|Crossing the Arctic Circle|
We were on the next to the top floor in a 2-room suite with a balcony, a feature for all cabins on this ship. The Viking Sky is beautiful, fairly new, and it was impossible to believe that with the crew, more than 900 people were aboard. Occasionally, if we ate breakfast in the main dining room shortly before leaving for the day's excursion, we would have to search for a table. Getting to a preferred lecture late might mean sitting in the far back of the auditorium, but there were no bad seats. I was always easily able to find a solitary spot in which to write on the days when we were at sea.
As I learned on our Great Lakes cruise last summer, it is nice to unpack once for the duration of the trip. That said, I would have liked more time in several of the ports, but this trip was planned to cover a large area. I walked in a few of the towns after the day's excursion or skipped something to just be in the communities. However, the places where we docked have a cruise economy so we weren't the only cruise ship in port most days as you can see in the photo looking down at Geiranger in Norway. We were the largest ship allowed down that fjord to the town.
What I liked most about cruising was being on the sea with the long light and the inspiration of changing skies, slowly moving up the Geiranger fjord with its lovely waterfalls, moving past small farms and villages when near the shores and the spectacular beauty of nature that awaited us each day and night. I stayed up until 2 am twice on the longest days, taking photos, inspired and awed by the beauty of the skies and seas.
We began in London where I met a friend I'd known when she was studying in Boulder. We walked to the Greenwich Mean Time clock, the park around it and had a delightful visit. That evening my traveling companion and I took a boat ride down the Thames to ride the London "Eye" above. The next day we traveled to Windsor to tour the castle and eat at a local restaurant. The Queen's flag was whipping in the wind on the turret, signifying that she was in residence, not that we would have otherwise known.
I felt a kinship with the Shetland Islands, below. However, the time spent preparing and the privilege granted to be on the committee for their once-a-year Viking Festival seemed too much though interesting to learn about. We took an excursion on a replica of a Viking "row" boat and tried our hand (and arms) at the oars. My companion thought he was the only one who got the rhythm--but then he was in front and couldn't see others. In the photo below, see the oars, those long poles that are wrapped when we weren't using them.
While I would enjoy revisiting the Shetlands, I was most attracted to the Orkneys, I read Amy Liptrot's memoir about life on a remote Orkney island before leaving on the cruise, and her descriptions of the islands left me feeling familiar with them when I arrived. I chose a hike along the shore and through the fields down to the sea and the stone-built Neolithic Skara Brae preserved community that dates back 5000 years. We had a native guide (which wasn't always the case), and when I caught up with her to asked about Amy Liptrot, we had a delightful conversation about writing. She suggested that several residents would rent me a room or an apartment should I want to come there and write. It could be tempting!
That was the first hike I took with a new friend from near Toronto, nice to have someone else who both wanted to take photos and catch up with the hike leader. We only saw the standing stones from the bus, and didn't have time to spend visiting the famous cathedral and walk around in Kirkwall, the largest town and capital of the Orkneys. That town was first mentioned in 1046 as the home of a particular Orkney Earl.
Neither of these islands had mountains in the background. The rolling hills were very green, and the beach near Skara Brae was sandy. Still, I felt a deep connection.
I could see writing a follow-up novel to the one I'm working on and have its main setting in the Orkneys.
I'll close this blog with gratitude for the time I spent exploring and being on these islands.