Voyage of the Vikings

This cruise isn't exactly the route the Vikings took, since it both starts and ends in Boston, but it concentrates on Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, and hence the name. Mike and Sandy are on the 1350 passenger Veendam, one of Holland America's ships they haven't sailed before.


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Mike and Sandy are traveling with Daryl and Carol, cruise friends from Florida. Here's a picture of their dinner table group, a peek at the ship's observance of Sandy's birthday, and a hint why food is so hard to resist on cruise ships.


On its way towards Greenland, the Veendam stopped at two small towns, Corner Brook and Red Bay, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland Labrador. (This province is remembered as the place that graciously housed several thousand stranded trans-Atlantic fliers right after 9/11.) Corner Brook is a cute small town, but Red Bay would only qualify as a wide spot-in-the-road, where tourists mainly marvel that anyone would choose to live here.

Greenland, the world's largest island, is more than 98% covered by a huge ice sheet, with only the south edge (where most of the population lives) and a few spots along the coasts exposed. The Veendam came to the little town of Qaqortoq ("Kwa-core-tock"), on that southern edge. On Greenland, you can touch some of the oldest rocks on the face of the earth. (Iceland, like Hawaii, has some o f the newest.) The sun shone brightly during our visit to this tiny town, moderating the 40-degree air temperature. Not much to see, but we could easily imagine residents hunkering down in the winter, much as the Vikings did here some 400 years ago. As we left Greenland headed for Iceland, we traveled Prince Christian Sound and the "Ice Belt" just south and east of Greenland, where we saw lots of ice bergs, calved off the ice sheet. (You will recall some years ago a famous big ocean liner ran into a Greenland-originated ice berg with disasterous results.)

Luck eroded, and enroute to Iceland, the famously bad weather and high seas of the North Atlantic arrived, which didn't make for a smooth and easy ride on a cruise ship. Finally, Mike and Sandy reached Iceland, the second highlight of the cruise. Iceland made the news in 2010 when this snow-covered volcano erupted, cancelling air travel all over Northern Europe. (Here's also a local's picture from 2010.) Iceland is a cross between Hawaii (recent volcanic rock besides the roads, and Yellowstone (geysers and steam vents,) and maybe a bit of Wyoming (wide open skies and mountains)-- all in all, quite scenic - and although cold, the weather was clear for our visit. Reykjavik, sited on the southwest corner of Iceland, is a medium sized city, modern and clean, looking much like you see in Norway or Denmark. Here's their new concert hall, for example. A tour into the countryside near Reykjavik revealed big waterfalls, geyers, and glaciers. We learned the James Bond movie "Die Another Day" was filmed in Iceland (although the film's Ice Hotel is actually located in Sweden), and that Iceland has been an independent country since 1944 (unlike Greenland, which is still part of Denmark).


We continued east along Iceland's southern coast, planning to stop at a small isolated town. (More than half the population of Iceland lives in Reykjavik.) But high winds and seas made a stop there impossible, so we just waved as we went on by and headed toward Norway.


Rough seas notwithstanding, the Veendam reaches Norway, with the first order of business some scenic cruising in Geiranger, Norway's largest fjord, with its steep sides, snow-clad mountains, and numerous waterfalls. The picture-book little town at the end of the fjord provided opportunities to see nature, both of the real and the imagined kinds! A port call at the little town of Alesund (rebuilt mainly in Art Neuvo style after a 1904 fire destroyed the city), and at Bergen (Norway's second largest city but most popular with cruise ships, with a beautiful harbor, 18th century shop houses, and famous fish market) rounded out our 2015 study of all things Norwegian.


As a respite from the chillier parts of the cruise, the Veendam took a few days to visit the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Belgium (Brugge), and Ireland (Dublin). In Amsterdam, Mike and Sandy enjoyed the Rijs Museum, recently reopened after a 10-year updating. (Rembrandt would be proud!) It was fun dodging the speedy-but-silent bicycles, which are everywhere! They briefly fell off the wagon, taking a tour of the Heineken brewery, and then admired some of the many canals in Amsterdam. They found some wooden shoes, visited the Martime and War Resistance Museums, and, on their way out of town, passed through the locks keeping the North Sea waters out of the Amstel River.


Brugge is a cute medieval town with lots of canals ("The Venice of the North"). Sandy and Mike found the hotel where they had stayed some 30 years ago, and replicated their photo on the bridge just outside. (Awwww !) Oh, and they bought some Belgian chocolate, etc. in a bid to help the local economy. In Dublin, Sandy and Mike did the HopOn-HopOff bus to see the highlights, including a drive by the Guiness plant, and the new public art piece (the locals call it "The Spire in the Mire," since it was built on reclaimed land.) Dubliners seem to like rhyming names, as a statue of a buxom young woman selling apples on the street during the Depression is known locally as "The Tart with a Cart."


Now heading north past the coast of Scotland, the Veendam called at Torshavn, in the Faroe Islands, way out in the ocean, but legally part of Denmark. This stop was more interesting than expected, with beautiful scenery and a fun boat ride along the coast, to look for the cute but elusive Puffin birds. We saw some at a distance, but here's what they would have looked like during their mating season about a month earlier. Another curiosity was the sod roofs - said to be great insulation during harsh winters.


Then it was back to Iceland, this time along the north coast, where we called at 3 ports. (Iceland's north coast sits right on the Arctic Circle.) The first stop, Seydisfjordur, is a cute town of 1000 people or so, and the Iceland terminus for car ferries from Europe. Backpackers and small RVs come off the ferries to hike and camp all around Iceland. Akureyri is Iceland's 2nd largest city, and Sandy had previously organized a private van tour for a group of 10 of us. Our excursion included the highlights of the city, but also took us out into the country side to see hot springs areas, waterfalls, etc. Our last Iceland stop was in the far northwest corner at the little outpost of Isafjordur. It is situated on one of Iceland's large fjords, and noted for scenic beauty (like this huge waterfall), ruins of early Viking settlements, and the world's most northerly botanical gardens.


Whoa! Rough seas again (and dining room dishes falling onto the floor!) as the ship heads back from Iceland to Greenland. Having been away for several weeks, some of the floating ice had melted or drifted away, and our captain didn't have to dodge so much, as we once again navigated Prince Christian Sound across the southern end of Greenland. (Lots of glaciers still there, however.) An Innuit native family came out in their little boat to barter some things with our crew, and then we continued to the little town of Nanortalik ("Nan-nor-ta-lick") at Greenland's southwest corner. This is even smaller than Qaqortoq, with only 1 little general store -- so we were there for only half a day.


The Veendam returned to warmer climes, calling at St. Johns, Newfoundland. There Mike and Sandy found the "most easterly point in North America," a cape sticking out into the Atlantic. And next door is a little museum at Signal Hill, known to telecom engineers as the point where Marconi received the first trans-oceanic radio transmission, coming from England.



Thoughts on the ship began to turn to packing suitcases as the Veendam heads south, with quick stops in Nova Scotia and Maine enroute to Boston, the end of the Vikings cruise.



But the trip wasn't over for Mike and Sandy, who flew to Detroit for a visit to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Henry Ford went to great expense to buy, dismantle, ship here, and reassemble all sorts of famous buildings -- including Thomas Edison's laboratory in New Jersey (light bulb, phonograph, movies), and the Wright Brothers bicycle shop in Ohio (yes, those Wright Brothers) where the airplanes tested in 1903 on the beach at Kill Devil Hills were designed and assembled. Their trusty rental car took them to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a few relaxing days with friends who have a family compound on the north shore of Lake Huron.


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