Incredible Iceland— Akureyri-Day 2

I was glad we had come back a little early from our first day tour so I could be up at what would be dawn at home (5:30 am) to see old town Akureyri and I got lucky and had a great walk. I didn’t get rained on but the by the time I got back it had really started coming down. I will leave it at that and you can see what I saw in my photos. Later on, some of the group went into town but Kathleen was wiped out so we stayed on board and the whole gang was back for a late lunch at The Porch (a Reflection alternative seafood restaurant) and it was wonderful. A great lunch. Some super fresh seafood and some of the best sangria I have ever had. Drank way too much of it. We sailed out late in the day and it was a beautiful sail out up the fjord. This was followed by two sea days before we would dock in Cobh, Ireland. More about that coming on Sunday.

When I prepare, I am not messing around. I find the right places, the right people, and the right environment. Iceland is one of those places. —Conor McGregor

 

Incredible Iceland— Akureyri-Day 1

After what seemed like a very short night we sailed down an incredible fjord into Akureyri, Iceland’s most important northern city. It’s small town (a population of only around 27,000) but it is the gateway to some pretty amazing natural wonders. The day started with beautiful weather and the sail-in made for some great photos. 

I almost forgot to mention that before we got to Akureyri the captain of Reflection decided to make us all what my friend Bob (a long-time Navy guy) calls “Bluenose Sailors” which I am sure means we have been inside the Arctic Circle. He sailed the entire ship north of where he needed to so we could say we had been inside the Arctic Circle. What a guy! We even got a certificate. Kind of the like the one we got when we crossed the Equator many years ago on our SouthEast Asia cruise.

 

We were met by our guide Auðun of No.17 Tours. He had been recommended by the god of shore excursions, my buddy Mike Preisman. Mike had used the services of Auðun a few years ago on their Icelandic cruise and had spoken highly of him. He was right. I should point out that Auðun told us his company used to be Taxi 17 because when it wasn’t touring season, he would drive a taxi but now the government says he is too old to do that. He can drive a bus, a truck and a tour van but at 76 he can’t drive a taxi. Who would have thought. He is an amazing guy who really knew the area he was showing us. Plus he had some great stories from his 27 years as the skipper of a fishing trawler. 

We set out a little earlier in Akureyri as the ship was docked and let us off by 10:30. Auðun was ready for us and we were off to see the northern waterfalls, stand with both my feet in different continents and see some other amazing geological wonders as well as two versions of the Blue Lagoon. And we finally got to see puffins. We had missed them before on previous trips to places where they live but this time we got to see a bunch. Check out the photos for all the sights we saw. 

Even though we had gone out earlier than we had in Reykjavik, the weather had turned both cold and gray and by the time we had seen the puffins and the waterfalls, we were wiped out so we asked Auðun to just head us home and we were off to the ship were we pretty much caught a late dinner and collapsed. But we did have a super day and the Icelandic landscape is even more amazing up north. 

 

I still don’t know why, exactly, but I do think people can have a spiritual connection to landscape, and I certainly did in Iceland. —Hannah Kent

Incredible Iceland— Reykjavik-Day 2

Most everyone else in our party slept in a little bit after getting back at almost midnight from our Golden Circle tour with Birkir. I on the other hand, love it when a ship overnights in a port so that I can get up early the next day and walk through the city. (One of my best photo walks ever was in Québec last October when we overnighted on Summit). More and more cruise lines are doing this (overnighting in cities) and you can get off and on whenever you want all night long. This was a good day to do that but I really missed that early morning golden light I had when we were in Edinburgh and Dublin.

I got up at 5:00 am and headed out to walk the seaside walkway into downtown Reykjavik but the light outside was already like 10:30 in the morning as you can see from my pics. I got some decent stuff and then headed back to the ship to shower and meet Kathleen and others in our group to take a taxi back into downtown to see some more of the city. My pics and their captions will pretty much tell the tale on that. Don’t forget to click on the first one and view them as a slide show. And if you want to see more, check them out on Flickr by clicking here.

We were back on the ship by 2:00 pm and Reflection set sail for Akureyri at 3:00. It was a pretty great day considering how little sleep was involved. Thursday, I will post all about our travels in Akureyri, in the north. And we cross the Arctic Circle! 

Blustery Belfast

Sitting in the Club World Lounge in Terminal 3, Heathrow, I think I have enough time to upload Belfast (their WiFi is pretty good and it is already written). We shall see. It was the next stop after we boarded in Dublin where I left off (other my WOW Iceland post and my Woeful WiFi post).

We awoke on our first day after leaving Dublin to a truly blustery day in Belfast. Due to tides we weren’t able to dock until almost 11:00 am. As soon as we were able, we walked four of our party who had never been to Belfast before out to a private excursion I had arranged through Tours by Locals that would take them to up the Antrim Coast to Giant’s Causeway. We had done this on a previous visit to Belfast and we along with four others in our group who had been here before decided to forego that and pay a visit to the Titanic Experience. 

I fully realize that visiting a museum dedicated to a cruise ship that sank by hitting an iceberg while on a cruise seems to be tempting fate but we went anyway. If you are in Belfast, this is a must-see. They have done an excellent job of detailing pretty much everything about the Titanic, its building, the times it was built in and so much more. Not only are there a number of excellent exhibits, there is even a ride. Who knew? We were pretty surprised. It was a great tour and worth the money and time. 

Our original plans after the Titanic experience had been to jump on the HoHo bus but since it was pouring rain, we crammed ourselves into a taxi and headed back to the ship. All and all, a pretty decent day.

Remember, you can click the first photo to see the pics larger and as a slide show.

Post note: Wasn’t able to upload everything in the lounge. Finishing up at home with my usual AWESOME WiFi. Exhausted but more about that later.

The Titanic hit the iceberg not because they could not see it coming but because they could not change direction. —Dean Devlin

Onboard Reflection—trying to not be a Grumpy Git

Yesterday (Monday, June 3) we boarded Celebrity Cruise Line’s Reflection in Dublin. If you have been reading this all along you know we are cruisers and that we love to cruise. But lately things on Celebrity, our usual cruise line of choice, have been changing and this cruise just continues that trend. When I was asked why I hadn’t posted sooner than this, I explained that so far I was not as pleased as I wanted to be and I didn’t want to come across as a grumpy git. It would have been easy for me to slip into it quickly.

Pretty much a bunch of little things and nothing big (except for a guy hitting Kathleen in the face with his jumper) and two really BLAND meals in a row for me (you know I love interesting food and this has been anything but so far). But what has been great so far are the people. Our Cruise Critic roll call sail-away event was well attended as was this morning’s Meet and Mingle. A lot of great people, all really appreciative for all the stuff we did for this Roll Call. (If you are new to my writing, you may not realize what I mean by Cruise Critic or Roll Calls so you can click this link to find out.) And it is GREAT to be back on a ship with my brother, his wife and our friends Bob and Holly. We affectionately call ourselves “The Cruise Ruiners,” which is a story for another day.

But I should start with the beginning of the day and you will see how I slowly went from the happy, carefree traveler I am (ha ha ha) to a grumpy git I sometimes become. I got up early for a photo walk as I usually do and headed out the door of our AirBnB to go and find Reflection, our ship. I did find her and she looked pretty darned good. Took a few last photos of Dublin on my way back to our AirBnB. After that it was breakfast, pack and  head to the ship. We were waiting to board at 10:00 am and onboard and having lunch by 11:30. Pretty decent embarkation except for the fact that you stop at one building to drop luggage and check in and then have to take a bus quite a ways away to get on the ship. That’s what sometimes happens in industrial ports.

Once onboard had a nice lunch and got into our stateroom right on time…but our luggage didn’t arrive until almost six hours after we had dropped it. Sorry, but that is just too long. One person in our party didn’t get their bag until after dinner. This is really wrong. Also, sad to say that so far on this cruise I am making bad food choices. Had nearly tasteless calamari appetizer followed by nearly tasteless pasta dish. From now on I am going to order whatever my brother is having because he has been raving about the food.

One of the truly different things about this embarkation day was when the muster (lifeboat) drill was held. These drills (mandated by international law for you non-cruisers) are usually held in the afternoon but because we weren’t sailing until after 10:00 pm, it was held between dinner seatings at 7:45. Which meant we were a little rushed at dinner (that’s why I didn’t send my dinner back for something else) and then we had to go to the photo gallery, of all places to stand up and watch the absolute stupidest movie ever. This is where Kathleen ran into problems when she couldn’t sit down and then some totally oblvious man with a sweater around his shoulders took it off, stood in front of her and then flipped it up to put it back on and slapped her right in the face with it. She reacted as you would if hit in the face after being forced to stand up for more than half an hour. And immediately a crew member was in her face asking if she needed to call security. That crew member was a total ass and reacted to the situation by blaming Kathleen for reacting to be slapped in the face and not to the idiot who had done this in the first place.

I’m a very early riser, and I don’t like to miss that beautiful early morning light. —David Hockney

We are almost gone

IMG_1736This is a picture I took yesterday because I found these (photo above) when I was looking for something else that I wanted to take with us tomorrow when we fly to Edinburgh. What you are seeing is the SeaPass card (combo room key and onboard credit card for you non-cruisers) from every cruise we have ever taken (except the one on Carnival we don’t tell anyone about). Starting in the upper left with our first Alaskan cruise on the old Holland America Westerdam in 2000 all the way through out Fall Foliage cruise last October on Celebrity’s Summit. Those SeaPass cards represent a lot of great times with a lot of great people.

The trip we leave on tomorrow will include our 26th cruise. Not as many as many of our friends (including our buddy Seth who has taken more than 65 cruises) but we think it’s pretty good. This time we will be adding a SeaPass card from Celebrity’s Reflection headed from Dublin to Belfast, on to two ports in Iceland and then back to Cork and Dublin Ireland before we fly home. Before we ever get to the cruise we will be staying five nights in Edinburgh, six nights with our fellow Martini Mates, Paul and Gail in the Yorkshire region of England and then three nights pre-cruise in Dublin,. Lots of travel and that’s just how we like it.

We invite you to join us as I will try my best to (and since I won’t spend my entire days driving like I did in Arizona) post some pics and notes every day we are on the road. So come back here often and let us know what you think by commenting.

Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.
—Bo Bennett

Pack it up!

IMG_1717I just finished reading an online article about packing for travel. To be honest, it has been on my mind a lot lately. All because of one spot on our upcoming trip where I am seeing a possible problem. We leave for Edinburgh a week from Monday (May 20) and on Friday of that week we will be heading to York by train to visit some of our favorite people. That’s the day I am just not sure about. You see that morning I need to get us from a train platform into our seats on the train with our luggage. And I am still not sure how I am going to do that.

We travel with the following (see the photo): two checked bags (I know, don’t check bags—see below as to why I have to), two regular-size carry-ons and my camera/computer bag and whatever Kathleen is carrying as a purse or bag (this time a backpack, I think). When we get to Waverly Station in Edinburgh, I need to get those on to the train. Each of the checked bags weighs around 50  pounds. The carry-ons each weigh around 25 pounds. All are fairly big as you can see from the pic. My camera/computer bag weights in excess of 25 pounds.

I would love to do the minimalist packing thing. I hate schlepping bags (one of the reasons we cruise, so we can pack and unpack once) but we are about to leave on a month-long European trip that will hit four countries, 3 weeks on land and a cruise in there someplace. I am a fairly big guy (6’2″, 215 pounds) and wear size 13 shoes. I have big clothes and big shoes (nowhere near as big as my little brother’s) How do I pack for that long without a checked bag? I need shoes for evening wear and shoes for working out at a minimum. One pair of my shoes almost fills a standard carry-on. Even if I stuff them with socks and underwear, three weeks worth of my clothing just will not fit in a carry-on. All that and we think that this trip we may hit snow in June (Iceland) so I need boots as well along with sweaters and other cold weather clothing.

So someone can tell me how to get all this in a carry-on I would truly appreciate it but I have tried for years to do that and the closest I have come was way back when on our first couple of land trips to Italy and the UK when we did it with one checked bag and one carry-on. But that was before I was exercised crazed and could travel the entire of a country with one pair of shoes. It was also before part of every major trip was a cruise where I knew I would need more than jeans to have dinner. And it was before we went all over the place on trips that included stops in four different countries, including Iceland.

Lastly, YES, I have read the quote below and tried that method. On the last trip I brought back exactly three things I did not wear and all three were sweaters. Not my fault that it was almost 90 degrees in Portland, Maine in mid-October.

When you get back from a trip, make a note of what you didn’t wear. This will avoid packing it unnecessarily next time. —Robert Powell

Quick Shots

Viking almost catastrophe follow up

Tonight just two quick things I want to share. The first is an awesome story about Viking Cruise Line’s ship that ran into trouble last week off Norway. If you missed it, I wrote about it late last week. Their crew and the whole company stepped up big time. You can click here to read the article. Worth the few minutes. Warning thought, it is a harrowing account. I would not have wanted to be on that ship. But I would have been thrilled by the way the crew onboard handled things.

Watching a big ship sail down a tiny canal

MeyerWerftAll through 2008 we were anxiously waiting the building and launching of Celebrity Cruise Line’s Solstice. This was not just a new ship, this was an entirely new class of ship. We (Kathleen and I) along with our Martini Mates were booked on Solstice’s 8th cruise in early March. So leading up to the launch we watched her being built at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. They had web cams all over her and we checked every day to see the progress. We would try to figure out where our staterooms were and how the rest of the ship was coming together. Finally, after waiting for months, they had the “roll out.”

They call it a roll out because the ship literally has to roll to the sea though some pretty tight places. We watched that journey on webcams and from people posting photos taken along the way. When ships roll out from Meyer-Werft they are quite a ways from the open ocean. It is really quite a site to see a GIANT cruise ship in a tiny little canal floating through farm lands. I bring this up because it happened again this week. It wasn’t a Celebrity ship but a Royal Caribbean ship. Their new behemoth, Spectrum of the Seas, is really something to see. And she was captured in a really cool YouTube video being towed out to sea. You can watch it all by clicking here. It’s one of those things that I find fascinating and you might too. It’s only a little over a minute.

We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend. — Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Odds and Ends

Going to touch on three topics tonight.

Topic 1: Viking cruise ship problems

VikingAs usual the day all the Viking ships problems went viral I got a ton of texts and e-mails from both my new-to-cruising friends and my non-cruising friends telling me things like, “See, that’s why I will never (or won’t go again) cruise.” Or, “You aren’t still going to cruise are you?” Well of course we are. Here’s why.

First, sailing off the coast of Norway at this time of the year is kind of like sailing in the Caribbean during hurricane season. You takes your chances. The folks on those cruise, if they did their homework or had a great travel agent to warn them, would not have taken that cruise without knowing it could be rough. These folks wanted to see the Northern Lights on this cruise. They took a chance. BTW: If one of my clients told me that they were extremely subject to motion sickness, I would have advised skipping this one. There are other cruises they might now want to take at certain times of the year as well. And global climate change is making those “times of the year” vary from historical norms. Kathleen and I have been through winds higher than that but thankfully always on a ship with fully functioning engines. Our first time through the Straits of Messina we had 60 knot winds and in the Tasmin Sea we had some amazingly heavy seas. I will address how Kathleen beats her motion sickness in a future post.

Second, if you haven’t seen the follow-up, the cause of the engine failure was lack of oil. So why didn’t the sensors tell them they were low on oil? Because the ship was rocking so much that the sensors were registering incorrectly. Still no excuse for pure stupidity on the Viking engineers part but I am sure it’s the kind of thing that won’t happen again.

Lastly, when I got a note from someone who said, see what happens when you cruise, “I am never cruising again.” My first reaction was to check the traffic stats for their particular city in the last week. I found that more than 30 people had been killed in their regional area. While that is sad, my question to them is, “Were they going to stop driving?” I doubt it. But in a storm situation when no one suffered more than minor injuries, they were going to stop cruising? Not that logical. And all those Viking passengers got their money back as well.

Topic 2: An absolutely excellent and awesome article about one of my favorite travel people

StevesArticleIn case you missed it last Sunday, the NY Times weekly magazine had a really long and really in-depth article about one of my favorite people, our local travel expert, Rick Steves. (Click here to read it.) We have seen Rick speak a few times and his office is just north of us. He even performed with Seattle Men’s Chorus a few years back. He didn’t sing but he did tell some great travel stories between the songs. It was fun.

We love Rick and often follow his travel advice. His books on touring and museums are the best. He even has books about cruise ports in Europe. We love his restaurant picks as well. His book helped us find a superb place in a basement in Sienna once. Great food! If you are touring museums or taking walks in cities in Europe, have Rick with you either on his app or one of his guide books. He rocks. The article is worth a read. It kind of defines why travel is so important.

Topic 3: Cruise lines need to do a better job of getting in front of stuff like the Viking thing.

Whether it’s something as crazy as the Viking news earlier this week, norovirus or an unscheduled cruise cancellation, the cruise lines need to get out there with what is going on a whole lot faster. In this day and age of constant social media posting, things often end of looking a lot worse than they are but when people post about them and nothing is said by the cruise line involved for 12 hours or more, it looks bad and it gives social media control of the issue.

The same is sometime true when you are on a ship as well. Things will happen, there will be alerts or schedule changes and you won’t know what happens for hours. For instance, on our last cruise a port was cancelled. It was obvious from where we were when we woke up that we weren’t going to the port we missed. On the ship’s television map, we were far beyond it. And outside our windows, we couldn’t see land, which meant we were at sea. Yet there was no announcement about the change in course until around 10:00 am of that day. Pretty obvious by then that we weren’t going to the port.

Just an aggravation when I was just a passenger but more so now that I am a travel professional.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart. — Confucius

Martini Mates Forever

I have written in the past about the Martini Mates but I am just not sure I have written about them on this site. So here’s a short bit of explanation about who we are and a sad bit of news about one of our best friends—a Martini Mate.

Back in 2005 we booked our second Celebrity Cruise on Infinity that would take us on a short repositioning trip from Vancouver, BC to San Francisco, CA. As is our habit, as soon as we booked the cruise, we joined the Cruise Critic roll call (click here if you don’t know what that is) for it. Little did we know how life changing joining that roll call would be. There were about 100 people posting on the roll call but one day (about six months prior to the cruise) we started discussing the Martini Bar on Infinity. Now none of us were big fans of martinis but it was fun to discuss all the different kinds that X serves in its many martini bars throughout their fleet.

During that discussion someone suggested that we (everyone on the roll call) start calling ourselves the Martini Mates. This caught on and pretty soon we were all a bunch of Martini Mates. By the time we all arrived in Vancouver for the cruise, a bunch of us who had done a TON of posting felt like we were good friends. Many of us gathered the night before the cruise for a pre-cruise cocktail party that was organized by Carol Preisman who is the wife of the god of shore excursions Mike. We met in the bar at the Sheraton Wall Center hotel and when I walked into the hotel, Carol came up and I put out my hand to shake hers. She said, “I’m from the South honey. We don’t shake, we hug.” And she did. And I did. And I made a friend who lasted from that day until last night when we lost Carol.

Carol would always say that she wasn’t sure why she and I were friends. Neither was I. We were pretty much the opposite of each other. She was a conservative, reserved Southern Belle of the highest order and I was a liberal, loud, ex-hippie from California. And we became friends. And every time we saw each other or she would introduce me to someone, she would say, “Not sure why Jim and I are friends…but we are.”

Of course there were many Martini Mates on that cruise but for some reason, six of us stayed Martini Mates. We still correspond with others from that 2005 cruise. We have sailed with some of those people as well. Over the years we have added more folks to the Martini Mates but the six of us were the core—Bob, Jude, Mike, Carol, Kathleen and me.

Those four people have been a huge part of our lives since the day we met them. We have sailed with Mike and Carol at least eight times and done a couple of land trips with them as well. They have stayed at our place and we have stayed at theirs. Yes, we were closer to Bob and Jude but that’s just because we were geographically closer since they lived in BC and Mike and Carol lived in Florida but the six of us were still the best of friends. And when we were able to travel to all the parts of the world together, we felt like no time had passed between trips.

When we returned from the original trip in 2005, Carol wanted us all to be able to have a place to keep talking to each other on the original Cruise Critic roll call so she started the Martini Mates “friends of Cruise Critic” board that we still post on to this day. This morning it was filled with love for both Carol and Mike.

I am posting more photos than I usually post because when I went to look for them, I found so many that I loved of us with our Mates all over the world. Bob and Jude never did the really long and adventurous trips—Bob hates to fly. But we still went everywhere together.

This morning after I had found out about Carol passing I took a long walk and was thinking about all the places we had been with Mike and Carol. Besides the initial Martini Mate foray in 2005, we sailed with them to Alaska twice, to SE Asia from Singapore to Hong Kong, through the Panama Canal in 2014, to the Baltic a few years before that, on the eighth voyage of Solstice in the Caribbean and Hawaii.

So that’s kind of a short history of the Martini Mates. The Mates suffered our first huge loss when Jude passed away a few years ago. Today we lost Carol. And she will be missed but I like to think that she is undoubtedly in a heavenly Martini Bar, sipping her chocolate martini with Jude and another of our group, “The Straw.” She and Jude are rolling their eyes as “The Straw” (that’s a whole other story) tells the story of how she became “The Straw” for the 1 millionth time.

We love you Carol and will miss you. I wish I could see you right now to give you that hug because you taught me that “we don’t shake hands, we hug.”