Home Again…

This morning we arrived back where we started; the Port of Cardiff.

I’m pleased to say that not only did the ship arrive bang on time, but we were off the ship quickly and without any undue fuss.

Unfortunately, as we entered the terminal to pick up our three suitcases (which are taken off the ship separately by crew members, in advance of disembarkation), we found only two waiting for us. For the next half hour or so, we anxiously watched the suitcases roll off the conveyor belt, hoping that the luggage label had fallen off, and not that some numpty had picked up our suitcase by mistake (which can, and does, occasionally happen).

I’m relieved to say that the suitcase did finally turn up, and its label had indeed fallen off, so we were finally on our way home…

We brings me to the end of another cruising adventure; until September, when I will be running workshops on board the Magellan as it embarks on a ‘Mediterranean Odyssey’. Between now and then I have a full summer of workshops, demonstration and art shows. By the time September comes around, I’ll be ready for another adventure…

Ringaskiddy, Ireland

Today, we arrived in Ringaskiddy, in County Cork, Ireland.

It was a bit of a disappointment for several reasons…

Firstly, we were a little late arriving. We were originally due to arrive at 9am, but didn’t get there until 10am. This wouldn’t be a problem if we were going to be there all day. Unfortunately, we had to leave as soon after 2pm as possible, in order to arrive at Cardiff tomorrow morning at our appointed time (tides n’ all that), severely limiting our available time ashore.

Secondly; for some inexplicable reason, the Irish immigration authorities had also decided that everyone on board must be subjected to a face-to-face interview, whether going ashore or not. To allow this to happen in a controlled manner, folks were instructed to present themselves on deck 6 with their excursion ticket (if they were on tours), their white plastic cruise card and their passport, in deck order. This meant folks on tours were to be interviewed first, followed by people from deck 12, descending finally to deck 4 (that would be us, then).

Because of all this, we’d decided not to bother with a shuttle bus ride into Cork city, which would take thirty minutes each way; instead, we decided just to take a walk locally, into Ringaskiddy… as soon as we’d completed our face-to-face interview, of course.

By the time Deck 4 was called, Tracey went off first, to get her passport (because we’d forgotten to pick them up earlier), and have her interview, while I finished up doing some stuff online. On her return, I would then go and have my interview. When Tracey returned, however, she told me not to bother. Just as she’d arrived on Deck 6 for the interview, the Irish Immigration officers had decided they’d had enough, packed up and left; anyone who wanted to go ashore were free to do so.

So, we grabbed our cameras and went ashore…

As we’d entered the harbour earlier, we’d been enamoured by the little town of Cobh on the opposite side, which looked like a really nice, and interesting place. Unfortunately, the quay on that side had been taken up by a Holland America cruise ship (you can’t miss ’em – they look like a giant block of flats), leaving us with Ringaskiddy, which, sadly, isn’t a lot to write home about.

We were docked in a container port, beyond which was a small village, which is currently undergoing a lot of roadworks. On the plus-side, we clocked a pub as we walked, which would be perfect for a quick pint of Guiness on the way back (it being the law n’ all), but little else took our eye.

From the map (maps.me), we’d identified a possible point of interest; a tower of some sorts, located in the middle of a park. To get to it within our time limit, however, we would have needed a suitable shortcut, of which there were none forthcoming… so we walked to the beach (which was equally underwhelming), and then headed back again, towards the ship.

By the time we reached the pub, there wasn’t time to stop for a pint of Guiness, because of us having to get back to the ship to set the craft room up for my class in the afternoon. Then; just as I was still coming to terms with not having a Guinness, we arrived back at the quayside, just as two tour buses also returned back, at the same time, coincidentally, that they decided to re-adjust the gangway, so we ended up standing around for about twenty minutes, jockeying for position in a non-existent queue, in the hopes of getting back on the ship on time.

All-in-all, then, Ringaskiddy was a bit underwhelming and failed to light any sparks of Celtic energy or passion. It’s a shame, because I like Ireland, and Tracey hadn’t been there before. Had we been given a little more time, our walk might have panned out properly, or we could even have walked further and maybe crossed the bridge to Cobh (or even taken the shuttle into Cork). The good news is; we’ll be returning here in September on the Magellan, so we’ll get another crack at it.

Last Sea Day

Today was our final full sea-day, as we head South towards Ringaskiddy (for Cork) in Ireland.

My class was a 10am start, which meant that we were able to leave the room semi-set up after yesterday afternoons class (which in turn took some of the pressure off our morning get-up time). Last night, the clocks went forward, meaning we lost an hour, but it also means that we are now back in line with UK time (yeey!).

Today, I taught the class all about Negative Painting, which went well; there is only one last class for me to do, which will be tomorrow afternoon (after our Cork stop), so we won’t be escorting any tours then, as we will have to be back in time to set up the room.

After lunch we went up to Scott’s Bar, where Bruce Thompson was giving an extra performance, playing his guitar and singing a few folk songs. He has a remarkable singing voice, and clean playing style; clearly, an ‘old folkie’… Needless to say, it was standing room only in Scotts Bar, and a happy room-full of passengers… nice one, Bruce!

After the folk session, we retired to Marco’s Bistro for afternoon tea. Sandwiches and cakes are laid on, and it always amazes me just how much food folks can manage to pile up on their plates, not to mention how much food they can stuff away considering it wasn’t that long ago since lunchtime.

As well as the new carpet and paint job, there have been a couple of other new additions to the bistro area. The old tea-making machines have finally been replaced by swish new modern ones, which make the job of making tea and coffee swift and effortless. The other change is to the cold drinks machine. In the morning it serves cold fruit juices; during the rest of the day, it serves cold water. The machine is incredibly annoying, though; if it is left unused for more than about five minutes, it starts playing an advertising video on its front screen. That wouldn’t be so annoying by itself if it wasn’t accompanied by an truly awful jingle that plays alongside it. The whole thing replays over and over again, on a loop, until someone either presses the buttton for a cold drink of water, or touches the screen, which stops the video. Wherever you are within Marcos, your can hear the jingle start up periodically and play to itself… its quite annoying, and I’ve taken to whacking the screen automatically everytime I pass by it, to stop its innane jibberings… surely I can’t be alone in hating this thing, and I’m certain someone must have lodged a complaint about it at reception (I hope so)… surely, there must be someway to disable the video, or at least turn the sound off… there it goes again… aaaargh!

Heading South

Today, we were at sea; the first of two sea days that will bring us to our final port-of-call on Saturday. Throughout the day, the rough seas have mercifully calmed down; they are expected to get even calmer as we get closer to Ireland.

My class was in the afternoon, which gave us the opportunity to have a bit of a lie-in in the morning, a welcome indulgence after yesterdays early start.

Not a lot else has happened today. The painting class (Stone Walls and Sheep) went well, and the long hours between that and eating and sleeping, were spent reading, chatting and drinking tea.

I’ve never thought of cruising as being a regional thing. By that, I mean that I’ve always assumed folks wanting to join a cruise ship would be happy to travel from home to wherever the ship was berthed, wherever that happens to be in the country. This time around, we sailed from Cardiff; a new experience for me (mostly, we sail from London Tilbury, Southampton or Bristol). The reason I mention this is because there is a notably high number of Welsh accents on board, certainly more than other cruises, so maybe local advertising works well for CMV; presumably, when their ships sail from Newcastle, for instance, there are a large number of Geordie passengers…

The Golden Circle

Today, we were escorting an all-day tour, billed as ‘The Golden Circle’. I’ve done it before so knew what to expect, and was thrilled to be given the opportunity to repeat the experience. We had to be on the quayside by 7:30am, which meant a very early start, and a quick breakfast.

‘The Golden Circle’ is an eclectic mix of everything brilliant about Iceland.

Our first stop, after driving out of Reykjarvik, was a small shopping mall in the middle of an area susceptible to earthquakes and bubbling with steam fissures that have a habit of popping up randomly and unexpectedly. Our guide told us of a couple who woke up one day to find one in their living room. The house had to be abandoned and demolished.

When they were building the shopping mall, a large crack had appeared in the earth beneath it. Instead of abandoning the project, they decided to make a feature of it. So, although our stop was primarily for restroom purposes, we were able to view the crack beneath a glass floor, and exhibition boards told us about the earthquake, with looping CCTV footage of stuff flying off the shelves and stories from local residents about the event.

Despite being a sensitive area, the steam fissures are captured to heat up water; miles and miles of large pipes stretch across the land, taking the water into the city, where it is stored in large water containers. I was curious as to why the pipes zig-zag across the land instead of taking a more direct route. The guide told me that the reason they are laid like that is to slow the flow of water down, and also it makes them less susceptible to damage in the event of an earthqake.

Our next stop was Geysir, an area of of hot springs featuring a geyser that erupts regularly every four to eight minutes. Not surprisingly, this is a great tourist attraction. The geyser itself is impressive when it blows, and is reputed to be the most consistent of its kind in the world (and ‘Geysir’ gives its name to other similar geothermic eruptions across the planet).

Visitors stand around the edges of the large spring, cameras poised, awaiting the next eruption, in the hope of catching it on film. Fortunately, with the regularity of the eruptions, no-one has to wait very long for it to happen, but capturing a photo is still a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.

After wandering around the springs for about an hour, we were treated to lunch in the Glima Restaurant attached to the visitor centre. Glima is a type of traditional Icelandic wrestling, which looks suspiciously like Sumo wrestling, but without the excess fat. Large TV screens attached to the walls of the restaurant showed rolling footage of wrestlers (both male and female) in action. I have to say that lunch was spectacularly good. Soup was served at the tables, along with a complimentary beer or soft drink, followed by a buffet featuring hot and cold food for all tastes; meatballs, chicken, vegetables, rice, potatoes, salad… you name it, it was available. All of which was followed up by generous proportions of cakes and desserts. It was one of the best excursion lunches we’d had.

After lunch, our next stop was the Gulfoss Waterfall, a massive waterfall that drops down three levels in a dramatic and spectacular fashion. Visitors can view the falls from several different viewpoints; I chose a spot right down near the edge of the falls, accessible by a long winding path, which was great, but very wet, since the wind was blowing the spray over every one… I got quite drenched, but was happy with my video and photos.

From the waterfall, we drove to a location famous for being one of the first parliaments in the world, situated in an area where two tectonic plates meet and are visible, creating a dramatic canyon between the two. The bus dropped us off, and we walked, as a group, down the length of the canyon for about a mile and a half, to be picked up again at the opposite end. It’s a stunning geological location, with interesting rock formations and another impressive waterfall.

Our final stop of the day was something known locally as ‘The Pearl’, a large glass dome-like building on the outskirts of Reykjarvik, with a balcony on the fourth floor giving extensive views across the city.

My coach then took a drive through the city back to the port, which was not on the itinerary, but was probably not such a good idea, as the roads were busy with work traffic, making us a little late arriving back at the quayside, and the very last passengers to board the ship for the last time before leaving Iceland.

And so, we’ve left Iceland and are now jeading in a southerly direction on our way towards our final port-of-call, Ringaskiddy in Ireland, where we are due to arrive on Saturday. The sea is rough, with swells of up to four and a half metres high, throwing a few people about and sending stuff crashing to the floor in the Bistro on a couple of occasions. Poor old Bruce, who is a one-man-band (complete with big bass drum strapped to his back) had to give his second performance in the Show Lounge, which was a major challenge for him.

It’s going to be a rocky night, but the forecast is for it to settle down as we go into tomorrow, which will be the first of two back-to-back sea-days, meaning two more painting classes.

Follow watercolour artist Peter Woolley's adventures as he runs art workshops on the high seas…