By: CAROL SANTORA
Water water everywhere, but much too hot to drink……The Land of Fire and Ice!
We took an “island” tour this summer, part independently and part on a Silverseas Cruise. Beginning in Iceland, we then sailed across to the British Isles, then zigzagged back and forth on the Irish Sea from the Scottish Highlands to County Cork. We saw hot springs, castles, pubs, and lots of water!
Our adventure started in Reykjavik, Iceland, a charming, colorful city. You can see and feel Nordic style everywhere – the classic woolen sweaters, clean and colorful architectural design, Scandinavian cuisine and culture, and medieval sagas. The town is easy to traverse, with highlights like the Harpa Concert Hall, the Hallgrimskirkja Church with 240-foot-tall observation tower, and wonderful restaurants and shops. Our favorite dinners were at The Grillmarket, a lovely upscale restaurant, and Snaps which was young, trendy, and bustling. We toured for two days in rather chilly and rainy weather. The driving stretches are lengthy, but the rewards are manifold. We explored the Golden Circle area: lovely and powerful Gulfoss waterfall; hot thermal spas (100 C) and the Strokkur geyser; and the Pingvellir National Park, a broad rift valley and home to the first established Viking parliamentary assembly in 930 AD. We also viewed huge glaciers, gorgeous Barnafoss waterfall, volcanic fields, roaming Icelandic horses, and numerous long haired sheep from which the sweaters are created.
The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is a famous Icelandic treasure. The hot springs offer a large blue body of steaming water surrounded by volcanic rock. One can experience communal soaking, mud facials, various spa treatments, and social conversation. It was a bit frenetic and crowded for our taste, even though we did make an appointment ahead of time. That said, it is a must on your first visit!
We boarded the ship in Reykjavik and headed to two Westman Island destinations off the coast. First was Heimaey to tour the tiny town and to board a small boat to see beautiful rock formations like “The Elephant” and numerous bird and puffin colonies. Second stop was to Djupivogur Harbor and a ride to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, a very exciting boat ride meandering around icebergs that have calved from the main glacier. We were thrilled by beautiful colors and even seals playful and curious frolicking about the boat. Lastly, we enjoyed seeing the Djupivogur harbor circled with 34 granite eggs, a design “Eggin i Gledivik” by Artist Sigurour Guomundsson representing local birds.
We were then off to Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands. We hiked the Bone Caves Circuit, a limestone valley dotted with ancient caves where animals and humans dwelled. Lavender heather was ubiquitous and quite beautiful. We were fortunate to experience it, as it blooms only once a year for a month. Our next stop was exceptional: Belfast, Northern Ireland. We hired a private guide for a tour of HBO Series Game of Thrones sites; the Giant’s Causeway which consists of incredible rock formations with mysterious origins; the famous Rope Bridge, originally built for salmon fishing; and the Titanic Museum. We then toured the city. It was momentous to view the “Dark Hedges” from GOT, but the most moving experience was to hear the history and details of the 30 year period referred to as “The Troubles” (1968-1998) in Northern Ireland. The memorial sites of bombings and famous wall art were quite emotional. This piece of history about the political, nationalistic, and ethnic conflict stimulated extensive thought and the desire to further research and investigate.
We were then on to Glasgow, via the Hop On-Hop Off Bus, to see a quite lovely city. Our city adventures included a visit to beautiful Glasgow University, the Kelvingrove Museum, and shopping for Scottish Tartan goods. The Isle of Man, the next port, was a gem of a spot. We visited intriguing sites like The Fairy Bridge, beautiful countryside with castles and beaches and the unusual Manx Lighten Sheep with 4 horns. The Isle sponsors an international motorcycle race called the TT – Tourist Trophy. We saw many participating bikers all over the island, even a group visiting the little Fairy Bridge!
Remember, these isles are ripe with ancient tales of fairies, pixies, leprechauns and other “Little People”, a charming bit of folklore that is delightfully whimsical.
Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland, was our next destination. We enjoyed a Segway tour of the city, passing many highlights, bridges, site of U2’s recording studio, the Diving Bell, and most importantly: the Irish Famine Memorial Sculpture. This impressive art piece consists of 7 granite figures commissioned in 1997 and located at Custom House Quay. The thin figures are carrying their only possessions and appear struggling to get to the boat to emigrate. The pain on their faces is so real and stirring. One character is carrying a child across his shoulders. The potato famine, 1845-1851, was devastating to the Irish population. During this time one million died and one million emigrated to North America. On a lighter note, we loved exploring this colorful, historical city. We toured the Temple Bar area and ate delicious fish and chips at Buskers!
We moved on to Holyhead, Wales, where we visited incredible Medieval castles like Beaumaris and Caernarfon. We then viewed the extraordinary Menai Suspension Bridge, the stunning South Stack lighthouse and the town with the longest name in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwryndrobwll-llantysiliogogooch!
There were great photo opportunities! Moving along to Cobh (pronounced “cove”), United Kingdom, we visited the Blarney Castle, where, to my husband’s dismay, I did kiss the Blarney Stone! An important historical fact is that Cobh was where the Titanic made a final stop to pick up a group of passengers before its tragic voyage. As well, it was the point where many Irish immigrants left to emigrate to America. There is a statue dedicated to Annie Moore, aged 17, and her 2 brothers. She was the first person to be processed through Ellis Island, January 1, 1892. Thirdly, the Cunard Line RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat in nearby Kinsale in 1915.
Our last stop was Fowey, Cornwall. What a colorful charming village – the home to Daphne du Maurier and St. Catherine’s Fort, with close proximity to the Eden Project. This experimental project is of international interest as it consists of two biomes with plants from diverse climates and environments. Personally, Molly’s Fudge Shop was a huge draw for me! Point of interest, purportedly Fowey’s Albert Quay was a departure point for the D-Day invasions of World War II. The final step in this journey was to disembark at Southhampton, having seen and learned so much.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
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