We planned last night that we would take the bullet train from Amsterdam and go to the coastal city of Rotterdam. There are trains that go back-and-forth all day long, but only some of them are the faster trains. The passage fare cost is a bit more than the regular trains and it would be the first time on a speed train for Rosemary and Jesus, our traveling friends. High-speed rail can travel approximately 180 miles per hour. It was a comfortable 40-minute train ride. Regular train schedule is an additional 40-minutes. I guess you could refer to those as "snail trains". It's actually slower because it makes more stops.
One can also travel by high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in only two hours. We may make that journey on our next trip.
Once we reached the Rotterdam Central station, we took another local metro train to the cruise dock. The modern local metro ran underneath the Central station. We got off at the fourth stop and it dropped us directly in front of the cruise ship terminal. I am always amazed at how convenient it is to travel via rail throughout Europe.
It great that the public transportation is available in these countries. For example, gasoline prices in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Italy run between $7.00-$7.50 per gallon. Mind you that the their gasoline prices have come down. They were paying between $8.50-$9.00 per gallon during the 2014 summer months. One can understand why bicycles, mopeds and 3-cylinder cars are popular. Well, look at the bright side. With all that walking and bicycling that they do, they don't have to pay high monthly membership fees to go to the gym to work out.
The topic of gasoline prices and visiting Europe reminds me when 5-years ago we flew in and rented a car in Paris, France. Jesus and Ana Montoya, my wife's uncle and aunt flew in and met us in Paris. They flew in from Longview, Texas. Margarita, my mother-in-law was also with us. I drove the van. We traveled throughout the French countryside for a month. We shared the cost of the car rental and fuel so it was not a burden to pay. We had a marvelous trip together.
Back to our current trip to Rotterdam, I realized that I am ready to travel more often throughout Europe by rail and bus. Last year we traveled by bullet train, in Italy, from Milan to Venice and that was also a direct and pleasant trip. We reserved a seat on the non-stop train that nevertheless made 8-stops. Ah Italy, you have to love their logic!
The cruise ship was scheduled to leave the Rotterdam port at 5:00 pm. We boarded by 3:00 pm and we were delighted to learn that we had been upgraded to have a room with an outside ocean-view balcony. These rooms have a bit more interior space and it allows us to open our balcony door to see and listen to the waves.
Our room was in the front section of the ship and it was positioned right above the area where the ship breaks the water. If one closes the balcony doors, one does not hear the outside wave noise. The sound of the waves breaking in the front of the ship and we find it to be a melodic and soothing sound.
The ship we boarded was the Oasis of the Sea by the Royal Caribbean Cruise line. It's currently the largest cruise ship in the world (approximately 6,500 passengers and 2,500 ship staff). It sails primarily in the Caribbean Sea. Apparently, this size cruise ship had never been paraded in parts of Europe, so it made the national news headlines when it was in Rotterdam. This ship was brought specifically to Rotterdam only two weeks prior to our boarding to get it retrofitted and install new engines. That's quite a feat for them to accomplish in only 14-days.
We reserved to travel on this huge ship to see what it was like and because the timing of doing a third transatlantic cruise fitted our traveling schedule. Additionally, it provided us with the opportunity to visit new ports-of-call. We would be visiting Southampton, England and Vigo, Spain. We look forward to the 13-days at sea as we cross westward on the Atlantic Ocean. There is never a dull moment on board.
As we left port, were very surprised as to how many local persons from Rotterdam, and the surrounding areas, had come to the dock areas to see this huge white color ship leave their country. The Dutch have a long history of worldwide maritime activity. Thus it should not be an astonishment to see entire families and in large numbers to view this distinct luxury ship that was repaired in their shipyards.
The ship traveled slowly through their narrow channel in order to enter the English Channel, we could see that there was a great deal of buildings that were dedicated to petrochemical production. Additionally, along the way there were many large windmills generating electricity lined up along their coastline.
We can recall seeing in books and travel brochures the iconic images of a Dutch couple standing next to their small windmills in their wooden pointed shoes. These highly industrious people have been waging a struggle for centuries with the ocean to keep it from flooding their countryside. Now they will begin with their most formidable challenge, as the ocean levels will be rising due to global warming. In Italy, the island of Venice is confronted with the challenge of flooding. In the Netherlands, it's the entire country that is being confronted. Being that the country is already below sea level, it will be a major undertaking for them to keep their country "above water". I am certain that they are resourceful, creative and determined enough to continue working to save their beautiful country from flooding and vanishing under the sea.
We continue our slow and careful movement toward the English Channel, I begin to remember that prior to WWII this country was certainly open to be invaded. The Netherlands has both extensive ocean and river network. Industry and farming in the interior of Germany take advantage of the Rhine River that enters the North Sea in the Netherlands. The Nazi Germans clearly understood the importance of controlling the port of Rotterdam for their Atlantic navel fleet. The Nazis started the invasion of The Netherlands by bombing and leveling the city of Rotterdam. Then they gave an ultimatum to the national government in Amsterdam to surrender or they would also see their capital city bombed. This country is small and had no chance to defend itself.
We past many large ship yards. One can thus understand how the Rotterdam harbor and waterways could easily accommodate many of their large wartime battleships ships and provide protection for the German submarine fleet. History recorded that the Nazis were very cruel with the population. Nevertheless, the Dutch maintained a Resistance and focused on sabotaging the Nazi forces.
As passengers, we quickly became very aware that we had entered the North Sea and heading toward the English Channel. The ship started to sway and roll immediately as we were faced the Sea's wet and windy weather. The Sea and Channel are usually windy. They have high wave heights, constant swells and it's a bit chilly at this time of year. The Spaniards learned about the rough seas and rough ocean weather if this region here the hard way. In 1588, the Spaniards, in their battles with England, lost a third of their navel Armada to the fierce storms in the English Channel.
I also still wonder how the Vikings constantly sailed from Scandinavia these rough waters to go down as far south as Spain and Sicily to terrorize and plunder the neighboring areas in their small slender boats.
To learn more about the Vikings, I recommend visiting the very interesting Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. Down the street from there you will also find the Kon-Tiki Museum.
Our formidable ship officially entered the North Sea at 8:00 pm and it began heading northwest.
We were scheduled to dock the following morning in the port of Southampton, England. We were going to visit Stonehenge.
Trini and I have visited before, on another cruise, in Dover, England. You see the port of Dover in many movies. You see the White Cliffs of Dover.
This was going to be our first time landing on the southern region of England.