I know we are returning tomorrow, and I have not written at all….. It has been amazing, wonderful and I’m liking it way, way to much. So here’s what I noted so far. Have not gotten to my reflections yet, but at least you will have an idea of what we are doing.
So Adam and I have settled into cruise life. We arrived in Reykjavik Wednesday morning and boarded a Crystal bus to a hotel for breakfast. We met Grace, my Pilates counterpart, who graciously filled me in on my role in the ship. She has a studio in Studio City and sails with Crystal a few times a year.
At breakfast we sat with Ed Larson, and his daughter Sarah. A Pulitzer Prize winning author, Ed will be lecturing on the Arctic later in the week. He is a professor at Pepperdine and lives in Malibu. We had some time, so the 4 of us took a walk through the botanical Gardens. I took pictures and posted them on Facebook, but they probably won’t go through until we get back, or until I turn on my phone. On board the ship, I checked out the fitness center, the space for yoga, then got ready for the evening on shore.
In the AM, I volunteered to plant trees for the Reykjavik Forestry Association. Iceland needs to plant trees to keep the earth from eroding. Most of the plant life is from somewhere else. We planted Lodgepole Pines as well as other species. (Same ones as in Sequoia).
Then we went to Akureyri, the 2nd largest town in Iceland and 60 miles from the Arctic Circle. Beautiful town, built up the the hills from the port. Most of the guests sign up for one of many tours. The weather was gorgeous, bright and sunny. I wwent walking up the residential streets, taking pics of wild flowers.
Days at sea are seriously busy. There are 2 or 3 lectures every day. We have a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, an astronaut/astronomer, an economist, an explorer/documentarian who is producing documentaries about extraordinary middle aged women. Speaking of women, there is not a single female lecturer. Every lecture runs on our televisions for 24 hours before it is replaced with a new one. There are all kinds of classes, gym classes, computer, bridge, and golf classes. One day Adam missed yoga because he was at the needlepoint class!
I just watched a short video created by a guest. Very impressive, another thing to take advantage of next time.
I usually take a ballroom dance class in the afternoon. There are about 6 “ambassadors” on board to dance with the single ladies. If there are too many women in class, I switch and join the guy’s team. It’s probably good for my brain. We go dancing almost every night. Same deal in the evening – the ambassadors dance with the guests first. If the have no female guests, they’ll grab me. My yoga friend, Michael, is a great dance partner and between Michael and the ambassadors, I get to dance a good amount. One of them taught me to tango the other evening.
During our time in Russia, we have had occasional submarine escorts. I think we are sailing between two military bases. Our first stop was to Murmansk, we are above the Arctic Circle, next to Finland. The highlight was our tour guide. She was bold, spoke more freely than the other guides and expressed her resentment with the continuing effects of the Soviet regime. I asked her if there was a Jewish community in Murmansk, and she said there was no synagogue, but she had just attended a Bar Mitzvah.
We drove through the town, stopped at a few monuments (very massive, very Soviet). The housing is dismal, concrete slab modular apartment buildings, no insulation. The buildings are only heated in the winter, despite the fact that is is always cold, just less cold in July and August. It’s about the dreariest place on the planet. We ended up at the Natural History Museum. There were two women on our bus who are of Sami descent (Laplanders). The current special exhibit was on the Sami culture, but was closed the day we were there. The staff kindly let the two woman in for a few minutes. Turns out the deepest drilling into the earth’s core was done in Murmansk. It is twice as deep as any other attempt. The collections of locally mined gems and minerals fills an entire room.
On Solovetsky Island in Onega Bay, we toured the 15th century monastery which is now a fully operating Russian Orthodox Church, attended regularly by the 1000 or so people who live there. We watched the church procession, the women still dress like Russian peasants – long skirts, sweaters, babushka’s on their heads, often pants under their skirts. Massive walls, Russian-style tapered domes, today it’s one of the first UNESCO World Heratige sites in Russia. From the time of Lenin, until the 1960s, it served as a gulag prison – stone cells, no windows, about the worst circumstances imaginable.
The next day, we went on a nature walk on an island next to Solovstsky, and it was very different, almost magical. There are 3 labyrinths, each progressively larger than the one before. No one knows who built them, or why they were put there. The wild flowers everywhere here are spectacular. Maybe, because there are 3 minutes of summer, they all bloom at the same time.
I can sign up to be an escort on the excursions. Crew gets 1st pick, and I did not even know about it so I’ll probably get last choice, but hopefully something. I basically will hold up a sign, count heads and take note of complaints. It’s great way to spend time with guests and experience the excursions.
Today is our first day in Norway. We are docked in Honningsvaag, a small fishing village. Like many towns in Norway, Nazis burned it to the ground when Russian troops were approaching, so nothing is older than 1945. I escorted a group of 39 to a family-run theater in the center of town. A few guests had difficulty walking and gave up about a block from the theater. The owner jumped in his car and picked them up. After the show, he drove them back to the ship. The show consisted of 4 young women who sang and danced their way through the history of the town. Yes, it was hokey, but they were so sweet and we did learn about life there. I think everyone was happy. Adam and I took a hike in the afternoon. We headed up a hill behind a house and climbed to the top where we found a German bunker. This town is near the northernmost point in Norway, and from the bunker, you could see any incoming ships.
This morning, we are at sea and the world looks gray-blue, much like Alaska. I taught my morning class while we were looking out at the Norwegian Fiords. I have a loyal following in the morning, smaller than the 5p class, but dedicated.
Today I practiced yoga in th gym, then walked around the town of Narvik. We are within a 90 minute train ride of the Swedish border and the train ride there is supposed to be one of the most beautiful. We tried to get tickets but it was sold out. Back in town we found the WW ll Museum.
More to come-