A Travellerspoint blog

Circumnavigation of Spitzbergen - My log for a day.

A month or two after our expedition, each of the expeditioners on board will receive a log book of our written submissions and some photos.
I created a crossword using clues and words applicable to our time together.
We were asked to nominate a person for each of the 10 days. I wrote Day 4 and this is it.

At 3 am I saw a polar bear up really close. Then I woke up and realised I was dreaming.

Waking again at 7am to the voice of happy Henrik we were informed that those passengers wanting blue skies and calm seas, could stop dreaming.
The kayakers breakfasted early and set off first towards the bird cliffs lining the Hinlopen Strait, first stop the terminal face of a glacier. The crack of a gunshot was not the demise of a polar bear, rather a piece of glacial ice being released of its pressure and falling into the sea. As the kayakers moved off, the passengers following in Zodiacs were treated to a spectacular carving of the glacier. Compared to yesterday, this was a small glacier, but surrounded by cliffs, and no less inspiring, the ice pieces in the water providing pure refreshment for those who tasted this ancient ice.

If the glacier was the appetiser, the main course was divine. The soaring cliffs of Alkefjellet full of nesting guillemots, and occasional kittiwakes.
The cameras clicked madly, but it was the experience that was special. The photos will be a reminder, but it was the wonderment of travelling right underneath cliffs soaring hundreds of metres into the sky that made this place so special. Photos won't capture the sound of the squawking birds and their chicks, the soaring Glaucous Gulls looking intently for a chick to steal, or the sky around the cliffs thick with swarming birds. The water around the kayaks and Zodiacs was alive with bobbing birds. For the lucky ones, a treat from on high was dropped on them.
If Aurora made a movie they'd call it Zodiac Now, "I love the smell of guano in the morning!" And what a morning it was!
Massive seafront cliffs, their shapes inspiring on their own, were made even more memorable by the birds nesting in their thousands.
Looking upwards at the ledges full of nesting guillemots, my kayak buddy Nathan described it as, "A city of birds."
The kayakers poked through narrow gaps between rock pinnacles and the cliffs, secret hollows hid waterfalls only they could see. Zodiac passengers wielding zoom lenses captured close-up photos of nesting birds and the cliffs 'painted' by their presence.
Back on the boat after a morning that for many has been a highlight so far, another tasty meal appeared from the kitchen of Tina and Judd - Fettuccini Bolognaise. How good has the food been on this trip? Our galley duo have impressive Svalbard and Spitzbergen to compete against for our attention, and they are more than up to the challenge.

Afternoon activity time again, this time we were in the Lomfiorden, also on the north-east corner of Spitzbergen. So calm and peaceful that despite the desire to 'stretch the legs', some of the kayakers, myself included, thought that maybe this wasn't the kayak trip to decline. Nevertheless we did decline and joined the 'Zodiacers' onshore for an afternoon of walking. Some chose to stay close and helped clean up Svalbard by collecting washed up litter while 26 others joined Happy Hill Hiking Henrik on a hike up into the hills above Faksevagen Bay. Dear Don armed with his bear busting blunderbuss followed behind.
Smooth rocks on the beach became lichen-covered rocks as we headed up the hill. This in turn gave way to tundra, which in places became waterlogged and squishy. Squishundra?
It is incredible to think that for most of the year, this place is frozen. The array of flowers spotted left the hikers in awe that ANYTHING could grow in this environment, let alone the beautiful variety we saw.
For those not so botanically focussed, the fauna did not disappoint. Many Svalbard Reindeer provided photo opportunities aplenty. The highlight for all must surely have been watching a bird attacking a reindeer and seeing the reindeer flee, to a point. At this point, the reindeer turned on the diving skua and, raising onto its hind legs fought back with its front legs, before returning to grazing on the tundra and ignoring the continued harassment of the bird.
What a great hike! Sweeping panoramas, glacial valleys and everywhere, views to die for! How fantastic is this weather that not only was this place so special, we had the chance to enjoy it, not just survive it!
A quick zip back to the Polar Pioneer in the Zodiacs, helped by the efficient Aurora team both on and off the boat was the perfect end to a magic afternoon.

Dinner and drinks were the perfect end to a magic day.

Posted by TheWandera 06:39 Archived in Norway Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Circumnavigation of Spitzbergen, Svalbard

The ultimate Arctic adventure! Spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife.

It seems I saved the best for last!
The last 10 days have been absolutely INCREDIBLE!
WOW! Words can't really describe what Nathan and I have just experienced, but I will try.

The expedition company Aurora Expeditions - faultless.
Landscape and wildlife - simply stunning.
Weather - unbelieveably magic!
Kayaking around icebergs - exhilarating - all 110 km of it.
My feelings? Privileged. Svalbard is absolutely one of the world's most beautiful places. I felt then and still feel now, priveleged to have seen something so wonderful, yet rarely seen. The isolation and pristine wilderness of this place is magical. Words fail me.

Unusually, the sea ice had drifted north, away from the northern tip of Svalbard allowing us to do a circumnavigation of Svalbard, not just Spitzbergen. In true 'expedition' style, Aurora threw the planned itinerary out the window and went exploring, taking us further north and then further east to places previously unvisited, because the opportunity presented itself. (My kinda company.) So, travelling in a clockwise direction, instead of coming south through the center of the archipelago, we continued east and came right around the east coast.

The 50 passengers on board were older than I expected. (Nathan and I were the 3rd and 4th youngest respectively.) Although a similar age to the Hurtigruten passengers, the similarities stopped there. These people were real travellers, not cruise ship passengers. This was an active expedition, not a passive cruise and the demographics reflect that.

List of creatures seen, in addition to birds:
polar bears (23 in total, 2 from the kayak!), walrus, ringed seals, bearded seals, Arctic fox, Svalbard reindeer, and to top it off during the last paddle yesterday, Nathan and I had 4 Beluga (white) whales just off the front of our kayak. Incredible.
Unrealistic as it had been, my wish list was complete. Mother bear and cubs were on my list too and we saw two lots.
I had big dreams and this journey has exceed even my wildest ones.

Some highlights briefly -
- Midnight sun.
- Kayaking around icebergs in front of the terminal face of glaciers.
- The food on board. (Better than the Hurtigruten, by a long shot.) Passion by the chefs goes a long way.
- Zodiac trips to shore to explore and hike on the tundra(with crew members standing guard with guns looking out for polar bears.)
- MASSIVE carving of a glacier close by - captured on camera by yours truly! We were on the ship, but the carving was so big and so close the waves from it rocked the ship.
- Not seeing ANYONE else for the 10 days away. True wilderness.
- Trapped in a glacial lagoon by a polar bear waiting in the shallows of the narrow entrance/exit and having to 'run the gauntlet' out of the lagoon with our kayak guide in his boat out first with his flare gun ready on his lap!
- The weather. Out of our control and could not have wished for better. So gratefull because it can make such a difference.
- Sipping Cointreau with glacial ice while sitting in a kayak at over 80 degrees north, less than 1000km from the north pole.
Oh! Did I mention the world's most spectacular scenery? All day every day.

If, as I have come to believe, Norway is the "World's most beautiful country", Svalbard is the gem in their crown. The last 10 days have been absolutely INCREDIBLE! I hope my photos and Nathan's videos do it some justice.

THE KAYAKING 110km of high Arctic paddling.
The boat was perfect for the expedition. Zodiacs could be launched quickly for shore trips that most passengers did, and the kayaks for the few crazy paddlers were also fairly easily launched from the back deck, onto a zodiac and then we climbed into it from the zodiac.
For Nathan and I, the kayaking was the icing on the expedition cake. Our guide was very experienced. There were 5 double kayaks, of which Nathan and I had one. We'd paddled lots in Perth, getting fit, but we had never paddled a double before. We found it easier than expected and not only did we not tip out or whack paddles, we are still friends. We wore a waterproof dry-suit underwhich we wore thermals and another layer. Despite the near-freezing temperature of the water and air, we kept warm by paddling and only got cold if we stopped for a cup of tea on the shore.
The paddling was both challenging and inspiring.
Having Arctic water spashing on your face as you crossed a icey fiord and paddled into choppy headwind reminded you you were alive! Close encounters with wildlife, yes we saw polar bears from the kayaks.

Paddle trips were 'optional' and on two occasions Nathan and I opted to join the other passengers in the zodiacs. This was because on those occassions they were doing a hike on shore up a hill that appealed, both as a chance to stretch our legs, and also to see the landscape from a different perspective to sea level. For me, it also allowed me to use my SLR camera instead of the little one in the waterproof housing that I took kayaking.
We would usually leave from, and return to, the ship waiting at anchor. Our guide used a GPS to determine exact distance covered. He also carried a flare pistol and rifle in case of trouble with polar bears.
Most of our paddles were 8-10km, but the best one was a 24km paddle on the second last day. The weather was perfect. We took lunch with us and went out for a day trip. The ship sailed passed us and disappeared out the fiord. On mirror-flat water, glaciers, icebergs and sharp mountains surrounded us and we paddled after it. At the 23 km mark, with the ship looming larger, another kayak in the group took off past us. Not to be out-done, Nathan and I and another couple raced them. We were stuffed, but as the youngest, there was no way that if there was a race, we would be anything other than first. Point proved, the hot shower and cold beer on board the ship felt well deserved.

That night on board we had a BBQ dinner and beers on the back deck of the ship with carving glaciers and mountains surrounding us and blue sky above us. Absolutely magical moments all day and our best day of many special days on board.

Our last paddle in a glacial front lagoon the following morning was a cracker too. Close encounters with an active polar bear on the shore was followed by a pod of 4 Beluga (White) whales swimming next to our kayak. We had entered the lagoon by a very narrow bit with a strong current flowing out. Hearing by radio the bear ws now waiting in the shallows for us to come out added an element of excitement. We grouped up and our guide went first with his flare piston on his lap! We followed paddling as fast as we could! We made it.

We did SO MUCH in the time on board, but that's my wrap in brief.
For a more detailed version, read on.

Posted by TheWandera 06:37 Archived in Norway Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen, Svalbard, Norway

78 degrees north is an amazing part of the world.

Longyearbyen Part 1

Thursday the 10th of August – Fly from Oslo to Longyearbyen, via Tromso.

Not the easiest flight to book. When I’d asked the travel agent I wanted to go to Longyearbyen, she said, “Where the hell is that?” Now she knows.
If you too are wondering where it is, look on a map for the group of islands way north of Norway called Svalbard, right near the north pole.

Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen, Svalbard, Norway? What the?
Norway is the country that administers the archipelago of Svalbard, the capital of which is Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen, the largest island. Nathan and I have 4 days here before meeting up with the Aurora Expedition vessel on Monday to attempt a circumnavigation of Spitzbergen over the following 11 days.

They say in Norway, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing.” Perhaps here in Longyearbyen? We’ll see. My thermals, fleecy, beanie, down jacket and then a Gore-Tex shell should do the trick, meaning those wise Norwegians were right. If you have the clothes the weather doesn’t matter. Better still, live somewhere like Perth where clothes are rarely worn for warmth.

The weather here has meant that the foil disposable BBQs, so popular on the Norwegian mainland were not to be seen here in Longyearbyen, though the ubiquitous Brunost (brown cheese) was just as plentiful on the breakfast buffet table.

Longyearbyen
The town was founded by Mr Longyear who started coalmining operations here in 1906, making this their centenary year. Byen is Norwegian for town.
Longyearbyen is 78 degrees north and only 1300kms from the North Pole.
For a place that proclaims its wilderness credentials like Svalbard, Longyearbyen is an aberration, a blot on an otherwise pristine Arctic landscape. The town of 1500 mostly coalminers, is a scar up the valley.
Mining relics blighting the scenery and skyline are ‘preserved’ for posterity as historical.
It’s a strange town with a frontier feel. People walk around with guns slung over their shoulders and the bars have gory hunting pictures on the walls. Due to the very real risk of polar bears, stepping out of the town without a gun, or someone with one, is foolhardy
I say, “Any year in Longyearbyen is a long year.”
Norwegians LOVE their summer houses. I was surprised to see them here in Longyearbyen, given their short summer. On enquiring, I was told, “Would YOU want to live here all the time?”
Another fact about Longyearbyen is that no one is born here and very few people die here and even fewer buried here. Residents go the Norwegian mainland to give birth. As for deaths, you need to work here to live here and in Norway you must stop working at 67, so there is no one over 66 resident in town. It makes for an interesting mix of people and families, but with no grandparents. Even if someone in Longyearbyen does die, the family on the mainland usually repatriate the body.
Interesting and unique place. Again I say, “Any year in Longyearbyen is a long year.”
That said, Nathan and I are only here for 4 nights.

We kind of knew this was going to be a special place when driving through the town centre on arrival, we saw wild reindeer out grazing!
Our accommodation, whilst in the new part of town, is 2km up a valley from the town centre. The upside is that we’re flanked by two mountains and not one, but two glaciers!
Bags dropped in our room, we walked the 2km from Guesthouse 102 into town. (We’ll know for next time to wear more layers. I guess the lack of warmth in the air is the price you pay to be so high in the Arctic.)
The town only has one street of shops, but they are quite spread out. Of course the tourist bureau was at the far end, closest to the fiord. We sniffed out our options for available activities over the next few days that we are here.
Passing a pub on the way back, we were sucked in.
Svalbard does not have taxes or duty, so the huge price of alcohol on the mainland of Norway does not apply here. That is of course balanced by increased transport costs, but it is much cheaper.
This pub had the largest selection of spirits, liqueurs and other treats on display that I have ever seen!
The publican showed us a menu offering every vintage of Armagnac since 1908.
1971 was a great year in the Roberts and Holmes households, so Nathan and I had a 1971 Armagnac to celebrate. We might be in Longyear, but ’71 was a great year. We toasted to 35 years of health and 19 years of friendship.
One patron left the pub staggering, did the ‘Svalbard dive’ (Longyearbyen Leap?) into the door and passed out. Nathan and I left while we could and went for some food. Options are limited and the Kroa bar and restaurant had no problem catching our eye. The pizza topped with garlic sauce was a winner, though I’m not convinced about the shredded raw cabbage on top.
Sitting quietly in Kroa we realised that in addition to the seal skins adorning the walls, all the seat covers throughout the restaurant were also made of sealskin. It seams in Norway, seal never goes out of style.
We walked ‘home’ late and really noticed how it wasn’t dark and never got that way all night.

Friday – A boat cruise.
But first…a walk into town. After taking close-up photos of an unperturbed Svalbard Reindeer grazing outside my room window, I saw birds by a small lake and crept up on them for a photo.
A large gull sat on a nearby roof and Nathan said, “It looks like the attacking variety.” Sure enough, while focused on my stalking, I was startled by a squawk by my head as the gull attacked. I dropped onto my bum in reflex and sat there laughing at the fright the gull had given me. I didn’t even spill my coffee!

In town we found a fur shop. This place sold cute little baby seal toys………made with real baby seal fur. They also had a full stuffed polar bear as well as various bear and fox skins and fur coats for sale. Wouldn’t Australian customs just love me bringing back a polar bear rug!

Our boat trip was supposed to leave at one o’clock, but then that became 2 before we finally left the wharf at 3. Dodgy little ship with even dodgier Russian crew and here we were heading north from Longyearbyen 50km up Billefjorden to the Nordenskioldbreen Glacier.
The views getting there were beautiful and would have been even more so if it hadn’t been overcast.
The glacier itself, was the first one I’ve seen actively carving into the water. The blue hues of the ancient ice breaking off the terminal face into the water. These icebergs would break up further, filling the area in front of the glacier with ice. It had a popping sound as thousand of little pieces slowly melted. Think of the sound when you add a drink to a glass of cubes, now multiply that by a thousand and you will see that it is not always quiet, even in remote places. Or listen to your bowl of rice bubbles and magnify that sound.

After our glacier experience, we travelled to nearby Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian coal mining town. Located in the fiord with views of the Nordenskioldbreen Glacier and mountains around, the setting for this town is beautiful. The town itself is not. Massive mining structures blight the otherwise pristine landscape. The dirt and grime of a heavy industrial area is everywhere.
There’s an eerie feel here, as it looks like someone blew the whistle at 5pm one afternoon and everyone downed tools and left….completely. We had a guide with us carrying a gun, in case we met a polar bear. Although in its halcyon days of the mid 1990s, Pyramiden had 5000 residents, the mine was abandoned in 2001. For an hour and a half, we explored this place in amazement at what was here and what good condition everything was in. The obligatory Lenin bust still stood in pride of place at the top of the avenue.

Back at the boat at 9pm , we were starving. We’d been told food and drinks were provided, but the late departure was just the first issue in a day of disappointment in regard to the outfit running this day cruise. It wasn’t until now that we got our first bite of anything and whilst the salmon soup was delicious, we were all so hungry there wasn’t nearly enough. Drink(s?) was a can of Fanta.
The return journey was slightly slower as we had a headwind, but again we saw Fulmars, puffins and other birds.

Saturday – Two fools at play.
We’d booked an organised glacier hike for tomorrow, but today we decided to hike out of town to the base of the glacier to some rich fossil beds we’d been told about.
Being busy at this time of year, the towns rental guns were gone, so Nathan and I decided not to bother with a gun and just go anyway. It’s close to town so there shouldn’t be any polar bears.
“Before you can be old and wise, you must be young and stupid.” Being stupid was our way of staying young. “You can’t out-run a polar bear”, I hear you say. True! But I don’t need to out-run a polar bear, just out-run Nathan and I have sabotaged his shoes.

65 million years ago, Svalbard was in the tropics. The results of this are rich coal and fossil beds.
Heading towards the glacier above the fossils, we crossed several small rivers, with difficulty. We had to really hunt for a place with suitable rocks for jumping across. Playing around in the ice and snow was especially fun for a couple of Perth boys.
As we walked upwards, old mine workings were everywhere. How they dug into the permafrost only 1 meter below the surface is uncertain. So much stuff is still just lying around. So much for pristine!
Continuing up the valley towards the glacier we got to the terminal moraine. This is a huge pile of dirt scraped and pushed there by the front of the glacier. As the glacier recedes during summer the moraine is exposed. Hoping for some leaf fossils, I was encouraged by the fact that the first piece of stone I picked up had fossils on it. We spent some time here fossicking and judging by our success and the lack of footprints not many people came to this bit, isolated between two rivers. We kept upgrading the quality of found fossils until we were happy with the size and shape. BIG was easy. There were big rocks covered in leaf fossils. Problem was I couldn’t lift them, let alone carry them in my backpack! We ended up with a couple of good ones each and continued back down oblivious to the very real polar bear danger.
(We only heard later that only in 1994 were two girls fatally attacked by a polar bear just there!)
Noon until 4pm made a very enjoyable afternoon out in the mountains.

Tonight we walked to The Husset for dinner. Husset means ‘house’ in Norwegian. This place is famous for local delicacies and did not disappoint. When in Svalbard…I ordered seal casserole and Nathan had a slab of marinated whale meat. Nathan’s rare whale steak was much nicer than the overcooked whale I’d eaten on Lofoten, though I did like the smoked whale I tried in Bergen. My seal pot featured the blackest darkest meat I have ever seen. Very strong in flavour and quite tough, there was a noticeable taste of seafood right at the end, just as you finished chewing each piece of meat. Not surprising given seals eat fish!

Sunday – organised hike with gun-carrying guides.
Knowing what we do now about the bloody polar bears, we were happy to be doing todays hike with Spitzbergen Wildlife Services.
Our accommodation is at the top of town and for once the location was to our advantage as all 12 hikers met out the front of Guesthouse 102 right next to the car park full of snowmobiles parked up until snow returns.
Christine and Marline were our gun-toting guides, and after sharing around flasks and giving everyone a pair of crampons and an ice pick, we headed off.
As we walked towards the glacier on the left, the weather got better…and better. This was the first blue sky we’d seen since arriving and what a difference it made. The air temp might have been sub 10 degrees, but with the effort of hiking, I soon found myself wearing only a t-shirt. We skirted the left glacier to the right ad climbed to the top of, the divider between the two glaciers. At 550m Mt Sarkofagen afforded amazing views of Longyearbyen and the surrounding valleys. We cracked the flasks and enjoyed tea and biscuits as we savoured the surrounds. The weather remained perfect and I took many photographs today. We hiked down the other side to the top of the glacier that Nathan and I had been to the base of yesterday. Here we tied our crampons to our boots. (Crampons are metal ‘teeth’ that go under your boot and grip ice like you would not believe.) After dividing into two groups and roping ourselves together, with ice pick in hand we hiked carefully down the glacier. It was amazing to see streams of water on top of the ice of the glacier and even more amazing to see the convoluted forms it took as the water snaked its ways downwards, even disappearing down into the ice sometimes.
At the bottom, crampons removed, we stopped to fossick for fossils. This is a spot that many people visit and it was easy to see the lack of quality intact fossils in ground that had been picked over, as opposed to yesterday.
Heading back we had a couple of rivers to cross. The first done at a spot we’d found yesterday. Some of us then crossed via a thin pole that we’d also found. Many weren’t happy to trust their balance and headed upstream looking for a place to cross. With the sun having blasted the ice and snow all day, the rivers were rising rapidly with the thaw. Safe on the other side, myself and one guide fetched a ladder to bring to the others. Even as they crossed the ladder over the river one at a time the river kept rising and by the time the guide crossed last, the ladder was nearly underwater.
After a shower and relaxing over a couple of games of Bao board, we walked into town in the evening. What a change of weather! It is all overcast windy and cold. Time to rug up!
Stopped at the Kroa bar for a beer – Gotta love sealskin seat covers.
The SAS Radisson at the bottom end of town was our destination and our objective was to enjoy their buffet dinner. That we did. In addition to the usual fare, on the unusual platter I found slices of smoked reindeer heart and reindeer tongue. I’d had reindeer steak a couple of times in Norway, but never this. It was delicious! (Don[t think that one would be too popular if I served it at work!)
Weather still awful, so we caught a cab home.

Monday – meet the Polar Pioneer.
Although not until later, this was our objective today. We had a lazy morning and checked out as late as wee could. Walking into town for the last time, we stopped at Galleri Svalbard. The 10 minute video presentation of Svalbard was amazing, but I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the art for sale on display. I did however, purchase the beautiful 2007 calendar, published by the Longyearbyen Camera Club.
We spent some time in town, buying duty-free grog to take on board the boat and catching up on internet on one of the few terminals here in Longyearbyen.
We cabbed it to the pier and met our ship the Polar Pioneer. The staff were SO helpful with our stuff on arrival that I knew this was going to be a great trip.
Read on for what happened.

Posted by TheWandera 05:13 Archived in Norway Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Norway Part 6 - Bergen and Oslo

Second visit to both places for me on this trip, but much new things to do in both.

Sunday 30th July

Pleasant morning on the boat in that 'if-you-are-about-to-die-this-would-be-nice' kind of way.
How much coastline is too much? Even the most ardent supporters of the Hurtigruten cruise said they regretted doing the return journey as one direction was more than enough. Seeing the same things twice does not necessarily increase your appreciation.

Woo! Hoo! 2:30 pm we docked in Bergen, and I get to leave the shit, sorry typo, SHIP.
Spurned the waiting buses and walked with my backpack to the hostel in the center of town that I had stayed in before, and knew how perfect the location was.
Dropped my bags and....like any prisoner fresh on parole -
I found a dealer, hooker and a bar. In my case, since I wasn't technically an escapee, I did none of the above and just climbed a mountain, or two as it turned out.

The weather in Bergen today was magic, sunny and warm, and knowing how crap it CAN be in Bergen, I apppreciated it and made the most of it.
TIME TO WANDER.

I hiked from the fish market on the waterfront in the town centre to the top of Mt Floyen 320m. Wild rasperries picked along the way added a taste sensation like no other. (The lollies by the same name are no comparison.)
There were many locals out enjoying the lovely weather too, so the scenery was not just off the track.
Arriving at the top, I enjoyed an icecream and considered whether to walk back down or catch the funicular railway. I felt liberated and in light of my recent incarceration, sorry cruise, I did neither. Instead I hiked across a valley and another ridge before climbing to the top of Mount Rundermannen @ 568m.
The views of Bergen were amazing, but today was really hazy over Bergen, so it wasn't really photogenic, but that didn't matter.
I was aware that Nathan, who I will meet in Oslo tomorrow, is on a plane, figured I should hike for the both of us! Hey! I need the practice for Svalbard, but that will be another story!

The hike was steady, and the exercise needed. The weather had been good on leaving and all the way up and I was dressed only in hiking boots, shorts and a t-shirt, and a hat.
On arriving at the rock cairn summit of Mt Rundermannen, I surveyed the surroundings in a 360 degree sweep and it was then that I noticed the clear sky was no longer so and felt the first raindrop on my arm. Bugger! I had a rain jacket, but nothing else!

I picked up the pace on my descent and the rain stayed away. For the first hour, I had a local fellow keep me company and I learned a thing or two about Norway and their economy.
On reaching the funicluar, the rain hadn't arrived so I continued my journey back down to sea level on foot.

In the woods I saw a deer with big antlers.
I crept up to it carefully. I touched it.
It was made of bronze.

Five minutes short of arriving 'home' the heavens opened with a downpour. By now I could make it back under shop awnings.
Not counting stops, it took me 3 hours up and 1.5 hours to come back. What a fantastic afternoon/evening of hiking in Bergen.

Monday - travel day.
I had the perfect train time. 10:30 = not too early to get up, but I got to Oslo at 5:30. Perfect!. The train journey from Bergen to Oslo? Well, if you have paid attention in previous blogs, I did this journey the other direction. They dub this "The World's Most Beautiful train journey" and, for what it packs into a 7 hour journey it's hard to beat. Fiords, waterfalls that cascade right underneath you, and quintessential Norwegian rural scenery all in one day on a train. Fantastic!
In addition to there being less snow on the mountains since a montha ago, I noticed that the grain crops that were full headed but green, just s few weeks ago, are now a golden hue and ready to harvest.

I am meeting up with my friend Nathan from Perth who I will be joining me for the last few weeks of this adventure.

THE BEST IS YET TO COME!

On arriving in Oslo I knew to exit at National Theatre. How great to walk out of the station, look up to get my bearings and there was my hotel in all its glory. The Continental Hotel, Oslo's oldest, a 5 star treat. No more dorm beds for The Wandera, from now on in the trip, it's luxury.
(If you 'mix it up' there's pros and cons for everything. Right now I'm enjoying the pros of a luxury hotel.)
Nathan had arrived earlier in the arvo and was catching up on sleep after a long-haul flight from Oz. As we discovered, his tiredness was nothing that a couple of celebratory drinks couldn't fix.
We had a pasta dinner before stopping on the way back at an alfresco bar for a beer later in the evening. How cool to be treated to 'Beds are Burning' by Midnight Oil pumping through the sound system.

Tuesday - After a yummy hotel breakfast, we went exploring Oslo, and wandering, as I do. We began with a ferry trip across the harbour and from there it was a short walk through a very affluent suburb to the Viking Ship museum. They have 2 ships, excavated 100 years ago, but fully preserved, and one more that is almost decayed. Amazing to see how far the Vikings travelled during their heydey of 800-1050 AD. The Norwegians here now are descendants, so they don't have on-going land rights or other indigenous issues to deal with.

Catching the ferry back to the main wharf in front of the town hall, we then caught a tram to Vigeland Sculpture Park. It is full of bronze statues and sculptures by Gustav Vigeland.
Probably the best bit I thought, were the stone sculptures showing what appeared to be the cycle of life. People in all stages of life, amazingly carved. In the centre was a 20m high stone totem with more people than I could count all piled/climbing on top of each other carved into it.
The weather today is awesome. T-shirt and short weather! Apparently Oslo have had their warmest summer for 150 years! Today was one of those days. The park was full of like-minded people outdoors enjoying the weather. We walked from there along the street full of the designer shops back into the centre of the city, right to where we are staying. Street vendors are selling fresh raspberries, so of course we bought some. MMmm! Raspberries.

When in Oslo earlier in the month, while 'tramming', I'd discovered a great city view from a high point from the #19 tram. We went there and enjoyed the view, even better today as the sky was blue.

By now it was later in the day and we wandered, as I do, through an area called Grunnerlokka. It used to be 'working class' but has now been 'discovered' by yuppies and there are cafes and bars aplenty. We explored off the main strip and found another side to the pristine and presentable Oslo we had seen so far. We also found a cheap and tasty Asian restaurant and enjoyed a Thai curry, getting in the mood for Bangkok at the end of the trip.

Wandering the streets of central Oslo again, it was amazing to see how many people were out and about on a Tuesday evening. I have noticed though how little great weather they get, even in summer, so I can understand why they make the most of it. Having just come frmo Perth, with the world's best weather, Nathan couldn't understand my enthusiasm for this great weather. I think he will come around.
We walked the length of Karl Johans Gate, Oslos main street. Fantastic!

Wednesday - The museum of natural history was first. So many stuffed dead things! They even have a Tasmanian Tiger - Thylacine, so with museums around the world all wanting things for their collections, it is no wonder some species are now extinct! Their stuffed rhino was looking a bit worse for wear, hope they don't go off and shoot another one!
The geological museum next door was included, but again nothing was in English, so the appreciation was limited.
On returning outdoors the sky had gone from blue to grey. Thunder and a downpour followed. We caught a tram back to our hotel. By the time we'd eaten and headed out again, the weather was back to magic!

We walked the short distance to the pier and caught a ferry to the Fram Museum. This is a musuem houseing, surprise, surprise, the FRAM. She is a ship built in the 1890's that has a massive place in Arctic and Antarctic history. Both Nelson and Amundsen used her for their feats of exporation. We could go inside and to see the ship that various expeditions had spend years at a time in was amazing. It was of particular interest to Nathan and I as Svalbard is next on our itinerary, very close to the North Pole.

Wandering Oslo again, it was dinner time and we had another great meal. Not too silly tonight as we have to get up early tomorrow to fly to Longyearbien, Svalbard 78 degrees north and only 1388km from the North Pole. I expect it to be cold. Other observations will appear in my next blog.

.....and so, the Wandera wanders further northwards than he has ever been before.....

Posted by TheWandera 16:00 Archived in Norway Tagged women Comments (0)

Norway Part 5 - The Hurtigruten

The Norwegian Coastal Steamer. "The World's Most Beautiful Voyage"?

The Norwegian Coastal Steamer. "The World's Most Beautiful Voyage"? That's their claim, another 'world's most...' for Norway.
The Kong Harald will be my home for the next 6 days as I travel north from Honningsvag to Kirkeness, then return southwards for the full journey from Kirkeness to Bergen.

As a wedding photographer, I've heard the phrase 'for better or for worse', many times and I guess it applies to me and my love for travel. Sometimes its for worse, but the 'better' times make up for it. My journey on the Hurtigruten was a 'worse'.

Check in didn't get off to a great start as there was no one there at the desk! Turns out all the staff do a safety drill in Honningsvag every northbound journey. Nice to know they practice their drills, unlike a lot of other workplaces.

Located my cabin and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort factor - plenty of room for one, lucky there is not two!
As mentioned in my Lofoten blog, I had intended to meet Justin my hiking buddy from Lofoten, but with travelling you never know.
He WAS on board and we had a couple of beers and caught up on our respective happenings over the last few days.
Justin only bought a seat ticket so had been sleeping on the floor or couches in the panorama lounge. My room is a twin, with couch turning into bed #2, so what they don't know won't hurt them, and Justin appreciated a bed and shower.

The first dinner was buffet with all sorts of goodies including smoked reindeer and a variety of seafood. Except for the salmon, it didn't compare with the quality of seafood back home. We do have it very good in Australia for all sorts of food - all the time.

I should have realised when the boarding point for the boat was called a TERMINAL. Seems that the crowd on board is a LOT older than I anticipated.
I know that the Hurtigruten Norwegina Coastal Steamer is one of those things that people think they 'must do before they die'. It just seems that most people leave it until the last minute!
How many people miss out on things in life because they left something 'until later'. I reckon do what you can when you can in life because you never know what changes may come your way.

We retired to the lounge after dinner and were treated to the woeful live double act who will be with us each night until Bergen. I'm not sure if the keyboard player's jacket was mustard, or babyshit yellow, but either way it was as bad as their musak. The irony of 70 somethings slow dancing to 'staying alive' was not lost on Justin and I as we had a few beers at the bar, the only 30 somethings on board.
Perhaps it adds new meaning to DJ as Difibruator Jockey!
Is that old person on the dancefloor having an epileptic fit, a heart attack or just dancing?
It might be the world's most beautiful voyage, but what about the scenery on board?

Later in the evening we stopped briefly in Kjollifiord. With the grey miserable weather and an Arctic wind ripping through the place I'm not sure what they have to be jolly about. Perhaps they have access to cheap Russian vodka smuggled across the nearby boarder?

Justin and I stayed up way past midnight on the back deck under an overcast sky, waiting in vain for the midnight sun. I think it might be a scam?
As for the sun deck on the back of the boat. I think it has been sponsored by Kelvinator.
Beers on board are only $13 each so we had 4.
No sun still by 1:30 am so called it a night.

Kirkeness. Only 15 km from the Russian border and the end of the journey for Justin. The boat now heads south to Bergen and I will be on board the Herty Gerty, as Justin called it, all the way.
We caught a bus into town and from there Justin enquired about a bus to Finland, also only a short distance away, only to discover it was waiting back at the wharf! No good-bye as he hurridly jumped into a cab!
As you would expect of me, I wandered around Kirkeness, armed with my camera. I didn't think the Norwegians did GREY, but in Kirkeness they have taken their design inspirations from Russia.
Even the street ans shop signs are in both Norwegian and cyrillic.
After a quick wander, and no photos of note, I used the free internet in the bibliotek to catch up on correspondence.

Perhaps we will have a different crowd on board for the next leg?
No such luck. I knew this would not be Club Med - I just didn't expect Club (almost) Dead.

Later in the arvo, we stopped in a town called Vardo.
We were greeted with bleak grey skies, wind, sleet and rain - and this is summer!
"Northam of the North"? (You would only live here if you didn't know better, or could not escape.)
I usually try to go the opposite way to everyone else, so that I get experiences and images that are different. Not on this occasion at least to begin with.......like rats behind the Pied Piper, I followed a big group of people from the ship behind some costumed locals carrying flags, not knowing where we were headed.
(I wouldn't have wanted to miss what they were leading us to.)
It was a military museum, not my cup of tea, though with this weather a cup of tea would have hit the spot.

Instead, I wandered alone, exploring the places around the docks that time had forgotten. Tired back alleys, rusting hardware and crumbling shipyards yielded a wealth of photos for me. My complete involvment in what I was doing was only interrupted by the honk of the ships horn. Rushing back to the boat I was last on board! Won't make that mistake again!
As we departed Vardo, I said a quick prayer, thanking God I don't have to live here.

Dinner tonight was reindeer. Quite strong and gamey. I liked the cherry tomato garnish as it made me think of Rudolf's red nose.
Interesting fact about reindeers. Santa's reindeer must all be pregnant females. They are the only ones that keep their antlers through winter. So, when you next see Santa, you will know that what we really have is group of hard-working females doing all the work while an overweight bloke hitches a ride and takes all the credit!

I felt unwell in the morning and thought it must be the rich food.
Had a small lunch still feeling unwell. By 3pm I was in my cabin VERY unwell with a fever, diahorrea and vomitting. I couldn't leave my cabin as I would get no warning of the need for the loo. Sometimes I would be sitting on the loo while throwing up in the sink. My body went to great efforts over the rest of the day to rid itself of anything and everything inside me.
I have not been this sick from food poisoning since Ethiopia in 1993. Ethiopia maybe, but not something I would have expected from an up-market cruise ship. I resurfaced briefly the next day, but could only make short forays from the safety of having a loo close to hand.
Turns out there are a bunch of us who got sick. Must be my tendency to choose the things on the buffet that aren't tht popular. Seems on board the Hurtigruten they just keep putting stuff out on the buffet again and again until someone eats it or it grows legs and escapes!
The food on this holiday rarely compares with the quality of food served by my team at CBH on a daily basis. Quality, flavour and being cooked correctly. Healthy options to boot. The staff at CBH really have it good, on world scale!

As I used the bathroom facilities I wondered about the sign above the toilet. It said, "Don't throw (up?) strange things in toilet." What if I've been fed strange things by the restaurant? Does that still count?
Went to bed tonight feeling nauseaus but hoping that was the end of it. Woke to discover I would need to continue drinking lots of fluid to replace what I was losing. Another day of short excursions ashore, as the need for the loo preceded the departure time.
It might be "The World's Most Beautiful Voyage", but from the interior of a windowless cabin, I might as well be in prison.

It was Billy Connolly who said, "The only difference between a prison and a cruise ship is that you can jump off a cruise ship." Even without being confined to my cabin, apart from looking at the scenery, there's nothing else to do. I now know why mealtimes in prison are so popular.
On the subject of mealtimes. Breakfast is open times and seating, but lunch and dinner I sit with the same 3 people. A 70 something couple from Sydney and an 80 something biddy from NZ who used to ride horses in her younger days, but now just eats like one. Don't know where she puts it all as she's tiny. She has a habit of interrupting a conversation talking with her mouth full and on a subject last spoken about 5 minutes ago. MMmm! Mealtimes.

The Hurtigruten is the lifeblood of some very remote Norwegian towns. I guess that's why we are travelling on a vessel!
With a daily stop north and southbound with access for passengers and cargo, the Norwegian Coastal Steamer keeps alive some places that would otherwise fall off the map and be consigned to the pages of history.

One northern town was called Batsfjord Havn and I wondered 'Haven' from what? The sun?

I thought being on a boat might be a cause for lethargy, but with all these stairs to climb to the different levels, whether my cabin on 3, restaurant on 4, outside on 5 or panorama lounge on 7, I feel like life has become one long Reebok Step class!

I received a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle.
I think I should have received a certificate for being the only adult on board under 50 not with their parents.

One benefit of endless hours to while away, either sick, or bored is that I have completed my first ever 5 star Soduku - as hard as they get. I devised a new tactic to solve them and it works!
Mum gave me a stack of sodokus clipped from the newspaper in months gone by. They are perfect for airports, and Herty Gerty cruises! Thanks Mum!
I also finished my second book for this holiday, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Set in Barcelona in the 1940's, it's an excellent read.

Being part of this geriatric brigade had been a travel nightmare for me. I have seen the difference between a TOURist and a traveller. Tourists arrive in a place get off the bus/ship, peruse the souvenir shops and take a quick photo to say they've been there. This has been a journey for tourists. To really experience a place you need to spend at least 2 nights there. That way you can wake up in a place and see its moods right through the day, and if you are prone to wandering, as I am, it doesn't matter if you get back late.

Coming back south through the Lofoten Islands was once again, amazing. The long and narrow Raftsund Channel was interesting, the Trollfiord more so. This one kilometer long fiord was as narrow as 100m in places and turning around at the end was a display of skill by the captain. We went so close to the cliff that a crew member reached from the bow and plucked some grass.

The evening light through the Lofoten was nice - it was clear - but not 'magic' like when I'd stayed there.

Scenery starting to improve as we head south, just as the days are getting noticeably shorter each night.

The sun deck is now living up to its name as the weather has been behaving since day 4.

My last night on the boat and there was what looked like might end up a nice sunset. Many photographers showed up on deck, but one by one they succumbed to the wind and old-age tiredness and went to bed, leaving the magic light all to me! As we exited the fiord and the shadow of the mountains the water went slick, the sky was joy and I had my camera ready! Nice end to the voyage.

We arrived in Bergen at 2:30, as planned. unlike the forecast, the weather was fantastic. Bergen is a beautiful city when sunny. But Bergen Part 2 will be my next blog.
This has been my Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Steamer experience.
"The World's Most Beautiful Voyage"? I hope not.

Posted by TheWandera 02:59 Archived in Norway Tagged cruises Comments (0)

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