Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Greetings 2016

Easter Decorations on AMA Waterways Amalegro
Happy Easter

Main Pipe Organ - St. Eusebius Church, Arnhem

Today marks the most solemn day in the Christian calendar.  Unlike Christmas, Easter is a movable feast occurring the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox.   It can therefore occur between March 22 and April 25.  This year Easter falls on the earliest weekend possible.

Christians gathered in churches today, across the world, and rejoiced because He is Risen from the Dead.  This Good News has been handed down from generation to generation and is based on the scriptures recorded more than 2000 years ago.

We have had the good fortune of exploring some of the most famous churches in Europe.  These old churches and cathedrals have withstood World Wars, fires, and other natural and man-made disasters. 

During our travels, we have learned about how the cathedrals and their contents have withstood the test of time.  In some cases, bombs fell all around, but left only minor damage to the cathedral.   In other cases, damage was more extensive but the communities rose from the ashes and restored them to their previous condition.  Visiting these churches has enhanced our cruising experiences and we hope that you'll also have the opportunity to visit some historic churches on one of your future cruise vacations.  St. Eusebius Church in Arnhem is one that was restored after the war.

When you enter St. Eusebius Church in the heart of Arnhem, the first thing you see is the main pipe organ, the Strümphler organ, which dates back to 1795 and is the replacement of the Wagner organ from 1770 which was destroyed completely in WWII. There are five columns that house the pipes. Each of the towers are adorned with angels. 

The top photo was taken onboard AMA Waterways Amalegro on Easter Sunday.  Modern age has added the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs to this holiday celebration.  Whether you celebrated this as a religious holiday or secular one, we hope that this Easter Sunday was a joyous day for you.   

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Arriving in Bergen

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On-Time Arrival

Our train arrived in Bergen  just before 3 PM as scheduled.   We gathered our luggage and walked towards the train station exit.  The instructions from Hurtigruten indicated that we should exit the station and find a bus marked with a transfer sign.

Before we got to the exit, we were greeted by the bus driver who was holding a Hurtigruten sign.  We waited a few minutes for another passenger, but they never showed up. The driver called in to report he had all but the one passenger and he was instructed to leave.

Some of the passengers were from the previous voyage and they were headed for local hotels.   We made a few stops to drop them off and then headed to the ship.

Hurtigruten's terminal is off the beaten path in Bergen. The bus dropped us off in front of the terminal and a few minutes later we had already checked in, dropped off our luggage, and headed into a meeting room for the safety briefing.   We hung out in the cafe until our cabin was ready for occupancy.
Additional photos can be found on our Norway Shutterfly page

Click on the image to the right for more Blog posts about this trip.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Taking a Ride on Train 61

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Oslo to Bergen 
By Rail

After a good nights sleep and breakfast, we were ready for our adventure in this winter wonderland to begin. A short walk from our hotel, and we were inside Oslo Central Railway Station.

Checking the departure board we found that our train's departure track wasn't posted yet.   We'd given ourselves plenty of time so that we didn't have to run through the train station to get to the platform on time.  Once the track was posted, we headed to the entrance gate.

Traveling by Rail

The European rail system is a very reliable way to travel.  The train arrived at the station on time and we made our way to car 7, stowed our suitcases, and found our reserved seats. We were off on a six hour journey through the Norwegian countryside.

Onboard the train we were able to communicate using free Wi-Fi.  When we got hungry, we purchased sandwiches from the dining car.

Winter in Norway brings lots of snow in the mountains.  We got our first glimpses at the beautiful scenery we'd be experiencing throughout the rest of our adventure.
Additional photos can be found on our Norway Shutterfly page

Click on the image to the right for more Blog posts about this trip.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Overnight in Oslo

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Transfer - Airport to Hotel

Our pre-cruise stay included bus transfers from the Oslo airport to the Bus Terminal which was down the block from our hotel.  Transfer vouchers were for SAS Flybussen.  It took us awhile to sort out which bus was the correct one. We told the driver where we wanted to and he loaded our luggage underneath.

The ride took about 30 or 45 minutes. Once we got to the Bussterminalen, we weren't quite sure which way to walk. Of course, we picked the wrong direction at first. We got out our cell phones, and pulled up maps for walking directions. It was about a 10 minute walk to the Clarion Royal Christiana Oslo Hotel.

Clarion Royal Christiana Hotel

It was about 4:30 PM by the time we got to the hotel.  We checked into our room, took our luggage up, freshened up a bit and headed out for some dinner.
Right next door to the hotel was a TGI Fridays restaurant. This is a popular chain back home.

We thought it would be funny to have dinner there.  In reality, we just didn't want to walk far to find anything else.

Looking at the appetizer menu, we noticed that you could select 2 items and then have as many refills as you liked. We started with Jack Daniels Chicken strips and loaded potato skins.  For the second round, we had buffalo wings and BBQ sliders.

Since our Oslo to Bergen train departed at 8:25 AM the next morning, we decided to call it an early night (or whatever time it was - since we were still adjusting to the time shift).   In the morning, we'd have breakfast at the hotel and walk across the street to the train station.

The included breakfast buffet had a very nice selection of  hot and cold items.  The bread selection was quite extensive.

We would highly recommend this hotel if your plans bring you to Oslo, especially if  your travel plans include the train due to the close proximity to the station.

Be sure to bookmark our Diary Hurtigruten Classic Voyage Bergen page so that you can easily navigate the entire journey.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

EPIC Northern Lights Ends Voyage

Day 11 
Classic Voyage
Hurtigruten M/S Vesterålen

Perfect Ending 

Snow-capped mountains, calm seas, crystal clear blue skies - what could be better than that for our final sea day aboard M/S Vesterålen?  Little did we know that was just the beginning of what would be our best day yet on this classic voyage that took us from Bergen to Kirkenes and back.

Norway is a land of contrasts -  on the port side of the vessel were the snow-capped mountains, while on the starboard side, the mountains had already shed their snow,  There were black mountains with white snow and brown mountains with green trees, lighthouses guided our way along our journey.  Red, yellow, blue, and white houses lined the shorelines as we sailed along towards our final port of call.

Arriving in Kristiansund, the sun was starting to set and the buildings were all aglow, reflecting in the water. Finally the sun set in all its glory with reds, yellows, and oranges reflecting in the sea.

Best Was Yet to Come

The discussion at dinner included all of us wondering if we would have another chance to see Northern Lights.  Checking the Norway Northern Lights Forecast site, and checking our schedule for the evening, there seemed to be a slight possibility.   The forecast was "Try" for the area we would be sailing around.  However, we were scheduled to get their later in the evening, which meant the chances seemed to be less favorable.

Going outside after dinner, there were several stars in the sky, it was cold and dark - all of which were good signs to sighting some Northern Lights.

We went to the Panorama Lounge on Deck D  for coffee after dinner.   After sitting there for awhile we decided to go back to the cabin to finish packing.   Also, there was going to be a demonstration on Deck F aft by the chef in a little while (he was planning to serve crab).   All of a sudden, there was an announcement that Northern Lights had been spotted.  Everyone, including us, dashed to Deck F aft to pick up our vantage point for the light show.

The sky was alive with waves of light.  You can't see the color with the naked eye.   To really appreciate the Northern Lights, you need to photograph them.

Here is a sampling of images from the evening.   The main part of the show was from 10 PM until just before midnight.   We were fortunate to have three other sightings of Northern Lights during our voyage, but this was the most intense and longest of the four.

Our ship had a port call around midnight.  We have more images that were taken up until the time the clouds rolled in around 1:30 AM

More pics (CLICK HERE)

Be sure to bookmark our Diary Hurtigruten Classic Voyage Bergen page so that you can easily navigate the entire journey.

Thank You Mother Nature for putting on this fabulous light show for our pleasure.  There are many legends that describe why the lights are visible.   We'll go with one that is God smiling down on everyone on earth.

Today we sail for Bergen where the voyage will officially end.   This has been a most amazing experience.  We'd love to talk to you about it if you have any questions or if you'd like to add this to your bucket list.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Norway Journey Begins

Chicago to London
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Anticipation was at its peak as we got in our car to head to O'Hare Airport.  The Chicago weather was cooperating so we had figured there shouldn't be any delays in our departure.

Even though our flight wasn't scheduled to depart until 6:45 PM we arrived at the airport around 4 PM. after dropping our car off at a local parking lot.

Since we were on an international flight, we weren't able to print off boarding passes in advance.  That meant we also could not get our seat assignments for our second flight (more about that later).   We checked in our bags, and headed for security check-in.   One of us had TSA pre-check and the other didn't so we split up at the check-in.  All the electronic gear went to the pre-check line which made things very nice.  It took a bit to complete the check in but we were now headed towards the gate.

We decided to get a couple of burgers and fries from McDonanld's which was conveniently across from our gate.  Despite knowing we'd have dinner on the plane, we knew it would be awhile before we'd be served and this light meal would hold us over.

AA Flight 86 (ORD / LHR)

We boarded our flight and stowed our hand luggage by our seats.  We always like to have a carry-on with a couple of days worth of clothes so we don't need to open our big suitcase in the pre-cruise hotel.  It is also comforting to have some clothes for each of us, should our luggage not get to our destination at the same time we do.

We had an aisle and window seat on the right-hand side of the plane in the last cabin of the B767.   There were plenty of empty seats, and boarding was completed, so we spread out.   The plan was for me to lay down in the middle section of seats once dinner was over and try to get some sleep.  Shortly after dinner, I would put that plan in motion, but it wasn't a sound sleep.

Looking out the window, as you can see in the picture above,  it was a clear night over Chicago as we took off.  We bid good-bye to the lit up checkered city below.  Gazing out the window, the moon was reflecting off the wing.    We thought that that these were good signs of things to come.

We had dinner which was a choice of pasta or chicken, typical for an AA flight over the pond.   Our selection was one of each - the chicken was the better choice for the record.  One and a half hours before landing in London, we had a light breakfast served to us.

Good Morning from London

Opening the window shades we got glimpses of the England countryside and a clear blue sky.

Our flight arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule and we had to park until our gate was freed up.  After deplaning, we followed the signs for connecting flights.  It wasn't necessary to claim luggage or go through customs in Heathrow.  We did have to go by bus from terminal 3 to terminal 5 for British Airways.

British Airways to Oslo

While we didn't need to collect our checked bags, it was necessary to go through security.  There are two checkpoints - at the first one, they checked our tickets & passports and gave us hand-bag tags for our luggage.

The agent said that our plane was small and said the we needed to check one of our rolling bags as it wouldn't fit.  We weren't happy about that because there went our safety net of having some clothes if the other bags weren't in Oslo when we got there, but we couldn't argue.   It turned out that the plane wasn't small by our standards and the bag would have fit especially since the plane was almost empty.

Since we had made this slight detour to drop off our bag, we weren't sure where to go next.  We were directed up the lift to the security checkpoint.  Here, all large electronics needed to be removed and put in bins along with coats, shoes, belts, and 3-1-1 bags.  Even the bag itself had to be put in these large bins to go through the screening.   We collected our bins and headed off to find out what gate we were at - all we knew so far was we were departing from the "A Gates".

Our next flight would be boarding after 10 AM.   Signs indicated that it was a ten minute walk to A gates from where we were at, but the departure board still didn't have a gate posted - instead it had a time when it would be posted.  That time came and went and still no posting, then finally it appeared. We headed off to A21 where we found seats in the departure lounge.  

The plane boards by rows, but since we had status on American Airlines, we were able to board with the first group. Recall that we didn't know what our seats were for our BA flight until we checked in at Chicago.   You could pay $30 per person if you want a specific seat or you can wait until 24 hours in advance and get a seat assignment for free.   We opted for the latter.  Once again, the flight was pretty empty, so there certainly wasn't a problem with waiting until day of departure to get seats assigned.

We took off on time and shortly after that we were served  a light breakfast and beverage.  

The story continues in our next post.  Be sure to bookmark our Diary Hurtigruten Classic Voyage Bergen
 page so that you can easily navigate the entire journey.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Diary Hurtigruten Classic Voyage Bergen

Hunting for 
Northern Lights

Living in the Chicago area, we've been asked why we would go to Norway on a cruise in winter.  The answer is quite simple actually - we are on a hunt for Northern Lights before they disappear until the next solar cycle.

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12-Night Round-trip Bergen

This diary tells about our journey which started in Oslo, Norway.   From there we boarded a train for a six hour ride through the Norwegian countryside to Bergen where we boarded Hurtigruten Vesteralen for a 12-night Classic Voyage to Kirkenes and back to Bergen.

We have not had constant WiFi during our journey so this diary won't be finished until after we return.  Be sure to bookmark our blog to read about our entire adventure.  The image above was captured during our first sighting of Northern Lights.

Port Blog Posts Photo Albums


Arriving in Oslo we have time to see some local sites.  We stay at Clarion Royal Christiania Oslo hotel overnight.
Norway Journey Begins

Overnight in Oslo

Oslo/ Bergen

We transfer to the ship via Bergen Railway (6 hour journey) the next morning.

Taking a Ride on Train 61

MS Vesterålen

MS Vesterålen is named after the first Hurtigruten ship that started to sail along the rugged Norwegian coast back in 1893. It is also the area just to the north of Lofoten, and offers some spectacular scenery.

Vesteralen Cabin 515

Norway's Coastal Kitchen
MS Vesteralen
Norway's Coastal Kitchen


The 12-day Classic Roundtrip Voyage starts in Bergen, a city surrounded by seven mountains. Before your departure, you may wish to explore this cultural gateway to the fjords.

Vesteralen Embarkation

Vesteralen Cabin 515
Vesteralen Cabin


Florø - Molde 

We continue north to Ålesund, a beautiful town filled with perfect examples of Art Nouveau architecture. If you travel in summer or fall there, is a fjord experience to behold. During the winter, we fascinate you with our expert-led lectures about the aurora borealis, the northern lights.

Sailing to Alesund

Atlantic Sea Park Alesund

3 Edible Wonders of Norwegian Fjords

Kristiansund - Rørvik

The architecture and surroundings in Trondheim create a beautiful and almost-mythical setting, whether you are exploring the city by foot, bike, or boat. Kayak on the river Nid and into the city’s smaller channels, or take a guided tour to discover the city’s most striking features.

Trondheim and the Nidaros Cathedral

Sailing from Trondheim

Brønnøysund - Svolvær

The Arctic Circle marks the border of the Arctic region. In summer this means 24-hour daylight - often referred to as the ‘midnight sun.’ During fall and winter, being above this degree of latitude gives you the best chance of experiencing the northern lights.
Crossing Arctic Circle

Starting Point for the True North

Stokmarknes - Skjervøy

Get ready for a day full of exciting activities, whatever the season! Visiting Risøyhamn, Harstad, Finnsnes, and the capital of the Arctic, Tromsø, you can join several excursions such as whale watching, Husky dog sledding, polar history walks, mountain hikes, and kayaking.

Harstad to Tromso

Husky Sledding in Tromso

Dinner in the High North

Leap Year Treat

Øksfjord - Berlevåg 

Enjoy the magnificent sub-Arctic landscape as we cross the 71st parallel on our journey towards the North Cape, the northernmost point on the continent. In summer, you might see herds of reindeer and campsites belonging to the indigenous Sámi people. In winter, experience the snow-clad valleys, the fresh winter air, and your best chances to see the mesmerizing northern lights.
Journey Towards North Cape

Northernmost City in Norway

Northern Lights Double Header

Båtsfjord - Kirkenes - Berlevåg 

The vistas become more dramatic as we approach Kirkenes, just a few miles from the Russian border. This is Hurtigruten’s turning point. Kirkenes is known as the capital of the Barents region and the gateway to the east.

Visit Where Norway Meets Russia

Stopping in Vardo

Near Russia Food Experience
Kirkines - Andersgrotta
Russian Border

Mehamn - Tromsø 

In the middle of the night we dock at Mehamn, where it is possible to join an unforgettable snowmobile trip through one of Europe’s most extreme and exciting natural areas. Experience the snow-clad valleys, the fresh winter air, and a chance to witness the mesmerizing northern lights in the clear, starry sky.

Hammerfest World's Northernmost Town

Sun Kissed Øksfjord
Sailing Oksfjord

Tromsø - Stamsund 

The daylight sailing through the Lofoten Islands is a highlight for many Hurtigruten guests. The Lofoten region is renowned for its natural beauty with steep mountains, wild nature, and small, picturesque fishing villages. This day also offers several exciting excursions that will make you feel like a natural-born explorer.

Taste of Vesteralen

Trollfjorden and Raftsundet

Evening in Lofoten

 Bodø - Rørvik 

The Helgeland coast, with its hundreds of islets, fertile farmland, and steep granite walls, is rich in local lore. Legends include how an arrow fired by the Hestmannen troll formed the hole in Torghatten Mountain.


Trondheim - Ålesund 

Today gives you another opportunity to explore the city of Trondheim. Passing the islands of Munkholmen, Hitra, and thousands of islets and skerries, we stop in Kristiansund and then cross the open sea on our way to Molde.

When in Trøndelag Choose Local
EPIC Northern Lights Ends Voyage


 Ålesund - Bergen 

During the night, the ship will call at Ålesund, Torvik, and Måløy as the world’s most beautiful voyage draws to a close. Make the most of your final impressions of Norway.


 Overnight in London 

London Heathrow Marriott Hotel before leaving in the morning for home.
British Airways  BA 759
Bergen (BGO) March 7, 2016 07:00 PM
Travel Time : 2 h 5 m
London (LHR) March 7, 2016 08:05 PM

Local Buses to Heathrow Hotels (Many Free)

American Airlines 47
London (LHR) March 8, 2016 11:50 AM
xxxx Travel Time : 8 h 55 m
Chicago (ORD) March 8, 2016 02:45 PM

Weather Not As Cold As You Think