My camera has never been so happy – Alesund, Norway (Aug. 3)

From the moment we docked, bright and early at 7 a.m,, until I reluctantly wandered back on board at the last afternoon moment, I was snapping photos. After a devastating 1904 fire, Alesund was reborn as a fine example of art nouveau architecture, funded partly by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who had often cruised the nearby fjords in his yacht.


The narrowest house in town, whose upper floors are accessed through the house next door!



Initially torn between biking and kayaking, the narrow hilly streets and calm sunny weather sent me off to rent a sea kayak for a couple of hours. The pleasing colors, spires, roofs, and decorative touches of Alesund’s architecture were echoed back in the still waters of the canal. My route took me past plenty of evidence of the thriving shipping and fishing industries, whose main export is dried and salted cod.




Passing our cruise ship, the Rotterdam, staring up in awe at her bulk, I met our lifeboats going round and round in circles for a drill. Then it was down the coast to explore the shore and islands as far as I could go before my time ran out.

A peek down into the crystal clear fjord waters where jellyfish cruised

Our internet access has been a major challenge. On the ship, the slow connection is incredibly expensive and in port, the competition for fast Wifi rivals the ruthlessness of the Viking conquests. After the victory of being one of the first online at the information center, I gave it up to go off paddling and then all the internet in the entire town went down. So the first business today will be writing. (And success is mine, thanks to an incredibly kind Norwegian man at the hotel who generously provided me with the password, a quiet corner, and his own adapter to plug in my ancient computer).


Beads found in the graves of Viking women

Besides having a real live Enigma coding machine and a fabulous display on life during the Nazi occupation, the town museum tells the story of the Uraed. This 18-foot enclosed lifeboat was the first of its kind to sail safely across the Atlantic (from Alesund to Gloucester, MA) during the winter of 1904-05, inspiring the use of such craft in ocean-going ships to the present day. (The town is very, very proud of this vessel and has built a replica whose portholes you can peek through to imagine what life was like for 4 men in that tiny space for 5 icy months.)

Farewell for today…time to tear myself away from this lovely internet connection to explore Eidfjord, our last port in Norway before we head for Rotterdam in the Rotterdam!

Taking the plunge – In and around Reykjavik, Iceland (July 30-31)

The Gullfoss waterfall wears a rainbow on sunny days.

Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth becomes a bit more believable once you’ve seen this geologically youthful island steaming with latent energy. Yesterday afternoon I took the frigid plunge into ice cold water after swimming in one of the city’s outdoor swimming pools heated with geothermal energy. There aren’t so many truly sunny summer days here and we’ve enjoyed two. Tomorrow a lot of blonde Icelanders will be feeling mighty sunburnt! Even streets and driveways in Reyjkavik are heated with this green energy source, which makes me wish for some steamy vents in the Maine countryside, too.


A truly impressive sight, the River Hvita drops 105 feet over the double falls into a long ravine.

The landscape abounds not only with true geysers (a word gifted to us by Iceland), but also with bubbling pools, the smell of sulphur, and strange traces of mineral colors. primarily blues and browns.


This church at Thingvellir sits on the site of an early church built soon after the Nordic settlers became Christians around the year 1000 A.D.
Along with the waterfall and a geyser, we (some new friends and I in a rental car) visited Thingvellir National Park, site of the first Viking legislative and judicial assemblies, beginning in 930 A.D. Faint impressions in the ground gave mute evidence to the temporary booths that housed the gathering year after year for centuries. 

For Christmas, Mom gave me just what I was dreaming of, a ride on an Icelandic horse. Dad went along, too, on one of these sturdy, well-tempered small horses, purebred from the earliest Nordic Viking settlers. The population is kept totally isolated and, as a result, is free of all equine diseases. Even championship horses, taken abroad for competitions, can sadly never return to their native country.

Icelandic horses have a gait called the tolt, much smoother than a trot, in which each hoof touches the ground separately. Dad’s horse was Somi, which means honor in Icelandic.

Drop me in by helicopter sometime – Prince Christian Sound, Greenland (July 


Prince Christian Sound, which cuts through the southern tip of Greenland, lies packed with ice for much of the year. Only from July through September is there the hope, if the weather cooperates, of passing through. For us, the weather cooperated magnificently, blessing us with what veterans were calling the best of days.

Perhaps the encouraging weather was what made the tents so compelling, so memorable. The two tiny yellow-orange bumps hugged a pile of rock, on a bit of gravel beach, beside a glacier. Without the binoculars I would have missed them. Like the lone fisherman who had sped by earlier in his small boat, they were dwarfed by the magnitude of the landscape. Those tents, I thought, is where I would most like to be. Not cruising by, but immersed, exposed, integrated into the landscape.

A fisherman in his power boat is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the landscape.

Crew members served hot pea soup out on the chilly deck.
Words, like photographs, fail to capture the scale and austerity, the stark beauty that is Greenland. Waterfalls drop a thousand feet or more into the sound. Humpback whales blow, and sculpted icebergs, calved from one of the six glaciers, come in fantastic shapes and shades of white and blue. Other than the tents and some tiny patches of pink flowers, there was no sign of life on land, although Greenland does have musk ox, lemmings, and arctic fox. Here there is just one small community that thrives on seal hunting and a little tourism, coming and going only by helicopter in the icebound months. I loved it!


That place with all the Q’s – Qaqortoq, Greenland (July 27)


Bright rows of colorful homes lined the winding road as I climbed toward the blue X that a young Inuit woman had added to my map. This morning I wanted nature first and museums second. Qaqortoq, on the southern tip of Greenland, is its third largest town, with a population of 3,100. Under the protection of Denmark, Greenland nonetheless has home rule, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Amazingly, the underlying land is a continuation of the Canadian Shield, familiar from the vivid writing of Sigurd Olson.


I was alone and just a bit intimidated when the road abruptly ended. Above, silhouetted against the deep azure blue of a cloudless sky, was a cairn. From rock to rock, across a landscape that spanned the palette of greens and grays and browns, I climbed. Moss, lichen and the tiny leaves of hardy plants clung to the rock with tenacity and the brightest hue was the granite’s pink and orange tones.

After the first cairn, I continued on, then hunkered down under an overhanging rock, resting, in my own little corner of Greenland. From that angle, there was no town, no people, my only company a pair of ravens that swooped a roller coaster pattern far above, croaking their joy at the view below.

Above, more cairns beckoned and then a man came into sight. “You must keep going,” he urged, “there are ‘bergs!” So far, this climb and the view of the bay below, dotted with icebergs, has been my grandest adventure!



Wandering the town, I discovered this church and the museum, with a good array of native tools and kayaks, built for hunting seals. The town is also know for its whimsical stone sculptures, scattered along its streets, and the friendliness of its people, mostly Inuit. I could write more, but now it is the next morning and we will be cruising Prince William Sound today. From my window the beauty is just beginning. There will be 6 glaciers, and hot chocolate and soup served on the decks, and a day as glorious as yesterday. More later.



Raw courage, raw beauty – Red Bay, Labrador, Canada (July 25)

As we traveled northeast up the Strait of Belle Isle during the night, Quebec faded behind on our port side. We had reached Labrador, the other half of the province of Newfoundland Labrador. Here lies Red Bay National Historic Site, which tells the story of the 16th century Basque galleons that plied these waters in search of right and bowhead whales. The wreck of a galleon here in 1565 was the clue which led archeologists to the shores of Red Bay’s Saddle Island, within the natural protection of this small harbor.

1 Morning sky phone

Attracted here initially by the cod fishery, these fisherman from part of present-day Spain and France soon set their sights on the much more lucrative migrating whales, harvested for their oil and baleen. It seems incredible that men had the courage to set forth in these tiny, vulnerable chalupas to harpoon their massive prey, not once but many times. After the first blow, additional harpoons carrying small sea anchors called drogues were used to further tire the whales, at least 25,000 of which were killed here over the years.

4 Chaluga

Like an Indiana Jones mystery, researchers discovered ancient documents hinting at the location of the ill-fated San Juan, which was discovered remarkably well-preserved. The fine condition of its artifacts can be attributed to its rapid destruction and burial in silt. Dad was intrigued by the array of early navigational tools on display in the museum, as well as such fragile items as woven mats and looms for weaving textiles onboard.

A small boat ferried us over to Saddle Island, where the remains of tryworks for rendering the whale blubber into precious whale oil were visible, as well as a burial ground, cooperage, and lookout where fires would be lit when whales were spotted. This was what I had come to see, the weaving of ancient mysteries with the dramatic textures of the far north. More than an hour slipped by as I gently crouched on the edge of the spongy matted vegetation to capture just the right memories to take home.

That night we saw our first icebergs, small ones, a vivid white against the distant bluish gray of what remains of Labrador. In the dark of night, we turned away, headed across the Labrador Sea toward Greenland, continuing on through the murky greyness of another full day. Occasionally the hollow mournful call of the ship’s foghorn would vibrate through the ship and, when I went to swim, I found the pool quite cold and waves surging back and forth in concert with the swells below.









Thanks to Captain James Cook – Corner Brook, Newfoundland (July 24)

The pace of life aboard ship accelerates on a port day. This morning I woke at seven. That would be the new 7:00, as we have moved our clocks ahead 1 hour and 1/2 hour the last two nights. Today I discovered that the Newfoundland Time Zone is only half an hour ahead of the Atlantic Time Zone, something I did not know happened anywhere.

Anyway, after the most refreshing night’s sleep yet, I swam for half an hour with the pool all to myself. Fortunately for me, there are few swimmers aboard, although I love the one older man in a Speedo who out swam me the other morning, going back and forth with a snorkel! 

Then I was off on foot to explore Corner Brook, located on the Bay of Islands, which was first charted by none other than British explorer and cartographer James Cook. Today it is a pulp and paper mill town, so my nose felt right at home as I left port.

A replica of Cook’s naval uniform hangs in front of a model of the H.M.S. Endeavor in the Corner Brook Museum & Archives.

“Snowshoeing the horse for a winter log haul,” by artist Bond Penney, who began working in logging camps at age 16. There were also old photographs of small round horse snowshoes.
The cod fishing industry was the impetus behind Cook’s commission to chart the Newfoundland waters for the British Navy. Dried and salted cod were a valuable British export. Traditional fishing dories were painted yellow or orange above for visibility in the often foggy weather and green to hide them from below.

The extensive Corner Brook Stream Trail system took me by the historic Glynmill Inn (with nice free Wifi on their shady porch), past a pond with swans, and through an attractive birch and conifer forest. It made the perfect do-it-yourself shore excursion. So now I’m going off duty with reporting and will meander back to the ship just for fun. Talk soon!


Fiddling around – Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada (July 23)

Basement kitchen in the Jost House, circa 1786, where I learned that stained glass was shipped here in barrels of molasses and how to test for the proper temperature of the beehive oven with a smoking feather!

Sydney, on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, welcomes port visitors with a giant fiddle that would dwarf our LL Bean boot back home. It pays tribute to the role of fiddle music, brought here by Scottish immigrants and later influenced by other traditions, including the native Mi’kmaq.

Anticipating a great concert of Celtic music this evening on the ship.

Wentworth Park at the far side of the downtown lies on land originally claimed by the Admiralty to supply wood for the British Navy. Its evolution later included grist and wool carding mills and today brides and grooms being photographed and a young crowd of locals.
I love to visit churches, so you’re sure to see plenty of them. St. George’s Anglican Church served the British engineers who laid out the town in 1784.

A Beehive view – Bar Harbor, Maine and beyond (July 20-22)

The ship’s gentle roll surprised me, when I woke in the dark hours of that first night onboard. So, too, did the power of the mighty churning wake evaporating behind us as we headed north in the morning’s early glow. I was finding the details of this new life fascinating: the grand and elegant atrium, the Indonesian crew in their crisp uniforms, the formal service (think someone tucking your napkin in your lap for you), and even the rather sobering lifeboat drill.

The eco-friendly Island Explorer bus whisked Bob and Kerrell Lincoln and I around Acadia. We had stunning views and even a glimpse of our ship from the summit of The Beehive.
 Our first port of call, on the other hand, was a familiar old friend. Bar Harbor, home to Acadia National Park, is close to our home on the coast of Maine and I have often camped and hiked there. This time, though, I would arrive in style and have the fun of introducing the park to new friends, Bob and Kerrell Lincoln from British Columbia.

 Although Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the east coast of the United States, I suggested climbing The Beehive instead. Its narrow path and frequent boulder scrambles carry you upward 470 feet (as measured by Bob’s GPS). In places, the glacially scarred reddish granite forms steps; in others, there are solid iron rungs and handles to anchor you reassuringly to the path. It is not surprising that an early area industry was granite quarrying. 

 This well-built historic trail is one of many constructed in the early 20th century by community volunteers. As I grasped the trunk of a pitch pine later to slow my downward descent, I marveled at the worn smoothness of the bark, witness to the touch of so many through the years. I quickly felt the trunk down low and found the contrasting roughness I expected.

 After walking some more to the mere whisper of Thunder Hole, there was only time for a quick look around town before catching a tender back to the ship for some awesome happy hour crab cakes. 


The windows of St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church grace the oldest church sanctuary on Mt. Desert Island.
The following day (yesterday) was spent at sea, crossing into Canadian waters, headed for Sydney, Nova Scotia.

And now for something completely different…northern Europe in luxury

A week from today, I will be walking the shores of Greenland.

In my heart, I am far more well-traveled than is actually true. Fifty-four years have come and gone and I have visited just five countries: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Honduras. That number is about to grow significantly, as my parents and I embark today on Holland America’s Voyage of the Vikings cruise. Our route will take us to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom (and back again) over the next 35 days.

The ship sails from Boston at 11 p.m. tonight, headed to Bar Harbor, Maine tomorrow. More soon!