Thursday, 23 November 2017

Halfway & Huskies

Day 7 – Monday 20th November 2017

During the night the ship stopped at Vardø at 03h15 pronounced Varder because the Norwegian Ø is pronounced “er”, then Vadsø at 06h45.

We got up for an early breakfast so as to get all our warm clothes on and be on the dockside as soon as the ship docks at Kirkenes at 09h00 to catch the coach to the husky farm and Snow Hotel. As soon as we arrived we were split into three groups, luckily we were in the first, then issued with enormous arctic cover suits and gloves if we wanted them. There were about eight sledges with eight Huskies each already harnessed to them. All the dogs were barking and howling so excited and just wanting to run. We were directed to the furthest sledge to meet our Musher (driver) Tommy who helped us to get seated, Steve at the back astride the sledge with IMG_5358Judy the same between his legs. Eventually when all the others had got themselves settled we were off. The dogs just loved it. Unfortunately there was not much snow and the track we were on was mainly ice and quite bumpy. Wherever there was soft snow the dogs used it as they could run much better in soft snow and it was better for their feet. Unfortunately we didn’t get as long as IMG_5410promised on the sledge because there were too many people booked in the time available but what we did was a wonderful experience. The dogs were great, even Steve who is not a doggy person at all was stroking and playing with them.  After a hot drink beside a log fire we took a short walk to a IMG_5386compound with some Reindeer. On the way we passed a snow machine producing a large mound of sow which will eventually be carved into an Ice hotel for Christmas, as with the Husky track there had just not been enough snow yet this year. By the time all three groups had had their go the coach only just made it back by the sailing time at 12h30.
By the time we had lunch, because we were so far North it was already dark. We docked at Vardø at 15h45 then shortly after leaving there was an announcement that the Northern Lights were visible from the rear deck, so a quick sprint to the cabin to get togged up and we watched a fantastic display for about an hour before they faded again and we returned to our cabin for a large whisky and Drambuie to help warm up. We heard later that it was minus twenty two degrees. No wonder we were chilled to the bone.
We had seen the Northern Lights but were so  frustrated that our camera would not behave and take the pictures we are sure it is capable of. While sitting in the lounge later we saw a South African guy looking at fantastic pictures of the lights on his Android phone very similar to Steve’s. so we worked through what settings he was using and that setting is not available on Steve’s phone, grrrr. But he very kindly said he would email them to us so at least we had something to remember, they were the same lights we had seen at the same time after all.
We were now on the return trip from Kirkenes south and there were not as many passengers so we had been moved to an earlier sitting at dinner and a different table. Now we were sharing a table with two Australian ladies who we got on with straight away, they were a laugh a minute.
The main course at dinner was a 20171120_194812beautiful Reindeer steak so Christmas is off this year because we have just eaten Rudolf!!Northern Lights
After dinner Judy collected her emails to find that the South African guy, David had trouble sending the pictures and had asked an English lady Linda, to send them to us and she had also sent about twenty of hers as well, such a nice gesture.As you can see, they are quite spectacular. We are really lucky to have experienced it.

Northern Lights Northern Lights Northern Lights

The next stop was Vardø where were to walk to the Witch Monument to the persecuted Sami People but the ship encountered a lot of fog from Kirkenes so arrived late so not enough time to walk to the monument which was a shame, but another thing to do when we return in the motorhome.
There were two more brief stops today at Båtsfjord at 19h45 and Berlevåg at 21h45.

Day 8 – Tuesday 21st November 2017;

There were four more stops during the night Mehamn, Kjøllefjord,Honningsvåg and Havøysund at 07h45 by which time the ship was back on schedule then a two hour stop at Hammerfest at 10h45, we visited the Polar Bear Museum there, which was very interesting and showed the serious effect that modern human life was having on the Polar region and the Polar Bears in particular.   There were three further stops that day at  Øksfjord, Skjervøy and Tromsø.
In the afternoon we had a very interesting talk by the Expedition leader, about the Islands of Spitzbergan & Svalbard which is halfway to the North Pole. She had lived there most of her life and showed us some spectacular pictures. In the evening our Captain, Captain Nilsen gave a talk on navigation in the Norwegian waters. There are literally thousands of islands from large to small with thousands more lumps of rock and other hazards he has to avoid while also keeping the ship to its amazing schedule of stops. The day finished with another hour or so on deck staring at the sky watching the Northern Lights.

Day 9 – Wednesday 22nd November 2017;

The Ship was supposed to stop at seven ports today; Finnsnes, Harstad, Risøyamn, Sortland, Stokmarknes, Svolver and Stamsund but the weather was too bad for it to safely dock at Svolver so the excursion from there was cancelled but a bus was arranged for passengers who were dropped off later at Stansund. A bit annoying for them I should think as it will have made them about five  hours late by the time they get home. But living .here I should think they just take that sort of thing in their stride. There was an hour long stop at Stokmarknes where we could have visited the Coastal Steamer Museum which was basically about the Hurtigruten shipping story but we didn’t think we could do it justice in just an hour, especially as one of the earlier ships had somehow been lifted out of the water and was part of the exhibition. So another thing to do when we come back in the motorhome.

In the evening we had an excellent talk on the history of Hurtigruten which means “fast passage”. Before, in summer a letter from the North of Norway would take five days, but in winter it would take five months. Now with one northerly ship and one southerly ship daily the Norwegians have a daily delivery the same as us.

Tomorrow we again cross the Arctic Circle going south at about 09h15.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Into the Arctic

Day 4 – Friday 17th November

During the night the ship docked at Brønnøysund at 00h45, Sandnessjøen at 03h45, then Nesna at 05h25 we both woke probably at the sound of the engines to see really heavy snow falling outside the window then dozed for a bit as we were due to cross the Arctic circle just after 07h00 and needed to be dressed up in our coats to be on deck. We actually crossed the line at 17 minutes past 7, but it was so dark the view of the marker was not good. At 09h15 the ship docked at Ørnes  for just 15 minutes. To see this 80 meter ship dock itself, load goods and cars and sail again in just 15 minutes is amazing.

IMG_5236At 10h30 we were summoned to the rear deck again, for The Arctic Circle Ceremony when King Neptune greets and anoints new visitors to his Arctic Kingdom helped by the Captain of the ship that brought them there. Basically the captain and King Neptune would pour a ladle full of iced IMG_5241water and ice down the neck of each passenger in turn. Steve thought he had timed it just right as the bowl of water was empty with just ice in it, but as he bowed to Neptune a large bucket of iced water was added to the ice and the Captain put a full ladle down his back closely followed by Neptune with another full ladle. Judy took some photos then ran to avoid the same fate. Drying off after, Steve even found ice in his boxers!

We had a quick lunch along with most of the other passengers as we were docking in Bodø at 12h30 for three and a half hours for a bit of sightseeing. The town was covered in snow so quite a bit of care was needed while walking, to avoid slipping. From here north it looks as if we will need the spiked attachments for our boots we had bought and our poles, for a bit more support.  Walking around the town we were amazed at the care of drivers, slowing and stopping for pedestrians before they even arrived at a crossing. The cars must have spiked tyres because the roads were so slippery, we actually noticed that some of the bicycles also had spiked tyres.

We sailed again at 15h00 with the sun going down then docked at Stamsund at 19h00 then again at Svolvær at 21h00. Just before 23h00 it was announced that we would shortly be entering the Troll Fjord and to be on the front deck. This fjord is just 200 meters wide at it’s entrance quickly reducing to 100 meters with almost sheer sides. In the summer the ship would actually go into this fjord, turn at the end where it widens then sail out again, but it is forbidden in the winter for fear of avalanche. But the captain did enter the first part lighting up the sheer rock faces ahead with two powerful search lights. Unfortunately the pictures are too dark to publish here.

After another hour or so chatting our cabin called, a really good fun day today, but this lazy life is so tiring….

Day 5 – Saturday 18th November

During the night the ship docked at Stockmarknes at 01h00, Sortland at 02h45, Risøyhamn at 04h15 then we woke with the sound of the engines at 06h45 as we arrived at Harstad for an hour. we didn’t leave the ship but had breakfast so we could sit and watch the scenery. The expedition leader gave a very good talk about the early trappers and hunters and even one man who still lives that lonely lifestyle then the ship docked again at Finnsnes at 11h00 just for half an hour. Next stop was Tromsø at 14h15 where Suzanne & Adam the nice Australian couple were to be leaving us, she in fact was English but had a good Australian accent. So a quick lunch then donned a lot of cold weather clothing. After our experience at Bodø in the snow we also took our walking poles with us. There obviously had been snow but being a fairly large university town they had it all cleared but it was cold and already by 15h00 it was completely dark so we returned to the ship at about 17h00 where we chatted to  an English couple who had joined the ship just for one stop so they could join a sailing boat at Skjervøy our next stop on which they were going Wale & Northern Lights watching. IMG_5295
IMG_5289Judy got a great photo of the very modern Cathedral as we arrived in the light then another as we left in the dark. Sightseeing in the cold and dark is difficult but we are determined to come back in the summer in the motorhome when it will be very much easier.
With the boarding door open the observation deck had become very cold so we went to our cabin to warm up but over the speakers they announced that there was a little bit of northern lights outside so quickly on with our coats to be met at the stairs by a lady saying “Nothing to See”, a bit disappointing then Steve realised that she was coming from the back of the ship but north was to the front. So we pushed on to the open deck and headed for the bow to be rewarded with a bright green glow ahead which unfortunately turned out to be the Starboard navigation light reflection!  At the Bow when our eyes has got used to the very dark night, sure enough there was a very faint green glow like a plume of smoke which gradually got bigger then faded to the slightest hint. By this time we were both frozen as in our haste we had forgotten to don our over-trousers and scarves. Back in the cabin we carefully laid all our clothes out so as not to forget anything next time. In preparation for dinner at eight We had showers then as Steve was just getting out the speaker went again saying that the lights were back, So this time everything on then sprint to the bow on deck 5 open walkway. This time there was a much bigger light in the sky, not dancing and swaying like the film had showed us but a definite improvement on last time.
At 22h30 we docked at Skjervøy. After dinner, we sat in our cabin ready to run if the speaker went again. But the lights were not cooperating for us. But in the hope that the intercom would wake us up if there was anything to see, we finally went to sleep.    Perhaps tomorrow….

Day 6 – Sunday 19th November

IMG_5303No northern lights during the night unfortunately. But we had docked at Øksfjord at 02h00, Hammerfest at 05h15 then Havøysund at 09h00. Passing through a narrow channel the speaker told us that on the other side of the Island was Nord Cap the most northerly point in Europe. We arrived at IMG_5305Honningsvåg at 11h15 which was on the mainland side of the island. This would be a long three and a half hour stop to allow time for an excursion to Nord Cap, this is another sight we will see better when we return with the motorhome. The ships crew used the time to lower one of the life boats for checking and have a full scale emergency drill. We donned all our gear again and had a nice walk round the sleepy little town. It was fascinating to see local people walking with little pushchair-like sledges using them as a sort of zimmer frame to avoid falling on the ice. The main street was on a hill and as we were walking up an old lady was zooming down on the other side standing on the runners of one of these sledges. We were so amused that we didn’t think to take a photo, by the time we had uncovered the camera from inside all the clothing though she would have been gone anyway.

Back on the ship after a nice walk we only just had time for lunch before the restaurant closed, as it was we had to take our main course into the coffee lounge to finish. The ship sailed on at 14h45, docking again at Kjøllefjord at 17h00 and Mehamn at 19h15.
Before dinner there was an excellent lecture on the Sami, the indigenous nomadic people of Scandinavia. Yet again like America and Australia, stories of persecution and executions for living the life and having beliefs that were different. Tomorrow we will visit a memorial to  them.

The speakers suddenly piped up again that the Northern lights were visible, this time from the rear observation deck as we had turned south west after the North Cape towards Kirkenes our last stop before retracing the course.  So a frantic dash to our` cabin to don all our cold weather gear and up on deck.
Well, the whole of the northern sky was filled with an eerie green misty light, slowly changing shape, getting brighter then darker. It was spellbinding, fascinating and humbling all at the same time. What must primitive people have thought. Occasionally a giant face would appear or on one occasion  the shape of a crocodile was clear.
After about half an hour of being totally spellbound suddenly a shooting star, comet, meteor or whatever shot across the  sky with a trail of sparks behind it. What a bonus. sadly without a tripod and the means to adjust the exposure on the camera none of the photos showed anything because the lights were so dim. Also the ship was pitching so much that any long exposure would have been blurred anyway. We stood there for another half an hour before the lights completely faded then returned to the lounge for coffee and excited chat about our recent experience. It will be great if we get another viewing with more intense colours but if not the purpose of our cruise, to see the Northern Lights has been fulfilled. Another tick on the “Bucket List”

Berlevåg at 22h00 and Båtsfjord at 23h45 were our last two stops today, what a great day. Tomorrow will be an early start as we are going on a Husky sledging adventure.

So till then …..

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Norway Adventure Begins

Day 1 - Tuesday 14th November

Our alarm was set for 6am but we were awake at 5h30 so started to get ready.  Judy had done a fantastic job of thinking through all the different permutations of clothes and other things we would need and they were all in Kerry & Cheryl,s utility room.

The cab arrived at 6h45, 15 minutes early and suddenly chaos erupted. Kerry & Cheryl had business meetings so Kerry was just driving to the station, Cheryl was getting the girls in the car to be delivered to a friends for breakfast and we were getting our cases etc. into the cab. Within ten minutes however, peace resumed and we could quietly lock the house and Motorhome up and settle into the cab for the journey to Gatwick.

Gatwick was painless except that for some reason Judy tripped the metal alarm in security and had to stand in the full body scanner and then be checked all over with a hand scanner. After security there was time for a “Gold Plated” breakfast at Wetherspoons (just to get us used to the Norwegian prices), then walk to the plane. We were flying by Norwegian Airlines which was a bit more relaxed that Ryan Air and even had free Wi-Fi during the flight.

At Bergen airport our cases were just going round the belt when we got to it but by the time we got outside the transfer coach had just left but no real problem, there was one every hour. At the Hurtigruten terminal we were issued our cabin number then a safety briefing and introduction to a rather comprehensive life jacket but not comprehensive enough to survive the sea above the Arctic Circle me thinks.

IMG_5174Our ship for the trip was the Polarlys, which looked pretty big to us but when they showed us later with it parked next to a usual cruise ship it was tiny in comparison.IMG_5168 The cabins were ready by 17h30 and very comfortable ours looked. We had opted for the Superior cabin which had a double bed and large window rather than single bunks and a small round porthole. It was also on the 6th deck without a walkway outside so we would have an unobstructed view. But another passenger we were chatting with said it rolls much more on the top deck! Oh well, we will see. The next morning we were chatting with them again and they had a bad night from all the banging they could here which we didn’t so perhaps the top is best lets hope we can soon find our sea legs. The ship sailed at 22h30 with many people on the rear deck watching the lights of Bergen slowly disappear. (don’t forget clicking a picture makes it larger)

Day 1 finished with a spectacular buffet meal then a welcome meeting and a bit of exploring of the ship before settling down for the night.

The ship sails through the night and docked at Florø at 04h30, Måløy at 07h00, Torvik at 10h30. Each of these stops were only for 30 to 45 minutes each just to deliver or pick up a bit of freight or the odd passenger. The ship is actually the mail boat and local ferry but also takes cruise passengers like us.

Day 2 - Wednesday 15th November

After a good night, for Steve anyway, Judy woke a few times, probably not used to the very low throb of the engines or maybe the rocking, we headed for breakfast. Just as we were leaving our cabin they announced that we were just about to enter the open sea and to be prepared for some rocking. Well as if they had pulled a switch, the deck started leaning quite significantly. Breakfast became quite entertaining with everybody staggering around like drunks on a Saturday night out. Carrying a cup of coffee was interesting, and needed extreme concentration. Steve did the coffee and found that it was best to wait until the destination was uphill and walk quickly so as to arrive and hold on to something before the floor went the other way. Amazingly we only heard one plate hit the floor. The stewards were great though and could walk holding quite a few plates without the drunk act. We decided though that for us, carrying more than one thing at a time was a step too far. Perhaps by the end of the voyage, we will get used to it. Although we are told that we only go into the open sea a few times, the rest of the time we are in fjords or between the islands and the ship is very stable, we will see.

At 12h00 we arrived at Ålesund where we had three hours to spend on shore if we wished. The tours arranged by the Expedition Team on board were very expensive, a two hour hike to the top of a view point for example was £50 each person and that was the cheapest, some were over £200. We had seen a “Noddy Train” tour, around the town advertised and to the top of the same mountain for a much more reasonable price but it left from the Cruise Terminal which was about a twenty minute walk from the Hurtigruten terminal so we had a walk to get a feel for the town and find the train. When we got there however there was no train to be seen so perhaps only a summer thing. Never mind it was a nice walk and we found a supermarket on the way back to buy a few drinks for our cabin. We had heard about Norwegian prices, but £50 and upwards for an ordinary bottle of wine on the ship seemed a bit too steep! In the supermarket we found that bottles were about £12 each and a 3 litre bag-in-box for about £40 so equivalent to about £10 a bottle so the mark-up was about normal for a “Hotel” type of establishment. At home in France we buy our wine for just £1 a litre.
Apart from alcohol everything else we saw was also very expensive except for clothes and fuel which seemed to be about the same price. But it does make one wonder if wages are as high to compensate.

Back on the ship the next port was Molde for just 45 minutes then a long journey to Kristiansund where we would arrive at 22h15.
IMG_5204The whole of the top deck of the ship was lounge areas with the front being a massive panoramic viewing area with large leather lounging chairs where we sat for the whole afternoon watching the rugged coastline with little clusters of houses. Very much like IMG_5203the highlands of Scotland which we had enjoyed from the road when driving the Highland 500 in our motorhome. The middle part was an ice cream parlour and` coffee lounge then the rear was an open viewing area where IMG_5210hopefully we will eventually be able to see the Northern lights.
We had been issued with a time of 18h00 for our evening meal which was a bit early so changed it to 20h00 or it would be a long evening as it was dark by 19h00 and would get darker earlier as the cruise went further north. As we were leaving our cabin to go to dinner they again announced that we would be entering the open sea for about two hours. At least we would be served our evening meal rather than carrying it ourselves like at breakfast. Never having been on a ship for more than the English Channel trip both of us were not sure how we would feel and to be honest had been a bit concerned about it, but apart from not being able to walk straight so far it had not been too bad. Unlike an Australian guy we had been chatting to who suddenly started to turn green and headed for his cabin to lie down. His wife however had no trouble and chatted with us for the rest of the evening.

After dinner there was a film explaining the Northern Lights, which was our main reason for the trip. The film was very interesting with some stunning photography. We both really hope that they are well behaved and appear for us.

After the film we spent some time chatting with a few fellow passengers before heading for our cabin.

Day 3 – Thursday 16th November

We had a good night and today is our 44th wedding anniversary, the ship left Kristiansund at IMG_517823h00 last night and arrived at Trondheim at 06h00 this morning. We had a slow start though and by the time we had breakfast we left the ship at about 09h30. for a walk to the Trondheim cathedral. It was a very modern town but the old part was very much like parts of the USA IMG_5179or Canada with wooden clad buildings. There was an entrance fee of £18 each for non registered pilgrims and by the time we had looked round the outside probably didn’t have time to properly see the inside, so had a stroll back looking in the shops. In places the pavement was very icy and we almost went over a couple of times.
From Trondheim there was quite a time before our next stop so we had a very pleasant afternoon watching the ever wilder scenery.IMG_5206
IMG_5208As it was our anniversary, although not a requirement on this voyage we scrubbed up a bit for dinner and splashed out on a bottle of wine. It was a beautiful meal very nicely served then as we received our sweet all the restaurant staff came to our table waving Norwegian flags and singing what must have been their equivalent of “Congratulations”. I think thanks must go to Lisa our Travel Agent, but I don’t remember mentioning it to her. At 20h45 while we were having dinner the ship docked at Rørvik just for half an hour. We finished the day off just chatting with some of the English & two Australian people we had palled up with during the cruise.

Another good day but tomorrow we must be up early as we are due to cross the Arctic Circle at around 07h00.

till next time …………

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Aberdeen & The Illuminator Run

After the Troll hunt at Braemar we had a week parked at Nik & Annie's house visiting local parks and searching for some more local Geocaches. If you would like to know more about this fun pastime visit where you will find more information.

On Thursday 26th October Kerry & Cheryl with Daisy & Isobel arrivedFamily Robinson by plane from Eastbourne for us all to spend a few daysIMG_5096 as a family. After settling in we all went to Aberdeen beach for a walk and all the kids to let off steam. Here they all are all standing on their sand castle to see who falls off first while the water washes it away. Then it was home for a bit of edible slime fun.

In the evening Nik, Kerry & Steve went for a tour of the nearby Brewdog Brewery in Ellen, North of Aberdeen which now Brewdog Breweryhas a very special multi purpose Still, from which they now make Gin. After the tour, the lads of course had to sample many of the products and bring home some of the new line of pre-mixed Gin-n-Tonic in a can to the girls to finish off the evening. Thank you Annie for driving us both ways.

Haloween_smallFriday evening, all the children dressed up for the village Halloween party. Finlay as Harry Potter, Isobel as a skeleton with a pink Tutu, Daisy as a cat and Lewis as Malfoy from Harry Potter. They all looked fantastic and had a great time at the party.

On Saturday morning we re-located the campers to Aboyne in preparation for the Illuminator Half marathon, a nighIMG_5142t time 15 mile run or walk through the Glen Tanar forest in the Cairngorms National Park. Nik & Kerry were running. There was quite a bit of competition between them. Especially as Nik had recently run an “Iron Man” which included a run up and down Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. Annie was walking it with friends, while we looked after all the children. The lads did very well coming in quite close together, Kerry at 2h25and Nik just behind at 2h28. Looks like an annual event.

IMG_5150We all drove back to Nik's the next day which ended up at a slap up restaurant meal to celebrate both Nik & Judy’s birthdays. Monday evening sadly Kerry & family had to catch their flight back to Gatwick and on Tuesday we headed off South again.
We stopped of at Motorhome friends in Birmingham for a few days which included one very long day at the NEC for an art exhibition where Judy attended a number of very interesting workshops on different art techniques.

Heading south again we visited Steve’s brother Bob & his wife Jill who live at Marlborough then on to Steve’s cousin Keith and his wife Linda in Storington west Sussex then on to his other cousin Marlyn and her husband Dick in Pagham near Bognor. Finally we arrived back at Kerry & Cheryl’s house for a few days so as to pack for our next adventure, a cruise round Norway to  the very North, near the Russian border where, hopefully we will get to see the Northern Lights. Something we need to tick off on our “Bucket List” but that will be the subject of our next blog.

So till next time….

If you hadn’t discovered when viewing our blog on the web if you click on a picture it will open up to full size.