Monthly Archives: January 2015

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.

100_4381 100_4382

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.

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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!