Sunday, January 27, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Hellesylt is a small village in the Stranda Municipality, which is a part of the Møre and Romsdal County in the western part of Norway. Our motor coach arrived in this little town and parked near the dock where we would board a tender boat to rejoin our ship. Our tour was behind schedule, so we didn't have much time before we had to board the tender boat.
The site of the village on the mountain sides at the end of the Sunnylvs Fiord is exceptionally picturesque. Right through the centre, 100 meters from Grand Hotel, the Hellesylt waterfall gushes down into the Fiord. This waterfall is one of the most photographed sites in Norway. Of course, we were obliged to get a few pictures of our own.
Our ship awaited, so it was time to board the last tender boat, click a few more pictures of the watefall and of our ship, and get ready to sail for our next port of call, Flåm. We once again took advantage of our aft balcony cabin and relaxed on our verandah as we sailed away (see photo album).
Our 12 Night British Isles / Norwegian Fjords cruise continued to be an exceptional cruise with wonderful memories. When updating my website, and posting to this blog, I can't help but recall those fabulous days in the Norwegian Fjords. I do hope you get to experience this magnificient country some day.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
We booked the Journey to Briksdal Glacier RCCL shore excursion so we were one of the first passengers to disembark the vessel. We boarded our motor coach and drove through the small village of Geiranger arriving at the Flydal Gorge (approximately 1,000 feet above sea level) where we had a fantastic view of the fjord and ship below as you can see in this picture. Look how small the Jewel of the Seas looks in the middle of the fjord. From this overlook, we continued our journey up the mountain to Dalsnibba which is at 4500 feet elevation.
Dalsnibba is a mountain in Møre og Romsdal, Norway. It is located above the town of Geiranger, 7 km away from Geirangerfjord. It offers very good lookout opportunities and thus is a very popular tourist destination. Dalsnibba is often covered by the snow even in the summer. It is hard to tell whether you'll have a good view until you get to the mountain top. Unfortunately, there was extensive cloud cover and fog when we arrived. It did start to clear as we descended the mountain peak. Note the hairpin curves that the motor coaches had to make. There were times when one bus had to back up to allow another one to pass. It sure makes one glad they aren't the driver. Even with the overcast sky, the view was amazing.
Our tour continued as we drove down the mountain on our way to Briksdalen Mountain. When we arrived at at the Briksdalen Glacier, we disembarked the motor coach and entered Briksdal Inn for a typical Norwegian lunch. Following lunch we had free time to explore the glacier on our own.
There are three ways to get near the glacier - walking, riding in a horse cart, or riding in a jeep. Regardless of the method you choose, you will still need to walk on rugged terrain to get close to the face of Briksdal Glacier. Since we had limited time there, we opted for transportation by jeep. There is a nominal charge for both the jeep and the horse cart, so make sure you have some cash. You will definitely want to have a good pair of hiking shoes.
Here is a closeup of the glacial ice for those of you that haven't seen a glacier before. You'll notice the telltale bluish tint to the ice. It is possible to go onto the glacier itself, but it isn't practical with the limited amount of time during this particular organized tour. You probably wouldn't guess that we weren't on the glacier when we took this closeup picture. With today's cameras, it's possible to get great photos from a distance. We have two albums with pictures from this shore excursion. See our Geiranger album and Briksdal Glacier album for some more photos of this wonderful port of call.
Our tour wasn't complete at this point in time, so next time I'll tell you about our trip back to Hellesylt where we rejoined our ship.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
As our ship entered the fjords, we looked on in amazement at the rugged terrain that rose on both sides of the ship. Our 90,090 ton ship was dwarfed by these formidable mountains. The water was very calm and stillness filled the air. The only thing that broke the stillness was the sound of rushing water as it plunged from one of the magnificent waterfalls. Even though it was mid-June, several of the mountain peaks were crowned in white snow that glistened in the sunlight.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you are standing on your balcony or one of the ship's decks looking out at the scenery that engulfs the ship. You are not afraid, but instead this calm comes over you as your breathe in the fresh crisp air. You pinch yourself because you aren't sure if this is real. You have just experienced Mother Nature in all her glory.
I have not posted any pictures in this article. I've done this so that you can use your imagination and paint a picture of the fjords in your mind. We watched the Jewel of the Seas online as it was built, and eagerly awaited it's maiden voyage to the Norwegian Fjords. We had months of anticipation before seeing the fjords. I'll only keep you in suspense until my next post.
We aren't the only ones that think the Norwegian Fjords are spectacular.
UNESCO has included the Norwegian fjords on the World Heritage List -- The Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord now enjoy the same recognition as the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Zambia’s Victoria Falls and the Grand Canyon in USA. By their inclusion on the World Heritage List, the Norwegian Fjords will be protected for generations to come.
Come along with me in my next post to Geiranger, Norway. I wish you Peaceful dreams of fjords until then.
Monday, January 14, 2008
We awoke to a perfect picture postcard day. Up until this point in time, the weather had been on the cool side. You might recall it was raining in Edinburgh, just two days before. As you can see from this picture, the sky was powder blue with whisps of white clouds. What great contrast to the colorful buildings along the Bryggen (Norwegian for the wharf).
Bergen is a city that you can easily explore on your own. We continued our self-guided tour by walking to the Bryggens Museum, a museum based on the findings of the archeological excavations of Bryggen between 1955 and 1972. A short walk from there is Bergenhus Fortress where you can tour Håkon’s Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower.
Bergen - Arrival
Bergen - Funicular
Bergen - Walking Tour 1
Bergen - Museum
Bergen - Fort
Bergen - Walking Tour 2
Bergen - Sail Away
|After doing our sightseeing, we did some shopping on the Bryggen. It is possible to do Duty-Free shopping in many of the shops. There are a number of shops that allow you to pool your purchases to meet the minimum requirements for a refund. Read my blog post "Shop Unitl You Drop" for more information about Duty-Free shopping.|
We also spent some time relaxing in one of the outdoor cafes. Prices for food and beverages are quite high in Norway. If you don't want to spend alot of money for a meal, I'd suggest making a purchase in the Fish Market. If you like ice cream, you need to taste their soft serve ice cream - it's the best.
What a wonderful day we had in Bergen. We couldn't have asked for better weather. There was even a fashion show going on in the center square (which is near the shuttle bus pickup point). Make sure you have some comfortable walking shoes since you'll want to wander through the city enjoying the colorful scenery.
Up next - the Norwegian Fjords.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Should you decide to use the ship's shuttle to Edinburgh, you need to be aware that a fair amount of walking will be required from the unloading point to any of the attractions, such as Edinburgh Castle.
As the bus pulled into town, we passed by the castle, so we had no problems determining which way to walk after getting off the shuttle bus. It was raining, but that didn't dampen our spirits as we walked to the castle. When we got there, a parade was underway. We watched the parade and then went into the castle grounds to begin our exploration. We spent several hours touring the castle, had some lunch, and then checked out the local stores before retuning to the bus pickup location.
Some other popular attractions in Edinburgh are Palace Of Holyroodhouse , the Scott Monument, the New Parliament Building Information Centre, the Lauriston Castle, and the Nelson Monument.
For more pictures of Edinburgh Castle, see our Kodak Gallery album. There are additional albums posted under the Gallery drop down on my Scotland page of our Cruise Vacations website. See that page for links to other planning resources and information about our previous trip to this area.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Prior to the cruise, we were active participants in the Cruise Critic Roll Call thread for this sailing. When we learned of the change in itinerary, the group searched for an alternative tour and found a local tour company, Minicoach, that offered a tour that included The Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge, Bushmills Distillery, and a photo stop at the remains of Dunluce Castle. One of our group contacted them and arranged a minibus tour.
It would be hard to top the scenery which we'd just seen, but we headed for our next stop, Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge. The bridge was once used by fisherman bringing the salmon catches back from the island but today it is mainly a tourist attraction. The bridge has been enhanced from a single rope to the current caged construction for safety.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
I'd like to suggest a new venue for your shopping excursion. Shop while on a cruise. There are plenty of opportunities to shop during a cruise vacation. This picture shows some of the shops onboard Caribbean Princess. If you didn't know better, you might think that you were inside a neighborhood mall. There are a few keys to having a successful shopping experience during a cruise.
Many cruises ago, we decided that we'd dedicate at least one cruise for some holiday shopping. On our Baltic cruise, we decided that we'd buy gifts from Russia for everyone on our Christmas list. Some items were purchased onboard the ship, but the majority of the items were purchased on land during our private tour.
By shopping during a cruise, you are able to purchase unique gifts that will have a lasting meaning for the recipient. In the picture above, taken in Bergen, Norway, you could purchase some hand-made items for someone on your list. Of course, don't forget about your collections and yourself while doing your shopping.
A happy shopper is an educated shopper. I strongly encourage you to do some research prior to your cruise. There is a wealth of information available on the internet. In our Cruise Vacations website, there are several links provided under the Shopping category.
You'll want to be able to answer the following questions: What is the best bargain in this destination? What unique items can be purchased here? What are the custom limitations?
What are the duty-free rules? How do I get the taxes refunded? Are there items that I am not allowed to bring home (such as Cuban cigars if traveling to the U.S.)? Are there local markets where I can purcahse hand-made items?
One advantage to shopping while on a cruise is that you can take advantage of duty-free shopping. You'll want to know what your custom limits are and also how to get refunds of Value Added Taxes (VAT) you might pay. Sales tax / VAT is included in the purchase price and can make up to 20% of the price tag. It is important for you to undertand how to obtain a refund.
For example, in the UK, there is a VAT added to all purchases. You need to complete a form to obtain a refund of the taxes. For the latest information on Value Added Tax (VAT) see the HM Revenue & Customs website.
In Norway, you will see TAX FREE shops during your visit. The thing to note is that there is a minimum purchase amount to qualify for a refund. As of this writing, the minimum purchase amount is NOK 315 on regular goods. While in Bergen, we found that several of the stores were actually associated together and you were allowed to "pool" you purchases to get the refund.
On some itineraries, a customs agent is located at the pier or onboard the ship to process tax refunds. This is a great benefit that you'll want to utilize if it's available on your cruise. Check with Guest Relations onboard if you need assistance.
Often the ship will do a shopping briefing and/or have brochures with recommended stores.
Watch your daily paper for details about shopping talks or special sales onboard the ship.
Sometimes there are specials offered in the various stores for ship passengers. Most ships will offer a guarantee on merchandise purchased in one of the recommended stores. That's not to say you should restrict your shopping to those stores, but if you do, you'll have the added security of the cruise line assisting you with any problems that occur after the sale.
The final thing I'd like you to consider is the ship itinerary. Obviously, if you are looking for a particular item, it will most likely be easy to determine which cruise to select. One thing that you may not have considered is the oboard ship inventory and how a change in destination might be a benefit to you and offer bargains.
For example, the last cruise to a particular destination (and possibly cruises that follow) may offer an onboard discount as they clear out merchandise to make room for the new destination's merchandise.
Take for an example, a cruise that visits the Baltic during the summer and the Caribbean during the winter. After the last Baltic cruise, they will want to clear out the Russian and other Baltic country's merchandise. So, if you want some Russian trinkets, but aren't able to get there this year, perhaps the first Caribbean cruise after the Baltic might be a good one to consider.
I hope this gives you some ideas about planning for a cruise vacation that includes some shopping. Again, I strongly suggest that you do some homework prior to your cruise so that you can have an enjoyable time and get some good deals. Check on the web, talk to your cruise specialist, read the shopping information, and attend the shopping talk(s) onboard the ship and you should be in good shape.
Monday, January 7, 2008
I've already talked about our pre-cruise stay in London, and our first port of call LeHavre, France.
In this post, I'll share our experiences in Cork, Ireland. This was our second time in Cork, the first being on September 13, 2001, just after the World Trade Center attacks. If you'd like to read about our first visit, you can do so on our Path of the Vikings cruise web page.
This trip, we booked a private tour with 16 other passengers with West Cork Tours , a local tour company. They tailored the tour to our desires.
Pictured above is Blarney Castle, our first stop on the tour. Upon arrival at the castle, we had a one hour guided tour of the castle grounds. The castle could be seen in the distance. A vast green field, so common in this part of Ireland, lay in front of us. We followed the path to the castle and then continued into the gardens.
The path wound thru the gardens, past rock formations, past magnificent tree roots that crossed our path, thru tunnels (good thing I'm short - see picture), and past streams.
Friday, January 4, 2008
My advice - Get a Passport
1) Proof of Citizenship
Beginning January 31, 2008, all adult (age 19 and above) travelers will be required to present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, and proof of identity, such as a driver’s license, when entering the United States through land and sea ports of entry.
This change is in addition to the following which is already in effect:
2) Passport Requirements
All travelers including citizens of the United States, Canada, and Bermuda are now required to present a valid passport when entering the United States at any airport as of January 23, 2007. This includes children of any age.
"Do I need a Passport to go on a cruise?" is probably the most frequently asked question by clients looking at a cruise vacation. My advice is that I'd highly recommend that they obtain a passport (even if less restricitve rules are in effect - such as the first bullet above).
Here are some examples of why you should have a passport:
a) You are traveling on a cruise after Jan. 23, 2008, and have valid proof of citizenship (other than a passport) as outlined in the first bullet above. You, or a member of your family becomes ill and you need to fly home. Your proof of citizenship (such as drivers license and birth certificate) is now insufficient, since the more restrictive airline rules take effect.
b) You miss an airline connection, or don't get back to the ship in time and you need to fly to the next port of call to join / rejoin the cruise. Unless the next port of call is a US territory, you will most likely need a passport to enter the country. (there are some exceptions to this, so if you are a gambler, you could roll the dice and hope you won't need a passport).
c) A no brainer situation is one where you are traveling to a country or countries that have passport (and possibly visa) requirement for entry and exit. Check with your travel agent or the country's embassy if you are unclear of the requirements.
U.S. Dept of State - Passports (information about requirements and how to obtain a passport)
Passport and Visa Services (passport & visa expeditors)
U.S. Embassies (Websites of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (advice about any health advisories here and abroad)
Traveler's Health (CDC Travel specific topics)
Flight Related DVT (Flight-related Deep Vein Thrombosis -Economy Class Syndrome)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA website - latest regulations and resources)
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO is my suggestion to you. Consult with your travel agent, cruise line, and air carrier to be sure you understand all the rules that govern your trip (including unforseen circumstances such as the examples above).
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
My husband and I have always been nature lovers. I still recall when I suggested an Alaska cruise to my husband. He looked at me as if I'd lost my marbles. Then I showed him some photos of the beautiful scenery and he couldn't wait to get on the ship.
Perhaps you are looking for something similar, but a little closer to home. How about taking a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. You could visit Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta for example. I think Lands End in Cabo is one of my favorite destinations. Here you can take a boat ride and go snorkeling or simply enjoy the beautiful rock formations. It's possible to explore this city on your own very easily. That is probably the best anyway since it gives you an opportunity to meet the people and learn more about their culture. A short water taxi can take you to Lovers Beach where you can unwind and enjoy nature at it's best.
These are just a few destinations where you can complete your New Year's resolutions. If you picked some of the traditional resolutions, such as healthy eating, a cruise still fills the bill. Cruise lines have menu choices for the health conscious as well as full fitness facilities to stay in shape during your vacation.