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Monday, September 22, 2014

Days at Sea and a visit to St.John's, Newfoundland

Days at Sea on the Ruby and St. John's, Newfoundland

We left Reykjavik, Iceland and had three days at sea before arriving at St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. We got into a routine with coffee in our room at 7am and breakfast in the dining room by 9am.  We enjoy sharing tables, talking to other passengers and the different breakfast menu every day.  We've met people from so many states and countries it would be difficult to list them all.  The conversation is as good as the eggs and bacon.

We started playing "Progressive Trivia" at the beginning of the cruise. There are about 20 different teams of six who meet every sea day in the Club Fusion and attempt to answer 10 trivia questions. The scores are progressive and the team who has the most points at the end of the cruise wins! Well we are five points off the leaders at this point and we probably will not catch them. It's been a lot of fun. I spend the days reading and enjoying a Classical string quartet in the afternoon plus MA's done line dancing and tap dancing classes.
WW & MA......Cathy & Richard 
On our last cruise we met Richard and Cathy from Virginia at an airline employee event. We were really pleased to find them again on this cruise and have really enjoyed meeting them for dinner in the early evenings. Thanks to Cathy, we have a reserved table in a small alcove of the big dining room.  We get the same waiters every evening who come to know our preferences quite quickly plus the maitre d' comes more than once to check on how our dinner is going. We then all go to one of the evening shows of either magic, classical music or a very funny ventriloquist. Our next stop was at St. John's in Newfoundland, Canada on Friday.
Entering St. John's protected harbor

St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

The Ruby Princess entered the narrows of St. John's harbor about 6:30 Friday morning. This is the most natural port and harbor that I have ever seen. The sun had not risen but you could still see the harbor and city under lights. We had booked a "Photographer's Tour" at 1:30 pm.  In the morning we decided to walk around town and then a ceremony of pomp and circumstance to honor our ship's first visit to this port. The mayor was introduced by the "St. John's town crier" accompanied by a fife and drum military tattoo (band) and three soldiers dressed in WW1 uniforms.

The time quickly passed and we gathered our cameras and met our group in the Princess Theater. I was hoping for a small group of 15-20 people as other "photographer tours" have been. This was not to be. Sixty of us were stuffed into a "tourist bus" along with two local photographers. The only thing that made it a photography tour was some basic advice from the two photography guides. I was disappointed but attempted to enjoy the moment because we were still in a place a lot of people only dream of visiting.

Fort Amherst & Lighthouse
We started out with a drive around the harbor to the opposite side to see of the city to photograph Ft. Amherst and the Cape Spear Lighthouse which is the oldest in Newfoundland. It is also located at the very most easterly point in all of North America. We then continued on to a fishing boat harbor where we walked and took some really great photos of the scenery and lighthouse.  MA got some nice photos around the harbor and the boats.
St. John's is a city build around the harbor. It dates back to colonial times and has a wonderful history. Land is a premium so most of the homes are "row houses."  They are multicolored and remind me of San Francisco.

Our next stop was the tiny fishing village of Quidi Vidi located on an inlet near St. John's.  Some of the buildings date from the 1750's.  I also found some great subjects with the wide angle lens of lobster traps and the village. 

Our tour then took us back through town and up to Signal Hill, the site of the reception of the first "wireless" on the Marconi in Morse code in 1901.

We visited the Government House which I wasn't interested in photographing and then drove a short distance to the Basilica of St. John's, where the pope visited a few years ago. We could not get inside as there was a wedding in progress.

We were then bused back to the ship and after passing through security we made it to the room, changed clothes and has supper with Richard and Cathy. Entertainment for the evening was a ventriloquist by the name of John Paul Ziegfeld, a very funny guy. 

We are on our last two sea days and will arrive in New York City on Monday morning. I hope you have enjoyed the blog. We are sorry about not reading your emails or not putting up a lot of pictures. Our internet service on board leaves a lot to be desired.   I will send out a link to some more photographs after we get home and I can edit them.

Thanks for tuning in! Bon voyage!  Wayne and MA
The Big Apple

As we pulled into New York Harbor, Miss Liberty greeted us with her arm held high.  As the sun came up I went to the 16th deck and got a few more before we left the ship.
Battery Park, Coast Guard cutter and NYC Skyline

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reykjavik, Iceland: Golden Circle Tour with Geo-Iceland Tours

Reykjavik, Iceland:  Golden Circle Tour with Geo-Iceland Tours

Our tour route from Reykjavik took us east on Hwy 1 then north on 435, the pipeline road.

We left the port of Akureyri, Iceland on calm seas with a beautiful sunset in the inlet. However  once the ship turned west and north toward the Arctic Circle, the wind began to blow and it turned rough.  We knew we were in for a rocky night,  as in rocking and rolling!  The next day we were supposed to dock at Isafjordur, Iceland but when we woke up it was clear this was not going to happen. The first clue was the  fifteen foot swells outside our cabin window. Very early in the morning the Commodore announced it would be unsafe for the tenders to transfer passengers to shore. Instead we turned south toward Reykjavik and docked there late that same day. Our stay in Reykjavik would now include an overnight in port.

We started the day in the rain and concluded with partly cloudy skies.

The private tour bus had seats for 20. There were 19 of us. It was OK.
Reykjavik, Iceland:  Golden Circle Tour with Geo-Iceland Tours
The next morning we were greeted by a light, but cold rain. Undaunted we were off the ship by 7:45. The dock was a parking lot of large tour buses, however, we didn't see ours. But we quickly got oriented and found our guide who pointed out a white Mercedes Benz 20 passenger bus.  Our other 18 tour companions soon boarded and off we went Berwyn, a young man who would spend the day with us. Berwyn spoke great English and he told us that was from his two years as a high school exchange student, a year in Florida and another in Massachusetts.
He first took us on a mini-city tour through Reykjavik. The most unusual structures I saw was an impressive Lutheran church and the performing arts, concert hall.  The walls are composed of small hexagonal shaped glass bricks. I was quick on the trigger and got a photo!
Performing Arts building, an unusual glass wall
Berwyn told us we would be on different routes from the large tour buses. They would be more scenic and we could avoid crowds by arriving at our destinations either just before they did or after. This tour was called the "Golden Circle" which focuses on Iceland's geothermal sites.  We turned on to Road #435, which is called the Pipe road because it parallels the thermal water pipeline from Iceland's power plants into Reykjavik.  The pipe is about 2 feet in diameter and carries the super-hot (200 degrees) water from the steam generators into the city which in turn heats almost all the homes and buildings in Iceland.
Geothermal power begins with a large bore hole into the earth's core. It strikes an underground layer of steam. The steam is piped up into and turns a turbine generator.  There is enough electricity that Iceland sells it to business and manufacturing plants at a discounted rate. Large aluminum smelting companies have relocated in Iceland because of the cheap electricity.
Our next lesson about Iceland was the sheep industry. At both our Iceland stops we have seen hundreds of long haired sheep. The sheep are owned by different farmers and all of them have an ear tag.  The adult sheep as well as lambs are turned out into the hinterlands in the springtime where they eat their way to the following September. The farmers then get together on their Icelandic horses and do a cooperative roundup. The sheep are herded into large pens where they are separated by owners. Each owner trucks his sheep to his farm where they are kept for the harsh winters. The lambs are sold for slaughter. The adults are sheared for their wool. And now you know.

Toward the end of the pipe road we came to some mountains that Hollywood studios have used as film backgrounds. If you saw the movie, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," you saw where we were. Berwyn explained that we were in the middle of a giant "riff," an area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. It is visible in the photos.  The 35 square mile lake on the map is the middle of this riff.

We clearly saw these cracks at our first stop down the middle of one of them where we were able to walk to a beautiful waterfall. Berwyn had driven around to a parking area and met us there. It was a great half mile walk with crisp air and beautiful views. By the way, the weather got better. It had stopped raining and the sun began to peek through the cloudy skies.

Our next stop was the Geysir Hot Springs Area.  If you've ever been to Yellowstone this place is similar. Like our "Old Faithful" in Yellowstone, Iceland's Geysir is a very unpredictable. I was able to get a couple of photos of the thing blowing its top. There are signs everywhere warning tourists about the hot water and to stay on the trails. One sign reminded tourists about all the things they should not try and the last warning was that the nearest hospital was 45 miles away. We had lunch at the local restaurant ($30 USD for two bowls of soup and one bottle of water!) and then we were off again.
Our next stop was at the largest waterfall in Iceland, the Gullfoss. As the bus was stopping in the parking lot I noticed a rainbow over the falls and managed to get a photo of it before the sun ducked behind the clouds. The waterfall here comes from the melting glacier and all the runoff from surrounding snow capped mountains. As it flows through the volcanic ash and dirt it looks brown or golden. Our tour, the Golden Circle, gets its name from the color of the water.
Gullfoss Waterfall and Rainbow

We made one final stop at a town east of Reykjavik where a small shopping mall was built over a fissure crack.  The center was to be a four-story building, that is until the builders discovered a large fissure right there at the construction site. Instead, they built a Plexiglas viewing window over the fissure and limited the structure to a single story. 
Those are red lights resembling the earth's molten core.

We finished the day and said goodbye to Berwyn. 
Aboard ship we had supper with friends Cathy and Richard whom we had met last spring on a Transatlantic from west to east. We then all went to a fantastic piano concert given by classical pianist, Christopher Contillo.

Our next three days are all at sea. The next port of call is St. John's Newfoundland, Canada. Look for the next journal entry after that port. Meanwhile we'll be doing team trivial pursuit games, reading, talking to new folks, walking around, and oh, did I mention, eating and drinking Cappuccinos!

Life is good.  God is good.  Later! Wayne

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Akureyri, Iceland.........a look at the volcano from 40 km

We are at the #1 site at the top of the map:  Akureyri
Akureyri, Iceland:  A 40km view of an active volcano

The Ruby Princess left the Shetland Islands yesterday and sailed north to our next destination, Akureyri, (pronounced a-kur-ray-re), Iceland.  We sailed up the east coast crossing the Arctic Circle and turning south into the Eyjafjorbur (inlet). Akureyri is the largest city in Iceland's northern territory.

I will say that we encountered some heavy seas last night. But the ship's stabilizers take a lot of the rocking and rolling out of the heavy seas.  This morning we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise. The ship docked and passengers were allowed to go ashore about an hour later.

Our small tour with Taxi 17

Mary Alice (MA) had hooked up with fellow cruise passenger, Marty Reed and husband Don from San Antonio. Weeks before the cruise Marty worked via email to arrange private tours here and at our next two ports in Iceland. Today we were a party of six which is so much better than a busload of sixty!

MA and I went ashore and found our driver from a tour company called "Taxi No.17". Our driver was Benedict and we nicknamed him Ben. The other two other passengers (Mark and John) found us and then Marty and Don arrived. Ben led us to his vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD with some very big tires. I saw the reason for the big tires later.
Ben was a real hoot.  He was born in Iceland, speaks Icelandic and as a young man he learned English in where else? England!  He took us through the town, down the hill and across the bridge over the Eyhafjarbard River. What struck us about the town is how clean and modern it is and there is no graffiti! The highway crossed over a thermal spring that is piped in to heat the entire town.  Ben told us you can take a 30-minute very hot shower and it'll only cost 10 cents on your utility bill.

As we climbed up the highway I was struck by the natural beauty of the place.  The mountains that form the valleys are about 3000' high.  They are actually volcanic formations covered with plants of pastel colors: yellow, green, red, orange and brown. I'm not sure my camera can capture the beauty of the place.

Ben drove us right past the famous and largest waterfall named the Godafoss. All the tourist buses stop there first.  He said we would stop last on the way back, "not so crowded".  I knew we had a great guide!
He followed the highway and then turned south toward the river Fnjoska.  The paved road soon turned into a volcanic gravel road. We passed many large farms with cut green fields of baled hay covered with white plastic.  Most of the farms, set back in the hills, have herds of long hair sheep grazing in the field.  We also came upon a herd of Icelandic horses, which are pure bred and we saw some small herds of cattle. 

We continued on to a rough gravel road with two gates, thus the big tires! I was in the front passenger seat so I had "gate duty", opening and closing them so we could pass on through.  We got to our first stop, an isolated waterfall called, Aldeyjarfoss. The word "foss" in Icelandic means waterfall.
The water comes from melting glaciers to the south along with melting snow runoff. It is an awesome sight and sound experience because of the rushing water falling and roaring against large rocks. 

Active volcano 40km away

We visited another waterfall and then Ben took us up the highest point that we could get to in a vehicle. He pointed out the smoke and ash to the south of us and told us it was an erupting volcano. See above picture. It was 40 km from us and we could not go closer because the area is closed off.
Godafoss Waterfalls

We headed back to the large falls at Godafoss where all the tourists had already come and gone, took a few pictures and returned to the ship.  It was a great day, a great guide and great company along on the tour.  Thank you Marty for arranging all this! We have two more tours with her and Don and a few others at our next two stops in Iceland!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland: Home of the Shetland Ponies

Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland, Home of the Shetland Ponies

9-11-2014;  Let's not forget what happened 13 yrs ago. We were attacked by Islamic extremists who killed over 3000 Americans. They are still trying to kill us after all the sacrifices made by US Military.

Early this morning (Thursday) we entered the waters off of the Shetland Islands. There was a dense fog outside and it looked like it was raining.  As things turned out, it was just  the thick fog. I had gotten up early and gone to the Piazza for coffee and some quiet time with the Lord.  By the time I got back a couple hours later, Mary Alice was up and at 'em.
We both enjoyed our daily coffee delivered to our door before we go to breakfast which, by the way, was great: eggs to order, English bacon and all the extras.  Our tour left at 9:30 so we headed to the Explorer's Lounge, got our tickets and waited for our group to be called.  It wasn't long and we were directed to one of the waiting shuttle crafts alongside the Ruby Princess.  The Shetland Islands has no dock big enough for a cruise ship so passengers are shuttled to in the port of Lerwick, pronounced "lerik". There we met out guide Jim and bus driver John and then set out to explore "Northernmost Scotland".

The tour would take us north into the mainland of Shetland Island crossing Mavis Grind, a narrow isthmus separating the Atlantic Ocean from the North Sea.  We stopped at a small museum and then on to the Braewick Cafe where we were treated to English tea and homemade cookies. 

Bergen, Norway: A Norwegian Gem

Bergen, Norway:  A Norwegian Gem

After sailing through the English Channel and into the North Sea, the Ruby Princess entered the waters of Norway and into the fjord of Bergen. It was now early Wednesday morning.  We had finally gotten over "jet lag".  We had coffee in the room followed by a great breakfast before going ashore.  Our plan was to catch the "Hop-On, Hop-Off" bus at the cruise terminal.  We learned that the bus did not come to the cruise terminal where we were docked so we took the ship's shuttle to the center of town and quickly found the Hop On Hop Off near the Fish Market.

Bergen is known as one of the most alluring cities in the world. It was founded in the 11th century and was once the capital of Norway.  It is considered the "Gateway to the Fjords" and offers spectacular views of Mt. Floien.  Some of the famous sites in Bergen are the "Fish Market" where not only fish is sold by vendors but fruits and vegetable and souvenirs.

 The old town is referred to as Bryggen, a commercial area founded by German merchants.  We were told that the town had experienced numerous fires in the past and had been rebuilt more than once after which local commerce continued. 

Our other venture after the Fish Market and the bus tour included the ride up Mt. Floien on the "Funicular" or rail tramway.  The train carried us up to the top where we had a fantastic view of the city and the harbor.  Later, after our bus tour completed the circle of the city (with 11 possible hop off stops) we bid farewell to Bergen and caught the shuttle back to the ship for a late lunch.  The Ruby Princess departed Bergen and set a westward course toward the Shetland Islands of Scotland.

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