Sunday 30 September 2012

It's not a Fjord...

…it's a river! No ice is coming down at the end of the waterway, just more water, leading into Germany's hinterland - we are definitely going south.
The passage upstream the Elbe river is certainly a highlight of every cruise, no matter the weather conditions. But to do it in the mild autumn sunlight of this Sunday morning is a gift. Gentle pastures, the odd village here and there, forests and clearings are lining the slow, yellowish stream in the beginning. Further up we are getting more and more indications for a big city coming up, huge electricity masts, a power plant here, an aluminium factory there, Airbus' landing strip - and ships, ships, ships. The city of Hamburg is one of the old domains of the Hanseatic League, seamanship is its middle name. The port of Hamburg is not only big, but world famous for the old storage houses, all set in red brick, the fish market - and recently for the opera house, an ambitious, shiny project that will break all records for miscalculation and poor planning. But it looks nice, and if it is ever going to be ready it will be a fine place…
Hamburg's reputation as a sophisticated, proud place shows best when you take a walk into town; elegant shops, pleasant cafés, posh boutiques, art and culture are the dominant impression. Together with the sturdy architecture of a harbour city it creates a very unique atmosphere, so a stroll on a day like this is a sheer pleasure. 
The sea is the beating heart of this place, pumping its water in and out, for the river has quite a bit of tidal difference. At low tide muddy channels emanate a bit of a stench, at high tide you have to avoid certain places for reasons of being flooded.
Short is the time to take in all the impressions, in the afternoon there is a large number of "fresh" guests arriving, looking forward to our journey southbound, eventually ending in Las Palmas. Check-in is done, the mandatory exercise is conducted, pilot on board - aaaaaand off! we go, lines are cast and FRAM is on her way! 

Weather hasn't changed a bit, so everybody gets to see river Elbe at its best. And we had even faithful friends greeting us with the Norwegian flag from there Elbside balcony…! Of course that earned them a short blast from the chip's horn.A wonderful beginning of an exciting journey!

Saturday 29 September 2012

Rough sea on our way to Hamburg

A day at sea can be a day to relax, catch up on some reading, sit longer at breakfast then usual, visit the sauna or to stand on one of the outerdecks to enjoy the views. But this was maybe not possible for everybody today since the sea was quite rough. We had windspeeds of 18-20 m/s (8 on the scale of Beauford) and waves of around 4 meters high, which made the ship moving quite a bit. But still some guests visited the bridge in the morning and attended one of the several lectures given during the day. A few hours after midnight we will arrive at the river mouth of the Elbe, to make our way to the German city Hamburg. Here a big group of new passengers will come on board in the afternoon.

The route South: Bergen - Las Palmas

Friday 28 September 2012

Migrating South: from Bergen to Las Palmas

Once a year the M/V Fram stays for 2 nights in the Norwegian city Bergen. We use this time for maintenance, meetings, loading new supplies and cleaning. And this year we can really say 'major' cleaning, all the carpets and the chairs were cleaned by Norwegian professionals. And the result is there, they look brand new again. We also received a lot of new supplies here, the crew was working to the last minute to load everything on the car deck. Today the first guests arrived between 13 and 15 o'clock. This is the first bunch of them, the rest will come aboard in Hamburg. Most of the current passengers stay on board until Las Palmas (Canary islands), but some only stay on board until Hamburg. After the check-in procedures and the safety drill we left the harbour of Bergen, bow of the Fram heading South: sunshine here we come!! And as soon we were loose from the pier it stopped raining and we could enjoy the coastline of the many islands scattered around Bergen city. Many of these island are connected by bridges. We sailed under the bridges called Askøybrua and Sotrabrua. Askøybrua is a suspension bridge and crosses Byfjorden between Bergen and Askøy. It opened in 1992, and is the longest suspension bridge in Norway. It is 1057 meters long and has a main span of 850 meters.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Back we are!

So, dear Readers - here we are again!
We are awfully sorry for the long break, but as you can see now we have been far from lazy. Although the Blog could not be published since September 5, we kept writing and photographing, all in the hope for a fast internet connection in Bergen, Norway.
So, now you can benefit from nearly three weeks of continuous and exciting travels, all new, all good!!


Monday 24 September 2012

The Wind has the Last Word

We expected to reach Leith, in Scotland, in the early morning. The busses were waiting for us at the pier to bring us around on our different excursions. We knew already, that there would be wind, but nobody expected weather conditions like this. The wind was blowing so strong, that there has been no possibility to reach the harbor in a safety way. Even we have been disappointed everybody could see very clear that there has been no possibility to come in. 
Later on we knew even more. If we had reached Leith in the morning, we would not have had the chance to leave the harbor again as there has been such a strong deep pressure system over Scotland with very strong storms for the whole day and the next night also. As we had to reach our last destination – Bergen – in time, the Captain made the decision to sail directly to Norway. 
After such a long time with really extraordinary weather conditions we had to pay our bill now. The wind was blowing with Beaufort 7 – 8 out of north easterly direction and our FRAM had to fight against the waves. Only the strongest passengers have been able to listen to the lectures. During the afternoon more and more passengers went to their cabins to have a rest. The evening program had to be canceled as the wind chanced more and more into a very strong storm. It has been a very quiet evening in the restaurant and in the lounge as well.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Riddles in Orkney

Take the Norwegian flag, and just replace the white bits with yellow - voilà, you have the flag of the Orkney Islands. Says a lot, doesn't it? Indeed, if you ask an Orcadian on holiday for his nationality, he will say he is an Orkney Islander. Maybe, only maybe he might concede to be Scottish, but never, ever he will be British. The affinity to Norway has a long history, about a royal dowry that couldn't be paid, Islands being annexed and all the wild things in politics that make nice stories to tell today, but may have been very tough for the people.
Anyway, we are here to marvel at much older events: Our gentle overland drive leads us from Kirkwall to the other side of the "mainland", as the largest of the over 100 Islands is called. Here, in Skara Brae, a fierce storm in the later 19th century revealed the stunning ruins of an old culture, a village so well organised and built that we have no problem at all to relay to this lifestyle, a little bit rural, mayhap, but all there, solid beds around a fireplace, shelves as if delivered by some Neolithic Ikea, and corridors so well conceived that they barred out the wind and the cold while connecting all the houses very conveniently. A great deal of planning and skill was required to achieve this, and it's impossible to look at this site without reverence to the "project manager" of the old days.
Oh, did I mention that we see all this on the most beautiful of days…? Yes, again, sunshine and the green smells of lush pastures all around us, our luck seems infinite.
After a quick glance into Skaill House, the most luxurious manor of the Orkneys, even visited by the Queen Mother in 1983, we carry on to a true mystery site - Brodgar, the stonehenge of the Orkneys. Only here you can get close, here we are alone without ten thousands of people milling about, here we get the good views. The achievement - again - was huge: Not only had these giant rock slabs to be brought from the area of Skara Brae, 15 miles away, but they had to be planted deep into the ground, only two thirds emerging. And then there's the ditch which dwarfs even those efforts: Nine meters wide, three meters deep, half of it carved into the bedrock (!), it has been calculated a task which required about 80.000 man hours. Without taking care of the debris which also had been removed from the site.
What for? Why? Well, nobody really knows. There's a plethora of theories growing around these henges, were they astronomic devices, amphitheatres for religious services, meeting point, seat of governments - it remains dark, no document existing, no writing, no legacy except these marvellous structures. The few runic carvings were made much later, by the Vikings who had not much more to say than the average graffiti today (Bjørn was here), quite disappointing.
Just next door, well, next Loch there is another of these structures, smaller maybe, but the mystery is just as big.
Full of thoughts we return to the ship and off we go towards Edinburgh.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Of Wicks and Voes, Brochs and Lochs

According to the locals, only two days of the year have not seen sh…y weather. One of them is certainly today, and the other one was in May - when FRAM called Lerwick for the first time this year… So, our good weather engine seems to be running full speed, immaculate skies preside over a warm day in the green, green countryside of Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands. Wick meaning rectangular bay, by the way, as opposite to a Voe, which is V-shaped. Good to know.
The difference couldn't be more accentuated than by the architecture. Whereas on the Faroer Islands the Scandinavian wooden houses are ubiquitous, only in their own red and black coloration, we are running smack into the heavy, grey, but very charming Victorian style buildings here. Turrets, beautifully crafted masonry and the wonderfully inviting painted signs over shops and pubs, heralding the presence of the old traditions.
Like the Faroer Islands, Shetland is an accumulation of many Isles and Islets. Mousa has gained a lot of attraction for its large number of sea birds, is a well-known spot among birders. Only that at this time of the year most of the birds have migrated by now, further South to spend their time until the next breeding cycle. (If they only knew about the fine weather here…) But Mousa is at the same time a much frequented leisure place for many seals, so the excursion on this emerald green speck of land is a heaven for wildlife photographers.
History is at its best when you travel towards the southern tip of Shetland, passing the crystal clear Lochs (lakes) and spend some time in Jarlshof. Already people of the Neolithic discovered the benefits of this place and built their homestead there. So favourable are the conditions here, with access to fresh water, protection, fishing grounds and building material, that also much later, in the Bronze and Iron Age people would come and settle, partly reusing the dominant sandstone slabs for their - much more sophisticated - houses. So it is not surprising, too, that the place kept popular throughout the Viking and Medieval times. Fighting times these were, apparently - Shetland features more than 120 Brochs - ultra solid watchtowers.
A true historian's delight, and everybody checks hundreds of images on the way back to Lerwick. Pardon me - Ler-Wick.

Friday 21 September 2012

Welcome to the "Sheep Islands"!

The morning we spent aboard listening to the different kind of lectures which have been so nicely prepared by our lecturer team. We could choose between lecturers with different topics in English, German and Norwegian; so everybody could find the right talk for himself.
Around lunchtime we reached the Faroe Islands our destination for the afternoon. The busses were waiting for us at the pier already so that we could start our different excursions on the islands directly after the authorities have given the ship free.  
The Faroe Islands are a group of islands under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark; app. half way between Norway and Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean. 50 000 (in 2010) people are living on these Islands, nearly in the middle of nowhere. The volcanic islands are rugged and rocky, the coasts are mostly cliffs. In these cliffs you can find an enormous amount of seabirds during spring and summer time.
That´s the reason why so many tourists - many of them are birders - are coming to the Faroe Island. The economy is still based on the fishing industry and we could see the first fishing boats when we were going alongside with FRAM in the harbor.
After dinner many passengers went up to the bar for a last cocktail and to listen to some crew members that were singing for us.

Thursday 20 September 2012

From Iceland to Islands

Well, aren’t we just lucky?? The passage between Iceland and the lands toward the East has a reputation that could scare the living daylight out of the faint of heart, the North Atlantic waters can be as fierce as the infamous Drake Passage. But no, the skies are mild and blue, only some faint shades of clouds, the sea seems unfiltered by air or distance, the horizon being a crisp line behind a quicksilver ocean. The temperatures easily allow for a stroll or a tea on deck without twenty layers of clothing.  So the spirits are high, as is the curiosity about the lectures on board that are held in large numbers.
Since the waves are tiny-ish, nearly everybody’s condition allows to attend the presentations about sea birds, the development of the Arctic climate, Earth History, North Pole conquering, and Volcanoes, be it in German, English or Scandinavian. FRAM really lives up to its reputation as a floating university.
And the food!! Besides the regular meals there is always time for a little more, especially as a wonderful smell of waffles wafts through the decks in the afternoon. So, sitting high above the scenery, feasting on some delicacy, sipping a good Cappuccino – if this doesn’t free your mind, what does?
So let it wander, think about the marvelous place we just left, the home of Sagas, Trolls, housing the entry to the center of the Earth, being the source of enormous and cheap power as well as a peephole to Earth’s restless interior and, last but not least, an island of stunning beauty. Go through your pictures, sigh a little about the memories that lie behind you, and smile at the things that are supposed to come. The Faroe Islands are certainly one of the rarest destinations in Europe, they are simply hard to get to. Being more or less half way between Iceland and the British Isles, they are a weird mix, belonging to Denmark, but having their own currency, and the idiom rather being a sort of ancient Norwegian, supposedly the rarest European language spoken. The old ways are alive there, too, the most disputed of them the yearly mass hunt of the Pilot Whales, a violent tradition, meekly explained with the need for food. 
So, yes, a lot to think about while we are busy with our coffee upstairs. Faroers, here we come!

Wednesday 19 September 2012

It's Changeover Day again!

In the early morning we reached Reykjavik. The weather was still wonderful but most of us felt a little bit sad as we had to leave the vessel today. A trip that started 14 days ago in Longyearbyen ended here in Island. It has been an unbelievable nice cruise. The weather has been always nice; mostly blue sky and nearly no wind. We saw so much wildlife, like Arctic Hares, Ermines and Polar foxes. But one of our highlights had been the Polar bear with three nearly grown up cups on an ice flow in North East Greenland National park. We still remember our long hikes in the tundra vegetation and even in snow; that means altogether – a perfect trip came to its end. We were looking forward to this trip for a long time, now it belongs to the past already, but it will always be unforgettable.
In the afternoon the new guests arrived. Now they were looking forward to a new cruise. Some of them a little bit nervous as it will be their first cruise ever; others were travelling with us before and felt home directly. After the check in and a first coffee or tea everybody had to participate in our important rescue drill. After dinner we have been invited by our Captain and his officers. Our expedition leader introduced us to her team. After all these new experiences we have been very tired and nearly everybody wanted to go to bed. But our first highlight of this cruise should wait for us already during the first night; the northern light – the Aurora borealis. Latest now we recognized that we are on an expedition cruise and not on a normal cruise liner as there was an announcement going into all cabins in the middle of the night. But of course nobody should have missed this very special nature experience.  It looked like that we shouldn´t get a lot of sleep on this cruise; but instead of sleep we could expect various new experiences and that was what we wished and paid for.