CRUISE on the ORIANA
We flew from Israel to London where we overnighted. Walking to our favorite restaurant in Chinatown we stopped by a new Chinese restaurant that was packed and decided we should eat out of our comfort zone. Big mistake. We’ll rectify it on our way back!
Next morning we took a cab to
Southampton to board P&O
Oriana. It is a mid-size ship with 1,880 passengers and 760
crew. Our luggage was immediately whipped away to later
re-appear in our
cabin. We arrived earlier than advised, but received
a disc and told to wait until our
was called. A few minutes later we began the smooth and speedy
registering, boarding and receiving all information.
Food is served in The Conservatory throughout the day and until well past midnight. Norovirus: we had never heard of this virus but it seems it is the scourge of sailing causing vomiting and diarrhea. To prevent this we had to wash our hands with Purell an anti-viral and anti-bacterial gel before entering all areas that serve food. If going for a second helping, clean plates and cutlery had to be taken each time. No it didn't prevent us from stuffing ourselves at each sitting!
The cabin was comfortable, much more spacious than expected with a window onto an aft deck. I loved the pampering of a clean room with fresh towels twice a day. The crew was most friendly and helpful; the majority of the food staff is from Indian, Catholics from Goa who speak excellent English. The last sentence causes me to smile. Many years ago while Eitan was directing a bridge tournament in Jesolo in Italy I saw an advert for Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. With great expectation I bought a ticket and arrived at the open air theatre. When the play started I found out that the company was from India and their original language was Urdu. The subtitles in Italian didn't help much!
Each day we were instructed on how to dress for dinner – casual on shore days and black tie when at sea.
There are four large dining areas and we chose to have dinner at a second seating at 8.30pm. When we sat downfor our first dinner the other four people at the table didn’t greet us. Finding the diners most unfriendly we asked to change tables. The second table diners were much more friendly people but they disappeared after two nights to earlier and flexible dining. We could have changed tables not to be alone but we liked our waiter Maures too much and found it quite a relief not to have to make conversation the whole time. We see that it would be nice to make the voyage with friends.
There are many bars, a library and a casino. There are also a variety of live shows, dancing, lectures, gym, Pilates, yoga, a beauty shop, cinema and shops. Theoretically one can board a ship and not spend another penny as all food and entertainment is provided. When the boat docks, shuttles are provided into town and one can go ashore and wander around the towns where we stop. The ship, however, does its best to squeeze as much money as possible from passengers, in the nicest way. Besides our designated dining area there are two other restaurants which have a cover charge and they are well worthwhile. There are specials if you buy a wine package, bottled water or a coffee package. The duty free shops are always advertising some special when at sea. The gym is free but Pilates and yoga cost, and of course there is a special on that too. My best special was the daily cocktail. Sitting in the Tiffany lounge under a huge art deco ceiling reminiscent of the Titanic was so civilized and adult.
On our first day at sea I joined a Pilates class. At 2.00pm we played bridge. That evening it was a black tie event with drinks preceding the meal while after dinner we choose to see a movie Hidden Figures. We came to relax but were busy all the time.
Our first stop was at Belfast. We took a taxi to the Titanic Exhibition. Well worth the visit. It began with a fascinating overview of the wealth of Belfast in the early 20th century, based on hemp, Harris Tweed, ropes, whisky, machinery and ship building. It was in Belfast where the Titanic, the largest ship built up to then was built. It was designed as a ship that could not sink, but human error and misjudgment overcame that, causing the ship to crash into a huge iceberg at full speed. The tragedy, hugely shaped by the last Titanic movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet grips our imagination even today.Afterwards we took a taxi to the Sunday market. It is a bustling weekend market with shops and handicrafts and lots of food and packed with people. After lunch we walked into town and helped the local economy a little before going back to our boat.
Then off to Callanish, standing stones laid out in a cross with an ancient burial site in the middle. The stones, aligned with the moon and stars, are thought to have helped Neolithic farmers gauge the seasons. They date back 5000 years. We went mainly as a tribute to our two grandsons, Maayan and Itamar who insisted we visit Stonehenge when we took them to London last year.
flimsy and we were told they had to be of concrete with light roofs
the many earthquakes they suffer. Geothermal
vents heat their houses and water system. Cold water is free.
We stopped by a large lake, quite beautiful with its reflection of hills in the still waters where trout have been introduced. Then on to geothermal park Seltun with bubbling mud and sulphurous smells.
Then a long drive to the Viking museum. The Viking landed in Iceland and later proceeded to northern America some 500 years before Columbus discovered it for Europe.
After lunch and a rest we took a shuttle into town. Harpa, the huge theatre and music venue is a striking and unusual building. It is made up of glass hexagonals – excellent lighting for winter when they get only about 4 hours of light a day while the vacuum inside the glass hexagons provides excellent insulation.
walked into town and had coffee but it
started to rain so we returned by shuttle to the ship. I
returned to town to see a stunning sculpture
Sun Voyager and walked back to
the ship passing the house where Gorbachev and Reagan met in 1986
the end of the Cold War. Hmmm with rhetoric between America and N
heating up it may need to be used again. A nice hour-long walk brought
to the ship.
Sailing through the night we arrived at Isafjordur and needed a tender to go ashore.
Our first stop on the tour was at
where we were treated to a glass of sparkling water straight from the
stream. Blueberries are
coming into season and I picked them growing on low bushes by the
were still small, but tasty.
We were concerned how people reacted to a period with no sun. Iceland in winter gets about 4 hours of light a day but the sun never rises above the horizon. Our guide said she takes massive doses of vitamin C and D and has special lamps so that she wakes up to sunlight and goes to sleep with the 'sun' setting. When the sun does rise above the horizon they have a huge pancake festival
Our next stop was at the Maritime Museum in one of Iceland’s oldest houses.
Our excellent guide invited us to taste some of Iceland’s specialty foods – biltong-like dried cod (tasty) and small cubes of fermented shark (an acquired taste if you are an Icelander). The latter was a surprise but it seems that these icy waters are home to the blind, deep water Greenland shark. The sharks used to be caught and gutted, keeping only the liver for oil, but today they ferment the meat and eat it as a traditional food. It still tasted of ammonia. Of interest in the museum were the Cod Wars 1952-1976. The rich fishing grounds around Iceland’s seas were being depleted by countries, particularly Britain, coming to harvest the fish, especially cod. The wars started when Iceland placed a 4-mile fishing limit on foreign ships. Reaction was swift and Britain banned the import of Icelandic fish. Gradually Iceland extended its fishing jurisdiction to 12, 50 and finally 200 nautical miles. British navy and tugboats and even aircraft were brought to enforce British fishing in these rich waters until Iceland devised a wire cutter, severing the trawlers' catches. Eventually an agreement was reached in 1976 whereby British trawlers could fish within the 200-mile limit. Six months later the British trawlers peacefully pulled out of Iceland’s fishing grounds. Today most countries have a 200-mile fishing limit for foreign ships.
by the sea
a recreated fishing station from the 1800's. Many houses in Iceland
growing on their roofs to help insulate the houses. A fisherman was
traditional oilskins – sheep’s skins soaked in fish oil, so slippery
had to have a rope tied around their waists in case they slipped
overboard. They had unusual gloves, no
division for fingers but with two thumbs knitted on either side of the
that when the one side was worn out because of rowing and hauling in
fishing lines they could just turn the glove around and use the other
In the beginning the fish were cleaned and filleted and placed in airy wooden structures where they would dry (stock fish). Later they found that if they salted the fish it would dry quicker. Osvor had a hut for tools, another for sleeping and salting the fish and another for drying.
Cod here is eaten fresh but salted and exported as bacahlau to Spain, Portugal, South America and the Caribbean. The dried heads are exported to Nigeria, but no-one could tell us what they do with them there.
That night the ship had to change course to come around and enter a new fjord, so for 1 ½ hours we were sailing within the Arctic Circle. The sway of the boat was different and all the passengers leaving the night’s entertainment looked as if they were drunk as they tottered along the corridors. It was hard to go to sleep and we thought how lucky we were that up until then the sea was very calm. You know it is rough when paper packets are strategically placed throughout the ship for seasick passangers.
Out final stop in Iceland was at Akureyri.
Jafet Olafsson, a fellow member of the European Bridge Executive met us at the port and showed us around for the day. Although he and Hildur live in Reykjavik they have a summer home in Husavik about 80 kilometres from Akureyri. We figured that he had travelled some 400 kilometres that day showing us around!
The river and falls are not fed by springs but rather by melting snow.
Our next stop was at Namafjall Hverir, a geothermal area similar to what we saw at Stornoway but with numerous fumaroles billowing smoke. The Blue Lagoon is a favorite excursion from Reykjavik but we saw a smaller one and were surprised that the water is really blue and the small waves formed by the windy weather were blue.
Near Jafet’s summer home in Husavik we visited an old farmhouse which obviously belonged to wealthy farmers and was very big, if cold
Jafet and Hildur’s summer home is to us in the middle of nowhere but we were assured that Hildur’s family live in the houses scattered around. A prefabricated wooden house brought from Scandinavia, it is light and airy and beautifully appointed. Since Hildur was in Reykjavik babysitting, Jafet prepared a traditional luncheon which included both known and unknown foods like gravlax, smoked trout, two types of dried fish biltong and Christmas cake from Denmark which is eaten all year round. The unfamiliar foods included smoked lamb, lyfrapylsa sausage from sheep’s blood which he assured us his grandchildren adore, and pressed and jellied logs of sheep’s head. Surprisingly, it was all delicious.
While talking it occurred to me that Jafet actually had Viking blood flowing through his veins. Neat.
lunch he showed
us the fishing lodge that the family owns and took us to the river
catch and release salmon from the banks of the river as it is too deep
swift to stand in it. Jafet then drove us
80 kilometres back to the dock.
Always on the lookout for unusual products, back at the port I bought shark face cream, with shark liver oil. Well sharks have been around for millions of years and I’ve never seen a wrinkled shark so I thought I would try it. There was also a delightful family of fluffy polar bears. The last live polar bear to be seen in the area was in 1960 and unfortunately it was shot. Icebergs don’t reach Iceland any more; the glaciers are receding and snow is now intermittent in winter.
a day at sea we arrived
at Klaksvik, one of the Faroe Islands.The Islands have their own
land, flag, currency, and parliament but belong to Denmark, which
its foreign policy. However, in sports, Faroe has its own national
While Eitan chose to go independently ashore and take pictures, I took a shore excursion to Vestmanna Cliffs. There are 18 Faroe Islands and only one is uninhabited. The population is just over 50,000 people with many more sheep. The wealth of the islands is pelagic fishing for herring and mackerel and very prosperous salmon farming. Because of the sea temperature and currents and I suspect lack of overcrowding there is not a problem with parasites like sea lice as in Norway. To get to the nearby island of Streymoy where we were to catch our boat ride we drove through a 5-kilometre tunnel that goes under the sea! The islands here were also formed out of volcanic or basalt rock but they are much older than those formed in Iceland. The result is that there is much more weathering; the rock has broken down into a rich soil and there are grasses, bushes and some flowers, but no trees.
After a 1 ½ hour drive we boarded the boat, which thankfully had a very nice toilet. It was freezing cold but afraid of being sea sick; I chose to sit up on deck. We reached the cliffs which rise almost vertically from the sea. Wherever there is a slope covered with grass there are sheep grazing. It is surprising to learn that the sheep don’t slip down the steep slope and fall into the water. They remain outside all winter (except those that are rounded up by dogs for slaughter) and can find shelter in special refuges built for them.
we reached the bird cliffs we
had to put on hard hats in case of falling rocks. The 600 meter
high cliffs are very weathered and form beautiful
columns and grottoes covered with bird guano.
small grass covered ledges are the Atlantic Puffins’ nesting grounds.
to identify puffins by the rapid beat of their short wings. This
to swim underwater as well. They looked much smaller than the cute
puffin toys that are sold in souvenir shops.
also saw razorbills,
fulmars and guillemots that come here to breed and feed on the
the sea and liked the way the salmon were jumping in the water. It
was an exhilarating trip and well worth the long drive there
That evening I enjoyed a private Pilate’s class as none of the other people turned up. While enjoying our delicious dinner we watched as waiter after waiter came out of the swinging doors of the kitchen carrying trays laden with dishes. I wanted to see their kitchen and was delighted when told that there was a select tour of the kitchen going to take place and it was possible to join. I registered immediately.
The weather had been cold and even raining most of the day, but just before we left Klaksvik the sun came out and there was a great band playing by the swimming pool with people all around on the various decks. It was coffee (Eitan), cocktail (me) and dance time and was great fun.
following morning we arrived at
Kirkwall in the Orkney Isles, part of Scotland. It is an archipelago
made up of
70 islands; they are formed from sandstone when the land was under the
millions of years ago. Farming, mainly cattle farming of Angus beef is
main source of income. In the morning we caught the shuttle into town
walked around. The most striking difference was that the buildings were
more massive and made from stone and had a dull colour, unlike the
the previous islands we visited where they were brightly painted. You
know that you are in
when you hear this on arriving in town -
There were some fine shops displaying woolen clothes and attractive jewelry and tearooms. We found a tearoom that served scones (delicious) and also had Wi-Fi so we could catch up on family events by downloading pictures sent to us on WhatsApp. From another bakery I bought a date and ginger scone for my tea and it proved to be as delicious as it looked!
returned to the ship for an early
lunch and then disembarked to join our afternoon tour Orkney’s
Wonders. What can I say? The tour fulfilled its promise and we were
by the stories of our most eloquent guide, Chris. Our first stop was at
Ring of Brodgar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It
consisted of a ring of 63 tall standing stones surrounded by a henge
dating back to 2800-2500 BCE. Today only 27 stones remain. The stones
are in four
groupings, each group formed by stones from a different area. Since
no trees it remains a mystery as to how Neolithic man transported these
over water and up to the site. The implements used to cut the trench
out of the
rock were from flint (imported) and antler bones. There are no burials
the ring, but there are burial mounds nearby. In common with the many
stone circles archaeologists are not sure of the significance of the
The way the suns’ rays hit far mountains may signal the solstices.
stones come from different sites it suggests a great deal of
cooperation. It is
thought to be a ritual and religious site. We walked around quite
then went to Skara Brae, 5000
years old, described as Europe’s best preserved Stone Age village. It
had been covered by sand dunes and only during a storm in 1850 was a
uncovered. It is a site made up of two levels – the first with
built at ground level, when people threw their waste outside their
we walked over to
Skaill House, an impressive stone mansion first built over 500 years
ago by the
Bishop of the area. The dining room was set with a beautiful
dinner service that Queen Mary had dined upon when visiting. But more
the simpler and more colorful crockery in the display case. It seems
Captain Cook was murdered in Hawaii in 1779 his crew was not paid for
months. When they arrived at the Orkney Islands the crew sold off the
to recuperate loss of wages.
When we returned to the ship, on the aft deck there was a British festival with Pimm’s No. 1 being served (bought), little British flags and lots of English songs including Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen.The overwhelming majority of passengers were from Britain and the entertainement crew expressed British pride and patriotism, and lots of fun.
another day at sea we docked at Dublin, Republic of Ireland. When
we disembarked I was delighted to see another ship docked opposite us –
Rotterdam. When I was six years old my parents, Louise and I returned
from Europe on a
cruise back to
South Africa on the …Rotterdam. I
thought to see her again.
We made our way to Trinity College to see the exhibition of The Book of Kells. We had never heard of it although it is advertised as the world’s most famous medieval manuscript. It is a 1200 year old book of the Gospels written in Latin on vellum (treated calfskin). The beautiful writing is interspaced with richly decorated and breathtaking illustrations. Earlier books are also on display including a small pocket Gospel. While the large books were placed in a cathedral for display, the pocket Gospels are unique to this period and are portable.
We also visited Trinity’s Library the Long Room. It is a copyright library meaning that all books printed in Ireland are housed there as well as some 200,000 ancient books in a single hall. The two-storied library is stunning It also houses an ancient harp, the Brian Boru harp, believed to have belonged to the King of Ireland. It dates back to about the 14th century and is a model for the coat of arms of Ireland.
we walked through the beautiful grounds an
enormous, a truly enormous tree caught our attention. A friend of Paul
Maureen, who is a tour guide, was passing and explained that it is a
maple tree from Canada.
By this time we needed to refresh ourselves with tea and scones at a fashionable café.
We then made our way to the National Museum of Ireland to see Bog Men. These are Iron Age bodies that have been preserved or rather pickled in bogs. Bogs lack oxygen and are acidic which means the body parts have not decomposed and they are naturally mummified. In addition, the peat stains the skin brown.
bog bodies on display have skin that looks
like leather. It is believed that they were ritually sacrificed to
bodies at the tribal boundaries of the kingdoms. The latest
suggest that these bodies were sacrificed at the start of the reign of
king as a symbol of his authority. Bog bodies have been found in peat
throughout Northern Europe.
interesting displays at the museum were of
Bronze Age gold ornaments and a raft, carved out of an exceptionally
We were delighted to take a picture by the statue of Molly Malone. We both know the 19th century song (which is Dublin's unofficial anthem) about the fishmonger Sweet Molly Malone in Dublin Fair City who wheeled her wheel-barrow, Through streets broad and narrow, Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!". Although she is a fictional character 13 June is proclaimed as Molly Malone Day. In churches I’ve seen bronze statues of saints whose hands or feet shine brightly because of the thousands of people who touch them. Note where Molly shines!
After a delicious lunch we drove to the Malahide Castle, but it was late and although we could walk around the lovely gardens we couldn’t enter the castle itself. Paul and Maureen drove us back to the ship, happy and tired after an exceptional day with good friends.
our last day at sea I signed up for a tour of
the kitchen. We knew that the galley had to be amazingly efficient to
so many meals quickly and prepared to order. If you ordered your meat
how it arrived.
The tour started with champagne and canapes. The huge kitchen is situated between the two main dining rooms with elevators going up to the other dining rooms and restaurants. The numbers are impressive. Every day the kitchen staff prepares 7,000 meals for passengers and crew. All food is taken aboard at Southampton and has to be ordered at least two and a half months in advance. This includes tons (literally) of meat, fish and game and fruit and vegetables. The wine cellar stocks some 60,000 bottles of wine and beer. The numbers are mind numbing.
played our last duplicate bridge tournament,
drank our last tea/coffee, ate our last samosas, enjoyed our last
dinner, watched our
movie, saw our last show and when we arrived in Southampton we bid
the excellent staff and a really enjoyable cruise.