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In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

Old Aug 17th, 2015, 01:47 PM
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I agree, but am glad to hear that it has been smooth so far. I'm sure it is much rougher as well as much colder in the winter!
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Old Aug 17th, 2015, 10:50 PM
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I do have some doubts that "everyone" was sick. I was once on a Calais to Dover ferry that went round in circles outside Dover for hours (I remember it as eight ) waiting for conditions to improve enough to enter. Very many people were sick. I was one of the select few eating in the cafeteria. So everyone is different, and I would certainly expect conditions to be worse in the winter.

There is an alternative for those who want to visit northern Norway. Wideroe operates small planes to many places in the north, and there are several scenic highways.
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Old Aug 18th, 2015, 01:41 AM
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<b>August 6, 2015: First Sight of Stockholm</b>

The train from Gothenburg to Stockholm left late, as it took a while to get electricity working in the carriages, and the scenery wasn't as interesting as I had hoped. On the plus side, I boarded with a good-sized sandwich, and coffee was available on board. I had booked the Radisson Blu Royal Viking, well above my usual hotel price level, in case I needed AC (I did) and it could hardly have been closer to the train station. A mention at check-in that I hoped for a better room than the one in Lubeck got me a renovated handicapped room, which was indeed fine. Of course, staying in a more expensive hotel puts the price of everything else up, and the breakfast buffet was 120 SEK (14 USD). I picked up supplies and ate in my room, which came with a minibar and kettle.

Stockholm welcomed me with bright sunshine, so after settling in I set off on foot for Gamla Stan, the old town center on the island of Stadsholmen. Unfortunately, it seemed that most of the other tourists in Stockholm had had the same idea, and as there were, once again, huge cruise ships in port, the area was packed. The crowds were well served by souvenir shops and cafes, but one attraction surprised me. Edging my way past a particularly packed corner, I noticed that the center of attention was a middle-aged man, crouched on the pavement, practicing the ages-old con known as the shell game. I had no idea you could still make money pulling that one. Perhaps most of the income came from accomplices pickpocketing the crowds of onlookers. I did not linger.

I found a relief from the crowds in the cathedral, which I had to pay to enter. Aside from the peace and quiet, the cathedral rewarded me with a most magnificent and unusual black and silver altarpiece, and an impressive St. George and the dragon (although I did wonder how St. George could be sure of slaying the dragon while gazing at the middle distance). The statue had been created mostly out of oak and elk antlers by one Berndt Notke of Lubeck in the late 1400s.

The views of Stockholm from Gamla Stan were beautiful, and despite the crowds I put the city on my "must revisit" list. Back across the bridge I wandered past the fountain, greenery and long pool in the King's Garden, before eating an expensive if good dinner in the hotel's restaurant. I was looking forward to the rest of my stay.
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Old Aug 18th, 2015, 01:57 AM
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I'm lucky as I don't get seasick, but I find that people dislike the flat calm when the stabilisers kick in and the ship takes on a small roll driven by them rather than the sea.
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Old Aug 18th, 2015, 09:11 AM
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Of course, staying in a more expensive hotel puts the price of everything else up, and the breakfast buffet was 120 SEK (14 USD). I picked up supplies and ate in my room, which came with a minibar and kettle.>>

that sounds like a bargain, thursdaysd. when we went to France earlier in the year, we found that the quality of the breakfast was in inverse proportion to the amount charged.

interesting about the stabilisers, bilbo. given the choice between a raging storm and flat calm, even with a slight roll due to the stabilisers, I know which I prefer!
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Old Aug 20th, 2015, 05:46 AM
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Funny about the shell game - we saw a guy doing that in Berlin at the East Side Gallery - a stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing, with graffiti art. I thought the same thing as you - I wondered how he could make money these days doing that. We didn't stop either.

Looking forward to hearing more about Stockholm...
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Old Aug 22nd, 2015, 01:06 PM
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Just catching up on all this.
We were on the Kong Harald a couple of years ago, in October, and had a force 9 gale. We weren't seasick, nor was anyone onboard that I know of. The first time I went, on the Vesteralen, which is a smaller, older ship we had a couple of rough patches which did affect some people. The answer is to eat and get out on deck. That was in February.
It does depend somewhat on where the wind is from. The Vesteralen has satbilsers (only the Lofoten doesn't I think, now the Nordstjernen is used for expeditions) and a well shaped bow. The captain of both ships thought that shape was better for cutting through the waves, making for less forward-aft movement on the Vesteralen.
A cabin midships, an low is the way to go. Tricky on the Vesteralen as though are the smaller cabins with bunks!
You have to remember that it doesn't cross much open water, but hugs the coastline which reduces the swell a lot. The force 9 would have been grim further too, but it was just exciting to walk the deck in it. We did miss a couple of ports on the way south because it was too windy to safely get into them, but the ship was pretty stable..
You can buy booze at the dutyfree at Bergen airport and take on with you for in your cabin.
I would go again tomorrow if I could. As it is we are toying with taking the camper van next year and driving it all. We have to look into taking the dog with us too.

Sorry to hijack the thread. looking forward to the next instalment when you have enough wifi. We had wifi in our cabin on Kong Harald, which many didn't.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2015, 08:47 AM
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Thanks for the info, hetismij2. Not being prone to seasickness, I was happy to be on deck 6. I did have wifi, although it was slow.

<b>August 7-9, 2015: Museum Days: Stockholm</b>

Stockholm is very well provided with museums. Not counting the Town Hall, I visited three major and two specialized museums over three days, and was thoroughly happy with all five.

My first museum day began slowly, as I couldn't find the bus my phone wanted me to take to Djurgarden island. Eventually it dawned on me that the road I was looking for was above me, and I took a handy escalator up to the correct level. Then I spent most of the day at the Nordiska, Stockholm's comprehensive decorative arts museum. Besides a series of period interiors, the museum covered festivals, folk art, clothing and jewelry, and possibly some other things I didn't get to. The clothing exhibition focussed on three separate periods, but I particularly liked the video of people dressing in everyday clothes of an earlier era. We don't know how easy we have it!

One area showed dining tables set for meals at different times. I was interested to learn that the swan centerpiece was not actually edible, but a reusable presentation piece contain some other meat. The jewelry display didn't particularly excite me, but by that time I was rather tired, despite a stop for lunch in the museum's cafe. However, instead of retreating to my hotel, I walked behind the Nordiska to the Vasa.

When I had approached the Nordiska I had noticed a line up of tour buses, but the Nordiska had been blessedly uncrowded. I found the crowds in the Vasa, even though it was well into the afternoon by the time I arrived. Although I had read about the ship, sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628, on her way to fight against Poland-Lithuania, I was unprepared for her sheer size. As I approached on the museum's lowest level the ship towered over me, all 52.5 meters (172 feet) of dark wood.

Intended both as a fighting flagship (64 cannon) and an in-your-face statement of King Gustavus Adolphus' power and prestige, she was heavily decorated at stem and stern. The museum has seven levels, so you can get up close to the whole ship. I took an English language tour that happened to start just after I arrived, and then wandered through the many exhibits, including the reproduction gun deck. A sister ship, Applet, was slightly wider in the beam, and did not suffer the same fate.

Although I had spent an entire day on Djurgarden, I was back again next morning to tackle the open air museum, Skansen. And I do mean tackle, 300,000 square meters is a fair amount of ground to cover. Since I now knew where to find the bus, I arrived shortly after the 10:00 am opening, only to find that most of the demonstrations started at 11:00. Not really a problem, I caught them on my way out, and the docents were in place. I had an interesting chat about political attitudes with one, who thought Sweden needed more immigration. Another explained the vegetation growing on some of the farmhouse roofs: it was insulation and also soaked up any excess water. Overall, I enjoyed Skansen, which offered some good views of Stockholm, some interesting buildings and fewer people than I expected, although I was sorry for some of the animals.

Back in central Stockholm I stopped off in the Dance Museum. Not for everyone, of course, but I was delighted with the large collection of Ballet Russe costumes, both early and late - those mostly from 1924's "Sleeping Princess". Besides the costumes there are items collected by the museum's founder, Rolf de Maré, while traveling in Asia. These were mostly familiar to me from my own travels, and I was more interested in the information about Nijinsky's talented sister, Bronislava, also a dancer and choreographer. The museum happened to be free the day I visited, but I would have thought it worth the admission.

Stockholm spreads over many islands, and like Djurgarden, Skeppsholmen is home to more than one museum. But having pretty much given up on any art after the Surrealists, I ignored the Modern Art museum in favor of the East Asian, small but good. The collection of early Chinese pottery - from as early as 5000 BCE - that anchors the museum is amazing, as is the Chinese book collection at the other end of the building. In between, the rest of the Chinese collection offers a good overview.

After the East Asian Museum I wandered over a bridge to Kastellhomen island, which had a castle of sorts, not open to the public, what looked like a number of holiday chalets, and no museums.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2015, 09:27 AM
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I'm enjoying the chance to relive some wonderful moments through your eyes, thursdaysd, and to be introduced to some new ones -- the Dance Museum sounds delightful!
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Old Aug 24th, 2015, 08:58 AM
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<b>August 6-10, 2015: Stockholm's Islands, by Bus, Boat and Metro</b>

The city of Stockholm is spread over fourteen islands, joined by bridges, but many more, some large, some mere islets, buffer it from the sea. Aside from Norrmalm, where I slept, I spent most time on Djurgården, visiting museums, and Sodermalm, visiting the city. And I couldn't visit Stockholm without taking a ferry to at least one of the islands in the archipelago.

The Oslo transport pass includes all the buses, trams and metro in the city, plus the ferry from Djurgården to Skeppsholmen and Sodermalm, although the ferries to the archipelago are extra. Taking the ferry to Sodermalm after visiting Skansen, I found a crush of tourists, although not as many as had been packing Gamla Stan. A local, also waiting for the ferry, had told me to be sure to make it up the tower on the north edge of the island, and not wanting to make the climb up on foot, I took the metro a couple of stops south to look for a back way.

This was a serendipitous decision. While I did eventually find a less toilsome way up, and the views were indeed remarkable, the prize was Stockholm without tourists. I emerged into an area of apartment buildings, well-kept and built around courtyards. Checking my location on my phone, I headed north towards an area of greenery, where I found locals at play. A bridal shower was underway in one corner, and a child's birthday party in another. Further on, water sprays were delighting a group of naked infants. I settled on a bench, where I was joined by an elderly lady with an ice cream cone. After I acquired my own from the nearby gelateria we had a pleasant chat. Turned out that she, like the docent at Skansen, was in favor of immigration, but thought that it was being handled badly, with immigrants not properly integrated early enough.

I headed back to Sodermalm a couple of times for dinner, although by metro. Lonely Planet recommended the Creperie Fyra Knop, which turned out to be small and mostly empty, but which provided a good and very filling galette. Further south, I ate reasonable Indian food at a well-reviewed place near the edge of the island. On the way back to the metro station I detoured to look at the water, finding the steep slope above the shore given over to allotments.

My last full day in Stockholm I had reserved for visiting the archipelago, which required me to choose an island. I wanted one not too close to the city - some can be reached by bus - but not so far I risked getting bored on the boat - an all-too-likely occurrence. At the T.I. I picked up a brochure for Grinda, titled "The Quiet Island". Would it be quiet if it was advertising? At any rate, it had to be quieter than Vaxholm, which I would pass on the way. And indeed, when I saw the shops and tourists crowding the waterfront at Vaxholm I was glad of my choice.

The ferry to Grinda dropped me on an isolated pier, and I trekked a while through pasture and forest to reach the one hotel and two cafes. After a wedge of quiche in the shadier cafe, I set off to explore the northern end of the island, and while it was not deserted, I walked quite alone under the trees, and had a smooth boulder overlooking the sea almost to myself. A definite success!

Indeed, I rated Stockholm overall a decided success, despite the cruise ship crowds. Easily the most scenic and most interesting of the Scandinavian capitals, which I would rank, in ascending order: Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm. (Including the Baltic capitals I would put Tallinn and Riga above Helsinki and below Stockholm - I haven't visited Vilnius recently enough to rate it.) My visit, even at five nights, left much to be explored, and even three posts have not really been enough to cover my visit. For instance, I have left out the Town Hall, where the beautiful mosaics in the gold room astonished me.
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Old Aug 24th, 2015, 06:18 PM
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Yes, those are some impressive mosaics, aren't they?

Your trip to Grinda sounds delightful! I enjoyed my time in the archipelago, but didn't get off the boat anywhere -- next time!
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Old Aug 24th, 2015, 07:12 PM
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Just catching up again...

It sounds like Stockholm was a treat! I've not considered a trip to that part of the wold, but I may have to look into it more.
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Old Aug 25th, 2015, 10:17 AM
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Kathie - I wasn't impressed with Denmark or Oslo, but liked Sweden and the Hurtigruten cruise is certainly worth doing. I would add Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga (a must for the Art Nouveau) and maybe St. Petersburg if you don't want to do Russia separately. I didn't do Scandinavia until I had done pretty much everywhere else in Europe, but that was partly because of the cost.

kja - there's a photo of the gold hall on my blog.
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Old Aug 25th, 2015, 10:30 AM
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Thanks for your recommendations, thursdays!
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Old Aug 29th, 2015, 02:39 AM
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<b>August 11-13, 2015: Staying Busy in Bergen</b>

Although I prefer to travel by rail, sometimes distance or connections make flying a more logical choice, and so I flew from Stockholm to Bergen, on Norwegian. As well as checking myself in, I had to tag my own bag. Then I discovered that even water cost 30 krone on board. Good thing it was a short flight! So short, it took nearly as long to get my checked bag, partly because a mob of Viking cruise ship passengers were picking up their luggage from the same belt and the place was a zoo, and partly because my bag was the last one out. I had nearly given up hope.

Although the airport bus delivered me practically to the door of my hotel, the Scandic Ørnen, my day did not improve. After I left the hotel in search of lunch the heavens opened, and the wind picked up. At first my light-weight umbrella refused to open, and when it did it was promptly blown inside out. After this happened for the fifth time I gave up. I lucked into a good sandwich and the corner of a table at the aptly named Godt Brød, and then went into the first likely looking store to buy a sturdier umbrella. Of course, the rain stopped as soon as I was properly equipped. Dinner that night was at the very crowded Pingvinen, where I shared space at the bar with a woman on her first solo trip in five years.

I was in Bergen to take a six night Hurtigruten cruise, and my elder sister flew in from England to join me. We had two nights in Bergen, and since we would not board until the afternoon we had plenty of time for the town. Our first priority was the funicular that climbs high above the town, and the rains cleared long enough for us to enjoy the excellent views, and to take a short walk to a pretty lake.

As in Copenhagen, the redeveloped quayside was mobbed by tourists and tourist shops, but it wasn't quite as bad, and the area included a photogenic fish market. We avoided the shops, visiting one church, one disappointing museum - Bryggen - one very good and little known one - the University Cultural History Museum - and an art museum with three rooms of Munch's work. The city has its own Cultural History Museum, closed for renovation, and the university also has a Natural History Museum, which didn't interest us. Enquiries for the University Cultural History Museum invariably resulted in information about one or both of the others.

When we eventually reached our target Cultural History museum we spent a couple of hours there, before eating lunch in one of the university's cafeterias. The artifacts in the religion section, including beautifully carved woodwork from demolished stave churches, were considerably better and more extensive than those we saw later in Oslo's History Museum. The museum also offered a costume section and a number of theater mockups.

On my first afternoon I had asked both a woman in the T.I., where I had gone for a map and general information, and a man in the Nespresso shop, where I had gone in search of decent coffee, for the best place in town for espresso. Happily, they both recommended the same place, a small cafe to the right of the funicular station, and I visited all three days.

Bergen is pleasant enough, at least when the sun shines. Our hotel was fine, and although not really central we got to walk past a prettily landscaped park on the way to the center. Still, we were ready to board our ship and head out.
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Old Aug 29th, 2015, 07:36 AM
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Ah, looking forward to hearing about the cruise!
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Old Aug 29th, 2015, 09:17 AM
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me too!
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Old Aug 29th, 2015, 09:45 AM
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Enjoying your report, Thursdaysd. I've been thinking about a trip to Bergen, and possibly a cruise, so looking forward to the next installment.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2015, 01:56 PM
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<b>August 13-15, 2015: Heading North on the Kong Harald</b>

Cruises, aside perhaps from those to Alaska and Antarctica, have never interested me. I have no desire to travel in close proximity to hundreds, never mind thousands, of strangers, and I quickly get bored on open water. Ferries that double as cruise ships, however, are another matter, with fewer passengers and more to look at. For instance, I quite enjoyed my three night trip on the Evangelista up the Chilean coast a few years back. And then, I kept reading that the Hurtigruten cruises along the Norwegian coast were among the most beautiful in the world.

Solo travelers are not well-served by cruise companies, who price everything on the basis of two people traveling together. Even when a company does make some grudging provision for singles, it is always in the worst cabins, with portholes rather than windows, or inside with no view at all. Happily, my elder sister decided that she would like to take a Hurtigruten trip with me, and I went ahead and booked us on a date that would allow for some time in Oslo, and a few days back in England, before our niece's wedding.

Hurtigruten started out as a lifeline for coastal communities, and still fills that function, but its ships also carry passengers in reasonable comfort. Don't imagine that these are cruise ships in the currently accepted meaning of the phrase, though. There are no cabarets or casinos, no soaring atria or even swimming pools. The cabins are functional, not luxurious, and while the main public deck has mirrored ceilings and pretty chandeliers, no one would mistake it for a deck on a Princess or Holland America ship. Almost the only entertainment aboard is outside - the scenery - and there are both indoor and outdoor options for enjoying it - in blessed peace and quiet. I don't know whether our cruise was characteristic, but the Panorama Lounge was largely silent. All the time.

The full cruise is a round trip, Bergen to Kirkenes on the Russian border and back to Bergen. We opted to take just the northbound leg, six nights on board (the return takes five nights). Neither of us anticipated any problems with seasickness. (I was once on a ferry that went round in circles outside Dover because conditions were too bad for it to enter the port, without experiencing more than a mild nausea, which I thought a reaction to everyone around me getting sick.) I thought our voyage, little of which was across open water, remarkably smooth, but I gathered others were glad they were wearing protective patches.

Aside from the beautiful scenery - yes, it was beautiful - the most remarkable thing about our trip was the weather. Forget the wind and rain that greeted me in Bergen, even above the Arctic Circle we had bright sunshine! Just the last full day, rounding the North Cape, was grey and misty, but really I think I would have felt cheated if the whole trip had had Mediterranean weather.

We boarded late afternoon, and dinner the first night was a buffet that was a foretaste of the lunch buffets that would follow, the offerings remaining pretty much unchanged. Among them was unlimited smoked salmon - that is, Scottish-style smoked salmon (or Norwegian in this case, I suppose) not the kind usually on offer in the US. I would not have thought it possible for me to get tired of smoked salmon, but I would have been wrong...

Next morning our first daylight stop was Alesund, which I had been keen to see as it had been rebuilt in Art Nouveau style after a fire in 1904. Since the ship would return to Alesund after visiting the Geiranger fjord I had entertained thoughts of staying there for the day, but it turned out that there was not a great deal to see, and most of it was of the National Romantic school of Art Nouveau. And it would have been a pity to miss the fjord, nine narrow and spectacular kilometers of soaring rock and graceful waterfalls. Most people were outside to admire the fjord, sitting by choice in full sun. I shared the sparse shade with a couple from Singapore, traveling with their son who would spend a semester in Copenhagen. You can always tell the people who live in hot climates - they're the ones avoiding the sun.

We had opted not to take the ship's excursions for Alesund and Geiranger, and the next day we tackled Trondheim on our own too. This was a less good idea, as it was a bit of a trek into town, and we couldn't locate a taxi to take us back. The cathedral, which had been the object of the exercise, was really quite nice, but the associated museums were skippable.

The Kong Harald had, of course, been heading steadily north despite detours into fjords and around islands - of which there were very many - and the next morning would cross the Arctic Circle. Since this geographic feat was anticipated to occur around 4:30, we would not witness it. Nor would we participate in the associated ceremony, which looked decidedly uncomfortable.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2015, 04:27 PM
  #120  
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I share many of your concerns about "most" cruises, but you are making this particular cruise sound well worth considering - thanks! Looking forward to your next installment....
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