Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shanghai, China

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Shanghai, China

Shanghai is truly a World Class city, as well as being the largest city in China; its population of 22 million people makes it comparable only to Tokyo and Mexico City. To reach the city by ship, it is necessary to navigate far up the Huangpu River, almost to the mouth of the great Yangtze River; it is a spectacular journey.

Our arrival took place in the early morning hours and when we awoke, we had anchored right in the middle of the main area of town which provided stunning vistas of both the modern and old citiesShanghai, China from our cabin deck. Of course, we could go outside only fleetingly because the temperature was a chilly 33 degrees F and the winds were blowing from 30 to 45 mph. Indeed to accommodate the gangway, a small door had to be opened in the side of the ship, and the wind was so strong that it literally stripped heat from throughout the ship. People were wearing their coats simply to have breakfast.

Rather than take a tour offered by the ship, we had made arrangements for a private car and a guide with the intention of getting outside the city, since we had visited Shanghai itself on a previous trip. From my reading, I had selected a trip to Zhujiajiao, which was described as a “lakeside country town” which preserved the buildings and customs of ancient China. According to my information, the drive into the countryside would take about 90 minutes.

Our first challenge was in not freezing to death. We exited the ship at the appropriate time to meet our car, and even standing in a tent erected on the pier to shelter passengers while we waited, we were quickly frozen. We really did not bring very warm clothes, and the winds were going right through our jackets and sweaters. Soon our guide arrived, but not the car. It seems that for security, the car was not allowed onto the pier, so we had to walk quite some distance to where our car would meet us. Sadly, when we arrived at the appointed location, there was no car. We stood for almost 30 minutes waiting for it to arrive, and by then I could not even feel my nose, and Lisa was blue and miserable.

Finally, we set off on our journey to the countryside, and it was an amazing journey at that. Shanghai is one impressive city. The highway system is first class, with electronic signs showing traffic conditions ahead and alternative routings if necessary. We drove for miles, and miles, and miles past high rise office buildings and apartments. It went on and on and on. As we left the city center, I saw numerous examples of single family home and developments, much like we would see in our country. The highways were full of new cars and mass transit was modern and clean.

The city seemed to go forever, until we reached the turnoff for Zhujiajiao. WAIT! I thought we were going to a quaint countryside village – well, not quite. It turns out that Zhujiajiao is still inside the city limits of Shanghai and is one of its twelve administrative districts. Alas, so much for getting into the country. As we pulled into the center of this district, we were greeted with a very large parking area for tour buses. Obviously if I intended to get off the beaten path, I failed.

Shanghai, China

So we began our walking tour of the old area that dated back over 1,000 years. It was quaint and quite beautiful and intertwined by canals on which a caravan of gondolas slowly wove back and forth providing rides for tourists. It all reminded me of an oriental Venice. According to our guide, the city is home to around 3,000 people; however, it appeared to me that few people actually lived in the city and that most of the buildings had been turned into shops. Our guide then stopped at one of the gondola platforms and bought tickets for us to ride the canal. All I can really remember was the cold. At least nestled among the alleyways, we could find some shelter from the winds, but in the gondola there was no such shelter and very quickly Lisa and I were shivering uncontrollably.

Shanghai, China

My fingers were so numb that it was very difficult to work my camera. The gondola took us to the far end of the village and let us depart, the idea being that we would “wander” the narrow lanes in returning to our car. This was a great concept, but under the circumstances not very appealing; so we asked our guide to take the shortest route to the car and if possible to find a warm place for coffee. Exiting the narrow streets, we stumbled across a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and thankfully went inside to get warm and to get some coffee.

At this point, the game plan had been for us to spend an hour or so wandering the streets and visiting the quaint shops, but that was not very appealing under the conditions. So, we asked about museums, or Lisa pointed out a very interesting Buddhist temple we had seen on the drive out. We headed back into town and stopped at the temple which was pretty amazing. It was brand new, having only been opened a year. Parts of it were still under construction. Again, we were freezing however.

Shanghai, China

Now, here comes the most amazing part of our trip to Shanghai – a completely unscheduled stop at a department store! No kidding! I remember when we were in Moscow our guide did not want to waste time at the world famous St. Basils Church in order that he could proudly show us the finest department store in Moscow. One word sums it up – unimpressive. This on the other hand was completely unscripted, and it was mind blowing. As we left the temple, I asked our guide if there was any place where I could buy a Bluetooth headset for my phone.

Shanghai, China

As it turns out, we were next to one of many department stores we had seen and so she took us inside. Now as travelled as I am, it is difficult to grab my attention by a simple store, but this was unlike anything I had seen. It rivaled the great Mall in Dubai. The store was nine stories high and was full of high end merchandise. You name the brand, and this store had it. We saw brands in this store that we had only seen in magazines at home. This store had it all – designer bags, clothes, jewelry, and electronics. They had an entire department for electronics where you could buy an iPhone 4 or an iPad along with any other brand you could desire. They had the exact headset for which I was looking at a price that was about what I would have paid at home.

At this point, Lisa and I were tired out from the cold morning, and so we elected to skip the museum and to return to the ship early. After a quick lunch onboard a virtually empty ship, we turned in for a long winter’s nap.

Shanghai, China

And, when we awoke, what to our wondering eyes did appear – the sun was setting over Shanghai which offered some good pictures of the downtown area. By the time we got to dinner, the view out our window was simply breathtaking, and so I ran up to our cabin and captured the scene to share with you. After dinner, we sat in our cabin with the curtains open and enjoyed our sail away back down the river. All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Shanghai, China

We will now have two days at sea on our way to Hong Kong. Unfortunately this ship was never designed for cold climates and it is freezing onboard. We have very strong winds outside and temperatures around freezing. The doors to the outside do not seal and so the wind is blowing through the cracks in the doors and whirling around the ship. Many of the outside doors have been posted as closed, but they leak so bad it is of little use. Most people have at the least a sweater, and many are wearing their coats. As an example, our room is one of the warmer locations on the ship, and right now my thermometer is showing 64F. They tell us that Hong Kong will be warm again, and I think I can safely say that everyone is ready for that.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve – which we will celebrate before it reaches Kansas City. So we wish everyone a Happy New Year, and hope you are enjoying our travels.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Xiamen, China

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Xiamen, China

My first order of business is to correct an error from my previous blog. I commented that our ship had cruised for three days north and east to Manila, which is correct, but I said that in that time we had covered only 800 nm. In truth, we sailed over 1,400 nm to reach Manila. From there we continued northward to Xiamen, China, which was a distance of 700 nm, and today we are continuing even further north to Shanghai at a distance of 500 nm.

The terrible sea conditions I mentioned in my last blog finally abated, but many people on the ship were sick or injured by the rough weather. It was impossible to stand in our room, and we were barely able to keep from being tossed out of bed. Fortunately that has given way to clear skies and smooth seas, but the balmy weather of Singapore and Manila is but a distant dream. Yesterday in Xiamen, the day started at 40 degrees F and rose to a very comfortable 65 degrees. This morning it is around 35 degrees outside, and we are told that Shanghai will probably be even cooler.

Yesterday was somewhat disappointing in that we had booked ourselves onto an all day tour that included a trip to the countryside, but when we boarded our ship in Singapore we found out that our stay in Xiamen had to be cut very short in order for us to make the proper tides into Shanghai, and that our tour had therefore been cancelled. As it turned out, we had only 4 hours to visit Xiamen. At that, we were offered only two quick tours from which to choose, and neither sounded very exciting. We chose a tour which drove north through the city and which visited Jimei Park and Turtle Garden.Xiamen, China Essentially the Park is home to an Academic Village founded in 1924, and where several of the leading Universities of China can be found located among elegant pavilions and DragonBoat Lake. Xiamen, ChinaAt the heart of the complex, is a garden called Turtle Garden which is the resting place of a wealth Chinese merchant who founded this campus. We walked the grounds for well over an hour before finally returning to our buses.

From there we had a 30 minute ride to the opposite side of the city, where we stopped to visit Nan Putuo Temple. Dating to the Tang Dynasty, the Temple complex is one of the most revered Buddhist shrines in China. We had an hour to meander around before being returned to our ship. Xiamen, China

If all of that sounds rather unexciting, then you have caught my drift correctly. More interesting to me than what we visited was what we experienced and what we saw. Right off I was impressed and overwhelmed with the terminal where our ship docked. It was huge, extremely modern and very efficiently run. Each passenger was given a thermal scan as they left the ship, and anyone who showed an elevated body temperature was escorted to a private medical area for evaluation. As we approached immigration, there were plenty of personnel and no waiting. Our photographs were taken, and matched on the screen before us with our passport photo. All of our information was electronically entered including our Visa permits, and after a short search by the computer we were flagged through and given a hearty welcome to China.

Our tour busses were virtually brand new and very modern. In fact, everything about Xiamen was extremely modern and upscale. The highways, the trains, the busses, the cabs – everything was large, modern and impressive. The city was spotless and the people clean, well dressed and friendly. During our stops, groups of Chinese would show interest in our group, and several times they would approach and ask to have their photograph taken with one of us. Notice I said that they asked to have their picture taken with us – which means they all spoke English. For the modern generation, English is a requirement.

Xiamen is a city of 3 million people, and as we were informed, it is but one of the smaller cities in China. It is the closest point in Mainland China to the breakaway islands of Taiwan, and to my surprise there is regular ferry service between the two enemies. In Xiamen, the shops were filled with almost any conceivable item you could hope to buy and the city was bustling. The Chinese place a great deal of emphasis on education. Nine years of education is mandatory, and for those who pass the National College Entrance Exams, higher education is both expected and free.

I said last time that it is not fair to judge a country by one short visit, and while that is true, this is my fifth visit to China spanning almost 40 years. I can tell you that in that time, the progress I am seeing is nothing short of amazing. On the upside the country seems to function very efficiently and poverty seems to be almost non-existent. While the government is still communist, in recent years, they have begun to allow private ownership of businesses and free markets to function and the results are impressive. At the same time, all is not milk and honey. The government still has tremendous influence over individual lives. Two quick examples are the internet and childbearing. The Chinese certainly have and use the internet very effectively; however, the government is very careful on what content is available to the average person. The same degree of “correctness” extends to publications and to the media in general – so in that sense China is not a completely “free” society. My second example has to do with the “One Child Policy.” Imagine living in a country where the Government tells you when you can marry – the later the better, and then restricts couples to only one child!

Our next stop is Shanghai, and there we have arranged a private car and driver which will allow us to hopefully get out of the city proper and see somewhat more of the countryside. That will be our challenge for tomorrow, so meantime I will try to get some pictures from our visit yesterday posted before the day is over, and get the blog updated.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Manila, Philippines

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The Philippines
As much as Lisa and I have travelled, it is amazing that until now we have never visited the Philippines. We were very excited about our visit; however it turned out to be somewhat disappointing for several reasons.
For one thing, the ship did not offer any shore excursions for us to choose before we left, and our efforts to arrange a private tour all met without success. I am guessing that the problem was related to the fact that the Philippines is a heavily Catholic country, and our ship would make port the day after Christmas, which was a Sunday to boot. Once we boarded our cruise, we were offered a choice of three short excursions. One of the offered tours would drive to small town to see the “Bamboo Organ” and have lunch of Philippine cuisine at a local restaurant. The second tour was what I call a “spam in a can tour” – which is to drive for several hours, visiting a gift shop and the National Cemetery, or finally we had the choice of a 4 hour walking tour of “Old Manila,” which was described as a visit to Manila’s old colonial city. We selected the walking tour, assuming we would get to see the central part of the city – as it turns out, that is not what we saw at all.
Actually our tour was a walking tour of old Fort Santiago, which was first built by the Spanish in the 16th Century. Over the years, it has been occupied by the Spanish, the British, the Americans, and the Japanese. To quote the brochure which we were given: “After surviving a number of earthquakes, typhoons, fires and wars through the centuries, Fort Santiago took the death blow when the Americans liberated the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945.” So for four hours we walked a burned out shell! The temperature was a balmy 85 degrees and the humidity almost 100%. There was not so much as a breeze blowing. This was not exactly what we thought we were getting.DSC_3327 Now in all honesty, we did get to visit the Manila Cathedral, however since a wedding was in progress, we could only see the outside. We also visited the San Agustin Church, which is the oldest Church in the Philippines, dating from 1571. DSC_3339This structure is a World Heritage Site, however, here again, a wedding was in progress and so we could only see the outside. After an obligatory stop at a souvenir shop, and a 30 minute break at the end of our tour, this was pretty much our introduction to Manila.
Now it is impossible to judge a country or a city on such a short visit, nonetheless simply driving around town does allow some observations about the culture. First, I would note that there was rampant poverty abundantly evident. There were places that reminded me of Mumbai in India. Families living in cardboard boxes and subsisting in appalling conditions were clearly evident. Second, I could not help but note the trash. The previous day was Christmas, and I guess the people filled the public parks for massive celebrations. When we drove through town the trash was everywhere. It looked as if someone had purposely spread a huge container of trash everywhere. The Philippines covers a very large area and has within its borders over 7,000 islands. So I hope to return one day to the Philippines to give it a better view, but for now it is not someplace I am anxious to visit anytime soon.
On a slightly different note, I would observe that the arrival of our ship was a major event for the city for two reasons. First, this was the first time Princess had made a call on the Philippines, and second, since over half of the crew is Philippino, it was a glorious homecoming for many of them. The ship was greeted by a marching band and by a group of musicians who performed all day. Setup by our arrival dock was a large tent which served as a resting station for family and friends of the crew to wait until their loved ones could depart, and there was a large banner welcoming them home. It was amusing to watch the crew depart because they were literally carrying the most incredible of treasures they had accumulated during their travels. Flat screen TVs were the norm – huge units, along with refrigerators, stereo equipment, and almost anything else you can name. Sometimes it would take three people just to lift all the stuff down the ramp to the waiting arms of family. I would bet the ship is much lighter today than before. All day families were touring the ship and there was a general air of festivity about our brief stop. In fact by 11am, the ship was a ghost vessel, with most of the crew having gone ashore.
On leaving Singapore, we travelled for three days at high speed North East across the South China Sea covering almost 800 miles. I never realized that this Sea is the largest body of water in the world after the five oceans, and that it contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people, and many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. For much of our passage, we experienced gale force winds and high seas with overcast skies and occasional rain. After leaving Manila, yesterday the ship has turned north and is moving at full speed enroute to Xiamen, China. Last night saw very bad conditions with howling winds and high seas. It is very difficult to walk around the ship, and since our room is at the very end of the ship it is highly impacted by these conditions. Last night most things on tables fell off during the night, and it is impossible to move about in our room without holding onto something; in fact remaining in the bed is something of a challenge. Conditions are forecast to improve this afternoon, so hopefully our visit tomorrow to China will have good weather.
Lastly I would share with you the fact that I am upholding my tradition of making myself known to the ship’s doctor. Just before leaving town I was started on a new medication, which unfortunately did not sit well with my system. By our second day on board, I was so sick that I was miserable. Fortunately my internist answered my e-mail and told me to stop the medicine and get to the ship’s doctor immediately. Within 20 minutes she had me on a table with an IV that included among other things, morphine. I came away with all kinds of pills, but the good news is that we caught this in time before it could have caused real damage, and I am getting better – so just doing what I seem to always do, being me.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope you enjoy our travels. I did get a few pictures, and before the day is out I will try to post them online.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Singapore, Singapore

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Christmas Is Alive and Well – In Singapore

Our trip over to Singapore was a snap – it only took 33 hours in total from our house to our hotel, but the good news is that our flight was the quickest ever made by the airlines, only 17 ½ hours long.

We first flew to Los Angeles, where our friends Chis and LaVerne Kilgore showed us a lovely time. They we anxious to share some of that famous California sunshine and ocean vistas, but as you can already guess, it was rainy and foggy – so much for the land of perpetual milk and honey! Still we had a wonderful visit that helped pass the time until our non-stop flight to Singapore departed at 8pm.

Our aircraft was all business class, and believe it or not had been decorated for Christmas. In all my travels I do not recall ever seeing an airplane decorated for anything. The service was outstanding as was the food. Our seats actually made into beds complete with three pillows and a nice blanket. Our seats had all types of power connectors, including an outlet for 110v. With so much space and power to boot, I actually unpacked my breathing machine for my sleep apnea and had a wonderful night’s sleep. Sometime around 2 in the morning I got up to use the facility and the plane was completely dark. Not a single passenger was reading or watching TV, and I do not believe I have ever seen that before – usually at least someone is up and working.

We arrived in Singapore at 6am in the morning, and our hotel arranged to have us met as we exited the aircraft and whisked to a private VIP lounge where we could freshen up as our hostess dealt with the nasty details of immigration. In rather short order, we were escorted to our limo into which our bags had already been deposited and driven to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton. Now that is a first class entrance in any language.

Dealing with an almost 12 hour time change, needless to say we spent most of our first day here sleeping and trying to adjust. The next day we intended to take a quick refresher tour of the city, however I discovered that my laptop computer appeared to have bitten the dust. What a mess! But, Singapore is where several years ago I managed to find a camera after mine broke, and so it was that with a quick phone call and a short walk, I became the proud owner of a new Sony laptop. So rather than touring the city I spent all of yesterday getting the new machine up to speed since the hotel offered free high speed internet.

Singapore is a fascinating City/State that lies just north of the Equator at the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. At one point, it was occupied by the British and then it was part of the Malaysian Federation. However, in 1965, it went its own way, and today this tiny city which is just three times the size of Washington, DC is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. It boasts one of the world’s busiest shipping ports and a per capita GDP that rivals that of leading nations of Western Europe. Here Christmas is alive and well. The entire city is decorated and the Christmas spirit is everywhere – no “happy holiday” here. We walked through an adjacent shopping mall yesterday, and I can tell you that high priced items were flying out the door. Another curiosity is that everyone, and I mean almost everyone, carries an iPhone.

A couple of other things caught my eye. While touring the Mall I noted that the North Face store was doing a booming business in heavy winter clothing. Why, I wondered, you can’t go skiing around here. Then some things fell into place during dinner last evening when the relatively young restaurant manager came over to visit and we ended up in a long conversation. We got to discuss his 9 year old son, and it turns out that his son and wife had recently been skiing in Korea, spent a week in Osaka, and vacationed in Kula Lumpur and sunned on the island of Bali. As we were speaking, his wife and boy had just left Dubai on their way to New York, and from there to visit an Aunt in Philadelphia. They were also planning on taking him to Washington to see the Smithsonian. The more we spoke I realized that the citizens of this small City/State see themselves as citizens of Southeast Asia and indeed the world. I gathered that the experiences of his family were not all that different from other families here in Singapore. The world is indeed shrinking. Imagine at 9 years of age having travelled that much of the world.

Since we did not do a formal tour of the city, I really have no pictures to post, but perhaps when I finish this, I can get a good picture of the city from our room to put on our blog.


In a few hours, we will board our home for the next month, the Ocean Princess. Our first stop on this cruise will not be until the day after Christmas in Manila in the Philippines, which will be the first time either of us has visited that island Nation.

We hope that everyone has a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Tis The Season - To Travel


The Globe-Trotters will soon be departing on what is becoming our annual holiday getaway. We have found that one way to deal with the stress of the holiday season is simply to get the @#&& out of town.

This year we will be travelling to the Orient to sail onboard the Ocean Princess, the smallest of the Princess cruise ships, holding only 650 people. For 4 weeks we will be cruising up and down what is called the "South China Sea." Along the way we will make ports of call at:

Singapore, Singapore

Manila, Philippines

Xiamen, China

Shanghai, China

Hong Kong, China

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ko Samui, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Da Nang/Hue, Vietnam

Taipei, Taiwan

Our trip begins with a relatively quick flight to Los Angeles, where we will be met by our friends Chris and LaVerne Kilgore. They are kind enough to take time out of their day to visit with us to help fill our 8 hour layover before we depart for Singapore. Leaving Los Angeles at 8pm our 18.5 hour flight will take us directly to Singapore where we arrive around 6am their time. We will spend the remainder of that day and the next acclimating to the time change and allowing our luggage to catch up if necessary before on the third day we board our ship.

I am intending to blog about our journey and to post pictures as we travel, and I would really look forward to hearing back from our friends about happenings here at home. I will send our travelogues first as an e-mail, and then I will also post them on our blog, which will also include embedded pictures. That web page is located at I have made some changes to that page so that the link to our photograph gallery is better identified. If you click on that link you will be taken directly to our photo gallery. In addition I will provide a direct link within my e-mail. I have learned that several people had trouble viewing the pictures from our Caribbean trip using the embedded link that I provided. After some work by my good friend Hunter Christophersen, I have learned how to solve that problem. By way of example, the following link will now take you directly to the Caribbean album, and if for some reason it does not, then I would really like to hear from you:

Believe it or not, as if life was not already strange enough, we were visiting recently with our good friends Michele and Cathy. As each of us talked about the upcoming holidays we spoke about our cruise to the China Seas. Gee, seems that Michele and Cathy were also going to the China Seas, but two weeks after we were to depart. As it turns out, we are actually on two back to back cruises, and they will be joining our ship on the second of the two cruises. Just how neat is that! And, what are the odds?

Lisa and I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. We hope you enjoy tagging along on our shared journey.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 in the Caribbean

Thanksgiving in the Caribbean

And a belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Over the holidays, Lisa and I travelled with our children and grandchildren on a weeklong Caribbean cruise aboard the Caribbean Princes. This is the largest vessel in the Princess line and holds 3,200 passengers.

I did not blog along the way on this cruise for two good reasons. First, we were in a new port every day except the last day at sea, so time was short. Second, as always, every island in the Caribbean really looks like every other island, so from an interest perspective there was not much to comment on.

However, I did get some good photographs and I have just posted them on my Picasa web page at:

Ports of call included: San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Dominica,

Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba.


I hope you enjoy the pictures-


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Full Disclosure - Update

Those of you who have been following our most recent trip know that a number of health issues arose for both Lisa and myself. To keep everyone in the loop, let me give you a quick update.
I just received a full clean bill of health from my cardiologist. After an office visit, blood work, an echo and a stress test, he is not concerned about any changes in my heart since we met last April. In his opinion I got myself in trouble by not using my breathing machine in Moscow. Couple that with the infection I developed and the bad fall with the subsequent swelling in my leg, and this combination in his opinion is what caused my problems. So, I am good to go and darn glad that it is nothing serious.
Lisa has undergone a number of test, and today she and I met with her orthopedic surgeon. In the process, I learned something that I did not know. I was under the impression that her metal knees had a limited life and would eventually need to be replaced. As it turns out, that is not necessarily so. The pad between the knee joints is what wears out, and unless the knees get to the point of metal on metal, the originally implants will remain, perhaps for her entire life. In Lisa's case, the pad on her left knee has deteriorated, and must be replaced. In performing the replacement if they find that her metal joints have been rubbing on each other and have been damaged, then the entire knee must be re-done. Either way the recovery will be approximately 9 weeks. Lisa is in such pain right now, she was hoping they would just take her tomorrow - not really realistic, but understandable. However the first opening on her doctors surgery schedule was the third week in October. Whoops! Lisa was really upset. The surgeon went to check to be sure his memory was correct, and if you can believe the pure luck - just minutes before a patient had canceled for Sept. 3rd, thus allowing Lisa to get her repair in only 8 days from now. She is elated, and this will not interfere with our scheduled Thanksgiving trip with the family.
So, that should bring everyone up to date. Our next big journey is over the Christmas holidays, and for now my goal is to begin work on the DVD of our last cruise.
I hope everyone is well.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bergen, Norway

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Who Needs A Guide Anyway?

Bergen, Norway

Our month long journey is coming to an end here in gorgeous Bergen, Norway. We have arrived on a bright, sunny morning. It is cool, but it promises to warm quickly, and so Lisa and I cannot wait to get going. We have been to Bergen once before, so for today, we elected to hire a private car and guide for just a half day.

We were to meet our guide at 8:30 am, but hoping to beat the tour buses to the funicular, we got off the ship a little early in order to get the jump on the masses, which we call “locusts.” Usually our car and guide would be right there, but alas it was not so this time. We watched as one by one all of the tour buses departed and we found ourselves alone on the dock with just a few guides who were awaiting their groups to disembark. At the appointed hour when no one had arrived, I pulled out my trusty confirmation and dialed the emergency contact number, only to get a recording in Norwegian. Getting nowhere fast, I walked over to one of the guides and explained the situation and asked if she would mind dialing the number and tell me what was being said. Using her phone to avoid international rates, she dialed the number, listened, and started laughing. She looked over at the gathering group and told me that the phone number had been disconnected. The group all started talking at once and trying to be helpful. One of them grabbed my confirmation and noted that she had been hired by that same company, but not for us, however, she did have a different contact number. Sadly, no one answered her call, and she explained that since it was Sunday, nothing would be open. Just to be sure she phoned the home office in Copenhagen, and just as she predicted, no one answered. By now their groups were arriving, and so they suggested that Lisa and I walk outside the security perimeter. Several of them had some trouble gaining entry, and so perhaps our guide and car were waiting for us there.

Sadly that was a long walk, but once outside the gate two things were obvious. First, no one was waiting for us, and since it was Sunday there were no taxis, in fact I could not see any traffic or anyone on the streets. It looked all the world like a ghost town. We found a rock to sit on, and waited. Shortly a lone station wagon arrived and the casually dressed driver jumped out and ran into the security shed. Well, it was not the black limo we were expecting and he did not look like a professional driver, but perhaps he was here for us. When he came out we hailed him and sure enough he was here to pick us up – a little late, but here. However, he was only a driver. We should have been met by a guide. We drove back to the ship in a futile effort to locate our wayward guide, but to no avail. Our driver was clearly perplexed at this point about what to do. It took some persuasion to convince him to simply drive us around Bergen. He did speak good English, and after my earlier experiences on this trip, I had come prepared with a list of places that the ship was using as tourist stops, so I was all prepared to be our own guide. Finally he agreed, and I told him that our first goal was to reach the funicular before the buses. A look of understanding appeared, and we all jumped in the car and made a beeline for the funicular. As luck would have it, even with our late start, we arrived just in time to catch the first car to the top of the viewpoint located on Mt. Floien. DSC_2713 On our return back down, the station was not only full, but the line of people waiting to go to the top stretched for three blocks. Anyway, since it was a beautiful cloudless morning, we had wonderful views of the city below and in the distance the surrounding islands seemed to go on forever. Our driver said we were very lucky. Most days the hillside is covered in early morning fog and for the last three days the city had been having a cold windy rain.

Bergen is an absolutely beautiful city of around 250,000 people. It is considered the Capital of Fjordland and is Norway’s second-largest city, having been founded in 1070 AD. Norway amazes me when it comes to Sundays. Nothing is open, nothing! The streets in the morning were deserted. That allowed us to drive all over the city in quick time. We drove into the outskirts of the city to visit the Palace of the King. DSC_2736 He uses the Palace when he visits Bergen, but only if he is staying for more than two nights, otherwise he just stays at a Hotel.

Rather than try to bore you with names about which I am not sure, since we had no guide, I will just say that we hit everything on our list and then some. My best memories of Bergen are in the beautiful pictures that I added to our album.

At this time our ship is cruising at full speed for a two day journey to Stockholm, which is where it all started for us 4 weeks ago. We will fly home on the 28th, first with an SAS flight direct to Chicago and then a United flight to Kansas City. In fact, we will finally get to try our new “trusted traveler” status at US Customs and Immigration.

I hope that everyone has enjoyed the updates. All of our blogs are up and posted at and from there is a link to our complete picture album, which I just completed a little while ago. I am looking forward to seeing everyone soon.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Flam, Norway

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The Flamsbana: One of Europe’s

Greatest Train Rides

Note: I am writing this on July 24, 2010, even though the ship has no internet. We have been advised that limited internet will return on the 24th, so until then I will continue to write and save these for later transmission. Enjoy!

Arriving into the tiny village of Flam was a breathtaking experience! Very early this morning the ship transited some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, the Aurlandsfjord. DSC_2415 Unfortunately, even though I had gotten up early for the experience, the sun had not yet risen above the surrounding mountains, and so the hillsides were in shadows. Just as the ship was approaching Flam, the sun crested the mountain tops and for awhile we had a brilliant vista before us.

The tiny village of Flam is home to only 400 people. The ship was originally scheduled to offer tender service to the shore, but a few days ago that was changed to say that we would dock. As I looked at the town as we approached, I assumed there must have been some mistake. The valley narrowed so much by the time we would reach the town, I was not sure the ship would fit, must less have room to dock – anyway, I certainly could not see a dock. As we got closer and the surrounding mountains got closer I just could not see how in the world this would work. Then I saw a brand new small dock, and again my first thought was that if we docked there the bow of the ship would be overhanging the town. Well, that is what we did and the bow did overhang the town. DSC_2423 How they will back us out tonight is anyone’s guess, but it must be possible. They for certain cannot turn the ship around.

We came to Flam not only for the scenery, but also to ride the Flamsbana train. It has been described as one of the most dramatically beautiful train journeys in all of Europe. It took over 20 years to construct and in the hour long journey you travel 20 miles and climb over 3,000 ft. By the time we left the ship at 9am to walk to the nearby train station, our beautiful sunny morning had disappeared and clouds were building. That certainly did not bode well for good pictures. However as luck would have it, Lisa and I got seats on the wrong side of the train for the journey upward and the only thing we could see out our side of the window was a solid wall of rock. We could look across the aisle and see some great scenery, but there were no pictures to be had.

The train made a photograph stop at the Kjos Waterfall, DSC_2472 and then continued to our destination, the Mountain Hotel.

DSC_2488 Here we had an hour and a half to enjoy waffles and coffee before the next train back to the ship would arrive. We walked around the hotel to see about some pictures, but there was nothing to write home about and the clouds had thickened.

For the journey down, we managed to get seats this time on the correct side of the train, only now the sun was completely gone and we had a dull grey countryside. So I do not think the photographs will be spectuclar, but still it was a fun day in the tiny village of Flam, Norway.


Alesund, Norway

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Touring Lke a Mole

Alesund, Norway

Note: I am writing this on July 24, 2010, even though the ship has no internet. We have been advised that limited internet will return on the 24th, so until then I will continue to write and save these for later transmission. Enjoy!

Yesterday afternoon the ship made a brief stop at Alesund, Norway. We were only in port for four hours and our visit was a blur of activity.

I would note that we were fortunate to have arrived on the warmest day of the year to date with temperatures around 58 degrees. All of the tourists were wearing jackets, while the shore line and beaches were loaded with the locals in swimming suits and beach attire. Not only was it warm, but it was a bright sunny day, and according to our guide, the first such day they had had. For the previous week it had been cold and rainy. So, lucky us!

As I said the day was a blur. We departed the ship in our bus and in just a few blocks entered a round-about from which we exited into a tunnel. This was not like any tunnel I have ever encountered in my life. The road immediately begins a steep descent, so much so that the driver had to downshift to avoid picking up too much speed. We seemed to be going down, down and down forever. We went down over 500 ft. before the road suddenly had us doing a steep climb back to the surface. After turning here and there we suddenly “pop” out of the darkness as our guide announces that we are now on such and such island. Exiting the tunnel, the bus immediately enters another round-about, and just as quickly dives into yet another tunnel. We had the same roller coaster ride as before, but this time even much longer. This experience went on until it became comical. I really felt as if I was a mole running through my tunnels, and just briefly sticking my head up before heading back down again. I am sure this is an exaggeration, but of our three hour excursion, I would not be surprised if almost an hour of it was spent in tunnels.

So, what did we see! Well obviously in the tunnels, nothing. We did however make three stops on our journey. On the island of Giske, we stopped to visit the old stone church of Giske which dates from 1150 AD.DSC_2267 Our next stop was on the island of Godoy where we stopped to visit the colorful lighthouse. DSC_2315 Our final stop was back near the town of Alesund, and was a wonderful viewpoint on Mt. Aksla from which we had a marvelous vista of the city below.


Overnight the ship will sail to the small village of Flam, Norway arriving around 7 in the morning. It is said that for the hour prior to our arrival we will be cruising the majestic Naeroyfjord, which is proclaimed to be the most beautiful in all Norway and which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has also been rated by National Geographic Society as one of the world’s most beautiful sites.


Thursday, July 22, 2010


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Why Do People Live In Longyearbyen?

Note: I am writing this on July 22, 2010, even though the ship has no internet. We have been advised that limited internet will return on the 24th, so until then I will continue to write and save these for later transmission. Enjoy!

There are not many towns where your friendly tour guide must carry a rifle along on your tour, but Longyearbyen is one of them. As the warning signs posted at the edge of town warn, DSC_2131 the city is surrounded by a large population of Polar Bears, and while they are a protected species, citizens are encouraged to “shoot to kill” if they feel their lives may be in danger.

Longyearbyen is a city of over 2,000 people located in the Svalbard archipelago of islands, of which Spitzbergen is the largest. The city is located at 79 degrees of North Latitude, making it one of the northernmost places in the world that are populated. To give you some idea, Barrow, Alaska is only at around 71 degrees of north latitude. For most of the year Longyearbyen is locked in ice and for six months of every year its citizens live in total darkness. The town has more snow mobiles than residents, and travelling by dog sled is also quite common.

So, why do people live here? It is a good question and it took me awhile to ferret out the answer. Originally the town was founded after coal deposits were discovered in 1899. By 1906, a coal mine was established, and thus the town grew up around the mine. In 1920, the archipelago formally became part of Norway. I would guess from what I learned that the economic basis for the town was pure and simple: coal. At the end of the Second World War, the Germans burned every building in the town and set fire to the one and only coal mine at the time. That mine burned for over 20 years. After the war, Norway took to rebuilding the town and eventually six more mines were built.

Today however, all but one of the mines is closed. That one remaining mine uses half of its production to provide coal for the town’s power plant and the other half it its production is sold to Germany. Apparently that small amount of coal is still the primary source of income for the community. But that cannot explain what we saw. The city boasts a very modern hospital, a new and fairly large museum that was very modern,DSC_2035 an airport with a 9,000 ft runway and year round service two times a day, and a modern art gallery. Their schools were likewise modern and the island now had fiber optics and high speed internet, not to mention great cell phone coverage.

Norway is a very rich country, earning so much money from its oil production that it has created a national trust where funds are being invested for future generations. It provides a myriad of services to its people and overall its tax rates are low. So when you talk with the people you learn that the government heavily subsidizes Longyearbyen. Citizens who live here pay almost no tax, and some even receive subsidies to move here. Most people are now working in the tourism industry. For example, the town has two hotels, one of them a Radisson. There are five separate companies offering dog sledding experiences to tourist. Our tour guide was from Poland originally and came to Longyearbyen like most young people, under a contract to work for one year at a very high wage, after which she could go home. However, she has now taken Norwegian citizenship and has extended her contract for seven years. She said that the winters are getting harder and harder to take, but the money is good and she is not quite ready to leave and so the town is undergoing a population boom of sorts, having added 600 people in the last two years alone.

We took a four hour tour of the city and the surrounding countryside. Our first stop was the museum. Next we visited Spitzenbergen Basecamp, DSC_2099 home to several dog sledding teams. We were met with wagging tails and snuggles from the friendly dogs, and also given an opportunity to have some coffee and snacks. Since these dogs are considered “working dogs” they spend their lives outside. To take a working dog inside would be to ruin it for use on a dog sled. I wondered why their kennels were so high off the ground; my guess around 3 to 4 feet. I asked the owner, and he explained that was because of the snow. In amazement I said dumbly- so the snow gets that high in winter. He laughed and said not only that high but they have to raise the kennels at least three times during the winter just to keep ahead of the snow!

Next we visited the Art Museum and saw a short movie on life in Longyearbyen – you could not pay me to live there in winter – end of statementDSC_2127 . Then we drove all over the city and stopped long enough to grab a photograph of the entrance to the “Seed Vault” which has been built into the mountain inside an old mine.

And thus, our short half day visit to one of the world’s most northern communities came to an end. We are now heading south again and will sail for all of today and half of tomorrow before reaching the city of Alesund, Norway.


Polar Ice Cap

Near The Top of The World

Note: I am writing this on July 20, 2010, even though the ship has no internet. We have been advised that limited internet will return on the 24th, so until then I will continue to write and save these for later transmission. Enjoy!

Last night during dinner, I realized the strange disconnect in my surroundings. Lisa and I were enjoying a wonderful specially prepared dinner while sharing a very nice bottle of wine amidst elegant surroundings suffused with low music in the background, while just outside the window which we were sitting next to, we were almost at the top of the world. We were traveling across waters which in winter are solid ice. Even then the waters were dark and foreboding, with white caps raged in all directions. People have given their lives to travel this far North, and there we sat in the lap of luxury as if we did not have a care in the world. All I can say is, “What a Wonderful World We Live In!”

Today, the weather has worsened considerably. We now have rough seas with strong winds buffeting the ship. The outside air temperature is at 32 degrees and much of the ship is now covered with ice. The water temperature is down to 35 degrees and a short while back we passed through a heavy snow shower.

However, the Captain just came on with his morning briefing and announced that we have just crossed 80 degrees North Latitude and we have made better time than he had estimated yesterday. For that reason we have actually gotten quite close to the edge of the Polar Ice Field. We had been travelling north at about 20 mph, however because of our proximity to the ice, he has turned the ship to the northeast and slowed down slightly. He has told us that we have several hours to linger in this region before having to turn back south. During that time, he is hopeful that the weather will improve and we will be able to see the Polar Ice field and to approach it safely. What an excitement that will be……. So, I will suspend this blog until later today and let you know just how far north we finally got and if our journey to the ice was successful………………………………

We were successful!!!!! As the morning progressed, the weather conditions improved substantially. The winds abated and the seas calmed. I knew the Captain was serious about finding ice when I noted a 20 degree turn to the north and an increase in speed. By now the temperature had warmed above freezing and the clouds were lightening. Lisa and I went to lunch, and while eating, we saw our first lone piece of ice. Over the next hour the amount and size of the ice pieces increased, and then at 1pm it happened; we reached the very edge of the Polar Ice Field. DSC_1924 By now the outside temperature was 26 degrees and we had a light snow and sleet mix. The water temperature was down to 32 degrees. The Captain maneuvered the ship as close to the ice as he could, but noted that because of the very high winds this morning the ice had been broken up and scattered over a large area. We could see large icebergs in the distance, but it was not possible to get up close to them under the conditions.  I was surprised to learn that the ships radar was not much use in locating the edge of the ice. The staff paid more attention to the water temperature in order to tell how close they were to the Polar Field. The colder the water got, the closer we are, and so we had been chasing temperature lines.

In the meeting room on deck 11 they have mounted an exact working replica monitor which shows the main navigation display from the bridge. DSC_1960 I was dumbfounded to see that there was no data displayed above the 80 degree line of latitude. To put it simply, we had run completely off the charts. By my calculation we are at this point around 600 miles from the North Pole, and at a latitude of 80 degrees, 40” North.

The ship has now turned south and will be headed back to a group of islands of which the largest is Spitzbergen. These islands are icebound in winter and literally hang to the top of the world. Tomorrow we will stop and anchor off a small village called Longyerbye, where tenders will take us ashore for a short visit. The ship sails again around 1pm.


Honningsvag, Norway

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Honningsvag: The End Of The Road North

Note: I am writing this on July 19, 2010, even though the ship has no internet. We have been advised that limited internet will return on the 24th, so until then I will continue to write and save these for later transmission. Enjoy!

We finally did it – we have now traveled to the city which claims to be the northernmost city in the world, Honningsvag, Norway. It is a quaint, peaceful and colorful small town with a population of 2,600. DSC_1784 Fishing is the primary industry, although in recent years tourism has become increasingly important in the summer months. Last year over 100 cruise ships visited the harbor, and the city has built its one and only hotel of 500 rooms, open in the summer only to accommodate all of the Europeans who drive north to the end of the highway at the top of the world. In fact, yesterday our bus stopped to talk with a family of six who were just about to complete their bicycle journey from the bottom of Norway to the very top, a trek  of over 3,000 miles.

In spite of its isolation, the city has two grocery stores, a hardware store, two theaters, one gas station, and all in all it is very up to date with cell service all over the island with 3G internet. They also have an airport from which 4 flights per day operate. However when I saw the runway I could not believe how small it was and so I looked it up. It is only 2,887 ft long – not much and yet they operate 19 seat Dash 8’s from here.

If all the dwellings look similar, it is because they are. At the end of the Second World War, as the Germans retreated in advance of the Russian Army, they conducted a “scorched policy” in which they destroyed and burned everything. The only building to survive that period is the old church which was built in 1884. DSC_1806 Immediately after the war, the government was faced with the daunting task of quickly providing shelter for its citizens, and so they held a national contest to solicit designs for simple, functional dwellings that could be quickly constructed. At the end of the contest, 5 designs were selected, and so as the city was rebuilt, you could only build a home using one of the 5 designs. The only way people could show any individuality was the color they choose to paint their homes, and for this reason, even today, all of the homes are painted different and vibrant colors.

When we arrivedDSC_1811 into port at around 10am yesterday, it was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. It was a Sunday, and the streets were empty and the stores closed. Everywhere you looked there were colorful pictures to be had, so Lisa and I could not wait to get off and walk the town. All of the ships tours started very late in the day, around 4pm, because there was already one cruise ship in the harbor ahead of us, and all of the busses were tied up with that ship until the afternoon. By the time everyone had been cleared to go ashore, there was just time for us to grab a quick hamburger before going on our walk, when the Captain came on the PA system. He said that the weather was looking bad for the remainder of the day with strong winds approaching.

Therefore, he was moving our departure time earlier and shortening some of the tours. As we stuffed down our lunch to get going, I looked around and all I could see were clear sunny skies. Who knows?

By the time we got off the ship, which was not long, I could see out to our West a dark line of clouds, but they were far away, so of no concern, or so I thought. Before we could finish our short walk through town up to the old church and return to the ship it had not only turned cloudy, but also cold and a steady rain started falling. Apparently rapid weather changes are the rule in this part of the world.

As far North as we were, there was still one place still farther North that we could reach by land, the North Cape. The North Cape is the northernmost point of Europe. It is located at 71degrees 10’21” North. Standing on the cape you are only 2100km from the North Pole. The 60 minute drive to the Cape took us across some of the most breathtaking scenery I have seen. DSC_1848 There were no trees, just massive hillsides, lakes and valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. There were also reindeer everywhere. In fact, in this part of the world there are more reindeer than people. Sadly, I was not able to get any usable pictures because it was pouring down rain and the fog was moving in.

On our way to the Cape, our busses did make one stop at the home of a Laplander, or as they prefer to be called, the Sami people. The stop was a little cheesy, but interesting none-the-less. DSC_1823 On the left side of the road was a small area where Sami tents were sitting, behind which was a fenced in pen for a few reindeer. An old Sami man was standing there all dressed in his finest and holding a reindeer by a harness, waiting for you to take his picture. Next to all this, of course, was the small souvenir shed. Immediately across the street were two modern homes and a van, which is where the Sami live today. Anyway, it was interesting to learn that the Sami people are a nomadic people who spent their lives following the reindeer on their annual migrations, something they still do to this day. They are not of Norwegian stock. Their DNA shows that they come from Eurasia, and their language is unique in the world. Indeed, after a misguided attempt by the government to insist that all Sami children be taught only Norwegian, their education today is bi-lingual. They have 52 different words to describe reindeer and 34 different words for snow.

Finally we reach the North Cape, where a huge reception center awaits us. The center is literally blasted into the hillside, and while you enter at ground level, the center goes down for three levels into the rock. It has cafes, a souvenir shop, a movie on the Cape, a souvenir shop, a museum about the Second World War, a souvenir shop, and a panoramic window facing the Arctic Ocean; and oh, did I mention the souvenir shop? I tried to go outside to the Cape itself, but only got so far as the edge of the cliff. The winds were howling, the rain coming in sheets and it was cold- so I snapped a couple of half hearted shots and scurried back like a rat into the warmth of the center. DSC_1843

We arrived back at the ship around 7pm, and thus ended an interesting but long day. I learned yesterday that Crystal has been making this once a year trip to the North Cape for many years, and until a few years ago that is where the cruise ended its northward journey. As global warming has changed the environment, it has become possible for the ship to travel even further north. So today we have crossed the 73 degree latitude on our way to a remote island, Bear Island. In the winter, the island and all of the waters north of that are part of the Arctic Ice Pack. But wait, after Bear Island, the ship will go even further North to another island, Spitsbergen and actually stop at the small settlement of Longyearbyen. Then, the ship will go even further north. In fact the goal of this cruise is to reach the edge of the Polar Ice Cap.

However, our Captain just came on to announce that because of global warming it appears that the edge of the Polar Ice Cap is farther North this year than the ship has time to reach. He has been in contact with two ships that are apparently out in front of us and they have discovered a massive iceberg, so we will attempt to at least reach that. Pooh – I had hoped to see the edge of the Polar Ice Cap, but it is still exciting to be this far North – not many people can claim to have been this far North.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trondheim, Norway

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A Warm Day In Trondheim, Norway

Even though the ship has no internet or phone service right now because of our location so far North, I thought I would go ahead and write about our adventures and send them along when we once again come within range of the satellites. Amazingly, my iPad and iPhone both have great signals if I go to the top of the ship. We are 40 miles off the Norwegian coast, and still are receiving good signal strength. I am amazed and certain that this cannot last forever.

Yesterday the ship made port in the Norwegian city of Trondheim. Trondheim lies about a third of the way up the coast and at one time was the ancient capital of Norway. Today it is a modern city with a population of around 180,000. It boasts five universities, and during winter has over 35,000 students in residence. It also has several noted museums, five separate opera houses and enough ambience to charm any casual visitor. It is connected to the rest of the country by an excellent rail, bus and ferry system. The city even has a trolley system that the local residents love.

Without any question, the highlight attraction of the city is the Nidaros Cathedral. DSC_1670 This magnificent structure dates from the 11th Century, with the earliest construction having started around 1070. The Cathedral is described as “the most important, most historic and most impressive ecclesiastical building in Scandinavia.” It is the burial place of the medieval Norwegian kings, and is also the site of the coronation of Haakon VII in 1905, an event that marked the beginning of modern Norway.

Our tour left the ship around 1pm, and first included a drive around the city and up into some of the surrounding hills. The busses stopped and let us off at an old fortress call Kristiansten Fortress. DSC_1582 It was build in the middle ages, but more importantly from the top of this high hill there are wonderful vistas of the city and harbor below. DSC_1589 From here we had to walk for almost two hours, starting with a very steep trek down the hillside, on our way to Nidaros Cathedral. It was a wonderful, sunny day. In fact there was not a single blade of grass that did not have someone sitting on it. The entire city was out to enjoy the unprecedented weather. Parks were full, sidewalk cafes overflowing and a general air of excitement permeated the city. The temperature reached 75 degrees, thus becoming the warmest day of the year. For half of the year the city lives in complete darkness and is buried in snow, so hence the excitement over a nice sunny warm day.

On our walk we got to see local neighborhoods up close. We visited the waterfront, when wooden buildings that are over 800 years old are still standing. DSC_1623 Finally we arrived at the Cathedral, and I must admit that it is quite a sight. We were given around a 30 minute guided tour of the structure, and then had time for a coffee outside before returning to our ship: all in all, a wonderful day in Trondheim.

Today, July 17th is a day at sea. Early this morning we crossed the Arctic Circle at around 66 degrees of North Latitude. The Arctic Circle is the latitude which marks the point north of which on the summer solstice in June, there will be 24 hours of sun, and while on the winter solstice in December there will be 24 hours in which the sun never rises. There is a corresponding line of latitude in the southern hemisphere and it is called the Antarctic Circle. On our journey to Antarctica several years ago we crossed the Antarctic Circle and went as far south as 65 degrees of South Latitude. The Arctic and Antarctic lines of latitude are determined by the tilt of the Earths axis, and are not the same North from South, and they change over time.

So, today we have travelled farther North on the surface of the earth than we ever have, and have now gone further North then we did South on our trip to Antarctica.

We will remain at sea all day today, and at noon tomorrow we will make port in the small city of Honningsvag, Norway. This city of some 3,500 inhabitants lies at the very northern tip of Norway and serves as the gateway to the North Cape Region of the Arctic.

It should be interesting!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Geiranger/Hellesylt, Norway

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Geiranger, Norway: Nothing Stays the Same

Yesterday, July 15th, our ship cruised deep withinDSC_1415 a Norwegian fjord making a short stop at the small village of Hellesylt. DSC_1419 There Lisa got off the ship with a large group who then traveled across the countryside to rejoin the ship and the nearby village of Geiranger. Once the passengers had been let off, our ship then moved deeper into the fjord until it ended at Geiranger.

This was a magnificent setting. The surrounding hillsides towered way above the ship – I would estimate around 5,000 ft. or more, and the fjord itself was narrow – so much so that our ship could barely turn itself around. DSC_1464 Waterfalls were abundant and snow capped the mountain peaks. Once in Geiranger, the ship offered some tours as well as a shuttle to take you into shore where you could walk around.

What was really amazing to me is how much this small out of the way hamlet had changed since I first saw it about 4 years ago. Then our ship was alone in the fjord like some majestic apparition sitting quietly among the towering snow capped mountains. Outside of the people from our ship, the town was quiet with just a few locals around. We were taken ashore on the ship’s shuttles, and we pulled up at a small pier that jutted out from the parking lot.

Yesterday was an entirely different environment. First, there were the ferry boats going back and forth up the fjord about every 15 minutes. They had a brand new ferry dock and the entire shoreline had been built up with souvenir shops. The harbor was full of small boats that had made the journey up the fjord, and tourists were being given rides on large tour boats and giant pontoons fitted with huge engines roaring across the small harbor. Overhead the helicopters were in constant flight giving rides over the mountains, and just to complete the bedlam, there were four ships anchored in the harbor. I really don’t see how we all squeezed into such a small space, but we did. I was feeling a little better, and so I thought I would take the shuttle to shore to see what there was to see. Oh my! Take a very small town and dump say 5,000 people into it and you have bedlam. The charm of the place was completely lost in the melee.

Lisa tells me that it was the same on her day long trip. Previously we were the only tour bus in sight. Lisa tells me that the busses were travelling in lines and that at every stop there were 8 to 12 busses of people.

Cruising is becoming very, very popular all over the world; the downside of this popularity, however, is that in many cases it is changing the very places that it visits. I guess the old saying is true, “nothing ever stays the same.”