Image at left: Anchored off Norris Point, in Gros Morne National Park on the northwest coast of Newfoundland, +49° 30′ 36.70″N, -57° 53′ 11.19″W, we are greeted by amazing light of the morning sun. A lone Zodiac driver waits for his call to duty on the side of the ship. Meanwhile, he/she was the perfect scale for my photo. The rest of the pictures are here in chronological order. I’ll start a small gallery of the best dozen soon, meanwhile they are all included in this 150 or so. If you want to see people and food pictures, they are found here. Both of these galleries will be annotated as I get to it, but for right know, what you see is what you get.
Often I wonder why I like to travel. I examine, consciously, what it is that makes it work for me. It has changed in my experience over time, decades I mean, something to do with scale and contrast, light and dark, times that we are in now and times that are forgotten, or nearly so. When one leaves the comfort of familiar surroundings and are thrust into the world beyond your doorstep, possibilities exist for a greater chance of something unexpected happening. Seeing, smelling, tasting or otherwise sensing a new environment. We frame our plans around increasing the odds that what we will experience will match our expectations. Therein lies the trap that nature has laid for us.
The conundrum is to observe but not quite participate if the activity is not what we expect. However to truly observe, one must participate. This seems to me to be the fulfilling act of travel. To engage in the activity that intertwines and highlights differences with your own life experience is the plum of the event. The act of observation in and of itself often affects the outcome of an event. So we try to balance the expectation and the experience in our mind. What is really important? I think the answer is to accept the outcome of the travel experience for the plums it offers and not to twist it into something else (like what you had planned). Sharing journeys, written, spoken or photographed (or all) helps others to reach a value in their own planning. With each iteration the act of travel gets closer to the “planned” experience. Which of course, if the journey is truly an “expedition” then it’s purpose has little chance of occurring at all. I think I prefer the term exploratory.
Depending upon one’s life experience the simple act of just crossing a road can be a life changing experience. Michael Fay in his epic “megatransect” of 1200 miles of central Africa several years ago was accompanied by a Pygmy crew who had never seen a road before. As he said, they were something akin to kids on an escalator for the first time… “You can go so fast!” they exclaimed as they ran back and forth on the dirt road surface. For other travelers, nothing short of a ride to the edge of space would be enough to satisfy their expectations. The rest of us, somewhat thankfully, fall somewhere in between. Michael Fay’s trip, was an expedition with a defined purpose. Silversea’s PRINCE ALBERT II, was very much a luxury cruise, even calling it “expedition light” would be misleading. It is a smallish, 354 ft., lavishly appointed, cruise ship with some Zodiacs. I loved it for what it was, not for what I thought it was going to be. It does not however execute a travel experience that even remotely begs for “expedition” to be included in the title. No matter what it says on the side of the ship “expeditions” don’t arrange for buses to transport you to lovely museums six blocks away from the ship. An expedition with a purpose, would have headed north into the waves and wind from St. John’s, Newfoundland, however since the purpose was not expeditionary, but moreover luxury cruising and comfortable explorations, we turned south. Here is the story.
My friend Pam and I left Austin, Texas late morning on August 13th, 2008 for New York City and onward to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. My expectations were high, and that was in part to see as much of Newfoundland & Nova Scotia as one could via ship and some land excursions given a lot of time constraints by the published itinerary. I also wanted to know about Silversea and it’s new “expedition” ship, the PRINCE ALBERT II. I am interested in the other places she is going as well. What I learned in the process, is what I learned on my trip to Iceland last summer, to accomplish an intimate observation of the large island land masses of the Canadian Maritimes, will require a return trip and slower methods.
The PRINCE ALBERT II only went into service under this name, officially, on June 12, 2008. The refit was begun last fall to revive a ship once known as the WORLD DISCOVERER. I won’t go into the full history, but millions have been spent on polishing her up, and by and large it shows.
We arrived in St. John’s on the evening of August 13th. Well it was actually 12:14 a.m. August 14th when we were finally exiting the airport. My new friend, Terry Adey, was there to greet us. A charming and talented photographer during the day, and a registered nurse by night. He drove us to Signal Hill to the the flickering lights of St. John’s harbor, then on to the Balmoral Inn (38 Queens Road). After some sleep we were off for a walk and then met Terry and his wife Debbie for lunch and a tour of the environs. I cannot thank Terry enough for his warm welcome and help. On a future trip I am sure we’ll have a lot of photography to share.
August 15th turned out to be a damp, cool and breezy morning, but after at least 10 hours of rain, heavy at times, the night before, it was a welcome respite to have the late morning clearing. At least we could move our luggage from the Inn to the wharf without getting soaked. The transition from the dock to the ship was fast and efficient considering that the PRINCE ALBERT II was receiving one hundred plus new passengers in addition to the seventeen or so that remained aboard from the sixteen day trip from Reykjavik, Iceland. Champagne was plied upon us as we waited in line to get our room key and a quick photo taken. In line with us was our soon-to-be new life-long friend, Dr. Arlene Segal. A veteran of Silversea and almost any other outfit you can conjure up. From the North Pole to the Antarctic peninsula, she has a bucket full of memories and I was eager to listen (and still ready now). Fate would have it that Arlene was also just across the hall from us. Perfect planning.
One of the first items of business shipboard is to have a life boat drill. The Silversea routine was quite different from my drill on the Russian ship, PROFESSOR MULTANOVSKIY. Silversea has you try on the life vest, secure the straps…. and you’re done. I have no idea which lifeboat I would go to should there be a problem. The MULTANOVSKIY had us go all the way to the lifeboats, board them (it was raining too, a lot), and start the engine. In retrospect that was a very good exercise after I heard about 3 of the 4 lifeboats from the now sunken EXPLORER last fall having engines that would not start. So this seemed to be just Lifeboat Drill 101 on Silversea.
The first disappointment came when the ship’s captain and the Silversea staff concluded that the weather system that moved in the previous night had created an itinerary-changing set of wind and swells from the north. Rightly so, it would have been a very tough go to head north to L’Anse aux Meadows, so it was scratched. A big blow for me as this was the one spot, along with Gros Morne National Park, that I had really wanted to see, and was much of the reason I chose this particular trip. I could not argue with the logic however. We turned south to the port of Argentia to visit a historic site there. In retrospect I think this stop could have been skipped in favor of saving the time for better experiences at Gros Morne National Park. The gritty photo opportunities that I sought were still eluding me, but I learned long ago to focus (literally) on what is in front of you when what you are expecting is not there. I found one of my best images of the trip in a bright yellow cleat that the PRINCE ALBERT II had her bright blue “spring line” on, complete with a contrasting red edge and the uniform black hull of the ship. I was very pleased, and it made my day. The other good image of the day turned out to be of Camille Seaman, the resident photographer on the ship. Unfortunately she was too preoccupied with her family and ship-board duties to talk much about photography to me, so I just took her photo and will give her a lesson on how I made it another time.
That evening we set off to the Ramea Islands, a bit of a forlorn fishing community off the south coast of Newfoundland. It was an interesting to see, but the weather was being uncooperative during our visit. Next we headed north to Gros Morne National Park. Again the Silversea staff had shortened our visit here. There is a disconnect between what is published in the itinerary (that I purchased) and what the ship’s staff says we are going to do. I provided copies of these documents to the staff leader. He said and did nothing in response. So much for being expeditionary.
Gros Morne provided a beautiful morning arrival for us. It was here I took the photo at the top of this journal entry. The best weather day yet. I made a panorama of the morning light on the south side of the bay from 10 images. We had a choice of a three mile hike to the foot of the Western Brook Pond (initially reached by motor coach) or just a coach ride around the park with little or no walking. It seems about half of the shi
p went for the hike. The other half, many of whom had never been in a Zodiac before, opted for just motoring around the park. This was an out and back hike, flat, paved, gravel or board walk for the most part. They had a nice local fellow who tried to say that he was going to walk as fast as the slowest person. That remark pretty well eliminated Pam and me, along with my new friend Fred, from the interpretive stops as we were not going to walk at one mile per hour no matter what. We were even told to “stay with the group” at one point, and I chose to walk on rather that to tell the fellow to “get lost” on the trail (it was impossible to get lost unless you believed you were on an expedition and had completely lost your senses). Nice walk, too bad we had no time to do the famous boat cruise up the fjord. Just enough time to walk back, board the bus and subsequently the ship and depart for St. Pierre & Miquelon to the south.
St. Pierre remotely reminded me of St. Barthélemy, French West Indies, albeit a lot cooler. I think the French as a colonial power left some good systems and traditions in place in the islands. We took a short boat ride over to “Sailor’s Island” which is inhabited by summer residents now. It was a pleasant and quiet little place but they could use a good patisserie to liven up the populace.
Soon we were sailing for Fortress de Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. This is a very interesting cultural stop in the history books of North America. A partially restored Fort of quite a large scale. What has been done, is very well done, and well worth the visit. From here we sailed to Halifax.
We pulled into Halifax in the early morning where I spied Harlan Crow’s yacht, MICHAELA ROSE, stern to at the wharf. We tied up a short distance away, then boarded buses for Halls Harbor on the north side of Nova Scotia along the shores of the Bay of Fundy where the tides range up to 40 feet or more. First was a quick stop in the old part of Halifax to visit the cemetery where many of the TITANIC victims were buried. An odd tourist site for any “expedition.” We also were able to squeeze in a 45 minute stop at the maritime museum that was quite interesting. In a whirlwind of bus riders we were headed north to the Grand Pre winery and a tasting. Perhaps with time and a bit more global warming their grapes will catch up with Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California. Meanwhile, this slowed us down so much that we had a VERY late fresh lobster lunch at 3 p.m. in Halls Harbor. Time enough to see the water rise during lunch and refloat the harbor boats. A nice tour for what we did although they tried to micro manage the passengers to the level of telling them how to cross the street. I bolted again. Back in Halifax at about 5:45 p.m. we were told that the maritime museum would be open until 8 p.m. Sadly it was only open until 5:30 p.m. and most everything else was closing rapidly. Why we stayed in port for several more hours remains a mystery to me. One hightlight of the departure was the bag piper and drummer that serenaded us. They were absolutely outstanding. I have it all on HD video.
Next up was the very pretty little town of Lunenburg, where we got a morning sail of sorts on the BLUE NOSE II. More of a motor sail really, but that was the weather in the morning. I had some nice chats with the crew on the vessel about their life and sailing experiences as contrasted with mine. Always fun to talk to a sailor. Arlene, Pam and I had lunch at the GRAND BANKER restaurant overlooking the harbor. Then we were off for a walking tour of town. I photographed several interesting wind vanes from quite a distance.
The next morning was perhaps the best of all, more or less an unplanned nature-in-your-face experience cruising the mouth of the Bay of Fundy off the west coast of Nova Scotia. We saw more whales than I saw the year before in Antarctica, and ten times as many breaching whales (jumping). I’ll put the video online soon too, but the stills are in the gallery now. We cruised into the sunset and towards America.
The morning was clear as we entered Gloucester, MA. Captain Fabien Rocher did a remarkable job of backing the PRINCE ALBERT II down the length of the harbor to the dock as there was no room to turn around mid-harbor. A tug stood by, but I don’t believe she was ever used. A fog bank raced down the harbor about as fast as we were backing in and reached us only as we we throwing lines out to secure the ship. Job well done. After the lengthy process of clearing US immigration we were able to disembark and make our way to the excellent CAPE ANNE MUSEUM. Highly recommended. At lunch we were off to New York City. I made a panorama of three images of Boston which was clearly seen 19 miles away. Passing though the Cape Cod Canal we came within three miles of our Austin neighbor Dave Welland’s house near Falmouth. A small world we live in now.
Morning twilight brought us by Coney Island and then under the Verazanno Narrows Bridge. It was not the clearest of days, but a warm and humid one. I made a panorama of the New York City skyline as we approached it. We had to be out of our cabins by 8 a.m. so the staff could prepare the ship for hosting travel agents and other visitors. We were not able to get off the ship until 11:35 a.m. After securing a taxi we had just enough time to drive by Dean & Deluca on Broadway to pick up some lunch and then head to Newark Airport.
Some side notes: our new friends, Fred and Julia, who were a deck above us in Cabin 411 (Silversea calls them “suites” but with only one room, again, it is a bit of a linguistic stretch) and HAD NO AIR CONDITIONING – THE ENTIRE TRIP. The only solution by the Silversea staff was to give them a fan, and after complaining for days…. they got a second fan. I think they could have fixed this almost immediately by switching their cabin with one of the staff members. Several of whom I know were in cabins comparable to ours, a less expensive class from the forth deck, but nonetheless cool and comfortable. I hope that Silversea makes some reparations with Fred. If they do not, I will make some contract changes on any future voyages with Silversea. It should also be known that Silversea allows smoking in the cabins. A door away from Fred was a smoker who has his door cracked open as was polluting the hallway and their non-ventilated room. I felt terrible for Fred and Julia with the inaction of the staff and Silversea headquarters.
There was also a pot smoker from time to time somewhere in deck three down the hall from our cabin 313. I never identified exactly where, but the aroma was very strong and distinct.
On deck five, there was one “suite” (and up here it really might have been one) that was overwhelmed with the odor of the head (the toilet to landlubbers). Little was done to fix this situation either.
Cabin 313 was more or less perfect save for the television. They seem to have a satellite tracking system for receiving live TV but the only channel they offered was FOX NEWS which is pretty much no news at all. I thought it was so embarrassing that they should have just turned it off altogether. That’s what people say (inside joke about Fox News). So sadly, no Olympic coverage at all on the telly. While I am on the TV…. the movie system worked perfectly and had a wide range of choices. I was quite impressed, no DVD fumbling or check outs, just click and play.
There is also a pay as you go ($0.50/minute), or package deal, on Internet service. It was amazingly reliable and fast, probably twice the speed of a 56 kbps dial up line at its best. I purchased a block of 250 minutes time for $85 and by typing mostly off line and then cutting/pasting my messages I was usually off in 4-6 minutes. I could log into my accounts when and where I wanted, respond to emails, upload photos/comments to my blog…. even look out the side window of our house with a live web cam WHILE WE WERE AT SEA. This was pretty amazing. I ended the whole trip with 30 minutes left over that I never used (no refunds). Some people complained about the service but they were using the computers in the “internet cafe” in the library. I was always using my own notebook and logging on wirelessly from anywhere on the ship. Geeky stuff and it worked. Also while I am on telecommunications, the AT&T cell service works with Silversea. Once one has international roaming, taxes and fees make each minute cost about $3.50. We never did use it, but I know it works from observing others. I never could get Skype to show a connected signal on the internet connection or I would have tried a Skype VoIP call from the ship ($0.02/min usually, plus the internet connection fee of about $0.35). Anyhow, I would suspect that this sort of thing could work, but perhaps they block those ports so AT&T can keep the monopoly while onboard the ship.
Lastly I have to say that the staff for the most part was exemplary. While I’ve said little of the food in my notes here, but if you look at the photos of it you will see 10,000 words. There is nothing more I could improve upon in this category. Top drawer, A+, top to bottom, it was the best. Cindy, our cabin stewardess was perfect. The expedition leader did have one huge faux pas by showing an off color joke series on the LCD projector in the theater. Very low class and out of place. Bad judgement all around on that one. Otherwise his bungling of Fred & Julia’s accommodations was my only added complaint aside from his itinerary problems. I should also note here that the wait staff, bar tending and wine sommelier were exceptional. Always remembering the preferences of the crankiest “expeditioners”. Brent Stephenson, a.k.a. the Birdman, was fun and fascinating to talk to as well. The geologist, Juan Carlos Restrepo, was my favorite of all…. great story teller and no matter which passenger he engaged them in real conversations. I would go anywhere with these two guys.
Here is the route we did take. Just follow the green line from St. John’s to New York City. Google Earth and a GPS great for creating such maps. I left this image large so it can be seen easily. It is 1762 x 1342 pixels.
September 3, 2008
in Austin, Texas.