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    Highlights from My Recent Cruise to Ireland, Amsterdam, and London

    By Jan Wahl–

    Amsterdam is one hip city. There are rainbow flags everywhere. The smell of pot wafts around cafés. There are gorgeous canals and funky barges with liveaboards tending attached gardens. People of all ages dress cool and eat rich. The local cuisine includes pancakes, dripping with butter, syrup, and powdered sugar. I like mayonnaise okay, but might never have it again since it was everywhere on French fries, meatballs, and fish. The flower mart showed the love of the Dutch for bulbs of all kinds, with more colors of tulips possible. Because we had a small car with a guide, it was easy to discover new wonders of this ancient, never bombed city. 

    This was part of a cruise I just took on a fabulous ship, The Voyager. It was my favorite combination: chic and comfortable. It had an ultimate destination of the Beaches at Normandy. It is no surprise that thoughts of World War II and other battles were in my mind.

    In Amsterdam, I thought of the Jews rounded up and destroyed by the Nazis. I had visited the Anne Frank House before, an experience that always gives a human face to the evil. Seeing the Beaches of Normandy was a searing reminder of the courage and calamity as the Allies fought. The fine lecturer onboard gave a salute to Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day. At one of the beaches are metal art sculptures of soldiers made from the rusty landing craft. There is a movie that surrounds them, showing various parts of the events that took place on and around June 6, 1944, from the soldiers to the civilians. There are words in the film; none are needed.

    We moved on to Ireland, which has long been a favorite place of mine. It’s the people, their stories, the Emerald Isle filled with beauty and culture. It is the home of Oscar Wilde, my hero. His likeness is to be found all over shops in Dublin, Waterford, and Belfast. I purchased a set of his quotations on playing cards and two illustrated signs of one of many quips: “All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” 

    There are two very popular sights for Dublin tourists: The Book of Kells and the Library at Oscar’s Trinity College (breathtaking); and the political prison that makes our Alcatraz look like Disneyland: Kilmainham Gaol. The tour through the latter was worth it, sharing stories of both men and women who were held for insisting on a free Ireland and sometimes for stealing bread (very Les Misérables). I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t reminded everyone of Parnell, the classic film starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy about Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell, who was imprisoned at Kilmainham Gaol. Everyone, even the guide, thought I was mad. It’s a good thing I’m used to that! Considering the famine, coffin ships, political prisons, and The Troubles (an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted nearly three decades), the Irish survive and thrive. They are spirited and wonderous people.

    If anyone needs to know how Waterford Crystal is made, I’m your girl. Though no longer owned by the old Irish family, Waterford Crystal still offers a terrific tour, filled with examples of this delicate craft, in the lovely town Waterford. Another engrossing tour was unexpected. Ever since Robert Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, I have been fascinated to see everything possible, from artifacts to historical photos. The Titanic Museum in Belfast has put it all together. With typical Irish humor, the locals like to say: “Hey, the Titanic was fine when she left here!”

    Many of our cruisers missed this museum, thinking it showcased just more stuff on a subject they already knew. I am so glad we visited there. This is a deep dive into the ship, from its very beginnings (it was built in Belfast), through the sailing, the iceberg, the sinking and the trial after.  Get ready to go through the forging of the steel and the workers memories, archival movies and dramatic recreations, details of every class, as well as actual letters from staff and passengers. The end of this detailed and immense experience is a comfortable surround sound theatre with Ballard’s discovery film. Of course, there’s the gift shop, but like the crystal in Waterford, nobody pressures you into buying. They know you will.

    A private guide was a very good idea in Belfast, since the official ones do not talk of The Troubles. According to our wonderful local, The Troubles between the Catholics and the Protestants are still alive and on fire in Belfast. I asked him about Kenneth Branagh’s recent film Belfast and he said everyone has seen it. But he did not like it. “It did not go far enough,” he told me. “There was much more violence.” He went on to show us the iron gates dividing the neighborhoods, still closed and locked at nine at night. There is still an ongoing battle, he said, and that will continue as the children are also taught it. The good news, he shared, is that within five years there will be independence for Ireland. Then two or three years later, Scotland.  

    People are beginning to travel again. See you on the road.                       

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at www.janwahl.com

    Off the Wahl
    Published on October 27, 2022