Ireland to Iceland on the Clipper Adventurer
It was difficult to pack for this trip to a cool, damp locale when the day-time temperatures in Hawthorne exceed 80o and the humidity was in the teens. Jodie, Natalie, Nathan (our two older grandchildren), and I flew to Dublin where we joined the Clipper Adventurer. I’d been checking the Dublin weather using the Internet for a week. There has been rain and cool temperatures every day with more forecast during our visit.
Super Shuttle picked us up around 2:30 pm and we quickly reached LAX Bradley Terminal. As usual, this international terminal was teeming with milling travelers. We wove our way through them and found the Aer Lingus counter. There was little wait before we checked in. The longest delay was caused by the two TSA baggage checkers who spent most of their time standing and staring off into space. When the backlog of luggage became too great they would eventually select one and swab it with a pad then place the pad in a machine that checked for explosives traces. We were required to wait while they did their thing. When they eventually finished with our bags we proceeded on to the security check point. Although there was a long line we passed through rather quickly.
Aer Lingus uses the Asiana lounge which it also shares with Aeroflot. The lounge is small and furnished with small, spartan chairs. There was, however, a nice selection of soft drinks, wine, and booze. Eventually an Aer Lingus representative showed up and said he would lead us to the gate at the appropriate time, which he did. Rather than boarding an airplane we boarded a bus which carried us to one of the remote boarding facilities at the west end of the airport.
While we were waiting in the lounge I received a call. The gate agent said that the TV at my seat wasn’t working and offered to move us to another row. Since I usually don’t watch the movies I said they didn’t need to move us. This was a mistake. The problem was with the remote control and I had no audio nor the ability to turn my light on. Although the interior of the Airbus 300-200 was nice the passenger service/entertainment systems seemed flakey, in areas other than my problem. Aer Lingus service was good. As an added luxury, the glasses were Waterford crystal and the plates were Wedgewood china.
Although we left late the pilot assured us that we would arrive early. And we did arrive in Dublin early, as promised, however we sat for quite a time waiting for a gate to clear. When it finally did we then had to endure another long wait because they couldn’t get the boarding ramp properly aligned with the plane. We finally were able to deplane and then had the usual long walk to Immigration. There was little delay there however we had a very long wait for one bag. When it finally showed up we went out into the terminal and found the Clipper rep who drove us to the hotel in the drizzle while our baggage went directly to the ship. We had a snack in the hospitality room.
At 2 o’clock most of the group set off on a quick but interesting bus tour of Dublin which ended at 4 when we returned to the hotel to pick up those who did not tour. Then we drove off to the Clipper Adventurer. Boarding was a process of standing in line. First we had our photos taken to match the bar-coded ID name tags that were sent to us. Next we stood in line to turn in our cruise tickets and passports at receptions. Finally we were led to our state rooms and reunited with our luggage. While we were standing in line I made a pointed comment about the famous Clipper Chippers, the wonderful chocolate chip cookies that are available on all four Clipper ships at 4:30 each afternoon. John Yersin, the expedition leader, dashed into the lounge and returned bearing the tray of cookies and passed them out along the line.
We were able to unpack before dinner which was good, given our sleep-deprived state. After dinner we tumbled into bed and instantly fell asleep, only to wake up around 3 am.
One welcome sight when arriving on board was the hotel manager, Carlene Miller who was the hotel manager on the Clipper Odyssey when we were on last spring. We also found some friends from a previous trip, Nancy and John Killen.
7/30. Rathlin Island.
We arrived at tiny Rathlin Island, in Northern Ireland, this morning and went ashore. The point of our visit to this 70-person island was to visit volcanic stacks at West End that are the breeding site for sea birds. Little rattletrap busses hauled us across rough roads to a large lighthouse facility. Contrary to the usual lighthouse, the light on this one is near the bottom of the structure in the middle of the cliff rather than on top. There was a very long set of stairs down to a concrete platform from which we had good but distant views of the flocks. There were a few puffin on the grassy areas. Most of the chicks have already fledged. There were also razor bills, guillemots, and fulmars. Many sea bird chicks have a rough time of it when leaving the nest. Although not yet able to fly they must drop from their nest high on a cliff into the sea.
This trip was the first cruise for a woman from Santa Fe and, therefore, the trip ashore was her first time in a Zodiac. She was quite tense when boarding. Fortunately the seas were calm. When we started off from the ship she was quite excited and delighted. We also rode back to the ship with her. Her excitement hadn’t abated any.
During lunch the Adventurer moved to Portrush, on the mainland of Northern Ireland. When we landed at the dock we were serenaded by a piper. We visited the Giant’s Causeway, a large array of basalt columns. These are formed when lava cools slowly enough so that crystals form, creating the characteristic (mostly) hexagonal columns. Of course the Irish have a much better explanation for their existence. The Irish giant Finn MacCool created them so that a Scottish giant could make his way over for a fight to determine who was the stronger giant. When Finn saw him striding across the stones he realized that the giant was much larger. Finn’s wife quickly dressed Finn as a baby. When the Scottish giant saw him he turned around and left since he didn’t want to fight the father of such a large baby. As he fled back across the causeway he tore it up so that he couldn’t be followed.
The area was quite crowded with tourists. We started our visit by viewing a chamber of commerce like video promoting the area rather than providing information about the causeway. We then rode a bus from the visitor center to the stones, wandered around taking pictures, etc. Jodie sat in the wishing chair and made a wish. Then we walked back up to the visitor center. On the way back to the ship we made a very brief stop at the Old Bushmills Distillery (established 1608) visitor center to pick up some liquid souvenirs.
Our second night on the ship was the Captain’s welcome cocktail and dinner. We learned that there are 69 passengers being served by a crew of 72, not a bad ratio. The four of us ate with the first officer Rory Warner.
7/31. Isle of Sky and Stornoway
We left Ireland behind and reached the Isle of Sky. Here we visited Dunvegan Castle, home of the Clan MacLeod since the 13th century. As a mater of fact, it is the residence of the current Laird. It is open to tours only to produce funds to maintain the place. The building is a rather forbidding looking place of grey stone with turrets and crenelated ramparts, surrounded by the remains of a moat. It is loaded with old furniture, ancestral portraits, and old weapons. Our brief visit was long enough to view the inside however there wasn’t sufficient time for the surrounding gardens. Even our visit to the gift shop was curtailed by time. (MacLeod is pronounced “MacCloud” therefore we have MacClouds in the Sky.)
At 10:30 we returned to the ship and set out for our afternoon visit to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. Although this is a single island, sometimes called Long Island, a formidable mountain range and moorland splits the island, making it like two separate islands, hence the two names. Harris is the home of Harris Tweed.
We stopped at Storonoway where we visited the Callanish Standing Stones. These are one of many circles of vertical stone slabs in the area built about 5,000 years ago by an unknown people using unknown techniques for an unknown purpose. There are, or are not, significant astrological alignments to these circles. No one know since they were built so long ago.
We also visited the Arnol Blackhouse, built in the 1870s and lived in until the ‘60s. It is a combination barn and living quarters which is heated by a peat file with no chimney or vent in the roof, hence the term “black.” The walls were about 5 feet high and were made by stacking the ubiquitous flat stones and then piling sod against them. The thatched roof is supported by driftwood. This design is much older than 1870. The common flat stones are used throughout the area for fences, called dry stone walls, and other structures. No mortar is used between the stones.
There is another, somewhat more modern, dwelling near the blackhouses, called the white house. This is a wooden structure that was lived in until recently. On interesting similarity is that the beds are similar to those in the blackhouse. They are little cubby holes in the walls that are too short to allow laying down flat.
Our final visit was to the Broch of Carloway, a circular, stacked-stone, double-walled, defensive structure. These double walled towers were common throughout the area. This one was built about 2,000 years ago.
The reasons for cramming both tours into one day is that August 1st was a Sunday. The Callanish tour was originally set for then however the whole country closes on Sunday so there could be no tours.
8/1. Handa and Rona Islands
This was probably our best day so far and certainly better than viewing an old castle. We debarked at 8:30 to visit the birds of Handa Island. It wasn’t really a very long walk, 3.8 miles with an elevation gain of 379 feet. It was, however, a lovely hike. There were tiny, beautiful wild flowers, spectacular cliffs inhabited by raucous sea birds, and glorious bright sun. It was a delightful morning. Toward the end of the hike I had a personal encounter with a great skua defending its nest. It made such a close pass at my head that I had to duck. The rush of the air through its feathers was quite loud.
When we returned to the ship we had a barbeque lunch on the aft deck. After the long, warm hike the cold, Irish beer was especially welcome.
We sailed through The Minch between the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish mainland.
Our afternoon hike on Rona Island became a zodiac cruise. The seas were too rough to allow a landing. They were almost too rough to allow easy boarding the zodiacs. When we arrived there we encountered a lighthouse service ship plus helicopter that had just completed servicing the light at the top of the island.
There were many puffins on the island, along with many other sea birds. Large flocks of puffins would swoop in to feed their young, flocking to avoid the predatory gulls. There were also some grey seals about. When the captain became concerned about the sea state and wanted the passengers back on board he blew the ship’s horn. Masses of puffins fled the island in alarm.
8/2. Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland.
Our fine weather of the past has abandoned us. We awoke to high winds, overcast, and scattered showers. Fortunately the showers moved on by the time we set off on our tour. We visited Maes Howe, a neolithic mound, the purpose of which is unknown; the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brea.
Maes Howe is a large earthen mound covering a stacked stone chamber, built approximately 5,000 years ago. Current feeling is that it was probably used as a burial chamber. Maes Howe means grassy or mossy mound, which is exactly what it looks like when you approach, until you see the entrance. Entry requires walking bent over for approximately 20 feet down a long tunnel. When we got inside we found nothing. The place was cleaned out by the Vikings. All they left was some interesting graffiti. The entrance tunnel is aligned so that for approximately 20 days on either side of the winter solstice the light from the setting Sun reaches the inside chamber. This may be viewed on the web site, www.maeshowe.co.uk.
There are gigantic monoliths standing all over the place. And, of course, no one knows why they were erected, how they were erected, or who erected them. They do know that these people used only wooden tools or bones to accomplish their work. They didn’t have iron. The Ring of Brodgar was originally of 60 stones however only 36 are still standing.
Skara Brea is a neolithic settlement on the shore that was completely covered by sand. No one suspected its existence until a fierce storm uncovered part of it. It has since been excavated. The houses were constructed using flat stones piled up to make the walls. Sod was banked outside the walls to seal them from the weather. The roofs were made of driftwood poles covered with skins. All of the furnishing within the houses were also made with flat rocks.
On our way back to the ship we passed Scapa Flow which has significant British Naval history. The interned German fleet was scuttled here by its German crews after WWI. It was also the base of the British fleet in WWII. A German sub snuck in, despite many defenses, and sunk the battleship Royal Oak with great loss of life. The hulk of this ship is a national memorial, similar to the Arizona in Pearl Harbor. The similarity even extends to the continuing leakage of bunker oil.
As we were riding around the island we saw several instances of peat harvesting. It is cut out of the bed and stacked in blocks to dry. After drying it is placed in plastic sacks. Peat is common throughout the area and was once the only fuel used for warmth and cooking. As it burns, or smolders, it produces a lot of smoke and has a characteristic odor. Most people now use other fuels but like to burn peat in their fireplaces.
Our afternoon was spent exploring and shopping in Kirkwall
8/3. Papa Scour and Muckle Flugga
We didn’t have to use our badges today; we never went ashore. Our first adventure was a zodiac tour of the caves of Papa Scour. This island is composed of old sandstone, according to Geologist David Dallmeyer. The caves eroded from ash layers which are vertical since the whole place was tipped on end by the old demon. plate tectonics. There was the usual collection of sea birds decorating the sheer cliffs. In addition there were grey seals and harbor seals in the water and on the beaches. Supposedly there are 30 people dwelling on the island plus quite a number of sheep. The map indicates the presence of an air strip.
We entered a number of caves and ventured through one long, dark tunnel. We also entered one short cave by one entrance, passed a second, and exited a third. I felt we should have been listening to Mendelssohn’s Hebridean overture, “Fingal’s Cave” while we were exploring.
In the afternoon we exited the waters of the British Isles. On the way we passed by Muckle Flugga which is the breeding site for thousands of gannets. It is located off the northwest coast of the Shetland Island of Unst. The rock surfaces of the island are white, both with guano and birds. Stevenson lighthouse graces the top of the island. As we approached we were escorted by squadrons of gannets. They are a beautiful bird with their glistening white bodies and delicately shaded lemon yellow heads. At one point, most of the birds on the island took to the air, as if by a common signal, and wheeled around the ship. Fortunately I was wearing a hat.
The northern most point of the British Isles is a tiny rock island just north of Muckle Flugga.
After all this excitement we had a galley tour. The galley is quite small, even for a ship. There is a second galley one deck down which was the only galley before the ship was converted from the Alla Tarasova This galley is used for all food prep and for the crew galley. Supplies are ordered 60 days in advance.
8/4. Torshavn, Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are mostly independent from Denmark. They have home rule and their own currency. But they send two representatives to the Danish Parliament. Our tour took us past many sod-roofed houses to the tiny village of Kirkjubour. We visited a 900 year old house, one room of which has been maintained in its original condition with artifacts of the era hanging on the walls. There is also a remarkable old cast iron stove that is 3 x 4 feet but only 1 foot high. The remainder of the house is modern and occupied by the owner.
St. Olafs church is also there. It was built in 1111 but later abandoned and allowed to collapse. It has just recently been restored and has simple wooden pews. When it was abandoned the hand carved pews were all taken to Denmark. They have been returned and are in the National Museum. When it was originally active, there were lepers on the island. There is a small hole in the wall which allowed the lepers to hear the service without mixing with the healthy people.
The uncompleted ruins of St. Magnus’s Cathedral are located near the church.
We visited the museum in Torshavn and saw the beautifully carved pew ends from St Olafs. There were also several fishing boats typical of the island.
We took the option of being dropped off in town and walking the short distance back to the ship. On the way back we encountered a large group of motor homes waiting for a ferry to Iceland. We talked to one of the owners and found out that they were a camping club from Denmark. These motor homes are self-contained but much smaller than US motor homes. This makes sense since gasoline is the equivalent of around $7/gal.
In the afternoon we stopped at Mykines to visit the puffin colony. There is a small village on the island, perched in a valley about 100 feet above the coast. It is reached by a very steep path or irregular stairs. From there it is a very steep hike up a grass covered hill to where the puffins may be viewed. The hike was 1.38 miles round trip to a maximum elevation of 428 feet. We continued to be blessed with good weather. We had little contact with the residents, although they were sitting at the landing and along the path. They didn’t seem friendly.
8/6. Höfn Island, Iceland
Höfn is pronounced “Hup” but is supposed to sound a bit like a burp. We were alongside before we awoke. After breakfast we left on an all-day Vatnajokull Glacier tour.
It was about an hours drive to the Glacier Hotel. At first, we traveled on the paved, ringroad, which circles Iceland. We turned off onto a dirt road that became quite steep and winding. When we finally reached the hotel those who chose to use snow mobiles put on their bunny suits and boots. In spite of what we had been told on the ship the rest of us did not get additional exterior garments. We boarded the snow cats and had a very bumpy ride along a gravel trail up to and on to the glacier. Eventually we stopped and milled around aimlessly on a flat featureless plain. The snowmobilers followed us up and went on by, then turned around and parked. They too were allowed to mill about aimlessly. Eventually we all reboarded our conveyances and headed back down.
The threatened rain started as we reached the hotel. We had a pretty decent buffet lunch, after first taking off our shoes to preserve the dirty wooden floor. After lunch we drove back down and went to Jökulsàrlćn lake, a glacier lake that is filled with bergs. The offered activity there was a Duck tour around the ice bergs floating in the lake. By this time it was raining quite hard so we stayed on the bus. N & N had their waterproof clothing so they went. Their clothing stayed dry however their tennies didn’t. All in all, it was a very expensive trip with little value.
This is the town that was nearly overrun by a volcanic flow in 1973. It is one of the principle fishing ports in Iceland and the flow threatened to block the harbor entrance. Over 600 buildings were lost under the lava flow. Eventually the flow was stopped through the use of a massive deluge of sea water which cooled and solidified the advancing front. The US Navy provided a bunch of diesel pumps to assist in this effort.
This is also the location of a large puffin colony. The taking of puffins for food is allowed between July 1 and August 15, with some rules. They must be netted in the air while returning from the sea, not leaving to go to sea. If they have any fish in their beaks they must be released since they are feeding young.
The entrance to the harbor was interesting. The tongue of lava that almost blocked the harbor required a bit of a zig-zag maneuver. About halfway into the entrance we passed the pen where Keiko, the killer whale from “Free Willy” was kept. Keiko’s pod passes through the area regularly so it was hoped that he could be acclimatized to the open ocean and rejoin them. It didn’t work, he was later found dead.
There was a bus tour which took us to an extremely windy cliff on which puffin nest. We also had an extensive tour of the newly formed lava field. In the midst of all this wasteland we encountered a beautiful little garden tucked into a depression in the lava. An older couple created this wonderland by hauling in top soil and planting a variety of plants.
When we left Heimaey we passed by Surtsey, a island that rose from the sea in 1963. Visits to the island are limited to scientists who are studying how plants, insects, and animals are repopulating the island. Surtsey is named for the Norse god Surtur who is eventually to set fire to the Earth by hurling balls of fire.
This evening was the Captain’s farewell cocktail party and dinner.
We said our farewells and were off the ship at 8:30 for our all day Gold Circle tour. Our luggage went directly to the hotel. On the tour we visited the Parliament Plains. This is a sunken plain where the Icelandic parliament met in the open to rule the country in ancient times. We viewed the area from an overlook then hiked down to the plain level through a rather impressive crevasse.
We had lunch at a restaurant/tourist complex and then visited the small geyser field associated with the restaurant. The geyser spouts every 5 to 15 minutes, but not very long or high.
The next stop on our tour was Gullfoss Waterfall on the Hvitá river. The river has eroded a deep canyon called Hvitárgljur. (The Icelanders name everything, including canyons and crevices.) The fall is in two steps and is about 100 feet high. The air was filled with blowing mist from the falls. Our tour guide advised us to try to avoid the mist since the water is glacier melt and therefore full of glacier silt.
We also visited a lake in the caldera of a small volcano and a garden/tourist shop called Eden.
The bus arrived at the hotel about 4 pm. For dinner that night we decided to seek out pizza. We walked for about 20 minutes across town to find a place, then back to the hotel and bed.
The water in the hotel is yellow and has a sulfureous smell. Taking a shower was like having some sort of health spa treatment. The taste of the water ruined my scotch and water.
We re-packed and put our bags out before 10 am and then set off to shop. After shopping we headed back to the hotel, stopping by a bakery near the hotel to pick up a light lunch. At 1:45 we set off for the airport, about 45 minutes away. Check-in and security were brief and then we went off to the Icelandic Air lounge. Boarding the aircraft was an interesting experience. There are no gates with counters as in most airports. Access to the gates is through ordinary doors set in the sides of the hallway. When we approached our gate we found the wide hallway packed with people, some still sitting and some in one of two long queues. (The flight to Baltimore was departing at the same time.) We joined the one for our flight and eventually entered the portal, showed our ticket and passport, only to find another crowd of people packed around the bottom of a stairway and escalator. Access to both was blocked. Eventually members of the cabin staff came down the stair, removed the barrier and told us we could board the plane. The flight on the 757 was uneventful. Icelandic air service was unremarkable.
When we arrived in New York JFK we quickly passed through immigration and then waited and waited for our bags. Finally, with bags in tow we went to the curb to wait for the Holiday Inn shuttle bus. No buses came by. We eventually asked someone and he told us we needed to take the Sky Train to Federal Circle. That is where the hotel busses pick up.
We had a late, simple, expensive dinner at the hotel bar and went to bed. The next morning the shuttle took us directly to the American Airlines terminal. After our bags were tagged, we had to haul them across the crowded lobby for a TSA security check. Contrary to our orders in LA we were told we couldn’t stand around while they were checked. No one could accuse TSA of being consistent. After check-in we headed to their lounge only to be turned away. Domestic business passengers are not allowed in. This was probably a blessing in disguise. The lounge is located outside of the security area. It took TSA a very long time to pass us through. In addition to the usual inspection we were singled out for the detailed search. I guess family units must look especially dangerous to those Beta-Minuses who are employed by TSA. They sent another family through right after us. We were treated with polite contempt and given conflicting directions by the individual searching our hand carried luggage and the individual searching our person.
The flight home an the American 767 was on-time and uneventful.
The voyage covered 1,466 nautical miles. And, as we have come to expect, the Clipper experience continued to be delightful. Food was quite good and service was exemplary. The expedition staff was quite competent and appropriate to the areas covered by the cruise. Almost all the tours were at additional cost. The total cost of all tours was $585 per person. The most expensive and least worthwhile was the Vatnajokull Glacier tour.