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Iceland and Greenland August 2019


On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – August 30, 2019

By Columnist Tom Blake

Iceland and Greenland August 2019

After visiting Ireland for 10 days, Greta and I flew to Amsterdam on August 18, 2019, and boarded the MS Rotterdam, a Holland America cruise ship. Our 20-day itinerary included stops in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, the Shetland Islands and Scotland. The ship was at full capacity with 1,400 passengers and a crew of 600+.

In our travels, we are always surprised at the personal connections and coincidences that occur. This has been especially true on this month-long European adventure.

On our second morning at sea, while having breakfast in the Lido dining room on level nine, I thought I heard someone—other than Greta who was elsewhere on the ship—say “Tom.” I turned around but saw no one.

Then, I heard “Tom” again. I looked up and a woman was standing at my table.

She smiled and said: “I’m Marilou Heckman, one of your Champs, from Dana Point.” I was surprised, almost speechless.

“A Champ AND from Dana Point?” I replied.

Marilou explained that friends of hers had read in the Dana Point Times newspaper column that Greta and I would be on the Rotterdam. And then, she said I also mentioned the ship in an eNewsletter.

Later in the day, Greta and I saw Marilou again and she introduced us to her friend Pat Moch, also from Dana Point. Simply amazing: four of us from Dana Point on the ship among passengers from multiple different countries around the globe.

Of course, Greta and I saw Marilou and Pat several times around the ship and we enjoyed dinner together one evening.

The Dana Point Four


The Dana Point Four – Marilou Heckman, Tom Blake, Pat Moch, and Greta Cohn

As of this writing, the ship has visited three ports in Iceland and three ports in Greenland. The names of the six cities will tie your tongue. Today’s eNewsletter features Iceland, Greenland and has a short section on the question: Is a cruise-such as this one-a good place for women to meet potential mates?

1.    Iceland

In Iceland, the ports were Eskifjordur, Akureyri, Isafjordur. We’ve been lucky, we’ve haven’t been rained on in any of the ports, except for a few sprinkles. We’ve even had sunshine along the way. In each Icelandic port, the ship was able to dock at a pier, so we could just walk into those cities.

In the first two cities, Greta and I rode local city buses, which were free, and we were able to see enough to get a good feel for the people, the shops, the homes and the churches. We did lots of walking in each city, so we were able to get our exercise in as well.

The most impressive of those cities was Akureyr. It was in the Northwestern part of Iceland, and yet the temperature was about 60 degrees, with plants and flowers evident everywhere. It has a bustling population of 18,400.

While waiting to board a city bus, we introduced ourselves to another couple that we surmised were also from the ship. They were going to the large botanical garden and we decided to go there as well. Originally from Viet Nam, they now live in Washington D.C.

In the small-world department, Thuan, the husband, and I discovered that we both attended the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. Not at the same time, but we both became Ensigns there and both were in the Viet Nam war. Thuan was in the South Viet Nam Navy; I was in the U.S. Navy.

And we were both based—at different times–at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California.

Isafjordur is a city of about 2,571. No buses, strictly a walking city. On foot, we saw all things recommended by the ship’s tour director in a couple of hours. The highlight: St. John’s Church. Behind the altar, there were 760 clay birds mounted on the wall. Very unusual and impressive.

St. John’s Church Isafjordur Iceland


St. John’s Church Isafjordur Iceland

The ship will be stopping for two days in Reykjavik, the capital, this weekend.

2. Is a cruise like this a good place for women to meet a potential mate?

The average age on this cruise was about 70. I estimate that single women outnumber single men by 10 to one. Greta and I talked to several women on the cruise. Many of them are widows, not seeking a man. A woman named Honey from The Netherlands said she travels alone and loves it because she can do exactly what she wants.

Another widow said she doesn’t want to meet a man on board because she wouldn’t want to take care of him—she had to do that with her husband; she said: “never again.”

Our two Dana Point friends, Marilou and Pat, are both widows. They enjoy traveling together because they enjoy doing many of the same things. Furthest thing from their minds was meeting a man on board.

Overall answer about meeting a mate: A cruise like this is not a place to meet a man. Of course, it could happen but none of the women we interviewed were counting on that. That being said, it’s a great place to make new friends and enjoy one’s self.

3. Greenland

Greenland is the largest island in the world that is not a continent (Australia and Antarctica are considered continents). An ice cap covers 80 percent of the country. The population is 57,000. It’s located between the Artic and Atlantic Oceans. While it’s part of the North American continent, it’s an autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark. It is the least densely populated territory in the world.

The majority of the residents are Inuit, who migrated from Alaska, across Canada, to settle here.

Before stopping at Greenland ports, the ship spent a day cruising Greenland’s incredible Prince Christian Sound, a breathtaking 60-mile long fjord. The ship captain had informed us in a talk the day before that the weather might make navigating the sound (and the ports) difficult, even impossible. He mentioned that on a visit last year to Greenland, all three ports had to be skipped due to inclement weather.

Before entering the sound, the wind was blowing at 50 mph and the seas were rough.

However, day-after-day on this vacation, the weather has smiled upon us.  And that day the sun was out and the weather a balmy 48 degrees.

Greta and I saw Marilou and Pat on the stern pool deck, sitting in deck chairs, relishing the views of the fjord—jagged peaks, patches of snow, glaciers, small waterfalls and small icebergs floating by. Pat said, “This is the most perfect day we could have asked for!”

Iceberg near ship

Iceberg near ship

Marilou agreed: “Not a cloud in site, only blue skies.” Here is another photo of the four of us on deck.

In Greenland, the port

Tom, Pat, Marilou, Greta

In Greenland, the port names are even tougher to pronounce than in Iceland.

Our first stop: Qaqortoq, with a population of 3,000.

welcome to qaqortoq

The ship’s tour guide said, “Every home in this city has a million-dollar view.” He was right. And how lucky were we? Again, blue skies, about 55 degrees, and calm seas. The latter was important because the ship had to anchor, and the smaller tender boards took passengers ashore.

Again, this was a walking-only city. Greta and I spent a delightful three hours enjoying our stroll. We popped into a local market, to check out prices. A bottle of 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel, which costs $12 to $15 in the states, was $50.

View from Qaqortoq

View from Qaqortoq – note the two cruise ships anchored

The tender transfers to and from the city were comfortable. Our first day in Greenland was magical.

Greenland port # 2 – Paamuit.

Another tender port—this one took about 30 minutes after boarding the tender to get on the shore. A tender carries 150 passengers. This photo shows how careful everyone needs to be.

Carefully exiting a tender

Carefully exiting a tender

Paamuit has 1,400 residents. The church is constructed of wood.

Paamuit wooden church


Paamuit wooden church

Inside the church, a ship’s male passenger spontaneously sang a hymn in Latin for two minutes.

Some of the native Inuit people had three card tables with local items they made for sale. A woman from Berkeley, California, purchased a small carving made from reindeer antlers. She paid $250 USA. As she counted out the money, the other Inuit natives broke out in applause, they were so thrilled for the sale.

Purchasing a carving made from reindeer antlers


Purchasing a carving made from reindeer antlers

Holland America always makes considerate gestures for its passengers. The temperature in Paamuit was about 48 degrees and damp. The ship’s crew provided hot chocolate for passengers who were waiting ashore to return to the ship.

The ship personnel also served hot chocolate to the local Paamuit children. They were thrilled as they sat under the Rotterdam easy-up.

Greenland kids like hot chocolate


Greenland kids like hot chocolate

Greenland – Port # 3 – Nanortalik

Our third and final port in Greenland was Nanortalik. Population around 1,500. 43 degrees, hazy, no sun until afternoon.

When we first came ashore, an Inuit man was playing his guitar near the pathway singing in his native language, “The Wreck of The John B,” a song recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1958 and in 1964 by The Beach Boys as “The Sloop John B.” I sang along with him in English briefly and tipped him.

Singing “Sloop John B” in Nanotalik


Singing “Sloop John B” in Nanotalik

Greta and I visited the fish market and the church and headed back to the ship by tender after an hour and ½ ashore. The wind was picking up and it was getting cold.

We had gone ashore in all three Greenland ports, something we wanted to accomplish—such a beautiful and isolated island.

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