Bonus post – Bergen, Norway. 9/3/18

I did not think I would have time to write another post until we got home but I forgot about the five hour layover in Copenhagen. Plus the WiFi in Copenhagen airport is much faster than it was on the boat.

In Bergen we spend much of our time packing and getting ourselves together. We have to put our luggage out in the hall at 10PM tonight and so you have to plan what you need and what you can do without.  But we do have time for a little walk around Bergen and have a local lunch.

The first thing we see on our walk is a statue of Snorri Sturluson. Snorri Sturluson’s writings provide information about persons and events in Northern Europe during the 10th and 11th centuries. He grew up in Iceland and in his writings is information about the discovery of Vinland.

Snorri Sturluson

Passing by Snorri we take a look at St. Mary’s Church. We were interested in looking inside the last time we were in Bergen but inconveniently someone was getting married.

St. Mary’s Church, Bergen, Norway

The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 1140s and completed around 1180, making this church the oldest remaining building in the whole city of Bergen. It was at least party destroyed a few times by fire but was always rebuilt.

Drawing of Bergen from 1580 with St. Mary’s Church (Item C)

Unfortunately no photos of the interior are allowed. There are some pictures on the internet though. It has a very fancy altarpiece which must pre-date the Reformation. It is all full of saints and decoration which would not have played well with the strict Lutherans. The Church was under the auspices of the Hanseatic League so escaped becoming a ruin.

Altarpiece of St. Mary’s (photograph by Morten)

There is also an interesting painting from 1676 which has a very Protestant point of view.

Protestant and Catholic praying

If you look closely at the figure on the right you will see a humble man. From his mouth you see a red line going directly to heaven. He is the Protestant. Next to him is a richly garbed man. His red line goes to the Virgin Mary and the saints. There also lines to interests-money, trade, revelry and more. We asked the woman at the desk about it and she told us it was to show that Protestants could talk directly to God while Catholics had to go through intermediaries and their attention was diverted to worldly matters.

After seeing the Church we head over to a favorite restaurant of ours, Bryggeloftet og Stuene. They are famous for their fish soup.

Delicious fish soup
John enjoying a Hansa beer

After lunch we walk along the historic district and enjoy the sunny-ish day. In Bergen it rains 5 out of every 7 days so we are lucky in the good weather.

Old Hanseatic buildings in Bergen

With our packing done we go down to the Chef’s Table for one last meal with all the people there that we have gotten to know. Tonight’s dinner has a Scandinavian theme.

Reindeer consommé with reindeer ravioli
Salmon five ways (really delicious)
Beet granita
Lamb with potato and cabbage (cabbage too strong)
Cloudberry soup with panna cotta and sesame ice cream with a sesame tuille

Then it is goodbye to everyone and off to bed because we have to get up at 2:30 AM!

Pining for the fjords. 9/2/18

Today we are in Eidfjord, a picturesque little town in fjord country. It is so small that there are no traffic lights and are ship parked in front of the hotel here totally blocks the view of the fjord for anyone staying at the hotel.

We take a short bus ride to Hardangervidda Nature Center to learn about fjords and the flora and fauna of the area.

Hardangervidda Nature Center

First we are treated to a short movie showing the beauty of the region and then we go out to explore the exhibits.

John communes with a moose

Across the street from the nature center is a restaurant and the requisite gift shop. They have a novel way of keeping the grass growing on the roof under control.

Goat on the sod roof of the restaurant/gift shop

Fall is coming to this part of the world.

Colorful leaves outside the nature center

On the way back the mountains are reflected in the fjord.

Mountains and fjord

We are back just in time for lunch! The World Cafe is quiet today because most of the excursions left later than ours. As usual we end our lunch with an oatmeal raisin cookie.

Oatmeal raisin cookies

There is not much to do in the town of Eidfjord and even less so today as it is Sunday. I take the time to catch up on my blogs, look out at the mountains and fjord, and concentrate my efforts to try to shake my cold before the long flight home.

We have a really big balcony and we put it to use watching the ship get ready to depart and photographing the beauty of the area as we depart.

Getting ready to cast off the lines
Goodbye little hotel! Sorry we blocked your view all day.
Leaving Eidfjord
Since our cabin is in the back we only see where we’ve been
We pass under this bridge. Both ends of the bridge connect to tunnels
Bridge behind us
John finally finds a waterfall. It has been so dry here that most of the water courses have no water in them

We think about going down to dinner but I really do not feel like getting dressed and eating fancy food. Plus I am trying not to infect my fellow passengers. So we order room service and I get a hot dog. It is weird.

Hot dog with super spicy mustard, ketchup (which I told them I did not want), and relish in a not-hot-dog bun

We go to bed early which is a good thing because around 12:30 AM the seas are so rough that things are clanging around and we are buffeted around for the next four hours.   We have to spend a portion of our time in the North Sea and it is way rougher than the Baltic Sea or the fjords.

P.S. The title of the blog today, Pining for Fjords, is a reference to the Monty Python sketch, The Dead Parrot.

Black gold. 9/1/18

As we pull into Stavanger, Norway a strange sign greets us.

Houston, Stavanger’s sister city

It seems that Houston is Stavanger’s sister city.  Truthfully the only place in Houston that I have been is the airport and that is not a fond memory. Well, maybe they are sister cities because they are both ports. However, the little port of Stavanger is nothing like the busy gulf port of Houston.

Maybe it is because they are both the fourth largest city of their countries. But there is hardly a comparison.
Houston, TX. Population: 2,296,224
Stavanger, Norway. Population: 121,610

No, they are sister cities because like Houston the oil industry is the backbone of Stavanger’s economy. In 1969, a new boom started as oil was first discovered in the North Sea. Stavanger was chosen to be the on-shore center for the oil industry on the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

With our guide we take a walk around Stavanger.

Charming houses near the harbor from the time when fishing was the main industry
12th century cathedral
Canning museum
“Most colorful” street

Our last stop is the Oil Museum.

Oil Museum, Stavanger, Norway (stock photo)

Inside we learn all about the oil industry in Norway. There are displays about how oil is created, mock-ups of oil rigs, drill bits, and a rather bleak movie. In the movie the son of one of the original oil platform workers goes to visit his father after not speaking to him for twenty years. During the ride to his father’s cabin there are flashbacks to his childhood. He thinks about all the ways that oil has ruined their idyllic country life and made them want “things!” He also realizes that all the money that Norway has now also is a good thing bringing everyone in the country great security. The film ends with father and son sitting side by side looking out at nature and not speaking to each other.

For all the “we are the happiest nation” (which Norway says is them and not Denmark) they surely make some depressing films.

So Norway is busily raking in the 78% taxes on the oil profits while becoming more and more a green energy nation. They are not interested in using the oil but have no problem with selling it. Each Norwegian’s share of the profits works out to about 1.5 million NOK. (8 NOK to $1 USD). This sum is put into a trust for the good of the Norwegian people and a percentage is spent every year for their benefit.

Later we enjoy the sail away from our balcony.

Sailing away from Stavanger

Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table. Our menu is called Xiang and is inspired by Cantonese and Huaiyang cuisine.

Amuse bouche – a gingery hot and sour soup paired with a Sauvignon blanc and semillon blend
First course – fried prawns with Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont Italy
main course – wok-fried beef with a Brazin zinfandel

On our own. 8/31/18

We decide today to go off on our own for the short time we will be in Aalborg. We are feeling the pressure of being herded around in groups where we only get to see a quick smorgasbord of what a town has to offer. It feels rather adventurous and slightly radical to duck the groupthink and act independently.

We head into town with the plan of catching a taxi out to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. Avoiding the tour groups we find a taxi with a pleasant driver who takes out to the museum.

Old town center in Aalborg, Denmark with Viking tour group on the left

The first thing that catches my attention is an outdoor installation of clothes apparently drying on clothes lines which give the impression of Tibetan prayer flags. The point of the prayer flags is not to send prayers to the gods but to send positive messages out to people everywhere. I am feeling pretty positive that this is the right place for us to visit today.

Outdoor installation at Kunsten Museum called Bird on a Wire by Katrina Kaikkonens

Inside we are met by the pleasant ticket seller who gives us the low down on the art and its arrangement in the museum. On our way to see the exhibit, The Power of Color, we stop to admire a painting by Max Ernst, a co-founder of the Surrealist movement in Paris in the early 20th century. These birds on a dark background have a madonna and child vibe to them.

Bonjour Satanas, Max Ernst, 1928

The main indoor exhibition is named The Power of Color. The premise being that without color there is no art and that art can be distilled down to formless works of pure color and still communicate with the viewer.

I wish I had taken a picture of the information plate next to this painting. It reminds me a lot of the work of a friend of ours work. The faces morphing into petals and the splashes of color are very reminiscent of Alison Kendall’s works.

From the exhibition The Power of Color
27 Problems, John Korner, 2005

I really enjoy this sculpture done by French American Artist Niki de Saint-Phalle who has made these colorful creations called the Nana sculptures. I could swear I have seen this Big Nana somewhere as a logo to an event or tourism.

Big Nana, Niki de Saint-Phalle

Another favorite is Two Watchers V by Lynn Chadwick, 1967. It reminds me of the Three Sisters (or Gossips) rock formation in Arches National Park.

Here are a couple more we enjoy –

Saint George and the Dragon, Olaf Rude, 1918
#20 Chinese Girl

Finally as we are walking out we see out the window a group of high school kids goofing around like kids anywhere (except maybe blonder.)

Danish school outing to the Kunsten Modern Art Museum

The nice lady at the desk calls a taxi for us and we are whisked back to the town center and after a stop at the local church we are back at the boat before it leaves without us. We have had a lovely morning on our own.

Later we have dinner at Manfredi’s, the very mediocre Italian restaurant. Everyone raves about it so there must be a lot of bad Italian food in their hometowns. I start with a Caprese salad thinking it will be a safe choice.

Caprese salad which tasted fine but way out of proportion
John likes his lemon and rosemary risotto especially with the addition of olive oil
My chicken Parmesan – big and dry
John’s mussels-sent the first lot back because they were way overcooked

But we have a nice chat with the restaurant manager and a couple glasses of grappa and finish a pretty good day.


Good day for mermaids. 8/30/18

We are in Copenhagen, Denmark where it is a good day for mermaids, and also for fish, ducks, and umbrellas. The weather has really been superb with no rain and temperatures in the upper 60’s and low 70’s during our trip. But today it is raining. We don our weather gear and go looking for the Little Mermaid.

Straight from the pages of Hans Christian Anderson it is the Little Mermaid forever gazing towards land looking for her prince.

We spend the next two and a half hours with Sherman, our guide, as he walks us around Copenhagen and lets us in on the secret of why Denmark is the world’s happiest nation. Could it be their glorious past? They have a lot of statues reminding them of it.

This is a statue about the mythological founding of Zealand, the island where Copenhagen is situated. Swedish King Gylfi promised Gefion all the territory she could plow in one night figuring she would only be able to manage one acre. Crafty Gefion turned her sons into oxen and plowed up a lot of land which they threw into the sea creating Zealand. The hole became Lake Varnen in Sweden which is about the same size and shape as Zealand.

Gefion driving her four oxen sons to plow the land for Zealand

And then there are the statues of former Fredericks.

King Frederick V who spent so much money that he had to keep having wars to grab land from Sweden that he could sell back to them
King Frederick IX who started the welfare state and encouraged women to have a place in the work force

Finally sometimes it is good to put up a statue to remind you that you (Denmark) did some terrible things in the past that you wish to atone for. This statue of the slave, Queen Mary, was erected this year.

I am Queen Mary is a depiction of a female slave who started a rebellion on St. Croix (at that time under Danish rule) in 1878. Even though slavery was outlawed in 1792 it continued in the Caribbean well into the 19th century.

Sherman tells us that the Swedes are their sworn enemies. It seems like Sweden and Denmark have been feuding for years. Really? It is hard to tell all these blond people apart. Even though Sherman tells us that Denmark has become very good at surrendering, we can see traces of their militarism.

Changing of the guard at the Queen’s palace
Look! A cannon and a windmill at their Citadel
Finally here are some army personnel standing at attention after riding their bicycles to headquarters

Maybe churches make them happy? Denmark is mostly Lutheran although not so many people attend services.

Marble Church which isn’t really marble because King Frederick V did not have enough money to finish it
Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Church built in the late 19th century because Princess Dagmar married the tsar-to-be Alexander

As we wind up the morning tour we must face the fact that although they pay 50% of their income in taxes in exchange for free health care, generous maternity/paternity leave, free higher education (actually the government pays you to go to college), job retraining if you quit a job you don’t like, old age pensions, liveable wages, etc. they are not miserable. In fact they are the happiest nation in the world.

During our afternoon tour we find some other reasons they are happy, great food! John and I take the Food Lovers tour which centers around the Copenhagen Market. The guide gives us so many treats that it is hard to swallow them fast enough.

At the end of today we are feeling pretty happy too!

Revelations. 8/29/18

Today instead of taking the train to Berlin we opt for a simpler and shorter outing to Rostock. It is not so much the place that is memorable but a person, our guide, Johannes. He is a graduate student in modern German language and history at Rostock University.

Johannes at the Rostock city wall
City gate with Prussian Pomeranian coat of arms

Johannes’s family has lived in the Mecklenburg/Pomerania area for centuries and they have experienced a lot of history. He is very forthcoming about his family’s role in Nazi Germany. Some of his great-grandparents were Nazis, even higher level Nazis. He told a story of one relative of these great-grandparents who was killed because she was handicapped in some way. When Johannes objected to it, they said that it was too bad that their professor was no longer living because he would have been able to explain it better. In other words, they had no problem with it.

His grandfather who is still living was recruited into the Nazi army when he was 17.  He has a diary that he wrote of his experiences while in the army that he will not let his family read until he is dead. Johannes is hoping to use this diary to write a book about how it was to be a 17 year old conscripted Nazi soldier.  He told us people only talk about their roles in Nazi Germany within their families although it is changing with the younger generation.

As we walk through the pretty reconstructed town of Rostock his commentary puts a dark edge on the scenes.

Pretty reconstructed Main Street of Rostock

Johannes remarks that Germans are masters of building new things to look old.

Only original facade to survive in Rostock

Rostock was part of East Germany. As we drive into the city the suburbs have many Soviet style apartment blocks still standing. Most Soviet statues have been pulled down although there is still a Soviet fountain in the middle of town.

Soviet Happy Family fountain

Since it is a lovely day we decide to stay in town and have lunch. We can make our own way back. We thank Johannes for his frank discussion about Nazi Germany and head into the city government square. Since we are both still having cold symptoms we need to find a pharmacy for cold medications. Rats Apotheke should do the trick.

Rats Pharmacy

Then it is off in search of some lunch. We are hoping for “wurst und kraut und bier” but settle for beer, French fries, and a curry dog. Curry dogs seem to be all the rage in Northern Germany.

Big beer!
Smaller beer

This curry dog must be 18” long! And it is swimming in this awful sweet sauce. There is a sprinkling of curry powder on the veal sausage. I try to eat the ends where there is less sauce. This is a bad experiment!

Worst Currywurst

We buy a ticket for the tram and then transfer onto the S-bahn which takes us back to ship. (It is always a little scary to take transportation that you are not sure whether it will take you where you need to go.) It is a good deal for 2 euros.

Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table where the theme is Sweet and Salty.

First course Scallops with beets and passion fruit sauce
Entree, Veal medallions

G’day from Gdansk. 8/28/18

NOTE: John tells me that some of the pictures are reversed or upside down on his laptop. Everything looks fine on my iPad. So sorry if this is happening, I do not know how to fix it.

We drop anchor here in Gdynia at around 6 AM and our tour needs to leave at 6:45 AM. We have only a short time here in this area as the ship leaves again at 1 PM and the port where we are anchored, Gdynia, is an hour bus ride from Gdansk. Why all the leading “Gd”s? “Gd” means the place is marshy much like Marshfield, MA must be a marshy field place. John is quite excited to be in Poland since he is half Polish and half Polish Jewish  and is only second generation in the U.S.

Our guide is a chipper older lady who knows a lot about Gdansk, architecture, and history. She lived through the Soviet times and is so excited about having tourists and especially about the many new shopping malls. (I want to tell her that brick and mortars are dying but do not want to burst her bubble.)

Our walking tour takes us from the Golden Gate to the Green Gate along the Long Market Street.

Golden Gate, 1588. Left to right three crests are Prussian, Polish, and Gdansk

Here is a fact I did not know. The original Prussians ethnically were not Germans. They were Slavic Poles and Lithuanians. There was also a large contingent of French Huguenots.

Here is the original gate to the city which is now an amber museum.

Old city gate

When I say old city gate, I mean reconstructed old gate. Gdansk was bombed to smithereens during WWII.

Photos of Gdansk, 1945

And here is what the picture on the left looks like today –

Reconstructed Gdansk

And here is the modern view of the picture on the right –

Gdansk, 2018

Here is an interesting political development in modern Poland. A right-wing party was voted into power recently and there is a large segment of the population who are very upset about it, including our guide. She says people are slipping away from democracy. In protest these liberal groups have been putting T-shirts on monuments with a constitutional slogan.

Neptune in the protest T-shirt with the town hall behind him

Next we have a demonstration about amber and how to tell whether amber is real or not. Real amber, unlike plastic, floats. Real amber can burn like a candle. Or you can trust a merchant who has the “real amber” certificate in their store (such as this one.) So actually the whole amber thing is a shopping opportunity.

Amber demonstration

Since our shopping opportunity is supposed to last half and hour John and I go out into the square and look at some archival photos of Gdansk. We also take selfies.

Selfie with Gdansk background

Now it is time for pierogi making. Yay! We are all ushered into a restaurant where we don plastic aprons and are given a bunch of dough and filling. After a demonstration we are on our own!

How to make pierogis
John making a pierogi
John is happy with the finished product. It must be in his genes!

Best part, though, is that once our group is finished making a whole lot of pierogis, the chef takes them away, cooks them, and we sit down to a pierogi feast. They are stuffed with a seasoned, minced pork and are really good!!

Finished pierogis

After a little more walking around we go to a place called Goldwasser. There we will taste a mighty spirit that has actual flecks of gold in it. Plus we get some snacks to go with it.

Goldwasser with some traditional Polish snacks

On the way out we have a surprise gift! Each of us gets a small bottle of Goldwasser!

Our present of Goldwasser, you can see the flecks of gold in it!

It is almost noon and time to get back to the ship since we have an early afternoon departure. I spend some time washing out some items and taking a nap. We head down to the port talk about going to Berlin the next day. After listening to the port talk about the 3 hour un-air conditioned train ride in each direction and becoming increasingly concerned about our stamina for such a thing since we both have colds, we decide to pull the plug on going to Berlin and opt for a gentler tour to Rostock tomorrow.

Later we have dinner in Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant on the ship. Tonight’s dinner is more successful than our last foray there. Here are some of things we had –

I start with a carpaccio
John has pasta fagioli
I have what is supposed to be a spicy pasta but is not
John has porchetta which he says is great (much better than the one we made at home)

Looking forward to our visit to Germany tomorrow!

We are all at sea. 8/27/18

In crossword puzzles the answer to the clue “confused or bewildered” is “at sea.” But here on the ship being at sea means that we are stopping at no ports.  So it is a good time to sleep in, hand wash a few things, and go to a couple of talks in the Star Theater where we are always entertained while waiting with 50’s music. Most of the people on the boat are in their 60’s and 70’s and were not bopping to “Throw Momma from the Train a Kiss” when they were teens.

And, of course, eating is a main activity on an at sea day.

I take a picture of our room service breakfast and my lunch but I will spare you.

Here is the view from the front of the boat.

View of at sea day

We go to the Port Talk for tomorrow which is Gdansk . We learn that Gdansk was 90% destroyed in WWII and has now been rebuilt to look as it was. I am wondering if this will be a Gdansk World kind of experience.

Then later we go to a talk about the Bayeux Tapestry which we have seen when traveling in France a few years ago. It is a 70 meter piece of linen embroidered with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne in 1066. The fellow talking is very informative and has interesting graphics which he stands in front of the whole time he is talking. So that is a bit frustrating.

Afterwards John gets a negroni sbagliato which is like a regular negroni but substitutes champagne for the gin and club soda. I have a sip. It’s pretty tasty.

John with a negroni sbagliato

Our dinner tonight is Venice Carnival at the Chef’s Table. With the exception of the main course the rest of the dishes are red-ish in honor of the Venetian painter Carpaccio whose paintings featured a bright red.

We start with roasted pepper and tomato jelly with a goat cheese latte foam. It is tasty but more in a gazpacho way. The restaurant is slammed tonight and I think the jelly has sat out too long and turned into soup.

Roasted pepper and tomato jelly

Next we have the eponymous Carpaccio. We get some sea salt and olive oil to put on it. I think we improved it.


Next we have a palate cleanser of peach juice foam which they call a Bellini. Meh.

For the main course we have a cod fillet with Jerusalem artichoke risotto and a tartufo foam. It is very good.

Cod sitting on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke risotto wrapped with a Parmesan tuille and covered with a truffle cream

Going to Gdansk, Poland tomorrow!


Soviet Flashback. 8/26/18

Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia. John has recuperated a little and I am only a little sick at this point. Ah, Viking cruises, on four cruises we have four units of sickness. When we travel on our own we are rarely sick. Maybe we should either stay home or only travel on our own.

Anyway, Tallinn is a lovely town with lots of medieval buildings. We do a walking tour with Eneken, a very tall Estonian. One thing we learned from listening to The History of English podcast is that Estonians are not related to Latvians or Letts who are Slavs. Estonians originated from around Siberia and split into three distinct groups after they crossed the Urals-some went to Finland, some to Hungary, and some to Estonia. So their languages are similar.

Lower town of Tallinn

Eneken tells about the school system where children are taught four languages, Estonian, English, Russian, and German. Tallinn is about 30% Russian, a holdover from Soviet days. Russians are made up of modern Russians and Soviet Russians. The older generations still hold suspicions of each other. The Soviets (makes clear that it is not Russians) deported thousands of Estonians to Siberia due to un-Soviet thoughts. Estonia only free since 1991 and the populace seems very patriotic.

Tallinn town square
During our first free time, John stops into a bar where…
he gets a beer for the traditional picture.

During our second free time and because we are not sure there will be enough time to eat lunch we stop at the Peppersack for a snack and bathroom break.

Medieval Peppersack
Pizza pastry

We get back to the ship with about 45 minutes turnaround until our next outing, Soviet Flashback.  We walk back down the long pier and encounter a vintage Soviet bus.

John with vintage bus

This excursion is a tongue in cheek look at life in Soviet Estonia. Our “General” lines us up and checks our passports and makes us march around the bus in an exaggerated fashion. He is quite funny.

Our Soviet General

On the bus he shows us pictures of Katyusha rockets and his beloved leaders, Stalin and Brezhnev, and we applaud. Then we all have a shot of vodka and a gherkin.

General with rocket pictures

After pulling into a parking lot we de-bus and he gets serious and talks about his experiences. His grandfather was deported to Siberia and our guide had to hide in the forest to avoid being drafted by the Russian army where he would have gone to fight in Afghanistan.

Relating poignant moments

After the liberation he worked with the Peace Corp. volunteers where he learned, among other things, John Denver’s Country Roads. We all sing together on the way back.

Singing Country Roads on the way back to the ship

We have a great time on our Soviet Flashback tour and now have a couple of hours until dinner. Amazingly we stay awake. I guess we are over jet lag.

Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table is called “La Route des Indies” and is centered around spices. It is a really tasty dinner.

I am including a picture of our sesame and curry roll because I did such a good composition
Our Amuse Bouche is a carrot and cardamom cream with a Garofoli Komaros, Marche, Italy
First course is a delicious tuna tataki served with Portuguese Vinho Verde
Palate cleanser ginger and tarragon granita
Main course beef tenderloin with warm spices, mushrooms and purple potato purée with an Australian Shiraz/cabernet
Finally an apple tarte tatin with an Italian Moscato and a dollop of ice cream