The night before we docked in Longyearbyen, Norway, we all toasted the Captain and crew and thanked them all for a wonderful trip. Earlier in the day I watched about twenty people take the polar plunge. They all survived.
Night or day the views were the same.
Once we docked in Longyearbyen, Norway we boarded a bus that took us to the airport. On the way we passed the entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
I had an uneventful overnight in Helsinki and it was on to London the next day. I opted for a slower pace and stayed in Windsor for my last few days abroad. The castle wasn’t open on the days I was there but I managed to see a few sights. It really is a lovely town. With Eton right next door.
Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Eton College was founded in 1440 by Henry VI. You will need $56,000 per year to send your teenage boy there. No girls, please.
From Jan Mayen we headed north and spent another two days at sea before pulling into Bergerbukta at the southern tip of Svalbard. We took a Zodiac cruise and saw a seal lounging on the ice. The next four days were spent traveling the coast and fjords of the island.
We spent some time enjoying the view of the Fourteenth of July glacier.
We hiked over deep snow in Ny London to an old deserted mining town. They thought they had found a fabulous deposit of beautiful marble and set up shop with about 70 people. When their first shipment arrived in the UK they opened boxes only to find rubble. Because of the climate there were tiny cracks in the marble and so it had disintegrated during transport.
We passed by an old blubber gathering and whaling station. We stopped at an old unsuccessful site where they were looking for gold deposits.
There were sightings of walrus, seals, Orkas, beluga whales, reindeer, lots of glaciers and tons of birds, but no polar bears.
At one point we were headed to the northern edge of Svalbard and came across some beautiful blue ice. On the fourth day we reached 80 degrees North. We were closer to the North Pole than to the Arctic Circle. Six hundred nautical miles to the North Pole and 807 nautical miles to the Arctic Circle.
The weather was cloudy, snowy, foggy, and a bit mysterious until the last day when the sun finally came out.
Leaving Funningur, the captain announced rough water ahead. We needed to make sure everything was secured so it wouldn’t move around. I took my pill but not soon enough. I went to bed at six and my pill kicked in about an hour later but it was so rough, I didn’t want to try to walk around. I just stayed in bed until 6 am. From then on it was fairly calm.
From Faroe Islands we went directly north with Iceland to our left. After two days of sailing we arrived at Jan Mayen. During those two days we had lectures on whales, seals, Vikings, birds, as well as nature documentaries about the area.
During our whale lecture an announcement over the loud speaker directed us all to head on deck as Orkas had been spotted. We all rushed out and saw about six Orkas swimming around. Then we went back to our whale lecture. It was kind of magical.
Later that day we crossed the Arctic Circle. We all had a glass of champagne and a short celebration.
We arrived in Jan Mayen in the afternoon. We had hoped to land and take a walk but conditions were such that it was not possible. We were in the middle of nowhere. Jan Mayen was discovered by a Dutch whaler, Jan Jacobsz May, in 1614. It is basically a 7470 ft. high glacier-covered volcano that last erupted in 1985. The volcano is called Beerenberg and is the world’s northernmost sub-aerial active volcano (as opposed to under water or under ground). The island is 34 miles long. In the past it was a major whaling area but is currently a Norwegian military base and weather station.
We sailed all along the coast with lots of photo opportunities.
Unfortunately clouds were covering the summit but otherwise it could not have been a nicer day.
Sailing from Fair Isle, Shetlands to the Faroe Islands we came across some nasty weather. People who have been working on ships for 15 years were sick for the first time. I was very sick. It was a very unpleasant night. But by the time we arrived in Torshavn things had calmed down and I was feeling okay. I did contact the doctor, however, and got some pills to carry me through our next leg of the trip.
Torshavn is the capital of the Faroe Islands. Faroe means sheep so they are the sheep islands. We took a walking tour of the old town down by the harbor, Tinganes.
The village of Kirkjubour is an important historic site with a church dating back to the 12th century and an old farmhouse from the 11th century. There is very little wood on this island as well so they relied on shipwrecks and driftwood to build and furnish the farm house.
From October to May the sheep stay in town and in the warmer weather from May to October the sheep go up to the hills to feed. There are about 80,000 sheep and about 50,000 people on the islands.
The next day we sailed to Funningur.
Funningur is the oldest village on the islands. Irish monks arrived in about 625AD. The Norse (Vikings) arrived around 800. Today the Islands belong to Denmark. During WWII Denmark was occupied by Germany and the Faroes were occupied by Britain. So the Faroes had to have their own flag on their ships in order to distinguish them from the Danes.
Funningur is a village of about 40 people on Eystory Island. We took the zodiacs from ship to shore and the whole village came out to show us around, provide some history, feed us fish soup and pancakes, and in the afternoon we all danced traditional dances and sang hymns in the church. Plus they made a promotional film about it all since they are hoping to attract more tourists. Quite a day!
Arrived at Fair Isle in the morning. A lot of rocking and rolling on the boat overnight. Big swells. Up at 6:45, breakfast at 7 am and then to the zodiacs at 8:15. When it was my turn to board the zodiac there was a huge swell and I ended up to my knees in water. The attempt was aborted and I had to go back and wait for the next boat. I managed to get to land but had to wait for a dry pair of boots.
Since I had such a traumatic experience and had a late start waiting for dry boots, everybody was taking care of me and I ended up in a car that took me to the museum. For most people it was an hour walk. So I had a bit different experience but it was very interesting nonetheless. The woman driving was originally from the Netherlands but lived in England for many years and moved to Fair Isle about 16 years ago.
The museum was in a one room stone building and run by a Fair Isle native who said her family moved to the island in the 1600’s. Since there is no wood on the island much of the furniture was made from or was actually recycled from shipwrecks. There have been a lot of shipwrecks over the past 200 years.
The island has about 70 inhabitants and is known for its knitted woolen sweaters and hats. Sheep were everywhere. It also has a large puffin colony. From the museum we went to the town hall where knitters and artists had displayed their items for sale.
After 10 hours sleep, I woke to a rainy day in Dundee. Still dragging a bit, I went off to see the Victoria & Albert museum down by the river Tay. Architecturally it was a beautiful, interesting place with a large open interior.
I learned that Scotland exported ceramics including Asian themed plates to Asia in the 1880’s. Also the Scottish Imp, made by Chrysler in the 1970’s had tartan seat covers.
But the best part was the cafe. I had a delicious pea mint soup and a scone. All while enjoying a view of the river. After lunch it was pouring rain so I went back to bed. I lucked out the following day. It was sunny and perfect for exploring. Dundee is a city of about 150,000 with several good museums, three shopping centers, and a university all in the center. It is very walkable and the people are friendly and helpful. In the morning I was out before anything opened so walked around and found a lot of public art.
Dundee is home to DC Thompson and Co. comic book publishers so several comic book characters were featured around town as well as prominent figures like Queen Victoria who visited Dundee in 1844. My next stop was the McManus Art Gallery.
I really enjoyed the museum. It had art and artifacts from around the world as well as Victorian and Edwardian paintings. There were sections on natural history, history of Dundee and the history of the building itself. The inside of the building was very cool
I headed to the other side of town to see the Contemporary Art Museum near the University of Dundee. It was small and there was one in depth exhibit on a lighthouse on the Algerian coast. I bought some postcards in the gift shop and the guy who checked me out was from Wisconsin. Lots of people working, studying and visiting from other countries.
Another big attraction in Dundee was the Discovery ship. There was a museum dedicated to it and you could board the ship. Since it cost 17 pounds, and I was pretty museumed out, I decided to skip it. The ship was built in Dundee in 1901 and its first mission was to carry Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their successful trip to the Antarctic.
On Wednesday I stowed my roller bag at the Premier Inn hotel and caught a local bus to Alyth. The driver didn’t announce any stops so I was a little nervous I would miss my stop but after about 45 minutes we arrived at Market Square, Alyth. I found the guesthouse where I had reservations to stay but I got the times wrong. It was 3 pm and check in was not till 4.
I walked down the road to see the Alyth War Memorial and was taking it all in when it started to pour. I managed to find a bus shelter but not until after I was soaked to the bone. Back at the guesthouse I spent several hours trying to dry out.
Enjoyed my time in Alyth. Stayed at the Tigh na Leigh guesthouse on Airlie street. Nice hosts, clean, excellent food. They serve breakfast every day and dinner three nights a week. I ate dinner one night at the Lands of Loyal hotel situated above town on Loyal hill. Nice views of the valley and good food.
It was a beautiful day so had a nice walk along the Den of Alyth.
I stopped at a cafe in town for a sandwich at lunchtime. It was the meeting point for the local ladies who lunch group. All with their walkers in tow.
In the center of town there is a small museum only open in the afternoon. The caretaker was very knowledgeable and interested in helping people with any questions they had about the history of the area. He spent some time with me working on genealogy questions.
I arrived in London at about 8 am after an eight hour plane ride and a six hour time difference. There was a bright moon over the Atlantic. I took the Heathrow Express train from the airport to Paddington Station. Instead of messing with the Tube, I just hopped a taxi on to King’s Cross.
I enjoyed watching the masses of people posing for pictures at Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and 3/4. The line was very long. My train didn’t leave until 2 so I had plenty of time to watch them.
Trains are so much more enjoyable than planes. I had a six hour ride from London to Dundee. I met a woman who told me she had been a guest at the coronation the previous day. They had to be there early and by the time it was over they had been there six hours with nothing to eat or drink or access to toilets. It was kind of grueling but she thought it was very exciting. She saw all kinds of celebrities. She was most excited to see Kenneth Branagh. The railway gave each of us a Coronation Chocolate.
I was in first class and the guy in front of me was enjoying a free beer when the ticket lady came by. Not only did he have the wrong ticket but it was a coach class wrong ticket. She was very nice and tried to convert the ticket so he would only have to pay the difference instead of buying a whole new ticket but his credit card never did go through. Lucky for him he wasn’t going far.
The bright yellow crop growing everywhere is rapeseed which is made into oil. I was told it has an unpleasant odor.
We all took pictures of the Angel of the North. Located at Gateshead, the sculpture was finished in 1998 by Antony Gormley. it is the largest angel in the world. It is 66 ft. tall and has a wingspan of 177 ft. And it can withstand winds of over 100 mph.
There were lots of interesting buildings in Newcastle. Hard to capture them on a train. Immediately past Newcastle we ran into fog.
It was foggy off and on from there but lifted at intervals.
I checked into my hotel in Dundee, had a quick supper, drank a bunch of beer, watched the end of the Coronation Concert with Lionel Richie and Katie Perry and others. And then I passed out. I was up for 32 hours and then I was not. I’m just taking I easy today!
I figure I’ve been in about 80 airports around the world. That’s a lot of time spent in airports. I started out at 7 months and just kept going. As a typical TCK, I learned to fly before I walked. By the time I was 11 months old I had been in a car, on a train, on a plane, on a boat and up a funicular. All those “at what age” questions in my baby book were full in no time.
I know some people feel at home in airports, or love being in airports. I hate them. For the most part, they are just boring. I have spent hours zoned out, jet lagged, and sleep deprived on hard benches waiting for the weather to clear or the congestion to ease up or to make up for a lost connection.
Some of my life’s most terrifying experiences happened at airports. When I was 5, my family was in a plane crash in Denver, Colorado. When I was 14, I almost missed my flight from Miami to Bogota. When I was 18, I ended up being wait-listed on a midnight flight from Geneva to Nairobi, not knowing if I would be stranded.
It seems that whenever I was in these kinds of situations, I never had much money and I never had needed contact information. I just got on airplanes and expected everything to go okay and didn’t worry about it. Had I missed that flight to Bogota, all I had was my parent’s address in Bogota. No phone number, no other contact info. I suppose I could have called my brother but I’m not even sure I had his contact info. After all I was 14 years old.
But I was lucky. There were times when things didn’t go that well, but somehow I always managed to get where I was going. Over the years, I learned there were times when you really could depend on the kindness of strangers.
Travel has become more difficult, more crowded, more expensive, more stressful. But I keep doing it. My next trip is to the Arctic via Scotland. Wish me luck!