We are a retired couple who enjoy travel. We love meeting new people, new cultures, and exploring unique experiences. We will share our discoveries on our blog and photo album as we wander about our wonderful world.
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We love to visit Europe, Italy in particular. Spring 2015 we took our inaugural “Retirement Celebration” trip to Europe. We visited the Galapagos Islands on the National Geographic Islander with Safari Experts & Tim Lapage in the spring of 2016. In 2017 we visited Vietnam with Gate1 Travel and took two months out to travel Italy with six weeks living in Florence. 2018 has been a quiet year with trips to visit friends and family. We have an extended motor home trip to Yellowstone NP visiting Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and some of BC. Departing in 2018 we will visit Scandinavia for two weeks to see the northern lights and the Ice Hotel. In 2019 we will visit Central Europe. We have a long “wish list”.
Our International Trips:
Seabourn Cruise of the Greek Islands, Rome, Istanbul, Venice, and Florence, 2015
The Galapagos, 2016
Vietnam, February 2017
Italy for two months, spring 2017
Pacific North West, Montana, Yellowstone RV trip Fall 2018
Northern Lights trip to Norway & Sweden spring 2018-2019
Eastern & Central Europe trip spring 2019
Around the World Cruise, 4 months 2020.
Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and the Amazon, future
Africa: Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, future
Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, future
We purchased a 2015 Winnebago View in February of that year in Connecticut and drove it back to California in some of the coldest weather that winter. We have since taken a number of trips in “The Beast”, as we call “him”. We’ve taken to calling him “Li’l Beast”. As large as our 24′ RV is, it is dwarfed by some of the 44 footer’s.
Notes from each of these trips can be found on our blog. We are now enjoying a week in San Diego during a heat wave summer 2018. We’ll take our RV to Washington State, Canada, Idaho, and Montana this fall. Over thanksgiving we’ll visit Joshua Tree.
The photos that rotate through in the top banner capture memorable events in our travels. They are not necessarily related to the day’s blog.
“Track our Travels” (on the top menu) will show you where we have been today. You can also access our photo albums or other nooks in this website. If we’re not traveling, TrackOurTravels will not be operable.
Stockholm is a city built on 5 major islands. We asked how to get to the Vasa Museum at our hotel. The Vasa Museum, Abba Museum, Spirits Museum, Viking Museum, and Norse Museum are all a short walk north of the Djurgarden Ferry terminus. The Ferry between Gamla Stan and Djurgarden departs Gamla Stan a few hundred meters south of our hotel. We took the ferry rather than a bus or taxi. The ferry is a great and inexpensive way to see both islands from the water.
What Are Those Spires?
It’s a Theme Park, Closed For Winter
An Interesting Building, Skeppsholmen Island
I had read about the Vasa Museum. The Vasa is a 17th century ship that was overbuilt and extremely heavy. It sank on its maiden voyage. I love ships and the sea and the idea of seeing a 17th century ship nearly intact appealed to me. I had envisioned a short Viking style ship with oars and shields. I was not prepared for what I saw. I should have taken my DSLR and wide angle lens. This ship was and is amazing.
Where parts of the Vasa were missing, modern parts were manufactured to finish the ship. It sits indoors in a building that must have been built around the ship once the Vasa was in place. The photos below cannot begin to present the massive presence of this ship. If you have any interest in maratime history or in old ships, you must visit this museum. We limited our time here and avoided the tour to allow time in the day for other things.
View From the Bow
There Are Symbolic Carved Figures Everywhere.
A Model of the Hull As Recovered.
25 Cannon Port and Starboard
Musketeer Perch Port and Starboard
The Vasa Was Elaborately Carved and Painted
She was Massive
As She Would Have Looked the Day She Sunk
The Cannon Deck (a Mock-Up)
I was never knowingly a fan of Abba. their catchy brand of pop was diametrically opposed to the hard rock of The Stones and Jimi Hendrix or the Blues of John Mayall. Visiting the Abba museum was not high on our list of things to do. We walked past it on our way to the Vasa Museum. On our way back to the ferry we thought, “oh why not”, and in we went. Listening to their hits, I realized that I was never a fan, but I knew their music because it permeated radio in the 70’s and 80’s. The museum was fun and featured a collection of guitars played by rock & rollers like Jimi, Gary Moore, slash, and many more. I actually enjoyed the museum, though we pretty much rushed through. It’s a fun romp. We chose not to perform Karaoke to an Abba hit while being video taped. Not surprisingly, there were no takers as we slowly walked past the stage.
Mostly Gibson Les Paul and Fender Strats!
One Little Dancing Fanatic!
For Their Fans: Clothes & Videos
Gold and Platinum Records
Headed Back to Gamla Stan
Cold Crossing Back with the Sun Setting
Our Hotel, Light Beige Building with Black Roof
The Royal Swedish Palace
The Swedish King and Queen live in the palace. The west wing of the palace is open to the public unless there is state business such as visiting dignitaries or state awards. In that case the wing closes to the public. The west wing of the palace is huge with room opening into room the full length of the palace. The rooms are overly ornate and oppressive. Missing is the simple beauty of Scandinavian design. I wonder if the King and Queen live in modern rooms and use the stuffy historic rooms for state business only. The palace was a short walk from our hotel and well worth the time. There are royal soldiers standing guard outside. They wear berets that do not cover the top of their ears. Though dressed for the cold, their ears must be freezing.
View from the Palace’s Side Entrance
Queen Ulrika’s Dining Room, Typical of this Wing
A secular Country, No Puritans!
The Council Chamber
The Puritan Influence Sure Messed Up USA
The Recital Hall, Used Today
Chandeliers Are Everywhere
Never Enough Bling for a Ruler!
The Order of the Elephant (one of hundreds of Orders)
The Kings Silver Thrown in the Great Hall
Uber in Stockholm
Unlike Norway, Sweden has Uber or at least Stockholm does. I was surprised to find my app worked. We walked back to our hotel knowing we would have internet connectivity and could contact Uber. We hailed a ride to Barbro, a restaurant Ginger recommended saying we should say hi to Kellen, a bartender there. Uber took us right to the restaurant address where we found a café, but no Barbro! Had they closed? Did they move? Then we noticed beside the café was a low key restaurant with no neon and a very modest sign BARBRO. We had found it!
Inside sat a group of people eating at a long table by the door. I tried the door. It was locked! Were they closed for a private event? The restaurant is on a corner. We walked around to another door that was ajar and walked in. They were closed, the staff was having dinner, and they would open in an hour at 5. Ellen asked, “Does Kellen work here? We were recommended to eat here and to say hi to him for our friends.” The fellow found Kellen who came over to greet us. Yes, we’ll come back in an hour.
We walked to the café next door, but both agreed given the nature of the place, it would be awkward sitting without eating and we didn’t want to fill up before dinner. We walked on a few blocks and found ilcafe, a trendy coffee shop. Their coffee was great. They had wifi. And we could stay as long as we wanted. There was a good mix of the young and hip and some older folks. We may feel “young and hip”, but we no longer qualify. We added to “some older folks”. Bonus: they had free biscotti!
A Double Heart!
On the Way Back to Barbro
We returned to Barbro thinking we were early only to find two couples waiting at the door! A few minutes later Daniel opened the restaurant. The two couples were seated at tables. The restaurant had a short bar facing the kitchen and another bar that ran around a square hole to the floor below. Not having reservations, we were seated at the second larger bar. I think I prefer the bar seating to a table on the floor.
what fare did this restaurant serve? We had no idea. Ginger had said it was a five star restaurant, but what kind of food were we about to order? Daniel came by with a menu and we chatted for a bit about us, the restaurant, Ginger and Kellen. The menu was in Swedish, though we could figure out what was up. We were at a sushi restaurant! We had considered sushi in Norway on two occasions. This was great. A short time later Daniel left menus in English, apologizing for his error. We surprised him by knowing what we wanted to order based on the Swedish menu, though we did get one thing wrong. we chose not to get the dumplings (who knew they were dumplings in Swedish). We ordered their combination sashimi, yellowtail, and deep fried spicy tuna roll. The Sashimi arrived first; pairs of delicate pieces of sliced cured fish. Yummy. Next a shallow dish of Ponzi sauce with sliced yellowtail topped with scallion and what looked like water cress. It was scrumptious. It was the large spicy tuna role that capped off our meal. Ellen didn’t want the Kimchee garnish which was fine with me.
The Restaurant Just Opened, Later it was a Hopping Place
Assorted Sashimi Plate, Crunchy Skin on #5 Yum!
One Huge Spicy Tuna Roll
Barbro a Half Hour Later, Hoppin’
We took an Uber ride back to our hotel and walked the back streets of Gamla Stan. We found a main shopping street lined with pubs, restaurants, and shops that curved around the entire island and back to the royal palace. Most shops were closed. We found a bakery that we’ll visit tomorrow morning.
Evening Gamla Stan
Waffle Bakery, Closed Each Time We Visited.
Thoughts of Kathy’s Christmas Drink
It was cool walking the streets at night, but not so cold that we could see our breath, That will change tomorrow in Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle. We have a Northern Lights photographic outing and a visit with the Sami people and reindeer. Again with Norwegian Air’s iphone app, we checked in and have our e-tickets on our phone. Fast and easy. This morning with sunrise at 8AM it was actually warm in the sun, but chilly in the shade. Tomorrow we will dress for the cold knowing we will exit the airplane into the Arctic.
One of the Five Bridges of Gamla Stan
I would love to spend another few days in Stockholm. Two days is insufficient to get a feel for the city or to visit more than a very few neighborhoods. We did not have time to visit Sofo, or time to take a boat tour of the city to name just two. We have eaten at three of the hundreds of restaurants Stockholm has to offer. We know just two Swedish words, Hej pronounced “hey” and Tack pronounced “tak” for Hi and thanks respectively. It’s a start!
As for Barbro, a google search of sushi restaurants in Stockholm lists Barbro first as “the best” in Stockholm. It is a Japanese fusion restaurant. Sushi purists may disagree with “the best”. Not being a purist, this restaurant was great and could easily be “the best”.
We keep our plans flexible. Today turned out pretty much as planned. We did substitute Abba for Sofo. We pretty much stuck to the plan. Yesterday worked out that way too. Recon on the bus finding interesting areas and walk those places. The beauty of a cruise is everything is planned for you. You chose to take a tour or not. that’s pretty much the extent of planning. The trouble with cruises is your time is not your own but is dictated by the cruise schedule. Sometimes we fail to plan sufficient time to “see” a place and as if we are on a cruise, we must head on to our next adventure before we feel our current adventure has played out. We could easily enjoy Stockholm for a week. Our waiter said mid summer was a great time to visit Stockholm, though we typically chose to travel in spring or fall, the shoulder seasons. The world is vast, full of amazing places to visit for a day or a month. Perhaps we will return to Norway and Sweden sooner rather than later.
Our taxi for 10:20 is setup. We’re off walking Gamla Stan looking for a local bakery. Off to Arlanda Airport, Stockholm and to points north later today!
Ellen takes the Cod Liver Oil, Back Across the Arctic Circle
Ellen vs PomPoms
Mai Tai & Apple Pie in Norway? Ja
Yesterday was a long lazy day. Ellen and I finished packing on schedule and put our bags near the elevator and headed off for breakfast. We met Kristen on our way and ate together. Dave slept through breakfast.
The ship’s breakfast selection is varied and good. After 11 days of the same buffet, I was a bit tired of it. The muesli and yoghurt was good, egg with a single very thin slice of bacon was good, the fruit was good. Still some additional variation day to day would have been welcome.
We sat in the Observation Lounge watching the mountains lining the fjord pass by. The weather was gray and foggy over the mountains lining the fjord; good indoor lounging weather. Dave arrived and mentioned we could store our “hand luggage” with Inge in a room beside the auditorium. Dave, Kristen, and I headed back to the lounge. Ellen arrived about 10 minutes later. No surprise, she chatted with Inge for a while.
Sometime later the four of us had lunch together. Again a buffet and again with the same foods, though this time there were trays of last night’s cheese cake. Yum. I must say the deserts served on the Hurtigruten ship were great.
We spend the afternoon before disembarking in the observation lounge. At some point it was time to retrieve our hand luggage. Not wanting to lose our seats, I kiddingly suggested I stay and have Ellen get my bag. I thought this was funny because my bag was quite heavy with a DSLR camera, lens, batteries, binoculars, water, power cables, and some clothes. I thought Ellen and Kristen would balk, but they headed off to get “our stuff”. Later I was told there was a struggle about who would bring the bag up: Dave, Kristen, or Ellen. If my spy is correct, Kristen and Ellen had the bag between them, Dave took it from them, and Kristen then took it away from Dave to carry up the three flights of stairs. They could have taken the elevator, but we typically chose not to. Thanks Guys for letting me be lazy.
Rather than taking the bus from the ferry terminal to Bryggen, we took a cab. I think it was less expensive for two and it was much faster than waiting for a group to disembark, find their baggage, and mount the bus. Then too with the luck we’d had with busses, it might never had made it to Bryggen.
We went to the Radisson Blu, dropped our bags, and walked Bryggen. The shops along old town were open today! Yay! One shop had a variety of Dr Zhivago hats. I thought one would be perfect for Ellen. We stopped in. The shop was a specialty shop that had mink, fox, gray fox, and other furs. The furs are so soft, colorful, warm, and have such beautiful colors it is difficult not to be seduced by them. We wear leather and eat meat from cows regularly. It would be easy to justify purchasing a fur hat thinking that the fox was farmed for its fur just like cow is farmed for its meat and leather. We did not purchase anything. I’m torn even now. The gray fox fur was so gorgeous.
We walked bryggen, had lunch in a converted bank with dramatic columns, retrieved our bags from the Radisson Blu, and took the bus to the airport. The bus stops right in front of the hotel. The trip to the airport was a bit of a surprise. We stopped to pick up passengers three times. Ellen began to question if this was the “express to the airport”. At one of the stops I pointed out the Express Airport sign at the bus stop.
Bryggen Coastal View
Bank now a Resaurant
I had checked into Norwegian Air the night before. I tried to do it on line from a PC and was directed to load an app on my phone. What? No online checking from a computer? I tried a number of different pages then gave up and loaded the Norwegian Air app on my phone. The app is the key to check-in and to getting a e-ticket on your phone. It works remarkably well. We went through two checkpoints with the e-ticket bar code. No passport, no fumbling for papers, just that barcode on the smart phone.
This flight was an hour and a half. We had emergency seats and had an extended discussion about emergency scenarios, people’s behavior, the military, and life in general before takeoff. The flight was nearly empty!
On arrival at Stockholm we found our bags right away and headed to information. How do we best get from the airport to Glama Stan, Stockholm’s old city. The tall blond attractive woman at information suggested we take a taxi explaining that taking a bus for two then a taxi from the town center would cost just about as much at a taxi. Further taxis had a standard rate of between 500 and 600 SEK (roughly 50 to 60 USD). That simplified our dilemma. Outside there were maybe eight rows of taxis waiting for customers. The two drivers to our right began shouting “Taxi Here” and “Where do you want to go”. I took a few steps toward them, realized there were eight rows available, and chose a nice looking volvo for our taxi. The driver was very good and very fast getting right to our hotel. Even so it was a long drive of about 40 minutes in little traffic.
What is that Yellow orb in the Sky?
Af Chapman at Port (er Starboard)
Waiting for the Bus
Great to be Right in Front (not us!)
Only in Sweden.
Bells Rang Out, Not on the Hour!
Stockholm’s Observatory near the University
Historic and Interesting Architecture is Everywhere
They Love love Love lights in Stockholm
The Glass Obelisk, Cranes are Everywhere
The Swedish Moose Everywhere Too!
Not Just Any Kebab!
More Architecture and Sunlight!
View Over a Glama Stan Bridge
Walking into Glama Stan
First Hotel Reisen
First Hotel Reisen sits right on the water on the island of Glama Stan. Carlos checked us in and suggested we get a larger room for “a few dollars more”. He said we wouldn’t be happy for three days in the small room I had booked. “Yes, you will have a view of the water”. Ok, we took his advice. The major question at any hotel is: is the bed comfortable. The foam beds on the Hurtigruten ship was really comfortable. The beds at the First Reisen, felt soft at first, but firm under the softness. In fact the bed is extremely comfortable. Again, just as on the ship, the bed has two twin size comforters rather than one king size. This works extremely well. There is no issue with one spouse dragging the covers off the other, which of course never Never happens with Ellen and I!
First Hotel Reisen is a modest and inexpensive hotel. Our room has very little storage for our clothes and the bathroom shower is very small. The room and bathroom are modern with tile and very nice fixtures. All in all I like the room. The restaurant has an abbreviated menu though with Swedish Meatballs on the menu, we were pleased with our dinner. The side of mashed potato was most welcome and the gravy on the meatballs was quite delicious.
Breakfast at the hotel is included and was quite the surprise. The buffet was extensive and sufficiently different than the cruise ship’s that we loved the food. Fresh bread, cheese and cold cuts, fruit, rolls and sweet rolls, three juices, cereals and yoghurt, eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, pickled vegetables, and coffee. Scrumptious!
This morning we took a “hop-on-hop-off” bus to see the city. The brochure states credit cards are accepted and tickets can be purchased on the bus. Not so. Our driver looked confused, shrugged his shoulders, pointed to a bin of red things, and motioning us aboard said,, “take one”. The red things, were ear buds to plug into the sound system that describes points of interest en-route! We found our way to the top deck and listened to the pre-recorded guide of the city. We rode past the the Stockholm Palace, the Vasa Museum, the ABBA Museum, the pedestrian walkway, Central Station, the shopping district, and the Financial District, In the 1960’’s old historic buildings were raised to build a modern shopping center. The plan was to have central shopping in the city with residents living in the suburbs. This decision is controversial in Stockholm today.
After one circuit on the bus, we rode back to a stop near the pedestrian walkway, stopped for a Starbuck cappuccino, then found and walked the pedestrian walkway to the old observatory on a hill overlooking the city and back to Glama Stan.
A Glama Stan Bridge
We had an early dinner at Restaurang Polpette, an italian restaurant. Again Ellen wanted soup. Though soup was not listed on their menu outside, Ellen agreed to go in. We had mushroom soup, and a salami and red pepper pizza. Both the soup and the pizza was remarkable. Unlike the soggy thing I was served in Bryggen, this pizza had thin crispy crust and (bonus) spicy salami. It was great.
Ellen Avoiding at Polpette
Our waiter, Louis, was from Lebanon. He said he would never go back. It’s too dangerous. His mother visited and had a very hard time getting back into sweden. Louis would love to visit the US, but figures he would have a difficult time today. I have to agree. The rampant xenophobia in the US today would create problems.
The sun had set when we left the restaurant and walked “home”. Stockholm is lit up like a Christmas tree in the evening. As with so may other wonderful places in the world, I could easily live here. Unlike in other parts of the world, the women here seem open. They are much more willing to make eye contact and smile than in the US or even Italy. On the bus we were told that Sweden is a secular country and that only 9% of the people of Sweden identify as religious. That is a fantastic statistic.
Tomorrow we will actually pay for a hop-on-off ticket and use the bus to get to the Vasa Museum, the ABBA museum, and perhaps to see a production of Carmen. It is playing here in Stockholm. I’ll have to check date and time. We could “get lucky”.
Carmen at the Opera House?
Close to, but not The Royal Palace
Not the Royal Palace, again!
First Hotel Reisen
Our hotel is right around the corner from the Royal Palace. Assuming it is open to visitors, we’ll “drop by” tomorrow. I want to see the Vasa Museum and how could we not drop in to the ABBA Museum. We could take a boat tour of the city too.
Stockholm is the largest city we have visited since leaving Paris. I really enjoy small towns like Bergen, Trondheim, or Tromso. I can imagine visiting a small town for an extended stay. I could never live in one. Big cities, like Stockholm, appeal on so many levels. I can imaging living in Stockholm. Stockholm, a secular city indeed!
The MV Trollfjord docked at Trondheim for an hour and a half. We had breakfast and disembarked to walk around the docks. Trondheim city center is too far from the Hurtigruten terminal to comfortably walk there and back in an hour. It could probably be done, we chose not to try.
The MS Trollfjord has four small washers and four small dryers. With the round trip cruise ending tomorrow, most everyone is focused on doing laundry. One of the washers was not working, the other seven were in use when we checked. We’ll check again late tonight. Worst case, we’ll do laundry in Stockholm in a few days.
The Arctic Pool
One of Two Outdoor Jacuzzi Tubs
The Sauna has Three Floor to Ceiling Windows
Inexplicable to me, the ship’s sauna and jacuzzi are almost never used. With all the washers and dryers in use, my morning was free. I headed to the Sauna and it was empty. After a quick rinse, I lounged in the Sauna for a while. Then rinsed and walked out on deck to the outdoor Jacuzzi. It should have felt cold and windy walking on deck, but not after a sauna. I felt toasty walking the deck. Jacuzzi jets on and in I went. The Jacuzzi was warm and serving up jets and bubbles. Heaven. The weather obliged by sliding into a small local snow storm that made lounging in the Jacuzzi extra special. Once the cycle completed,, I grabbed my towel and sauntered across the deck in the wind and snow back to the sauna. I’m sure more than one person on deck thought I was crazy. I walked slowly; I was warm and there was no need to scurry. Back at the sauna, I rinsed, lounged in the sauna, then showered. What an amazing way to relax.
It Actually Started Snowing when I Jumped In.
Our last tour on this cruise is to a marble mine. I’ll post photos later this evening.
That’s it for now! I’m taking a cat nap.
We had bus trouble a second time. The rear doors would not close. Henry, one of the guests worked with the bus driver and with help from engineering on a cell phone Tried to solve the problem numerous times. On this tour the ship left us at the dock. The bus was expected to take us to the mines then on to the ships next port of call. With a disabled bus, we could have been stranded. After nearly an hour of trying, the doors chose to function and we were off. The delay meant we took a more direct (less scenic) route to the mine and skipped 30 minutes outdoors. No Problem.
The marble mined in Norway is a purer variety than that in Italy. It is harder to mine and prone to fracturing when quarried in blocks making the price prohibitive. So what is Norway’s pure white marble used for? Paper! Up to 20% of high gloss paper is made with liquefied marble. We had the pleasure of touring an underground mine taking small ferries through a flooded tunnel. It was fabulous.
Here are a few of John Mason’s photos form our northern lights Hurtigruten Astronomy Cruise. These are just a few of his photographs. I will post some of my shots for comparison. Ellen wants to walk Trondheim and is getting ready to go.
Without further ado, here are some photos, more will follow after our walk!
The last series is of a coronal display on the 10th. All photos are copyright Dr John Mason and are available for personal use only.
The aurora borealis comes and goes. Sometimes it remains in the sky for hours, most times it flickers out in a few minutes it seems. We have seen a few short lived displays between cloud cover. Last night, determined, we found two deck chairs sheltered from the wind at the back of deck nine and settled in to watch the sky. It was windy with intermittent snowfall and quite cold. We were protected from the wind and snow and had the benefit of warm air exhaust from the ship blowing toward us. I have a number of photos of breaks in cloud cover. With the ship in motion, stars appear smeared in the photos. Still some are dramatic.
We began our vigil around 1AM, snug and warm. By 3AM the skies had not broken, though the snow came and went, came and went. We were feeling the cold when we broke it off. Time for some sleep.
Both Ellen and I were awake around 7:30AM and went to breakfast, though dragging ourselves out and down a few flights of stairs was not easy. We ate a quick breakfast then went back for some more rest. Ellen woke me to say John’s lecture was starting in a few minutes! What? It was already 1:50 PM. I had slept all the way through lunch! We went off to hear John talk about our Sun. I’ve described that in a prior blog entry.
Hurtigruten’s Norwegian Coastal Cruise, is on a Working Ferry
Old Ship Finmarken’s Dining Area
The Lounge Area
The Main Stairway, Hurtigruten Finmarken
Old Life Boats and Finmarken’s Stern
Trollfjord stopped briefly at Stokmarknes. We went ashore to visit Hurtigruten’s maratime museum and to walk the old ship, Finmarken. Some of Trollfjord’s stops are as brief as 30 minutes. These are working ferry stops dropping supplies off or on-loading shipments for others ports. Stokmarknes was a 30 minute stop. We were hard pressed to visit the museum, walk the old ship, and not be left behind. “There are no late passengers, only left behind passengers.”
What does a Bouquet of Frozen Roses Portend?
Ice Drink, Ice Seat, Ice Table, the Furs were Remarkably Warm
Back aboard an announcement stated “due to the weather today’s tours have been cancelled. Dinner tonight will be open seating.” We hungrily queued for dinner. A dinner queue only forms the few minutes before “dinner doors” open. We met Dave in line. Kristen joined us a few minutes later. His horse riding tour was cancelled. He was wondering how he’d fare riding a horse in a blizzard. It would be cold with nothing to see except the snowfall. We ate together. Then realizing we were docking at solvaer, we thought “let’s go to the Magic Ice and see what we missed”. We were off.
Magic Ice is a take off on the snow hotel and Ice hotel. It is a very cold room filled with snow and Ice carvings, an Ice Bar, and an Ice Slide, We walked the display of back-lit frozen sculptures then grabbed a frozen drink from the frozen bar. It was pretty cool.
Sublimation has gotten the better of some of the carvings
Drinks in hand (the drinks were a wine similar in flavor to a sherry) we wandered settling on the ice slide. Kristen & Ellen bravely took the first descent. I followed Dave up the latter and down. I thought to “ski” down on my two boots. The ice proved far too slippery for that. I fell onto my back and launched down the ramp. I gathered speed on my back, my legs in air, and slammed into the side which spun me around. I landed hard on my back,, oooph. Kristen & Ellen headed back up as I licked my wound (pride) and videoed their ride. Dave and I took another round, this time we were both a bit more graceful. Kristen & Ellen took another run as well.
Magic Ice was fun, but static but for the ice slide. It stole the show IMO.
We found the hotel Dave & I visited for a Norwegian take on a Mule & G&T. This time we opted for less Nordic drinks. The girls had water and we sat around “The Bonfiire” as a hotel fellow called the gas flame centered in our table.
The snow was perfect for snowballs. I’m surprised I was only hit twice. I threw four, but didn’t find the range. Just as well. All out war would not have been a good thing.
Conditions tonight are poor for star gazing or northern lights viewing. It is snowing. It is windy. Even so John will keep watch and alert “the crew” if there’s a sighting. We’ll arrange our cold-weather clothing for a quick exit tonight.
I think we are doing an open ocean crossing this evening. If so a rocking ship with a slick snow covered deck is not where I would chose to be at night.
The call went out “Northern Lights” about 40 minutes ago. We darted into our warm clothes and scrambled on to deck 9. The ship is heaving a bit and the deck is covered with an inch or two of slush. There were a number of people on deck, but not a crowd. I easily chose a spot, unfurled my tripod, and shot a few 1.3 and 1.6 second exposures. It takes some time for our eyes to adjust; the camera is immediate. The display showed the green of a light display
The Next Day
It is now the next day. Last night we lingered on deck watching the lights all around the ship’s stern. Unfortunately cloud cover obscured any detail we might have seen. The green glow was everywhere. I am using a moderately fast lens at 2.8. Dr. John is using a 1.4 fisheye lens with better results. Then he’s been chasing the Northern Lights for decades (literally).
Since I started this post yesterday at about this time, we have had breakfast with Kristen and a gal from Boston, attended a presentation about how MV Trollfjord operates from the first engineer, had lunch, attended a visual recap of this trip highlighting the photos that John has made, had dinner, walked around Bronnoysund Norway, and bought a memory stick loaded with John’s photos. Up next: dinner .
John mentioned that this trip the weather has been particularly challenging, though not nearly as cold as typical. Still it was an adventure and we had fun at the whistle stops and excursions we took.
I was just told the wind speed during our “rough seas” crossing was 43 meters/second. That doesn’t sound all that bad until you do the conversion. 43 meters/second is 96 Miles and Hour! That is hurricane force winds! (and not category 1 at that).
our astronomy presentation today which covered the sun and its corona was interrupted by a call of “Northern Lights”. We all scurried out of the lecture hall and up to deck 9. It was snowing and blowing and that didn’t matter. However there was nothing to see by the time we arrived on deck. The crowd thinned in a few minutes. We remained on deck for twenty minutes. Conditions change rapidly and you never know when the lights will appear.
We heard John, who was on deck near us say, “Yes, I suppose I’ll continue the presentation in a few minutes.” We went back to the lecture hall.
What was most interesting was John’s description of how the Northern Lights form. According to john the solar wind distorts the earth’s magnetic fields back and away from the earth away from the sun. Sometimes the magnetic fields are forced together which fires the charged particles trapped behind the earth back along the collapsed magnetic fields towards the north and down along the lines of magnetic field. The Northern Lights are caused by particles descending through the atmosphere to earth! The solar magnetic field can point slightly north or south of the earth’s magnetic field. If it points slightly south, it turns on the possibility of northern lights. If the solar magnetic field switches slightly north of the earth’s Northern Lights will go out.
So what drives a big solar wind which can result in dramatic northern lights? First john described the effect of collapsed sun spots as sources of bursts of particles that enhance a solar wind and if directed toward earth can cause dramatic northern lights. It is rare to have solar spot generated northern lights. Sun spots have a periodicity of years. There was a minimum number of solar spots in 2008-2009 and we have entered another period of minimal sun spots.
The largest contributor to a northern lights display is the presence of a coronal hole. A coronal hole is a huge expanse of a hole in the corona from which high energy particles stream. There is now a huge hold in the sun’s corona facing the earth. It is about 1/5 the width of the sun and in the sun’s northern hemisphere. As the sun rotates in 27 days, the coronal hole reaches and maintains peak over a 4 or 5 day period before moving to the back side of the sun. We are now approaching the end of the 4th day the coronal hole faces earth. THIS is why John had his astronomical cruise during this past week and on this particular ship, the Trollfjord. He said he will return in another 27 days to chase the Northern Lights again. There is no guarantee that they coronal hole will return in 27 days, though it is extremely likely.
John is arranging other astronomical cruises around the world for other significant astronomical events! “No, I don’t do social media and I do not have time for a blog”, was John’s answer when I asked how I could contact him in the future. I’ll give him my email address.
There’s a quiz about our cruise starting in a few minutes. I promised Ellen I’d join her there. solvaer, Magic Ice, and last night’s 3AM wait-see will have to wait as will additional photos of our most wonderful Norse trip.
Dinner ended abruptly. Ellen asked, “where’d everybody go?” just as an expedition leader nearly shouted,”Northern Lights”. We all got up and rushed out to dress for the cold. It was cold on deck 9.
We went out the first time, Ellen and I, and joined a small number of people gathered around the stern of deck 9. That area of the ship is large and easily accommodated a crowd. We took some photos, got cold, and scurried below decks. I loaded photos, Ellen talked with folks coming in. I finished looking at a few disappointing photos and was adjusting camera settings accordingly when Ellen walked through the door, “Inge just took some pretty good photos.” We headed back out. I took a series of sequential photos of 1.6 second exposure about a second apart. In the main, there is cloud cover that obscures much of the phenomenon. Still for a first time photographing the Northern Lights, I’m pretty happy.
I expect we will have more opportunity to enjoy this ribbon of eerie light. John showed photos he took looking straight up into a display that shoed red bands around the green.
Here are a few of tonight’s photos. They’re an improvement, though I will still want a copy of John’s photos. Clearly he is the expert in these things.
We lingered aboard ship sipping a Chococcino from the Viking Café before braving the wind on deck 9. The wind was fierce, but dry. The rain had stopped. Encouraged, we headed off ship to a gift shop a scant hundred meters away. The gift shop was also a small museum with a set of taxidermied stuff animals. I do not support the idea of killing and immortalizing a dead animal. There were seals, a red and gray fox, a lynx, a polar bear,, a sea eagle, and a wolverine. We snapped a few photos and scurried back aboard a few minutes ahead of departure.
Deck 9 Aft On Hurtigruten’s, Trollfjord
The path to the Hilltop Overlook was Closed due to Ice.
“Alas, poor Yorick …”
Hammerfest Gift Shop
This evening’s lecture was about solar eclipses. John has seen 18 full eclipses. He travels around the world to experience the umbra. He was in a field on Snake Ranch with the Teton Range in the background for the August 2017 solar eclipse. Ellen and I were in Independence Oregon. Both locations experienced the umbra, or total eclipse of the sun by the moon.
John quoted a French astrophysicist who answered the question, “What is the difference between experiencing 99% and a total eclipse”. His answer, “It is like the difference between a peck on the cheek and an entire night of passionate lovemaking!” We were floored by the changes we experienced during the total eclipse in 2017. The way a wind came out of nowhere as totality started and the eerie light. We overheard many people who were at 99% totality who wondered what the big deal was. At 99% there is enough light for our eyes to compensate and we see little difference. The day does not become night. In the umbra, the day does go to twilight and is unmistakably dark.
John also described how important it is to know ahead of time what to expect. He was seated with a group in the desert of Saudi Arabia (I think it was Saudi Arabia) waiting for Venus transit the sun. His group turned on BBC news to watch the news transfer to a group in the desert awaiting Venus’ transit of the sun. The looked around and saw the news team atop a building not far away. Great. As Venus appeared against the sun, his group let out cheers and shouts. Nothing from the BBC. Apparently the BBC team could hear the shouting. John said his team watched as the BBC team’s camera panned up and down the sun and settled in on Venus in its transit across the lower part of the orb. They had trained their telescope & camera at the top.
Listening to John talk brought our experience of 2017’s solar eclipse to mind. We considered not driving to totality and “settling” for 99%. We are so glad we persevered.
John is a remarkable speaker with a depth of astronomical knowledge that he enjoys sharing. It is truly fun being on this cruise with him and Inge.
Humpback & Orca
As John closed out his presentation he mentioned that humpbacks and orca have been sighted in the fjord between Oksfjord, our next stop, and Skjervoy. It has been very windy. We are warned that we may not be able to open the doors to the deck on the windward side of the ship. Go out the leeward side and be careful rounding the ship to the windward side. This part of the cruise is open to the North Sea and can be very rough. It is 16:10, we have just departed Oksfjord, and it is quite dark outside. Transit time to Skjervoy is 3:15. We might be able to sight whales in the dim light cast by the ship. Skies are expected to open somewhat this evening making another Northern Lights sighting possible.
Seeing whales or the northern lights would be great. We’ll brave the elements. The outdoor Jacuzzi awaits as well.
I mentioned that Ellen had a good view of the lights from the starboard side while I braved the crowd at the bow. I have some green hued cloud photos to show for my effort.
There was one Australian woman; who had asked John (organizer of the astronomical side of the voyage); asked John to setup her Lumix point and shoot camera. He didn’t hold much hope for her with her diminutive camera, but he obliged. I was present as this unfolded. Surprise of surprises, this gal had a remarkable photo of a ribbon of green she photo’d on the starboard side. Good for her! Yay John. For me? “Next Time”.
A view from the Observation Lounge
We are now on the return voyage to Bergen, stopping next at Hammerfest for nearly two hours. It is Sunday today; all the shops will be closed. Also we’ve been warned that it is very icy on the streets and that the walk up to the overlook is closed due to ice.
Even so, we may disembark and walk the town and wharf. Ellen just looked out and said, “Wow, it’s windy out there! Yikes!”. We may just grab a cup of tea and watch the world go by from the observation lounge.
It was here in Hammerfest that we took a bus tour to the globe marking the northern most point in Europe.
Per has been my go-to bar tender here on deck 8. He also makes a damn good cappuccino. I’ve been working from strong IPA like beers back toward Pilsner. Yesterday I had my first yummy Pilsner. Compared to most of Norway’s IPAs, the pilsner had better flavor except perhaps for the first Fjell 7J I had in Bryggen “years ago”.
This morning we were early for breakfast once again. Today breakfast was practically empty at 7AM. I think people stayed up waiting for a second coming of “the lights”. That did not materialize. This morning I walked the stern section of deck 8. It was blustery, with a strong wind and spitting of rain/sleet. “One hand for you, one hand for the boat”, that thought crossed my mind as I turned back walking into the wind.
If you travel, you know that merciless feeling of being tired the first day or two after a long flight, right? My sense of time is usually thrown way off. The excitement of being in a new land with adventures unfolding blunts the temporal body slam and after a few days things settle down. Sunrise and sunset take over and redefine your day.
In upper Norway in winter, there is no sunrise and sunset. There is a sense of gradual lightening from jet black to dark gray and maybe to steel gray, then back a few hours later. It is typical to arise from a few hours deep sleep, check outside and see blackness. Or to arrive back from a city tour at 1 PM in complete blackness. Without a reference for the day’s end or beginning, it became extremely difficult for me to adjust temporally.
Yes, I can check my watch and know what time it is and how I “should be feeling”. Tell that to my body. It has a “mind of its own and it’s not my mind!”. I can feel exhilarated awaking at 2 AM after a few hours sleep and I can feel totally exhausted at 8 AM after breakfast and need to crawl in bed for a few hours. We’ve been here in Norway for eight days. EIGHT days in Norway and I am still not acclimated. This may feel like a complaint or perhaps even that I’m whining (well a bit maybe). It’s more just such an unusual experience I have to mention it. I (we) are enjoying Norway tremendously, though we wish the Norwegian god of wind, rain, and snow was a bit more forgiving. Ellen and I are resilient creatures We will deal with whatever comes our way. Just please Mr or Mrs Rain God, we need less character building and more “fun”. OK? more FUN as in clear skies, calm seas, little wind, and no rain. OK?
Today Ellen and Kristen were both taken by a hat one of the Sami was wearing at the Snow Hotel. On the way back to the ship, we stopped in the small wooden gift shop and there was the hat. It came in two colors and three sizes. Both women were thrilled to find the “hat with the ears” in the shop. Ellen was none too happy with the hat’s tail, but she’ll get used to it.
Just now we are docked at Batsfjord for 30 minutes. Ellen has thrown on her cold weather gear AND her new hat and headed out for a brisk walk ashore.