After yesterday’s stressful road trip to the Harrison’s Cave, I decide to take a day off from driving in favour of relaxing at my rental. Since the pool area was serviced yesterday, I go for a swim this morning while it is still relatively cool. Of course I have the pool to myself, except for the woman sweeping the decks and walkways. I enjoy a post-swim Banks lager beer on the patio while there is still shade this morning.
I get my suitcase out and pack most of my stuff that I don’t need for tomorrow. I decide to take some of the unused food home with me, including the Traditional Bajan sugar, West Indies espresso coffee, a tin of Planters peanuts, and the two chocolate bars from Antigua. I don’t normally buy souvenirs when I travel…my photos and video are my travel keepsakes!
This evening I return to Blakey’s Bar & Restaurant, beside the Hastings Rocks boardwalk for my last dinner in Barbados. The post-sunset view of the beach is awesome, and I’m especially appreciating the warm ocean breezes, since this will be my last evening in the tropics before returning home. I have a Tanqueray Gin & Tonic to start, but like the Martini I had here a couple of nights ago, it is poorly made, but at least it’s cold. I have the grilled Mahi-mahi special, served with pigeon pea rice and two salads – excellent!
I sleep in until 8:30AM this morning since this is a sea day, and go to the Piano Bar for pastries and a cappuccino. It’s much quieter in this area than the main dining room, where the feeding frenzy is well underway.
I decide to climb the rigging to the crows nest this morning, so I get my GoPro action cam ready with a head strap, leave all my other stuff in the cabin except my room card, and head forward. The sports crew are there to put on a harness, clip you onto the safety line, and give instructions. Getting to the passengers’ crows nest involves climbing a rope ladder to the mid-point of the second forward mast, where there is another sports crew person up there to help unclip and for safety. Two or three passengers at a time are in the crows nest, since it is quite a big platform.
After climbing down, I’m thirsty, so I go to the nearby bar on deck for a couple of good-tasting German Flensburger draught beers. I have a chat with the German guy who was ahead of me in the climb, and a couple of Brits. I also go forward and spend some time on the bow net watching the bow wave dancing in the sun glint (see banner image above).
At lunch I sit with a couple from Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada). We talk about our travels in southern Africa, and South Africa in particular. The food aboard the ship is very good, and they offer lots of variety, including vegetarian. Drinks are reasonably priced – 3.50€ for a glass of Flensburger draught beer, which is about CAD$4.25 Smoking is allowed in designated spots outside only, which is fine with me. Close to half the passengers are German, but the English-speaking Americans, Canadians, and Brits are the biggest combined group, with French-speakers being a small third group.
I go to the top deck forward near the bridge to observe the sunset, and see the Green Flash. What I observed might be better described as a green glow, since there was some cloud on the horizon partially obscuring the Sun. I captured it on video with my iPhone.
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 Plaza, Madame 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!
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.
November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji
First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.
I arrive a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.
After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door. After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further.
There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.
Before supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible.
I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!
After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a lazy day tomorrow in the tropics.
November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji
I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.
I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach (see banner image above). This is a sublime place.
I walk over to Vuda Marina, where my friends Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey a few years ago. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji in 2004. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today, which goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.
I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.
Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment while I stand under its shadow while aboard the Paul Gaugin, observing this apparition from the Coral Sea.
I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.