Arctic Exploration

2019.06.11 Hamburg, Germany

An early train to Hamburg-Altona to join the AIDAsol. Cruised down the Elbe and then two days northwards through the North Sea.

This trip will take us on a 17-day cruise to the Orkney Islands, Iceland, Spitsbergen, North Cape and down the fjords of Norway to Bergen and then back to Hamburg.

2019.06.13 Kirwall, Orkney, Scotland

As we arrived at the Orkneys, we got up early to catch sight of Balfour Castle on the island of Shapinsay, Orkney. This was our wedding venue in May 2015. It was freezing cold and fortunately the Captain let us view the scene from his cabin window on the starboard side of the ship. Balfour Castle, according to their website, has reverted to being a private home and it’s no longer possible to hire the castle or even look around. We thought about taking the ferry from Kirkwall and banging on the door but the ferry timetable wasn’t too convenient and it was a miserable rainy day anyway. We opted for a stroll in the tiny town of Kirkwall and lunch. I bought supplies of Highland Park single malt for the journey ahead.

2019.06.15 Reykjavik, Iceland

The day was sunny but cool. H was working so I took a bus into town to catch the main sites. We were here a few years ago so it was just a leisurely look around. There is an interesting flea market in town that sells the usual hand-knitted hats and socks but also walrus tusks and whale bones and seabird eggs. The eggs being for eating.

2019.06.16 Isafjördur, Western Fjords, Iceland

An overnight sail took us to the western fjords. Isafjördur is a spectacular spot with steep ice-carved valleys and patches of snow only a little way up the mountain sides. This is a fishing village and the largest one around for many miles but the ship easily doubled the population at a stroke. Even though this was Sunday we found an open supermarket and a coffee shop/bakery open. We strolled through the old streets of mostly painted corrugated iron houses and went to the local maritime museum.

The hillsides are covered with a blue flowering plant which look like a large Texas Bluebonnet. These are Nootka Lupines and they look very pretty but they are apparently an invasive species from North America introduced in the 1970’s to control soil erosion. many locals foam at the mouth and hack them down on sight.

17.06.2019 Akureyri, Iceland

A cold and murky day here but I dragged myself out for a RIB whale watching tour in the fjord. It was a trip organised for just crew. Humpback whales were plentiful and jumped out of the water a lot but it required split-second timing with the camera. Cold fingers rarely allowed this so I have a lot of pictures of big splashes. On the way back to the ship we passed close to a steamy hot waterfall. You don’t see those every day.

Dinner was fish caught by the Chief Engineer.

19.06.2019 Jan Mayen, Arctic Ocean

Approaching the island there was a thick fog but it cleared as we neared Beerenberg mountain and glaciers. We didn’t land but very few people do.

20.06.2019 Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen

Now this is the real Arctic. Snow and mountains everywhere. Longyearbyen is a former coal mining town and a lot of the infrastructure still remains with cableways and buckets still strung across the mountain sides but for all of it’s old industrial clutter it is still a pretty place. We went on a hike up the main valley to find some fossils. A few leaves and coaly bits but nothing spectacular was found. After heading south into the Arctic Ocean the Captain invited us to barbecued Wurst and drinks on his balcony.

21.06.2019 Honningsvag & Nordkapp, Norway

Midsummers Day at the northernmost part of Europe and it was also H’s birthday. Coincidence? There were blue skies approaching Nordkapp and the port of Honningsvag but during the drive from the port through the bleak landscape to Nordkapp during the bright early hours of the morning the clouds rolled in and it became really windy and cold. We had a hot chocolate in the visitor centre and then back to the ship for some sleep.

22.06.2019 Hammerfest, Norway

later in the day we had a trip to a Saami camp where we sat in a smoky turf-roofed hut listening to an old Laplander describing a life which is almost gone. A taste of salmon, reindeer and cloudberries to follow. From the hillside we could see a beluga whale chasing small boats in the harbour. This whale is well-known and is called “Hwaldimir” by the locals. The whale first appeared in the harbour in April this year wearing a Russian camera harness and so was named after the Norwegian word for whale and Vladimir Putin. It is very tame and has been known to retrieve dropped phones from the seabed.

23.06.2019 Tromsø, Norway

We were last here 10 years ago. We went into town and found the harbour and a restaurant for lunch. We had a fish soup followed by a surprisingly good platter of seal and whale steaks. Only in Norway! I probably won’t eat these critters again though. The species used for the table here are not particularly endangered but they are maybe best left to be watched like the beluga and humpbacks.

24.06.2019 Leknes, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Leknes is a remote spot off the far northwest of Norway but that didn’t stop three cruise ships being in port. It was a tender boat ashore. I just went for a short walk up some small hills and on a beach. Wildflowers were thick on the ground.

25.06.2019 North Sea

A sea day. The Chief Engineer and his men had been out fishing in Tromsø and cod was again on the table for us at an officer’s gathering in the evening. It reminded me of us hauling tuna and mahi-mahi aboard in the Pacific.

26.06.2019 Bergen, Norway

It was a bit rainy so we stayed aboard and had a nap in the afternoon. If I was a regular tourist I would feel bad about wasting a port-of-call but as I’ve been travelling to Bergen, on and off, for over 40 years since my early days of work in the North Sea, and as I also expect to be back here in two weeks, I think this is OK.

28.06 2019 Altona, Hamburg, Germany

Another sea day and a train back to Berlin