Friday, 18 August 2017

Fire and Ice: An Easy Day in Isafjord

Friday 4 August 2017. During the night that was stubbornly light, we arrived at the jutting out north west corner of Iceland and slipped down a fjord to Isafjord ("Ísafjörður" in Icelandic).

This was drawn from the Celebration's coffee shop on Deck 5. We waited for things to warm up a bit as first thing in the morning there was a - shall we say - a slight nip to the air... By the time we covered up with hoodies and jackets though we ended up carrying them round as the temperature shot up to 23 degrees centigrade!

A whale skull and vertebra displayed on the ground near a souvenir shop and cafe. Isafjord was founded by Norsemen in the 800s and 800 years later apparently there were lots of witch trials around here, with anyone found guilty banished to an exposed peninsula nearby, now a national nature reserve.

The cafe/souvenir shop was a large wooden building. A couple of cats were sitting or wandering around outside, looking hopeful... It was perhaps their home or a source of the odd tit-bit!

Behind us is the ship and then a high cliff at the far side of the fjord so we were in the shadow of the cliff whilst the entrance to the inner harbour and the hillside behind the hut is lit by the sun.

We had decided not to do any excursion today as tomorrow's excursion will be a long full day trip. So we set off to walk around Isafjord itself.

This boat had seen better days, but it looked as though any useful parts had been stripped off to extend their useful life on other vessels.

The fjord approaches and passes Isafjord and then does two right-angle bends to the right finally ending in a sheltered inner harbour. We are approaching that here, walking by the edge of the water.

A few trawlers were in the harbour, perhaps having unloaded their catch and waiting for their next trip. A large green forklift truck was kept busy taking stacks of crates from the harbour into town.

Isafjord's only roundabout. It covers approaches from the small town centre, from the dock and from the houses that strung along the side of the fjord on the far side of the town.

The houses were quite colourful! A large house, standing on its own, turned out to be a former hospital and is now a cultural centre with a library and museum.

Like most fishing towns, there was a memorial to local fishermen that had set out but had not returned. This one was flanked by two flag poles and had a colourful flower bed set in front of it.

From the roundabout we turned to our right which led via a short street to the edge of the wider fjord at the end of the town. By now we were carrying coats and hoodies and were just in t-shirts. This in a place where the average mean temperature for an August day in just 9 degrees, with the average high being a mere 12 degrees. It's hard to deny global warming here...

There were quite a few of our fellow passengers enjoying the views from here. There is snow on some of the slopes despite today's high temperatures. We were told that we had been incredibly lucky with the weather as it had been raining hard and cold the previous day. In fact we heard that in most of the ports we visited - I want to travel with this captain again...!

Another cruise ship is approaching Isafjord in the distance. This is the Astoria, belonging to a Portuguese line. We'll have a closer look at her as we sail out.

We walked through the small town centre, coming back out to the fjord and our own ship waiting patiently against the dramatic backdrop of the side of the fjord. There's a few specks of snow up there too, proving that today's warmth was truly a bit of a freak luck!

We passed several large factories, mostly concerned with the fishing industry, cleaning, filleting, canning etc. Here, ice is being packed over the day's catch.

The day passes. At 5:00pm we cast off our cables. The gulls gather excitedly as the ship's thrusters move us out and away from the dock, stirring up tasty morsels no doubt from the below.

The Astoria. She's an old girl. Built as the Stockholm in 1948, Astoria is incredibly the eleventh name she has sailed under! Built originally as an ocean liner, she currently sails as a cruise ship carrying 556 passengers.

We are now on our way to our final port in Iceland, Reykjavik. Whilst not exactly "fire", the trip we take tomorrow will include some impressive volcanic and geothermal action! And a rather expensive (but very good) beer...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Fire and Ice: Akureyri and Whale Watching

Tuesday - Thursday 1-3 August 2017. After leaving Stavanger in Norway we have two days at sea to look forward to. Stavanger is our last chance to see darkness for a few days too as from now until we reach this latitude again in almost a week, it will remain light all the way through the night, though we will not venture far enough north to see the midnight sun.

We will be crossing the Arctic Circle though, as we are going to sail all the way round Iceland. Our first stop in that country will be at Akureyri which is reached down a fjord from the far north of Iceland.

Meanwhile temperatures drop as we head north. We dutifully trog round the Promenade Deck to keep the legs going - though we tend to use the staircases anyway more than the lifts and with going up to and down from the cabins several times a day means climbing three or four decks to the main deck or restaurant. I will come home 3lbs lighter than when I left! No mean feat with all the food that is available!

I spent part of the time drawing this from a photograph of Bergen in the cruise brochure. There was plenty going on around us. In the mornings and early afternoon the show team, recently transferred from Thomson Majesty spent time warming up and rehearsing, working out the choreography of their shows on the dimensions of an unfamiliar stage. In the late afternoon a guest speaker, film producer, actor and critic, Tony Sloman, gave a series of lectures, one for each day at sea on the history of films of different genres. We missed the first one which was about musicals, but caught his other talks about Westerns, Gangster Films, Car Movies, and Film Noir. His talks were illustrated by some great clips and old trailers.

As we awoke on Thursday morning 3 August, we were making our approach to Akureyri ("ak-you-ray-rie" with the accent on the first and third syllables).

After breakfast we transferred to a much smaller boat for a spell of whale watching in the fjord. Humpbacks, dolphins and porpoises, minke and even the giant sperm and blue whales have been seen here so we were all excited and raring to go!

John and Sue joined us on this trip - the only one we managed to do together as on another trip we were all booked on, they had a different set-off time and did the tour in reverse to ourselves. I don't feel the cold usually but here I am wearing a t-shirt, shirt, a knitted arran cardigan (knitted by Fran I might add!) and waterproof jacket and still ended up shivering with cold!

We manage to get on the front corner of the boat and hope that any whales are on our side! As we leave the harbour, the round building is the Hof Cultural and Conference Centre.

We have not been going down the fjord long when the spotter, Anouk, announces that she has seen a blow from a whale's breath. This is our first sight of it - a humpback whale around a hundred yards out. The slight mist behind it is the remains of its blow.

The whale was not feeding and so there were no dramatic vertical breachings, but instead it was heading down the fjord towards open sea, coming up for three or four breaths before arching its back and diving upon which we would have to wait between five and ten minutes for it to re-appear. By which time it could be quite a distance away again!

The back arches prior to the whale diving. As it dives, the tail flukes curve out of the water in the classic view.

The shape of the tail flukes are a major factor in identifying individual animals. Shape, injuries, crustacean growths and colour all play a part in helping identifying the whales.

We leave the whale alone and head down the fjord, but without seeing any whales. The Björgvin is a stern trawler, built in 1988.

We are not the only whale-watching expedition out in the fjord. In fact it was this boat that found our next whale, though they kept the closest views for themselves.

It was a minke whale, one of the smaller whale species and a rarer visitor to these waters. This just skimmed the surface, the tail flukes of this species do not break the water's surface as it dives.

Then as we headed back to Akureyri again, one last sighting of another humpback whale. The blow comes as soon as the animal breaks the surface and as you cannot predict where they will be I was particularly chuffed with this photo!

Was it the same whale that we had seen before? We were roughly in the same area of the fjord.

But the tail flukes have a distinctive white marking. This is definitely not the same whale as our first sighting.

By the time we reach Akureyri again we are shivering with cold but once back on the ship the sun makes an appearance. It remains very cold though. Fran stays inside the ship whilst I literally dash around the Promenade Deck to take photos of Akureyri. Yes, that is snow on the hill, top right...

On the opposite side of the ship, a waterfall flows over the cliffs.

Looking down the fjord. The cold gets the better of me and by the time sail away time comes round I am back inside the ship and heading for the coffee machine! As we have our evening meal by the windows of the restaurant we see two plumes of spray rise up about a hundred yards to our side. More whales, but they remain hidden by the waves.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Fire and Ice: Stavanger, Norway

Monday 31 July 2017. After leaving the Port of Tyne, we spent Sunday at sea, crossing the North Sea. It was a little overcast and we spent the day inside the ship apart from a spell of walking round and round the Promenade Deck wrapped in warm hoodies, to make up for all the scrummy food that was available!

By the time we get up on Monday, however, we have docked in Stavanger, Norway. It's a little drizzly, but we get off of the ship anyway to have a look round Gamle, the Old Town.

Fran, showing that the drizzle had just about stopped so we were in hoodies rather than raincoats. Her hoodie matches the blue bit on the flag of Norway! Respectful, that's us...

The old town has around 173 wooden buildings dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries. They are all painted white and with the cobbled streets and lack of cars it makes an appealing community.

Once at risk of demolition they were saved as an, albeit run-down, conservation area after the second World War by the efforts of the City Architect, Einar Hedén. Now spruced up, the area has since had a reversal of fortune, now being a desirable area for the trendy or historically-minded.

The view down to Vågen, one of many harbour inlets of Stavanger. Our ship's distinctive blue funnel shows just how close to the old town we are moored.

A little further along towards town and the rooftops of Stavanger's shopping streets and business centre can be seen. We will wander through there before returning to the ship. It takes just half an hour to cover the Old Town area and as we come to the edge of the wooden buildings we can see that someone has a birthday as a bunch of balloons has been tied outside one house! Apart from the cottages the area houses craft shops and museums including a canning factory museum.

Vågen and a view of Thomson Celebration moored on the very edge of the Gamle Old Town. The Fisketorget (left) is the fish market. Behind us are other market stalls selling some of those chunky Norwegian sweaters. Lovely, but I'd be sweltering even in Blackpool's winter winds!

There are a few other ships and boats moored in the Vågen. The Sandnes is a training ship of 1432 tons and was built in 1950.

The Rogaland was built in 1929. Badly damaged by a mine in Oslofjord in September 1941, the ship had to be towed to Oslo for repairs. Back in commission, in 1944 she was caught in a huge explosion on April 20 whilst moored in Bergen. The Dutch ship Voorbode, carrying 120 tons of explosives blew up causing the deaths of some 150 people including 50 German soldiers and around 5000 wounded. Nearby houses were set alight and the Rogaland sank due to the damage. The Germans naturally assumed sabotage but an investigation proved the explosion to be accidental.

Our cruise ship Thomson Celebration. This is the sixth cruise we have taken on this ship, which was built in 1984 as MS Noordam and operated as such until 2005 when it was leased to Thomson and became Thomson Celebration.

Since leaving Gamle we have walked through the shopping area to another harbour and are now walking back and around Vågen back to the ship. The sky is starting to get a little dark and we decide to get back to the ship before we get a soaking. But the Vågen harbour has something else to show us yet...

It's a jellyfish. Sheesh, but these are hard to identify even using the Internet. A lion's mane jellyfish seemed to be the nearest description but on this specimen the mantle is around 24 inches in diameter and it has long tentacles below with lots of filaments floating around it. The lion's mane jellyfish was described as being up to 6 feet in diameter and as being found in somewhat warmer waters. So if anyone knows what this is please let me know via the comments section below!

This monster of a ship was quite a way away and I had to swap to the telephoto lens for this shot.

It rained a bit during the afternoon and we sat in the Showbar, which had huge windows overlooking Gamle whilst I did this sketch. Lots of nice comments from people who passed and came to look. The figure is a statue of Admiral Thore Horve, who in 1940 captured a German ship loaded with troops about to attack Norway.

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