Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sea Days and Stavanger, Norway--Sept. 3 to 7

We had a sea day after Edinburgh. The captain had made the announcement early in the day that we would not make the port of LeHavre the next day due to Hurricane Dan. So while it was disappointing for a lot of people who had excursions in Paris and the veterans who were returning to Normandy, all of a sudden we had two sea days. A bonus!

We met up with Larry and Joan for dinner and after dinner we decided to head to Club Fusion where a game of Jeopardized Trivia was being played. I think the several drinks at dinner wound us up (if you can imagine!) and we became quite enthused players. You would write your answer on a piece of paper and one of the crew members would run to each table to check your answer. Each time she flew by our table, Larry would jump up and hug her. The first time, I think she was quite shocked. After that, she couldn’t wait to get to our table! Then, just to confuse her, when she thought she would be hugging Larry, Jim would jump up! We had a blast. Sadly, we didn’t win the game, but we did get two bottles of champagne for being…the loudest. Oy!! It was a lot of fun.

Of course, not knowing when to quit, we headed up to Skywalker’s Night Club. Normally, it is a pretty dead spot as most of the people on the ship are not of the age to go to the Night Club. But this night, it was hopping. There were probably about 30 people or so…that’s a big crowd! We started sending requests to the DJ and people seemed to like the same music we did, because the dance floor was full for the next two hours. The memory that remains with me is Larry being a zombie when the DJ played Thriller. We laughed so much! Oh, to have had my camera!

We decided we needed an oatmeal cookie (oh yeah, logic had gone out the window by now) and headed up to the buffet which is open 24 hours. Hmmm…what’s this? Not a soul around except us. It is 2:45 a.m. by now. Thoughts of cookies turned into pizza and other assorted goodies and we called it a night. It was great fun…definitely one of the highlights of the cruise!!

Hard to imagine, but the next sea day involved a lot of sleeping. It was the last day of the British Isles portion of the cruise, and we went to the Crown Grill steakhouse for dinner with Larry and Joan. You pay a cover charge at the specialty restaurants. This one was $25 each and the amount of food they brought is insane. No one could eat that much! With our full tummies we bid adieu to Larry and Joan who were leaving the ship in Southampton. We’ll miss them on the next leg of the cruise to New York.

Here we are pulling into Southampton in the middle of the night. The next day, we were planning to go into Southampton and walk around, but first we had to find customs to get Jim’s VAT refund for a vase we purchased. That turned into two hours of confusion and we were finally told, there was no customs office at the pier in Southampton. Hopefully, we can get our form stamped in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.

This begins the second part of our cruise, the transatlantic portion from Southampton to New York. Sailing through the North Sea, we passed many operating oil rigs. It’s amazing to see them in the middle of nowhere!

We entered the port of Stavanger, Norway around 9:00 a.m. Stavanger is ideally located on a harbour that allows easy trade with England and the rest of Europe. In 1125 A.D. a cathedral was built and this was the beginning of the building of the town of Stavanger. It was primarily a fishing village and exported fish to the rest of the world. Herring was initially their prime export but when it became scarce in the 19th century, sardine fishing took its place. Stavanger is also noted for its shipbuilding, and ships from the local yards sail worldwide.

In the late 1960s, the sardine stocks were diminishing and Stavanger’s future was uncertain. The discovery of North Sea oil in 1973 was a godsend and the town became Norway’s oil capital. There are many head offices of oil companies located here. Adorable town even if it is big oil country!

Looking at these crazy crew members on the yacht washing down the masts. I hope they get paid well!

We had a tour of a monastery planned and we headed out in the afternoon in the pouring rain. We snagged the front seat of the bus.

Here we are heading through a 6 km long tunnel that has been built under the North Sea. At its deepest point it is 223 m under the sea. Norway is obviously very wealthy to be able to build tunnels like this.

We are heading to Utstein Kloster. This was a Viking garrison going back as far as 873 A.D. It was abandoned by the Vikings and in 1260 construction of an abbey started.

Farmland along the fjord...

As we got closer to the Abbey, the topography changed to a rocky terrain. Many millions of years ago, Norway was joined to England and Canada, and the predominant rock type is common in all areas.

The Abbey was home to Augustine monks for about 350 years.

This is the Abbey which is still used for church services and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Here are the hours of the abbey and the admission fee, about $10.

An interesting stone building on the grounds which has stood the test of time.

Intricate stonework that is over 750 years old. The sign on the door says WC…I am sure that was not the original use for this!

This room was the Sanctuary. The abbey was home to 12 monks. Discipline was strict with regular prayers, scripture readings and services. Monks were not allowed to speak in this room. The architecture of the room with its curved ceiling is a feat in itself. It is believed that the monks filled the room with earth to stand on to build the walls and ceiling. When construction was complete, the earth was removed from the room.

The walls were hollow and this hole was used by the abbot to peer in at the monks to ensure they were not speaking or eating in the sanctuary.

Lovely tapestry on the wall…

Look at the thickness of the walls…no wonder their buildings last for centuries!

The nave in the abbey…

The chancel looking towards the nave. We are seated for a recital by the organist of the abbey.

The organist…

The music was really sort of eerie. It sounded like music from a haunted house!

The beautifully decorated pulpit…

Hmmm…a doorway leading to a brick wall. The doorways were very small and narrow.

The abbey fell into disuse and in 1750 a farmer moved in and refurbished some of the buildings. Farming continued until the 1930s. This shows some of the furniture from the earlier era.

Here is our tour guide telling us a ghost story. Supposedly the ghost of the woman in the portrait haunts this part of the abbey.

A painting of one of the monks…

The century-old beech trees surrounding the abbey…

Look at the size of this tree!

These rocks were all from the surrounding land. In order to farm, they had to clear them and then used them for rock fences and other buildings.

Happily the rains had stopped by now and we headed back to town. This is a small hotel area near the abbey.

These are typical Norwegian roads…very narrow with turn-outs for meeting cars.

Heading back to Stavanger…

The bales of hay on the side of the road are called “tractor eggs.” Too cute!

Construction of offices for oil companies continues in this thriving area.

We did a tour of the town. This is the rich part of the city where homes sell for the equivalent of $1-$2 million dollars!

The homes would date from the early 1900s…

Town hall in Stavanger…

We got off the bus and walked with our tour guide back to the ship. I have no idea what the significance of this statue is, nor have I been able to find out anything about it. A mystery...

OK...let's just call this the collection of weird statues that I don't have any information on!

I do recall it was something to do with this man and his love for children...but the rest is a mystery. Look at how his left arm has been touched and rubbed so often that it is shiny...

The area we walked through is known as Gamle Stavanger, an area of small wooden houses from the 18th century. This map shows the layout of the 173 houses in this preserved area.

These houses were built very close to the docks and were once the working class homes and not at all a desirable area. The narrow walkways paved with cobblestones make this a quaint area.

Don't you just want to sit down here and have a glass of wine and watch the world go by?

These homes have all been lovingly restored. This is the oldest street in Stavanger called the Up and Down Street…

This hump in the middle of the road ensures no cars come through.

Even the manhole covers are attractive…

The old sardine factory which is now a museum.

The roofs are works of art in themselves!

Beautiful flowers throughout the area…

You can see how close these houses were to the docks because here is our ship looming over the town.

Looking out to sea...

We got back on the ship and got a great perspective of the whole area from the top of the ship. While we were in the town I was commenting that it was strange that all the houses were white, as opposed to the brightly coloured ones you often see in many harbour towns.

It turns out that white paint was originally very expensive. These houses would not have been white when they were built as white paint signified wealth. Now I know!

A great day in Stavanger…tomorrow we are off to Bergen, Norway…