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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Oslo, Norway to Copenhagen to Houston

Last Port:  Oslo then onto Copenhagen to Houston

Friday, May 11, 2012
We docked in Oslo, Norway this morning amid cold rainy weather.  We decided to stay aboard the Emerald Princess, have breakfast, finish our library books and start packing for the trip home.  We visited Oslo last year and saw most of the sights.  The photos you see were taken last September.  We depart the ship at 6:15 am tomorrow morning, catch a bus to the airport and a United flight to Newark, NJ with a short layover and then on to Houston.  This has been a relaxing, memorable trip for both of us.  The six days at sea were laid back and stress free.  We will do another Transatlantic next year.  Houston! The Wendels are on the way home!

Saturday 6:00 PM
We started out at 4:30am in Copenhagen this morning departing the ship at 7:30.  A short bus ride to the airport and a United flight to Newark, NJ.  We then caught another United flight to Houston.
We give thanks to God for a safe journey.  Thanks to all who commented.  At least I know someone is reading this blog.

Photos were taken last year of some ships in the Oslo harbor.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Netherlands: Rotterdam to Kukenhof Tulip Gardens

The Netherlands:  Rotterdam to Kukenhof Tulip Gardens

The Emerald Princess docked early this morning in Rotterdam, the Netherlands or Holland if you prefer.  Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port and the 3rd largest in the world. 
I woke up with a sore throat, not feeling so hot and it began to rain outside.  I really didn’t want to go anywhere.  But I took some antibiotics for the sore throat and decided to just tough it out.  Breakfast arrived at 6:30, early because our tour to the Kukenhof Tulip Gardens was meeting at 8:15.  So after coffee and a roll and yogurt we were off.  We’ve learned the secret of being on the first bus (less crowded at destination and first back giving you time to do other stuff). Anyhow the secret is that even though the ticket says meet at 8:15, go about 30 minutes early, because the main thing Princess focuses on is getting the busses loaded and out on their way, not your scheduled meeting time!

So along with forty others we climbed into bus #1 and headed out to the tulip farm.  We got on the expressway and it reminded me of our freeways in Houston as in dead stop, move a few feet and stop again.  There was a wreck ahead of us several miles and it would take nearly an hour to really get going.  Didn’t bother MA! All she has to do is sit down in a bus and she’s out like a light! On the way the tour guide did point out a few things like how so much of Holland is below sea level so water drains into canals and is then pumped into the river using    the old windmills.

We arrived in Kukenhof, were given our tickets and MA and I were off.  I tried to photograph the place using composition so you would have some idea how beautiful it is.  I am sorry my photos just don’t do it justice.  So you’ll just have to see this place for yourself. We walked around for about two hours, stopped for coffee and then we headed back to the exit.  Our group was to be on the bus by 12:15.  It actually turned out to be a great day even though it did rain down on us briefly. But by the time we got the umbrella out, rain coat on and camera covered up, it stopped.  So all I can say is thank you Lord for a wonderful, colorful day with my lovely wife, Mary Alice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Day in Dover

A Day in Dover
After crossing the English Channel from Le Havre we docked in the port city of Dover in the County of Kent.  We ordered breakfast again in our room and then we joined our group for the Canterbury Cathedral and Town.  I know you remember Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from English Literature.  This is the place where Chaucer got his inspiration.  My recollection of Canterbury Tales is that it’s about pilgrims and their journey to see the Cathedral.

Here is the condensed history of Canterbury.  In 597 AD, Pope Gregory the Great sent a monk, Augustine, to England as a missionary in Canterbury.  He didn’t want to go because he heard that the people here were barbarians.  The Pope told him if he went he could be England’s first bishop and with that as a bribe Augustine established a Christian church in Canterbury.  Zoom forward to 1170 when Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral. You might wonder who could murder an Archbishop in a church. This is England and King Henry II sent four knights to answer the King’s question, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

Soon after miracles were said to take place and the Cathedral became one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage centers.  The Cathedral is still very much a working, living church where Services take place every day.  For millions of Anglicans (Church of England), the Cathedral is their Mother Church.  Our guide for the day, Dick Bolton, is a deacon in the church and attends every Sunday.

Our tour bus left the port of Dover and drove west about 30 miles to Canterbury.  After our guide gave us the Reader’s Digest version of the Cathedral we set off on our own to explore this magnificent Gothic church.

Wandering the streets of Canterbury we found of all things a McDonald’s.  It gave MA a chance to catch up on her FaceBook postings with the free wifi.   After having French fries and coffee, yes, French fries and coffee, we found the old Anglican church of St Mary’s.  We went inside and of course took several photos.  It is not the scale of the Cathedral but still a very old church. 
Cathedral Stained Glass Window

We found a nice English pub where we saw that most of the people were having lunch. This made us hungry so we decided to make our way back to the town square and catch a shuttle bus back to the ship. We just finished a light lunch with coffee at our favorite 5th deck cafĂ©. We buy these coffee cards, 15 special coffees for the price of 10. We’re working our way through the menu! Just checked the dinner menu, prime rib tonight!  Oh well! We can count calories later next week back in Houston!

Le Havre, France and the Normandy Beaches

Le Havre, France and the Normandy Beaches

The Emerald Princess sailed across the English Channel last night and docked in Le Havre, France.  Le Havre is France’s second largest port and sits on the mouth of the Seine River which flows through Paris.  Our interest was Normandy and the D-Day beaches.  We elected to go on a ship’s excursion along with 300 others.  The day began early with breakfast in the room.  The weather was foggy and almost cold.  I am glad we brought along some warm clothes.  We disembarked and we were off on a really nice bus.

The drive west from Le Havre took us through the Normandy countryside.  It is dotted with small villages, green fields with cows and sheep and bright yellow fields of canola flowers used in making the oil. Our first stop was a rest stop on the equivalent of a French expressway.  The ESSO facility is close to a “Bucky’s” if you know what that is.  It had everything including a bakery. 
Our drive then took us past some important WW2 battle places like Caen. Our first stop was Pont du Hoc.  I mentioned that the weather was foggy earlier.  Well it started raining but we ventured forth anyway and it soon cleared up. 

Pont du Hoc was taken by the 2nd Ranger Battalion led by Colonel James Rudder, a Texan by the way, and 200 men on D-Day.  The objective was the big guns on the overlooking Omaha Beach.  The men had to scale the cliffs.  The assault and battle on the 6th and 7th took the lives of 135 of them but the mission was accomplished.

Our tour took us next to Omaha Beach a short distance away.  It looks nothing like I remember in the movie The Longest Day.  The high tide obscured the beach below and the water came right up to the now concrete wall.  I can just imagine the thousands of ships just off the coast on that fateful morning.  Some of the original German bunkers remain but they are filled with concrete.  There are memorials to the units who came ashore on D-Day, Big Red One and the 29th Division.

We boarded our bus for a short ride to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleyville.  There are 9,387 headstones made of white marble with the name, state and unit engraved on the marker.  There are 1,557 missing in action and unknown marked only with the inscription, “Known but to God.”  There is a sense of reverence as you walk among the thousands of white crosses and Star of David headstones.  We can’t imagine the horrors that these men endured on that day, the day that began the end of Hitler’s Nazi domination of Western Europe. 

It was time for lunch and our tour took us to Arromanches and Juno Beach.  We had lunch at the Le Normandie Hotel and Restaurant.  After lunch MA and I walked around the town.  Arromanches is the site of the Allied floating harbor.  The artificial harbor was towed across the English Channel and set in the beach at Arromanches.  Some of it still remains and is a visible reminder of what happened on June 6th, 1944.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

England: Falmouth to Land’s End

England:  Falmouth to Land’s End

The Emerald Princess arrived off-shore from Falmouth, England this morning.  MA and I signed up for a bus tour of the countryside to the most westerly English peninsula, Land’s End. First things first, though, with room service breakfast at 7am. We joined our fellow travelers in the Princess Theater at 9am.  The crew then took us downstairs to a waiting tender craft that would take us ashore via the harbor of Falmouth, the deepest harbor in Western Europe. At the port a very comfortable bus was waiting and we met our guide, a charming British lady who knew everything about this part of England.
The first stop was a photo op at St. Michael’s Mount, an abbey built on a low tidal island off the coast.  It is accessible by foot at low tide and by boat during high tide.  It is no longer an abbey but someone’s private residence given to him by an English king after the Catholics were removed.

Our tour continued on going through an area of tin mines, rolling green hills, dairy farms, and planted crops.  It was as green as Ireland. Our guide told us about some of the local “Cornish” foods and one she described is called “pasty”.  It is very much like an empanada that is stuffed with meat and potatoes. 
We arrived at Land’s End and decided to have lunch.  Naturally we had to try the local fare which we split because the pasty is huge.  After lunch we walked around Land’s End peninsula and took some photos.  We met our group an hour later, boarded the bus, and slept most of the hour drive back to the ship. 

We had afternoon cappuccinos after getting back to the ship.  Dinner is at 8:15 and you know we don’t miss the meals!  We’ll check in tomorrow after visiting Normandy, France and the D-day Museum, something I truly look forward to doing.

Ireland: Cobh, Charles Fort and Kinsale

2nd Stop:  Ireland:  Cobh, Charles Fort and Kinsale
Cobh from the ship
The Irish port, Cobh, has had numerous names.  Looking at the name I would have pronounced it “cob-ha” but it is actually pronounced “cove”.  When the English held it they called it Cork.  After Queen Victoria visited the port in 1922 they changed the name again to “Queenstown”.  After the Irish Revolt in 1922-1923, they kicked the English out and changed the name back to the original Gaelic “Cobh”.
Cobh waterfront

When we arrived the weather was cloudy, overcast, windy and 45 degrees.  We were thankful it was not raining, just a little chilly. The Emerald Princess docked at 9:00 am.  We signed up for an afternoon tour to Charles Fort and the seaside village of Kinsale. 
Meanwhile, after breakfast we decided to disembark and walk around.  Our first stop was the TITANIC museum, a unique experience. Visitors assume the identity of one of the passengers who boarded at Cobh and a guides and videos take you through the ship where you visit a 3rd class cabin and get a look at what the 1st class cabin looked like.  The video then reenacts the TITANIC striking the iceberg, the boarding of the lifeboats, and, by the way, there were not enough for all the passengers.  Then we watched a vivid reenactment of the huge ship sinking.  
There were 2200 passengers including several hundred Irish immigrants who boarded in Cobh on 3rd class tickets.  There were only 700 survivors.  The Irish do not forget those who perished.
As we walked out we looked at the name on our tickets.  MA had the ticket of Agnes McCoy.  She survived.  I had the name of Michael Linehan.  He did not.
St Colman Cathedral

After the museum we walked up the steep hill to the Cathedral of St. Colman, a huge gothic church that dominates the village skyline. It took 47 years to build, from 1868-1915.   After we made it to the top an old Irish gentleman with a cane asked me to help him get down the steps because he had vertigo.  After I got him down and I got back up we went inside the cathedral.  You can see from the photos it is beautiful.  We were treated to a bunch of clean-cut high school kids from a choir who broke out in a beautiful hymn.  From the church we made our way back to the ship and, you guessed it, lunch!

After lunch we met our tour on the dock. There were about 40 of us.  The first stop was Charles Fort, a British fort built in the 1800’s to protect the harbor from the Spanish and other countries England did battle with.  The tour took the group through the dilapidated structure; however, MA and I decided to visit the coffee shop instead.  It was very cold and windy and a cappuccino was the perfect alternative to the cold and windy 40 degree temperature!
Irish countryside

Our next stop was the seaside village of Kinsale.  We had about 45 minutes to walk around.  I took a few photos.  The funniest thing we saw was three young Rugby players walking along, singing and laughing, and then one of them spotted a garden fountain and ran to it, diving into the cold water!  I think he had enough beer in him that he didn’t feel the collision with the concrete or water that soaked his jersey and shorts. 
Ireland is one of the most beautiful places we have seen.  The countryside is forty shades of green.  There are cows and sheep everywhere.  The people are so friendly.  They see a tourist bus and start waving.  The Irish had a warm place in their hearts for Americans and the feeling is mutual.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Crossing the Atlantic with a Stop at the Azores

Crossing the Atlantic with a Stop at the Azores

After sailing out of Fort Lauderdale last Thursday evening, we spent the next five days at sea.  Maybe you’re wondering what one does at sea on a cruise ship for five days with no land in sight. Well we get into a routine and then change it, ever flexible to events, and there are many to choose from here.
But for example, I order room service coffee the night before and the steward is at our door the next morning, promptly at 7:00 am, coffee service in hand.  I have a cup, and then get ready to walk the Promenade Deck 7 for an hour, approximately 4 miles.  By the time I get back to the cabin, MA is up, well most of the time, and from there we go to breakfast. 
For lunch (notice how no meals are missed…ever!) anyhow for lunch sometimes we eat in the buffet and other days we would decide on the dining room with table service. Breakfast and lunch is where you join any table, meeting lots of cool folks every day.

The rest of our schedule depends on the ship’s itinerary and there is a lot to choose from.  For example, there was a Sunday church service, with over 300 in attendance.  Then there are movies going on all over the place, Bridge for those who like to play, seminars usually on travel related topics, Zumba fitness classes, golfing on the top deck, Bingo (we don’t do Bingo but lots of folks do!).
Let’s not forget MA’s line dancing classes, also Scrabble and other board games, Afternoon High Tea, cabaret shows, comedians, and like last night a juggler who could maneuver around with 12 trays of wine glasses without dropping a one.  Anyhow, trust me, you can’t do it all but there’s something for everyone!
MA at a crater lake

One of the highlights for me so far was a veteran’s reunion which was attended by over fifty vets.  There were three WW2 vets, one gentleman 90 years old, several Korean vets, a lot of Vietnam vets and an active duty Navy seaman who was on his honeymoon.  Every vet was asked to stand and give name, branch, and where they served.  The only woman vet turned out to be a USMC three star general and her husband, a bird colonel Marine. Both are retired.  MA spoke up when it came to her time and she shared how she was a flight attendant on Pan Am MAC charters that took the Vietnam vets to DaNang, Camron Bay, and Saigon and then picked them up for R&R to Hawaii or Japan, all of which got a hearty applause from the veterans who remember those flights.
Our routine usually includes some time on the Piazza, Deck 5, at 4:30pm having one of the many specialty coffees. We’re working our way through the coffee menu! We then get ready for dinner and sometimes catch a show before our 8:15 dining reservation. 
St Peter's Church

Today the Emerald Princess docked at Ponta Delgada on the Island of San Miguel in the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands. Our tour took us up into the mountains to see the volcanic crater lakes and visit some small villages.  The Azores was formed by volcanic eruption and you see lava rock everywhere.  It is even used as a building material on the buildings.  Our main stop was at a village called Sete Cidades.  MA and I walked to the small church made from lava rock.  It was beautiful inside.  I also found a couple of birds later that I did not recognize.  Maybe some of my friends will look them up for me.
We then drove up the mountain and saw a couple of lakes formed from the rim of the volcano.  One of the lakes has a blue cast and the other lake has a green cast.  We stopped again another volcanic lake and then headed back to the port, stopping to sample local cheeses.  Our guide told us there are as many cows on the island as there are people.  And we saw a bunch of them.  But obviously dairy products, cheese being primary, are a big deal here. We ended our time ashore shopping in a local store for bottled water (too expensive aboard the ship!).
Interior of St Peter's Church

Princess offers evening get-togethers for “frequent sailors”, and tonight’s snack was “all you can eat shrimp”. We still have dinner ahead, filet mignon and more shrimp and cherries jubilee.  Guess we both better do some walking tomorrow although the Captain has warned us we might be sailing in semi-rough waters for a little while.
One of the best things about our trips is time away where we do lots of fun things, we talk, we laugh, we meet nice folks, we see God’s awesome planet.  We leave Fox News behind, politics behind, gas prices behind, and just enjoy being a couple on a wonderful vacation.
God is truly great!
Unkown Bird Azores