King Cod or How the Stockfish fed the world.

This morning we awoke in Trondheim (south bound this time). Bypassing the breakfast buffet for the first time in two weeks, we walked thirty minutes into town to find a coffee.

The cathedral where the royalty are crowned or these days, blessed by the church, is located here. We saw it on tour with Judit going north, but we sought points of interest we missed the first time: The Statue of St. Michael atop the cathedral which in itself is impressive, but better still, the sculptor was a child of the 60’s and the face on the Angel St. Michael is none other than that of a youthful Bob Dylan.

The other sculpture we never found was a gargoyle of the stone mason preparing to set the last stone. Legend has it that if the Cathedral is ever completed, a mighty wave will crash into the city and destroy the Cathedral, so to avoid this catastrophe, the stone mason never finishes his job. I had to buy a post cards to find the image, and Bob Dylan’s face too!

Last night we watched the “midnight sun” for the last time with Judit, talking, drinking some wine. Life is the same everywhere as we leave the business of touring and head back to our day to day lives in Dallas and Budapest. She knows the Dallas theme song by heart and starts to sing it every time we mention “Dallas.”

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Julie and Judit enjoying our last Midnight Sunset.

Long after “sunset” we met Adi. She works for the Norwegian government. She was headed back to work after a few days with family and friends. She did not take a cabin and was prepared to pass the time overnight on the 5th Deck Fantail ‘Veranda.’ Her English was impeccable as she studied for a time at Berkley, California. She works with citizens who need government assistance for a variety of reasons. She shared her wine with us. It was a bottle she brought on board with us, and she explained that Norwegians shake their heads at tourists who spend unconscionable amounts of money on food and drink aboard these ships. Based on our consumption, it is safe to bet that we will see at least a 30% incidentals charges over and above the tips and base cost of the trip. But, it’s foreign money and after a couple of Aquavit, it is not worth the trouble to back into the math to figure out how expensive those shots were.

Our fantail friend was interested in our experience and I was able to explain my two favorite moments were the Midnight Cathedral Concert at the Arctic Cathedral, and the visit with Sami Culture Experience with the Utsi family. So taken were we with the experience that we purchased Reindeer hides.

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Ailu demonstrates a reindeer coat warm enough to sleep in the deepest part of winter–outside!

They are soft and cozy and keep you warm even on the coldest of Arctic Circle evenings (even though we only experienced the “cold” of “deep summer.” ) She admitted that things in Norway like everywhere else were slow to change, quick to criticize and stuck in ways that perpetuated the problems in the first place.

We told her about our visit to the Eider Ducks on the Vega Island World Heritage UNESCO site. It was a marvelous experience and one every person should have. The ducks provide a unique down that has amazing thermal qualities. The female ducks begin to molt after they lay their third of four or six eggs.

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Julie with Eider duck down. Note the woman in the photo behind Julie and the size and color of the duck eggs.

After the chicks are out of the nest, the humans harvest the down, clean it and use it for cold weather clothing, pillows and comforters. It is intensely expensive, but the quality is like none other. The great thing about it all is that the ducks have learned over the centuries that the humans will protect them from predators. So the symbiotic relationship between the humans and the ducks has been cultivated over centuries. Of course mankind has screwed up the relationship with oil tanker spills, the introduction of predatory minks and other unfortunate occurrences, including a government program to move people off of the islands and into centers of population that allow for a lower cost per capita of public utilities. The ducks and humans have to rebuild the relationship developed over centuries.  The information center is very good and we enjoyed our time there, learning about Eider Ducks and how man and nature can work together for the benefit of all. There are about three thousand islands in the Archipelago that is protected. Most are small, but many are large enough to support agriculture and live stock. The cattle and other mammals apparently, have learned to swim from island to island in order to find forage. It must be an amazing site!

As to other things and thoughts. . . I think over all, the fastidious nature with which their bathrooms are kept has been a striking feature of this country.  Even in remote areas they are as clean as if waiting for royal guests.

We have found English to be the second language of everyone we have dealt with, and it is usually one of a half dozen languages our service providers speak. It is quite impressive.

By this time just about all that can be said has been said, and all that can be done has been done. New friendships have been made, old ones renewed and reinforced. The old cliché that we need a vacation to recover from our holiday has never felt more true.

The midnight sun, the never ending sunlight does indeed confuse the body and mind. The body nears exhaustion from the twenty four hour sun, the body feels bloated from the never ending buffet meals, the body aches for sleep.

But the eyes see the sunset, and the colors are eye candy and you can feel the nerve endings popping to life in your eyeballs as the prism of purples and oranges paint the horizon, and the eyes won’t close. They see the mountains that rival the Alps, the Southern Alps of New Zealand and the Sierra and Rocky Mountains of North America and they won’t close. They see the crystal clear water, the kind of water one sees in the fjords of New Zealand or off the shore of Saba in the Caribbean or on the Sabinal River at Utopia, Texas and they won’t close.

The mind and spirit keep telling the body: stay awake! You won’t see this again! And you search the bar for an Aquavit from Trondheim because it has the kindest herbs and softest heat. It tastes good on the tongue and feels good in the belly. You can feel it course through the capillaries in your brain and the body aches dissipate, the fatigue evaporates, and the smell of the ocean and the brace of the stiff wind makes time cease.

Too many times on this adventure, the clock and only the clock has dictated sleep. It is a strange experience to walk the halls and public spaces on a ship carrying 750 souls and to be the only one awake. Well, you and the bartender.  People sleep in chairs on the decks and in the public gathering places. They are hard naps, because they will eventually awake, and trundle off to their cabins only to stare at the back of their eyelids until raw fatigue takes over.

You get used to the rhythms of the ship and of the ocean. Feeding times are like cattle to the corral, and you will get run over by walkers, canes and grand old dames if you are slow or not vigilant to the buffet and salad bar. And keep your hands and fingers close by at the desert bar. Holy Cow! These people love their sweets. They add a candied strawberry to their mountains of cream, mousse, cakes, puddings and custards claiming “I need my fruit.”

We have three or four kinds of fish at every meal, yes even breakfast. Most of the people on our tour will probably take it easy on their fish consumption for a few days after they get back home. The preferred way to prepare it seems to be poaching. Of course I prefer mine steamed paper wrapped in foil with lemon and dill, salt and pepper. The most appreciated meals have been the feast of the sea buffet, which we had once, and the veal and reindeer steaks. The gravy sauce was really tasty, aside from that the food over all has been quite edible, and there is something for everyone here. But loving fish really helps.

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Stockfish: The Gold of Norway

Exiting the ship is about the same. Everyone is loaded down with luggage, packs, children, strollers, canes, walkers, wheel chairs and “whispers” the tour guide amplification item that allows Judit to speak in a normal tone as we walk and we can all hear. The Ricky Bobby syndrome seems to kick in: If you’re not first, you’re last. They must be thinking if they are not the first off the boat they will miss something. There is an admirable gentleman aboard that walks with two canes and each step he takes is about half the length of his shoe. It takes him quite a while to navigate the hallway, the gangway, well everywhere. So if you’re in his group, you have an extra five to ten minutes to get on your bus. I get the impression he is a World War II veteran, so I’m confident the boat will not leave without him. Keep him in sight and you won’t miss the boat.

The vibrations of the ship are also tell tale signs of approaching ports. The engines seem to “gear down” as we get close and the boat rumbles in this “gear” or mode. Also, it sounds like the ship has docking water jets or props of some kind because right under our starboard side windows it sounds like we are pushing ourselves to the dock—there are no tug boats. I have not figured that out yet and will have to ask an officer.

You can tell the new people on board because they come out on deck wrapped up in their cold weather gear. The stand around and leave because it is too cold. Having just spent a week at or above the Arctic Circle, I’m sitting out on the fantail in my t-shirt (though sitting on my reindeer hide, for comfort and now that the sun has dipped behind some clouds, the air temperature has dropped ten degrees.) If you think it is refreshing, it is refreshing. If you think it is cold, it is cold.

There were times when I was wishing for a day of nothing to do; no seating time for dinner, no walks through a village, no excursions, no have to be’s, need to be’s, should be’s or gonna be’s. Reading a book, or even typing these thoughts seems sacrilegious “sailing” through fjords, past the mountains, farms, LNG plants, tankers, wind farms, salmon farms, ships, tugs, trawlers, sail boats, motor boats, the occasional kayaker, suspension bridge, desolate island or purposeful ferry.  The orca sighting was one such moment with only two or three of us on the deck after midnight, but at dusky twilight, we first heard, then saw the teenage orca swimming along side the Richard With. Julie and I have video of the event and she has shared hers with the crew, which they were thankful to receive.

We took a group picture and received our final day of instruction from Judit. We learned about procedures for departure from the ship and from the Clarion Hotel in Bergen. We will depart the hotel at 6 a.m. to catch the 9:20 a.m. flight to Stockholm. From there we fly to Chicago. I don’t recall clearing customs in Chicago before, but surely I have coming home on United from Hong Kong long ago. Then we cool our heels in Chicago for a 1:30 a.m. arrival in Dallas on Monday morning.  See what I mean? We will need a vacation to recover from our holiday. Cruising with a tour group is hard work, if you are going to get the most out of it. Now, where’s my Aquavit?

A ship of Fools?

One last funny:

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“Oh look, bob, look how those roots look like fingers!” “Uh huh, mmmyeah.”
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Midnight Yoik

A Yoik is a Sami song. It can be about anything. It was thought to be improper, even scandalous, to perform or utter such a thing in Norway until the 1980’s. To an educated American, the Sami Yoik is reminiscent of Native American incantations. They are not as long, and they can be sung sweetly or with vigor, depending on the topic.

At midnight last night in Tromsø, at the Arctic Cathedral, a musical trio entertained us for almost an hour. They were cello: Georgy Iideykin;  piano/organ: Robert Frantzen and soprano: Gro-Anita Gyring Skog.

The acoustics in the sanctuary were as advertised: pristine in clarity, ambiance and reverb. However, it was the performance of the trio and the songs they selected to perform which stole the entire trip for me.

The program was thusly (and I’m providing this so you can poke around on the internet to find versions of the tunes and/or recordings by these artists and composers — it’s the least I can do!):

Gaskaijabeaivi / Midnight Sun (Instrumental piece based on Sami Yoik)  by Øyvind Bakery Moe and Robert Frantzen

Wedding Song (from Sørfold) a Norwegian Folk Tune

Norwegian Sunset (from the movie “Flåklypa Grand Prix”) by Bent Fabricius-Bjerre

Neslandskyrkja (Norwegian Folk Tune) Text: Magnus B. Landstad

My Little Daughter (Instrumental Piece) Robert Frantzen

Solveig’s Song (Norwegian romantic song) Halfdan Kjerulf Text: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Prelude Cello Suite No. 1 in G Maj J. S. Bach

Ingrids Vise (Norwegian Romantic Song) Halfdan Kjerulf Text: Bjørnstjerne Bjornson

Fjellsti / Mountain Trail Piano Piece  Robert Frantzen

Har du Fyr North-Norwegian Song Ola Bremnes

Touristjoik Instrumental Piece based on Sami Yoik Johannes Mahtte Skum

Wedding March Norwegian Wedding March Jan Magne Førde

As you can see, two of the songs they performed were adaptations of Sami Yoik. There were several adaptations and original compositions by Robert Frantzen which were delightful in every way. We were treated to two Norwegian Folk tunes described as wedding songs or wedding marches.

To my ear it was Norway meets Bill Whelan (River Dance) style twists and turns of harmony and key changes around solid, dynamic, engaging melodies.  Sprinkled in for just the right gut wrenching, heart warming sweetness that exceeded even the most stunning of sights I have seen so far. As grand as God’s Great Earth is, His greatest creation in my humble opinion is the ingenuity, symbiosis and perfection of the concert we heard last night.

In the middle of the program Cellist Georgy Iideykin played a moving and finessed inspiring performance of Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.

Pianist Robert Frantzen also played the grand organ in the sanctuary (they call it the Polar Cathedral but in reality is the parish church). Frantzen’s playing was all of the best parts of Jim Brickman, Billy Joel and Herbie Hancock or Dave Brubeck sometimes all in the same song. His original compositions of Fjellsti/ Mountain Trail and My Little Daughter were truly inspired.

Soprano Gro-Anita Gyring Skog sang to the room as if she owned it. Several times she had to initiate a song with no pitch reference from the piano or cello.  Upon their entry to the piece the piano and cello came together as if pulled along on a single golden thread of holiness. It really moved me that much.

But that is where my head and my heart truly are. As I have shared with my priest friends: “You can give the greatest sermon of your life and not a word will be remembered if the organist blows the next hymn.” They have all agreed. To wit: if the concert would have turned out differently, it would be all that I could think about—forgetting the grandeur of the scenery of this trip so far. However, since the concert was marvelous in every positive way possible, it enhances the beauty of the entire trip and adds a dimension of greatness that overrides any blemish on the rest of the experience.

As photos and video of the event were forbidden, I can only share images of the outside of the venue.

The reason we have to get out of our echo chambers is to have the experience of something greater than ourselves. The Norwegian coast line, the beauty of it inspires the spirit and invigorates the soul. People from around the world come to share in-require that we all get along-even as we push and shove our way into the front of the buffet line (as if they will run out of food?), into the gangway as we exit the ship (as if the bus will leave without them?) on the the railing of the ship to get the best shot (who do they work for, National Geographic?) at the bar (they won’t run out of alcohol either).

So, as my brain works, I begin with last things first and work backwards into the blog. This morning we crossed the Arctic Circle, this time going south. The crew arranged for us to have a  traditional spoonful of Tran (pronounced: trahn) with a commemorative spoon!

Tran is an Omega-3 concoction that tasted to me like ripe olive oil. Others, you would have thought they were being forced to take a spoonful of skunk spray.

As with all cruises, or so I have been told by cruise veterans, everything else is for sale, and the congratulatory sparkling wine to wash down the Tran was no different. 99NOK for a flute of sparkling wine. It will feel like Monopoly money until we get our Chase bill, and then we will work hard to remember how much we enjoyed the experience as we eat rice and beans for the rest of the year to pay for our Tran wash. (Sweaters, caps, wine package and gifts!)

The trip has been peppered with walks, talks and bus rides. Judit has arranged for some very pleasant and informative side trips. We visited a farm-turned-event space and golf course. There was commentary floating around the bus about “couldn’t make it as a farmer,” but it all comes down to economics and preferences.

Apparently the new generation prefers being in the hotel/resort and restaurant business than farming—I suspect they can can earn income year round with a guest services business model, rather than trying to make their whole year in four months of sunlight.

And there were dozens of stops, trips, places, people, things, sights, sounds, smell, baa, baa baa, and we have discovered: It’s a Cod’s World After All.  “For the love of Cod, quit it with the Cod puns will ya?”

Sami

One of the highlights of the trip so far was our trip to visit a Sami Family The Utsi Family: Husband, Ailu, Wife Ellinor, M.D., Daughter, Sara Marja.

The family was similar in age to our own.

The Sami are nomadic folk who have lived north of the Arctic Circle for centuries, if not dozens of centuries. They have their own unique culture, language and religious beliefs anchored around nature. Their population varies by country, and they honor no international boundaries. Forty thousand Sami live in Norway, ten thousand live in Sweden, five thousand in Finland, three thousand in Russia.

Sara Marja and Ross
Sárá Marja and Ross . Photo by Julie Vick

Sami are nomadic people who follow the reindeer herds much like the American Oglala Sioux and Comanche followed the buffalo the north/south axis of the continental United States.

Their music and instrumentation are similar to the Native Americans; they rely on the reindeer in the same way their American cousins depended on the buffalo. Today they live a modern lifestyle but hold tight to their language, dialects and their old ways. Also, like their American cousins they have been subject to caucasian prejudice and injustices. Until the 1980’s, it was forbidden by law to practice Sami religion and to “worship” with a Shaman was punishable by prison or death. All the Shaman drums were destroyed by the state. The fight for human rights has prevailed legally, but socially they are still outcast by a majority of Norwegians.

We found they looked very American, very “melting pot” in their physical appearance, only their ceremonial clothing identified them as something other than of northern European descent, which of course they are!

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Sára Marja explains her culture.

Another highlight of the trip was visiting the top of the European continent at North Cape. Technically there is a spit of land a kilometer or so farther north, but the visitors center represents the top of Europe.

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Julie Vick at North Cape, Norway.

It is a favorite destination and the place was crawling with tourists, jostling for “the shot” at the monument celebrating the proximity to the North Pole. Such crowding sometimes leads to unique photography opportunities!

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The North Pole is that way.
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At the North Cape Monument: four birds in a cage: Ginna, Julie, bob and Ross
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Ginna Mashburn on top of the World!

We also visited the village of Honningsvåg, a mere 1311 miles from the north pole. To put that in perspective, it is about the same distance from Dallas, Texas to Charleston, South Carolina, or from New York to Kansas City or from San Diego, California to Seattle, Washington.

After the venture past the Arctic Circle and to the Northern-est part of Europe, for the benefit of bob Mashburn, Ginna was presented a trophy for the occasion while Julie looked on. It was a proud moment for the entire family. We were only sorry bob was taking a nap and missed the whole thing.

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Ginna is awarded the Arctic Circle Trophy aboard the MS Richard With, by our tour guide Judit Garzo. Julie looks pridefully on.
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Julie in the light near Honnigsvåg, Norway.

We awoke in Hammerfest the world’s farthest north town. So there is some idea about what is a town, what is a village and which is which and where is where.

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Northern most town?

The thing that has surprised me the most so far is that the weather for seven days has held sunshine. Most days have been nearly cloudless.

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Polar Sky
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The South Pole is that way.

There have been many fun and funny moments this first half of the trip. Ginna got on a Cod roll and inspired days of hilarity, my favorite being the recasting of operas and musicals specific to our trip as inspired by Ginna and bob in a late night text, which featured  the irrepressible Norwegian National Play:

Waiting for Codot.

To which Julie responded with the aid of an Aquavit inspired spouse:

The Norwegian National Opera:

Codsucker.

The response: OMC!

To wit: Oh My Cod!

Followed By:

Cod Almighty!

 

 

Followed by the Broadway Musical:

CodSmell.

Featuring the hit song: Bay by Bay.

The Hymn and prayer: Praise Cod from whom all blessings flow. . . quickly followed.

Loaded Cod racks smell like week old carrion on the side of a small East Texas farm to market road in late August. When it finishes “curing” after about six months–three outside, three inside,  it is hard as a two by four and still stinks like dead ass. They call it Stockfish. It is considered a delicacy in Portugal, Spain and Italy. Norway’s economy was built on this produce. They shipped loads of it to Africa to help the starving people there and when it arrived, they didn’t know what to do with it, so they used it for shingles for their new homes. Which worked great. Until the monsoon rains began and the Stockfish turned back into carrion.

Another glorious moment was when we passed by the wind and water sculpture in the distance in the middle photograph below, called The Church and The Chapel.

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The Church and the Chapel

Legend has it that the ancient people thought this marvelous freak of nature was a “thin place” and they would hold ceremonies and offer sacrifices of meals uneaten to the spirits of their ancestors. As we sailed past this incredible scene, the railing is packed with photo-careerists who believe their space on the rail is their space on the rail, and few are willing to take their shot and move out of the way so others can see it too. We walked quickly to a different deck looking for a “clear shot.” Obviously I could not find it and had to settle for the distant shot you see. We came upon Ginna soaking up the scene and all of its grandeur, and she leaned in to Julie and said: “I just love ruins.”

We visited the Norwegian and Russian border crossing today near the town of Kirkenes. There was not much to see, but those of us groomed in the Cold War it was still an interesting experience.

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Julie and Ross contemplating a dash across No Man’s Land

The town of Kirkenes was razed by the Nazis as they retreated from the advancing Russians in the winter of 1944. The people of the town had to retire to the iron ore mines near by and live there until their town could be rebuilt. The Russians were very helpful in this activity.

Norway and Russia have never been at war and in the Finnmark area of their countries, there is as much cooperation as the federal governments will allow, and even more under the table when they won’t. Kirkenes was the final destination on our journey and we have now begun the long leg back home. We will visit the same ports on the south bound journey as we did going north-just arriving and departing at different hours. We will pick up new passengers, freight and mail.

Northern Most

Six AM. I finally got what felt like a full night’s sleep which for me is about six or so hours. I left Julie sleeping hard and I am hoping my showering and dressing didn’t wake her up. (post script: it didn’t) Our cabin is on level three, which is the main egress point for the ship. I walked up one flight to the fourth level where the main dining area and our meeting rooms are located, and that’s where I am presently.

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A public space on the Richard With.

What woke me up was the thrusters the ship uses to nestle into its docking station. This morning we pulled into Hammerfest at about 5:10 a.m., and that’s when I awoke. Now, the sign says Hammerfest is the world’s farthest north town, but my map shows that we have three more stops farther north that Hammerfest. However. As we now glide out of the harbor, we are passing an enormous ship that transports liquid natural gas and an LNG plant. For the first time on our trip I saw a water puddle that was crusted, dusted really, with ice, so here we are, well within the Arctic Circle.

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Hammerfest, the northern most town in Europe.

Yesterday we visited Tromsø, “the Paris of the North” a sobriquet earned by the women here who apparently stay ahead of fashions further south. Julie said this is one of the locations she would like to return to see the alpine botanical garden.  It is very picturesque. The wind blows cold and hard in these parts and the ladies are prone to wearing their hair in braids or other easy to manage styles.

We visited the Polar Maritime and Exploration Museum in Tromsø. It is located in one of the oldest buildings standing in town. Man’s quest for adventure and discovery is never without pain and tragedy. Because Tromsø is the largest city this close to the North Pole, it was the jumping off point for many, if not most, polar expeditions between 1880 and 1914. Roald Amundsen, the most famous, perhaps, of modern Norwegian explorers died in a search and rescue effort to find his pilot colleague who had gone missing in a lighter than air craft. Amundsen’s antiquated open cockpit sea plane also went missing. A modified fuel tank washed ashore from the aircraft indicating that there were survivors of a mishap and they were attempting to hand craft a solution to their problem: a non-floating float plane.

 

The other tragic story associated with Tromsø comes from World War II. While the German high command, i.e. their furher, was busy building battleships, pocket battleships, cruisers and UBoats, he completely ignored aircraft carriers, a decision which could have played even more havoc on the convoy systems across the Atlantic. So, the pride of the German navy was the Bismarck, but the Tirpitz, her sister ship, was actually by tonnage, a larger vessel. The sad reality was that the Tirpitz for all of its technology and state of the art construction, was relegated to a few sorties. But the psychological effect of the Tirpitz on the war was interesting. Churchill (as former head of the British navy department—The Admiralty) was obsessed with destroying anything that rivaled the British domination of the high seas. And the German high command behaved as though the German navy (except for the UBoats) was an albatross around their necks.

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Final resting place for the Tirpitz at Tromsø, Norway.

The British doggedly pursued the Tirpitz from the Baltic Sea to the North Atlantic. The Tirpitz captain and crew knew that they were basically on their own, to act as a raider alone to find fuel for the boilers and food for the crew. They sought refuge in the fjords of Norway, and assumed because of Norway’s occupied status that they would get a respite. It didn’t quite turn out that way, and after several attempts by British mini-submaries to sink her with torpedoes, the Tirpitz took refuge in the waters at Tromsø. There were no ship repair facilities in Norway robust enough to repair the damage the torpedoes had done, and it would be impossible to make a run to any friendly ports with such abilities, so the Tirpitz became a floating fortress. Her eight 15 inch guns and dozens of other smaller caliber’s made her a formidable sight anchored off shore, but in reality a paper tiger.  The RAF attacked her with “tallboy” bombs, enormous things capable of fatal damage. Two tallboys struck her directly and a third was a near miss that did crippling work. The battleship sunk in 11 minutes, taking much of her 1200 man crew with her. She capsized and several dozen mentrapped in the hull were rescued after a few days. One presumes blow torches were able to cut through the steel and save the men.

The mix of old and new in Tromsø is especially evident in the churches there.  Several “small” wooden churches that because of their location and function and are home to a bishop make them “Cathedrals.” Whereas the largest religious structure in the city is a spectacular contemporary sanctuary that is but a parish church.

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Earlier we stopped at Finnsnes and took in some sites there.

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Our stop was abbreviated as the ship was a tad behind schedule. Each town and village we stop in is unique in some way, but looks much the same as the last and the next. Fishing and Oil with a sugar coating of Tourism are the industries that provide the economic impetus needed to keep the towns and villages up and running.

We met some new friends from Australia, John and Elaine McKirdy. As always, any time I meet anyone from Australia I ask if they know of Brian Cadd, always a good ice breaker. (No pun intended).

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Elaine, John, Martha and Joe: New Friends on the Richard With.

John and I got acquainted on a visit to the Trollstigen when he was asking passersby if he could help them with their selfies. Julie of course said yes! Please! So, he took a photo for us. Then as asked, If we could return the favor to which I quickly said No! and turned to walk away—joking of course—to which he took mock offense and offered to toss Julie’s iPhone over the ledge and into the abyss some thousand meters below. Isn’t that how all good friendships begin? We began passing one another on the trail, and again on the ship and each time we greeted each other with a comment about the cameras. He is quite a gifted photographer and has shared several images with me.

The interesting news in the “small world” category is that John and Elaine lived in Lake Jackson, Texas for many years. When I told him I was “born there” (Freeport, actually as Lake Jackson had no hospital) we became old friends. John is an engineer and was working for Dow Chemical. He also lived in Michigan at the Dow home office there.

The McKirdys left the ship to visit the Svalbard Islands in quest of wildlife, fish and fowl. It looks like the end of the earth and quite nearly is.

We started the day with a ceremony in where the King of the Sea “baptizes” or initiates new comers to the Arctic Ocean with a ladle of ice water down the back of one’s shirt—in the cold, breezy environs of the Arctic Circle.

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Julie gets initiated! Welcome to the Arctic Circle. Photo by John McKirdy.

Land of the Midnight Sun

Norwegian Sun!

As always happens, part of the interest, intrigue, and color of a cruise or travel, is getting to meet new people. Just like my third grade home room class, our group has the usual mixture of quiet-mysterious types, the don’t-quite-get-it types, the butterfly-chasing-daisy-picking types, the know-it-all-and-share-it-all types, the-commentator types, the moaners, the groaners, the loners, the drinkers, the thinkers and the stinkers; people you’d like to get to know better and the ones you are delighted to leave behind. The marvel is how our tour guide, teacher and home room mother, Judit, handles us all like the kindergarteners we have all become, thrust into the new group dynamic, with patience and good humor.

And then you meet Joe at the bar, who buys you a Aquavit so that we can stay up another 15 minutes and watch the sunset at 12:30AM. You’ve been married 35 years, he’s been married 35 years. He’s trying to figure out retirement, you’re trying to do the same. His daughter is Taylor, yours is too. The world is so small. And we are all just travelers on the journey.

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But first things first: Today we crossed the Arctic Circle, me for the first time. They sold us a glass of champagne to celebrate at 7AM. There is a contest to see who could guess the time that we crossed the line: my guess was 7:11:11. We crossed at about 7:15, but the official results will be told tomorrow.

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We were given a demonstration as how to extract the dried flesh from a StockFish: Dried Cod. You can drive nails with a dried cod. Therefore the fishmonger basically attacked the yard long fish with the back end of an axe until it was soft enough for him to bend over the side of the log. After he split it open he offered nibbles to the people.

The great irony of this is that our next port of call, a large town of many thousand, Bodø (pronounced Buda) is as temperate as any place we have visited. In calm air it is delightfully cool. In the wind it is cold: jacket required. Of course one of my favorite tidbits about the location is that it turns out, it was Gary Power’s intended destination when his U2 was shot down over the USSR. There is an air base with large covered bunker revetments along the runway, and is Nato’s farthest north military installation (that we know about).

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I then became interested in the fate of the battleship Tirpitz, a German warship that was demolished at one of our next ports of call. It was a manufacturing wonder of a century past that succumbed to air power in the waning years of the war.  More on that later.

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Today was dominated by our first day of the trip of “The Midnight Sun.” We are far enough north now that the sun doesn’t set, and were it not for the mountains blocking our view we would be able to see some sliver of the sun on the horizon. To wit: close the windows; go to sleep. But how can you in this new experience? But you must. And I will. Enjoy the photographs! And thanks Joe, for the camaraderie, and the Aquavit!

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Norwegian Wind

Today we are getting close to the Arctic Circle. Other map shots are included below to give you a reference to North America to show where we are.

When discussing Blog and new Screenplay titles we got on a silly roll and landed on: How Ice is My Valley and Oslo Can You Go.

After a day of cruising and touring, our guide Judit gave a brief talk about the early history of the region today. Norway as we know it has existed since 1905. Until the discovery of their North Sea oil fields they were among the poorest nations on the planet. They now rank close to the top in per capita value and net worth. One of the interesting factoids Americans will never understand fully is that Norway has always been a monarchy of some sort. So, when they became a nation independent of Sweden and Denmark, they searched for a new king. They cast about and chose the second son of the King of Denmark, their former regent, since the first son was the heir apparent to the throne in Denmark. Without any other prospects Carl said “yes” or as Kinky Friedman famously said: “Why the hell not?” And he became King Haakon VII and Norway has a Danish king, who already had a son, named Olav V.  Presumably Olav V’s son was born in Norway and assumed the throne as the first native born Norwegian king since a while back.

For our tour today we began in Trondheim formerly known as Nidaros, in reference to the river Nidar that runs through it. It was the former capital of Norway during the Viking era. Hitler had chosen Trondheim as the northern capital for the Third Reich, which I found really creepy, but what can one say? It is a lovely place and dates back to the 900’s if not before as a stronghold and trading center.

The cathedral there is among the great stone creations in Europe and certainly in Norway. The king and queen are now blessed (not crowned- so Norwegian to not elevate oneself above the other) in the great nave. The legend surrounding the Cathedral begins with King Olav II who was killed in battle July 29, 1028 and buried at the site of what would become the Cathedral. After his burial, a spring was said to have started flowing from the grave site. When his body was exhumed a year later, it was discovered that his beard and finger nails were growing and that his cheeks were still a ruddy pink. Moreover, his corpse emitted a rose and lilac scent. The word spread and soon it was found that the waters flowing from spring held healing qualities and pilgrims from all over the region began pouring in to Nirados. The cathedral was begun atop his burial ground and through fits and starts, including a dozen devastating fires, one that left the building in ruins for four hundred years, it stands as a monument to Norway history and spirituality—Christian knitted closely with Norse traditions.

On the grounds outside the cathedral there is a stone carving of a man, a stone mason, who is in the act of placing the final stone into the Cathedral wall. However, the legend states that if the cathedral is ever finished a great wave will ride up the Fjord and destroy the town and the Cathedral, so it must never be completed.

After this fascinating tour, we walked through the town back down to the harbor, about a forty minute stroll.

We crossed an old bridge across the Nidar River with two wooden arches, which according to legend gives happiness to all who pass through them. Let’s hope!

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Beyond that we walked through an old part of town, wooden structures not that different from our own sweet home in Dallas.

Upon our return to the Richard With we ate a lunch of salmon, potatoes, veggies, salad bar fixins and 20,000 calories of sweets, gelatins, puddings, custards, jams, jellies . . . you know, buffet fare.

After lunch we attended back to back talks, one on the geography of Norway, specifically, how the fjords were formed (rivers, glaciers and continental uplift). The second hosted by our own Judit Garzo, which brings me full circle back to the history of Norway. As a transplanted Hungarian, she was quick to point out that the Vikings were no more a “murderous breed” than any of their other contemporaries who roamed the globe looking for trade and power. That being said, one of the requirements for becoming a warrior was to jump a fence of your height with your battle gear on- so the Vikings must have been fierce in their strength.

Tonight around midnight fifteen, we see Targhatten, a unique rock formation with a hole in the middle of it that is only seen when the weather is good. So far our weather has been spectacular. Only occasional whisky clouds in a clear blue sky.

We had a quick stop at Royvik and were able to dash through an older transport/passenger ship: MS Lofoten. It reminded me of the Queen Mary moored at Long Beach.

At 10:40PM we passed by another cargo ship and as you can see, the sun is just short of setting. At 11:40PM the sun hides just below the horizon.

We must be quick to bed as we cross the Arctic Circle at about 7AM and a champagne celebration will happen at that time. Then, we have another day of cruising, touring and eating a lot of stuff that is making me fat. (and happy!)

Fjord Fjun!

Aunt Ginna gave me the inspiration for this working title for today. Our first full day aboard the MS Richard With. And we booked a full day bus tour circumnavigating a fjord, ferrying two more and seeing the mountain peaks known as the Bishop, Queen and King peaks as well as a world class observation deck that hovers a thousand feet above a valley floor. The area is known as the Trollstigen Pass. We are farther north than Nova Scotia, Scotland and Anchorage. We are headed to the Arctic Circle and beyond to (almost) the Russian border.

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A legend from long ago tells of a noblewoman who disappeared from her village for two years and returned only to claim she had been taken hostage by a Troll.

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And from there a national heritage and economy has grown. They say that if you attempt to scale the Trollstigen precipice it takes 14 days, so shear and fearful is the mountain.  However you can approach it from the opposite direction in about 4 hours.

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Most of the day was spent on a new comfy bus with an excellent driver: Raphael. And he needed to be. The bus occupied both lanes of the road we were on most of the time and we were within inches of tipping off the edge of a eleven hairpin turns both going up and coming down the mountain pass at Trollstigen. So treacherous is the way that a new caravan, a small sized Winebago camper, caught fire and delayed our journey for half an hour while the carcass was hauled off on a flat bed tow truck.

We also learned the authorities are serious about enforcing the law. A bus in front of us was found to be a couple of meters (8 feet too long) for the Trollstigen highway and he was issued a $19,000 USD fine on the spot.

Our last stop of the day was Molde where an internationally recognized Jazz festival is in full swing. Over a hundred thousand people are in attendance for the week long event. It is a beautiful setting for such an event and it is a shame we were here for only a couple of hours to hear the tented music.

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Atomic Norwegian Sunset at 11:00PM

Molde sits on the western shore of a fjord, that if you didn’t know better was Lake Como- only five times larger. It is known as “the town of roses.”

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The snow glazed mountains to the east are glowing in a glorious sunset rose and here it is 10:44PM.

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The author departing Molde at sunset aboard the MS Richard With.

We have agreed that midnight sun is not nearly as tiresome as noontime darkness for four months. There is a vitamin D deficiency in the winter time that apparently leads to a high suicide rate that they need to fix.

Shipside house keeping: know what direction the ship is heeling before taking your shower. If it is leaning away from the drain you will flood your bathroom and possibly your quarters. So, get a fix on the “attitude of the ship” before turning on the shower. Even a “sailors shower” renders the WC wet.

The Norwegian Could

I couldn’t resist continuing with the word theme. Composer Greig made me do it.

I was baked yesterday and hence the abbreviated and feckless entry and am hoping to continue my journey into this time zone. We are still too bright eyed at midnight due to the position of the sun on the horizon.

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About 9:30pm on the Norway coast.

To paraphrase another John Lennon penned beauty: I keep on playin’ those mind games…

We had a delightful tour of Bergen today provided by the Vantage tour company.

I will express my opinions about this through out the next two weeks. Their personnel “is” good. We’ve met Judith and now are on day two with her. She has a temperate attitude and she needs it as Julie and I are probably 10 – 20 years younger than most of our tour-mates. Hearing, patience, mobility and pace all are all slower, but then aren’t we all relatively speaking.

Today we rode the Finickular a “cogless rail car” to the top of a nearby mountain top to enjoy marvelous views of Bergen and the Fjord.

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Julie and Ginna atop the Fernikular Mountain, Bergen, Norway.

After taking in the view, Ginna recalled reading about an architect collaborative on the side of the mountain nearby with unique features. It is basically a “tiny house”  with a front door that looks like a tuba bell. She started down the trail and I called her back because there was a “no hiking” sign. There were several descriptions of what we were looking for but none matched anything we could see through the trees until we got to just the right angle. At a few minutes before departure we hoofed it back down the no hiking trail and found the house. It was really interesting and worth the effort.

 

After a quick walk back to the hotel,  we loaded up on a nice bus and went to the home of Edvard and Nina Grieg, Norway’s most famous musician/composer. He was 4’11” and a ball of musical and artistic fire. His wife Nina was about his size and she was a fine vocalist. Their home was built with their concert earnings and publishing royalties. It is modest by most standards, but a very nice example of Victorian architecture, which was and still is unusual in Norway.

Julie and Ginna in a poorly edited photo.
At the Greig Home and Museum, Bergen, Norway

From the Grieg home and museum we traveled back through Bergen to our ship, the MS Richard With (pron: ree card veet). It is not a cruise ship. The boat ferries goods and people to 34 ports of call along the Norway coast. However, it has bars, dining rooms, and lounges for watching the passing splendors of nature. The cabins sport twin bunks. We are near the bow with two portholes. One bonus is the sweet drinking water from the tap. The Norwegians are very proud of their drinking water, and should be.

After checking in, we were greeted by a massive buffet dinner included roasted, salted, smoked and boiled sheep’s head, which I enjoyed very much, salmon, salads, mashed cauliflower, carrots, turnips, and a trolly of other foods, nibbles and desserts. bob and Ginna retired for the evening. Julie and I were good for one stroll around the ship, doing our laundry, having a drink whilst watching the sun not go down at 10PM.

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10 PM North of Bergen, Norway July, 18, 2017

We have a big day tomorrow with walks and a cross country bus tour in which we leave the boat and it picks us back up at the end of the day farther along the coast.

Norwegian Trains

The train from Oslo to Bergen

We said goodbye to the Hotel Chrstiana Teatro, Oslo Central Park and The 3am Disco on the esplanade. The only change I would make so far would be to request a room not facing the park IF the all night disco was engaged.

After a groggy morning fortified with coffee and an exceptional breakfast buffet at the hotel, we engaged a taxi for the 6 minute drive to the Central Train Station. As seasoned travelers we arrived our usual on hour early only to find a two hour delay. Happily, we boarded the train and nested comfortably into our club seats. The Industrial parks of Oslo passed quickly by and we rolled into the emerald green country side with sun, rain, fog and clouds.

All of the best parts of the Earth’s water, trees, mountains, snow, glaciers, meadows, country living, peaceful appearing existences going on along for centuries accompany us along the way. The best part of this trip so far has been, practically everything, including not being in Texas during the hottest part of July.

Six or so hours later we arrived at Bergen. There were no taxis waiting  and Google Maps indicated we were a 16 minute walk from our hotel. As such, Ginna took off at her usual trot and we dragged our luggage across the cobble stones after her. I caught up and went ahead to reconnoiter. Turns out we were nineteen minutes away. Bob and Julie were delighted to find our hotel, right on the harbor side.

The Clarion hotel offers free food and we caught the tail end of the buffet, which we ate with gusto. Bob and Ginna turned in afterwards and Julie and I went out to explore a bit. It was still dusk, and as we are finding out, it is always dusk. I thankfully looked at my watch as I finished my second Aquavit, to see it was midnight. I thought it as about 8:30 p.m.

The only difficulty I see on this trip going forward is the 20 plus hours of dusk. It gives the impression of a long burning drinking lamp. I have been discovering the long list of Aquavit varieties, hoping to find one to help me slip into a slumber.

We finally slipped into deep sleeps after rough nights in Oslo with the disco only to drift off to the sounds of a hurricane as “weather” had blown in and was raining buckets. Thankfully we slept way in, missing a good part of the morning.  But no worries, we grabbed a quick coffee and headed out. Touristing is hard work you know. No rest for the weary. The good news is, here, it’s impossible to burn day light. We got busy visiting the old parts of the town, dating back to the early 1700’s. We spent a good amount of time at St. Mary’s Episcopal church. It is unique in architecture in Norway and the reredos is spectacular. The pulpit is adorned with naked women and cherubs, further exemplifying the Scandinavian appreciation of the human form.  We next visited the Rosenkrantz Tower. The history of the area is beautifully if sparsely explained through out the exhibits.

The English navy once tried their best to defeat the Dutch East Indies Fleet at Bergen and failed. The battle was violent but not blood as battles go, but just enough so that the English failed in their attempts and the economic wars went on for quite a while longer.

After a nice lunch in a pub, we walked around a bit more, did some shopping and at the end of the day met with our tour host Judith pronounced “you did.”

It looks like an interesting group and we look forward to meeting them all over the next two weeks.

Norwegian Wood!

Norwegian Wood

My Uncle Pat has always referred to the Norwegians as “A murderous breed.” Seven months of winter will mess up anyone’s mental state. However, when the snow melts, the countryside is as pristine as any Colorado High Country Meadow, or Hudson River Valley valley or California High Sierra vista or Carlton, Oregon Abbey Road Farms Bed and Breakfast alfalfa pasture I have ever seen.

We visited the Viking Ship museum yesterday. And Uncle Pat was correct, of course. They were a murderous bunch. What an amazing presentation though. The remains of three burial ships are on display, the contents of which adorn display cases artfully and educationally displayed throughout. There is also a projected presentation that gives a brief history of what we were looking at using CGI, live action and graphic animation.

These ships were in use in 800AD and the wood is still able to maintain its shape.  I always had this vision of Vikings setting their beloved afloat on pyres. These Vikings were buried in their ships with mountains of possessions surrounding them. The burial sites were plundered throughout the centuries, but enough was left behind to know that these adventurers found their way to the eastern parts of the Mediterranean trading with Asia Minor centuries before Marco Polo. I was disappointed to see they had not included the Rune Stone in North Eastern Oklahoma in their exploration map. I am convinced more now that ever that the Vikings were infiltrating North America for centuries before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Two women were buried in one of the ships, and they may have been mother and daughter or perhaps a wife and mother in law. How ever they may have been related, they were considered royalty or the women folk of high potentates. Their leather shoes were still in tact and their feet were about a size 5—so not large of foot at all. As I recall they were somewhere around 5 feet tall. The textiles they were buried with reflect the far ranging adventures as they included silks, wools though the linen had decayed and dissolved.

We used public transportation to get around and it was really quite easy to use and quick to deliver us. Our next stop was the Vigeland Sculpture Garden and Park. Eighty acres of life size sculptures of the human condition. Women, men and children all in their natural state in different emotional states.

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The gardens are full of roses, the locals were like jewels on the acres of well kept meadow some worshiping the sun in their birthday suits. The crown jewel of the installation is a column forty feet tall comprised of human figures in various states, some immobilized by the crush of humanity above them, some trying not to fall off the column, some climbing to the top, men, women and children all in a tubular ascent.

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We finished the day with a seafood orgy at Solsiden. So full was the bounty we left at least two pounds of boiled shrimp floating in the ice. King Crab, crab, prawns, Langoustine, oysters, mussels, scallops. Served with a variety of dipping sauces, all of which went untouched so fresh and sweet was the seafood. An occasional squeeze of lemon would squirt across the table and the folks sitting next to us were showered with bits of crab claw juice as we tore into the delicious meat.

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The weather was at its sun-shining best for our two days in Oslo. This morning, our departure date has greeted us with rain—just in time seven hour train ride across the country from Oslo in the east to Bergen on the west coast. Just as Texas flock to Vail and Aspen in the summer to escape the heat, I can see Oslo making a marketing effort to the U.S. for the same reasons: mild weather, lots to see, do, drink and eat.