Home at last and the Anniversary of “D” Day

After four months at sea we are home again in Alliston, Ontario and have the cottage open for the summer season.  It was a fantastic trip with many great memories of places visited and friends made.  Most important was the realization and the knowledge that we are very thankful for all that we have in this life.  Many places we visited were deep into poverty and contrasted with the opulent high end settings of other countries visited and the almost obscene wealth displayed.  Much can be learned about our world on such a trip and it was truly mind boggling in this respect.

As I write this last post of our 2019 trip I am reminded that today and tomorrow (June 6)  marks the 75th anniversary of D Day and the invasion by the allied forces into Normandy.  Our visit to the Normandy beaches was a highlight of the trip.

The victory was a turning point in World War II and led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany. The sacrifices made by many young soldiers who never returned from this battle were remembered in vivid detail as we walked the American cemetery at OMAHA Beach and the multiple Canadian and British cemeteries around FLANDERS FIELDS and JUNO Beach.  Those were sights we will never forget.  On this the 75th anniversary, we remember and give thanks for those who served that we might be free.






Bantry Bay and the home of the Mussel

Bantry Bay-Home of the Mussel

Today we are anchored in Bantry Bay off the southern tip of Ireland. This is a small, very picturesque village with a sheltered harbour and surrounded by the craggy Caha Mountains.  The waters of Bantry Bay are considered the deepest and most protected of any harbour in Europe. From the earliest times fishermen and merchant ships have used this port as a haven.

The Bay is also covered in mussel farms. Long lines of rope attached to multiple floats are spread out in every corner of the approach to town. Mussels attach themselves to the ropes and when mature are harvested. The harvest, previously done by hand is now accomplished using a large derrick which winds the ropes into the boat dislodging the mussels. The largest distributor of the mussels from this area is the Bantry Bay company and its products come in a wide range of flavours. Oysters are another local harvest with both being the “specials” in the restaurants.

Bantry is beautiful town for “strolling about” and it is surrounded by water or soaring green hills making it a postcard like setting. Today it has become a haven for writers, musicians, visual artists and sculptors. The shoppes, restaurants and bars reflect this with live music, artisan coops, small art galleries and some of the finest seafood restaurants we have seen.

From this anchorage we start our 3500 mile Atlantic passage with our next stop, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and home. Let’s hope for calm seas and a strong internet signal as we motor for the next eight days.  Pictures will not load so will have to wait for another day.

Bantry Bay mussels are shipped around the world and are some of the finest.

Not many turns as we cross the Atlantic and head towards Ft. Lauderdale.

Moving to Cork Tomorrow

Cork, Ireland is one of those small cities that you could move to tomorrow.  Located on the water and the home of a very large seaport, Cork appears to have everything going for it.  While we were not physically docked in Cork there are three cities and villages that run together in this area making it hard to distinguish  which municipality you are really in.  Cork is also a county and when one talks about Cork, they are referring to the county rather than the city.

Cork is now home to all Apple installations outside of the United States, and is the home of several of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.  Viagra we learned is manufactured just off the harbour in Cork, for example.  With Information Technology and Pharmaceuticals being the two largest industries in Cork (and Ireland, for that matter) the standard of living is very high and the homes very modern, very new and all within a community that has all the needed amenities for professionals. Not surprising, a major import of the harbour is automobiles.

Cork is also home to a large assortment of pleasure boats that ply the very protected waters and the long harbour that runs in from the sea.  The area boasts the oldest yacht club in the world and when you see the waterway this is no surprise. At the same time within minutes one is out of the city and into the hills, valleys, mountains and coastal inlets that make this an outdoor enthusiasts’ dreamland.  As an aside we learned that Johnny Cash when he toured this area in the fifties wrote a song that he called “Forty Shades of Green”  He couldn’t believe the colours of the fields and hills as he travelled through the land.  Naturally we had to find a copy on the internet and for 99 cents we downloaded it.

During our time here we travelled to a small villlage on the coast called Kinsale where you have never seen such a collection of neat and tidy shops ringing the harbour and boasting the best in Irish knitting.  It was not unusual to see at least one new hand knit Irish sweater at dinner the following night.  It didn’t matter that the dining room was warm enough for shirt sleeves, those that bought felt they needed to wear their purchases.

Kinsale marks the start of the Wild Atlantic Way – a 2500 km touring route of magnificent Atlantic coastline.  It is also off the inlet to Kinsale that the Cunard luxury liner, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk on May 17, 1915.  Almost 2000 passengers and crew perished with the wreck now sitting in 90 metres of water.

As with the last post, pictures will have to wait a better internet signal.  Tomorrow we are around the corner and anchored in Bantry Bay before we start the trip back across the Atlantic.

Belfast and Dublin—Why two different countries?

After Scotland it was on to Ireland and our introduction to the “troubles” as they were called in both countries.  Our first stop was Northern Island and the port city of Belfast.

Northern Ireland with its capital Belfast is part of the United Kingdom and uses pounds as its currency, the Queen as its monarch and flies the Union Jack.  The Republic of Ireland on the other hand with its capital Dublin, is its own republic, uses the European euro as its currency and has its own distinctive flag.  The ”troubles” between Northern Ireland and the Republic have gone on for years and have at their root British rule and the desire on the part of some of the population to be a separate nation.  Part of that struggle was and continues to be the feeling of domination by the British and the persecution of Roman Catholics.

What we found and saw for ourselves was the absolute beauty of Northern Island with its green hills, rugged coastline and soaring mountains.  It was here that the wealthy Brits were given land and built lavish castles and estates that pushed the Irish inhabitants out and forced them to pay high taxes to their British landlords.  LInen was and continues to be a major export as is Irish whisky.  Northern Island is also home to the UNESCO world heritage site called the Giant’s Causeway and just beside it is the 2019 home of the British Open at Portrush Golf Club.  The course is in beautiful shape with the greens perfectly manicured yet looking like the adjacent green fields of the sheep and cattle farms!

By contrast, the Republic of Ireland is a far richer country.  Dublin is home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and it was a surprise to us to learn that it is a Protestant Church and not Catholic.  Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels was a Dean at St. Patricks and is buried there.

Not far from St. Patricks is the world famous Trinity College, and just outside the gates to this campus is a statue of Oscar Wilde, the playwright who lived and worked in the same neighbourhood.

LIke many of our other European countries, one day was not nearly enough to even scratch the surface of our interest.  Why two countries?  I am still not sure.

Pictures to follow!


Portree, Scotland was a pleasant surprise

Portree, Scotland was a gem on the Isle of Skye in Scotland with the added attraction of being on the ocean with a very protected harbour.  This was a tender port for us as the town dock was not big enough to handle the Amsterdam.  At anchor our ship seemed to be rubbing the hills at the bow and stern making it a very imposing sight from shore.  Mariners reading this blog will be interested to know that an outside team of experts had to come on board before we departed to “swing” the compass.  Once a year the mechanical compass on the ship needs to be recalibrated with an outside crew doing the certification. This involved turning the ship 360 degrees keeping the ship in one central location while the calibration is done using a fixed point on the land.

While many of the passengers chose to stay in town and walk the narrow streets, our tour bus took us inland to see the rolling hills, large herds of sheep and a countryside that was bursting with spring colours.  A highlight of the bus tour was the visit to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens.  The castle is open to the public but is still the home of its owners who occupy the upper floors when in residence.  The castle is the ancestral home of the McLeod clan and much of the artwork on the walls depicts the family members through the years and the members of the royal family that regularly visit the castle either by land or water.

Time is always a factor when you are on a bus tour as the ship will not wait very long if you are not back on time.  Unfortunately this meant we could not sample the amazing fish and chip restaurants up from the town dock nor the many types of single malt scotch that Scotland is famous for.  Whisky we learned was the proper spelling for the drink while elsewhere the drink is whiskey.  Now you know.

The Isle of Skype goes down on the list of places that need to be revisited.  One short day was just not enough.

Mountains soar up around Portree harbour.

Salmon farms mark the entrance to Portree harbour.

With the tide out, the pastel painted homes along the narrow streets seem setback a long way from the water.

Oslo, Norway and our first sighting of snow!

As we came into Oslo with not a breath of wind, another cruise ship tried to pass us.

Today we are in Oslo, Norway and there is still snow on the ground at the ski jump behind the city.  For three and a half months we have been in tropical weather and today for the first time we are in parkas, mitts and hats.  Guess what?  The temperature today in Oslo was in the mid seventies and it could not have been a nicer spring day.

We were surprised to learn that Norway is the second highest producer of oil and gas after the Middle East.  Most of their facilities are in the North Sea.  Coupled with this is the fact that Norway is the fifth wealthiest nation in the world. Their expertise in tunnel building and winter sports also makes them the best in the world.  Now you know!

The trip up the fiord to Oslo was spectacular (an overused word on this trip) and it reminded us of Georgian Bay. The rock and pine islands we passed were very similar as our boat carefully manoeuvred its way between the shoals and rugged rock outcrops as it approached Oslo.

Our dock in Oslo was essentially an extension of the Main Street and provided easy access to the downtown and the busy harbour.  Located directly opposite us was the Nobel Peace Prize Centre where the Peace Prize is awarded.  We noted that Lester Pearson has been the only Canadian to receive this prestigious award in the mid fifties and his picture is there with the other super stars in this award category.

The Nobel peace prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, not Sweden.

With perfect weather and dressed in summer wear we visited three major tourist sites including the Olympic ski jump at Holmenkollen just north-west of the city, the sculpture park know as Vigeland named after the sculptor Gustav Vineland and the Viking Boat Museum which has two Viking ships dating back to the first century.

Each of our stops on our tour will not soon be forgotten.  Holmenkollen was the site of the 1952 Olympics and still had snow on the landing surface and around the park area.  It is mind boggling to see the height of the jump and progressively better distance records that the jumpers are able to achieve.  The sculpture park was like none other.  The very lifelike castings are some of the best we have ever seen.  All are displayed in a park setting and there was no admission charges.

This statue is carved from one piece of rock.

The two major Viking ships were intact and we marvelled at the contents of the ships when they were discovered.  One had 14 horses on board while the other had beautiful hand carved carts.  Two bodies were also discovered on board as was an apple that was still red in colour.  The male body had his legs cut off.  This was done by the Vikings so the “soldier”, once captured, could no longer return to battle. It was fascinating to know we were looking at artifacts from the year 100 A.D.

The ship was found fully loaded with the contents also on display at the museum.

This ship was built in the year 900.

The downtown core, like so many of the other European cities we visited, was alive with pedestrian malls, beautiful historic buildings and a waterfront complete with wooden schooners that was totally accessible by the public.  A waterfront promenade stretched for  9 kilometres across the city. Fortunately we will cruise both in and out during the daylight hours so it should be very scenic.

The ski jump as seen from the bottom looking up to the top.

The top of the ski jump is accessed by an elevator.

The life size sculptures are as realistic as you can get.

The ski jump and the surrounding viewing stands emphasize the unbelievable height.

Copenhagen and the Little Mermaid

Copenhagen started as a little fishing village and has transformed since the 11th century into a vibrant metropolitan hotspot that has much to offer.

Copenhagen is a fascinating maritime city with a maze of canals not unlike Amsterdam.  As the capital of Denmark,  Copenhagen is home to the royal palace and the monarchy. The King and Queen and their family members live in the palace and are frequently seen out in the local shops and are loved by everyone.

Like all the ports we’ve visited in Europe, there are crowds everywhere.  All were jockeying for position to see the iconic Little Mermaid, who sits perched on a large rock right on the shore.  She apparently has been painted many times, and beheaded twice.  But she remains a beautiful statue and an iconic symbol of the city. It turns out that the model was a young ballerina who was very shy and only consented to her head and shoulders being used for the statute.  The rest of the body is that of the sculptor’s wife.

The canals with their tall ships and multiple lift bridges makes for a great city to explore.  The canals are now lined with condominiums transformed from warehouses, specialty shops, cafes and restaurants and all with facades maintaining the appearance of the middle age centre trading centre that it once was. With very little clearance under some of the bridges, we were constantly ducking.  In the more affluent areas, no commentary is allowed as it might disturb the residents.

Off to one side of our ship was a relatively recent naval frigate that has been retired to obscurity.  It turns out that it accidentally fired its missiles, striking a number of houses and buildings, totally destroying them.  Fortunately no one was injured but the result was a quick end to the career of the ship and I expect the captain.

From our one day stay in Copenhagen we are back on the water on our way to Oslo, Norway where we are told we will see snow.  This will be a first in almost four months and means a further change in the wardrobe for the day’s activities.

The little mermaid is on the waterfront promenade next to the cruise terminal.

The canals of Copenhagen are fronted by cafes, restaurants and specialty boutiques.

Like Amsterdam we were able to take a canal tour that passed the many cafes and wooden schooners.

The palace guards are all students and now include women. They are heavily armed and well trained.


Flam, Norway and the 100 mile Fiord

There are no more superlatives when it comes to Flam, Norway.  Flam is a hamlet at the end of a 100 mile long fiord that cuts through giant cliffs of granite from the North Sea.  Every mile of the fiord comes with multiple waterfalls dropping thousands of feet into crystal clear and very deep waters.

It was a spectacular and very special transit in to our dock in town.

The trip down the fiord at dawn.

Adjacent to the dock was the railway station that would take us up into the mountains for more photo opportunities and a visit to an alpine hotel for waffles and coffee. Two of our travellers took their bicycles with them on the train and were going to cycle back to the ship.  One of the pictures below shows the multiple switchbacks they would follow as they travelled downhill some 6000 ft.

Our ship occupied most of the town docking facilities and dwarfed the town.

One of hundreds of waterfalls along the fiord.

The Flam Railway takes you into the mountains and hooks up with other lines to Oslo and beyond.

The trains are all electrified as the country is heavily invested in green technology.

Looking down to the valley bottom with the switch backs making for hair-raising driving for the buses.

As the legend goes there are wood nymphs alongside the waterfalls calling to the males to join them. We found one of them off to the side of the railway

The harbour was alive with activity as there is frequent ferry service here to other outports as well as rental and charter boats for dolphin watching, salmon fishing or more intimate sightseeing.  The two little hotels overlooking the harbour would be great to stay in for a longer visit.

My next post will be of Oslo which was actually the previous port of call.  Internet capability has been an ongoing challenge and the high cliffs and fiords of Norway presented very unusual reception difficulties for the ship.

I also missed telling you about Copenhagen.  Another maritime city with an illustrious history dating back to the 11th century it also had many canals to explore.  More on Copenhagen later.

Amsterdam by water

I forgot to add the text to my Amsterdam post.  As I have said before our internet connection is highly variable so when the signal is strong I try and get the pictures online.  This time got them online and did not get it all together.

Amsterdam is another city that needs lots of time to explore.  A day is just not enough.  Instead of taking a bus tour we elected to get a hop on hop off “boat” for the day.  It was a perfect way to see the city by travelling up and down the miles of canals that parallel the roads and start from the very busy harbour.

Beautiful homes, churches and even offices line the various canals and every residence has a docking permit for a boat on the canal.  There are no empty canal spots left and those individuals that choose to live on a boat have seen the value of their permits rise to very high amounts.

The highlight of our stop here was a private tour of the Rijksmuseum in the evening.  Our departure was delayed until after midnight to enable all the guests to get to the museum, have a wonderful private reception and enjoy the gallery without hordes of visitors that we saw lining up during the day when we passed.  We stood in awe of Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch.  Not only were we up close and personal we were surprised that photographs were permitted.   Van Gogh’s paintings were also on display including his famous self portrait.  Obviously it was a great evening and all part of the Grand World Voyage as it is called.

Today we are in the North Sea with the temperature falling.  Tomorrow morning we begin our week of touring the Scandinavian countries and then comes Ireland and Scotland.  I am running out of memory on my camera discs and computer storage!

Easier to get hit by a bicycle than a car in Amsterdam

The variety of boats travelling the canal and the distinctive building fronts make for a truly remarkable city.

Susan stands in front of the famous Rembrandt piece the Night Watch.

There are more bicycles in Amsterdam than people and if your bike is stolen, get it back tomorrow at the flea sale.

The spires of churches and other historical buildings dot the landscape.

The Rijksmuseum is famous for many famous pieces of art from the 17th century.

The locks are used three times a week to flush the city canals with fresh water while holding the salt water out in the North Sea.