Summing it up – 35 days aboard the Rotterdam

Well, it wasn’t the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, that’s for sure.  I think you’d agree , though, that I am a look-on-the-bright-side kind of person and the cruising life has more than its share of bright sides.

Here are my top ten…

10. The carpet in the elevators changes daily and tells you what day of the week it is. (Not that it matters, because there is NO WORK)

9. The amazing, caring, friendly crew

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The Filipino and Indonesian crew members each held a daytime show featuring their country’s music, dance and traditional dress. Rehearsals were done on their own time, often late at night after working a full and tiring day. Our wine steward turned out to be an accomplished singer and our assistant dining room steward played a mean bass guitar.

8. Swimming when the pool has ocean waves surging from one end to the other in rough seas

7. Rediscovering reading as a means of gleaning information

6. For example, learning about fulmars, which accompanied us for days at sea. I had identified them from my birds of Europe book, but found a great book on the Arctic in the ship’s library. Breeding season finds fulmars in isolated cliff colonies, where the female lays a single egg on the bare cliff, then incubates it for a long 2 months. Potential predators are attacked by vomiting a noxious stomach oil on them, which impedes flying and ruins the insulating properties of the feathers.

5. The art on the ship

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On the Rotterdam, works of art await discovery all around the ship.

 

4. Crossing the Arctic Circle

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My official certificate brings back fond memories of the evening we spent watching the GPS as we approached the Arctic Circle, that imaginary line of latitude above which there is at least one day each of total darkness and total light every year.

 

3. Passing the final resting place of the HMS Hood, sunk May 24, 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. The captain sounded a somber, respectful signal as we gazed out over the ocean, empty except for the memories.

 

Declared a war grave by the British government, the HMS Hood lies 9,200 feet below. Only 3 sailors survived the sinking.

 

2. The large, colorful atlas takes on new meaning when you are on its pages.

1. Walking the promenade deck to work off all those Belgian waffles

So, farewell Vikings, at least until we can return to Newfoundland to visit the settlement that was located there, not so far after all from Maine!

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A gift on the homeward way – Prince Christian Sound reprised, Nanortalik, Greenland, then home along the Canadian coast (Aug. 17 and beyond)

Note of apology: More than a month of life has happened since my last post. It took an email from a friend that I didn’t know I had, waiting in my inbox yesterday, to nudge me back to Laurie’s Adventures. And just in the nick of time, as we have a small adventure planned this weekend. All that is written below was composed on the ship, just never posted. I promise one more post tomorrow to finish up, then I’m off Saturday morning to explore and camp on a new Maine lake with two of my favorite people, Megan and Jacob.

Thoughts of home loom larger every day and my energy for new places and experiences, for photography and blogging, is waning. This philosophical, attitudinal segue into returning home is a natural defense mechanism, I believe. The mundane details of life await…a car recall, a haircut, and the scurry of the first days of school.

The stunningly beautiful and intriguingly historical slice of the world that we have tasted over the last five weeks has saturated me with travel, for now, and brought home to me the simple joys of living in Maine. As the dreamy days of summer there race by without me, I am ready to return and snatch a bit of swimming and another lobster.

The exquisite view of Prince Christian Sound (on another blue and gold day, but with some fog) from our favorite lunch spot by the pool.

Prince Christian Sound stretches for 36 stunning miles. Except for a tiny weather station at its mouth and a small village of 130 people, near the center, it is a place of isolation. This time through, I saw the town and wondered which of the colorful cluster of buildings were the school, the church, and the general store. It was warmer this passage and I sat on a deck chair, soaking up the sun, and scanning the shore for wildlife or potential camp sites.

Our glimpse of Aappilattoq was poignant, knowing that for most of the year this place is inaccessible except by helicopter. Can you spot the huddled buildings?

 

Nanortalik from atop a huge glacial erratic at the outdoor folk museum.

 

This photo, the last that I took in Nanortalik, was one of my entries in the ship’s photography contest. I didn’t win, but had fun comparing notes with other photographers.

Yesterday, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I took very few photos and we have just one more port (Halifax, Nova Scotia) tomorrow. My mother has been battling an upper respiratory infection and we have been slowing down our activities. Already plotting a return trip to the farthest tip of Newfoundland, I felt no urgency to visit each and every landmark.

The cliffside trail to the tower where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901 will be here when we return. So, too, with the churches and colorful houses along Jelly Bean Row that we missed yesterday. Instead, we concentrated on The Rooms, St. John’s new (2005) museum complex perched high above the city. The World War I exhibit, in particular, pulled me in, with its personalized memorial to the incredible bravery and tragic experiences of the Newfoundland soldiers, particularly in the battle of the Somme. Go there if you can. The mechanisms of the museum exhibits are superb and the content germane and moving. We finished our day by trying cod tongues, which were infinitely superior as a novelty than they were in taste and texture. They were my culinary adventure for this cruise.

For those of you who have liked or commented or simply followed my journey, know that those touches of interest kept me writing, persevering through the trials of internet access. To those of you who will soon welcome us home or stop in for a visit, we eagerly anticipate seeing familiar faces and listening to the stories of your summers. For those further afield, in Mongolia or flip-flopping around on the AT or sunning in Croatia, may you travel safely and well until we are together once again. (Of course, all those folks are now safely home and have been in touch. What a summer we all had!)

You’re closer to heaven on the mountain – Isafjordur, Iceland (Aug. 15)

 

One tiny house gives perspective to the view
 
No history, no churches…just the story of a day of climbing, swimming, writing, and having tea in a bakery. Thanks to a young couple I met right off the ship, I set my sights on a scramble up and up above the small town. 
 
A tiny rock garden on the mountainside
 
 
Many thousands of blueberries, twice as big as ours, were sprinkled liberally on the steep slope.
 

Beauty at your feet…just look carefully, for these are tiny, tiny flowers.

 

There’s the Rotterdam, waiting patiently, as long as I’m “home” by 4:30!
 

After the climb, I swam in the town’s public pool, this one smaller and indoors, since there is no geothermal heat in this NW corner of the country. Those of you reading along since early on will be delighted to know that I now have a group of daily swimming friends, including “snorkel man,” who has visited all the public pools along the way. Well, it has been a delight to have tea, sweets, and INTERNET. Talk more soon!

At home with Nonni – Akureyri, Iceland (Aug. 14)

For a magical hour last evening, whales were everywhere as we approached the end of the fjord. Days ago, the captain had said something that resonated with me. Don’t spend all your time looking at these wonders from behind your camera. So there are no whale photos, but some incredible memories. Whales breaching, one for 4 or 5 times in a row in the same spot. Another rolling on his back and waving hello with just his flippers showing. More showing a long length of shiny black back, before diving to reveal an iconic whale tail. A great ending to the day Mom and I spent together in Akureyri!

  

Long ago, a small boy named Jon Svensson, called “Nonni” for short, was growing up here in the north of Iceland in a traditional wooden house with impossibly small and crooked doorways. Yesterday, ducking through those doorways after climbing the steep attic stairs, I could just picture Nonni’s life,  filled with the adventures he would later share as a beloved children’s author.  Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, a nation loves his stories of growing up in a simpler time.

 

Out of curiosity, I had bought one of Nonni’s books on eBay months ago. It was the true story of the day he and his brother were rescued by a French Navy ship, after drifting out to sea in the fog and having a close encounter with whales. Before their rescue, the boys made a vow to God to become Jesuit priests, like St. Francis in one of their storybooks. It was a vow that Jon later fulfilled, even though his family was Lutheran!
  
Mom and I were on an official (incredibly expensive) Holland America bus tour, a first for me. Our other stop was Laufas, an ancient manor farm with traditional turf-clad timber buildings and a church.

  
   

The farm property contained an eider duck nesting area that provided a large income from the sale of the eider down. In 1880, unbelievably, down was gathered from 5,520 abandoned eider nests.

The smooth waters of the fjord are like a mirror, with water so pure that most people safely drink it unfiltered. On the hillsides, sheep roam wild all summer, ranging from high mountain fields to the shore, where they also eat seaweed. The most interesting fact we learned was how Icelandic people are named: a first name and then a last name indicating whose son or daughter they are. I would be Laurie Georgedaughter (in Icelandic) and my brother would be Gregory Georgeson! This amazingly still happens today. I took the photo below in a cemetery today.

 

A wife does not take her husband’s last name and a family could all have different last names.
 
 

It doesn’t rain in the pubs – Belfast, Northern Ireland (Aug. 11)

The 46-foot high elliptical dome was added to the Palm House in 1852.
The spirits of strolling Victorian ladies lingered along the curving paths.

The Palm House, in the city’s Botanic Gardens, is classic Victorian and one of the oldest curvilinear iron and glass structures surviving. Visiting was a step back in time to the 1840’s budding passion for horticulture and glasshouses. Longing for some quiet time, I wandered through the rose and English country gardens to the eclectic and inexpensive Ulster Museum, right next door. I am still endeavoring to understand the many layers of Irish history and culture, from the Stone Age through “The Troubles,” Celts and kings, Romans and Vikings, tremendous sacrifices of life during World War I and now a city trying to heal itself.
 

The delicate white Belleek china display was as gorgeous as any painting.
 

The antlers of the giant deer, extinct now in Ireland for 10,000 years, could reach 3.6 meters, making it the largest deer that ever lived. The museum’s antlers were smaller, but still impressive. Nearby was a pickled coelacanth, the thought-to-be-extinct fish whose rediscovery in 1938 by fishermen in South Africa was the subject of one of my childhood books. The crown jewel of this museum is its collection of artifacts from the 1588 wreck of the Girona, a ship of the Spanish armada. The gold first catches your eye, but it is the mute, everyday items that speak most eloquently of the almost 1,300 lives that were lost that day.

Peace murals tell a bittersweet story of violence and hope.

The young woman who narrated our city bus tour dreams of the day when the peace walls separating sections of Belfast can be taken down. Peace here has been a long time coming and in places seems more a hope than a reality. Everywhere there are symbols of that dream – a statue of two people reaching out to hold hands across a tiny brook. A hospital surrounded by a twisting metal fence made to look like DNA, a reminder that inside we have so much in common. Yet, we also saw a road that is closed and gated each night from 6 to 6 for safety reasons, in this city where 90% of schoolchildren still attend segregated schools. More than ever, I am grateful to have been a small part of the Friends Forever program back in Maine, where our local Rotary brought Catholic and Protestant teens to Maine from Belfast and nearby Carrickfergus, to begin the building of relationships in a new generation.

“It doesn’t rain in the pubs,” an older gentleman told me, after asking me why all of Belfast’s rainy weather was a blessing.
The alleys and nooks of the Cathedral Quarter are filled wiith street art just waiting to be discovered (and many of the city’s oldest and finest pubs as well).

A grand lordly life -Castletown, Isle of Man, U.K. (Aug. 10)

The Isle of Man is a green, hilly island that was part of Norway until the 1200’s. A stronghold for the Vikings, it was actually the last Viking king Magnus who began the construction of Castle Rushen, the focus of our day’s travel. The Vikings also introduced the island’s four-horned sheep, which strangely have two curly and two straight horns. Mom is bringing home some of the dark brown yarn made from their wool to knit a hat. We seem to have discovered more typical weather, but were cozily inside a first-class railcar on our way back for the worst of the rain. Here is our day in photos:

The steam railway carried us from Douglas to Castletown, by the sea, through rustic stone tunnels and alongside fields of grazing sheep, to an authentic medieval castle.

 

On the crowded way out, I shared a car with a group from Cornwall, who taught me how to greet the faeries who live beneath the bridges.

 

The castle gardens fill what was once the keep.

 

The portcullis would trap enemies at the castle entrance, allowing guards above to hurl stones or arrows down through three “murder holes.” Most of the castle is original.

 

 

Looking down from the top of Castle Rushen at a few of my Cornwall friends.

O’Kelly’s ale battered fish, mushy peas, and hand cut chips were the fare at The George Hotel, where we lunched after we found “there was no food on today” at the local pub.


 

Mussels, mysteries, and sweet Molly Malone – Dublin, Ireland (Aug. 9)

As the days, ports, and countries go by, the tiny speck of me in the vast tapestry of time and place is growing ever smaller and more humble. Here is a country and a day, or two. Go, learn its history and art, tastes and people, songs and and land. Choose one experience and you surrender another that would no doubt be just as wonderful. 

  

Both sides of my family have Irish roots, so in a sense we were coming home, Mom and Dad and I. For more than a year we’d been talking of exploring Dublin’s fair city and had carefully planned our day. A taxi proved smart in delivering us to our first stop ahead of the crowds.

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The Old Library of Trinity College was best known to me from the filming of the Harry Potter movies. It also houses the Book of Kells and a well-done and manageable exhibit about illuminated manuscripts. The science of the colorful dyes intrigued me. Created from plant galls and lichens, minerals and chemicals, some highly toxic, they were used by gifted monks to decorate the four gospels that comprise the ancient Book of Kells.

Photographs were not allowed in the inner sanctum, kept dim to preserve the precious vellum pages, which have already lived through being stolen, stripped of their gold, and hidden under a sod! Having stood there, with just a few others, gazing at the open pages, I would not have wanted to bring out my camera. The colors are earthy and subtle and much more appealing, ancient and mysterious, than any photo can capture. (The one above is the best I could find in the public domain)

  

On the other hand, the library was like being dropped into an 18th or 19th century story and we wandered around gazing up and around in wonder. Since 1801, the college has had the right to claim a free copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland and it seemed they all were there, along with a 14th century harp, rich with the patina of age.

Sweet Molly Malone inspired me to try mussels for lunch, at the pub below. Great Irish music and cider rounded out my meal.

  
 

The National Museum of Ireland’s archaeology building held the extensive collection of Viking relics, many from graves excavated in the city. The Vikings began raiding Ireland in 795 AD and later were the first to settle in Dublin. Swords, brooches, fine-toothed red deer antler combs, coins, leather shoes, and much more filled the displays. A bonus was my last-minute look around another exhibit about the Iron Age (older than the Vikings) “bog men” that have been unearthed during peat harvesting. These young, fit, and lordly individuals had all met cruel and gruesome ends before disappearing into the depths of the bogs. 

The Rotterdam of long ago – Rotterdam, Netherlands (Aug. 7)

Our second day in Rotterdam started with a check-in with immigration, where I collected my second passport stamp of the journey (along with Iceland). It turns out that cruisers often avoid passport inspections, but every passport stamp is a treasure to me. Both Ireland and the U.K. will also require this step, so I should return home with 4 new countries officially documented.
  
The first shuttle bus I encountered happened to be going to an older, retired SS Rotterdam, which was put into service in 1959. We are sailing on the 6th Rotterdam, active since 1997. Nowadays, No. 5 is a floating hotel, restored to the colorful vinyl glory of the era of its launching, as the photos below attest.

  
  
  
  

The city of Rotterdam, which was almost totally destroyed by WWII bombing, features crazily innovative architecture. Cubes, domes, skyscrapers that look like a stack of children’s blocks, all askew. Shiny metallic greens, blues, and yellows contrast with utilitarian old brick warehouses. But nothing here dates from medieval times except for the Laurenskerk, where I sat for a while to pray and absorb the history of years of faithful worship there. Next port…Dublin!

  

Kindred spirits – Delft, The Netherlands (Aug. 6)

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Bicycles, canals, flowers, and cheese…only one is missing from this, my favorite photo of the Netherlands.

The NFCT paddling community often brings together new friends, sometimes from across the globe. Valerie and Geoff Welch, who live in the Netherlands, kept an inspiring journal of their 2014 Northern Forest Canoe Trail thru-paddle, the summer before mine. I found their writing fun and their river descriptions helpful, particularly because they persevered through many difficult sections of the trail. In person, I discovered this week, they have many other stories from a lifetime of canoeing expeditions to share.

Saturday morning found me disembarking in Rotterdam and running to meet the only car with a canoe and kayak perched on top. Valerie and Geoff had offered to take me paddling in the charming town of Delft, famous for its blue and white pottery and charmingly picturesque scenery. After leaving the car at a biologisch restaurant (think fresh ingredients creatively crafted into edible art), we paddled into Delft, passing moorhens and pink water lilies, through surprisingly thick weeds and algae. Thankfully, my new friends are founders, organizers and instructors at their boating club, which generously loaned me a sleek and fast kayak for the day’s adventures.

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Valerie and Geoff were incredibly kind to take me paddling the day before they left for a 3-week trip in Mongolia! Squeezing under low bridges was just the start of the fun.

 

The sun broke through, as bright as the cheerful greetings of the people along the canals.

 

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The Nieuwe Kerk may be the new church in town, but it’s mighty old and venerable.

 

Valerie and Geoff had planned time for us to wander around town exploring and our first stop was the New Church, where we climbed 376 steps up a narrow, winding staircase to the very top of the tower. William of Orange, considered the Father of the Fatherland, worked for the country’s independence from Spain and was assassinated in 1584. He is interred within an elaborate mausoleum in this church, which is also the official resting place for members of the Dutch royal family.

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Delft is charming from every angle, including this view from the top of the tower. We saw Geoff below, waiting in the Markt, where we had lunch near a lively street organ.
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Quaint homes line the canals and are reproduced in minature in blue and white Delft pottery. Geoff and Valerie gave me three little houses to remember my special day.

 

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My deepest gratitude to Valerie and Geoff for their fine hospitality, which ended with a dinner of salad, haddock, and crème brulee, accompanied by fresh vegetables and flowers from this restaurant’s organic farm. Reminiscing about the NFCT made my evening.

Some days are simply quiet – Eidfjord, Norway, along the Hardangerfjord (Aug. 4)

A country road, some grazing sheep, a cascading waterfall, just another marvelous day in Norway.

A quiet contentment can come from not doing very much at all. I could have gone sea kayaking again…this fjord is even more dramatic and the town small and quaint. I could have taken a bus in search of waffles and waterfalls with Mom and Dad. Instead, I wandered and strolled, spending a peaceful hour among the crosses and stones in a churchyard and looking up and up from green meadows to the glory of the nearly vertical mountains, which cradle the town on all sides.

Tiny windows, along with 5-foot thick stone walls, helped keep Eidfjord’s Old Church warm during cold winters. This Lutheran church was built around 1309 A.D.
The church interior peeking through an iron grill. The simple birch pews must have kept everyone awake.

Across the road from the church was the shop of a woodworker, who has a display of Hardanger fiddles, or hardingfele, the national instrument of Norway. Decorated with intricate black pen and ink drawings and inlaid mother of pearl (the best is from Russia), they are unique in possessing a total of nine strings, five of which echo the notes of the main strings. Photographs weren’t allowed, but take a moment to search for a photo of one of these intricate 17th century instruments. Our next stop will be the Netherlands, where NFCT thru-paddler Valerie and Geoff Welch are kindly taking me paddling among the postcard streets of Delft.