Sunday, March 31, 2019

Saturday, August 11, 2018 – At Sea – Irish Sea – Cloudy and Gray – 60sF

A cloudy and gray day at sea.

My second talk – “Forensics and History:  The Search for the Unknown Titanic Child” is at 10 AM in the Eclipse Theater.  This still gives me enough time to run upstairs for breakfast (breakfast in the Oceanview Café on a sea day is great as many of the guests are sleeping in and my only breakfast companion is the ubiquitous “Screaming Muzak Lady”).

Set up was quick – the AV guy was very helpful.  There were a few people there at 9:30 AM and I was worried that this would be a study section instead of a lecture.  But by the time I started, there were people throughout the theater including the balcony.  Based on a seating capacity of about 1300, I would estimate that there were between 500 and 600 people in the place (not bad considering there are only 1000 US passengers and a very large non-English speaking percentage).  No one left the talk in the middle and a few trickled in early to hear Benjamin speak.  I was very pleased at this turnout for a morning talk.  

The theater turned out to be a good idea since the turnout was triple the capacity of Celebrity Central (which was home to a bible study group).

We found a nice pair of bucket seats in the Solarium and hung out there all day.  I am reading that new Lisa Black novel and making some progress.  However, the premise -  a forensic scientist investigating murders committed by a vigilante detective she works with, has started to annoy me a little.  The writing is good but again, the concept.

We broke for lunch (Oceanview Café plus Aqua Spa Café) and watched the seas go by in the afternoon.

We also had dinner in the Oceanview Café – simple salad and pizza.

Afterwards, we caught today's "magic moment"

We are passing on the show – “Topper” – tonight as we have seen it.

We listened to the Party Band Cardinal in the Grand Foyer before heading to the room.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Friday, August 10, 2018 – S. Queensferry, Scotland – Mostly Cloudy – 61F

Our second day in Edinburgh, Scotland.

We are on tour today – “Panoramic Edinburgh” (one escort) – in the afternoon so the morning is not going to be a rush.  I am a big fan of the afternoon tour.

The morning still went by pretty quickly and after a second, late breakfast (bagels, lox, and cream cheese), we hopped on our tender and headed to short.  We went about an hour early so we could walk through the 17th Century streets of South Queensferry. 

The town is very quaint with coffee shops, retail stores, and touristic stuff.  There are plaques throughout the town indicating the early to mid 1600s for the buildings.  The town has set up a traffic flow system that permits traffic to go in only one direction (West to East) on the main street.  This reduces your chance of getting run over by 50 percent.  We walked as far as we could taking into account the time required to get back.

Near the tender pier, there is an interesting statue of a seal - didn't see any seals on this voyage except for this stone one.

Across the street from the harbor, we came across a statue of a colorful serpent of some kind.  The inscription indicated that the serpent was the guardian of the harbor.  It's a pretty big installation (see Ellen in the picture). There might also be a bit of a Nessie influence.

A sign outside a little cafe summed up the perfect philosophy for this or any day.

 The length and breadth of S. Queensferry summed in two photos.  

One particular building stood out from all the others in that it was painted black - the "Black Castle" is just that except that the windows were trimmed in while.  

We also got a chance to see what happens at low tide (above).  This will not be an issue today as we are not docked.

Today, there are lots of folks going out on afternoon tours.  Our bus, #27, is running late so we waited with the rest of the guests (Eclipse is still the only ship here although a schedule we found indicated that other major cruise ships do stop here throughout the season). 

Fortunately, South Queensferry does have free loos (one at the tender port and at least one on the main street) that are in pretty good shape for public facilities.  This makes the wait for a late bus a doable thing.

Our bus did come about 10 minutes late and we were off.  We took the streets from South Queensferry into Endiburgh.  We drove through a neighborhood called “Bungalow Row”, where all of the homes were essentially the same bungalow style.  This type of home comes from the houses built in Colonial India – bungalow being an Indian word.

Edinburgh is home to several festivals this week, including the famous “Edinburgh Military Tatoo” so the town is crawling with people. Along the "Royal Mile" it is a sea of people - some dressed in costumes.  Is that an Imperial Storm Trooper taking pictures of the crowd?

It’s a little like Carnival but not as crazy.  We could have taken a shuttle into the city but then we would have been in this sea of humanity.  It was much easier to deal with it from the bus.

While most of the city sites were not documented - the bus drove quickly and the guide spoke even more rapidly, we were treated to some iconic locations in Edinburgh.  The first of these was The Elephant House,  the coffee shop where JK Rowling created the now legendary "Harry Potter" books.  I wonder if that is somehow noted in the coffee shop itself.  Imagine sitting when this all started.  Nothing like that is going to happen at my neighborhood Dunkins. 

In keeping with the Harry Potter theme, the bus also took us by a castle like building that was the inspiration for Hogwarts School for Wizards (below).

The bus continued to make its way along the crowded streets.  Lots of pubs and restaurants and one familiar name - ROTI - I'm pretty sure it's not the same Mediterranean fast food place we have back home.

There were people everywhere.  I have to commend the driver for his ability not to run over some of these folks.  Check out the crowd density below.

The Royal Mile was saturated with people – people in costume and tourists.  When we walked through the area some years ago, the streets were sparse with visitors.  We have caught Edinburgh at just the right time.  The pictures below show the two ends of the Royal Mile.  We walked this the last time we were here and it is on a hill.

There was a street performance in progress as we made our way through the downtown area.

Two famous individuals had statues displayed along our route - the first was Scottish Physicist James Clerk Maxwell of Electromagnetism Fame.  The second was Lord Wellington, while Irish, did defeat Napoleon at Waterloo (making it possible for ABBA to score another hit).

We passed by the famous Grassmarket Area of Edinburgh - home of pubs, stores, and revelrie.

The following are pictures along along our tour - scenic but not identified quickly enough by our guide to be documented.

We made two stops:  The first was at Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Queen when she ventures out to Scotland.  I took a great shot through the fence.  We did visit the gift shop, which offers all things QE II.  

Across the street from Hollyrood sits the new Scottish Parliament Building.  Designed by a Catalan architect, the building, completed with pick up sticks roof, is generally reviled by the population as it does not fit in with the architecture of the area and the city.  It is a spooky looking building.  You can just see the spikes of the building at the right of the photo below.

The famed Edinburgh Castle was not a stop on this tour - our only pictures of the iconic structure were from the bus - a bit of the grandstand and one of the walls.

Our last stop was at an overlook near Arthur’s Seat (a volcanic remnant connected by some to the city of Camelot and King Arthur).  On the way up to the viewpoint, we were able spot several climbers ready to scale the walls of the hill. 

There is also a man-made lake in the park area at the foot of Arthur's Seat.

At the top, we could see most of Edinburgh as well as some of the suburbs.  Just below us was one of Scotland’s 800 golf courses.  A great photo op.

We headed back to the port through the city traffic.  The tender queue was long but it moved rather quickly and, after a little wait in the water, we were back on the ship.  This photo from the tender shows how calm the water was.

Just the right kind of tour for today.

We had dinner in the Oceanview Café.  Tried something new tonight – Asian Noodles and Asian Fried Rice – they were OK.  Oh, and yes, it was Apple Strudel night.

Also a good place to watch the sail away.

The Headliner tonight is a clear favorite of Giuseppe – based on the number of times he has hyped her upcoming show – and a favorite of ours as well:  Jayne Curry, funny lady, pro-golf widow, and terrific singer.  

We haven’t seen Jayne since we saw her on the Adventure of the Seas about five years ago.  Her show was a little different and had a little more funny chat than songs.  But she can still belt out a tune and her stage movement is really good.  She went all the way into the balcony to get some guy to sing with her – a camera followed her and we saw it on the screen.  After the show, we chatted with her (she’s on with her mom) (she remembered Ellen) and bought her brand new CD.

My second lecture has been scheduled for the Eclipse Theater tomorrow – hope someone shows up.

Thursday, August 9, 2018 – Edinburgh, Scotland – Day 1 – Mostly Cloudy – 68F

Distance from Inverness to Edinburgh: 200 Nautical Miles

Scotland borders England on its South Border on Great Britain and is part of the European Union.  Scotland voted last year to stay in the UK following a movement to separate from England and Wales.  Scotland is surrounded by several bodies of water including the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.  Scotland also consists of nearly 800 islands.  The largest oil reserves in the European Union are found in Scottish water in the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. Scotland is nominally divided into the Highlands (rugged and mountainous) and the Lowlands.  Scotland is a volcanic country with several volcanoes (not super big ones) found in and around Edinburgh.  Three million people live in Scotland.

A pretty nice day in the capital of Scotland.

We are anchored today in the water off Queensferry, Scotland.  

Eclipse Anchored (from the shore)

Before the first of three bridges were built spanning the Forth River, the Queen had to use a ferry to get across.  Now there is a North and South Queensferry – the first bridge, the Forth Rail Bridge, was built in the late 19th Century and is a railway bridge. The second bridge, the Forth Road Bridge, was built in the 1950s and is a suspension bridge and the final bridge, the Queensferry Crossing Bridge, was completed in August 2017, is a state of the art suspension bridge.  Queen Elizabeth II opened the final two bridges attesting to the length of her reign. (the pictures below were taken from South Queensferry)

Bridges Connecting North and South Queensferry

Today, we have an afternoon tour (one escort) – “Stirling Castle and Braveheart Country”, which starts at 1:00 PM and runs about four and half hours.

Breakfast up in the Café was a zoo as guests were trying to get their breakfasts and then their tender boats to go ashore.  The ship is operating both its own tenders but also has contracted with local companies to supply larger ships to also ferry people ashore.  I brought Ellen some breakfast (as I generally do).

Because we are on a tour, we do not have to get tender tickets. Instead, we went back up to the Café for a pre-tour snack.  The views from our anchor spot are terrific – the three bridges, the Forth River, and the rolling low hills of Scotland.

North Queensferry

While waiting, I took the opportunity to take the iconic photo of Ellen against the ship's railing.

t 11:45 AM, we hopped on our tender (no waiting) for the 10 minute ride to the tender port in South Queensferry.  The port is located in a tiny shopping area a few minutes walk from the town.  We checked out the gift shop and then boarded our bus.  The tour consisted of 25 passengers leaving a lot of empty seats. The good and bad news.  Good: You can stretch out by yourself on a seat;  Bad:  You can’t stretch out because of the seat belt law.  The bus was comfortable enough but there was some issue with the chemical toilet on board (an acrid smell). 

The ride to Stirling Castle took about 45 minutes.  The Castle is an imposing structure constructed on a “volcanic plug” (the lava cork on an old volcano) so it sits a few hundred feet about the grounds below.  This makes for terrific photographs of the surrounding countryside.  The famous battle of Braveheart was fought along the winding river clearly visible from the castle – and no, William Wallace and his men did not wear kilts (they didn’t come along until 300 years later).

Stirling Castle played a prominent role in Scottish History.  The Castle was occupied by the Kings of Scots back when England did not recognize Scotland as an independent country.  Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, fought the English in nearby Bannockburn for possession of the Castle and the sovereignty of Scotland.

We had two options:  Follow the guide through the castle or explore on our own.  We chose the latter and visited several of the buildings.  Walking through the enormous castle is a little difficult because of the cobblestone and brick surfaces and the hilly nature of the site.  Yet the buildings were very well preserved (some fixing up, no doubt) – we went into the King and Queen’s area – bedroom and sitting room and even the throne room.  Pictures were allowed.

Sterling Castle

Our next stop was indeed the site of the Bannockburn Battlefield.  The guide told us that wasn’t quite true and that this was actually Robert the Bruce’s Camp (the battlefield was a few miles away).  Inside the exhibition, we were treated to a 3D presentation of the Battle from both the Scottish and English perspectives – it was very confusing – so many players from both sides.  Then we went into the theater, where another 3D film showed some actual battle recreations complete with master archers and spears bearers.  Some of the weaponry was on display in the battle room.  The next stop was an explanation of the battle from a big picture perspective.  The historian used a terrain map of the area to point out the troop movements and strategies used by Robert Bruce and the English.  Interesting but confusing.  The final presentation – once again in 3D – tried to sum it all up by recapping the timeline of the Kings of Scotland.  It ended up with King David of Scotland taking the throne.

Some of the guests went out to see the memorials on the grounds but we stay in the eating area (feet were tired) until it was time to go.

Another quick forty minutes and we were back in the cute little town (dating back to the 1600s and including a bridge built in 1492).  If we can, we might check out the village tomorrow before our tour.

We got in our tender line and there was no wait – we were going back in one of the contracted ships.  The ride was smooth and the docking with the pontoon perfect. 
We only changed our shoes and went up to the Café for dinner. Simple dinner tonight – pizza and salad (with cherry tomatoes).  Tonight, there was no pasta station – hope that is not a new thing.

We caught the end of the Folkloric Show in the Theater.  There was a better turnout for this show than for some of the entertainers.  The show was cute and entertaining.  I wanted more dancing but the three girls did a Jig and a Wheel and that was good enough.  There was also an MC that sang and a woman who sang and played the violin. They were accompanied by a piano, an accordion, and of course, three men with bagpipes and a drummer.

We listened to the Cardinal Party Band in the Grand Foyer and then went up to the Solarium.

Tomorrow, another day in Edinburgh.