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by ZweiBieren Norway - Islands and Fiords polar bear on polar ice as seen from Polar Star

halfsize map of route To celebrate our fortieth anniversary Susan and I signed up in August for an Elderhostel Norway cruise aboard the MV Explorer in May.  Over Christmas we heard that a ship named Explorer had sunk. We assumed it was a coincidence since a previous trip had taken us aboard yet another ship named Explorer.

After Christmas, Elderhostel called to say there had been an "incident" with our ship.Yup, it sank. \Elderhostel was great, they booked the whole lot of us on Polar Star Expeditions for tour PS78-13:

From May 23 – to June 6, we traveled 3500 kilometers from Edinburgh to Svalbard with stops at half a dozen ports in the northern British islands and Norway.

I took lots of pictures; the good stuff starts around May 31 and the best around June 4:

Most of the descriptions of what we did are in the Expedition's voyage log.  Here I'll just note some personal highlights.

We left our home on Tuseday, May 20 to drive the five hours to Dulles. From there we flew to Heathrow and then on to Edinburgh. I stayed up the whole flight, watching four movies. This seemed to help me reset my clock after I got there.


Bus tours in Edinburgh. Old Town, "New" Town (built starting in 1765), Holyrood, Parliament, around the base of Arthur's seat, Edinburgh Castle, and Royal Mile. We opted out of the Royal Mile, having been there before, and went to the Royal Botanic Garden instead. See pictures for May 22 and May 23. Among the pictures are three of a most amazingly animated and expressive guide; though not one of ours.

Apparently I've changed over the years. We had arranged to meet old friends in our hotel, and I awaited them in the lobby. The hotel clerk said we had checked out and asked if I, across the lobby, could be the one they were looking for. They said no and left. We never did meet. It was a shame since they had taken the train over from Glasgow to meet us.

Orkney Islands

Polar Star on BellSund, Svalbard
Polar Star in Svalbard
Sometimes I rue missed opportunities. After we left the cathedral and were beginning our walk back to the ship, we were interrupted by a cheeky local teen girl amusing her friends by asking, "Excuse me, can you tell me where the cathedral is?" (It was directly behind her and she knew it.) I blew her off with a lamely smart-ass reply and we continued on. Almost from the moment we left her I began to wish I had asked her to accompany us on our walk. I'm sure she could have told us much more about teen life in a small isolated town than could or would our council-approved guides.

Tour leader David Storrie lectured on Norway in World War II. And talked about so and so many "divisions" here and there. I implored him to tell me how big the various sorts of units are. He was kind enough to respond with a full description.


Having endured a too-long prior visit to Edvard Greig's house, I skipped that part of the tour in favor of doing laundry.  Fortunately I asked one of the ship's pilots where to find a laundromat; otherwise I'd not have found it in its poorly marked, upstairs spot on a back alley. It was a fine walk and I enjoyed the sights of Edinburgh and some less-traveled side streets. Further washing was manual. Another laundromat visit would have been excessive; the first cost twenty dollars at the current exchange rate.  Even at these prices we had too little time in Bergen. There was much to do.

Since earlier visits I have wanted to move to Bergen (in the summer, alternating with summers in New Zealand). On this visit I discovered that prices were not going to allow it. What's more,  I probably couldn't afford a harbor side house but would likely windup in the flat plain urban area just east of the harbor. Sigh, stuck in the States through the bad times ahead.


The aquarium at Ålesund
Ålesund aquarium
I tried out E's camera. Got lots of shots of rocks and birds. Sadly, the option wheel is just where I put my thumb to hold the camera. I turned it by mistake. Most of the day's pictures have sixteen pictures in them, taken fractions of a second apart. In some cases the results were interesting. The rocking of the boat caused a head to emerge from the bottom of the picture. Birds flew by, and fish swam.

Later in the day I fixed the option wheel and then jogged it again. The results are movies, most of which show the sidewalk after I had taken the shot and undeployed the camera.


Torghatten is a mountain with a hole right through it, visible from the sea. Many of us climbed up, through, and down. Only I myself fell during the descent. No injury, but such a hoo hah. Guide Jane had to call it in on the walkie-talkie, so everyone heard. And I had to "check in" with Doc Mark. He duly glanced at my scratch, agreed that I would have a bruise on my butt, and cleared me for further action. 

When I told people tructhfully that it hurt when I pinched together my thumb and forefinger they each, to a man and woman, gave me the hoary doctor joke, "Don't do that." Of course, I left out the part about the pinch hurting before I fell.

As I was falling, the thought occurred that holding my right arm and hand out to block the fall was a stupid thing to be doing. Perhaps that triggered some unstiffening of the arm. Anyway, it only got scratched. I believe I can do quite a bit of thinking while falling. Once at Stinson Beach, near Mt. Tamalpais in California, I fell off the top of a rock. It seems to me I noted the path of descent and folded myself to fall between the rocks onto sand.  Or maybe I should just stop climbing rocks.


We landed at Alstahaug, a memorial to beloved preacher/poet Peter Daas. Little church way out in nowheres, far from any city. Accessible I supposed, only by boat. Imagine then, my surpise at finding an enormous parking lot. This was my first inkling of the vast roadway infrastructure investment the Norwegians have made with their oil money.


Sign on trail to Puffin lookout (at the left)
Trail to Puffin view
(sign is at left)
We hiked on Lovund to an outcropping from which you were supposed to see multitudes of Puffins. Hannah insisted they were there, but no one else saw more than a very few. Nice hike, anyway.

I lagged behind, taking pictures and failed to spot the crucial turn indicated by the arrow on the sign shown here on the left.  Going straight ahead, I entered the pretty little graveyard. Then climbed a fence and successfully jumped a stream. A troll in the bog grabbed my ankle, however, and I went down, splat. Face forward into the wet. Fortunately, we weren't "climbing" and no one called in my fall. I was wet, but dried quickly. 

The sign, in case you can't read it, says "Lundefuglene," a clear indication of the path. If you see it and happen to read Norwegian.

Lofotens and Troll Fjord

ready to play hnefatafl

Hnefatafl board

The morning was our usual beautiful weather, but it turned cloudy after lunch. We bused from Å to Svolvar. Prior to the roads and bridges the journey would have required twenty-four ferry rides and taken a week.  One stop was at a replica of the largest yet-discovered longhouse. I took the photo to the right of a game they had there. Pieces move to orthogonally adjeacent squares. Captures are made by playing one piece at each end of a string of opponent pieces. (A web search found the name "hnefatafl" for this game.) This capture rule is related to that in Go, but in Go the opponent clump must be surrounded both vertically and horizontally.

Trolls are supposed to be captured in the rocks, peering out at us. After dinner we sailed into Troll Fjord,  a nice little fjord for viewing. Thanks to the continuing rain, great water falls were to be seen. But no trolls. Finally I found a big round rock jutting out over us with a crack right down the middle. As far as I could see that was a troll mooning us.

Svalbard: June 3, 4, 5, 6

The rain and clouds continued as we cruised the North coast of Norway to North Cape and across the Barents Sea to Bear island. Then back to glorious weather as we beheld the sights of Svalbard fjords. There is little comment to make here. I just sat around, took pictures, watched the scenery, and read books. Our furthest north was about 78.5º N latitude.  While there I tried my cell phone. Sure enough, everywhere in Norway is covered. I talked to my daughter in Cincinnati. Othes noted and started calling their own cell phones. Sadly some discovered long queues of messages and started processing them instead of watching the walruses at play.

We returned by plane from LongYearbyen to Tromsø to Oslo to Edinburgh, where we overnighted in a hotel. Svalbard, we discovered, is not  Norway. We had to clear customs in Tromsø by carrying all our stuff off the plane, marching around to another gate, and getting back on. The next day we flew on to Dulles, visited sister-in-law Karen, and drove on home. Susan was glad to get back and find her garden healthy but needing her.
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