Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Heidelberg, 23 July

The boat docks on the Neckar River somewhat downstream from Heidelberg and buses take us the rest of the way.  It's a time-saving gimmick: the boat is slow compared to buses; while we're touring Heidelberg castle and its town, the boat can complete the trip to Speyer and we'll be that much further along.

Heidelberg is impressive, but much less so than I had expected.  In that sense, I guess, it was a disappointment for someone who has watched The Student Prince once too often.

No pictures here, alas.  Viking River Cruises' free Wi-fi is worth every penny I paid for it -- uploading anything is next-to-impossible.

Koblenz and Marksburg Castle, 22 July

Great weather again.  Temps in the high-70s and bright sun. The boat docks at Koblenz, a name which derives from 'confluence' because here the Main River flows into the Rhine.  

Buses take us up to Marksburg castle, the only German castle never successfully attacked.  As a result, it is in pristine condition.  "Pristine", in this case, means it looks and feels like something out of the Middle Ages.  There are few, if any, alterations beyond basic creature comforts like toilets.  I'd show you images, but I've already spent nearly an hour unsuccessfully trying to upload two using Viking's 'free Wi-fi'.  You'll just have to take my word for it.

Cologne, 21 July

(Posted from Speyer DE.)

It's raining in Cologne, but not heavily, and our guide is a hoot!  He's got a Masters in History, so he knows where all the bodies are buried.  We avoid the cathedral (which is closed, anyway, thank heaven) and prowl the downtown area, finally settling on a tractor-driven tram that gets us back to our ship.

At dinner, the waiter looks at our table and whispers in my ear: "I've seen tables of six with only one man, but never a table of eight with only one man.  How did you do that?"  If I ever find out, I may sell the secret to him, but he won't get it for free.  At 'my' table is Norene, Patricia, Cathy, Gail, Carolyn, and Marcia 1 and Marcia 2.

Post-dinner entertainment is a cello-piano combo performing (excellently) selected short pieces.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kinderdijk, 20 July

(Posted from Cologne) 

Windmills don't grind grain; they pump water to keep The Netherlands dry. 

They were going to demolish the windmills at Kinderdijk because the newer pumps are so much more efficient, but a Dutch princess pointed out that the rest of the world knows only a few things about Holland: tulips, dikes, wooden shoes... and windmills.  They kept these 19.  Now they can't pull them down because it's a UNESCO World Heritage site.  

There is a message told by the way the vanes are parked: horizontal is 'taking a break'; 11:00 is happiness (births, weddings); 1:00 sadness (sickness, death); 9:30/1:30 is 'permanent stop'. These vanes mark the loss of many Dutch aboard MH17.  (You're seeing them from the back.) 

Re-board and we're outahere for Cologne. Internet service will be spotty the whole trip.

Amsterdam, 19 July

(Posted from Cologne.)  

Our hotel is close to the Viking docks, but far from everything else.  Tram 26 to Central Station and bus 48 to the Maritime Museum and suddenly we're in the 17th century, when the VOC, the Dutch East-India Company, ruled the world. 

The cannons are an interactive exhibit designed to teach children and adults to work a warship.  In the cargo hold is a jungle gym made of ropes and barrels.  Norene remarks that in the US, all this would be marked "Do Not Touch". 

We board the Var in time for dinner.  At 11:30 the boat departs for Kinderdijk.  

Amsterdam, 18 July

(Posted from Cologne DE.)  

Viking says they have 'free Wi-Fi', but it only works in port.  When you're in port, you're on a tour.  When you get back from the tour, you're under way.  Catch-22.)

The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, and mine are no exception.  The Rijksmuseum... out.  The VanGogh museum... out.  Anne Frank's house... out.  A walking tour of Amsterdam has shown us that the Red Light district is far more confusing than shocking, but we are better for the experience. 

At least we know where the shopping is best, and we now have a 24-hour tram/bus pass.  It will serve us well tomorrow.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Amsterdam, 17 July

Finally!  Decent internet access!  I can finally post my first images of Amsterdam!

Got here on Thursday morning, July 17, exhausted from a long trans-Atlantic flight but determined to tough-through the inevitable jet-lag.  Did some small touring around the city.  Settled for a canal boat ride and barely made it without falling asleep.

Amsterdam is a very pretty little town ringed by three arcs of canals alongside of which are houses -- some dating from the 17th century -- all in a distinctive architecture everyone will recognize as 'Amsterdam'.

On the tour, we saw something that automatically rearranged all our existing plans:  The Dutch East India Company Maritime Museum.

It has a replica of an East Indiaman the original of which wrecked off the coast of England, about which more later.  It's late and I've had lots of wine accompanying a great dinner aboard the Viking Var, so check in again tomorrow for more.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Saving Us From Ourselves

Sheesh!  I have a SmartPhone and it's loaded with apps.  One of them is a shopping-list app provided by Publix, the grocery concern that effectively owns Florida.  I tried to get on that app a day or so ago and it demanded my password — which I, of course, could not remember.  Naturally, I poked the "forgot my password" button and got a quick email response from Publix.

The email directed me (via a hyperlink, thank heaven) to a website where I could reset my password, and that's when I noticed it.

My new password must be, according to the instructions there, between 8 and 28 characters long, composed of lower-case letters, upper-case letters, numbers, and a collection of special symbols (pick two or more).

Really?  I need a complex, hard-to-remember password for my shopping list?  Why?  Is Publix afraid someone is going to steal it?  Perhaps there is some danger that an unauthorized person will go on a shopping spree with my list.  Hell, they might even reset my "favorite Publix" to one that I wouldn't ordinarily have chosen.  Horrors!  Alert the NSA.

In truth, Publix should welcome anyone spending money at any of their locations.  That's why that app is FREE to download and use.  It's the same reason Publix publishes coupons in the newspaper and welcomes their use — by anybody.  So why is my shopping list so secure?

Trying my best to be fair, I called Publix' Customer Relations office and posed the question to them.  Their answer was that, as unimportant as my shopping list might be, there are other datapoints that are associated with the account — my email address, family names, etc. — that I probably wouldn't want compromised.  Fair enough...

But whose decision is that?  Is it Publix' job to see to it that my data is safe — or is it my job?

"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." --- Herbert Spencer