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Half Day in Belfast   Leave a comment

Both DH and I were very interested in the history of Belfast, so while many of our fellow cruisers dashed to the Giants Causeway, booked Game of Thrones and Titanic tours, we opted for a private Belfast tour. Having had success through Tours By Locals in the past, I booked through them again. Once confirmed, our guide, Bobby Walsh, answered my questions promptly. 

Bobby also dealt with adversity smoothly. He found that he had a flat tire the morning of our tour.  So he sent another driver to collect us while he got the tire fixed. We were driven to Bobby’s location and the rest of the tour went off without a hitch. 

The tour began with the famous Belfast murals and an exploration of the “Troubles”.  Bobby poured out a lot of information that we didn’t know about this period of time. It was a sobering couple of hours that left us wanting to learn more. Currently, there is peace in Northern Ireland, but with a 30 foot wall locked each night to keep the factions from getting stupid with each other, the peace seems tenuous to this outsider. I wish them well!

Once we broke away from the politics  (not entirely possible in Belfast, I think!), Bobby took us to a high vantage point, along a formerly restricted road, overlooking the city. Unfortunately, the gloomy morning marred the view. He then drove us to St. George’s Market, which is an enormous enclosed market, selling bits of everything during the weekend. I didn’t find my usual fridge magnet there, but did buy some nice Irish cheese (I am officially cut off from cheese purchases)!

I had mentioned my magnet obsession to Bobby. We started to leave from his parking spot near the market when he suddenly did a u-turn. Back in front of the Hilton he parked, while explaining that he was sure he had seen magnets at the concierge desk…and that they’d be cheaper than anywhere else. Sure enough, the Hilton offered up fridge magnets for £2 or 3 for £5.  (They would prove to be the cheapest we would find the entire trip!)

Glancing at the time, Bobby noted that it was 11:45, so he decided our next stop should be the Crown Saloon as it was just opening.  It is an exquisite Victorian pub, with ornate decoration and plenty of “snugs” (private booths). He gave us plenty of time to have a pint, and seemed disappointed that we declined (unsure of availability of future toilet stops!). 

We then checked out Queen’s University followed by a short drive out of the city to Belfast Castle. We chose not to go inside, instead spending our time wandering the grounds where several cat statues lounged. Finally we would drive past the Titanic Experience  (Bobby emphasized that this was not a museum!) and check out the area where Titanic was built. 

Really a great tour and a great way to learn a lot about the city and the country of Northern Ireland. 

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Dallying in Dublin   Leave a comment

The weather continued its cooperation; our day in Dublin would be in the 70’s and sunny! Being that we were parked in a very industrial area: 

we made our way into the city center via the port shuttle ($15pp…it would have been nice to be more central). Careful to note the drop-off point, we set off toward Trinity College. 

It is a beautiful campus and houses the historical Book of Kells. However, at €13 each for a peek at the book, we passed! 

Off to Dublin Castle next. A smallish castle with lovely grounds. 

Then we continued our hike and made our way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There wasn’t an opportunity to peek inside without coughing up €, so we settled for the exterior shot from the adjacent park. 

14,000 steps later, it was time for the first pub stop. I had come across a list of the top ten pubs in Dublin and book marked a couple of them. The first pub was the Norseman. Nice little pub with a singer entertaining the small crowd with classic pub music mixed with Irish ballads. 

Shortly after we arrived, the pub got really busy. It was as if a tour group got dropped off outside. So we made our way down to the next pub; the Palace. Although it too was located in the busy Temple Bar area, it appeared to be at a quieter end. We easily found seats at this classic Victorian pub and happily had our pint of Guinness. 

It was a good 15-20 minute walk back to the shuttle from there. 

Good-bye to Dublin!

Kirkwall, Orkney Islands    Leave a comment

After a much needed sea day, we arrived in Kirkwall. Our ship was not docked at the expected dock (steps from the town center) so the locals provided a complimentary “bendy bus” shuttle. 

Unfortunately, we did not go into town, but hung out on our ship until our tour in the afternoon. Ship tours are generally not as good as private tours (large coach busses with too many people) but this one wasn’t too expensive, especially as we would get a $50 cruise credit once the tour was completed. 

Our tour was of the southern part of Orkney. There would be several panoramic view points that we would stop at along with the town of St. Margaret’s Hope and the Italian Chapel. 

My one complaint about the tour was that we spent an entire hour in St. Margaret’s Hope, which was far too long. There is a free blacksmith museum, a craft shop, a convenience store and a hotel with a small restaurant/pub.  As I had already acquired my fridge magnet at the craft shop set up at the pier, I had no shopping to do and would have been happy to leave the town after 20 minutes!

However the scenic spots were plentiful and very worthwhile. We went along Scapa Flow, where the Germans scuttled their fleet after WWI.  

It is the same body of water in which the battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk during WWII. A German commander took advantage of the deep channel and a extraordinarily high tide to run his U-boat up the Flow to torpedo the battleship. 

More scenic spots ensued on our drive to the Italian Chapel. 

Italian soldiers captured during campaigns in North Africa were sent to Kirkwall as prisoners of war. During their interment they would build the Churchill Barriers which would prevent future attacks on Scapa Flow. They would also build their Chapel out of two Quonset huts and scavenged materials. The interior is hand-painted and a testament to peace overcoming war. 

Overall a nice tour and overview of the history of the Orkney Islands!

Cobh, Ireland    Leave a comment

Cobh  (pronounced “Cove”) is a small town on Cork Harbor with a lot of history. Cobh (once called Queenstown) was the last stop for the Titanic (79 people from Cobh perished when the Titanic grazed that now famous iceberg).  The Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans off of its shores, and Annie Moore, a Cobh girl, was the first person processed into the United States through Ellis Island. 

Prior to the cruise I had found and printed out a map that outlines three historical walking routes in town. For the most part the “trails” are well-marked (arrows on signposts guide you) and plaques provide descriptions at each point of interest. So that was the plan. Walk around Cobh, and perhaps have a pint. 

Describing our arrival in Cobh as gloomy would be a compliment. Nothing in the forecast had hinted at such a murky start. 

We trudged off of the ship, the fog misting us as we walked. We walked all the way down to the Titanic Memorial Garden first passing the original Cunard office (among other sites) along the way. 

The garden was pretty even in the murk. 

Climbing the hill to St. Coleman’s I swear the fog is lifting…

St. Coleman’s is a imposing presence over the town. But as construction only began in the mid-1800’s, it is a young church by European standards! Free tours are offered within if you are so inclined. 

The fog is definitely dispersing as we made our way to John F. Kennedy park. The colors of the town are beginning to pop in the sunlight. 

Climbing the hill and walking is thirsty work, so it was time for a pint at Kelly’s, conveniently located in the center of town. Guinness really does taste better in Ireland! 

Today we decided to have lunch on the ship, but would wander out for a final pint ashore. 

Sailaway was made extra fun by the performance of the Cobh band.

Notice it is wonderfully sunny now that we are leaving!

What to do in Portland?    Leave a comment

No, not Oregon or Maine, but in Dorset, England. 

My research lead me to the conclusion that there wasn’t a lot to do. Most of the ship tours shuttled you off to Stonehenge or Bath. I saw there was a very small castle nearby, so thought that we might check out the castle, maybe grab lunch. Otherwise, with this port-intensive cruise, this might be a good port to treat as a “sea day”.  

The morning dawns with a sunny sky (and it would remain clear all day) and an announcement from the cruise director that they would be running a shuttle to Portland Castle and to nearby Weymouth. 

I had done no research on Weymouth, but friends we were chatting with through Facebook, indicated there would be more to do in Weymouth than Portland. The shuttles were positioned at the base of the gangway. Ladies were handing out tourist maps of Weymouth and providing a bit of direction. We also found that the shuttle was free, so that was a win!

Shuttling to Weymouth was a great idea, especially given the wonderful weather. You can walk out on the pier to get a pretty good view of the Jurassic Coast. There is a lovely beach and ample shops and restaurants. There is also a fort to explore. It is a lovely area to walk around. 

We sttolled around for a few hours before stopping for a pint and a bite at the Red Lion. Outdoor seating and a local Jurassic ale made Cubebear a happy guy (yes, he is back!). 

The sailaway afforded an amazing view of the Jurassic Coast. 

For a “sleeper” stop, we had a great day. Of course we might have felt differently had the weather not been so cooperative! 

Guernsey!    Leave a comment

Ships often end up missing their stop at Guernsey. Rough waters surrounding the island can prevent tender operations due to safety. So while I was excited to visit this unique port, I didn’t get my hopes up!

I awakened as the engines dropped to idle. I peered outside and saw sun and calm seas. Yay! 

There are a couple of ways to get on the tender boats. Be escorted by the concierge  (if you are a suite passenger or VIP), get a tender ticket, or wait until general boarding. As DH and I weren’t in a rush, we planned on general boarding and went for a leisurely breakfast. 

Even then we had a long wait as the tender process went slower than I have ever seen. For some reason they were only able to offload one boat of passengers on shore at a time. This hung everything up and there were long periods where the operation ground to a halt. 

By the time we made it ashore, the clouds had rolled in, but Google assured us there was zero chance of rain (Mr. Google was correct!).  We walked down to Castle Cornet but settled for taking pictures from the outside as the £10.50 pp price tag seemed steep. 

Got a nice angle on the Jade and a lighthouse:

And marveled at how dramatic the tides are here. Notice the roof of this yacht below the pier!

We then made our way into town, stopping by the Town Church,

walked past colorful shops and made our way up to the Candie Gardens. 

Eventually we would stop by the Boathouse for lunch. DH and I both ordered galettes, mine ham and emmental, his tuna, onion and cheddar; both delicious despite their simplicity. 

Final stop an M&S for some lovely British cheddar cheese. You can’t get cheese like this at home! Yum!

Dinner was at the main restaurant, Alizar. It was good and service fast.  What more could you ask?

Beautiful Day for a Sailaway!    Leave a comment

After a fabulous night’s sleep, we awakened to the sight of the Jade parked at the City Terminal pier. Well, we could see just the tip of its bum if we stepped out onto the balcony and peered around the Holiday Inn!  However, by taking a short walk we could verify that it was in fact our ship!

The Grand Harbour had recently been in the throws of restaurant renovations and during that time there had been a few complaints logged at Trip Advisor about the food service. I am happy to report that the renovations are complete, the breakfast buffet is back in the restaurant where it belongs and is quite good. 

After killing a couple of hours we dragged our bags across the street and to the ship. We arrived just after 10:30 and they had just opened up security. Despite NCL’s ban on bringing any beverages on board, I suspected this wouldn’t be a problem in Southampton, and I was correct. 😉

By 11:20 they began boarding. Our escort didn’t know what he was doing. We were brought to Cagney’s for lunch before they even opened. Of course they weren’t going to tell the suite passengers “no” so we were seated right away. The other passengers weren’t allowed in until noon. 

Oddly, despite having gone through its major refit, the Jade does not have the updated menus. It took me a minute to process that I was looking at a menu that I hadn’t seen in two years!

Southampton sure gave us beautiful weather for our sailaway! I had to make sure I didn’t spend too much time in the sun as I didn’t bring sunscreen! 😂

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