Tromsø

July 31, 2014

Our flight from Kirkenes was on a Dash-8-311 plane, and it took a bit over an hour to get to Tromsø. For part of the flight we could see the land below, and when we landed the weather was actually pretty decent. The Tromsø airport was a zoo when we arrived. Tomorrow would be the first day of the International Chess Olympiad, and people from all around the world were coming. And the plane from Oslo had just arrived, bringing a lot of them. Norwegian TV was there, filming the arrivals area and interviewing people. On the carousel where our bags were supposed to come out, the bags from the Oslo flight started coming out, but nowhere did we see our packs. We waited some more, and finally the carousel next to us started, and our packs and a couple of others from Kirkenes appeared. Hallelujah!

Chess Olympiad greeters

We started to buy tickets from the Flybuss ticket machine, but there was another company whose desk was right next to the machine. They told us they would take us right to the door of our guesthouse for the same price as the Flybuss, so we went with them. We also arranged the pick-up time for our return to the airport the day after tomorrow. Our guesthouse wasn’t on their list of places they regularly served, but that didn’t deter the driver, who dropped us off at the right place even though it had no sign visible from the street.

Silje, the owner of Tromsø Bed and Books, greeted us and showed us our room and the rest of the house. It was a very nice house with a small kitchen and good-sized sitting areas on both the main floor and upper floor, and our bedroom was a nice size.

After unloading our packs we decided to walk to the botanical gardens, which were located on the far side of town near the university. The day was warming up but the breeze was refreshing, so the walk was very pleasant. Our map was not the greatest, but since it appeared to say to take bus 20 to get there, we followed the street where bus 20 ran. After a while we thought we should be there, but we weren’t. We saw an interesting-looking church, an ice rink, and some ski jumps, but no gardens. After looking more closely at the map we realized that the gardens were located at the bottom of the hill we were walking up. Down we went and there they were.

Tromsø ski jump

The garden was on the site of an old farm which was now surrounded by highways and Tromsø’s industrial port. It was a pretty good garden, with several sections filled with plants from around the world. There were succulents which could overwinter there, and a North American section with flowers that we recognized. It claimed to be the world’s northernmost botanical garden, and it did turn out to be a little bit farther north than Svanvik’s.

Tromsø botanical garden

Getting back to the town centre was a lot easier. We stopped at a grocery store along the way to pick up supplies for lunch and dinner. When we arrived, the kitchen in the house was busy so we waited our turn to make our pasta and sauce. Our table-mates were a British couple and three German-speaking women who were from Switzerland and probably Austria. The Brits had done a short walking and camping vacation and the three women were cycling. A very interesting group of people.

August 1, 2014

This morning it was slightly overcast and it had rained overnight, but we could see blue sky arriving so we thought our day would be good. We decided to get some laundry done because the guesthouse had a washer and dryer which were free. So with a bit of help from Silje we found some settings on the washer which seemed to work, and since the display said “1 hour 14 minutes” we headed out to visit the Polaria aquarium, which was very close by.

We arrived just in time to see the trainers weighing the two harbour seals (about 50 kg each) and the two bearded seals (about 270 kg each). The animals followed signals from the trainers and swam onto a wooden platform that was hoisted out of the water to weigh them. The harbour seals are the same species as the ones we see at home, but theirs looked quite black compared to our grey animals. We asked if they were planning to breed the bearded seals, and they said they would like to do that but they were both females, which was a bit of a problem.

Weighing bearded seals

Besides watching the seals we saw a beautiful video on the Northern Lights and learned something new—we knew they were caused by solar flares and the earth’s magnetic field, but we didn’t know that the solar flares hit the magnetic field on the sunny side of the earth and then bounce off and continue around to the dark side where they hit the magnetic field again, thus producing the Northern Lights. There were also interactive displays about various aspects of polar ecology. We were interested in one project where they counted the growth rings in blue mussels in Svalbard to see when the warming water temperatures allowed them to settle there. There were also more conventional displays of fish and other marine life—the big ugly fish in one tank was called “Atlantic wolf-fish” in English, probably the same fish we had with chips in Iceland.

Seal playing chess

By now it was lunch time, so we headed back to the guesthouse for lunch. The Austrian women were just getting organized for their departure, so we chatted for a bit and then said goodbye to them. After a quick lunch we were off for another walk, to the Arctic Cathedral and the cable car.

Arctic Cathedral

The day was still lightly overcast with the sun shining periodically. We started by walking across the bridge to the mainland (Tromsø is on an island), which is 1 kilometer long but still has a lot of foot and bicycle traffic. Just at the other end was the Arctic Cathedral, a large white building which is hard to miss when seen from a distance. It was built with a sloped roof to look like sheets of ice, and at one end is an enormous stained-glass window by artist Victor Sparre. Unlike other stained-glass windows, this one had steel reinforcing stays between the glass pieces. It certainly was impressive to see. Apparently it was a three-year project to learn how to make a stained-glass window of that size, and it’s still standing after 50 years so it must be classified as a successful project.

Arctic Cathedral stained glass

From there we continued on towards the cable car which goes up to the top of the mountain, having decided that we would pay the money and take the ride. As we walked towards the base station Rosemary was saying “There are no cable cars going up, it must be closed” and Paul was saying “No, why would it be closed in the middle of tourist season?” And when we got there the mystery was explained—outside the ticket office was a sign which said “Closed today for maintenance.” We could have walked up instead, but we weren’t wearing our hiking boots, so we retraced our steps back to town.

We stopped at the candy shop to get ice cream again; Paul had hazelnut topping and Rosemary had salty licorice. While we sat outside to eat it we watched the chess players walking down the street. Some of them appeared to be absorbed in replaying their last game in their heads, but most of them looked happy to be on a junket to Norway.

Tromsø view with fireweed

Last time we were in Tromsø we had just missed the Art Museum of Northern Norway, but today we were there in time to get in. The main exhibit was by the artist Peder Balke, who was a Romantic artist from the 19th century. He did a lot of paintings of northern Norway, which were all framed in old-fashioned gilded frames. Northern Norway was a good choice if you were a Romantic artist, and we liked these very much. There were two more floors of art, ranging from post-Romantic work by Edvard Munch to some uninteresting contemporary work. By the time we went through the whole museum it was getting close to 5 pm, so we headed back to the guesthouse.

Tonight we had the whole place to ourselves, unlike last night when the whole house was full. So we had solitary spaghetti and caught up on e-mail and journal-writing.

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Finnmark

July 29, 2014

After leaving the Hurtigruten ship, we took their shuttle bus to the airport, so we could pick up our rental car from the Hertz counter there. The trip to the airport only took about 15 minutes, so we were an hour early to pick up the car. All of the car-rental counters were closed, so we sat and waited. Finally at 10:45 am the clerk arrived. She thought that we were normal car renters who would be arriving on the 11 am flight from Oslo so she was quite surprised to find us there.

Once the paperwork was complete we loaded our bags into the VW Touran, which was a considerable upgrade from the small compact car we had ordered. It was a long time since Rosemary had driven a car with a standard transmission, so it took her a while to get used to using the clutch and the gears. Anyway, first stop was shopping, where we bought food for the next couple of days before heading out the E105 towards Russia. Our home for the next two nights was the Sollia Guesthouse, about 14 kilometers out of Kirkenes and only about 500 meters from the Russian border.

The place was easy to find, and upon checking in we were given cabin number 10, which was up a fairly steep gravel driveway. (More practice with the clutch!) It had a sitting area, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom. Very roomy for the two of us and more importantly, very quiet. We made our lunch and sat at the little table to eat it.

After lunch we headed out for a drive. We went past (not through) the border posts and continued north on Highway 886. This went through some rural areas and then along the Jakobselv river, which forms part of the border between Norway and Russia. There were a lot of big signs there telling us what to do. It wasn’t good enough to just stay on our side of the border; we also weren’t allowed to communicate with people on the other side or to use a tripod while taking a photograph, for example.

VW Touran

There were still a few houses along the road, but most of them seemed to be just fishing cottages. Every so often we could see the border posts, which were yellow on Norway’s side and red and green horizontal stripes on Russia’s side. We didn’t see any border guards on either side of the river, but we were sure that they saw us from the watch-towers which were situated on nearby high points.

Norway/Russia border posts

Near the end of the road was one of the highlights which we had looked forward to seeing, the stone chapel which was built in 1869 on the orders of King Oscar II (the same king who visited North Cape a bit later) to promote friendship between Norway and Russia. But to our dismay it was surrounded by scaffolding, as they were replacing the slate roof! We couldn’t even go inside for a look. We stopped next to it anyway and walked through the small cemetery. There were graves dating back to the late 1800’s and more modern ones as well, with a variety of ethnic groups represented.

King Oscar Chapel

The end of the road was at a small beach on the shore of the Barents Sea. The wind was cold but refreshing, and luckily the weather was only overcast, with no rain. We didn’t go swimming or even wading, but the water temperature didn’t seem too bad when we put our hands into it. After looking at the assortment of flowers which were found in sheltered places there we turned around and headed back.

Flowers on shore of Barents Sea

When we got back to the guesthouse it was about 5 pm. We hadn’t bought food for dinner because we hadn’t been sure what kind of cooking facilities we would have; as it turned out we had a nice kitchen with a good selection of pots and cooking implements. But the #1-rated restaurant in Kirkenes happened to be at our place, so eventually we decided to go there for dinner. The restaurant was named Gapahuken, which we later found out means “The Lean-to”, and it was situated on the shore of the lake which is bisected by the international border. Through the big picture window we looked down the lake towards the border posts and up on a large rocky hill there was a guard tower.

Gapahuken

Both of us had reindeer stew, freshly made as we waited. Unlike a meat stew that we would make, this was very small pieces of thinly-sliced reindeer meat sautéed and then served in gravy. Alongside this were potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. It was quite tasty but seemed a little bit salty. For dessert Rosemary had chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream and Paul had apple cake; once again, really good. Along with a glass of red wine and a soda pop the meal cost us about $165, but it’s a gourmet restaurant in the north of Norway so that was to be expected.

Back in our room we checked the internet (we were to find out that Wi-Fi was just about everywhere in Norway). After a while we noticed that Caroline was online so we talked to her on Skype for a while, something which we hadn’t done before. Going to bed was strange because it took us a while to get used to the lack of the ship’s engine noise.

July 30, 2014

We slept in until nearly 9 am this morning, then cooked up our nearly-instant oatmeal for breakfast and spent some time doing some laundry. By about 10:30 am we were ready to head out and explore. Some discussion ensued about where to go, and eventually we drove south towards Øvre Pasvik national park. On the way we stopped off at the grocery store to pick more food, including something for dinner tonight.

Our route first followed the E6 out of Kirkenes and then turned south along Highway 885, which went down the little bit of Norway which looks like a thumb and sticks down between Russia and Finland. After only a couple of minutes we drove on the “Worst Road in Norway”, according to a large and official-looking sign, but luckily it was only a short bad stretch caused by heavy truck traffic from the local iron mine. The rest of the road had a reasonably good surface.

Long Lake

We carried on down the road through both birch forests and pine forests and through a number of villages where we had to slow down to 50 km/h, until finally we came to the village of Svanvik where the park’s visitor centre was. The building seemed to be some kind of hotel or conference centre, but up on the second floor was the actual visitor centre. We paid our 50 NOK each to visit it; the displays were very well done with signs in English, so we read about the animals and plants and other natural things occurring in the park, especially the flagship species, the brown bear. Outside we walked through the small botanical garden, with some very lovely flowers including the Himalayan blue poppy. This was the first time we had ever seen them blooming. One part of the garden was testing different rose species to see how they would do in this cold climate; they were similar to the ones we have in our garden at home.

Himalayan blue poppy

We continued farther along Highway 885, but it became obvious that the park was a lot farther down the road than we had originally thought. Even though we were in the land of the midnight sun and it wasn’t going to get dark tonight, we still preferred to be home by dinner time. So we found a picnic table by a lake a few minutes down the road and stopped there for lunch. The sun had come out and it was very pleasant to sit beside the lake, and after lunch we were lucky enough to see a big bull reindeer down at the end of the lake. He seemed to be coming our way but soon he disappeared into the forest.

Bull reindeer

We decided to carry on a bit farther, but the road was only going through the same kind of forest, so when we came to a big lake from where we could see the border posts we decided that would make a good turn-around spot. It was lucky we stopped here because we found a tall purple flower growing here which turned out to be an orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii. We were quite surprised to find orchids this far north but when we researched it later it turned out that it’s quite a common species across northern Europe.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

On our way back we continued into Kirkenes to have a look around, but there wasn’t that much to see there so we went back to our little cabin to make dinner. We had pea soup and buns, and then we went and climbed the little hill behind our cabin. There was a marked path which might have been a ski trail and it only took a few minutes. The evening was lovely and we had a good view from the top, over the tundra to the north and the boreal forest to the south, including the smoke from the smelter and the Russian town of Nikel.

View over Russia

July 31, 2014

Today we were off to Tromsø, our next port of call. We heard it raining at about 6 am but as we were travelling today it didn’t really matter. After breakfast we handed in our key and headed off to the airport to catch our flight. But we had to refuel the rental car before turning it in, so we stopped at the gas station closest to the airport. After about five minutes of looking around and fruitlessly consulting the car’s instruction book we finally figured out how to get the gas cap open. Next we pulled into the diesel pump, only to find that the nozzle didn’t fit. It turned out that “Diesel 2000” wasn’t for us but “Diesel” was. Once we had the right pump we filled the tank, but then the machine at the pump wouldn’t accept our credit card and made us go inside to pay.

Anyway we arrived at the airport in good time and dropped our key into the little hold at the Hertz counter which was still closed. We checked in for our flight, dropped off our bags, and then went through security. We didn’t know whether the heightened security was still in force, but at any rate the security check didn’t take long, and once through that we found a place to sit in the crowded departure lounge. We were ready to go to Tromsø.

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Hurtigruten, Part 2

July 26, 2014

We were up early this morning because we wanted to be on deck when the ship passed the Arctic Circle monument. This was supposed to be not long after 7 am, so that’s when we got upstairs. There were only a few of us out that early, on a cool foggy morning with the occasional rain shower. Before long the monument appeared on our left, a metal globe standing on a small island right by the coastal route. (Actually it’s a bit south of the Arctic Circle, but there’s no good place to put it at the correct latitude, so everybody just pretends it’s in the right place.) We passed it at about 7:10 am, so neither of us would win the pool for guessing that.

Arctic Circle monument

After that we went in for breakfast. There were only a few of us in the dining room that early as well, so it was quite empty. Out on deck the weather was still mixed, with low cloud and some sunny breaks and rain showers. It was amazing to see all the trees along the shore, not dwarf ones but regular-sized ones. The Gulf Stream definitely affects the vegetation here. We also saw our first White-tailed Sea-Eagle flying high up in the mountains, shortly before arriving in Ørnes, a small town in a nice sheltered location. Here we were allowed to disembark for 5 minutes, so off we went for a quick walk. There was no extra police presence, so perhaps the situation had cooled down.

At 10:15 am we witnessed the Arctic Circle ceremony, where King Neptune arrives to certify that we crossed the Arctic Circle and entered his kingdom. The ceremony involves having water and ice cubes poured down your neck; a lot of people went through the baptism but we didn’t, rationalizing this by saying that we had already crossed the circle when we went camping up the Dempster Highway. The final part of the ceremony was to initiate a new crew member by dousing him with the rest of the ice and water left in the barrel. The poor guy was absolutely drenched!

Arctic Circle ceremony

We had an early lunch so that we would be able to have plenty of time to walk around Bodø, where we had a two-and-a-half-hour layover. First stop was the Tourist Information centre, where we picked up some information for when we would return to Bodø on our own in about a week. Next we walked up the hill to the town’s church, which like almost everything else in Bodø had been bombed flat in World War 2. We sat and listened to a singer who was rehearsing the song she was going to sing for the wedding which was about to take place; she had a very lovely voice which sounded really good in the church.

4014—Bodø church

Across the street was the city museum, recommended by Lonely Planet. We paid our 50 NOK each for admission and the lady at the desk gave us a brochure in English (grade for the translation: C+) and a lot more information about how the museum was organized. Upstairs there was a brooch, or blanket pin, made of silver and weighing 1.2 kilograms, which had been excavated nearby. There were also historical exhibits ranging from the Viking age through the herring fishery and World War 2 up to the present day. The last exhibit, downstairs, was about the indigenous Sami people. And there was a 25-minute movie in Norwegian with English subtitles which told the history of Bodø from one family’s perspective. The whole museum was very well done and good value for the money.

Back on the ship we departed at 3 pm for the four-hour trip across the Vestfjorden to the Lofoten Islands. At Stamsund there were armed police officers at the dock, watching for danger. We disembarked and met our tour guide who would take us to the Viking Feast. The drive to Borg took about 20 minutes and en route we were told about the discovery of the Viking longhouse. It measured 83 meters long by 9 meters wide, so the replica was built to be the same size. Inside were tables set up on one side while other sections had a bed, weaving loom, kitchen, and so on. Our meal was fresh lamb, carrots, turnip, bread, barley, cloudberry jelly, and sour cream, lots of food but really well-cooked and tasty. All ingredients were things which the original inhabitants would have had available. There was also mead, which we used for repeated toasts. It was very smooth despite its high alcohol content.

Viking Feast

Once done with the meal we did a line-dance while they sang, then it was time to get on the bus to catch up with the ship at Svolvær. This bus ride took 50 minutes and went through beautiful scenery: shorelines, farms, tall mountains and lakes. We were blessed with good weather so the trip was all that much more enjoyable. The ship was waiting for us, along with two police officers, and we checked in and went up to the deck. As we went farther north past the spiky mountains of the Lofoten chain we could see in the distance large mountains with snowfields, and also more spiky mountains.

Lofoten mountains

But the day wasn’t over yet. At 11:30 pm we met on the back deck for “troll soup”, which was a tasty kind of split pea soup, and then the ship made a small detour into the Trollfjord, which was a dead-end channel not much wider than the ship. The amazing thing was not so much that the ship could go along the fjord; it was that the ship could do a precise U-turn at the end to get out.

July 27, 2014

The ship docked in Harstad early this morning, but we had read that the town was dedicated to the production of military equipment so we decided not to get up for an early walk on shore. Instead we slept in until 8 am. Staying up late under the midnight sun is becoming hard work.

Even this far north (nearly 69° N) the Gulf Stream was having an effect. There were many farms along the shore and most of them had harvested their hay. Up the hill from the farms there were still tall trees and behind those hills the mountains rose steeply. No snow on them, but in the distance we could see snow patches.

After a while there was a movie in the lounge, a short feature about the short history of the city of Tromsø. The city really only started in the 19th century with fishing and then polar exploration, and it’s only lately that it has acquired the most northerly of many things including universities, Burger Kings, and Catholic bishops.
At 11:15 we docked in the small town of Finnsnes. We had half an hour so we decided to take a quick walk into town. We had plenty of time to wander around, including a stop at the statue of Ottar the Viking. Ottar sailed to England in the 9th century and told King Alfred that he was the northernmost of all Norwegians. At the other end of the town was a pond with a colony of Arctic Terns. They weren’t bothered by us but a pair sitting on a nearby building were, swooping down at us as we walked back to the ship.

Ottar the Viking

We continued sailing north and arrived at Tromsø at 2:30 pm, where we had a four-hour layover. Rather than pay for the ship’s excursions we chose to walk around the town on our own. First we went to the Polar Museum, which wasn’t far from the pier. It took us well over an hour to go through it; we had a booklet in English which described the displays. They told us about polar exploration (Nansen and Amundsen) and hunting seals and bears and walrus on Svalbard, and there was a special exhibit about seabird ecology. There were also life-size models of the various seals found in the area as well as musk oxen and polar bears.

Polar Museum statue

Next was an art gallery which featured photographs of innocent victims of the war in Gaza in 2008. Each of them had been maimed by bombs or shrapnel, and each black-and-white photograph came with a description of the person’s injuries and how their lives had been affected. Although the photographs were very well done, reading the descriptions was very distressing.
Back in the sunshine we went looking for an ice-cream shop. We didn’t find one, but we did find a sweet shop which sold soft ice cream cones that were dipped in a topping of your choice. Rosemary chose raspberry and Paul chose sweet licorice. We had to eat the ice cream quickly as it started to melt.

Tromsø

Once we returned to the ship we sat on the deck for a while, and a couple of police officers came on board. It was getting colder, and as the ship headed out of Tromsø we started to go through some foggy patches and caught glimpses of the Lyngen Alps. Tonight’s buffet dinner featured king crab (which we both avoided), reindeer stew, and smoked halibut. Late in the evening we stopped in Skjervøy and went for a quick walk up to the town’s church.

July 28, 2014

After a quick breakfast we headed off the ship for a short walk around Havøysund. This was the smallest place we had stopped at so far, but even here the police were watching. We were farther north so the vegetation was starting to get more stunted, but one of the houses still had a colourful display of orange poppies in the yard.

Orange poppies

Soon after the ship carried on we had a meeting about what would happen tomorrow when we got to Kirkenes—things like checking out of the room, paying the bill, and so on. Then since our bus trip to the North Cape left the ship at 11:15 am, we had to have an early lunch at 10:30 am. So when the ship arrived in Honningsvåg we were ready to go. The weather was cool and cloudy with a chance of rain, in other words normal, so we dressed accordingly.

Our bus trip took us up the E69 highway out of Honningsvåg and into the fog. Along the way our guide pointed out the northernmost gas station, hotel, medical centre, etc. There were also stockfish drying on racks near the road. About halfway we stopped at a Sami tent to see some reindeer and also to visit their gift shop. Surprisingly their prices were quite reasonable for Norway.

Sami reindeer herder

Carrying on along the road we soon came to the North Cape, where we stopped for our visit. North Cape is supposed to be the northernmost point in Europe; it isn’t really, there’s a nearby peninsula which is a kilometer farther north. But it’s where the Globe monument and the visitor centre are, so that’s where the tour buses go. North Cape is at the edge of a 300-meter high cliff, and the monument is a globe-shaped sculpture near the cliff.

North Cape

We were lucky that our bus was the only tour bus there, so there weren’t that many people clamouring to have their photos taken at the monument. So it didn’t take long for us to have the mandatory picture of us taken there. We were still in the fog, but luckily it wasn’t raining. The centre was very large, consisting of a restaurant, gift shop, cinema, and a small chapel built into the rock underground. Besides that there was a small museum about King Chulalongkorn of Siam, who visited the cape in 1907. (That reminded us that Norway was specifically mentioned in The King and I.)

North Cape monument

Of course we visited the gift shop, where Rosemary bought a light-weight down jacket which could be compressed into a very small bag. It was actually cheaper than a comparable jacket from MEC, and the MEC jacket was filled with polyester fiberfill, making this jacket a very good deal. Before we got back on the bus we went over to have a look at the small monument commemorating the visit of King Oscar II of Sweden, who visited this remote part of his domain in 1873. (That visit is the actual reason why the North Cape complex is located where it is.)

King Oscar’s monument

The trip back to the ship went by quickly, and the ship left board right after we arrived. We passed by the northern coast of Norway—no more farms here! Arriving in Kjøllefjord at about 5 pm we had an hour to explore, so we headed along the main road towards the church, which was at the far end of the town. Like much of northern Norway, the church has been burned down in 1944 and rebuilt after the war. The inside of the church was beautiful, with fishing nets painted around the border of the ceiling and an old fishing boat and stars painted in the centre of the ceiling. At the end of the church opposite the altar was a beautifully painted pipe organ.

Kjøllefjord church ceiling

We walked a bit farther up the hill before turning around, and then we realized how far it was back to the boat. We went into high gear and headed back, and were one of the last to return, but we still had several minutes to spare. On we went to the next port.

On tonight’s menu we had baked Arctic char with asparagus and small potatoes, which was really good. After we got our tea we sat in the lounge with Karsten, a Norwegian who cares for Alzheimer’s patients, and two Australians, Michael and Neville. Michael was a soft-spoken cardiologist and Neville was a very loud and outgoing person. He was full of stories and such a talker that it was hard to get a word in edgewise. We stayed up until about 11:30 pm and then went down to our room to organize our packs for tomorrow’s departure.

We had calculated that tonight would be the perfect time to see the midnight sun in action. After the ship leaves Båtsfjord about 12:30 am there is a sea horizon to the north, and today is the last day without a sunset at that latitude. So the sun should come right down to the horizon and then start climbing upwards again. Only one problem: It’s cloudy. So we went to bed instead. We did wake up when we arrived in Båtsfjord and noticed that it wasn’t dark at all, then went back to sleep.

July 29, 2014

We arrived in Kirkenes on time at 9 am, with the standard two armed police officers keeping an eye on things. We said our goodbyes to some the people we had gotten to know at the airport, disembarked, and got onto the bus which would take us to the airport to pick up our rental car.

Norwegian police on guard

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Hurtigruten, Part 1

July 23, 2014

We’re travelling on the MS Lofoten, which is the smallest and oldest of the Hurtigruten ships. When you see it next to one of the other ships of the line, which are much larger and look like cruise ships, you would hardly realize that they belonged together, but the crew are very proud of their ship and its long history.

MS Lofoten 50 years

We departed from Bergen at 8 pm and charged northwards, through a channel under a long suspension bridge and then out into a wide channel protected by a barrier island. We stood outside on the deck enjoying the scenery as we motored along through the channels and around the rocky islands. At 9 pm we went inside for a general briefing about the ship’s routine, then we watched the sun set at about 10:45 pm before we went down to our cabin.

Sunset off Bergen

Our cabin was close to the engine room, so we had engine noise plus an added high-pitched whining sound every so often. Presumably we would get used to the sounds.

July 24, 2014

As it turned out, we did sleep quite well. Both of us woke up around 2 am when the ship docked in Florø, but neither of us woke up two hours later when it docked in Måløy.
Breakfast was from 7 am until 10 am, so we headed up there about 8 am. A variety of items were available including smoked fish, meats, cheese, crackers as well as hard and soft boiled eggs and porridge. Basically everything you could think of was on the table. It wasn’t long until we docked at Ålesund, where we had an opportunity to wander the town. It was foggy, but nevertheless off we went after the ship docked.

Ålesund architecture

Ålesund was destroyed by fire in 1904 and subsequently rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style, which included turrets, spires, and beautiful ornamentation. The decorations on the buildings looked like flowers and were all painted in pastel colours. Despite the fog the buildings were easy to see, although they would have been nicer in sunshine. It was a quick walk as we really only had half an hour, and right after we re-boarded the ship we were off on our trip to the Geirangerfjord.

The first hour we were still in the fog, and it wasn’t until the fog cleared that we could see mountains next to the water. We travelled through several fjords before finally turning into the Geirangerfjord. Each fjord was narrower than the previous one, with steeper and more precipitous walls. We passed abandoned farmhouses sitting high on hillsides, small villages, as well as numerous waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls were in the Geirangerfjord and apparently they were better a month ago when there was more snowmelt, but they were still pretty good. The day was sunny and warm and perfect for this cruise.

Geirangerfjord coast

There were already three big cruise ships moored there when we arrived, and small tour boats were zipping around. There were also lots of kayakers along the shore. A busy place in the middle of nowhere! A small boat came alongside to pick up the passengers who had opted to take the bus excursion over the mountains, but we had opted not do that, being content to stay onboard and return to Ålesund by the same route in reverse.

Geiranger with cruise ships

Once again we got off in Ålesund for the quick half-hour walk, and this time the fog had departed so we were better able to appreciate the style and workmanship of the buildings. Dinner tonight was a set meal served to us (which is supposed to be the normal procedure). We had smoked trout with a dill cucumber sauce on rye bread followed by salted lamb with potatoes and gravy. Dessert was quite yummy, baked apples with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Ålesund street view

About 10 pm we docked at Molde; we went out for a quick walk but all the buildings were new and uninteresting.

July 25, 2014

We were up at 8 am to have breakfast and then got ready for our morning in Trondheim. We had four hours in port, but Trondheim isn’t a big city so we decided not to sign up for the bus tour but to just do our own walking tour. Luckily the weather was still nice, although cloudy and a bit cooler than earlier.

The walk into town was well signposted, so we had no trouble finding our way. We started by following the road along the river, the Nidaelv. Before long we came to the Gamla Bybro, the Old Town Bridge, which is now restricted to pedestrians only. Crossing the bridge we came to a corner with coffee shops, and to our surprise found a bicycle lift which was meant to help people ride their bikes up the hill, thereby encouraging them to ride more. Apparently it’s the world’s only bicycle lift! You put your right foot onto a metal plate which was attached to an underground cable and your left foot onto your pedal, and then once you pressed the button the lift propelled you up the hill. We didn’t see anyone using it, but we did see a man pedalling quite easily up the hill.

Gamla Bybro

Crossing back over the bridge we headed to the cathedral, our main goal for the day. After paying our admission we walked around inside a bit to look at the carvings and stained glass windows, and then joined in with the 10 am tour for English speakers. Originally built about 1000 AD, the cathedral has gone through several additions and renovations through the years, as well as having five major fires and losing all its cash flow because of the Protestant Reformation. It looked much like many British cathedrals we had seen, and that was because it was recently rebuilt by British stonemasons—the Norwegians didn’t have the expertise for such a large project. There were two organs; the old one was ornately painted and tuned to play music from Bach’s era and the newer one had about 1,000 pipes and was used for more modern music.

Nidaros Cathedral front

After the tour was over we wandered back to the ship down one of the main shopping streets, arriving well before departure time. It was a lovely walk and made us think more seriously about sometime walking the pilgrimage from Oslo to Trondheim.

Back on board it was lunch time, but because our dinner seating wasn’t until 8 pm we decided to wait until at least 1 pm before going to the dining room. We were 45 minutes late leaving Trondheim because the ship’s refrigeration system needed repairing, but once underway we headed back into the fjord and turned north, passing many clusters of brightly painted houses along the way. We were quite surprised at the number of farms in the area, considering we were at 64° north latitude.

Munkholm, near Trondheim

Later in the afternoon we went to a meeting to hear about upcoming shore excursions and also about “the current situation in Norway”. We had no idea what that meant so we were very surprised to hear that Norway was under threat from an Islamic terrorist group! Since Hurtigruten was one of their possible targets, there would now be added security when leaving and returning to the ship, and possibly armed police at the docks. However it was much more likely that larger ships, and ships in port in Bergen, would be targeted. As for the shore excursions, we signed up for the trip to the Viking Feast in the Lofotens.

During the meeting we had passed the Kjeungskjær lighthouse, which is supposed to be Norway’s most beautiful lighthouse, and now the scenery was becoming increasingly rocky. But still there were a lot of houses with plots of arable land, and the number of fish farms was increasing. A bit later we went through the Stokksund, which is a very narrow channel with a sharp left turn to navigate. Today the weather was very calm so there was no problem, but apparently they don’t try it in bad weather.

Kjeungskjær lighthouse

Our late dinner was very good. The main dish was halibut, which was beautifully cooked. Dessert was interesting, being cultured milk ice cream flavoured with aquavit and topped with buckthorn berries, which are a type of seaweed. Just as we finished dinner we arrived at Rørvik, so we hurried out to walk around the town. There was a fun fair there, so we thought about buying some candy floss but weren’t hungry, but besides that there wasn’t much else.

Hugo’s Tivoli

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Bergen

July 21/22, 2014

Today was a long pair of days. Our flight to Reykjavik left promptly just before 4 pm, our wait in the Keflavik airport went by very quickly, and after a couple of hours we landed in Bergen. There were no formalities in the airport so we collected our bags and headed outside to catch the airport bus into the city. Using the tiny map which Rosemary had printed and some guesswork we found our way to the Marken Gjestehus, which was located on Kong Oskars Gate near the city centre.

The hotel was accessed via an old-fashioned elevator, complete with beautiful wood paneling, a leather bench, and a gate which you close after closing the outside door. Despite its antiquated appearance it worked very efficiently. Finally we could change out of our hiking boots and put on our regular shoes!

The last time we visited Bergen was 24 years ago, and it still looked very similar to what we remembered. The most obvious difference was that the port was full of huge cruise ships (four of them) and the streets were full of tour buses (we didn’t try to count). But the Bryggen buildings still looked pretty much the same. The port was preparing for a tall ship festival starting the day after tomorrow, but there weren’t any tall ships in port just yet. It was hot and sunny, must have been 25°C, so we located an ice-cream shop and had yummy ice-creams, definitely a great treat.

Bryggen

Now that it was later in the afternoon the light for photography was getting better, so we decided to ride the Fløibanen funicular up the hill for a view over Bergen. The view from the top was spectacular and worth the (one-way) price. We bought Fantas at the kiosk, then headed out on one of the numerous trails which laced the area. First we went around the plateau past a small lake, then followed the path which plunged down the hill into streets which led back to the city. At the bottom the route turned into flights of steps which had people huffing and puffing up them.

Fløibanen and Bergen

Down at the end of the harbour the fish market had been going full-blast all day, and we had thought about getting fish and chips for dinner there. But when we finally arrived the fishmongers were all closing up—all except one, luckily for us. But we have had better fish and chips.

July 23, 2014

Despite being above a busy street, we had a reasonable night’s sleep. For breakfast we had tea and the last of our raisin buns from home. We packed our bags and asked the hostel to store them for us while we went out to explore more of Bergen. First stop was at the DNT (Den Norske Turistforening) shop, which was just about next door. Paul had forgotten to bring his Camelbak and Rosemary had brought an old backpack from Caroline’s swimming days which turned out to smell rather sweaty. There was a small Bergans of Norway 12-liter pack complete with platypus, which solved both problems in one go.

We walked over to have a look at the Domkirke (cathedral), which was just opening. It was very different from the English cathedrals we had seen; the inside was very plain. No carvings on the pillars, no fancy ceilings, no monuments to saints, only some lovely stained-glass windows around the altar.

Stained glass in Domkirke

Back out in the sunshine we walked down to the harbour to check out the tall ships. A few of them had arrived already; there was a four-masted Portuguese ship and a huge four-master from Russia, the Kruzenshtern, which dwarfed the 13th-century fortress it was moored next to. The rest of the harbour was still empty, awaiting the other 30 or so ships. For lunch we bought sausages in buns from “Bergen’s Best Sausages” and ate them while sitting on a bench next to the water and listening to a brass quintet performing. A very enjoyable way to spend our time.

Kruzenshtern

We still had a few hours to kill before heading over to the Hurtigruten dock, so we decided to walk out to the Nordnes point to see if we could see any more tall ships arriving. There were some lovely houses and a shady park and a busy swimming pool, but no tall ships.

We went back to the hostel, retrieved the packs from storage, and walked down to the Hurtigruten terminal to check in for our cruise. Before boarding we watched the safety video which is mandatory for all passengers. (If you’re going to abandon ship then it’s a serious business and you put on the serious survival suit, not just a cheesy life-vest.) Our departure time would be at 8 pm, so we looked around the ship, the MS Lofoten, and then sat in the deck-chairs, enjoying the warm sunshine.

On board MS Lofoten

Around 6 pm we went in for dinner, which was a buffet including classic Bergen fish soup, lamb stew, poached salmon, and a variety of desserts. The food was all really tasty and there was plenty of it.

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Australia

In October and November of 2013 we spent about 6 weeks in Australia, mostly driving. Clearly it’s impossible to see all of Australia in only 6 weeks, but we did cover quite a few of the highlights. Our photos and diaries are now published in the web pages section; start at Australia 2013 and follow the links from there.

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The 2 CW’s

In May and June of 2013 we spent about 5 weeks in Great Britain. For the most part we walked the Cumbria Way and the Cotswold Way (the 2 CW’s). Our photos and diaries are now published in the web pages section; start at The 2 CW’s 2013 and follow the links from there.

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