Friday, January 11, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Below is what I wrote last Sunday night before getting interrupted. I thought I would finish it the next night, in our hotel in Bergen. The cancellation and rescheduling of one of our flights the next day meant getting up at 3:00 a.m. meaning that bed took precedence over blog. I had a tiny list of other things I had planned to include in this post. Even if I could find it now, they seem somewhat outdated. I will, however, share the photo I got from the Into the Ice excursion discussed in my previous post.


I am the third person from the left side; the husband is on my right. The lack of light makes detail hard to come by. But in terms of the lack of light, the walk on this excursion offered our only glimpse of the sun in our time in the polar night. We could see it on the horizon, bright orange against a royal blue sky. No more than a third of the sun's circle was visible, which is what makes it the polar night. I was afraid we would not get to see it and was glad we got that one chance.

The day we saw the sun led into the night we saw the aurora. It was the only night of the trip that could be called "clear." It was not the almost gaudy aurora that we saw in Iceland two years ago, but it was impressive nonetheless, visible on the horizon and curling around the nightscape. I did not take any photos, having done that on our first Iceland trip and feeling that all the technical aspects of aurora photography took away from my simple enjoyment. Our Australian friend did get some good shots with her point-and-shoot and has said she will email us copies. We had two desires in taking the trip, to experience the polar night (nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in it) and see the aurora. We scored on both.

The previous, unfinished post:
Tonight is our last aboard ship; the trip draws to its inevitable close. Did I get bored? Not at all. The sitting and reading or sitting and crosswording times, while not what one would call at all exciting, nourished my soul. It is good to do and good to be, and this trip offered both. We got to know some of the staff, even to the point of developing a few inside jokes. Two nights ago we saw the restaurant manager, Ole, come aboard with two pizzas. Besides the obvious threat to tell the chefs, we have repeatedly commented on the absence of pizza from the lunch buffet or dinner entrees. We got to know some other passengers. We met Oliver on New Year's Eve, watching the fireworks, and finally exchanged names after the Into the Ice excursion three days later. Kerrie, an Aussie, boarded at Kirkenes, the turn-around point, and fit right in for a table for four.

Waxing philosophically now, I noted, and the husband agreed, that at meals, our table for four features smiling and laughing, something sadly lacking at every other table. Most of the other passengers seem to be Norwegian or German; I can't accept that those are two so dour nationalities that they swore off humor. Besides, Oliver is German. Is it that people are not making connections with other passengers? Even the tables with obvious family units are quiet. I sometimes wonder if the laughter coming from our table is rude. The serving staff don't seem to think so, approaching with the pitchers of tea and coffee or picking up the used dishes with smiles on their faces.

Cell phones and laptops have airline mode, but so do Apple Watches and BAHA units. My replaced knee does not require airline mode, but then it does force the choice of the full-body scanner over the metal detector at TSA checkpoints. Technology eases some things while complicating others. Based on our experience on the trip here, facial recognition seems likely replace paper boarding passes or passes shown on smartphone screens.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Into the Ice? Into the Wind!

I took exactly zero photographs yesterday. I missed the window of enough light to make trying worthwhile. I am in a photograph someone else took yesterday, but have not yet managed to get a copy.

The husband and I signed up for just two of the ship's off-ship excursions. The first, a visit to a brewery was cancelled. The other was yesterday, and it was a doozy. Said excursion is described here, but I must caution you to disregard the headline photo. They offer this excursion from November 8 through March 22; the light in that photo would be from the very start or very end of that period. They also offer this excursion only if there is adequate snow and only if they have six to 20 people registered. We squeaked in with seven, one of whom was our new German friend Oliver (we finally shared names after we had finished the excursion).

I've always been a bit of a polar expedition junkie, particularly of the stories of the South Pole. Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott competing to see who could get there first. Ernest Shackleton's Endurance adventure and so on. This excursion seemed right up that alley, especially since the other "polar" excursion, a walk in Tromso, did not run on the day we were in Tromso, December 31.

We started the excursion a bit late since that was when we arrived in the port of Hammerfest. The guide was told that the ship would be in port 15 minutes longer than usual and please try to get these seven passengers back in time for that delayed departure. As a result, we missed the normal start of the excursion in the "large cosy tent with fireplace" and headed straight up the mountain. The mountain is not all that steep, but the ground cover varied considerably from knee-deep snow to dry rock to rock covered with ice. I did my best to adhere to my resolution to keep my own pace, but, yeah, I failed pretty badly. I slipped or fell several times; fortunately, the husband and/or Oliver were back there with me (did I mention that I was bringing up the end of the group?) to help me get up. One complicating factor was that I chose to put on one of the replica hats similar to those the original South Pole expedition might have worn, and the brim encouraged my glasses to fog up. Had I kept my own hat on, I would have had less of a problem.

The other complicating factor and not just for me was the wind. Even with the extra weight I've put on since the knee replacement, I could have been blown over quite easily. Early on the walk I asked the guide how fast the wind was blowing; his answer was 15 meters per second. It got stronger later on; the husband estimated it at some 60 miles per hour. I tried to keep my side to the wind to give it a smaller target, but that was not always possible. I don't know if we cut the climb short due to the time constraint, but heading down was even more treacherous than heading up had been. We stopped at one point, and gathered together so  that the guide could take a photo of us planting the Norwegian flag. That's the photo I haven't managed to get a copy of yet.

On the descent, we did stop at the "large cosy tent." The problem was that the zipper was either frozen shut or caught in the canvas. (The suggestion was made that the male expedition members could urinate on it to melt any ice; fortunately, we did not have to resort to that.) It took the guide some time to get us access to the inside, where a second guide was waiting with a hot beverage and some food similar to what might have been served on the South Pole expedition. We scarfed those down rather quickly and made for the bus. We made it back onto the ship only about five minutes late.

Especially with the wind, the excursion seemed a good, if obviously easier, demonstration of what foot travel (even with dog sleds) through a polar environment might be like. It was easy to see how vital proper equipment and experience would have been. Amundsen's time living with the Inuit gave him much better preparation than Scott had had. And there were rules to be played by; when Amundsen realized that he and his colleagues had celebrated arriving at a spot close to but not atop the magnetic south pole, they repeated their flag planting--and celebrating--at the proper location the next day.

The husband slept in this morning, meaning I breakfasted alone. I had a nice chat with one of the servers, though, a young woman probably in her 20s. From her, I learned that this ship, MS Lofoten, will be retired permanently in two years. At that point, she said, she would look for other employment; she did not want to work on one of the larger ships. I also learned that it is possible to overcome seasickness. She said that her first voyage was so calm; then she heard the captain say that it was the calmest voyage he'd ever had. The next voyage, she was very seasick. She now has no problem. I commented about the ability of the servers to carry dishes while the ship was rocking; she said that carrying was not the problem; walking without appearing drunk was. She still prefers serving thick soup to thin. Part of a server's training is to graduate from carrying two bowls of soup, one in each hand, to three, one in each hand and a third one up the arm from one of the other two. She described how, when first graduating to three bowls, she was so focused on putting the first bowl down carefully she did not notice that she was spilling some of the other two bowls. Finally, she worked over Christmas this  year, and then would not have to do so again next year. She said her family was leaving all their Christmas decor up until she got home so that she could still have a small Christmas celebration.

Here are two of the noon photos I took today. The blue light has been with us for all our time in the Polar Night; I'm not sure where the pink light came from.



I'd note that it is now dark, but then it's been pitch black for several hours. We have a two-hour stop coming up in Svolvaer. Oliver will be leaving on the horseback riding excursion and will dine early. We plan to dine a bit later with Cary, an Australian we met at lunch, and then look into a gallery of ice sculpture. Since that will not be an official ship excursion, we'll definitely watch the time and be back on board early enough to keep me calm.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

I would have a photograph of last night's fireworks except that my iPhone for some reason will connect to the ship's router but not go beyond that to the Interwebs. The photos I took with my camera pale in comparison to the one I took with my phone. You'll just have to take my word for it.

The ship did New Year's Eve up right in Tromso last night. Rather than two dinner seatings for four-course meals, they did one seating for a five-course one. The crew well, the ones not cooking or serving dinner, ate and mingled with the masses. The ship then stayed in port for several hours longer than usual so that we could see the fireworks which turned out to be pretty darn incredible. The husband and I pre-gamed it watching individual fireworks set off all around the city. At one point we were joined by a German who had the same somewhat warped sense of humor that the husband and I do. A good time was had by all,

The part of the city we could see sat at the bottom of a fairly steep mountain up which runs a cable car. We could see teeny lights which ended up being the flashlights of people setting up some sort of flames (super luminarias?) that when lit spelled out 2018. As midnight approached, there were more and more fireworks sent up from the town at the foot of the mountain. At midnight, the official fireworks started at the top of the mountain. The last fireworks we saw were in Hue, Vietnam, in 2012. I actually think these were better. It definitely helped that they appeared as the crown to all the fireworks being set off below. As the fireworks went off, the 2018 on the mountainside became 2019. Those who had not already finished their champagne did so, various hugs were exchanged, and we all, or at least the husband and I, stumbled off to our cabins.

One of the plusses of a small ship and a small number of passengers is that you get familiar with the crew. I never knew who the crew member in charge of the hotel aspect of the voyage was on the ship we took in 2015. I never recognized any of the serving staff, or even the activity director. We've chatted this time with quite a few crew members. Last night, I exchanged New Year's hugs with the bartender, who would not surprise me at all if he asked what was in my wallet. And on New Year's Eve Eve, because we were passing the Trollfjord, they served mulled berry juice with or without alcohol and fish soup out on the flag deck. Both juice and soup were excellent (yes, I got mine with alcohol), and it was fun to kid around with the hotel manager and the other crew member helping with serving.

I realized that I could set one of the options on my Apple Watch to be the sunrise-sunset times of wherever I might be. Right now, it reads as "SUN DOWN ALL DAY." In that vein, here is yesterday's shot under the noonday sun.


And here is today's.


Later today, we will get to what may be our farthest north, 71 degrees, 2.28 minutes North (27 degrees, 51.17 minutes East, if you're interested in the other dimension). While there was snow on the ground in Tromso, none fell while we were there. Further north, there is more snow, both on the ground and in the air. The snow in the air was falling sideways, but not fast enough to be a blizzard (that's using the western definition rather than the eastern one of "hell of a lot of snow" one). There was an excursion to a monument sitting at the northernmost point in mainland Europe. Some 40 passengers went. We had no interest in spending almost $200 to visit an outdoor monument in the night-time dark. We did take a short walk into the town center; only a grocery store was open given that New Year's holiday. The falling snow was very powdery. Returning to the ship, we each dropped for a snow angel.



A couple of hours have passed, and no evidence of those angels remains. Mother Nature wins again!

When we leave Honningsvag, where we are currently docked, we will be in open waters until early tomorrow morning. For our two bouts of weather, I have taken sea-sickness pills, eaten ginger candy or chewed ginger gum, and slept. I am not sure which helps the most, though the ginger candy or gum is what I think quiets my stomach enough that I can fall asleep. Blaine appears not to be bothered, though he has taken the pills when I have. Does this mean I would not sail on this ship again? Heck no! I'd much prefer this small ship to one of the big ones even with the no-stabilizer aspect.

Possibly because of the small number of passengers, the activities director announced yesterday morning that small groups of passengers would be permitted to visit the bridge, something that is usually a huge no-no. I immediately ran down to the reception area to sign up. The husband was just waking up then and somehow missed the announcement. As one might expect, the lack of stabilizers makes the ship harder to sail. The captain said that he could move onto one of the larger, stabilizer-equipped ships in the fleet with no problem, but a captain of one of those ships could not easily move to this smaller ship. There are segments of our course that have been sailed since the coastal ships started in 1893. There are other segments that have changed. They still have the capability to do a depth sounding from the bridge, but never need to given that the information is now readily available. The path to becoming a captain has changed over the years. The captain said that as he came up the ranks, he served in various able-bodied seamen positions before going to school for the technical training to captain a ship. Today, the classes come before the experience.

The husband and I recently learned that the U.S. Naval Academy for several years stopped teaching the students celestial navigation but had recently re-introduced it into the curriculum. I asked that captain whether he had been trained in celestial navigation. He said that while that was part of the training, using it was never needed due to today's GPS. Famous last words? I certainly hope not!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Resolution Time Again? Really?

We interrupt this regularly scheduled vacation for a dose of reality otherwise known as resolutions for the new year. I do this every year and every July 1 birthday in between. Some resolutions I keep better than others. The first real "this is a resolution I am making" resolution I made as an adult was to get the laundry put away every night. I've kept this up for at least two decades now. Oh, if they were all so easy to keep.

Back in 2014, before my first torn rotator cuff flared up, I was in better physical condition than I had ever been. I was doing okay working my way back into decent shape when 2016's second torn rotator cuff appeared. Damn! Okay, I can come back from that one and, silly me!, the pain in my right knee got so intense that only a replacement would help. Approaching nine months later, and I'm still in close to the worst physical condition I've been in as an adult. I start to work on coming back, and my too competitive nature bites me in the ass and things other than the knee start to hurt. Resolution Number One (the biggie) then is to get back into some sort of reasonable shape and to do so without hurting myself further. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I'll get there.

Next, I find myself bumbling from one art thing to another to a third and so on. I'd like to do or finish one project each month. This could be start from scratch and finish it, or it could be finish something I started whenever. I already know what the first two are going to be. I have two quilts to get ready for the guild's show in April, and I have someone emailing me monthly about a needle felted possum I'm supposedly working on to replace the one my cat tore to shreds. If I can get one similar to the original made, this person would like to buy one.

Each year I score some extra money by completing challenges in one of the university's wellness programs. I already know what my goals for 2019 will be, so the resolution is to keep them going and get the monetary reward at the end of the year. This year's goals include an exercise program of cardio and strength training balanced by meditating 20 minutes once each day. The way the goals are set, I won't necessarily be doing those every day but would instead do them at least a certain number of times each month.

Tying back into the whole physical stuff, injuries, etc. I want to work on going at my own pace. I'm the kind of person who feels she needs to speed up if the person behind her wants to walk faster. My problem with walking faster is of course, that the knee tightens up, or I don't pick up one foot or the other and trip, or otherwise suffer negative consequences. So this year I want to work on being comfortable with how slow or fast I should be doing things, and not let myself get caught trying to keep up with anyone else.

Finally (I had to end this list sooner or later after all), I want to waste less time. This has relevance because wasting time helped me, a few years ago, talk to my doc and finally get on some anti-depressants. Playing spider solitaire or another computer game for most of each day (seriously, hours) was not what I needed to be doing, and it took a while to admit that. I now have no games on my computer or phone other than the NY Times crossword on my phone and an Australian cryptic crossword on my laptop. Still, I find myself doing old crosswords or, possibly worse, spending too much time on social media. If all the people I want to stay in touch with were on one social media outlet or another, I could just quit all the rest. But some friends are on Facebook while others are on Instagram, and even others, well, you get the idea. I feel the need to visit each outlet to keep up with one friend or another. I may let myself look at a particular social media site once daily or for some total minutes each day. As with getting into better physical shape, I'm still working on the details.

So, lots of things to work on. Some will be easy; some won't. Some will get done; some may not get started if I want to be honest with myself. Writing them down helps, and making them public helps a little bit more. I'll check in with myself on July 1, and see how I'm doing.

And so Happy New Year! May 2019 be a good one for all of us.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Hunting the Light

"Hunting the Light" is Hurtigruten's catch-phrase for traveling to see the Northern Lights. Given that it has been cloudy every day so far, we may or may not see that particular light. Hunting the polar night, on the other hand, is quite doable.

Our first day out, at noon, I shot this photo from the upper deck with my camera set on automatic.


The next day, at the same time, from the same place, shooting manually with the same settings as the above gave this photo.


I wish I had thought to take a shot on automatic, but I didn't, and I think the cloud cover made this shot somewhat darker than it really was.

Today, I took this photo from the upper deck at noon, in automatic mode.


The same shot, using the same settings as the first day's automatic shot gave this.


I think I might end this experiment now, since I don't think the shots will lighten up again until we're on our way south.

We crossed the Arctic Circle just before 7:00 this morning, There is a marker in the water, but either it was not lit or we got on deck just a hair too late to see it. The activity leader forgot, in the weather excitement of last evening, to announce the contest of guessing the time the ship would cross the Circle. The winner, chosen at random since there were no entries to compare, received the Hurtigruten flag that had been flying above the ship when she crossed the Circle; the captain had added his signature to the flag. The flag was awarded in mid-morning, by which time it was light enough to see, right before King Neptune made his entrance.


The "ceremony" was the baptism of all of Neptune's new citizens, those who had crossed the Circle for the first time. Knowing that ice water and cubes poured down one's back is endurable, especially given the shot of cloudberry liqueur one gets after, I took the empty seat no one else wanted on the first time through. The activity director took my camera and captured the occasion.


I tried getting a shot of the husband's baptism by ice, but found myself behind several other people obviously not shooting the husband.


The fun is when some of the cubes go down between your inner and outer layers of clothing. I had a hoodie on under my coat with a shirt under that. Even close to a half hour later, I was still having ice cubes drop out from the hoodie.

Just after lunch we docked in Bodo (there is supposed to be a line through the second o). We walked into town where just about everything was closed due to its being Sunday. The husband had hoped to find a coffeeshop that sold bagels so as to be holding one while standing next to a Bodo city sign. Alas, while we found one or two open coffeeshops, bagels were nonexistent. Bodo was still a nice-looking small city (or would a population of 50,000 make it a large town?).


I always find the murals put on the sides of buildings interesting. I have no real idea what sort of creature this is supposed to be, but it reminded me of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.


The husband found the angles of this building to be quite interesting, saying they added more visible interest than might have been done in the States.



The sign below caught my eye. It was outside a "golf center" that sold golf equipment and possibly contained a video sort of driving range, but there was definitely no golf course nor any golf carts in there.


And on the interesting playground equipment front, we found this.


I might have bcen tempted to try it, but the pavement's being wet and occasionally icy coupled with a serious desire not to need to seek medical treatment made it easier for me to give it a pass.

Finally, here is our home away from home for another eight days. I must admit that I'm getting spoiled. No cooking, no bed-making, and laundry only if I really want or need to do it.


Friday, December 28, 2018

First Full Day Afloat

It turns out that our cabin, small though it may be,


does have a porthole. The view out said porthole is not too scenic, but the water can be mesmerizing.


It does not let in enough light to make it useful for awakening, though a big portion of that is that the sun does not rise here until close to 10:00 a.m.

Neither of us slept particularly well, it being the fist night in a strange bed and one that rocked a bit at that. We were up, dressed, and going into breakfast just about the time the ship entered the first “open stretch of sea.” There was a quite noticeable change in terms of balance. I was quite happy to have one of the servers pour my coffee rather than carrying it myself from a pot across the room. While my balance walking was definitely impaired, my stomach handled breakfast and after just fine. Perhaps the anti-seasickness wrist bands and doing the trick, though I’m certainly not going to take them off as a test.  

There are a couple of ways to tell how rough the sea might get. For one, the furniture is chained to the floor.


The dining room tables have frames that can be removed, flipped over, and put back on with a lip to keep things from sliding off. It is interesting to watch crew members walk as if everything is stock still. Even carrying bowls of cereal or cups of coffee, they walk as if the floor is totally stable. 

At noon, I took several photos from the upper deck using the automatic setting of my camera (a Canon EOS 60D). Here's one of them.


I looked up the settings that the automatic function used. Tomorrow, I will go to the same deck at the same time and take a photo using the same settings. I plan to do that every day with the exception of the day will be on the "Into the Ice" excursion at noon. I'm hoping to get a nice sequence of shots getting darker and darker then lighter and lighter. We'll see how that turns out.

When it's light enough to see, the scenery is pretty incredible.


The towns themselves are quite photogenic as well. The ship docked in Alesund for three hours. We did the walk-around-town excursion here in 2015, so we just went on our own little walk. 

  


In Southeast Asia, we got accustomed to seeing beggars. It's a bit more out-of-place here.


One way to know you're not in the States any longer is playground equipment that kids big and little would love but that could possibly be deemed "unsafe." My kids would have loved this one as children and would even go crazy with it as adults.


Some shots I just have to take for inspiration. Both of these could make pretty nice quilts.



The ship's program director has told us that New Year's Eve can get quite raucous and that Tromso, where we will be that night, has quite the fireworks display. In the meantime, though it's still Christmas and will be until January 6.










Thursday, December 27, 2018

Set an Alarm? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Alarm!


When we visited Iceland last year, we thought we'd set the room alarm to a time that would let us eat the hotel's free breakfast and the get ready for our excursion to a lava cave at noon. We screwed up on how to set the alarm and slept until 10:00, at which time the hotel breakfast was over. We got dressed (no showers if I remember correctly), found a coffeehouse that wasn't too far away, and actually were waiting for the excursion bus without being out of breath.

We had no set plans for today save for visiting a museum or two. Still, we both wanted to shower not to mention get a free breakfast, so we set Blaine's phone alarm to the chosen time. Should I also set my phone, I wondered. We decided that one alarm was enough given that we knew we were setting it correctly. Old Man Time got the best of us. We slept through the alarm we know went off. We did make it down in time for breakfast, though showers waited until after. We ended up only making it to one museum, the Norwegian Maritime Museum, but it was a good one.

Photos, at least with my camera, were few given the on-again-off-again rain. I finally just packed my large camera into my rucksack and let Blaine use his pocket-sized one. As it turned out, cameras were not permitted in the museum, so we have nothing to show from there unless I now take a photo of the book we bought on the rune alphabet.

We've been to our share of maritime museums including the ones in Newport News, Virginia, and Reykjavik, Iceland. The one here was small compared to those two, but still very interesting. The section on the Vikings was especially interesting given that last night I finished reading The Book Of Viking Myths that younger son  gave me for Christmas. The fact that we'd visited the Viking ship Museum in Oslo twice also helped fill in any gaps there were here.

We spent a fair amount of time there and, upon leaving, decided one museum was enough so we'd stop for coffee and a snack and then get back to the hotel in plenty of time for the 5:15 bus to the ship. It was too dark and rainy to adequately photograph the triangle of coffee shops at one intersection. We skipped the first as it looked fairly crowded and two people were entering ahead of when we would. We skipped the second because it was Starbucks, and went to the third, the Camel Coffeeshop. Besides Starbucks, other establishments we chose not to enter were Burger King, McDonalds, Seven Eleven, and Subway.

It was impossible to get a photo showing both together, but it caught us by pleasant surprise to see two bookstores within spitting distance of each other. There used to be a couple that close together on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, but I don't think there are today.

While killing time in the hotel lobby, I took this photo already up on Facebook.


It was just a hair before 4:30 in the afternoon, giving us a taste of the days to come. It was even darker when the bus picked us up at 5:15.

So we're now aboard, having attended the mandatory safety presentation and eaten dinner. For dinner, I invited a couple to join us at our table for four. He works in South Africa; she works in Khartoum. Because it had been raining, I was not wearing Della, my confidential hearing assistant, what I heard was that he worked in cartoons. Fortunately, the husband asked an appropriate follow-up question before I asked an inappropriate one. As might be expected, they had questions about the current happenings in the States. We told them we hoped that the air traffic controllers or TSA personnel did not all call in sick by then due to mandatory work and nonexistent pay.

We are now sitting in a presentation on the various excursions possible. We know a bit about these having already registered for the one we want, Into the Ice, on polar exploration. We had also registered for a trip to a brewery but for some unknown reason that one was cancelled. My principal goal here is to ask if I really can fish off the deck of the ship. The reservation agent with whom I booked told me that because of the small size of the ship, it was possible to fish from the deck. I do intend to ask if that about deck fishing if it does not come up as part of this presentation.

They just announced that the weather for the next few days is forecast to be good. Up north, the forecasts are more uncertain. In rough weather, we are supposed to always hold onto one thing and, above all, not go out on deck. They do have "stormy weather bags" available at various points around the ship. Interestingly (or not), they're identical to the airsickness bags one finds on commercial planes.