Sunday, March 8, 2015

San Francisco - A favorite city

The Queen Victoria brought papers to our cabin, telling us the trip was over and to get our luggage properly tagged in front of our door before 11 pm the night before arrival and be in the Queens Ballroom assembled as group "gold" in order to leave the ship by 10am. They confiscated our boarding cards when we left for the gangway and so there we were, all alone again seeking a taxi.
(Tulips on a rooftop garden in the financial district - makes me long for Amsterdam in April)

(Storefront selling statues and curiosa)
(Our room in the White Swann Inn)
We spent 5 nights in the lower Nob Hill area close to Union Square. A little Inn, called the White Swann Inn on Bush Street is here unashamedly advertised to future visitors, not only because of its location, but also because it has some rooms with working fireplaces and a cosy, also fireplace lit, basement area where in the late afternoon guests congregate, drinking wine and nibbling snacks, while exchanging the stories of the day. The daily changing type of "lobby cookie" is another nice element that makes this small inn attractive.
(I wonder did they change the bar's name or was it always called so)
(Advertising the opening of a new store)
As long as you stay away from the Fisherman's Wharf and its tourist traps, you could explore this hilly city for years to come on regular visits, without ever getting to the feeling, that you have seen and done the city.

(Lori's Diner had a 3% Employees Healthcare charge - so Californian)
And the food options, like many large cities, are so manifold, that one would need years to eat their way through town, even if they promised themselves to never repeat any place already sampled. We are doing that and we are still having, according to Google, 5344 restaurants to go.
(Ceiling in a Bank Building Lobby)

(Take a bus for a 60 minute ride to Land's End and this is the view)
(And.... You find one of the few casted Thinker statues that Rodin created)
We took a seven day public transportation pass and rode the cable cars and buses every day to neighborhoods that weren't visited before. With Norfolk being hit by snow and wind at temperatures people should never endure as Virginia Citizens, (If we wanted that type of climate we would live in Minnesota or Boston), we relished in mid to high 60's (that is 18C + for you european readers)
(Cable Car Push truck is always nearby when a car can not make it up the hill)
(In one of the lobbies we found a Line Up of well known San Franciscans)
The number of homeless in the city startled us and the buses are often frequented by them, as the control systems on checking paid riders is very, very lax - all doors are entry points and even if you come in at the front passing the driver, he will not really check whether you pay or not.
(William Leidesdorff an early mixed race millionaire courted a lady, asking for her hand in marriage, her father showed him around and said for him to come back when he was as wealthy as he was. When he came back the lady in question had not waited. He died a bachelor)
(Holocaust monument at Land's End) (below: Naked Boys Fountain compliments of a wealthy Heiress to the city, in a park dedicated to dog walkers and Nannies with their babies)
We took this time two free walking tours given by a volunteer organization: San Francisco City Guides. They have 375 volunteer guides and growing. All guides have to pass the organizations classes and exams. The guides are doing presently up to 40 different tours. Any time a new guide wants to join and professes a special interest in a certain area or subject matter a new tour could be created.
(Neat statue near the Financial district)
(Roof top garden above a shopping mall)
(So ornate, above as well as below)
We walked the Financial District and visited there hidden gardens and public spaces inside corporate buildings and heard fantastic stories about the early financiers and investors in this city. The city requires developers and owners of buildings with a certain height or number of stories to provide "public spaces" inside or on top of the building.
(Public space in Wells Fargo building, in the back wall a section of a torn down building)
We also did a Nob Hill walking tour that gave us the stories about the railroad magnates (now remembered in the names of famous hotels there, such as the Fairmont, the Mark Hopkins and the Stanford Court.)
(Ballroom in the Fairmont Hotel)
Those guys were followed by the silver barons, who left buildings that for example house one of the largest still exclusive men's clubs in the nation. Not really discriminating against anybody but women, as the name men's club suggests "men only". Of course the "by invitation only" membership does bring that aura of exclusivity.
(St Grace Cathedral and its ornate door above, statue of Christ below with Buddhist face)
(Exact replica of the "gates to paradise" by Ghiberti as found in Florence)
(Moving art I liked in a bank building)
Grace Cathedral was an unexpected surprise in many ways, looking like a copy of the Notre Dame, showing modern sculptures and an episcopalian denomination, a side chapel for all denominations, a walking labyrinth for contemplation and yoga classes during the week. The beautiful golden door, a replica of the ones to be found in Florence, is startling in its detailed beauty.
(Tiburon's Main Street and adjacent a park with views of San Francisco below)
We took a ferry one day to Tiburon, a quiet village across the bay with unparalleled views of San Francisco in the distance.
(Protest sign on street corner, later saw a city bus with a banner condemning the U.S. for Israels war crimes)
(Above and below: we love being on the water and that iconic bridge can be photographed again and again. Did you know those cables contain so many strands of wire that they could circle the earth three times?)
All in all this little story is written to encourage you, the reader, to visit San Francisco and just roam this city with its sights, smells and surprises, which can assail you any time, at any hour, just around the next corner.
( don't know the name of this church in the Japan district)

(From a roof top garden we noticed a building with three Grim Reapers, doing some inviting poses)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Panama Canal

In 1869 Ferdinand de Lesseps, the same man who presented the U.S. with our Statue of Liberty in 1884, celebrated the opening of "his" Suez Canal and in 1881, as president of the Panama Canal Company, he started the attempt of digging the present Panama Canal, which we traversed on Cunard's Queen Victoria on February 9.

(Pilot arrives before we enter the canal)
(We are ready for the adventure of observing the passage)
(First set of 3 locks called the Gatun Locks - so "up" we go)
(The sign is there to avoid any confusion of where the ship should go)

Let us state here for all to read, this was my first "cruise" and I think for quite a few years to come, my only cruise. I had preconceived negative feelings about cruising and after this trip most of the notions have been affirmed (with the exception of meeting some lovely people), thus making me not a fan. On the other hand, when somewhere in the hopefully far future, mobility requires this means of travel, I will most likely avail myself of the lifestyle of eating, sleeping and force fed entertainment.

(The mooring ropes are still brought by rowing them over)

Returning to De Lesseps failed attempt: the French made one big mistake. And that was, that just like digging at sealevel in the dessert of Suez, they assumed they could do the same to the Ishtmus of Panama.

(The abandoned French trench)

They labored for 23 years on and off. At least 40,000 laborers of which more than 22,000 died in the first 8 years because of yellow fever and malaria. The French spent more than 400 million in 19th century dollars and completed less than 40 percent of the 48 mile/80 kilometer canal and ultimately sold their enterprise to the Americans for a mere $40 million in 1903.
(Neighboring container ship shows the "door" to the next lock)

I will spare you the subsequent history lesson on how Teddy Roosevelt single handedly created the country of Panama, taking it forcefully from Columbia and then received as thanks the US control of the Panama Canal, which, compliments to Jimmy Carter, was returned to Panama in 1999.

(Key to the process are the trains pulling in the ship)
(Steep trajectory to the next level)
(This is a "manicured" part of the canal side)

At 6 am while leaving the Caribbean Sea, we got the pilot on board at the city of Colon entering Las Minas Bay and we inched ourselves into the Gatun Locks between 7 and 7.30am. This three step lock system is actually the most impressive, bringing our ship 85 ft/26m up to the Gatun Lake, a man made lake that allows ships to travel the almost 1/3 of the way to the narrow Guillards or also named Culebra cut, the piece of continental divide rock on which the French "broke" their teeth. We ended up around 2 pm at a set of locks, named Pedro Miguel locks (a one step lock) to the Miraflores lake, lowering us to 54 ft/16.5m. About 25 minutes later we entered the Miraflores locks (a two step lock system) which would bring us down to the Pacific Ocean. About 5pm we sailed under the Bridge of the Americas into the ocean, where the pilot left us.

(No pumps here, water just rushes out to empty the locks)

We had great views of Panama City while exiting the canal.

Well this was the nuts and bolts of the story. The real story is in the picture show where you can "experience" the trip best. Where you can almost hear the crunching and scratching of the hull against the lock walls, where you can see how our ship fills the lock with only yards left fore and aft.

( good picture to show how busy these locks are)

We had great weather and saw ships ahead and behind us going through the process, a process going on 24/7 for 14,000 ships a year. The 1 millionth ship passing september 4, 2010.

( Gatun lake lays ahead - the water source of all locks)

This canal makes the trip of a ship going from New York to San Francisco 8,000 miles shorter (14,000 around Cape Horn, 6,000 thru the Canal)

(new lock canals are dug day and night - they are behind schedule)

Because more and bigger ships need to traverse this canal the new set of locks that should be opening for business in the coming year will be 180ft/55m wide instead of the present 110ft/33.5m wide and substantially longer.

(Culebra cut wall and new wall maintenance activities)
(Queen Victoria waiting for the locks to open from first to second lock)

I was fascinated by the statistics, and although I fear I am boring most of you to death, these few facts were sticking in my head. You must understand here that I am a numbers man. So here I go and then I let you off the hook to enjoy the pictures:

The present smaller locks hold an average 66 million gallons of lake water in their chamber, spilling per ship every time when opening their locks 52 million gallons of fresh unretrievable water into the sea. There is no pumping, it just lets Mother Nature use gravity. This means that everyday the lake supplies the equivalent of two weeks of water supply to the city of Boston to the oceans.

(Above and below the train and cables that drag the ships through the locks)

261 million cubic yards/200 million cubic meters of dirt and rocks needed to be excavated, an amount loaded on railroad flatcars would circle the globe 4 times. And that with the still developing technology of the 19th century/early 20th century. To say it differently you could build 63 Egyptian pyramids with it.

10,000 people work day and night for the Panama Canal Authority.
(Workers need to practice in throwing lines precisely, so here is a practice range)

The new much larger locks work on new water regulating wheel gates with 3 water saving basins (don't ask me how it works) that will only require 40 percent new water per lock use, and will only have to undergo 4 hours downtime per 100,000 operating hours (that is by the way every 11.5 years)

(I never tire of seeing the process of raising ocean faring ships)

Ok, ok, I stop here throwing statistics at you, but let it be said again: this whole Panama Canal thing is amazing and it was another must see, must do of our list.

(A new lock gate waiting for placement)

($80 will get this boat passage, sharing the lock with a big full fare paying ship)

(Gatun Lake in serene beauty)

(Panama City in the distance)

(Panama City view - renowned for its sky scapers)
(An origami style multicolored Bio-museum at the Amador Causeway, created by Frank Gehry just outside of Panama City)