the card is in the city archives.
From the Catherine Palace we drove southwest toward the Gulf of Finland, where Peter built his modest Mon Plaisir palace, surrounded by elaborate gardens and 200 fountains. Among his other skills, he was a hydrologist and had traveled widely in other European countries and wanted to try in Russia some of the effects he had witnessed. For the Peterhof, a wooded and gardened area, he installed many fountains driven by the weight of water from an artificial lake high on a hill. Some of these involved tricks such as the series that still inundates guests a couple of times a day as they walk along a wooded pathway through the trees. People now like to try this out, but seem surprised by the thorough soaking that they receive. Forewarned, we observed from the sidelines.
On the way back to the ship, we rode the Metro, changing lines a couple of times so we could observe the temple-like stations. To get to the surface we rode a long escalator that stretched much further upward than any we remembered from the London Tube.
That evening we went to the Bolshoi (Big) Theater to see the Russian version of Swan Lake. Some of the dancers were spectacular, and they were accompanied by an orchestra of forty or so players. Curiously, the traditional story was changed at the behest of Stalin, who thought the original ending too sad for a people that he thought needed cheering up. So that was the version we saw. The hero comes on at the beginning with a small crossbow, but that disappears very soon, and the third act ends abruptly, with no bird killed, and the young lovers happy as the curtain descends.
On the following day, July 4th, we took a tour of the city by bus and canal boat. Among the sights was the Peter and Paul Fortress, where the city was begun. The Romanoff Tsars are all buried there in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The family that was assassinated there en mass in 1917—Nicholas II, Alexandria, Anastasia, et al—are buried there in a private locked room, but we were able to peer inside when the attendants opened the door briefly for someone to place flowers in front of the memorial plaque. The other Tsars, including Peter I and Catherine II, are buried in white marble sarcophagi. The exception is Alexander II, who was attacked at the site of the Church of Christ's Resurrection, now called the Church of the Spilled Blood because the Tsar was mortally wounded there. His sarcophagus is made of green stone, and that of his wife, Marianne of pink stone. The church was built on the site of his wounding, and is now a museum of mosaic art. Before we left, we heard a carillon concert and watched the changing of the guard at the fortress.
Our lunch at the Russian Club featured Beef Stroganoff, named for the Count Stroganoff who had a palace nearby. It was said that the Count's chef developed the dish to make the beef go further because they frequently had drop-in guests and needed to be prepared.
We had two hours left for the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace before we had to get back to the ship,. Unfortunately, the lines for the entrance suggested a wait of an hour so. Yelena, ever resourceful, took one look at them and said “Now, we have an adventure.”
Warning us not to speak and to hide our ship identity stickers, she took us around to the back of the building and led us in though a little-used entry with no lines. Inside, of course, the building was hugely crowded, but she used her vast knowledge of its maze-like construction to lead us in directions where the masses had for the most part not yet arrived. In this way we passed through the many periods of Russian décor and European art. We saw a visiting exhibit of Korean Art, several rooms of Picasso paintings and sculptures on loan from Paris, and even the Asian and Egyptian rooms in less than two hours. We would have liked to linger longer in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist rooms, but they were too crowded to be enjoyed very much.
The whole was among the most exhausting couple of days of our trip to date, but also completely enjoyable, so we will say it clearly one more time. If you get to St. Petersburg and can find your way to DenRus and Yelena Zaitseva by all means grab the opportunity.
Helsinki lies not far from St. Petersburg, at approximately the same geographic level as Hudson's Bay in Canada, north of Michigan. However, largely because of the warming waters of the Gulf Stream, which flows from the Gulf of Mexico across the Atlantic and up toward Scandinavia, it is surprisingly warm there. We have had continual blue skies and daytime temperatures in the 70s and even 80s throughout all this part of our trip. When we came to Helsinki, we found yet another a busy port, filled with cruise ships and ferries.
As we walked down the gangplank to leave the ship, there stood Santa Claus, waiting to greet us. We could have taken a two day trip to the north to visit his village, but had decided to skip that trip, so it was very nice of him to take time from his busy toy-making season to greet us. He was looking very chipper. His long curly beard was snowy white and beautifully trimmed. He was very friendly and cordial, and we were happy to see him so close to his home base.
The idea of going further north in Finland, however, reminded us how cold that part of the world can get in the winter, and how much snow can accumulate. In 1939, as the United States was about to get into World War II, we children sat in movie theaters watching newsreels of Finnish ski troops on wooded and snowy hills, dressed all in white, with ski masks and rifles, swooping down to attack an enemy who had no such skills and no idea how to respond. We were in awe of their skills. I (George) got my first skis at about that time and cross-countried through my grandparents' evergreen forests, gliding silently down from the hilltops and scaring pheasants and rabbits from their secret hiding places.
We began our Helsinki tour in the marketplace, where the wonderful smell of newly picked strawberries wafted from one of the stalls, turning our eyes from the many other displays of local fruit, vegetables, and craft items. We had signed on for a walking tour of 4 ½ miles, which didn't seem like much at the time, but when we got back to the ship we were exhausted. Cobblestones do not make for easy walking and brick sidewalks are not much better. Nevertheless, we saw some interesting places: Helsinki's big Lutheran Cathedral, its Russian style Orthodox Church, several government buildings, an impressive park by a lake, and the Opera House. The most impressive site was the Rock Church, built into a huge rock on the side of a hill. Worship at that place is said to go back to pre-Christian times, when there was a natural overhanging rock where it is believed that primitive people may have gathered to worship.
In its approach to Stockholm, our ship sailed for three hours through a lonely archipelego of wooded and stony islands that stretched for 54 miles. After our visit we left by the same route. The result was a spectacular trip through two sides of a breathtakingly beautiful coastal scenery surpassing anything we have seen anywhere else in the world. Summer cottages are spread along the shores, generally with a good deal of wooded and rocky space between and behind them. Some perch high on a cliff, with long flights of stairs affording the inhabitants access to small, rocky landing places, with little sign of sand,. Many appear to be one or two room structures, but there are also a few mansions. They are colorfully painted and well maintained. A small sailboat with a small cabin or cuddy, and sometimes a yacht, appeared from timeto time, dwarfed beside our ship or tied up at shore. Cape Cod, Maine, the east coast of Australia, spots in Florida and California, shorelines of the Great Lakes, and other places we have visited can be very pretty,. Stockholm is nearly worth a trip for its fabulous approach alone.
Wen we reached the city, we began our tour at the Vasa Ship Museum. In approximately the year 1634, if we remember correctly, the ship set sail after many years of building and preparation. The Dutch were beginning to establish their world-wide empire. Henrik Hudson had already established a base called New Amsterdam, just past Manhattan, on the river that still bears his name. Spaniards were racing to establish bases in Central and South America. The English held Virginia and Massachusetts and were trying for the whole East Coast. Shouldn't Sweden, the land of the great Viking raiders and explorers, set out to claim its share?
King Gustavus Adolphus may have been partly thinking this way when he began to build his ship. In any case, he wanted to intimidate his cousin, the King of Poland, who had ambitions to add the Swedish throne to his Polish holdings..
Adolphus wanted protection badly. So he thought big. He worked for years on the ship. When it was completed, it towered skyward as a huge three-masted battleship with double rows of cannon ports on both sides. Then he sent it on its maiden voyage. The sails on the towering masts caught the wind. All the gun ports were open as the ship fired a ceremonial salvo. The ship heeled over, water rushed in through the open ports, and the ship sank to the bottom. Its life had lasted only a few minutes. Some of the sailors on deck and the captain and the shipbuilder were saved by small boats in the area, but the people below, including women and children, were all drowned.
The ship stayed on the bottom for over 300 years. When it was discovered and raised in the 1950s it was still in pretty good shape, so it stands in the museum today as an excellent example of a 17th century warship, intact, with only a few bits and pieces repaired and clearly indicated by the different coloring of the wood. It is a fascinating display, and one we will remember for a long time.
After all our walking in other cities, we had decided on a bus tour in Stockholm. We visited the City Hall and learned that by law a reasonable percentage of the members must be women (currently they are 48% of the whole). This is the place where the Nobel Prize banquet is held, in the “Blue Room,” which is not blue. After the ceremony the honorees walk down a long and wide flight of marble stairs, carefully designed by the architect, after many trials with wooden stairs that he asked his wife to try for ease and comfort. He wanted a stairway that could be descended with ease and dignity. One trick that helps to make that possible is the star he ordered engraved on the opposite wall. Keeping that star in view allows descent with erect posture and without looking down. There are no handrails.. We were told that no one has ever stumbled or fallen.
At the top of the stairs there is a room called the Gold Room. The walls are covered with mosaics illustrating the history of Sweden. The wall at the end of the wall shows Mother Sweden surrounded by symbols of Western and Eastern cultures. The West includes the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, an American Flag, and Buckingham Palace. Some Swedes object to the figure of Mother Sweden because she is more bizarre than beautiful, wide-eyed, with big hands and feet and hair flying all around.
Next we went to Old Town Square, where the King of Denmark, after defeating Sweden during the reign of Queen Christina, decapitated 82 defeated Swedes. One of the old houses still standing there has 82 gray stones set in a pattern across the front of its blood-red facade to commemorate the heads that fell. We walked down a tiny alley and found an antique store with a set of a dozen coffee spoons displayed in the window. After entering and asking about them, we decided we really didn't want them after all (the price was over $400). These were all old buildings. Nearby, one of them had a cornerstone engraved with runic designs, perhaps because it was standing nearby when the structure was built. Although our tour guide had nothing to say about it, we thought it was worth a photograph. Back in the square, we ventured into the Nobel Prize Museum for lunch, didn't have time for the displays, but had a small lunch that seemed to us hugely overpriced.
Our last stop was the Royal Palace, with a tall guard in Swedish blue and white stationed outside. King Carl Gustav XVI does not actually live there, although he comes there for state occasions. The Crown Princess Victoria was married to a commoner in the adjacent cathedral, so someday Sweden may have a Queen Victoria.
KIEL CANAL, AMSTERDAM, L0RIENT, BORDEAUX, LA CORUNA, BILBAO
After Stockholm, we entered the Kiel Canal to cross through Germany from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea. Officially called the Nord-Ost Sea Kanal, it was formally opened by the German Kaiser in 1895. The first ship to follow the Kaiser's yacht was the Rotterdam II of the Holland American Line, so our Holland America ship was in the wake of a very old tradition. After a transit of about 7 hours we entered the lock between the canal and the River Elbe. In the afternoon we were treated to an Indonesian tea, served by Indonesian waiters in native costumes, Our steward, Greg, wore a Balinese kilt, batik shirt, and headband, and others were outfitted in similar ways in costumes from their own Indonesian islands. All told there are about 280 natives of various Indonesian islands on board, mostly serving in the hotel/restaurant division. The old Dutch connection with that area runs strong. The Indonesian tea was flavored with cardamon and cinnamon (loose, no tea bags). An option was Sumatran coffee. Sweets included banana fritters and coconut stuffed crepes. A few days later, after we visited Amsterdam, we were treated to a full Dutch Riistaffl, a meal with about 7 Indonesian dishes. It was very tasty, but far short of what is possible for such a dinner. Forty-five years ago, when we first visited Amsterdam, we had a Riistaffl of about twenty dishes..
On this afternoon, when we had not yet reached Holland on this trip, most of the passengers were packing to leave, having completed the portion of the trip that they had signed on for. We still had another portion of fourteen days before we would arrive back in England. Two of our friends who would be disembarking conspired with Greg to celebrate Barbara's birthday with an after dinner birthday cake. A half dozen waiters gathered around to sing a raucous Indonesian birthday song that was accompanied by much clapping and stomping. And it wasn't even her birthday. That would be the next day.
The next day, July 9, was the end of the trip for many passengers, including a number of people we had become good friends with, and hoped to see again at some future time. The corridors of the ship were cluttered with luggage that needed to be transported to the dock to clear customs. At the same time, those of us who were continuing had to find our way down to the gangplank for our visits to Amsterdam, where we found a far different city than the one we remembered from the early sixties. Most immediately obvious were the increased size and the busy streets. As we approached we saw no wooden windmills. What we mostly saw instead were giant three-bladed wind turbines and many newer buildings that had been built in recent years. We had booked a tour by bus that took us into the city to the new Van Gogh Museum. The collection there is small, but nicely arranged, and there are few surprises, though we were especially struck by his irises, sunflowers, and flowering trees, especially the flowering almonds. We snacked in the cafeteria and purchased Van Gogh souvenirs.
Since World Cup Soccer mania was still high and the Dutch were in the finals against Spain, we left the tour bus to buy Dutch soccer jerseys. Unfortunately the Dutch team didn't win but they did well. It was a long walk back to the ship through a train station and seemingly endless docks where unfortunately the Prinsendam was much harder to find than the towering orange funnel of the good old QE2 used to be.
To celebrate Barbara's birthday we went to the ship's Pinnacle Grill, an upscale restaurant where for a charge of $20 a person you get hovering attention from the waiters, who served us Steak Diane flambe at the table. So that was Barbara's second birthday celebration this year. We thought it was the end.
July 10th was a sea day. We caught up with our laundry and watched an endless wasteland of heaped ashes, piles of sand and black and gray materials that look like they may be materials for concrete making, or perhaps only fillers to increase the land mass of Holland. From time to time, from out of the the masses of this mysterious blot on the landscape, gigantic smokestacks belched clouds of blackness in unmistakable testimony that something huge was going on. Almost certainly, Holland is increasing its land mass and we wondered how much larger it has gotten and to what extent it has changed its character from the 1960s. We were told that there are a few old-fashioned windmills that can be shown to tourists, but we didn't see any.
At dinner that evening Greg (our favorite waiter) surprised Barbara by suddenly coming up behind her with other waiters to break once again into the Indonesian birthday song. He wanted to do it, he said, on her actual birthday, but we had foiled him by eating elsewhere on that day.
LORIENT, FRANCE, AND THE CARNAC MEGOLITHS
Lorient is in Brittany, a historically Celtic part of France. Because of its location on a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic, it was taken early in World War II by the Nazis, who used it for a submarine base. Heavily bombed during that war, the city was almost completely destroyed, and consequently bears little evidence of its appearance before that time. Nevertheless, its roots are ancient in a part of France that was originally Celtic. The Breton language is closely related to Welsh, and each August the city hosts an International Celtic Festival.
The tour we chose took us to the Carnac megaliths, erected during a period of at least a couple of thousand years, from about three to five thousand years B.C. Often compared to Stonehenge, Carnac displays obvious similarities to that and other stone circles in Great Britain. Taken all and, all, however, Carnac is much larger than Stonehenge. There are almost no circles at Carnac, and few capstones connecting the uprights, but the whole forms patterns of stone alignments that stretch for two and a half miles or so. Few of the individual stones at Carnac stand as tall as those at Stonehenge, but one of them, now lying down, was said to be thirty or thirty-five feet long. Some are said to weigh more than 300 tons. All told, there are about 2700 stones in the main group that stretches to about 2 ½ miles long, and more than 1100 in a separate site, which was also the only group we could walk around in. Compared to Stonehenge, the sheer numbers are staggering. Still, there are significant differences. Stonehenge can be viewed all at once, but Carnac is best viewed in pieces. The Stonehenge stones were painfully dragged over many miles to the site where they were shaped and erected. The Carnac stones are said to have been found in the area where they now stand, without much or any human shaping.. Close to 3,000 stones in one place, where the natives dug holes and heaved them up on end? However, you consider it the effort was amazing. The stones seem to be oriented, roughly, to point to the sun at summer and winter solstice. We have wondered about Carnac for many years and are very glad to have seen it.
We had to come into the Gironde Estuary with the high tide and follow it up the river to the city. Few ships can do this because the river is quite shallow, but the Prinsendam is small for a cruise ship. It was a long slow journey, guided by a pilot boat, until we reached the Quai Richelieu. Bordeaux is an old city, completely rebuilt at the end of the 18th century by King Louis XV. His architects, some of who had worked at Versailles for the Sun King Louis XIV, had the medieval wall removed and designed new buildings around the parks and squares. The formal and identical facades, with wrought iron balconies, present such a harmonious cityscape that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We docked right downtown. Nearby was a water park originally designed.as a “horizon” park, reflecting the sky and the nearby formal architecture from its shallow and smooth surface. Children liked it so much that it is now given over to their use.
We took two bus tours. In the morning, we visited Chateau La Louviere to view its winery, toured the wine-making facilities, were given a wine-tasting, purchased a bottle of white that we liked better than their red, and purchased a souvenir corkscrew to go with the one we still have from Australia. In the afternoon we visited St..Emilion, a medieval town with cobbled streets so rough and slippery that making our way around proved both difficult and dangerous. It was necessary to hang onto iron rails when it was possible to do so, but there were often gaps in the rails that suggested real possibilities of disaster. We explored the underground Church of St. Emilion and found pillars weakened by underground springs, with metal braces applied to help support them. Emilion was a Breton baker about whom little is known except that was supposed to have given bread to the poor and his death was followed by miracles.
LA CORUÑA AND BILBAO, SPAIN
Both La Coruña and Balboa lie along the northern coast of Spain, the portion that juts away from France to form the lower coast of the Bay of Biscay. They are also isolated from the rest of Spain. La Corona has only a little bit of Spain and all of Portugal to the south of it, and mountain ranges cut off coastal areas from lands to the south. For these reasons and because of their histories, they retain distinctive cultures .
The ancient Romans held La Coruna for many years, and the Tower of Hercules, a lighthouse that they built, now restored, still looks outward over the sea. At some point, Celtic people came from the north to occupy the area. During the Middle Ages, La Coruna served as a convenient stopping point for the overland religious pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. (When we visited Santiago many years ago, we came north from Vigo).Chaucer's Pardoner in the Canterbury Tales wears a scallop shell to show he has completed this pilgrimage.
This part of Spain is now called Galicia. One story has it that the Apostle James (Iago) came to Spain after the resurrection of Christ and helped defeat the Moors, but it was not until the 15th century that they finally left the country. Mementos of this past keep turning up in the old portions of the city. The Church of Santiago depicts the saint on horseback on the door. The Romanesque Church of Santa Maria has a much more elaborate interior, where we were allowed to photograph the arches, windows, altars and icons, and the nearby convent of San Francisco. We also visited a hotel in the seaside village of Santa Cruz for a snack. Francisco Franco had a summer palace in the area, which is still owned by his descendants. We learned more about Franco in Bilbao.
Bilbao is Basque country. It is estimated that early humans were living in the area 40,000 years ago and that the Basque culture began to emerge 7,000 years ago. The origin of the language is mysterious. It has no obvious connections to either the Indo-European or the Finnish-Hungarian families of languages that are found throughout the rest of Europe and Basques have remained famously independent and protective of their cultural history, so much so that their language is an official second language, appearing in travel brochures below Spanish and on street signs. Basque country is beautiful, with lovely beaches and hills and mountains. Some Basques still want independence from Spain.
Ancient though the country is, Bilbao is home to the strikingly modern Guggenheim Bilbao museum. A very large structure of titanium and glass, it dominates the area where it stands. On the first floor is a permanent installation so massive that it was put in place before the rest of the museum was completed around it. A Richard Serra design, it consists of large, maze-like, curving and tilting shapes that visitors walk among to find their sense of balance and perspective compromised as they explore. Famous on the grounds outside the building, a giant spider squats. Aside from these two, there are no permanent collections. One of the visiting exhibits featured a number of Henri Rousseau's brilliantly colored enigmatic paintings of football players, jungle animals, and hovering ladies. A second exhibit was by Anish Kapoor, born in Bombay and British educated, whose giant cannon comes to life periodically to splash red wax cannisters against a wall. Other rooms featured Kapoor's astonishing ability to make flat paint appear three-dimensional when viewed from the side and create mirrored surfaces where visitors can play games reminiscent of a carnival fun-house, but much more impressive.
Back to the Basques. Some of them still want independence from Spain. Of the struggles in the past, the most famous was memorialized in paint in Picasso's Guernica, with anguished figures that include a cow screaming into sky. Guernica was the place where Franco allowed Hitler to test his dive bombers in steep dives into the valley in preparation for World War II. For Franco, of course, there was the benefit of teaching a lesson to disloyal Basques. In literature, Hemingway's For Whom the Bells Tolls anticipates WWII, turning the Spanish struggle into a battle against Fascism. The epigraph from the 17th century poet John Donne urges “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.” The novel remains one of the great novels of the twentieth century.
ST. PETER PORT, GUERNSEY
Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands and it belongs to Great Britain. It lies directly south of Devon and Cornwall. We liked it so much that when we left we began to say that from now on we would give up cruise ships and instead fly to Guernsey once a year for summer vacations. That would be in addition to Cape Cod, of course.
St. Peter Port is a tender port, which means that even a small ship like the Prinsendam cannot dock there, but must anchor a couple of miles from shore and send the passengers in by ship's tenders (lifeboats). Guernsey is a dependency of the British Crown, which means essentially that it has its own government and its own laws, but is allied with Great Britain. Its population of 64,000 is spread over a land mass of 25 square miles, with much of it concentrated in the very pleasant city of St. Peter Port. The island has a history dating back nearly a thousand years. Not much remains of the earlier structures, however because in World War II, they were destroyed by Hitler, who took over the island in order to use it in his planned invasion of Great Britain.
On arrival, we boarded a tour bus for one of the best tours we have ever had in any place we have visited. Malcolm, our driver and guide, took us first to Sausmarez Manor, a beautiful house dating from the 18th century and owned by the same family ever since. The current owner greeted us and asked David, the guide, to show us around. David took us through several rooms on the ground floor, talking about the family history in the various rooms and furniture, which included generations of family portraits. T he owner, Peter de Sausmarez, rejoined us and offered a glass of champagne or orange juice and invited us to buy souvenirs to help keep the place solvent. After the tour we spent a long time wandering around the grounds. Subtropical gardens and pools are endless, shaded by varieties of evergreens, deciduous trees, palms and other trees, with sculptures positioned along the paths (these are for sale, some of them for thousands of dollars). The paths seem endless, with many branches, and by the time we completed the tour we were beginning to think we might have lost our way. We hadn't, though. We arrived back on the lawn in front of the house to find that a local crafts fair and a fruit and vegetable market had been installed in shaded booths. We bought a box of ripe raspberries, ate some, and carried the rest back on the ship, where we had them with ice cream that evening in the dining room.
We boarded the bus again for a circular tour of the rest of the island, with a few stops and side excursions. After testing the group with a few carefully worded questions about countries of origin, Malcolm held nothing back about the devastations the Germans had wrought during their years of occupation (1939-1945). Underground bunkers and fortifications are still found everywhere. Formidable anti-aircraft guns, camouflaged with random green and yellow paint, still point their barrels upward and outward toward sky and sea as memorials to the defenses the British would have faced if they got their act together soon enough to respond to the Nazi takeover so close to their shores. Malcolm apologized for his own presence on the island, for he was not native-born, but had lived there only 25 years. Nobody could witness the WWII fortifications or hear the history, however, without experiencing a great chill and an accompanying thankfulness that Hitler's plans did not fully materialize. He wanted to clear out the natives and replace them with Germans. The eight Jewish families who lived there at the time were sent to Bergen-Belson and never heard from again. There were huge containment camps built for other local inhabitants, and, we were told, walled rooms that were intended as gas chambers to dispose of the rest. Trenches and fortifications still remain visible on all the rural coasts. One of the interesting remains is of a tall stone watch tower that predated the Germans and became a central object in Victor Hugo's Toilers of the Sea. The Germans used it for target practice. Other towers were once Martello towers, like those on the coast of Ireland (one figures in James Joyce's Ulysses)., They were originally intended as outposts of defense during the Napoleonic wars and in World War II the Germans extended and fortified them.
By no means all of this island brings forth unpleasant memories, however. Some of the Martello towers have been whitewashed, and one now serves as a WWII museum of artifacts. It is again pleasing to contemplate the long recorded history of structures some of which date back to the 11th century. Some things are so old that they are prehistoric. Our driver took us to a long barrow or dolmen, a rock cave excavated in the 1830s, with two sets of chieftain bones, sitting cross-legged, and ta set of men's and women's bones facing each other with their arms entwined. There were carvings on one large ceiling rock, supposed to be a face and a bow and arrow. They were hard to make out, and although we photographed them we remain doubtful that the photos will be at all clear. They were said to be 9,000 years old.
Elsewhere, there are beautiful beaches, inlets, and bays for swimming, sunbathing, and boating. And, of course, in our happier time, properties have become very expensive, at least for those who are not natives of the island. Guernsey would be a summer playground reserved only for millionaires if the island government had not taken measures some time ago to preserve it from that fate by passing laws that divide the land into two categories. A nice small home belonging to a native might be worth perhaps $100,000 or $200,000 when sold, but only if the buyer is a native. If it is sold to a person who is not a native the price might rise to one or two million dollars, because very high taxes are in that situation placed on the sale. We may be wrong about the figures, but this is the general idea. The seller gets very little (only what he or she might get if it were sold to another native) and the taxes from the sale go to the government to help the general economy,. As a result, the island maintains its beauty, with a few millionaires paying the upkeep. That means that if we ever did fly to Guernsey for a summer vacation, we wouldn't be buying there, only renting.
After our trip around the island we returned to St. Peter Port, the only real city It stretches along the waterfront, with a couple of unattractive glass and steel apartment buildings, but most of the rest consisting of pretty two or three story buildings of brick, some half-timbering, and some red-tiled roofs. A few streets lead away from the wharf, but most of the shops and businesses are on the waterfront.
There are a good many other channel islands, some tiny and uninhabited. The neighboring island of Sark was until recent times an independent monarchy ruled by the Dame of Sark. Wealthy newcomers are trying to institute a democratic form of government, one that they feel they can better control.
LE HAVRE TO PARIS
For much of our trip we followed a zigzag route. Having been in Spain, we sailed north past the Bay of Biscay and left the shores of continental Europe to reach Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Now we headed east for two days in Le Havre. Two Days? With no chance to get to Paris for a reasonable amount of time? It seemed absurd to us, but the Travel Office on the ship offered only the possibility of an expensive bus tour that would take us in for a visit of about four hours. We could do that on the first day or the second, but could not go in and stay overnight without buying two in and out tickets and using only half of each. In the end we went online and purchased first class tickets on a fast train that would take only two hours each way. Then we went online and booked a room in the Radisson Blu, a conveniently located three-star hotel that had earlier been the Ambassador Hotel. This was not quite as easy as it sounds, for when we arrived at the station we were confronted with mysterious machines we were supposed to use to validate our tickets. Baffled, we turned to an agent in the ticket office whose English was pretty good and who quickly solved our problem, motivated in part by his almost immediate discovery that yes, we knew about the New England Patriots football team, and yes, we were fans of that club.
It turned out that we had planned very well. Arriving at St. Lazare station, we found no cabs waiting, so George shouldered our bag and we walked no more than thirty minutes to reach the hotel. Located on the Blvd. Haussmann, it was also centrally located for our purposes. Because this was a week-end and we had to consider opening and closing hours of the museums we wished to see, we unpacked immediately, caught a cab, and went directly to the Musée d'Orsay. That would be the only cab for us, however. We rode no buses and avoided the Metro. We walked. And walked. And walked some more. Got tired feet, rarely stopped to rest, had some differences of opinion concerning which streets would be best to follow to get to this place or that. The weather was great and we enjoyed it all, observing the streets and squares, and noting that some things had not changed at all: the American Express Office was exactly where we left it thirty or forty years ago, and most of the cafés and shops looked much as they had before.. The weather was beautiful, and Paris was much as we remembered it, and a joy just to be walking the streets again
After lunch at the elegant restaurant on the second floor of the Musée d'Orsay, we decided to search among the collections for the pastels that had especially caught the attention of our daughter Alison when she visited the previous year. In our search, we roamed through many rooms that seemed to contain works that used to be in the Jeu de Palm: paintings by Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh and others. When we got to the pastels, we discovered that, as usual, Alison was right. These were not simple chalk on paper but elaborate works on paper or toile, many of them overlaid with finishes to give them permanence or brightness, some of them in elaborate frames that helped identify them as the masterpieces they obviously were. There were pictures by Degas here, too, including some ballerinas. Some of the most striking pastels, however, were by O. Rodon, an artist unfamiliar to us. There was a conch shell, for example, that gleamed with an almost unearthly pearlescence.
From the Musée d'Orsay, we walked along the Left Bank, crossed the Seine, and entered the Orangerie through a wall along La Place de la Concorde. The building has been remodeled so there are now two adjacent rooms given over to Monet's Nymphéas, as well as a basement with other, mostly modern, paintings. We had earlier bought tickets for both the first and now the second museum, believing that they would save us from standing in line for admission, but now we discovered that we could not get in to see the Monets without buying an additional ticket for the basement area. Fortunately the line for that moved quickly.
We went first to the two rooms that displayed water lilies in various daily or seasonal lights, painted on panels that run around the rooms so that the effect is of standing in the midst of their isolated beauty. George had visited the Orangerie many years before and remembered it as only one room, so that, in a sense, two seemed superfluous. In any case, as they are now displayed, the second of the two rooms is the truly spectacular one. For Barbara it was the first view, because in her several previous visits, the building was aways closed.
Lilies seen, we descended to the basement, where a few.Modiglianis and Picassos serve primarily as an anticlimax to the Monets upstairs. Still, there are some fine pictures among them.
Out in the sunshine again, we wound our way through the Place de la Concorde, found a route back to our hotel and arrived to be surprised by the lack of electricity in our luxurious new room. One small reading light was on, but no matter how many switches we tried we could not make the other lights work. The bathroom was colder than was fully comfortable and the wall rack that was clearly a heater was stone cold. Baffled, we went down to the reception. Was there some secret about the electricity that we had failed to understand? 'Yes” said concierge, his excellent English accompanied by a smile. “When you have unlocked the door with your plastic key card, you place the card in the slot on the wall just inside the door.” We did, and “voila” there was light, and we remembered immediately that somewhere in our past travels, in a place we could not remember, we had run into the same very efficient system for saving energy.
With the evening still free to explore the neighboring cafés and restaurants, we wandered for an hour or two, finding mostly a la carte menus that would certainly amount to more than we wanted to spend. Prix Fixe meals seemed a thing of the past. We considered a Hard Rock Café, but the wait would clearly be very long. In the end we returned to the hotel for croque monsieurs and salads at the hotel bar.
With only a small part of the next day left to enjoy Paris before we caught the 2:00 p.m. train to Le Havre, we arose early, enjoyed the excellent breakfast buffet in the hotel and headed up the long, steep hill to Montmartre, with its final 174 steps to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. There is a funicular in three stages that makes it possible to avoid those final punishing steps, but, like true penitents we avoided the ride and walked and paused for breath, and walked, paused, and walked some more. Was it only that day, or is there a tradition that some climbers carry bottles of Heineken which they break at the point were they finish the contents? We didn't see anyone actually do that, but we saw more than a few shattered remains by the iron posts of the railing that served as a grab bar to avoid disaster along the way. At the top, a sign for Ben and Jerry's taunted rather than welcomed when we discovered it would open only in the afternoon, and it was only 10:00.
Within the church a man—not a priest—was shushing everyone who entered and as we sat recuperating and looking upward in awe he took off at a tear. We thought he had seen someone snapping a picture of the mosaic of the Sacred Heart, but it was a man with a sleeveless shirt who had caught his eye. The malefactor was promptly escorted out. On a side aisle there was a display commemorating Pope Paul II's trip to Sacre Coeur. Barbara wondered whether he climbed the 174 steps or took the funicular.
Before leaving, we stopped briefly in the souvenir shop next to the Ben and Jerry's banner, where Barbara bought t-shirts for the grandchildren. Here it became clear that the Vermont ice cream company had no actual shop in Montmartre, but only an ice cream cart that was wheeled out to the sidewalk during business hours. We walked down the Rue des Martyrs to our hotel, checked out, left our luggage with the concierge, and walked to the Galerie Lafayette where Barbara bought a silk scarf as a souvenir of our visit.
The walk back to St. Lazare seemed much shorter than when we came the other way, because this time we knew exactly where we were going. In the train station we met two young men from Minneapolis who were just beginning a train tour with a trip to Bayeux. We were able to point out to them that although their tickets said Bayeux there would be no train with that name on it. To get there they had to catch the train marked Cherbourg and watch the stations because nobody would tell them when to get off. They were very young, but they would learn.
When we arrived at Le Havre the taxi ranks were empty, and we had not a lot of time to get back to the ship. We walked across the street to a hotel, where Barbara had the brilliant idea to go inside and ask the desk clerk to call a taxi for us. He did, and we shared the ride with another couple who were similarly stranded.
For a shore visit to Delft, we anchored at Vlissingen, a new port for the Prinsendam and other cruise ships. There we were met on the dock by a choir of about a dozen, men in black jackets and flat hats and women in long embroidered skirts and lace caps, traditional church-going dress, apparently until recent times. One of the men wore wooden shoes. One of the women supplied accompaniment on an accordion. Other townspeople handed out cheese samples and had a tent set up nearby with a carousel, wooden shoes, and a backdrop for picture taking. Later in the day, local dignitaries came on board, toured the ship and were served lunch. Clearly the people wish to take advantage of this new connection.
Our tour bus to Delft took us north, past Rotterdam, which was heavily damaged in World War II, first by the Germans bombing and then by the Allies as the fortunes of war shifted. As a result it presents itself now as largely a city of glass and steel. Delft, however, was not considered strategically important so its16th century buildings, bridges, and canals remain largely intact. In earlier times, we were told, both Holland and Belgium were united under Spanish control, but when they won their independence Holland became Protestant, while Belgium remained Catholic.
We had visited Holland before, many years ago when we first visited Amsterdam by car, and then again earlier on this same cruise, Now we were getting a new sense of the country's size. On the two-hour drive north to Rotterdam we passed miles and miles of a much more rural countryside than we expected. There were fields and barns but little evidence of much habitation. There were dikes, of course, visible off to our west, but although there were hundreds of the wind turbines that are sprouting everywhere in Europe, we saw no more than four or five traditional wooden windmills all told, in Amsterdam, Vlissingen, Rotterdam, Delft and the countryside between, and never a working one. Theo, our guide called our attention to a windmill that stood by a dike holding back the North Sea and told us its purpose was to pump away any sea water that came past the dike, but it, too, was not working. Its arms were spread still against the sky, with no sails on them. It is curious to consider that the 17th century Eastham Windmill on Cape Cod, built on the Dutch model to grind grain, may provide as good an example of how such things work on the annual Windmill Weekend as any to be found in Holland.
One feature of the Dutch landscape that we found wholly surprising was the freshwater lake we passed. But of course, it rains in Holland. As long as the sea water is held back, it is possible to have pleasant freshwater beaches, swimming, and boating, all of it well below sea level.
Our primary destination on this tour was the Royal Delft porcelain factory, where we were guided through the working areas to witness the ways that clay is molded, fired, glazed, painted, and re-fired. Among the exhibits of finished works was a fabulous piece recently completed after two years of work—a tile version of Rembrandt's “Night Watch” that must have measured 8 or 10 feet square on the wall where it was mounted. The guide explained that it had been created in tiles that were fired separately and then placed each in its proper place on a photographic image of the painting that was projected on the wall. Two men working working from the sides toward the middle drew the outlines on the tiles, which were then colored in varying shades of blue (actually a black that turns blue when the tiles are fired). Other exhibits were similarly stunning in various ways.
We had hoped that we could afford at least a second (cheaper than the best, but nearly indistinguishable), but even for these most of the prices ranged far beyond our budget. We settled for four printed rectangular plates in different patterns, small and easy to pack.
Our walk around the historic city and market square was concentrated on reminders of events during the reign of Philip II of Spain (the Elizabethan era in England) and the events that led to Holland's independence. Jan Vermeer was born in a house on the square. There is a small museum on a side street dedicated to him and the 32 paintings he completed in his short lifetime. “Eleven children and only thirty-two paintings” said our guide. We found time for only a brief visit, but managed to see all the paintings (actually reproductions) and purchased prints of “Girl with the Pearl Earring” and three more that we particularly liked.
The ride back to the ship was another couple of hours over the same sparsely inhabited terrain, with the difference that this time we were seeing it from the other side of the bus.
ZEEBRUGGE, BELGIUM AND THE CHOCOLATE MUSEUM
This was the 21st of July, a national holiday that celebrates Belgian independence from Spain. Our tour was to Flanders and the city of Bruges, where Flemish is spoken. During World War II, this part of Belgium was occupied by the Nazis and when the German retreat began the commander was ordered to destroy the city. Fortunately, being a student of history and having lived in the city, h
Read Past Newsletters
Cruising from London to Scandinavia, the Baltic, the Netherlands, Guernsey, France, Germany, and Spain.