Wednesday, June 19 – Home Sweet Home

Five thirty a.m. came quickly (it is 11:30 pm Tuesday in Atlanta). I did wake up a few minutes before the alarm went off. I slept pretty well considering I was not looking forward to the travel day since our travel days to get here were not that good.

And, it was pouring rain. Just great. Know how people in Amsterdam get to work in the rain? Ride their bikes holding umbrellas in one hand, steering with the other. Still speeding like a bat out of hell. Unbelievable.

We were able to have breakfast at the hotel. The cook made me two eggs over medium. Chuck got another omelet. Bacon, fruit, OJ, brown bread, and very strong coffee rounded out the meal.

The instructions said to be ready for the shuttle 15 minutes prior to pick-up time. They had a 15 minute window before and after the pick-up time. If they hadn’t shown up after the 15 minutes, we were supposed to call the company. Amsterdam is not a car/van/truck friendly place so adding the rain and the closed street, I was very concerned about the shuttle.

We thought we should wait outside under the awning but the hotel clerk assured us that the driver would come in for us. I didn’t know where he would be able to park to do so with the side street messed up.

At 9:10, we saw one of their shuttles go past the hotel. We just knew it had been out there, didn’t see us, and drove on. I was already starting to think of Plan B – expensive taxi or expensive Uber. But at 9:20, we saw their shuttle pull up and the driver came out – said he was here for the McCannons. We said we were the McCannons, so he loaded our luggage in the van and we were off.

He had to pick up another couple at a different hotel but it didn’t take long. He got us to the airport at the Delta area, and it had stopped raining by then. So far, so good.

Even though we were flying Delta, the check-in was being directed by their partner line KLM. I was used to going to the baggage check-in and getting our boarding pass there when we checked the bag. I had the pass on the phone but sometimes it is hard to bring up so I still like a paper back-up.

Here, we couldn’t get in the baggage check-in lane until we could show a boarding pass. I went to the self-serve kiosk and was able to print them for us. The baggage check-in was different also. Once you showed your boarding pass and passport to the attendant, she placed a sticker on the bag and you were allowed to go behind her and you had to place your piece of luggage in one of the compartments. It weighed and measured the bag. It gave you a luggage tag that you had to secure to the bag. Once you had it secured, you pushed the button, the door to the compartment closed. It opened again – no more luggage. I hoped we had done it correctly and that each of our bags would meet us in Atlanta.

Once we got to security, we had to take our shoes off and empty all pockets but didn’t have to show liquids or take out the laptop. They have a full body scanner so you had to step in there with your hands over your head. Something in Chuck’s carry-on bothered the people scanning so they ran it through more than once but released it without opening it. Not sure what it could have been – maybe his shoes.

Had to show our passports several times more before we actually entered the plane. There were several planes waiting for take-off so we didn’t get off the ground until 1:30 pm (it is 7:30 am in Atlanta). We received the pillow, blanket, face-mask, earplugs just like we had on the flight over.

We got a hot meal about an hour into the flight. Chuck was able to sleep some. I could not. I read for a while, watched 3 movies – The Upside (very good); What Men Want (okay); The Kid Who Would Be King (meh). I also watched a couple of sitcoms. Got up and stretched a couple of times. Went to the restroom several times. About 6 hours into the flight, I needed another Bonine as I felt a little queasy. Worked its magic.

We were offered water several times during the flight. We were offered other drinks and snacks a couple of times. About 2 hours before we landed, we were offered a sandwich.

We landed in Atlanta about 4:30 pm Atlanta time at the international concourse. We followed the signs to passport control. It was a long walk. We were directed to the self-serve kiosks where we had to complete a customs form and scan our passports. I could not get the kiosk to scan mine. Chuck was able to get it to scan. It printed out a ticket with our picture on it. We had to hand that ticket to the last check-point person. Finally got to the luggage area.

Our luggage soon made its way to the carousel. Now we had a problem. Where was the underground tram that should take us to the domestic concourses so that we could get our ground transportation. Seemed the only way out took us to the sidewalk. I had to ask an attendant what we were supposed to do. She pointed us to a shuttle that would take us over to the domestic terminal. Good grief. I know the airport is doing a lot of renovations. I hope the underground fast tram will ever be back.

We were the last ones on before it left. I as glad we made it because I didn’t know when the next one would be there. Groome’s Transportation would be picking us up at 6:15 and it was nearing 5:30 now and it was going to take 10 or 15 minutes to make the trip around.

I was glad it took us directly to the ground transportation/parking area and not the check-in area. We found a seat on one of the benches and immediately we were approached by a woman claiming to be a military person and that Delta lost her luggage from Germany. She said she had a voucher from the USO for a hotel room but she needed money for … (wait for it) … Depends. She was injured in Afghanistan and all her Depends were in her checked luggage. Nope, not buying that story. I saw her approach several other people on several other benches. Wonder how many times a day she works that area.

So Groome’s shows up at 6:00 pm. Yay, early! But, he tells us that the gate arm to the parking entrance was not moving when he approached so as he got closer to the arm, he bumped it with the fender and the gate arm fell off. What? What?

He had to call the Groome office and the airport security told him he had to wait for the Atlanta city police to file a report. OMG.

It was a full shuttle. He let us go ahead and board. Chuck sat in the seat next to the driver. I sat in an individual seat in the back. I knew it would be bouncy in the back but I didn’t want to end up in a middle seat.

The Atlanta police showed up and looked at the damage and the fender. They didn’t charge the driver with anything and gave some information to airport security so I guess they can file it with their insurance or Groome’s insurance. We got to leave at 6:30 pm. With the time difference, I have basically been awake since 11:30 pm the night before. I put my travel pillow against the window of the van and I was asleep although it definitely wasn’t a deep sleep. I roused up just as we were pulling off the interstate to their office. It is now 8:30 pm.

We load the car with our luggage and head for home. We reach the house at 9:00 pm. Our mail which had been held at the post office since May 31st was delivered today so our mailbox was full. Mostly junk.

We were so glad to see Pumpkin and he was glad to see us. He had put his weight back on. His toys were scattered around. We walked the house making sure everything was good. We sorted through the mail. We did not unpack the suitcases. We’ll face the laundry, bill paying, and grocery shopping tomorrow. At 10:30 pm, lights out.

Snuggling with Pumpkin is better than getting the towel animals.

Next up – Universal Studies Orlando Halloween Fright Night & 7 Day Western Caribbean Cruise.

Tuesday, June 18 – Nature is the Teacher of the Arts

We had no booked plans for today so we did not set the alarm. I had considered a tour to the Netherlands countryside but all the tours were 8 and 9 hours long and I just couldn’t make myself book them. Not with a 9 to 10 hour flight tomorrow.

We got up around 8:00 and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. The woman behind the grill made us omelets. In addition to the omelet, I had a latte and fresh squeezed juice, bacon, and a thick slab of the brown bread I like so much.

It was another beautiful day we decided to walk to the zoo. Google maps showed it being about a 20 – 25 minute walk so we knew it would be about 45 minutes for us. Most of our walking had been in the central district. This walk took us over to the art district so we saw a number of galleries. It was a nice shady walk.

The zoo was nice with lots of shade and large green spaces that people were just sitting and enjoying the sun. I could see if you had a yearly zoo pass and worked near there that it would be a nice place to come on your lunch hour. We walked along the exhibits on the outer edge and then when we got back to the front, we walked the exhibits in the interior of the zoo. In addition to all of the animals, this zoo also had an aquarium, a butterfly atrium, a bird atrium, a planetarium, a reptile house, and an insect house. We skipped the last three. The only place I felt crowded was the aquarium.

Once we finished walking around the zoo, we started walking back to the central area so we could stop at the currency exchange place. We first stopped at a little café for lunch. We found a table in the shade outside across from a park and people watched. We split another order of bitterballen. We also ordered a club sandwich to split. Interesting thing about their club sandwich. It was served open-faced. The meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato were layered but there was no top slice of bread. We just cut it in half and I basically ate each layer separately. It was a large sandwich.

It took us longer to reach the exchange than Google predicted because we had to stop twice on canal bridges to wait until they raised/lowered them for the larger boats. But once we got there, Chuck got some Euros for his weird pound note. They didn’t give him any hassle per se but he felt he didn’t get a very good exchange rate. However, at this point, anything was better than nothing. We will save the Euros for our trip to the Mediterranean next year.

Once back to the hotel, we did some re-organizing of the luggage to meet airline requirements. We borrowed a luggage scale from the front desk and weighed the pieces that we would check. They were both under 50 pounds so we were good. We still need to do a better job of not taking so many clothes in the future.

We participated in the happy hour again and then walked up the street to one of the restaurants for dinner. Again, it was so shady, we sat outside. I had a shrimp and mango salad. The mango was so sweet. Chuck had chicken. We were too full for dessert.

I had purchased a round-trip ticket with the airport shuttle service so they would be arriving at 9:15 tomorrow for our 1:00 flight. We called it another early night. Tomorrow could be stressful.

I miss the towel animals. ☹

Amsterdam Zoo Trivia –

The zoo name is Artis, short for Natura Artis Magistra (Latin for “Nature is the teacher of the arts”),

It is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and one of the oldest zoos of mainland Europe.

Artis has a library on the history of zoology and botany. It contains 20,000 books, 3000 manuscripts and 80,000 animal prints.

Monday, June 17 – Cruising the Canals

We had to leave the ship but our vacation is not quite over. We got up and got ready by 7:00 and were able to go to the main dining room for a leisurely breakfast. Typically, we have to go to the Lido and get something quick as we need to be off the ship and on the road. I like the leisurely breakfast better.

We sat with the Dutch couple again. His sister was picking them up. They only had an hour ride to be back home. They would be going to work tomorrow (better them than us). They have another HAL cruise booked for May to Norway. Maybe we’ll sail with them again one day.

At 7:30, HAL started calling the groups. HAL lets you stay in your stateroom if you want to do so until the time you are called. Most ships make you get out by at least 8:00 and wait in a lobby area. I like to stay in the room but I know the room stewards would like for you to get out so they can clean it before the next group gets on. We left the room and went to the Ocean Bar to wait when the group before us was called. It was only 10 or 15 minutes until our group number was called.

We presented our ship card to security one last time and left the ship. We started walking down the port corridor. I was surprised there was no custom line. There were people in strategic areas just pointing the way to the luggage pick-up. We found our two pieces of luggage easily and then were pointed to the door. We exited and were asked if we needed a taxi. I said we would need one to our hotel downtown. The porter signaled and a taxi pulled up.

Only hiccup in the taxi ride was that he started to go down the road that was next to our hotel only to find the road was blocked by machinery and the road was being dug up. He had to back up the narrow road. I don’t know why there wasn’t a sign barring any thru traffic. Weird. We watched a number of cars doing the same thing. Of course, they bicycles just barreled on through, riding on the sidewalk if they needed to do so.

I couldn’t believe how fast and easy the disembarkation was. We were at the hotel before 10:00. I knew the room wouldn’t be ready but they checked us in and held our luggage. Chuck had received a weird pound note while in Belfast. It didn’t look like our other pound notes. The ship wouldn’t change it so he wanted to go to a bank or a currency exchange place to try and get it changed to Euros. He was afraid he was going to be stuck with a 20 pound note souvenir.

The hotel clerk pointed us in the right direction and Google maps picked up the route. We went first to the exchange place and it didn’t open until 11:00. We went next to a bank and they wouldn’t exchange it.  At that point, instead of back-tracking to the currency exchange, we decided to walk to the canal tour company headquarters.

It was a beautiful day. Sunny and in the 70’s. We found the company and purchased our tickets. They took us through most of the canals and we listened to the pre-recorded commentary through headsets. Our tour boat was low enough to go through the canal openings with no trouble. We did get to see the bridges opened for some of the larger ships traveling the canals. I didn’t realize that the houseboats lined up and down the canals were permanent resident homes. They lease the spot and have to pay for utilities. It was interesting. The real estate in Amsterdam is very expensive so houseboats are an alternative.

The canal tour was nice and relaxing. It might be nice to take a river cruise one day.

After we finished with the tour, we ate at the restaurant next to the tour headquarters overlooking the canal. It was nice so we ate outside. We tried the bitterballen – round balls of deep-fried gravy and cheese. Really good but you had to be careful biting into them – the gravy with cheese was very hot. I had a ham and cheese sandwich and Chuck had a hamburger. We split an order of fries. They served the fries with a big scoop of mayo on the side. I tried dipping the fries in the mayo like the Dutch do but I did not care for it. They mayo didn’t taste like our mayo either. I got one small packet of ketchup and used it on the fries.

A Dutch couple sitting next to us, I guess heard our accents, and asked how we were enjoying Amsterdam. We told them how much we liked it. They lived outside Amsterdam and had just come in for the day because the weather was so nice and it had been so bad all week. We told them we had had nice weather in Amsterdam prior to the cruise also. They said we needed to come back more often if we were going to bring nice weather.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a souvenir place, so I could get an Amsterdam Christmas ornament. It is ball-shaped with tulips painted on it. We were tired so decided not to go back to the currency exchange but would try it tomorrow. As it was close to 4:00, our room was ready. This time the room was on the ground floor overlooking the street. I was worried that the street noise would keep us awake but we didn’t have an issue with it unless a police siren was on.

We went back to the lobby at 5:00 and participated in their wine and cheese happy hour. We were too full from the late lunch and the cheese for any dinner. We called it an early night.

No towel animal tonight. ☹

More Ship Trivia –

Average Ship Speed for this Trip: 12.7 knots

Miles Traveled for this Trip: 2628 miles

Eggs Consumed on this Trip: 33,600

Bridges as far as you can see
Bridge made famous in Diamonds Are Forever

Sunday, June 16 – Packing is such Sweet Sorrow

The final sea day. No alarm clock. After 6 port days in a row, I was ready for a little rest before getting the packing done. We got up around 8:00, coffee from the Coffee Bar and then breakfast in the Lido. It was pretty crowded so I think everyone must have had the same idea.

It was a nice day with calm seas. Not hot but not as chilly as it has been either. Spent some time reading at the Sea View area. Had my only Bloody Mary this trip. Stayed out in the sunshine until it was time for lunch. We decided to get lunch at the Dive-In, HAL’s burger place at the Lido pool area.

Chuck had a burger and I had a hot dog. We each had their fries. I like this food as much as I like Guy’s burgers on the Carnival ships. Guy Fieri just has better promoters.

It is now time for Chuck to play in the last rounds of the big money blackjack tournament. I am going to watch a movie in the cabin and work on the packing. Since we have Monday and Tuesday in Amsterdam, we have organized our clothes for what we want to wear on those days plus what we are wearing on the plane home. All of our laundry is back so we have very little dirty clothes now. It is just a matter of getting the clothes in the bags and tagging them. We will keep our backpacks and carry-on luggage with us and have the ship take the big bags for pick-up tomorrow at the port.

I watched Spielberg’s Ready Player One. I had seen it before but enjoyed it again. I was finished with the packing before it was over so I worked on my photos until the movie was over. Chuck came back to the room just as the movie was finishing. He didn’t win the tournament but his friend, Miss Emily, took home the prize. He was happy for her.

We went outside to the Sea View and met up with another couple that we had met who were also traveling with his Mom. We had played trivia with them before and Chuck had gambled at the same table with him several times. We ate dinner together in the main dining room. We exchanged contact information. Hopefully, we can sail with them again some time.

After dinner, we went to “Concerto” presented by the Prinsendam singers and dancers. They did a variety of songs. They really are a talented group of people. I wonder if they will get to stay together on another ship or will go their separate ways after the last voyage of the Prinsendam. We have talked with a number of staff and some of them know what ships they will transfer to and some will not know until after their vacation is over. I’d hate to be in the second group.

If docking and ship clearance all goes well tomorrow, our group will be called around 9:00 to disembark. The first group will start disembarking at 7:30. They are the ones that don’t have to have help with their luggage and either want to get home early or have early flights.

Tonight’s final towel animal is a lobster.

Ship Trivia –

Officers and Crew – 449

Nationalities of Crew – 32

View from the Sea View. Saying Good-bye to Scotland-Ireland

Saturday, June 15 – Final Tender, Final Tour

Today is St. Peter Port, Guernsey. It is our last port before we arrive in Amsterdam on Monday. There was a chance that because of the wind and waves, we would not be able to tender. Another ship The Queen Victoria who got there before us could not set out their tenders. Once she left, we were able to get closer to the island because our ship was smaller than the QV, so our tenders were able to make it.

We got up around 7:30 and got some Coffee Bar coffee and a light breakfast in the Lido. We were set to drop anchor at noon but, as I said, the Captain was having to wait on a decision by the other ship and then do a trial run with the tenders before a final decision would be made.

We had a couple of sandwiches close to noon and then walked to the Showroom. We were going on a walking tour of St. Peter Port. I had met others who were going on the tour at the Meet and Greet during the first sea day. We had agreed to meet in the Showroom today. When we got there, I could see no others from the group. We waited a while and then decided to go to the Ocean’s Bar and just get our 4-star tender tickets when they became available.

Once we were there, we heard that HAL had changed the process and were only going to let the HAL-sponsored tours take the first tenders and everyone else would have to wait. Lots of grumbling. I was not one of those people grumbling. Frankly, I had hit a wall. I was actually hoping the waves would be too rough to tender in, and we would have an extra sea day. I was just tired. If I had not made a commitment to the tour organizer to go, I would have just decided to skip it. I thought if the ship maneuvering took too long, I might get an email saying she could not wait on the ship any longer.

No such luck. The rest of the group found their way to the Ocean Bar and convinced the Shore Excursion head to let us get on a tender and go over to the island. However, only half our group made the first tender before it got full, so the other half had to wait for the 2nd tender to fill up. So disorganized.

Guernsey is an island in the English Channel just off the coast of Normandy. On June 30, 1940, during the Second World War, the Channel Islands were occupied by German troops. Before the occupation, 80% of Guernsey children had been evacuated to England to live with relatives or strangers during the war. Some children were never reunited with their families. The occupying German forces deported over 1,000 Guernsey residents to camps in southern Germany. Guernsey was very heavily fortified during World War II, out of all proportion to the island’s strategic value – just because Hitler thought he could take over England from the islands. German defenses and alterations still remain visible around the northern coast of the island. The island was liberated on May 9,1945.

We met our tour guide for the day – Annette Henry. She was born here and her grandparents were part of the German occupation. Her mother and uncle had been 2 of the kids who had to evacuate and came back as teenagers. She had recommended reading the book “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” before taking the tour. I did and really enjoyed it.

Just as the tour started, it began to rain heavily. Instead of being able to go to some of the outside points of interest that she usually goes to on the tour, we had to go to some inside places and spent most of the time in one of the Churches that had been there during WWII. She told a number of interesting historical stories, and I enjoyed seeing some of the pictures and copies of letters from her relatives.

The rain finally let up and we were able to see a few of the outside sites. Once the tour was over, I got a Guernsey donkey Christmas ornament. The Guernsey donkey is one of the national animals (the Guernsey cow is the other) The traditional explanation for the donkey is the steepness of St Peter Port streets that necessitated beasts of burden for transport, although it is also used in reference to Guernsey people’s stubbornness.

The last tender was not until 9:00 but we were back on the ship by 4:30. We changed clothes, went out to the Sea View Bar but it was too windy for me. Went to the Ocean’s Bar and played trivia again. Still no winner.

Tonight’s dinner was at the Canaletto restaurant. It is the Italian restaurant located on the edge of the Lido. It is a buy-up restaurant like the Pinnacle but not as pricy. However, we have never eaten at one before. But, Chuck received a complimentary dinner for 2 at this restaurant from the Casino host. I thought that was nice of them. He had won a small blackjack tournament earlier in the week – no cash prize but he got a hat, deck of cards, die, and a match play. He will hope to win the big blackjack tournament tomorrow.

We really enjoyed our dinners. I had the special that night- Grilled shrimp and Chuck had the grilled New York strip. We both had gelato for dessert. It was a very good meal.

We went to the variety show tonight. The singer Eve and the magician Romany came back for an encore. We had missed Eve earlier. We enjoyed her part of the show. The magician was again, okay.

Tomorrow is a sea day. We have our disembarkation paperwork and tags, so the luggage has to be packed and outside the room by midnight. The two weeks went by so fast.

St. Peter Port, Guernsey Trivia –

Victor Hugo, having arrived on Halloween 1855, wrote some of his best-known works while in exile in Guernsey, including Les Misérables.

Friday, June 14 – Kiss the Blarney Stone – Not

Today was our last port in Ireland and a short day. We didn’t arrive until 11:00 and all aboard was 5:30. We were able get up later, have a coffee from the Coffee Bar, and have a nice breakfast in the main dining room. All good.

Today we were meeting the group in the Ocean Bar at 11:00 for a tour that would take us to the Blarney Castle and grounds in Cork.

Cobh (formerly known as Queenstown) was a major embarkation port for men, women and children who were deported to penal colonies such as Australia.  Later, the town was the departure point for 2.5 million of the six million Irish people who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950. On 11 April 1912, it was the final port of call for the RMS Titanic before she set out across the Atlantic on the last leg of her maiden voyage. Some stories suggest that a Titanic crew member, John Coffey, a native of Cobh, left the ship at this time, thereby saving his life.  But, 123 passengers boarded at Cobh, with only 44 surviving the sinking. Today, it is home to Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal.

Because it is a cruise ship terminal and not an industrial terminal, we were allowed to walk off the ship, through the terminal, and out of the gates. Took a few minutes but we finally saw our guide holding a sign with our tour name. His name was Jerry and he had a very nice mini-bus for today.

Unlike the other two guides, Jerry talked almost non-stop giving us information about the area and answering questions. He had a different accent from other parts of Ireland. I thought he sounded like a leprechaun would sound. Very lilting.

The sun was out when we got to the Castle. We only had 2 hours here to explore the Castle, its grounds, and the small village. We knew the line to kiss the Blarney stone was too long for us to do it and I would not have done it even if I could have had the time.

According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with great eloquence or skill at flattery. The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446.

So you want to kiss the stone? First, you have to wait in line and then when you get to the front, start climbing 127 steps to reach the top. Then, with the help of an attendant you have to lie on your back with the edge of the platform mid-way in your back, 100 ft above the ground. You have to keep bending your back and neck to reach the iron bars next to the stone. Once you have grasped the bars, now you can kiss the stone. The attendant is supposed to have wiped the stone with disinfectant, and you can wear chap stick as a barrier. People have kissed the stone since the 1800’s. Just gross.

The line to the Blarney Castle looked long too so we just decided to concentrate on the grounds which had a lot of beautiful flowers and plants and then go across the street to the town. We admired the regular gardens and then decided to check out the Poison Garden. Back in the day, the garden would have been called the “physics garden” and the plants featured might have been used for medicinal purposes (or to get rid of your enemy). I recognized the mandrake which was featured in several Harry Potter books and films – I didn’t hear any roots screaming though.

We walked over to the town and looked through the Blarney Woolen Mill store. There actually was a mill that started in 1823 but it shut its doors in 1973. It re-opened as a store-only in 1975.

Once everyone arrived back at the mini-bus, we drove to the town of Kinsale. Again, you could either shop or eat. Chuck and I chose to eat. It was raining now and pretty hard so we made our way as fast as we could to a pub that Jerry recommended. Another couple came too but the rest decided to shop and/or take pictures of the town.

It was crowded but the service was quick. What did we have? Fish chowder and brown bread, of course. It was good but not as good as the other places. However, it was thick and hot and filled me up.

Kinsale is a pretty town and is said to be popular with the yachting crowd. We did see a number of high-end boats docked near where the bus parked. We also got to take a few pictures of what remains of Charles Fort. It and James Fort guarded the narrow sea entrance to Kinsale. Kinsale also begins/ends the Wild Atlantic Way at the southern-most tip.

Once we were back on the bus, we made our way back to Cobh. We had time for a short photo stop at Saint Colman’s Cathedral which was celebrating its 100th anniversary. I thought it was the prettiest Cathedral we have seen all trip.

Construction started on this Cathedral in 1868 but it was not completely finished and consecrated until 1919. Its structure features a .062-mile spire and a tower that contains a 42-bell carillon, the largest in Ireland. We were lucky to get to hear it play at the top of the hour.

Jerry said that you cannot name your Church a Cathedral unless the Bishop lives in the same town. He pointed out the current Catholic Bishop’s house which was across the street from the Cathedral. It was a very large house.

It was time to get back to the ship. The last photo I was able to get was that of the statue of Annie Moore and her brothers. She is said to be the first person to be processed through the newly opened federal immigration office at Ellis Island in New York. She travelled to America on the ship Nevada in 1892. Her brothers, Anthony and Philip, who journeyed with her, had just turned 15 and 12.

Tonight was the last formal night and I just didn’t know if I was up to getting fixed up for the gala meal. Checked the menu and found out one of the choices for the main course would be steak and a lobster tail. Okay, I’ll put on my dress, and fix my make-up and hair. Doesn’t take much to twist my arm.

We played trivia with another couple. Did Ok but still didn’t win. Got a cute HAL lapel pin though.

It was a very good meal. I’m glad I went to the trouble. Tonight’s show was featuring the Prinsendam dancers which had been delayed when the waves were high. We didn’t go.

We had to turn in our disembarkation papers today. We also made a deposit on a future cruise. We didn’t have to specify a certain cruise. The deposit is good for 4 years. We already have 2 future cruises booked but I’m sure they won’t be the last ones with Holland America.

Tomorrow is St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey. We don’t arrive until noon but we stay until 9:00 pm. It is another tender port. Yippee.

Tonight’s towel animal is a swan.

Cork Trivia –

The first potato in Ireland was planted here by Sir Walter Raleigh, near his home in Youghal, Cork, around 1588.

The first factory that Ford Motor Company built outside of America was in Cork, where owner Henry Ford’s ancestors had lived.

Someone getting ready to kiss the stone.

Thursday, June 13 – Kids Love Chicken

The ship did rock and roll last night. Made getting to the bathroom an adventure. Nothing fell off the shelves though so that was a plus. This was a very early day as we had to meet the group in the Showroom at 7:30 so we could collect our tender tickets together to try and be on the first tender over to the dock in Foynes. Today there is another couple joining the group so I sure hoped the van would be bigger.

This port stop has changed numerous times. First, it was going to be 8:00 to 6:00 and we were going to dock. Then we get the letter indicating it would be a tender port from 7:30 to 4:30. Now we are being informed it is still a tender port but are times are 7:30 to 5:30. Wreaks havoc on the tours.

When we tendered over, the ramp leading from the dock to the port area was very steep. One of the dock workers said the ship timed the low tide wrong. Go figure. With all the changes, we still get it wrong. I don’t know how some of the people with walkers and canes made it up the ramp. I had to hold on to each side to help pull myself up.

We were met by our guide Gary at the top and he had a nice Mercedes van that even had small tables so at least we had more room than yesterday. We left the port village of Foynes headed to our first stop – the Bunratty Castle and its Folk Park. If we had known that it was going to be overrun with children on their end-of-the-school-year field trip, we probably would have said just skip it.

The Bunratty Castle site passed through several noble families. The present castle was built on the site in 1425. It passed through several more families until it was abandoned in 1804. It was bought by the Shannon Heritage Foundation in the 1950’s and was restored and opened to the public with the Folk Village in the 1960’s.

We were back on the Wild Atlantic Way today and the drive took about an hour and we got there just at opening time. We also got there as children were pouring out of school busses and being herded into lines by teachers and parents. Doesn’t matter where you come from, excited children squeal when they are happy – at ear piercing levels.

Even though we had printed out our passes, we had to wait in line to exchange those passes for tickets. We had to wait until the teacher in charge of the children got all of their tickets. Only one ticket-taker even though there were empty cashier booths. Couldn’t someone see that the line was getting longer and longer? Not a great start.

We walked toward the Castle looking through some of the cottages that represented the town – similar to what we saw yesterday except these all were from the time period of the castle. The doctor’s house was nice. The itinerant farmer’s house – not so much.

They also had sections of various farm animals and free roaming chickens. The children got really excited when they saw the chickens and would try to pet them — Ooooh! CHICKENS! Chickens can move pretty fast if they have to especially when pursued by eager children.

There was a long line of children at the entrance of the Castle so we decided to take an alternate entrance. Turned out to be the exit but with a little maneuvering we found ourselves in the Great Hall. I liked the tapestries. We climbed up a couple of the winding narrow staircases to the very top. The stairs were so narrow, Chuck’s shoulders rubbed the sides. The views were impressive at the top.

Once we looked around as much as we wanted to in the Castle, we explored the village a little more. Chuck got in trouble with the local constable. We even found the Fairy Walk. I really liked the Irish Wolfhound. I had never seen that breed except in a movie.

We spent a couple of hours at this site and now it was time to drive to the Cliffs of Mohr.

The cliffs run for about 9 miles. At their southern end, they rise 390 ft above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and, they reach their maximum height of 702 ft just north of O’Brien’s Tower, a round stone tower near the midpoint of the cliffs, built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien. He was ridiculed when he built it but he said “people will come.” He was right. The Cliffs get over a million visitors per year. I was excited to see them because they were featured in the movie “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

It felt like a million people when we got there. We paid our 5 euros each (senior discount) and started making our way up the path. We chose to go left first. The path was paved for a while and that land and someone’s farm land were separated by a barbed wire fence (that said it was electrified – didn’t see anyone testing it) and some enormous bulls were lounging around oblivious to the people.

The “official” path ended at a gate and there were 2 unpaved paths. The paths were separated by a stone wall about knee high. I stayed on the path behind the wall “safe” – Chuck went on the path next to the cliff edge “unsafe.” There was even a sign that warned of crumbling cliff edges. I finally talked him into coming over to the safe side.

We later learned from the guide that several people have fallen over the Cliffs taking “selfies” and it is a popular place for suicides. Didn’t read about that in the brochures.

We then came back down and walked the path to the right to get a different view of the cliffs. We walked as far as the O’Brien’s Tower. It was under repair so nobody could go up into it. Again, the views were stunning. Again, lots and lots of people.

I had hoped to see Puffins but I didn’t. Missed them in Alaska. Missed them here. Disappointing. Did see a lot of sea gulls.

It was very windy and cold. We could have walked farther down the path but decided to go check out the Visitor Center. It was very nice and we watched a movie about the cliffs. It was one of those surround screen theaters that made you feel that you were flying like one of the cliff birds. I found out that Puffins are usually only seen in the mornings as they take off in search of food most of the day. I did like all the exhibits.

The café was crowded so we didn’t get anything to eat. That decision turned out to be a mistake. I did buy a Puffin Christmas ornament. I thought the stores were interesting as they were built into the hillside. Looked like Hobbit houses.

We were now on the way back and we didn’t have any other extended stop. Just a couple of photo opportunities in Limerick. I was glad I had a couple of granola bars for a snack. The first photo stop was a wall – the last remaining wall of the Bourke House which was built in 1168. The next stop was St. Mary’s Cathedral. Originally the Church was the Royal Palace for the Kings of Thomond and it was gifted to the Church in 1168. It is the oldest building in Limerick that is still in daily use.

We were back at the tender port by 4:15 and back to the ship by 4:45. I was glad because I was hungry. We decided we’d go back to the Lido for dinner. I had pizza. Chuck had a sampling from the dinner section. I also had to have some of the hand-dipped ice cream. The Ice Cream man is funny. He is always cracking jokes. Everyone always smiles when they are there. But, who doesn’t smile when getting ice cream?

I also discovered some days ago that in the afternoon, the Coffee bar has giant warm chocolate chip cookies (for free). I wonder why my pants are getting tight.

We went to the show tonight – the comedian Rikki Jay. He was pretty funny but he kept running from one side of the room to the other which was kind of annoying.

Tomorrow is another port day but at least we don’t arrive until 11:00 so we don’t have to get up as early as we have been. Thank goodness.

Tonight’s towel animal is a monkey.

Trivia –

The Irish Coffee was said to be invented in Foynes.

Limerick, Ireland’s third largest city, was founded by the Vikings in 812. It is the home of author Frank McCort who wrote Angela’s Ashes.

Killybegs – Extra

Trivia –

Donegal is famous for its history of linens, tweeds, and for its tapestries and carpets, some of which were produced on the biggest carpet loom in the world. The carpets, known as Donegals, are hand-knotted in the Turkish style.

Directional Sign for Allied Fighter Planes

Wednesday, June 12 – Wool, Wind, and Waves

Once again, up early with room service breakfast. Today we are meeting up with a group that I had been corresponding with for over a year regarding shore excursions for these ports. We toured with them on the WOW Scotland tour but haven’t been on a tour with them since, but have spoken with them in the Ocean Bar a few times. We are joining them for the next 3 tours.

Today we docked at Killybegs, a natural deep-water harbor, and home to all the largest Irish midwater trawlers, and a modest whitefish fleet. But it handles all shipping activities including cruise ships. In recent years Killybegs has become the favored port for the importation of wind turbines and is a service port for the offshore gas/oil drilling rigs.

Everyone arrived on time at the Ocean Bar and we left the ship as soon as the announcement said we could. Our driver/guide “Red” met us at the gate and we loaded up into his van. I was on the back seat in the middle. Chuck was in the middle row in the middle. It was a bouncy ride.

We would be traveling quite a bit today on the Wild Atlantic Way. It is 1600 miles long and is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world. It winds its way all along the Irish west coast. There was a lot of nice scenery but sitting in the middle didn’t allow for many photos.

Our first stop was the Slieve League cliffs. You could consider these cliffs the less popular brother to the Cliffs of Mohr even though these cliffs reach almost three times higher. I guess they just need a better publicist.

I thought the scenery was gorgeous. The wind was fierce, almost making me fall down once and bobbled my camera. I was glad I was using my waterproof/shockproof one. We got there before any other people that morning so it was nice to have all the unobstructed views. I was surprised at the number of sheep roaming around on the cliffs but Red said they are allowed to help keep the grass mowed. They are rarely shorn so they can stay warm on the cliffs.

Eventually a truck pulled up that had a trailer with a sign that said wool sweaters, scarves, and hats for sale. I suspect they do a good business because the sunshine was deceptive. It looked warm but once you got into the wind, you were soon very cold. The other wagon that would soon be manned was a “Lobster Roll and Hot Dog” food trailer. I thought it was a funny combination. Once other tour vans started arriving, we were ready to move on.

As we were driving back down, we noticed a large sign made of rocks on the side of one of the mountains. He said it was a WWII marker that directed the allied fighter planes in the right direction. He said there are only a few left in Ireland.

From there, we drove to the Folk Village of Glencolmcille. Took about an hour to get there. I’m glad I had taken a Bonine that morning as it was again bouncy in the back seat.

The Folk Village Museum is a cluster of several small cottages, called a ‘clachan’, on a hillside overlooking Glen Bay Beach. Red said it was designed, built and maintained by the local people. Each cottage is an exact replica of a dwelling used by the local people in each of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and had furniture, artifacts and utensils of its particular period. There was also a reconstructed school house, fisherman’s house and tiny pub-grocer. I thought it was interesting that the primary language of this area is Gaelic, not English.

Our guide who took us through the cottages was a young woman who had a very thick Gaelic accent but she was very enthusiastic. She explained the differences between each of the cottages and how the people would have lived. She also talked a lot about Father McDyer and there was even a video about him running in the school house.  He is credited with dreaming up the Folk Village to try and increase tourism to the area and keep the local people employed. Though we didn’t buy any souvenirs, we bought some hot chocolate so we contributed some to their economy.

After touring the Village, we drove to the town of Donegal where we had an opportunity to eat lunch or shop. Six of us opted for lunch while one couple had brought sandwiches so they were going to shop and take more pictures. Chuck and I again chose the fish chowder and it was excellent as was the brown bread.

After lunch, we did have time for a photo op of the Donegal parish Church of Ireland and its old cemetery. I just can’t get over that multiple members of a family (up to 3) could be buried in the same plot – one on top of the other. They don’t practice that stacking anymore.

Since our time at this port had been cut short by one hour, we only had time for one more photo stop at a beach of Fintrah Bay. Red talked about how the tide in the area would go out so far that you could walk across the sand to the little island but you better know when the tide was going to rise or you’d be stuck over there until the next day. I could only see one small building on the island. There were several people walking with their dogs on the beach (on this side) but again, the wind was very strong.

We got back to the ship at 4:15. I am not used to cutting the time so close to “all aboard” but none of the others in the group seem to mind.

The Captain makes his official announcements at noon and at sail-away or 6:00, whichever comes first. As you can’t hear them in the stateroom (unless it is an emergency announcement), I have to open the door to the cabin to hear. He came on about 4:40 and I opened the door in time to hear him discussing the route to Foynes and reminding us that it will be a tender port. He also mentioned that the waves and wind would be the strongest we had experienced and to be cautious moving around tonight. Okay. We had gotten through the North Sea with little problem, would the Atlantic really be worse?

We were allowed to pick up our passports at 5:00 so we presented our receipt and got those back. Took them back to the safe. I was glad there was no issue.

As we headed to the Ocean Bar, which was one floor down from us, I noticed that the sea sickness bags had been hung on the rails of the stairway. Uh oh. Not a good sign at all. I think the Captain has underplayed the significance of what we were going to experience.

We met one of the couples from the tour in the Ocean Bar and they joined us for trivia. We did much better than last night but we didn’t win. They were going to the main dining room for dinner but we decided to go to the Lido. Just as we were leaving, the ship rolled and I heard glass breaking in the bar area. Another bad sign.

The Lido was deserted. Prime dinner time and there was no line at all. I don’t know how many times different waiters were asking if we needed water or anything. I think they were bored with so few customers.

We also heard that the entertainment tonight – a production by the ship’s dancers was cancelled and a singer was going to perform instead. I think people had decided their cabin was the place to hang out.

I love my Bonine. We each ate a steak dinner in the Lido and I was able to eat it and watch the waves outside without beating a hasty retreat to the cabin bathroom.

We decided to skip the singer as the front of the ship is always the rockiest. The waves didn’t bother the Casino so Chuck headed there and I came back to the cabin to work on photographs. I found that the cabin stewards had secured the glassware in the cabin so it wouldn’t break. Another not good sign but I appreciated it because nobody wants to cut their foot on broken glass trying to get to the bathroom.

Tonight’s towel animal is a bear. He has his arms folded like a gangsta. Should have some shades.

View from the Lido

Tuesday, June 11 – The Tale of Two Giants

Our arrival was at 8:00 but our departure had been moved up from 6:00 to 5:30. I had been in touch with the tour company – Irish Tour Tickets about the change but had gotten reassurances that there would be no problem getting back in plenty of time. The printed information said the bus would be at the port by 8:15 with a departure at 8:30.

Again, up early, breakfast in the room, and we were off the ship at 8:10. There were several tour operators with signs letting the cruisers know their tours were ready. No sign for us. Uh oh. One of the operators asked us who we were waiting on. He was kind enough to call and the operator said that the bus was picking up others from the Princess ship that was docked not far from us and would be there shortly. By then, another couple who had been on the Inverness tour with us, showed up and said they were on this tour. A solo woman came up and said that she was taking a tour with Irish Tour Tickets but hers was one that was going to sites where Game of Thrones was filmed. Ours was going to the Giants Causeway.

Her bus arrived at 8:30. Her driver said the other bus was “right behind him.” Well, 15 minutes later (I guess “right behind” was in Irish time), our bus did arrive. I had all but given up. The bus was filled with Princess passengers, but we did luck out and there were two empty seats together near the front. The Princess was not scheduled to leave port until 7:30. I had to remind the driver that the Prinsendam was scheduled to leave at 5:30.

The driver/tour guide gave everyone a bottle of water, bag of crisps (potato chips), and a Game of Thrones refrigerator magnet.

He had a thick accent but kept up a steady narrative of what we were seeing as we drove towards the Giants Causeway. He talked about the number of “fill ums” that have been made in Northern Ireland. I didn’t know what a “fill um” was until he pointed out several spots where scenes from the Game of Thrones were filmed. Okay – “films.” He said that the cast spent so much time in Northern Ireland that some of them bought homes and many of his friends had been cast as extras in the crowd scenes. Irish Tours had been contracted for transport during much of the filming. He also talked about the actors/actresses from Northern Ireland. Two of the most famous – Kenneth Branagh and Liam Neeson. He said that Liam could be spotted around Belfast quite often but he was usually pretty scruffy so many didn’t recognize him.

He was also quite proud that more and more cruise ships were now stopping in Belfast. He said that Disney Cruises had recently signed a contract so that was kind of the icing on the cake because Disney didn’t go anywhere that might be a problem.

Our first stop was a photo stop to see the ruins of Dunluce Castle. It was supposed to be the site of “Castle Black” in Game of Thrones.

As we got nearer to the Giants Causeway, he talked about how the scientists say the area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns is the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. He asked if we had even seen a volcano around there. When we said “no,” he told us the real story of how the Giants Causeway was formed –

Finn McCool, an Irish Giant, is having trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner is threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabs chunks of the Antrim coast and throws them into the sea. The rock forms a path for Finn to follow and teach Benandonner a lesson. Bad idea – Benandonner is terrifyingly massive. Finn beats a hasty retreat, followed by the giant, only to be saved by his quick-thinking wife who disguised him as a baby. The angry Scot saw the baby and decided if the child was that big, the daddy must be really huge and ran back across the path, tearing it up so McCool couldn’t follow.

He had to park the bus along the narrow drive and told us where the restrooms were. He also advised us just to go through the tunnel and either walk down to the Causeway or take the shuttle. He said the signs would make you think you had to go into the Visitor Center and pay but they were misleading. You had to pay for the Center, not the Causeway.

He gave us 2 hours at the Causeway. We opted to walk down the road to the stones. It was a long way but a paved sidewalk. The Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The tops of the columns form the stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 39 ft high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 92 ft thick in places. There were a lot of people already there. We marveled at the scenery and climbed all over the steps and columns. I’m not surprised that it is a UNESCO heritage site.

There were rangers there to try and keep the stupid people from climbing too close to the edges and falling. The stones were slippery and uneven. You had to watch where you were walking or you could break an ankle.

People had their dogs there and some ran loose. No fear of the rocks. Chuck made a new friend of a Pug who wanted to go home with him.

We stayed there a little over an hour and decided to pay the 1 pound each to ride the shuttle back. I was glad our time was almost up because more and more busses were bringing tourists.

We went to the little café called the Nook and Chuck had a beer and I had a hard strawberry/lime cider. I didn’t like it as much as apple. Everyone was prompt getting back to the bus. You never know when you are travelling with a group if there will be ones who always arrive back late and mess up the schedule.

We drove through the countryside with a photo stop of the rope bridge near Ballintoy known as the Carrick-a-Rede. The bridge is 20 meters long (about .012 miles) and 30 meters above (.018 miles) the sea and rocks below. This bridge links Northern Ireland to the small island of Carrickarede. If you have time, you can walk the bridge. Not sure I would have done it even if we had time as the wind was really whipping.

Next stop was the town of Ballycastle for lunch. He had called ahead so they knew we were coming. We were seated in the upper room. It was a limited choice menu but Chuck and I both had the fish chowder and again it was excellent – made with the catch of the day. Some people got the fish and chips and their plates had huge pieces of fish and fries.

On our way back to Belfast, we made a quick bathroom and photostop at the town of Carrickfergus. The town walls are purported to be the oldest town walls in Ulster (a province of Ireland made up of 9 counties – 6 in Northern Ireland, 3 in Republic of Ireland) and some of the best preserved town walls in all of Ireland. There was a life-sized bronze statue of King William overlooking the harbor. He is said to have really preferred being depicted on a horse because he was only approximately 5 ft. 2 inches. But since he was dead when they erected the statue, they didn’t have to spend money on a horse statue.

Once we got back to Belfast, he talked a lot about “The Troubles” and drove us through the Catholic section and the Protestant section. Even though there has been peace since 1998, the authorities can still shut down an entire section of city if needed. He recommended movies such as “The Outsider,” “Bloody Sunday,” and “Fifty Dead Men Walking.” He panned Brad Pitt’s Irish character and accent in “The Devil’s Own.” We were able to get out of the bus and get a close up look at the murals on the walls. He pointed out a recent one that had been painted honoring some Polish people who had helped the British and where some guys had try to start a fire on the sidewalk to burn it. The razors on a lot of the walls was also an indicator that some people may not have embraced the peace.

We passed by St. Anne’s Cathedral which has the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland. He also pointed out the large “Koreans” in the distance. Chuck and I looked at each other and said “large Koreans?” He went on to talk about all the new construction that was going on in Belfast. We both realized that he was saying “large cranes” as there were several huge cranes all over Belfast. Finally, someone asked him about the Koreans and we all got a laugh when others said “Cranes.”

As it was getting close to 5:00 and the Belfast traffic was getting worse, we reminded him that he had four people who had to get back to port by 5:30. We were not that far and he had us back there by 5:15, even with a fender bender that slowed traffic. I did feel bad for the people on the Princess because we did not have time to sign the Peace Wall and I could hear their grumbling. I am hoping that maybe he took them back and let them sign it.

So even though the tour started out rocky, it ended up being a good day.

After dropping off our stuff in the room, we went to the Ocean’s Bar and decided to take part in the Trivia that they have at 6:00 almost every evening. We had listened to some on earlier evenings but never got a sheet to write our answers. We had done pretty good. So, we got an answer sheet and were ready for the questions. We did so bad even with the Asst. Cruise Director, who was calling out the questions, trying to give us hints ex Question “What is it that cats cannot taste” – the Asst. Cruise director whispered to us “opposite of salt” – we wrote Pepper. The answer was “sweet.” He laughed so hard at our answers that he bought us each a drink. Glad we could make his day. Some of those teams take their trivia seriously.

Dinner was back in the main dining room and we ate with some of the same people that we had shared a table at the embarkation lunch on the first day of the cruise. Chuck had a chicken dish and I had a chef salad.

The show tonight was a British female magician. She was okay. Her tricks were pretty old fashioned – rings and rope tricks – but she did them well.

Tomorrow is Killybegs and we are joining a group of 6 others for a tour traveling on the Wild Atlantic Highway to the Sieve League cliffs, the Folk Village of Glencolmcille, the town of Donegal, and a beach . We have to meet the group in the Ocean’s Bar at 8:00 so we can all get off the ship together to meet the tour guide.

Tonight’s towel animal is a dinosaur.

Belfast Trivia –

Its location at the mouth of the River Lagan made Belfast an ideal location for the shipbuilding industry. Harland and Wolff had the largest shipyard in the world when it built the RMS Titanic during 1911-1912.

 By the early 1800s Belfast was a major port. It played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, becoming the biggest linen producer in the world, earning it the nickname “Linenopolis”.

C.S Lewis was born here, and the nearby countryside helped inspire The Chronicles of Narnia.

“Castle Black”
Rope Bridge
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