Sunday, July 22, 2012

Without you it would not have been the same.....

We have been fortunate to share our dinner table with a wonderful group - they added to our enjoyment of the cruise immeasurably and we will miss their companionship

Terry and Lilly

Bonnie and Suzie

with Jeff and Suni to keep us disciplined

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Some Final thoughts on retirement

This is one way to enjoy the retired life........

.......... Although there are alternatives one might consider?

New York, New York

Home at last - a lovely welcome from Lady Liberty

Halifax, Nova Scotia

 Back in North America and it feels very comfortable – had a wonderful set of experiences; but as you get close to the end, its hard not to start feeling restless.

Beautiful Atlantic port, Halifax has all the attractive features – moderate climate because of the ocean, hilly landscape, lovely and green, beautiful islands. long history.

On the day the city provided us magnificent weather. Clear skies and hot, albeit humid.

Colonel Edward Cornwallis (another Cornwallis?. ?The same one we keep tripping over in all the colonies?) led 2500 British settlers to establish a military outpost at Halifax in 1749.

A citadel was constructed on a hill overlooking the bay – design is star shaped just like the castle in Cape Town. They shoot off a cannon at noon – again like the noon gun in Cape Town.
Factoid – James Arnold (son of Benedict) planned and, from 1816-1823, directed its construction.

Ethnic cleansing has a history here – the expulsion of the Acadians (French Settlers) by the British.
One good thing; those that went to Louisiana (the ‘Cajuns’ from ‘Acadians’) built on their language, tradition and heritage and today we have silly TV shows and ZYDECO :-)

Given its location on the North Atlantic, and the geography of the bay, Halifax has played major maritime role and is best known as the major port in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

Three aspects of this are celebrated within a short distance of the ships gangplank along the spectacular waterfront.

First, Canada’s Immigration Museum at Pier 21 – the ‘Ellis Island’ of Canada – commemorates over a million new arrivals to Canada between 1928 and 1971.

Second,The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. We spent a fair amount of time here learning about the maritime history of the area - wonderful exhibits covering the days of sail and the age of steam as well as the ubiquitous small craft.

Special areas are devoted to the role of the Canadian Navy and merchant Marine in both World Wars. Halifax was a starting point for many cross-Atlantic convoys and had a close connection to the Battles of the Atlantic – minings, U-boats, surface battles and suffered many losses they memorialize.

The tragedy to most directly impact Halifax took place in 1917 when an ammunition ship and a cargo ship collided deep in the harbor. Sparks flew setting the ammunition ship afire and shortly afterwards it exploded. An entire area of Halifax was flattened and there was huge loss of life – amongst residents, spectators attracted by the fire and emergency services.
The museum exhibit is made especially poignant by the personal stories and mementos on display

Another area of the museum documents the importance of the transatlantic cables repeatedly laid deep under the for telecommunication between North America and Europe. These cables required maintenance and regular upgrading so there was an entire infrastructure to service this need.

It was the cable ships and crews that led to its connection with the Titanic catastrophe that represents a large part of the museums floorspace.

After Titanic struck the iceberg on April 14th, 1912, radio SOS signals were famously sent out with variable results. The radio station at Cape Race near here was one of the stations that received the signal and relayed the news to New York. These signals were transcribed and are on display here.

Early morning on April 15th Titanic sank. As the survivors were rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia it became clear that there were many who had died and the cable ships and crews from Halifax were quickly called in to retrieve what they could.

The first on the scene, the Mackay-Bennett, picked up 306 bodies.

Ironies then abound. They had limited logistics for handling this number so 116 were buried at sea. The next ship – the Minia – only found 17 more and buried two at sea. Those buried at sea; like those who failed to survive were predominantly Third Class passengers.

In all 209 bodies came back to Halifax – First Class passengers in coffins, Second and Third-Class in canvas bags!!!

The same distinction held true for those 59 bodies sent home – White Star Lines paid for First Class only.

The remaining 150 bodies recovered are buried in Halifax cemeteries. Mount Olivet (19), Fairview Lawn (121) and Baron de Hirsch Hebrew (10) Cemeteries. Many stones (provided by White Star Lines) are identified only as passenger or crew, male or female and a number.

I wonder how they decided who to bury in the Hebrew Cemetery? Hmmmmmm

At Fairview Cemetery a particularly popular grave that gets lots of visitors is that of J. Dawson the person on whom the Leonardo DiCaprio character in the movie is based

Among the debris was a lone wooden deckchair that is on display here and fragments of various wooden decorations.

No floating clothing was brought back but there is a pair of small brown shoes from ‘Body No. 4” a boy of approximately 2 years old – the only baby recovered.

DNA technology has been used to identify remains including that of ‘ unknown child’ who has been determined to be Sidney Leslie Goodwin.

The third element we enjoyed was the ocean lifestyle – yachts, motorboats, fishing, seafood restaurants and a very relaxed boardwalk with people just having fun.

The fish that they caught probably had less fun

Downtown lunch experience - Bud the Spud

Some take their sailing to the extreme - 'Tall Ships' are a big deal here. I wouldn't fancy the running up and down the rigging thing - though I'm up to book 15 of the Patrick O'Brian Naval saga

Also the motor boat decor - faux tropical island - what is that?

Among famous ‘Haligonians’ is Samuel Cunard - founder of the Cunard Shipping Line whose family made lots of money in the West Indies trade. He was born here in 1787 but founded the shipping line back in the UK

I feel its my duty to remind y’all that Cunard (QE, QM etc) consolidated with White Star Lines after the Titanic disaster and (pay heed here) still offers First Class vs Second Class passage.

Remember insurance to cover the costs, Cunarders all, especially Ye of Little Faith. 

Of course there is always someone who can sense an opportunity where others see disaster

Anyone out there have a pristine boxed set?

as we bid adieu to Halifax and went on to New York - the plaintive notes of the bagpipes - 'sail bonnie boat like a bird on the wing.......'

Monday, July 16, 2012

At Sea ..... the final lap

As we sail the four days from Shetland Islands to Halifax we have to start getting back into the mindset of what Merle calls “the real world”. Its true that we live on board in a state of somewhat suspended animation but I’m actually more OK with that than she. I’ve done the real world. Been there.

More to the point we are sailing in the Grand Banks right now – another place warm and cold currents intersect; another great fishing ground; thick mists and cool air.

We have passed within 350 miles of the final resting place of the Titanic. Tonight we’ll be 40 miles off St Johns, Newfoundland.

Halifax is our next stop – our pilgrimage to the burial ground of Titanic victims – recovered by sailors who went out after the tragedy to recover the remains. There is a Maritime Museum there that houses a Titanic exhibit.

Should be Interesting

Parenthetically, the Captains noon announcement informed us that there are no icebergs in our vicinity – apparently we now have really good early warning systems

On the other hand, we remain on “Red Alert’ on board ship because of a major outbreak of viral gastroenteritis brought on board by passengers embarking in Dover. Affected individuals are quarantined. We are no longer allowed to serve ourselves with any food or drink. The library is closed for disinfection. Surfaces are washed down every hour. Apparently we have no early warning system for those bearing the plague. A bell should precede them like in the old days.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reykjavik, Iceland

Its all about the experience you choose to have, really. Isnt it?

There is so much in this world to see and do you can have a voracious appetite for it all, grab as much as you can so none gets away; or you can suffer from anorexia taste none of it, waste away.

I find myself very happy right now just looking like Peter Sellars in Being There?

Heres one. Its after 11pm in the North Atlantic. This is the view from your balcony. Sun and Sea. Amazing.

Today we arrived in Iceland; sailed along the coast a way then into the protected harbor of Reykjavik. Arrived at 9am and we had all day here.

Our cruise brochure tells me that Iceland is a land of volcanoes and glaciers, lava fields and green pastures, boiling thermal springs and ice-cold rivers teeming with salmon we didnt see any of that!! (in fact we had a tour of many of the sights and cancelled). Parenthetically, everyone says it was all absolutely wonderful and a definite to-do some time.

As we sailed in we did get a good view of the green pastures and the distant mountains (with snow still visible on the slopes)

Skies crystal clear Reykjavik is one of the cleanest cities in the world because 95% of the buildings are heated entirely with geothermal energy from underground hot springs.

Houses that look like they have been here forever 

and Iceland does have a long long history. The ubiquitous Irish Monks seem to have been first here looking for solitude (!!!!) in the 9th century. Around the same time Vikings from Norway came to settle in 874 Ingolfur Arnarson arrived and is considered the founder of Reykjavik. Icelanders developed the first parliament in Europe in 930 (the Althing) it was a participatory democracy based on tribes represented by an elected chief.

This very advanced system resulted in a code of law and judicial system. Christianity brought monasteries and schools and it was during this time that the Icelandic Sagas were written.

Explorers from Iceland ranged far and wide. Eirik the Red discovered and colonized Greenland his son is better known Leifur Eirikson who beat Columbus to North America by almost five centuries!!!.

Sadly, changing weather patterns and disease caused this carefully crafted structure to fall apart. Civil war followed and eventually Denmark seized control and, in various forms, did so until 1944.

Iceland enters my recent consciousness for two main reasons

  • First, that in the recently past yuppy years Reykjavik was a very popular party place for the expensive weekend

  • Second, after the incredibly good years when Iceland boomed on the back of the finance bubble, it staged a spectacular collapse. It appears there have been no bailouts and banks (and investors) have gone under.

Today was spent wandering around wonderful downtown Rejkjavik.

What I enjoyed most about our day here was the sense I had of contrasts

Some of the buildings are constructed of stone block just as we had seen in Bergen. 

 Then you see the new all glass Harpa concert and convention center

And the futuristic Hallgrimskirkja Church the largest in Iceland looks like it could carry you into the heavens.

In front, a statue of Leifur Eirikson 

with a memorial plaque I found a bit abstruse

Far more of the down-town buildings are wood framed with corrugated iron siding (in the weather here wood or composite simply rots away).

Peoples individuality and sense of fun comes out in the bright colors they paint their houses

 In fact a love of color comes out in other ways the way they set up flower beds.

 Even the chairs and tables outside a restaurant.

 Many of the shops catering to tourists trade on past history in their identities 

but sell some of the most beautiful woolen goods knitted hats, gloves and sweaters. 

They offer passers - by the opportunity to add their contribution

Also lovely fur items but then take it a bit far by having donor beasts stuffed and on display.

 A store selling the most beautiful felted wool figures and animals made by the lady inside. She was busy making a puffin when we came in and allowed us to buy one. Merle admired some of the figures she had on display beautifully detailed. Great expressions. No, she said, she wouldnt sell these they meant too much to her!! A shop that wouldnt sell its wares. Different?

 The best jewelry on sale was simple, spare and striking.

A silver brooch

 Gold figures across the crack in this piece of rock wonderful to display

BUT sooooo expensive!!!!

A Fierce Norse Viking stands guard over small and vulnerable foreigners (unlike the tiny troll in Bergen who needed support)

 Some of the clothing stores offered startlingly colorful and striking fashions

And shoes

 And people watching was a source of great interest 

for the way they dressed

And also the street entertainment which ranged from buskers

  • to a young troupe in bright colors using their bodies as street sculpture as they moved up the street (which Merle missed because she was busy shopping so no photo)

  • to this lady doing a very carefully planned and measured street painting in coloured masking tape

the tours we had rejected offered whale watching and puffin observing.. out in the wild

we had the opportunity to view the final common pathway

Alex is a vegetarian???

As we approach the end of our wonderful trip, Reykjavik was a refreshing stop. I would be happy to visit the earths inner turmoil here explore its ventings, geysers and convulsions another time