Day 168 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent on an airplane (again). As my eyes tired from the book I’m reading, I spent some time trying to figure out why I wasn’t feeling totally blown away by my recent British Isles ocean voyage on the Viking Sky. I’ve been pondering this feeling for the three days since I disembarked and I think I’ve figured out that I am simply more of a river rat than an ocean pirate.
Recently my daughter and I were reflecting on the many cruises we’ve done, mostly on the ocean. When the kids were little, the ship (a.k.a. the kid’s club) was the draw and the destinations were secondary. It was all about escaping from my hectic life and relaxing back then. Since I got a taste of river cruising though, my perspective has shifted significantly and it took one final ocean cruise for me to realize this.
Ocean cruises offer many more shipboard amenities than are possible on river cruises. I’ve been on megaships and on smaller ocean vessels, both with their own unique benefits. No matter the size, most modern cruise ships offer multiple dining options, room service, spa, fitness, theaters and countless enrichment and entertainment options. However, their sheer size means more people and the need for larger ports that are often on the outskirts of the destination, necessitating the need for tenders, shuttles, buses and the like.
River ships are tiny when compared to ocean-worthy vessels. Those that I’ve been on offer fairly basic staterooms, one or two dining options, and usually just one bar/lounge which is used for all meetings and enrichment opportunities. With fewer people and the ability to dock within city limits, river cruises eliminate the lines that are so common on cruise ships. This means more time for exploration and that is my current mindset.
Day 164 of the Nowhere To Be Project had us up and off the ship at 4:30am. As always, the Viking staff was so efficient with the transfer to the airport in Bergen, Norway (they need to give some pointers to the shore excursion crew, but more on that in a future post:). We flew on Norwegian Air for the first time (booked by Viking on our behalf). It is a bare bones airline and we had a several hour delay for our connection at London-Gatwick. The one positive thing I can say about Norwegian Air is that their seat-back entertainment system is great! We loved ordering drinks and snacks right from the screen! We’ve just landed after 20 hours of flying and cannot wait to climb into our bed. Sleep was exceptionally rare for us during our British Isles Explorer journey aboard the Viking Sky, so we have some major catching up to do tonight;). Many more details and photos to come over the next few days…
On Day 163 of the Nowhere To Be Project we arrived in Bergen, Norway. Norway is known for cold air and abundant rain and today was no different. Travel tip: pack a hooded raincoat when visiting Norway. I did not and was soaked to the bone by what the locals call “Norwegian Sunshine” (rain…over 80 inches each year)! Umbrellas are pretty useless here as the wind can get fierce.
Bergen itself is a busy port city filled with seafood, boats and tourists. The colorful wooden row houses are the signature of this former capital city. Travel tip two: bring a very fat wallet for a visit to Norway because prices are at least double what one might pay in the U.S. for the same item. A pint is $15 and an average glass of wine around $25. The ever-popular Norwegian sweaters range from $200 to $600. A casual dinner for two can easily cost several hundred dollars. We kept (most of) our money and enjoyed the free scenery instead, haha. It is very easy to whittle away the hours just watching the boats come and go and we did that very thing with great pleasure.
On Day 162 of the Nowhere To Be Project we were given the chance to explore Lerwick, a small port town in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. The town itself is very, very small. However, by venturing out into the countryside on an included Viking tour we were able to learn about and meet some of the famed Shetland Ponies. They live idyllic and long lives roaming the vast countryside. What they lack in size, they make up with in spirit…so lovable and affectionate (reminded me of my Golden Retriever). Many families in the Shetlands bring their ponies inside their homes in inclement weather and I can totally see why!
Day 161 of the Nowhere To Be Project places us eleven days into our two week British Isles Explorer voyage aboard the Viking Sky. We docked in Invergorden and joined an optional tour to visit the battlefield of Culloden. The drive through the lush heather-covered rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands was so peaceful that the horror of what happened at Culloden on 16 April 1746 nearly escaped us. That is, until we stepped foot on it. Tombstones etched with clan names dot the grounds to mark the mass burial sites. We were told that after the battle, wives and mothers came to identify and bury their kinfolk only to be raped by the loyalists who had defeated the Jacobites so fiercely. Sadly, the humiliation didn’t end there. Following the battle, clans were no longer allowed to dress in their tartans and were not permitted to speak in their native tongue, Scots Gaelic. So many men died which wiped out many Highlanders clans. The Fraser clan was so depleted that men from outside the clan were offered twenty pounds to change their names to Fraser! Today’s visit was so moving, rivaling the time I spent on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Both are tricks of the mind…so much natural beauty, yet so incredibly tainted by the ignorance of war.
On Day 160 of the Nowhere To Be Project we did something we’ve never done before…hired a local for a private tour. After ten days of large group tours we needed a break and found a website (ToursByLocals.com) that matches local expert guides with travelers for custom day trips. For just over $600 we became the sole focus of our wonderful guide, Felicitas. At the outset we explained that St. Andrews was the primary goal for my husband. I asked that any extra time be focused on satisfying my Outlander curiosity (a.k.a obsession). We were met at the port and immediately whisked away for nine hours to fulfill our wishes through the eyes of a local.
We began in Falkland, Scotland. It is a tiny picturesque village filled with 17th and 18th century structures. Outlander used this location for the filming of Frank and Claire’s second honeymoon. Must sees include Bruce Fountain, Campbell’s Coffee House and The Covenanter Hotel.
We were then on to St. Andrews and the old course. This is a very busy area (mostly American tourists)! It is also a lovely seaside university town filled with lots of options for shopping, drinking and dining. My husband was thrilled to recreate a famous photograph of golf legend Jack Nicklaus on the Swilken bridge of the 18th hole.
The grand finale of our local’s tour took place in Culross, an adorable 17th century time warp of a town. Culross Castle is a must even if you’re not interested in the fact that it was used for Outlander filming (the outdoor stairs, the kitchen and the garden). While visiting, be sure to venture up the hill to view the abbey! It is remarkable!
I loved the experience of roaming with a local and would highly recommend it!❤️
As a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (and the corresponding television show), I was so excited to awake on Day 159 of the Nowhere To Be Project in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. While this particular place isn’t directly featured in the series, it is rumored that the author was very inspired by her visit to the Ring of Brodgar.
We spent the morning in Kirkwall and the afternoon in the countryside at the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic circle of standing stones.
Two remarkable things happened today. Firstly, I fell absolutely, completely and hopelessly in love with this tranquil corner of the world. There is literally water everywhere you look. There are very few people and countless rolling hills. Traffic isn’t a thing at all. Animals roam freely and with a year-round temperature of about 55 degrees it seems like utopia.
The second stellar thing that occurred today was our visit to the stones. To witness their perfect placement amidst the coast and land was breathtaking, especially when taking into account that they are 5000 years old! I begged my husband to push me through the stones so that I could go back in time to find my own Jamie Fraser, but sadly they were cordoned off. Oh well, heading for Lallybroch tomorrow. He’ll probably be waiting for me there, haha.
We were preparing to spend the day hiking at Knockan Crag in the Scottish Highlands when the captain announced that high winds would make tendering to Ullapool too dangerous. Therefore, Day 158 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent entirely on board the Viking Sky. The cruise director followed the captain’s announcement with one of her own promising lobster macaroni and cheese by the pool as a way to fill the day. Many people took her up on the offer, but we used the time to wander the ship.
The Viking Sky is a lovely vessel. It is streamlined and comfortable. The common areas rarely seem crowded, probably due to the cozy nooks and crannies peppered throughout the ship. The decor is somehow muted and warm at the same time. No matter one’s mood, there is always an appropriate place on board to satisfy. Rest and relaxation can be found by either of the two pools, in the spa, at Wintergarden or the Explorer’s Lounge, and in the library. Entertainment looms in the ship’s two theaters, the atrium, the shops, the sports deck and in the game room. Dining options are located in the Restaurant, Manfredi’s, The Chef’s Table, World Café, the Pool Grill, Mamsen’s and via 24 hour room service. Conversation, drinks and dancing are also easy to access in the Aquavit Bar, the Explorer’s Lounge, the Pool Bar, the Viking Bar and at Torshavn, the ship’s version of a nightclub. With that brief rundown, I’m guessing that it’s fairly obvious to see that we had absolutely no trouble filling today’s unexpected hours at sea.
We arrived in Belfast, Ireland on day 157 of the Nowhere To Be Project. Our ship, the Viking Sky, was docked about 15 minutes by shuttle bus from the center of town. We jumped out at the beautiful City Hall ready to roam. The city was just coming to life on this cloudy Saturday morning so we made good use of the quiet time to visit St. Anne’s Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church, both of which offer stunning architecture and a glimpse into the history of Belfast.
Our time at the churches gave us a free pass for some pub time, right? We assumed so and headed to Crown Liquor Saloon, a well-preserved Victorian tavern. Refreshed and ready for action, we headed back out and right into a massive political march. The marchers are asking for freedom from British interment which means detention without trial. There were British loyalists present at the march as well and a nasty banter was rising between the two groups. The good news is that the police (in tactical gear) kept everything under control. Belfast is known as a city with strong political convictions and today gave us a small taste of that spirit.
A visit to St. George’s Market closed out our day in Belfast where I met two Dublin-based sisters who are the proprietors of the Melting Pot Fudge Company. Their vegan fudge is so tasty that I left with three flavors! Every day that ends in fudge is a good one in my book.
Day 156 of the Nowhere To Be Project began in Greenock, Scotland where the Viking Sky berthed for the day. Greenock is a sleepy town that once boasted a very prominent shipyard where 2/3 of the world’s ships originated. We meandered up from the water to the storied Greenock Cemetery and Crematorium because as any frequent traveler knows, headstones can usually spell out the history of a place. It is the most beautiful spot for eternal rest that I’ve ever seen and the maritime influence is evident on a large percentage of the ornamental moss-covered stones.
We headed to Glasgow, a 45 minute drive from Greenock, for the afternoon and set our sights on its medieval cathedral. Glasgow Cathedral is a breathtaking feat of early architecture. It was built by the Catholics, but now serves the largely Presbyterian population of Scotland. Like most old things, it has had several incarnations and the stained glass windows of the lower church quite literally tell the stories.
We managed to squeeze a lot into ten hours today, but these two stops spoke to us. Each shares the history of the people who gave a dot on the map meaning.