Jul. 15th, 2011

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Wednesday -- Or as I call it, Settlers of Catan Day

We had a mission in Kristiansand -- to find an internet cafe and upload Becca’s video project.  Have I mentioned that?  I think I did back on Day 2 when she finished editing it and showed it to us.  But, since it was done for a contest, it had to be uploaded to YouTube by the 19th. 

Kristiansand was not looking like it was going to have a bunch of stuff going on, so we decided to make that happen today.  There was also a neat mine/gemstone museum/theme park in the area that the ship wanted $110 per person to go to, so we also decided that if we could figure out a way to do that cheaper, we might give that a try.

So we got off of the boat after breakfast, about 8:30 am, and heading into Kristiansand. There were a couple of small problems right off the bat.  First, we were docked in the industrial part of town, and had to walk through some kind of scudsy terrain to get to down.  Also, once we got a nicer part of town, there was a bunch of construction going on, and that forced us along a narrow strip of dock that was a little precarious.  And then, Becca had insisted on bringing her huge gaming laptop with her, instead of my smaller netbook, so before we even made it into town, she had already given up on carrying it and it was handed off to me.

So these little problems had already put us into a bit of a negative mood, which even finding a neat display of professional sand sculptures couldn’t quite shake.  When we hit the town itself, we were dumped into more dingy waterfront.  We found an internet cafe that I had found online, but it out not to open until 10:00.

We almost gave up right then and there, but as a last try we wandered into a hotel and asked if there was a local tourist office.  They directed us three blocks over, which led us along a really nice pedestrian-only shopping street.  We found a toy store where Becca bought a Pokeball, and a bookstore that had their entire basement dedicated to boardgames.  I took some pictures of the games, and just to compare prices, that had a copy of Dominion for the equivalent of $60.

We got to the tourist office and determined that there was no reasonable way to get to the Mineral Park.  They did direct us to the local library where we could get internet.  They led us to the main square, which was a mess because they were setting up for the Tour de Norway to come through later in the day.  But we found the city library and Becca got setup to  upload her video . . . except that we couldn’t login.  You had to give them your cell phone number and they would text you a password to access the network.

Oh well, it was after 10:00 am by then, so we just went back to the internet cafe . . . which was still not open.  Don’t know why, but even 20 minutes after their posted opening time they were still closed.

At this point we were pretty frustrated, and just decided to get out of there.  We hailed a taxi to bypass all of the industry and construction, and got straight back to the ship.

And thus began the Settler’s Challenge.  We ‘settled’ down in the library and essentially stayed there for the rest of the day and played seven or eight games with the occasional break for a nap or for food.
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Thursday -- Bergen

I have to admit, I was pretty worried about Bergen.  After the trouble we’d had the day before in Kristiansand both with the town itself and with getting internet (which we still needed to do), I was envisioning a repeat of the day before.  But my fears were for naught, for Bergen had been the best stop of the trip so far.

We arrived in the town later in the morning than in previous ports, so we were able to see our approach as we ate breakfast.  Delicious food at the window while sailing under massive suspension bridges, alongside glacial-carved rocky islands, home to hardy evergreen tress and even hardier human habitations.  Expensive sailboats, blindingly white in the morning sun and wooden or rusted fishing boats squatting in the bay.

Over breakfast, we glanced over the map of Bergen the cruise ship had provided, and I noticed that there was something labeled “Leper Museum” and mentioned it in a joking voice.  It was pretty far from the harbor, but the seed had been planted.

Just off the boat, we got accosted by a salesman for one of the sightseeing buses, the same company we’d had in Oslo, and so we signed up right away.  Once again, there were lots of crazy drivers, narrow streets, and I’m sure we ran over a baby or two.  Becca wanted to go to the Natural History Museum and see the dinosaurs, and so we planned to come back to that. 

They talked us into getting off of the bus at the Old Town Hall because if we took the full round trip back to the boat, we’d have to wait at the boat for 30 minutes before the bus left again.  Since we were close, we walked to the Leprosy Museum.  It was closed, but was opening in 15 minutes or so.  We wandered the immediate neighborhood and found a pedestrian shopping street filled with restaurants, coffee shops and clothing shops.  They all had outdoor seating, and at one of them, Becca found free wifi, because we were still trying to upload her video, this time having transferred her 260 MB file to my lightweight netbook.

The Leprosy Museum was of more interest to the girls than to me, but it was still pretty interesting, mostly as an example of 18th and 19th Century “charity”, isolating these poor people in the name of public safety and then forcing them to work, all the while forbidding them the basic pleasures of human existence - love, friendship, kindness, hope.  The neatest thing about the place was the church, built in the first half of the 18th Century after one of the great fires swept through the city.

It was odd-shaped, a long nave with a huge wooden altar at one end.  The entrance from the hospital was from two small passages on either side of this giant altar backsplash.  Halfway up the nave where you’d expect a perpendicular gallery on both sides, there is one, but one on one side, the right as you’re facing the altar.  At the end of that gallery, is the main entrance to the courtyard. All along the nave and the gallery were pews, but they’re entrance from the isle was blocked by little gates, turning each row into its own semi-private section, complete with latch on the gate and number painted on the door.  All of it in hand-carved wood, dark with age.  Not pretty, really, but evocative of another age.  Pictures, of course, to come.

We went back to the pedestrian walk and got Becca set up transferring her video.  Chris and I got coffee at a health food shop/coffee house, and I also had a ham and cucumber sandwich on homemade spelt biscuit.  It was very good and I had forgotten that I actually kind of like cucumbers.  We were there for nearly an hour, and didn’t talk much, just did a fair amount of people watching.

The Leprosy Museum had given us coupons for both the Rosenkrantz Tower and something called King Haakon’s Hall.  The tower had been pointed out to us on the tour bus and it was between where we were now and the cruise ship, as was the major tourist shopping area and the Fish Market, so we headed in that direction.

Chris navigated us through the narrow streets and before long we were at the Fish Market.  Fresh fish and shellfish didn’t tempt me, but I almost bought a 3 pack of sausage -- reindeer, moose and whale -- but it was just too expensive.  There were lots of souvenirs, but surprisingly few Viking-related ones.  We found a few Thor’s Hammers, but none that were exactly what Chris wanted.

The Market led onto the waterfront street that was once the district of the Hanseatic League.  Many of the centuries-old building were restored and turned into tourist shops, complete with narrow, wood-plank streets and leaning walls held up with steel beams and construction jacks.  This section was really neat and very historical, but had more the feel of an old west town because of all of the wooden plank construction.  One of these shops, a silversmith, advertised a Viking re-enactment event that was going on.  I’d like to remember to go back and investigate that at some point:  vikingvalley.no

There was one shop there specializing in Viking kitsch, and we spent a lot of money there.  I got some Lewis Chess Set Piece keychains and should have bought the Viking cookbook, but only noticed it just as we were leaving.  There was a Viking longship candleholder that I probably should of bought too, especially because it was pretty close to 25mm scale and could have been used in gaming and $70 for something like that isn’t that overpriced . . .

By now, we only had an hour before we needed to be back on the ship, so we hurried a block over to the Rosenkrantz Tower.  It was a thick-walled late-Medieval keep and we all had a lot of fun climbing up and down the several narrow spiral staircases, exploring to dark passages and reading the small signs that explained what each room was used for.  On the top floors there was a large exhibit about medieval law and how the codes had been developed and changed over time.  The very top, the walk around the crenelated roof, was very narrow and somewhat crowded, so I didn’t spend a lot of time up there, but did give a good look to the fabulous slate roof that peaked up above the outer walkway.

A sign had said that King Haakon’s Hall was in the same complex, and we still had some time and a 50% off coupon, so we decided to give that a try.  And are we all glad we did!  That may be the highlight of the trip.

The hall was three stories, well with three floors, probably four or five stories tall.  The entrance was on the third floor, and entered into a large, open, rectangular . . . hall.  I paced it off, it was 100 feet from the back to the roped off section before the raised dies along the back wall, so probably 120 feet long.  Half or a third of that wide.  Along the far wall, on a raised platform, was a long table and chairs, the three in the middle high-backed and for the important people.  And this feature was built into the hall, as behind those chairs, in the wall, were arched recesses.

Higher up on that back wall (and on the opposite wall, as well), was a large, recessed stained glass window.  The base of the window was accessible (though roped off) through a pair of stairs in the corners of the hall that led into the wall and then out onto a balcony in front of the window.

The roof was a wonder to behold of beautiful, grand timberwork towering skyward.

Stairs led down to a series of corner-vaulted under chambers that are hard to explain, but which were a dozen or so (maybe fewer) of smaller room on two or maybe one and a half levels.  I took lots of pictures and I desperately want to make a 1 inch = 5 feet scale map of the place.

We were pretty worn out at this point and retired back to the cruise ship.  We were all desperately thirsty, and after a few drinks (I had two ginger ales back to back) Chris and I went th the Thermal Suite in the spa and Becca relaxed n the room. We got to watch the ship pull out of the harbor while sitting in the hot mineral bath and laying on the heated beds.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Two more games of Settlers (and two Lemon Drops) later, we got dinner in the cafeteria, and since we were one of the last ones through the line as they were trying to close up for the night, they piled our plates high with steak, lamb chops and grilled tuna steaks.

Becca turned in after that, while I went to the casino.  I had run into the casino manager earlier in the day (we had chatted together for quite a while on that first night) and he had told me that they had managed to get a live poker game going that night before, so he had hopes for tonight.  They did, and I played $1/$2 NL Hold ‘Em for about an hour before getting too tired to go on.  I came out $15 ahead and had a really good time.

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