Northern Europe Expedition 26 June to 15 August 2014
Part #2 - Iceland and Norway
Part 3: July 20 to August 3, 2014 - The Baltic Sea
Part 4: August 3 to 15, 2014 - The British Isles
6 July 2014 - Paris to London and then to Dover. It was an early start, with a wake-up call at 5:00 a.m. and a 20-minute ride to Orly airport, where I checked into my flight to London Heathrow. Once in London, I had to wait about 3 hours before the transfer coach from Princess Cruises finally collected all of us travellers from various terminals and finally left on a two-hour journey south to Dover. It was a wet day so the white cliffs were not at their best. I dashed into the terminal with my luggage, checked into the cruise and was finally assigned an outside stateroom on Deck 3 with a porthole on the starboard side. The rest of the day was involved with unpacking bit by bit, getting a late lunch at the buffet on Deck 9 - 104 stairs to climb from the level of my cabin - the lifeboat drill, running around collecting stamps from various places around the ship toward a raffle and, the pièce de résistance this cruise, the Spa raffle, at which I won the top prize, a 75-minute seaweed massage, which I will no doubt enjoy on the afternoon of the 14th when we are in Reykjavik.
7 July 2014 - At sea. There are five sea days during this cruise and usually not a great deal of things interesting enough to report on happen during sea days. To give you an idea, I usually spend them catching up on e-mails, playing the twice daily trivia games, attending seminars on the places we are about to visit and (this cruise) on forensics, watching afternoon movies that I haven't yet seen, organising my photos, updating my blog...you get the drift. These are days for recuperating. Here are some of the highlights: My team won the Trivia on the mornings of 10 July and 15 July and the afternoon of July 11th; I won the 10-pin bowling in the afternoon of 10 July.
8 July 2014 - Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland. The Shetlands are the northernmost part of the British Isles and became part of Scotland in the 15th Century, thanks to Mary Queen of Scots. Numbering 100 in all, only 12 of the islands are inhabited and their citizens subsist on fishing and sheep farming. In terms of population, the Shetlands lost more lives to the two world wars then any other British county. Our ship was berthed in Lerwick, the capital of the largest Shetland island, Mainland, dating from the 17th century. I took two tours from this port. In the morning, after a 45-minute bus ride south of Lerwick, it was a 10-minute ferry ride to Mousa Island, a nature reserve, full of sheep, sheep droppings, birds and a broch, which is a fortified, circular, double-walled, stone tower farmhouse with an interior stairway peculiar to Scotland. The Mousa Broch is the tallest standing broch in the world and was built without mortar between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. It was a good thing that the ferry had GPS (at least I assume it did) for, during our return to Mainland from Mousa, we were shrouded in a deep fog.
My tour in the afternoon was to Northernmost Scotland, to Northmavine, crossing Mavis Grind, said to be the only place in the UK where you can toss a stone across the land from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. We were given tea/coffee and shortbread biscuits in a town hall before continuing on to the Eshaness Lighthouse, built in 1929 by an uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson. The cliffs were quite scarily high here and I daringly lay among the sheep droppings and guano to capture some photos of birds on their nests hidden among nature's craggy shelves. The weather remained somewhat cloudy all day, despite rain being forecast, but I do remember there being patches of sun on Mousa Island once the fog lifted, but luckily, on the whole we remained dry.
9 July 2014 - Klaksvik, Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands, whose capital is Torshavn, are situated north-west of Scotland and half way between Norway and Iceland. The total population of these islands is about 48,500, but there are more birds (4 million) and sheep (75,000) than there are people. It is said to rain about 280 days annually here, but we were extremely lucky as we had dry, sunny and almost completely foggiless weather all day. The civil, police and military needs of the island are met by the Danish government, but the islands have in fact been semi-autonomous since 1948 and are not a member of the EU. Fishing is the main activity here and tourism is a far second. The islands are connected by tunnels, the longest being somewhere between 6 and 7 kilometres.
My chosen tour took us to the Vestmanna Seacliffs, the most visited attraction on the Faroe Islands and a means to experiencing sea bird colonies among massive cliffs and grottoes. From our boat, the possibility of photographing birds was, on the whole, disappointing, as they were mostly too far away, though it seems I did manage to capture an image of what can be identified as a puffin. However, there were plenty of sheep on the steep hills to watch, a miasma of green grassy fields and colourful houses for contrast.
11 July 2014 - Seydisfjordur, Iceland. We are now close to the Arctic Circle and it is light about 24 hours a day, though mainly foggy on the ocean so that we have hardly seen sunlight for a couple of days. After a day at sea, we arrived in Iceland, which has a population of around 320,000 and whose capital is Reykjavik. Seydisfjordur, with a population of 700, is located on the East Coast and is full of streams and waterfalls flowing down from the still snow-laden mountains, due to the recent harsh winter here. Our tour today took us some two and a half hours by bus to Borgarfjordur Eystri, a small village to the north-east of Seydisfjordur, whose tiny 110-year-old church boasts a painting of Christ's Sermon on the Mount, depicting the town's local fairy-laden hillock as the mount, by Iceland's most famous painter. Sadly, I have not been able to find the name of this “most famous painter” as it is not mentioned in the tourist literature I managed to pick up.
Although we were provided with a marvellous lunch of curried vegetable soup and a Tusk fish casserole, served by youths of both sexes with white-blonde hair, the highlight of the tour was the visit to the Hafnarholmi, a cliff-face with built-in staircases, which provided close-up views of nesting puffins feeding their young on tiny fish, which, if you look closely at the photos below, are held in their brightly coloured beaks. The only snag to this adventure was that at the time of our half-hour visit there, we were battered by cold, bitter rain and a harsh, slicing wind, so this was truly a time when I felt I was suffering for my art.
12 July 2014 - Akureyri, Iceland. Capital of Northern Iceland with about 18,000 inhabitants, Akureyri is located at the tip of the Eyjafjordur on the North coast of Iceland and its ocean currents keep the climate warm. The first attraction of three on our half-day tour was Godafoss, a pretty impressive horse-shoe-shaped waterfall. The story behind it is that in about 1,000 A.D. a chieftain called Thorgeir Thorkelsson decided that Iceland should become a Christian nation and threw all his icons of pagan Nordic gods into the falls.
Our second stop was the Laufas Folk Museum, an open-air museum that featured traditional Icelandic turf-roofed timber houses and artefacts, including clothing, utensils and farm implements, to demonstrate life at a wealthy vicarage from about 1853 to 1882. Its small church, built in 1865, contained a carved wooden pulpit from 1698. The sun shone for a few minutes during this visit in an otherwise cloudy day. However, during our visit to our third stop, the Botanical Gardens, established in 1912 and home to more than 7,500 floral species gathered worldwide, it began to rain gently.
In this town, the red traffic lights are all in the shape of a heart. They were installed after the financial crash of 2008 to remind everyone to be positive and to concentrate on what really matters. The area around Akureyri is a prime site for watching the Northern Lights from September through April. The white plastic bags full of hay that you see in the last photo for this section are jokingly referred to as “toilet paper for the trolls!”
13 July 2014 - Grundarfjordur, Iceland. The village of Grundarfjordur, situated in a fjord of the same name and surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, was one of the first villages in Iceland and its harbour is considered one of the best natural harbours, as its main sources of income are fish and fish processing. Our tour took us to Breidafjordur, a large, shallow bay comprised of over 3,000 intertidal islands, racing tidal currents and over 50 species of breeding seabirds. Heading off through lava fields, we arrived at Stykkisholmur on a large bus driven (very safely, too) by a 21-year old girl!
We saw arctic terns, kittiwakes, black guillemots, puffins, shags, fulmars, great black-backed gulls and eider ducks. At one stage, the crew dragged a net on the bottom of the sea and pulled up a motley collection of scallops, crabs, mussels, sea urchins, etc., which were opened and served raw with wasabi and soy sauce to those passengers who wished to try them!
14 July 2014 - Reykjavík, Iceland. Reykjavík is all about fire and ice, volcanoes and glaciers, tectonic plates and geothermal energy, which is used to heat swimming pools and generate electricity. The first visitors to Reykjavíc appear to have been Irish monks during the ninth century. Then came the Vikings. The first parliament in Europe was developed in Iceland in 930 A.D. Leifur Erikson, who discovered America, beating Columbus by almost five centuries, came from Iceland. Sometime in the 13th century, due to government collapse, Denmark seized control of Iceland and held on to it as a colony until 1944. The nation is now totally independent.
Our half-day tour took us through the town of Hafnarfjordur, Iceland's third most populous city, across the dramatic, 800-year-old lava fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula to the famous, man-made Blue Lagoon, a spa whose 6 million litres of steamy, geothermal, mineral-rich aquamarine-coloured seawater, heated by a nearby geothermal plant, is said to rejuvenate the skin and soothe certain skin ailments. Containing SiSo, Na, K, Ca, Mg, CO2, SO2 H2S, Cl and F, and at an average temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, the lagoon renews itself every 40 hours.
After a brief photo stop for Höfdi House, the venue of the end-of-the-cold-war summit meeting in 1986 between Gorbachev and Reagan, we then spent about half an hour at the Pearl, built in 1991 and situated on top of six large thermal water tanks, each holding four million litres of water, which offered panoramic views of the city from its fourth-floor viewing platform. Our final visit was to Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church, the largest church in Iceland and built of basalt, that sported a very large statue of Lief Erikson out front, and a 5,275-pipe organ inside.
17 July 2014 - Skjolden, Norway. Pronounced “Sholden” (our captain is Norwegian so he should know), this small village of 400 souls, which has existed since the early days of the Viking era, is located at the innermost part of the longest, at a length of 204+ kilometres, and deepest (1,300 metres deep) navigable fjord in Norway, Sognefjord. In addition, the mountains along the fjord rise to more than 1,700 metres. On our half-day tour, passing the Feigemfossen Waterfall, at 218 metres the second highest waterfall in Norway, we visited the medieval, wooden, Stave Church at Urnes, the oldest Stave church in Norway, dating from 1130 A.D. and the only one to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is one of only 28 stave churches that still exist today from the original 1000 constructed across Norway. The church contains pagan Viking ornaments dating from the 1060s. After visiting the church, we took a short ferry ride (our bus had to back onto the ferry) across the fjord waters to Sovorn, which boasts Norway's oldest hotel at 370 years old, the Walaker Hotel, and drove up the other side of the fjord back to Skjolden, passing through a total of 6 tunnels. The farms that dot this area produce fruit, such as apples and plums, and berries, such as strawberries ad raspberries, which they sell, not only as fruit but also as juice and jam.
The day was made additionally special as I was invited to a cocktail party in one of the large suites at the back of the ship to watch our sail away back down the fjord as we sipped champagne and ate canapés. My hosts were J and F from California and it is they plus myself and three American retirees who make up our trivia team for this voyage. In return, I invited them, plus another couple from the cocktail party, to join my table at dinner and to meet my four, retired, late 70s, Welsh table mates.
18 July 2014 - Bergen, Norway. Bergen, which was founded by Viking King Olav Kyrre in 1070 A.D., is located on the west coast of Norway on the Atlantic Ocean, about 500 kilometres from Oslo, the capital, and is Norway's second largest city with a population of just under 400,000 out of a total population in Norway of 5 million. Like Seattle, it gets a lot of rain every year, some 280 days and 90 inches. As my originally chosen tour, a visit to Troldhaugen, where Norway's most famous composer Edvard Grieg lived and was buried, was cancelled due to low numbers, I switched to a museum-laden tour that I figured would give me the essence of this city's history, if not its culture. We began with a visit to open-air Old Bergen Museum with its collection of about fifty 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century wooden houses and artefacts, with youth enacting various village professions. One young woman scrubbed down the steps of her house, while another, at the 1886 Merchant's house, just sat in her parlour and kept on getting up to wind up the music box whenever it stopped. A young man enacted the role of the grocer at the time when Christianstad became Oslo (1926). All are in the below photos. The contraptions and chairs at the dentist and the beauty parlour were rather horrendous. We were then encouraged to take photos of some rather uninteresting views of the city from too far away, even with a 300mm lens. Next, we were driven to 16th-century Rosenkrantz Tower, but were not offered the chance to climb it, and 13th-century King Haakon's Hall. From there, we walked through the old Bryggen waterfront district, another UNESCO World Heritage site, containing old buildings that had been preserved from the days of the Hanseatic League. Our final visit was to the Hanseatic Museum, which shows how the German merchants from the league lived and worked. From about 1350 to 1750, Bergen traded dried stockfish (a type of cod) for cloth, wine, and other consumables coming from other port members of the league.
After lunch, as it was a beautiful sunny day, our first since the Faroe Islands, perhaps, but at least the first foggiless sunny day during the entire two weeks, and warm, I walked back into town from the ship with my laptop and used the free Wifi at Starbucks, located right next to the Hanseatic Museum. I caught up on e-mails and then, as I still had an hour or so until we were to be back on the ship, and though I was sans ID, sans money and sans camera, I visited the picturesque fish market, the harbour and the tourist information centre.
20 July 2014
- Dover, England
. Today is a transition day, being the end of the above-described journey and the beginning of my next voyage, a Baltic cruise. As it was pouring with rain, so foggy that I could not see the sea, and I am suffering from a cough, I decided it would be prudent to stay on board and not walk 4 km into town, since not much would be open anyway, it being a Sunday. In any case, for the first few hours, I was kept busy by moving from my port-hole stateroom on Deck 3 to my balcony stateroom on Deck 7. Consequently, I will end this report here.
If you wish to read more about my travels, you are welcome to follow via the following links: part 3
and part 4
All the above photos are copyright Angela Fairbank. Please contact the photographer for usage rights and/or copies