Saturday, February 28, 2015

02/06 - 02/17 - Green lights in the sky


A totally unusual location for us to spend our vacation: the cold North during the winter time. But there was a reason behind it... we wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, the magic green lights in the sky which means that you've to go north if you wanna have a realistic chance to see them.

So we left Switzerland in February 6 and took the flight via Amsterdam to Bergen where we boarded on the MS Trollfjord which is one of the post ships of the Hurtigruten. Luckily we'd one of the bigger cabins but even 13 m2 can be really tight with all that stuff you need for the time of the journey.

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The MS Trollfjord




A look at the bar

Leaving Bergen

After the boarding we immediately rushed to the dinner and later we could watch the ship leaving the dock and starting the trip to Kirkenes which would be the return point of this trip. After passing Florø and Ålesund (where we made a city walk to see some of the Art Noveau buildings) we continued our way to Molde. This was the first stretch of open sea called Stadthavet and it welcomed us with the first hurricane, unfortunately not the strongest one we'd on this trip. As it's the first we got an official certificate a few days later, winds up to 40 m/s and waves of 12 m, within the next days it's even more!!

A walk through Ålesund

We continued the trip northward and passed the ports of Rørvik, Ørnes, Bodø, Stamsund and Svolvær, some stretches of open sea, survived a few more strong hurricanes and passed the Arctic Circle on day 4 at 07:12 am. Later in the morning there was an official "ceremony" on deck to celebrate this crossing, all the passangers were baptized with some ice water (being poured in the neck), Neptune spent us a visit to do that... ;-)

Crossing the Arctic Circle

Icewater for the ceremony

The flag which survived 4 hurricanes

Baptizing the passengers

Meeting the MS Nordkapp

Meeting the MS Nordkapp

Lighthouse Kjeungskjær Fyr

The passing of the tight Raftsund and the look in the famous Trollfjord was during the late evening hours, totally dark and stormy with some snow and hail... no chance to take pictures but luckily we could see it on the way back. The route led us over Harstad and Finnsnes to Tromsø where we had another excursion and everybody was waiting eagerly to some of the Northern Lights which have been hidden behind the clouds the days before.

But before there was a chance for the green light we had the dogsledding excursion and it's definitely a great experience. I've visited the dogsledding event in Splügen several times before but it's a different experience to be pulled through the snow by the dogs while sitting on the sled. The dogs that they mainly have here are Alaskan Huskies, looking very slim and untypical because most people are used to the Siberian Huskies and/or the Alaskan Malamuts.




Let's get ready...


Awesome view on Tromsø

The planned departure was delayed due to some repairs at the gangway, therefore the ship was still at the port when the bridge announced the sighting of the first Northern Light of the trip. I felt that nearly everybody rushed on deck 6 to the front of the ship but I was fast enough to be in the front row and have a good view. The Northern Light itself was like a big cloud, not too intensive and spread over a big part of the sky. The first one that I saw and really impressing... I was hoping for more and we've not been disappointed.




The trip was continued then to Honningsvåg, some of the ports between Tromsø and Honningsvåg had to be cancelled due to the problem with the gangway, where an important decision was made. Not only one... but two.

The first one was regarding the excursion to the North Cape which's also on our schedule: canceled due to the high risk of avalanches. Temperatures in the area were surprisingly high and above the freezing point. The second decision was much more important and had an influence in the rest of our journey: due to the very bad weather on the way from here to Kirkenes (winds of more than 40 m/s and waves of approx. 20 m) made the captain to change the route. We took the way back for a very quick stop to Hammerfest, which we skipped before, and drove then to the nice town of Alta where we stayed a bit more than one day.

Luckily Hurtigruten was able to re-organize the scheduled excursions, including our snow scooter safari, and so we dressed up in the morning for this exciting adventure. After a short introduction and safety training we started the tour through the wilderness of the Alta region. Breathtaking views, clear skies and icy tempetatures made it a memorable experience... and btw: riding a snow scooter is really fun! After a tour of approx. 2 hours we came back to the starting point of the tour where we'd the chance to get an impression of the local ice hotel. It's built within one month (December) and is open from January to the end of April... it'll melt away usually in May and rebuilt again in December... from water to water... a closed circuit.



Some "Anti-Freeze" at the icehotel bar

The traveling continued, the storms were over and we saw some really fantastic sundowns, especially while the passing of the Raftsund. We've been there in the late afternoon, it's luckily not dark as the last time therefore we'd the chance to have a view at the Trollfjord, a very famous fjord in Norway.

After the sundown we met another Hurtigruten ship on its way to the North, as always a special happening with the ship horns echoing in the mountains...

Sunddown in the Raftsund

Sunddown in the Raftsund

Entrance of the Trollfjord

MS Polarlys

MS Polarlys

Due to the perfect conditions during the day with clear sky and no clouds everybody on board was hoping for some Northern Lights... and again we all weren't disappointed. We saw some breathtaking Auroras, on some of the pix there's not only green but also a red shine... fantastic!






On the next days the weather stayed perfect, some kind of compensation for the first half of the trip... we passed beautiful areas, small cities and simply enjoyed the nature... One of the attraction which I want to mention separately is the mountain Torghatten. This mountain is located on Torget island and according to the legend "the hole was made by the troll Hestmannen while he was chasing the beautiful girl Lekamøya. As the troll realized he would not get the girl, he released an arrow to kill her, but the troll-king of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow's path to save her. The hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle." (Source: Wikipedia)



The Old Man and the Sea


Torghatten on Torget island

On the second last day of the journey we arrived in Trondheim in the early morning hours. We took the chance for a last excursion, the bus sightseeing with a stop at the Cathedral Nidarosdom, an impressing building... and it's not a Catholic but a Protestant church.

Trondheim in the early morning hours

Trondheim in the early morning hours

Cathedral Nidarosdom

Cathedral Nidarosdom

Cathedral Nidarosdom




The rest of the tour after the Trondheim stop was unspectacular and while we came closer to Bergen, the "Capital of Rain" the weather went worse and made it easier for us to say good-bye to this memorable trip. We had a lot of experiences... hurricanes and rough sea on one hand, beautiful nature and awesome Northern Lights on the other hand... 





Sunday, February 22, 2015

Young & old


Another whisky tasting is coming up soon and those candidates have to be tested before... This time I changed my original plans for a Longrow tasting on short hand and decided to put some whiskys from the older days in the line-up. Maybe most of those where simple standards at their time but nowadays they're outstanding good, at least in comparison to what you get now.

As always it's a "hard job" but someone has to do it... and here are my impressions.


Aberlour 12 yo., 43 %, from the 70s

Nose: Vanilla, hints of smoke, charcoal, acacia honey, dried fruits, grass, eucalyptus

Taste: prunes, bacon, caramel, decent aroma of honey sweetness and smoke, liquorice, marzipan, very complex

Aftertaste: Vanilla and almonds with some smoke

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Glendronach 8 yo., 45.4 %, Ruffino Import from the 70s

Nose: Lemon, grapefruit, gooseberry, sweetness of honey, old balsamico

Taste: Exotic fruits, spices and herbs, honey, fudge, oak, heather, leather, smoke

Aftertaste:  Very complex and fruity, long lasting




Springbank 12 yo., red-brown ceramic flagon, 46 %, from the 80s

Nose: Tropical fruits, seaweed, shoe polish, marzipan, dried coconut, satay sauce, straw smoke, bitter almonds.

Taste: again lots of dried fruits, wax, creme caramel, vanilla fudge, bitter almonds.

Aftertaste: Great finish, getting a little meaty (smoked ham)




Ardbeg 1974 - 1996, 22 yo., 40 %, G&M for Italy

Nose: oyster, smoke, hints of citrus, very subtle and not overpowering

Taste: extremely smoky, seaweed, salt, oysters

Aftertaste: Long and maritime