Kirkwall

Again the day begins but this one only a little overcast and not too chilly at all.  Tours through the ship prove unexciting and pricey so once again Shank’s Pony proves its mettle.  To the town’s credit they have a free shuttle direct from the ship to a point very close to town center.  This is an excellent starting point that will also be easy enough to find our way back to.

Orkney Islands, off the coast of northern Scotland, consist of about 70 of which only 20 are inhabited.   There are settlements dating back to 6800 BC but none remained much used beyond 2500 BC.  Climate change is thought to be the reason.  Makes you go Hmmmmm….just a bit.

Numerous rulers came and went from about 43 AD (Romans) to Vikings (around 800 to 1400 AD) and finally they became part of Scotland.

The Scapa Flow is a great naturally sheltered harbour.  It connects the Atlantic ocean with the North Sea and was used by the British Navy as their chief naval base in both World Wars.  This harbor is part of Mainland Orkney.  The name itself is slightly misleading as it is the formal name of the biggest island.  It is also home to Kirkwall, the capital and largest town.

St. Magnus Cathedral, in central Kirkwall, took some 300 years to build and was started in 1137.  It’s one of the best preserved buildings of its era in all of Great Britain.  What we discovered, while wondering around downtown, was that it was one of the most colorful in the immediate area.

Not wishing to offend anyone, but the central part of Kirkwall has surprising few buildings that are anything but dull gray or ochre.  New buildings are also few.  This does enhance the age and hence the ambiance of the town however.  In any direction, including up and down, Kirkwall will impress with how well the time has passed without detriment.  True enough there are shops that are empty, a testament to the difficult struggles of trying to maintain a mainly-tourist income.  Most seem to manage, either moving forward with the times, or relying on the ever present tourist desire to bring home something ‘authentic’.

Of course there is also the never ending stream of restaurants and pubs, each plying their wares with varying degrees of success.  And yes, we succumbed.  A chocolate shop with outstanding one-biters had to be thoroughly investigated with 6 samples acquired for more in-depth discovery.  All 6 managed to make it back to the ship for later enjoyment somehow.  I will personally attest to both the smoked caramel (chocolate covered explosion of light but noticeable smoke flavor) and the Port and Stilton-chunk imbedded wonderfulness.  Yes I should have bought a substantial amount of those for our return home.  Maybe I can get some shipped…

The weather has continued to improve and now there are very few clouds and a temperature of 20 degrees.  Wandering around the streets there is nary a worry of getting lost.  Much like Mykonos in Greece, just head downhill enough and you’ll hit the sea.  From almost anywhere there, the ship is visible.  Some 8,000 steps later, and not quite an overabundance of window/inside shopping, we came away wallets unscathed.  It would have been deceptively easy for that to have ~not~ happened.

Tonight is a special night that we have not enjoyed for a number of cruises.  The Chef’s Table.  As best as we are able, there will be pictures to better describe this culinary experience.  They will likely appear tomorrow however.  By the time it is finished, we may be as well.


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