Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Continued Gota Kanal Diary

Day four Gota Kanal

May 2nd, 2011

Today we had somewhat of an adventure because the Diana got stuck in a lock where there was some maintenance being done on the lock. Somehow a large piece of plastic got caught in the propeller so we were delayed for several hours while a diver went down to unwrap the plastic from the propeller. Once the plastic was removed we were on our way once again across a lake. The Diana went through more locks and we came to a “step lock” where there were about five locks in a row, all stepping down to another lake. We were allowed again to disembark the Diana and watch as the boat made it’s way from one lock to another until finally reaching the lake. These are great moments to take pictures of our boat doing what it was built to do, which is to navigate from Gothenborg to Stockholm on this classic journey across Sweden. Today we passed more historic homes along the canal and ventured out into yet another lake. It began to get more and more cold as we progressed. I need to mention that one of the more endearing times spent onboard the Diana is the wonderful meals, particularly at diner where traditional and exquisite food is prepared. The Diana has such an interesting mix of passengers from all around the world. Today a passenger got the news on their iPhone that Osama BinLaden was killed, so I can say I was cruising the Gota Kanal when I heard this historic news, that many Americans have been waiting to hear for many years.

On our cruise we have people from Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, England, America and as far away as Australia. The conversations and the lazy cruising is very relaxing and enjoyable. The Diana, even though she is the youngest boat in the Gota Kanal fleet at 80 years old, is like cruising in a time machine because it’s not difficult to imagine what it was like in the 30’s 40’s or 50’s navigating the exact same route onboard such a charming, classic vessel. The décor onboard hasn’t changes too much since the 60’s with beautiful wood finish and brass fittings in her interior spaces, teak decks, wicker chairs on deck, in fact these Gota Kanal boats have attracted famous passengers like the King of Sweden for example. The sunset was beautiful as we enjoyed our dinner. Near the end of dinner I had to stand up and stretch, so I walked out to the bow to enjoy the colorful sunset glimmer on the calm waters ahead of us. I took-in the fresh chilly air and finally went back to the dinning room for some hot tea and more delightful conversations with our fellow passengers. Tonight I got to go on the internet with my lap top. A fellow passenger let me use the Wifi from his iPhone. It was fun to talk to a friend on Sykpe and also talk with my wife Terri, who couldn’t make it on this particular trip. This evening, once again, went very late as we stayed up until about 1:00am to socialize. I was recruited to show some magic tricks so I entertained our little group of 25 people for about an hour. I usually don’t like to stay up so late, but the conversations were so fun.

Day 5 Gota Kanal

May 3rd, 2011

This is our last day aboard the Diana with Gota Kanal. I woke-up at about 7am and made my way to breakfast . I still have more commentary to do for my talk show and a little video to make. I’ll be glad when I return home and all my video, and photos have made it safely. Some observations I’ve made about the type of people who would consider a Gota Kanal journey like this. I’m in my forties and there were some younger people on this cruise who were mostly tour agents from travel companies taking a familiarization cruise with Gota Kanal, so it was not the typical passenger complement. The younger generation may not appreciate a trip like this because there’s not much to do onboard, but watch the scenery go by, rest, relax, and enjoy the fine dining. The usual age of passengers on a journey like this tends to be more elderly, those who enjoy the more restful pace, and a nostalgic, classic, and historical journey. Those who are naturalists, who enjoy the beauty of the country, can experience what the more rural interior of Sweden is like, and go deep into the Swedish culture. Today during breakfast it snowed and it was quite cold outside. This is not the typical time of year that Gota Kanal operates, so the weather is a bit colder than usual. The normal season for Kota Kanal cruises start the end of May and go through the summer months when it’s warmer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gota Kanal Cruise Diary Post 2

Day One Gota Kanal, Gothenborg Sweden

April 29th, 2011

We arrived into Gothenborg around 11:30am and took a bus into the city. A cab ride was 450 Kronas yet the bus was only 80 Kr. Unfortunately we paid too much for a cab ride to the hotel. It was only about two miles, and the cab driver charged us 265Kr which is about fifty dollars. We stayed at the Comfort Hotel right along the waterfront on Gothenborg, however; when we went to check-in at the hotel, the front desk person said we were too early, and check-in was not until 3pm, so we had a few hours to walk the waterfront area with many interesting boats and a maritime museum. I was thrilled to see all three of the Gota Kanal company’s fleet of boats docked in a line, and I had the opportunity to go aboard each of them for a look around. I was particularly interested to visit the Juno, which is the oldest passenger vessel still in active service, first launched in 1874 as a steam ship. Of course she has been re-engined with diesels, but overall, the three Gota Kanal boats have retained their old-world charm and décor. The boat we were to embark on is the Diana built in 1931, and the crew was quickly getting her ready for the first voyage of the season on April 30th. You have to wonder what it would be like to cruise the Gota Canal on a 80 year-old vessel, and I was about to find out the next day.

Day two Gota Kanal, Departure from Gothenborg

April 30th, 2011

Departure from Gothenborg aboard the Diana was scheduled for 9:00am, so we made sure to be at the pier no later than 8am. We were greeted by the First Officer and the Activities Manager, along with several crewmembers, who were ready to carry our luggage to our stateroom. Departure day is always a very exciting time because we meet the crew, fellow passengers and board the vessel that we will call home for several days. I was asked for my cruise documents and then escorted to our stateroom number A14. I must say something about the “staterooms” aboard the Diana, which were the smallest accommodations I have ever seen. Our room had two bunks, there’s a washbasin with very little space to even stow our luggage. It’s a good thing we only traveled with small carry-on luggage, because there’s barely enough space for two people to even stand in this tiny room. These “staterooms” are merely for sleeping at night, not for lounging. I could make an old joke that I must leave my “cabin” to change my mind. I should add that our cabin does not have private toilet and shower facilities, so passengers on A Deck must walk out on deck to a dedicated public bathroom aft of the passenger accommodations.

Shortly after our departure from Gothenborg the crew gathered all passengers in the lounge for an introduction to the staff, a safety talk and an explanation of our itinerary. All passengers were on deck to watch as we arrived at our first lock. It was fascinating to watch the crew members prepare to pass through the lock system, as one crewmember would jump off the boat to assist with tying-up the boat.

Today we docked so we could visit several locks that are no longer in operation. One of these locks was like an archeological sight in ruins, having been built in 1800 and it operated for over one hundred years till 1916. What was truly amazing is how massive and challenging this structure was to build with such primitive tools in 1800. The lock is impressive even for 2011 standards. More about the amazing locks later.

Later in the afternoon, passengers were allowed to disembark the Diana to walk along-side and watch as the boat went through several locks. This was truly fascinating to watch the Diana rise up in the lock, then pass through to the next lock. We were also blessed with great weather and I got some nice pictures and video.

Dinner on our first evening was a wonderful occasion featuring a local fish and an elk roll. We were still trying to adjust to the time change from the U.S. to Sweden, so I thought I’d be going to bed rather early, but instead, I stayed up very late to socialize with a few passengers. We had a great time talking about our various languages, accents and dialects. We went to bed at midnight, and I must say it was rather challenging as we tried to figure out how the two of us will navigate around our luggage and get into our bunks…it was like a puzzle, but once we finally got into our bunks, it wasn’t long before we were sleeping.

Day three Gota Kanal

May 1st, 2011

The day started very early, at 4:30am because we couldn’t sleep any longer. I cleaned up using the washbasin in our cabin, and in a few minutes I was ready for the day. I got some nice photos of the Diana early in the morning with a subtle mist or fog just above the water. We passed a quaint town where the local people come out to see the Gota Kanal boats like the Diana pass through the area. It’s a special occasion for these locals because the the Gota Kanal boats have such a rich history of passing through these locks and canals since 1874, and interestingly enough the exact same boats have been in operation since the beginning. When we reached this little town some of the locals came out to sing for us with an accordion and a guitar. The children were out to greet us to, they gave us flowers, and because most of these locals were church people, they spoke a blessing for us and our journey and finished with How Great Thou Art, and old Christian hymn. The weather was beautiful today and we passed through long stretches of canal with farmland and a few small rural towns with very nice homes that faced the canal. Today we went through more locks and a large lake, before arriving at an interesting excursion to visit a massive fort built in eighteen hundreds which became the gold depository for Sweden until about 1960. We walked through tunnels that went underground where the army would hide and store their weapons and artillery. What made the tour fun was the sounds of gunfire and cannons, it was kind of an adventure tour. This fort complex is massive and currently houses a compliment of the Swedish army. It was Sunday and May 1st, so no stores were open that day. Finally, the Diana docked in a town for the evening, and a few of us went into town. Of course nothing was open except for the Seven Eleven, so I bought some chips and chocolate cause I wanted a snack. Upon returning to the boat, a few of stayed up till midnight in the lounge to talk and socialize.