Saturday, August 26, 2023

Back Home From North Atlantic Cruise

We were finally back home after our 35 day Voyage of the Vikings cruise from Boston to Rotterdam and back. Although sometimes it had seemed like a long trip, it seemed to end too soon. Still, it was nice to be back home.

To see a map showing where the pictures were taken click on the map screenshot below. Click a pin in the map to see a link with a description of where the picture was taken. Click that link to see the picture and more detailed blog description.

I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Click this link or the picture above to see the North Atlantic Cruise map.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Halifax Nova Scotia

Although we've been in Halifax a number of times before, it's always one of our favorites on cruises to Northeast Canada. Our two favorite places to visit when we're in Halifx include Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, almost one hour from port via bus or car, and Garrison's Brewery which is just a short walk from the pier.

Quite possibly you've seen a picture of this lighthouse before. Although it had only been a year or two since we last saw it, the area had a number of new additions. Most seemed to be added to accommodate the growing crowds of tourists who flock to the area during the summer.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Halifax and Peggy's Cove Nova Scotia photo album, including pictures of a couple of beer flights and the list of beers Garrison's was selling that day.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

St. John's Newfoundland

Saint John's in Newfoundland was our first contact with a real city since 10 days ago in Reykjavik Iceland. Although not large by many standards, with 200,000+ people it was a hundred times larger than most of the areas we'd visited in the last week. Perhaps that was why our welcoming party was a row of five ambulances when we docked? Although nobody was seriously sick as far as we knew, with so many people aboard and many of them elderly, there were bound to be a few who were sick. And perhaps many waited until they were closer to home to seek medical help.

Although there are a number of hikes near the cruise terminal, including one to Signal Hill, the day was pretty gloomy and rainy. So instead we chose to take a short walk to the nearby Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. There were quite a few beautiful stained glass windows inside the church which you can see in the linked to album.

There are other activities to enjoy in St. John's during other times of year. This includes whale watching and boat tours of nearby icebergs. Although we were visiting during the tail end of the peak whale watching season we were too late for the icebergs which are most prevalent in late May to early June.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Saint John Newfoundland photo album.

Monday, August 21, 2023

St. Anthony Newfoundland

Our first stop in Canada on our way back to Boston was at St. Anthony Newfoundland. It's definitely a small Canadian town with only a bit over 2,000 people. One of the best known tourist attractions in the area is the re-creation of a Norse village at L'Anse aux Meadows. The original village dates back to 1,000 years ago and may have been a base camp for Norse exploration of North America, including possibly by Leif Erikson. It was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978.

We thought about visiting L'Anse aux Meadows, which is a 40 minute drive from where the cruise ship tenders dock, but all of the onboard excursions were booked. Being such a small town there are limited options when a large cruise ship stops. Instead we ended up taking a nice walk to Fox Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is visible from where the cruise ship anchored, as shown in the upper left of the picture below.

On the way to the lighthouse is a trail called Dare Devil Trail. It's 400 steps up a wooden staircase to the top of Fishing Point Head. On our ship 400 steps would be the equivalent of climbing 25 decks. It certainly wasn't an easy climb up the hill, but the view made it worth the effort.

Near the lighthouse is a small store, the Fishing Point Emporium, with a free (donation or purchase appreciated) museum. Included in the museum was the polar bear shown below. Luckily, being stuffed, it didn't move too fast.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the St. Anthony Newfoundland photo album.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Qaqortoq, Greenland

Our last stop in Greenland before returning to Canada was in Qaqortoq, the largest town in southern Greenland with a population of around 3,000 people. We weren't able to book any excursions and it's a small town besides, so we did our own walking tour. The cruise director had provided everyone with a simple map showing some of the highlights of the town.

Our first stop was at the Saviors Church, a Lutheran church built in 1832.

Continuing past Savior's Church, our walk led us to a scenic overlook of a small lake near town. If we'd had more time, the walk around the lake was supposed to be very scenic as well, but the weather was still very foggy, limiting the views.

This view reminded me of some of the eerie video game scenes I'd seen from long ago.

One of the things Qaqortoq is best known for outside of Greenland is the rock art, known as "Rock and Man". A local, Aka Høegh, created a permanent open air art gallery with the help of over a dozen artists from other Nordic countries.

Høegh oversaw the creation of 24 carvings, many of which you can see in the linked to photo album.

Qaqortoq does also have a small building containing a museum. However by the time we finished our self guided walking tour another, even larger, cruise ship had docked. By then the museum was so crowded that it was difficult to get into, so we gave up and returned to the ship.

Later that day the fog did lift, giving us a beautiful view of Qaqortoq from the ship.

If the ship had been docked at a pier we might have ventured back into town. However, since we required tenders to reach shore and the town seemed overcrowded with two cruise ships having in the neighborhood of 3,000 or more people visiting a town of just 3,000 people, we decided to stay on the ship and just enjoy the view from there. It certainly was a colorful town when the sun was out.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Qaqortoq Greenland photo album.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Prince Christian Sound

This is our second trip through Prince Christian Sound on this cruise. We had visited the same glaciers then as we did today, but I've tried to avoid duplicate pictures from the two trips through the sound. There were some parts where we were able to go closer to the glaciers than on the first trip. In particular, for glaciers on the east end of the sound which we saw in the early afternoon, we were able to approach closer without worrying about icebergs created from the calving glaciers.

Below is a link to a map which shows the locations of the three pictures in the remainder of this blog post. You can see the post from our first trip through the sound on July 31 here.

By 12:44 pm we had entered the sound and reached the first of the large glaciers visible from within the sound.

By 2:25 pm we had reached the second large glacier in the sound. On our first passage through the sound we hadn't entered the culvert to approach the glacier due to ice. This time we were able to get much closer to the glacier.

By 5:00 pm we had exited the sound and passed Aappilattoq, a small village with a population of roughly 100 that subsists primarily on hunting and fishing.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Prince Christian Sound photo album.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Reykjavik Day Two

Our second day in Reykjavik we remained anchored in the harbor and so again had to take tenders to go ashore. The weather was cloudy with occasional showers. Unfortunately one of the occasional showers happened while we were ashore trying to find our tour bus, along with I don't know how many people from the other three cruise ships. It was quite confusing trying to figure out where the buses would pick us up and which bus to look for. So many people and buses and to add to the consfusion, some heavy rain which finally started to let up.

It was quite a mess trying to find the bus for our tour. We had booked an excursion outside of the cruise line, which meant we were a bit more "on our own." We ended up calling the tour company, getting on a bus to a central bus station and getting on a slightly different tour than what we had booked. It actually seemed to work out quite well in the end, once we were on the tour.

Our first stop on the tour was at Friðheimar, a family run restaurant that grows its own tomatoes in a hot house, one of which is attached to the restaurant. They offer almost everything you could imagine based on tomatoes, including a pale ale which was quite good.

This stop actually wasn't on our original tour, but we were glad it was included on the tour we eventually ended up with. I guess it made up for the confusion we experienced in finding the tour bus.

After Friðheimar we went to Gullfoss Waterfalls. Although not as spectacular as our earlier views at Goðafoss Falls, Gullfoss was still quite picturesque.

Our final stop on this excursion was at the Thingvellir National Park Visitor Center. This area is famous for lying at the edge of two tectonic plates. It is the only place in the world where you can stand between two continental plates. Although the picture below doesn't do that aspect justice, it does give you a glimpse of the nearby scenic lake.

After our excursion was over we headed out on our own for a self guided walking tour. The first stop was at the Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Center. This is a "modern glass honeycomb concert hall & conference center, home to the national opera & symphony." [*]

Next we walked to Rainbow street, a colorful street decorated with a rainbow to celebrate their annual Pride Festival.

Rainbow street led us to Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Cathedral, the tallest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country.

We stopped or visited at quite a few other places as well including the Strokkur Geyser, Session Craft Bar, and the Aurora Reykjavík Museum. Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Reykjavik Day 2 photo album and a video from the Strokkur Geyser.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Reykjavik Day One

This was our first time in Reykjavik Iceland and the first of two days we'd spend in Reykjavik. The port was very crowded with three cruise ships already docked when we arrived. Because there are only three cruise ship docks, we had to anchor in the bay and use tender boats to get to the city. That does make it a bit more inconvenient and time consuming to go ashore.

Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland. It has a population of over 122,000 people, which is almost ⅓ of the total population of Iceland.

For our first day in Reykjavik we booked an excursion to The Blue Lagoon, a spa heated with water from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. Yes it is a very touristy attraction and yes it is much more expensive than other options, such as one of the many pools in Iceland which are also heated by geothermal water. But you should go at least once and savor the atmosphere as well as the silica mud.

The milky blue color of the water is due to the silica content of the water. The silica is reputed to be good for your skin, including psoriasis. Our excursion included one drink each and a silica mud facemask.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Reykjavík Iceland - Blue Lagoon photo album

Monday, August 14, 2023

Djúpivogur Iceland

Our first stop in Iceland on the return voyage from Rotterdam to Boston was in Djúpivogur, a small town with a population of 509 people. I can't imagine what it's like to have a cruise ship with three times as many people as your town, stop for the day. But the local restaurants were doing a booming business. I was sorry we didn't have time to sample some of the local fish and chips but the line was just too long.

For Djúpivogur we had booked a tour with the cruise line. The tour was a 4x4 trip to various waterfalls and other sights in the area. Our first stop was at Nykurhylsfoss (Sveinsstekksfoss), a small waterfall off the beaten track a few miles outside town. Definitely not in the same league as Goðafoss Falls, but scenic nonetheless.

Since we'd be traveling mostly on dirt roads in the backcountry, our tour was given in a converted Mercedes van which had been fitted with a military vehicle chassis and various other car parts, such as a Dodge Ram steering wheel, by our driver who was an auto mechanic. This was just one of the dozen or so vehicles in our caravan. Ours being by far the largest and most elaborate, most of the others looked to be around the size of a Toyota 4Runner.

All of the vehicles in our caravan were definitely made for off road driving. They all had tire fittings that allowed them to adjust the tire pressure from inside their vehicles. This allowed them to reduce the tire pressure when going on loose rocky back roads at slower speeds, and then increase the tire pressure when we returned to the paved road, without even getting out of the car.

This was a waterfall we saw during our tour, this one being the most remote of a number of waterfalls we saw while driving up a valley dirt road.

Our final stop before returning to town was at the Eggin í Gleðivík (the Eggs at Merry Bay) sculpture. This work of art created by Sigurður Guðmundsson consists of 34 large granite eggs representing the different nesting birds in the area.

Soon we were back to the marina at Djúpivogur.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Djúpivogur Iceland photo album.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Stornoway Scotland

Our last day before reaching Iceland was in Stornoway Scotland, a town of 6,953 people on the Isle of Lewis, so still not in the Scotland mainland. There wasn't a lot to do here so we just went for a walk to Lews Castle where there is a small museum with artifacts from Western Isle history.

Click this link or the picture above to see more pictures in the Stornoway Scotland photo album.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Belfast and Giant's Causeway

The day after stopping in Cork Ireland we were in Belfast Northern Ireland. This was our only stop in Northern Ireland and we wished we could have had more time to explore Belfast. As it was, we really only saw it on the way to and from Giant's Causeway.

For our Belfast stop we'd booked a tour to the Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1986. This is a area with roughly 40,000 interlocking basalt columns around an hours drive from Belfast.

Much of the interest behind Giant's Causeway is the story behind its name. The legend is that the Irish giant Finn MacCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn then built the causeway to enable him to cross the water between Ireland and Scotland. There are at least two stories on what happened then. The simple story is that Finn beats Benandonner.

The second, and more elaborate story (leave it to the Irish to generate a lot of Blarney) is that Finn, realizing Benandonner is much larger than him, runs and hides. His wife disguises Finn as a baby. Benandonner then tries to find Finn and finds him disguised as a baby, but thinks it's Finn's son, not Finn himself. Seeing such a large "baby", Benandonner thinks the father must be even larger and runs back to Scotland in fear, destroying the causeway behind him so Finn can't follow.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Belfast and Giants Causeway photo album.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Cork Ireland

Two days after leaving Rotterdam we arrived in Cork Ireland. The port, actually Cobh, was the last stop of the Titanic before its first and final voyage. Maybe not the best reminder for cruise ship passengers?

We'd booked a tour with the cruise line to go to Blarney Castle. I'd say we were a bit disappointed due to the crowds and the intermittent rainy weather. The wait to actually get to the "blarney stone" was an hour or more, which would have taken up most of our time. So instead we just walked around the castle grounds and viewed a few of the other sights. Not one of our favorite tours and maybe a bit too commercialized.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Cork Ireland photo album.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Rotterdam Netherlands

Although we had been to the Netherlands before, we'd never been to Rotterdam. It was an amazingly beautiful city. When we first arrived we were able to look out from the balcony of our cruise ship cabin at the beautiful Erasmusbrug bridge, a modern suspension bridge known locally as "The Swan." The bridge was designed by Ben van Berkel and opened in 1996.

For our day in Rotterdam we had booked a half day personal tour. It turned out to be one of our favorite tours. It was a walking tour, and boy did we walk! On much of the tour the guide would point out various pieces of street art. There are 174 pieces of art in the Rotterdam Street Art Museum.

The Rotterdam Netherlands photo album contains a number of additional pictures of street art we saw during the tour.

One of our favorite stops was the Cube Houses. People actually live in these cube houses. It's only because one enterprising owner decided to open up their home to tours that we were able to see the inside of one.

These are the original "tiny homes" and maybe the inspiration for tiny homes you see in many places in the USA? The Rotterdam Netherlands photo album contains a number of photos showing the inside of the cube houses. They're very "cozy." But you have to wonder how the people of Rotterdam, many of whom seem extremely tall, could live in such a tiny home.

These three pictures hardly do justice to the sights of Rotterdam. So be sure to click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Rotterdam Netherlands photo album.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Lerwick Scotland

Our only stop after Iceland on our way to Rotterdam was in Lerwick Scotland on the island of Shetland. We didn't have any tours scheduled so we took a walk from the pier on a road along the beautiful seashore we had seen as the ship pulled into port.

Soon our walk left the town streets and took us on a path that wound its way between the sea and a cemetery we had also seen on our way into port. You can see the cemetery in the first few pictures in the photo album.

This was our first time in Scotland, though I'm not sure if this counts since we were on the island of Shetland, far north of mainland Scotland. We ended up walking 2 miles to a Tesco where we checked out the local beers being sold there. Quite a few as it turned out. The picture on one of the ales in particular, Puffin Tawny Ale from Orkney Brewery, we found quite photogenic. You can see a picture of the bottle in the photo album.

After stopping by the Tesco and buying a few local beers, we headed back to where the cruise ship had anchored and stopped by Fort Charlotte. With its commanding views of the nearby harbor, Fort Charlotte had been built and rebuilt a number of times over the last few centuries. Today it provides a scenic view of the harbort.

Our last stop of the day was at the Shetland Museum & Archives. This museum contains displays of various times throughout the history of settlements on the Shetland islands. We found some great photo opportunities in the perfectly still water just outside the museum.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Lerwick, Shetland Scotland photo album.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Akureyri and Goðafoss Falls Iceland

Our second stop in Iceland was at Akureyri. Although we knew that Iceland was a land of active volcanoes, bubbling geysers and hotsprings, we hadn't really seen any of those at our previous stop in Ísafjörður. It became more obvious as we cruised into Akureyr and saw steam rising into the air from where water from the Foss Steam Baths cascaded into the sea.

We had booked an excursion with the cruise line for that day. The first stop in the excursion was at Goðafoss Falls, one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world. If you go to Iceland it's a must see stop.

Our next stop was at Skútustaðagígar a "series of pseudocraters formed by lava flow, surrounded by Lake Mývatn wetlands, known for birdlife." We didn't get any pictures of birds, but the landscape was beautiful and unlike anything we'd ever seen.

As in many parts of Iceland, there was steam venting from numerous places nearby, as you can see in the above picture. Some of the steam vents are from power generation facilities, some are from water feeding steam baths, some are both with the runoff from power plants feeding the steam baths. The tour guide had even pointed out a football field at a high school that was heated during the winter using geothermal hot water, so the kids could play sports all year round.

Our next stop was at Dimmuborgir Lava Fields. There we saw a number of rock formations each of which had a fairy tale-like story behind its formation. Most involved trolls who were turned to stone when they were exposed to the light at sunrise, much like you might have seen in Lord of the Rings. Based on the number of stone figures we saw, and there were many, these trolls weren't very smart.

Our final stop of the day was at the Myvatn Geothermal Area. There we saw boiling hot pools of water and rotten eggs smelling steam coming from vents in the ground.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Akureyri and Goðafoss Falls Iceland photo album.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Ísafjörður and Vigur Island Iceland

Our first stop in Iceland was at Ísafjörður, a small town in northwest Iceland with a population of 2,736. A fishing village for centuries, it still has one of the largest fisheries in Iceland. For a variety of reasons fishing has been declining since the 1980's and as a result the population has been decreasing. Tourism has been increasing in recent years providing some compensation for the loss of fishing income. The day we were there two cruise ships were docked, our ship and a Viking cruise ship.

On our way to the dock in Ísafjörður we were escorted by the cutest and most colorful tugboat we'd ever seen. Although in the picture below it may appear to be some toy in a bathtub, it was actually a full sized tugboat. In addition to helping to brighten up an otherwise drab environment, colorwise, it might also be part of the Icelandic sense of humor.

It was also here that we first saw another instance of the Icelandic sense of humor, a coaster with the saying "I AM A RAY OF FUCKING SUNSHINE." You can see a picture of the coaster in the photo album. In the following weeks at almost every stop in Iceland we were to see that over and over on coasters, shirts and cups.

The Cruise Director had told us about a place near the dock to get some of the local beers, though he warned us, as with many things in Iceland, the beers weren't cheap. Just a short walk from the pier was the Dokkan Brugghús, an excellent microbrewery serving 12 different beers on tap.

The lack of varieties of beer aboard the ship is one of my ongoing complaints about cruise ships. They have a wine list that goes on for pages but only a few, mostly mediocre, beers. So it's nice to be able to visit a brewpub when ashore. My favorite is when they serve beer flights where you can choose smaller servings, usually around 4 ounces give or take, of three, four or more beers. At Dokkan Brugghús you could order any of the 12 different beers on tap as part of a flight, choosing 4, 8 or 12 different beers. You can see the full list of beers in a picture in the photo album.

For this stop we had booked an afternoon tour with the cruise line to Vigur Island, a wildlife sanctuary. Vigur is especially known for its puffin colony, which is the largest in Iceland. I really wish we'd had a long lens to take some better pictures of the Puffins, but there are a few somewhat grainy shots of Puffins in the photo album.

After a half hour boat ride to Vigur Island they hand you a long pole with a number on it as you exit the boat. The pole is for when the tour takes you to an area near the Arctic Tern nesting area. The unique number on each pole allows them to ensure all visitors have left the island before the boat departs. The Terns are not shy about driving off intruders when you walk in the area of their nests, so you have to hold up the poles so they will dive bomb the top of the pole instead of your head. You can see some of the pictures of the Terns and people walking with poles held up high in the photo album. If you want to know what it must have felt like to be an extra in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," be sure to visit Vigur Island.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Ísafjörður and Vigur Island photo album