Dublin on the way home

This is it. The last post of our more than three week 2019 trip to Europe. Yesterday I told you about our short and sweet visit to Cork and Cobh and the next morning found us sitting at the dock in Dublin. But unlike previous cruises, we did not have to get off the ship. Celebrity, in their great wisdom, had decided us to give us an overnight stay in Dublin before we had to disembark. So we arrived on Thursday the 13th at 7:00 am and didn’t have to leave the ship until 9:00 am on Friday the 14th.

This left us with an entire day to do something else in Dublin. This might have been really important to us if we had not just spent three full days in Dublin before the cruise but that all worked out since we were going to the Guinness Storehouse to celebrate Bob and Holly’s anniversary by taking part in the Guinness Connoisseur Tasting Experience.

If we hadn’t already known quite a lot about beer, this would have been a super learning activity but we had pretty much been schooled in beer by Kathleen’s daughter Michelle and her husband Brian who are level one cicerones (the beer equivalent of a sommelier). Since we pretty much had the beer facts down pat, it was a very fun way to spend two hours with friends and family and drink a sample of every beer that Guinness makes (six to be exact) plus learn to draw the perfect pint of Guinness (as we had learned about Beamish the day before in Cork). By the way, one thing we learned was that the Guinness Storehouse has been named one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. It’s a really slick presentation and very well done. If you are in Dublin, it’s worth the time and cost.

Once you have looked at the pics below, our trip is done. We have been home for more than a week now and if you missed the story of our flights coming home, you can read about that by clicking here. We hope you have enjoyed traveling with us and I plan on returning to posting about travel in general for the rest of June and most of July…right up until we cruise again, to Alaska on July 26th on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas with our kids and grandkids. Can’t wait.

In the meantime, since it’s summer, we are doing ship visitations and those deserve some posts as well. Last Thursday we went to Vancouver to tour Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, so you can watch for that one coming soon. This Saturday we are touring Norwegian Cruise Line’s Joy and I will get some info and photos from that one. Later in the month we will be on our old friend Solstice as well as Ovation. Watch for these.

My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice in Guinness. My third choice – would have to be Guinness. —Peter O’Toole

Kind of cool Cork

When I was about five I had a great grandmother that we just called Grandma Kinney. She was my maternal grandmother’s mom and her claim to fame was being born in County Cork, Ireland. Three summers ago we visited Cork and did the usual stuff you do when you hit the port of Cobh. That would be going to Blarney Castle, the Blarney Woolen Mill, the epicurean village of Kinsale and a few minutes in downtown Cork. So this time we didn’t need to do that so we (us and our good friends Bob and Holly) wanted to head into Cork to the English Market. It’s a typical old-style English market and bills itself as the oldest English Market in the world—and it’s not even in England.

We got off the ship, got Steve, Jamie and family off on a tour van to Blarney and grabbed a cab (took a little while) and headed into Cork. Our cab driver dropped us off at the back door to the market, just down an alleyway to the market, past a really cool mural dedicated to everyone in the world…except George Bush (really—see the photos).

We wandered through the market (which was very nice and really cool) but much smaller than we expected. So when we were done we had only been in Cork for about 45 minutes (which was kind of ridiculous for a 25 euro cab ride) so we thought we should find something else to see. On the way in from Cobh (where the ship docked), our cab driver had recommended that we see Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the biggest church in Cork. It was pretty impressive (see the photos).

After we had seen the church, we all needed to use a rest room and Kathleen mentioned that in the last block she had seen Fordes pub and thought we could kill two birds with one stone, use their restroom and get a pint. It turned out to be a GREAT idea. Not only did they have really clean restrooms, they also had a super barman who told us the history of the bar (been in the same family for generations) and offered to teach us how to pull the perfect pint of Beamish. For the uninitiated, in the north of the republic of Ireland, Guinness is king but in Southern Ireland, Beamish is king. So now Bob and I both have certificates that we are certified to pull the perfect pint of Beamish (did you know that a Beamish must sit for a 117.5 seconds after the first pull to let the nitrogen bubbles settle?. Well I do.)

After a nice break and a pint, we took a taxi back to the ship and took a break while the others toured all over southern Ireland. The whole journey comes to an end in Dublin which I will show you a little more of tomorrow.

Here, in Cork district, you have in combination all the dangers which war can inflict. ——Eamon de Valera

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! 

Incredible Iceland— Reykjavik-Day 1

Birkir
Birkir, Reykjavik’s best tour guide

After our Titanic foray into Belfast, we spent the next day and a little more at sea heading to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. After a cool sail in (see the photos—we passed a huge iceberg), we arrived around 1:00 pm and after a quick lunch we set off on an 8 hour tour with our guide from Tours by Locals, Birkir. Now normally we would never start an 8-10 hour tour at 1:30 pm because within few hours all we would be able to see is darkness. But this was Iceland and we were within 2 weeks of the longest day of the year so we could tour until midnight and it would never be totally dark. That meant we could see what the tour books refer to as the southern Iceland Golden Circle. 

It included the edge of continents, incredible waterfalls, exploding geysers, volcanic craters, Icelandic horses and some of the most amazing natural beauty we have seen. Our first stop was the Þingvellir Icelandic National Park which has significance for two reasons. It is a historical site where the Icelandic parliament first met in 930 AD. And it is the intersection of two continents. Seriously. The plates that form the North American continent end in Iceland and run directly into the plates that form the European continent. In a way we were walking between North America and Europe the entire time we were in Iceland. In fact, two days later just outside Akureyri in the north, I was able to stand with my right foot in North America and my left foot in Europe. Pretty cool. 

After our visit to this beautiful (in its own way) national park, we drove onward to ice cream. Yes, ice cream. It seems that there is a world-famous dairy and ice cream factory in almost the middle of nowhere. We had some amazing ice cream and even got to meet the cows that had done the original work on it. It was a fun and delicious experience. 

Next up was Kathleen’s favorite part of the tour, a visit to feed some very cool Icelandic horses. As you drive through the wilds of Iceland, you see thousands of these Icelandic horses (never call them ponies). They are everywhere. Of course they are owned by someone but you do see some wild ones as well. Birkir knew of a place where a farmer allowed his horses to be petted and fed (he even provided “horse candy” you could buy) and so we stopped and everyone who wanted to got to feed the horses while the rest of us took photos. See mine to see how incredibly beautiful these animals are. That said, it is sad to say that Icelanders eat horse on a regular basis. It is a staple of their diet. Birkir offered to find us a restaurant that served horse but we said we were content to pet and feed them. 

After that it was on to the absolute, drop-dead highlight of the day—the Gullfoss waterfall. We have been to Niagara Falls but I have to tell you, this was so much better. In my opinion the reason for that was that these falls are still in a very natural setting and incredibly cool. Also, the water is totally unpolluted and blue. When you see the photos, just realize that I didn’t do anything to those pics at all—the water really is that blue. Seriously. The pictures tell the story. 

We thought we had seen it all but now it was on to geysers. Compared to Old Faithful that goes off once an hour, Iceland’s southern geysers go off every five minutes or so. They smell of sulfur but they also are very cool. Check out the photos below. 

After our geyser experience and a brief stop at a volcanic crater (sorry, this one didn’t come close to Crater Lake and just not impressive enough for pics), we made a brief stop for dinner (by this time it was around 8:30 but outside it looked like the middle of the day) and then it was on to our last stop of the day, The Blue Lagoon. 

If you have ever been to Iceland you have heard of the Blue Lagoon. It is so popular that people flying from the US to Europe will do a five hour stopover just to hit the Blue Lagoon (which is located between Reykjavik and the airport). If you have never heard of it or seen photos, just imagine a giant, blue hot tub with hundreds of people (maybe more) swimming around, drinking and rubbing mud on their faces. And the strangest thing was that we arrived at the lagoon just before it closes at 10:55 or so. But you would never know it. The sun was up and there were (see the pics) hundreds of people still in the lagoon. Birkir told us they stop letting people in at 11:00 pm in the summer but they don’t start kicking people out until midnight.

I should add that sunset that day was at 11:58 and sunrise the next morning was at 2:15 am. It never really got dark and when we finally got back to the ship at almost midnight, we were very thankful for the blackout curtains in our staterooms. 

Our first day in Iceland was INCREDIBLE! Birkir was an amazing guide and got us everywhere in a fun and beauty filled day. It was just outstanding.

Coming soon to a travel blog near you

So our trip is done and we are recovering from 27 hours spent in airports and airplanes to get home. Today is all about laundry and resting up. Not a great trip home due to so many things. Among them were weather (Denver airport closed for a time as we were attempting to land so we got to circle for a while), late flights and construction at airports made this a really long day.

I wasn’t going to add this but I want to see it in print so feel free to skip it. This is what our travel home day was like.

  1. Woke up at 3:15 am onboard Celebrity Reflection (As usual, couldn’t sleep).
  2. Left Reflection at 6:45 am (early).
  3. Arrived at Dublin Airport at 7:35.
  4. Sat in shared business class lounge with Bob and Holly until our flight to London Heathrow left at 10:50 am.
  5. Arrived London Heathrow, Terminal 5 at 12:20 pm.
  6. Transferred to London Heathrow Terminal 3 for flight to Denver. Took the better part of an hour.
  7. Sat in British Terminal 3 Business lounge until 2:40 when we boarded our flight to Denver.
  8. Arrived in Denver at 6:15 pm Denver time after circling due to weather.
  9. Stood in line for almost an hour at Customs in Denver as all inbound flights had been held for weather and then all arrived at the same time. It was a bloody zoo.
  10. Due to the fact that we could not get a Business Class award flight direct to Seattle we flew to Denver (instead of home to Seattle) we had to now check all our luggage back in for a short flight to Seattle (that we paid for…in coach) that was supposed to leave at 7:35 pm.
  11. Due to all the late arrivals, our flight didn’t leave until 9:06 pm.
  12. Arrived in Seattle at 10:55 pm.
  13. After getting our luggage we grabbed a Lyft and wound up getting home at 11:45.

So that was our day. Too long. And all to get award seats from BA via Alaska Miles. Which will bring me to a future post on finding award seats in the near future. I promise.

And now to the reason for this post. The schedule of what is to come this week. My plan is to post Iceland day 1 tomorrow afternoon, Iceland day 2 on Tuesday, Iceland day 3 and 4 on Friday. Hope that keeps you all up to date without overwhelming anyone with too much to read.

Technology doesn’t address everything – for example, air travel still sucks. —Brad Feld

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

Woeful WiFi

I want to apologize to everyone who is anxiously awaiting my Icelandic posts but the WiFi onboard is horrid! I can barely upload a single photo let alone the more than 200 I took that I love. I should add that this slow WiFi is probably not the ship or cruise lines fault but rather the fact that everything must go through satellites and we are so far north that the connection is faulty.

So please bear with me and know that I have been writing and will post all of the rest Saturday, Sunday and Monday from our great internet connection at home.

See you soon!