Friday, December 20, 2019

Repositioning Home from Europe

This was our sixth summer cycling in Europe. Twelve trips across the Atlantic.  For the third time, we chose to "cross the pond" by ship, specifically on a repositioning cruise, after previously crossing the Pacific three times in similar fashion.  These are trips cruise ships make when moving from one area to another one far away.  Those first ones we did were particularly long ones -- 29 days and then 65 days -- to and from New Zealand in 2008-09.  We then went from Seattle to China in 2011 (22 days) and both ways across the Atlantic in 2013

Repositioning cruises are often less expensive than cruising generally, and that was certainly the case for us this time.  Our spending in Europe for our 89 days there totaled only $181 per day for the two of us.  That includes everything except travel to and from the U.S.  Had we spent 13 more days in Europe and then flown home, it would have cost us about $4,500, whereas the cruise cost just under $4,000 for everything, including cancellation insurance.

But the main reasons for coming back on a cruise were to allow us to slowly adjust our brains back to North America's time zones, plus revisit two places we've been to before and two others that we haven't, Dublin and Cobh/Cork.  More on that in a bit.

Our vessel was the Regal Princess.  Here's a photo giving the main stats for the boat.  It will almost certainly be the last Princess ship we take, since both have been quite inferior in our minds to the Holland America ships we've taken on three other voyages.

But rather than dwell on that, let's take a look at the route and some of the scenic highlights.  If you would like to know more about what it's like to be on a ship like this for two to six weeks, take a look at a blog we wrote in 2009 describing life on the Holland America Volendam as we returned from New Zealand, at

This summer our voyage began in Copenhagen, and as we pulled out from our berth in the somewhat remote cruise ship terminal we passed another cruise ship that had snagged the one berth at the older terminal close to the heart of the city.  As you can see, Copenhagen is not a place to visit if you want to see skyscrapers.

You can see a few more shots taken as we left Denmark in our last blog post.  The next morning was our visit to Kristiansand, the southernmost city in Norway.  However, a steady rain plus a lack of indoor points of interest in the town left us staring at the city all day from dry vantage points on our ship, unwilling to get soaked for what seemed like no good purpose.  That evening we crossed the North Sea, and just before lunch on our second full day we got quite excited when we found ourselves in the Pentland Firth, sliding between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands.  We noticed what appeared to be a remote lighthouse on the mainland, then took a closer look with our binoculars and the telephoto lens of our camera.  What do all the folks in all those houses on that empty moor do for a living?  It's not as if there's fertile farmland to tend to, nor any city or even town nearby to commute to, so far as we could see.  Perhaps those large square buildings on the horizon hold the answer?

The Orkneys to the north were even more forbidding as we combined a brisk walk on the top deck with our sightseeing.

As we moved down the west coast of Scotland the weather got misty and the land further away, and all we could make out were gray shadows in the distance.  The third morning, however, dawned clear as we made our way up the Firth of Clyde toward Glasgow.  Our destination was the port of Greenock, 25 miles / 40 km closer to the sea.  Commuter trains run frequently from Greenock to Glasgow so this worked out just fine for us.

We visited Glasgow for a few days last year so the approach to the city was the highlight for us this time.  Along the shore to the south were several towns neatly laid out, towns that grew large in the 19th century from fishing, trade and manufacturing.  In stark contrast, on the left shore to the north were the Scottish Highlands in the hazy distance and only a few houses disturbing the calm of the moors in the sharper foreground.

Having hit all the places we really wanted to see in Glasgow on our last visit, we settled on doing a walk along the River Kelvin and through the city Botanical Gardens.  Our problem the next day was the opposite -- we were visiting the great city of Dublin for the first time.  What should we see in our few hours there?  We tend to be folks who "do" a city much more methodically and in detail, so we decided this time to just walk about, get a general feel for the place, and hopefully come back some day for a visit of a few days.  The most photogenic spots we passed were the heart of the campus of illustrious Trinity College, then a few of the more famous bars, and lastly a genial "St. Patrick" who will give you a blessing for a decent tip.

The Dublin harbor is not exactly dug for the depth of ships today, so our berth was on the edge of town from which we took a shuttle bus into the heart of the city.  Our departure was not until 10 pm to allow some sightseeing excursions from the ship to reach distant points, so we were able to get a nice shot of the center of Dublin at sunset, and then turn 180 degrees to the east and see the moon rising over the industrial landscape and seascape.

The lighthouse at Roches Point greeted us the next morning.  On April 1, 1912, the Titanic dropped anchor near it, disembarked 7 lucky souls and took on 123 new passengers, only 44 of whom would leave the ship alive.  They had come across the harbor on tenders from the port of Queenstown, as it was known then.  Its new name is Cobh, pronounced cove, given there is no more queen since Irish independence.

 It took twenty minutes to make our way through the enormous harbor to the eastern edge of the city.  We then slowly paraded past an amazing scene of row house after row house after row house, a few here, a half dozen there, an even longer string somewhere further along.  Hardly two identical, yet all more or less matching.  This has to be one of the prettiest ports in the world.

Although Cobh is on an island, a commuter train crosses on a series of trestles into Cork, Ireland's second largest city.  We found the tourist info center and picked up a walking tour of the city, taking a few photos along the way.  Somehow they drifted from interesting buildings to interesting food, including a nasty-looking monkfish at a fishmonger's stall.

It was a nice walk, enriched by a nice Shepard's Pie lunch in the heart of downtown.  When we got back to Cobh we decided we needed to climb the hill next to the ship to see if we could get its portrait.  The ship is about the height of a 15-story building.  Unlike the ship, the hillside had no elevators so it was a healthy workout.  When we finally found a good viewpoint, we discovered that the hill was so steep that we were too close to get the entire ship in one photo!

Cobh was one of the main ports of embarkation for the 6 million Irish who emigrated to other countries in the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. preeminent among them.  One of those who left is represented by statues here and on Ellis Island in New York harbor, America's most famous immigration center.  Annie Moore was 18 years old when she traveled with her younger brothers from Cobh and became the very first person to come through Ellis Island when it opened in 1892, gaining her few moments of fame.  She soon slipped into obscurity, but an historian recently tracked down what became of her.  She married a German immigrant and never made it any further from Ellis Island than the slums of the Lower East Side of New York, where she bore 11 children, 8 of whom died before her.  Her unmarked grave was recently identified and a monument erected to mark it.  It sits close to that of Jeff's grandmother (who was herself the child of Irish immigrants) in Calvary Cemetery in Queens NY.

We left again at night, after passengers taking excursions to distant sights such as Blarney Castle made it back to the ship.  We passed the last vestiges of land, now eerily outlined by moonlight.  No terra firma was to be seen for the next 5 1/2 days.  We made a point of walking the decks daily, and our pedometers registered 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 miles each day.  We enjoyed one or two concerts each day from the ship's quite competent string trio, twice in the glitzy large theater, twice in the shiny atrium at the center of of the ship, and most often in a lounge that was done up with a sort of British pub decor, lots of leather and quiet comfort.

We were adequately fed, but it was nothing to get excited about.  We truly missed the cuisine we had enjoyed on our Holland America cruises.  On the positive side, we did get to do a bit of reading and sudoku puzzle solving and a lot of just relaxing.

We had one more port call, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We visited it by cruise ship on one of our previous repositioning cruises, that time focusing on the historic fort that sits on top of a hill that looks protectively over the city.  The goals this time were to explore the harborside and to visit an art museum with a very special exhibit.

As cruising has continued to grow in popularity, Halifax has seen more and more ships come calling.  It has spiffed up the walkway along both sides of the harbor.  We had a good walk past a stature honoring the many Canadian soldiers and sailors who shipped out of Halifax to Europe in both World Wars.  We also couldn't resist multiple photos of the cutest little tugboat tied up to the wharf.

A ferry carried us across the harbor to Dartmouth, once a separate city but now a 'locality' within the Halifax Regional Municipality.  Crossing the harbor we passed behind a Canadian warship being escorted to Canadian Forces Base Halifax in the inner harbor past that large bridge.  This is the main Atlantic base for the Royal Canadian Navy.  On the Halifax side of the harbor was a veritable 'navy' of three visiting cruise ships, our own the one in the middle.

We had a nice hike on the Dartmouth shore ending with a visit to a small shop that Yelp patrons seemed to think was the best place in town to get a lobster roll.  We found it, and it did not disappoint.  Nearby was a shop selling t-shirts with a relevant message.

Back on the Halifax side, it was time to track down the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.  It focuses on artists from Nova Scotia, and none is more famous than Maud Lewis since the movie Maudie came out in 2017.  We watched it before leaving for Europe last Spring and decided that the Maud Lewis permanent exhibit here was a must-see.

Maud Lewis was born in 1903 and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis that began in her childhood, yet she learned to overcome it and paint. She started with hand-painted Christmas cards, then started painting on whatever material she had available, such as masonite boards.  She married a fish peddlar and then decorated almost every surface of his tiny home with artwork.  After she and her husband had both passed away, a fundraising group purchased the shack as a gift to the museum, and there it was, together with pictures of "Maudie. "

The museum also has several rooms of her paintings on permanent display.  She certainly has come a long way from selling paintings for a few dollars each to tourists driving past her home on busy Highway 1.  CBC-TV has done three documentaries about her; Hollywood came out with Maudie with Sally Hawkins doing a terrific job in the title role; Canada Post issued a stamp with one of her paintings; and -- the ultimate affirmation for an artist -- her paintings are now selling for $20-45,000 Cdn each.

The museum also featured works by other Canadian artists.  Some of the outstanding ones were this Norman Rockwell-ish Old Time Sugaring Party, painted in 1945 by Adam Sherriff Scott; two 1975 works by William Kurelek entitled An Eskimo Dice Game and Sky Tossing at Alaskan Whaling Celebration; and the ethereal Island in the Ice painted by Tom Forrestall in 1987.

At 5 pm the ship cast off from the pier, the captain ran the bow and stern thrusters long enough to push us out, and off we sailed with a handsome lighthouse to port, an interesting sailing ship poking around the harbor astern of us, and those other two cruise ships not far ahead.

And then it was over in spectacular fashion:  New York, New York, waking from night in all the warmth of dawn on a late summer's morn.  As the sun rose higher we looked a short way across the harbor to the red brick buildings of  Governor's Island with Wall Street looming behind them, then further across the harbor to the older brick buildings on Ellis Island.  Somewhere over there is Annie Moore's other statue, and the ghosts of millions of other immigrants who have helped build America.

With six time zones crossed in 13 days, our minds were almost in sync with the sun.  A flight later that day brought us back to Seattle and the end of our journey for this Summer.  Thanks for following along.  We hope to be doing this yet again next Summer, most likely in the Netherlands.  Until then, Happy Trails to all!