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Our 50th Wedding Anniversary
Northern Lights Cruise
(11th March 2017)

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Also, there are many other photographs on this subject held on file

11th March 2017. We celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary with Dinner and of course the Ships entertainment company

   Yes, 11th March 1967 I married Joy and 50 years later we celebrated with a 16 day Cruise to Norway to view the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) meaning “Dawn of the North”.   This it seemed was the best area and the best time to view the “lights” so all we were relying upon is the weather and most important of course, the atmospherics.   On 28th February we were picked up from home by the Chauffeur Car service and taken to the City Cruise Terminal, Southampton to meet with our friends who were also celebrating their 50th and boarded “Saga Pearl 2” our cruise ship.   Our luggage was taken to our rooms whilst we were offered a celebratory drink and snacks.
  
We slipped Southampton waters at 1800 (slightly late) and departed for our first stop Bergen on 3rd March, a 2 day passage to Norway.   Our dinner that evening started as it continued with 5 star (waiter service) meals and copious amounts of complimentary wine.   Thence onwards visiting Åndalsnes on 4th March, cross the Arctic Circle on 5th, Tromsø on 6th, Alta 7th to 9th the most northerly town we visited at 70 deg North, Narvik on 10th, cross the Arctic Circle again on 11th (our actual anniversary), 12th at sea, Stavanger 13th and finally returning to Dover on 15th and another Chauffeur Car service returning us home.   We had sailed some 3,345 Nm over 16 days.   Since this was to be the celebration of celebrations and we were not likely to return, we booked as many of the shore excursions as we thought we could manage.

  Our first was "A Taste of Hardanger" on Friday 3rd March (0830-1330) in Bergen.   A short orientation drive through Bergen passing the Fish and Flower markets, 13th century Bergenshus Fortress, medieval King Håkon's Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower.   Then into the country with a pause at Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall and through Øystese to the small farming hamlet of Fykse.   Since the 14th century, Hardanger has been a prime fruit growing area especially prized for its apples.  After a visit to the farm and refreshments in a local hotel we drove a scenic route back to the ship.  Best of all was that Bergen had had 2 weeks of continuous rain and we brought with us dry sun and warmth.

Around Hardanger with Mountains all around

This one of myself by the waters edge (and cold)

Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall

We were unable to walk behind fall as the pathway was frozen (for safety reasons)

  Following this was "The Rauma Railway" on Saturday 4th (1100-1330) in Åndalsnes.  Our 35 mile journey was first by coach which took us through one of Norway's most beautiful valleys surrounded by impressive peaks rising straight up from the valley floor and alighted at Bjorli railway Station but not before a pause at the Slettafossen Waterfall viewpoint to get a closer look at the "Troll Wall", Europe's highest perpendicular mountain wall.   The scenic railway with large panoramic windows rides through some of the most spectacular mountain formations in Norway.  Our journey passed along the course of the Rauma River, descending the Romsdal Valley, passing the Horn of Romsdal and the Troll Wall mountain face.   We passed waterfalls (most frozen), crossed several bridges and rode through two turning tunnels which allowed the train to descend further down into the valley.  Then we crossed the Kylling Bridge from where there is a dramatic view of the part frozen river flowing into the canyon below before we returned to the ship.

A short stop to photo the high surrounding mountains

A typical view from the train (mostly holiday homes)

The Kylling Bridge

One of so many typical frozen waterfalls

  Tromsø at 68 deg North and "Dog Sledding through the Wilderness" on Monday 6th (0930-1230).   We headed for the Tromsø Wilderness Centre about 12 miles from the city amid beautiful scenery.  We met some of the now 306 adult Alaskan Huskies who are trained to pull the sledges through some of the harshest polar conditions.   We then walked through the yard for our sledding experience which was a thrilling 20-25 minute ride through the wilderness overlooking the Fjords.  Each sledge took 2 people plus our guide pulled by a dozen or so dogs.   Afterwards we enjoyed a warming cup of coffee or tea from an open fire and cake served in a traditional "Lavvu" tent.   Finally a guided tour around the kennels handling 8 week olds and also pups with a rather anxious Mum before returning to the pier in Tromsø and our ship.

We are settled in and nearly ready with the dogs raring to go

Blue eyed Alaskan Husky. All 306 dogs were so friendly

We were encouraged to cuddle the 8 week old dogs

Also the 2 week old Pups (with an anxious Mum looking on)

  The "Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel visit" was next on Tuesday 7th (1100-1300) in Alta at 70 deg North.   This is the famous ice built hotel that is rebuilt every winter and we had the opportunity to stay overnight in the reindeer fur lined bed and a warm sleeping bag but we just opted for a visit.   We started with a 1/2 hour coach journey through the winter landscape and on arrival a talk by ”Canute”, the owner and builder.  The outside appeared to be just a large amount of compacted snow but inside was full of sculptures.  We had a welcoming drink, a Vodka & blue Curacao tipple served in ice glasses at the bar before admiring the chapel, lounges and the 30 "Igloo" bedrooms.   The hotel is also well placed for spotting the Aurora Borealis.   Since we were only visiting we returned again by coach to the ship.

Pure clear river ice for the main hotel supports

One of so many Ice sculptures

The Ice Bar serving Vodka & Blue Curacao in Ice glasses

We toast ourselves (with the complimentary drink)

  Then came the reason we were here, "Hunting for the Aurora Borealis" in the evening of 7th (2100-0100) in Alta at 70 deg North, in minus 10 to 14 deg C and it was so COLD!   Of course we were wrapped up with thermals jumpers boots our free red Saga thermal jackets and anything else we could think of but the cold eventually got through.  This was our best chance of viewing the amazing natural phenomena.   I had seen this in the past for about 6 weeks but the showing was dull grey and green, certainly nothing at all spectacular and at the time I did not really think it would be better captured on a camera.  For this occasion I had borrowed a Nikon D90 camera capable of taking a 15 second exposure on a tripod (my own camera was used for some 1,000 other photos but being a Bridge was limited to a maximum 4 second exposure).  After an early dinner we attended a lecture by our expert guide giving us hints and tips and some facts regarding the "lights".   As a group we chose our best location for the viewing for the evening based on the latest local meteorological forecasts and boarded our coach to travel to our "spot" far away from any light pollution.   Our expert forecast our chances at 2 out of 10 for a good showing.  The colourful display of light is created by emissions of photons in the Earth's upper atmosphere with grey to green being easier to view and low in the sky and yellow to red much rarer and higher.   Our guide told stories of the region and gave tips on how to take the best photograph. Warm drinks and snacks were served by the camp fire nearby and as it was so bitterly cold just standing around, we needed it.   One by one the coaches returned to the ship with the last departing after midnight.   What a night!   We must have had some serious luck as I took so many fantastic photos when all of a sudden the red lights in the form of quickly swirling matter came down and I thought I could actually 'touch' it.  It was unreal and felt that close.  Our expert said it was the best showing he had seen if his life.   Now that was some experience.  The last photo shows me ghosted in far left. As it was a 15 second exposure I quickly moved to be in shot giving the camera a short time to capture me.  In retrospect now it seems my exposure time was too great making it seem daylight rather than a moon lit night.

I just took one photo after another

The “lights” just kept coming.   Cold got me in the end

I captured the greys, greens, yellows and even the reds

Yes its a “selfie”.  Just to prove I was there

That’s me, ghosted in far left (a quick dash after pressing the shutter)

  Our next excursion was "Reindeer Sledding in Maze Sami village" on Wednesday 8th (1300-1700) again in Alta.   Lapland covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.   The indigenous inhabitants of Lapland are know as Sami, totalling around 80,000 of whom about half live in Northern Norway's Finnmark region where they live an isolated nomadic subsistence lifestyle.  We started by driving for about an hour through Alta and Elby valleys before arriving in Maze.  In the village there are about 350 inhabitants where all but a handful are Sami and our hosts welcomed us wearing kofta, their traditional costume and introduced us to the history & culture of the Sami people.   In the late 1970's the Norwegian government first planned the Alta Dam which would have completely flooded Maze however due to resistance and demonstrations the government down sized the plans and the beautiful village survived.  We were then taken to where a small herd of specially trained reindeer were waiting to take us on an old fashioned sled ride.   They said we would ride them and then catch them?  We travelled for about 1/2 hour quietly through the pristine winter landscape mostly on a frozen lake hearing nothing but the jingle of bells.   On our return we had to ‘lasso’ our reindeer (well a set of antlers).  Then inside their Lavvu tent our guide recounted stories about the Sami people, their history, chants and their way of life whilst we were served coffee, tea and biscuits before we all returned to Alta.

We stopped for a break on the frozen lake

The sled behind catching us up (antlers touching Joy)

Typical Sami wearing Kofta (their reindeer clothing)

We were welcomed to a hot drink and a snack (and warmth)

  And finally "The Ofotbanen Railway" on Friday 10th (1400-1800) in Narvik.   The main purpose of this railway is to transport iron ore from Sweden to the ice-free port of Narvik where it is then loaded into ships and exported, a process that has been running for over a century.   After a short coach trip we boarded the Ofotbanen Railway at Narvik and travelled for about 26 miles through some spectacular scenery to Riksgränsen about 1/2 mile inside the Swedish boarder.  We looked out across the southern cliffs of Rombaksfjord.  Hugging the steep rock face, the line passed through Katterat and on to Bjornfjell which is the last station on the Norwegian side of the border at around 1,600 feet above sea level.   There are Norwegian and Swedish flags painted on the tunnel wall which marks the border between the two countries.   After alighting the train in the Swedish Ski resort of Riksgränsen we received a warm welcome  at the local hotel and enjoyed refreshments and some free time before we returned to Narvik this time by coach.

Every house has a ladder for the annual chimney sweep

The “Bifrost” steam engine build in 1882

From the railway station we “red coats” walk to a Hotel for refreshments

Deep snow drifts half cover the hotel windows

  We crossed the Arctic Circle for the second time on 11th and held the “Arctic Circle Crossing” ceremony on the Veranda Deck at the precise time (1200 Local).   This ceremony was an invitation to those guests who had previously crossed the Arctic Circle at sea to pay their respects to King Neptune (or the ship shall forever be cursed) and to initiate all those Blue noses (never crossed before) to warm bodies (after crossing) with comical speaches from some of the Senior Officers including our much loved and daring Captain and finally by dropping a piece of ice down their front followed by a warming drink (spirit) and all this in front of the Ships passengers.   Yes it was still very cold on deck but the laughter kept us warm.   Thus they became qualified.

The Arctic Circle Crossing Ceremony organised by Kayleigh McMahon our Cruise Director

Ice poured down your front followed with a drink

All who took part in the ceremony

And the Captain and Officers got the remainder of the ice

  We arrived in Stavanger on 13th and because we hadn’t booked an organised excursion we decided to explore the town.   We started in the old part where all the old style buildings (much missed bombing during WW2) had been renovated and are still lived-in not forgetting the Sardine Canning factory.   Then around the harbour, the more modern town and finally the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.

The Old Town of Stavanger from the Ship

We explore more of the Old Town

There were so many ’Child’s Play areas’ around the town

And even more Timber figurines

Stavanger Petroleum Museum, largest drill bit in the world (1700 Kg)

Synthetic Diamond drilling head with finger sized and very expensive teeth

  Oh, and our Wedding Anniversary on the 11th?  Yes that was celebrated with our friends in style at dinner in the main lounge with 2 bottles of complimentary champagne, 2 very large specially made cakes, photographs by the ships photographer and a serenade by the ships staff and all in front of around 150 passengers (see header photo).   A celebration and holiday never to be forgotten.
  
I took over 900 photos whilst on the cruise with Joy adding another 30. Would we do it again?  Yes of course but only with Saga purely as everything and I mean everything is organised.   The following is just a selection of life on board:-

A typical sunset taken from the Sundowner’s bar deck (aft)

Relaxing in the sun on the Veranda Deck
 (with complimentary blanket)

We try the Deck Quoits in the frost

Joy wrote 'JOY WAS HERE' in the frost

The Explosive Productions song & dance team (up and close)

And there are more, after their show 'Music of the Night'

The ‘Discovery’ Lounge for Talks, Entertainment and Parties

A pre-dinner cocktail in the Shackleton's Bar

Shackleton's Bar and the comforts of being Inside

And Outside Joy with warmer clothes on at 68 deg North

The Veranda Deck after a shower

Midday and a ‘Sail Away’ party (in the cold)

 And finally the ship herself, Saga Pearl 11.

”Saga Pearl 11” moored in Andalsnes