Thursday, August 3, 2017

Akureyri - Iceland

Following the coast, we sailed deep into the fjord as far as the narrowing
passage would let us. With her dazzling eyes and her ruby red lips, the
cruise ship "Aida" was hot on our heels, constantly poking her nose out, in
what looked like an attempt to overtake us.
Surrounded by snow cap mountains, our Alaskan memories come flooding back.
"A land that feels so close to heaven, it seems almost unnecessary to build
a cathedral", is how the Patter described Akureyri. The rolling green
mountains, bubbling creeks, winding rivers and loads of sheep, bring New
Zealand's North Island instantly to mind.
If it is not green, it looks volcanic and you can't imagine that there would
be enough dirt for anything to grow. Bales of hay dot the green meadows,
small white, yellow and purple flowers edge the roads that we drive along.
A story that we have heard, both in Norway and in Iceland, is about the
brightly painted houses. Timber is not a big commodity in this part of the
world. So a lot of these homes are actually bought in kit form, also known
as Catalogue homes (not cantaloupe like I thought, drivers bad accent ).
Built elsewhere they are then numbered, dismantled, delivered and
reassembled.. Screams Ikea, doesn't it..
We started with beautiful blue skies, but they gradually turned grey as
moved further inland. Our first stop was at Godafoss. God, what a foss did
those waters tumble over the rocks LOL... In the year 1000, Thorgeir
Thorkelsson and the Icelandic parliament decreed that the island would
become a Christian nation. After his conversion, Thorgeir threw all his
Norse gods statues into the waterfall, hence the name Waterfall of the Gods.
The rocky areas around the falls were slippery and wet with jagged volcanic
edges. You need to be very careful especially if you leave the designated
paths. Scampering across the rocks looking for the best footing, you must
stop yourself in just going that little bit further to get the best shot.
It was not uncommon to see people precariously perched on rocks or teasing
fate as they moved closer and closer to edge. No OH & S here, nothing to
stop or warn you about any impending danger.
Next stop was Dimmuborgir, world's largest lava formation. Walking paths
are sign posted to take you to all the formations of interest. Our drivers
mission was to take us to "Storihingur" - Bigcircle, to us. Like mountain
goats we scampered up and through the hole giving us never ending views of
lava formations in every direction.
Taken off the beaten track our driver cajoled us to climb down into a cave
to discover a crystal-clear pond at the bottom. Interrupting the stillness
with a dip of our hands we found the water quite warm and inviting to touch.
We resisted the urge to jump in to warm ourselves against the cold outside.
If you a GOTS fan, Jon Snow dipped more than his hand here and lost his
virginity to his favourite wilding in this very cave.
Instead we inspected the never-ending fissure created by the clashing of the
North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Oh Well.
There is a vast contrast between lush green landscape we had been passing to
the scorched, steaming environs of Namaskard. Bubbling mud pools with dense
sulphur smelling vapours emanating from where they erupted their way out of
the ground. It is contrasts like these that make Iceland such an idyllic
location for many films and TV series.
We had the option of a swim. "swim" you say. in that weather. Underground
hot water is in abundance, for the bargain price of $50 Aud we could have
swum in at the Geo thermal pools. We took the free option of just watching.
Water temperature can be extremely high, where we must heat the water we use
in our showers, in Iceland it must be cooled before it is allowed to flow
into your home. Another way they take advantage of this volcanic steam, is
to bake bread. A rye dough is buried underground for 24 hours where the hot
springs heat the ground, to a temperature that cooks the bread. (see the
picture of the board with bricks on top, they are the ovens!)
Back in Akureyri we were taken on a quick tour of some of the older house in
the town before we were safely dropped back to our ship.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Honningsvag, Norway - enough to give you the Crabs.

The cold weather must be slowing us down a little as we seem to hit the top
decks just a little late for the last few sail ins. This morning was a bit
strange; we could see the town, yet we were not moving nor were we up
alongside a dock. Then there was the ominous sound of the anchor being
prepared to be dropped, we knew something was up. A quick look on the other
side of the ship and the tenders were already in the water.
Apparently, the pier had been damaged a few days earlier making it unsafe
for us to dock, so the decision was made that we would anchor and they would
use the tenders to ferry us in and out of port.
It was one of those rare occasions that we had a Princess tour booked.
Looking for a bit more adventure we did the King Crab Safari. Basically, I
thought this would be the best way to eat crab.
Once on shore we were whisked away to offices of Adventures 71 Deg Nord,
where we were fitted with our suits. One, they would protect us from the
cold and two, if we fell overboard these suits would keep us afloat, "don't
panic, just lie on your back" we were told. Having already dressed for the
cold weather, the extra layer of clothing had me feeling like the Michelin
man, but I was warm. A little too warm, as today was the first time in
Norway that we had beautiful blue skies, so the water glistened and the town
sparkled from the suns reflections.
Honningsvag is another cute little village, the brightly coloured timber
houses surrounded by snow-capped mountains in the distance. Have I
mentioned the colours to you before ..? The paint used on the red houses is
made of fish blood and oil, and generally the poorer families used this
cheap paint. The middle-class homes are painted yellow with the paint
imported from Italy. White is the colour that was reserved for the well to
do and I can't remember where they got that from!
So back to us in our oversize life jackets. Waddling back to the wharf we
boarded a high-speed inflatable raft, a bit like a jet boat really. We
straddled our seats like you would if riding a horse, and held on with one
hand, and took photos with the other. There were two rafts, and once out of
the safety of the breakwater we picked up speed and headed out into the
fjord. Like a game of cat and mouse we chased each other whilst heading
towards our destination of Sarnesfjord. Skimming across the glassy waters
the wake from each of the rafts criss-crossed, until we came to a stop where
buoys marked the spots where the crab pots lay. It was the other raft that
pulled up our pot, which gave us the benefit of taking the better photos.
Overflowing with crabs, it would be naive of us to think our pot could be so
full, and we have no doubt that there may have been some human intervention.

These pacific king crabs are not native but introduced by the Russians to
boost their fishing yield. Over time the crabs have spread and Norway has
also reaped the benefits. Unlike the crabs we are used to, these crabs are
huge and one leg can make a very satisfying meal.
Arriving at the village of Sanesfjord, we were given the 101 about crabs.
Carefully hanging on to the legs ensuring that we did not come in contact
with claws that could snap a bone in two, we each had our photo taken with a
rather large specimen, probably the only time his size was saving him from
the boiling pot.
To the contrary of what we might think, these crabs are not boiled whilst
still living. It is not easy seeing something alive and kicking, and then in
the next moment, snapped apart ready for cooking. Well not quite that
dramatic. "You can look away now" he said before a knife was plunged and
twisted in a specific spot to ensure a swift death. They said that crabs
don't feel pain.. But tell me, how do they know that! Sadly, the remorse
only lasted until the first taste of this delicious crustacean. But I have
jumped ahead.
After the execution, oops I mean preparation of the crab, we were taken into
a Lavvo. Otherwise known as a Sami tent - Samis are what the indigenous
locals are called. In the centre was a fire pit, and hanging over the top
is a large pot of boiling seawater. In goes the crab pieces and once the
water comes back to the boil it is removed from the heat and allowed to
stand for 15 minutes. Being careful not to overcook, it was then strained
and refilled with cold seawater. Once cooled, legs and body were cut apart
to make it easy for us to eat. Excellent, is all I can say. So fresh, that
the fleshy white meat fell way from the shell, seconds, thirds, but I
resisted fourths.
Once the feast was over we were corralled back into our rafts. To add to
our adventure our ride back was a little more exhilarating than our morning
one. Bang, Bang, Bang, went the raft as it rode over the waves from the
other rafts' wake. Leaning in as we turned sharply from one circle into
another ... "Oh I wish I didn't eat so much crab."
Once back on land, and still in possession of the contents of my stomach, we
returned our suits and headed out to explore the village.
Still under the euphoria of our raft ride we explored the few highlights the
map had to offer, including the 130-year-old Honningsvag church which maybe
through some divine intervention, survived the destruction of World War II.

Being Ice Bar virgins, we decided to pay a visit to the Artico Ice Bar, and
pay we certainly did, for a rather underwhelming experience. The Princess
video from the Lofoten Ice Bar, had great looking ice sculptures, people
sliding down ice slides, we thought why not! We donned the thermal ponchos
and entered the oversize freezer. Everything was made of ice including the
small shot glasses which were only filled with lolly water, pretty in
colour, but zero in alcoholic content.
Kudos to Honningsvag you put on such a glorious day, the clearest bluest
skies with the sun shining all day. If only we could have bottled it and
taken it with us to each of our next ports.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Trolling the streets of Tromso, Norway

Tromso is the largest of the Norwegian ports we are visiting on this cruise.  Once in the city centre, most of Tromso’s sights are within walking distance. To do Tromso on your own, you had two options. Purchase a day ticket that got you around easily using the bus system, or purchase a return ticket on the ship’s shuttle.

In planning our day, we decided on the latter as we were going to do everything by foot, except for the 4 kilometres walk into the town centre. Let’s face it, we needed the exercise, but not that much.

Surrounded by mountains still capped with patches of snow, Tromso is a pretty city with a wonderful mix of old and new architecture standing side by side. Picture perfect images of brightly painted timber house adding a splash of colour to today’s typically grey day.

We had to walk the Tromso Bridge to reach the stunning Arctic Cathedral.  This ultra-modern triangle shaped building can be seen from all over Tromso.  It features a beautiful floor to ceiling stain glass window, but missing was the magnificent crystal chandelier designed to depict hanging ice formations… damn!, taken away for maintenance apparently. The organ is nice too, except we weren’t quite sure if it was a tune that the organist was trying to play.

Continuing further along we arrived at Fjellheisen station, where we rode the cable car to the top of Storsteinen Mountain.  The beautiful views were hampered by the nagging fog that hung around continually all day.  We walked across the top of the mountain to one of the snow patches that was still left behind.  Expecting to be able to grab a handful snow, it had turned to ice and crunched as you walked upon it.  Other passengers were very excited as this was the first time they had been that close to snow.

Making our way back to the city centre we decided to walkthrough the small residential streets. Beautifully painted cottages with gardens full of lupins, hollyhocks, daisies and pansies, again adding colour to this otherwise dull day.

We walked down Storgata, the main shopping street, passing rows of the historic timber houses. The Tromso Cathedral is a stark contrast to the Arctic Cathedral.  It is the only one made of timber in all of Norway.  The Arctic Cathedral had the wow factor, this cathedral has the warmer, more inviting feeling with its more ornate interior.

There is something about cruise ship passengers always being able to source public toilets and free Wifi.  Scouring our map, I found a shopping centre, where we took refuge from the cold and made good use of their facilities until it we were ready to head back to the ship.

Gaznjo’s port tips

The ship offered a shuttle for $20 per person return into the city centre. We used this as we were only going in and out once.

On the dock you could purchase a 24 hr day ticket for the bus system for 110 Nok, 55 for seniors.

I am not sure what currencies they accepted and as this was on the dock there is a good chance they also took Euro’s. The city maps are well designed and it is easy to work out which bus you need to go to each of the Tourist Attractions.

Everything is so expensive in Norway, so we basically used our credit card all day, eg 2 coffee’s 90 Nok, that makes it nearly $15.