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We arrived in Holland early Saturday morning on our overnight ferry from Harwich, UK.  We forgot to account for the one hour time difference (Holland is one hour ahead of London) but fortunately we awoke earlier than planned so it wasn’t a problem.  We exited the ferry, boarded a train to Rotterdam adjacent to the Ferry terminal, and then switched to another train to Amsterdam.


The train to Amsterdam was packed, as passengers stood shoulder to shoulder.  We found seats near an exit and hoped everything would work out as we took the one hour ride from Rotterdam.


Not to worry as we were soon sipping champagne in the lounge of our river cruise ship – the beautiful Viking Forseti.  Different than the many ocean cruises we have sailed on, the Forseti accomodated 190 passengers (much smaller than the ocean ships that hold up to 6,000).  We were able to board immediately and we were told by the staff “we’ll find you when your room is ready”.  That would never happen on an ocean cruise!  The smaller size of a river cruise boat allows for a more personalized experience with the crew and other passengers.


The view from our stateroom is wonderful!  We overlooked the Amsterdam harbor this day, and we look forward to the scenery we’ll encounter as we sail down the Rhine the next 7 days.


One benefit of a river cruise, compared to most ocean cruises, is that on a river cruise many shore excursions are included in the price!  We took a hour and a half walking tour through the heart of Amsterdam with this guide.  It was very interesting as he told us about the history and current life of the city.


The canals of Amsterdam reminded us of our visit to Venice a few years ago.  We were here only a few hours, so we’ll save some of the attractions for a future visit (like the Anne Frank house and Van Gogh museum).

Tonight we set sail down the Rhine to Kinderdijk, described as “one of the most picturesque and iconic sights in all of Holland” in the Viking cruise newsletter.  Stay tuned for our pictures, which are sure to feature many windmills!


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We wrapped up our four days in London in style visiting the current Royalty’s residence at Windsor Castle and a past English monarchy castle at Hampton Court.


Windsor Castle is where Queen Elizabeth resides most of the time, about 20 miles outside of London.  We found it fascinating to get a behind the scenes look at the Royal Family, seeing guest bedrooms, dining halls, and St George’s Chapel.  The chapel was especially impressive, and we saw the tomb of Elizabeth’s parents (King George VI and the Queen mother). We were told the queen visits the chapel often to pay respects to her parents, especially on Thanksgiving.  We were standing in the spot the queen would be at in just a few short weeks.


Windor Castle is high on a hill with a beautiful view of the English countryside.  We could see why it is the Queen’s favorite residence.  By contrast she calls London’s Buckingham Palace “the office”, a place she visits only for official business.


At Windsor Palace we had a closeup view of the royal guards.  Their presence this day told us the Queen was on the grounds.


Next we visited a royal castle of the past, Hampton Court.  This residence is known mostly for King Henry VIII and his many wives.  We were told the story of King Henry VIII and his failed marriages.  It was eery to be in the same hall where Kathryn Howard pleaded for her life before being executed, and where wife #2 (Anne Boleyn) danced with the King before her demise.


While not as spectacular as Windsor Castle, Hampton Court also had beautiful grounds featuring these unusual looking trees.

We finished the day by catching a train at London’s Liverpool station, packed with commuters on this Friday night.  After a few anxious moments we located our train to Harwich, where we boarded a ferry to take us overnight to the Netherlands.  Tomorrow we board our river cruise in Amsterdam.  Our first ever visit to London was a good one, and we want to come back some day to see even more sights.

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London trip day 3 (city sights)

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On day three of our London trip we saw many highlights of the city that we had missed two days earlier.


Here I am in front of “Big Ben” – though it really isn’t named that.  We learned this is the Elizabeth Tower.  “Big Ben” is the large bell within the tower.


Here is Anne receiving guidance from our bus driver.  We stayed on the bus for two hours, listening to our guide tell stories about the various buildings we saw.



“The Queen must be in town!” said our guide as we spotted these royal guards.  It seems Queen Elizabeth doesn’t spend much time in London, preferring her residence in Windsor.  The royal guards are only seen in London when the Queen is nearby.  We learned later that the Royal Baby, Prince George, was christened at Buckingham Palace the day before.


After touring the Tower of London, one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe, we took a scenic boat ride on the River Thames.  The views from the boat were great, like this one of the Tower Bridge.


The London Eye was clearly visible from our tour boat.



We finished the day at the British Museum, seeing many artifacts the British Empire had collected over the years.  Particularly impressive was the collection of mummies in the Egypt wing.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to London, touring more of the English countryside, before boarding a ferry for an overnight trip to Amsterdam.

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Today we ventured outside of the London city limits to see some of the sights in the English countryside.


Our first stop was Salisbury.  Here I am in front of the impressive cathedral, with the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom (404 feet).  My favorite dead British architect, Christopher Wren whom I mentioned yesterday, was said to be upset that the spire was not perfectly straight, and failed in several attempts to fix it.  Our guide said the spire has a 1.5 degree tilt to the right.  Lighten up, Chris!  The spire looked good to me, and was straighter than my Italian architect ancestors produced with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


It was a beautiful Wednesday to see the British countryside.  The cathedral was striking against the clear blue sky.  We would not have any rain today.


Our guide said this was the only English cathedral with statues of catholic saints adorning the facade.  It seems when King Henry VIII was excommunicated from the Catholic church and founded  the Anglican church, he had the saint statues removed from all the cathedrals in England.  The bishop of Salisbury, though, was on good terms with King Henry and the statues at the Salisbury cathedral were allowed to stay.


Equally impressive was the interior of the cathedral, which still hosts worship services.  In an adjoining nook one of the original 13 copies of the Magna Carta was displayed.  Volunteers at the church were positioned throughout and they were very helpful in explaining the history of this amazing structure.


Queue the Chariots of Fire music! We saw a group of school children, dressed in their uniforms, running through the streets of Salisbury this day.



A 20 minute drive away was the site of the Stonehenge monument, which dates back to 2500 BC.


We were allowed to circle the monument on a walking path.  I was surprised at the grassy field surrounding Stonehenge.


We were given audio wands where we would enter the number of different viewpoints of the monument and given a history of Stonehenge.  The purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery.  To me it seemed it was used to track the movement of the sun and the earth’s seasons, as an aid to farming.  The Stonehenge site is being renovated.  We saw a new visitor’s center under construction and our guide said in the future visitors will take a train around the monument rather than have a walking trail.  I am glad we were able to visit when we could still walk the grounds.


As our bus weaved its way through the beautiful British countryside we approached the town of Bath for our final stop.


Here we took another “audio wand” tour of the ancient Roman baths built over a natural spring.  The tour was very well done and really gave a sense of what the baths were like in Roman times.

We had ventured far from our London base to get to Bath, so we had a three hour bus ride to return to our hotel.  It was a great day of touring.  Tomorrow we visit some of the famous London sights we missed on day 1.

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London trip: day 1

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Greetings from London! Anne and I arrived early this morning after a 7 hour transatlantic flight from Washington DC.  Here I am standing outside of our hotel – the Lancaster Gate Hotel near Hyde Park.  This is a good location, close to the major transit hubs.


After checking in to our hotel, we immediately started touring.  Though tired from the long flight we wanted to adjust to the time change by staying awake.  Our “hop on, hop off” original London tour company bus showed us around the town, with narration of the sights we saw.


The highlight of the day for me was a visit to St Paul’s cathedral in London.  I had written a paper in college about the cathedral’s architect, Christopher Wren.  Today I saw the inscription on Wren’s tomb in the cathedral written in Latin: “SUBTUS CONDITUR HUIUS ECCLESIÆ ET VRBIS CONDITOR CHRISTOPHORUS WREN, QUI VIXIT ANNOS ULTRA NONAGINTA, NON SIBI SED BONO PUBLICO. LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE”  Fortunately, I remembered back to that term paper written long ago and I recalled what this meant, “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.”

I was amazed by the size of St Paul’s and learned it took 35 years to build.


On Thursday we will visit more famous sights in London.  Tomorrow we are taking a road trip to visit Stonehenge.

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The final day of my Southeast Asia adventure was a good one!  We started by visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia.  We were transported to the park in these open air “tuk tuk” vehicles – the cool breeze while driving felt good on this hot day:


We first toured Angkor Wat – the largest religious structure in the World.  This temple was built in the 12th century, first a Hindu temple then later converted to a Buddhist one.  The temple towered over the Cambodian countryside this day:


We took a closer look inside.  The temple had three levels – we visited the first two.  This staircase was a challenge to navigate to get up to the second level, and the third level was even steeper:


The stonework of the temple had many intricate carvings:


After visiting Angkor Wat my tour group played a fun “Amazing Race” type of game where we were given puzzles to solve in the Angkor temple complex:


Here my teammate Bill shows a picture puzzle we pieced together as part of the challenge, then we had to find the location of the picture somewhere in the temple complex.  We could only ask the locals for help.  It was a fun way to see more of the temple complex – different from a straight tour.  The game had two challenges and took about an hour to complete.


The highlight of the day for me was the opportunity to ride an elephant!  Here I am petting my large friend before my ride:


Me and one other rider sat in the basket behind the driver on our elephant for a 25 minute ride.  Here’s a picture I took from atop the elephant of others in my tour group:


It was a great way to conclude my interesting eight day tour of Vietnam and Cambodia.  I have a late night flight departing from Cambodia at 11:30 pm tonight.  After two connections and 30+ hours of travel time I’ll be back in Colorado on Tuesday night.  It’s not often that you get to ride an elephant and a 747 jet in the same day!

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Today we finished up our tour of Hanoi, Vietnam with a visit to the Confucius  Temple of Literature.  Dating back to the 11th century, followers of Confucius still visit the temple to pray.


Similar to our visit to the Ho Chi Minh memorial yesterday, we found our American travel agent group a curiosity with the Vietnamese children.  Here are a few kids taking our picture:


Here I am in front of an open courtyard that was featured on the Amazing Race Season 22.  Teams setup a human chess board in this courtyard.


After an excellent lunch at the Pots and Pans restaurant in downtown Hanoi we were off to the airport for an hour and a half flight to Cambodia.  We arrived in Seam Reap after dark.  The staff at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra hotel had a welcome party for us as our bus pulled up after 8 pm.


Tomorrow is my last day of the tour as we visit the temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park.

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Day 6 of my Southeast Asia tour featured a full day of touring in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.  We started bright and early with tai chi in a downtown park.  Our travel agent group, clad in our tai chi outfits, were led by a tai chi master in different poses.  This one was easy – hand in the fist:


Keeping my leg in the air while maintaining my balance was a bit more challenging!


Badminton was a popular early morning activity in this downtown Hanoi park.


The highlight of the day for me was a tour of the busy streets of hanoi in this electric car:


We were right in the middle of the action as we navigated the downtown streets of Hanoi.  It was interesting to see everyday life in the city from this vantage point.


Next we were taken to the Ho Chi Minh memorial where the remains of this Vietnamese leader are preserved for public display.


The lines were long this Saturday morning.  We waited over an hour for the opportunity to enter the mausoleum.  No pictures were allowed inside and security was strict.  The Vietnamese soldiers guarding the monument reminded me of a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier back home in Washington DC.  Though Ho Chi Minh died long ago (1969) his impact on vietnamese society was evident from the huge crowds that still come every day to view his memorial.


Even though it was a Saturday we saw many school children groups.  A number of kids came up to us to practice their english.  “Hello Sir, glad to see you here today!” said one boy to me.


We then visited the “Hanoi Hilton” – the prison where captured American pilots were kept during the war in downtown Hanoi.


Former U.S. Presidential candidate and war pilot John McCain was highlighted here with several photos.  Here is McCain with other pilots on the day of his release.  The displays showed how the pilots were well treated during the captivity – pictures showed the prisoners celebrating Christmas, playing basketball, and in other activities.  I’m sure the actual conditions were worse than the idealized pictures shown in the displays, but the pilots did look to be in much better shape than photos I’ve seen of World War II prisoners in German concentration camps.


We returned to our hotel, the historic Metropole, in the afternoon.  This hotel has hosted a number of celebrities over the years.  Jane Fonda lived here for two months during the war.  The Clintons have stayed here as well as Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  It was a great place to stay as the base camp for our two days in Hanoi.  I found the hotel’s historic tour very interesting, featuring a tour of their bomb shelter used during the war.


I could imagine the terror people felt as they huddled into this shelter.  Our guide said up to 40 people crowded into the shelter at any one time as they heard the bombs outside.  The hotel was spared during the war.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Hanoi and travel to Cambodia to finish our tour.


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Southeast Asia day 5: Hanoi

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green1My Southeast Asia tour continued today with a visit to Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi.  I was surprised at how green the city was with many trees and parks.

We drove past Truc Bach Lake where U.S. Presidential candidate John McCain crashed his plane during the Vietnam War.  I knew that McCain’s plane had been shot down during the war but I didn’t realize he crashed right in the middle of Hanoi.  For those of you in Denver it would be equivalent to crashing a plane into Sloans Lake.


The motorcycles were out again in Hanoi as in my previous stops in Vietnam.  This cyclist shows the Vietnam version of air conditioning – with a working fan mounted on the back of his bike!


I saw several large karaoke places like this one – visiting a karaoke bar is a favorite past time of many Hanoi citizens according to our guide.


We visited the Museum of Ethnology where Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minorites are recognized.  These minorities make up 10% of the population.  Xin chao means “hello” in Vietnamese:


Before retiring to our Hanoi Hotel we saw the famous water puppet show



Water puppetry goes back to the 11th century in this region.  In its day water puppetry was the equivalent of Star Trek in special effects – complete with a live orchestra, narrator, and singers in addition to the skilled puppeteers behind the scenes.  I liked how at the end of the show the puppeteers came out and showed how they maneuvered the puppets in the water – very creative.

Tomorrow we tour more of Hanoi before heading to Cambodia to finish our trip.

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farmers1aToday I got a real taste of Vietnamese culture in an active day of touring.  We started by visiting a farmers market in the town of Hoi An.  The streets were bustling with activity as we strolled down the streets of the market.

We saw the locals bartering to take home the freshest produce for their families.


Our group of American travel agents were a curiosity to the merchants – they readily allowed us to handle their produce and engage in bartering for goods.


The motorcycle culture I observed in Ho Chi Minh City was present again in Hoi An – this time I had an up close and personal view as we dodged the cycles when walking the streets of the market.


This little girl on the back of her Mom’s cycle wondered who these strange looking American tourists were.


Our tour of the market was to prepare us for a cooking class at Brother’s Cafe.  Here a local chef instructed us in how to cook a 3 course meal.


For an American whose cooking skills back home consists mainly of microwaving frozen dinners, this was a challenge!  You can tell by the look on my face, “can you believe I’m doing this?”


Under the guidance of our veteran vietnamese chef my lunch actually turned out to be good!  Pictured below is me with my spring roll creation.  I also cooked a vietnamese pancake and an eggplant dish.  I was a bit apprehensive about this cooking lesson but it turned out much better than I thought, and gave me a new appreciation for the vietnamese cuisine.


After lunch we had some free time to explore the town, before heading to another active project – lantern making!  A visit to a lantern factory where we each put together a lantern to take home was fun (the picture below shows my lantern creation)


It was a hot day with temperatures close to 100 degrees.  The coastal town of Hoi An also had its share of humidity.  While the active day of outside touring was stimulating, it was a relief to return to the beauty of our hotel – the Sunrise Hoi An Resort on the shores of the East China Sea – for a quiet evening.  I loved the view out my window:


Tomorrow we take a morning flight to Hanoi for another day of touring.  I continue to enjoy this trip and the impressions of another culture it is giving me far different than my own.

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