Our tour guide to the Snow Hotel had a dry, droll sense of humor. She said the proper English pronunciation of Kirkenes is Chicken Ass. I must admit she is correct. So here we are at Chicken Ass, Norway.
We drove past an indoor football field, soccer to us in the U.S., past a high school and kindergarten school, past the town’s ski jump, past Kirkenes’ local corss country Olympic champion’s house, past three frozen lakes, past a fjord and on to Norway’s Snow Hotel.
The reindeer greet guests first in their fenced in area to the left of the Snow Hotel Entrance. Gavin, my nephew’s son’s on-line name is GabbaGabba. He’ll be surprised that his name means “white reindeer white reindeer” in Sami.
Here are a few videos of the Sami Reindeer at the Snow Hotel, Kirkenes Norway
Kirkenes Snow Hotel
The Hurtigruten excursion brochure does not do justice to their tours. Each tour we took was more inspired than the short description would have you believe. The Snow Hotel was for me the most startling example of this. Based on pictures of Sweden’s Ice Hotel and the cruise line’s photos of this Snow Hotel, I thought this visit would be disappointing. What a pleasant surprise. From the reindeer to the entrance to the hotel and throughout each of the twenty rooms, I was stunned.
The Entrance to the Snow Hotel
Was it cold in the Snow Hotel? Yes, of course. In fact huge doors close off the warm restaurant and gift shop from the Snow Rooms. The doors are intended to keep the warmth OUT! If you dress for the conditions, you will be warm. We were toasty. I took a photo of the entrance, the bar, each of the guest rooms, and the hallway. The lighting in the hotel is low. I’ve intentionally shot these to present the light as it appears without compensating for exposure. I may adjust exposure for photos I move to the gallery later.
Just inside the Snow Hotel’s Entrance
A Wall Carving in the Bar
Sitting on an Ice Bar Chair
Our Bartender at her Bar
Hot Drinks on the Ice Bar
Carvings in the Bar
The Hallway to the Twenty Rooms
#1, The Wolf Room
#2, The Log Cabin Room
#3, The Bear Room
#4, The Rabbit Room
#5, The Wise Room
#6, Howlin’ Wolf
Hallway Seating for One
#7, Reindeer Room
#8, Billy Goat’s Gruff Room
#9, The Troll Room
#10, Frozen, the Room
#11, Child’s Hippo Room
#12, Winnie the Poo Room
Hallway King Crab
#13, The Queen’s Room
#17, Njord Room
#18, Old St Nicholas Room
#19, Sleigh Bed Room
#20, Fisherman’s Room
#21, Wild Boar Room
#22, Marilyn’s Room
#23, Ellen’s Room!
Sled Dogs @ Kirkenes
Ellen began petting a husky. The dog love it and rolled on her back to have her tummy rubbed. I don’t know who was happier, Ellen or the sled dog.
Ellen’s New Friend
The sled dogs often stood atop their dog house, like this fellow did.
Waiting his Turn
A well functional sled team has a combination of four types of trained sled dogs: Wheel Dogs, Team Dogs, Swing Dogs, and the Lead Dog.
Heading back to the Ship, Kirkenes Norway
Hurtigruten’s Trollfjord Awaits our Return
Northern Lights Pt 2
About an hour ago, “the Northern Lights are visible and best viewed forward on deck 6”. A mad scramble ensued, quickly get cold weather clothes on, camera, tripod, hat, gloves, run out the door and onto a crowd on deck 6. There was some pushing and a few outright shoves from behind, Then as people realized they were getting cold, the crowd thinned, then thinned again. I have some good photos of green hued clouds, but nothing I would call a northern lights display. Perhaps we will see more later this evening.
Ellen, who arrived later, was on the side of the ship and said the display seemed to touch the sea. She had a good view.
We are up early this morning. It’s 6 AM which for us is very early. Breakfast will not start until 7. Today we visit Norway’s answer to Sweden’s Ice Hotel, the Snow Hotel at Kirkenes. There is also a tour to the Russian border that we would like to take, but we can chose only one. We’ll tour the Snow Hotel.
Yesterday we bumped into Dave and Kirsten and Elenor at the North Cape. Today Dave and Kirsten will also tour the snow hotel. It’s funny that total strangers have chosen to do identical things. Both they and us chose the tours long before boarding the cruise ship.
Still stranger, Kirsten’s father’s brothers live in Yellow Springs Ohio. Antioch, that bastion of liberal education, is located in Yellow Springs. I probably rubbed shoulders with her brothers while at college. She would have been just a few years old then.
So it is with some excitement that we’re off to the snow hotel to grab a “cold one” and perhaps to see those famed Northern Lights that have eluded us in the main.
“I’m tired of rain. Some snow would be ok. No more rain though”, Kirsten opined last night. We fully agree. Someone with ties to Njord, make it so!
Tonight I opened my mbcnews feed to find embedded in the news articles an advertisement in Norwegian! Somehow a vendor’s ad bot embedded in the news feed (shamelessly I might add), recognized my GPS location and chose to speak to me in my “native tongue”!” There sits an ad for refinancing my home in Norwegian. It’s taboola based advertising. Something I have been knocking back whenever one pops up. These guys are tenacious.
Arrrrrrrggggggg how do you say that in Norwegian?
Then this evening walking back from a rousing “jaunt” in the sauna, outdoor Jacuzzi, Sauna, and weight room, I approached a fellow sipping his down jacked over his down vest, his cap pulled low over his face. I was dripping from the last shower clad in my swim suit and a T-shirt. “How Crazy ARE You?” He asked. If only I had known to answer in German, “Zehr Verruckt” Very Crazy. Instead I said, “well there’s no snow on deck. I couldn’t get out and roll in it this time”, something I may do given the opportunity. He just glared.
Hammerfest is the northern most town in Europe. It is doubtfully the northern most town in the world. I wouldn’t argue with a local over this. Does it really matter? Perhaps to a Hammerfestian!
We took a tour past the 71st parallel mid-day to the northern most point in Europe. Briefly Ellen was the most northern inhabitant of Europe! We had a hotdog wrapped in a Norwegian Waffle with crispy fried onion and mustard. Hungrily we gobbled them up, then wished we hadn’t.
Trolls are Big in Norway
At this latitude in winter, daylight is scarce. It felt like twilight or the eerie light of a full solar eclipse as we boarded the bus north. It was 11:15 AM! We started back from the globe at 1:45 PM. The sun was gone; darkness had set in. It was not total darkness. Through breaks in the clouds we could see blue skies above.
The North Cape Visitors Center, Norway
Ellen Gingerly takes Icy Steps
While we were out at the Globe marking the northern most spot, the weather changed a number of times: cold and windy became cold and windy with sleet, then snow, then rain, then less wind and more fog. We were dressed for the weather and felt fine but for our faces which took the brunt of the wind and sleet.
What an amazing view of the countryside we had from the bus as it wound through Hammerfest, up to and across the plateau, along fjords, then down to the point. The dusting of snow over the sheer glacial faces gives the land a magically iridescence in the low light. It feels less desolate than it must be in reality.
The Northernmost Point in Europe
Hammerfest is a small town. There are four fishing villages nearby and a single school in one of the fishing villages. Our tour guide said the school has three children enrolled and the village is trying to convince people to move to keep the school open. With just three students it will close.
Woman With Child Statue, North Cape Norway
The Miracle of Flash (not on my camera tho’)
Life Aboard Ship (photos later if ever)
I love sailboats, They are quiet and slip through the water effortlessly or so it seems. You hard the creaking of the mast and rigging under the pull of the sails. The splash of the bow dropping into the next trough, and the salt spray over the bow. It is has a slow peaceful rhythm about it. I love sailing,
I love being on the water. Even if your journey takes you on a short ferry, the sense of adventure and the feeling that the seas could take you anywhere imaginable. It is so romantic.
For decades bobbing around small sounds or the San Francisco Bay in my small boat was heaven. I wouldn’t consider taking a “cruise” on a large ship an adventure or even “sailing”. It just felt too tame for the younger version of myself. How time has changed that rigid opinion.
Taking a cruise ship in a foreign country to cities and towns you may never visit otherwise is an adventure. And I still get that wanderlust being on the seas. Being on the water is less an adventure. It is a considerable responsibility to sail in foreign seas chart and compass in hand and to brave local weather conditions. As challenging and perhaps romantic as that ideal sounds, it is far more rational to leave the risk to a professional captain and simply walk aboard a cruise ship.
Just this afternoon Ellen turned to me and said, “I really enjoy taking cruises. This has been fun.” That’s good to hear as we have signed up for a four month around the world cruise in 2020! I won’t reminder her of this for another few months.
What makes taking a cruise so enjoyable is not having to move your suitcase around. During our two months in Italy, we took two weeks driving or taking ferries around southern Italy. We were constantly packing and unpacking or stuffing bags into or out of the car, or driving. I enjoy driving, but seeing the country you are driving through is more fun and not really open to the driver. On a cruise all your belongings are packed away in your cabin. You take what you need when you go ashore. It is that simple.
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner are provided. You show up at “the appointed time” (typically a range of a few hours), and lunch is waiting. The breakfast and lunch buffer aboard ship on a moderate cruise can become mundane or even boring. Some high end cruise lines vary the buffet nearly daily, though at a price. Dinner is unique and something to look forward to.
A typical day aboard ship begins with breakfast between 7 and 10; a presentation of some sort in the morning (sometimes a choice between two) or a shore excursion, lunch between 12 and 2PM, a presentation or a shore excursion, dinner between 6 PM and 8 PM, possibly a presentation in the evening possibly an evening shore excursion. Each day is packed full of activities and goes by in a blink. All of this running about is optional. There are those who are content to sit on the observation deck and watch the world go by. Some days that is all I want to do.
Jet lag on arrival may render the first day or two a blur. Getting into the rhythm of breakfast, rest/outing/presentation, lunch, rest/outing/presentation, dinner takes a few days. Once over that continuous sense of being tired, the daily pattern feels reassuring.
What makes visiting Norway in winter special is the difference in the length of a day and the degree to which I take cues from my environment. Today for example our excursion ended at 2PM. No problem except that the sun had set; the day was ending and I was getting ready (mentally) to shut down for the evening. But it was only two o’clock in the early afternoon! I enjoy discovering similarities and differences in people and things as I travel. The extent to which I cue on daylight came as a surprise.
“How much longer do we have? I don’t want this to end!”, Ellen had said earlier. She is now taking a nap in the hopes John (our astronomy tour leader) rousts us from sleep to announce an aurora sighting. I will join her shortly. First to add a photo or two then off for a nap.
Tonight we had a tour of Trmoso by bus. This included visiting the Tromso “Natural” Cathedral (more on that in a 2nd post) and we took a the Fjellheisen tramway to the top of Storsteinen at 420 meters above Tromso. We were in line for a hot chocolate when our German tour guide said, northern lights outside. It was a mostly cloudy night, though there through a break in the clouds was a green ribbon that snaked across a portion of the sky. It moved slightly for the next fifteen minutes or so.
Being on a schedule we left for our next “stop”. The weather is clearing, though I have no idea how long that will last. We are all hopeful that the displays continue tonight and tomorrow. We Shall See!
Ellen has long claimed she easily gets sea sick. I’ve steered clear of sailing and less tame water tours for this very reason. The coast of Norway is dotted with thousands of islands and long fjords that provide shelter from the wind and ocean swells. Cruising Norway is tame for the most part. However, and this is a serious however, there are a few stretches of open water that must be navigated. In the olden days, ships would stack up waiting for fair weather to make the passage. Ferry and freight lines would not operate regularly as it was too risky to operate in these seas.
Yesterday after returning from the tram, we had lunch, walked the ship some, and feeling tired I went to sleep. Ellen let me sleep and went off to attended an astronomical lecture about the Northern Lights at 3PM At about 3:30PM I awoke to the sound of my camera and computer slamming into the floor with me rocking up and down; back and forth on the bed. Ellen later said that the lecturer kept going though he was doing a sailor’s walk back and forth across the stage to keep upright.
Leaving the computer and camera where they fell for safety, I looked out our massive porthole to see huge choppy seas. I’ve been on a fishing boat in 20 ft. swells that came as synchronous waves, predictable, and from one direction. What I saw through the port hole was a riotous eruption of wind driven white caps blown off a boiling cauldron of 12 to 20 ft. swells with no pattern whatsoever. It was as if a swell arose from nowhere and created a depression entirely around it. But not simply one, hundreds or thousands of them amassed together in no pattern. The only thing I can think of that would begin to describe it is floating on a sea of literally boiling water. The boat rocked side to side unpredictably, slid down a wave sometimes, crashed into an oncoming wave and shuddered sometimes, there was banging, rocking rolling, quick jab like changes of direction. It was amazing.
The seas were not a threat to the vessel. They were small in size by comparison and not perilous. The seas were more than many passengers could take. Dinner was initially put off an hour, then returned to normal scheduling as the ship found shelter. For dinner the ship was as calm as if we were docked at port. The rough seas had taken their toll. Turnout for dinner was low. Whereas we usually have to walk the dining room at least once to find an open table, we sat immediately.
Approaching to Pass a Sister Ship Northbound
After dinner I enjoyed a long Sauna with Dave, a fellow from Germany, and a fellow from Paris. We talked politics and economics for a while, though the German and Parisian were more guarded in their conversation. Dry and dressed again, Ellen wanted a hot chocolate and I grabbed a local beer. We watched the Fjord and waves go by from the observation deck as we progressed north. Waters had calmed somewhat. A British couple stopped by and we chatted for a long while about life, work, his son, skiing, Breckenridge, pub darts (I started that conversation). If you take a moment to open up with complete strangers you will often surprise yourself and be equally surprised by the turns a chat can take. We turned in quite late, around 2:30 AM.
A typical morning in the Panorama Lounge, before crossing the Arctic Circle
This morning Ellen awoke early and was hungry. She is finally getting over her cold. I’m still a bit out of it. We had an early, leisurely breakfast and again had no trouble finding a table. Crew asked us how we slept and how we were doing with the “weather”. I actually enjoy rough seas if they are non-threatening. It’s fun! Surprisingly Ellen said much the same thing. I no longer have a “seasick prone” wife. Today’s plan was to make port at Bodo around noon and take our tour then. Plans change. Yesterday’s dinner stop pushed our arrival time in Bodo back two hours. We arrived at 2 PM. All bodo tours were cancelled. We would have time to walk to the town and back if we hurried!
Ellen and I both thought “Half Dome, Yosemite”.
The Arctic Circle
The Globe marks the Arctic Circle crossing on Vikingen Island Norway
Typically after breakfast we head to our room to relax for a while. Not today! “We cross the Arctic Circle this morning around 9:10 AM. There will be a celebration outside on deck 9. Come join us there!”, said an announcement. There was still time before the celebration, we grabbed our cameras and headed to the observation lounge. It could have been luck or planning on Ellen’s part; we walked into the lounge as the ship approached “Vikingen Island” on the starboard side. Vikingen Island sits at the Arctic Circle. It has a prominent globe statue on the circle at 66 degrees 33 minutes and 43 seconds at the arctic circle crossing (that according to our expedition guides).
Crossing the Arctic Circle
The ship crew highlighted the statue with a ships spotlight and blew the ships horn as we passed. This is the first time either Ellen or I have travelled this far north on our great planet Earth.
Njord, Norse God of the Sea and the Wind
Not to miss the Arctic Celebration, we scurried back to our room and changed for the outdoors. Camera and phones in hand, we headed up a deck and outside through the heavy weather door. The Jacuzzi area which is just outside that door, is sheltered from the wind. It was not until we walked to the side of the ship that the full force of the wind barreled into us. It was frigid. We had both dressed for the weather and were not cold, except for our faces and my legs. I had not worn my wind pants and paid a small price.
I have video of the Arctic Celebration that will best describe it. I will say that I was one of the first volunteers to have Njord favor me with his warm christening and that later talking with Kristen and Ellen, I was wondering why my neck still felt cold as I pulled not one but three rather large ice cubes from my neck. Njord had done his job quite well.
The Invocation of Njord for Safe Voyage
Kristen and Ellen are Christened
I must say that Norway’s coastline north of the Arctic Circle is stunning. Though it was windy and cold outside, the best photos were not to be taken through the observation lounge windows, streaked with salt and debris as they are. No, the best photos were from the stern of the ship in the harsh wind and cold. I’ll share a few photos below. There were breaks in the clouds and blue sky and sunlight visible from the ship! Today was a magical day.
Njord, Captain my Captain, and Me getting “christened”
The reward for Njord’s Coronation, Cloud Berry Wine
We saw a few murals in Bodo
Trolls are a Norwegian Thing!
We had a quick lunch around 12:30 and docked at bodo (pronounced Bhuda) at 2PM per the revised schedule. Ellen and I dressed for the cold (again with me in jeans) and walked to town and back. Bodo was entirely destroyed in “the war”. All its buildings are new which gives the town an industrial appearance. We walked to the fishing fleet harbor, but had no time to go further and still get back to the boat.
Norway has more Teslas Per Capita than anywhere else in the world!
We passed a number of open shops. Two called out to me: a sporting goods shop and a very well supplied fishing equipment shop. I could have spent a few hours in the fishing shop and at least an hour in the outdoor shop. We could use some attachable cleats for our shoes should we have another bus vs “ice field” adventure. With so little time, we walked on by. rats!
It looks cold because it is cold
“There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” a Norwegian Saying
“there are no late passengers, only left behind passengers” this is an oft repeated Hurtigruten saying. The Trollfjord is a working ferry making scheduled stops up and down the coast. All Hurtigruten coastal ships are! Ours is not “simply” a cruise ship and we did not want to be “that couple” who were err, “late”.
Getting back aboard in Bodo
On the way back we were stunned to find that every single car stopped for us if we wanted to cross the road. No matter if there was a cross walk or not; traffic would stop. Period. There was also a line of cars and trucks waiting to board the ferry when we arrived back.
Live King Crab is Everywhere in Norway
There are a few tanks of live king crab aboard. Tonight we joined the 18:30 crab feed, which is optional, “extra”, and something we simply have to do. (I’m even now a bit sad about our Bergen Italian Soup choice. Perhaps this will make things “right”)
Being Seated at our Table
Well, we’re off to feast on King Crab in a few minutes. I’ll populate the text with pictures and publish (perhaps with some crabby comments) when we return.
We had our king crab dinner in the a la carte restaurant that is separate from main dining. We were the first to arrive. We were greeted with a glass of prosecco , were seated, and were the first served. Dinner was quite simple. A bread board arrived first followed by a glass of dry riesling and a carafe of water. Some time later a bowl of king crab arrived. The crab body was cleaned and placed in the center of the bowl. Each leg had been artfully cut in half the long way and separated at the joints. These pieces were arranged around the body. A single large claw sat in the center. We were served one entire king crab for the two of us. It arrived with three small ramekins: one of a home-made mayonnaise, another of a herbal mayonnaise, and a third of mildly spicy teriyaki butter sauce. All three were far too much for crab’s delicate flavor,
The Crab Arrives
My job for the evening was to ferry crab pieces to our plates as we devoured this feast. I was pretty even handed, even giving Ellen the single claw. A king crab is huge and enough for two hungry people. Desert was a cheese plate with a sample of brie, two small wedges of buttery white cheese, and two cubes of Norway’s equivalent of Stilton placed on a berry drizzle with thin slices of a fruit and nut dried bread.
Dinner was extremely good. The crab was cooked perfectly, served cold, and had been so well prepared we could eat it with a crab fork and knife. There was no need to tear at the exoskeleton with our fingers. Scrumptious.
The Magic Ice Bar, Svolvaer, Norway
Magic Ice was closed
We had not reviewed replacements for our cancelled Bodo tour. Back “home” I looked over the information Ellen had gleaned from the expedition staff about our options. There were just three possible and we had conflicting tours scheduled on two of the days. That left “Vesteralen Panorama”, a bus and local ferry trip. We both agreed to pass on this tour, we’re already on a ferry!
Today’s schedule had us stopping at Solvaer at 21:00. Paula (who had stored Ellen’s borrowed coat in her locker for us) had mentioned the Ice Bar at Solvaer as something not to miss during the hours stop in port. We dressed for cold weather and headed to reception to disembark a few minutes before 9 PM. We expected to find Kristen waiting to join us. We spotted Kristen and Dave too. Cool. While we waited for the gangway to open, an overhead announcement dashed our plans, “I am sorry to inform you that due to an accident the Magic Ice Bar and Gallery is closed.” Nutz. We are not that easily taken in. We disembarked and headed to the Magic Ice Bar thinking nobody would close a bar so readily. A short walk proved us wrong. There was the door to the Bar and Gallery and it was absolutely closed.
As a group we headed back. Leaving the boat, the Ice Bar was to the left and the war museum was to the right. We headed toward a group of people who we thought were going to the war museum. They were rather going to a bar. No problem, we asked the barman where the museum was located. He actually walked outside and pointed to the location, just behind a hotel right in front of us. As we approached the hotel, Dave said he would rather not go to the museum, opting for a black Russian instead. That sounded good to me. The two guys headed off to find a bar while Ellen and Kristen looked for the war museum.
Ellen, Dave, and Kristen
The Norwegian Mule and Norwegian G&T
Dave and I entered the hotel to find us in a restaurant seating area. Walking through we found a wine bar and asked a staff woman, “Does the hotel have a full bar?” “Oh Yes! We have a pub here and a full bar there through those doors.” Great.
We found an amiable fellow tending bar. I asked if they had a Norwegian version of a Russian Mule. “If you want something Norwegian, it must have Aquavit in it!” After some consideration, I chose to try a ginger beer with silver aquavit. It is a bit like a silver tequila, not as full flavored as an anjeo or commemorativo. It was actually tasty, though nothing like a mule. Dave opted for an Aquavit and tonic. Both drinks were unusual and good. We had just enough time to have a short chat and finish the drinks before heading back to the ship. An hour’s stop-over goes quite quickly.
Back aboard, Dave headed off to change for the Sauna. I waited a bit to see if Ellen would show up, then headed to our room to change. There I found Ellen changing into more comfortable clothing. They stepped into the war museum and were put off by the musty smell of the place and the entrance fee. They had simply walked around before heading back too.
I changed and went to the Sauna exchanging pleasantries with an expedition guide on the way. The sauna was pre-heated today. There was Dave soaking in the warmth. Our reverie was cut short by another announcement, “Soon we are entering the mouth of Trollfjord. The best place to view this event is outside forward on deck 6.” Presto, changeO. I showered, went “home”, met Ellen who was changing into warm clothing for outdoors. “Did you hear the announcement?”, she asked. “Yes, that’s why I’m here”. We both walked down two decks and outside toward the bow on deck 6.
It was snowing and blowing a bit. I was glad to have taken my “ancient” heavy duty down jacket. This was a North Face design that was not produced. Some of the samples made their way to the outlet store in 1976 where it was purchased as a Christmas gift for ME! It has been my go to extreme weather jacket ever since. I’ve never been cold while wearing this beast. I have no idea who thought it would make a good ski jacket. That’s why the design was not produced. With any level of exertion, you’d burn up wearing the thing.
Ellen was snug and warm in her borrowed (and elegant) heavy coat. It was not immediately apparent how cold it would be at the bow. While we were snug and warm, our faces suffered “a thousand points of light” in the form of wind driven snow in the face. Not only was it cold, it was dark and a bit foggy. At first I could see nothing past the ship’s prow. Blackness and snow, wind and blackness, snow and wind everywhere all the time. We were not alone. The entire deck 6 balcony filled with bodies huddled against the cold. Some people asked what we were looking at/for. It was hard to give a rational sounding answer. Then relief arrived in the form of the ship’s spotlights scanning the walls of the fjord entrance.
The ship was moving slowly forward into a narrow fjord with reflective markers on ether side marking the channel boundaries (or fjord walls from another perspective). The lights played along the walls and in front of the ship as we crawled forward. Sometimes the snow covered cliffs were visible, more often the spotlight’s beam was filled with snowflakes, nothing more.
The Mouth is Narrow though hard to see through the Snow
A Good Shot that shows how small the mouth is
The walls of the fjord closed in together creating a very narrow entrance. That spot was marked by two triangular reflectors on either side of the narrow. We went no farther, but turned slowly and headed out. The show was over.
In such low light and with so little to focus on, taking photos was nearly impossible at first, then grew progressively easier with the spotlight’s beam and more features to focus on. Manual focus worked to a degree as well. This was not so much frustrating as more a learning experience. My camera did as well as I could expect. I need more practice in these conditions. All in all it was fun to be out, exciting to see the fjord narrow down as it did, gratifying to be warm on a “dark and stormy night” in Norway in winter.
It is now quite late on January 3rd 2019. It takes time to write, even stream of consciousness takes more than banging away at the keyboard. I had hoped to add photos to this run-on mass of characters, but alas I do not have the motivation necessary to make that happen. That would take loading more photos on the computer; selecting the photos, formatting them, captioning them; selecting videos, uploading them to a video host, pasting an embed code into this blog at “the right” spot. Tomorrow. Tomorrow this will happen. (actually later today, it’s nearly 2AM). Later. over and out.
New Years Eve Fireworks Kristiansund, Norway
We awoke to the ridiculous sound of my iPhone alarm at 7 AM; far too early after New Years Celebration a few hours earlier. We planned an early breakfast before heading out on our 8:40 tour. Breakfast on a Hurtigruten Cruise ship is an extensive buffet. Breakfast is unhurried with easy seating early (7AM) and late (9:30). This morning seating was easy. It seemed most people were recovering from the evening’s festivities. To avoid overheating, we dressed lightly for breakfast and dressed again for our outing. Though cold by San Francisco standards, the Norwegian weather has not yet been extreme.
To leave the cruise ship, you disembark at reception with your personal ID card. That marks you as off ship or on ship when you return. We found Dave and Kristen on our way out and boarded the bus for our Trondheim Tram Tour with them.
The harbor’s terminal is built on an artificial island created to allow large ships to offload at Trondheim. Crossing the bridge to Trondheim, we passed the old wharf buildings that mark the original wharf where sailing ships in the 1900’s offloaded. The buildings still have the hoists sitting atop. These buildings have long since been converted into luxury condominiums that command a steep price. Even the new buildings maintain the old style right up to the decorative hoists at the roof’s crown.
The Northern Most Tram in the World
The bus ride to the beginning of Trondheim’s tram was short. We were through downtown in a few turns and arrived at the tram museum. The museum houses historic trams that are maintained and put into service on occasion. One car had been taken out of the museum and placed on the tracks for us. Seating on the tram is two by two. The four of us took the last four seats on the tram. There is a side door at the very back of the tram with standing room for perhaps eight or ten people. Ellen and I gave up our seats for a mother and her young daughter. At the very back, we could open a side window and have unobstructed views as the tram climbed a hill.
The tram is dual tracked to to a a protected forest within Trondheim, where it becomes single track to the top. The city purchased land along the dual tracks and made it available to the people to build houses along the tram. This benefited the tram and gave people a convenient access to downtown. Those properties today are extremely expensive. At one point the city chose to discontinue tram service which led to an uproar. There were no roads to the properties and no means of access to downtown if the tram shut down. A private company stepped in to provide service and new cars. That company runs the tram line to this day.
Locals use the tram to access hiking trails throughout the forest at the outskirts of Trondheim.
The houses along the tram and in most of Norway are made of wood. Wood is a good insulator and not prone to cracking with extreme changes in temperature. In the past the wood exteriors were smeared with blood to seal the wood against the elements. Hence over time it has become traditional to have houses painted or stained deep red with window frames painted white.
Typical Wooden Houses along the Tram, Trondheim, Norway
A Modern Tram and near Fall, Trondheim, Norway
First dinner mates and now friends, Dave and daughter Kristen
Last Stop at the Forest near Sunrise, Trondheim
Historic Tram going back to the Museum
A View over Trondheim to the Fjord
Trondheim’s Ski Jumps
After our tram ride, we climbed back aboard the bus for a tour of Trondheim’s ski jump area. The town has an international ski jump and a locals competitive ski jump. The “locals’ jump was much smaller. We could see both jumps in the distance as we pulled down a slight incline into a parking area. Driving up a short moderate pitch toward the jumps, our bus driver slowed to downshift and the bus lost momentum on a sheet of ice! As the bus slowed, I didn’t give voice my immediate thought of “Oh Shit”. From years of driving in winters in New England I knew we were doomed.
The bus lost traction in the lower gear, lurched, and slid backwards gaining speed second by second. We were out of control with nothing the driver could do. We came to a stop at the side and near the bottom of the incline. We could not move forward. All exited the bus. We found ourselves standing on an inch sheet of ice with some gravel spots here and there and other areas of flowing water making it impossible to stand in places. Everyone was moving about randomly, some sliding, some doing a “human spider” walk, others slowly picking gravel spots to move about. At some point perhaps ten minutes into this misadventure, our driver suggested we all get back into the bus. Ellen and I were back aboard, when the bus slid on its own another ten or fifteen feet backwards. No driver, the brakes were set, it just let loose. The most horrible feeling in the world is that feeling of helplessness we humans get in the face of an emergency that is beyond our ability to manage. I was practically at the bus controls, but had no idea how to drive the bus had I even wanted to. When the bus came to a stop the second time, Ellen and I got off and stayed off.
Typical of Ellen, in a moment of levity, she made and threw a snowball. I didn’t have my camera ready so no photo. On the plus side, I was not close and was therefore not her target! We found refuge from the wind behind an outbuilding while waiting for a second bus. Another ten or fifteen minutes later a replacement bus arrived. We all piled in, our tour guide gave thanks to our bus service for rescuing us, and we restarted our tour.
That was short lived! Remember that slight pitch down into the parking lot when we arrived? This bus (with the same bus driver) failed to negotiate that incline as well. Rather than getting momentum to get up the pitch, our driver cautiously slowed about halfway up and never made the crest. Again we slid back on a sheet of ice, but this time we skidded into a parked car! While we waited for a third bus, a massive tow truck arrived to rescue the (now two) busses from the grips of the ice. A third bus arrived quickly. This time with a new bus driver we cut our tour short, visited the Trondheim Cathedral briefly, and reached the Cruise ship just before it departed.
Note our 1st bus in the background and a car wedged behind our 2nd bus
Dave grew up in Michigan and is quite familiar with driving on ice and snow. He knew we were in trouble when the first bus slowed on the incline. Joked about how the bus driver should back the first bus back to a relatively flat stretch of snowy-ice and perhaps drive away. While we were talking we watched the bus driver take chains from a rear storage compartment and drag them to the front wheels. We both laughed thinking the bus is a pusher configuration with drive force at the rear wheels. I felt sorry for this bus driver who was clearly out of his element. He did speak Norwegian and clearly knew no English or German.
A sheet of Ice, a Tow Truck & Operator, and our 3rd Bus
A digression: there is a German tour group on this cruise. All announcements are in both English and German. I am amazed at the amount of German I understand. Sometimes the German announcement precedes the English. The announcement in Norwegian is unintelligible.
I would like to learn more, who is commemorated? Note the dates.
The Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway
It makes a statement, but ouch.
We’ve found a Radisson Blu Hotel in each town in Norway
Trondheim’s Old Wharf and some Newer Buildings
We did take time to visit Trondheim’s cathedral and the grounds of a nearby Modern Art Museum.
Back aboard ship, we had lunch, a long nap, a light dinner, and we went off in search of the men’s sauna. I found the Sauna forward on our deck (deck 8) and there was Dave setting up to enjoy an evening’s dry soak. I joined him shortly after. The Sauna area has coin operated lockers that everyone uses, but without locking. There’s a sense of honesty among the passengers that’s heart warming. The Sauna was wonderful. It has three floor to ceiling windows and a view over the sea when the lights are off. Dave (of course) knew how to turn the lights off. He also knew how to find the warm water setting in the shower. “Turn the temp valve counter clockwise until it stops, then press the button and turn a bit further. That’s the warm water setting. I left the sauna super relaxed, and after a long hot shower. What more could you want in the evening?
As promised here are some photos we took while walking the town of Bergen, the 2nd largest town in Norway.
These old buildings stand at odd angles
A view inside a shop, all were closed on Sunday
1702, and not a street number!
Open and tempting, though we did not.
Radisson Blu, extremely busy for a wonderful breakfast
Radisson Blu Bar and Social Club, empty early morning
Live King Crab, chose your meal!
The classic view of Ellen, Bryggen, Bergen, Norway
Boarding the Hurtigruten Ship, Trollfjord
I would love to regale you with tales of Alesund, the Art Nouveau capital of Norway, but I cannot. After a late buffet breakfast aboard ship, we slept through lunch, through shore time at Alesund, and to the announcement for 1st dinner. Jet lag and our colds had us “down for the count”.
New Years Eve
There are regular announcements about upcoming events aboard the Trollfjord. One mentioned pre-booking champagne for tonight’s new years eve party by visiting the head waiter at dinner.
We are assigned first dinner seating at table 61. There we met Dave and Kristen. Dave is from Battle Creek Michigan. His daughter, Kristen, is from Chicago. It was fun for us getting to know them. Dave is a retired high school science teacher who also coached football. In his mid 70’s he is healthy and in good physical condition. Kristen is a management consultant for a Chicago firm. She is observant and sharp minded, though socially easy going. The four of us are booked on the “most northern tram ride in the world” tomorrow. Dave mentioned he’d enjoyed the sauna that has three windows opening onto the sea, and the open air Jacuzzi. The wind-driven rain, mist, and foam was quite cold beating in his face. Once we’re feeling better, we’ll hit the Jacuzzi.
After dinner, which included an abbreviated crab salad, lobster bisque, reindeer with potato, and a wonderful chocolate fudge with a dollop of ice cream. Serving size was perfect (small). Dehydrated from our flights and colds, we drank a number of carafes of water. Beer and wine is extra and not included in the cruise. Wine and beer packages are available, but are only a “good deal” for those who drink a bottle of wine or two beers a day. Until I’m feeling better, it’ll be water for me. After dinner I did speak with the head waitress about pre-ordering champagne and it turns out that a complementary glass of prosecco will be available and that pre-ordering is for a full bottle for the evening. We didn’t pre-order.
Sometime later in our cabin, we awoke to an announcement: “festivities beginning in the piano bar”. It was now 11PM, we had slept for a few hours. We found the piano bar and not a hint of a glass of prosecco. The party started with a pianist and guitarist playing two Norwegian songs followed by our expedition leader singing Summertime. The pianist and guitarist were accomplished musicians. Our tour leader butchered Summertime, in an intentionally light hearted way. Her performance was so startling and unexpected, there was a moment of stunned silence following her performance. I immediately began clapping, others joined in, and an awkward moment was averted. Her “singing” broke the ice. Others were now free to sing along with abandon however they wanted. In our search for bubbly we missed the sing-along lyrics sheets and “winged it”. Strangely, my cold deepened my voice and gave it an unexpected timbre. We had a fun time.
The party moved to the observation deck to watch the fireworks that literally encircled the ship and to have that glass of bubbly.
Happy New Year!
Tomorrow we have our first excursion: a trip on Trondheim’s historic tram, “The northern most tram in the world”. We tucked into bed with an alarm set for 7 AM to be sure we have breakfast and time to change to catch the excursion bus at 8:30.
More pictures and some video will show up tomorrow, goodnight!
We arrived at our hotel in Bryggen Saturday 12/28 at 5:30, right on time. “It was a dark and story night”. The express bus was waiting for us right outside the airport’s main entrance. Frank, our driver, whisked us off to the town of Bergen. On the trip we saw a surprising number of Tesla Model S cars going past.
Connections to Norway were less than perfect. The overnight flight from SFO to Paris was dreadful. I did “upgrade” our seats, though that only meant Ellen and I were sitting together. I have never had so little leg room, even on a domestic flight. What has Air France done? Never again, I will not fly Air France. Period. On the bright side the flight from Paris to Bergen was pleasant with enough leg room that I slept the entire two hours!
The day before Christmas, we had John, my nephew, and his 9 year old son, Gavin, over for dinner. Gavin was sick though he assured us he was “not contagious”. WRONG! We came down the a heavy cold that matured on our Paris flight compounding an already poor experience.
Let’s return to Frank for a moment. As we boarded the bus, my credit cards would not work in his machine. Not one card. We tried Ellen’s as well. Everything failed. Now what do we do? Frank smiled and said, get on and we’ll settle up later. Cool. Our hotel was near the last bus stop. At the Bryggen stop, Frank patiently reset his machine as we tried a few credit cards. The first attempt failed,, but the second went through! We chatted with Frank about Norway for a bit. Norway is a rich country based primarily on oil and fishing.
Our hotel, the Radisson Blu, was located directly at the bus stop. It could not have been more convenient. Our room was modest but with a remarkably comfortable bed, his and her feather down comforters, and a wonderful shower. This would have been most enjoyable, but for Gavin’s Christmas gift. We had a meal in the bar/social club: fish soup for Ellen and fish and chips for me. I had a 7 Fjell beer that was fantastic. Fjelll is pronounced similarly to fjord. J becomes I. We slept fitfully hacking and coughing through the night.
The next morning, 12/29, was a Sunday. As in Boston in the “old days”, everything closes on Sundays in Norway. We walked the old town of Bryggen, found a drug store to replenish some supplies, and bought a warm knit cap for me. We took a taxi to the Hurtigruten Terminal to check our bags. Baggage check-in starts at 1 PM, check-in at 3 PM, and staterooms are available at 6 PM. Checking our bags we made two mistakes: Ellen failed to check “her” coat (actually the coat that Cynthia lent her) and I had taken my documents our of my backpack and now had to carry them around with me. The lockers at the terminal take three 10 KRON coins. I had dollars. What to do. Paula, a woman from Madrid arrived at the lockers and she too didn’t have coins. We chose to share a locker, found a cab driver who gave us change, and Ellen/Cyn’s jacket problem was solved. Our documents went in Ellen’s purse.
Paula intended to walk around from the terminal. Having never been in Bryggen, we thought we’d take a taxi back. Imagine our surprise as a tesla cab drove up to the terminal. Yes, I can take you to Bryggen. We met Sion, who said a single charge overnight is sufficient to run his cab the entire day. There are very few superchargers in Norway, though there is one that he uses if he pulls a double shift. Taxis are everywhere in Bergen.
Walking we happened across the most fascinating fish market I’ve ever seen. Live king crab was everywhere, many varieties of fish fillets, shellfish, some I have not seen available elsewhere. Inside there was not even a hint of seafood smell. It was clean and smelled clean. There was a bar on one side of the market and a restaurant bay-side. “This is where we’ll have lunch”, I said.
We passed an Italian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a taqueria, a very eclectic group of mostly closed restaurants. Ellen wanted soup for lunch. The Italian place featured “zuppa”. No seafood for me. I had a pizza that was barely ok. Ellen’s soup was good, but not nearly as tasty as at the Radisson Blu.
To get back to the cruise terminal, I suggested we go back to the taxi spot where Sion dropped us off. We should have not problem having one stop. Ellen was not convinced and hid from the rain in a doorway. Within five minutes we had our ride back to the terminal. Checking went smoothly, we were aboard and in our diminutive cabin shortly after 6pm.
It really truly sucks to be sick while travelling. It sucks so much more if you travel in the dead of winter to a cold climate. Norway certainly qualifies. Even so, the Norwegians and Norway have surprised my with their warmth and beauty.
What? No Photos? You have Apple’s HIEC, coupled with Microsoft’s fee for the codec, coupled with international internet connectivity.