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Ile D’Aix and La Rochelle

Today was the last day of this voyage and as per usual it was jam packed with exciting activities to make sure it would be one to remember. Early morning all of us jumped on a tender to be transported ashore to the lovely Ile D’Aix. Read More>

Sep 17, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Belle Isle

Lying off the Quiberon peninsula south of Lorient, Belle Isle is the largest of the many coastal islands that lie off the coast of Brittany. Its name speaks to the interest taken by tourists to the island in modern times, for the island combines rugged cliffs (la côte sauvage) with sandy beaches (les grands sables). Inhabited since the Bronze Age, the island was settled by a community of Britons from a tribe known to the Romans as the Veneti; the earlier name for the islands was Vindilis in Latin, or Guedel in Breton. The strategic position off a coastline with a series of important harbours soon caught the eye of Louis XIV, and his celebrated military engineer Vauban was employed to build defensive fortifications which continue to dominate approaches to the island. Read More>

Sep 16, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Douarnenez and Locronon, Brittany, France

Dawn came late this morning in this westernmost extremity of France, the first fingers of light not creeping over the horizon until 7.30am. Overnight our course took us along the north coast and around the tip of Brittany, as the bright beam from the Finisterre lighthouse illuminated the darkness. As we sailed on, further light was cast upon historical and cultural aspects of our travels in a series of morning presentations, first about the phenomenon of medieval pilgrimage, then the significance of the French Revolution. Read More>

Sep 15, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

St Malo and Mont St Michel, France

Some of us who strolled past the historic gates of old St Malo this afternoon might have been struck by the fact that the town’s flag was flying above the black and white striped “Gwenn ha Du” of Brittany, the familiar red, white and blue tricolour of France and the gold stars on blue of the European Union. This was no accident, for such is the historic independence of St Malo that it obtained this unique privilege in bygone times. The inhabitants of St Malo were a seafaring people with global reach, more “Malouins” than Breton or French, their fisherman giving their name in French to the Falkland Islands where they established an early settlement, “Les Malouines”. This name crossed over into Spanish as “Las Malvinas”. At the other end of the Atlantic, it was a local boy, Jacques Cartier, who first sailed from St Malo to Canada in the sixteenth century. Buried in the town’s cathedral, he is commemorated by a fine statue looking out to sea from the town’s ramparts which were lovingly restored following the destruction of the old city in the closing months of the Second World War, a symbolic act that typified the characteristic pride of the “Malouins” in their town. Our morning was devoted to a visit of one of the marvels of European mediaeval architecture, Mont St Michel, just over the border from Brittany in the neighbouring province of Normandy. Read More>

Sep 14, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Normandy, D-Day Beaches, Bayeux, France

After a day spent exploring the battle torn coast of Normandy, one would be forgiven for considering humans to be an invasive species. We started the morning with a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry, which portrays the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Our afternoon was spent traveling to sites that commemorated an assault from the opposite direction: the Allied forces attack on German positions during the infamous D-Day operation of 1944. Nearly 1000 years separate these two important historical events, yet our journey revealed some common threads (pun intended).  It turns out; the Bayeux Tapestry is not a tapestry at all. Read More>

Sep 13, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Honfleur and Étretat, France

France smiled upon us with sunshine for our first full day as we sailed across the English Channel, the smudge of Normandy coastline on the horizon growing more distinct throughout the morning. After breakfast, we were treated to a talk by National Geographic photographer Gianluca Colla, who will be helping us over the next week to be our own best image-makers. While some photographers focus on one type of photo—portraits, say, or wildlife—Gianluca’s are wonderfully varied. His work brings us to the heart of everything, from his family’s warm and lively home in the Swiss mountains, to the cover of National Geographic magazine. In his beautifully illustrated talk, we traveled with nuns sequestered behind a spiky wrought iron fence in Bergamo; mummies (6000 of them!) in a cave in Sicily; and spiders—whose brains, as we learned, age in the same way as the human brain, and whose powerful webs make for stunning photos. One of the most poignant parts of Gianluca’s talk involved his photographs of the working poor—those who, despite working hard every day at grim jobs, cannot meet their basic needs. These moving portraits were images of humanity such as we rarely see.  My own talk followed, entitled simply “French Food. Read More>

Sep 12, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Brugge, Belgium

Our streak of good weather continued into this morning as we disembarked at the port of Ostende under blue skies. From here it was a short half hour ride through the Belgian countryside to the city of Brugge (or Bruges, to use its French name). Considered something of a fairytale town with its canals, bridges, cobbled streets and churches, Bruges made its name as a merchant town and became extremely wealthy in the latter stages of the mediaeval period. We began with a walking tour following our arrival, beginning at the outskirts of the city and gradually making our way in through the beguinage, passing a large group of the town’s iconic swans. Once we made it to the town centre we boarded canal boats, the only vessels legally allowed to travel on its narrow canal system. From here we saw the city from a perspective not typically afforded to guests who remain on the streets, with many striking old buildings rising straight up from the waters. Balconies and various protruding structures overhang the canals, creating something of a cozy feeling in its crowdedness. After disembarking we continued to the town’s famous market square and went from there to lunch in 't Zwart Huis (The Black House). We had a typically Belgian meal of shellfish bisque and traditional Flanders stew. After this the group split. A number went cycling out in the local countryside while others enjoyed a chocolate making workshop. Others still opted to explore the alcoves, nooks and crannies of the city on their own. A sunny day in this iconic European city marked a perfect end to our exploration of Europe’s low countries before continuing on to our final destination of London, England.. Read More>

Sep 10, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Amsterdam

As we cruised gently down the canals of Amsterdam, our guide explained, in her typically direct Dutch manner, that these beautiful, iconic waterways are like a toilet. Every day they are filled with the detritus of a major city… litter, random bicycles that fall from the sides of the canals and more. And every night, the locks are opened in a way that flushes out the dirty water and lets in the clean.   I am part Dutch, lived in Amsterdam for a year of my life and have a fluent understanding of the language, but the flushing fact was just one of many new things I learned about Amsterdam today. Read More>

Sep 8, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Harlingen, Frisia, The Netherlands

Today we have arrived in the Netherlands! This morning we had emerged from the River Elbe and entered the UNESCO World Heritage Site area of the Wadden Sea (inscribed 2009), the biggest tidal area in the world, of which the Dutch people are very proud. A local specialist, Renate de Backere, joined us on the National Geographic Orion and gave us a passionate presentation about the importance, the natural values and the beauty of this world of mud and water. Ten to twelve million birds migrating between the Arctic and Africa each year depend on the Wadden Sea for the food resources of its delicate ecosystem. Mussels, oysters, periwinkles, shrimps and many types of worm provide food for spoonbills and terns as well as resident birds such as oystercatchers, curlew and ringed plover. Each bird’s bill is specially adapted to take advantage of a particular aspect of the food chain. The mussels come together in their millions to form reefs which protect the low-lying shores from the force of the waves and provide shelter for small fish and other creatures. Porpoises and breeding common seals and grey seals are also abundant here. The Wadden Sea was formed only six hundred years ago and is constantly changing – creating and destroying new salt marshes and islands with every passing season. After lunch in the sunshine on the aft deck, our afternoon excursions took us to the beautiful old town of Harlingen. Read More>

Sep 7, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Kiel Canal, Germany

Today was a relaxed and yet eventful day onboard as we transited from the Baltic sea to the North Sea. The trip took a little over 7 hours through the Kiel Canal, which is the world‘s busiest artificial waterway.  Luckily the weather gods were on our side today and we were able to enjoy the outdoor facilities of the ship for the entire day. We looked at the beautiful green countryside pass by along with keen cyclists, pedestrians and some odd swans that curiously followed us along the way.   Not only were we spoiled with the amazing weather, the galley made sure we did not waste any time getting hungry. Read More>

Sep 6, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

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