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.
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.
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.
Day 155 of the Nowhere To Be Project took place in Wales. We began in Holyhead, a scenic seaside port town, as that is where the Viking Sky docked (we’re nearly a week through their British Isles Explorer voyage). The center of town has a stunning medieval church (St. Cybi) and is full of the most wonderful people. The residents love to chat about their Welsh pride and are so very helpful! We felt as if we left with a whole new squad of BFFs after spending just one morning in Holyhead.
Our afternoon placed us in another scenic coastal area, Beaumaris. The charming unfinished castle may be the main draw here, but the ocean breeze and lively historic streets should be the primary focus. We walked along the pier, enjoyed a pint at Bulkeley Hotel’s bar and found some interesting items in the boutiques. Wales is a treasure not to be missed and we will definitely return!
Day 154 of the Nowhere To Be Project was whiskey-centric. Or, is it whisky-centric? Well, the answer apparently lies in the region in which the spirit was produced. We’re in Dublin (day 5 of the Viking British Isles Explorer voyage), so the “e” is absolutely essential. We learned all about the profound importance of whiskey (and Guinness) in Dublin’s culture. I would describe it as a religion. Maybe that’s why our bus driver had to dodge wobbly pedestrians three times in fifteen minutes?!?
While learning about the triple distilling process of Jameson Whiskey was fun, the highlight of Dublin for a bibliophile (turbo geek) like me was witnessing Oscar Wilde’s fingerprints on the city. Anyone who’s read his work knows that he was a trailblazer in more ways than one and it was so nice to feel somewhat connected to his spirit here in Dublin. His childhood home is currently used as a lecture hall for creative writing students. How inspiring is that?
As a constant traveler, I understand the assumptions and misconceptions that people have about the jet-set lifestyle. This flawed thinking literally robs people of travel…”I can’t afford it”, “I’m too busy” and so on. Therefore, the focus of day 133 of the Nowhere To Be Project is the notion that travel is accessible to everyone, all the time.
People assume that travel is only for the wealthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth because travel comes in all shapes, sizes and price points. It is what you make it. I’ve splurged a few times on what might be considered luxury trips. More frequently though, I’ve camped for free with just a book and a backpack full of homemade treats. I’ve also hopped on last minute cruises where one all-inclusive week at sea can cost much less than one on land. Low cost travel is a real possibility for the diligent and prepared. For some things it pays to plan well in advance, while others require the ability to get up and go on a moment’s notice. Some think that frequent travel is limited to the very young and very old. TRAVEL IS NOT JUST FOR COLLEGE KIDS AND OLD CRONIES!!! While constant travel has become easier since my retirement, I never let life get in the way of my wanderlust. For example, my kids are very well-traveled because I never saw them as a barrier to travel. Some people think that it is too much of a pain to pack up the kids (and the diaper bag, playpen, toys, etc.), but I always viewed their presence as a bonus. I strived to use travel as a learning tool because I believe that it teaches us much more than any textbook ever could. The time crunch of working full time and accommodating busy schedules can certainly make long trips more fleeting, but day or weekend getaways are always a possibility. It could be as simple as a Saturday visit to a state park in an adjacent county, or a house swap weekend with a family in a bordering state. There are those who think that travel is self-indulgent and that any extra money should be squirreled away for a rainy day. I am all about living beneath my means. What I mean by this is that the spending choices we make each day can profoundly impact our financial bottom line. Over time, a frugal approach really adds up and opens the door to travel. For instance, I’d rather make my own coffee each morning (whether at home or on the road) and take trips. I refuse to spend $10 a day at Starbucks not only because I like my coffee better, but because over time it would rob me of travel opportunities. Case in point, I flew to Paris round trip last year for $300. I just can’t imagine who’d choose thirty days of prepared coffee over Paris!
What excuses do you use to rob yourself of travel?
On Day 128 of the Nowhere To Be Project I found myself smack dab in the middle of a travelhole. Travelhole is the word I use to describe non-travel days. I also use it more broadly to verbalize the gap between trips. With three weeks since my last big trip and twenty days until my next, I’m in the throes of a travelhole. For travel addicts like me, a travelhole can be exacerbated when there are no planned travel days on the horizon. This conundrum could lead to the terminal travelcoma, an unconsciousness of sorts where travel is at a stand still. This must be avoided at all costs!
One benefit of my travel addiction is that I’ve learned a few tricks for keeping the desperation of a travelhole at bay. Here goes:
1️⃣ Visit a new-to-you place in your hometown. Seeing new things (even in familiar places) keeps the travel flame burning.
2️⃣ Replicate the best meal you’ve eaten while traveling. The scents and tastes of travel lay dormant during a travelhole and a luscious bite can help revive them.
3️⃣ Listen to the music of a favorite travel destination. Getting lost in a groove to the tune of a well-loved country can take you back in time to the moment where you first fell in love.
4️⃣ Create a vision board adorned with maps, photographs, quotes, fabric swatches, recipes and anything else that will inspire you to plan a new trip, or to refine already booked vacations. Seeing it helps to transform dreams into reality!
5️⃣ Follow and engage on social media with a few travel bloggers who share similar goals. Connecting with people who are passionate about travel will help keep your wanderlust intact and safe from a travelhole!