Monday, August 26, 2013

Cruising the Northern Coast of Scotland - Day 5

Scotland is an amazing country! After a very good night sleep due partly to smooth sailing, we woke to a beautiful view of the Scottish coastline. I checked the ship's position on the TV and we are somewhere between Thurso and Durness at the very top of the Scottish mainland.

Breathtaking Scottish Coastline near Durness
I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Orkney Islands and the Old Man of Hoy early this morning but we passed them a few hours ago during our slumber.

Current location of the Ocean Princess
We love sea days for both the rest and relaxation and a chance to re-charge our batteries. I mean that both in the literal as well as a metaphorical sense. I have my camera battery, camcorder, Fitbit, iPad and iPod all charging simultaneously with the use of a multiple port USB device.

As mentioned before, sadly there aren't any enrichment lectures on this short voyage so we need to find other ways to amuse ourselves. There is a Dublin port talk that we will attend as the ship will arrive there tomorrow. Neither of us have been to Dublin before and we are looking forward it. I did minimal research on this port and mostly relied on Tripadvisor.

I took a few more photos from the balcony before heading down to the Lido for breakfast.

Scotland further down the coast
The seas are very smooth and the temps are expected to be in the low 50's today. I am not sure how fast we are going but it appears we may be cruising along at a fast pace of perhaps 17-18 knots. For some reason the TV doesn't post the speed, just the position of the ship.

We walked up the two sets of stairs to the Lido for our morning sustenance. Although I am not a fan of breakfast I am enjoying it on the Ocean Princess. It has more of a European sensibility with a variety of cheeses, some cured meats and succulent smoked salmon.

Yummy bagel, cheese, ham,  pear, white fish, raspberry jam and prunes
I am no expert, but the bagels seem similar to the New York variety. They are crunchy and not too doughy. My mother ordered a specialty coffee and also had a little pastry and yogurt.

Cafe au Lait
After a relaxing breakfast we went out on the aft terrace to take in the view. It is getting a bit cloudy and doesn't look like pool weather today. We are now a lot further from the coast.

Overcast skies in Scotland
The Dublin talk is in 2 hours so we wandered around to use up some of our time. I went to reception to inquire about the nationalities of our fellow passengers. Being a short cruise around the British Isles I expected to see a sizable contingent from the UK. The person at reception was very nice and printed off a summary of the passenger nationalities. I was surprised at the predominance of 431 American passengers onboard.  No one else even comes close. There are only 81 UK citizens and 66 Canadian followed by a smattering of other nationalities. However, proportionally per percentage of the total population of the USA as compared to the UK perhaps this works out. Math is not one of my strong suits so I certainly am not going to ponder this any longer!

Nationality of Passengers aboard Ocean Princess August 22 - 30, 2013
As the Ocean Princess has a maximum capacity of 675 passengers it is evident our voyage is sold out. We still see very few people though.

Before departing the reception area I took a look at the monitor to see the ship's progress. We are a just a bit further along than we were when we woke up.

Ship position near Scottish coastline
It is deceiving how large Scotland is and also how many islands it contains. Scotland has a land area of 79 sq km with a total coastline of 12,000 km. There are some 800 islands, with almost 600 of them lying off the west coast. Scotland has over 30,000 freshwater lochs and 6600 river systems. The Scottish population of 5.1 million live in only 3% of the total land area.

I picked up the following postcard showing a map of Scotland when we were in Stirling.

Postcard of Map of Scotland
The map above shows the islands off the coast. Some of islands must be very tiny!

To take up more time we made another loop around the ship visiting Deck 5 again. I love this vantage point of seeing Decks 4 and 5 together from here. Ocean Princess is a very pretty ship. It is also great that it only takes a few minutes to get where you want to go in any direction.

On Deck 5 looking down to Deck 4
Everyone must be worn out because with the exception of the Lido it is almost a ghost town!

It was finally time to head to the Cabaret Lounge for the Dublin presentation. The same lovely speaker we had for Edinburgh was doing this one too. She went over some logistics and provided info on the price of a taxi from and to the port in case the shuttle wasn't an option. The shuttle is not free so the taxi might actually be better if only going in one direction. She also explained the different sightseeing buses, routes and cost (18 euros).

Dublin City Sightseeing Bus Routes
We are doing a Princess escorted tour tomorrow so we don't need to know too much about getting back and forth to the ship. We may take a taxi back if want to spend more time in town. Dublin is reasonably compact and walkable but it was nice to get our bearings before our arrival. We also received some recommendations on where to purchase certain items on Kildare Street and other areas of interest. It was mentioned that the Temple Bar area though somewhat sketchy at night, is fine during the daytime and it is interesting to see. She also mentioned taking excursions outside of Dublin but didn't go into too much detail.

We departed the talk and stopped at the Internet room to check email. Being a sea day I was surprised how empty this room was. We both had no problem logging on and I used up about 20 more of my Internet minutes checking in at work and also looking at my own personal email.

Internet Room
Perhaps everyone is using a handheld device from their rooms?

Nicely appointed Internet room
This room is the perfect size as it provides privacy even if it gets crowded. The large windows with natural light are also a plus.

After walking by the Card Room, also empty, we decided to take another look outside to see if the weather had improved.

Card Room
Unfortunately, the weather wasn't getting any better and it was now pretty windy too.

No sun today

How time flies! It was now lunch time and we went to the Lido at around 1:00 pm. It was so busy! There were hardly any open tables available. We asked a couple if we could sit with them and they happily agreed. We went up to get our food and they had a very nice selection today. I got a little saran wrapped sandwich, a couple of hot items and some salad. I didn't take any photos as we were with present company.

The couple we joined, Pat and Ash are from Ontario, Canada. They turned out to be very nice. Mother insisted that I tell them about our marathon visit in Edinburgh and how much walking she had to do. It probably took 10 minutes to finish the entire list of venues we saw. Pat and Ash were amazed with Pat saying she wouldn't enjoy moving around that much. Ash was moot on the subject.

We asked Ash about his profession and then had a really fascinating discussion about the aviation industry. Ash works for Emirates and as specializes in running their flight simulators. He makes several trips per month to Dubai and other exotic destinations. He didn't know he was a sitting duck as I inquired about the problems with 787 Dreamliner and asked for his thoughts. He said it is a good plane and that they will get it right eventually. We did talk about the flight simulators a bit more which was very interesting. It was nice meeting some fellow passengers and we really enjoyed our lunch. I feel like we did something educational too.

Afterward mother went back to the room and I followed a short time later. I did some laps around the ship both inside and outside. This would have been a great day to use the use the gym but I didn't bring my running shoes or exercise clothes as I thought we would be getting plenty of exercise on shore. I contemplated for a few moments using my regular walking shoes in the gym but that just didn't seem right.

Instead I went to the Tahitian Lounge (also empty!) to sit down and take some notes on the trip and to reflect on our time in Edinburgh and its environs.

Deserted Tahitian Lounge
It is the middle of the day. Where is everybody????

Tahitian Lounge
As I had the room to myself I plopped down and made some notes on our experiences over the last 2 days.
There are numerous port possibilities in Edinburgh so I thought I would provide some suggestions.

Edinburgh Excursion Possibilities

Walking and getting around the city is very easy and because they speak English it is joy to explore on your own. It really is not that hilly on the Royal Mile. We walked it in both directions with little difficulty. Even with an entire day exploring we only touched the surface in Edinburgh and there are many more places we did not have time to see. Some of the Closes (alleys) would have been fun and I wish we would of had time for the Botanical Garden which has excellent reviews. Further a field, you can take the train west to Stirling to see the castle or even easier it is just 45 minutes by train to Glasgow. We enjoyed seeing the city of Glasgow prior to the cruise. There is a lot to see and do there and it provided a nice contrast to Edinburgh which we found a bit too touristy. If you go north it is just a short trip to Glamis Castle, the ancestral home of the Queen Mother. Also traveling north you can visit Blair Castle in the Scottish Highlands or St. Andrews which is along the seashore. If you go south you can see Melrose Abbey and Berwick. There are tons of options!

That being said, I loved our trip yesterday to Perth and Gleneagles. However, if we did not see the Military Tattoo, I would have taken the train to Blair Castle in Athol late on Saturday afternoon and spent the night there. They were holding an equestrian event over the weekend with the added bonus of an annual high-end craft fair. Since the travel time there is 4 hours roundtrip I had to rule this one out immediately since we could not do it in just one day. Due to the train schedule, even if we only spent 90 minutes there we would not have arrived back to the ship in time for our 4:00 pm departure.

I  know some people enjoy seeing the Royal Yacht Britannia. However, this didn't hold any interest for me or mother. When mother was living in the Caribbean she had the opportunity to see Britannia not just once, but twice by invitation from HRH Prince Philip. He was sailing around the British West Indies and invited the expatriates on board during his various stops. She first declined the invitation to visit in Nevis and then about a week later when she returned to Turks & Caicos she declined a second time when the yacht was parked outside her window. Let's just say while mother has high admiration for the Queen, she is not a fan of the Royals. For her, the Royal Family is akin to the Hope Diamond. It is nice to look at but it is really not necessary. Now that I have offended the entire British Commonwealth I apologize!

Okay, moving on now, I decided to go back to the room to rest for a bit before dinner. I feel like I have not done much today but it certainly was relaxing. When I arrived Mother was snug in her bed watching TV. She had already showered and had her curlers in her hair.

I had plenty of time to get ready for our dinner in the Sterling Steakhouse. I don't eat steak that often, maybe once or twice a year but my mother is true carnivore and loves meat! I didn't feel like dressing up too much so just put on my velvet pants and a silk top.

We went upstairs to the restaurant but the service seemed a bit off. We had to wait 5 minutes for someone to come to the podium and take our room number. It was early but there were only about 5 other tables seated. Like last night, we again have a table for 4 but only set for 2. We are facing the opposite side tonight and the sun isn't visible.

I was slightly horrified that they insist on bringing over a cart of the meat selection to explain each cut. While this may be welcomed by most people, I was completely turned off. I couldn't stand the sight of it. I looked at the menu and contemplated just ordering vegetables.

The easiest way to lose one's appetite!
I really like Bearnaise sauce so against my better judgement I changed my mind and ordered the Filet. My mother ordered the same thing but we had different starters. Our waiter was just okay. He had no personality and didn't seem to speak English very well. I am glad we are only eating here one night.

For my starter I had the Gruyere and Blue Cheese Onion Soup. I had this before on the Ruby Princess too. It was just "Meh". The cheese need to be crisper. It was just a bit of soggy mess I'm afraid. Taste was fine though.

Onion Soup
My mother had a seafood starter but I did not snap a photo apparently.

The main dishes came out fairly quickly. At first I just sort of starred at the steak wishing I had not succumbed to the temptation of dousing it in Bearnaise. There was nothing wrong with it but it just did not appeal to me. All the veggies and the baked potato around it on the plate looked yummy though.

Filet Sterling Steakhouse
I ate less than half of it but cut it into little pieces so it wasn't so obvious. My mother seemed to really enjoy hers though! I did offer her some of mine and she took some of the more rare pieces as she likes her meat "walking off the plate".

We both had dessert which seemed to be way to rescue the evening.  I ordered the Berry Cobbler but the crust was too thick. I just scooped out the berries inside.

Berry Cobbler
The berries and the ice cream were very good.

We passed on the show again and went back to room. I know we are so boring!

Ocean Princess is due to arrive in Dublin at 7:00 am tomorrow.  Our Princess tour will depart at 8:30 am so we will be getting early start.

The moon looks quite beautiful tonight as we approach the Irish Sea.

Moon from our window

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