Norwegian Coastal Cruise

Trip Start Jan 01, 2014
1
210
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Trip End Dec 31, 2014


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Where I stayed
Radisson Blu

Flag of Norway  , Western Fjords,
Thursday, September 23, 2010

 Sep 16  sorry to report that the Ms NORDLYS had an explosion in the engine room killing 2 and injuring others.  they were able to evacuate all the passengers safely.  
 
 The Norwegian Coastal Cruise is considered the “world's most beautiful voyage,” and I'm sure most who have been privileged to experience this journey will agree.
However, I am getting ahead of myself.


I posted this map of Scandinavia, because it shows Norway's relationship to Sweden and Russia.

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What was unique on my flights from SFO-Amsterdam-Bergen was the fact that I needed to have only one boarding pass for both flights. It was the same for my return flights. Except for the three hour layover in Amsterdam on both the outgoing and incoming flights, it was otherwise a breeze. I was assigned seat 31H, a middle seat, on my return flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco, but a couple asked me to switch to the isle seat which I happily accepted with much gratitude.


This travelogue will be organized chronologically to keep it simple, because our ship, the MS Nordlys (northern lights) is a working ship that stops at 33 ports on its
northbound route, and 32 ports on its southbound route. Some stops are as short as 15 minutes, while the longest stop is 6 hours at Trondheim on the  northbound cruise. 72% of the passengers on our cruise were Germans with the second largest contingent from the US.  We met passengers from the UK and Australia on this cruise.



Hurtigruten literally means “express route.” It was founded by Richard With in 1893, and now operates 13 ships along the Norwegian coast. My stateroom on the second deck, cabin 212, was ample for one passenger, but would be crowded for two. It has air conditioning and a private bathroom with shower.  The bathroom floor tended to get flooded when the ship was moving,  but worked well when docked.


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The climate for our 12-day voyage was better than anticipated with only two days with some rain.  The  temperature was anywhere from about 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the windy north to about 70 degrees in the calmer south. I brought too many flannel shirts, and not enough polo shirts. We were very lucky, because the tours a few days before ours had rain for their two days in Bergen.   Some cruises have most days with rain.


The MS Nordlys holds 681 passengers, but has only 475 bunks.  I have seen passengers sleeping in the 7th deck Panorama lounge. One ship leaves Bergen every day with the same itinerary as our ship. Our Vantage group had 31 passengers, and our Tour Director, Karin, lives in Copenhagen.  Karin worked for many years as an SAS stewardess. Our Vantage group members were provided with three meals a day, while some passengers pay for food in the cafeteria or less than three meals in the restaurant. Breakfast is $23.50, lunch is $49.65, and dinner is $68.82 (about $142/day), and beer and wine are extra. The red house wine I had for dinner every night cost $12. Somebody in our group complained that the quality of the wine was one grade above kool aid, but the actual insult was how little they put in the small glass.   For example, I went to Santana Row in San Jose this afternoon for a short walk, and had a nice size glass (of good wine) of red zin for $12 with full fruit flavor with a hint of spices.  They also sell coffee deals on the ship where one can drink all the coffee or tea while on the cruise for $36.40. They have coffee and tea during all meals in the restaurant, but for dinner we must go to the bar to make room for the second seating.


I normally do not take the optional tours offered by the cruise line, but I took the five optional tours offered by Hurtigruten, because a couple I met who lives in both
Vermont (summer) and Florida (winter) did their homework on all (about 18 offered during this season) optional tours during the 11 days of the cruise before they arrived in Norway. The total cost for the five tours ran about $457.




SOME FACTS ABOUT NORWAY:
Norway covers about 125,000 square miles, and their coastline is 16,000 miles long that includes fjords and 50,000 small islands. Their population is 4.8 million with 47%
of immigrants from Asia, Africa, or Latin America, and 10.6% from Poland, Sweden, Germany, and Iraq. Oslo is their capital with 580,000 inhabitants. 86% are Lutherans, with Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, other Christians, and Muslims making up the rest. Their GDP is $276 billion with a per capita income of $60,000. Their unemployment is 3.8%, but their cost of living is very high. All food is taxed at 19%, and all other goods at 25%. The average cost of restaurant food as shown above for the MS Nordlys is about
average all over Norway. A three course dinner with wine runs about $100. On our last dinner in Bergen, I had dinner at an all-you-can-eat pizza and salad restaurant for $16 (before 6PM), and the large glass of beer cost another $16.


NOTE: I revised the cost of tours, wine on the cruise, and the dinner I had on my last evening in Bergen, because I received my American Express statement to calculate actual costs.

However, the country is beautiful, clean, and the people friendly. One just needs to approach them first to break the ice.

The reason I took this trip this time of year was based on the fact that the opportunity to see the northern lights was best from September through March with no guarantees.



On Thursday, September 23, 2010, I flew out of SFO at 3:50PM to arrive in Amsterdam on the following day at 11:05AM. The layover in Amsterdam was 2 hours and 35 minutes, arriving in Bergen at 3:30PM. After clearing customs, collecting our baggage, and our 30-minute bus ride to our hotel, the Radisson Blu, located next to Bryggen
Wharf with easy access to most of the attractions of Bergen, we were given leisure time with dinner on our own after our hotel check-in.



Bergenhus Fortress is considered one of the best preserved castles in Norway.  Once the home of Viking royalty, it was built in the 13th century although construction began in the 11th century..  The tower pictured here is the Rosenkrantz Tower.  Entrance to the museum is about US$10. 
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September 24 & 25, 2010; BERGEN:
Although most on the west coast of Norway are natural ports where its cities and villages were established, it also helps that the Gulf Stream keeps its climate warmer than it otherwise would be.


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Bergen's population is currently about 259,000 inhabitants, built around from the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf, fish market, and shopping area. There are seven mountains in and around Bergen. There are churches, parks, restaurants, souvenir shops, mini-banks (ATM's), statues, music hall, a fortress, and museums within walking distance. The funicular to Mount Floien is just a couple of blocks from the fish market, and worth the ride to see the expanse of this beautiful city. Bergen is also known as the Gateway to the Fjords.



click on the following video to view

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We spent two nights in Bergen, and we were provided with a city tour by bus on the second day with a trip to Edvard Grieg's home some distance from city center. Most of us are familiar with Greig's “In The Hall of The Mountain King, and Peer Gynt (Ibsen's play).”



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Greig's Music Hall
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A note about Trolls:

For one thing, Trolls are ugly. They have large hairy heads with big, crooked, noses, full of warts, and small bodies. The word troll means “one who behaves fiercely.” That means they are strong, and can throw boulders larger than themselves. These boulders are found in many places in Norway. Trolls sleep during the day, because daylight will turn them into stone. They are seen everywhere in Norway; statues and posters in shops, in forests, parks, and even in city streets, and there are signs everywhere warning of trolls.



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Bryggen was the first area in Bergen that was established in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre. In the Middle Ages, it was the center of the Kingdom of Norway which stretched from
Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, and the Orkney Shetland, and Faroe Islands.  Bryggen has been destroyed by fire often, and the great fire of 1702 reduced the whole city to ashes.  Bryggen was placed on UNICEF's World Heritage Site, because it has remained essentially unchanged over the centuries.   



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September 26, 2010; Embarkation Day:
Before embarking on our ship, we were taken to the islands that creates a natural barrier for Bergen's waterways.   We were served a snack of pancakes and coffee while at the visitor's center.

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Our Bergen “old and new” tour ended at the pier where we boarded the MS Nordlys. We had dinner on the ship, and departed Bergen at 10:30PM.  By this time, most of us were already back in our staterooms quoting the zzz's.


September 27, 2010:
We have six port stops today, but our group will participate in walks in Alesund (1 hour) (pronounced “Olesund” where the ship is docked for three hours.  Our Tour Director, Karin, took us on a walk along the waterfront from the ship towards the south side of town where they have a square with a statue, then walked north towards the shopping street before heading back to our ship. In Molde (half hour) where it's docked for only 45-minutes, we saw a memorial statue for fishing a short distance from our ship, before most of us returned to the ship.

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We had two announcements of northern lights this evening after 11PM, but they were only teasers, and I could not photograph them. They didn't last very long, and it was difficult to catch any light in the camera lens.


September 28, 2010:
We have two port stops today. Early this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle, that invisible border that circles the earth at 66 degrees 33 minutes north. This circle marks the southernmost point where the Midnight Sun shines 24-hours a day.  We passed here early in the morning.
Sign at Vikingen Island at the Arctic Circle.

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The first stop was in Trondheim from 6AM to 12-noon. I took the ship's Sverresborg Fokmuseum (largest open air museum in Norway) tour, and our second stop at Rorvik from 8:45PM till 9:15PM. Our walk with Karin was a short 20-minute quickie along the shoreline.


Trondheim was Norway's first capital when the country was unified, and the port
of departure for Viking ships.



The Sverresborg Folkmuseum has more than 60 18th and 19th century buildings, but the Haltdalen stave Catholic church from 1170 is the main attraction. It's a simple church where the confessional is a diamond shaped hole in the wall where the priest
stayed inside, and the sinner stood outside. They also have a castle (more like a large building), a dentist's office, post office, and a small shop selling groceries. There are also farm buildings with a stable, barn, and residence. There is also an indoor museum
with period artifacts with a cafeteria and souvenir shop (and clean toilets).

Our guide




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There was one announcement of northern lights, but I was fast asleep.  Those who were awake and saw it claimed they were better than the previous night's show – longer and brighter.


September 29, 2010:
Today was an especially busy day for our ship with seven stops. Our stop in Bodo (prouounced Boda) was a special one, because this is where some in our group took the rubber rafts (with 250 hp Yamaha outboard motors) to see some interesting geological rocks and the world's most powerful tidal current that moves 13 billion cubic feet of water four times every day in Saltstraumen. We also some some water eagles.


VIDEO: click on picture to view.

 

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At 9PM, Karin took us on a short, half hour, walk in Svolvaer.
 





September 30, 2010:
Another seven stop day, but Karin took us on two walks. The first in Finnsness for 20-minutes at 11:15AM where they have the second largest bridge that connects to an island, and a viking statue. The second walking tour in Tromso also known as the Capital of the Arctic was a nice treat; they have a statue of Amundsen, the Tromso Cathedral (1861), a nice public library (free interenet), and the MACK brewery (1877) where a half dozen of us went to the pub for a beer ($12.40).   Karin even managed to get us MACK pins that I immediately put on my jacket lapel.  The 1.5 hours passed by quickly.

The upper left picture is that of the local souvenir shop.  The upper right picture is their public library.
The Tromso Cathedral on the second row on the left is Protestant, and constructed in 1861.  It is believed that a church stood at this location since the 13th century.
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October 1, 2010:
Another seven stop day with the major stop in Honningsvag, and tour to North Cape by bus. This one was one of the biggies for many on this trip.  This is the furthest north I have ever traveled which is 71 degrees from the Equator. Earlier in the morning, at 5:15AM, we did have a stop at Hammerfest, the northermost city of the world. I have now completed being at the highest point on the planet, Mt Everest (29,028'), when I flew from Kathmandu on Buda Air. The lowest point on the planet when I dipped my feet in the Dead Sea (1,385' below sea level) twice. The southernmost city of the world, when I visited Ushuaia several times during my cruise to South America and Antarctica.  I also spent six days on a river boat in the Peru Amazon, the longest fresh water river in the world at 4,600 miles.

The Sami People live in this area of Norway, and most herd raindeer for a living.
From Wiki: "Sami people have lived in Norway much longer
than the Norwegians, and are recognised as Norway's indigenous
population."


North Cape (Nordkapp) is not the true northernmost point in Norway, because the neighbouring point Knivskjellodden is actually 1,457 metres
further north
North Cape is still 2,102 km south of the North Pole.  However, most visitors who come here visit this point, because traveling to Knivskjellodden is difficult if not impossible since no roads exist.  However, North Cape is 307 meters high from sea level, and the view from there is breathtaking.   I had my picture taken by the globe on North Cape.




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October 2, 2010:
Eight stops today, with an optional bus tour to the Russian border from Kirkenes. This one was a waste of time and money. We couldn't see the Russian customs or flag from the border fence, and the bus stopped at regular intervals at places that didn't have anything worthwhile to see just to extend the tour time.


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This was the end of the north bound cruise, and we headed southbound at 12:45PM. At 4PM, we had a walking tour with Karin in Vardo which is the easternmost town in Norway. What makes this place interesting is the simple fact that it's located east of St Petersburg and Istanbul.




October 3, 2010:
Another eight stop day with a 1.5 hour walking tour of Hammerfest with Karin at 11:15AM.   We saw statue of bears, and an American owned restaurant on top of the hill in town.



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October 4, 2010:
Our first port stop at Harstad today was for some of us a fascinating bus and boat cruise tour from Harstad to Sortland offfered by Hurtigruten.    We had the opportunity to see some of the beautiful inland landscape, and some huge German cannons (the biggest I've ever seen)  that had a range from 25 to 34 miles. The interesting part about this visit to the cannons was our entry into the bunkers where they still had casings of gun powder, cannon shells, transporting equipment, uniforms, and other memorabilia and pictures from the WWII period. It also has the hooks where they slept in hammocks in the hallways of the bunker.  The boat cruise on a lake was on a transport boat with cars, trucks, and our bus.  We were served three kinds of pastries and coffee.






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Our port stop at Stokmarkness to see the Hurtigruten museum was special.  The museum displays model ships, and some mock-up of their stateroom and engine room.   It's free entrance for Hurtigruten guests, and they have the MS Finnemarken docked as part of their museum.   There are several statues in and around the museum of Richard With who founded Hurtigruten in 1893.    We had a short walk in the rain in Svovaer
.   The coat I wore out in the rain dried quickly once back in my stateroom.
 

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October 5, 2010:
Today was a six stop day with three walking tours with Karin. Our first walking tour was in Sandnessjoen to a statue in the park, and a short walk not far from the port.  The second walking tour in Bronnoysund was to the sign that marks the halfway mark of Norway, and Karin served us a small glass of liquor, The last in Rorvik at 10:30PM was cold and wet, but we took another route walking southward from the port, and returning by the waterfront that we took on our northbound walking tour.  
It got windy on the ship on our way to Trondheim.  



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October 6, 2010:
A four port stop day with a one hour walk with Karin in Trondheim to the sports center, walk by the customs building with viking sculptures, and a visit to Hurtigruten's Nordkapp ship docked in back of us.    Hurtigruten guests are allowed to visit other ships by showing our identification cards.  A short walk in Molde just to stretch our legs for a few minutes.    Karin showed us Norwegian formal clothes in a shop window.   I took a short walk from the boat in Kristiansund at 4:30PM for about 10-minutes.


The lower left corner picture of the statue of Leif Ericksen was a gift to the city of Trondheim in 1997 from Seattle to commemorate the 1,000 anniversary of Leif's historic voyage to America.
Our Tour Director told us his name is pronounced "Life." 
Norway formal wear:






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VIDIO: click on picture to view

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October 7, 2010:
A four stop day with our last docking at Bergen for our disembarkation. We were back to our hotel, the Radisson Blu by 4PM. We were given our room keys, and were free to do any last minute shopping or sightseeing on our own. Dinner was on our own, so I went to Egon for their all-you-can-eat pizza and salad for 99kr ($20) before 6PM.
I had a large tankard of beer for another 20 bucks to celebrate a great journey of Norway.


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I saw whales on three occasions during the twelve days of sailing, but could not take very good pictures of them. Some in our group claimed they didn't see any.

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Gotta admit, saw a whole lots of Norway, had more fish food during this two weeks than any other time in my life, ate raindeer steak, many kinds of cheese, olives, breads, ice cream, jello, potatos, and herring.  All the soups were good, and my fellow travelers to Norway were amenable with much laughter and story-telling. Even our Tour Director said our group was the happiest group she's ever had.  (he he)  On the tail end of our cruise one night, we hit some waves that the staff on board told us were 5 to 6 meters high.  That's about 18 feet!   Our boat was hitting the waves so hard, it was producing loud bangs on the boat.   We lost about one hour during that stretch, but the captain made up most of the time before we reached Bergen.
Our group:





 

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Here's the best suggestion for travelers: pack your clothes and money several days before your trip. The day before the trip, remove half the clothes, and bring twice the money.


2d NOTE: I will return to clean up this travelogue every few days, because I know there are errors and omissions that must be corrected..  Also, I may add more pictures as I review my photos that I think will add to this blog. 

At any rate, I hope you enjoy this travelogue on Norway.
It's nice to be home:










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