Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014 – Dover, UK – Foggy, Cloudy - 55F

Distance from Bergen, Norway to Dover, UK: 588 Nautical Miles

Total Voyage Distance: 3640 Nautical Miles; 4188 Statute Miles

After a totally fantastic cruise, we are back in cloudy, foggy, Dover, England.

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Back in Dover

Since we have a pretty late assembly time (9:30 AM) in the Cabaret Lounge, we did not set an alarm.  All the hustle and bustle in the halls and the subtle vibration of the thrusters did serve as a wake up.

We had a relatively relaxing breakfast in the Panorama Buffet – it was not very crowded since a lot of folks had already left the ship. 

About 9 AM we went to the Cabaret Lounge to wait for our color and number to be called.  We left a bit earlier than 9:30 AM to see if we could get a good seat on the bus. 

The passport control process was very easy and in minutes we were at the bus – they took our vouchers and we took the first two seats (after asking if there were any wheelchair passengers on board).  In a few minutes, the rest of the passengers started arriving and about 9:45 PM, the bus departed for Heathrow.

Travel time from Dover to Heathrow is about two hours (depending on traffic).  Even though we were on the highway, we could still see a lot of the English countryside.  It was quite a while until we saw our first sign for Heathrow Airport.  Our driver drove that bus like a car, changing lanes adroitly, while adhering to the speed limit.

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Going in the Right Direction

It might be a two hour ride to Heathrow but getting to your terminal is another journey altogether.  Our flight departs from Terminal 3.  The plan would be to drop passengers at Terminal 5, Terminal 4, and then Terminal 3.  Sounds simple but the whole process took nearly an hour.  Finally at about 1 PM, we arrived at Terminal 3.

Passport Control went pretty quickly and, since were TSA Pre-Checked, we got into a shorter line and went quickly through security.  I didn’t have to take off my shoes but I did have to take out my computer. 

Soon, we were in semi-comfortable seats in Terminal 3.  Our flight, AA91, was scheduled to depart at 5:15 PM but we wouldn’t be able to find out our gate until 3:55 PM.

We did have adapters for the ubiquitous chargers so we were able to read and use our Kindles and laptops.  Sometimes, a Kindle makes an excellent identity hiding device.

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Who is Behind the Kindle?

We ate our lunch which, as is our tradition, included airport crisps and a diet coke (about 4 pounds total).  This should keep us going until we get our meals on the plane.

One of the drawbacks of waiting hours at Heathrow is that I look at the place as an international gathering place for every exotic microorganism.  Who knows what you can come home with from LHR?

At about 4:00 PM we got out gate assignment (Gate 34).  Getting there would require quite a walk/moving sidewalk journey.  We got there with about 15 minutes to spare before boarding.  Good news – our aircraft, a 767-300, was waiting at the gate.

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AA91 Waiting at Gate 34

Although it was a bit confusing – extra passport checks at the gate – we eventually boarded.  We had some good seats – 20H and J – bulkhead.  Having had these seats before, I am pretty certain that American has reduced the legroom in bulkhead by adding another row of seats somewhere.  Still, better seats than the rest in Economy. 

The plane pushed a few minutes late but soon began its taxi.  I spotted an Emirates Airbus A380 and got a great picture of the monster plane. 

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A Big A380

The captain said it would be bumpy on the climb out (there were some very dark clouds out there).  He was right – pretty choppy as the plane maneuvered around some impressive cumulus clouds. 

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Heathrow Climb Out

Even when we got above the clouds, there was still considerable chop.  Being over the wings is the place to be.

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Blue Skies and Still Choppy

Once we cleared land and got over the open Atlantic, the ride smoothed out and remained that way for most of the flight.  Just some mild chop.  The “Seat Belt” signed only came on a couple of times.

Our lunch was pretty good – a beef dish of some kind with potatoes -   Also had some wine with lunch.

Spent most of the flight working on this blog and re-watching “Thor: The Dark World”.  On this flight, there was only one movie running on the main screen.

Soon we were over Labrador and I could spot land below.

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Over Land

We got a snack before we landed – I would call it a “Veggie Knish” and it was pretty good.  Also a very tasty cookie. 

The plane came down over Michigan but the cloud cover was too thick to see anything.  Making it worse, the sun was directly in our eyes.

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Over Michigan

It was hazy over the Lake and the North Shore – our flight path took us just south of Evanston. 

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Over the Lake

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South of Evanston

The plane was vectored directly into O’Hare – we didn’t have to fly beyond the airport and make that big 180 turn prior to final approach.

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Final Approach to O’Hare

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Touchdown – Right on Time

We hustled to get in line for passport control.  Our line took us to the automated passport control kiosks.  We had trouble with these readers last time but this time, even with our new passports, we were able to get them scanned.  Ellen’s receipt came with an X on it so we had to talk to someone from Border Control.  It turns out that Ellen wasn’t on the plane manifest they had so she was flagged.  He quickly processed her and we went to pick up our bags.

Both bags were there and getting through the final check was easy.

Even better, we had a ride home – no dealing with taxis after this 9 hour flight.  And to top it all off, we stopped at Mickey D for ice cream cones (less than a buck).

A terrific cruise and trip to the land of Fire and Ice.

Saturday, July 19, 2014 – At Sea (North Sea) – Cloudy, Hazy – 61F

A nice final day at sea…

 20140719_ships position (Small)

Had a nice omelet for breakfast in the Panorama Buffet.  I really do like the fact that both the omelet and fried egg stations are not crowded and I can always find a clean pan for my meatless omelets.

I spent a few minutes going over my talk and also got there early today to spend a little time with the passengers.  As it turned out, the culinary demonstration was still going on when I arrived.  The crew did a great job of clearing all of the tables and chairs so I could get set up.

My final talk was at 11:15 AM - “Search for the Unknown Titanic Child”.  I was pleased with another full house (300 plus) and a nice final round of applause.  I chatted with quite a few passengers who relayed very positive feedback.  A very successful series.

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Final Talk – “Search for the Unknown Titanic Child”

We received our luggage tags the other night and we are the last group to leave the ship – Princess Transfers to Heathrow – at 9:30 AM.

Ellen did most of the packing during the day – I still don’t know how all of that stuff gets into the carry-ons.

Spent the day in the Tahitian Lounge reading.  I finished the latest Beverly Connor book, “Dead Guilty”.  I haven’t found any of her books as interesting as the first one I read – this one took almost 90 percent of the book to get to the key points and then it turned out that the killer was what I call “the extra person”.  There were no red herrings and very little evidence to help the reader find their way.  I have more of her books and I am still looking for another gem.

We ran into CD Peter and DCD Jason and some of the dancers up in the Panorama Buffet at dinner.  I thanked him for his support (wrote him a note, too) and he said that he was pleased with the way the series went.  Even Felicity, one of the dancers, added that it had gone well.  I guess they watch them on TV.  I would certainly like to work with Peter in the future.  There were no glitches whatsoever on this cruise.

We did catch a set with Chico and Dawn in the Casino Lounge before heading back to the room.  This ship recommends that you place most of your bags out in the hall before you go to dinner.  We put our two bags out around 10:30 PM.

We received our Princess Transfer Vouchers and we are all set to go tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014 – Bergen, Norway – Sunny – 70F

Distance from Skjolden, Norway to Bergen, Norway: 159 Nautical Miles

A beautiful day in Norway’s Second City…

Port Information.  Bergen, the second largest city in Norway with a population of 392,000, was founded by the Vikings in 1070 AD.  It became a municipality in 1838.  The waterfront area boasts a World Heritage Site, the Bryggen.  The harbor area consists of restaurants – including an impressive Starbucks – souvenir shops, and plenty of haircut stores.  The Bryggen is a throwback to the period where Bergen worked with the German Hanseatic League, as an exporter of dried cod.  In the mid 19th Century, Bergen was the largest city in Scandinavia.  Medieval structures within the old city include the Bergenhus Fortress (13th Century) with its Rosenkrantz Tower (mid 16th Century).  Famous residents of Bergin include Henrik Ibsen, the noted playwright and author, and composer, Edvard Grieg.  Two suspension bridges span the waters leading to Bergen. 

No tours today – we are both a little tired.  The pier is very close to the city center so we plan to walk around the port area of Bergen.  We were here before so we know where just about everything is.

It is a gorgeous day in Bergen and the views from the back deck of the ship confirm that.

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Views from Deck 9 Aft

We are docked at a different pier this time but still close to the city.

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Ocean Princess Docked

I am not sure that the weather is responsible, but the town is full of tourists – stores are crowded and there are many people on the streets.  Our first stop is a wonderful, mini-park complete with local hero statue.

 20140718_flower garden ET (Small)20140718_ET local hero (Small)

The picture below of the Bryggen was carefully chosen because it contain so few random people.  We checked out a lot of the stores – I am still searching for a cap from Norway but, at around $40 – 50 – I plan to keep searching.

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The Bryggen

You really can’t go far in Norway without running across a troll.  The troll below was kind enough to pose with us for a picture.

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Local Troll Photo-Op

One of the “Strip Malls” along the main street is constructed in such a way that nothing actually appears to line up – walls are crooked – roofs slant in odd ways and everything creaks when you walk on the planks.  I know it was done on purpose but still…

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Creaky and Crooked Mall

I ducked into a nearby building housing a Health Spa and was surprised to find coin-operated tanning booths – an entire bank of them.  An easy and convenient way to increase your chances of skin cancer.

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The streets of Bergen are quite narrow – just enough room for a single car to pass through.  On the side streets away from the main drag, cars and motorcycles are prohibited (note the sign).  There are many stores along these side streets but most of the tourists are on the main street making this street below look deserted.

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Bergen is built on a hill – here’s a view up the hill showing the stacking of houses.

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We checked the McDonalds for the price of an ice cream cone – the cones were on special for two dollars (a buck or two less than last time we were here).  Across the street from Mickey D is an impressive building, which is home to the Starbucks.  The building is shared by some other businesses but the Coffee Shop is most likely the attraction.  I did not check out the price of a coffee – too scary to contemplate.

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Starbucks – Bergen Norway

We walked across the street and passed quickly by the open air fish market – being a warm day only makes the aromas more pungent.  I did want to get a picture of the inner harbor area.  Last time we were here it was raining and photos were just a mix of grays.  Not today.

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The Inner Harbor – Bergen

The sail away from Bergen was very scenic complete with hills, homes, and bridges.  We watched it from the Tahitian Lounge.

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Bergen Sail Away

The ship passed under two suspension bridges as it made its way out to sea.  The first bridge was the Askoy Bridge.  I was up on Deck 10 to watch the ship pass under this spectacular bridge.  It looked like we didn’t clear it by much but that had to be an illusion.

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Askoy Bridge (sequence above)

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The Askoy Bridge and Bergen in the Distance

Another bridge loomed ahead – this was the Sotra Bridge (a bit smaller than the first bridge).

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Sotra Bridge

We watched the rest of the sail away from the Panorama Buffet.

Showtime tonight was the final production show – “Do You Want to Dance”.  We have seen this show several times and it is always enjoyable.

 20140718_ Do You Want to Dance  1 (Small) 20140718_ Do You Want to Dance (Small)

This version of the show was a bit different with some new songs and dance routines (the dances were probably modified to work on the smaller stage).  Left intact was my favorite number – “Danny Boy” followed by an Irish Step Dance.  While they didn’t have many dancers (including missing one male dancer to an injury), the troupe still pulled off a terrific dance.  The crowd and I loved it.

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Irish Step Dance

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“Shall We Dance” Finale

Tomorrow, a relaxing day at sea.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 – Skjolden, Norway – Cloudy and Rainy – 59F

Distance from Reykjavik, Iceland to Skjolden, Norway:  1042 Nautical Miles

Still looking for the Sun…

Port Information.  Skjolden, a tiny village with Viking origins, lies along the Sognefjord.  You must navigate about 124 miles up the fjord to get to the town (the world’s longest navigable fjord).  Skjolden, which has been a port for just a few years, has a population of 400.  Skjolden is the gateway to the Jotunheimen National Park (Jotunheimen means “Home of the Giants” (24 peaks greater than 6560 feet in height).  Lom, on the other side of the mountains, has been voted “Best Place to Live in Norway”.  Norway is not a member of the EU because the country feels being a member will hurt the fishing industry by opening up waters to other EU countries.  Norway’s Hydroelectric plants supply 97 percent of the countries power; on the other hand, Norway only has 2-3 percent arable land.

On tour today - “Jotunheimen National Park, Lom Stave Church, and Waterfalls”  Ellen is on an afternoon tour - “Urnes Stave Church and Scenic Drive”. 

Before the tour, I took some pictures of the Fjord and Skjolden from Deck 5.

 20140717_Sognefjord (Small) 20140717_Skjolden (Small) 20140717_Skjolden 1 (Small) 20140717_selfie at Sognefjord (Small) 

The Sognefjord and Me

Our Guide: Anders – Driver: Jan-Henri (I think).

The bus left Skjolden and headed up the winding Sognefjellet National Tourist Route to the Jotunheimen National Park Summit (4700 feet – Northern Europe’s highest pass).  The road is a single lane, well maintained road which carries two way traffic.  There is no line down the center of the road.  When the bus encounters other vehicles – especially on a tight curve – either the bus or the car or truck has to back up so they both can pass each other.  It was a little scary since there are no guard rails in many stretches of the road.  You can be that seat belts were fastened on this trip (besides being mandatory, I believe).

It was very cloudy and foggy on the way up the pass and the reason there are no pictures.  Once at the top, the fog cleared and the bus stopped for a terrific photo op – glaciers, peaks of the Hurrungane Mountains, and snow fields.  There was blue ice in the glaciers (they don’t show up too well in the pictures).  And it wasn’t too cold at the summit – even with all that snow

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Above – views at the Summit

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A “Hanging” Glacier at the Summit

There are very large boulders found along the pass and in the park.  These boulders were moved to their location by glaciers and ice but the locals thought they were tossed by giants in their ongoing battle with Odin, Thor and the other Norse Gods.  I think the latter explanation is more interesting.

Back before this road took people over the mountains, travelers used ancient road markers – Cairns or “Vaders” – to mark the path.  The markers can still be seen along the roadside.

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Cairns to mark the way

The bus then headed down the pass along the same narrow and very windy road.

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Heading down the Mountain Road

In the valley below, our next stop was the Saga Column in Elseveter (an old farm/hotel). 

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The Saga Column

The column (131 feet high) was constructed by Wilhelm Rasmussen.  The saga column was erected in 1992 (depicting Norway history form first kind Harald 872 to the National Congress in 1814). It turned out that Rasmussen was a Nazi sympathizer so no one wanted the column.  Eventually, the hotel placed the column on its grounds.

We also thought we lost one of our passengers at this venue.  After an exhaustive search of the grounds and hotel, we left without “him” (everyone was sure there was a person missing and the initial count was consistent with someone missing).  Anders said we would pick him up on the way back – I insisted that Anders call and check on how many actual tickets were collected for his tour.  He finally got that info later and no one was actually missing – some kind of mass hypnosis.  It was exciting for a while.

While searching for the “missing passenger”, I came across a vintage gas pump.  Check it out, Mike and Frankie.

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Our next stop was the city of Lom,

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Countryside near Lom

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 20140717_Lom (Small)

Lom, Norway

where we were scheduled to visit the Mountain Museum.  I didn’t spend a lot of time in the museum proper -  I did have a chance to check on e-mails using the museum’s free WiFi. 

After the museum, we had lunch at Fossheim Hotel.  The hotel, an interesting wooden building, has been designated a “Historic Hotel of Norway”.  It is housed in a building dating back to 1897.

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Fossheim Hotel

The lunch was a typical Norwegian Buffet – on the menu was lox (good), pepper salmon (excellent), smoked haddock (salty), baked salmon (good), shredded lettuce (with sour cream and mayonnaise dressings) (unusual), a dessert that tasted like cocoa puffs in whipped cream (unusual but good).  There were also bottles of real coke and very good real coffee.  

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My Buffet Plate

For the carnivores in the crowd, there was some kind of Salisbury Steak and Pork Meatballs.  All in all, a pretty tasty meal.

After lunch, we drove back to the area of the Mountain Museum to visit the Lom Stave Church (built in 1158).  Stave churches are medieval north western European wood churches that derive their name from the post and lintel construction used (the post is call a “Stav” in Norwegian).  With only a handful of exceptions, the surviving Stave Churches are all located in Norway.  Although the church is made of wood, it has survived all these years because Lom is in the driest part of Norway – essentially desert levels of rain- and the weather is cold (they also waterproofed the church with pine tar). 

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Stave Church

Near the church and running through the town, the River Otta produces spectacular  rapids.  From the bridge, one can get great shots of the white water.

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River Otta Rapids

After the Church, the bus headed back to the ship along the same Tourist Road so I had a chance to take more pictures of magnificent glaciers and mountains.  Note:  Rivers are greenish because of dissolved silt and minerals dragged down from mountains.

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Glaciers and Mountains Redux

We tried to stop at a view point called “Oskar’s Viewpoint” (named after King Oskar who over a century ago walked across the mountain.  He stopped at this point and declared it the “Most Beautiful View”).  Not today, Oskar – only clouds.

Our final stop, very close to the ship was the cascading waterfall, Asafossen Falls.

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Asafossen Falls

Directly opposite the Falls, there was a spectacular view of the valley and the mountains.

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Ellen took some great pictures on her tour (the Fjord and surrounding areas – she took a circle tour of the Fjord including a ferry ride). 

One of her stops was at the Urnes Stave Church

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Urnes Stave Church

The Church – constructed in 1130 – is a link between Christian and Viking architecture and the oldest church of its kind.  For its place in history, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ellen’s pictures – including a great shot of the Ocean Princess docked - are below.

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We finally made it back to the ship and the Captain confirmed that all passengers were on board (no one missing after all).

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We had dinner in the Panorama Buffet.  From there, we could watch the fantastic sail away through the Sogneford.

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Skjolden Sail Away

The Captain did a little narration as we moved through the Fjord including pointing out a magnificent waterfall.

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Showtime tonight featured Comedy-Vocalist Diane Cousins from Wales.  She was very entertaining (especially when she sang) but I could only understand about half of what she said (the accent was heavy and she spoke under her breath). 

We caught Tommy McPhee again in the Casino Lounge and I finally got a picture of Tommy.

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Tomorrow, we are in Bergen, a very large city (second largest in Norway). 

The weather promises to be great.