We stood in the middle of the main plaza of Prague. A small jazz ensemble began playing the Louis Armstrong favorite “What a Wonderful World.” Suddenly we deeply understood that this world is wonderful, and we are happy to share it with you. Message
  • Day6

    Wonderful Kirkwall

    Today in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 54 °F

    The Orkney Islands looked beautiful at dawn today as they slowly materialized out of a fog bank. We got off the ship in the middle of a rain shower, 60° temperatures and 20-mile-an hour winds. Wandering into Kirkwall, we didn’t quite know where to go first. We ambled into a few craft stores where Glenda bought presents for friends. Then through the rain and clouds we saw tall steeple that seem to call us. A sign on the front told us we were entering the Church of Saint Magnus, a strikingly beautiful Anglican structure serving a congregation that has been here since the eighth century. Its architecture shouted its Norse heritage loud and clear. I expected a Viking to peek out from behind anyone of the beautiful columns supporting its Romanesque arches. In fact, this church gave the town its name. The Vikings who settled here in the 800’s called the place Kirkvegr, or the church on the bay. Gradually that name was elided by the Picts, and then the Scots, and finally by the English into Kirkwall.

    After seeing the church we wandered through the streets noticing that there was not one piece of litter, nor a single stroke of graffiti. The houses are small, but beautiful in their simplicity, and each one is as neat as a pin. The people of Orkney take great pride in their islands and it shows.

    I had seen some mention on the web about the Orkney Wireless Museum. For much of its history, Orkney has been remote, desolate, alone—and proudly so. Throughout the twentieth century radio provided a vital link to the outside world. A ham radio operator set up a little museum about the development of wireless communication, especially as it relates to the Orkneys. Inside we found an amiable volunteer who happily told us that he and his wife moved here when he was transferred by the oil company that employed him. The oil industry in the North Sea is still one of the big businesses here. The radio guy liked it so much that they decided to stay. In the small museum displays examples of old commercial AM radios that I remember from my youth, as well as ham radio equipment and a few examples of set used for military radio communications.

    The people here were marvelously kind, and they were genuinely pleased to have us visit their island. They told us that the largest industry here is agriculture, followed closely by tourism. During the pandemic, no cruise ships visited, but now business is back and Kirkwall expects more than 130 ships to visit this summer alone. The islands were part of Norway until the 1300’s when the King of Norway gave these islands as a wedding present to his daughter when she married the King of Scotland. Ever since then, the Orkney Islands have been part of Scotland. Edinburgh and Aberdeen are about five hours away by ferry and car, and the residents get reduced rates for airline flights that get them to Scotland’s capital in less than an hour.

    As we left Kirkwall to return to the ship, Glenda asked, “Do you think it would ever be possible for us to move here?”

    I don’t think she was serious, but I can understand how she found the Orkney Islands with their beauty, their wonderful people and their unpretentious lifestyle to be enormously attractive.
    Read more

  • Day5

    The Home of Giants

    Yesterday in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 61 °F

    Edinburgh is a remarkable place.

    As soon as I turned the corner onto the Royal Mile, I saw statues of Philosopher David Hume and Economist Adam Smith. I knew I was in the right place. Edinburgh has produced more than its share of thinkers who have changed the world. In the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume cut through much of the sludge that had impeded philosophical studies since the time of the ancient Greeks. He proposed a philosophy which maintained, in effect, that if you see a tree in front of you, the tree is really there, and you really are seeing the tree. His approach eventually became known as the Scottish “Common Sense” school of philosophy. Adam Smith tracked the ebb and flow of capital in his book “The Wealth of Nations,” and identified the currents and eddies that affect the flow of capital. The dynamics of the transfer of wealth he described still apply today. They still work, notwithstanding the shouts of short-sighted demonstrators who occupy Wall Street arguing that the bankers are too rich so we must do away with money. Do they not realize that money is nothing more than a token that represents value? Have they no understanding that supply and demand determine value, not the number of coins or bills required to purchase an item?

    Forgive me. I rant. But Edinburgh is a remarkable place.

    Edinburgh was not only the home of Hume and Smith, however. It was here that Robert the Bruce and John Wallace resisted English tyranny. It was here that the Protestant King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England who authorized an English translation of the Bible we still use today. It was here that his hapless mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned and eventually executed by Queen Elizabeth I, even though the Catholic Mary had an arguably stronger claim to the British throne than did her cousin. It was here that we saw five years ago the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo in a castle whose origins go back at least as far as the eighth century. But this was the fortress of James and Mary, of Robert and John. In the last thousand years it has been besieged 28 times. Edinburgh is different from our cities. Our cities have no fortresses; they have never needed them. We may be thankful that they have never been attacked. However, this city, which has been attacked repeatedly, has a character and a ruggedness that New York, Chicago and Los Angeles lack. It was here that tough Reformer John Knox developed a form of Calvinism that produced the Presbyterian Church. It is here in Edinburgh that Queen Elizabeth II resides this week. She is at Holyrood House Castle for her annual official visit to Scotland.

    Today we walked and watched people. Some Scottish, some Japanese, German, French, old and young. Some straight, some gay. All beautiful. We boarded a tender, then a bus that brought us to Charlotte Square, the end point of a district called New Town that contains some of the most beautiful, symmetrical, well constructed buildings I have ever seen—all Georgian. But, of course, I must confess that I am outrageously prejudiced. It is my favorite style of architecture, and here it runs for miles. There is more of it here than any other place in the world. Some of the buildings are restored, some need cleaning, but all are stately. Integrated. Substantial. All beautiful.

    We walked through Princess Street Gardens. This lovely park contains roses, millions of them. It also contains mementos—of the Norwegian troops recruited here to fight the Nazis, of preacher-philanthropist Thomas Guthrie and of other heroes. Not that these men are not memorable. They certainly are, but statues like theirs can be found in many places. We found here, however, memorials to other saints which I have found nowhere else.

    We saw a huge statue of a toy, stuffed elephant with the inscription, “In memory of our precious babies, gone but not forgotten.”

    We saw a statue of a large dog. The inscription told us that he was part of a litter born in San Diego, California. His litter mates remained in America, but “Bobby” was brought by his owners here to Edinburgh. He loved this park and came here every day, staying from early morning until it closed at nightfall, greeting visitors with a warm tongue, playing with children who passed by. He became part of Princess Street Gardens, and everyone who came to the park regularly would drop by the area just behind St. Cuthbert’s Church to pat him on the head or toss him a little stick. Bobby loved sticks. He would fetch them, or just lie down and gnaw on them. But he became part of the park. And when he died, the proprietors of the Princess Street Gardens allowed a statue with the dog’s likeness to be erected behind St. Cuthbert’s Church.

    You can still come to Princess Street Gardens to see Bobby, or at least his statue. And if you do, you might just toss him a stick. We saw a pile of them today between his paws, brought by his grateful friends who still visit the park.

    Edinburgh is a remarkable place. I hope you have an opportunity to come here soon.
    Read more

  • Day5

    Tossed Salad

    Yesterday, North Sea ⋅ ☀️ 61 °F

    Language is a wonderful platform for cultural expressions and miscommunication. Words or phrases we think of as common may be totally confusing to a nonEnglish speaker. The Viking crew always goes out of their way to fulfill our every request. The word “no” simply is not in the Viking vocabulary. Today Chuck asked for a tossed salad in the World Cafe. The attendant behind the counter told him to take a seat and she would have it delivered to him. Now “tossed salad” in NC means lettuce with tomatoes and a few other vegetables which are topped with dressing. Pretty simple and basic. Evidently the term “tossed salad” is an American phrase. The dear attendant sent the order to the kitchen and 10 minutes later a masterful salad appeared with pearl onions, chicken, a variety of lettuces, olives, carrots, green beans, peas, bacon, diced potatoes and more. I think they had taken everything in the kitchen and tossed it together. I had finished my lunch when I saw the waiter looking for us so I got up to go get Chuck’s salad. He said it had taken a bit longer because the preparer had to get a large bowl for the salad so that they could toss it. God bless the Viking crew. They gave it their best shot including tossing that salad. I would love to have been in the kitchen listening to the conversation about the man who wanted his salad tossed…..what does he want in it, how much does he want it tossed, do we toss it before or after the dressing or both times, why would he want it tossed????? Viking gets a 10 for the “tossed salad” but tomorrow I will make Chuck’s salad from the salad bar and save the crew the stress of tossing a salad.Read more

    Robert Bergland

    Sounds like they really “threw” your salad together!

    Bette Franken

    Maybe ‘small side salad’ is more international?? 😁

  • Day4

    Olympic moment

    June 27, North Sea ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    On this Monday morning we are sailing toward Scotland and the days are becoming longer. Last night it finally got almost dark at 10:30 pm and this morning at 5 am is was full daylight. We got up, threw two loads of laundry in and set off to walk our miles on deck 2. Chuck and I walk at the same time but not together because I am not a fast walker. I set my Apple watch to outdoor walk and set off to knock out at least part of my 3 miles before the laundry was ready to go in the dryer. After a few laps I looked at my watch and it said I was averaging 9.3 minutes per mile and that I had walked 2.39 miles. I was really impressed with myself. Must be the level walking platform since at home I have hills to climb on my daily walk. Then my brain kicked in at 5:30 am and I said “ this can’t be right.” I am no athlete and I am no mathematical genius but something was way off. Even when I used to run I rarely ran a mile in 9.3 minutes. Slow and steady is my walking/running style. Then it hit me, my watch records my distance based on a gps. I was getting credit for my walking on a slow moving ship. Oh well, for a few laps I felt like an athlete. Guess I won’t try out for the senior Olympics after all.Read more

    Life in the Travel Zone

    Too funny, but still good for you! Looks like the temperature has been comfortable. Boy I am glad we went on our Med cruise when we did. So hot in Italy right now. Is the ship full? Look forward to reading your blog. xoJ

  • Day4

    Sea Day

    June 27, North Sea ⋅ ⛅ 59 °F

    What do you do on a sea day? Well, this morning the first thing I did was to open my eyes, look outside and see a forest of windmills stretching to the horizon. I glanced at the GPS on my cellphone to see where we were. Our ship was located just off the coast between Dover and Calais. I know wind power is supposed to be environmentally superior to other forms of energy, but I wonder whether the eyesore they cause has been considered as an environmental factor.

    We threw our laundry into the washing machine so that our clothes could wash while we ate breakfast. I feasted on what Viking calls “Egg Royale,” an English muffin topped with smoked salmon, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. We hustled back down to the laundry room and threw our clothes into the dryer. When I returned to the stateroom, I saw a huge petroleum tanker pulling up alongside to refuel the Viking Mars. I thought, “I sure hope they know which side of the ship has the gas cap.”

    I showered, changed clothes and came up here to the Explorer’s Lounge. It is my favorite place just to hang out. There are some nice “library tables” up here where one can type, or read a book on the iPad. At 9:30 am I will go down to the Star Theater to hear the resident historian bring a talk on the history of Britain. At 11:00 am another speaker will give us information on “Edinburgh: Venice of the North.” They keep us busy, even on sea days. But it’s all lots of fun, and I’m delighted to have you join us on the journey.
    Read more

    Life in the Travel Zone

    I see men in the laundry as there were on our cruise!

    Life in the Travel Zone

    Do you know him? I bet Mike would have loved to be there with you

    Chuck Cook

    I didn’t know him before the trip, but we had supper with him, his wife and four other couples. Great time!

    Charlene Shipman

    Love that a laundry room is available ✅

  • Day3

    The Forgotten Genius

    June 26 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 68 °F

    When we returned from our excursion to Westminster Abbey, we grabbed a quick lunch. I was ready to re-visit the Old Naval College, the Maritime Museum, and the Royal Greenwich Observatory. I can’t imagine why Glenda wouldn’t want to see the chronometer that John Harrison developed in the eighteenth century. I mean, it completely changed the world. But I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

    Today was a perfect Sunday afternoon with bright sun, a gentle breeze and a high of about seventy degrees. I still lacked a thousand steps to meet my Walkingspree obligation, so I set off for the Old Naval College. It was originally called the Old Sailors’ Hospital, but the word “hospital” has changed meanings since then. A hospital was not primarily tasked with healing illnesses, but with providing a home for the elderly. So old, worn-out sailors who had given their life to the King’s Navy often retired with no home or family to tend them in old age. To meet this need the British government set up hospitals for old sailors, and a similar hospital for old soldiers (which still exists, by the way). When society changed so that almost all sailors did have families or the means to pay for lodging, their facility became the Naval College, something like our Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.

    I had to admire its beautiful architecture very quickly because it was already almost four o’clock, and the places I wanted to visit closed at five. I did a quick run-through of the Naval Museum, wondering at the hardships of a life at sea. I didn’t have time to re-visit the Queen’s House, the very first totally neo-classical building in England. (Architect Inigo Jones should be proud.) I walked quickly up a stunningly beautiful hill called Greenwich Park to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the place where longitude was first officially determined. Finding one’s longitude requires two elements: first, knowledge of the exact time. This can be ascertained by looking at the motion of heavenly bodies such as the sun or the moons of Jupiter. An observatory is a good place to see such things. Secondly, it requires that the ship seeking its longitude to have a clock that is insanely precise. Then the captain compares the time at the ship’s location with some standard (such as the exact time at London, well Greenwich) to calculate his longitude. No clock in the eighteenth century was sufficiently precise to give longitude. The rocking and heeling of ships in storms rendered pendulum clocks useless. However, in an epic struggle taking 31 years, clockmaker John Harrison finally made a timepiece that was sufficiently precise and robust to be used at sea. The British Navy took his double-gimbaled clock and declared it top secret. No other nation in the world had the capability to measure longitude until another generation had passed. The British government did not even acknowledge that they had such an instrument, and therefore, they could never recognize nor compensate Harrison for his genius. His son persisted in his efforts to have his father’s genius recognized, and finally the nation acknowledged Harrison’s accomplishment many years after his death.

    Unfortunately, as I approached the Royal Observatory it was about to close, and a guard denied me entry. Still, I have some photos I took on my last visit, and I still have profound respect for John Harrison, the unacknowledged genius.
    Read more

  • Day3

    Saint Martin

    June 26 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 68 °F

    This morning Chuck and I worshipped at Westminster Abbey. We met two rather special people as we waited for the service to begin. Chuck will tell you about Natalia but I want to tell you about Martin. As we stood in line to enter the choir area for the 11:15 service, a little man carrying a ragged tote bag came up beside me. He asked me if we had churches like this one where I was from and I said that we had some beautiful churches in North Carolina but that the only church that came close to Westminster was Duke Chapel. He showed me where Stephen Hawking was buried in the church and pointed out other features he did not want me to miss. As we took our seats Martin was across from us. He walked up and saluted the altar, bowing three times just like the ministers did. He stayed completely focused on every detail of the service. After the service he again saluted the altar before leaving. As we were exiting, an usher stopped me and told me he had seen Martin talking to me. Martin attends every service at Westminster…..yes, all four on Sunday and every service during the week. He is a simple man who lives alone. He loves God and he loves his church. It is his sanctuary in a world that has not been kind to him. I quickly took Martin’s photo as he stayed seated at the end of the service. I never want to forget this humble devout servant of God. I hope one day Saint Martin will be among the statues in the Abbey and that there will be a place near Stephen Hawking for this devout man whom the world has forgotten but God has not .Read more

  • Day3

    In Westminster Abbey

    June 26 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 66 °F

    “My name is Natalia. I am from Poland, and I am Catholic, but I have not been inside a church for many years. I have grown weary of guitars and green screens. But I have heard of this church, and I think that if I ever find God, it might be in a place like this.”

    We didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Westminster Abbey. After all, we’re over here in Greenwich southeast of the city. So we boarded the tender at 8:30 am for the 11:15 service called “the Sung Mass.” The tender took us to Greenwich pier where we boarded an Uber Clipper water bus. Estimates from folks who had made the trip before ranged from thirty minutes to an hour. We didn’t want to be late. We wanted to be sure to get a seat. After a few false starts caused by a faulty ticket machine, we boarded the boat that took us along the Thames for a tour that equaled any excursion we have ever had in London. We passed the Tower of London, the Globe Theater, the Millennial Bridge. Finally the Elizabeth Tower on the Parliament Building came into view and we heard Big Ben strike ten o’clock.

    “Plenty of time before the worship service,” I told Glenda as we walked through the West Door under a saintly statue of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An usher met us at the door, and I told him that we were here for the eleven-fifteen “Sung Mass.” He directed us to a row of chairs lining the north wall, where one young woman, maybe in her twenties, sat alone. He said, “Wait here. We will call you into the choir when it’s time for the mass to begin.”

    Glenda smiled and took a seat beside the girl, and I sat down beside my wife. The young woman did not return Glenda’s smile, but looked nervous as she spoke. “My name is Natalia. I am from Poland, and I am Catholic, but I have not been inside a church for many years. I have grown weary of guitars and green screens. But I have heard of this church, and I think that if I ever find God, it might be in a place like this.”

    After forty minutes the usher told us we could go up to the choir where the service would be held. He told us how to access the order of worship for today’s liturgy on our cell phones. About two hundred chairs had been set up on each side of the crossing, so that all of us worshippers were facing inward toward a lighted candle on a table. I was on the fourth row of the south transept, so that I could literally reach out my right arm and touch the lectern from which the lessons were read. When it was about time to start, less than four hundred people were present. We should not have worried about arriving early enough to get a seat.

    In a few minutes music emerged from an organ I could not see. It produced twenty-first century music with mysteriously beautiful dissonances pointing to a God beyond our notions of simple harmonies. It was ethereal. And even though it is not the kind of music I listen to every day, it was magnificent. Unpredictable. Eerie, even. Like God.

    There was to be a confirmation today. The resident bishop would confirm two of the choir members, named Barnaby and Ben. We sang a familiar hymn of Charles Wesley, and the bishop prefaced his confirmation of two of the boys in the choir with a thoughtful sermon centering around the cost of following Christ. Yet, he assured them that even when their faith was costly, Christ would be with them to strengthen them. It was a message of grace not condemnation. It was a message about God, not political opinion.

    Before the two boys emerged from the choir to come forward for their confirmation, they joined the choir in offering the “Sanctus,” another modern piece reflecting cosmic mystery. When the boys bowed before the bishop, they answered his questions firmly and with apparent understanding. The bishop, with a giggle, slung holy water on the boys and on us, turning a somber rite into a moment of joyful laughter for us all.

    We all received the Eucharist, and then sang “Now Thank We All Our God,” and I teared up at my favorite lines in verse three, “Oh may this bounteous God, through all our lives be near us; with ever joyful hearts, to comfort and to cheer us; and keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed; and free us from all ills, in this world and the next.”

    The service ended with a more conventional organ piece by Edward Elgar, the blessing of the bishop, and then using the organ to play the “Danse” by Claude Debussy, God spoke through it a message of joy.

    I had to search through the crowd for Natalia as the mass of worshippers exited the church. When I finally spotted her across the way, she was smiling.

    Many of us found God here at Westminster Abbey this morning. As I left the church, I prayed for Barnaby and Ben. And I prayed for Natalia.
    Read more

  • Day3

    Sticky Buns

    June 26 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 57 °F

    This morning at the breakfast buffet on the Viking Mars I was in line with a woman who couldn’t decide which pastry she wanted. I leaned over and whispered to her that the sticky buns were on the other side. She looked horrified and started running her hands over her butt as she was saying “ I showered this morning and just put this clean top on 10 minutes ago. How did I get sticky buns? I am so embarrassed….I will go change.” I calmly told her I was talking about the sticky buns with pecans on the buffet on the starboard side of the ship. She still seemed confused and off balance so I just told her she looked lovely and that I hoped she had a great day in London. Then……I got back to our table and lost it. I couldn’t stop laughing for at least 5 minutes and Chuck had to wait until I could talk to find out what had happened. I will never be able to look at a sticky bun again without thinking of the lovely woman in a pink tunic top that covered her buns quite nicely. I love traveling and meeting interesting people .Read more

    Robert Bergland

    Hilarious! I can only imagine your losing it in laughter!

    Life in the Travel Zone

    I too totally lost it and thought about the “tossed salad event”. Wish we could be there! Here you are trying to let her know about those awesome pastries, found only on one side of the breakfast buffet. Once again a “tossed salad story” on communication, although I don’t know of any one with a Physical “sticky bun” issue. Still grinning!

  • Day2

    Longitude Zero

    June 25 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 66 °F

    We landed at Heathrow Airport and, because we were carrying our luggage, breezed through immigration and customs. The Viking representative snagged us just outside the door of luggage claim to put us on the bus. The ship’s crew needed some time to debark our predecessors and make the ship ready for us, so we drove to a palatial Sofitel at the edge of the airport, where we killed about an hour and a half feasting on coffee, cinnamon buns, cheese and fruit. Another 90 minute bus ride brought us through Kensington and Chelsea, and along the Thames to Greenwich. There we boarded a tender that took us to the middle of the river, where the beautiful new Viking Mars awaited us. This ship is only one month old, and ours is only its second cruise. It is good to be in Greenwich again. We walked through the beautiful green lawns of the Old Naval College, saw the clipper ship Cutty Sark, and passed the church of St. Alfege, which contains the body of British General Wolfe, who was killed on the Plains of Abraham at the Battle for Quebec. He and his family were parishioners in this church. The congregation here also displays behind a glass panel the old organ keyboard used by the noted baroque composer Henry Purcell, who was choirmaster and organist here. The Royal Greenwich Observatory winked at us from high atop its hill at exactly 0 degrees of longitude. We grabbed a quick lunch at the World Cafe and found our stateroom prepared for our arrival. Much of the history of the English speaking world took place a stone’s throw from here and we are about to dive into it.Read more

    Kathy Dickson

    Happy memories

    Bette Franken

    So glad you are situated and already enjoying the trip!!

    Angela Hallman

    So thankful you two are safe! Have a wonderful time. Love you guys!


Join us:

FindPenguins for iOSFindPenguins for Android