Amsterdam by water

I forgot to add the text to my Amsterdam post.  As I have said before our internet connection is highly variable so when the signal is strong I try and get the pictures online.  This time got them online and did not get it all together.

Amsterdam is another city that needs lots of time to explore.  A day is just not enough.  Instead of taking a bus tour we elected to get a hop on hop off “boat” for the day.  It was a perfect way to see the city by travelling up and down the miles of canals that parallel the roads and start from the very busy harbour.

Beautiful homes, churches and even offices line the various canals and every residence has a docking permit for a boat on the canal.  There are no empty canal spots left and those individuals that choose to live on a boat have seen the value of their permits rise to very high amounts.

The highlight of our stop here was a private tour of the Rijksmuseum in the evening.  Our departure was delayed until after midnight to enable all the guests to get to the museum, have a wonderful private reception and enjoy the gallery without hordes of visitors that we saw lining up during the day when we passed.  We stood in awe of Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch.  Not only were we up close and personal we were surprised that photographs were permitted.   Van Gogh’s paintings were also on display including his famous self portrait.  Obviously it was a great evening and all part of the Grand World Voyage as it is called.

Today we are in the North Sea with the temperature falling.  Tomorrow morning we begin our week of touring the Scandinavian countries and then comes Ireland and Scotland.  I am running out of memory on my camera discs and computer storage!

Easier to get hit by a bicycle than a car in Amsterdam

The variety of boats travelling the canal and the distinctive building fronts make for a truly remarkable city.

Susan stands in front of the famous Rembrandt piece the Night Watch.

There are more bicycles in Amsterdam than people and if your bike is stolen, get it back tomorrow at the flea sale.

The spires of churches and other historical buildings dot the landscape.

The Rijksmuseum is famous for many famous pieces of art from the 17th century.

The locks are used three times a week to flush the city canals with fresh water while holding the salt water out in the North Sea.

The War Memorials in France and Belgium

The Menin Gate in the town of Ypres has the names of 54,000 soldiers who died in the battle but their remains have not been found. Every day, the Last Post signals this tragic event while flower petals are thrown down through holes in the monument.

After Portugal, it was on to the port cities of Cherbourg in France and Zeebrugge in Belgium to see and try to experience what the soldiers in both World War I and World War II faced and how they died in those epic battles.

In France we visited the beaches of Normandy.  This year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the invasions by the allied troops on Utah Beach, Omaha Beach and Juno Beach during the Second World War.  As part of the planning, the Americans had Utah and Omaha as their invasion point and the Canadians were assigned to Juno.  Sword and Gold beaches were assigned to the United Kingdom.  D-Day was June 6, 1944 and will never be forgotten!  We came away in awe both from the number of casualties and the complexity those troops faced in pushing back the Germans. As well as walking those beaches, we had the privilege of visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial located immediately behind Omaha Beach.

The next day we were in the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium where a bus transported us to the town of Ypres (pronounced e-per), Flanders Fields and the Commonwealth Cemetery.  Those stops took us to see the battlefieds of World War I around Ypres and gave us the opportunity to see and hear of  the life-saving work of Dr. John McRae (from Guelph) and where he wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.  We were deeply moved and astounded at the number of casualties and the total futility of such conflicts. We took hundreds of pictures and they speak for themselves.  Both locations (Normandy Beaches and Ypres) are highly recommended to anyone interested in world history. To think that D-Day was 75 years ago and the First World War now more than 100 years in the past is a reminder of the phrase, “Lest We Forget”.

To get ashore massive floating docks were assembled to form a road from out in the ocean to the shore.

The remains of the portable roads out to sea can still be seen. Fifteen derelict ships were also sunk to form a breakwater.

The Normandy American Cemetery sits atop Omaha Beach.

Instead of a cross, Jewish soldiers have a Star of David on their grave.

The Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is located just outside of Ypres.

This is the Advanced Dressing Station where wounded soldiers were triaged by Dr. John McRae and where he wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”.

The plaque in honour of Dr. John McRae is located in the Essex Farm Cemetery next to the Advanced Dressing Station and within site of Ypres.

Porto, Portugal—Another magical city

The terminal in Porto is clad in tiles like many of the older homes and buildings.

Porto, Portugal is a smaller city, formerly a fishing village, on the Atlantic Ocean.  This is the first time the Amsterdam has visited this port and from all reports it will be the first of many return trips.  The port has been redesigned for cruise ships and the terminal is one of the best we have seen.

Six major bridges span the Douros river.

From the ocean promenade with another wonderful beach to the city centre and the historic river which runs through the core, Porto is a city to be discovered.  While here we toured by bus, did a river cruise from the centre of the city out to the ocean and ended the tour with a trip to a winery where we were able to sample some very special port wine.

Canal or river boats were used to bring barrels of wine south from the vineyards.

Our tour boat was a replica of the river boats used to transport port wine from the vineyards to the north, southbound for distillation, storage and bottling in Porto.  Because of the importance of the river and the need to keep it open for commerce there are now six major bridges crossing the river including one designed by Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. The replica boats come complete with stacked wine barrels, signifying their earlier cargo.  It is interesting to note that all over the world port wine can only be wine from Portugal.  The United States does not abide by this ruling…..

Boat building is a craft still carried out along the shores of the river.

Port wine is wine only from Portugal in the eyes of the Portugese.

Cod is the dish of choice here in Porto.  For many years the fishermen annually travelled to the cold waters of Norway to fish for cod.  While they no longer make the trek, cod is imported.  We were told that the Portuguese have 365 ways to cook cod.  Fishermen here do not fish on Saturdays or Sundays so you do not go to a fish restaurant on Mondays.  All the good fish restaurants near the docks have the fresh fish out in front of their restaurants in trays of ice in order for you to choose what you want to eat.  As has been the case in many ports we did not have enough time to sample the local fishery.  The downtown core has many historic buildings, very narrow streets and most of them heading up hill.  While life on the river Douro continues, most of the buildings along the shore are being converted into beautiful bars, restaurants and high end apartments.

Warehouses along the river are being converted into bars and restaurants.

Unrelated, wanted to point out the location of our cabin on the ship.  We are located on the starboard side, forward.  Our cabin is the one with the window just below the bow (front) of the first lifeboat. We are lifeboat number 1 and as you can see we have a door two rooms from ours to get to the lifeboat.  The cabin location gets us anywhere very quickly and we have direct access to the deck which totally encircles the ship.  Three and a half laps to the mile is a sign on the wall just outside our cabin.

Our cabin is on the starboard side at the bow.

Condominiums and apartments now line the riverfront.


Lisbon and the scenic cruise in on the Tega River

Arriving in Lisbon and its harbour was an experience in itself.  The city appears on most maps to be on the Atlantic coast but in reality is several miles inland on the Tega River and under one of the world’s largest suspension bridges very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Entering from the sea, the ship’s excursion director hosted a special commentary as we slowly “sailed” up river to our berth in the heart of the city.  As the sun rose and we sipped our coffee and enjoyed Lisbon breakfast rolls we learned the history of this great city with many of the city’s historic sites to be seen on the river’s edge.

Lisbon is home to the Christ the King monument and statue that is similar in design and size to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.  It is an impressive sight on the bank opposite Lisbon beside the bridge.

The gateway to the city is the large arch in front of the city square.  Like many of the ports we have visited the street under the arch is for pedestrians only.  With five cruise ships in port it was very busy downtown.  The crowds only seemed to heighten the excitement of the city and its vibrant nature.  Our land excursion took us out along the river to the coastal town of Estoril which is almost exclusively tourist in nature and home to the very wealthy of Lisbon.  Once again the beach was spectacular with its surf, sand and many small pubs and restaurants right on the seaside promenade.  Cable cars, street cars, elevators to take you up street levels and beautiful tiled structures were seen everywhere.

The central arch marks the entrance to the old city.

The combination of brilliant flowers and the tiles sets off this apartment off the main avenue.

The Christ the King monument and statue is across the river from Lisbon on a hill beside the bridge

Inside the Arch begins the pedestrian mall. Items made of cork are a popular souvenir as cork is a major export from Portugal.

The seaside community of Estoril is a short train ride away from Lisbon with the train station opposite the beach.

This park stretches from the highest point in Lisbon down to the river. Our cruise ship can be seen in the top left corner of the water area.

We can see Africa from the beach!

Having left the continent of Africa a week ago, it was fascinating to come through the Straits of Gibraltar and then dock in Cadiz, Spain where we could look across the waterway and see Africa once again.  Cadiz is a famous seaport where explorers of the new world departed from and returned to with their ill-gotten treasures.  It is a very protected harbour that opens to the Mediterranean on one side and the Atlantic on the other.

The beaches here stretch for miles and are wider than we have ever seen.  The beach communities are all decorated in white paints due to the extreme temperatures during the summer months.  It is springtime here in Cadiz and the temperatures are in the low sixties making it very pleasant for touring and not warm enough to swim in the ocean although there are many surfers out in the surf.

We are only a few miles west of Gibraltar and one of the beach towns is Trafalger Cove where the Battle of Trafalger was fought and where Admiral Nelson was fatally wounded.  It would be very easy to settle in for a month long stay in any of these seaside towns.  Seafoood restaurants abound and the markets make for easy shopping for provisions.  The narrow streets appear unchanged from centuries back. This area also has one of the largest protected pine forests in the country.  The umbrella pines form almost a carpet like covering to the hills that run up from the sea.  Another spot where we would come back to in a moment’s notice.

A procession heading to the Cathedral for Easter celebrations.

Next stop is around the corner and into the Atlantic Ocean and the port of Lisbon, Portugal and the Easter weekend.  As we left the harbour we could see the annual Easter procession heading to the Cathedral with band members, a large “float” honouring the Virgin Mary (unusual for Easter) and those following in white hats doing penance.

The seaside communities are all built on hills with the structures painted in white to reduce the summer heat.

Susan looking for shells on the beach that is as wide and long as we have ever seen.

Trafalger Cove and Lighthouse near the beach town of Conil.

Everywhere you turn in Barcelona is another picture

It is great to be able to see these magnificent cities with such long histories dating back centuries.  The internet on the ship is not great and trying to upload pics is not easy and takes forever.  Because of this I have to limit both the number of pictures I put on the blog and I have to go through a very slow process to reduce the file size so they will move across the internet.  Compounding the problem is that the majority of the ship’s passengers are regular world travellers who also love to take pictures and then send them to family and friends.  As we get further into Europe, hopefully our service will improve.

Architectural features dominate many of the buildings in Barcelona.

How about a little chocolate? It is a specialty of the country.

The Main Street in Barcelona is a pedestrian mall with traffic on both sides of the walkway.

Having said this, here are some more pics from Barcelona!  Enjoy…

Antoni Gaudi designed many homes in Barcelona with the distinctive curve.

Barcelona-One beautiful city!

Barcelona in one of the most beautiful cities we have visited on this world cruise.  The city is busier than normal as this is Easter week and many are on holidays and there are five cruise ships in harbour.  Barcelona has one of the busiest cruise terminals in all of Europe and it comes as no surprise when you see the city.

The Cathedral in Barcelona was very busy as we visited during Holy Week.

The city is built around a central square which is the home of the cathedral and the palace.  One of the pictures shows the King’s doorway which leads from the palace directly into the cathedral.  The cathedral is stunning in its design and size and because we were on an official tour we got directly inside bypassing the long lines of tourists and the faithful waiting to get in.

Inside the 13th century Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the central square.

The impact of the Spanish artist/architect Antoni Gaudi can be seen everywhere but his most magnificent design is the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) Basilica (started in 1882) that is today, still unfinished.  While he was not the original architect, he took over and worked on it until he died.  Symbolism is everywhere and the attention to detail is hard to believe.  Gaudi had the intention that the church would be entirely funded by donations and that intention continues to this day.  The goal is to complete construction by 2026, 100 years after his death. Whether or not the church will ever be finished is discussed at long length in Barcelona and around the world.

No flash photography was allowed inside the Cathedral so this was the result.

As the site of the 1992 summer Olympics, many of the facilities built for those games still exist on a mountain slope that overlooks the city. It is all very impressive.  However, the beauty of the city lies in the building designs and the small terraces or balconies that everyone seems to have downtown.  The central avenue, lined with apartments and condominiums overlooks a pedestrian walkway that is like no other.  While traffic travels one way on one side of the median and the other way on the opposite side, the median is two to three times as wide as the street and is given over to pedestrians and small shops, restaurants and bars.  Food is dispatched from restaurants on either side of the roads with waiters dodging the traffic to get to the patrons seated in tents on the median.  The central market is like no other and is a spoke off the main thoroughfare.

Snails of every description are sold in the central market. The products are like none you have ever seen and the price is right.

It is impossible to see or experience anything more than a glimpse of this city.  It goes on the list of cities that need to be revisited at a later date.  More pictures of Barcelona on the next post.


Naples, Italy with Pizza, Chocolate and Strong Coffee

The most important sign on any tour!

Inside the covered mall off the square.

Coffee is served quickly, is very strong and sipped at the counter.

This is the best coffee and pastry shop in Naples.

A view of the harbour from the King’s palace.

Naples is the home of pizza and coffee bars

After two days at sea following our exit of the Suez Canal we are in Naples, Italy.  The ship is docked in the middle of downtown and within easy walking distance of all the city sights.  Naples is under construction everywhere with no one project completed.  It seems this is the way of the Italian government and the constant elections that follow the defeat of the party and leader currently in power.


Naples is the third largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan.  It has the distinction of being the city that had the greatest number of bombs dropped on it in all of Italy during the Second World War.  As land is scarce, a bombed out structure is replaced with a modern building but will be adjacent to a building that escaped damage in the war.  The contrast between the new and old is remarkable.

Major portions of the population live in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius and the memories of the eruption that buried Pompei.  Mt. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in Europe that is on mainland as distinct from an island.  A recent test of the emergency evacuation system for Naples ended in chaos and demonstrated that it would be impossible to evacuate on short notice.  While the volcano is still active, it is heavily monitored to provide an early warning of major activity.


Naples has a city square with a huge cathedral that resembles both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Acropolis in Athens.  Adjacent to the square is the world famous opera house, the presidential palace, the centuries old fort protecting the harbour and an amazing collection of old buildings that have been covered over with an atrium and totally renovated into a very high end shopping centre with commercial offices on the second floor.

Coffee bars, pizza restaurants and small shops selling sweets are everywhere.  The island of Capri is within sight of the city dock but will have to wait for another visit.

On to Barcelona passing between Sardinia and Corsica.  The weather has changed dramatically.  We are all into sweaters and jackets as the temperatures have dropped from the high eighties to the low sixties.

The Suez Canal – The Red Sea to the Mediterranean in a day

Portable bridges to span the Canal are strategically located all along the waterway.

Military installations are manned along both sides of the Canal.

Floating docks the width of the canal are ready to be swung into place on a moment’s notice.

For the most part, the traffic is one lane with sand for miles.

There is only one permanent bridge but it is not used for fear of terrorists attacks from above.

A mosque on the the east side of the canal. The east side is populated while the west side is mostly empty.

A drama unfolds on the side of the Amsterdam.

A strong military presence can be seen with this frigate accompanying an aircraft carrier.

Today was a very long day as we travelled the full length of the Suez Canal from the city of Suez in the south to Port Said in the north.  From our anchorage in the Red Sea the day started at 5:00 a.m. with the anchor being raised and a pilot coming on board to guide the convoy of ships northbound, led by the Amsterdam.

The Canal is also known by the nickname “the highway to India”.  It was opened in 1869 to allow water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation around Africa. It is 120 miles long and with no locks, water flows freely to the north in winter and south during the summer. From its original 26 ft. depth, the canal is now 79 feet deep.

Even with major widening of the canal, ship go north in a convoy.  In our case three cruise ships led the way with 21 freighters behind us.  In an anchorage halfway north, the southbound convoy awaited our passage so they could continue south.  Prior to our anchorage the night before we watched a French aircraft carrier and two frigate escort ships come south followed by the freighters.  It seems there is a priority order of warships first, cruise ships second and freighters third in line for the passage.

For most of the trip the Sinai peninsula stretched as far as we could see on the right or starboard side of the ship and all it was was sand and more sand.  On our left or port side were numerous towns and cities in central Egypt. Signs of the previous wars, as late as 1967 were evident, with multiple air force bases on the now Egyptian bank and multiple guard posts and floating portable bridges that could be rapidly put in place for troops to cross the Canal. New floating bridges that span the entire canal seem to be stationed at strategic iintervals along the Canal as if to say this conflict is not over.  As we had just passed the shared borders of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is not hard to believe that this region will be the scene of more conflict for years to come.

We had our own conflict the night before our transit.  At anchor two small boats arrived and demanded they be hoisted aboard the Amsterdam, one on either side.  As most passengers were at dinner, very few witnessed the action.  The confrontation got very heated and it turned out that the approved guide boats had arrived early. were loaded with souvenirs to sell to the passengers and the crew was expecting food and accommodation overnight.  In the end the boats stayed hanging off the side of the Amsterdam and the crews were dispatched on the pilot boat to come back when we were underway the next day.  Turns out the crew was official but thought they would try and make some additional money under the table………….All very interesting.

At the end of the day we entered the Mediterranean at Port Said and we are now off to Naples, Italy.