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Published: December 2nd 2018
Friday morning we awoke early to find we were alreaady entering the Panama Canal. On Deck 3 forward they were serving coffee and a crowd had gathered to watch as we approached the first set of locks. These are the Gatun Locks and there was a cruise ship ahead of us. We watched as the Norwegian Jade gradually rose in front of us. It was a slow process so after coffee I retreated back to the cabin to watch from our balcony.I was not feeling the best and once we were through the first set of locks and into the large lake I went back to bed while Fletcher headed upstairs for some breakfast. I could still see the passing scenery through our floor to ceiling windows.Traversing the canal takes all day so we discovred back in 2015,. so we watched from the balcony, Fletcher emerging now and then to take photos from the deck while I rested. We did go upstairs for lunch anad then I slept for an hour., after which I felt much better. Once through the large lake we came to the final set of locks. At the Mirflores ones we found that the Canal tourist centre
was packed with sightseers who cheered, applauded and waved as we sailed past. The "mules" which steady the ships as they pass through the canal are very large and powerful and we were followed most of the way by tugs to ensure we got through safely. Even the second time it is an interesting experience to pass under some amazing bridges and contemplate the effort that went into cutting this enormous canal through the Panamanian Isthmus. There was far less trfiic than last time due to a new, wider canal having been completed so larger cargo ships use that.
By 6pm we were anchored off Panama City whose lights we could see in the distance. We had thought about heading ashore as we were staying overnight but as I hadn't been well we decided to stay on board. We also had a booking at The Chef's Table for their Scandinavian menu.I wasn't sure whether I could face it but I am glad I had recovered and did. The food was great. We had Reindeer soup/ravioli for the Amuse bouche which was very tasty and easy to eat. Next to us was an Indian couple from America with whom we
maintained a lively conversation throughout the meal. They were lovely and , though in their eighties, were youthful looking and great conversationalists.The main course was a lamb dish which was excellent and the dessert consited of cloudberr y"soup", very sweet and delicious. The matched premium wines complemented the food and with the pleasant conversation it was a good night.
The next morning I had fully recovered. We were supposed to be booked on a tour but it was not until the afternoon. We had to go ashore by tender, so about 10am we went down to Deck A and were ferried to the port. From there a free shuttle bus was running into the city.The port is at the end of a peninsula and there is a long causeway to connect it to the city. The bus took us past this and into the modern part where gleaming white skyscrapers were clustered together. One of these is an amzing spiral glass building, twisting its way towards the blue sky. The bus left us at a modern shopping mall, way over the other side from the Old Town, Casco Antiguo, which we wanted to see. After a quick look at
the shops which are now the same anywhere in the world, we hired a taxi to take us to the more interesting and unique part of Panama.This only cost $7 and we alighted to find a beautiful collection of colonial buildings which are gradually being restored. It was sunny and humid, so we tried to keep to the shade. We stopped in Simon Bolivar Square where there is a large statue of him in the centre. All the streets were being deorated for Christmas and there were several people attaching strings of lights to trees. In the square is an old church, Iglesia San Francicso, so we went in for a look. One of the side altars was dedicated to St Jude,s o I had to get a photo of that for my grandson, Jude.It was nothing remarkable but again, being restored and beautifully maintained.We continued to explore the narrow streets where there were several souvenir shops and saw a couple of Viking cruises tour groups. The next square contained the main cathedral This was a large edifice with white wings and a stone centre. It was in a beautiful square which had market stalls around the edges and some
magnificent Christmas decorations, including a huge tinsel covered train.Another pretty square was Plaza Carlos, named after King Charles 5th of Spain. Though small, it was very pretty and fronted onto the the sea. Further on we reached the shoreline and walked along the walls here where there were many craft and souvenir stalls and this skirted the shoreine and came to a headland where there was a large obelisk topped by a rooster, a memorial to the French failed efforts to build the canal, which the Americans completed later.By this time we were tiring and in desperate need of a beer. We found a lovely shady cafe, the Finca del Mar, where we could sit in a shady spotand cool off. We decided to eat here and had very tasty fish and chips, washed down by the local Balboa beer which was also pretty good.
We decided that we had seen what we had come to see so decided to skip the organised tour and took our time. Walking back through the narrow streets there were many other beautiful buildings and eventually we flagged down a taxi and returned to the shopping mall to link up to the shuttle
bus. On the way back we enjoyed seeing the sights of the new city, the staue of Balboa that dominates the main road and the causeway which curves out and over the sea. around the old city. We took the tender back to the ship and rested for the rest of the afternoon.
That night we returned to The Chef's Table for a Chinese menu whih proved to be winner. We started with hot and sour soup, followed by fried prawns, a coconut granite to refresh the palate and a main course of Wok fried Beef. Yummo! Dessert was Mango cream, all beautifully presented and expertly cooked. It is amazing that on Viking the specialty restaurants are all included in the overall cruise price, unlike some lines where there is an extra charge for fine dining. We enjoyed Panama and set sail happily for more adventures in Central America.
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