Monthly Archives: June 2023

Stavanger, Norway JUN 30, 2023

Our final port in Norway was Stavanger, population 131,000. We booked an excursion in this port because the places we wanted to visit were not accessible by foot. The excursion was okay but not great. They combined English-speaking people and Italian-speaking people on the same bus with two guides. One guide would speak in English and then the Italian guide would speak. This is the first time this has ever happened on an excursion and it was rather annoying. On the ship they announce everything five times; in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German. I guess on our excursion there were not enough Americans or Italians to fill a bus so they combined them.

We learned quite a bit from our guide even though he only spoke part of the time. Like many towns in Norway, Stavanger has over 6,000 old wooden homes, mainly from the 18th and 19th century. They are viewed as important historical places that are protected and they cannot be torn down. If the owner wants to renovate or change either the inside or outside, it cannot be done without permission.

This area of Norway is very green because they receive over 200 days of rain each year. There is a lot of farming in this area, but only 5% of Norway is farmed. We passed a large strawberry farm on our tour.

When children turn seven years old they begin to learn English. When they turn thirteen they may pick an additional language. They may pick from Spanish, German or French. Our guide said Spanish was the most popular choice. 

By 2030 Norway’s goal is to be carbon neutral. They also want to have electric airplanes for short distance flights by 2040. Norway is a very wealthy country because of its oil and gas production, which is largely owned by the Norwegian government. There is a 75% tax rate on oil and gas profits. The money goes back to the people through pensions and good healthcare. The most popular car in Norway is Tesla. At one time there were large incentives when buying an electric car such as no sales tax on the purchase of the car, free tolls on roads and being able to use the truck or carpool lanes at all times. Those perks have been cut some as more people buy electric cars. They still get a 50% reduction in tolls if they are driving an electric car. 

We went to see the “Swords in the Rock”, three bronze swords standing 33 feet tall planted into the rock of a small hill next to a fjord. They commemorate the Battle of Hafrsfjord when the Viking king gathered Norway under one crown. The largest sword represented the victorious king and the other two the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace since the swords are placed in solid rock and can never be removed.

We visited the Sola Ruinkyrkje church, dating back to the mid 12th century. It was in use until 1842. The church was left in ruins until 1871 until it was acquired in 1907 and then discarded again. It was torn down by German occupation forces in 1940.  Reconstruction began in the 1980s and completed in 1995.

We passed ancient reconstructed long houses from an “Iron Age Farm” dating from 350-500 AD. It is the only one of its kind in Norway. It shows what life was like in Norway 1,500 years ago.

We rode past the Stavanger Cathedral on the way back to the ship. Unfortunately not only was it closed, but we couldn’t see any of the church itself since it was shrouded in scaffolding and tarps since it is undergoing a significant renovation.

Near the Ship was Vice Admiral Thorne Horve (1899- 1990)

The harbor where our ship was docked was having a Food Festival.  Our guide said they are expecting 25,000 visitors to this popular festival over the weekend. It is called the “Happy Festival” because food makes people happy.

Many Food Tents

And with that, our time in Norway came to a close.

That evening we headed south in the Norwegian Sea. The first people to sail in these waters were the Vikings in the 1200s. They were the ones who drew the first nautical charts of the area. Bill thinks we both have ancestors who were Vikings. 

During the night we will leave the Norwegian Sea and enter the North Sea.  During the sea day on Saturday we will once again enter the Baltic Sea. 

Next up:  Copenhagen, Denmark


Nordfjordeid + Olden, Norway JUN 28, 2023

Leaving Bergen, we sailed throughout the night to Nordfjordeid, Norway, pop 3,000, situated in the fjords of western Norway. This was a tender port (our ship is anchored in the harbor). Not a lot to do here but the scenery is breathtaking. 

On Thursday, June 29th we reached Olden, Norway pop 479.  It is a popular cruise ship destination with over one hundred cruise ships visiting in 2019.  It is popular because of its glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, and natural beauty. Again, not much to do here but we enjoyed the beauty of the area, which is just fine with us.

Some Pylons to Anchor Our Ship Actually Float

Here are pictures of the fjords as we traveled between the cities.

It is usually dinnertime when we pull away from the port and we enjoy seeing the view from our table by the window. Birds are always flying around the wake of the ship.

The entertainment show cast dazzled us with another unique performance.

Next up: Stavanger, Norway


Bergen, Norway JUN 27, 2023

When we booked this cruise which included four ports in Norway, we wondered if it was going to be too much Norway after visiting three Norway ports on our last cruise. After seeing the beauty of Norway, we knew there could never be too much of. This gorgeous country. These four new ports are all different from the Norway ports on the previous cruise. 

Our day at sea from Kiel, Germany to Bergen, Norway was chilly and rainy. Disappointing for those who had embarked yesterday and were hoping to lounge by the pool.  During the morning we crossed the “Skaw Point” of the Danish peninsula of Jutland. This is a famous point because it is where we leave the Baltic Sea and enter the North Sea. We thought perhaps the water would be a little rougher here but we noticed no difference. In the early afternoon we approached the part of the North Sea known as “Skagerrak”. This sea area is famous for being a junction point between the Gulf Stream originating in the Gulf of Mexico and the cold Jutland Current from the Baltic Sea. Around dinnertime the sea became very rough and continued to get rougher during the evening. We went to the nightly show and I wondered how the dancers managed to keep their balance with the movement of the ship. We noticed seasick bags had been put by the stairs on each deck. It doesn’t bother Bill but definitely bothers me. Thank heaven for seasick pills! 

On Tuesday, June 27th we arrived in Bergen, Norway, (pop 286,000) to chilly, rainy weather. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. It was the capital of Norway in the 13th century. We waited until after lunch to go out and it was a good decision because the weather was warm and sunny. Located between the Hardangerfjord and the Sognefjord, Bergen is nicknamed “Gateway to the Fjords”. We had researched the town and decided to walk around on our own.

The old Hanseatic Wharf at Bryggen, a World Heritage Site, is located by the city’s fish market.  The wharf was built around 1070. We walked through the fish market.

The wooden houses in Bryggen are very old. There are 61 listed historic buildings here. The Bryggen area of Bergen is the third most visited tourist attraction in Norway. As to be expected from wooden houses, there have been many fires in this area so there has been much reconstruction and preservation done throughout the years. The  UNESCO designation was awarded because the area is seen as an illustration of 14th century  merchants and housing which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Above one of the Doorways

Seven mountains surround the city center. You can get to the top of Mt Floyen by funicular Fløibanen and the highest mountain, Mt Ulriken by cable car. In the Klosteret district of the city, narrow alleys and cobblestone streets are found.

The Bergen Cathedral includes the remains of two older churches dating back to 1150.  The church is a long stone church which has been damaged in several city fires. The cathedral was hit by a cannonball in 1665.  The cannonball is still visible in the wall of the church tower.

The Maritime Memorial has twelve male bronze statues of sailors beginning with the Viking Age to the present.

Above the statues are bronze panels representing the spiritual and imaginative aspects of seafaring ranging from Christ to Viking ships to native Americans to sea monsters.

The National Theater, built in 1850, is one of the oldest permanent theaters in Norway.

Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a famous Norwegian violinist and composer. Developing violin skills during his early years in his hometown of Bergen, his reputation secured him concerts throughout Europe.

Narrow streets and alleys are found throughout the city.

We stopped in McDonald’s and each got a chocolate milkshake. Not available on the ship! Even the McDonald’s building is quaint and charming.

The Rosenkrantz Tower is where one of Norway’s most important kings, Magnus Lagabote, lived in the 13th century. The 16th century dungeon is in the basement and the cannon loft is in the roof. The cannons were used only one day, the same battle that left the cannonball in the side of the cathedral.

We also managed to find two geocaches.

Bergen is perhaps the prettiest Norwegian town we have visited so far. 

The ship departed as we were beginning dinner and we got a picture of the Askøy Bridge as we were leaving.  The Askøy Bridge is a suspension bridge that crosses the Byfjorden between the municipalities of Bergen and Askøy in Vestland county, Norway. It is 1,057 meters (3,468 ft) long and has a main span of 850 meters (2,789 ft). Its span was the longest for any suspension bridge in Norway, until the Hardanger Bridge was opened in August 2013. Now the bridge is the third longest in Norway.

The show that night was flamingo dancing. An excellent show. By the end of the evening we had logged seven miles on our watches. We were tired!!

Next up: Nordfjordeid

Kiel, Germany JUN 25, 2023

On June 23rd we embarked on our 4th and final cruise of our Europe vacation. We checked out of our apartment in Stockholm and took the city bus to the ship.  Evidently this cruise has multiple embarkment ports. Most people got on the ship in Kiel, Germany six or thirteen days ago and they will be getting off the ship in Kiel on the 25th.  We just got on the ship in Stockholm and are just beginning, while they are ending their cruise. There were actually only a few us getting on in Stockholm so the embarkment process was different than we had ever experienced. In some ways simpler and others ways frustrating. During the wait times we had time to meet two nice couples. One couple was from New Jersey and the other couple from Virginia (Yorktown area). We actually met the New Jersey couple on the city bus on the way to the port. We recognized that we all had the same ship tags on our luggage. 

When we got on the ship everything was quiet and peaceful because most of the people were on excursions in Stockholm. We were able to have a nice leisurely lunch in the buffet. Then it was time for unpacking. We have become experts by now!

At dinner we were surprised to find that our assigned table for the next fourteen days was a table for two by a window. 

Saturday, the 24th, was a sea day. Time to pack for those people getting off tomorrow in Kiel. Breakfast had good and bad surprises. On the past two cruises, what they called bacon is really ham (the British idea of bacon). But today when we ordered crispy bacon, it was really bacon! They bake it so it is drier and a little hard to chew than bacon back home, but much better than English bacon. The bad news was they don’t make the sticky honey buns that I have loved on the last ships. I had looked forward to them every day at breakfast. In all honesty it is time I stopped eating them anyway. Strange how each ship can be different though part of the same cruise line. 

This is an older ship and doesn’t have the newer elevators we loved on the last ship. We have already noticed this ship’s elevators are slow with longer wait times and they are more crowded. We have made a mental note to check the age of the ship before booking future cruises. This ship also doesn’t have the ship’s app where you can see menus, check your account or look at daily activities. But so far the food is good and everyone is friendly and helpful. 

On the sea day we worked on this blog and did some reading. Later in the evening we attended an invitation only Captain’s Champagne Reception. We had already attended these on other MSC cruises. They are pretty much the same on every ship: with champagne, two of the ship dancers doing a tango and the introduction of the ship’s captain and officers.

The officers are given glasses of champagne and the captain makes a toast while we all raise our glasses. This time the captain went around to each of us and clinked our glasses. A very nice touch.

The Captain is in the Middle

Next we attended our first evening performance by the ship’s singers and dancers. It was an outstanding show and the finale performance for those leaving the ship the next day. Impressive and well done. MSC certainly puts on nice shows. We have been impressed with them on every ship.

One act of performers spun tubs, eight at the same time!

During the night we sailed in the Baltic Sea. During the winter ice develops first along the shoreline making the ports unusable without the use of icebreakers. We sailed between the islands of Gotland and Oland, the two biggest Swedish islands. Late in the evening we approached the Danish island of Bornholm and its capital, Ronne, which was a famous commercial center during Medieval times. 

Sunday, June 25th found us in Kiel, Germany. The day was sunny and very warm. We took our time going to breakfast, giving the people disembarking time to eat early.

Kiel is a large port city, being the starting and ending point for cruises to Northern Europe for more than 100 cruise liners Our waiter told us last night that 3,000 people would be getting off the ship and 3,400 more getting on in Kiel!!  This ship has a capacity of 4,300 people. Amazing. The majority of the passengers on this ship are obviously German. Just imagine the luggage alone. Our room steward told us he would go to bed at 3:00 AM and get up at 6:00 AM. He would have to help take luggage left outside cabins down for the departing guests, get cabins ready for the arriving passengers and then help get the arriving luggage delivered to the cabins. Talk about a long, hard day!!

We waited until 10:00 A.M. to get off the ship to explore Kiel, waiting for those disembarking to clear out first. 

Kiel, Germany, population 248,000, began around 1233 and received its town charter in 1242.  The town exploded with growth in 1865 when it became the headquarters of the Prussian naval station and the realm’s naval port in 1871.  Boat yards followed with workers and within a few decades Kiel had grown into a large city. Because of its naval location, it was one of the principal targets of the Allied Forces during World War 2.  After more than 90 air raids, almost 80% of Kiel destroyed. The population, including a large number of refugees, rebuilt almost the entire city. It has one of the first pedestrian malls in Germany.

Our ship was parked at a port too far from the city to walk to, so we rode a shuttle for a small fee. It let us off at the train station a short walk from the center of town. Central Station was completed in 1899 when train travel symbolized a prospering German empire. The train station was considered a temple of progress and was dedicated to the emperor. Located near the water, from here the emperor had direct access to his yacht via a large flight of stairs. The renovation of the station combined historical and modern construction.

We had considered taking the Hop On Hop Off Bus in Kiel, but research showed there was not that much to see. Since it was a Sunday, many things, including stores, were closed. 

We walked along the pedestrian mall where there were planters of pretty flowers. There seemed to be lots of live entertainment in the parks and surrounding areas. Perhaps a summer festival or it had something to do with the Summer Solstice like in Sweden.

A major disappointment was not being able to enter St Nikolai Church, a Protestant church built around 1242. It was completely destroyed during World War 2.  The altar from 1460 was preserved and is Kiel’s oldest art treasure.

In front of the church is a large 1928 sculpture, Spiritual Warrior, symbolizing victory of good over evil. We were told the church is closed for renovation until October.

We walked over to Town Hall Square where the Town Hall is located. It was built between 1907 and 1911.  The 348 foot tall tower has an elevator to the top which wasn’t accessible on Sunday.

A music Festival Was In the Courtyard

The Kiel monastery, founded prior to 1227, was also destroyed in WW2 with only a part of a walkway, a medieval vault and the tower remaining.

Located near the Town Hall Square was Hiroshima Park. We never found a monument or plaque about Hiroshima, but we did find a statue of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck for whom the German battleship Bismarck was named. In 1867 Bismarck created the North German Confederation, a union of the northern German states under the hegemony of Prussia. Several other German states joined, and the North German Confederation served as a model for the future German Empire.

It was a hot day and we were very tired by the time we walked back to the port shuttle pick up point. We did manage to find a geocache on the walk to the shuttle. 

By the end of the day we had logged almost eight miles on our watches! We are looking forward to the sea day tomorrow!! 

In Kiel this weekend was many sailboats.

Next up:. More Norway

Stockholm, Sweden Part 2 JUN 21, 2023

With too many pictures from day 1, we had to break this blog up into two posts. This is Part 2 of our sightseeing time in Stockholm. Picking up from where we left off on the afternoon of day 1, we next saw The Royal Palace. It is one of the largest palaces in Europe with over 600 rooms and the official residence of the King of Sweden.

Mainly used for business, official events home to several museums, the Royal Family actually lives in another residence outside the city. The Palace was built between 1697 and 1754. It certainly does not have the grandeur of palaces in England, Austria or France.  There are Royal Guards on duty outside.

Charles XIV John’s statue, 1854

The Parliament House is the seat of the Swedish Parliament. The complex is huge, divided into an old building and a new building. The old building was constructed between 1897 and 1905 with an enormous Swedish coat of arms over the central bronze doorway.

The new building is connected to the old building with two large arches.

The Rosenbad complex are beautiful buildings that house the Swedish government and the Prime Minister’s office. The buildings were built at the turn of the 20th century.

The Sager Palace, built in the 19th century is the residence of the Prime Minister of Sweden. It is the building in the middle of the picture.

The Arvfurstens Palace, built in 1794, it has been used since 1906 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Adolf Gustav II (1594 –1632) was the King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, and is credited for the founding of Sweden as a great power. He led Sweden to military supremacy during the Thirty Years’ War, helping to determine the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe.
He is often regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all time, with innovative use of combined arms.

The Royal Opera House was built in the late 19th century and is used for opera and ballet. King Gustav III was shot and killed at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in 1792.  The murder had been predicted four years earlier when the King anonymously visited a fortune teller.

St Jacob’s Church was started in the 1580s and completed sixty years later. It is a pretty church with a combination of late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

The Grand Hotel, on the city’s waterfront, was Sweden’s first five star hotel. It opened in 1874 and bragged that it was the first hotel in Sweden to change the bedsheets between guests. Notice the American flag.

The National Museum of Sweden is the largest museum in Sweden. It was completed in 1866 and houses over 16,000 paintings and sculptures from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century. There are around 500,000 drawings and graphics from the 15th century to the early 20th century. It is also the home to Scandinavia’s largest porcelain collection.

Nordiska museet is Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history, completed in 1907.

Sweden lets these robotic lawnmowers run wild

Hotorget is a public square used for open air markets with fresh vegetables and flowers, so common throughout Europe. This square has been used as a market since the 1640’s. Greta Garbo, a famous Swedish actress, worked as a sales assistant in the hat department of a department store that was once located at this square.

For dinner we stopped by a Mexican restaurant. Not great food, but okay. 

By the time we took the subway home and walked to the apartment, we had walked seven miles. We decided to stay home and rest the next day. There are always blogs to write!!

Stockholm’s Unique Buildings

After resting, doing laundry and working on blogs on Tuesday, Wednesday we took the subway back into Stockholm and took the Hop On Hop Off Bus to see other areas of Stockholm. These pictures begin day 2 of our sightseeing. 

The buses were crowded which was made worse by long waits at bus stops. The bus company blamed it on heavy traffic but we think they didn’t have enough buses on the routes for the number of people.

Gustaf Vasa church, 1906

Saturday, is Midsummer’s Day in Sweden. It is a national holiday and is the most important holiday in Sweden, second only to Christmas. In Sweden it is a celebration of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. People celebrate with picnics, family get togethers and many stores and restaurants are closed. Perhaps the upcoming holiday is why the crowds were so large.

The bus took us to some areas we saw on Monday, but it was nice to hear the running commentary on the areas. 

The Royal Dramatic Theater, built in the early 20th century, is the main theater in Stockholm.  Ingmar Bergman served as Director of the Royal Theater from 1960 to 1966.  It has gold sculptures in the front. Unfortunately it was hard to get a good picture from the bus.

We passed by a large city park where young families and friends sat under trees enjoying picnic lunches. The entrance to the park is through a lovely blue gate originating in the 1840s.

“An Aviation Monument” is located in Stockholm’s Karlaplan area. It was given in 1931 by the Aeronautical Society in memory of those aviators who lost their lives during the North Pole expedition and during the 1917 missions. The monument is that of an eagle with his wings stretched out; not to be mistaken with a somewhat similar Nazi Eagle.

We found the Stockholm Hard Rock Cafe and Bill got his tee shirt. Since it was late we decided to stay for dinner, eating outside on their patio.

We then took the subway home, logging five miles walking for the day. Another great day in Stockholm. 

Some observations:

  • Bikes, including electric bikes and scooters are very popular means of transportation in Stockholm. It seems every street corner has them for rent. It was a white knuckle experience several times to see our bus and people on bikes appear to play chicken with each other. The bikers seem used to the traffic and had no fear.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists have their own lanes and traffic lights. But many will go on RED which frustrates the cars and buses.
  • The Swedish people seem tall and very fit. Lots of young families walking and many young mothers with strollers and young children on the subways. The Swedes are not a particularly warm, friendly people, more serious but willing to help if asked. 
  •  It is popular to live on boats in Sweden. 
  • They throw Christmas trees in the lakes after Christmas because they feel it is better for the environment. 
  • Sweden was not bombed during WW 2 so after the war, while other countries were rebuilding, Sweden was replacing buildings to build newer ones. 
  • Stockholm is called “city by the rivers”, and was built on 14 islands. Some older historic homes are now leaning due to unstable foundations and historians are looking for ways to save them.

Up next: Embarking on our final cruise

Stockholm, Sweden Part 1 JUN 19, 2023

On Monday we decided to take a self guided walking tour of Old Town, Stockholm. Using our seven day travel card, we took the subway from our hotel into Stockholm. We exited the subway near the Stockholm Central Station, the 150 year old train station built in 1871. It is one of the busiest train stations in the Nordic region with about 200,000 visitors every day.

Next was Klara Church, built starting in 1572 with a 380 foot tower built in the 1880s. It is the tallest church in the city. There was a charge to go into the church but the kind lady at the entrance waved us in.

The next stop on our walking tour was Stockholm City Hall which is located on the island of Kungsholmen and was completed in 1923.  The building has a bit of a foreboding medieval fortress look. The tower is 350 feet tall and has Tre Kroner, or three golden crowns, at the top. This is the Swedish coat of arms and symbol of the city. The city hall is the location of the Nobel Prize banquet each year.

Before crossing the bridge into Old Town, with the sky threatening rain, we decided to go back to the train station for lunch at a McDonald’s located inside. Yes, McDonald’s. It was close, familiar, easy and inexpensive. With a full day of sightseeing and a rain storm approaching, we didn’t have time to figure out anything else. The rain came down in sheets just as we reached the train station door. 

After lunch we decided we better use the train station restroom facilities before heading to Old Town.  What we didn’t expect was a charge to use the restroom. 10 Swedish krona which is about 98 cents US money. The problem was most of Stockholm prefers electronic payment (credit card) instead of currency. In fact some restaurants have signs saying no cash. So we had not converted any US money to Swedish currency. We had some euros left over so we each took one euro in. The man asked if we had krona and when we said no he looked rather disgusted and took the euros and gave us each a krona to put in the turnstile to get in. We noticed as we washed our hands at the tall sinks there was a sign saying you could not wash your feet in the sink. I would be impressed if anyone could get their feet that high. 

With all that done, fortunately the rain had stopped as we walked across the Norra Jarnvagsbron Bridge into Old Town, also known as Gamla Stan. This island town was founded in the 13th century.  The streets are mainly old cobblestone and difficult to walk on. 

The first site on our Old Town list was The Norstedts Building, a Swedish publishing house. The building was constructed between 1882 and 1891 with a striking tower and spire roof that casts an impressive silhouette amid the Stockholm cityscape.

The Burger Jarl’s Tower is a former defensive tower built in the 16th century.

Along the waterfront was a cute statue of Evert Taube, a much beloved balladeer in Sweden. He is so popular there are three statues of him in Stockholm. Little did we know when we snapped the picture!

Wrangel Palace was next. We discovered there are lots of palaces in Stockholm! This palace was once part of the Old Town’s defensive fortifications in the 16th century and later the largest private residence in Stockholm. When the Royal Palace burned down in 1697, the Royal Family moved here until 1754. Today it is home to the Court of Appeal.

The pink Stenbock Palace nearby, built in the 1640’s, also houses the Court of Appeal.

Birger Jaris is an important Swedish statesman who played a large role in the formation of Sweden in the 13th century.

Riddarholm Church is one of the oldest churches in Stockholm and is the burial ground for Swedish monarchs for over 600 years. The church suffered a major fire in 1835 and then acquired the lattice work iron church steeple.

The House of Nobility was constructed between 1641 and 1672 as a place for Swedish nobility to host events.

Bonde Palace, built between 1662 and 1673 is another former noble residence. It was in disrepair and almost torn down, but public opinion saved it. It has now been the home of the Supreme Court since 1949.

We walked down Vasterlanggatan, the Old Town’s most popular shopping street. It used to be part of the old defensive walls of the town. Today it was crowded with tourists. In medieval times this area was home to many copper and iron merchants and their workshops.

We came to Marten Trotzigs Grand, Stockholm’s narrowest street. It consists of 36 steps and measures only 35 inches at its slimmest point. Bill and I walked up the steps. At the top were several tourists waiting to walk down. Too narrow for passing.

On the corner of this street is a runestone in the wall. The stone dates back to the Viking Age, possibly 11th century,  and is one of the oldest items found in the city. A little souvenir shop nearby sold imitation runestone.  Three runestones were found in Stockholm. This one on the wall, as well as a second one on display in the Museum of Medieval Stockholm. The third one was in a church stairway and has been lost over time.

Next up was Stortorget, the main square in Old Town. It is the oldest square in Stockholm with colorful 17th and 18th century buildings. It is a popular meeting place for locals. The most important building in the square is the Nobel Museum. It was built in 1778 and was formerly home to the Stock Exchange for more than 200 years. The Nobel Museum opened in 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awards and to celebrate the winners. The Nobel Award is named for Alfred Nobel, an inventor, entrepreneur, scientist and businessman. He established the foundation in 1895 when he left much of his wealth to the foundation in his will. Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and blasting caps that are still used today.

Stockholm Cathedral was high on our list of places to visit. We don’t usually pay to enter churches but we made an exception with this gem. Built in 1279, it is one of the oldest and most important landmarks in Sweden. It was here that Swedish reformer Olaus Petri spread his Lutheran message around the kingdom. It is the site of royal coronations, weddings and funerals as well as religious services and concerts. It has a 217 foot tall clock tower that is a visible part of the Stockholm skyline. The inside was surprisingly made of exposed brickwork.

The church has a collection of medieval as well as contemporary art, including a metal statue of St George and the Dragon. Wood, iron and gold leaf were used to carve the statue, including elkhorn for the dragon’s scales. The statue was consecrated in 1489 as an altar monument to the shrine of St George.

The altar is made of silver and ebony and was donated to the Cathedral in the 1650s.

There are two Royal Pews from 1684 that are only used by members of the Swedish Royal Family.

Most of church floor includes tombstones.

Sarcophagus of Jesper Kruus (1577-1622) stood out near the altar.

Since 1527, the Cathedral has been a Lutheran church.

Next up:  Stockholm Part 2

Goodbye Norway, Hello Sweden JUN 16, 2023

As the ship sailed from Flam, Norway, we went to an upper deck to take pictures of the amazing views of the fjords. Just breathtaking. Norway is everything we expected and more.

The Sognefjord or Sognefjorden Fjord, nicknamed the King of the Fjords, is the largest and deepest fjord in Norway. Located in Vestland county in Western Norway, it stretches 205 kilometres (127 mi) inland from the ocean.

We had one more day at sea. Mid morning they had a parade down the promenade of some of the ship’s crew and officers. Our captain was at the back of the parade on the right. With over 1,700 people working on the ship, the parade represented only a handful.

The roof of the promenade changed motifs often, see the tulips. On disembarkation day the roof displayed photos of different crew members waving goodbye.

Each evening they had live music on Deck 5 near Guest Services. It varied from classical music to modern ballads. Since our cabin was on Deck 5 we often passed through that area and enjoyed the music.

In the late afternoon the ship passed by the white cliffs of Dover as we sailed through the English Channel. Too far away and too much sea mist to see anything.

June 17th found us back in Southampton, England for disembarkation day. It turned into another long, tiring travel day. Up at 6:00 A.M. for breakfast and off the ship by 7:15, MSC is to be commended for an efficient, quick disembarkation. Easiest we have ever had. We were impressed. After a wait, the ride we had booked from Southampton to Heathrow Airport arrived for the 90 minute drive.

Things fell apart at the airport. We arrived by 11:00 A.M. for our 3:30 flight. Plenty of time to have a relaxing lunch and get through security. The first hint of trouble was British Airways had our flight listed on the board but no gate number. As time for departure inched closer, still no gate number. While other planes departed, no gate number for our flight was displayed. Long story short, our flight was delayed for two and a half hours. When they finally announced a gate, from the gate we took a bus to the tarmac and used steps to board the plane. The captain had multiple excuses for the delay. Our seats were unbelievably tight in leg room. British Airways should be ashamed. Bill had to almost sit sideways in his seat for his legs to fit. It was a long two and a half hour flight to Stockholm. After delaying our flight for two and a half hours, they offered us a tiny bag of pretzels. Nothing to drink. They should be ashamed. 

Stockholm is an hour ahead of England, so with the long delay, we arrived in Stockholm at 9:30 P.M. instead of the 7:00 P.M. we had planned for. We got in a long, slow line at Passport Control with only two officers working. After making our way to baggage pickup, we next had to find our way to the train station under the airport. After walking forever we found the train station and bought two seven day passes from a very nice railway worker. His English was a little rough but he kindly told us step by step how to get to our hotel. He even brought the map up on his phone with each connection and had us take a picture with our phone. That was the good news.

The bad news was that due to some rail repair, we would have to take a bus to another rail station to catch the train. By now it was well after 10:00 P.M. Fortunately, this time of year in Sweden it doesn’t get dark until almost midnight. Since it was a Saturday night, there were lots of people out and about and it felt very safe. Sure enough, following directions, we took the bus to the train station, found the right train, got off at the right stop, found the right subway line, and got off at the correct subway stop near our hotel. Our day went from ship to car to plane to bus to train to subway!! And plenty of walking!! We walked from the subway to our hotel and arrived shortly before midnight. We had an electronic entry into the hotel and our room since the hotel had emailed us all the codes earlier in the day. For dinner in our room we had crackers and a Snickers bar with soft drinks from the vending machine at the subway station. To say we were tired is an understatement. When my watch went to a new day at midnight, I lost all the data, so I don’t know how far we walked, but it was a lot

The next day was Sunday. We slept late and then walked to a nearby large grocery store. It was multiple levels and took us a while to find things because everything was in Swedish. We liked the escalator/ramp that takes people with their grocery carts up and down. We bought some things for breakfast, drinks and snacks. We are finding food, especially restaurant food, is very expensive in Sweden. 

Next up: A day exploring Old Town, Stockholm

Flam, Norway JUN 14, 2023

Before we get to today’s port we would like to start with some pictures taken last night as we sailed away from Maloy, Norway.

Never Enough Glaciers

Wind Turbines and Lighthouse We Went To

Today we entered Flam, our last port of this cruise and our last port in Norway. Flam is a tiny village, pop. 350, located at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords. The fjord is surrounded by high mountains with heights over 4,500 feet.

A Tall Waterfall as Seen from the Ship

One of the popular things to do in this area is ride the Flam railway constructed in 1923.  We looked at the excursion before leaving home and even viewed a YouTube video of the trip. We decided to pass considering all the train trips we made in Austria, Slovenia and Italy.

We wanted to explore Flam on our own which meant we could sleep late and let the crowds eat breakfast and get off the ship ahead of us. 

We were delighted and surprised to find the temperature in the low 70’s  Perfect! First we found two geocaches in the area.

We then took a walk to see a large waterfall near town.

We looked through the Flam Railway Museum and went by the Visitors Center. We finished the day with a little shopping. No Hard Rock Cafe here but Bill found a nice Norway tee shirt. I am not a fan of souvenir tee shirts. I was very happy with a refrigerator magnet. 

We noticed yesterday and today how the front of a boat was used as decoration by hanging on the wall. Here a old locomotive front is attached to this wall to appear as it is coming out.

Norway makes it very easy to get the tax back that nonresidents spend. There is even an office located right next to the ship. If you spend at least $30, they refund the tax (25%) back on your credit card. You just have to have a receipt from the vendor, fill out a form and have your passport number. There was quite a line of cruise passengers in the harbor office waiting to get some tax money back. It could add up to quite a bit if you bought lots of souvenirs and gifts.

Trolls Are Famous in Norway

We were back on the ship in time for a very late lunch. A nice day in beautiful, tiny Flam, Norway. 

Next up: Two days at sea before disembarkation back in Southampton, England

Maloy, Norway JUN 13, 2023

We left Alesund and after sailing the Norwegian Sea all night, we arrived this morning at the tiny port of Maloy, located in southwestern Norway pop 3,200. It is an important fishing port in Norway. The town is so small the streets are not named, merely numbered. There are only elementary and secondary schools in the town. 

We read there is basically nothing to do in port, so we chose to take an excursion to see the area. We booked a three and a half hour excursion called “The Highlights of Maloy”. They had so many of these tours booked throughout the day, we were in the first group and left the ship at 7:15 am. We had to get up at 6:00 and have a quick breakfast. Fortunately the temperatures were in the upper 50’s, not bad.

This Church is Designed To Withstand Strong Winds

We went to three places and calling these “highlights” really seemed a bit of a stretch, but seeing the gorgeous scenery more than made up for ho-hum places. Norway is without a doubt a beautiful country with unbelievable views around every bend in the road. Speaking of roads, the roads in Maloy are very narrow (at times one lane) and the bus driver often had to stop or back up to give the car going in the opposite direction room to pass. Seat belts are mandatory in Norway and you certainly don’t mind wearing them on these narrow mountainous roads.

The first stop took us to Kannesteinen Rock. This mushroom shaped or whale’s tail shaped rock, was formed by loose stones and strong westerly winds which caused the pounding waves over thousands of years to erode and shape the rocks along the shore, including this one. The stones split loose and knocked at the rock face until it became polished and rounded. Loose stones worked themselves deeper into the rock. Over time the holes near the center have been polished for so long the sides have rubbed away, leaving just the middle section. It is a favorite spot of photographers and is a protected location under Norwegian law. An unusual rock in a beautiful location.

Hendanes fyr Lighthouse

We quickly learned that even though we only had three locations to visit, you didn’t get anywhere fast in Maloy, having to backtrack where you came from to get to the next location. That requires time and patience on the narrow mountain roads. Along the way we saw quite a few goats along the roadside.

Our second stop was the Krakenes Lighthouse. This was the most disappointing destination of the day. There was a rather long, uphill climb from the parking lot to the lighthouse, only to discover once we were there that we really couldn’t see the lighthouse at all! The 33 foot tall lighthouse is attached to the seaward side of a wooden lighthouse keeper’s house. The way the keeper’s house and lighthouse are built into the rocky shoreline, it is impossible to see the red lighthouse unless you are seeing it by boat. Originally first lit in 1906 and automated in 1986, it emits a white, red or green light depending on the direction every six seconds. It can be seen for up to 14.7 miles. Interestingly, the original lighthouse was destroyed by fire following an Allied air raid in 1945.

Once again we backtracked and ended up at our third destination, Refviksanden Beach, a 1.5 mile beach with white sand. It is also a popular place to camp and the location of a big music festival each summer. Our guide said the wind is so strong in this area, homeowners build the wall of their homes that faces the southwest out of rock or thick concrete to protect it from the strong wind. As we rode around we could see one wall on the houses made of rock. Once again, the beach itself wasn’t spectacular but the surrounding views were amazing.

As I said, the highlights were a bit underwhelming but the scenery was beyond our highest expectations. What a beautiful country!!

These three pictures where made from our ship.

The Maloy Bridge connects the town center to the mainland.

Next up: Flam, Norway

Alesund, Norway JUN 12, 2023

After 2 nights sailing in the Norwegian Sea, we pulled into the port of Alesund, pop 67,000, on the west coast of Norway. What a beautiful, picturesque city!

On the night of January 23, 1904, practically the entire town was destroyed by fire. Only one person died but more than 10,000 people were left homeless. After so many homes formerly built of wood were destroyed by fire, the town rose from the ashes with new homes rebuilt using stone, brick and mortar. Most buildings were rebuilt from stone in Art Nouveau style between 1904 and 1907.

A WWI Ship Mine

Alesund was often given the term “Little London” during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany because of the resistance work that took place there. 

Alesund also has the most important fishing harbor in Norway with one of the most modern fishing fleets in Europe. It has a large shipbuilding yard as well as a large furniture industry. 

We were thrilled to see temperatures in the early morning in the 60’s and no rain. What a welcome relief after the cold weather in Iceland! 

We had a choice of a Hop On Hop Off Bus, a miniature sightseeing train or exploring by foot. We wanted to see the spectacular view from Mt Aksla but didn’t relish the idea of the 400 steps up and 400 steps down to the viewing platform.

So we decided on the sightseeing train that took us right to the top as well as giving us a nice commentary of the town.

WW2 German Bunkers

After visiting Mt Aksla we rode throughout Alesund, including by The House That Didn’t Burn. The story is during the devastating fire of 1904, this small wooden house survived the fire while others around it were destroyed. The day before the fire an angel visited the owner, Anders Nor, and told him something was going to happen that was very bad, but he was not to be afraid and not to leave his house. If he did not leave, his house would be spared. He stayed and the house is still standing today. Furniture that had been removed from the house caught fire and burned. The miracle house is a museum today and the story of Anders Nor’s miracle is still being shared today.

It was an enjoyable ride. We did a little shopping but found souvenirs very expensive in both Iceland and Norway. So no shirt today but we have two more ports in Norway so there is always hope.  We did manage to find a geocache on our way back to the ship as well as a supermarket for some Diet Coke and Coke Zero. 

Next up: Maloy, Norway