Posted tagged ‘Cruising’

Glaciers In The Mist

October 2, 2012

I find glaciers endlessly fascinating, and I hope you do too. The six hours we spent in Glacier Bay National Park thrilled me to the core, that core being swaddled in fleece pants topped with corduroy pants, wool socks and boots, fleece jacket, waterproof jacket, my iconic red Icelandic wool hat, and gloves. Yes, glaciers are cold, and I was determined not to turn as blue as they are while standing out on the bow for hours as we cruised. I’ll let the ice speak for itself, and you’ll see what I mean.

Some people on board saw a humpback whale in the bay, but I saw only this flock of birds

and this pair of harbor seals, looking cozy and comfy on their icy perch.

We didn’t see any actual calving of the glaciers, but the gorgeous Margerie Glacier, which is is nearly a mile wide and about 13 miles long, obliged us with some impressive ice falls, accompanied by loud cracking, thunderous rumbling,

gigantic splashing,

and leaving mounds of frozen debris in the water.

Glaciers push a lot of dirt around as they advance and recede,

and glacial moraine marked the fallen ice, making it look dirty in an interesting way,

and chunks both small

and large floated everywhere near the feet of the glaciers.

As we began to make our way back out of Glacier Bay the sun broke through, and waterfalls were running freely.

The sun made the ice glow even more impossibly blue,

and revealed the turning colors of autumn. This was the last good weather we were to see on our cruise, but it more than made up for the rest of the trip.

Glacier Bay is a magical place, and a vanishing place, as climate change causes the glaciers to recede. Go while you can.

North To Alaska

September 26, 2012

We sailed out of Seattle under a cloudless sky, giving us (oh how false) hopes of a sunny voyage northwards. The sea was smooth and expectations were high: off to Alaska for the first time, Shel planning to bag his 50th lifetime state, and me, I wanted to see the truly wild places that I knew lay far north of where I’d been on our continent.

As we lounged on our balconies, drinking rosé in the warm sun, I said, prophetically “We’d better enjoy this bliss while we have it, this may be the last time we see the sun this week.”

So when I awoke the next morning to this fabulous and fleeting sight, I rejoiced in the serendipity that had left the camera within a quick millisecond’s reach of the door, and immortalized the morning sun somewhere off the Queen Charlotte islands. Four minutes later the moment had passed, and the sun has eluded us ever since.

Pulling into Juneau under a bright but cloudy sky, Eric remarked that it looks like a frontier town, which it does, because it is. We bypassed the endless array of tourist shops and headed for the lovely but rapidly receding Mendenhall Glacier.

I should also mention that we bypassed one of the most typical Alaskan means of transportation. Juneau can only be reached by boat or plane, as no roads come here because the city is surrounded by ice fields.

You can get quite close to Mendenhall glacier by bus and on foot, although to walk on the glacier itself you have to arrive by helicopter. Helicopters being on my personal No Fly list, we contented ourselves with the views from the visitors’ center.

Leaving the glacier we headed out to look for humpback whales,

but first we came across this eagle defending his salmon lunch from a variety of other hungry shore birds.

Everyone was out for salmon, and these sea lions seemed especially vicious in their pursuit of the plentiful fish. The sea lions followed the whales, and sea gulls followed the sea lions, often swooping down and ripping bits of salmon right out of their sharp-toothed mouths.

But we were there for the whales, and happily, the whales were there for us. Lots of whales,

really big whales. I wish we’d been in that little boat, although it might have been a bit scary, seeing that huge tail within a simple flick of capsizing the whole shebang.

Although they’re enormous, weighing in at 40-50 tons each, and about 50 feet long, I think the humpbacks have a friendly, engaging look to them.

This one even waved goodbye to us as we headed back to Juneau, on our way to Glacier Bay. Sweet, eh?

Down To The Sea In Ships

September 19, 2012

Being out on the water for five weeks, we naturally saw a lot of boats, ships, and every sort of sea-going vessel. Some, like these little Norwegian beauties, look too fragile to venture far from home. Yet, like their Viking ancestor boats, they were build to withstand the sea.

Here, for the maritime-minded among you, is an assortment of shiply delights.

At the other end of the scale from those little shells are this enormous and frame-filling Icelandic Coast Guard ship

and this bulbous and high-riding Norwegian fishing boat, docked next to our ship, the Maasdam.

While we were in Reykjavik there were French tourists everywhere, who came from this huge cruise ship, the MSC Lirica,

and the harbor was undergoing a big dredging operation to make room for her, and for us.

We saw Norwegian fjord ferries,

Dutch hydrofoil ferries,

and a Newfoundlandic (is that even a word?) harbor ferry.

The canal from Amsterdam to the sea was chock-a-block with every sort of vessel, many of them truly gigantic.

My favorites, though, were the brave little boats, this one Norwegian

this one Greenlandic. There’s something heart-stopping about putting your life in the embrace of a tiny boat and the mighty sea, an experience that we only got vicariously while cruising.

Wishing all mariners fair winds and a following sea, and now, in just a few days, we’re off to take the season’s last cruise to Alaska.

No Newfie Jokes, Please

September 17, 2012

Or else! Returning you to the end of our voyage, we stopped in Saint John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, which is a lovely little spot and historically important, not only for its Viking heritage.

It’s a wonderfully sheltered harbor, colorful and peaceful, and it’s not that long since the first cruise ships started putting in here.

The town put on a heart-warming welcome for us, greeting our ship with a little band playing traditional Newfie music, as well as several people with their Newfoundland and Labrador dogs. I think even the mayor came to welcome the ship, although we didn’t see him. We were very happy to see the Newfie dogs, though, as they are one of the most huggable breeds ever and we were really missing animals by the end of the trip.

St. John’s is famous for its “jellybean” row houses, which make the streets cheerful and gay,

a good thing since they get a lot of very severe winter weather and a little cheer and gaiety must help to keep morale high.

St. John’s is rightfully proud of being the spot where, high atop Signal Hill, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1901. It was only the letter S, dot dot dot, in the Morse code he must have strained to hear, but those were the dots that changed the world as we know it, and he received a Nobel prize in physics for his invention.

The view down from Signal Hill is pretty spiffy too.

The town also has a lovely monument to peace, and a stunning museum called The Rooms, where we were lucky enough to see the gut-wrenching David Blackwood exhibit. Look him up here, if, like us, you’ve never heard of him before. He captures the history of Newfoundland in an absolutely unforgettable way.

St. John’s also has a district composed almost entirely of Irish pubs, of which I can recommend O’Reilly’s for quite decent food and good live music, but there are also a variety of ethnic foods, including Canadian. Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949, so if you’re not a native Newfie, you’re still considered to be “from away.” Their cuisine has a couple of unique facets, including Screech, the local rum with a fearsome reputation that I found to be quite drinkable, and seal flipper pie, that even I, a person who ate rotten shark in Iceland, shunned like the devil.

Overall we found Newfoundland to be beautiful, friendly, and welcoming, and even though we’re from away, I hope to go back.

Qaqordoq – Say What?

August 27, 2012

We finally made landfall in Greenland, and on my birthday, to make it all the more amazing. Plus, I get to say that I spent my birthday in a place that even I can’t pronounce correctly (listen here for the real sound of the Greenlandic language, much less guttural than all those q’s make you think).

Although Qaqordoq is the largest town in southern Greenland, with a population of about 3,000, it’s kept its small town ways. We were greeted , as we neared town, by these fisherman with fish to sell, nevermind that we were five stories up from their boat and many thousands of miles from our kitchens.

A minke whale also followed us into the harbor, but was playing pretty coy.

There’s no pier, so we had to anchor out and tender in, always an ordeal,

although we cheered up when we saw their very well-stocked souvenir shop, which included things like green seal-fur mukluks and the super-soft and beautiful but hideously expensive scarves woven from musk ox hair. And when I say expensive, I mean that I saw a beautiful one and took it over to Shel and said that it would make a great birthday present at $50. He hastily pointed out that I’d made a fundamental currency translation error, and the scarf was actually $500.

The look of the town reflects the fact that Greenland, like Iceland and the Faroes, has no native trees, so all the houses are built of corrugated sheet metal imported mainly from Denmark.

The street names are Danish too. Here’s Vatican street.

Downtown Qaqordoq boasts what we were told is Greenland’s only fountain.

We went into the one small supermarket, looking for whale blubber, seal steaks, and the like. Instead we found Carte d’Or ice cream, the brand we buy in France, as well as Ben and Jerry’s

and Starbucks, labeled in English.

We heard singing from the church right next to the supermarket and stuck our heads in, to find a very sparsely-attended mass in progress. Later we learned that at least some of the attendees were cruise passengers from our ship.

There were lots of pretty examples of Native art scattered around the town,

and we did see these two young women in bright Native dress, although it wasn’t clear to me whether that was in honor of our visit, or a daily occurrence.

Even the town’s huge oil tanks were painted with a Native motif.

We only had a few hours in town, and as we sailed away from Greenland we were treated to more icebergs, making this definitely one or my most unusual birthdays ever!

Icebergs in Paradise

August 24, 2012

One of the remotest places, and possibly the most beautiful place on Earth: Prince Christian Sound. I’ll scarcely say a word, I’ll just let you discover it as we did. Except: 60% of these shots were taken by Shel, 40% by me (but who’s counting?). It was a once in a lifetime experience for both of us. If you ever get a chance to go there: do!

See what I mean?

Return To Iceland

August 21, 2012

Our first pass at Iceland took us to Reykjavik, then bad weather forced us to miss our planned visit to Djupivogur. This time, on our return from the Faroe Islands, we were able to stop at Seydisfjördur and Akureyri, in the east and north.

The east of Iceland looks dramatically different. We didn’t spend any time in Seydisfjördur itself, but headed directly towards the Borgafjördur Estuary.

There we stopped at the tiny town of Bakkagerdi

which is in a stunning setting, although the town itself doesn’t have a lot to offer but scenery. We had to drive for hours to get there, and arrived rather bus-worn and grumpy.

Shel and I resorted to taking pictures of each other, something we don’t often do,

and in fact he took many of the beautifully atmospheric shots I’m going to show you.

Like the one of this cool house, the only one of its kind that we saw in Iceland, with not only a green roof but green sides as well. I wanted to move right in.

This was a more typical look, beautiful in quite a different way.

At nearby Hafnarholmi we saw puffins galore, and since this was what we had come for, we quit grumbling about the several hour trip through deserted countryside and fell in love with the little birds, as so many have before us. There’s just something about a puffin. They’re much smaller than I’d imagined, but twice as cute.

Next we sailed around to the north of Iceland, to pretty Akureyri, which is a real town. Here again we didn’t spend much time in town, but instead headed out to visit farms in the gorgeous surrounding countryside.

This was the most beautiful part of Iceland that we saw, gentle and verdant.

First we visited an amazing dairy farm, where the 100 Icelandic cows are cared for entirely by robots.  Well, one person oversees it all, but all the work is robotic.

The cows are milked four times a day, although they often ask to be milked more frequently. Every cow has a chip with all her vital information, and the robot milker will not milk her more frequently than at six hour intervals, no matter how many times she presents herself for milking. The chip also contains specifications like the size and location of each cow’s teats, her milk production, and so on. Before milking the robot cleans the teats, and the cows munch placidly all the while. There’s even a robot to clean the floors, a sort of Poop Roomba, and as you can see the cow’s feet are quite clean.

Lest you think that cows would not enjoy such a life, I have to admit that these were the calmest and most contented-seeming cows I have ever seen, despite their robo-care and the fact that they live entirely indoors.

Next we visited a little farm with an attached ice cream shop, where I got to try freshly-made skyr, and the others had a bowl of exotic ice creams made from the farmer’s milk. Flavors like sorrel, and beer, for example, that seemed very cutting edge for a little creamery out in the country, and which were pronounced to be excellent.

We also visited a very old farmstead, now being restored as a little museum to show how farmers lived in the past,

and there we were offered a delicious snack of home-smoked lamb, home made paté with rhubarb jam and dark bread, and the exquisitely creamy Icelandic blue cheese.

We were more or less ready to move right in and stay a while, but as always happens when cruising, you only get a day to see things, no matter how wonderful. I’m ready to go back to Iceland, though. It’s a fascinating country, compellingly different from anywhere else I’ve been.

Back in Akureyri, while I did a little shopping before we sailed, Shel caught these two young musicians performing on the street, proving that some things are universal, and that girls will be girls, no matter where they live.

Journey, Death, Journey

August 19, 2012

After leaving the Faroe Islands we continued on our fantasy voyage, following the route of the Vikings to Prince Christian Sound, to Greenland, Iceland again, back to Newfoundland, and I’ll tell you all about that soon. But first, reality intervenes. One thing about cruising, so obvious that you scarcely think about it, is that you are on a ship, out at sea, and sometimes you can’t get off, no matter how you try.

During that voyage we began to hear that Shel’s Mom was ill, then very ill, then deathly ill, all in the space of two weeks. When we got the news that made us really want to rush to Atlanta we were off the coast of Newfoundland with no way off the boat except a quick dive into freezing water. Ship to shore radio was barely functional. email was excruciatingly slow. Those 20 knots per hour, a nice clip for a contented cruiser, dragged on and on for us, and Shel’s Mom left the planet before we could go ashore.

It’s what she wanted, to go quickly and mostly without pain. She also didn’t want us to see her “like that.”  Always coiffed and properly dressed, with bright red lips and shiny fingernails, red-haired in her youth like so many of the Vikings, right up until her death earlier this week at the age of 87 she was a fiercely Southern lady. And she was also the last of our parents to walk this earth, so that we’re now the oldest generation in our family, a sobering thought.

So welcome to Valhalla, Margaret. I know you believed in Heaven and drank only the occasional glass of Chardonnay, with an ice cube, but I’d rather think of you among the Valkyries, chalice raised, wolf guarding the door, surrounded by the brave souls who crossed that dark sea before you, and who died as sure of themselves as you always were. There was only ever one like you, and now there are none.

Oh Is For Faroes

August 9, 2012

If you’re longing for serenity, stillness, and sweet solitude, the Faroe Islands might be for you.

A haven for hermits,

a place made for painters and photographers.

A place where people depend on fishing

to feed their families, as well as growing potatoes,

and growing and drying grasses to feed their animals: sheep, horses, and some cows.

A place where virtually everything else, including building materials, is imported from Denmark. There’s not even a Faroese cheese. A country that’s part of the Kingdom of Denmark, with an independence movement that’s said to include about half the population, but which lacks visible means of support in the modern world. A country that you can’t understand in a day, which is all we had there.

A gentle, empty land where your nearest neighbors are probably sheep,

or possibly puffins. We were dying to see puffins, and therefore thrilled beyond words to see these guy, even though they weren’t nearly close enough to suit us. We didn’t see pufflings, as baby puffins are called, but I think puffling is my new favorite word.

And if I ever decide to take a step out of the world, to live far from all I know, to dream, perchance to write, the Faroe Islands might be my new favorite place.

Zombies And Fairies

August 8, 2012

So we hopped off the Maasdam in Dublin and hopped on a double decker bus. The bus went nowhere, and I had plenty of time to amuse myself with the scenery. Oh wait, I was evidently looking out the wrong side of the bus.

What was really happening, why the bus wasn’t moving, why all of downtown Dublin was ground to a standstill, was the Zombie Parade. Hundreds, if not thousands, of would-be zombies flooded the streets.

Why would you want to be a zombie in the land of leprechauns and fairies? No clue.

When we finally got rolling I was treated to a Gratuitous Name Sighting. I’m always alert to stray instances of my name, and I thought this one was especially cute.

Dublin is a lovely city, and one of the loveliest places we saw was St. Patrick’s Cathedral,

whose organ has a stop called bombard.

Jonathan Swift was dean of this cathedral for 30 years

and was buried here.

Something I really enjoyed about Dublin is that most signs are written in both Gaelic and English, two languages that, as you can see, do not resemble each other at all.

I also appreciated the effort they put into saving the lives of hapless tourists. Since they drive on the “other” side of the road, stepping off a curb is one of the most hazardous things you can do here.

We weren’t able to go into Christchurch, but it was quite imposing from the outside.

We did, however, go into Dublin’s oldest pub for a nice evening of dinner accompanied by Irish music and folklore. Fairies were very much a part of the evening, and even though I’m not superstitious, I wouldn’t go out of my way to cross some of the magical beings we heard about during dinner.

We also didn’t go into Trinity College, except for the courtyard, where hundreds of poeple waited in line to see the famous Book of Kells, even though it was pouring rain.

Instead we browsed shop windows, especially those with interesting names,

checked out this monument to Molly Malone (apparently also known as “the tart with the cart,”

and admired a set of mysterious paving stone inserts, all with a dagger theme.

I’ve been trying to post this for two days, so I could get on to the Faeroe Islands, and east Iceland, where we are now. Tonight we’ll cross the Arctic Circle, and the ship’s satellite internet connection is so fickle, so abominable, that I’ll just post this as is and catch up as catch can. Sorry!


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