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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