All posts by Corey Sandler

Corey Sandler has been a storyteller all of this life. He worked as a newsman for Gannett Newspapers and later as a correspondent for The Associated Press before entering the worlds of magazine and book publishing. He has written more than 200 books on history, travel, sports, technology, and business. He currently is a destination and special interest lecturer for Silversea Cruises, one of the world's best luxury cruise lines. If you'd like to contact him, please send an e-mail to this address: corey[AT]sandlerbooks.com (Replace the [AT] with the @ symbol, please.)

9-10 October 2013: Cape Cod Canal and Boston

9-10 October 2013: Through the Canal to Beantown

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

I’ve always admired women (for many reasons) but high on the list is the ability to dance backwards…and in high heels.

That’s a bit of what we’re doing on Silver Whisper, making a return trip from New York to Montreal, and then back again. We don;t often do that, instead usually always on the move from one part of the world to another.

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Boston in October. Photos by Corey Sandler

But I don’t mind. New England and Atlantic Canada is beautiful anytime of the year, and especially spectacular in the fall. The colors are approaching their peak right now, and the air has just enough of a crisp edge to keep us alert enough to fully appreciate all we see.

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The Paramount Theater in Downtown Boston. Photo by Corey Sandler

Last night we made a stately passage through the Cape Cod Canal, heading eastbound from Buzzards Bay to Cape Cod Bay. Going through the canal saves nearly 180 miles of travel and also avoids the shoals and sometimes rough seas around Nantucket Island south of Cape Cod.

Not every ship can use the canal, though. It is wide enough and deep enough for large ships but the limitation is the three bridges (one railroad and two highway) that cross overhead.

All three bridges stand 135 feet above sea level, which is not that high. The lovely Silver Whisper has an air clearance of 129 feet, which means there is just six feet or two meters above the tallest point on the ship and the concrete and steel roadways or tracks of the bridges.

I’ve done the canal transit dozens of times, and every time it appears we’re not going to make it.

But we do. And we did.

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Squeezing Beneath a Bridge on the Cape Cod Canal. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The View from the Navigational Bridge of the Sagamore Bridge on the Cape Cod Canal. Photo by Corey Sandler

See my BLOG entry for October 6-7 for more details about the Cape Cod Canal.

Today we are in Boston. This is one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in the United States, and there’s an extra lilt in Bostonian’s steps as the Red Sox have advanced to the American League Championship, with real hopes of making it to the World Series. It’s been a tough year in Boston…we deserve some good news.[whohit]-CCC EB and BOSTON-[/whohit]

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The Massachusetts Statehouse on Beacon Hill in Boston. Photos by Corey Sandler

All text and photos Copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

 

 

9 October 2013: Newport, Rhode Island

9 October 2013: Newport, Rhode Island

When Fall Comes to New England

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Our sail-away from New York was, just as we hoped, spectacular. Silver Whisper backed out of Pier 88 at 5 pm, and we moved majestically down the Hudson River toward its exit to the sea.

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The gangway from Pier 88 to our ship during the quiet morning before guests came aboard. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The view from the Bridge of Silver Whisper as we backed out of the pier. Photo by Corey Sandler

On our port side was Manhattan; to starboard, the Statue of Liberty. I was up on the bridge giving commentary, but—as always—I had my camera with me.[whohit]-NEWPORT-[/whohit]

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Scenes from our sailaway. Photos by Corey Sandler

And then we sailed into New England. One of my favorite songs is When Fall Comes to New England, by the singer-songwrite Cheryl Wheeler. She has a lovely line about autumn colors; she says that the leaves turn “Irish Setter red.”

Newport, Rhode Island is where the rich came to play.

One of their games, at the peak of the Gilded Age, was a grand form of one-upsmanship.

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The colors of New England. The Newport Museum of Art, and the gardens at the historic Touro Synagogue. Photo by Corey Sandler

It was a competition to impress, astound, and outspend each other.

They built “cottages”, a word they used with a wink and a nod.

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Downtown Newport. Photo by Corey Sandler

In some ways, Newport and the rest of Rhode Island was a model for the ideal of America, a place where freedom of conscience and religion was paramount.

They had been all but driven out of Boston by strict and punitive laws and discrimination.

A year later, the original settlement of Pocasett divided, and a group moved south to found Newport.

By this time, many had become Baptists.

Their political beliefs had been shaped by the difficulties of Boston.

At the heart of their plans was separation of church and state, codified in the Newport Town Statutes of 1641.

Newport became one of the first secular democracies in the world, certainly one of the first in the Americas.

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Newport’s Redwood Library, and an old hotel in town. Photos by Corey Sandler

The original settlers were soon joined in the 1650s by others including Jews and members of the Religious Society of Friends: the “Quakers.”

In the years leading up to the American Civil War, Newport began to attract influential artists, writers, scientists, educators, architects, theologians, architects, and landscape designers.

Summer residents included the activist and poet Julia Ward Howe, the famed Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing, the author Henry James and his psychologist brother William James.

After the Civil War came the Gilded Age, a time of great wealth and expansion.

Bar Harbor in Maine, and the Adirondacks of upstate New York boomed: a surge of privately owned American castles, if you will.

Newport was perhaps the greatest beneficiary.

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The Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. Photos by Corey Sandler

My wife and I live in this part of the world, on the island of Nantucket about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. And so we know Newport and southern New England quite well.

On this visit, I chose to go on a photo safari. I concentrated on the glorious details of Fall in New England.

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Silver Whisper at anchor, offshore of Newport. Photo by Corey Sandler

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

8 October 2013: New York, New York

8 October 2013: New York, New York

You Say Goodbye, We Say Hello

And so we hauled anchor at Martha’s Vineyard and proceeded west at full speed through rolling seas: 45 mile-an-hour winds and 6-to-8 foot swells.

We were sailing into the storm that was heading for Martha’s Vineyard…but by 6pm all was calm and at 8pm we sailed beneath the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge that marks the entrance to New York Harbor.

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USS Intrepid Museum, New York. Photo by Corey Sandler

Giovanni da Verrazzano arrived at the mouth of the river in 1524, but apparently did not progress much further. He believed that it was just a big lake.[whohit]-NEWYORKSAILIN1-[/whohit]

There were others who explored nearby, but it was Henry Hudson who progressed 160 miles up the river in 1609, ready to greet the emperor of China. No such luck, but the mouth of the great river is now the site of the great city of New York.

I was up on the bridge giving commentary to our guests.

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New York from the nighttime arrival of Silver Whisper. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Pier 88 Awaits Silver Whisper. Photo by Corey Sandler

I asked the pilot whether there was anything unusual going on as we headed for the Ambrose Channel and then up the Hudson River.

“Other than the fact that there’s a cruise ship coming in at night, no,” he said.

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The Empire State Building, from the Hudson River. Photo by Corey Sandler

Actually, there was one other special event: a private party had planned a fireworks display near the USS Intrepid museum on the West Side of Manhattan. That happens to be next door to where we were to dock at Pier 88.

They held off on their celebration until we were safely docked at about 9:15pm. But it was a fitting culmination to a great cruise.

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Hooray for Us. Photo by Corey Sandler

We wish safe travels to those guests leaving us in the Big Apple.

And we declare: Welcome Aboard to new friends joining us for the trip to Montreal.

Later today, we will back out of the pier, sail down the river and salute Lady liberty before heading to Newport, Boston, Portland, and back up the coast to Canada.

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All photos and text copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase copies, please contact me.

 

6-7 October 2013: Boston and Cape Cod, Massachusetts

6-7 October 2013: Boston and Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Shipping Out of Boston…Side-stepping a Storm

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We spent a rainy Sunday in Boston. Speaking for myself, I’ll take a gray day in Beantown over sun and blue skies almost anywhere else.

Boston is one of America’s liveliest and culturally vibrant cities. And the religious fervor is uplifting: the Red Sox are in the playoffs and all is well with the world.[whohit]-CAPE COD1-[/whohit]

In early evening, we shipped out of Boston, heading for a call at Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard.

Let’s consider a ship coming out of Boston and wanting to go here, to New York.

You could go out to sea around Cape Cod.

Another route—not ordinarily a wise decision for a large ship—is to sail between Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

There is a passage, but it is very tricky and in places very pretty shallow.

Just ask the former master of the QE2, who almost lost his ship—and did lose his command—when he tried that in 1992.

Cape Nautical Chart

Shoals, Wrecks, and Other Threats around Cape Cod and the Islands

The hook of Cape Cod is like a giant’s raised right arm. Near its fist toward the northwest, is Provincetown.

If you didn’t know Cape Cod was there, or if your ship was being blown south in a howling nor’easter you could easily end up wrecked on the inside of the arm.

Mariners have also known about the Nantucket Shoals for more than four hundred years.

East and south of Nantucket the sea is pretty treacherous.

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The Hook of Cape Cod

So for the past few centuries, large ships have dropped down below Cape Cod and sail to the south of Nantucket.

But even that has its challenges. Nantucket is nearly surrounded by shoals and other obstructions: rocks and remnants of nearly forgotten naval encounters of World War I and II.

Since 1914, if your ship is of the right side, there has been an alternative: the Cape Cod Canal.

Using the canal saves between 135 and 166 miles, eliminating about seven to ten hours of sailing through dangerous waters.

Construction of the Cape Cod Canal began June 22, 1909.

The man with the plan (and the money) was August Belmont, Jr. And the plan used by The Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company was drawn by engineer William Barclay Parsons.

As a consultant to the Panama Canal Commission, Parsons had recommended a sea-level canal across Nicaragua, but Teddy Roosevelt disagreed.

As chief engineer of the New York Rapid Transit Commission, he had overseen the construction of Belmont’s I-R-T subway line.

In the borough of Queens, he is memorialized with Parsons Boulevard.

And the firm he founded, now called Parsons Brinckerhoff, is today one of the largest American civil engineering firms.

Construction of the canal turned out to be much more difficult than merely digging a channel.

In Panama, the French and then the Americans had to work in tremendous heat and torrential downpours. They dug through swamps filled with mosquitoes carrying malaria and Yellow Fever, crossed treacherous fast-flowing rivers, and blasted through the mountainous spine of Central America.

In Cape Cod, the problems included mammoth boulders left behind by Ice Age glaciers, and the cold New England climate which made it impossible to dredge or dig in winter.

Cape Cod and Nantucket are terminal moraines of the Laurentide Ice Sheet of about 20,000 years ago.

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The Laurentide Ice Sheet.

The huge rocks came down from the Canadian Shield.

Though Nantucket is mostly sand, if you look around the moors and even in town you’ll find some fairly substantial boulders.

There’s one in my neighbor’s front yard. It’s a gift from Canada.

The Cape Cod Canal debuted, as a private toll waterway, on July 29, 1914.

Belmont had managed to open seventeen days before the Panama Canal.

The canal was taken over by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the Depression and widened and deepened. Three new bridges were built over the channel.

Each year, more than 35 million vehicles pass over the two highway bridges, which provide the only land link between Cape Cod and the mainland of Massachusetts.

Every time I use one of the bridges I remind myself they were built by the lowest bidder.

And I also enjoy four lanes of two-way traffic without a center barrier.

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The Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal.

Curb-to-curb the bridges are just 40 feet wide.

We’re 135 feet above the water, driving in traffic lanes less than ten feet wide; a semi-tractor trailer is eight-foot-six-inches wide.

The maximum length for vessels is 825 feet.

More importantly, ships have to be able to fit beneath the three bridges, 135-feet above mean tide.

Bottom line: An aircraft carrier or a monster megaship like the ridiculously supersized Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas that carry 6,000 passengers and 3,000 crew within their welded steel hulls are too long, draw too much water, and most importantly too tall to squeeze below the bridges.

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Silver Whisper Squeezes Below the Sagamore Bridge. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The Cape Cod Canal.

Well, we made it through the canal, and arrived offshore of Oak Bluffs early Monday morning. But our string of good luck with the weather—something that began in the Maritimes of Canada more than a week ago—came to an end.

A significant gale was on the horizon, with high winds and seas. And so, Captain Luigi Rutigliano hauled anchor and we scurried out of Massachusetts and headed for an evening arrival in New York City.

A few hours after we left, my cell phone began chiming with messages about the cancellation of ferry boats to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket where we live. So we side-stepped the storm.

All text by Corey Sandler. Copyright 2013. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

 

5 October 2013: Bar Harbor, Maine

5 October 2013: Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor Without Acadia

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

A non-partisan quip, from one of my literary heroes, Mark Twain: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

The history of Bar Harbor, Maine is bound up in the glorious greensward now known as Acadia National Park.

It’s a great place to visit, especially if you are lucky enough to be there in good weather with the fall colors in full display.

Well, we had the weather and we had the colors, but we did not have the park.

Because of the shutdown of the federal government (See Mark Twain, above), the park was closed.

There were three cruise ships in the harbor: two small vessels including Silver Whisper and one ugly megaship.

The streets were jammed. The ice cream and taffy stands busy. And the park closed.

The Park-less Town

The town of Bar Harbor is quite small, with a permanent population of about 5,000.

Of course, that population swells greatly in the summer and fall.

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Ice cream, salt water taffy, and tourists locked out of Acadia. Photo by Corey Sandler

At the back of the harbor is the bar, a stretch of sand and gravel that is covered at high tide but visible and often walkable at low tide across to Bar Island.

It can cause a bit of inconvenience if you’ve gone out on the bar and the tide comes in behind you to cover your escape route.[whohit]-BAR HARBOR1-[/whohit]

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Bar Harbor. Photo by Corey Sandler

Mount Desert Island is Maine’s largest island, with an area of 108 square miles (280 km²).

That makes it the sixth largest island in the continental United States, and the second largest on the east coast of the United States—behind Long Island in New York and ahead of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Even without the park, it’s a pretty place, especially if you go past the t-shirt shops and into the old town.

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Bar Harbor. In the churchyard is a memorial to the sons of Eden (the town’s original name) who died in the U.S. Civil War. Photos by Corey Sandler

We come back to Bar Harbor on Silver Whisper in about three weeks. We hope the park is open, Congress is shut, and the leaves still red and gold.

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

 

 

4 October 2013: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax: Beauty and History in the Mirror

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Much of the history of the Maritimes of Canada can be summed up in one place: Halifax.

Native peoples. Early European explorers. French and English military clashes.[whohit]-HALIFAX1-[/whohit]

And in Halifax, one of the largest and best protected ports in the world: a great and terrible harbor.

Halifax is Canada’s front door, a place where more than a million immigrants landed to populate the mostly empty nation.

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Halifax: Canada’s Front Door. Photos by Corey Sandler

During peacetime it grew as a great trading port very close to the Great Circle Route—the shortest distance between Europe and North America.

And it grew—and suffered—during wartime as navies clashed for control in Colonial times, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War.

Then it became even more critical as its superb harbor was used as a place for convoys to gather before crossing the Atlantic during World War I and II.

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Halifax Old and New. Photos by Corey Sandler

THE GREAT HARBOR

The harbor runs in a northwest-southeast direction.

What is now a huge harbor is actually a drowned river valley.

It was carved by a massive glacier.

Then, after the ice age, the sea level rose to fill it in.

Closer to the open ocean is the Northwest Arm. It is not wide or deep enough for major ships, but instead is mostly used by pleasure boats.

Deep into the harbor is The Narrows, where the two sides come close together. Today a bridge passes overhead.

And then past the Narrows is the large Bedford Basin.

THE TERRIBLE HARBOR

It was at the Narrows where the largest manmade explosion before the atomic bomb occurred:

The Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917.

During World War I, the French munitions ship Mont-Blanc, packed with a witches brew of munitions and chemicals collided with the Norwegian war relief ship Imo at the Narrows.

The explosion destroyed a major portion of waterfront Halifax as well as Dartmouth across the harbor.

It killed about two thousand people and injured nine thousand more.

Halifax was devastated, and there are still some places where you can feel the century-old echoes: the Hydrostone District above the narrows is filled with homes all built after the explosion.

Down along the waterfront, Halifax has done a marvelous job of reclaiming the harbor as a civic jewel. Tourists stroll along the boardwalk, and locals visit the museums and restaurants.

And most of the modern construction along the water uses mirrored glass. The water is reflected everywhere you turn, the mirrors seeming to double the size of the huge harbor.

All photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

3 October 2013: Sydney, Nova Scotia

3 October 2013: Sydney, Nova Scotia

The Fortress of Louisbourg, Resplendent in the sun

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Sydney, Nova Scotia once had a thriving economy based around fishing, coal mining, and steel mills.[whohit]-LOUISBOURG-[/whohit]

All three industries are all but gone now.

Things got pretty grim, and I’m not just talking about the weather, which can be extremely awful: cold, windy, and snowy. And even worse in winter…

It’s not always gray and grim.

Twenty miles to the south of Sydney is Louisbourg, a massive French fortification on a particularly lonely piece of coastline.

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Louisbourg. Photos by Corey Sandler

The times we have visited—even in summer—it has often been shrouded in fog and mist, sometimes nearly wintry.

But not today: it’s a bit scary, the weather we’ve had lately. Blue skies and sun. What will winter hold in store?

The location of the fortress on the southernmost point of the Atlantic coast of Cape Breton Island was chosen because it was easy to defend against British ships attempting to attack Quebec City.

The fort was also built to protect France’s hold on one of the richest fish deposits in the world, the Grand Banks.

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A Lady of the House at work, and as reflected in a mirror at Louisbourg. Photos by Corey Sandler

The original fortress, constructed mainly between 1720 and 1740, was one of the most extensive (and expensive) European fortifications constructed in North America.

The fortifications took the original French builders twenty-five years to complete.

The fort itself cost France thirty million livres, which prompted King Louis XV to joke that he should be able to see the peaks of the buildings from his Palace in Versailles.

Two and a half miles of wall surrounded the entire fort.

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Louisbourg. Photos by Corey Sandler

On the western side of the fort, the walls were thirty feet high, and thirty-six feet across.

For the French, it was the second most important stronghold and commercial city in New France. Only Quebec was more important to France.

It was captured by British forces and colonists in 1745.

And then in 1760 British engineers systematically destroyed Louisbourg to prevent its future use by anyone.

And the fortress and the town were more or less left untouched for two centuries.

In the 1960s, the Canadian government paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the partial reconstruction of the fortress as a living history museum, in the process providing some temporary jobs for unemployed coal miners and struggling fishermen in the area.

The result is spectacular, all the more so on our out-of-season weather.

All photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

2 October 2013: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

2 October 2013: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Anne of Green Gables and Tokyo

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

When you think of Stratford-upon-Avon, you think of a certain poet and playwright by the name of William Shakespeare.[whohit]-CHARLOTTETOWN-[/whohit]

We are talking apples and oranges …or jellyfish and lobsters here… but in certain circles around the world…in some of the most unlikely places…

Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island is not known for Queen Charlotte, not remembered for the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 that led the way to Canadian Confederation, and not thought of at all for almost anything else…except for the work of a relatively minor author named Lucy Maud Montgomery and a series of novels that begin in 1908 with “Anne of Green Gables.”

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Charlottetown. Photos by Corey Sandler

But let’s start with the real place that is Prince Edward Island.

Charlottetown is the capital of Canada’s least-populated province, Prince Edward Island.

The city is the country’s smallest provincial capital, with a population of about 35,000.

(Canada’s three territories: Nunavut, Yukon, and Northwest Territories have smaller populations, but they are not provinces.)

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Autumn in Charlottetown. Photos by Corey Sandler

The town was named in honor of Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III.

Charlotte (1744 to 1818) was a Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Queen of the United Kingdom.

Canada has produced some very notable authors, including Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen,

Michael Ondaatje (“The English Patient”,) Margaret Atwood, (“The Handmaid’s Tale”,) Mordechai Richler (“The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,”,) and Robert Service (“The Cremation of Sam McGee”) among them.

But none have had the global impact of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

About 150,000 tourists visit Green Gables each year; in the peak months of July and August as many as 2,000 per day.

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On the day of our visit, two much larger (and spectacularly ugly) cruise ships were in the harbor. We came in by ship’s tender, threading our way to shore. Photos by Corey Sandler

There are some other businesses on the island: fishing, potato farming, and recreation.

But a large portion of the province’s income comes from tourism, and most of that is directly or indirectly related to Anne.

Which brings us to Japan.

“Anne of Green Gables” was translated into Japanese in 1952 and quickly adapted as one of the standard texts for teaching English in the nation’s schools.

There are Anne of Red Hair fan clubs all through Japan; one of them is the Buttercups.

There are major groups of fans in Europe, Australia, and China as well.

But only in Japan have they taken it to the level of idol-worship, comic books, refrigerator magnets, and wedding ceremonies.

In Japan, Anne is almost everywhere.

Why are the Japanese so fascinated with Anne?

It could be the beautiful pastoral settings of Prince Edward Island, something which connects with the Japanese appreciation of simple nature.

But as the writer Calvin Trillin observed in a 1996 essay in The New Yorker, it could also be a fascination by Japanese girls with this impossible creature Anne who is so un-Japanese:

feisty, independent, with a face full of freckles topped by a mane of red hair.

That is as much of an alien creature for the Japanese as Godzilla.

All photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy of an image, please contact me.

 

30 September 2013: Saguenay and La Baie, Quebec

Up the Saguenay River to La Baie, Ha! Ha!

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant SIlversea Cruises

Le Royaume du Saguenay, the Kingdom of Saguenay, is one of the most spectacular watery regions of lower Quebec.

Ha! Ha! Indeed.[whohit]-SAGUENAY-[/whohit]

I’m not making fun of the place. The local First Nations People called the cul-de-sac on one fork of the Saguenay River Ha! Ha!, which we believe means (en francais) a cul-de-sac. The English word is a bit harsh: dead end. But it is anything but dead.

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In the park. Photos by Corey Sandler

The people of La Baie take great joy in the place where they live. Fishing, hunting, skiing, hockey, and greeting the occasional cruise ship that makes an excursion up the river. In 2013, about 20 made the tip, Silver Whisper among them.

In fact, we’ll do it three times this season, returning in a few weeks for a visit inbound from New York to Montreal and again coming back out.

Shhh…don’t tell anyone else or they’ll ruin the place.

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In the park. Photos by Corey Sandler

The morning began as we made a left turn out of the Saint Lawrence near Tadoussac. There we were met by greeters in the river: a pod of beluga whales and a few minkes.

The Saguenay River extends about 100 kilometers or 62 miles in a deep fjord: about 500 to 600 meter high cliffs, and at least that much water beneath our keel.

The pale blue, almost white belugas were known to early mariners as “canaries of the sea” because of the high-pitched whistle they sometimes make. We instead whistled at them.

About two hours later, near Eternity Bay, we passed below Notre Dame du Saguenay, a statue of the Virgin Mary erected in the 1880s by a local salesman giving thanks for his successful escape from a plunge through the ice.

I was up on the Bridge giving commentary and then Captain Luigi Rutigliano executed a graceful full circle in the river in front of the statue as we played Ave Maria on the open decks.

At La Baie, the locals were out on the dock dancing, demonstrating arts, and shaking the hand of every passenger.

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The Silver Whisper at the dock in La Baie. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The autumn sun lights the trees. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

I went with a group of guests to the National Park of Saguenay and we climbed on a fairly technical path up to a spectacular view of the river. Ha! Ha!

 

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.

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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.