General – This island is divided into two parts, Sint Maarten is the Dutch side while Saint Martin is the French side. It is a favorite cruise destination because the cruise port can handle several large cruise ships at one time.
Where You’re Docked – The cruise ships dock on the Dutch side close to the town of Philipsburg. The cruise ship docking area includes a large shopping village with several food and drink outlets. The Dutch town of Philipsburg is less than half a mile away walking. The town on the French side is Marigot and is decidedly French in character with a number of good bistros and restaraunts.
Transportation – From the cruise dock there is a boat shuttle service that goes directly to Philipsburg for about US$5 one way or US$8 for a day pass. It will require a taxi or a minibus to reach Marigot and you should be cautioned that with several large ships in port traffic can back up badly late in the day returning to the cruise ships, so allow plenty of time for the trip back. Taxi service is reasonably priced with a trip to the other side of Philipsburg costing less than US$5. A minibus to Marigot should be about US$5.
Money – While the two half’s of the island have their own currency the U.S. dollar is welcome on the Dutch side but Euros are usually required on the French side. Giving a 15% gratuity is common practice also.
Port St Maarten has a web site with a schedule of ship arrivals here.
Philipsburg – The main town on the Dutch side with a large beach.
Maho Bay Beach – Located at the end of the main airport runway. People seem to like to stand in the jet blast as planes land and takeoff. There is a bar on the beach.
Marigot – A sleepy town on the French side noted for good food.
Orient Beach – A beautiful beach near Marigot on the French side. Topless and nude bathing is common.
Temple Bar in Dublin is famous. Many people mistakenly think it actually is a bar but it’s not. In the seventeenth century a famous Dubliner, Sir William Temple was the provost of Trinity College. Sir Temple owned property along the river. In the river in front of his land was a sand bar and around that time a breakwater was built at the mouth of the river. That resulted in the sand bar growing and as it filled it became part of the real estate of the city. Locals began to refer to this land as “Temple Bar” and the districts name survives today.
The Temple Bar neighborhood today is an area famous for its nightlife and has a number of pubs and bars. In 1840 an establishment opened named Temple Bar Pub and today it is still a popular institution. It features good food, libations and live music. Every new visitor to Dublin should put a stop at the Temple Bar Pub on their list of destinations. From early in the day to late at night it is full of energy, serves good, moderately priced fair and features live Irish music.
Dublin has a reputation for good food and we lean strongly toward pub fare. Corned beef sandwiches, fish n’ chips, Oysters & Guinness, Irish stew to name a few. During our recent visit we took advantage of a few and were pleased with them all.
The Bank Bar and Restaurant opened in 2003 and located on College Green next door to H&M in the heart of Dublin. The name comes from the building originally being a bank and it still has its original character with lots of brass railings, tiles, and ornate ceilings. It offers primarily a pub menu and features a live piano player. We give it high marks.
Murrays Pub located on O’Connell Street just north of the Spire. This pub has a good reputation for food and features live music and Irish dancers in the evening. It had a welcoming comfortable feeling and a good Irish Coffee which was just the thing on a wet afternoon.
Grand Central Café Bar is also on O’Connell Street just south of the Spire. Located in a historic building that was shelled during “The Rising”, it offers a large collection of local beers and cocktails and an extensive menu of dishes, prepared in front of you in an open plan kitchen. It features music and dancing in the evening. Good food and service at reasonable prices.
Directly across the street from the Ha’penny Bridge on the south side is The Merchant’s Arch Bar which features live music and good bar snacks. We stopped in around happy hour time and joined in on a few Irish songs and a pint of Guinness. The atmosphere was lively and the staff was friendly and efficient.
For dessert and coffee look up The Wooden Whisk at 94 Talbot Street just a few blocks east of the Spire on O’Connell Street. It has a small deli and coffee shop vibe but after a few days of trying pastries and coffee around the city this was real find and the prices were more than fair.
And than there’s Starbucks. We have traveled the world in recent years and there is an American creation that has become as ubiquitous as McDonalds – Starbucks! From Australia to Thailand to Dublin you will probably walk past several Starbucks in a day. While we prefer local we also carry our Starbucks card with us when we travel, often because we know we can access free wifi. We’ve been told we can pay with funds on our card at any Starbucks worldwide but for some reason we have been skeptical. In Dublin we broke down (I needed to reload a Google map) and were surprised at the transaction. First it was instant. Second the receipt spelled out the transaction in Euros as well as the dollars used and the exchange rate was exactly what the mornings quote showed. Lastly it also showed the balance on the card in Euros as well as dollars.. Two big thumbs up for Starbucks.
We visited Iceland in early May and that may have been a bit early in the season. We were told a few times that this place has a beautiful Summer but unfortunately nobody knows when that week will happen. During the time that we were there the daytime temperatures probably averaged in the high 20’s to low 30’s but with winds often gusting at 30 and 40 mph it really seemed colder.
You have to ignore the weather and let this country just overwhelm you. Reykjavíkis a beautiful, clean and an easy city to walk around in. The centerpiece of the city is the Hallgrimskirkja (the Presbyterian Cathedral) standing almost 245 feet tall it towers over Reykjavik. The spire is open to the public with breathtaking vistas taking in the whole city.
The cities opera house, Harpa stands at the edge of the Reykjavik Harbor with Iceland‘s biggest concert hall suitable for a broad range of concerts and cultural events. The city is also home to the Imagine Peace Tower dedicated to John Lennon. It is a work of art conceived as a beacon to world peace by Yoko Ono. The work is designed in the form of a wishing well from which a powerful tower of light beams into the night sky.
Eating in Reykjavik can be an exotic experience considering the staple foods of this country (roasted puffin, sheep cheeks) but one item of note is their famous hot dogs. The most famous location is the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand located downtown just two blocks toward the water from the park in front of the government building. Most people order them all-the-way which includes a crunchy onion based relish, ketchup, a remoulade sauce and sweet mustard on a steamed bun. We just followed the trail of people walking up the street eating hot dogs and found them worth the walk. It is worth noting that most hot dog stands have no seating indoor or out and the only option is to order at the window and eat while walking away. We were also told you can order your hot dog Bill Clinton style which is with just mustard.
To get the real impact of this land you need to get out into the country where you can experience the real wonder of this unique place. Driving across Iceland you are immediately struck by the stark beauty of its landscapes. Snow covered tundra backed up against rugged snow-capped mountains.
One of the most popular trips is the Golden Circle tour with the three primary stops on the route being the Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Though Geysir has been mostly dormant for a number of years, Strokkur continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes.
Þingvellir National Park is centered on an exposed rift where the North American tectonic plate is pulling away from the Eurasian plate. What is exposed is an opening between the higher plates with a walkway where you can stroll along Earths newest real estate.
While Iceland is one of the Earths most geo-thermally active places much is spread out over hundreds of square miles. Visiting Haukadalur was somewhat disappointing but that may have been because we had spent some time in Yellowstone just recently, Strokkur was erupting every five minutes while we were there but its energy was much lower than the famous Old Faithful. It didn’t help that the temperature was in the 20’s with a stiff wind blowing.
The highlight of the tour was the Gullfoss waterfall. This was an amazing multi-tiered waterfall dropping at a right angle into a deep gorge. The landscape exposed the typical Icelandic starkness mixed with energy of this amazing waterfall.
Above: Hallgrimskirkja (the Presbyterian Cathedral) in the center of the city.
This Port At A Glance
Port Location & Facilities – Cruise ships will normally dock at port facilities outside of town. Reykjavik is usually the supplier of shuttle service into town with a round-trip fare that seems somewhat over priced (this is probably related to the high cost of living in Reykjavik). If you don’t mind walking (weather permitting) there is a nice paved walk along the shore into town of only about two miles. There is no cruise ship terminal so ships have to make use of boarding ramps. For people with walking issues and wheelchairs it can be difficult.
City Character – Reykjavik is a beautiful city centered on its waterfront. It features a beautiful Presbyterian Cathedral as its centerpiece with nice shops, restaurants (be sure and have a Icelandic hot dog).
Nearby Trips – One of the nearest attractions is the Blue Lagoon. There are hourly bus transfers to and from Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík and a package that includes round-trip fare and admission should be under US$60. To get out and see the real wonders of Iceland you will need to rent a car (rental cars are not very expensive) or book a day tour. The most popular trip is the Golden Circle.
Port Location & Facilities – Large cruise ships currently are docking in an industrial port. It is about a mile and a half walk to get out of the port and to the edge of the city proper (3Arena). There is currently no cruise ship terminal, so ships will have to use boarding ramps. For people with walking issues and wheelchairs it can be difficult. Most cruise ships will have arranged for shuttle buses into the city center (About $15 round trip on average). Taxis are also available but can be spotty after the morning rush. City bus service is not convenient to the ships.
Note: On our recent stop the ship did an overnight. We walked from the ship into the Temple Bar neighborhood and measured the trip at just under 4 miles total.
City Character – Dublin is a modern city centered on the river Liffey. It is a very walkable city that features a large number of historical sights along with popular attractions. Dublin also has a reputation for good restaurants, pubs and nightlife.
Sightseeing – The city has a number of sightseeing bus services that allow for hop-on, hop-off and currently average $20 per person per day and up. There are also a number of good walking tours. Check with a Tourist Information site (i).
Public Transportation– There is a Visitor Leap Card that allows you to ride all busses and light rail (called LUAS) at 1 day (24 hours) – €10.00 and 3 days (72 hours) – €19.50 and can be purchased at a number of locations around the city. There is also an automated bike rental system called Just Eat Dublinbikes that can also take the Leap Card.
Taxis – Taxi service is reasonably priced in Dublin. When cruise ships come in or are boarding/Disembarking there is likely to be a wait to get a cab. A recent ride from the port to a hotel in the CBD was €15 and from that hotel to the airport was €22.
Nearby Trips –While Dublin is the center attraction there are a number of day trips that can be arranged with a number of good tour companies like PaddyWagons.
In the annals of travel there have been a number of great tragedies.
The Hindenburg Disaster
The air disaster at Tenerife
The Vegas hotel fire
The Tsunami at Ao Nang, Thailand
Along with a number of ocean liner sinking disasters that include;
The Andrea Doria
The Costa Concordia
But one tragedy seems to be a true legend and stands out from all the rest. The sinking of The White Star Lines RMS Titanic. After more than one hundred years the story still holds our attention. It has been the subject of a half dozen movies and numerous books and even much speculation even over just what music the band was playing when the liner slipped below the sea.
There are at least four museums; Belfast and Cobh, in Ireland along with two in Orlando, Florida. In addition to the museums a popular tour is to the cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia where many of the passengers and crew are buried.
The Titanic tragedy remains of interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was the maiden voyage of what was promoted as an unsinkable ship. Next it was a disaster that could have been easily avoided and with the loss of life aggravated because she didn’t have enough lifeboats. Additionally, a large number of wealthy and famous people died in the disaster but equally a larger number of of lower class passengers were prevented from using the lifeboats. The Titanic sinking caused a number of countries as well as companies to change policies regarding safety at sea.
Belfast is famous as the shipyard that built the Titanic. At that time the Harland and Wolfe Shipyard was one of the worlds largest and employed thousands. Today much of the area of the old shipyard has been turned into a memorial to this one ship featuring the drydocks, the slip way, the tender and a museum that was built to match the giant ocean liner’s height and size.
The Cobh, Ireland connection is that it was the great ships last port of call before she set sail across the Atlantic and sank. Cohb was called Queenstown at that time and was where the last passengers boarded the ship for its intended journey to New York. Of those one hundred and twenty three, only forty four survived. Today, the original buildings, streets and piers of a century ago are still standing along the waterfront including the offices of the White Star Line which today are the Titanic museum.
Up on the North coast of Northern Ireland is a geological World Heritage Site named The Giants Causeway. It was created when volcanic magma cooled on the surface millions of years ago and looks much like someone constructed it. It is composed of thousands of basalt hexagonal columns standing in clusters at various heights along the edge of the sea.
When we got to the site the weather was a balmy 42° and clouds were gathering quickly. From the visitors center down to the shore is a good steep walk and while there is a shuttle bus, on a busy day the wait in line for the ride is probably longer than the walk – so off we hiked. Once we got to the bottom it started a light rain with wind blowing at 40 or 50 mph. The temperature also seemed to plummet and when climbing back up I swear there was sleet stinging my face. At one point the wind got inside my hood and it seemed it lifted me off my feet.
Once we reached the top we sought refuge in the bar of the Causeway Inn. It was a cozy place and much less congested than the other options. We all had coffee and scones and spent a long time thawing out. Sitting next to us was an Irish family and we got to talking. Asking if they had hiked down yet they replied “No, we live here. We’re staying here keeping cozy while our guests freeze their noses off.” I couldn’t agree more. While it is an amazing place and we would recommend a visit, if we had the option of waiting for a warm and sunny day?!
One of the biggest issues to a planned itinerary with a limited amount of time is you don’t get to change much and you are stuck with the weather that fate deals you. The next few days are in Iceland and snow is forecast.