Written November 5, 2021
I am aboard a tall ship at last! I should start where I left off, however, in Spain. Since leaving there our crew has visited four countries; France, (briefly) Belgium, Netherlands, and at last our ship’s homeport in Bremerhaven, Germany.
It was a mere seventeen-hour bus drive from UNEDCO to our first stop in Bordeaux, France. It was the longest trip I’ve been on by plane or by vehicle, and I can’t say it was pleasant. We did stop every three hours or so at a gas station to stretch and buy snacks, but nonetheless it was a long day, and we did not arrive at our hostel until close to three in the morning. Several of our bags, including my own, had been left at the facility back in Spain and required a taxi to travel through the night to bring them to us; but my fellow crew were generous in lending me some extra toiletries and a change of clothes for shore leave the following day in Bordeaux.
The season seemed to change during our drive from Spain to France and we awoke in the morning to fall colours and sub-20 weather. The tram is 3 euro for a 24-hour pass and can take you anywhere you need to go in the city, so after a breakfast of assorted French pastries, my group and I took the tram to the riverside. We followed the narrow, cobbled streets crowded with café patios and bicycles to the popular sights of the Grande Théâtre, Place des Quinconces, Vielles Ville, and Cathedrale Saint-Andre. The fountains, statues, and castle towers were impressive, but it was the cathedral that was the most interesting to me. From what I could gather from the french signs, it was originally consecrated in 1096. Aside from the towering ceiling and countless stained-glass windows, a completely gold-plated pipe organ took up the whole back wall and smaller chapels dedicated to various saints ringed the outer walls around the main large service area. There were tombs of previous church figures with statues adorning the coffins. It smelt damp and dusty and old. Candles burned on shelves almost everywhere you looked. The energy was like nothing I had ever felt before; ancient, solemn.
Dinner, naturally, consisted of crepes and a dessert of macaroons. A carnival was set up in the main square of the city and from the top of the ferris wheel one could see the lights of Bordeaux endlessly sprawling out, with the river winding through and the odd church tower jutting out above the rooftops. We had cotton candy, churros, and went on rides until we were exhausted.
The next day was drizzly and grey, so we spent most of it at the Muśe des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux before leaving in the afternoon for yet another seventeen-hour bus ride; this time to a summer-camp facility called Forest Lodge just outside the small village of Heino in the Netherlands. While I did not get one hour of sleep the entire overnight ride, at least on this trip my seabag came with me.
It was lovely to watch the sunrise over the green, misty fields in the Netherlands. Dairy cows and dykes broke up the countryside. It really is as flat as they say it is here. Maybe I am biased due to my heritage, but the Netherlands to me had a peaceful and comforting effect. The three days spent at Forest Lodge were the perfect transition time to rest and reset before boarding the boat. The cabins were warm and comfortable. There was a high-ropes course and climbing wall for us to practice our mast climbing skills. We could go on runs in the morning or evenings to the village and there was plenty of space to have soccer games on the grounds. Coffee, tea, and Dutch cookies were made always available, and the soup served at lunch every day tasted exactly like the way my Pake (grandpa) used to make it. To have space, sleep, and familiar food was what I needed after a month of very little of those three things.
Our last afternoon we were given shore leave in Giethoorn, or “the Venice of Netherlands”; a small idyllic village with thatched roof houses, well-kept gardens, and canals running everywhere in the place of streets. Families putted around in little boats and every house had a bridge running to it from the sidewalk on the opposite side on the canal. Later, to celebrate our last evening on shore, we visited the “Sailor’s bar”, an old ship on the grounds of Forest Lodge that is decked out with marine paraphernalia. Old figureheads and anchors, helms, charts, paintings of famous ships, and such covered every inch of the wooden interior. There was dancing and sea chanties and supper and soda (no alcohol permitted for Class Afloat students).
The next morning felt like Christmas, and the excitement just kept building on our final bus ride to the ship in Bremerhaven. The first glance at what would my home for the next six months had my heart in my throat. During the covid tests, unpacking, and the ship tour I just couldn’t believe I was finally aboard the Alexander Von Humboldt II. The smell, the gentle rocking, the rigging, it all felt so foreign and yet familiar. I am very keen to get to know each of the ropes and every detail about the ship, but I keep telling myself that there will be plenty of time and opportunity ahead of me to do so and that I must be patient. The ship and I will get to know one another. In the meantime, there is allot of safety drills, provisioning, and sail preparation to do before we depart on the first leg of our voyage, which will be nineteen days of sailing to Funchal, Madeira. Sailing in the North Sea and through the Bay of Biscay in November is an undertaking, I am told. I am not feeling ready, but at the same time I will never be more prepared. It is time to go out and experience everything that is to come, whatever that may be.