Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday September 22, 2015

Final port of call today! Only NYC and home left! Very excited.

St. John's, Newfoundland 
Also St. John's

We were in Halifax today. Russell and I have been here several times so didn't feel the need to do much sightseeing. Instead we focused on a brisk walk and some shopping. We did pretty much the same thing in St. John's, Newfoundland the day before yesterday. We had awesome weather in St. John's and another good day weather-wise here in Halifax. Of course our day at sea was mostly cold and gray but I suppose that is to be expected on the North Atlantic.

Goofy Newfies--not sure what they were doing but they were having fun doing it!

Departing St. John's

I haven't got much profound to say right now but wanted to check in and let you know that we are still alive and looking forward to life post-vacation. R is busy looking at some diet/healthy cookbooks that he picked up today so I know that some healthier living is in the works. Which is a good thing. I am looking forward to renewing my exercise regimen and to doing some projects around the house. I am also looking forward to doing little things like driving my car and visiting my favorite bookstore. 

Halifax, Nova Scotia 

Details, Halifax

Going home will probably be overwhelming at first. It usually is. I'll go into my office and start to go through the mail and get overwhelmed and have to go lie down. Seriously.  It takes me awhile to get through all the mail! Eventually I am left in my office with a pile of books and periodicals to be read and television shows and DVDs to be watched and a garden that needs planting and a craft room to make my own and so many options regarding what I could be doing that I'll probably end up just needlepointing!

Not so different than what I'll be doing once we finally get home!
The Penguin Stocking -- almost finished

Speaking of needlepoint, I "finished" the penguin stocking. I say finished in quotation marks because there is still a little more to be done but I don't have the thread I need. Same with the Halloween House. And with the Valentine's Day House. It's frustrating to have been away for five months and not to have completely finished anything but that's the way things go sometimes. I know that in the next couple of weeks though I will finish three major projects so that's going to feel good.

Next time I write we will be home!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday September 18, 2015

Last two days have been spent exploring two small towns with long names in Greenland, specifically Nanortalik (today) and Qaqortoq (yesterday). The weather here continues to be cold (low forties) and gray with on and off light rain. Both towns are what you might expect -- small, poor and with not much to see. But it's interesting because even though we were in each of these towns only for a couple of hours I think we still got at least a vague feeling for the place.

Qaqortoq harbor 
Drying fish -- can't even imagine how long it would take for this fish to dry in 40 degree drizzle 

Both towns necessitated tenders and for Qaqortoq there was an obvious breakdown in the ship's tendering process. Apparently everyone wanted to get off the ship at the same time and they could only unload one tender at a time at the shoreside dock. Translation: major lines and packed boats, time spent waiting and no personal space. Also, the towns are not really set up to accommodate two thousand people either so even though there may be a store selling stuff that you want (a big assumption) you might not want to wait in the half hour plus line to actually make the purchase. So there you have it -- the ugly side of cruising.

Line for tender back to boat in Qaqortoq 
The one and only souvenir store in Nanortalik (it was hot and humid in there too! I should know -- I fought my way in!)
Native Greenlandic costumes

Now, as for the two towns, here are some of the sights I remember seeing (in no particular order):

1.) I saw not one but two baby carriages parked outside the front of stores -- with babies in them! I guess the mothers figure, "Where is someone going to take them?"
2.) Checked out grocery stores in both towns. They were fairly impressive. Lots of processed and frozen food of course but most everything you would want and even a few things you might not expect such as lemon grass (in a jar) and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (kind of like selling ice cubes to Eskimos?)

3.) Fish is obviously a big part of the culture. We saw fish hung out to dry in several places and freshly caught fish for sale.

4.) Dogs are outdoor animals. Most are mutts but generally well-behaved.

5.) Houses are small and brightly colored

6.) There are some cars but interestingly no ATVs. Maybe it has something to do with being Danish? (Greenland is part of Danish kingdom)
7.) Post Office service is privatized and seems to work well

8.) It's possible to purchase an LG washer and a big, flat-screen "smart TV"
9.) Helicopters are used quite a bit. No two towns in Greenland are connected by roads. Imagine that!
10.) Mostly single family houses but some apartment/condo buildings

11.) Nanortalik has three polar bears in its town symbol and in the last couple of years several polar bears have made their way into the town. Where they were promptly shot. Don't ask me.
12.) Although both these towns initially appear God-forsaken, they each possess some charm. In Qaqortoq it's the fountain square and in Nanortalik it's the church.

Nanortalik church (they're Lutheran)

13.) Carving is an important part of Greenlandic culture 

Sorry I couldn't string all these observations into a less random whole. I know you'll understand though.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday September 16, 2015

It's been an exciting 24 hours here on the Eurodam. Last night after I published the blog, the ship's captain announced that the Northern Lights were visible from the starboard (our) side of the ship. So, Russell and I quickly went out on our balcony and there before us was indeed the Northern Lights, stretching from one end of the ocean all the way to the other end. Russell quickly got the camera and began taking pictures. It was a great show. We had seen the Northern Lights the other night but it was very faint and brief so I figured it didn't really count. This time we watched for a good half hour plus.

The photos that Russell took turned out terrific. In some ways they are even better than the real thing (the color green was much more subtle in real life) and in some ways not as good as the real thing because a still image can't  convey how the lights were shifting and pulsating, constantly changing. It was a very special experience and we were lucky to be "In the right place, at the right time". Frankly, I didn't even think that we would be able to see the Northern Lights on this trip because I thought they only appeared in the winter and although it's been very cold here (high today = 43 degrees) I am pretty sure it's not yet winter.

Speaking of things I didn't expect to see, this morning Russell and I were up in time to see the sunrise and what a spectacular sunrise it was too. The only reason I was awake in time for the 6:20 a.m. event was because as I mentioned yesterday we've been moving our clocks back as we head west and obviously my body's clock has yet to adjust. 

We had another pleasant surprise today in terms of the scenery. Today was described on the itinerary for this trip as a day of "Scenic cruising -- Prins Christian Sund". Both Russell and I figured "scenic cruising" was just advertising-speak for another "day at sea". How wrong we were! This Prince Christian Sound is absolutely stunning. It's a narrow fjord that cuts through the southern part of Greenland allowing one to get up close and personal with several glaciers, icebergs and six thousand feet rock mountains. Unbelievable. We also saw icebergs calving (separating) from their glaciers complete with a big splash of water and a deep rumble. And I saw a Minke Whale. We never did see a seal but we saw a couple those the other day.

The whole day was a great surprise. My expectations for Greenland were rather low. I figured that there couldn't be much to see in Greenland because you don't hear about it and nobody goes there. We are going to be here for two more days so we shall see whether the scenery stays good but man oh man so far, so good. Enjoy the pics.

Tuesday September 15, 2015

Reykjavik, Iceland yesterday and already after a full day steaming towards Greenland it feels a million miles away. We spent Monday visiting the Blue Lagoon. You've probably seen photos of this place. It's a large, organically shaped pool filled with beautiful milky blue water with lots of steam rising from its heated surface and various overweight, bikini clad Europeans.

Stop. Back up. The bus ride to the Blue Lagoon was interesting. Reykjavik, at least the bits that I saw, held little charm for me. It's a modern city, not really walkable (again at least the parts that I saw) and it was a bit jarring to see so many vehicles, sprawl and modern highways after our previous three stops each of which was progressively smaller and more remote than the last.

It's hard to see but there is a big crack in the earth right beside the highway 

Are we on the moon?

At a couple miles outside city, the landscape changes noticeably becoming cracked and split
as if an earthquake has just happened or the magma has just cooled. It's very different these geological landscapes (that is landscapes where the force of geology predominates as opposed to say a vegetative landscape or an oceanic landscape) such as we've seen in the Faroe Islands and here in Iceland. Makes you understand why some people go gah-gah for geology (actually it doesn't make me understand it completely but that's another story). 

Basalt predominates. Sharp stones are everywhere and it looks as if you would need surfing booties to walk on them. In some areas the effect is softened by a blanket of moss and lichen.

The weather is as it has been, that is to say cold and gray. The guides and cruise ship people keep referring to the "fine" weather we are having or even the "beautiful day" but I just can't buy it. Calling the weather "fine" and "beautiful" does not actually make it so and if these people think that  forty eight degrees in the middle of the day in September with no sun to speak of is "fine" or "beautiful" then I want some of what they're smoking.

I digress. So the landscape is sharp, porous black volcanic stone. As we walk from the parking lot to the entrance we are sheltered by two walls, eight feet high of what looks like plowed macadam. Strange. 

Two walls of plowed macadam along the walkway to entrance

The Blue Lagoon itself is thirty minutes outside the city. It's rather an elegant building with a nicer-than-they-have-to-be shop and cafe. They've got an interesting system involving bracelets that you wear (they're waterproof) and swipe over sensors to open a locker or purchase anything. All in all its well done and it's hard for me not to envision the schlocky, honky-tonk, overdone, over merchandised travesty that this place would be in America.

Note the preponderance of white faces

The water itself is a perfect temperature. Warm enough to banish the cold air but not too warm to make you sweat and overheat. Some people are rubbing white mud on their face and hair. I refrain. About the only thing to do is to relax, search out warmer areas or find a place to sit. After an hour or so it's time to go and I can cross that one off my nonexistent bucket list.

Photos from the boat in the afternoon 

Today was spent, in part, attending lectures onboard. At nine am (easy to make despite my propensity for late mornings because we've been turning our clocks back) there was a lecture on the arctic. That was given by a retired Army Captain who was well prepared and informative. At ten there was a lecture on Greenland. Both of these lectures were very well attended. A zoo you might have called it. Russell and I had good seats because we arrived twenty minutes early. For the two o'clock lecture on our next ports of call we knew we were going to have to get there early so we arrived at one thirty, a full thirty minutes before the lecture was set to begin and the place was already one third full. By quarter to two it was standing room only and fights were breaking out over "held" seats. I am telling you these people are vicious. It's like they've got nothing to do all day. Oh wait -- they don't have anything to do all day!

At any rate, this third lecture was immediately put up on the ship's television station so that those who were too stupid to arrive early -- wait, I mean those people for whom there were not enough seats -- could watch it. If they had only said prior to the lecture that it would be broadcast immediately after it was given they might have prevented the overflow crowd and at least a couple of ugly moments.