A better Polo Grill experience, Arrival in Harstad, Car Rental with New Friends, Borkenes and the Hemmestad Wharf, The Adolf Gun, Yelling in a Church Yard, Tjeldsen Bridge and the Spectacular Lofoten Islands
Wednesday night (July 17) we had our second dinner in Polo Grill. We had to share a table again with two other couples. This time , we were paired with a couple from Australia and a couple we met in the line boarding the ship eons ago in London. Steve and I both ordered Colorado lamb chops and the shrimp cocktail; he got a salad with tomato, bacon, and cheese and I got a beefsteak tomato and sweet onion salad. My only complaint: The beefsteak tomato salad was done with raw red onion, not sweet onion. The lamb chops were very good. The dinner conversation was quite awkward as the bloke from Australia was really snobbish, not letting anyone finish their sentences and absolutely going off the deep end when we said we liked Disney cruise lines, with all of that “stupid character stuff and rug rat infestation” (not sure how we got on the topic, but I won’t bring it up again with this crowd on Oceania). He also spent a lot of time complaining about our stop in Murmansk and accused Oceania of using the stop as an excuse to get cheaper fuel for the ship. Granted, we thought that city was very depressing and obviously not a tourist attraction, but we can say we have been there and perhaps the people’s lives can be improved with more tourism. He didn’t buy it, but it is, IMHO, a wasted effort to keep complaining about it after the fact.
Yesterday, we cruised into the northwest coast of Norway to dock at Harstad. This city, located 2 degrees above the Arctic Circle, is on Hinnøya island, the largest Norwegian coastal island, which is also located at the north end of the long and incredibly scenic coastal island chain known as the Lofoten Islands. We saw green farm fields, trees (yay!) and dramatic peaks. Out plan was to pick up a rental car at Avis that we pre-booked and we invited another couple from the Roll Call to join us (Ron and Marge, from Prescott, Arizona). They are on our trivia team and we have had some good conversations. The Avis office was a fairly short walk from the pier. We got an upgrade to a four-door Mercedes-Benz sports sedan (in a striking copper color) and we were off on our explorations.
We had docked at 10:00 am, so we raced over to the Trondenes area northwest of town to see if we could get on the 11:00 am tour for the Adolf Gun. The WWII German gun is located on an active military base, so the tours require you to have your own transportation to go out to the gun site in a convoy. Unfortunately, the 11:00 tour was canceled, so we adjusted our plans to come back at 1:30. We headed out across the island to the west side, to Borkenes and the wharf museum at Hemmestad. The scenery was stunning – there were thick forests, flowers everywhere, tidy farms with red barns, little villages and a back drop of rugged mountains. There were periodic rain showers, but the temperature was a relatively balmy 57 degrees.
The tiny Hemmestad Wharf museum was absolutely charming and they charged a minuscule 25 NOK (about $5) for admission. The museum had small boats and other artifacts from the historical herring and cod fishing industries in this area. We had the place to ourselves, but two buses from our ship were due to arrive soon (these folks paid almost $300 each for the “privilege” of riding a bus and cramming into this small place). We headed out to go back to the Adolf Gun just as the first bus arrived at Hemmestad Wharf.
We made it back to the meeting place for the 1:30 pm gun tour just in time, gritting our teeth at a slow procession of cars going to the meeting place, causing us to nearly miss the ticket sales. There were quite a few cars and taxis already waiting and a small RV. We paid our 60 NOK and then followed our guide through the gate of the military base to go out to the gun. On our way up to the gun we saw a moose in the woods right by the road! We parked and went to the lower entrance, where our guide described the gun placements in this part of Norway. He did the narrative in both Norwegian and English. This huge 16-inch gun, along with three others on this peninsula, was used by the Germans during the occupation of Norway to target the Arctic convoys and was originally designed as a battleship gun by Krupp. Soviet prisoners from a nearby concentration camp were conscripted to build the thick concrete base and support areas and get the gun installed. Here are a few specifications for the gun from Wikipedia:
1) 20 meter or 66-foot long barrel
2) Maximum elevation of the barrel – 52 degrees
3) Maximum range, using the smaller Adolf shell (1300 kg in weight) – 52 km or 35 miles [of course we had to calculate the average delivery speed, which was over 1,000 mph for the long-range shell, making it supersonic. Ships on the receiving end of this firepower never knew what hit them]
4) Capable of firing two shells a minute
5) Total gun weight: 158 metric tons
The Norwegians took over the gun placements after the war, dismantling most of them, but keeping this gun as a museum piece. It was last fired in 1957. In a delicious bit of irony, the gun was named after St. Barbara. I know I’m a loose cannon, but this is ridiculous :-). The tour was about an hour long and we saw the support areas underneath first, then climbed the steps up to the main gun and went inside to see the actual bore, barrel and loading carts. It was an incredible feat of engineering, but it is sad that so much energy has to expended in creating weapons used for war. I am a realist, however, and one must always be ready for war while hopefully working for peace (paraphrasing the old Latin saying). Unilateral disarmament and appeasement only encourage the wolves to attack.
After following the convoy out of the base again (the RV violated the rules and was immediately stopped by military police), we headed over to the nearby Trondenes Church, which is the northernmost medieval church (dating back to the 14th century). The church was closed, but we knew we only had time to walk around the grounds and cemetery for a short time. The church was quite plain on the outside, with tiny windows and what appeared to be a very high vault ceiling. I decided to sit on a bench outside the entrance while Steve, Marge and Ron wandered around. Suddenly, I realized I couldn’t hear them anymore and we had to get going to return the car in a timely manner to return to the ship. I walked around looking for them, a bit concerned, then spotted them a long ways off, outside the church grounds on a nature walk trail heading off in a direction away from the church. I yelled briefly at them to tell them we needed to get going and to not go off on a nature walk. I turned around and one of group of Germans who was at the Adolf Gun Tour was nearby and he shushes me and tells me to be quiet and show respect (he did this more than once to me, even after our group had regrouped. I get the point, “freund”). This guy was annoying when we toured the gun because he would take pictures, then walk slowly in front of people editing his photos, blocking their way as we moved from one area to another. It probably was unnecessary that I yelled, but I am usually of a frame of mind to not listen to someone from Germany, since we have had so many delightful experiences with them, including most recently the sadist who hit my knees during an enhanced screening inspection in Frankfurt airport last year and also made me kneel on my knees on a bench and bend my knees as far as I could, while yelling at me in German the whole time. Many Germans on an individual basis are lovely people, but overall as a group they have a team batting average below .500 for courteousness and friendliness. So I muttered something that probably wasn’t very nice (prayed for forgiveness later) and we all made our way to the car and headed back to Harstad.
We turned in the car and walked back to the ship just as a pretty good rain shower started. The car cost us about $260, including gas and insurance, much more reasonable than any ship tour or hiring a taxi. We had a late, late lunch at Waves, went to trivia, then six of us found seats up in Horizons, as we had a very special treat in store. Captain Hansen, with a special fjord pilot, headed to the southeast out of Harstad, following a route through a narrow fjord and planning to pass under the Tjeldsen bridge to the mainland. We had very little clearance under the bridge, so they lowered the top mast and he made the approach at the deepest channel at a high cruising speed. It was a thrilling scene, capped with a heart-attack inducing moment when Captain Hansen blew the ship’s horn as we passed underneath. I felt sorry for anyone driving over the bridge at that point. We continued through some spectacular scenery, then the channel widened. Now we were in for another treat, as we spent the next four-plus hours cruising past the exquisite Lofoten Islands, bristling with jagged peaks and located to the west, with comparable mountainous scenery to the east on the mainland. Just when we thought we were past the islands, more dramatic scenery unfolded. We brought up a plate of cheeses and cured meats from the Terrace and sat there for hours, drinking wine, soaking in the scene and the long no-sunset light. I would dearly love to come back and tour these spectacular islands.
We slept in today, our last day at sea, as we cruise towards our final ports (Bergen and Kristiansand). We plan to explore these two ports on our own. We packed one suitcase today with the dirty clothes (yuck) and some inexpensive souvenirs (t-shirts) and our winter jackets. Tonight, we eat at Toscano’s, the Italian specialty restaurant.