Tag Archives: Norway

30 June 2014
 Geiranger, Norway

Deeper into the Fjords of Norway

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

We head inland from the Norwegian Sea on one of the most spectacular watery highways into the interior of coastal Norway.[whohit]-Geiranger 30Jun-[/whohit]

Silver Whisper followed a twisting and turning pathway along the big Storfjorden, then into the smaller Sunnylvsfjorden, and finally the even narrower Geirangerfjorden.

On our way in, we made a brief stop in Hellesylt to allow guests to debark for an overland shore excursion that reunited with the ship at Geiranger, at the dead end of the fjord. The fjord, which includes sheer cliffs, impressive waterfalls, and patches of green and white, is one of Norway’s most visited tourist sites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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In the fjords near Hellesylt. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Seven Sisters waterfall between Hellesylt and Geiranger. Photo by Corey Sandler

The town of Geiranger is a pleasant little place in a spectacular setting.

This isolated little town is the third-busiest cruise ship port in Norway. As many as 180 ships visit during the four-month tourist season, depositing as many as 300,000 passengers—not all at once—in Geiranger, which has a permanent population of about 250.

As I said, it’s a beautiful set of fjords and a handsome, peaceful place.

Except: it is under constant threat of severe damage or even total extinction. Scientists worry that a big piece of a mountain called Åkerneset could one day collapse into the fjord.

And, they say, this would cause a tsunami that could destroy downtown Geiranger. Studies indicate as much as 100 million cubic meters or 130 million cubic yards of rock and earth could collapse. They estimate the tsunami would be about 30 meters or 98 feet high.

We hope the people of the fjord (and those of us aboard ship) are spared that particular bit of excitement.

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Silver Whisper at anchor in Geiranger. We climbed up the hill for a better viewpoint, stopping at the picture-perfect Geiranger Church, built in 1842. Photos by Corey Sandler

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

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Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

29 June 2014
 Flåm and Gudvangen, Norway

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Our epic journey leads us from Copenhagen in the Baltic Sea through the Kattegat and into the North Sea, and beyond to the Norwegian Sea.

Silver Whisper swung out to sea and then into one of Norway’s most spectacular waterways, the Sognefjord, to visit Flåm and Gudvangen.

About the name of our first call: if you call it Flam as in ham, they’ll know what you mean.

But the Norwegian and Danish letter Å, with the little diacritical overring at it top, is not “a” but more similar to “o” in most other languages.

So, FLOME, or something like that.

The village of Flåm is at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, a small arm of the spectacular Sognefjord which extends in from the Norwegian Sea.

The 204-kilometer or 125-mile-long Sognefjord is said to be the longest and deepest fjord in the world.

Flåm is on one leg of a horseshoe-shaped fjord; at the end of the other leg is Gudvangen, where our ship repositioned in the afternoon.

The sail-in on the Aurlandsfjorden in the early morning is always spectacular; so, too, the sail-out in the still-bright evening.

Not far from the open sea is the statue of Fridtjof at Vangsnes on the Sognefjorden.

Fridtjof was the hero of an Icelandic Viking saga. The original version dates from the 8th century, updated and continued about the year 1300.

German Kaiser Wilhelm II was a regular visitor to this part of Norway, and in 1913 he gave the statue as a gift to the Norwegian people.

Flam has been a tourist attraction since the late 19th century.

Truth be told, though: few people come to see the port.

It’s basically a train station and a few gift shops. The 20-kilometer (12-mile) Flåmsbana railway rises from the town at sea level to the high village of Myrdal on the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe. The trip takes about an hour in each direction.

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A sunny morning in Flåm, a spectacular setting with a gravity-defying railroad. Photos by Corey Sandler 

About lunchtime, Silver Whisper departed Flåm to sail around the corner to God’s Place by the Water.

I’m not attempting to make a religious commentary here.

Gudvangen means just that: “God’s Place by the Water.”

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Scenes along the way from Flåm to Gudvangen, ending with the hoisting of the “black ball” to tell other ships we were at anchor. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Approaching Gudvangen. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

All text and photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a photo, please contact me.

 

2 July 2013: Alta, Norway: In Search of the Ghost Ship of World War II

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Cruises Destination Consultant

We crossed over the top of Norway yesterday, and as we reached 71 degrees North we sailed into a chilly summer fog bank near the top of Europe at North Cape.

The Silver Cloud is fully equipped with radar and radio and GPS and all of the other modern navigational devices.

But our captain also turned on the fog horn, and its deep bass blast rumbled out in front of us.

I couldn’t help but think of the conditions under which the North Atlantic Convoys had been forced to travel between 1941 and 1945: in radio silence, blizzard and ice storm, polar darkness or (most dangerously) Midnight Sun…all the while nervously on watch for German U-boats, aircraft, and surface ships.

I’ve written about this in previous blogs: although the German battleship Tirpitz never engaged in open-sea fighting, she nevertheless had a major impact on the planning and operations of the convoys.

British, Canadian, and American convoys were in constant fear that the Tirpitz would emerge, and so they had to sail away from the Norwegian coast…and into the path of U-boat wolf packs.

Its presence—if not its use—diverted the efforts of dozens of Allied ships, thousands of Allied airmen, and became a five-year obsession of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

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The Tirpitz in her lair in Kåfjord. (Historical photo)

The British had unsuccessfully attempted to destroy Tirpitz while it was under construction in Germany.

They were not able to mount a major air assault early in the war.

Winston Churchill turned to the secret labs.

The daring—perhaps crazy—plan for the Chariots—human torpedos, actually, failed because of bad weather conditions.

But another plan was hatched: the X-Craft.

Three of the four X-Craft actually made it to Norway and two got through the submarine nets to come beneath Tirpitz.

Their mines exploded, causing major damage to the Tirpitz, but she was only partially repaired.

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A memorial to British submariners lost in attempts to sink the Tirpitz in Kåfjord

hen the British sent aircraft: at first from carriers offshore and then from a base in Murmansk in northern Russia. It was from there that one huge “Tall Boy” bomb miraculously found its target through the smoke screen laid down by the Germans.

The crippled Tirpitz was moved to Håkøybotn, a cove west of Tromsø, and there she was finally destroyed on November 12, 1944.

On our way up the coast from the start of this voyage in Copenhagen, we had visited Tromsø. And then later we sailed to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, the two ports used by the Soviets to receive aid from the Allies during the war.

Today I went with a group of guests to visit the place where the Tirpitz had hidden for most of the war, and where she was repeatedly attacked by British naval and air forces.

Kåfjord is at the dead-end to the long and winding Altafjord that leads out to the sea.

We visited a small, private collection of artifacts from the German occupation and a few pieces of the Tirpitz. That was not the most impressive part of the visit.

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A piece of radio equipment said to have been used by the Norwegian resistance in Alta

Instead, it was the view of Kåfjord itself that will stick in my mind:  It’s a typically pretty piece of Norway, with only a few small markers to remind you of the terrible threat that lurked here for nearly four years in the war.

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Kåfjord today

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The Kåfjord Church, one of the few old buildings to survive the German occupation. Today it includes a memorial to British submariners as well as to local copper miners who died in the mountside mines 

But to most historians, it was the successful Atlantic Convoys to the Soviet Union that allowed the Russians to hold off and eventually push back the Germans and mark the beginning of the end of World War II.

That effort came at a huge cost in lives and treasure, much of it because of the ghost ship that once lived here.

All text and photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy of any photo, please contact me through the Obtain a Photo tab of this blog.

 

26 June 2013. Honningsvåg, Norway: Almost All the Way North

26 June 2013. Honningsvåg, Norway: Almost All the Way North 

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Honningsvåg is the northernmost city on the mainland of Norway.

There are a few gotchas in that description. Mainland, not on an island.

A city, not a town or village or settlement.

That said, Honningsvag has only about 2,436 inhabitants which is below the Norwegian definition of a city as a place with at least 5,000 residents.

But its status as a city was grandfathered in place.

A CAPTAIN EARNS HIS PAY

We arrived to face a stiff wind coming out of the north, and blowing across the dock where Silver Cloud was due to tie up.

It took us three tries, the last one with the help of a boat that came out from shore to take our lines and pull them to mooring points in the harbor. We winched ourselves alongside.

There are times when a ship’s captain earns his keep in ways other than shaking hands at a formal reception line; this was one of those days.

A MEAGER PLACE

Honningsvåg is within a bay on the southeastern side of the large island of Magerøya. That name speaks volumes about the fruitfulness of the land: it means “meager.”

All that seems to grow on Magerøya is lichen, huge numbers of fish, reindeer (only when they visit on summer vacation), and cloudberries.

I’ll pass on the lichen, but I have tried reindeer (and caribou, the same creature) and I’m sorry to report that Rudolph is rather tasty. It reminds me of a mix between beef and calf’s liver.

Cloudberries, which grow only at very high latitudes—in places like Norway and Scotland—are delicious, delicate fruit and very high in Vitamin C.

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HOW FAR NORTH?

Searching for a northeast passage to India in 1553, British navigator Richard Chancellor came upon a crag 1,007 feet (307 meters) above the Barents Sea.

Chancellor named the jut of rock North Cape.

The Norwegians would later adjust that to Nordkapp.

It certainly is far north, but first of all, it is not the North Pole, and secondly it is not actually the farthest north piece of land in Europe.

The neighboring Knivskjellodden Point, just to the west, extends about a mile further north.

It’s a lot harder to get to, though, and so the more convenient North Cape gets the glory. And the visitor’s center, gift shop, and restaurant. The northernmost gift shop in Europe, of course.

But actually, since both of these points are situated on an island, some purists will maintain that neither is on the mainland of Europe. Instead they point to Cape Nordkinn (Kinnarodden)  about 70 kilometers or 43 miles to the east. It’s not quite as far north, but it is on the mainland.

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The marker at North Cape, near the gift shop

And just to put things in perspective, the steep cliff of North Cape at 71 degrees 10 minutes North latitude is about 2,102 kilometers or 1,306 miles from the geographic North Pole.

In any case, the North Cape on the northern side of Magerøya island, is a dramatic place, a rite of passage for many visitors to the far north.

The drive from Honningsvåg—a city in name alone—is about a 40-minute trip across a slightly green moon-like landscape that is mostly empty. There are not that many settled places in the world above 71 degrees North, and the geography shows why.

In Finnmark County at the top of Norway, an area about the size of Switzerland, there are about 1.5 humans per square kilometer; reindeer outnumber people two-to-one.

THE SAMI

All through this region of Norway, and then across the border into Finland, are the Sami people.

They are also known in some languages as Lap or Laplanders, although modern Sami may reject that term.

Traditionally, the Sami have pursued a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding.

Their best-known livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding.

Since prehistoric times, the Sami people of Arctic Europe lived and worked in an area that stretches over parts of what is now northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula.

On our way to the North Cape we visited the remote home of a Sami couple. The man, who spoke little Norwegian and no English, posed with one of his favorite reindeer. His wife worked inside at the gift shop counter.

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude.

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Text and photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to obtain a copy of a photo from this blog, please visit the tab Order a Photo.

 

25 June 2013: Tromsø, Norway: Good day, sunshine, and never mind the clock

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Greetings from the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Also the 3 a.m. sun and the noontime sun and cocktail hour sun.

This is also one of the best places in the world to experience the Aurora Borealis.

Except, of course, when the light is on all day. Midnight Sun means the Northern Lights are out of sight.

That doesn’t mean the sky is always blue. We have been in and out of the mists and rain for the past few days as we headed north up the west coast of Norway.

But this morning—morning by the clock—dawned bright and sunny and we happily headed into town.

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Silver Cloud at the dock, along with an ocean-going tug

Tromsø is the largest city and the largest urban area in Northern Norway, and the second largest city and urban area north of the Arctic Circle, second only to Murmansk.

But please don’t expect Paris.

Even though at one time this small settlement did lay claim to the nickname of “The Paris of the North.”

Tromsø has very much the feel of a place near the end of the world. The shops and houses are painted in brilliant hues and modern structures feature mirrored glass to extend the views all around.

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It has a lot more color and liveliness than Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, which lie ahead of us on our journey.

Most of Tromsø is located on the small island of Tromsøya, 350 kilometers or 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, at 69 degrees 40 minutes north.

Among its civic claims to fame: the world’s northernmost university, botanical garden, cathedral, and most importantly, the northernmost brewery in the world.

Despite only being home to around 80 people, Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII. The city quickly rose in importance with trading, fishing, churches, and a bit of culture.

Arctic hunting, from Novaya Zemlya to Canada, started up around 1820. By 1850, Tromsø was the major center of Arctic hunting, and the city was trading from Arkhangelsk to Bordeaux.

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Polar Museum

It was at this time that the small settlement bestowed upon itself the nickname “Paris of the North.”

The Macks Brewery was opened in 1877, and still maintains a presence.

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Macks Brewery, the northernmost brewery in the world, or so they say

By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø had become a major Arctic trade center from which many Arctic expeditions originated.

Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile, and Fridtjof Nansen made use of the know-how in Tromsø on Arctic conditions, and often recruited their crew in the city.

It was in Trondheim, about 100 miles from Tromsø, that the Germans parked their prize battleship Tirpitz during World War II.

Its presence—if not its use—diverted the efforts of dozens of Allied ships, thousands of Allied airmen, and became a five-year obsession of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

By the end of the intense cat-and-mouse game in the North, the Tirpitz had been moved to a cove right outside of Tromsø, and it was there the battleship was finally sunk.

We enjoyed our morning in the sun, even when it began raining again. Later in the all-day morning, about 2 pm, blue skies returned.

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, EAT ‘EM

In town, as we usually do, we visited a supermarket to learn about the real way of life in a foreign port. There we saw some things we expected–like whale meat–but one thing that caught us by surprise.

At the seafood counter was a basket of extra- extra-large brown speckled eggs, about two- to three-times the size of chicken eggs. They were, we learned, from seagulls. The price, about $4 each.

This is a great delicacy in northern Norway, despite the fact that here–like many places around the world–seagulls are referred to as “flying rats.” They are said to have a mild flavor, usually boiled and served on a piece of flatbread with melted butter atop them. (I can’t help imagining they actually taste like garbage bags and soda pop tops, but I did not put my theory to the test.)

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Here’s the way we experience Sun Shock here on board the beautiful Silver Cloud: we come back to our suite from an extended dinner at the end of the day, perhaps at 9:30 or 10 pm, and find the curtains tightly closed.

But a few beams of brightness leak through, and it’s all but impossible to resist opening the curtain:

Good morning, Tromsø, whatever the clock says.

Text and photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. To obtain a copy of any photo, please visit the Order a Photo tab of this blog.

 

24 June 2013 Harstad, Norway: An Ancient Church, A Recent Horror, and Weirdness in Pink

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

Harstad may not be quite what you imagine when you think of a visit within the Arctic Circle.

Yes, it feels Scandinavian.

And yes, even on Midsummer Day in late June you can see the memory of winter past up on the mountains and feel in the air the hint of winter to come.

The Northern Lights are spectacular, and this is one of the best places in the world to see them. Except, of course, at this time of the year because the sun never sets.

For the next eight days we will not see true darkness.

Harstad developed as a herring and fishing port in the 19th century.

Today, the oil industry of North Norway—a major operation—is headquartered here. That brings jobs: shipbuilding, provisioning, and management.

Population about 24,000, Harstad is located on Hinnoya, the largest island in Norway.

AN ANCIENT CHURCH

One of its more famous sights is the Trondenes Church, the northernmost medieval stone church of Norway.

There is a bit of uncertainty about exactly how old it is; some call it a 13th century structure while modern scientists date its construction to about 1434.

Either way, it’s old.

This relatively small parish church was the main religious center of Northern Norway for a period during Medieval times.

The church is especially known for its rich decorations, including three gothic triptychs, one of which was made by the German Hanseatic artist Bernt Notke or by his workshop.

If you’ve traveled in Scandinavia or the Baltic you’ve likely seen other works by Notke, not nearly as hidden-away as this one.

Notke’s most famous work is his sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon) for the Storkyrkan in Stockholm. There’s a copy in Lübeck.

Parts of his Danse Macabre for Reval are on display at Saint Nicholas’ Church in Tallinn, Estonia.

The baroque pulpit is equipped with an hourglass to allow the minister to time long sermons, or perhaps to enforce a limit.

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Trondenes Church was closed when we arrived, but our guide went to the secret hiding place to retrive the 600-year-old key to the 600-year-old lock on the door.

She allowed me to hold it for a moment, but not to stray. Apparently there is only one key still in existence.

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Harstad was another obscure battle site of World War II.

British and Free French naval forces battled German occupiers who were holding the port of Narvik in early 1940.

And from Harstad, Norwegian General Carl Gustav Fleischer led the Norwegian Armed Forces in a successful retaking of Narvik in May of that year.

However, Norway would eventually fall fully under control of the Nazis.

As part of the Axis defenses, Germany installed four of its huge Schnelladekanone guns, also known as the Adolfkanone or Adolf Gun.

The gun’s barrel was about 20 meters or 66 feet long. Mounted on land, they could fire a 600-kilogram or 1,300-pound shell about 56 kilometers or 35 miles.

After 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and pushed Russia back onto the side of the Allies, Harstad became the seemingly unlikely place for a prisoner-of-war camp.

A RECENT HORROR

Some 3,000 Soviet soldiers were held in a very difficult and unsanitary compound near the Trondenes Church.

They were forced to work on the construction of the massive platforms for the huge guns. And 800 of them died in the process.

The Russians were at first buried in the churchyard, but later moved elsewhere in Norway—never returned home. A few decades ago, the Soviet Union erected a monument in their memory here.

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THE YOUNGEST MARCHING BAND

Back in Harstad, we happened upon the Festival of the Norwegian North, which coincides with Midsummer Week.

There were melancholy rock bands (Goths in the land of the Vikings?).

We were also entertained by the youngest marching band I have ever seen. They were, uh, enthusiastic.

And I believe I saw Professor Harold Hill of The Music Man at the front of the somewhat ragged march.

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And then for something completely different: the Pink Invasion.

I’ll let my pictures speak for themselves, except to say that they made Cirque du Soleil seem quite tame.

They were a different Mood of Norway.

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All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy, please contact me through the Order a Print tab on this blog.

 

 

22 June 2013 Hellesylt and Geiranger: A Midsummer’s Ascent Back to Winter

COREY SANDLER, Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

It was a day of clouds and cloudberries, of mist and fog and a glimpse of one of the stranger stories of World War II.

We saw more waterfalls and lakes and peaks than I could count, and there were also long stretches where all we saw was a whiter shade of pale.

Silversea Silver Cloud entered into the great Storfjord north of Bergen early in the morning and then pulled into a dock at the tiny town of Helleysylt. There about 90 guests (about one-third of the passengers on our small luxury ship) debarked for a journey to the Roof of Norway.

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We were heading for Honningsdalen Lake—said to be the deepest lake in all of Europe—and then on to the town of Stryn and then Grottli before ascending up the impossible road to Dalsnibba.

For us, though, we would rise 1,500 meters or more than 4,700 feet to a world of rivers and waterfalls and massive glaciers including the huge Jostedal Glacier which helped carve the Storfjord and still is the source of much of the water that was almost everywhere as we traveled.

On this day before Midsummer, we would even pass through a summer downhill skiing station.

Norway—and especially the central fjords and glaciers—is the land of the trolls. Speaking for myself, I could not see them, although our guide tried his best to convince us that they were all around.

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A Royal summer house in Stryn. The King was expected later in the day, but we had to leave our regrets

We saw mostly fog and mist; for all we knew, we were indeed surrounded by trolls. These fearsome but ultimately rather slow creatures are said to be thick in these mountains. Why are there troll stories? My best explanation is this: in the cold and dark winters up here near the Arctic Circle, momma and grandma had a lot of time on their hands to entertain—or frighten—the kids. And the landscape is so rocky and craggy. The stories they created brought the rocks and waterfalls to life.

At Stryn we saw a sudden glimpse of pink. Pink tractors to be precise. This town up in the mountains above the fjord was the birthplace of what is now an international retail fashion empire: Moods of Norway. Two locals founded the company there and it has now spread through Scandinavia, Europe, and to the United States. I believe they employ trolls in their knitting factories.

Jostedal Glacier still is huge, but the snows of yesterday seem to have gone away. At the Stryn Summer Ski area, thirty years ago a typical winter would bring as much as 19 meters or 60 feet of snow to the base. This past winter: only about half a meter, or 20 inches fell.

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When we stopped at the ski hill, we saw skiers loading onto the bottommost chairlift from a field that was mostly mud. There were two more chairlifts to take, far above us and hidden in the clouds, before skiers could make runs on the snow above the glacier.

I wish we had time to make a few runs; my knees were aching in anticipation. But we pressed on.

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We arrived in Grotli, near the end of a long valley that runs hundreds of miles up the spine of Norway. And there we found, crunched against a snowbank, a reminder of the odd events that happen in war.

On April 27, 1940, a German Luftwaffe medium bomber (a Heinkel He 111) was shot down near Grotli by an RAF Fleet Air Arm Blackburn Skua fighter (a carrier-based dive bomber.)

The German plane made a crash landing near where it still stands.

The British plane also fell to earth, landing in the cold water of Breidalsvatnet Lake.

Both pilots somehow survived, and once on land began shooting at each other with sidearms. But they also needed to find a way to survive the harsh conditions and they ended up sharing the same mountain cabin in what began as a tense standoff but ended up as an unlikely friendship that continued after the war.

If all this sounds like the plot of a movie, well you’re right. The 2012 film, “Into the White” was based on the true story and partly made at Grotli.

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After Grotli, we rose up on the Dalsnibba Road to the actual Roof of Norway, or at least the highest point of Norway that can be reached on a tourist motor coach. The Dalsnibba Road is an unpaved, vertiginous set of switchbacks with no guardrails.

Our driver deftly navigated the bus up the road, we reached 1,500 feet above fjord and sea level where there was an observation platform with a spectacular view of Geirangerfjord below and the glaciers all around. Except of course, on a day like we were experiencing.

“Welcome to the Roof of Norway,” our guide announced, “where we can see absolutely nothing.”

That was not technically true. All around we could see trolls…or at least rocks that look a bit like trolls. The legend says that trolls live below bridges, emerging only to collect tolls from passersby. Or to eat them if they are not paid or if there are bad little girls or boys in the vicinity.

The other thing we saw were thousands upon thousands of rock piles. They look sorta-kinda like the Inukshuks of the Inuit and other Arctic tribes. Inukshuks are erected to mark pathways or hunting grounds; the word means “something that acts as if it were a person.”

But the rock piles in Norway have nothing to do with Norwegian culture, I was told. Instead they have all been created by tourists passing through. “I have been here,” they say. The Norwegians just shrug.

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And then we carefully descended on the Geiranger Road, one of the engineering wonders of the 19th century. It was completed in 1889, after 11 years of construction. (The workers could only dig in the short summer.) It has 78 curves in 20 kilometers or 12.5 miles, including 22 bends of 180 degrees.

When we finally descended to near the level of the fjord, we caught a glimpse of Silver Cloud, which had gone on ahead of us to put down an anchor in Geirangerfjord. We took the tender back to the ship, and back into the crystal-clear world of high luxury. Champagne and lobster, thank you very much. No trolls aboard.

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All photos Copyright 2013 Corey Sandler. To obtain a copy, please visit the Order a Photo tab.

 

21 June 2013 Bergen, Norway. Mood swings and guilt trips

COREY SANDLER, Destination Consultant, Silversea Silver Cloud

We’re embarked on an extraordinary journey, from Copenhagen in the Baltic Sea through the Kattegat and into the North Sea.

Silversea Silver Cloud is headed up the coast of Norway with stops at some impressive harbors and spectacular fjords, then above Lapland to an historically important but still-relatively hidden corner of ancient, then Czarist, and then Soviet Russia.

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Moody weather in Bergen

MOODY BERGEN

Our first port of call on this latest voyage on Silversea Silver Cloud is Moody Bergen.

Why moody? Well, the people here are almost always unfailingly pleasant and accommodating.

The weather: not so much.

I told our guests in my lecture about Bergen that this is a place where you can experience all of the seasons. All in one day, that is.

Right on schedule, we arrived at our parking spot very close to the heart of town…and it began raining. It changed from a drizzle to steadier rain and then a peek of bright sky before moving toward a hint of winter.

BRYGGEN

Bryggen, on the north side of the bay, was used as a dock and warehouse area by the Hansa between 1350 and 1750.

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Bryggen

AN ANTIQUE MUSEUM

I am a big fan of the Natural History Museum at the University of Bergen.

It is a very old-fashioned museum—think wooden cabinets with specimens pinned in place, stuffed animals of all sort, and huge whale and other skeletons hanging overhead.

Some of the creatures—and the design of the museum—are extinct.

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Bergen Natural History Museum

ABOUT BERGEN

Bergen is home to about 268,000 people in the city itself and 394,000 in the surrounding area.

It is thus the second-largest city in Norway, behind only Oslo, although the capital city is much more populous: 1.4 million.

Oh, and a whole bunch of fish.

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Scenes about town, including back alleys of Bryggen and an extraordinary vessel that is part of the service fleet for the North Sea oil fields

FISH MARKET

The great fish market occupies the center of the horseshoe-shaped harbor; the market has recently been extended from outdoor stalls to a handsome indoor building.

The fish is about as fresh and tasty as you’ll find anywhere, and all you need to do is look hungry to be offered a sample of smoked salmon or boiled crab or fish chowder.

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King Crab at the Bergen Fish Market

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This guy looks quite surprised at the situation he has found himself in. It’s an Ure fish, which means red fish, similar to red snapper.

MY GUILTY SNACK

One other point worth noting: Norway is one of the few countries that still hunts whales for meat.

(The others include Iceland, Japan, and a few tiny island nations.)

Norways catches a few hundred Minke whales, mostly in waters at the northern end of the nation.

Minke whales are not considered an endangered species, although their numbers—like all other varieties of whales—are greatly reduced.

My wife and I live on Nantucket Island, which for a period of time in the 19th century was the whaling capital of the world.

It way the Saudi Arabia of whale oil.

But the whalers who left from our island on voyages of as much as three or four years did not eat the whale meat. All they wanted was the oil as well as baleen and whale bone.

And today, although Nantucket celebrates its heritage as a whaling port (including the fine Nantucket Whaling Museum), it is at the forefront of a nearly-universal boycott against the harvesting of whale for meat today.

Although I have been to Norway and Japan and Arctic Canada many times, I had never tried whale meat.

Reason 1: Political correctness.

Reason 2: Have you ever seen whale meat? It is enough to make you seriously consider vegetarianism.

Well, today, I have a confession.

I went on a market tour with David Bilsland, the leader of the Ecole des Chefs of Silversea.

And we were offered samples of king crab (wonderful…and only about $50 per pound and that includes the shells.

Also, gravlax and codfish caviar and fish chowder.

And then, a platter of small pieces of smoked whale.

I hesitated…and then took a bite.

It tasted a bit like beef or caribou. Not bad.

But I felt guilty about it. And I promise never to do it again.

There are other foods to explore without the worry of losing my credentials in the upright citizens brigade.

All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. To obtain copies, please visit the Order a Photo tab on this blog.