Posted by Paul Groves on May 21, 2019

HAL 2019 Repositioning – Day 4 Cartagena, Colombia

In Cartagena we decided not to take an excursion and just walk around the city with our friends Allen & Martha.

Cartagena was founded on June 1, 1533 by the Spanish commander,  Pedro de Heredia.  It became the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, and was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain.  To defend its treasure the city was surrounded by huge walls with canons.  These walls still exist today.

Cartagena is very modern outside the old city walls but the old city is what we wanted to visit.  In order to get there we had to hire a taxi at the port entrance.  At the entrance they had a large souvenir shop and a very small zoo of flamingos, peacocks, toucans, and an anteater to name a few.  They had a really huge exhibit of parrots as well.  The crossing sign outside was great.  We spent a few minutes looking at the animals before hiring our taxi for the trip to the old city.

Most of the buildings in the old city are in the Spanish Colonial design.  Several of the buildings had special door knockers.  The Colombians probably thought we were crazy taking pictures of these.  Still, they were quite amazing.

Also the streets are very narrow and almost all of the buildings had balconies decorated with beautiful plants and flowers.  We also came across a woman dressed in the Old Colombian style who posed for a couple of pictures.

Next we visited the local cathedral.  The altar screen was very beautifully carved and gilded.

After walking around for a while we saw a coffeehouse named Ábaco, and decided to take a short rest.  Turns out it was also a bookstore.  It was a great place to relax and have a cup of Colombian coffee.

After the coffee we continued our walk and came across Cartagena’s most famous bronze piece of public art “La Gorda Gertrudis” by sculptor Fernando Botero.

As time was getting short, we began our walk back to our taxi, shopping along the way.  We wished that we had more time here.

Fun Fact:  In 1741, the British, led by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, attempted an unsuccessful siege of the city. Amongst the troops was George Washington’s half brother Lawrence.  Later, when Lawrence inherited the family estate he renamed the estate to Mount Vernon in honor of this Commander.

Posted by Paul Groves on May 21, 2019

HAL 2019 Repositioning – Days 1-3 Back on the Ship & Sea Days

We arrived back in Fort Lauderdale around 5:30 am.  Since 28 passengers from the Grand World Voyage were staying on board we had to wait until 10:30 am before clearing Customs/Immigration and getting back onto the ship.  Most of the other World cruise passengers had already been cleared and were on their way home.

Once the ship was refueled, supplies loaded, and new passengers boarded, we were off at 4:00 pm for our first port, Cartagena, Colombia, on this three week cruise to Seattle.

Since this is no longer a Grand Voyage,  the “feel” of the ship and passengers is very different.  We have a new captain, a new Cruise Director, and quite a few new staff members.  Most of the passengers are new to cruising with the Panama Canal transit the major attraction.  It was fun watching them try to find their way around.

Posted by Paul Groves on May 13, 2019

HAL 2019 World – Days 106-113 Crossing the Atlantic Ocean

As Ron said in our Bantry blog post, “the end is near”.  There is a different feeling on board that is a mixture of relief, nostalgia, homesickness, and anxiety about getting everything done in these few days.  The trip home is the time for the Mariner Lunch and Mariner cocktail reception.  Everyone has medallions based on the number of days you have traveled on Holland America ships.  At this point, even newbie travelers have earned their Bronze medallion (100 days at sea).  Ron and I have bronze medallions.  During our trip from Florida to Seattle, we will hit 300 days and earn our Silver medallions.  There are Gold, Platinum, and President’s Club levels as well for 500, 700, and 1400 days!  Sheesh!

The term, “tropical depression in the mid-Atlantic” means a lot more to me now.  There was a large storm that increased the winds, dropped the temperature, and caused swells in the water that were 20 feet high.  Walking with your breakfast in the morning became a big challenge as was keeping the juice glasses and coffee cups on the table.  Painting class became a challenge and of course, our teacher had us draw a ship on angry waters.  We weren’t really seasick, but it felt much better to lay in bed and read or watch videos than move around the ship.  The guest talent show was postponed and the stage entertainment with the singers and dancers was modified with fewer dances that became unsafe to perform on a rocking ship.  Luckily, this all lasted only three days and the travel is smooth again.

On one of the rockiest days, our hands-on cooking class, with Abby, our America’s Test Kitchen chef was scheduled.  We made pasta from scratch which luckily does not involve knife work or other dangerous tools.  We held onto the counter and ended up with some really nice raviolis and fluffy potato gnocchi!  We met after the class in the nice dining room (The Pinnacle Grill) and ate the same dishes prepared by Abby.  Yum.

This is a good time to catch up on my watercolor projects.  A few pictures are requests from friends such as the ultra-cute unicorn and the red fox.  Other pictures represent places we visited such as tulips in Holland, trolls and puffins from Norway, thistles from Scotland, and The Treasury in Petra.  The wine bottle was a chance to study reflections and the hobbit house was one that we visited in New Zealand.

All during this cruise I have been part of the “HAL Choral”.  We meet every other sea day and learned two pieces of music.  We were part of the guest talent show held in the afternoon of one of the final Sea Days.  There was a cute act by the Ship-in-dale dancers doing the Full Monty, a rabbi telling a funny spoonerism story, and a really good harmonica player doing Moon River and Oh What A Beautiful Morning.  Other acts added to the fun.  The choral sang a medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs and Bohemian Rhapsody.  I thought we sounded great.

Currently we are passing through the Sargasso Sea.  We can see the seaweed pass by the ship.  The Sargasso Sea is the only sea in the world that is not bordered by land.

We still have two days of travel.  Most passengers are packing to debark the ship.  Since we are staying on for another 18 days, we only have to pack enough to change cabins.  Boy, we have collected a lot of refrigerator magnets in the past 105 days!

Posted by Paul Groves on May 13, 2019

HAL 2019 World – Day 105 Bantry, Republic of Ireland

The end has come.  This is our last port then we’re on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale! (But not the end of our cruise.  We’re on to Seattle after this.)

Today’s excursion is all about the countryside and is entitled “The Beautiful Beara Penninsula”.  Beara Peninsulais a peninsula on the south-west coast of Ireland bounded between the Kenmare “river” (actually a bay) to the north side and Bantry Bay to the south.  We followed the “Ring of Beara” roads for about 148 kilometres (92 mi) circumnavigating the peninsula.

After traveling for an hour we took our first break in Castletownbere (one of Ireland’s largest fishing ports), home to MacCarthy’s pub.  It was voted the “Irish Pub Of The Year” in 2016.  Not a huge place but a lot of character.  We also had our picture taken here.

We continued on our journey on the “Ring”.  

Along the way we noticed large flocks of sheep with colored spots on their backs. Our guide explained that this was the way used to identify the owner of the sheep… kind of like branding.

About an hour later we stopped at the small town of Kenmare (noted for its food and pubs) for a light snack and shopping.  The snack was a scone served with coffee or tea, butter, and raspberry jam.  This was the best scone we’ve had in a while.

Within walking distance of the town center is one of the largest stone circles in the south-west of Ireland.  It was constructed during the Bronze Age (2,200–500 B.C). The circle has 15 stones around the circumference with a boulder dolmen in the center.  Our guide said it was built by the Druids.  A little further down the road we saw a statue of a Druid.

Our last stop was at Kenmare Bay where we saw Mussel farms.  Every year millions of mussel larvae are born, these larvae float in the water looking for something to cling to so they can grow.  The farms provide this by putting 20-25 thousand ropes in the water every June. The mussels then attach themselves to these ropes where they feed on phyto plankton. On average a mussel takes around 24 months to fully grow for harvesting.

After this stop it was back to the ship and on to Ft. Lauderdale.

Posted by Paul Groves on May 12, 2019

HAL 2019 World – Day 104 Cobh (Cork), Republic of Ireland

Alas we’re winding down on the world cruise. Today is a light activity day and our excursion is a short one and begins late in the afternoon.

This morning we hopped on the shuttle bus for a 25 minute ride into the city of Cork.  Cork looks very much like Dublin in that a river runs through the center of it and the buildings that use to be storehouses along side have been repurposed into business offices and shopping stores.

We spent the morning walking around and window shopping.  Along the way we saw a building with statues of Laurel and Hardy at the top.  How odd we thought.  However on September the 9th, 1953, the S.S. America pulled into the port of Cohb (where we docked) and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were on that very same boat.

They were still famous in Europe in a way that had faded back in the USA – so they embarked on a music-hall tour of Ireland and the UK to reach those adoring audiences directly. To their surprise the dock was lined with hundreds of excited children and their parents.

Stan Laurel later recounted “All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song, and Babe looked at me, and we cried. Maybe people loved us and our pictures because we put so much love in them. I don’t know. I’ll never forget that day. Never.”

We’d like to think these statues were due to this visit.

After lunch we boarded the shuttle bus back to the ship in time for our excursion to the Jameson Irish Whiskey distillery. 

On the way our guide pointed out a tree planted next to the freeway.  It turns out the tree was known as a “fairy tree” and rather than incur the enmity of the fairies, the freeway was built around it.

Our tour was in the old distillery which was active until 1975.  The first thing we saw on the tour was the chandelier made of Jameson bottles.  For over an hour we toured the site where we went through the process of making Jameson triple distilled whiskey from the huge vats storing the initial grain mixture, the triple copper stills, and finally into the barrels for aging.  Paul especially appreciated the chemical principles that were involved in the process.

One of the displays showed the color of whiskey inside the barrels over time until the optimal age of 15 years.  We then went into the barrel room of whiskey that had been in the barrels for around 5 years.  Due to the porous nature of the barrels we were able to smell the evaporated whiskey (the angels share) from the barrels.  Very heady.

Next we visited the microbrewery.  This was installed was a method of training new distillers as well as a method of trying new brands of whiskey before putting them into production at the new huge distillery next door.

Our final stop was at the tasting room where we tasted Jameson’s against two other undisclosed brands.  It was no surprise that everyone like Jameson’s the best. (The other two samples were Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels).

Not surprisingly the tour ended in the gift shop.  Not only were you able to buy any number of different brands of Jameson products but you could also fill a bottle directly from a cask and put your own label on it.  Our biggest surprise was the bottle of the special whiskey that you could purchase for a mere €6,000 (about $6,700)!

Sorry, Perry, we didn’t buy it for the bar.

On the way back to the ship our guide pointed out a sculpture of 9 eagle feathers.  The story surrounding the sculpture is so amazing we thought it was worth telling it.

In 1830 the “Indian Removal Act” forcibly cleared the Choctaw people from desirable lands in the Southwest and resettled them in what is now Oklahoma. While about 5,000 Choctaws remained in the South-east of the US, about 21,000 took the long journey along what later became known as the “Trail of Tears”.

In 1847, Irish people were starving in their millions following a succession of potato crop failures. The scale of this catastrophe was such that reports spread to all corners of the world. One such a report was read out by an Irish Chaplain to a group of Choctaw elders. The situation of the Irish must have resonated with their own recent tragic experiences, as they decided to raise money to send to Ireland for famine relief.

This gesture was never forgotten, and down through the years activists in Ireland and the Choctaw nation remained in touch.  In 1990, a number of Choctaw leaders took part in the first annual Doolough famine memorial walk in County Mayo. This recreated an infamous walk that took place in 1848 when many of the locals were dying from disease and malnutrition. Two years later, in 1992 – an Irish group joined the Choctaw for a commemorative walk from Oklahoma to Mississippi.

For many years, the gift of the Choctaw to the people of Ireland was remembered on a plaque in Dublin that read:  “Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

Now, these words have been joined by a beautiful sculpture in the town of Midleton. 

The sculptor, Alex Pentek says of his work:  “By creating an empty bowl symbolic of the Great Irish Famine formed from the seemingly fragile and rounded shaped eagle feathers used in the Choctaw ceremonial dress, it is my aim to communicate the tenderness and warmth of the Choctaw Nation who provided food to the hungry when they themselves were still recovering from their own tragic recent past.”