29 September 2013: Quebec City, Canada

Quebec City, Canada: Je me souviens

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

What is better than a visit to Quebec City on a superlative fall day? How about a second visit in three days. [whohit]-QUEBEC CITY#2-[/whohit]

Je me souviens is the official motto of Quebec City; it means “I remember” and it refers to the rich culture and (to some) the mixed history of the region. But for us, we remember yet another stroll through one of the most glorious places we know, the most European city in North America, more French than France in many ways.

I wrote about Quebec City in my blog post of 27 September; you can read that entry below.

Today we walked deep into the banlieue of Faubourg, the residential suburb of Quebec City. It is like a miniature version of the big city, with silver-spire churches, bistros, and handsome houses. All it was lacking were thousands of tourists.

Speaking of tourists, the principal difference between today’s visit and our previous one two days ago was the presence of several other cruise ships in port. One of them, the Celebrity Summit is docked just in front of us and it is like a monstrous horizontal skyscraper.

The Summit appears to me as if it were the box that our lovely ship was delivered in.

It is not something I want to remember.

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Fall comes to Faubourg. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Early morning near the Chateau Frontenac. Photo by Corey Sandler

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A magnet for sweet tooths. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Museum of Civilization in Quebec City. Photo by Corey Sandler

All photos and text copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy of any photo, please contact me.

 

28 September 2013: Montreal, Canada

Au Revoir…Arrivederci…and Welcome Aboard

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We arrived this morning in Montreal to a second consecutive spectacular fall day. We deserve it.

About 300 our guests will be disembarking and heading home. More than 50 will stay with us as we head back out on the Saint Lawrence and then turn south toward Nova Scotia, Boston, and then west to New York. [whohit]-MONTREAL-[/whohit]

Safe travels for those heading home…happy to see friends who are staying, and welcome aboard to our new guests.

Here’s our next cruise: from Montreal to New York by way of Charlottetown, Halifax, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard.

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Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris.

You can quibble about a few francophone cities in Africa that have more residents—Algiers and Kinshasa amongst them—but French is not the mother tongue there.

The metropolis of Montreal is truly cosmopolitan.

Think of it as a large, exciting city where most of the inhabitants happen to speak French.

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Pointe a Calliere, near the Old Port of Montreal where we are docked. Photo by Corey Sandler

Montreal is Canada’s has about four million habitants in its metropolitan area; it is the second largest city of Canada, after Toronto.

The French language is spoken at home by about 66 percent of Montreal residents, followed by English at 13 percent.

I have described Montreal as a cosmopolitan city, though, and that is very much true.

There are more than a dozen languages in common use. In approximate order: French, English, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Creole, Chinese, Greek, Portuguese, Romanian, Vietnamese, Russian, Armenian, and Polish.

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Reflections of autumn in Montreal. Photos by Corey Sandler

Quebec is Canada’s largest province. Only Nunavut, which is governed as a territory, is larger.

To put things in perspective: Quebec occupies a territory nearly three times the size of France. Or, for that matter, three times the size of Texas.

When you walk the streets of downtown Quebec, there are more than 1,200 miles between you and the province’s northern boundary along Hudson Strait.

Unlike most Canadians I’ve been up there, and let me tell you: Ivujivik looks nothing at all like Montreal.

And they don’t speak much French up there, either: northern Quebec is the home of the Inuit and a lot of caribou, seals, and polar bears.

For us, we’ll enjoy haute cuisine aboard our five-star hotel as we sail from French Canada to Acadia, New England, and New York. There are more than a few languages, accents, and local peculiarities ahead: stay tuned.

All photos and text copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy of a photo, please contact me.

 

27 September 2013: Quebec City, Canada

27 September 2013: Quebec City, Canada

Quebec City: A Coup de foudre[whohit]-QUEBEC CITY-[/whohit]

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

A Coup de foudre, indeed. That’s a French expression that literally means a bolt of lightning.

But figuratively, it is an expression of love at first sight.

We have been to Quebec City dozens of times; we’ll be there four times in the next month, and we’re still in love.

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The portal to the sublime Seminary of Quebec, and a statue to women’s suffragists at the Quebec Parliament. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Near our dock in Quebec City. Our ship’s funnel reflected in a building across the way. Photos by Corey Sandler

Our transatlantic crossing began in Southampton on September 12 and sailed in mostly gray skies and fractious seas to Cornwall, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland, and ports on the outer reaches of Saint Lawrence River.

Our reward was superb weather in Quebec City, a Chamber of Commerce day with impossibly blue skies, warm sun, and (relatively) few tourists in town. Let us give thanks.

The Cultural Capital

Québec City region is home to more than 700,000 people. That’s about one-sixth the population of metropolitan Montreal, which has four million residents, two million in the city itself.

It is Québec City, though, that is the political and cultural capital of the Canadian province of Québec.

On this visit we chose to go to the Parliament where we took a guided tour of the beautiful interior and its two houses. It is a less-visited jewel of Quebec City.

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Inside the Quebec Parliament. Photos by Corey Sandler

Europe in Canada

Québec City is the most European city in North America, more French than Paris in many ways.

While Montreal is a large city that happens to mostly speak French . . . Québec City is a defiantly French place.

Defiant despite the fact that the battle that broke the hold of the mother country on New France took place here on the Plains of Abraham.

Defiant in the face of the British who tried to change not just the government but also the culture.

Defiant against the Americans who rose to power to the south and who fought—first with armies and later with movies and television and McDonald’s.

And, it must be said, defiant in many ways against the First Nations who were living here . . . for centuries or longer before Jacques Cartier arrived in 1534.

Politics and history aside, Quebec City is one of the most spectacular cities in the world.

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A portion of the skyline of Quebec, and river buoys on the bank. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Lower Town of Quebec City. Photos by Corey Sandler

All photos and text copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy of a photo, please contact me.

26 September 2013 Baie-Comeau, Quebec

26 September 2013 Baie-Comeau, Quebec

Pulp Non-Fiction

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Baie-Comeau is on the Côte-Nord, or north bank of the Saint Lawrence, near the mouth of the Manicouagan River.[whohit]-Baie Comeau-[/whohit]

You’ve heard the term company town, right?

Baie-Comeau was a company town that essentially grew out of a single man’s investment and homestead.

And he wasn’t even a Canadian.

Robert Rutherford McCormick rose through the family business to become owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

He was one of those publishers who felt that his newspaper was his personal megaphone.

A conservative Republican, he was a fierce opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Also Democrats in general, liberal Republicans, easterners, the World Court, the League of Nations, and later the United Nations. Oh, and also he intensely disliked the British Empire.

He was an America First isolationist who strongly opposed entering World War II and supporting Britain.

So what was he doing in the Dominion of Canada, part of the British Empire until 1982?

Why, he was using the abundant water resources of Quebec and what seemed like an unending supply of soft wood trees to construct a paper mill and a hydroelectric power plant to operate it.

He established the town of Baie-Comeau in 1936.

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Baie-Comeau. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Newsprint is loaded onto a huge special-purpose ship in Baie-Comeau. Photo by Corey Sandler

He modestly named the structure holding back the Manicouagan river the McCormick Dam.

The dam thing is still there, just 3 kilometers or 2 miles west of town.

Hydro Quebec, the provincial power giant, owns and operates dozens of huge power plants in Quebec; I’ve been 1,200 miles north of Montreal to the La Grande complex at Radisson on Hudson Strait.

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Manic-2 Hydro Quebec power plant, and the Manicouagan River. Photos by Corey Sandler

Here on the Saint Lawrence River, the Manic-2 plant was completed in 1967.

The eight turbines together produce about 1.145 Gigawatts of power, which is in the range of a large nuclear power plant—without the nuclear reactor.

The tour is, shall say, electric. Especially when you are able to enter into one of the turbine and generator rooms and are able to feel the power of the onrushing water and see the huge rotor spinning within the stator.

Alas, photos were not permitted because of someone’s idea that allowing them would threaten the dam security. It almost killed me to walk around the dam without my cameras.

 

25 September 2013: Gaspé and Percé, Quebec

25 September 2013: Gaspé and Percé, Quebec

Traveling Back in Time

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

The Gaspé Peninsula reaches out to the east…toward Europe.[whohit]-Perce Gaspe-[/whohit]

Not all that much changed from the way it looked when Jacques Cartier passed through in 1534. He planted a cross on behalf of Francois I of France, and kidnapped the sons of Chief Donnaconna to bring home as trophies (and as pilots to bring him back to what became known as New France.)

For 400 years afterward, the peninsula developed just a bit, although it still seems frozen in time as if it were in the 1950s. Beaver Cleaver would feel right at home.

The word Gaspé is actually not French; in the Micmac language it means something very close to Land’s End, which it would be if you were coming from the west, from North America.

You could call it Land’s Beginning if you were coming from Europe.

We are near completion of our transatlantic crossing west from Europe, Iceland, and Greenland to Atlantic Canada.

As we do, let’s not forget that in the 15th, 16th, and 17th century it was all about Asia.

Trust me: Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and Quebec and Virginia and New York were not Asia.

But the reason they were explored was because the Europeans who came there thought that a passageway through to Asia was somewhere right in the neighborhood.

Depending on how you phrase the question…..and who you ask…..Cabot was in 1497 perhaps the second European to “discover” the mainland of North America.

As we know, the first quite possibly was Leif Ericson, about the year 1000, who may have established a settlement or at least a service station at L’anse Aux Meadows.

But some people will want to talk instead about Saint Brendan of Clonfert who set sail in a small boat—basically a leather bathtub—about the year 500.

True believers say Brendan made it to Iceland; others say he crossed all the way over to North America.

Christopher Columbus referenced Saint Brendan’s Island in his planning.

Why is Columbus not on the list?

Columbus never touched North America.

On his four expeditions he sailed in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and landed on the coast of South America in Venezuela and Central America in Panama..

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Gaspé. Photo by Corey Sandler

It was 1534 before the next major expedition was sent to the northern part of North America. Among other things, François had been distracted by yet another war with Spain.

The man in charge: Jacques Cartier, born in Saint-Malo in Brittany in northwest France.

Like nearly all explorers of the time, Cartier was told by his sponsor that if he could not get through to the Orient he should at least try to find gold and silver.

The first peoples he met were probably the Micmac.

“As soon as they saw us they began…making signs…that they had come to barter with us…and held up some skins of small value, with which they clothe themselves.”

“We likewise made signs to them that we wished them no harm,” Cartier wrote, “and sent two men ashore, to offer them some knives and other iron goods, and a red cap to give to their chief…

“They bartered all they had to such an extent that all went back naked…”

In what is today called the Detroit de Jacque-Cartier (the Jacques Cartier Strait) he abandoned his exploration because of fog and bad weather.

On the way out, passing south of Anticosti at the Baie de Gaspé, Cartier met the members of a local migrant tribe, a Huron-Iroquois band called the Laurentians.

It would be a relationship that would bring benefit and loss, good and evil to each side.

Cartier gave gifts, and met Chief Donnaconna.

The alliance was formalized with dances and celebration.

Summer was ending and Cartier had little to show; he searched for something to convince the King to fund another expedition.

First he tried flattery. In July 1534, near today’s little settlement of Gaspé, he had his men erect a thirty foot cross with a fleur-de-lys shield.

Carved into the wood was “Vive le Roi de France.” (Long live the King of France.)

If you go into the town of Gaspe, you can visit the Cartier cross: not the original one, but the stone commemoration erected in 1934 as a gift from France.

The Pierced Rock

Rocher Percé, or Percé Rock is a large offshore rock in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence off the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.

The Pierced Rock, which looks to some like a ship under sail, is one of the world’s largest natural arches located in the sea. The arch stands about 20 meters or 66 feet above the water.

The limestone rock is about 1,420 feet or 433 meters in length, about 288 feet or 88 meters high. Geologists estimate its age at about 375 million years.

The name was said to have bestowed by Samuel de Champlain in 1607.

He’d recognize the rock, but perhaps not the souvenir stands.

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Rocher Percé. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

24 September 2013: Corner Brook, Newfoundland

Corner Brook, Newfoundland: The Mill Town at the Other Side of Pond

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Cruises Destination Consultant

We have completed our voyage across the North Atlantic from Southampton to the New World, arriving in Newfoundland. We will continue west to Gaspé, then Quebec, and end this cruise in Montreal.[whohit]-Corner Brook-[/whohit]

It is a thrill, each time we make the crossing. And it is almost always a challenge.

I believe that there have been a few times when we have made it across the pond as if it really were a pond. But I’m having a hard time remembering an uneventful crossing.

On this trip, we faced an extra-tropical hurricane off of Northern Ireland and missed our call at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Sailing in high seas, we arrived at Reykjavik nearly 12 hours late and then had to push back later calls in Greenland and cancel a stop at L’Anse aux Meadows to get back on schedule.

But we arrived safely, well fed, and well entertained.

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Wood to pulp to newsprint in Corner Brook. Photos by Corey Sandler

Corner Brook is located on the Bay of Islands at the mouth of the Humber River in Canada’s remote Newfoundland.

Outside of town on Crow Hill is the Captain James Cook National Historic Site.

Yes, that Captain Cook.

In 1767, the famous British explorer and cartographer surveyed the Bay of Islands and was the first to map the area.

Putting the Hum in Humber

One of the major local employers is the Corner Brook Pulp & Paper Mill. It has been making paper—mostly newsprint—since 1925.

When it was opened, a local politician declared that the plant would “put the Hum in Humber.”

It still does, along with a great deal of steam and a bit of eau de paper mill, which to me smells like a dog who has rolled in sauerkraut.

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The paper mill dominates Corner Brook, around every corner. Photos by Corey Sandler

When I worked for a newspaper in Ohio early in my career, the town also had a large paper mill. The managers lived upwind; the workers downwind. But they agreed on the smell: the called it the smell of jobs.

The Great Somber

But for me, the true gem of the area is Gros Morne National Park.

The park takes its name from Newfoundland’s second-highest mountain peak (2,644 feet/806 meters) located within the park.

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Autumn colors in Gros Morne. Photos by Corey Sandler

In French, Gros Morne literally means “Great Somber.”

In context, it is meant as “large mountain standing alone.”

And in Newfie pronounciation, it is called GROSS-MORN.

And it is definitely upwind of the paper mill.

 

22 September 2013: Qaqortoq, Greenland

Qaqortoq, Greenland: Easier to Say Than to Get to

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Greenland is, by area, the world’s largest island that is not a continent.

It spreads over about 836,000 square miles.[whohit]-Qaqortoq-[/whohit]

The population is about 56,370.

About 80 percent is covered by snowfields and glaciers…which partly helps explain why today it is also the world’s least densely populated country.

About 90 percent of the residents are native-born Ka-la-al-lit, the local tribe of Inuit people.

There are, depending who you ask, either TWO or FOUR stoplights in the entire country.

Then again, there are only about 2,500 cars in all of Greenland.

And only 150 kilometers or 90 miles of road, only about half of which are paved.

Qaqortoq is hard to find on a map, but I suspect the Greenlanders like that quite a bit. It is pronounced as if that middle Q was a hard H: Ka-HOR-tock.

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Sunrise at Qaqortoq. Photos by Corey Sandler

The settlement, near the southern tip, is—like all of the Inuit villages I have visited in northern Canada—a very matter of fact place, just like the Inuit people.

There are some prefab Scandinavian houses, some boxy shops, and a few commercial enterprises: a sealskin tannery, a shipyard, and an open-air market.

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Boxes, pretty boxes, pretty boxes on a hill. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Arriving in Qaqortoq by ship’s tender; a far north nod to a famous bar. Photos by Corey Sandler

But it is Greenland, one of the far corners of the world, and that is very apparent to every visitor. And because it is late September, there was also very much of a feeling of the imminent arrival of winter. In fact, the dock was coated with a bit of coarse snow when we arrived on ship’s tenders at 8 in the morning.

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Laundry on the line, and the way out of town through Iceberg Alley. Photos by Corey Sandler

I led a group of guests on a photo safari up the hill and around to the heliport—the only way other than seasonal boats—to get in or out of town.

And then we went to the market, although we chose not to purchase any of the whale meat that was being cut up on the tables there. Standing next to a chunk of whale meat is enough to convert a butcher to a vegetarian.

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Scenes around Qaqortoq. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Queen of Denmark in Sealskin Shorts

In 1721, Scandinavia came back when Denmark claimed sovereignty over the island.

In November 2008, Greenlanders went to the polls for a referendum.

More than 70 percent of voters turned out, and almost 76 percent approved a motion for independence from Denmark.

Denmark still holds the Faeroe Islands.

On June 21, 2009, in a mix of solemn ceremony and giddy celebration, Greenland welcomed self-governance.

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, handed over the official document bestowing self-governance to the chairman of Greenland’s Parliament.

Marching in Nuuk, she wore the traditional Inuit outfit for a married woman: shorts made of seal fur and a beaded shawl.

The Queen usually dresses a bit more European.

All text and photos copyright 2013 Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like a copy of a photo please contact Corey Sandler through the box on this page.

 

 

21 September 2013: Prince Christian Sound, Greenland

That’s Ice…Prins Christian Sund, Greenland

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Let there be light.

And ice, snow, glaciers, and whales.[whohit]-Prins Christian-[/whohit]

After an abundance of gray and some unmusical rock ‘n roll, Silver Whisper arrived at Greenland at midday on Saturday. And the skies turned blue and the sun shone on some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

The Prince Christian Sound (Prins Christian Sund in Danish) is below the mainland of Greenland and includes Christian IV Island and other islands.

The sound connects the Irminger Sea to the west with the Labrador Sea to the east.

There is only one settlement along this sound, Aappilattoq.

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Sea Smoke passes above icebergs in Prince Christian Sound. Photo by Corey Sandler

We spent about seven hours passing…carefully…through the 60-mile-long Prins Christian Sun (Prince Christian Sound) at the southern end of Greenland. I’ve been to Greenland before, but this was the most glorious day we have ever seen at this high a latitude.

I was up on the bridge to give commentary to the guests, and there I met Magnus, the Ice Pilot who had come on board the ship to assist the captain and crew in navigating in the sound. Ice Pilot is a very specialized job: he is not there to advise on navigation, but instead to share his understanding of the currents and winds and the ways in which huge icebergs move.

Magnus joined us in Reykjavik and will stay onboard until Cornerbrook, Newfoundland.

I did mention icebergs, right? There were hundreds of major ones in the sound and thousands more once we emerged. The largest were the size of apartment buildings, and we were seeing only the one-third or one sixth that was above the surface.

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Ice in the sound. Photos by Corey Sandler

On our starboard side, the cliffs rose 1500 meters (about 5000 feet) in a near vertical wall; a few miles inland the plateau was more than 2000 meters high. And nearly all of the interior of Greenland, perhaps 80 percent, is still covered with snow. The snowpack and glaciers are declining, yes, but there is still a huge amount of ice in Greenland.

At the end of the day, the temperature dropped into the mid- to lower forties, and temperature inversions cause fog and sea smoke to hover above the water, bisecting some of the bergs for dramatic emphasis.

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Aboard Silver Whisper in Prince Christian Sound. Photos by Corey Sandler

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After Ansel Adams. Photo by Corey Sandler

All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you’d like a copy, please contact me.

19 September 2013 REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: A WILD RIDE TO THE MOON

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We arrived in Reykjavik on Wednesday night, more than 12 hours late. It wasn’t a traffic jam that held us up, but rather a pretty fierce ocean storm between the northern reaches of the United Kingdom and Iceland.[whohit]-Iceland-[/whohit]

While we were in Belfast, with plans to move out the next night to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, our very capable and cautious captain Angelo Corsaro wore a ridge in his worry beads. There was a storm, with huge swells and high winds, heading our way.

The decision was to stay overnight in Belfast and delay our departure before heading west toward Iceland. Doing that would give us the chance to come below the heart of the storm and miss its worst effects. It also meant we would have to skip our call at Stornoway, which was a shame: I had planned on shopping for a replacement for my 20-year-old Harris Tweed jacket at the looms there.

The plan worked, but we can only imagine how bad it would have been if we had attempted to stay on schedule. We traveled for two days in an extra-tropical hurricane—the remnants of Humberto—that spread in a spiral more than a thousand miles across.

Barometic pressure dropped below 960 hectopascals; that’s way low. And that low pressure engendered high winds of as much as 95 kilometers or 55 miles per hours. Wave heights were as much as 30 to 35 feet.

That said, Silver Whisper acquitted herself very well. The stabilizers stabilized most of the roll and our navigational plan reduced much of the pitch from bow to stern. But it was a noisy, somewhat bumpy ride.

Throw things at me if you will, but I am one of the horrible people who actually enjoys the feeling of motion on a ship.  Excuse me while I duck the plate someone just threw at me.

Most of our guests managed quite well, and I gave three lectures during the storm. The guests in the theatre were nicely seated; I was the one sliding to and fro on the stage.

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What do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up.

That’s a local joke in and around Reykjavik, which—to be charitable—is not the most green place on the planet. Green as in trees, that is. When it comes to sustainable energy, they’re way beyond Green.

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Hot springs and fumaroles just outside of the capital city of Reykjavik on the Erykjanes Peninsula. Photos by Corey Sandler

We’ve been to Reykjavik many times. It is one of our favorite places because of the spectacular landscape. In and around the capital city is mostly a lunar landscape, but the rest of the island includes green meadows, huge icefields and glaciers, waterfalls, and rocky coasts.

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A hot spring and a hot geothermal plant. Photos by Corey Sandler

The weather, though, is always challenging.

When we arrived Wednesday night we were heartened by the fact that the sky was clear. There was a hunt of the Northern Lights, obscured by the artificial lights of the city.

But when we awoke Thursday, we were back in the rain. A cold rain. In places just a few degrees above the point where we would have been in a snowstorm.

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Climbing a (small) volcano for a peek within. Photos by Corey Sandler

Before I met guests on our tour, I spoke with a local, asking for the forecast. What a shame, she said, it has only rained here twice this summer. She took a beat, and then continued: once for 20 days, and the next time for 40.

So we dealt with the rain but still had a glorious time at hot springs, hot geysers, and lava all around.

At the hot springs there is a distinct odor of sulphur in the air. The Icelanders, of course, have an explanation: the hot water they use to heat their homes and fill their tubs comes second-hand, they say. The trolls have already bathed in it, which accounts for the odor.

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Iceland is split down the middle by a fissure, one side moving toward Europe the other toward the United States. Insert your own political commentary here. At this bridge, we walked from one continent to the other, at least as defined by geographers. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Love Locks again, on the bridge between the continents. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Inside the Pearl, a huge storage tank for geothermal water in Reykjavik. There’s a gift shop, too. Photos by Corey Sandler

The solution, I learned, is to hire ourselves a magician to clear the skies ahead of us as we head out tonight for Greenland. When Icelanders refer to a magician or a wizard, they speak of someone who “knows beyond his nose.”

Presumably that means brimstone and sulphur is not involved.

All photos copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy please contact me through the Order a Print tab on this blog.

 

16 September 2013: Belfast, Northern Ireland: A Titanic City and a Giant’s Causeway

A Titanic City and a Giant’s Causeway

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We headed north from Dublin to Belfast, the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, which is—like it or not for some residents—part of the United Kingdom.[whohit]-Belfast-[/whohit]

A tenuous peace has more-or-less taken root in the past two decades, with some level of power-sharing between the two sides:

The Unionists or Loyalists (mostly Protestants supporting the continued link to the United Kingdom) and Republicans (mostly Catholics who want a union with the independent nation of Ireland.)

You can call it a religious conflict.

Or a political divide.

Or a clash of cultures.

Locally, they call it The Troubles.

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Queen’s College, Belfast. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the Industrial Age, Belfast flourished as a center for two major industries: linen (which is the source of one of the city’s nicknames, Linenopolis), and shipbuilding.

At the sprawling yards of Harland and Wolff, the RMS Titanic was built.

The shipyard is still there, now devoted to new industries like wind farms and offshore drilling.

But the newest major attraction is Titanic Belfast, which opened last year to coincide with the centenary of the incomplete maiden voyage of the luxury liner.

The angular metallic structure was intended, according to its designers, to evoke the image of ship.

It stands 126 feet (38 m) high, the same height as Titanic’s hull.

Locals have already applied their own nickname: The Iceberg.

Belfast Titanic

Belfast Titanic Museum

The museum on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard tells the stories of the ill-fated RMS Titanic and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic.

That last ship had been intended as a liner, but was converted at the start of World War I to be a hospital ship; it struck an underwater mine off the Greek island of Kea on the morning of November 21, 1916 and sank.

There were 1,066 people on board, but only 30 died.

The Britannic was the largest ship lost during the First World War.

ANOTHER GIANT

One of the more extraordinary natural wonders of Northern Ireland lies along the Antrim Coast.

The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea.

Most of the columns are hexagonal (six-sided), although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides.

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Giant’s Causeway. Photos by Corey Sandler

Some 50 to 60 million years ago, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity.

Molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau.

As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred.

Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillarlike structures, which are also fractured horizontally into “biscuits”.

So much for science.

According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant.

The Irish giant Finn MacCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner.

Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet.

In one version of the story, Fionn has second thoughts about his upcoming battle when he realizes that his foe is much bigger than him.

Fionn’s wife, Úna, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle.

When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants.

He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow.

I like that version.

I think of it as another Titanic, a half-completed crossing of the sea.

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Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland                         The bay at Giants Causeway

Photos by Corey Sandler

SETTING SAIL FOR THE NEW WORLD

SOUTHAMPTON TO CANADA: 12 September 2013

The next leg of our journey will take us from Southampton to Cornwall at the southeastern tip of the United Kingdom, Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, Belfast in Northern Ireland, and then on to Iceland, Greenland, and Atlantic Canada.[whohit]-Falmouth Dublin-[/whohit]

Here’s our plan.

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FALMOUTH, U.K.: 13 September 2013

PASTIES AND PIRATES

This is an interesting part of the United Kingdom with a great deal of history, and not all that much visited.

Cornwall forms the southwestern tip of the mainland of Great Britain.

One of the local specialties is the Cornish Pasty, which was one of the original fast foods. It was developed as a way to provide a hot, sealed meal for the workers in the mines of Cornwall.

The ingredients include “swede”, which some people call turnip but is a yellow turnip or rutabaga.

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A Pasty maker in Falmouth. Photos by Corey Sandler

The word is pronounced PASS-TEE, by the way.

Not PAIS-TEE, of course, which is something completely different.

In the Caribbean, on the French island of Les Saintes, native women still bake something similar: Les Tourments d’Amour, the torments of love which had their origin as a packaged meal given the fishermen heading off for a day’s work at sea.

 

DUBLIN, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: 14 September 2013

Upstairs, Downstairs, and Out in the Paddocks

Dublin is always a lively place: a city of students, of writers and poets, and a great brewery to lubricate the creative process.

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There’s Guinness on draught in those tankers. Photo by Corey Sandler

Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, the now-fiercely independent nation that shares the 32,600 square mile (84,400 square kilometer) island of Ireland.

The island is the third-largest in all of Europe, behind only Great Britain—a bit more than twice its size—and Iceland, about 25 percent larger.

We began the day driving out of Dublin along the River Liffey. The city has grown on both sides, and the waterway—once an untamed arm of the sea—is now crossed by a set of graceful bridges including one by architect Santiago Calatrava that uses the form of an Irish harp for its superstructure.

Our first goal was the National Stud, a sprawling home for retired racehorses and some of their offspring. The rulers of the roost were half a dozen stallions who lounge around for half the year before entering into a rigorous six months or so as studs for thoroughbred mares.

They (or at least their owners) are paid handsomely for their services.

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Photo by Corey Sandler

Later we moved on to Castletown, a restored private house that in other locations or circumstances would be considered a palace.

Castletown is Ireland’s showpiece Palladian-style mansion, located in Celbridge outside of Dublin on the River Liffey in County Kildare.

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Castletown: A drawing room and the stables. Photos by Corey Sandler

All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you’d like a copy of any photo, please send me an email through the contact box on this page.

 

From the Baltic to the North Sea

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

Warnemunde, Germany: 8 September 2013

Love Locks and Whale Kites

On the pedestrian bridge that leads from the harbor where Silver Whisper was docked, the railing is festooned with hundreds of brass locks.[whohit]-Baltic Love Locks-[/whohit]

It’s not something you see every day…unless you travel a lot in Western Europe, where it has taken hold as a form of declaration of romantic entanglement. They call them “love locks.”

Here’s the idea: Hans and Angela decide to go steady. To signify their commitment, they head to the hardware store and buy a padlock.

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Love Locks

They write their names on the lock with a pen, or go the extra yard and enscribe them with a power tool. The lock is brought to the bridge and attached…and then the key is tossed into the water below.

And if love turns out to be less than permanent, I suppose one or the other returns to the bridge with a lock-cutter to remove the evidence.

We’ve seen these love locks in many places, most notable on the famous Accademia bridge in Venice. Sometimes the bridges end up bearing so many locked-up declarations that the authorities have to come in and remove them to prevent the bridge from falling down.

Warnemunde is a quirky, attractive little seaside resort in what was for four decades part of East Germany.

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Warnemunde

It was mostly spared from Allied bombing raids in World War II.  Across the Warne river, Rostock was all but leveled because of its many aircraft factories and shipyards.

And so in Rostock, you are able to see some interesting iconoclastic pieces of architecture.

There are hundreds of little seaside cottages in various German, Bavarian, and even Alpine designs. There are several distinctive Bauhaus-style structures, boxy buildings that place function over form.

And then there are the remnants of the quite unimaginative East German authorities: more than a few dreary Soviet-style apartment blocks and the Teepott, a large restaurant and conference center more-or-less shaped like a teapot.

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For us, the best part of our visit on a sleepy Sunday at the end of summer was the discovery that one end of the beach had been taken over by a kite club. They were flying objects of just about every description: dragons, snakes, twirling boxes, and best of all a large whale that rose and sank in the sky above the waves.

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All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you’d like a copy of any photo, please send me an email through the contact box on this page.

 

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS: 10 September 2013

Almost Anything Goes

The last time we visited Amsterdam, a few months ago, we made a beeline for the reopened Rijksmuseum, newly emerged from a ten-year makeover as one of the most spectacular art museums in the world. You can read about that visit in an earlier entry in this blog.

This time we had cheese on our minds.

We walked from our ship toward the floating flower market of Amsterdam and I began my day focusing on tulips and other wondrous blooms. The colors seem to be painted using a palette not found in nature: the artist Van Gogh, the centerpiece of another great museum in Amsterdam, made more than a few studies of flowers.

Later in the day, with an hour or so to spare, I devoted myself to learning a few new tricks in Adobe Photoshop: I converted a photo to black and then hand-selected a few blooms to pop through in full color.

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Flowers, As Arranged by Corey Sandler

But I mentioned a hunt for cheese. Growing up in New York City in the 1950s, I fondly remember neighborhood specialty food shops including cheese stores. My favorite was Kimmel Muenster, a form of slightly sweet muenster cheese laced with pungent caraway seeds.

As supermarkets and big box stores took over the sale of nearly everything, Kummel Muenster disappeared along with the specialty stores. I have spent decades trying to recapture that flavor.

Silversea corporate chef David Bilsland—you can read a bit more about him in earlier postings of this blog—had put me on to a possible substitute: cheese with comino seeds. And so that was our quest: comino cheese.

Across from the flower market was our target: a row of stores selling many varieties of Dutch gouda and other cheeses. And there, hidden in plain sight, were rounds of komijn kaas: comino cheese.

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Gouda is not quite muenster, and comino is not exactly caraway. But after all these years, it was close enough for a celebration. We’ve got the evidence in the refrigerator in our suite.

In other news, there’s a new King in town: 28-year-old King Willem-Alexander took the throne on April 30 of this year.

This followed the abdication of his mother Queen Beatrix, who in retirement has taken the name Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix.

Oh, and the Argentinian-born wife of Willem-Alexander is now Queen Máxima, although that is a title without office in the parliamentary nation of the Netherlands.

Somewhere, Prince Phillip sighs.

A PILOT TAKES TO THE SKIES

The weather in the North Sea and the English Channel can be rough this time of year, and we were reminded of that when we left Amsterdam and headed for what was supposed to be the last port of call on our cruise, at Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Amsterdam, like most of The Netherlands, lies at or below sea level and so its harbor is protected by locks that help prevent high or low tides from affecting commerce and property.

As soon as we cleared the lock out of Amsterdam, we came head-on into a fierce storm.

My wife and I are pretty rugged seafarers and so we had already dined and were fast asleep when a bit of excitement took place on the top deck of Silver Whisper.

Because of the rough conditions, the pilot we had taken on board in Amsterdam was unable to get off our ship to the small boat that had been sent to bring him home. And so a helicopter was brought out, and the pilot was winched up from the pool deck.

We slept through it all.

The next morning came the other shoe: it was too rough to take on a new pilot for the approach to Zeebrugge, and so we were forced to miss that port call. Instead, we crossed the English Channel and pulled into Southampton that evening to spend a peaceful night tied up at the dock.

Out to Sea Again September 2013

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

First of all, apologies to all for the delay in posting. We’ve been experiencing some technical difficulties in the Baltic (I blame Vladimir Putin. Why not? . . . our satellite uplink got bollixed while we were in Saint Petersburg during the G20 meetings.)

We are now aboard Silversea Silver Whisper, on a two-month journey from the Baltic through the North Sea to England and Ireland and across the pond to Canada and America.

Tallinn, Estonia: 3 September 2013

The Answer is Blowing in the Winds of Change

There’s change in the air in Tallinn, Estonia.

But that’s hardly news.

Estonia has been through more changes than just about any other country. An ancient tribe (the Aesti), the Swedes, the Livonians, the Germans, a brief sniff of freedom, the Russians, the Germans, an even shorter breath of liberty, the Soviets, and then finally the Baltic Way.

Estonia is still a place apart, though. The architecture is wonderfully quirky and the folk tales are even quirkier. But the principal barrier to widespread integration is Estikel, the almost-singular language of Estonia.

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Tallinn Old and Reborn

Estikel is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, which include Finnish, Estikel, and Hungarian. It actually is said to have its roots in the Indian subcontinent.

But things change. Estonia is one of the technological hubs of the Internet; Skype and several other elements of the computer lingua franca were developed here.

And there has also been a burgeoning invasion of tourists. At first from Europe, and now from around the world.

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We arrived on Silver Whisper in early September and there was a whiff of fall and a promise of winter in the air. We also found that the billboards are becoming more and more oriented to the outside world: Europeanized and (increasingly) Americanized.

We could have gone to see the latest Jennifer Anniston movie, dubbed into Estikel (probably would have been every bit as intelligible as the American version.) Or we could have ordered a hamborger at the new Striptiis joint along the waterfront.

It’s still a fascinating country, populated by mostly lovely people who all seem to be ready to burst into song at any time to declare, “We’re free, we’re free!”

I’ve decided to cut them a bit of slack for that reason. I just hope the Estonians will hold on to much of their character and culture along the way.

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Saint Petersburg, Russia: 4 September 2013

The Long Haul to Nicholas’ Last Stand

Saint Petersburg and all of Russia is never an easy place.

Russia is one of the bastions of bureaucracy. This one country (all right, it is the largest country on the planet, but still) is probably the principal reason that the rubber stamp industry still survives.

Silver Whisper arrived this morning for a two-day visit. The lovely, smaller vessels of Silversea usually get the best parking space in town—right on the River Neva at the English Embankment—but today we had to settle for circling the block and tying up at the somewhat further-out Sea Passenger Terminal at Ploschad Morskoy Slavy.

Why were we denied our view of ancient Petersburg?

Because the town has been taken over by the muck-a-mucks and the minions of the G-20 global economic summit.

River traffic has been curtailed, roads are closed, some museums are subject to sudden and unexpected and never explained lockdowns.

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Views of Alexander Palace in Saint Petersburg, the final home of the Romanovs

I covered some of these sort of political events when I was a reporter, and I know this: nothing gets accomplished at the meeting itself. Everything has been pre-wrangled, pre-edited, and scripted. All that remains is the grip-and-grin photo session of world leaders.

Putin is here, of course: it’s his country (at least that’s the way he thinks of it.) So too is Obama and 18 or so other world leaders.

We wish them well, and expect little. (Okay, maybe not too much for Putin; he’s a scary dude.)

In any case, our goal was to stay out of their way.

And so this morning we headed from the ship to the Primorskaya Metro station about a mile away and zipped beneath the traffic jams and the police checkpoints to Vitebsky station to catch a train to Detskoye Selo (also known as Pushkin.)

We went not to see Catherine’s Palace (been there, done that, very nice but way too crowded) but instead Alexander Palace.

We were sitting pretty when we got to the ticket counter at a few minutes after 10 in the morning. . . until the agent told us in Russian and sign language that all trains had been cancelled until after noon. Why? Just because. (G-20…)

We finally made it out to Pushkin and walked through the town and out to Alexander Palace, which has been on our list of should-sees for some time.

The palace was designed in 1792 for Catherine the Great as a gift for her grandson, the future Alexander I. It is a relatively simple palace, some say austere, but it certainly has more than a bit of grandeur about it.

The reason it is of interest is that it was the final personal residence of Nicholas II and his family from 1904 until their arrest in 1917. They went from there to a lockdown 850 miles east of Moscow and eventually to their mass execution.

Like nearly all of the treasures of this part of Russia, the palace was severely damaged by the Germans who encircled Petersburg for 900 days during the blockade of World War II. It has not been fully restored, but a dozen or so rooms are open and they are grand…and a bit poignant.

Nicholas and Alexandra were, by the standards of their peers, not really party people. They kept to themselves most of the time, even choosing not to live in the spectactular Catherine’s Palace just down the road.

At Alexander Palace, we were taken by some of the portraits and toys and riding uniforms of the Tsarevich Alexei and some of the clothing and dolls of his sisters.

Not to defend the Czars particularly, but Alexander Palace is one place to go for a sense of the last of the Romanovs as a family. Catherine’s Palace and Peterhof are spectacular but hard to relate to. Alexander Palace was a home.

If you would like a copy of any of my photographs, please contact me through the tab on this page.

 

Helsinki, Finland: 6 September 2013

A Glorious End of Summer in Finland

There must be a Finnish word that is the equivalent of the American expression: “Indian Summer.”

And Indian Summer is a short but very sweet reappearance of warm temperatures and blue skies while autumn and winter are preparing to arrive.

That was certainly our experience in Helsinki this time. On previous visits in the heart of the summer we have experienced winter-like weather; today we could have gone to the beach.

Which is pretty much what we did. We took the public ferry from the city market to Suomenlinna Island in the middle of the harbor.

Suomenlinna was first built up by the Swedes, who held Finland for seven centuries from about 1200; they called it Sveaborg, as in the fortress (borg) of Mother Sweden (Svea).

Finland, which for nearly all of its existence has lived in a very rough neighborhood, has been occupied and assaulted by just about all of the powers of the Baltic: Sweden, Germany, Napoleon, and Russia amongst them.

Suomenlinna (renamed by the Finns when they gained their independence), is a sprawling complex of fortresses, barracks, armories, and dozens upon dozens of very large guns aimed out to sea to protect the entrance to Helsinki.

We spent a few hours strolling in the Indian Summer sun, storing up some warmth for the coming months as we head to northern Scotland, Greenland, Iceland, and Atlantic Canada on the next few cruises.

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Helsinki and Suomenlinna, Helsinki. Photos copyright 2013, Corey Sandler