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Port Notes -- Edinburgh
The announcements about tender boat groups started early this morning and doubled as a welcome wake-up call to get us all ready to disembark for South Queensferry and Edinburgh. We went to the Explorer's Lounge to get our passports checked by some friendly but authoritative Scots, and then proceeded to either the Ocean Bar or the Showroom for tender tickets. Leaving the ms Rotterdam this way afforded the rare opportunity to observe the concave hull and see just how imposing our cruise ship looks to a smaller vessel!
Arriving at South Queensferry afforded a laugh as we realized Holland America's familiar blue carpets, velvet ropes, and Purell towers had landed before us. Those heading into Edinburgh by train took a mildly strenuous walk via paved road and mud-and-wood stairs to Dalmeny Station. The medieval and Enlightenment-era buildings of Edinburgh looked picturesque from our viewpoint at Waverly Station, and we headed from Princes Street up some hilly alleyways to reach the Royal Mile, along which many of Edinburgh's attractions are conveniently located.
It was a beautiful, breezy day for walking the Mile and stopping into shops selling some of Scotland's typical wares: cashmere scarves and blankets, bright kilts, Walkers shortbread, and Scotch whisky galore. Edinburgh Castle loomed overhead and tourists brandishing selfie sticks lurked outside its walls. At the other end of the Royal Mile, guests rounding the corner of the new, ultra-modern Scottish Parliament building may have been surprised by the magnificent contrast with the Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat rising from the landscape behind it.
In between those two landmarks were less imposing sights including charming alleys known as wynds (usually wide enough for a horse and cart) and closes (private property, gated and closed to the public). Ducking into Dunbar's Close Garden felt like stumbling upon Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, and it was another peaceful moment to light a candle inside St. Giles' Cathedral.
After our first day trekking on land, it was comforting to return to the ship in time for afternoon tea in the dining room--or for some of us, a nap.
Lecture Notes -- Bendik Rugaas
VIKINGS IN RUSSIA
The creation of Russia began with Viking adventurer-traders who opened up trade routes beginning around A.D. 800 on the great Russian rivers like the Dnieper and the Volga between the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas. They dominated the land and ruled the cities in the 9th and 10th centuries. At its height the territory under their control stretched from Lake Onega in the north, near the Black Sea in the south, the Volga in the east and the Carpathian Mountains in the west. They remained in the region until the 11th century when they were assimilated by indigenous tribes. [Source: Robert Paul Jordan, National Geographic, March 1985]
Soviet scholars traditionally maintained that a confederation of Slav tribes existed three centuries before the Vikings arrived. But many Western historians have maintained the first rulers of what is now Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus were Scandinavians. Viking chiefs became rulers of Slavic cities like Novgorod and Kiev. The Slavs were often their subjects.
The Vikings in Russia came as traders not conquerors. They first appeared in the region in the 6th century and had some run ins with the Khazar. The Norwegians and Danish Vikings were centered primarily in Western Europe, but the Swedes looked eastward to the Baltic and what is now Russia. Many of the Vikings that traded in present-day Russia hailed from Birka and Gotland in present-day Sweden.
Performer Profiles -- Eric Jacobsen
You may remember him from last year's APHC Alaskan cruise as the Beluga whale, Marcella, who played the "cella" and had a torrid love affair with Rich Dworsky. Eric Jacobsen joins us again this year, playing cello in the Knights Quartet.
He grew up on Long Island in a musical family. His dad played violin in the Metropolitan Opera for 35 years, and his mom played flute. His older brother, Colin, is a violinist, and he and Eric collaborate frequently. For Eric, practicing was never a mandatory task. It was a part of his heritage, and something he loved to do with his family.
Eric's musical talents are as varied as they are impressive. Over the past few years, his focus has shifted to conducting. He is currently Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic as well as the Bridgeport Symphony, and co-artistic director of the Knights. He says he will always play the cello, but this is another way to stretch his musical muscles.
While he is a city boy at heart, Eric has strong ties to the prairie. His dad is a native Minnesotan, and even played violin in the Minneapolis Symphony (which would later become the Minnesota Opera). Every summer, Eric visits his family cabin in Square Lake, MN, just outside of Stillwater. For 10 years, the Jacobsen brothers and the two other members of Brooklyn Rider ran the Stillwater Music Festival, bringing world-class musicians to the quaint Wobegon-esque town. Eric even likes to eat walleye, and is ready to take on passengers in the Lutefisk Challenge while we're in Norway. In his words, "Let's get it on!"
Eric currently splits his time between Brooklyn and Orlando. He is married to our dear APHC pal, Aoife O'Donovan, who has been gradually educating him about folk, bluegrass, Irish, and original music. He now pays closer attention to lyrics, and Aoife's haircuts, thanks to her influence.
Jean and Jim Shoemaker hail from Harrisburg, PA. Jean is a retired civil service employee who worked for several government agencies, while Jim, also retired, pursued his passion for trains, working one summer for the railroad. It wasn't long before Jim realized that working on the railroad all the livelong day was not for him. So he became a mechanical engineer and traveled all over the country servicing heating and cooling systems for V.A. Hospitals. The two met at a Methodist social group where they both enjoyed tennis and dancing. They can now be found on the dance floor up at the Crow's Nest most nights.
When did you two become fans of APHC?
Jim: I've been a fan of the show since the 1980s.
Jean: I never heard of Garrison until we started dating and I quickly became a fan.
One place that stands out for you?
We have loved all the cruises but if we had to choose one, it would be the cruise around the Baltic.
Best part of an APHC cruise?
The variety of entertainment. Each of us can find something we like on our own, and also enjoy many performances together.
Easiest part of being on an APHC cruise?
The ease of having everything planned out for you. The hardest thing we do is figuring out what to pack.
Greatest moment on the cruise?
When we finally were able to see all the performers from the show close up and also get to meet, chat and make a personal connection with them.
One memory you would like to share with us?
The first APHC cruise up to New England and Canada was our honeymoon.
Next place you wish an APHC cruise would go?
Jean: The Panama Canal. Jim: The British Isles.
View From the Bow -- Bjørn Follestad
Is geology the basis for the industrial revolution in Great Britain?
During the Mesozoic era, great layers of iron oxides were laid down across the middle part of Great Britain. Over time, in the acidic environments of the peat bogs that formed after the last glacial period, the iron oxides were transformed into iron sulfide. Meanwhile, layers of coal could be found nearby.
Through a reduction process, the Vikings were adept at melting iron sulfide over the relatively low heat of charcoal fires. This molten iron could then be readily worked into most any device desired. Critical advantages were afforded to anyone with ready access to iron. This is the basic driving force in the industrialization of Great Britain.
Excerpted from Garrison's forthcoming book of limericks to be published by Grove/Atlantic
Henry James preferred the obscure,
The wordy elaborate detour —
You ask him if he
Wants coffee or tea,
He replies, but you cannot be sure.
Dear devout Flannery O'Connor,
When she knew she was a goner,
Sat down and wrote stories
Of desperate glories
As the good Lord smiled down on her.
A troubled man, Robert Lowell,
Was bipolar deep in his soul, And despite his great gifts,
He worked double shifts
Deep in the mine digging coal.
Food To Try
It's a running joke to tell tourists that haggis is a type of animal. There are numerous recipes, but the most traditional haggis is made from sheep's 'pluck' (a less graphic way of saying heart, liver and lungs). The meat is minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt and boiled in the sheep's stomach for about three hours.
Unsurprisingly, haggis has always had trouble being accepted. Even in the 1700s, Scotland's famous poet, Robert Burns, had to defend the dish. In a poem, he playfully mocked the haggis-hater who "looks down with a sneering scornful opinion on such a dinner." To honor the poet's memory, Burns Suppers are held all over Scotland on Burns' birthday, January 25th. The main dish is, of course, haggis.