Thursday, September 27, 2007

Logbook: Emden, Germany

Emden1My train ride on Tuesday was about as easy as it gets: A couple of hours out of Amsterdam we made a brief stop at the German border town of Bad Bentheim and took on a German immigration team whom I never saw onboard. A little later we stopped at a junction town called Rheine where I made a fast and easy connection to a train which dropped me off in the lovely little port city of Emden two hours later. An easy, flat, ten minute walk later, I checked into the "perfect" -- small, clean, quiet and inexpensive -- hotel where I had made previous arrangements. After dumping my gear, I took a very brief stroll around the town square, got a cup of coffee and started reminding myself of the little bit of German I know. In "just another day on The Voyage" I had traveled from the big, noisy, busy, multi-lingual capital of the Netherlands to a small, quiet, peaceful, pretty-much-Deutsch-only seaside town of northern Germany. I have to admit I was pretty happy about it because I instantly liked Emden -- my Mom was right! -- and sensed it would be a nice place to hang out for a couple of days. I felt myself decompressing, so I had an early dinner and called it a day.

The weather on Wednesday was dark, cold and rainy. Although I was eager to explore Emden, I was quite happy to stay in my little room most of the day. I made a few forays out for coffee, meals and chores -- including getting my onward train ticket at the station -- but mostly it was a good day to catch up with myself, spend some time online and generally take it easy. Yesterday was a beautiful day and I really made a lot out of it. After breakfast -- which, in these parts, consists of bread, meat and cheese -- I found a town map and started out on my own, impromptu, self-guided walking tour. While Emden hasn't got a lot in "tourist" terms, what it has is very, very interesting.

Emden2The most important thing to keep in mind about Emden is that it was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII. Situated on the North Sea coast, Emden was an important port city located directly on the flight path from England to pretty much anywhere in Germany. Thus, it was both a "target of first opportunity" for Allied bombers on their way over and a "target of last chance" on their way back. During the war, Emden was actually bombed a total of almost a hundred times -- an average of twice a month and sometimes as often as twice a week. As a result of this total destruction, practically everything in the city has been built in the past sixty year, giving it a very "modern" feeling for a European city. The mostly brick and mortar "modern" aspects aren't all that interesting, but there are a number of "old" or "mixed" period structures that are fascinating.

Emden3One of the most amazing is the almost completely destroyed old church -- visible far-right, middle distance in the photo above -- that has been rebuilt into a library. Saving and using what they could of the original, bomb-damaged walls of the church, the structure was built up with new brick and given a new roof. As you can see in the photo to the right, the difference between old and new is not overly obvious or emphasized, but once you realize what had been done you start seeing how extraordinary it is. Around the back of the building, a modern steel and glass addition has been well integrated into the "church" part. The inside is simply stunning with several floors of book shelves surrounding a central lobby that is open all the way up to the massive wood-beamed roof. The net result is one of the most interesting buildings I have ever seen.

Emden4Prominently visible in the B&W photo above -- behind the church -- is an intact, cube shaped structure that now houses one of Emden's most rewarding sites: The Bunker Museum. To protect the citizens of Emden from bombing, a total of 35 large, heavily reinforced concrete air-raid bunkers were built, some of which could hold over a thousand people. I mentioned above that Emden was "actually" bombed almost a hundred times, and here I will add that due to its location -- with virtually every bombing operation flying overhead -- the city endured more than a thousand air-raid alerts. That averages five times per week -- with a high of five per day -- that citizens had to leave their homes and workplaces to enter the bunkers for hours, sometimes days, at a time. The museum offers an excellent video that shows Emden's war experience as well as many rooms full of all kinds of displays that describe various aspects of the war, politics, civil experience and life in the bunkers. I spent an excellent two hours there and would happily go back some time. (Note: Of the 35 original bunkers, 32 are claimed to still be standing today. A few of them are still obvious like the one you see here, but most of them have been converted into storage facilities, rock band practice rooms, commercial buildings and condos. They have been modified or camouflaged in such a way as to make them less obvious and in some cases very difficult to spot. I will include photos of some of them that I was able to find in the Photo Log.)

Other noteworthy sites in Emden include an authentic lighthouse ship, a unique 4-gate lock where two canals intersect, a park/path complex that follows the layout of the city's ancient ramparts plus various museums, memorials, cemeteries and the like. Nearby there is also a large VW automobile assembly plant, indicative of the regions major economic activity. I had an excellent day tour and could easily see myself spending more time in that lovely little city at some point in the future. For now, it is onward and upward on The Voyage as I take the train to Copenhagen for a couple of days on my way further north!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Logbook: BeNeLux Wars III

Beneluxwarsiii1Sunday was another truly extraordinary day on The Voyage. Greg and I started out early with a visit to the famous bridge in Arnhem where we were thrilled to meet and talk with veterans of the British Airborne, some of whom actually fought there during Operation Market Garden. These very old men are extremely animated and happy to talk about their experience, and they do so in a lively, almost boyish manner with an air of what a great adventure it was. Not far beneath this surface bravado, though, you can plainly see sadness and grief at the loss of so many of their comrades. (Note: Of the 10,000 British soldiers who dropped into the city only 2,000 ever made it home, by far the highest casualty rate of any operation of WWII.) We finished up our Arnhem exploration with a walk back and forth across the bridge, trying to imagine what the battle was like, and coming to the overwhelming conclusion that it simply must have been hell for an unsupported Airborne regiment to hold that bridge for over a week against two German Panzer divisions.

We then went on to continue our exploration with a visit to the British Airborne Museum a few miles away in Oosterbeek, making a brief stop at the British Cemetery along the way. As we navigated our way toward the cemetery we found ourselves in an increasing amount of traffic, then in a continuous stream of cars, and eventually being directed to park in a very large grass field amidst hundreds of vehicles. A half mile walk with a throng of people later, we entered the cemetery and were amazed to see thousands of people gathered for a memorial service that we just happened to be in perfect time for.

Beneluxwarsiii2The cemetery is set in an open area surrounded by pretty dense woods, and has almost two thousand graves. It was hard to tell how many people were there, but I would estimate there were at least several thousand, and an orchestra filled the space with evocative music. At noon, a military band started up and led a procession of standard bearing veterans into the cemetery, followed by dignitaries and clergy. The actual memorial service was a touching mix of prayers, hymns and brief sermons, followed by a laying of wreathes by various governments, groups and individuals. It was during this process that I started to notice a large number of children filing their way into the cemetery from all around the perimeter. The youngsters each carried two large bundles of flowers and -- in a remarkably orderly fashion -- took their places, each one standing in front of two grave markers. At the conclusion of the official wreath laying, a woman took to the dais and gave a speech -- in Dutch -- obviously speaking to the children about the importance of what happened in Arnhem sixty three years ago and about the debt of honor owed to the men who died there. On cue, the children laid their flowers on the graves. It was a very powerful sight, and those in attendance -- especially the veterans -- were all visibly moved. Greg and myself included.

As if that wasn't enough, a few seconds later the unmistakable sound of large turboprop engines began filling the space, followed by a very low fly over by two state-of-the-art C-130's with their aft ramps deployed in jump position, a tribute from the current generation of Airborne troops. This, of course, got a rousing round of applause from everyone. As this applause died down another sound began to arise, the also unmistakable drumming of big old radial piston engines. Seconds later, a beautiful, military green C-47 Dakota with full authentic insignia made an equally low fly over with its fuselage door open in jump position. It was a stunning sight for those of us who are too young to remember, and it must have been an overwhelming sight for those who lived it. The cheer was deafening and I don't think there was a dry eye in the crowd.

On the way back to the car, Greg and I compared notes, agreed that we couldn't think of a better way to have ended our Operation Market Garden exploration and decided not to make our planned stop at the Museum after all. Sometimes you just have to let circumstances adjust your itinerary. Instead, we drove west until we reached the coast and spend a quiet afternoon and evening in the beach resort town of Noordvijk, Holland.

Beneluxwarsiii3Early yesterday morning we drove north to the Amsterdam airport, dropped off the car and had an entertaining cab ride into the city. Our driver was hilarious, complaining vigorously about the absurd amount of traffic around Amsterdam, reportedly the heaviest anywhere in the world. When we finally reached our hotel, we dropped off our gear, went to the train station to get my onward ticket and set off to do a little walk about followed by a visit to Madame Toussaude's Wax Museum and lunch before making our way back to the hotel and officially checking in. I spent the rest of the afternoon on line making some arrangements going forward while Greg went for a swim and had a well deserved nap.

At dinner, we debriefed our week together. It was a fabulous week, and it was a difficult week. I have explained in this logbook from time to time that there are different "modes" on The Voyage, ranging from "high energy" exploration and movement to "low energy" catching up with myself and regrouping. This past week was as "high energy" as it gets, and Greg made a point of saying he has a new appreciation for how demanding life can be on The Voyage and that one couldn't possibly keep going that way all the time. I made a point of acknowledging Greg's undaunted courage to tackle The Voyage at its hardest, to keep his enthusiasm and sense of humor up and to see the mission through to the end. I'm hoping he will write up his version of our week together so I can share another perspective with you for a change!

This morning we had our last breakfast together and I walked Greg over to the train station for his ride back out to the airport. We said our good-byes and renewed our intentions to meet someplace else in the world, then the train doors closed and off he went. I had about an hour back at the hotel to do a little last minute online work then packed up my gear and walked over to the station to catch my train. At this moment I am cruising through the countryside, just about to cross the border into Germany. I am on my way to the small city of Emden on the northern coast, a place my Mom has recommended I visit for a couple of days. I plan to do a little resting, catching up with myself and putting together some plans for the next few weeks. As always, stay tuned for what's next on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Logbook: BeNeLux Wars II

Beneluxwarsii1Greg and I were up and out of Bastogne early Thursday morning, headed toward a museum that had been very highly recommended. Cruising through the beautiful Ardennes, we came upon a little town with an open market so we stopped and had some fun checking out local life of the area. A short while later we found the museum we were looking for and were encouraged by the sight of some tanks and trucks in the field out back. As you may have come to expect by now, the museum was closed for the season! Undaunted, we got back in the car, continued on our way north and just happened to find the "December 1944 Museum" in the small town of La Gleize. If it wasn't for the huge, rare and intact German Tiger II tank out front, we might have driven right past, so we were delighted to stumble upon it. We spent a very satisfactory hour in what turned out to be an excellent little museum with a remarkably large collection of artifacts and authentic displays packed into a surprisingly small space.

Beneluxwarsii2Next, we continued north and visited the American Battlefield Cemetery of the Ardennes near Liege. I have great difficulty trying to describe the experience and emotions I have when visiting one of these cemeteries, so I will just say that it is profoundly moving, bordering on overwhelming. The central memorial of this cemetery holds a chapel with exquisite mosaics that tell the story of the war, and the field of grave markers that flows out behind it is astonishing. As always, I was particularly moved by the proportion -- about one in ten -- of grave markers with no names on them. I've written more about our experience at the cemetery in the Musing entitled "Then And Now" which you can find below, so here I will just say that our visit was a sombre but perfect way to conclude our "Battle of the Bulge" exploration.

From one perspective, the beginning of our "Operation Market Garden" exploration was a complete fiasco. From another it was simply perfect. Our plan had been to drive a bit north of Liege to right near the Netherlands border where XXX Corps began its actual ground assault sixty three years ago, then get a room for the night and be ready to start following their route early in the morning. What happened was quite different in that we got completely lost among the little border towns of Belgium, our maps were useless at such a small scale, we couldn't find anyplace to get local information and none of the towns were hospitable or had any places to stay. For almost three hours we raced around until we were lost, confused, tired and hungry -- a very modest version of what the Allied forces experienced, but without all the shooting. Perfect! Our only option was to keep making our way up the route on Highway 69 -- "Hell's Highway" -- until we reached the outskirts of Eindhoven and found a place to spend the night. I've been through this kind of frustration before, but it was a new experience for Greg and he now has a new appreciation that things aren't always simple and easy on The Voyage!

Beneluxwarsii3We got a slow start yesterday morning and made our first stop at the information office in Einhoven where we got the lead on the Bailey Bridge story you can read below and a recommendation to visit the "Wings of Liberation Museum" not far away in Best. After another session of misleading road signs, poor maps, missed turns and getting lost, we found our way to the museum and had a great time. Set on a large property in the woods, a series of large buildings house a wide variety of displays, original equipment and authentic artifacts. By this time we had seen a lot of the stuff before, but so far each museum has been bigger, better and more comprehensive than the last and we profited from our visit. By mid afternoon we were headed to Nijmegen for the night when we stumbled across a nice little place called the Eurohotel in Venray and decided to take advantage of it.

Beneluxwarsii4Well rested this morning, we were on the road pretty early and made our first stop at the British Cemetery in Venray. I have been intrigued to find out that there were several differences in the British and American approaches to battlefield cemeteries. For one thing, the Americans tended to transport their casualties for burial in a few large cemeteries while the British tended to bury their soldiers closer to where they died in many smaller ones. For another, the American cemeteries all have white markers showing the soldier's name, rank, unit, home state and date of death while the British headstones have all of this information plus the soldier's serial number, age at date of death, the crest of his unit and in most cases a personal inscription from his family. So, the smaller size of the British sites plus the additional information makes them seem somehow more personal and "intimate."

Beneluxwarsii5From Venray we headed up the Market garden route to yet another highly recommended museum called "Liberty Park" in Overloon, and it turned out to be the biggest and best yet by far. In a sprawling complex of huge buildings spread out across several acres, the park has an extensive series of galleries about WWII and an absolutely incredible collection of military equipment and materiel. After more than two hours of walking around with our mouths agape -- almost constantly saying "Can you believe this?" to ourselves and each other -- we felt fully informed and more than a bit overwhelmed. If you only go to one WWII museum in your life, "Liberty Park" is the one to visit.

We spent the afternoon driving more of the Market Garden route, stopping at a variety of important sites along the way. Cornelius Ryan -- in his book "A Bridge Too Far" -- does an extraordinary job of describing the complexity of the Operation, but it isn't until you drive the route, see the actual drop zones and bridges, experience the distances and logistical challenges between them and get lost a couple of dozen times that you realize just how complicated an Operation it was. It makes you wonder, honestly, how the planners ever thought it would work in the first place.

Beneluxwarsii6Late in the afternoon we drove into Arnhem across the most famous bridge -- the bridge "too far" -- which was the site of the British disaster. We had some trouble finding a place to stay because it turns out that we have arrived in town during the weekend of the annual memorial events of the British First Airborne. There are several thousand veterans -- some of them actual participants in the Arnhem battle! -- and their families. We finally got the last rooms in a hotel where many men of all ages are in full dress uniform, spilling out of the bar and boisterously telling war stories. We don't know what tomorrow will hold in store for us in Arnhem, but we suspect it will be very, very interesting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dram: From Floor To Ceiling

Floorceiling1 Floorceiling2

Of all the amazing things I've seen this past week while touring WWII sites in Belgium and the Netherlands, one of the most interesting is the sight you see above left. While gathering some information at the tourist office in Eindhoven, the helpful woman behind the counter said, "If you go to the train station and look up, you will see some Bailey Bridge material you Yanks kindly left behind that we used in our rebuilding." Sure enough, the orange trusses you see are definitely examples of the famous Bailey Bridging shown above right that played such an important part in WWII.

Now, I don't know for sure that it was the Yanks who left this material behind or whether, in fact, it really was left behind at all. For all I know, it could have been custom made for the new train station in homage to the city's war experience and its being "left behind" simply became part of the city's lore. But if it was left behind and used by the people of Eindhoven to rebuild their train station, I'm glad to hear it. When you realize how demolished much of these two countries were during the war, you have to figure they deserved to use whatever they could get their hands on for their rebuilding effort.

Judging by the thousands of photos and videos I have seen this past week, it is clear that the Red Ball Express from Normandy -- an epic story itself -- transported vast mountains of every conceivable kind of materiel to the fronts across Europe. I'm not sure, but I think it is a good bet they didn't pack a lot of it up and ship it back after the war was over. The amount of scrap metal alone -- everything from thousands of blown up Sherman Tanks to millions of discarded gas cans -- must have been immense.

The people here had endured years of destruction and hardship, often as collateral damage from friendly fire that I've never heard a word of resentment about. If a little "left behind" Bailey Bridging helped rebuild the train station in Eindhoven -- or even if it is just a metaphor for the use of other "left behind" supplies -- it seems only fair and I'm glad to have heard the story.

Musing: Then And Now

As an appropriate place to close out our exploration of The Battle of the Bulge, Greg and I decided to make a stop at the American Battlefield Cemetery of the Ardennes. Yet another beautiful and emotionally evocative site that is exquisitely maintained by the American Battlefields Commission, the first thing a visitor sees is a large, stunning monument. Upon closer approach, almost 6,000 gleaming white grave markers -- all perfectly aligned -- fill a large field behind it. (Note: There are a few photos in the current -- Sep 2007 -- photo log which barely do justice to the setting.)

While walking around the cemetery, we saw numerous grave markers with American and Belgian flags placed in front of them. Although we speculated about what their significance might be, we were unable to come up with anything definitive. Then, about a hundred Belgians started to arrive at the cemetery and we asked one of them why they were there and what the flags were for. The answer was humbling.

After the war, Belgian families "adopted" individual soldiers and their graves. The flags signify their remembrance of what the American soldiers did for them during the war and honors them for their sacrifice in liberating Belgium and its people. As the man we talked to said, "If it wasn't for the American soldiers, I would be German." As for what they were all doing there, it turns out that we just happened to visit the cemetery on the day when many of the "adoptive" families gather to hold their annual memorial service. Pretty amazing stuff.

Now, I have no direct connection with The Battle of the Bulge that I know of, so my only link with the cemetery and the soldiers buried there is that I am "American." To see the flags and meet the Belgians who were there for the memorial service was a powerful experience. I have to admit that I felt a little bit like I was intruding. It wasn't anything that was said or done on their part, it was simply that these people were having a ceremony for soldiers with whom they have had a direct, personal connection. I was really just a tourist and had only a vague sense of exploring history as my reason for being there.

This got me musing: In my recent visits to Normandy, Flanders and the Ardennes I have experienced unconditional positive regard from complete strangers in foreign lands simply because I am American. In many other places, I have experienced an unconditional disregard from complete strangers in foreign lands simply because I am American. Why is there such a striking difference?

Could it be that the thousands upon thousands of American soldiers who fought, died and were buried there were truly liberators of people who had been invaded and oppressed by an actual evil empire? Could it be that those American soldiers were part of a truly multi-national coalition that fought to save people facing actual weapons rather than possible ones? Could it be that America did not initiate WWII and had no obvious economic or political agenda for it?

Whatever the reasons, I can tell you from direct personal experience that there is a striking difference between America's goodwill in the world between then and now. True, there are still places in the world where people view America -- and Americans -- with positive regard. Sadly, there are many, many other people in the world who have a growing anti-American sentiment.

It's a damn shame, and we are all the worse for it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Logbook: BeNeLux Wars I

Beneluxwarsi1I was up and out of my little Amsterdam hotel room early on Monday morning to meet my friend Greg at the airport. With my gear in tow I found my way to the arrivals area, got myself a cup of coffee and had just started drinking it when "Pumito" came into view. We high-fived then sat and caught up for a few minutes while I finished my coffee -- and he had an ice cream cone -- then got our car, loaded up and took off. Shortly after leaving the parking deck, we asked each other -- almost in unison -- "Where to?" Fortunately, there was a service plaza right at the junction of the airport service road and the main north/south highway, so we stopped at a McDonald's to have breakfast, more coffee and a look at the map. Since our preliminary "plan" was to explore WWII areas of the Battle of the Bulge (in the Ardennes of Belgium) and Operation Market Garden (generally north of the Bulge), we figured it would be a good idea to head south toward and through Brussels. While examining the map, we spotted the town of Waterloo just south of Brussels and decided that Napoleon's last battle must certainly be worth at least a stop along the way. A little after noon, we pulled into Waterloo and stumbled right into the tourist center where we got some great information, a suggestion for a place to eat lunch and -- because Pumito was showing preliminary signs of jet-lag exhaustion-- a lead on a place to stay for the night.

Beneluxwarsi2The lunch place was a great little soup/salad/sandwich shop, made even more enjoyable by the fact that it was very French! I honestly hadn't expected southern Belgium to be quite so French, and was surprised to find myself comfortably -- even happily -- conjuring up my French and navigating our way through the meal. With some food in his belly, Greg started fading even faster. We made our way to the hotel, checked in and dropped our gear then made a quick run down the road to the Lion Monument at the Battle of Waterloo site. To be honest, the exhibits and A/V presentations were not very interesting or informative, and we didn't really learn anything more about the battle than the little we knew before we got there. Disregarding his accelerating fatigue, I made Pumito climb the 224 steps to the top of the monument for a quick view of the battlefield -- and a photo of him posing like Napoleon -- then we beat a hasty retreat back to town. Intending just to have coffee, I was surprised when Greg ordered an omelette and said it would be his dinner -- at 5 o'clock! -- but I decided to join him with a toasted sandwich. From there it was another hasty retreat back to the hotel for lights out about 8 o'clock.

Beneluxwarsi3At breakfast Yesterday morning we started talking about all the wars that have been fought in the BeNeLux area throughout history and somehow got onto the subject of WWI and Flanders Fields. A quick query of the hotelier informed us that Flanders was only a short drive away, so instead of heading east toward the Ardennes of WWII we headed west toward the "no man's land" of WWI. Such is the spontaneity of The Voyage, and Greg had quickly gotten into the groove. While he drove, I used my now pretty well developed sense of European navigation and we arrived right at the front gate of the American Cemetery in Flanders about an hour later. We had a nice visit then a chat with the superintendent of the facility and asked him if there were any other good WWI sites in the area. He suggested we head a little farther west to Ypres, so off we went and arrived there in time for lunch. An hour or so at the excellent museum and a quick visit to a small site of partially restored trenches sated our immediate appetite for WWI, so we decided it was time to start heading east toward the Ardennes. A lovely afternoon drive across almost the entire width of Belgium later, we pulled into the central square of Bastogne where a Sherman tank and a bust of Gen. McAuliffe greeted us. We found a perfect little hotel on the square, checked in then walked around for a bit before having dinner and calling it a day.

Beneluxwarsi4Although the Battle of the Bulge was immense in scale, we were satisfied to limit our exploration to the area around Bastogne because of it's particularly extraordinary role and consequence in the larger battle. We started our day with a lengthy visit to the exquisite memorial and the excellent museum where we were treated to a very broad array of displays and a pretty good AV show. From there, we embarked on a driving tour of the historical route that covers much of the action and offers a good sense of the size, scope and sequence of the siege of Bastogne. About half way through the route we found ourselves within a few kilometers of Luxembourg and decided to cross the border just for fun. In the first village we came to, we stopped at a deli/baker and got some lunch stuff which we ate in the car. Hereinafter, of course, we shall refer to that charming little country as "Lunchenbourg." By taking an indirect route back to where we left the tour, we can at least say we did a little more than set foot in the country.

Beneluxwarsi5One of the highlights of our day was a stop at a German cemetery. We have both been to a number of American or Allied cemeteries before, and it was an interesting perspective to visit one from "the other side" for a change. We were both struck by the facts that soldiers are buried six to a headstone -- making the markers not very accurate in their depiction of how many soldiers are actually there -- and by the number of unknown, "Ein Deutscher Soldat" markers there are. Another highlight -- if you can call it that -- was visiting so many of the little towns immediately adjacent to Bastogne and seeing photos of how completely destroyed they were during the battle. The devastation of combined artillery, aerial bombing and armored tank warfare was truly astonishing. We have also been struck by the degree of respect and appreciation still shown for the Allies -- especially the American 101st Airborne -- for their heroic struggle here. We had a beautiful, sunny day for our peaceful exploration and cannot imagine what it must have been like for the troops to fight an all out war in the middle of a winter blizzard with temperatures down to -20F. While we are satisfied with our brief, one-day exploration of the area, both Pumito and I commented repeatedly that it would be great to spend a lot longer time here to really explore and understand this extraordinary battle.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Logbook: Amsterdam II

Amsterdamii1Friday was indeed a "turnaround" day. After a sleep in, some decent coffee and a leisurely breakfast, I checked out of my first "very small" Amsterdam room and checked into my second. The new one isn't quite as small as the first, and the even more "minimalist" decor makes it feel roomier. Plus, it has a bigger window that makes it brighter. I know I don't usually post so much detail about my accommodations, but it seems noteworthy in this case since I think my room is designed in some kind of "Dutch Modern" or something. On the heels of that improvement, I got a lead from the clerk in a bookstore to check out "ANWB" -- the Netherlands automobile club -- and found all the maps I wanted. Not only that, but by showing my AAA membership card I got three out of four for free! Such a deal! In the afternoon I was able to do the rest of my research and arrangements in advance of my friend Greg's arrival and wrapped up the day with a decent meal at an Argentinean restaurant. As you might imagine, it involved a lot of meat!

Amsterdamii2I started out early yesterday morning, intent on seeing more -- and maybe even better -- parts of Amsterdam. I got an all-day pass on the "Canal Bus" which has three routes that travel along many of Amsterdam's canals and allows you to "hop-on, hop-off." I made the most of it and by the end of the day I had travelled on all of the routes and stopped at a variety of places like the flower market, the museums, etc. I still wasn't particularly impressed with what I saw, but nice weather plus a lot less noise and commotion made my experience of Amsterdam more positive. My favorite part of the day was running across a really great dog playing in a park pool near the museum. (I got some great video that I've edited into yet another Doggie Report!) After a well deserved dram I had dinner at a Chinese joint -- I was drawn in by the promise of vegetables! -- and called it a night, satisfied that I'd finally found a bit of an Amsterdam groove.

I spent this morning doing a few chores, including topping up my laundry in anticipation of being on the move for the next couple of weeks. I've been online most of the afternoon, checking in with folks and catching up on this website. I'm in good shape for Greg's arrival in the morning, and am looking forward to the week-long road trip we have planned to explore WWII sites in the area, including the Battle of the Bulge and Operation MarketGarden. We will be back in Amsterdam for a day next week, and although I still can't say I really like the city, I feel like I've gotten a pretty good feel for it and can appreciate it in some ways. (Note: Be sure to check out the current photo log!)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Report: AmsterDog

Yup... It's another Dog Report from The Voyage of Macgellan! (At this rate I may have to rename it The Voyage of Doggellan!) Anyway... I was at the park here in Amsterdam and I met this really great dog and her human. Here's just a couple of minutes of video (out of many that I shot!) which I hope you'll enjoy.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Logbook: Amsterdam I

Amsterdami1The ferry from Newcastle was entirely straightforward, and even a little bit funny. The bus from the central train station to the ferry dock was completely full which surprised me a bit, if only because I'm usually one of only a few people who take a ferry without a car. As it turns out, the ferry to Amsterdam is more than just a ferry. It is a "mini-break" for folks to spend the night at sea, spend the next day in Amsterdam and then spend another night at sea on the way back to the UK (or vice versa, I suppose... Though I'm not sure why folks in Amsterdam would take a mini-break to Newcastle!) Anyway, the ship is very large for a ferry and even bigger than the one I took from Canaria to Cadiz. It has three restaurants, four bars, many shops, a movie theater and even a miniature casino. For me it was just passage across to Amsterdam, and although I enjoyed a pretty good buffet dinner and a movie, I mostly spent quiet time on deck or in my cabin. For most others on board it was a "mini cruise" and they ate, drank and partied accordingly. Thus, although my little cabin was comfortable enough, I got little sleep due to thin walls and much carousing on both sides of me.

Amsterdami2The ferry arrived in the port town of Ijmuden at about ten o'clock yesterday morning and it was immediately obvious that my transportation options to Amsterdam were limited to the shuttle bus offered by the ferry company. So, I threw my gear on board and enjoyed the 45 minute trip into the city. After the wide open, green spaces and colorful little cities of Scotland, the relatively drab, gray appearance of Amsterdam was a noticeable change. In addition, the heavy traffic, the swarms of people on the streets and endless streams of bicycles in motion made my first moments in the city a bit of a sensory overload. Amsterdam is clearly not the biggest, busiest or noisiest city I've ever been in, but it is all of that compared to where I've been recently. So, I gave myself a minute to grab my gear, stand on the sidewalk and get my bearings. Then, my first order of business was to arrange my accommodations. You see, although I had made a reservation at a small hotel I found on the internet back in Newcastle, I decided I really didn't need to continue making such "soft-landing" arrangements at this point in The Voyage and cancelled it.

Amsterdami3The bus had dropped me off outside the Victoria Hotel right in the middle of the city, so I figured that was as good a place as any. I quickly found out that Amsterdam is not such a great place to arrive in without a reservation because the city is almost always busy, and September is the busiest season. The woman at the desk informed me that in fact she had only one "very small" single room left, and it was available only for two nights. I decided to take it and checked in, then went to dump my stuff in the room that was indeed "very small." As you can see in the photo it was barely big enough for a single bed, a miniature desk and a small chair, but it was clean and promised to be relatively quiet up at the end of the fifth floor. Although it was the smallest room I've been in on The Voyage -- even smaller than my many cabins on ships -- it was big enough for me and my gear so I settle in and took a few minutes to plan the rest of my day.

Amsterdami4On the advice of the woman at the desk who suggested I see to making arrangements "straight away" for my remaining three nights in Amsterdam before my friend Greg arrives, I hit the streets and checked out a few places in the neighborhood. After a few "no vacancy" experiences, I found a little place nearby that could offer me a "very small" single room for three nights and reserved it in the confidence that it couldn't be any smaller than the room I currently had. With that sorted out, I hit the streets in earnest and started exploring the city. I have to admit that I didn't really like what I found. The area is full of souvenir shops, kebob restaurants, bars and currency exchanges. In addition, there are many cannabis shops, "coffee shops" (which is the local term for "cannabis parlors"), sex shops and what not. When you add to this the crowds, noise, commotion and traffic, you pretty much get the picture. By evening I was pretty well convinced that Amsterdam is not really my kind of place, and this was reinforced by one look -- from a block away -- into the "red light district." I don't think it's that I'm particularly prudish or anything, I'm just not particularly interested in getting stoned and paying for sex or -- for that matter -- interested in people people who are.

Amsterdami5Today has been a bit of a "down" day for me. Partly, I think my first impressions of Amsterdam yesterday carried over, but mostly it was just a day where I couldn't seem to get in a groove. For example, I wanted to find some maps of the "Benelux" area which my friend Greg and I plan to explore, but I couldn't find any no matter how many news stands, book stores, or souvenir shops I looked in. I even asked the concierge at the hotel for help, but he didn't know where I might find any either. Similarly, I was in the mood for a nice big salad for lunch, but could only find an endless array of meat, cheese and chips joints. I finally ended up with a Subway sandwich and although I hoped to eat it in a nice quiet "green space" I was unable to find one and ended up settling for a bench in an urban plaza. There, I saw three cops hassling a doper while another gave a tourist directions and that seemed to say a lot about the city. On the way back to my room I was glad to be able to resolve my Mac power adapter problem, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening online here in my little room. I'm going to make it an early night, sleep in a little bit in the morning and look forward to a new day back in the groove tomorrow!

Dram: Power Failure

PowerfailureWhat you see here is the poor, mistreated end of my Mac's Mag-Safe power adapter. After many months of hard, every day use it had gotten pretty frayed and the tape -- part of a Band-Aid actually -- that I wrapped around it was no longer holding it together very well. The result was that I was getting intermittent charging of my Mac and the propects were looking worse going forward. I don't exactly know why this has happened, but I suspect it is because the rubber wrapping has shruk over time and pulled out of the connector sleeve. Anyway, the funny thing is this: I asked my friend Greg to pick up a new power adapter and bring it over with him, but none of the Mac stores in Seattle have any in stock. In fact, the online Apple store shows a 4-6 week shipping delay. Perhaps I'm not the only one who has had this problem. Anyway, I happened to stumble on an Apple dealer here in Amsterdam and looked for one there. None were available on the shelf, but a clerk checked the records and discovered that one -- only one -- was listed in their shipment that arrived that day. While I looked on, he dug around in a huge box of newly arrived Apple stuff and came up with it! So, I have done my first Mac gear replacement on The Voyage!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Logbook: Rested, Recharged, Resupplied, Ready

Restedrechargedresuppliedready1I spent Sunday morning online, finalizing my logistics for moving on (which I will explain below) and doing a lot of website maintenance and development. By early afternoon I was ready to get out for a while, so I walked about a half-mile to Newcastle's "MetroCentre" which claims to be the biggest shopping mall in Europe. The MetroCentre is indeed huge and while I don't think it is physically as large as "The Mall of America" that I visited in Minneapolis, it seems larger in some ways because of how it is laid out: a sprawling, disorienting maze of shopping arcades, courtyards and malls-within-malls. What made it most disorienting is that there are multiple locations for many of the shops, so you can't use them as landmarks. In other words, you can walk past a certain cell phone store and think, "Okay, I'll use that to remember where I've been" only to find an identical cell phone store -- same company, size, look and layout -- two courtyards away. As a result, your landmark plan goes awry and you find yourself feeling like you are either lost or going in circles. Anyway, since my purpose for going to the mall was to buy some replacement socks and underwear I wandered around until I found an appropriate store.

I don't know about you, but I don't honestly remember "wearing out" much stuff in my "former life." Mostly I remember shopping once in a while to "get new clothes" whether I really "needed" them or not. It was more of an exercise in wardrobe "rotation" than "replacement" when I felt like my wardrobe was "stale" or I "needed" something in particular and got other stuff while I was at it. It's very different on The Voyage because I don't have room to store excess clothing, and I certainly don't want to carry more than I need. Plus, when you wear the same two weeks worth of clothes, fortnight after fortnight, it really does "wear out" and all the laundry episodes I have described to you over the past 400 days take their toll as well. So, I am enjoying the experience of truly wearing things out and replacing them. If you haven't had this experience in a while, I recommend you give it a try. The feeling of satisfaction you can get from going shopping for only a five-pack of white socks and a three-pack of briefs is really quite astonishing.

Restedrechargedresuppliedready2With that "hunting and gathering" experience behind me, I made my way out of the mall -- actually finding my way back to the door I entered! -- and returned to my room where I integrated the replacements into my clothing line-up. In the process, I realized I had a few "out-of-season" items that I won't need for quite a while and although they still had a little life left in them they weren't worth carrying until they'd be useful again. So, like I did just about a year ago in Atlanta, I put together a small bag of my "used" clothing to go to charity. As a result of this whole process, I actually have a little less "stuff" than I did when I started The Voyage! In just over a year I have completely worn out -- and replaced -- five pairs of socks, four t-shirts, three briefs, two pants and a pair of shoes plus "downsized" three long-sleeve t-shirts, two short pants and a bathing suit. Imagine if you can what it is like to know -- and be able to itemize -- every article of clothing you own!

Yesterday I spent a lot more time online, catching up with friends around the world on Skype and by email. After accumulating a large number of messages in my in-boxes, it feels good to have replied to just about all of them and have a clean slate going forward. In the afternoon I went in search of a charity box to drop off my small bag of stuff and found one at a nearby super-store. The picture is a little goofy, I know, but I think it tells the story that even when you have very little stuff, you still have enough to share. (Perhaps akin to the story of "the loaves and fishes" I like to think of it as the story of "the loafers and britches." -- Sorry, Mom!) As long as I was at the super-store I decided to go in for one last shopping-in-English experience and had a blissful reminder of my first night in the UK over two months ago when I was just giddy at being able to read labels for a change. In so doing, I can report that my first and last experiences in the UK have been enjoyable times spent wandering around in super-stores. Not many folks can -- or would -- report that, I am reasonably sure!

Now I can tell you "what's next." In a couple of hours I will get a cab to Newcastle's Central Station where I will catch a shuttle bus to the international ferry station. There I will board a DFDS ferry for the overnight sailing to Amsterdam where I will spend a few days scouting out that famous city. Next week, my good friend Greg -- you know him from "The Hi-Line Road Trip" and as "Pumito" from "Los Viajeros" -- will be arriving for about a week of co-exploration in the area. Sometime around the end of the month I expect to start heading east again, through northern Germany and up into Denmark -- with a possible hop up into Norway and Sweden -- before almost certainly turning south into Poland sometime in October. That's all I know about the next month or so, and it's only a wild guess that after that I would continue south through Austria and make my way somehow to the Black Sea, the Aegean or the Mediterranean by the time winter kicks in.

It has been an excellent two-plus months of exploration in the UK and I have really enjoyed it. I have gotten to know this country much better, especially the people. I am now rested, recharged, resupplied and ready to move on with the next phase of The Voyage of Macgellan!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dram: My Scotland Map

Just in case you want to know what my Scotland map looks like... The yellow lines mark my route:


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Logbook: ExodUKs

Exoduks1By the time the ferry from the Hebrides docked in Ullapool on Monday, my Mom and I had both gone through a mental change of gears. For her, the "trip was over" and she was ready to get back to Edinburgh and continue on her way home. For me, it felt like my time of exploration in the UK was drawing to a close and I was ready to move on. So, after a brief stop at my favorite internet cafe -- where, of course, I was unable to get online! -- we got back in the car and drove to the petrol station. I handed my Mom the map and said, "We've got three days to get you back to Edinburgh. While I fill the tank, pick a route that looks good to you." When I got back in the car a few minutes later, Mom had selected a coastal route and we hit the road. The weather turned absolutely fabulous and we were treated to some of the most beautiful views either of us have ever seen anywhere. Truly, Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the northwest coast of Scotland is the best of the best. At one point we made a terrific climb up a mountainside and stopped at the top to take one last look across the water to the Hebrides. The picture doesn't really do it justice, but I think you get the point.

Exoduks2On our way down the mountain, we were treated to a steep, tricky descent. Again, the picture doesn't suffice to show the true perspective. A little while later we were cruising along the shores of Loch Carron and I declared I'd had enough for the day. It had been an early morning followed by a long, challenging drive and I was pretty worn out. In the completely adorable little town of Locharron we found a tidy little hotel with a decent restaurant and internet! We spent a quiet evening and made it an early night as usual. Tuesday morning we got an early start on a route that started taking us substantially inland. The weather turned bad again, reinforcing our feeling that we were done with our exploration and simply making our exodus. We stopped for the night in Fort William -- known as "the gateway to highland adventure" -- but neither of us had a particularly good feeling about it. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of Ben Nevis -- the highest mountain in the UK -- but the weather was socked in, so we just got a room at a rather worn down old hotel that seemed "good enough." The only interesting -- funny? -- thing to report is that the world mountain biking championship was taking place in Fort William and we happened to pick the hotel that was home to the Russian biking team. So, in this dumpy hotel with run down ambiance we had dinner to the sound of boisterous Russians. Somehow, it all seemed to fit together and we were happy to eat our meal and call it a night.

Wednesday morning we hit the road early once again and made our way into Edinburgh. We couldn't get a room at the airport motel and ended up at the Holiday Inn halfway back into the city. It was the usual sterile environment without any real charm or personality, but it was a good place for us to come to a full stop and Mom spent some time packing her gear for her flight home. I was in an unsettled state of mind, and found myself bouncing around between going online to try to catch up with myself a little bit and making trips to the car to start sorting my own gear for what I knew would be my own imminent UK exodus. We also were both pretty worn out, the usual combination of being on the move for a couple of weeks straight and the decompression of winding down an adventure. So, it was yet another quiet, early night.

Although we took a fairly leisurely pace on Thursday morning, we were still checked out with over an hour to kill before my Mom needed to be at the airport. I suggested we take the time to handle a chore by driving over to Falkirk and dropping off my laundry. After a fast sprint down the motorway I turned off into Falkirk and navigated my way through town, weaving my way through traffic, around several roundabouts and finally turning up an easy to miss side street. Mom wondered how I found the place the first time and how I knew how to find it again. All I could do was smile, say "Welcome to The Voyage" and be happy to have given her yet another memorable Voyage experience. I introduced her to my "laundry friend" Rachael -- who told me she is moving back to Australia and invited me to visit if/when I wander that way! -- then we drove to the airport. We checked her in with no problems and had a cup of coffee then she went on her way through security to head back across the pond "until next time." (Thanks for another great time, Mom!)

Walking out of the airport I had another "The Voyage Begins Now" moment, realizing that with Mom's departure I had "no plans" again. I knew I had three days to get the car back to Newcastle, so I drove back out to Falkirk, picked up my clean clothes and headed south. I got as far as Peebles, Scotland before fatigue set in and spent the night at a charming little inn whose excellent chef prepared me a fine dinner. Yesterday morning I got an early start and continued south through yet another beautiful Scottish landscape. Mid-afternoon I stopped in Dumfries but found that the entire town was booked up due to a golf tournament, so I drove on. Just a little further south I crossed the Scotland/England border and had a moment of fond reflection about my fine time in Scotland. I was a little sad to be leaving, honestly, and consoled myself that I will very likely be back. A few minutes after that I arrived in Carlisle, England where I got a room at a generic motel and locked myself in my room to spend some time online and chilling out. I have only just realized that I haven't taken any pictures over the past couple of days, a pretty clear indication that I have simply been "moving" and not "exploring."

This morning I hit the road early once again and headed east, more or less on the route that Mom and I walked last month along Hadrian's Wall. At high speed it only took a little over an hour to make the trip, but it was enough to reinforce how far we walked! I arrived here in Newcastle, returned the car and got a ride to the official "home" of The Voyage, a Holiday Inn Express. I have spent the afternoon completely sorting my gear, catching up with myself online and starting to work on logistics going forward. Although I expect to be here for a few days, I don't expect to do much exploring. I'm ready for some "down time" and the chance to recharge before going back into "go mode." I'll let you know what I come up with as soon as I know what it is, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Report: Working Dogs

During my exploration on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, I captured some great video of "Working Dogs" doing what they do best. Although this Report could be viewed as just a bunch of dogs herding some sheep, I think you'll find the interaction between the dogs, the sheep and the humans pretty interesting. Let me know! (Many thanks to Jeff Tolbert for another perfect soundtrack song!)

Logbook: Outer Hebrides

Outerhebrides1The ferry ride on Thursday afternoon from Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy on North Uist was almost two hours long and therefore qualified -- in my mind -- as a "proper sailing." You must know how much I love being on the water, so being "at sea" -- even if only for two hours -- was a nice treat. Because we had been informed -- warned? -- that the Isle of North Uist didn't have much to offer, we planned to spend only the afternoon and evening there. While it turns out to be true that Uist doesn't have much to offer, it does offer plenty of nothing. We drove a significant loop around the island, constantly remarking to each other how desolate the place is. There are a few hills here and there, but nothing like the mountains we had seen elsewhere. Mostly it is an endless stretch of moors with the most remote feeling you can imagine. The only things of real interest to us were some black sheep, a few ancient ruins and numerous peat bogs that seem to be well harvested. Perhaps most to our amazement is that there seems to be a great deal of building going on. The only reason we could conjure up is that people are moving to Uist to "get away from it all" and, if we are correct, they will certainly be successful. We spent the night at the Lochmaddy Hotel -- a pretty run down establishment from an obviously bye-gone era -- and satisfied ourselves that we'd seen enough of Uist to feel like we had a grasp of it.

Outerhebrides2On Friday morning we made our way to the very northern end of Uist and caught a short ferry ride across to the Isle of South Harris. What a difference just a few miles can make in this outlying territory! Harris is rocky, mountainous and rugged, but it also has a most surprising collection of beautiful sandy beaches. If the temperature were thirty degrees warmer -- and the wind thirty knots calmer -- the beaches of Harris could be a world class resort area. In reality, it is a modestly populated island that is home to a huge number of sheep. At one point on our drive we caught up with a group of shepherds who -- with their fabulous dogs -- were driving several hundred sheep down the road to holding pens in preparation for sending them to market. We were informed that this was to be the second shipment of the week, with some 600 lambs having already gone the day before. That's a lot of lamb chops!

Outerhebrides3Harris is also home of the famous "Harris Tweed" and we stopped along our drive to check out a modest mill, consisting of a couple of ancient looms that are run by a mother/daughter duo. I can't figure out the economy of the business, but my best guess is that it is a "lifestyle" enterprise at best. The actual driving on Harris was some of the most challenging I have done yet. On narrow little roads that climb, dive, twist and turn, over and around a constant maze of boulders and lochs, it is quite an experience. You never know from one second to the next which way the road will turn and you often have no sight of the road ahead until you are pitching over or turning around some obstacle. In this manner we toured most of the roads on the island -- thoroughly enjoying the varied scenery compared to Uist! -- then spent the night at the Harris Hotel, another slightly funky but serviceable establishment.

Outerhebrides4On Saturday we drove north to Lewis Island. As far as we can tell, Harris and Lewis are not distinct islands, separated as one would imagine by some body of water. Instead, they appear to be parts of the same land mass, separated by a significant mountain range. The road over the mountain pass is pretty daunting, especially in the very high winds and frequent heavy rains -- mostly blowing sideways -- that accompanied our drive. A surprising treat was seeing a complete rainbow -- the first one my Mom can recall seeing in her life -- and we pulled over to have a look and grab a photo before it quickly disappeared. This was easily our worst weather of the trip, so we didn't do much in the way of exploration. Instead we opted to push on to the main town of Stornoway where our hotel had open wi-fi internet which gave us a good excuse to take the afternoon off and chill out.

Outerhebrides5Yesterday we awoke to a beautiful day and set out early, driving throughout the day on pretty good roads -- mostly two lanes! -- all around the island. Lewis is a beautiful island, almost a perfect mix of the open flat lands of Uist and the hills and lochs of Harris. We toured the coast, stopping at a variety of ancient ruins, standing stones, lovely white beaches and stunning cliffs. A high point -- figuratively and literally -- was when we stopped at the northern most point on the island to enjoy the views of crashing surf and rugged cliffs. It was a perfect finish to our day, and to our exploration of the Outer Hebrides. Back in Stornoway, we made it an early evening and got up very early this morning to catch the ferry back to the mainland. As I write this, I am looking out at the sea on a bright clear day. We will arrive in Ullapool shortly and I will take Mom to my favorite little internet cafe there and treat her to a coffee while I post this. After that, we will start making our way down through the Highlands en route to Edinburgh for her departure on Thursday.