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Haarlem

2014.08.31 – Sunday – Haarlem, The Netherlands

Fall colours along a canal with car, boat and bicycle parking in Haarlem

Fall colours along a canal with car, boat and bicycle parking in Haarlem

At breakfast this morning, I meet some of the tour group. I sleep on and off during the day (dealing with jet lag), and walk the city, exploring and photographing as I go. It is a beautiful autumn day, and this old city has some lovely trees showing their colours and old buildings both lining the canals. Since it is Sunday, there are services being held in the Grot Kerk church across the street from our hotel. Once the service is finished, I go inside and listen to the magnificent pipe organ being played, and take in the impressive stained glass windows and huge arched wooden ceiling inside the main sanctuary.

Café Colette next door to the hotel serves great cappuccino, so I sit outside and catch up on my travel journal and photos while sipping my coffee. The tour group meets at 4PM in the hotel, where our guide Jennifer describes the tour details and Rick Steves’ tour philosophy.

We then go as a group to the nearby De Lachende Javaan Indonesian restaurant for a traditional Indonesian ‘rijsttafel’ dinner. The food is wonderful and there are so many dishes, but the food is not as spicy as I remember how Indonesian food normally tastes. This is a good opportunity to meet some of the people on the tour, and start learning names.

From Wikipedia: The Indonesian rijsttafel (Dutch), a Dutch word that literally translates to “rice table”, is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch following the hidang presentation of Nasi Padang from the Padang region of West Sumatra. It consists of many (forty is not an unusual number) side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways.

Afterward, we go on a walking tour of Haarlem with local tour guide Yodi. She points out the plaques on many of the old buildings, which give clues to the business interests of the original owners, and highlights the history of this area. She talks about the tolerance for the Marijuana ‘coffee’ shops, and points out The Hiding Place – where the Ten Boom family hide Jews and others the Nazis wanted in their home.

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Haarlem & Amsterdam, Netherlands

We are out the door by 8:50AM this morning for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train to Amsterdam and back again to Haarlem in the late evening (about 15 minutes each way). We return to our Haarlem hotel after 7PM, so after quickly cleaning up a bit, I join two couples for dinner at Café Colette restaurant next door to the hotel. I have a very nicely done rib eye steak, and the others also enjoy their meals. It is time to pack for our bus departure tomorrow for Germany.

When I travel, I often ask myself the question “Would you live here?” I have to say that living in the Netherlands would be very easy, especially in a small city such as Haarlem. The people are very friendly, virtually everyone speaks English, the country is prosperous and stable, and it is part of the European Union. The only downside to living here is that it is very expensive, and it rains a lot (average 133 days per year).

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Kona & Place of Refuge

February 24, 2014 – Monday – Kailua-Kona, the Big Island of Hawaii

My excursion this morning leaves early. I have to be at the assembly point at 7:50AM, and when I show up five minutes early, my group has already left for the tender, so I quickly follow. Our bus is waiting for us on the pier, but we end up waiting for a few people who obviously showed up on time or a little late. This inexpensive tour ($40) is called Kona Highlights, which is really just a nice drive south of Kailua-Kona (and back). We stop to sample some coffee at the little town of Captain Cook, where I get to sample some Kona Peaberry coffee – very nice, but I’m not paying $50 for a bag of it!

Collection of photos taken in 2009 and 2014 along the Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii

We then proceed onward to my favourite place, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or Place of Refuge down on the shoreline. It is volcanic down here, as is most of the Big Island. I take a few photos and just relax under the shade of the palm trees and take in the sound of the ocean swells crashing against the black volcanic shoreline and surging into the bay. There are no turtles today in the Ali’i landing bay, but the place still feels wonderful – I can feel the good mana here, and I’m not one to normally believe in superstitions. We only have an hour here, but I enjoy it immensely. Next, we drive to the nearby Painted Church in the community of Captain Cook. This little Catholic Church is a popular stop for sightseers. I get to try out my new fisheye lens inside the church, taking a photo of the alter, the whole ceiling, and part of the walls.

Collection of photos taken in 2009 and 2014 of Place of Refuge

After we return to Kailua-Kona, I find a little general store, where I buy some supplies before returning to the tender dock. As we approach the ship anchored in the bay, the tender has a terrible time trying to tie up, since there is quite a bit of wave action. Once the tender ties up, it beats against the gangway, wreaking the landing platform. Passengers are unloaded when there is a lull in the wave action, so the unloading process takes over 20 minutes. This isn’t the roughest tender landing I have experienced, but the tender was certainly bucking against the gangway landing in an energetic fashion.

As always, I’m glad to be back aboard ship and in my comfortable cabin. I toss my dirty clothes into the self-serve laundry, while I try to take advantage of the high speed Internet access I have with my cellphone connection to the Rogers/AT&T LTE. Since we are anchored offshore, I sit out on the Promenade Deck facing the shoreline to get a decent signal. This convenience will end once we sail away from the Big Island of Hawaii enroute to Fanning Island and French Polynesia. I will then be back to using the slow, unreliable, and expensive satellite connection aboard the ship.

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Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 – Day 24 – Puerto Quetzal & Antigua, Guatemala

The cruise ship port in Puerto Quetzal is a welcome change from most of our previous ports, where we usually docked at container terminals. Today, there is a nice, clean dock, with lots of souvenir vendors, and a café and bar serving snacks and beverages, including coco loco (coconut cocktail with or without booze).

JoeTourist: Antigua &emdash; Volcan Fuego emitting smokeWe take the Antigua On Your Own shore excursion, which provides transportation to and from Antigua, a small Guatemalan town designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide refers to Antigua as St. John, since this is the patron saint of soldiers, and the Spanish conquistadors established this town after the original site was destroyed by the nearby volcano. It takes the bus about 1.5 hours to travel from the port to the city. We pass three volcanoes along the way: Volcan Fuego and Volcan Acatenango to the West, and Volcan de Agua to the East. Volcan Fuego decides to put on a little show for us as we pass by, sending puffs of smoke skyward.

I can see that Antigua is normally a nice town to visit, however with all the cruise ship passengers drifting around, there are scores of Guatemalans selling trinkets everywhere. They are constantly after us to buy stuff, so it quickly becomes annoying. We wander the few blocks from our drop off point to the big town square with a cathedral and shops all around. There is a large tour group about to enter the cathedral, so we decide to walk a bit further to see La Merced Church, which is very ornate and very quiet, since it is off the beaten path. Along the way, we see the famous arch at El Carmen, and take photos of the Volcan de Agua framed by the Arch.

We stop to have some cappuccino made with genuine Guatemalan coffee, which has to be one of the best-tasting coffees I have had on the trip so far. I distract myself from all the persistent street vendors by giving myself a photographic assignment as we find our way back to the drop-off point: take photos of all the beautiful and ornate door knockers found on many of the big wooden doors to be found as entranceways to shops, restaurants, and inner courtyards.
JoeTourist: Days at Sea &emdash; Sea turtle with fish trailing it

Thursday, December 15, 2011 – Day 25 – At sea

Our position this morning is 14° 19’ N 93° 13’ W and we are drifting along at 8.6kts, just off the coast of the Mexico/Guatemala border in very smooth seas. After breakfast this morning I see a turtle drift by my cabin portholes, so I put my telephoto zoom lens on my camera, grab my binoculars, and go out on the Promenade Deck. There are lots of Sea Turtles drifting by, and I get some terrific shots. One photo in particular is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. I also see dolphins and flying fish.

South Coast of Kaua’i, Hawaii

Jan 21, 2001 – South Coast of Kaua’i, Hawaii

It is a short drive from Lihu’e or Kapa’a to the Po’ipu Beach area, which is on the south shore of Kaua’i. Along the way, drive down the mile of Eucalyptus trees, growing tunnel-like on both sides of the road. Old Koloa town makes for an interesting stop, with lots of shops to browse through. It’s just like stepping back 50 years in time to an old sugar mill town. I bought some Kaua’i coffee here, but red dirt t-shirts are also very popular items. Coffee growing on Kaua’i is a relatively new venture, however the quality is starting to rival the more well-known Kona coffee grown on the Big Island. On to Po’ipu Beach, where there are many condos and luxury resorts with spectacular ocean views and golf courses, and then on to the blowhole at Spouting Horn Park.

Abandoned sugar mill and red dirt

Abandoned sugar mill and red dirt

The return trip took us past an abandoned sugar mill, near Koloa. Notice the famous red dirt, which is so fertile for growing sugar cane. The main sugar mill in Lihu’e was closed in 2000, leaving only one sugar mill running on Kaua’i near Port Allen. The sugar industry on Hawai’i is slowly being put out of business. They will have to find another agricultural crop to grow, or find some other use for this very fertile land.

One restaurant on Kaua’i I must mention is Gaylord’s Restaurant, located in the main building of Kilohana Plantation Estates (an old sugar plantation). There are some very nice shops in this same building, and they offer some quality merchandise, should you be so inclined. The restaurant service is impeccable, and the food is superb. Reservations accepted. Highly recommended!

September 29-30, 2010 – Nawiliwili Harbor, Kaua’i, Hawaii aboard the cruise ship Volendam

We dock in Nawiliwili this afternoon at 5:20pm (Sept 29th), and don’t leave port until the following afternoon. The Rotterdam is also docked as we arrive. She departs about an hour later – a lovely sight. As our gangway is put in place, complete with red carpet, a rain shower starts up – “welcome to Kauai”. We all stay aboard the ship this evening.

Headlands of Kaua'i as the Volendam departs

Headlands of Kaua’i as the Volendam departs

The following day, we decide to drive up the eastern and northern coasts of Kauai to a bit past the Hanalei Valley. We stop for a swim near Anini Beach and to see the Kilauea Lighthouse, and are back into town by 3pm and back onboard the ship by 3:30pm…well ahead of the 4:30pm All Aboard deadline. My friends and I have visited Kauai before, so this visit brings back good memories for all of us, and was a most enjoyable day.

The Kauai headlands at sunset are spectacular as the Volendam pulls out of Nawiliwili harbour