We arrived at the port of Tyne Sunday, June 27 and were cleared to go ashore at 6:59 am. Deciding to go into Newcastle on our own, we visited the ship purser and changed some US$ for UK pounds.
I had done some searching for a hike and was hopeful that we could climb one of the Munros named Ben Lawers. We walked around the dock area looking for a car rental agency or a taxi interested in driving us to the town of Lawers on Loch Tay. There were few taxis and none were interested in our proposed fee of around $80 US so we hired a taxi to take us into town to an auto rental agency where we rented a standard transmission compact Ford for about 30 pounds (~$45 US) including taxes and fees. We were near the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie as we started looking for the roads to get to Perth, Scotland where we would start west toward Loch Tay. Driving on the wrong (left) side of the road was not too difficult, but being on the right side of the car and shifting gears with my left hand combined to keep the anxiety level fairly high as we tried to interpret the signage in a new environment.
We saw some beautiful countryside along the way, but after reaching the bypass around Perth, the roads became very basic county 2 lanes with numerous villages where the road was more like a single lane with traffic going both directions and average speeds dropping to 15-20 mph. The trip started looking too ambitious and after a couple of hours, we decided that getting to Lawers would take so long that there would not be adequate time to climb 3,000’ to summit Ben Lawers.
So far, my hopes of bagging some new peaks were just going to have to be shelved!
Faroe IslandsWe sailed at 7 pm and headed north toward the Faroe Islands. Kirkjuboreyn which I had spotted as we came into port. This was a pleasant surprise since we didn’t have any local currency and were thinking we might have a long hike to get to the intended goal. We found the correct bus stop and observed a town drunk wandering around causing some small disturbances with local shop owners and pedestrians.
When we returned, we found another bus stop a short distance back toward town where the “official” stop is made and rode to where we had initially boarded. Since we were on the opposite side of the street and had observed a bus go by 5 minutes before our bus had arrived, we thought we would take the added loop. There must be several buses on the route, because the extra loop ended up taking about 30 minutes and giving us a more extensive tour of the other side of town than we had expected! After returning to the port area, we strolled around and saw the royal yacht of the queen of Denmark come into dock.
IcelandOn July 1, we reached the eastern coast of Iceland and sailed into the fjord to Seydisfjordur, a town of about 700. Since we had about 650 passengers and nearly 400 crew, we instantly more than doubled the population there for the day. It was overcast with drizzle and a high of 45 F which with the force 4 winds made for a cool outing. We walked into town and found the river that flows down from the mountains into town.
The captain decided to alter course and sail around the north side of Iceland rather than fight the stormy weather coming from the south. In the lee of the island we had less turbulent seas and we unexpectedly added some sailing above the Arctic Circle to our itinerary. After a cool, breezy sea day, we reached Reykjavik, Iceland on July 3 about 7 am on a mostly sunny day with a high of 57 F. Mt Esja. My research had informed me that there were some buses that went to a nearby town and with a transfer would place me at the trailhead. The first order of business was to find the bus station and get some local Icelandic Krona (ISK) since the bus requires local coins and does not provide change.
I found directions to the bus station from local police and after walking a mile or so found the street that would lead me to the terminal. Once there, I tried to get some local money, but the ATM in the station was closed. Asking for help, I learned that there was a bank behind the station, but it was closed since it was a weekend. However, walking around it, I found an ATM that was in operation along one of the outside walls. My next hurdle was trying to understand the options. When I selected English, the next menu screen showed different amounts to select…2, 5, 10, 50, 100, etc. Needing 280 each way for the bus, I thought I would try 5 and add 2 for a total of 7. When I selected the 5, the machine spit out 5,000 ISK in 4 X 1,000 + 2 X 500! Now I had LOTS of ISK and still was faced with the no change policy, so I asked a lady behind me at the ATM if she knew what the bus fare was and if she could change one of my 500 or 1000 ISK bills so I could make appropriate change. She looked in her wallet for awhile and then pulled out a strip of coupons which were bus tickets. She gave me 2 of them and said I could use one each way if I asked for a transfer when I paid to give to the connecting bus. She would not accept any payment so I now had the bus fares plus 5000 ISK.
I headed back to the bus station and the #15 bus to Mosfellsbaer town was ready to depart so I jumped on and paid and got my transfer for the #27 bus. The driver spoke only limited English, but he understood that I wanted to climb Mt Esja and he looked into the bus schedules to see when the #27 bus would pick me up…since it was a weekend, it was only running every couple of hours. It would be there about 12:15 and I was there before 9 am. I asked if it was legal to hitchhike and he said it was OK and guided me to the road where I might find someone headed in the correct direction.
I started up the trail at about 9 am and it was a great trail that gets lots of use. I was told that about 10,000 people sign the summit register each summer. The summit is about 2,999’ and I reached the register in due course taking the most direct route which while shorter is steeper. Lots of folks run up and down this trail…I observed a few going up, but many running down!
GreenlandWe sailed from Reykjavik about 6 pm and headed for Greenland where we entered Prins Christian Sund the morning of July 5 after receiving the OK to proceed on the weather and ice flows from a helicopter flythrough.
On the morning of July 6 we sailed into the port at Qaqortoq, Greenland and commenced tender operations about 8 am. Peter’s cairn .
After we climbed to the ridge top, we were able to continue without problem to the summit where we stopped for pictures and to enjoy the view on a sunny day. Saqqaarsik which means The Front in Inuit according to some locals who we asked when we returned to town. It was an interesting trip across the rocky terrain and not too difficult to climb when we reached the base.
NewfoundlandOn July 9, we entered the port of St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland on yet another sunny day and I closely observed the trail running along the north shoreline that leads to Signal Hill.
Signal Hill became the site of harbor defenses in the 18th century through WW II. The last battle of the Seven Years War in North America was fought here in 1762. In 1897, Cabot tower was constructed in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee.
On our return to the ship, we opted to walk down Signal Hill road which surprisingly had nice sidewalks the whole way. After a leisurely lunch in the dining room, we headed back ashore to explore the city close to the ship. We found a half dozen interesting churches and walked inside several to see the craftsmanship and pipe organs. It was a warm sunny day with a high of about 78 F and it was amazing how cool the churches were without need of A/C. We eventually headed back to the ship which sailed shortly after 5 pm. Leaving St John’s we saw numerous whales cruising east along the coast toward St Pierre.
St Pierre et Miquelon, FranceThe next morning, July 10, we reached the French islands of St Pierre et Miquelon about 9 am after a slow approach due to heavy fog and steady winds made entry to the dock problematic for the captain and pilot.
Final leg of our journeySt Pierre was our last port until we reached New York so we settled in for two more sea days which were rather boring and anticlimactic after the earlier adventures on the trip. Ocean Princess did a rather poor job of scheduling activities on sea days compared to our prior experiences. The guest lecturers were not very interesting or helpful when it came to questions about upcoming ports. There were some decent movies during the trip, but none were offered on the sea days. It seemed like they were casting about for entertainment since they offered some afternoon as well as nightly shows consisting of their lounge entertainer and the orchestra (4 piece+soundtracks) leader. We enjoyed the food and had a good cabin steward who announced himself as “butler” when he knocked on your door. In summary, we liked the unusual itinerary and some of the aspects of a small ship, but missed some of the features of larger ships like string ensembles playing during lunch and dinner and a spacious atrium area for lounging (if you can find a spot!) The décor was very nice having been originally built for Renaissance cruise line which was a more luxurious cruise line.
We sailed into New York harbor on July 13 crossing under the Verrazano bridge about 5 am and passing the Statue of Liberty heading to the Brooklyn pier. We cruised 4,165 nautical miles on the journey. After riding a shuttle bus to La Guardia airport, we learned that bad thunder storms resulted in our flight being cancelled. We found that our trip insurance covered flight delays and so it was a bonus which we had never previously purchased or needed. We found a nearby hotel and ordered Chinese for dinner. We were on the 4:30 am shuttle back to the airport and caught our 6 am flight to Philadelphia connecting to an 8 am flight nonstop to Vegas and were home by 10:30 am with our bags which somehow managed to get there before we did!