Voyage of the Vikings

St. John’s, Newfoundland, then home

     The morning of August 13 found us docked at St. John’s, the capital and largest city (about 100,000) of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is also the easternmost city in North America (not counting Greenland). While it was incorporated only in the 1920’s, Europeans have been living here since the 16th Century. The name may have come from the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which was reputedly the day in 1497 that John Cabot became the first European to set foot here. While it was first claimed by the English in the late 16th Century the town was subsequently attacked several times and briefly held by the Dutch and the French.  The last battle of the French & Indian War was fought here.

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     Well, it had been a long trip & we were both still under the weather so we decided to just walk around town for a few hours & then spend some time relaxing on the ship. It was a very gray & sometimes drizzly day but St. John’s is a city of very colorful buildings that kept it from being too gloomy.

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     In addition to spending time in some of the shops on the first couple of streets from the harbor we passed the massive grey stone St. John’s Courthouse, built in 1904.

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     Further down the street we came upon the National War Memorial. Dedicated on July 1, 1924 by British World War I Field Marshal Douglas Haig plaques have since been added on its side commemorating Newfoundlanders who died in World War II, the Korean War & Afghanistan.  Since Newfoundland did not become part of Canada until after World War II, the “National” in its title refers to the old Dominiion of Newfoundland rather than Canada. Around the memorial were wreaths dedicated mostly to regiments, perhaps because the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I was only a few days before we visited. The monument was located on a plaza with a broad stairway that was ringed by old metal lights topped by white glass globes.

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     We walked further up the very steep hill. St. John’s is sometimes compared to San Francisco partly because of the steepness of its streets & its colorful houses..

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      Up the hill we visited two churches named (as the city was) for St. John the Baptist.  At the very top is the Catholic Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist., considered the mother church of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland. It was built in the middle of the 19th Century. Imposing on the outside with two prominent bell towers, at the time of its completion it was the largest church in North America. On a balcony is a pipe organ with more than 4,000 pipes. Beneath the altar is a sculpture of “The Dead Christ.”

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     Since the Basilica is on the top of the hill its front steps give a fine view of the city’s large harbor, which is well protected from the sea.

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     We walked down the hill to the other cathedral named for St. John, this one Anglican. While it lacks the dramatic stature of the Catholic cathedral on the outside we thought the inside of this one had more warmth and interest.  Begun in the middle of the 19th Century and completed in 1885, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1892. Rebuilding was completed in 1905, although it still lacks the spire it was originally designed to have.  The congregation is currently raising funds to build one. The church says that this parish, founded in 1699, is the oldest Anglican parish in North America. This church also has an impressive pipe organ with four banks of pipes, two of which appear to have been added on.

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          We were getting tired by now, with all the up and down walking, so we finished our shopping and headed back to the ship.  Throughout the day we passed a number of nice flowers (not wildflowers, this is a city), along with a very unusual utility box & more colorful buildings.

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    The ship left St. John’s at about 3:00. We were told that as we sailed past Signal Hill we would be saluted by musket fire. We were, but I could not see the shooting even though I scoured the top of the hill.  It must have been coming from somewhere else, maybe the hill on the other side of the ship. Anyway, Signal Hill is where the fortifications defending the harbor stood for several hundred years. The last battle of the French and Indian War in 1762 was the Battle of Signal Hill.  Its name stems from a signal flag mast that was used to signal the town when a ship was coming.  The Cabot Tower was built there at the end of the 19th Century to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s initial visit and also Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. On December 12, 1901 Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless transmission on this hill, sent from Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

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     We sailed out of the harbor, past some birds on a cliff and some rocky waterfront cliffs.  The next day we were in Bar Harbor, Maine.  But we were still feeling poorly and we had been there before and weren’t very interested in seeing it again. Besides, it was a very gray day, it was a tender port and we had to pack and prepare to disembark in Boston the next morning.  So we took a pass on Bar Harbor & spent a relaxing day on the Veendam. Disembarking in Boston the next morning, August 16, we retrieved our car from the motel where it had spent the trip & drove home. It was a long drive, but we were very happy to be in our own be again after a long and rewarding trip.

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St. Anthony, Newfoundland

     We anchored in the bay at St. Anthony on the morning of August 12.  It was chilly and gray. We were anchored a good way from the town in this large harbor, with the red & white lighthouse at the entrance to the rocky bay the most interesting sight nearby.

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     We tendered into town but didn’t stay there. St. Anthony is a small town (fewer than 2,500) with little to see, so we signed up for an excursion to the real reason for coming here, L’Anse aux Meadows. This is an archaeological site of a 1,000 year old Norse village, the first (and only, so far) actual proof that the Vikings reached North America 500 years before Columbus.

     The Icelandic Sagas tell of Leif Eriksson (whose statue we saw in Reykjavik) leading a group on a voyage to the west of his home in Greenland to a spot he called Vinland. The Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Erik the Red (Erik was Leif’s father and the leader of the first Viking settlement in Greenland) are both pretty short and make good reading for anyone interested in this stuff. The Sagas indicate that the settlement lasted only a few years & was abandoned because of internal fighting among the Vikings and conflict with the locals, who the Norse called Skraelings.

     But the Sagas are not real history in the modern sense and the idea that another European had reached America before Columbus was dismissed by most people.  A Norwegian named Helge Instad read the Sagas, however, and concluded that Vinland was real and was probably located in Newfoundland.  He went to northern Newfoundland and began asking around about any mounds in the area. One of the locals told him about some mounds thought to have been Indian remains.  Instad and his wife, Anne Stine Instad, excavated the mounds in 1960 and found remains that turned out to be a Viking settlement. Anne led excavations there from 1961 to 1968, and proved that the settlement was Norse by finding a bronze Viking cloak pin among the ruins. As a result, today it is accepted that L’Anse aux Meadows was an 11th Century Viking settlement and that Columbus was not the first European to reach the Americas.

     We boarded our bus and headed out with our knowledgeable and very engaging guide Chris. This is a remote area with no modern tour busses so we made the trip in school busses, which were less than comfortable.

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     The archaeological site, now a Canadian national park, has a reconstruction of how the village most likely would have looked.  But about a mile away is a redundant reconstruction run as a private business, sort of a Disney-like “Vikingland” (although a lot smaller & without the rides & concessions). For reasons that are beyond me (unless they involve monetary incentives) we went first to the private site where we spent too much time on an entirely unnecessary visit. The time would have been better spent in the visitor center at the national park where we had insufficient time to review all the exhibits. Both of these sites, however, are located on a lovely bay that shows why the Vikings would have found it a good place to settle.

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     We drove the mile or so to the national park and walked to the visitor’s center. There was Viking themed artwork along the path, including busts of the Instads. In the visitor’s center we saw a film then had a little bit of time to look at the exhibits & the gift shop. From the porch of the visitor’s center was a great view of the whole area around where the Vikings settled.

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     Walking down the boardwalk path to the site we first came to a two part sculpture called Meeting of Two Worlds. It is a rather abstract representation of the first encounter between Europeans on one side with Americans on the other.

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     After each year’s excavations the site was buried again to protect the remains from the elements. Today all you can really see of the actual remains is a series of grassy mounds outlining the foundations of the original Viking buildings. Each has been identified but I can’t identify which buildings are in most of these pictures. The first one is where iron was smelted and worked (it’s obvious since it’s labeled) but apparently only enough iron for a few hundred nails was produced here.  The multi-roomed structures were Viking longhouses, which generally housed several people and had connected outhouses for animals and work. Three longhouses have been recovered on the site.  There are also a few smaller one-room huts, probably housing slaves or crew of low status, although one had weights suggesting it might have been a weaving workshop for women.

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     We visited the reconstruction of what the Viking buildings probably looked like. There were a couple of tents near the shore that looked like they might have been for storage. The other buildings had turf roofs over wooden walls with turf outside of them that made the building look like a hill from a distance. The exposed walls were covered with piled up peat rectangles which we were told would have an insulation value in modern terms of about R-100.  I imagine that kind of insulation would be pretty welcome during the winter this far north. There were costumed people demonstrating the crafts that would have been practiced here by the Norse. When the Norse lived here this area was thickly wooded so that wood was plentiful for building.  You will recall from earlier episodes that the opposite was true in Greenland, where trees are pretty much nonexistent. The Sagas say that Leif loaded his ships with wood each time he returned to Greenland, which must have been a very valuable cargo to sell there.

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    There were a lot of what looked like wildflowers in this area, although since these are carefully reconstructed sites who knows whether they were planted here initially.

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     Current thought is that this site was more of a way station for exploration further south than a village intended as a permanent settlement. But in any event, the Vikings only used this site for a few years & burned it when they left, presumably to deny its use to others. But its historical importance is not diminished by its relatively short duration.

     So the Vikings left this spot and we did too, driving back to St. Anthony in time to permit just a quick look around. It seems to be a nice town with nice people.  On the road to the Viking site we passed several very large piles of cut wood, some with vehicles parked nearby.  Chris told us that no one ever steals wood from someone else’s cache and that they often leave the keys in their vehicles. But if anyone is in need of wood (or other supplies) they only have to ask and people are glad to share. There are Just a few modest buildings in the harbor area. Chris informed us ruefully that there isn’t even a place in town where you can sit down and have a beer! Perhaps the largest building in the area is the hospital, just up the hill from the harbor, which has a 360 degree ceramic mural by a well known Canadian artist named Jordi Bonet who was born in Spain. When we were returning from the hospital Chris was heading back to his car & he crossed the street to offer us a personal driving tour of the town, gratis.  It was getting late, so we gratefully declined, but you see what I mean about the friendly folks here.

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Qaqortoc, Greenland

     I woke up in what seemed the middle of the night but was actually about 5:00 AM on August 10.  I decided to peek out from between the curtains to see how bad the fog looked. It had been consistently bad the previous evening and the fog horn was blowing well into the night. To my surprise there was no fog at all.  Instead there was a beautiful Greenlandic sunrise in progress.

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     We anchored outside of the small harbor at Qaqortoc about three hours later. With a population a little over 3,000 this is the largest town in southern Greenland.  People have inhabited this island for some 4,000 years but Qaqortoq was founded in the late 18th century by the Danes who called it Julianehaab after their queen. It is not far from the spot where Erik the Red established the first Norse settlement in the 10th century. As best I can tell, the town’s name seems to be pronounced “kay-ker-TAWK.”  I think it is the first time I have ever seen a word with 3 q’s and no u’s.

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     We had already explored an Inuit town in Greenland (Nanortalik) and since there are no roads out of Qaqortok there were no land excursions available. So we signed up for a boat tour arranged by a fellow passenger that was to take us to the Twin Glacier on the mainland of Greenland where it is possible to approach close enough to actually touch a piece of the Greenland ice sheet. Yesterday we cruised through Prins Christian Sund & saw icebergs from the ship’s decks above; today we would be right down in the water with them. So we tendered into the harbor where we found our tour guide and the two boats for our trip.

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     The man who was originally supposed to be our guide was out of town leading a group hunting reindeer with crossbows (really), so his wife Metta acted as our guide. She approached me as we emerged from the tender looking lost & asked if we were the group going to the ice cap. She was wearing a sort of snugli in which was her infant son Olaf. Quite the undertaking, we thought, in those conditions. Metta is originally from Denmark.  She told us that when Olaf was on the way she was told that she could only stay in Qaqortoq to give birth if there was no chance of any complications.  Because they were not able to rule that out she had to spend her last few weeks in Nuuk where apparently there is a better equipped hospital. That’s a pretty good indication of how isolated this town is, only accessible from other towns by helicopter and, in summer, by boat. Metta told us that she and her husband are planning to move to a much smaller village which will benefit his hunting business.

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     There were about 20 passengers in our boat, which was the larger and faster of the two. There were seats inside with good windows but you could also walk outside to see things better. As we made our way out of town and around toward the passage leading toward the glacier we passed large icebergs and mountain views in the early morning sun.

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     Now came one of the highlights of the day, if not of the whole cruise.  The Inuit men running the boat spotted a whale spouting near the shore & turned the boat that way to get us a closer look.  Usually when you see a whale in the ocean you only see a little of its back and maybe its tail as it dives (you have seen my pathetic pictures of this), but this humpback whale was rolling around on the surface blowing its spout for quite a while. It seemed almost like he was performing for us. Then with a flip of his tail he dived under the water and was gone. Spectacular!

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     As we headed on toward the glacier the water became more and more crowded with icebergs in all shapes & sizes. Here is also a picture of the other boat in our expedition, which was somewhat smaller than ours. As you can see, there was a lot of skill involved in maneuvering the boats through the floating ice.

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     finally we reached the Twin Glacier.  As its name implies there used to be two glaciers here but only one is left. In fact, Metta told us that (I think I have this right) over the last 20 or 30 years the ice has retreated a couple of miles!  We were glad to see it before its completely gone. We pulled up at a floating dock beside a huge stone outcrop from the glacier where a makeshift stairs had been built.  Stepping onto the floating dock from the boat was tricky because it was not entirely stable & you had to walk along the edge of the boat before reaching the jumping off point. And the  steep steps were not an entirely easy climb. Mary decided to wait at the top of the stairs because her knees were hurting & the terrain over the rocks was quite rough. But yours truly pushed ahead. Across from the dock was a waterfall at the base of a cliff & you could see the ice cap from there over the rocks.

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We walked across the very uneven rocks, climbing here & descending there. We had hoped to be able to walk all the way up to the edge of the glacier where you could get up close & personal with the ice, but because the ship was leaving early (4:00) there wasn’t time to go the whole way.  If only the ship had been leaving at 5:00 instead we would have had time to do that! So that was disappointing, but the view was great & we really got pretty close to the glacier.

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    There were several varieties of small wildflowers that were somehow eking out a living in this barren & cold rock. Life is very resilient!

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Time was up way too quickly & we were herded back to the boat. From the rock we could see the distant entrance to the bay where, Metta told us, the front of the glacier was 2 or 3 decades ago.

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     So we began the long boat trip back to Qaqortoc.  It was now early afternoon & the ice seemed to be a lot thicker than it had been earlier so the boat had to go very slowly.  It was good to be careful since the last thing we wanted was a Titanic moment, but we were starting to get a little anxious about making the last tender to Veendam at 3:30.  I doubt that they would have departed leaving 30 passengers in Qaqortoc, but they are not obliged to wait for a private excursion that is late returning & this remote spot would be a particularly bad place to be stranded.

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     But eventually the water cleared enough for our boat to pick up speed & we made it back to Qaqortoc in plenty of time. And guess what we saw along the way? Right, more icebergs! As I have mentioned before the floating ice comes in all shapes & sizes, from as big as an apartment building to small enough to fit in your glass of water. Here is another sampling.

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     So in the end, despite our concern, we made it back to Qaqortoc with enough time to spare to enable us to walk around the central part of the town. Qaqortoc has the oldest public fountain in Greenland (there are only two) built in 1932, which is topped by whales spouting through their blowholes. There is an unusual amount of outdoor art for such a small town, thanks in large part to a project from the early 1990’s called “Stone & Man” in which a number of artists were invited to carve sculptures into rock faces and boulders. Then there is the town itself, displaying a riot of primary colors on its buildings and homes. Since Greenland has no trees from which to get wood for building houses, the buildings here are imported prefabricated from Scandinavia.

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     As we left for the Veendam we saw several kids having a great time jumping off the pier into the icy cold water. Its hard to imagine doing that (let alone enjoying it as much as they were), but it’s August so this is as good as it gets for swimming around here. After boarding the ship we took a final look at colorful Qaqortoc & headed out to sea, passing (you guessed it) yet more mountains & icebergs, one of which had a large window in it.  A fitting farewell to Greenland.

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Prins Christian Sund, Greenland

     And now for something completely different. There is no port to explore today & we spent the whole day on the ship.  August 9 was a sea day that we spent on “scenic cruising” in the beautiful Prins Christian Sund. The southern tip of Greenland is actually the Cape Farewell Archipelago which is separated from the mainland of Greenland by a narrow fjord called Prins Christian Sund (Ikerassuaq in Icelandic).  We entered from the east so the mainland was on our starboard (right) side while Sangmissoq Island (or Christian IV Island to the Danes) was to port (left). We entered the Sund early in the morning and spent about 10 hours before exiting into the Labrador Sea. (Reminder to newcomers: a caption should appear if you hover your mouse over a picture without clicking.)

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     As you can see from the pictures it was a gloriously sunny & clear day. This is not usually the case, so we were very lucky.  Often bad sea conditions or fog or ice floes clogging the narrow entrance make it impossible for a cruise ship to enter the Sund, so sometimes the Voyage of the Vikings has had to skip this part or cut it very short if ice is encountered after entering.  Our travel guide Barbara, who has been doing this kind of work (although not always in Greenland) for about 25 years, said that this was the best day she had ever seen in the area.

     Well, we were woken up (thankfully) just as we entered the Sund by Barbara, who was narrating the passage over the loudspeakers on the deck just outside our glass door. So before going to breakfast we had time on deck to take in some of the early morning sights. We were sailing past the Greenland ice sheet on the right. & we passed a number of outlet glaciers where the ice is moving down to the water and breaks off into icebergs. The Greenland ice sheet is the second biggest in the world (after Antarctica).  If it all melted the world’s oceans would rise more than 7 feet. So if you live near the ocean shore you really might want to get on board in fighting global warming!

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     When we came to a glacier the captain would stop in front of it and slowly turn the ship around 360 degrees so everyone could see it. While we didn’t see any large pieces calving off a glacier into the water the evidence that it happens was everywhere in the form of floating ice, large and small. The small pieces tended to congregate in fields that stood in the sunlight against the dark water reflecting the nearby rock faces. You will be seeing pictures of icebergs in all shapes and sizes throughout this episode (and the next).

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     We came to one of the biggest icebergs of the day. Most of these icebergs are actually a lot bigger than they look in the pictures. Most were taken from the 6th deck of the ship and some from the 12th, so its like looking down from a 6 or 12 story building. But there was no looking down at the top of this one from the 6th deck. And remember that at least 70% of an iceberg is under the water.  I have several pictures of this iceberg as we approached and then passed it. You will notice that it has a lot of dirt on the top. That may originally have been the bottom of a glacier, which picks up dirt as it scrapes along the ground . We could see it a long way away since it was big and sitting out in the water like a jewel on display.

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     While we were on deck admiring the view the staff came around distributing Dutch pea soup. Not really what we think of as soup since it was not liquid at all and had the consistency of mashed potatoes, but it was warm & quite delicious.  Usually when there is food I am too busy eating to think about pictures, so there are no pictures of the soup.  Anyway, we sailed past another glacier, some more icebergs & a nice waterfall.  The waterfalls are formed by melting ice from the ice sheet finding its way through the craggy walls of the fjord.

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     Here is yet another glacier.  Tired of them yet? We weren’t.

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     We came to a hanging glacier, called that because it hangs on the cliff without coming down to the water. It also had waterfalls. You may have guessed by now that I like the craggy blue front edges of the glaciers.

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     Here are some more icebergs, mountains and boats.  We were surprised to see motorboats & a sailboat in this remote area, but there they are. The guy standing on the front motorboat has a camera and is taking pictures or a movie of the Veendam.  It is interesting when sailing past an iceberg to see how different they look from different angles. The mountains here are pretty big, rising from the water as high as 6,000 feet.

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     Next, another glacier. This one looked as we approached like there was only a point of ice touching the water. But as we passed it became clear that there was a wide ridge at the water’s edge.

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     Beyond the glacier were cliffs with several glacial melt waterfalls wending their way in and out of rock channels. Not much more to say about that, so just look.

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     Throughout the afternoon we saw a lot of mountain peaks, some with snow caps, each of which would have been really impressive standing alone. In the context of so many others they lost some of their individuality, but were still quite beautiful. Later in the afternoon as the sun dropped a little lower the shadows and changing sunlight gave them even more interest. You can see from the green color in some of these photos that there is flora in this area, but it does not grow much.  We were told that there are actually trees here, but you can’t see them because they grow no taller than 3 or 4 inches even though they may live for years.

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     In the afternoon we sailed past an isolated village called Aappilattorq on an outcrop from the huge mountains behind it. Although this spot has been inhabited for more than a century there are fewer than 150 people who live here. The village has a school, a church and a fire station. Inaccessible by land, the village can be reached by helicopter or (in summer) by boat. But they do have electricity and apparently television. We actually passed this village twice as the ship went up and back through the fjord in which it sits. I have seen it suggested that the bright colors used in Greenland are to enable folks to find their houses when the snow is deep, but I think it is probably a natural response to the gloom of the long dark winters. Whatever the reason, they certainly are colorful.

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     We passed a lot more icebergs as the afternoon wound down.  Icebergs often lose mass more in the underwater portion than the part above water.  As that happens the iceberg gets lighter and floats higher in the water.  Many icebergs display a sort of straight shelf above the water line caused by this, with the shelf  having originally been at the water line.  Sometimes as the underwater erosion continues there may be more than one shelf line on the side. The change in center of gravity may also cause the iceberg to tip, in which case the lines become diagonal, or even to flip entirely over.  One iceberg dramatically flipped just as we were passing it, just as if it had been paid to perform for us. There is an “after” picture of it below, but unfortunately since I didn’t know it was going to do this I didn’t take a “before” picture. (But there may be a later “after” picture as it seems to have risen higher in the water in the second picture.)

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     Just before leaving the fjords we sailed past one last mountain peak glowing in the late afternoon sun. On one side of it were some rocks, one of which was standing precariously on its end.

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     So the weather had amazingly held for us through the entire trip through Prins Christian Sund. There was plenty of sun, no clouds at all and although it was pretty chilly there was little wind so it wasn’t too cold to enjoy the trip mostly on the deck. But when we passed out of the fjord, boom!  The fog dropped around us suddenly like a curtain coming down. The fog horn was blowing all evening and into the night to the point were we all but gave up hope of being able to tender into our next port in the morning. Just outside the sound we could still see impressive icebergs shining in the evening sun filtered through the fog.

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Reykjavik, Iceland (Day 2)

     August 7 was our second day in Reykjavik and we had nothing scheduled beyond a walk around the town. Reykjavik has two docks, one right downtown and the other two miles away.  Guess which one we were at? Normally we would have walked the two miles to and from town but both of us were still under the weather and we had to be back early because the ship was scheduled to leave at 5:00, so we decided to take the shuttle bus into town. Unfortunately, it was a local bus rather than a Holland America shuttle so we had to pay.  We had been told the price would be a steep $5.00 each way per person. But when we purchased our tickets it turned out that it had gone up 50%!  Have I mentioned that Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world?  We paid up & went into town.

     Our first objective was the library, so we stopped into the tourist information office for directions.  It turned out that the city library was just a block away. We spent a long time in confusion looking for it, then finally realized it was inside a building and couldn’t be seen from the street. It really wasn’t worth all that trouble; very pedestrian & disappointing.

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     Fortunately there is another library in town, the National Library. Getting there involved a fairly long walk, mostly uphill, through a nice residential neighborhood with lots of flowers.  Since Iceland is short on trees many of the houses have metal rather than wood siding & even metal roofs.  They come in bright colors, though. We have seen that in Greenland & Norway too, which makes me wonder if the long winter with little sunlight makes people yearn for bright colors to dispel the gloom. We also walked past a cemetery, called Holavallagardur, that dates back to 1838.  I understand it is the largest cemetery in Iceland. Notably, it is full of various kinds of trees, which is a rarity in Iceland, but we noticed that Reykjavik seems to have a lot more trees than anywhere else we visited here. Presumably, most if not all of these trees were cultivated rather than growing wild.

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     We found the National Library (after stopping in the National Museum for directions) & it was worth the trouble. It is a large red & white building on a corner across the street from the university.  The national library was founded in 1818 and it was combined in 1994 with the university library when this building opened.  So here is some Icelandic: the building is called  Þjóðarbókhlaðan and the combined library is called Landsbókasafn Íslands — Háskólabókasafn  (island means Iceland & Haskola seems to mean university, while bokasafn means book collection).

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Inside the library are several interesting works of art, including a stained glass window of three heads looking to the sky, a wooden sculpture of a guy we were told was (I think) an important professor, and a chess table just waiting for some players.

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     We walked past Tjörnin (The Pond), a large lake in the middle of town.  It was decorated by sculptures and a lot of colorful flowers and there was a fountain in the middle. The sun was out at this point so it was a very pleasant walk.

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     This is a good place to show flowers, since many of them were in this park. But really Reykjavik seems to have a lot of flowers, particularly in the residential neighborhoods.

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     After a long uphill walk through a residential neighborhood, with the help of a map we finally reached the Hallgrimskirkja.  You may remember that I suggested this tall church could be seen from everywhere in town, but it seems I was wrong since we had trouble finding it when we were actually trying to reach it. In yesterday’s episode you saw this church in bright sunlight, but by the time we reached it on this day the weather had turned threatening, which added to the atmosphere.

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You will notice at the left of this picture a large statue.  That is Leif Eriksson, the first European to reach America more than 500 years before Columbus. This statue was given to the Icelandic people by the United States in 1930 on the 1,000th anniversary of the first Althing (see yesterday’s episode for an explanation of this). Interestingly, that was about 15 years before this church was built, so I wonder where it was kept until then. Leif is holding a battle axe in his right hand and a cross in his left. It makes him look like a Crusader, which he wasn’t.  I wonder how the U.S. government erecting a statue of a heroic figure carrying a cross squares with the First Amendment.

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     There is supposed to be a great view from the tower of the church but there was a long line waiting to go up so we skipped it. We walked down the street from the church toward the harbor.  It is a well known shopping and restaurant district & we spent some time perusing some of the pretty but very expensive things in the stores. There is a lot about Iceland that is unusual, and that includes some very eclectic museums.

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     It was getting late (& rainy again) so we headed back to the bus stop, which was in front of Reykjavik’s modern concert hall, just opened in 2011, called Harpa. It is a pretty impressive glass & steel building right on the water. You can see right through it in some places. Inside, among other things, was a sculpture of a reindeer that caught our eye(s).

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     Before catching our bus we walked down the waterside a ways to see The Sun Voyager, a metal ship sculpture by the bay. It was erected in 1986 & apparently its sculptor thought of it as a dream ship and not a Viking ship.  Be that as it may, it sure looks like an abstract rendering of a Viking ship & really that’s one of the things that makes it so cool. Walking back from the sculpture we passed the interesting looking National Theater building, which stood out among a lot of nondescript buildings in this area.

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     So we made it back to the ship on time, but because of swells from a weather front coming in from the west Veendam was unable to pull away from the dock. Two tugboats were brought alongside & they finally managed to pull us out into the water so we could begin our voyage back to Greenland. As we pulled away we got a last glimpse of the Videyjarstofa on Videy Island. Now a restaurant, this house was built in 1755 and was the first stone building in Iceland. It was right across the harbor and could be seen from our window throughout our stay.

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The weather doesn’t look all that bad in these pictures, but it was foggy and the water was pretty choppy all the next day on our way to Greenland. There is a substantial history of having to forego at least part of Greenland on the Voyage of the Vikings because of weather and ice blockage so there was a lot of suspense about what we would encounter once we got to Greenland.  You will have to tune in to the next two episodes to find out!


Reykjavik, Iceland (Day 1)

     The morning of August 5 found us docked at Reykjavik (RAY-kya-vick), the capital and largest city in Iceland. It is the northernmost capital of a sovereign nation in the world & its population of about 120,000 is more than a third that of the entire country.  Although it was officially founded as a city in 1786 it is thought to be the site of the first Icelandic Norse settlement in 870. When we opened our curtains in the morning it was well after sunrise but it still looked pretty spectacular.

012. Reykjavik, Iceland (Day 1)

     We were in town for an overnight stay, so for the first day we booked a non-Holland America tour of the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is the classic tour in this area, visiting some of the most popular sights in Iceland in one long day.  While waiting for our bus we saw some minks on the rocks near our harbor. It turns out that minks are one of the few types of wild animals in Iceland, most if not all of which were introduced by man. As we drove the rather long way to our first stop our driver/guide pointed out the lava fields.  Although they are thousands of years old, some of these lava fields have little more than moss growing on them still, while others are lush with vegetation. He explained that this depends on the depth of the lava; if it is too deep plants can’t reach the nutrients in the ground under them so substantial growth never begins. Our first stop turned out to be a bathroom stop, with a gift shop also on the premises.  American travelers must have quite a reputation since a restroom is often the first stop on a tour (wasting precious time in our opinion). This is the first of several pictures of gift shops in this episode, responding to a request we received just before we reached Reykjavik.  So I hope you enjoy that, Cecile!

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     Our first real visit was to Vatnsleysufoss (also called Faxi Falls), a wide waterfall with a fish ladder next to it to enable salmon to swim upriver to spawn. As has been noted before, Iceland is full of impressive waterfalls.

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     You see a lot of fields in Iceland with large stubby cylinders of hay wrapped in plastic (I think) that will presumably feed animals in winter.  But our guide helpfully explained to us that these are really giant marshmallows left out for trolls in the hope that they will eat these instead of local children.  They come in mint and licorice flavors as well as plain white.  He says they have been quite successful in that few children are eaten by trolls any more.

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     Our next stop was Haukadalur, a geothermal area of geysers & steam vents.  In fact the word “geyser” coms from one of the features here, a now-dormant geyser named “Geysir” that used to be the main attraction here because of its frequent eruptions.  Near it is a geyser called Strokkur that still erupts pretty dramatically every 5 or 10 minutes. You can see the crowds standing around it waiting to take pictures of the next eruption.

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Since everyone knows that heat is what makes steam you would think that people would know better than to stick their hands in it.  But of course you would be wrong; they do it all the time, despite a sign warning against it in four languages.

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In addition to the main geysers there are small bubbling pools (one called Litli-Geysir) and steam vents. There are also pools filled with hot water from below, some of which display unusual colors.  We learned at Yellowstone that at least some of those colors are caused by bacteria living in the hot water.

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One of the more unusual features is called Blesi.  It comprises two pools. The hot water bubbles up into one that hardly looks like it has water in it at all, and then it runs over the edge into another pool with a very blue cast . If you look closely into the second pool you can see the cavern at the bottom.  The second pool is bright blue from silica in the water that reacts with the air as it runs from one pool to the other. And because there is no independent source of hot water in the second pool it is much cooler than all the other pools here. Its also very pretty. All of the pictures here are of the second, runoff, pool because it was the only one that looked really interesting.

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This was a lunch stop, for those who wanted to buy lunch (everything in Iceland is really expensive; one passenger told us he bought a bowl of take-out soup here that cost more than $10), so it was a lengthy stop. Among other things, we looked through the large gift shop.  In Iceland there are three primary souvenirs: Puffins, Vikings and trolls.  Sometimes they are combined, for the perfect souvenir! I really shouldn’t be so snarky since gift shops are the only places we saw any puffins on this voyage.

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     Our next visit was to yet another beautiful waterfalls called Gullfoss (golden falls). It is quite large & falls down two levels. On sunny days it generates a rainbow, but our day was not sunny.

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Gullfoss may have gotten its name from a golden hue that sometimes appears in the evening.  But a better story is that a local farmer with a lot of gold could not bear someone else possessing it after he died, so he threw it into the waterfall. So far no one has swum under the falls to find it. Early in the 20th Century an Englishman tried to buy the waterfalls to generate electricity. The daughter of the owner of the land, named Sigriður Tómasdóttir, fought against it for years in court and by threatening to throw herself over the falls if construction began. She lost her court battle, but the purchaser ultimately failed to pay and so the falls was saved.  It is now owned by the government and is a nature preserve. By the falls is a plaque to Sigriður Tómasdóttir, who is considered Iceland’s first environmentalist.The trail to the edge of the waterfall is also named for her.

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We walked up to the top of the canyon ridge. From there you could see the glacier in the mountains miles away.

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     This is a good spot to look at today’s flowers, since we saw a lot of these near Gullfoss. Also in this area were several small rock piles presumably built by visitors. You see rock piles like this a lot in Iceland, presumably set up as way markers most of the time.

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     On our way to the last major site on the Golden Circle we stopped to meet some Icelandic horses who were anxious, as always, to meet people from a bus who might give them food. They were not disappointed.

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     We continued on to Þingvellir (the first letter is pronounced like “th” in English), an Icelandic national park, a UNESCO world heritage site & a place of great historical and geological importance.

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Historically, this is the spot where the Icelandic Althing (general assembly) met from 930 until 1799. It is considered the oldest parliamentary body in the world, and has met since 1844 in Reykjavik. The original Althing would meet for a couple of weeks every year & everyone was invited.  It served legislative and judicial purposes. Before laws were written down an official called the Lawspeaker would recite all of the laws from memory (over the course of three Althings) as well as the procedural rules of the gathering. He sat on a rock called the Law Rock & everyone gathered around to listen.  The location of the Law Rock is not currently known for sure, but there is a flagpole where it is thought to have been.

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Geographically, the long cliff behind the Althing location is the eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate. The North American and European plates are moving apart here, at a rate of about 1 mm per year, and there is a wide rift valley that represents the “no man’s land” between the plates. The floor of the rift was formed by volcanic action & it is relatively thin & is sinking, also at about 1 mm per year. The western edge of the European plate can be seen from the top of the cliff at Thingvellir lying across Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

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As we drove along this lake on our way to Thingvellir I heard the guide say that it is very popular to piss in this lake.  I wondered why that would be so popular, but then we got to the visitor’s center and discovered that it cost $2.00 to use a restroom!  It turned out that the guide had actually said it is popular to fish in the lake. That’s very different; never mind.

There are many smaller fissures in the floor of the rift.  One of them, called Nikulásargjá or Peningagjá was bridged in 1907 for a visit by the king of Denmark. On our arrival at Thingvellir we parked next to a fissure with a bridge; I don’t know whether it is the same one but it was quite beautiful. We thought at first that this fissure was the dividing point between the tectonic plates, but of course it wasn’t.

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There is a path leading up to the top through a fissure in the cliff. Normally we would have taken that route, but we had been ill & when we first got out of the bus there was a cloudburst.  We hadn’t brought our umbrellas and although the rain stopped there was no guarantee it would not suddenly begin again when we were halfway there.  So we decided to forego the walk & went to the top in the bus. We did see people standing at the top of the cliff, though, and we could see in the distance a waterfall called Öxarárfoss dropping over the top of the cliff.

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From the visitor’s center on top there was quite a view, some of which you have seen above.

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     We drove back to Reykjavik but since this was an overnight stay there was no all aboard deadline, so our guide took us on a short tour through the city.  We stopped at two places.  The first is a building on top of a hill called Perlan.  The base consists of five massive tanks holding hot water pumped in from geothermal stations to heat the city.  The tanks have been there for a long time, but in 1991 they built a glass dome on top. Inside are shops, a revolving restaurant in the dome and the Saga Museum (which is being moved this year). In front is an interesting sculptural group of jazz musicians. Around the dome is an observation decks with striking 360 degree views. Fortunately, the rain was long gone & it was now a bright sunny evening.

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   Our last stop was at the Hallgrímskirkja, probably the best known landmark in Reykjavid.  A Lutheran church built after World War II, it is the largest church in Iceland with a soaring bell tower that can be seen all over town. It is named after 17th Century poet Hallgrimur Petursson, who was married to Gudrídur Símonardottir who had been abducted from the Heimaey area during the 1627 North Africa raid mentioned in that episode and enslaved as a concubine. She was returned to Iceland a decade later after being ransomed by the king of Denmark. She was notorious among Icelanders because she was twice her husband’s age and was pregnant when they married. Inside is an impressive pipe organ and while Mary was there the organist filled the church with the theme from Star Wars.  Awesome! I wish I had been in there to hear it. I will leave it at this for now since we would be visiting the church again the next day.

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     So after a day jam-packed with many of Iceland’s best known sights we returned to the ship to eat & rest up for a partial day in the city tomorrow.


Heimaey Island, Iceland

     We arrived at Heimaey Island mid-morning on August 5. We had to anchor outside the small harbor because Prinsendam, another Holland America ship we had sailed on twice, was docked there. I was feeling well enough by now to go ashore, particularly since we had an excursion scheduled so there wouldn’t have to be too much walking. Unfortunately, the tour turned out to be probably the worst one we have ever taken. Even Holland America eventually acknowledged this, refunding 50% of the tour price.

     Located just offshore in the south of Iceland, Heimaey (pronounced with 3 syllables, as hi-MAY-ee) is the largest island near Iceland. On the north side is the town of Vestmannaeyjar with some 4500 inhabitants. It has been populated for more than 1,000 years and in 1627 it was the victim of the same North African slave traders who had decimated the Djupivogur area.

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     We were tendered ashore for our tour in late morning. Unfortunately it turned out that the buses on the island were out on an earlier Prinsendam tour & we had to wait on the dock for more than an hour before they returned.  It was chilly & windy, so this was not a good development for the many people who were somewhat ill. Worse, Mary tripped & gashed her knee walking up the steps from the dock. When the buses finally arrived there were not enough seats for everyone who had bought tickets, so a few were left behind. In retrospect we wished we had been among them, because the bus tour went nowhere important that couldn’t have been reached on foot & the tour guide was terrible. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything interesting to see. Even from the ship there were interesting views of islands or peninsulas with rock formations where puffins and other birds often nest (but not when we were there).

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You will notice the characteristic landscape of rock & grass but no trees. As we passed a small planting of short trees our guide repeated a point we had heard before: What to do if you are lost in the woods in Iceland? Stand up & look around.

013.  Heimaey Island, Iceland

     The fact that this town still exists here is pretty remarkable.  In January, 1973, a volcano called Eldfell next to the town that had been thought extinct suddenly erupted. The eruption lasted some 4 months & increased the size of the island by about 20%. Everyone on the island was evacuated within a day and only one man (who had broken into a pharmacy to obtain drugs & was overcome by toxic gas) was killed. But about 400 houses were buried in lava & ash.

     As the lava flow was overcoming the town & threatening to cut off the harbor that was essential to the fishing industry here, a professor and some townspeople decided to try to divert the flow by pumping water on it from a fire truck. This had the effect of more quickly cooling the lava wall which then impeded the flow of lava in that direction.  Once it had been proven to work, the United States provided a number of boats with pumps to pour seawater on the lava flow headed for the town & the harbor. This saved both and, although the entrance to the harbor has been reduced to a little over 100 yards, the new land created by the lava flow serves as a breakwater that provides better protection from foul weather.

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Our most interesting stop on this tour was on Edfell.  We walked up to a viewing spot, although not all the way to the top which would be a substantial climb. The side of the volcano is still mostly bare volcanic rock, although the townspeople have planted grass around the bottom & are hoping it will eventually cover the mountain.

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While on Eldfell we also saw the nearby volcanic mountain of Helgafell whose eruption some 5,000 years ago made a single island out of what had been two. It is now mostly covered by grass & as I mentioned it is hoped that will happen to Eldfell eventually as well.  Our guide also pointed out Eyjafjallajökull lying across the water near the edge of the Icelandic mainland. You will probably recall that trans-Atlantic air traffic was grounded for about a week in 2010 because of an eruption in Iceland & this is where it happened.  In 2010 Iceland also had a banking meltdown during which it defaulted on substantial European loans & we heard several times that the volcano showed that you shouldn’t mess with Iceland.  “You asked for cash and we gave you ash” was their saying, which we also saw on a tee shirt in Reykjavik. My thought about this was that the real lesson is you shouldn’t loan money to Iceland.  By the way, don’t even think about trying to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull; there were sarcastic tee shirts in Reykjavik saying something like “What part of Eyjafjallajökull can’t you pronounce?”

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     There were some tiny white wildflowers trying to grow in the lava on Eldfell. As for fauna, we saw a lot of sheep & also gulls in the water outside the harbor.

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After leaving Eldfell we drove around the town seeing some pretty uninteresting things (“Here is the supermarket, and there is the liquor store . . .”). But did we see the new museum about the volcano that included excavated houses? Of course not. We drove past the empty site of an annual festival that had been held a few days before our arrival, and our guide helpfully explained how much fun it is to drink a lot. Speaking of drinking, it is an interesting fact that until 1989 it was illegal to produce or drink beer in Iceland. The official reason was that beer drinkers tend to drink it a lot while drinkers of wine & spirits don’t. This is obviously not true & the theory we heard while in Iceland is that beer was considered the drink of the working classes.  Today Icelanders not only drink but brew beer.  We also drove to an overlook outside of town from which you could see . . . grass-topped rocks in or by the sea, looking pretty much the same as the ones we had already seen.

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We made one stop in town (really a bathroom break, which eat up a lot of time on these excursions). It was at the town cultural center, which wasn’t too exciting in itself.  But we discovered that inside was the public library, and of course regular readers of this blog know that this is always one of our objectives. The Icelandic word for library is bókasafn (literally “book collection”), and there it was outside the building and also at the inside entrance to the library.  Because of the houses buried in the volcano that turned out to be well preserved when excavated Icelanders call Vestmannaeyjar the “Pompeii of the North,” and there was a tee shirt in the library that conveyed that. There was also an interesting red rug indicating that the library had been established in 1862. I don’t know what the 1977 date signifies, but I would guess that is when it was reopened after the volcano. In front of the cultural center was an interesting abstract sculpture of a woman.

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     After getting off the bus we decided to head back to the ship rather than walking around the town.  We were both still under the weather, pretty tired from the bus trip & Mary’s knee hurt. Too bad since the museum sounded interesting. But we were headed for Reykjavik the next day and wanted to conserve what little energy we had for that.

     Those who have followed this blog may be wondering why there have been no towel animals for awhile.  The answer is that in the second half of the voyage, after reaching Amsterdam, our towel animals were repeats of the ones we had on the first half of the voyage. However, during this stop in Iceland there was a competition among the  room stewards in towel animal creativity.  The entries were all displayed on the Lido deck near the pool. So here are a few of the entries, probably the last towel animals you will see on this journey.

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Djupivogur, Iceland

     After a day at sea we arrived at Djupivogur on the morning of August 4. Unfortunately I was unable to see this town because in the evening after touring Shetland I came down with the Dreaded Shipwide Illness. For more than two days I had such a debilitating headache I couldn’t eat anything and could hardly make it from the bed to the bathroom. Those who know me will recognize that not eating for two days means I must be really sick!  Fortunately, the first day was a sea day, but I had to spend August 4 in bed as well and bypass Djupivogur.  Fortunately, however, Mary did go into town for a few hours & therefore we have the pictures she took there.

     Djupivogur is a town of fewer than 400 inhabitants in eastern Iceland. It is most famous in Iceland for having had the highest temperature ever recorded in the country: 87 degrees Fahrenheit in 1939.  To our relatives in Texas that would be a cold front!  Founded in the 16th Century the town was a trading center and sold fish to the Hanseatic League. The oldest building in town, called Langabud, was first built in 1790. Today it houses a museum & restaurant. After a large part of the town’s population was enslaved by North African raiders in the early 17th Century they built a cairn called Bóndavarða just above the town as a lookout.  We don’t know whether the cairn in the picture is that one.

11. Djupivogur, Iceland42. Djupivogur, Iceland2. Djupivogur, Iceland46. Djupivogur, Iceland

     The village is surrounded by mountains and interesting rock formations. The most famous is Bulandstindur, a mountain more than 3,000 feet high that is shaped like a perfect pyramid. It has a longstanding reputation as a source of spiritual energy, but those who have seen Stargate will recognize it as a landing dock for space ships.

10. Djupivogur, Iceland17. Djupivogur, Iceland25. Djupivogur, Iceland14. Djupivogur, Iceland21. Djupivogur, Iceland

     Just outside of town is Eggin í Gleðivík (Eggs of Merry Bay).  This is an artistic installation created in 2009. It is a long row of 34 sculptures of eggs of the variety of birds that inhabit the area. Each one is different from the others but they form a unified artistic whole. Pretty unusual.

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     The small Djupivogur church, built in 1894, is no longer used for religious services, but it appears to have some community functions. It is undergoing restoration that is expected to be complete by 2016.

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     Other interesting things in town included a sculpture of a reindeer made of reindeer antlers, a monument to Eysteinn Jonsson, a local guy who was a minister in the Icelandic government from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, a house with a collection of trolls in front, and the 1922 Æðarstein lighthouse. There was also what appears to be some kind of monument featuring a ship’s propeller above the Langabud building, but we don’t know what it signifies.

5. Djupivogur, Iceland72. Djupivogur, Iceland8. Djupivogur, Iceland47. Djupivogur, Iceland74. Djupivogur, Iceland

Well, that’s pretty much all we have on this little village in a spectacular setting. But before we go, we can’t forget the flowers. We have included a couple of pictures of trees, not only because they are so rare in Iceland but because they show the effects of living where ocean winds are common.

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   So Mary came back to tend to her sick spouse, who still couldn’t get out of bed or eat.  Tomorrow would be another port day & it was not at all clear whether I would be able to make it ashore. Tune in to the next episode to find out!


Lerwick, Shetland Islands (Scotland)

     Saturday, August 2, found us anchored at Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands. Sparsely settled, Shetland has a population of a little over 20,000 & half of them live in or near Lerwick. No place in Shetland is more than 3 miles from the ocean. It has no native animals & no native trees; all that are there were introduced by men. Much of it looks very bleak: devoid of trees with houses scattered in tiny villages, just grassland, rocks & sea. But it has its own stark beauty.

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     While the Shetlands have been inhabited for about 6,000 years, the Vikings settled it in the 8th Century and it remained at least nominally a Norwegian possession until the 15th Century. It seems that in the late 1460’s Princess Margaret was betrothed to King James III of Scotland. Her father, the king of Norway, was too broke to pay a dowry so he gave James the Shetland & Orkney Islands as security for later payment. Princess Margaret died en route to Scotland but the Scots insisted that the dowry was due nonetheless. The dowry was never paid and thus Scotland’s possession of the islands became permanent.

     Even after it became part of Scotland the Shetland economy continued to be based mostly on selling fish to the Norwegians & the Hanseatic League in Bergen, Norway.  The culture of the Shetlands today owes as much to its Norwegian origin as to its Scottish connections.  Lerwick is closer to Bergen than it is to Edinburgh, and the people are very proud of their Viking heritage. The very names of Lerwick & Shetland are of Norse derivation.

     We spent the first part of the day on a bus excursion that took us to the southernmost point on the Mainland island of Shetland. This was nice because it gave us a chance to get out of town & see the countryside. A lot of villages, isolated farms, some ruins & even a beach.

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We saw Mousa Island, now uninhabited but it has a famous tower built during the Iron Age. And we saw some fishermen who were cleaning their fish & tossing the entrails to the excited gulls gathering around their boat.

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What would a visit to Shetland be worth if we didn’t see Shetland Ponies? We stopped along the way to meet some up close, & they came running over as we have seen with other animals used to getting a treat from tour buses. Even when they have their heads up they are not as tall as I am.

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     Then we reached Sumburgh Head, the southernmost point in Shetland. We parked by a marvelous mid-19th Century hotel that looked like an old castle. On a hill nearby was Sumburgh Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Shetland, built in 1821 by Robert Stevenson who was a prominent lighthouse builder and father of writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Right next to the hotel was a field enclosed by stone walls containing more Shetland ponies.

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   We walked from there to the main object of our trip, the Jarlshof archaeological site. The name Jarlshof, which means lord’s house, was coined by Sir Walter Scott who visited the area in 1814 & included it under that name in his novel The Pirate. (“Jarl” was a Norse word that evolved into the English “Earl” after the Norse conquered most of England). At the time Scott visited the only thing visible was the remains of a 16th Century fortified house. It was built on the foundations of a medieval stone farmhouse by Robert Stewart, brother of Mary Queen of Scots, and expanded by his son Patrick Stewart (no, not the star ship captain). It was abandoned in the late 17th Century and fell into disrepair. Here is Scott’s description in the novel of how it looked in 1814:

“[A]n ancient Earl of the Orkneys had elected this neck of land as the place for establishing a mansion-house. It has been long entirely deserted, and the vestiges only can be discerned with difficulty; for the loose sand, borne on the tempestuous gales of those stormy regions, has overblown, and almost buried, the ruins of the buildings; but in the end of the seventeenth century, a part of the Earl’s mansion was still entire and habitable. It was a rude building of rough stone, with nothing about it to gratify the eye, or to excite the imagination; a large old-fashioned narrow house, with a very steep roof, covered with flags composed of grey sandstone, would perhaps convey the best of idea of the place to a modern reader. The windows were few, very small in size, and distributed up and down the building with utter contempt of regularity. Against the main structure had rested, in former times, certain smaller compartments of the mansion-house, containing offices, or subordinate apartments, necessary for the Earl’s retainers and menials. But these had become ruinous; and the rafters had been taken down for fire-wood, or for other purposes; the walls had given way in many places; and, to complete the devastation, the sand had already drifted amongst the ruins, and filled up what had been once the chambers the contained, to the depth of two or three feet.”

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     Severe storms in the late 19th Century washed away some of the topsoil in this area to reveal for the first time earlier ruins on the site. The area was excavated between 1925 and the 1950’s, uncovering a complicated mix of buildings and artifacts dating from about 2500 BC. There are a lot of excavations in a very small area & it can be pretty confusing trying to tell which are which. So I will do my best to explain this stuff, but I may not have it all correct.  The earlier people built round stone walled houses while the Vikings who first came in the 8th Century built longhouses with straight walls & corners. This was because the Vikings were used to building with straight wooden logs or planks, which do not easily adapt to round walls, so even though they built with stone here (no trees in Shetland at that time) they adhered to their traditional rectangular shapes.

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Just beyond the Stewart house are some “wheelhouses,” called this because they are round & have spoke-like interior walls. They are mostly underground & are prehistoric in origin.

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There was a nice little visitor’s center with some artifacts & explanation, but we did not have much time to spend there (in fact our whole visit to Jarlshof was too rushed to fully understand it). One item that caught our attention there was an old Viking board game called Tafl.  Several broken tafl boards were found on the Jarlshof site. The idea of the game for one player is to move the king (the center piece with a dot on it) to the edge of the board while the other player tries to capture it by surrounding the king with his own pieces. The pieces move like rooks on a chess board.  Apparently this game was later overshadowed by chess, a more sophisticated game with a similar idea.

084.  Lerwick, Shetland Islands

     Leaving Jarlshof for the drive back to Lerwick we were stopped at the Sumburgh airport, the main commercial airport in Shetland. Its relatively short runway crosses the main north-south road & we were stopped to permit a plane to take off.  Further on our guide pointed out to us some old round stone buildings still in use & a farmhouse (called a croft house, generally denoting a tenant farmer) built on the model of a Viking longhouse. The Viking design involves a rectangular living quarters with utility buildings connected on the ends so that everything can be reached without going outside. This type of house is still popular in Shetland, according to our guide.

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     Our guide pointed out where peat was being harvested to use as fuel for fires in winter. Peat is organic matter that decays and compresses over time.  It accumulates at a rate of about 1 mm per year, not nearly enough to replenish what is harvested. It is dug up in rectangular shapes & left out to dry before being moved to where it will be used for fuel.

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     We left the main road to visit a small village called Hoswick in an area called Sandwick where (probably not coincidentally) our guide lives. The Hoswick Visitor Center is in a former tweed weaving mill & includes a small cafeteria, a gift shop and a museum that includes displays of old textile machinery & radios. The most interesting display was about a landmark legal case in 1888 in which the local tenant farmers had beached a lot of whales & the landlord asserted his ancient right to a percentage of the proceeds. The court sided with the farmers setting an important precedent. Near the visitor center is a knitwear factory with a shop. We looked but didn’t buy.

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Driving though the town on our way back to the main road we passed a walled cemetery by the water, haystacks in long rows and individual and a sheep standing alone on a hill.  There was a large fire burning by the beach but we never learned what it was about.

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     Before getting back to Lerwick, this would probably be a good place for showing a variety of wildflowers we came upon in Shetland. All but the last we came upon by the side of the road during the excursion.

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     On the outskirts of Lerwick we drove past Clickimin Broch. Brochs are round structures found mostly in Scotland.  Clickimin Broch was first erected in the 1st Century AD and located on an island in a lake. Unfortunately we were moving so the picture is a little blurred.

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Our excursion ended with a brief drive through the streets of Lerwick, a town with a definite character involving stone buildings & walls & lots of chimney pots.

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     After leaving the bus at the harbor we spent some time walking around the commercial district looking in shops (mostly knitwear, books & gifts).  It got cold and windy, but we still decided to find the library.  It was on top of a hill overlooking the harbor, up a street that was steep enough that part of it was a stairway. The library was housed in what had been a church, a stone building with stained glass windows.  The sign by the door had a snail painted on it.  When Mary asked what that was about the librarian said it was added by an anonymous person that had been painting snails on signs all over town.  It was a local mystery.

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     Just up the street was the Sheriff’s Court, built in 1875, where weddings are held.  And sure enough there was a wedding that appeared to have just finished. Its hard to see, but the groom appears to be wearing a kilt.

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It was cold & we were tired, so there aren’t many pictures of Lerwick here.  But we did find the rooftops with their array of chimney pots to have a certain charm, looking like something out of Mary Poppins.

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And so, very tired & not feeling too great, we returned to the ship for the trip back to Iceland.


Invergordon, Scotland

     After a day at sea, the morning of August 1 found us sailing up the Cromarty Firth (a firth is an inlet or bay leading to the sea) to Invergordon, Scotland. This is a town in the highlands of northern Scotland not far from Inverness. It is a mostly rural area & Invergordon is a small town that specializes in repairing oil platforms & making whisky (yep, this is Scotland). It was a very foggy & cloudy day, which lent the area an atmosphere right out of Macbeth.

001.  Invergorden, Scotland002.  Invergorden, Scotland003.  Invergorden, Scotland119.  Invergorden, Scotland

     There is not a lot to see in Invergordon so the thing to do here was to see the highlands, which we did on a bus excursion. When we disembarked there was a single piper walking back and forth on the pier to welcome us.

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     We drove through the hilly region for a while, along rivers & lakes (lochs) and through several small towns characterized by square stone buildings, lots of chimney pots & flowers. We passed several whisky distilleries and many farms. We stopped in a small town called Beauly (pop. about 1,000), reputedly named by Mary Queen of Scots who remarked in French during a visit that it was a beautiful place (“Beaulieu”). It was very nice, despite the gloomy weather, but it seemed pretty typical of the towns we saw. It was notable for the ruins of a 13th Century priory.

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     Our first destination was Urquhart Castle, a ruin that sits on the shore of Loch Ness. First built in the 13th Century on older foundations, it is one of the largest castles in Scotland. It has been under public control for about 100 years.

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The castle is at a strategic spot on the shore of Loch Ness & had a very bloody and complicated history with control shifting back and forth among a long list of English & Scottish aristocrats.  This was particularly true during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th Century, which involved Robert Bruce and Williams Wallace on the Scottish side countering repeated nvasions by English Kings Edward I, II & III. It was again a point of contention during the Jacobite uprising that began in 1689 after the Glorious Revolution when William of Orange was placed on the English throne to replace the deposed James II of England (who was also James VII of Scotland). The English-sympathizing Grants who held the castle at that time withstood a siege by the Jacobites (who supported the exiled James), then when they left the castle in 1690 they blew up the gatehouse to ensure the Jacobites could not occupy it. There is still masonry lying in front of the gatehouse from that explosion. After that the castle fell into disuse.

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The curtain wall up the hill on the right is the oldest part of the ruins, dating to the 13th Century and probably built by Alan Durward.  The Grant Tower, the most prominent feature on the left, was built by (you guessed it) the Grants.  It once had turrets on each of its four corners.

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As I mentioned, the castle sits on the shore of Loch Ness, a huge lake 23 miles long and up to 750 feet deep where the Loch Ness Monster is said to hang out.  We didn’t see the real monster, although there were lots of stuffed ones in the gift shop at the castle & elsewhere in the area. Loch Ness contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England & Wales combined. There are great views of the Loch from Urquhart Castle.

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So the castle was very interesting to explore, as you could climb up to the top of the tower and wander through the ruins.  But our time was pretty limited so we didn’t get a chance to visit the old part on the hill. We also saw a movie in the visitor’s center about the castle’s history & there was a gift shop selling everything from stuffed Nessie toys to whiskey (I was told later they were giving away free tastes, but we missed that). Altogether well worth visiting.

019.  Invergorden, Scotland

     Next we headed for Inverness where we had lunch. But first I should mention the Great Glen, a series of glens (river valleys) lying on a geological fault line running across northern Scotland from Inverness in the east to Fort William in the west. Five Lochs are aligned along this fault: Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and Loch Linnhe. There are also rivers connecting the Lochs, including the River Ness, which runs through Inverness. In the early 19th Century the Caledonian Canal was built to connect all of these watery features into a navigable passage all the way through northern Scotland from the east coast to the west coast. The canal is some 60 miles long but only about a third of it is man made. It has a couple of dozen locks (not to be confused with lochs). We rode along the canal & the River Ness on our approach to Inverness.

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After a short drive through Inverness (no stops, so only quick pictures from a moving bus window) we had a very nice lunch at the Kingsmills Hotel.  The lunch included the Scottish favorite haggis. For those who don’t know this is made from sheep’s entrails (heart, liver & lungs), minced with spices, oatmeal and onion, all encased in a sheep’s stomach (today they use sausage casings) and simmered for 3 hours. It looks like a hockey puck on the plate, round and black.  Yes, we tasted it, so now we have done it and never have to do it again.  Some of the people on the tour  really loved it, though, and ate more than one.

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     I mentioned above the Scottish Jacobite resistance that arose when the Scottish house of Stuart was summarily replaced as English monarchs in 1688 by William and Mary (the Dutch William III of Orange & his wife Mary Stuart, daughter of the deposed James II of England).  In 1745 this cause was revived by Charles Stuart, grandson of James II known as “the Young Pretender” (in later years he was often called “Bonnie Prince Charlie”). Charles landed in Scotland from exile in France & raised an army among the highlanders. They took Edinburgh & successfully marched south well into England. But his military leaders decided to retreat rather than continue to London because of little support among the English and a fear of English military strength. The uprising ended at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the British crushed the Scotts on an open marshy field, then pursued the remnants of the Scottish forces relentlessly. The battle lasted less than an hour, with close to 2,000 Jacobite casualties against only about 300 for the English. This turned out to be the last battle ever fought on British soil. Charles escaped & was spirited out of Scotland dressed as a lady’s maid after an epic flight, then spent the rest of his life in exile. Sir Walter Scott portrayed this uprising from the Scottish point of view in his first novel, Waverly.

So after lunch we proceeded to visit the battlefield at Culloden. It was, as you might expect from the description above, a large open field. There were flags marking the British lines (red) and the Scottish lines (blue) at the beginning of the battle. But really there wasn’t much else, beyond the usual feeling of being on a spot where history was made. If we had had time to visit the visitor’s center we might have learned a little more about it.

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Prince William, Duke of Cumberland was the English commander at Culloden, and his brutal campaign to find & execute the remnants of the Jacobite army earned him the nickname “the butcher.”  There is a noxious yellow wildflower that seems to grow everywhere along the roadside in this part of Scotland that the Scots call “Stinking Willie” or “Stinking Billy,” reflecting their view of Prince William the Butcher.

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     We proceeded to our last stop, Cawdor Castle. This was the reason we picked this excursion over several others, because at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is made the Thane (lord) of Cawdor, & that is presumably where King Duncan is then murdered.  Unfortunately, this is hogwash (as is much of Shakespeare’s history).  The real Duncan was actually killed in battle, and Macbeth crowned King, in 1040; neither of these events occurred at Cawdor Castle, which wasn’t even built for another 350 years. The real Macbeth was never Thane of Cawdor & he was king of Scotland for some 17 years.  Nonetheless, Duncan’s comment in the play when first reaching the castle (Shakespeare never actually calls it Cawdor castle) is pretty apt (Macbeth Act 1 Scene 5):

                       This Castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
                       Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
                       Unto our gentle senses’

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     Unlike Urquhart, Cawdor Castle is an intact house in which the owners still live. The castle came into the hands of the Campbell family in 1510 when Muriel Calder (the original spelling of Cawdor) married Sir John Campbell. Today, Colin Campbell is the 7th Earl of Cawdor and his stepmother lives in the castle during the off season. The Campbells are actively involved in running the castle; the Earl’s wife was there on the day we visited.  Our bus driver saw her come into the cafeteria & clear the dishes from an abandoned table.  I would say that is pretty hands-on! The central tower dates to the 15th Century, although part of it may date to the late 14th Century.One interesting thing in the castle is the remains of an old holly tree.  Legend has it that the castle was built around a living tree after a donkey, carrying gold, lay down to rest under it. Scientists have determined that the tree in the castle died in the 1370’s, so that may be when the first part of the castle was built.  Unfortunately, no photography is permitted inside the castle so you won’t see any of that here.  But it has extensive and beautiful gardens.

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I guess that, before leaving Cawdor’s gardens, this would be an appropriate place for today’s set of flower pictures. A lot of these are from the gardens at Cawdor Castle.

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    As our bus neared the dock about 5 minutes after the all aboard deadline our guide said “Well we’re right on time.”  I doubt the ship’s officers would have agreed, but fortunately this was a ship-sponsored excursion so they had to wait for us. The day had finally turned sunny & on the way home there were massive clouds shining in the sunlight.

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   On the way to the sea we passed the town of Cromarty (population under 1000) on the opposite shore from Invergordon. It looks like a nice little village with a lot of local character judging from the buildings. There was a small lighthouse there. Cromarty dates back to the 13th Century.

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     And so we sailed out of Cromarty Firth into a dramatic ocean view, and headed for the Shetland Islands.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands (Day 2)

     Wednesday, July 30, turned out to be bright & sunny. But it was a short day, since we had to be on board to sail away by 3:30, so we limited ourselves to two primary objectives: the library (of course) & the Jewish Museum.  The library was only a few minutes walk from the cruise terminal so we went there first. On the way we saw a family of swans that was upset because one of the youngsters had entangled its foot in a vine & couldn’t free itself.  The adult swans mostly swam around it, poking with their beaks & crying; they had no idea how to help. We would have helped but there was no way to get down to the swans from where we were.  Fortunately, when we returned in the afternoon the swans were gone, so hopefully that means someone was able to help them.

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     The Bibliotheek Amsterdam was completed in 2007. It is huge: ten floors, 600 public computer stations & almost 2 million books. It includes an auditorium, a museum & a restaurant. It is located about halfway between the central train station & the cruise port.

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The inside is very spacious.  We only went up to the second floor, from which there was a nice view.  They say the view of the city from the upper floors is unsurpassed, and many of the work stations look out on a panorama of the city, but we didn’t go up that far.

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The children’s area was particularly nice: lots of space, with separate reading areas set off by circular bookcases. There were stuffed animals & bright wall decorations. In the center was a fantastic dollhouse for mice, who were doing everything from hanging out clothes to making shoes. This is called the Muizenhuis (Mouse Mansion) and was made almost entirely by hand. It was difficult to photograph because of the reflections from the glass case, but you will get the idea.

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     Floating on the water just outside the library is a large restaurant shaped like a Chinese pagoda. We were told that when it was first erected the Chinese who built it specified the number of people it could safely hold.  But on the night it opened the restaurant began sinking even though there were only that many people inside. Later they concluded this was because Dutch people are generally a good bit heavier than the Chinese, so the same number of people created quite a bit more weight.

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     We walked on toward the Jewish Museum, passing more interesting buildings on the way.  One of them was Rembrandt’s house, now a museum. He lived here in his later years & it has been restored with furniture reflecting the inventory on his bankruptcy petition.  It also has a collection of Rembrandt’s graphics, but no paintings.  We looked in at the gift shop, but there was a hefty fee & we wanted to maintain our focus on our main objective so we passed up a tour.

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     This is a good place to talk about bicycles, which you have seen in a lot of the pictures here.  Amsterdam is full of them; we had never seen anything like it. The city has separate paths for bikes that are colored sort of pink & pedestrians are warned not to walk on them to avoid being hurt.  The bike paths have their own separate traffic lights. We were told that Amsterdamers often have two bikes: a nice one to keep at home and a cheap one that they park in the city, because bike thefts are rampant. Every year they go through the canals to dredge up all the bikes that irritated residents have thrown into the water. Anyway, throughout the city you will see bikes parked along the canal edges, on the bridges and in huge parking areas near the central station. Its an integral part of Amsterdam culture.

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     The first Jews in Amsterdam were Sephardim who were expelled from Spain in 1492 (along with some Marranos, Jews who had converted to Christianity under duress but practiced Judaism in secret).  Many of them arrived in Amsterdam in the last decade of the 16th Century, after the Dutch Republic won its independence from Spain. Ashkenazi Jews first arrived from central and eastern Europe in the 17th Century & by the end of that Century they represented about two thirds of the city’s 7,500 Jews. In the 1670’s each of these Jewish communities built a large synagogue, which stand almost across the street from each other. Of course, during World War II the Jewish community in Amsterdam was devastated by the Nazis. Of the approximately 80,000 Jews at the beginning of the war, about 10% of the city’s population, only about 15,000 survived. Most people know the Anne Frank story & some 25,000 other Jews also went into hiding (although many of them paid large amounts to those who hid them),. But about a third of those were ultimately discovered and sent to concentration camps, some (like the Franks) having been betrayed by Amsterdam citizens. Today there are about 15,000 in the Amsterdam Jewish community.

     The Jewish Historical Museum encompasses the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam, built by the Ashkenazi, and three smaller newer synagogues. We visited the Great Synagogue, but never found the way to the others (we were a little pressed for time because of the ship’s early scheduled departure).

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On the balcony is a large exhibit tracing Jewish history in Amsterdam. The balcony was restored after World War II, during which it had been broken up and used for fuel.  On the main floor is a vast collection of old and beautiful artifacts, including several colorful old haggadahs and paintings of the Grote Synagogue in use (my pictures of these are not in focus because it was pretty dark & there are reflections on the protective glass, but I will include one here anyway since it is all I have).

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     The museum ticket included admission to the Portuguese Synagogue (or Esnoga in Ladino, the language of Iberian Jews) across the street. The Sephardic Jews all called themselves Portuguese to avoid identification with Spain, which accounts for the name of their synagogue. This is the congregation that famously expelled the liberal philosopher Spinoza. It is very large and beautiful on the inside with lots of polished wood.

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     Perhaps this is a good place for flowers. Since this is a big city (the largest on our cruise, by far) these are not wildflowers.  But the city is really filled with colorful flowers.  Of course, flowers are a Dutch tradition, dating back to the “tulip mania” of the 17th Century when the price of some tulip bulbs rose precipitously until the bubble finally burst.  There is still a bustling tulip market in central Amsterdam.  Anyway, here are some flowers (but no tulips; after all it was almost August).

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     It was pretty crowded all over town on this day.  Of course, it was the end of July, so that is probably high tourist season, and there was also quite a lot of construction, which crowded folks together even more.  But another reason for the crowds was that this was the week of the Amsterdam Gay Pride celebration, which apparently always brings in the crowds. I imagine it would be quite a bit more crowded once the weekend came.

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As we walked back we passed some more miscellaneous interesting stuff.  One interesting thing is that most of the narrow townhouses have large hooks on beams sticking out from their gables.  These are used to move large items of furniture in and out of the upper floors through windows that are easily removed and replaced. These narrow houses tend to have curving staircases too narrow for anything large to pass by so this has become the normal method of moving in and out. I have read that these houses are usually tall and narrow because at one time houses were valued for tax purposes solely by their width, so people tried to build their houses as narrow as possible while making up the space in height & depth. While passing through Dam Square we noticed that on the back of the national monument to war dead there were living pigeons entertainingly posiing on stone pigeons that were part of the monument.

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     So we made it back to the ship in plenty of time. There are a lot of characteristically Amsterdam style buildings near the cruise port, many of which we passed going from & coming to the ship.  Notable among them is the Basilica of St. Nicholas, the city’s main Catholic church. Next to it is the Schreierstoren, a 15th Century tower that was originally part of the city walls. Others seen here, like those included earlier, are just buildings we found interesting and attractive.

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     So we left Amsterdam on time in late afternoon. To reach the ocean you have to sail along a canal and then pass through locks to the sea. They were interesting, but nothing like the locks in the Panama Canal.  Unlike in Panama, it appears that these locks are only to allow shutting out the ocean from the canal and not to change the level of the ship passing through. After passing the locks we headed north to Scotland.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands (Day 1)

     After a sea day, when we opened the curtains on Tuesday, July 29 we were docked in Amsterdam. This city probably needs no introduction.  Its population is something more than 800,000. It is built mostly, if not entirely, on land reclaimed from the sea & it therefore sits below sea level. Like Venice, central Amsterdam is laid out on a series of canals & it is supported by millions of wooden pilings (ie. tree trunks) driven into the soft muddy soil. The canals are arranged four deep in a semicircle around the train station. Last year they celebrated the 400th anniversary of the building of the canal system.

     We were in Amsterdam for an overnight visit.  It is a very enjoyable walking city, so we decided to explore it on foot.  Over the two days we walked about 15 miles. The remarkable thing about this is that just before reaching Amsterdam Mary came down with a nasty cold & cough.  The Veendam was actually something of a plague ship throughout the cruise.  From just about the first day you would constantly hear loud coughing everywhere people were gathered, including in excursion buses where you couldn’t really get away from it. So it wasn’t the notorious Norovirus that you often hear about on cruise ships, but this illness involving headaches, coughing & congestion was most unpleasant, particularly when you are supposed to be on vacation. Worse, just when you thought you were getting better it would heat up for a second round. As I write this (August 20) we are at home but still not entirely over it. So Mary’s walking 15 miles in two days with that illness shows a remarkable fortitude & also just how determined she was to see Amsterdam.

     Everyone from Rick Steves to our excellent onboard travel guide Barbara had warned us that ticket lines at the Rijksmuseum would be impossibly long & that the only way to see it in a reasonable amount of time would be to purchase timed tickets ahead online. It seems that the museum just opened again last summer after being closed for a decade for renovation. Well, we hadn’t bought tickets ahead of time (we are never confident enough in a strange city of being there at the time on the ticket) but the Rijksmuseum was at the top of our list of things to see here. So we decided to go there first & if we missed some other things because of time spent standing in line there, so be it. Thus, after breakfast we set out on foot from the ship.

     From the cruise ship it was about a 15 minute walk to the central train station. It was a cloudy morning so things looked a little gray; I have included a picture of the station taken on the second day which was beautiful & sunny. We were very lucky with the weather; we were told that it rained steadily for three days before our arrival. You will notice that there appear to be redundant clocks, one in each tower.  In fact, the one on the left is part of the weathervane with compass points rather than hour numbers.

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We walked up the Damrak, the central boulevard, to the Dam Square. This was a very busy commercial district & most of the street was dug up for construction. In the Dam Square is the Royal Palace.  It was built in the 17th Century as the town hall and only became a royal palace in 1806 when Napoleon’s brother became king of Holland. That only lasted a few years, but it continued as a royal venue under the dynasty of the house of Orange.

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Walking on in what we mistakenly believed was the direction of the Rijksmuseum, we transited some interesting neighborhoods before coming to Rembrandtplein. This square (plein means square or plaza) is a center of nightlife in Amsterdam, but this was morning so it was pretty deserted. There was a nice statue of Rembrandt himself in the center. One of the interesting things along the way there was a building covered with cloth for renovation, which required a second look before we realized that what looked almost like a building was actually painted on the cloth.

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Discovering that we had wandered away from the route to the Rijksmuseum we walked along some canals & crossed some bridges to get back on track. On one impressive stone bridge were street lamps topped with the Austrian Imperial Crown. We later saw similar street lamps in many places in the central city. The canals are mostly lined with houseboats, many of which are permanently moored in cement bases. We were told that this was a post-war phenomenon, when people lived in boats temporarily while the buildings in the city were restored.  It turned out that many people liked it so much that they wanted to stay permanently, and now the houseboats are an established part of the city.  In addition to its stone and brick bridges Amsterdam has a number of small drawbridges that can be raised for taller boats. 

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     Finally we came to the Rijksmuseum.  It is a beautiful, elaborately decorated 19th Century building that was, as I mentioned, recently restored. There is a broad passageway including a bike path through the middle of the building and, when we walked through it, we could see the bottom floor through large windows.  At one unassuming door was a sign saying that standing in line is part of the Rijksmuseum experience (thanks a lot!), & that this would be the front of the line.  But there was no line there, so we went inside. After walking around the massive Atrium (former interior courtyards now covered with glass) for a few minutes we came to the actual ticket counter, where there was a very short line. We couldn’t believe this was the real entrance after all the warnings abut long lines, but it was, and after about 5 minutes we had our tickets and were in the museum!

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There is a lot in this museum (some 8,000 items from a collection of about a million) but our time was limited so we headed up to the main floor with all the masterpieces. At the top of the stairway is the Great Hall with stained glass windows each dedicated to a different area of art. The walls were covered with paintings designed to be allegorical representations of patriotic virtues . Sadly, the light was pretty low in the museum & a lot of my pictures came out too unclear to use, but I will include a few that aren’t perfectly focused just because I liked the pictures. But you can see much better pictures of these & thousands of other paintings here on the Rijksmuseum’s website: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/rijksstudio.

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   An opening in the back of the Great Hall leads to the Gallery of Honor, a wide hallway lined with side galleries leading to Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” on the wall opposite the Great Hall. The Gallery of Honor is kind of a “greatest hits” collection of 17 Century Dutch painting, which is considered the Dutch Golden Age. Its pretty awesome, a very lively space filled entirely with masterpieces, many of which you have seen in reproduction time and again: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, Ruysdael, Steen, etc.

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As you can see from some of the pictures above, group portraits of professional or military or other organizations were a big thing in Holland in the 17th Century.  This reflects, among other things, the growing wealth of the Dutch in this period & the emergence of the middle class in the country at the expense of the aristocracy who had previously been the prime patrons of the arts.  The Dutch painters in this period were turning more to scenes from real life as opposed to religious themes (although those hardly died out), and the museum contains a lot of Dutch paintings of partying in public houses & elsewhere.

     The museum’s centerpiece, of course, is Rembrandt’s massive “Night Watch”, which is in its own hall at the end of the Gallery of Honor. This is a group portrait of a militia company and was later called Night Watch because of its dark tone. It was innovative in a number of ways, most noticeably in the activity of the men in the group (compare the static poses in the group portraits above). There is always a huge crowd around this painting & it is difficult to get an unobstructed view (at least if you are my limited height).  In fact the whole Gallery of Honor was filled with crowds that made it difficult & time consuming to get near the paintings.  Imagine what it must be like on a day when the lines are really out the door!

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     We walked through a number of other galleries containing paintings and other objects of art.  Too much to describe & there are only a few pictures, so these are a few random things I found interesting. We were a little surprised to find some galleries with more modern art, particularly Van Gogh since there is a separate museum dedicated to his work. After viewing a lot of art we had a beer in the cafeteria in the Atrium, a delightful spot to relax.

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We went out the back of the museum where there is a large park surrounded by art museums which was called, logically, Museumplein.  The Rijksmuseum has magnificently colorful gardens & there is a pond in the middle of the park that was surrounded by people. “Iamsterdam” appears to be a municipal slogan, which we saw several places & you can buy an “Iamsterdam” card for instant admittance to several museums. Around this park we saw (but didn’t have time to visit) the Van Gogh museum, the Stedelijk Museum, dedicated to modern art, and the Goncertgebouw, Amsterdam’s famous concert hall.

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     So we headed back toward the center of town, stopping to see the Begijnhof, a courtyard surrounded by Amsterdam-style tall townhouses. Originally built in the 14th Century as a home for Beguines, groups of unmarried religious women who did not take monastic vows. The Begijnhof has a gatehouse above which is a plaque to St. Ursula, one of the group’s patrons.

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In the Begijnhof is the oldest house in Amsterdam, Het Houten Huys, a wooden structure built in 1528. After a series of devastating fires in the 15th Century, which destroyed many of the buildings in Begijnhof, in the 16th Century new wooden buildings were banned, so this is one of only two left in the old city of Amsterdam. The last Beguine here died in 1971 and a couple of years later a statue was erected to their memory.  However even today this courtyard is occupied exclusively by single women.

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The Beguines built a church in the 15th Century, but when Amsterdam suddenly became Protestant in 1578 & public Catholic worship was outlawed this church was confiscated and turned over to the English Presbyterians.  It is now called the English Reform Church (it has been suggested that the Pilgrims may have worshipped here before leaving for Massachusetts). After that the Catholics worshipped secretly in a couple of houses across the way. The tower of the church is still the original.

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     So we walked by some more interesting neighborhoods, past the house on three canals (really, canals on 3 sides of it), then came to the university. At the entry was an elaborately sculpted stone & brick baroque gate to the Agnietenkapel, originally built in 1571 and moved to this location in 1631. The Agnietenkapel was originally the chapel of St. Agnes Convent until the Protestant conversion of Amsterdam, then it served as a school.

 

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     We walked on past more interesting buildings & bridges & came to the Waag, a 15th Century building with octagonal turrets that was once a gatehouse in the city walls. It later served as the weighing house (from which its name), a firehouse & as the home of the Guild of Surgeons, when Rembrandt’s paintings of anatomy lessons hung here. Today it appears to be a café.

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     We walked on to see the 13th Century Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building. It was getting late & we were pretty tired (especially Mary from being sick) so we didn’t go in. We did walk all the way around it & discovered that we were in the Red Light District. Prostitution has long been legal in notoriously tolerant Amsterdam, and in the Red Light district scantily clad women sit in windows to advertise their wares. There were signs banning photos so you won’t see any here (if you google it you will find a lot). It was an odd thing to find next to a venerable church!

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     After arriving back at the ship we grabbed a bit to eat then set out on what was billed as a candlelight boat tour through the canals, with cheese & wine to enjoy on the way. I think I may have mentioned In an earlier episode that we planned this trip with two couples who were assigned to eat at the same table with us on the South American cruise in 2012. We decided that if we all could stand each other every night for two months on that cruise we probably could make it through 5 weeks together on this one.  This turned out to be a very good decision as we had a very enjoyable reunion.  Anyway, this canal excursion was supposed to be with them, but since only four could sit at one table together we ended up at another table across the aisle. Still, they look like they were doing just fine without us.

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It turned out not to be a candlelight tour because the sun didn’t set until we got back.  But it was enjoyable nonetheless seeing everything from a completely different perspective with a guide who was very good.  It was over too soon (much sooner than the advertising led us to believe), particularly since the Dutch cheeses (four types were served) & the unlimited wine were pretty good.

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We saw several town houses leaning precariously against other houses.  Our guide explained that some of the wooden pilings on which they were built have deteriorated so the weight of the house makes it droop on that side.  If there is no other building there to lean against they could fall, so they would have to be demolished or else new cement pilings would have to be inserted.  It looks pretty bizarre from the canal though.

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We passed several drawbridges & one spot where you could see up to seven bridges in a row down the canal.

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We passed by the Anne Frank house, where the Frank family was hidden from the Nazis for several years (all but the father ended up dying at Auschwitz shortly before the end of the war).  This is one of Amsterdam’s busiest attractions, and because only a handful of people can go in at one time there are always long lines.  It was late evening when we passed and the lines were still there. (I think the picture is of the reception building rather than the actual house which is probably next door.)

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So that was it, at the end of a very long and interesting and tiring day. Just as we got back to the ship we were rewarded with a dramatic sunset. And we went to bed because we knew we had another challenging day ahead.

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Stavanger, Norway

     We arrived on July 27 at Stavanger (sta-VANG-ger, with a soft g), Norway. A fishing town for most of its history, Stavanger is now the third largest city in Norway with more than 100,000 people & the center of Norway’s booming North Sea oil industry. We were told that 1 out of 10 citizens is a millionaire (but a million dollars or a million kroner? It makes a difference with an exchange rate of about 6 to 1).  There is an oil museum here to emphasize this, but we didn’t go there.

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     We signed on for a boat trip to nearby Lysefjorden, a neighboring fjord. We headed out of the harbor, under a bridge. We passed a very large car ferry & a house sitting alone in the water. Lots of folks apparently have summer houses on the many islands in the area, most of which require a boat to reach them.

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We passed a number of scenic islands & a bridge on our way to the fjord. Many of these islands had isolated summer or weekend homes.

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     As we entered the fjord the landscape became very rocky & the cliffs on either side grew higher. The rocky cliffs were quite beautiful.  We saw a cave in one of the cliffs where some criminals had hidden out for a long time.

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    We pulled over to the side to see 3 goats. This was obviously not a random sighting.  The goats knew all about the boat & when they saw us they hauled their little behinds over as fast as they could.  They were not disappointed, as the boat operator gave them some food.  It looked like they have a regular job in the tourist industry.

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     Next we came to the most famous item in this fjord & the reason most visitors come here. Called Pulpit Rock (Prekestolen), this is a flat-topped outcropping of rock at the top of one of the cliff walls, some 2,000 feet up from the water. It looks pretty tiny from the water, but it’s not really.

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Many people come out here to climb to the top of Pulpit Rock.  If you google it you will find pictures showing the unbelievably dramatic view from the top. We didn’t have time to do that, since from Stavanger you would have to take a bus & a boat & then spend 2 hours (at least) climbing to the top, then do the whole journey in reverse. Our ship would have been long gone by the time we got back.  So the boat trip was the best we could do. 

We couldn’t see anyone on Pulpit Rock from the boat & assumed that it was too early in the day for people to have climbed up there. But later I enlarged the edge of the rock in some of the photos above & discovered that there were already a lot of folks on top of the rock even this early in the morning. Below are  a couple of the pictures blown up to the point where you can see some of the people on top.  These are not high quality photos, because they have been enlarged so much, but they are worth seeing anyway.  You will see in the first picture a guy with his feet hanging over the edge, & in the second picture the guy in the middle dressed in stripes appears to have gone over the edge & is standing on some kind of ledge or crevice there.  This is 2,000 feet up & the view down must be dizzying; I would be nowhere near the edge!  These must be the same people who stand up on the roller coaster.  It’s amazing what some people will do for a thrill.

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We came to a lovely waterfall down the side of the fjord wall. The tour operator took a bucket & filled it from the waterfall, then gave everyone a glass full, telling us that this is the purest water in the world.  I believe him, but I must say it tasted like . . . water.  Cool & refreshing though.

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     We stopped at a fjord-side spot for a bite to eat. They served us Norwegian waffles, which were absolutely delicious.  They were accompanied by sour cream & some kind of jam, on which I took a pass. I was glad the jam didn’t appeal to me because there were a lot of bees there, who were thoroughly enamored of the jam.  Several of them died in the jam, but they looked like they died happy. The people who wanted to eat the jam were a lot less happy to find them there.

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And so we returned to Stavanger, accompanied by some stunning views of the fjord.

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     Back in Stavanger we decided to walk around the inner town.  There had apparently been some kind of festival because we saw work crews taking down tents & stages around the harbor.  It seemed odd to us that they were dismantling it on Sunday, since the weekend would normally be the best time for turnout at a festival.

     Anyway, we walked all the way around the harbor to visit Gamle (old) Stavanger. This is a neighborhood of mid 19th Century houses where people still live, so it is kept up in very good shape. We were told it is the best preserved “old town” in Europe, but really I can’t imagine how that would be measured. It was very interesting, though, with lots of white wood frame houses on cobblestone streets surrounded by many colorful flowers.

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     Walking back through the city we passed several kinds of street art. At the head of the harbor was a traditional statue of a man in a top hat & nearby was a more modern sculpture of . . . well, I don’t know what it is of.  There is a lake beyond the harbor that has a number of sculptures around it, including one of a boy with ducks.  On the side of a house was a striking graffiti-like painting of a horse two stories high.

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     The Cathedral of St. Swithun (also called the Domkirken) is the Lutheran cathedral in Stavanger. The first bishop of Stavanger was an Englishman from Winchester, where St. Swithun had been bishop.  He brought with him a relic, Swithun’s arm. With funds from the king he completed the cathedral around 1100 or 1125, about the same time that the town was founded here. This cathedral was built in a Norman Romanesque style. After a fire in 1272 the cathedral was rebuilt with a large extension in the Gothic style. We don’t have a picture of the outside of the church because it was covered with scaffolding and canvas for restoration work, but you can clearly see on the inside the spot where the Romanesque portion ends & the Gothic begins (hint: its at the wall with the crucifix at the top).

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     A few of the columns in the old part of the church have stone carvings at the top and/or bottom.  One of these, in the first picture below, is said to be Odin, the old Norse god.  When the Norse adopted Christianity many of them didn’t entirely give up the old gods for some time. On the base of another pillar (2d picture below) is a sculpture of a fish head with human hands on each side.  The fish head is rather worn down, & one theory is that parishioners would step on it in a ritual to push evil back to the underworld.  There are other sculptures on another pillar, but we don’t know who they are or what they represent.

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     On the cathedral walls are five “epitaphs” or tomb markers.  They are large (about 10 feet tall) carved panels with paintings in the middle of the family being memorialized.  They were made by a Scottish artist named Andrew Smith in the 17th Century.

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Andrew Smith was also the creator of the cathedral’s primary feature, the fantastically carved & painted pulpit (Prekestolen).  It includes carved renditions of scenes from throughout the bible, beginning with Adam & Eve at the bottom and ending with a triumphant Christ at the top of the canopy (in a classic pose of triumph with his fist in the air).  This whole ediface is supported by a column that is Samson looking down at the lion he has just killed.  We were told that at a time when most people couldn’t read, visual representations of the bible were important teaching aids in conveying the bible’s teachings.

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Finally there were various other features that made this church interesting.  A 14th century baptismal font carved from soapstone, a pipe organ (although far from the biggest or best we have seen) and a lot of sculpted stone. Altogether a most interesting church.

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   This is a good time for the flower segment.  We saw quite a few colorful flowers in Stavanger, but most of these are cultivated rather than wild.  A lot were in Gamle Stavanger.

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     So we walked back to the ship.  On the way we saw the Valbergtarnet, a fire lookout tower erected in the mid 19th Century. Today it is a museum, not to mention a landmark.

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     We sailed out through Stavanger harbor & headed toward the Netherlands, our next stop.

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I mentioned earlier that Stavanger is the center of the Norwegian oil industry & we saw evidence of that shortly after leaving the harbor.  It was far from the last oil platform we would see, many out much further into the ocean.

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We will conclude this episode, as we have often, with towel animals.

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Bergen, Norway

     We arrived in Bergen on the morning of July 26. Bergen is almost 1,000 years old and was once the main city in Norway. Today it is Norway’s second largest city, after Oslo.

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     It turned out that our visit was in the middle of a 4 day tall ship race hosted by Bergen this year.  This really was a bonus for us, as the tall ships throughout the harbor provided an extra dimension of interest.  The downside was that there were HUGE crowds around the harbor; we understood that several hundred thousand visitors were expected for these 4 days and we were there on Saturday, the first non-work day for locals during the race. The crowds did lend a carnival atmosphere to the city. Fortunately, once you got a couple of blocks away from the harbor the crowds thinned substantially.

 

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     The tall ships lining the harbor conveyed something of what it must have looked like in the middle ages when Bergen was an important outpost for the Hanseatic League, a trade conglomerate of northern German cities started by the merchants of Lubeck. The Norse fishermen provided them with large quantities of dried cod fish, which they resold into a thriving market throughout northern Europe. So the harbor must often have been filled with fishing and merchant vessels. As we walked into town from the cruise ship dock on the outskirts of the harbor we came to Bryggen, the area where the rich German Hanseatic merchants once had their homes & warehouses. It is a brightly painted row of buildings across the street from the harbor that today houses museums, restaurants & shops.  Built of wood, this district has burned down a number of times over the centuries, most recently in 1955, after which extensive archaeological  excavations were begun while the buildings were carefully restored to their original condition using period materials & techniques.

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Because of the crowds & limited time we passed on the museums, but we did wander around the buildings and narrow alleys of this complex rife with atmosphere.

 

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In an inside courtyard we encountered a huge carved wood figure of a dried cod, presumably a tribute to what was once the bulwark of the local economy. Out front by the harbor a group was performing continuously on what appeared to be a temporary stage.  It was all in Norwegian, so we couldn’t tell what it was about, but it appeared to center around comic drinking songs (in the morning!). There were a couple of other stages where there were performances (perhaps a competition) of sea shanties, some of which were in English.

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     We walked up the hill behind Bryggen to see the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s church), which dates to the 11th century.  Unfortunately it was closed for renovation until January so all we could do was walk around the outside.  On the hill coming down we came across a statue of Snorri Sturluson, the author of at least one of the Poetic Edda, appropriately carrying a book under his arm.

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     We passed beyond the end of the harbor, where we saw the fishmarket (which seemed to be a bit curtailed to make room for the ship festival) and several interesting looking buildings, squares & streets branching out, some with sculptures. You can see from the photos that Bergen is built on steep hills rising from the harbor.

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     We walked up an inclined street to a large pedestrian square that seemed to be a gathering place for families with children. There were a number of oversized games here on the street, including scrabble & legos. There was also an apparent chess master playing many opponents at once & a “living statue,” something you see a lot in Barcelona.

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     In the center of this square is a large monument to Norwegian sailors through the ages, with one side of the square monument for each age of sailing. The locals call this the “cube of goat cheese.”  But its really rather striking, with statues as well as a relief on each of the 4 sides. I don’t really know the names of all four of the periods represented, but I will give my best guess in the picture labels (which, for newcomers, can be seen by hovering your mouse over the picture).

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     Further up the road is a large park with a lake in the center.  There is a fountain in the lake & a lot of colorful flowers around it. At one end there is a music pavilion.

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     Just beyond the lake we found . . . the library!  It is an old castle-like building, with stone carving in and out. Very atmospheric. Built in 1917, it is called the “Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.”

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     On the way back we visited the Domkirchen, the Lutheran Cathedral in Bergen. Originally built in the 12th Century, it has been ravaged by fire and rebuilt and expanded several times since. It is open every weekday afternoon, but it was Saturday so the church was closed all day.  It was a bad luck day for us with churches.

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     There were public sculptures in town of Bergen’s three patron saints of the Arts.  Composer Edvard Grieg lived here & you can visit his house outside of town. Henrik Ibsen was a director at the National Theater here during the 1850’s. And Ole Bull, a violinist, was not only a great patron of the Arts but the Elvis and Beatles of his time: it is said that women fainted when he played the violin.  Imagine what he could have done with an electric guitar!

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     At the top of a wide boulevard with colorful flowers leading up from the lake & the Ole Bull monument is the National Theater, where the statue of Ibsen is located.  It is a rather elaborate 19th Century arte nouveau building, rather attractive in its style. From the dates on its facade it appears that “Den Nacionale Scene,” as it is called, was founded in 1850 & this building erected in 1909.

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     As you can already see, Bergen was vibrant with all kinds of colorful flowers. So here are just a few of the flowers we saw.

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      So by this time we were pretty tired.  It was a long & (surprisingly) hot day fighting crowds with lots of walking.  So we headed back toward the Veendam. Just before we reached it we passed an old fortress called Haakon’s Hall & Rosenkrantz Tower. These were originally part of the defenses of Bergen’s castle during the middle ages & Renaissance (although the Hall served ceremonial purposes). One reminder of the tension that was inevitable between the Germans in Bryggen & the Norwegians is what appear to be cannon holes in the top of the tower, some of which face Bryggen instead of the harbor entrance. As I said, we were tired & there were crowds, so we didn’t go inside.

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     So, with a final look at Bergen harbor, we set out to sea. The evening was eventful. I had my first Mojito ever & it turned out to be a very happy drink. Then there was a gorgeous sunset, the first of this trip (at least on our side of the ship); most evenings up to then had been too foggy. At the end of the sunset was a long period of beautiful pink and light blue, and we even saw whales (although you usually see little more than their backs & tails when they surface).  It was the nicest night at sea so far, & a good way to end a very full & interesting day in Bergen.

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Torshavn, Faroe Islands

     Around noon on July 24 we docked in Torshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands. It came as something of a surprise that we had reached the dock because it had been so foggy all morning that we couldn’t see anything until we were actually at the dock. We were told that fog is common here but it was disappointing since the main thing to see here is the town itself, which we couldn’t.  So getting off the ship didn’t seem like a priority and we waited until after lunch about an hour and a half later. The good news is that by then the fog was starting to lift & the weather remained pretty nice until we were returning the the ship, when the fog started to roll back in. The weather usually doesn’t seem to work that nicely for us; usually on overcast days the sun comes out just as we reboard the ship.

     Anyway, Torshavn (TORS-hov-en: no “sh” sound) is a small port city of fewer than 20,000 with lots of fishing. The name means “Thor’s harbor” so it pretty obviously was settled by Vikings. The town’s coat of arms features Thor’s hammer in the center.

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     After leaving the ship we walked around the east part of the harbor to the old town.  Called Tinganes, it is located on a peninsula jutting out in the middle of the harbor. This is where the Vikings started holding their Thing or Ting, an annual governing meeting, in the Faroes in the 9th Century. Later it became a trading center, probably because of the excellent harbor. Today it is made up largely of wood slatted buildings painted bright red or black, many with sod roofs.  These roofs are interesting; some looked like flourishing lawns while others looked dead. We could see watering hose systems on some of them (visible only on the dead ones, ironically).  The oldest of these houses was built about 500 years ago & many of these old buildings are still inhabited by offices or families.

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     The first place we visited was Havnar kirkja, the Cathedral (presumably Lutheran) of the Faroes.  It has a pretty blue ceiling much like the church in Seydisfjordur and a pipe organ in the balcony over the door.  There are also some model ships hanging from the ceiling.  We were told this is a tradition as thanks to God for bringing the ship home safe, or an offering before sailing to ask that the ship return safe.  The one featured below was built by the crew of a ship that broke up during a storm on New Year’s eve in 1707 and given to the church in thanksgiving for being rescued.

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     We walked down to the west harbor.  There were several sidewalk cafes by the water & an unusual statue of one Nolsoyar Pall. I have no idea who he was (died in 1809) but the large birds flying over his head made the statue interesting.

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     We found two libraries in Torshavn, both of them rather disappointing.  The public library (Byarbokasavnid) was not far from the west harbor. It looked like a drab office building & seemed to be doing more business at the ice cream stand inside the entrance than in the book rooms.  The national library (Landabokasavn) was further away on a hill & looked pretty much like a factory.

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     After a (too) long search we found the Faroe Islands parliament building. It turned out to be a rather nondescript gray wood building we had walked past several times.  Holland America’s write-up of Torshavn said that the parliament had been meeting in this building since the 9th Century, but you can see by the picture below why we didn’t believe that once we saw it.  It turns out that although their parliament (Ting) had been meeting in this area since the 9th Century, it was only moved to this spot in the mid 19th Century when this building was built. So you can’t believe everything you read (but you already knew that).

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     They say that the best thing to see here is the town itself & this appears to be correct.  We came across several photogenic views & a number of interesting houses.

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     There was a lot of colorful flora in Torshavn, as there have been in most of the ports we have visited.

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     We had fauna here as well, mostly of the winged variety.

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     We returned to the ship, as I mentioned at the beginning, just as the fog was rolling back in, and in the evening we set sail for Norway.


Seydisfjordur, Iceland

     We arrived at Seydisfjordur on the morning of July 23. Founded in 1848 by Norwegian fishermen, this is a very small town tucked between large mountains.  Its population is less than 1,000 and it is the easternmost port we visit in Iceland.  It was a base for US & British military during World War II, when Iceland was the hub of the convoy system for getting supplies to Britain from the US.  Iceland was where American escort ships turned back and British warships joined the convoys for the rest of the trip to Britain.  Today Seydisfjordur’s primary significance, as far as we could tell, is its status as the terminal for the ferry to Europe, which arrives and departs every Thursday. The name is pronounced SAY-dis-fyaw-der.

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     We left early on a shore excursion organized by our travel agents. It took us over the mountain pass above the town where there was still a lot of snow, even in July.  Our tour guide told us that they had a particularly large snowfall over the winter so the waterfalls were still flowing at greater strength than normal for this time of year.  This was good, because we have seen a lot of waterfalls on this trip, & more to come.  Before they built the paved roads through rural Iceland people travelled overland on horseback. Along side the current roads we often saw piles of stones in fairly regular intervals that used to mark the horse trails. Our guide told us that it was considered bad luck to use these paths and fail to add stones to some of the piles, so they were maintained in very good shape.

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     Descending from the mountains our first stop was in a little town called Egilsstadir. The bus was full & we had to sit in the very back where it was hot & stuffy, so we were glad to get out for a few minutes, but the purpose of the stop was a mystery. We parked in a parking lot by a supermarket & there did not seem to be anything of interest here.  We strolled through the supermarket & a gift shop, then we all got back on the bus & drove on.

 

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     We drove along the river for a while, then stopped to view a waterfall . . . on the other side of the river.  We didn’t get out of the bus for that brief “photo opportunity,” since we could see it perfectly well from our seats. I believe the guide said this was one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland. We also saw a mountain in the distance that our guide said was the biggest in Iceland outside the glaciers.

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     We drove on (and on) along the river. Finally we crossed over and came at last to . . . a nondescript little church. It turns out this is where our guide grew up. He said it is only used for weddings and funerals now, not weekly services. There was once a 13th Century (I think) church on this spot, but the one there now was built in the 1960’s & looks it.  Apparently its outstanding feature is its front door, which is a copy (!) of a very old carved door now housed in a museum we didn’t visit. Mary looked through the churchyard and found some very old graves though.

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     We continued further down the river valley to visit the house of Gunnar Gunnarsson, a writer well known in Iceland. His name means he was Gunnar, son of Gunnar.  Icelanders generally don’t have family names like we do even today.  Instead they are given a first name coupled with a patronymic (although it is permissible now to use a matronymic, especially for single mothers). Under this system my son would be Robert Richardsson & my daughter would be Carrie Richardsdottir.  In the phone book people are alphabetized by first name, then within that class by patronymic.  Its an odd system to us & it sometimes gives them trouble when abroad, such as when applying for visas, but it is well established here & is not really dissimilar to that used in other countries in centuries gone by.

     I don’t know much about him, but we were told Gunnar Gunnarsson was nominated for a Nobel Prize (but never won one).  His first book was published about 100 years ago. This is a house he bought late in life & .never finished renovating. Its most interesting feature (to me) is its grass roof. We have been told that grass is an excellent insulator, but I wouldn’t want to have to get up there to mow it! We were given coffee and donuts & gingersnaps in a nice courtyard, but it was kind of chilly and windy.

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Nearby we visited a visitor’s center.  It wasn’t too interesting, but had a deck with a distant view of the valley.  There were a lot of wildflowers on the hill & some ways away was a horse farm.  Icelandic horses are prized work horses because, although they are small, they are very strong & tough. I mentioned once before that Icelanders sometimes let them fend for themselves over the winter, which is not easy to withstand here.  They are descended from the horses brought over by the original Viking settlers and to ensure the breed remains pure it is illegal to import horses to Iceland from anywhere else. Even a horse born & raised in Iceland cannot be brought back here if it is once sent abroad.  We were told that Icelandic horses have an additional gait beyond those of other horses.  The most obvious distinguishing features we noticed are the very full mane of thick hair and pointy ears.

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     After this we headed back toward Seydisfjordur. We stopped at the top of the mountain pass where there was a waterfall & an overlook of the town. A dramatic view.

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     We descended from there into Seydisfjordur. The excursion was rather a disappointment, since there was little of real interest to see & the bus was hot & uncomfortable.  To their credit, in response to the general dissatisfaction our travel agency refunded a good portion of the cost. And its not like there was a whole lot to see in Seydisfjordur that we missed by taking the excursion.  After we returned we had time to walk all around the town & get back to the ship well before it was time to depart. So here are some views of Seydisfjordur from the ground.

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     The one building in town that we entered was the blue church, a nice smaller church pleasantly decorated inside.  It also has an impressive pipe organ for such a small and isolated church.

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Last but not least was a whimsical collection of wood sculptures, most of which appear to be trolls, and one of the biggest & floppiest flowers we have seen so far on this trip..

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     And so we took our leave from Seydisfjordur, sailing out through yet another beautiful fjord and ending our visit to the northern part of Iceland.  But still there were towel animals, of course.

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Akureyri, Iceland

    On July 16 we sailed down the Eyjafjordur fjord to Akureyri in the north central part of Iceland.  Founded in the 9th Century, this is the second largest city in Iceland but still a small town by American standards with some 30,000 people (we think). Akureyri is pronounced ack-you-RAY-ree.  .Just before leaving home we learned that we know someone who lives here during the summer: Rosemary Shaw, who is Rita Reimer’s sister. Rita told us she was drawn here as a bridge player & we were told on the ship that Iceland has some of the best bridge players anywhere. Unfortunately we did not have a chance to meet up with Rosemary because we had signed up for a land excursion that took up our entire time in port, so we had no opportunity to visit the town. It looked nice from the ship though.  Particularly noticeable on the skyline is the cathedral, with a distinctive modern style.

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     We were half an hour later than advertised in docking at Akureyri, and our departure turned out to be a little earlier.  This put a squeeze on our land tour, which was expected to fill all the time available. Then it turned out that our group of 14 had 1 too many to fit in the large 4 wheel drive vehicle used for the tour (it might have fit 14 with some being children or very skinny people, but not our group of older folks). So one couple had to forgo the trip. It was also pretty foggy in the morning, so the trip started out pretty poorly.  Luckily the weather got much better as we neared noon.

     Our guide/driver Giesli had the sensible approach of driving to the furthest sights first, then working our way back, to avoid as much as possible the big bus tours from the ships (there were two in town).  Giesli spoke perfect English with a strong British accent and we assumed at first he was British, but it turned out he was a native Icelander.  Icelanders learn several foreign languages from an early age & these days English is almost always the first.

     So we started out by driving for about 2 hours, over the mountain passes that see deep snow in winter past sheep, horses & cattle grazing in the fields. Icelanders often leave their horses out to fend for themselves in winter because the Icelandic breed is particularly tough.  But sheep left outside will often suffocate in the deep snow, so they are brought indoors in winter.  But in summer the sheep are allowed to roam free and are gathered back again in the fall. On our way we passed Lake Myvatn (which means “midge”), which we would see again later.

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     Our first destination was Dettifoss (pronounced like “dental floss”), the largest waterfall in Europe measured by water flow.  But first we travelled down a gravel road downriver to see a smaller (but arguably more beautiful) waterfall called Hafragilsfoss.  This was a short walk over stark volcanic terrain & the waterfall was in an impressive canyon.

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     We drove over to Dettifoss, which was a half mile walk each way from the parking lot over a terrain of large boulders & rocks. It was huge & very powerful. I walked down the steep steps to get a closer view & Giesli came down too, probably to make sure the old guy in the red hat could make it back up.  While down there he also took my picture in front of the falls.  Mary stayed on top.

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     Hverir is.s a field of steam vents and boiling mud pots. Iceland was formed mostly by volcanoes & there is still a great deal of heat and pressure under the ground.  Some of it is released through these formations. You can see this stuff at Yellowstone National Park & really that is more interesting than here, but these were pretty good ones (much better than what we saw on the island of St. Lucia in March).  The distant mountain background gave it a beautiful setting.

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     Iceland uses this thermal heat as its primary power supply.  The bulk of Iceland’s power comes from thermal and hydro sources. Some of the thermal power plants are pretty impressive sights in themselves.

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     The North American and European tectonic plates meet in the middle of Iceland. That means that, geologically rather than politically, Iceland is half in North America & half in Europe. These two plates are moving apart (very slowly) which causes a rift between them. We visited a spot where the two plates meet. The land rises on each side and there is a deep but narrow gorge marking the rift between them.

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     We visited an unusual lava formation called Dimmulborgir (“Dark Castles‘).  It was explained to us that the lava had formed a lake here. After it began hardening in places the edge broke open and the lava that was still liquid flowed away, leaving the parts that had already cooled & hardened as freestanding sculptural formations. There are peaks & valleys, tunnels & caves, and all of it is very rough and dark.

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     As I mentioned, Iceland was mostly formed by volcanoes & most of its mountains were once volcanoes. Some do not look like volcanoes because they are wide and flat.   We were told that this was the result of a volcano erupting under a glacier so that the lava could not build up in the air but instead flowed to the side. Another unusual volcanic feature we saw was a group of pseudo craters.  These look like very small volcanoes, with the ground raised and broken at the top, but in fact (we were told) these were caused by hot lava flowing onto thick ice. Iceland is apparently the only place on Earth where these occur (some have been found on Mars). Unfortunately it was starting to get late so we didn’t stop & it was hard to get photos from a moving vehicle.  But below is a picture of what I think is a pseudo crater (complete with reflections from the car window).

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     As you can imagine, we came across a wide variety of flowers on this excursion, many of them tiny plants eking out a living in the rocky volcanic soil. As  usual, I haven’t a clue what they are called but I found them interesting.

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     So we passed Lake Mytavn a final time (its a big lake) & headed for the ship.  There was one more feature on our itinerary, a waterfall called Godafoss. It is famous more for its history than its beauty (nowhere near as big as Dettifoss). It seems that when Iceland adopted Christianity, the local leader (law reader, Giesli called him) took all the wooden idols of the old Norse gods & threw them over this falls.  Thus the name, which means Falls of the Gods. Anyway, it was getting late and all the passengers on the tour were beginning to get a little antsy about making it back to the ship before the gangway was pulled in. So we declined Giesli’s offer to stop at Godafoss and contented ourselves with seeing it as we drove past.

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     The drive back to the ship took us past several stunning mountain views, and then gave us a different perspective on Akureyri from across the fjord.

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     Well, we made it back to the ship with a whole 15 minutes to spare before the “all aboard” deadline. It turned out there were other excursions later than we were, but we were glad to be safely back. We sailed out through the fjord on a beautiful evening that set off the mountainous scenery dramatically. And later that night we crossed the Arctic Circle for the second and last time.

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Isafjordur, Iceland

     We had a fairly rough crossing from Greenland to Iceland.  Although there was nothing to see, at 9:30 PM on July 20 we passed within 35 miles of where the Bismarck sank the HMS Hood, the pride of the British fleet, in 1941.  It went down in 3 minutes with all hands in these cold & gray waters. This was pretty shocking to the British because the German fleet was thought to be no match for the British (and really it wasn’t) but the Bismarck was a pretty formidable ship. It was sunk in turn not too much later (which was the subject of a movie around 1960) pretty much ending the German naval threat on the surface. 

   On a brighter note, the late morning of July 21 found us sailing through Isafjardurdjur, the fjord at the end of which is Isafjordur, the town that was our objective for the day.  The fjord was very long with high cliffs on the sides, the lower part of which were deep green and the upper part obscured by long narrow clouds.  Very spooky but also very beautiful. I really don’t think the pictures convey what it was like.

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     Mary had an aunt named Isa, but this town was not named after her. As we understand it, “isa” means ice in Icelandic, so this means Icy Fjord. We didn’t see any ice, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot in the winter. It is very difficult to convey how the Icelanders pronounce these names because they tend to slur the syllables together, as if you said it with your hand over your mouth. But that difficulty aside, it seems that this is pronounced ISS-a-fyawrd-er, with the first syllable sounding like the last two letters of “this.”

     The main story here is the fjord, as Isafjordur seemed to us like a pretty ordinary little town in a spectacular setting. It is located in the northwest part of Iceland, an area mostly separated by water from the rest of the country that looks on a map like a ragged extension from the upper left corner of the island.  We were supposed to be docked here, but a ship from the AIDA line snuck in ahead of us and was given our berth, so we had to tender ashore. Which we did & walked around the town.

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     We visited the town library (of course), “Bokasafn” in Icelandic, which takes up most of a 90 year old building that is the cultural center. Until 1989 it had been a hospital. Out front was an interesting sculpture of fishermen and inside, in addition to books, was a room of old hospital equipment and a collection of vintage Icelandic dresses along with some lovely old carved furniture.

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     Next to the cultural center was the church, which some think looks like a concertina. We didn’t see the inside, but outside its not very attractive.

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     We had read that Isafjordur has a whalebone arch.  We had seen one in the Falklands that was quite nice so we wanted to see the arch here.  It was not easy (for us) to find. We walked past a wooded park across from the culture center and up a hill then toward the water, but no arch. This took us through an interesting neighborhood, but no arch.  So we gave up and came back down the hill. We walked into the park and there it was, not far from the entrance. We were glad to find it, but it was a little disappointing, with just two whalebones painted white to look like they could have been wooden. The one in the Falklands is much better.

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     There were many colorful flowers in Isafjordur, some wild & some not so much, but all worth noticing. As usual, I’m afraid I don’t know their names.

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     Many of the houses in Iceland have corrugated metal siding & sometimes roofs. We were told that these provide good insulation, but I expect in a warmer climate they would make the heat in a house much worse. The day in Isafjordur began with fog & chill but most of the time we were ashore it was warm & sunny. In fact, throughout our 3 day visit to the north side of Iceland the temperatures were in the high 60’s to high 70’s during the day, which the Icelanders called a heat wave, even in July. We noticed that the vintage houses in Isafjordur appear to have their year of construction posted on the side. Near the tender port we came upon what looked like white seal skins drying on a rack.

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     So back on the ship we made our way out the way we had come, through the fjord looking a little more bright & colorful in the late afternoon sun. We left around 7:30 PM, but in the North that is still late afternoon, as there were about 3 hours left until sunset. Isafjordur was the most northerly stop on this trip & there were only about 5 hours of night. Fortunately we have pretty good curtains to block out the sun.

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     So that was Isafjordur. At 10:22 PM we crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time (we were given a certificate to make it official).  And once again there were towel animals to end the day.

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Nanortalik, Greenland

     After a fairly rough crossing we reached Greenland on Saturday,  July 19.  While at sea on the way we spotted some whales not too far from the ship. They were hard to photograph because they surfaced only briefly.  I’m not sure what kind of whale they were, but from the dorsal fin I would guess Orca. Not a very good picture, since I had to zoom out to telephoto & then enlarge it, but its the only picture of whales I have so far (hope springs eternal) so I am posting it anyway.. Other whales were spotted at other times by the officers on the bridge but we didn’t see them.

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     Greenland is the largest island in the world (I mentioned before that Australia doesn’t count as an island because it is a continent).  It was first settled by Europeans in the late 10th Century Eric the Red. The name derived from the color of his beard, not his politics or his baseball loyalties. A thousand years later a baseball player named Eric Davis, who was one of the best players of his era until he got hurt, was sometimes called Eric the Red because he played for the Cincinnati Reds.  But I digress.

     Eric was born in Norway, but his family moved to Iceland so his father could evade family vengeance for his murdering a man.  True to the family tradition, Eric was eventually exiled from Iceland for several years for killing several men (he was said to have a bad temper). He sailed west with a group of people & settled at the south end of the island. He decided to call it Greenland, according to the Icelandic Sagas, because he thought it would entice others to move there. Thus, Greenland was the subject of perhaps the world’s first real estate scam.

     The Norse lasted in Greenland for a few hundred years, but it was never easy to farm (mostly ice rather than green). We were told that Greenland has no trees, & we certainly didn’t see any there.  Apparently it is not known what became of the last Norse Greenlanders, but they had disappeared completely by about the 15th Century. Today Greenland is an internally autonomous territory of Denmark.

     Nanortalik (na NOR ta lick) was founded by Europeans at the end of the 18th Century but today it is pretty much all Inuit people. It has a long history of whaling but today its few hundred citizens seem to concentrate on fishing and a little bit of tourism (we were told that about 6 cruise ships visit here each year).  When several hundred passengers come ashore from a cruise ship the population increases many times over. It is a very colorful town of brightly painted buildings in a bleak but beautiful setting.

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     We came ashore from the ship in tender boats through a harbor full of icebergs. Very cool (not to mention cold). And remember, this is the middle of summer! Imagine what their winters must be like. I don’t think I would like living here.

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     We were given a brief & superficial orientation by a couple of crew members then walked around the town a bit. It was still pretty early in the morning. The terrain is very rocky with large expanses of yellow flowers that looked like mats.

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     We walked past the docks, which had piles of ship containers.  All of the food & supplies come here by ship & prices are, therefore, pretty high. We discovered that Greenland also has its own flag.

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Nanortalik means “place where polar bears go,” & we are told that polar bears do float in around here on ice floes in the Spring, but we didn’t see any this time of year. The city coat of arms, appropriately, consists of 3 polar bears. The Kommune (like a city hall) had an unusual sculpture in front that I think represents a whale’s head.

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     When cruise ships come to town the locals (Nanotorlikans?) put on a show. We attended this folk dancing & choir singing performance at the town cultural center. The dancing style was taught to the Eskimos here by Dutch & Scottish whalers and they have developed it into their own style.  It involves a lot of stomping and dancing in circles and was perfromed by teenage kids to the accompaniment of an electric organ played by an older man. One of the girls was dressed in the full traditional Inuit dress; we saw some just like it in the museum later.

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Next was supposed to be a choir singing religious & secular songs in Inuit language & style of 4 part harmony.  But they told us most of the choir were on holiday so there were only 5 people there to do the singing. They sang, in beautiful a capella 4 part harmony, several songs I didn’t recognize and finished with Amazing Grace in Inuit language. The older lady who sang soprano had a particularly powerful voice.

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This was also billed as a “Kaffe-mik” (coffee party), in which Greenlanders invite another family into their home for cakes & coffee on special occasions.  The “famous Greenlandic cake” turned out to be more like raisin bread than anything else. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t seem special either.081.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014082.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014080.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014

     Nanortalik has an “open air museum,” which consists of a building with some displays and several buildings dating from the 1830’s & 40’s, some of which also contain exhibits.  There are supposed to be artifacts from the original Icelandic Viking settlers of Greenland, but the labels in the museum were all in Inuit which, I am sure you will be surprised to learn, we cannot read. In the museum we saw, among other interesting looking items, some small carvings, about 6” that look like whale bone or ivory, and some expressionist looking masks.

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I mentioned that Inuit seems to be the local language, with little English spoken.  Below are some examples from street signs. So you can see why it would be difficult to find your way around without a map. Fortunately we had one.

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We walked around the “open air museum,” looking at the old buildings (all pretty similar with walls of granite stones) & climbed the steep steps to a watch tower located there.  This provided an expansive view of the town around it.

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In an old cooper’s house were exhibits about kayaks & umiaks, boats covered in seal skin that were used for whaling by the Eskimos (today, Inuit).  They don’t hunt whales any more & kayaks haven’t been used for hunting since the 1980’s. Today they use regular boats.  But the exhibit included a couple of umiaks & old kayaks.

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Prominent in town is the church, built in a distinctive style. It is over 100 years old. It was locked when we were there but I took a picture through the window.

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     There was a lot of fauna in the area, even though it looked like it would be inhospitable to plants. Most of the flowers were pretty small but colorful (like the houses).

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     Last but not least before leaving town, here are a few random scenes that didn’t fit anywhere else. Among other things, there were more huge ravens here & very craggy peaks I understand were carved by glaciers.

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     So we left this colorful & friendly remote town & tendered back to the ship.  From there the icebergs in the harbor could be seen clearly & we saw a few more as we sailed carefully away for a two day sail to Iceland. I like icebergs, so I will share a few with you.

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Finally, a couple of towel animals to tide you over until we reach Iceland.

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Red Bay, Labrador

     The next morning, July 16, found us in Red Bay, a city of a couple of hundred that makes Corner Brook seem like a metropolis. This was a tender port, so the ship anchored outside the harbor & we were transported in by tender boats, which are some of the orange boats hanging along the side of the ship. You have already seen that some of those boats are hanging above our cabin, so on this day we were awakened about 6:00 by the dulcet sounds of the boat being cranked over the side of the ship on chains & ropes. So we got up, had breakfast & boarded a tender for the town.

073. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014096. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014055. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

     In the 16th Century Basque sailors came to these waters to hunt whales. They spent about 40 years in this lucrative enterprise before their ships were impressed into the Spanish Armada. They seem never to have resumed this hunt, perhaps because most of their boats were destroyed by the English or perhaps because they had thinned out the whale population too much. Anyway, in the 1970’s archaeologists discovered that there was a Basque whaling station on Saddle Island across the harbor from Red Bay that had been forgotten for centuries. Since then a number of the building foundations have been found there along with a cemetery. One theory is that the town got its name from all the whale blood spilled in this harbor.

So our first stop was the local museum. There we saw a 400 year old whaling boat, which the Basques called a chalupa, that scientists recovered here. This is the oldest known boat of this type. Next to it is a mandible bone of a bowhead whale that is not much shorter than the boat. It takes some courage to go after a whale that size in a boat this small. On the wall was the skeleton of the fin of a Right Whale hanging next to a model of a Basque fisherman so you can see its size.

006. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014008. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014009. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

   Our museum tickets included a ferry ride to Saddle Island, so that is where we went next. The “ferry” was really a small boat seating only 10, so we had to wait in line a while before crossing. The coast is very rocky & the water is very clear so you could see the rocks & plants under the water. There was a guy by the dock dressed as a Basque, looking a little strange but providing a pretty good explanation of the area.

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     Both sides of the harbor are full of large granite boulders & outcroppings and many fields of beautiful wildflowers of various colors, so this is a good place to show some of that.

001. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014043. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014045. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014060. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014101. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

Here are some closer views of wildflowers.  I don’t know all their names, but they were very small & colorful. You may have seen some of these in the previous episode, but what the heck: they are still pretty. First some fields of flowers, then some portraits.

015. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014018. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014068. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014095. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014091. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014092. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014103. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014004. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014003. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014023. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014019. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014021. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014044. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014040. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014037. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014047. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014036. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014041. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014052. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014054. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014053. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014058. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

     Once we docked on Saddle Island, only a few minutes in the boat but a long time waiting in line for it, we followed a path all the way across to the other side.  Various archaeological finds were marked by signs, but you really couldn’t see anything there. At the end was the Basque cemetery, but the only thing to distinguish it from the rest of the landscape was the small rocks in short rows rather than distributed randomly. We were told that scientists had found about 140 bodies in unmarked graves here.  It was unremarkable and we didn’t even take any pictures.

061. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014049. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014097. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

     About halfway across the island archaeologists found a Basque boat under the water.  They photographed it & covered it up again for safekeeping, so you can’t see it.  But on almost the same spot is the rusting wreck of a boat that went down in the 1960’s (I think), some 500 years later.  That one is quite prominent & visible from the town as well as the island.

088. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014087. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014094. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

All over the island were sea urchin shells.  The birds catch them and bring them here to eat, then leave the shells.  Some still had spines on the shell and some had completely worn away until they looked like christmas ornaments with one side bashed in. Back in Red Bay we saw a family of Inukshuks (“in the image of man” in Inuit) lined up in front of a house. The Inuit have made these for centuries as directional beacons.

065. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014105. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014108. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014070. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

     So we left Red Bay heading north.  But that evening the Captain announced over the ship speakers that there was too much ice in the harbor at Cartwright for us to go ashore in tenders. Thus, we headed for Greenland instead, giving us two sea days before reaching Nanortalik. There were some rough seas on this trip, but at least the first evening out of Red Bay we saw our first iceberg! We would see many more by the time we reached Greenland.

110. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014


Corner Brook, Newfoundland

     After two days at sea we docked at Corner Brook, a town of something over 20,000, early in the morning of July 15. We had been told the high temperature would by 60 and it would be drizzly, but it turned out to be a beautiful day with highs in the 80’s & lots of sun. It would not be the last time the weather turned out better than predicted on the ship.  We were told that Newfoundland is the second largest island in the world (Australia doesn’t count because it is a continent rather than an island). And we learned that Newfoundland is pronounced with emphasis on the last syllable, like “understand.” So “understand Newfoundland” should sound like a rhyme. Newfoundland & Labrador form a single province of Canada. They did not become part of Canada until 1949, on a close vote at that, in part we were told because some were worried that if they didn’t join Canada they would end up part of the United States.  Corner Brook was behind a hill from where we docked so I don’t have a picture of that, but here is the bay on which it sits.

117.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (bay panorama) 7-15-2014

     Instead of exploring Corner Brook we took an excursion to Gros Morne National Park. It turned out to include a 1.5 hour bus ride each way along with a lot of time on the bus moving around the park.  This part of Newfoundland is quite beautiful though, a haven for fishermen on its rivers & a center for logging.  At the dock is the pulp wood plant, once the largest in the world. Pressure from environmentally conscious customers, particularly Germany, has forced the plant to clean up its act so that today what is coming out of the smokestack is almost all steam. On the dock we met a “Newfie,” the friendly local dog variety, one of whom we were told won the Westminster Dog Show a few years ago.

137.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (pulp mill) 7-15-2014003.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014003.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

104.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock) 7-15-2014

     Our first stop in the park was at an overlook of a vast tundra full of wildflowers beyond which could be seen some impressive cliffs. We were told that under these cliffs is the largest inland fjord in the world, but we couldn’t see the actual water. I wonder what “inland fjord” means; I would have called a body of water surrounded by land a lake.  Maybe its the cliffs that make it a fjord, or maybe it is determined by how it was made. The features of this huge park were mostly formed by glaciers & plate tectonics, I think.

008.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014008.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014009.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014009.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014013.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014013.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014014.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014014.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

The field around the platform was full of colorful wildflowers. Hard to photograph because we couldn’t leave the platform to get close to the flowers, which were quite small, but here are a few.

017.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014017.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014011.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014011.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014020.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014020.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014024.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014024.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014028.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014028.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

The trees around here were mostly scrubby firs, with a lot of dead & dying wood.

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     Our next stop was at a lighthouse on Lobster Bay.  It is a small lighthouse in a beautiful spot next to a large expanse of water surrounded by mountains. Outside the lighthouse was a pole from which nautical signal flags were hung. There was a board with a key to the flags, which spelled out Veendam. So that was either cool or a bit creepy since they knew we were coming. Several large ravens were sitting on the tower of the lighthouse.

055.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014055.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014046.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014046.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014047.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014047.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014042.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014042.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014050.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014050.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

Here again there were fields of colorful mixed wildflowers, leading all the way down to the water.

035.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014035.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014044.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014044.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014045.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014045.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014032.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014032.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014030.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014030.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014039.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014039.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014037.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014037.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014051.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014051.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

     We stopped for lunch in a little town not far away. Unfortunately we could not have mooseburgers (we ate next door), but there was a nice view of the lighthouse from our restaurant.

058.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014058.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014059.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014059.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

     After lunch we stopped at the visitor center, where we watched a video about the park. From its deck was a nice view of Gros Morne Mountain.  “Gros Morne” means “big hill,” & it sure is that.  We were told that the tops of some of these flat topped mountains were once the bottom of the ocean, but were thrown up by moving continental plates to their current height. Apparently scientists have come here to study what the ancient sea bottom was like. Our guide said that Gros Morne has the world’s largest concentration of moose, but this is the only place where I saw one. The moose are a traffic problem in this area; crashing into a moose is much more likely to kill you than hitting a deer (as often happens in our area of Virginia). Our guide told us he doesn’t drive in the country at night because of the moose danger.

062.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014062.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014063.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014063.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014066.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014066.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014099.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014099.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

     Our last stop was at a scenic overlook of a lake. The only building was a gift shop, but there were lots of flowers & a beautiful view over the lake, which had a small fishing village on one shore.

067.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014067.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014082.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014082.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014086.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014086.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014078.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014078.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014091.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014091.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014085.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014085.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

     So then we began the long bus ride back to the ship. On the way as the sun began throwing shadows we passed another lovely bay. We drove through Corner Brook before reaching the dock, but there wasn’t much to see, although there was a Walmart so you knew you were in civilization. Then the ship pulled out and we headed north.

101.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014101.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014


MS Veendam

     After a slow, trying & unpleasant boarding process we sailed out of Boston at about 6:00 PM on July 12, approximately an hour later than scheduled.  On the drive up we spent the night in New Britain, Connecticut, once known as the Hardware City of the World, where we ate dinner in a German restaurant with an accordionist dressed in a lederhosen outfit who, surprisingly, could really play.  His best number was the Cream song “Sunshine of Your Love,” which we had never heard on accordion before & probably never will again. In New Britain was a bookstore with a weird display of plastic duckies in the window that Mary couldn’t resist. We stayed Friday night at a hotel in Quincy which will board our car for the duration & had a nice (but very slow) dinner with a dozen other Veendam passengers.

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     With two sea days until our first port I thought I would show you a bit of the Veendam. This is our first trip on a Holland America ship other than Prinsendam and also our first that isn’t a Grand Voyage.  Veendam is about half again as big as Prinsendam (capacity of around 1350 passengers) but the ship itself doesn’t seem all that much bigger. In the picture below, our cabin is located on the deck below the lifeboats at the back of the last orange lifeboat.

 veendam

107.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock) 7-15-2014107.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014107.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014109.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock) 7-15-2014109.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014109.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

     We are in Cabin 363, which is a Lanai cabin. This is an unusual kind of cabin only available so far as I know on a couple of Holland America’s ships. It is on the Lower Promenade Deck, which has an outside deck that you can walk all the way around the ship (a quarter mile for each circuit).  Instead of a window, a lanai cabin has a sliding glass door leading to the deck & there are two deck chairs outside reserved for the occupants. To answer some of the questions we had before booking this cabin: (1) the sliding door locks behind you automatically but you are provided with one plastic card that will open it from the outside, (2) lots of people walk by your door but it has a film on the glass that lets you see out through it but makes it look like a mirror from outside (except at night when you have to draw your curtains).

001.  On Veendam 7-14-2014007.  On Veendam 7-14-2014002.  On Veendam 7-14-2014004.  On Veendam 7-14-2014

Our room is near the middle of the ship (which means less turbulence, but a lot of noise on mornings when they lower the tenders early). The deck is pretty long, therefore, in both directions. Lanai rooms seem to be a little smaller than usual, although I’m not sure why since they are the same length as all the other rooms. Our room is definitely shorter & narrower than the ones we had on Prinsendam, but not by very much.  You quickly get used to it & the tradeoff for the door to the deck is worth it, even on a cold weather cruise on which use of the deck chairs is pretty limited. There is another door on the opposite side of the room opening to the interior hallway, with a very narrow corridor between the bathroom & the closets to get to it. It looks like storage space is pretty limited when you first arrive but it turned out we have plenty of space for all the stuff we brought.

DSC00025156.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014156.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014156.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014005.  On Veendam 7-14-2014006.  On Veendam 7-14-2014

Like Prinsendam, Veendam has an extensive & diverse collection of art, only a small sample of which is shown here (some of the paintings are reproductions, but very good ones). In the center of the ship is a 3 level atrium with a blue & green glass sculpture reaching all the way up.  By contrast the huge Celebrity Eclipse we sailed on in March had a 10 story atrium lined with glass walled elevators. The Holland America ships are demure by comparison.

004.  On Veendam 7-13-2014009.  On Veendam 7-13-2014144.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014144.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014144.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014145.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014145.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014145.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014146.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014146.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014146.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014150.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014150.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014150.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-201406.  At Sea 7-18-201404.  At Sea 7-18-2014DSC00298DSC0029409.  At Sea 7-18-2014154.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014154.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014154.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014153.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014153.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014153.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

There are several paintings of the Veendam, both the current one & two earlier incarnations from the 1920’s & the 1980’s.

148.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014148.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014148.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014152.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014152.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014152.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014151.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014151.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014151.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

Three often visited venues. First is the Showroom at Sea, which is a theater hosting lectures, shows & other entertainment. It is also where you wait to board a tender boat when the ship is anchored rather than docked. The Rotterdam restaurant is where we eat almost every night. On this trip we are doing “open” seating, which means you come when you are ready & wait for a table (or make a reservation, although we have found that doesn’t work all that well). On prior Holland America voyages we have had assigned seating at the same table & time every night. We actually prefer the latter for several reasons, but we are travelling with friends we met on our South America cruise who prefer the open seating. Third is the Espresso Bar, located right by the library, so you have a nice place to sit and read while you drink your premium coffee. As part of a promotion, HAL gave us each a drink card that allows us up to $50 per day in beverages that cost $7.00 or less, so we visit the Espresso bar just about every day. The card also buys us wine with dinner & beer with lunch, but there is no way we can drink $50.00 worth in a day (you can’t use it to buy drinks for anyone else).

001.  On Veendam 7-13-2014012.  On Veendam 7-13-2014DSC00295

The second-to-top deck contains the Lido buffet & the pool, which is covered by a retractable glass roof that comes in handy in these chilly climes. Near the pool is the Dive-In hamburger bar (where they don’t insist on burning hamburgers to a crisp as on Prinsendam) & a taco bar.  The buffet isn’t as accessible as on Prinsendam because they keep more of the food behind glass so you have to line up to get some rather than just taking it yourself. There is a performance stage near the pool, but there is music (often raucous) piped in to discourage conversation (apparently).

114.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014114.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014114.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014008.  On Veendam 7-14-2014115.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014115.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014115.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014139.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014139.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014139.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

OK, that’s enough for now until we reach an actual port. As is now traditional on this blog I will close with some of the towel animals that our room steward leaves on our bed every night. Sometimes its a little ambiguous which animal is intended, so I label them with my best guesses.  If you disagree, your guess is as good as mine.

DSC00009011.  On Veendam 7-14-2014015.  On Veendam 7-13-2014157.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014157.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014157.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014


Voyage Of The Vikings

We leave home tomorrow to drive to Boston for a cruise on the MS Veendam to see the northern route to Europe.  Here is the itinerary:

Map of itinerary for 2014 "Voyage of the Vikings"

Before you ask, no we cannot pronounce all of these names, but hopefully by the time we get back we will be able to do so.  Holland America calls this the “Voyage of the Vikings.”  So is this just advertising or does this route fairly reflect the Vikings’ western explorations? (Of course the Vikings also went a lot of other places, including Russia, which is named after a Viking group called the Rus, and the Mediterranean.)  It looks fairly representative of their western voyages to me, but judge for yourself:

Map of major western exploration voyages of the real Vikings

Anyway, welcome aboard. We will be posting to this blog intermittently during the voyage, which lasts from July 12 to August 16, because the ship internet is sometimes buggy & there is only time to write blog posts on sea days & some of the sea days on this trip will involve scenic cruising that will preclude blog work.  Last year it took months after our return before the blog of our Mediterranean trip was complete; this one will undoubtedly be unfinished when we return but I don’t think it will take as long to complete (at least I certainly hope not).

Immediately below this post is another called “About This Blog (Revised 2014).” It includes an explanation of how all the parts of the blog work, so you might find it helpful to read it through. In addition, at the very top of the blog (above the header with a new picture of us at Ephesus taken in April 2013), is a text button labeled “About.”  If you press that button at any time while viewing this blog it will always take you to the “About This Blog” post with the instructions. The button next to it, labeled “Home,” will always take you back to the most recent post.

One more thing that some folks have missed: if you hover your mouse over a picture (ie. without clicking it) a caption will pop up. It will usually contain at least some identifying information, but may also contain some additional information, if we know any.

There probably won’t be anything more here until after we get underway next week.  See you then!