Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bergen and Torshavn, Faroe Islands

After we departed Copenhagen, we enjoyed a nice dinner, meeting our 4 other table mates for the first time.  Janet and Bob are are retired, and are from Winnetka, Illinois.  Bob used to be in product sales and Janet worked for a non-profit.  Marg (hereinafter referred to as the “low talker”) and Ken, also retired, are from Canada.  It was all a bit awkward at first, because the low talker talks, well, really low and is extremely hard to hear, and Janet claims to not be able to hear well, but she seemed to do all right.  Rather, it was her husband Bob who seemed not to be able to hear Janet, whom he refers to as “kiddo”.  After a few days, everyone has warmed up and we all get along quite well.  

Bob and Janet are really interested in the history of the Vikings, and know quite a bit about them.  Bob becomes downright animated when talking about the Vikings, and he seemed almost depressed that he missed visiting the Viking Museum in Copenhagen.

Janet complained two nights in a row at dinner; the first night it was that her salad was brought to her with dressing on it, when she thought she had asked for it on the side.  The HORROR.  The next night, she ordered braised short ribs, and they came out looking like something the dog chewed on and spit out.  Small and fatty.  Anyway, all of a sudden, here comes the assistant dining room manager, a scary looking young man, with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of champagne.  He apologized profusely to Janet and to the entire table, and offered us the berries and bubbly as a token compensation.  Thanks Janet!!!

I’m sure that Jonathan later punished our poor waiters, Eben and Amink, for the service that resulted in Janet complaining.  And I’m betting that champagne came out of their pay.  Poor guys.  Our dining stewards work really long hours and they are always smiling and friendly and try to bend over backwards pleasing us.  It makes me sad when they get into trouble.  Our head waiter, Eben, is bald, and now I know why.  He’s probably worried all of his hair off.

Our first day was a sea day.  Adrienne and I woke up pretty early, around 6:30, and we dawdled around in the cabin, reading our program for the day and deciding what to do with our time between breakfast and lunch.  There were some lectures going on about the Vikings, which I wanted to attend, and we also were trying to find some time to squeeze in our spa time.  We bought a package at the beginning of the cruise that gives us access to the thermal spa, a nice big bubbling pool, aromatherapy sauna, turkish baths, and then these amazing tiled curved beds that are heated.  You lie down on one of these and can just gaze out the large picture windows and watch the ocean go by.  It’s divine.  The package lets us have access to this private area every day of the cruise, and it’s open from 8 AM to 10 PM every day.

At 11:00, we met up with our Cruise Critic group up in the Crow’s Nest, a bar and lounge on the top deck of the ship.  There was a sizable number of us up there, and it was nice to meet up with a few old friends I knew from previous cruises, as well as some new friends.  The ship’s cruise director, JT, also stopped in to welcome us, which was a nice touch.  

After lunch, we took time to go to the spa, and sort of snacked our way through until dinner.  

The next day, we docked in Bergen, Norway.  Bergen is the second largest city in Norway and means “green field between mountains” as it is situated at the base of a mountainous range, at the edge of the sea. The city boasts of up to 60 days of sunshine per year and averages 80 inches of rain annually. It actually holds a rain festival each October, with an umbrella and raincoat parade.  It’s a rugged and compact little city, and has a fun fish market, narrow alleyways in the old quarter and a terrific funicular that takes you up to the top of Mount Floyen, with wonderful picturesque views of the city down below and out into the sea. The city has been around since 1070 AD, so it’s rather old.

Here’s a few fun facts about Norway, in general — Food stores are not allowed to be open on Sundays, but gas stations and food kiosks can be open. Despite being one of the largest oil exporters in the world, Norway’s gas prices are among the highest.  Norwegians love frozen pizza.  It’s their unofficial national dish.  Norwegians love telling Swedish jokes.  Norway was under Swedish rule for several centuries and so they view Sweden as the big brother who likes to tell the younger one what to do.  Naturally, Swedes view Norway as their dim-witted little brother.  As a result, there is a pretty fierce rivalry between the two countries.  In Norway, it is illegal to buy sex, but it is not illegal to sell sex.  So, a prostitute will not be in trouble for selling sex, but someone buying sex from a prostitute would be breaking the law.  Oh, Norway.

Our next port stop was supposed to be Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands.  However, this pesky hurricane Cristobal really messed us up.  It seemed that it’s trajectory towards Iceland would put our ship squarely in it’s path if we kept to our original itinerary, so the captain did some “captain” work and decided the best course of action would be for us to skip Lerwick (boo hoo) and go straight to Torshavn in the Faroe Island a day early, then spend the following day outrunning Cristobal, seeking shelter during the overnight hours in the bay outside Reykjavik, Iceland.  So that’s just what we did.  We had a fairly rough overnight and following day at sea, with 12-15 foot swells, and lots of leaning from side to side, but it wasn’t bad as expected and by the time we reached the bay outside of Iceland, things were much calmer.  The captain said that if we had stayed our original course we would have experienced 40 foot seas and probably would have incurred some damage to the ship.  I like our captain, he’s a smart guy.

We had a short day in the Faroes.  I had booked us an excursion through the ship to the island Vagar, and a coach bus took us out for several hours along the countryside and through a 3 km tunnel under the sea to the island.  There are 480,000 people who live in the Faroe Islands, with about 120,000 of them in Torshavn, which happens to be one of the smallest capital cities in the world.  Fun fact about Torshavn — there are no ants here!  They have these very cool houses with grass roofs.  It is an old tradition which suits the climate quite well, as this way no moss can grow on your roof, which would make it slippery and difficult to keep clear.  The grass is quite efficient.  It’s actually laid up on the roof on top of a layer of tree bark, and is much like laying sod.  It’s quite heavy and requires a strong structural support of wood and the bark in order for the house to support it properly.  With several million sheep in the islands, I’m guessing they toss one up on the roof from time to time to keep the grass from growing too long…..Torshavn is also very well known for it’s salmon industry, and they have many ring farms in the inlets where they grow and harvest the salmon.  

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