Thursday, July 31, 2008

Norwegian fjords and more

Have been thinking of how to convey the splendor of a Norwegian fjord cruise and finally decided that it’s impossible. I’ll include a short description and some photos but the scenery was simply overwhelming.

The first stop was in the southwestern coastal city of Stavanger whose claim to fame is staging for the offshore petroleum industry. We were surprised to find it as attractive as it was. There was overall more graffiti and trash this Norway visit mister tells me. The weather was soggy and cool so we were pleased to not have purchased an expensive shore excursion, which would’ve had very poor visibility. We headed back to the ship for a change of clothes and rain gear so did a second round in the afternoon. There was a lovely fisheries museum – Scandinavia is so old and they’ve done such a great job of preserving their artifacts. Even managed to find some scrapbooking stickers of Norwegian flags. Prices were generally high at $120 each for a meal and $300 for a sweater but not to worry if you’re with the non-shopper I traveled with. All in all a good start to the ports.

The second stop was in the UNESCO heritage site of Geiranger, which is at the head of a fjord. The scenery was breathtaking just getting to anchor in front of the small village. We were tendered in which only took a few minutes and began to explore the waterfalls, snow capped mountains, quaint houses, church, winding mountain roads, fjord center etc. We elected not to take a package tour and are pleased with our wandering instead. The sound of the thundering waterfalls and cool spray overlooking the turf-roofed houses is so peaceful. As we head out of the fjord we stop in Helleyst and pick up the passengers who have headed down on a bus tour. It’s a quaint village nestled near waterfalls on the edge of the fjord. The trip out to the coast passes aquaculture sites, rustic homes and snow capped hills.

The third stop was Tronheim, which is a very old historic city, and mister was able to provide good navigation for finding our way around. It was still a bit cool but no showers so we put on a few kilometers checking out the sites. Even managed to spy a NS Duck Toller on the street so was able to add the photo to the presentation.

Kind of glad to have a sea day to unwind after all those port calls. The lobster presentation has gremlins as I’ve inadvertently saved the rehearsed timings, which are too quick. Will NOT be repeating that mistake again as I struggled to keep up or fill in for the advancing slides. The tech tells me he’s never seen anyone have this happen before so I explain I often fill the role of serving as a horrible warning vs. a good example. And to top it off the ‘renew your Norton subscription’ appeared in the middle of the screen. To think of having to see this over and over on the TV channel was more than I could bear.

The most northerly stop is the next day as we are tendered into Honnisvag the most northerly ‘city’ of 3000 Norwegians and a short trip to Nord Kapp (North Cape), which is the most northerly point of land at 71 latitude. We check out Honnisvag, especially the wharves and boats and then catch the local bus to Nord Kapp, which is a breathtaking ride winding around the mountains and overlooking the water. We see lots of reindeer along the way, hikers and campers and Sami settlements as the Lapps are now known. We are so fortunate to have a beautiful clear day, the first in some time for the area. North Cape is a busy spot as tourists check out the top of the world. Lovely bird display, fantastic panoramic movie and museum about the WW II battles fought near here and the most spectacular scenery from Kings View. We get a second glance later on as the ship slows for photos as we steam past while leaving.

The following day finds us in Tromso, which is a northern city with a history of fishing, whaling, sealing, launching of northern expeditions and now research and education for the marine industry. We explore the Polar Museum, which is a very thorough look at northern expeditions and life and well worth the time. We catch the local transit to the cable car and are able to have a panoramic view of the entire city, again with beautiful sunny weather with the highest temperatures they’ve had this year yet as it’s been a rough cold spring so still lots of snow capped peaks. Many of us actually end with some pink cheeks from waiting for the bus in the UV rays.

The next sea day sees the presentation on Life in the Slow Lane go well and I’m surprised at how well the attendance stays up and questions are still asked. I’ve requested a tour of the bridge as a surprise for the shore captain and he sure is. We cancel the wine tasting we’ve signed up for without a second thought. The bridge is a pretty high tech and large version of his electronics so he feels quite comfortable. The first officer tells us they qualify on simulators for five days annually in Amsterdam to stay current. The security is very tight since 9/11 so this is a special treat.

The following day finds us in Flaam which is a small village nestled at the head of a fjord which has developed as a tourist destination where the railway meets the water. We get a ticket for the run up on the railway, which has, is 1:18 so chugs up the side of the mountains. We get off at the final stop in Myrdal and walk back down to Vatnahalsen which takes about 20 minutes alongside glacial mountain stream, alpine flowers, farms and everywhere peaks, waterfalls, and mist. We catch the train back down and have a second view of Huldra the ‘troll’ who comes out to dance on the ruins to strains of Greig near Kjossen Falls when the train stops. A telephoto lens shows a summer student with a beard and the stationmaster tells us they switch every two weeks – likely a coveted position as they only work 5 min. per hour for 12 hrs a day.

The final port call is Bergen, which is a beautiful old city and apparently is much the same as mister remembers it. We only have five hours here so get an early start to fit in all our exploring. We manage to travel up in the funicular to the top of the city for some spectacular scenery, visit the fisheries museum, explore the old city and wander through the fish market where we find whale toast for sale as well as Canadian lobsters (at $45 per pound no less) and pick up a few souvenirs for the kids. We’re on one of the last shuttle buses back to the ship for sailaway.

Between all the shipboard activities, formal night, photographs, movies under the stars and non stop eating there wasn’t much time for just hanging out but mister made a good transition from working to playing on the water. The final sea day brings a chance to do an additional presentation on NS Duck Tollers which goes well and the tech gives me a copy of the DVD as well so that’ll be good for an audition should I require it for freelancing in the future as Martyn does.

We’re disembarked uneventfully in Southampton and drop our luggage at The Star Hotel for storage then head over on the high-speed catamaran ferry to the Isle of Wight. This Channel Island is where the Whitbread races are staged and there is one amazing collection of yachts here. We stumble on the Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook’s son) Museum, which has a collection of his priceless artifacts and was the former sail loft where the Britannica’s sail was made. We enjoy fish and chips (what else?) for lunch on a bench in a narrow cobblestone street. We catch the chain ferry over to East Cowes and spend the afternoon at Osborne House, which was the summer residence for Queen Victoria and gives new meaning to the phrase ‘over the top’. We finally make our way back to Southampton as the Grand Princess is heading out on the British Isles cruise and drag our carcasses out for supper at the pub and an early night. An uneventful breakfast, cab to the bus station and trip through Eastleigh to Heathrow, flight through Iceland and on to Nova Scotia with the three hour drive home putting us in after midnight so only Sunday as a recovery day.

Today I was being sought by the entertainment agency as they were trying to convince me I needed to do destination lectures for Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) this fall out of either Philadelphia or New York. I told the recruiter that for Sept – Oct. I’m busy with work, land travel to visit our western daughter and then the Sea Princess cruise. It’s 8 hr flying and $800 to Philly but New York would be more reasonable if it works. The NCL reviews aren’t great so I’m pleased the logistics don’t work on this. She was telling me that if I saw anything listed for 2009 with any cruise line even if it wasn’t posted on their listing to send her an email as they could likely put me on a ship so I said “keep your eyes peeled for South America if that’s the case as I have a friend to visit there” and signed off with a smile.

Speaking of social lives – we’re off to the Eagles concert this weekend so must go get myself in ready mode. Since this is a long weekend, expect an update by Monday.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cruising and more

Back into the real world here again and my how quickly that post vacation glow fades eh? We made home early Sunday a.m. and the day was spent catching up with laundry, mail and the news. Heading back to work on Monday cramped my style and a stop for groceries afterwards followed by supper and a visit from a neighbour who’s living out west made for a full day. Today was frantic, hot and humid at work – not even close to cruising, and I discovered that someone in an ivory tower with way more time on their hands than I have, decided our job title should be Infection Preventionist – but it’s more fun to talk about so here are the highlights at least until the first of the cruise:

We had an uneventful flight over to Iceland and I’d heartily recommend Iceland Air as an option. We were surprised to have to go through security again upon entering the country. Kind of made you wonder what they thought you’d been up to after you’d cleared security in Halifax then flew 4 hrs. hmm. When we finally made it to our hotel (at first none of the cabbies had heard of it as it was called another name) in Keflavik with our female cab driver, which is a common phenomenon there, we were ready to crash. As we stood in front of the reception asking to store the baggage the clerk took pity on us (I’m sure we looked pretty bedraggled) and told us the room was ready. Never have I heard more welcome words. After a nap until lunch we were good to go. We headed off to check out the Viking Ship and had a great visit with the man who had built and sailed the ship from Norway to Iceland, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia then on to the USA. He had been in Lockeport a few years back for the Leif Eriksson anniversary celebrations. Small world. We had a long hike on a trail overlooking the ocean for the afternoon. We stopped at a bar and discovered a glass of beer is over $12 so that was the only one mister had. Headed on back to the hotel and had supper which was nice but nothing special and cost the equivalent of $180. And the worst part was that the man was hungry and headed over to the convenience store for an ice cream bar and bag of candy afterwards. KFC was $22 + for a meal etc. Wow, could only afford 24 hrs there. We were up early, back on the shuttle to the airport and off for London.

Landed in Heathrow before noon and had a short wait until the coach arrived. The drive down to Southampton was just beautiful, very lush green with trees, lots of farmland and quaint towns. We even stopped in front of Winchester Cathedral if you can believe it. A short cab ride from the bus station took us to The Star Hotel, which is an old coaching inn. Think Fawlty Towers and you’re right on track. I swear I expected John Cleese to come out from behind the counter. There was even a waitress/chamber maid who was Polly’s double. It was clean, friendly and reasonably priced – what more could you want? We explored the city a bit – it’s a beautiful old walled city from over 1000 yrs ago with a Bargate – and got some photos. The clerk suggested The Red Lion as a pub for supper and he was sure right – I had bangers and mash and the man had steak and ale pie with two drafts and two G&Ts the total bill was still only the equivalent of $50 and we had to waddle back to the hotel we were so full. Quite the switch from the previous day.

We set out to find the ship the next morning after breakfast (yes in the dining room which was very like the Fawlty Towers) as the shore captain was playing with my head and had me convinced I’d mixed up the days as the Grand Princess wasn’t in. It certainly was, along with at least two other large cruise ships and the pier was a busy place. We headed over to check in and the cabbie told us all his problems on the way over, however the porter said he had no problems as he’d survived three wives, two girlfriends and now had a wife, three kids and two cats. The check in process was very efficient and we were shortly on board with full passenger status. Weren’t really sure if there’d be hassles so were relieved to make it unscathed.

The cabin was an inside one (which we’d been told) in the forward section of the ship. It was a good thing in the end, as the 24 hr of daylight would have made it tough for sleeping otherwise and how much time do you spend there anyway? The cabin steward (who’s name was June and turned out to be a male from Philippines) was very attentive and quickly sent us on up to check out the buffet “oh you haven’t had lunch yet? Go right on up and get something to eat,” he said. I wish someone was turning down the bed and leaving a chocolate tonight as well, but that’s all ended.

After exploring the ship a bit, a muster station drill and then unpacking as the bags arrived it was time for a meeting with the Cruise Director and his Assistant Director. This turned out to be a frantic 30 min. event but I was supported by the very experienced Destination Speaker who was most helpful who said “it’s always like this on the first day” and we were turned loose to “go enjoy yourself, see you on the first sea day tomorrow”. By the time I made it up on the deck we were sailing away through Southampton Harbour and the Dixieland band had been put ashore. After some great views it was time for supper so we checked out the ‘Anytime Dining’ option, which we were assigned meaning you have a choice of two dining rooms at anytime from 6 – 10 p.m. for supper or of course the 24 buffet or snack bar. Decisions, decisions. It was fairly busy when we arrived at the dining room so we checked out one of the specialty restaurants (the steak house for an additional $15 surcharge ea.) and found it almost deserted. Very quiet on the first and last nights the maitre d’ told us so we opted for supper there and it was amazing!!! By the time we rolled back down to the cabin there was no problem with sleeping for sure.

In the morning I attended the destination lecture which the other speaker gave – big mistake made me more nervous – to check out the facilities. The theater was a large venue of perhaps 800 seats, with podium, head mike, large screen and the presentation was taped and shown on the Princess TV channel. There was a production booth at the back of the theatre managing the sound, taping etc. and a tech to manage me standing by in the wings. The marine industry topic was well received and there were questions afterwards so I felt like I was going to make it. What a steep learning curve. Don’t want you thinking this wasn’t a good deal – it was even better than I’d anticipated – details to follow, as I have to get ready for tomorrow. I discovered a term today to describe folks that make things happen – they’re described a positive deviance. I feel like a deviant all right, how positive is another matter.

As a postscript….If you’re looking for a new search engine this one is supposed to beat Google. It’s called cuil (pronounced kewl) and the url is:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Have a look at this

Yes, yes I know that last night's posting was supposed to be a farewell note but...when I was cleaning out the email box I found a link to a YouTube video of the cruise itinerary:

so you can follow around Norway with us. Between that and the last minute flurry of finding contact emergency info for the ship for the plant and at $12 per minute I am talking major emergency here....I also found all kinds of shipboard info as in 'fresh fruit in your room you just have to ask for it' and the weather forecast for Norway should you like to see that we're being showered on while it's a beautiful sunny weekend in North America. And speaking of which here is the Grand Princess webcam link which you can check for progress:

Looks kind of foggy in Scotland. I'm assuming she's repositioning from the Mediterrean and awaiting our arrival in Southampton. So two links to take us until we connect with the ship:

A wiki from Keflavik for Friday:

And the second on Southampton for Saturday:

The return 12 days later includes (weather dependent) a hopeful hovercraft trip to Isle of Wight:

If you can't plan and talk about it on your return, what's the fun in traveling eh? Hasta.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pre departure posting

A final posting before departure, which is exactly 24 hrs away – yeehaw! So tomorrow after work we head to the city to pick up daughter # 2 who will take us to the airport and keep the vehicle for us. And a chance for us to see Hank - the feline addition to their family.

There has been a last minute panic in the form of a slight computer glitch where it seems the presentation is trying to dialup to retrieve the embedded link to one (or more) of the graphics I’ve used. Apparently I copied and pasted something without saving to my computer as I usually do – a bad decision made at midnight while putting the presentation together. When I open the presentation if I’m able to disable the dialer it’s ok, if not the program just churns and won’t run. The difficulty is in trying to figure out which one it is, find it, save it to the computer, delete the first one and restart the computer to do away with this problem. This is no longer a reasonable solution to the problem even if I decided to pull an all nighter as the links are not specific so it could take hours to locate the files and there are many. The suggestion to disable the dialup connection was a great one but that option isn’t available on my laptop so I’d have to completely remove it. The presentation runs on the baby daughter’s laptop but it’s a Mac so not an option. The presentation appears to run if I cancel out of the dialup when it loads and our future son-in-law says that with a wireless connection on board ship this won’t be an issue anyway. Lesson learned. Not a good way to be heading off though as it’s nerve wracking until I get through the sessions.

We managed to get airfare today out to see daughter # 1 in September but it was a combination of Air Miles for one and seat sale with the return for the other of the tickets to be picked up hopefully on a seat sale later on. Learned a lot about sharing miles, buying miles and additional fees in the process. Good to know the plans are in place so we can get out to see the Groundhog Museum and our western daughter.

I will certainly be glad to be away from work for two weeks after tomorrow although it feels like I'm abandoning the teammates with the way things have been going. The forecast across the pond appears to be a bit wet and here will be a sunny weekend (of course as we need the rain with the woods closed to open fires already) but at this point it no longer matters.

In between getting the shore captain's truck to and from the garage for servicing, squeezing in a haircut for myself and all the last minute laundry, dishes, plant watering etc. that goes on until midnight the night before vacation doesn’t make it a restful sleep. But then again neither does waiting for boats which are due in first thing tomorrow for the man of the house. Back by July 27th so behave until then.

Monday, July 7, 2008

And three, two, one

When the previous update was almost a week ago – you know I’ve been busy – and this week that’s an understatement. But we’re into the countdown now with only three more sleeps to go until departure – and this one will be an abbreviated version as it’s past midnight so I’ll make this brief.

There was generalized confusion this a.m. as the shore captain got two boats ready to go fishing. As we had a BBQ last evening, which involved lots of food, wine and visiting of friends until almost midnight he was a bit fuzzy when he got up at 4 a.m. When he tried to get the prodigal son up, the only person he woke was me. At 5 a.m. the Manor called for the baby daughter to work a long day and she said brightly “I’d love to” to the RN calling – I could imagine the smile on her face, as this is the exact opposite of the reaction usually. By the time the alarm called me and I managed to drive the boy out of his nest and into action felt like I’d put in a long day myself already.

I’ve finally decided that I have the presentations the way I’m going to go with them. It’s kind of like writing a term paper where at some point you just have to say to yourself “that’s it, I’m finished” and submit. I’ve saved them to a flashstick, they’re on the computer and tomorrow I’ll burn a CD and print my notes.

In order to try out my PowerPoint presentations on the projector at work as I worked in the district facility today, I had to have the cleaner let me in to the conference room, attempt to log on to the network – unsuccessfully and of course enough times that I had to call the help desk. I first spoke to the tech before I lost cell signal, but since I’d told her where I was she made a house call and then I had to have my password reset which means you have to think of a password which is more than 8 letters which you’ve not used in the past two years (we were previously changing our passwords monthly so there’s an accumulated list) while she stood over my shoulder. All this because someone plugged the network cord into the wrong outlet this a.m. At any rate when I finally got on the presentations looked fine so I was reassured.

I stopped at Staples to see if there was a battery to fit my laptop and after much online searching they located one at a cost of $225 + tax – this is as much as I paid for the computer itself. I don’t think so. I managed to run into two of my nursing classmates today while in my old stomping grounds so filled them in on my travel plans and they were suitably impressed. Always good to run into familiar friendly faces.

Talked to the soon to be Red Deer daughter this evening and she was out to a Trews concert as the Calgary Stampede is on now. She checked out a basement apartment in Red Deer and it sounds like a good fit for a not big city gal. She had a great boost at work where a customer sent a very complimentary email to management about her and her boss so she got a nice letter from a senior manager and a $25 Safeway gift card – not a usual event in healthcare so it really impressed me. Glad to see they realize how talented she is. Too bad more employers didn’t take that approach.

Must run and shut my eyes for what’s left of the night to get ready for tomorrow. Mister has been threatened that tomorrow is packing night – he still considers it early if it’s even one day before leaving.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy 141st birthday Canada

Today feels like a weekend but it’s Canada’s birthday although I’m not sure if there will be any fireworks as the fog has come back in pretty thick again. At least this is making a four-day week but I’m not complaining as being off is being off!

Despite the fact my day began as I was awoken by the insistent ringing of a cell phone (not mine) at 6:15 a.m. and the subsequent shouted conversation with a boat captain who was landing shortly at the wharf – it was still a day off. Apparently the self-employed life partner had ‘forgotten’ I didn’t have to go in to work. And a good thing I was around too as it shortly turned out that I had to drive him back over to the car pool parking lot to pick up his truck before the boat arrived. He’d been in such a mad dash to get home after accompanying me under protest to a reading/art show last evening that he drove right by his own vehicle on the way home. By the time I made it back home I was wide-awake – so much for sleeping in – and got a start on being Molly Maid.

The fog actually cleared by noon and the sun appeared for the first time in a week so I headed out with my presentations to work on while lying on the deck and managed to fall asleep thanks to my maritally induced sleep deprivation. Good thing the deer flies woke me up before I got too crispy. Just in time to go searching for Keely who had absconded and was off visiting the summer neighbours dog next door.

I’ve found some good links to info on the Blue Zone, which is about the pockets of centenarians in various places in the world. I’m integrating that with my local info and photos and researching some Norway connections. I’ve still got quite a bit to do on the marine portion but I do have the lobstering one put together. So I am slowly gaining but of course gainful employment will cut into my research time tomorrow. What can you do if you’re not retired?