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Serenade of the “C’s” I Mean “I’s” – Ice Bergs, Iceland, Ice Caps and Ice Cream

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We are booked on the Serenade of the Seas for a 16 night cruise from Copenhagen to Boston, a cruise which the crew has nicknamed The Arctic Express. Before joining the cruise in Copenhagen we have elected to spend two days in Bergen, Norway. It has been on my bucket list for years and as long as we are this close to Copenhagen it made sense. Little did I know.


P re-Cruise Day1 – Bergen, Norway


After a long flight, which has taken us almost to the top of the world, we have arrived safely in Bergen, Norway. I only wish I could say the same for half of our suitcases! Thank goodness the half that arrived contains my thermal underwear!


Bergen, as it turns out, is Norway’s second largest city and lies just north of its sister city – Icenbergen, and deep within the Arctic Circle. Well, maybe not deep within, but certainly closer than I have ever had any desire to so visit. In preparation for our trip I have packed in layers – a Badger Microfiber Windshirt, a Rip Curl Falcon Windbreaker Jacket and a Canada Weather Gear fur lined Heavyweight Sherpa Parka (with detachable hood) – guaranteed to protect down to minus 30 degrees! To avert frostbite I have a brand new pair of Merrell Coldpack Ice + Zip Polar Waterproof Winter Boots – to be worn over a pair of Nordic Gear Unisex battery heated Lextra Sox– for which I have an ample supply of extra batteries. I may not exactly have the Lagenlook, but I should be able to come home with all my fingers and toes.



Lest you think that this is overkill, I might mention that some of our other stops on our upcoming cruise includes Iceland, Greenland, and someplace known as the Shetland Islands – which (according to Wikipedia) has a sub-polar climate and averages 250 days of snow and rain a year! Not to say Bergen can’t give the Shetland Islands a run for its money. We have arrived here in the Middle of Rainfest – which celebrates the record set several years ago when it rained every day for 85 consecutive days!



In Bergen we are staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Now why they dropped the “e” from “Blue” I have no idea, but I am thinking that it was a marketing decision to distance the hotel from the word “blue” which is the color generally associated with freezing. I should also note that the hotel is exactly (I measured) 950 feet from the Fish Market. Now I have nothing against fish, but as our room is actually facing the market, I am somewhat concerned that we could be awakened by the early morning din of the fish mongers setting up shop and by some girl named Bornhilda pushing a wooden wheeled cart over cobblestone streets shouting “cockles and mussels” - or the Norwegian equivalent!



After unpacking in our room, we went downstairs to explore the hotel and stumbled across a cozy little library. As we perused the room I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be an authentic Torbjørn Afdal Krobo bench over by the window. Hurrying over to inspect this amazing find I noticed that upon its highly polished rosewood top were two books. The first book, apparently a self-help book entitled “Living with Hypothermia,” was a well worn leather bound book with a number of dog-eared pages, and the second tome appeared to be a Norwegian romance novel entitled “When Helga Freezes Over,” by Drs Ingrid and Frigid Ingebretsen – which appeared to be equally well read. I couldn’t help but wonder if these were omens of what was to come.



After exploring the hotel we headed to the bar area to decompress from our long flight from Atlanta. As the weather was rather warm for Bergen– mid 30’s – we decided to take a table outside and we each ordered an aquavit – a traditional Norwegian drink. As we were enjoying our drinks we were startled by a large furry animal that darted by our table and was being chased by two hotel employees. The animal was unrecognizable but basically resembled a cross between a raccoon and a shaggy Meerkat. I have no idea why the employees in white coats were chasing the thing, but if tonight's menu includes something called “Chef’s Surprise,” I’m having the fish.



Dinner that night was somewhat of a challenge. Call me naive, but I had thought that in Bergen they would speak, oh, I don’t know – Norwegian? I guess the fact that Bergen is in Norway influenced my perception; but, in fact, they speak a dialect called Bergensk. So I was somewhat at a disadvantage at dinner as I was not sure that the few Norwegian words I had learned would now work. But, as luck would have it, the language for ordering a beer is pretty much understood worldwide:



Waitress: “Vil du ha en annen øl?”

SailorJack: (recognizing the word for beer – ‘øl’, I quite proudly replied, “Yaaa, shøøer.”


And, needless to say, my linguistics were shortly rewarded with the arrival of a bottle of Hansa beer – brewed right here in Bergen. Obviously, my worries about conversing in Norwegian – and even Bergensk – were for naught! Now if someone would have only told me what Lutefisk was before I ordered it!



P re-Cruise Day 2 – Bergen, Norway


One of the “must-do” things to do in Bergen is to take the Fløibanen funicular railway up to the top of Mt. Fløyen. There are two main reasons why Bergen residents do this:


1. The top of the mountain is over a 1,000 feet higher than the city which means it is 20 to 30 degrees colder up there – just perfect for a brisk hike in the mountain woods.


2. The funicular was built in 1918 and it is fun to see if a hundred year old funicular will actually make it without a serious incident.



There were two main reasons why I was adamantly opposed to getting on the funicular. (See points 1 and 2 above). Let me add a third reason – the funicular car was not heated! I know this because I lost the discussion to Jill and we are now sitting on a bench a thousand feet above the city. As I gazed out over the harbor I realized two things – 1) I didn’t bring enough jackets, and 2) it was about to rain!



Just then, one of the funicular attendants came over and inquired as to whether or not I would like a map of the hiking trails on Mt. Fløyen. I explained that, while I would ordinarily like to walk around the top of a Norwegian mountain in the freezing rain, old war injuries precluded that particular enjoyment for me. He was very understanding, but pointed out that some of the trails were very easy and were less than 4 kilometers in length. Now, I have no idea what a kilometer is, but if 4 of them are longer than the distance from the bench I was sitting on to the bench in the funicular car going back down the mountain I concluded that that was not really a viable option.



But, Jack, almost everyone else who came up on the car with us is heading for one of the trail heads.” My own wife has apparently turned on me!


SailorJack: “Of course they are are all heading for the hiking trails – they are all Norwegians!”

SailorJill: “And just what makes you think they are all Norwegians?”

SailorJack: “Everyone of them has on short-sleeved shirts and walking shorts and what appears to be little helmets with horns on them!”



And so it came to be that an aging war veteran, loaded with 16 pounds of cold-weather clothing (including batteries), and staring pneumonia in the face, spent an hour hiking through the wet woods on top of a Norwegian mountain while on his restful vacation. However, based upon my experience on top of Mt. Fløyen (and for the edification of those reading this review) I think I can now rather positively postulate that a kilometer is roughly equal to 15 minutes.



P re-Cruise Day 3 – Copenhagen, Denmark


After a short flight from Bergen we have arrived in the capitol of Denmark and have made our way to our hotel – the Copenhagen Plaza. Built in 1913 it is considered relatively new by Danish standards. To provide some perspective on Danish timelines, it is located not far from Nyhavn (Danish for “New Harbor”) - which was constructed in 1673. So if a waterfront canal built 400 years ago is considered “new” then a hotel built near the end of the 19th Century is almost like new construction! At least that is how I explained it to SailorJill when the Taxi dropped us off and she stood there and silently stared at our 105 year old hotel – with what must have been 16 train tracks running along side the hotel.



SailorJill: “And just how are we going to sleep next to Grand Central Station?”

SailorJack: (In an effort to look on the bright side): “Those tracks probably weren’t there when the hotel was built.”

SailorJill: “Forget the tracks – I’m not sure trains existed when this hotel was built!



As I had prepaid for the hotel we had no choice but to pick up our suitcases and make our way across the train tracks and enter the hotel. All the while with visions of ‘My Cousin, Vinnie’ parading through my mind.


Like many of you, whenever the word Copenhagen comes up the first thought that immediately comes to mind is – Lief Sonne. Lief is sort of a Danish anti-hero. For 46 years he has been collecting beer bottles and has now surrounded himself with over 20,000 UNOPENED bottles of beer. I have trouble keeping a twelve-pack in the fridge over a three day week-end and this man of steel can avoid temptation for 46 years!


But how does someone keep 20,000 bottles of beer in a two bedroom home? Here is where Lief’s genius becomes manifest. Because many of his bottles contain Carlsberg beer, he has convinced the Carlsberg brewery to allow him to store his collection in the brewery – giving Lief unlimited and unfettered access to the largest brewery in Denmark! Pure brilliance! It’s roll models like him that keep people like me going. The museum is on our itinerary to visit!



Anyway, after unpacking we headed out to explore the city by jumping on a HO HO. As you may have guessed, I am not referring to those little chocolate sponge cakes (although I am at a loss as why you would want to jump on one), but a Hop-On Hop-Off bus. Alighting from the bus, and as we strolled through the city, I couldn’t help but notice an entertainment facility with a very large neon sign that read, “Girls! Girls! Girls!”


SailorJack: “Look Jill, they’re playing an old Elvis movie. Let’s go inside?”

SailorJill: “You know perfectly well that is not a theater! The answer is NO! We are not going in there to look at girls – and we’ve had this discussion before!”



She was obviously referring to a discussion we have had about my frequenting a little neighborhood dining establishment down the road from our house in Atlanta called Hooters. When we first moved there, and when I was much younger, I used to have business dinners there because the wait staff was, well frankly, the wait staff was quite attractive and they wore really cute little outfits. When I tried to explain to Jill that it was strictly business I got the very intimidating “you've got to be kidding me” eye roll that I think every woman is born with – leaving me with a mile long guilt complex. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still occasionally eat dinner there, but now it is because they have wide, well lit parking spaces and they have an early evening senior special. (Sigh)



Later, after a delightful dinner, we decided to take a stroll to see the Little Mermaid – one of the most popular attractions in Copenhagen. As we passed through a small park we were greeted by an attractive young woman dressed in stiletto heels, a low cut blouse and a very short leather skirt:


Attractive Woman: “Hey Cowboy, what are you doing in the park this time of night?”

SailorJack: “Actually we are going to see the Little Mermaid.”

Attractive Woman (coming forward): “Well, for 500 Kroner I could be your very own Little Mermaid.”

SailorJack: “What’s a Kroner?”

SailorJill: “Jack, you're an idiot! Let’s go.”



OK, so I was a little slow on the uptake. Apparently, that was my introduction to the fact that, well, that illicit sex isn’t illicit in Denmark! Coupled with the ready availability of cannabis on the street, pornography in the stores, and over 100 breweries I am beginning to understand why the United Nations has rated Denmark as the happiest country in the world!



Day 1 – Copenhagen, Denmark (boarding day)


We boarded the ship around noon and, as the rooms would not be ready until 1:00, we went up to the Windjammer Cafe where we were treated to a welcoming glass of Champagne. A nice start to our cruise! But even better yet, I came upon not one, not two, but THREE ice cream machines! Little did I know that these frozen treats were a precursor of what was to come! (I would later in the cruise come back aboard and have a big bowl of ice cream to warm up!)



For the cruise we had signed up for My Time dining and enjoyed our first dinner aboard the Serenade. Returning to our cabin after dinner I found a disturbing note on our bed that started off, “There has been an error in our compass.” “My God”, I thought – “we have been sailing in the wrong direction! We’re going to miss our first port!”



Jack, the note is not referring to the ship’s compass but to the daily newsletter ‘Cruise Compass’ and if you would finish reading the note it says the error is in regard to the published dress code.” “Well, if they had capitalized “compass” in the first place they could have avoided all this confusion” “Jack, I’m reasonably certain that you may be the only one confused here.”



Day 2 – Skagen, Denmark


We have arrived in Skagen, Denmark – the first of several ports on this trip with a population somewhat equal to that of my high school. Actually the population trend in Skagen roughly equals the bell curve used in my high school math class:


Population in 1930 –4,048 Population in 1980 – 14,050 Population in 2017– 8,080


Located at the very northern tip of Denmark, it occupies that windswept point where the North Sea meets the Baltic Sea. Into this little town, cruise ships (among others) dump nearly 2,000,000 visitors a year – giving the town an annual ratio of 247 tourists for every Skagenite.



Although ostensibly a fishing port, approximate 2 out of every 3 buildings in town are devoted to selling T-shirts and souvenirs. What Skagen is most noted for, however, are the Skagen Painters. In the late 1800’s Scandinavian painters congregated at Brondums Inn where they would socialize, play cards, celebrate and eat and drink, and, if time permitted, to paint. I had initially imagined that their annual gatherings were similar to Jill’s monthly gathering of bibliophiles for their monthly in depth discussion of the Book Club’s book of the month:


Book Club Member #1: “What did everyone think of this month’s book?”

Book Club Member #2: “I thought it was good. But enough about the book, whats up with Angelina Joli and Brad Pitt?”

Book Club Member #3: “What were we supposed to read again?”

Book Club Member #4: “Who needs more wine?”



But the painters were actually very active and were to Denmark what the Impressionists were to France. A museum in Skagen has a collection of nearly 1,800 works of art from the artists and is one of the sights we wish to take in while we are here.



Being of sterner stock than most (and because it cost $5), I declined Jill’s adamant urging that we take the shuttle into town and, instead, elected to walk the short distance. True, it was raining a little on us on the way into town, but we had a good tail wind and made pretty good time. Towards the end of our visit to Skagen the real rain began! It was cold and the wind, which had been behind us on the way into town, had now become a head wind so strong that it snapped my umbrella in half. Soaked to the skin and with both of us shivering, I caved to Jill’s baleful glare and approached the return shuttle and asked for a ride back to the ship. The driver was most accommodating and asked for our ticket. I didn’t have a ticket.



I asked the driver where I could get a ticket and he informed me that the shuttle was run by the town and not the ship, so I had to go back to the tourist building at the port to get one. Upon my return he would happily let me board the bus – and he said this with a straight face! Then, to my stunned dismay, he apparently spotted Jill and said that he could not in all good conscious let a lady walk in such freezing rain and invited her aboard! To her everlasting credit, she declined the invitation and walked with me back to the ship. It turned out to be the longest and coldest (and I am not necessarily referring to the weather) one mile walk of my life. By the way, I spent the night on the couch and vowed to buy a ticket on every shuttle for the rest of the cruise.



Day 3 – Stavenger, Norway


We are back in Norway – giving lie to the conventional wisdom that says a trip to Norway is a once in a lifetime adventure – because it is so expensive you can’t afford a second visit. On this, our second visit, we have arrived in Stavenger – the Oil Capital of Norway (thanks to the discovery of oil in the North Sea) and the fourth largest metropolitan area in Norway.



So, are we going to spend some time walking among the 200 year old buildings in town and enjoying a nice relaxing beer? Of course not. Jill has signed us up for the Pulpit Rock Adventure Hike. Apparently, our experience on Mt. Fløyen was merely a preliminary bout in our ongoing contest to see who is the fittest! Either that, or there is some unwritten rule that when in Norway you must climb a mountain! Oh well, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. After all how bad can a “hike” be?


As we prepare to go ashore, Jill suggests I sit down while she goes over the itinerary and the supplies we need to bring. I am a little nervous when I spot the glint in her eye as she opens the brochure:


Guided Hike: Set out on a five-hour journey across rugged mountain trails where you’ll glimpse dazzling lakes and native fauna. Guests must be able to walk for approximately five hours over uneven terrain and steep inclines and declines, avoid the occasional rock slide, and be able to navigate over icy patches of frozen ground. The tour will operate in all weather conditions except snow.”



Wait! I quickly look out our balcony door. Is that snow I see? My suggestion that we rethink this tour is met by the innocent little “But Jack, this is an expensive tour and it is to late to cancel and get a refund.” I can’t believe it! This excursion sounds more like an advanced training exercise for units of the Norwegian Special Forces – not a shore excursion for middle aged tourists who have been visiting the all-you-can-eat buffet for the past three days!


Maybe if I tell them I don’t think I can carry my CPAP up a 2,000 foot mountain?” “Jack you don’t have a CPAP. And why would you be taking one on a hike anyhow?”



It is slowly dawning on me that I may have to go through with this. I look at the brochure and it says to bring a snack with us. A snack? On a five-hour mountain climb? What if we get trapped in a snow drift? What if we are faced with total exhaustion (a more likely scenario)? We are going to need more than a snack – I’m thinking lunch – and maybe dinner! Maybe I can hire a local porter to carry our food and maybe a six-pack or two. I could probably sell enough beer at the 2,000 foot summit of Pulpit Rock to pay the porter.



Day 4 – Lerwick, Shetland Islands – Scotland


We have arrived in Lerwick, which is the largest port city in the Shetland Islands. For our visit here we have rented a small compact car to see the local sights. In retrospect I may have been the sight the locals saw. Unbeknownst to me, the Shetland Islands are part of Scotland (which, apparently, is still part of the United Kingdom) – which means, for some ungodly reason, they drive on the left side of the road. You can imagine, then, the surprise I faced when I got in the car and found no steering wheel! I looked over at Jill and found her smiling at me – with her hands firmly gripping the aforementioned steering device. “Why Jack, you want me to drive – how sweet!”



Getting out of the car I quickly switched positions with Jill – much to the apparent merriment of the guys in the rental office. Once underway I found that once in the left lane you can do your basic driving - much as you would do in every other country in the world. However, the trouble comes when you try to make a right hand turn – you have to remember to swing across all the lanes and not into the first one on the right – something I failed to do most of the time. My biggest problem was trying to make a right hand turn after stopping at a red light – as it took me a second or two to orient myself as to what lane I needed to use – much to the consternation of the cars in back of me.



However, my moment of indecision revealed to me the answer to the question that have baffled scientists for years – “what is the shortest period of time that can accurately be measured? The answer to that question is that period of time between when my stoplight turns green and the car in back of me leans on the horn! And, if trying to make a right hand turn was not embarrassing enough – they have this little Machiavellian traffic maze called a round-a-bout – a traffic feature apparently inspired by the Celtic design of Stonehenge. A round-a-bout, like Stonehenge, is ovoid in nature, mysterious in its origins (no one in the British Department of Transportation will publicly admit to designing it!)

and debatable as to its purpose. That said, once I entered it I think I went through a quarter tank of gas trying to get out of it.



Now Lerwick is a small town of less than 7,000 people, so my attempt to get out of the town to find those little ponies apparently created quite a stir. After a while, I noticed what appeared to be the same three cars following me through town - apparently just to see how many near collisions I managed to encounter (and avoid!). I’m thinking it doesn’t take much to amuse the good citizens of Lerwick.



Note to future visitors: Do not rent a compact car here with a floor mounted gear shift. You have to reach over with your left hand (all while trying not to drift over to the right lane), find the gear shift knob, and try to find the right gear – all while trying to figure out how to make a right hand turn (or get out of a roundabout!) In groping for the floor mounted gear shift knob I actually grabbed Jill’s knee so many times she thought I was trying to recreate our first date.



But I am digressing. Lerwick proved to be a very interesting town. We passed a small sign telling us that a right hand turn would take us to the Ro Ro Ferry. I didn’t know if this was an actual name or if the sign was just too small to add the two “w’s”. But, as I was now avoiding right hand turns we never learned what a Ro Ro ferry was.



The next sign indicated that just a few kilometers ahead was the Bod of Gremista. I had no idea who Gremista was, but if she was that notable that the town of Lerwick pointed out where she lived it seemed like the place to go – and it didn’t require a right hand turn! Well, as it turned out, Bod was not short for “body” but is their word for “booth,” which in turn is their word for “station.” The Bod of Gremista was, it turns out, sort of an ancient B&B for fishermen. It is now an interesting little museum featuring textiles and period artifacts.



After a brief stop to admire and marvel at Clikimin Broch we made our way to Fort Charlotte. Not only was this the only stop that didn’t make my spellcheck to berserk, but it is also serves as the base of Shetland’s Territorial Army. Now how many you knew that Shetland had an army! Dating from 1652, the fort held off the Dutch Fleet in 1667, but was burned to the ground in 1673 by the Dutch during the Third Anglo-Dutch War – apparently in retaliation for defeating their fleet in 1667. It was rebuilt in 1781 and housed a garrison during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War and the Napoleonic Wars.



One of the must do things for any visit to Great Britain is a lunch of fish and chips and we made no exception in Lerwick. What made this lunch extra special was a desert on the menu – Spotted Dick. It is a traditional pudding desert that dates back to the first half of the 19th Century. Often the object of smiles from visitors to Great Britain, it is now proof that Political Correctness has arrived in that nation. Back in June, Strangers Restaurant (the restaurant that serves Members of Parliament in London) renamed the dessert (and I swear I am not making this up) Spotted Richard! Apparently the MPs were blushing so hard when they ordered it that the restaurant felt that “Richard” was less likely to cause a stir. As a result, the politicos in London now dine on a desert named after one of our late Presidents!



Back aboard the Serenade after our day ashore, I read in the Compass that tonight’s dress code was “casual” and it suggested that the ladies might want to wear a sundress. A SUNDRESS! Who brings a sundress on an arctic cruise?



Day 5 – At Sea and Crossing into the Arctic.


Apparently crossing into the Arctic is a big deal – akin to our previous crossing into the Antarctic – where freezing water was hauled up from the sea and poured over our heads. Anyway, we are being told to go up to the pool deck for our initiation into the Order of the Bluenose (even though I estimate the temperature be a great deal south of 32 degrees!). As I came onto the deck the first thing I noticed was the entire medical staff standing by – apparently ready to treat cases of hypothermia, heart arrhythmia, frostbite and acne. I wasn’t quite sure what was in store for us, but it couldn’t be good as I noticed that the Diamond Plus and Pinnacle passengers were being discretely escorted to the nice, warm Spa where their initiation probably involved being forced to drink a poor vintage Champagne containing little ice cubes.



As a result of the ceremony we were all elevated to the Status of “Bluenose” and a Certificate attesting to that status – signed by the Captain – was later delivered to our stateroom. In full disclosure, however, I seem to recall that I had previously achieved Bluenose status when in the employ of a small local company – although, now that I recall, the color may have been a little different.


This afternoon, apparently as part of a new international law regarding sailing in Arctic waters, representatives of the ship presented us with a clear plastic bag – about the size of an 80 gallon trash bag – and instructed us to put our cold weather clothing in the bag and to store it where it would be easily attainable. We were told that when the ship sinks, we could then grab the bag and have our cold weather clothing with us on the lifeboat.


SailorJack: “But we didn’t bring two sets of cold weather clothing. What is my wife supposed to wear to keep warm when all of her cold weather clothing is stored in the plastic bag?”

Ship’s Representative: “Couldn’t she wear her sundress?”



Day 6 – Akureyri, Iceland


We have arrived at the northern city of Akureyri – the fourth largest city in Iceland and home to some 19,000 people. It was founded by the Norse Viking, Helgi “the Slim” Eyyindarson. Records recovered from the excavations near the town allegedly indicate that before surviving two winters in Iceland and eating nothing but fish he had previously been known as Helgi “the Corpulent” Eyyindarson. Little is known of his wife whose name was (and I swear I am not making this up) - Thorunn the Horned. What a cool name for a Viking wife! Can you just imagine the coolness factor when meeting someone new? “Lars, I would like you to meet my wife, Thorunn the Horned!” Or, “Your Majesty, may I present Slim Eyyindarson and Thorunn the Horned.” Unfortunately, I must report that Jill has refused to discuss adopting a similar name.



Anyway, after getting off the ship we walked though town and headed to the Botanical Gardens. The gardens came as a complete surprise to us as we were not prepared to see such a wide variety of very beautiful annuals, perennials, and small trees in Iceland. Along with various statuary and sculptures the gardens proved to be the highlight of our visit to Akureyri.



Back in town we visited the Akureyrarkirkja – or at least we tried to do so. The Akureyrarkirkja, or Church of Akureyri, is a very imposing Lutheran church that is located in the center of the city and towers over everything around it. The church is renowned for its 3,200 pipe organ, beautiful stained glass windows and the model ship hanging from the ceiling. The church is one of those things that you must really, really want to see because it sits on top of a really big hill and you must climb approximately 600 steps to reach it. Jill initially said she would wait for me at the bottom, but I convinced her by suggesting that it would be a shame to miss a church with a ship hanging from the ceiling. So off we went until we got half way up the hill and came to a sign which said, “Church closed for Private Ceremony.” Avoiding Jill’s eyes, I reasoned that since we were already half way up we might as well go up the other 300 steps and see the outside of the church. Why they didn’t put the sign at the bottom of the steps I don’t know, but I think it was a bit of local humor directed at the tourists from the three ships in the harbor.


One of our long standing traditions in each port is to find a nice little cafe with outside tables and order a couple of local beers to toast our visit. Along the town’s main street, we found just such a place that not only had great Viking Beer, but free Wi-Fi. As we were about to raise our glasses, a gust of cold rain blew in and SailorJill, with a quick kiss, departed for a seat inside the cafe. Apparently both of us sitting at an outside table with a couple of beers is not quite the long standing tradition I though it was.


I could hear SailorJill inside the cafe conversing with some other patrons. “Is that your husband sitting out there in the rain?” “Yes. I think when he was younger he played one too many hockey games without his helmet. He’s Canadian, you know.” I still don’t know which statement was the deepest cut.



Day 7 – Reykjavik, Iceland – Day 1


We have been sailing in very rough seas during the night– waves up 16 feet – when, as we neared the port of Reykjavik, the ship shuddered with such ferocity that plates in the Windjammer flew off the tables. That’s when a waiter yelled out, “We hit a whale!” In all likelihood it was simply a rogue wave as the only whales I had seen were in the Casino.


We have finally docked in Reykjavik – the capital of Iceland and with 123,000 residents – its largest city. It was founded by the Norseman, Ingólfur Arnarson and is thought to be the site of the first permanent settlement in Iceland. The name Reykjavik apparently comes from the old Norse “Reyk” meaning “freeze” and ‘javik” which loosely translates as “yer buns.”


We got off the ship around 2:30 and while downtown seemed easily walkable from the pier, I was first in line to buy tickets for the shuttle!”


Getting off the shuttle downtown we were immediately hit with both a freezing rain and a strong North wind. In other words – it was a great day! Just what you would expect in a country called Iceland! We joined a walking tour of the city and spent three hours exploring this very interesting city – and dodging the rain.


Now you may be wondering just how cold Iceland really is. Well, it is so cold that the roads are heated! Seriously – the country runs pipes filled with hot water under the roads to keep them from freezing. I point this out simply to highlight the fact that tonight’s dress code is, again, the ever ubiquitous sundresses for the ladies! Perfect for an after dinner stroll about the deck.


Day 8 – Reykjavik, Iceland – Day 2


Today we have signed up for an 8 hour tour called “The Golden Circle.” As I explained it to SailorJill, we were going to see, among other things, the third largest Geo-Thermal plant in the world, a geyser, an amazing waterfall, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian Teutonic plates are moving apart at the rate of 2.5 cm a year.


SailorJill: “Teutonic plates?”

SailorJack: “Pretty cool, huh!”

SailorJill: “Jack, its TECTONIC plates. The only thing you are going to see on two Teutonic plates on this cruise are Wiener Schnitzel and Sauerbraten.”

SailorJack: “Sorry.”


Anyway, as we are standing waiting for our tour bus, a light rain begins to fall, and an obviously frustrated traveler turned to a young lad who was passing by:


Frustrated Traveler: “Does it ALWAYS rain in Iceland?”

Young Lad: “I don’t know sir, I’m only seven.”



As we depart Reykjavik and head into the interior we are struck by the large lava fields and the multitude of vents in the earth from which boiling hot clouds of steam are streaming skyward. We are also struck by either the complete lack of trees or the very stunted ones which we occasionally passed. The Vikings, our guide told us, had basically denuded the island chopping down trees for houses and boats. Today, trees that are making a comeback are either small or stunted. Which leads to the question and answer, “What do you do when lost in an Icelandic forest?” “Stand up!”



The highlight of the tour, for us, was seeing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is one of Iceland’s most visited sites and is located in Thingvellier National Park. The geological formations and the vistas were amazing. As we stood on the high escarpment of the North American plate I suggested to Jill that we climb down the 300 feet or so to the actual rift valley itself – that area between the two plates. How many people, I argued, can say they have actually stood in the rift between the world’s tectonic plates. The utter lack of any response from Jill suggested that I may be experiencing a rift of a more personal nature.



I wish I had the space to describe in more detail what we saw and experienced on this magnificent tour, but I am already getting too verbose. As others have before me, I have decided to award the island an “N” - which would make it “Niceland.” Needless to say, if it is not already on your bucket list – it needs to be.



Day 10 – At Sea - Prins Christian Sund


We spent most of today sailing through the Prins Christian Sund in Greenland. I do not have the words to describe the absolute beauty we encountered during the 6 hours we sailed through the Sund. As we moved through the clear, still waters, the Archipelago offered up breathtaking views of glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, icebergs, fjords and just pure unadulterated stunning scenery. At one point we came upon a glacier so magnificent that the Captain stopped the ship and spun it 360 degrees so that everyone could see and photograph it. We even had a narrator speaking from the bridge who provided additional details about what we were seeing. Many of our friends that we later spoke with called it the absolute highlight of the cruise!



Day 11 – Qaqortoq, Greenland


As we near the coast of Greenland disturbing news reports began surfacing about an ecological impending disaster in Greenland. The news is reporting that a “300 Foot Tall Iceberg Weighing 11 Million Tons Threatens Greenland!” Apparently it has moved to within 600 feet of the Greenland coast and if it calves it could create a devastating Tsunami (Italian for “Bigga Wave”) that could wipe out an entire village. And I have signed up for a snow mobile safari in Greenland! I can see the headlines on BBC now - “Giant Tsunami hits Greenland – Idiot Snowmobiler Feared Missing.” I am going to have to reassess my time ashore!



Tsunami aside, we have finally arrived in Greenland (the largest island in the world that is not a continent) – most of which lies north of the Arctic Circle. Most of Greenland is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside Antarctica. It is estimated that should the ice sheet melt it would reduce the island’s size to about that of Aruba.


Specifically we have docked in the small town of Qaqortoq – a town of less than 3,100 people and the first town I have ever visited that is spelled with three “Qs and NOT A SINGLE U!” Spelling aside, there was another unique facet to Qaqortoq. The snow season here lasts for 7.8 months – from October to the following June. Then the rainy season picks up for 8.4 months – from June to the following mid-February. In other words, every month of the year is either in the “rainy” season or the “snow” season. There are only two months in the year where the temperature gets above freezing – July and August. So which month does RCI bring us – (hint) its not July or August! I am willing to bet that the Greenlandic language probably has no word for “sun tan.” I am also beginning to suspect that it probably has no equivalent words for “tank top” or “flip flops.” Heck, if I brought our two tubes of Coppertone ashore I could probably corner the sun screen market.



Renting a car in Qaqortoq is really not an option as the town (and, again, I swear I am not making this up) has no roads leading into or out of town. There are hiking trails leading north into the Arctic, but unfortunately we will not be in port long enough to avail ourselves or this excursion. The only way to get out of town is by boat, dog sled, or snowmobile.


That probably accounts for the low crime rate in town:


BREAKING NEWS: Three men wearing ski masks robbed the Grønlads Banken and fled in a rusty pickup truck. They were apprehended after a chase that lasted for six blocks and ended when the road ended at city’s edge. Nuka Agpalinguarssuak, the driver of the get away car attempted to disguise his pickup by covering up the numbers on his license plate - despite the fact that he owned the only pickup truck in Qaqortoq – and he had then hoped to escape by losing the police in traffic. However, none of the other 12 registered cars in Qaqortoq happened to be on the road at that time.



This is the first time that the Serenade has visited this port and it is quite obvious that the town was not prepared for tourists as there was only one single little store selling souvenirs. It was a small shack about forty feet by forty feet and it seemed like all 2,000 passengers were crammed into it trying to get a souvenir from Greenland. As you might imagine, the store was sold out by the time the last tender left for the ship. In the end, a few last minute shoppers, desperate for any souvenir from Greenland, were actually making offers to buy the cashiers rings and scarf.



Day 14 -Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada


Our cruise from Greenland took us directly south to Nova Scotia – except for a small dog-leg to avoid Labrador, and we have arrived at the port of Sydney which is situated on Cape Breton Island – which is the northern most part of Nova Scotia (New Scotland.) As my family immigrated to Canada from Scotland it will be interesting to see how much of Scottish culture made the Atlantic crossing.



The ship docked right by a very nice boardwalk and as Jill was fiddling with her camera I turned and found myself staring at the world’s largest fiddle (talk about a perfect segue.) Yes folks, Sydney is the home of the world’s largest fiddle - standing 60 feet tall, the ten ton solid steel fiddle was built as a tribute to the folk music and traditions of the Celtic people of Cape Breton. I can now strike it off my bucket list of “must see” items – like the biggest ball of twine (Minnesota), the world’s biggest ball of rubber bands (Florida), and the world’ biggest collection of sneakers (Nevada).



One of the more interesting attractions, however, is St. Patrick's Catholic Museum. It is the oldest Roman Catholic Church on Cape Breton – dating from 1828. Sydney was but a small community at the time and was bereft of skilled carpenters – which left the church in a quandary as to how to built a roof for such a large structure. The problem was solved by employing local shipbuilders to build the bottom half of a ship. They then turned the newly build keel upside down and placed it on top of the church – giving it a very unique roof. The downside to the solution was the fact that the church fathers were not aware of just how much that would cost until they received what became known as the Keel Bill. It is said that this later became the inspiration for the title of a movie staring Uma Thurman and David Carradine.


Day 15 – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


We have arrived in Halifax – which has the second largest natural harbor in the world – second only to that of Sydney, Australia. The harbor was also the location, on December 6, 1917, of the largest man-made explosion in history – prior to the advent of nuclear weapons. Thousands were killed or injured in and around Halifax as temperatures from the explosion exceeded 9,000 degrees; and where the resulting tsunami devastated the Halifax area and wiped out the Mi’kmaq first nation village. Today, there are numerous monuments around the Halifax area dedicated to remembering the victims of that tragic day.



To start our day, Jill wants to visit Citadel Hill which is the site of a British fort and the highest point in Halifax. I was all for it until she came to the “highest point in Halifax” description. I politely demurred on the grounds that I had already climbed two mountains for her on this trip and I was just not prepared to make it a trifecta.


SailorJill: “But Jack, we can take the funicular up to the top.”

SailorJack: “It has a funicular? Well lets go.”



As we neared the base of the hill I could not immediately see the funicular station so I inquired of a nearby vendor:


SailorJack: “Could you please tell me where I can get tickets for the Citadel Hill funicular, please.”

Vendor: “There nay be a funicular here young lad.”

SailorJill: “Jack, I could have sworn that I read somewhere that there was a funicular.”



Outplayed, and not for the first time, I accepted defeat - and so, with no other option in sight, Jack and Jill went up the hill. But to Jill’s credit, the climb was well worth the effort. The Citadel was fantastic. First erected in 1749, the current star shaped citadel was completed in 1856. It is now a National Historic Site and one of the most visited historic sites in Atlantic Canada.


As we were buying the tickets for the museum I discovered that the greatest part of the visit was the opportunity to be a soldier for a day! For a modest fee I could actually become a soldier in the 78th (Highlanders) Regiment. As I described it to SailorJill, I would get a white military blouse, wool kilt, sporran, red wool doublet, wool socks, boots, spats, and - wait for it – an authentic Snider-Enfield .057 caliber breech loading rifle that I actually get to fire – three times! Not only that, but after firing the rifle we get to go the sergeants mess and drink a beer! This is unbelievable! As I ask SailorJill for the credit card she addressed the issue:


SailorJill: “You are not going to fire a rifle.”

SailorJack: “But I promise to be very careful.”

SailorJill: “That’s what you said on our summer camping trip when you shot and killed my sleeping bag.”

SailorJack” “It was a pellet gun!”



But I knew the game was up. I still remember the look on her face when I shot that hole in her brand new, never been used, Jimmy Choo Sleeping Bag. I’ll be paying for that accidental, albeit, exuberant, accidental shooting for years to come. But there was no point in arguing – when Jill gets that look in her eye even the air wants to leave the room. I was not going to be SoldierJack today.



Anyway, disappointment aside, we enjoyed the park’s employees who dressed in period costumes from the mid-Victorian era, the reenactors dressed in their military regalia, the firing of the noon canon and the informative guided tours throughout the Citadel.


For lunch we went back to downtown Halifax and visited a restaurant that advertised ‘traditional Canadian cuisine.” As it had been a few years since my last visit to Canada, I was looking forward to a good down home meal. However, the first thing I noticed on the menu was something called “Poutine.” I’m sorry, but I had trouble juxtaposing the words “cuisine” and “poutine.” OK, they did rhyme, but I had never heard of poutine before and I wasn’t even sure it was a real word. Well, as it turns out “poutine” was apparently a French word for “messy bowl of potatoes covered with cheese curd.”



According to our waitress, the name is alleged to have originated from a noted French Canadian chef, who, when the menu idea was explained to him, exclaimed, “ça va faire une maudite poutine”- which translates as “it will make a damn mess!” And, again, according to our waitress, it has since become a beloved Canadian national dish. Needless to say, we passed on this item and enjoyed a true Canadian lunch of Nova Scotian Lobster Rolls and Saskatoon Berry Pie.



Note to Readers: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) – Canada’s national public broadcaster – aired a program detailing the results of an online survey asking Canadians what they considered to be the greatest Canadian inventions of all time. In that survey poutine came in at number 10 – beating out (and I swear I am not making this up) the electron microscope and the Blackberry. The National Institute of Health and Welfare latter postulated that these results clearly demonstrated the debilitating effect that long cold Canadian winters and Moosehead beer can have on a persons ability to effectively and rationally participate in online surveys. Further demonstrating the accuracy of that assessment is the fact that the Wonderbra came in at number 4! Yes, folks, we Canadians voted that a dish with cheese curd and a push-up brassiere were two of the most important Canadian contributions to Western civilization of all time. Now, perhaps, you can better understand how it came to be that we purchase these products with something called a Loonie.


Day 17 – Boston

Sadly, Our Arctic Express cruise has come to an end and we are heading home to plan our next cruise. But I would like to end with an admonition: Yes folks, its true. The Wonderbra truly was invented in Canada and the sale of untold millions of Wonderbras has greatly helped to lift our sagging Canadian economy.


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As usual, great story!  We did this a few years back on Sea Princess and were some of the folks running around Bergen and Iceland in shorts and T shirts.  But Greenland had 40 degrees and 40 mph winds so did have to break out the cold weather gear a bit.  Loved the gift shop in Nanatorlik - even smaller than the one you saw but great prices on local crafts ($17 for reindeer mittens) and they hated cash.  Gift shop provides credit for the community and prefers credit cards.

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I was also on this cruise (and the Baltics prior). It was great to relive the cruise through your review.


I heard that the huge bang and subsequent shaking was from a 49 foot rogue wave. I was in the Safari Lounge getting coffee and several of us had to grab onto something to keep from falling over. 


Did your Golden Circle tour go to the tomato farm for lunch (Fridheimar’s)? That place was exceptional.



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5 hours ago, SailorJack said:

Sorry for the long review.  


Sorry???? Are you kidding me? Nobody does a long review like SailorJack. 


I was just looking the other day to see if you have done a review lately. Looking forward to reading this later on. 

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4 hours ago, RickinStl said:

Cool Review Jack!  Your sailing is on my before I turn 50 bucket list!  What were sea days like? 


Glad you liked it.


Except for one day around Iceland when we had some pretty big waves, sea days were good. Cold and windy, but calm seas.



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7 hours ago, SailorJack said:

But I would like to end with an admonition: Yes folks, its true. The Wonderbra truly was invented in Canada and the sale of untold millions of Wonderbras has greatly helped to lift our sagging Canadian economy.


Oh Jack!!!    :classic_wacko:

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6 hours ago, crzndeb said:

I was also on this cruise (and the Baltics prior). It was great to relive the cruise through your review.


I heard that the huge bang and subsequent shaking was from a 49 foot rogue wave. I was in the Safari Lounge getting coffee and several of us had to grab onto something to keep from falling over. 


Did your Golden Circle tour go to the tomato farm for lunch (Fridheimar’s)? That place was exceptional.



Actually, we had lunch at the restaurant just across from the geyser.  They served a great salmon meal!

I figured we had hit a big wave but had not heard that it was 49 feet! We were at the coffee bar when it hit.



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19 hours ago, Armac said:

Thanks for the fun review, we are on Serenade next year for this cruise, looking forward to it


Glad you enjoyed it.  If you have the same itinerary it will be interesting to see if the port in Greenland has expanded to more than just one shop! ;)



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Enjoyed your entertaining review.  We were on that cruise with you and will be going on it again next year. 

Just for the record, Qaqortoq had 5 cruise ships visit this year.  Hard to believe since they seemed so disorganized. We were told there are 12 scheduled for next year.  

You may want to put on your bucket list the cruise that goes to the North Cape of Norway.  We did that prior to this one.  Although you go into the Arctic Circle on that cruise, the weather is much warmer due to the Gulf Stream.  More beautiful scenery and small towns.

Looking forward to your pictures.


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On ‎10‎/‎20‎/‎2018 at 12:07 PM, Ontario Cruiser said:

Hi Sailor Jack

Another great read. We did the TA to Copenhagen last spring. Doing the Rhapsody one in December. Maybe we will run into you again. OntarioCruiser

Glad you enjoyed it.... looking forward to sailing with you again :)

Enjoy your trip on the Rhapsody.  We are next up on Princess to Hawaii in February.



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44 minutes ago, SailorJack said:

Glad you enjoyed it.... looking forward to sailing with you again 🙂

Enjoy your trip on the Rhapsody.  We are next up on Princess to Hawaii in February.




Can't wait to read about that Hawaii cruise.

Why do I see something about coconut bras in the future?  😆

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On ‎10‎/‎20‎/‎2018 at 10:29 AM, LeeW said:

As usual, great story!  We did this a few years back on Sea Princess and were some of the folks running around Bergen and Iceland in shorts and T shirts.  But Greenland had 40 degrees and 40 mph winds so did have to break out the cold weather gear a bit.  Loved the gift shop in Nanatorlik - even smaller than the one you saw but great prices on local crafts ($17 for reindeer mittens) and they hated cash.  Gift shop provides credit for the community and prefers credit cards.

As I recall, the prices were not that good in our Greenland port.  For some currencies, the exchange rate was almost half of what you could get in Denmark. Still, it was a unique experience and we will probably do It again it was that good a cruise!

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On ‎10‎/‎20‎/‎2018 at 1:07 PM, truffles2 said:

Another great read!  Thanks.

Looking forward to the pictures......

Thanks.  I am editing the photos now. Took over 1,000 but have to weed out the duplicates  -of which there were a lot!

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On ‎10‎/‎20‎/‎2018 at 1:14 PM, dani negreanu said:

So glad to have you "back in business".


I've read all the review in "one leg" and was riveted. Thank you 😁

Glad you enjoyed it. We will be visiting your country in November of next year  -  sailing out of Rome and ending in Dubai. It will be our first time there and we are looking forward to it. 



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