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Search for the Northern Lights Cruise 9th-25th February 2013 (Part One) | Time Split

Time Split

Website for the author, Patricia Smith

Search for the Northern Lights Cruise 9th-25th February 2013 (Part One)

Ports Visited: Molde, Tromso, Alta, Kristiansund and Bergen

Introduction: 

We had talked about doing this cruise for a number of years before it took place.  The purpose was to satisfy two long-standing ambitions. 

Ever since I’d heard about the aurora I had wanted to see it.  My mum told me a story about when she was a child and she saw strange lights in the sky.  She ran into the house, screaming, and told her father about what she had seen.  He realised what it was and scooping her up, dashed outside; too late, because by then it was over. 

It had also been my father’s life-long ambition to cross the Arctic Circle.

We finally decided the time was right to go ahead and book the trip in January 2012.  We knew there was going to be a solar maximum in 2013.

The sun has an eleven-year cycle.  Over the period of eleven years the sun passes from solar maximum into solar minimum and back to solar maximum.  Solar maximum is a period of a great deal of activity on the sun, which includes solar flares, sunspots and the north and south poles swapping places.  As the aurora is caused predominantly by solar flares, solar maximum is the best time to see them.  The solar winds, a flow of particles streaming off the surface of the sun and travelling through our solar system, can also be a cause for the aurora although the flares produce a stronger show.

We were lucky we had so much time between booking and the actual cruise as there was still a lot of organising to do.  We expected to encounter temperatures of -35 Celsius and below and needed equipment suitable for those conditions. 

Unfortunately neither one of us are seasoned travellers so other things like rail travel, hotels etc… also took time to sort out. 

Still the time between booking and going, passed quickly and before I knew it, the day for leaving arrived.

February 8th – The Adventure Begins

My father and I caught the 12:56 pm train from Newcastle to Kingscross.  It was a pleasant journey during which we passed the time away playing puzzles.  We finished off the last of the Christmas cake, it was my first attempt at making a Christmas cake that year and it was raging success, and celebrated the start of a journey we had been talking about for four years and planning for over one with a glass of red wine. 

There was a nice lady, with her son, sitting opposite.  She was travelling from Aberdeen and was getting off at York.  She told us about the snow in Aberdeen, which was thigh deep; I was so jealous, as I love snow.

It had been bazaar packing for the cruise.  At one end of the scale I had my snow boots, walking boots, ski pants, thermals and coat, which filled a weekend case on its own; and at the other end of the scale I had my high heels and nice frocks as we still had to take part in the posh dinners onboard the ship. 

Posh frock and snook

Me in my posh frock and a snook given as a gift for the trip.

 As a result, our packing consisted of a very large capacity suitcase each, a large holdall and a large backpack.  We didn’t fancy trying to negotiate the London Underground under such conditions, so at Kingscross we got a cab.

We joined a queue for a Black Cab.  The cabby was very sweet and chatted all the way to Waterloo.  The cab journey was a very reasonable £11 and got us to Waterloo with 15 minutes to spare.

The journey from Waterloo to Portsmouth took two hours, almost as long as the journey from Newcastle to Kingscross, but there were a lot of little stations to stop off at.

At Portsmouth there was another taxi to the Queen’s Hotel where we checked in and asked for any recommendations as far as restaurants were concerned.

We settled for a recommended Chinese restaurant called Noble House.  The food was amazing!  The vegetables were cooked perfectly so that they were still crunchy and full of flavour.

I went to sleep no bother, but that night about 4 am woke feeling unwell with a water infection. 

February 9th – The Day We Sailed

We got up early (6 am) to try to see a doctor.  Reception recommended the Walk-in Centre in Portsmouth.

We caught the bus there, after breakfast, and two hours later I got some antibiotics to clear up the infection.

We were sorted by 11.30 and did not have to board until 3’ish so we passed the time at the Sealife Centre, which was great fun.

Around about 2 pm we went back to the hotel, collected our bags and caught a taxi to the port.  We arrived in plenty of time and were quickly checked in.  We were then given a ticket similar to a raffle ticket and were moved upstairs to wait for our numbers to be called.

As the numbers started to be announced, everyone started tittering when they were called out three at a time.  It took awhile for our numbers to get called and once we had passed through customs we were then transferred to a bus.  We sat on the bus for a long while waiting to be taken to the ship, it turned out there was some problem with the gangplank, but once this was sorted we were driven across the quay and boarded the ship. 

The room was nice, but a little small, especially with two massive cases stuffed into it. 

As we pulled away from the port we had to take part in a safety exercise.  We were shown how to put our life jackets on and where to go in an emergency. 

February 10th – The First Day at Sea

We had the chance to explore the ship and find what was on offer.  I tried to go to the gym, but found running on the treadmill very unsettling.  My brain was very confused by the bouncing of the treadmill and rock of the ship.  I had to get off quickly as I thought I was going to fall on my face. 

That night there was a force eight storm.  The ship was tossed about a bit.  It was like being in a tank storming across a battlefield; every time a large wave hit the ship there was a loud boom.  When we looked out the window the waves seemed to almost reach the height of a house above us and the sea was in a large hollow below.  The ships horn added to the dark atmosphere and I could hear the pitch of the engines changing as the blades went deep into the water and then were lifted high enough to be rotating in air.  Despite everything it was amazing how little the ship was thrown around and how well the stabilizers worked.  My only regret is not going up to the Observational Lounge and watching it.

February 11th Second Day at Sea

The storm was over by morning and had left behind a wonderful bonus – fabulously clear, cloudless skies.

We had had very little sleep because of the storm and felt as though we had never had the chance to catch up, so the day was spent generally relaxing and doing puzzles.  We also checked out the library, which was very cosy with armchairs and a selection of books from a variety of genres, and I finally managed to get some writing done.

February 12th Our First Port, Molde

Today was an early start as we were taking part in our first tour.  We were taking a coach across the Atlantic Road Bridge.

The scenery was absolutely breathtaking.  The mountains, the brightly painted wooden houses of Molde and the snow which glistened like it was sprinkled with diamonds all went together to produce a beautiful Christmas card scene.

Molde

A house in Molde.

We passed a frozen river which had obviously froze in stages.  You could see waves which had formed, then frozen on top of the main body of water. 

Hilda, the guide, was wonderful and gave us a rundown of the history of the town, such as bombings during the war and the local industry.  She talked constantly, entertaining us throughout.

We drove for a couple of hours and stopped for a local cake, a pancake with jam and sugar inside, and some very strong coffee.

After we had eaten we went on to the bridge which was a spectacular piece of architecture and took some photos.  The bridge seemed to move across the river like a snake arching its back.  With the beautiful bridge and the stunning, wild landscape it looked like something out of Lord of the Rings.  A walkway was added to the bridge at a later date to keep fishermen safe as prior to that they had been risking their lives trying to fish on the road.

Atlantic Road Bridge.

The night was cloudy, although there were some areas of clear sky and I think this might have been the first time I saw the aurora.

Going up on deck.

I think now would be a good time to mention what the aurora really looks like:

The camera shows the colours in the aurora.  The human eye picks up colour only if it’s very intense.  Also when you see the aurora on the television it is usually speeded up.  When we saw the aurora it looked like slow moving clouds with no distinct source of light.  It appeared to be a duck egg blue to me and I only twice saw tinges of green and once red in the five times I actually ended up seeing it.  In fact one woman stormed away, declaring that was not the aurora, because it was not what she had seen on the television.  Sad to think she had taken the time and money to come on a cruise to see the aurora and this may had been her only opportunity to see the fantastic phenomenon because it did not agree with what she had seen only through the television.

Next Week:  Part Two – Valentine’s Day in the Arctic

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Saturday, January 11th, 2014 Uncategorized

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