Bright flowers juxtaposed against the old stone walls of Orkney houses // © 2010 Susan B. Rheingold
Seabourn Sojourn // © 2010 Susan B. Rheingold
Quaint houses of Shetland // © 2010 Susan B. Rheingold
Kirkwall recalls earlier times // © 2010 Susan B. Rheingold
Sailing onboard Seabourn’s new Sojourn along the fjords of Norway and on toward Shetland, Orkney and “doon sooth” to the Scottish mainland, we are having unusually dry weather. In fact, half of Norway was sunning itself and astonished passengers were shopping for sunblock. Still, temperatures are now topping off in the 60s, and it’s a wonderful relief from the summertime heat at home in the U.S.
The sojourn sails from Norway’s traditional small towns, among the fjords, to the city of Bergen and to the ancient sailing grounds of the Vikings and prehistoric civilizations. Our last call is a couple of days in Leith (Edinburgh), so we feel like we are rolling back and forth in history. Actually, up here in the north, it feels as though we have wandered straight into one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, complete with mysterious stone circles and towers.
I’m particularly fond of the windswept landscape and ancient history of the Shetland Islands, with the rock-cut tombs and the ruins of ancient brochs. In the town of Lerwick, bright flowers climb against the houses’ old stone walls, and the very hospitable people chat with visitors in the shops, cafes and pubs that make it feel much larger than its 7,000 people. We tendered in after a day at sea, and passengers immediately scattered to explore the ruins and dramatic cliffs.
Since we had full day in Lerwick, most people returned to the ship for lunch after their tours, only to turn around and go out again after hearing about some of the unusual shops in the Old Town. They poured through the streets in search of Shetland knits, unusual toys, fiddling CDs, local crafts, tatties (stuffed potatoes) and fish and chips.
Many passengers ended up visiting the Shetland Soap Company once they heard about the letters from doctors on the restorative effects of the organic creams and soaps capitalizing on sea minerals. It’s an elegant shop that could take its place in New York City without changing much; the back story is that it gives employment and income to the people with disabilities who create the lotions, shampoos and soaps. As the word spread, Sojourn’s passengers flocked to the shop, underlining the strength of the trend toward giving back to port communities.
Dozens of people also crowded in to High Level Music, run by a local musician, to buy the music of regional singers, the famous Shetland fiddlers and pipe bands. In these remote islands, Americans seemed surprised to find an advanced technology in which the CD labels could be scanned and its music previewed on headphones without ever opening the packaging.
Back on the ship, everyone is showing off thick sweaters and lace, colorful puffin puppets, Viking ship models and huge stuffed wooly mammoths — all souvenirs from a day well spent.