I forgot to mention the Captain did the highest speed of 18.6 knots between Greenock and Portree. While it wasn’t the greatest distance we had to cover, it was still significant in order to make our arrival on time.
Our stop in Invergordon – Inverness was spectacular. We took a tour from Invergordon to Dornoch and then into the highlands. Invergordon has a population of about 3,000 so it is a small city. We didn’t see much of it as we took the coast road from the dock to an inland road that took us to Dornoch and the Highlands . Dornoch was one of the prettiest towns we saw on our travels. Beautifully located not far from the sea, lots of old buildings, a “Royal” golf course, and very friendly people. We had a 45 minute stop here to look around and do some shopping. No surprise there. It was here I got a better appreciation for the price of good cashmere. I was admiring a sweater until I looked at the price. It was 285 British Pounds or about $570 Canadian! It had better have come from virgin goats and been hand separated by hermit monks for that price!
We left Dornoch and climbed into the highlands. Absolutely beautiful. We made our way on back roads not normally open to “Motor Coaches”. But due to the cruise trade, we were allowed to use them. They are one lane wide with pullouts to allow oncoming vehicles to meet and pass. Needless to say, the bus took more than its share of the road. I should mention that our guide, John (Jock) McKay (pronounced McKie) was exceptional. He’s spent his entire life in Dornoch and Invergordon. He talked, sang, and did some poetry. He was fabulous.
We stopped at Shins Falls, a nice spot on a salmon bearing river. Further up stream, people were fly fishing.
The first picture below has John McKay on the right. While the falls aren’t as spectacular as some we’ve all seen, it is still a very pretty spot to stop for a rest and a stretch of the legs. I should point out, we had a rest stop at one of the villages a little ways back as there are no toilet facilities at Shin Falls. Mohamed al-Fayad the former owner of Harrod’s Department Store had provided the money to build a refreshment stand, toilet facilities, picnic area, and mini golf facility at Shin Falls to help support the tourist trade. He is very well respected in the area for his community involvement. However, someone burnt the entire complex down and it has never been rebuilt. I’ve included the remnants of the facilities in one of the photos.
High in the hills, we saw a large castle built by a noble woman who happened to hate her cousin. She built a clock tower with clocks on three sides. The side facing the road her cousin would use has no clock face as she wouldn’t give him the time of day. Cute. The castle has been a hostel for many years but is now up for sale. So, if you have a great urge to own a LARGE castle in Scotland, here’s your chance.
We stopped at a viewpoint high in the hills. This viewpoint (million dollar view they call it) isn’t accessible in the winter as they don’t plow the road leading to it. There was still snow on the north faces of some hills. At the viewpoint, we were surrounded by fields of heather. It’s unfortunate we weren’t there in August as they would have been in full bloom. As it was, it was still pretty. All the brown is heather.
We finished our tour arriving back in Invergordon at the opposite end of town and getting off at the dock. We still hadn’t seen any of the town. This gave us an excuse to go for a walk in the afternoon and for me to look for some high speed wi-fi to download my newspaper. Linda overheard someone say the Purple Turtle had wi-fi and when I asked one of the local tourist volunteers, I was told the same thing. So, off we go in search of a Purple Turtle. The good news was we found it, the bad news was we needed to buy something to get access to it. Since we’d just eaten, food and drink weren’t on my mind. Linda kept walking and found people standing outside the Bank of Scotland obviously using a connection. I wandered over, logged on, and waited longer than I did on the ship to download which takes some doing. I gave up and we wandered the main street. It is a pretty main drag.
As we were arriving and leaving, I took several pictures of deep sea drilling rigs being stored at Invergordon. It is usually a repair facility but with the drop in oil, it has become a storage site.
Our final tour was from South Queensferry which is the port for Edinburgh. This had its challenges. We tendered in but with a catch. We were all dutifully assembled in the main theatre to await the call for our tender and tour. Since the weather outside was really crappy (technical term for high winds, rough seas, and rain), they were having issues with the tenders. The Captain reset the anchor a few times until he was able to get the ship positioned so it wouldn’t move and would allow some protection for the tenders. It was very dangerous to load the tenders. A large shore based tender had already been called to assist getting everyone off the ship but it couldn’t do anything until the ship was stable. We were delayed about an hour in getting off the ship. This was fine and good but I didn’t expect to be seated on the top deck of the shore tender in the wind and cold. Luckily it had stopped raining but the trip still wasn’t pleasant. I lost my sense of humour for a little while. Linda thought being in the fresh air was better for her than being under cover below us so 50/50 was an OK outcome.
Our trip to Edinburgh was good and by the time we got there, the sky started to clear and the sun finally came out. Our guide was very knowledgeable and gave a running commentary during the 30 minute drive to the city. We were split into two groups when we got to Edinburgh Castle. We were supposed to go to Holyrood House, one of the Queen’s Official Residences, but she was in at the time so we couldn’t go. However, we did see her motorcade as we were going into Edinburgh. I waved but I guess she didn’t see me. The picture below is Holyrood House.
Edinburgh had the most tourists we saw anywhere on our trip. Wall to wall people. We toured the Castle and then walked the Royal Mile. Most of us were done after about a half mile. I didn’t take any pictures of the Royal Mile as I wouldn’t have been able to remember all the places and information our guide provided.
Our guide lost track of the time and thought she had to entertain us for another hour when in fact she should have had us back at the bus an hour earlier. She was beside herself with embarrassment. We missed our bus but luckily one of the shore excursion staff was in the other group and when we didn’t show up and the bus had to leave, she called for a backup. When our guide finally figured out what was going on, even though people had told her previously we were running late, she called and was told another bus would be waiting for us at our pick up. In the end, all was well. The pictures below are Edinburgh Castle.
Our final stop was Newcastle. We should have looked into this more carefully before deciding not to do anything. The dock is a long way from the city centre and we didn’t find out until it was too late a free shuttle bus was being offered. Oh well, we always enjoy our time on board ship even if it’s just reading. We walked a little way to an outlet mall which didn’t have anything we were interested in but the walk was nice.
The last sea day was uneventful. It was quite cool, the seas were a bit choppy and we had some rain. While our ship moved very little we saw a smaller vessel going nose first into the seas and bouncing back up. We were happy to be on our ship.
Final sea days or the last day of a cruise are just about always a little sad. You’ve enjoyed the food, the ship, the crew and the places you visited but you know this is the last day before reality sets back in. You need to pay for food on land, get to the airport to catch your flight, get ready to do your own dishes, make your own bed and do your own laundry. Let’s not forget packing to go home and putting the suitcases out to be picked up but remembering to leave something out to wear in the morning. Reality bites sometimes.
Now we were at our last waypoint on the way home, Copenhagen. We arrived to bright sunshine and beautiful warm temperatures. Our trip from the ship to the hotel at the airport was uneventful. We were happy we decided to book a transfer with Holland America rather than use a cab. The line waiting for a cab was horrendously long and the cost would have been significantly more than the bus. Hard to believe considering how much transfers can cost.
I know I talked about the cost of Denmark before but you really don’t get an appreciation for the cost until you’ve been here a few days. Although the VAT and the service charge are included in most meals, it’s still very expensive. Linda and I had a half chicken dinner with a tomato vegetable side, a glass of wine for Linda and a coke for me and the cost was $110 CDN.
We took the train from the hotel to downtown Copenhagen. As I mentioned before, it’s a very fast ride and, all things considered, very reasonable. The trains are very quiet by Canadian standards. They put both Vancouver and Calgary to shame. We spent the afternoon roaming around. The weather was one of the best days we had on the trip. The sun and warmth continued. Our second day brought us rain coming down in sheets with a strong wind. I couldn’t come up with a good reason to go anywhere so we spent the day reading and doing some things to get ready for home.
Our trip home was NOT uneventful. I checked us in over the web the day before our flight and all was well. Our seats were assigned according to our travel itinerary. I tried to get our boarding passes from one of the check-in kiosks the day of the flight and was given a message that we had to check-in at the counter for our luggage. Regardless, I got a boarding pass but it said Linda had to go to the counter to get one. Neither of us noticed until our luggage had been checked in, we were both given boarding passes, and cleared security that our seats had changed and Linda was on standby! Not good. We had to wait nearly two hours before anyone from Iceland Air showed up at the boarding gate to offer assistance. They took our boarding passes and we received an air of “we’ll do what we can”. It worked out well in the end but it was a very anxious couple of hours.
Here’s a little travel advice if you travel Iceland Air. Pack your own meals. A very small trio burger package cost about $24 Canadian unless you were flying Economy Comfort or Business Class. Also, order early. The couple in front of us waited until later in the flight and all the food was gone.
Our little cruise covered 4,717 kms. I think I’m going to have to walk about that far to wear off all the food I ate. Damn that bread pudding! One last thing, in case you’re wondering, yes, we did find something for the babies.