Monday, December 2nd, Fedje.
We are in Norway once again, to go on the Hurtigruten once more up the Norwegian coast, in the middle of winter. A much postponed trip. I felt slightly anxious about itL: what will the Polar Night be like, will there be enough to do, and see. But it may well be beautiful, calm or stormy. Kristinn Joachimsen, at the SBL Meeting last week, who had taught in Tromsø, said that the light in winter is extraordinary. The twilight. Won’t be too cold. So here we are once again with our friends Kåre and Tone, on their little island of Fedje, about 50 kms. north of Bergen.
The plane journey was as usual miserable. Why can’t long flights be pleasant experiences? Endless hours wondering what the time is, looking at the map, too dark to read, the overhead light too faint, the meal lukewarm and skimpy. Bored and tired. From Vancouver to Amsterdam, KLM, so-called Economy Comfort and then Amsterdam-Bergen. Nice views through the clouds, a nice dawn compensating for the long night. i think flights could easily be made more pleasant if only the airlines cared to do so.
Woke up at 2, panicking over the book. Kåre and Tone have a newly built annex for guests, which they use also for meals while their kitchen is renovated. Salt cold, potatoes and carrots for supper. And then this afternoon fed the sheep in the rocky terrain with pieces of bread.
A couple of Syrian children are over and Tone (Kåre’s wife) is talking to them while they borrow books
Tuesday 3 a.m.
Have a headache. Woke up early to write but don’t know if I can. Read an article for review. It is pouring with rain outside. Maybe time to sleep again.
We off, the lights of Bergen are passing us by. Today, despite the weariness of jetlag and not sleeping, we went to Bergen with Kåre and Tone. They had an Abschiedsvorlesung, so we met Daniel Biro, a friend from Victoria, who is now Professor of Music in Bergen. Unfortunately too short, and too rushed, in a busy university day. Bergen is beautiful in the rain and mist. We wandered around the lake in the middle of the city, into the Christmas market, full of cheeses, olives, chocolates made into the shape of tools, handicrafts, wool. And into the art museum, with fascinating prints and photographs by Edvard Munch, including many 1900s and 1920s selfies, use of reflections, doubling of images, strange surrealist distortions. and lovely other Modernist painters, Harriet Backer comes to mind – but also Nikolai Astrup – gorgeous pictures of the wharves in London – Erik Werenskjold, who was apparently the great wheeler and dealer. Then to the Lofoten, where we had dinner with Kåre and Tone.
I have tried to learn how to take a photo of Kåre and Tone on the ferry. it was lovely being with them – they were immensely hospitable. Kåre is a biblical scholar, working on Exodus and Deuteronomy, Tone a professor of Educational Psychology, student and colleague of Max van Manen from the University of Alberta. Warm, quiet, dark, with shadows like most of us. Funny. Thoughtful.
Now we are sailing away from Bergen; it is forecast to be stormy for the next couple of days. I am apprehensive.
Wednesday, 4th December 5 a.m.
Storm hasn’t yet materialized but apparently expected to strike about 6. We are going through a fjord, i think, judging by the position of the ship on the Internet. Amazing that one can see all these things at a glance. I’m trying to write. That’s why i’m up so early.
I was able to write a bit. There is a world of difference between being able to write and not being able to write. All that tension and anxiety. Now we are coming out of some anonymous port and out of a fjord into the gale. 10 feet waves are predicted, at least according to the chart. Exacerbated by shallow seas. Let’s see how my tummy holds up.
Should be over by 9.
Thursday, 5th December
Storm was a bit of a wet blanket, really, and there was another stronger period of swells in the evening. I seem to manage quite well by sitting quietly in a chair and rocking with the waves, unlike when I was younger. Ah well, the few compensations of age. Also I lost my beret in Fedje, and feel naked and disoriented without it. Amazing how one’s identity gets attached to objects, part selves as it were, with all their investment in performance and projecting oneself into the world.
I/we am not doing very well with jetlag on this trip. Woke up at 12 with a dreadful headache, then again at 3, hot and sweaty. Our room is slightly larger than on our previous trip but still rather cramped and the porthole is firmly closed, apparently because of storms. No point in having an outside cabin if you can’t see outside it. Bennett did a wonderful job of tidying, and we feel much better. Now we are in the lounge, drinking early morning coffee. THEY HAVE PUT A TELEVISION INTO THE LOUNGE!! Every so often an aged Norwegian comes in and puts on the news in Norsk or ice hockey or something. Our beautiful ancient Lofoten seems violated somehow. And then it is going out of service at the end of the year. No one really knows why. I was told it did not meet environmental standards, Kåre heard that it was because it was not accessible to disabled persons, but suspects it is because it does not turn a sufficient profit for the Hurtigruten company.
Usual mixed bag of passengers. I talk to them and then instantly forget them. There are mothers with young children and babies on board, carrying them in slings. It is not just an old people’s adventure. I wonder what they are all doing there. Yesterday at breakfast I talked to a very bright police officer from Bavaria who had just done a tour of duty in Mauretania and wanted somewhere cold. A Swiss woman – also nice – called Nurit, born in Israel, who went on a previous incarnation of the Lofoten, even older, in 2006, a fisherman from East Germany –
Ålesund, where we stopped for a couple of hours at midday, is also very pretty. I liked it better than last time we were here. No special reason. I went looking for a hat shop with a beret, but failed to find one. Then was approached by a woman from the ship, who recognized me because of my elfin face, she said. Canadian, been through many lives, she said, lives in Freiburg, near children and grandchildren, thoughtful observant, with two friends. We went to the city museum, a four story house donated by a businessman, not huge, a typical provincial museum, but deeply informative about the life and history of Ålesund, its rise to a major fishing and industrial town in the 19th century, the various periods in its history (Swedish, Spanish), its industrialized poverty and high culture, the fire that devastated it in 1904 and the Art-Nouveau architecture that replaced it, reminding me of Napier in New Zealand, whereupon Kate – my companion – casually remarked that she had lived three years in the bush in New Zealand in one of her early lives. There is a lifeboat, in which a captain and crew from Alesund sailed to America in 1905 – it took them five months – to prove that enclosed lifeboats were the way to go with lifeboats. Unfortunately it was sixty years before the idea was adopted. There was a copy of the Boston Globe from 1905 reporting on its arrival, and it was curious to see the other stories, e.g.a sensational trial, a rich heiress who had been married seven times…
We are still in daylight for five or six hours of the day, and the mountains look stark and beautiful with the snow on them. Mild and occasionally rainy. But we are going further and further north into the darkness. And why?
Almost an allegory.
I’ve almost finished a novel, Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo, which won the Booker Prize, shared with Margaret Atwood. It is brilliant and moving, but I feel I should read it again because by the end I’ve already forgotten the characters and incidents at the beginning.
Today we go to Trondheim. I look forward to wandering around the town. Maybe having a smørbrod for lunch.
Trondheim was a great disappointment. It was grey, dismal, and I went to go shopping and found myself trapped between endless roads with traffic roaring and a river without bridges with everything – shops, houses – on the other side. It was a nightmare. Then came back, met Kate (from yesterday) and her friend Martine with their rain capes flapping like crows.
This evening we had dinner early because a storm was expected. The storm came and went, sixteen foot waves, chairs sliding to and fro, and now it is calm. How sad.
This afternoon a long blissful sleep, God’s cure for jetlag.
And this brilliant dawn, approaching Trondheim.
Friday, 6th December. 3.30
This not sleeping is really getting exacerbating. But it is better to be up than to lie hot and sweaty in one’s bunk. Maybe I can work on the book…
It seems to be snowing or sleeting outside, our first snow. Mostly it has been mild and rainy. I think it is still mild, despite the snow.
I have a coffee. The cafeteria is open all night. Too tired to do anything. At a place called Sandsjøen. Passengers get on and off all night. Now someone with a guitar.
Saturday, 7th December. 3.30
In the Lofoten Islands. Somewhere called Sortland. It’s been raining and raining. Eventually we’ll come out of the rain into clear, cold, snowy weather. I’m tired of constantly waking up at three with a headache. This diary seems largely to consist of headaches.
But magical yesterday morning as it got light around ten, standing on the bridge watching the ship slowly slip past great jagged mountains to the port of Bodø. Law dramatic clouds, bursts of rain, light blue sky through the cloud drifts, and light beyond on the snowy mountains. Bodø seemed rather pretty in the December dismalness with its Christmas tree and trees lit up in the main square. Many people left on excursions leaving the ship more or less to ourselves.
Then suddenly it was night at 2 in the afternoon. Now that was strange.. No going to look for the Lofotens gradually becoming clearer and more imposing on the horizon. And it was too wet to spend much time outside. We did wave at the sister ship, the MS Spitzbergen, passing by in the evening in the opposite direction.
We are now long past the Arctic Circle. Today we get to Tromsø. I have good memories of Tromsø. A lovely art gallery of northern Norwegian art, and Dianne Chisholm recommended the Polar Museum, both just by the quay.
Approaching Bodø. The clouds were very dramatic.
Sunday, 8th December, 6 a.m. Leaving Hammerfest.
Seem vastly more cheerful. Woke up 3.30, all clothes and things prepared, have been writing the interminable book. Last time I wrote a whole section of my chapter 6 (“Liturgies and Mirror Texts”) and here I seem to be writing on my chapter 7, on Cyrus and Abraham. Perhaps I should become the equivalent of a Frequent Flyer, a Consummate Cruiser, in order to finally finish the book. (Cyrus and Abraham was only this morning; the theme of the chapter – which is more likely to be no.8 – is exile and its permutations. How appropriate to be writing it in the far north.
Yesterday was a good day, I think. The twilight is beautiful. Kristinn Joachimson was right. She used to teach in Tromsø (the University of the Arctic?), and said that the light was magical. Even though the sun doesn’t rise, there are about four hours of twilight, the weather cleared up to some extent, the light and patches of blue reflecting off the jagged and snowy mountains. It is not too cold to stand on deck and watch.
It already got dark at 2. It is very disorienting. We landed in Tromsø and went to the Northern Norwegian Art Museum, where I went with Peter and Sophy last time we were here. I wonder how they are.
It is a beautifully arranged museum. A whole special exhibition was dedicated to the work of Betzy Berg. a nineteenth century painter of the Lofotens.
I’m getting tired. We have just left Hammerfest where i had a little walk on the fresh snow. Last time I met a passenger who told me it was the best town in the world, and I got to pet her sister’s dog. Then it was light; now it is totally dark. We are heading north and passing the north cape today. There is a slight swell and I feel like an adventurer in the darkness. A slight swell begins.
I haven’t talked about the people we’ve begun to make friends with. I feel a bit shy about doing it? How can one write about anyone on a two day acquaintance. However, there are a lot of bores, and a lot of interesting people. I think it divides 50-50. But someone I think is a bore someone else will find interesting.
I have some twilit pictures. There are fascinating differences between Civil Twilight, Nautical Twilight, and Astronomical Twilight, and charts for the precise times of each, which we looked. Civil Twilight is normal twilight, Nautical Twilight is when the first light appears on the horizon and helps ships navigate, and Astronomical Twilight doesn’t seem to be twilight at all and I have no idea what it is.
This is the magical twilight. Kate is looking out.
And another one:
People who have exceptional memories might remember this string of elephants carrying utensils from the last time we visited the Northern Norwegian Art Museum.
Christmas lights, Hammerfest early morning.
Twilight is already beginning over ragged clouds and mountains. 8.27 a.m.
Didn’t eat herring for breakfast.
Already dark, dark at about 1, – now it is past 4 – we are nearing the North Cape, near the village of Mehamn, it is so far east that noon is about 11 o’clock. The darkness feels quite strange, strange when it becomes deeply tenebrous at lunchtime.
Stayed outside on my eyrie by the bridge for most of the morning. For me this is the most mysterious and soothing part of the trip, between mountains and islands and in the strange half-light, with snow squalls coming over and obliterating everything. I talked to Kate on the bridge – Kate who is a cook and a caterer for parties of tourists in Scotland – and to a very lovely young woman from Frankfurt in her gap year between school and national service (in an ambulance) and university, who visited Norway in the summer and wanted to see it in the winter. Wanted to get to the far north. Other people of course that I’ve met – a cardiologist from New Zealand who is drafting a letter to the New Zealand medical association protesting against their opposition to medically assisted dying. But on the whole I’ve been rather quieter and shyer than on the previous trip, though that will change.
From the bridge:
We reached Honnigsvår at about 11, through a massive drift of snow and mist that obliterated everything, howling wind too. It isn’t very cold, indeed not that different from when we were here in April, only about -2 perhaps, but lovely with all the fresh snow around. I wonder if we’ll get to see Northern Lights. it is very slippery on the deck compounded by a fairly substantial swell, though nothing like the rough weather of previous days.
Storm coming over:
Did I mention that Kåre wrote that they had found my beret? Now I can hold up my head again in the world.
There is a great range of ages here, not all old people, young mothers, babies, young and middle aged people, as well as us cronies. Also a range of countries, from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, as well as European countries. No Canadians I know of – Roz has come from Colorado. Roz is here accompanying her sister, who has Parkinsons, who undertook the voyage a year or so ago but missed it all because of seasickness. Roz (for Rosamund) is the daughter of a Bletchley scientist and an ex-Professor of Mathematics at Brooklyn College, combining it with expertise in Education. She has a Chinese daughter in law, whose parents have moved to the States but speak no English, so she has been very busy learning Chinese, and having conversation by Skype with partners in China four times a week.
At the Northern Norwegian Art Museum, moving to look at a gorgeous Munch nude, pictures by Harriet Backer – especially beautiful of a woman, herself, playing the piano in her house – delicate, concentrated – and other women artists of the 19th century, portraits, still life, an impressive huge landscape of Bodø in about 1860, by Peder Balke (I think), Northern Norway’s iconic painter. Some paintings haunting, digging for worms for instance on the beach. A theme of the exhibit was how under-represented women artists in national galleries – the pathetically small percentage – and how much less they earn than male artists.
Betzy Akersloot-Berg, to whom the special exhibit was dedicated, was a free spirit, who studied under several masters, and who continued to be a professional painter even after she married a vice-consul in the Netherlands, where she lived most of her life, though spending much time among the Sami (where she worked as a missionary in the 1850s) and in northern Norway generally. She had a wooden crate in which she sat and painted. There was also an exhibition of all her painting materials!
I was tired and a bit ill, and my sore thumb was hurting, so we left the exhibition to seek out bandages – in a pharmacy with a very helpful assistant.
I see we are approaching a little town, it must be Mehamn, the northernmost stop en route. That means we have passed the tip of Europe (at about 71 degrees, same latitude as Victoria Island). In Mehamn, according to the Hurtigruten website, they have a nightclub, several hotels and restaurants. The main industry is fishing. 800 people.
Late tonight we stop at Berlevåg, where the wonderful documentary film about the Berlevåg men’s choir was made in 2001 (I can’t reproduce the title in Norwegian).
This afternoon I read a fabulous article by Yvonne Sherwood on sacrifice.
Sunday, 9th December, 4 a.m.
Feeling very frayed.
Last night we saw our first auroras. Admittedly rather faint and even at their best glowing streaks across the sky, but they caused very great excitement and rushing to and fro. Erika, our Peruvian waitress – and our favourite – lovely, warm, was beside herself with excitement to my surprise. I thought all the crew and staff would be blasé. She kept on pointing it out to me and trying to find the best place for me. Susanna, the sister of Ros, both aunts of my former colleague Jennifer Welchman at the University of Alberta – Susanna who has Parkinsons (and is in fact quite demanding) was being helped out by a very kind waiter, and getting stuck over the threshold. She is very determined. I was amazed and impressed at his patience. It was quite rocky, a moderate swell, enough to making going about on deck feel somewhat perilous, and how much more so for someone like Susanna. Peter, from Singapore, was busy taking pictures. There was a nearly full moon, which is now just setting, and the moon laying a path across the choppy waters was perhaps more impressive and more calming. More beautiful.
We are now past the north cape and heading south east along the peninsula that leads round to Kirkenes eventually. We are stopping at the town of Vardø, which on our last trip seemed very depressed – a typical Arctic town. But others are clearly lively. Kate was telling me that she really enjoyed the excursion round the fishing villages in the island at Honnigsvåg (Magerøya), and Ros liked the quiet snowy town. We stayed on the ship and had a sleep.
The Northern Lights rudely interrupted a very interesting lecture by the tour guide, Åsgeir, on the history of the Lofoten. What a beautiful ship! When it was first built, in 1964, it was the biggest ship in the fleet. In those days it was mostly local passengers and very few tourists; now of course vice versa. It has first and second classes; and woe betide a second class passenger who strayed into first class, and women’s and smoking lounges as well as different ones for the different classes. All this in what is a very tiny space. There has been a whole dynasty of Lofotens; each time one went out of service it was replaced by another with the same name. The one that our ship replaced was built in 1932. It was a steamship. Åsgeir commented that we are only one generation away from the era of steamships.
I tried to take a photograph of the aurora, but failed. If it is an emanation of the ancestors as the first nations believe, mine did not want to leave an impression.
Tuesday, 10th December 8.30
Well, that was a truly awful night. An Arctic low came over. An Arctic low is the Arctic equivalent of a cyclone. 8 metre waves, 110 kph winds. We couldn’t sleep for all the tossing and crashing. A headache but no sickness. The winds and waves are still high but we are a little sheltered, coming back down again.
Breakfast is from ??.00-11.00. There are a few people up, drinking coffee in the cafeteria. There are also biscuits, but unfortunately with insufficient weevils. The sea and winds are supposed to pick up when we go out again into open water, in about five minutes. But it feels better to be up than down.
We are still north of 71 degrees. We are going west towards Halvorøysund, which I remember from when we went last time in April as brilliantly sunny and snowy with a magnificent suspension bridge. Not this time.
Yesterday morning in Kirkenes, the final stop of the journey before turning back. It is a dismal town, that much of it that we saw, though the residential streets look nice. But the main road into town seems full of autodealerships and things, with cars whizzing along on narrow tracks through the snow. But it was nice to see piles of fresh clean snow, on roofs and trees, just like Edmonton. We walked round in a circle in the half light and then I tried going into town but it was too dreary and my big toe started freezing. A nice conversation with a Dutch seafarer also on the voyage from Cape Town, with a larger than life voice, whose family owns two islands off Scheermonnigkoog. After all that walking in the cold – eventually on a ship one feels cooped up – lunch seemed like a good, and then a too good, idea. The food on the Hurtigruten is mostly very good, by the way, hard though it is to think of it during a storm. Buffets for breakfast and lunch, a four course dinner.
Me in the snow at Kirkenes: It is about 10 o’clock.
Kirkenes is very far east, so the solar meridian (i.e. noon) is only about 10.45. It begins to get light about 8 and is almost completely dark by 1. And the light was really just a half light, just enough to see by in the infernal regions. I found it, yesterday, more oppressive than I expected. Weirder to be in the midst of the night at 4 p.m.
We stopped in Vardø at about 4 and walked up, a whole group of us, to the fortress, built on the ruins of previous ones in 1734-1738. A small earthen wall round a cluster of 18th and 19th century houses to accommodate the garrison, with lights and furniture. To keep out the Russians.
Vardø in the polar night. The schoolchildren get the day off when the sun rises again for the first time (January 22nd?) and cannons are fired from the fortress to greet it:
Vardø I remembered as depressing but it was less so in winter and seeing bourgeois house, a school, a hotel.
But then I got to read about the history of the fortress. Well….
In the 17th century it was the place where all the witches were kept while awaiting trial. There was a “witches’ hole” and witch crazes, in 1621 and 1669 (I think). The details are harrowing. Children, as in Salem, inventing stories. Or being made to. Whole families accused of witchcraft. It is hard, or perhaps very easy, to imagine life in those days. Eventually a judge was sent from Copenhagen, who – when nearly all the witches had been burnt – went through the evidence, the principal girl accuser admitted she was a liar, reason and sanity prevailed, the girl was sentenced to go to a reformatory in Bergen but never, it seems, went.
It is very difficult to type when the lounge is swaying backwards and forwards.
All night i was haunted by the story. On the other hand, in the 2nd World War Vardø was the last place to be occupied by the Germans. There was a garrison which sounds a bit like Dad’s army. The Germans ordered the German flag to be raised, but they did not order it to be kept raised. So every morning the Norwegian garrison would ritually raise the German flag, take it down, raise the Norwegian flag, and ceremoniously burn the German one. This carried on for five months until the captain was arrested.
I was somewhat queasy after lunch but still managed to eat my curried smoked salmon for dinner (my non-meat substitute)
In the evening Asgeir continued his lecture. He is a somewhat ponderous lecturer, in a charming Norwegian way. He spoke about the ins and outs of ship construction in Norway from the 1980s, about the transformation of the Hurtigruten from being primarily a passenger and mail service to being primarily a cruise one, their financial difficulties over the years, how two lines amalgamated into one, how the company is British but with part Norwegian ownership. He solved the mystery of why the Lofoten is going out of service. It has nothing to do with age or profits. It is that the Norwegian government has broken up the Hurtigruten’s monopoly of the coastal route, which the government subsidises, so that the company had to take out seven of its 11 ships out of the service. He suspects that it will be reassigned to the Fjord route or journeys to Svalbard, which it did in the past.
We just had breakfast about 11 o’clock. Lots of people sliding backwards and forwards in the dining room.”
Wednesday, December 11th. South of Tromsø. 5 a.m.
We’re going south, past Tromsø, where the midnight concert was held for those who went to it, down past the Westerålen and Lofoten Islands today, and then across the sea to Bodø and back into daylight. It’s a bit sad to come to the end of our trip. It makes us think of all the things we would like to do and even of seeing if we can go on the last voyage of the Lofoten, on December 22nd next year. Anyone want to join?
Did I mention that I wrote to Peter and Sophie from our last trip (see my travelogue “Our Trip to Norway”) and had a very nice e-mail back from Peter, who has been in good health and was slowly coming down the beautiful east coast of Scotland and England. it made me read my travel diary of “Our Trip to Norway” from April 2016. So different. It seemed better and more descriptive, but that maybe is a fake memory.
One difference is that I was more sociable. That diary was full of people. It isn’t that I’ve been utterly detached but there is a sort of reserve there. I wanted to say that when schmoozing with Kate last night but didn’t get the opportunity.
We got a certificate for our achievement in surviving a hurricane. Now that is an exaggeration! The winds just about reached hurricane force but there wasn’t the mass of rain. Let’s just call it a storm.
Yesterday we wandered up and down Hammerfest’s main street, getting handcream in an Apothek, exploring the little polar bear museum and taking picture of a couple of polar bear sculptures in front of the town hall.
Can you pat a polar bear? Will you play with him like a bird? With apologies to Job.
This is about 11 o’clock in the morning.
Otherwise there is very little to report. It was a quarter light in Hammerfest in the morning and deep darkness by noon. I skipped lunch and most of breakfast because I’ve been feeling I’ve been eating too much, but the record was spoiled by dinner when there was a very rich chocolate mousse. I find the darkness very disconcerting – disconcerting when it is 4 o’clock and deep night.
Slept, worked a bit on my book. Had dinner, worked a bit more , chatted to a nice German couple, Thomas and Petra, business people from Frankenthal.
That’s it. So far.
Thursday, 12th December, 6 a.m.
Still waking before 3, got up quietly I hope, but by now it makes me anxious. The sea calm with a full moon, after another big storm which stopped us calling at the Lofoten Islands. South of Bodø. Nearly home.
Yesterday we went on a field trip, our first and only of the very expensive excursions. We went round the Westerålen Islands from Harstad, a relatively big city of 24,000 people. First the medieval church of Trondnes, with its massively thick stone walls, which remained in some ways untouched by the Reformation. We had a tiny bit of a service. It is very stark, beautiful font, which I reproduce here; nice floor tiles and narrow windows, overlooking the sea.
And then to the museum which is only a few steps away. The museum has two floors, one from prehistory to medieval times, and one post 1700. The medieval one is gorgeous, with finds going back to 4500 BCE, hunter-gathering and early farming, and then forward into largely church finds. A lovely St. Jerome holding his lion’s paw, St. Anthony with his pig, pilgrim relics – visits to St. Peter’s – King Olav’s pilgrimages, but all too much to take in on a short visit. And upstairs there was an exhibit on Hans Egede, the missionary to Greenland in the early 18th century, who came from here, and made me want to go back to Greenland. North East Greenland on a cruise. Scoresbysund. Lots on trade and the development of Harstad as a town, only really starting at the turn of the century. And then there was a big German POW camp here, with an extraordinarily high mortality rate. The exhibit showed pictures of the camp, records.
Then we drove around the Westerålen fjords, in snow and poor visibility. Mountains looming out of mist in the half- or quarter- twilight. Coffee and lefse on a ferry and back to the ship, that feels like home in the darkness.
Mountains in mist:
The good ship Lofoten, which arrived just as we came back from our excursion:
In the afternoon, wrote reference for my friend Maria Metzler, but otherwise darkness, a sort of deep shadow. Conversation with Peter from Singapore in the early evening about the Bible and religion, as we went through the straits through the Lofoten Islands. Salmon farms.
And then the storm came.
9 a.m. We are now south of the Arctic Circle, into the land of sunshine, at least for a little of the day. We passed one of the sister ships, and all the waitresses ran out and waved, much more excited than the rest of the passengers.
We really like Erika, Peruvian, married to a Norwegian, always with a wonderful bright smile on her face, always kind, enthusiastic. She has some Quechua ancestry, on her father’s side.
12.52 First sun low on the horizon
Tuesday, December 13th, 4 a.m.
Nearly back. 6 o’clock we arrive in Trondheim. Maybe have a little walk. Arrive in Bergen tomorrow afternoon. Already feels valedictory. Johnson has won the British general election. What a catastrophe the country has become. Perhaps an opportunity for the Labour party to become centrist once again.
Bright moonlight over the water, with a path along the sea. This has been an awfully stormy voyage, and even slightly rocky last night but we survived.
Yesterday I spent largely up on my little perch outside the bridge looking at the water, the islands, the mountains in the distance and getting closer. One is very close to the water even up there by the bridge. Now it is calm and we are chugging along.
Every so often I would chat to someone up there: a retired French documentary film director who lives in St. Malo and makes boats; he has been on four previous voyages, including on the old Nordstjernen (built in 1956) around Spitzbergen. He went in winter three years ago I think on the Lofoten and had perfect weather. He thought this was more normal. A psychiatrist from Oslo and her husband (whose profession I forget) who pointed out bird sanctuaries to me and have cycled on the islands along here. They have a daughter studying Psychology in Trondheim and will get off there. Kate sent three little poems which she called ditties. One extraordinarily tall German who had motorcycled up to northern Norway in the summer and wanted to see it in winter. I get the impression there are more interesting people here than I thought but the acquaintance is so transitory. A couple from the Netherlands, near Groningen, who live on a barge transporting goods all over Europe. The wife has a rare name – something like Timke – in the local dialect. I am not to confuse the language of Groningen with Friesian.
We are coming to the end of the voyage. I’ve written a few pages in the book – not as much as last time I think – but a few nonetheless, and will turn to it now. Cyrus and the like. Why I do it I don’t know. It was so beautiful writing last time.
I wonder why I keep on waking at 3 a.m. Almost by clockwork. I haven’t adjusted at all.
In the evening there was a captain’s dinner with nicely folded napkins. A sweet little speech from the Tour Guide Asgeir, with a toast to the old lady, as he called it, the Lofoten.
The French film director/producer/cameraman said that his travel agent told him that the Lofoten was virtually booked out for next year and for its last voyage.
December 14th, end of voyage. 6 a.m.
So our last morning. Woke up feeling anxious and panicky.
Our suitcases packed, have to be outside our doors at 10 a.m. , we arrive 2.30 p.m., Kåre and Tone pick us up and we stay overnight in the Clarion hotel in the airport.
Yesterday was a perfect day, weather wise and scenery wise. Stood on deck by the bridge watching the sea, mountains and islands passing in the bright calm sunshine, sometimes people coming up to talk and sometimes not. We had our little tour of the engine room, rather like last time only with more people, and then up to the bridge, which was in a way our favourite part. Same captain as last time and we recognized each other. He has been 10 years in the service and likes the Lofoten because of the intimacy of the crew (unlike big cruise ships), the closeness of the water.
There is so much that was interesting that it is hard to put down. In the afternoon, after a lunch that was too big, I stood on my eyrie by the bridge watching the sun gradually go down, while the perfect mountains drifted past and past. I saw things that looked like flying saucers hovering just above the horizon and Simona, who comes from a Dutch pirating family and is unfortunately a pushy believer, told me that they were just rocks that looked as if they were floating because they were over the horizon. Evetywhere there were patches of farmland on the islands, lighthouses, neatly perched and looking trim and wonderful to live in, forests, houses (country homes? dachas?) it was almost like a blessing. And then back to my labours. There was a nice little conversation with an English mother and daughter (Christine and Joanna) who came up for air in the sunset. I tried to write a bit, though it was noisy in the lounge – there is a very noisy South African/Dutch group – tried to write about the image of God in Deutero-Isaiah, I think; it’s awfully conflicted, and had a little walk in town called Kristiansund, where last time we went we saw a woman knitting on the quay, and I had my nice conversation with the captain about the future of the Hurtigruten and the Lofoten (all his predictions were correct). A walk with Kate among the Christmas lights.
Had dinner with Sam and Nurit, a Swiss couple, who are among my favourite people here. Quiet, humorous. Nurit’s mother was a survivor of Hitler’s Germany. We all had a walk in Molde (another largish town with fancy shops).
Many kinds of herring for breakfast:
And with this one, i wanted to say, How beautiful are your feet on the mountains:
Me looking grimly in engine room:
Me looking grimly in engine room:
The seat of wisdom:
Captain Amundsen on the bridge: He is explaining for the bridge communicates with the engine room
He was so interesting. He says he is able to retire when he wants (he doesn’t have to work on a big cruise ship. He’s done enough of it in Miami and elsewhere, where you have a thousand crew, fifty or sixty get off at every port, and you never know them all)
Captain Amundsen sleeps with his teddy when things are roug
Sunset on a perfect day:
The moon looks half eclipsed for some reason.
Monday December 16th. Home
The long trip home. Now sitting in the Oak Bay Beach Hotel having breakfast. A mistake, but I think simply because disoriented. Woke up about 1 thinking it was morning. Went back to sleep about 4.30 for a couple of hours.
It was a bit sad coming into Bergen, we were very tired, somewhat dreary. The weather became cloudy. Kåre met us at the dock, and we went to a restaurant to meet Tone (who was seeing her son and buying a Christmas present) – Kåre had just come from Stavanger on the ferry where he had visited his grandchildren. Things have been getting even worse with the crisis at his institution over their wish to introduce an anti-gay policy,. Unbelievable in this day and age. But it was a nice meal – nice to have one off the boat – I had Pad Thai, the others fish soup and Peking duck bowl – then we saw a magnificent gingerbread town in an old swimming pool now converted into a children’s play area. Every year children and some adults build magnificent gingerbread (in Norwegian peperkake) houses, castles, football grounds, based on buildings in Bergen, to create a huge city – the biggest in the world.
Then back to our hotel where we collapsed into bed and fell asleep, waking early. The flight passed quickly – Bergen – Amsterdam – Edmonton – Victoria, with two or three hour stopovers. And then home. We gave Alan his gjetost, bought at the duty free, borrowed milk.
Bit too much to think over. I was a little surprised at my sense of detachment.
From the gingerbread town:
Farewell to Norway: