2011: The Year In Review

2011: The Year The Wheels Fell Off[*1] , an essay in which, appallingly, most of the cited events actually did occur:

. . .
FEBRUARY: Chicago chose as its new mayor former White House chief of staff Rahm Effing Emanuel, who immediately ordered a voter registration drive in the city’s cemeteries. Shortly after that, the “Arab spring training season” began in Egypt. After Secretary of State Hillary said that the Mubarak regime was stable, the Cairo Clubbers traded their top grenade thrower to the Port Said Molotovs for two machine-gunners and a future draft pick.
. . .
SEPTEMBER: Republican debates became so boring that television networks considered hiring fake moderators such as Donald Trump. The problem can best be solved, without Trump, by ensuring that future debates are moderated, seriatim, by John Madden, the Kardashian sisters, and Liam Neeson accompanied by the rest of the stars of the “A-Team” movie appearing in character. I pity the fools…

DECEMBER: . . . Ratings agencies Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch issued a joint statement in reaction to the Eurozone deal which said only, “Bwahahahahahahahaha.” Which some people mistook for a reaction to Joe Biden’s statement that the Taliban wasn’t our enemy, “per se.”

So what will 2012 bring? . . .

The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 9 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Nine

September 4 (Sunday, Day 28, Nanortalik, Greenland, 1 DKK = $0.19; $1 = 5.21 DKK) –


Snookums attended total body conditioning while the first tender was going to the little settlement of Nanortalik, population 1,500. (For comparison, the ms Eurodam has 2,100 passengers on it and 800 crew.) Greenland only has 53,000 people in it so this is probably a normal sized settlement. It was around 50° and misting. We weren’t in any big hurry to get out and about since it didn’t seem like it would take too long to walk the few streets there were. All of the people we saw, except one, were Inuit. The lone Caucasian was Niels, the man in charge of the tourism office. The ship didn’t offer ANY shore excursions (a first!) but Nanortalik offered two “excursions”. One was a folk dance with a kaffe-mix (coffee party) and one was a choir. We decided to each spend $20 for both events which can be considered foreign aid, per Gary! We went to the folk dance/coffee and watched four young men and four women dance lively and quick moving Greenlandic folk dances. Dutch and Scottish whalers originally inspired the dances. They taught their special seaman dances (reels) to the Disco Bay Eskimos. Through the centuries this has developed into the unique folk dance tradition we saw. The eight dancers were not professionals, by any means. We also got to eat the “famous Greenlandic cake” that tasted like unsweetened white bread with a few raisins in it. Needless to say we weren’t too impressed with the dancing or the cake, but since there wasn’t really anything else to do, it was fine.

Then we went to the choir in the old Nanortalik wooden Lutheran church built in 1916. Niels introduced the choir of eight people or so and said that six songs would be sung. After hearing the first song, Snookums opted to leave the too warm church.

We walked around and finally went in the grocery store. The grocery store was very nice and had a nice assortment of fresh fruit and produce. Most of the canned items were from Denmark and didn’t seem any more expensive than what we saw in Europe. Considering it all had to be shipped in, that was surprising. The only souvenir store was in the tourism office and it was jam packed with passengers so Snookums opted to return to the ship rather than fighting the mob. Filbert wasn’t impressed with Nanortalik and it depressed him a little. It reminded him of South Dakota Indian reservations. Snookums, though, thought it was fine considering it was a town of 1,500 people in the middle of nowhere!

Rocking to the Inuit beat
The pastor in the church
Eurodam, lurking just off Nanortalik

For the sail away we went to the Crow’s Nest hoping to see whales. We didn’t see any but we did see a lot of big icebergs. Snookums then went to the spa for her excellent 75-minute deep tissue massage with Cyn from California ($179 plus tip). She ended up spending almost four hours there since she also enjoyed the hydrotherapy pool, the heated ceramic chaises and the steam rooms.

Right before we went to the Pinnacle Grill for dinner, we saw a beautiful rainbow from our cabin. It was very bright and very delineated. We managed to get a reservation for the six of us at Pinnacle Grill and were able to use our free coupons so that no one had to pay. Glenn Cools was our waiter for the third time and was great as always. Snookums enjoyed the spicy chicken Indonesian soup but didn’t really care for the arugula salad. For her entrée, Snookums actually ordered “land and sea” (a filet mignon with two shrimp on it) and ate it all. She also ordered the creamed spinach (not worth it), sautéed mushrooms (without garlic) and shoestring potatoes. She didn’t realize that shoestring potatoes were French fries and everyone laughed at her when she realized that was what she ordered. They were pretty good. She had always wanted to try the lobster macaroni and cheese, but since that is an entrée and Pinnacle Grill charges $10 for an additional entrée, she has never tried it. She sweetly asked Glenn for one little spoonful on her plate and he came out with the entire entrée. (He said that the chef obviously misunderstood his request.)

Formal night

Snookums took a spoonful of the macaroni (but didn’t touch the lobster tail on top of the macaroni) and found it rather bland but with a slight lobster flavor. Everyone tried it and Filbert ate the lobster tail. The lobster macaroni and cheese didn’t impress anyone. Snookums loved her raspberry cheesecake for dessert, though, and Roger and Margaret were appreciative of their free Pinnacle Grill dinners and we were glad they could join the four of us.

September 5 (Monday, Day 29, Cruising the Atlantic) –

Around 2 AM we experienced 25 foot waves and 50 knot winds. Snookums slept through it but Filbert woke up and never could really get back to a deep sleep. Gary said he went to Lido on deck 9 around 2 AM and heard dishes crashing. When Snookums woke up around 8 AM, it was 50°, wet and windy. Up to now for the entire cruise the ocean has been pretty calm. Now it’s just being normal and the ship has some movement to it.

We saw a pod of dolphins as we were looking for seats at lunch, but never saw any more. After lunch Snookums watched the movie “Sneakers”. It was an old movie and starred Robert Redford (pretty young), Sidney Poitier and Dan Akroyd. Filbert bundled up and listened to his short-wave radio. Then Snookums went to total body conditioning. She was the only person that showed up and Marvin went ahead and taught the class. He even made it different than normal which meant it was even harder. She survived it, though, while burning 335 calories in 30 minutes.

Tonight’s show was a pre-dinner show so we went. It was also formal night. The show featured Hanna Starosta, a Polish violinist living in Miami. She was fine. We wore our medals to formal night and made sure to get a photo of the six of us after dinner. Snookums saw the captain and his family (wife, 2-year old, teen boy and teen girl) and they were all dressed up and the two boys had dress whites that matched their father’s, even with the same epaulets. (During the ship’s tour, Filbert had been told that the tailors on the ship made matching uniforms for the captain’s two sons.) They were a very handsome family!

We turned our clocks back 30 minutes (!) and went to sleep.

September 6 (Tuesday, Day 30, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada; 1 CAD=$1.01; $1=0.99 CAD) –

St. John’s

Since we weren’t going to dock until noon, Snookums attended Abs Class at 7:30 AM since she was up. Margaret was there, too. The weather really warmed up and it was 63°. And, satellite TV was back. Party on!!

Around 11:30 AM a crew member walked on our balcony unannounced, just like when we were docked in Dover. Filbert immediately called the front desk and demanded to have a meeting with the Hotel Manager. He was not happy at all. Luckily we were both clothed, but the balcony cleaning definitely interrupted our viewing of our sail in to St. John’s.

We left the ship at 12:30 and walked around the city of 150,000 people for four hours. We saw Government House where the lieutenant governor lives, St. Andrew’s Church and the Basilica of St. John the Baptist with its twin towers that reach 137 feet. Snookums even bought a woman’s polo shirt as a souvenir and she never buys anything. We looked for Newfoundland beer but it was only sold in 6-packs so Filbert didn’t buy any. We bought Timbits (donut holes) for our table-mates at Tim Horton’s, Canada’s equivalent to Dunkin’ Donuts. It was 73° and cloudy but it never rained. Filbert wore shorts all day but still managed to sweat! On our way back to the ship we ran into Gary and he said he was going to city hall. (He’s a councilman for the city of Goodyear, Arizona.) We had no interest in going with him and returned to the ship.

Basilica of St. John the Baptist

Snookums spent the rest of the afternoon on the balcony reading her book and Filbert just watched the world go by. (We were docked port side so we had the city view.) Filbert happened to be inside when the phone rang and it was the Guest Relations Manager asking if he could come up and meet with Filbert. Snookums stayed on the balcony for all of it but a few minutes later, Filbert came out and said that the Guest Relations Manager finally seemed to understand the issue with not notifying passengers of balcony maintenance and offered Filbert a bottle of wine for the next formal night. All is well.

The ship left at 7:40 PM and there were a lot of residents standing at the pier waving and taking photos. Cars were honking their horns and it was a party atmosphere. We were told that St. John’s really does welcome cruise ships and we saw it with our own eyes. When we got off the ship around noon there were people with Labrador retrievers and Newfoundland dogs (like a Saint Bernard, but with dark coats) for passengers to pet. There were also volunteers wearing red vests scattered around the city answering questions.

We went to dinner and surprised everyone with the Timbits ($.20 each or 10 for $1.99 – no discount for bulk purchases!). Gary surprised everyone, too, by bringing a St. John’s mug to the table. He had the winning story of the day. He stopped by the mayor’s office and actually met the mayor who was between meetings and talked a little bit about Goodyear, Arizona. The mayor gave him the mug and a pin and told Gary that if he comes back, to let him know and he’ll give him a tour. Gary and Charlotte just might be back on another HAL cruise. Gary plans on sending the mayor a package with a nice letter and some Goodyear, Arizona “swag”. We all thought it was pretty neat.

After dinner Filbert went out on the balcony and it was very foggy. The captain said that this area is the foggiest on the planet and now we’ve witnessed it.

September 7 (Wednesday, Day 31, Cruising the Atlantic) –

We both slept in and the ship was rocking quite a bit when we woke up from 70-knot winds. Snookums enjoyed breakfast in bed and finally showered around 11:30AM. Filbert’s cold seemed to be back with a vengeance. Snookums updated the journal and Filbert read his downloads from the internet between coughs, sneezes and nose blows. The 5K walk that HAL hosts on every cruise for breast cancer awareness was delayed four hours due to the high winds. It was only 55° when it started at 1:45 PM and Snookums decided not to participate due to the wind and cold temperature.

Snookums ate a very late lunch around 4 PM. Filbert decided to eat dinner in the room since his nose was running so much. Snookums went to dinner, though. It was a very slow day since Filbert wasn’t in top form and Snookums wasn’t feeling that whippy, either.

September 8 (Thursday, Day 32, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; 1 CAD = $1.01; $1 = 0.99 CAD) –


The day was rainy and cool. Filbert’s cold was still in full force. We decided to walk to the grocery store that we could see from our cabin and buy some cold medicine and that would be the extent of our touring. Since we were going to do much, we weren’t in any hurry to leave.

We ordered room service breakfast but it didn’t come for 90 minutes. When it finally came, it wasn’t complete at all. The Canadian authorities were on the ship and probably had the kitchen in a tizzy with different inspections and stuff so we didn’t complain about it and instead went to Lido for lunch since it was late enough by then that lunch service had started.

The rain stopped around 1 PM and we ventured out to the grocery store. Filbert bought some cold syrup and Snookums bought some real NyQuil (with pseudoephedrine) to take home with her for her future colds. When the ship left Halifax, a drummer and bagpiper in kilts serenaded us.

Tonight was another formal night but the six of us had reservations at casual Canaletto, for the third time. And, since the bottle of wine was free due to the unannounced balcony visits, everyone had a great time.

September 9 (Friday, Day 33, Cruising the Atlantic) –

Snookums attended circuit training at 7:30 AM and then enjoyed her breakfast of oatmeal with really big raisins and a raisin bun. When she returned to the cabin, Filbert told her that Gary won first place in the ship’s photo contest and Charlotte didn’t want one of his prizes, a free 25-minute petite facial. So, Snookums called the spa and went for that. She was glad it was free since she wasn’t impressed by it.

The captain gave a Hurricane Katia update and said that today we would be cruising near Cape Cod to avoid it as much as possible. The seas seemed smooth enough and the weather was nice enough for Filbert to spend time looking for whales. He spotted six or eight of them, too, while Snookums was getting her facial.

Snookums and Filbert enjoyed a free lunch in Pinnacle Grill. The hamburgers were awesome and the brownie delight was good, too. Snookums had the onion soup for her appetizer and it was a very good cream soup. Filbert ordered the Mediterranean antipasto that was very similar to what was served at Canaletto, but still good. After that huge lunch, it was nap time for both of us. Later in the afternoon we packed our luggage.

The 4 PM announcement talked about the Master Chef’s dinner. This was not listed in the daily program but Snookums confirmed that it was taking place. She immediately called Gary and Charlotte and planned a dinner in Lido. We attended the Master Chef’s dinner earlier in the cruise and were so unimpressed that we knew we weren’t going to eat it again. It wasn’t supposed to occur during this cruise, but things change and that’s why we did Lido at the last minute. Roger and Margaret joined us, too, even though they had never eaten at Lido for dinner on any of their cruises. The six of us enjoyed a relaxed last dinner together and said our good-byes.

Bad bed bunny (Gary’s picture)

September 10 (Saturday, Day 34, New York) –

The ship docked at 7 AM and we were supposed to get off between 7:45 and 8. Our disembarking group was really called at 8:25. We got our luggage and got through Immigration and Customs without any problems. (It was one day prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and additional security was in place.) At 9:05, we got a cab ($32.40 for our fare and tip) and arrived at the Frontier gate at LaGuardia at 10 AM. Our 11:20 AM flight was on time.

We had a good time on this cruise and were very, very pleased with Holland America’s ms Eurodam and crew. We decided that we like cruises with more sea days and ones that visit warmer parts of the world. Filbert’s balcony time was limited due to cold weather and the lack of sea days. The sea life was almost non-existent in the North Atlantic, too. But, we met some great people (Roger and Margaret) and saw neat places.

St. Petersburg bus buddies (Gary’s picture)
Farewell! (Gary’s picture)

The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 8 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Eight

September 3 (Saturday, Day 27, Cruising Prince Christian Sound [Ikerasassuaq]) –

Early morning iceberg

We woke up at 5 AM since the captain said that we might see whales at the entrance to Prince Christian Sound (a channel off the coast of Greenland). Last year the ship saw 80 whales. It was cold and windy so we bundled up with all the layers we brought (including tights for under our pants). It took us several minutes and lots of stair walking to find a door open on the ship for us to get outside but we finally found one. The TV said that it was 48° and it felt colder due to the wind from the cruising of the ship. We stayed outside for about 45 minutes before calling it quits and going to breakfast.

There’s always one guy in shorts. No, it wasn’t Filbert.
A rather larger iceberg

Snookums thought she was pretty warm but when she came inside and started taking off the layers, she got really, really chilled. After about an hour she decided to brave the cold again since Dutch split pea soup was being served on the outside decks. Nothing like eating split pea soup at 8:45 AM while surrounded by sheer rock cliffs and icebergs. From what Snookums could tell, Greenland is only green from the lichen growing on the rock. After the second time spent outside, Snookums decided that she had enough of the cold and crawled into bed and tried to get warm. Filbert finally convinced her to take a hot shower and that solved everything.

Dutch split pea soup. Yum.

We went to lunch and Lido was packed since there was a special fish bake by the pool but luckily we found Roger and Margaret and sat with them at a window table. We even saw a seal on a bergy bit (a very small iceberg), too. That was the first wildlife sighting on this entire cruise for us. The water during the entire day was extremely calm. The captain said that these were the best conditions he had ever witnessed in Prince Christian Sound. It was a bit cloudy, but very, very calm. The water was like glass and made for great photography conditions.

Water like glass. See? Told you so.

We went outside in the afternoon to see more of the scenic cruising and since glühwein (hot mulled wine) was being sold. Well, the daily program and the scenic cruising commentator said that glühwein was available. When we went to the outside deck, the bartender said it was all gone. It was 2:45 PM and it was supposed to be sold starting at 3 PM. Filbert said he would just have to go back to Prague to get some since it is sold on every corner in Prague in the fall.

Greenland’s melting ice cap. Of course, it WAS summer at the time . . .
Did we mention the “water like glass” thing?

We went inside for a bit and then went outside one last time since the ship was going to stop at a settlement of 170 people called Aappilattoq. This is one of the most remote villages in Greenland and the people can walk no farther than 1 miles from the settlement without coming to a dead end of either ice cold water or the very steep rocky slope of a 3000-foot mountain. And, boats can only access this area between July and mid-September since icebergs fill up Prince Christian Sound and cut off that access route. Then only helicopters can be used. Our ship used a $500,000 fast rescue boat and the crew were wearing $2,000 survival suits in order to deliver pizzas and pasta to them! (We were told that a person would survive less than 30 seconds in the icy water without wearing a survival suit.) While the Eurodam was patiently waiting for the fast rescue boat and its crew to come back, three little motor boats from the settlement buzzed our ship and took pictures of us. One of the little motor boats had three young men in it that were just wearing sweatsuits and were standing up the entire time! Remember that a person would live no more than 30 seconds in the water. We don’t know what these Greenlanders were thinking. It was interesting to see that they all had digital cameras and some of the pizza delivery crew noted that the villagers had iPhones, too. The villagers are listed in Greenland’s phone book, too, on page 143. They generally live on seal and fish and there is no visible means of support. Maybe Denmark subsidizes them.

Local boys (showing off?)

When we got back to our cabin we didn’t have any satellite TV. No big surprise since we were in the middle of nowhere. Snookums went to circuit training and worked up a good sweat. Then she went to the sauna to get even warmer.

We went to Crow’s Nest prior to dinner to see if we could spot any whales. Right when we were leaving to return to our room Snookums saw some spouts. We ended up seeing five or six whales and their spouts but never really saw any fins. But, about 20 people in Crow’s Nest saw the spouts, too, after we yelled, “Whales” so that was good. They were probably minke whales. It was a good day, but scenic cruising in Alaska is a lot more interesting since there is more wildlife, more glaciers and more vegetation. However, Greenland is different in that we saw lots of big icebergs in the Atlantic and NOT just near the glaciers. (In Alaska we only saw icebergs near the glaciers. In Greenland we saw them IN the Atlantic.)

Really quite impressively large iceberg

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The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 7 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Seven

August 28 (Sunday, Day 21, Dublin, Ireland; €1 = $1.43; $1 = €0.70) –


Since the ship was docked in Dublin until 11 PM and the stores didn’t open until noon, we decided to leave the ship around 11:30. That meant that Snookums had plenty of time for the 7:30 “Circuit Training” class. It was sunny and around 62 but Filbert’s Dublin radio station said storms were expected. We decided to not take any umbrellas with us. We took the $5 per person 20-minute shuttle each way and Filbert immediately knew where we were when we got off the shuttle bus. As soon as Snookums saw St. Stephen’s Green, she knew where she was, too. We walked through St. Stephen’s Green and then started heading for a bookstore. The only agenda we had was to go to three bookstores. Along the way, we passed Avoca. The last time we were in Dublin we took a day-trip to the little village of Avoca where the oldest weaving mill in Ireland is located. The Avoca store sells a bunch of hand woven items and other interesting items. It has a great café, too. Snookums decided she needed a bakewell (a large bar cookie/cake-like thing with a small layer of raspberry jam towards the bottom and sliced almonds on top) and Filbert had a sausage, apple and sage roll that was heated. It came on a plate with a nice green salad, too, as well as some tomato chutney.

St. Stephen’s Green

While we were eating we met a girl from Idaho who is starting her sophomore year at Trinity College in Dublin. (She was treating herself to her favorite lunch spot, Avoca.) She left Boise after she graduated from high school and started her university education at Trinity College. It costs $23,000 per year and that is what she was going to spend at some college in Oregon so she decided to go to school in Dublin. She is majoring in European Studies – Italian and French languages. She’s hoping to get a scholarship based on a test score and if she does, she’ll have 75% of her costs covered for five years so she’ll be able to get her masters at Trinity College, too.

After our snack, we went to three different bookstores. Filbert bought two books about the origin of languages. He’s such an intellectual! Then we saw a hair salon/internet café (most of the signage was in Chinese) and Filbert wanted a haircut so that’s what we did. #3 clipper all the way around for €8. Snookums used the internet café which cost €1 for 30 minutes. Neither place was busy and Snookums guesses that most customers are illegal immigrants! It was kind of seedy and dirty, but Filbert’s hair looks nice. While we were using the PC, it started pouring rain. But, by the time we left, it had stopped. It also rained while we were in one of the bookstores. We didn’t even know it but the sidewalks were wet when we left the bookstore. That’s kind of normal for Dublin this time of year – major rain for a bit and then it stops.

We rode the shuttle back to the ship after our own 3½-hour shore excursion. That’s when Snookums started feeling sick to her stomach. She napped and read and didn’t go to dinner. Filbert ate on Lido with Gary and Charlotte. After dinner Filbert bundled up with two jackets, scarf, hat and gloves and sat on the balcony listening to Dublin radio stations while waiting for the ship to leave at 11 PM. He finally called it quits around 10:15 PM and went to bed.

August 29 (Monday, Day 22, Cruising the Atlantic) –

Filbert went to the lecture on “The Faroe Islands & Viking Discovery of the North” and enjoyed it a lot. Snookums went to the cupcake tea and enjoyed the chocolate cupcakes the most. Then she went to the 5:00 session of “Circuit Training”. She thought that eating cupcakes at 3:30 was early enough before working out, but she felt like she was almost going to throw up during the hard 30-minute session. However, she rode the bike for another 25 minutes after the class.

Rather than going to formal night dinner, Gary, Charlotte, Filbert and Snookums dined on Lido and really enjoyed it. We had a very relaxed dinner and paced ourselves between the self-serve courses. No one was thrilled with the desserts and Snookums returned to the cabin and ordered the “crisp of the day” which happened to be rhubarb cranberry. It was almost too tart to eat, but she managed.

For those of you wondering what there is to do during a day at sea, the following activities happened between 11:00 and 1:30 today:

11:00 – Future Cruise Presentation, The Mainstage
11:00 – Eurodam Olympics: Golf Chipping, Lido Poolside
11:00 – That’s Souper: Chilled Soups, Culinary Arts Center
11:00 – Secrets to a Flatter Stomach, Greenhouse Spa
11:30 – Introductory Photo Editing, Digital Workshop
12:00 – Blackjack Tournament, Casino
12:00 – The History of Fabergé, Queen’s Lounge
12:00 – Singles & Solos Meet for Lunch, Rembrandt Dining Room
12:30 – Name that Motown Tune, Northern Lights
1:00 – Eurodam Olympics: Bean Bag Toss, Northern Lights
1:00 – The Art of Ice Carving, Lido Poolside
1:00 – Texas Hold’em Tournaments, Casino
1:30 – Creative Photo Editing, Digital Workshop
1:30 – Team Trivia, Crow’s Nest

August 30 (Tuesday, Day 23, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, 1 DKK = $0.19; $1 = 5.21 DKK) –

We docked at Tórshavn, a town of 18,000 and the capital of the Faroe Islands. An announcement was made that there would be singing at the town hall at 10 AM so we made that our goal. We caught the free shuttle to the town center and walked in right as the director was introducing the group. Snookums asked a woman what it was all about and was told that retirees get together every Tuesday at 10 AM and sing. It’s not religious and it’s not a choir. It’s just for fun. And, since today was Tuesday and it was 10 AM, we were the recipients of this local gathering.

There was also a handicraft fair and many women had booths and they were selling lots of hand knitted woolens (and they were also knitting why manning the booths). There were also carved items from sheep horns since sheep graze all over the volcanic hills of the Faroe Islands. Snookums and Filbert spent $4 on a hunk of dried fish, $4 on a package of homemade hard candy that the woman didn’t know the flavor of (but it wasn’t mint since she knew that flavor), and $4 on a cup of coffee and a plate of homemade waffles with whipped cream and red jelly. The singers also paid $4 during the break for their coffee and waffles. Snookums also bought three postcard stamps for $2.25 each. (Things in Tórshavn aren’t cheap!) While the singers were singing and the waffle was being eaten, Filbert commented that he felt very comfortable in this small town atmosphere.

Waffle & coffee table

Snookums gave the woman that explained the singing one of her US flag pins and the woman was very happy and made a point of finding Snookums later on and showing her that she also was given a maple leaf pin, too, from a Canadian.

Torshavn town craft fair

After the singing, which included the English song “You are my sunshine”, we started on our walk. We found the brand new soccer stadium, as well as the old one. Given that 18,000 people live in Tórshavn and that there are 16 other populated islands, but probably not too populated, it was a very nice stadium. When we were in London we actually heard the score of the Faroe Islands soccer match against some U.K. team. We walked by a bus stop and since all buses are free and since the tourist information said that Bus 1 was a good tourist route, we waited one minute for the bus. We enjoyed 40 minutes on the bus. When we were near the top of the island and the bus driver stopped the bus for his short break, we decided to walk down to the “downtown” area and the ship. We enjoyed seeing the houses with grass growing on the roofs. All of the houses were painted bright colors with windowpanes painted in a different bright color. We came upon a grocery store and since we had 11 Danish krone still to use (or about $2.10), we used them. A small bottle of Coke Zero was 35 krone. Candy bars were 10 to 15. Snookums finally bought some Haribo gummi things ($1.65) and one piece of bubble gum ($0.40 – yikes!!). She didn’t get any change back although she should have gotten .05 krone. They don’t have .05 krone and she knew that. Nothing was cheap. We found out later that produce is shipped in every Monday. We noticed that the fruits and vegetables looked very fresh.

Torshavn’s football stadium
Torshavn’s other football stadium

We got back to the ship around 1:30 and made sure to get to the Lido buffet before it closed at 2. After that Filbert sat on the deck just watching Tórshavn life. Snookums watched the movie “The Accidental Husband” on TV.

The ship left at 5 PM and although it was a bit rainy and overcast, one man on the end of the pier launched about five minutes worth of fireworks to send us off. It wasn’t really dark enough to fully enjoy them, but it was the thought that counted! Then we had scenic cruising through the fjords of the Faroe Islands. There are 18 islands and 17 are populated. Most cruise ships don’t go the way we went since it does require more fuel. However, HAL’s head office allows its captains to veer off the official course for these types of purposes. Seven power lines are strung between two islands. Had the ship cruised exactly in the middle of the two islands, there would have been two feet of clearance under the power lines. However, the ship stayed closer to the island on the starboard side in order to have more clearance! That was smart of the captain.

Why yes, that is grass growing on my roof. Why do you ask?

Tomorrow’s daily program says that there might not be satellite TV until September 5 since the ship will be cruising in waters off the beaten track. We’ll just have to wait and see.

August 31 (Wednesday, Day 24, Cruising the Atlantic) –

Snookums woke up and decided to attend “Circuit Training”. However, the instructor said that it (and the 5 PM class) was cancelled since neither of them were listed in the daily program. She explained that on August 14 he had said to go with what was listed in the fitness class schedule and not what was listed in the daily program and the instructor said that was for the last cruise but this cruise was different. He could see that Snookums wasn’t too happy and he went ahead and taught the class. One other woman attended it.

After her breakfast of oatmeal and large raisins, Snookums wrote a letter to the spa manager and the onboard marketing manager (the person in charge of the vendors, which includes the spa) explaining what had happened. Both letters were delivered before noon. Only time will tell what the result is. While Snookums was being a rabble-rouser, Filbert attended the lecture “Iceland: The Land and its People”. After that we met Gary and Charlotte and went to the Mariner Society Reception to see medals awarded to cruisers for 100, 300 and 600 days. (We already have our 100-day medals.) There is a couple on board that has cruised with Holland America for 1665 days. That is a lot of time on cruise ships and they didn’t even look that old! We enjoyed our free drinks and then went to the Mariners brunch. We sat down and looked at the menu and decided we wanted to eat in Lido. We took our tiles (HAL gives each Mariner a Delft tile every cruise) and the four glasses of champagne and had a very nice lunch in Lido.

Filbert attended the port lecture on Reykjavik while Snookums napped, read and watched TV. Around 4 PM the fitness instructor called for Snookums and Filbert took the message that she was invited to the 5 PM fitness class. The letter had some impact after all!

On prior HAL cruises we have had many difficulties with Pinnacle Grill. Therefore, Snookums received a letter from HAL in March, 2011 stating that HAL would be pleased to make free Pinnacle Grill reservations for us, Gary and Charlotte (they had problems with us on the Alaska cruise). In June she contacted Seattle and made reservations for August 31 so we ate at the $39 per person (but free for us) Le Cirque at the Pinnacle Grill. The menu was basically a set menu except for the entrée and dessert and we started with Lobster Salad “Le Cirque,” followed by Sweet Corn Soup. Snookums and Filbert ordered the Côte de Boeuf and it was a great ribeye steak, cut off the bone table-side. Gary had the wild halibut and Charlotte had the lamb. The waiter brought Charlotte Côte de Boeuf by mistake so while she was waiting for her lamb, she ate some of that and gave some to Gary, too. They both said it was the best entrée. Gary’s halibut was the whitest piece of fish that Snookums had ever seen. It almost looked like a slab of tofu! Gary said it was prime fish and he enjoyed it, but he said the beef was even more superb. The chocolate soufflé for dessert was awesome and Snookums had the crème brûlée, too, but the soufflé was much better. We all agreed that it wasn’t worth $39, but for free it was fine. And, we all preferred the normal Pinnacle Grill menu with its options to the set Le Cirque one.

After dinner we turned our clocks back an hour and went to bed.

September 1 (Thursday, Day 25, Reykjavík, Iceland, 1 ISK = $0.01; $1 = 114 ISK) –

Leif Erikson statue in Reykjavik

Snookums attended “Total Body Conditioning” at 7:30AM. The day was rainy, windy and cold (52°) and we saw out the window that the Hop on/Hop off bus stopped at the port. The ship was offering a shuttle to downtown for $9 roundtrip. The Hop on/Hop off bus was $26 per person (3,000 ISK) so we figured we would take that. The ticket seller even gave Snookums a krone (worth less than one cent) so she even had her souvenir. The bus left the port at :37 after the hour. While we were waiting, we shopped in the souvenir shop. Filbert found some wool gloves (made in Iceland) without the fingertips but there was also a mitten flap to put over the fingers and decided he wanted them. Now we had a mission!

Reykjavík has about 200,000 people in it and there are only 300,000 people in all of Iceland. Iceland is the size of Ohio. And, in Icelandic, the word “Iceland” is spelled “Ísland”. We stayed on the Hop on/Hop off bus for the hour-long circuit. It started pouring rain about ½ way through the tour but we did manage to see the small white wood house (Höfoi House) where President Reagan and Gorbachev supposedly stopped the Cold War. We also saw Hallgrímskirkja which is the immense concrete church that took 34 years to build and was completed in 1974. Its tower is 250 feet tall but since it was raining we didn’t go up. The church has a 5,275 pipe organ in it.


We decided to brave the cold, wind and rain and got off in the downtown area. Snookums was wearing tights under her pants and had three layers on top under her winter coat and windbreaker. Filbert wore his waterproof windbreaker that he had from his motorcycle days. Due to the wind, we didn’t bother with umbrellas. We survived quite nicely. We had been told where two grocery stores were located and where a liquor store was. (Only 3.5% beer can be sold in grocery stores.). We found the first grocery store which was more like a convenience store. The sales tax (VAT) is 25.5% and it is built into the prices. So, paying $1.25 for a candy bar at a convenience store didn’t seem too out of line. Everything looked very fresh and the product selection was as vast as what we have in the U.S. at a large convenience store.

We then went to the liquor store and Filbert enjoyed looking at the different kinds of Icelandic beer. He bought six. Then we found the real grocery store. It was good, too, and the meat section was dominated with lamb and some pork. We did see hamburger and it was very expensive, around $10/pound. We actually didn’t see any fresh fish, but found frozen and dried. We were told that the main proteins are lamb and fish. One thing that was odd was that both stores sold both Coke Light (what you find in Europe) and Diet Coke (what you find in the U.S. and in Asia). However, Diet Coke was about $0.50 more expensive for a 2 liter bottle. Even Coke Zero was in stock at the “cheaper” price.

We went into a couple of Icelandic stores and found the same gloves that we saw at the souvenir store and for the same price. We ran to catch the Hop on/Hop off bus back to the port and Filbert purchased the $20 gloves/mittens and a matching $15 headband to keep his ears warm at the souvenir store. (There is only one Hop on/Hop off bus and it comes to each stop once an hour.)

All in all, we weren’t too impressed with Reykjavík. If we make it back to Iceland, we’ll have to take a tour outside of the city since it seems like the neat stuff is the nature of Iceland. The city itself didn’t have much character.A letter from the Onboard Marketing Manager was waiting for Snookums and it said that the fitness class schedule is the accurate schedule and that he would make sure that the daily program had them printed in it as well. Fitness class problem resolved!

Iceland. Geyser. There you go.

We had commentary from the Icelandic lecturer on board as we cruised out of Reykjavík. He said that for the next two hours while we were in Faxaflói Bay there would be a possibility of seeing minke and fin whales. Filbert sat on the balcony, bundled up, but didn’t see any during the entire time.

We attended the 4-star Mariner cocktail reception prior to dinner and made sure that Roger and Margaret came, too, for the free liquor. We left the cocktail reception carrying our free alcoholic beverages and went to Tamarind for our free dinner since we were on a Collectors’ Voyage. Snookums ordered the Thai beef salad (again) and the green papaya salad. The green papaya salad wasn’t anything to write home about but the Thai beef salad was as tasty (and spicy) as last time. The consensus at the table was that the tempura shrimp and satay are the best appetizers. The pho soup is good, too, but too hard to eat with the porcelain spoon/ladle. Margaret said the wonton soup was good, but it looked like she got two shrimp filled wontons in a brown broth.

Snookums and Filbert again ordered the red chicken curry (without the eggplant) and ordered all of the side dishes and dumped them in. It made a great stew. Roger ordered the mint lamb and said it wasn’t minty at all and was salty. Charlotte ordered the vegetable tempura and it looked good, but not too substantial. Snookums saw the snapper in rice paper at the next table and it looked very good.

The only dessert that no one ordered last time was the tempura ice cream. Four people ordered it and all liked it. The coconut ice cream was better than the coffee ice cream. And, the “dish” that the two fried ice cream balls were served in was the tastiest thing. Filbert said it was like peanut brittle without the peanuts. Charlotte thought she tasted coconut in it. Snookums and Margaret just loved it and ate it. This time the wasabi sorbet was in stock and Gary said “WOW” when he tried it and his face really puckered up. He convinced Margaret to try it and she had the same reaction. He enjoyed it. We had another great dinner in Tamarind and all agreed that this is THE best restaurant on the ship and well worth the $15 per person surcharge (or $7.50 if you are a 4-star Mariner or free if the ship gives it to you!). We staggered out of the restaurant and moved our clocks back another hour and went to sleep.

September 1 (Thursday, Day 25, Reykjavík, Iceland, 1 ISK = $0.01; $1 = 114 ISK) –

September 2 (Friday, Day 26, Cruising the Atlantic)

Snookums and Filbert woke up around 7 AM and it was kind of sunny. The seas are still calm (yippee!). We ordered room service and Filbert had his normal high protein instant oatmeal and coffee but Snookums splurged and ordered pancakes with fruit sauce (it was strawberry) and bacon. The ship’s bacon is really good and her pancakes were okay, too.

Filbert went to the Greenland lecture and Snookums got caught up with the journal. Then she went to the 5 PM Total Body Conditioning class.

It was formal night and we dressed up and went to dinner. Gary was under the weather, though, so neither he nor Charlotte attended.

The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 6 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Six

August 24 (Wednesday, Day 17, Dover, England; £1 = $1.63; $1 = £0.61) –

The Prince Albert Pub, Dover

We woke up during one of the many announcements letting disembarking passengers know what tag color could leave. It didn’t bother us too much. However, the two crew members that walked across our balcony around 8 AM surprised us since we hadn’t been notified about balcony maintenance. Luckily Snookums was still in bed and Filbert was fully dressed! Filbert decided that he needed to notify the front desk of this since he wasn’t sure that the ship knew we were staying on board. (In the past, we’ve always received notes the day before whenever there was going to be maintenance to our balcony.) The front desk man didn’t seem too bothered by it, but apologized to Filbert and said it wouldn’t happen again. We took the shuttle to downtown and walked around for about an hour. It was misting a little bit and cloudy, but we were in England after all! We decided that we really liked Dover. It is a small seaside village with a huge history. We managed to run into Gary and Charlotte right as they were getting off the bus. We showed them where the McDonald’s was for free wifi and Filbert and Charlotte immediately logged on. Snookums went with Gary to buy Manchester United jerseys. Gary bought three – one for himself and two for gifts for his room steward and for his room steward’s son. Gary was like a kid in a candy store. After we all used the free wifi we went to the pub next door, Prince Albert, and Roger and Margaret were there using its free wifi while enjoying coffee!

Snookums and Charlotte ordered the ploughman’s lunch. It consisted of two hard rolls, butter, a large scoop of some kind of sour/sweet/salty pickle chutney, two large pickled onions, two huge wedges of sharp cheddar cheese, two slices of ham and a tossed salad. It was delicious and very large and cost $10 (or £5.99 – the same price as a McD’s value meal!). Filbert and Gary each ordered the fish and chips and mushy peas and enjoyed that, too for $16.50 each. Filbert had a pint of locally brewed bitters and Gary had a Beck’s beer. Roger and Margaret insisted on buying our lunches since we have been treating them to wine every night. (4-star Mariners can buy 7 bottles of wine at a time for $18 per bottle which is 50% off We just can’t let them give HAL more money than is needed!)

Dover Castle above Dover town

After lunch we went to a used book store and once again Gary was like a kid in a candy shop. He bought two books about British maritime history (he’s ex-Navy, after all) and six paperbacks of maritime fiction. Surprisingly, Filbert didn’t buy anything. The sun was shining, though, so everything was good. And, Snookums managed to find three different coins on the ground throughout the day for a total of $0.08!

Then it was time for the various grocery stores and we loaded up on Coke Zero (six 2-liters) and various English beers (five 4-packs). All of the reusable bags that we brought with us were loaded and we walked back to the shuttle bus stop.

Once on the ship, it was obvious that new people were on board. Snookums went to the gym for the schedule of classes and also weighed herself. She was ecstatic that she weighed one pound less than on August 12 on the first day of the cruise! We had to do the lifeboat drill again, but this time Snookums just wore her jacket and not her winter coat since it was sunny. Windy and a bit chilly, but sunny.

Snookums decided to call the restaurant reservation person to verify all of the reservations that she made over the past two days for the rest of the cruise. (Holland America doesn’t let people make restaurant reservations for future segments so although we bought one 29-day cruise, we had to treat it like a 12-day cruise and then a 17-day cruise and we weren’t able to make the 17-day cruise restaurant reservations until two days ago. This is a serious downfall of a Collectors’ Voyage.) Unfortunately, the Pinnacle Grill dinner reservation that was made for us for August 31 that was made by a Holland America employee in Seattle on June 17 didn’t “happen”. The Holland America Seattle employee made it since there was a Pinnacle Grill snafu on our last cruise and Snookums wrote a letter to the company and they gave us a free dinner and said that they would make the reservation. Snookums is confident that Jane Curtis in Seattle made the reservation but is also confident that the ship screwed it up. Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

The six of us ate at Tamarind which is the $15 per person Asian restaurant. It costs $7.50 for 4-star Mariners so Gary and Charlotte paid for three people and Snookums and Filbert paid for three people. None of us wanted Roger and Margaret to have to pay full price so we just took care of them! It was fabulous and since we are on a Collectors’ Voyage, the six of us had also been notified that we get to eat at Tamarind for free on September 1. Snookums ordered the chicken pho soup followed by the Thai beef salad. Filbert also had the pho soup and then had the spring rolls. The soup was very tasty, but was hard to eat since we had Asian porcelain soup spoon/ladles that didn’t work all that well. Next time Snookums will probably order the Thai beef salad and the green papaya salad and skip the soup. Everyone else ordered the tempura shrimp for an appetizer and really enjoyed them, too. Filbert and Snookums both ordered the chicken with red curry sauce as their entrees. Filbert ordered his spicy and it was. Snookums ordered hers medium and it wasn’t spicy enough. But, it was delicious in its coconut and red curry sauce. Side dishes consisted of several types of vegetables and the table agreed that the bok choy side dish was very good and so was the mushroom side dish. Desserts were ho-hum. Snookums ordered two of them – the chocolate filled fortune cookie and the tamarind flavored chocolate shell filled with ginger chocolate mousse. The ganache in the fortune cookie was good, but the cookie itself was very bland so she won’t order it again. The tamarind flavored chocolate shell was just a dark chocolate shell so it was good. The ginger chocolate mousse was very, very gingery – almost too strong. Filbert ordered the coconut bread pudding with caramelized bananas on it and it was okay. But, it was a great dinner and we all agreed that it was the best dining experience we had on board. Hopefully our next Tamarind experience will be as good.

After dinner Gary, Snookums and Filbert went to the Pinnacle Grill to try to resolve the Pinnacle Grill reservation mess. Anne, the Pinnacle Grill manager, talked to us. Gary and Snookums showed her the letters each had received from HAL’s headquarter in Seattle. After a little bit of discussion (and no giving in on Snookums’s part regarding a free dinner for four people in Pinnacle Grill on August 31), Ann said that both of our reservations would be handled. We were very pleased with her resolution. For once we found someone at Pinnacle Grill that understood customer service. It was a good day.

August 25 (Thursday, Day 18, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; €1 = $1.43; $1 = €0.70) –

Sunrise in the Dutch canals

The day started out well and it was clear and in the high 60s. Filbert and Snookums boarded a hop-on/hop-off canal cruise at the ship’s dock and got off at the Hermitage. The special exhibit was Russian Orthodox Church Art, but we passed on seeing it since we had seen more than enough in St. Petersburg. Instead, we walked to Dam Square and the Royal Palace. During our walk we needed to use toilets and could only find pay toilets. Even McDonald’s was charging €0.50. We weren’t in desperate need so we just kept on walking. Snookums wanted to see the red light district and a lot of it was closed since it was only 11 AM, but some of the women were standing in the windows. And, after we kind of got out of the red light district we saw that there was one more “store” but this one had four hefty older (and very worn-looking) women in its windows. It was obviously a cheaper establishment since the quality of the merchandise was very poor.

Amsterdam red-light district

We walked back to the ship and had lunch. Yunus, a waiter from Bali that we had talked to during other lunches, went to the crew mess and got homemade sambal for Filbert. Yunus apologized for it since it didn’t have any habanero peppers in it since they hadn’t been unpacked yet from the Dover shipment. However, it was plenty hot for Filbert and contained jalapenos, fish sauce, lemongrass and onions. The Indonesian crew mess cooks make it fresh every day as long as the ingredients are in stock.

After lunch we caught another canal cruise route from the ship’s dock and rode it the whole way around. At one point we were passed by a dredging boat that was carrying a bunch of filthy bikes that had been dredged from the canal. The boat captain was using a bucket of canal water to wash off his dredging boat and managed to accidentally splash our canal cruise boat. Snookums’s hair got wet and she got some canal water in her mouth. Hopefully that won’t end poorly.

Dutch windmill

One of our canal boat stops was at Central Station which is the main train station for Amsterdam. There was actually a bike parking garage that was at least four levels tall and it was packed with bikes. Snookums doesn’t know how bike owners actually find their bikes at the end of the day since most of them are just basic black, old bikes. Snookums would own a neon green bike if she lived in Amsterdam!

Bike parking ramp
Along Amsterdam’s canals

When we cruised out of Amsterdam the port lecturer gave a commentary of the scenery and he said that there are around 570,000 bikes in Amsterdam and 72,000 are stolen each year. That explains why 99% of the bikes are beat up, old junkers. However, they all have lights on them.

Dinner was uneventful, but we all commented on the strange names cruise ships give to various dishes. One of the desserts was “Tom Pouce” and it was described as layers of pastry with coffee cream between them. None of us had ever heard of “Tom Pouce” before and we’ve all cruised many times.

August 26 (Friday, Day 19, Zeebrugge, Belgium; €1 = $1.43; $1 = €0.70) –

Zeebrugge is an 11-minute train ride from Blankenberge to Bruges. The ship docks in a working port and no one is allowed to walk anywhere. Shuttles took people to either downtown Zeebrugge (5 minutes away) or downtown Blankenberge (15 minutes away).

When we woke up it was raining hard but we decided to see Bruges anyway. We boarded the shuttle to Blankenberge and were the first ones to the train station from our shuttle. We bought our €5.40 per person roundtrip train tickets and since Blankenberge is at the end of the line, the train was there so we boarded it and sat for 20 minutes. It rained the whole time we were on the train and we thought our day in Bruges might have to be spent in the French Fry Museum (yes, there is one in Bruges). But by the time we exited the tourist info center at the Bruges train station, it had stopped. (The tourist center charged €0.50 for a map and Filbert thought the map that the ship gave us was good enough. We did pick up a brochure for the French Fry Museum just in case it started raining again.)

We walked around the historic city center (a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO) and stopped in a chocolate shop. They seemed to be everywhere, but most of them were independently owned. Snookums bought a dark chocolate bar with crystallized ginger on it for her mother. We saw a Crowne Plaza hotel and went in for a free map and to use the free toilets. We also saw a restaurant called “Tom Pouce”, just like last night’s dessert!

In Bruges

Snookums saw St. Paul Bakery and wanted to go in. While we were looking at all of the wonderful breads and pastries, Filbert decided to get a Coke Zero. Then Snookums decided to get a sandwich for lunch and Filbert did, too, so that we would have a picnic lunch. Snookums decided to get the $4 pre-made omelet sandwich. It was on thick multigrain bread and had lettuce and mayonnaise on it. The ½-inch thick, fluffy omelet was probably a 2 ½ or 3-egg omelet and had bacon and onions in it. It was one of the best sandwiches Snookums had ever eaten. Filbert got a $4 white baguette with salami and cheese in it and he said “yes” to all of the vegetables. He got slices of egg, shredded carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes and he said it was great. We also saw “Tom Pouce” for sale with the other pastries but decided to share a rhubarb tart instead. We took our sandwiches and immediately found some benches and enjoyed our lunch in the brisk, windy air. The clouds were rolling in so we decided to walk back to the train station and catch the next train to Blankenberge.

An unassuming little bakery

At the Bruges train station there was a Carrefour Express (a grocery store) and Filbert loaded up on Belgian beer and Coke Zero. We boarded the train and Filbert decided to take random photos. As we were pulling into the Blankenberge station he put his camera away. Right then we saw Gary standing on the platform taking pictures of the train. Too bad Filbert didn’t get a photo of Gary taking a photo of the train (and us)!!

Belgian confectionary humor. We think.

Tonight was a formal night and we had already made dinner reservations for Canaletto so that we wouldn’t have to dress up. We had a great dinner here on August 22 but tonight wasn’t as good. Service was very poor and the food was quite salty. Many crew left the ship in Dover since their contracts were up and were replaced by new crew and it seems like the ship isn’t running as smoothly as it did for our first 12 days. Only time will tell.

August 27 (Saturday, Day 20, Cruising the English Channel) –

Snookums woke up and went to “Fabulous Abs” at 7:30. Ouch! Then she decided to use the sauna. Unfortunately, there were three Chinese women in it, all speaking Chinese and there wasn’t much room. She stayed for about 10 minutes and left. She then used one of the three hot tubs next to the Lido pool. She finally returned to the cabin, showered and got ready for the day.

Filbert attended the 11 AM lecture about the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, in 2010. Jon Vidar Sigurdsson presented the lecture and he is a geologist from Iceland and has also been on over thirty expeditions to Greenland. His wife is on board, too, and is a travel guide in Iceland.

Snookums, Gary and Charlotte ate lunch in Tamarind (free, but reservations required). Filbert decided that he had been eating too much so he passed on this lunch option. It’s a set menu and none of us were impressed. You got hot and sour soup (pretty good), a salad (also pretty good) and then a steamer basket with four pieces of gooey dim sum in it (not good, in Snookums’s opinion) and four half-pieces of various egg roll type things. A little mound of fried rice came on the plate, too. Snookums ordered two desserts (coconut ice cream and a bland egg tart) and wasn’t thrilled by either of them. After lunch, Charlotte and Gary went to Lido to get more food. Charlotte wanted ice cream and Gary ate some of the items from the daily Asian buffet. Filbert didn’t miss anything and we won’t recommend lunch at Tamarind to anyone. Dinner is a different story, though!

Filbert went to the afternoon lecture on the Milky Way, but was not impressed. Later at dinner, Roger said the same thing when he started talking about his attendance at the afternoon lecture. It sounds like HAL doesn’t need to ask this lecturer back! After the Milky Way lecture Filbert stayed around to hear the travel guy talk about Dublin and what to do there. We spent three nights there in 2007 and have seen all of the touristy things.

While Filbert was being educated, Snookums was watching the movie “Unknown” on TV starring Liam Neason. It was okay. She also returned the ½ price Holland America polo shirt that she bought earlier in the cruise since it shrunk two inches in length after it had been washed by HAL.

The highlight of dinner was that Charlotte brought the ½ pound box of Leonidas Belgian chocolates that Gary bought for her to share with all of us. We each had one and they were tasty, indeed!

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The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 5 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Five

August 19 (Friday, Day 12, St. Petersburg, Russia) –

In the Hermitage

The tour group met at 8 AM. The day was sunny and looked 100% different than yesterday. We drove to a boat for an hour-long boat ride along the rivers and canals with room temperature champagne and chocolates. Filbert joked that in Russia the vodka is cold and the champagne is room temp. (That didn’t stop him from drinking several glasses of it, though!) We passed most of the places we drove by yesterday, but today we could actually see them. Snookums found a 10-kopek coin on the boat, too, keeping intact her skill of finding money in foreign countries. After the boat ride we went to the Hermitage Museum for a 2-hour tour. The Hermitage, or Winter Palace, was built for Elizabeth, one of Peter the Great’s daughters, but she died before the lavish mansion was completed. The gold-trimmed, green and white palace houses one of the world’s most massive art collections (more than 2.7 million works) and our tour ended in the French Impressionists’ area, which is considered to be unmatched by any other museum.

We ate lunch at a different restaurant and had a tasteless salad that was made of mushrooms and diced chicken in mayonnaise, followed by a broth-based mushroom soup and chicken Kiev (with white rice and raw cabbage). Dessert was two crepes with strawberry sauce. Snookums noticed a lot of signs that said “pectopah” and asked Olga what it meant. Snookums thought she was kidding when she said “restaurant” and pronounced the Russian version like “restora” but then realized that a “p” in Cyrillic is like our “r” and a “c” is like our “s”.


We drove to Peter and Paul fortress and toured the cathedral. At the end of our tour, Olga rushed into a room and then five Russian men sang a church song for us in order to try to sell their CD. It was a nice and very unexpected finale. Peter and Paul fortress was the first building in Peter’s capital, built in 1703 (when St. Petersburg was founded).

The next stop was Yusupov palace. By now Snookums and Filbert were totally tuned out and Snookums only remembered seeing a square room that was decorated to make it look round and she also remembered the home theatre, a 100-person theatre complete with stage, orchestra pit and royal boxes.

Another extravagantly gilded and decorated room. Yawn.

We were given 40 minutes to shop at a souvenir store and this is where we also paid for our tour when the boss of the tour company showed up. (Yes, the tour was paid for at the end of the two days and credit card information was never requested. No one knows what would have happened to someone that only made the first day!) U.S. dollars were the preferred payment method and cash meant a 5% discount. No problem, cash it was. When Snookums paid, the woman asked how things went and Snookums told her that she was a bit disappointed since via email Snookums was told that Filbert would receive a typical Russian birthday cake on August 18 (two days after his birthday). The woman said that the office realized their mistake and she apologized and kept going on and on and Snookums finally said, “Please just let me pay.” Snookums was disappointed that the cake never happened, but that was that. When everyone was done paying, we got on the minibus and that’s when Olga said “It’s Filbert’s birthday and here are some presents for him from the tour company.” She gave him a bottle of vodka and a set of three St. Petersburg shot glasses. Both items were sold at the souvenir store and Snookums knows that the boss bought them right then and there. Filbert was very happy since this was a much better birthday surprise than a cake! (The vodka is as of this writing several months later, still chilling unopened in our refrigerator. How much longer this unusual state will persist is anyone’s guess.)

We got back to the ship around 5 PM and decided to order room service for dinner. Snookums was starting to come down with a cold (compliments of Gary and Charlotte, she thinks!) and after turning the clocks back one hour (yippee!), ended up falling asleep well before 10 PM.

Enormous flood gates protecting St. Petersburg

August 20 (Saturday, Day 13, Helsinki, Finland; €1 = $1.43; $1 = €0.70) –

Downtown Helsinki park

We took the $10 per person round-trip shuttle into Helsinki and walked around. It was very windy and around 70 degrees and sunny. The last shuttle to the ship was at 3:30 since most of the streets of downtown Helsinki were closing at 4 PM due to the marathon. First we had to deal with the triathlon in Copenhagen and now we had a marathon in Helsinki! We had plenty of time, though, to wander around. After we looked at the farmer’s market near the harbor area, Uspensky Cathedral, and Senate Square and Cathedral, we stopped at Stockmann, one of Helsinki’s two flagship Finnish stores. We enjoyed browsing in the large grocery store in the basement. We bought Puffs Plus for Snookums’s nose (54 total tissues in six pocket packs for $2.75 and Snookums could not find a box of tissues at all. Only pocket packs are sold!), canned reindeer meat ($10.18), canned reindeer soup ($7.12), 1.5-liter Coke Zero ($2.14 plus $0.58 deposit) and four cans of Finnish beer (around $3.60 per can plus $0.22 deposit).

Helsinki wedding
Senate Square

We were invited to a Cocktail Reception before dinner. We think we were invited since we are 4-star Mariners. Anyway, it meant shaking about 35 hands (way too many people were in the receiving line and it should have just been the captain, hotel manager and a couple of more people) and getting free drinks. Snookums walked away with two unopened cans of soda and Filbert walked away with a very full glass of red wine. Even Gary enjoyed a Coors Light.

August 21 (Sunday, Day 14, Nynäshamn, Sweden; 1 SEK = $0.16; $1 = 6.41 SEK) –

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

We woke up and Filbert had an idea that we should eat breakfast on the local economy. That sounded good so we took the tender in and walked 15 minutes to town. (Nynäshamn was a 70-minute train ride to Stockholm.) Unfortunately, in Nynäshamn on a Sunday things don’t open until 11 AM, noon or not at all. At 11 AM we decided to buy a picnic lunch from the grocery store. Filbert bought a chicken wrap, a Coke Zero and two individually wrapped packages of Wasa crackers with pasteurized process cheese in the middle of them and Snookums bought a ready-to-eat salad and a savory cheese roll from the bakery. The grocery store had more varieties of Wasa (dry, flat crackers) than any stores at home have. But, Sweden is the land of Wasa! Our picnic lunch cost $22 which wasn’t too bad, considering we were in Sweden. (Bing cherries were $10/pound and some kind of meat [probably a pork loin] cost $20/pound.) We took our lunch to the harbor and ate it while sitting on the harbor wall. The rest of the town (population 20,000) seemed to be there, too. It was a sunny day and in the low 70s which is probably a hot day for Sweden.

Filbert didn’t buy any beer at the store since all of the Swedish beer was only 3.2% alcohol. (Okay , he said he didn’t buy any since we were still going to walk a long ways!) On the plus side, while checking out with her credit card, Snookums asked the cashier to charge her for the cheapest currency coin and the woman gave her a Swedish krona and didn’t charge her for it. Snookums did see a coin on the ground on the walk to town, but it was behind a chain link fence and she couldn’t get to it.

Swedish fish

August 22 (Monday, Day 15, At sea) –

Vikings! Pirates! (eh, probably not . . .)

At last, a sea day! We both woke up kind of early and enjoyed a room service breakfast – two pots of coffee and a pot of hot water for Filbert (for his high protein instant oatmeal) and two raisin buns for Snookums. Holland America makes the best raisin buns and this ship uses the largest raisins Snookums has ever seen. She has been eating oatmeal from the buffet for most breakfasts since she can put the huge raisins in it.

Filbert went to the 30-minute morning lecture about the history of Nelson and Trafalgar and also the afternoon one about the history of the Vikings.

Around 12:30 we entered an area off the coast of Copenhagen that is very shallow. A pilot came on board and we traveled six knots for about two hours. At one point the bottom of the sea was just two feet under our keel. That is very shallow! The day started cloudy and foggy, and the ship even blew its foghorn several times, but by the time we passed by Copenhagen, it was sunny.

1,800 of the 2,100 passengers are getting off in Dover on Wednesday. The 300 that are staying on to New York are doing what Holland America calls a Collectors’ Voyage. HAL puts some cruises back-to-back and prices them a bit cheaper and calls them Collectors’ Voyages. We got an invitation today for a free dinner in Tamarind, the pan-Asian restaurant, since we’re on the Collectors’ Voyage. We weren’t expecting that so it was a nice surprise.

Snookums spent most of the day reading, watching TV (Shanghai Noon, Black Swan, Duke vs. China basketball live from Beijing) and Filbert spent most of the day on the balcony before napping around 4 PM. He might be catching Snookums’s cold.

Tonight the six of us enjoyed dinner at Canaletto. This is Holland America’s free Italian restaurant on the Lido deck. It is formal night but on Lido formal attire is not required so we made reservations especially for tonight for this restaurant. It was very good and we all agreed to eat here again during two of the remaining five formal nights.

August 23 (Tuesday, Day 16, At sea) –

Filbert’s cold is pretty bad but Snookums’s seems to be getting better. However, we’re both having an enjoyable time, but don’t necessarily have a lot of energy. We did manage to attend the 2 PM Collectors’ Voyages presentation. We received an invitation for this and since it wasn’t in the daily program, we decided to attend. It was a brief overview of what would happen tomorrow as all but 370 of us would disembark. We learned that a special gangway was being set up for us so that we wouldn’t have to stand in line like the others getting off for the last time. We also found out that a shuttle bus would be available to go into Dover’s town center for $6 roundtrip. Free champagne and mimosas were handed out so it wasn’t all bad.

Tonight’s dinner was the “Master Chef’s” dinner where the waiters do a bit of singing and dancing. None of us really cared for it and the food wasn’t that good, either. On the way out Snookums asked the maitre ‘d the date of the dinner on the upcoming segment and was happy to be told that there wouldn’t be one. In fact, the maitre ‘d said that the ship hadn’t had one of these dinners for a couple of months. We had one on our Alaska cruise and would be happy to never have one again!

When we got back to our cabin we were disappointed that we hadn’t received the daily “Explorer” (the daily program) or the Dover map that we always get at night and the night before a port. Snookums called to the front desk to make sure that they knew that we were on the ship for the next 17 days and they said that the papers would be delivered right away.

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The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 4 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Four

August 18 (Thursday, Day 11, St. Petersburg, Russia; 1 ruble = $0.03; $1 = $29.14 ruble) –

Eurodam, rain, St. Petersburg

Snookums arranged to take a tour with an independent tour company. We normally don’t like tours, but Russia requires a $250 visa unless you are with a tour group and then you don’t need a visa. So, we signed up for a two-day St. Petersburg tour for $256 with http://st-petersburg-tours.ru/. (The ship was charging $400 for the same thing and took people in big buses. Our tour group was limited to 16 people.) Our tour guide was Olga and our driver was Leonodis. Olga’s English was excellent and she frequently used idioms and made jokes. She didn’t even have a heavy accent. She studied linguistics in college and teaches during the winter when there aren’t tourists.

It was raining most of the day but wasn’t too cold so we all managed to still have a decent time. We started at 7:45 with a city tour with a few photo stops in the rain, including St. Nicholas Cathedral. Then we took a hydrofoil to Peterhof. Peterhof was the summer palace of Peter the Great. During our 30-minute hydrofoil ride, we couldn’t see anything due to the rain so that was a bummer. We got to Peterhof and waited until 11 AM to see the fountains come to life. Even in the rain it was neat since Russian music played. We toured Fountain Park (Peterhof’s gardens) for about an hour and then we went to lunch.

The gardens
The fountains

unch was at a restaurant and consisted of a tossed salad, borscht, two crepes that contained ground meat and a scoop of vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce. There was also a plate of white and brown bread slices. We ate it all.

The group got back on the minibus and headed for Tsars’ Village. Then we had an inside tour of Catherine’s Palace with its famous room completely covered in amber (the “Amber Room” – no photos allowed). Snookums was in St. Petersburg around 20 years ago and visited Catherine’s Palace. At that time every tourist had to put handmade wool booties over his/her shoes in order to protect the marble inlaid floors. The wool booties were all different sizes and most of them had holes in them and barely stayed on the shoes. Russia has modernized and now every tourist is given disposable surgical booties to wear.

Outside Catherine’s Palace

Catherine’s Palace is a Russian baroque-style structure built in the first part of the 18th century. It was rebuilt by Rastrelli and is now a showcase for period art, architecture and landscaping. It looked a lot like Versailles.

Inside Catherine’s Palace
Squirrel, outside Catherine’s Palace

After touring Catherine’s Palace we drove to St Isaac’s Cathedral and toured it. St. Isaac’s Cathedral is St. Petersburg’s most famous church and is one of the world’s largest domed structures. It is decorated with Russian mosaics.

By now Filbert and Snookums were getting kind of tired of touring fabulous palaces and churches but there was still one more to see today and it was the best of all. By now it had stopped raining which was perfect timing. The minibus pulled up to the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood and everyone went “Wow”. When Snookums was last here, she bought a painting of this church since it was so beautiful and it hangs on her home office wall. At that time, her tour group only saw the outside of it. This time the tour group went inside, too, since it was renovated and open to the public in 1997.

St. Issac’s Cathedral, interior

The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood has a bunch of onion domes on it that are bright gold or striped. The inside is even more spectacular than the outside. It is modeled after Moscow’s distinctive St. Basil’s Cathedral and is a museum of Russian mosaics. After this we got back to the ship around 6:45. Traffic was exceptionally bad since the Russian president was in town and many streets were closed. It was a full, tiring and wet day but a good introduction to St. Petersburg.

Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, exterior
Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, interior

It was around 7:30 by the time we cleaned up a bit which was perfect timing for dinner. Gary and Charlotte were there and so was Roger. Margaret attended a ballet in St. Petersburg so she wasn’t at dinner. We were all very hungry and ate a lot.

St. Petersburg Sundown

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The 2011 Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, part 3 of 9

The 29-Day Ultimate Northern Discovery Cruise, Holland America Eurodam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Three

August 16 (Tuesday, Day 9, Cruising the Baltic Sea) –

Show girls

Snookums woke at 7:15 and hustled to the 7:30 fitness class. Only one other person was there and the fitness instructor went ahead and held it. Snookums was on cruises before where the policy was that at least three people had to show up for a class to be held. Snookums is very impressed with this cruise so far. It was another 30 minutes of good torture and during the class Snookums found out that the instructor is from Zimbabwe and played professional rugby in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. Then he decided that his body couldn’t take the punishment anymore and he got a degree in Exercise Science before training various Olympic athletes. Now he’s on a cruise ship training non-Olympic athletes! After the 30-minute class she used the elliptical for 30 minutes and was sweating through her gray T-shirt by the time she was done. When she returned to the room after a quick breakfast, Filbert was just finishing his birthday breakfast of a ham and cheese omelet. He has been eating his high protein/low calorie for breakfast every day but since today is his 52nd birthday, he treated himself. He was also watching RedEye on Fox News. It’s one of his favorite shows and is shown at 2 AM at home. However, with the time change, it’s on in the morning. So, he was eating his birthday breakfast while watching one of his favorite shows and was very happy.

After Snookums took her shower, she fell asleep. When Housekeeping came in to clean the room, she went to the poolside sale of ½ price Baltic apparel and bought a Holland America polo shirt. Then she went to lunch and had a self-made taco salad. After lunch she went to the regular ship’s store and was actually impressed by what was for sale. She didn’t buy anything, but might have if the items were in her size. The good news about being on a repositioning cruise is that a lot of the merchandise is on sale so that they have room for the new inventory that fits the other cruise destinations but the bad news is that they are out of a lot of the merchandise.

Filbert went to a 3-hour $150 tour of the engine room and bridge. This is the first time on any of our cruises that Holland America offered this type of tour. Gary, being the retired Navy Lt. Commander that he is, joined it, too.

Engineering control room
Engine room

During the afternoon Snookums finally wrote nine days of the journal. Filbert came back from the 3-hour tour at 5:30 (3 ½ hours!) and said that it was a tour of the entire ship – galley and galley store rooms, backstage, bridge, engine room, laundry, trash, and other places. Only six men signed up. Holland America didn’t do a very good job of describing it since women would have signed up if they knew it was a whole-ship tour and not just the engine room and bridge. He came back with a Holland America tote bag filled with all of the dinner menus, a set of six Holland America shot glasses, a Eurodam pin and a Holland America “behind the scenes” paperback book. He had a great time and the tour ended in the Crow’s Nest with free drinks for all. He enjoyed two beers. The guys were also treated to fruit skewers and champagne during the galley tour. They were also told that the current cruise has 2100 passengers on it (and 300 of these are from Australia) and 370 people will continue on from Dover to New York (like we’ll do). The Dover to New York segment will have around 1900 passengers on it. They also learned that there are three full-time tailors on board in the laundry and ALL the uniforms worn by the crew are made by these three people. Stewards get measured before getting on the ship and when they board, their uniforms are waiting for them.

Snookums spent some time on the balcony since it was sunny and in the low 70s. Today was a gorgeous day at sea and the crew said that it was one of the first nice days in the Baltic they’ve had in several weeks. We’ve been pretty lucky so far with the weather ever since we landed in London. Most days have been cloudy but we only needed our umbrellas one time in London and that was for about 10 minutes. The temperatures have been in the mid-60s and jackets have been sufficient.

Dinner was fun. Gary and Charlotte gave Filbert a birthday card and a bottle of beer in a decorated paper bag. Gary used all four of his highlighters to decorate the bag. After dinner Filbert was given a birthday cake and the crew sang to him. He requested the Indonesian version of “Happy Birthday” and he got it! And the cake was delicious, in addition to the desserts that we ordered from the menu.

August 17 (Wednesday, Day 10, Tallinn, Estonia; €1 = $1.43; $1 = €0.70) –

Tallinn city square

We left the ship around 10:45 and walked into Tallinn. From our balcony we could see Old Town with its many spires and onion domes. It looked beautiful from our balcony and we were not disappointed when we got there. We stopped at a few souvenir stores searching for the perfect painting for our travel wall. After seeing lots of identical items, we finally found a store selling unique paintings and bought a tiny framed painting of Viru Gate for €5. Now we had to find Viru Gate for ourselves.

Viru Gate

We wandered around the many cobblestone streets and saw lots of sights, including Holy Spirit Church with its beautiful clock, St. Olaf’s Church with its 400-foot high tower (and it used to be Europe’s tallest church), Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with its many onion domes and Fat Margaret Tower. Snookums saw a babushka (an elderly woman) silently standing near a street corner holding baby booties and realized that she was trying to sell them. She didn’t buy any but gave the woman €2 and got a huge toothless grin in exchange.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Lots of people were congregating on the square in front of Jaani Church. Snookums asked a military guy what was going on and was told that the Dalai Lama was going to speak at 2:00. We walked around some more and at 1:50 walked to the top of the hill above the stage and sat on a bench and decided to only wait until 2:15. At 2:15 we got up to leave and wandered over to the edge of the hill and that’s when the Dalai Lama was escorted to the stage. We DID see him and then left and continued our sightseeing! Snookums doesn’t think any of our friends can say that they’ve seen the Dalai Lama in Tallinn, much less seen the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama pep rally

On the way back to the ship we stopped at what seemed like the world’s largest liquor store. People were pushing shopping carts around and they had rolling suitcases and collapsible luggage carts in their carts in order to tote their purchases home. We only had the shopping bags that we always carry with us so we couldn’t buy too much. Filbert picked out 15 cans of Estonian and Russian beer and cider (and many were actual U.S. pints) and six 2-liter bottles of Coke Zero and “only” spent $35. The cashier asked where we were from and when we said the U.S., he said “God Bless America”! That was totally unexpected, but very nice. Estonia is by far the cheapest country we’ve visited so far but the cars and people look wealthy and healthy.

We walked back to the ship (Filbert carried the six 2-liter bottles of Coke Zero and was sore the next day!) and on the way passed a sidewalk café where “Russian” music was playing. Two middle-aged men, just café customers, were dancing, arm in arm. One of them didn’t even have his shirt on, and he should have, but it seemed like a typical folk-type dance and it was neat.

Tonight was formal night and we ate at Lido since we didn’t dress up. Clocks were turned forward so it was an early night for everyone since St. Petersburg’s tours were going to start early on Thursday.