Saturday, July 4, 2015

Honningvag's North Cape Museum and some of the things I found (out) there

is small but informative

At the museum, I learnt that Honningsvag Church is 
the only building in town which predates the second world war
 The touching story of the beloved seadog Bamse
also is recounted in the museum

After I told her I had spent some time onshore at Honningsvag, a MS Richard With crew member admitted to me that all this time, she still hadn't figured out what, if anything, was worth checking out in this northern Norwegian town of slightly less than 5,000 people that looked quite a bit bigger on a map I was given of it than is actually the case.  And it's true enough that most of the ship passengers who step ashore at this Hurtigruten port of call do so to board a bus that will take them to the North Cape (Nordkapp in Norwegian).

Rather than venture out to the part of Norway often billed as the northernmost point of continental Europe (despite it actually being located on an island), however, I contented myself with visiting the North Cape Museum.  Even smaller than the local museum I visited at Bodo and located, unlike it, in a modern building, this museological establishment is one that I get the feeling that many people are likely to consider worth checking out -- and especially since its admission fee is a fairly hefty, considering the insitution's size, 50 kroner.
Being the museophile that I am though, the North Cape Museum was the Honningsvag attraction that most caught my eye.  And it's out of honesty, not (just) generosity, that I concluded that it's actually a rather nice museum, especially given the diminuitive size of not only the institution itself but the town in which it is located.
Right from the start, I warmed to the place; not least because of the welcoming staff members who I met there (one of whom had such a distinctively British accent that I to learn that she actually was a local Norwegian resident of the town!).  And while checking out the exhibitions, I liked that the curator(s) had made the point to tell interesting, heartwarming stories about such as a woman who had refused to leave her weaving machine (now on display at the museum) when she and her family were forced to leave town during World War II, and the St Bernard who became a crew member of a Norwegian naval submarine along with his owner (and was so beloved that when he fell into the sea once, a number of seamen jumped into the water to rescue him!).
Although it's 70 years since the end of World War II, there's little question that it's still remembered and recounted in these parts; this since the Nazis implemented a "scorched earth" military policy that saw many communities being laid to waste. To quote the author of an article on the subject: "almost every single building in Norway’s vast northern area from Finnmark in the east to Hammerfest in the west was burned down or demolished, apart from a few churches."
In all honesty, to read about the devastation is one thing but to see photographs of it can be something else and really hammers home the message, and situation in which many northern Norwegians were put in for a time.  That's my feeling after coming across photos of Honningsvag in which just one building (the 19th century wooden church which has remained standing and operational to this day) was left standing for miles.      

On a happier note: knowing about the terrible devastation gives one a greater appreciation of Honningsvag -- and many other communities like it -- being rebuilt and coming back to life after the  second world war.  And I also like that the North Cape Museum's exhibits don't stick to just recounting the past but, also, includes contemporary displays, such as a current exhibition of photographs by local schoolchildren focused on the local fishing industry (which now includes king crabs among their rich bounty). :)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Fun in Tromso on a memorable day in the cold Arctic! (Photo-essay)

The day that King Neptune came on board the MS Richard With was a memorable one --and not only because of the Crossing the Arctic Circle ceremony took place that morning. Among other things, as I was walking out of the ship's restaurant after breakfast, I spotted a fin sticking out of the water like a shark's and upon closer scrutiny, realized that it belonged to one of three whales swimming just a few meters away from the ship!

Try as I might though, I was unable to get good photographic records of these spottings.  On the other hand, I think I got some fine -- and fun! -- pictures to remember Puppet Ponyo and my visit to the university town of Tromso later that day... ;b

This, our second day in the Arctic, also was the second day 
in which we experienced the midnight sun

Rather than being super sunny, however, it was on the gray side
that day -- as this photo (which has one whale fin in it) shows! ;S

 Creatures like this long whiskered sea lion were much easier 
to spot and photograph at Polaria's Arctic aquarium in Tromso

And this is what a sea urchin (of uni fame) looks like! :b

Methinks this sea lion was besotted by Puppet Ponyo! :D

 Because it was super cold and windy in Tromso that day, I decided 
against walking across the bridge to visit the Arctic Cathedral

Instead, I spent some time in the warm confines of
 the Olhallen Brewpub which has an amazing 
56 beers (all Norwegian microbrews) on tap! 

I wish I'd been able to spend more time in Tromso's oldest pub 
(and sample more of its beers) than I did -- but, hey, 
at least Puppet Ponyo and I did have some fun while there! ;b

Thursday, July 2, 2015

In the windy Norwegian town of Bodo

Viking treasures on display at Bodo's Nordland Museum

Bodo Cathedral is of a much more recent vintage

The 20th century building's altar piece and stained glass
impress despite their relative young age

The afternoon after the northbound MS Richard With crossed the Arctic Circle, the ship made a two and a half hour stop at the northern Norwegian town of Bodo.  Maybe it's a mental thing but I felt that it was noticeably colder in the Arctic than in the area to the south of it; so much so that I made sure to have my wool cap, gloves and scarf along with several other pieces of clothing on when I went ashore.
A number of the ship's passengers had gone on an excursion to view the Saltstraumen that's reputed to be the world's strongest maelstrom and another group went to check out the Norwegian Aviation Museum located on the edge of town.  There also were those (like my mother) who decided they didn't want to leave the ship for the relatively short period of time that it docked in Bodo.

A few others, including me, decided to head to the center of town and take advantage of shops and attractions being open on a Monday afternoon (unlike the case with Trondheim on the Sunday morning before), with the 20th century Bodo Cathedral appearing to be the main draw for us despite the mixed opinions we had heard of it.  (Like a crew member confessed to me, she wasn't sure whether to think that the building is interestingly innovative or plain ugly!)
Consecrated in 1956 as the replacement for the old cathedral which had been destroyed -- along with the rest of the entire city center -- by German bombs during World War II, the "new" Bodo Cathedral is a concrete structure that also contains traditional elements such as colorful stained glass windows and an eye-catching altar piece.  Fairly unassuming looking from the outside (I found the nearby City Hall was far more physically impressive and had initially thought that that was the town's cathedral!), it's spacious and airy --and, at least on this day with the midnight sun, pleasantly bright -- inside.

With time to spare (even after having done a bit of shopping at a pharmacist's), I also got in a visit to the Nordland Museum located next door in one of the the town's oldest buildings.  A British couple told me they had found it disappointing but, considering that Bodo's population is just around 50,000, I thought this local museological institution was at least serviceable and had a video show that was informative (and helpfully subtitled in English).
Thanks to the Nordland Museum (in particular, its informative video), I learnt that Bodo was built on a windy gap -- though I never did learn why that was the case.  (And yes, I, for one, would never have done that as well as can attest to it being pretty windy indeed out there on the streets of Bodo!)!  
Rather fortuitously, fishermen were able to catch lots of herring from the nearby waters -- and after a slow start, this town established in the early part of the 19th century went on to grow with leaps and bounds (and, among other things, was home to Norway's first cinema!).  And while it experienced terrible times during World War II, it's managed to grow back afterwards -- and, from what I could see in the short time I was there, is now home to a multi-ethnic populace.
Incidentally, something I got to thinking while in the museum is that Norwegians appear to like their buildings -- along with the insides of buses and cruise ships -- very warm.  Consequently, while I had to have lots of clothes on when outdoors (even though it already was June when I was there), I had to peel off a few layers of clothing in order to feel comfortable a few minutes after entering the Nordland Museum!  What's more, this layering and unlayering is something that I found myself doing a lot of in my time in Norway, and observed many other folks -- admittedly more likely to be non-Norwegian than local -- regularly as a matter of course too!  ;b    

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Umbrella Movement lives on on July 1st, 2015

Not your usual protest crowd?

Architects, actors, psychologists, lawyers 
and others march together

and its dream is still alive

The lines snake(d) on approximately an hour 
after I had reached the rally's end

I was out of town on June 4th this year and consequently missed this year's vigil at Victoria Park.  But I made sure to be back in Hong Kong to take part in the protest rally on the eighteenth anniversary of the handing over of Hong Kong by the British to the People's Republic of China

Unlike previous years, I went alone to the July 1st protest rally.  Having found a distinct lack of enthusiasm to take part in what has come to be annual event this time around among the usual suspects (in the words of a friend: "Hong Kong people are tired"), I worried that the turnout would be poor -- maybe even as low as it had been for the February 1st march for genuine universal suffrage.  

While waiting in Victoria Park for the protest rally to begin and while marching on the streets to Tamar, I couldn't help but notice that the crowd was sparser than on July 1st, 2013 and 2012, never mind last year.  One personal upside to this was that it was easier and quicker to complete the route today -- and I did so in approximately two and half hours (compared to last year's more than six).       
Even though this year's crowd was not as large as for last year's amazingly well attended rally, I reckon that it was pretty respectable -- especially given that it was a sweltering 33 degrees Celsius when I made my way to Victoria Park, close to the event's scheduled commencement, and remained so for some time.  While the participant numbers may disappoint some when compared to recent years', a measure of the still not inconsiderable size of today's rally can be gained by my seeing thousands of people still making their way to Tamar approximately an hour after I got there.   

On a qualitative note: among the things that never cease to amaze -- and move -- me is how the Hong Kongers who turn out to be seen and heard on July 1 (and also June 4, and -- of course -- during the Umbrella Movement) look like they come from various walks of life and constitute a wide age range.  Also, that my fellow protesters are quite a bit more civil than one often expects of demonstrators -- with no store needing to fear that its windows will be broken or that it will be vandalized, forget looted or destroyed, and no one spoiling for an actual, physical fight with the cops, casual onlookers and even counter-protesters.  

This year, I additionally noticed a number of heartening developments at the protest rally that I had previously observed at the "Occupied" areas of Hong Kong.  These include the increased participation of Hong Kongers of South Asian descent; and individuals on wheelchairs, be they assisted in their movements by friends and/or relatives, or going about on their own accord.  And the recycling efforts and giving away of items (the latter of which included appreciated cups of water, bottles of drinks and paper fans) continued this afternoon too!

Although there were people rallying for other causes (as diverse as the Lantau buffalo, gay rights and North Korean defectors), it's hard not to think of this year's July 1st protest rally as a continuation of Occupy Hong Kong and the Umbrella Movement; and when I looked about me while marching this afternoon, I could easily imagine that everyone at today's protests also had been out on the streets (be it at Admiralty, Central, Causeway Bay, Mongkok or Tsim Sha Tsui) at some point(s) during the latter part of last year.    

Something that marked out today's event from previous July 1st marches was that the atmosphere seemed less festive.  Instead, the mood of many of the protesters seemed more "focused" and "determined" than anything else: as in determined not to give up the pro-democracy fight, determined to continue exercising what remains their right (including to openly protest en masse), determined to work against their rights being (further) undermined, and determined to have a distinct socio-cultural and political identity as Hong Kongers.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Crossing the Arctic on the Hurtigruten's MS Richard With (Photo-essay)

A little after 7am on the morning of the fourth day of our Hurtigruten cruise, ship-wide announcements were made about our going to be crossing the Arctic Circle in approximately 10 minutes.  Thus forewarned, I put on several layers of clothes and then hurried outside to catch sight of the globe-shaped Arctic Circle Monument installed on the island of Vikingen that would provide us with visual evidence of our having passed the imaginary line at 66 degrees, 33 minutes north latitude, north of which we'd experience 24 hours of daylight this time of the year.

Six days later, the MS Richard With crossed the Arctic Circle again -- this time on the southbound section of its voyage.  Both our entering the Arctic and leaving this cold region of the planet were marked by special ceremonies that were memorable and, yes, entertaining.  So, strictly speaking, it's not like there's zero ship-board entertainment supplied by Hurtigruten; it's just that, well, it's not all that conventional! ;b 

At this point in the cruise, our ship had not yet crossed the Arctic Circle

When I took the above photo a couple of minutes later though,
we were already in the Arctic :)
 To commemorate our crossing into the Arctic, 
King Neptune came on board the ship!

Together with the ship's captain, tour leader and assistant,
he ladled ice cubes and water down the back of people's necks! :O

If you thought I was kidding about the ice cubes and water 
-- and yes, I couldn't stop from screaming out loud when
they got ladled down my back! ;b
 As compensation, all those who underwent the "ceremony"
got to have a shot of warming cloudberry liqueur afterwards :)

Tour leader Anna Olivia Wallinder shows the large bottle
of cod liver oil she dosed people with after we left the Arctic!
 One last look at the scenery at and near the Arctic Circle
at Vikingen Island that's so gorgeous it can take one's breath away :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Memories of lighthouses, including those on Norway's rugged west coast

One of many (hundreds?) of lighthouses seen

The Kjeungskjaer Lighthouse is considered to be the 
most beautiful of those found along the Norwegian coastline
 ...but I reckon that the Stabben Lighthouse is more picturesque :)

Although it was only last month that I climbed up to the top of a lighthouse for the first time (at Japan's Cape Hinomisaki), these navigational aides for maritime pilots have long fascinated me; this not least because, in my childhood, I had read stories in which lighthouses and heroic characters featured, such as the true tale of Grace Darling, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper at Longstone, and Five Go to Demon Rocks, one of the books in Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" series.
For all of my literary familiarity with English lighthouses, however, I can't recall seeing any of these structures having caught my eye in all of the time that I spent in the native land of the bulk of the authors whose books I read as a child.  On the other hand, the Muka Head lighthouse on my home island of Penang -- which, incidentally, was built by the British -- was one that caught my imagination as a child.  And as an adult, I loved the look of the lighthouses I spied on a visit to North Carolina's Outer Banks and have taken note on occasion of other lighthouses I've come across during my travels and, also, while hiking in Hong Kong
Still, it wasn't until I went cruising along the Norwegian's rugged western coastline with Hurtigruten's MS Richard With that I got to really appreciating the aesthetics of various lighthouses -- and discovering that there really are lighthouses that look like what you'd expect to see when you first hear the word.  Put another way: whereas I had previously only seen lighthouses that were tall towers or rectangular in shape and similarly "un-house-like", I could well imagine people -- even a family -- fairly comfortably residing in such as the lighthouses as Kjeungskjaer and Stabben!

The fact that there are over 150 lighthouses in Norway -- along with some 5,000 navigational lights -- give a good idea of how rocky and potentially treacherous the Norwegian coast is.  It also shows how much of a commitment the authorities have made to try to make the waters off Norway safe for those who travel in them (including its fishing community).  And while I didn't see any of these lighthouses' lights on since I was traveling there at a time when Norway's the Land of the Midnight Sun, I can definitely imagine feeling reassured at the sight of the beams of their lights on dark nights out at sea.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sunday morning Trondheim impressions

It was so cloudy and gray when I visited Trondheim
that its King Olav Tryggvason Statue couldn't act
as a sundial like it was designed to do :S

 The city's star attraction is the Gothic Nidarosdomen which is

The Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge) which dates back to the 17th century
added color to my impressions of Norway's third most populous city

Admirers of Bruce Lee say no to Nazis? I'd buy that!

The day before I visited the central Norwegian city of Trondheim, I had been on a tour bus going through the town of Molde that looked so deserted on a Saturday evening that, as our tour guide remarked, "People might wonder whether the inhabitants have been abducted by aliens!"  Her comment came back to me -- and so too certain memories of my visits to Germany in recent years -- when I strolled around Trondheim when the MS Richard With docked at the port of the city of some 184,000 people the next day.

As I made my way to the city center, I didn't see any other people besides those who were pretty obviously fellow passengers for the first 25 minutes at least.  In that time, I also had failed to see a single store open for business, bar for a 7-Eleven; heck, even the local Tourist Information Office turned out to be closed on Sundays (like the day happened to be)!

It wasn't until I got near the Nidaros Cathedral that I saw other places that were open for business.  More specifically, the city's Anglican church was accessible to visitors while a service was taking place at Nidaros Cathedral at the time that I was in the vicinity, and the cathedral's gift shop was also open to the public.  

However, the Archbishop's Palace next door to the cathedral, which houses the Norwegian crown regalia, and its associated museum were closed until after the MS Richard With left Trondheim that afternoon.  So I had to content myself with checking out the buildings' exterior.  

Also, rather than go inside the grand place of worship while a service was taking place, I elected to walk around the building and admire its highly decorated exterior (on which could be seen lots of stone carvings, including some amazing looking gargoyles).  And so interesting were the sights on view that I ended up spending quite a bit of time slowly circling around the building with my eyes (and camera) scanning above me to catch some particular sculptural piece, and nook and cranny, before leisurely making my way back to my ship via a different route from the one that I had used to get to the cathedral.

A few meters north of the Gamle Bybro, I came across what appeared to be the liveliest part of Trondheim that Sunday morning.  Although the weather was not especially ideal to my mind (what with the weather being on the cool side for June and the cloudy gray skies threatening to heap rain onto those of us below), the members of the local populace who had gathered for what looked to be a weekly Sunday outdoor food and crafts market seemed quite able to create a pretty good atmosphere and looked to be enjoying themselves quite a bit.

Detouring to have a quick look, I noticed that yesterday's tour guide may have had a point when she announced that Norway's national dish is (now) pizza!  And it's true enough that even while I didn't have pizza that day (or, for that matter, at any meal served over the course of the cruise), it also was the case that my mother and I did end up eating some pizza before we left this Scandinavian country whose waters (also) do yield some amazingly delicious seafood! ;b