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A Windy Morning with Windmills

Who doesn’t smile when they think of a windmill?  On this excursion during our trip on AMAWaterways, we had plenty to smile about.  

The rain held off for our visit to Kinderdijk a UNESCO World Heritage site with 19 windmills, some dating from the mid-1700s. In a country 40% below sea level, the windmills have played a significant role in pumping excess water into rivers to prevent flooding. Even Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport is below sea level, by almost 15 feet.

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Birth by Dragon: Halong Bay

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A picture is worth a thousand words – this is Halong Bay.

Halong translates to “Descending Dragon” and you can see how this UNESCO site got that name. Many of the limestone formations have also been given names, such as “Heavenly Gate” pictured here.  The Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin within the South China Sea. Fog and haze surrounded our morning trip on a re-imagined “junk,” as we journeyed around a few of the areas’ thousands of Karst islets.dsc_0994-smcopy

Our visit to the Thien Cung “Heavenly Palace” Cave on Dau Go Island was magical and far exceeded my expectations; even a claustrophobic would not feel oppressed here.  It was so amazing, I didn’t even think about the hundred steps up to enter or the few hundred more once inside.  Locals have added some colored lights and while not at all necessary, it was a very pretty effect that photos don’t do justice.  Nor do photos capture the enormity and grander of this unique underground system.

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Generally, visitors here also see floating camps of fisherman, but with the pending New Year celebrations, they headed inland for vacation.

Our ship was anchored in the Bay and by the sail-away later in the day, the haze lifted and it proved to be a fabulous photo-op. I didn’t want it to end.

#LoveTravel @AzamaraVoyages @Azamara Journey

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The Walled City of Dubrovnik

View of Lovrijenac Fortress from the top of the walled city of Dubrovnik.

View of Lovrijenac Fortress from the top of the walled city of Dubrovnik.

Can water get bluer; weather cooler; and medieval towns more magnificent? Apparently so- Dubrovnik’s Old Town is like Kotor on steroids . . . . amazing. Even the crowds were on steroids – they seemed to have multiplied ten-fold; not surprising since Dubrovnik is a port many of the larger ships visit, and there were three ships in port today.

Our scheduled tour was canceled today, so we did a self-tour of the ancient walled town and had a lovely, delicious lunch on the waterfront of the Old Harbour (at the perfectly located Arsenal Taverna).

The amazing thing about Dubrovnik’s Old Town is the wall has been completely restored surrounding the entire city. The first sight is of the walls and ramparts which at 6,363’ long, up to 82’ high and as much as 20’ thick in places are like nothing I have ever seen. It is all much larger than imagined, by far the largest of the medieval towns we have visited. You can imagine how this city flourished as a self-governed city-state and important shipping center for hundreds of years. You do have to buy a ticket to go up on top of the walls, but it is worth every kuna.

Now another UNESCO site, the walls are magnificent. We entered through the main Pile Gate, walking over what used to be a moat and a drawbridge, now placed permanently in the down position, to join the thousands of other tourists visiting for the day. We saw the Big Fountain of Onofrio at the entrance and Onofio’s Little Fountain near the Harbour; walked the Stradun filled with shops hawking pricey souvenirs; took pictures beside the mysterious Orlando’s Column (Orlando might have been an 8th century legendary knight who fought off pirates and saved the city); and saw the requisite clock tower, domes, palaces, monasteries and churches that make every medieval city complete.

All the crowds brought to mind what it must’ve been like in the 14th and 15th centuries when the city was thriving, and most of the population would live, work and do business within the walls. I can only imagine what it must’ve smelled like back then.

But in this city, the best of all was walking on the walls. My daughter and I made it half-way around before deciding if we didn’t catch the shuttle back to the ship we would miss our spa appointments,and my husband gets the prize for completing the entire circuit. We started at the tower called Minčeta Fort and also saw Bokar and St. John’s Fort. From the Bokar Fort we had a good view of the Lovrijenac fortress on a nearby point across the water. The dramatic view down to the rocky Adriatic Sea is interspersed with places to eat, private swimming areas and other spots where people have chosen to picnic and swim from the craggy rocks (no beach in sight). It looked pretty frightening to me.

The evening was spent dining under the stars and listening to the Azamara Quest’s great musicians and singers perform hits from the 70s and 80s.

If I was looking for a knight in Kotor, I would expect no less than a few dozen in the Old Town of Dubrovnik.