Sunday, May 3, 2015

Norway

Oslo, Norway. 



Today I visited Norway, the 80th nation I have visited.

Norway is part of Scandinavia that includes Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, also known as the Nordic countries. The Nordic countries were always separate entities because for ages, they were part of Denmark or Sweden. 

Finland and Norway are very recent creations. Finland achieved independence from Russia in 1917 and Norway separated from Sweden in in 1905.

Scandinavians are linked by similar languages, ethnic roots, and history. All are wealthy, nearly homogenous social welfare states, and are predominantly protestant, although less than 5% attention church regularly. They share the same cross design on their flags using different colors.  All are monarchies with the exception of Finland.

Norway still refuses to join the European Union and is the richest of the group due to its North Sea oil fields. Probably the most well known Norwegian is, Alfred Nobel who created the peace prize. Of note, different Nobel prize awards are given out in 2 different countries, both in Norway and in Sweden, because at the time the award was created, the two countries were one.



Today our cruise ship docked in Oslo, the smallest of the Nordic capitals with a rich history and breathtaking beauty. It is surrounded by forests and mountains and is located on a fjord. 
Oslo, Norway Visits Today:
Visits to the museum with best preserved viking ships found in the world, ski jump museum (site of 1952 Olympic competition), and the worlds largest outdoor sculpture park. Also, the building where the Nobel peace prize is awarded and Edward Munch (The Scream"), art museum.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Amsterdam

Amsterdam-city of canals, historic buildings, museums, diamonds, Anne Frank House, tulip markets, and free spirits.

Today, our ship docked in Rotterdam, Europe's largest port. It took hours to ride in amidst the bustling commercial sea traffic.

From there, I took a 1.5 hour bus ride to Amsterdam.

For several hours, I visited Amsterdam, Europe's best preserved 17th century city, with 7000 classified historical buildings and Europe's 4th largest financial center. It is known as the Venice of the north because it is built on 165 canals, spanning 1000 bridges. 

The name of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands but some call it Holland as Amsterdam is situated in the province of North Holland which became known worldwide for its 16th century global trade and conquests. Although it is the capital of the Netherlands, the seat of government, the Hague, is located 45 miles to the north. Of note, the Netherlands is Europe's most densely populated nation.

Highlights of our day included Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tour with 12 stops around the city, a walk along the famous Kalverstraat from DamSquare, a visit to unique buildings such as the only remaining hidden Catholic church dating from the Reformation, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, the Red Light District, flower markets, and more.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Museum visits in the Caribbean


Museum visits in the Caribbean.



Yes, I will admit it, I took an 11-day Southern Caribbean cruise that included five port stops in St. Thomas, St. Kits, St. Lucia, Curacao, and Aruba, and I actually visited history museums in two cities.

The Kura Hulanda museum in Willemstad, Curacao and The National Archaeological Museum in Oranjestad, Aruba.   Of note, both islands are parts of the (former) Dutch Empire.  Surprisingly, I was greeted in all the shops with words in Spanish.

Curacao








 



 





 First I will give a brief summary of my visit to the island of Curacao.

The sail-in was lovely as I saw all the bright, pastel gingerbread buildings, the turquoise blue water in the canals underneath the Queen Emma Bridge, and the vendors setting up their colorful wares alongside the port.

As I disembarked the cruise ship, I walked over to the vendor area and listened to the sales pitches of several tour operators.  I was immediately sold on the first gentleman with whom I spoke. He showed me a map that highlighted all of the points of interest on the tour, in a van minivan,--a two hour tour in an air-conditioned vehicle, for only $20.

Since I had not taken any tours on my first three ports of call, I decided I would like to visit this lovely island.

Here are some of the things that I learned: Curacao probably means “healing island” in Portuguese. Curaçao has 100 UNESCO monuments and 80 plantation homes; Jews were a very powerful economic force here since the Dutch took them in after they were expelled from Spain; there is free Wi-Fi in the downtown area of the capital city; they have 0.5% crime, they are 3 to 4 hours away from Venezuela by boat, the leading industries in order of importance are oil, tourism, ship repair/dry dock, and they are a free zone. 

Curaçao was a major player in the slave trade because the Dutch were leaders in the international slave trade. Taking over major Portuguese trading posts on the west coast of Africa, they purchased enslaved Africans and transported them to Curaçao and Brazil, where they were sold to wealthy plantation owners from across the Americas.  Curaçao became one of the largest slave depots in the Caribbean. By the time the last slave galleon arrived in the harbor in 1788, the Dutch had transported some 500,000 Africans to slavery.

 "Bon Bini" means welcome.

 We even made a stop at the Curacao Aloe Plantation and Factory where we took a tour of the various stages of production of aloe vera, renowned for its healing powers.   It was founded by a Jewish family (Cohen) who aided the original Dutch settlers because they spoke Spanish that came in handy.

The tour lasted from 10:20 AM until 12:20.

It was a delightful two-hour tour where I was able to witness the beauty of this island.

 
Kura Hulanda Museum in Curacao

The next part of my visit to this charming island was not beautiful.

I visited the little-known museum dedicated to the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas.




I left the port area, map in hand, searching for the museum. I knew I was close but uncertain of precisely which street to take so I asked a policeman for help.   He stopped what he was doing walk to me for a block and a half and pointed at the tiny street where the museum is located. Such hospitality!

Our tour guide informed me that our bus driver’s wife conducted tours of this museum. I sought out Evelaine there.  I found her to be rather dour and depressing and I could only understand one out of every five or six words because her English was a very difficult understand.  Fortunately, I am aware of much of this history and there was a clear signage throughout each exhibit.

 

There were exhibits on The Arab slave trade, the Atlantic slave trade, slavery in different parts of the Americas, slavery in the US, Blacks in the USA- from slavery to civil rights, the middle passage and more.

Included in this museum is a concentrated collection, one of the few worldwide, of artifacts such as: part of a hull of a slave ship, traps used to entrap perspective slaves in West Africa, 2 Ku Klux Klan robes, newspaper clippings, signage, and posters communicating various elements of the slavery industry dating as far back as the 1600s.





 

I was moved by this historically accurate, compelling, in-your-face, no-holds-barred, portrayal of the brutality inflicted upon a people all driven by wide scale greed.  Empires derived massive wealth and famous corporations such as Lloyd's of London attribute their origins to profits from the Atlantic slave trade.

After my tour ended with the guide, I went back and reviewed many of the sections on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the role of European empires in slavery in Africa, the history of blacks in the USA, and more, on my own.

In all, I spent at least two hours in the museum.

 Punda, Curacao

After the visit, I took the exhilarating walk across the Queen Emma Bridge from Otrabanda to the Punda side of Willemstad.  I enjoyed the walk across the bridge, creepily shaky at times, and lined with colorful colonial buildings along the waterfront.

Punda--found it to be a bit commercial as it was peppered with souvenir shops, designer shops, and tacky clothing shops, something I could see anywhere.  The architecture, well preserved from Dutch colonial days, is intriguing.  On my next visit, I will actually visit the floating market known for its Venezuelan ships laden with tropical fruits and vegetables that arrive early every morning.





 

The National Archaeological Museum in Aruba











 

This museum provides an interactive educational experience celebrating more than 5000 years of Amerindian culture. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, Aruba was not involved in African slavery nor in broad scale agriculture using African slaves. According to Henry Loius Gates, Aruba has virtually no African past.  Today, only 20% of Arubans are descendants of Africa, rather 40% are European and 40% are Amerindian.  I cannot believe that Siri knows the word Amerindian, including how to spell it with an A.

It was the only part we visited on this itinerary with the faces of the residents were not 99% Black or East Indian (shopkeepers).

Here I learned that the primary industry (after Aruba was dismissed by the Spanish crown as a useless in the 1500s), was ranches (horses, donkeys, and goats) and ship repair by the Dutch who conquered the island in 1636.

I enjoyed my visit to this charming museum and gain a true appreciation for Aruba's history here.   Of note, the museum is only a 10 minute walk from the port.


 

After leaving the museum, I walked through the surrounding streets that were lined with shops and restaurants, mostly filled with souvenirs and electronics. Nothing distinctive.

I learned a lot from my visits to history museums on 2 Caribbean islands on my 11 day southern Caribbean cruise.

I recommend them both.



update: I just read a question posted on Facebook by a cruise director from a major cruise line. He asked readers to discuss their favorite activities in the ports of Aruba and Curaçao.  Out of 190 comments, no one mentioned a museum.  I know I am in anomaly.

 
 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Saudi Arabia: women drivers are terrorists!


Once again, Saudi Arabia makes the headlines for criminalizing virtually everything a woman does outside the home.

Attached is a direct excerpt from an AP article by Aya Batrawy that describes the latest arrest, and classification as terrorist, of women Saudi drivers.
 
 


Often, what I enjoy most about such articles is the comments.  Here are a few:
Reader Comments:
Our allies......worse than many of our enemies.
The United States needs to put their foot down and not do any business with these countries and to ban all their flights into the United States until they change their policy about women. Treating them like second class slaves is disgusting. Just because of the oil we allow these crimes to be accepted and their treatment of women would never be allowed in our country.
This Saudi terrorism court has plenty of wealthy Saudis to prosecute who have been funding terrorism for decades and haven't touched a single one of them. They funded the terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and they funded ISIL. Yet here they are, prosecuting women for vile (non) crime of getting behind the wheel of a car.
It tells a lot about you by the friends you keep
"For example, this year it sentenced a revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the government, to death for sedition and sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer, Waleed Abul-Khair, to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting public opinion."

The US supports one of the most repressive regimes in the world, yet Republicans are upset about normalizing relations with Cuba?
 
The United States needs to put their foot down and not do any business with these countries and to ban all their flights into the United States until they change their policy about women. Treating them like second class slaves is disgusting. Just because of the oil we allow these crimes to be accepted and their treatment of women would never be allowed in our country.

 

Saudi Women Drivers Referred To Terrorism Court

By AYA BATRAWY Associated Press12/25/2014

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month in defiance of a ban on females driving were referred on Thursday to a court established to try terrorism cases, several people close to the defendants said.
 

The cases of the two, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were sent to the anti-terrorism court in connection to opinions they expressed in tweets and in social media, four people close to the two women told The Associated Press.

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They did not elaborate on the specific charges or what the opinions were. Both women have spoken out online against the female driving ban. Activists say they fear the case is intended to send a warning to others pushing for greater rights. The four people spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of government reprisals.

The Specialized Criminal Court, to which their cases were referred, was established in the capital Riyadh to try terrorism cases but has also tried and handed long prison sentences to a number of human rights workers, peaceful dissidents, activists and critics of the government. For example, this year it sentenced a revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the government, to death for sedition and sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer, Waleed Abul-Khair, to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting public opinion.

Human Rights Watch recently warned that "Saudi authorities are ramping up their crackdown on people who peacefully criticize the government on the Internet." It said that judges and prosecutors are using "vague provisions of a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge and try Saudi citizens for peaceful tweets and social media comments."

This was the first time women drivers have been referred to the court, activists said.

The detention of al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33 — both arrested on Dec. 1 — has been the longest yet for any women who defied the driving ban. They were vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban, and have a significant online following with a total 355,000 followers on Twitter for the two of them at the time of their arrest.

Though no formal law bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia, ultraconservative Saudi clerics have issued religious edicts forbidding women from taking the wheel, and authorities do not issue them driver's licenses. No such ban exists anywhere else in the world, even in other conservative Gulf countries.

The four people close to the women said their lawyers appealed the judge's decision to transfer their cases. An appeals court in Dammam, the capital of Eastern Province, is expected to decide on the referral in the coming days, they said.

Authorities have a history of clamping down on Saudi women who attempt to drive. In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving. They had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. More than 20 years later, a woman was sentenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driving, though the king overturned the sentence.

Ultra-Orthodox Men Cause Flight Delay by Refusing To Sit by Women, Again

Here is an article by Antonia Blumberg about another case of patriarchal religions disrupting society and violating women’s civil rights.  Why are we allowing this to happen in 2014?  Shouldn’t religious people stay home if they cannot adapt to society’s norms or should women continue to suffer while accommodating them?

Ultra-Orthodox Men Cause Flight Delay by Refusing To Sit by Women, Again By Antonia Blumberg


 

An international Delta Airlines flight was reportedly delayed for roughly half an hour when several ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refused to sit next to female passengers.

Israel Radio first reported that Delta Flight 468, bound for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport from John F. Kennedy Airport, took off 30 minutes after its scheduled departure time due to commotion onboard. Several Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox men, refused to sit in their assigned seats, which placed them next to women. But other passengers also refused to swap seats with the men, causing the prolonged delay.
 
 

In Ultra-orthodox Judaism, physical contact between men and women is forbidden unless they are first-degree relatives or married to one another.

HuffPost reached out to Delta Airlines for comment but did not hear back.
A similar incident affected an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv in September when Haredi men began asking women seated next to them to move and even offered compensation for seat changes. Many called the flight an "11-hour long nightmare" and several women started a Change.org petition after the experience to pressure El Al to prevent future harassment of female passengers on its flights.

Posted: 12/29/2014 3:03 pm EST Updated: 12/29/2014 10:59 pm EST


 

 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My December 2014, 11-night cruise will bring my nations visited total to 79!!!

My December 2014, 11-night cruise will bring my nations visited total to 79!!!

I look forward to visiting 5 beautiful ports and relaxing on my balcony for 5 sea days!  I will also enjoy the holiday festivities in ports and on the tastefully decorated ship!