Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Nordic Explorer - Oslo

The sea journey from Copenhagen to Oslo is not very long, which gave us the opportunity to arrive in the early hours of the following morning in brilliant sunny weather. It was like sailing up the Derwent River to Hobart.
Even a naval escort?  Keep dreaming!

This introduction augured well for a great visit, and with Jan feeling so much better, we were looking forward to the day ahead.

The ship docked close to the city right in front of Akershus fortress (see below). We explored this fortress later in the day and I will tell you more toward the end of this blog chapter.

'Marina' in Oslo - a lovely setting!
Views of the fortress Akershus from the 'Marina'
The brochures will tell you that 'Oslo radiates with natural beauty and sophistication'. We would like to add that it also has a rich and colourful history, especially the viking era with its fascinating seafaring experiences. You will remember that we spoke a little about this in the last blog chapter about Copenhagen. It really is a fascinating story and to walk through the corridors of that history is a special experience to the point where it dominated our Oslo visit.

But to get a feel for the city we began our sightseeing on an open tourist bus, finally getting off at the Viking Ships Museum:
Looks like a church, but really is a kind of 'time warp' that transports you back to the Viking era.

The ships on display here are well preserved and serve as excellent examples of the Viking period, including the Viking daring initiatives and ship building craftsmanship.

For the history of Viking ships, I prefer to quote from those who have studied the history of these various finds, beginning with the Gokstad. 
On the Gokstad farm in Sandefjord, there was a large burial mound. In the autumn of 1879, the two teenage sons on the farm were bored and began to dig into the mound to see if they could find anything interesting. And they certainly did!
The Gokstad ship was built in about 850, at the height of the Viking period. The ship could be both sailed and rowed. There are 16 oar holes on each side of the ship. With oarsmen, steersman and lookout, that would have meant a crew of 34. The ship is made of oak and is clinker-built. At the time of burial, 32 shields were fixed to each side of the ship. Museum of Cultural History
The Gokstad at the time of excavation and below
On display in the Oslo Viking Museum

There is no doubt that the centre piece of this museum is the Viking boat Oseberg. It is a majestic sight and surely was the pride of the viking fleet in its day. 
 A truly majestic creation!

Its origin and history make interesting reading:
The Oseberg ship was built in western Norway around the year 820. It is made of oak.
For whoever built the Oseberg ship, it must have been very important to make it a particularly handsome vessel. He or she used great resources in having the ship decorated. Beautiful animal ornamentation has been carved from the keel, down below the waterline, and up along the bow post, which ends in a snake's head of twisting spiral. Such a richly decorated ship must surely have been reserved for special members of the aristocracy. Museum of Cultural History
  Its prow and stern are elaborately carved.
The details above gives you a real idea of the craftsmanship of the vikings.
At the excavation more than a hundred years ago!
The Museum of Cultural History tells us that in the year 834, two prosperous women died. The Oseberg ship was pulled ashore and used as a burial ship for the two ladies. A burial chamber was dug right behind the ship's mast. Inside, the walls were decorated with fantastic woven tapestries and the dead women lay on a raised bed. The women had a number of burial gifts with them. There were personal items such as clothes, shoes and combs, ship's equipment, kitchen equipment, farm equipment, three ornate sledges and a working sledge, a wagon, five carved animal heads, five beds and two tents. There were fifteen horses, six dogs and two small cows.

Investigation of the skeletons showed that the older woman was about 70 to 80 when she died, probably of cancer. The other woman was younger, a little over 50. We do not know what she died of. Both of them must have held a special position in the community to have been given a grave such as this; were they political or religious leaders?
Other websites give slightly different versions of what may have been the history of the strange burial. Suffice to say, it is an intriguing story!

What we can say with certainty is that we saw some of the relics recovered, including:
Not bad looking boots, considering their age!
Above: what was found
Below: The restored item on display

A set of weaving tablets threaded to an unfinished strip of woven cloth 
was discovered in the Oseberg burial 

In this amazing collection, one could not help but be impressed by both the original minds and craftsmanship dating back some 1200 years. Equally, we were just so impressed by the excellent restoration work and how well the art effects are  cared for . This museum is worth a visit, allowing plenty of time.

To complete my ravings about this part of our story, let me leave you with more photos of the things that we so enjoyed seeing:

Beautifully carved sledge 
And not to be outdone, this amazing carved carriage.
Good to see teachers making excellent use of this education exhibit

The final pic in the Museum. We have many more, but are sure 
you got the message that we really enjoyed the visit to the Viking Ships Museum

After that, one could reasonably presume that what we have seen and learned is enough for one day. Not so! We chose to walk to the commuter ferry terminal and catch a ferry back to the ship. All very pretty:
 And yes, it is still sunny!

Overlooking the main harbour
Look at that collapsed pier!!

We completed our sightseeing of Oslo by exploring Akershus. This fortress dates back to the 13th century and is a good place to relax, enjoy the views and be in touch with a previous era. It has mostly been a military establishment and was also occupied by the Germans during World War II.

And finally back to our ship, patiently waiting and carefully guarded by a very old canon

We hope that you have enjoyed this blog chapter. We certainly enjoyed the history lesson in the Viking Museum and now look forward to a day at sea before entering the Noord Willems Canal to Amsterdam

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Nordic Explorer - Copenhagen

Copenhagen, a place I had not been before and of which I had great expectations. But with just a day available to explore this city, I was personally a bit disappointed and had expected more. Always a danger to build up too great an expectation. Even so, we had a pretty good time and after all it was ........

22 September!  Happy birthday Jeanette!

We started far too early and caught the first shuttle bus that dropped us near the city centre. Being a Sunday, we hardly saw a soul for the first hour at least.

This was a little later with a few more tourists.

Wandering in what we were told is the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, we came across the Lutheran St Nicholas cathedral and enjoyed just sitting inside it and prayed and meditated while parishioners prepared for the morning service.
 St Nicholas Church
 Beautiful interior

Close to starting time we were advised by the verger that the church was closed for tourists and would we kindly leave. By now we had struck a conversation with a person who told us she had been a priest in the church and we were most welcome to join them. The verger was advised accordingly. Glad we stayed.

Promptly at 10 am, and with only about twenty folk in the church, the organ played a prelude. A beautiful sound that we both loved. Wonderful use of the flutes and delicious reed stops. It quieted our hearts and were thankful to God for being near us.
A large church for only twenty folk

A visit to the national museum was informative. Some incredible items going back many centuries, indeed some twelve hundred years and more, had us in a virtual time warp! Most of the items exhibited were from the Viking era and once again, it is notable that religion played such a prominent part in the lives of both the nobility and the peasants.

 Fascinating to see ancient pottery and jewelery. Great craftsmanship!
 And Amazing Collection that enthralled us!
The above and below gives some idea of how the aristocracy and wealthy merchants lived.
I have seen many old Bibles and Korans, but this Bible is amazing!

We concluded our very short walk through the museum by looking at the remains of a Viking ship - dating back to about 1000AD. The museum curator had cleverly imposed a kind of metal overlay over the remains that were recovered. It gave an excellent impression how big this ship was in its day.


A caption about this treasure reads:
'Roskilde 6 is the longest ship from the Viking Age - 37 meters long and 4 meters wide. The keel and a large section of the hull were still preserved when the ship was excavated from the Roskilde Fjord in 1996/97. Growth rings in the timber show that the ship was made from oak from the Oslo Fjord region, felled around 1025, and that it was repaired sometime  after 1039 in the Baltic. Roskilde 6 had 39 pairs of oars. There were up to 100 men on board.'
 A truly fascinating relic of from almost a millennia ago! Wow!

The above is only a small sample of the many treasures we saw in the National Museum. We felt very privileged and were mentally stimulated as well as physically whacked. It was great and we were quite content to return to Marina to prepare for an evening with the Dirksens and Shirers and celebrate both Jan and Bruce's birthdays.

Once back in our room, we opened a bottle of French Champagne to privately celebrate Jan's big day. Then to the Polo Grill, a fantastic restaurant. It was a delightful and relaxing evening. I chose the steak for my main course while the others chose the lobster - always a good choice. In fact, I have enjoyed more lobster on this ship than at any other time! For desert, the crew presented the celebrities with a small birthday cake and gave a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' that I am sure was sincere and energetic, but perhaps not quite musical. It was a nice touch.
With Larry, Mary-Beth, Bruce & Linda

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Nordic Explorer - Warnemunde

The weather continued to be most kind. Autumn in the Baltic Sea is often marginal according to what we had been told. But, by the kindness of the Almighty, we enjoyed magnificent weather that had temperatures in the low twenties (celcius, of course!). The seas were calm, the full day at sea comfortable and relaxing, the company pretty fantastic, the food uncomfortably (at times) delicious......hmmm, better not say any more.

Our next port was Warnemunde in noethern Germany, a delightful seaside resort with a very extensive harbour that goes as far as Rolstock. From what we read, Rolstock was well worth a visit, but in the end, the big surprise was the enjoyable Warnemunde experience.
Our first view of Warnemunde

Many of our fellow cruise guests decided that they would take a day trip to Berlin - a twelve hour journey with some eight hours spent on the autobahn! That did not sound too enticing and having been to Berlin before, I suggested that perhaps we would be better to avoid the long autobahn ride with all its fumes, and settle for the 'taste of Warnemunde and Rolstock'.  Jan happily agreed to my suggestions.

For us it was a  more leisurely start, enjoying a scrumptious breakfast and then a short walk into Warnemunde. We were not disappointed! It is advertised as a seaside resort and while the summer season was over, we could understand people wishing to spend time here.

 Quiet and relaxing!
We could imagine thousands of people on the beaches here, enjoying sailing, swimming etc

 It is foremost a seafarers' town, with the harbour dominant. Sea rescue is obviously big in Warnemunde with lots of evidence how important this service is to the community. Like:

Paintings of sea rescue in action 

   Left: in olden days.

Above: in present days.

I love the contrast of the past with the present. Perhaps, it was no better illustrated then in the next photograph with commercial shipping, cruise ships, tall ship activity and recreational activities on the sea:

The theme also continued in the the main church, which was clearly a 'mariners' church, judging by the maritime inclusions:
Please click to enlarge. The carvings on this altar piece are beautiful.
Note the maritime theme on the right near the pulpit and in the picture below.

Even Captain Hook made his presence known. 
And no, I did not pinch his hook. Maybe Peter Pan beat me to it.

This place has lovely architecture. Everything is so clean and neat! Locals tell me it is typical  German. We enjoyed the leisurely walk through the streets, snapping photos as we went:
 Where are the people? Being Saturday, it looked they were all at the market.
  And to Jan's great delight.....more 'abundant' flowers.

Once again, the photos below demonstrate again the contrasts in Warnemunde.
Above, a new building in the style of an old warehouse, while below a trading spot for zwiebelschuppen, which I understand means, 'onion soup'. OK, I'll accept a bowl full.
 But the story about the next picture is a puzzle. Another view perhaps?

I rather like the next couple of photographs of a sculpture that depicts a civic parade. I remember as a child in the Netherlands how the community enjoyed street parades with bands and flags and whatever. I am sure that this also a great German tradition. I can't quite work out the lady at the end who it appears is the object of this parade.Maybe my German friends can enlighten me.
Wandering back to the railway station, we decided a train trip to Rolstock was too tempting to resist.

Rolstock was founded almost 800 years ago and being so close to the Baltic Sea has a rich shipbuilding and fishing history. We enjoyed a lunch in the city and made use of the wifi facilities at a cafe. The people were friendly and very helpful. Jan took the opportunity of walking into an optometrist shop with  her broken spectacles and asked if they could help her. They were most obliging and repaired this essential piece of equipment. When we asked how much we owed them, they waved the cost aside. It was their pleasure. What do we say? Wunderbar? Perhaps vielen dank was more appropriate! But we were impressed!

We had a great day and loved all of it. Back by ferry seemed a sensible way to go. We boarded a ferry full of German tourists. I tried to connect and with some difficulty had a conversation with an older man who was visiting Rolstrock. Maybe one day, I'll speak German more fluently.
Leaving Rolstock by ferry. Love that three-master!

As mentioned earlier. Rolstock and Warnemunde are active ports and have a strong shipbuilding industry like can be observed from the above picture looking towards a river boat yard.
Once back in Warnemunde we saw these two beautiful old Dutch boats and could not resist having a look at them. The one above was occupied by, what appeared a congregation of grieving people. We think it was a memorial service.
By now we were more than happy to call it a day and were pleased not to have gone to Berlin. As the sun began its journey towards sunset, so we enjoyed the view below with a drink. Proost!