Boudicca in Belfast

We woke up feeling quite sad this morning, as tonight would be our last night on the Boudicca on what had been an absolutely awesome cruise.  😦

Looking out of our portholes we could see land ahoy, and knew that we were just off the coast of Ireland.  We were due to dock at the Stormont Wharf, Belfast around 1.00pm this afternoon.

After our breakfast we returned to 4125 where I got showered, blow-dried my hair and got dressed, before we reluctantly started our packing.  We threw anything into the case that we knew we wouldn’t need until we got home, then spent some time pottering around up on deck before going to the lounge outside the Heligan Restaurant to trade in the 31 prize tokens we had won for goodies.  In total, we got a USB powerpack (a portable phone or Kindle charger), a mirrored handbag compact, a coaster and a keyring.

We passed the time pleasantly until it was 11.00am, when we went along to the Neptune Lounge to listen to a presentation called “The Road to Westminster” which was being given by Michael Brotherton, one of our quiz team members.  Michael used to be an MP so he gave a fascinating and amusing talk about some of the interesting people he had met in his illustrious career.  The dates he gave meant that his age must have been 85, and he certainly didn’t look it at all.

After the talk, which took us nicely to lunchtime, we saw that the Boudicca was going sedately up the Belfast Lough, and indeed in the distance we could see the iconic yellow shipbuilding gantry cranes, ‘Samson’ and ‘Goliath’, famous relics of the Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff.  As we collected our lunches from the self-service buffet in the crowded Heligan Restaurant, I sent a text message to my cousin Alan to tell him we should be docked by about one o’clock, and he replied to say they were on their way.  Yay!  I was really looking forward to it as we hadn’t seen them for a couple of years, and always have a great time in their company.  🙂

After lunch we returned to our cabin and got sorted out as we wanted to be one of the first people off the ship, the instant the gang-plank was installed.  We then went up on Deck 7 to watch the Boudicca glide into port.  As we did so, I received another text from Alan to say that they were dockside, waiting for us.  He said he could see the ship coming, and when I said we were just underneath Lifeboat #3, he said he could see us!  Just then Trevor shouted “There they are!”, and pointed to Alan and his brother-in-law Adam (husband of my other cousin Brenda)  Everyone was waving madly as we took photos, and we were excited to be back in Belfast.  My mother was from Belfast and her sister Irene (my aunt) was the mother of Alan and Brenda.

Once the Boudicca slid into her berth we shot away down to Deck 4 to where the gangway would be, and were one of the first ones there.  It seemed to take ages, while the queue slowly grew longer, and Alan kept texting me to tell me what was going on dockside, such as they’re placing the gang-plank, installing the hand-rail etc.

Finally, nearer to 1.30pm, the doors opened and we could disembark.  We met up with Alan and Adam and they took us around the corner to Alan’s Jeep, where his wife Margaret was also waiting.  Unfortunately Brenda had had to go into work today so would not be able to come; that was a shame.  Nevertheless here we all were, and we didn’t have to be back on board the Boudicca until 6.30pm.

We set off out of the docks and along the streets, where our first stop would be for a brief look around Belfast Castle and its manicured gardens.  Belfast Castle is set on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park in a prominent position 400 feet (120 m) above sea level. Its location provides unobstructed views of the city of Belfast and Belfast Lough.  We could see the Boudicca moored up in the distance.

The castle was really elegant and is often used to host weddings and corporate events.  In the gardens are hidden nine cats for children to find; some of them are stone statues, some portrayed in mosaic and some in topiary.

After our visit to the castle we decided to do what we always do when we come to Belfast, go and have a few pints in a pub along the Shankill Road.  For this purpose we chose the Mountainview Tavern, where we’ve been several times before; a lively establishment which shows live football.

We went in and ordered five pints of beer and sat and talked and laughed and enjoyed ourselves.  I was tickled pink by the fact that this is our 40th cruise; we have travelled all over the world, 80 countries over all seven continents, and on this cruise we had been to the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland, seen glaciers, icebergs, whales and the Aurora Borealis, but somehow here we were drinking pints in a pub on the Shankill Road, Belfast. 😀

We exchanged stories and anecdotes and had a great time, as only true family and friends can, and the hours winged by.  All too soon the time inched closer to 5.30pm, when Alan said we’d have to leave to make sure we got back through the Bank Holiday traffic in good time.

We arrived back at the Boudicca just after 6.00pm, and said our thanks and goodbyes, kisses and hugs, then made our way up the gangplank, waving enthusiastically until Alan and Adam were out of sight.  What a great day it had been, and we still had the evening to enjoy.  🙂

We got changed in record time to make it to the Tintagel Restaurant for first sitting at 6.15pm.  Willie and Lynn were there, but not Doug and Sue.  We enjoyed the ‘last supper’ washed down with wine (on top of the three pints of beer and two glasses of wine I’d had in the Mountainview!).  At around seven o’clock the Boudicca slipped her moorings and was on her way again, next stop Liverpool.  After dinner we went back to our cabin to do some more packing, as I didn’t want to leave too much until the last minute.

We then went to the Neptune Lounge to procure our seat for the final evening’s performance by the Boudicca Show Company, called “Musical Jukebox” which was as good and original as ever.  Then we got our quiz paper and waited for the rest of our team to arrive.

Presently we were joined by Steve, Julia and David and Lorna.  We called our team “Cruise-day, Booze-day & Back to Work on Tuesday”.  We didn’t win; in fact we didn’t even make it to the tie-breaker, but we still enjoyed a bottle of cava because David and Lorna had won one previously that they hadn’t drank, so they kindly shared it with us.  Shortly afterward Marilyn arrived and enjoyed a glass too, and we all toasted the success of our quiz teams during the cruise (and during a slow start).  I was trying to push away the depressing thought from my head that tomorrow we would be homeward bound.  😦

As we were so busy drinking and enjoying the banter, we hardly noticed when the show company’s second performance started, but we stayed in our seats and sat through the show a second time.  Then we finished the evening off, and had a final (free!) drink up in the Lido Lounge before the inevitable moment when we would have to return to cabin 4125 for the night, finish our packing and put the suitcases out for collection, effectively signalling the end of our cruise.  😦

That was it, then.  We got into bed, set our alarm for 7.30am, and slept soundly.  When we woke up the next morning we were already in Liverpool, right back where we started from.

Another fantastic and very different cruise had come to an end.  Can’t wait until the next one!


It’s Brilliant on the Boudicca

I was tired when the alarm went off this morning, probably because of a combination of late nights and overindulgence, as well as the clocks having to go forward an hour again this morning.  So it was around 8.45am before I go out of my pit and got washed and dressed before breakfast.  Outside, the sky had lots of cumulus clouds but the sea was calm.

We went along to the Heligan Restaurant where we knew there would be some free cava on the go again, as tonight was formal night.  But because it’s all been ‘free’ on this cruise it wasn’t quite as exciting as it used to be.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed my smoked salmon, cold meats and fresh fruit platter very much, washed down with a glass of fizz.

Afterwards we returned to our cabin and just relaxed; watching the TV, reading or doing some crochet.  Then, at about 10.50am we went along to the Morning Light pub where we waited for Jonny to come along and put us into teams for the Great Boudicca Treasure Hunt.

I was put into a team with three other ladies and we had to follow the clues on the paper to go all over the ship, looking for a blue star that would contain a letter.  There were 10 letters to collect which would form an anagram.  We were all over the ship, from the Medical Centre on Deck 3 to the Marquee Bar on Deck 10.  Occasionally we came across other teams, and much banter ensued.  🙂

Eventually we found all 10 letters, which when arranged spelled out “M/S Boudicca”.    When we arrived back at the Medical Centre we found Trevor there, who advised us that all the other teams had finished and we were last.  We then made our way up to the Observatory where Jonny was waiting with some more free bottles of fizz ready for the ‘closing ceremony’.

Everybody toasted everybody else, and Jonny read out how many medals each team had won and gave individual prizes for those who’d won the most ‘medals’.  Trevor and I hadn’t done too badly; we’d won 12 prize points between us which brought our total stash to 31 – we’d be able to trade them in for prizes tomorrow morning.

Altogether, the men had 39 points against the ladies’ 34 points, so it wasn’t a trouncing, and it had all been good fun.  🙂

By this time it was 12.15pm and time for lunch, which we ate in the Secret Garden, where we were joined shortly by Jonny and Julian, the lead dancer.  I enjoyed fresh salad and a selection of cold meats, followed by bread and butter pudding and washed down with yet another glass of wine!  Ah… it’s a hard life.  🙂

We then spent the day pottering around before going to the Neptune Lounge at 3.15pm to see the fruits of the choir’s labour.  They did four or five songs, with nice little harmonies; it was a pleasant interlude.

Then we went along for the quiz at 3.45pm.  It was slightly earlier this time because of the Captain’s Farewell Party at quarter to six.  When we got there, there was only Steve and Marilyn, no sign of Michael and Julie and we guessed correctly that they’d arrive at the quiz’s usual time of four o’clock.

Anyway… we didn’t win.  But we’ve had four wins this cruise, so we can’t really complain.  We always enjoy the quizzes anyway, in case you hadn’t guessed.  🙂

Afterwards we returned to 4125 and started getting glammed up for the final Formal Evening and cocktail party.  I wore a long burgundy-coloured sequinned dress and matching jacket and, to save having to mess about styling my hair, I put on a silver platinum wig in a short, flicked-up style.  Because of my broken toe I couldn’t wear the silver killed heels I wanted, but I put on a flatter pair which were still quite nice, silver with diamante stones.  Once we were ready, off we went to the Neptune Lounge for yet more free fizz and canapés.  I have to say that even if we weren’t making the most of the all-inclusive drinks package that there is always a fair bit of free booze given away on Fred Olsen cruise ships.  🙂

Once again, Captain Mikael Degerlund made us laugh with his dry humour and wit and we felt really sad that tomorrow we would arrive in our final port of call this cruise.  😦

Then we went up for dinner, which was as delicious as ever, before returning to the show lounge to try to get a good seat near the front, as tonight the spotlight was on the crew of the Boudicca, who had a chance to forget their day jobs and bring us some colourful traditional dancing and singing from their parts of the world, including the Philippines and Indonesia.  We always enjoy these shows very much, as tonight’s performance didn’t disappoint.

There wasn’t an evening quiz tonight (they don’t have them on formal nights) so we just finished off the evening by going up to the Lido Lounge, listening to the pianist Colin James and watching the late-night cabaret by crew singer Liah May Casenas, who we’d seen the other night in the crew cabaret.  She was very good.

It was well after midnight once again before we returned to our cabin.  Tomorrow we would reach terra firma once again, in the shape of the colourful and historic city of Belfast.  My mother was from Belfast and I still have cousins who live there, and we had arranged to meet up. I was really looking forward to seeing them, and we both slept well.

A Fun Day At Sea

We got up around 8.30am this morning and tried not to think about the fact that we only had three more days of our wonderful cruise to go.  Once again we’d lost an hour’s sleep as the clocks had to be put yet closer to British time.  😦

The weather looked a bit more cloudy than it had been, but at least it wasn’t raining, as we had some more of the Boudicca ‘Olympics’ to play today, most of them on the outside decks.

We went and had our breakfast and pottered around for a bit before making our way up to Deck 7 for the Shuffleboard round.  I have never played shuffleboard in my life, but it looks like a big game of shove ha’penny (which I have played before, many moons ago).  The decking was slightly damp where they had been washing it, and I felt that would hinder the ability of the wooden discs to slide easily, as was indeed the case.

We were put into teams of pairs, men against ladies, and I was absolutely useless; I couldn’t even get my discs to go into the scoring area.  I wasn’t the only one, however, and a few of us commented that it was harder than it looked.  In the end, the scoring was so low (non-existant, in fact) that Mike, the organiser, said he would award points to whoever got their disc nearest to the scoring area.  Neither Trevor nor I were in the medals this time.

We just had enough time between the shuffleboard and our next game of quoits to nip to the Lido Lounge for the morning quiz.  There were just the two of us playing but we scored 16/20 – not enough to win.

Then we hotfooted in back to Deck 7 to play quoits, which consisted of lobbing rope rings into a scoring area of concentric circles; the outer ring scored 1, the inner scored 3 and the ‘bullseye’ scored 5.  Again, it was harder than it looked, made more so by the fact that the passengers who were doing laps of the deck in order to walk a mile kept walking over the playing area, disrupting us somewhat.  Once again I failed to score a single point; I never was any good at games at school so it looks as though nothing had changed.

Once the deck games had finished it took us just nicely to lunchtime, and we enjoyed our meal in the Tintagel Restaurant, washed down with a chilled glass of rosé wine.

Then, at 1.30pm, we went up to the area outside the Observatory to play the last of the ‘Olympic’ games today, hoopla.  This was similar to quoits but you had five rings each to throw and you had to ring some posts on the floor; the further away the post the higher the score.  I missed with every single one of my rings, but Trevor got a high score and indeed won the silver medal.  🙂

Tomorrow we would complete the Boudicca Olympics with a treasure hunt around the ship.

Afterwards Trevor decided to go in the Jacuzzi and I thought I’d go up to the Lido Lounge and do some of this blog, while enjoying a nice glass of cava.  While I was there, some passengers came in to join in the ‘Singing for Fun’ sessions, and it was quite enjoyable listening to them do their choir practice.

Then Trevor came in to join me, and we stayed to watch the Boudicca’s version of “Countdown”, which they had to call “Downcount” because of copyright reasons.

It brought us nicely to the afternoon quiz, and our team consisted of the usual suspects; me and Trevor, Steve and Marilyn and Michael and Julia.  We were doing all right and but changed our mind about one of the answers which had originally been correct, so it cost us a chance in the tie-breaker.  Ah well, c’est la vie.  🙂

Then it was time to return to cabin 4125 after a fairly active day, to get washed and changed in time for dinner.  We enjoyed the usual convivial company of our fellow table mates (a full house this time, as Doug and Sue were also there) before making our way to the Neptune Lounge to get a good seat for tonight’s variety performance which featured all our guest entertainers (apart from the magician – I don’t know what happened to him).  It was an excellent show, hosted by Simon Sands, the comedian.

Afterwards it was time for the evening quiz, and we were joined by Steve, Julia and the couple we’d done the quiz with the other night, David and Lorna.  We were in the tie-breaker yet again!!  This time we had to state how many feet were in a nautical mile, which is fairly easy to calculate if you know that a nautical mile = 1.1508 statute miles, so roughly 15% greater.  In the time allowed we calculated it was about 6,100 feet, which was the closest answer to the correct answer of 6,080 feet.  Yay!!  Another bottle of cava was ours!  Four wins now.  🙂

We stayed in the Neptune Lounge for quite a while afterwards, chatting and enjoying the chilled cava. Then Trevor and I went up to the Lido Lounge which was absolutely packed and we could only get a seat on a bar stool at the bar.  That’s because entertainment hosts Mike Davis and Jonny Beck were performing once again; they were obviously very popular.

It was getting on for 1.00am before we went to bed; we had one more full sea day to enjoy tomorrow.  What a fun day we’d had today!  🙂

Games Without Frontiers

During the night we lost an hour’s sleep, as the clocks were put forward an hour becoming nearer to British Summer Time.  Nevertheless we were still up around 8.15am, as we had a full itinerary of events to look forward to today.

After breakfast we got ourselves ready for our first “Boudicca Olympics” event, which was carpet bowls.  Quite a few other participants were there when we arrived, about 20 of us altogether.  I had never played carpet bowls in my life so didn’t know what to expect.

We were put into pairs to play, ladies versus the men.  I was paired with a very nice lady called Mags.  She had played bowls before, which made up for my total lack of experience (which showed).  The end result was that the ladies won Gold (5 prize points) and Mags and I won Silver (3 prize points each, certainly down to her and not me) and the men won the Bronze.

The next game was Golf Putting, which took place inside in the conference room as the upper deck, where the golf nets were, was too windy.  You had six balls and had to putt them into these holes; the smaller the hole the greater the number of points.  We each had two turns, using left and right hands.  With my left hand I scored 11, but when it came to my right hand I got all six balls into a hole, scoring a total of 27.  A complete fluke of course, just luck.  So my full tally was 38 points.

The game continued thus, with lots of misses and near-misses.  The end result was that I had the second-highest total so won the Silver medal (3 points) while Trevor had the third-highest and got the Bronze medal (1 point).  So I had redeemed myself somewhat with the Ladies Team after my poor start at the carpet bowls.  🙂

At 12.15pm we had to go to the Lido Lounge to play Nintendo Wii 10-pin bowling.  I scored a Spare but my total points weren’t enough to win a medal this time.

Then it was off to lunch and a bit of free time before darts at 3.00pm.  As there were so many of us the rules were thus:  you started with two lives each and you had to beat the score of the person who went before you, otherwise you lost a life.  I threw my darts immediately after Trevor, and the first time he scored 46 but I beat him with 56, so I retained both my lives.

Basically, we all kept playing to this format until, one by one, we each lost our lives until there were only three people left in, who were obviously the ‘medal’ winners.  The Ladies got the gold medal this time round.  🙂

That was all the ‘Olympic’ games for today; we would have more to look forward to tomorrow.

We then took part in the quiz at 4.00pm, with a full team consisting of me and Trevor, Steve and Marilyn and Michael and Julia.  We didn’t win; the worst part is when you have the right answer, then the doubt creeps in and you change the answer, only to lose a point because you’d changed your mind.  First instincts are usually correct.  🙂

We stayed for another drink or two after the quiz then it was time to go back and get ourselves ready for tonight, which was a Red, White and Blue (or British) themed night.  Trevor wore a very dapper Union Jack waistcoat and dicky-bow tie, while I wore white trousers, a blue t-shirt and a Union Jack jacket.  But my pièce de résistance was a large flag I draped over my shoulders; the flag featured the silhouettes of WW1 soldiers against the background of a large poppy, and the words “Lest We Forget” emblazoned in capital letters along the bottom of the flag.  It is, after all, 100 years since the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

When we went up to dinner (where our outfits had already attracted much attention), we found we were the only couple at table #21.  The others had evidently gone to the Indian buffet in the Secret Garden, but we were treated to an array of British dishes in the Tintagel Restaurant.  Trevor had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding while I enjoyed bangers and mash.

We then made our way along to the Neptune Lounge for the great British singalong at 8.00pm.  While we were in the queue someone asked if they could take Trevor’s picture, of him with his John Bull waistcoat and dicky-bow.

We found seats as near to the front as possible, and Elliot Taylor, the cruise director, had a look around to see who had the best outfits.  When he asked “who has made the most effort with their British costumes?” some people shouted out “Debbie! Debbie!” So I went out to the front and let them all see my Union Jack jacket, then turned around so they could see my flag, which elicited an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.  Elliot said I had brought a ‘touch of class’ to the proceedings.  🙂

Anyway, the show started with a good old British singalong, with much flag-waving and singing with gusto.  Then the Boudicca Show Company’s performance was called “Britain Rocks”, featuring the best of British music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, including a medley of James Bond theme songs.  For the Bond songs, Julian the blond lead dancer came on as James Bond, complete with dinner suit and gun.  He did a fantastic dance routine, including some acrobatics; he really is a fit lad and his dancing is amazing.  I am sure we will see more of Julian in the future.

Towards the end of the show, the singers and dancers came on dressed in Union Jack costumes and did a rendition of rousing patriotic songs such as “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory”, in which the audience joined in enthusiastically.  It really was a tremendous show.

We stayed for the quiz afterwards, and Steve, Trevor, Julia and I were joined by another couple, David and Lorna.  It was a British themed quiz and…  we won, with 15/15.  Of course it went to a tie-breaker, but we knew that India had gained its independence from Britain in 1947, so we won!!  Yay!  We’ve made the hat-trick.  🙂

We finished the evening by going up to the Lido Lounge, where Colin James the pianist was doing a selection of great British pop songs.  While we were there, the gentleman who had the little soldier bear came over and wanted his bear photographed in front of my “Lest We Forget” flag.

It was late when we got to bed, made even more so by the fact that we had to put our clocks forward an hour again.  What the hell… we’re on holiday, so we can have a lie-in in the morning if we want.  🙂

Life in Greenland

When we woke up this morning, we were at anchor off the picturesque little town of Nanortalik, and once again the day was clear and bright with nary a cloud in the sky.

We had our breakfast then went to collect a ticket for the liberty boat.  We were given ticket #15 but as they had only called #8 we had a bit of a wait.  So we went to the aft decks near the pool and sat in the sunshine, drinking in our surroundings while we waited our turn.

We disembarked about 10.00am and got the boat across, which took us into the heart of the town.

Nanortalik is Greenland’s southern-most town.  Located in an area with rugged mountain peaks and deep fjords, it is a paradise for mountain-climbers.  The name ‘Nanortalik’ translates as ‘the place where polar bears go’ referring to the polar bears that drift down with the pack ice from the east coast in spring.  Nanortalik only has 1,300 inhabitants and is visited by relatively-few tourists each year.

Like the other villages/towns we had visited, there were lots of colourfully-painted wooden buildings, some with fish hanging outside to dry.  There was also an attractive little wooden church, painted in cream with a red trim; it was closed this morning to visitors as a funeral was taking place.  The church was beautifully reflected in the calm water, with its small boats moored up.  A guy was trying to sell the Boudicca passengers tickets for a boat trip to go whale-watching, but we preferred to do our own thing.

First of all we decided to visit the small museum, which contained some Inuit boats and kayaks and contained tools and everyday household equipment traditionally used by Inuits.  For example, there was a press for extracting whale oil, as well as skinning knives and tanning tools for seal and fox skins.  There were also a couple of complete fox furs, with a series of diagrams on the wall showing the skinning and tanning process.  There were also looms and examples of woollen traditional clothing worn by fishermen and women.  In addition, there were many old photographs of Eskimo/Inuit families in their boats, tents and igloos.  It was all very interesting indeed.

Going down to the water’s edge, we were just in time to see the end of a kayak and boat display, the Inuit men wearing jackets and trousers made of sealskin, which would obviously be waterproof as well as warm.  We continued strolling around, enjoying the sunshine and marvelling at the fantastic weather we had had.

As it was our last stop in Greenland (boo-hoo) we decided to spend the last of our Danish kroner on – you’ve guessed it – a couple of cold beers.  We couldn’t see any bars or pubs anywhere, but we did see some people sitting at chairs and tables drinking beer; it transpired you could buy them in the supermarket and drink them outside.  🙂

Trevor went in and bought a couple of bottles of ‘Royal’ beer (by appointment to the Royal Danish Court, it said on the bottle) which were brewed in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.  The beer was nice and cold and we sat on a conveniently-situated wall and enjoyed them in the sunshine.  Some other people from the Boudicca came and sat alongside us, and their first question was “Did you see the Northern Lights last night?”  Everyone we’d met who had seen them was enthralled; we felt sorry for those who had missed them (a lot of people were already in bed) because they really, really missed something very special.

After another beer each we slowly made our way back to the tender port, where there was a long queue waiting.  One boat came in and was quickly filled, so we had to wait for the next one.  We were back on board the Boudicca by about 1.30pm, and we went off to get some lunch.  Trevor went to the rear decks to enjoy an fresco lunch of fish and chips, while I had some fresh salad with a selection of cold meats in the Heligan Restaurant.

At 2.30pm the Boudicca weighed anchor for the final time, and we slowly made our way out of Nanortalik and into the peace and tranquillity of the fjords.  We had been advised by the Captain that we continue the scenic fjord cruising until about 7.00pm, after which time we’d be in the North Atlantic ocean once again.

We felt quite sad to be leaving Greenland.  What a unique, fascinating and beautiful country it is.  It was a real privilege to come here; I feel blessed.  🙂

Then it was just our usual routine for the rest of the day; quiz at four o’clock (we didn’t win), dinner at 6.15pm (delicious as ever) as we watched the passing mountain scenery out of the restaurant window.

I forgot to mention, between the quiz and dinner Trevor and I went along to the see the senior host, Jonny Beck, to register to take part in the Boudicca Olympics.  🙂

The ‘Olympics’ consists of teams and individuals playing traditional shipboard games such as carpet bowls, deck quoits, shuffleboard, golf putting and darts.  There was also going to be a treasure hunt on the last sea day.  So we registered to participate, all in the name of good fun.  🙂

Anyway… after dinner we went, as usual, along to the Neptune Lounge where the comedian Simon Sands was performing again and was very good.  Then it was the 10.00pm quiz (we didn’t win again!) followed this time by the Boudicca Crew Cabaret.  Various members of the crew, from those in the engine room to those in the housekeeping department, got up on stage and sang for us, and some of them were so good you wondered at their choice of day job.

About 11.00pm we finished the evening by going up to the Lido Lounge where the Timeline Duo were performing.  The guitarist, Trevor, is actually pretty good and we asked him to do a couple of Mark Knopfler/Dire Straits numbers, so he did a very good rendition of Sultans of Swing as well as Walk of Life.  For once we actually quite enjoyed their show.  🙂

Then it was off to bed around midnight.  We had three full days of sea to look forward to, on our way to our final port of call, Belfast.

Northern Lights above Greenland

Destination outward bound
I turn to see the Northern Lights behind the wing.
Horizons seem to beckon me, learned how to cry too young
So now I live to sing.
Renaissance – The Northern Lights

We had to be up very early this morning as we had to assemble in the Neptune Lounge at 7.15am to be ready for our trip at half-past seven.  Today we were taking a boat trip to visit the ruins of the largest Viking church, at Hvalsey, and learn about the Viking farmers.

Outside, a dense fog made it impossible to see anything at all, so it was unfortunate that we wouldn’t be able to make the most of the scenery on the way.

When we boarded the local boat via one of the Boudicca’s tenders, it was pretty crowded because one of the other boats had broken down, so their passengers joined ours.  We went below decks and sat in the boat’s galley, but the windows were high up so you couldn’t see out of them unless you stood up.

The boat took speed and rattled and vibrated its way along, the engine noise so loud it was difficult to hear what our guide was saying.  She was an Inuit woman whose name we didn’t manage to get, and she explained to us all about life growing up in Greenland, and what it was like living in a location so remote and thinly-populated.

Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world, about 7% and she said that just about every family has at least one family member who has taken their own life.  Maybe it’s down to the remote location, the long, dark winters, or the fact that there isn’t much to do, but there is also a high rate of alcoholism amongst Greenlanders as well.

The guide also gave us the Inuit’s perspective regarding the hunting and fishing traditions.  For decades environmental groups have protested against the whaling and seal-hunting industry, but for Greenlanders hunting, shooting and fishing are a way of life.  They can’t just walk into a supermarket and buy food, so they have to fish and hunt in order to eat.  Whenever they kill a whale, seal or reindeer, every part of the animal is used; the meat for food, the skins for clothing and waterproofing, and the oil or blubber for fuel.

Inuit people used to be called ‘Eskimos’ but they now regard this term as pejorative, as it translates into English as “eater of raw meat”.  Yet this is exactly what they do, so I don’t know why they see it as offensive.

When the noisy boat eventually arrived at the small landing stage, we all disembarked and walked up a grassy, boulder-strewn bank towards the ruins of the church.  It was very bleak and remote here, and no other buildings were anywhere in evidence.

Hvalsey church was built in the early 12th century and might have been built by Scots-Norse stonemasons as similar structures are found in Norway and Orkney. The church might have been maintained due to the site’s royal ownership.

The church house was exceptionally well built from carefully chosen stones that in some cases weigh in excess of five tons. Its walls, which are up to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) thick, measure 16 metres (52 ft) by 8 metres (26 ft) on the outside. The gables rise 5 metres (16 ft) to 6 metres (20 ft) from the floor and may have risen 2m higher when first constructed. Side walls, which would have been higher when new, now stand 4 metres (13 ft). The building was plastered with ground mussel shells and would have been white when in use and was roofed with timber and turf.

A 1408 wedding at the site’s church is the last documented event to occur during the Norse settlement of Greenland. Two years later the Icelandic newlyweds, ship’s captain Borsteinn Ólafsson and Sigríður Björnsdóttir, returned to Norway, before sailing to Iceland and settling on the bride’s family farm at Akrar, north Iceland, in 1413. The details were recorded in letters between papal dignitaries in Iceland and the Vatican.

Archaeological evidence shows that over the next hundred years the last Norse settlements in Greenland slowly died out. It was not until 1721 that a joint merchant-clerical expedition led by Danish missionary Hans Egede discovered that the Norse colonies in Southern Greenland had disappeared.

Afterwards it was back onto the boat for the return journey to the Boudicca.  It was still pretty foggy although not as bad as it had been.  We felt sure it would turn out to be a very fine day.

We were back on board before 11.00am, and we went to the Iceni room and had a cup of coffee, before taking part in the quiz in the Lido Lounge.  No prize for us this time!

By lunchtime the fog had cleared and we enjoyed a light lunch before returning to our cabin for a catnap, to make up for the early wake-up at 6.20am.

We spent the earlier part of the afternoon wandering around the ship; going out on deck to enjoy the beautiful weather and clear skies, reading my Kindle, doing some crochet and socialising with fellow passengers.  At 2.30pm the Boudicca weighed anchor and we set off once again, gliding along the cool blue fjords and looking out for whales and icebergs.  At one stage we saw about five or six whale spouts and the odd tantalising glimpse of a black fin, but none of the whales dived down to let us see their flukes.

Time passes surprisingly quickly when you’re not doing anything in particular, and soon it was time to go and get ready for dinner.  Once again there was only Trevor and me, Willie and Lynn at the table; Doug and Sue had obviously decided to eat at the Secret Garden.

Then it was along to the Neptune Lounge afterwards for the show, which was a performance by the Boudicca Show Company called “Dancing through Life”.  It was an excellent show featuring all types of dancing from stage to tap to ballet and starred the excellent male lead, a blond lad called Julian, whose litheness, agility, strength and suppleness were very evident in his dance moves.

The 10.00pm quiz, which we did along with Steve, was absolutely dire.  The theme was the Big Band era, which none of us knew anything about.  When the quiz-master announced the theme there was a collective groan from the audience, so I think we were all in the same boat, so to speak.  The fact that the winning score was 7/15 shows how obscure some of the questions and answers were; our team scored a pitiful 4/15.  😦

As we came out of the Neptune Lounge around 10.30pm we decided, for a change, to go up to the Observatory at the bow of the ship, instead of the Lido Lounge.  It was extremely fortuitous that we did so, because we’d only been up in the dimly-lit quiet lounge for about 10 minutes when somebody, who was looking out of the big windows at the front, called out, “There’s the Northern Lights!”

I shot over to the window while Trevor rushed outside.  Sure enough, there was a green glow in the sky directly in front of us, above the ship’s bow.  I hurried out to join Trevor on the upper decks, regardless of the fact that I didn’t have my coat on and there was an icy wind blowing.  I wasn’t going to miss this for anything, cold or not.  🙂

The whole sky above the Boudicca was alight with the Aurora Borealis, which writhed and shimmered, rippled and glowed in the black velvet skies.  To the left of us was a rising moon, casting its silver reflection on the water and competing with the aurora for our attention.  We saw the bands and swathes of pale green arcing their way over the skies, sometimes gently rippling and at other times forming the vertical lines known as the ‘curtain’ effect.  A small crowd had gathered, and Trevor meanwhile ran back to our cabin and returned shortly with the camera and our coats.

The crowd “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” each time the Northern Lights changed shape or glowed even brighter – it was as if we were watching a fireworks display.  I simply could not take my gaze away from Mother Nature’s light show; it was everything you’d expect and want the Aurora Borealis to be.  In November 2014 we had gone on the Boudicca up above the Arctic Circle (up to 70ºN, in fact) and we’d been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights five nights running.  But tonight’s display surpassed anything we had ever seen.  It was truly magnificent, and we were so privileged to be here, en route to Nanortalik, and see the elusive Aurora Borealis in all its splendour.

Once the cold got the better of us, we returned to the Observatory feeling absolutely euphoric.  What an amazing bonus; it was the icing on the cake of what had so far been a brilliant cruise.  We were still able to see the Aurora out of the big wraparound windows, and the lights kept dancing in the skies for over an hour.  Wow!

It was around 12.30am before we returned to our cabin, still talking excitedly about our unexpected bonus.  It was strange how we’d gone to the Observatory tonight; if we’d done the usual and gone to the Lido Lounge at the stern of the ship, we might not have known anything about the Aurora.  We were definitely in the right place at the right time.  🙂

Ice, Ice Baby

We woke up this morning (we’d be in trouble if we didn’t!) and once again looked out of our portholes to see what the new day would be like, weather-wise.  Once again it was foggy, but we hoped, like yesterday, it would clear and would be a beautiful day.

Today the Boudicca was docked in Narsarsuaq, which is located within the eastern settlement of the Greenlandic Norse; the Brattahlið farm of Eric the Red established in 875 AD was located on the opposite bank of the Tunulliarfik Fjord, where the modern settlement of Qassiarsukk is situated.  In 1941 the United States built an air base at Narsarsuaq code-named Bluie West One (BW1), as Bluie was the Allied military code name for Greenland.  Thousands of planes used BW1 as a stepping stone on their way from the aircraft factories in North America to the battle grounds of Europe.

Looking out, we saw that Narsarsuaq seemed very remote; there were lots of hills, mountains and the blue sparkling sea with the inevitable icebergs, but not many buildings.  We were told that the town was about a 3km walk away (each way) and all that was there was a museum and a tourist information.  We decided it wasn’t worth a 4-mile walk to see them, particularly as my broken toe was still apt to be a little painful after too much walking.

We therefore spent the morning on board the Boudicca and had our lunch at 12.00 noon, as we had to be at the Neptune Lounge to collect our ticket for the local boat that would be taking us out to see a glacier and some pretty impressive icebergs.  We had heard people talking about it who had been on the trip earlier, and everyone was raving about how spectacular it was, so we were looking forward to it.

At 1.00pm we disembarked the Boudicca and made our way dockside, to join the little boat that would take us to the Qoroq Fjord.  There were only about a dozen passengers to ensure that everyone would get a good view.

Once on board, Trevor went inside the boat, but I went immediately to the bows, along with half a dozen other people.  The boat was a speed-boat and once he set off, full throttle, the wind rushing past our exposed faces and hands felt very cold indeed.  Maybe I should have taken a leaf out of Trevor’s book and gone inside.  🙂

When we reached the glacier the driver knocked his engines back a bit, allowing people to take pictures as he slowly turned around.  At this point I decided to join Trevor inside the warmth of the boat’s interior, and to be honest I had just as good a view out of the large windows.

Once we reached the fjord we were treated to the sight of immense icebergs, some of them with that intense blue colouration.  Icebergs started off as parts of glaciers, hundreds of years old, where the ice is under immense pressure.  As a result, all the air if forced out and when long wavelength light (i.e. red) from the sun hits the iceberg, it is absorbed, rather than reflected. The light transmitted or refracted through the ice returns as blue or blue-green.  They were unbelievably beautiful, these huge entities, enough to sink a ship, and the sun shone down (yes, the fog had cleared by now) from a sapphire-blue sky and sparkled and twinkled on the calm blue waters.  This was amazing; I wish I had more words in my vocabulary to describe it.  We didn’t rave about it the way some passengers had, but maybe that’s because we’d seen bigger and better on our unforgettable Antarctic expedition in January 2006, so we were spoilt!   🙂

Nonetheless, it was still a trip worth doing.  We joked that everyone is going to go home with lots of pictures of lumps of ice.  Can you imagine how bored friends and family are going to be when we show them our holiday snaps?  You really have to be there, I suppose.  🙂

Back on board we went out on deck for a while, had an afternoon nap, then pottered about for a bit before going to the Lido Lounge for the afternoon quiz, where we shared our winnings (bottle of cava) with the rest of the team – Steve and Marilyn, Michael and Julia.  This time our team name was “Cruising, Boozing and No Longer Losing”.  🙂

We did the quiz and scored 18/20, and of course it went to a tie-breaker.  But we won!!  That’s two on the trot, and it meant another couple of prize tokens to add to our current stash of 18.  🙂

Afterwards we stayed on for the bingo, and we won 37 quid for our total stake of 20 quid.  So overall it has cost us £60.00 for the bingo but we’ve won a total of £73.00.  So not a bad investment then.  🙂

Then off we went for our dinner, followed by the evening’s entertainment as usual in the Neptune Lounge.  There were two shows; first of all Jonny Beck (the senior host) doing some swing songs, then another performance by Oliver Lewis, who holds the record for being the fastest violinist in the world.  Once again he gave us an excellent performance, mixing a bit of classical in with a bit of contemporary.

There was no featured show in the Lido Lounge tonight, so we just went along for a few drinks and to listen to the Colin James the pianist, as well as the Timeline Duo.  Then we went to bed fairly early, as we had to be up at 6.20am to go for our tour tomorrow, from the port of Qaqortoq.  The end of another great day. 🙂