Chania – Hotel with the Toilet in the Shower

We’ve been travelling more than five months now, and have stayed in all sorts of budget hotels, hostels, and apartments, but this is the first time we’ve stayed in a place with the toilet in the shower.  To say our hotel has character is an understatement.   It’s located right in the old town of Chania, Crete (Greece) in a building that is probably four or five hundred years old.

Old town Chania is very old – middle ages – but most of the construction seems to be from venetian fortification in the 16 and 1700s – like the lighthouse below.

Venetian lighthouse in Chania Crete, Greece old town
Venetian lighthouse in Chania Crete, Greece old town

The lighthouse is at the end of a causeway that frames in the port of the old town – a cobble-stoned, quaint town center (filled with tourists) in the middle of spawling Chania.

This Mosque doubles as an art gallery and sits on the edge of the Port's waterfront.
This Mosque doubles as an art gallery and sits on the edge of the Port’s waterfront.
The remainder of the waterfront is lined with shops and restaurants - all packed from morning until night in August's busy tourist season.
The remainder of the waterfront is lined with shops and restaurants – all packed from morning until night in August’s busy tourist season.

Behind the boardwalk, like any great old town, it’s a bit of a maze.  Not as bad as Rhodes – where the streets are designed to intentionally get invaders lost – but there are all sorts of alleys and dead ends.  When we arrived, dragging our luggage through the tiny streets with a map on the phone – we were a little stumped trying to find the hotel.  We found the street, but the number didn’t seem to exist – of course none of the hotels are large – most only have a half dozen rooms so you have to look carefully to find them.

Fortunately, this place is filled with friendly, helpful people, and a few men directed us to a parallel alley  – with exact same name as our street.  As we were walking down the alley looking for our hotel, another man – sitting on a scooter – asked us what hotel we were looking for.  Once we said the name, he asked me my name, looked on a piece of paper and said he’d show us to our room – pointing to another building and saying that’s where the reception was – if we needed it.  We’ve stayed in a lot of places, but we’ve never been met by a guy sitting on a scooter in a alley waiting for us!

We didn’t really check in – he just showed up our room – and pointed out that part of the terrace was for our room.  That’s our terrace in the photo below – the one with the two umbrellas (ours is the one to the left in the photo).

Our hotel room is behind the left umbrella.
Our hotel room is behind the left umbrella.

He had to tell us that – because there is no door to the terrace from our room.  We have to crawl through the window.  He muttered something about not being able to get a building permit to make a door.

This is the window we have to crawl through to get to the terrace.
This is the window we have to crawl through to get to the terrace.

I guess the also couldn’t get a building permit to create a proper bathroom, because I am not exaggerating when I say there is a toilet in the shower.  If you sit on the toilet  – your feet are in the shower.  I think we’re going to start reading the reviews on trip adviser a little more carefully; we couldn’t figure out why this place either had great or terrible reviews.  Now we know.  It all depends if people find it quirky and unusual, or just disgusting.  I’m not sure which way I’m leaning.  The terrace sure is nice – and the location can’t be beat.  If you’re wondering what this bathroom looks like, I’ve include a photo – because it is just that unbelievable.

Our bathroom is long and narrow, making the design a unique challenge.
Our bathroom is long and narrow, making the design a unique challenge.

Norway Fjords and Stave Churches

Our last five days in Norway were spent driving around the fjords north of Bergen, and along the way seeing some stunning glaciers and Viking Stave Churches from the 1100s. Right now we’re in Crete Greece, and it is over 100 degrees (F) so this blog is just going to be a bunch of photos with captions.

Reflection in Lake on highway (E39) north of Bergen towards Sonjefjord
Reflection in Fjord on highway (E39) north of Bergen towards Sonjefjord
Cabin we stayed in at the first campground on Sognefjord
Cabin we stayed in at the first campground on Sognefjord
Southern Noway towns are anchored by beautiful churches - this on is in Hoyanger
Southern Noway towns are anchored by beautiful churches – this on is in Hoyanger
Norway has designated 18 scenic roads - this one was on Hwy 13 north of Balestrand and climbed up above the treeline.
Norway has designated 18 scenic roads – this one was on Hwy 13 north of Balestrand and climbed up above the treeline.
Closeup of one of the buildings with a living roof found throughout this part of Norway
Closeup of one of the buildings with a living roof found throughout this part of Norway

 

Reflection in Songefjord
Reflection in Songefjord

 

Stave Church (1100s) in Tom (29 of these fantastic wooden churches remain in Norway)
Stave Church (1100s) in Tom (29 of these fantastic wooden churches remain in Norway)

 

Another scenic road through Norway - from Tom to  Gaupne going over the highest mountain pass in Norway and weaving between two national parks.  Absolutely stunning with glaciers hanging over the valley.
Another scenic road through Norway – from Tom to Gaupne going over the highest mountain pass in Norway and weaving between two national parks. Absolutely stunning with glaciers hanging over the valley.
Glacier at the pass.
Glacier at the pass.
Lustrafjord (our cabin on day 3 overlooked the fjord) is one of the more scenic portions of Sognefjord.
Lustrafjord (our cabin on day 3 overlooked the fjord) is one of the more scenic portions of Sognefjord.
Ice chunks under the Nigardsbreen Glacier
Ice chunks under the Nigardsbreen Glacier
You can walk right up to (and walk on) Nigardsbreen Glacier - part of the larger Jostedalbreen Glacier
You can walk right up to (and walk on) Nigardsbreen Glacier – part of the larger Jostedalbreen Glacier
Fjaerland on our way to the Glacier Museum
Fjaerland on our way to the Glacier Museum
Flatbreen Glacier (above) plus the smaller glacier caused by ice falls - the small one is the lowest one (60 m above sea level) outside of the arctic.
Flatbreen Glacier (above) plus the smaller glacier caused by ice falls – the small one is the lowest one (60 m above sea level) outside of the arctic.

 

Kaupanger Stave Church
Kaupanger Stave Church

 

Rainbow on road from Laedal to Auland
Rainbow on road from Laedal to Auland
Aurlandsfjord taken from the viewpoint on the scenic road.
Aurlandsfjord taken from the viewpoint on the scenic road.
Borgund Stave Church
Borgund Stave Church
Sheep enjoy a view of Aurlundsfjord
Sheep enjoy a view of Aurlundsfjord
Bergen
Bergen

Hurtigruten Cruise – Days 11 and 12 – Trondheim and Cruising back towards Bergen

Day 11 of the Coastal Voyage and we woke up in Trondheim. It was raining and the stores were closed (Sunday and early) so we wandered the streets to stretch our legs. Much of the city around the port is being redeveloped to eight to ten story residential buildings with shopping down below. Steps away from this area is the older residential / warehouse neighborhood. I was struck by how pedestrian / bicycle friendly the city is – with the main street in this small neighborhood blocked off for bikes, children playing, and pedestrians. Even the small bridge linking it to downtown was set aside for pedestrians and cyclists – each with their own lanes.

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Around half of the people still on board disembarked in Trondheim. There is a railway station right next to the port, with convenient links to Oslo through beautiful country. The Costa cruise ship (probably the one we saw at North Cape) cruised into Port early in the morning as well, so as we wound our way back through the city, the quiet streets were packed with people on their way to see the Cathedral.

The ship was quiet when we got back on board, but surprisingly we met a whole bunch of people that had been on the ship since Bergen, that we hadn’t run into before.

The cruise leader held a meeting for those of us left on the ship with instructions for tomorrow’s disembarkment. She also announced that she was leaving in Molde – because her 22 days were finished. She explained that people came and went at their hometowns along the route – and didn’t necessarily start their 22 day shift in Bergen or Kirkenes. “It’s how it is,” she explained with a shrug, and went to on joke that while we disembark in Bergen, she’ll be in her home asleep (2 pm in the afternoon.) She’s been like that for the entire cruise, dry humor, mater of fact delivery. The only thing that seemed to put her off her game was explaining about tipping. “People ask me so I need to explain,” she said with clear discomfort. “It’s not required, but you can drop a tip in the box if you’d like. We will all share it – all of us – the dining room staff – the people who clean the rooms. If you don’t drop any money in the box we won’t look at you and think why didn’t they drop money in the box. It’s not like that.” This was all explained because on mainstream cruises they pay their cabin and dining room staff a pittance, and charge an almost mandatory daily tip to make up the difference. Basically, their salary if made up from the tips. Not so on the Hurtigruten – they pay their staff decently. The tips are extra.

In the afternoon we had another lazy day of cruising, passing some gems like this church from the 1100’s perched on an island:

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And this lighthouse.

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We docked in Molde after dinner, and everyone got off to stretch their legs with a walk down the pretty main street.

Day 12 was the last day of the journey. After a rocky night (the ship doesn’t seem to have the stabilizers a larger ship has – so open stretches can be pretty rough) we settled into a scenic cruise through the straights on our way to Bergen. Unlike the way north, we didn’t head into a fjord for any scenic cruising – and that settles in my mind that if I had to choose between a northbound or southbound trip, I’d hands down choose northbound. It is much more interesting – both the cruising and the stops. I

When we disembark we’ll jump into a rental car and head back up to see Sonjafjord – the fjord just north of Bergen. The Hurtigruten doesn’t do into that fjord in either direction.

Hurtigruten Cruise – Day 10 – Crossing the Arctic Circle (Again), Seven Sisters, and a Mountain with a Hole

Day Ten of the Coastal Voyage and the highlights are the scenery that flows by the ship. Many of the mountains and islands are part of Norwegian folk lore during this stretch of the trip. First up is the island that looks like a lion (sphinx). I’m not sure we’re seeing it from the correct angle.

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Next event is crossing the Arctic Circle – again – this time heading south.  The tour leader made an announcement this time, so we had plenty of time to run outside and snap photos of the globe that marks the crossing.

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Then we cruised by the Seven Sisters – seven 1000 m mountain peaks (separated by glacial valleys) lined up in a row.

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After that was a brief stop in a town that really had little of interest.  The shopping was all in an indoor mall by the port – so the outside streets were empty.  They were upgrading a waterfront walk, and the water was lined with more jellyfish than I’ve ever seen in one place.

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And the afternoon was finished with a cruise by the “Mountain with a Hole in it.”  I though this would be a little like the Lion rock, and was pleasantly surprised that the mountain actually had a hole in it.  Very unusual.

 

Dinner was the farewell dinner (because so many people get off in Trondheim), so they gave us all a glass of champagne, and we toasted the crew and the cruise.  The cruise leader introduced the kitchen staff by  name and title – all five of them! – and the dining room staff – around 11 – many of whom also clean the room.

Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage – Miscellaneous Information

Laundry – on the Finnmarken there were washers and dryers that were free.

Internet – on the Finnmarken internet was slow, but free.

Tipping – the cruise leader explained that tipping is not expected on the ship, but if you’d like to tip you can drop money in a box and the crew will share it.

Guide Books – you don’t need to buy any – the Hurtigruten will give you one that covers the entire voyage – free and available in Norwegian, English, and German.

Hurtigruten Cruise – Day 9 – Trolls and Rainbows

Day Nine of the Hurtigruten Coastal Journey takes us from Harstad to the Lofoten Islands. It’s a scenic day on-board, and at Harstad a group of day visitors crowded into the Panoramic Lounge, anxious to see the sights. Coming in and leaving Harstad, we cruised by the Trondenes Church – the oldest northern Catholic Church – dating from 1250 – sitting right by the sea’s edge.

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Leaving Harstad, the ship cruised by one place I would have loved to visit – Grotaevar Island – a small fishing island where iron age relics have been found.

Next up was a trip through the Risoyrenna, a narrow, man-made (dredged) channel allowing ships to travel more directly to the Lofoten islands. The Finnmarken can turn on a dime, and twists and turns its way through places you can only imagine. Sliding through the thin shipping lane and under yet another narrow bridge was just another example of how this ship has been built specifically to travel this route.

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Then we settled down to a scenic day. I don’t know if settled is the correct word – with so many ‘visitors’ on board and crummy weather, there was almost a frenzy to the Panoramic Lounge – as people raced back and forth snapping photos. I don’t really understand why they take their photos from the inside when it’s so easy to wander outside and not have to take a photo through a glass window. This rainbow was well worth going outside to see! It stretched over the landscape like a bridge!

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The first real stop of the day was in Stokmarknes, where everyone poured off the ship to visit the Hutigruten museum (free with your boarding pass.) The marquis exhibit was the 1956 Finnmarken – part of the post war fleet (almost the entire fleet was sunk in WWII) that restored daily service to the route. The Coastal Route has been part of Norway’s ferry system for over 100 years – with passenger and freight transport to the far northern reaches of Arctic. What is amazing to me is how they’ve still retained their traditions, with some modernization of course – but wandering through the old Finnmarken and the museum made me realize that not much has changed since the service was started. I suppose it takes strong government subsidies and commitment to keep the service operational – especially now that there are roads and bridges (not to mention air travel) linking many of the communities together.

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One note on the airports – these communities are not serviced by bush planes or sea planes like northern Canada and Alaska. The planes we see landing in the larger cities are full sized jets – so if you’re thinking of taking the trip half way and worried about getting back to Oslo – don’t. The major towns are well serviced by trains, road, and some (as you go south) by train.

Next up was the trip through Raftsundet – a 20 km straight with high peaks on both sides. Along this route the weather couldn’t decide what to do – and we were treated to several more spectacular rainbows.

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The highlight of the passage was slipping into Trollfjord (the trolls have to live somewhere – so why not here) – an impossibly tiny fjord (100 m wide) with cliffs towering above – just 2 km long. The ship tucked itself neatly into the fjord, cruised to the end and did a 180 before cruising back out as sea eagles flew overhead. Fantastic!

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The final major stop was back in Svolvaer on the Lofoten Islands, where we wandered around in the rain, congratulating ourselves for not signing up for the hiking trip to the mountain pass – because it was shrouded in clouds. One thing I really recommend for this trip (if anyone takes it) is to wait until you know what the weather will be like before signing up for an (expensive) excursion. They don’t seem to fill up – and they allow people to sign up – almost to the last minute (even though they do set time limits they don’t stick to them.)

Hurtigruten Cruise – Day 8 – Most Northern Town in the World – Hammerfest plus Arctic Race of Norway

Day Eight of the Coastal Journey, and we find ourselves back in Hammerfest. Normally the ship would stop and offer a “Breakfast at North Cape” excursion from Honnisvag, but today is the first day of the Arctic Race of Norway, and the road will be closed (although the race doesn’t start for hours so I’m a little confused by that.) so we only had a very short time in Honnisvag.

Hammerfest is (depending on your definition of town) regarded as the northernmost town in the world – 70 degrees 39 minutes north (Honnisvag is not considered a town.) It’s the same latitude as the northernmost parts of Siberia, Point Barrow (the northernmost part of Alaska) the islands in Canada’s north, and the middle of Greenland. Its climate is curiously warm because of the Gulf Stream – the warm current in the Atlantic Ocean – and it green with some low shrubs and even a small forest outside of town. Astonishing for land so far north!

It’s also a very progressive town – the first in Norway to have electric street lighting (1891), and recently had tidal turbines installed to generate electricity.

It is also an industrial town – with natural gas from the Snohvit Field 140 km to the north piped here (to a small island offshore) for processing, and then shipped worldwide. I’m sure building the plant in the pristine Barent’s sea was plenty controversial!

Freighter transporting natural gas out of Hammerfest
Freighter transporting natural gas out of Hammerfest

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We didn’t see any live Polar Bears, but there is a Polar Bear club in town, and lots of stuffed and statue bears roaming the streets. There isn’t any ice or snow, so It’s hard to believe they’d be anywhere near the town in the summer.

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We did see another reindeer – grazing at the top of the hill overlooking the town. The hillside is marked by a “zigzag” path that leads up to a small hill/flat mountain – that is well worth the walk just for the views – much less the chance to see a reindeer.

Reindeer in Hammerfest Norway
Reindeer in Hammerfest Norway

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There was also a Sami restaurant / building called Mikkelgammen up on top of the hill – closed that day, but with its sod roof, a really interesting structure.

Mikkelgammen Hammerfest Norway
Mikkelgammen Hammerfest Norway

Back in the town, we watched as the bike racers prepped for the start of the first stage of their race. It wasn’t quite as busy as the Giro in Italy – but some of the same teams were there (most likely their B teams) and everyone in town poured out into the streets to watch – even Santa and a bunch of Bike Race groupies, and a whole group of young kids.

Santa showed up for the Arctic Race of Norway
Santa showed up for the Arctic Race of Norway
Bike race groupies
Bike race groupies
Young fans
Young fans

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Hurtigruten Cruise – Day 7 – To Russia and Back

Day Seven on the Hurtigruten was the last day of the “northbound” cruise. The turnaround point was Kirkenes – and a large amount of our fellow passengers disembarked. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, Kirkenes is well-connected to Olso with regular flights – timed to meet the Hurtigruten. I suspect that if the ship is late, the flights will wait – and vise versa.

Kirkenes is around 10 km from the Russian border – and the ship offers many excursions to a border station (by bus, ATV, and in the winter dog sled, snowmobile, etc.) You need a visa to cross into Russia, so the excursions are just to the border station and back. We opted to take a hike instead.

There are all sorts of trails just up the hill from the ferry terminal and main town, clustered around the viewpoints clearly marked on the map. (The town itself is a trading outpost and can been seen in a few minutes – but does have a huge grocery store.) Up on the ridge is fantastic tundra terrain. The hills were scraped down by glaciers – leaving exposed rocks (with lichen and all sorts of interesting tundra vegetation), boggy patches (with heather, blueberries, and other boggy vegetation), small lakes, and unusual glacial features such as a ridge filled with glacial erratics (or large boulders left behind as the glaciers retreated.) For two geologists, it was heaven. I’m pretty sure I could see Russia from where we were as well. Maybe. Possibly.

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There are barely any recognizable faces on the ship as we start to head back to Bergen. The dining room is almost empty for second seating, and even with crummy weather setting in, there is plenty of room in the Panoramic Lounge. I’m not sure if we have made the right choice to go to the edge of the world and back again – I’ll let you know how I feel in a few more days. Each day should be something new, as we’ll see the areas during the day that we passed going north in the night.

On Days six and seven, the crew reached almost a frenzy to get people to participate in a “waving” competition as we pass sister ships in Berlevag. With American rock music blaring, they bang on pots and pans, blow up red and white balloons, and scream off Deck 5 trying to out wave the other ship. It’s quite an unusual competition – to say the least – but they seem to have fun. Passengers participate as well.

A word on the crew. They are all Norwegian, and any that interact with passengers speak at least three languages – Norwegian, English, and German. While there are familiar faces in the dining room each night, we often have different people bring us the appetizer, main, or desert – it’s clearly a team effort. The dining room staff also clean the rooms – working long days for 22 days straight to get another 22 off.   Hurtigruten doesn’t require tipping like mainstream cruises-  presumably they pay their staff decent wages – so the crew doesn’t live off tips.

Hurtigruten Cruise Day 6 – Albino Reindeer and Edge of the World

Day Six of the Hurtigruten trip and we are as far north as we will go. Our main stop of the day is in Honningsvag, a small town that is the gateway to the North Cape.

Hurtigruten’s most popular excursion is to the North Cape – a place described that once only the most adventuresome travelers could visit. Almost everyone from our ship headed up there on an excursion. We didn’t. I hope we don’t get home and regret our decision, but I don’t think we will. The reviews for the excursion on Trip Adviser were really mixed – from a wonderful trip (especially the drive) to a tourist trap. Honningsvag felt a little like a tourist trap “cruise ship” town, with loads of souvenir shops along the main port. While it was adorable and all, it didn’t have the sleepy “fishing village” or the busy “industrial trading center” feel of the other towns we’ve seen so far. The only other place that came close was the Lofoten islands, which clearly see a lot of visitors.  But it was cuter than cute – decorated with loads of trolls and bicycles, as it geared up to host a leg of the Arctic Race of Norway.

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Before I leave the North Cape excursion, I will also mention that the North Cape is the furthest north peninsula accessible by paved road. A peninsula slightly to the west is actually the furthest north point in western Europe.

I will freely admit that I considered taking the excursion just to see the herds of reindeer that were supposed to line the plateau. I really wanted to see a reindeer. While this trip has been fantastic, there isn’t that much wildlife up here. Well, technically,the reindeer aren’t wildlife, but herded by the Sami.

As it turned out, even though we didn’t take the excursion, we saw four reindeer, including an albino one, during the short hike we took to the ridge behind the town.  The hike was pretty fantastic – after a brief climb through heather and low shrubs, it took us right up to a plateau of glacial rock scree with a great view of the harbor.  We watched as a huge Costa cruise ship came into port – dwarfing our small ferry / cruise.

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After that we saw our first reindeer – which I sent running by screaming “Ken, Ken, there’s a reindeer!”  We kept climbing up the hillside, until we almost crested the ridge, and Ken suddenly ducked, whispering “there’s a white reindeer on the other side.”  He swapped out his camera lens, and I – well I didn’t do anything special but wait because I just have a little camera – and then we both jumped up and started to snap photos.  Of course once I was on my feet I realized the reindeer was a long way away and it really didn’t matter.

Albino reindeer norway
Albino reindeer norway

Then the first reindeer wandered by, a little closer.

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On our way back into town, we stumbled upon two more reindeer.  Ken tried to sneak up for a closer shot – but the reindeer was intent on ignoring us.

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That evening we sailed into Kjollefjord, by the sea cliffs of Finnkirka – a church-like rock formation said to have been a place of sacrifice in ancient times for the Sami.  It was really quite unusual – formed out of a few resistant rock beds and eroded in a stair-stepped pattern that looked like a little chapel.

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The entire fjord was really geologically interesting – you could clearly see faults and folds all through the cliffs.

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The town was another cute fishing village at the end of the fjord.

One our way out of the fjord, we saw a school of porpoises playing in the waves.  A perfect way to end the day!

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Hurtigruten Cruise – Day 5 – Tromso and Saving Seats

Day Five on the northbound Finnmarken, sailing above the arctic circle to the northernmost city in Norway – Tromso. Life aboard the ship is relaxed and easy. I blog in the morning in the Panoramic Lounge, lulled by the gentle snores of the folks taking an after-breakfast snooze. Or they could be the folks without cabins – spending the night in the lounge. It’s hard to tell.

The one cause for dissension on board appears to be in the “saving of seats” arena. The lounge has a row of seats that face the window, and a variety of other seats spread around. At time, people seem anxious for a window seat. So much so that that – like a high school lunch table – they save seats for their buddies. So how long is it polite to have a coat save a seat when others would like to sit down. Ten minutes? Half a hour? Two hours? In my opinion – saving someone’s seat that they can run to the washroom is fine. Two hours is rude.

Speaking of rude …. A couple sat down in a few empty seats yesterday. The man sitting beside the empty seats was aghast – and told them – in a very loud voice – that in HIS country it was polite to ask if the seats were free before sitting down. Then he proceeded to give them a very loud and condescending lecture about how they had broken his seat rule by sitting down without clearing it with him first (although he wasn’t even trying to save the seats in question – they were truly empty.) His lecture was so loud, he woke up all the people peacefully snoozing away in the lounge. So my question – what is ruder – boorishly lecturing strangers for half an hour for an infraction that they didn’t actually incur, or sitting in an empty seat in a public lounge. I’m not sure what country he was from – not the US thank goodness. It turned out that he had experienced an “incident” during either breakfast or lunch sometime during the journey. Both meals are buffet style, with open seating. He left his table – saved by the dirty dishes only – and came back with another full plate to find his seat taken. He was aghast! Astounded! Astonished! to find the dirty plates gone (there are waitstaff who continuously clear the tables) and people settled in HIS seat. This story was also delivered in a loud and condescending voice, as if the people who had sat next to him (probably now very much regretting their choice of seats) were personally responsible. I guess there is one in every crowd.

It’s hard to explain how peaceful it is on the ship. We chug along at 14 or 15 knots, weaving our way between scenic islands, stopping occasionally in small towns, and at least once a day for an extended stop where we can get off and explore. At each of the towns a few people disembark, often greeted by friends or family waiting patiently on the dock. Others embark. It truly is a local ferry in addition to a scenic cruise.

On board, people are as relaxed and casual as you would expect on a ferry. (PS – someone just asked if the empty seat next to me is free – which it is – so I don’t have to give her a boorish lecture about taking an empty seat without asking. Phew!) There arearound 480  passengers – give or take – and 77 crew. Announcements are made in Norwegian, English, and German, and written material in those three languages plus French. Information is provided, but you have to be on your game to figure some things out. Such as the changing meal times. They moved dinner up by a half hour one night (I think because of a shore stop) and quite a few people didn’t notice. Not that it really mattered – except to the dining room crew who had to figure out a way to make it all work. Dress is casual. Sneakers and sandals are the dominant footwear; jeans and shorts (it’s pretty hot) are the norm. I’ve noticed more and more people swapping out their fleece coats for Norwegian sweaters. Not that many! The sweaters sold on board are beautiful but woefully expensive. But hey – this is Norway.

Tromso was the main stop on Day 5, and the ship docks right in the center of town. Tromso is a small city of around 70,000 people – that sprawls out long both shores of an inlet with boxy apartment complexes. The core is compact and architecturally eclectic – to say the least – and clearly serves as a regional hub.

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It also has a huge university (9,000 students). I think I was struck mainly by the diversity of the people in the town – perhaps because this is a city with a high population of Sami (Lapps or Laplanders in English) people – or the people indigenous to these northern lands (including Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway). Or it could have been that the city was filled with people drawn to the Chess Olympiad underway when we were visiting. Public squares were filled with large chessboards – store fronts featured chess pieces, and banners advertised the event. Whatever it was – it was a big deal.

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The land is growing more rugged as we head north – the smoothed glacial terrain of the “whalebacks” near the Lofoten Islands has given away to steeper hills, talus slopes, and some mountain top glaciers.  It’s hard to imagine living here through the winter – with a scant four hours of twilight type light a day.  It’s astonishing to me that there is such a major city this far north, and a small part of me would like to return in the winter to see what it is like here.

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