Friday, May 26, 2017

Gay Paree

Fine dining, high fashion, art, rich cultured history, and old world architecture provides a romance that makes Paris a special place! This is where we made a short 3-day stopover on our way back to Canada for a year-long sabbatical from sailing.

Our AirBNB flat was in close proximity to the most popular sites which made it possible for us to walk to them all. With parks, riverside walkways, sidewalk cafes, and museums, Paris is a walkers' dream. As our stay was short we wanted to cram in as much as possible.

Our first day, we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées which is 1.9 km/1.2 mi long. This most famous and most beautiful avenue in the world is lined with rows of London Plane trees, cafes, theatres, and upscale boutique shops of luxury. It stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre that site along the Seine River.

Champs-Élysées from Arc de Triomphe, looking towards Louvre

Of course we visited the Musée du Louvre, the largest (15 acres in size) and arguably the most famous museum in the world. Within its walls, the Museum is filled with more than 380,000 objects including sculptures, drawings, and about 38,000 paintings by famous artists including the famous Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Did you know that the Mona Lisa is quite small (53x77 cm/21x30 in) and is displayed behind bulletproof glass and a roped off area, keeping you at an untouchable distance for viewing. But many others are whopping big!

Grand art by an old master

Wreck of the Medusa

The magnificence of the Museum's treasures are equalled by the fabulous building that houses them where paintings and frescoes are displayed on a pallet of the most splendid architecture.

A roof canvas

The building has served both as a fortress in 1190 and a palace in the 16th century, undergoing numerous reconstructions, additions, deletions, etc. to the present day. The modern and controversial addition that serves as the entry for the thousands of visitors is the glaring glass pyramid.

Musée du Louvre (photo from web)

During our visit to the Louvre, we inquired about the lack of impressionists' art and were informed that they were to be seen at the Musée d'Orsay. So that became our next art museum venue. There we saw pieces such as Monets, Renoirs, etc. and post-impressionists Cezannes, van Goghs, Gauguins, etc. We were surprised and pleased to see paintings by our hometown famous artist, Emily Carr, as well as other landscape painters of the Group of Seven.

A leisurely stroll from the Louvre along the banks of the Seine brought us to the famous gothic architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Our expectations however were dampened by the dreary interior and the exterior that showed the effects of unchecked erosion.

We didn't see the hunchback!

The Eiffel Tower, in spite of the many tourists and in contrast to Notre Dame, was grander than we expected. At 81 stories tall, we had stomach butterflies as the elevator ascended to the peak. Perfect weather presented us a spectacular view below that stretched over the city for miles. With a thrilling nervousness, we walked the perimeter and peeked into Gustav Eiffel's cozy and romantic private apartment, complete with mannequins of himself and Thomas Edison. (Eiffel never allowed anyone to stay in his apartment, even turning down offers of huge sums of money.)

Needs no description

Best view in Paris

At the western end of the Champs-Élysées stands the iconic Arc de Triomphe. It was ordered constructed by Napoleon as an honour to his soldiers returning from war. We climbed the many interior stairs to the top for the photo op looking down the grand Avenue. At the base also lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a memorial flame lit everyday at 18:30.

The Arc - hub of splendid avenues

A visit to Paris would be incomplete without strolling the alleys and avenues amongst rich architecture and lounging at the ubiquitous sidewalk cafes sampling the authentic French cuisine while watching the world pass by.

Sidewalk cafes

Large cities are not our favourite places but we can make an exception with Gay Paree (Joyful Paris).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

GREECE - here we come

Once we exited the Suez Canal, our first Med experience was a forest of objects to negotiate. For the first 10 hours, we closely watched our chart screen as a plethora of AIS targets moved about and kept a visual vigilance as we crossed paths with ships, tugs, oil rigs, and various other seafaring traffic.

Rush hour traffic

There was virtually no wind so it was mostly motoring on an uneventful passage northwest to the Greek Island of Rhodes (aka Rhodos, Rodos). To time an early morning arrival to the main port, we lay ahull for 6 hours about 15 nautical miles out.

Marking the entrance to the beautiful historic Mandraki Harbour is the old fortress of St. Nicholas. This harbour is famous because it is believed that the great statue of Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood at the harbour entrance. Now the entrance is 'guarded' by the heraldic symbols of Rhodes - a bronze stag and a doe standing tall on 2 separate pillars on each side of the entry.

St. Nicholas on the point

In the harbour, which is right in front of the City of Rhodes, were many boats Med-moored (stern to the seawall) from ultra luxury yachts to tourist boats. We were greeted by George who directed us to tie up to the seawall instead of attempting a Med-mooring, a tricky manoeuvre that we were not willing to attempt in the breeze and given that Sea Turtle doesn't like to back up in a controlled manner (N36°27.004' E028°13.537'). This was a perfect spot on the City side of the harbour, directly across from a pleasantly busy downtown centre of Rhodes City.

We completed all check-in procedures, except providing the required proof of boat insurance which we still did not have. We had a heck of a time finding coverage. Insurance companies we contacted would either say they didn't insure Canadian boats or they wanted a survey or simply didn't respond to our emails! But we finally got the basic insurance according to the Greek requirements.

The charm of Rhodes founded in 408 BC is the old fortified town behind fortress walls with a rich centuries old medieval history of Knights and trade. Seven gates in the fortified walls provide access to a maze of over 200 narrow streets and alleyways. Much of the old buildings have been restored and now quaint shops, bars, and eateries cater to the tourist crowds. (This is a different fortress than Fort St. Nicholas.)

Two by two

Inside Old Town

The new City outside of the Old Town is also a delight of sidewalk cafes and shops where one can stroll away the day. We have enjoyed many of their infamous Greek salads, delicious calamari, and pastries to die for.

What a difference to be in the clean developed country of Greece with all amenities available. We have found Rhodes to be very beautiful and with friendly and helpful people. One day we rented a scooter and rode halfway around this charming island.

Island hotel

As Sea Turtle desperately needs bottom paint, we moved her to the Nereus Boatyard around in the next harbour on May 5th (N36°26.476' E028°14.174').

Like a fish out of water

And then our plans suddenly changed. We needed to return home to Canada to help with aging parents, attend to some incidental health issues, and make some real estate changes. This would take more than a couple of months and as we don't want to winter in Greece, it would be a year away from Sea Turtle, returning at the start of the best time of year to cruise the Med.

We are now putting Sea Turtle to bed and then on May 23rd we catch our flight home, making a 3-day stopover in Paris!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Suez Canal transit

In Suez (more accurately, Port Tewfiq) on the morning of April 27th at 10:00, the first of our 2 pilots boarded Sea Turtle for a 2-day journey through the Suez Canal. Jordan could steer if he wished but it was the pilot's job so we decided to let the pilot take control of the boat with us checking occasionally to see that everything was okay. Most of the first day was into a light breeze but with a helping current giving us about 6 knots over land, but less than the passing behemoths that crawled along at 9 knots.

The pilots preferred hand steering instead of using the autopilot and whenever Jordan offered to spell them off, they mostly declined. We spent most of the transit time on the internet trying to obtain the boat insurance that is required by most countries in the Med.

Scenery was typical of what you would expect. Unlike the Panama Canal that is cut through miles of hills, the Suez Canal is basically a ditch in a flat landscape of sand. That is not to diminish the colossal undertaking 150 years ago to do the 193 km (120 mi) of excavation. The residual material piled up on each side of the Canal makes up most of the scene. A few buildings were spotted along the way, as well as a lot of military depots and watchtowers. In many spots along the banks, we could see pontoons that can be quickly joined together to make a temporary emergency bridge.

Most of the Canal is a single channel not safely wide enough to allow for 2-way freighter traffic. So certain hours of the day are for ships going one way only. There is no limit to ship size and Maersk container ships like this one is huge at 1,312 feet long and 194 feet wide (400 x 60 m), carrying 9,000 40-foot containers.

Full of containers

We arrived at almost the halfway mark of the Suez Canal just before dark at a town called Ismailia where we tied Sea Turtle up to the cement wall for the night (N30°35.105' E032°16.354'). And this is when and where the first pilot was done. An obligatory tip was expected but as is so common in such a situation here, the pilot without a shred of pride, tried to intimidate for more.

The next morning we were awoken at 04:30 and boarded by a new pilot for the last section to transit. He seemed very polite and spoke very little English and like the last one, was absent of hat which we provided. Interestingly, at one point when the pilot saw me taking a photo, he quickly said No, no madam and adamantly asked that it be deleted. He said photos were not allowed of military areas.

Nearing the north end of the Canal and just before entering the Mediterranean, the pilot downed an ice cold Pepsi and gratuitously accepted his tip but then asked for cigarettes and a shirt. At least he was more or less polite about it but we had to say sorry. So at 11:30 a pilot boat was summoned and off he went with a big smile and wave. We continued with autopilot on and, after 3 and a half months from leaving SE Asia, we were off into a new sea, the Med!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The good the bad the ugly

We expected our stop at Suez (the south entry to the Suez Canal) might be just a few days. Upon arrival, our greeting and briefing by our good and efficient Agent, Captain Heebi of Prince of the Red Sea Co., bolstered our expectation of a brief stop here. What we didn't realize was that we were entering the twilight zone of the inept (with the rare exception of Captain Heebi).

As required of boats to transit the Canal, we were moored to buoys in front of the Suez Yacht Club until our clearance was given by the Canal Authority which Captain Heebi would arrange.

Now most boaters expect a yacht club to be a venue of natty sophistication where commodores and gentry, drinks in hand, lounge in a classical nautical theme. Well here our dinghy landing was a presage of what a bad definition Suez gives for a yacht club.

There is no wharf. It has long since been blown away. No doubt in a blinding desert sand storm. What's left are crumbling steps for you to crawl up to then navigate a path through dilapidated remains of floats and dinghies where you are then met at a gate by a bored round-the-clock policeman who dutifully does a security check of passport and carried items. This is a Port of Entry he explains.

No matter how many times we came or went, our passports and Visa dates and carried items were checked. The irony was lost when each time Jordan would say We are the same ones and those are the same passports.

Behind the gate is the Club's mostly boarded up building where only a partial redemption is found in its hot water showers and a lone washing machine albeit that takes 2 hours per load and a cost of $5.00.

A couple of days after arrival, a comedy of incompetence began with the Canal Authority rejecting our copy of our boat registry. Only an original is acceptable for proof of validity. The problem we had was that our recently renewed and currently valid original was mailed to our home in Canada. We had a copy of it which was always sufficient for use in all other instances of officialdom to date, but no amount of reasoning would do it for these guys.

As a remedy, the Canadian Embassy in Cairo could authenticate it. But that was a complicated and timely process. So our tack was to have Jordan's son Aaron locate our original and courier it.

Well with Easter holidays, courier closures, local Custom holidays - plus a hard to find document back home - we had our original Certificate of Registry in our hands a mere 10 days later.

So off to the Canal Authority went Heebi our Agent to finalize our transit approval. But, oh no, the office chief didn't like the computer-generated signature on the original document so rejected it. Solution, he said, Go to your Embassy to get authenticated and stamped.

But we had another quick and reasonable solution (as though reasonableness had anything to do with approvals in this system). We had Transport Canada issue by email a Transcript of Registry complete with their official stamp that verified all aspects and status of our vessel.

No, not good enough, the chief said, then told us if we had our original Certificate of Registry stamped by Transport Canada, he would accept it. So after emails to and from Transport Canada explaining our predicament, they obliged and stamped, scanned, and emailed it back to us. Even after all that, the purveyor of bureaucracy wasn't going to accept it. Only after our exasperated Agent showed him the email from Transport Canada explaining that all Certificate signatures are computer generated, did he finally relent and the ugly affair was over.

So after about 3 weeks of boredom (not much to do in Suez other than seek and destroy the hordes of flies that migrated to Sea Turtle generated from the ubiquitous piles of garbage), we were released from captivity.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tour time: Cairo

On a bright sunny morning at 07:00, we and the crew of SV Jubilee hopped in a van with a driver and headed to Cairo for the day. Our goal was to visit the Egyptian Museum, Giza Pyramids, and the Khan el Khalili souk (market/bazaar).

The distance from Suez, where our sailboat was moored, to Cairo was only about 1.5 hours and the roads, unlike our trip to Aswan and Luxor previously, were in good condition, so we were off to a good start! The haze of brown smog preceded the arrival to the large City (2017 population of 9.5 million).

Our first stop was the Museum. On display were rooms and rooms of antiquities both large and small such as statues, items from tombs such as numerous sarcophagi with their inner and outer chambers, jewellery, mummified remains of the ancient royals, etc.

One room was dedicated to treasured items of King Tut. His solid gold death mask weighing 11 kg was on display as well as numerous other items of his of solid gold. We only managed to take 1 photo before being told that photos were not allowed.

Outer chamber of King Tut's mummy

Who can go to Egypt without seeing the great pyramids of Giza! So, after an early lunch, it was on to see these gigantic polyhedrons. To make the experience fun, everyone in our group chose camels as an apropos means of touring the site. The camels were joined together and a guide walked in front to lead the way first to a vantage point for a great photo op, where all 9 pyramids (3 large and 6 smaller) could be seen.

Ridin' high

Look waaay up

Our camel train then took us to the nearby Great Sphinx. It has had some restoration work done to it but still misses its nose. Rumour has it that Napoleon's soldiers shot it off. But more proof indicates that a dedicated Muslim destroyed it when seeing others worship the Sphinx; he was later lynched for this act. We may never know.

Judy and Jordan with Great Sphinx

The third stop of the day was the well known age old Khan el Khalili bazaar. Most of the shopholders are Egyptian and offer the tourist most anything you could want from golden or silver jewellery, beautifully decorated belly dancing costumes, fragrant spices with aromas, T-shirts, and souveniers galore. We wound our way down narrow streets and alleyways taking it all in.

Bazaar alleyway

With all our sights completed, it was decided to make a last stop at a large and well-stocked modern supermarket, something we hadn't seen in months. We filled our carts with items we couldn't get back in Suez.

Arriving back at Sea Turtle after dark, it was a long but satisfying day to be remembered for a long time...