Archive for the ‘Cruises’ Category

Today (Monday) we called at Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. This was definitely one of the calls we had most been looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. We docked at 8 o’clock. This was Azura’s first call at this port, and we learned that Azura is the largest cruise ship to call at Torshavn so far. Certainly it looked to be a tight manoeuvre getting into the berth – Azura had to be swung to starboard around the end of the pier which only extends from the bow to midships, and there didn’t appear to be much clearance as her stern moved to port. But we got in, on time, so we were happy.

We were booked on an excursion, “Scenic Faroes and Pancakes”. This consisted of a drive of an hour or a bit more to a very small village at the north of the islands. During the drive we went through a tunnel under a mountain and over a bridge “across the Atlantic”, between one large island (Streymoy, on which Torshavn is located) and another (Eysturoy). This bridge is referred to thusly because the water channel it crosses is indeed an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way the road climbed very high up steep hills until at one point, where we stopped for a photo opportunity, we were at a height of nearly 700 metres (over 2000 feet in old money). And it was a genuine 700 metres – we were looking down all of them, very steeply, to the sea at the bottom.

We spent over an hour at the little village and had refreshments, and then had the opportunity to stroll around. It was all delightful – dramatic cliffs and mountains, and the sea breaking on the rocks in the bay below the village. (Pictures in a few days.) Then it was back onto the coach to continue the drive with a couple more brief stops for photos and fresh air. Best of all, the route the drive took was very nearly circular, or actually “figure of eight” – there was very little ground that we covered twice. We did go over the bridge in both directions as that’s the only way of getting from one island to the other, but on the return to Torshavn we drove along the old mountain road that the tunnel replaced. The old road is still there, and still in use, but most traffic uses the tunnel – it’s a lot easier, especially in winter.

The scenery along the drive was really wonderful – high and sometimes craggy mountains dropping steeply to deep fjord-type inlets, with occasional settlements. Most are very small – the population of the Faroe Islands is only 50,000 and over a third of them live in Thorshavn, so almost all of the other settlements are very small, and generally getting smaller. The weather was very changeable – we went from bright sunshine to cloud to rain and back again several times. It wasn’t warm – 10° or 11° at best, and perhaps just 7° in the rain up in the mountains. It was very refreshing, however, and we both really enjoyed it. I have to report that we preferred this drive to the one at Akureyri in Iceland.

We returned to Azura at 1:30, had a quick lunch, and then went back ashore for a gentle walk around the old town for an hour or less. We didn’t even spend any money, so the Danish Kroner we’d brought with us have survived to fight another day. (They use Danish Kroner here, as the Faroe Islands are a self-governing country within the state of Denmark. The relationship is a little like that between Scotland and England but even more complicated – the Faroe Islands is not a member of the EU, for example, although Denmark is.)

There was one disappointment. As I mentioned in a brief post during the morning, it turns out that the Faroe Islands isn’t included in the new ‘free roaming’ arrangements (possibly through not being in the EU). When we were having refreshments on the excursion there was wifi but I only had my phone and therefore wasn’t able to publish posts already drafted on the iPad. This afternoon I took the iPad out with me on the walk around Torshavn, and found free wifi in the information centre at the cruise & ferry terminal. However, although I could connect to the wifi it didn’t seem to be connected to the internet, so I was still unable to post. Ah well – it will have to wait until Belfast  on Wednesday. But you’ll already know this because that’s when this will have been posted. (Update – I got a good connection as we sailed past the Hebrides, so you can enjoy it a day early!)

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I’m writing this at just after 4 o’clock on our second sea day in succession. The first, yesterday, was of course impromptu – we should have been in Reykjavik but were unable to dock because of high winds. (Incidentally, we heard from a couple of other passengers who overheard a crew conversation suggesting that the problem at Reykjavik was as likely to be difficulties getting back out of port in the late evening – we were scheduled to stay until 9:30 or so – as actually getting in.) Today was always going to be a sea day as we undertook the passage from Iceland to the Faroe Islands.

Once we’d got over the disappointment, yesterday was actually quite interesting. The on-board team pulled out all the stops to provide service during the day – waiters, waitresses and shop staff were dragged from their beds and put to work, and a programme of events was hastily assembled for the various venues. We spent a couple of hours in the theatre. First we listened to the members of the Headliners company describing their backgrounds and how they got into entertainment, the competition for jobs and the audition process for the company, and many practical aspects of their work. What was clear was that none of them just “got lucky” – they all knew that dancing and/or singing was what they wanted to do from a very young age, and they had all worked very hard for many years to gain the skills, qualifications and experience required to even get them into the competition. We also picked one or two interesting pieces of factual information – for example, that the ‘fly tower’, the area above the stage where scenery is held suspended and moved around, extends up to deck 10.

After that we stayed in our seats and listed to another of Priscilla Morris’ talks on well-known literary figures. Yesterday’s impromptu talk was on Shakespeare, mainly a brief overview of his life and the Elizabethan theatre, and was the first time the speaker had ever delivered that talk.

But the best part of yesterday – and the most frustrating – was that the weather was actually gorgeous for most of the day. Late in the afternoon we sat out on our balcony for an hour and I found it necessary to apply the sun cream. Then after dinner we ended up in the Planet bar and watched the most amazing sunset – yes, we were just far enough south for the sun to actually disappear below the horizon, and for the first time for a number of days it very nearly got dark. I hope to be able to post some pictures later.

If yesterday was unexpectedly good, today seems to have been less enjoyable. It’s been colder, for one thing – 30 knot winds – and often cloudy. The sea has been rougher and Azura is moving around a bit. I think a lot of people are feeling a bit stir-crazy, and everyone is secretly worrying about the call at Torshavn tomorrow. It’s a docking port, not a tender port so the call ought to be certain, but then so was Reykjavik. We’ll know early tomorrow morning.

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A quick update

We’re in the Faeroe Islands today. Unfortunately I’m not getting free roaming here so I can’t post using cellular comms. Right now I’m in a cafe in a small village on the northern edge of the islands that has good wifi, but I only have the iPhone and not the iPad on which several articles had been drafted.

Maybe I’ll be able to snag some wifi in Torshavn this afternoon, but if not further posts will arrive on Wednesday from Belfast.

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Money matters

The cancellation of the call at Reykjavik has focused my attention on another topic – foreign currency. On most cruises it’s just a case of getting €s, either in advance or via an ATM from a credit card. But credit cards often charge fees, and on this cruise getting currency in advance would be difficult – we’re nowhere near €-land. In Norway we needed Norwegian Kroner, in Iceland we needed Icelandic Kroner, and in the Faroe Islands we’ll need Faroese Kroner – although Danish Kroner will also work.

A few months ago I got a Caxton currency card. This was actually before a non-cruise holiday I had in Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai, all of which have their own currency of course. The card has to be loaded with GBP beforehand, but once that’s done I can draw money from an ATM with it, or use it as a debit card in shops, etc, up to the amount in GBP that’s been loaded onto the card. Best of all, Caxton give very good exchange rates – the daily mid rate. (Although you do have to be aware that many ATMs will offer their own, generally worse, exchange rate first – you have to reject this and ignore the stern warnings that the ATM then gives you.)

Back to the current cruise. I drew N Kroner and spent almost all of them so that was OK. Then yesterday we drew out 4000 Icelandic Kroner (sounds a lot but it’s actually about £35), and we’ve only spent about half of them – the balance was for souvenirs from Reykjavik today, of course. Anyone going to Iceland?

The good thing about using the currency card is that I didn’t get any Faroese Kroner in advance. Should our call there on Monday be cancelled, I won’t be left holding currency that I don’t think I’ll ever need.

Although I do have some Danish Kroner from a previous cruise that I was hoping to spend tomorrow….

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Reykjavik

…. has been cancelled!

Due to high winds Azura is unable to dock safely in Reykjavik so our call has been cancelled. So we have an extra sea day today,  a scheduled sea day tomorrow before our call at Torshavn on Monday.

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Isafjordur

Yesterday (Friday) we were in Isafjordur. This small port is in the West Fjords area of Iceland, and is very sparsely populated – Isafjordur, with a population of 3,000 or a bit less, is the principal settlement in the whole area. Traditionally it made its living from fishing and from basic agriculture – sheep farming and, interestingly, eider duck – but in recent decades fishing especially has been hit hard by quotas. Professional services, administration and tourism have taken up some of the slack.

This was a cold (5°), grey, overcast, windy and occasionally rainy day. Our plan was to go ashore and explore the town. On a nicer day we could perhaps have enjoyed the views of the old port and sat on a bench and enjoyed the sunshine, but with the conditions as they were the town was revealed as being very basic. (But fully equipped as far as the local people are concerned, of course.) So we walked around, admired the handful of older houses (early 19th century), found the town beach but decided not to walk on it, and generally strolled around. We did find two places that we enjoyed. First was the local Cultural Centre, which was in fact the local library and art gallery, and was housed in what looked like the grandest building in town. This was the former general hospital and dated from 1927 but which was converted into the library,etc, in the 90s after a new hospital was built. Visitors were certainly being welcomed, and I had a brief chat with the librarian about the weather. She didn’t seem to mind it – indeed, she commented that the winter had been very mild.

We mainly wanted to look at the art gallery. There were some older paintings, and a handful of old maps of the town and the area. These showed the development of the town and also the change in circumstances – a map from the 1950s showed a lot more structures (quays and sheds) associated with the fishing industry – today they’re gone. Best of all was an exhibition of photographs of the area and its people, especially the farming community. The pictures – all mono – were excellently presented: large, and framed. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the photographer or where they came from, but I got the feeling from the images that he or she must have been local (and known to their subjects) and with long experience of the area. I imagine that the images on display were selected from a larger number – I suspect that the photographer had engaged in a personal project over a number of years.

After that we went in search of coffee and refreshment and found them in a busy cafe-bar near the library. Very much a local’s place, we felt – at one point the harbour master wandered in for his morning coffee – and we enjoyed it. Val had a large slice of a very tasty cake, with numerous layers including a meringue-like topping, chocolate chips, and a sponge. I had to help her finish it….

After that we decided we’d exhausted the charms of Isafjordur and headed back out to the ship. Alas, this involved a half-hour wait for a tender, queuing in the cold wind and the rain. If we weren’t cold when we joined the queue we certainly were when we got back to the ship. The whole process, including boarding the tender, the trip to the ship, and then disembarking the tender and boarding the ship took almost an hour.

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Akureyri

Yesterday (Wednesday 22 June) we were in Akureyri, in North Iceland. This is very close to the Arctic Circle – the town is at about 66° N, and it sits at the southern end of a long fjord. The weather decided to smile on us – we arrived to broken cloud with patches of blue sky, and it improved steadily through the day. Temperatures weren’t high – it reached perhaps 12° or so – but the wind was very low so when we were in the sun it felt warm.

 

We were booked on an excursion, “Jewels of the North”. This was five and a half hours with visits to four sites, and included refreshments. The description promised 1 3/4 hours of walking, but in practice I don’t think it managed that. The sites included the Godofoss waterfall; an area of geo-thermal activity; and then two spots where there were strange lava formations in the landscape. These last two were in separate locations close to Lake Myrvaten, which is described as one of the highlights of northern Iceland. And of course the other highlight was driving through Iceland itself and enjoying the wide-open landscape.

I suppose that the excursion just about met its description. However, there was a lot of time spent on the coach and the “1 3/4 hours walking” was actually split between the various sites, so nowhere got more than 30 minutes. This was a pity as we felt a bit rushed everywhere we went. At Godofoss, for example, we’d have loved to have maybe an hour to enjoy and explore it, but that wasn’t possible – 25 minutes was it. It also didn’t help that there were at least three other P&O coaches doing the same excursion, so when we arrived at Godofoss we were among a good 200 people scrambling around. (I leave you to imagine the queue for the loo at one stop with three coaches arriving…) But it was better than not seeing the sites, and thanks to the weather everything looked wonderful.

The weather did produce one drawback. The sunshine and comparative warmth, together with the low wind, meant that Iceland’s equivalent of midges were out in force, especially at the sites around Lake Myrvaten. Fortunately the geothermal area, with its sulphur-accented clouds, was much less affected.

We got back to the ship at 3:45 which was actually about fifteen minutes late. Then we sat and relaxed for a couple of hours before sail away. This turned out to be very special – the weather had continued clearing and for most of our progress up the fjord we were in bright sunshine with excellent views over the mountains on either side.

The clear weather continued throughout the evening and I resolved to take a “midnight sun” picture at the appropriate moment. In the event the fog rolled over the ship around 11pm but I resolved to take the picture anyway. By 11:45 or so Azura was sounding her fog horn so I wasn’t expecting much, but just before midnight they fell silent and I got the image below. Not bad in the circumstances, and it certainly shows that there was still daylight at midnight. It’s possible that if I’d gone up to a high deck I might have been above the mist.

 

 

Tomorrow (today as I write this) we’re in Isafjordur. I’ll publish a post about it tomorrow, but here’s a spoiler: it was very different!

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