Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Saturday - Sunday – August 18-19, 2018 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Mostly Cloudy – 70s

Distance from St. Peter Port to Amsterdam: 340 Nautical Miles

The weather is quite a bit different since the beginning of our double cruise – the heat wave is over and temps are back in the mid 70s - low humidity and comfortable.

Disembarkation. Breakfast up in the Oceanview Cafe was not chaotic and we had a nice relaxing breakfast before having to vacate our room.  Even though the ship still had over 2000 passengers on board, the disembarkation went pretty smoothly – immigration in Amsterdam was a breeze (almost too easy) and we found our bags right away in the terminal.   

Our hotel, Hyatt Place Amsterdam Airport, is a new (looks new anyway) hotel but is located in an industrial area without any restaurants or shops within walking distance.  We did have some food taken from the ship but I sprinted across the busy six lane highway to a gas station to pick up some snacks and drinks for our stay.  For dinner, we ate in the very nice hotel restaurant.  The buffet had nice salads and I ordered some pasta as a main dish.  The food was good and the chef worked with us to find items that were vegetarian (e.g. one of the soups).

Our return flights today are on Icelandair – our first time on this airline.  We are scheduled on Icelandair 509 departing at 2:00 PM and connecting through Reykjavik on Flight 550 to Chicago.

Schiphol International Airport is a very compact airport – Just four terminals.  Our flight today is out of Terminal 1.  Icelandair is in Bay 1 at the far end of Terminal 1.  We got into a very long serpentine line but it seemed to move very quickly.  I had checked in on line but we had bags to check (I didn’t notice any working self-serve kiosks).  The check-in process didn’t take long and then we proceeded through security.  Security is very interesting – a TSA type person asks you questions about liquids as you are putting your things on a carousel, which then goes through the scanner.  I answered all the questions twice, went through the soft whole body x-ray and pat down.  I noticed that my carry-on bag was being held by a TSA girl (yes, young girl).  She asked me if that was mine and I said yes – she said she had to go through it because it had a lot of electronics.  I may have been confused but my guy did not ask me to take out my laptop and electronics.  In any event, she went through my bag and re-x-rayed everything.  She even asked me if I wanted her to repack my bag – clearly Schiphol security and O’Hare security are in two different universes.  I said I could do it and we were on our way to our gate. 

As we made our way there, I noticed that, at the KLM terminal, there was a plane on the roof.  It was some kind of installation - how did they get the plane up there?

I guess everyone can tell where to catch their KLM flight.  I don't recall seeing this plane the last time we were here. 

When we got to Gate 60, we were told that we had to check the monitors to see when our gate was open (a la Heathrow).  But, in this case, at least we knew our assigned gate.
In a short while, the gate was open and we went down to Gate 60 to board Icelandair 501 – there were a lot of people waiting there and no seats.  Some people sat on the floor and the rest of us stood.  The plane had arrived 10 minutes late and we had to wait while it was being turned around.  

Eventually, we started boarding Icelandair 509 – by groups of rows from the back.  That does make sense in that people would not have crawl over people to get to their seats.  We were the last group to board; I had scored bulk head seats – 6G, 6F – on the B767-300 (2-3-2) – and I don’t believe I paid any premium for them.  

The seats were leather and very comfortable – the entertainment system worked well.  The service was good – lots of flight attendants – but the only free drinks you could get were water or soft drinks.  There were no pretzels.

The flight was very smooth and the landing at Reykjavik was amazing – all of that lava and the airport stuck out in the middle of nowhere.  

There was no jetway; we walked down a set of stairs to a waiting bus that took on the tarmac to the terminal. I was so close to the planes and being on the tarmac was the highlight of the flight so 

We only had about an hour between flights – I bought a tuna sandwich to go ($10.40) from a cafe in the terminal to have for dinner (along with some chips).  We went through Passport Control and found our new gate – 22B.  Icelandair 550 was already there.

Passengers did not go from jetway to the plane.  Instead, we passed through a tube to get to the tarmac and then up the stairs into the plane.  The boarding here was chaotic – no boarding by rows so getting everyone stuff into the overheads was a pain- the flight attendants did a great job of getting everything up there.  Again, I got to see the plane up close.  There were personnel guarding the aircraft.


This plane was a B757-200 – I hadn’t flown one of these in a while but this plane also looked in pretty good shape.  We were in the exit row (again, I don’t recall paying for these) across the aisle from each other.  The seats were again comfortable – even though this was a 6 hr 30 minute flight (I didn't know the B757 had that kind of range), there were no pretzels.  You could buy food on both flights and some people did.

The first half of the flight (over Greenland and far northern Canada) was smooth (I watched “Man of Steel” again on the very good entertainment system), the second half was nothing but CAT – the plane was shaking until we arrived near Chicago.  There was a 10 minute break where everyone made a dash to the washrooms.  I fully expected the pilot to request - or least attempt - a new and smoother altitude but he maintained the same altitude for the entire shaky flight.  He came on and reminded everyone to buckle up and stay in their seats (never a good sign).  I took a chance, when I sensed a lull, to dash for the loo and I made it back to my seat OK.
When the plane was about 30 minutes from ORD, the pilot descended about 2000 feet and the air was suddenly smooth - too bad he couldn't do that earlier in the flight.  Also interesting were the announcements:  the Icelandic language announcement took three times as long as the English version.

We touched down on time and after, a little delay, we got our bags.

Soon, we were home.

A very educational set of cruises.  I would do this cruise combo again.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Friday, August 17, 2018 – At Sea – North Sea – Sunny, Warmer – 70s

A glorious day at sea.

At breakfast, I was able to take in the totally clear sky, smooth water, and bright sunshine.  And even though the cruise is almost over, I am still liking the waffles, cottage cheese, and jams.

I walked across the top decks and it was definitely warmer.  

My final talk is at Noon today, back in Celebrity Central – I was told that the theater was needed for rehearsals all day for tonight’s show.  Also, there was a glitch in that the Daily Program did not have “In Search of Jack the Ripper”, as I had announced, but “Identifying the Famous and Infamous”.  No matter.  (I am working on this journal in June 2019 so I actually don't recall which one of the talks I actually presented).

There were a series of run-overs in the talks (starting at 10 AM) and when I arrived at Celebrity Central, Benjamin had still about 20 or more minutes to go.  So, my audience waited outside a crowded venue waiting for him to finish and I stayed out there to make sure they didn’t go away.  I did start about 25 minutes late – the place was full at showtime and most of the audience did stay (I’m sure some gave up and went to lunch).  All in all, a good series of talks.

Lunch in the Café today was the Grand Buffet but the only item I was interested in was the Fish and Chips (the best non-breakfast food item on the ship).  The Fish and Chips were really good today (I got them right out of the fryer).  Since, the final two talks of the day finished around the lunch hour, the Café was slammed and seats were hard to come by.

Another afternoon of reading – not in the Solarium but out on the couches on Deck 14 Aft.  Just about finished with the Pendergast novel – this book does not have a supernatural element in it and I haven’t figured out who the bad guys are.  For a few minutes, I sat at a table next to the railing just taking in the warm rays of the Sun.  If only I had put on some sunscreen.  The Sun was really nice and I really wanted to stay longer.

We had dinner in the Café – gave the show tonight, “Euphoria” a try (we had seen it before and I wanted some pictures of the entertainment) 

but soon we went to the run and did some more packing. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Thursday, August 16, 2018 – St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands – Cloudy, Rain – 60s

 Distance from Cobh to St. Peter Port:  290 Nautical Miles

The Island of Guernsey is not English but instead, they are British subjects.  They have their own government, health care system, and police force.
We are anchored in the English Channel off the island of Guernsey and the town of St. Peter Port.  Today, we are tendering.  The weather is kind of nasty and we can barely see St. Peter Port from the ship.  The last time we were here, we also were dealing with cloudy, iffy, weather.  A day of gray.

We have a late morning tour today -“Guernsey Island Drive” - that leaves us time to get breakfast.

The breakfasts continue to be pretty good after so many days on the ship.  In my opinion, t's the best meal of the day on this and most ships.  I have been lucky to find a quiet table in the morning in the corner of the cafeteria.

We went to the theater to meet up with our tour (one escort today but that means we are on the same bus).  We barely sat down when our group was called to the tenders. The ride was a little choppy and it did bother some of the passengers.  We had a nice view of the town of St. Peter Port from the tender.

The rain started during the tender ride so we knew we would have to dash to the buses. The buses were parked around the back of the tender pier and I got in line at the end (per protocol).  By the time I got into the bus, my windbreaker was soaked and even my shirt was wet.  The other issue was that the windows were fogged and you couldn’t see anything out the window.  We were wiping the windows with our sleeves.  People started opening the upper windows – transoms – get some air into the bus.  That didn’t clear the windows but it did make the bus cold.

The guide, Kev, was also our driver – the bus was more like a large van.  The roads are a little tight on the island and having a driver and guide combo dealing with the roads and the rain was a little tricky.  The roads may have been narrow but at least they were not full of ruts and potholes - a relatively smooth ride.

Our first stop was The Little Chapel.  


It is touted as the smallest working chapel in Europe if not the world.  This elaborate chapel (the third and final version was completed in 1923).  Over the years, it has been enlarged (one bishop could not fit inside), repaired, stabilized, and maintained. The chapel measures 16X9 feet and holds only about six people at a time (I did not go into it but instead sought out the facilities at the gift shop).  

Next to the chapel was a large field with iconic Guernsey cows along with some Golden Guernsey Goats.  Even though it was dreary, and a lot of folks stayed on the bus, I did get some nice pictures of both the chapel and the cows and goats.

Our next stop was at the Silversmith Factory.  While some of the guests went in and watched the craftsmen at work, we tried to get some coffee at the Café on the grounds.  We did find a seat in the Café 

but they only had two baristas/waitresses working so we didn’t wait in line to put in our order.  When we got to the Shop, there were only two buses, but during our stay, another five buses arrived.  There were just too many people there at the same time.  We had some muffins we brought from the ship and checked our email.

We explored the grounds at the factory a bit and ran across a different kind of Guernsey Cow.  The gardens were amazing and we even found a druid stone that we could touch.

The rest of the tour took us to the west coast of the Island.  During our run up the coastline (the windows improved a bit so we could see the water), Kev gave us some interesting historical perspectives on the Channel Islands and WWII.  Let’s just say that after some 70 plus years, the folks on Guernsey are still unhappy with the decisions made by the English government (e.g. Winston Churchill).

We tendered back to the ship

and had our usual lunch – all the salads (tuna, egg, and tossed) plus some pizza.

The afternoon was once again spent in the Solarium – a good place to be since it was raining and cloudy all afternoon.

After dinner, we went to the theater to see the 60s Cover Band, The Revolvers.  They did some Beatles and Beach Boys, among other groups.  They were good singers and musicians and we found them entertaining.

There were no acts up in the Ensemble Lounge so that was it for the day.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 – Cobh (Cork), Ireland – Cloudy, Rain – 67F

Distance from Dublin to Cobh: 156 Nautical Miles

Cobh is positioned on this cruise as the gateway to Cork, a city with unique culture and dialect.  But Cobh, formerly called Queenstown, has its own place in history.  It is the final port of call for the doomed ocean liner, Titanic, and also played a role in the rescue and care of survivors of the Lusitania sinking.  There are memorials to both disasters in the downtown area of Cobh. The town is situated on a hillside, which makes walking just a little more difficult.  Cobh is pronounced "Cove" as the bh is a "v" in Gaelic (like in Siobhan).

It is raining in Cobh, Ireland.  It is a short day in Cobh – Arrival is at 10:30 AM and all aboard 5:30 PM.  The ship is docked in Cobh Cruise Ship Terminal and it is a short walk to the town.  

We are not on tour today so our plan is to brave the weather and explore this historic town.

As soon as the ship was cleared, we started our exploration of Cobh.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped and the sun even peeked through the clouds.  As you exit the port, you walk through The Cobh Heritage Center, a complex of indoor shops containing not only Titanic trinkets and souvenirs, but also some statues depicting people, who looked like passengers about to board the Titanic. 

Along the street fronting the harbor, there are solid shops and restaurants.  Many of the stores are selling Celtic stuff.  There are several displays in store windows related to the Titanic.  This poster and displays were in the shop windows.

We also saw restaurants named for the doomed ship.

One coffee shop had a particularly clever name. 

We walked East to nearly the end of the street then turned North to see the Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral Church of St. Colman) which is an imposing structure (can be seen from the ship).  The cathedral took nearly 50 years to build and was consecrated in 1916).  

Also from the hill, you can get a real good look at the Eclipse docked.

From the Cathedral, we turned back toward the harbor and arrived at the main intersection in town.  Signage indicated that it was also the location of the monuments to maritime disasters linked to the city of Cobh.

 We located the monument to the Lusitania,

and, of course, the Titanic.

There is another Lusitania Memorial along the harbor.  This one consists of at least a hundred individually fashioned titles (maybe four by four inches), depicting victims of the torpedoing.  Most poignant tiles describing the unknown victims (unidentified) victims.

We went into several shops looking for souvenirs and caps.  No caps but we did find a very different Titanic magnet.   We also saw the old Cunard Offices and White Star Line Offices.

Near the main intersection, we found a near life sized statue of Irish long distance runner, Sonia O'Sullivan, who won a Gold Medal in the 1995 World Championships and a Silver Medal at the 2000 Olympics.

We got back to the ship just as it started to rain a little harder.  The afternoon tours were just leaving and rain was probably going to affect those folks.

We stopped by Guest Relations to pick up our passports, which had been held and checked by Irish Immigration.

Lunch in the Oceanview Café was a slam as all of the morning tours returned at around Noon.  I tried a soup called “Garlic and Egg Soup” – perhaps not a good call.  I have just discovered that the Blue Cheese Salad Dressing is pretty good.

I spent the afternoon in the Solarium reading my Pendergast novel. 

It is “Evening Chic” tonight but we opted to change into our smart casual stuff and have dinner in the Café. Looking around the ship, the percentage of folks in formal type gear seemed low (tough on a port day). The selections in the Café seem to be dwindling in number (at least for the non-carnivore crowd) as we near the end of the cruise.  

Most importantly, the cherry tomatoes, one of my favorites of the cruise, are now in a different marinade (olive oil and basil), which gives them a totally different taste.  Oy.

Tonight’s Headliner is vocalist and comedian Steve Womack.  We’ve not seen him before.  He is a Brit (a trend on this cruise) and his jokes did not quite hit the target with the largely American audience.  But, while his humor was a bit esoteric, his singing voice was a real surprise.  He should think about a musical show.  He sang his own song about Muhammed Ali, which was really good and even did a little bit of “Hallelujah”.  We had heard some of these jokes before but overall, he was entertaining.

We spent a few minutes with Michael Redden in the Ensemble Lounge before calling it a day.