Hello!     Dia dhuit!     Halló

We are off on an adventure to Ireland & Iceland

This is an 11-nt cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Reflection
with a 9-nt pre-cruise tour of Ireland.

For Holly & I, this is our 30th cruise together, and the 9th with Celebrity Cruises.


‘Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy passage on a cruise ship, and that’s the same thing‘ ☺️
~Bob, 2019


San Diego  (Day 1)
Friday, May 24, 2019

We arrived at the airport and settled in to the Delta Sky Lounge for coffee before heading to our connecting flight to Atlanta.  

I don’t get the willingness to wait in lines when it is reasonably avoidable to do so.  If you are eligible for Global Entry (great for TSA Precheck outbound, and a godsend for clearing Customs on U.S. entry), and choose not to get it – shame on you.

Our flight to Atlanta was fairly smooth, though we had a bit of light turbulence about 45 minutes from landing.  The service on the flight was excellent (we had a light breakfast of – do you really care what we ate on a plane?  Nah….so – moving on 😛) .

We have about 7.5 hours’ layover before our next segment, and while that seems like a lot, the next closest would have been a 4-hr layover (frankly, I much prefer a minimum of 5 for international connections outbound).  

We had a nice reunion and chat with MJ and Sterling, friends since we met on Celebrity Silhouette on our British Isles cruise in August 2016.  MJ & I had been planning this for a few months as we both knew we were going to be in the Atlanta airport at the same time.  I’ll say it again – the world just isn’t that large, if one gets out there to explore.    

We had about 90 minutes with Sterling & MJ before they had to head to their gate and their flight to Barcelona, where they will join Azamara Journey for a cruise to London.  

Tomorrow, we are in Dublin, Ireland.

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Dublin, Ireland   (Day 2)
Saturday, May 25, 2019

We arrived from Atlanta about 10.20, and took a taxi to our home – and first stay of 2 – Clontarf Castle.

Clontarf Castle, located just a few blocks North of the River Liffey, was built in 1172 as Dublin’s first line of defense.  In 1308 it was passed to the Knights Templar who declared it a monastery.  When Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church, it was reinstated as a military stronghold, and in 1600, given to Sir Geoffrey Fenton (secretary of state for Ireland) by Queen Elizabeth. Over the next 398 years, it remained as a private estate until opening as a hotel in 1998.

After a shower, we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was a bit smaller inside than I had imagined.  It was very nice inside and had an interesting vibe where one could nearly expect knights to appear out of the stone and woodwork (though that may be hard to adequately explain), filling their helmets that lined the castle walls.

After a photo stop for street art, we had lunch at ‘Against the Grain’, a small but very cool bar with a host that explained the different craft beers; we both chose ‘Buried at Sea’.  Have a few of those, and that’s not a stretch to imagine.

We had a late (19.30) dinner back at the Castle, served with beer and wit from our 20-something very young waitress Bonnie, who explained in great detail the most amazing tomato relish that we had with our charcuterie board.  She said ‘you could put it on anything’, and gave me crap for suggesting ‘even ice cream?’, stating ‘Don’t take the piss’ (I love the Irish spirit).  Bonnie is going to an Irish ‘Coachella festival’ on June 1 – it remains to be seen if we see her again up and fit on our last day here, June 2nd.  Ah, to be young again.

We are only here for one night on this stay but are returning on May 30 for 4 nights prior to our cruise.  We begin a 4-night tour of the West coast of Ireland tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we are in Portmagee, Ireland.

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Portmagee, Ireland   (Day 3)
Sunday, May 26, 2019

Our day began with an early taxi to Dublin-Heuston Train Station.  At Heuston, there was a problem (you all saw that coming I trust); with zero problems encountered upon an early check out from Clontarf, the arranged taxi 15 mins early, and no traffic (Sunday), we got to the train station at 6.40 – for an 8.30 departure.  Holly incorrectly felt it was too early to have arrived, and gave me that look.  I’d ALWAYS prefer to be settle in any port of departure and content to wait, rather than ‘save time’ and risk a single transportation issue.

Our train ride was very nice.  Along the way over our 3.5 hour journey, if it was a tree or open field, it was green.  Everywhere it was green.  

We were joined at our table and the adjacent one for a few stops (Thurles to Mallow) by four girls who were heading to University of Cork for their final exams (Applied Plant Biology) this week. One in their group (not pictured) had repeated issues with her credit card at the ticket station (she said, believably) prior to boarding in Thurles, and hid in the loo when the conductor was near. She made it without being carded.

We arrived at Farranfore Station 10 minutes early at 11.55, then walked 1.7km to the Kerry Airport to pick up our rental car for the next 4 days.  This is the first time we’ve rental a car outside of the U.S., and as such, I ensure I got an automatic.  These people are funny – driving on the wrong side of the road.

The drive was a little over cautious at first, but after 20 mins or so, I felt a bit more comfortable with the vehicle.  The major weirdness wasn’t that my muscle-memory several times reached for controls that weren’t where they were ‘supposed to be’, but the sensation – a very odd feeling – of not knowing where the passenger side of the vehicle was in relation to the edge of the road.  We had several incidents where we had to get over as far as we could – on penalty most likely of severe injury – when faced with oncoming traffic on VERY narrow ‘two way’ (yea, right), roads, with a single-lane in each direction.

Those roads, known locally as ’N’, are one grade under ‘M’ roads, the latter being motorways synonymous with U.S. freeways, but the former were more like wide alleyways rather than what in the U.S. could pass as a highway.  Then, came about 10 miles of ‘R’ roads.  They are the class of roads less than ’N’, and feel as wide as a hallway in your home.

We arrived in Portmagee at about 15.00, and were warmly greeted by Karen, a manager at The Moorings Hotel, and with whom I’d been communicating since booking this reservation in July 2018.  Karen explained how the adjacent Moorings Restaurant and Bar operated (they share a kitchen), then before showing us to our room, gave us an update on the status of our excursion scheduled for tomorrow.

The excursion, to be discussed in detail tomorrow, has been on booking since August 2018 with Karen and The Moorings Hotel.  It involves a trip to Skellig Michael, an island 7mi offshore and site of filming for Star Wars Episodes 7 & 8.  The Moorings housed and fed much of the crew during filming, and even had a pouring contest for whom could pour from a tap the best, like Mark Hamill did when working behind the bar (yep, he served the locals).  Landing ashore is dependent on Atlantic currents, and won’t be known until tomorrow at about 8.00, 90 minutes before departure.  Enough on this until tomorrow.

We went to the bar for a late lunch, and a few beers, then walked the harbour a little before coming back to the room to chill (that’s coy for nap).  We went back out about 20.00 for dinner again in the bar, and upon recommendation of one of the barmen, tried a local whiskey.  Portmagee Whiskey is aged here, but brewed elsewhere due to infrastructure not being ready locally for mass production.  It is REALLY smooth.  

The Bar food we had today was equally good, hot, and reasonably priced.  A world apart from American sensibilities, well, most of the time, Portmagee hospitality is refreshingly polite and unpretentious.  They are alive here.  Again, another nod to the Irish spirit.

Tomorrow, we are in Portmagee, Ireland.

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Limerick, Ireland   (Day 4)
Monday, May 27, 2019

So, a funny thing happened on the way to Skellig Michael…. we didn’t go.

At breakfast this morning (excellent by the way), Karen came over to tell us that no boats were going out due to swells in the Atlantic.  The Lady Claire (our boat) was able to take the day off.  It had no effect on my mood for the day – I was fine…. wait, that’s 180 deg off.  It was a bit of shite news to hear, though for nautical safety – understandable.

Lesson learned.  I tried to do too much with a finite bit of time pre-cruise.  What I may have done *differently is plan to stay 3 days straight, with the reasonable odds of getting to go once.  Sure, the town is very small, and the Moorings Pub & Restaurant are the center of things after the boats come back, or anything after 4pm in Portmagee – but spending that amount of time in or near a small fishing village may be necessary to ensure a landing trip to the island.  With the right mindset, making contingency day trips out of the area would be a good way to mitigate a no-underway day.  *So, we are already tossing around ideas to return by the end of Summer 2020, before the passion for the visit wears off.  What to do on this side of The Pond after a Portmagee return remains unknown – it’s a long way to go just for Puffins.

The staff at the Moorings Bar and especially hotel manager Karen are outstanding, and are a complimentary reason – along with the prospect of climbing Skellig Michael – to return here very soon.

Rather than walk around the harbour area and kill 23 hours until tomorrow, we decided to leave right after breakfast, and make use of the time we didn’t expect to have.  With Limerick already part of our original discussions but sidelined in favor of a Wild Atlantic Way drive, we headed about 2 hours North to enjoy the city and just as importantly – reduce our drive tomorrow by already being over 100 miles closer to our next destination.

The highlight of our day was now centered on King John’s Castle, bordered on one side by the Shannon River.  King John (associated with being the bad guy of Robin Hood fame) ordered the castle be built while on a trip to Ireland.  The castle is fairly small, but has great ‘cut outs’ underground, similar to Underground Seattle, where cross sections of the original older foundations can be seen.  

We walked around the Shannon River for a while, much of the surrounding banks of which are kept very clean (failure to pick up after you dog…. up to a €4,000 fine assessed). Following the recommendation of our hotel’s manager, we went to The Curragower Bar for dinner.  Why did I have Spicy Chicken & Waffles?  Because I never expected to find that dish in Western Ireland, and had to try it.  It was excellent, as was the Beamish Stout (smooth like Guinness, but with a bit of a bitter finish).

Tomorrow, we are in Sligo, Ireland, via the Wild Atlantic Way (and Cliffs of Insanity).

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Sligo, Ireland   (Day 5)
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

We left this morning about 8.30 for our next segment – The Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs make up part of the attractions along the Wild Atlantic Way, and getting there via car (about 80 km NW of Limerick) was a very nice drive.

We spent a little while walking the Cliffs before driving 5 mi North to Doolin Pier for another view of the Cliffs – from the Sea.  Our boat ride was about 60 minutes (20 to/there/return) and provided a fantastic view.  The erosion, the Puffins (hundreds of them) – all made for a great addition to just walking the Clifftop.  We met two San Diego State students studying the Cliffs for a class (what a rough gig to have, and a small world after all).

Afterwards, we drove North (215 km)  for our home for the next two nights, The Glasshouse in Sligo.  It’s a very different sort of hotel in design, and perhaps trying a bit too much to be different.  Honestly, the orange sheers took some getting used to. 

Still, the location is a perfect base to walk to dinner, which tonight included a live band, as well as our tour tomorrow about 100km miles North.

We had dinner at The Swagman, just a few blocks away. Dinner was very good, as were all four pints of stout.  Performing at the Swagman most Tuesdays for the last 5 years are The Craic Addicts (we knew about this for a few months, and the band didn’t disappoint), sort of an Irish Folk/Rock band that really jams.  They really are good craic.  It was an awesome show.

Several band members came over to sit with us and chat before and after sets, including Fionnuala (Vocalist/Mandolin/Banjo; pronounced ‘fin nu la’, Jamie (Bass), and leader Peter, who sat with us most of the 2nd hour (Peter had a conflicting gig, so before he arrived, a guest performer was on the drums).  Peter, who joined the band for several songs, remarked how it was strange to see the band perform from the audience.  We chatted with Fionnuala and Peter after they finished playing (we made it to 00.20…. woo hoo, a late night, lol), and talked briefly about their touring plans to Spain and Ibiza next April; the small world mentioned several times in this trip – we may be in the area at the same time, as we’ll be in Spain mid April 2020 as well.  Peter will let us know when the band’s show dates are finalized; and Fionnuala laughed that they now had stalkers (I prefer ‘groupies’ 😛).

Tomorrow, we are in Ardara, Ireland

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Ardara, Ireland   (Day 6)
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

After the wonderfully full day yesterday, we only had one – yet very worthwhile – side trip on the agenda today.  We drove about 60 miles to the small town of Ardara, for the sole purpose of visiting the Eddie Doherty Handwoven Tweed shop.  We first saw Mr. Doherty on an episode of Samantha Brown’s self-produced show Places to Love.  When we began our tour planning for this trip in early 2018, we knew right away we would build in a stop in Ardara. 

Eddie has been weaving tweed textiles since 1954. He took us to the back room where the magic happens.  His loom looks more like a jury-rigged contraption made of wood with a web of ropes, knotted in various places for adjustments.  But, once Eddie sat on his perch and gave a handle a little tug, it came to life. The shuttle shot back and forth in rhythm with the shifting heddles to create the distinctive chevron pattern.  All the while, Eddie explained the process and patiently answered our questions. 

We donated to the local economy by purchasing a few souvenirs from his shop.  We each picked out a throw (so we wouldn’t fight over one) and had them shipped home. Holly picked out some slippers and I found a nice scarf for use on the trip.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the Doherty tradition will live on.  Although his sons and grandchildren do know how to weave, they have moved on to other pursuits. We are so glad we got to meet this Irish treasure and witness the dying art of hand woven tweed first hand.

Upon our return to Sligo, we turned the car in rather than worry about it tomorrow before our train (there are just 70 minutes between the rental opening and the train departure). In total, we drove 760km (470mi) our our self-guided tour of Western Ireland. The balance of the day was spent catching up on the blog, sorting through pictures, and doing backups.

Tomorrow, we are in Dublin.

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Dublin, Ireland  (Day 7)
Thursday, May 30, 2019

We left Sligo this morning at 11.10, and started the journey with another ‘It’s a Small World After All’ moment – There are 5-6 trains a day from this station to Dublin, 3 hours East.  Each of these medium-distance trains carry about 240 persons over 4 coaches.  As such, up to appx. 1,400 people each day max travel in this direction.  

We are 10,000 kilometers from our home, and yet, today, seated across directly from us – just happened to be seated across from two people from the same Canadian town as a Mountie (ret) friend.  A real WTH moment – again, this trip.  We simply await the next little surprise gem, but are very content with that with which we have been surprised so far.  Just wow.

We arrived in Dublin Connolly Station about 14.10, and arrived in our home for the next 4 nights, Clontarf Castle.  This time, I had arranged a Junior Suite for my Princess, and she deserves (but never asks for) much more.  Clontarf is home to a few famous folks, other than Holly (and my humble self) – Bram Stoker was born here in 1847, and George Handel stayed here in 1742.

Dinner was very good.  We ate, as we did Saturday night, in the Knights Bar.  Dinner was simple – just a large charcuterie board and a pint each of beer.  I just LOVE pints of beer. 

Tomorrow, we are in Dublin.

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Dublin, Ireland  (Day 8)
Friday, May 31, 2019

Our day started with a trip to Dublin Castle, which ought to be called Dublin Palace.  Though the exterior of the castle shows its earlier days from the 12th Century, much of the interior was rebuilt in the 18th Century, and feels much more palatial than like a castle.  

Several of the rooms are very interesting, including the dining room, shown as prepared for a banquet on August 2, 1871, when the Prince of Wales (Albert, Queen Victoria’s eldest son, later King Edward VII) visited the Viceroy.  Also, the James Connolly room, where he was taken as an injured prisoner the Easter Rising before being taken to Kilmainham Jail for his execution on May 12, 1916.

Next, we walked around a few markets/arcades before visiting the O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant for lunch, then on to Grafton Street, where we saw a few street performers (bought a CD from the band ‘Stray Melody’) and picked up a new Starbucks ‘You are Here’ mug which just got released today.

With no set plans for dinner, we ended up heading back to our digs (Clontarf Castle) for another few pints and grub.

Tomorrow, we are in Dublin.

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Dublin, Ireland   (Day 9)
Saturday, June 1, 2019

With ever increasing frequency, many European cities are evolving into a curious mix of the old and the new.  Today, we ventured off to visit an often-mentioned site (at least by more than one taxi driver) to see Kilmainham Gaol (Jail).

The jail complex was not the looming structure we had envisioned, but a fairly modest-sized stone building tucked in amongst sleek glass office buildings on a typical city street.  Built in 1796 and in operation until 1924, it is famous for the more recent events of the struggle for Irish Independence.  Many of the leaders of the Easter Uprising were taken to the Gaol to be executed.

On May 3, 1916, Joseph Plunkett was allowed to marry Grace Gilford the day before his execution, which was the only wedding to held on site.  Grace, who died in 1955, went on to create several pen-and-ink cartoon drawings of actors and politicians.  A song about Grace was written in 1985, and has been covered by several artists, most recently by Rod Stewart in 2018. 

Another notable fact was that James Connelly was the only person to be executed that never spent a night in the jail.  He was being treated for a wound he received during the Uprising and was brought by ambulance to face his fate. There were many other sobering stories, and since it was in operation during the great famine, many found it a better alternative than being out on the street starving. 

There was a section of the Gaol that was added on in 1861 that was actually quite striking.  It is a large oval multi-level building that had individual cells lining the central area and large sky light above, which gave it an atrium look and not the dark, dank and depressing feel one might expect of the era. 

After the Gaol closed in 1924, it feel into disrepair until an organization was formed in 1960 and a team of 60 volunteers (including many who were former prisoners of Kilmainham) refurbished the site.  It reopened as a monument and museum in 1971.

Our next stop was the Jameson Distillery, but, as we thought it wise to grab a bite to eat prior to sampling the local libation, we turned to our friend Google Maps and located a nearby pub – The Brazen Head.  Once we arrived, we found out it is the oldest pub in Ireland.  It started as an Inn in 1198 and has been in the current building since 1754.  Frequented by revolutionaries Robert Emmet, Michael Collins and authors Jonathan Swift and James Joyce, this maze of a building is the epitome of an Irish pub. 

After that impromptu immersion into history, we made our way to the Jameson Distillery. While waiting for our touring to begin, we took advantage of our complimentary drink – I went with mine neat, and Holly selected the ginger ale and lime cocktail (how very foo foo); both were very tasty. 

There are several different types of tours to choose from…cocktail making, whiskey blending, cask drawing, etc.  We opted for the standard whiskey experience, which walked through the history and process making whiskey and what makes Jameson different.  We also did a taste comparison between Jameson original, Scotch whiskey (Johnny Walker Black Label) and American whiskey (Jack Daniels No. 7).  I think we found a new favorite… Jameson original, neat – It is dangerously smooth.

Finally, we made our way the to Lansdowne Hotel for the Irish House Party.  It included a three-course dinner dinner that was OK (just ok – the food was rather bland), but the show well than made up for that underwhelming first impression.

After dinner, we were ushered into room with a small stage, where we were thoroughly entertained by two brothers Declan (pipes/flute/sound engineer) and Eugene (guitar/vocals); Aaron (Uilleann pipes), and Roma performing traditional Irish dance. The band talked about some of the indigenous musical instruments of Ireland, Irish culture, language and dance in an informative yet very humorous way – we were laughing, clapping and singing along in no time.  It was great fun. 

“I said no!  No!  A thousand times no!  I’d rather see my own life blood spillin’.   I’ll sing anything, even God save the Queen, but I just won’t sing any Bob Dylan”.
~Chorus of a hilariously rousing song written by Eric Bogle in 2005 (and covered by the Irish House Party band tonight) who would start his sets with this song, due to being asked far too many times (just because he was a folk singer) to sing Dylan songs.

Tomorrow, we are in Dublin.

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Dublin, Ireland   (Day 10)
Sunday, June 2, 2019

This was a light day for us in activity, though not in subject matter.  

We went to the Famine Memorial on the banks of the River Liffey, where several harrowing faces of people are dramatized in aged bronze.  Though we had certainly known about this disaster, we didn’t quite appreciate how it affected the Irish culture before coming here.

The population of Ireland declined by 25% (1/8 died, 1/8 emigrated) during just a 4-year period (1845-1849), largely due to a potato blight – a fungus that spread through the crop.  This fungus caused starvation on a massive scale and drove the country into extreme poverty.

Again, approximately 1/8 of the population (1,000,000 people) died in just this 4-year period.

During this Victorian era, there was not remotely enough assistance from the British government, according to many, whose relatives haven’t forgotten.  Between oppression of largely Catholic Ireland and outright indifference, the country that claimed ‘ownership’ of Ireland – Britain, did not do themselves any favors in winning the people over.  This culturally contributed to the anger that would explode early in the next century.

Due to an overwhelming lack of food, and rife mortality rate, over 1,000,000 people emigrated to other countries during and shortly after this period.

The Emigration Museum is far more that documenting people getting on boats to other corners of the globe – it goes into great detail over 20 separate galleries, of what these people brought to their new homes, including Belief, Sports, Discovering & Inventing, Music and Storytelling.

We returned to the castle just before 13.00 and set about packing, writing and film/media processing/backups.

Tomorrow, we board Celebrity Reflection.

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All Aboard  (Day 11)
Monday, June 3, 2019

We arrived at the pier at about 9.45, and discovered how the Port of Dublin do things a bit differently.  We had to go through security and the check-in process at a dedicated building about 1/2 mile from our ship. We ran into the Matre’d of the Lawn Club Grill, and made arrangements for a large group of Cruise Critic folks to meet there for dinner later this sailing.

Once we were allowed to board, we got on shuttles for a very short ride to the brow and were aboard quickly.

We had intended to have lunch at the Mast Grill (Burgers/Fries) above the Pool Deck, but it was closed due to expected inclement weather (it never got bad, just a bit chilly and windy). So, we tried to go to a more sheltered area, aft of the Oceanview Cafe, but 90% of our group felt it too cold there, too (it was chilly, I will say), so we went inside the Cafe where it was fine.

We went to our cabin to unpack, then met our group eventually at the World Class Bar for a few beverages before heading to dinner in Blu (it was very good).

We aren’t scheduled to depart until 22.00, so we just went back to the cabin to chill and watch the traffic in the harbour.  P & O’s MS Norbay, a car, passenger and freight ferry, departed about an hour before we did on her Dublin-Liverpool route.

Tomorrow, we are in Belfast.

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Belfast, Northern Ireland  (Day 12)
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

It was a dark and dreary night….  Well, it’s Belfast, it was a dark and dreary morning, afternoon, and for good measure – all bloody (term for you, Paul) day.  A fair amount of light attempted to penetrate the clouds, but it was still dreary.  The approach to Belfast was nice, but just about 10 minutes before we were docked (at 10.30 ish), it just began to rain.

Prior to our arrival, we had our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet – a (well, as it is called a Meet & Greet, after all, that ought to be self-explanatory 😉) , where we met in person many of the people with whom we’d been corresponding. 

ANOTHER ‘It’s a Small Freaking World After All’ moment (Dude, wth?).  One of the people with whom we’ve been corresponding, Claude (on this trip with his far better half, Carolyn) was at trivia today.  While we met Claude & Carolyn in Dublin at the Irish House Party, we did not know until today that Claude met THE SAME FRIEND (Bob from Chilliwack, B.C.) in Nov 2009 on a cruise that the couple on the Sligo train know.  Seriously, Bob knows nearly everyone.  Further, we have it on good authority that Jude, Bob’s late wife, really knew everyone, everywhere.

After mooring, we went to the Titanic Museum and adjacent S.S. Nomadic.  The latter was used initially to ferry passengers to and from Titanic, and during WWII, in the evacuation of Allied forces from France.  She is a neat little boat, and is maintained in very good shape.

The Titanic Museum was fairly large, and exceptionally well-laid out.  Lots and lots of linear detail about history/timelines, etc.  What was not done well we crowd maintenance.  It was flipping packed with people, and before you ‘go there’, we went straight from disembarkation this morning to the museum.  Revenue-generating is quite understandable, but jeez, folks – build in better controls.

Many of the displays brought back memories of research Holly & I had done in the early 1990s, well before that decade’s Hollywood fluff film by Cameron aired.  We really enjoyed Bob Ballard’s documentary of her discovery, and within a few years, were researching the people who featured so prominently in her story.  Today was a good refresher.

Before dinner, we pregamed at the World Class Bar, then after dinner – at the Molecular Bar, where I had always planned upon our first visit to honor a passed friend with a toast.  Carol, you are missed.

Tomorrow, we are at sea.

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At Sea  (Day 13)
Wednesday, June 5, 2019

We set our clocks an hour back last night, enroute to Reykjavík, and as a result – our breakfast venue Blu (inexplicably, it did not open until 8 AM today) was rather crowded.  

It seems that people who usually get up at a normal hour of 7.00-7.30 for breakfast were combined with people going there that do not ordinarily show up early. Still, fortune was in our favor a little bit, and we were able to snag a round table of eight so we could socialize a little more, rather than rectangular tables of 2×2 aligned.

Since Cafe al Bacio opened at 6.30, Holly and I went there first, then on to Blu.

Either side of Blu this morning, I took my 360 camera out for a spin to take a little bit of film and pictures.  Afterwards, I went to the Salon for a haircut, and then went to trivia.  We played lost by one, again.  Oh well, we have another week or so to rack up winnings and get another towel.  After trivia, I went to the cabin to edit pictures.

While killing time waiting to go to Sushi on Five, I went to play bean bag toss.  I got a 2nd-place participation ribbon🥈today 😏, by playing against the Officers in what is often colloquially referred to as “corn hole”.  The officers beat our team by five games to three, but truthfully, instead of ribbons, we did in fact receive prize tickets.  Our team in October on Celebrity Summit accumulated 64.  Well, one down and 63 to go….

Tonight was Evening Chic, and a welcome chance to dress up a bit.  I don’t mind a proper tuxedo, but as Celebrity Cruises in late 2015 shelved formal nights for Evening Chic (ask my friend Paul, and he’ll call it Shabby Chic), it meant the barn doors were opened a wee bit wider to interpret what appropriate attire is.  For me, on this itinerary – just suit slacks and a nice dress shirt.  Holly looked amazing as always, not that she was noticeable for long….

Dinner in Blu tonight, and in general, the food on our sailing – has been very good so far.  Crew and service – outstanding overall.  However, tonight, Holly & Pam both left dinner quite early on due to motion sickness.  Our Waiter Richard suggested green apples and/or ginger ale to compensate.  Within about 7-8 minutes of this suggestion, Blu Matre’d Umesh stopped by and discovered we had lost two of our tablemates.  He put his phone to his ear right after dialing – someone – and while waiting for an answer, asked myself & Dave what cabins we were in.  This confused me a bit, but what Umesh said he was doing was to direct someone at the other end of the phone to deliver green apples right away to both cabins.  He was ALL OVER the situation.  However, I very quickly said thank you, but had him deliver the apples to me, where I would later take them to Holly (I explained to Umesh that I knew Holly would have the do not disturb sign likely on her door, and it would have been a good idea, however well-intentioned – to knock to delivery a remedy).  Richard finished the night by carving, somewhat appropriately on the subject of apples the previous 20 minutes – a Swan from two apples.

Tomorrow, we are in Reykjavík.

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Reykjavík, Iceland  (Day 14)
Thursday, June 6, 2019

We began a very long day by our usual patronage to Cafe al Bacio and Blu, then a few hours later – trivia.

An hour later, with the coastline of Iceland coming into view, we had lunch on our channel approach of Reykjavik harbor, then waited back in Cafe al Bacio for the ship to clear Customs and allow us to go ashore.  We did so at about 13.45.

We began our tour of the Golden Circle – a very popular route in Iceland.  We went to Thingvellir National Park, Efstidalur and Gullfoss as main attractions of our day.  It was a very long day out, and one where tiredness and impatience some of our group began to show.  Hopefully, our long touring day scheduled for 2 days from now will be better.

Thingvellir is a very large area, with rocky outcroppings and fissures between North American and European tectonic plates.  Efstidalur is a working farm with the best freaking ice cream ever (cows on site provide very fresh ingredients). Gullfoss is an amazing site with a cascading waterfall dunking into a tall valley. Each of these gave us a personal insight into the culture (especially Efstidalur) of this amazing country, as well as stunning topography. The Blue Lagoon was pretty, though perhaps a bit of an overcrowded tourist area.

The extremes of being so far North (or South) are apparent as we are just 3 weeks prior to the Summer Solstice.  We returned to the ship at dusk.. at 23.40.  Sunrise today was 03.10; Sunset was 23.45.

Tomorrow, we are in Reykjavík.

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Reykjavík, Iceland  (Day 15)
Friday, June 7, 2019

I SWEAR TO GOD.… it has happened again.  Folks, I can’t make this stuff up.  A-N-O-T-H-E-R ‘It’s a Small Freaking World’ moment today.

Yesterday afternoon, while on our tour, I posted a selfie of Holly & I from Gullfoss.  While driving around, our friend, Walter Nisi, saw my social media post, and brought to my attention how close he was to us.  I had not seen his post from that morning, but he was in the North part of the country.  Hmmm, I thought….Walter much be on vacation, but this doesn’t count as a ‘small world’ moment – too far away.  We continued our tour, and when we got up this morning, I had a reply from Walter.  He wasn’t on Holiday, but working – on Viking Sky, a cruise ship, also on an Iceland itinerary.

In a conversation later in the day, Walter said he had been keeping his social media posts to a minimum until he made the decision to return to cruising.  You see, for 9 years, Walter was the Head Barman on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, where we met him in March 2014.  Just a few years later, Walter left the company for Viking Ocean, and after one contract, returned home to start a business.  What I didn’t know until this morning, was that he has made the decision, less than 2 weeks ago –  to return to the cruise industry.

Walter was fielding offers from several cruise lines, when Viking called him to fill an emergency vacancy as Bar Manager with just two weeks’ notice.  Bear in mind that he had left the company 2 years earlier, so that tells you how in-demand he is – they contacted him.  Walter jumped on a plane and flew in to meet his ship in the Faroe Islands less than a week ago.  That decision, while considering other lines’ offers for a July report-aboard (he has made a decision there), put him on a course to be here in Reykjavík today at the same time we were.  Given the streak of surprises in the area of great fortune, I swear Holly & I are going to the Casino tonight; just try to keep us away.

Before Holly & I disembarked Reflection this morning, we arranged to meet Walter at the security checkpoint of his ship, then arranged a time to meet again on the way back after walking around the city.

Holly & I then made our way into the city by taxi, for nearly the same price (+ $2.00) that the city was offering for shuttle service.  Easy decision.

In spite of a very long day yesterday, we got up at 6.45 to get ready for breakfast in Blu so we could be off the ship by 8.15.  That decision paid off, as we were at the Hallgrimskirkja Church before it opened at 9.00.  This place is amazing, more in architecture than hue.  The color is almost bland, and at the same time – striking.  The organ sound, all 5,200 pipes worth – is amazing as well.  The organist was rehearsing several pieces, so we got to hear plenty of music before the church began to get overrun with those people…. you know them – tourists.

We next walked down to the Sun Voyager, a piece of modern art at the waterfront, then made our way to a hot dog stand that had been mentioned the previous day by our tour guide.  We usually plan things, and had intended to go to an Icelandic restaurant for Fermented Shark (yep), but since they didn’t open until, 11.30, I nixed that idea pretty quickly in order to maximize time with Walter.

So, the hot dog place…. I’ll tell you why….Baejarins Beztu Pylsurr, founded in 1937, has really good (read – very good) hot dogs.  ‘Everything’ means ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crisp fried onion and raw onion.  President Clinton visited here in 2004.

After acquiring a souvenir magnet, it was time to make our way back to meet Walter at 11.15.  We had intended to meet Walter at his post back at the Security checkpoint, which in fact we did.  What we did not count on was Walter informing us he had obtained permission from the Staff Captain to bring us aboard for a tour and lunch.  We struggled with the decision to accept this surprise offer – struggled for .064 seconds.

It was such a treat to get an escorted tour of the Viking Sky. 

Most of the passengers were ashore so we really got the full effect of what the ship looks like. It definitely has a Scandinavian vibe with clean simple decor and furnishings with touches of Nordic patterns and symbolism found within a tranquil color palette. Most of the dining areas (main dining room or buffet) are in shades of white, beige and taupe with accents of sky blue water glasses and bread plates. All the common areas are very inviting, like the seating clusters in “the living room” which has the look and feel of being in…well…someone’s living room. The Wintergarden room always impressed us in the online pictures and it didn’t disappoint in person. The sunlight filtering in what look like tree limbs overhead makes it the perfect place for a good book or to partake in the daily afternoon tea. I know where I’ll find Holly. 

Walter was incredibly kind.  It was a minor freak out just to see him again (given all the other surprises this vacation), but to be personally escorted around the ship was amazing.  We were there from 2 hours (11.15-13.15).   At the end of our tour,  he asked us where we’d like to eat.  I have to say, if that, like a Navy man who wants to know the chef far more than the Captain, when one has a crew member friend on a ship, you just can’t go wrong when that awesome friend is in fact head of all bars.  

Holly chose the Pasta Bar being freshly made around the Pool. Holly had the pasta with crab and a light Alfredo sauce, and I opted for the pasta and pesto swirled in a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese – it was heavenly.  The only knock we came across was that the solarium was rather hot. Due to the windy conditions they may not have been able to open the roof.  

All in all, we are even more excited about our upcoming trip on Viking next spring.  Walter won’t be there (he is beginning a contract with Star Princess in July), but that just makes today so much more special.  Walter took time out of a very temporary assignment to hang out with us.  You just don’t find selfless people like that too often.

Tomorrow, we are in Akureyri, Iceland.

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Akureyri, Iceland  (Day 16)
Saturday, June 8, 2019

Bluenose Sailors we are!  Enroute to Akureyri quite early this morning, the Captain took the ship into the Arctic Circle at 00.40.  Having been through a proper Navy crossing-the-line ceremony (uh, a bit more lively) many years ago, this was great to do as well.

Vulcan 🖖🏼.  Today, we have seen it.  SciFi aside, there is just no better way to adequately describe the topography we’ve seen during most of today.

We began our tour just before 10.30, and set out for our first stop – Godafoss.  It is a beautiful area, like Gullfoss yesterday, though much rockier.  Thew walk down to the valley floor as a bit tricky due to a very narrow path and a questionable rope by which to think oneself supported.  Still, the view from there was great.  It remains to be seen in post if the 360 film came out of that climb down in that area.

Next, we drove to the Myvatn area, where the rocky topography really became prominent.  Area sights included Skútustaõagígar (a crater area bordering a lake), and a fissure separating Europe & North American tectonic plates.  The highlight of our remaining tour was Dettifoss, a fairly large falls, accessed by a 600m walk along a winding path through a surreal rocky landscape. Unfortunately, this area was very cloudy and misty (tremendous overspray from the falls), which made clear photographs a challenge.

We returned to Reflection about 19.30, and after a quick cleanup, went to Blu for dinner (we had not planned to be back in time for Blu, but since the group cut out a few less desirable sights, we returned to Reflection an hour earlier than planned).  It was a very welcome thing to do – sit down with our group and especially – to interact with our awesome Richard, Umesh, Paul and Sumanta staff again. 

Tomorrow, we are in Akureyri, Iceland.

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Akureyri, Iceland  (Day 17)
Sunday, June 9, 2019

After a very nice breakfast in Blu, we set out to walk the harbor then tour a bit of downtown. The harbor was very crisp (that’s a tad bit warmer than cold, but not by much), and was a very pretty area, especially with great perspective of Celebrity Reflection, especially from Sigling (‘Sailing’) – a 1986 waterfront sculpture.

Our brief exploration of downtown took us by a few interesting streets, including one with a very colorful blue building, and another, albeit a bit touristy -complete with trolls Leppalúði and Grýla, who, according to legend, kidnap children and eat them.  What a wonderful bedtime story for kids 😯

We had lunch at ‘The Porch’ onboard Reflection.  Most found it cold 🥶, and were partially covered in blankets.  A few real Sailors did not use the blankets, having acclimated to the weather from our recent experience as proper Arctic Sailors.  Lunch was very good, as were the 6 glasses of Tapiz Malbec I had.  I am largely detoxing tomorrow, more or less.

The abundance of wine most likely contributed to the next indecent.  After lunch with the gang, Holly & I went next door to the Lawn Club, where I put my 360 camera on a tripod, set the timer, and ran for the big chair opposite Holly who was already seated.  Smack!  With the timer running (10 seconds), I lept into the chair and turned so suddenly to be ready for photo the that I smacked my head rather hard against the wood of the back of the chair as I slid backwards.  Alcohol and running – not my best idea of this cruise.

3 of us (Holly, myself and Analee) met for Afternoon Trivia, where during the first match (Broadway tunes), we came in second (2 off of the winners), thanks to Analee who got 7 of 9 on her own.  The next game – General Knowledge Trivia – we tied with two other teams for the win and claimed our much sought-after prize – 6 winners’ tickets.  We now have 7.  Woo hoo.

Tomorrow, we are at sea.

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At Sea  (Day 18)
Monday, June 10, 2019

Following our normal am time at Blu and Cafe al Bacio, Holly went to trivia while I went to see Staff Captain Christos’ ’Secrets of Ship Navigation’ lecture.  It was very good (I always like the Navigation talks), and included putting Celebrity Reflection’s female Second Officer on the spot to answer a question about the ship’s performance capability.  The Second Officer’s gender is relevant – only in that this cruise line, thanks to its CEO – makes tangible decisions toward building inclusivity and equal opportunity.    

Holly & I finally got to play our first game of Bocce Ball.  It wasn’t windy, though that didn’t overtly raise Holly’s enthusiasm for being outside.  On a Solstice Class ship, as several readers will be aware, there is no shuffleboard.  There is, rather – a real grass lawn on which one can play games, including Bocce Ball.  

Before we came on this trip, I watched a few YouTube videos on how to play properly.  For all these years (May 2011 was our first Solstice Class cruise), we played by our own rules, adapted from how one plays Shuffleboard.  Today, we simply alternated throws of 4 each until 11 points were reached (11, 15, 21 is standard scoring in official Bocce Ball), and played a best-of-3 tournament.  A few of the balls were so close to each other that grabbed a nearby drinks menu as an impromptu measuring device.  It was a fun day today, with Holly winning game 1, then I taking the last 2.  Winner winner, steak dinner.

Dinner tonight was at the Lawn Club Grill with 47 of our closes….well, with 24 people – from Cruise Critic.  There has been no shortage of drama with this particular board (of 49 who said they’d come, and a few cancellations, 24 showed, conservatively leaving 21 who just didn’t show), but, the food was very good.

We closed the night with a trip back to the World Class Bar, then donated $40 to the Casino at $.25 Video Poker.  

Tomorrow, we are at sea.

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At Sea  (Day 19)
Tuesday, June 11, 2019

We won at trivia this morning (Movie Famous Kisses).  It was a real team effort….

Participated in a paper airplane contest today (yes, it’s a slow news day).  On initial throws, there were 12 contestants against 12 officers.  My throw was the 2nd farthest, but disqualified as it went into the elevator shaft.  Hey….the Celebrity Life Activity guy didn’t say that was out of bounds until it landed in there.

I went to the Persian Garden today (I love the heated tile chairs), and just put on Yanni for about 40 minutes to just chill.   

Most of our usual team regrouped for afternoon trivia – no wins over two games.  We will play again tomorrow, most likely, but will sacrifice that if necessary to pack early and get it out of the way for Thursday afternoon, preferring to keep our last night aboard as free as possible.

Dinner was good, as were pre and post-dinner visits to our normal watering hole this trip – the World Class Bar.  Oleksii is amazing.

Holly & I finished off our evening with our last visit to the Casino.  We gave $120 over 3 nights, and took back $11.25.  Eh, it was fun, regardless with Holly next to me.

Tomorrow, we are in Cork, Ireland.

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Cork, Ireland  (Day 20)
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Today was an enjoyable one.  We arrived in Cork (9.00) about an hour early, and set out for the city at 9.15.  Our planned day was just to go to a market and return, but it turned into 2 others stops – rounding the short day out with 2 really neat additions.

Our first stop was the English Market (in operation since 1862), a collection of vendors with varied goods either side of fairly narrow passageways – under essential one roof.  The market can be accessed through at least two entrances – one off of a typical city street, and another also from a main street but through a very narrow, art-adorned alley.  

On the suggestion of our taxi driver into the city, we went to check out Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral after the market.  Saint Fin Barre is regarded as the first Bishop of Cork.  The cathedral that bears his name began as a monastery in the 7th Century.  There was awesome stained glass everywhere, as well as several dedications to Veterans, mostly from WWI.

Our final stop was a bar by which we had walked from the market to the cathedral.  Forde’s Bar has been in operation since the 1830s – as well as owned by the same family ever since.  Family descendants who operate the bar still live in the upper floor apartment atop it.  When we went in just before 11.30, the barman asked what we wanted.  Beamish, we replied. The barman asked me if we wanted to come behind the bar and learn how to pour properly.  Um… heck yes!  He was great.  The day was great fun. (Note to the uninitiated – Guinness is mostly for the central and Northern parts of the island, while the slightly more bitter Beamish is preferred in the South)

Returning to the ship about 13.30, we each had a yummy cheeseburger, after which, Holly & I returned to the cabin to pack and blog (in order to get ahead for tomorrow), then get ready for afternoon trivia.

Trivia was a bit of a hot mess.  In the afternoon, there are generally two games back to back – one music and one general knowledge. Today’s music was 50s and 60s.  Vin was the activity guy was running the game.  Everything started off fine until we came to #7, where he played a Jimmy Buffett song from the 70s….huh?  I called him out on it, so he tried to fix it by playing a different song for #7, which was an 80s Beach Boys song….wth? 

So, several people suggested to just call it music trivia so we could move on.  All was fine until we were almost done, when Vin realized he was randomly selecting songs from different folders on his computer and had no idea which he had planned 😳

We started all over again.  Some people, as usual, took it a little too seriously and walked out. However, most where getting a good laugh out of it.  General knowledge went much smoother.  Even though we didn’t win either game, it was certainly one of the more interesting rounds of trivia we’ve played.

After dinner, Cassie showed some of the group how to play Uno Flip.  In kind, Holly showed Cassie how to shuffle cards like a Las Vegas gambler.

Tomorrow, we are in Dublin.

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