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Fair Isle & Mousa, Shetland

Perched in the high north of Britain, the Shetland Islands have a unique heritage.  Nestled between Iceland, Scandinavia and Britain, many influences have worked at shaping both land and people over the millennia. This morning we woke to breakfast on the approach to the island of Fair Isle, nestled between mainland Shetland and the Orkney Islands. Read More>

Jun 30, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Kirkwall, Orkney

A splendid passage from Lewis to Orkney overnight, much of it now in midsummer daylight, gave us great views of the dramatic coastline of North-East Scotland as we rounded Cape Wrath in uncharacteristically calm conditions and approached the Northern Isles.  The passage marked a cultural transition, from the Gaelic-speaking realm of the Hebrides to islands that celebrate their Norse heritage. Our morning excursion focussed on the archipelago’s unique archaeological heritage that has earned Mainland Orkney UNESCO World Heritage status. The Neolithic village of Skara Brae, the megalithic henge monument known as the Ring of Brodgar as well as small group visits to the Maeshowe chambered burial chamber and the dramatic if incomplete Stones of Stenness were all taken in. These monuments date back some five thousand years and the richness of the archaeological record here is unique to northern Europe. Orkney is also a destination for naturalists with significant populations of wading birds and other species that elsewhere are in great decline: it is heartening to see flocks of lapwings in the fields and to here the haunting piping of the curlew as they descend to their nesting sites on the islands wetlands. Read More>

Jun 29, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Stornoway, The Isle of Lewis

We were blessed with a very signature Scottish morning as National Geographic Orion pulled alongside the dock in Stornoway, the largest town that resides in the Outer Hebrides.  Ready to brave the elements, we boarded the coaches that would take us to some of the most significant archeological sites in the entire region.  Arriving in the district of Carloway, we were introduced to what life was like inside of a traditional “black house. Read More>

Jun 28, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Iona and Staffa, Scotland

A sizeable group of guests disembarked early enough this morning to attend the daily ecumenical service in the restored abbey, the heart of the Iona Community that continues the vision of a remarkable Scottish pastor, George Macleod. He first brought ministers and church leaders here on retreat from Govan, a depressed area of inner city Glasgow at the height of the Great Depression. Today their influence has spread across the world but their spirit remains a tangible presence in their island home, memorably described by Macleod himself as “a thin place” where the border between the temporal and spiritual worlds was barely perceptible. It was to Iona in 563 BC that Saint Columba first brought Christianity from Ireland to Scotland, giving Iona iconic status in the northern realms, such that the Kings of Norway were brought here for burial in addition to the Lords of the Isles and the High Kings of Scotland. Read More>

Jun 27, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Portrush and Belfast, Northern Ireland

Today, a day after the seismic vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, we found ourselves in the United Kingdom for the only day of the voyage, the six counties of Ulster having been excluded from an independent Ireland following the treaty of 1922. Northern Ireland, as it happens, voted to remain in the European Union, its economy and more importantly its state of peace predicated on political and economic integration rather than separation. A full day saw us visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder with over 40,000 interlocking columnar basalt columns that speak to the origins of the island of Ireland in deep geological time. Read More>

Jun 25, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Killybegs, Ireland

Our day in Killybegs and its surroundings offered a look into Ireland's past and a vision of its future. This is a country where history reveals itself around every turn, and sometimes the juxtapositions between the old and the new can be quite jarring. Today, we saw ancient monuments from prehistoric times incongruously sitting by the side of the road like druidic traffic signs. We visited a model village where we witnessed techniques for knitting traditional fishing nets and weaving ropes from straw on the same day we passed by factories of fast-growing, hi-tech electronics companies specializing in outfitting ships across the world with the latest technologies. The dock where National Geographic Orion berthed in Killybegs, a quiet, somewhat non-descript village that happens to be Ireland's largest fishing port, was lined with the enormous disassembled sections of brand-new wind turbines, destined to provide clean energy for this fast-developing country. Even our young guide at Glencolmcille Folk Center, which was established over 50 years ago to preserve the architecture, artifacts, and folk traditions of this region's rural communities represented Ireland's blend of old and new. Read More>

Jun 24, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Connemara, Ireland

There is a sense of permanence here, a sense that this is the only way it can be.  It seems so perfect, meandering our way through the landscapes of Ireland. We step forward and back in time at a rate that sometimes makes your head spin, every new vista hurling us back into the Mesolithic, or dragging us back to the modern world or perhaps even looking ahead to the way it might be. Time leaps to and fro in thousands of years, sometimes millions! It seems an age ago that we moved south from Dublin, through the fertile south coast and to the towns and villages of Kerry that welcomed us so warmly and to the Aran Islands and the fort of Dun Aoenghus. Read More>

Jun 23, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Isle of Aran, Ireland

The Aran archipelago forms a glistening necklace across the entrance to Galway Bay midway along Ireland’s magnificent Atlantic coast. To the modern traveller it is regarded as an outpost, remote from metropolitan centres, where an old language and associated customs survive quaintly, readily marketed to a steady stream of seasonal tourists. Those tourists follow in the wake of Romantic travellers and Gaelic Revival enthusiasts who between them gave birth to a remarkable literature in English which has drawn from a deep well of insular Irish language culture reaching back for centuries. The playwright Synge, the novelist Liam Flaherty, the contemporary cultural topographer Tim Robinson all used this small archipelago as their muse. Our morning excursion on Inis Mor, the largest of the islands, saw us following local guides to make an ascent of Dun Aonghasa, one of the most magnificently situated of any of the Irish National Monuments. Read More>

Jun 22, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Skellig Michael, Blasket Islands and the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

When traveling the world, one can easily visit a great many historic cities or one beautiful beach after another and be constantly entertained yet unengaged in the depths of each place.  Or, with just a little effort, one can look beneath the surface, reach out for the edges where the ocean crashes into a rocky shore and human communities stand balanced on the tipping point of change, explore pathways of history and biology that lead through both time and space or, over an espresso in a quiet café, take time to look just a little deeper into one’s self.  This is the way we see Europe while exploring on the National Geographic Orion, through a broad lens that reveals fresh new insights. Our experiences today led us through many of the disparate worlds that weave together here in western Ireland. Read More>

Jun 21, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

Cobh, Kinsale and West Cork, Ireland

Our first port of call today was Cobh, located on the southern shores of Cork Harbour. This is a place with many historical connections. It was from here that the Titanic sailed to her tragic fate in 1912. The Lusitania, a passenger vessel, was torpedoed by a German u-boat just a few miles off shore in 1915, and hundreds of thousands of Irish people emigrated from here in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Walking tours around this very picturesque town, accompanied by local guides, had been organized, as had a visit to the Cobh Emigration Heritage Centre. Housed in a renovated Victorian railway station complex, a main focus was the veritable deluge of people who left Ireland during the Great Famine of 1845-49. Torn from their ancestral lands they were seeking a better life in North America. Other exhibits detailed the transportation of felons to overseas colonies in the eighteenth century and the dramatic sinking of both the Titanic and Lusitania. The visit completed, many of the guests boarded the National Geographic Orion and sailed for the small town of Kinsale, while others stayed ashore to explore some of the culinary and cultural delights of the west Cork countryside. Read More>

Jun 20, 2016 National Geographic Orion in Europe aboard NG Orion

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