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The Louvre & farewell dinner in Paris

September 19, 2014 – Friday – The Louvre, Paris, France

After breakfast in the hotel, we take the Metro to see The Louvre this morning. After connecting with our guide Vincent shortly after 9AM, we walk through the expansive foyer and through security. The place is huge, so Vincent has selected some highlights for us, and has also included some of his personal favourites, since we only have a couple of hours.

The Mona Lisa is not too impressive, and we can’t get close to it since there is such a crush of people in the gallery. We have better luck seeing the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite) statue, although both galleries are known to be frequented by pickpockets. I’m thankful that Vincent is guiding us through the endless galleries, since I’m really not into museums, per se. The crowds are hard to cope with, even at this early hour – many are loud, rude, and pushy. As with the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, I find the display of wealth stolen by Napoleon and the Louis dynasty to be completely over the top. Despite my negative feelings, The Louvre is a place that needs a return visit. I have a feeling that spending a day in the less popular galleries would be more rewarding than our quick visit. After taking a coffee break in the foyer mall, we return to our hotel using the Paris Metro on our own.

Jennifer toasts at our farewell dinner

Jennifer toasts at our farewell dinner

Our group’s farewell dinner is held at La Terrasse du 7ème restaurant, which is only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. The meal is wonderful, and the wine is very nice. We start with Kir, which is a cocktail made with crème de cassis (black current liquor) and white wine, and then we have a three course dinner. We finish our farewell on the rooftop patio with some bubbly…a lovely way to end things and say our goodbyes.

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Amsterdam

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank statue

We are out the door by 8:50AM for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train from Haarlem to Amsterdam Centraal train station (takes about 10 minutes). Across the street from the train station, we catch a tram to the Anne Frank House and walk in ahead of the long line already forming. It is surprisingly emotional to actually see the hidden rooms where the two Jewish families hid from the Nazis during WWII. The rooms are devoid of furniture and there are no photos permitted inside, as per Otto Frank’s wishes. The stairways are narrow, and the rooms feel so small. As Anne wrote in her diary, having the windows shuttered was depressing, and it must have been a huge challenge to keep still during the day in order to make no noise that might be heard by the businesses operating below the hidden rooms.

Jennifer then takes us on a walking tour of Amsterdam. First stop is the Pink Triangle granite Homomonument in the canal, celebrating homosexual civil rights and freedoms. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize gay and lesbian rights. Spinning around the main Dam square in the city, we see: the massive Neo-Gothic retail store Magna PlazaMadame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Nieuwe Kerk (leading art venue in the city), and the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to explore Dam Square.

After a stop for a late lunch, we find our way back to the Rijks Museum for an escorted tour. I must endorse taking an escorted tour through this museum, since there is so much art history to appreciate. The guides are wonderful! The museum doesn’t just feature paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other Dutch masters; there is furniture, applied and Asian art, sculpture, fashion, ship models, weapons, and all sorts of artifacts illustrating Dutch history. Just to cap it off, I bump into friends from home in one of the galleries – what a surprise!

Two old canal houses fully restored

Two old canal houses fully restored

By the time we leave the museum some of us need some respite from all the walking and standing, so we stop for a mid-afternoon beer and wine break in one of the local bars across the street from the Heineken factory. Afterward, we see some fascinating glimpses of Amsterdam by taking a one hour canal boat cruise.

Our final walk of the day takes us to Amsterdam’s Red Light District for a quick glimpse at the girls displaying their wares. As a contrast, we also see the outside of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) located in the same district, before finally taking the inter-city train back to Haarlem and our hotel.

It has been a long day!

Amsterdam is obviously a prosperous city, since it has huge retail, government, and cultural sectors, and they all appear to be thriving. By all accounts, housing is exceedingly expensive in the city. Many people who work in the city must live elsewhere and commute by train. One thing is certain, most of them ride bicycles…there are huge bicycle parkades in the city, and they are everywhere you look.

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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.