Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 45 Gretna Green

We did a long drive today from Colchester in the South East of England to Gretna Green just over the border in Western Scotland.  We stayed at Smith’s Hotel in Gretna Green, which is used for weddings, mainly. 

Day 44 Colchester

Our bedroom at Mike and Gwynn’s looks out over their most beautiful garden.  Gwynn is a keen gardener.  She has a great variety of plants of many different colours.  We went for a walk through Colchester with Mike this morning.  Colchester was a Roman town and the walls are still there.  There are also signs of burnt walls where Boadicea burnt the town.  We visited a pub, which used to be a theatre.  The owners have dummies of  the Queen and other members of the royal family sitting in the boxes and dummies of ordinary people sitting in the balcony, while the downstairs is a pub.  We also saw the Dutch section of the town.  The Dutch were weavers in the town in bygone days.  This afternoon, we went with Mike and Gwynn to Melford Hall in Long Melford.  Queen Elizabeth I visited this grand house in 1578.  There was a tragic fire in this house in 1942.  We saw the beautiful library with its wealth of books and maps, the lounge, dining room and bedrooms, one of which was where Beatrix Potter slept when she came to stay.  She was related to the family.  Some of the toys that feature in her stories are still here as are many of her drawings.  Gwynn and Mike are volunteers here one day a week.  We met one volunteer, Jeremy Lever, who was showing visitors how to do water colour drawings like Beatrix Potter’s.  We bought two of them, one was of Jemia Puddle Duck with Mr Fox and the other was of Mrs Tittlemouse.  We also had a cream tea here in one of the beautiful sitting rooms in the Hall.  I am getting a little too fond of the English cream teas.  Tonight, we met an Italian couple, Luiza and Adriano, who are in England with their students who are learning English.  Luiza teaches English in a secondary school in Italy.  Luiza and Adriano are also staying with Mike and Gwynn who have plenty of room now that their children have all left home.

Day 43 Lavenham

Today, on our way to Colchester to catch up with our friends, Mike and Gwynn Arnott, we stopped for a considerable time in Lavenham.  This was once one of the wealthiest towns in the country, with its famous blue cloth exported across Europe.  It was a weavers’ village from about 1340.  The weavers’ cottages are still there.  Some have been restored, but some of the Tudor buildings are quite crooked now.  This gives the village a certain charm.  The Lavenham church is enormous and we saw a wedding about to take place there.  It was a cold day and even colder on the top of the hill where the church was situated, so you can imagine how the bride and bridesmaids looked in their backless frocks.  After this we drove to Colchester where we had lots of fun catching up with Mike and Gwynn.

Day 42 Cambridge.

Today, we did a walking tour of Cambridge with an excellent guide.  She took us to King’s College Chapel.  King Henry VI, at age 19, laid the foundation stone of  King’s College in 1441.  He had also founded Eton College and hence for many years, students from Eton were the only students admitted to King’s College and they did not have to sit any exams at the end of their time here.  After Henry VI died, the completion of the chapel was made possible through the patronage of Richard III and Henry VIII.  Because of interruptions to the building with the war of the Roses, two different coloured stones can be seen in the outside of the building.  The antechapel, apart from the stained glass windows, has no religious symbols, but rather, the decoration is a tribute to the Tudors with its crowns, roses and portcullises.  The stained glass windows throughout the chapel are truly beautiful.  The upper panes depict scenes from the Old Testament and the lower from comparable scenes of the New Testament.  These windows were lucky to survive the reformation because Cromwell’s men were sent to break all such windows.  It was only that the soldiers were billeted in this chapel and wanted the windows to remain to give them warmth that the windows were not smashed.  We saw Queens’ College named after several queens down through the centuries, including our present Queen, who have all been patrons for this college.  We saw the room in Queens where Christopher Fry lived and the room where Erasmus translated the bible.  The dining room was magnificently decorated in Victorian style.  We watched people punting down the Cam river and we walked along the grassy slopes beside this river.  We saw the Eagle Pub where Watson and Crick first announced that they had discovered the secret of life with their DNA discovery.  Tonight, we went to see Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed in St. John’s College Garden.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable production, but we left at interval because it started to rain.

Day 41 Rochester.

Today we drove to Rochester, another town with no cars allowed in its centre.  I think that Rochester is even quainter than Canterbury.  It oozes history and charm.  We visited the Cathedral, which dates back to 604.  The nave and crypt are of Norman architecture and it has a Romanesque façade.  Some of the other parts of the cathedral are of later Gothic styles.  We saw Rochester Castle where the movie, Iron Clad, was made.  It’s keep which is 28 metres high is the tallest in England.  As a result of a siege by King John in 1215, the castle now has one circular tower and three old square towers.  The King had the south east tower undermined and burnt the props using the fat of forty pigs.  The tower was rebuilt round to better deflect missile attacks and to work against future attempts of undermining. 
The Rochester guild hall was built in 1687 and is one of the finest seventeenth century buildings in Kent.  The museum, which is in this building, was founded in 1897 and is absolutely a must see.  The collections in this museum follow a time line through Medway’s history and are housed in two separate buildings.  We saw the hulls where French, English and American prisoners were kept because there was no room in the prisons on land.  Some of these hulls housed prisoners in appalling conditions while they waited to be deported to New South Wales.  The museum also pays tribute to Charles Dickens who lived in Rochester for the latter part of his life.  Evidence of Dicken’s time in Rochester can be found throughout the city, and many objects he describes in his wrtings, such as the clock, can be found here.  The shops in the High Street bear such Dickensian names as “Sweet Expectations”, “Pips of Rochester” and “The Deaf Cat”.  Evidently, Dickens had a deaf cat who sat beside him while he wrote.  We walked along the esplanade of the Medway river in Rochester and then headed for Cambridge.

Day 40 Canterbury

We arrived in Dover at 6:30 am and were off the ship by 7:30 am. We went back to the Ramada hotel, even though we had great difficulty using the shower.  It was the most complicated shower I have ever seen.  First it was difficult to get the shower, rather than the tap into the bath to work, then to get warm, rather than cold water.  Eventually, after many trials and errors we were not sure how we got it to work but we could not turn the water off.  We told the guy at the desk and he just said someone would turn it off the next day.  So, we closed the bathroom door and let the tap run.  They do not seem to have a water problem over here.  We picked up our hire car and drove to Canterbury for the day.  This is a lovely town where people have to park their cars on the outskirts of the town, and only buses and taxis are allowed in the town proper.  It was graduation day today in Canterbury, so we saw many young graduates in their mortar boards and gowns.  As the graduation ceremony was actually in the Cathedral, we could only see the Cathedral from the outside.  The town was reminiscent  of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Cathedral, with its spires was where Thomas a Beckett was murdered.  We walked around the town, which was a pleasant thing to do since there were no cars to worry about.  We punted down the river Stroud and each time we went under one of the low bridges, we had to lower our heads.  Overhanging this river, we saw the chair that was used in Tudor times to lower nagging wives into the river so that they had to keep their mouths closed.  It was also used for punishment for en who did not provide for their wives and families.  It is evidently the source of the saying “His business has gone down the gurgler”  Pilgrims came to Canterbury in pre reformation times, and we saw much evidence of Dominicans and Franciscans here at that time.  After the reformation, when their lands and buildings had been taken from the monks, the pilgrims stopped coming and money became scarce.  Heugenots, fleeing from France, then came to Canterbury and started up such industries as weaving.  Christopher Marlowe, the dramatist, lived in Canterbury and was baptized in the church here in 1564.  We saw beautiful gardens within Canterbury.

Day 39 At Sea

This was our last day sailing.  Bill had a haircut and I had a massage.  We said goodbye to the people we had met on board, went to a theatrical production on the funny things that happen on a ship by John Maxtone Graham and his wife, Sue.  Evidently, one of John’s children writes for the Simpsons. 

Day 38 Flaam

Today, we reached Flaam in Sognefjord, which is Norway’s deepest and longest fjord at 130 miles long and up to 4291 feet deep.  The fjord reaches almost directly eastward, toward the country’s highest mountain range and its largest glacier, the Jostedal.  The town of Flaam is one terminus of the Flamsbana, a masterpiece of electric railway technology, which took 20 years to build and was completed in 1940.  To avoid an avalanche in this avalanche prone area, the line crisscrosses the river and the valley floor three times, winding its way along the steep terrain and through the mountain.  We took the bus from Flaam to Voss.  Our first stop on this journey was at Gudvangen fjord.  Gudvangen means God’s village and is still the site of pagan rituals from the Viking days.  En route to Voss, we had morning tea at the Stathein Hotel.  Evidently, artists and writers stay at this hotel to have a quiet and beautiful environment to pursue their creative works.  The hotel is nestled in the most spectacular setting overlooking the Nacroy Valley.  This valley is on the UNESCO world heritage list.  We descended from here on our way to Voss on a hairpin, winding road ,which was barely wider than the size of our bus, but the panoramic views made the trip down the mountain worthwhile.  We saw many waterfalls on this section of the trip.
Voss is a quaint little town nestled between two of Norway’s most famous fjords.  It boasts a charming lakeside setting, a petite thirteenth century church and a delightful array of shop and cafes.
After lunch in Voss, we boarded the local train to Myrdal at 866 metres in height and here we changed to the special Flaam railway that I mentioned above.  This tourist train travelled through the most spectacular of all the spectacular scenery that we have seen on this cruise.  It was the best.  The train stopped en route for a photo opportunity of the largest waterfall I have ever seen.  This cruise has been outstanding.  There are not enough superlatives to describe the vistas that we have seen.

Day 37 Alesund

Another beautiful day!  Today, we went to Giske and Godoy Islands.  Alesund is located at the  mouth of the Stor fjord and straddles seven islands with a network of bridges and tunnels that have earned Alesund the nickname of “The Venice of Norway”.  The first sign of active construction in Alesund occurred in the ninth century when the Viking chief, Rolf the Granger built a castle at the mouth of the fjord.  This same Rolf, also known as Rollo, was the bold leader who settled his Norman warriors in that part of northern France that became known as Normandy.  The island of Giske is known for its bronze age burial mounds and its lovely twelfth century marble church.  Rolf was also an ancestor of William the Conqueror.  On Godoy, we saw the lighthouse and the small beach.  Evidently, the beach has sand one year and stones the next.  It had stones when we were there.  The people who run the lighthouse gave us the most superb piece of cake each with a cup of coffee.

Day 36 Geiranger.

This morning we disembarked in the Storfjord, before the ship reached the town of Geiranger.  We tendered ashore to the little town of Hellesylt to begin a most fabulous day with waterfalls, mountains and glaciers.  The Storfjord is very narrow with lofty sides and dramatic vistas.  This area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005.  The peaks and waterfalls around Hellesylt inspired Ibsen to write Brand.  We went by bus from Hellesylt, passing the large lake Hornindalsvatn, to Stryn and then to Olden.  The scenery on this trip was breath taking, and the twon of Olden was just gorgeous.  We walked from Olden to the foot of the Briksdal Glacier.  On this walk we saw where the foot of this glacier reached at different times from the eighteenth century until today.  During all this time, the glacier has receded and progressed and receded.  We also saw many goats grazing.  After our walk, we had lunch in Olden and then travelled to the Jostedal National Park where we saw a movie on the making of glaciers, samples of huge rocks found in glacial areas and samples of the plant life found here.  We then travelled via Lake Strynsvatn to Dalsnibba which is about 2000 metres above sea level.  From here we looked down over the Geiranger fjord to where our ship was anchored, waiting for us.  Today was sunny and very warm.  Most of the Norwegians sat by the lakes, the men with their shirts off, enjoying the sunshine.  We spent time tonight watching the ship sail away through the spectacular scenery of this majestic fjord.  We saw streaming rivulets of water pouring from the top edges of the rocks.  The waterfalls here have names such as ‘The Seven Sisters” and “The Bridal Veil”.   What a marvellous day for the eyes and the soul!

Day 35 Trodheim

Today was a most beautiful, sunny day in Trodheim.  It is the most picturesque town at the end of a large fjord and is considered th spiritual centre of Norway.  It was founded by the Viking King  Olav I in 997 and was then the capital of Norway.  The present Cathedral building was begun in 1070 by King Olav III.  It served as a coronation church during the Middle Ages and even after the Reformation.  Large statues adorn the front of the cathedral.  One of these shows King Olav with the head of a servant who had killed his master at his feet.  Another statue shows a bishop with three heads in his hands.  I think the Viking violence was still around at this time.
Trodheim, with its wooden buildings, has suffered many fires, but in the seventeenth century, Johan Caspar de Cicignon, a French Huguenot refugee, beautifully redesigned the city after the 1681 fire.  He designed wide, gracious avenues to act as fire breaks and built houses that were separated rather than attached as they had been.  One of the most picturesque points of the old city was the arched bridge known as the Gamle Bybro.  From the bridge we could see the old wharves and gabled warehouses on stilts along the water front.  We thought this was more attractive than the UNESCO listed Brygen district of Bergen, but I think the Brygen is older.
We also went to the fort.  There are many canons spread around the grassy top of this fortification.  Within this fortification, we saw cells where the Norwegian resistance fighters were held by the Germans, and we saw the foundations of the stakes that these brave people were tied to when they were shot.

Day 34. Sailing Towards Trodheim

We had a leisurely day at sea with two good lectures, lots of talking and too much eating.  This afternoon I had a pedicure and tonight we listened to Brad Stevens play classical music.  He is so good, I could listen to him all night.  He played lots of Chopin as well as some Strauss and Grieg.  He also played the whole of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  After the show we went out on deck to see the sun, which was still high in the sky at 11:00 pm.  The sky was blue after the grey of earlier today.  I hope this is a good omen for tomorrow’s weather.

Day 33 Heading South towards the Norwegian Mainland.

 Today was a day at sea.  It was quite rough – lots of rolling - as we headed south towards the mainland of Norway.  Today is the last day of 24 hour daylight.  I think that my body clock is completely messed up with the non stop daylight we have had for the last nine days.  We were educated by our two resident speakers and caught up with our photos.  We have been a bit slack with these.  Tonight, our dinner table participated in the Karaoke.  Rob Baxter and Loretto were the stars.  Loretto sings Italian love songs, and Rob likes country and western, particularly, Hank Williams.  It was a fun night.  We then went to a show by Caroline Dennis.  She is a talented pianist who plays jazz.  She liked to take classical pieces and show how they have been jazzed up by composers of the 30’s and 40’s.

Day 32 Ny Alesund

 Today we sailed through the majestic Magdalena fjord.  We had a champagne breakfast in our suite while we watched the fjord, the glacier and the pieces of ice floating in the water.  Many of these pieces of ice were blue in colour because of the oxygen molecules trapped inside.  They are called growlers because when they break up they emit a growling sound.  The captain manoeuvred the boat around in all directions so that passengers on both sides of the ship could get all possible views.  This afternoon we went to Ny Alesund which is only 100 km from the north pole.  Ny Alesund is an arctic research station at approximately 800 North.  The temperature at Ny Alesund on this summer day was 50C.  It was quite strange to see countries such as China, India and Korea all represented doing scientific arctic environmental monitoring and research here.  Norway, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, The Netherlands Italy and France are also part of this international arctic scientific group.
Ny Alesund began as a coal mining town and remained so until 1963.  It is the most northerly settlement in the world.  It is on the island of Spitzbergen which is the largest island in the Svalbard group.  Because Ny Alesund is a scientific research station we had to keep to the defined (unmade) roads.  At one section we were dive bombed by birds protecting their eggs, which were just laid in the rubble at the sides of the roads.  There are no trees here.  The birds were really aggressive.  There were signs telling us not to proceed along certain roads  because of the risk of encountering polar bears.  Evidently, they sometimes come looking for seal meat, which is used to feed the dogs at the research station.  Tonight, we listened to Kathleen Carr from Scotland.  She sang songs from Broadway musicals and played the flute and the piccolo.

Day 31 Sailing North from Tromso

Today we sailed north and the weather has become much colder.  We are heading for a latitude of 800 north.  We kept our eye out for Minke Whales and dolphins which abound in these waters, but had no luck, although some people saw dolphins.  I had an indulgent day being pampered with a head massage, a neck massage, a facial, a hand and arm massage and a foot and leg massage.  It was all very relaxing.  Tonight was a formal night with the usual special dinner after the Captain’s cocktail party for people who have cruised with the Princess line on a prior occasion.  At the party we discovered that a Canadian couple have sailed with Princess for 2000 days.  It makes our 150 days seem quite insignificant.  After dinner we were entertained by the Princess Singers and dancers who performed “Ports of Call”. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 30 Tromso

After the hottest day ever, yesterday in Tromso (300C), we arrived this morning to rain and a chilly 110C.  However, the rain cleared by the time we set off to see what Tromso had to offer.  Tromso is well inside the arctic circle at 700 north latitude.  It is built on a small flat island 6 miles long and was inhabited in 1252, but it suffered a scorched earth policy when the Germans retreated towards the end of World War II and had to be rebuilt.  We visited the Arctic Cathedral, a dramatic church which reminded us somewhat of the Sydney Opera House.  It is made of concrete and glass and resembles an iceberg or a mountain crest.  The interior is lit by a clever combination of indirect window sections and three large chandeliers of Czech crystal.  The one large stained glass window in yellows, oranges and browns is of Christ.  It is quite spectacular.  After this, we took the cable car up the mountain behind the church.  The views were fantastic as we looked over the town, our ship in the fjord and the snow covered mountains.  We finished our tour with a visit to the Tromso museum.  We saw th natural science section and the Sami section and best of all we saw slides of the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights which are produced by the interaction between charged particles from the sun and the earth’s magnetic field.  The green colour is produced by oxygen atoms, the red colour by nitrogen atoms and the blue colour by oxygen molecules.  Tonight we had fun listening first of all to the Rhumba Jazz Duo.  The duo consisted of a male Mexican pianist and a female Mexican singer with the most fantastic voice.  She sang in Spanish, Italian and English.  Her “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” was sung with passion.  After this we went to a show by Brad Stevens.  He played Rag Time music much of it by Scott Joplin.  He interspersed his playing with a history of rag time.  He is an interesting story teller and an excellent pianist, but he cannot sing very well.  He sang about three of his rag time songs which was a pity as this spoilt an otherwise great show.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 29 Honningsvag

This morning, Bill and I walked through the town of Honningsvag and up the hill behind the town.  The Norwegians say that the architecture is boring because the town was rebuilt after World War II, and there were only four styles of houses that the people could choose from.  After the high rise grey apartments of Murmansk, we thought the brightly coloured houses with their grassy back yards were a breath of fresh air.  Today, was the most perfect warm day (evidently, they get two such days a year).  This afternoon, we went by bus through the island of Mageroya where we saw reindeer.  They are a bit like kangaroos in that they have very little road sense and our bus had to stop on more than one occasion while a reindeer crossed the road in slow motion.  They seemed to like standing on the small patches of snow that still remain.  We were taken to the town of Gjesvaer where we boarded a boat for an afternoon of bird watching.  Stappen Island is a bird sanctuary so we saw many birds such as the puffin birds which use their wings to swim and then have to flap their wings vigorously when they want to fly.  There are 800000 puffin birds in this colony.  We also saw white tailed sea eagles with their wing span of almost 3 metres.  We saw cormorants, razorbills, white garnets and black – legged kittiwakes which we call sea gulls in Australia.  The scenery was spectacular.  The fjords are just magical.

Day 28 Murmansk

 Murmansk is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle.  It was only founded in 1916.  Before this time it was largely uninhabited tundra, with occasional migration of Sami people.  These Sami people used to be called Lapps in pre Bolshevik days.  During World War I there was an urgent need for a Russian supply ship port beyond the reach of the German navy.  Russia’s allies, Britain and France needed an ice free seaport for supplies to keep the Czar’s armies alive.  The town was called Romanov – on – Murman.  The term Murman or Nurman probably came from the early Viking or “Norman” explorers who were known to have sailed there a thousand years earlier.  The site was well chosen as the northern part of the Kola Peninsula does not freeze because of the warm Gulf Stream.
During World War II the city was badly bombed when the German and Finnish armies tried to cut off the essential supply line but the Russian defenders of Murmansk were able to hold out.
We had an amazingly warm day of 220C in Murmansk.  Such days are rare and winter temperatures can go as low as -400C.  It was unusual to just be able to wear a T – shirt in the Arctic, even in summer.  The joke here is that summer lasts just one day.  We went to the Kirov Palace of Culture, which is actually their concert hall.  It is a large, quite ugly building as are all the buildings of Murmansk, which were all built in Communist days.  The buildings are mostly grey, although now that people can buy their own apartments, we did see a very few buildings that had been painted.
We saw the Allied World War II Cemetery where British, American, Canadian, Dutch and Polish soldier were buried, some as young as 16 years.  This section was well cared for, but the Russian section looked untended.  The Russians put an iron fence around each grave and the rusty fences made the grave - sites look uncared for.  We also visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas.  The cathedral was very small but well cared for and was a welcome relief from the grey of the rest of the town.  There were people in the church praying and there was a bridal party outside having photographs taken.  The bridal party was also a colour contrast to the majority of the city.  We went to the Museum of Regional Studies.  This building has four floors of exhibits.  We concentrated on the second floor with its natural regional resources together with its natural animals.  On the fourth floor we saw exhibits of the culture of the Sami people.  Last, but not least, we saw Alexi, a 37 metre statue of a Russian soldier.  It was erected in 1974 in memory of the Russian soldiers who protected Murmansk during World War II.

Day 27 Day at Sea

We woke today to see land outside our port side window.  This was most unexpected since we were supposed to be traveling north with only the sea to the port side.  A quick look at the map showing where the ship was, showed that during the night we had changed course.  Later, we discovered that we were heading for Tromso to deliver a seriously ill patient to the hospital.  She had suffered a stroke at about 8.00 pm last night.  At about 10:00 am she was taken off the ship in one of the tenders.  By the time the tender returned to the ship and we set sail again we had lost about five hours.  This means that we will not arrive in Murmansk, tomorrow, until about midday.  Today we attended talks on Murmansk and more talks on the large liners of the sea.  Lenny Windsor who wrote for the Benny Hill show told us stories about Benny Hill.  Evidently, Benny would never spend any money.  He was worth $60000000 when he died and most of his money went to the government.  Lenny was extremely scathing of Ben Elton whom he claimed started untrue rumours about Benny, which resulted in Benny’s TV programme being axed.  Tonight, we rounded North Cape, which is the most northern point in Europe.  I am still getting used to so much daylight.  It is quite unbelievable.  We have just been to a show called “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance”  starring singers James Shaw and Geraldine Atkins and featuring the Ocean Princess dancers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 26 Lofoten Islands

The maelstrom is the strongest of the world’s tidal currents and flows between the islands of the Lofoten group.  The difference in height between low and high tides can be as much as 1.5 metres and at the moment when the current changes, whirlpools begin to appear with speeds of up to 6 knots.  The Lofoten Islands are the western remnants of ancient mountains, which were pulverized by glaciers.  We had a bright sunny day with an arctic wind and this showed off the rugged mountain peaks and the splendid colours. 
The first people to live here were aboriginal hunters and fishermen, drawn by the profusion of fish, birds and marine animals.  Their later descendants grew rich during the Middle Ages providing limitless dried fish for the Hanseatic cities by means of Bergen.  Even today, cod fisheries form the backbone of the local economy.  We went to see a Viking Chieftain’s home site which dated back to 700 AD.  There were three rooms.  One was where the 50 people slept, one was the kitchen where they ate and partied and one was for the animals and slaves.  We had the opportunity to touch and photograph memorabilia from the Viking Period which is now stored in the chieftain’s house.
After this we had a scenic drive to Nusfjord.  On the drive we saw beaches, mountains and houses with grass growing on the roofs to provide insulation.  On one of these roofs we saw several sheep munching away.  This is the Norwegian lawn mower service. 
Nusfjord is UNESCO heritage listed and is one of the oldest and best preserved fishing villages in Norway.  Archaeological finds have confirmed the existence of rorbu cabins (fishermen’s cabins) as early as 400 AD.  The main fish caught here is cod.  Every part of the cod was used.  The blood from the fish was mixed with oil from the fish and became red paint to paint the cabins.  Only the wealthy owner had a white house as white paint was expensive.  The fish were dried on triangular wooden constructions, or salted and left to dry.  Cod liver oil was also made here.  The whole area is most picturesque.

Day 25 Along the Norwegian Coast North of Bergen

We have been told that at 11: 00 pm we will cross into the Arctic Circle and that we will not see the sun set for nine days.  We had a port talk today on the Lofoten Islands.  During World War II these islands off the coast of Norway and inside the Arctic Circle became a remote but significant arena of fighting.  Hitler’s surprise attack on Norway was met by landings of a small force of British, French and Polish troops on the Lofoten Islands on April 14, 1940.  The Germans forced them to withdraw on June 8.  The Norwegian King and Cabinet went with them on their way to setting up a government in exile.  The convoy was hounded by German planes all the way back to Scotland and just barely avoided disaster.  We also had a talk on the Titanic by our maritime historian.  He had actually spoken to a survivor of the Titanic.  His main emphasis was on the ship, The California, which did not lend assistance, and the ship, The Carpathia, which travelled 54 miles to reach the Titanic and render assistance.  Tonight, at 12:00am we saw the sun reach the horizon and then start to rise with a wide band of red and orange along the horizon.  It is very strange having 24 hours daylight.  We did not sleep much.  At 4:00 am I was up taking photos of the dragon back shaped mountains of the Lofoten islands.  The mountains of these islands near the entrance of the fiord look exactly like the back of a dragon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 24 Bergen

 It is the middle of summer and daylight for 23 hours a day, but the maximum temperature today was still only 110C.  We had a bus trip through the city with its quaint red, yellow and white wooden homes.  We walked through a beech forest to visit the Stave Church, which dated from the 12th century.  The church was made with no nails.  There was a main door where the men were allowed to enter, then there was a side door for women and a third side door for the unclean such as lepers and pregnant women.  The church burnt down in 1995 and was rebuilt in exactly the same old style.  After this, we went to the town of Troldhaugen, about a twnty minute bus trip from Bergen.  This was where Edvard Grieg and his wife, Nina lived.  They were both very tiny people and when they walked around people used to call them the trolls.  Troldhaugen means the troll’s hill. Grieg lived from 1843 till 1907.   At Troldhaugen, we saw the house where they lived with its magnificent views of the lake.  We saw the outhouse on the lake where Grieg composed and the cemetery on the property where both Edvard and Grieg are buried in the side of a hill.  The whole property is absolutely beautiful with majestic views and a very tranquil atmosphere.  In the concert hall on the property we had a piano recital of Grieg’s works by Rune Alver.  Rune seemed to be slightly taller than Grieg but was still small of stature.  He also had Grieg’s mass of white unruly hair. Rune played the following of Grieg’s works for us as we looked out through large windows over the lake:
Once Upon a Time, Opus 71 No.1,  Allegro Moderato from Sonata, Opus7, Summer’s Eve, Opus 71 No.2, Small Troll, Opus 71 No.3, In the Hall of the Mountain King, Opus 46 No.1, Album Leaf, Opus 28 No.4 and Halling from the Fairy Hill, Opus 72 No. 4  This afternoon Bill and I walked through the fish markets of Bergen and the Bryggen quarter where two and three storey wooden buildings retain the red and ochre colours of the old warehouses and shops.  Today these buildings are mainly shops and restaurants.

Day 23 En Route to Bergen

 This morning, after a late start, we attended two lectures.  The first was by our port lecturer, Peter Croyle.  It is difficult after such an outstanding port lecturer as Dave on the Dawn Princess for any port lecturer to measure up.  Peter knows the area here around Norway but is a rather dull presenter.  The second lecture was by John Maxtone – Graham.  He lives in New York, but has a cultured English accent.  He is a world renowned maritime historian and a most entertaining speaker with nteresting asides.  He said that all the early steam ships had a dwarf as a member of the crew so that when photographed next to the dwarf, the smoke stacks looked bigger than they really were.  He began today’s talk with “Beware the pox, beware the plague, beware the ides, but most of all beware a man with a box of slides.”  We watched the men’s Wimbledon finals this afternoon.  It was won in 4 by Djokovitch.  Tonight was a formal night and after dinner, we were entertained by the Princess singers and dancers.  They performed cinematique.  We have seen this show before but the two main singers are very good this time.  Most of the dancers and singers on the Ocean Princess are Australians.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 22 Dover to The Ocean Princess

We walked to Tesco’s this morning to buy a belt for Bill.  He can now keep his jeans from falling down and Guy is posting our clothes that we left behind.  We should get them when we return from our cruise.  We got a taxi to the cruise terminal this morning and found it so very easy to board a small ship with only 600 passengers.  There seemed to be more staff than passengers and boarding was completed within 20 minutes.  We did a tour of the ship and while it is a smaller ship than the Dawn Princess, there are many similarities and we felt very much at home.  Most of the passengers seem to have come from USA, but there are a few Canadians, Italians and English.  We are on a table with Americans.  While we seem to be the only Australians on board, many of the dancers and singers are Australians.  We set sail for Norway tonight at 5.00 p.m.  It was still light at 11.00 pm.  We have been given an upgrade and have a minisuite with a one and a half sized balcony.  The room is huge and the bathroom has a bath as well as the usual shower and toilet and basin.  There is so much storage space that we have not used it all.  We have a king size bed, a table and three chairs and a couch and on the balcony there are four chairs and a table.      

Day 21 Paris to Dover

We caught the Eurostar early this morning, and arrived in Dover about 10:00 am.  We were pleased to have an easy day after our hectic few days in Paris.  We watched the men’s semifinals in our hotel room at the Ramada Hotel, and went to dinner at the local English pub.  Tonight, we realized that we have left some of our clothes in the wardrobe at Dawn’s.  The most important item left behind was Bill’s belt.  It is now too cool to wear shorts, but Bill cannot keep his jeans up without the belt and so when we went to dinner tonight he had to keep his hand in his pocket to prevent the pants sliding down.

Day 20 Paris

Our tour today began with Hotel de Ville.  We then walked around Ile St. Louis and Ile de Cite.  We saw Notre Dame and the parish church of St. Louis on Ile St. Louis.  We had a long walk along the Seine, and then went to Galleries Lafayette to buy presents for Dawn and Guy.  We ate out in Paris before returning home for more of Guy’s special French wines and present giving.

Day 19 Paris

We went with Valerie and Tom and Jenny to investigate Paris for the day.  It was great seeing Paris through Jenny’s eyes as she has never been to this fantastic city before.  She ended up taking 450 pictures of it.  Dawn gave us a tour of St. Germaine en Laye on the way to the station.  The Palace of Henry IV is here as are many extremely large houses where the wealthy Parisians live.  In Paris we went to Mount Martre and saw Sacre Coeur and the artists working in this area.  We had lunch in a small café and watched the street theatre while we dined.  We then went to see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triomphe.  After this we walked down the Champs Elysee.  We really are in Paris.  Home for dinner with Dawn and Guy and lots more talk till very late.

Day 18 Athens to Paris

How lucky can you be! We woke today to hear that the ferries are all on strike.  Just as well we returned to Athens yesterday.  Then there was the possibility of the air traffic controllers going on strike today, but we managed to fly out to Paris with only one hour’s delay.  The monetary situation in Greece is very grim.  We arrived at Dawn and Guy’s in Paris to find Jenny Lewin had already arrived this morning.  We are staying in their five bedroom house, with its beautiful garden and its antique French furniture.  There has been much catch up talk.  It is wonderful to have three girls from our Senior class all together again.  You start to think that you are 18 once more.  We ate dinner in the back garden and found that it was still light at 10:00 pm.

Day 17 Santorini to Athens

Today we did more walking around Fira and did some shopping.  We had lunch at restaurant Firostefani, which overlooks the Caldera.  We had a fun Greek waiter who couldn’t do enough for us.  Later we took the hydrofoil back to Pireus, the trip taking 4 hours.  We were picked up in Pireus and taken to Athens by the same driver who had driven us around Athens before we went to the islands.  I felt very sorry for him.  He told us that the day before, he had picked up some Dutch tourists from the airport.  They told him that because of Greece’s economic problems, they, the Dutch were paying his salary and when he pointed out the Acropolis to them, they said they were surprised that there was not a “For Sale” sign on it.  He said he felt so humiliated.  We had a late dinner in the Plaka, then back to the Athenium Callihoe hotel for a welcome sleep.

Day 16 Santorini

Santorini has only 500 Catholics as most of the population is Greek Orthodox.  After Mass at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Santorini, we walked around the cobble stone streets of Fira.  We decided to catch a bus to Perissa but had 50 minutes to fill in before the bus left so we went to the closest restaurant, called by the friendly name of “Mama’s”.  All we wanted was a coffee in this charming outdoor setting.  Mama spoke perfect English with a country Australian accent.  She must have been to the same charm school as the employees at the Meningee Bakery that the four of us encountered in South Australia.  Mama greeted us with how she hates the wind and how it is always windy on Santorini.  We ordered four iced coffees and Valerie ordered a baklava.  Mama was not happy with our order.  She told us that this was not a café but a restaurant.  Most of the tables were empty.  We said that we had already eaten and were just waiting for the bus to which she replied, “that’s not my problem but now that you are sitting down I will serve you”.  She came with hot coffee in a pot.  We said that we had ordered iced coffee.  Her response was “Well, you will just have to wait for that.”  She then brought the baklava with four forks with the comment, “I’ll give this to the women to divide because I don’t trust men.”  While we were drinking our coffee and contemplating whether we fell into the category of customers and hence had the right to use the toilets which had a large sign proclaiming that they were for the use of customers only with the only underlined, she returned to tell us that she only had one son and that a Perth girl had taken her son away from her to Perth.  She said she had told her daughter in law that she would kill her when she had finished producing the grand children.  Eventually, we made our escape thanking God that she was not our mother in law.  We took the bus to Perissa, which is a black sand beach on the other side of the island.  Many of the locals got off the bus here to swim, but it was very windy on this flat side of the island and the black stone beach was not appealing, so we returned to Fira.  Today was very windy.  Evidently, it is often windy on Santorini and so the vines are cut so that they grow close to the ground and are thus less affected by the wind.  Our hotel is actually a 20 minute walk uphill from Fira in a town called Firostefano, which is just beautiful.   The wind persisted throughout the day so we had drinks tonight in our living room.  Valerie thought she was the Madonna or maybe Saint Irene after whom Santorini was named.  She sat in one of Betty and Barney’s niches to be photographed.  After this we had a superb dinner at Vanilia Restaurant, which was originally an old bakery.  Vanilia is the Greek word for Bouganvillia and this flower grew all around the door of the restaurant.