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Odds & Ends

Part One

Copenhagen/Cruise early days

the original idea for our next BIG holiday was a tour of eastern Canada and a revisit of the western side of Canada with a slow drive through the Canadian Rockies starting at Calgary and ending up on Vancouver Island.

... until we noticed a Holland America Line 17 day cruise from Copenhagen to New York, which changed everything and encouraged us to invite Rod and Judi along to share the experience.

12 months in the planning and apart from a few hiccups with airport transfers, it all went extremely well with much laughter, great memories and literally thousands of photos.

flights to Copenhagen were by Singapore Airlines, Sydney/Singapore/Copenhagen, with our Canberra/Sydney (and Sydney/Canberra) link by Murrays (the bus line).  Murrays is certainly a reliable and cheap option for Canberrites heading to Sydney International, however in hindsight, with extremely long flights or travel times, I think in future I would prefer a flight to Sydney rather than bus travel... unless the bus seats get a heck of a lot more padding.

as Denmark did not require visas (part of the Schengen agreement), entry was easy and Customs was a stamp in the Passport and a pleasant "enjoy Denmark" by the official at 6.30am Copenhagen time.

our airport to hotel transfer was waiting for us and our driver had the four of us in stitches of laughter for the journey to our accommodation for the next few days before we boarded the ship.  we arrived at the Comfort Hotel Vesterbro to early to book into our rooms so we dropped our bags off and headed out to explore the sights... straight into a Copenhagen thunderstorm of biblical proportions.

fortunately we were standing in front of a coffee shop at the time, so we were able to learn a couple of things about Copenhagen early... food/drink is somewhat expensive, but less so as you move away from the tourist areas, and they have free wi-fi. fast. free. wi-fi.

anyhoo, after the rain eased off we began exploring by foot and due to the nature of our apprentice map reader (Rod), probably covered more ground than needed making our way out to the Amalienborg Palace for the changing of the guard after lunching at Nyhavn and heading back towards Christiansborg Palace in the hope of a cuppa with Mary.

the following day we used public transport and trained over to Malmo (Sweden) for a visit, again enjoying free fast wi-fi and gaining the ire of locals by talking in the carriage's "quiet" zone... what tha?... not as bad as it sounds* actually.  enjoyed my lunchtime Moose Burger by the way. 

our remaining time in Copenhagen was spent walking, walking and walking to and from various Castles (Slots) and gardens, enjoying the sights and being impressed with the way the common mode of transport, bikes, are used in a crowded city and the way riders and car/bus/truck drivers are mindful of each other.  

the hotel was very good.  I'd give it a 4 out of 5 star rating.  clean rooms, friendly staff, a well organised buffet breakfast, close to the majority of tourist sites and public transportation.  no hesitation in recommending the Vesterbro.

ms Eurodam (Holland America Line).  our home for the next 17 days.  up front I will say if you need a holiday, take a cruise.  having said that,  HAL are the only line we have cruised with and this was our 4th cruise with them and have already signed up for our next cruise in 2017, so my comments may seem biased to some here.

HAL good and not so good points. 

firstly the not so good. 

old people.  ok, I'm old(ish) at 5x, but sheesh, there really were some old codgers on this cruise.  before I go any further, HAL cruises are, I believe, catered for folks in the 40s to mid/late 60s range, so they are certainly not P&O party ships and kids are certainly in the minority onboard.  mind you, seeing what they get up to during the day, it is no surprise the young 'uns have no trouble sleeping at night.  I'll leave the age thing there. 

interwebs.  a constant problem on board due to speed and you pay for time, not megabytes.  with all the complaints by ship guests, staff kept reminding us that the speed was all position related, but considering it has happened on every cruise, indicates it is not a correct assumption for the reason for all drop-outs that occurred.  HAL promise to fix the issue, but as it is a great money spinner, I wouldn't expect a solution anytime soon.  in the post-cruise survey, I mentioned that perhaps HAL charge a flat fee of say $US100 for the duration of the cruise instead and show people how to reduce the size of their iPhone/iPad photos before uploading to Facebook.

the good.

Happy Hours.  ok, I did mention that HAL are not P&O party ships earlier, but three Happy Hours before dinner (7.30pm sitting) certainly do liven up the evening, especially if the next day is an at sea day.  Happy Hour prices are "buy one, get the second for $US1" with my drinks of choice costing either $US7.50 or $US8.50, a pleasant couple of hours can be had and they were generally the only times alcohol was purchased.

the food.  goes without saying, it is a cruise after all.  have never had a bad HAL meal, in either the feeding frenzy of the Lido buffet or any of the on-board restaurants.  just remember in the specialised restaurants, you will pay an extra premium cost at the conclusion of the meal (around $US20 per person).

live entertainment.  we only saw one band while on board so can't comment on the others.  the BB King Blues Club were our after hours entertainment of choice.  excellent soul/blues. http://www.hollandamerica.com/cruise-vacation-onboard/Eurodam?WT.ac=BBKing_Eurodam

tours.  we always go on HAL organised tours.  certainly more expensive than self organised tours, but at least we have the guarantee of a return to ship if things go pear shaped at some point during the tour.

the staff.  brilliant as always.  the ms Eurodam's skipper, Werner Timmers in particular. he certainly had a way with words.

our first ports of call were Bergen (Norway) where we went on the Hardanger Queen of the Fjords tour.  a great day out, where even the Norwegians on the cruise were surprised at how good the weather was (rains for 200+ days/year).

and Lerwick (Shetland Islands) where we were supposed to go on a Mousa Island tour (Lerwick) and visit the Broch (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broch_of_Mousa) there, but this was cancelled due to sea conditions at the time and ended up on a tour to St Ninian's Isle instead...

Part Two

Faroe Islands

after an overnight cruise from Lerwick, we arrived at Torshavn (Faroe Islands) on a rather overcast and drizzly morning.  Karen and I both went on separate tours on this day, with mine being a hike with Rod and Karen's being a tour of the sights around that part of the island with Judi.

as far as the hike goes, it was rated as strenuous (4 out of 4) in HAL's scale of difficulty.  probably over rated, but with the first 200 or so meters being near vertical with no formed track to walk along, it did get the heart rate up somewhat and yours truly did face paint the ground after the turf I was walking on gave way under me.  thankfully, no photo of the event exists, so it didn't really happen.

once we crested the "hill" the going was basically downhill for the remainder of the journey, although the ground we walked over was tricky and had a tendency to turn to mud and become slippery, as one of the tour party found out when she slipped and twisted her ankle.  overall, it was a great walk and the hot chocolate and freshly baked biscuits at the conclusion were enjoyed by all.

and how are the Faroese?  interesting language (old Nordic) very independent and while the Faroe Islands are self-governed, they do fall under Denmark for overall support (defence/finance etc), they have no problem in facing off to larger countries, the UK in particular regarding their fishing areas and have a can-do attitude to renewable energy and building tunnels through mountains.  would certainly be worth a return visit in the future. http://issuu.com/sansir/docs/tg2015_uk

Iceland

we cruised for a couple of days before we reached our first Iceland port of call, Isafjordur, with the ship taking a northern route into the Artic Circle before arriving.  along the way, we saw one of our three Aurora sightings (photos can be seen on pages three and four of the @Sea page.

here we went on a short ferry ride out to Vigur Island (http://www.icelandontheweb.com/activities/bird-watching/item/1034/vigur-paradise-island-from-isafjordur) where I had my first taste of "Happy Marriage Cake."  hardy folks, them Vigur Islanders. Followed by a walk around Isafjordur for lunch (and fast free wi-fi), making note of some of the interesting buildings in town.

our final Iceland port of call was Reykjavik where once again, Karen and I went on separate tours with Karen going on a Viking historical tour where among the points of interest was the site of the Vikings first Parliament, Þingvellir as well as seeing some of the more unusual sights along the way.

I managed to get myself on a Photographers Tour and even though our geographical separation was small, the different weather conditions encountered were poles apart.  my tour guide was Mike Kissane, a US expat, http://www.f-stoptours.com/bio.htm who quickly discovered that all on his tour were already keen snappers and settled into an easy day at the office.   I managed to spend a lot of time chatting with Mike during the day and found we had much in common, so not many photos were actually taken... 30ish in total, which is a rarity for me.

Part Three

Prince Christian Sound, Greenland


probably witnessed the brightest most colourful sunrise I have ever seen (small picture at the top of this page) prior to the sun peeking above the horizon this morning which certainly had me thinking of that old mariner saying –


"Red sky at night, sailors' delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning."


luckily I’m not a sailor, although the weather did change from clear to cloudy (with rain) over the next couple of days.
turned out to be one heck of a day, with the scenery so spectacular, the Eurodam’s Captain had the ship do a couple of 360s at some key points along the way so no-one would miss out on the views.   an amazing part of the world.  the ship briefly stopped by the Aapillatoq Rescue Camp and restocked the camp’s fresh fruit and vegie supplies as well as provide some freshly baked pizzas for the locals.


Qaqortoq, Greenland


lousy weather upon arrival, probably didn’t help in the overall opinion of this small (large for this part of the world, population of around 3500) town and because our time here was limited, we didn’t get out and about to have a good look at the surrounds. 

HAL did not run any tours at this port and there were no tour operators making themselves known to latch onto either, probably because the Eurodam was the last cruise ship visiting for the season which in my humble opinion was unfortunate as it would have been a real money maker for someone in town. 

consequently the most time we spent ashore was waiting in line in the one and only gift shop… imagine your dining/lounge/kitchen rooms with 1900 people trying to get in and buy souvenirs, with only one operating cash register and you see why we were in a hurry to get back on board.


mind you the locals we encountered were friendly and the local school kids were out and about practicing their English skills on those willing to stand in the rain and have a chat.


Nanortalik, Greenland


well, this place was a surprise.  same lousy weather greeted us on arrival at Greenland’s 10th largest town (population less than 2000) and the same lack of organised tours.  mind you, time was once again limited, so this probably shouldn’t be a surprise.


we probably walked the length of “town” in less than 10 minutes (which included photo stops and stopping to talk to some of the locals).  then we came upon the outdoor Museum, where for $US5, we could walk around this expansive location checking out the colonial era and old Norse culture.  well worth it, even in the light rain.


before we made our way back on board, I checked out the souvenir shop here.  think 1900 people attempting to fit into your kitchen and you can understand why I did a quick u-turn.

Part Four

St John’s, Newfoundland

the  good news is we had our Passports returned the day before so we could venture forth in Canadia on our coastal hike from Cabot Tower on Signal Hill back into to town. 

OK, before I go any further, our Passports were collected on-board the ship a couple of days prior to make sure we were all honest citizens of the world.  no biggie.

St John’s (don’t confuse it with Saint John) is certainly a city with a very interesting past, with its “modern” European discovery by Giovanni Caboto (aka John Cabot) back in the 1490s and right up to today, it is a thriving community after recovering from the loss of the cod fishing industry, thanks to the close proximity to off-shore oil fields. 

the harbour entry is pretty special.  certainly not Sydney Harbour, but an impressive narrow channel when entering.

so, our little old hike/walk was certainly a knee test.  and we only went the easy way… downhill.  locals here do this for “fun” - both ways.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

we arrived with three other cruise ships, so you can imagine the chaos in the port terminal.  then multiply that by 10 for when you step outside.

anyhoo, on this day we visited the UNESCO World Heritage town of Lunenburg, followed by a walk down Main Street, Mahone Bay before returning to the Eurodam for the final days of our cruise.

considering the weather we had encountered further north, both St John’s and Halifax were just about t-shirt and short type of days… well, almost.  words can’t really add much more to photos of Lunenburg.

for those of you who visit the N.S.W. South Coast, think “Mogo” and then add a lot more colour, more streets, more shops, hills even, more choice and vehicle drivers who are way beyond polite and you have Lunenburg in a nutshell.  pretty place.  highly recommend the Crab Roll from “Savvy Sailor”.

Part Five

New York City

this was our first visit to NYC and was one of the reasons why the cruise was so attractive way back when we started looking at cruises/holiday destinations.

if you can recall our experience upon entering Denmark (way up there in Part One), the experience of arriving in New York was slightly different.  sailing into New York Harbour and past Ms Liberty before dawn was certainly something to remember, along with the less than happy chappy doing the rubber stamp thing on entry to the US.  real attitude that one had. the power of the entry stamp being placed through the passport indicated he was less than impressed with being at work that day. 

once again, our pre-organised transport was waiting for us for our 10 or so minute drive to our hotel for the next couple of days, the Marriott's Springhill Suites located in Midtown, just a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building.  let's just say it was a great location and the free wi-fi was brilliant, however while the room while comfortable, it was probably not much bigger than our cabin on board the Eurodam and the buffet breakfast was in a nutshell, garbage.  the staff on the other hand were excellent.

we had some time to kill before our room was ready so headed off to the Empire State Building.  we had already pre-purchased a couple of NYCityPass(es), which gave us entry to six city attractions.  entry into the Empire State Bld also gave us a night time entry (it's open until 2am) on the same day.

we spent the rest of the day aimlessly walking around the general area, in the general direction of B&H (keen photographers here will know what I mean), Macy's and Madison Square Garden, where we had tickets to see Billy Joel the following (Friday) night... which was a bit of a problem.  a dude calling himself the "Pope" was in town and he had commandeered the place for a bit of a gathering.  WTF?  we knew he was in town, but to boot out our Billy? turned out Mr Joel moved his concert to the Saturday and all pre-purchased tickets would be OK.  highly recommend seeing a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square if you are ever in town for one of his monthly shows.

the following day we headed off to the Rockefeller Center and then walked down towards the USS Intrepid Museum down on the Hudson River (next to the cruise line terminal) followed by a Circle Line cruise around the lower half of Manhattan Island

along the way we just so happened to stumble across an old Irish Pub, the Landmark Tavern, just in time for lunch... old, being the oldest pub in that part of town and once was located on the Hudson River waterfront, still with what looked like original pressed metal ceiling and bar.  beer was cold, and the grub was pretty good.

continuing the Irish Pub theme, we dined at Gabby O'Hara's that Friday evening.  this place served up a meal so damned impressive, we revisited a couple of nights later.  once again, great service and that steak was even better than those served up in the Pinnacle Grill on the Eurodam.. ..so much better, our compliments to the chef were certainly appreciated.

we spent the greater part of the following morning posting a bunch of clothes back to Oz to shave some weight from our suitcases for our upcoming United flights to DC and Hawaii.  we then walked towards Central Park, stopping for coffee at "Little Collins" a supposedly coffee shop styled on the Melbourne coffee culture...  if given the chance to grab a brew here, I'd advise you all to keep on walking.  not worth it.

as time was somewhat limited, we had a matinee of the musical Chicago to get to, our time in Central Park was limited.  of course, once we arrived at the theatre, we did have enough time for a beer at Lillies Victorian Establishment, followed by a great show, certainly better than I had expected.  even the theatre had free wi-fi. the Billy Joel concert was that night, so we had quite a busy afternoon/evening... by the way, Madison Square had free wi-fi as well.

Sunday was our baseball day out at Yankee Stadium along with our first experience of the New York subway.  didn't get lost as we just followed some Yankees fans, who as it turned out, were first timers as well and you guessed it, also following Yankees fans. (and yes, Yankee Stadium has free wi-fi as well)

on return back to Midtown, we finally found out why all these barriers were along the streets.  the President of them thar United States was doing a drive by "our" humble hotel.  so, being a West Wing nutter, Karen decided we would stand outside for the next 90 minutes just to wave at a car with darkened windows drive by... actually, it wasn't just "a" car, but damn near the entire NYC Police Dept as well.

talk about the American experience... we certainly packed a lot into our short visit to NYC.  would be an understatement to say we all loved the place and look forward to a return visit at some time in the future.

to top it off, and also because POTUS was in town, the place was in gridlock the following morning and our pre-organised transport was running well behind schedule, so we cancelled that and squeezed four post-cruise Aussies into a Yellow Cab of indeterminate age and small in size with all of our suitcases for the 30 minute drive to the airport.  I think we broke it, but the driver got us there with plenty of time to spare for our connection to Washington DC.

Part Six

Washington DC

I finally got a window seat.  was so damn happy and knowing it was going to be my one and only, I spent the entire flight from NYC to DC taking photos of anything we flew over.  arriving at our hotel early in the afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised on check-in that our room was ready.  what a difference a city makes.  compared to New York, DC was near half the price, with a room that was close to being four times larger

once unpacked, we went for a wander around the local area to get our bearings.  turned out the Capital Hill Hotel was pretty close to Capitol Hill so we started our (read Karen’s quest to relive every episode of West Wing in three days) walk, visiting the Capital building (they seemed to have misplaced my request to have the scaffolding removed for our visit) and took to opportunity for a slightly different “selfie”.  also checked out where the nearest Metro was, along with places to dine in the local area, with something quick and easy chosen for our first night…. so if you’re nearby and feeling peckish, give “We the Pizza,” located at 305 Pennsylvania Ave a try.

the following day we caught the Metro to get closer to our start point, the White House (of course), for our walk down the Mall and towards the Smithsonian’s that we (me) were keen to visit.  I should mention the weather.  Darwin humid.  probably an understatement and as it turned out and no surprise to the locals, with some huge storms heading their way in a couple of days.  still a bit of a struggle considering the cooler climes of Iceland and Greenland.

I’ve included a photo of a statue of Kosciuszko, surprisingly the same Kosciuszko as our Kosciuszko, who was a bit of an authentic American Hero back during the Revolutionary War….  amazing what you learn from a statue within visual distance of the White House.  by the time we had circled the White House, we were searching for a place to cool off so our navigator (Rod was no longer an apprentice) found us the White House Gift Shop… quite a place as it turned out.  used to be the old US Patent Office.  and yes, we did purchase a few items.

we then walked the Mall, dodging people with selfie sticks all the way to (and inside) the Lincoln Memorial, before heading back to our first Smithsonian (Museum of Natural History) and then to the Air and Space Museum.

our final day was spent once again making use of the Metro system getting some wonderful assistance from the locals along the way, by heading down to George Washington’s Mount Vernon (check out the Virtual Tour, which is a really great visual tour as cameras are not allowed inside the main building).  a highly recommended visit and public transport will take you to the entrance.  remember to pre-book your visit well in advance.

on our return to the city we checked out the United States Botanical Gardens, where I’d never seen so many orchids in such a small area before and then headed back to the hotel to re-pack the bags for our multi-hop flights to Honolulu the following day, hoping we’d get out of Dodge before the Hurricane landed.

Part Seven

Waikiki, HI

Talk about a big day of travel to get here. from DC to Honolulu via Chicago and Los Angeles flying United, with their "we'll get you there" just in time motto (if they had one) had us mere passengers more than concerned about connecting flights.

ended up with a large standard type of room in a hotel that to be honest, has seen better days. the view from the balcony that evening was nice(ish), but what they failed to mention was the construction site next door that just happened to start work at 4 in the AM the following morning which could be heard clear as day from the 20th floor. 1 x room change later (and an improved view), we got down to do some exploring.

think Surfers Paradise.... except. on. an. overdose. of. japanese. and. aussie. tourists. by. the. 10s. of. thousands.... and that is Waikiki.

anyway, the plan was really for some much needed R&R after our big journey before arriving back in the Land Down Under and not move to far from anywhere or plan to see much at all (except for Diamond Head), which I managed to achieve without really trying after lunching at a popular local eatery. we did head off for a walk around the Ala Moana Centre, which is one rather large shopping mall for some retail therapy ala Sex and the City (or somesuch) and apart from that, not much more was planned, so we looked forward to our flight to Sydney and our extended bus tour back to Canberra.

would we do it again? Copenhagen/Denmark? yes. Faroe Islands? yes. Iceland? yes. Canadian east coast? yes. New York? yes and yes. Washington DC? probably. Hawaii? certainly not Honolulu. in a nutshell, it was a great holiday with thanks to Karen and Judi for the planning and Rod for the map reading.

so... where to next? how about a 14 day cruise, Buenos Aires to Santiago in February 2017? ....sounds like a plan.

cheers,

Karen & Wayne

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