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Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #6 – ‘La Coruña, Spain: The City of the Tower of Hercules Near the End of the Earth’

Palacio Municipal in the Plaza de Maria Pita - La Coruña, Spain

Palacio Municipal, located in the Plaza de Maria Pita – La Coruña, Spain

It was a rainy, overcast day as we walked through the ancient cobblestoned streets of historic La Coruña – one of Spain’s busiest ports. We passed unusual Celtic monoliths on our way to the remarkable Tower of Hercules, one of the oldest lighthouses in the world that is still in operation.

The Tower Of Hercules - La Coruña, Spain

The Tower Of Hercules – La Coruña, Spain

The Tower of Hercules is still standing at 187-ft and can be seen from 32-miles away. Now declared a National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was constructed by the Romans in the 2nd Century A.D. by the order of Emperor Trajan – dedicated to Mars. Through the millennia, many mythical stories of its origin have been told. According to a myth that blends Celtic and Greco-Roman elements, the hero Hercules slew the giant tyrant Geryon after three days and three nights of continuous battle. Hercules then—in a Celtic gesture— buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the site. This myth is represented by the skull and crossbones that can be seen atop the lighthouse and appears in the coat-of-arms of the city of La Coruña.

Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #5 – ‘Bilbao, Spain: The City of Guggenheim’

Bilbao, Spain skyline

Bilbao, Spain skyline

On June 15th, 1300, Don Diego Lopez de Haro V, Lord of Biscay, founded the Basque city of Bilbao. Seven hundred and fourteen years later, Bilbao encompasses almost 1 million inhabitants, nearly half the total population of the Basque Country and the fourth-largest urban population in Spain.

La Salve Bridge with spider sculpture “Maman” (1999) by Louise Bourgeois, next to the Guggenheim Museum

La Salve Bridge with spider sculpture “Maman” (1999) by Louise Bourgeois, outside the Guggenheim Museum

The main reason I had been dreaming to visit Bilbao, was to finally set eyes on the magnificent Guggenheim Museum designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Thanks to the ship’s itinerary, my wish came true. As we drove toward the shimmering vision of 30,000 sheets of titanium, suddenly there before us was the towering 257,000 square foot monumental masterpiece, built in the shape of a ship. The museum opened in October 1997 and overnight, became Bilbao’s main attraction worldwide. The enormous atrium, more than 150-feet high, is connected to the 19 galleries by a system of suspended metal walkways and glass elevators. The museum’s collection has featured the works of some of the most influential artists of the last century, including Pablo Picasso, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollack, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Richard Serra.

Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #4 – ‘Le Verdon & Bordeaux: The City of Wine and Guillotines’

Plantation-style architecture on winery grounds - Le Verdon, France

Plantation-style home on winery grounds – Le Verdon, France

On a unseasonably sunny October day, we visited the Chateau Marquis de Terme vineyards and their winery, housed in ‘plantation’ architecture. We also toured their cellars and sampled some of their best wines. Following our ‘tasting of the vines,’ we headed from Le Verdon to Bordeaux, which is a UNESCO world heritage city. I soon discovered why…

Karen outside the Chateau Marquis de Terme vineyards

Karen outside the Chateau Marquis de Terme vineyards after a glass (or two) of their best wine

Victor Hugo described Bordeaux as, “Versailles plus Antwerp.” Conservative and refined, Bordeaux is an outstanding example of innovative classical and neoclassical architecture, and a melting pot of culture. The city is the world’s major wine industry capital. Bordeaux wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century, with an annual production of approximately 960 million bottles – some of which, are the most expensive in the world… as an example, the Mouton-Rothschild wines.

The seven-metre-high work, entitled "Sanna," (Jaume Plensa, 2013), depicts a woman’s head.

The seven-metre-high work, entitled “Sanna,” (Jaume Plensa, 2013), depicts a woman’s head.

Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #3 – ‘Lorient and Point-Aven, France: The Little City the Nazi’s tried to destroy’

Karen by stone house in Point-Aven

Karen by stone house in Point-Aven

Lorient is located south of Brittany on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a major fishing port that was established by the French East India Company in 1664, chartered by King Louie XIV. Lorient was a former base of the French Navy but then was taken over by the Germans in World War II and became a German U-boat base (Keroman Submarine Base). The base was capable of sheltering 30 submarines undercover. Although allied bombing raids heavily damaged Lorient, the naval base survived through to the end of the war. The Germans held the city until May 1945, refusing to surrender to the American army that surrounded them. Since the allies could not destroy the base and its submarine pens, they decided to flatten the city and the Port of Lorient, in order to cut the supply lines of the U-boat bases. Over 60,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on Lorient. The city was almost completely destroyed.

Where Paul Gauguin painted in Point-Aven

Where Paul Gauguin painted in Point-Aven

Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #2 – ‘St. Malo, Brittany: The Walled City of Pirates’

Traditional garden of a "Malouinière," Montmarin, France.

Traditional garden of a “Malouinière,” Montmarin, France.

St. Malo, France is an ancient walled city situated on the North Coast of the Province of Brittany. It is now a busy fishing port and seaside resort, with a long and proud history of nautical explorers, traders and pirates. The city sustained damage during World War II by the Germans but has since been restored. It was named for the 6th century monk who converted the locals to Christianity. It was also an important port in the voyages of discovery. Cartier sailed from there to Canada in 1534. Soon after, St. Malo began to flourish as a trading port.

Old walled city of Saint-Malo

Old walled city of Saint-Malo

From the ramparts of St. Malo, one can peer down over the beautiful town, built in solid-gray granite with uniform black slate roofs. The city became notorious as the home of ruthless French privateers and pirates, terrorizing all on the high seas. Even the French King had a certain grudging respect for them, and often helped fill their coffers with booty.

Le Petit Bé: fort Vauban à Saint-Malo

Le Petit Bé: fort Vauban à Saint-Malo

Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #1 – ‘Amsterdam: City of Bicycles, Beautiful Girls and Anything Goes’


Karen touring one of Amsterdam’s 88 canals.

The very first thing I noted, driving into Amsterdam, was a massive sea of bicycles, scooters and motorbikes. I actually saw a man, peddling away on his bike, reading his phone. I saw yet another man on his bike, riding next to a young woman on her bike, with his arm around her. There were children on bikes, senior citizens on bikes, girls, their blonde hair waving behind them, on bikes. In fact, bikes are so popular, there is a three-story garage filled to the brim with them, where one can park one’s bike – much like we do in America, except our garages are filled with automobiles. I was told the reason why everyone has as a bike, is because to park your car at a meter in Amsterdam, can cost over $30 Euros an hour ($37 USD)


The many bicycles of Amsterdam.

I visited the magnificent Rijksmuseum. We got there late, unfortunately, so the tour guide flew me around the rooms. As a result, I only had a nibble of what is housed in that brilliant museum. The Rembrandts, in particular, The Night Watch, is a towering, gigantic painting. It is so powerful, that one wonders how Rembrandt was able to capture in paint, the souls of his subjects.

Notes From Machu Picchu – by Karen Kondazian

It was time for me to finally lay eyes on the mystical Machu Picchu, a place I had always heard about in awed tones, by the people who had been there– although I knew little about. I flew from Lima to Cuzco, high in the Andes at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. When I got off the plane, I felt winded, dizzy, had a bad headache. I was told that I had altitude sickness and was handed a hot cup of coca tea. After several cups, I felt light and chipper, myself again (While there, I drank many cups of this delicious brew… outlawed in the U.S. as it comes from the coca leaf – translated by the US immigration as cocaine). It kept me well… It kept me thriving… Without it, I could not have conquered the altitude.


Cuzco was founded in the 15th century by the Incas, and then later vanquished by the Spaniards. I stayed in an ancient Monastery (1595) the Hotel Monasterio del Cuzco, and at breakfast I heard chanting… beautiful, peaceful chanting – and drank coca tea. Blissful is how I started my day.

Notes From Easter Island by Karen Kondazian

December 12th 2012 arrived quietly behind my back… I had been so busy assisting The Whip to find its own strong wings that there had not been a chance to look forward and dream about my forthcoming trip to South America, Easter Island, Machu Picchu–but unbelievably, it was now in my lap looking up at me.

The moment that I truly realized I was on my journey, I watched Los Angeles disappear through the small airplane window and heard first in Spanish, the emergency instructions, then in English. The next hours on LAN (Lima Airlines) were a Fellini blur of trays of airplane food and wine, tangled airplane blankets and pillows– waiting in strange airports feeling lost, not sure if I was in the right place, the right terminal, the right gate, as no one seemed to speak English…  clocks that seemed to go forward, backward—Finally, seventeen hours, one refueling and 2 planes later, I peered out a now familiar little window, and watched mysterious dark fingers of clouds bleed into the psychedelic orange sunrise. We were heading over a small piece of land that, seemingly, was floating at the very end of the earth. At long last, we were landing… on the most isolated inhabited island in the entire world… the mysterious, mystical Easter Island!