We pull into London early Saturday morning after a day at sea where our major activities were going to a lecture about the architecture of London and getting John’s cold better. It is a very noisy docking and if I had known how noisy our third deck suite was going to be I might have considered postponing the trip until a suite on a different deck was available. The anchor and lines mechanisms were right below us.
The itinerary for the day is different from what was scheduled due to a large Pride parade which is causing street closures. The new itinerary is the Viking will get us into London by boat and then the rest is up to us. We are fine with that and decide to visit the National Gallery which is right on Trafalgar Square and within walking distance of the Thames Clipper stop at Westminster Pier.
On our trip from the Viking Sea down the Thames we see many of the iconic buildings mentioned in yesterday’s lecture. Londoners have fanciful names for them.
There are a lot of people in London this morning and the numbers only increase as the day wears on. We take a less populated route to Trafalgar Square and pass by other iconic London spots.
We make our way past the throngs who are looking forward to a concert later and into the calm of the National Gallery. Knowing our museum stamina we decide to concentrate on an exhibition by Giovanni da Rimini and their collection of 13th to16th century art.
After looking at the Exhibition and a century or two of other art, we stop for lunch.The service is very slow but our table overlooks Trafalgar Square and we watch the goings-on below. The lunch is worth the wait and is quite tasty.
After some more browsing we head back to the Clipper through the crowds which have now become quite bevved up and are leaving their glass bottles everywhere. We are jostled quite a bit in our attempt to get through the parade attendees and I am happy to return to our ride back to the ship.
On the way back we see buildings on the other bank of the Thames.
Later we have dinner for the last time at the Chef’s Table. The menu (which we tried last night as well) is inspired by China’s Cantonese and Hualwang cuisines. It is really not very authentic but the chef has promised us a spicy dipping sauce tonight. (In addition to the pictures below there was also a coconut granita and a chilled mango cream.)
The staff at the restaurant has been wonderful to us and the dishes have been mostly delicious. Everyone has been so welcoming that they would have been happy to see us every night. As is we had dinner there probably nine times. Vikesh, the manager, always had a table waiting for us next to a window.
‘Tis a wee bit misty as the Viking Sea plies its way toward our berth in Rosyth near Edinburgh. We are treated to passage under three bridges spanning the river, Forth. The first called the Forth Bridge was built in 1882-1890. Interestingly the steel Forth Bridge is contemporaneous with the Eiffel Tower which was built of iron. The Forth Bridge is still in use carrying rail traffic across the river.
The next bridge which is for car traffic was built in the 1950’s and opened in 1960. The final bridge is just finishing construction and its cables look like sails. It is due to open in September. It will be the new bridge for car traffic since it has baffles to cut down on the wind’s influence and the 1950’s bridge will be for trucks.
Since this is Scotland, we are piped off the boat and onto the bus.
As we head into Edinburgh we get a little history about the place. Edinburgh is the capital and has around 500,000 people while Glasgow is the bigger city and has 600,000. The difference is due to the fact that Glasgow is on the Atlantic Ocean and Edinburgh is on the North Sea. Back in the day when they were deciding where the capital should be Edinburgh was more populated and prosperous because trading could be done all over the North Sea area while Glasgow fronted the unknown and more treacherous ocean.
On our drive we see a number of small, one-story houses called bungalows. It seems that people really liked the style of homes that they lived in India back when the sun was never setting on the British Empire. So they named the houses after the place where they lived. “Bangala” in Hindi merely means “of Bengal.”
We enter the section of Edinburgh called New Town because it was built outside the city walls. The houses are mostly stone of a yellow-ish hue. It has been found that cleaning the stone in the city makes it deteriorate even more quickly so much of Edinburgh is kind of dingy looking.
We pass by Holyrood Palace on our way up to an overlook. I cannot get a good picture though because Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip are visiting and security is blocking all the nearby streets.
At the overlook Edinburgh sprawls out in front of us and behind us are the remnants of an ancient volcano.
We enter the Old Town which is somewhat more crowded together with a mishmash of architectural styles. They still have parks here that are for residents only and the key to the park can cost up to 15,000 Pounds!
We now get dropped off for an hour and a half. We are not dropped anywhere historic but at the top of the Royal Mile which appears mostly to be a mile of schlock. I believe that once again the major function is to buy stuff. The place is overrun with tourists of every type.
Our major objective is to find a place to buy cold medicine for John, acquire more money from an ATM, and hopefully have a pint in a pub. I report success on all three objectives.
We find out that if you want actual cold medicine going into the local chemist or Boots is not going to do it. We know from previous experiences that we want Day and Night Nurse. That is only available from a pharmacy. These shops tend to be smaller and have a green cross outside.
On the way to finding our cold medicine we pass the memorial to David Hume. John touches his toe and now we are promised . . .what? That our knowledge will only be founded in experience and that our knowledge is either directly traceable to objects perceived in experience or resulting from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are already derived from experience? Well, duh, we already hold those views. Maybe we can pass the toe rubbing on to less empirical folk.
Next we see a memorial statue to Sir Walter Scott.
Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish playwright, poet, and historical novelist.
The edifice behind Sir Walter Scott is the Cathedral of St. Giles. St. Giles was a hermit and his only friend was a deer. St. Giles protected the deer from an arrow shot by some royal hunters. It wounded the deer but mostly St.Giles protected the deer by taking the brunt of the arrow in his hand. He has become the patron saint of disabled people. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
After the detour to the cathedral we continue the hunt for cold medicine. While John is looking in Boots (fruitlessly), I find some interesting foods to look at in the self-service case.
We finally find the pharmacy, get directions to the ATM, and now the only thing to do is to toast ourselves at a pub in the Scottish capital. We finally find one with twenty minutes left and guzzle down a quick half-pint before heading to the bus and back to the boat.
The remainder of the afternoon is just rest time and we decide on room service for dinner. Our electronic connection explodes and we are without a lot of power in the room. We have a lot of workmen in the room for the next hour but it is finally corrected. We finish watching Roger’s match at Wimbledon, order dinner, and go to sleep.
The first thing we notice is that the topography of the Orkney Islands looks different from the Shetlands. It is green with rolling hills and there is a lot of farming going on and cows grazing in the fields. We are told that these cows only live outside for half the year due to the harsh winters. They are housed in the big barns we see.
We are really fortunate to have this great weather again today. It is only in the mid-50’s but the sun is shining brightly. Our first stop is at the Stand Stones of Stenness. There is a lot of interesting archeology going on in the Orkney Islands which is covered with stone rings and grass covered burial mounds from pre-historic times.
We hop off the bus to take a look at the Stones being careful to watch where we step since the field is also used for sheep grazing. The stones are from the Neolithic period dating to around 3000 B.C. The circle of stones and its encircling ditch or “henge” are incomplete partly due to the fact that the landowner in the 19th century started smashing and toppling them in order to keep sightseers away. The site is now under protection by the Scottish government and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next we drive by the Ring of Brodgar. This site is still being actively excavated. It has been dated as being from around 2600-2000 B.C. and originally had 60 stones of which 27 still exist. It was also encircled by a henge or ditch. The stones are smaller than the ones at Stenness averaging in height from 7 to 15 feet.
After seeing these sites we are dropped off in the picturesque town of Stromness. I think we are supposed to wander around buying things but it doesn’t seem like many on the bus are cooperating with the whole buying stuff scheme. We walk down several streets and take pictures. The architecture is similar to Lerwick with stone houses and businesses.
John is getting a cold so we spend the rest of the afternoon quietly in hopes that he will get better fast. Later we go to dinner at the Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s. Our meal is very good and we are tucked away in a corner where it is a little less noisy which is nice.
Happy Fourth of July! Strangely, here in the U.K. they are not celebrating. Maybe because they were the losers?! We don’t mention it deciding to take the higher road. And speaking of who takes the high road and who takes the low and who gets to Scotland before whom, it is we who have arrived in Scotland. The Shetland Isles are part of Scotland but they have not always been. In 1468 the Danish king wanted his daughter, Margaret, to marry King James III of Scotland. But she needed a dowry and the king did not have enough money. He gave the Shetland Isles and Orkney Isles as a dowry to James III. Lots of place names in the islands are still Norse and the people there identify more with Norway (which was a part of Denmark at the time) than with Scotland.
As we approach the main city of Lerwick a little pilot boat draws along side to drop off a pilot for our trip into the harbor.
We are lucky it is a beautiful day. So often Shetland is rainy. It is not a very populated place with a total population of about 70,000 people and almost half of these live in Lerwick. Our first look of the Shetlands is of a treeless landscape. The climate is so harsh, windy, rainy, cold, and full of salt spray, that trees and most plants have a hard time growing.
Our first stop on our panoramic bus tour of the Mainland Island is overlooking Scalloway Bay and the ruins of Scalloway Castle.
Next are Shetland ponies! This is what everyone has been waiting for. The Shetland ponies come in mini, medium, and large but none can be over 42 inches at the shoulder. They were bred mainly for working in the coal mines of Scotland and Wales. Their short stature and stocky build made them perfect for hauling coal out of the mine shafts. The owner tells us that now a days it is hard to sell them and they can go for as little as 10 or 20 pounds. Everyone enjoys seeing them.
After oohing and aching over the ponies we get back on the bus to learn more things about the Shetlands. We pass a rock pillar called the murder stone. It has been dated to around 2 BC. According to a Scottish tourism site, “it is said that at the time that it was made, the Murder Stone was used to issue justice to murderers. If the offender could run from Law Ting Holm to the Murder Stone unscathed despite the efforts of the victim’s family and friends to stop him, he was pardoned of his crimes.”
Other photos from our bus tour –
We have been up for a long time since we had to go through Customs and Immigration at 6:30 this morning and our tour left early as well. When we finish with the morning’s activities it only 10:30 and not even time for lunch. We have a little rest and then decide that we will take the shuttle into Lerwick to find a fish and chips shop and lift a pint somewhere.
Now it is time to find that pint of beer. We come across a hotel, The Queens, that has a bar entrance and settle in at the bar for a pint of Tennant’s and McEwan’s beer. There is even a TV screen and we ask the barman to put on Wimbledon – pretty perfect.
We wander around Lerwick for a bit and look at the distinctive stone buildings.
When we get back to the harbor, John tells me all about the oil drilling ocean platforms and their escape pods. These enormous structures are getting ready to be towed out to sea.
We are eating dinner at the Chef’s Table again tonight. It is the same menu as last night but worth eating twice. Before we head down to dinner we watch the pilot boat come along side of us and pick up the pilot before we pick up speed and head for the Orkney Islands.
I do not mind these days at sea. It is nice to have a little extra time to do all the boatside stuff. John and I went to two lectures/demonstrations today. One was on the possibility of another Scottish independence vote and the other a cooking demonstration with the head chef making a salmon dish and risotto. Both informational sessions were interesting. We can also get all the port talks and lectures on our TV so if we don’t feel like getting dressed we can watch from our room.
Here are some pictures from around the boat –
Tonight at the Chef’s Table there is a new menu with a sweet and salty theme. It is really delicious.
So this is a really tasty dinner and we are having it again tomorrow night. The chef is going to do a little something different with the spices on the veal and Paul promises some interesting new pairings. It should be fun and delicious.
Today we put into the tiny port of Leknes in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. This area is pretty isolated and is home to fishermen and artist communities. It has a stunning landscape and white sand beaches. Here in the midst of summer the temperature is hovering around the 50F mark with rain spitting. It hardly seems like a beach day.
We head to the busses. Our stops for 10 minute photo ops will include two beaches and a fishing community. We head through a long tunnel to the other side of the mountain. The tunnel is only one lane. On the way back we will find out how vehicles going in opposite directions negotiate passage.
The beach that we stop at has beautiful white sand is mainly populated by sheep and tourists taking their 10 minute photo op. It is called Klipfisk or cliff fish beach. Our guide tells us not to go on the sand because it will be too big a mess on the bus due to its stickiness on our shoes. It is picturesque and beautiful and is really not what we would consider for typical beach activities.
We return back through the tunnel where we meet oncoming traffic. What to do. There are various pullouts and the cars respectfully move over for the bus. Our tour guide, Stephanie, remarks, “We are big. We win.” After the tunnel we stop at another beach. This one has been voted “the most beautiful beach in Norway.” It looks like a beach. It is raining. We stay on the bus.
Finally we stop at Ballstad, a typical fishing community except a famous artist, Scott Thoe, has painted a mural on one of the buildings. Unfortunately we are not close enough to get a good picture of it. The little harbor is picturesque so I take a picture. Also a nice picture of John.
We return to the ship. They are running busses into Leknes center during the afternoon but we are told there is nothing open because it is Sunday plus it is raining. We have a leisurely lunch. We watch as the ship leaves Leknes, write the blog, and then get ready for dinner.
Tonight we are eating at the Chef’s Table and having the same menu as two nights ago. (See pictures there) It is still the best piece of cod I have ever eaten. It is so beautifully cooked that it is soft and gelatinous but still flakes apart. The women behind us are saying that it is undercooked which is totally not so. The only things that they have eaten are the salad on top of the carpaccio and dessert. I feel sorry for them.
We head back to the room where we watch an episode of Downtown Abbey, turn our clocks back an hour as we move into Greenwich time, and look at the midnight sun.
Today we are docking at the northernmost stop in our journey, North Cape or Nordkapp in Norwegian. It is also the northernmost point in Europe and I am looking forward to it. We went to the southernmost point at the tip of the heel of Italy a few years ago.
The town is pretty weather-beaten. It looks like the people up here make a living throug extraction industries and fishing plus tourism.
The landscape is pretty stark. There are still patches of snow and there are no trees. The hills are covered with grasses and bryophytes which make for good reindeer munching.
We make a sad stop where a Sammi, from the aboriginals of northern Norway, stands forlornly holding on to a reindeer and garbed in traditional gear. Bus loads of tourists take a moment to snap a picture and drop a few coins. I imagine it is worth it to him for the money.
We reach the North Cape and luckily the sky is clear here at more than 70 degrees latitude. There is a large informational building with a short movie, gift shop, restaurant, and other displays relating to the North Cape.
After looking around the building we take a walk outside where the wind is howling and it is quite cold. We view the northernmost monument and walk over to the edge of Europe. Then we hurry back inside and out of the cold.
The trip back to the ship is much like the way out except that the view is from the other side. I take some pictures out of the window.
Later in the afternoon we listen to a talk about power struggles in the Arctic Zone. It is interesting to hear how maritime law has evolved. Russia is now making a play to gain economic interest over half of the Arctic. The U.S. has no standing in this because we have bull-headedly refused to join the other nations with a coastal presence in the Arctic and sign a treaty which governs its use.
Dinner is supposed to be at the Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s. I am in my comfy clothes and really have no desire to get dressed and go out and interact. So we have room service which is more than adequate.
We dock this morning at Tromso. We disembark and go to our bus. The whole bus routine is getting old. When we were on the river cruise at least they let us walk around with a guide. Here we get on the bus and are told things by the guide and have a couple of photo ops. Tromso is not terribly scenic. It is, however, home to some 70000 inhabitants. It has a university which is the main employer of the town. Our guide is recently graduated from high school and tells us about various high school hijinks. She explains about the midnight sun and the northern lights and also about the blue time when the sun is just peeking over the horizon. Tromso has a lot of festivals in both summer and winter. It seems to be quite the party town.
Re-boarding the bus after our first stop we ride through Tromso and pass the memorial to Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer of the North and South Poles.
Our second stop is behind the maritime school on a hill overlooking Tromso harbor. They have two bridges. One is painted black and is called the black coffin.
After returning back to the ship we hang around for a while waiting for the lunch hordes to dissipate. We are not fans of the lunchtime stampede. We look out the windows some after lunch, I work on my blog, and then take a nap until cocktail time. Room service thoughtfully provides us with chips and wine. From our vantage point at the front of the ship we watch as the boat moves away from the dock and steams north to the top of the world.
Tonight there is a new menu at the Chef’s Table called Venice Carnival. It is mostly pretty tasty and as usual the staff are super nice. Our amuse bouche is a roasted pepper and tomato jelly with goat cheese latte foam. It is served with a Monserrat’s Chiaretto, San Silvestro Piemonte Italy. John says that it is a rose of the Barbera grape. The whole thing is quite delicious.
Next we have a beef carpaccio with a fig and mustard vinaigrette. We decide there is a reason why beef carpaccio is served with shaved parmesan and lemon. It is because it tastes much better that way! This course is served with Villa Bagnolo, Sassetto Sangiovese de Romagna, Emilia Romagna, Italy.
For our palate cleanser we have a Bellini granita that is tasty.
The main course is a cod fillets that is cooked to perfection. It sits on top of a Jerusalem artichoke risotto. There is some foam, a fried fish skin, and a totally superfluous Parmesan tuile. This is served with a Vlacanzjria, Cantina Gulfi Edna, I.G.T. Scilia, Bianco.
Lastly the dessert is what they call Mascarpone Passion. It has a thick jellied outer skin with the mascarpone inside, plus a layer of chocolate over a cake. I can admit that the mascarpone was good.
Tonight we sail north to finish the northward section of our trip with a visit to North Cape, the most northerly point in Europe.
Today is a lazy day and we don’t even have room service deliver our breakfast until 8 AM! Nonetheless I wake up at 5 AM to get ready for the day. Our big plans are to look out the windows, sort our dirty clothes and give them to Von to have laundered, eat lunch, lie around, go to a wine tasting, have snacks, and eat dinner. It’s a tough life.
The cruise activity director is all abristle with myriad things we can do today. One thing is to put on a bathing suit, jump into a cold pool, kiss a fish, and get your nose painted blue. This is a ritual one does when crossing the Arctic Circle. We decline since the activity involves wearing a bathing suit, being with people, kissing a fish, and having our noses painted blue. Otherwise we would be all in!
We also have other exciting things to look forward to. There are some lumpy mountains called the Seven Sister Mountains (like the Seven Sister Waterfalls only mountains) and a mountain with a hole in it.
Here are some pictures of our “at sea” day.
First up is the famous mountain with a hole in it called Torghatten. We are looking out the window at this and there are a bunch of people sitting next to us who are asking all these questions about it to each other. I very helpfully Google it up and explain all about how it was formed during the ice age and that there is a path up to it and you can walk through. I even throw in the folk lore fable about it. These people are totally unappreciative of my effort.
Here’s the fable – According to legend, the hole was made by the troll Hestmannen while he was chasing the beautiful girl Lekamøya. As the troll realized he would not get the girl, he released an arrow to kill her, but the troll-king of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow’s path to save her. The hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle. (Wikipedia)
Other exciting mountains include –
Then I took some pictures of interesting-looking mountains.
Vikesh and his crew have talked us into going to the wine tasting that is being held in the Chef’s Table restaurant at 4 PM. All the nuances of wine tasting are explained. We have heard all this several times before but the head sommelier, Jude, does introduce a few new ideas. Mostly it is too much talk, not enough drink.
We have our pre-dinner snack and discover that they have Downtown Abbey on the TV. We haven’t seen that in a few years so we start from episode 1. Poor Lady Mary doesn’t realize her life is going to be pretty disastrous at the beginning, but we do.
Then we go down to have our second spice road dinner. Mmmm, even better than the first because my beef tenderloin no longer has weird spices on it. After dinner Vikesh shows us pictures of his cousin’s restaurant in Bangalore. The food and decor look pretty impressive. It is nice to spend a few moments where it is not just about us.
We head off the ship around 9 AM after docking in Molde, Norway. This is the third incarnation of Molde. It was first mentioned in the sagas by Snorri Sturluson as the location of the Battle of Sekken in 1162, where king Håkon the Broad-shouldered was killed fighting the aristocrat Erling Skakke, during the Norwegian civil wars. (Wikipedia) The area’s settlement probably goes back much earlier than that, however. The town grew through the ages due to its temperate climate, an artifact of the nearby Gulf Stream. Then 1/3 of the city burned down in 1916. After rebuilding, the Germans bombed it with incendiary bombs and basically wiped out the city.
So there really is nothing quaint or historic about Molde. It’s a nice little modern town of about 26,000. We are stopping here to see the Romsdal Outdoor Museum. It is kind of a Norwegian Sturbridge village with houses transported from other parts of Norway illustrating life in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. We are greeted by children doing folk dances. The little boy is especially earnest in his dancing. Some of the dances are funny with girls vying for boys and making rude gestures at the other girls.
After the dancing we wander around and look at the various houses and exhibits.
Another interesting aspect of these houses are their sod roofs. These are made by first putting down a layer of birch bark to water proof it and then sod. Plants grow on the roof and the goats go up on the roof to graze. Sod roofs last for 20 years before needing to be replaced.
And now our adventure begins. The local guide on the bus says that it is a 10 minute walk back to the ship and that we can walk back or take the bus. Being intrepid adventurers we, of course, decide to walk back. We try to make sense of the little map we have been given and start out. We know that as long as we are heading downhill we cannot go too far astray. Over an hour later we reach the ship. The directions on the little map are hard to fathom and so we decide we will just head toward our ship. Unfortunately it turns out that our sister ship, the Viking Star, is also in port docked up in a different location. So first we go to the Viking Star. Nonetheless, unless you are some kind of Olympic race walker there is no way you are going to walk over a mile in ten minutes!
Finally we run into some other people from our ship. However, it seems that we are all trying to follow each other! Just a case of the blind leading the blind. But it is lunch time and we have promised ourselves a hot dog from the grill so that’s something to look forward to.
A woman with some lettuce leaves on her plate remarks to me, “that’s some hot dog!” I want to say shut up, bitch. But control myself.
We spend the rest of the day idling about. We have the room service team deliver some potato chips and wine and then sit out on our porch as the ship departs Molde, Norway. Goodbye, Molde, maybe now I can get “The Moldau” by Smetana out of my head!
Even though we have reservations at the Chef’s Table for tomorrow night and they will be serving the same thing again, we head to the Chef’s Table because Vikesh has told us we are always welcome. We love the team of servers, sommelier, and manager there. We are probably friendlier with them then anyone else on the boat. Tonight’s dinner is inspired by the spice route. The amuse bouche is a carrot and cardamom cream with an orange and star anise foam. It is very tasty and I am in too much of a hurry to eat it to take a picture. It is served with a Prager, Riesling Federspiel Steinriegl from Austria. I see in John’s notes that we think it is only slightly sweet.
Next we have a tuna tataki which is really good. The little dots are avocado and balsamic sauces, and the line of white stuff is a sesame oil powder made with tapioca.The tuna is coated with Szechuan peppercorns, coriander and sesame oil and served over a tiny brunoise of pickled carrots and cucumber. The wine has asparagus overtones but goes well with the dish.
Time to cleanse our palates with a spectacular ginger and tarragon granita.
The main course is a beef tenderloin with four warm spices served with mashed purple potatoes and mushrooms. We have this with a Brunello di Montalcino from Castello Banfi, Italy. The wine is very good but I am not so keen on the beef. I find the spice rub which is made up of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika to taste odd. I try to cut around the rub but the flavors permeate the meat. I tell the server and the chef that I was not a fan and they promise to set aside a piece of meat for me tomorrow night that will omit the coriander and the cinnamon. They are so nice.
I am not usually a dessert fan but the apple tarte tatin is really delicious! Especially so when we add some freshly ground salt. We have this with some Santa Cristina Vin Santo. The apple is spiral sliced and then reconstructed.
I am really looking forward to eating this menu again tomorrow night1