Friday, June 11, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part IX

Today, which is not over, has been a great day.  It started with my Icelandic horseback riding adventure and has, so far, ended with a fantastic and creative Seabourn Experience.  (Isn't it great to know at it is after 5:00 PM and there is still great opportunity to be wowed on a Seabourn cruise?!)

Today started with a 30 minute drive where my wife and I arrived at a horse stable for the long anticipated ride on Icelandic horses.  The weather was perfect:  Beautiful blue skies, light wispy clouds, a very slight wind and 60 degree temperature. (Yes, its true.  What I write is always true!).  My mount was a large, handsome, incredibly well behaved and responsive horse with an Icelandic name I do not have the slightest clue how to pronounce.  (In Iceland you just get used to it...and there is nothing you can do to pick the language up in a day or two.)  Our group was small (only four people), but unfortunately one person just should not have been there so it slowed us down.  In the end - as you will shortly understand - that just might have been a good thing.

Off we rode into some truly beautiful landscape with high peaks, green valleys, yellow, white and purple wildflowers, clear streams, all sorts of birds flying by and singing.  It was storybook...except for the riding thing.

All that stuff you read and hear about how smooth the ride on an Icelandic horse is, I think, fantasy....or possibly fraud!  After having things bounced that were never intended to be so treated, our guide explained there are two kinds of Icelandic horses, four gate and five gate horses.  The five gate are the ones that have the great ride (though my wife - riding by my side - will dispute this).  I, of course, was saddled with (sorry about the pun) a four gater.  My horse's transmission was, it seems, faulty!  Sore bits aside, he started, stopped, increased speed (and my pain) and slowed down on command.  He went left, right, uphill, downhill...even in a circle.  He allowed me to feel for those two hours of actual riding time that I actually had a clue what I was doing.

After our truly beautiful ride we were given a light lunch and then taken directly back to the ship so that we would not be late for the Seabourn Experience.  I would highly recommend this private experience, but will make this blog post required reading so you know what you are getting into!

After a quick dash onto the Seabourn Sojourn to change clothes we were lead onto a bus to an event  never held in Iceland (or anywhere I am aware of) and something no other cruise line could pull off:  The Land of Fire and Ice - A Journey Through Time.

We were first taken to the past: a recreated Viking Village where there were all sorts of tents and activities set up with actors in full costume engaging in blacksmithing, sword fighting, guarding the jail (complete with prisoners), engaging in games (participation encouraged!) and, of course, a taste of the local Icelandic aquavit (I didn't catch the name, but went back for seconds in a valiant but futile effort to remember the name).

We were than ushered past 1,000 year old Icelandic glacier ice into the largest tent available in Iceland where we were treated to both ancient and modern Icelandic music performed by the local star, Ragnhildur Gisladottir (see what I mean about the names) and in between was a wonderful folkloric tale acted out and told by a truly talented and funny Icelandic actress, Thorunn Clausen.

Being Seabourn, we were treated to - yes, can you believe it? - another fantastic meal (you know, the one between lunch and dinner).  I noted that the menu was in error...because there was more offered than what was on the menu.  It was modern Icelandic cuisine including:

- Monkfish with Chili and Ginger
- Pan Seared Reindeer with Sesame
- Grilled Lobster
- Smoked Salmon, Cottage Cheese and Asparagus
- Prawns, Butterflied and Fried.

Desserts included Fresh Strawberries dipped in Praline, Icelandic "Sorur" (which I think was a really good chocolate puff pastry/tart thing) and two other chocolate offerings with a marzipan cookie.  It sort of felt like a Restaurant 2 "Lite".

After the show we were back to the busses and given a small piece of Icelandic lava as a gift.  That kitsch, however, wasn't the real gift but rather a memory of the actual gift.  The recent volcanic eruptions have killed thousands of trees in a country that is, for the post part, devoid of them.  In honor of this Icelandic event, Seabourn donated one tree to Iceland for every guest on the Seabourn Sojourn's Maiden Voyage.  It was a very touching moment which the lava will remind me of.

A funny thing (at least for me) I am reading a book now which I will review later which gave me some insight into the Swiss approach to life.  When we were back on the bus heading to the ship I asked the man sitting next to me if he liked the event.  He said it was "just long enough".  I asked him if he was Swiss, which lead to an interesting conversation as to how I knew.  A quick, but interesting, international travel bonus.

Not done, we arrived back to the ship with the staff and crew lined up with the Seabourn Welcome Home banner not only before the gangway, but into the ship, past security and down the hall.  I guess with so many more staff onboard the Seabourn Sojourn than the little sisters, it takes that much more room to have everyone welcome you home!

But of course being Seabourn, while we waited the 2 minutes to board, we were offered Hot Chocolate with Bailey's.  The perfect setup for a late afternoon nap!