Canadian Maritime Provinces, Westbound.

St. John’s, Newfoundland.

St. John’s seems to be a busy commercial port, with several different types of commercial vessels, containers and cranes, and extensive docking space. Our ship was certainly the largest one present today. The harbor was unlike many we’ve been to. It was more like a small bay. We could see the land on all sides and at one end the inlet which led out to the ocean. We didn’t have an excursion booked for this port, but we decided to go ashore to find something for lunch rather than eating on the ship, as we usually did. The commercial establishments for this port are situated along three streets which parallel the dock: Harbor, Water, and Duckworth. Thinking we’d have better luck finding a restaurant on Duckworth, we took a long flight of steps from Water Street up to Duckworth, turned right, and started walking along, enjoying the sights and structures of a new (to us) city. Before long, we found a promising restaurant called “Get Stuffed,” which was aptly named because that’s what we did. It was a delicious lunch.

We then continued walking along Duckworth, stopping to take pictures of multi-colored houses along some of the side streets and to shop in some of the craft and souvenir stores. Feeling a little draggy by this time, we turned right again and went back down the hill to Water Street, thence to the ship. We were walking through an older area of town, with some buildings in need of repair and several vacant storefronts. Signs of revitalization are a big Marriott Courtyard hotel, a well-maintained city historical park, a multi-story parking garage, and a substantial Canadian government building.

Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Right away, the city of Halifax and its waterfront impressed us. First thing off the ship, we entered the terminal building, a cavernous expanse with craft vendors, prepared-food stalls, and even fresh produce. Outside, we started walking along the Halifax waterfront boardwalk which lines the harbor for a half-mile or so, providing access to restaurants, shops, and open areas at the water’s edge. This must be one of the most welcoming and best-designed waterfronts we have visited this cruise. We continued to the end of the waterfront, after stopping at a number of shops and viewpoints along the way. During this walk, we could see the land across the water, which had lighthouses, a few buildings, and some forest; several different kinds of boats going back and forth (ferries, tour boats, pleasure boats); and many tourists (the Veendam was in port today as well) and families enjoying the lovely day.

Since this is the last port on this cruise, we returned to the ship with some sadness about having to end this incredible voyage. We had planned this trip for a long time and feel so fortunate that we were finally able to do it.

Colorful Houses in St. John's, Newfoundland

Colorful Houses in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's

Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s

The Rotterdam Docked in St. John's

The Rotterdam Docked in St. John’s

View of St. John's Harbor from the Ship

View of St. John’s Harbor from the Ship

 

Behind the Scenes Ship Tour.

On our next day at sea, along with three other passengers, we gathered for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Rotterdam. The originator of the idea for the tour and our host was the Hotel Director, who introduced us to each department guide and shepherded us around to various non-passenger areas of the ship. The tour was offered during the course of two days, and on the first day, we visited the kitchen, the engine room, some crew areas, and the bridge.

In the kitchen, our guide was the head chef, who gave what seemed to be a very thorough tour of his spaces. He explained the different preparation and serving areas which we passed by and gave us a general idea of how the servers work within their environment. We especially liked knowing that the servers come into the kitchen from one entrance, do their thing, and leave from a different way. This helps cut down on possible contamination of internal areas by influences from outside the kitchen.

Next, we went to the engine room on the A deck, not where the engines are but where they are controlled from. This presenter was a little less comfortable in his role as tour guide, but he also had a lot less to say about the activities of his area. That’s OK. There were lots of buttons, lights, monitors, etc. because this is the command center of the ship. In response to a question from a guest, he spent a little time telling us about the different kinds of water that are generated and used on the ship.

Our next stop was the bridge, but on the way we visited the officers’ lounge (decorated to look like an Irish pub) and the crew cooking and serving areas. The bridge is at the front end of the Navigation deck. We walked along a short hallway, our guide opened a door at the end, and we were suddenly in the control room for the whole ship. It’s just one wide room, with windows all around and control panels and monitors arranged along waist-high consoles. There were a number of comfortably upholstered high stools as well, and everything faced the front of the ship. Of course, the full view in front of the ship was impressive, although I wonder if it’s intimidating when there’s nothing but fog around. The presenter was a third officer, a youngish man who tried to explain to us how the different controls are used to maneuver the ship, for example when docking. Because the deck of the bridge extends past the sides of the rest of the ship, windows opening both to the back and into the floor are part of the ship’s structure. These allow those in control a fully unobstructed view of the ship’s location. Before we finished the tour for today, the Hotel Director showed us his stateroom. It’s a very nice suite with a living room, bedroom, and bath – all nicely appointed and comfortable.

The next day, our first stop on the tour was the laundry room, which is on B deck. The department guide first showed us a huge ironer, which is used for all bed and table linens for the ship. The washing machines, huge dryers, machines for different laundry purposes, the same soap dispensers which appear in the guest laundromats, pressing stations, lots of noise, workers coming and going, and smiling faces were some of the sights. Next, we followed him to the guest and crew laundry, where everyone’s personal washing is taken care of. We then stopped in at the tailor shop, where a guy was marking a pattern and cutting out one of the officers’ uniforms. Their little space has three Juki sewing machines, patterns hanging from several hooks, ironing boards, cutting table, thread racks, all the stuff that one would expect to find in a sewing establishment. Our guide told us that all crew uniforms are made on the ship and specifically tailored for each owner.

We next met the provisioning department guide and toured several rooms containing supplies of wine and beverages, groceries, fruits and vegetables, cheese, dairy, eggs, and meats. All food products which come aboard the ship are cleaned and processed in these areas first, before they’re allowed to go to the kitchen and food preparation areas on higher decks. Our final stop was with the waste management officer, an older man who seems to love working with maritime safety and waste management. He showed us around his facility and explained how important recycling is to the ship. About 75% of ship waste is recycled, and the proceeds from the sale of recycling materials go into the crew fund. The tour ended with a conversation with the Hotel Director about his career with HAL and about crew recruitment policies.

Although the entertainment department was not part of our ship’s tour, several days later we attended a Q&A session with the Rotterdam Singers and Dancers. Passengers asked them questions about their lives, careers, and hopes for the future. Afterwards, we all filed through the spaces backstage, where the performers answered our questions and explained how they manage to change costumes and do what they have to in such limited space. They were all friendly and helpful and seemed to be genuinely interested in having their audience understand their working conditions.

We have always been very happy with our Holland America homes (Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Ryndam, Volendam, Maasdam, etc.), but these tours have helped us to understand just how amazingly well these ships are run.

 

The Rotterdam Head Chef inside his Space

The Rotterdam Head Chef inside his Space

The Ship's Engine Room (Command Center)

The Ship’s Engine Room (Command Center)

Inside the Officers' Irish Pub

Inside the Officers’ Irish Pub

On the Bridge of the Rotterdam

On the Bridge of the Rotterdam

View from the Bridge toward the Back of the Ship

View from the Bridge toward the Back of the Ship

Workers in the Laundry Room

Workers in the Laundry Room

The Laundry Master and Some of His Crew

The Laundry Master and Some of His Crew

Taking Care of the Ship's Linens

Taking Care of the Ship’s Linens

The Ship's Stores of Liquor

The Ship’s Stores of Liquor

The Ship's Tailor at Work on an Officer's Uniform

The Ship’s Tailor at Work on an Officer’s Uniform

Vegetable Stores

Vegetable Stores

The Recycling Master Holding Materials Being Recycled

The Recycling Master Holding Materials Being Recycled

 

 

Greenland, Westbound.

Cruising Prince Christian Sound Again.

Cruising in this sound at the southern tip of Greenland is one of the world’s best experiences possible on a cruise ship. And this is the second time we’re doing it in the past couple of weeks. The mountains rising directly out of the azure water were the focus of our attention all morning and until mid-afternoon, when we returned to the open ocean. Glaciers, snow fields, rushing waterfalls, green plants visible on every non-vertical surface, massive rounded-over rock faces, seams in the rocks at all different angles, the occasional iceberg, and one spouting whale kept us enthralled. We passed a weather station and one small community (130 inhabitants) nestled among the boulders at water’s edge and those are the only humans who live here. Today was a beautiful, cold, but mostly sunny day, but the winters here are brutal. We don’t get why anyone would willingly live here, but I suppose they have their reasons. Denise spent most of the day outside on the deck in the cold, taking pictures for us.

Nanortalik.

We anchored in Nanortalik’s harbor this morning, and our position gave us a panoramic view of this town and its surrounding islands. Similar to our passage yesterday, we were looking at mountains rising directly out of the water and lots and lots of rocks. Nanortalik is another small town with colorful, mostly wooden houses, a few warehouse-type buildings (community center, 2 grocery stores, tourist information center), a few containers stacked at the harbor, and some fishing boats at the dock. After leaving the tender, we chose to walk to the right, following the road around almost to the helipad and then turning left up the hill, where we found a nice-looking “Hotel,” what seemed to be a school and playing field, and the police station (Politi). It was a bracing walk because the weather was cold and not sunny, but we got to see a residential neighborhood – houses are jumbled together, seemingly placed at random with respect to each other and to the street. The unique feature of their landscaping was the multitude of boulders which surrounded the houses. Some were almost as big as the dwellings, and their presence must have actually defined where the houses could be built. The streets are paved and in good enough repair. Sidewalks are an afterthought. We saw many people out and about; many were children of all ages. The older people whom we encountered seemed very friendly: they always returned a “hello” with a word and a smile.

We had been told that a community organization was giving a concert for the tourists, but we were too late to hear it, so we stopped in at the community center and ended up giving the ladies present a $20 bill as a donation. While there, we talked a few minutes to a youngish couple who were sitting by the door. Turns out, she was born in Greenland, he’s a Dane, they’re married, and they’re taking this trip to Greenland together so she can see her roots. Talking to them was the highlight of the day. Our last stop was at one of the two grocery stores in town. We looked around a while (like Walmart, it has something for everyone), bought a case of water, and walked back to wait in the tender line.

Glacier in Prince Christian Sound

Glacier in Prince Christian Sound

Passengers Taking Pictures from the Bow of the Ship

Passengers Taking Pictures from the Bow of the Ship

Rounded-Over Mountains with Snow and Blue Water

Rounded-Over Mountains with Snow and Blue Water

Another Glacier with a Few Small Icebergs

Another Glacier with a Few Small Icebergs

Denise Out in the Cold Taking Pictures

Denise Out in the Cold Taking Pictures

Fog Trails in Front of the Ship

Fog Trails in Front of the Ship

Prince Christian Sound

Prince Christian Sound

Small Community on the Shore of Prince Christian Sound

Small Community on the Shore of Prince Christian Sound

Tourist Information Center in Nanortalik, Greenland

Tourist Information Center in Nanortalik, Greenland

Colorful Houses in Nanortalik

Colorful Houses in Nanortalik

View of Nanortalik, Greenland

View of Nanortalik, Greenland

House and Its Boulders in Nanortalik

House and Its Boulders in Nanortalik

Street Scene in Nanortalik

Street Scene in Nanortalik

View of Nanortalik from the Ship

View of Nanortalik from the Ship

 

 

 

Iceland, Westbound.

Akureyri.

We arrived this morning in Akureyri, which is the largest city in the north of Iceland. It seemed to be a busy port, but we didn’t stay in the city at all. The itinerary for our excursion today was super – a raging waterfall, pseudo-craters, a lava labyrinth, and a geothermal hotspot. These are the natural wonders which Iceland is famous for. Basically, we toured in the region around Lake Myvatn. As we had been warned, flies did accompany us at every stop, but they weren’t terrible, like the ones we had encountered in the Outback of Australia.

We drove about 45 minutes to our first stop, which was Godafoss, the waterfall of the heathen gods. As we approached in the coach, we could see the mist rising before the waterfall came into view. The wide view of the area was of green hills, mountains in the distance, and low clouds clinging to the mountains. To get closer to the waterfall, we walked along well-managed pathways which allowed for different views of the falls and the river downstream. Being glacial melt, the water was cloudy/milky and seemed pretty deep where we were. The course of the river was through lava fields, so the sharp lava rocks were everywhere, and as usual, they were home to many different kinds of small plants. The tourist facilities at this stop were what we have come to expect: souvenir shopping, snacks, a café, and local handicrafts. Back on the bus, we drove to the Lake Myvatn area and spent the rest of our tour near there.

Our next stop was at the Skutustadir Craters, which are “pseudo-craters” formed because of some geological phenomenon which I cannot explain. We left the bus and spent 20-30 minutes walking among these craters, trying to understand how nature works. From the top of the crater space, we had a wide view of the surrounding highlands and of Lake Myvatn itself, which seems to be a favorite habitat of both ducks and swans, and probably lots of other types of birds as well. Grass and small plants covered most surfaces, but black soil (volcanic ash?) seemed to underlie the whole area.

After another short drive, we came upon the Dimmubogir lava labyrinth, a collection of lava formations and natural arches which we explored via pathways at their base. Locals view this phenomenon as the home of some of their mythical characters and come here with their children in the winter to reinforce their traditional ways of marking the Christmas season. This was my favorite stop of the day, and I would have loved to spend more time just wandering among the formations and enjoying their rugged beauty.

Our final stop was a geothermal hotspot with steam vents, boiling mudpots, and lots of sulfur smell. The mountainside behind the vents was completely bare of plants, as was the flat area surrounding the vents. The combination of the moisture in the air, the recent rain, and the dirt surfaces of the paths produced a prodigious amount of mud for the bottom of everyone’s shoes. When we all returned to the bus, we made a mess of its floor. This geothermal area, as well as everything else we visited today, was overrun with visitors, I suppose because it was Sunday. Maybe also because the weather wasn’t terrible.

After completing our drive around Lake Myvatn, we returned to Akureyri through more spectacular scenery. The predominant images here are green fields, some in cultivation and many not, distant mountains, some with patches of snow in the higher elevations, and lava fields which are more or less covered with vegetation. This is a starkly beautiful country.

Isafjordur.

Since Isafjordur is a small town, we decided to skip an excursion today and to see the sights on our own. We were not disappointed. Early in the afternoon, we left the ship and started walking towards the town. We walked along Mjosund, turned right onto Adalstraeti, and followed it to Solgata, where we turned around and started our return to the ship. Outward bound, we stopped at a bookstore, a gift shop, a knitting/fabric store, and a hardware store. On the way back, we found a grocery store (for chocolate, water, Icelandic yogurt) and a clothing store. Isafjordur seemed to have all of the services that one would require (a central plaza, banks, ATM, tourist information, gas station, fish processing plant, fishing boats, etc.). The sidewalks were all made of paving stones, rather than concrete, I assume because of the winter weather. This is a cute town, and the people were friendly enough, but we’re happy not to be living here, despite the incredible scenery which we can see in every direction: huge mountains with both green plants and snow-covered patches and calm water in the fjord. Being in such a remote location is almost surreal, especially when you think about where it is on a map of the world.

 

View of Akureyri from the Ship

View of Akureyri from the Ship

Typical Northern Icelandic Landscape

Typical Northern Icelandic Landscape

Godafoss Waterfall

Godafoss Waterfall

Pseudo-Craters and Lake Myvatn

Pseudo-Craters and Lake Myvatn

Dimmubogir Lava Labyrinth in Northern Iceland

Dimmubogir Lava Labyrinth in Northern Iceland

Geothermal Hotspot in Northern Iceland

Geothermal Hotspot in Northern Iceland

Geothermal Hotspot

Geothermal Hotspot

Rotterdam Docked in Isafjordur

Rotterdam Docked in Isafjordur

 

Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This morning we sailed into the Port of Belfast. This is a heavily industrial port; in fact, there’s not even a cruise terminal. Our space was marked off with concrete barriers and portable fencing. At least there was a sign that said, “Welcome to Belfast. Cruise Port.” All the indicators of commerce were evident: cranes, dump trucks, container trucks, delivery trucks, construction machinery, aluminum buildings, silos both tall and short, stacked containers, tug boats, freighters, container ships, paved roadways, fenced-off areas, men walking around in reflective clothing, etc. Our tour guide for the day later confirmed that Belfast is and has been an important industrial focus of Northern Ireland. From the ship, however, we could also see the green hills in the distance.

We boarded the bus for a tour of the city and found that we had a guide who is a native of Belfast who thinks he knows more about the city than anyone. At least that’s what he told us. Maybe he’s right. Anyway, the time of the “troubles” was never far from his mind as he pointed out to us some of the important historical and cultural sights of the city. He was pleasant and talkative, but he left us feeling depressed about the religious and political factions and the evident inability of anyone to find a means of reconciliation. As we drove to different areas of the city, we learned how each had been affected, or not affected, by their problems.

Our first stop was at the city hall, where we went inside to admire the marble interior and stained glass windows. Outside city hall was a memorial focused on the Titanic, with the names of those lost engraved on a plaque. As we continued driving, we passed Queen’s College, a major university with 26,000 students, and many churches and schools. It was important to our guide to mention their affiliation (Protestant or Catholic) every time. We next stopped at a mural which illustrates many of the fighting points of the different factions. We saw several other murals during the drive as well. It seems that they have been painted only in certain areas of the city, not all. Another remarkable feature was the presence of high and unsightly walls which divided the city into different zones. It was all so depressing.

Next, we drove to Belfast Castle, the ancestral home of the landowners who first held the property which became the city. Here we had a short photo stop with lovely gardens, a fountain, and wide views over the city. On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the magnificent home of the Northern Ireland parliament. We approached it along a broad boulevard lined with perfectly matched trees. It sits high on a hill, with a wide façade and impressive pillars and pediment around the front entrance. It was closed for 30 years during the “troubles” but is open now and accepts tourists during the summer months. Even though our tour ended with relatively positive images of Belfast, we retained our feeling of sadness for the heartache that has been such a large part of this city’s history.

 

City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland

City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Marble Interior of Belfast City Hall

Marble Interior of Belfast City Hall

Contemporary Stained Glass Window in Belfast City Hall

Contemporary Stained Glass Window in Belfast City Hall

Plaque Honoring Lives Lost on the Titanic

Plaque Honoring Lives Lost on the Titanic

Belfast Mural, One of Many

Belfast Mural, One of Many

Dividing Wall in Belfast

Dividing Wall in Belfast

Formal Garden at Belfast Castle

Formal Garden at Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Roadway Approaching the Northern Ireland Parliament Building

Roadway Approaching the Northern Ireland Parliament Building

Northern Ireland Parliament Building, Belfast

Northern Ireland Parliament Building, Belfast

 

 

Isle of Man, U.K.

The view of Douglas from our ship in the middle of the harbor is not what we had expected to see. A long promenade was lined with buildings from maybe the late 1800s, a crescent of very fancy hotels and boarding houses which once hosted their vacationing guests. These structures were in shades of white, pink, and other pale colors and looked very appealing. Behind them, we could see other buildings, and beyond them were the green mountains of the island. Altogether, it was a charming scene, not the barren wasteland that we had anticipated. Actually, I don’t know why we had this negative expectation. I told Denise that I cannot ever remember reading anything at all about the Isle of Man in all of the reading that I’ve done about English history and culture. I knew about Manx cats and about the Manx language, but nothing about the country. I didn’t even know that the Bee Gees were born there.

Since our excursion wasn’t until the afternoon, we thought we’d spend some time just wandering about the city. That was a great idea, because the parts of Douglas near us were easily navigable on foot. Our entrance to the city was via the very wonderful shipping terminal, which had good internet, sparkling bathrooms, many comfortable chairs, a Costa café, a W.H. Smith shop, and very helpful purveyors of tourist information. The space was crowded, because regular ferry passengers also used the terminal, but nothing about it was oppressive. We stayed there a while to download our emails but then started out to explore.

With our tourist office map, we found the main pedestrian street, Strand Street. It was lined with two and three story buildings, with shops at street level for pastry, books, kitchenware, clothing, shoes, everything that one would expect. Both locals and tourists were walking back and forth, and we helped the local economy by making a few purchases. Gradually, the overcast sky turned to drizzle and then into a light rain as we continued our walk. We eventually came to the Gaiety Theater and Opera House, which is a delightful old theater complete with stained glass decorations, fancy columns, and an ornate façade. Not wishing to continue exploring in the rain, we turned around there and started walking back towards the shipping terminal along the promenade. We had the ocean on our left (tide was out), the fancy hotels across the street on our right, and within the promenade a lovely set of gardens, with lots of blooming flowers and a gardener whom we complemented on his work. I especially liked the masses of pink hydrangeas, dusty miller being used as a border for flowers, and a large bed of many-colored gazanias. Back in the terminal, we sat and watched the people until it was time for our tour to begin.

We wanted this excursion to be about the countryside of the island and were not disappointed. When we boarded the bus, we left Douglas straightaway and headed for the hills – very green and lush they were. Everything we saw – the fields, animals, forested areas, dwellings, pathways – were all moist and beautiful because of the rain. Our route followed a coastal road south from Douglas through a number of small towns and villages until we reached Castletown, so named because of a large and imposing castle which dominates the town. We drove through town on its narrow streets and then turned north toward our main stop of the day, the Village of Cregneash, an open air museum. This is a typical Manx village which was the residence of the last speaker of the Manx language, who died in 1935. Several buildings were open to us, and we visited a couple of cottages, one of which was attended by a woman who was demonstrating a patchwork pattern which may or may not be unique to this island. She was very interested in explaining to me how the design is done and how doing this kind of hand patchwork is addictive. I could see how that might be. One of the main attractions for the tourists coming to this village was the presence of Manx cats. We saw two, who looked contented and happy.

After we left Cregneash, we drove again through beautiful long views of stone-walled fields, thick forests, and attractive villages showing off wonderful displays of flowers. At one point, the bus had to stop as we waited for a large herd of milk cows to enter the roadway and walk along in front of us for several hundred yards. They were attended by a man and child riding on a four-wheeler and a couple of very busy work dogs. This is not the kind of action we get to see every day. Once we were underway again, the guide warned us that we were going up a mountain into the clouds; and sure enough, we were soon riding along with zero visibility. We had to trust that the driver knew what he was doing. After the fog, we were soon back in civilization, actually in the part of Douglas which we had not visited on foot, so we did get a little bit of city tour as well. This three-hour tour took us to only a small part of this island, but we very much liked what we saw. Somehow, neither we nor anyone we know is acquainted with anyone who has been to the Isle of Man. So we feel very special that we have been there.

 

Oceanfront Promenade, Douglas, Isle of Man

Oceanfront Promenade, Douglas, Isle of Man

Victoria Clock, near Ferry Terminal, Douglas

Victoria Clock, near Ferry Terminal, Douglas

Pedestrian Street (Strand Street) in Douglas

Pedestrian Street (Strand Street) in Douglas

Gaiety Theater and Opera House, Douglas

Gaiety Theater and Opera House, Douglas

Public Gardens within the Oceanfront Promenade, Douglas

Public Gardens within the Oceanfront Promenade, Douglas

Checking Out the Flowers in the Rain

Checking Out the Flowers in the Rain

Open Air Museum at Cregneash, Isle of Man

Open Air Museum at Cregneash, Isle of Man

One of the Manx Cats at Cregneash

One of the Manx Cats at Cregneash

Buildings with Sheep at Cregneash, Isle of Man

Buildings with Sheep at Cregneash, Isle of Man

Patchwork Demonstration at Cregneash Open Air Museum

Patchwork Demonstration at Cregneash Open Air Museum

British Telephone Booth near Cregneash

British Telephone Booth near Cregneash

Waiting for the Milk Cows to Go Before Us

Waiting for the Milk Cows to Go Before Us

 

 

Ireland.

During breakfast, we watched as our ship pulled in to our berth in the busy container port of Dublin. Leaving the port area to begin our excursion, we crossed the River Liffey and could see to our left a suspension bridge shaped like an Irish harp. We drove south from the city along a coastal road for a while, passing residential areas and office buildings, with the ocean off to our left. Soon, we entered the M11 Motorway which was lined with neatly constructed granite walls, big houses, and lush gardens. We turned off the motorway onto a two-lane road which wound upwards toward the Wicklow Hills, our destination for the day. This is from our excursion description: County Wicklow is “known as the Garden of Ireland. A mass of domed granite mountains, penetrated by deep glens and wooded valleys, form some of the most magnificent landscapes in Ireland.” Our guide pointed out that the hills are covered with gorse and heather, which in other seasons make a magnificent display of yellow and pink flowers. She also mentioned that the Irish give directions by pubs and churches, and she pointed out many to us during the day. Every little village seems to have at least one of each. Our route took us past long views of the hills, small farmsteads, grazing sheep, goats, and horses, large estate properties, and many small villages. We remarked that the land is green, for sure, but not really greener than at home in New Jersey.

Our first stop was at the monastic ruins of Glendalough. Once on the grounds of the former monastery, we walked past a round tower with a pointy top, stone buildings, and many gravestones, several with typical Irish crosses. This site was active beginning in the 6th century and once was inhabited by thousands of students from all over Europe. It’s hard to see that today, although the setting among the mountains was lovely. The name Glendalough means something like the valley with two lakes, but we didn’t see them, only a small river with brown water (because it runs through peat bogs). A nearby hotel was also interesting. It was very quaint, with lots of wood paneling, a stone fireplace, comfortable-looking easy chairs, rooms for a bar and for tea, and very nice bathrooms.

Back on the bus, we had a short ride through a heavily forested area to our next destination, the Ballyknocken Country House, which is a farm and “cookery” school. Here, we were seated in a demonstration kitchen and entertained by the proprietor, a famous chef in Ireland who is also evidently well known in the U.S. as well (because she appears on the Today Show). She told us about the history of her farm, her career in popular culture, and cooking traditions in Ireland; and she offered to sell us some of her cookbooks. She seemed like a lovely person, well suited to be a celebrity, I think. Her purpose today was to show us how to make traditional brown soda bread and sweet scones, and she provided recipes for us to take home. Afterwards, we all traipsed over to her hay barn, which was supplied with fresh scones, Irish butter, rhubarb and ginger jam, tea, and coffee. Everything was delicious, of course, and I especially liked the tea. I even had a second cup. When we left the farm, we drove through the hills until we connected with the M11 Motorway and made our way back to the ship. We were happy with this excursion because it enabled us to get away from the city and to see some of the beautiful Irish countryside.

Round Tower in Glendalough, Ireland

Round Tower in Glendalough, Ireland

Arched Doorways at Entrance to Glendalough Monastery, Ireland

Arched Doorways at Entrance to Glendalough Monastery, Ireland

Round Tower within the Graveyard at Glendalough

Round Tower within the Graveyard at Glendalough

Stone Church and Wall in Glendalough

Stone Church and Wall in Glendalough

Gardens at Ballyknocken Country House, Ireland

Gardens at Ballyknocken Country House, Ireland

Demonstrating Soda Bread and Scones

Demonstrating Soda Bread and Scones

Tea and Scones at Ballyknocken Country House and Cookery School

Tea and Scones at Ballyknocken Country House and Cookery School

Ballyknocken Country House and Cookery School, Ireland

Ballyknocken Country House and Cookery School, Ireland

 

 

Netherlands.

Our halfway point in the cruise was our overnight stop in Rotterdam, which is the busy and huge port city of the Netherlands. Our first excursion left the port almost immediately and entered a modern 6-lane highway on our way to Gouda (pronounced howda, with a guttural h), where the popular cheese is from. We drove to this very charming town within a half hour, having passed by numerous industrial buildings; green fields, some with cows; and the occasional canal. We spent the remainder of our excursion on a walking tour of the city.

From where the bus parked, we walked as a group toward the town center, which is dominated by a big church. We walked along the streets behind the church, stopping at the orphanage where Erasmus lived as a child, a 16th century version of an old-folks home, and a former hospital which has been turned into a museum. Everything looked very old and quaint and moist. We saw several canals, some very narrow, and all the streets were paved with various types of stones. We entered the church and hung out there for a while. Evidently, the stained-glass windows are significant because they were not damaged during the time of the Reformation because the town had fallen on hard times and nobody wanted to bother destroying them. As in Amsterdam, bicycles are a favorite mode of transportation.

We spent the next part of our excursion in the town square, where it was market day. Our guide told us about the stand-alone town hall from the 16th century (?) and mentioned a couple of other buildings on the square, and then we were on our own for an hour or so. Vendors were selling Gouda cheese, baked goods, produce, clothing, and many other things. We started hearing some unusual music; and even though we had never seen a calliope before, I knew right away what it was. It had such a big and joyful sound and an incredibly ornately decorated façade. We were so taken with the market and the calliope that we didn’t explore the side streets at all, but they did look old and interesting.

After we returned to the ship, Denise decided to go out to explore downtown Rotterdam. She took the shuttle bus to the town hall and then walked along many of the shopping streets of the area. Streets were wide, and some were pedestrian only. Sometimes, shops were on two levels, street level and a lower level. Her impression was that it’s a big and modern city. There was nothing quaint about the areas that she visited. Such a contrast with Gouda earlier in the day.

The next day, Denise took a ship excursion to the windmills of Kinderdijk. It was a lovely day, and she enjoyed learning about how water is managed in the Netherlands. She visited an area with 19 windmills. From up close, she could feel the intense power of the moving windmill blades, even though they look so peaceful from a distance. She was able to climb to the top of one of them and view the surrounding area. Inside the windmill tower, she saw the windmill mechanism and the living quarters of the mill keeper.

After the excursion, she spent some time in the terminal doing internet, which is very good here. This terminal is one of the best we have been to. In addition to good internet, they have provided many, many chairs, tables, water coolers, and a very pleasant environment for their cruise guests and crew. Our local Rotterdam hosts provided a wonderful musical sailaway, with an enthusiastic and energetic performance.

 

Flowers, Bicycles, and Cheese in Gouda

Flowers, Bicycles, and Cheese in Gouda

Walking towards the Center of Gouda

Walking towards the Center of Gouda

Tourists Taking Pictures of Cheese Factory in Gouda

Tourists Taking Pictures of Cheese Factory in Gouda

Orphanage Where Erasmus Lived as a Child

Orphanage Where Erasmus Lived as a Child

Canal with Boats and Green Surface Plants in Gouda

Canal with Boats and Green Surface Plants in Gouda

Flowers, Bicycle, and Canal Bridge in Gouda

Flowers, Bicycle, and Canal Bridge in Gouda

Courtyard of Former Hospital Turned Museum in Gouda

Courtyard of Former Hospital Turned Museum in Gouda

Us on Excursion in Gouda

Us on Excursion in Gouda

 

Gouda's Town Hall in the Market Square

Gouda’s Town Hall in the Market Square

Cheese Vendor's Display in Gouda's Market Square

Cheese Vendor’s Display in Gouda’s Market Square

Calliope in Gouda's Market Square

Calliope in Gouda’s Market Square

Cheese-Shaped Planters in Sidewalk Café

Cheese-Shaped Planters in Sidewalk Café

Sidewalk Cafés Line the Market Square in Gouda

Sidewalk Cafés Line the Market Square in Gouda

Two-Level Shopping Street in Rotterdam

Two-Level Shopping Street in Rotterdam

Pedestrian Street in Rotterdam on a Sunny Day

Pedestrian Street in Rotterdam on a Sunny Day

Rotterdam Town Hall

Rotterdam Town Hall

Cube Houses in Rotterdam - Piet Blom, Architect

Cube Houses in Rotterdam – Piet Blom, Architect

 

Windmills at Kinderdijk

Windmills at Kinderdijk

Typical Early Windmill

Typical Early Windmill

Denise Visited This Windmill

Denise Visited This Windmill

So Many Windmills

So Many Windmills

Denise with Dutch Shoes

Denise with Dutch Shoes

Rotterdam Sailaway Entertainment

Rotterdam Sailaway Entertainment

Norway.

Alesund.

This is a beautiful coastal city in Norway which is famous for its Art Deco buildings. The formerly wooden city was destroyed by fire in 1904 and was gradually rebuilt in stone and brick in the Art Deco style. The town center is attractive, and the cobbled pedestrian streets are appealing. Our excursion today, however, took us out of the city to the nearby islands of Giske and Godoy.

Access to these two islands is via tunnels under the ocean. Built in the 1980s, these tunnels have allowed islanders better access to the mainland and have enabled more people to make their homes on the islands. The smaller island is Giske, which has about 800 inhabitants, many of whom were farmers but who now cannot make a living on their farms so they work at the nearby airport or in the fishing industry in the area. We made a circuit of the island, passing by neatly manicured yards, perfectly maintained homes, a charming old marble church with a graveyard, and a Bronze Age grave mound. One special feature was the turf roof, which appeared on several homes, outbuildings, and even on mailbox shelters. There was some open pasture, one with a couple of cows, but most of the land was given over to homes and yards – lots of flowers in bloom.

We then drove through another tunnel to the island of Godoy. This one has 1500 inhabitants and has many of the features of Giske, but our destination for this island was its lighthouse, which sits off by itself at one end of the island. We were able to wander around the lighthouse and ascend three flights of very steep wooden stairs inside to take in the views of the area. When we returned outside however, we realized that views were actually better outside because we had the wider perspective of the whole location, which was spectacular – ocean, breakers, rocks, grasslands, gentle breeze, mountain covering the rest of the island, and so much quiet.

Our tour continued as we drove back to Alesund through the ocean tunnels and residential areas on the mainland. After a drive up a narrow and winding road, we stopped at the Aksla viewpoint high above the city. The view is really amazing. We could look straight down into the houses and apartments below, see the entire town laid out before us, and then view the ocean and nearby islands all around. The site was full of tourists, but many of them had walked up – there are 418 steps from the town center to the top of Aksla. We watched some of them rejoice as they approached the top. They were justifiably proud of their achievement. Later from down in the city, we caught a view of the steps and were glad we had the bus option. For the natives, however, such a climb would not be unusual. Evidently, hiking in Norway is a national passion, and infrastructure and cultural norms are in place so that both young and old can enjoy it whenever possible.

Eidfjord.

This town is located at the end of Eidfjord, which is a branch of the longer Hardangerfjord. As we were passing along the fjord, we could see a highway, power lines, and occasional communities just above the level of the water. Frequently, waterfalls, sometimes just a trickle, were cascading down the mountainside, fulfilling everyone’s desire to see water in action. Eidfjord has only about 1000 inhabitants, and the Norwegian government has embarked on a program for increasing its population by offering monetary incentives to first-time home buyers who are willing to commit to living there for 10 years or so.

Our tour for today brought us to a nature center, a waterfall, and a dam. We began our visit to the Hardangervidda Nature and Wildlife Center by watching a panoramic movie about the mountainous areas around Eidfjord. This movie was filmed from a helicopter so we had wonderful views of these highlands. Afterwards, we wandered around in the nature center itself, looking at pools of salmon and other fish, a herd of stuffed reindeer, big chunks of clearly identified rocks, etc. It was a small but very well exhibited collection. A souvenir shop and restaurant were located in a building across the street which had a turf roof with goats on the top. Both the nature center and the restaurant were built of wood in a very attractive rustic style.

Next, we drove to Voringsfossen, which is a huge waterfall, with big volume and a 600-foot drop into the valley below. To get a good view of the waterfall, we had to walk on a treacherous pathway along with people from four other tour buses, not to mention all the locals who were there as well. A little rain had started by this time, so that added to the difficulty of the walk. But the view was spectacular and Denise took a beautiful video of it.

Our last stop was the Sysen Dam, which supplies hydroelectric power for the area. Despite the drizzle, we walked out onto the dam and took in views across the lake and down the valley which we had just traversed. We returned to the ship by retracing our route along the valley, as our guide spoke to us about Norwegian life and culture. Once along the way, we had to stop for a few minutes to allow a herd of goats to cross the road in front of us. Evidently, they need no goatherd, because they’re tagged and their movements are monitored.

 

View from the Lighthouse on the Island of Godoy in Norway

View from the Lighthouse on the Island of Godoy in Norway

Wooden Lighthouse on the Island of Godoy

Wooden Lighthouse on the Island of Godoy

Harbor of Alesund, Norway, from Aksla Viewpoint

Harbor of Alesund, Norway, from Aksla Viewpoint

Alesund and Surrounding Islands from Aksla Viewpoint

Alesund and Surrounding Islands from Aksla Viewpoint

Charming Pedestrian Street in Alesund, Norway

Charming Pedestrian Street in Alesund, Norway

Zigzag Path from Alesund up to the Aksla Viewpoint

Zigzag Path from Alesund up to the Aksla Viewpoint

 

View of Eidfjord and its Hotel from the Ship

View of Eidfjord and its Hotel from the Ship

Stuffed Reindeer Herd at Hardangervidda Nature and Wildlife Center

Stuffed Reindeer Herd at Hardangervidda Nature and Wildlife Center

Turf Roof on the Hardangervidda Nature and Wildlife Center

Turf Roof on the Hardangervidda Nature and Wildlife Center

Goats Munching on the Turf Roof at the Nature Center

Goats Munching on the Turf Roof at the Nature Center

Waterfall at Voringsfossen, Near Eidfjord, Norway

Waterfall at Voringsfossen, Near Eidfjord, Norway

Sysen Dam (for Hydroelectric Power)

Sysen Dam (for Hydroelectric Power)

Walking along the Top of Sysen Dam

Walking along the Top of Sysen Dam

Herd of Goats which Had to Cross the Road in Front of the Bus

Herd of Goats which Had to Cross the Road in Front of the Bus

Iceland, Eastbound.

We had an overnight stop in Reykjavik and therefore got to have two full days of sightseeing in this amazing country. The first day, we took the Golden Circle tour, which includes the major tourist sites in Iceland. We could hardly believe our luck with the weather – another perfect day! Throughout our drive today, we were usually on gently rolling hills of farmland with mountains in the distance. Hay had already been harvested and was collected in round bales encased in white, green, pink, or black plastic. I didn’t see many other crops growing. We saw sheep often, horses sometimes, and a few cows once. Very occasionally there were pine forests, planted in rows, but aside from grass, the main vegetation seemed to be young trees. In several places, there were camp sites, with both tents and RVs occupying space in open fields. Everywhere we stopped on this drive, we found all facilities to be clean and well maintained – restaurants, gift shops, restrooms, and other accommodations for tourists.

Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, which interprets and preserves one of Iceland’s most important geological and historical sites. We walked on a gravel path along a massive geological fault to the place where Europe’s oldest national assembly, the Icelandic Althing, was established in 930 CE. The Althing convened here every summer for 800 years. We were on the North American tectonic plate for this walk but could see the European-Asian plate across the valley. The guide referred to the large lake and the valley floor in between as no man’s land. The wall of rock that we walked along looked like different sizes of building blocks that had been stacked on top of each other. Grass, bushes, and wildflowers were on both sides of the path.

As we were driving to our next stop, the guide pointed out a snow-topped mountain in the distance. This is a very active volcano which they expect to blow at any time, but don’t know when that will be. After a lunch stop at a roadside restaurant, we crossed the road and followed a boardwalk to visit a very popular geyser. It blew a couple of times while I was watching, although it’s a short-lived phenomenon, not a continuous blast.

Next, we drove to the Gullfoss Waterfall, which we had visited in December 2014. We remember from that trip how cold we were looking at the falls. Today, our weather was perfect and we could really appreciate the beauty of the site. From the parking lot, we walked along a boardwalk to viewpoints overlooking the falls, where churning glacial water was rushing down two levels of the river. We walked to the end of the boardwalk so we could see the action from every angle. There was a lower boardwalk as well, but the people down there looked like they were getting wet from the spray. And, besides, they didn’t have the view that we did across the valley to the glaciers on the distant horizon. Towards the end of the day, we drove through an area of lava fields. Here, we could see plumes of steam rising on distant mountainsides, indicating the ever-present geothermal activity.

Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at the same power plant we had visited in 2014. I don’t suppose it’s changed much since we were there last, but we like being reminded of the Icelandic commitment to the environment and to their country. It’s so interesting that a power plant can be regarded as a tourist attraction.

The next day we had an excursion which concentrated on the southwest corner of Iceland, the Reykjanes Peninsula. After driving through some smaller towns and then some open countryside, we made our first stop at Kleifarvatn Lake. This is a medium-sized lake set in a vast open space, with black beaches (black sand or volcanic ash?) and calm blue water. Very beautiful. We had a photo stop for everyone, but I was busy looking at the plants and the rocks and the vista. I later read that the water level of the lake corresponds to the water table in the area, for there are no springs or streams which feed into it. As usual, there were small plants trying to grow wherever they could, and the surrounding hills were covered in green.

Our next stop was Seltun Krysuvik, an extremely active geothermal area with hot springs, bubbling mud pools, multi-colored rock surfaces and cliffs, a strong sulfur smell, and steam issuing from holes in the ground. We followed a boardwalk and dirt path around the site and got to experience everything up close. The surrounding ground was covered in thick grass turf with flowers scattered about as well. From the high point on the trail, we had a lovely wide view of the surrounding area on one side and of the adjacent mountains on the other. Our drive continued through miles of lava fields, with every surface covered with what looked like a soft grey blanket. The guide said it’s a special kind of moss which attaches itself to the lava rocks, which are too barren to support other life forms.

Our next stop was the Viking World Museum, which houses a replica of a Viking longship. Our guide was on this ship when it sailed to the U.S. in 2000 to help mark the 1000th anniversary of the Viking landing in North America, so he gave us a little talk about the ship and his experience. The ship itself was made of wood and illustrated many of the features evidently common to these vessels, namely, oar holes, shields along the top railing, a rudder, a mast and the place to put it, a square sail, below-decks storage spaces, etc. The rest of the museum displayed some artifacts and information from the early Reykjanes Peninsula settlements. When we had seen enough, we walked outside to enjoy the ocean air and the views of distant mountains. On our way back to Reykjavik, we drove near Keflavik Airport. Our guide told us that during the cold war, the U.S. had a military base in the area and that when the war was over, the facilities on the base became the airport and a university. After a short drive through the center of Reykjavik, we returned to the ship.

As we were sailing away from Iceland, we talked about how much we have enjoyed being here (having perfect weather probably helped) and about how important it has been to us to experience many of the natural wonders which have drawn us to this country in the first place. Because of its natural beauty and its orderliness, we’re now saying that Iceland is one of our favorite countries to visit, right up there with Switzerland and Australia.

 

Land between North American and European-Asian Tectonic Plates

Land between North American and European-Asian Tectonic Plates

Icelandic Landscape

Icelandic Landscape

Pathway in Thingvellir National Park

Pathway in Thingvellir National Park

Us at Thingvellir National Park

Us at Thingvellir National Park

Geyser at Strokkur

Geyser at Strokkur

Steam Marking the Location of Fumaroles

Steam Marking the Location of Fumaroles

 

Beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall

Beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall

Icelandic Landscape, with Mountains and Flowers

Icelandic Landscape, with Mountains and Flowers

Another View of Gullfoss Waterfall

Another View of Gullfoss Waterfall

Geothermal Power Station - A Tourist Attraction

Geothermal Power Station – A Tourist Attraction

Kleifarvatn Lake with Black Beaches and Calm Water

Kleifarvatn Lake with Black Beaches and Calm Water

Seltun Krysuvik, Active Geothermal Area

Seltun Krysuvik, Active Geothermal Area

 

Another View of Seltun Krysuvik

Another View of Seltun Krysuvik

Beautiful Icelandic Landscape

Beautiful Icelandic Landscape

Geothermal Activity at the Surface

Geothermal Activity at the Surface

Replica of Viking Longship

Replica of Viking Longship

Viking World Museum

Viking World Museum

View from the Reykjanes Peninsula

View from the Reykjanes Peninsula