Friday, July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Night and Daylight, You Are the One

As we sail farther north, the days become longer and longer. Even when we were in London, darkness did not occur until almost 9:00. Now, the sun is visible early and late. In Runavik yesterday, sunrise was 4:42 a.m. and sunset was 10:23 p.m. Of course, the sky is light well before dawn and after sundown. By the time we get to Spitsbergen, the North Cape of Norway, we will, indeed, be in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

We continue to have smooth seas and good weather. While the skies are overcast, there has been no rain since the sprinkles in Rosyth, and temperatures have been higher than predicted. Of course, warmth is relative. Even if they continue to be higher than expected, it will still be downright chilly above the Arctic Circle. When we visited Antarctica in 2004, the temperature hovered near 45F, but the wind chill made us glad to have the heavy parkas. On that trip, we were probably over-dressed and returned to the ship each day soaked through; without all of our layers, we would have been equally uncomfortable in the opposite direction.

Today was a typical day at sea. We stayed in bed until almost 8:30 and then went to breakfast in the MDR. With eating and chatting with our tablemates, we did not finish until nearly 10:00. As a result, and by design, we missed the Cruise Critic meeting which had been scheduled for 8:30 – 10:00. Since the others are also set for 8:30 – 10:00 on sea days, we are probably through with CC for this trip. We have met several of the members and chat with them, but formal meetings are done until, maybe, next year’s trip.

We returned to the room after breakfast and read for a while before trivia. As usual, we were early getting to the Ocean Bar and read until the others arrived. Barbara brought her new netbook, but D could not get it to connect to the internet or even the local network and suggested that she consult the on-board internet specialist. She later made an appointment for tomorrow before dinner. We skipped lunch in the MDR so MA could keep her 1:00 nail appointment and went to the Lido buffet when she was done. That experience made us all the more anxious to eat in the MDR as much as possible.

After reading again in the cabin, MA joined Roxanne and Barbara in the theater to see Young Victoria. David caught up on the journal and read until she returned and we prepared for tonight’s formal night. There is a cocktail reception with the captain at 7:15, late enough for the early seating diners and early enough for the late sitting diners. We think it is just for the 4-Star alumni who have 200 or more days on board HAL ships.

There are other perks for the 200-day plus alumni. HAL offers discounts on certain purchases [such as wine packages and dinner in the reservation-only restaurant], but the most important as far as we are concerned is that laundry and pressing service are unlimited and free. Granted, there are free self-service washers and dryers on board, it is so much easier to stuff a laundry bag every two days and know that your clean, folded clothes will be back the next night. As a result, we are doing laundry [or having it done] much more often than ever before. We could have gotten away with just three of everything: one to wear, one for the next day and one in the laundry. We will know for next time and pack fewer clothes.

Formal night in the dining room featured French cuisine and décor. There were red, white and blue crepe paper balls and red, white and blue bunting strung throughout. Even the waiters were in French-style apparel including berets. Of course the menu include escargots, onion soup, quiche, pate and coq au vin. MA had the snails, lobster bisque and quiche; D had the lobster bisque, Caesar salad and the coq au vin.

After dinner we read for a while before turning off the lights after a very busy day. We will gain and hour tonight meaning an extra hour’s sleep, but we know we will give it back in a few days.\

Tomorrow – Reykjavik, Iceland.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

If there is one thing we have learned already, it’s that we can expect lots of water in lots of places on this cruise. We accept that we will be sailing on the water, of course, but we keep running into it, so to speak. In Rosyth, we encountered William Wallace and the Battle at Stirling Bridge followed by the Falkirk Wheel. In Scrabster, it was the rugged coast at Dunnet Head as well as at the Castle of Mey. In Runavik, it was all over – fjords, the ocean, waterfalls and underwater tunnels.

We were awash in water today, too. Here is the description of our trip, called the Golden Circle, as provided by the company. It is identical to the ship’s tour except there were eight of us, not fifty.

Tour description - this comprehensive tour covers all the major attractions of southwest Iceland, beginning with a drive to the national park and former parliament site at Thingvellir and continuing through the mountains to the area around the lake Laugarvatn, known for its high level of seismic activity. Next stop is Geysir, the world's most famous hot spring, and Strokkur, its smaller neighbour, which erupts in a spectacular of blue water every few minutes. The trip then continues to Gullfoss, the Queen of Icelandic waterfalls, returning to Reykjavík via Skálholt, site of Iceland's first episcopal see, founded in 1056, and the garden village of Hveragerði.
We followed the itinerary fairly closely. We switched the order of Gullfoss and Geysir to avoid tour buses and saw the alleged oldest extant church in Iceland [dating only from 1909] instead of Skálholt and Hveragerði.

The Thingvellir was the world’s first Parliament going back over 900 years. The park built on the site of the original thingvellir was dedicated in honor of Iceland’s independence from Denmark in 1944. It includes several buildings which we assumed stood where the thingviller had been; a multi-media display and explanation of the site’s history and geography; and startlingly stark rock walls and formations, streams and a large lake used by the populace as a recreation source.
We were at Gullfoss long enough to walk down to it, take pictures and get damp from the spray. We thought it was wonderful because it is our first Niagara-type falls, but several others were less impressed because it did not measure up to Niagara, Angel or Iguazu Falls. The river had cut a deep gorge below the falls, but we could not see it from the safety of the viewing area.

At Geysir, we were able to see – and catch in photographs – several eruptions of water and steam. We were smart/lucky enough to be upwind of the geyser when it erupted, but Jay, Sharon and Marvin got more than a little wet. Still, we and they enjoyed watching the bubbling water as it swirled in the pool where the geyser blew. It was sort of like watching a sneeze; there was a definite build-up as it prepared to shower us.

We ate lunch at the café/gift shop across the road because the Hotel Geysir dining room was booked until 2:00. Lunch was sandwiches and Cokes, not traditional Icelandic food. If we have had one disappointment, it is the lunches we have had on three of the four shore excursions [Runavik being the exception]. We hope we get luckier tomorrow.

We returned to the ship in time for trivia. There were only four teams today because of bus trips. All five of us were there and we added a “stray” whose team didn’t show. Using the ringer’s knowledge, we were able to win with a perfect score today. In all humility, we would have won without him, just not as convincingly. D’s knee was really bothering him to the point that MA finally noticed his limp, so we went to the room and MA slept while D wrote the journal with her gel wrap around his knee. There will no doubt be a report on his condition in a later entry.

We went to this evening's show after dinner [vegetarian/leg of lamb]. As singers, the group was only fair, but as entertainers they were the best we have seen in the last three cruises. By the time D went to post this entry, it was 11:15 p.m. locally and the sun was still up!

Tomorrow we will be in Isafjordur , Iceland, where we do not have any plans except to explore the town, shop and eat lunch. We should be back in time for trivia [There are priotities, after all].

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