Although we did spend a lot of time at sea on our recent repositioning cruise, we were able to visit some interesting places once we reached land. Most cruises are selected based on the ports of call. This isn’t really the case for a repositioning cruise. These cruises are more about the cruise experience and getting from one place to another. That said, let me tell you about the places we did visit.
When we discussed our cruise with other people, most people were quite interested in the Azores. That goes for us, too.
What we found was a green landscape on volcanically active São Miguel island. The landscape included lots of cows, green fields, and tropical plants. The terrain looked a lot like Hawaii, which we have come to realize is the look of any volcanically active area somewhat close to the equator. We thought the same of many places in Panama. We saw loads of blooming azaleas and hydrangeas everywhere.
The other interesting thing on São Miguel island is the geothermal activity. The result is that there are pools and spas where you can bathe in the “healthful” if smelly waters. We did see something that we hadn’t seen elsewhere. The steam is so close to the surface in many places that people cook with it. We saw organized areas where cement had been poured to create shallow cylindrical holes in the ground with wooden covers. The way it works is that people will go to one of these areas and put their big pot of food into one of the holes. The cooking is low and slow, good for an all-day braise of meat and root vegetables.
Because we were there on a weekend morning, we saw people putting food in the holes. Better get there early or all the holes will be filled.
The residents of San Miguel island are also very proud of their volcanic crater lakes. Since the day was cloudy and overcast, we were only able to see a small glimpse of a lake in the distance. While our visit was interesting and we like to focus on the good stuff, I don’t really need to go back to the Azores.
A Walking Tour of Brest, France
Brest was our first stop in France and we didn’t have an excursion or a tour booked. This was our first time in Brittany, so our plan was to visit Château de Brest and enjoy our return to France. Again, we were struck by how comfortable France is for us. My main goal for the day was to find a proper baguette. I am happy to say that my mission was accomplished and half of it was gone before we got back to the ship.
Brest is first and foremost a port. The town grew around its 1631 arsenal built by Cardinal Richelieu, on the banks of the river Penfeld. We started our visit at the Château de Brest, where fortifications have existed for seventeen centuries. Today it houses the Maritime Museum which describes the entire military history of the city. From the chateau, there is a clear view of the town’s main bridge and the Tanguy Tower on the other side of the river.
After our visit to the museum, we wandered around town and looked at all of the spring flowers. Then, as is our custom, we stopped at a bar for a drink before getting the authentic baguette and returning to the ship.
Making Port in South Hampton, UK
Our visit to South Hampton was completely about our excursion that day to Stonehenge and Salisbury. This was the only cruise ship excursion we took, so we don’t know if the organization was typical or not. The day didn’t get off to a good start. We stood in line waiting for the British Border Guards who were about an hour late to board the ship. Unlike all of our other ports, the border guards wanted to view everyone’s passports before we could leave the ship. Once the formalities were done, things went pretty smoothly. We boarded one of the first busses and off we went to Stonehenge.
It was a typical day in the UK, gray and somewhat drippy. I had been to Stonehenge about 40 years ago when you could just park by the side of the road and walk up to the stones. Now that road is a path within a fence that surrounds the stones and the new visitors center. I had heard you couldn’t get near the stones anymore but we were actually able to get pretty close. We had a good time making the circuit around the stones, imagining all of the other people who visited the stones in the past. With more information available now, we were able to picture the people who lived nearby and see burial mounds in the distance.
I had a particularly good time talking to the sheep that were grazing on the other side of the fence quite close to the path around the stones. Admittedly, you can look at a bunch of rocks for just so long, so I thought I would play with the sheep. I decided to speak to them by saying “baa ram ewe” just like in the movie Babe. The most amazing thing happened after that, they started following me. I know I’m easily amused but they continued for at least 10 minutes and I laughed the entire time. What fun!!
Medieval Town of Salisbury
Like the steak. I’m not sure one has anything to do with the other but that is how I remember to spell it. Salisbury is a medieval town built around a huge (and I mean huge) cathedral. We walked through a gate in the city wall and after a block or two, we got our first glimpse of the cathedral and it was quite a sight. Unfortunately, we could only see the cloister that day because they were having a big flower show inside the cathedral so we couldn’t enter without a ticket. We didn’t think the price of admission was worth it so we visited the cloister and then headed toward town.
Since we don’t shop, we looked at the super old buildings for a while and then decided to get out of the rain and find a pub for lunch. We didn’t have to look far and the atmosphere inside was pleasant and dry. We had a lunch that included beer (of course) and I had fish and chips while Mike had a really good chicken and bacon pot pie. I’m pretty sure I have never seen such a large piece of fish battered and fried but it was really impressive. More impressive, however, was the most tender, flaky, and delicious fish inside the beer batter. The Brits definitely knew their fish and chips.
Our Stop in Le Havre, France
Funny story. We belong to a Facebook group of other nomads and travel buffs. A number of members took repositioning cruises around the same time as we did, but no one was on our ship. Here is the funny part. When we woke in Le Havre, we were in port staring at another cruise ship, the Anthem of the Seas. Mike says, “I think Joe and Jane are on that ship.” So he messaged them. Sure enough, we were able to wave at them from our balcony. They were planning to go to Rouen but we were planning to go to Honfleur. Since we decided to spend the day together, we decided to go to Honfleur because it was a bus or taxi ride away.
Both ships were sharing a terminal, so we met Joe and Jane for the first time when we left the ship. We decided that the fastest way to Honfleur was an Uber so that is what we did.
I had been to Honfleur many years ago and remembered it as being quaint. But it is way more than that. It is an authentic, well-preserved, 400+ year-old fishing/shipping town. It was unbelievably beautiful, so much so that we all said that it looked fake, like a Disney town.
We spent the day walking around town marveling at all of the little shops and the houses surrounding the back harbor. There was more than enough time to stop for lunch and a bottle of wine, a proper French lunch.
After lunch, we spent some time watching the boats and the sailing school. We were easily able to find the bus back to central Le Havre and from there, take a short ride back to the cruise terminal. Unfortunately, we didn’t leave enough time to see the post-WWII UNESCO architecture of Monsieur Perrett in the center of Le Havre. Bummer for my UNESCO count but we had a lovely day anyway.
Our Stop at Bruges, Belgium
I had also visited Bruges when I lived in France more than 30 years ago. While European towns don’t usually change much over the years, my memories have faded so I was excited to visit again.
After disembarking the ship, we found it very confusing to get from the cruise port in Zeebrugge to the town of Bruges. After quite a while of waiting in line for a bus that didn’t have room for us, Mike finally caught some people coming out of the cruise terminal and convinced them that sharing a taxi with us would be the cheapest and fastest way to get to town. That turned out to be true and we returned to the ship with some of the same people at the end of our visit to Bruges.
Bruges is another one of those special, small, well preserved, impossibly cute towns in Europe. We started our visit to the main square and listened to a free tour guide provide some history of the town. Bruges became famous for its textiles and later for its lace. The largest building on the main square was the textile market. It is located in the “low country” so there are lots of canals.
Since we were in Belgium, we had to have a Belgian waffle but not from anyone. I had read that House of Waffles was the best, so that is where we went. Since we just wanted a taste, we shared a plain waffle but Mike took pictures of the waffles they served if you had time to go in and sit down. Yum!
After wandering around town for a while, it was time to enjoy another Belgian specialty. Nope, not chocolate. We headed to a place called the Beer Wall. They literally have a corridor leading into the bar that is lined with Belgian beers, most we had never heard of. After finding a table on the canal, we ordered some beer. We followed the first beer up with a sampler of other beers so we could enjoy the whole experience. Our day in Bruges was really fun, especially the food and drinks.
Disembarking and Final Thoughts
The last stop on our cruise was Amsterdam, where we planned to stay for a week. We got off the ship very early and headed to our hotel to drop off our bags. Read about our time in Amsterdam in future articles.
We took this cruise because it was a new and different way to get to Europe. Surprisingly, the ports of call were much more fun and informative than I expected them to be. I would have to say that the ports in Europe were actually the most memorable part of the trip. While I enjoyed the sea days for their regular routine and entertainment, touring Europe is what we really love. Having a new place to explore each day is exhilarating.
Would you take a cruise to Europe?