Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dover, England - May 19, 2012

We had visited Dover several times in the fifties - one of our cycling haunts. We have also visited from cruise ships and various RV vacations. We did need can English version of an English-French dictionary however and also a pot of beautifying potion for Marian that had been confiscated at Fort Wayne Airport a couple of weeks earlier. Thus we took a walk into town on a warm and sunny Saturday morning.
A visit to W H Smith and then to Boots drugstore met our shopping needs after which we sought out a Fish and Chip emporium. Found one - it was awful! Nothing much else to report so here, in case you ever find yourself in this town, is a note about Dover Castle.
Dover Castle is the largest castle in England and is a medieval castle founded in the 12th century. It is sometimes referred to as the "Key to England" due to its strategic defensive location atop the cliffs at the narrowest part of the English Channel.
Earlier, there might have been an earthworks fortification here and certainly, after the coming of the Romans in 43 CE the location was extensively developed. One of the 80 foot high Pharoses - Roman lighthouses - still stands at the site.
During the reign of Henry II the castle began to take on the shape seen today with Maurice the Engineer being responsible for building the keep, one of the last rectangular keeps ever built.
By the Tudor age, the original defences had been obsoleted by gunpowder and armaments development and they were substantially updated during the reign of Henry VIII. Further massive rebuilding took place at the end of the 18th century at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and it was during this period that the tunnel system was developed. By 1803 2,000 troops could be housed 40 or 50 feet below the cliff top.
At the beginning of the WWII in 1939 the tunnels were reopened following a century of abandonment and were used for a variety of purposes throughout the remainder of that conflict. A few images are here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lisbon, Portugal - May 15, 2012

Lisbon, Europe's westernmost major city, is the capital of Portugal and the greater Lisbon area is home to nearly 3 million people - more than 25% of the entire population of the country. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating other European capitals including London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. From the 5th century CE, after the Romans had faded away, the area was controlled by a series of Germanic tribes until it was captured by the Moors in the eighth century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city since then it has been the de facto political, economic, and cultural centre of Portugal. Most of the important Portuguese expeditions during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries left from Lisbon. The 16th century was Lisbon's zenith, the European hub of commerce between Africa, India, the Far East and, later, Brazil, Lisbon acquired great riches exploiting the trade in spices, slaves, sugar and textiles and it was during this period that the two World Heritage Sites, the Belem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery were built. Late in the 16th century, Portugal fell into the hands of the Spanish where it remained for sixty years until a coup restored its independence in 1640. Lisbon has been prone to earthquakes and suffered almost 20 significant temblors from the 14th to 17th centuries. The "Big One" in 1755 damaged 85% of the structures and killed 30 to 40,000 people - 15% to 20% of the city's population. Subsequent to this catastrophe the city was rebuilt slightly to the west on a flat area along the lines of modern urban design with rectangular street layout and two large open space squares. The old town did survive and today is known as Alfama.
We had visited Lisbon several years ago and took a brief tour of items that were in maintenance at that time and also reprised parts of Alfama, the most interesting part of the city. The visit around the town is detailed here and the journey up the river Targus on our arrival is here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ponta Delgado, Azores - May 13, 2012

The Azores, that exotic sounding faraway retreat, is, in reality, a little archipelago of volcanic islands sticking up in the Atlantic ocean about 930 miles west of portugal and 1200 miles southeast of Newfoundland. The island group is approximately 370 miles in length, comprises nine major islands and a bunch of smaller ones and is home to about one quarter million people. Not much else is around the neighborhood.
Ponta Delgada is on São Miguel, the largest of the islands, which with its population of around 45,000 has been the administrative capital of this autonomous region of Portugal since 1976. The area has been populated since its discovery in the 15th century and although agriculture has always been a source of income the benefits issuing from its obvious strategic value as a more or less self-supporting mid-atlantic outpost was took precedence. The region's heyday was in the 19th century as a supplier of citrus exports to United Kingdom and a burgeoning center for foreign-owned businesses. 
During this period, Ponta Delgada became the third largest town in Portugal both by economic measure and by number of residents. By the start of the 20th Century, with shifting trade patterns and advances in transportation, Ponta Delgada's rank had fallen to number eight and thereafter continued a slow decline until it was granted autonomy in 1976.
Today, with the value of a mid-Atlantic port much diminished the Azores, like the Madiera archipeligo, has become a commercial backwater. Both locations however, have found favor as cruise ship ports, providing a means of breaking the trans-Alantic journey for  passengers while providing a welcome source of income for the indiginants. The Azores' climate is influenced by the Gulf Stream with a modest year round temperature range of 57F to 77F, albeit with subtropical humidity levels.
After a few stormy days at sea we were fortunate to have Ponta Delgada turn on the sunshine and provide a  day of discovery on terra-firma. Pictures here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On the Boat to the Old Country - May 2012

To visit Europe it is first necessary to get there. This is one reason that cruise ships were invented. As a result of schedule conflicts, this year we ended up with our second choice itinerary on a cruise line we had not previously tried. The ship was the Constellation, one of the Celebrity Cruise Line fleet, and our journey took us from Fort Lauderdale in Florida to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
For our needs and wants the Constellation is probably equal second in our personal ranking, alongside Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Check out the boat here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Planes and Boats and Camping Cars

A clunky segue from previous European trips to our 2012 outing. The theme of the pictures is getting there or getting back while reconciling the constraints of airline regulations with the practicalities of life.
Making the transitiion from the European continent to England as a pedestrian, motorist, RV enthusiast or trucker is pretty straightfoward and not outrageously expensive. The shortest trip, just a couple of hours, is the ferry from Dover to Calais with other routes taking up to six hours or so. The routine is always the same. Ship docks; traffic jam is released from several decks and swarms into the general melee; new traffic jam is guided on board; drivers are herded up to the passenger decks for the duration of the trip; ship leaves.
The passenger decks are what one might imagine a Soviet bloc cruise ship to be - not a place in which one would choose to spend much time. They do get the job done however and have an excellent safety record.
A few pictures are here.