Archive for Vikings, Castles and Kings 2015

Wrap-Up: Vikings, Castles and Kings

Our long journey home was successful on Tuesday, July 7, with flights mostly on-time and no real hurdles. The only problem was a bad encounter with a ICE or TSA or some such minion at the exit to Customs on Tuesday. We have the Global Entry program, which required $100 fees for each of us and face-to-face interviews, background checks and approval from ICE and TSA. This program allows you to scan your passport, get a photo taken, and use four finger prints to expedite the passport/customs process, while also answering the customs form questions on-line. In the past, when we have used the program, we have just handed the printout of the photo and customs questions to the person at the exit of the area at the airport and we are all done (no need to see the passports, because they have already been validated with biometrics).

The heavily-tattoed guard, who was also armed, was sitting at the exit in DEN and asked (in a nasty tone) to see our passports. I challenged him, saying that we successfully passed the Global Entry process and have never had to go through an additional passport check. He said “So what, you could have cheated with someone else’s passport”. Huh??? If there is a security gap in this program like that, they certainly never informed us and who would have our fingerprints to complete the process? I got the passports out to show him, but he wasn’t interested in looking at them. The fact that I argued the requirement got him spun up faster than whirling dervish and he was berating me for actually questioning his authority, glaring at me in a most uncomfortable way. We both said that we were tired after 24 hours of being awake as an excuse for being a bit short-tempered. He countered with the excuse that he was on his eighth day straight working. I had enough at this point and said “Are we done? I guess you don’t need to know that we also pay your salary, as taxpayers and don’t appreciate being treated this way”. Oops…I think that was a step too far and he ranted back at me that he could cancel our Global Entry if that was what we wanted. I said “Nope, we’re good” and started moseying towards the exit. Steve was not happy with me and I went into panic mode, expecting to be arrested or have this creepy clown (who was armed) come after us at home because he had our names. I’m still worried a few days later, but Steve did admit that he was completely out of line (and I guess I was too, but I do have problems with Barney Fife types) and if we do get letters canceling our Global Entry, we are planning to contact our Congressman and Senators. The bureaucracy in this country is getting completely out of hand in so many areas. TSA and ICE are “security theater” in every aspect, given our porous borders and screening failures, and they seem to hire the folks not adept at any other career who also have the inability to deal with tired travelers who don’t want extra hassles.

OK, enough of that rant. Now, on to the highlights and lowlights of the cruise.

Top ports of call:

1) After much discussion, our top port of call was the Faroe Islands. These beautiful, remote and sparsely populated islands lived up to their reputation. Our tour was great and including seeing the magnificent scenery of Vagar Island and the much-photographed Gásadalur village.
2) Although we sacrificed three ports and had three extra days at sea to get there and back, we did very much enjoy our day in Nuuk, Greenland. The weather was spectacular, the fjord tour was great, and we can now claim this huge island as a place we have visited, instead of just flying over it all the time to/from Europe.
3) It was a tough call for number three, with two locations very close in the race. We finally decided that Liverpool won out narrowly over Akureyri, Iceland. Liverpool was vibrant, very interesting, and our Beatles tour was a lot of fun! The dock area has lots of interesting museums within a relatively close walking distance from the ship.
4) Akureyri, Iceland was a photo finish behind Liverpool. This spectacular region of Iceland sported lots of dramatic scenery, volcanoes, the Myvatn (midge lake) area and a lovely cruise out through the fjord. Our tour and the guide was excellent.
5) “A Day in St. Patrick’s Country” in northern Ireland (from Belfast) was a wonderful tour of the country side and small towns, with St. Patrick as the focus. Although it was a full day, it seemed relaxing.
6) The Shetland Islands were also worth visiting and we enjoyed our tour that visited Scalloway castle and the Shetland ponies, plus we enjoyed finding out about the Shetland bus story from WWII (great little museum in Scalloway).

Cruise Highlights:

1) The food and service were fantastic, with a few minor exceptions noted in the lowlights. We had some excellent meals in the Grand Dining Room, Toscana and the always-wonderful Terrace buffet. The staff, almost to a person, was superb. We also really liked our Cruise Director, Ray Carr, who was very funny!
2) The ship was in great condition, although very much close quarters for 10 days at sea. Our room maintenance was excellent.
3) Trivia was a lot of fun and a good way to bond with a few nice folks (we came in third out of 14 total teams). We didn’t get too involved with most people on the cruise and did have some close encounters with some real winners, but maybe not as bad as other Oceania cruises.
4) The shipboard internet wasn’t bad, although very pricy. We used as many gigs as we could and usually had no problems getting on and doing most things.

Other highlights:

1) The Rubens at the Palace was a very nice hotel and had a great location, right across from Buckingham Palace. Service was good, too. One minor gripe about the hotel is noted in the Lowlights.

Bottom ports of call.

1) Probably the least interesting port was Dublin. The city was very crowded, it rained (hard) while we killed time roaming around in the bus between stops on the tour visiting some of the areas of the city, and our tour guide was new and quite silly. St. Patrick’s cathedral (an Anglican church in a Catholic-dominated country) was drab, dreary, crammed with groups and really not interesting at all. Probably the highlight was Trinity College, the Book of Kells, and the exquisite old library, but we had to wait for a long time to get in and it was difficult to see the Book of Kells display.
2) Although we like Reykjavik very much, the super 4X4 tour was merely “OK”. We spent a lot of time crammed into the vehicles racing between short 4WD adventures. We also lost a lot of our time in this port because of the itinerary changes.
3) Scone Castle outside of Edinburgh rated a “meh” from both of us, although the grounds were beautiful and our tour guide was excellent.

Cruise Lowlights:

1) The itinerary changes were not a lot of fun. We ended up with 10 days at sea on a 20 day cruise that is the most expensive cruise we have taken so far (out of 26 total). Lost in the shuffle was southern Greenland with two villages and the magnificent fjords, Londonderry and our tour to the Giant’s causeway, and half of our time in Reykjavik. We understand the reasons, but believe this cruise would be more successful later in the summer.
2) The officers on Nautica were almost completely invisible, unlike our great experiences with Captain Meinhardt Hanson on two other cruises.
3) Polo Grill was not that great and, in fact, we had a better steak in the Grand Dining Room. The grill items at Waves were also not as good as on other cruises.
4) We did not use our balcony at all on this cruise and will reconsider booking a veranda cabin for any cold-weather cruises in the future.

Other Lowlights:
1) Although we liked Rubens at the Palace, I am very weary of British plumbing. The bathroom had a deep and slippery tub and no hand rails, so I skipped a shower there and waited until we got to the ship.
2) Icelandair is a little problematic for us now. It is a cheaper way to get to Europe, but the seats in Saga Class were quite uncomfortable this time, the planes are not necessarily in very good repair, and the food (in all cases) was terrible. This was accompanied by indifferent service for the most part.

Well, that’s a wrap. My personal favorite cruise is still “Voyage of the Midnight Sun”, but this was an interesting adventure, too. This blog may expand to include postings about travel in general, rather than being only updated with a new trip. Speaking of new trips, we have a couple of driving trips coming up in the next few months and have booked another Oceania cruise in November, 2016, from Rio de Janeiro to Miami. We look forward to actually using our veranda on this trip and also ditching the need to bring layers of clothing.

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Back at the podunk grass strip…

Tuesday, July 7 - We are in the Aer Lingus lounge at Heathrow (complimentary for Saga Class on Icelandair) awaiting our gate assignment. The flight to Kevflavik is at 1:00 pm and our gate will be announced at 12:15. The gate location requires 15-20 minutes of walking to reach. If you recall, I said that the new Terminal 2 (Queen’s Terminal) is merely the long trek dressed up with new stuff and fancy restaurants.

We said goodbye to Nautica this morning; she sails today for the Baltic, then does a Norway cruise and there are a few folks doing the next two cruises. The bus ride took a little over ninety minutes from Southampton; traffic was pretty bad on the M3 in some areas and we were perilously close to trucks in the left lane in some narrow spots where they were doing construction. In fact, our bus mirror tapped the mirror of a truck at one point, while both vehicles were traveling at 60 mph.

Check-in and security were pretty quick, actually, although I did get some special attention because of my knees and had to go through two types of scanners. I’m glad they’re pretty thorough; today is the 10th anniversary of the UK’s 9/11, the horrific terror attacks on London transportation that took place on 7/7/2005. In the lounge here, they are showing live coverage of a memorial service in St. Paul’s Cathedral with all of the dignitaries there, including PM David Cameron and Prince Andrew.

The airlines and types of planes at this tiny airport are amazing and I think we have had our first sighting of Royal Brunei Air, among others. There are lots of 777’s, A380’s, 787’s, 747’s and assorted other smaller planes flying to all sorts of places. We saw an Air New Zealand 777 land and felt sorry for the poor folks who have no idea what day or time it is here (good grief, that must be a long flight).

I may post a short update in Keflavik (if Wi-Fi is available) and the final summary will be done soon!

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Getting tipsy off the south coast of England

Ok, so we’re closing in on Southampton, after 20 days (including 10 days at sea). We had some bouncy seas earlier today, but it is sublime right now, with blue skies and very calm seas. Lots of sea traffic, including a bizarre car carrier that used very new technology.

We have decided (due to alcoholic consumption or high levels of nostalgia) that the cruise was very good to excellent. I know, I know, I was whining about the extra days at sea, but we did meet most of our objectives and Nuuk, Greenland, was amazing and we are so grateful we have been there. We are overall very happy, provided we get to London Heathrow airport tomorrow in time for the security inquisition.

We came in third for trivia (out of 14 teams) and had enough “Big O” points for a long-sleeve T-shirt for me and a sports shirt for Steve (sweat-wicking material). Two people shared the snowball BINGO jackpot that was nearly $4000.

Tonight we are in Horizons lounge, skipping dinner again and enjoying our last night. We are packed and ready to go for tomorrow!

My final top/bottom list will be posted soon!

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Beautiful St. Patrick’s Country, Busy Dublin

Sunday, July 5: I finally have time to summarize our day in Northern Ireland on July 4 and our morning tour today in Dublin, Ireland. Saturday, we docked early in Belfast; our tour, “A Day in St. Patrick’s Country”, departed at 10:00 for a full-day visit to sites along St. Patrick’s trail south of Belfast. It was cloudy with some rain when we left the ship, but the weather improved dramatically as the day went on, becoming warm and beautiful, with puffy clouds and blue skies.

Our coach headed south from the city, after we passed near the downtown and dock areas. Belfast has the largest drydock in the world and is the home of Harland & Wolff, the company that built the Titanic and other White Star ships. The company now does more ship repairs and renewable energy installations than shipbuilding, but the skyline of Belfast is still dominated by “Samson and Goliath”, two huge gantry cranes. Belfast was hosting the Tall Ships this weekend for a Maritime festival, so there was lots of traffic heading to the city and we saw many beautiful schooners, brigantines, brigs and barques as we crossed over the inlets. The huge new Titanic museum is also near the docks.

We passed through beautiful countryside for about an hour, traveling south to the town of Downpatrick. Crops included barley, Comber Spuds (potatoes), Brussel sprouts, and other staples, and there were plenty of sheep and cows. The countryside is full of downs or drumlins (undulating hills), which are described as “eggs in a basket”. The first stop on the tour was at the St. Patrick Centre, in the small town of Downpatrick and located just below Down Cathedral (also called St. Patrick’s cathedral, but officially known as Down), where the saint is supposedly buried along with St. Brigid and St. Columba. The Centre has multimedia exhibits and a film about St. Patrick and was very interesting. St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in 387 A.D, was kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and dragged off to Ireland as a slave being forced to work as a shepherd. He made his way back to Britain eventually, but didn’t stay long as a vision from God told him to return to Ireland to convert the pagans to Christianity. He followed this vision and did succeed in converting many people in Ireland, becoming a bishop and then the patron saint of Ireland (and many other places).

We had a break for lunch on our own and decided to eat in the nice cafe at the Centre. After ham and cheese croissant sandwiches, we had time to walk around the beautiful flower garden behind the cafe. Everyone met at the bus and the next stop was at the Cathedral up on the highest hill in town. The cathedral is actually in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and dates back to the 11th century, although the building was in ruins for a few centuries. St. Patrick is supposedly buried on the grounds, along with other early Irish saints and the location is marked with a huge rock with a simple “Patrick” inscription. In the church, we were greeted by a church elder who works there maintaining the flowers, greeting visitors and running the gift shop. She gave us a delightful introduction to the church, which recently had its altar area completely redone in a very modern style, with a beautiful wood altar and seats. The dedication of the new altar included a visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury and high-level representatives from local Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The church’s main restoration in the 1700s came from funds from local wealthy families and their family crests line the walls on both sides.

After our time here, the next stop was a short journey into the countryside to the Church at Saul. The current simple church opened in 1933, but the site has had abbeys and church buildings dating back to the fifth century and is not far from the supposed landing place of Patrick when he returned to Ireland. “Saul” actually means “barn” in Gaelic and is not related to the pre-conversion name of St. Paul or to the first King of Israel. The setting was beautiful, with yew trees leading the way to the small church and cemetery and a field nearby with two friendly horses. Those two horses nearly resulted in a strange accident for me, one of our trivia team mates (Adrian) and possibly Steve. As I was getting back on the bus, one of our fellow passengers came barging down the stairs to give the horses an apple and he didn’t even see me on the first step. I had to abruptly step off the bus backwards, nearing bowling over dear Adrian — who also walks with a cane and just celebrated her sixtieth wedding anniversary (a hint about her age) — and Steve was right behind her. Mr. Clueless did apologize when he got back on; I’m also sure the owners of the horses would probably not like it that some stranger is feeding them apples.

Our next stop was in Strangford, an incredibly charming village on west bank of the narrows of the Strangford Lough, where we waited for about 30 minutes to catch a short ferry ride to the opposite shore to Portaferry, another very charming little village. The final stop of the tour was at an old windmill on top of a hill with great views in all directions. We journeyed back on the east side of the Lough to Belfast, passing some large estates and through more adorable little villages and having some views of neighborhoods in the city. It was a great tour and we certainly enjoyed the day in the countryside of Northern Ireland.

We sailed last night after 8:00 pm, getting a push out of the narrow channel at the docks to a turnaround point. Off to bed we went, because we had our last tour of the cruise today in Dublin, Ireland and it had an early departure. The tour today was entitled “Dublin Highlights” and included touring around the city and stops at St. Patrick Cathedral and at Trinity College. It was raining pretty hard before we exited the ship, but seemed to stop whenever we were outside, which was fortunate.

Dublin is very busy with lots of tourists right now, so most of our tour was spent waiting to get into places or dodging other groups. We drove around the city for a while through splendid Georgian blocks (with the famous colored doors) and past other landmarks. The church visit time was at 9:15 am, so we arrived there, along with many other busloads of tourists. Our guide was a bit nervous, as this was only his third tour, so he was somewhat repetitive and quite fussy about keeping track of everyone. The church was packed with people and, once again, surprised us because it was an Anglican cathedral (Church of Ireland) and not a Catholic church, in a predominately Catholic country. It was gloomy inside and not all that impressive, but it did feature the burial places of some notable folks, including Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels and many other stories and books), who was a deacon at the church.

After waiting for a while for our bus to come back to pick us up (too many buses on a narrow street), we did more touring around the city before going to the Library at Trinity College. During this expedition, it poured rain as we went through the massive Phoenix Park west of the city center, which is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Of course we passed the Guinness brewery works, some historic buildings, and across the River Liffey a few times. Finally, we arrived at Trinity College for a visit to see four pages from the Book of Kells and also see the exquisite old library. Fortunately, the rain stopped, because we had to stand in line for a while to get inside. The Book of Kells is a four-volume illuminated manuscript of exceedingly fine detail, likely completed around 800 A.D. at the time of Viking incursions into Ireland and possibly in honor of St. Columba. The four volumes contain the four Gospels, with elaborate lettering and gorgeous multi-colored pages with illustrations of Biblical figures. There are two volumes on display at all times, one turned to two pages showing the lettering and one with two pages showing illustrations. It was a rugby scrum around the small display case, but we did manage to see the details. No photographs are allowed, for good reason.

After viewing the Books, you climb a staircase into the Old Library, which was exquisite, like something out of a Harry Potter movie. They had examples of books with various myths and religious stories from many different cultures and the two-story library had two tiers of books on either side stretching the length of the building, which is quite long! We did take photographs in this location. We descended another staircase into the mayhem of the Trinity College store, ending up with two sweatshirts, a book about the Book of Kells and some other trinkets. In the museum brochure for the Book of Kells, there is an adorable poem written in the ninth century by a Monk who worked on illuminated manuscripts beside his dear white cat, Pangur Ban, who hunted mice. We tried to get something with this poem on it (besides the brochure) and they had sold out of posters with the sentiment, so they gave us 10% off to order it online and have it shipped to the US.

We headed back to the ship after the tour, with some folks opting to take the shuttle back later. We were too tired to explore any more of the city, so it was time for lunch, trivia and now Bingo (our first game of the cruise). Remembering Steve’s good luck on our last cruise, we’ll see what happens and we also didn’t waste money on this stupid game during the entire cruise.

One more day at sea, then we disembark at 7:30 am Tuesday for the flights home. I will probably have a short final update, then have my highlights and lowlights final posting very soon!

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Photos: Liverpool, England and Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Vibrant Liverpool, Fab Four!

Friday, July 3: I’m writing this in Horizons (and it’s being finished the next night), relaxing at happy hour after a very good day in Liverpool, UK. We also had a good day in Northern Ireland on July 4, which will be documented in another update.

On my last update, we were on our first of two days of sea after Reykjavik. On Thursday, we continued southeast towards the British Isles and saw different sea birds and even some dolphins. Both of us are at “maximum food capacity”, so we did not eat dinner on Wednesday or Thursday, sustaining our nutritional intake on late lunches and canapés in the evening. We’re fading in trivia, but are still in third place right now (14 teams); we seem to be doing better at the evening trivia, beating everyone else last night by several points. We also both have “sea zombie syndrome” and cannot make synapses fire properly in our memories to retrieve information that is locked up behind too much sleep, food, drink and sea vistas.

On July 2, as we came within view of Scotland to the east and Northern Ireland to the west, we had an announcement about a medical emergency on board necessitating faster speed to Liverpool. This occurred while we we cruised very close to Belfast to the west. If it was a true emergency, I would think they would deviate to the nearest viable port, but apparently they decided to press ahead and get in to Liverpool much earlier than anticipated. For some strange reason, they also changed the excursion times to earlier departures (have no idea why this was necessary, as we were not supposed to sail until rather late this evening). Also, the UK immigration and customs rules just changed and they required a face-to-face passport inspection this morning, disrupting our nearly perfect record of days sleeping in on a cruise. Another bizarre development this morning was the announcement that we are leaving an hour earlier than planned that evening because the QM2 needs our berth. Some folks are irritated with this announcement; just be honest and say that we are leaving earlier because we arrived earlier to save port costs, rather than make up a strange late-night arrival of the QM2 (it might be true, but it would be unique). Oh, well, this trip does have some mysterious decisions. Update: We did pass the beautiful QM2 just after leaving Liverpool, so it was definitely arriving early for the celebrations in Liverpool on July 4.

I opened the blinds after we arrived in Liverpool to behold a vista of a very interesting looking city, very clean and vibrant, with Victorian and Georgian architecture blending with very new and interesting buildings. The sun was shining brightly and the temperatures were fantastic! We dressed in summer gear and got ready for our day. Our planned tour, which departed dock side at noon, was entitled “In the Steps of the Beatles”.

So, after we had breakfast and did the face-to-face rubber stamping of our passports, we decided we had time to walk to the historic Albert Pier, which was advertised as a five-minute walk from our dock location (after we took the handicapped shuttle up to the top of the dock area). Well, when you do not have good stamina, aggravated by so many days on a small ship at sea, this five-minute walk is a myth. It took us twenty minutes to walk over to the Albert Pier area, which features many museums and restaurants/pubs. Our objective was the Maritime Museum; getting there had us passing the Mersey Ferries building (brand new) and the Liverpool Museum, which was also new and quite dramatic. We finally arrived and spent some time in this free museum that included exhibits on the Lusitania and Titanic (Steve is reading “Dead Wake” by Eric Larsen, about the sinking of the Lusitania in WWI and I plan to order it for my Kindle app). The exhibits were comprehensive, with fantastic ship models and other displays. I agreed to walk back if we made sure we had plenty of time, so we did the journey in the reverse direction and waited in the pier area for a short time until the two buses loaded for the Beatles tour.

We chose Bus 10, which planned to stop at the Beatles Story at the Albert Pier last on the tour (yes, the very same Albert Pier). The first stop on the tour was at Mathew Street, a narrow pedestrian lane in downtown Liverpool where the Cavern Club was originally located, along with the Casbah club (the actual first club of the Beatles). There is a brick wall across from the Cavern Club with the names of all of the performers who have played there. The Club folded for quite a few years after the Beatles, then opened again to be a classic rock club. Steve went down the long sets of stairs to get some pictures, then we wandered down to the Grapes Pub, a place where the band had drinks after a set (the Cavern Club had no license for a long time).

After this stop, we did a lot of bus touring in Liverpool, with some Beatles locations identified in various places. Our tour guide also pointed out some general locations of interest in the city; Liverpool is filled with amazing museums and churches and would be worth checking out again for a few days. We saw the Liverpool Institute, where Paul and John went to school. Next, we passed the council houses that were being torn down, except for the block where Ringo Starr grew up. Crossing Sefton Park (one of the largest parks in Liverpool and a major city park in the UK), we arrived to a familiar street - Penny Lane. Everyone got off the bus to get pictures in front of the street sign. This song’s lyrics observe the local conditions, most of which are still in place! We also found out that the small home that George Harrison grew up in was nearby, but the bus does not go there because a family still lives in the place, putting up with crazy Beatle fans 24 hours a day.

Next on the agenda was a journey past Strawberry Field, which was a children’s home, and former home of PM William Gladstone, located behind Aunt Mimi’s home (John grew up with his aunt and uncle after the age of five, because his mother was so difficult). The “Strawberry Field” consists of a red gate and gateposts with lots of fan autographs. We stopped again around the corner at Aunt Mimi’s home for photos, which is now owned by the National Trust. It seemed like a lovely place and was saved a few years ago by Yoko Ono, making sure the house is maintained. A few blocks from John’s house was the council home of Mary and Jim McCartney, the parents of Paul, which is also owned by the National Trust.

After this tour through the Beatles locations, we returned to the Albert Pier for a tour through the Beatles Story, the officially sanctioned museum of memorabilia and band history. We had about ninety minutes before the bus returned to the ship (I was not walking that distance back to the ship for the third time), so we did a fairly hurried run through the exhibit, both of us (especially Steve) knowing a lot about the Fab Four. The audio bits included commentary by George Martin, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and other folks still alive now who lived through the Beatles era. The exhibits were very well done, with lots of recreations of various venues and scenes that seemed very authentic. After finishing the Story in about 30 minutes, we found our guide, who recommended a nearby pub that was right by the pick-up point for the bus. After some confusion about whether we could sit at certain tables, we finally settled in at a table in the bar area. Steve went over and ordered a pint of the best local beer, which was “Shipwreck”. The pub actually had over 200 beers in their list, which obviously accounted for its popularity. We also ordered one side of “properly seasoned chips”, which were delicious and we were starving!! A little aside: In the few days prior to Liverpool, I must confess to having had some tummy (lower system) issues, which I have isolated to a bad habit of eating too many peanuts and other nuts in the little dishes that appear at Happy Hour. After eliminating the nuts in my diet, I have felt much better and my appetite has returned and the problems have gone away.

So we sailed from Liverpool a little early, had an encounter with a thunderstorm at sea, and also passed the QM2, really heading into Liverpool early. Oh, another interesting story: One of our folks on our trivia team went to an alumni event on board and talked to another passenger and fellow alum who had to disembark in Liverpool because the medical staff told him that he absolutely cannot fly back to the United States. This person and his wife were booked on the QM2 from Liverpool, departing on July 4 to New York (with stops at Halifax and Boston) and they will take a train from New York to California to get home. Egad!

Ok, that’s my update for July 3, which was finished on July 4. Happy Independence Day, folks in the USA! Check back shortly for my update on our fantastic tour to St. Patrick’s country in Belfast on July 4.

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Photos: Reykjavik and the Icelandic interior

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Bouncy seas, driving in a river, Borg beer, funny Liars

Wednesday, July 1: Yesterday was our shortened stop in Reykjavik. We arrived just before noon and docked at the main cruise ship dock near the city. Also at the dock were Celebrity Eclipse and the old Marco Polo. The journey from Greenland (after the iceberg incident) later on Sunday and Monday included some rough seas, with some folks not feeling well and a few injuries occurring, including a gentleman who broke his arm falling in the Horizons lounge. The Horizons lounge is on deck 10 forward and it certainly gets the brunt of the motion. We both slept well through the motion and feel fine, but walking can be difficult.

We signed up for a Super 4X4 trip in Reykjavik. There were four jacked-up vehicles with 48-inch tires in our convoy, with 10-12 persons per vehicle. The convoy’s first stop was a low hill just outside the city that had a pretty steep 4WD trail to the top. Our driver had two rules on-board : 1) wear your seatbelt and, 2) no screaming. After the stop at the top of the hill with views of the town, we headed east on dirt and secondary paved roads through dramatic volcanic landscapes to another viewpoint overlooking Thingvallavtn lake. We saw the north side of this lake in 2013 on our self-drive Golden Circle tour. The lake, the largest in Iceland, is filled with from water brought up from the depths of the earth in this rift valley. The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide in this location, creating the conditions for the lake (and lots of earthquakes and volcanoes). The water is very cold and extremely clear, with visibility approaching 300 feet in some places. They have also discovered a new species of crustacean in these waters recently, which is fascinating. Nearby was a geothermal plant (hot water extraction) and we followed the pipeline along the road for a long distance.

Our convoy raced to the south, passing the town of Selfoss. In 2013, we drove through here and saw the big volcanoes to the southeast; the conditions yesterday were cloudier, but you could see the bottoms of Hekla and the unpronounceable volcano E+15 (E with 15 letters after it, also known as Eyjafjallajökull). Of course, this latter volcano was the one creating air traffic havoc in 2010 after it erupted with a huge cloud of ash. We stopped at another town nearby for a restroom break, then headed towards Reykjavik for our last 4WD adventure. The convoy followed a stream for a while, which was a lot of fun driving fast through the shallow water; the trail then emerged near some geothermal bores (they put a geodesic dome over the drill bore location) and a new pipeline was going in. The low-cost geothermal energy in Iceland is a blessing for the residents, although they do have to contend with the constant hazards of unexpected steam vents, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The tour was fun, but it was a lot of sitting on the vehicle while driving across the countryside; the four-wheeling was not too rigorous and the driving through the stream was a lot of fun.

The Super 4X4 drivers dropped all the passengers off in downtown Reykjavik near the Harpa opera house (a shuttle bus from that location would take us back to the ship). Steve and I walked over to the pedestrian district nearby, near the hotel we stayed at for one night in 2013, and found an outdoor bar that was sheltered from a nasty wind that had sprung up and tried the local beer (Borg), which was quite good. I haven’t liked beer for a long time, but I have enjoyed the beers on this trip. After our beer, we then walked back to the Harpa and caught the bus back to the ship.

Last night we went to the show (the first one we’ve seen on this cruise). It was called “Liars Club”, which had a panel including Ray Carr, our cruise director, the two guest lecturers from the UK and one of the entertainers. Each panel member had to come up with definitions to very obscure (and funny-sounding) words. The highlight was when the word was “Pisonia” and Ray went into a long-winded explanation of how this word originated in Nuuk, Greenland and means “I’m sorry, have a nice day”. He claimed he learned the word there and was using it in all sincerity when listening to the hundreds of complaints about our cruise itinerary changes (just look at the word and think how it would be pronounced). The audience was in stitches. The actual definition of Pisonia is that is a thorny flowering shrub (one of the lecturers got it right, but everyone was laughing too hard to notice). Ray is probably the best CD we have had on an Oceania cruise. He has a very witty and dry sense of humor and really does a great job with the team trivia.

So now we have two days at sea again on our way to Liverpool and there is quite a bit of sea motion again today. Everyone is a zombie from all of the days at sea and then will have to wake up for three ports in a row on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We both feel VERY rested and have probably slept more than we should, but, quite frankly, that’s not what we expected to do on a very expensive cruise vacation. We have our final day at sea next Monday, then disembark very early on Tuesday for the transfer back to Heathrow. Oh, I do have to say the food has been quite good in general, with only a couple of misses (Polo Grill, a panini sandwich yesterday). Service is also excellent.

More from Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin (provided there aren’t any icebergs or other surprises ahead of us, Lord forbid).

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More port delays (sigh)

Monday, June 29: Quick update - due the diversion because of ice bergs yesterday and the weather all day today (northeasterly winds and high seas), we are now arriving in Reykjavik at noon tomorrow, with a shortened visit from noon until 10 pm. Originally, we were supposed to be there overnight for 24 hours. We are completely understanding the reasons for the diversions/delays, but must admit that the cruise (very expensive) with all the time at sea is not what we had hoped to enjoy. More folks on board are getting very unhappy (I heard the phrase “cruise from hell”), so Oceania is in a tough place right now.

Once again, in our opinion, this cruise should not be offered this early in the summer. They also should have considered the extra mileage to Nuuk (admittedly, a terrific and fantastic day) and perhaps considered two overnights in Reykjavik instead, while preserving Londonderry, a new port on an Oceania cruise. Folks don’t pay $1000 or more a day to be at sea this long.

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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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