Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Fire and Ice: Bergen, Norway

Wednesday 9 August 2017. Our second visit to Bergen in Norway and we are looking forwad to seeing it again.

Before breakfast we come out onto the Promenade Deck to watch our approach to Bergen in Norway. We are up early because we are booked on a half-day trip which will include going up on the cable car to the top of the mountain.

First though it takes us on a little tour of the city, starting at the fish market. This is just a short photo stop, though our guide, Andrea from Venezuela, walks with us to the market to point out, amongst other things, whale meat.

There is quite a number of ships in the harbour and we'll have a closer look at some of them later on.

One of the fish stalls on the market. You will also find stalls with fruit and veg on this market and even some stalls selling food both for take-aways and a few with a collection of benches and table under a canvas roof.

A closer look reveals some huge crab legs and claws - krabbe-klor on the extreme left!

They were giving free samples slices of whale meat. Not for me. I'm no vegetarian but I draw the line at eating such intelligent creatures... That is what he is slicing up on the right. On the whale watching trip in Akureyri they told us that hardly anyone other than tourists eat whale meat now and begged us not to try it.

The Bryggen is the old town of Bergen. We have visited it before but now we get a chance to see it from across the harbour. We can see the track of the cable car leading up the hillside in the distance. I'm looking forward to that!

However, back to Bergen! We were now on the other side of the harbour to where we had visited before and there are old wooden buildings on this side also! The hill on the right looks as though it could be the one that I drew from a photo on our sea days approaching Iceland!

This part of the excursion was mostly a drive around this part of the town. The part that we were waiting for came after our round-town drive - the trip up the cable car.

But if we thought we would miss having to queue for ages we were disappointed as we were in a line for around 40 minutes or so before we got into the station and realised that there was a massive queue in there as well! Eventually we got to the front of the queue and made it onto the train.

We were not in a good position to take photos of the ride up - but we will be on the way down! At the top we found Andrea and told her we would make our own way down and leave the tour at this point. This would allow us to have a wander around the Bryggen and its shops at leisure. The view of Bergen, its fjord and the sea beyond is really excellent.

We make the most of the viewing area, taking in the inland side of Bergen as well as the port. The bridge to the left carries the European Route E39 across the end of Bergen's fjord. This route stretches 830 miles (1330 km) from just south of Trondheim in Norway down to Aalborg in Denmark. The road from end to end involves taking to a ferry an incredible nine times - the most ferry sections of any single road in Europe.

The peninsular in this view is where we took our drive earlier. The fish market can be made out as the bright red stalls, bottom left, and a Costa ship - Costa Magica - is in the port on the right, near to Thomson Celebration.

We have a little wander about the hilltop, finding some goats in a hut and evidence of their freedom in plenty along the path... We also had a look in the shop and I found it wasn't only Fran and the other ladies who had to queue to visit the toilets but the queue for the Gents was only a little one. We join the short queue for the cable car down.

This time I made sure to get a spot which gave us a good view of our descent! Several times the roadway crosses the train track - the road involves a few more hairpin bends than the train requires!

The halfway point. Apart from this short section where the climbing and descending cars pass, the cable car is single track. A hairpin bend can be seen on the road to the left and the roadway again crosses the track in front of us.

We reach the short tunnel that leads into the station at the bottom of the hillside. The car slows right down as it approaches the waiting queues of people waiting for the journey upwards. We get out to the left whilst they enter on the right. Automatic barriers ensure that the correct number of passengers get through to wait next to the track for boarding so that there is minimal jostling and risk of someone falling.

Spot the vertical! The old shops of the Bryggen. Miss Franny is standing under the word Knut.

Two of the shops are having work done to their frontages, but have been hung with painted material so that they keep an approximation of their normal appearance.

Walking through archways (there's one near the middle of the previous photo) takes the visitor through to the very narrow streets of the medieval Bryggen. Most of the original houses have been burned down and rebuilt several times since medieval days, but always to the same design and appearance. As a result if you were suddenly transported back to the 1400s you would find yourself in the midst of the same buildings and street plan.

We say Goodbye to the Bryggen and head back towards the port and our ship. The Øystrand is a brand new ship, built this year (2017) for carrying live fish. Her bows are strangely bulbous. I suppose the captured fish tried to escape by charging en-masse at the hull in an attempt to break it?

A road train is doing trips, a toy troll strapped to the front of the funnel. "Mind that car!!!" it kept shouting...

CMV Cruises ship Columbus looked strangely familiar but it was not until we got home and looked it up that I realised we had actually sailed on her under a different guise. She was built in France in 1988 for the Italian cruise line Sitmar and was launched as Sitmar FairMajesty, but in the same year the Sitmar line was sold to P&O and the ship was sold to Princess Cruises sailing from 1989 to 1997 as the Star Princess.

In 1997 she joined the P&O fleet and was renamed Arcadia. From 2003 to 2010 she served as Ocean Village which was how we came to sail on her in 2010. I took the above photo on 25 April 2010 in Limassol, Cyprus. The Ocean Village brand was a P&O line catering for those who preferred a less formal cruise. When the brand ceased in 2010 she joined P&O Cruises Australia as the Pacific Pearl and was sold to Cruise and Maritime Voyages to serve as CMV Columbus just this year.

The Rosenkrantz Tower is part of Bergen's Bergenhus Fortress. It is a 16th century enlargement of the original castle keep of 1270. Behind the white building can be seen the stepped gables of Haakon's Hall, built at the start of the second half of the 13th century. It was badly damaged in World War II by the explosion of a Dutch ammunition ship, this event being described a few days ago when we were in Stavanger at the beginning of this cruise (see entry posted 15 August 2017).

Costa Magica, built in 2003 was sister ship to the less-fortunately named "Costa Fortuna" and has spent her entire life in service with the Costa Crociere cruise line. We bought some postcards and things from a tiny souvenir shop on the port. The shop owner told us it had rained so hard the previous day that hardly anyone got off from the four ships that were in port that day. We have been incredibly lucky on this cruise!

Back on the ship we take up seats in the Coffee Lounge on Deck 5 and I sketch the coastline of a part of Bergen to the north of the Bryggen Harbour. It includes rocks, water, buildings, bare earth, trees and pine trees - a challenge to make sense of in pencil!

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Sunday, 27 August 2017

Fire and Ice: Lerwick, Shetland

Tuesday 8 August 2017. Tuesday almost brings us back to home soil! The Shetland Isles are Scottish, though much nearer to the Faroes than they are to mainland Scotland!

We are not booked on any trip today and we have breakfast and make our way down towards the gangway, meeting Martin Bell, the ex-war correspondent and journalist who was giving a couple of talks in the theatre during the holiday. "There's no Shetland distillery!" he said in a mock shocked tone. "Oh no!" I laughed. "It'll have to be a bottle of Bells then...".

But here we are after a short walk, in the heart of Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Isles, brimming with shops taking good old pounds sterling. Even if your change includes some unfamiliar dark blue plastic fivers... The oriel turrets on the buildings are pure Scotland. I breathe in deeply. Somewhere in my ancestry is a hint of Scotland - an ancestor went to France with Bonnie Prince Charlie. There's a hint of France in me too - he was a mucky little devil...

The vikings are back... Though there looks to be a very un-viking engine house towards the rear...!

And indeed, a propeller at the rear tends to confirm this. The rudder is on the right, rather than in the centre of the stern and from this we get the modern term for the right hand side of a ship as seen when facing forwards - "starboard". It's origins are from the Old English term "steorbord" or "steering side" which was placed traditionally on the right hand side as most men are right-handed.

The other side was originally the "larboard" side, possibly deriving from the words for "loading side" but this sounded too much like "starboard" and might be misheard, leading to disaster so from the 1600s informally and formalised by the Royal Navy in the 1800s the term "port" came to be used for the left hand side of the ship. This is the side of a ship that would be against the port when docking so as to reduce the risk of damaging the steering oar or rudder.

The roll-on roll-off ferry Leirna making ready to take on traffic to take across from Lerwick to Bressay, the island directly opposite Lerwick. She was built in 1992 specifically for this role.

The beautiful Diana Memorial Drinking Fountain. The Diana was a whaling ship, trapped over the winter in the Arctic in 1866-67. Out of a crew of 50, which included 30 Shetlanders, nine men died during the winter. The Diana's captain was one of them. Four other men were near to death when the ship made into Shetland. The drinking fountain has more recently been replaced with a sculpture of an overflowing chalice.

Chromate Lane, formerly Lochend's Closs. There was a bewildering number of streets with mention of a former name. Apparently in 1845 the Commissioners of Police changed the names of a whole swathe of them. In more recent times, in 2005 there was a call for Shetland to do away with mock-Viking street names.

The shopping area of the town was pleasant to walk through. I found a musical instruments shop and as often happens in such places I fell into a conversation about music and guitars with the shop keeper and another customer which passed an agreeable ten minutes until Miss Franny appeared at the door, having been waiting for me up the road. "I knew where you would be!" she said accusingly...

The Fisheries Protection Vessel Hirta caused a bit of controversy when being built in 2008 as the contract for building the two previous vessels of this Jura class were awarded to Ferguson shipbuilders in Glasgow. Hirta was built in Poland at the Remontowa Shipyard. The ships are responsible for the inspection of fishing vessels in British waters under the auspices of The Marine Sea Fisheries Inspectorate.

Fort Charlotte. The first fort on this site was built during the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1652-53. There is no trace of that fort still in existence. In 1655 King Charles II had another fort built on the same site when the Second Anglo-Dutch War started. Even though unfinished in 1667, the Dutch didn't know this and it held off their fleet. At the end of the war the Government decided it was no longer needed and it was deliberately slighted - partly demolished to render it useless as a fortress. Laughing hysterically, the Dutch decided to have a Third Anglo-Dutch War and finding it unmanned, they set fire to it in 1673.

The fort we see dates from 1781 and was built and garrisoned by King George III against the chance of Napoleon nipping up and taking over Shetland. At the time it was right on the coast line. Land reclamation and subsequent building work has left it much less imposing these days. It is named for George's Queen Charlotte and has never seen action.

We started to make our way slowly back towards the ship. Ferry traffic was now lined up ready to drive onto the Leirna. A large ferry is in with a Viking painted on the side. Strange how the horned helmet has become such an icon - one upward sweep of a sword would knock it off. They'd have had to be bloody mad to have worn anything so vulnerable...

The Nil Desperandum looked in a sorry state - somewhat at odds with its name really...

As the afternoon wears on we come onto the Promenade Deck to find the pilot boat standing by and two port workers ready to release the cables from the dock.

The sky is definitely changing though and the captain has admitted there may be some movement of the ship overnight as we head for our next port of Bergen, Norway.

I wander round to the other side of the boat and spot movement in the water - there's a number of seals in the strait between Lerwick and Bressay.

"They are sea lions not seals!" comes a loud voice near me, eager to impress his companions. Rot... For one thing there's no ball on its nose...

We cast off, ship the anchor, splice the mainbrace - "That's coming out of your wages, lad..." - haul on the sheets, hoover the rugs and all sorts of other nautical terms as the ship moves away from the port side (which is to starboard, making a mockery of everything I said a while ago). I said no good would come out of putting the rudder in the middle... The pilot boat comes alongside to take off the pilot.

A swimming seabird suddenly thinks "I'm off - he's bigger than me!"

The tip of Bressay comes into sight and then falls behind as we take a sighting from the sun, heave away me hearties, plot a course, roll into the swell, navigate the clashing rocks, close our ears to the song of the harpies and think fondly of an over-sextant... (huh?) By crikey, I think there's a novel in me yet...!

Farewell ye wee bit o' Scotland! We're heading for Vikingland again...

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Saturday, 26 August 2017

Fire and Ice: Villages, Sights and Culture in The Faroes

Monday 7 August 2017. After a day at sea, we arrive in the Faroe Islands - previously just a name on the shipping forecast. But whilst we were due to dock in the capital, Torshavn, our place was usurped by another cruise liner and we found ourselves along the coast a little way at a place called Kollafjord (Faroese = Kollafjørður).

We were on an afternoon tour and got off the ship after breakfast for a walk and to admire the reflections of waves on the bow of the Celebration. Once we set off on our walk we found a group of despondent crew members walking back to the ship. "No wifi," explained one. A serious blow to hard-working people with families thousands of miles away.

It is unbelievably peaceful here in the fjord. If it weren't for the fish factory behind us it would be ideal!

A row of boat houses belonging to people from the village of Kollafjørður just up the road. We'll be calling there later to have a look at the church.

A couple of boats with mid-boat engines are moored at the end of the row. Here they sit facing the gorgeous scenery of the fjord. The horizontal lines of exposed rock on the hillsides are the results of the movement of ice before the layers of permafrost melted after the last ice age.

Afternoon comes and we get on a coach for our excursion, head through a tunnel and get this view of the capital of the Faroes, Torshavn. It's one of the smallest capital cities in the world, but home to around a third of all Faroese people.

Our coach stops a couple of times for photo stops. No... we weren't trying to spot the Faroese Hondas, Hyundais and Skodas...

We were looking out to sea to this small volcanic - or once-volcanic - island. Faroe is dotted with these cairns that you see in the foreground. Before roads, they led the way from one village to another.

This little mobile wooden hut (look for the wheels!) had spaces between the slats and was for hanging and drying fish. And yes, the roof is covered in grass. It will not be the only grass roof we see on this trip.

Our next stop is at a village called Kvivik. The road down involves a sharp turn from the main road and because of a car wanting to turn out we have to go past and then find a place to turn the coach around before we can turn off ourselves.

We stop in a coach park up the hillside from the village which is reached by walking alongside the river. A Faroese Polperro! The river is the River Stora. This is no great expanse of water but never-the-less it is full of rocks and drops and makes for a most agreeable gurgling of water as you make your way down in to the village which clusters at the river mouth.

Not far from the car park you start to walk past houses and cars have only the path to travel down which is narrow and does not have any great protection by way of wall or strong barrier to prevent falling off into the river. If you visit, please allow cars to pass without the driver having to risk this. It's their village after all. We saw cars having to wait whilst groups walking three abreast refused to get into single file. Just rude... The church is not the original, but dates from 1903. The oldest occupied house dates from the 1700s.

Kvivik meets the sea and the River Stora flows out via a narrow channel with a high wall on one side and a mysterious curved grassy bank to the right.

This is part of the remains of a wall. There are two Viking houses here. In fact Kvivik was one of the first places in the Faroe Islands to be settled.

Another view of the Viking hut remains. On the left a small side entrance can be seen on the extreme left and the hearth, in the middle of the room where smoke from the fire would go up into the roof, helping to both seal it and keep it free from rodents. There would be a small hole for the smoke to escape through. In the right-hand hut some separation into rooms or stalls for animals can be seen. Animals would be kept inside to add their warmth to the hut.

We move on to the village of Leynar, to meet a wood turner and see his creations. We had seen grass roofs before, both in Norway and Iceland. The weight, particularly when wet, helps keep the roof rooted (sorry!) when the winter gales come. They can be left to grow long - there were plenty of examples - or can be cut by lifting a mower up ... or a sheep or goat!

The wood turner is Ole Jakob Nielsen. Only half of us fit into his workshop and we were right at the back. The smell of wood and linseed oil was intoxicating and the shower of splinters and shavings as he demonstrated his lathe made those closest shrink back a little!

Ole Jakob introduced himself and showed us how he made - of all things - light shades! In order to get light to shine through wood it has to be cut to a thickness of between 0.5-1.0 millimetres. As we were at the back we were the last out and when asked Ole Jakob immediately agreed to pose for a photograph. His unusual felt hat had been made by his daughter and the long back with the curl stopped shavings from going down his collar!

Whilst the other people from the coach came in to see his demonstration, we had a look around his gallery and shop. It's fair to say that this is not a cheap shop, but the goods are unique! We looked at the price of a lamp but it was almost four and a half times as much Danish krone as we had brought for the day. We did buy a small fruit bowl.

A rather demonic mask on the side of Ole Jakob's workshop then it's back onto the coach and a return by way of a very long road tunnel to Kollafjørður where we visit the old Lutheran church.

It is one of nine that were built between 1830 and 1850. This particular church was built in 1837. Our guide speaks about it, giving us a rendition of the Faroese National Anthem in the Faroese tongue and with quite a decent voice which earns him a round of applause.

Apparently all Lutheran churches have a model of a ship. St Gregory the Great wrote that the Church is a ship that takes us from birth to death and it has become a feature of all Lutheran churches.

Kollafjørður church has the traditional grass-covered roof. We get back onto the coach and drive back to the Celebration. Tomorrow's destination is Lerwick on the isle of Shetland.

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