Day by day itinerary
Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik, Iceland
Sprawling Reykjavík, the nation's nerve center and government seat, is home to half the island's population. On a bay overlooked by proud Mt. Esja (pronounced eh-shyuh), with its ever-changing hues, Reykjavík presents a colorful sight, its concrete houses painted in light colors and topped by vibrant red, blue, and green roofs. In contrast to the almost treeless countryside, Reykjavík has many tall, native birches, rowans, and willows, as well as imported aspen, pines, and spruces.Reykjavík's name comes from the Icelandic words for smoke, reykur, and bay, vík. In AD 874, Norseman Ingólfur Arnarson saw Iceland rising out of the misty sea and came ashore at a bay eerily shrouded with plumes of steam from nearby hot springs. Today most of the houses in Reykjavík are heated by near-boiling water from the hot springs. Natural heating avoids air pollution; there's no smoke around. You may notice, however, that the hot water brings a slight sulfur smell to the bathroom.Prices are easily on a par with other major European cities. A practical option is to purchase a Reykjavík City Card at the Tourist Information Center or at the Reykjavík Youth Hostel. This card permits unlimited bus usage and admission to any of the city's seven pools, the Family Park and Zoo, and city museums. The cards are valid for one (ISK 3,300), two (ISK 4,400), or three days (ISK 4,900), and they pay for themselves after three or four uses a day. Even lacking the City Card, paying admission (ISK 500, or ISK 250 for seniors and people with disabilities) to one of the city art museums (Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, or Ásmundarsafn) gets you free same-day admission to the other two.
The largest town in southern Greenland, Qaqortoq has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Upon arrival in this charming southern Greenland enclave, it's easy to see why. Qaqortoq rises quite steeply over the fjord system around the city, offering breath-taking panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains, deep, blue sea, Lake Tasersuag, icebergs in the bay, and pastoral backcountry. Although the earliest signs of ancient civilization in Qaqortoq date back 4,300 years, Qaqortoq is known to have been inhabited by Norse and Inuit settlers in the 10th and 12th centuries, and the present-day town was founded in 1774. In the years since, Qaqortoq has evolved into a seaport and trading hub for fish and shrimp processing, tanning, fur production, and ship maintenance and repair.
Nuuk, meaning “the cape”, was Greenland’s first town (1728). Started as a fort and later mission and trading post some 240 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, it is the current capital. Almost 30% of Greenland’s population lives in the town. Not only does Nuuk have great natural beauty in its vicinity, but there are Inuit ruins, Hans Egede’s home, the parliament, and the Church of our Saviour as well. The Greenlandic National Museum has an outstanding collection of Greenlandic traditional dresses, as well as the famous Qilakitsoq mummies. The Katuaq Cultural Center’s building was inspired by the undulating Northern Lights and can house 10% of Nuuk’s inhabitants.
Located just north of the Arctic Circle, Sisimiut is the northernmost town in Greenland where the port remains free of ice in the winter. Yet it is also the southernmost town where there is enough snow and ice to drive a dogsled in winter and spring. In Sisimiut, travelling by sled has been the primary means of winter transportation for centuries. In fact, the area has been inhabited for approximately 4,500 years. Modern Sisimiut is the largest business center in the north of Greenland, and is one of the fastest growing Greenlandic cities. Commercial fishing is the lead economy in the town‘s thriving industrial base.
Known as the birthplace of icebergs, the Ilulissat Icefjord produces nearly 20 million tons of ice each day. In fact, the word Ilulissat means “icebergs” in the Kalaallisut language. The town of Ilulissat is known for its long periods of calm and settled weather, but the climate tends to be cold due to its proximity to the fjord. Approximately 4,500 people live in Ilulissat, the third-largest town in Greenland after Nuuk and Sisimiut. Some people here estimate that there are nearly as many sled dogs as human beings living in the town that also boasts a local history museum located in the former home of Greenlandic folk hero and famed polar explorer Knud Rasmussen.
Iqaluit is the capital of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut, which is Inuktitut for “our land”. The community is located at the head of Frobisher Bay, an inlet of the North Atlantic extending into southeastern Baffin Island. The Bay is so long that it was first taken to be the possible entrance of a Northwest Passage. In Iqaluit, the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum and the Nunavut Legislative Assembly Building both house incredible collections of Inuit artwork with interesting local prints for sale in the museum shop.
Akpatok Island is the largest island in the middle of Ungava Bay, south of Baffin Island and north of Quebec. Its name is the local name for the Thick-billed Murre, which nests here in vast numbers. In fact, the entire island is designated a Canadian Important Bird Area. Other common wildlife are Polar bears, seals, and walrus. One of the most distinctive features of the island is the steep limestone cliffs ringing the shore. They rise 490 to 820 feet straight up from the sea to a flat plateau. Although is uninhabited today, remains of a Dorset settlement have been documents at the southern end of the island.
Around the year 1000, Vikings from Greenland and Iceland founded the first European settlement in North America, near the northern tip of Newfoundland. They arrived in the New World 500 years before Columbus but stayed only a few years and were forgotten for centuries. Since the settlement's rediscovery in the last century, the archaeological site has brought tourism to the area. Viking themes abound but so do views, whales, icebergs, fun dining experiences, and outdoor activities. L'Anse Aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland is a remote community of just 40 people, with St Anthony, 40 minutes away, having a population of only 3,500. The region is locally famous for springtime polar bears, nesting eider ducks, the northern extreme of the Appalachians at nearby Belle Isle, numerous spring and summer icebergs, and a rich ocean fishery. L’Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site is the UNESCO World Heritage Site that tells the story of Leif Erickson and the first Europeans in the new world. This site is often the keystone attraction for cruises themed around the Vikings. Discovered in 1960, it is the site of a Norse village, the only known one in North America outside of Greenland. The site remains the only widely-accepted instance of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact, and is notable for possible connections with the attempted colony of Vinland established by Leif Ericson around 1003, or more broadly with Norse exploration of the Americas. The root of the name "L'Anse aux Meadows" is believed to have originated with French fishermen in the area during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who named the site L'Anse aux Meduses, meaning 'Jellyfish Bay'.
Havre St. Pierre is a tiny seaside port on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec. It was settled in 1857 by Acadians from the Magdalen Island, and still today locals speak a dialect more similar to Acadian French than to Quebec French. It was originally called Saint-Pierre-de-la-Pointe-aux-Esquimaux until 1927, when it was officially shortened to Havre St Pierre. Until recently the local economy relied mainly on fishing and lumbering, today it is mainly a titanium ore-transhipment port. Nearby is one of the world’s most amazing natural phenomena – the Mingan Archipelago. They are the largest group of erosional monoliths in Canada, and were declared a Nation Park in 1984. These limestone monoliths have formed over thousands of years by wave action, strong winds and seasonal freezing and thawing. The result is a unique set of large limestone sculptures.
Viewing the workings of this major Canadian port from a waterfront boardwalk, no one would guess this was once a quiet fishing village. The place boomed after World War II, when large companies decided Sept-Îles would make a good base for expanding northern Québec’s iron-mining industry. But all of the massive infrastructure can’t trump Mother Nature. Beautiful beaches line the coast, and the islands of an archipelago park sit just offshore. Campers and bird-watchers flock here, in part to spot the colorful beaks of the puffins.
Saguenay Fjord, Quebec, Canada
Just after visiting Saguenay, the wonderful Saguenay River pours into the massive St. Lawrence River. Before then, however, it slices through one of the world's most southerly fjords and dense forests of towering pine trees. The nature watching here is nothing short of sublime, with outdoor spots like the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay offering panoramic vistas and sandy river-beaches. Island-sized blue whales cruise through the waters of the mighty rivers, and flick gallons of water into the air effortlessly with a single swish of their colossal tails. With hiking, kayaking and cycling opportunities inviting you to explore the spectacular scenery - you'll find endless ways to fall in love with this majestic outdoor escape. In fall, gorgeous colours ripple through the foliage, and in doing so, they provide one of nature's greatest performances.
Québec City's alluring setting atop Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant) evokes a past of high adventure, military history, and exploration. This French-speaking capital city is the only walled city north of Mexico. Visitors come for the delicious and inventive cuisine, the remarkable historical continuity, and to share in the seasonal exuberance of the largest Francophone population outside France.The historic heart of this community is the Old City (Vieux-Québec), comprising the part of Upper Town (Haute-Ville) surrounded by walls and Lower Town (Basse-Ville), which spreads out at the base of the hill from Place Royale. Many sets of staircases and the popular funicular link the top of the hill with the bottom. Cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and elaborate cathedrals here are charming in all seasons. The Old City earned recognition as an official UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, thanks largely to city planners who managed to update and preserve the 400-year-old buildings and attractions without destroying what made them worth preserving. The most familiar icon of the city, Fairmont Château Frontenac, is set on the highest point in Upper Town, where it holds court over the entire city.Sitting proudly above the confluence of the St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers, the city's famous military fortification, La Citadelle, built in the early 19th century, remains the largest of its kind in North America. In summer, visitors should try to catch the Changing of the Guard, held every morning at 10 am; you can get much closer to the guards here than at Buckingham Palace in London.Enchanting as it is, the Old City is just a small part of the true Québec City experience. Think outside the walls and explore St-Roch, a downtown hot spot, which has artsy galleries, foodie haunts, and a bustling square. Cruise the Grande-Allée and avenue Cartier to find a livelier part of town dotted with nightclubs and fun eateries. Or while away the hours in St-Jean-Baptiste, a neighborhood with trendy shops and hipster hangouts.
Montreal in the fall
Canada's most diverse metropolis, Montréal, is an island city that favors style and elegance over order or even prosperity, a city where past and present intrude on each other daily. In some ways it resembles Vienna—well past its peak of power and glory, perhaps, yet still vibrant and grand.But don't get the wrong idea. Montréal has always had a bit of an edge. During Prohibition, thirsty Americans headed north to the city on the St. Lawrence for booze, music, and a good time, and people still come for the same things. Summer festivals celebrate everything from comedy and French music and culture to beer and fireworks, and, of course, jazz. And on those rare weeks when there isn't a planned event, the party continues. Clubs and sidewalk cafés are abuzz from late afternoon to the early hours of the morning. And Montréal is a city that knows how to mix it up even when it's 20 below zero. Rue St-Denis is almost as lively on a Saturday night in January as it is in July, and the festival Montréal en Lumière, or Montréal Highlights, enlivens the dreary days of February with concerts, balls, and fine food.Montréal takes its name from Parc du Mont-Royal, a stubby plug of tree-covered igneous rock that rises 764 feet above the surrounding cityscape. Although its height is unimpressive, "the Mountain" forms one of Canada's finest urban parks, and views from the Chalet du Mont-Royal atop the hill provide an excellent orientation to the city's layout and major landmarks.Old Montréal is home to museums, the municipal government, and the magnificent Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montréal within its network of narrow, cobblestone streets. Although Montréal's centre-ville, or Downtown, bustles like many other major cities on the surface, it's active below street level as well, in the so-called Underground City–-the underground levels of shopping malls and food courts connected by pedestrian tunnels and the city's subway system, or métro. Residential Plateau Mont-Royal and trendy neighborhoods are abuzz with restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries, and cafés. The greener areas of town are composed of the Parc du Mont-Royal and the Jardin Botanique.
Seabourn Quest, the newest ship to be added to the renowned Yachts of Seabourn luxury cruise fleet. Seabourn Quest is due to make it first voyage in Summer 2011.