EPILOGUE – 5 MARCH 2013

I want to thank all of you who followed my adventure to see the Northern Lights and the many nice remarks made by many of you. My mind will be forever,wandering around all the places I went, the people I met, the fun I had, the experiences and, most of all, all the aurorae I was finally able to see with my own eyes. And, I want to thank my traveling companions during the Finland part of my trip. Y’all were such a big part of the success and enjoyment and it is wonderful to still be in contact with many of you.

I would also like to congratulate ME!!! I have wanted to see The Lights for so long and, as the years passed by, thought it would probably not happen. When this opportunity arose, I had to think long and hard whether or not to go. I have decided to share with you what was influencing my decision.

The first consideration was my age. During much of my life, probably due to good genes, I have looked younger than I am. I really wasn’t going to say anything about it during my trip, but it was clear I was not as agile, etc of most of the others. The word eventually got out that this year will be my 70th “circle around the sun”!! Regardless of my athletic career many years ago, age does catch up with you in various ways. Not everyone on the trip knows my age, so it will now be a surprise to them. I decided that it was probably now or never, so checked that off.

While I have some of the usual problems of being a “senior citizen”, I do have one health problem I have been dealing with for many decades. It is not visible, so I rarely talk about it, but it has affected me in various ways. In the mid-80’s, I was diagnosed with Polymiocitis. I have had it longer than that but it took a long time get the diagnosis. Essentially, it is an autoimmune disease. My body sees all the muscles in my body as foreign tissue and is constantly trying to reject them. It includes organs that are made of muscles and well as skeletal muscle. The effect is pain, mainly caused by inflammation of the muscle tissues, muscle weakness, manifested most obviously in my legs, but elsewhere, as well. I tried to strengthen my muscles, as some of you saw in my Facebook updates, but over time, I could see a very slow progression, which really wasn’t amounting to much. I have been treated for this ever since diagnosis with many different drugs and it took a long time to get it under control. Ever since, the pain has become managed but the weakness continues. I have really been cruising for many years now. For this reason, I decided that I will not let it stop me from going. It has really not stopped me from doing most things and I have traveled a lot internationally. So, again, I put it aside. Well, this trip ended up being more demanding than any I have taken before. The traveling alone was a challenge like none others. While I was in Finland, my symptoms reappeared. That has never happened during any traveling before, so I had no reason to believe it would happen this time. I adjusted my medication and took OTC pain relievers and just dealt with it. While my companions had no idea of this, they were very helpful just in dealing with this old lady, and I am forever grateful. Had I not been feeling well while planning this trip, I never would have gone. I now have it pretty much under control again. I already had a standing appointment with my Rheumatologist yesterday and he agreed with what I did while I was gone and we will gradually reduce my medication back to a comfortable level. By the way, this is not a fatal disease. I plan on hanging around for as long as I can, but won’t be going on any trip this challenging again.

My third concern was being on my own once the Finland part was over. I have traveled quite a bit internationally but with groups. That still gave me the confidence to think I could do it. And I did. Most of the people I met spoke English, but many signs, etc, were not in English. I am very good at asking questions and asking for help, so that all worked out. I continued to check in on Facebook so y’all would at least know where my last location was!!! Ha…..

I had the experience of my life and am so glad I did it. It was also a very difficult adventure, as it turned out, but, again, many of my Finland companions and many people who helped me along the way all contributed to it. As I said above, I am very proud to have taken on this challenge. I just thought, now that it is behind me, I would share with y’all some “behind the scenes” information that had an impact both, during the planning phase and during my two and half weeks abroad.

I am still working on gather photos, etc, and will let y’all know when all that is ready. Thanks for coming along with me.

Love to all, Patti

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Oslo to Home

The final leg of my adventure is over and it will take some time to recover, though it was truly an adventure of a lifetime, at least for me.

I am really glad that I checked out everything the day before I left. I trudged off for the train station at 3:45am in freezing dark Oslo. That was the most spooky, unsettling walk I have ever undertaken. On the front steps of the station were several males gathered and just talking. I walked on the other side of the street as long as I could, but there were several people, mostly males, there as well. The front door of the station was closed so I did have to go around to the side which was almost empty except for one or two men. Luckily, the “Politi” station is right there. I had to use the elevator because I was dragging my duffels and then headed to the side door – which was CLOSED and there were two more men also waiting for it to open at 4:15am. One was drinking!!! Felt sooooo vulnerable just waiting there. Finally got in and more people started showing up until the train arrived. One of the conductors helped me on, and off, with my bags. Time to settle in for the ride to the airport and breath a sigh of relief.

British Airways is very online unfriendly as I was never able to check in early or do hardly anything on their site. Oslo Airport is the smallest I was in during the trip. It still took me a while to check in, but I had plenty of time before my flight to Heathrow. We did get breakfast on the flight, luckily, as I was pretty hungry. Dreaded doing the Heathrow Airport thing again, but I was told that it wouldn’t be that bad since I was arriving AND departing at Terminal 5. Well, fuck. No one said T5 was composed of numerous buildings, so once again I had to trudge around there and take a tram to another building and once again I had to go through security. This time I packed all my “liquids” in a quart ziplock and it went OK but tedious and I had a short time to get to my gate. They had already boarded about half the flight when I arrived. I was directed to my seat on the huge 747 and lucky me. It was an aisle seat in the center section, which was fine, but it was in the VERY LAST ROW with the loos behind me. Fortunately, there was no one next to me. The flight was pretty good and we were fed a meal and a snack later on, and lots of drinks. I whiled away my time watching movies and almost fell asleep during one. Wish I could have slept, but really cannot do that on planes. The flight was over 10 hours, but I avoid JFK and went to Dallas. I was really concerned about the little time I had again in between flights, especially since I was in the last row. We arrived on time, but I had excessive walking to do and also had to take the train. Problem was, my gate was changed 3 times. Had to jump, yeah, back on the train and finally got to the right place. Since this was my port of entry to the USA, I had to go to one place so they could check my passport and another one that seemed to do the same thing. Then we had to collect our bags just so they could be put on the next plane and probably scanned again. THEN, I had to go through security screening again, for the third time that day. All the while wondering if I would make my flight, which I did. Then it turns out that we had to sit there because this plane was originally going to Charlotte and had too much fuel for the short hop to Austin, so we were delayed for 25 minutes. I finally turned my phone back on and caught up with things. One voice mail I got was from my vet’s office asking how Zephyr was doing. Crap. By now they were closed but my vet is a good friend so I called him. It was a false alarm. An old inquiry about the butt sore she had before I left. Whew. The captain came on and said we would only be going up to 22K feet and he would get us there as close to arrival time as he could. Well, did he ever haul ass way out to the end of the runway?!! He surely did keep his promise. Our flight landed exactly on time, even with takeoff being so late. Of course I had to once again haul my bags and my friend greeted me and took them off my hands. I took us to a wonderful Mexican dinner place, as I was really missing that food, and we finally got me home around 9pm or so.

My dogs were over the moon when they saw me. Best part of coming home. My cat was a little more reserved, but has finally warmed up to me again. This trip was pretty brutal and I have been pretty sore from hauling everything, etc and have had trouble sleeping. Of course, 8 time zones doesn’t help. I have unpacked, but still need to do laundry and put some of the other things away, but I am getting there. No rush. My new car came in while I was gone and I will get it on Thursday. Looking forward to having a bigger one and this Buick Enclave is really awesome.

Some of you already know that a very sad thing happened the night before I got home. The local Ace Hardware store burned to the ground. VERY hot fire because of chemicals, paint, and propane tanks exploding and corn!! Yes, large quantities of corn that could be heard popping. Our CERT team performed rehab for the firefighter thru the night and the next day. This is a very old store and one of the “gathering sites” of some of the locals. Wimberley is under 2000 people, plus Woodcreek, right next door and where I live is about 1500 people. It was the 3rd largest employer in the village and had the highest tax income in the village. It will be rebuilt but for now about 75 folks are out of a job. No finding of criminal behavior, but the building burned so hot and for so long that it will be hard to determine the cause. Very sad happening for our little village.

Of course, my mind continually drifts back to my adventures in Finland and Norway. It was just such a spectacular trip and I can hardly believe I even did it. While this is the last of my blogs, I do plan of publishing an Epilogue some time this week which I hope will give you an additional perspective about how happy I am that I was able to do this. Until then, I hope you have enjoyed my blogs. I tried to you some insight and perspective on what I did over there. When I get my photos and my companion’s photos downloaded and organized, I will publish a link where you can see them. 

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter (and glad to be home)

 

 

Bergen to Oslo – 22 February

Everything went smoothly as we left the ship and headed to the hotel. One minor glitch. I was eaten up by the revolving door at the hotel. Not enough room for me and my belongings so we jammed the damn thing and had to be rescued. My feet got tangled up and my face plastered against the glass wall. FINALLY, someone noticed and got the reception lady to rescue me. Not sure I ever regained my composure. Just hung at the hotel until the next day when I took train to Bergen. Of course, I had to do battle with that fucking revolving door again. This time, I was the winner. Rubber coming up in Oslo. No problem after that getting to the train station. I had an assigned seat so just had to find the right car. The porter helped me load my bags as everything had to go inside with you. Luckily there was an open area where my bags were stowed for the you 6.5 hour trip. So why was I so lucky to once again be the child magnate and be on the “daycare car”. FIVE strollers and several mobiles were amongst us. Geez……  The train first went by some fyords getting out of the Bergen area and we continued to climb in altitude. We went through many tunnels carved through the mountains until we went high enough when we went passed some of the most gorgeous mountian scenery short of the Rockies or Alps. The mountains were totally covered in snow at points. No rocks or trees. Just virgin snow, occasionally pitted by animal indentations. Never saw any wild life. In fact, I saw almost none during the entire trip. This train was definitely not an express train. It stopped at many places along the way – some very isolated. Some were areas where people did cross country skiing and one was a fairly good sized ski resort. It was a very beautiful ride overall, though I found myself almost dozing off while watching these magnificant panoramas. We arrived after 7pm in Oslo and it was dark. I almost got off one stop early and some Americans told me to sit down!!! Whew. Once again had help getting bags off train, but know had to figure out our way through the train station. I had hooked up with some Americans on the ship who were going to Oslo the same way I was and they were very helpful. We did manage to find our way, sometime’s with the help of Jim’s scouting ahead. The hotel was diagonally across the street from the train station. Getting there not so easy. LOTS of buses, trams and cars at the very busy intersection and the pedestrians pay no attention to the lights. Wasn’t sure when to go or when to stay, but got to the hotel – and another revolving door. Piece of cake as it was larger and had room for all of me. The Americans were leaving the next morning and went back to the train station to check on how to do the Express train to the airport. We had bus vouchers but quickly decided that the bus station was not safe at 4am. They got all the info and came to my room with their “report”. VERY helpful. I was/am really tired. Ate dinner here, checked out the internet and went to bed. Slept pretty well and had no rooster set to wake me up.

Today, I had lunch next door at TGI Fridays. Then went to the train station to make my plans for the morning, The American’s directions were great, along with where the lifts were. I found the Express train exit easily. I talk to the folks there and they said I could by my ticket today, which I did. Could even have checked in to my airline but, for some reason, British Airways has not let me do it both coming and going. Have to do it at the airport. Don’t understand what their problem is. The folks made sure I understood everything I needed to know in the morning and then told me they didn’t think the “front door” was going to be open that early. HUH??? The 4:40am express train is the first one after midnight and they weren’t sure if it was open yet. I will be able to tell if people are going in when I get there. If not, I must go further along the street, turn left at the corner of the building, walk over treacherous ice, find the secluded lift and go up a level before going in the side door. Then it is straight ahead to the Express train departure area and perhaps the last time I will have to walk over ice and be subjected to freezing weather.The train arrives at the airport right below it so just have to go up the lift and I will need to find the BA check in counter and rid my self of my bags until back in Austin.

So now I will finish packing my bags and be out-the-door ready just before 4am. Already check out of the hotel. Just need to get to the train in time for the 4:40am out of Oslo.

Since I never got to go anywhere here, my only impession is the major intersection between the hotel and the train station. Extremely busy and incredibly NOISY. Trams and buses and car noise bouncing off the buildings. Yikes!!! Most of the cars I have seen here and elsewhere are about the size of my Jetta wagen. Some taxis are of a van type. Cannot believe how buses get down some of the narrow streets. I could not stand to live in an area like this. Too much noise and hustle, bustle. I’m a country girl!!! But, the cities in Texas are not this hectic. 

Very few people here are overweight. Manly the foreigners. The people are wonderful and extremely helpful. Some many of the women are gorgeous and have the longest legs so they are quite tall. Most have dark hair, at least the ones I have had contact with or seen in both countries. There are so many different ways to flush toilets, it has become comical to me. And, the showers are hard to figure out. Must be careful as one can rotate the the knob just a little and scald one’s self. The water is wonderful and try to drink it as much as possible, though probably not enough. The atmosphere is so dry that it is uncomfortable, especially on my eyes and fingers which look like crap from grabbing shoelaces off the rough surface of my snow boots. Nose is constantly running when going from inside to outside and back and am paranoid when someone coughs. Is that person sick or just coughing because their throat is dry. I had a coughing spell on the train yesterday from a dry thoat. I’m not sick, but I am sure the folks around were not pleased.

Time to pack up and get a couple hours of rest. Not sure if I can check in when I get to the Oslo airport but will do so when I can. My connections are pretty tight, so hope all goes well. Tomorrow will be stressful, making sure I do everything right at the right time. Will write again shortly after I awake from my coma at my house in Wimberley, Texas, USA.

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter

Cruise is Over – 20 February

I am done cruising!!!! We pulled into Bergen, Norway, around mid afternoon. While I absolutely loved the cruise, the last 24 hours were getting a little much. I have had trouble sleeping on that skinny hard surface, so major fatigue set in yesterday. It was also pretty cloudy and actually snowed around 11pm. The scenery continued to be beautiful, which is part of why I took the trip. No aurorae the last two nights. Only two night sightings in total. After leaving ship today, I was hoping to take a bus tour of Bergen but not enough signed up for it.

The bus I was supposed to take me to the hotel was a no-show! Then some man came up and said he would take me there. Uh, sure!!! Turns out he did have a legit taxi service and took several of us to our hotels. I had a “little trouble” getting into the hotel. It had a revolving door and it did not quite accomodate me, my backpack and two duffels. I got jammed in, was losing my balance, but couldn’t fall cuz there wasn’t any room for that!!!! Hah!!! The revolving door jammed and I was stuck. Eventually, the woman behind the deck was notified by someone and they rescued me!! Eventually got to my room and started laughing at myself. I was dressed in my warm clothes for so long that, as I unlayerd, everything was wet. My room looked like a laundry room with clothes all over the place drying. By the time I got organized, it was getting dark so I relaxed for a while, then ate dinner and here I am – blogging again.There is a little bottle of Australian wine, Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet, that I decided to sip whilst I do this. 

My room is a little bigger than the room on the ship, but I finally don’t have a skinny twin bed for the first time in two weeks. Got a full bed. Movin’ up. Dinner was quite nice and I finally didn’t have to listen to the two Brit couples with whom I have been dining on the ship. They talked to each other and never attempted to bring me into their converations. I would try to say something and they would ignore me. Had a hard time understanding them, but I wasn’t to keen on the various topics. Nice to not have them and the hundreds of other dinner companions. During the last two days, more folks have been coughing and sneezing, making me paranoid about germs, etc. One woman of dinner companions came down with a cold, so I know who the “typhoid mary” is if I succumb in the next few days.

All things considered, the first two parts of my adventure have been way kewel and sooooo worth doing. There have been some tremendous challenges along the way. Some I knew about, some worse than I though (like the extreme cold) and some that cropped up along the way. Many adventures are like that. I occassionally wondered if I should have done this, but that didn’t last very long. The folks in Finland were awesome and so much fun. Remco? Well, I can’t say enough about him. I am so glad he put this together and go me to start planning my dream adventure. His knowledge and skills as an expedition leader have to be one of the best on the planet. His love of the arctic and desire to have his clients have a top notch experience was evident all the time. He kept us on schedule when needed and let us do whatever on unscheduled times or came up with some great ideas. He really knows his stuff. He had the best saying, too. “It will work itself out”! He never got flustered or worried wih anything, or atleast didn’t show it – except the night we were driving on the frozen lake and we started seeing water on the ice. I know he is planning another similar tweetup in 2014, but he doesn’t have to worry about this old woman joining him again. I had the most special time of my life and lots of memories. Not sure it would have been so successful without him.

Only three days left. Tomorrow, I take the noon train to Oslo. It is about 6-7 hours going east across Norway over extremely beautiful countryside. Hope the weather will be good. I arrive in Oslo around dinner time. I am still trying to figure out what to do with Friday there. Will ask the hotel folks for some ideas though the Viking Museum is one of them. Then on Saturday, I have a very early flight home. It takes off at 7:30am. Eeeeegads. Have to get to the airport quite early for that one. 

So, my next blog will be from Oslo at some point. I do occasionally makes some comments on Facebook, as things come to mind, but try to get them in here if I remember. Here’s hoping I can get out of this hotel a bit more gracefully than my entrance and hope to let you know about some WOW moments from my train ride. This very weary camper plans to go to bed shortly, so adios fer now.

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter

 

Trondheim Excursion – 19 February 2013

Last full day on board MS Midnatsol. Before I talk about today’s excursion, I must talk about last night’s aurorae. We got the call around 11pm or so and I hustled up to my cabin to suit up.  There was a beautiful arching aurora just above the horizon on the right side. Quite strong. Then it separated into two arches, like a double rainbow. Everybody was concentrating on it so hard and filming it that they did not LOOK UP!!! WOWZA!! Above me was “The Aurora Dance one  It was magical. Aurorae began to sway and move wildly across the sky. Not as stong as the other, but moving in gorgeous, stunning patterns just dancing across the sky. Mesmerizing. I stayed as long as I could, but finally had to come in. I know Martin saw something like it in Finland, too. It was beyond magical, awesome, stunning. I love dancing, but to see the aurorae dance like that……..? The sky is clear again today so far, so maybe we will have another opportunity tonight thought we are getting further away. Shall see.

I was up at 6:30am and at breakfast by 7am. TIRED!!! We left for Trondheim at 8am, so I needed time to suit up as it is still bitterly cold. The Japanese were given their own bus 🙂 and the other was English and German. We were driven around the city. Very interesting as the architecture is very eclectic. Some very modern, built after some fires several decades ago, and some very historical. The fires spread so badly because the street were very narrow. Part of the rebuilding was to widen the streets. There are 180,000 people living here and there is massive public transportation. Lots of busses and one electric line. I might also mention that Tromso and Tronheim had stop  signs and traffic lights. We notice in Finland, especially, that most intersections had no stop or yield signs!!! YIKES!!!! Remco said that was common in many places, including his home country of Holland. It seems to work out. A lot of Texans don’t stop out in the country when we have a good view of oncoming cars, but not so much in the cities.Anyhow, we were driven way up a hill where we had a wonderful overview of the city and could watch the sunrise over another big hill. This is really a cool city. I like it and Hammerfest the most.We drove by a University where they have about 23,000 students, many of them studying architecture. The highlight, and what I have been waiting for was visiting the Nadaros Cathedral which was build around the 1100’s. They have a beautiful Wagner organ there, but it was boxed up several month ago and sent to Switzerland for refurbishing. Crap. They are restoring the walls and gorgeous stain glass behind it.Some of the students nearby throw rocks at the windows. Some even threw a football through one of the windows so they are being refurbished while the organ is gone and it should be back in the Fall. They are cleaning all the stain glass, which is badly needed in places!! St.Olaf is supposed to be buried there but apparantly he was moved to “an undesclosed location” and no one knows where. The recent discovery of Richard III has motivated them to look for him!!! The catherdral was built  by King Olaf in an attempt to bring Christianity to the country.It was a Catholic cathedral for many years. A lot of folks didn’t like this and eventually someone killed him and the catherdral is now Lutheran, which most of Norway is. The King was highly revered by many and eventually became St. Olaf, the only national saint and one recognized around the world. I took several photo and will post at an “undisclosed” time after I get home. We then went back to the ship where a couple people were late getting back on the bus and the ship departure was late waiting on us!!! There is a woman on board who is elderly and pretty hunched over. When we got off the bus, she took off in the wrong direction and was heading towards another Hurtigruten ship, MS Tollfyord, which was docked right behind us. Poor woman. She was gathered us and put on the proper vessel. We thought a man might be passing out in the Cathedral and people grabbed him. He was just bending over to remove the addon spikes he had on his shoes!! Wish I had those as the sidewalks are treacherous.

We had a couple of hours before lunch so I didn’t do much until then. I am extremely tired, sore and my eyes are malfunctioning today, possibly from being so dry for so long. I have been putting eye drops in but it doesn’t help much. And now, typing this is difficult because I have been given a very small font to work with on this program. Not usually a prob. Today, yes. Obviously, we are in a low humidity area as is the indoors. Skin, lips, eyes need much attention. I try to drink a lot to help from the inside out, but maybe not enough.We constantly hear people cough and sneeze and our noses run a lot from being outside in towns or on the dekks and coming into the warmer environment. The ship personnel are very germ aware. There is hand sanitizer all over the place. We MUST use it when boarding and when going into the dinning room. I use tons of my own anyway, as I am a bit of a germaphobe. It is nice that they make us aware here, though.

I might be able to wrap things up for the cruise part of my adventure with another blog tonight or tomorrow. Will just have to see.

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter 🙂

 

 

 

 

Tromsø and Harstad Excursions – 18 February 2013

I would like to begin by wishing my nephew, Scott, a very happy birthday. It is his first one as a grandfather. My Mother was also born on this date. She is no longer here to see her first great, great, grandchild.

Two nights ago I left the ship in Tromso to hear a corale presentation in a very old “kathedral”. It is A-frame with glass completely on the front of it. The accoustics were phenomenal. The sounds played off the stone walls. A man played an organ during the first few pieces then moved to a piano. Another man played a flugelhorn and a woman sang in most of the pieces. Of course, I could not understand the words but each piece was wonderful. They started in the balcony behind us and then moved in front. The pianist/organist was excellent. The man playing the flugelhorn was perfect and spot-on with every note. I could have listened to him forever, and looked at him forever. Gorgeous. The woman had the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. It was so clear and pure with an enormous range. She could sing very softly and clearly yet project effortlessly. I was just so struck by every note she sang. Some of the songs were religious and some were Sami folk songs and some were classical. The concert lasted about an hour. The bus also took us around Tromso a little bit so we could see the night scene. We were back around 1:30am and I was in bed by 2am.

At 7am the next morning, -_-, I had breakfast and around 8am I went on a four and a half hour excursion through the Harstad region of Norway. We first went to a 750 year old cathedral where we had a short service. It was Sunday, after all. And, no, I was not converted. The walls were about 4′ thick but it was still chilly in their. It was in an area that had been inhabited by the Vikings and when Christianity was introduced, the Viking era gradually died out. We walked a short distance to a Museum that had exhibits about the Vikings and the subsequent history of the area until quite recently. The location was was up somewhat from the water and we had a wonder view of the jyord. Just like the Vikings did as they watch for their enemies. The problem was that it was very cloudy and was snowing since we left port. The enemy could have been right in front of us and we wouldn’t have seen them. It did get better as the day went on but the sun did not show up. It was hard to take some pictures as there was very little contrast between the beautiful mountains and the sky. We drove all around the area and saw the farm lands which we not flat like ours. Much of the drive was through the mountains and all around a fyord. We got a short walk break near a salmon farm where we just walked along the road near the water. Later, the buses got onto a ferry and we went upstairs for tea or coffee and some tasty small cakes. We never saw any moose but did see tracks of animals, nor did we see any reindeer. Did see some very wooly sheep and one horse!! I really liked seeing so much of the country in that area. There is so much history here.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out and watching the great scenery. It gets darker later each day, since we are travel south. To cloudy last night to see aurora. Only have seen one on the first night. At dinner, another couple, Brits, joined our table. I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying to the other brits. Their accents were thick and they used a lot of local words as well as speaking fast.Guess my hearing aids couldn’t keep up with them. Dinner was haddock and quite good. After dinner we went to the lounge and waited for the singer, Gil, to start. I was starting to fade from very little sleep. I also had even much more trouble understanding the Brits, so I went off to my cabin before 10pm and went to bed shortly after that.

Today the weather is beautiful but still very cold and somewhat windy. Some white caps on the waves which were small and have not effect on the ship. Just after lunch we stopped at a port for an hour so many of us got off and took a walk. It has been very difficult to walk almost everywhere because there is so much ice around and slush. I am sooooooo glad I brought a walking stick as it has saved my ass on several occasions. No falls – yet!!! My legs have become very tired, probably because of so much activity in Finland. But, this tough old bird will carry on.

Since this is my first cruise, it has been a learning experience. Sometimes I still go the wrong way but doing better. I was late for lunch yesterday. Turned out there are two sittings for lunch. I took a shower after the excursion and ended up at the 2nd sitting. They let me in tho. Then I was early for dinner because I had the time wrong in my head. Today, they changed the lunch time so I was a half hour early. Luckily, I already know that my dinner sitting time is 30 mins early tonight!! And, it’s the Captain’s dinner which I have no idea of. All anouncements are in 3 languages. I guess one might be Norwegian, can’t figure out the other one. On the guided bus tours we board according to our language. Yesterday, I was on the English/German bus and then saw the English only bus. Duh! Our guide was fun tho so I stayed. I did go up on deck 9 after returning from the port walk while still bundled up. The wind added to the cold so took some photos and came in. Decided I would not sit in the hot tub and watch the aurora or stars. Whoa!!!! When I got back to my cabin, in the land of the little cabins, which I also call stearage, I had a certificate signed and delivered that I have been above the Arctic Circle. Whoooo hoooooo! Proof positive.

Tomorrow, again at 8am, I will take a two-hour excursion by bus throught Tronheim, another town I want to visit. The rest of the day at leisure and we arrive in Bergen on Wednesday – the end of the cruise part of my adventure. Will fill you in on that tomorrow, as I must prepare for dinner. Luckily, we don’t have to dress fancy on this ship. Checked that out beforehand. So, all for now.

Patti, Your Intrepid, Getting Weary, Aurora Hunter

Hammerfest, Norway on 16 February

This morning, the MS Midnatsol stopped in Hammerfest long enough so some of us could take a bus tour. It is billed as the highest latitude town in the world!! It has recesently begun pumping LP gas around the world and this has changed this town a lot, making it a more desirable place to live – for the VERY hardy. It is breathtaking, tho. About 10,000 residents and almost no unemployment. It has a hospital for the region of Finnmark and schools but no University. Only 7 of those in all Norway. There are many mountains around the town so they put avalanche fences on them to protect the town. The Meridian is here. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the first place where measuring the earth was successful. All of Hammerfest was completely burned to the ground by the Nazis. Our tour guide’s parents were rounded up taken south. When they arrived back after the war, there was nothing left, so the town was completely rebuilt. He said that the people who live here really like it and especially like the dark months more than the daylight ones. They also have some hydroelectricity but it is much less now that they have LP gas. Even so, it is expensive to heat the homes, etc. All of Norway is expensive!!! Appently, oil has also been found not too far away, so they may start drilling for that also. The revenue has allowed them to refurbish some buildings and they built a cultural building with it. They are also building more homes and some apartments and office/business buildings. An average home/apt is very expensive, so younger families just starting out find it difficult. And taxes are very high. I believe he said 24%. Would have thought the LP industry would be kinder to them. While I, of course, would never live here, just the beauty of it is indescribable. Mountains and water and really cute home and architecture make for a beautiful town. Just remembered: by this time next year, all the sidewalks downtown will be heated!!! They are really excited about that as it will make walking much easier. We got off the bus trice and walked on ice at one scenic location as was the area around the Meridian. The MANY steps leading up to it were heated but not once we arrived at the top.

I have had the rest of the day off except for lunch, but around 11:30pm I will take another excursion in Tromso where we will see the town a little and go to a choral presentation. Then, at 8am the next morning, after an early breakfast, I will take 4.5 hour excursion. More on these  later.

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The bed in my room is like sleeping on a plank. Not much sleep last night. Hope to see if I can get more padding. Drank too much tea yesterday. Went to the loo FIVE times overnight. Trying to do more water and less tea. I have been having a problem taking general pictures with my new Nikon. Had some fellow tweeps, who are wonderful photographer, look at it while in Finland. The diagnosis is that the lens is the problem. It is having trouble focusing and won’t take a picture when it can’t “see”. I have taken a few, but have had to rely on my point and shoot, which is doing well, and my cell phone. I will also say that I never took a photo of the Northern Lights. It is very tricky to do and was too cold. Every one is sharing what they took, which is also what I saw in Finland, so will be posting some of those after I get home. Also, I underestimated how cold it would be just hanging out while taking the photos.Very friggin cold. Some did well with the severe temps. I did not. I will also say that what the human eye sees of the Lights are not even close to what the camera sees. It is much more washed out to the eye. It is the camera that brings out the beautiful colors. I did not know that before coming here. That is ok tho, because I still saw the photos of what we were looking at. It was a little disappointing at first. I will post links to the photos when I am able and get them, after I am home. I have been tagged in some which have been showing up on my timeline.

Everywhere I have been is like you will see in documentaries or pictures of what a winter wonderland would look like. I just wish there was more daylight to see it. The mountains, trees, etc are just awsome with all the snow covering. And, I couldn’t have asked for better traveling companions in Finland. It has been very physically difficult some times, as this old athetic body is worn out, but I got so much help when I needed it, like getting in and out of sleds, etc and walking up and down many ice covered paths, etc. and more. Many were wondering what might be wrong and my answer was “age”. They had no idea of my age. I usually can hide it but not under some of these conditions. Anyhow, they helped me fulfill my dream and I am forever grateful.

I will write more after my next two excursions. In the meantime, make some aluminum hats!!! @Camilla SDO says they protect from meteorites. HAH!!!!!

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter

 

 

 

Finland in My Rearview Mirror

The Finland part of my trip is over. I was picked up at 7am on the 14th and driven to Kirkenes. The landscape during the trip was beautiful with very little in the way of civilization. Sure glad the van did not have any problems. It was about a 4 hours drive. Had I known about this service before making my ship reservations, I would not have needed to stay over night in Kirkenis. We weren’t sure, so the reservation to stay overnight was made to be safe. I walked around Kirkenes a little, but came back to hotel. Everything here is majorly expensive and pretty touristy. Plus it was sooooo cold. Just hung out until today. I was picked up by a bus and driven to the quay where I got on board the MS. Midnatsol, my “hotel” until the 20th. The view from the hotel on the fyord was beautiful. The sun has not yet come up over the horizon yet, so it was cloudy and grey, but pretty.

We left port about 12:50pm and headed out to sea before heading south. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how everything works on board. I have never cruised before, so a new experience. We can get a cruisecard, which is an onboard credit card, backed up by my Mastercard. My meals and excursions are prepaid, but anything else is charged to my card and I get a statement the night before leaving. I am keeping my currency exchange app busy because the Norwegian Kroner is used here. Bought and beer for $11.91 USD. Last one. Now I convert first. We can also buy a little Hurtigruten coffee/tea mug and then free refill it during the time aboard. I have been living on tea and water. Not buying anything else.

I originally bought three excursions ahead of time. Two are tomorrow. A one hour tour of Hammerfest in the morning and a midnight excursion in Tromso. Will tour the city and see a choral concert in a cathedral there.Tromso is also considered to be ground zero for aurorae, so hope we see one while outside there. The Program Director gave me a tip about another tour starting in Harstad for 4 and a half hours. Looked at the description and decided to add it. It is at 8:15am on Sunday. No excursion on Monday but on Tuesday morning at 8am I will do a bus tour of Trondheim. Will tell y’all about each one as I finish it. Not too crazy about the early start times as I am NOT a morning person. But I am here to see the Lights and parts of Norway, so I shall suck it up and enjoy them. The cruise ends at 3pm on Wednesday in Bergen but will write about that in another post.

A majority of the tourists I have seen at all three venues have been Japanese. They are here in droves. On board the ship there are all kinds of accents and some of the passengers do not speak English. Instructions to us are given in several languages over the speakers, but at our safety briefing today, she used English.

Breakfast and lunch are buffets, but dinner is assigned. I join a nice couple from Birmingham, England. John and Linda have already gone on the northern cruise, stayed onboard and are now going back south. The entire crew has been fantastic and helped me figure out a few things. This ship can hold 1000 but there are 400 plus 75 crew.

We did see a big aurora last night. Along with the speed of the ship, it was incredibly windy. Stayed out for a bit and had to go in. I had already taken off my warm clothes when the call came out over the PA system, so had to suit up at 9:30pm, but it was worth it.

I tried to post this on Friday, yesterday, but wifi went down. I will post it now and then start a new one.

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter

14 February 2013

I mentioned that I would write a litle on what it was like to “suit up” in our cold weather.

Let’s start with what I call a “basic suit up”. This means that we weren’t going out on an adventure or excursion, just going outside. Thermals are a must as are snowboots. Whenever I put on my snowboots, I first put on sock liners then heavy socks. Thermal pants and it is not necessary to wear snow pants as we usually were just going to a vehicle and back or not being out for very long. Thermal top and how ever many layers one wants. I usually added a turtleneck shirt, fleece vest, fleece jacket, knit cap and glove liners. Of course, if we are staying inside, the hotels are warm so all this is not needed. In Nellim, my apt was about 100 feet from the lodge. I could get away with athletic shoes, but most of the above as it was bitterly cold there. Hard to get up and dress like that to go outside in that weather just to have breakfast or dinner! One is almost sweating just getting dressed and you can’t keep that many layers on while inside.Put it all on and then take some of it off when inside.

Now, dressing for excursions is a bit more complicated and time-consuming. On the lower half, sock liners and heavy socks, thermals, snowpants and snow boots. Our toes were still getting very cold, though, especially when not moving much such as taking aurora photos, but they still got cold during snowmobiling, dogsledding, skiing, snowshoeing, etc. Nellim was just bitterly cold, period. On torso, of course you start with thermals and layer from there. I usually had 4-5 layers PLUS my heavy parka. On hands, glove liners and usually well-insulated mittens, which are better than gloves. Might want a neck warmer of some kind. Then pull over a balaclava. Mine could be worned just covering the neck, I could pull it up to also cover my nose and lower face, or pull it up to cover my head/forhead and lower face, keeping only the eyes uncovered. Top all that off with a warm hat. I have a well-insulated mad bomber hat with some rabbit fur. It covers my ears when I pull the flaps down and buckle it. I sometimes also pulled over the hood on my parka. My parka is a 3 in one, which means it has a liner. I can just wear the liner or just the parka and the whole thing. I wear the whole thing!!!

Getting dressed like I just described for excursions is very time consuming and I would begin to sweat some times, which is not good. Don’t want wet layers. My head many times would be soaked and I don’t sweat easily. Not a good idea to stay inside very long when all layered up. 

I hope this gives you an idea of what we have under only what you see. We kind of feel like the Michelin Man when all suited up, but it is worth it. If you have any questions, let me know and I will answer back. All fer now.

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter

Musings

Today, I am just going to post some general comments about my experience.

While we all speak Enlish it sounds different when spoken by folks from the various countries of The Netherlands, UK, Germany, Belgium, Macedonia, France, Greece. I may many times have to ask for repeats or to slow down. All is fine, tho. Most of the folks at the hotel in Nellim spoke  very good English so we got along wonderfully. 

If someone says “it is just over there”, or “not very far”,  I have learned not to believe them. Everthing is relative when deal with distance, time, etc.

I speak in miles, pounds, farenheit, gallons, etc and they use the metric system, etc. Time is many times in 24 hour format, which some of my friends know I hate with a passion. But our group mostly uses 12 hour format.

I have truly enjoyed talking with everyone. We were on a Facebook Group page before leaving, but now we actually are with each other. The Nellim Group was 20 but the Saaraselka group is only 8 and will be 7 after Tuesday morning. Alex came with us from Nellim, but must return to Germany in the morning. Remco and Martin and I are also from the Nellim group.

While we would be in the eating area or lounge in the Wilderness Hotel in Nellim, we began to notice a dark haired woman would be rather obviously checking us out. We nicknamed her the “stalker” and starting making up a story about her being a spy and following us. She even briefly sat with us in the lounge. As it turned out, she was from Milan, Italy, and did not know how to speak English very well. I said good morning to her on Saturday when she explained this and told me that I had a beautiful voice and spoke very clearly and she wanted to listen more to me speaking to help her with her English. Of course we all laughed hysterically when I relayed this to the others and said how nice she was. We still liked the spy story though.

The doorlocks at both hotels are truly unusual and we are many times needing help to open them. I even thought I could not leave my room this morning!!! Showers are different as are a few other daily things we do, so it has been a learning curve at each hotel. Nellim’s Wilderness Hotel was truly in a remote village wihtout much else. We had 24 hour coffee/tea available free. Here, we are in more of a hotel and nothing is free. We have a package for us which included breakfast and dinner. Anything else costs. Exchange rate is not friendly! It is a spa hotel with sauna, massages, jacuzzi, etc and indoor pool. I may take advantage of a massage one day while my companions are out doing all their physical activites!!

I was extremely, and I mean extremely tired yesterday by the time some folks were going to see if the aurora was out. I had a good night’s sleep, feeling much better. They did not see much and came back and also slept well.

When they come back from snowshoe trekking, we are going to drive to see an Inari Museum. Later tonight we shall go hunting! It is not as dark near the town here as in Nellim so we will see about where to go. I believe tomorrow is THE DAY for me to go dogsledding with the others. WOOT!!!!

I am having trouble with my camera and have not taken any aurora pics but I will get them from the others. I am also having trouble sending photos that I have taken with my cell phone. I may have them too big for the bandwidth. I am able to share some folks pics on Facebook and hope to do a bit more of that. I am also having troubles typing anything with this tablet keyboard, so I am not spending too much time editing. Figure it out.

I am going to close and go do a “medium suit up” for our trip to the Museum. 

Patti, Your Intrepid Aurora Hunter