Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Highlands and Iceland plus Places Between: 20 May-19 June 2015

Highlands 2015-Overlooking Reykjavik.jpg
Highlands 2015-Zodiac embarking.jpg

My interest began when I read of The Travel Insider's Highland  tour several years ago.  My grandmother was a Kerr, low lands Scot,  and my grandfather was a Canadian Scot, one of those whose family fled  the homeland after Culloden, probably  part of  a  Highland clan that had to disguise itself and thus, became a Brown. (Per our Scots driver on the tour,   originally,  a McKenzie.)

Anyway, I was fascinated by the opportunity to travel in the Highlands and onto the Islands, parts of the country I had missed on previous trips.  Along the way, I was co-opted onto an earlier  cruise on MS Sea Spirit, with stops at the Orkneys, Shetlands, Faroes and various Icelandic coastal areas.

So it was twelve days aboard with a four day intermission in Reykjavik and Glasgow, then a two day pre-tour before the twelve day bus tour.  A month, all told.  The second time I've been gone from home that long - the other was a Silk Road tour into India, Pakistan, China and several of the 'Stans. 

For me, the Proseiden expedition  - rightly described as a "soft" adventure cruise - started in Edinburgh though most had boarded several days earlier in Hamburg.  There were half a dozen shore excursions, starting with one to Edinburgh Castle and moving onto the Scottish and Danish islands before  stops at various settlements along the Icelandic coast.  Ancient structures, glorious scenery, interesting wildlife plus sheep - lots of sheep.  Some places were very isolated, maybe two families  there year-round, with others arriving for the summer season -  holiday visitors and service providers.  The final excursion was a tour of Reykjavik and environs.

Additionally, there were Zodiac landings at some spots where docking was not possible.  Bundled up in red Poseidon-issued  water resistant coats and knee high rubberized boots, participants sloshed ashore, usually, returning to the ship damper than when they left.    I did several of the Zodiac landings - though had problems walking with the  awkward fitting boots. 

There were maybe, ninety passengers -  about a third German speaking, so presentations were bi lingual.  Programming was not as extensive as on my previous Quark expedition in the Antarctic though  several of the expedition staff had worked with Quark.  The ship was just short of luxurious - my shared "cabin" was double? triple?  the size of any on the several  earlier cruises I had experienced.  The food was outstanding and the service excellent. 

Fourteen of us had booked through The Travel Insider (David Rowell0 - turned out he bailed on this trip with crew having no knowledge of him.  As it turned out, it was okay,  for I found friends in others both in and outside his particular group.  And again, was fortunate in my roommate - a really interesting Houston resident who had also traveled on the Siberian Railroad. She helped me manage  my newly purchased I pad, despite the shop's unoperative wi fi.    Oh yes, I continue to  surrender to the electronic age.

Cost for the cruise:  $4545 plus $650 optional tours.  Gratuities:  $200. 

The intermission was two nights in Reykjavik (4th Street Hotel:  $195), Icelandic Air to Glasgow ($293). two nights in Glasgow  (Alexander Thomson Hotel:  $175) and two pre tour nights:  New Lanark Mill Hotel @ $213 and Culcreuck Castle @$154.

In both Reykjavik and Glasgow, I walked about the city, browsing about shops and streets and churches.  Reykjavik has the most impressive concert and conference hall - unfortunately, couldn't connect with any performances.  Architecture is varied, using stucco, wood and corrugated metal. Great use of color.  Glasgow buildings combine the Olde English with  modern  glass and metal/concrete - little congruous  I blew $28.50 for an evening of Spamalot - great fun!

The New Lanark Mill Hotel is part of a National World Heritage site which houses a restored  18th Century spinning mill and village.  Culereuch Castle,  once the home of the Barons of Culereuchs, sports both a tower and a ghost - I can confirm the tower for I slept in the tower room but can't confirm the ghost.  Along the way,  stopped at Sterling Castle, which was more "restored" than  I remembered from the past.  But the commanding view of the country side continues to be Impressive!

Now came the piéce de résistance: the Highlands tour.  There were twenty-five of us, plus our Fearless Leader and his ten year old daughter.  Mostly upper middle class, a grey haired bunch - or would be if not dyed/bleached.   The tour included several ferry trips, from ten minutes to  two and  half hours,  several distilleries, varied scenic and historical landmarks.  We got to  Islay, Mull, Skye.  and Harris/Lewis before heading back down to Edinburgh via Inverness and Culloden  - weren't able to spend much time there, damn, for that was high on my bucket list and I certainly would have traded  the distillery stops for  more time to wander about the auld battlefield. Seeing the history made one appreciate the Scots' need for an individual identity apart from the Brits, against whom they fought so long and so hard. as impractical as that may be. 

Fascinating and interesting bits:  Finlaggen, once home of the "Lords of the Isles"; the mini Stonegenge circle at Kilmartin; Iona and Fingal's Cave; the Loch Ness cruise, the mini-train ride between Ft  Williams-Mailaig, the several castles along the way - and the scenery!  Ah, the scenery!  Again, I missed sighting of  the Loch Ness monster though our boat did a good search of the waters. 

Our leader was well organized  and knowledgeable.  But even more so was our driver, a Scotsman and  raconteur par excellence. Others also found him helpful as he kept getting calls from lost and strayed drivers throughout Scotland.  And aboard  were two like minded   companions   who added to my joy of this tour, which cost    $3000 including  bed and breakfast.  Hard to estimate meals for I both paid cash and charged - would guess  under $500 for the trip.  Airfare via Aer Lingus, SFO-Edinburgh; Glasgow-SFO:   $1500.  Cat care: $1200.

All told, somewhat more upscale than usual.  So I'm now  looking at a three week (when one considers date of departure/return SFO) Taklamakan desert  tour that will run $5800 and  includes meals.

1 comment:

Great Journeys said...

Thanks for sharing your travelling experience with us. I had also visited a lots of countries in my whole life and always plan to make it the best experience in my life.Please try to keep a detailed road map in your journey so that you can easily visit all the places out there. I forgot to keep a detailed Argentina Road Map in my last trip and it created lots of problem in reaching my destinations out there.