June 24, 2010, we flew to Dover, England with a connection in Charlotte, NC, on USAir to join the Ocean Princess for a 5 pm sailing on June 25 heading for Newcastle on the Tyne. Before sailing, I hiked up to the top of the cliffs along the trail to the lighthouse and back to the ship.
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.
Port of Tyne
After a quick picture on the pier, we took a shuttle bus into town and walked to the train station to buy tickets. Since the train required coins, we went into a newsstand and bought a pack of gum in order to get change for some of our 10 pound notes.
After reaching the intended station, we started walking toward Castle Garth and happened upon the start of church services at a Catholic church which featured an amazing pipe organ and we stayed for the entire service. After a little more sightseeing, we caught the train back to Tyne and returned to the ship which sailed at 4:51 pm heading for Rosyth, Scotland which we reached at 7 am on June 28.
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.
Thus, we turned back near Crieff and started worrying about trying to find our way back to the rental location in Dunfermline. This concern proved true as we reached the M90 near Perth only to be confused as to whether we were headed north or south. We wanted to be going south but the signage did not offer much help. (If you know that Edinburgh is south, it is quite straightforward!) Getting back into Dunfermline turned out to be even more confusing as we drove back and forth trying to find any streets that looked familiar from our morning cab ride. In the end, we spotted the Carnegie museum on a hill and quickly located our rental location. Since it was Enterprise, they were happy to drive us back to the ship where we gratefully crashed into our cozy nest having survived a trying adventure.
So far, my hopes of bagging some new peaks were just going to have to be shelved!
We sailed at 7 pm and headed north toward the Faroe Islands.
After a day at sea on June 29, we reached Torshavn on June 30 and were some of the first passengers ashore at 7 am. It was a beautiful day and partly cloudy with a high temperature of 50 F as we rode the free shuttle from the ship through the port area to the edge of town. The bus driver spoke some English and gave us some input on how to find a free bus to the trailhead for the King’s cairns 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.
Fortunately, he didn’t approach us and we jumped on our #1 bus when it arrived and rode to the southwest end of the route before getting off and starting our hike up to the summit.
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.
She was accompanied by a couple navy destroyers for protection and it was an exciting day for the Faroe islands since she had not visited for about 5 years. We headed back to the Ocean Princess which sailed a little after 5:30 pm.
On 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.
streams and falls
Along the south shore, we found a nice path covered in wood chips and followed it upstream to where it headed south to the base of the hillsides before continuing west up the valley. There were numerous streams coming down out of the clouds from snowfields above and we eventually reached the hydroelectric plant for the town. Further upstream there were some beautiful gorges and waterfalls as the river plunged down toward town. With wet pants, we decided to head back to the power plant where there was a bridge across the river and we took that to the road which was easier to hike on back to town.
falls above hydroplant
I had hoped to climb up to the top of the ridge we had hiked beneath, but the weather provided a good excuse not to head up into the clouds and rain.
town of Seydisfjordur
Instead, we headed back to the ship which had stopped tender operations and moored at the pier during our absence. We sailed about 6 pm into building seas with winds creating larger swells.
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.
Pat booked a tour to see the Blue Lagoon and other sights along the route while I headed ashore with a plan to climb 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 walked a few blocks and shortly after reaching the road, a guy in a Prius stopped and gave me a lift to the trailhead. He pointed out where the bus stop was for my return trip which had to be underway by 2:15 in order to get back before the ship sailed.
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!
Mt Esja summit cap
After signing the register, I headed further up to the high point which was another 20 -30 minutes from there across the rolling top of the mountain. On the way down, I saw a hiker who looked like he might be American and since there was a navy ship next to us, I thought he might be headed back to the docks as well. He was local, but spoke fluent English and offered to drive me back to the Ocean Princess. As a result, I was back about noon and had lunch in the dining room while awaiting Pat’s return from her tour. When she got back, she was unhappy that the tour had spent an hour at the Blue Lagoon where she saw everything of interest in 15 minutes and had driven by some of the other attractions without even slowing down. We decided to walk into town to see the Lutheran church and it turned into a long walk which consumed nearly 2 hours getting back to the ship about 20 minutes before sailing. We ran into a gift shop by the pier and found a couple of souvenirs to spend most of our 5,000 ISK and called it a successful day.
We 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.
This was a cool day of sailing through the narrow fjords with partly cloudy weather and a high of 46 F.
fishing village in fjord sailboat passing iceberg
On the morning of July 6 we sailed into the port at Qaqortoq, Greenland and commenced tender operations about 8 am.
approach to Qaqortoq
We were on the first tender and headed to the tourist office to try to get directions to find the trail to Peter’s cairn
sailing into port
We were not successful in that effort, but had a general idea from a trails map that I had downloaded prior to the trip. We could see the goal from town, but trying to figure out how to locate the trailhead from the maze of winding roads was a hit and miss effort. Eventually, we came to a soccer field that was located next to the base of the mountain and upon probing, we located a trace that led to a trail that appeared to be headed in the correct direction.
Town and Saqqaarsik
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.
As it was early in the day, I suggested we head across a valley to the north and climb another small mountain named 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.
After returning to town, we went back to the ship for lunch and returned for a walk through town afterward. It was one of the nicest days they had enjoyed this year and it brought out nearly all the local population to enjoy the sun and see the two cruise ships that happened to be in port on the same day.
The temperature was 48 F with a light breeze and we were impressed by all the icebergs floating around the area. We sailed that afternoon about 5 pm heading for Newfoundland after two sea days.
On 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
I had looked at satellite photos on Google and could see the trail, but had not found any good advice on how to reach the trailhead from where we were docked. We set out in the direction of Signal Hill which is visible from most of the town after being greeted at the pier by some of the locals with their famous Labrador and Newfoundland dogs.
Some of the locals advised us to follow Duckworth street to Battery road and in doing so, we caught up with a local lady who was guiding some friends to the trail we were looking for.
North Head trail
We climbed about 500’ up to the top of Signal Hill and visited a small summit cairn before going over to see Cabot Tower and enjoy the views.
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, France
The 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.
We put on our rain gear and headed in the direction of town which was a mile or so from the dock. It was overcast with fog and winds and a high temperature of 64 F. On the way we saw the lighthouse and took a short detour to see it up close although it is not open to the public.
Tom and Linda
We continued into town and considered buying ferry tickets to Aux Marins (sailor’s island), but decided not to spend the 6 Euros due to the lack of visibility and light rain. Instead, we asked the tourist office where we might find a can of escargot to purchase.
After another mile or so of walking we reached the store which looked like a Home Depot from the street. It seemed unlikely that any escargot would be found amongst the building supplies, but Pat wanted to go in and take a look. Surprisingly, when we entered, there was a grocery store on one end of the building and after walking up and down the aisles, we found what we were looking for at a price of 5.99 Euros. We paid at the checkout and discovered that they don’t have any bags for your groceries, so we tossed it into my backpack and headed back to the ship after a brief tour of the town.
Final leg of our journey
St 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!
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