Friday, August 14, 2009

Cruise to Norway, Iceland and Ireland

See photos here: Norway Iceland Belfast, Ireland
July 31, 2009
Easy day, Bill took us to the airport. Stop! The day does downhill from there. We initally had an hour and a half to transfer in Atlanta. NOT! Bad weather delayed us from leaving Tampa and therefore gave us a window of 5 minutes left over in boarding the plane in Atlanta. We wondered then, if our luggage got on board. The plane sat idle for another 45 minutes, so we thought, no problem - luggage and the Salo's are headed to Gatwick airport in England. We and about 20 other families waited and waited at the luggage area and NO luggage for any of us. So, the forms were filled out and here we are on the ship, no clothing or personal items. This is the only time in our many travels that we get to experience this side of the travel adventure.
Good news - the Crown Princess provided a toilet kit for each of us, so our teeth are clean again. They will also launder the one set of cloting we have on our backs during the night while we sleep. We will also receive $25 per day starting tomorrow, compliments of Delta. Woopee, how far will that go? We have a sea day tomorrow, so nothing will arrive unless they send out a helicopter, I don't think so! Do you know how to launder undies when in a situation like this? Well, let me tell you. First you take the shampoo that was dispensed in your toilet kit, make a sudsy solution in the sink and launder them yourself. Then, you hang them on a hanger and use the hairdryer until thoroughly dry. That's all there is to it. After a nice shower, all is well again :).

August 1, 2009 SEA DAY
Another day of wearing the same outfit. Low tolerance on my part. 'Ended up purchasing a couple of outfits from the ship's shop - expensive! And, nothing looks good with a clunky pair of tennies. I bought a pair of Princess Cruise rubber sandals which look slightly better. Obviously, we will skip 'FORMAL' attire tonight and eat in the casual buffet area. Our friends, Bob and Marsali are quiet accomodating. We'd do the same for them, I'm sure. I'm a little worried that we have not heard anything about our suitcases. If they were found, they should have notified our ship to expect them in our one and only port with an airstrip, Bergen, Norway, which will be tomorrow's stop.

August 2, Sunday
At 6a.m. Al carted our few pieces of dirty clothing to the laundry on board. Still no luggage :(. No department stores open for shopping.
Stop today is Bergen, Norway. The largest ciy in Norway. City is surrounded by rock faced mountains and trees. Quite beautiful. Some people took the excursion to the top of one of the mountains and saw the great vistas in all directions. There are 300 island formations in and around this area. Such magestic images of mountains formed by glaciers many years ago and waterways cut deep into the land. These water fissures are deep enough to allow these huge shipe to pass without problem.

August 3, Monday
WOW! 60 miles into one of the longest Fjord in Norway. We woke to see a picture on our TV screen which Al thought was a postcard. No, there was a vehicle moving. Photos cannot describe such a splendid view. Mountains surround us in every direction. Large patches of snow sit high above. Long cascades of white water falls break the verdant green fields and trees. Near the bottom of the mountains along the water lies little colorful homes, one street of shops and little boathouses which they use to pull the smaller fishing boats in during the winter. The temp is 70 and dry. About 80 inches of rain falls in Norway, so that explains how green everything is. While walking in the town, lots of bees kept buzzing around the tourists. There were lots of flowers everywhere, so the bees are beneficial, I'm sure; but, bothersome.
We did a little shopping, yes, little. One pair of black slacks cost $100! No, I did not buy two pairs! Al bought himself a pair, as well, so at least we do not need to do laundry every night. Also a few undies. We'll keep our receipts in case we get some kind of reimbursement. Can't let this ruin our trip. We will be out on deck this afternoon as we leave the little harbor and make out way of of the Fjords 60 miles. It's almost dream like.

August 4, Hellesylt and Geiranger, Norway.
Woke this morning about 5:45am and went out to the open deck to experience a slow weaving through two Fjords. We moved near a tiny village called Hellesylt where some people left the ship to take a $200 per person land tour to Geiranger and then our pilot turned the ship around to move the rest of us through the second Fjord to Geiranger via the waterway. This fjord is about 900 feet deep and stretches about 9 miles – 2,000 ft elevation of mountains bordering both sides. This fjord is considered by many to be the most beautiful in all of Norway. Snow still shows large patches on the mountain tops. We could see a portion of the largest ice field in Europe. 'Field' stays in one place, 'Glacier' moves like a river.
Every little village has a white church with it's steeple and surrounded by beautiful cemeteries. Each head stone no mater how long ago the person died still has beautiful live floral arragements. One could almost tremble seeing such beauty. It reminds me of standing on the shores of the Atlantic ocean and having that sense of wonder of how massive this planet is and how awesome the creator must be.

August 5, Aalesund, Norway
In 1904 a massive fire destroyed 800 buildings in this city and Germany's Kaiser came with relief and aid. The rebirth of this town is now one of the prettiest ports in Norway. Colorful, art nouveau style buildings, canal waterways make wandering the streets a pleasant experience. We did see the largest jelly fish I've ever seen in that was not in an aquarium. He looked as if he was feeding on the greenery along the chanel edge just below a small foot bridge - almost close enough to touch.
Each of our ports have been very relaxing and non-hurried. This afternoon, we found ONE of our TWO suitcases in our stateroom. Yes, it had Al's stuff in it and some of my dressy tops, makeup, deoderant, toothbrushes, etc. NO second suitcase and they do not seem to know where it is. Since my shoes are in the lost suitcase, I will continue to wear black socks as if they are ballerina shoes. I don't think anyone has noticed. None of my casual clothes are found, so I'm still relying on my airplane outfit which was worn for comfort, NOT style!
We have left port and are now set for one sea day on our way to Iceland.

August 5, SEA DAY
Just talked to the other couple who lost their luggage. They now have all four pieces and are quite upset. All of their stuff is sopping wet and has mildew spots all over. She was taking some of the stuff to the ship laundry to see if they will launder okay. She had me feel some of the clothing and, yes, WET. She said some of the pieces could actually wring water out. Our suitcase that was found has the new plastic outer covering (well protected from the elements); but, the one that is still in neverland is cloth-canvas. That one may be in the same shape - wet and mildewed! At least, it is not ruining our cruise.

August 6, Akureyre, Iceland
Colorful buildings - bright royal blue, sharp yellow gold and green-green. They create a nice contrast in the city. Flower boxes abound throughout the streets. Many of the homes have a collection of pretty things on display in the windows. Orchids seem popular in these windows, as well as glass items and statuary. Al found an AA club and spoke to some of the guys; but declined going to the meeting as the language Icelandic. It was a pleasant day walking around the town and the weather has managed to be nice to us. This part of the world has a lot of rain. Mountains are not as high as Norway; but, some still have snow patches up high. We've been getting off board after a leisurely breakfast, walking around to the different sites, then returning for lunch and later a nap.
The entertainment has been very good. Tonight was a young woman from Scotland and her voice was beautiful. She sang songs to please any of the crowds on board, while also playing a flute and picalo. She did a rendition of Michael Flatley (?sp) River Dance - lots of energy. You could almost see them dancing. Her mother is Scot and her father is Irish. The ship has lots of different countries represented - mainly Brits and Americans, but many others, as well.

Aust 7, Reykjavik, Iceland
Today is port for the largest city in Iceland. We got up at 6am, took a bite and got off the ship in the first group. Al and Bob rushed to the first taxi and negotiated a private tour around the countryside. It was about $60 per hour for all four of us and he (Steffan) was perfect!!!! Perfect English, perfect charm, perfect humor, etc. The cost was a FRACTION of taking any excursions from the ship. We have Steffan's name in case anyone decides to come this way and needs a special driver. He took us to see a huge volcano crater filled with water. This 'island' is riddled with volcanoes, most of them inactive. It has 3 very large glaciers - one of them is the largest in Europe. We saw one of them stretch across almost a third of the horizon. There are also multiple geysers and steam vents scattered about. He took us to the geyser that erupted twice while we were standing there! There were also about a dozen steam vents you could walk around. Iceland harnesses the steam and hot water which is transported in huge pipes that zig-zag across the land. The zig-zag is so the pressure does not burst the pipe. When the water arrives in the city and in the individual home, it is still about 160 degrees hot!! Some of the country side farms have their own little steam factory to provide energy for their farms. Farming is mainly grasses, hay, etc. They also had domed hot houses where they grew vegetables. Summers are short here. These hot houses provide veggies year around.
The trees are very sparse. Steffan says if you get lost in a forrest, just stand up . The land has mostly grasses and moss and is very rocky from volacnoes and earthquakes. Parts of this land looks somewhat like Iwo Jima and Clint Eastwood filmed 'Flags of our Fathers' here. Steffan was hired as a personal driver for the crew. He was very impressed with Clint. He knew his American movies.
Culture: highly educated, no illiteracy, 5% unemployment because of the severe recession here. Young people do not go to church.
There are herds of a very special breed of horses here. No other horses are allowed on the island and if a horse leaves this country for any reason, it is not allowed to return. They are noted for a unique way of riding unlike any other horse in the world. It's front legs can high step while its back legs walk. They are not used to labor; intead they are for sport and competition and pleasure riding. Horses are in abundance and look different - with shorted legs and stocky bodies.
Lastly, we went to a huge waterfall - maybe not like Niagra; but, the power was just as magnificent to watch. The river that carries this water to the sea is cut deep and sharp. Awesome.

August 8, SEA DAY
Still no return of lost luggage for bag number two. I made it through this far without a LOT of items. Thanks to Al, he got up 7am twice on this cruise just to get to the washing machines before the rest of the 3,000 people did. Now, he tells me, he had to leave one laundromat and find soap in another laundromat on a different floor! Picture Al in a bathrobe furnished by the ship - one size fits all - barely wrapping around so as to hide his willey. Yes, this is my husband! Luckily, no one was up to see the spectacle. Because of his ealy morning wandering, my clothes were clean. Talk about 'same old', 'same old'! I did manage to complete a lost luggage items list so we'll persue the issue with DELTA when we return to the states.
to look okay for formal night - only no shoes, just black socks - quite comfy!

August 9, Belfast, Ireland
What a difference from our last visit to Belfast. A few years ago, we hired a taxi and were taken to a street that was covered with political murals. At the time, it was explained to us the political upheaval of the 'troubles' were over and we thought this muraled wall was the extent of the visual explanation of the terrible turmoil of 30 years ago.
Today, we were enlightened! Again, we hired a taxi to take the four of us around Belfast and give us some guidance and history. We now see hundreds of murals scattered about the city on both the Protestant side and the Catholic side of Belfast. This city is severely split between the two. Each side has their own businesses, schools, cemeteries and taxis, etc. The taxis on the Catholic side will not transport any person to the Protestant side and vice versa. Catholic schools teach Galic as one of the languages, the protestant side does not. Our young driver explained many things. If a catholic and a protestant come together in a relationship, they are forced out of both sides of the city and must live in the country. The two sides do not mix except in certain circumstances. The hospital is on the protestant side but all are welcome to these services. The police force is about 60 Prot, 40 Cath. We were taken to many of the murals scattered about both sides of the city. They portray fallen 'heroes' who fought during the upheavals many years ago. They portray the political philosophy of each side. Our driver explained that much of this fighting was done by groups driven by power and money. Much of the killing was done by directed focus, infiltrating the other side and identifying where the people of power were hanging out. The person who killed one of these leaders from the other side had a higher standing within their own group. It almost sounded like the Mafia days in our country many years ago. The individual businesses on each side were obligated to 'pay for protection', this was one means of each group raising finances for their causes. The underlying animosity is almost felt. Around 8PM, gates are closed around the Catholic part of the city and only one avenue remains open for people to move through - that's within the heart of Belfast. There is also a 'peace wall' about 30 feet high which protects both sides from having objects thrown to the other side.
Tourism has increased with the painting of the murals - our drive says these paintings are kept fresh looking and have over time become less violent in nature. One can still see the force of oposite thought and philosophy. I left this experience wanting to learn more about the 'troubles' as it is now called.

August 10, SEA DAY
Pack today and home tomorrow night! I'm ready, though this has been a wonderful cruise with such magnificent terrains! This will go down as one of my favorite cruises.

After completing all of DELTA's required documentation for lost luggage, our missing piece of luggage was returned! All was in perfect condition. It was like Christmas - finding my fancier clothes safely at home again.

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