Wednesday, October 26, 2016

September Transatlantic Voyage

As with the last entry, this is more of a photographic essay of our recent European trip.  A description of the entire trip can be found here while the photographic summary of our week in London is here.

On September 5th we boarded the Caribbean Princess at Southampton for our return to New York City.  For us, it is a large ship, probably the largest we’ve been on, our preference being smaller cruise ships.  This ship has a gross registered tonnage of 113,561 tons, holding a maximum of 3,573 passengers and 1,227 crew.  Its length overall is 946 feet, merely 100 feet shorter than the Chrysler Building in New York City.  It went into service in 2004 and it is showing its age; I understand it is going in for refurbishing this coming spring.  It needs it.  Being an old salt, my first order of business when we got into our room was to inspect the sliding door to our balcony, knowing that was the only barrier between us and potentially high winds and pitching seas.  Although on the 9th level, I have seen seas that big in our travels.  The door could not be locked.  I examined the door hardware and it was completely corroded.  A sliding, unlocked door in heavy seas is a serious hazard, so I called the desk and to their credit they promptly sent up an engineer who took the door apart and replaced the entire mechanism.  I just wondered how the previous guests failed to note that.

Some other negatives was a library which was devoid of books– and with a full ship and people everywhere –I did my reading in our cabin without the constant interruptions from the activities director – “the casino is open!” or “try your luck at bingo!”  But, admittedly, the Princess Cruise line, like many of them, is trying to appeal to more of a mass market, endeavoring to squeeze every last buck out of each passenger.  The entertainment in the theatre was pedestrian, although they did have a couple of production shows which, for a ship, were decent, including one dedicated to classic Broadway shows.  These were high energy and enjoyable.  

But, please, spare us the comedians, the hypnotists, and the jugglers, etc.  We never went to those.  Actually, the best entertainment was a cocktail timed performance of a violinist and a guitarist who played classical and Great American songbook pieces in the atrium.  But try to find a seat with so many people!

Nonetheless, our choice of making this voyage was predicated on the itinerary and the timing, not the ship itself, especially with multiple ports in Norway and Iceland, two of our favorite places visited in prior trips.  So what follows is primarily a photographic record of our 17 day crossing.

First stop after 229 NM (nautical miles; 1 NM = 1.15 Statute Miles) journey overnight was Rotterdam.  Very little of the old city is left because the Nazis bombed it into submission in four days in 1940, the Netherlands surrendering after witnessing the carnage.   So the city was rebuilt, most in a stark modernist and utilitarian style, a city now of contrasts.

Then onto Bergen, Norway, 572 NM.  We had booked a side tour by boat of the fjords but after seeing Alaskan fjords on two different trips, this was a bit of a disappointment, but still beautiful.  The best part was the city itself and its architecture. 

Still, some of the most beautiful photos were ones on the way to the fjords.

After, lunch at seaside, from the sea,
to the table.....

Children on their way to school ...

A short 182 NM trip took us to Flam, the highlight of which was a trip on the Flam railroad and a brief stop at the Flam Kjosfossen Waterfall.

Along the route an amusing sign.

Flam is a picture post card town.

Then 100 NM onto Lerwick, in the remote Shetland Islands of Scotland.  The was to be a tender port and although the ship dropped anchor, due to Gale force winds and heavy swells, the Captain announced he could not commence tender operations, a great disappointment, particularly to the Scottish couple we sat with during lunch – their second such cruise to this destination and neither time could they disembark because of weather.  Thankfully, my telephoto lens brought some of the countryside into view.

A 686 NM journey over the next few nights brought us to Akureyri, Iceland.  It was FREEZING there. The highlights were the Godafoss Waterfall and their small but interesting botanical gardens (yes, a botanical garden in Iceland)!

Akureyri to Isafjordur was a 171 NM journey from hell -- a head sea of up to 27 feet, with a 40 MPH head wind.  But well worth those moments of fear, as the small town of Isafjordur (a year round population of less than the ship’s passengers!) had some of the most picturesque scenes, captured here:

Another 196 NM to Reykjavik.  We were last there in 2012 and enjoyed the 12 hour “golden circle” tour and saw that wonderful part of the country.  This time around we wanted to spend some time in the city itself but again there were near gale winds and it was a raw, drizzly day, not ideal for walking around.  We did disembark but after ten minutes outside we disappointingly headed back to the ship.  Also, that evening we were told that the ship could not leave port because it was pinned to the dock by wind.  The following day, we needed the assistance of two tug boats to pull the ship off the dock and turn it around.

And so began a five day 2,300 NM direct passage to Boston.  It was a relatively benign journey across the North Atlantic.  I noted that at times the ocean temperature was 41 degrees and at one point we passed within a couple hundred miles of where the Titanic went down.  Not much chance of surviving in such waters, hypothermia would be only minutes in those waters.  Those ocean days were great for reading, attending some lectures, going to a specialty restaurant aboard, courtesy of our travel agent, and just staring out at the ocean.

In Boston we spent a wonderful day with our son, Chris, who took off from work, to walk the Boston seaport with us, have lunch by the water and just enjoy being together.

Then, the long 360 NM cruise from Boston to NY, actually Brooklyn where we had been only a couple of months before on a nostalgic tour of my college days.

At night we passed Nantucket and Block Island where we used to take our own boat in my salad days and then finally south of Long Island, into New York Harbor, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, to our dock in Brooklyn, the dawn greeting us, the Brooklyn skyline in the foreground.  There our son, Jonathan, met us with our car and we began our drive back to Florida. 

I’d recommend a Transatlantic crossing for the experience, but this one, our fifth, will be our last. Our first was on the original QE2 in 1977.  The ship was built for speed, for a crossing, no stops, and a throwback to a transportation era now long gone.  In many ways, that was the most exhilarating crossing, subconsciously experiencing it as a multitude of prior generations did -- days at sea only, and then arriving at a distant shore.