Friday 30 April 2010

Gudhjem/ Bornholm

Travelling in our days is amazing: yesterday Kiel, today we spent in Denmark, tomorrow Poland, later on in Russia, Finland, Sweden and then back to Germany. Imagine how long it took travellers 100 years ago what we are going to experience within the next 12 days?? At the moment we have 229 German speaking passengers on board and the morning was spent with port and excursion presentations. Around noon we reached Bornholm in typical spring weather... A mixture of rain, lots of sunshine- and some wind. The picturesque fishing village with approximately 750 inhabitants did not offer a harbor but we are very  independend with our Polar Cirkle Boats. Once ashore, many went on excursions to see either the exciting Southern part of Bornholm or for a roundtrip. Others explored the town, enjoyed the fantastic views or chatted with the locals that came down to the harbor to greet. And what would be a day in Gudhjem without some typical smoked hering or a icecream?! Too soon it was time to say "good bye" again and off we went- tomorrow it is time for Poland!

Thursday 29 April 2010

The beating heart of FRAM

At sea, at sea, that's where she longs to be…
This old line seems to fit perfectly on our brave ship, her bow ploughing the waves as if she enjoys it. But do we, who are travelling with her, working on her, living in her - do we ever think of what's moving us? With this thought in mind it might be a good idea to climb down into the deepest recesses where all propulsion comes from. Here sits the power that drives us across the oceans, that gently manouevers us into ports and fjords, that pushes FRAM through the ice with vigour. And you do hear it. You think the control room is a noisy place? Just enter the next room through the heavy door, but don't forget your ear protection! Four huge diesel generators (MAK, which is a German make) hammer their song in the belly of the boat. It's deafening, everyone who works here must be a lip reader!
And also here, especially here, maintenance is a constant chore. The guys just take apart a oil cleaning filter, it's routine for them, but looking at the amount of available tools you realized that this is highly specialized work. Thanks for all that, thanks for working so hard down here, where nobody seems to notice, in order to make this vessel what it is.

And now we are arriving in Kiel Ostseekai, in Germany after a long while.
Thanks to those who leave and a warm welcome to all the new guests. Have a good trip!!

Monday 26 April 2010

Seaport with attached History

Gdynia and Gdansk, neighbours on the Polish shores of the Baltic sea, couldn't be more different from each other. Gdynias not only has the highest building on the Baltic coast (the "Twin Towers"), also its port is big enough to host more than 40 big cruiseships at a time, so it is no wonder FRAM gets a pier all on its own!
Today, everything is a little bit out of the ordinary, since one of the victimes of the recent Smolensk plane crash was the Gdynia-based High Admiral of Poland and we arrive just on the day of the funeral ceremonies. That means traffic jam everywhere, controls and closed streets. Anyhow, the bus somehow finds a way to Gdansk, where people can walk around this very old city and get a glimpse of medieval architecture and Hanseatic style.
But this can only be a short stopover - Oslo is waiting for us!

Sunday 25 April 2010

The Art of FRAM

After all we have seen, after all we have done, after so many impressions, places, kinds of food, of churches and people it feels rather like a break from the break, a welcome opportunity to take a deep breath and - do nothing.
It is just fine to wake up for breakfast, then sit around on deck or in the lounge, contemplating the time that lies behind us. And as it happens very often: As soon as you divert the eye from the colorful outside, from the many things that are somewhere else, you start discovering what is around you. Have you ever noticed how much love for the detail is in FRAM? Well, then let me show you a bit of the artful decoration that is everywhere on our ship. Walk up the stairs and you will find beautiful copper etchings done by Anne-Birthe Hove, a Greenlandic artist, who dedicated her œvre to the tradition of the people in the north. Even the transparent ends on the handrails are made of frosted glass in the shape of icebergs, each deck in a different color.
Nothing is left to chance, when you go dancing on deck 7, take a look to the black pattern that is laid out in the dancefloor. Not many know that this symbolizes driftwood on the coast of Greenland, coming from Canada, a natural building material that played and still plays a major part in Greenlandic life. Lift your eyes to the ceiling, what do you see? Well-designed lights? OK, what else? If you look at the whole construction you will see that it is imitating the shape of a whale-hunters harpoon, and is of course another dedication to the brave Arctic people that go out in simple kayaks to hunt for their survival. Those who are more into paintings admire the water-colors of Lars Lerin that are on display in the Bistro area and have been created especially for FRAM. Speaking of painting, no one can overlook the huge depiction of an Arctic sunset by Miki Jacobsen, on the way to the restaurant.
As you can see, FRAM is not only a ship, it is a declaration of passionate devotion to the Polar regions.
After a flaming red nightfall - a display of nature's art - there is a gathering in the Lounge to witness the fashion show, an array of little performances to introduce our shop's products. Some present themselves in true top form. Art? Well, that's up to you...

Saturday 24 April 2010

Amber and Ambience

Tallinn has got something, that St. Petersburg seems to lack - a time machine.
Whereas all the palaces and cathedrals on the Russian end of the Gulf of Finland are impressing witnesses of periods and emperors long gone, showing you how it must have been in those days a walk inside the city walls of Tallinn literally takes you back into the medieaval age. It is stunning how well this place is preserved, cobblestones round as balloons, the city walls stubby and sturdy, just waiting for a Tartar attack, the towers and spires pointing at a sky that is limited by the narrowness of the alleyways. Of course, the medieaval card is played by the tourism, but somehow here it really feels like chainmail and honeybeer, like hanseatic amber trade and banners and lute playing, and you cannot pinpoint why this is. Maybe the fabulous condition of the buildings, sporting old, very old beams and pediments and bronze nails in huge oak doors. Maybe the people who are actually performing here, serving you in the tavern, playing the music or just chat with you, curtseying or bowing the old-fashioned way so naturally. Or a little bit of all. Certainly here you can forget about the speed and pressure of our cities, and when we walk back to the pier, a little bit outside, a modern port with our modern ship sitting there, the stroll that we just had, seems to be far away, like a story told or a song that's been sung a while ago. You might even want to hum it...

Friday 23 April 2010

The many St. Petersburgs

Many places are reputed to be unique. However, St. Petersburg is unique in a unique way. It is not a city, it is a history book that seems to come straight from the shelf. Empires have printed its appearance, wars and revolutions scarred its face, regimes that could not be more different from one another have left their unmistakable marks. It is incredibly rich and golden as it is grim and grey and miserable. It is a place where people enjoy life to the full while others struggle from day to day or live a deeply religious and modest life. It is fraught with art and culture, vivid with a young and ambitious theatre scene, but still keeping the noble and heavier values of traditional ballet, opera and poetry alive while next door they sell horrific Kitsch with a broad Russian smile or drive around in ridiculous cars to show off.
To see and feel the actual St. Petersburg, to get the idea of it, you probably have to spend months here. So it's not precisely what we can do here in one and a half days. Instead we get a thorough introduction to the history over the centuries by going to p(a)laces…

How to describe the dimensions? How to convey the feeling of being surrounded by dozens of granite columns weighing 114 tons each, that are simply guarding the entrance of Isaac Cathedral? How to take pictures of a place that is actually covered with several hundreds of kilograms of gold, now reflecting the light of about a square kilometre of windows? The pomp is limitless, merciless, overwhelming. And it shows oh so clearly what an Emperor/Emperess really was in his days: A supreme being, equipped with every divine right, whereas his people's only task was to honour, worship and serve him/her. Ah yes, and to just stay alive to continue to do so. Awe mixes with a certain uneasiness when you look at all these unfathomable riches, and somehow the thought steals into the back of your mind that these guys actually had it coming when the revolution of 1917 broke loose, triggered by that famous gunshot of the battleship Aurora
A lot has happened since then, wars and sieges, ending with Hitler's 900 days wait at the gates of "Leningrad". (Rumor has it that he had the invitations for the victory party in the famous Hotel Astoria already printed.)
And today? There's not one St. Petersburg, as it seems. There's many of them. A lot of new money around , hard to miss, big cars, big watches, and of course only top fashion. Not really subtle, though. Then there is a lot of friendliness, too, that feels genuine, even in a small encounter in the streets, even in a restaurant that is apparently for tourists There is all the hustle and bustle of a modern city, sometimes the scenes just don't seem to fit. Married couples and their families dancing traditional dances in old-time places, the extendes Humvee Limo waiting in the background. It is all very transitional, re-orientating, insecure on one hand, but challenging and self-assured on the other. It is charming, fascinating, unknown to us. Wish we had more time!

Thursday 22 April 2010

The Splendour of Power

Stepping on Russian soil for the first time is a significant moment. If we had crossed the harbour entrance with our ship only thirty years ago we would have been arrested - if lucky. Now we are welcomed by english-spoken guides and modern busses...
We need your patience now, folks: Two days of long excursions, so no time for an extended blog. Let me just give you some pictures as an appetizer. The rest - especially the comments - will follow in good time. Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Gateway to Russia

After a smooth crossing of the Saaristomeri, the Archipelago Sea between Sweden and Finland with its ten thousands of islands, a chilly breeze greets us in Helsinki.
Although this translates into "sunset" there is not much to see in terms of springtime. In fact, people are dressed up in thick coats, wearing hats and shawls and tell us about the harshest imaginable winter that has just passed since many years. So we do the same and dress warmly before we start to explore the city at the very far end of Europe, next door to Russia and fraught with history. And it shows at first sight: The well-kept classicistic houses that build the general background are overtopped by the fabulous white dome and the red-bricked Uspenski Cathedral, witnesses of the czarist era. When you move in town, you also recognize the typical wide-spaced, pompous but somehow grim buildings of the Russian "superpower-architecture". Then again, Jugendstil left its marks, too, like in the straight-lined railway station, the National Theatre or the filigrane glass fronts of the cafés on the Esplanade. And over the whole city lies the atmosphere of a slightly unorganized effort to combine Cosmopolitan and Bohemian lifestyle, very young, friendly and a little odd. . A truly remarkable mixture, appealing and unique.
Those who join the guided tour get to hear a Sibelius concerto in the German Church in the evening's twilight, leaving a very intense memory.
And now it is time to head for the farthest, most unknown and most exotic stop on this voyage - St. Petersburg.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

More Islands than people… least this is the first impression as you enter the Skerries of Stockholm. More than 50.000 islands and islets form a complicated labyrinth that makes the presence of an experienced pilot indispensable. And what a beautiful labyrinth it is! Smooth rocks build natural platforms to many, many cute little red cabins, shaded by trees, patrolled by large numbers of swans, ducks, and sea gulls. We are definitely the biggest ship on the pier, since we are allowed to park right alongside "Gamla Stan", the island that carries Stockholms old town centre. It's just a few steps from the gangway into the narrow cobblestone streets, where the houses seem to lean inwards like to talk to each other. In fact, the whole city of Stockholm is like a painting (on a beautiful day, that is, like we have today), everything pretty and neat and well-kept.

Those who are interested in naval history will surely adore the Vasa Museum, easy to be seen from afar with its old ship masts on top. The building is practically tailored around a famous shipwreck that sank in Stockholms harbour only fifteen minutes after starting its maiden voyage in 1628. Considering that it lay in the mud for over three hundred years, the good shape of the vessel is hard to believe. 85% of the whole hulk are original material, all the wood carvings are still full of detail, the planking, the cannon hatches - eerily intact!
In the last light of the day, we leave this charming place, everybody sighing: We could have stayed much, much longer!