TUESDAY was the BIG DAY;   we’re finally on our way


To get you in the proper mood:  DID YOU KNOW THERE WAS A FOOT TUNNEL UNDER THE THAMES? 2***

  The plane doesn’t leave until 10:15 PM - THAT’S PM! This means we’ll have an entire day of waiting.  How am I going to deal with this?   I found a good use for that time -   all,  ALL the plants needed watering:  How could I have forgotten that?                             

Allowing the three hours required for overseas flight, we’d be expecting to get to the airport by 7:30.   What happens to dinner, not to mention the most important part of any trip – the martini?  I’m sure they’ll feed us dinner on the plane-  at 11?   This is NOT CONVENIENT.  Who  ever said there was anything convenient about traveling?  Must be nuts or have a personal jet.  I compromised somewhat and fudged a lot;  we  got to the airport at 6:20,  this gave us plenty of time to take advantage of the much appreciated   business class lounge, and  with very careful time management and plenty of cheese, crackers, nuts and chocolate covered mini pretzels I was  able to restrict  my martini ingestion to an almost reasonable amount –knowing full well that all of this will reappear once we board the plane.  I’m counting on my strong constitution to see me through the rather strenuous demands surely provided  me tomorrow when we land.

WEDNESDAY, and ARRIVAL in LONDON proceeded very well and as planned, and I was thankfully  none the worse for wear when we landed.  Very luckily as well as something to be very thankful for, was that we managed to get to the ship after the  time they would be permitting cabin occupancy.  The possible time discrepancy here can be a huge bear – there have been times when we’ve had to cool our heels in a hotel lobby or dockside warehouse facility for hours.  I don’t know whether they’ve actually learned or we were just very lucky with the timing.  Either way – terrific. 

Everything is rosy;  we’ve managed to attend to all our needs, It’s a reasonably  early 3:30, the temperature is 90o (amazing and probably thanks to global warming), and all systems were go for my first full scale cruise objective;  the pool, the bathing suit, and the Tower Bridge. 

Small problem -   there was NO WATER  in the pool!! And tons of different excuses for why not.  

this is not a propitious start considering the fact that they are in competition with Seabourn.   They lost a ton of pluses with this failure.    I trust things will get better – has to.

I never did get that photo -  but so what?  It was a fun idea.

   THURSDAY:  and we have an unscheduled day – in  London- imagine.

Everything proved to go swimmingly (surprise, a totally unexpected  pun); we started the day with  our lovely much anticipated breakfast -  there are certain things on cruises that I have a strong desire for, one of which is  breakfast. *1

That being accomplished, and at a perfectly reasonable and respectable time, we were off for our day’s visit to the great city.  First order of business was our traditional visit to the Tower of London to greet The Crown Jewels.  The Tower entrance was an easy ferry ride across the river and a teeny bit up the hill and, as we had followed  good advise and procured tickets at home, and there were  amazingly few people, we were through the gates and up the hill in a thrice and walked right in to  visit the stunning gems.

  We then proceeded further up the hill in pursuit of one of our favorite city activities;  an around the city excursion on a Hop-n-Stop tour bus – a quick and  leisurely way to catch what’s going on.

4 pm and we were back to the ship for the required life boat drill.

  5 pm and THE BIG MOMENT IS UPON US – it’s time to caste off our lines and commence our progress through the Tower Bridge and down the Thames to the English Channel and beyond.


The sun was shining  brightly, the champagne flowed freely, we were all comfortably ensconced  in our seats ……   we’re all settled in to enjoy a truly stellar experience. 

 TA TA!!!   

slowly we left the pier … the bridge opened, the spectators on the bridge commenced waving and clapping, and to  the accompaniment by the strains  of  ‘ON BRITANNIA wafting  from above,  we made our stately way between the two towers and we were on our way:  

                                             +++      BACKWARDS   +++


 (it may not seem  very dignified but who’s quibbling?)  

There was a narrative, inaudible to us on the lower deck, which accompanied us probably a good way down the river – unfortunately I was unaware of this (until I was in the shower) so I managed to miss it – too bad.

It was time to move on to the always eagerly anticipated–shower and a few martinis. *3

We got to the bar early enough to snag seats  by  a window where we sat sipping our martinis and watching the shores of the river glide by.

  I knew a lot of changes had been made to the area east of The City:  what used to be ancient decrepit warehouses and other industrial detritus and therefore totally undesirable property,  has been redeveloped and is now  very  upscale incredibly designed housing – the kind I so enjoy seeing.

I knew it was unlikely that I would ever have a chance to see it otherwise so I found this, if just a mere peek, to be very enjoyable. 

 Eventually the landscape became lower density and continued that way for some distance.  Although it is apparently  highly developed on both sides, there are purportedly  no connecting bridges east of the Tower Bridge.  ***3  Could it be possible that no one is determined to commute to the other side of the river?   That did seem rather odd to me and not too likely either. And it is a  goodly  distance to the English Channel indeed. – room for plenty of bridges. 

So we’re gliding along enjoying the view when what to my wondering eyes did appear:

 A CABLE CAR  -- of all things.

There is the cable car I have asserted is a required entity for most serious tourist destinations.  Looming behind it in the far distance across the marsh is what looks like a rather imposing metropolis – what on earth could that possibly be that I’m totally unaware of? What can I possibly make of this apparition?  Ooo was I puzzled.  Somehow I’m not left with the impression that this is a viable solution to the commuting problem -  it really doesn’t look sturdy or significant enough and it’s stretching a long way across the river.  Actually this looks like an excellent spot for a GREAT BIG theme park – like Disney World England maybe?  Never.  marshes are just made to order for this kind of enterprise and God knows there’s probably not a country on earth that can afford to ignore the possible tourist trade with its prodigious income  possibilities.   I wouldn’t be surprised – but disappointed yes.  I just can’t see this as a viable addition to the British landscape. ***4

FRIDAY and we had a welcome  DAY AT SEA.  Usually this comes the second day onboard permitting time to relax, acclimate, get your bearings ,and learn to  find your way around the ship.  Fortunately we could skip this; it’s a tiny ship with a very familiar layout,   but there’s almost  always a need to  get over jetlag.   We had that day in London instead.

There is finally water in the pool. I’d sure love to know why there wasn’t any in the first place, but I’m sure I’ll never find out.  It’s here now and that’s all that counts.

 The sun was shining and it seemed to be a reasonably warm day: I finally got my chance to try the pool.   I loved it of course; it was like ambrosia to me.  There is nothing like a sunny (admittedly hotter would be better but considering what it might have been….) reasonably warm day in a salt water pool – which also just happened to be heated. I was fortunate to have this day,   because from then on it was just too chilley and there was no time anyway.  

We were close to the mainland of Cornwall  for our cocktail hour martini, so we enjoyed the view of Lizard’s Point and Land’s End  visible in the distance.  This is one of my favorite places – I waved. 

SATURDAY is our first land fall of the trip and it was the town of CORK in the Irish Republic. This was one of the stops I was hoping to check on for past memories. We had elected to skip the walking tour in town in favor of my preferred  drive  (minimal walking and some local scenery) in the countryside. it was a fine sunny day and the temperature a very comfortable  68o or so;   We had a pleasant afternoon, but aside from my bid to leave a bit of largess this time in the form of a neat pair of earrings, and a bunch of not very great harbor boat photos, I wouldn’t say I got a great deal out of that stop.   

 I’m sorry to report there was nothing even vaguely resembling that hill or it’s lonesome pier.  Cork was not far from that drop off and perhaps there was a good reason for not entering the harbor;  not worth the extra miles for the ship or perhaps the harbor was mined.  

 And it’s time for our evening ritual – martini time in the bar.

“In Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty”;  and  it’s a  lovely sunny cool Sunday as  we set off to explore the city of DUBLIN – “THE CITY OF BRIDGES”  with the admirable guidance of a most  informative and entertaining of guides  – she sang ditties and told tall tales to further and delightfully illustrate her subject.

I was impressed enough that I even started taking notes – it’s taken me FOUR DAYS to get into the mood but the visit to Dublin was so full of memorable gems that it did the trick and inspired me to start putting pen to paper.  

The major objective  of this stop  was to view  THE  BOOK OF KELLS;  this was one of the items I mentioned at the beginning as being of special interest.  The Book of Kells is a magnificently  illustrated manuscript wrought by monks in the 9th c.  I have admired it especially for the beauty of its exquisitely intricate  detailing and lovely Celtic design for a great deal of time, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to view it in person. The fact that it has survived at all and in such a very fine condition is absolutely amazing. 

It is housed and displayed at Trinity College and at least partially to keep us entertained while we stood in line our guide took the opportunity to make note of the fact that the curriculum of this institution  included  a “Transition Year” –a year in which the students are encouraged and assisted in realizing  a practical objective for their lives.  This would  include  otherwise neglected subjects such as liberal arts and she added the sciences (I hadn’t thought of that as being neglected but I suppose the most popular  subject is computer science). as well as an internship which would afford actual work experience.  I was impressed.

There was a very long line of people waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of this treasure.  That was ok;  it was a lovely warmish day,  we  were not uncomfortable and were surrounded by the timeless beauty of the college campus.  We finally made it:  it was being displayed in a lit glass case in the middle of a small room jam packed with intent viewers, and there was absolutely no control over the crowd. You were very lucky indeed if you managed to get as much as a peek.  Ummm – I hate to say this but…. The best way to appreciate the beauty of the work is to go to your local library which almost certainly has entire books pertaining to the Book of Kells and/or  its Celtic illustrations; and that’s not even mentioning the internet.

We then climbed a flight of stairs and were confronted by the absolutely mammoth doors to a huge  and very ancient library. Yeah!  I was totally blown away and I had no clue whatsoever of its presence.  It’s actually supposed to be the longest library – I don’t know of where, but more impressively it is one of the world’s great research libraries.   There were stacks and stacks extending  far off in the distance,   and shelves and shelves reaching way up to an almost invisible  ceiling of ancient tomes  and each of the stacks was fronted by a marble bust of some ancient figure of the past.  Awesome to be encircled by such a wealth of KNOWLEDGE.

There are two cathedrals both being of the Anglican  persuasion,  which is amazing considering that  this is a Catholic Country. This fact is attributable to Henry VIII and his notorious  matrimonial problems which precipitated  his exit from the Catholic church and therefore all things Catholic.    He changed them to Anglican and no one ever got around to changing them back. This seems rather strange to me but I’m not too conversant in this subject.  I was absolutely delighted when both sets of bells commenced serenading  us ; there is hardly any sound more ethereal and we never have the pleasure of chimes anymore – I gather there is some thought they are noise pollution, but definitely not to my mind  – another example of lessening the of quality of life.  

 Henry is also blamed for the strange fact that the Patron Saint, Saint Patrick, of this so- called Catholic country is in fact a non-catholic.  I’m a bit foggy about the ramifications inherent here but I could see it was an issue so I looked it up. ***5.   The main thing was he wanted to get rid of everything Catholic period so he simply announced that St Patrick was Episcopalian  -end of sentence, period.  So be it ----

And then we have one of my favorite collections; the tour stories…  I have always loved the tour guide jokes, I’ve transposed tons of them in my journals. 

And it is here I feel compelled to append a disclaimer:   authenticity be damned.  

In quite some years past  it was traditional to have one bath a year, that being in May whether you needed it or not,  the logical result of this was to  determine that weddings would be  in June - actually a lot still are, but hardly for the same reason.

And then there was the gentleman around town who had a deaf wife and 21 kids.  How did that happen?  The story goes that, as he and his wife  got into bed, he voiced the question “should we go to sleep or what?  Whereupon she responds “what?”,  and thus starts another kid.  Well, I like it.

The city is resplendent with and is known for its multi-hued doors…it seems Queen Victoria ordered the doors painted black in mourning for Albert, but the Irish being Irish and very independent, they proceeded to paint their doors in the most astonishing array of colors imaginable their excuse being that this enables them to locate their house when they are drunk.   I believe this one.

Then there was Oscar Wilde: Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin he did however die in Paris, where it is reported his last words were “Either the Wallpaper goes or I do – the wallpaper is still there.

There is a statue of Oscar Wilde draped across a rock in the local park which she termed “Fag in the park  -on the slag/rock? “Darned, it sure got my attention but I missed that. 

Our guide made it a point to show us a door in the Cathedral which happened to have a hole through it.  Presumably it is the famous location from whence came the popular expression  “to chance an Arm”. This one didn’t mean much to me- never before heard the expression- but I’ll watch for it in the future.    

According to our singing guide and her delightful rendition of the old , well known,  vastly popular  song pertaining most specifically to this , “Molly Malone”:   Molly apparently actually possessed multiple popular  nicknames: “Trollop with a Scallop”, and “celibate to boot” or sell a bit here and sell a bit there”.  And with that our delightful guide surely put Dublin on the map for us newcomers. She was a real performer.

A popular sentiment  heard on this trip was  that “President” Trump’s mothers name was Molly Malone and was a local – of wherever we were standing at the time.   I’m very puzzled about this….how many Molly Malones are there; could there be other Molly Malones?  A succinct part of the lyrics involved the fact that she was a “trollop” ie. “tart”.    You don’t suppose this was a political statement, or is it true?  Oh, another one for Google.-later.***6

Her parting words were: “May you all die in heaven a half an hour before the devil knows you are dead”.

 Well,,,,,   I had to think about this one.  Sounded rather dire to me but eventually I decided that it was actually a totally friendly and benign “ blessing”,,,,,,,,,,,,

We meant to spend the afternoon enjoying a Hop-n-Stop tour of the city but we got distracted by a display of paintings hung on the fence surrounding the very beautiful and extensive central park.  Being an ex -participant of such exhibits I was particularly curious to do some comparison snooping: fortunately I have finally become immune to the purchasing of art– actually to be more truthful, there wasn’t anything which even whispered to me.

We missed the Hop-n-Stop tour but I’ll be willing to bet that our drive this morning was quite an adequate introduction, so I’m not going to feel bad.

Tonight we shall be leaving the Irish Republic and entering Northern Ireland, UK.

To celebrate or may I more correctly say to punctuate and recognize the soon to be essential difference between the two, we have been asked to retrieve our passports from the Bursar’s Office  in order to present them to  UK customs officials to receive an official entry stamp,  we will then return them to the ship’s care.   A little ceremonial activity  either for practice or to prepare us all for BREXIT.  This does nothing but remind me of what a cockup that is -  there’s much evidence that this exit was not at all thought through.  I think the whole thing is very unfortunate.  I’d like to see complete elimination of all country borders – HA!  I do understand the issues here and I shall continue my close attention to future developments.

All official exercise aside, it is now time for the bar.  Apparently I was beginning to work up some energy because I made a note of a possible epiphany I experienced with the evening martini.  And I must have been feeling particularly happy – that really was a good tour we had today.     This time it apparently involved becoming a permanent fixture on this cruise line, so it went:  In order to continue with Silver Sea we can sell the house, and sell the furnishings pets included – probably couldn’t afford if for long anyway..  Well, it made me laugh.

It's MONDAY  and we’re docked in BELFAST and very shortly we set off on our 8 ½ hour scenic drive along the Antrim Coast;   world famous for its scenic beauty and the  location of my much anticipated visit to  THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY.

I was somewhat leery about the distance;   it was just recently that we experienced a trip of similar length to Marrakech and I’m slightly reluctant to admit that it proved to be both  lengthy and tedious. Fortunately there proved to be a world of difference between the two,  thanks to  the glorious and ever changing scenery.

The coastal drive was magnificent;  quaint villages, verdant countryside, rugged coastline .  – unfortunately we were  on the wrong  side of the bus- beautiful landscape anyway.  For the most part the weather was perfect except strangely for one stop only when  suddenly  we were in the middle of a cloud pouring heavy rain).  Apparently we missed a bridge dangling high above a chasm;  one which presumably only the very daring were brave enough to attempt.  You know that wouldn’t have happened anyway so, in my opinion at least, nothing was lost. 

 The sky was clear when we arrived at The Giant’s Causeway.  This is a National Heritage Site which consists of a geological formation of basalt frozen into 5-sided pillars.  It is not necessarily unique or rare but it is the extensiveness  which is so unique.  I’m a rock hound  so there is no doubt that I  should love it.    

I was prepared for an extensive and uncomfortable walk.   I tend to figure that if it’s worth doing at all it’s also worth a bit of suffering; fortunately that wasn’t so relevant this time.  There was a convenient shuttle to reach the shore and the objective – the rocks.

 I am sorry to report that  it did turn out to suffer much the same fate as the rest of the major world’s destinations – on a very much smaller scale of course. The first view you have of this awesome formation of rocks  was in fact an unspectacular rather limited   area of clusters of nubs of pillars with people crawling all over them.  What a disappointment.

So what happened?

A large part of the problem is that of  perception.  If you were  knowledgeable and had done your homework there’s a very good chance that you had created a pretty solid  notion as to what you were meant to see, thus automatically starting out at a distinct disadvantage.  A certain amount of that is unavoidable in today’s era of mass information;  in this case it’s the publicity shots and  being professional can be nothing but spectacular optical illusions.   So what have you got?  GREAT EXPECTATIONS.  I know, I keep trying for the ideal and that’s so useless.  I should never go to these highly publicized destination, I do so hate to be disappointed.

Fortunately I don’t give up easily:  A short walk beyond and around a corner and you are rewarded by a much more impressive view.

  I really find this situation strange;   why wasn’t it presented better?   (we certainly do know about the tendency to climb all over National Treasures: we had the same experience eons ago on our first few visits to Stonehenge – they’ve got it all policed now -  it actually was a much, much better experience than is offered now,  but – can’t there be a happy medium?)

  There was a fine gift/tourist shop and the shuttle was operated very well, but.…..

 Final impression: It was ok but not the spectacular experience I was expecting.  I got the gist; I do have a good imagination, and I quite enjoyed the expedition.   I shall check the online comments. ***6

  Our break for Lunch (which just happened to be dinner-sized in portion) took place in a Golf Club which was highly praised for the fact that is was   expected to host maybe the National Opens in the near future (ok, I got the message).  The meal was my personal version of the British menu for Xmas dinner  – roast beef, mashed potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding – another yummm. 

We were informed that from this spot it was possible to view Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and Scotland – I was going to ignore that but then it occurred to me that this actually was quite a feat.

Obviously we saw nothing of the notorious Belfast.  The name echoes in my brain as the major player in that really hideous  and not so distant past political battle.    It is now being touted as the safest place in the world – something to be very thankful for indeed and I hope it stays that way – maybe having become a popular tourist destination will help that objective a lot   – tourism certainly can be good sometimes.   

This cruise featured many whiskey tasting tours;  that makes sense as I gather this whole area is known for producing the very best whiskies– I love it (not the whiskey) and this was one of the primary  locations for that  activity.  The only other bit of enlightenment  was that the Titanic was built here -  that ship seems to be everywhere, or is it just because it’s such a guaranteed  tourist draw. 

We have crossed the Irish Sea and are now in SCOTLAND.

We will be in the HEBRIDES ISLANDS for two days stopping at TOBERMORRY, capital of the Isle of Mull, and further north the island of ULLAPOOL.

I mentioned Egg, Rum and Muck as strategic stops on my board game as they are the only way to    cross the Irish Sea to Ireland.  Tobermorry serves the same purpose – it too has a ferry to Ireland but just not with  such a whimsical or memorable name.

There are so many similarities between these two islands, and the whole of Scotland I gather, that for efficiency I have elected to combine them here. 

There are two major issues which need to be mentioned.

 The most important, as well as being extremely detrimental, being ++ “THE CLEARANCES”.  This was our first encounter with this and the consequent horrors which resulted.  It was a real eye opener to me – I knew nothing of this. 

Early existence in Scotland was supported or   by subsistence farming and fishing.     Living was minimal at best but it was self- sufficient until the arrival of the Scottish Lairds with their assuredly  aggressive intent in the pursuit of personal wealth.  

the commonly related story about what transpired was: it was deemed that people were too expensive, so they tossed out the people and replaced them with more cost-effective sheep; the sheep in turn suffered the same fate and were replaced by trees,  which meant  they cut down all the trees.  It seems obvious that it wasn’t long before they ran out of trees. Presumably they have thought better of the removal of the trees -wait a minute, I saw them harvesting trees, anyway  they claim they are replanting them with indigenous species- I can only hope.    it doesn’t seem that they removed the sheep though and I’m really not entirely convinced  that this was the sole reason for the complete lack of trees and consequent  barren appearance, but judging from the final outcome….

The result of all this devastation  was destruction of the  existing economy,  the social environment, and not to forget  the environment.  It caused  loss of land and  grinding poverty  and resulted in a great part of the population immigrating most frequently to Canada.

 This was without a doubt the single most negative occurrence to affect this country and its history.

The Hebrides Islands also suffered from the potato blight - most often associated with the desolation of Ireland.

I have seen this lack of trees elsewhere in the world and have  been told the trees were cut to be used for ships, housing, etc.  I wonder how prevalent this situation actually is.   I’ll have to do some checking. ***8

  In big letters in my notes I have the slogan CONVERSION OR CONVICTION and it took me some time to realize what it was and why I had made such a point of emphasizing it. 

In 1600 James I of Scotland inherited the throne of England thereby becoming James 1 of Scotland and James VI of England and Ireland –whew, talk about multi-tasking. 

This was a major event in the history of this country:  all of a sudden the Scottish were citizens of England and automatically subject to all the appended and often egregious rules and regulations that came with that status  whether they wanted it or not.  the result of this was (actually very dramatic) tons of descension, occasional huge battles early on, and there still is some degree of antagonism.  Of course they wanted self-rule but perhaps the biggest negative was that it was a Catholic country forced to become Anglican. And this is where the slogan “Conversion or Conviction” fits in.

There are other similarities but none as overt as these. 

how truly unique this area, this cruise and trip.  This was when I first became aware of the presence of such delicious attributes as   peace, quiet, no crowds, lots of sky, no stress, no pressure,  lots of landscape,  no traffic – no cars (almost).  It was just plain WONDERFUL.  So unique for being a cruise destination, and a very plus factor of this trip.  The first appearance on my horizon and I loved every minute of it.

There is evidence of every variety of land mass imaginable and all of it “in your face” therefore fulfilling   a geologist or rock hound’s phantasy.   I’m crazy about rocks and being from Virginia I suffer from a severe starvation of rocks to admire, so I was “bowled” over.  There is all kinds of volcano detritus, there were mountains of horizontally stiped sedimentary layers, glacial remains from the ancient ice age like  v-shaped valleys,  tarns, erratics, the works. (WIKIPEDIA says I should  be clearer and call them “glacial “ erratics. Ok.  Oh how I love glacial erratics. (obviously the computer or Microsoft hasn’t gotten the message).    My introduction – to erratics - was in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia; the area is solid rock strewn with massive boulders  left by the glaciers.

This area is on the same latitude as Labrador and Newfoundland but it is blessedly and surprisingly  ice free,  actually possessing a moderate climate thanks to the Gulf Stream. There is fear voiced that the changing climate could very negatively affect the Gulf Stream – like annihilate it…which would  have a huge effect not just here but  on much of the rest  of the world.  

Heather, gorse, and yellow Ragwort,  peat, tundra,  low-growing grasses -  and virtually treeless.

Population is very limited with all the negative attributes this entails – add to that a very long dark winterI get the impression that eking a living in this area is very difficult consisting mainly of subsistence farming, fishing, and seafood farming: we saw oyster and mussel farms –  – oh how I’d love to taste their wares, and now of course we can add tourism.  

Queen Victoria took an interest in the Highlands of Scotland and built  Balmoral to be a summer getaway for the British royals.  This had the happily positive effect of making the Highlands fashionable, which in turn had a positive effect on  the economy and the quality of life.

During WWII these islands served as an anti- submarine training zone, so they lived for a long time under very stringent security measures

The harbor of TOBERMORRY welcomed us with its stunningly picturesque row of colorfully painted houses arrayed along the waterfront – this view is familiar as being a favored photographic subject frequently seen in travel material.

One of the first things we were told was that Glasgow is only 90 miles away.  Could this have been  to give us the impression that this really isn’t  as isolated as it seems?  This would help explain why I was struck by how very quiet and peaceful it is….    Such a blessed remove from our often frenetic urban existences.

Mandaytree? We’re in to heavy dialects:  Could this be mandatory? and the guide is wearing  a kilt.

We started off on a one lane road  we were told is known as “the Mull Motorway”. Regardless of its impressive title it was in fact minimal indeed, its main feature being cattle grids.  It looked to be not only the major road but possibly also the only road around the island. To emphasize the lack of population and therefore lack of amenities  of the area we were told that both the bank as well as the “cinema” were MOBILE.   And suddenly we are in really remote territory;

  As icing on the cake of our lovely drive and as we returned to town we experienced a brief shower followed by a simply stunning double rainbow hovering over the colorful houses of the harbor.  Serendipity, indeed.

We could not leave this lovely harbor without an explanation for the brilliant  coloration of the waterfront houses.

…it seems that a leading citizen felt a need to repaint his house.  He ordered some paint from the mainland and wouldn’t you know – what showed up was the wrong color.  living up to the well known reputation of the Scotch,  and contemplating what it would cost him to change It,  he elected to use what had arrived. What started as a traditional white house with black trim suddenly turned in to a  startingly  conspicuous yellow house.  It was so popular, and everyone liked it so much,  that he ended up starting a trend  with everyone competing for best color.

The next day we were docked in– ULLAPOOL- the houses along this harbor were more traditional with  their white stucco and black trim, but the effect  was equally as  lovely.

This time when it came to distance from anywhere else it proved to be a somewhat more distant 250 miles and to  Inverness, rather than Glasgow -  that’s on the other side of the country.  I think it is interesting that the tour guides of both  of these island’s made a point of specifying their location in reference to major cities on the mainland.  Are they pointing out how far,  or is it how near,  they are to perceived civilization?  As I said earlier, it made me realize how very far from much of anything we really were.

This island presumably has the oldest sedimentary rock in Europe – how true? And what might the significance be? Also it is significantly more mountainous  cleaved by severely dark and deep gorges…. It is a very dramatic and barren landscape.

This guide was very, very loquacious and informative I would say,  as I came away with a lot of fascinating unfamiliar Scottish factoids to fill out my rather flimsy, scattered knowledge of the area.

I was most impressed by the close association which existed between the Norse and Scotland, most obviously evident   in geographic words and place names.  A very long time ago It was Viking territory.  Oh Vikings, of course they were here.  SUND – SOUND (a stretch of water which can be swum across), SEA LOCH, the Firth of Forth as in FJORD,  I’ve never given this  connection a thought, what’s more I’m embarrassed to admit I never knew the definitions of those words although I should have.    I was very happy for the enlightenment,

He made mention of a multitude of other bits and pieces of Scotch history such as The Battle of Culloden, the Stuarts, James’s default accession to the British throne and the effect all this  had on ENGLISH HISTORY, etc, etc.  all in all he covered a great deal of historic property in very little time – I told you he was loquacious.  Yes.

  Eventually he took on the   existence and prevalence of – what he so charmingly pronounced as the “garlic” – Gaelic/Celtic - language.    “ Garlic” was in fact  the third language of Canada until recently – this was due to the number of immigrants to Canada from this area..  The best story he came up with was positively scintillating; a story involving the use of the language.  Apparently until recently (WWII about – well - I think that’s recent),  the country was bilingual,  but the gaelic was slowly dying out.  Parents were conversant enough to the point where they could discuss things in front of their kids without being understood – in secret; but eventually even they were forgetting.  There has been a recent effort to revive the language and it is being taught in the schools.  The upshot of that is that   the kids are able to  have private conversations in front of their parents without fearing that they will be understood - so now the shoe’s on the other foot – how cool.

When asked about the kilt and why it is worn by men only, his response was that the – kilt looks dreadful on a female –they are not  shaped right.  I’m sure there are a lot of females who would take exception to that statement;  they certainly don’t hesitate to wear them shaped right or not.   There are 700+ tartans – a prodigious number I’d say.  But the elementary question was….why are they worn at all?  He reminded us  – of course we all knew this but forgot – skirts were the traditional gear worn  actually by what just so happens to be the most aggressive male populations of the ancient world; the  Vikings, the Romans with their togas, the Greeks… of course.   Interesting– could this possibly say anything about them? 

I’d think they (kilts, that is) would prove rather unpleasantly drafty for such a northern clime, and I still really don’t know the answer, other than that it was tradition.  Another future reference project? ***10      No one asked the usual question about what was underneath – too refined, too polite – he was a very refined gentleman,  or perhaps they  knew anyway?

Amongst all this wealth of information: and,  out in the middle of a nowhere the likes of which I had never ever as yet set eyes on,   and the guide was saying a few words about the upcoming rest stop.

 I was barely listening when – suddenly I realized he was talking about TA DA>>>>what sounded like it could be…..


That certainly got my attention fast. THAT’S actually,  as well as quite literally, earth shaking.  This was arguably the most important discovery in the science of Geology.

 I was flabbergasted .

The rest stop took place on the side of the mountain and of course out in the middle – well, every where was no where, at a very small display-cum – museum, and very modest it was indeed.

  It was here that two scientists had a meeting of the minds and came up with this most profound   theory.

The first numerous object on display was a boulder jutting out of the side of the mountain upon which was identified the rock strata it contained  that led them to their conclusion.   Apparently they realized the absolute importance of the unique variations present in rock formations and that what they were seeing in the way of those  sequences was also present in Greenland as well as St. Petersburg -   two  vastly separated continents apart.  This in turn  could only mean that at one time they were connected.  This  was the first hint of the existence of the immense continent which came to be known as  Gondwanaland. This was assuredly an extreme example of original thinking.

  Continuing on the path you would come to a formal monument with statues of the two scientists and  a description of their discovery.  Further along the path there was a covered hut/shed containing exhibits and diagrams and hands on demonstrations in explanation of the phenomenon. 

Not one word had been said about the existence of this;  no  mention was made in the description of tours we were given.  I questioned this lack of publicity and I was told this was because it was TOOO SCIENTIFIC….. now I ask you.

(another great concern amongst Geologists of the time was the fact, that they were finding the youngest strata of a formation not on the top as expected, but below more ancient rock  formations.  This problem was also solved by a Scottish scientist.  That is an impressive fact indeed. 

This was for me certainly AT LEAST A MAJOR if not THE MOST outstanding  feature  of the CRUISE, and hopefully for some of the others as well, and there had not been one clue to its presence.   What’s more, the encounter was so unheralded I could have missed it entirely.

I’m just   hoping I can find pictures and a clearer description than I was able to get in the short amount of time that we were in that location. ***11



Wednesday night we sailed  east to our next two destinations.

The Land of “Simmer Dim” -  The Midnight Sun.  (how beautifully descriptive this is).


Officially these are a group of islands  which make up the  archipelagoes known as the NORTHERN ISLES.

In many ways they have a lot in common with  the Hebrides, but with a distinct slant peculiar to both:   this is in the degree of Norse involvement.

We have moved noticeably further north within the same latitude but  Shetland, the further north of the two,  is almost as far north as Iceland.  They still share the moderate climate of the Hebrides; also due to the effect of the Gulf Stream;   temperatures average 41o in February and 59o in August.  Any snow they see comes November through February, but  typically this has melted in a day.

 A bane of their existence are the winds which can reach 100 mph in the winter;  a large part of this  is caused by the lack of trees which would serve as a buffer.  Vegetation in any form is in jeopardy due not only to the wind, but also the salt blown off of the surrounding seas, and the  grazing animals.  As an example we were told that cabbage takes TWO SUMMERS to mature.  This sounded really dour to me – maybe it was meant to.

A significant characteristic is  the  presence  of oil in the North Sea.  Ironically – and fortuitously – another of their major  institutions is the  use, experimentation and   development  of renewable energy.   Wind turbines are everywhere.  - very impressive indeed.

There is evidence of human habitation as early  as 5000 years ago in Orkney.  I wonder if we know where they came from.   That could make an interesting research.

 Any large animals were brought here – from Scotland maybe – 6000 years ago – the largest existing currently is the cow.

There is a strong connection to Norway;  this was decidedly Viking territory.  They arrived here, settled, went off on their plundering activities  then returned.  The Scandinavian languages presumably originated in these islands,   96% of the place names are Norse,  and the  DNA of a major segment of the population is Scandinavian. They continue to maintain a close allegiance with Scandinavia.

 I was delighted to become reacquainted with the famous Trolls of ;  they are an important element of the folklore here.  These trolls are different; the trolls of Norway were distinctly evil (they were  the gods representing Chaos and the gods responsible for the design of Earth – such a perfect analogy).   The trolls of these islands however were simply mischievous. 

ALERT- the following is a GUIDE STORY;  the truth may be somewhat questionable but I did hear it on both islands. 

It seems that 500 years ago Norway PAWNED this land to Scotland in order to obtain a wedding dowry and it has never been retrieved.  This could be due to the confusion of national allegiances in Scandinavia over the years,  or maybe it’s just  the notorious frugality of the Scotch. Either way this created  a rather interesting balance in the history of these islands:   500 years of being  Viking,  and 500 years of being part of Scotland. 

Imposition of the totally devastating  “ Scotch Clearances” resulted in a rather negative  anti-scots attitude expressed succinctly by slogans:   “ No Gaelic language,  no pipes, and no tartans”, as well as,  “ Shetland –( perhaps -Orkney too)  first, Scots second”.  Add to this the pending issue of BREXIT; the popular sympathy goes that if Scotland achieves liberty they will stay with the UK.  That’s one way to get rid of a problem.

The industry consists of fishing and seafood farming:  herring (overfished but rejuvenating),  and Mackerel; and, aqua culture:  mussels, salmon, yumm oysters. What besides pickled to you suppose you do with herring – I’ll have to check.   

They say they harvest the peat – certainly this is an energy source but it is virtually of the nonrenewable type,   as it  apparently returns at the very slow rate of 1 millimeter a  year.  This slightly blows a hole in their impressive reputation.  I do not know how serious this actually is, but peat is an essential component of the natural environment. 

They both played a significant Naval role in both WWI and WWII.  I have been particularly impressed by the role they  played in the latter.  The Nazi invasion and occupation meant Norway was totally cut off from the rest of the world; all lines of communication were severed  including all radio transmissions.  Stories abound of the heroic role they played  in undercutting  the Nazi restrictions.   One of the most amazing facts to me involved heavy water – the basis of nuclear fission.   Norway was the developer and at the time of occupation the only possessor of a supply of heavy water – in the world.   The ownership of this material or at least the technology to develop it was a major objective  of the Nazi forces.  The story of how they managed to smuggle it to  the allied world is totally incredible. 


Today is THURSDAY and we are in LERWICK, capital of the SHETLAND ISLANDS

 the total population of 22,000  spread throughout 35000 islands – That is thin,  but I suspect many of them are very small and uninhabitable.  

There has been no mention of distance to the nearest city; how very independent.  

The Shetlands are familiar to me recently as being the location of the Netflix mystery series of the same name. I plan on searching for evidence of authenticity.

The town and harbor of Lerwick is delightfully small with buildings of grey roughly dressed local stone and a main street paved with fieldstone.  Most impressively it was  conspicuously free of traffic– all of this came as a happy shock to me as an urbanite.

as we set off down the road for our tour of the island the first statement of the guide was “this is it!” ( in reference to the lanes of the road); “It tells you all you need to know about Lerwick -  One lane in, two lanes out.”   And, “ The local  Kiss & Ride was not TO town,  but OUT “ -  to the oil terminals north.

More of their income, however, is from fish (herring) than from oil;  consequently  the oil companies need Shetland more than Shetland needs the oil companies.  This has given them a distinct advantage in their dealings with the industry and has enabled them to impose restrictions on activity in the area.  A major agreement was to designate the acreage owned by the oil companies as a nature preserve. 

90% of their energy comes from the wind turbines which are everywhere.

We were toured around the island to enjoy the beauty of the landscape; rolling treeless hills and a magnificent rugged coastline.  Certainly  in response to the popularity of the TV series, we  were shown the house which was featured in one of the early episodes.   

It is the ponies most people think of when Shetland is mentioned.   They are a notably muscular, strong, stocky and small breed of horse;  a horse which has adapted specifically to the  harsh environment it exists in. Tthey are indeed visible grazing in the pastures.

I have brought home a rather sizeable chunk of peat.  I asked for just a tiny bit for my collection of natural items,  but the chunk the guide had in hand was totally immune to  being pared,  so I broke down and took the whole thing.  I am very frugal and didn’t want to have to throw a large bit away - we came up with a solution – I shall try to burn any remnants in my fireplace at home.  This should be a very interesting experiment indeed, especially  If it’s too hot it could burn up the chimney.  

After the tour we went in search of fish and chips – I haven’t had my quota yet this trip.  With many instructions on how to find this,  we went in search of our libation.  We were so very slow off the mark that the hotel we were directed to had closed the kitchen – it was 2 pm.  Now I think this was refreshing;  but not as literally so as I had desired.  We’ll try again another day.  Thankfully we did not have to go hungry – just had to settle for a more mundane repast and were thankful for that.

Then we set off in search of those TV series locations  like the police station, etc.  This  involved a short but very steep climb; I was very serious.  I forgot to look for the surveillance camera that so startled me on the show.  I was startled at it’s presence because I figured that this should certainly be about the safest place around so why would they need a surveillance camera.     Well, of course they do have their share of crime – drugs are everywhere – but I was also reminded that, this being a Socialist Democratic country, it was due equal services.   That was a very interesting lesson.

FRIDAY and today we will be in the town of Kirkwall in ORKNEY.

I wrote these notes not only in a bouncing bus but in dialect (phonetically), so transcribing them may be a huge trial. The important point here is that this is the most delicious English I’ve ever heard – she says it’s the Norse seeping through.

I am indeed having a horrible time deciphering this -  maybe if I try edging into this gently…...  

What impressed me the most was that Orkney is the location of an intense study into the use of its wave action and tides to produce  energy – very much and without a doubt  of the renewable type.  This is definitely enough to put it on my map.

They  produce 120% of their energy with wind turbines and solar panels; they are as yet unable to export  the excess.  I’m sure that will come next.  THIS IS AWESOME! No mention was made of the use of wave or tide but perhaps that still has a way to go before it is actually useable. 

The population of 21,500 is spread throughout 12000 acres and who knows how many islands. Once again we are informed of the distance from the rest of the world, which happens to be one hour by ferry to Scotland. 

And it is VERY FLAT, at least on top.

Hold on to your hats:  I’ve gotten to the dialect.   


I admit It does suffer from translation/interpretation but it was just so neat and such a part of the pleasure of the visit and I’ve managed to preserve at least the gist. 

She pointed out various sights:  CRYSTAL – has evaded me, this one seems to be out of context and is still up for grabs,  the DEWCOT (Dove cote – that one got me- it’s kind of fancy for here), and related fauna the PADGENS(pigeons – I don’t suppose they lived in the dove cotes but who knows.  And spoke of the Vikings who settled there while not on plundering TRAPS (trips).

Lumped together appear some real posers:  TASTED HELL(I think this is some kind of hill)/SHAPRAKES/FASHING.  I’m not going to suggest she was implying that they benefitted from those shipwrecks but…– with the very rugged coastline and strong currents it’s definitely not hard to imagine. (throughout history that has been a common activity of many coastal populations as a means of supplementing their economy by luring ships to their death in pursuit of bounty – producing many a  dramatic tale indeed),    as for the FASHING:  FASHING is a major activity so there’s fish, lots of sheep and an occasional cow. 

They are subject to fierce winds:  One day out of seven they can count on winds of gale force. To illustrate this point she told  a story:   they were in the chicken business until  they had  137 mph winds  AND THE HENS ALL BLEW AWAY.  I love chickens but – the way she expressed this just hit my funny bone and set me in a fit of giggles.  That’s surely no laughing matter.  I can only say I am/was so pleased with the ambience I was obviously just plain prepared to laugh.

137 mph winds sounds exorbitant to me and I happily jumped to the conclusion between giggles that this was maybe not so unusual in Orkney but, they never had any more chickens – she says.  I shall have to check this out.   Today I heard tell that the hurricane currently making the rounds here (in the US) was “packing” 155 mph winds -  137mph is nothing – it’s the story that counts.  Actually when you get right down to it, I don’t think it would take much to blow away a chicken.

Orkney possesses  an overtly flat landscape compared to the others – blew itself flat?  Fertile – ancient grain for beer and cows but the climate is not dry enough for hay so the grass is fermented for silage.  The fields of what appears to be grass  is  what she assured us as being “ancient grains” and is used to make BASKETS and BEAR?  What? The translation is terrific :  to make biscuits to eat with the beer, of course.

What do they do for FOOD?  Add that to the FASHING, sheep and cows  we encountered earlier and maybe you’ve got a workable arrangement  – but not much of one. I still think they’re missing something.  (Iceland uses the solar energy to run greenhouses – I wonder if that’s true of Orkney.

 A GEN company was an off handed addition – juniper trees?  Where? Then It occurred to me that many of these side tours have offered WHISKEY TASTING – how much more wonderful would it be with gin? 

Orkney is situated strategically at the point of intersection of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This where the disparate tides meet - she  expressed this as   QUACKLY (quickly); I’ll say,  no argument there.  I suppose that is why it is of such interest to scientists in their study of tidal energy – can hardly come any more forceful than this. 

A major attraction for visitors is a ditched henge (like Stonehenge in England,  but older).  People, archeologists mostly I suppose, come from everywhere to work on the nearby digs. All of this seems to somehow involve – the Picts, and Gaels. I simply cannot imagine what these people were, or even perhaps  are, doing here aside from being a good example of human resilience. Another research.

The guide said this is the third best place to live in the UK;   only 1% unemployment, excellent education and salubrious environment.  Ooooboy am I skeptical.  I loved it all;  the wide open spaces and peace and quiet and I DO NOT WANT TO BE CYNICAL BUT  –– but this is AUGUST – and the wind is down and the sun is shining.  No way would I have any intention whatsoever of living here – I glanced and noted mention of retiring here???  Get a grip.  I think they’ve got an extremely active and imaginative Chamber of Commerce–maybe the whole population?    – I’m not certain there isn’t something odd about those statistics but I’ll just take it as stated – no, hardly.

 The extent of this research is getting more extensive all the time.

She continued on to describe the very colorful traditional living arrangements– flat roofed houses (we have one…and everyone has always been skeptical of how rational that is in a snowy climate and we’re talking Virginia- oh, I forgot.  they’re not supposed to have snow) the people reside at one end and the cows on the other:  Built in energy efficient central heating complete with aromatherapy.  How cozy. I’ve seen this before but in notably extreme climates   like Iceland.  If this were the moderate climate that we’re used to, ahem, the cows are quite happy outside. Now the chickens are another matter:  how come they were in such an unprotected situation?  They may prefer to be free ranging but surely they could suffer in a coop occasionally- better than being blown away.

This is the location of the world’s second largest natural harbor after Sydney, Australia  known as the SCAPA FLOW.  I suppose this name is familiar because of its roll in various naval stories, this one probably:  Following the defeat of Germany after WWI, the German Fleet numbering 74 ships was brought here.  In an effort to keep Europe from benefiting from all this naval equipment,  the German Admiral directed that they be scuttled;  so the plugs were pulled and down they went..   The majority were saved,  but 25 remain beneath the waves and are now serving as scuba diving destinations.

I just loved this guide, a young, lovely, vivacious, perky blond with that mellifluously delightful dialect.  I should certainly have gotten her name but actually better yet I told her how much I loved listening to her.

She did a super job of selling her island:   My curiosity has really been peeked and I have come away with a barrage of questions I’d like to find answers to – probably my major objective for traveling.   My first question will be how awful is it to live here?

 I think I got most excited by encountering the meeting of the two major water features, but I really was totally delighted by the whole day. 

We did manage the fish and chips (Yeah!)

AND THEN  there was  THE WEDDING….

  We strolled through town to visit what was possibly  the  oldest, or close to it,  12th century, Norman Cathedral.  Upon arrival we were met with signs on the doors informing us that the Cathedral was closed till 3:00 for a wedding so, without giving it a second thought, we settled in for a short wait.

Around three  we headed for the front doors and discovered the plaza had come alive:  aside from the throngs of photo taking tourists there also were THE MOST MAGNIFICENT HORSES I have ever seen.  They were huge, glistening (polished?) jet black and shiny,  with bulging muscles,  huge feet and feathered ankles  (draft horses or  Percherons I’d say)  with extravagant white plumes adorning their heads.  They were hooked up to a beautiful also shiny black phaeton  driven by an elegantly dressed  and notably red faced  driver who was assisted at the front by a  study young lady expending all of her  strength in attempting to   control  these very large, very strong and very skittish animals (steeds). To compound the nervousness of these beauties  there was a pickup towing a trailer piled with teens banging cans which was circling the square.   The total effect of this was a spectacular demonstration of  their true strength   as they were slamming their huge shoed hoofs down on the pavement and pooping up a storm.   Those tourists were crowding right in as close as they could insinuate  themselves;  I thought for  sure we’d have a squashing.  Finally  the wedding party in all its glory appeared at the doors and stood there for an age posing for the requisite formal photographs to capture the occasion for the ages – and an occasion it was for sure

Following the prescribed preliminaries and with effusively affectionate farewells by all those in attendance,  the newly wed couple were helped into the coach,  and they were off – to where?  It’s such a tiny town that they were almost immediately out into a totally empty countryside.  

Interestingly enough and contrary to that declaration of being anti- Scotland,  the attendants including young boys, were clothed in full Scottish regalia.   They did not appear to be members of the wedding party.   I figured perhaps  they were present specifically to  add some ethnic, local color to the proceedings and also maybe in an effort to add extra flavor  in order to tempt others to come to Orkney for a ”destination” wedding.

 I hear tell Orkney has become a popular location for “destination weddings” – can you image dragging all those people out here to more or less the end of the civilized world?  Yes…. I suspect uniqueness has become an objective and most places have been over- used,  so here we are.  Hotels, Restaurants?  This town is one very short (and field stoned by the way) street wide. Hmmmm…..    maybe this hasn’t quite happened yet?  This wedding party looked distinctly local – don’t ask, maybe I’ll include a photo

This sure beat the pyramids any day   if only for sheer serendipity,  but surely for beauty, entertainment and uniqueness.

 And good job with the dialects, but perhaps we’ll have to accept the effort as being more for the sound than the facts.

This was probably the most remote location/place I’ve ever been and I’ve been to some very remote places indeed, and I just loved it…. So quiet, peaceful, relaxed, and SO MUCH SPACE – SKY, EARTH….NO TRAFFIC?  Actually,  virtually no cars.  What a blessing.  Can’t help but notice the presence of a lot of positive energy – and I also must say that a great deal of this impression is very much due to the delightful personality of the young lady guide  - she could afford a positive recommendation.  We’ll see, maybe I can energize myself - and as uncommercial as I gather they still  are I think that would make them happy indeed.

We are here in blissfully comfortable weather – temp 69o sun shining no wind and it is midday so I never stopped to think about how it is for a great part of the year.  I’m going to assume that moderate could be reasonable to me BUT not to introduce a negative fact,  it’s dark a great deal of the time in winter.  (eww, pair that up with the stark landscape and the isolation of island life?  This brings to mind the fact that there were settlements here not just recently but thousands of years ago –– why?  I’m getting more curious all the time but I have a feeling that they don’t know.

I would say /judging from the amount I had to say( about Orkney) that Orkney obviously caught my imagination/attention- a most positive judgement good attitude and just what they were aiming for.  comment and just

I feel material for another RESEARCH PROJECT coming on – Orkney has given me reams of material to research– this is very much why I travel).***12

Do check out my research project: GO ORKNEY!     I REALLY LIKED IT A LOT.- SEE THERE, THE GOOD EFFECT OF GOOD PR.


I haven’t had much to say about the cruise itself but to rectify that lack:  last night we had to wait in the bar (such a hardship) for a single table – I think it was a formal night so everyone was in grand participation mode.  I really couldn’t afford another martini BUT to be compliant I ordered a teeny weeny one:  AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I GOT – A thimble sized actual stemmed martini glass - REALLY.  I certainly was tickled (their explanation, they stocked these glasses just specifically for this kind of situation).  The Maitre d’ appeared to take us to a table almost immediately, but this was an excellent example of how far these cruise lines go to satisfy their patrons.

 And while we’re on the subject:   There’s no denying; bartenders play a huge role in that pursuit.  In general a soused patron is a happy patron (I’m sorry – there really is a lot of truth in that). I control my martini intake severely – more is less, remember,  but I’m surely one of the major proponents.  I’ll never forget disembarking  our first mini ship the  Seabourn Pride at the crack of a very misty dawn in Monte Carlo and announcing to the social director who was on the gangplank bidding us all farewell  that  “we were all in need of rehab.  Well, we were partying it up with a bunch of Brits the night before - Got to keep up with the Brits, of course.  Anyway, I will always love the Pride and we are very supportive of Seabourn (OOOO  I’m ashamed we have had our lapses).  POUR the passengers off the ship….

 Ok I DO LOVE CRUISING; IT’S SO UNHEALTHY.  I DO Hope I haven’t said this too often.


SATURDAY and we have a partial day at sea on our way to the final destination of the trip EDINBURGH.

 We will be docked in LEITH, the harbor for the city, Saturday night and a good portion of Sunday as well. . I discuss the rather unusual arrangement, the  extra time in both London and Edinburgh. later. *4


We are scheduled for a late afternoon arrival.

After lunch we went to the cabin to sit on the veranda and watch our entry in to the port.  It took a good deal of time and some sorting out by the Captain before we accomplished our final landing.

   I could see off in the distance and seeming to encircle us, what appeared to be mountains.   If we were going down the coast as expected I shouldn’t see them at all. Now that’s odd.    (later I would discover we had entered the estuary of the Firth of Forth and were proceeding down the river towards  Edinburgh.  It must be lengthy like the Thames.). 

  A considerable amount of time passed before we did eventually come to a docking area - at least the Captain seemed to think so; so we stopped and tied up – hawsers to the pilings, etc.    but it just didn’t look right.  It seemed to be more like  a grave yard for   derelict abandoned rusty hulks and an impressive display of weeds,  than a welcoming haven for a cruise ship – fancy or otherwise. It was a veritable WASTELAND.

  I certainly was expecting more than this for the harbor servicing a resplendent city like Edinburgh and one in which we would be docked.  I guess the captain  felt the same way  so we pulled up stakes, untied our ties, and continued on down the waterway.

Time to try again – maybe this would work out better.  Once again we nudged ourselves up to the pier and  carefully secured, but this one wasn’t much better than the last one;  this one  was a no go as well.  -     And the  search went on.  

 Could this be all there is/  Sure is a far cry from the Tower Bridge.

What on earth could be the matter and will this ever end.    We couldn’t be lost – this is a – one way street.  Maybe the GPS is on the fritz; or perhaps it needs recharging.  That must be  it.


We kept going and eventually we got to a roundish body of water that actually looked like a harbor,  but considering the amount of effort it took to get here I would have expected something a whole lot more impressive.  It’ was rather small but probably the right size for such an affirmatively ancient harbor, and it was surrounded by what appeared to be reasonably antique structures. Stuck in randomly and in the background I could also see what appeared to be upscale apartment buildings. All of this combined managed to give it a formal  appearance.  It was absolutely  empty accept for what might be perceived as a token adornment, a sufficiently  rusty orange hulk,  and one glamorous,  elegant, and  outrageously luxurious yacht.

TIME OUT:  this little harbor was one of many world wide which became redundant with the advent of container shipping and the need for larger dockS capable of handling the huge ships.  This left a great deal of prime real estate – ancient warehouses – available for renovation into highly desirable upscale buildings and luxury apartments. Of course it’s made a huge difference everywhere.  I was aware of the  redevelopment dockside  in London and we’ve literally been surrounded by masses of huge shipping containers in the ports we have been docked –great photograph subjects – but again I hadn’t thought much about what it meant.  I’m glad this has been  brought to my attention here at Leith.        

Anyway -  I deem we are in reasonably good company and it is high time to get down to the business at hand – finding the gangway.

Eventually I discovered  that our neighbor did indeed have a fancy heritage:  we alone are sharing this harbor with  none other than THE QUEEN’S YACHT, The HMS BRITANNIA.  To be correct it is designated  as ”THE ROYAL YACHT  BRITANNIA”.

 NOW how CLASSY was that?    You sure can’t beat this cruise line for the company it keeps.

My question again  is –– who gets to park here with such esteemed company and such limited space?

By the time the ropes were all knotted once again and the gangplank was in place It was getting rather late. I was interested to see how few of us were getting off.  Everyone else must be going on the ship’s tour to the “Tatoo” this evening. 

A tiny word about this world famous TATTOO: This is a spectacular event complete with all the proper Scottish accoutrements;   kilts, pipes, bands, and fireworks,  which takes place every evening during the month of August in the Castle courtyard .

That being said, attending this event involved a serious decision.  I was strongly advised  that  not to attend bordered on the sacrilegious.   The choices of tour were not great;  for $1000 each you were wafted by limousine straight up to the venue/ castle and seat, entertained at a   fancy reception, and I suspect given champagne to sip  during the performance.  The alternative being that we could hoof it up the mountain for only  a cool $250 -  that was EACH.  I felt wildly unenthusiastic about any of it, including the performance,  in the first place; with  those prices it really became a no brainer. . I suppose it was plausible and perhaps even expected that the rest of us would take the opportunity to dine this free evening in town at an upscale restaurant but egh…  I have alternative places to be - like the ships bar,  and not later than 6:30: I do have my priorities.    Our entertainment is quite adequate and already actually paid for, thank you. 

Anyway – we weren’t attending the Tattoo and we did have two hours –that’s all. There was a shuttle to up town waiting, so we were off to “check it out”.  And a good thing too….this was the end of the good weather  -basically the only chance we had to see the Castle. 

For our first foray around town we searched out our traditional favorite -  the Hop-n-Stop bus.

 The city was jammed with people, many of whom were extravagantly made up and costumed;  probably involved with some kind of  theatrical  or artistic event.   I forgot to mention that August is the optimal time to visit this city;  not only was this entire month dedicated to the Tattoo, it also is the month hosting the annual and very popular  Arts Festival – performances of all kinds going on all over the city simultaneously and continuously. The entire month attracts performers and audience from all over the world, as well as the usual hordes of August tourists. It was assuredly these folks that we were having the pleasure of encountering.  Super.

.   Our first discovery;  the apparently ubiquitous Ferris wheel.  This is a distinct icon of a serious tourist mecca – like the cable car we saw earlier in London.   (well, that’s my impression anyway).  I had truly believed that finally I’d found  a city that had managed to escape the common insidious variety  of tourism.  But not to be too concerned:  They were quick to assure us that it is here only temporarily.

So on with the tourist gab…   There’s a certain amount of informative chitchat that must be endured in order to achieve at least a bare minimal  familiarity with the location at hand.  I will be as brief as possible.    

I was impressed by the number of amusing insights I  was presented thanks to this visit.  I’m not so surprised at such resplendence:    of all the stops we made, this one was THE BIGGEST therefore  by default  should automatically offer  THE  BEST STORIES – and I was not disappointed.  (I wouldn’t  count London as I am  quite familiar with it already).

It was often described as a stand in for a theatrical backdrop;  its classical skyline has earned  it the nickname “Athens of the North”.  It owes its physical appearance to the seven hills upon which it stands, and the glacial activity of the Ice Age which has shaped them.

We passed by the building housing the public records; known by the  guides as being the location for  HATCHES, MATCHES, and DISPATCHES (this was not the only place I ran in to this cutey) and the  home of AUTHORS/SCIENTISTS and GREEN SPACES.  Very impressive indeed.

  Remember, one  of their most important roles is to keep the tourists awake.

 The city is divided in to two distinct sections:  There is the  Old Town with its towering castle and  impressively many floored buildings.    The beguiling motto bestowed  upon its major thoroughfare, which runs  between Holyrood House and the Castle, is THE  ROYAL MILE, the location for BISCUITS, BREW AND BOOKS. The castle is the second most popular tourist attraction in Britain – I’m assuming Buckingham Palace is numero uno;  and the  New Town.  It was  built during the Victorian era, and is the first city  to use the  “grid” plan.  It is an area of lovely verdant squares, and houses with very attractive and notably wide doors which were designed to permit entry of the then  popular sedan chairs. The main street  features  the main and very glamorous shopping district.

 For a period “OLD TOWN”  was called “OLD REEKY”.  There was   no sewage system so  the normal method of disposal was by tossing the slop (or hurling the sewage) out the window.  Over time this practice was refined to include  yelling in warning to those below   “Regardez l’eau” (watch the water).  the Brits shortened this to the simple word “LOO”,  and used it  as a slang expression for lavatory.   This is  too good to be true.

Edinburgh lays claim to being home of another major  first for GEOLOGY.    James Hutton conceived of the basic theory of geology by refuting  the general belief that the youngest rock is always on top. Variations in this arrangement results in the creation of  quite dissimilar rock formations  making it easy to date, and compare and  associate rocks in any given area.  

Enough with the introductory description and on with the REALLY GOOD STORIES:

I was told the most popular is the one about GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY”,  the dog who so faithfully waited fourteen years for his dead master to return.  There is a statue commemorating this amazing act of  faith; he is found reposing on a convenient traffic island  where all who wish  can rub his nose  in obeisance, or perhaps for good luck.  This is such a popular activity that his nose has been rubbed to a quite shiny polish. 

My personal favorite is  ** the TALE OF THE  BODY SNATCHERS.  The story goes that William Burke and his cohort William Hair achieved notoriety by evolving a system of body recycling. The local medical school was in the practice of purchasing bodies to be dissected as part of their anatomy lessons;  no questions asked.  These two aspiring entrepreneurs recognized an opportunity for an easy profit and proceeded to unearth bodies from the local cemetery. This was not a bottomless repository and before long their trove had run out.   Suddenly they were  in  need of a new source and they had an epiphany-  their astounding solution to the problem was close at hand - they simply poisoned their fellow guests  at the B&B where they were living.   This worked well and they actually managed to go through twenty bodies before their housemates started to be missed and the law intervened: They were caught and convicted.  One of them managed to disappear;   the other met his just awards and was hanged.  Irony of all ironies:  his body was given to the medical school to be used, you got it, as an  anatomy lesson.  – what goes around comes around -  justice wins out, etc.  Oh how ghoulish!  I’d say it was an integral  part of the city folklore seeing as I heard it twice. 

The second morning we took the tour sponsored by the ship.  Unfortunately the weather had descended and we were deluged by what was described as a drizzle but was in fact a POUR – I guess it’s all relative.  The Castle, the main attraction, was nowhere to be seen:  it was almost totally obscured by FOG.  Not so great but   it was the only bad day we had in two weeks – certainly a record in what is a notoriously damp part of the world.

  We made many passes at the castle during the day but without much success:  this is almost a perfect scenario for me with my rather negative attitude towards overly glorified and publicized destinations.  This is certainly a unique  view of the Castle and I could very easily dismiss the problem by asserting that   I’d just buy books to see what I missed thereby erasing  the negative. I am,  however,  so glad we saw the city yesterday –when you could actually see it and not rain drops.

In the afternoon – after lunch, yes on the ship;  why not?  we discovered that this was a stop for the  Hop-n-Stop -  so it worked out very well indeed. We tooled  around a wider loop of the city  taking pictures of rain; could turn out interesting. 

Our final stop we hopped off to visit our harbor neighbor – the Queens erstwhile yacht. – reported to be the number one tourist attraction in Scotland – I got that off the brochure.

The Queen was said to love  the yacht – who wouldn’t – but the ruling Labour party in office at the time  deemed it an unnecessary expense, so they parked it in a conveniently underused  harbor  and made it in to a money-making tourist attraction.  It provided  an added advantage in that it could be rented out for use  as a venue for   elegant events like royal  receptions and such, thus assuring even more income.    Yeh, I suspect that was a reasonable call.

And back to Leith:    Over time it was deemed   a convenient place to locate a shopping mall and eventually a mooring spot for miscellaneous cruise ships as well as the Queen’s yacht.

I was somewhat startled when I found myself hiking through said Mall.   I don’t do shopping malls at home (mostly because of the amount of walking that is required); but then again we don’t have any with the Queen’s yacht attached.

The tour was unexpected and proved an absolute delight -  even gave me a chance to snoop around below decks which I’ve been wanting to do for ages.  Great tour:  top to bottom.  Queen’s private quarters, grand ball room, Rolls Royce in garage, mammoth clothes washing facility to cater to the band and military uniforms of the attendants always needed  to accompany the Queen as she visits her vast realm.

It was coming up to 6 pm when we finished our tour and it was time to return to our ship.  it may have been next door but  getting there involved a real hike, and when we  left the mall we needed any form of transportation that would take us back to the ship.  There was nary a soul  stirring anywhere; most particularly no Hop-n-Stop, no taxis, no nothing,  and  It was chilly, and misty, windy and empty … and it was nearing cocktail hour.   Horrors. 

To add insult to injury we discovered, thanks to the advice of a very kind and good Good Samaritans who stopped to see if they could help , that we were going to have an additional problem – no dough or no dough in a usable form.   I am saying this as just a hint:  we were told dollars or credit cards would usually work –and has always been true in our years of traveling, BUT this was not true here. (It’s actually very odd that it wasn’t; I wonder why not).  Not having local cash was probably not smart.  If there hadn’t been an ATM and the interest of a completly friendly stranger we may very well still be sitting there.  Well, almost

So I was sitting on my cane peering intently and in every direction  with great expectations but -  Nothing.  I was getting desperate – we’d been abandoned.  

Eventually  TELL ME I DID NOT DIVE OFF MY CANE CHAIR STRAIGHT IN TO THE PATH OF A CAB? Well, it was all set to buzz right by;  BUT NOT FOR LONG.  SO,  HE MADE 5 pounds – about $10 for like a two minute fare but I’ll tell you it was well worth it.  I truly am serious about those martinis.

A major  objective  for me in the city of Edinburgh was to look for locations favored by one of my favorite authors  Alexander McCall-Smith:   He is what I would assume to be a rather notable citizen of the city as well as a prolific author. The few people I managed to query were unfamiliar with his writing and the tour guides never heard of him.

Of course this had to be expected.  We were there for such a short time, were dependent on tour routes, and I came woefully unprepared – I hadn’t done my homework - so chances of finding them were pretty much nil in the first place.

None of these shortcomings disturbed me much;  I was very happy with the visit – I got a pretty good feel for the city.  That in itself should serve to help me better imagine his scenes when next I read one of his locally situated books. 

But I did however not do it justice.  The more I work on this journal the more convinced I become that I would like to do a repeat and probably without the ship’s tours but on our own.  i wonder if the smaller locations even have cabs – I’ll try to check.

We left Edinburgh late in the evening and we will be having A DAY AT SEA – A day off so to speak.

===============                ==================                  ===================                 =================

As the day progressed, we became very puzzled indeed when no mention at all was made of our pending upheaval…. We became even more puzzled as the afternoon drew closed and   no tarpaulin appeared on our bed for our suitcases to be packed.    In all our innocence, and also perhaps in a fit of wishful thinking, we just figured they were going to let us down gently -after all this was presumably a luxury cruise and therefore more likely to proceed with changes gently – no rude surprises allowed.  (Did I tell you this cruise line provides each cabin with “a butler”  who’s tasks include  unpacking, and packing.  I was horrified;  but I carefully went in to denial over the whole thing). 

    I suspect it was about then that it finally hit us that we were being given a grace period of an unplanned day in London……it’s  hard to believe that it had slipped my mind but I quickly remembered just how that had happened.

–no plans were made for this day before we left home.    I ran out of planning steam so I had pretty much just dismissed the whole thing from my mind.  What’s more – I was too unsure what might be in the offing – for the first two days in London, and the final two seemed to follow the same pattern.  I just threw up my hands and left it to chance.

Add to that the fact that the last few days have been a whirlwind of activity –and realizing too well that the end of all this pleasures was soon upon us,  I had taken on a predominant emphasis on living for the moment.    

We were not the only people who had this lovely surprise. Certainly this has got to be a sign of how complacent we’d become – no worries.   I would suggest that this is a  very good indicator of how  relaxed the passengers had become; can’t be anything but good for a cruise line/ship.

Ah boy ….. but I’m left with a very uncertain feeling;  my inner schedule was being jolted and I was  being in a fog of relaxation.  We’ll just have to see what happens.;.  

We had been juggling two possibilities –  the Victoria & Albert or the British Museum; either or both would be excellent.

 BUT, lets face it


=================                ===================                      ======================                   =============

It’s Tuesday, it’s LONDON, and it’s our final cruise day.

  Those Brits who actually live in London plan on hanging out on the ship for the day pretending its an island resort by  lying around the pool and drinking MaiTais.     We were thinking of joining them and being lazy for the day BUT,  they  are  in for a big disappointment – the water is gone again.  Where does it go and why?

 So that left us right back where we started  – what were we going to do with the day?

So we ramped down the action and settled in for what might  be my last favorite breakfast  for this trip; and  we were off to a rather leisurely start-  after all, we have all day. 

And there was still no decision:  We were both suffering from major ambivalence,  lack of energy perhaps,   so we went to the Concierge.  This was a good thing as he informed us that there had been an attempt to crash the bollards in front of Parliament with a truck,  so the whole city was in solid gridlock;.  In other words, don’t bother.  I can assure you I needed no persuasion.

I was surprised at the general reaction over this; the attitude seemed to be rather nonchalant.  They laughed it off by averring how dumb it was - Parliament wasn’t in session anyway.  Somehow or other I had a problem thinking that was the point.

I am glad they are able to take it so sanguinely-   but was that reaction for the benefit of the tourists?    Never mind,   we got the same message in Belfast:   “this is the safest place in the world”.  Could be, considering the amount of security that was present.   I’d just as soon not take any chances actually;  and having the  choice does make  a difference.

There is a Hop-n-Stop RIVER CRUISE from Parliament Bridge to Greenwich back and forth:  Perfect.  It was  a beautiful day and  we’d often thought of doing this but never had quite made it.  I was delighted to have the chance to finally check out Greenwich; I’m crazy about the International Date Line, and Greenwich Meantime, and time zones and all that good stuff,  so I was very pleased to have  the opportunity to visit the veritable place of I origin of all  that. How well serendipity has worked on this trip.


 I said earlier there were no bridges east of the Tower Bridge: but low and behold – first off we were told there was a tunnel under the river in Greenwich – well, a foot tunnel.  My first thought was a horrified - foot tunnel? but I really can’t believe that.  I’ll have to check this out.***2

The Observatory was a long walk, at least for me, from the visitors center.  With some effort we located a cab  that took us to the gate but we encountered a problem:  there was a 5 pound admittance fee (each), more walking,  and we had a waiting cab … it certainly was about at this point that I collapsed.  I settled with peering through the gates to watch  people straddle a line and having their pictures taken standing in two hemispheres at once – well, on two sides of the #1 time  zone….. more subtle  Not nearly as impressive I wonder if they knew?.(uh oh, I don’t think it’s that either - I’m going to have to research this.***13)  I suspect there is more to this location – somewhere there is a marker indicating the EXACT MINUTE for the whole world – the whole time thing is so awesome and exciting but I figured treating it as a pilgrimage rather than an official full blown visit would just have to do – at least this time

The boat was parked at the dock by “THE LONDON EYE” (originally known as THE LONDON  EYESORE until it became a big money maker, at which point it was “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”).  I loved this unplanned pause,   I loved that it gave us passengers a chance to meet as we  batted around the question of whether it actually stops or not.  We never really came to a decision but I really think it does. It moves so slowly  that any stopping is hardly discernible.    It seems we were waiting for the tide on the river to abate somewhat so we could fit under the bridges – real hazard to navigation.  Must make running these tours smoothly a crap shoot.  Apparently when that becomes a problem they’ve got gates to control the river.  That’s an interesting wrinkle, I’d say.

We were able to continue on by very strictly keeping to the middle, but even so we just barely had head room.   I loved the sensation of sliding under with the bridge just inches above our heads.

There is a fairly new bridge, designed exclusively  for use as  a pedestrian bridge.    it received very negative criticism from the very day of its christening:  it seems that it was inclined to sway as much as nine feet from side to side,  making it almost impossible to negotiate and remain standing.  When informed of this discrepancy the designer  merely shook his head and presented the simple explanation that it wasn’t the bridge,  but rather the way the Brits walked.   

We kind of sidled up to our ship which was moored across from the Hop-n-Stop dock and I loved the chance to see it from the river and to listen  to the  tour guides slant on its presence  as he pointed out the rare privilege  it was to be docking at the Tower Bridge – he  was actually referring to  the WWI warship that  served as our dock.  Well it was assuredly a distinctly rarefied and exalted privilege to dock here at all;  he  was just a teensy snide about our presence as far as  the rarefied atmosphere was concerned +++: and there was our “house” , right  there!!!   I do enjoy the conceit I often indulge in that these ships – and our verandah,  are our home – well, it’s homey and cozy. I’m ashamed to admit I really felt special. 

 I loved this tour guide – he sounded just like Michael Caine; it was the cockney, you know.   I have a strong suspicion he was an actor attempting to earn his keep meantime practicing his art by emoting for his audience- good job for an actor.  He ended his tour with the salutation:  BE LUCKY, BE SAFE.   Mighten we not think that was somewhat scary?

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