Searching for the Vikings

Tuesday, August 15 - Day 14: At Sea in the North Atlantic

We woke up this morning to the sound of an old friend, the foghorn. Yes, the foghorn and its traveling companion, the fog, are back with us. We missed them. We woke a little late. It probably had something to do with losing another hour to the time zone change. So by the time we went to breakfast, it was 9:30. The schedule for the day had listed another lecture by John Nixon at 10:00, but it was supposed to be a repeat of his lecture on the transatlantic telegraph cables, so we had plenty of time before another lecture we wanted to attend at 11.

Then at ten minutes to ten, Jan, our Cruise Director came on the PA to announce that the schedule was in error and the 10:00 lecture by John Nixon was a new one, not a repeat of his old one. Thanks a lot. Why did he wait until ten minutes before the lecture to let us know?

So, we hurriedly gobbled down the remainder of our breakfast and headed to the theater, arriving about ten minutes into the lecture. This one was entitled “The Race for Tea”. When we walked in and found a seat, John was talking about the different kinds of tea and how it is created. Something about oxidation and fermentation, and different amounts of these created different kinds of tea, white, yellow, green, oolong, black.

The rest of the lecture was about the great clipper ships of the mid 19th century that went from Foochow China down the China sea around India, down the coast of Africa, around Cape Horn and up the Eastern Atlantic to England and then up the Thames river to London, a journey of 14,000 miles, just bringing tea to England. He told us that tea was worth a fortune and one of these ships, holding about 500 tons of tea, would earn the equivalent of several million dollars when the tea reached London. He also said that the first ship bringing in the tea after a new tea harvest was given a bonus and the Captain given a prize, which led to the ships racing to be the first. He then described the Tea Race of 1866 and how the fastest five ships completed the 14,000 mile trip and arrived within three days of each other.

Finally, he described how the tea races, and the clipper ships themselves were obsoleted by steam ships which made the journey much more quickly, with smaller crews, and how the clipper ships were completely obsoleted for the tea trade by the opening of the Suez Canal. It was another fascinating lecture.

We stayed in the theater for the next lecture, given by a new lecturer, Dr. Thorsteinn Hannesson, from Iceland. His lecture was titled “The Vikings - Scandinavia and the Viking World”. An appropriate lecture for the “Voyage of the Vikings” cruise. His talk was all about the history of the Vikings. His very first slide was, of course, explaining that they never, ever, had helmets with horns on them. To illustrate, he put up a drawing from the comic strip “Hagar the Horrible” showing Hagar with his horned helmet, his sword and his shield with arrows sticking out of it. Then Hagar’s horns disappeared.

There was a lot of information we had not known, too much to summarize here, except for three interesting things. He described how the Viking ships didn’t have a rudder in the rear, but used a steering board, sort of long oar, on the right side of the ship. Therefore, the ship couldn’t pull up at dock on the right side, since the steering board was in the way, so the other side was the side that pulled into a port, thus the names Starboard (steering board) and Port. We didn’t know that.

The other interesting thing was how many place names in Europe and England are derived from Nordic words and names. He told us that York is actually a Nordic word. So since we’re from New York, does that make us New Vikings? I sure hope so. The third remarkable thing he showed us was a picture of a Rune Stone that had ancient Viking runes carved into it. Runes were their simple alphabet, which he said wasn’t just an alphabet because each of the runes also had a name and was therefore sometime used as a whole word, with lots of connotations. He then showed us the transliteration of the runes on the stone into the roman alphabet, and then the same words in modern Icelandic. The two were almost identical. It said something like “(some important Viking guy’s name) had this stone put up here where he died”, meaning somebody had his gravestone put here. Fascinating.

After lunch we attended our Location Guide, Barbara’s talk on things to see and do in Rotterdam, and she also covered Amsterdam. We learned a little bit about what we might want to see when we walk around Rotterdam. We already knew almost everything she mentioned about Amsterdam, since we had already been there twice. Since the ship will be in Rotterdam for two days, we plan on going to Amsterdam for one day, because we want to see the newly renovated Rijksmuseum, and then spend the other day walking around Rotterdam.

(… the river of time gurgled its way toward the sea of later-ness…)

It’s now about 3:30 in the afternoon, and we’re up in the Crow’s Nest writing these literary masterpieces. Interestingly, there’s fog, and rain, wind and whitecaps on the sea outside. The ship is rocking a little more than it has during the last two weeks. In fact, since last night it has been a little tricky walking around. Everybody is walking like a “drunken sailor”. Well, yes, some of these people do that even on dry land, but that’s a different problem. Up here in the Crow’s Nest it’s even worse, and sometimes the whole ship seems to shudder violently. Neither Donnie or I have any symptoms of seasickness, yet. Donnie is now heading to her “Ice Cream Reversal” fitness class, and I think I’ll head back to our stateroom to enjoy the rocking and shaking in privacy.

Ouch, the ship just let loose a shudder that would have been appropriate on an E-ticket ride at Disneyland. I just remembered that this ship was built in 1997. Scary. As I just got up to go down to our deck, I noticed that over half of the forward-facing windows up here in the Crow’s Nest have rolled-up towels shoved in at the bottom, presumably to absorb leaking water. Very interesting. I have also noticed many more repair guys peering into various unmarked doors and cubbyholes, also very interesting. I did book a cruise in the North Atlantic, didn’t I?

(… time slid its way down the slide of not-now-anymore…)

Now I’m down in our cabin on deck six, and the room is creaking more than ever. I probably forgot to mention that unless we’re docked, or the sea is very calm, the room creaks. I have been able to ignore it most of the time, but it creaked quite a bit last night and Donnie says it kept her awake. Right now it sounds like a drummer in a rock band on acid. Also something hanging in the closet is banging. What fun.