Panama, has, without a doubt, one of the prettiest skylines around.. I think the magnificence of the skyline is one of the most interesting things about Panama. It is in such contrast with some of the sights you’ll see throughout the city. So, having transited the Panama Canal on numerous occasions, we decided to do something quite different…Ann, Cathy and I booked a full hour helicopter tour over the Panama Canal. Our private tour with Fernando Cardoze, Chief Pilot/Owner of Panama Helicopter Adventures took us over the Pacific Locks, Gailard Cut, Gamboa, Chagres River and Panama City; plus the Atlantic Side Locks, Gatún Dam, and the majestic Gatún Lake and the lush tropical rain forest. We also got a great look at the city and our beloved home, the ms Amsterdam. Between yesterday’s blog on the Panama Canal transit and today’s 4 part blog, you’ll see more than you probably thought possible… The thrill of the day was a Vietnam style zigzag helicopter ride low along the Chagres River on our way to Fort San Lorenzo. The fort was once the chief Atlantic port on the Isthmus of Panama and today it is an abandoned village at the historical site of Fort San Lorenzo ruins. The other excitement for the day was experiencing an autorotation as the helicopter gently glided down toward the ground with the engine off… exciting stuff! On our return to Panama City, we passed the MS Westerdam in transit through the canal and once at the Pacific and our pilot buzzed the MS Amsterdam for me to get some great photos of our ship. This ride was an amazing overview of the entire Panama Canal… It gives you a whole new perspective on the canal and its overall operation. Looking at the photos from the transit and then looking at the aerial photos gives you a complete view of canal operations. I almost forgot to mention that the pilot removed the front doors of the helicopter (a first for all of us) to give me a better opportunity for photographs….Aside from some rain showers, the flight was just perfect, I highly recommend it! Fernando was a wealth of knowledge about the history of the Panama Canal and the Republic of Panama and an excellent host. We did not have anything planned for after the flight so Fernando arranged a tour of the old city for us through the owner of Panama Roadrunner Transportation Company, Denise Patrick. Fernando landed the helicopter on a pad at the Meridian Hotel in downtown Panama City where our Panama Roadrunner Tour Guide, Tom McDougall was waiting to take us on three hour walking tour of the old city known as Casco Viejo…Casco Viejo was built in 1671 after Captain Henry Morgan destroyed Panama Viejo, the original city. Casco Viejo was constructed as a walled city on a peninsula off of Panama City to protect its settlers against another siege. The Old City is reminiscent of the French Quarter of New Orleans. The architecture dates back to the 16th and 17th century and is heavily influenced by French Colonial design. When the French came to build the Panama Canal in 1881 they lived in Casco Viejo and the French Embassy is one of the major landmarks of Casco Viejo. Only a decade ago the area was considered a ‘forgotten neighbourhood” and was in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating area of Panama City. It is currently a neighborhood that is being revitalized and renovated and out of the rubble emerges boutique hotels, eateries and beautiful homes...In 2003, UNESCO designated Casco Viejo as a World Heritage Site and with all of the renovations this area has become a major tourist attraction. Walking through Casco Viejo is like strolling through history…we visited; San Jose Church - the church with the Gold Altar; the Santo Domingo Church another 17th Century church with a flat arch which can still be seen. The original church was destroyed in a fire in 1756, but the exterior and the arch remain. We strolled down the sea wall to see the unique view of Panama City across the bay and artworks offered by local vendors and came upon the Las Bovedas or dungeons embedded in the wall. The Old Town offers many glimpses into Panama’s colorful past. This turned out to be a great day and it exceeded my expectations. We now have eight days at sea until we reach our first stop in French Polynesia, Nuka Hiva. This is part 3 of 4 parts….