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
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.
September 1, 2014 – Monday – Amsterdam, Netherlands
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.
Cruising from Fanning Island, Kiribati to Bora Bora, French Polynesia aboard ms Statendam
February 28, 2014 – Friday –Fanning Island to French Polynesia – Day 1 at sea
Since we crossed the International Dateline again, we get to live February 28th for a second time today, a day at sea enroute to Bora Bora. So I’m calling today February 28B, and yesterday was February 28A. The ship also crossed the Equator last night, so we are now officially in the Southern Hemisphere and the South Pacific Ocean.
I go to the coffee chat interview that the Cruise Director Armen does each morning in the Crow’s Nest Lounge, because he is interviewing Emile and Marie-Claude, the duo of Band Artistique, the act I saw two nights ago in the Showroom. They reveal they have their two pre-school children with them onboard, and will be performing next in Germany for a few months.
I meet a couple who ran into the Jones Act issue as I did on the Big Island of Hawaii. They had planned to stay with friends overnight on the Big Island, but like me, they decided not to risk the wrath of the US Immigration coming down on them in future. They did not stay overnight with their friends, but just visited them when we pulled into Kailua-Kona.
I watch my first movie while aboard ship this afternoon. Amelia is a biographical account of Amelia Earhart’s adventures and eventual attempt at flying around the world. She and her navigator were eventually lost over the part of the Pacific Ocean we are currently sailing through. She was attempting to land on Howland Island, but never made it. Hilary Swank and Richard Gere were the two stars playing Amelia Earhart and her husband/publisher George Putman (respectively). Not a bad movie, from someone like me who rarely watches movies.
March 1, 2014 – Saturday –Fanning Island to French Polynesia – Day 2 at sea
Our second day at sea is routine, however the weather is certainly warming up. The temperature at noon is 30℃, but the humidity is down to 66%. It is mostly sunny, with some clouds in the sky. The deck chairs are full of people tanning this morning. I walk a couple of circuits around the Promenade Deck, but otherwise stay inside where it is cooler. I take a tech class this morning on the Windows App Store. It certainly has come a long way from when it started, and offers a serious alternative to the Apple App Store for Mac. There is always something to learn while aboard cruise ships.
I sit in the library and finish reading a book on my iPad that is 611 pages long! It is time once again to do some laundry before the busy days in French Polynesia, so I throw a load into the self serve laundry located on my floor at lunchtime. There are only two washers and two dryers on my floor, so it is always busy. It is $2 to wash and $1 to dry, so for $3 I can have as many fresh clothes as would cost $20 to have done by the ship’s laundry service.
The captain reports we passed within 6 nmi of Starbuck Island at 1AM this morning, so we are in a very remote part of the South Pacific right now. As of noon today, we are still some 500 nmi from our destination of Bora Bora, so at 18 kts we still have about 28 hours of travel time. The schedule calls for us to arrive at 4PM tomorrow. The captain feels we should meet that goal if the winds continue to cooperate.
There is a tropical rainstorm this afternoon. It looks grey and wet outside through the windows, despite the warm temperature. New to this cruise are art exhibitions and auctions, which are held during the day in the Ocean Bar. I can’t image lugging paintings home aboard an aircraft, but obviously they must do pretty well at selling aboard ship. The ship’s crew set it up for them and tear it down a few hours later, and store all the paintings, restoring the bar area for general use after the art auction is over.
It is formal night this evening, so after having a nap in my cabin, I get dressed in my dark navy jacket, black pants, shirt and tie. Dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room is very pleasant, since I am seated with a couple at a table for four. There are only three of us, so it is easy to talk. Like most of the passengers aboard, they have cruised extensively. In fact, they did this particular cruise just last year! Probably the most interesting cruise they mention during our conversation is a repositioning cruise from Singapore to Amsterdam, with stops in India, the Seychelles, around the Cape of Good Hope, and then northward. They said the ship was only about half full, so there was lots of service from the staff, and they got to know both the staff and passengers well. This interests me, since I had planned to take a similar cruise but in reverse – Europe to SE Asia through the Suez Canal.
March 2, 2014 – Sunday – Fanning Island to French Polynesia – Day 3 at sea, arriving in Bora Bora
Essentially, this is a day at sea, however we arrive as scheduled at Bora Bora this afternoon at 5PM. The seas this morning are much reduced, the grey skies are gone, and things are looking decidedly tropical outside. As we pass through the channel into Vaitape harbour, there is another cruise ship anchored: the Artania, registered in Hamilton, Bermuda. The island and the volcanic mountain are as I remember them, but I can’t quite place where the airport is located. I’m assuming it is to the east of us, further down the lagoon.
The ship clears immigration by 5:30PM, and there are already 200 people waiting to go ashore on the tenders. I’m in no rush to go ashore this evening, but perhaps I will go after I have dinner in the Rotterdam dining room. There is a Polynesian BBQ and buffet on the Lido deck, which I will avoid! After dinner, I decide to stay on board the ship, and simply enjoy the views of this tropical paradise from the ship’s decks.
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!
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, 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.
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 across the Pacific Ocean enroute to Fanning Island and French Polynesia. I will then be back to using the slow, unreliable, and expensive satellite connection aboard the ship.