Jul. 19th, 2011

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Sunday, Honningsvag

Honningsvag, the nearest settlement to the northernmost point in continental Europe, is north of the 71st parallel north, which is pretty far north.  For the first time in the cruise, the day was overcast and there was a cold breeze.  The town was . . . pretty much non-existent. 

Over breakfast I was forced to work.  I took my laptop and notebook and made lists of all of the used games that Kayce and Layla had been trying to buy over the last week.  It was a huge collection, but I made it through the list and was able to make an offer for them to pass along to the customer.  We were having internet problems though, so I didn’t get to send that e-mail until that evening.

There was a tourist shop right on the pier and we visited that and mailed postcards from there.  People back in the States should get postcards before we return . . . hopefully.  There was an indigenous peoples (the Sami) shop where Becca bought a reindeer bone on a leather thong.  And there was an ice bar. 

A large gift shop with a huge freezer in the back room filled with locally ‘mined’ river ice to form a large room coated and decorated with ice.  Bar made of ice, seats made of ice (with reindeer skin mat to sit on), tables made of ice, signs made of ice, an igloo made of ice that folks could crawl in.  I paid the $30 to go in and got my drink of watered down kool-aid in a glass . . . wait for it . . . made of ice.  It was kitschy, it was touristy, and it was fun.

So we came back to the ship and took a nap.  After that I went to the Thermal Suite (God, I love that place!) and relaxed for 90 minutes or so.  It was actually busy that day so I tried the steam room and the sauna.  I’ve never much cared for saunas, and this one didn’t change my mind.  The steam room was much the same, but more moist.  One thing that I really like about the place is that there is a cold misting shower that sprays scented water.  I asked what it was and they told me that it was scented with mint and camphor oils.

There was more Settlers of Catan and more mojitos.  I should probably squeeze one odd bit of information in here somewhere, and this seems to be as good as any place.  There has been a Bridge meet-up on the at sea days, but I haven’t gone to see how many people show up.  We have had one foursome steal our preferred Settlers table in the library.  There have been quite a few people playing Scrabble (in several languages!) and even one couple playing Carcassonne.  There have been many people stopping to work on the various jigsaw puzzles out on display.  Today we saw the first evidence that anyone else was sharing ‘our’ copy of Settlers.  But the most popular game on the cruise?  By far the winner is . . . Rummikub!  The ship has five or six copies of the game and I have not been in the library during sane hours and not seen someone playing it.  One night there were five simultaneous games going on!  That has been quite an eye-opener for me.

We ate dinner in the cafeteria and had plate after plate of prime rib . . . well, okay, only two plates of prime rib, but they were so good.  I’m so glad that there is no scale on the ship . . .

After dinner, Becca went to hang out with the teens (and there were actually a few this night) and I went down to the casino while Chris turned in early.  The poker game was very good and I quickly found myself up $20 or so playing 1/2 NL.  We had a 4th player join, and he was a much better player than the other two, and I quickly found myself on the losing side of two very large pots, which took my early lead away and left me $60 in the hole.  More careful playing over the next two hours brought me to exactly even after I gave the dealers a decent tip.  Despite the early losses, I felt triumphant at the recovery.

Becca and two other teens passed through the casino a little before Midnight, but she didn’t return to the room until long after I had gone to bed.  Needless to say, she would not be a bright and happy camper in the morning.  But that story will have to wait until tomorrow . . .
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Today is Monday, so that must mean we’re in Hammerfest!

The maneuvering to bring the huge cruise ship into Hammerfest harbor began about 6:00 am this morning, and at least in our tiny, interior cabin in the bowels of the ship, all of that engine work was very loud and there was no sleeping through it.  At least for the adults, because Becca seemed to have no troubles.  The fact that she’d been out until about 3:00 am might have had something to do with it though.

So we were up and breakfasted by the time we were fully docked and approved to be let off of the ship.  We poked and prodded Becca enough to get her to say that she didn’t want to get up, and so Chris and I went off to enjoy Hammerfest alone.

We were one of the first ones off of the ship and there weren’t all that many other cruisers following after us.  Again, we were docked some distance from the town center, and the on-board announcements assured us that it was just a 15-20 minute walked, and actually asked us if those of us more able passengers would walk instead of taking up the limited seats on the shuttle bus.  But after our experience in Tromso, there was no way we were going along with that plan.

It was a sunny day, though there was a wicked sharp wind that would pick up and whip through the waterfront, driving before it dust and sand and grit that you couldn’t keep out of your hair or mouth.  So we got on the shuttle bus as soon as we could, only to be driven off of it just as quickly since it was one of the paid tour buses.  The shuttle bus arrived ten minutes later and we only filled up about half the seats.  So no harm done.

It was a very pretty drive along a narrow coastline with steep, rocky hillsides receding away inland.  There were houses built upon terraces that clung to those steep slopes.  Coating the grey stone, on every ledge or outcrop or small plateau, was a combination of green grass and moss.  I would have liked to get a good close look at the ground cover, but didn’t have the chance.  Perhaps if we’d walked I would have, but as we drove, it quickly became apparent, that this was no 15 minute walk, so we had learned our lesson well.

The bus dropped us off at the main tourist office and headquarters of the Royal Polar Bear Society.  Chris and I both joined the Order, which is essentially a tourist trap sort of affair designed to separate visitors from their krone, but they use the money to keep northern Norway clean and protect the native wildlife, so the money isn’t wasted.  Plus we got cool certificates and even neater lapel pins.

They also had a nice little museum that talked about local history and culture and had a large display of taxidermied local animals.  The gift shop was extensive and we spent quite a bit of time and money there.  It was good that we did too, because later in that day, when we came back to catch our bas back to the ship, the place was packed you could barely get in, let alone enjoy what was there.

From there we wandered around the town.  I had a nice conversation with a local craftswoman who was selling local flowers and plants that she had dried and arranged into nice little displays.  We found a book store that had the Viking Cookbook that I had regretted not buying back in Bergen, so I picked that up.  There were some wooden polar bear statues and we took some novelty photos with them.

Back on the ship, Becca still wasn’t awake, but we decided to do laundry and there was no way she could sleep through that.  While the clothes tumbled we got lunch and squeezed in a game of Settlers but then retired for a nice long nap once that was all done.

We got up just in time for happy hour, and had double drinks again while we played two more games of Settlers of Catan.  We’ve gotten to be regular enough that one of the waitresses knows us and will bring us our drinks in the library.  For some reason she started calling me “Sir Tim,” and I find I like that quite a bit.  :)

After Settlers we had dinner, which was a delicious London Broil steak in a creamy green peppercorn sauce, that I went and slathered over a pile of french fries.  So good.

Becca abandoned us for the teen room as quickly as she could after dinner, and Chris and I went down to the library and computered.  Then it was time for 60’s night in the casino.  I played poker and Chris hung out and tried to win prized in the raffle.  Neither of us had any luck -- no raffle winnings for her and I lost $60 at the poker table, most of it on one hand where I had JJ go up against AA.

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