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Seek Timeless Treasures with Bill & Mary Ann - 2019 World Cruise -131 days

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Report #101   Oslo, Norway   April 29, 2019   Monday   Mostly sunny & 70 degrees   Part # 1 of  4    80  Pictures

 

Norway is the “supermodel” of Scandinavia with peaks and fjords, the envy of their neighboring countries.  Here you will find a rugged frontier with artists, photographers, outdoor experts seeking the best of the stunning wildernesses.  Home to the midnight sun, you’ll marvel during the summer solstice when the sun never sets on the horizon.  We have been blessed to see this phenomenon back in 1996, when we sailed to the North Cap above the Arctic Circle.  Truly unbelievable.  On the other hand, we cannot imagine what it is like living during the winter months with gloomy darkness most of the day.  But to make up for dreariness, to see the ghost-like swirling of the northern lights must be beyond description. 

 

The best time to visit Norway is from May to September for never-ending sunshine.  Or December to February for extreme skiing and the northern lights.

 

Things to see and do are Oslo’s Vigeland Park with statues of screaming babies and entwined lovers.  Lofoten Islands for fishing villages where they line-dry cod.  You get the real feeling of what these folks are made of.  Been there, and saw it, and loved it.  Geirangerfjord with its jaw-dropping beauty and Bergen with timber buildings, museums, restaurants and shops are not to be missed.

 

Cruise the coastline to the North Cap to see Hammerfest and Honingsvag to visit the Laplanders and see their reindeer.  Take the 7 hour Oslo to Bergen train ride, or spot polar bears in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, the ultimate polar adventure destination. 

 

Eat  laks, smoked salmon, or smoked minke whale meat, or try cloudberry jam with ice cream.

 

Trademarks are fjords, glaciers, midnight sun, high taxes, even higher prices, oil tycoons, polar explorers, skiing, stave churches, Vikings, and last but not least…trolls. 

 

Random fact is the word “ski” is a Norwegian word based on ions-old rock carvings showing hunters traveling on thin wooden boards.  Therefore, Norwegians claim to have invented the sport of skiing.

 

The capital of Norway, Oslo, is located up the long waterway of the southern part of the country.  A city to be proud of, Oslo can boast about their economic success, cultural diversity, and many advances in science. Their wealth is reflected in the growing skyline of downtown’s modern high rises mixed with the wonderful historical icons.  It is full of castles, fortresses, theaters, churches, and museums.  The grand palace and gardens overlooks the city below.

 

The best way to see the sights in one day?  We would suggest the ho-ho bus for first-time visitors.  The cost for a 90 minute round trip coach tour runs about 360 krone or $42 USD for a 24 hour ticket.  Using a credit card will give you a 10% discount.

 

Ship’s tours offered today included one seven hour excursion to see it all with a Norwegian buffet lunch.  The other seven tours took in the major sights in the city, as well as traveling to a few nearby cities.

 

Once again, as in Copenhagen, the downtown area of Oslo was literally at our feet when we got off of the ship at 10am.  No need for a shuttle, we had two maps in our hands within a minute of exiting the gate since there was no terminal building here.  The superior map was the hop-on, hop-off bus guide. 

 

We have visited Oslo twice in the past, so it looked familiar.  However, we had taken tours which included two museums, the Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Jump Tower, and the 80 acre Vigeland Park with 200 far out sculptures.  Today we had been gifted with such a warm and sunny day that a self-guided stroll through town was in order.  Wearing our summer shorts, and layers of t-shirts and sweatshirts, we headed off of the ship with the nifty ho-ho map.  Lucky for us, we ran into Nancy and Mike, who were also on their own tour.  They had come prepared with previously down-loaded maps from home, and already had charted their walking tour.  Since we had only seen these icons from the inside of a tour bus, being able to see all of it inside and out was by far better.  Following their directions, we made a circle through town, which took most of the day. 

 

Funny thing was there was a major imposing castle and fortress directly across from the ship.  Coming out at the gate, the only thing one of us saw the was ancient stone wall of the fort’s base.  This was the Akershus Castle & Fortress, built in 1299.  Later in the afternoon, before we sailed away, we would get the best view of the grounds from deck nine.

 

Following the map, we turned left to the massive square at Radhusbrygge full of garden flower beds and statues.  The Radhuset City Hall faces this square, and is the place where the Nobel Peace Prize winners are awarded.  On one corner, stands the Nobel Peace Center, which is dedicated to the history of this prestigious award.

 

Heading up a busy street, we passed by some hotels, restaurants, and eventually reached the corner where the National Theater was built.  Although it is an ancient building, it appeared to still be active. There was a lot of activity in this intersection, so we knew we were on the right trail.

 

A must- see icon has to be the Royal Palace, which was a long walk uphill to the impressive home built for King Charles III and his family in the mid 1800’s.  Surrounding gardens include many varieties of old growth trees of maples, lindens, horse-chestnuts, evergreens, as well as flower beds of spring bulbs.  With the Norwegian flag flying over the rooftop, we assume the family was home today.  Although the palace was not opened for visitors today, we believe during the summer months, it may be opened to tour.  There were armed guards surrounding every entrance, and they did not hesitate to keep people from getting too close to any doorway.  However, they did not object to individuals or family groups to pose with them for a photo.

 

Going straight ahead, we passed by the Oslo University, which is free to all who choose to attain a degree in their coveted field.  That is how a socialist government works, as most everything is free.  Well, not really free, but it comes with some of the highest tax rates in the world.  We can only assume that wages are in line with those taxes, or else no one would choose to live here. While we were taking photos of the college grounds, a walking tour group from the ship passed by us.  They were on their way to Oslo’s Ice Bar, a unique café where the walls, bar, counters, furniture and decorations are made entirely from ice…..60 tons of it to be exact.  The tour description said that warm clothing would be provided while the group was in there tasting a drink…with ice.

 

Across the wide street was the Norwegian Parliament, a building that caught our attention because of the architecture.  The real name is Stortinget and was erected in 1866.  Gardens in front of this imposing building were full of roses and blooming tulips, as well as shallow ponds and fountains under restoration at the moment.

 

We had been hoping to find the Hard Rock Café to get some city t-shirts, and that was the first restaurant we saw as we crossed the street.  This was the start of the Karl Johans Gate, which is the mostly pedestrian street full of high end shopping, boutiques, stores, cafes, restaurants, and souvenir stores. It was already 1pm, so we decided lunch here would work out perfectly.  This restaurant was inside another historic brick building, and had two floors.  The Rock Shop was on the bottom floor which connected to a full bar and small eating area.  First of all, we easily found some city t-shirts, more expensive than in Copenhagen’s HRC, but who knows if we will ever be back here?  We have said that more often, then found ourselves back again.  This shop was impossibly small, but we found the right shirts with the help of a very nice salesgirl.  A flight of stairs took us up to the second floor, and a very spacious dining area with views of the street below. 

 

The menu had our most favorite salad, the Haystack with Tupelo fried chicken.  Most all of the HRC have eliminated this entrée, much to our disappointment.  But not here, because our waiter said it is the most popular one on their menu.  With one beer and one Pepsi, we treated ourselves to a brownie sundae complete with ice cream, whipped cream, and a cherry on top. No dessert for us tonight at dinner.

 

Right next door was the Dale of Norway woolen shop with their beautiful knitwear associated with Norway.  Years ago, we purchased some traditional sweaters, and were happy we did, since it appeared that the prices had doubled since then.  Stopping at a small produce market, we picked up a large bag of mixed nuts with the intent of using our remaining krone. 

 

From here we took a peek into the Oslo Protestant Cathedral, called Domkirken, built in 1697.  The Oslo Sentralstasion or Central Station was located behind the church. We happened to see the Hilli Hanson shop, the name of the jackets with the 2019 GWV logo on them that were sold on the ship.  Comparing pricing, we were happy to see the store price was about identical to what we paid onboard.  Actually, even better for us, since we got the 15% discount.

 

From here, we could see the National Opera House, built in 2008, a very futuristic marble structure where people can actually walk on the roof.  Running into friends Greg and Heo, they said they had been all over it, as they love the arts and architecture so much.

 

Continuing around the waterfront, we passed by the Armed Forces Museum, and the ferry terminal on the left.  Many passengers from this ferry were making their way back, because they were leaving soon.  The Amsterdam was docked around this corner, and we had made it back by 4pm. 

 

Sail away was at 5:30pm, and was held once again in the Crow’s Nest.  Out by the Seaview Pool was the place to be.  Not only was the weather still warm, as the ship turned and headed out of the fjord, the sun was perfect for taking photos back at the city.  The scenery was way better than coming into the port early this morning, because the skies were clear and the color was about perfect.  It ended a most perfect day, our first stop in Norway.

 

The dining room was half empty.  We think these ports being so close together has taken a toll on everyone’s energy levels.  Since Greg and Heo were dining at the Canaletto, we were a table of three, and finished dinner by 9:30pm.  We were treated to a most beautiful sunset, which happened at 9:08pm.  Of course, we did not have a camera with us.

 

Really looking forward to a sea day tomorrow, as we all need it.

 

Bill & Mary Ann      

 

  

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Oslo is another favorite port of ours.

 

I can remember when the only maps we had were the ones from the ship which weren't very good back in the 90's when we first came here.

 

Glad you had another wonderful day.

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Report # 102   Day at Sea   April 30, 2019   Tuesday   Partly sunny & 63 degrees    Part #1 Of 1

 

We sure had a good laugh when we read today’s weather and temperature forecast.  Don’t know in what universe the sunny part came from, but today had to be the worst weather we have had so far on this entire trip.  Not stormy or raining, but fog…..pea soup fog.  Heavy enough that the ship had to use fog horns all day long.  Sunny?  Not even close, as with the damp fog, the temps were in the 40’s at the highest.  We did take several short walks outside just to get some fresh air, but even with heavy jackets, the strolls were brisk and brief.

 

Good day to catch up on the last few days of pictures and reports.  The only activity we would do today is meet up with Barb at lunch in the dining room.  Other different things happening were guest talent show sign ups.  Singing, dancing, clean jokes, or short stories were some of the categories.  The acts can last up to 3 minutes.  And if you are thinking about dirty jokes, yes, we have heard a few guests in years past telling a string of off-color jokes, and going well beyond their allotted time.  We suspect that this talent show will take place during the Transatlantic crossing.

 

Making the most of our time in Flam tomorrow was the subject of Ian’s talk.  We’ll catch that later on TV, but we do recall there was a tiny village at the end of the fjord.  Most all of the scenery would be done on tours.  The Test Kitchen featured a new chef, Daniel Mullane, who is more than likely Irish, and the final guest chef to join the ship.  Also there was a mystery 30% off selected merchandise in the shops, but the mystery won’t be solved for us, since we forgot to take a look.

 

The two week cycle for our President’s Club gifts arrived this morning with a delivery of a flower arrangement and or 17 cans of Coke Zero.

 

The final lecture for the last stretch of this world cruise dealt with what to do in Ireland and Ft. Lauderdale.  Also good to watch on TV later.

 

The St. Petersburg Collection with Faberge items was unveiled at 3pm in the shops.  A watch and scotch event was also offered, which might  have been more interesting. 

 

There was another cocktail party hosted by our travel group at 7pm in the Explorer’s Lounge.  There is more than one group belonging to this travel company, so the lounge was filled.  What we thought was odd was that few officers were present.  There were only two, and eventually, Shiv, our Head of Housekeeping joined us towards the end.  Usually the Captain, Hamish, the CD, the hotel director, the guest relations officer, and more are at these affairs.  Something must have kept them busy elsewhere.  We had a fine time with friends which included Barb, of course, Karen, Diana, and Sue.  There was a bit of a problem with the cocktails being served, only because we are not sure most of us got what we asked for.  Whiskeys do not taste the same, and you know the difference when you order what you like, but get an inferior brand.  As long as you question it, the proper beverage will be delivered. 

 

This reminded us of a strange printed message we all got today from the hotel director.  It was regarding the safety of exit areas.  Obviously, there have been some problems with lines forming in the stairwells and lobby of the gangway during port days.  Tour groups have blocked these exits, and so much so, that we have been unable to access our room at times.  Mistaking that we are cutting in line to debark, our path has been deliberately blocked coming down the stairs to our deck. We hate to report this, but some folks are getting very grumpy as the cruise nears the end.  The remark we found disturbing is that it was suggested that familiarity with the staff and the ship’s layout has become problematic with guests ignoring safety precautions and instructions for several exit points in public areas. Sure would love to find out what made this note necessary?

 

Entering the lower dining room, we saw a new greeter, the person we fondly call the “Yum-yum person”.  Apparently he went home, and was replaced by a new greeter…..a Yum-yum girl.  Now that’s a nice change.  We greeted her first, then asked where she was from.  She said that she is from Thailand, and her name is Summer.  Very pretty and sweet, we think she might be a good match for our assistant waiter Marco.  By the way, Marco agreed.

 

Dinner was fun with our most friendly group. Tomorrow the guys are going on the train ride in the fjord, and were excited about it.  We plan to stay close to town, since we have done the all-day train and bus ride with lunch, even perhaps twice.  The dinner tonight was casual, but had a Nordic Jazz theme.  The decoration on the table was a tiny lamp, but no flowers. Not sure the meaning of it, or the strip lighting that was flashing various colors all evening, but it added to the atmosphere we suppose.

 

The entertainer was an international comedy vocalist by the name of Natalie Arle-Toyne.  She sang tunes from Sinatra to Toto (not sure who Toto is), but she added some humor to her act. 

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 103   Flam, Norway   May 1, 2019   Wednesday   Cloudy & 61 degrees      Part #1 Of 5     80  Pictures

 

Our second stop in Norway is Flam, which is situated at the end of Aurlandsfjord, an extension of the 127 mile long Sognefjord.  The name  itself means “little place between steep mountains”, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.  Unreal towering mountains, huge waterfalls, and spacious valleys can be found here.  The depth of the fjord is 4000 feet and the entire area is filled with farms, sheep, goats, snow glaciers, sparkling cold rivers and lakes, and stave churches. 

 

Flam itself is a town with hiking trails, cafes, a supermarket, a very lovely hotel, hostels, and a tourist info office.  They even have wifi.  But the biggest attraction here has to be the Flam Railway that attracts one million tourists and 150 cruise ships each year. This modern train climbs from sea level to 2800 feet over rivers and through 20 tunnels.  The ride is 12 miles and traveling slowly, it takes 50 minutes to Myrdal Station.  A few stops are made along the way for photos, then the train returns to Flam.  Shore excursions offered four time slots to take their 3.25 hour tour today for $180.  Of course, that included a snack of waffles with sour cream and jam at a local hotel with tea or coffee.  We know of many people that bought tickets online months ago  to take this train ride, and we bet their price was less.  Since the train only has a few cars, these tickets can be sold out before the world cruise even started, as it is not exclusive to HAL guests. 

 

While we are on the subject, other tours offered today included a 7.25 hour tour with two train rides, a lunch in resort town, Voss, and a bus ride through scenic countryside and tunnels.  One of these tunnels is 6.8 miles long, due to the fact that snow and ice can block highways to here, and boring through granite mountains to create tunnels kept the roads and towns accessible year round.  We have done this particular tour and enjoyed it.  But this was back in 1996, and we are certain the price was not $310.  Everything in this part of the world is extremely expensive.  Shorter excursions were rides to nearby villages, waterfalls, and neighboring fjords on a sight-seeing boat.  They even had  two kayaking tours.  Wonder if anyone did that?

 

At breakfast, our waiters had saved some Troll Rolls for us.  These were filled with an apricot filling today and so good.  Then around 9am, the housekeeping crew came to shampoo our carpet, which took 10 minutes.  Now it is really clean, since this had been done two days in a row during the big flood.

 

We decided to stay in town, leaving the ship around 10:30am.  Bundling up in layers, we never shed anything today.  It was not in the 60’s but more like in the 50’s or less.  Snow could be seen on the mountain tops all around us, and the wind chill was cool.  The ship was literally docked right in town and walking through the compact area brought us past a mini mall, restaurants, a bakery, shops, a museum, cafes, and the Train Station for the Flamsbana tickets and visitor center all-in-one.  Restrooms were there as well. 

 

The town offered seven different types of accommodations, but the Fretheim Hotel had to be the most attractive.  Built in the 19th century, this hotel had stunning views of the fjord.   Picking up many brochures in the visitors center, we headed up the road, past the train platform, and towards the Flam River.  As we followed the road by this fast moving glacier river, a little open-air orange train passed us with some guests going up the same road. Following a map, we walked into a most beautiful setting with guest houses, homes, and mini farms of the locals.  Here we saw countryside on both sides of the river with ranches of cattle, sheep, and goats.  A huge waterfall called Brekkefossen could be viewed from here.  It was accessible by a steep trail, and you were warned to be careful not to get too close to the trail’s edge due to the steep terrain.  We would get to this site later, since we were on the opposite side of the river.

 

Every riverside house had some fruit trees, mostly apples, and they were just beginning to bloom.  We noticed these mature trees had been pruned differently from the way we prune ours.  The main trunk had been cut short, letting the side branches create an umbrella shape, making it easier to pick the fruit.  Some daffodils were in bloom, but the roadside dandelions were just as pretty.  As in Alaska, with the extended daylight hours this time of year, everything grows twice as large.

 

The loaded train passed us more than once, and people we know waved as they went by.  The same happened with the little orange train with a group of Cruise Critic folks.  About 1 ½ hours into our hike, we came across the housing estate of Lunden.  These homes were more like an assortment of summer homes, although with the stacks of firewood, we assume most are year round residents.  Some businesses were located here and also the school.  At this point, there was what appeared to be a new bridge over the river.

 

Alongside the road, we spotted some wooden catwalks with wire railings around some boulders of the river. A sign was posted showing that the King had come with his family in the early 1900’s to fish for trout and salmon in this river while on summer vacations.  Along with this info, they mentioned a flood that had destroyed the bridges in 2014.  It took two years, but the bridges were rebuilt as well as the fishing catwalks. 

 

Continuing onward, we reached a very old Stave Church and graveyard, dating back to 1670.  Surprisingly compact, the interior had a pulpit brought from Bergen and an altar built on site.  Art work and decorations were done later.  One of the oldest bells dated back to the 1500’s.  In the entrance, we signed a guestbook.  In October of 2014, this church was damaged by a flood, but was restored in two years.  At that time, the church was raised over seven feet to prevent another disaster in the future.  The surrounding graveyard revealed ages of the locals that must have endured a hard life in these rugged regions.  Most of them reached 70 if they were lucky.

 

Backtracking, we crossed over what looked like a new bridge by the school.  The scenery on this side was most rural with farm houses complete with pastures of sheep with many spring lambs. Some ranches had cows, chickens, and some Scottish fold cattle with long reddish fur and wide horns.  One young resident was tending his vegetable garden, greeting us as we passed by. 

 

We should mention a little about the wildlife in this wilderness.  The largest animals are wild reindeer, but there are wolverines, foxes, pine martens, cairn cats, mink, and otters.  In the ice cold rivers and fjords are sea trout, salmon, cod, haddock, and whiting.  We did see two very furry cats, and one sheep herding dog.

 

One of the destinations of the guests and crew was the nearby Brekkefossen Waterfall cascading down from the jagged peaks.  There was a rocky path to get closer for photos, but it looked steep.  There was a sign warning of slippery paths and dangerous narrow trails.  It looked just fine from where we were standing.  Many local Norwegians come here with trailers and motor homes to explore the many fjords in this area.  Hiking trips can be done from every village and town in and around the main fjord. 

 

Finally back at Flam, we looked through the shops and the restaurants that were totally full by now.  One place that was popular here was called Flamsbrygga with beer tasting and a full menu.  The beer pub was the most crowded with many folks testing the various beer choices.  Since fish was the most prominent entrée, we decided to dine on the ship.  By now it was past 3pm, so the Lido was not too crowded, except for those folks that took earlier tours.

 

Since we did not go outside at 6am for the scenic sail in this morning, we did go to the bow to watch the sail away.  We were among a handful of passengers and crew members watching from this absolutely cold and windy spot.  Ian gave his narration from the Crow’s Nest, so we did get some good photos of the villages on both fjords as we passed by.  Even the Stave Churches were visible, but these days are surrounded with homes and businesses.  The snow on the mountaintops was most impressive, but downright bone-chilling with the wind.  At one point when the Aurlandsfjord met with Sognefjord, gusts of wind about blew us off of the bow.  Despite some light rainfall, we stayed until after 7pm.  Ian continued his narration well past that. 

 

There were the original three of us at dinner, since the fellows accepted a last minute invite to another table.  Our entrees of a typical turkey dinner were very good for a change….perfect comfort food.  Barb had stroganoff that also looked tasty.  The good news was that the clocks finally went back one hour tonight as we head towards our next port in Scotland.  During his late talk, Captain Mercer mentioned that we were going to have some rocking and rolling due to a storm coming our way.  Nothing worse than what we have endured already this cruise.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Report # 104   Day at Sea   May 2, 2019   Thursday   Partly sunny & 64 degrees   Part #1 Of 1

 

These days forecasts have been so wrong, we wonder how far ahead of time they are done.  It was extremely windy, rainy, and downright freezing all day.  Not sure we saw the sun. The best part of the morning was the fact we had set the clocks back an hour last night, giving us a little more time to sleep.  Some days we tend to burn the candle at both ends, so a day of relaxing was in order. 

 

After breakfast, we took a walk on the lower promenade deck, and found absolutely no one there.  Wonder why?  It took about halfway around the deck when we realized how cold it was.  So much for that, we ducked back inside, and headed back to our room to catch up on fjord pictures and reports. 

 

At noon, we met up with Barb for lunch, enjoying the dining room menu, even more than the dinner menu.  We never fail to find something that appeals to all of us.  And the portions sizes are just right as well. 

 

Now was a good time to catch Ian’s lecture about the upcoming ports of Portree, Belfast, Dublin, Cobh, and Bantry.  We have only been to two of these ports, Dublin and Cobh, so the other two will be new for us.  Now that we will be doing five ports in a row, we need to get all the info we can today. 

 

It seems that all of the passengers that will be disembarking in Ft. Lauderdale, got their instructions for that last day of the cruise.  In addition to this, there was a notice for luggage shipping services that provide bubble wrap, boxes, and tape for taking or sending extra things back home.  These items can be purchased separately or in a package deal. 

 

There were three lectures today, two of which dealt with Celtic history and Britannia ruling the waves.  However the third lecture was all about how Honda changed Southeast Asia.  Probably interesting.

 

We took the time to listen to the music of the Ocean Quartet at 5:30pm.  The photo backdrop was up, but we knew we could sit and use the two arm chairs despite that.  A new photographer had joined the ship recently, and was most forward with the passing guests, trying to entice them to take a picture.  It was not a gala night, so no one was dressed for posing.  Up to today, the camera people have been respectful of the guests, and not annoying.  Guess this will change somewhat for the remainder of this cruise.

 

We noticed that some people were dressed for another occasion which happened to be a special Disco Inferno Chef and Sommelier Dinner in the Pinnacle Grill at 6pm.  A number of officers, including Captain Mercer and his wife also attended.  These wine pairing set dinners have kept the Pinnacle busy several times this cruise, even at the price of $79.  And to match the theme, some guests did dress in some pretty wild clothes, like brightly-colored lame extremely wide bell bottom pants.  And these were on a man, no less.

 

All of us were back together at dinner time, closing down the restaurant once again by 9:45pm.  The show that followed were The Tap Chaps, a group from England, we think, that tapped to the style of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, Gene Kelly, and The Nicolas Brothers.  We had become to think that this was a lost art, but this group brought it alive.  Not sure the audience participation was needed however.  That’s usually the time we “exit stage left”.

 

Back in our room, we discovered some gifts had been left.  This time we got luggage tags and straps, the ones that are TSA approved with combination locks.  Useful too.

 

Tomorrow…….we will be in Scotland, and The Isle of Skye.  Bet it will be cold.

 

Bill & Mary Ann    

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It is nice to have a day of rest knowing that you have 5 port days in a row.

 

Love Scotland.  Did a land tour there many years ago.

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Report #105   Portree, Isle Of Skye, Scotland    May 3, 2019   Friday   Partly cloudy & 46 degrees     Part #1 Of 4    80  Pictures

 

Another day, and another country…..Scotland with a population over 5 million and the capital of Edinburgh.  From what we have read, Scotland is a luxurious and sophisticated place, despite the weather with buckets of rain and wind-whipped clouds overhead.  The best time to visit is from May to September with August being the time for Edinburgh’s festivals.

 

What do they eat here?  Try haggis, a mixture of meat and by-products you may not want to know stuffed into a casing.  If done correctly, we found the flavor to be close to liverwurst, sausage made with liver.  Also popular are “neeps and tatties”, better known as turnips and potatoes.

 

Favorite drink?  Try malt whisky or Scotch whiskey.  Thanks, we may just do that.  Beer is popular as well, but don’t expect it to be cold, as sometimes it is served on the warm side.  And they think we are nuts adding ice to the whiskey too, as in “on the rocks”, as it dilutes the rich smoky flavors.

 

Trademarks are haggis, malt whiskey, smoked salmon, caber-tossing, kilts, bagpipes, novelists Stevenson and Burns, and the mystery surrounding the Loch Ness monster.

 

Random fact:  Words that mean “drunk” in Scotland are bevvied, blootered, hammered, fleein, steaming, plastered, and just plain pished.

 

Our one and only stop in Scotland was Portree, on the Isle of Skye, the largest and northernmost of the country’s Inner Hebrides.  About 2500 people live here year round, but that population increases 10 fold during the summer months when tourists flock here for some r&r, hiking, and fishing.  In the 1700 and 1800’s, Portree was the departure point for Highlanders escaping poverty and famine on ships bound for North America.  Eventually, Portree became a ferry port for the city of Glasgow.  And where else can you find a land of fairies, shops called Ragamuffin, or local performing arts events with jazz, bagpiping, and Mongolian throat singers?  Well, that’s the Isle Of Skye.

 

Today we see a totally tourist town that has retained their charm with a picturesque waterfront, brightly painted historical houses with gorgeous views.  The area is full of summer cottages, bed and breakfast spots, and numerous hotels for the Scots who come here to hike and fish.  Many of these establishments including restaurants, shops, and cafes are within walking distance of the harbor. 

 

There were some tours offered here today, with only one that stayed close to town.  Actually this tour was a 3 person symbol hike through the steep and rugged coastline for 2¼ hours. Really should have been a 4 to 5 person symbol, as we would discover later on.  The other five excursions went out of town to castles, the highlands, and whiskey distilleries.

 

But first, everyone on the ship was required to present themselves for a face-to-passport inspection by the British Immigrations Officials. Yesterday, we had been given letters with the information on this procedure.  Our number was the letter “S”, which meant we could go to the Explorer’s Lounge first, or at any time we chose to attend.  This began around 8am, 45 minutes later than scheduled.  And did the passengers adhere to their assigned number oriented on their letter?  Absolutely not.  Even though we had been requested to bring our letter to show the first-called group, no one asked to see it.  Therefore, a line of ineligible passengers was backed up halfway down deck five.  We had just sat down in the dining room for breakfast, not intending to be first in line, but when our number was called, we dashed upstairs, and went right through, ahead of the anxious crowd.  One official glanced at our opened passports, waved us through, then the passports were collected as we left the lounge.  We were handed a receipt with today’s date on it, and had to pack it with us all day. 

 

Our coffee was still hot when we got back to the table.  Keeping our meal light, we noticed that there were far fewer people dining in here, an indication that many folks were on tours today.   We stuck around until 9:30am before we headed to the tender boat.  The weather was a mixed bag today with temps in the mid 40’s, with crispy winds, passing showers, some hail, and even some sunshine.  Bundling up with our arctic jackets, warm gloves, and scarves, we never took them off all day.  The boat ride over to the small dock took about 15 minutes in choppy seas.  However, with these newer tender boats, getting on and off is much easier.  If all goes according to schedule, we will have one more tender port before we head Trans-Atlantic.

 

Walking to town from the dock requires going up either a steep street or a long flight of steeper stairs.  Shops and cafes lined this narrow street, so we chose that route.  The best place to start was finding the information center, and getting current maps and recommendations of seeing the highlights and possible hikes.  This tourist info center also sold some souvenirs as well as having an array of brochures and maps.  A very sweet gal gave us directions to hike to two different areas for the best views.  So that’s what we did….hike.  We should have plenty of time to explore the small town when we got back, and by then, everything would be opened. 

 

The hike took us through part of the town, and to the area called the “lump”.  Beginning at a gate, we walked uphill into a park-like setting until we reached a knoll with a wonderful view of the Sound of Raasay far below.  There was even an ancient tower where sailors of old knew where to get medical supplies.  Having picked up some more flyers and magazines, we read that we needed to be  aware of the Highland midge, little annoying critters that must bite in the morning and late evening.  Never did see any, but the problem may exist during the warmer season.  Signs of spring up here were the almost ready-to-bloom rhododendrons.  Several colors and grown huge, it sure will be striking when they all open up fully.

 

On the way back to town, we ducked into a very old structure resembling a church.  Now it is used as a community center, a 500-seater hall used for concerts and dances.  Today there ws a local craft fair.  Typical items included knitwear, island jewelry, candles, books, and art.  Then we followed the map to locate the start of the Torvaig and Ben Chracaig hike.  This turned out to be the rigorous tour the ship offered.  Taking us on the scenic shoreline above the ocean below, we passed by hotels, inns, cafes, and restaurants that were not opened yet.  Locals were beginning their work day as we passed by them.  One gardener was tending a most beautiful property on the seaside, which looked like a private home, but must have been a bed and breakfast.  The landscaping was stunning with azaleas, rhododendrons, yellow scotch broom, daffodils, and crepe myrtle trees.  All of these native plants love the cooler weather, and even though we plant them in northern  California, they sure don’t do as well as these do here.

 

At one point, we entered through a gate that led to a narrow trail that followed the very rugged coastline.  Glorious views as promised presented themselves, as did one curious seal that popped up to check us out.  We kept an eye out for any possible sighting of white-tailed eagles that nest on the opposite island of Raasay, but never saw one.  Passing some interesting monuments and hillside wells, the trail began to get steep and rocky.  Following the trail would have led to Torvaig Farm, but due to the lack of time, we turned around at the point we spied the Amsterdam at anchor outside this point.  It sure was a whole lot windier where she sat, and we did find out later, that the fierce winds had dragged the anchor at least three times during the day. 

 

Heading back, we took a little trail marked for the Cuillin Hills Hotel.  Recalling that our port guide had this establishment on their map, we trusted the description that it was fine hotel dining with lovely water views.  The was right on.  We found a most beautiful property that sat on the hillside with a really nice restaurant inside.  The only thing was that it looked closed, so we assumed only dinner was served there.  Always good too check, because we found they were opened for lunch, and we would have the honor of being the only guests at least for a short time. 

 

Seated at a prime window table, we ordered two Eilean Ales (draft), a grilled steak and carmelized onion sandwich with chips, and a side of potato wedges to share.  Ending the meal with one Blaven sticky pudding with ice cream, left us happy campers.  Sitting in the sun with the best view in town, sheltered from the cold winds was priceless.  Little by little, some locals began filling the restaurant. 

 

Back at the main square, we walked every street, looking in all the shops, and ending up at the  main square.  A young bagpiper was entertaining the folks, adding to the Scottish feel of this countryside town.  Popping in and out of shops, the only one we wanted to check was the little bakery.  Must have been a lot of folks hungry today, because they were about sold out for the day. 

 

Heading back down the steep street to the tender landing, we boarded the boat for the extremely cold and rough ride back to the mother ship,  getting us back by 4pm.  Ian gave a scenic sail away talk at 6pm, but the ship did not leave until well after 8pm.  There were two reasons for this delay.  A necessary compass adjustment had to be done by a local expert.  Then there was a huge problem loading one of the last tender boats.  We heard from the Captain that due to the sudden increasing winds, the ropes of the tender boat got tangled, needing several sailors to make it right.  Guess we were very lucky to have made it over and back today as things seem to turn on a dime here.

 

We were already having dinner when the ship finally pulled out of the harbor and heading towards the next port of Belfast, Ireland tomorrow.  By now, the rain was coming down hard, and the seas were even rougher.  We rolled quite a bit during the night as well.

 

But it was quite a pleasant day in this part of the world, as we prefer the hamlets over the big cities any day.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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The small ports/towns are better than the large cities.

 

When we were in Scotland, DH did have the haggis ( he liked it) and he is a lover of Scotch whiskey.

 

Sorry to hear that bad weather is a problem especially with the tender boats.

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Report #106     Belfast, Northern Ireland   May 4, 2019   Friday   Mostly Sunny  & 52 degrees     Part #1 Of 3    80  Pictures

 

Ireland, the land of leprechauns and shamrocks, is our final country we will visit on this grand world voyage.  Northern Ireland, with a population of 1,775,000 people (2012) will our first stop.  The capital is Belfast, and that is our destination. 

 

The best time to visit here is from May to September as the days are longer and warmer.  The locals like to eat hearty bacon and cabbage, seafood chowder, smoked salmon, and soda bread.  The favorite beverage is Guinness, possibly with a chaser of boggy (a smoky whiskey).

 

Trademarks are potatoes, harps, shamrocks, Guinness, leprechauns, shillelaghs, everything green, and traditional Irish pubs.

 

Random fact:  Until the 19th century, the color of the flag was blue.  And the flag of St. Patrick has a gold harp on a blue back round.  So not everything is green.

 

There was a Belfast sail in scenic commentary beginning at 8am, where Gaelic rolls were served in three areas.  They must have run out, since we never saw any of these rolls in the dining room.  Our arrival time was somewhere around 10am, which is nice since these ports are coming way too fast now.  In the last few weeks we have noticed many passengers coming  down with a nasty cold, and have been successful in sharing the bug, we’re afraid.  The biggest worry is that over-doing these ports will set the folks up for a major outbreak.

 

Even though the temps were predicted to be around 52 degrees, the wind chill made that 10 degrees less.  Dressed warmly, we went off of the ship by 10:30am and boarded the shuttle bus that brought us to the center of town.  It was about a 20 minute ride, but we heard later in the day, many buses got caught up in horrible traffic later in the afternoon.  Typical of big cities. 

 

When we exited the shuttle bus, there were sales people handing out hop on hop off bus maps, which is a good way to see the major sites.  They advertised 23 stops with 60 points of interest for the mere price of 12.50 pounds.  Near the drop-off spot, we found the largest and most modern info center we have ever seen.  Many maps and brochures, but they also had interactive computerized help as well.  The info girl behind the desk outlined the route we should take and the best of the iconic sites to see within walking distance.

 

Right across the street was the massive City Hall structure.  We were able to walk around it and get a lot of photos.  Being that today was Saturday, the streets were already crowded with locals.  We somehow found the pedestrian-only shopping area loaded with cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and night spots.  There was a big mall called Castle Court Shopping Center, so we went inside to find a typical mall that we have seen in most every big city. 

 

Going deeper into the grid of pedestrian streets we noticed the presence of many  police people.  Over the last 50 or more years, Belfast has had  many civil problems with crime to match.  So we wondered what was happening to warrant motorcycle cops and even armored vehicles.  We soon found out when we began to hear the beat of drums and bagpipes.  There was a parade of some sorts heading our way, and the streets had been closed off.  The name of this parade was May Day and appeared to have many labor union groups marching with several bands.  Just by coincidence, we learned what this was all about in tomorrow’s British Today newsletter on the ship.  It was the annual parade, where the theme was for worker’s rights, as well as in remembrance for a murdered journalist, a vibrant and bright person.  We stayed until the entire group had passed by, admiring the band groups and the local’s support of all trade unions.

 

Looking for the church, we located St. Anne’s Cathedral, and did snap a few photos despite that fact they wanted money to see the interior.  Going onward, we strolled through Writer’s Square where we found more shops.  One was named Fresh Garbage, so we had to see what it was.  Another clothing store, but a clever name.  That’s when we discovered Victoria Square, the premium shopping center with 70 international and local brand stores.  Every level had cafes, restaurants, a theater complex, all built under an iconic dome.  The center elevator would take you to the top of the dome for a view of the city.  It was crowded at the elevator platform, and we did get on one of them after lunch.  However, it went down instead of up, so we gave up.

 

Time for lunch, we found that TGIFriday’s was opened.  And they also served beer.  We found out that not all fine restaurants served beer, but the pubs did.  Making  our way up to the highest level, we got seats by the window, and enjoyed sharing a bacon cheeseburger with fries, and two Tiger draft pints.  Sharing a dessert of sticky pudding again, we backtracked the way we had come and caught the shuttle bac to the pier getting there around 3:30pm. 

 

This evening was promised to be a spectacular one with an event arranged by our travel group.  Our group of around 50 or more folks joined with our hosts and some invited guests for a bus transfer to the Titanic Museum built in 2012.  It was here that we stepped back into the rich history of the city’s tradition of ship building, and the legend of the ship, Titanic.  The museum was closed to the public by 6pm, and we had the place to ourselves, a rare event for sure.  The outside of this museum is built ultra-modern with what appeared to be several bows of the ship jutting from the six-floor building.  Inside there were nine interpretive and interactive galleries.  Here we were welcomed to explore the sights, sounds, and even the smells and stories of the passenger ship, Titanic. 

 

We only had 45 minutes to run through everything, which was way too short to take it all in.  Seeing the levels of class cabins was interesting, not to mention what occurred when the vessel hit the iceberg.  Chilling history.  We all ended up in the entry, where we walked to the close by SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star ship.  This was used to transfer passengers from the port of Cherbourg to the waiting Titanic anchored in the harbor.  This evening it would be the venue for cocktails followed by dinner.

 

Greeted with an orange juice cocktail, we soon found the open bar for a proper drink of Bushmill’s whiskey over the rocks.  Wanting to see this transport ship/turned a service vessel during two world wars, we went up and took photos of each level of teak decks.  Unknown to us, the dinner call had been sent out, and we were the last to join the crowd downstairs, already seated.  We had intended to share a table with Barb and friends, but those seats were taken.  Instead, we were invited to take hosts, Tom B and Deann’s places at a table near the band.  By the way, the Irish 3-piece band and singers were the best.  Even enticing our buddy Queen Karen to get up and do an excellent jig or clogging dance.   Her new name……Happy Feet!  

 

The meal included a salad, mains of chicken, beef, or fish, followed by dessert and chocolates.  Still or sparkling water, wines, and coffee or tea ended the ample dinner.  With speeches of thanks from Tom B,  we loaded on the waiting bus and back to the ship by 9:30pm, ending a most special evening.

 

There would have been time to attend the local Celtic entertainer, Kaitlyn Carr, but we were tired and called it a night.

 

Another day, and another port tomorrow …..Dublin.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

   

 

 

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Another enjoyable read -- what a wonderful evening you had at the Titantic Museum -- complete with dinner.

 

 

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Portree

 

New lifeboats look very nice.

Sunflowers are doing very well.

 

Rhododendron have bloomed around here already -- beautiful flowers.

 

The small bird is cute.

 

Pictures are all great.

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What a great country. Glad you're enjoying it. Can't wait to get back again.

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Report #107     Dublin, Ireland   May 5, 2019 Sunday   Mostly cloudy & 51 Degrees    Part #1 Of 2   80  Pictures

 

If it’s Sunday, it must be Dublin, the capital of Ireland with a population of 4,205,000 people.  It is the largest city in the Emerald Isle.   Once again, Ian, our port guide, gave a running commentary as the Amsterdam entered the harbor from the Irish Sea.  And there were Pot-of-Gold Rolls, juice, and coffee served to those who chose to attend.

 

There was another cruise ship in port, the Crown Princess.  At 116 gross tons, this large resort ship has from 3114 to 3782 passengers, and was launched in 2006.  The majority of their guests must have been on tours today, since we never did see any other possible cruise passengers in town.

 

We were docked by 10:30am, and we seem to remember that the sun was out early, but as the day advanced, clouds moved in and it got chilly.  Most of the tour groups were leaving after noontime, and all of them were of short duration.  So we decided to take the complimentary shuttle around 11am.  It took us to the city center, Merrion Square North, one of Dublin’s grandest Georgian squares.  This area has a public park with Georgian houses and 2 museums.  The statue of Oscar Wilde can be seen reclining on a large boulder in one corner of the park.

 

There was an art fair set up on the outside of the park’s fencing.  We strolled down to the corner enjoying the colorful framed works, which were quite nice.  These vendors even accepted major credit cards.  While we were admiring some colorful oil paintings, we spotted some large pigeons creating a nest in the tree limbs overhead. These were plump wood pigeons, unlike the ones we have in California.  This was the perfect park for them since they live on seeds, green shoots, and young plants.  They can also cause major damage on local farmlands, so they are not encouraged to over-populate the area.

 

Continuing onward, we walked past Trinity College, the country’s foremost university.  It is a cobbled masterpiece of Georgian architecture, and home to the Book of Kells.  Close by we found another good info office to get maps and brochures.  The best map was the ho-ho bus flyer.  Their one day pass was 22 euros.  Or this same bus ride could have been bought on the ship for $25, which was the same, no more.

 

Following the street signs and a  map, we made our way up to the River Liffey, where we found some nice benches that were not occupied.  Good place to study that map and get our path charted.  We were searching for Fleet Street which would lead to Temple Bar.  We were ready for lunch, but did not want to duck into any pub that happened to be opened.  With today being Sunday only half of the places were opened.  That went for many of the shops as well. 

 

We did find what we were looking for, and that was the last Hard Rock Café we would see on this world voyage.  We go there mainly to collect t-shirts, and if the menu has what we like, we stay for lunch.  So that worked out fine today, as there was still room to seat us.  We ordered two Tiger beers….pints of course.  We shared the haystack salad, although there was no choice for the type of chicken used.  Normally, the chicken is either grilled or Tupelo fried.  Today it was simply diced. But just as good.  The cute Irish waitress recommended the apple cobbler, and we agreed it was good.  We found our t-shirts, then went off for further hiking.

 

The one and only time we have visited Dublin was back in 2006, and at that time, we took a tour.  So we did not remember much of the city, since we drove through most of it, stopping only at the major sites here.  We had been given an hour to explore on our own, and we did recognize some of the shops that were here like Knobs and Knockers.  It is a hardware store selling the special door knobs and knockers like you see on the old doors here. 

 

We did make a few stops on the way back at a bakery for some biscotti cookies, and a candy shop for some chocolate nut clusters.  The sweater shops were interesting with beautiful knits, but we seldom need the heavy clothing when we go home.  The bus ride got us back to the ship by 4pm, with some time to work on photos before dinner time.

 

Other happenings on the ship was the arrival of Sarah, the luggage shipping rep from Seattle.  She is responsible for getting our luggage back to our homes after the cruise is over.  Many folks have limited or unlimited shipping, however, some have to pay extra for this service.  We will need to pay her a visit since we cannot ship our luggage from Ft. Lauderdale, because we will be staying on to Seattle.  Everything will have to be sent from there.

 

The other thing we learned from one of the head waiters is that the cute little lamps that appeared in the dining room a few nights ago will replace the floral centerpieces on each table in the dining room. Don’t know exactly when, because right now, we have both.  Many of us old-timers figured this is more cost-cutting attempts for the company to save money.  Now we wonder about the future of our florists onboard., and we are afraid to ask.

 

This was one of the subjects of discussion at our table tonight.  Also it eluded us as to why there were so many Mexican items on the menu, which made us all happy, by the way.  That’s when it hit us that today was Cinco de Mayo.  We ordered the chimichumgas, tortilla soup, but sweet and sour chicken for our entrees.  Skipping dessert, Slam still brought the pates of biscotti cookies, and Marco brought plates of ginger from the yum-yum girl, Summer.  Since she is not always at the exit when we leave, Marco has used this as an excuse to visit with her and get the ginger before it is gone.  He is crazy like a fox maybe?  Good for him.

 

There was no live show this evening, but a big screen movie was shown called Free Solo.  All aboard was 9:30pm and we were pulling away from the slip 15 minutes later.

 

Tomorrow we will be in Cobh (Cork), the third city we will visit in Ireland.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Dublin -- stayed there for a few days - again on a land tour.  So much to see there.

 

DH collects Hard Rock Pins from all over -- he has quite a collection -- even bought the special display case for them.

 

Great report.

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Hard not to fall in love with Dublin....or the whole country for that matter.

Glad you enjoyed your visit.

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Report #108     Ringaskiddy/Cobh  And  Cork, Ireland     May 6, 2019   Monday   Cloudy & 52 degrees     Part 1 of  3     80 Pictures

 

Originally, the port of call today was supposed to be the city of Cobh, however, the name of the port today had been switched to Ringaskiddy.  We soon found out the reason we had been bumped….the Serenade of the Seas, RCI, was taking the pier at Cobh.  That ship is 90,090 gross tons, and launched in 2003.  They are a family-friendly casual cruising experience for about 2100 to 2500 guests.  Doubt they had a free shuttle to Cork, but who knows?

 

Anyway, Ringaskiddy happens to be the commercial port for the city of Cork, and was the destination after a 2 hour scenic sail in with Ian’s commentary.  And naturally, they served Leprechaun Rolls made with a paste of ground pistachios. 

 

Once again, we had sun shining early in the morning, but it was still cold outside. No need for the arctic coats today.  The ship was docked by 10am, and we were cleared shortly after that.  Much to our delight,  complimentary shuttles were provided to transport the guests to City Hall in Cork.  Without a lot of traffic due to a Bank Holiday, the ride only took 20 minutes.

 

The one and only time we came to Cobh, we took a tour to Kinsale.  Without a tour, the only way to Cork was by a train.  And since we were on a bus all day, we never saw this city.  Built on the banks of the River Lee, Cork has origins dating back to the 7th century. 

 

There were some ship tours today with two of them for 8 hours to explore Tipperary, or a trip to Waterford, although the original factory closed in 2009.  Only a limited crystal production takes place here.  Other excursions were 4 hours, taking folks away from Cork to kiss the Blarney Stone, or visit a distillery, or a trip to Kinsale, a charming seaside resort.

 

We left the ship at 11am, and with three buses running the 20 minute ride, this was much better than having to take a train from Cobh.  The stop in the center of Cork was at City Hall, where an arts and food fair was in progress. A couple of street food stalls were set up outside, and they were barbequing sausages.  Sure smelled good.  There were a few maps inside the hall, but not the good ones.  Somehow, we followed the crowd that was crossing the street.  Passing the bus station, we followed the River Lee and discovered a modern shopping mall. There were many usual malls shops including Dunnes Store, which we have seen in every Ireland port.  Marks and Spencers is another frequently seen store.

 

Just by luck we found the information center, and picked up some proper maps.  Asking one of the nicest helpers, she laid out the best places for pizza, circling the one she preferred.  That would work for us, if we could find it.  Entering into a maze of streets, we found numerous boutiques and more cafes than stores, and even more pubs than restaurants. 

 

We found that we were across from St. Peter’s Church, that is not really a church anymore.  Parts of this church can be dated back to the 12th century. Today it is more of a cultural center. Further up the street, we found a real church that did not look like one from the front.   Across the street we found a store that had dozens of old Singer sewing machines in the window.  Sure brought back memories from childhood.

 

Somewhere in the mix, we did locate the English Market, this complex from 1788 offered a range of produce and meat or fish.  Many local delicacies can be found there such as tripe, spiced beef, skirts, and kidneys.  But since it was Bank Holiday, it was closed.

 

Then we came across the remains of the old Medieval city showing some of the original foundations of the wall that surrounded the city.  At this point, we were on Oliver Plunkett Street and in the area of the restaurant we were searching for.  Following the map, we found the side street, and the narrow alleyway that went off of that.  At the end of the alley was Scoozi’s, the best pizza place in town.  It sure was nice getting a table for two in a cozy back room with other local guests.  That is always a good sign when so many locals frequent a restaurant. 

 

We ordered beers and a pizza with a side of fries.  Simply delicious, as was the dessert of rocky road cheesecake we shared.  Walking back towards City Hall, we passed by many street artists playing guitars or singing for change. Every big city seems to have these folks.

 

Back on the bus, we rode back with best buddies Leta and Bill, and many others that have become friendly over the months.  We sure have met some nice folks on this cruise.  The ride back was fun due to the company and also a very entertaining bus driver.

 

Too bad a local show with a group of eight men singing a-cappella of sea shanties and maritime songs was shown at 3pm.  With an all aboard time at 10:30pm, very few people were on the ship at that time.  It would have been better to have them on later instead of showing Alaska in Concert in the Mainstage.  It is a nice video set to music, but the live singers would have been even better.

 

With all of us at dinner, we shared our exploits of the day, all agreeing that Cork was a fun place to visit.  And definitely not as overwhelming as Belfast and Dublin.  The only other item of discussion was about the  final Sunday brunch coming up on May 12th, Mother’s Day.  Guess they are expecting a crowd because now you need to make reservations at four different start times.  Count us out, because we prefer our usual light breakfast far better.

 

One more port left and it will be a tendering day…..Bantry, Ireland.  Frankly, none of us have even heard of it.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Hope you enjoy Bantry, legendary in Irish folklore.

 

Thanks again for your interesting blog. I love Ireland and have enjoyed your view of it.

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We also loved Cork when we were there.  Small ports are so much better.

 

We were fortunate to have visited the Waterford factory before it closed.  Have a pictures of DH kissing the Blarney Stone.  No way did I get on my back and bend backwards to kiss it.

 

Enjoy your day in Bantry.

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Love the pictures of Dublin.  The different colored lighthouses are attractive.

 

Pubs are great places to have meals.  Ate many meals in them.

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Report #109   Bantry, Ireland   May 7, 2019   Tuesday   Scattered showers & 53 degrees     Part # 1 of 4    80  Pictures

 

We never heard of Bantry, Ireland, but we will never forget our visit here.  It was described as a lovely little harbor town in the West Cork area of southwestern Ireland.  What the town lacks in size, it makes up for it with history, landscape, flora and fauna.  What can be found here appeals to nature lovers, history buffs, lovers of good food, festivals, sailing, kayaking, and mountain hikes. 

 

It could not have been said better, however, we discovered the most authentic part of Ireland.  It was like stepping back in time.  Located in West Cork County on the rugged coastline, Bantry is situated at the end of an inlet hemmed in by high mountain ridges, hilly pastures, and country homes with wonderful views. 

 

The Amsterdam arrived to the bay around 8am to drizzling rain and cold temperatures in the mid 40’s.  Today would also be a tender port, and the last port of this world cruise.  We noticed that both forward platforms had been opened, and some local tenders were being used to get folks off for early tours.  Speaking of excursions, there were three offered today.  One was 8½ hours to the Kingdom of Kerry.  Tablemates Greg and Heo booked this tour, mostly because they have never been here before.  The other two tours were half day ones that took the guests out of town.  Since the port guide we had from the ship showed very little in town, but they could not have been more wrong.  

 

Leaving the ship for the tender for us was around 9:30am, well after the tours had gone off.  By then, no more tender tickets were needed.  First thing we noticed was the bay full of aqua-culture.  We saw strips of buoys holding mussel-growing nets.  Also farmed here are oysters, and floating markers showed where lobster and crab traps were located.  This must employ many locals from town to maintain this type of farming….sometimes controversial.

 

From the tender landing, we had a medium long walk to get to the center of town.  There may have been a free shuttle to town for those who could not walk as well.  From the time we got off of the boat, the signage in town was phenomenal.  Following the ship’s map basically showed very little in town.  We found the center of town which was Wolfe Tone Square with monuments and many signs with the town’s story.  We could have read  every sign, which might have taken an hour.  Taking photos of them was better.  The info we gathered included the history of fishing.  Some species caught here are Bluefin tuna, bass ray, garfish, bullhuss, dogfish, codling, flounder, haddock, skate, conger eel, coalfish, rays, plaice and wrasse.  Other sea life are dolphins, porpoise, harbor seals, and otters.  Birds are puffins, kittewakes, crows, arctic terns, and gannets.  One other industry that put this area on the map was copper mining in the 1800’s.  Smelting was conducted here as well as the giant machinery that crushed quartz rock, where the copper ore was hidden.  Like we said, the history to us was fascinating.

 

The closest place of interest had to be St. Brendan’s Church, an Anglican Gothic building.  The rhododendrons and camillias were just starting to bloom. We did locate the information center, which was filled to the brim with ship people.  Getting a few maps, we followed the directions to see more of the town. Making our way uphill, we found many small shops for everyday needs of people.  No high end malls or pricey boutiques here.  And it was nice.

 

The town was full of places like Box of Frogs, a café/bakery, One Man’s clothing shop, alleyways of street art, or Ma Murphy’s Pub.  Near the top, we passed by the waterwheel and the Mill Pond Stream by the modern library.  A commanding spot for St. Finnbar’s Catholic Church was at the top of this hill.  After strolling through the attached cemetery, we took a walk inside to find a small class of Catholic school kids preparing for their First Communion.  Boy did that bring back memories for both of us. It appears that time has stood still in this part of the world, and perhaps that is a good thing.

 

From here, we hiked down the same way we came, since some of the roads up here were closed.  This time we ducked into the shops to see what they were selling.  We found mostly souvenirs of jewelry, scarves, t-shirts, and Irish keepsakes.  Could not help seeing the signs on some establishments saying Bantry Tidy Town Award for 2007. They deserve it.

 

Time for lunch, we located the Brick Oven, and found two customers, Hazel and Tina, already seated and enjoying one large pizza from the wood fired brick oven.  When we walked inside, both of them teased us by saying look who they let in, making the owners and staff chuckle.  Within minutes, we had our customized Margherita pizza with ham and carmelized onions, an order of fries, along with two Guinness pints.  We asked our waiter how many cruise ships come to Bantry, and he said maybe three a year, but only during summertime.   And we also inquired about the traffic in town, which was really bad today.  He said that was normal, since there were more cars than parking spaces.  He added the traffic is way worse during the summer.  Finally, we ended our meal with a shared brownie sundae.  The whole place had filled by the time we left.

 

There was one more sight we wanted to see if we could access it.  That was the Bantry House and Garden, located on the side of the hill overlooking the bay.  It is a most impressive mansion lived in by the descendants of the Earls of Bantry, a Georgian house owned by the family since the 1700’s.  It has been opened to the public since 1945, and today, it also has a small portion of the house dedicated to a bed and breakfast facility with a tearoom where cakes and light lunches were served.

 

Entering through a classic rock arch from the main road, we walked up a wooded road for 10 minutes before we sighted the stately house.  Despite signs saying there was a fee to tour it, we stayed on the outside and strolled around the front garden with classical statues, urns, ballustrades and terraces.  When the wisteria blooms, it will be beautiful.  The lawn area had circular beds, topiary, cannons,O and sunken gardens. On each side of the mansion were carriage houses. The views from here of the bay were fantastic.  But that’s when the drizzle began again.  Time to walk back.

 

On the way back, we noticed that the gas prices had risen from 1.44 to 1.48 from the morning.  Fuel is so expensive that all of the vehicles are small or the new hybrids.  The tender boat was waiting, but left with only a handful of people.  We may have overheard that there was a medical debark from the ship on the way, and we needed to clear the way for them.  

 

All aboard was 4:30pm, but when we went outside to deck nine, we noticed that some tender boats were not loaded yet.  And by now, the mist was getting heavier, but dressed properly, we stayed and waited.  Captain Mercer came on the PA and announced that we would be late in leaving due to some delayed buses coming back.  As it turned out, we left after 6pm to wet, windy, and cold weather.  Not the best sail away ever, but the last one we will have until we return to Ft. Lauderdale.

 

We had three things waiting for us in or room. One was the early delivery of flowers and sodas for our PC gifts, and the other was the reminder for a Tamarind dinner in the Pinnacle Grill tonight.  A most delicious one too.  And the good news was that the clocks went back one hour tonight.  We will have four more hours to go before we reach Florida in 8 days from now.

 

Bill & Mary Ann        

 

 

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Report # 10   Day at Sea   May 8, 2019   Wednesday   Partly sunny & 51 degrees

 

What a difference a day makes…remember that song of the past?  Well that kept going through our minds today, as it was not a regular day at sea.  Far from it. Before we headed off for breakfast in the dining room, an announcement was made throughout the ship requesting a lady to dial 911 on any phone.  A message such as that coming into the staterooms at 8:15am was most unusual.  When the same request was repeated a short time later, we knew something was really wrong.  Someone was missing.

 

This was confirmed when during breakfast, Captain Mercer announced publicly that it was possible the woman went overboard sometime during the late night.  And as a result, the ship was being turned around, and we would backtrack becoming part of a larger team of a rescue attempt.  This occurred at 8:45am.  All we could do is hope for the best that the Marine Rescue Coordination Centers of Ireland and the UK would have some positive results.

 

No one could believe this was happening, and none of our crowd knew this lady.  However, she had a relative onboard, and we hope she is able to deal with this.  At 2pm, the Captain announced that the Amsterdam was released from further search and rescue attempts, realizing too much time had expired for a rescue.  We were turning around, and heading back the way we came.  Sadly, there were no positive reports concerning the search efforts of the other teams.  By 2:10pm, we were heading southwest once again, and it would take 4 hours to reach the point of the turnaround this morning.

 

In addition, a letter was delivered to everyone concerning the sad events of the day, adding that members of the clergy would be available for any of us that feel the need of counseling.  The Captain added that many of the passengers had become close over the past four months, and some would be deeply affected by this event.  He is so right.  His best advice was to keep her friends and family in our thoughts and prayers.  Consider it done.

 

One concern was about reaching Ft. Lauderdale on time. So at this point, they did not anticipate any delay for arrival on May 16th. 

 

Nothing that occurred today on the ship seemed important enough to report, considering the circumstances.  But this one thought of the day rang true:  Do it now….the future is promised to no one.  –Kushandwizdom-

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

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Glad you enjoyed your day in Bantry and were able to get your favorite pizza for lunch.

 

Sad news about the woman on your first sea day.  Had heard about her a couple of days ago.  Sad for the relative who now has to pack everything and return home without her.  These last days are going to be very hard on her.

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