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.
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.
Day 153 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked my 47th year of life and the fourth day of our British Isles Explorer voyage onboard the Viking Sky. The morning was spent at the spa as we cruised the English Channel. A deep-tissue massage followed by a few minutes in the hydrotherapy pool gave me a lot of time for reflection. I am so grateful for the life I’ve had, especially for the many low points. It is easy to wish away bad days, but without those I probably wouldn’t be as profoundly appreciative of the good ones. Speaking of good days, my husband and I raised a glass to at least 47 more years as we floated in the infinity pool and watched the world go by. Can life possibly get any better?
We spent day 152 of the Nowhere To Be Project in the charming seaside town of Dover, England. Our first stop upon arrival was to Dover Castle which was rebuilt by my 20th Great Grandfather, King Henry II, during his reign. Henry is widely regarded as one of the most successful rulers in England’s history and the sprawling castle is surely evidence of this. Walking in the actual footsteps of my ancestors is one of the reasons why travel is so important to me. The view I enjoyed from a window in the tower of the castle today probably wasn’t all that different from the one my grandparents, Henry and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, had in the 12th century (well, except for the fact that mine included my current home away from home, the Viking Sky). It just proves that we all leave a legacy for those who follow us whether we intend to or not. I’d like mine to include the importance of wanderlust.
Day 148 of the Nowhere To Be Project was an absolute frenzy as my husband and I prepared for our British Isles Explorer ocean voyage on the Viking Sky. If you’re anything like me, the time you set aside for pre-travel preparation and packing never seems to be enough. This is always the case no matter if we’re preparing our RV for a lengthy voyage, or cramming two weeks worth of necessary items into a suitcase as we are now.
Our dog, who is a almost as well traveled as we are, was not happy when the suitcase came out. Somehow he knows that he will not be accompanying us on this trip. Initially he tried the block move where he presents himself as a barrier between me and the suitcase. Next was the attention-getting scheme where he feigns illness to distract me from packing. Despite a bath, a brush, and extra love, he remained miserable, finally retreating to his chair for a nap leaving me with a heavy dose of travel guilt.
On day 135 of the Nowhere To Be Project, Vail, Colorado (my chosen hometown) was bestowed with the elusive title of “sustainable destination”. This is quite an honor considering that no other mountain resorts in the world have the right to carry the moniker. Exciting, I know, but what does it really mean?
We’ve all seen the signs in hotels asking us to reuse towels to save water, but true sustainability goes way beyond that. A sustainable destination is one that focuses on environmental, cultural and economic preservation. In other words, formal procedures must be in place to protect and preserve nature, wildlife, regional history and customs, and to contribute to and support the local economy.
In Vail, plastic bags were banned quite some time ago and every public waste receptacle provides an education on items that can be recycled versus those that will end up in a landfill. There is also a profound focus on the restoration and preservation of natural resources and wildlife. Citizens benefit not only from an outstanding quality of life here in the mountains, but from a fabulous public transportation system and a push toward environmentally responsible affordable housing. All of these things (and many more) helped contribute to the title of sustainable destination.
All of the hoopla made me wonder how many travelers really consider sustainability when choosing a destination. According to recent research, that number hovers at just over half! As a frequent camper, the practice of “leave no trace” is a personal mantra, but I had no idea that so many other travelers prioritized it as well. It demonstrates that a zero footprint approach to travel should not end when the tent is packed away and the fact that one of the most popular resort towns in the world sees this is very encouraging.
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?
Day 132 of the Nowhere To Be Project brought me the sudden realization that I pretty much live out of a bag. I do have a home base that is filled with a lifetime of memories and possessions, but with a life of near constant travel, my suitcase definitely gets much more use than my closet. Even when I’m home (as I have been for the past couple weeks), I keep the bag packed.
You may be wondering what the heck is in this always-at-the-ready travel bag? Besides about ten monochromatic mix and match (always black except for summer when white is prominent) wardrobe staples, I have several must have items with me always.
1- Small Toiletry Kit stocked with essentials: medication, toothbrush, SPF moisturizer and lip gloss. I use a zippered clutch that doubles as a purse with a pop of color.
2- Eye-mask and Earplugs – I protect good sleep no matter where I might be in the world! These two are sleep’s best friends!
3- Inflatable Pillow and DreamSack – These small luxuries are the (slightly larger) natural extensions of the eye-mask and earplugs. They take just a few cubic inches of space yet create a clean sleeping space anywhere.
4- Smartphone with Charger – A globally-enabled smartphone is a no-brainer. It provides basic tools like a compass and flashlight along with the ability to communicate and stay entertained. Mine is loaded with favorite travel and entertainment apps.
5- Noise Canceling Headphones – The tiny pocket headphones that we all use everyday may seem more practical for some travelers, but I find that they are not as effective in noisy conditions…R.V., airplane, ship, etc. Noise canceling headphones make movies, music and audio books a possibility in any setting.