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Crystal, Skeletons & Waterford, Ireland
Today, Silversea’s Silver Explorer continued her “Blooming Gardens and Medieval Castles” itinerary as she made her way from the Celtic Sea and up the River Suir to Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland. With a population of roughly 50,000 residents within the city itself, Waterford is the fifth-largest city in Ireland. It’s also the hometown of a good friend of mine, so it felt rather good to be calling on a place she’s told me so much about.
Guests could choose to indulge in a walking tour of Waterford that included visits to both the Bishop’s Palace and one of Ireland’s most iconic exports: Waterford Crystal. Or, if flowers and gardening floats your boat, it’s hard to go wrong with a tour of the Mount Congreve Gardens, which were tended to by Mr. Ambrose Congreve for 60 years until his death last year.
Since I wanted to maximize my time in Waterford, I chose to participate in the Waterford Walking Tour. Indeed, the hardest part of this expedition has been deciding which excursions to take part in!
The Bishop’s Palace holds several different types of Waterford Crystal, including the oldest surviving piece: a crystal decanter made in 1789. What I found most interesting, though, was the revelation that crystal at the time used high amounts of lead, which you can see today in the black appearance of stacked crystal serving plates from the early 1800’s. Literally every time the people of the past ate or drank from this crystal, it was slowly giving them lead poisoning.
The museum also houses the only surviving memorial cross created upon the death of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821. Originally, 12 were made – all of which were lost except this one.
While I found the Bishop’s Palace truly fascinating, I unfortunately can’t say the same about the tour of Waterford Crystal. Their new demonstration centre and shop (which is the largest in the world, incidentally) is very modern and almost feels like a trendy bar or nightclub instead of one of the most historic brands in Ireland. So hip it hurts, our tour was conducted in a somewhat dismissive style that reminded me of the way airlines conduct their safety briefings (in the event of an emergency, a Waterford Crystal mask will descend from the ceiling…)
I will say that I did enjoy seeing some of the production pieces rolling off the “assembly line”, including a design for the Toronto Indy Races; the London 2012 Olympics; and even a special chalice to commemorate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in a few weeks’ time.
After that, we went on a walking tour of the city, which turned out to involve just a few main streets, though we did get to pay a visit to the impressive Christ Church Cathedral located just behind the Bishop’s Palace on Henrietta Street and a quick walk-past of Reginald’s Tower on Parade Quay. The Cathedral is notable for the eerie Tomb of James Rice, which showcases a skeletal figure cast on the upper lid of the tomb and featuring worms crawling over the deceased.
Part of the inscription on the tomb reads, “I am what you will be; I was what you are now.”
On that happy little thought, I opted to stay and have lunch in Waterford before walking back to the ship, berthed on the other side of the river. I’m glad I did this: it gave me a chance to wander around the main shopping area of Waterford, and while there were many brand-name stores there that would be no stranger to North Americans, I found possibly the best bookstore I’ve ever been to on Barronstrand just outside of John Roberts Square.
On the pleasant 20-minute walk back to the Silver Explorer, I made a little detour to the area surrounding the port, which held two churches and a Girl’s school along with ample wooded areas and of course, Ireland’s signature green rolling hills.
Since everyone was back onboard early, we set sail at 6:15pm for Glengarriff, Ireland where tomorrow we will be treated to a massive 9.5 hour tour of Ireland’s famous “Ring of Kerry.” Of course, for those guests who have been to this area before, a sign-up sheet was available tonight at Reception to let the ship know how many passengers will be staying onboard for lunch tomorrow. Right now, it looks like just six passengers will not be participating in the tour – but it’s great to have the optionto opt-out for those who’d rather do their own thing.
I wanted to touch briefly on our Expedition Staff. A reader asked if their function was similar to that of a Cruise Director on other ships, and to that I’d have to say both yes and no. It’s true Robin and his team set the tone for the voyage, but their involvement goes so much further than the typical Cruise Director role.
Each member of the team is extremely capable in their chosen field, and I love that they share their enthusiasm with us every day at the Daily Briefing and Recap in the theatre. It’s also a pleasure to have them on our excursions; I was quizzing Imogen, our Anglo-Saxon Historian, about some of the things we saw today in Waterford, particularly the tomb of Mr. James Rice. The sculpture on the tomb creeped me out to such a degree that I wondered if it was a type of death mask. Imogen informed me that while it was unlikely a death mask as such, it was in all likelihood modeled after his actual remains.
When they’re not teaching you, they’re driving the zodiacs, getting you onto the motorcoaches, and doing headcounts on tours. They have an immense responsibility each day, and I already know I’m going to miss their knowledge and kindness on my next non-expedition voyage.
Before dinner with some friends from Australia, I sat in the Panorama Lounge during cocktail hour as we snaked our way out of Waterford and read up on some of history’s most illustrious explorers. From Mungo Park to Dr. Edward Wilson to Ernest Shackleton, each was driven by some unseen force to discover, explore and – in some way – find themselves in the process.
It’s exactly how I feel.
I’m not your average 29 year old. I undercut the average age onboard by a good 30 years. Yet I can’t imagine being anywhere else. If, like me, you’re fascinated by history, you should give Expedition Cruising a try. If you need constant entertainment, this experience won’t be for you: passengers aboard the Silver Explorer largely make their own fun. But if the journey is the destination for you, you’ll fit right in – regardless of your age.
A few days ago, I wrote that the Panorama Lounge was packed, but I think our days of exploration ashore are taking their toll on the passengers, because it’s just me and Lou the Pianist in the Panorama Lounge at 10:38pm – and that’s still plenty early for me! But it’s time to think about returning to bed and getting a good night’s rest; something Silversea makes very easy to do regardless of what accommodation level you’re in. In fact, I’m a little envious of the guests in the Adventurer-class suites (I love portholes!).
Incredibly, there’s still a lot I haven’t managed to do while onboard. Silver Explorer has no pool, but she does have two large hot tubs all the way aft on Deck 6 that I haven’t had the opportunity to try out. I also haven’t been to the Spa or the Steam and Sauna Rooms, the Gymnasium, or the Gift Shop. The Panorama Lounge and the Library seem to be my favorite spots onboard. In fact, I just realized Silver Explorer has no casino – but that’s OK: I can’t see our passenger base wanting a game of Blackjack anytime soon.
But it’s time for me to bid both Lou and the Panorama Lounge goodbye. Tomorrow’s going to be a big day – and I can’t wait to share it all with you, here on From the Deck Chair!
Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Silversea’s adventurous Silver Explorer returns tomorrow as we call on Glengarriff, Ireland and set out on an all-day tour of the famous Ring of Kerry!
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