Monthly Archives: June 2015

“It’s a bingo!”

Hornsund, Svalbard (Norway)

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By lunchtime, it really felt like we were in the Arctic, with the ship breaking through the pack ice (masses of ice floating in the water) and fast ice (sea ice still attached to the coastline). Truly breathtaking. I usually stood outside on the bow just staring out into the snowy wonderland ahead. Until I lost feeling in some part of my body.

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Crushin’ it!

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At some point, we spotted a mother polar bear and her cub pacing around on the fast ice in the distance…so distant that even with binoculars, they looked itty bitty.

Rachel: “Oh, you’re so cuuuute, you cute little white dot, you!”

Side travel tip: When embarking on such adventures, ones involving spotting wildlife and all, please make sure to bring binoculars. Lucky for me, one of the crew members kept lending me his. They also sold some in the gift shop in the ship but, for a pretty hefty price. Or, as others would say, they were quite spendy.

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We explored the icebergs in our zodiacs and passed by one that was making the same sounds as a bowl of Rice Krispies in milk. Snap, crackle, pop. It was the sound of air pockets being released from the slowly melting iceberg.

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No matter how many times we went zodiac riding around ice, I never got tired of it. I was equally in awe each and every time. Nature, you are seriously incredible.

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Back on the ship, we anchored in this amazing scenery for an Arctic BBQ on the stern (back of the ship). Rack of lamb, hamburgers, sausages, ribs, grilled fish. You name it, it was probably there, sitting on my plate. There was even a dessert section with tubs of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream next to bowls of rainbow and chocolate sprinkles and, of course, warm pie. The dessert was so good, Rachel’s innermost descriptive side emerged and she went into a monologue that gave an ode to the dessert.

Rachel: “The sweetness of the cold vanilla ice cream and the tartness of the cozily warm pie just mesh so well together that they create a synergy of flavor!!” (as she pursed her lips and kissed the tips of her right hand fingers and then interlocked both of her hands to demonstrate well-meshing.)

Arctic Bingo came after dinner and, I didn’t realize how serious people were about bingo until we started playing this game. With each turn, Kevin (one of the naturalists/ornithologists) would explain the history and significance of each word, all pertaining to the Arctic, until a lady eventually shouted out annoyed, “Can you just give us the word [without the explanations]?” I believe she didn’t win anything in the end. Suck it.

Yea, well…that’s R-U-D-E rude.

So, as expected, this day was hangover recovery day. Luckily, we had no scheduled stops and had the entire day to just…be. We did get into some serious Scrabble matches during which, without a proper Scrabble dictionary on hand, some questionable words were used.

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The bow was THE place to be and as we were hanging out and chillin’ like true Arctic gangsters, dolphins appeared in the distance, jumping out and diving back into the water. A short while later, a few of them were racing with the ship, swimming alongside the bow. Amazing. What’s not amazing is the sucky picture that I ended up taking (shown above). At least you can tell it’s a dolphin. Right?

I don’t remember which day it was exactly but, it most likely was this one. Some of us went back in for a cup of tea then eventually went up for lunch. Hayden remained on his perch at the tip of the bow, not realizing that it was lunchtime, and, while I was stuffing my face with unnecessary food, a humpback whale appeared and apparently swam on its back, revealing its underside. Hayden got to witness it all, and I…just got indigestion. Dammit! Some fin whales appeared later on but, I don’t think I ever got another opportunity to see a humpback.

Before dinner, we had a “White Nights” event where the passengers were told to “embrace the bizarre” and show up in their wackiest outfits. Bedsheets and other random items found on the ship were used. One German trio dressed up as mountain peaks while others came as water spouts, Greek goddesses, etc. Miles came into the room with a small white towel on his head, made into a sort of crown. When asked what he was dressed as, he responded, “1/10th of an iceberg.” Or, in Miles’ attempt to make fun of Hayden’s Kiwi accent, “1/10th of an assbag.”

The winner ended up being Spitzy, the Knitting Walrus. Yea, it is exactly as it sounds – nonsensical and bizarre. I hope to one day have it erased from memory. In particular, the Macarena that was performed by all the participants while the judges determined the winner.

Bear Island (Bjørnøya), Norway

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We eventually reached Bear Island, the southern most island in the Svalbard archipelago. Back during World War II, a small group of German soldiers were sent here to operate a weather station only to be abandoned after losing radio contact. I believe they escaped combat altogether but, I don’t know what’s worse – fighting in the war or being stuck on an uninhabitable frozen island. It looked ominous just passing by it. I almost heard it beckon, “I dare you to try to make me habitable. I DARE YOU! MUAHAHA. Yea, thought so. Keep sailing along.”

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I’m pretty sure I took this photo at night after everyone else pretty much went to bed. Who can even tell anymore in the constant daylight? You can see how serious these Scrabble games became, although I suppose they were more like bonding moments. Miles would preface his next words by incorporating it into the conversation that was being had at the time.

Flo, spelling out the word “chip”: “Oops, it wasn’t my turn! I thought it was!”
Miles: “Yea, well, it’s my turn and that was R-U-D-E rude,” as he lay down the 4 letters.

His words were usually low-scoring ones but, I think he found the satisfaction in his randomness alone. Either way, I think my, Miles’ and Rachel’s common goal was to beat Hayden. In one game, I wasn’t the winner but, my score was higher than Hayden’s and I still felt like a winner. On our very last game of the week, we were so sure that he wasn’t going to win with his remaining 3 shitty letters. After his turn had passed using only 1 of the letters, Miles pointed out a spot where he could’ve used all 3, then proceeded to use that spot. The 3 of us all high-fived each other as if in victory but, even with all of our turns, Hayden still ended up winning. I mean, come on. Seriously?!

The northerly most Guinness challenge: lost

Tromsø, Norway

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Once on land, we took a cable car up Mt. Storsteinen for a panoramic view of the city. From there, we had the option of climbing up further on foot which Flo, Hayden and I gladly did. At a certain point, the paths were completely covered in deep snow and the trek burned my calves and thighs with the fires of hell but, once on top, I was like HELLZ YEA. Despite the cloudy day, it was awesome.

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The way back down, on the other hand, was easy, breezy, beautiful (Cover Girl). The most effective way to climb down deep snowy paths is to make a run for it. My leg, at one point, dug in so deep that the snow almost reached my knees. We then had lunch at the cable car station’s restaurant, Fjellstua. They laid out large plates full of open-faced sandwiches (called smørrebrød) with smoked salmon (raw and cooked), reindeer meat and others. I was surprised to find out that reindeer meat has the consistency of raw smoked salmon. All of it was #yummo.

On the line for the cable car back down, Hayden and I began talking to this guy behind us. He was either from the U.S. or Canada and was in town for some rocket and balloon symposium. Who knew such a thing existed? This is when I realized that I’m a mere simpleton and that there are nerdier nerds out there in this world. Phew.

Next was the Polar Museum (or Polarmuseet) which went into the history of hunting seals and whales, as well as the polar flights of Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen. Some of the dioramas portrayed hunting scenes so realistic that the panicked look in the eyes of the taxidermy seals made me sad.

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The Arctic Cathedral was unique in that it looked like an iceberg or a giant piece of vanilla cake in the middle of the city. The stained glass inside was even more illuminated by the white surroundings and gave the church a nice focal point. As the others continued to walk around, I went outside to enjoy the warm sun that had finally appeared and, in the corner somewhere on a comfortable patch of grass lay Miles.

Our visit ended at the Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden which was only in partial bloom due to the uncharacteristically cold weather. Part of the garden was an exhibition of rocks consisting of steel beams with different large rocks bolted down to them. I imagined that some sucker geology intern was commissioned to do this project for school credit. Hey, we all gotta start somewhere.

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Back on the ship, the crew had stocked up on local Norwegian beer, the Mack Arctic beer. The bartender, Garnet, told me, “Hey, there’s a polar bear on top of your beer can.” I thought he was joking and did a har-har laugh even though I didn’t get the joke at all. Well, there really was a polar bear on top of my beer can. How about that.

Earlier in the trip, Hayden challenged me to a Guinness challenge. I honestly don’t remember how the idea came up. Given that Guinness is my favorite beer, I confidently accepted the challenge fully believing that I could beat him. We decided to save it for this night since the next day would be spent at sea with no scheduled stops…meaning we had all day to get over our hangovers. On top of that, the ship’s crew band Jo-Jo and The Monkey Eating Eagles was performing this night at the Polar Bear Bar and the bar would be packed with people, some who would bear witness to my proposed victory. I talked up a big game up until this point, preaching how Koreans can seriously drink and that I could drink Guinness all day. I was ready. (Cue in Rocky theme song.)

Despite the pressure of the challenge, the night ended up being a lot of fun and even included a congo line where a bunch of us danced from the bar to the stern outside then back inside to the bar. Garnet was the lead singer and totally got the crowd going. I even got to witness more of Miles’ unique dance moves. He had given us a preview earlier in the trip, including a move where he bounces his knee and pins it down and another where he’s a coin-operated robot. I didn’t think he had it in him but, the guy can really jiggle around.

As the night simmered down, Hayden and I were at pint #7 when my head began to swirl. The challenge ended with me trying to maintain stability while Hayden then proceeded to order scotch for his next drink. Disappointment? That’s an understatement.

Cod bus? COD BUH-USSS!

Lofoten, Norway

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So, a village exists in the Lofoten archipelago off the coast of mainland Norway with only one letter in its name, Å, which is pronounced like a hybrid of “Oh” and “Au” (as in “Paul”). I always wondered who used the letter with the circle above it. It really does exist! (They do exist! Faint.)

We walked around a bit as we waited for the remaining passengers to come onshore. Miles disappeared for a bit after muttering something about making a bouquet of flowers. He reappeared some time later with a bunch of dandelions…for no particular reason.

Our first stop was the Stockfish Museum (Tørrfiskmuseum) where a guy with a sense of humor talked about the livelihood of the fishing village and showed us some mean-looking dried cod. The fish, after being captured, are hung on wooden racks outdoors to be dried by the constant winds. We were all intrigued by the drying process given that it rains so much in Norway but, apparently, it isn’t really a problem. The birds stay away from the hanging fish as they are more interested in live, fleshy ones caught from the surrounding waters. The climate in Lofoten, although above the Arctic Circle, tends to be mild due to the warm Gulf Stream currents. It’s pretty fascinating how ocean currents work.

We then boarded buses to head north through tunnels and bridges. As buses #1 and #2 were filling up, we made it to a third bus with a stuffed life-size cod toy by the front window. Fully embracing this, we proudly began to shout “Yea, cod bus!” Apparently, they weren’t able to make a proper sign to indicate “#3.” The toy was then passed around the bus for people to see what a cod looks like. I don’t know why but, I found this to be thoroughly amusing since it was just stuffed with synthetic materials and didn’t really tell much about the cod.

Reine

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Next stop was literally just to take a photo. On and off the bus within a 10 minute timespan. I bring to you the village of Reine with Mount Olstind in the background. Ain’t it pweety?

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We stopped at a blacksmith’s workshop but, instead of watching his demonstration, Hayden and I went to the small cafe next door and grabbed coffee and waffles instead. Time and money well spent, I say.

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Heading towards the village of Ramberg, we stopped along the shore for another photo opportunity. Miles found an abandoned rubber boot (that’s singular) among the rocks and attempted to throw it at Hayden’s backside. He then found a large bucket cover and began to throw it around, thus, beginning our game of ultimate frisbee. While the older people watched us with part judgmental eyes, Hans walked over eagerly with his mouth open in excitement, ready to participate. “Having fun with the garbage, I see. Once you’re done, there’s a trash bin over there.” That was one of the crew pretty much telling us to behave. Yea.

Nusfjord

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Before heading to lunch, we wandered around a bit in another fishing village with amazing views of the fjord and several exhibitions detailing the history of the local fishing industry.

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And, per usual, Hayden and I found a spot to stare out into the abyss and contemplate life. This is one of my favorite photos. As obviously noted, the photo was [secretly] taken by Sylvia, a fellow ship passenger who I now refer to as “big sis” and who is often seen with a lens so large, she carries it around in what looks like a baby bjorn. No joke.

Lunch was traditional Norwegian which included, big surprise, cod and several kinds of pickeled herring. Pretty tasty. A few days earlier, Hayden had taught us the concept of “cah-caw,” which involves making said noise as you steal food from someone else’s plate. I believe it is meant to be a distraction mechanism. I also believe it’s dumb, even though I am an active participant. Cah-cawing definitely occurred during this meal.

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Above is a fjord so vast and gorgeous, you fall into life contemplation whether you intended to or not.

Afterwards, we headed to Borg and visited the Viking Museum which had a replica of the largest building to be found in Norway from the Viking period. The reconstruction was really nicely done and seemed pretty cozy inside. The real treat, however, were the ice cream bars that we bought back at the visitor’s center which totally added to the school trip feel. We then headed to Storvågan to visit an aquarium. It felt strange being there when we’ve been seeing wildlife in its natural habitat from the viewpoint of the ship. Clearly not impressed, Hayden and I grabbed some local beers and sat outside for a bit of drinky drinky. From coffee and waffles to ice cream bars to beer. What a great outing.

Finally, we headed to Svolvær where we reboarded the ship. As we stood on line to ride the zodiacs, one man accidentally pulled on a cord and activated his life jacket. He turned so red from embarrassment, he camouflaged into the sea of red G Expedition jackets. Poor dude. (FYI – included in the trip cost is a red water resistant Thinsulate coat which you can opt out of getting. Warm rubber boots are also provided for temporary use, mandatory to wear in the Arctic.)

The line then ended up being so long that Rachel, Miles, Hayden and I began coming up with song titles and lyrics with fish puns to pass the time:

Like a Sturgeon (Madonna)
What if Cod Was One of Us (Joan Osborne)
Salmon (as in Jammin, Bob Marley)
Stairway to Herring (Led Zeppelin) – This one was contributed by Paul.
Live Your Life (the chorus: mai AHI mai TUNA, T.I. Feat. Rihanna)
Bootylicious (“I don’t think you’re ready…for this jelly-fish,” Destiny’s Child)

If you can top this, let me know.

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Photo credit: Hayden, using his GoPro

Trollfjorden

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A short while later, we made an entrance into Trollfjorden in all its majestic glory. As we slowly made our way in, classical music was blasting from the speakers, in particular the Peer Gynt Suite composed by the Norwegian Edvard Grieg. Majestic to a whole other level.

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Hayden, Flo, Rachel, Miles and me, affectionately known as the Norwegian Fjord Crew. (Photo credit: Hayden)

Initially, I was drawn to Norway because of the amazing nature photos I’ve seen but, after learning about some of its history, I began to respect the country at a whole other level. Due to its past suffering with extreme poverty, the country has been smart with its newfound oil wealth, saving over 95% of the profits and providing its citizens with an amazing social welfare system. Taxes are high as a result but, after knowing the reasons behind it, you realize that it’s serving a larger purpose. The Norwegians are also some of the nicest people I’ve met. They are welcoming to people no matter the origin and, after the atrocious 2011 terrorist incident, the Norwegians are more unified than ever. Yup, respect at a whole other level.

I’ve seen glaciers.

Svartisen, Norway

By 8:30am, the fast hikers were down in the mud room with life jackets on, ready to swipe out and embark on the zodiacs. We had the system down pat, now that we’ve been doing it for about a week. We were about to swipe out when the line stopped at 2 women, one with the tip of her card hesitating at the card reader. “I’ve already seen glaciers.” They looked at each other and nodded in agreement. And, so, they stayed on the ship. You couldn’t be more “been there, done that biotch.”

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Once on land, it was a short walk to the cafe which some people took a 2 minute bus ride to. Rain was on and off, from a drizzle to actual rainfall to mist, with the cycle continuing on in different combinations. Proper waterproof gear made it completely bearable. No joke. And, I’m talking about waterproof hiking shoes, waterproof pants and waterproof jacket with hood.

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Past the cafe, we walked a bit more along flat paths until we reached a brook which people were struggling to cross. I turned my head and found Miles sitting on a rock next to a tree looking all forget-this. Hayden and I yelled out to him to get his ass up and come along. Peer pressure was easy to execute. We then reached straight up boulders. This is when I had to bust out some parkouring and tiger crane style rock climbing. It was slippery in parts due to the rain but being face to face with a glacier was AH-FREAKIN-MAZINGGGGG!! Yea, I’ve seen glaciers before but this one was still a different experience. It was blue and majestic and all things freaking cool. This is the second largest glacier in Norway. Sweet.

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Kevin, one of the CEO’s, led the way to scope out any dangerous parts. The trail was supposedly marked clearly with large white arrows but, at certain times, the arrows just seemed to disappear and then reappear much further down. As 15-20 of us were making our way to the glacier, he told us to be cautious of the glacier, not that anything would happen. We all rebelliously touched the ice. Hayden then licked it and Miles drank the water flowing out of it. I gave it an innocent hug.

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After about 3 or so hours of hiking total, we made it back to the cafe for some Norwegian potato flatbreads (called lefse) and coffee. It was pretty much a tortilla lined with butter and sugar. It felt good to take off my watery jacket but, the feeling of putting back on damp clothing was definitely unpleasant.

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Back on the ship, we left all our wet gear in the mud room to dry. Having the mud room is a genius idea. After people started realizing that it was a great place to dry things, people began to hang up their hand-washed clothing. It started out innocently with shirts and socks. Then came the full on high-waisted granny panties and pink pajama pants. I guess we were becoming family or, people were at an age where giving a shit wasn’t even a consideration.

Vikingen

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In the afternoon, the sun had come out and was shining warmly onto the bow (front of the ship). The crew decided it was safe to have a champagne toast on the bow for crossing the Arctic Circle. We had already passed the Arctic Circle around 4am but, we made our way back to cross it in style. Before heading out, we spotted what looked like an official government ship next to us with something in Norwegian written on the side. We stared out the window and wondered out loud when suddenly Hans popped out of nowhere and said “It’s the coast guard. They’re probably wondering why we came back and keep circling around.” Before even reacting to what he said, we were all like “Where did he come from??” As someone described it, “He’s a whack-a-mole that can’t be whacked back in.”

We took a group photo on the bow as we passed the tiny uninhabitable island of Vikingen where a marker pointed out the Arctic Circle. It was definitely a unifying moment.

Petter and the giant hole

Brønnøy, Norway

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We approached the Torghatten mountain, located on Torget Island. To most, it’s a cool mountain with a hole in the middle of it which was apparently created when a troll, realizing he couldn’t get the girl he wanted, released an arrow to kill her only to have it intercepted by a hat thrown in its path by a troll-king. The hat turned into the mountain and the arrow-piercing into the hole. To me, it looked like a giant…asshole. A really cool one but, still, an asshole.

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If I remember correctly, the hike up to the hole, through it and down to the other side probably took about an hour or so and the round trip about 2 hours total. Once we reached it, a bunch of us began shouting into it to experiment with its echoing effect. “Hellooooo!” “Gianttttt holeeee!”

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After walking through to the other side, there was…

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…a mermaid! Kidding, it was just me. Trying to do a mermaid pose. The guy taking the photo (Percy) took a bunch of shots in an attempt to figure out how to use the functions on my camera. My obliques could not take it any longer and I ended up looking like I was trying to do a model pose. A botched one.

On the way back, Hayden and I passed by an abandoned building and we began to explore. Anything abandoned piqued Hayden’s interest. Looking in the windows, the inside just looked damn creepy. Random chairs left behind and piles of insulation sitting in dust. The roof was in disrepair and tiles were misplaced all throughout.

Miles had a habit of just sitting on some patch of grass on almost every excursion and opting out of doing any activities, except for those times we successfully peer pressured him into hiking with us. At some point during the trip, one guy asked Miles if he was looking forward to seeing some fjord or doing some hike. His reply, “I think I’m just going to sit on the meadow and find some flowers to nestle in.” Next to this abandoned building was a field of wild flowers and surprisingly, no Miles was to be found.

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Before heading back to the zodiacs, Hayden and I explored a bit more and sat in the sun for a bit. I guess it became our thing to sit on a rock or hill and stare out into the abyss. I didn’t realize just how much we did it until other people’s photos started surfacing on Facebook. Nice place to sit? Scenery that can be stared at for hours? We were probably there. It also became a routine for Hayden to google map where we were each day and to Wikipedia the history behind each place, as long as he had service on his phone. Self-sufficient tour guiding badge – successfully earned.

Alstahaug

After lunch, we headed to Alstahaug, home of the late poet, Petter Dass. A really modern-looking museum showcased exhibitions of his life and, during a biographical film, the darkened room was filled with random pockets of light and ringtones. Clearly, people were way more occupied with the free wifi than they were with the history of Petter Dass. Honestly, the only thing I remembered was that he had a child out of wedlock (bow chicka wow wow) and had to seek pardon from the Danish king to become appointed parish priest in this town. Also, one room in his house had psychedelic colors swirled all around the walls (maybe a sex room?).

So, who was Petter Dass? I still have no freakin idea.

Later that night, we attempted to watch a silent black-and-white film documenting Roald Amundsen’s and Lincoln Ellsworth’s flight to the North Pole in 1925. It was literally silent, not even background music. Normally, we don’t like leaving movies before it ends but, we suffered through this one enough to say “fuck it” and head straight to the bar. No regrets.

All about that (military) base

Trondheim, Norway

After landing in the island of Munkholmen (off of Trondheim), the guys asked, “So, what exactly are we going to do here for 2 hours?” “Who the hell knows.”

Miles began to whistle the Jurassic Park theme song as we walked into the main building. “Uh, not exactly the right place for that song.” There was nothing jungle-like about this place. In fact, it was desolate and only remotely interesting at best. After a brief introduction, we wandered around what used to be a place of execution and where the Vikings displayed the heads of their beheaded enemies, then a home for Benedictine monks, a fort and state prison, a military base during the World War II German occupation and, finally, a tourist attraction. What a turn of events. The basement where the prisoners were held definitely would’ve driven even the most calm, meditative person crazy. Damp, with no window to the outside world, in a space where the shortest person couldn’t even stand up tall. Another room had acoustics so wonky that after saying a few words out loud, I thought I had been somehow sucked into my own head with nothing but my own thoughts. Another form of prison.

And, with that, we wandered outside among the anti-aircraft gun turrets. A few people went inside the turret chamber which had small window openings. Miles had a plumber situation going on and further pulled down his pants to flash the poor spectators inside through the window. And, that was pretty much what we did on this island.

We all sat at a picnic table to wait for the zodiacs back to the ship. On the first day of this trip, I was overwhelmed not only by the amount of food provided during our 3 meals but also the amount of snacks provided in the interim. As the days passed, however, I found myself watching the clock in anticipation of snack time. So, at this very picnic table, someone began a false rumor that hot dogs would be provided as a snack. I don’t know who it was or why it was said out loud but, I reacted as any gluttonous monster would react – with ravenous glee. “REALLY? WHEN?”

There were no hot dogs. And, I’ve officially become an eating machine.

Ørland (Austrått)

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Later that afternoon, we visited a manor house that was built sometime in the 10th century. A fire in 1916 almost ruined everything within the house but, luckily, many of the artwork and religious items had been rescued from the chapel. We were able to look inside to the bedchamber which used to have its own toilet in the corner. Imagine the smell. Apparently, it was common for the residents to welcome their guests into the house even while they were active on the bowl.

Guest: “Why, hello there, dear Olav, how is…?”
Olav: (in the midst of pushing out a brick, he motions for his guest to hold on for a minute.) “Ahhhhhh! Welcome to my manor! Now, what were you asking?”

At least, that’s how I imagined it.

One thing I noticed was that there were separate beds for the husband and wife. Separate twin-sized beds. They must’ve not been the cuddling type. Or, as Hayden and I imagined, while the majority of the nights were probably leave me alone nights, there was probably a separate sex room filled with candles and rose petals to be used only for those very special occasions. One very wild tryst amongst the romantic candles may have been what caused the fire in 1916. Your guess is as good as mine.

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Our last stop was the most memorable…because it was undoubtedly eerie. It was a fort and military/artillery site during the German occupation in World War II. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a huge gun turret with triple canons that was transferred onto land from the damaged German battleship, Gneisenau. We had the chance to explore underneath, deep into the battery. As we approached the entrance to it all, someone found one blue latex glove lying on the ground.

Lady: “Should we be worried?”
Tour guide: “I don’t know why that’s here.” …as he picked it up and hid it behind a bush.
Another person: “What is that truck over there? Is it an old military truck?”
Tour guide: “Uhhh, I’ve never seen that truck before.”

I thought maybe the two findings were related somehow and that maybe I was walking into my doom. A blue latex glove for a clean murder and a military truck for a quick getaway. And, maybe I watch too much Law & Order and CSI.

Inside, we walked from rooms full of ammunition and machinery to rooms where the soldiers bunked and ate their meals. Treating their soldiers well, the Germans installed showers equipped with a water boiler and toilets in individual stalls. One particular stall was reserved for people of high ranking only. It looked like all the other stalls so, I have no idea what made it special. Possibly an unlimited supply of Charmin and an automated air freshener.

The tour ended directly underneath the turret, the 5 levels of the most efficiently organized and synchronized machinery I’ve ever seen. Each level operated in a circular motion, together in unison, from supplying the missiles to feeding them into the guns with large capsules of gunpowder to aiming at enemy ships and so on. This space is not for the claustrophobic. I was in awe.

(Note: I didn’t take any photos on this day for some reason. All photo credit goes to Hayden.)

The night ended with a badly dubbed Norwegian version of The Blair Witch Project – The Troll Hunter. Not everyone made it to the ending, which, by the way, was an excerpt written in Norwegian. While Hayden and I wondered what it said, Hans (an older Norwegian man living in the states) popped up from his chair to translate, an occurrence which became common throughout our stay. He somehow would always pop up out of nowhere whenever we needed something translated from Norwegian. Anyway, all the excerpt seemed to say was that the people filming were never found but, the footage (this movie) somehow survived…

Yea, uh-huh.

Garrahnger? Gayrahnger? Yea, that fjord.

Geiranger, Norway

As the days went on, I began to really appreciate the demographics on the ship. A lot of the older couples had so many stories to share that it opened my eyes to the adventurous lives they’ve been living. One couple had their honeymoon back in the 70s in the former Yugoslavia. The husband ate what he thought was a really great meal until it didn’t feel that way back at the hotel later that night. Luckily, there was a bathroom down the hall exterior to their room. “No such sounds should be heard by a newlywed wife on her honeymoon!”

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So, the reason why we were rushed out of the glacier the day before was so that the ship can make its way to this fjord before the morning rush of other cruise ships. By the time we arrived in the morning, some were already there but, they ended up canceling their scheduled stops since the trail to the very top wasn’t yet open due to weather conditions. Score.

We rode the zodiacs to the dock for the first time after the ship anchored and it was completely awesome. But, when on land, we boarded yet another coach bus that took us up the mountain for a view of Geirangerfjord, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site collectively known as “The West Norwegian Fjords.” It was a struggle to not fall asleep in the slow-moving coach bus with the soft, monotone voice of the tour guide emanating from the speakers. Yes, the struggle was real.

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After making a stop for a side view of the fjord, we made our way to a lake area before heading back down past the Seven Sisters Waterfall (only 3 could be seen since it’s been unseasonably cold) and up another road for a frontal view of the fjord. From there, we had the option of walking back down to the village, passing through a visitor’s center where Hayden and I made the mistake of watching a slideshow of the fjord. We thought it would be more informative but, it ended up being just straight up photos with Ross Geller synthesizer music playing in surround sound.

By the time we made it back down, we realized there was a hipster cafe where we could’ve spent the time instead with some snobbish cups of flat whites and trendy chocolates (not trying to be sarcastic!). Unfortunately, time had run out and we had to head back to the ship. This was the last decent cafe that we passed. Sigh. Can we say “first world problems?” Yes, yes we can. Obama for president, 2008.

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During the Q&A session at the end of a presentation, Miles shot his hand up in the air.

Miles: “So, where exactly is the eastern part of Norway?”
Presenter: “Um, not to be flippant but, the eastern part of Norway is in…the eastern part of the country. I’m not sure what you’re really trying to ask…?”

And, thus, began a string of seemingly easy and random questions which, to Miles’ defense, were just good questions that were poorly worded. Highly amusing but, poorly worded.

As the days passed (or, rather, I should say nights), Rachel, Miles, Hayden and I became regulars at the Polar Bear Bar. With the increasing hours of daylight, it was hard to tell how late it was. Very dangerous for someone who highly appreciates day-drinking. Before I even approached the bar, the bartenders would ask, “Guinness?” That’s when you know that you might have a problem…and a credit card tab sure to make the miserly cringe with judgment. There was also a pianist/singer on board performing songs from the past and present, and each night would inevitably turn into sing-along sessions. Bohemian Rhapsody was such a highlight that it warranted an encore performance at the end of the trip. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? …doesn’t really matter to me.

Navigate that ship into that fjord at an accelerating pace

Olden, Norway

We headed towards Norway to Nordfjorden and the view was what? FREAKIN’ AMAZING.

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After we docked in the town of Olden, the 4 of us stood a little behind to let the mad dash of people disembark first. We waited a bit around the reception area where the walls were filled with postings about wildlife and the areas we would be visiting. One posting listed the different kinds of whales and dolphins and, judging from the drawings alone, we determined which ones were the happiest and which ones were the saddest and, therefore, needed therapy. Naturally, the beluga whales seemed the happiest as they have permanent smiles plastered on their faces. I don’t remember which one seemed the saddest. Maybe it was me. Kidding, I’m not sad. And, with that, we declared ourselves certified marine biologists.

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We took a bus ride from the port through tunnels and narrow roads to a visitor’s center. From here, we had the option of walking all the way to the Briksdal Glacier or, taking a golf cart to a viewing point. Miles, Hayden and I walked that shit and powered through the rain. Once we reached the glacier, we were told to make our way back. Stat. The tight scheduling and the bus rides made it feel like a school trip, except with nice coach buses instead of the yellow cheese ones.

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Rebellious, we started taking some photos until we were told that we really needed to start heading back. And so, we began to walk back…and then started to discuss social media and current pop as we hurried along. Miles was completely unaware of emoji’s and Instagram (even though he unknowingly had an account already). But, he did know Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Lorde’s “Royals” albeit with the wrong lyrics.

Miles: “La la diamond in the roughhh…”
Hayden: “Uh, those aren’t the lyrics…”

Back at the bus, Miles unzipped his jacket to reveal a button-down shirt, now in a darker shade. That’s what you get for wearing a cotton button-down shirt for a hike. There was more condensation on the inside than on the outside.

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At dinner, we started talking about favorite movies. Rachel’s is Amelie, Hayden’s is Donnie Darko (which I still don’t get) and I got all deep with The Shawshank Redemption. Miles needed some time to think about it. Ten minutes later…

Miles: “Okay, I got it. Waterboy.”

Uh, what? Of all movies. Waterboy?

We ended the night watching a film on the Shetland Islands and had a bet on who would fall asleep first. Up until then, I’ve successfully fallen asleep at some point during all the presentations given by the historians/scientists and even during the daily recaps and briefings. I tried so hard to stay awake. I really did. I even flicked off Rachel and Hayden for checking on me to see if I was still awake. That was the last I remembered before opening my eyes to the credits.

Hayden: “I saw you sleeping.”

Damn.

Shetland? No, it’s Shetland.

Shetland Islands, Scotland

“Gooood morning everyone. It is now 6:30am. Breakfast will be served from 7 – 8am.”

In the beginning, the morning wake up intercom announcements were soothing with her nice calm voice. But, gradually, it began to make your eye twitch. Then, by the end, you almost couldn’t survive without it. I actually had the intention of recording it and making it my alarm ringtone, except that I had stayed up at the bar the night before and overslept. I had 3 weeks to record it and I saved it for the very last night. Of course.

So, for this day, we had a choice between the puffin bus which meant that we would spend the day puffin-watching or, Jarlshof, another Neolithic/Bronze Age/Iron Age archaeological site, with a brief 10 minute stop to see the puffins. A Scotsman and historian had told us the night before that due to the rising tides and the high possibility of erosion, the ruins should be a priority. And, so, we chose the puffin bus. We, as in Flo, Hayden and me. The Orkney ruins were enough.

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Our bird-watching tour guide was of the overly enthusiastic kind who rolled her r’s with the gracefulness of a Spaniard. Or, just anyone who can roll their r’s (not me, sad face). Her common phrases of enthusiasm were “Yeeha!!” and “There you go!!” The excitement was admirable on one hand and so damn annoying on the other.

So, we docked in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, and headed for the bird cliffs and lighthouse in Scumburgh…Scumbag…ah, sorry, Sumburgh Head (a Miles reference). The cliffs were filled with several kinds of birds, mainly razorbills, fulmars and puffins. The overly enthusiastic tour guide shouted in a thick Scottish accent, “Yeeha!! Look! Fulmars! There you go! All here for your enjoyment!” If any of you see me in person, I will do an impression for you, complete with an atrocious Scottish accent. I promise that it will be bad.

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Usually the puffins avoid the cliffs when it is too windy. Luckily they stuck around because the winds were so strong that my youthful hands quickly aged to granny status as my gloveless hands tried to take photos. It was fun watching the puffins trying to land in the fierce winds as they slammed into the cliff side. Hayden and I tried to get photos and video clips of the puffin taking off, except the one we chose to concentrate on decided to chill for awhile like a little bastard. When we turned to watch another puffin 10-15 minutes later, the little bastard took off! That motherpuffer.

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“Puffins! Yeeha! There you go!!”

“Puffins tend to find one mate and stick with the same mate throughout its life. That is love!”

I think I scoffed a bit when I heard that bit. Perhaps I’ve been made a skeptic these past few years.

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Apparently, the female fulmars just perch themselves on the cliff while the males flutter around them in an attempt to attract them. An elderly lady came up with a dainty courtship story that explained what was going on. Very “Aw, the male is trying to put a red rose corsage on her wrist.” Very Little House on the Prairie. Hayden and I, on the other hand, modernized it with a NYC twist.

Fluttering male fulmar: “Hey, look at meee! Look at mah moves!”
Female fulmar, just chillin’ on the cliff: “Damnnnnn son!”

Forget walks on the beach in moonlight. This is true romance. The male fulmar could’ve even been wearing some gold chains around its neck.

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On the bus ride back to the port, we passed by fields of Shetland ponies with locks of hair fluttering sexily in the breeze. Mine just flew across my face, blinding my vision and getting stuck in my mouth.

Later that night, the ship entered Norwegian waters and for awhile, we were surrounded by oil rigs. I’m talking 360 degrees of oil rigs. A bit cool and eerie at the same time. I suggested a game of punch oil rig (as in, punch buggy) but, people just courtesy-laughed and went about their night.