Wednesday 2 May 2012

A hell of an active day

Welcome to the Sound of Eels - at least this is one of the possible etymological explanations for Ålesund, not confirmed, though. Fact is, we are approaching Norway fishery hub, situated on one of eight islands outside the great Storfjord. The city appeals with its strikingly homogeneous architecture, playful, with ornaments that strongly remind of - Jugendstil? That's correct, and the reason for it is a sad one, in point of fact: In 1905 the whole town was devastated by a big fire, taking down nearly all the buildings, which were wooden and stood close to each other. The historically reported strong winds on that day helped fan the flames. Miraculously, only one died, but more than 10.000 people lost their homes.

Now, do you remember Emperor Wilhelm II.? His name was mentioned before, in Bondhus, where remains of his jetty are to be seen next to the glacier lake. He was an ardent admirer of Norway and for 25 years he spent one month every summer on the west coast of Norway. Only World War I ended this habit. When the Emperor heard about the disaster he dispatched four war ships full with material to Ålesund, including 20 architects and many builders and masons. Within a couple of years, Ålesund was rebuild, bigger, stronger and according to the actual fashion in architecture - Jugendstil...
So a walk through town is a pleasure for the eyes. That's about all today, since due to May 1st celebrations, all shops are closed. Well, as a little extra we see a marching band in the streets. Anyway, some of us have other things ahead - the Wildlife Sea Safari. That means mounting on a super fast rib boat with 500 horsepowers behind it, being equipped with thermal protection suits, gloves and goggles. It's not precisely bucket seats, that means straddling across horseback-like benches. And off we fly, for want of a better word - these things do amazing 50 knots, that is more than 90 km/h, or just under 60 miles per hour. The Atlantic is gentle, so we can afford to go as far as Rundøya, facing the sea with steep cliffs and home of giant bird colonies, mainly gannets, white, elegant flyers with a long neck and yellowish beaks. They are circling around us by the tens of thousands, marvelous! Our bold drivers are probing the caves , so the cliffs are looming above us while the swell heaves us in all directions.
Only Puffins are not to be seen, at this time of the day they are feeding in open waters. Instead, we head for a little lighthouse island, which is the realm of many seals who found perfect protection against the heavy seas. And indeed, many perky little heads are checking us out, apparently rather curious than fearless.
After a while we rocket back across the ocean, just in time to get back on FRAM. Casting lines! We have a rather empty ship, since a large group took the scenic overland ride to Geiranger, where FRAM is headed, too.
To get to Geiranger you enter the Storfjorden in easterly direction, take the second turnoff to the left, and follow the Geirangerfjord to the very end. That is what many cruise ships do, and we are not making any difference. BUT: Then we take a bunch of seriously determined hikers and taxi them back with Polar Cirkel Boats to a place a bit down the Fjord which is called Skagehola. It is the entrance to a famous trail up to the Skageflå Realm, where, according to legend, people were so reluctant to pay their taxes that they took away the step ladder that led up the mountain. And steep it is, very steep, tax collector or not. So the group is rather small which proves to be advantageous for our progress. We make it in good time and finest weather, having grand scenic views on the Seven Sisters, the group of waterfalls just on the other shore. A hearty picknick in lofty heights, and then it is time for the descent again.
Hungry from all these exploits of the day, everybody welcomes the BBQ that is held outside on deck 7. What a glorious end of a remarkable day.