Hunting the Light Continued … Part 8

Day 9 of our journey and it was hard to wake up.  After our midnight concert the night before and staying up to watch us leave Tromsø and search for the Northern Lights, it was after 2 o’clock in the morning before I finally fell into bed.  It was a good thing that they served breakfast until 10am or I would have starved…as if it is even possible to starve on a cruise ship! All of my devices needed recharging.  I don’t know if you knew or even thought about the fact that electrical outlets look different in Europe.  In order to plug in your stuff, you need to have an adapter or adapters.  Norway is no different and the ship was no different, either.  I did know about this ahead of time and brought along my handy-dandy adapter kit. 100_4649In Norway, the outlet is a round, recessed receptacle with two round holes.  The little gadget at the top right fits into that port and then the larger, square voltage thing plugs into that and finally you can plug the charger for your Kindle or MP3 or tablet or phone or whatever right into the voltage thing.  It’s a little awkward with all this jumble of stuff plugged into each other and hanging out of the outlet, but it works!  Within just a short time I was all recharged and ready to go. 100_4508At about 10:45 we arrived in the little village of Risøyhamn, with a population of 211.  Risøhamn is connected by a beautiful bridge to the island of Andøya, which is closest to some of the best fishing banks on this coast.  The fish are transported to Risøyhamn by truck and then transferred to the Hurtigruten ships for delivery. 100_4517I got out to take a quick walk up and down the main street, to stretch my legs and get a feel for the place.  You can see the moon up in the sky and our ship docked at the quay.  In about fifteen minutes we were once again on our way.

100_4524Our next port of call, just after lunch, was Sortland, (pronounced SOTE-lan), the main town in Vesterålen, (pronounced VES-ter-RONE), with a population of about 4,600.  Sortland is the headquarters for Norway’s Coastguard, patrolling the vast area of the North Atlantic.  Lots of houses in town are painted blue, so it is sometimes referred to as the “blue city”.

100_4528Lots of people got off and on the ship at this port, although we were scheduled to be here for just half-an-hour.

100_4532Some ship passengers took the opportunity to try out using a kicksled, which is very common in Norway, especially where roads are not plowed.  We saw people everywhere using them.

100_4537This poor guy was digging out his car.  I think he was one of those who got off the ship.  I hope he didn’t have plans to get anywhere soon!

100_4539I was intrigued by this church, which was visible from the ship, peeping through the trees.  I found out that it was built in 1902 and if I ever visit again, I will go visit it.

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On our way once more, our next stop was in Stokmarknes, (pronounced STOCK-mark-NESS) where we arrived a little after 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  This is the home of the Museum of the Coastal Express, where it all began for Hurtigruten.  Those who were on the full voyage were treated to free tickets to the museum.  The centerpiece of the museum, is being able to go aboard the Finnmarken, built in 1956 and which is now being restored.

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I found the museum to be very interesting.  It told the history of the Vesteraalen Steamship Company, founded by Richard With in Stockmarknes in 1881.  He piloted the first ship along the west and north coast of Norway in 1893, opening up communications and trade along the remote coast, even in the winter.

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A gingerbread village created by the town’s children, depicting Stockmarknes, greeted visitors to the museum.

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One of my favorite photos in the museum showed how they used to lift automobiles onto and off of the ship, using cranes.  Today, cars and trucks just drive right onto the ship.

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This is the lobby area leading to the Finnmarken, built in 1956 and being restored to her original beauty.  This is the other part of the museum.

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This is one of the ship’s dining rooms being restored.  Notice the turquoise and pink color scheme so popular in the 50’s.

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The cabins were still in the process of being renovated.  They looked very similar to the cabins on our modern ship.  The ceilings throughout the ship seemed much lower, however.

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The outside decks were interesting, with beautiful wooden deck chairs for the passengers.

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The ship’s bridge looked small and almost primitive compared to the bridge on today’s modern ships.

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Saying Good-bye to Stokmarknes, we continue south where it looks like we are sailing straight into a mountain.  Then, we enter a narrow channel where we wind our way through, with mountains on either side it seems like you can reach out and touch them.  This is Raftsundet (raf-SOON-ah), a 12-mile long passage.  The ful moon was out illuminating the snow on the mountains, when there they appeared again — the Northern Lights!

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It was quite exciting!  Almost everyone was out on deck to witness the magical scenery.

We arrived in Svolvær (slow-VARE), in the heart of Lofoten (low-FOE-den) and the world’s largest cod fishery, after dinner, where I went ashore for a tour.  Our first stop was the cod drying racks, which would soon be filled with fish.  We then visited one of the fishing shacks at the shoreline, where several fisherman would live together during cod season between January and April.  Today many of those shacks have now been converted into lodging for tourists.

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Next we visited a replica of an old fashioned Lofoten country store.

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Lofoten was home to the famous artist Gunnar Berg . (1863-1893).  Here we got to see his famous painting Trollfjordslaget (The Battle at Trollfjord) as well as many of his other paintings of daily life in Lofoten.

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It was all so very interesting, but unfortunately, I was so tired from our late night last night that I could hardly stay awake, and kept nodding off during the lecture.  Wah!

Arriving back to the ship I fell into bed and was immediately asleep, after our long and busy day.  We made the bumpy crossing between Bodø and Ørnes during the night, so I didn’t even notice it this time.  Sweet dreams!!

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Bear Paw

This is the first quilt I ever made, in 1976.  The pattern is called Bear Paw, and I especially liked it because I was living on Lost Mountain and thought it most appropriate.DSCN0656This quilt was tied with red yarn, instead of quilted, as I just wanted to finish it, and did not know how to quilt at that time.  I planned at some point in the future to make matching pillow shams.

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Many years passed, and life went on.  Several years ago my ex-husband gave it back to me and I decided that “when I retired”, I would finally quilt it and make those shams.

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Well, last week I retired!  I no longer have or can find the yellow calico fabric that was the background for this quilt.  And also, after looking at this design with fresh eyes, I decided that the bear paws themselves sort of disappeared into the background, with the diamond squares taking center stage, instead.  DSCN0657

I have decided to take the whole thing apart, and add ladders between each block, essentially “framing” each bear paw in brown, and adding little red and white four-patch cornerstones at each intersection.  This will give me enough extra bear paw blocks to make the pillow shams.

I put together a sample in Excel, to see if this idea worked as I envisioned.  Please click the link below to see how it should look.

My Bear Paw Quilt

That’s it — exactly what I had in mind.  My next steps are as follows:

  • Remove the narrow red binding
  • Clip the red yarn ties holding the quilt together
  • Separate the blocks from one another

I’ll check in again later.  Right now I’m off to get my seam ripper and start on this project!

4 Months Later…

I removed the narrow red binding, clipped the yarn ties holding the quilt together and separated the blocks from each other.  I had to buy some brown fabric for the ladders, but from my impressive scrap bin, I was able to get the red and white that I needed to make the cornerstones.  I plan to reuse the backing from the original quilt, as much as I can.  I do have some fabric that is not quite as bright as the original backing that I can also use for backing when I run out of original.

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I am employing the techniques that I learned from the “Machine Quilting in Sections” class I purchased from Craftsy.  So far, quilting as I go has been the answer to machine quilting on my regular sewing machine.

DSCN0983I am working in sets of three blocks, with two sets per row, outlining each element using the feather stitch on my machine in variegated thread.  This my making my bear paws take the place of honor that I had envisioned.

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So it’s back to my sewing machine to start on my next set of three blocks.  I’ll check back in when it is time to start joining the sets together!

Hunting the Light Continued … Part 7

Day 8 on our journey on the Midnatsol and we were still in Finnmark, in the most northeastern part of Norway. Around 10:45am we arrived at the port of Hammerfest (HAWMER-fest), one of the oldest settlements in Northern Norway, which also claims to be the northernmost city in the world, as opposed to Honningsvåg, which we visited yesterday.  Hammerfest claims this distinction because it has a population of over 5,000 as compared to Honningsvåg’s population of 2,415.  However, in 1996 Honningsvåg was officially declared a city, despite their lower population, and Honningsvåg is actually further north than Hammerfest, so the debate continues.  Barrow, Alaska is actually further north than both, but they have seemingly declined to join the fray.  Nevertheless, we are very, very far north in the land of the Polar Night and the Midnight Sun. 100_4486Both Jack and I opted for a bus tour of this interesting city, which despite it’s far northern location, has an ice-free harbor and a climate very similar to Anchorage, Alaska.  For this reason, it has always been a very busy fishing and trade center.  In 1881, Hammerfest was the first urban settlement in Europe to get electric lights. The city receives heavy snowfall in the winter, so one sees avalanche fences all along the hillsides to help protect the homes below.640px-Hauen_Chapel_in_Hammerfest Hammerfest was used as an important base for German operations in World War II.  After the war it was subjected to the German’s “scorched earth policy”, as was all of Finnmark, and was looted and burned to the ground.  The only building left standing was the chapel, pictured above.

100_4477 From up on this hillside we had a nice view of the surrounding area and the large liquified natural gas site on the adjacent island of Melkøya, which opened in 2007 and has provided an economic boom to the area.  The bus passed lots of people hiking up to this viewpoint.  Hiking is a favorite activity of many in Norway and hiking paths are lit up so people can hike in the winter, as well.100_4489Our tour continued around to the other side of the harbor where we were treated to another beautiful view of the city and our ship in the harbor.  The building you see lit up on the hillside is a restaurant and the viewpoint from where the previous photographs were taken.100_4495Here we visited the Struve Geodetic Arc, one of a series of meridian markers that were established by German-Russian scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, between 1816 and 1855 to measure the exact size and shape of the earth.  Years later, when we had more exact measuring devices, it was found that this marker was only off by a teeny amount.  How somebody in that period of time with very primitive methods of calculating could figure this out is just mind-boggling to me!   This guy was ‘way smarter than I am, to even think something like this up.  These monuments are now included on the World Heritage List.100_4494100_4498The bus returned us to the quay, but I had one last place I wanted to visit before we left Hammerfest — The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society museum!  The Polar Bear Club is a small, historical museum featuring the hunting and trapping past, with a good collection of stuffed animals and birds that live in the area.  One can only join the Polar Bear Club in person, by paying a small fee, as proof of visiting their only location, in Hammerfest.

100_4499Leaving Hammerfest, we made brief stops in Øksfjord and Skjervøy before arriving back in Tromsø, the city where we had spent New Year’s Eve, with the fireworks.  Tonight, we were being treated to a midnight concert in the Tromsøysund Church, also known as the Arctic Cathedral.Arctic cathedral

I did not take this photograph, but it shows exactly how it looked that night.  We crossed the snowy bridge and from the bus, walked up to the brilliantly lit cathedral.

100_4501My camera did not like the cold, so this photograph is not as crisp as I would have hoped.  This church is beautiful inside, with dazzling stained glass and chandeliers that look like illuminated icicles.  The acoustics were fabulous, making for a magical evening of entertainment.  360px-Norwegen_tromso_eismeerkathedraleAfter the concert, we returned to the ship and I took up my place on deck 9, hoping for one last glimpse of the Northern Lights.  But it was not to be….the sky was overcast and still, as we cast off and silently slipped away, under the bridge and past sleeping houses, saying good-bye to Tromsø.100_4505

Hunting the Light Continued …Part 6

On Day 7 of our voyage, around 9 o’clock in the morning, we arrived at the border town of Kirkenes (KIRE-ken-iss), the turn-around point of our journey.  For maybe 1/3 of the passengers on the ship, this was where they left the ship to go home.

We may have been the only Americans on this voyage.  We didn’t meet anyone else from the United States, nor did anyone we talked to mention that there were any other Americans on board.  There were, however, many people from Germany and from the United Kingdom.  We also met people from Australia and Switzerland.  All shipboard announcements were given in Norwegian and German and English.  Many people take either the northbound trip Bergen-Kirkenes, or the southbound journey Kirkenes-Bergen.  I felt especially lucky to be on board for the full, round-trip adventure.

About 5,000 people live in Kirkenes and the surrounding area.  The town is located at the mouth of the Pasvikelva River, which forms part of the border with Russia.   100_4446It began to snow hard as we gathered on the quay to board the bus taking us to the Snow Hotel and the Gabba Reindeer Park, where we would get to experience a husky sledge ride out onto a frozen fjord. 100_4450  One could also take snowmobile rides from here, as well as half-day and full-day dog sled tours and then stay overnight in the Snow Hotel!100_4458We were given hand-fulls of lichen which the reindeer ate from our hand, and was a treat for them…and us.  They were smaller than I expected, about the size of a deer.  Only the Sami, the indigenous people of Norway, are allowed to keep and herd reindeer.

100_4453Next we got to meet the dogs, who were barking and yelping and straining against their chains in excitement.

Then, we were given warm snowsuits to zip ourselves into, if we wished, and finally it was time to start loading the sleds.

100_4462 As you can see, I lost the spikes from my right boot.  I looked around everywhere, but never did find them.  It was good that I had a second pair back at the ship.  They came in a pack of two, and I luckily I brought both pairs along.100_4463Here we are, with Janet, my companion and sledge partner, as we are ready to depart on our ride.Kirkenes (N69.46) - Husky sledging - 2/1/2015It had stopped snowing and the sky was beginning to brighten as we took off through the woods and out onto a frozen fjord.  Our ride lasted about 20 minutes or so, and it was such fun as we sped along, the snow hissing beneath the rails of the sledge.

???????????After we returned, we got a cup of hot chocolate to warm us — yum!  Then we had time to visit the Kirkenes Snow Hotel.  I had seen something about it on a travel program, but that had not prepared me for the real thing!100_4466The batteries in my camera gave out at this point, so the next pictures I have found that other people have taken of the inside.  Be sure to click the link to the Snow Hotel to learn more.snow hotelsnow hotelEach room was decorated differently, with snow sculptures on the walls and different colored lights illuminating them.  The beds look like they are resting on blocks of ice, but actually the ice is just placed around the outside of a regular bed, for effect.  Guests sleep inside a warm sleeping bag and report that they are actually quite cozy.  I would certainly be up for trying it!Snow Hotel2The whole thing was absolutely incredible and I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone who was considering going on it.  I would have to say that it was one of the highlights of the entire trip!

100_4469Our next stop was at Vardø (VAR-duh), a fishing and fish processing town with a population of about 2,100.  Here, the Captain invited anyone who dared to take the Polar Bear Plunge.  I chose to watch from outside on Deck 6 as about ten hardy souls threw off their towels and leaped from the quay into the frigid water, with shrieks and laughter.  I got the shivers just watching them and headed for the hot tub as soon as we cast off.  After dinner people began to gather out on Deck 9 again, talking quietly among themselves and searching the skies for glimpses of the lights, when suddenly they appeared again, dancing magically in the sky.  With new batteries in my camera, I tried to get a video of them, which did not turn out. ?????????????????I did not take the photo below, it is from the “Visit Tromso website”, but this is what it looked like.  With the full moon and the clouds in the sky, the lights weren’t quite as vivid as those you see in other photographs, but they were still awe-inspiring and an experience that I will remember forever.the-northern-lights-somewhere-near-tromso-norway-2

Hunting the Light Continued … Part 5

Happy New Year!  Day 6 of our voyage we were approaching the northernmost point of our journey — Nordkapp ~ the North Cape, on the Barents Sea.  mapAbout 3,500 people live in the North Cape area and about 2,800 of those people live in the capital town of Honningsvåg, (pronounced HAW-nings-VOG), which is located on the map above right below the orange square marked Nordkapp, (pronounced NODE-cup)

Previously, when we were here in the summer, the whole North Cape area seemed very remote to me.  It was interesting to see the town again in the winter.  Surprisingly, it seemed almost as busy this time as it had during the summer.  Approximately 110 cruise ships call annually at Honningsvåg, making it among the five largest ports of call in Norway.  During the summer, the biggest draw is to enable cruise ship passengers an opportunity to view the midnight sun.  Two Hurtigruten ships per day call at Honningsvåg year-round, as well as numerous cargo ships and fishing vessels.

100_4427It was snowing when we arrived, and very windy.  Although it was about 11:30 in the morning, it was already full dark.  Notice the avalanche fences on the hillside rising straight up from the main street in town.  Thank goodness for spikes on our shoes — the street was a sheet of ice!   The shops were closed, as it was New Years Day.

100_4428Two shore excursions were offered at this port of call– a bus trip out to the North Cape (Nordkapp) plateau, 1007 feet above the water, where a concert was being performed in the North Cape Museum, or a mini bus trip to the little fishing village of Skarsvåg.  I chose to visit the fishing village, as I was curious to see what life is like this far north in this remote a location.  Skarsvåg, with a population of about 60, claims to be the northernmost fishing village in the world and the northernmost settlement accessible via a major road network.

As we stepped off the bus, we were hit broadside by gale-force winds.  Those without spikes on their shoes were blown sideways as they skated across the icy path to the Christmas Cottage, glowing warm, cozy and welcoming.  The smell of hot spiced cider greeted us as we stepped inside the cabin, filled with Christmas decorations, and found a place at the table under a huge chandelier that looked as if it were made of icicles.100_4436Heidi, our hostess, immediately began passing plates of hot waffles and Christmas cake and spiced cider.

100_4438While we ate, she explained what it was like to live in a remote fishing village your whole life.  He husband, now in his 70’s, had fished his whole adult life, mostly for cod.  He had recently switched to catching king crab, which was also plentiful in the Barents Sea and brought in more money.  He had built the cottage for her to display and sell her handmade items as well as providing a way for his wife to earn a little extra money for the family.  She said that they eat fish every day except on Sundays and Christmas.  There were no more young people left in the village, just a declining number of old fishermen still eeking out a hard-scrabble living from the sea.  She loved the village though, and the tight community formed by necessity and mutual dependence.

Before it was time to leave, we had a few minutes to admire all the handicrafts and other Christmas items she had for sale.  100_4434 100_4435

As we stepped outside, I stopped to take a picture of the outside of the cottage when suddenly, the gusting wind snatched my hat from my head and sent it careening over the snowdrifts.  I chased after it and promptly sunk up to my thighs in a heaping mound of snow.  As I pulled my foot out my shoe was left behind inside the snow drift.  I plunged my arm into the drift, all the way up to my armpit, reaching for my shoe and the spike that had popped off and instantly frozen inside the drift.  People were boarding the bus and I momentarily panicked, hoping I wouldn’t be left behind, shoeless in a huge mountain of snow.  The gale wind would carry off any cries of “Wait for me…I’m over here buried in a snowdrift!”  Grabbing my shoe and my spike I skidded and staggered to the bus, saying good-bye forever to my hat and wondering who would find it in the spring.

On our way back we had to stop and wait for a car to be pulled out of a snowbank, where it had maybe blown off the road.  Our driver was annoyed at the delay, as the ship must stay on schedule and would not be happy at all to have to wait for us if we were delayed.  Once we got past the tow truck, we sped along the roads that were all but invisible in the deep snow.  We all breathed a sigh of relief that the ship was still there.

It turned out that even though the other busses were following a snowplow on the road to Nordkapp, the weather was too dangerous to continue and they had to turn around and abort their trip out to the cape, returning instead to the ship.

100_4442We said good-bye to Honningsvåg and continued east and then south, along the Barents Sea.  After dinner, the snow had stopped and the sky had mostly cleared and the wind had died down as people began to gather out on deck 9, gazing up at the sky.  Suddenly, there they were again…the Northern Lights! The pictures below were taken by someone who was on our ship that night.

Suddenly a cloud that simply seemed to be illuminated by the moon, would begin to glow and slowly snake its way across the sky before slowly fading away.  And then suddenly, in another direction, another aurora would begin to form and a collective gasp would alert the others to look where people were gazing and pointing, in reverent fascination and awe.   Still MoreMoreSometimes they looked like fire on a log in the fireplace, dancing and undulating before streaming across the sky and disappearing.  The display went on for over an hour, while we stood there mesmerized by the sight.  None of my pictures turned out, so I was thrilled to discover these that had been posted to the Midnatsol’s webpage.  What a fabulous day it had been!

Hunting the Light … Part 4

Day 5 on the ship and we had settled into sort of a routine.  I was usually up fairly early, as I am a morning person.  I love to be part of the quiet and slow stirrings of another new day, full of promise.  I would immediately head out to deck 6 and after watching the scenery for awhile would make a few trips around the deck, nodding hello to fellow morning people doing the very same thing.

Most mornings breakfast was served open seating, between 7am and 10am.  Breakfast was always buffet style, and one could choose from:

  • Fresh loaves of bread, still warm from the oven that you slice yourself
  • Bowls of raspberry jam, strawberry jam and orange marmalade
  • Corn flakes or granola or oatmeal with little dishes of prunes, nuts, dried apricots, etc. to sprinkle on top
  • Liquid yogurt or buttermilk to top your cereal with
  • A selection of sliced cheeses and thinly sliced meats and sausage
  • A variety of raw, smoked or pickled fish
  • Pork & beans
  • Soft boiled eggs with egg cups and special little spoons
  • Crepes, freshly made while you wait, or sometimes waffles
  • Little sausages
  • Occasionally there were scrambled eggs or a fried egg, sunny side up with a piece of crisp bacon
  • A fruit platter with grapes, sliced apples, sliced melons, strawberries and orange slices
  • A milk machine with skim or 1% milk, apple juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, hot chocolate, coffee or tea

hurtigruten-midnatsol-restaurantYou did NOT find doughnuts or sweet rolls or omelets or pancakes or any kind of cereal besides corn flakes or granola.  Everything was delicious, freshly made and beautifully presented.  In the morning, we often chose one of the tables on the left, opposite the gentleman in the photo who is helping himself to some oatmeal.  In the evening, we had an assigned table, where we sat every night with the same companions, who happened to be from Australia.  Our table was the one on the right, that you see in the immediate foreground.

100_4385After breakfast we stopped in Harstad, a town with a population of about 23,000.  Harstad is the headquarters for oil exploration in the area.  It also has dairy farming , the most northernmost strawberry fields in Norway and sheep, as well as a sheltered harbor.  The immense candle, lit up in the distance, caught everyone’s eye and was a unique holiday decoration.

As we continued north, the next stop, just before lunch, was Finnsnes (FINCE-ness), a little trading center with a population of about 5,000.  This photo is a good illustration of what polar night is like.  We arrived here a little after 11am and you can see that it is light enough to walk around, but street lights are still on.  The day was overcast, so if the clouds cleared off, it might get just a bit lighter than this.  In the polar night, this is referred to as “blue twilight” and it is beautiful.100_4388100_4389Notice the little candelabrum in the windows.  Nearly every house in Norway had these in their windows, casting a cheerful, welcoming light to all passersby.

We arrived in Tromsø (TRUME-suh) about 3pm, and as this was New Year’s Eve, the schedule was adjusted so that we could stay here until midnight, to ring in the New Year, before resuming our voyage north.

Tromsø, with a population of about 69,000 is the capital of arctic Norway and the gateway to the Arctic Ocean.  It is a vibrant, lively town with a busy airport and bustling university and is one of the most accessible places to find the Northern Lights.

As far north as we were, it was already full dark when we went ashore.  The streets and shops were still decked out in their holiday decorations.100_4404100_4401???????????100_4406In the middle of the town square was the Tromsø Lutheran Cathedral, Norway’s only wooden cathedral.  Inside, it was also still decorated for Christmas.100_4391100_4411On the ship, they served a special four-course dinner and the mood was very festive.  Around 11pm people began to gather out on Deck 9, with a panoramic view of the city, spread before us on both sides of the watertromso-new-year and the restaurant lit up on Mount Storsteinen, which is accessible by cable car.  Sporadic bursts of fireworks turned into an unending display in all directions, as it neared midnight.  Out on deck, waiters passed out glasses of champagne in preparation for the finale.  At midnight the ships sounded their horns and all pandemonium broke loose with fireworks bursting in the air in every direction.  Fireworks burst from the top of our ship and our sister ship, the Trollfjord, and everyone toasting each other and the New Year.    It was the most memorable New Years Eve I have ever experienced.

At last we cast off and the ship sailed slowly past the Arctic cathedral and under the bridge as we continued our journey north between islands and skerries.  Clouds had moved in and ice pellets stung our cheeks.  There would be no Northern Lights to be seen tonight, but what a fabulous start to 2015.Tromso by night A&A

Hunting the Light continued … Part 3

Early on the morning of Day 3 we arrived in Trondheim, a city of 175,000 inhabitants, situated on the River Nid, which winds right through the town.

100_4356I signed up for a city tour of Trondheim and a visit to one of the most famous sights in town — Nidaros Cathedral, built over the burial site of Saint Olaf, king of Norway in the 11th century, and patron saint of Norway.  100_4365My picture of the cathedral did not turn out very well, as it was still pretty dark and the batteries in my camera were not liking the snow and cold weather.  But you can still get a sense of how gigantic this place was by looking at the size of the people walking in front.  We had a tour of the inside which was just as spectacular.

After leaving Trondheim we traversed a stretch of open ocean and it suddenly got very rough.  It was right when dinner was being called and I had to hurry back to the cabin — quick!  We tossed and bucked and I ended up puking my guts out into the wastebasket, which was lined with a plastic bag, thank goodness!  Then both Jack and I fell asleep and when we woke again, everything was calm.  Later, we bought an ice cream bar for dinner, as it took quite a while to feel hungry again.

It was raining when later that evening we stopped in Rorvik.  Supplies were being loaded on board and a couple cars drove onto the ship, as well.100_4367???????????????????????????????????Our sister ship Polarlys was in port at the same time we were.??????????????????????????????????This trip was made more special because we were visiting at Christmas time.  There were decorations h100_4352ere and there all over the ship, adding to the festive atmosphere.100_4350

Since we had taken naps instead of eating dinner, we were ready to stay up late.  The sky was overcast, so there would be no Northern Lights tonight.  A piano player in one of the lounges was very good, so we decided to splurge and have a drink, while enjoying the music, until everyone headed to bed.

100_4378On day 4 we crossed the Arctic Circle, an occasion which always begs for some sort of silly celebration.  Those who were game were “initiated” by having cold water and ice cubes poured down their back.

A surprising number of people, including myself, volunteered for this bit of madness.  The last guy in line got the remainder of the bucket dumped over his head, while old King Neptune reigned over all.

Our next stop was Bodø (pronounced BOW-duh), with a population of about 48,000 ~ making it the second largest city in Northern Norway.  I was very interested in exploring here, as this is where my great-grandfather was born.

One had to be pretty determined to leave the ship on this day, as a stiff wind was blowing the drenching rain sideways.  I put on long underwear, a thick sweater, a scarf, gloves, mittens, boots, a hat and a raincoat.  Within one block I was soaked through to my underwear.  Luckily, it wasn’t that cold.  I would guess that it was about 39 degrees or so.  It was a good thing that I had my spikes on my boots because there was still ice and snow on the ground and the rain on top of that made it quite treacherous.  I wanted to visit the Bodø domkirke, or Cathedral, while getting a chance to walk through the center of town.

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Again, being here at Christmas time and getting to see the decorations and nativity scenes in the churches, made it a very special time to visit.  At the rear of the church was a huge pipe organ illuminated by a beautiful rose window.100_4384

By the time I got back to the ship, I was ready for the sauna and the hot tub.  They had separate saunas for men and women.  Now, I had never been in a sauna before, so I wasn’t quite sure of sauna etiquette.  Luckily, someone was coming out of the sauna just as I was entering the changing room, so she clued me in.   You go in naked and sit on a towel.  When you can’t stand it anymore, you come out and take a cold shower!

sauna

So… I tip-toed into this beautiful room and luckily I was the only one in there!  I relaxed and warmed up and gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows, totally stress-free.  When I was as hot and sweaty as I could stand, I walked into the shower room, but just couldn’t bring myself to stand under the cold water.  Instead, I pulled on my swimsuit and walked outside, which WAS cold, and made my way across the deck to the hot tubs.  ????????????????????????????

There were two outdoor showers, with colored lights on them that made them look like the Northern Lights.  The domed building was a changing cabana, and then there were two jetted hot tubs.  I thought for about three seconds about using the outdoor shower, but permanently changed my mind and quickly made my way to the hot, steaming hot tub and slipped beneath the water.  Ahhhh, it felt so good!  ?????????????????????????????????

The rain had stopped and the sky had cleared and a bright moon was out.  As I was lying back, staring up at the sky, I thought I saw a stripe of pale green and gasped to myself, wondering if that was the Northern Lights.  It lasted for about a minute or so and then was gone.  Nobody else was around that I could ask, so I couldn’t be sure…but I was pretty sure that that was what it was.  Later, after seeing the Northern Lights, I knew for sure that that was what I had seen.

My fingers were turning into prunes and my cheeks felt like they were getting frostbite, so it was time to reluctantly get up out of the tub and quickly make my way back across the deck and inside the ship.TrollfjordLater that night we entered a very narrow fjord, shown above.  It was dark, so my photo did not turn out.  I did want you to see where we were, though.

The sky had mostly cleared and the moon was illuminating the snow on the mountains,  towering on either side of us.  They were serving hot fishcakes out on deck and music was playing and they were searching for the entrance to Trollfjord.  Suddenly there was a collective gasp, as a band of clouds above us began to shimmer and glow and undulate and there they were, the Northern Lights, dancing in the sky above our heads.  The show went on for about half-an-hour.  As soon as one band would begin to fade, another wispy cloud would suddenly start to glow and ripple and unfold across the sky, leaving one speechless.100_4562100_4561

I just have a point and shoot camera, so of course my photos are really lame, but when I look at them, I remember how it really looked, and I am still amazed.

That was a magical night that will be forever in my memory.  And more magical nights were yet to come.

Hunting the Light continued…Part 2

100_4287It was snowing when we arrived in Florø at 4:30 in the morning on Day 2.  Florø is located on an island and has a population of about 11,000, about half of whom live in town.  The main industry is fish farming and producing food for the fish farming industry.  Florø also serves as a supply base for the nearby Statfjord oil field.  It was interesting to watch us tie up quayside and watch goods being loaded aboard the ship.  We cast off and were about to leave when suddenly they threw out the ropes and tied up once more.  Shortly thereafter an ambulance pulled up and after a while one of the passengers was trundled off the ship on a gurney, loaded into the ambulance and driven away.  Poor guy.  Imagine paying all that money and looking forward to a vacation and the first day having to leave the ship in an ambulance!  It made me doubly glad that I had purchased medical insurance that would have covered such an eventuality, should that have been Jack or I.

I went back inside the ship and was surprised to see Jack up and about as well.  He told me that he had found a man lying unresponsive on the floor and that he had alerted the crew who began first aid until the gentleman was taken away on a gurney.  I told him that I had been outside and saw the gentleman being loaded into an ambulance, not having any idea that it was Jack that had found him.

Computer desks We got our little coffee mugs and tried out the computers.  Beverages may have been expensive on the ship, but there were several computers with free internet access, as well as free wi-fi throughout the ship, which helped balance things out.  These computers were as fast as my computer at home, unlike any other computers I’d ever attempted to use at sea.  Occasionally the connection would go down if we were away from any towns, but most of the time things were great.100_4272 There were so many places to just settle into a comfy chair and look out the window and read or write or visit with people.  Everywhere in the ceiling were these little lights at the end of strings that moved gently back and forth with the very slight motion of the ship.  This was the library.  They had books one could borrow (some of them in English) and jigsaw puzzles to work, if you wanted to.100_4295Deck 6 had a covered promenade where you could walk completely around the ship.  This was a great place to take a walk while enjoying the scenery.  100_4300Most of the time we were quite near the shore, so there was always something interesting to look at.

About mid-day we arrived in Ålesund, pronounced (OH-la-SUN). a beautiful city that we had visited during our last trip to Norway, in the summer.  Ålesund has a population of about 40,000 with the main industry fishing in the Barents Sea.  I  signed up for a shore excursion to the Atlantershavsparken Aquarium and the Mount Aksla viewpoint.

100_4305It was a Saturday and the aquarium was very busy with many children and families visiting.  Inside the aquarium were multiple tanks, some of them touch tanks, filled with a wide variety of fish.  A diver, dressed as Santa Claus fed the fish in a huge viewing area, much to the delight of the children.  Outside there were penguins and seals, with underwater viewing areas for both.

The bus then wound through the narrow, curving road to the top of Mount Aksla and the Fjellstua viewpoint.  Twice, cars meeting us had to back up and pull off to the side to let us pass. Several people were also hiking to the top. ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The view over the city, from the lookout, was spectacular!???????????????????????????????????????There was a restaurant at this viewpoint that was not open when we were there this time.  The hike up to this spectacular perch is a very popular in both summer and winter.100_4326As you can see, the ground was covered with compact ice and snow that was treacherously slippery.  How did everyone keep from falling down?  It was highly recommended that everyone wear spikes on their shoes when getting off the ship, and luckily we found ours at Costco before we left.100_4647They came two to a package, which was a good thing because I lost one of mine somewhere along the way!  They stretch to fit over your boot or shoe and then fasten with a velcro strap across the top of your shoe.  When in place, they are not even visible on your foot, but they provide sure footing on ice and snow like your wouldn’t believe.  I would highly recommend them for any time you encounter ice or snow, to avoid falls.???????????????????????????????????????????????

You can see the viewpoint we visited earlier in the day, up on the hillside on the top right, from where the previous photograph was taken.

Good-bye Ålesund, we must be now on our way.

Hunting the Light in Norway on a Norwegian Coastal Voyage with Hurtigruten and MS Midnatsol … Part 1

My husband and I just returned from a “Hunting the Light” cruise on Hurtigruten (pronounced “HURT-ah-ROOT-en), in Norway.   (Be sure to click the link above to view a short video that shows perfectly what we experienced on this cruise)  The Norwegian Coastal Voyage on Hurtigruten is over 1,490 miles long, in and out along Norway’s western coast, from Bergen to Kirkenes, with 34 ports of call on both the north and south voyage. We were on the ship MS Midnatsol (MID-knat-SOLE), named for the Midnight Sun.  Our voyage began on December 27, 2014 so we did not see the midnight sun on this trip. However, we were able to see the Northern Lights and experience polar night. It was magical. A cruise on Hurtigruten is different from your typical cruise, in that these ships are working ships, sometimes only stopping for 15 minutes at a port.  Each day the ship is in a certain port for a few hours, allowing one to leave the ship and do some exploring on land. Another difference is that there is no casino aboard or other entertainment such as you might find on a typical cruise.  The entertainment on these ships is the scenery.  There is plenty of time to read and relax and visit with fellow passengers. Our travels began in Seattle, Washington with a 6½ hour flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland. From there we flew to Oslo, Norway, a 2 hour flight, and after going through security once more, and another 50 minute flight, we arrived in Bergen, Norway. The temperature was just at freezing. They had received a rather heavy snowfall the day before, so everything was covered in white. The air smelled so crisp and clean. Hello Norway! Hurtigruten picked us up at the airport and transferred us to the Hurtigruten Terminal, about a 30 minute ride.  There are frequent busses traveling between the airport and city center, but those do not stop at the Hurtigruten terminal.  It was worth it to us to pay a bit more and have door-to-door service. They were just starting to check in passengers, as we arrived. We were among the first group to get the safety briefing, and then it was “Welcome Aboard!” We were assigned inside cabin number 600, near the bow of the ship. At first, the cabin seemed just a bit small, but once we unpacked and tucked the suitcases away, it was quite adequate. The bed on the left made into a couch during the day.  The strap you see across the bed hold the bedding in place when it is made up as a sofa.  To sleep, you simply fold the bed down and unhook the strap.  The bedding was a fluffy comforter inside a duvet, and the beds were extra long and very comfortable.  While we were at breakfast, the cabin steward came in and cleaned and turned the bed back into a sofa. The bathroom was small but very efficient and the shower put out lots of hot water and did not flood the floor. It was quite dark in the cabin once the lights were off, since it was an inside cabin, so we often left the bathroom light on, just to guide us a little.  It was a very comfortable room and provided us with everything we needed.  There was a flat-screen television that had three or four channels as well a view from the bridge and maps showing where we were at any given time.  These same views were shown throughout the ship on numerous flat-screen displays. 100_4268Looking from the ship, the lights of Bergen glittered.  The Fløibanen is visible on the hillside. 100_4266 Dinner was served at 6:00pm — a bountiful buffet with a wide variety of fish, potatoes, bread, vegetables and a desert assortment.  The food on this ship was spectacular, the best I’ve tasted on any cruise that I’ve been on.  However, something you should know about and budget for is that beverages are not included with dinner. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and a variety of fruit juices are available at breakfast and coffee and tea are available at lunch.  At dinner, they come to your table and ask what you would like to order.  There is a “water package” available where you can purchase two bottles of water a day, either sparkling water or “still” water.  For the 12 day cruise, this cost 495NOK or about $65.  This was a bargain, as this package was available to purchase before sailing, and would have cost $83 at that time. There are wine packages available for purchase as well, that include one bottle of wine and two bottles of still water at each dinner.  Please be advised that alcohol is very, very expensive in Norway!  This wine package for the 12 day cruise would be $703 when purchased ahead of time.  We didn’t purchase it on this trip, so I can’t tell you what it would have been had we bought it on the ship.  My husband ordered a Pepsi a couple of times and it cost 40NOK which is about $5.25.  A beer costs 69NOK which is about $9 and my husband had a glass of wine, which automatically comes with a glass of water, which was 96NOK or about $12.60.  We only had a couple of drinks on this trip, to toast New Year’s Eve, and that was about it. There was a coffee/tea package available as well.  We did purchase this for 345NOK each, or about $45.  Being used to half-gallon-sized coffee mugs in the United States, these little mugs measuring 5.25″ tall and 2.25″ in diameter at first looked quite comical, almost like toys.  However, they are stainless steel lined, like a thermos, and keep stuff really hot for as long as you want.  With one of these little babies in hand, you could have unlimited coffee or tea around-the-clock for a full year and daintily sip it at any time of the day or night. Plus, it made a nice souvenir.  The coffee was not real good but they did have a wonderful assortment of tea.100_4645The rest of the time I filled my water bottle from home from the bathroom sink! That first night, after we had eaten dinner, jet-lag was really dragging us down, so we turned in for the night, even though I wanted to watch us sail away.  I heard the anchor rattling and the ropes being cast off at 10:30pm as we prepared to embark on our journey, but I could not get myself out of bed…until 3am the next morning, when I was wide awake and ready to go!

Visiting the Anne Frank House

The next morning weA Train Lounge were up early, packed and ready to go when the breakfast area opened at 7am.

Being the A-Train Hotel, model trains were displayed everywhere and the breakfast and reception area were decorated like a train station.

This is the type of place I prefer to stay, with “local color” as opposed to an anonymous, homogeneous hotel that could be anywhere.  I was delighted to find  traditional European breakfast fare:  hard-boiled eggs with little egg cups to eat them from; fresh whole fruit; an assortment of sliced meat and cheese; a large pitcher of orange juice; and cornflakes in a dispenser.  There are so many things that I like about Europe, and their breakfasts, which leave your tummy feeling healthy and content, is one of them.  Again, I vowed to change my own breakfast fare upon returning home.

They also had a mechanically interesting toaster, where you put your bread in one side and it moves around inside on a little ferris-wheel type set up,  groaning the entire time, and where your bread would eventually emerge from the other side perfectly toasted.  They also had a wonderful Keurig-type machine where you chose, vending machine style, from a large assortment of coffee drinks and hot chocolate, and by simply pushing a button your desired drink was automatically dispensed.

Jack chose to stay behind as Vince and I took off on foot for the Anne Frank House.  I had read the book once again, before this trip, to better understand what happened and to better appreciate what we were about to see.  It sort of astonished me to realize that her story had taken place after my husband was born, which brought home the fact that this had happened not that long ago!  It seemed more likely to me that something that horrific must have happened a long, long time ago and that we are long past atrocities like that.   That is a very naive view of the world coming from the perspective of having lived in freedom my entire life.  All one has to do is to turn on the news to find that even today, people are being killed and persecuted for who they are, and this is part of why travel is so valuable.  It opens our eyes and forces us to take a broader view of things, instead of existing solely within our own, insulated world.

051At this time of the morning, the streets of Amsterdam were quiet and peaceful, the canals still, a few people out sweeping the walks or having their morning coffee.

I love early morning…it’s my favorite time of the day when everything is new and full of promise.

We admired the architecture as we walked along, and appreciated how people will pull up a few cobblestones in front of their stoop and plant hollyhocks, or other hardy plants that bloom in a riot of color.

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We paused at the Homomonument, a memorial commemorating all gays and lesbians who have been persecuted for their homosexuality.

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It is located in a plaza in front of the Westerkerk, an impressive Protestant church with a bell tower that is mentioned frequently in Anne Frank’s diary.100_2845

A memorial to Anne Frank  stands in its courtyard.  Both are a visible reminder that the people of Amsterdam want everyone to be able to live peacefully together.

We spotted the Anne Frank House by the line already forming outside, before it opened.  We had purchased our tickets online before leaving home.  People greeted each other in line, some visibly jet-lagged, with this being their first stop after arriving from a long flight.

At last the doors whooshed open and we entered a lobby area filled with photographs and display boards.  From there, we watched a short film that told the story of Anne Frank and her family.  Then, in small groups, we were escorted through the downstairs offices and then up the narrow canal house stairways to the adjacent attic area where the families hid for over two years.

Everyone was quiet and somber; it felt as if we were in a sacred place.  Docents talked about each of the rooms we visited and people had an opportunity to ask questions.  One of the most powerful sections for me was at the end, when the family was discovered.  The only one who survived was Anne’s father.  He was given Anne’s diary and in a film, talked about reading it and reliving the experience through Anne’s eyes.  He was shocked at the animosity Anne expressed toward her Mother, feeling it painted an unfair image of her as viewed by an adolescent without the broader perspective of growing up and becoming a mother herself.  He was also embarrassed by Anne’s writing about her own budding sexuality, even though she had shared much of what she was doing with him.  The thought immediately struck me about how complicated and dangerous it would have been for everyone had she become pregnant.  As close as Anne and her father were, he said that “you never really know your own children.”  Eventually, he agreed to allow the heavily edited diary to be published, to help ensure that nothing like this ever happened again.  Eventually, the unedited version of the diary was published as well.

057If you would like to learn more about the Anne Frank House, and take a virtual tour, please click on this link.

As we left the Anne Frank house, the city was waking up, the street were filling with cars and trams and bicycles and dogs.  Jack was waiting for us at the Hotel.  We collected our luggage and bade farewell to the A-Train Hotel, telling them that we would be back in a couple of weeks.

We now expertly wheeled our luggage across the street, through the train station and onto a train, zipping south through the green, flat countryside to Rotterdam, where our ship awaited to take us on the next leg of our journey.