Monday, June 22, 2015


Our hotel - Bella Sky Marriott - in Copenhagen
Observe all the angles!




A Sami native with his reindeer


Wednesday, June 17, 2015


We are at the Copenhagen airport waiting for our flight to San Diego. It is going to be a 24-hour journey door to door; Copenhagen to Amsterdam to Seattle to San Diego.
We had long discussions with the sous chef of the cruise ship during the cruise and we learned some interesting things about how the whole organization of the cruise ships works. Of that there is one thing which I'd like to share with you. The chefs tightly control wastage of food in their dining rooms. "Plate waste" is the food left in a plate after a person finishes eating. Plate Waste is collected in special trash cans. Waste is then pulverized and released in the sea as food for the Marine life. Typically they fill up 3 or 4 cans a day. On this trip, however, they were barely filling up one can a day. How come? The answer lies in the fact that on this particular cruise about half the passengers (1,000) were from Denmark. Danish people are very particular about wastage and recycling. They were only taking what they could eat. They went to the extent of objecting to the full slices of bread at the buffet. They wanted half slices as well, and the chef complied. We can learn a lot from the Danish people. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Olden and Bergen

Our next two stops appeared to be less interesting simply because they had to live up to what we had experienced before them.
1. Olden is a town at the end of Nord fjord. This town of 120 people is gateway to Jostedal glacier. The glacier is very impressive at 110 miles long and 4 miles wide but we could not go much closer to it. There is a beautiful lake at the bottom of the glacier. In 1905 a side of the mountain completely sheered off and fell into the lake creating a tsunami 200 feet tall. This led to many homes being destroyed and killing several hundred people. A similar event occurred again in 1934.
2. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway after Oslo. Bergen and suburbs have a population of about half a million. This is a tourist center for people beginning their journeys into the Norwegian fjord country, as well as the main center of the Norwegian oil exploration activities in the North Sea. An interesting fact about Bergen is that most restaurants operate from 2 PM to 11 PM, otherwise it is a typical city.


Geiranger is a town located at the very end of the Geiranger fjord. This fjord is rated as the best cared for UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a narrow fjord surrounded by tall mountains. On the way to the town of Geiranger we must have passed at least a thousand waterfalls and a hundred villages dotting the shores. The entire journey from entering the fjord to the end of the fjord, where the town of Geiranger is located, took about four hours.  As we arrived at Geiranger  a thousand feet long dock unfolded and came to meet the ship. I have never seen such a dock during my 23 cruises. Geiranger's population of 250 exploded as 4,000 tourists from two cruise ships landed there. We have observed that all these towns are well equipped to handle the tourists with tour buses, cafes, gift shops, and guides. This town of 250 had a small supermarket selling all kinds of items, including some Indian spices and sauces. It was a supermarket, which had a pharmacy, toy store, post office, and cafe in that relatively small space. We took a bus trip to the top of a nearby mountain to get the views. Here  a brave young lady was taking off the 4,500 feet tall peak on her hang glider.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


As we journeyed South our next stop was the city or Tromso. Tromso is located at 69°N on a large island in a fjord. This a city of 70,000 that boasts of northernmost university, beer brewery, cathedral, and botanical gardens. This is a beautiful town with its airport supporting commercial jet traffic. We took a cable car ride to the top of a nearby mountain and got a panoramic view of this beautiful city. 
Architecturally what I find very interesting is that even in such cold regions apartment buildings have balconies. This is so unlike United States, especially the East Coast. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Arctic Circle and Honningsvag

We crossed the Arctic Circle 66°30' quite unceremoniously at 6:30 AM. Ceremonies were reserved for that afternoon in the atrium of the ship, traditional ceremony with Neptune,  etc. There are no markers on the surface of the Arctic Ocean indicating our position unlike a sign I remember seeing on a road somewhere near Ahmedabad, India that we were crossing the tropic of Cancer (23°30').
Next morning we sailed past North Cape, which is the northernmost point in Europe. From this point in Arctic  Ocean the North Pole is only 1,200 miles away.  We were officially in the region of the world known as the land of the midnight sun. At this latitude, 71°N, the sun does not set for two months. Although we were there during the right month, the skys  were quite cloudy so we couldn't see the sun but the nights were quite bright. We could not experience the northern lights  or aurora borealis because it was cloudy and too bright! We arrived at Honningsvag, the northernmost town in Europe at 11AM.  Honningsvag has a population  of 2,500, which doubled with the arrival of our ship. A small lesson in geography: How can people survive in such northerly locations? The answer is Gulf Stream. This ocean current of relatively warm waters flows from the Gulf of Mexico to North Cape via the entire West coast of Europe. That is why Alesund, for example, has low temperatures of only 20° and highs of 50° F. This is why there are all these towns dotting the West coast of Norway. However as you go inland the temperatures drop dramatically and -40° is not uncommon. All these coastal towns are surrounded by majestic snow clad mountains. Norwegians play on those mountains so no wonder they do so well in Winter Olympics. Almost all of these towns are connected by roads all the way to Oslo, which is at the Southeast end of the country. There are many local passenger ships connecting these coastal towns also. If you are wondering, fishing remains the primary industry for most of these towns and villages. Global warming, or climate change as it is euphemistically called, is already having an effect of weakening the Gulf Stream. What will happen to Norway is anybody's guess. When you are in a place like Honningsvag you hear a lot of things like the northernmost city in Europe or the northernmost traffic circle in the world.
We also took excursions to two fishing villages with population of 21 and 70. One of the villages had all the fishing equipment, nets and such, as community property.  They also consider their daily catch as community catch.  It turns out that many Norwegians spend two months of winter, when the sun does not rise, in Canary Islands as their favorite destination.
Norway has abundance of water and plenty of hydroelectric plants. All the towns we visited use electric power for heating their homes because electricity is cheap.
Just like the native Americans there are native people called Samis who have inhabited these areas since stone age. There are about 100,000 Samis who live in Lapland region, which encompasses parts of Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. About 30,000 of them live in the Northern part of Norway county called Finnmark. Many of them live a nomadic life and do reindeer herding.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


After Copenhagen we had a 'day at sea' as we sailed toward our next destination. I like days at sea. There is nothing to do, you cannot go anywhere, so you are stuck and it is very relaxing.  Besides I am a master at doing nothing so I like the days at sea.
Monday morning marked our arrival at the town of Alesund  (pronounced all ou soond). This is a picturesque Norwegian town of 46,000 residents complete with Taj Mahal Tandoori restaurant and an Indian/Asian grocery store!  We took a walking tour of the town and learned all about its people and history. Did you know that Norwegians (and also Japanese) do not have a certain enzyme so they cannot easily metabolize alcohol. That is why in Norway there are many restrictions on selling alcohol. There are only two government stores that can sell alcohol in Alesund .  Sounds like Montgomery County Maryland! Apparently Norwegians have extra enzymes for digesting milk products, and that explains their affinity for cheese.
Afterwards we did what we love to do most, that is we found a nice cafe and enjoyed excellent Norwegian pastries and coffee with an extra dose of insulin.
The question that keeps popping up in my mind is why do people live in such harsh environment? Mind you Alesund is at 62° 30' N latitude. It is a fully functioning town with public transport, ferry services to surrounding towns, cafes, and supermarkets, not to mention Indian IT nerds and restaurant. But more is yet to come because as we sailed away from Alesund that evening we could see the entire West coast of Norway dotted with small towns and villages. As our guide had explained, Norway is a twin of Chile in South America. Both are very long slim countries on the West coast of their respective continents with similar geography and climates.
Tomorrow we cross the Arctic Circle as we sail toward the northern most point of Europe.