Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for February, 2020

Norway the Northern Adventure – The Trip South out of the Arctic

February 23, 2020 5:02 pm

Part 3 February 2020

The rough weather delays our arrival in Mehamn by 90-minutes until 2:30AM. Our stop here is very brief and just enough time for Julie to disembark and join her snowmobiling group of 10 people.  After a short van ride, they get dressed and suited-up and begin their 2-hour adventure traveling through the deep snow in the arctic night single file with the girls first.  Initially, they travel at ~20 km/hr. heading ~1200 ft. up into the mountains.  Once there, they have a brief stop with a hot fire and some warm lemonade before saddling back up and continuing their journey – this time at an increased speed of 35 km/hr.  Finally, they reach a waiting bus and driver who is nervous about the degrading weather, but who successfully transports them to dock in Kjollefjord where they rejoin the ship at 5:00AM and bed down for some well-deserved sleep.  Later that morning, we pass a huge Liquid Natural Gas facility loading one of its ships on our way to Hammerfest where we have a few hours to walk around town and explore.  Traditionally, for over 200 years, Hammerfest had been regarded as the world’s most northern town at 70o 39’ 48”, the same as Point Barrow, Alaska.  However, the definition of “town” has resulted in conflicting claims among contenders.  Today’s population of 7000 is a significant increase from the 350 who lived here in 1945. We walked through the snow-covered sidewalks to the town’s historic church, and to its newer cathedral built in 1961.  On the way back to the ship, we stop to collect an application to join “The Polar Bear Society” and to visit their historic museum. Then, it was back on board and off to the next series of ports arriving in Tromso at midnight. Tonight, many of the ship’s passengers will be treated to a concert in the Tromso Cathedral.  We quickly board busses for the short trip to the Cathedral located just over the bridge, and then make our way up the icy path to the Cathedral’s warm pews.  Soon, 3 musicians – a flutist, a pianist and a baritone – serenade us with 12 traditional Finmark songs that are lovely and haunting.  After the hour-long concert, we re-board our buses to return to the ship and continue our voyage throughout the night.

Julie Snowmobiling towards Kjollefjord
The Cathedral at Hammerfest
Julie with Polar Bears in Hammerfest

It is now early Saturday morning, February 8th, and the ship is running a few hours behind schedule due to weather and a few mechanical difficulties with the ship’s disembarkation ramp.  Therefore, the Captain begins to make up time by restricting our time in each port.  By late afternoon and 5 more very brief stops, we are traveling through the stunning Vesteralen Islands and crossing the Raftsund strait before arriving in the town of Stokmarknes – the home of Hartigruten shipping and their “Museum of the Coastal Express”. Here we have just enough time to take a walk up the local bridge to get a view over the fiord and town, and then it is on to dinner and a repeat visit to Svolvaer.  This time we have a little more time to explore the harbor, including the island restaurant and hotel connected by a narrow wooden bridge.  The ground is icy and covered with snow and we find the slip-on crampons that we have brought still necessary. After enjoying the brink air, we return to the ship for a lively game of cards with our sister and brother-in-law before calling it a night.

Fiord Views on the way to Stokmarknes
The Bridges near Stokmarknes
Homes in Stormarknes
Sunset at Blue Hour
Blue Hour Reflection

On Sunday morning we gather on deck to cross the Arctic Circle once more and continue our travel south. This time to celebrate, we each drink the obligatory serving of cod liver oil!  Yes, that childhood threat of ultimate disgust that strangely is palatable as an adult, but still requires washing down with a sparking glass of champagne. Soon after lunch, we assemble on deck again, but this time to view the famous “Seven Sisters” mountain peaks.  By now, the snow and ice on the deck have melted, the waves have subsided, and the view is spectacular. Later that afternoon, we arrive in Bronnoysund, often referred to as “The Heart of Norway”. It is connected over the Bronnoysund strait by a 550-meter-long bridge that will lead you to Troghatten and the famous “hole in the mountain” natural wonder. This is Norway’s geographical center and we take some time to walk out onto the harbor’s dock and sample the local aquavit with our tour leader and fellow travelers.  After this, we walk through town to a local pub where we have a round of wine and beer while enjoying the pub’s homage to the Beatles. Then, it was back on board for a night’s gentle cruising to the city of Trondheim.

Traveling South from the Arctic Circle
The Seven Sisters Mountains
Abby Road in Bronnoysund

Monday morning, we arrive early in Trondheim, and although we have toured the city by bus earlier in the trip, we set off on foot this time to walk to the Old Town Wooden Bridge and Trondheim Cathedral. On our return, we catch up with our Tour Guide who takes us into the city’s AquaCenter, complete with slides, pools, and all sorts of aqua-adventure opportunities.  In addition, the facility is built on the waterfront and looks out over the fiord and Munkholmen. As leaving and heading back to the ship, we see Hurtigruten’s newest ship, the Fridt Jof Nansen practicing maneuvers in front of the wharf. We leave the town and cruise past the islands of Grip and Hitra before arriving back in Kristiansund in late afternoon.  Here we take another quick walk around the harbor before boarding the Kong Harald one last time for our trip back to Bergen.

Cod Drying Racks in Rorvik
Kristiansund at Night

On Tuesday, we arrive back in Bergen at ~2:30PM and transfer back to our Clarion Hotel.  We have just enough time to shop before the stores close, and decide to eat a dinner of pizza, beer and wine before returning to the hotel for farewell drinks and deserts with our traveling group.  That night is spent arranging and packing, and the next morning, it is breakfast and transfer off to the airport.  Everything has gone so well that it is not surprising that KLM was now not able to check us into the flight!  After an hour at the ticketing desk, they finally were able to print Boarding Passes for us, and to route our luggage to our final destination. The flights back through Amsterdam, Atlanta and New Orleans were pleasant but uneventful. This trip accomplished reaching the far north and finally seeing the Aurora Borealis – two of our long traveling desires.

Traveling Back to Bergen

Norway and the Northern Adventure– The Arctic Circle, Aurora Borealis and the Russian Border

February 22, 2020 4:06 pm

Part 2 February 2020

The next morning, we rise early to catch a view of the globe monument that indicates that we are crossing the Arctic Circle – the border with the” Land of the Midnight Sun”.  Daylight has only recently returned to this region, and our sun is in the sky here only ~4 hours. The night has seen us experience some larger waves, and we have already had 4 short stops to unload cargo and take on passengers in the night. The Norwegians are planning a “shortcut” to our route by building a ship tunnel 75’ wide and 40’ deep that is 15 miles long under a mountain, (The Laerdal Tunnel), to be finished in 2028. After we cross the Arctic Circle, we voluntarily celebrate the “crossing” on the ship’s back deck with a toast of champagne and a “polar baptism” – the ladling of ice and ice water down one’s back followed by a shot of aquavit, all presided over by the norse god of the sea – Njord!  After lunch, we docked in the city of Bodo (pronounced like budha) where we take a quick walk about in the 25 degree F weather to look at the modern, post-war Bodo Cathedral, (built in 1956), and stop into a local bar, (The Nortlaenningen Pub – which was located two stories underground), and where we all enjoyed a local beer and a little warmth. The town was founded in 1816 and only became accessible by road shortly before WWII. During the German invasion in April 1940, over 2/3’s of the buildings and homes were destroyed. Upon completing our drinks and enjoying the local hospitality, it was back to the ship (with a shortcut through the town’s indoor shopping mall), and a hot dinner with friends and family. That evening we stop and take a brief walk around the harbor of Svolvaer in the Lofoten Islands.  Svolvar has the distinction of being the warmest town in the world given its degree of latitude – averaging over 35 degrees F in January & February and is home to racks of drying cod along the port’s entry! 

The Globe marking the Arctic Circle
The Town of Bodo

After five more stops in the night, and we arrive in Harstad early on Tuesday morning.  Harstad is known for its cod and herring fishing, and for its annual cultural festival. We don’t have much time at the dock there, but we take notes and pictures for our Norwegian friends back in the States.  Then we leave and make our way to the city of Tromso , the city known as “the Gateway to the Arctic” and the “Paris of the North”.  Nearly every important Polar Expedition has been tied to this city, including those of Fritiof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, and the city houses the most northern University in the world. Here we split our forces, with Julie taking the afternoon city tour, and Rocky taking an excursion to go dogsledding.  As the tours begin, darkness set in and heavy snows began to fall.  Julie’s city tour visits the University Museum where one can create “Northern Lights” in a laboratory and with exhibits on the Sami culture and the traditions of trapping, hunting and fishing.  Then it was on to the Polar Museum to learn of the exploits of the polar explorers and the history of Svalbard Island – home to the world’s largest population of Polar Bears and Walruses. Tromso is also home to the Mack Brewery which is famous for its Arctic Ale. Meanwhile, Rocky’s dogsledding adventure took him by bus to a camp where a champion professional woman dogsledder houses over 300 sled-dogs and offers 1-hour sledding adventures.  We were divided into 3 groups of 12 people each, and then loaded as the first group, 2-people-per-sled.  The other two 12-person groups would tour the kennels and enjoy hot drinks in the camp’s accommodations while we sledded, and the plan was to then rotate after each ~1-hour. However, while sledding through the snow with the first group, the weather degraded significantly, and the second group’s sledding was cut short and the third group’s sledding was cancelled altogether.  In fact, the weather got so bad, we had to immediately board buses to insure we could make it back to the ship.  However, the hour that Rocky had sledding was great fun, and the musher was a young lady from Austria who was building her personal experience. After arriving back at the ship, we set sail in a snowstorm and went to eat dinner.  That night, we were treated to a magnificent show of the Northern Lights. We stood on the back deck as the skies cleared and the green electromagnetic show began.  Although capturable on camera, the boat’s motion made it difficult to get extremely sharp photos.  But the aerial show was spectacular!  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Skjervoy, the city lights and growing cloud cover ended our show for the night.

Entering the Harbor of Harstad
The Dogsledding Kennels
Rocky and Pam on the Dogsled
The Aurora Borealis over the Ship’s Smokestack
The Aurora Borealis over the Horizon

We wake on Wednesday morning with 4 new inches of snow covering the ship’s decks and icicles hanging down from the ship’s windows. The daylight is getting shorter as we travel north, and it is a “blue morning” with snow, sky and water all reflecting blue.  We dock in the town of Honningsvag – the capital of the “North Cape” and home to 2800 sturdy inhabitants. Every Spring, the Norwegian Army helps transport 3,800 reindeer over the Mageroy Strait to their summer pastures on Mageroy Island, and every Autumn, the Sami herd them back to the wintering plains of Karasjok with an 1800-meter swim back.  The town’s church, built in 1884, was the only building left standing after the town was razed near the end of WWII.  Today the town serves as one of the northernmost cities in the world, and the gateway to the North Cape, the most northern point of any continent on earth.  After a brief sightseeing excursion, we head back to the ship to round the Cape through rough wind and waves to arrive in Berlevag at 10pm, a difficult port to dock in, and the home of up to 10-meter waves directly out of the Arctic North.  Today, ships can more safely access this port due to the extensive network of 15-ton concrete blocks that were set in place in 1973. Here, Julie was supposed to have joined a snowmobile excursion to travel between coastal towns, but the weather was so bad that the snowmobile excursion was cancelled.  However, she was given the opportunity to try again later on the return trip back down the coast.

Morning at Hammerfest
Viewing the Bay at Honningsvag

After delivering cargo in Berlevag, we begin the difficult travel back south but further to the east to Vardo, the eastern-most point in Norway, located further east than Istanbul or St. Petersburg, and connected to the mainland via a 2900-meter tunnel. Then we are on to Kirkenes (pronounced “chur ken knees”), the heart of “border country” located at the mouth of the Pasvikelva River which forms part of the border with Russia. Here we have time to explore and to take a bus excursion inland to the surrounding area and the Russian Border.  Kirkenes grew up around an iron ore mining company which was a critically sought-after resource before, during and immediately after WWII.  Today, the mines are idle, and the town survives on fishing, tourism and trade with Russia. During WWII, Kirkenes served as a key base for raids against the Soviets’ ice-free port of Murmansk by the Germans, and as a result, suffered 328 Soviet bombing air-raids before the Nazi’s retreated.  Our bus takes us on a brief overview of the town before heading 15km to Storskog – the only official border crossing between Norway and Russia.  The town has always had a vibrant but uncomfortable relationship with their neighbors to the east, but certainly better now since the “Cold War” has ended.  At the border is a Sami local who runs a little souvenir shop and has a wonderful Malamute (named Bamse), that everyone wanted to pet.  This part of “Finmark” which extends across the northern portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia is dominated by the Sami people.  10-15% of the Sami are still traditional reindeer herders, but the majority survive today on fishing.  The reindeer are used for food, pelts, and even milk, and the antlers are even ground for medicine.  After the visit to the border, we are off to the famous “Snow Hotel” – an annual seasonally-created lodge constructed from snow canons piling snow over a removable form, and then decorated by ice carvers using large ice-blocks taken from the nearby frozen lake.  The hotel has 14 “snow” rooms with a reception center, and 20 additional cabins located nearby. The beds are ice and the rooms go for ~$300/night with the bathrooms located separately.  The Hotel also houses a few reindeer which we get to feed, (reindeer eat lichens), and additionally have their own dog-sledding area housing ~100 dogs which we get to greet and pet. After the visit, we head back to the ship for lunch and to turn around and begin the cruise back to Bergen.

Ice filled Harbour in Kirkenes
Kong Harald at Kirkenes Harbor
Julie at the Russian Border
Feeding lichens to the Reindeer
Entrance to the Snow Hotel
At the Reception Bar in the Snow Hotel

After lunch, we dock again in Vardo, and this time we have time to disembark and briefly explore the town. Vardo is the administrative capital of Finmark, and most of the people here are taught to speak Finnish. The town was completely destroyed in WWII, and like much of Norway, was rebuilt with great assistance from the US Marshal Plan.  Today, the town of 70,000 make a living on fishing and public administration.  After our walking tour, we re-board the ship, enjoy a dinner of reindeer, and make plans for the evening and Julie’s late-night snowmobile adventure.  In preparation, she goes to bed early, but Rocky stays up and is rewarded with a modest display of the Northern Lights.  Unfortunately, the 4-5-meter waves make taking pictures on deck difficult, and by the time we get back to Berlevag, the clouds have retaken to night sky and the show is over.

The Town of Vardo
Northern Lights after Vardo
The Aurora Borealis before reaching Berlevag


Norway and the Northern Adventure – From Bergen to the Arctic Circle

February 21, 2020 8:35 pm

January/February 2020

Part 1

A country that we have never visited and about which we had heard great things was Norway.  Norway is a country of only 5.4 million residents distributed along a string of western coastal towns that are principally located at the terminus of deep fiords. Their eastern border is defined by a range of steep mountains, the Scandes, which historically served as the natural boundary between Norway and Sweden. The northern reaches of Norway wrap around the Scandinavian peninsula to reach the border of Russia and serves as the center of the multinational region of Finmark and Sápmi – home to the indigenous Sami people best known for their seasonal reindeer herding. We also had high hopes of finally seeing the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – which reach a peak in the January and February months north of the Arctic Circle.

Map of Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage

Having had a great experience on a Hurtigruten Expedition ship in Antarctica, we decided to make this adventure on a Hurtigruten Coastal ship responsible for deliveries and ferrying up and down the Norwegian coast.  This would ensure that we would visit the maximum number of places stretching from our port of embarkation at Bergen in the south of Norway, all the way along the coast to the Russian border, and back – a two-week trip!

Out trip began with flights from the USA to Amsterdam, and then on to Bergen, Norway, arriving early on Thursday, January 30th. Bergen was founded in 1070 and was the capital of Norway until 1299. It was one of the most important trading centers of Europe providing transport of dried fish to the south and of dry goods to the north. The town once had 9 shipyards and 28 roperies making ship ropes until well into the 18th century.  Today, the city is 180 square miles spread over a ragged coastline. Our hotel for the night was a Clarion hotel that was housed in the historic harbor shipping office building on the Bryggen wharf. The Bryggen’s historic wooden “Hanseatic” German merchant buildings located here are over 100 years-old and are built on raised wooden timbers that protect them from the occasional tidal flooding.  Between each of these buildings are wooden walks that provide access to novel artisan shops. Across the street from the hotel is St. Mary’s Church, the oldest building in Bergen dating to the late 1100’s.  The church was originally built for the predominantly Catholic merchants before the reformation that resulted in Lutheranism being declared to be Norway’s official religion in 1537. On the opposite side of our hotel was located the Bergenhus Fortress, the oldest fortress in Norway dating to the 1240’s which still remains under the command of Norway’s Royal Navy. That evening, we explored the wharf area including the local fish market, the shops surrounding the Vagsalmenningen Square, the Galleriet Mall and the local Starbucks, weathering the light rain.  After dinner at the hotel, we took advantage of the view from the hotel’s historic 100ft-high tower before making plans for our day tomorrow and calling it a night.

Bryggen Buildings of Bergen Wharf

Friday morning began with an early breakfast at the hotel before embarking on a walk to the town’s funicular that would transport us up Mount Floyen which towers above the city of Bergen. The funicular appears to be both electric and cable driven as it hauls us up a steep grade through tunnels, under roads and up the mountainside, including stops at two small housing areas.  Once at the top, we enjoy the spectacular views and examine the old funicular components before deciding to take on the long walk down.  During our walk, the rains begin again in earnest.  Bergen is known as the rainiest city on earth averaging 240 days of rain per year! This is a result of the moist air riding above the North Atlantic Current coming from Great Britain and dropping its rain as it encounters Bergen’s mountains.  After finding our way back to the hotel, it was time to check out and take a brief bus tour of the area. After viewing various areas of the city, we headed out into the country to the little town of Troldhaugen – a suburb of Bergen and the former home of Norway’s most famous composer Edvard Grieg.  Today, his home and study host a museum dedicated in his honor.  After spending time learning more about his life, we re-boarded the bus and headed to our accommodations for the next two weeks – the Hurtigruten ship “Kong Harald”. Once settled, we enjoyed a buffet dinner and preview of the week before casting off at 9:30pm to begin our cruising adventure north.

The Mount Floyen Funicular
View of Bergen from Top of Mount Floyen
Composer Edvard Grieg’s House & Museum
Our Coastal Ship – The MS Kong Harald

After 3 very brief stops in the night, (this coastal ship serves as a delivery ship and passenger and auto ferry, as well), and our first few hours at the mercy of the open seas, we arrived the next morning in the town of Alesund.  Alesund sits near the mouth of Norway’s longest fiord and was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style after the town’s wooden structures burnt to the ground in 1904. After a brief tour of the harbor and along the town’s cobbled streets, we climbed the 418 icy steps to the top of Aksla Mountain for spectacular views of the town and surrounding area and then walked down the winding path along the peninsula through 4” of freshly fallen snow. Along the way we passed statues of Rollon-Gange Rolv, the founder of Normandy and Kaiser Wilheim II who often visited the area, finally making it back to town in time to shop before re-boarding our ship.

The Art Noveau Architecture of Alesund
Alesund from the Fjellstua Viewpoint

Our next port that afternoon was Molde – the “City of Roses”. Molde was extensively destroyed in WWII as the German Army leveled and burnt the town on their retreat at the end of the war.  Today it serves as a popular summer-home location for wealthy residents and includes a brand new boardwalk and the 13,000 seat Aker soccer stadium as home for their local professional team. After dinner onboard, we have a chance to briefly explore our next stop at Kristiansund – a harbor town spread over three islands dating back to the Middle Ages. We checked out the monuments to ships and sailors before making a short trek to the local Kristiansund Church.  It was night and the streets were empty, so we headed back to the ship for a night’s sleep and voyage.

Fish Farms on the Way to Molde
Streetlight over Kristiansund Cathedral
Crab Traps on the Docks at Kristiansund

It is Sunday morning when we arrive in Trondheim, formerly known as Nidaros (“mouth of the river”) and Norway’s first capital from 872 until 1217.  Leif Eriksson completed his military service here and the St. Olaf Shrine located here still attracts legions of pilgrims.  Nidaros served at the religious center of Norway, and the seat of the archbishop diocese until the reformation in 1533.  The city is Norway’s third largest (175,000 people) and is built around the River Nid (Nidelva) which snakes its way through town.  After arriving, we board a bus for a “city tour” that climbs to an overlook before heading to a walk on the old Town Bridge.  Most of the city was rebuilt after the great fire of 1681 destroyed much of the town. After visiting the bridge and marveling at the old, wooden warehouse buildings built on pilings along the river, we walk to the nearby Nidaros Cathedral – one of Northern Europe’s greatest Gothic memorials. Since it was Sunday, we had to wait in the Visitor’s Center until the Church Service was over, but by then, it was pouring rain outside, and so we entered the cathedral via an underground entrance through the crypts. The crypts are still populated with a mix of Norse, Catholic and Lutheran tombs and markers, many of which are not yet fully examined.  The cathedral is spectacular with 3 separate organs, each from different eras (1200AD, 1600AD, 1900AD) which includes over 12,000 pipes in total.  Next we toured the central part of the city including the University and the old Kristiansten Fortress. After leaving Trondheim, we cruised past Munkholmen, an islet lying just offshore that served as a Middle Ages monastery. Today it is a recreational center for families and visitors during the warmer months.

Trondheim’s Old Town Wooden Bridge
The Warehouses along the Nid River in Trondheim
The Nidaros Cathedral in Trodheim

As we cruise along the coast, we pass many islands (including tens of thousands of “skeeries” which are islets too small for inhabitation) including the Kjeungskjaer Lighthouse, (the “red sailor”), which somewhat recently housed a young family with 5 children who would sometimes need tethering when playing outside given the waves and winds that are experienced there. Many of the larger islands are connected via tunnels and bridges (over 19,000 of them), most of which were built after the discovery of oil offshore on Christmas Day in 1969. Today, Norway is the 7th largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, but nearly all of it is exported.  98% of Norway’s domestic power needs are met from hydroelectric plants which are scattered across the country. That night we learn more of Norwegian history and the origins of the legends of trolls. As we continue to travel north, the chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis increases, and we bed down for the night with our room intercom set to wake us should they be spotted while we sleep.

The Kjeungskjaer Lighthouse