Sunday, February 22, 2015

Happy Rails to Cruise

Bjorn, the young man in charge of all the excursions and “entertainment” offerings on our ship (he is cute, has a very modern hairstyle, and speaks at least three languages fluently), said in his intro presentation that this ship, the M/S Midnatsol, has the worst Internet of any of the Hurtigruten ships. Guess what. He’s right. I’m actually typing this in Word so that I can copy and paste it into Blogger when I’m lucky enough to get not only a network connection but also an Internet one.

We left Oslo the day before yesterday, on a train journey known as one of the most scenic in the world. But for the lack of the Internet, I would include a link. If you ask Mr. Google to tell you about the Oslo –Bergen train, he will. We were lucky enough to get seats on the north side of the train meaning that we did not have the sun shining directly into our eyes (the sun is quite low on the horizon here). I’ve been saying on Facebook that it is warmer here than at home in Charlottesville. Here’s what the marquee in the train car had to say while we were sitting in the Oslo station. 
 As you can see, there really wasn’t much standing snow in the Oslo area. 
 That changed the more into the mountains we got. 

It also got colder. 
For the record, this is the coldest reading we have personally seen.

As we got closer to Bergen, the snow retreated,

and the rain started.
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway (Oslo is the largest, while Trondheim is third). Still it looks like a much smaller town.

Did you notice that there is now no rain? (The streaks you see are because I took this photo through a window.) We have seen more weather mood swings on this trip than we have on any other. To say ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait for 10 minutes” would be quite appropriate.

We embarked onto the M/S Midnatsol in Bergen. To “embark” simply means you get on the ship; to “depart” is when the ship actually sails. Before we were allowed to embark, we had to watch a safety presentation including information such as how to put on a survival suit and, perhaps more importantly for some people, how to put one on a baby. We also learned how to board a lifeboat and, perhaps more fun for some people, how to use an evacuation chute.

Why the people in these illustrations are not wearing survival suits escapes me. I can only hypothesize that they were told by a crew member not to bother since we were told that in an emergency we were to obey any and all instructions from the crew.

We are in cabin 320 which means that we are on the bottom layer of the ship that is above water. Looking out one of the two portholes, we can imagine that we are on the same level we would be on in a Viking longship. 
This is actually pretty scary and gives us a new perspective on just how badass those Vikings were. Today, though, we value our cabin’s location because it is near the middle of the ship’s length and as low as possible, making it about the most stable spot on the ship. There have been and will be stretches during which the ship sails away from the shore and is technically in the open ocean. Let me just say that I immediately notice when this happens and that motion sickness pills are my friend.

We are on a trip package called something like Hunting for the Light, “Light” being the Northern ones. One might think that this would include someone looking for the aurora to let you know when it is there. Not! They will announce over the cabin speakers, even in the middle of the night, if the aurora is visible, but they can only do that if someone is awake to alert the staff. (If we were on the 11-day, round trip voyage, we would be guaranteed an aurora sighting, and given a free shorter voyage such as ours should the aurora not be seen.) On the first night, we stayed up until after midnight chatting with a couple from Ohio. Mother Nature was in one of her moods, and the sky would pour rain before showing us all the stars in the heavens before deciding to pour rain again. Last night was the same. Rain. Stars. Rain. Stars. If we don’t see the aurora from the ship, and perhaps even if we do, we can go on an “aurora safari” in Tromso and try once more then.

Aurora aside, the daytime scenery is pretty damn impressive.

It is downright incredible some of the places there are buildings. It again has given us a new appreciation of our Nordic ancestors. (Total non sequiter here, but today I learned that “Scandinavia” refers to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and using the term “Nordic” means you’ve added Finland to the mix.)

Yesterday afternoon, we went on one of the ship’s excursions, a walk through the town of Alesund. (“Sund” means sound, and “ale” means eel, so we were in Eel Sound.) Our guide was a local and 70 if he was a day old. He’d lived there all his life, and we expect became a tour guide in retirement.” Alesund’s claim to fame is that it was pretty much destroyed by fire in 1904. When they rebuilt the city, it was all done in what was referred to as “new style” architecture. (The formal name escapes me and I’m too lazy to go look it up.)
Characteristics of this style include domed windows on the lower level, at least one turret, and exterior decoration on the sides. It’s a little hard to see the exterior decoration on this photo, but trust me, it’s there. Taking photos was a little dicey at times given that it was alternately raining and snowing. To make a long couple of hours short, it was wet.
Some thoughts apart from the scenery, history, and culture. I was thinking that this whole experience was not as I imagined it from reading about Norway’s “coastal ferry” or “mail boat.” It seemed a bit higher faluting. Indeed, there is an Australian couple on board who did this cruise in the summer a few years ago and are now seeing what the winter cruise is like. He told us that it is very different now than it was then. It is more of a “cruise” now and not as much of a “coastal ferry” or “mail boat.” We have cruise cards on which we can charge anything we want, including water to drink with meals. That’s probably the cheesiest thing and the one I will mention front and center if offered the chance to evaluate or rate our experience. We have assigned seating at the dinner period to which we have been scheduled. The excursions cost a pretty penny. We did the walk yesterday somewhat on the spur of the moment. We pre-registered for one tomorrow which is a visit to a Viking museum followed by a dinner in the Viking style. That will do it for us.

I thought we were going to cross the Arctic Circle today. It turns out that it will be early tomorrow. They have invited everyone to toast the crossing with champagne provided obtained using a champagne coupon one has to purchase. Given that the crossing is projected to be between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., I think I can live without bubbly then, though if it were free I might feel differently.


Debi said...

Oh my, but your pictures are so very lovely! And it certainly sounds like you're having wonderful time, despite the way the cruise is nickel-and-diming you to death. Hope you enjoy crossing the Arctic Circle. My parents found it very anticlimactic, but I'd sure love to do it someday. Hope to see more of your wonderful photos soon!

Va said...

Cruise advertising is like all marketing. The first number needs to be checked thoroughly. Champagne at breakfast is a bit over the top! Animal life seems less up north than its opposite location from all you seem to be describing! No playful penguins, lounging walruses and sea, lions or leaping whales! Happy Anniversary to you both (My internet was down that day) V & G