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Nanortalik, Greenland

     After a fairly rough crossing we reached Greenland on Saturday,  July 19.  While at sea on the way we spotted some whales not too far from the ship. They were hard to photograph because they surfaced only briefly.  I’m not sure what kind of whale they were, but from the dorsal fin I would guess Orca. Not a very good picture, since I had to zoom out to telephoto & then enlarge it, but its the only picture of whales I have so far (hope springs eternal) so I am posting it anyway.. Other whales were spotted at other times by the officers on the bridge but we didn’t see them.

01.  At Sea 7-18-2014

     Greenland is the largest island in the world (I mentioned before that Australia doesn’t count as an island because it is a continent).  It was first settled by Europeans in the late 10th Century Eric the Red. The name derived from the color of his beard, not his politics or his baseball loyalties. A thousand years later a baseball player named Eric Davis, who was one of the best players of his era until he got hurt, was sometimes called Eric the Red because he played for the Cincinnati Reds.  But I digress.

     Eric was born in Norway, but his family moved to Iceland so his father could evade family vengeance for his murdering a man.  True to the family tradition, Eric was eventually exiled from Iceland for several years for killing several men (he was said to have a bad temper). He sailed west with a group of people & settled at the south end of the island. He decided to call it Greenland, according to the Icelandic Sagas, because he thought it would entice others to move there. Thus, Greenland was the subject of perhaps the world’s first real estate scam.

     The Norse lasted in Greenland for a few hundred years, but it was never easy to farm (mostly ice rather than green). We were told that Greenland has no trees, & we certainly didn’t see any there.  Apparently it is not known what became of the last Norse Greenlanders, but they had disappeared completely by about the 15th Century. Today Greenland is an internally autonomous territory of Denmark.

     Nanortalik (na NOR ta lick) was founded by Europeans at the end of the 18th Century but today it is pretty much all Inuit people. It has a long history of whaling but today its few hundred citizens seem to concentrate on fishing and a little bit of tourism (we were told that about 6 cruise ships visit here each year).  When several hundred passengers come ashore from a cruise ship the population increases many times over. It is a very colorful town of brightly painted buildings in a bleak but beautiful setting.

004.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014

     We came ashore from the ship in tender boats through a harbor full of icebergs. Very cool (not to mention cold). And remember, this is the middle of summer! Imagine what their winters must be like. I don’t think I would like living here.

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     We were given a brief & superficial orientation by a couple of crew members then walked around the town a bit. It was still pretty early in the morning. The terrain is very rocky with large expanses of yellow flowers that looked like mats.

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     We walked past the docks, which had piles of ship containers.  All of the food & supplies come here by ship & prices are, therefore, pretty high. We discovered that Greenland also has its own flag.

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Nanortalik means “place where polar bears go,” & we are told that polar bears do float in around here on ice floes in the Spring, but we didn’t see any this time of year. The city coat of arms, appropriately, consists of 3 polar bears. The Kommune (like a city hall) had an unusual sculpture in front that I think represents a whale’s head.

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     When cruise ships come to town the locals (Nanotorlikans?) put on a show. We attended this folk dancing & choir singing performance at the town cultural center. The dancing style was taught to the Eskimos here by Dutch & Scottish whalers and they have developed it into their own style.  It involves a lot of stomping and dancing in circles and was perfromed by teenage kids to the accompaniment of an electric organ played by an older man. One of the girls was dressed in the full traditional Inuit dress; we saw some just like it in the museum later.

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Next was supposed to be a choir singing religious & secular songs in Inuit language & style of 4 part harmony.  But they told us most of the choir were on holiday so there were only 5 people there to do the singing. They sang, in beautiful a capella 4 part harmony, several songs I didn’t recognize and finished with Amazing Grace in Inuit language. The older lady who sang soprano had a particularly powerful voice.

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This was also billed as a “Kaffe-mik” (coffee party), in which Greenlanders invite another family into their home for cakes & coffee on special occasions.  The “famous Greenlandic cake” turned out to be more like raisin bread than anything else. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t seem special either.081.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014082.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014080.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014

     Nanortalik has an “open air museum,” which consists of a building with some displays and several buildings dating from the 1830’s & 40’s, some of which also contain exhibits.  There are supposed to be artifacts from the original Icelandic Viking settlers of Greenland, but the labels in the museum were all in Inuit which, I am sure you will be surprised to learn, we cannot read. In the museum we saw, among other interesting looking items, some small carvings, about 6” that look like whale bone or ivory, and some expressionist looking masks.

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I mentioned that Inuit seems to be the local language, with little English spoken.  Below are some examples from street signs. So you can see why it would be difficult to find your way around without a map. Fortunately we had one.

043.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014092.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014

We walked around the “open air museum,” looking at the old buildings (all pretty similar with walls of granite stones) & climbed the steep steps to a watch tower located there.  This provided an expansive view of the town around it.

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In an old cooper’s house were exhibits about kayaks & umiaks, boats covered in seal skin that were used for whaling by the Eskimos (today, Inuit).  They don’t hunt whales any more & kayaks haven’t been used for hunting since the 1980’s. Today they use regular boats.  But the exhibit included a couple of umiaks & old kayaks.

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Prominent in town is the church, built in a distinctive style. It is over 100 years old. It was locked when we were there but I took a picture through the window.

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     There was a lot of fauna in the area, even though it looked like it would be inhospitable to plants. Most of the flowers were pretty small but colorful (like the houses).

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     Last but not least before leaving town, here are a few random scenes that didn’t fit anywhere else. Among other things, there were more huge ravens here & very craggy peaks I understand were carved by glaciers.

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     So we left this colorful & friendly remote town & tendered back to the ship.  From there the icebergs in the harbor could be seen clearly & we saw a few more as we sailed carefully away for a two day sail to Iceland. I like icebergs, so I will share a few with you.

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Finally, a couple of towel animals to tide you over until we reach Iceland.

05.  At Sea 7-17-201415.  Nanortalik, Greenland 7-19-2014

Red Bay, Labrador

     The next morning, July 16, found us in Red Bay, a city of a couple of hundred that makes Corner Brook seem like a metropolis. This was a tender port, so the ship anchored outside the harbor & we were transported in by tender boats, which are some of the orange boats hanging along the side of the ship. You have already seen that some of those boats are hanging above our cabin, so on this day we were awakened about 6:00 by the dulcet sounds of the boat being cranked over the side of the ship on chains & ropes. So we got up, had breakfast & boarded a tender for the town.

073. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014096. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014055. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

     In the 16th Century Basque sailors came to these waters to hunt whales. They spent about 40 years in this lucrative enterprise before their ships were impressed into the Spanish Armada. They seem never to have resumed this hunt, perhaps because most of their boats were destroyed by the English or perhaps because they had thinned out the whale population too much. Anyway, in the 1970’s archaeologists discovered that there was a Basque whaling station on Saddle Island across the harbor from Red Bay that had been forgotten for centuries. Since then a number of the building foundations have been found there along with a cemetery. One theory is that the town got its name from all the whale blood spilled in this harbor.

So our first stop was the local museum. There we saw a 400 year old whaling boat, which the Basques called a chalupa, that scientists recovered here. This is the oldest known boat of this type. Next to it is a mandible bone of a bowhead whale that is not much shorter than the boat. It takes some courage to go after a whale that size in a boat this small. On the wall was the skeleton of the fin of a Right Whale hanging next to a model of a Basque fisherman so you can see its size.

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   Our museum tickets included a ferry ride to Saddle Island, so that is where we went next. The “ferry” was really a small boat seating only 10, so we had to wait in line a while before crossing. The coast is very rocky & the water is very clear so you could see the rocks & plants under the water. There was a guy by the dock dressed as a Basque, looking a little strange but providing a pretty good explanation of the area.

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     Both sides of the harbor are full of large granite boulders & outcroppings and many fields of beautiful wildflowers of various colors, so this is a good place to show some of that.

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Here are some closer views of wildflowers.  I don’t know all their names, but they were very small & colorful. You may have seen some of these in the previous episode, but what the heck: they are still pretty. First some fields of flowers, then some portraits.

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     Once we docked on Saddle Island, only a few minutes in the boat but a long time waiting in line for it, we followed a path all the way across to the other side.  Various archaeological finds were marked by signs, but you really couldn’t see anything there. At the end was the Basque cemetery, but the only thing to distinguish it from the rest of the landscape was the small rocks in short rows rather than distributed randomly. We were told that scientists had found about 140 bodies in unmarked graves here.  It was unremarkable and we didn’t even take any pictures.

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     About halfway across the island archaeologists found a Basque boat under the water.  They photographed it & covered it up again for safekeeping, so you can’t see it.  But on almost the same spot is the rusting wreck of a boat that went down in the 1960’s (I think), some 500 years later.  That one is quite prominent & visible from the town as well as the island.

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All over the island were sea urchin shells.  The birds catch them and bring them here to eat, then leave the shells.  Some still had spines on the shell and some had completely worn away until they looked like christmas ornaments with one side bashed in. Back in Red Bay we saw a family of Inukshuks (“in the image of man” in Inuit) lined up in front of a house. The Inuit have made these for centuries as directional beacons.

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     So we left Red Bay heading north.  But that evening the Captain announced over the ship speakers that there was too much ice in the harbor at Cartwright for us to go ashore in tenders. Thus, we headed for Greenland instead, giving us two sea days before reaching Nanortalik. There were some rough seas on this trip, but at least the first evening out of Red Bay we saw our first iceberg! We would see many more by the time we reached Greenland.

110. Red Bank, Labrador 2-16-2014

Corner Brook, Newfoundland

     After two days at sea we docked at Corner Brook, a town of something over 20,000, early in the morning of July 15. We had been told the high temperature would by 60 and it would be drizzly, but it turned out to be a beautiful day with highs in the 80’s & lots of sun. It would not be the last time the weather turned out better than predicted on the ship.  We were told that Newfoundland is the second largest island in the world (Australia doesn’t count because it is a continent rather than an island). And we learned that Newfoundland is pronounced with emphasis on the last syllable, like “understand.” So “understand Newfoundland” should sound like a rhyme. Newfoundland & Labrador form a single province of Canada. They did not become part of Canada until 1949, on a close vote at that, in part we were told because some were worried that if they didn’t join Canada they would end up part of the United States.  Corner Brook was behind a hill from where we docked so I don’t have a picture of that, but here is the bay on which it sits.

117.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (bay panorama) 7-15-2014

     Instead of exploring Corner Brook we took an excursion to Gros Morne National Park. It turned out to include a 1.5 hour bus ride each way along with a lot of time on the bus moving around the park.  This part of Newfoundland is quite beautiful though, a haven for fishermen on its rivers & a center for logging.  At the dock is the pulp wood plant, once the largest in the world. Pressure from environmentally conscious customers, particularly Germany, has forced the plant to clean up its act so that today what is coming out of the smokestack is almost all steam. On the dock we met a “Newfie,” the friendly local dog variety, one of whom we were told won the Westminster Dog Show a few years ago.

137.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (pulp mill) 7-15-2014003.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014003.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

104.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock) 7-15-2014

     Our first stop in the park was at an overlook of a vast tundra full of wildflowers beyond which could be seen some impressive cliffs. We were told that under these cliffs is the largest inland fjord in the world, but we couldn’t see the actual water. I wonder what “inland fjord” means; I would have called a body of water surrounded by land a lake.  Maybe its the cliffs that make it a fjord, or maybe it is determined by how it was made. The features of this huge park were mostly formed by glaciers & plate tectonics, I think.

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The field around the platform was full of colorful wildflowers. Hard to photograph because we couldn’t leave the platform to get close to the flowers, which were quite small, but here are a few.

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The trees around here were mostly scrubby firs, with a lot of dead & dying wood.

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     Our next stop was at a lighthouse on Lobster Bay.  It is a small lighthouse in a beautiful spot next to a large expanse of water surrounded by mountains. Outside the lighthouse was a pole from which nautical signal flags were hung. There was a board with a key to the flags, which spelled out Veendam. So that was either cool or a bit creepy since they knew we were coming. Several large ravens were sitting on the tower of the lighthouse.

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Here again there were fields of colorful mixed wildflowers, leading all the way down to the water.

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     We stopped for lunch in a little town not far away. Unfortunately we could not have mooseburgers (we ate next door), but there was a nice view of the lighthouse from our restaurant.

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     After lunch we stopped at the visitor center, where we watched a video about the park. From its deck was a nice view of Gros Morne Mountain.  “Gros Morne” means “big hill,” & it sure is that.  We were told that the tops of some of these flat topped mountains were once the bottom of the ocean, but were thrown up by moving continental plates to their current height. Apparently scientists have come here to study what the ancient sea bottom was like. Our guide said that Gros Morne has the world’s largest concentration of moose, but this is the only place where I saw one. The moose are a traffic problem in this area; crashing into a moose is much more likely to kill you than hitting a deer (as often happens in our area of Virginia). Our guide told us he doesn’t drive in the country at night because of the moose danger.

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     Our last stop was at a scenic overlook of a lake. The only building was a gift shop, but there were lots of flowers & a beautiful view over the lake, which had a small fishing village on one shore.

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     So then we began the long bus ride back to the ship. On the way as the sun began throwing shadows we passed another lovely bay. We drove through Corner Brook before reaching the dock, but there wasn’t much to see, although there was a Walmart so you knew you were in civilization. Then the ship pulled out and we headed north.

101.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014101.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

MS Veendam

     After a slow, trying & unpleasant boarding process we sailed out of Boston at about 6:00 PM on July 12, approximately an hour later than scheduled.  On the drive up we spent the night in New Britain, Connecticut, once known as the Hardware City of the World, where we ate dinner in a German restaurant with an accordionist dressed in a lederhosen outfit who, surprisingly, could really play.  His best number was the Cream song “Sunshine of Your Love,” which we had never heard on accordion before & probably never will again. In New Britain was a bookstore with a weird display of plastic duckies in the window that Mary couldn’t resist. We stayed Friday night at a hotel in Quincy which will board our car for the duration & had a nice (but very slow) dinner with a dozen other Veendam passengers.

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     With two sea days until our first port I thought I would show you a bit of the Veendam. This is our first trip on a Holland America ship other than Prinsendam and also our first that isn’t a Grand Voyage.  Veendam is about half again as big as Prinsendam (capacity of around 1350 passengers) but the ship itself doesn’t seem all that much bigger. In the picture below, our cabin is located on the deck below the lifeboats at the back of the last orange lifeboat.

 veendam

107.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock) 7-15-2014107.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014107.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014109.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock) 7-15-2014109.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014109.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

     We are in Cabin 363, which is a Lanai cabin. This is an unusual kind of cabin only available so far as I know on a couple of Holland America’s ships. It is on the Lower Promenade Deck, which has an outside deck that you can walk all the way around the ship (a quarter mile for each circuit).  Instead of a window, a lanai cabin has a sliding glass door leading to the deck & there are two deck chairs outside reserved for the occupants. To answer some of the questions we had before booking this cabin: (1) the sliding door locks behind you automatically but you are provided with one plastic card that will open it from the outside, (2) lots of people walk by your door but it has a film on the glass that lets you see out through it but makes it look like a mirror from outside (except at night when you have to draw your curtains).

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Our room is near the middle of the ship (which means less turbulence, but a lot of noise on mornings when they lower the tenders early). The deck is pretty long, therefore, in both directions. Lanai rooms seem to be a little smaller than usual, although I’m not sure why since they are the same length as all the other rooms. Our room is definitely shorter & narrower than the ones we had on Prinsendam, but not by very much.  You quickly get used to it & the tradeoff for the door to the deck is worth it, even on a cold weather cruise on which use of the deck chairs is pretty limited. There is another door on the opposite side of the room opening to the interior hallway, with a very narrow corridor between the bathroom & the closets to get to it. It looks like storage space is pretty limited when you first arrive but it turned out we have plenty of space for all the stuff we brought.

DSC00025156.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014156.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014156.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014005.  On Veendam 7-14-2014006.  On Veendam 7-14-2014

Like Prinsendam, Veendam has an extensive & diverse collection of art, only a small sample of which is shown here (some of the paintings are reproductions, but very good ones). In the center of the ship is a 3 level atrium with a blue & green glass sculpture reaching all the way up.  By contrast the huge Celebrity Eclipse we sailed on in March had a 10 story atrium lined with glass walled elevators. The Holland America ships are demure by comparison.

004.  On Veendam 7-13-2014009.  On Veendam 7-13-2014144.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014144.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014144.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014145.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014145.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014145.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014146.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014146.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014146.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014150.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014150.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014150.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-201406.  At Sea 7-18-201404.  At Sea 7-18-2014DSC00298DSC0029409.  At Sea 7-18-2014154.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014154.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014154.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014153.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014153.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014153.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

There are several paintings of the Veendam, both the current one & two earlier incarnations from the 1920’s & the 1980’s.

148.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014148.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014148.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014152.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014152.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014152.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014151.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014151.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014151.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

Three often visited venues. First is the Showroom at Sea, which is a theater hosting lectures, shows & other entertainment. It is also where you wait to board a tender boat when the ship is anchored rather than docked. The Rotterdam restaurant is where we eat almost every night. On this trip we are doing “open” seating, which means you come when you are ready & wait for a table (or make a reservation, although we have found that doesn’t work all that well). On prior Holland America voyages we have had assigned seating at the same table & time every night. We actually prefer the latter for several reasons, but we are travelling with friends we met on our South America cruise who prefer the open seating. Third is the Espresso Bar, located right by the library, so you have a nice place to sit and read while you drink your premium coffee. As part of a promotion, HAL gave us each a drink card that allows us up to $50 per day in beverages that cost $7.00 or less, so we visit the Espresso bar just about every day. The card also buys us wine with dinner & beer with lunch, but there is no way we can drink $50.00 worth in a day (you can’t use it to buy drinks for anyone else).

001.  On Veendam 7-13-2014012.  On Veendam 7-13-2014DSC00295

The second-to-top deck contains the Lido buffet & the pool, which is covered by a retractable glass roof that comes in handy in these chilly climes. Near the pool is the Dive-In hamburger bar (where they don’t insist on burning hamburgers to a crisp as on Prinsendam) & a taco bar.  The buffet isn’t as accessible as on Prinsendam because they keep more of the food behind glass so you have to line up to get some rather than just taking it yourself. There is a performance stage near the pool, but there is music (often raucous) piped in to discourage conversation (apparently).

114.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014114.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014114.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014008.  On Veendam 7-14-2014115.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014115.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014115.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014139.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014139.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014139.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

OK, that’s enough for now until we reach an actual port. As is now traditional on this blog I will close with some of the towel animals that our room steward leaves on our bed every night. Sometimes its a little ambiguous which animal is intended, so I label them with my best guesses.  If you disagree, your guess is as good as mine.

DSC00009011.  On Veendam 7-14-2014015.  On Veendam 7-13-2014157.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Dock & Veendam) 7-15-2014157.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland (Grand Morne Park) 7-15-2014157.  Corner Brook, Newfoundland 7-15-2014

Voyage Of The Vikings

We leave home tomorrow to drive to Boston for a cruise on the MS Veendam to see the northern route to Europe.  Here is the itinerary:

Map of itinerary for 2014 "Voyage of the Vikings"

Before you ask, no we cannot pronounce all of these names, but hopefully by the time we get back we will be able to do so.  Holland America calls this the “Voyage of the Vikings.”  So is this just advertising or does this route fairly reflect the Vikings’ western explorations? (Of course the Vikings also went a lot of other places, including Russia, which is named after a Viking group called the Rus, and the Mediterranean.)  It looks fairly representative of their western voyages to me, but judge for yourself:

Map of major western exploration voyages of the real Vikings

Anyway, welcome aboard. We will be posting to this blog intermittently during the voyage, which lasts from July 12 to August 16, because the ship internet is sometimes buggy & there is only time to write blog posts on sea days & some of the sea days on this trip will involve scenic cruising that will preclude blog work.  Last year it took months after our return before the blog of our Mediterranean trip was complete; this one will undoubtedly be unfinished when we return but I don’t think it will take as long to complete (at least I certainly hope not).

Immediately below this post is another called “About This Blog (Revised 2014).” It includes an explanation of how all the parts of the blog work, so you might find it helpful to read it through. In addition, at the very top of the blog (above the header with a new picture of us at Ephesus taken in April 2013), is a text button labeled “About.”  If you press that button at any time while viewing this blog it will always take you to the “About This Blog” post with the instructions. The button next to it, labeled “Home,” will always take you back to the most recent post.

One more thing that some folks have missed: if you hover your mouse over a picture (ie. without clicking it) a caption will pop up. It will usually contain at least some identifying information, but may also contain some additional information, if we know any.

There probably won’t be anything more here until after we get underway next week.  See you then!

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