Monday, August 5, 2013

Celebrity Eclipse Post 2

Vestmanna Sea Cliffs Grotto
The Faroe Islands sit in the heart of the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic  halfway between Iceland and Norway.  Eighteen islands comprise this archipelago of a country that is an autonomous, self-governing region within the Kingdom of Denmark.  Our ship, the Celebrity Eclipse, docked in the northern islands at Klaksvik, the second largest town.  It is definitely a remote country and not too well known, but it’s actually quite sophisticated.  We were told that every family has a computer and the outer islands are well connected to the wireless world. 

Now, what does one do in the Faroe Islands?   The most visited attraction on the islands sounded good to Ben and me, so off we went on a boat tour of the Vestmanna SeaCliffs.  Our motorcoach took us island hopping through connecting undersea tunnels and bridges until we reached the sightseeing dock in Vestmanna where we boarded our boat for the excursion to the outlying cliffs.  After leaving the protected harbor, our boat plowed through choppier waters toward the cliffs.  We were happy to reach them since the wild and totally unsheltered North Atlantic loomed further out.   The cliffs were worth the ride, however, and our captain exhibited remarkable skill weaving in and out of caves and grottos, and maneuvering as close to the edges as he could to give us better glimpses of the numerous birds that nest there, including puffins. 

A final day and a half sail across the North Atlantic from Klaksvik, and the Eclipse left the open sea near Alesund to make
Geiranger Fjord-Ships Below
her way into the ten-mile-long fjord leading to Geiranger, Norway.  Think of it kind of like Skagway, Alaska, which, despite its Gold Rush Days significance, survives these days on the tourism dollar.  This small settlement of about 300 inhabitants swells every time a ship drops anchor in the harbor, and many store owners and workers live in other towns in the country.  Although Geiranger Fjord is perhaps the best known, it’s not the longest, but the lush green mountains dotted with quaint little houses and farms provide a picturesque backdrop for the numerous waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides bearing colorful names like Bridal Veil, The Suitor, and Seven Sisters.  Our excursion bore the nondescript title of Geiranger Highlights.  Little did we realize we’d be bussed up winding roads with hairpin turns to the summit of Mount Dalsnibba where snow still remained along the parking lot of the Norwegian Fjord Center.  Clouds and mist shrouded some of our views, but the center itself explained the conditions people along the fjords used to live under.  I headed to the overlook for a quick photo, but strong icy winds sent this Southern girl back to the bus very quickly.

Knute Rockne Memorial in Voss
The Sognefjord takes the prize for the “longest” fjord and is not lacking of majestic beauty itself.  With depths of up to 4,000 feet, the fjord is often called the “Father of Fjords.”  The Eclipse experienced nary a problem navigating the 110 miles into the Sognefjord, before then turning into the Aurlandsfjord on the way to Flam.  Sheer mountain walls reaching up to 3,000 feet line this, the narrowest of fjords at only 1,500 feet wide.  The highlight of any visit to Flam is riding on the railway to or from Voss, home to many Olympic ski medalists and birthplace of famed Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne who is honored there with a small memorial.   Our group began, however, with a bus ride first past the Twin Falls and more lush views than we could count.  En route, we enjoyed a tea and cookie break at the quaint Stalheim Hotel perched on a mountaintop overlooking the scenic hills and valleys below.  After arriving in Voss, we were treated to a traditional Norwegian meal at the historic Fleischer's Hotel which was over 100 years old.   
Kjosfossen Waterfalls

For the trip down the mountain, it was train time!  We boarded the Bergen-Oslo Railway in Flam, right next to the hotel, for the first part of our trip down the curving mountainside to Myrdal where we switched to the famous Flam Railway , one of the world’s most interesting engineering marvels.  It climbs almost 3000 feet from Flam to Myrdal, weaving through some 20 tunnels and around steep cliffs and includes a brief stop at the majestic Kjosfossen falls.  We were told we could embark for photos and to watch for the legendary Huldra (a seductive forest creature in Scandinavian folklore), who magically made an appearance in a red dress, singing and dancing.  See what we saw here!

With Flam, we were done with fjords, but certainly not with Norway!

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