Friday, August 13, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

And the Band Played On

We arrived in Kristiansand, Norway, around 7:00 but the ship was not cleared for passenger departure until 8:00. When Thom announced the “all clear,” we got up and dressed. We skipped breakfast this morning because there was a chance of rain and we wanted to miss it.

It turned out to be a warm sunny day and we were over-dressed. The 61F temperature quickly rose and we regretted wearing a sweat shirt and sweater, respectively. D even took off his Herstein University hat from time to time just to cool off. We walked into the little town, following others who pretended to know where they were going. Map in hand, we passed through the commercial dock and over several small bridges. From one of them, we could see what appeared to be a small marina which turned out to be an area of restaurants and bars [and a fish market]; several of the restaurants were accessible by boat and it was this that we had seen from the bridge.

Further on, we passed a sculpture garden in a public park and we decided that we would investigate this on the way back to the ship. Following the map, we made our way to Markensgate, a pedestrian shopping street. Although there was little “old’ architecture, there was plenty of shopping and even more restaurants and sidewalk cafes. We looked through several book stores and hunted once more for the elusive souvenir box from Norway but bought nothing. We were tempted by a wooden moose which had a baby moose inside [like our nesting penguins from Ushuaia] but it was over $30, more than we wanted to spend.

We walked a little way into an urban shopping center. Like Paragon in Singapore, it was a modern indoor mall spread over several floors in what was once several buildings. We rested there for a few minutes as we watched people pass by. On the way out we stopped at the first of the book sellers and had a nice chat with the young man working there about e-books and I-phones. He admitted that his telephone was as old-fashioned as ours.

We turned toward the cathedral and found ourselves in another pedestrian area. There were more bars, restaurants and coffee shops here, most with outdoor seating. Additionally, there were local vendors in the middle of the “road” selling crafts and vegetables. We saw some produce which was unfamiliar but were able to identify most of it. There was abstract artwork in the middle, too; it reminded us of some sculptures we had seen at the Pompidou Center in Paris when we visited Jon during his junior year in 1991. In the center of the next intersection was a pigeon-festooned fountain which stood directly in front of the cathedral.

We entered the cathedral just to see how a Lutheran cathedral would differ from a Catholic one. The answer is that this one was austere, to put it mildly. Although the exterior was stone, the interior was all unfinished wood. There were very few decorations on the walls; only two small stained glass windows in the front; and an oil painting at the back of the altar rather than the expected cross. The side windows were also stained glass but were somewhat monochromatic with nothing pictured on them.

The most amazing thing was that there was a full symphony orchestra rehearsing in the front of the cathedral. We have no idea what they were playing or who composed the piece, but it was haunting. D’s guess was that it was, perhaps, written by Carl Nilsson, the only modern Scandinavian composer he knows. The piece was dominated by lots of low strings and brass with lighter sections reminiscent of folk melodies. We stayed and listened for almost 30 minutes.

Once we left the cathedral, we encountered a beach volleyball game in progress in the square. We had passed by the spot on the way to the cathedral and taken a few pictures but did not realize until later that this was part of a special two-week competition. On the way back, D took some more photos especially for Ed.

We wandered more of Markensgate and then headed back in the direction of the cathedral to grab a soda at one of the cafes. We had expected to get lunch either on the ship or at the marina we saw on the way in. The waitress didn’t know about our plans and brought menus and we ended up having lunch there. We found that there were bagel sandwiches and we each ordered bagels with chorizo, mozzarella and tomato pesto which may have been plain tomato paste. The sandwiches, while not authentic Norwegian, were really good and the Cokes struck just the right note on the hot day.

After lunch we started back to the ship. We made good on our decision to see the sculpture garden only to discover that it was a sand sculpture exhibit probably tied to the beach volleyball competition. MA’s favorite was the one with a bent-over troll who was flashing a bit of plumber’s butt. We continued back to the ship by way of the fish market and passed the new concert hall which is under construction. It should be completed by the fall of 2012. Kristiansand has a variety of cultural activities including live theater, symphony orchestra and opera all of which will utilize the new venue.

The rest of the day passed like a sea day – we got drinks in the Lido; read our Kindles; chatted with Roxanne before trivia; and posted the blog from the previous two days. We came in second at trivia again, but the prize was key rings so we weren’t too upset. [What is the hardest substance in the human body? What is the largest joint in the human body? In The Sting, which actor got stung?] A player on another team asked to join us for the next segment because the rest of his team is leaving in Amsterdam and we agreed to let him. There are only three sea days on that part and we figure to be ashore during trivia time on the other days. Stay tuned.

At dinner tonight [manicotti/veal parmesan], the dining room manager Syarif [Sha-REEF], came to the table to tell us that we were all being invited to a private dinner tomorrow with Fermin, the Hotel Manager, quite an honor since he is second only to the captain on the ship. The Hotel Department has the largest staff of any division on the Prinsendam and includes the food, beverage and housekeeping departments among others. It covers almost everything not involved in moving the ship. Tomorrow is also the last formal night of the first segment, so it should be quite festive.

Tomorrow – Oslo, Norway.

Thursday, August 12, 2010 [Happy 34th Birthday, Emily]

Around and Around They Go

First thing this morning, we found an invitation to dinner with Fermin, just as Syarif had promised. We were to meet for cocktails at 8:00 in the Explorer’s Lounge. We still did not know why we had been chosen but assumed we would find out eventually. D joked that this was when they would tell us about our upgrades for the next segment, but we knew better.

We lolled around until meeting Ed & Roxanne at 10 to search for the HoHo bus. We had decided to make the whole circuit before deciding what we wanted to explore today. We saw an open HoHo pull up across the street and went to investigate. This particular bus was not picking up passengers but the driver was heading to the Cruise Passenger Dock next to us and volunteered to take us there; this saved us about five minutes of walking. We paid our money and climbed aboard while there were still seats available. We sat downstairs on the double-decker to avoid a tortuous spiral staircase to the upper deck.

Little did we know that the full round trip would take almost two hours. We saw much of the city and its tourist high points: Ibsen’s house; the artist Munch’s house; City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded; the building where the Nobel judges meet; the university’s law school; the Palace and other government buildings; and, most important to D, Vigeland Park, home to a fantastic sculpture garden. This is a must-see when we return on the next leg of the cruise.

By the time the bus returned to our starting point, there was really no time to go back. It was already 12:15. If we allowed another two hours for the bus to run its route; added a half-hour in case we just missed one; and took time for a local lunch of any kind [TGI Friday’s, anyone?], we would have only an hour to look around. This was simply too little time to do anything; in addition, Ed did not feel up to going back into town, so we checked out the little shopping area set up at the cruise pier and, lo and behold!, we found the elusive Norwegian Holy Box of MA; our lives are complete, at least for a few days. Then we walked back to the ship and got lunch in the Lido.

After lunch, Ed and Roxanne went back out to see and photograph some sailing ships which were docked near us. D went back, too, to get information about the tram to Vigeland so we don’t have to spend a small fortune for the HoHo. Just as Jay had written on Cruise Critic, tram #12 goes directly there and we can pick it up at the nearby City Hall. Now we are hoping for continued good weather like today’s.

D also crossed the street from the information booth and wandered through Akershus Fortress without going into any of the buildings. The old fortress guards Oslo’s harbor and contains the Akershus Castle or Slott [similar, probably, to the German schloss for castle]; a museum memorializing the Norwegian Resistance movement from WWII; and a military museum. Like the Tower of London, it is obviously a collection of buildings, not just one big one. Even some of the architecture is similar to the Tower’s.

There were uniformed ceremonial soldiers armed with automatic weapons at guard houses, and several were seen pacing off obviously prescribed routes. Others were seen marching into the Castle as if they were going off duty. It was all very stylized and the movements and costumes reminded D of the changing of the guard in Athens. Perhaps the highlight was seeing how the cannons were arrayed to defend Oslo from the Prinsendam.

When D returned to the ship, MA was napping, so he transferred the newest pictures from the memory card in the camera to the computer. When MA got up, we went to trivia where we stomped all over the opposition. We had 21 of 24 points today, at least 3 points more than any other team. [What four movies were the Beatles in? In The Wizard of Oz, what is Dorothy’s last name? What kind of rock is marble?]

Just before 8:00, we met Ed & Roxanne to go to the Explorer’s Lounge. When we arrived with, we were greeted by Syarif who led us to an area plastered with “reserved" placards. We were greeted by Assistant Cruise Director Kevin, whom we usually see at trivia, who kept Fermin’s seat warm for him. Shortly after Fermin arrived, two Canadian women of German birth joined us. The eight of us were to dine with Fermin. First, though, there were drinks and canapés. Even D had a glass of white zinfandel!

The conversation was stilted and stayed that way through most of the evening. We were all on our good behavior especially because we ate in the exact center of the main dining room as if we were important. There were even assigned seats with place cards. We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves or anyone else. Things loosened up toward the end but it was still a generally uncomfortable meal.

The food, however, was marvelous. There was a specially printed menu which mirrored much of the formal selections but actually had fewer courses. We had a choice of shrimps cocktail or steamed mussels for an appetizer and then either rack of lamb [D], lobster tail [MA] or fresh Norwegian halibut as an entrée. There was no soup/salad course.

At one point, the dining room got dark for the traditional march of the baked Alaska. When we started cruising 25 years ago, this was a big production with waiters parading into the dining room carrying the flaming ice cream confections. All of the diners would clap in time to the Radetsky March. Then, the flaming ice cream gave way to sparklers being stuck in the baked Alaska. Now, even the sparklers have disappeared in a wave of liability lawyers, so the waiters carried these things around in the dark while everyone hooted and clapped. It has lost its magic.

We, however, did not get the plebian dessert. We were served a white chocolate shell with chocolate mousse next to a puddle of sauced berries. It was decadent. That was followed by coffee [cappuccinos for us] and then gourmet chocolates [which we declined]. Dinner wound down around 10:20 and we returned to the cabin to read and type, respectively. We did find out why we were invited – the choice had been left to Syarif who, as noted before, seems to like us. Since Syarif will be with us – or we with him – for the next two weeks and then again next spring for 60 days, maybe we will be picked again. Maybe next year we will dine with the captain. Now that would be cool.

Tomorrow – our last sea day before Amsterdam

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