Onboard Seabourn Cruise Lines

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Back to Trondheim and Kristiansunde

Our journey south takes in the same towns we visited on the way north at different times of the day. This time we visited Trondheim in the morning and though the wind was icy, the sun shone and we took advantage of the two and half hour stop to take another walk in the town. 
As we depart Trondheim we sail past Monk Island. Now a holiday island with a beach frequented by the locals in the summer months, it is a former place of execution and home to a Benecdictine monastery. 
After lunch we stop at Kristiansunde - and the sun comes out. The fjords are mystical in the sleet and mist, in the sun they are magical. 
Tomorrow is our last day. We must pack our bags, then we will sail through the tight waters of the 
Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. On our journey north we sailed this passage of thousands of islands at night.
It has been an amazing trip, we feel we have only just started to learn about the Norwegian fjords, I am sure we will return.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Travelling south from Harstad and a close encounter with the white-tailed eagles.

As we sail south we take a different route to the journey north. On Day 9 we sailed through the Risoyrenna, a 4.5 km long man-built channel opened in 1922 by the King. then into the region of Vesteralen. The weather continues to be very cold and sleet is normal, which adds to the beauty of this spectacular scener. I hope that one day we will be able to return in the summer and discover more about this exciting country.
At Stokmarnes we have half an hour to explore the Hurtigruten museum. From the early days in 1893 when the first ship the Vesteraalen sailed between Trondheim and Hammerfest, with only a chart and a compass to navigate the treacherous rocky waters, Hurtigruten has grown to a fleet of 12 ships plying the route with passengers and freight and providing a lifeline for many communities.
In the middle of the afternoon we entered Raftsundet a narrow fjord, and while the Kong Harald motored along, a fishing boat pulled alongside and a group of us boarded for an excursion to find the white-tailed eagles. With snug overalls over our already snug cold-weather gear, we bounced along in the bow of the fishing boat, while crew threw raw fish to the seagulls. The gulls were noisy in their appreciation and this activity attracted the attention of the eagles who glided down from the mountain tops, circled the boat and swooped for the whole fish thrown by the crew. About a dozen eagles enjoyed their afternoon meal in this way and we were able to attempt to take photos of the birds. I say attempt because taking wildlife photos is a real skill. 
Svolvaer was our next port of call and a stroll to a nearby pub and a glass of a warming liquid warmed us again before we boarded Kong Harald in time for dinner.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The northernmost town, Kirkenes and returning south

As we travel north snow, sleet and rain are the usual weather pattern, and the spectacular mountains of the fjords are covered with snow and leafless birth trees. 
The ship moves northward passing the Sami church at Finnjerka, and by next morning we have reached Kirkenes, very close to the Russian border and the furthest point of our journey.
Kirkenes has a population of 5000 and is very close to the border with Russia. We chose not to take the bus to the Russian border but rather to walk into town and up the hill behind to the Border Museum. Situated on the edge of a frozen lake this museum is small, but very well organised, and presents the story of Kirkene's history, the close relationship with their near neighbours and the Sami people, who still live as they have for hundreds of years in the area. It also shows in excellent displays, dioramas and relics, the story of the invasion of Kirkenes by the Germans in World War II beginning with a blitzkreig. The resilience and strength of the people, despite the Germans burning the town to the ground in their retreat, is shown graphically and was absolutely fascinating.
We departed Kirkenes at lunchtime and sailed to Vardo, Norway's easternmost town. Here we had just 20 minutes to walk up the hill to the Vardohus fortress, which is situated on a strategic, and though it has never been used in battle has a long history and is used for ceremonial occasions. 
By the next day we were well on our way south, passing during the day the towns and settlements we had passed at night time on the journey north. 
Hammerfest was our morning stop. Hammerfest is 70 deg north and 39.6 deg. east. Despite the sleet we walked up the hill to get a good view of the town, and spent barely 5 minutes in the Polar Bear Society, which was a pity as there was large stuffed polar bear and many birds and animals of the region on display. The aim of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society is to preserve Hammerfest's history and tradition of fishing and hunting. 
We sail on from Hammerfest with our next stop where we alight being Tromso, at midnight. A concert has been organised in the Tromso cathedral and many of the passengers board buses for the short journey to the church. 
Three musicians, a pianist/organist, a flugelhorn player and a bass/baritone presented a concert of Norwegian music beginning with a haunting piece by Robert Franzten based on a Sami joik. There followed folk tunes, a romantic song by Edvard Grieg - Jeg eisker dig and Sinding's 'Rustle of Spring' and endingwith 'Amazing Grace'. Back on the bus and the Kong Harald sailed around 1.30am.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2,000 km from the North Pole

Today we continued our journey north. We had passed the North Cape and today was an opportunity to take a bus journey to the northernmost point of Europe. We took the opportunity to explore Honnigsvag, a town with a strong fish aroma from the huge racks of drying fish along the waterfront. 
Tonight's buffet was a magnificent spread of seafood. King crab, mussels, prawns, local coal fish, redfish and cod tongues. In the afternoon there had been a demonstration of how the cod are prepared for drying and how the cheeks and neck muscles, known as cod tongues are removed from the cod's head. These are then fried in bread crumbs and served with a butter sauce. Rich and tasty. 

A husky sled ride

Today, day 5, we headed for Tromso, Norway's largest town with around 75,000 inhabitants, unofficially known as the capital of the Arctic. There were stops at Risoyhamn, Harstad and Finnsnes as we made our way to the sound of Gisund. Along the way we passed under the Gisund bridge which connects Norway's second largest island Senja with the mainland. As well as the Hurtigruten ferry service, which provides a lifeline to the communities along the fjords, Norway is criss-crossed with roads, local ferries and amazingly long tunnels. 
We arrived in Tromso after another excellent buffet lunch. The food on board is always good and frequently includes local delicacies. 
We boarded the buses for an excursion to a dog sledding centre. It was cold and sleeting as we drove through the township, including one of those long tunnels, arriving at the huskies' home in about 30 minutes. With it's main purpose as a tourist attraction this centre is extremely well set up. We were split into groups and our group went to meet the huskies. Paired in kennels the dogs live in the open and are serious pack animals. As they waited for the first sledders to leave they howled and barked, calling to each other. But they are also very friendly and were happy to be greeted and patted. This centre breeds huskies and does not sell them.
Then a trip into a yurt for cup of warm coffee and home-made chocolate cake before visiting the puppies, who are now about 4 months old. They don't like the rain so had to be enticed out of their kennels with a little food, but once out were happy to be cuddled and played with.
Finally we changed into super warm overalls, donned our snow goggles and climbed into the sleds. Each sled had two passengers and a driver and was drawn by 10 dogs. They were raring to go and headed into the wildernes at a steady pace. It was magical. The landscape was white and crisp and though the snow was melting we were able to glide along, with the occasional bump, at a steady pace. The dogs know the route and follow the sled in front, occasionally one trying to overtake the other, but being kept in line by the drivers and a simple, effective brake system. We were snug in our sled sitting on reindeer skins with a warm blanket across our knees. 
This excursion is a highlight for us! We simply loved it.
We returned for the evening meal and the Kong Harald headed towards Skjerboy and the open stretch of sea called Loppa. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Across the Arctic Circle and up to Raftsundet

As we crossed the Arctic Circle King Neptune and his very large feet appeared on the upper deck! We gathered around to hear about his ceremonial welcome to the northernmost part of the world and were invited to be 'christened' with a cup of ice! In return we received a certificate and a cup of hot raspberry tea. 
By lunchtime we had reached Bodo. Here there was a choice of an excursion to Saltstraumen or a Safari in zodiacs to the place where the incoming and outgoing tides meet in a very narrow channel, forming a huge whirlpool. We chose the zodiacs and zoomed out the harbour and across the bay, passing Puffin Island, but not close enough to see any puffins, and into the narrow fiords formed by earthquake action thousands of years ago, that created rocks like mille-feuille pastry with cream in between.
Tightly sandwiched in the zodiacs and rugged up in regulation insulated overalls, it was an exhilirating ride.
In the evening we took a stroller in Svolvaer to the Magic Ice Bar, just next to the wharf, where drinks are served from an ice bar surrounded by ice sculptures of sea creatures, ice thrones, men at work and all manner of other creatures. Then a welcome mug of fish soup on the deck as we entered the strait of Raftsundet, before hitting the sack. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trondheim to Rorvik, Day 3

The day greeted us with heavy rain... we were not to know how cold it was until we headed off into the city of Trondheim. The boat had docked early in the morning while we were asleep and would be there for 3 hours. Trondheim is Norway's third largest city with a population of over 175,000 - and also one of the most significant in Viking history having been founded in 997 by King Olav Trigvasson. 
We set out to walk into the city centre - about 20 minutes away. This is not a walk for the faint hearted in driving icy rain, but we made our way to the old part of town, the maritime museum and the famous Nidaros Cathedral which is built over the grave of Olav, who has become a saint!
Back at the Kong Harald we were glad of a bowl of warming tomato and noodle soup and a hot lunch. We were not able to take photos of Trondheim in the driving rain... so here is one from the tourist board of what it would have looked in the sunshine.
The afternoon was spent on board as we cruised down the fiords. At around 4.00 pm we began crossing Folda, a stretch of open sea, which was very beautiful in the sunshine. Then we took a shortcut through the Afjord-Stokkoy channels, as the wind had dropped. These are small channels through the islands which made it easy to watch for bird life close at hand as we cruised close to the hard brown rock walls, and the little hamlets along the water's edge. Our last stop of the day was a quick unload of goods at Rorvik. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

From Maloy to Kristiansund, Day 2

The difference between the ships in the Hurtigruten line and a cruise ship is very simple - the Hurtigruten ships are working boats. And work they do. The Kong Harald has a huge hold packed with all manner of goods, that are offloaded at the ports we dock at - and goods are also taken on. First port of call today was Maloy, one of the biggest fishing ports in Norway, at 7.15. Just 15 minutes and we are away, then about half an hour later we begin the crossing of the Stadhavet, an open stretch of sea that takes 2 hours to cross. The swell is quite large and the boat chugs iway through solid waves, making crew and passengers walk as if they are very much under the weather. Some are, but not us!
The ship docked at some ports for barely 10 mins, such as Heroy-Bolandet in the first photo and reached Alesund at midday. A small town of around 440,000, it is know for the Art Nouveau architecture in the main part of town, which was the result of a huge re-build after a fire in 1904. 
Kong Harald moored right in the heart of town which made it easy to explore and we walked from the shopping mall pictured, through the Art Nouveau heart and into the shanty-still area on the other side of the bay. A sunny afternoon well-spent working up an appetite for the first of our local dinners which was roasted salted lamb, slow roasted, and a delicious raspberry crumble. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Boarding the Kong Harald in Bergen

We woke to rain, which we have been told is pretty normal in Bergen. Yesterday's sunshine was a delightful way to be introduced to the city. It was so very wet and cold that we stayed indoors most of the morning, enjoying a delightful breakfast and reading up on the parts of Norway we are about to visit. We boarded at 4pm. Very efficient as one would expect, and were soon exploring the ship. Turning a corner on the upper deck it was delightful to come across a rack of fish drying!! We set sail at 10.30 p.m. after an excellent buffet in the dining room that included local fish and meats. The Hurtigruten line includes food from local suppliers in all its menus. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bergen, Norway

Gateway to the coast of Norway, Bergen is a delightful fishing port with quaint tottering wooden buildings on the edge of the harbour and dwellings and buildings climbing up the surrounding hills. We arrived here yesterday afternoon after a long trip. Spending a day and a night in Dubai made sense but there is nothing you can do about the simple fact that Sydney and Oslo are a long way apart, and getting flights anywhere than the major hubs requires a few changes. 
After checking into our hotel on the edge of the harbour, we set off to visit the town. There is a cable car that goes up the mountain from behind the hotel and that was planned for today, but woke to very wet day... so we may just save that for our return. We found a brasserie upstairs in one of the buildings near the harbour and enjoyed a creamy seafood soup, a glass of local beer and a lively chat with a Kiwi waiter who has been working in Norway for 6 months and loving it.
Today we board the Kong Harald for our Hurtigruten cruise. 

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