Monday, September 19, 2016

MSC Splendida, Yacht Club review, part 3

The Drinks

My understanding is that outside of the Yacht Club the ONLY beverages that are included in your cruise fare price are water, coffee, and hot tea at the buffet (possibly also juice at breakfast, I never went to breakfast to see what the buffet offers for beverages then).  Unlike other lines, tap water is not offered at sit down meals and there are no included drinks brought to the table at all.  I would imagine this would be a nasty surprise to somone accustomed to cruising the mainstream US based lines and assuming basic drinks like water, coffee and milk can be had at dinner at no charge.

That said, drink prices for cocktails, wine, etc were considerably lower than on other lines we've sailed and there are a number of packages available--all much lower priced than equivelant packages on other lines  (all inclusive, or as much as you want at lunch and dinner, or just coupons for a set number of drinks anywhere, etc).

We were staying in the Yacht club, which includes a large selection of "free" beverages in the YC restraunt, in the YC lounge and by the private YC pool and also includes as much as you want out of your mini bar, which is restocked twice daily.  Oddly, this ultra luxury booking does NOT include any drinks outside of YC area (other than the included for everyone water, coffee and tea at the buffet).  It would be so easy to lable YC cards with the all inclusive package for use outside of the club, but it doesn't work that way.  This is not a huge issue, but did feel a bit limiting and discouraged us from spending time in other lounges, listening to musicians spread about the ship very often, etc.

The wines included at dinner (and, I beelive on the packages on the main dining room) vary from ngiht to night---there is not an extensive list without an upcharge, but every wine we had was very good.  There was always at least one white, one red and one rose.

Soda on the Splendida was Pepsi products.  I only saw Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and 7-Up offered (no Fanta equivelant).  There was also a bottled Peach iced tea available and many mocktails.

Every day there was a daily Special offered for a lower price throughout the ship----actually there was always one with alcohol and one without on offer.

Overall we were impressed with the drink offerings--though I am NOT a Pepsi girl and AM a Coke girl, so that was a con for me, though I know it would not be for all.

Here is also probably a good time to mention that bartenders throughout the ship and in the yacht club were all very friendly and helpful (in spite of the no tipping policy, more on that later).  I might also note that while orders were always taken promptly in the YC lounge and by that pool, even when we were the ONLY people there, it was generally a good 5 to 10 minutes before we received our drinks (even when it was a glass of wine and a soda, thereby requiring minimal prep work). I never quite figured out why that was.

Entertainment and Activites:

Entertainment and activites  proved to be the biggest let down for us with MSC.  We tend to spend just a few hours in port and love to enjoy the trivia games. little competitions, etc run by the cruise staff on board and I love a good nighttime show--all of these were let downs in one way or another on MSC compared to every other line we have sailed.

The activites staff (or cruise staff as some are called) was friendly enough, but offered very little to do (and not one ever said their name or was otherwise really outgoing).  The sea days (traditionally packed full of acitvites) offered about as many acitvites as any other line offers in port, and on port days offerings were virtually non existant.  I think there was trivia a grand total of 5 times throughout the week---none of which lasted more than 15 minutes (and, oddly, there were notices all week about the need to sign up in advance for the "big brain buster" trivia on the final sea day---no idea why sign ups were needed for a 10 question quiz?).  Three times there were arts and crafts---each time offered for a large chunk of time in the morning and again the afternoon, but just one craft to do---so while it was 6 hours of progamming it was really only 20 minutes worth of fun for any one person (if that).  Most of what was offered was more serious dance classes---great if you want to learn the cha cha or tango---but only one of our group would do so, and not without a willing partner, so we found ourselves at loose ends much of the day.  Luckily we had packed several card games and enjoy each other's company.

Another odd way of handling things was that many of the "when nothing else is going on things to do" (shuffle board, board games to check out, sports courst use, etc) that normally one picks up and enjoys in those off hours were ONLY available to be played by checkinig out the equipment during the times other major things were running with equipment due back before those off hours started up again (ie---you could not play shuffleboard at 8:00 pm, or 2:00 in the afternoon unless the check out desk was open, and if it was then other fun things were probably possible).

Similarly---there is a weird hole every evening.  The later show performance was over by 10:15.  Dining rooms close at 10:00 (the one night we showed up to dine on the later side, we were finishing dessert at 10:10 and they were setting up breakfast around us).  Pools and hot tubs and the thermal spa all close at 9 or 10 pm.  And yet the major evening staff run activity (or animation) never started until 11or 11:30  and the disco never had a DJ until 11:30 and often not until midnight.

The only thing to do in that hour was shop or sit in a bar (where there might be live music, but never good dance music), or if we were lucky the bowling lanes were not broken (I can't blame the line for this, people were awful about mistreating them). Either pools and acitvites need ot be open later, or the nighttime fun needs to start sooner.

I will add that the animation was very lackluster on the 3 nights we tried it.  Never really any dance music and very minimal attempts to involve the audience, mostly limited to asking people to shout.  The cruise director would stand at the edge of the dance floor and scowl silently throughout, which didn't help the feel at all.

And the disco?  The venue was awesome and I would have loved to dance the night away up there.  We dropped by several times over the week.  There always seemed to be about 50 people up there but we never saw more than 3 dancing---which I atttribute to the awful music choices by the DJ.  We never heard a sone we knew or felt we could dance to (and niether did our older teen----and we do live in Europe so I don't think this was just a case of us not knowing the prevailing culture of the ship--NO ONE was dancing).    We missed a decent disco.

The main stage entertainment was better.  I loved that every night the shows were at the same time (made planning easier) and an twice and that EVERY night was a real show with singers and dancers and sets as well as mixing in the various "special" artists into the show mix (ie, we never sat through an entire 45 minute show of just an arielest or just a contortionist, but these acts were worked into larger shows).  That said, the level of talent was lower than on other major lines.  This was particulary the case with the singers and the arielists.  We found the shows got repetative and felt a bit ameteurish--so much so that by the third night we'd sit near the back and leave if the music was not enough to keep us more entertained as they were all largely the same otherwise.  We were, however, impressed by the troop of four male gymnasts and found the shows featuring them to be the best.

There was live music in nearly every bar all afternoon and evening each day.  THIS is a great feature.  Unfortunately, with the exception of one pianist and a string duo, the bands and trios onboard were really low quality.  Oftne out of tune, lacking energy, generally not enjoyable to listen to AT ALL.  I am sure that had we had better music, sitting in that evneing hour would have been so enjoyable we might not have noticed an issue with the scheduling at night.

What we did find to be fun were the bowling (always open when the lines have not become tangled--which happened often as kids would literally throw balls and not wait for the pins (on some sort of pressurized rubber lines) to reset before throwing more and parents seemed not to care), the 4-D cinema (with short, 5 to 10 minute shows) and the Formula One simulator.  These things are very expensive for what you get at 6€ per person per game for bowling, 6€per person per show in the cinema and 8€per ride on the simulator.  However, the best deal on the ship that most people seemed to miss (it was printed in the Daily program once and posted on the wall by the simulator) was a package price of 35€ for the whole cabin to get to do all of those things as often as they wanted the whole cruise!  We made out like bandits on that deal---seeing all six 4-D movies, bowling abou a half dozen games and riding the simulator 2-4 times each per day.  Both the cinema and the simulator have limited hours, but we were surprised to find there was rarely a line to use them.  People often stood around there to watch but rarely participated.



Thursday, September 15, 2016

MSC Splendida, Yacht Club review part 2

The Ship:
We all thought the spaces onboard Splendida were pretty and inviting.  The various lounges and other public spaces were all spotlessly clean and each had its own unique character and feel, which we really enjoyed.
We had read that the MSC ships are overly glitzy---but did not feel that way (we DID feel that on the only Carnival sailing we took many years ago).  Yes, the main staircases in the central area as well as the one one going into the lobby of the YC are filled with Swarovski Crystals, but that is balanced with less glitz other places and felt lovely but not ostentatious to us.
I epscially like the little Piazza area with a fountain and also the large number and variety of pools (more than I have seen on any other ship).  Here are just a few photos (again, I refer you to cruisetricks.de for additional photos of virutally every space:  http://www.cruisetricks.de/bilder/msc-splendida/ )

covered pool area--they actually opened and closed the roof several times depending on weather---I have not seen other lines acutally use the feature, though most have it!

one of the outdoor pool areas

little plaza sitting area (cupcakes and other snacks can be purchased here, for much lower prices than the add ons on other lines.  Cupcakes were 80 cents.)
Cons about the ship's layout are that the ceilings are lower than on other lines, David at 6'5" was only an inch from hitting his head in most hallways and always felt slightly clausterphobic and the boys tell me there are no urinals in any of the public toilets; they consider this a con as well.

Overall we found the ship's design and condition to be a positive experience and a plus for MSC.

The Food:

This is what everyone seems to always want to know, isn't it?

Of course taste is subjective, but we found the food to be overall some of the highest quality we have had cruising.  This was the case not only at dinner in the Yacht Club restraunt (where one might expect a higher quality than the rest of the ship, perhaps) but also in the buffet (open to all) and the foods served at lunch in the YC (which, so far as we could tell were the same as some offerings on the buffer, just plated nicely), and also in the specialty restraunt.  We've read a lot of complaints about the food in MSC and pondered several times where those were coming from---everyting seemed fresh with quality ingredients, good flavour, nicely presented, etc.The only thing that was not good were the hamburgers--whether from teh buffet or ordered in the YC they were from low quality frozen patties which did not even look appealing, much less taste good.
Furthermore--I have a sweet tooth and yet almost never eat dessert on ships.  Line after line after line brings out pretty things which taste like cardboard.  Not the case on MSC in which I enjoyed really tastey desserts daily.  Mmmmmmm.

The Buffet is open 24 hours serving at least something (at very off hours that seems to mean just pizza) and a good listing of what is available when is in the Daily schedule, which is nice.  It is BIG and winds back much further than you expect ,and items tend not to be duplicated on both sides--so if you do not see something you like right away, keep looking.  There is a set of tables midway and I think many people thought there were no more offerins--but there was a whole other section behond those as well.  Water, coffee and tea were the only drinks available in the buffet during lunch and dinner (we did not go at breakfast time).

Sit Down Meals might be different for those not sailing in the YC.  I do know there are fixed dining times for the evening meal outside of hte YC.  In the YC, we had the pleasure of showing up whenever we wanted, no reservation needed, and getting right in.  THAT was a luxury we thouroughly enjoyed for a cruise--no stress.  (oddly, in spite of reading about this, and having it work that way after day 1---6 people asked us to tell them what time we wanted to have dinner within the first half hour we arrived at port---3 butlers, 2 concierges in the YC lobby, and the check in person).  We hadn't seen a schedule yet to know when evening shows were to choose and felt very pressured---but once we went to dinner one night it wqas never asked again and it was clear we could go as we pleased.

Dinner in the YC includes a vast array of drinks (with and without alcohol) at no upcharge.  There were usually 2 red, 2 white (a dry and a sweet) and a rose on offer every evening and the wine was wonderful----mostly good Italian wines, though the occasional french or German as well.  Our water glasses were kept full, etc.  I believe that in the main dining rooms NO drinks are included--you must purchase them each (even water--so I have been told).  However, drink prices onboard were much better than on most ships we have sailed and all inclusive packages are also significantly cheaper than on Royal and even less than on Princess.
The YC menu was never huge, but even my picky son and picky self found some appetizing things nearly every night.  There was one night when even my husband who likes almost everything looked at the menu (always available ahead of time in the YC lounge) and saw nothign he wanted--so we used our free meal as Black card holders (that loyalty match program I mentioned) at the specialty dining venue instead.
All of our dinners were very good.  I think it is the only cruise I have been on where none of us ended up with somethign dry or overcooked at any time.  Everything was tastey.  The one thing missing was a good salad, other than a Ceasar salad, on most nights.  I would have liked to have that, but it is clearly not a make it or break it item.  I frequently ordered the healthy choice menus with low calorie/lowfat/low sodium and even those were excellent and if no one told you it was healthy, you would not guess.
I should note that no one in the YC was seated with other parties.  I do not know if this is ship wide or just Yacht Club.  It held tru for lunch as well as dinner (we never had breakfast).

Another big plus about sit down dining on MSC is that you can dine in the sit down venues for lunch every day--not just on sea days like most lines.

Room Service was free in the YC.  I believe it does carry a charge in other levels.  We had sandwhices for lunch one day and late night Eately brand pizza a few tmies (served from 8 to midnight and quite tastey) and the quality was excellent---again, far better than is typical of other lines.

Specialty Dining:  On Splendida this is a Tex Mex place serving some typical tex-mex and also "texas steaks"  It was good, with very friendly staff.  MUCH better than the pathetic attempt at tex-mex on some RCI ships.  Not the best I have ever had (and some of the names are off, the "tacos" are taquitos and the "quesadillas" are cheese empenadas) but still very enjoyable.  We had dinner one night and lunch one day (this is also open daily for lunch)--nboth free with our Black Card status (but pricing was OK otherwise).  A round of drinks (2 sodas and a margarita) each time came in at around 10€

There is also a menu of burgers, deep fried munchies, etc in the sports bar.  Our Black Cards Status did not extend to that venue and the bowling (fun!) made it loud and not relaly somewhere we wanted to sit for a meal, so we never ate there to review it.

(more coming soon, I hope)
--Hadley





MSC Splendida, Yacht Club, part 1: background and boarding

It's been a looooong time since I posted on this blog, but I am ressurecting this to review our recent cruise on the MSC Splendida becuase there is not a lot of information about this ship out there in English--and I know I appreciate being able to research, so I try to pay it forward when I can.

This will not be photo heavy----for many lovely photos of all areas of the ship, I suggest you check out the following website (it is in German, but very simple to navigate the photos).  In fact, this is my go to resource for ship photos most of the time; I cannot recomend it highly enough:

http://www.cruisetricks.de/bilder/msc-splendida/  (Splendida photos)

http://www.cruisetricks.de/bilder/ (all ship photos on the website)


So, I'll start with a little background:

We have been cruising as our top vacation choice since 1999.  When the kids were young, and their prices sstill competitive, we mostly sailed Disney (though Princess was also in there from time to time).  As the kids have grown, prices have risen on Disney to astronomical levels, and we now live in Europe and like to sail here, we have shifted to sailing mostly Royal Caribbean with some Celebrity and Princess cruises as well.
Soon after moving to Europe we spoke to a few people who had had bad expereinces on both Costa and MSC (the major European based lines which market to the English speaking crowd as well).  So, we never really considered them.

Recently MSC has branched out in a huge way (I think they have something like 11 ships on order for the next few years!) and made major efforts to be more international and not just cater to Italians.  As part of this, they have introduced what might be the most brilliant marketing move I have ever seen in the travel industry--the status match program.  Basically, cruiselines have loyalty programs and it DOES become fairly worthwhile to stick with one or two lines once you move up in the ranks (on Royal we get free cocktails every evening, and free photos, etc and on Disney little gifts and a free dinner at their adults only restraunt, for example).  MSC is offering to match your status from another line--meaing our top status on RCI or DCL gets us equally high status and perks on MSC.  That was enough to get our attention----and MSC has the HUGE advantage that they sail Europe through the winter, so off I went resaerching, and eventually booking a week long sailing on the MSC Splendida in the Yacht Club for early September.

We booked a "suite" in the Yacht Club (it is often noted that MSC suites are not nearly as larage as a room called a suite on most other lines), a more exclusive "cruise within a cruise" experience which seems to be spreading to other lines, but I believe it originated with MSC.  Here is how they explain it:


"An all-inclusive sanctuary of refinement



Discover a private and exclusive area only for those sailing in MSC Yacht Club. Where you can indulge in the luxury of a private club, while enjoying access to the myriad of recreation and entertainment possibilities throughout the rest of the ship. 

Welcome to all-inclusive cruises in the MSC Yacht Club, a cruise experience like no other"

We were able to get an excellenr price on a room for 3 in the YC, so booked ourselves a week of pampering in cabin 16033.
 (this is one of the larger, square, rooms in the YC.  The narrower rooms only sleep 2 and we are told that if you are a party of two and book a square, you might be bumped down to a smaller room if a party of 3 comes along). 

MSC has lots of package and products that you can prebook online before boarding---more than I have seen on other lines.  I prebooked a laundry package which included up to 40 items washed and pressed and folded or hung throughout the week, a teenager spa packet for Rio which included a facial, massage and haircut, and parking right at the port (I really like that MSC has detailed instructions on how to get to the nearest parking to the port for ALL of their embarkation ports) and we headed off to Hamburg to begin our adventure.


Getting to the Hamburg Cruise Port by car was very easy, and the parking lot is just steps from the cruise terminal.  We'd been told to head straight for the white Yacht Club tent and not drop our luggage with the main porters.  The tent was easy to find and luggage drop off was quick and easy.  Before we knew it we were ushered into the roped of seating area of the terminal for check in.

We had arrived around 10:30, though our cruise paperwork said to come at 15:30---and we fully expected to have to wait a bit to board and then wait to get into our room once we did--but knew that the YC boarding area would have refreshments so figured we might as well head over to the port oncce we were all ready for the day and just see how things went. I have no complaints about the boarding process at all, but will observe that it was a bit awkard.  We were taken to the seating area, and encouraged by one of the butlers to fix ourselves a drink or snack from the table near the desk.  The very moment we sat down with our drinks/snacks we were called, by name, up to the desk to check in.  So we left those by our seats and went to check in.  I noticed a butler hovering by them to keep watch I guess?  Sitting back down after check in, less than one minute passed before a butler arrived, with another couple waiting behind him and said he'd like to take us onboard then.  With the other couple waiting it felt like we needed to abandon the snacks and GO--which was fine, I'd rather be onboard anyway if we have the chance, but it felt funny to me that we were actively encouraged to get a snack if we were to then be scurried off before having any time to consume it.

Onboard, we followed the butler through a maze of public rooms and then the stateroom hallways of the YC and eventually into the reception/lobby area of the Yacht Club where we were asked to sit and wait a few more minutes and then were shown around the lounge, private pool area and then taken to our room (wow--to be in our room by 11:00!)--champagne and fresh fruit awaited us (we're still not sure if that was a YC perk or a perk of our Black status or both):


We sipped some champagne before heading out to explore the ship a bit.  Here are some photos of the room (16033).  It was really well laid out and pretty---the only problem was the walk in closet was narrow so only one person at a time could access the clothing, a minor issue:




(we didn't discover that the mirror swings open until the last day--there is a TON of storage back there!)



and here is a shot of the room once the third bed was pulled out for the evening:

This is it for the "play by play" style reviewing----part 2 will look at various aspects of the cruise and the YC experience just to provide some comparisons and our experiences with the line.

--Hadley


Friday, July 15, 2016

Changing the US political system

It's been a while since I went on a long rant here (or, even posted here--I seem to be more and more just on facebook among my own friends), but here I go up on a soapbox again.

I keep seeing so many posts on social media decrying our current political and election system and wanting change.  And i absolutely agree---our system needs to change.  There are a lot of problems with it and some could be dealt with fairly easily, others will take more time--but all should be addressed--I could not agree more.

Here's where I disagree with most of the memes and rants about this that I have seen over and over in the last few months:

WE SHOULD NOT BE TRYING TO MAKE ANY MAJOR CHANGE BETWEEN NOW AND NOVEMBER!

Why not, you ask?


Well, first of all it is simply wrong to change the rules midgame and as we are well into this election cycle, then changing them now is absolutely wrong.  IF you really care about this issue (as I do), if you really want to see changes happen, show that by continuing to care when there is not a canidate you love who would benefit NOW, in THIS election, by a rule change.
 Show that you are truly concerned about a flawed system and not just trying to swing things in your canidate's favour by staying interested and not losing focus after the election, but rather jumping in come January with a renewed and even stronger focus on changing the system, THEN, when no canidate is going to be seriously helped or hurt by doing so, beucase the country will not be in the thick of national elections is the time change can and should happen.  If you do not care enough to put the effort in when no particular canidate is at stake, then, honestly, quit whining beucase you are not that concerned about the sytem  and jsut want things in November to go your way and this seems like a convieneint way to try to make it happen.

Secondly--it is flat out not realistic to try some subversive way of creating change NOW.  Writing in your Green party or Independent or whatever else canidate this year will NOT suddenly mean a third party generates enough votes to make any sort of real and lasting difference.  What it might do, is squash the current momentum to make change, as then peopel will have seen an effort to change thigns fail (and, it WILL fail).  If it fails in a particularly spectacular way by resulting in syphoned off votes leaving a winner that most people do not want--well that is just going to hurt the overall movement even more.
Simply not voting, or voting for someone who doesn't stand a chance, is not a realistic way to change the system--it's like going to a buffet, reufsing to eat any of hte food nad then being surprised that most other poeple ate and the chef did not come out and make something you wanted after all.
At the end of the day, if inssiting on trying to change things right now does anything at all, it will harm the chances of creating realstic and meaningful change down the road.


So, what CAN you (and I) do?

Well, this year--do our best to work within the system to elect the best of the current crop of canidates both for president and at the congressional level.  Though I was a Sanders supporter in the primaries, for me that means throwing my support fully behind Hilary Clintonv for president--she's an amazingly well qualified canidate--running a platform which is more progressive than I have seen in a good long while, thanks largely to Sanders' influence.

Push for legislation which prevents media outlets from repoting the results of exit polls, and polls from releasing results, until ALL polling places for that election close.  I think this is the simplest thing on the list, but would have an effect----the West Coast and Hawaii should not be influenced by how people voted in Vermont and Florida anymore.  It is such a simple thing, and we will all survive waiting 24 hours to satisfy our curiousity about the outcome (maybe even push for this before November--this is the ONE change to the current system that I could imagine MIGHT be able to change so soon--though realistically I doubt it could happen before, so keep pushing for it after November too please).

Push for reforms to the lobby system.  This is probably the biggest flaw in our political system--and so many politicians benifit from it in so many ways  that this is going to take lots of time and effort (and it is so nearly impossible to be a national level politican and NOT take part in it and actually get elected that I cannot blame them)   Don't get bored and lose interest--keep caring and keep pushing until change happens.

Research and push for realistic ways to dismantel the hold a two party system has on our politics.  Personally, I would like to see double run off style elections for anyting national: the first vote includes all elegible canidates.  The top two vote getters then go into a second run off election (or top four if voting for two Senators, for example).  Under such a system no one feels they are "throwing away" a vote by voting for an Independent or Green or Libetarian, or other canidate in round one--and a particularly strong canidate from one of those parties might actaully then get through and to the final election; where I feel their chance would be as good as now as to get that far one of hte major party canidates would be knoecked out and not pulling votes away from the third party person.  In my opinion this is the best way to dismantle the stranglehold the two party system has on presidential elections--though I am very open to other ideas.  The MAIN thing is to have a realistic plan of what you want to change to, and then to work for that change outside of primary and election season.

Push to get rid of the electoral college.  The electoral college was a BRILLIANT way  to represent a large number of voters in a huge country in the predigital age.  There is no compelling reason to keep it now, and many to move forward into something more mordern and better representing the voting public.  Once again, change has to happen outside of an election season though.

I am sure there are plenty of other things to work on too--but if it is about electoin reform: IT HAS TO HAPPEN OUTSIDE OF THE CURRENT ELECTION----DIGGING IN YOUR HEELS AND INSISTING ON PUSHING FOR REFORM MIDGAME WILL NOT ONLY FAIL BUT, LIKELY; HARM REOFRM EFFORTS AT OTHER TIMES.

And while I am at it--really, seriously, one of the best things you can do to effect life in our country is to educate yourself and get out and vote in every election you are elegible for.  School board elections, local shrrif elections, etc--very often what happens on the local level has a profound effect--make sure you are part of the change you want to see by taking part.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now--but I might jump back on in January to remind you all to KEEP CARING ONCE THE ELECTION IS OVER SO CHANGE CAN HAPPEN.

--Hadley



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Port Day in Alesund, Norway

The third stop on our sailing was the furthest north---all the way up at 62 degrees North in Alesund.
Alesund is a small city of about 50 thousand known for its not so typical Norwegian  Art Nouveau architecture  (due to the town being almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1904 and then rebuilt in the style of the times, with help from German Kaiser Wilhelm who enjoyed vacationing there).  On our prior cruise to Norway we felt it was a nice little port, but paled in comparison to the other stops in the country.

We wanted to do something more interesting than just walk around town again.  Upon researching a bit I found that a mid May cruise was too early in the season for many of the main attractions (driving the Path of the Trolls road or visiting the Wildlife Sea Safari) with most things not being available or cleared of snow until around Mid June.  One in our party has a particular love of lighthouses, so I googled, found the locations of a couple of them and so began the planning for what turned out to be a lovely day in port.

We started off doing something which we have never, in all of our many past port days done: renting a car.   There is a Budget car rental counter about a 5-10 minute walk from the dock and the prices are surprisingly good.  So we reserved a car with the intent of circling around some of the small nearby islands to see lighthouses and other random views and just enjoy the scenery and small towns.  Picking up the rental car was simple and quick, and there is a gas station right next door which made refilling at the end of the day and returning it just as easy.

We drove off following signs to the airport (on one of the islands) as we made our way out of town and within just a few minutes we found ourselves going down into a very steep and very long tunnel with rough hewn rock walls which felt very much like it had been carved by those mythical Norwegian Trolls.

Out of the tunnel and in daylight again we were greeted with a sunny day and lovely views:



Our destination (still one island away): the Alnes Lighthouse


One steep and high bridge (to let bots through) and a short jaunt across another small island later, we parked at the surf beach (I read there is a very good point break here much of the year)


 and headed over to the delightful little lighthouse for a visit:




a view from the top

a view from the top.  You can see a tour bus pulling in.  We managed to be up top between tour buses which made it very nice.

The keeper's house is right next to the base and the three sisters there run a wonderful little coffee shop with good prices and excellent homemade goodies.  They are also super friendly.  We lingered for quite a while.

After about an hour enjoying the view and the coffee shop (and browsing through the small souvenir shop of all locally made items) we headed back out to look for some other lighthouses (smaller ones with no tour bus visits, not open to the public, and without cafes, but pretty to look at anyway).  The route took us all over the four islands in a nice loop which allowed us to see lots of pretty scenery:



We stopped at what guide books say is the only marble church in Norway.  Just a little white church in a lovely location:


And paused for a bit at a small white sand beach.  I figured this was as far north as I'd ever had the chance to put my toes in the ocean, so I braved the truly COLD water and darted in  for a minute:



As we looped back around and then over to the largest of the islands (the one with Alesund's airport) we happened to take a wrong turn and pass this great football pitch.  Plenty of balls were just out lying on it and we didn't think anyone would mind if we fooled around a bit so long as we were careful not to hurt anything--how often is it that we get to play football in Norway after all? 

And there was one last lighthouse to see.  We passed this  cute little house with the bird houses on the wall as we walked out to the lighthouse:



I just loved the juxtaposition of the old farm machinery, the field, the ocean and the snow capped peaks above--so I got David to pull over while I snapped a photo

Hanging out on the rocks and looking at the lighthouse


There was one last church to check out as we headed back towards Alesund:



All in all we had the car for about 5 or 6 hours and really enjoyed a relaxing, calm day exploring some beautiful countryside.

--Hadley









Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Port Day in Bergen, Norway

Our second port was in in Bergen, Norway--the storybook city that I fell in love with on our first visi.  Having fully explored the historic wharf on our last trip, and docking in a slightly different part of town with the Serenade (a bigger ship than what we had previously sailed in Norway) we decided to start the day by walking to the light rail station and heading out to Fantoft to see the Stave Church.  Here are some photos of the city as we walked to the station:





I had read that we should get off in Fantoft as the walk from the other direction was quite steep.  As we headed uphill, we thought I must have gotten it wrong, but when we went down the other way afterwards, we realized we had indeed climbed the gentler slope.  The stave church is tucked away up in the forest and no matter which way you approach from, there are uphill paths through lovely trees:



The church itself was originally built in about 1150 and moved to its current location in 1883.  It was destroyed by arson in 1992 and the rebuilt version seen here was finished in 1997:






At the time we were there, the church was not open for inside visits.  I am not sure if it is sometimes or not.

After exploring at the church, we headed back into the main part of town and down towards the historic (and oh so very picturesque) wharf.  











Our final stop as we headed back towards the ship was the fish market:


I wish I had put something in for perspective--these guys were HUGE


I am still enchanted by Bergen and hope to make it back there many times in the future.

--Hadley