One of the tropes of cheesy mystery stories is a gathering of suspects, family, or other interested parties at which an unexpected letter is read aloud. “If you are hearing this letter, that means that I am…”
No, not dead, in our case.
If you are reading this blog, it means we have been at sea, at last, after two years of unplanned isolation.
And we did it in high style, sailing on the pre-Maiden shakedown by-invitation-only cruise of the beautiful Viking Mars, right out of the shipyard. Viking Cruises does a fine job delivering well-above-the-middle voyages, and one of the reasons is that it took a beautiful design and has replicated it–a little bit better with each try–for all of the ocean vessels in its fleet.
We met the ship at Civitavecchia, the ancient port of Rome. Our island-hopping itinerary took us to Palermo and Siracusa on Sicily, then the marvelous nation of Malta, on to Cagliari on Sardinia, and Palma, Mallorca before finishing in Barcelona.
Italy, Malta, Spain. Grazie, Grazie, Gracias.
I was one of several guest speakers on this special cruise, and we enjoyed just about everything. If only we could have done the trip without having to endure the sorry state of airline travel these days, especially on the U.S. airline whose name is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.
Siracusa, Sicily (Italy)
Everywhere on Sicily is special, with its Greek history and its Sicilian culture. Our new ship fit in very well in the old harbor.
A Visit to the Second Island of Malta
Malta is one of our favorite places in the world. If you can’t take a great, or at least good photo there it is time to retire your camera. I’m keeping mine.
On this visit we took the fast ferry from Valletta harbor on the main island of Malta for a visit to the second island of the nation: Gozo, a place less visited by modern tourists but one very familiar to the ancients.
After our ferry ride, we took a tuk-tuk expedition from Yippee Tours circumnavigating the island. Here’s some of what we saw:
Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy)
We doubled back to Italy for the day to the salt water-infused city of Cagliari on the island of Sardinia, which sits just below the French island of Corsica.
Palma, Mallorca (Spain)
Mallorca is the major island of the Balearics, a sun-drenched outpost of Spain. The minor island is Menorca, and the even-lesser rock is Ibiza. Mallorca is dominated by La Seu, the dominating cathedral of tall spires, gargoyles, and gothic arches.
Up close to La Seu. Photo by Corey Sandler
All photos copyright Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. If you would like to obtain or use an image, please contact me.
As Abraham Lincoln said in a message to the U.S. Congress in the days leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation, “We cannot escape history.”
It is interesting to view his words from 1862, in the early days of the Civil War, through the prism of today.
Lincoln continued, “We…will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”
Ukraine is a place of great culture and beauty and a complex and tumultuous history.
This blog is about travel, not politics. But it is impossible for me to think of Ukraine as it is today without hearing the echoes of inescapable history. We’ve been to Ukraine several times–in its wobbly final years under a corrupt, puppet government and then just after the Maidan Revolution in 2014 as a ghost war erupted in its eastern provinces at the same time as the country renewed efforts toward establishing a European-oriented democracy.
Ukraine—the Borderlands—has an ancient and complex story, almost always a pawn in games played by others.
Like much of the Black Sea region, its ports were home to important Greek settlements and then Roman castrum and eventually the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire.
In the Middle Ages came nomadic tribes like the Petchenegs and the Cumans or Polovtsy. Then came the Golden Horde, a confederation of Mongol and Turkic tribes, and then the Tatars. And Old Great Bulgaria in the 7th century.
By the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe, occupying parts of what are now Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine.
Next came the Ottomans, about 1529; they held onto parts of Ukraine until that empire fell in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792.
It was then part of or allied with Russia, except for several years of World War II when Ukraine was occupied and besieged by Germany.
Today, depending on the disputed borderline of the moment, Ukraine is the largest country wholly in Europe, just ahead of France.
(Russia—the biggest country on the planet—and Turkey cover more territory, but each stands with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia.)
On the southern coast of Crimea, Yalta is probably best known—by those who remember history—as the site of the 1945 conference which redrew the borderlines of postwar Eastern Europe as World War II neared its end, setting into place the borders that would foster the Cold War.
The Yalta Conference brought together the “Big Three Powers”: the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill met at Livadia Palace.
Sevastopol, also in Crimea, was and once again is a home base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which made it a military target in many wars.
West of Sevastopol are the ruins of the ancient Greek port of Chersonesus Taurica, founded in the 5th century BC. The tourist bureau, if one still exists, would have you call Chersonesus the “Ukrainian Pompeii” or the “Russian Troy.”
Odessa: The Pearl of the Black Sea
Located on the mainland of Europe, not on the Crimean Peninsula that dangles below it, Odessa is a handsome cosmopolitan city.
Like Saint Petersburg in Russia, Odessa was heavily influenced by Mediterranean culture and architecture: grand Art Nouveau, Renaissance, and Classicist designs.
The great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin lived in Odessa in internal exile between 1823 and 1824. He wrote that Odessa was a city where “the air is filled with all Europe, French is spoken, and there are European papers and magazines to read.”
Another architectural treasure in Odessa is Vorontsov’s Palace, completed in 1830 for Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov.
The design was by the Sardinian architect Francesco Boffo; Vorontsov was so pleased with Boffo’s work that he engaged him to design a grand flight of stairs down to the sea.
Looking down the stairs toward the port you see only the landings, and the steps are invisible; looking up you see only steps.
In 1905, Odessa was the site of an event that would be celebrated by rising revolutionaries.
It was here that the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rose up in mutiny against their Czarist officers, merging with a workers’ uprising.
That mutiny became part of the symbology of the Soviet Union mostly because of Sergei Eisenstein’s great silent film from 1925, “The Battleship Potemkin.”
The film included a scene where hundreds of Odessan citizens were murdered on the great stone staircase, the Primorsky Steps, or as they are now known, the Potemkin Steps.
Eisenstein made the film as revolutionary propaganda, but the techniques of cinematography he employed are still the building blocks of motion pictures.
In the film, the Czar’s soldiers in their white summer tunics march down a seemingly endless flight of steps like a war machine, firing volleys into a crowd.
A separate detachment of mounted Cossacks charges the crowd at the bottom of the stairs.
And its most famous scene: a mother pushing an infant in a baby carriage is shot and falls to the ground, releasing her grip on the carriage which bounces and rolls down the steps amidst the fleeing crowd.
It remains one of the most famous and compelling scenes in motion picture history.
Anytime you see a set of stairs and a baby carriage in a movie, a director is nodding in the direction of Odessa and Sergei Eisenstein. And in doing so, reminding us of the horrors of war.
For more than two years now, we have been steering between threats that line the shores on each side, metaphorically speaking. We have been like Odysseus, navigating down the center of the channel between Scylla and Charybdis on the opposing banks.
I’ve made that particular passage many times without problem from the supernatural six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. Not in the past two years, though.
It’s a natural passage known today as the Strait of Messina, which lies between Italy’s toe and the island of Sicily.
What I’m looking for now is a way to change the channel, either backwards or forwards to a time of safe passage. Fair winds, a following sea, and healthy air.
So speaking of channels, I’ve been thinking of canals, which are by definition are not natural or supernatural, but human-made passageways dug to provide safe passage.
I love most everything about sailing, including the open ocean beyond sight of land as well as travel along the coastlines and amidst islands. But there is something very special about traveling within the tight confines of an artificial canal. Every one of the major canals on our planet has a backstory of human triumph and failure and resurgence.
As we look forward to eventually returning to near-normalcy, I’m looking back at some of the passages I have made.
The Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal is perhaps the most supernatural-looking artificial waterway in the world, a frighteningly narrow rock-lined passage separating the Greek mainland from Peloponnesia, saving a 430 mile or 700 kilometer voyage down and around.
It is only 4 miles or 6.4 kilometers in length, but I have been up on the bridge with captains and pilots as we have made the passage and I don’t believe any of us drew a breath in the hour-long transit.
The canal’s original concept dates back two thousand years, but the V-shaped cut was not completed until 1893. There have been landslides and wartime damage since then, and today only a small number of cruise ships are narrow enough to get through.
It’s only 70 feet wide at its base and several ship’s masters I know hang large rubber bumpers from the sides of the ship as a precaution; on one trip through, we left one of the bumpers behind, impaled on a rock.
The Suez Canal
I knew the photo I wanted to take at the Suez Canal before I arrived in Egypt. The 120-mile or 193-kilometer waterway is just a ditch in the desert, but that is what makes it so astounding to see. There are places where you can stand on the land and see what seem to be massive ships plowing through the sand.
The canal was completed in 1869, spearheaded by the Frenchman,Ferdinand de Lesseps who was not an engineer or a builder. He was a promoter, mostly of himself. Sound familiar?
The massive undertaking was completed more or less on schedule and under budget, which is easier to do when your workforce includes tens of thousands of forced laborers conscripted by the Khedive of Egypt at the time.
The Panama Canal
Ferdinand de Lessups’ next project was the path between the seas, across the isthmus of Panama. He thought he could replicate the ditch through the sand at Suez but the topography could not have been more different. Not only was there a wet, thick jungle teeming with disease-carrying insects but there was also the rocky ridge of the Continental Divide.
de Lessups’ project collapsed in financial, engineering, and medical failure in 1889. American President Teddy Roosevelt threw the resources of his surging nation at the project–along with some sketchy diplomatic and military maneuvers in the region–and completed the job in 1914.
What I love about the Panama Canal is that all of its machinery–the laws of physics–are out in the open to be seen at the three locks up and three locks down at each end of the 50-mile or 82-kilometer passageway.
The Erie Canal
The launch of the modern era of artificial waterways can be seen in the Erie Canal, which runs 363 miles or 584 kilometers west to east across upstate New York. When it opened in 1825 it established a watery passage from the Great Lakes in the midsection of the United States and Canada across to the Hudson River and from there out to the Atlantic Ocean.
It remains today the second-longest canal in the world, after the Grand Canal–the one in China, not Venice.
The huge amount of trade that moved along its hand-dug path with 34 locks and an elevation of 565 feet, established New York City as one of the great financial and trade centers of the world.
Today the canal is too narrow and shallow for large ships; it is paralleled for nearly its entire length by railroad tracks and the New York State Thruway. But I have sailed the Erie on small cruise ships and private vessels and it remains one of the wonders of the world.
The Kiel Canal
Sailing the Kiel Canal in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein always reminds me of taking a long train trip; for much of the 61-mile or 98-kilometer trip you are looking the backyards and back pastures of homes and farms.
Not as well known as the others I have written about earlier, the Kiel Canal is by some measures the busiest artificial waterway in the world with about 90 ships making the transit per day.
It opened in 1895, saving about 250 miles of 460 kilometers of sometimes bumpy seas in and around the Danish straits. The canal was widened in 1914 to allow huge battleships to pass through, and when you exit into the Baltic near the city of Kiel, over your shoulder you can see the shipyards where Germany built most of its dreaded fleet of U-boats for both both World Wars.
The Cape Cod Canal
Perhaps the least-known of the six canals I’m writing about today, the Cape Cod Canal is a testament to the search for safe passage.
The hook built into the arm of Cape Cod has caused hundreds of shipwrecks over the years. To avoid that, sailing vessels and more modern ships have had to head due east out to sea and then down and around the bottom of Cape Cod. But there is a problem there, as well: shoals and rocks that lie between the cape and the island of Nantucket to the south.
The Cape Cod Canal was begun as a private enterprise in 1909 by August Belmont Jr., who had enhanced his inherited banking fortune with major construction projects like the New York City subway system.
The 7-mile or 11-kilometer canal managed to beat the Panama Canal to completion by a month, but it was never a financial success.
And although it is arguably safer than sailing out to sea and below Nantucket, the Cape Cod Canal has its own challenges: a swift current and a dogleg bend at the middle. That combination makes for difficult navigation, and if you see me aboard ship and buy me a drink I’ll tell you a tale of a master who came very close to losing his stripes–and his cruise ship–at the dogleg. I was there and lived to tell the tale of what in the end was a safe passage.
All photos copyright 2022, by Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy of one of my photos or would like to use one in a project of your own please contact me.
Because of the morphing threat of the virus which must not be named, we are instead still home in New England.
Interesting fact: it is colder in Boston today than in Tromsø, Norway. And this morning we have more snow on the ground than the city at the top of Norway, too.
A massive blizzard passed through the Northeast United States over the weekend; on Saturday the snow blew sideways for nearly 12 hours here in Boston. We rode out the storm in our aerie over the harbor, 200 feet above the snow plows and the shovels down below.
Sunday morning I went out on a photo expedition.
When Winter Comes to New England
Downtown Digs Out
The Statehouse Glows
Still Life with Cigar
Dreaming of Norway
All photos and text copyright Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. If you would like to obtain or use an image please contact me.
A journey of a thousand miles (or more…) begins with a single step.
So says an ancient Chinese proverb, perhaps uttered by Laozi in the 6th century B.C.E.
I imagine Laozi or Lao-tzu was preparing for a long walk, or perhaps a ride by water buffalo from one part of the vast lands of the Qin Dynasty to another.
I’m pretty sure it did not involve taking a taxi to the airport, boarding a jumbo jet, landing at a far distant airport, and then being handed a flute of champagne at the gangway of a sleek luxury cruise ship. And I’m certain it did not include more than a year in near-quarantine, two jabs of a preventative vaccine, and infrared temperature monitors at the borders.
But listen, I’m not complaining. We’re starting to get ready to begin to initiate new travels.
With thanks to the doctors and scientists and certain politicians, we’re grateful. We have begun moving about in our own country, and we look forward–fingers crossed–to heading out to sea In August. soon.
You can check on our intended schedule in the section of this blog called, “Where in the World is Corey Sandler?” I check it often whenever I lose track of where I am.
So I’ve been thinking:
And In Other News
Meanwhile, although Boston’s Black Falcon cruise terminal has not welcomed a passenger ship since the fall of 2019, there was a notable arrival just recently.
On June 22, the massive special purpose heavy haul cargo ship Zhen Hua 15 eased her way into the Reserved Channel in Boston’s seaport, carrying three gigantic cranes that will be installed across the water from the cruise terminal to allow loading and unloading of some of the largest container ships in use today.
Zhen Hua 15 took a 10-week trip from Shanghai, down and around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and then across the Atlantic to Boston to deliver a pair of 205-foot-tall heavy lift cranes and a third crane of merely 145 feet in height. (Why the relatively smaller one? As anyone who has ever sailed into Boston knows, the cruise and cargo terminals are very close to one of the main runways of Logan Airport and all construction has to harmonize with overhead airplanes. In addition, when certain very large cruise or cargo ships come in to port, the air traffic controllers at Logan temporarily shut down the north-south runway for safety.)
I made a visit to see the cranes, still mounted on the ship while final preparations were underway to install them ashore.
Sometimes it feels like a murky haze, a fever dream.
From sketchy news reports in December of 2019 to a warning at the start of 2020 to a full-blown global pandemic.
Here we are a year-and-a-half later, and in some parts of the globe we can see the edge of the woods. The problem remains: those billions of people who are not yet able to get a vaccine, and those millions of people who deny science and fact.
I’ll step down from my soapbox with one sigh of exasperation: This is getting old.
That’s what I was thinking on my morning constitutional as I experimented with a new art tool I have added to my state-of-the-art digital camera; a digital filter that all but travels back in time a century or so. All of these pictures are new versions with an old electronic eye:
And this just in: fingers crossed, we expect to return to something close to normal cruising soon. It’s still a moving target, as we hope that the virus is driven into obscurity by vaccines, science, and good manners.
See the page on this website, “Where in the World is Corey Sandler?” for my upcoming schedule which is beginning to fill out for this year and beyond.
Here’s wishing us all fair winds, following seas, and perfect health.
All photos and text copyright 2021 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. If you would like to obtain or use a copy of any photo, please contact me.
At midnight we arrive not at tomorrow but instead at a new version of today.
Deep thinking, I know. It’s been a full year in the Year of Living for Today, with plenty of time for at-home philosophical discourse.
Like the first green shoots of spring, there are signs of hope. Vaccines have arrived and are making their way into arms left and right, although there is still a vast gap between first world countries and the rest of the planet.
Which raises the issue: once those of us lucky enough to obtain protection are ready to travel, where do we go?
Cruise lines are making plans once again; let us hope.
I know we’re ready.
So, on the subject of new beginnings, here are some sunrises.
We are still adrift in the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief and the epoch of incredulity.
As we move from a dismal spring and summer into a winter of foreboding, we can hope that relief lies before us.
My words derive from the famous opening lines of Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities”, published in 1859.
About the same time, in 1853, Unitarian minister Theodore Parker declared, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. rephrased those words poetically: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Last night, the arc of the moral universe bent toward justice, and that is a transcendent good.
That other arc, the awful accounting of sickness and death in this dreadful year, is bending as well, and still not in a good way.
It will be a while before we can inhale freely. And it will be a while before we can resume something close to our way of life as it existed in January 2020, before the worst of times took hold.
I generally take my constitutionals in the early morning, and today I found myself drawn east to the Black Falcon Terminal, the cruise port of Boston.
Not a single cruise ship has made a scheduled call at the port in all of 2020.
Here in my office, I bide my time doing some writing and revisiting my collection of tens of thousands of travel photos I have taken on our various journeys. I continue to uncover hidden gems, and I also have shifted my focus slightly in the direction of artistic reinterpretations of reality.
Bending another arc, you might say.
Here are a few recent works.
All photos copyright 2020 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. Contact me to obtain rights to use any image.
Singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler’s beautiful song, “When Fall Comes to New England” says of this season:
The nights are sharp with starlight And the days are cool and clean And in the blue sky overhead The northern geese fly south instead And leaves are Irish Setter red
The nights and the days and the skies are indeed sharp and cool and blue.
And her description of the leaves is poetry of the highest form.
Of course, there’s a “but” coming; you knew that. But in this annus horribulus, this horrible year, everything is socially distant.
We’re hoping for fresh air and a return to something close to normalcy in coming months. Each night we raise a toast to health, happiness, sensibility, and hope. We can hope.
My terrace garden, 200 feet in the air above Boston harbor, felt the first nip of frost the other night.
There is no official place called New England, but it is usually meant to include the northeast American states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Some of us are willing to grant admission to the eastern part of what was once British North America in Canada including Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador.
In my office, I have spent much of the viral confinement harvesting previously unripened photos of autumns in New England, from New York east and north to Atlantic Canada.
All photos copyright 2020 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. Contact me to obtain rights to use any image.