NORTHERN LIGHTS

Getting close now everyone packing bags.

Always remember to pack spare clothes in on board luggage plus pack a copy of iItinerary  and your details in checked in bagage,  just in case the bags go astray.

Northern Lights tour


We are well on our way on our tour.  Following three seven hour flights we arrived in Oslo, the capital of Norway.  Cool. Forecast was seven degrees but it feels warmer.  Leaving at 2.35 in the morning meant that we arrived in Dubai, via a stop in Singapore, the same day.

 

Two nights in Dubai broke the journey nicely but it is still tiring travelling though time zones and just trying to get used to different sleeping patterns.
Dubai was very pleasant with mild temperatures for the time we were there.   Great in comparison to the summer temperatures of over 40 most of the time.  Two of the group were adventurous and took a desert safari the afternoon we arrived, while the rest of us took it easy and had an early night.  

 

The next day we embarked on a seven hour tour of Dubai, which ended up being nine hours after our guide, Mohammed, talked us in to staying longer at the Dubai Mall to watch a water show.  We started the day in Old Dubai - old in the sense that the building are around fifty years old, in comparison to the modern day Dubai which has really only developed in the past fifteen years.
The Dubai museum gave us an insight to the development of the area, with plenty of photo opportunities of the various changes which have taken place over the year.  

 

We had an opportunity to see a wide variety of different buildings, which contrasted dramatically with anything we have in Australia. We finished with a stop at the Dubai Mall  which is the largest in the world.  Just so much to see with over 1200 shops, an ice skating rink, waterfalls, a huge aquarium, a large souk or market  and on the outside a lake where a great water display is shown in the evenings, which we stayed to see.  A great day with plenty of variety.

This was Merle wheelchair, Norman took advantage of a seat while Merle goes walkabout.

Our first afternoon in Oslo was pleasant.  Following a 50 km ride into town from the airport we settled quickly into our hotel, right on the Harbour and opposite the new Oslo Opera House. We had free time to explore around the hotel before a welcome dinner at the hotel, which everyone enjoyed.  With a 5.00 am start everyone was tired.
We awoke to a cloudy windy morning at 3 degrees.  After an excellent breakfast we were taken on a three hour tour around Oslo.  The oldest part of Oslo, right near the water was of wooden construction and burnt out several times over the centuries.  The original fort which provided security for the town is still in good condition and very interesting to explore.  It was the headquarters of the Nazis during the Second World War.
In the mid 1800's the king at the time instructed that the main city be moved away from the waters edge and everything had to be built of stone. This means that there are many very attractive older buildings in the central city area.  The city hall has an excellent hall with wonderful paintings throughout.  The Royal Palace has extensive gardens which are open to the public.
Several years ago some of the old Viking Longboats were discovered and restored to provide everyone with an insight into how they were able to explore so extensively.  Very interesting.
We finished our tour with a visit to the Vigeland sculpture park where there are hundreds of bronze and stone sculpture created by one of Norway's famous artists.  Interesting but everyone was rather cold by this time as the wind tried to find its way though every layer of clothing.  The rest of the day was available to explore more of this interesting city.

City Town Hall

Norways Resistance Museum

Snow.  Yes lots of it today as we travelled West from Oslo to Voss.
An early breakfast and a stroll from the hotel to the train station to find car 10 on train 61 with a final destination of Bergen.  We had the carriage to ourselves for most of the trip with just one or two joining us until we were invaded by skiers, who filled every carriage on the train.
Ever changing scenery made the journey really worthwhile.  Gradually the amount of snow around us increased until at the highest point of 1220 metres it was actually snowing and  almost total white out......amazing for some of the group who had not experienced snow apart form seeing it from a long distance on various wanderings. We were fortunate to be in the last carriage so had a view out of the back which was excellent for different photos.
Unloading  the bags was done quickly as the train stopped for a very brief time at each stop.  Surprised to be able to walk off the station into the reception of the hotel.  An older style, homely hotel with a log fire and comfortable lounges.  Some ventured into town in spite of the coooool weather.  Great food and good company provided a pleasant end to the day.

Norway in a Nutshell.
This was our package tour for Monday 9 March.  We boarded a locoal bus right outside the hotel and travelled down to one of the Lakes of the area. 

As we moved through the countryside the scenery improved with the amount of snow increasing and then it started snowing, which everyone thought was great.  Arriving at the lake we spent time looking around the small village of Gudvangen where we caught a ferry for a two and a half hour cruise to Flam.  Time for coffee before we took the famous Flam railway up to Myrdal, a rise of about 860 metres. A winding trip through 20 tunnels, and wonderful scenery.
An amazing day with great scenery on four modes of transport, coach, ferry, special train and the local train through the mountains back to our hotel.  The hotel is an older style with most interesting character furniture and fittings.  Meals have been excellent throughout the trip, which  makes life even more enjoyable.
 

Tuesday 10 March
We awoke to heavy rain and mist across the lake but we still enjoyed a great buffet breakfast.  Rained on and off all morning and some of us ventured into town to see what bargains might be available. 

 

Snacks for lunch and then off to catch the train to Bergen.  When the train arrived there was quite a lot of snow on the front of the engine, obviously it had been through some heavy snow up in the mountains.

 

Fortunately it stopped raining while we loaded our bags onto the train......we needed to be organised as the train only stopped for a couple of minutes.  Pleasant ride for 75 minutes into Bergen, down at sea level now.  Transferred to the hotel in a modern coach, unlike anything anyone had seen.  The Majestic hotel was right on the Fjord shoreline with good views from the dining room.  We had the late afternoon and evening to explore the local area but it was very cold with the wind blowing off the North Sea.

Happy Birthday Kay

Wednesday 11 March.
Bergen, with a population of about 260,000 is situated on the Southern end of the West coast of Norway.  A free morning enabled us to wander the picturesque seafront or take the funicular to the top of the local mountain, where the views were wonderful with clear blue skies. The castle /  fortress at the entrance to the city has been in existence from the 1100's and has a wide variety of structures covering several centuries.
Some of the traditional wooden properties on the sea front were constructed in the 1500's and once we ventured inside we found a labyrinth of narrow passageways with three storey wooden structures.  Originally these were owned and lived in by Germain merchants but now over 100 artists use the rambling structures to work in and sell their wares.
In the afternoon we had an arranged tour of the city and the guide filled us with so much information it is hard to remember everything.  We visited the home of Edvard Greig the composer, situated just out of the city on a peninsular extending into the fjord, with beautiful views from the large windows.  He Lived there towards the end of his life for over 20 years, travelling to many countries in Europe to perform.  At the end of the tour we were dropped off at the cruise terminal for check in for our 12 day cruise up the Norwegian Coastline.  Ship is warm and comfortable with plenty of lounge space.  Cabins are rather small but adequate.  It was nice to be able to unpack and not have to worry about packing every couple of days.  Food good and plenty of it for those who need to eat. The ship stops regularly at various small communities who rely on the daily service for many of their needs.  We left at 2230 and most of us were asleep by then, ready for a busy cruise.

Thursday 12 Match
Travelling North but sidetracking into Fjords to visit different villages and towns.  Cool but beautiful blue skies, ideal for photography.  With the smaller communities the ship often stops just for 15 - 30 mins to unload goods and passengers.  The ship can carry up to 250 vehicles as well so easily to move from one area to another.  After lunch we stopped at a small town, Alesund with a population of about 24,000 with many Art Nouveau buildings from the 1920's and 30's.  As we were there for three hours we all ventured into the town to see the various buildings, many of which are situated right on the waterways.


As we cruise through the fjords we are enchanted by the many small communities along the edge of the water, which look so picturesque with the sun shining on them.  It is pleasantly calm inside the fjords but tends to be quite choppy as we move around the peninsulas to get to the next fjord.  Late in the afternoon we saw a film on the Northern Lights which enthused us even more for our move into the Arctic.  Another good day.

Norwegian mail van

Friday 13 March
Trondheim, the third largest city in Norway with a population of some 180,000.  Famous for its cathedral, originally dating back to its foundation in 1066.  Now refurbished having had 50 stonemasons  reconstruct much of the major stonework, the building is one of the important cathedrals in Europe. The bishops palace next door is based around a large courtyard.
The Hurtigruten shipping terminal is well out of town and accessible across the railway by a large modern bridge, from which there are good views of many of the local fishing boats and leisure craft.  Six hours in port today so plenty of time to wander, though the city is similar in many respects to other Norwegian cities we have visited so far.....plenty of open spaces, buildings right on the roadway,  colourful older style properties and water activity everywhere.
Our cruise this afternoon has been through low lying countryside with picturesque houses all along the waters edge.  We passed one town which has ship building as its major activity and built the cruise ship. " World " a few years ago.  At one point we passed " the most beautiful lighthouse in Norway", in the middle of the channel and a most unusual shape.  The keeper lived in the lighthouse until recently, but now fully being automated.  Gradually the scenery has become more rugged and we had to pass through a 48 metre wide channel in one spot. We have been so fortunate with the weather with brilliant blue skies which makes the whole journey so much more pleasant.  Very little snow visible today in spite of the fact that we are moving further North.

Saturday 14 March
We crossed the Arctic circle this morning just after 7.00 am.  Everyone received a certificate to remember this important occasion.
Our cruise this morning passed beside rugged snow covered mountains in cloudy conditions.
Beautiful.  It is amazing how many small properties are built along the fjords, seemingly miles from anywhere, and accessible only by boat....probably summer retreats as there was no sign of life.  We passed smaller towns which also seemed to have no contact with anywhere, but there could be roads in the background which we could not see.
The primary stop of the day was at Bodo, the capital of the Northern region of Norway.  Quite a modern city with a population of 47,000 we found it to be generally quite uninteresting though the modern cathedral was magnificent on the inside with a great organ being played, especially for the few who made it there.
Weather cleared this afternoon with the sun warming us a little as we returned from our wander in Bodo.  We need nice clear skies for our forthcoming observations !!!
A short video on the Northern Lights again gave us inspiration to see them ourselves and from tonight the opportunity may be there if the weather conditions are right....could be cold outside keeping watch.   The bridge advises us if there are any sightings and most of the group were fortunate to see their first glimpse of the Northern Lights, before midnight, which has made the trip worthwhile already.

Sunday  15 March
There were a few good photos of the Northern Lights which was great.
Cruising though great scenery with snow right down to the waters edge. We arrived at Tromso the capital city of the North with a population of 70,000 is a major hub for the area. Another very nice day with the exception the the wind was very strong and cold.  Some of the group took a snowmobile tour and others a dog sled tour.  Plenty of snow and exhilarating scenery. A few more hardy ones walked across the main bridge in town to take a look at the Arctic Cathedral.  The icy wind made the walk quite uncomfortable but it was worthwhile when we got closer to the Cathedral.  No Northern Lights tonight as it turned out to be quite cloudy.

Monday 16 March
Another beautiful day with great scenery and lots of snow.  But once again very windy.  Most of the group took the trip to North Cape, the Northernmost point in Europe.  It was blowing a gale and almost impossible to stand up but a few photos were still taken.  An interesting video about the area made it worthwhile and put everything in perspective.  In the afternoon we passed a rocky outcrop known as Finnkirka which is said to be the most graceful sea cliff in Norway.  At the foot of the cliffs a local fisherman was collecting king crabs and as we approached came to the ship and boarded to show us his catch.  Indeed the crabs were large and we were invited to handle them - as seen on the photos.  An interesting day.  Again no lights to see.

Tuesday 17 March
The scenery today was less dramatic but still of interest.  Always interesting when there is so much snow around.  Kirkenes is the turning point of the cruise and offered some great tours. A few of the group went to the Russian border, and returned safely.  A few more took a husky sledge tour with a visit to an Ice hotel and to see some reindeer, a highlight of the cruise for those who went.  Kirkenes itself was covered in snow and ice and difficult to walk through.
As we cruised in the early afternoon we came across dozens of small whales, the first we had seen on the trip.  Later In the afternoon we visited Vardo, the Easternmost town in Norway where almost everyone on the cruise got off to visit the original fort of the area.  It was bitterly cold but most still managed to get interesting photos.  As always the scenery was great and worth the trip.

Wednesday 18 March
Even had rain overnight and it was not cold enough for. snow......maybe one of these days.
Cloudy morning but scenery still good.  We stopped at Hammerfest, the most Northerly town in the world with a population of about 10,000.  A brief stop so just time to explore the local shops and the main church in town.  Cloudy all day but still very photogenic scenery.

Photo by Michael Kelly

Photo by Michael Kelly

Kay Merle and Beryl

Photo by Michael Kelly

Photo by Michael Kelly

North Cape

I19  - 22 March.
On Thursday we awoke to find the decks covered in snow and it stayed all day in spite of the sun shining brightly.  Just too cold to melt anything.  The scenery along the route was so good with the brightly coloured houses standing out with the white snow background right to the waters edge.  Islands everywhere.  Norway has over 200,000 islands and a longer coastline than Canada.  Over 2,000 lighthouses provide safety for the myriad of ferries which ply the fjords and islands.  Fishing provides a livelihood for many of the villages and about 80% of the cargo of the coastal steamers is fish being sent to the Southern markets.
The trip back to Bergen is much shorter than travelling North with many of the ports visited for a shorter time, generally loading cargo with some passengers.  It was good to be able to get off for a short walk at many of the villages, though with the cool temperatures and wind keeping us well rugged up they were fast walks.  Beautiful days gave us lots of opportunities to take photographs.
As we moved towards Bergen the weather deteriorated and by the Saturday evening the rain had set in and it rained all day Sunday and into Monday morning.when we left for the airport.
Sunday evening  we stayed in Bergen right by the Harbour and had a farewell dinner at a local restaurant which provided a wonderful finish to our adventure.  Most of us flew to London and moved on to different itineraries.  The remainder flew directly back to Australia.
 

Not Fish again

Photo by Paul Kelly

Paul says no this is dinner