Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Ghost of Voyage Past

Bremerhaven, just after sunrise: Fram arrives at the Columbus Cruise Centre, and almost casually we make fast. At this hour people tend to talk a little less and rather hold on to their coffee mug. As many of our travellers have arranged for an early connection, the bus transfer to the train station leaves relatively soon.
And then - the trip is over. FRAM, without further ado, casts the lines and heads for the open sea, destination Dover, England.
And this is a rare thing: A ship without guests. For full 28 hours crew and staff are among themselves.
The dancefloor, full of life and laughter only a day ago, is now deserted, our only company are the cargo ships that pass by the windows on both sides of the ship.
Oh, good for you! the esteemed follower of the blog may think, a day of leisure, well-deserved. Far from it...
There are many things that need to be done but have to wait while we are running our "normal" business. Equipment needs to be counted, store-rooms need to be arranged and cleared, floors to be shampooed, excursion descriptions to be updated, and, and, and. Honestly, there is not much of a difference in terms of workload. The rhythm, however, is a gentle one, as there is no fixed schedule. As long as things will be done, they can be done at any time.
So, as a bit of a reward after job well done, there is even a staff movie night - with pizza and popcorn.
As I said - a rare thing.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Reminiscence at sea

After six days of discovering the beauty of Norway it is finally time now to turn the ship towards the south and cross the North Sea back to where we came from.
This is a time of packing, sorting pictures, exchanging eMail addresses, getting the last souvenirs and heave a sigh when standing on the outer decks and letting the gaze wander toward the horizon, still digesting the memories that have accumulated during this voyage.
But of course, this is not the only thing to do today; there is still a variety of lectures to be heard, be it about Vikings, navigation, sea level rise, herrings and the historical FRAM voyages. Fortunately the sea is calm, nobody is bothered by motion sickness, and so the lecture halls are full, full, full.
Just before lunch everybody gathers on the forward deck for a group shot, taken by our photographer, who later on shows his works in a slideshow about the whole trip.
Interesting - and nice! - to hear from many on board that this was rather supposed to be a teaser journey, and that soon the decision will be taken which itinerary is going to be next. Those who are still in doubt can take a sneak peak in Tessa’s presentation about a year’s cycle on FRAM. The modern one, this time…
Under the sinking sun we plough our way onward, taking a fine last dinner after having a Captain’s Farewell cocktail.
Bedtime comes too early, but then again tomorrow we will be arriving just after sunrise.
So, Fare Thee Well, Fram!
And certainly this is the right moment to say goodbye to our most unusual passenger - Fred. Fred is a globetrotter of the finest kind, he has been sent around the world by his team six years ago and has seen much of the world since, from the Pacific ocean to Russia, from Singapore, Arabia to Australia. Now he has joined us on FRAM to go to Norway. He is a restless fellow, so much to our dismay he couldn't stay and left us in the morning to go to another adventure. Good luck, Fred!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A goodbye to Norway

On the bright Tuesday morning of this week, MS Fram arrived at the last stop of the trip: Skudeneshavn.
At 10:00 AM our ship docked in the small harbour of this idyllic village that lies on the southernmost tip of the island of Karmøy.
Passengers were free to explore the area or join the guided walk through the old city centre. This part of the village consists of 225 wooden houses and is regarded to as one of the best preserved in Europe. In 2004, it was voted Norway's "Summer Town" by listeners to NRK´s Radio Reiseradioen programme. We had three groups with each three local guides who showed and told us everything there is to know.
The beautiful white painted houses with red roof tiles along with the great weather and a light ocean breeze made for an inspiring and peaceful walk. Many of our guests took the time to do some extra souvenir hunting in the main shopping street and send some last post cards home. 

Fram left Skudeneshavn for open sea at 18:00 PM. As in the morning, we had to fit between a very narrow passage that leads to and from the harbour and we only had a few meters to spare. As always, everything went well and locals were standing on shore to wave us goodbye!

The evening consisted of a Filipino Buffet in the IMAQ Restaurant and live music from our pianist Ralf in the Observation Lounge. We finished the night with the famous Fram Crew Show, where our crew that normally works “behind the scenes” showed their talents and impressed us with acts like traditional dances, singing and flaring with bar accessories. It was a very nice way to spend one of the last evenings together and say goodbye to Norway.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Bright Thing in the Sky

All good things come to those who wait. After quite a few days of patience, of brave hiking and strolling in true Norwegian spring conditions, the sun comes out and bathes the landscape in golden light, underlining the wonderful colors of the Søndrefjorden, where we aim for our first destination of the day, Urnes.

There is many a stave church in Norway, but certainly this one is special. Majestically overlooking the village, it is a prime example for the most elaborated wood-carving technique of the time, which has thus been named Urnes-Style. Built in the year 1070, this dark, tar-covered masterpiece has seen Viking kings coming and going, and now many of blue-clad people are eager to get a good shot.

The backdrop of the church also invites to a little walk in the surrounding hills. What a pleasure to take in the view from high above, feel the sun on the face, and watch Nature to bring out the first blossoms. The songbirds are all excited, too, a real spring symphony. By chance we spot some snakes next to the road, obviously two males fighting for a female which is cuddled to a rock nearby. Well, springtime…

We continue our voyage, now heading west inside the enormous system of the Sognefjord, and that gives our “local” Olav the opportunity to talk about the history of the place. Twice in the medieval times a hard battle was fought to unite Norway under one king. Whereas the first took place in the Stavanger area and  was mainly about Norway’s South, the second one in 1184 was the famous battle of Fimreite, when King Sverre, with an inferior fleet, vanquished King Magnus, whose Viking warriors were numerous and heavily armored.
The latter led to their defeat, as Sverre managed to pierce some of the boats of Magnus’ fleet, causing the boats to sink and the warriors to scramble into the next boat, and so on and so on. Overloaded with heavy Vikings, the other ships also sank and most of the warriors drowned instead of being shot with arrows.

As our knowledge about all this refers solely to the Viking Saga’s we will have to account for a little lack of detail, if not accuracy. But it is a good tale, and one thing is for certain: King Sverre’s braveness united Norway on that very day.

Back to modern times. In the afternoon we arrive at Balestrand, a very pretty village in a community that bears the same name. It is derived from old Norse and means hillside behind a beach. And it
is true, right behind the village the gentle but steep Balastøylen raises its head. This is also where the afternoon hike is leading, steeply through forest and rocks, until we reach the snowline. Wonderful views from up here, in the finest of weathers!

Those who want to learn all about the art of cider making go on a different excursion, led by one of the best apple farmers in town. Of course the consumption of apple juice jumps up subsequently.

Everyone else benefits as well from the sunshine while having a stroll in Balestrand, which is bey tradition a centre of art in the Sognefjord area, and indeed there are quite
many sculptures and unusual houses here, contrasting with the beautiful old architecture, for example of the famous Balestrand hotel.
Now, what a day!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Exploring Undredal & Gudvangen

While heading towards Undredal yesterday morning, we woke up to the impressive views that the 29-kilometre long Aurlandsfjorden was offering us. This fjord is a branch of the Sognefjorden, Norway´s longest fjord and reaches depths of 962 metres below sea level. Once in Undredal, we brought everyone on shore by tender operation with our small polar circle boats. 
The weather was already a lot better than the days before as the sun rays were pushing their way through the photogenic clouds. Only a few drops of persevering rain came down during our landings yesterday. Most of the passengers discovered Norway´s third-most visited tourist attraction: The Flåm railway line. After a 20 minute bus ride they arrived at the station and boarded the train after a quick shopping spree. This train runs through the valley of Flåmsdalen and connects the mainline with Sognefjord. The line's elevation difference is 863 meters (2,831 ft); it has ten stations, twenty tunnels and one bridge. The maximum gradient is 5.5 percent (1:18) which offers exiting views offer steep cliffs down in the valley. When the train was half way, thick snow was starting to fall from the sky.
Once at the top at Myrdal, we were surrounded by four meters of snow that was still lying there from the winter. We literally were surrounded by a winter wonderland where even the famous waterfall on the left hand side of the track was entirely dry due to the cold/late spring of this year. 
In the early afternoon we sailed from Undredal into Naerofjorden, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. From here we started our 6 kilometre long hike along the postal route which follows the fjord. Our guests were surprised by our Chef who made hot dogs on the way! 

At the end of the Naerofjorden we visited the village of Gudvangen. We had plenty of time to explore the area which was also the starting point of our second kayak adventure of this trip. On their way to Bakka, the small group of kayakers were able to enjoy the scenery surrounding us from a unique perspective. Once there, they visited the church before returning to the ship. 

In the beginning of the evening we sailed out of Naerofjorden again and the weather/light was a lot better then in the morning. It was very nice to stand outside on the decks to watch the landscape and take a few photos for home. 
We are very much looking forward to the rest of our trip and the ever improving weather! 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Valley of Roses

One of the first sentences students of the Latin language learned many years ago was “Agricola rosam aspergit”, the peasant waters the rose. Knowing now that roses seem to need water, we are not overly surprised at the weather that awaits us in Rosendalen, the valley of roses, beautifully nestled in the southern Hardanger Fjord - it’s raining cats and dogs.
But who really cares? Certainly not the 120 brave guests who are headed for one of the instructive and beautiful excursions today. The longer trip went into the Folgefonna National Park to the Bondhus glacier a very pretty scion of the much larger Folgefonna glacier. The adjacent lake is picturesque and the walk in the area is stunningly beautiful.
For those who rather stick to the place Rosendal itself there is a unique project to be visited: The restauration of the ship Gurine, a sailing yacht from the late 19th century, that was mainly used for hunting purposes in the west ice.
For many years the wreckage lay dilapidated in the small town port, until the idea was born to get it going again. Now the whole village is spending lots of volunteer hours in the shipyard to make it happen, to get Gurine pretty again. And sure the pride makes them explain everything to our happy guests.
Rosendal has quite a few things to offer: Very famous is the Baronie, a manor that was built on a piece of land given as dowry from the richest landowner at the time. So splendid was the manor that it got the title of Barony, the only one in Norway.
Not far away is the old saw mill. Like in the olden days the town folks use the river to drive the mighty saw blades; and it is still fully operational, cutting floor boards and firewood on demand.
You don’t have to like rocks to fall in love with the Stone Garden of Rosendal; with great care and even greater artistic skills the sculptors created a unique resort with the most wonderful colors and shapes, all from the various rocks of the surroundings.
In the afternoon we go deeper into Hardangerfjord, and then it is time to turn and head for the longest fjord of them all, Sognefjord. 
On the way, just passing the city of Bergen, the weather clears up, and the first rays of sun hit the surface of the ocean. A bit ironic,though, as Bergen has a reputation of being one of the rainiest cities in the world…
But where there’s sun,there’s hope. So tomorrow will be a dry and beautiful day!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Our day at Eidfjord & Ullensvang

Fram arrived at the second stop of the trip yesterday morning at 08:00 AM. With a population of 550, the village of Eidfjord is the largest settlement in the municipality of Eidfjord and a perfect spot for disembarkation.

The Expedition Team started the morning by preparing the Kayak´s and bringing them on land so they were ready for the challenging activity. 7 passengers joined the 1½ hour adventure in the waters around the ship and the village and enjoyed the scenery while battling the elements. 
Then it was time for us to start the Historical footprints & the Eidfjord Church walk. We left the ship at 09:30 AM and headed into the village to see the Church from the outside and inside. The Old Eidfjord Church was built in Eidfjord in 1309. It was in continuous use until 198 when the new Eidfjord Church was built just north-west of the old church.
We continued our hike along the Eio River through a peaceful wooded area towards the Eidfjordvatnet Lake. This moraine-dammed lake is located immediately south-east of the village and has little stone beaches that offer stunning views. After a high viewing point, a few horses and cows we made it back on the ship for lunch buffet.

In the beginning of the afternoon, Fram left Eidfjord and headed to a municipality with 3,369 inhabitants: Ullensvang. Two members of the Expedition Team prepared a bright new activity: The walk along the fruit trail.
This could not be more appropriate as this municipality is the epicentre of Norwegian apple production. Apart from different species of apple trees, there are also (amongst others) Plum trees and cherry trees. Even though the weather was not in our favour, passengers were motivated and exited to go ashore to explore the area and do the hike(s). Their enthusiasm made their day a great success and we are all looking forward to the rest of the trip! 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Fjordland - Wonderland

A sea day is a fine thing to have, but still everybody was anxious to finally spot land in the late evening.
The Norwegian fjord coast is unequivocally one of the most exciting, dramatic landscapes in the world. And on this trip we will visit some of its highlights, go where the coastal ships of the company won’t go.
In order to make the most out of it we start very early: At first light of the day we venture into Lysefjord, the first fjord of Fjordnorway, the particular western section of the country that is home to a whole series of these natural wonders.
Lysefjord is rather short with “only” 42 kilometers length and a maximum depth of nearly 600 meters. But it is a cut in the landscape as sharp as it can be; the granite walls are looming near-vertically above us as we are moving deeper inside, passing Henjangefossen, Preikestolen and other famous locations.
Whereas in the past farmers were living constantly in this violent solitude, mostly self-sustained off their cattle and sheep, the rare houses are now mostly for recreational purposes.  Solitude can be a bliss, if it is not permanently imposed on you…
Near the bottom of the fjord is a crazy place, unfortunately hidden in the mist today: Kjeragbolten, situated at a lofty 1000m above the fjord level, is a large boulder, wedged in a crack in-between two rock walls, accessible only to the most daring, as you are literally standing one kilometer above ground. Well, some people take the leap - with a parachute; it is one of the most famous base jump spots in the northern hemisphere.
The skies are a little hesitant to clear up, but after a while  the drizzle seizes. Even a bit of blue is visible here and there. So the excursions going from beautiful Stavanger are a success, be it the panoramic tour, the visit of the herring and tin can factory (which had a huge impact at the time, believe it or not: the industrialized production of durable conserves caused also a boost in ship building, as more herring could be processed.), or the walking tour through the picturesque wooden Old Town. Interesting stories are to be learned, for example about a village of 50 people in the 12th century that gets an enormous cathedral, which served as a bribe for an English bishop, so that he would divorce said king.
There also is a small glass bottle, kept in the Oil Museum, which contains the whole fortune of Norway: It is the very first amount of crude oil, harvested at the Ekofisk field in 1969. Virtually this bottle turned the land of fishermen and peasants into one of the richest country in the world.
After a wonderful and educational day in Stavanger we cast the lines and head further towards wonderland.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

On our way to Norway!

Dear readers,

Fram left Bremerhaven on Monday evening and we are now in Norway! We spent our first day at sea, which is the ideal occasion for the passengers to discover the ship. Except for a few high waves, the conditions were good. Nice sunny weather with clear views.

Our program started early on Tuesday morning as everybody was welcomed on deck 2 to pick up our signature Expedition jackets. The Expedition Team already prepared them the evening before, after the captain’s welcome speech! They were put into large wooden boxes indicating their size so our staff was able to assist the passengers more efficiently while they tried them on. It took less then two hours to give the 208 passengers their new blue jackets.

During the rest of the morning, everyone was invited to attend lectures about Norway, Church architecture, the original Fram Expedition and the history of our planet. Lunch was served at 12 in our IMAQ Restaurant on deck 4 and while enjoying the food, passengers could spot several guillemots (sea birds) flying with us around the ship!

The tuesday afternoon also consisted of a few lectures about (amongst others) Lysefjorden and Stavanger. During the day and mostly the evening after dinner, our pianist Ralf entertained the guests in our observation lounge. Here, people can enjoy a nice beverage while listening to live music and watching out of the panorama windows. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Fresh from the dock - we're back!

Well, isn’t she shiny…?? The last three weeks FRAM has spent in dry dock, giving it the usual overhaul. Sounds small, but it certainly isn't. It means, no speck of rust is left, everything is cleaned, every valve of the engines is checked, systems upgraded, new showers installed, windows exchanged and polished, and many, many other things, visible ones and - the bulk of it - things you will never get to see like the Ballast Water Treatment System (yes, even our ballast water is clean!). as long as everything is working smoothly. Like a big organism, and actually - isn’t it exactly what a vessel is?
So the 208 guests that arrive in the afternoon are the first ones to benefit from all the works that went into our good ship. 
Bremerhaven has a huge cruise terminal, so we get a sophisticated gangway, elevators and even colorful cruise terminal entertainment.
The tides do not allow the side door to be opened, so the luggage has to be hauled in by crane, which naturally takes a little longer. But eventually all is in; and as the safety drill  is done in a pretty chilly wind, we think a generous dinner is in order, during which the lines are cast - we are on our way. A splendid evening light shines over our departure, a fine start. 
After the warm welcome by Captain Hårvik and the staff it is a wonderful thing to sit in the panorama lounge and watch the other ships ploughing through the night, brightly lit like christmas trees. But now the eyes are getting heavy, long day.
Sea day ahead.