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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

My Poor Poppy


Today we went for a long walk with the dogs, Poppy our oldest collie (two and a half) and our new puppy, Bertie who is about four and a half months old. It was a truly wonderful walk down the quiet, snowbound country lanes with a stop around halfway in the local pub, where we sat round the open fire in arm chairs having a very welcome pint.

As you can see from the following photos Poppy just loves catching snowballs (well any balls really), Bertie on the other hand just chases Poppy, he hasn’t quite got the hang of chasing and catching the ball yet, at least not while Poppy is around anyway!

Unfortunately when we got back to the house we discovered Poppy lying very still in the snow, she wasn’t moving at all. We went over to her to see what was the matter and discovered that she had broken her back leg. We rushed her to the vet who confirmed the break and immediately arranged for us to take her to a specialist orthopaedic centre a few miles away. They have now x-rayed her leg and confirmed that the leg has a twisted fracture of the femur and they will operate tomorrow.

Not quite the perfect end to the day that we were hoping for.

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Unfortunately this is the last day of this wonderful journey through what must surly be some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. It finds me in a reflective mood thinking about all the fantastic sights we’ve seen and the things we’ve done.

It is equally unfortunate that I am sitting in the lounge, with a pile of hand luggage, writing this while yet again we start to pass yet more incredibly beautiful and diverse scenery. I guess that what I see today will just have to be taken away in my own memory rather than on the memory in the camera. It may well provide me with the impetus to come again to see the many things that I have missed along the way, maybe I should arrange a photographic expedition for other like minded individuals, any takers?

Last night proved to be the roughest of the journey, the ship was rocking and rolling all over the place, the now nearly empty bottle of Disaronno even slipped noisily onto the floor in the middle of the night. Even with the extremely rough seas Steph was fine, which considering her lack of ‘sea legs’ is quite a major feat.

So this is the final chapter as it were, a summary of the last twelve days, maybe a review even and a recommendation, but probably no photos, or at least only a few at best as the internet is proving to be exceedingly slow to non existent today. While writing this I am still trying to finish off Day 11 but every time I try and upload a photo to Flickr the process just hangs, so it may well not be until we get back home that the last two days of the blog get posted.

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As we sailed into Bergen we went out onto deck 6 and took some photos of the city, just as a final keepsake. It was as we started to queue to get off the ship that Steph said “Have you got the bus tickets?”, “The bus tickets, I think there in with my phone” I say as I franticly rummage around in the laptop bag for my phone case. When I finally manage to open the right compartment and then open the phone case there are no tickets to be found anywhere! Then it dawned on me, I had bought them last night from the excursion desk, paid cash and put them in the phone case, they were just like a credit card receipt. After breakfast this morning I put my last krone notes in the tip jar on the restaurant desk, at the same time I took out a small accumulation of ‘cruise card’ receipts, which I later deposited in a bin. Shame that the airport bus ticket was one of them!

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I’m glad that the excursion director was in the baggage claim area when we got down there otherwise my life wouldn’t have been worth living! Luckily he was most understanding and had a word with the bus drivers so we didn’t have to repurchase our tickets, and at 170 krone each that was a real relief. In future I must remember to check the receipts before I chuck them away.

Where to start then, that is the difficulty. Should I just write dow a bunch of words, or maybe a list with a rating from 1 to 10, maybe both, decisions, decisions.

Hurtigruten

I booked our cruise direct with Hurtigruten and not through a travel agent, which for us was fine but other people might prefer the comfort of knowing that everything is done for them in one package. The booking process was reasonably simple and straightforward and was completed mainly on the internet. Once the booking was made and the deposit payed we were sent an invoice with instructions on how, and when, to pay the balance. Once the balance had been paid our tickets and itinerary was promptly emailed to us.

On the couple of occasions that I had to ring Hurtigruten, for instance when pre booking our excursions, I was dealt with promptly and courteously. Documentation was always updated and forwarded within a day of payments being made.

One thing that I am extremely glad about is that I booked our flights directly rather than through Hurtigruten which meant that we flew direct into, and out of, Bergen. All the other passengers that we spoke to that had booked packages flew in on indirect flights, some having to have three flight changes.

Excursions

We did four excursions all told, the Viking Feast, Wilderness Safari, Snow Hotel and the Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral. All of these excursion were well organised, timed to perfection and included everything that was advertised. Were they value for money? That is always a subjective question which I can’t really answer, the best that I can do is this, they were informative and enjoyable so if that is how you judge value, then they were good value. At the end of the day I have already documented what we did on the various excursions, so you the reader of this will need to make up your own mind as to the cost/value of them to you.

The alternative obviously would be to book these separately, but just bear in mind that you may well need to organise your own transport and that you may have to leave the ship at one port and then rejoin it at another. If this is the case make sure that the crew are aware of your intentions otherwise there could be complications.

Costs

As with all cruises, this is not a cheap option for seeing Norway, but then again there possibly is no cheap way to see Norway. The costs can vary greatly according to how you book, the type of cabin you choose and the level of meal options. We had an outside cabin on deck 7 with all meals included, although with the exception of water, tea and coffee with breakfast and lunch, drinks are extra.

You should remember that drinks are expensive wherever you buy them in Norway, below is an example of what we paid whilst on board:

  • PepsiMax – 39 krone (£4.37)
  • Bottle Bear – 45 krone (£5.05)
  • Draught Beer – 59 krone (£6.62)
  • Glass of Wine – 79 krone (£8.86)

So not cheap, even a cup of coffee in the cafeteria will cost you 37 krone (£4.15), so the advice is get the coffee deal when you first get on board and drink lots of water!

Food

We were on a full board basis so had breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the cost. Breakfast and lunch were always buffet style with open seating whereas dinner was waited and reserved seating, with the exception of 2 meals. Breakfast consisted of cereals, various cold meats, cheese, fish, hot meats, fish eggs and a host of other things. There was always ample choice though best not to go right at the end as clearing up often started early.

Again lunch was always a mixture of hot and cold food, soup if you wanted it and a choice of various puddings and cheeses, far too many my own good.

Dinner consisted of two sittings, the first at six thirty and the second at eight thirty, these times did fluctuate on occasion so it is a good idea to check each day on the days itinerary sheet, or the various notices posted around the ship. The service was always exemplary and the food delicious, although there were some passengers who thought it was not ‘gourmet’ enough. There is a booklet available in various languages detailing all the meals that will be served during the voyage, so if there is something you can’t eat, or won’t eat, you can always ask for a substitute.

Recommendations

This is a big ask, would I recommend this cruise and Hurtigruten, the answer on both counts is a resounding NO, but only because I wouldn’t want not to be able to go again because it was full to capacity.

The truth is that not only would I recommend this ‘experience’ I would urge everyone to do it. Having said all of the above I should point out that this is no ordinary cruise, it is an ‘experience’, this is more like a car ferry than your average cruise liner, but then that’s what really makes it quite special. There is no formal dress code, no major shows although on our cruise there was a live duet every night playing the sax, fiddle, keyboard and singing from about 8 till around 12.

The Trollfjord is one of the biggest and newest vessels in the fleet having a capacity of some 822 passengers, but is still able to retain a rather intimate atmosphere, which was not to everyones taste. Personally we really enjoyed it, the crew were always helpful, pleasant and willing to chat. It is interesting to note that a lot of the staff appear to have multiple jobs, on more than one occasion we saw the restaurant staff in the cabins doubling up as chambermaids. It was also refreshing to note that all of the staff were Norwegian, as far as we could tell.

There was always plenty of room in the public areas to find somewhere to sit and relax, it might not always be the seat right at the front of the panorama lounge but I don’t think we were ever disappointed.

Do your research before you go and you will not be disappointed.

Pros

Fantastic Scenery
Good Food
Good Accommodation
Friendly and Accommodating Crew
Some Superb Excursions

Cons

Limited Shore Time
Expensive Drinks
Nothing Much Else

We were exceedingly fortunate – We hunted the lights and found them.

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I truly hope that you will be as fortunate in your hunting.

 

 

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Our penultimate day see us arrive back in Trondheim at about six in the morning and although we will be here for nearly four hours we decided not to get off on the basis that it is much too early in the morning and we toured the town on our way north. We were down to breakfast around nine fifteen which meant that I could just get out on deck to take some photos of the harbour before we continued our journey southward.

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Apart from being able to photograph Munkholmen, which in its time has served as a prison island, fort and monastery, I was also able to photograph the current Hurtigruten Finnmarken, if you remember we had seen the original ship in Stokmarknes, where she is now part of the Hurtigruten museum, on Day 9.

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For the rest of the morning I wandered round the ship, happy snappy, while Steph sat in the panorama lounge just taking in the breathtaking scenery and occasionally reading her Kindle. So here are just a few of photos of the scenery.

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At some stage of my wanderings I came across one of the young crew members giving a lesson to another youngster, I’m not sure if this was a new trainee or maybe someone on work experience, as he really didn’t look a day over fifteen. Maybe it was the son of one of the crew members, who knows, but it did provide another photographic opportunity not to be missed.

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This is primarily a day of laziness in that we did not leave the ship, even when we docked at the port of Kristiansund at four thirty for half an hour, it was however a day to take photos and I make no apology if today there are more photos than words.

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It must have been close on six in the evening when we decided to go and have an other plunge in the jacuzzi up on the top deck. We almost rang across the wind swept deck and then almost jumped into the jacuzzi itself. We lay there for several minutes trying to get the bubbles to start but it was all to no avail as they just would not start. Not to worry as it was hot and relaxing anyway, that is until we looked up to see the rather ominous black clouds looming all around us. We sank lower in the jacuzzi, still trying to get the ‘hubble bubbles’ to start, and still no joy. Then the clouds burst, the hail started to come down, and we dragged ourselves out of the warm water and made a frantic dash across the wind swept deck to get back to the changing room before we were completely pelted by the sleety hail. Thank God for the warmth of the sauna!

The rest of the evening was spent trying to repack everything we had brought with us, and of course any new purchases that we may have made. We went to settle our account before dinner so that everything would be sorted for the morning.

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We were woken up this morning by the tannoy announcement that we would soon be crossing the arctic circle again, so it was a quick shower followed by a quick rush on to the deck to see us leave the arctic behind. We look all around to try and see the arctic circle but of course we don’t really know what we’re looking for, is there maybe a  big red line, like at the airport when you’re waiting to go through immigration, of course there isn’t, well not that we saw anyway.

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After floating by the last couple of snow capped islands within the circle we come to the island, and the globe monument on it, that marks the latitude 66° 33′ 44″ and the ship dutifully sounds it’s horn as we effortlessly move passed on our journey south.

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I’m glad that we then decided to make our way straight to breakfast rather than go to the ‘ceremony’ again, as we later found out that the southbound ceremony is even worse that the one going north. How can it possibly be worse I hear you say, well on the southward leg of the journey they make you drink a spoonful of cod liver oil, that how. As a souvenir they do let you keep the spoon, which is fish shaped and would undoubtedly be forgotten at the bottom of one of those ever overflowing draws that never seem to get emptied until you move. As Steph pointed out, she’d probably loose it like the one she dropped into her handbag when we flew on Concord!

There was enough time after breakfast to have a wander round deck 6 and take a few more photos before we were due into our next port of call, were we thought we would get off and have a stroll around. Since leaving the arctic the weather seems to have gotten slightly brighter with higher than freezing temperatures so that the ships crew have started hosing deck 6.

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As we approach Sandnessjoen there are a number of other large vessels already tied up in the harbour, one of which is a large Statoil ship, and judging by the large tower in the middle of the vessel she might even be a drilling ship.

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As we make our way down from deck 6 to deck 4 to disembark we notice some people so desperate for a ‘fag’ that they actually go out of their office windows to stand on the roof for their fix of nicotine, rather them than me, particularly as the temperature is well below zero!

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As we disembarked at Sandnessjoen at 12:30 for an hours sojourn in the town the weather seemed to be turning again and within a few minutes of arriving we were in a near blizzard white out as we walked from the ship up the main street.

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Steph obviously was savouring every moment of the snow, I, on the other hand was trying very hard to protect my equipment, if you know what I mean!

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Being a big fan of Dolly I just couldn’t resist taking the following photo while we were walking up the main street, well you have to don’t you?

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After getting back onboard the ship we went to the restaurant for a light lunch, OK maybe just lunch would be a better term as there wasn’t anything light about it. I’m glad that I decided to take the camera down with me as shortly after leaving the port we went passed the ‘De Syv Sostre‘ (the seven sisters), an amazing mountain range.

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At first I thought that it was hardly worth going out on deck to photograph them as they were shrouded in mist and cloud, nevertheless I decided to go, and boy was I glad that I did.

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As we sailed along the side of them the weather changed again, the mist evaporated, the cloud lifted and the most spectacular views just appeared. If I didn’t know any better I’d think that I was in the Dolomites. These are truly magnificent mountains seeming to almost rise out of the sea.

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As if a curtain had risen as we sailed past, as we reach the end of the range down it came again engulfing the last of the peaks in cloud.

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I stayed out on deck for most of the rest of the afternoon taking photos of the ship and the amazing scenery that we continued to pass as we made our way ever southward towards our final destination of Bergen.

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Of course I wasn’t the only one onboard that was taking advantage of the good conditions.

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The sun dipping behind the clouds during the late afternoon provided ample opportunity for some lovely sun-scape photographs.

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We arrived at our next port of call, Bronnoysund, around quarter past four and stayed for about forty-five minutes, just long enough to actually catch the sunset.

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The light was truly a joy to behold.

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Today sees us continuing our journey southward. Around nine thirty we are told that we are about to slow down considerably as we are just entering a channel that is very shallow, intact the clearance under the keel of the ship is just two meters and judging by the marker posts there is about the same amount of clearance on either side of the ship too.

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We slowly make our way along until we arrived at the port of Risoyhamn around ten forty-five where the ship gingerly had to do a 180 degree turn before being able to dock.

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We set sail again some fifteen minutes later heading for our next port of call, Sortland where we decided that we would disembark and have a wander round, even though the stop would only be for thirty minutes or so.

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We duly disembarked to find that it was snowing, nevertheless we decide to continue and explore for the next half hour, which proved to be more than sufficient time as Sortland really isn’t a very large port.

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When we got back on board there was just enough time for a spot of lunch before we reach Stokmarknes, our next port of call and our next disembarkation. We had an hour here to explore the port and what it had two offer. It was a pretty place, all covered in snow though luckily it had by now actually stopped snowing.

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Right on the quayside as we disembarked was the Hurtigruten museum, which has attached to it one of the older Hurtigruten vessels, the Finnmarken which was launched in 1956 and was in service right through until 1964.

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We didn’t bother with the museum as such but rather took the elevator to the third floor where we were then able to cross over to the Finnmarken.

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Unlike museum pieces back home which are normally well preserved and restored, the Finnmarken was neither. I couldn’t work out if it is in the process of being restored or if it is just being left as it is, whatever, it was an interesting half an hour seeing what one of the older ships was like, and by todays standards it was nowhere as comfortable or refined, even though this one was not retired all that long ago.

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We continued into the town for another twenty minutes or so before returning to the ship to continue with our journey south.

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We headed straight up to deck 9 where there was to be a fish filleting demonstration. Being almost the first people up on the deck we placed ourselves just to the from of the tables that were obviously going to be used for the demonstration. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how early you are for something, or how close you stand, you will just never be at the front.

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Strange that, but true. In fairness it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t at the front but more that I was jostled and pushed from the sides, still it’s worth a bit of a moan. Steph was worse done by as she did get pushed backwards, but that doesn’t matter quite so much as she already knows how to fillet a fish, she just gets the scissors out and cuts open the packet. Anyway I do the cooking, well most of the time, and Waitrose do have a good selection of fresh filleted fish!

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The demonstration was interesting though not that informative as the chef didn’t actually talk us through what he was doing but just got on with it. He did talk about the two fresh salmon that he was using, where they had come from, how they were going to serve them to us. That last bit really got everyone excited and they just couldn’t wait to get their hands on the first samples of the freshly carved raw fish, although I’m not sure that once tasted that it was everyones cup of tea. Personally, I enjoyed it, Steph on the other hand was rather less enthralled.

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When the demonstration was over, or at least when I had taken sufficient photos and I was fed up with the jostling, we went back to the cabin and then decided that we would get changed into our swimming gear and go back up to deck 9 and try out the outdoor Jacuzzi. “Are you mad!” I hear you exclaim, and I guess the answer is probably yes, at least just a little. Actually quite a few other people have already been in and said how nice it is, the fact that they have pneumonia is neither here or there. The worst part of the whole experience is that the changing rooms are inside and across the open deck from the actual jacuzzi.

We spent the next hour or so in the jacuzzi just soaking up the most spectacular scenery of the journey so far, the mountains rise higher and nearer on both sides of the ship as we near the mouth of the Troll Fjord. There are so many people wandering round with cameras that I have to tell them to stop taking our photos, of course I always seem to pick on the wrong people, like the man who has two Nikons dangling from his neck.

“No photos”, I say as he approaches the jacuzzi with the intention of just walking past to photograph the scenery. He jumps slightly, startled, “No, no I am sorry I am not taking your photos”, “it’s OK mate it’s only a joke”, he hurries past but comes back a few minutes later and says in his German accent, “What would I do with zem anyway, sell zem, who would buy zen, maybe on ze internet?”, see a there is a sense of humour after all, I think!

Mind you one old boy did keep popping up and taking our photos, so you never know you might just see us half naked, outside, in a jacuzzi north of the Arctic Circle. All Steph wanted now to make it perfect was for it to start snowing, as if on queue as we pulled away from the Troll Fjord it stated. I must admit that I was rather glad to reach the changing room having had to walk across the snow covered deck in my bare feet, I did have my shoes but decided to I carry them so as not to get them wet! Once inside I popped into the sauna, which has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the fjords, for a few minutes before heading back down to the cabin to get changed.

It had been so exhilarating and warming in the jacuzzi that we just had to go and sit in the bar and have a beer before going in for dinner.

The cloud had come down and the snow with it, no lights tonight then I guess.

 

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No lights during the night which was probably good as it was a rough sea, honestly it was rough, my iPhone even fell off the table during the night and got lost somewhere under my bunk not to be found till the morning. Most inconvenient as I use it as a torch when I go to the loo during the night so that I won’t wake Steph up, yes I know I’m just so considerate!

The first port of call where we docked for long enough for us to get off the ship was Hammerfest at 11:15. The town is described as the worlds northernmost and has about 10,000 inhabitants. In the short time that we were there we managed to visit a couple of shops, a gallery where Steph managed rot find a nice Norwegian jumper that she took rather a licking to and is now being worn around the ship.

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On our way to the church we passed some roadworks, not unusual in themselves but when you consider that the roads are currently packed with ice and snow and the temperature was well below zero, it’s not bad going. Maybe I just find these things interesting because of the way that everything back home seems just grind to a halt at the merest hint of snow.

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We eventually reached the church at the top of the hill from where we had a superb view across the harbour, having said that from where we were we certainly couldn’t see the ship.

On entering the church we were created by a stunning triangular stained glass window in an otherwise quite simple and low key environment.

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After a few minutes inside it was time to make our way backdown the hill to rejoin the ship prior to it’s departure at 12:45. Just before boarding we popped into the ‘Polar Bear Society‘ museum, which is right on the quayside and worth a short visit.

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As we left the building I was able to get some photos of a rather iced up truck which was making deliveries on the quayside, I just wish that I could have got some shots of the snowplough that we had seen earlier as it had almost as much snow on it as there was on the road! Just goes to show that these trucks just manage to carry on their normal daily functions even in these harsh conditions.

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Once on board it was another change of clothing and off for a quick bite to eat before the restaurant closed.

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I spent the afternoon going up and down between decks 6 and nine, weighed down with camera bag on my back, the Canon 5D with the 100-400 lens mounted on it. This was really the first day that I felt like wandering around taking photos, probably due to the absolutely superb quality of the light. It was an almost crystal clear day with just a smattering of cloud in the otherwise azure blue sky. The light just shimmered off the snow covered mountains on both sides of the fjords.

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Towards three fifteen in the afternoon we were greeted to the sun slowly sinking behind the mountains ahead of us, a super sunset that was a fitting end to another very beautiful day.

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At about five we decided to put on our thermals and go for a wander on to the upper deck hoping that the clear conditions might just bring out the all too elusive lights. As we made our way to the rear of the ship we could see a few people, not more than half a dozen or so, looking up, conferring:

“….. is that it?”
“No that’s just a cloud, or smoke from the stack”
“I’m almost sure that’s it, but then again….”

We looked up, through the light smoke rising from the stack, and sure enough there it was, the Aurora was back! It certainly wasn’t the brightly coloured light that we had last seen two days ago but nonetheless it was there. Smaller, then larger, here, there and all around.

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First on the starboard side, then on the port, from one side across the ship right over to the other side. Then it was behind us. Where was it now, had it gone? We were looking all round but couldn’t see it. Minutes pasted and then again just a mere speck, and then a bit more, growing ever larger as we watched. Strangely, the deck was almost empty, where was everyone, in the bar maybe having a drink? We hadn’t actually heard any announcement we had just decided to go out and see for ourselves, so maybe no one else knew. “Should I go and tell the entertainments guy” asked Steph. Good idea, so off she went but unfortunately there was none to be seen at the excursion desk so the deck stayed pretty empty for the duration.

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We lost sight of the Aurora about quarter to seven before we docked at Skjervoy. We went back to our cabin just after we left Skjervoy at seven fifteen to get ready to go and have dinner.

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On the way back from dinner I thought that I would just wander out onto deck 6 to see if I could see anything. When I got to the stern of the ship I looked up and there it was, a bit faint again but it was there. As I was rushing back to the cabin to fetch Steph, well the camera really, the announcement came over the tannoy so by the time we got up to the top deck it was getting a bit crowded.

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This wasn’t to be the spectacular show that we had a couple of days ago unfortunately, nevertheless I manage to get some reasonable shots, even one which distinctly shows the plough bushing it’s way through the Aurora. For this session I had decided to whack the ISO unto 6,400 and use my 24-70mm zoom on the basis that it had somewhat larger aperture that the 17-40. This meant that I could take the exposure length down to between 1 and 3 seconds thereby significantly improving the stability of the shots. But as with everything there is a price to pay and in this case it’s noise, no not the shouting type just the thing that causes digital photos not to look nice, we old buggers used to call it ‘grain’ back in the days of film!

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By around ten it had all but gone, we were getting cold, wanted the loo yet again (note to self, don’t drink a pint of beer, a litre of water and then go and stand out in sub zero temperatures), so we decided to go in and sit in the bar for a while.

Around midnight we docked in Tromso where we disembarked to catch a coach to the Tromsdalen Kirke (also known as the Arctic Cathedral) for a midnight concert. There was lots of snow on the ground and the climb from the car park up to the church entrance was, shall we say, interesting. Once all of the coaches had deposited their passengers the concert, which consisted of a soprano, a pianist and a frugal horn player, started. It was a strange startup as there was no one to be seen anywhere, the front of the church was lit but devoid of any performers.

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The first piece was the frugal horn which resonated magnificently from the arctic style of the church walls, but still no visible sign of a performer. This was closely followed by the fine voice of the soprano, still no sign of a performer, were we really listening to a live performance? I turned round and saw her standing on the balcony behind us, an unusual start to a performance but nonetheless nice and rather peaceful. A little while later the soprano processed down the central isle to the front of the church while singing a wonderful solo piece.

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All too soon we rejoined the ship to continue our journey south. As the ship sets sail it is 1.30 in the morning, the cloud is forming, it is starting to snow and the likelihood of another sighting is highly unlikely.

 

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Well it’s certainly going to be hard to top last night. Even though we didn’t get to bed till early in the morning we were up early and down to breakfast where the talk was of last nights sighting. It was especially poignant for those passengers who will be leaving the ship when it reaches Kirkenes a bit latter in the morning. It turned colder overnight and the ship is now well covered in snow and ice. At around 9:45 we docked in Kirkenes (which we are told is pronounced Shirkenes) and disembarked to join a coach for our next excursion, a visit to the local ‘Snow Hotel‘. Not the most adventurous of trips but the alternative would have been a coach tour of the Russian border, can’t imaging that being overly exciting either!

Our guide for the trip is a rather elderly lady whose English is especially good, which considering her age is somewhat unusual. The coach takes us on a whistle stop tour of the town, which on the surface looks rather drab and unappealing. Our guide pointed out many different buildings, the rather large police station, (for a small town) due to the towns proximity to the Russian border we’re told. The town hall, the library, which she is particularly proud of it would appear. Then there is the big yellow building with bars on the window, the only building with bars on the windows, “Do you know what it is?” she asked, silence, “It is the Russian Consulate of course”. Amassing really, to think that there is a consulate in a small sea port in northern Norway, but there it is and very uninviting it looks too!

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She explains that the town is built around an iron ore mining industry that went into decline a few years ago but is now once again thriving due to the price of iron ore. The town owe much to this industry which has enabled it to build modern schools, swimming baths and many other facilities. One such is the local football field which she explains attracts the reindeer down during the spring time when the snow disappears and the grass shows a bright green colour. Unfortunately for the reindeer this is a rather futile venture and they turn away in disappointment when they discover that it is in fact Astro Turf!

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We stopped at the top of a hill just on the outskirts of the town to take in the view of the town and docks spreading out below us. It was rather nice to be able to see the Trollfjord moored up on the quayside far below us in the distance. Just as we were about to get back on the coach the postman pulled up in his little red van to deliver the mail to the house at the top of the hill, just like home, except that there was thick snow on the ground, the temperature was -4C, which at home would mean that we would be waiting for days for the mail!

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We gladly re-boarded the coach, even though we had only been stood outside for a few minutes we were all rather chilled. As we made our way out of the town towards the snow hotel our guide pointed out the railway line next to the road, only 8 kilometres in length but a vital link between the port and the open cast mine that could be seen in the distance. Apparently prior to the railway being constructed the ore used to be sent from the mine to the port by reindeer sledges in the winter, and by horse drawn wagons in the summer months, and that was not that many years ago.

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The coach parked in a small lay-by near to the snow hotel and we all disembarked and made our way to the hotel a few hundred meters down the snow covered driveway and across a narrow little wooden bridge. We waited patiently outside the entrance of the snow construction while our guide explained that the snow structure of the hotel is rebuilt every year, all out of natural snow, no chemicals are used as when the thaw comes the hotel is just left to melt away back into the fjord.

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The snow part of the hotel contains only bedrooms, no facilities, so if you need to go in the night you have to traipse over to the main building which is constructed from wood. Obviously there is no heating in the snow hotel, otherwise it would melt wouldn’t it? So the place is, shall we say, just a little on the chilly side. We did try a couple of the beds but I certainly wouldn’t recommend them, the one I tried was distinctly icy.

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The place is certainly fascinating and the ice sculptures need to be seen to be believed. Not only are the beds sculpted from pure ice but the snow walls also have carvings on them. Every room has a different theme, each bed carved differently and each wall sculpted differently.

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After mooching around the snow hotel for a while we went outside and made our way to the reindeer enclosure where we saw the cutest little white reindeer you ever did see, we’ll never know but it might just have been Rudolf.

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From there we walked over to see the huskies and boy were they cute too. I caught Steph trying to put one in her new handbag but luckily he didn’t quite fit in, phew! It still amazes me just how friendly these dogs are. We just wandered around their various kennels and stroked them, they in turn licked us, jumped up to say hello, they just behave like any other pet dog rather than what you might expect from a working dog.

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I eventually managed to drag Steph away, she was kicking and screaming but soon calmed down when we entered the hotel restaurant, Gabba, the term restaurant is used because we were fed and watered. Actually we were given a very nice warm juice and a BBQ’d reindeer sausage, straight off the fire that was blazing in the middle of the circular room. From here it was a walk back to the coach were we got on and duly sat in a couple of spare seats at the very back, not the ones we had originally occupied as they were already take. Shortly after we got on an other couple got on and were very upset because someone else was sitting in THEIR seat (no it wasn’t us). They spent the rest of the journey complaining because some people on the coach were from the other coach and it just wasn’t right! As I’ve said before, you just can’t please everyone.

As the coach approached the ship our guide thank us all for visiting Kirkenes as she just loves showing people around, she was really very sweet.

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During the evening the sea got rather rough, the roughest that we have had since starting our journey back in Bergen. Steph decided to go to bed early as she doesn’t do anything other than a ‘mill pond’ when it comes to sailing. By the time I went to bed she was fast asleep and luckily there was no sign of ‘mal de mare’ anywhere, even though it was rough.

As I quietly get ready for bed in the almost pitch blackness of the cabin I wonder to myself if we might just be lucky again over night, will they appear again, will they, oh I do hope so.

 

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