Vigo, Spain April 24, 2017

Monday morning dawned as we approached Vigo, Spain, still on the western coast of the Iberian peninsula, north of Lisbon. The day is to be sunny and warm and sunrise is beautiful, as it always is at sea, on a clear and promising day.

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Our plan for the day was to travel on a Holland America excursion, transportation only, to Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St James, the Apostle. His remains are buried there and it is the destination of the Camino, a 500 mile pilgrimage across the northern border of Spain with France. Pilgrims have made this walk for centuries, and although there are other caminos from other origins in Spain and Portugal, and throughout Europe to this site, this route dates to the early 800’s. St. James made this walk himself as a missionary from the Holy Land to the northwest corner of Spain, which at that time, was the end of the known world. The route became so popular that in 1130 a French monk named Aimery Picaud chronicled his journey, and included tips on where to stay, the best way to get from place to place, and how to pack light (and use a money belt). Called the “Codex Calixtinus” (Latin for Camino Through the Back Door) it was the world’s first guidebook (and you thought Rick Steves had a novel idea).

Our plan was altered when Judy announced she was still worn out from the two days in Lisbon, and would be unable to make the trek. This destination was to be one of the planned highlights of our cruise and one of the reasons we chose this itinerary. We have at least three Jims in our lives battling through serious medical issues, and our “modified Camino” was to pray in this Cathedral of St James for the success of their fight. Judy decided to stay on board while I made the journey and completed our petition for our friends. I’m sure I will not be the first to complete the Camino utilizing a bus!

After a hour and a half bus ride, I started my Camino with the Cathedral in sight.

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The interior is filled with pilgrims and visitors from everywhere and I arrived just minutes before the Cathedral was closed to all, except those who would be attending the noon Mass. The Cathedral is not the most ornate, nor the largest we have visited, but knowing it’s history and significance as a religious destination, it has a draw all its own. Mass was in Spanish, but was concelebrated by priests from Italy, Germany, U.K. and the U.S., each of whom added prayers in their own language.

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Right of center in the close-up picture above is the Botafumeiro, a huge silver-plated incense burner weighing 120 pounds, suspended from the ceiling. At the conclusion of Mass, six men in red robes, called tiraboleiros, pull on the rope suspended from the ceiling attachment and cause the Botafumeiro to swing in a wide arc, left to right in the wide cross arms of the cathedral, spewing its sweet-smelling smoke. The tradition had its origin when pilgrims, having completed their 500 mile journey, needed the incense to counteract the stench acquired during so many days on the road.

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Note in the photo above, the rope can be seen bisecting the pillar to the left in front of the altar. In its full arc, the rope would be completely out of the picture. It is not done daily, and I considered it a good omen that we were able to witness this unusual custom.

The ride back to Vigo was an opportunity to enjoy the countryside of northwest Spain, which is usually cold and rainy. The day was mild and sunny and Spain is indeed a beautiful country.

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As we neared Vigo, we encountered a most unusual site. 100 5018

These are man-made oyster beds in the bay. I believe I prefer the natural beauty of the oyster beds in South Carolina.

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We arrived back at the Rotterdam by 4P, in plenty of time for our 5P departure. Mission accomplished. Our petitions on behalf of our friends have been sent and heard.

At Sea April 25, 2017

Reality has begun to set in as we head north today from Vigo to our next port in Portland, U.K. We are crossing Biscay Bay, known for relatively rough seas and gale winds. Fortunately, the seas are moderate and the winds minimal, but the temperature has begun to drop – like a ROCK! Our high today will be 50, and a walk around the promenade deck requires a sweatshirt for warmth AND a rain jacket to cut the wind. The roof over the Lido deck pool has been closed overnight, so it remains warm around the pool area, but swimming is out of the question as the pool water is sloshing fore to aft as we ride the 8 to 10 foot waves heading north. Our moderate temperatures are history until we get back to South Carolina. It was GREAT while it lasted.

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Fortunately, the King’s Room on deck 5 is set aside for the Mah Jongg players, so the day will not be a total loss.

As for me, I have a second chance to see the movie “Hidden Figures”, the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program, and before computers. I missed it first time around and have heard nothing but positive comments about this true, but comparatively unknown story. Turns out to be one of the best films I have seen in many moons. I highly recommend spending the couple of hours to understand this amazing history lesson. It was all new to me.

Sometime overnight we expect to enter the English Channel and the wind and moderate seas should subside even more. Temperature in Portland tomorrow is expected to be 48, however. Not very hospitable of the U.K., and neither is the requirement that all passengers show up tomorrow AM in the Showroom at Sea with their passports. That should delay any plans for leaving the ship early tomorrow. Checking passports for 1250 passengers may take a bit of doing.

Meanwhile, our cabin mate for tonight is a bit less scary.

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Portland, U.K. April 26, 2017

The port of Portland, U.K., it turns out, is a peninsula of commerical activity, 9 miles from Portland, and much further than that from Weymouth, the closest city of importance. Many of our passengers are planning on visiting Stonehenge, a 2 hour drive each way, which did not seem attractive on a blustery day with a high temperature of 48. The shuttle to Portland had a lineup of passengers with a 45 minute wait in the cold and wind. NOT TODAY!!

Tomorrow we will be in Le Havre, France, with a planned tour to Hanfleur and Rouen. The cool temperature we can handle, ………….the wind, not so much!!

The ship must be taking on water. Our cabin mate tonight washed onto the bed from somewhere onboard.

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Le Havre, France April 27,2017

Captain Carsjens announced last evening that we would be required to shorten our stay in Le Havre as the French dock workers have another beef and will be going on strike at 10P tonight. We will be required to leave the port by 9:30P, which will shave 2 1/2 hours from our planned departure time of midnight. Our previous visit to Le Harve on the Grand Princess a few years ago had a similar problem. The dock workers went on strike shortly after our arrival, and the fires set in the port and gunfire, along with a commercial vessel blocking the entrance and exit, proved to be enough of a disruption that we never left the ship. This time we are determined to complete our planned excursion, despite again being used as pawns in their local dispute. The tours to Paris, however, a three hour bus ride each way, may be affected and will need to be shortened.

Our 2 vans arrived just as we left the ship and our group of 15 left for our first stop, which was to be Rouen, a bit over an hour away. Rouen is a medieval gem, the area around the cathedral still surrounded by wood-timbered houses dating to the 1400’s.

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Rouen is, of course, the site of the trial and burning of Joan of Arc in 1431. The exact site is memorialized with a church and plaque, and the commercialization abounds.

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The cathedral, inside and out, is magnificent, the exterior being especially ornate with statuary, stained-glass windows and relief carved scenes.

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One exterior relief shows the beheading of John the Baptist (lower, far right).

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Monet painted this cathedral many times, using his impressionist style to show the facade at various times of day, illustrating shadows and light. The window from which he painted can be viewed just across the street.

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The interior of the cathedral contains many statues found under the cathedral during excavation. Some are in surprisingly good condition,

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The rattan chairs and kneelers are unique.100 5070

The interior is large, but relatively sterile.

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There is a memorial to Roland, a military leader during the reign of Charlemagne, who was killed in battle in 778, and later immortalized in medieval and Renaissance literature.

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A 45 minute drive brought us to Honfleur, with a picturesque harbor and interesting architecture. The day was sunny, cool and dry, somewhat better than we had anticipated.

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Lunch at a cafe overlooking the harbor was a ham and cheese omelet with french fries. Odd combination, but very tasty.

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Flowers were everywhere and the colors were superb. Spring anywhere is usually quite colorful. Honfleur is no exception.

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Returning to the Rotterdam, we dined in the Lido, rather than the La Fontaine dining room. Casual was a good choice after another full and tiring day.

At Sea, April 28, 2017

Today we sail the English Channel, south to north, to our disembarkation port, Rotterdam, Netherlands. The seas are calm again, but the temperature remains in the high 40’s, a bit chilly if your home is in South Carolina. Today will be a packing day, and it will take some effort to replace all our “stuff” into the cases and carry-ons that were so neatly organized when we left home in March. Before we tackle that arduous task there is Mah Jongg to be played and a last walk around the Rotterdam to embed this beautiful ship in our memories.

A co-flagship of the Holland America Line, along with the Amsterdam, Rotterdam has aged gracefully, probably due to the efforts of the crew who take pride in maintaining a representative of a vanishing breed – a smaller, yet very complete cruise ship offering comfort and serenity for longer itineraries at a reasonable fare.

These interior photos are just a small representation of the facilities on board and the art collection that has found a permanent home on the Rotterdam.

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The Explorer’s Lounge is a library/reading room/computer center with picture windows and meant for indoor relaxation anytime. It also serves latte coffees and pastries anytime!

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Mix is the piano bar with separate areas specializing in beer, wine, or champagne. Lively spot at night, especially with Stryker at the keyboard. Great entertainer and super sing-a-longs,

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The dining area extended over two decks aft, again with great views of our wake and architectural beauty of its own.

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In the bow area, the theater, again including 2 decks (a balcony with great sight lines to the stage) provided live evening entertainment. During the day it was the site of lectures about our upcoming ports and guest lecturers with experience on a myriad of topics.

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Forward in the bow and on the top deck is the Crow’s Nest, which provides the best views at sea or in port. The bar with great wine selections is obviously a big PLUS!

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This view of Monte Carlo from the Crow’s Nest is a fine example!

On board art provides a nice background and breaks the monotony of hallways and passages.

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The above atrium area features a three-deck clock with atlas at the top.

The warm weather made the pool area a lively spot. Even though the retractable roof was usually open, it could be closed in case of rain or cold. NICE!!

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Rotterdam was, indeed, a fine replacement home for the 30 days we were on board. We will miss her and miss her crew, like Ari, our dining waiter, who never ceased to smile.

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The birthday song, sung by the crew in Phillipino tagalog (with hand-clapping), was a unique memory which will always be associated with the 38th anniversary of my 39th birthday.

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Rotterdam, Netherlands April 29, 2017

Before retiring last night all our luggage, excepting carry-ons, was placed in the hall outside our cabin. It will be in the cruise terminal when we arrive in Rotterdam and avoids our having to deal with carrying all our “stuff” off the ship in the morning.

Our arrival was scheduled at 7A, but we were close to docking when we made it outside. Rotterdam is the original home of Holland America Line and, obviously, our ship is it’s namesake. It is also the home of Captain Carsjens, who must feel somewhat like those adventurous Portugese explorers finally returning home. Our average speed neccessary to cover the 236 miles from Le Havre to Rotterdam overnight was 8.9. When normal speed is somewhere between 16 and 19, it must have seemed like slow motion for Captain Carsjens to cover those last few miles.

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The trepidation we had reserved for arrival and debarkation in Rotterdam turned out to be unfounded. There was ample time for breakfast, no wait once our color group was called, minimal effort retrieving our luggage on shore, and no wait boarding our HAL transportation to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Meanwhile, the cruise log was delivered last night, and it allowed us to calculate our total distance traveled since leaving Fort Lauderdale a month ago. We have completed a cruise of 7,787 nautical miles, 3,341 of which were needed to cross the Atlantic to our first port of Funchal, Madeira. One nautical mile is equivalent to 1.15 land miles, so our land mile total is 8,955 miles. We visited 15 very different ports in 6 very different countries. Once on board there had been no driving, no searching for hotels or restaurants, no luggage hauling, and plenty of world-class experiences. I think it was Mark Twain who said “Cruising is a most civilized way to travel”. We can only add ……….. AMEN!