Amsterdam in the Spring

There is something disconcerting as well as liberating about the smell of weed drifting thru the outdoor café while you enjoy your morning coffee. Welcome to Amsterdam.

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Central Station Square
Anne Frank House

We were passing thru Amsterdam in the Spring and decided to stay a few days and take in the Keukenhof. We stayed at the Hotel Arena and picked up the public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart) for a couple of days right away. It’s good for travel on trams, buses and metros with the most convenient option for visitors being the day card that’s valid for one to seven days starting from €7.50. While the city is a great place for walking it is helpful to be able to grab a tram or bus to get you to a point of interest.

Our plan was mostly to grab a tram in the morning to get across town and later stroll back towards the hotel. We used this thinking to start our day in the neighborhood of the Anne Frank House and also the Van Gogh Museum. It was also helpful when we needed a break from walking.

Bicycles parked at train station

Amsterdam is a beautiful city with friendly people and great public transportation. The primary way to get around for locals is the bicycle. They are usually nothing fancy and come in configurations that include wheelbarrows in front and multiple kid seats in back. They are parked in some areas like near the train station by the thousands (we have no idea how the locate their bikes in these masses of bikes.

One strong word of caution about walking this city; pay attention to the bikes! Most streets have lanes for cars and others for bicycles and than sidewalks for walking. DO NOT step toward the street without looking both ways for bicycles. Often they are traveling fast and silent and are between you and the crosswalk.

While there we visited the Keukenhof tulip festival gardens, and went to a cheese shop tasting and brought back several Gouda cheeses. We strolled the flower markets and looked into buying some tulip bulbs.

Fortunately we discovered that U.S. Customs only allows you to “import” U.S. certified bulbs and when you start looking for those you discover that the choices a very limited. After we got home we found that most of those are readily available in the U.S. often at better prices.

There are a number of great museums and famous neighborhoods that you should make an effort to visit including:

The narrow canals and streets of the Jordaan lined with boutiques, pubs and fancy eateries. Stalls at the Noordermarkt square feature  jewelry, clothes and antiques.

Leidseplein is an exciting nightlife hub centered on Leidseplein Square, where people are entertained by street performers and the surrounding bars and restaurants are always busy.

Willet-Holthuysen Windmill

Museum Willet-Holthuysen Iconic windmill with octagonal body. The tallest wooden windmill in the country is octagonal in shape & was once used as a flour mill.

Westerkerk Church

Westerkerk with its spire standing above this Renaissance-era Protestant church where Rembrandt is buried. It stands only a half block from the Anne Frank House

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For the more mature and adventurist tourist there is Amsterdam’s red light district. It consists of a network of alleys containing hundreds of red one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from a window, typically illuminated with red lights. Window prostitution is the most visible and typical kind of red light experience in Amsterdam and is a large tourist attraction.

One afternoon while walking along a residential canal with a couple of bars at the end of the block there was a sign in several languages put up by neighbors asking patrons to kindly confine the marijuana smoking away from in front of the residences as there are open windows and children inside and to try and keep the noise down after nine at night.

In closing we came to the opinion that this is a very easy city to like and their tolerance for the unconventional lifestyles of other people seems to work really well for them. Maybe we in America should consider the Dutch experience and ask why criminalize lifestyle choices.

 

 

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Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea

Adventures in Paradise

On a cruise of the Pacific recently we spent three days in the French Society Islands. The three major islands being Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea with Tahiti being the largest. These islands are due south of Hawaii on the other side of the equator.

Tahiti is part of a volcanic chain formed by the northwestward movement of the Pacific Plate over a fixed hotspot similar to the process that formed the Hawaiian Islands. Tahiti consists of two old volcanoes—the larger Tahiti-Nui in the northwest and Tahiti-Iti in the southeast connected by an isthmus. Tahiti-Nui was round when it first formed as a volcanic shield between 1.4 million and 900,000 years ago. Tahiti-Iti probably formed about 250,000 years later.

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Tahiti has a long and rich history. The islands were first settled by migrating Polynesians as early as 500 BC. They were later discovered by European explorers during the 16th century but there is controversy over who was the first but the islands were eventually colonized by France. In August 1768, Captain James Cook set sail from England to visit Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus across the Sun and mapped several island groups in the southern Pacific that had been previously discovered by other explorers.

Jardin de l’Assemblée de la Polynésie Francé

Our first stop was Papeete, Tahiti during The Mutiny on the Bounty Festival which seemed mostly an activity focused on selling T-Shirts and books. Papeete is the governmental center of The Society Islands with Jardin de l’Assemblée de la Polynésie Francé being the house of the assembly.

Notre Dame Cathedral

While short on historic sites there is the Notre Dame Cathedral, a historic building with a mix of Colonial and Gothic styles. It is a Catholic church opened in 1875 and is noted for housing three bells.

The truth is that most people don’t visit these islands for history but for the beaches and clear azure waters. The islands are surrounded by coral reefs that act to protect these islands and the diving is some of the best in the world. There are fewer resorts on Tahiti than the other islands with only three really highly rated hotels (the InterContinental Resort Tahiti being the highest rated).

Bora Bora seems to offer the better selection in resorts with over a dozen four star properties including the iconic Bora-Bora Pearl Beach Resort with its over water bungalows (in season rates start at US$600 a nite).

While Moorea is beautiful it’s Bora Bora that steals the show. It includes breathtaking scenery with towering peaks, natural lagoons and spectacular coral reefs circling the island. If we could afford to spend time here this is the island we would come back to.

 

Images Around Disney World

Collection #1

Walt Disney World is a creation focused on transporting visitors to wondrous places. For that reason it is a fantasy land for a photographer. Take a walk thru the “World” with us.

 

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An Epcot Christmas

 

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The Magic Kingdom at nite

 

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Epcot and The Living Seas

 

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The Boardwalk
Thunder Mountain
Thunder Mountain

 

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Approaching The Magic Kingdom at dusk

 

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Pirates of the Caribbean

 

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The Liberty Belle, Frontier Land at Nite, Magic Kingdom

 

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Magic Kingdom entrance

 

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The Grand Floridian across Seven Seas Lagoon

 

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Epcot Flower and Garden Show

 

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It’s A Small World, Magic Kingdom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressions of Asia

Collection #1

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Singapore at Night

 

Singapore is a fabulous city. Modern, clean and friendly. The centerpiece above is the triple Marina Towers, home to a casino, shopping and some of the best internationally famous restaurants in the World.

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Hong Kong High Rise

Many of those high Rises stretching across the Hong Kong skyline are actually middle and low income housing where many apartments are less than ten square meters.

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Telcom in Vietnam

.  – We have know idea how communication workers find their way thru these tangles of wires?

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Lantern shop Vietnam

 

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Nan Lian Gardens, Hong Kong

These are fantastic gardens near Hollywood Mall and surrounded by the towers of central Hong Kong.

Curacao, Perfect Blend of Two Worlds

Wouldn’t it be great if we could move tropical seas, palm trees and great beaches to Northern Europe? It’s not going to happen, but the next best thing is to move the Netherlands into the Caribbean. Welcome to Curacao.

Queen Juliana Bridge

There are a number of European influenced islands in the Caribbean but no place expresses it as well as this little Dutch island. While Aruba has succumbed to run-away Americanization you can still stroll the streets of Willemstad, sit in a café for a Cappuccino or stop in a small bistro for lunch and it isn’t hard to think you are in Amsterdam.  Add to that the great beaches and resorts, balmy weather and turquoise seas and you have Curacao.

Neighborhood under the Queen Juliana Bridge

We’ve been visiting Curacao for over twenty-five years and while we have seen explosive growth in upscale resorts and residential neighborhoods, the old world charm has remained intact. Over that period of time there was a huge migration in of Dutch retirees, much to the consternation of the locals, and that drove up the cost of living, but it didn’t negatively impact that sense of old world charm.

Dutch Colonial architecture, city administrative building

In the center of Willemstad is a channel that is part of St. Anna Bay and the primary way of getting across is the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. The bridge opens by breaking its connection on one side and an outboard motor pushes it out of the channel anchored by a hinge at the other end. Fun to watch and fun to ride.

On the northwest side of town is a neighborhood that has been restored and turned into a resort, visitor center and museum known as the Museum Kurá Hulanda & Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa. Where you can walk cobblestone streets and visit cafes and shops. There is also a floating market in town where boats come over from Venezuela, only 70 miles away, to sell produce (current conditions in Venezuela have probably eliminated this business). The island also boasts the Curacao Sea Aquarium and Dolphin Academy Curacao which is worth a visit.

If you like to dive, snorkel or just relax on the beach, you have come to the right place. There are dive shops everywhere and great resorts around every turn. The currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder and the language is Papiamentu which is a blending of Dutch, Spanish and local Indian. Greetings are Bon dia – Good morning. Bon tardi – Good Afternoon. Bon nochi – Good Evening/Good Night and Danki – Thank you, Di nada – Your welcome.

 

Visiting Liberty

Get to Know an Old Liberty Ship

Looking forward, bridge SS American Liberty

I admit I have a strong attraction to a specific type of ship that has almost vanished from the planet. Currently there are very few of these historic ships still in existence. My fondness for this ship is because I spent a little over two years serving on one in the 1960’s while in the Navy.

Before the United States entered World War II, England was fighting for its very survival. England is an island nation and depends on its merchant ships to keep its industries supplied with raw materials along with its people fed and their gas tanks full. Nobody knew this better than Germany and they had a plan to choke off England.

The bridge on the SS American Victory

At the outbreak of war German U-boats spread out over the North Atlantic with orders to sink any merchant ship flying British flags. As the war advanced Germany launched more of these submarines with more range and munitions and eliminated over a third of British merchants.

Even before the entry of the U.S. into the war England placed emergency orders for ships to be made in American shipyards using a British design. The class was developed to meet British needs for transports to replace ships that were being torpedoed by German U-boats. These ships became known as Liberty ships.

The Liberty ship featured a simple design and low-cost construction and soon were being mass-produced on an unprecedented scale and the ship came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial might.

In the 1950’s the U.S. Navy upgraded and converted a number of these Liberty ships to serve as support ships in the active fleet. Some were configured as ammunition supply ships designated AE, others as refrigerated supply ships designated AF and a few like the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) were used as technical research ships (electronic spy ship). The USS Liberty was attacked by Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six-Day War. She was built and served in World War II as SS Simmons. By the 1960’s the Navy was fazing out these ships for modern, specially designed ships called “fast fleet support ships”. By early in the 1970’s all of these WWII work horses were retired.

SS Jeremiah O’Brien in San Fransisco

Only three operational Liberty (Victory) ships still exist and they are museums, the SS John W. Brown in Baltimore, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, home ported in San Francisco and SS American Victory in Tampa.

Main deck forward, SS American Victory

We have visited the O’Brien some years back and she is well preserved and actually still makes cruises. We also found out that the engine room scenes from Cameron’s movie The Titanic were filmed on board.

This past summer we visited the American Victory in Tampa and discovered that she is a work in progress and could really use donations and volunteers. She is docked right next to the Florida Aquarium with free admission (donations welcome) and free parking (which is worth its weight in gold in that area). While, as I said, I have a soft spot for these old ships it is probably a good opportunity to get acquainted with these pieces of American history.

Barcelona to Montserrat Mountain

A Day Trip From Barcelona

If you are visiting Barcelona, Spain, we would recommend that you save a day for a trip to Montserrat. The mountain is home to great hiking trails, grand vistas along with a Basilica, monastery, convents, restaurants and two hotels.

 

funicular to the peak

We visited on a tour arranged for us in Barcelona but it is not difficult to plan a trip for a day on your own. Start at the Plaza Espanya train station in Barcelona. The train station is in the same building as a metro station so it’s easy to get to. Follow signs for the R5 train which runs ever fifty minutes or so. The train will take you to stations at the foot of the mountain but, before buying tickets, you will need to decide whether you would like to travel up Montserrat Mountain by Cable Car or by the Rack Railway . There are agents selling combination tickets who can help you decide, so ask them for advice. You also need to confirm which station to exit based on your choice.

 

The mountain of Montserrat would be worth a visit if it was only a geological

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Cable Car up the mountai

spectacle and that alone draws hikers and rock climbers from around the world. It has also been a religious site from the days of the Roman Empire with a temple to Venus having been built there more than two thousand years ago. Since 888 AD there has been the Christian sanctuary of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat and, in 1025, Oliba, Bishop of Vic, founded a larger monastery at the hermitage of Santa Maria de Montserrat. The monastery soon began receiving pilgrims and visitors who contributed to the spread of stories of miracles and wonders performed by the Virgin. In 1409 the monastery of Montserrat became an abbey and from 1493 to 1835, the monastery underwent numerous improvements, growing and increasing in splendor. 

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During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Monastery of Montserrat became a cultural centre with The Montserrat Music School producing a number of significant composers. From the early nineteenth century on the Monastery was abandoned, rebuilt and restored a number of times because of the French War and the Spanish Civil War. Today, Montserrat is again a cultural and religious center welcoming pilgrims and tourists.

I recently came across a good post on avoiding mistakes in visiting Montserrat. Check it out  HERE.

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