‘Land of Ice and Fire’, that was the name of the cruise aboard Saga Sapphire which departed Dover on June 18 and I was excited to be onboard for what would turn out to be 15-nights of exploration and adventure in Orkney, Iceland, Belfast and Liverpool.
My journey to Dover was long, but I’m used to travelling for several hours to join the ship and it is always worth it, especially when I see Saga Sapphire waiting for me at the end of it. Check-in was smooth, as always, and I was through security and onboard in less than 15 minutes. One of my first stops was the Britannia Lounge for Afternoon Tea. I’d not eaten much on the journey, so by the time I’d checked in and dropped my bags in the cabin I was ravenous. I grabbed some chicken vol-au-vents and tempura prawns and I sat in the corner to enjoy the food and have five minutes to myself. I just needed a breather from the world and this was the ideal time to take it.
I finished eating and attended the muster drill before returning to my cabin, unpacking and getting ready for my first evening onboard. I’d noticed when I first entered my cabin that there was new bedding on the beds (I had 2 singles). Gone was the duck egg coloured linen and in its place, lay crisp white cotton. It looked so much better and as I’d come to find out later that evening, it felt much better too because the pillows and duvet were also new. My head sunk into the pillows as if they were marshmallows and the duvet was light but warm. My little bed was very comfortable and we became good friends.
I was joined on the first part of the cruise by Captain Greybeard and his lovely wife, so we arranged to meet for drinks in Cooper’s before dinner. I’ve said in all my Saga blogs that Cooper’s is my favourite bar onboard Sapphire and that is still the case. The pianist in Cooper’s on this cruise was a very flamboyant man named Perry Grant and I was hooked on his humour and style from the very first night. He was funny, flash and best of all, he had a very uplifting and comforting singing voice. He made a lot of fans onboard – everyone seemed to enjoy his music and comedy and every evening, Cooper’s bar was full to bursting.
We dined in Pole to Pole that night and as always, the food was delicious. It felt great to be back onboard and I was looking forward to what the cruise would bring. I’d never been to Iceland before, but first, we had a day at sea (a rather warm and pleasant day) before reaching our first port of call, Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.
I visited Kirkwall for the first time in 2015 and was instantly charmed. There’s so much history to explore and learn, but I also enjoy the beautiful countryside scenery here. It just feels so relaxed and unhurried. I’d booked an excursion for this port which was aptly titled ‘Ancient Treasures of Orkney’ and included visits to the Standing Stones of Stenness, which I’d previously visited before, the Ring of Brodgar and then Skarae Brae, both of which were new for me.
The highlight of the day, without a doubt, was Skarae Brae. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it and I was surprised to learn that the ancient site was around long before the famous pyramids of Giza. In fact, our fabulous guide, Chris, told us that the site was already abandoned before construction of the pyramids began. Incredible! The site was first discovered in 1850 following a severe storm. In the 1860’s, four houses were cleared but then everything ceased until 1925, when the site was taken into state care. The site was sat within a large dune for over 4000 years and thanks to this, it is incredibly well-preserved. All the houses that are visible are connected by a covered close and they were all buried to the tops by a clay-like mixture of bones, ashes and shells. This being a huge factor in how the site remained protected from erosion. Clearly visible in many of the houses are the spaces where people would have slept, the central fireplace and in hut 1 there is even a stone dresser that looks like it was built just yesterday. The site really is remarkable to view as you see the village from above and not ground level. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the heart of Neolithic life and how people survived in what is essentially an incredibly harsh part of our world. If you visit Kirkwall, make sure Skarae Brae is at the very top of your list. You will not be disappointed.
Our first port day ended with a superb meal in East to West, Saga Sapphire’s included specialty restaurant and we were joined by the Captain, Hotel Director and Housekeeper. It was a fabulous meal which was complimented by wonderful company and I can say for certain that we all left feeling rather full. We were served a pre-starter of salmon, which was then followed by a delicious amuse-bouche prawn satay with peanut sauce – my absolute favourite dish. From the menu, I ordered the lobster satay with peanut sauce and followed that with a main course of Asian herb infused Angus fillet steak. We ended our evening with drinks in Cooper’s. It had been a wonderful day.
Saga Sapphire spent the following day at sea and by now the evenings were starting to get much lighter. I spent a lot of the day reading and watching the world go by. Captain Burgess had kindly sailed us along the coast of the Faroe Islands, so we had beautiful scenery to admire for several hours and as far as I’m concerned, the only place to be is out on the open decks on days such as this. We would begin our Icelandic adventure tomorrow, starting with the port of Seydisfjordur in the Eastern region of Iceland…