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Day Date Start Activity End Overnight 0 8 Jul Melbourne fly Hervey Bay 1 9 Jul Hervey Bay Wedding 2 10 Jul Hervey Bay fly Dubai Novotel 3 11 Jul Dubai Dubai Novotel 4 12 Jul Dubai fly Paris train Bordeaux Mike and Jacquie 5 13 Jul Bordeaux Mike and Jacquie 6 14 Jul Bordeaux Quatorze Juillet Mike and Jacquie 7 15 Jul Bordeaux Mike and Jacquie 8 16 Jul Bordeaux drive to Saint Pée sur Nivelle Mike and Jacquie 9 17 Jul Saint Pée sur Nivelle Mike and Jacquie 10 18 Jul SPée sur N Mike and Jacquie 11 18 Jul SPée sur N Mike and Jacquie 12 19 Jul SPée sur N Mike and Jacquie 13 20 Jul SPée sur N Mike and Jacquie 14 21 Jul SPée sur N Mike and Jacquie 15 22 Jul SPée sur N Mike and Jacquie 16 23 Jul SPée sur N drive Bordeaux Mike and Jacquie 17 24 Jul Bordeaux train to London Gravesend Ann and Michael 18 25 Jul Gravesend boarding Prinsendam Prinsendam
Up early at 6am to get things done, but by 8:30 we were pretty well organized, except for some last minute necessities. For example, although John had looked high and low for the power adapters, he could not find them, so we decided to go over to The Glen and purchase some more! We needed a cup of coffee anyway . Then at 10, a phone call from Stokes to say that the dishwasher part to fix the dishwasher had finally turned up, literally at the eleventh hour. So a quick trip out to Stokes, bought the part, and John had the dishwasher running again within five minutes of getting home.
Rang for a taxi at 10 to midday, and it turned up pretty well on the dot of noon. Quiet trip to the airpost, where John and Barb had an experience with the bag checkin, and then John was separated from Barb by being bumped in the X-ray line by a full flight crew going through. But John did keep his Grumpy Old Man persona in check, and we had a brief bite of lunch before boarding the plane on time.
A slightly bumpy descent into Brisbane was the only thing of note, and we sat around in Brissie airport, checking out the bars, and waiting for Pam and Grant to turn up. They were on a later flight, which arrived at 6pm, and we only had time for another quick beer and some nachos before boarding a Dash-8 for Hervey Bay.
Landed in HB right on time, and our hire car was waiting for us. Zoomed across to The Grange where we plonked our bags, then kicked on to Paul and Gina's. A misunderstanding about dinner meant that John and Grant did not get much to eat, having been whisked away on arrival to a treat of Steven's Johnnie Walker Blue Label - after enjoying that, they found that there was not much food left upstairs! Barb rescued the situation by calling at the local pizza shop and buying some faster pasta, so J and G went to bed happy.
Off at 9 (after a leisurely start) to the Salt Restaurant and Cafe, where we had breakfast, eventually with 13 people after all the slow pokes arrived. Many cups of coffee and happy breakfasts later, we went for a long walk on a long pier, and then back to the apartment to have a quick bite of lunch and get ready for the wedding.
The wedding itself was beautiful. Set in the park by Paul and Gina's place, with a view of the lake, the bride's arrival was announced by a scottish pipe band playing - what else? - Scotland the Brave, and followed by a pair of horses pulling a carriage. Steven and Alice had chosen a Scottish theme to their wedding because they met in Scotland, and their relationship started there. So the groom's party all wore kilts, and there were some very Celtic moments like drinking from the Quaich Cup together.
But things got a little boring at this stage. There were heaps of photos (well, I could hardly blame them for making the most of that opportunity), and not much to drink. Not that it was too hot, the weather was perfect, but we did need a bit more excuse to mingle. John found a dead parrot (a brightly coloured lorikeet), and pranced around saying lines like "This 'ere parrot is deceased, it is no more, it is defunct!" Fortunately, the moment was caught on film, since it also was captured later on with a funny limerick by Uncle Grant. See here for the photo, or Facebook for the (inane) discussion.
We did eventually head off the the local aquarium where a few canapes were to be found, but not for long. We also had to buy our own drinks, which seemed a little tight. As I said to Paul, "weddings are about quantity, not quality!" That was partly to allay his fears about the speech he had to give, hinting that most people will suffer long-winded and boring speeches, as long as they are offset with appropriate amounts of alcohol, and he would not be taken too much to task if he strayed a little from the self confident, witty and brief speech he was pining to make.
But what the wedding reception lacked in booze, it made up for with music! There was just about every combination of people called to the dance floor, and but the end of the night, even the "senior gentleman in the blue striped tie" (me) had be called upon to dance. Now I don't know if you know much about my dancing skills, but as my father so pithily put it when Christine Mara (an old flame) moving heaven and earth to get me dancing (she loved it, and I didn't, which is why we eventually drifted apart) - "dancing is a means to an end, and I have achieved that end". So to see even me upon the dance floor was a feat in itself. Son David on the other hand, is a natural (takes after his other grandfather), and was up there with cousin Christopher doing great things!
As hinted above, there were a few limericks composed for the occasion. Such as:
There was a young laddie called Steven, Who went to the Scottish town Leven, He dug a great hole, To find a like soul, With her he's now living and breathin'!
To Hervey Bay we're now heading, to attend a beautiful wedding, the setting was great, but the carriage was late, And Uncle John put a dead parrot on his shoulder!
(It was noted in the telling that the last line did not quite fit the rules of limerick writing, but it was so funny, it had to be used ...)
After the frivolities of the night before, there were bound to be some casualties. The most serious was Gina, who went down with a migraine after all the stress she had been through in the last few days. Paul was no problem, after all, he was out on his boat sailing in the bay the day before the wedding, not even worrying about his speech (which went well, by the way).
We breakfasted at Salt's again, and then did the few last minute (re)packing up things, before settling down in the sun to watch David, Steven and Tom battle against each other. David invited any spectator to also have a go at him, one-sided, that is, he would not hit back, but just defend himself. I don't think anyone landed a telling blow on him, although Alice must have come close!
After a scratch lunch, first Nathan, Lynne, Beth and David took their leave (they had to drive down to Brisbane to catch their plane), and then we left for Hervey Bay airport and a cute little two-propellor plane that zoomed us down to Brisbane in 40 minutes, rather than the 4 hours that the car passengers were taking.
Plenty of time at Brisbane airport for a beer, some dinner (taking no chances this time!), before finally boarding flight EK435 to Dubai.
Landed in Dubai at 4:40am local time (10:40am Melbourne time), after a reasonable night. John watched Gulliver's Travels, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and The Maiden Heist, all reasonably successful in sending him to sleep. Barb watched (or tried to watch) The Chronicles of Narnia, HP and the DH, and some Big Bang Theory, more successful in sending her to sleep.
I must say I was not impressed with the service at Dubai. Impressed with the size, yes, but we were parked at a spot MILES from the terminal, and it was a 10 minute ride in the bus, once we got off the plane. Then the immigration took as long as a jumbo landing at Melbourne, except that less than a quarter of the passengers were actually entering Dubai - the rest were in transit, and not queueing up. Then our luggage took absolutely ages to come through - it turned up almost exactly 60 minutes after we landed. Next hassle was to find the Arabian Adventures pickup point. Once we found that, the rest was as it should be, and we were eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant by 6:30am. Snoozed around for the rest of the morning (writing this, for example), and then over to the local shopping centre to have a squiz around. Although the SC is literally across the road, we had to walk down to some traffic lights, and the walking in 40C heat was pretty taxing! The SC on the other hand is airconditioned down to 20C, so the thermal gradient as you walk in the door is very impressive!
We bought a new lens cap for John's camera, as Nathan had 'fessed up that the old one was actually at his place, but he keeps forgetting to return it! Then stayed around the SC having a cup of coffee, and after a decent interval, lunch. Lunch was a "gourmet shawarma", which was very nice indeed. Tahini sauce, chicken, salad, and to top it off, arabian pickles (pickled vegetables). We felt that we had sussed out a genuine (as they put it) "fast-food but not junk-food" taste of the local cuisine. This was no mean feat amongst all the MacDonald's Taco Bell's, Starbuck Coffee, etc., etc. places.
I was a little taken with the signs around the place exhorting people to dress "with respect to others", i.e., "no exposed knees". I mean, exposed knees!!? How decadent is that? To say nothing of the oppression of the burqa. And yet they appear not to think twice about importing American culture such as MacDonalds and the like. We saw one couple going up the escalators where she was in full eye-slit-only black burqa, while he was in a T-shirt and board shorts - board shorts that came closer to violating his own "no knees" culture! I think they have their cultural priorities jumbled.
When we returned to the hotel, we went for a very pleasant swim in the hotel pool. Only trouble was, the sun was pretty well vertical in the sky, and there was no much shade around, so we did not stay all that long. There was enough energy expended that a quick snooze on the bed back in our room was not out of the question, and by then it was time for an early tea, and early night.
Up very early at 4:15am in time to get packed, check-out and catch the transfer to the airport at 5:20. It was a bit premature, since what normally takes hours took only minutes, and we were in the gate lounge by 5:40!! For exampe, having checked in on-line, we only had to drop our bags. Normally at Melbourne you have to queue for ages. Here in Dubai there were at least 40 check in counters, most of which had a person behind them literally touting for business! We were slowed down somewhat by not knowning where to go - when we did find the information display, it said check-in at "any" counter, so we had a choice of which check-in person looked the prettiest. Straight through the security (although John had to go through twice because he forgot to declare his iPhone), straight through passport and immigration, and zoom! Here at the departure gate in record time. So we found a Paul's (french cafe) and had a very nice saumon roll "pain de campagne de Siegle aux 6 cereales de mie complet" (6 whole wheat cereal Siegle-style bread), and a double espresso coffee.
The flight was very pleasant, with both of us dialling up movies on demand. John watched ExTerminators, The Pirates of The Carribean (The Curse, and At World's End), while Barb watched the first halves of The Maiden Heist, The Pirates of The Carribean (do, do). She watched the second halves of each of them with her eyes closed. Landed in Paris a little late, so it was just as well we had allowed 3 hours for the connection with the Bordeaux train. I must say that I think French trains have declined somewhat. The station at CdG was looking rather dated, and the toilets were pay toilets. Now what sort of miserable soul would make travellers just landed with no small coins pay for a pee? Still, I do recall the Poms and the Scots doing much the same thing when we were in the UK in 1980. Ah, la plus ca change! At least we don't do it in Oz. John found a free toilet back in the airport section (rather than the train station), which was just as well, as he had shifted from a type 1 to a type 7 (in joke for family members only).
As I write this on the TGV out of CdG, the train is standing at Marne le Vallee Cressy, and it just popped a circuit breaker. At least, that's my diagnosis. There was a bang, and the lights went out momentarily (Oz meaning, not Yank), and my computer lost its power. We stood there for a quarter of an hour, while a couple of attempts at restarting were made. Eventually the power came back on, and we are now under way again. There was a loudspeaker announcement made, but no explanation forthcoming, and the sound was very distorted to the point of unintelligibility, even when in English. There's the evidence for the prosecution, m'Lud.
We arrived in Bordeaux to some rain, and a wander around the station looking for Mike. The arrangement was to meet by the exit to the "arret pour 1 minute", but this got a bit fouled up by the fact that the signs said "arret pour minute 1 et 2". John, thinking it a bit strange that the French could not make up their minds whether it was 1 or 2 minutes that one might be allowed to stop to pick up passengers, headed on in the dirtection of the signs, and we found ourselves at an obvious pick-up point for cars. But no Mike. So he set off to find the "Grande Salle de Voyageurs", which is where the exit was supposed to be. Turns out that there are two pick-up points, "arret pour minute un" and "arret pour minute deux". Of course, we were at the wrong one! But John found the grand hall, and then Mike found him with a very Stanley-esque "Can I help you?".
On to Rivasseaux, and Mike and Jacqui's place, where we relaxed with stories and wine until late, before collapsing into bed. It had been a 22-hour day!!
Merde! Lost camera! John got cracking upon se levee, and downloaded all of Barb's photos from the previous day. When he went to collect his camera to download the (cracking) shots that he took as we had flown over Paris, quelle horreur! There was no camera. Bit by bit, we traced back to the fact that in the panic to get off the train and organize all the luggage, the camera bag which John thought was in the green carry-on bag was in fact still in the luggage rack. Some phone calls by Mike and Jacqui saw him visiting the Objets Trouvee office at Gare St Jean, but non. Pas de appareil. Je suis desole!
Once the realization set in that the cher Canon EOS had truly gone, we undertook a rethink of what to do. A new camera was needed, but exactly what? Part of the thinking was that a small camera, one that would go in the pocket, would be better. It woud at least mean that if it was continually in the pocket or round the neck, the same fate would not befall it. (I write this now on the TGV heading North, with the new camera round my neck.)
So John did some homework on Jacqui's computer and settled on a compact Canon. I was somewhat influenced by a) I had had Canons since the start of digital cameras, and b) by the fact that Jacqui had a previous model which she swore by, and which I had a short play to check the features. Add to that the fact that the new model (SX230) has GPS, and the decision was fixed. I might at some stage replace the DSLR (it is better for railway photographs), but the advantage of compactness was this time a winner.
We set off for FNAC (lovely name!) and found and purchased the said model. (I would have liked a blue one, but the only colour they had was black.) We collected the tourist export paperwork (Mike used his FNAC membership card which gave us a 10% discount - thanks, Mike!) and then had a cup of coffee while Mike did some other shopping. Easy! E500 easy!
A bit of time to relax in the afternoon, while John familiarized himself with his new camera (a long walk around the block!), and then in the evening we set off for l'Estacade restaurant for dinner and fireworks. We had an excellent spot - the restaurant was situated on the banks of the Garonne, on a pier over the river, and right opposite to the fireworks barge. We took lots of photographs - John, Barb and Jacqui all thrilled with the vantage point. (I think Mike was taken with the vantage point too, but he was not taking photographs.) Add to that an excellent dinner (John had lentil stew, hake with hazelnuts, and creme brulee), and the night was perfect. You can see the photos at the photo page.
Today was Bordeaux day. I must say that Jacqui has done an excellent job in organizing our visit, and had planned a range of activities for each day we were there. We drove into Bordeaux city centre, and strolled along the Esplanade (Quay, in local terms). We visited the Bourse, the scene of much earthworks the last time we were here, and now greatl improved. We wandered round the new water feature, an activity particularly liked by French children on hot days. It was basically a large flat area, sufficiently flat that it could take a layer of water no more than a centimetre deep (so kids were quite safe), and fed by fine sprays that whooshed up every ten minutes or so. Excellent photo opportunities!
We then caught a tram out to the terminus, but Jacqui did make a slight boo-boo, and put us on Ligne C, rather than Ligne B. We were meant to go to the harbour, but ended up instead in a rather less salubrious place called Les Aubiers. Not to worry too much, because John was happy taking photos, both of interesting French faces, and interesting French trams. You can take your pick which you prefer at the photo page.
We had dinner sur la terasse au clair de lune - very pleasant.
We set off for St Pee-sur-Nivelle in two cars, Jacqui and Barb in the Citroen, and John and Mike in the Renault. The plan was to meet at a restaurant called La Val Fleuri near Dax. The plan worked. We had a very nice dinner there, John having salmon and foie gras salade, followed by steak tartare (yum!), and finished with a creme brulee. Barb had truffle soup, then filets des rougette, then chocolate profiteroles.
We took longer than planned, as we went the scenic route, while Barb and Jacqui took the motorway. They beat us by five minutes, having to first pick up the keys, and then find the place. We had a tin of duck confit for tea, very nice too. Also plenty of wine.
Off in the morning to St Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure, mainly to visit the Ciboure markets. We had fun strolling around all the stalls. John bought a nice cold sausage with fromage de brebis in it (amongst other things), while Barb bought a pepper sausage from a different stall. We had fun practicing our french, particularly with a woman selling wine whom Mike and Jacqui knew. They bought a six-pack of white wine from her, along with a pudding wine.
We explored the town, enjoying particularly the small harbour which is shared between Cirboure and St Jean-de-Luz. The river is the boundary between them, and SJdL is the larger of the two cities. Of note were the two navigation markers, one in Ciboure and one in SJdL. Then lunch in the Arrantzaleak restaurant in Ciboure, which specializes in seafood. John, Barb and Jacqui all had moules mariniere, then John had des langoustines, yum, yum! with creme caramel to finish.
Back to SPsN for dinner chez nous, and beaucoup des vins!
John, Mike and Barb were up bright and early to be off to La Rhune and Le petit train de Rhune, whence we arrived at 8:20, to find that the first train left at 8:30. No time for coffee, let alone breakfast, so we hung around in the freezing rain and biting wind for the train to arrive. There were a dozen people there at most, so we pretty much had the train to ourselves.
The train itself is based on the Richenbach system, which to you non-afficionados, means that there is a big toothed rail in the middle of the track, which the engine (placed at the back for safety reasons) uses to wind its way up a very steep track by means of a matching toothed drive wheel in the middle of its chassis. There are two of these toothed wheels (again, safety), driven by two generous electric motors. These get their current from a pair of overhead wires, collected via a pair of pantographs. All this is needed, because the grade is as steep as 26% (1 in 4)!
The trip to the top was marred by blustery squalls of rain, but we were able to take some photographs on the way up. So we were a bit disappointed to find the summit in cloud, and no view! We immediately retired to the cafe for breakfast and coffee. Breakfast was a spanish omelette, made with chunks of potato, and very satisfying and filling! While we were manger-ing that, the cloud rolled past, the sun appeared, and so did the views! So we rushed outside mid-omelette to take photos while it lasted.
Fortunately, it lasted longer than we thought, and we eventually settled down to finish the omelette and coffee, and to take more photographs at leisure. The few clouds now rolling past made for some great photo opportunities, and then there was the train leaving. The view was such that you see the intermediate passing place on the railway, so with the help of the super-zoom on my new camera, I was able to take photographs of the train on the way up passing the one we had caught, on the way down.
Barb bought some placemats and some postcards, but didn't realise that the shop was on the spanish side of the summit (the border goes through the summit). So she got spanish stamps for the postcards! This complicated things a bit, but since we were visiting Spain in the afternoon anyway, decided we could post them there.
We caught the next train down the hill/mountain (it is 905m at the summit), where we had another cup of coffee, then back to St Pee in time for lunch.
In the afternoon, we made a trip to Hendaye, which is right on the border with Spain also. Barb posted her cards, we bought cheap petrol (E1.40/litre, as opposed to E1.60 in France), and Jacqui visited her favourite dress shop with Barb, while Mike and I checked out the local train station. (More photos.) Back to St Pee for Tea. (pronounced San Pay for Tay.)
Firstly to St Jean-de-Luz and the fish market there so that J. could buy some fish. Again, it was much fun wandering around the market, taking photos of the stalls and the wonderful array of food, blemished only by the fact that we lost J. in the crowd and spent some time looking for her. She wasn't lost of course, but without her we were not going anywhere else!
After market, we wandered down the Rue Gambetta, the high street of the place, and ended up in the church - L'Eglise de Saint Jean Baptiste. It has a magnificent altar piece, although there are some who would not use quite the same adjective.
Then to the Place Louis XIV, where we met J. and M. for a coffee/beer, and then went for a stroll along the foreshore of SJdL (along a path known as Francois Tibbouleh, after a famous french violinist), before rejoining M. and J. and back to SPsN for lunch.
In the afternoon, M. drove us across to Bayonne to see the Basque Museum. Quite interesting, but made challenging by the fact that the descriptions of everything were in French, Spanish and Basque, but no English! John took lots of photos, since they didn't seem to mind.
Back to SPsN for tea.
Big day today, and up early to drive down to Bilbao in time for lunch. We did attempt to go to the Guggenheim Gallery for lunch, but the restaurant was full, and J. wasn't having a bar of the cafeteria. So we tramped the streets of Bilbao looking for a restaurant, and finally found something that J. liked. She done good, because the food was excellent, and very reasonably priced (E62 for 4 of us, with wine and beer). John had a lentil and chorizo soup, followed by a very large veal fillet, and creme caramel (again) for pud.
Then back to the Guggenheim for a wander around the outside (we didn't go in), and a stroll down the quay, to take photos of spanish (!) trams, the riverside scenery, and of course, the amazing architecture of the Guggenheim building itself. If you haven't seen it, visit my photo page to check it out.
Then down to the port of Celento (?) to see the first ever transporter bridge, completed in 1892 and still working. It costs us E0.30 to cross, and then Mike and I went back across the top (that was E5.00 extra!) for wonderful views of the workings, while Barb wussed out and went back by ferry (a small boat). She said afterwards, once we had compared notes, that her trip was probably more hair raising, since getting on and off the ferry while it was tossing in the (small) waves was just a bit too thrilling for her! We followed this up with a beer in a hotel nearby, within ear-hearing of the bridge, so we could continue to watch it in action.
We then drove back, stopping at St Sebastien to experience a tapas bar (fun but mainly for the Y generation), and then to a restaurant (check name) for dinner. John had seafood soup (lots of it, too!), then we both had a "cod chunk", cod with a crab meat salad on the side, Donostia style. A very late return to SPsN.
First destination this morning was a place called Espelette, which Mike and I had actually passed through on our way here. It is renown for its production of peppers, and the local hotel was festooned with dried peppers. Not only that, but every second postcard was a picture incorporating peppers in someway. It is also reknown for its Chocolaterie, and Barb and I visited that establishment for une degustation. We had a taste of the pepper chocolate, but did not think it nearly as hot as those we had tasted in Australia. But we bought a packet (130g/E6.55 = $A68/kilo) nevertheless.
Then on to a Cidrerie, at Lasse, near St Jean-de-Pied-de-Port, via the Pass of Roland. The Pass of Roland was very picturesque, but a very narrow road with only a few passing places.
The cidrerie was very pleasant. You could drink as much cider as you liked, direct from a cider barrel tap (I think the barrel was actually a front for a cask bag or similar behind the wall). The meals were also very pleasant, nothing fancy, but straightforward. I had chorizo sausages cooked in cidre, followed by manchons du canard (duck drumsticks). The had a delightful crispy skin - Colonel Saunders, eat your heart out!
Then to St Jean-de-Pied-de-Port (St John at the foot of the pass), a town which neither Jacqui nor I warmed to muchly. But Barb found her way to the top of the citadel, where pleasant views (and panoramas) were to be enjoyed. I busied myself with some interesting photographs of local produce.
Back home for tea, then out again for a 9:15 concert of male voices and basque choir. I don't know why they start so late, as it meant that we didn't finish until 11pm. But provided that you could stay awake (Grant?), it was most enjoyable. I tried taking some movies of the singing, so that I could record the sound - moderately successful, until I filled the card space! You have to hear the sound to appreciate it (of course), and Jacqui is replaying her videos as I write. Basque melodies are particularly beautiful, which is why they have been cribbed for several of our Christmas Carols. What impressed Barbara the most was the youth of the Basque Choir - they were all under 40, if not 30, and had very beautiful voices.
lazy morning, catching up on photos, lunch on the terrace, then some quick jaunts around to local villages, Ainhoa, Dancharia, Urdax, Zugaramurdi, Sara. All very picturesque. Evening spent organizing things for our return tomorrow.
Up bright and early to get packed for the return to Bordeaux. As it happened, we were all ready by 8, except for the kitchen packing, and even then Jacqui had that done in time for a 9am departure. The women dropped the keys off, while I went with Mike to get petrol (across the Spanish border, where it is cheaper). We arrived at the Val Fleuri at 11am, 2 hours ahead of schedule! So we had to wait around to 12 to go in (the women turned up at 11:30).
Again, a wonderful dinner. Again, I had the steak tartare, but I did try different other courses. I had the Truffle Soup, and some almond/chestnut pancakes for dessert. Barb had a lobster entree (just small pieces!), then Magret du Canard, followed by a pistachio and pine nut thingy with tiramisu ice cream. All pretty decadent.
On the road again at 2, and arrived in Bordeaux sans incident at about 4:30, where we had a scramble to clear our email and check the finances (we have more money than we thought!) while we had access to the internet. Not sure how easy it is going to be on board ship, tho'.
Big train day. Or rather, fast train day. Mike dropped as at l'arret minute 1 (as opposed to l'arret minute 2, see 12 Jul), and we found our train after a bit of non-sign reading. This was more due to a lack of signs, rather than a lack of (french) reading thereof. Seated comfortably, we sped north at 300kph, while John played Musique a Grande Vitesse through his earphones, and caught up with this blog.
The usual frustrations at Lille, again due to a lack of signs. Plenty of sortirs, but not much Eurostar direction. We tried waving the pink customs form at the customs people, but they were more interested in being nuisances than of assistance. I said to Barb, "How come they manage to have all of the frustrations of airports with none of the conveniences?" Indeed, the convenience was inconvenient, since there was a woman demanding 50 centimes just to have a pee. "Bloody French" I muttered, and stormed out cross legged.
Fortunately, once through customs (!) there was a convenience on the other side, so I crossed over for relief (and un-crossed my legs). Even that was a bit dodgy, since the lock on the door didn't work, and some bloke came bursting in, apologised (in English), and burst out again.
A pleasant light meal on the Eurostar got us to the Euro tunnel, and once through that, it was only 20mins to Ebbsfleet, where we disbarked. I have to say that compared to the last time we did the trip, the speed on the English side has improved out of sight. (Last time we were stuck behind a stopping-all-stations train, and it took forever.) Now with the dedicated line, it was as fast as the French side. On the other hand, the ambience of the train has declined a bit, and this was borne out with a later conversation with Ann and David, who said that they don't bother with first class on the Eurostar any more, the only real difference is the meal that is thrown in, and that didn't seem worth the extra cost.
Arriving in Ebbsfleet, we caught a taxi to the Overcliffe Hotel, in Gravesend, and eventually found a room (the front desk was unmanned, and it took 10 minutes for someone to arrive). We went for a walk into town (5 mins away), and found the route to the ferry for the morrow. Back to the hotel for a shower, then set off into London via the local train service - which takes an hour! Ann and David were waiting for us, and we walked over the ChringCross Bridge (pedestrian part) to the Southbank, and wandered along there, looking at the sights (London Eye, London Bridge, St Pauls, Big Ben, etc.) and chatting away. Then settled in the Skylon Restaurant for dinner, and a very pleasant dinner it was too. We are very fortunate to have such great friends, even if we only get to see them infrequently!
We left the restaurant at 10:15, in time for a leisurely walk back across the bridge to catch the 10:40 train to Gillingham (off at Gravesend), and the short walk back to the hotel, where we collapsed after a long day.
Day Date Port Arrive Depart 0 25 Jul 2011 Tilbury (London), England 1700 1 26 Jul 2011 At Sea 2 27 Jul 2011 Scrabster, Scotland 0800 1700 3 28 Jul 2011 Lerwick, Shetland Islands 0800 1700 4 29 Jul 2011 Torshavn, Faroe Islands 0800 1700 5 30 Jul 2011 Djupivogur, Iceland TR 1000 1800 6 31 Jul 2011 Reykjavik, Iceland ON 1700 7 01 Aug 2011 Reykjavik, Iceland ON 0700 8 02 Aug 2011 Reykjavik, Iceland 1200 9 03 Aug 2011 At Sea (Atlantic Ocean) CO 10 04 Aug 2011 At Sea 11 05 Aug 2011 Ny Alesund, Norway TR Noon 1800 12 06 Aug 2011 Cruising Magdalenafjord CO 13 07 Aug 2011 Longyearbyen, Norway 0800 1400 14 08 Aug 2011 At Sea (Norwegian Sea) CO 15 09 Aug 2011 At Sea 16 10 Aug 2011 Alesund, Norway 0800 1800 17 11 Aug 2011 Bergen, Norway 0700 2300 18 12 Aug 2011 At Sea (North Sea) CO 19 13 Aug 2011 Rosyth (Edinburgh), UK ON TR 0800 20 14 Aug 2011 Rosyth (Edinburgh), UK TR 0100 21 15 Aug 2011 Amsterdam, The Netherlands 0700
We woke up at the usual early time (5am!), and had plenty of time to organize ourselves. John tried to connect to the internet, but no joy. He decided that it was because he was too far from the transmitter, so when we went down to breakfast, he took the computer with him. No joy there either, in spite of the fact tht the hotel info said that that was the best reception place. The breakfast waiter (and cook, and receptionist, as it turned out - he was filling in for everyone else who were on holidays!) said he would reboot the modem, and that did the trick. Barbara had then to tear John away from his email to have breakfast, which included the best smoked bacon we have had in a long time. Made locally, according to the waiter/cook/reception man.
Once the wireless connection was made, John then spent a bit of time uploaded this travel diary, and other sundry things, while Barb packed the suitcases - hopefully the last time for 35 days. That is once of the nice things about cruising - seeing alll these differnt places while not having to pack and unpack suitcases, let along cart them around the countryside.
Which is exactly what we did for the next 2 hours! We had decided to wlk to the ferry terminal, which was only a five minute walk away. But towing two (fairly heavy) suitcases as well turns in more into a 15 minute walk. At the end of the day, my pedometer showed only 3034 steps, but it felt like three times that! We stopped to have a cup of coffee in the town centre as we passed through, and Barb thought of exploring whether there was a camera shop, so that she could buy a spare battery for her camera. That turned into a 30 minute trek for her, while John minded the suitcases at the coffee shop. All to no avail - none of the shops she visited had the required battery (as Sod's Law requires).
So then on to the ferry. We caught the 12:30 ferry across to Tilbury, which fortunately lands at the same wharf at which the cruise ship, Prinsendam, was tied up. But (Sod's Law again), we had to walk off the wharf around to the front entrance of the terminal, and onto the ship that way. It is interesting how urban designers can make life difficult for pedestrians, particularly pedestrians with large bags. Eveyone thought we were quite bizarre for arriving at the ship by boat - rather a sad reflection on how car-oriented our society is.
But I have to say this. Decrepit as Tilbury has become (I am comparing it with my previous visit 50 years ago!), it provided the speediest, most efficient security and boarding passage I have ever experienced (save perhaps that of 50 years ago, when my parents did most of the stressing) on all train, aircraft and ship embarkations. Several other passengers we talked to later refelected the same experience, so The Port of London Authority does have something to offer the rest of the world. That includes all the X-raying, passport, emigration etc., stuff that airports also do, and it was for 800 passengers, so you cannot argue that volume was the difference.
Once on board, we relaxed in a BIG WAY. Our cases were brought to our cabin without any hassle, and we found the Lido deck and had a sandwich and beer each, and just went "Pheeewww! Ahhhh!" Plenty of time to explore the ship and note the similarities and differences between the Prinsendam and the two previous Holland America ships we have been on.
Sailing was a bit delayed from the advertised 5pm, as there seemed to be a flurry of last minute deliveries, and lots of fork-lift trucks unloading stuff from lorries and loading it to the ship. We eventually dropped moorings at 17:40, and slipped quietly down the Thames Estuary.
Dinner was a little bit disorganized. You have a variety of places to eat, the two main ones being the Lido restaurant (more a cafeteria, although the food is upmarket from the usual cafeteria fare), and the La Fontaine Dining Room, which is a proper sit down, waited upon, dining service. Now we were never given any choice in the matter, so we assumed we just showed up. But in our explorations, we discovered that you had to make a reservation for the dining room, which we duly did. So when we showed up at the dining room at 3 minutes to 8, we were a bit surprised that we were told to wait - for 15 minutes. Meanwhile the queue of people behind built up, and we were moved from one queue to another three times. It seemed quite a schmozzle, and the first black mark for HAL.
Once seated, we shared a table with two other Melbournians (!), a couple from Georgia, and a couple from Arkansas. The latter were very chatty, particularly the woman whose name was Barbara! The two Barbaras hit it off quite well, so the evening went quickly - as did the food !
After dinner, Barb (my one) and I went to the movie showing, which was "Rabbit Hole". I thought I had read about it, but after seeing it, I realized that I had seen the review on David and Margaret at the Movies. They had given it a 4 and a 4.5 (IIRC), and they were pretty spot on. I thought is started a bit slowly, and must confess to nodding off at one stage. But it was a powerful telling of a very emotional story, and we were both pretty empathetic once it finshed.
Then to bed. The rest was silence.
I like sea days. There's no pressure to do anything. Well, this was perhaps slightly different, in that although only just starting the cruise, there were two weeks of stuff to catch up on. Sea days give you a chance to reflect and ponder the previous hectic days, and we had had plenty of those. Between us we had taken 2882 photos, which works out at 160 photos a day, all to be catalogued and annotated! Plus John had aimed to keep this diary up-to-date, and he had not. But we did manage to squeeze in a wine tasing in the dining room with Ferdinand the Wine Sommelier on the trip. Some interesting wines, but unfortunately, I did't make any notes of them.
What a beautiful day! We docked at Scrabster, which is really nothing more than a port for Thurso, which is about 3 kilometres away by road. Since it was such a glorious day, we decided to forsake the shuttle bus, and walk to Thurso. It took us about an hour, due to many photo stops, but it was worth it!
Once in Thurso, we wandered about to see what was what. There was a pair of buskers in the town square, playing a guitar and piano accordian, and working their way through a repertoire of Scottish songs, such as Highland Cathedral, Mairie's Wedding, and such. We found a coffee shop and bought ourselves a coffee and pastie each, but once we started to drink the coffee, discovered it was instant! Oh well, there wasn't really much choice, and the pastie was welcome enough ...
Once the priorities were settled, we set about the few shopping expeditions we had. One was to buy a felt tipped pen, so that I could label my photo DVDs. On this, we were successful, but the second task, to buy a spare battery for Barb's camera, absolutely no chance.
We wandered the rest of the village, discovering a quaint old church, St Peter's and the Holy Rood (which was actually the second church of that name - the original, now in ruins, we found further along our walk). We detoured via the harbour, and found another cafe, this one selling real coffee, so of course we had to stop there.
The harbour itself was picturesque enough, and after taking a few photos there, we headed for the bus terminal, and caught the bus back to Scrabster and the ship. Our departure was marked by the local junior pipe band playing and marching up and down the quay. At various intervals, they would stop, and some highland dancers would perform for us. They finished off by marhing to the end of the pier, where they played until the ship had left the harbour - a sight and sound to stir the blood of anyone with Scottish sympathies!
Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse, and it was raining when we got off the tender at Lerwick. Somehow, grey Scottish towns (even if in the Shetland Islands - perhaps more so) are a natural match for rain, and it was a familiar pattern that we had experienced in a year at St Andrews in 1986. But we were not to be dissuaded from exploring, and we wandered around the town, and had two unexpected successes. The first was the ability to withdraw GBP50 from the Bank of Scotland, from the account that we had set up in 1986, and the second was to spend some of that money on a spare battery for Barb's camera, a lack that we had overlooked when we left Australia.
We found a cafe that did proper coffee (The Peerie Cafe), and used that to take stock of the map and plan a bit of a walking tour. So the next stop was up the hill for some rainy, wind-swept views of the town, and the town hall. The town hall was beautiful. It had a number of stained glass windows, and the most highly polished floor you could imagine. If you look at the photos for today, you will see one that has a reflection of the stained glass windows in it, and you can just about make out the detail of the window in the floor reflection!
Then on to Fort Charlotte, and more scenic, though rainy, views. From there we wondered back to the seafront and the new Museum, which was well worth the visit. More photos, a walk along the waterfront, and back to the tender and return to the ship. The tender was driven by the 3rd officer, who seemed a bit young and raw for the task, and he was not able to dock the tender! We were rescued by one of the Filipino crew, who pointed out that there were some particularly tricky currents. Whether there were or not didn't bother him much, so I suspect he said that to save face for the 3rd officer, who clearly had got quite flustered by the experience.
The captain did warn us in his evening announcement that the weather would be a little rough, so we did have a slightly bumpy ride overnight. But we both sailed through it unaffected, ready for the next day's activities.
Torshavn was a docking port, so we did not have to take the tender. Perhaps a brief word of explanation if you don't know what a tender is. They are actually part of the ship's lifeboat fleet, and are distinguished from the usual lifeboat paradigm by being twin-hulled, although of slightly smaller capacity (90 persons as opposed to 120). They would be more stable in rough weather than the normal lifeboat, and have side-boarding doors rather than over the gunwales (like normal small boats). They involve a bit of work unloading them, and berthing alongside the ship, and of course are limited in their passenger bandwidth. So the captain, crew and passengers all prefer the ship to dock for ease of disembarking and re-boarding. And it does take the pressure of having to catch the last tender!
The town was only a short walk from the dock, and so the town was fairly quickly full of cruise passengers. Add to that the fact that it was a public holiday in Torshavn (pronounced "tor-sharn"), and there was to be a procession at 10am of public notaries to celebrate the opening of parliament for the new parliamentary year, which meant that all the locals were also in town to watch the festivities. So the main street was fairly chockers, and it was a colourful sight, since the locals were all wearing their national costumes. The first event was a walk to the church, which we watched, but did not hang around, since the church service was planned to be an hour long, all in Danish, and chockers to boot.
So we wandered up the hill to look around, and chanced on a little park, pleasant enough with a stream running through, and then a church set high on a hill overlooking the harbour. The church was open, so we went in, and it was a delight inside with one of the most impressive (modern) stained glass windows I have ever seen. It was an image of the risen Christ, very impressionist, and one which I found quite moving.
Back down the hill, and we took up a vantage spot near the town square (called the "Vigor"), where the local choir was assembling. The church service did go on a bit, since it was about 11:30 before they emerged and walked to the square. We were then treated to a number of national songs by the choir, and a few (mercifully) short speeches (again, all in danish).
Once that was over, we wandered back towards the ship, or at least tried to, since we got separated in the crowd. But we had agreed to check out the Cafe Natur (actually a bar), so once we had found our individual ways there, we had a local beer (John had a "craft" ("kraft"?) beer, dark in colour, while Barb had a pilsener. We then followed a crowd down towards the harbour, where another choir were singing more national songs!
Back on the ship in time for a late lunch, and then watched the ship leaving Torshavn harbour. We passed the Marco Polo, which according to several sources, is 45 years old and the only surviving example of a fleet of Russion cruise ships built in the 60's. The captain described it as a "cruise ship with classic lines", and you might want to check for yourselves to see if you agree with him, and Keith from Canberra.
Some impressive scenery as we cruised out of the Faroe Islands, and set sail for Iceland.
It was a cold and wet morning as we sailed into the bay on which Djupivogur is situated. Djupivogur is not a big place, and is really just a fishing port with sufficient harbour space to anchor a ship. We did the tender thing again, and went across to land about 9:30. A short walk to the top of a local hill gave us a panorama of pretty well all Djupivogur had to offer. The cloud cover was low lying, so we thought we should take our photos and panoramas, and then go off and do something else. But as we were doing this, the clouds parted enough for us to see the surrounding mountains, and that quite transformed the view! What we had thought were low hills covered in cloud turned out to be quite high mountains, with several over 1000m. That rather changed our perspective on things, so we hung about a bit longer.
We walked down a different way, and bumped into our next door neighbours on board ship. We discussed the interesting scenery, including the variety of flowers and plant life, then walked back to the harbour, where we had a cup of coffee and some waffles in the Hotel Framtid (the only hotel in the place!) But the waffles were fresh, and not at all like muffins (which is what we thought we had ordered!)
Then walked on to the next bay, Merry Bay, to see the 34 Eggs of Merry Bay, an interesting sculpture by some local artist. He had fanished 34 granite eggs out of local stone to reflect the size, shape and colour of the eggs of the local birds in Iceland. After that, back to the ship for lunch. We didn't go back to shore again, because the fog came down quite heavily, and we felt that we had seen all there was to see. Apparently the last few tenders to return to the ship had to be guided out to the ship by radar, as they could not see beyond about 20 yeards!
Today was a "half sea day", since we spent most of it sailing, and only arrived at Reykjavik at 5pm. So we did the usual sea day things, viz., John getting the photographs up-to-date, Barbara reading, both walking the deck, etc..
On arrival, our plan was to walk into Reykjavik, which we were told was a 30 minute walk, have a look around, and be back in time for tea. But this would only give us an hour or so in town, and we changed our minds and bought some shuttle tickets for the bus, which was promised for 6pm. We were off the ship at 5:45, and waited for the bus. And waited. The bus did not arrive until 6:30, by which time we thought walking would have been a better option. But the bus was not the promised "5 minute ride" either. More like 10 minutes, and I had serious doubts that 30mins would be sufficient to walk the distance. When I get home I will Google Earth the distance, because I think that HAL deliberately underestimate times like this. We had felt this in Scrabster, and also felt a little dissembled to by the Djupivogur experience.
Once in Reykjavik, we wondered around the town, looking at the town hall ("Radhus", pronounced "rat-hus"), the lake, and Hallsgrimmkirkja. The latter is the most bizarre church I think I have been in. It is built of modern, off-the-form concrete, and inside the only description would have to be "perpendicular gothic". Because of the "natural" concrete tones, and the lack of stained glass in the windows (although very gothic in shape and height), it was extremely light inside. But what made it bizarre was the front of the church. The best way to describe that is to say that it was shaped like a space shuttle, with a very pointy "nose" (spire), and "wings" that swept out as you came down the spire into a very broad, low wall. This was all down with stepped concrete columns, so at close detail it looked rather like a gothic buttress, even though it did not have that function. It is built at the top of the hill on which R. sits, so it is very prominent around the town, and from more remote sites (like the ship's berth!).
We breakfasted early in the Lido and disembarked at 9am to met Jim and Donna. Once we had navigated ourselves out of Reykjavik with the aid of Jim's GPS, we set off on the "Golden Circle". This is the tour of sights that is recommended if you only have one day in Reykjavik, which is effectively what we had.
First stop was a geothermal power station near the Pingvellirvatn (lake), which seemed deserted, and which was characterized by jets of steam issuing not only from large cooling towers, but also from a wide range of holes in the ground - some large, some small. You can see where these are (or have been) by the different colours of the ground, which normally is a black decomposed lava rock, or else a fine red scoria gravel/dust. But where steam holes have erupted, the surrounding ground goes a white discoloured chalky colour.
Next stop was Pingvellir (pronounced "Thingvellir"), arriving at about the same time as a tour bus, so it was fairly busy. The interesting thing about thingvellir is that it is on the boundary of two tectonic plates, the North American one and the European one. These two plates are moving apart at a rate of about 3mm per year, and the rift between the two plates is very obvious. Two large cliffs, up to 25m high (John thought 30m, Barb says 20m, so I've split the difference ) are separated by distances ranging from a few metres to several hundred. The ground between them is quite fat and sedimentary, and you could walk about on it. It is slowly subsiding as the plates drift apart. We travelled a bit further on to where there was a waterfall, and walked up to the waterfall ( see photos).
Then on to Geysir. Unfortunately, the direct route that Jim had in mind was closed ("Lokad"), so we had to go a long way round. Got to the place Geysir just after 1, and discovered that it was quite aptly named, since there were a number of geysers around, along with a number of (old) geezers. We stood and waited for the most regular geyser (once every 8-10 minutes), and were rewarded with not one, but two eruptions. John had his camera on rapid fire, so he caught the second eruption, but Barb was taking a movie, and had turned it off when the second eruption followed. What we found most interesting was not so much the eruption itself, but the heaving and gurgling of the water column before and after the eruption.
We spent a half-hour wandering around and looking at the various hot water pools, craters and steam vents, before heading off again to GullFoss, and most spectacular waterfall that has two stages of falls, one broad and shallow, the other narrow and deep, and angled to each other and the canyon that made for many photographic opportunities - somewhat constrained by the fierce wind that was blowing and sending spray across the camera lens as soon as one pointed it at the waterfall! You will have to look at the photos to get the full picture.
It being lunchtime, we had a bowl of very restorative lamb soup at the cafe/visitors' centre nearby, while we all used Jim's computer to check our emails through the free wi-fi also avaialbe there. The view out the window was enhanced by distant views of the ...jokull glacier, very impressive.
Next stop was the Kerio Crater, an extinct (but not old) volcano nearby. The interest was enhanced by a nubile young female going for a dip in the crater waters, something that she did not dwell upon! It looked freezing, and although we were at the crater's edge while she was in the crater, we could almost feel her goosebumps as she emerged from the water.
The next port of call was Hverageroi, a vegetable growing town. It is of note because the vegies are all grown in glass houses heated by geothermal steam. There was a geothermal park there as well, so we had a stroll through that, and read all the information boards that explained the history and geology of the place, right down to identifying the different kinds of hot water microbacteria that colonise the different parts of the park.
Finally back to Reykjavik, where we headed for Harry's Restaurant, and a very fine dinner, and continuing conversation with the Robinsons. A quick look at Hallsgrimmkirkja and the ??kirkja, before the Robinsons dropped us back at the ship and we said our farewells to them - until Tahiti!
Set off at 9:45 for a walk towards Reykjavik. The official blurb said it was a 30 minute walk, but they lied. I worked out that we could walk for 40 minutes before having to turn around and come back in time for the 11:30 boarding. We had hoped to get to an interesting sculpture depicting a viking boat, but it was just a little beyond our point of no return, But we had good exercise, and took a few photos along the way.
A quick scout of the postcards at the Visitor Centre, then back on board by 11:15, and coffee at the Java Bar. Then lunch, an Indian Buffet in the dining room, where we met several interesting people (Wally and Sylvia from Victoria, BC; Connie and Ron from San Loius Obispo; L? and Louis from Los Angeles). Connie and Ron have also booked for the Australia circumnavigation, so we may be seeing them again.
After lunch, to the Showroom for a presentation on Ny Alesund, Magdalenafjord and Longyearbyen.Then the rest of the day was pretty much a sea day, so John hoed into his photo cataloguing, while Barb read a book.
A quiet day, no rush. Breakfast (and lunch) in the Lido, morning coffee in the Java Bar. Barb went to the cooking demo, I did photos.
In the afternoon, we went to afternoon tea in the dining room, and had cup cakes and other yummies with a cup of tea or two.
Formal day today, and we got ourselves all dressed up before going to Happy Hour at 7, with a Cosmo Cubana. I whispered a quiet word to Robyn, the pianist, and we sang Happy Birthday to Barb.
Then to the Pinnacle Grill for Barb's birthday dinner, and what a dinner it was! Barb had lobster bisque, prepared at the table, while John had a tomato salad, which was a red and a yellow tomato sliced together as a sandwich. We both had steak for mains, Barb with a filet mignon, John with a rib eye, both blue. All this was accompanied by a bottle of Californian L'Ecole #41 cab sav, very full flavoured and excellent length. For pudding, John had a vanilla souffle and Barb had a chocolate volcano, which was a bowl of sticky upside down chocolate cake, very chocolatey!
After dinner we changed out of our glad rags into warm clothing so that we could go out to the front deck and see Mt. Beerenberg (which is higher than Mt Kosciuosko), slip by on the starboard side. It was covered in cloud, but that did clear enough to offer a glimpse of the peak, rising straight out of the North Atlantic Sea. Very impressive!
The sun set well after midnight, and it is the last sunset we'll see until the 9 Aug!
We had a Mariners' Brunch this morning at 11, so we went without breakfast, and had an extra slide of toast for morning tea. We had discovered that we missed our early morning cup of tea, and Barbara had hit upon the bright idea of ordering breakfast in our cabin, but ordering only a cup of tea and a slice of toast. This has worked well, although we have discovered that it is always brought ten minutes before the time we ask! If we tick the 6am box, it comes at 5:50 - if the 6:30 box, then 6:20, and so on. The steward is very regular in this, so much so that we had to check that our watches were not misaligned with the ship's clock (they were not).
The Mariners' Brunch was a way of recognizing return passengers, and they turned on free champage. Lots of people there, the dining room was pretty well full. There were a couple of speeches, thanking us for our return custom, and generally encouraging us to come again!
Did a couple of laps of the deck to burn off the extra calories before the "premium" wine tasting at 2:30. This was a little more upmarket than the first, and we had matching food for each wine. I did take notes this time, and can report that the wine we thought the best was the New Zealand sauvignon blanc! A hightlight of the afternoon was a demostration by Ferdie of how to remove the cork of a champage bottle using only a champagne glass. Quite an impressive trick!
Went to the movie after dinner "The Accidental Husband". Quite fun.
We were not due to land in Ny Alesund until 1pm, so the morning was spent in the usual lazy breakfast and coffee way, interrupted by sightings of glaciers, and freezing cold winds on the upper observation deck. A welcome announcement during the morning came from the captain to say that they had permission to berth at the small dock, normally occupied by research vessels. This made a great difference to the mood of the passenger, since we all knew what a bunfight getting on and off the tenders was! Barb and I had an early lunch, and got off the ship soon after the gangway was opened.
We nade a bee-line for the small Post Office, the most northerly post office in the world, where we bought some stamps and postcards to send to people to prove that we had made it. John got ticked off for taking a photo of the (preserved) steam train there, but in John's defence, he points out that he did not cross any of the designated barriers, and he followed the injunction to "stay on the roads". We did well to make for the post office - it did not take long for them to sell out of postcards and stamps!
We wandered around the town (such as it was - permanent population only 12!), and got dive bombed by Arctic Terns, who were nested all around the place. John got a photograph of an angry tern, and you can see from his face that he is angry! One stark feature of the place was that there were no trees or vegetation higher than a few stunted grasses, and the endemic moss that does well in this climate. Remember that it was only 2 degrees Celsius the day we were there, and it was a reasonably sunny day in summer.
Back on the ship, we headed north for Magdalenafjorden and the North Pole. John went to the movie "Charlie St Cloud", while Barb went to the evening showto hear a pianist, Vladimir Zoutsov, playing classical piano stuff.
A day of two parts. Firstly, we were up early to see Magdalenafjord as we cruised into it, around it, and out of it from 7 until 9. We had breakfast on the rear deck of the Lido, porridge while watching the glaciers go by, quite a combo!! Words cannot do justice to the scenery, you have to look at the photos, and even then, there is a lot that they don't catch
Secondly, we cruised further north to meet the polar ice cap, at around 1:30. We stooged around the edge for a while, then turned south again. As the captain said, we could go further north, but then we wouldn't have a captain, and the first officer would get a sudden promotion! It too was very impressive - and cold! It was about 1 degree air temperature, and colder when the wind chill was taken into account. We got as far north as 81 degrees 30 minutes.
John has a cold, presumably caught from one of his fellow passengers (John, a dinner table companion, is under intense suspicion, since he had it when we came on board).
An early start, as we did not want to miss the opportunity to explore Longyearbyen. The name is interesting, as it was founded by John Longyear, an American gentleman (so the literature describes him, but I suspect libel laws might have prevented a more accurate description) who went on to make pots of money (I rest my case). His money came from recognizing the significant coal deposits in Svalbard (= "cold coast"), and he started a coal-mining venture in said town, which was named after him (again, no gentleman would do that, would they?)
Longyearbyen is an interesting place, since it has many more facilities than Ny Alesund (and a much larger population, about 1600). There is a concerted push to displace the coal mining economics with a wider base, notably tourism, and this is evident in the way the town now caters for cruise ships. Apparently the first 13 cruise ships of the season were turned away because the port was still ice-bound, and we were among the first cruises to visit for the season. But the coal mining is still a significant part of the place, as all the infrastructure has been declared a national monument, even though the coal mines in Longyearbyen closed in 1999. A particularly poignant monument was the collection of 21 white crosses near the adit of the mine which suffered an explosion in 1962, killing 21 men and which started the decline of the coal mining industry in Svalbard. The Russians still have one base in Batenberg, but they have been winding back operations as well.
We first visited the Museum, which was well worth a visit (and from whence cometh most of the information above). Then we strolled up to the Radissen Hotel for a cup of coffee (a single espresso cost the equivalent of $A5!), and around the town looking at things. Althought the signs all said "Tax Free", the prices were such that the tax rate would have to be aound 80% for the items to be bargains in Australian terms. So we did not buy anything else other than a couple of postcards and stamps.
We walked back to the ship via the longer way past the mine adits and the only church in Svalbard, taking lots of photos of the derelict mining machinery, and the not-so-derelict church. The church was in fact quite modern, and had an interesting plan in that there social area was open plan with the church, and situated at the back of the nave part. So people could move freely between the two parts, and the social area could operate as an overflow area when attendances were large. an interesting aside: the church asked all comers to remove their footwear "as is the custom in Longyearbyen". We had noticed a similar thing at both the Museum and the Hotel, but thought that this was just because they were fussy about their floors. But apparently it is a more common practice than we had thought.
We were back on board well in time for the 1:30 gangway closure, and lunch at the Lido restaurant. The afternoon became a sea day, with much relaxing (and snoring) in the cabin before dinner and the movie after dinner "How Do You Know?". Collapsed into bed at midnight, even though daylight was still streaming in the window.
Late rising - sea days give you that opportunity, since there no real deadlines to meet, other than the end of breakfast serving! We did indeed make it to the dining room for breakfast, which was Irish oatmeal (porridge) and Garden Vegetable Omelette (Barb, and Irish Oatmeal and Kippered Herrings (John).
After breakfast, John went to the Showroom to hear an interview with the Dining Room Manager (Gildus), the Wine Sommelier (Ferdie), and the Executive Chef (Pedro). There were asked a range of questions by the audience, and the whole thing was quite interesting. Then he stayed on at 11 to hear the Excursions Manager (Daniel) talk about the options for visiting Alesund and Bergen. Alesund of course we know quite well from our 2006 visit, so there was not much new in that, but J. did pick up a few tips about visiting Bergen - which we have been through, but did not stop there long. Meanwhile Barb went to the cooking demonstration in the Wajang Theatre.
Then straight on to lunch in the dining room, which was a Scandanavian Buffet, and lots of other people had the same idea. The food was good - crab meat, salmon, halibut, and prawns. Only a short break while we explored the self-service washing facilities on deck 10, and then to the Showroom again to hear the string trio play various classical pieces, particularly those with challenging violin parts. The afternoon was spent quietly in our cabin, John doing more photos and this blog, while Barb read.
The evening was formal, so we dressed up for the occasion, and had dinner with the usual susects. But we did not hang around for the Black and White Ball, but went for a walk around the deck - 6 laps - then to bed.
Another quiet sea day, catching up on photos and diary. I've now finished cataloguing 2009 and 2010, so it is just 2011 outstanding. Trouble is, I keep adding new photos!
We went to the show after dinner, instead of the movie. It had a harpist (very effective playing Abba's "Mama Mia"!), a tenor (who tried to get audience participation, but not many people knew the words to "Sweet Caroline"), and finally Lorraine Brown, a soprano who sang a few musical songs. All in all, it was quite enjoyable.
Well there was no question about what we would do today. No shore excursion, but a walk around the town renewing old memories was the plan. But first we had to climb Mt Asla (all 418 steps!) to admire THE view, the jigsaw view that had us dreaming of going to this place some 30 years ago, but which was only fulfilled in 2006, just 5 years ago. You will have to peruse the photos to see how much we liked the view, but we did also fit some other things into the day.
We walked back to the ship for lunch, then strolled the town. We brought along the laptop, so a visit to MacDonald's (where there was free wi-fi) was in order. We also visited the church, the Brosundet, the harbour, and the Radisson Hotel. We were back on board at 4:15 in time for a 5 o'clock sailing, but something went amiss (we were not told what, a slight grievance I have against the company) and only set sail at around 6. We did however get delightful views of the fjords as we steamed away.
John was so tired he went to bed straight after dinner, but Barb went to the Chocolate Dessert night (see photos) and sampled the wares.
Sea days! Very relaxing! In many ways I prefer them to port days. After the last two days, we were glad of another break. John spent most of the day diarizing, and Barb reading. In the afternoon we went to see Yoga, our cabin steward show how to make the towel animals that we get each night on the bed, as part of the "turn down" service. Afternoon tea on the back deck of the Lido, and took a few photographs of the gannets gliding around.
Day Date Port Arrive Depart 0 15 Aug 2011 Amsterdam, The Netherlands 1700 1 16 Aug 2011 Hamburg, Germany ON 1600 2 17 Aug 2011 Hamburg, Germany 2300 3 18 Aug 2011 Enter Kiel Canal Brunsbuttel CO 0700 3 18 Aug 2011 Daylight transit Kiel Canal CO 3 18 Aug 2011 Exit Kiel Canal Holtenau CO 1700 4 19 Aug 2011 At Sea (Baltic Sea) CO 5 20 Aug 2011 Tallinn, Estonia 0800 1700 6 21 Aug 2011 St. Petersburg, Russia ON VX 0700 7 22 Aug 2011 St. Petersburg, Russia VX 1800 8 23 Aug 2011 Helsinki, Finland 0800 1700 9 24 Aug 2011 Stockholm, Sweden 0800 1700 10 25 Aug 2011 Visby, Sweden TR 0700 1400 11 26 Aug 2011 Copenhagen, Denmark 0700 1600 12 27 Aug 2011 Oslo, Norway 0900 1700 13 28 Aug 2011 At Sea (North Sea) CO 14 29 Aug 2011 Tilbury (London), England 0700
Since we were not arriving in Hamburg until 4pm, most of the day was like a normal sea day. But it was slightly different in that we had a full morning of activities that we wanted to do. Firstly, there was breakfast. Yes, well, that was normal enough. Then coffee in the Java Bar. Still normal. But while John was drinking his coffee, he discovered that all Barb's photos taken yesterday were in the wrong time zone! Arrggh! This meant carefully unthreading all the work done in downloading them, re-downloading them, updating the time, and then re-threading all the work to get them into the album.
This took long enough that we went to the first real planned activity, the introduction to the sights of the Baltic Cruise, held in the Showroom while the computer was catchng up. It was a bit of a waste of time, really, as Daniel and Judy did not really say anything that was not already said in the excursions flyer. Barb shot off at 5 to 11 to go to the cooking demo, while John hung on for 10 minutes longer to hear the end of the presentation. Didn't really need to do that, either.
The cooking demo was a repeat of one the John had already seen and heard (and tasted) on the previous cruise, so what John knew that Barbara did not was that there were samples of the second item at the end of the demo. Presented were a lobster salad and creme brulee, and the creme brulee sample was better the second time around! (Said John, but Barbara had to take his word for it.)
Then at 12noon off to a "Collectors' Luncheon", which was really another themed buffet, this one on Indonesian food. This was also better than the last one!
After lunch, more computer phot processing in the cabin (Barb snored). A phone call from Shore excursions broke the silence (?) to say that tonight's shore excursion was cancelled, but there was space on the alternative. John is not convinced that HAL know what they are doing, because this is the second shore excursion we have booked on, and both have been cancelled!
Woke up in time for the sunrise this morning, with some lovely views over the Swedish archipeligo. A fog came and went, which only added to the magic, and created a number of Turneresque scenes. We passed the Eric Fredricksborg fortress. Arrived and berthed in Stockholm at 8:30 or so, which meant that our sshore excursion, which was meant to leave at 8:30, did not get away on time.
But get away we eventually did, and the first stop was the reason for the tour - the Vasa Musuem. Now I remember reading about the discovery and recovery of this ship as a boy, and so did Barb, so it was a particular target for us both. It was a fantastic sight to see it all restored, and the wealth of information that it revealed about life in the early 17th century.
The story of the Vasa is also rather interesting. It was built as a "display ship" for the king, Gustav Adolfson, who wanted to use it to fight the Danes. He ordered an extra deck of cannons while the ship was built built, but they did not understand the principles of flotation very well in thise days, and did not offset the above-water line weight with extra ballast. So on its maiden voyage, it managed to sail about 1500m from launch, when a small wind blew it past its limited stability, and it capsized and sank! The king was not amused!
The tour bus then took us to a number of Stockholm sights (see photos), and then we returned to the ship for lunch, once again on the outside Lido deck with a chicken burger and a coupla (German) beers. After lunch, caught the 1 o'clock shuttle bus back to the city, where we walked over to the small island Gamla Stan, which is the old town. We walked around the inner area, full of small alleyways, and went into two churches, the German Church, and the Stockholm Cathedral (Stoykirka) - both denominations unknown, although I suspect Lutheran and Catholic respectively.
Not much time left before we had to hurry back to catch the second last shuttle bus to be back on board at 3:30. Ater an hour or so relaxing in our cabin, we went up to the Crow's Nest for the last quarter of the happy hour, and a Bloody Caesar each to sip as we sailed away, back through the same archipeligo that we enjoyed in the morning.
Day Date Start Activity End Overnight 0 29 Aug London fly Dubai 1 30 Aug Dubai 2 31 Aug Dubai 3 1 Sep Dubai 4 2 Sep Dubai fly in flight 5 3 Sep in flight Melbourne
Up at 6am to finish off the packing and ready ourselves. We were early downstairs to pay the bill and wait for the airport pickup, which also was early. Several other passengers to pick up, then on to the airport. We had to queue a bit this time, since there were only 2 check-ins open - in contrast to last time. Even so, we only had to wait about 5 minutes, then on to the security screening.
Here things threatened to get a bit pear-shaped. My carry on bag had to be re-screened, and then they wanted it opened. "Hullo", I thought, "they want to look at my wires". But it was more bizarre than that. The search woman fossicked through everything, as though looking for some particular item. She found it - my Australian power board. "Not allowed" was all she offered by way of explanation, and confiscated it! !!!! Since when is a power board not allowed? Indeed, it went through the very same screening station 2 months earlier, and nothing was said. I was about to argue the point, when a little voice said "John, pull your head in". So I left, cursing mentally (but not verbally!) the woman and her bizarre behaviour. Hey, I'm not racist, but she was wearing a head scarf . We consoled me by heading for coffee.
The departure lounges at Dubai are all mixed up with the duty free, which means that everything was crowded. But two cups of coffee and a bit to eat meant that we forgot the hassles, and didn't care much - except when going to the loo. Both Barb and John had to queue to get into the loos, although the men's queue was only for the cubicles, and once John realised that, he jumped the queue (is this too much information?)
They used a similar model to our previous Holland-America boardings (but not the most recent, see 25 Jul) - keep passengers happy by having multiple queues. That way they never spend too long in one queue, and think things are progressing faster than they really are. We went through the check-in queue, the security screening queue (grr!), the gate lounge queue, the 'final boarding' queue, and then the queue to actually board the aircraft! But we managed to get 3 seats to ourselves, allowing us a bit of spread-out room, so I no complain!
Finally away on the flight, and we settled in to a sequence of watching movies on demand - a pleasant enough way to fill in the time. The day was cut short at about 3pm Dubai time when they turned off all the lights and told us to go to sleep - a consequence of flying east. John did manage a bit of sleep, but Barb watched more movies.
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