Norway

2012



Norway is a large country but with such a long coastline it is well suited for cruising, which is exactly how I visited it.

But before I start I must talk about the transatlantic flight… We got a FREE upgrade to business class on Brtish Airways!!! That is the cabin with individual cocoons that are like little private rooms with a real bed…it is also the class where you are greeted with a tall water glass filled with champagne…and treated with all sorts of niceties…Traveling in style is sooo nice!!



The ship was pretty similar to the one I sailed on in the Mediterranean a few years back. The staterooms are no larger although this one had a whirlpool tub…and we did manage to sleep three in there without stepping on each other’s toes too much. 



The towel animals were as amusing and the chocolates on the pillow just as sweet...


Still the same great service…  The service and the food truly make this line (Holland America) stand out.




As we had 4 days at sea we took advantage of the dining room for lunch and breakfast, which is something we do not usually do when we are rushed to get on shore. How civilized and relaxing to have everything brought to you… Buffets are nice to look at but inconvenient when the ship is rocking and you have to stand in line to get what you want…
I especially enjoyed the afternoon tea with its delicate sandwiches and pastries…
The cocktail hour wine tasting paired with plates of cheese or antipasti was a nice touch also…
The Pinacle grill is always a treat and well worth the small charge, especially when you are treated to a bottle of pink Moët et Chandon for your birthday!!!



The Italian restaurant was a popular alternative for dinner also…
With so many sea days you might wonder what do people do with themselves…. well they keep you surprisingly busy (IF you choose to take part). My favourite activity is, not surprisingly, the culinary academy, that offers classes and workshops. I picked up a couple of very tasty recipes there that I cannot wait to try out and adapt for my cooking website….



Apart from that there are talks and presentations, there are movies and shows there are quizzes and lessons, from dancing to photography and computers and a lot of live entertainment. Each bar had someone performing, be it a classical quartet, a jazz trio, a lone piano player, a rock band, a salsa band…you name it! There truly is something for everyone… My favourite was the piano bar with an endearing Aussie who played a lot of oldies…sprinkled with a twist of humour, he made a great Elvis!



There is also a casino and shops of course…and a spa and gym. I had always wondered why they had tile covered loungers…we'll… now I know…they are heated and configured to provide the user with the most comfortable support one can imagine…and a great view too!!!



Speaking of which I did indulge in one spa treatment that was really unusual and ohh so pleasant. It was a seaweed wrap over a waterbed…a truly aquatic experience… followed by a soothing massage…. I strongly recommend it!!

Ok enough with the niceties; what you want to hear about is what we visited…. Embarkation was in Dover, England… a two-hour drive from Heathrow... Ever heard of the white cliffs of Dover? Well here they were! And they do appear white especially when the sun is shining on them…there were a lot of people fishing on the pier…I wonder if they were going for Dover sole…?



Here is a map of the country and some of the ports we stopped at.



After a day at sea we reached Oslo early in the morning and right away you could tell that this is a country that has a strong relationship with the ocean…  houses dot the shore, marinas are filled with sailboats…. Our first images of Norway were small red and white wooden houses nestled between water and mountains...or all by themselves on their own little island.



Even if Oslo is the capital and has some modern buildings it is not an overwhelming kind of place at all.
Two of the main tourist attractions are the Vigeland Park and the Viking Ships museum. Although sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Vigeland Park, the Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement is not a separate park, but the name of the sculptures within the Frogner Park. The unique sculpture park is Gustav Vigeland's lifework with more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron. The overall theme of the park can be summarized by: man’s journey from the cradle to the grave. I did not go to the park but did manage to get these photos.



The Monolith towers 14.12 meters (46.32 ft) high and is composed of 121 human figures rising towards the sky. This is meant to represent man’s desire to become closer with the spiritual and divine. It portrays a feeling of togetherness as the human figures embrace one another as they are carried toward salvation.





As for the museum, it is a beautifully stark place where the ships take the spotlight. It is truly amazing to think that these ships could carry up to 100 men…and this is what terrorized Europe. They are amazingly well made but still basically a big row/sail boat. The Gokstad ship, the best-preserved one, was built to carry 32 oarsmen, and the oar holes could be hatched down when the ship was under sail. It utilized a square sail of approximately 110 square metres (1,200 sq. ft.), which, it is estimated, could propel the ship to over 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). The mast could be raised and lowered. While the ship was traveling in shallow water, the rudder could be raised very quickly by undoing the fastening. It is believed that the ship although commissioned at the end of the 9th century, was built of timber that was felled around 890 AD. The ship could carry a crew of 40 men and a maximum of 70 passengers.






Oslo is also the seat of the Nobel Prize, so we drove by the venue where they are given out…



We stopped at a glass blowing factory, which is always such a fascinating process…a team was in the process of making a commemorative plate…


We took a tour that took us up the fjord (our first one)…it is so pristine and serene, and in some ways reminds me of Canada.
This tranquility makes it all the more unimaginable that a crazed killer shot all these young people on this tranquil island…people still bring flowers to the site…



 

Today I heard that Oslo is THE most expensive city in the world as far as cost of living is concerned… I am happy I did not have to rent a room or eat in a restaurant…


Our second port of call was Stavenger and, as we approached, we were reminded of what makes this country so wealthy…OIL! and offshore drilling. Stavenger is the service center for all activities connected to the North Sea oil and gas industry.





Interestingly the government has put aside the revenues from this lucrative industry to create a fund to help the elderly…



Sailing into Stavenger is like entering a toy set with little red and white houses.


It is a very picturesque town with flowers everywhere and pretty cobblestoned streets… the port itself is busy and colourful…


An elegant and very old church caught my attention especially since it was next to a modern sculpture.



The excursion we chose here was a cruise into the Lysefjord. The scenery is so pristine and calm…



The highlight is Pulpit Rock, a massive cliff, rising 604 metres (1982 feet) above water. The top of the cliff is approximately 25 by 25 metres (82 by 82 feet), almost flat, and a popular attraction for the young and fit.  



But all the cliffs and waterfalls are majestic and beautiful.
 



Most of the area is uninhabited but we did see a few locals…



After Stavenger we headed due North towards the town of Molde…



and we began to see snow capped mountains…



and a change in the overall scenery…. it became more rugged less urban, with lovely fishing villages




This church caught my attention as it has a “Russian” style. It reminded us that we were not that far from the Russian border…


More rugged and less urban…save for one very unusual feature: the Atlantic Road. This impressive road skips nimbly from island to island, across eight bridges. The tallest of which, Storseisundet Bridge, has a spectacular curve.



This is also where we saw houses with grass on the roof…this is a traditional technique where the roofs are covered with sod on top of several layers of birch bark on gently sloping wooden roof boards. The load helps to compress the logs and make the walls more draught-proof. Sod is also a reasonably efficient insulator in a cold climate. The birch bark underneath ensures that the roof will be waterproof.  



We kept sailing north…until we crossed the Artic circle! Needless to say it was getting colder outside and windier. So it was a surprise to see this lone little bird stop for a while on deck.



We finally reached Honninsvag the northernmost point of out itinerary and, they claim, in the world! At 70° 58' N it is situated at a bay on the southern side of Magerøya island, while the famous North Cape and its visitors center is on the northern side.



Surprisingly, even though Honningsvåg is located at the northernmost extreme of Europe, it has a subarctic climate, thanks to the Gulf Stream. The ice-free ocean softens weather in winter, and the average temperature is not as low as that of other locations around this latitude. In fact, winters of Honningsvåg are warmer than that of Oslo.


Having said that, our visit to the North Cape visitor’s center was anything but warm. I have seldom faced such fierce and cold winds! This sculpture captures some of the feeling…



The landscape there is barren and the cliffs impressive



Few people live here BUT we did see one reindeer!!! And her keeper in traditional costume next to traditional housing…I was surprised as I had always imagined reindeers as much larger than this…



 I am not sure if this is usual or if it was a storm but we got shaken quite a bit both on land and on board the ship. It got to the point where the captain was asked to leave the port and drop anchor further out to avoid being thrown against the dock.  Which he did, because we could not leave without trying to see the midnight sun! Unfortunately, because the weather was so bad we did not actually see it, but we did experience the light through most of the night. I was able to read by the window until 2 am without difficulty! But going out on the bridge to take photos was a challenge because of the wind!



 Obviously this phenomenon does not disappear suddenly so we got to experience light at night for the next few days.

After 2 days at sea enjoying the amenities on board as we sailed south, we were ready to get off and visit Alesund.



A very pretty town, not as colourful as the previous ones in part because most of the houses are not wood. Indeed there was a fire that destroyed the town in 1904 so everything had to be re built and they decided to do it in stone, brick and mortar and did so in Art Nouveau style, which was fashionable at the time…and still very pretty today.



What is striking are the houses that are built right ON the water…like Venice or Amsterdam…


It is a pleasant city to walk through and we got to visit a pretty church and a quirky museum. Having an old fashioned dental clinic as one of its displays.






There is a hill overlooking the town that offers lovely views.



We took a tour that took us to an even older church that was enchanting with its naïve wood sculptures and its very old graveyard…



We encountered some spectacular scenery as we continued our journey south towards Flam. We started seeing waterfalls, which were only a small taste of what was to come. This still being springtime water was abundant everywhere and there was still snow to melt on top of the mountains.



Flam is set deep into yet another fjord, surrounded by mountains, like a rare gem in a green velvet case.


 The big attraction there is the Flåm Railway: a 20-kilometer train ride on one of the world's steepest railway lines on normal gauge tracks. Nearly 80 percent of the route is on a 55% gradient, i.e.: a rise of one meter per 18.

 

The twisting tunnels that spiral in and out of the mountain are impressive enough but the waterfalls steal the show.





Speaking of shows, I was concerned to notice what appeared to be a woman dressed in red dancing by herself on the rocks halfway down the waterfall. It turns out there were two of them, one on each side of the falls and they were there to “illustrate” a legend about Huldras, seductive forest creatures with animal tails, who used to lure men into the underworld. It was a relief to find out they are ballet school students and not escapees from a mental institution. After all we were in Troll country…



Once we reached the end of the line we stopped for a traditional snack of waffles with sour cream and jam and more spectacular views …a lovely combination!


We were then headed for our last stop: Bergen. A lovely town with more painted wood houses.


 The tour took us to a tiny church painted with traditional motifs and then to a waterfall.


This was a very pastoral setting…with lambs and little bridges…


It gives you a very different impression to walk behind it rather than watch it from afar.


We also had a traditional koldtbord lunch, which is the Norwegian version of the Smörgåsbord, a buffet of fish dishes.



Speaking of buffets, the ship displayed its usual dessert buffet on our last night at sea…



...before reaching Dover…as nature displayed a spectacular sunset…