Archive for September 2013

Oslo Fjord…couldn’t wait to share!   Leave a comment

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Posted September 29, 2013 by cubechick in Norway, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands Cruise

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Foggy Iceland   1 comment

My report on Iceland will be a little different from my other posts. We actually didn’t do much on this stop as far as seeing Iceland goes. We opted for a whale watch as an excursion. BUT, that’s because we’ve been here before. So, here are some thoughts on visiting Iceland.  

The first time we visited Iceland was in 2010 on our way to England to board the Norwegian Epic for her maiden transatlantic. As that cruise had no ports, we went looking for something to add on. Iceland was a perfect choice. Iceland Air offers reasonable one-way flights to London ( our ultimate destination ) and the airfare actually is a little cheaper when you throw in a layover.  

When we told people we were going to Iceland, they responded as though we were going to the moon. Granted, Iceland is exotic ( and expensive! ) but it’s a 4 1/2 hour flight from Boston, making it closer than traveling to the West Coast.   We were only in Iceland for 2 days, but we got a lot out of that trip. Our first morning we walked around Reykjavik followed by a great private bicycle tour in the afternoon. The second day we did the Golden Circle Tour, which is simply amazing.  

For our friends on this cruise who hadn’t been to Iceland before, it was the Golden Circle tour that we recommended hands down. Despite a dreary and foggy day, they loved the tour. They returned enthusiastic and happily showing us their pictures of the Geysir and Gullfoss Falls.

On the other hand I have almost no pictures of note from the whale watch. The last whale watch we’d been on had been in Alaska and was a spectacular event with several humpbacks, seals, sea otters and eagles. Minke whale watches aren’t as exciting. We did have luck with the weather. The fog lifted as we sailed out of the harbor and the temp was around 50° with no rain. We did see harbor porpoises and dolphins and, briefly, one Minke whale. Minkes only surface for a few seconds before disappearing so it’s hard to get a picture. But I did grab a couple of the Reykjavik sky line on the way back to the harbor.  

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In retrospect we wished we’d gone into town instead. There is a shuttle service that is 8€ for a round trip ticket that will take you the 3 kilometers from the port to downtown. On our way back to the ship I spotted about 20 people lined up in front of the famous hotdog cart and I was jealous. 🙂  

Sure we could have grabbed the shuttle into town, but by that time we wanted lunch and to warm up from our chilly morning. They did have a gift shop at the pier where I purchased a Christmas ornament and successfully spent the kroner I had left over from the last trip. I also noted while at the gift shop you could buy an hour of WiFi for $ 5.00.

Two days until Oslo. See you then!

The Faroes are my Favorite!   Leave a comment

It is official. Our visit to the Faroe Islands has been the highlight of this trip.  I really enjoyed Bergen of our Norway stops and it was lovely driving around the Shetlands and seeing the grassland and the ponies, but the craggy volcanic cliffs and many fjords of the Faroe Islands were just stunning.  Maybe the fact that although cold (44 degrees in the morning), we didn’t get rained on for the first time in days, and the sun actually made a good effort to come out a few times!  

I booked a private tour for seven us through Tora tours.  There were two negatives here that I’ll quickly address then move on from.  The first is that I booked a private tour.  What showed up was a tour bus with two other groups booked into it. That is not private.  The good news (for our group at any rate) that after waiting 5 minutes for the other groups to show up (and checking at the visitor’s center…he picked us up right a the ship as promised) he left.  So we ended up with the private tour that I booked, but that left 13 people who thought they had a tour at the side of the road.  So first of all, if you really want a private tour, you apparently need to spell it out for them.  Secondly, be on time!!!!  

The second problem was half way through the tour he asked me about payment.  I explained that we would all be paying individually by credit card.  He told me that he would take us all to an ATM.  We had to explain to him that was not the same as accepting credit cards (he figured being able to go into the bank for a cash advance was just fine).  One of our party didn’t have his ATM card and needless to say, didn’t want to pay the exorbitant fee charged when doing a cash advance.  Well, we’re all friends and it was covered, but that shouldn’t have happened.  

Moving on from that, this tour was perfect!  I booked the Visit Vagar tour which was 4 hours of breathtaking scenery and stops in small villages.

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Including Vagar, which is the westernmost village on the islands.  

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The driver stopped numerous times for photo opportunities and boy did we take advantage.  Fjords, cliffs, sheep, grass-thatched homes.  This is an isolated land, with around 46,000 permanent residents, but a more stunning backdrop to live ones live against is hard to find (maybe in Hawaii?).  

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Some interesting facts the guide shared with us as he drove;  95% of employment comes from the fishing industry.  They export a lot of salmon.  There were fish farms everywhere.  They grow lamb for food along with fat geese waddling around that are Christmas dinner.  A goose runs around 400DKK (considering our tour was 500DKK per person, that’s a pricey goose!).  The use of grass to thatch the roofs is an old-style that is back in vogue.  It is a great insulator both from a heat and sound perspective and the roofs need to be re-sod once a year.  Oh, their “military” and police are all from Denmark.  They don’t have their own forces.  Unlike the Shetlands where all of the land was fenced in, the sheep and geese roamed freely, causing many traffic slowdowns (the geese have their wings clipped so they cannot fly).

(Check out the prison! )

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Despite the couple of communication problems with this tour company, I would recommend both them and this tour again.  Oh another note.  If you like souvenir shopping, your only chance on this tour is the gift shop at the airport (thank goodness I ran in to see what they had!).  Otherwise you’d need to go into Torshavn after the tour to do your shopping.  Believe it or not, this stop was also cheaper than Norway.  At 39DKK, my magnet was less than $8…and that’s at an airport no less!  

I had thought to walk around Torshavn a bit after the tour, but changed my mind.  We felt that we had seen a great deal and had fulfilled our touring needs (and hey, I had my magnet!).  The city is not far from the pier, but you do want to take advantage of the shuttle that runs you to the information center.  It just saves you dodging containers and industrial port traffic.  The city is a short walk from the visitors center.  

Tomorrow is a sea day, that everyone is looking forward to.     Can you believe we still have a week to go???  🙂

Chilly Shetland Islands   Leave a comment

Well, our weather luck ran out.

Our day in the Shetlands proved to be dank and dreary. I know that you’re probably thinking that we’ve had rain everyday; and we have. But it also cleared up every day… until today. No worries though. We still had a great time!

Today we had made plans with friends that we are traveling with to rent a van. As two of the friends are Scottish, they would handle driving on the “correct” side of the road for us. Before anything though we had to clear U.K. immigration. Then we had to tender to the pier. At least once there things were easy. Just picked up the van right at the dock and we were off. Oh, it was a cheap option as well. About £12 per person including gas (or should I say “petrol”).  

Our knowledgeable driver took us south, all the way to Sumburgh Head.  That in itself was interesting as we had to stop for a few minutes when a plane was taking off, as the runway crosses the road in Sumburgh Head!  

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To and from we hit scenic points like the Croft House Museum in Boddam which was an example of how Shetlanders lived 150 years ago. It was very interesting, and the first time I’ve seen or smelled a peat fire. The person who worked there was very friendly and knowledgeable.

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And it’s something to do that is free!   A stop at a visitors centre yielded me my fridge magnet, so all was right there!  I had been concerned that by not doing a tour we wouldn’t see any of the Islands famous ponies, but we saw several on our drive, not to mention a ton of sheep.

As this was our “cheap” stop, on our way back to Lerwick we stopped at a Tesco to get provisions. 99p for a 6 pack of bottled water is a far cry from the €5.50 I paid for one bottle yesterday in Alesund!  

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Back in Lerwick, we went to a hole-in-the-wall pub simply called The Lounge for Scottish Ale.  In this case we had White Wife, an ale actually made in the Shetlands.

After that we walked around before poking our heads into a fish and chip shop right across the street from the port. Our friend bought fried haggis for everyone to try. I passed, but DH tried it and liked it.  I stuck with the cup of chips I bought, liberally sprinkled with malt vinegar.   On to the Faroe Islands tomorrow!

Alesund, Norway Awaits!   2 comments

Alesund, Norway greets us just like Bergen did…with rain and temps in the mid-fifties.  

I have to admit that I bought the HOHO tickets for this stop as there didn’t seem to be much to do here…this is even more apparent when the cruise director announces that it is Sunday, so no shops will be open.

Bergen had a lot to see within walking distance of the ship and had a distinct city center that Alesund seems to lack.  Going to the top of Mt Aksla or visit the aquarium seemed to be about it.   However, as I didn’t use the HOHO in Bergen, I didn’t realize that I needed to turn in my e-ticket at the ticket counter before boarding the bus (in Bergen I never even saw a ticket counter).  So we got on the bus only to be kicked off.

The next bus is 30 minutes away, so we walk over to an open petrol station hoping to get a magnet. No go. I spy an open 7-11 and go there, but also fail. DH then says that as it stopped raining when we got off of the ship, he’d rather hike to the top of Mt Aksla than wait for the bus.  

So off we go! It’s 418 steps to the top,  with plenty of places to stop and take pictures (or rest!).

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It occurs to the both of us that there is a building on the top of the mountain which is bound to be open, and it is. Yay, we’re able to get our fridge magnet for a mere €7. A bottle of water costs and additional €5.50. Believe it or not, I really don’t mind this as the euros I have are left over from the last trip and I have nowhere else to spend them!  

Something to note here. Both in Bergen and Alesund use of a toilet is 10 kroner. Now of course no one has 10 kroner coins. Most of us are using credit cards whenever possible. The bathroom at the top of the mountain in Alesund accepts 1 euro coins as well. Just something to be aware of!  

After our climb we go back to the ship where it promptly begins to rain again. Our timing is perfect two days in a row! Now we’re bouncing between rain and sun. Norway, like New England, seems to hold to the mantra, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute”.

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A Day in Bergen, Norway   Leave a comment

Rain greets us as we arrive in Bergen, Norway. The Captain said it would rain all day. Accuweather said it would let up as the day progressed. Accuweather was right!  

We braved driving rain and wind and made our way to Bryggen. We had purchased Ho Ho bus tickets, but with the weather, the buses were full. Within 10 minutes, the rain and wind had let up. We gladly tucked the umbrellas away!   Bryggen (the old harbor) is as pretty as advertised…and expensive.

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My fridge magnet was roughly $12. Yikes! We walked over to the fish market and saw live langostinos (a first for me) and cooked lobsters going for about $40 each! I must say “Yikes” again!   After a couple of hours walking around, we headed back to the ship for lunch. We were not going to pay $20 for fish and chips!

The moment we were back in our stateroom, the Heaven’s let loose anothet torrent of rain.  Excellent timing on our part. We opted for a quick meal in the buffet before settling in to read for a bit.  

DH was keeping an eye on the top of Mount Floyen. We wanted to take the funicular to the top, but the mountain had been shrouded in clouds. A bit before three o’clock it cleared and off we went. Although still overcast, we had a great view of the harbor.  

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Despite the less than stellar weather, we really enjoyed this first stop in Norway.  
Tomorrow Alesund.

Posted September 21, 2013 by cubechick in Norway, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands Cruise

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First Day(s) on the Norwegian Star   Leave a comment

So, here we are on the Norwegian Star. It is our first sea day and so far so great! Our stay at the Crowne Plaza Tower hotel went well. We’d booked the room through NCL as it was about $20 cheaper than anywhere else I could find and the rate included breakfast and transportation to the ship.

Of course, we didn’t end up waiting for the bus (knew we wouldn’t!) and shared a cab with a friend rather than waiting until noon to leave. The cost to get to the port was about $70 (expensive!) but not bad when divided between the three of us.

The first day goes pretty much the same way on all cruises. After lunch, we checked back at the cabin to see if luggage had been delivered to our aft balcony. Both bags came in a timely manner and we were able to unpack. I have to admit that it’s been a while since we sailed in anything but a suite and it was a challenge to find a home for all of our stuff. Especially on this cool weather cruise which meant we packed a lot of bulky stuff. Everything was finally stored and the suitcases stuffed under the bed for the next 12 days.

Got past the muster drill and opted to experience sailaway from the Star Bar which provided lovely views and protection from the chilly elements.

First night dinner was Cagney’s as usual and our meal was great. DH and I both enjoyed the loaded potato soup and I had the short rib confit which was simply delicious. Despite being at the steakhouse, we both went the seafood route for the main course. My shrimp were plump and cooked perfectly and DH said his sea bass was fantastic.

After dinner, we headed to the Red Lion Pub to check out Kenny the Human Jukebox and his Neil Diamond tribute. Kenny was on the Star when we sailed her through the Panama Canal in 2011, and it was fun to see him again. We finally wound up the evening around 1:00 in the morning. A long but fun filled day.

This morning it is sunny out with calm seas. In a little while, we’ll head to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet, then lunch. It should be a nice, relaxing day as we make our way to our first port, Bergen, Norway.

Great turn out at the Meet and Greet both from passengers and crew. People were yelling at the Captain to speak up…which I found a bit rude. Attending the M&G will get us all an invitation to tour the bridge. Very nice! Not all Captain’s extend this offer, so it should be appreciated.

Dinner was at LaCucina. No more! The new bread is fantastic, but as usual, we experienced the slowest service of the cruise and cold appetizers and entrees. I even ordered the chicken parm which is usually the “safe” choice and it was dry and had been clearly sitting for a very long time…despite three requests to bring out our main course (one request was from the Executive Head Chef himself!!).

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Posted September 20, 2013 by cubechick in Norway, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands Cruise

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