Tag Archives: Norway

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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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 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!

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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.

Planning: Norway 2012

My daughter Dena and I traveled to Scandinavia in 2003, spending a week in Denmark, a week in Sweden and a week in Norway.  Ever since that trip I had wanted to return to Norway.  Dena and I traveled using a Rail Pass, stayed in hostels and carried packs on our backs.  My husband is in his 70’s and has some mobility issues, so I knew that a subsequent trip to Norway would need to be much less arduous.

My “must see” list for this journey included stops in Oslo, Bergen, Flåm and traveling north of the Arctic Circle.  A “bonus” stopover would be a trip down the Trollstigen, or Troll’s Path, a steep, winding mountain road switchbacking past waterfalls and sheer cliffs to the valley floor below.

Researching our options, I found Holland America Line had an itinerary that fit very nicely with my priorities. It included my “must see” cities of Oslo, Bergen and Flåm, and my “bonus” Trollstigen offered as a side trip from Ålesund, plus two cities north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø and Honningsvåg, which is about as far north in Norway, as you can go.  It was the perfect itinerary!

ItineraryMy son Vince, who also has the travel bug, loves to cruise, and also had Norway on his “list”, would be traveling with us.  We often travel with our adult children, all sharing expenses, which makes it more economical and more enjoyable, as well.  Norway is a very expensive country to visit.  Sharing actually made this trip possible.

We planned to arrive in Amsterdam the day before the ship sailed, which would give us some time for a little sightseeing and an opportunity to adjust to their time.   After the cruise portion of the trip, we planned to stay the night in Rotterdam, and another night in Amsterdam, giving us another two full days for sightseeing in the Netherlands, before heading home.  Our departure date was July 5, 2012.