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Staffa, Hebrides, Scotland
When I was younger, I was entranced by a computer game called Myst. One of the first successful CD-ROM games, the premise of Myst was that you were dropped on a deserted island and generally left to your own devices to find your way around.
My arrival on Staffa last Monday felt very much the same way: along with 132 guests aboard Silversea’s Silver Explorer, I was dropped on this uninhabited island in the Scottish Hebrides and generally left to my own devices for the next two hours.
And it was one of the most fascinating, unnerving, and totally enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had.
Here’s the reason you want to go to Staffa: number one, very few people have been here. I’m told the weather conditions typically border on awful on a good day, and the few hearty individuals who tried to settle here left after enduring the frightening conditions during winter. But the few who – like us – came and saw included Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, and even Queen Victoria.
In 17777, Sir Joseph Banks wrote that he was “forced to acknowledge that this piece of architecture, formed by nature, far surpasses that of the Louvre, that of St. Peter at Rome, all that remains of Palmyra and Paestum, and all that the genius, the taste and the luxury of the Greeks were capable of inventing.”
Porto Novo, Cape Verde Islands
Only slightly more populated than Staffa, the island of Santo Antao in the Cape Verde Islands is just as remote. Its capital, Porto Novo, stretches little more than a few blocks in either direction. Construction is in progress everywhere, and there’s talk of the island becoming the next Tenerife – someday.
But the island is also a land of contrasts. At sea level, the landscape is rocky, wind-swept and barren. At higher elevations, the first signs of green plant life start to make their appearance, and the temperature drops dramatically, from nearly 30 degrees Celsius near the jetty where we arrived to just 10 degrees Celsius at the island’s highest point.
In a curious way, the entire island resembles a Wild West town transported to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In Ponta del Sol, where we stopped for lunch, both new and old buildings sit equally abandoned. Old engine and machinery parts lie rusting on the sides of the road, and an abandoned runway and control tower hints at the town’s more prosperous past.
But it was the sight of three men and their four goats brewing moonshine on the side of the road that left the biggest impression on me. Modern-day health inspectors in North America and Europe would have probably had an aneurysm just looking at it, but on the island of Santo Antao, it’s just their way of life.
A fascinating one.
In contrast to Porto Novo and Staffa, Vienna – or Wien – is a veritable metropolis. Café-lined streets give way to sweeping historical monuments that have born witness to an amazing list of events and inhabitants. Freud was here. Mozart was here. And a young man named Adolf Hitler attempted to become a painter here.
Because of its inland location, regular cruise ships can’t call anywhere near Vienna, but river cruise ships can, docking right off the Danube River. When I arrived in Vienna onboard AmaWaterways AmaLyra, it was nearly Christmas. There was a chill in the air, but the atmosphere on the streets of Vienna was as warm and welcoming as I have ever felt in any city.
In December, there’s nothing like standing in front of the Rathausplatz and sipping hot Gluhwein while people of every age mill about, buying gingerbread, talking and laughing with friends, and generally enjoying themselves.
Just strolling through the streets was a pleasure in itself, and you almost can’t turn a corner without running into some famous café, monument, or landmark.
That’s the magic of Wien.
Long before I started writing this blog, I visited Akureyri, the second-most populous urban area in Iceland while on a cruise aboard Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess. And despite its location just south of the Arctic Circle, Akureyri enjoys a pleasant climate year-round thanks to the immense geothermal heat that not only keeps the harbour ice-free during winter, but also serves to heat the entire town.
In addition to having an amazing botanical garden, the town of Akureyri is filled with colourful buildings that line several narrow streets. It looks slightly Danish, slightly Russian, and slightly Finnish, while remaining uniquely Icelandic.
Akureyri is a pretty town filled with nice people that’s just 100 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle; how many times can you say you’ve been to a place like that?
Of course, there are many other ports of call that have made an enormous impression on me. It would be impossible, I think, to visit places like Mykonos, Ephesus, or even Paris without coming away from the experience totally changed.
But as I’ve discovered, sometimes it’s the places you least expect that have the power to affect you the most.
Read all about more fascinating ports of call by browsing through our past Live Voyage Reports right here on From the Deck Chair! Just move your cursor over the “Live Voyage Reports” tab and a pull-down menu will appear.
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