Tuesday, March 15, 2016

And Back to Bergen

The final days' passage down the coast to Bergen brought our only truly rough weather of the journey, with rain and choppy seas. This persisted as we drove around to take a look at the city, the steep-roofed warehouses along the water being the famous Bryggen or Hanseatic commercial buildings.

King Haakon Haakonsson had a less obstructed view of the fjord when he built his hall around 1250. It's believed to have been designed by the architect to Henry III of England, one of Haakon's allies, and it remains the largest secular medieval building in Norway.

The Bryggen are a ramshackle affair, built around 1702 and the outpost of the Hanseatic league at Bergen. It was largely a self-governing and protected enclave from which the league controlled the trade in, among other things, herring and cod, until the Dutch and others developed the muscle to break their monopoly. The league was a confederation of merchant guilds from member cities and essentially controlled trade in the area of the Baltic and North Sea and into the interior of Northern Europe from around 1400 to 1800.

The oldest building in Bergen is St. Mary's church, from the 12th century.

The Fantoft stave church was originally built around 1150, then moved twice to preserve it. However, it was destroyed by arson in 1992 by members of the early Norwegian black metal scene, purportedly in retaliation for building a church on sacred pagan land. It was reconstructed a few years later and is now protected by a chain link fence.

Completely unique to Bergen are the Buecorps or Archery Brigades, boy-run marching units organized at the neighborhood level. As you can see, they just march around in the midst of traffic. They seem to have been around from the 18th and 19th centuries, becoming formally organized around 1850, and can also do charitable work.

Credit Where Credit's Due

Thanks to the experts who accompanied our group:




Sunday, March 13, 2016

Back to Trondheim

Yes, it's Olav Trygvasson again, this time favored by the early morning light. As the Hurtigruten express ships make their way up and down the coast, almost every port is visited twice, although at greatly different times of day.

The Royal Family maintains a residence in Trondheim, the ancient capital and the country's third largest city. We joined our group for a very chilly 7:30 walk about the city over sidewalks thick with ice.

We walked over to Nidaros Cathedral again and through the arch to the Bishop's Residence.

Then over the Nidelva River on the Old Town Bridge (from 1861) through the Gate of Fortune to take a look at the world's first and only bicycle lift that ascends a hill on the other side of the river. Alas, it was closed for the winter, but here's the manufacturer's website. http://trampe.no/en/home

The bridge afforded a great view of some of the warehouses lining the river, now converted to apartments.

Out in the fjord itself is Monk's Island, a storied piece of rock serving as a Viking execution ground, a monastery, a fortress, a prison, a WWII anti-aircraft installation, and most recently a place for locals to go for a swim in summer.


Friday, March 11, 2016

The Northern Lights

Mission Accomplished. We had wanted to see the coastline and fjords, learn more about the Vikings, and experience the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. Not a particularly flattering picture, relying on an iPhone to illuminate Amanda's face, without which her head looked like a flaming red ball.

The Northern Lights occur directly overhead and form great bands and arcs and ribbons and curtains across the entire sky when you are in the region where they occur in the ionosphere. That region is like an enormous narrow floppy donut plopped on top of the world. You are outside of the region if you are too far south or too far north. It's like two gigantic rings of fire, one in each polar region, north and south, because the auroras are the solar wind captured and directed by the earth's magnetic field and exciting the oxygen and nitrogen in the ionosphere at the altitudes in which satellites circle the world.

While the Northern Lights can be seen at lower latitudes, they are seen on the horizon, not spanning the entire sky. Whenever you see the Northern Lights with the naked eye they, to our surprise, don't look like this. The shapes and diaphanous appearance are true to nature, but the color is not. The strong green color is an artifact of photography and videography because cameras are more sensitive to the slight greenish cast that is inherent in the Aurora. When you see the Aurora the color is indistinguishable from the color of clouds or of light pollution. You determine that it is, in fact, an Aurora by photographing it. If it is light pollution it will look orangish, if it's a display of Aurora it will be green.

The purple color is also an indication of strong solar wind activity, for the key to a wonderful display is a lot of solar wind and a clear night. We were fortunate. It was a bit of a challenge to capture reasonable photographs of the Northern Lights aboard a ship. The star squiggles are evidence of both the movement of the ship and the strong winds buffeting us on deck in the open at the stern, behind the funnel. Had the weather cooperated before we exited the magic donut, we would have as a last attempt (for you photographers) dramatically increased the ISO in order to shorten the exposure time.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Different Perspective

Docking in Harstad, we began a well-timed bus trip over several islands, stopping along the way at the world's most northerly medieval stone church (1250) at Trondeness. The choir screen and pulpit are from 1762. Actually, it was a rather nice church and a pastor officiated at a supposedly ecumenical tri-lingual mini-service. Odd.

With a three-hour bus trip, part of which was onboard a ferry, the most impressive part was the timing of the passage of our ship under a bridge as the bus drove across it. They almost deserve the free advertising, above. (We were catching up with the ship at the next port.)

Back at sea, the weather turned to snow and rain, which dampened our plans for more northern lights gazing at night, but added more atmosphere to the late afternoon scenery. This is the Trollfjord previously shown in the night time photo in "On Our Way to a Viking Feast."


Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Hammerfest likes to call itself the northernmost town in the world, although to do so it must rely on definitions that exclude some rather substantial settlements. More legitimate claims to fame include that of being the Polar Bear city (although none have ever lived on the island on which it is located) and as the home of an obelisk marking a primary measurement point for the Struve Geodetic Arc (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Huh? From 1816 though 1855, the Russian astronomer Struve supervised a triangulation project northwards through Europe from Ismail on the Black Sea all the way to Hammerfest to prove that Newton was right and that the Earth isn't perfectly spherical, but is flattened a bit at the poles. So, this was the end of the road.

Hammerfest, suffering the same fate as Kirkennes, has only one building that survived WWII. It also boasts a church designed to look like cod drying racks. Oil and gas are tremendously important, with tax revenue pulling in US$20 million for a town of 10,000 inhabitants. All of the oil and gas is exported. Norwegians rely on hydropower and wind.

All along the coast you can see scatterings of houses that have only one way in or out.

Acquaculture, primarily salmon farming, is another important industry.

But, tourism due to scenery like this also helps keep the lights on through those long winter nights. This was a stretch of water we motored through at night on the way north. It was nice to see it at dusk.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Link to the East

Kirkennes is the end of the line for the coastal ship line, the turnaround point. It's further east than St. Petersburg or Istanbul and the link to Russia and Finland in the north. In fact, the three countries have created a transit zone to benefit local residents of their countries, including the indigenous Sami people. So, Kirkennes has far more shopping centers than would be justified by its own population.

It is a city with no buildings from before the end of World War II because it was totally destroyed by a combination of the Allied bombing of the 100,000 German troops stationed there as the staging area for Operation Barbarosa, the Russian liberation of the city from the German's after the failure of the German invasion, and the complete destruction of what remained of the city by the final retreating SS troops.

The civilians of the occupied city survived by hiding underground. 3,000 were in an old mine outside of town (where 11 babies were born) and 1,000 people lived in this tunnel (Andersgrotta) especially built for the emergency by the local people.

The people of Kirkennes consider the Russians to be heroes, their liberators from the Nazis, but worry this is omitted from history books. During the Cold War, the Norwegian government "improved" the tunnel by adding electricity and toilets, convinced that the Soviet Union would invade them. Our local guide made it clear that this was not a sentiment shared by the town.

Here, at the border with Russia is where over 5,000 refugees recently crossed into Norway from Syria, Afghanistan and other troubled spots in the midst of winter. People from Kirkennes welcomed them as best they could and brought clothes and blankets to help with the extreme cold. They, after all, think of themselves as border people who have all ended up here because their ancestors were fleeing as refugees. It's a blending of cultures and peoples and elementary school children are taught five languages simultaneously, Norwegian, Finnish, Russian, Sami & English. We did not enter Russia, the fine is over $500.

We coaxed our intrepid leader into demoing a really great sled. Actually, John is an amazing resource, especially concerning the Viking Age. He has 20 books to his credit and has an exceptional sense of humor.

Beginning our trip back towards Bergen, we stopped briefly at Vardo and took a look at the world's most northerly fortress, built in 1734.