My brother says it all.
Here you go, Rob telling you all, in a nutshell, what was great about our trip:
Here you go, Rob telling you all, in a nutshell, what was great about our trip:
After we got off the ship, Internet access was somewhat hard to obtain, so I'm wrapping this up post-trip in sunny Minnesota.
We left the Rotterdam around 8 AM on the 24th. The cruise line had all the passengers assigned numbers for departure so the whole compliment of passengers weren't trying to leave the ship at once. I have no doubt that the crew on the ship has some serious work on that day. The Rotterdam sails for a Baltic cruise the same day so the majority of the rooms have to be cleaned and a million other tasks performed before the ship sails in the late afternoon. Overall, we were all quite impressed with the level of service aboard. I have absolutely no complaints with the customer service aspect of the trip. I have no other cruise experience to compare this to, but I can't imagine it getting much better. The food was pretty decent, for the most part. The variety of food and the presentation of it were both excellent, even if the execution wasn't always spot on. The ship itself was always clean and very comfortable: truly a resort hotel on the water. Most of you know that I've long had a fascination with the old ocean liners of the past, so this was pretty much the modern equivalent to the trans-Atlantic crossings of old. The only thing closer would be a trip on the QM2. The Rotterdam is run by a company that has a long history (although it's really just a nameplate for a corporate cruising conglomerate) and they had many reminders of the romantic ocean-going past throughout the ship, whether it was artwork from older vessels or pictures in the hallways of previous Holland-America liners. That was nice. And, even though the shipboard experience was very pleasant, I was ready to do something else after about 10 days. YMMV.
After we got off the Rotterdam, we took taxis to our hotel in downtown Copenhagen. We spent the rest of the day walking around the city and wondering what on Earth we were all going to do without all the onboard food! That afternoon, Rob caught his flight home to NY. On the 25th, we spent the day at Tivoli Gardens, which is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world (1843). The place is quite lovely and has lots of interesting events as well as a good assortment of rides which amused the nephews.
We had to make it an early night due to the fact that our flight was at 5:55 the next morning. We left our hotel about the same time as the local bars were closing; 4 AM. We flew to Amsterdam and then back to MN.
So, it's good to be home. I'm still fighting some jet lag, but adjusting to local time OK. That's about all I've got for now. If there's something anyone's curious about, be sure to ask. Thanks for following along!
Kristiansand was a bit of a low key sort of day for us. Once again, we had no planned excursion and spent the late morning/early afternoon walking around the downtown/retail shops area. The weather was much better with some periods of actual sun! We didn't really make it to any notable sites, but had a nice time hanging out in the area. We headed back to the Rotterdam for our departure around 4 PM for Copenhagen. Tonight we're sailing through a rough stretch of sea that lies between Norway and Denmark. There's a lot of wind and the ship is really rolling a lot (nothing serious, but there's quite a difference between this and the calmer waters. The waves outside are really something to see. Here's a shot Bruce took while I was videotaping some ocean action.
Of course, tonight is our last night aboard the Rotterdam. We're all getting packed up and ready to leave the ship early tomorrow morning. The Rotterdam continues on to the Baltic area with a mostly new group of passengers and they won't stay in Copenhagen more than about 8 hours. That means we need to be out of here early. We'll be taking taxis to our hotels and hopefully be able to work in some sights tomorrow. We're all sorry to be leaving all the luxuries and comforts we've had here for the past 14 days, but I'm ready to be headed home.
Stavanger is our second to last stop before Copenhagen. We don't have a planned excursion today, so we're free to go explore the city. Stavanger is a big oil/gas town: much of the offshore platform work comes from here. It seemed appropriate to visit the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which was recommended to us. We walked about six blocks to get to the museum, which was interesting. Alas, it's Sunday so pretty much all retail, save for bars and restaurants, are closed. The shops we saw indicate a somewhat trendy, modern populous (and probably prosperous if they work in the oil business).
The Petroleum Museum was actually quite impressive. The whole building's built out over the water to give the feel of an offshore platform. Everything from the geology of oil/gas to the ins and outs of how they do all that deep water drilling and pipeline construction. I found the whole thing very interesting and came away impressed at the engineering (and financial) might that goes into this whole thing. Extracting oil/gas from from the bottom of the North Sea cannot be easy. Did this extravaganza convince me that the US Government needs to give tax breaks to the oil companies? Uh, no... The nephews really liked the place and Dad found it engaging. Now that's success for a tourist attraction and our group!
We grabbed some pizza (yes, some good pizza; the stuff that passes for 'zza on the ship is sub-frozen pizza quality) and watched countless school marching bands go by. Apparently there's a national festival going on here and there were tons of marching bands parading by, even in the pouring rain. That got us all nostalgic. Some of them even had large feathery plumes in their hats that reminded us of Central High School way back when (no, I didn't see any Q-Tip like hats ala' Stevens HS).
We pulled out late in the afternoon and began to head back to sea. First, we took a detour through a smaller Fjord that contains a huge suspension bridge and the famous Pulpit Rock. I didn't get a good shot of the rock (Bruce did), but here's a good one of the bridge the ship sailed under.
After that, we turned around and headed back out on our way to Kristiansand.
Today we stopped in the city of Bergen. Bergen is a lot larger (over 200, 000) than the other ports we've visited and is far more than a tourist destination. The harbor is very large with a lot of active shipping going on. We had some time before our bus tour to hit the shops around the piers as well as the open air farmers and fish markets. They had some incredible fish available; it made me wish I could have brought back some of the smoked salmon I got to try...mmm. Rob and I took a break from the ship's lunch cuisine and got some fish/chips at the fish market. It was fantastic, made fresh to order (I believe it was local cod) and they served it with a bottle of balsamic vinegar which was quite tasty. We had a little time to hit some shops before we had to rendezvous for the afternoon's bus excursion: a tour of the city.
The tour took us around the city center and out to the Fantoft Stave Church. Here's Rob practicing for one of his upcoming law lectures at NYU:
We weren't as lucky today with the weather as it rained much of the day (supposedly it rains 265 days or so a year). We didn't get to do the funicular train ride which gets you up into the mountains overlooking the city or the "surprisingly uplifting" Leprosy Museum (description from the ship's daily publication). Apparently, the cure for Leprosy was found here. We headed out to see the former home of composer Edvard Grieg. His house has been preserved and there is a nearby museum devoted to him. A very nice part of the city: it looks over the harbor and has some amazing nature areas and gardens. The museum was everything one could want to know about Grieg, which is saying something. After that, we drove back through the city, seeing some very upscale neighborhoods, and made our way back to the pier where we shoved off.
Tonight's dinner was the last formal dress night and the staff served the dessert, Baked Alaska, with a flair.
A fun little show and the chefs/kitchen staff got a well-deserved round of applause (they must work their asses off on a ship like this). Now, some of us are going to play a little blackjack to top off the night. The trip is coming to a close pretty quickly and while all this stuff has been great, I'll be glad to get home as well.
Another morning, another beautiful Fjord. This time, we've sailed into the Geirangerfjord, one of the narrowest and most scenic. One of the great things about this cruise has been waking up in one of these places. This fjord also as tons of waterfalls, including the "Seven Sisters" one. We got a really good look at it on the way out tonight.
The weather today was really nice. It sounds like we got lucky, weather-wise, and had a day that was mostly free of rain. Our tour bus took us past the town of Geiranger, which is apparently here for the tourist trade, and up the steep mountains to the top of Mt. Dalsnibba, which is 5,000 feet above the valley below, which is barely above sea level. While the snow has melted below, once near the top, the lakes are still frozen and there is snow everywhere. The road was only opened for the season a few weeks ago. The top of the mountain, which has a wicked twisting road, has a spectacular view, with a wind to match. There's nothing quite like getting your face whipped by blowing snow in June!
On the way down the mountain, we stopped at the Geiranger Fjordsenter. It's a nice general visitor center for the area and had some interesting exhibits on what life was like here for the area's first inhabitants. They also served some very good coffee! They had an actual slide show, with real slides! It actually looked quite good. I know some professors at the U who would be proud...
And now, we're back out at sea on our way to tomorrow's destination.
It's just before dinner and we've left Trondheim, where we spent the day. Trondheim is a much larger city, around 160,000 people and 1 in 6 are students. A lot of higher ed going on here. We got up this morning and left the ship for another set of tour buses for a ride around the city which included a section of the streetcar line. The mountains aren't as high near here as they were in the previous stops, but still quite hilly and the ever-present fjord. After the tour concluded, we had some time to walk around the city, which was nice for a change. We went to the cathedral and the city center area. The Cathedral was huge, old, and visually impressive. The city center area was really nice with lots of interesting shops and a surprising lack of American chains. Sure, there was a Mcd and a Burger K, but that was pretty much it, as far as I could tell. Oh yeah, I had a tasty chocolate-covered waffle at a 7 Eleven(!). And no Starbucks. OK, off to dinner.
Around 10 tonight, they did a massive dessert buffet out in the area with the swimming pools, complete with ice sculptures, chocolate fountains, and giant bread carved to look like animals. The nephews were quite impressed. Almost ready to sleep, but even at 12:30AM, it still looks like dusk outside, though the Sun has actually set. I'm mostly used to the schedule now, just in time to jet back to MN for some good 'ol jet lag.
Besides the interesting array of retail in the city, I managed to make it to the Public Library, which besides being a nice modern library, boasts a real archeological dig inside the building.
Fun. I couldn't read the signage, so I'll have to wait until I get back and ask one of my Norwegian-speaking friends to translate it. Today's bus tour guide, like the one in Flam, mentioned the impact being occupied by the Germans in WWII had. This obviously still resonates with the public here.
Oh yes, after I wrapped up my last entry, we *did* in fact see some ocean-going critters: some dolphins. We could actually see them jumping in and out of the water as they followed the ship. Very fun. Another thing we did at sea yesterday was go to the Indonesian High Tea. The staff was dressed in traditional garb serving some very tasty Indonesian teas and desserts. We ended up sitting with the ship's cruise director, who isn't named Julie. She was very pleasant and extolled the pleasures of the Antarctic cruises the line offers. Sounds great, maybe....someday.
I think that will do it for tonight. My sister Meghan had her baby this morning, so I have another nephew to add to the collection! Tomorrow, we dock at Geiranger for more sightseeing.
We're at sea again today on our way down to Trondheim, our next stop.
Yesterday, we spent the day in Honningsvag, which is ... oh wait, there's Captain Rik on the intercom...he has a weather report and is telling us we'll be docking around 8 tomorrow morning. The wind/sea is calm today and the ship feels more steady than it did on our way up. Supposedly, some whales were sighted. Okay, he's done. We cross back below the Arctic Circle around 10 tonight and there will be a whopping 3 hours of "night" (I use the quotes since even after sun sets around here, it's still light out) this evening.
We got on some tour buses yesterday and made our way to the North Cape, the point furthest North in Europe. There's a very pleasant visitor center there where you can send postcards (I did) and admire the barren scenery. The only critters I saw, other than tourists, were reindeer.
Ain't that a touristy picture!
Near the very edge of the 1000 foot cliff that marks the North Cape, there is a large metal globe. Of course, everyone has to pose in front of it.
The terrain in this area somewhat reminds me of Western South Dakota in winter; barren with patches of old snow. I can only imagine what the winter is like up here Below the visitor center, there's a small set of museum exhibits dedicated to those who first came here and a kooky tiny chapel. The bottom area contains a nightclub with a view of the ocean out of the cliff. Very nice. We then get back on the buses and have some time to check out the town of Honningsvag. It's a small, but pleasant seaside community that is well used to tourists. Rob manages to find a drug store and we wander into a grocery store. It's fun to see what different things they have as well as what's the same as what we have at home. I score some Schweppes Bitter Lemon (longtime unavailable favorite of my Dad) and try a Norwegian Coke (tastes very good). Around dinnertime, we leave Honningsvag and head back out of the Fjord. I must say I've seen a lifetime's worth of snowy mountain peaks, though it hardly gets old, especially with the water surrounding them. Oops, time to grab lunch!
Just got back from lunch and am now sitting on my folks' verandah. The Sun has come out and we can see some islands or chunks of coastline to the South of the ship. The wind and sea is still calm. Someone's smoking nearby...yuk! Since the live entertainment aboard has mostly been unappealing (maybe I'm not the target audience), we've gone to some movies shown in the ship's theater room. The room seats ca. 100 and is quite comfortable. The seating appears to have tablet arms (!) and I'll try and grab a picture for the work crew to laugh at. The main problem with watching movies there is they appear to be showing pan/scan video versions of the movies and them are showing them on a 16x9 projector with the stretch mode engaged. I suspect most don't notice it, but it's a shame in such a nice room though.
It's formal dress night again, the last I think, so we'll be getting out the suits once more for dinner. I'm going to try and hang out on deck for a while. Who knows, maybe I'll spot a large seagoing critter!
Today we docked at Tromso, a really nice community within another Fjord, even further North. We took a bus tour of the town, which, according to our guide, is a college town that used to rely on whaling, fishing, and seal hunting. The area is, of course, very beautiful. A bit like being in a picturesque Rocky Mountain town, but with water. The mountains are everywhere and the snowfall in Winter is immense. We also visited the Polaria center which houses an aquarium and other other North Atlantic/Arctic exhibits.
We pulled out of port around dinner time.
One of you asked why I wasn't doing a web gallery. Well, the Internet access aboard is very slow and extremely expensive (via satellite). I'm taking tons of shots as well as some video, so there should be more than enough to bore any and all of you. Here's an ocean shot though.
Dinner tonight was a special event, "Chef Night" where we all wore these hats.
The staff got into the event and did lots of dancing around while they served the food. The staff on this boat really do go above and beyond (granted, I'm not too demanding) in their service. The dining and cabin stewards know us by name and always acknowledge us ("Good Evening, Sir John. Another Martini tonight?"). Of course, for what the tickets cost to go, things ought to be good. Tomorrow, we're docking in Honningsvag, one of the Northernmost communities in Europe.
Another day at sea. We've crossed into the Arctic Circle and we now have zero darkness. The seas look choppy and the winds are strong out on deck once again. Rob, Bruce, and I had to go up to the top deck to experience the high winds once again...
Our day was quite leisurely with lots of time to hang out on the ship. We saw some islands off the starboard side of the ship, but not much in the way of other ships. My nephews spent much of the day in the pool, which was suiting them just fine. Last night, Rob and I caught the show in the main theater presented by members of the Indonesian crew. It was truly amateur night, but we had a good time watching them sing and dance. They were obviously having a blast and the audience was very appreciative. We have another stop in Norway tomorrow with another tour excursion. My folks are having a wonderful time on this trip, which is really the point (I'm having fun too, of course) of it. Today being Father's Day makes me more glad I decided to come along, despite the fact that Stacie isn't here. :-( For those of you reading along, thanks for reading and I miss you all.
Here I am again. It's 12:30 AM and it's still light outside (sunrise comes around 4 AM). I'm sitting in one of the lounges at the top of the ship's atrium area. It's nice and quiet and my table has a good view of the sea. We've left the fjords in the area of Flam and we're out at sea again. We entered the area this morning and docked at Flam. Yesterday, we were at sea all day and pretty much the scenery consisted of ocean and the occasional oil/gas platform. The winds were pretty high so the ship was moving about more than usual. I've gotten used to it, for the most part, but I've caught myself feeling the ship "move" when on land. It feels a bit odd, to tell the truth, but I'm sure it'll pass soon enough.
Since we were at sea yesterday, we had a limited itinerary:
1. Sleep in.
3. Workout (a treadmill is a lot more entertaining with a front-on ocean view).
4. Mill around with the family (a Knowles tradition!).
6. Attend lecture on the Vikings (yes, even in the middle of the North Sea, I encounter Powerpoint).
7. Blow some cash on the slot machines.
8. Get dressed for dinner (it's formal night on board, so we get out the suits).
9. Eat (a constant ritual aboard cruise ships, natch).
10. Um, what did we do? Whatever it was, I'm sure it involved eating...we're such slobs! Oh yeah, we foolishly went out on deck last night to admire the high winds...
Today, after getting off the ship, we took a winding railroad that went up into the mountains. The views were quite spectacular. We stopped partway up at the Kjosfossen waterfalls; amazing sight.
I don't have to tell you that, so far, Norway has not failed to impress (I know a few of you who are emitting a collective "duh!"). The views sailing through the fjord alone was gorgeous. I'm definitely going to have to get back here someday. The train dropped us at this nice hotel at one of the upper stops where we had some waffles (yep, more food!) and nice strong coffee (better than I've had on the ship so far). We got the hang around there until the train took us back down.
Alas, we didn't have a lot of time in the area and had to get back on the boat as soon as the train got down the mountain. We should have more time to explore on our other stops. Tomorrow is another day at sea as we head for our Arctic Circle phase of the cruise. Hey Rob, when was that next buffet?
I'm writing this as we head back out to sea after spending the day in Edinburgh. I'll spare you (and the ship's bandwidth-challenged satellite Internet) another day-of-the-week floor mat. The ship rolled more last night as we sailed. Nothing I couldn't sleep through, but I was reminded once again that we're still on a massive ocean-going vessel.
This morning, we got aboard a smaller boat to go ashore for our scheduled excursions for the day. Once again, we boarded a tour bus and had a good 45 minute drive to the first of the three castles we'd be visiting today. The first one was Linlithgow Palace. This castle, parts of which go back 6-700 years, is now basically a ruin, but enough of it is intact that we could see how it might have looked in the medieval days. The castle is also known due to it being the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. The tour of the castle was fascinating and the small village that surrounds it very nice. Here's a shot of my folks and me in the interior of the castle.
From there, it was back to the bus for the trip to Rosslyn Chapel. This place gets loads of visitors every year due to it being a setting for The DaVinci Code. The place was simply amazing and has a very interesting history. Though the guy who spoke about the place was very good, I could have used some more time to really look at all the detail. I didn't really get any good pictures from here because they forbid photography in the chapel. So instead, I'll share this photo of a dog near Linlithgow. Hey, I could have taken a picture of the Costco I saw on the way back (hmm, bulk quantities of haggis!).
From there, we headed back to Edinburgh to meet up with Bruce, Carol, and the boys to tour Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop an extinct volcano in the city. I didn't get a good picture of the whole place (it's very large), but got some inside.
After that, we had some Scottish food at a pub near the very touristy area of the city, which was good. I resisted the urge to buy some expensive Scotch whiskey, although there were a number of malts I've never seen before. The, it was back to the ship to hang out before bed, which involved watching a bad movie in one of the theaters, which reminded me of a classroom on the U of M campus. Nicer seats, worse projection... One of the things I've noticed here is how this ship has the main officers/management and the rest of the staff. The officers/management are Dutch and the rest of the staff, including all the food service workers and other behind-the-scenes staff, are from Indonesia. Indonesia is a former Dutch colony, so this makes sense. Still, it's interesting how something like this has managed to hold on today. The dividing line between the Dutch and the Indonesians is quite clear.
Tomorrow, we're at sea on our way to Norway. I head there's a rip-roaring game of Bingo going on in one of the lounges...
Hey, guess what, kids? Yes, it's Wednesday!
We docked in Newcastle this morning and we set out on our first shore excursion, Alnwick (pronounced "Anick") Castle and Gardens. Getting there involved a bus ride into Northumberland, which was fun. The castle was really interesting, still occupied part of the year by descendants of the original owners, and full of amazing art and interior features. The exterior was used as a location in the first Harry Potter film (the first flying lesson scenes). A very beautiful area and my only regret was not having more time to see it. The Alnwick gardens were beautiful and well worth the trip. I'm skimming over the detail for this stuff since I'm trying to cram several days' worth of entries at once. If anyone's desperate to hear the details, I'll share them later. At the end of the day, we got aboard the ship and we headed back out to sea. Right now, a couple hours after leaving dock, I can still see the shoreline in the dark. But enough of this foolishness...must get to bed so I can get up to do our next outing: Edinburgh, Scotland!
I'm writing this from the hotel we're staying at in Harwich, the port where the ship sails.
We went into London for the day and got back so late that I'm not going to be able to write anything remotely coherent. So, let's see if I can do better tomorrow!
Okay, so I didn't get more written the next day, the day before we sailed. Our long day and late arrival back in Harwich (pronounced "hair-ich') wiped us out. For our London excursion, we took the train into the city for some good touristy fun (keep in mind that this is my first visit to the UK). We met up with Bruce, Carol, and their boys (already in the city) and did a good bus tour of the central part of London.
We got to see all of the usual sights and even got a boat tour around the Thames. The weather was fantastic and London, while being crowded and expensive, was very impressive. We continued on to the Tower of London with a stop at the London Eye before heading back to Harwich. It was all fine and peachy until we tried to get the train back to Harwich (many miles out of the city, too far away for a taxi). Apparently, some of the overhead cables on the train lines were damaged so some part of the train system was out of commission. We sat around the main station forever trying to figure out what train to take and felt lucky to get back that night at all. The night manager at the hotel made a comment to the effect that this wasn't too uncommon.
We got ourselves up yesterday morning and made our way over to the cruise terminal. First, I need to point out how nice the hotel in Harwich was. This place, an small old hotel, was pretty recently remodeled. It was classy and comfortable. Cheers to my brother in-law Bob for suggesting the place. The food we had in its restaurant was better than what we had in London (OK, so we didn't try very hard). Great stuff.
After getting through security and registration, we got into our staterooms aboard the Rotterdam. My folks have a really nice suite with its own huge verandah. Rob and I have a standard room, but on the large side, with an ocean view. Very nice. So where was I? Oh yes...
Tuesday. Yes, the elevators on board all have days-of-the-week floor mats. How considerate of them.
As you'd expect, there's the obligatory lifeboat drill and wandering the ship to check out all the public areas. This is the first cruise I've been on and I'm still amazed as to how large this ship is, and it isn't even one of the biggest afloat. I won't bore you with descriptions of this small floating city, but needless to say, there is a LOT happening here. The food so far has been okay. As with your average cruise ship, the emphasis is quantity over quality. For what it is, it's pretty good. We did eat at their nicest restaurant, the one place aboard you pay to eat at, and the meal was quite nice. We sailed from Harwich and made our way up to our next stop...
It looks like we survived the flight to London and are on our way!
The flight was pretty okay; I'm a sucker for gizmos and frivolous tech features such as the updating screens that tell you where you are on the trip (and speed, altitude, etc). As most of you know, I'm not your word's biggest fan of flying. This one went about as well as if could have.
We're hanging around London tomorrow and then we're off for the MS. Rotterdam on Tuesday. When I'm less exausted, I'll post more details and some pictures.
Here's a small map outlining our trip once we leave England: