In Normandy, France, we visited the Overlord Museum near Omaha Beach. The Overlord Museum has displays and dioramas including a variety of equipment used by both the Allies and the Nazis during D-Day and the subsequent month-long battle of Normandy, in which the Allies succeeded in pushing back the Nazis to liberate the north of France.
Operation Overlord (code name for the D-Day invasion) was a tricky operation that was difficult to coordinate due to the complexity and variety of troops and equipment, the expanse of the beach heads, the different countries and companies involved, and the need to catch the enemy by surprise. Paratroopers (the first to deploy) jumped from planes and drifted far off course. Heavy equipment like tanks and trucks had to be unloaded sometimes in 4 feet of water and then brought up cliffs. Of course, the Germans soon realized what was happening so that all this was taking place under fire. They had also put up barriers and mines along the beaches.
Each part of the operation was timed, coordinated by generals far from the beaches. After the naval ships were in position and ground troops on the beach, fighter jets flew overhead to provide cover for the men below, dropping bombs onto Nazi bunkers and strongholds.
We spent three days in San Diego after our Panama Canal cruise a few years ago. The first day we visited the USS Midway Museum. The USS Midway was another World War II relic – a huge aircraft carrier which saw action in the Pacific, and there was a lot to see.
I’ve been busy the last few days and unable to participate in Becky’s Square July Blues.
So to make up for it (just a little!) I’m posting three blue squares today -all taken in the Netherlands in late June of this year. Known for its Delft china (which is also blue), Holland is also a country very much connected to the water. This is where the Rhine River ends, and there are many canals, rivers and bogs. In fact, most of the Netherlands is below sea level, which is why they had to build dykes. Boating and river-based sports are naturally popular, and cities grow up around waterways.
The first blue square photo was taken on a private canal tour during our four days in Amsterdam. Sleek modern buildings are not what come to mind when one conjures up an image of this city of canals and bicycles, but there are many such buildings, especially on the far side of the river, like this one. The Rhine River widens here as it flows to the Atlantic Ocean. Blue water, blue building, blue sky!
Our 2-week Viking river cruise began in Amsterdam on June 25 and wound along the Rhine, the Main and the Danube rivers. The next photo is of Nijmegen, a city in the south of the country.
There is a lot of boat and ship traffic on these rivers, not only popular for cruises but also to transport freight and leisure for the locals. This photo was taken on the cruise, somewhere between Amsterdam and Nijmegen. As a special touch, this photo has a blue square within a blue square! 😉
Climate change was very much in evidence in Europe in June and July this year. Just a few days ago, a fierce heat wave sent temperatures soaring to record highs in many countries unused to extreme heat (Paris broke all-time records on July 26 with an afternoon high of 109ºF/43ºC!). Although places of business often have air conditioning, most people live in houses or apartments without air conditioning because they so seldom have needed it.
An earlier heat wave (not as extreme, but it lasted longer) hit while we were in Amsterdam. Our Airbnb didn’t even have a fan! However, usually it would be cool enough with a balcony in front and another one in back creating a cross draft. Fortunately, two days after the heat wave started, we were on a Viking river ship, where all inside areas have air conditioning.
What does one do when temperatures reach 90-95°F/32-35° in Holland? Go to the beach!
We saw many scenes like this as we cruised up the Rhine River. And it wasn’t just people!
Cows also know how to “chill” when it’s hot!
Now “chill out” with this golden oldie, Heatwave by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas!
Last night, our first night on our Nile cruise, I slept better than I have since the beginning of the trip! I loved my bed in our stateroom and the temperature was not too hot nor too cold (although the people in the staterooms across from ours did complain that their rooms were too cold), and it’s not stuffy like hotel room air. The pillows are perfect.
There were two choices for breakfast: the buffet in the dining area, or an omelet made to order out on the deck (of course, we could combine the two).
We spent the first half of the day cruising the Nile on our way upriver to Edfu. It was a relaxing morning.
Besides fishermen, we saw large cruise ships…
…and a heron on an island of flotsam.
Most of the time, the sails of the Aida were not unfurled; a dahabeya does not have a motor, and using only the power of wind would require the helmsman to tack, zigzagging across the river, which would cause delays to our itinerary. However, they agreed to put the sails up and we got into the tug boat so we could see the Aida with its sails raised. We were able to take photos from all angles.
More cruise ships and freighters:
When we returned to our stateroom before lunch, the steward had created towel art in the form of a lotus flower.
Lunch was a colorful buffet.
The scenery along the shore became more urban as we approached the city of Edfu.
Finally the Aida approached the dock at Edfu where we would disembark to visit the Temple of Horus.
I was looking forward to the next portion of our trip – a 5-day cruise on the Nile, aboard a 16-passenger dahabeya – in other words, a private ship for our OAT group of 14 people including our guide plus 14 crew members! This dahabeya, called Aida, is one of only two such boats owned and operated by Overseas Adventure Travel. Aida is the newer of the two and has only been in operation for a few months.
You know how a new car has a “new” smell? Well, the Aida had a “new ship” smell – primarily of the wood used to build it. It was wonderful! Even more wonderful was that shortly after we boarded, we were served lunch in our private dining area!
Before lunch, we had time to freshen up in our staterooms – there are only 8 or 10 of these and each is named for an Egyptian goddess. Our stateroom was #4, named Hathor.
I had not slept well in either hotel we’d stayed in up until then (this often happens to me in hotels) so I was very tired. First thing I did when we got into our stateroom was curl up on my bed and take a nap!
Within a half hour, it was time for lunch. Aida has a small dining area with a panoramic view of the Nile and surrounding countryside.
We cruised for a few hours to el Hegz Island on the Nile’s east bank, where we docked and went ashore. Here are some views from Aida‘s deck while we were cruising.
El Hegz is an island with mostly farms, but there is also a small village. We were given a tour by one of the farmers.
Transportation on the island is by bike or donkey, although there are a few motorized vehicles.
The residents are very proud of their water sanitation and storage system which provides them with always fresh water. The water is piped onto the island and then goes through a sanitation process before it is stored in large tanks.
The vegetation is lush and there is a canal and irrigation for crops.
They grow bananas, sugarcane and other crops. The bananas and sugarcane are cash crops. Others, such as vegetables, are for consumption by the local population.
Scenes of village life
We made our way back to Aida as the sun was about to set.
Although we got back on board, the ship moored for the night off the island.
Another dahabeya came along. This type of boat does have sails, but usually the crew of Aida did not use them, because that would require a lot of tacking – zig-zagging across the river, which would have delayed us. For this reason, usually we were towed by a tugboat, because dahabeyas do not have motors.
The sunset over the west bank of the Nile was gorgeous!
Today was an enjoyable day, especially because we got to choose exactly what we wanted to do. We had signed up for the “Hop On Hop Off (HOHO)with admission to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic” and it also included admission to the Citadel.
The double decker buses painted various colors (like blue, pink, and white) were made in England and used in London until they were “retired” and sold to the city of Halifax. We were told that some London visitors recognize the buses by their numbers and can tell you what route they were on in London! The driver sits on the right side of the vehicle as people do in the UK, but Canadians drive on the right.
The Maritime Museum was Stop #3 and we spent quite a bit of time there. Significant exhibits were dedicated to the 1917 Halifax Explosion and the Titanic disaster. Halifax’s connection to the Titanic is that most of the bodies were retrieved off the coast of Newfoundland and brought to this port, where White Star Line had a headquarters, and about 150 of them are buried in Halifax cemeteries.
The Halifax Explosion occurred on Dec. 6, 1917 (and the city will commemorate its 100th anniversary this year), when two ships collided in the “Narrows,” a less than one-kilometer wide passageway between the bay and the sea. There is a lot of maritime traffic in that spot. The explosion didn’t actually happen when the ships collided, but rather when they pulled apart. One of the ships was a French warship loaded with explosives. The explosion caused a major fire which destroyed more of the city that had not been blown up in the explosion.
Nearly 2,000 people died and about 9,000 were injured, while others were lifted into the air and set down some distance away unharmed or with only minor scratches. About 500 people suffered damage to their eyes, rendering them blind. That is why the display of the memorial quilt is surrounded by panels with the victims’ names stitched in Braille with beads.
The Titanic exhibitshowed comparisons between the Titanic and other passenger vessels. White Star Line was known for their luxury liners, but Cunard (which still exists today) had a better safety record.
The Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland and about 300 bodies were recovered and brought to Halifax. The bodies were numbered chronologically according to when they were recovered. This was a meticulous process to insure accuracy in identification. About 150 are buried mostly in Fairview Lawn Cemetery (another stop on the Hop On Hop Off route), 12 were buried in a Catholic cemetery and 10 in a Jewish cemetery. Each body had a mortuary bag with its corresponding number, which contained any personal effects that were found that belonged to that person. Some of the bodies were returned to families, but those buried in Halifax were either from families who could not afford to have the body shipped home or were unidentified. Some of the mortuary bags are catalogued and stored at the museum. One item on display was a pair of shoes allegedly belonging to the “unknown child” buried in a special grave at Fairview Lawn. (That child was identified in recent years due to the advances in DNA identification techniques.)
There was information about the separation of first, second and third classes. A lot fewer women and children from third class were saved than those in first class! There were also different menu items for each class.
Even what they got to eat was different! (L-R: 3rd class menu, 2nd class menu, 1st class menu)
The museum had profiles of some of the victims. One was a man who had kidnapped his
two children and boarded the Titanic under an assumed name. He got his two children onto the last lifeboat, and they were eventually reunited with their mother. The father died and was buried in the Jewish cemetery under the assumed name, even though by then his real name was known.
Another story was of a mother who lost her life along with four of her children. They had not booked passage on the Titanic; they were supposed to sail on another ship, but the coal from that and other vessels was diverted to the Titanic for its high profile maiden voyage. As a result, these other ships were unable to sail as scheduled and some passengers were transferred to the Titanic, including the mother and her four children. The mother was buried with whichever of her children were recovered and identified. Although most of the children’s bodies were never found, all her children’s names were engraved on the tombstone, including those who had not been with her, because the survivors also requested to be buried with their mother when they died.
When we went outside to see a replica of a ship called the Acadia, the wind was blowing strong and cold. One can tour the entire boat, but I only spent a couple of minutes out there before telling Dale I was very cold and was going to wait for him inside.
When I came out of the bathroom, he was waiting for me, having visited a couple of the souvenir shops. (I wish it had occurred to me then to purchase a hoodie in one of those shops; I would have been more comfortable a lot sooner!)
Today we traversed the Panama Canal! We entered the canal from the Caribbean side at about 6:00 a.m. A narrator came on board to broadcast what we were watching. When I woke up enough to go outside on our veranda, I took some pictures of the rising sun silhouetting some of the large equipment as we entered the canal.
Entering on the Caribbean side, ships enter a large bay next to which the city of Colón is situated; then they wait their turn to enter the channel into the Gatún Locks. The Veendam entered the narrower of the older locks. From the ship’s deck, I could see cars and trucks going across on an underpass – hard to believe there’s a road down there. Next to the Veendam was the Norwegian Pearl, a larger cruise ship that needs more width. The New Locks were built to accommodate even large cargo and cruise vessels. These were built a little distance away. We pulled up alongside the Norwegian Pearl and watched as it was raised, gradually revealing each of its lower decks. Passengers lined the decks of both ships.
Railroad tracks on either side of the locks were used for locomotives tethered to the ships at various points. The Veendam employed about six of these locomotives, which did not actually pull the vessel. The ship operated on its own power but the locomotives with taut ropes attached to the ship kept the ship centered, even though it was nearly as wide as the channel. These motorized engines drove up and down the tracks on incline and decline ramps as we passed through each lock stage. The doors of each lock were almost completely submerged, but rose as the water emptied from one section of the locks to the next. We started out being raised at a series of three stages, each set of doors submerge as the water level filled to match the next stage.
The canal is an amazing feat of engineering, especially since it was conceived and built a century ago against all odds. The locks technology, of course, was already well-known, there being a number of examples early in the 19th century. But originally the French engineer put in charge wanted to simply carve a passage straight through the isthmus, as had been his experience building the Suez Canal. However, the isthmus of Panama had mountains and its terrain covered with jungle. It rains – hard – half the year, making construction projects even more difficult. It was an American engineer, John Frank Stevens, who conceived of a series of locks through the mountains, ending in the largest manmade lake at that time, Gatún Lake, the result of damming the river. This dam was necessary in order to maintain the water level of the lake at 88.5 feet.
To transit the Panama Canal, a ship entering from the Atlantic side at Colon would first navigate through roughly seven miles of dredged canal at sea level through marshy lowlands. At Gatun, the vessel would approach the enormous, sloping earthen dam that holds back the water in Gatun Lake. The vessel would then ascend a three-step lock and enter the man-made lake. From there, the next 32 miles of the journey to the Pacific Ocean would be upon the placid waters of Lake Gatun. After passing through the Culebra Cut, the lake would terminate at Pedro Miguel, where the ship would descend down a one-step lock into a small intermediary lake before descending the final two steps back to sea level at Miraflores. From there, the vessel would again navigate through another seven miles of dredged lowlands before entering the Pacific Ocean near Panama City.
Although the Panamanian jungle was a challenge to the engineers of the canal, the high amount of rain ended up being an advantage: each vessel that passes through the canal uses 52,000,000 gallons of water per transit. An average of 25 ships pass through the canal daily. Multiply these two numbers and the importance of the rainy season becomes obvious – a lot of rain is required to replenish the amount of water displaced each day!
In 2016, construction on widening the locks to accommodate larger ships was completed.
Gatún Lake is situated between the Gatún Locks on the Caribbean side and the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side. It snakes around in various directions and has created many islands and peninsulas. The scenic views of this lake were quite pretty.
In the lake, where we spent about two hours, I saw lots of cargo ships, mostly container ships, with some names I recognized – NYK, MSC – and some with names I was not familiar with. Large container ships have the capacity to carry up to about 14,000 20 ft. containers (or about 7,000 40 ft. containers).
At the far end of the lake, we passed under the Centennial Bridge, a fairly new construction.
We then entered the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks which lowered the level of the water and we could watch as water poured out into the next section.
Our ship was released on the Pacific side at 4:00 p.m. before passing under an even larger bridge, the Bridge of the Americas, which cost $104 million to build. This bridge marked the end of the canal and the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.
Both of these bridges sustain a lot of traffic and are high enough for tall ships to pass under them.
The most difficult part of observing all this was the oppressive heat. I minimized my exposure to the direct sun by staying in the shade as much as possible. Even though the water was warm, it was refreshing to take a dip in the swimming pool once we were through the canal!
In March, we took a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to San Diego, passing through the Panama Canal. Besides the amazing engineering that went into construction of this series of locks and lakes through the Isthmus of Panama, there were a variety of different types of ships passing through. My first career was in export shipping and freight forwarding so the loading and passing of container ships still holds my interest to this day.
First, let me introduce you to the ship we were on, the M/S Veendam, a smallish member of Holland America Line’s fleet. Our first stop after sailing from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was at an island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay. The small boat off to the right is the tender, the boat that shuttles people back and forth from the ship, as there is no place for a cruise ship to dock at Half Moon Cay. Most impressive is the color of the water as it changes from turquoise near shore to dark blue where our ship awaits.
When we entered the first stage of the canal, alongside us was the much larger cruise ship, the M/S Norwegian Pearl. It was fun to watch as that ship was lowered into a position below that allowed it to enter the first set of locks.
In the middle of the isthmus is a large man-made lake, Lago Gatún. This lake was created when the Gatún Dam was built between 1907 and 1913. This lake forms 33 km (21 mi) of the transit through the canal.
Stay tuned for more on the Panama Canal in a future post!
When we left Sigtuna, we returned to Stockholm to visit one of its more than 80 museums.
The Vasa Museum’s centerpiece is a ship that sank in 1628, 23 minutes into its maiden voyage! It was not pulled out of the canal until the 1950s, when the technology to do this had been developed, then it was reconstructed and the museum housing it opened in the 1990s; the museum was actually built around the reconstructed ship, and from outside you can see where the mast juts out above the roof.
Inside, the museum has six stories, each surrounding the reconstructed ship, so that you can see it from various levels, and also see the exhibits on each floor.
There were interactive exhibits telling the story of what happened – Britt called it the “great scandal” of Stockholm.
King Gustavus Adolphus wanted an impressive war ship built with two gun decks, brass cannons, and loaded with ornamental woodwork, colorfully painted.
He hired the best engineers, both Dutch, to design and build it; however, the king’s specifications made the ship too heavy. It didn’t have enough ballast, so it sat high in the water,
and the two cannons were too heavy for the ship, whose width was too narrow – the engineers knew this, but were compelled to follow the king’s orders. After the ship sank, an inquest was held. Many crew members, most of whom survived, were interviewed and it eventually came down to the two engineers. Their testimony revealed who was really to blame: the king. The engineers were not prosecuted; they’d done what they had been ordered to do. Obviously the king could not be prosecuted so the result of the trial was that “no one” was at fault!
One section of exhibits shows how the ship was pulled out of the water, including a model of a diving bell.
After we left the museum, our bus passed a bar called Skeppsbar – this was the very same bar where the skipper on the Vasa went to drown his sorrows by getting drunk after the disaster!