Ice Encounters, Into the final week

Monday, June 29: We’re at sea, with some waves and wind today, on our way to Reykjavik. Sailing out of Nuuk was spectacular on Saturday and while at dinner that evening in the Grand Dining Room facing the aft windows, I spied a number of whale spouts.

We woke up Sunday to another fog bank and had some real fun for a while as Nautica dodged bigger and bigger icebergs at the southern end of Greenland, until the Captain said “No more of this” (in Ukrainian, and only likely to his crew members, because we never heard anything) and abruptly turned to the southwest for a short time to get out of the path of the ice. We were in our room at the time, grimacing at the larger and larger floes near the ship and didn’t feel the thrusters and the sharp turn, but I guess it did alarm some folks in the Nautica Lounge up front on Deck 5. Fortunately, the ship was able to get back on course to the northeast fairly quickly and continue towards Iceland.

Last night was also the Oceania Club party, which was very nice. We are now at the bronze level with six cruises, but some folks have a ridiculous number of cruises under their belts on a cruise line that has only been around since 2004. The cruise line supplied free drinks and nice appetizers and we sat with a couple from Canada who got their gold pins (15 cruises on Oceania). Unfortunately, which seems to be the case with people from Canada, we got into a discussion about how crazy so many Americans are with respect to certain subjects, so that was not a lot of fun, but they were gracious about the differences in opinion, unlike the couple last year that spent their time talking to us bashing everything about America until we said “enough” and walked away.

After the party, we had dinner in the Terrace at a table by the window and the fog lifted so we could see the dramatic mountains of southern Greenland. We also passed below a series of intriguing wave clouds that looked like fog banks as you approached them, but were not.

Tomorrow we are in Reykjavik for a long day (early morning until 10:00 pm) and have a Super 4X4 tour in the morning. We will also have time to wander around the city in the afternoon. The temperature tomorrow is supposed to be in the mid-sixties, with no rain in the forecast. Even better, the forecast for Liverpool on Friday is for a temperature near 80 degrees!

The days at sea have their routines, but we look forward to the final four ports and are getting more anxious to get home and see our kitties and family/friends.

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Slideshow: Nuuk, Greenland

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Lazy days at sea, an interesting day in Nuuk

Saturday, June 27: After three days at sea, due to the revised itinerary, we finally arrived in Nuuk, Greenland today. This capital city of Greenland is on the southwest coast of the largest island in the world. We had nice weather for our passage past southern Greenland on Thursday and did see quite a few large icebergs, although not nearly as many as Antarctica. Yesterday, we saw more spectacular scenery, with rugged mountains, but did enter a big fog bank last evening for several hours (thank you, inventors of RADAR). The seas were like glass as we transited the Labrador Sea between Greenland and northern Canada.

A few shore excursions were offered for Nuuk and we signed up for a fjord tour with possible whale encounters. At least there wasn’t whole-scale bedlam to turn these tour requests in and get tickets, and we also received confirmation of our Super 4X4 tour in Iceland.

Our fjord tour was at 10:45 am, so we were grabbing some morning z’s when they started lowering the tenders, which was very noisy. Last night, because of the itinerary changes, they had free drinks for two hours and some of the sedate types on board got drunker than a surfeit of skunks. This is an inside joke: our great cruise director, Ray, usually asks about the names for groups of animals during team trivia, so I looked that one up for skunks. There are a bunch of University of Wisconsin alumni on board, so I’m sure before this is all said and done we will have to regurgitate the name of a rowdy group of those obstinate badgers (it’s a Cete, by the way).

After I showered and dressed this morning, I opened the curtains and beheld a beautiful sunlit vista of Nuuk, with jagged snow-covered peaks. I went out on the veranda — it was downright warm — and got a few photos. Our tour boat came right up to the ship (they had tender operations today) and off we went down the fjord. There were only 12 of us on our Taga boat, which was very comfortable and modern and is the boat of choice in this part of the world. We settled into comfy chairs inside, while our Danish Captain took us north in the fjord. His assistant was a lovely young lady from Nuuk, who went to secondary school in Denmark and also on an exchange program to New Zealand. They both spoke almost perfect English.

The scenery was very dramatic as we traveled north of Nuuk. We did not spot any whales, but we did have a lot of interesting experiences. The rock formations at the base of Greenland are among the oldest on Earth, around 3.8 billion years in age, and we saw them up close. There is little or no seismic activity and, of course, Greenland is covered by a massive ice sheet in the interior. Apparently, many of the glaciers are retreating, but since this cycle has happened time and time again over the course of the geologic history of the Earth, I am extremely dubious that the cause is anything other than normal climate variations, as we are coming out of the last major ice age (our Captain today would likely agree with that and in the museum later today we saw confirmation that there were warming periods of greater magnitude in the past). Editorial warning: I hate that science has been distorted into a political tool to control the masses because of “AGW”, but (I admit, cynically) one thing that I know after the dreadful news cycle this week is that the political and tyrannical overlords anywhere will use anything to destroy individual freedom and liberty, given a chance. It is our travel blog and freedom of speech is still not banned (yet), so I will occasionally post my opinion. We’ll see what happens; the internet is hard to shut down in its entirety, including trivial, unnoticed blogs like our personal travel blog.

Ok, bloviating over: Other things that were done today on our tour included a tasting of fresh sea urchins that our hostess caught. Steve ate one and loved it (I passed, with my love/hate relationship that continues to be problematic with seafood). We also got close to a glacial waterfall and two exquisite icebergs. I did try a sample of iceberg ice, which dates back about 50,000 years. Our hostess also told us that they had a very difficult winter and usually there is not as much snow on the mountains this time of year than what we observed today. Our captain took us to the tender dock (rather than back to the ship) and we walked a short distance in the old town. Steve went up on a hill with a statue commemorating someone-or-other (actually Danish missionary Hans Egede) in the founding of Nuuk, which is Godthab, in Danish. The Inuit were excluded from governing for a long time and suffered poverty and horrendous diseases. The movement incorporating their culture began in earnest after WWII and they now share responsibility for local governance.

Everyone was enjoying the glorious and surprisingly warm sunshine today, including local children plunging into the frigid waters. Near the tender dock was the Greenland National museum, which also included some of the historic buildings in the area. We opted for the two exhibit areas on past Inuit cultures and the combination of Danish and Inuit influences. The museum was excellent, with lots of beautiful artifacts and even a strange exhibit of mummified bodies unearthed from graves north of Nuuk. We bought some local souvenirs and made our way back to the ship for a late lunch, trivia and our departure from Nuuk. I may never get back to Greenland, but at least I can say we have been here and the landscape is beautiful and quite fascinating (completely different from seeing it so often from 35,000 feet).

Now we get two days at sea (again) heading back to Reykjavik and we lose an hour tonight in the time zone change. More later!!

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More photos from the North

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Ice concerns, changes in itinerary

Thursday, June 25: A change in plans this morning! Apparently, all of that “climate change” has unexpectedly resulted in too much ice still remaining in the fjord areas of southern Greenland, creating a navigational hazard. Our transit of Prince Christian Sound and port stops in Southern Greenland have been canceled and we will, instead, call at the capital of Greenland, Nuuk, located on the southwest coast on Saturday. This has thrown a monkey wrench into much of the remaining the cruising schedule, resulting in a change to the stop at Reykjavik from an overnight Monday into Tuesday into a longer day only on Tuesday. This also requires cancellation of Londonderry on July 2 (darn, we had a tour to the Giant’s causeway planned there) and we will sail from Reykjavik late on Tuesday evening directly to Liverpool on July 3, followed by Belfast and Dublin.

Of course, this also threw the excursion plans in Reykjavik into complete disarray and it was a general scrum on Deck Four to get revised excursions and times. Our excursion was lost in the change (a photography tour), so we substituted a Super 4X4 tour and will spend some time in the city afterwards. Tempers were flaring downstairs, with long lines. The staff handed out forms and asked people to fill them out and drop them off; when we and some other folks tried to do that, some supreme jerk (a fellow passenger) jumped all over us, yelling that we had to stand in line. Steve was also screamed at by a woman at the front of the line at destination services when he tried to drop off the form, making him and another fellow passenger scuttle away to avoid a scene. I told the loudmouth that the excursion staff member told us we could fill out the form and drop it off and he gave us an earful of nastiness and said that we had to stand in line and he didn’t care what they said. We got back in the end of the line, only to be told a few minutes later (broadcast to the entire room) that we COULD fill out the form and drop it at reception or with a staff member. Another passenger we talked to afterwards also had a nasty unsolicited lecture by this cretin, so when he left, he said “so long, buddy”, in a loud voice. I walked by and said “I told you so, that we could drop off the form” and he called me a nasty name and said I needed to go back to bed(!). I wouldn’t want to be on a lifeboat with this braying jackass. Some people are really a waste of the oxygen they were born to breathe (I know that not’s nice, but we certainly didn’t need that unpleasantness).

And of course a few other passengers are questioning the decisions, rather than understanding the concerns. Changes happen on cruises, particularly when you are going to less-traveled destinations. Sadly, some of the passenger contingent on this cruise is not much better than many of the other Oceania cruises we have been on and we’re not sure why this cruise line seems to attract these types or maybe it’s the smaller quarters and more time at sea. Some of these folks are or were corporate leaders or executives in their careers and there may be something to the theory that the competitiveness and aggression required to be in those leadership roles often (not always) attracts anti-social personality types, with little empathy for other people. I’ve also seen plenty of nastiness on the regular Cruise Critic Oceania board (not Roll Calls), so this theory may be true and I stopped posting on the regular board, getting tired of the regulars who lie around like a pride of lions waiting to pounce on any contrary viewpoints. I am the first one to admit that I have a short fuse, but Steve certainly agrees that this guy this morning (and the guy on the bus on Tuesday) were completely out of line and they both instigated the entire situation. Another passenger who heard the story this morning said that if he had been talked to that way, that guy would be sitting on the floor nursing a broken nose.

Well, so much for that. We now will have too many days at sea for the rest of the cruise, unfortunately, including tomorrow, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and a week from Monday, but we are certainly going to be relaxed and fat! Perhaps Oceania should have scheduled their Norway/northern Russia cruise now and made this itinerary for mid-July. Our cruise director, Ray, just walked by and said we are on iceberg watch now and may have quite a few this evening (gulp!).

We’ll update later, perhaps after our stop in Nuuk.

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Volcanoes, Midges, and Whales

Wednesday, June 24: I’m now catching up on the last two days, including our fantastic day in Akureyri, Iceland on Tuesday.

Monday was a day at sea, which passed uneventfully. We slept in, including having a bonus hour due to a time change as we cruised to the northwest. Sea conditions have been incredibly calm; in the early afternoon on Monday, we were in the room for a while reading and something prompted me to look out at the ocean. I was immediately rewarded with a sighting of quite a few whales, which we are pretty certain were Minke Whales, a smaller cousin of the Humpback (quite numerous in this part of the world). Then we could see land to the west (Iceland), with its dramatic peaks and coastlines. For a few hours Monday evening, we were above the Arctic circle (66 degrees, 33 minutes in 2015); the Arctic circle is not fixed but moves about 2 degrees over 40,000 years due to the axial tilt of the earth and tidal forces (it is currently moving north at 49 meters a year). On Monday, we ate dinner in the Grand Dining Room for the first time and had a delicious BBQ pork chop; we shared a table with two other couples who were quite nice; one couple was from Maui and the other from Ontario.

Tuesday, we docked early in Akureyri, which lies at the bottom of a long, wide fjord on the northern coast of Iceland. This city is the second-largest in Iceland, with a population of 18,000. Our tour that day was entitled “Jewels of the North”, a full-day excursion to some of the natural/geologic wonders of this area. Our tour guide was a amiable young man named Erwin who moved to Iceland a few years ago as an exchange student from the Netherlands, met his future wife, became a citizen (requires you to know Icelandic!) and now is the father of two young children. The first stop on the tour was at Goðafoss, a waterfall on the Skjálfandafljót river (have no idea how to pronounce that last one, but the funny-looking letter in Godafoss is pronounced like a “d”). The waterfall is beautiful, but not as dramatic as Gulfoss, near Reykjavik. Apparently, when Iceland embraced Christianity, one of the leaders of the country lived near here (he has a name that is about 30 characters long) and he took his Norse pagan statues and threw them over the falls.

After our stop at the falls, we traveled east to a large lake known as Myvatn. This lake was formed 2300 years ago during an eruption of a still-active volcano in the region (Krafla) through a glacier in the area. Myvatn means “midge lake” in Icelandic and we were treated to many of the annoying little insects on a couple of walks in the area. Because of the midges, the lake is a sanctuary for many different duck species (mostly migratory and including eider and harlequin docks), swans and lots of fish, including salmon and arctic char. Our first stop was at a lava labyrinth, where we walked for about 30 minutes. It was quite warm in the labyrinth and you had to keep moving to keep the midges out of your nose and mouth (they are attracted to carbon dioxide, but fortunately don’t bite). Our weather was glorious yesterday, a bit cloudy in the morning, but clearing up and quite pleasant the rest of the day with lots of sunshine and only a few clouds here and there. The vistas were incredible in this area and you could see the huge glaciers and higher peaks of the Highlands wilderness.

After the walk in the labyrinth, we had time to sit outside at the cafe at the top and enjoy a Viking amber ale from Akureryi. Near the labyrinth was a large cinder cone that people were hiking on (Hverfell crater). Our next stop was at a nearby hotel for lunch, which consisted of a tomato soup, poached arctic char, new potatoes, and cabbage, accompanied by Viking light lager, water or soft drinks. Across the road from the hotel were a series of pseudocraters created by explosions of lava and lake water.

We continued down the road again and crossed some rhyolite hills to an area of mud pots and steam vents. The landscape in this area looked positively Martian in its character, but with snow-covered peaks in the distance. Our final stop of the tour was at the Hell crater near the most recent lava flows from Krafla, which occurred in 1984. In a valley below this crater, that is partially filled with turquoise water (and still had snow in many areas), is the largest geothermal plant in Iceland and one of the plants that produces electricity by injecting cold water into the volcanic steam. During this part of the drive, we actually crossed from the North Atlantic tectonic plate to the Eurasian tectonic plate and most of the seismic activities in Iceland are in these areas where the plates collide.

Our final stop of the trip was at a small village for a final restroom break before the drive back to Akureyri. This was where we had an encounter with the rather common species known as “Grumpius Passengeri” who shared our bus. Steve and I decided not to go to the restrooms, both feeling that we could make it back to the ship (about ninety minutes). Unfortunately, there were only four restrooms in the buildings nearby and another bus pulled up, so the 10-minute break rapidly became more than 20 minutes waiting for people. I was somewhat annoyed to see some people on our bus coming back from the tourist information center (where some restrooms were located) carrying brochures and maps, keeping the rest of us waiting. Finally, everyone was on board except one person who was still gone. I muttered something about hoping that person wasn’t shopping (a common behavior that sometimes keeps people waiting on buses) and I noticed the man that was sitting in the row across from us get up in the aisle to keep the bus from going. I asked aloud who we were waiting on (not addressing him in particular) and he whirled and yelled at me, “It’s my wife we’re waiting on, is that ok with you?”. He then told me to shut up. People were stunned at this behavior; I wasn’t the only one annoyed by the longer than planned stop and the laggards getting back to the bus. I was at a loss for words with this hot-tempered blowhard, which was probably a good thing. His wife finally made it back, apologizing to everyone. She was sitting behind us and I told her I did not appreciate her husband’s horrible temper and she said that he does that all the time, especially to her, and she would suffer a lot of recriminations when they got back for making everyone wait on the bus. She seemed pleasant enough, but he was certainly not a happy man. She told us later that his job is particularly stressful; if his work is that bad that it turns him into an ogre, he might want to consider his career choices. I felt sorry for her; when we got back he got off immediately and walked away in a huff and she was left to find her own way to the ship.

Our drive back was uneventful and he spent most of the trip, even before this outburst, taking thousands of pictures out the window of the bus (I would love to see that slideshow). We arrived back at the ship at 5:00 pm and sailed just after 6:00 pm; we stayed in Horizons lounge until we left the fjord and were rewarded with several whale sightings. I saw one breach and come down with a huge splash (Steve saw part of the breach and the tail end). I believe there were three species involved in this water ballet in the fjord, including Orcas, Minkes (who rarely breach) and a rogue humpback. The humpbacks are more commonly found in western Iceland, but the animal we saw breach was definitely a humpback. We had dinner in the terrace late and looked at the beautiful coastline, lit by the summer sun.

We got another hour back last night as we continue westward to southern Greenland. We’re in Horizons right now relaxing on this day at sea and have a wine tasting at 1:30 pm in Toscana and dinner tonight in the Polo Grill, so time to starve so we can eat a steak. Tomorrow we journey through the Prince Christian Sound in Greenland and have two port stops (tendering operations) in Southern Greenland towns on Friday and Saturday.

More soon from our fascinating journey!

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The gorgeous, remote, fascinating Faroe Islands

Sunday, June 21 – Happy Father’s day, to those who are fathers, have fathers or remember their fathers (miss you Dad, especially when we travel). Oh, and it is the summer solstice! We are finishing happy hour in Horizons after a great tour today in the Faroe Islands. These gorgeous islands between Norway and Shetland Islands and Iceland are under the Danish flag, but are essentially autonomous in their government and decisions.

When we arrived at 10:00 am, the weather was a bit nasty, with fog and heavy rain. Fortunately, things improved in time for our tour at 1:00 pm, a 5-hour jaunt to the westernmost island known as Vagar. Torshavn, the capital, is on the the largest island of Streymoy; Torshavn is pronounced “Torshawn” and means Thor’s Harbor in Norse. It was not raining when we left on our tour and, fortunately, it did not start up again and, in fact, it was probably pretty nice for these islands (the maximum temp ever recorded was 71 deg. F).

We headed northwest to some viewpoints on Streymoy and had photo opportunities near small villages with amazing seascapes. There are several land tunnels in the Faroe Islands and two long underwater tunnels. We worked our way back to the entrance to the underwater tunnel that goes to Vagar. These tunnels collect a toll and the 4.9 km Vagar tunnel, opened in 2002, connects Streymoy to Vagar, which has the main airport and some of the most spectacular scenery in the Faroe Islands.

The scenery in these volcanic islands is like the Shetland Islands on steroids, with dramatic, steep treeless peaks, waterfalls, and sheep of many wild varieties (literally) wandering the slopes dodging white geese in rows (not kidding). The islands have a few neolithic sites, but settlement began in earnest in 1000 A.D. with monks from Ireland, bringing the Catholic faith. Of course, the Vikings showed up and messed up the works for a while, but things sorted out under Norway, which then had a alliance with Denmark. The Faroe Islands continued to ally with Denmark and became Protestant during the Reformation (go, Lutherans!). The Danes suppressed the native language and customs of the Faroese, but the people here kept their traditions alive through songs passed down through the generations. In 1939, Denmark allowed the Islands to adopt their traditions and language again and the Faroese created their own cross flag, although it was kept under wraps during WWII. In fact, there were many British troops stationed here during the war. The main industries in these islands are fishing and tourism.

Once we emerged from the tunnel onto Vagar, we were treated to spectacular and rugged scenery. We passed the airport, near one of the larger towns; the new terminal was built just a few years ago. Several airlines have regular flights from Denmark and Iceland, along with other locations, into the Faroe Islands. The bus continued through dramatic cliffs overlooking Mykines island, which has about 30 hardy souls that access their island by helicopter. By the way, one of the most reliable forms of transportation in the Faroe Islands are helicopters, with inexpensive service between islands and remote locations, because there are not very many safe harbors for boats.

Our first destination on Vagar, well past the airport, was one of the most-photographed places in the Faroe Islands, the tiny village of Gasadalur, which was reached through an impressive 1700 meter tunnel with single track roads (and passing places) built in 2004. This minuscule hamlet is perched on a shelf of land overlooking cliffs with a waterfall plunging several hundred feet to the ocean. Isolated until the tunnel was built, the people in this village had their mail delivered by “superman”, a postal worker who ascended the nearly vertical mountains five days a week to deliver mail (and reversed the course every day). Locals doing this postal route as a novelty hike complain about how difficult the route is, with lots of scree (loose rock) and slippery wild grasses and it takes 4-6 hours total. The Good Lord only knows how people got out of there before there were helicopters. The tunnel was a long-sought dream of the government of the Faroe Islands and the local citizens, opening up this incredible vista to scores of gaping tourists (like us, and National Geographic magazine, which featured this beautiful valley on a cover a few years ago). While the bus had a quick potty stop in the village, some of us stayed by the bus and enjoyed watching a beautiful Faroese horse and two sweet herding dogs nearby.

Our next stop was at the top of a path through another little town on the west coast, Bour, with lots of salmon farms in the pure water to the west and dramatic uninhabited islands nearby. The more energetic in the group (including Steve) had twenty minutes to walk through the town, while the slugs on the bus (me included) rode to the other end of the path and waited. More of the black and white herding dogs were in a grass-roofed house just below the bus parking spot and they came to many of us, being very sweet and friendly.

Finally, we stopped at a lovely Lutheran church in a larger Vagar village and had time to view the interior while our guide told us about the singing traditions and demonstrated a few songs. Also on the way back across Vagar, we stopped at the nice little airport briefly for a potty break and Steve and I managed to smuggle out a can of local beer to enjoy on the bus. Our bus made its way back to the dock, after a very fascinating overview of the Faroe Islands.

After gnashing his teeth until they were nubs, spinning around like a whirling dervish, and beating up the guy at the internet help room, Steve published a few photos on line and this update will be posted after those photos. Tomorrow is a day at sea, we have a time change (one hour earlier), then reach Akureyri, Iceland, on Tuesday.

Happy Summer Solstice! It’s 10:31 and still light here.

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A few photos from Edinburgh, the Shetland Islands, and the Faroe Islands

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Ponies, peat, sheep, fish and a fascinating WWII operation

Saturday, June 20: We are sedately cruising this evening out of Lerwick, the largest city of the Shetland Islands, after an interesting day and tour here on the Mainland island. Stay with the post because I answer the question at the end – Did I, indeed, buy a Shetland pony?

We slept in this morning after a fabulous dinner in Toscana last night. Toscana is the specialty Italian restaurant on-board, which requires a reservation in advance but no extra fee. We shared a table with two other couples at 6:30 pm. I decided to order the wine bottle package special (7 bottles), estimating that most bottles will make it through two dinners. Dinner was not long after we sailed out of Rosyth, right under the Firth of Forth bridges. Edinburgh city itself could be seen to the south as we turned north towards the Shetland islands.

Oh, back to dinner…We both had the fresh spinach salad with fresh goat cheese and tomatoes (delectable), followed by pasta main courses. Steve had the tortolloni with parmesan cheese and I had the pasta trio, which had a small serving of fettucine carbonara, the same tortollini (much smaller portion), and a lobster risotto. It was excellent! We finished this off with stupendous desserts, a cannoli (Steve) and a chocolate semifreddo (me). Our table mates were ok, if we steered clear of certain subjects. We did not get off to a great start on preserving wine for multiple evenings, as we drank all of the Nero D’Avola from Sicily, a delicious primitivo red wine.

So, back to today. We arrived at Lerwick earlier than planned, just after 11:00 am (noon was the estimate). The Shetland Islands are located about 110 miles north of the Scottish mainland and consist of a number of inhabited larger islands and many smaller uninhabited bits of land. They have a long human history, with neolithic settlements being found and the usual Viking infiltrations in many places; the islands were once under the purview of Norway, then were pawned off to Scotland to pay for a wedding dowry of the Norwegian King’s daughter. The islands stayed perpetually aligned to Scotland in the 1400’s and later, became part of the UK. The Shetland flag is a light blue and white cross to match the other Scandinavian flags (the Scottish flag is a white and blue St. Andrew’s cross, which goes from corner to corner). We saw these weird floating hotels in the harbor area and found out that there are huge oil and gas fields that are being developed by Total (France) and BP (UK) and the need for production workers is huge, hence the temporary housing, which also includes some decrepit old retired cruise ships.

Our tour left at 12:45 pm, entitled “Shetland Ponies and Scalloway Castle”. Our bus drove across the narrow width of the Mainland to a viewpoint looking at the Atlantic Ocean (yes, I know, the ocean on the east side is also really the Atlantic, but they like to call it the North Sea). We then ventured back to the middle of the island and took a narrow road through peat moss country in Tingdale valley to a farm to meet some Shetland ponies. There were sheep and lambs everywhere and the countryside was quite green, although mostly treeless; skies were grey and it was chilly, but it never rained, which was a relief. Our bus pulled over next to a fenced paddock by the road and the owners of the ponies were there to talk about their mischievous livestock while everyone took pictures. There were regular Shetland ponies (like small horses) and miniatures, which are the size of large dogs. All of the horses were adorable, pulling winter hair off each other and coming near the fence to check out the visitors. Apparently, they are quite ornery, resorting to biting people that venture too close, although we did pet a couple of them.

After this adventure, we continued down the road to a small town on the west coast known as Scalloway. This fishing village is home to the Scalloway castle, a gloomy ruin left over from the despotic reign of Scottish Earl Patrick Stewart in the early 1600’s. By the way, this not the same Patrick Stewart (or family name) of the Shakespearean actor who commanded the Enterprise in ST:TNG as Jean-Luc Picard. Apparently, the Patrick Stewart of the early 1600’s was a money nut and used slave labor to build castles in Scalloway and on the Orkney islands and also abused the locals; he was convicted of treason and beheaded and the castle was allowed to fall into ruin. The castle was a dank, spooky place, open to the sky. What we found more interesting was the small museum next door, where we discovered the history of the fishing operations in this part of the world and the story of the Shetland Bus that operated from Scalloway. This was a covert operation in WWII that started with actual fishing boats and then graduated to anti-submarine ships (built in the US) used to bring Norwegian underground and UK troops over to infiltrate German operations all over the west coast of Norway and also evacuate troops that had been left there or isolated. This was fascinating, a little-known story of heroism that helped in its own small way to undermine the Nazi war machine. We bought a few things in the gift shop, including the David Howarth book originally published in 1951 describing this operation.

We traveled back to the ship with a detour through Lerwick itself. The town is quite busy, with all of the oil/gas field workers, summer activities and carnivals and the cruise ship season. We decided not to get off in town as there was only short time before the shuttle buses stopped operating back to the ship.

Oh, and our trivia standings are improving, with our team coming in first today at team trivia.

So now we come to the answer to the big question: Yes, I did, indeed, buy a Shetland Pony. It is about three inches high, made of “all new materials” and will be completely destroyed by Merry and Pippin in no time! The ponies are sweet animals, but very messy and obstinate and probably cost an arm and leg to keep and maintain. So no real pony for me. It was fun to keep the story going, however. I think a few people actually believed me on-board!

Tomorrow we call at the Faroe Islands, an autonomous outpost of Denmark and apparently quite gorgeous; they are northwest of our current position, between the Shetlands and Iceland. We have a longer tour to one of the other islands (Vagar), through an underwater tunnel and may have some time in Torshavn, the capital.

Stay tuned! Oh, and the ship internet is particularly sucky, so we are probably not going to try and load photos until Monday, which is a day at sea, so you’re stuck right now with boring stuff like this.

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Firth of Forth, Then Forth to Scone/Stone!

Friday, June 19: I’m writing this sitting at Waves Grill, the outside burger and sandwich cafe on Nautica, after a great repast of a delicious grilled hot dog and fries, washed down with a Fuller London’s Pride ale. I haven’t been fond of beer in recent years, but decided to try an occasional one at lunch and they have been great!

We are docked in Rosyth, on the Firth of Forth (Firth: Scottish for estuary; Forth: the river name) just upstream from Edinburgh, Scotland. Construction is the name of the game in this small town, with crews working on a new cable-stayed highway bridge across the Firth to replace the older suspension bridge (the cantilevered railway bridge will apparently stay in place). Stacked right next to our ship are huge structural sections that will put in place on the bridge and supported by cables. Just behind our dock, more crews are working on two new aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth II and the HMS Prince of Wales; I wonder what crazy, tree-hugging, peacenik billionaire Prince Charles feels about that? I sure wish the aging monarch would elect to bypass dour Charles for Prince William when the time comes. Of course, I really don’t care about the monarchy here or anywhere, having grown up in a country that told George III to pound sand, doing away with the nonsense of royalty altogether (yay, Founding Fathers!).

We arrived very early this morning and had a half-day excursion to Scone Palace, an hour drive’s north near Perth. The Palace is the residence of Lord and Lady Mansfield and family and has extensive grounds and lower-level rooms open to the public. Scone Palace (at least the same location) used to be an abbey and was the site of the crowning of several Scottish kings. Queen Victoria spent one night in the Palace and the family probably drained the treasury to provide her with porcelain china, a beautiful bedroom, a special new road, and other accoutrements. Our guide, Mike, was terrific, full of historical anecdotes that were done with a lot of humor. On the way to the Palace, he told us about Mary, Queen of Scots and her son, James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of the United Kingdom in the early 1600s. Our bus made its way through the small city of Perth to the Palace, where we had lots of time to explore on our own. The inside of the Palace was a bit “meh” and no photographs were allowed, but there were beautiful porcelain and ivory collections and lots of pictures of the very real Mansfield family (apparently, a rite of initiation for all children is their first salmon catch).

We wandered around the grounds for a while, taking pictures of each other sitting on a replica of the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny. This piece of sandstone was placed under the throne for many ancient Scottish king coronations, but was confiscated by Edward I in the 1200’s and brought to England, with the subsequent English, British and UK kings and queens (including the Stuarts) coronated with it in place beneath a throne at Westminster Abbey. QEII actually sat on this throne with this very stone beneath the seat at her coronation in 1953. Bizarrely, the stone was stolen in Westminster Abbey by four Scottish loyalist students in 1950, was broken into two pieces, and was eventually recovered and repaired for QEII’s coronation, although rumors flew that the repaired stone is a replica. To appease the people of Scotland in 1996 (angry over constitutional issues), the stone was returned to Edinburgh castle on St. Andrew’s day. As you may know from recent news, the Scottish anger at the government in London did not ultimately carry over into a winning “yes” vote for independence earlier this year.

So, the name of the Palace is actually pronounced “Scoon”, not to be confused with the baked goods of a similar name (Scone, with a long O) or with the Stone. The grounds at the palace were gorgeous, with huge gardens filled with rhododendrons, peacocks and huge trees. The grounds also had some specimens of charming Highlands Cattle, both cows and bulls have long horns and a long, shaggy pelt covering their bodies and hanging down over their eyes like a bovine sheepdog. We bought an inexpensive recycled wool throw in the gift shop for the kitty cats to wreck and enjoyed the fresh, cool air (mostly cloudy, with no rain and about 60°F).

On the way back, we heard more interesting historical stories, although many on the bus nodded off, including dear hubby (a given on a bus trip). We re boarded Nautica and enjoyed our lunch, planning a short nap soon before trivia.

Oh, that reminds me of a couple of things – yesterday we formed our trivia team and had the worst showing EVER on one of these cruises. Hopefully our team will improve, but the questions from our Cruise Director Ray were really tough and we agreed as a group on too many wrong answers, even though one person in the group had the right answer in many cases. Both of us missed the evening trivia because we didn’t read the fine print that they had moved it from Martini’s to Horizons, so we have to catch up there, too. We also had our Cruise Critic Roll Call Meet and Greet last night and had a nice conversation with some of the folks that are doing a lot of tour sharing. Dinner last night was in the Terrace; we both had a delicious small plate of Fettucine with Veal Ragu and a salad.

More from the Shetland Islands tomorrow! I bought hay, oats, a water bucket and a tarp today just in case they change their minds about bringing onboard a pony ;-0.

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