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The Old Fogies go to Kotor in Montenegro

 

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After the excitement of Dubrovnik, we made the short journey to Kotor in Montenegro. Kotor is located in the secluded and picturesque Gulf of Kotor and is surrounded by the limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovcen which create a spectacular landscape.

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Like Dubrovnik, Kotor has been an important port for centuries, The town was first mentioned in 168 BC, was settled during Roman times, when it was known as Acruvium, Ascrivium, or Ascruvium and was part of the Roman province of Dalmatia.

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After the Romans, the city has a varied history becoming a Byzantium Dalmatian city-state when it got its name of Kotor. In the following centuries, it was controlled by the Bulgarians, Serbia, Hungary and Bosnia. However in 1420, Kotor asked the Republic of Venice for protection and it remained under its control until 1797. In World War I, Kotor was the homeport to the Austrian Fifth Fleet. After 1918, the city became a part of Yugoslavia and officially became known as Kotor.

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It is the Venetian architecture that dominates the old city and contributed in making Kotor a UNESCO world heritage site.

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When we were making our way to the city, all thoughts of its turbulent past was put to one side and the short ride from the boat bought us to a pier near the old town. Kotor has one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic and we were anxious to explore some of its treasures. The old gate was into the town had a Venetian Lion on the wall nearby to give a reminder its past.

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The ancient walls stretch for around 4.5 km (3 mi) directly above the city, but were not the type to walk upon, so we made our way into the old town. One of the main sites in the town is the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon which was built in 1166.

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One of the more unusual aspects of the city is the number of cats hanging about, Kotor has a large population of cats they have become a symbol of the city. The city has few cat shops and a cat museum, as well as the Cats’ Square (Trg od macaka).

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Although many of the cats are wild, they are not feral, water and food is left throughout the city for the cats to feed on and the cats are generally seen to bring good luck. There was certainly not much signs of mice or rats, so the cats are earning their food.

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Wanting to stretch our legs, we went over the bridge next to the old town which was above the raging waters coming down from the mountains and walked along a long promenade up to the church.

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Nearby was a cafe, so we ordered a coffee and had chat to the very friendly staff. Kotor has only become a popular destination from the turn of the 21st century. Not surprisingly it has become a bit of favourite with cruise ships with its protected bay and dramatic landscapes.

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It also seems popular with other visitors with plenty of hotels, hostels and restaurants around and lots of newly built villas around the bay.

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In the Kotor Bay itself, is the Our Lady Of The Rocks Roman Catholic Church, legend has it that some sailors found an image of Madonna and the Child on a rock in 1452 and started throwing more stones on the exact spot after every successful voyage until it was big enough to build the church.

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Kotor is a real hidden gem full of dramatic scenery and some quirky places to explore. The people are very friendly and welcome visitors to their city which manages to be intimate amongst the black mountains of Montenegro.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

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The Old Fogies go to Dubrovnik in Croatia

 

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After boarding the Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, we waited for the evening departure and then enjoyed a trip down the Adriatic coast to the Croatian city of Dubrovnik.

Although Mrs Nice and myself have travelled extensively all over Europe, we had never travelled the Adriatic coast and visited any of the Balkan states. Therefore it with some excitement that we looked forward to walking around the old town of Dubrovnik.

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Dubrovnik was previously known as Ragusa and was founded in the 7th century, its position on the Adriatic coast had led to the city being a valuable port which have been fought over for centuries. In 12th and 13th centuries Dubrovnik became a commercial centre which was for a while came under the sovereignty of Venice. Between the 14th century and 19th century, Dubrovnik ruled itself as a free state, although it paid tribute to the Ottoman Empire.

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The city suffered a catastrophic earthquake of 1667 which killed over 5,000 people and in 1806, the city surrendered to the Napoleonic army. Later, power was taken by the Austrian Empire until 1918, and then the city was incorporated into the newly formed Yugoslavia in 1929. During World War II, Dubrovnik became part of the Nazi ruled Independent State of Croatia, occupied by the Italian army and German army. In 1944, Yugoslav Partisans occupied Dubrovnik and became part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia and Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

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In 1979, the unique nature of city was recognised and was included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Unfortunately, the city’s new status did not prevent it being attacked in 1990s with the fall of Yugoslavia and the following Balkan conflict.

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Dubrovnik’s complex history lays before you as you enter the Old Town through Pile Gate, the main street known as Stradun takes you into the town amongst the old buildings and shops. Just inside the entrance is the Onofrio Fountain, built-in 1438 and many people look around for a way to get onto the old city walls.

You walk up a staircase to get onto the walls, halfway is an entrance office where you buy a ticket, the cost of admission is 100 HRK (kuna) which is about £18 and must be paid in local currency (kuna). Be aware, the ticket office does not accept pounds, euros or dollars.

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Over one million visitors walk the wall each year, the wall runs almost 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) around the city with a series of turrets and towers connected by long walkways. The walls of Dubrovnik are a popular filming location, well-known to the fans of the television series, Game of Thrones.

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As we made our way onto the walls, the grey skies created a very atmospheric scene and we looked at the rough seas crashing at the bottom of the cliff underneath Tvrdava Bokar, a massive fortress built-in the 15th century.

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The Old Town has fortresses at its four corners, which are the Minceta Tower, Revelin Fortress, St John’s Fortress, and Bokar Bastion. Inside of the old city, you look down on the hundreds of buildings with their brightly coloured new roofs. The churches and cathedral push up to create a wonderful panorama.

The width of the walkways vary from wide to quite narrow, but fortunately the less than wonderful weather did mean that the windswept walls were relatively quiet. It is worth wearing decent shoes to get up the often steep walkways and the walk is quite strenuous with lots of walks up steep steps.

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However, you are rewarded with wonderful views especially over the old harbour that overlooks the wooded island of Lokrum in the bay.

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As the rain descended, so did we and found a small café to have a warming cup of coffee. The old town itself was full of interesting steep little alleys and plenty of shops and museums. Near the Onofrio Fountain is a Franciscan Monastery, the Orlando Column, the Church of St. Blaise and the fascinating Rector’s Palace is now a city museum.
We entered the cathedral and an old building with a few paintings and reminders of those that fell in defence in the latest conflict to plague the city.

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Since, the 1990s and early 2000s, Dubrovnik has re-emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. In fact it has become a victim of its own success and the city is taking steps to reduce the excessive number of tourists, especially in the Old Town.

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Dubrovnik especially within the Old Town Walls offers a fascinating snapshot of the region’s complex history. It spectacular location and original architecture has made it very popular especially with cruise ships. As we made our way back to the ship, we both thought we would like to come back to the city and discover more of its delights and the area around the bay.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies Get Wet in Venice, Italy

 

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Some fifteen years ago, I took Mrs Nice for a romantic few days in Venice and enjoyed discovering the unique destination. Venice was not the main focus of this particular journey but was to be the starting point of a cruise down the Adriatic. However we intended to have a little time in Venice by staying overnight in a hotel before we joined our ship.

We flew from London and arrived at Venice’s Marco Polo airport, the short trip to Venice can be undertaken by a number of means including water taxis. However we decided to use the coach for the short 20 minute ride to Piazzale Roma which is the main dropping off point for most visitors for Venice.

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We were careful to book an hotel that was not too far from Piazzale Roma because one of the main problems being in Venice is travelling around the city. We were walking over one of the small bridges when we approached by a man asking if he could carry our cases over the bridge. In many places, this might be seen as a good deed, however in Venice there are a number of scams and nuisances that visitors should be aware. The rather over friendly attitude of our good Samaritan was a bit of a warning and sure enough he expected some payment from the people he was ‘helping’.

We quickly passed the large Santa Lucia train station and took the small walk to the Hotel Continental which stands on the side of the grand canal. Despite being quite inexpensive, the hotel was a pleasant surprise with an ‘unusual for Venice’ large room.

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After dropping off our bags, we decided to have a wander around some of the backstreets of Venice. Venice is made up of a number of neighbourhoods and is a fascinating place to walk around. It is a place to explore without a map because you will find it almost impossible to successfully navigate the labyrinth of alleys and small passages.

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One place we decided to explore not far from the hotel was the Ghetto. The area known as the Ghetto was where the Jewish population lived from the 16th century. Made famous by Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it is a small atmospheric space with a number of memorials and plaques.

The grey and darkening skies indicated that rain was forthcoming, so we made our way back to the hotel where we enjoyed a meal, drink and pleasant evening as the rain bounced off the Grand Canal.

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To our surprise, the rain was still pouring down the following morning and the siren indicated that flooding was expected. One of the most unusual aspects of Venice is the duckboards that are laid down when flooding is expected, outside the hotel, the local market was doing a good trade in plastic ponchos, umbrellas and the strange plastic footwear which visitors use to protect their feet.

Our ship was not departing till late afternoon, so we decided to use the vaporetto to go down the grand canal and explore the main promenade near San Marco’s square and the Doges Palace. The large queues for the vaporetto indicated that many people wanted to do the same. Whilst waiting for the vaporetto, we were surprised how expensive the tickets were in comparison to the last time we were here. We also had a reminder of some of the problems in Venice when Mrs Nice felt someone putting their hand in her backpack, she quickly turned around to see a couple of young girls looking sheepishly. Mrs Nice asked them what they were doing and they quickly made their way back into the crowd. The queues for vaporetto are prime places for pickpockets, so be aware of your belongings in this areas.

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A trip down the Grand Canal is one of the joys of Venice and if you can find a spot at the back of the boat, you can see some of the various palaces and buildings alongside the canal and travel under the famous Rialto and Accademia bridges. Always entertaining is the traffic on the canal, gondolas nip in and out of the traffic, water taxis ply their trade and boats carrying all kinds of goods move up and down the canal.

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The famous Santa Maria della Salute church marks the end of the canal and the vaporetto has a stop near San Marco Square. Walking near to the square, it was obvious that flooding had taken place and crowds of tourists made their way tentatively around the duckboards or splashed about in their various winter footwear.

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The expensive cafes around the square was doing little business with many chairs and tables under water and the seagulls dived in the water for any morsels. Tearing away from this rather surreal scene, we decided to walk along the front down to the Arsenale which is always quieter will a lot less visitors.

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We stopped at the bridge that looks over the Bridge of Sighs which reminded us of our last visit when we went into Doge’s Palace and over the Bridge of Sighs into the prison section.

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Further on a number of photographers were taking pictures of a bride and groom, we thought it was less of wedding but more of a photo shoot with the wedding dress getting soaked trailing in the puddles.

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The Arsenale is the old docks of the city and are a fascinating reminder of Venice as a naval power, although you cannot enter the docks, the gates are full of statues, some which were stolen from Greece. We sat at a local café and enjoyed a coffee as the sun began to appear that lit up the scene in the lagoon and the San Giorgio Maggiore church.

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When we made our way back to San Marco’s square, the flooding had receded to some extent and the waterfront was coming to life. We caught the Vaporetto back to the train station and made our way back to the hotel to pick up our cases. We were shocked to find out that water had flooded into the hotel reception area and the flustered porter in his wellington squelched through the water to get our bags.

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Fortunately, the pier for the ship was not far from the Piazzale Roma and within an hour we were sitting on the ship and looking forward to the next part of our journey.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Bergen in Norway

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Of all the ports we visited on our cruise, there was only one that we had visited before. We had a few days in Bergen around 14 years ago and had thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Back on our first visit we had taken the train up to Myrdal and down to Flam which is considered one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world. From Flam we took a fast cat ferry along the Sognefjord before coming back to Bergen.

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On this visit we were going to concentrate on the city itself and consider any of the changes that had taken place since we were last there. Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway with population of around 420,000 inhabitants. It served as Norway’s capital in the 13th century, and from the end of the 13th century became a an important city of the Hanseatic League. Its wooden houses may look picturesque but Bergen has suffered catastrophic fires throughout its history.

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We assembled on deck from early morning and enjoyed the stunning but rather precarious journey into Bergen. Houses and small homesteads dotted the islands surrounding the opening to the port.

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Bergen was a popular stopping off point for cruise ships back in our first visit, however it was only the odd one or two, as we approached the port there were at least four in port already.

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Because there was many ships in, we knew from past experience that the queues for the Fløibanen funicular which runs from the city centre to Mount Fløyen would be long and because we had already been up there, we decided to give it a miss.

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The panoramic views from the top of the mount are great in good weather but in overcast conditions the visibility is quite poor. A few miles out of town is the Ulriksbanen aerial tramway which runs to Mount Ulriken.

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Our main memories from our previous trip was the old Bryggen warehouses which are a World Heritage Site and the interesting market that included stalls selling whale meat and furs from a variety of animals. It did at the time seem that Bergen was on the edge of wilderness and very unusual.

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As we walked down to the Bryggen warehouse, we were surprised at the sheer number of people and made a detour to the market. The market still had a few stalls selling a variety of meats including whale, moose and reindeer but they were all packaged for visitors not for locals. The variety of stalls was limited to food outlets and Norway souvenirs.

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We were both a little disappointed with these changes, so decided to walk along the other side of the dock to the less commercial side and where we had stayed on our last visit. One of favourite places to sit on the last visit was a small promontory which had a large totem pole which was a gift of friendship from the city of Seattle on the city’s 900th anniversary in 1970. Mrs Nice come into her own with her directions and we sat and enjoyed a drink and a bite to eat.

After our enjoyable picnic, we began to walk back via a few sights, the first attraction was Bergen Aquarium, we did not have time to go inside but looked inside the Aquarium shop that had a comical large penguin and polar bear. Mrs Nice was taken by a fluffy white seal soft toy, ‘the girls would love these’ she said. Knowing it would be foolish to argue we bought the toys and moved on.

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We walked past some old wooden houses leading to the water and the Nykirken church before finding our way to the cultural centre of Bergen, Two internationally renowned composers who came from Bergen are Edvard Grieg and Ole Bull.

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There is a number of Grieg statues around including near the Logen theatre, there is also quite strange statue of Henrik Ibsen one of Norway’s most famous playwrights. New since our last visit was the Kode art galleries which are near the bandstand and small water feature. Crossing over near to the Bryggen, we went past the Hanseatic Museum which documents the city’s Hanseatic heritage.

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The Bryggen warehouses are geared towards the tourist market and draws customers in with strange little northern scenes or lifesize stuffed animals like polar bears, moose and reindeer. Mrs Nice noticed that one shop was having closing down sale and said let’s see if there are any bargains, I raised my eyebrows to show my disapproval but stumbled into the shop. I had to admit the prices were not outrageously expensive and even saw a bargain for myself. Mrs Nice tried on a multicoloured woollen coat which looked expensive, it Ok it’s half price she smiled. So there it was, one of the biggest surprises in a trip to Norway, we actually bagged ourselves a bargain each.

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Making our way back to the ship, we made a slight detour to two very old stone buildings, the Hakonshallen and Rosenkranz Tower, both reminders of the city’s Viking and Norse past.

Returning to Bergen left us with mixed emotions, we both believed that it had lost some of its naïve charm and catered more for the boatloads of visitors rather than for locals. It is a victim of its own success and is one of the most visited cruise ports in the world. However it still is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe amongst some of the most dramatic scenery.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Sortland in Norway

 

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Our next stop was the small town of Sortland in Norway which is one of the major towns of the Vesterålen. The Vesterålen Islands are located near the Lofoten Islands which created a stunning backdrop on the approach to Sortland.

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The snow on the peaks of some of the mountains were some indication of the wildness and remoteness of these particular islands and the scenery was spectacular as we made our way to the turning into the approach for Sortland. That said there were a number of small number of homesteads and towns as we entered the fjord into the approach to Sortland.

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Sortland is the largest commercial centre in Vesterålen. Sortland is located close to the Sortland Bridge, which connects the islands of Langøya to Hinnøya by road. Since a lot of houses in the town are painted blue, Sortland is sometimes referred to as “the blue city”. Sortland district has a population of around 10,000 with around 5,000 living in the town.

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As we approached Sortland , the famous Hurtigrutan ferry was making its way out, the ferries make their journey up the Norwegian coastline in all weathers and have become a legendary 11-day voyage.

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After the stunning scenery, Sortland is a bit of anti-climax, however it is worth remembering that Sortland is not on many cruise itinerary therefore is not really geared up the tourists who stop off for a few hours but rather those who want to go hiking, skiing, nature safari’s and those looking for the Northern lights.

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The Vesterålen islands were connected to each other by several bridges and Sortland´s place is the main retail area in the area. For a very small place it does a number of shopping centres and a large cultural centre.

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Our first stop in the town was the striking white church which was built-in 1901, inside a kindly gentlemen handed out postcards and invited us to explore the simple but attractive church.

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The name Ellingsen often appears, they were obviously important people here and we gathered that the Ellingsen family of Sortland had farmed and ran businesses in the area for 200 years. There were two large tombstones in the old churchyard and a statue to one of the family in the main square near the culture centre.

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We then made our way into the town to indulge in a little retail therapy until Mrs Nice saw the prices. For a small place it did have a lot of amenities for the local population especially the younger people who can be often isolated in these small places.

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One interesting statue was in the city centre which was of the local cleaner who had cleaned the streets of Sortland for 30 years. You did not usually see bronze statues to public servants and we thought it was a very touching tribute to a local character.

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We then made our way to have a closer look at the Sortland Bridge which elegantly spanned the water between Langøya to Hinnøya. As we sat there eating our picnic, the weather dramatically changed from a bright sunny day to a cloudy overcast one. The hills and mountains that sparkled with sunshine on our arrival began to look dark and foreboding.

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It was time head back to the boat, however there was one final surprise before we reached the port. A small blue military building complex had signs forbidding photography in Norwegian, English and Russian. I had a vision of a Russian spy walking up to the building and reading the notice and then deciding not to take photographs. Like a good law-abiding gentleman, I put my camera away and did not take any photographs.

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Near the boat was large blades for the large wind turbines that were on the top of the hill but were not yet in operation.
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One fascinating part of this journey is to visit places often a long way off the main tourist trail where the conditions are difficult and the population are more interested in enjoying the summer and surviving the winter than just catering for thousands of tourists.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Murmansk in Russia

 

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After Archangel, our next port of call in Russia was Murmansk which is a city in the far northwest part of Russia. The city sits on the banks of a fjord in Kola Bay, an inlet of the Barents Sea. The city is 67 miles (108 km) from the border with Norway and 113 miles (182 km) from the Finnish border. Like Archangel, we had to take a bus tour because we had no Russian visa, although the port of Murmansk is near the city and if you do have a visa, there is easy access to the city.

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Murmansk is the largest city within the Arctic Circle with a population of around 300,000 and major port on the Arctic Ocean. Its history only goes back around a century when in 1915, the Russians needed an ice-free location on the Murman Coast in the Russian Arctic, to receive military supplies. The location became known as the Murman station and soon boasted a port, a naval base, and gradually a population grew around the port.

From 1918 to 1920, during the Russian Civil War, the town was occupied by the Western powers, who had been allied in World War I, and by the White Army forces.

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Benefitting from the Gulf Stream, Murmansk’s ability to stay open to shipping has made it one of the major northern Russian ports. The construction of a railway in the early 20th century add to its importance.

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During World War II, Murmansk was a major link to the Western world for the Soviet Union with large quantities of goods important to the respective military efforts traded with the Allies: primarily seeing military equipment, manufactured goods and raw materials brought into the Soviet Union. The supplies were brought to the city in the Arctic convoys. During the Cold War Murmansk was a center of Soviet submarine and icebreaker activity.

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The city is mainly built around the port with a whole series of apartment blocks built above the port. Whilst the port benefits from Gulf Stream, the city suffers extremes of weather with long and cold winters and short, cool summers. The city suffers freezing temperatures from October to May which can plunge to well below -20 °C during the winter.

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The consequence of this extreme weather is that the apartment buildings and roads often look worse for wear. Even though they are regularly maintained, the weather leaves its effect.

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Our first stop was a the State Duma, the Children’s Cultural Centre and a simple wooden cross that marks the founding of the city in 1916. In the nearby local park there were a number of statues, an attractive fountain and a number of gnomes dotted around the park. The anchor is the motif of Murmansk and can be seen everywhere from lampposts to buildings.

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High above the city is the massive 35.5-meter (116 ft) tall statue Alyosha, depicting a Russian World War II soldier which was installed on a 7-meter (23 ft) high foundation in 1974. There is a memorial flame and wall of remembrance, building and odd references to the Russian military dotted about.

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This is a marvellous vantage point to see the city in all its glory above the busy port and across to the apartment blocks. The city is surround with greenery with hills of small trees stretching into the distance, although the countryside looks inviting, most people live in the city because of the savage winters.

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Anther landmark of the city is the statue called  “Zhduschaia” or Waiting,  the waiting woman  looks longingly towards the sea.

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Finally we visited the snow-white church of the Saviour-on-the-Waters, the lighthouse and the poignant KURSK memorial to those who died in the submarine disaster.

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Although this was the end of the tour, the port itself was very interesting with cranes loading ships, trains with a  large number of carriages and a busy flow of ships up and down.

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Leaving, the evening light cast a warm glow over the city and as we slowly departed, we had the added benefit of passing the famous Lenin Icebreaker which was the world’s first nuclear surface ship and the first nuclear civilian vessel.

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More up to date was a Russian navy destroyer and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov undergoing  repairs

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and the base of Atomflot, the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.

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Murmansk was quite unusual because it importance was based on the fact the port remains ice-free year round due to the warm North Atlantic Current. However it was the first place on our cruise that you could see some of the effects of living in Arctic climate. Often children are sent to the Black sea during the long polar winter to get some sun. The continuous darkness of the polar night lasts for 40 days and the “midnight sun” lasts for 63 days. These extremes may be part of the reason that the population of Murmansk is steadily declining.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Archangel in Russia

 

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After Honningsvag, it was time to travel across the top of Europe into the Barents sea and then make a detour into the White Sea down to Archangel in Russia. Travelling down the White Sea, the land on either side was very different from the fjords and high rocky cliffs of Norway.

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Here were trees and low stretches of land with odd lighthouse and habitation. This really did feel like the edge of wilderness and we were looking forward to visiting Archangel.

We had booked the cruise only a few weeks before it sailed and therefore did not have time to get a Russian Visa that you need if you want to go freely around Russia. The only alternative is that you can take one of the excursions organised by the ship, these are not always ideal but ultimately if we wanted to go on land we had little choice.

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We arrived at the Archangel port to be faced with a busy container port with some indication of the importance of timber and fishing which is this part of Russia are the main exports. The port is around 30 minutes drive from the centre of the city and if you were travelling on a visa, quite a difficult place to get transport into the city. The only transport seemed to be small buses that seemed full most of the time.

The city is quite unusual because it lies on both banks of the Northern Dvina River near its exit into the White Sea. The city spreads for over 40 kilometres (25 mi) along the banks of the river and has numerous islands of its delta.

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On the exit from the port, there were a number of large wooden houses that seemed either derelict of had burnt down. Obviously these had made full use of the local timber but they seemed poorly constructed. Travelling over the bridges, occasionally you could observe a large amount of timber floating in the water.

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Archangel has a population of around 400,000 people and has a long interesting history, the city was the chief seaport of medieval and early modern Russia until 1703.

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Its former inhabitants included the Vikings and in the 12th century, the Novgorodians established the Archangel Michael Monastery. Archangel was the scene of a number of battles between the Russia and Norway in medieval times before Ivan the Terrible gained control and began to use the port to trade with British and Dutch Merchants.

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In 1693, Peter the Great ordered the creation of a state shipyard in Archangel although in 1722, he decreed that Archangel should no longer accept goods that amounted to more than was sufficient for the town. It was due to the Tsar’s will to shift all international marine trade to St. Petersburg. This factor greatly contributed to the deterioration of Archangel as a port.

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Arkhangelsk’s economy revived at the end of the 19th century when a railway to Moscow was completed and timber became a major export.

During both world wars, Archangel was a major port of entry for Allied aid. During World War II, the city became known in the West as one of the two main destinations (along with Murmansk) of the Arctic Convoys bringing supplies in to assist the Soviet Union.

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On the outside of the city, there are large blocks of concrete apartments which we assumed were vestiges from the Soviet days before you hit the centre. During Stalin’s reign many of the historic churches were destroyed but many have been rebuilt illustrating the importance of religion in the new Russia. We visited the Assumption church which had been rebuilt in 2004 with its wonderful icons and saw the stunning new city’s cathedral, dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Somewhat surprisingly in the centre of town is a large statue of Lenin and an old Tank in a glass box.

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One of the city’s main landmarks are the fort-like Merchant Yards, in the 17th and 18th centuries this large trading centre was filled with luxury items. At one point all the trade from Europe came through this building. Some of the complex has recently been restored with a few exhibition rooms.

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Along the promenade is a series of statues, most famously of Peter the Great who as I have mentioned built a seaport here and then moved most of the trade to St Petersburg which led to Archangels decline.

Interesting fact alert : The monument to Peter the Great, a sailing ship, and the sea terminal in Archangel are depicted on the Russian 500-rouble banknote.

The centre of the city is a strange mix of old buildings and new apartment blocks with plenty of shopping malls dotted around. There are plenty of green spaces and the city has a large promenade where the local walk and enjoy the riverfront.

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In the very centre of town is a pedestrianized thoroughfare called Chumbarovka Street where you walk past old wooden buildings that are copies of traditional wooden merchant homes.

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These buildings are now used for shops, restaurants and bars with a number of strange statues dotted along the street, one had a shiny hand and nose, we gathered that you shake the hand and grab the nose for good luck. For some reason this all seemed rather odd and Mrs Nice was distracted by a small number of street traders were putting away their wares. Mrs Nice spotted one with some Russian dolls and bought a couple. She did not pay a lot but was a little concerned she did not haggle to get the price down.

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Things took a rather surreal turn when a man dressed as an angel on a bike appeared. Mrs Nice immediately began to talk to him, although he could speak no English and she could speak no Russian. Eventually we managed to work out he was wearing this outfit to highlight something to do with trees and the environment.

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This unusual encounter and a ride back to the port led me to think that Archangel is a fascinating mix of old and new. Life on the outer edges of the Russian empire is not likely to be easy especially in the winter but the city was full of life except for the rather glum faces of the people waiting for the local buses.

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As we left Archangel under a wonderful sunset, we began to look forward to our next Russian stop, Murmansk.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Honningsvåg in Norway

 

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We had finally reached the northern edges of the European coast and was now in the Barents sea, enjoying the spectacular Norwegian coastline. Our last stop before Russia was the small city of Honningsvåg .

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Honningsvåg is the northernmost city in Norway. It is very unusual because legislation effective in 1997 states that a Norwegian city/town must have at least 5,000 inhabitants, but Honningsvåg was declared a city in 1996, thus exempt from this legislation, so it is also one of the smallest cities in Norway.

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In reality it is a small fishing village which is famous as the dropping off point for visitors who want visit North Cape which is a tourist attraction on the northern tip of the European mainland. It’s claim to fame is that it is the northernmost point in Europe but the reality is that it is not, that title goes to nearby Knivskjellodden.

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However that has not stopped busloads of visitors from taking the ride from Honningsvåg and the North Cape attraction organisers to charge visitors £19 to enter the complex. If it had been the northernmost point, we may have decided to join the tourist crush, however it isn’t so we decided to investigate this charming little fishing city.

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When we get off the boat, we are surprised to see a life size statue of a St Bernard Dog, reading the information board gave us some information about this remarkable animal. The dog was called Bamse and he was the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during the Second World War and a symbol of Norwegian freedom during the war. In its early days, the dog was a well known character in pre-war Honningsvåg before joining its owner on Royal Norwegian Navy as a coastal patrol vessel. When the Germans overran Norway, the vessel and Bamse moved to Scotland stationed in Montrose and Dundee. Bamse became a celebrity to the local Scottish population and often rounded up the Norwegian sailors from the local pub and escorted them back to his boat. When Bamse died in 1944, he was buried with full military honours. Hundreds of Norwegian sailors, Allied servicemen, schoolchildren and people from Montrose and Dundee attended his funeral.

In 2006, a larger than life sized bronze statue of Bamse, made by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot was unveiled in Montrose. A copy of that statue was commissioned and in 2009 with hundreds in attendance, the statue was unveiled on Honningsvåg harbour.

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When we entered Honningsvåg it was teeming with birdlife over the cliffs and on the waterfront and when we set out to walk through the town it was only the sound of birds that you could here.

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We slowly made our way past the closed shops to the small Honningsvåg church on the hill, built in 1885, it was one of only twelve churches in Northern Norway that escaped destruction by the Germans in the Second World War. As we sat on a small bench within the small cemetery attached to the church, even the sound of the birds had disappeared.

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The silence was deafening and quite eerie as we looked at the small but beautifully formed gravestones. How many souls beneath our feet had been born and lived their entire lives in this northern outpost ?

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As we walked quietly passed the small wooden buildings, we began to notice that the local population displayed their sense of humour with interesting little figures dotted here and there.

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There was dressed little trolls, stone people and dolls in a little window box. Many of the gardens have flowers or colourful furniture, even the main street had an interesting selection of plants in wellington boots.

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Honnigsvag certainly had a quirky quality that added to its picturesque setting and has we made our way to the harbour we could see it was a working port.

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There were plenty of small to medium size boats which are used to fish the rich fertile waters of the Arctic Circle. Honningsvåg is considered one of the busiest fishing ports in Norway.

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The waters are remarkably clear and Mrs Nice was quite excited by all the starfish in the harbour.

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Honningsvåg does have a few other attractions including a small NordKapp museum and Icebar with gift shop where a massive husky stood guard. But we were content to get away from the crowds and take a little piece of downtime enjoying the (city) and the wonderful scenery.

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Whilst enjoying the late summer sunshine, we noticed the arrival of one of the Hurtigruten coastal ships, these ships have been a familiar sight on our travels up the Norwegian coast and Honningsvåg is one of the main stops before Kirkenes in the north.

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Honningsvåg may be seen as a gateway to North Cape but possesses a charm all of its own. The local population take a lot of pride in their houses and town and display a quirky sense of humour which no doubt brighten up the cold winter days.

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It is a place to enjoy the birdlife and scenery in a peaceful setting without too many distractions.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Tromsø in Norway


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Our arrival in Tromsø was even more spectacular than our arrival in Trondheim with stunning scenery and passing under the bridge,  we were now well inside of the Arctic Circle and Tromsø is one of the major northern cities.

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Like many places in the far north, Tromsø was occupied by the Vikings in the 7–8th Centuries but there is evidence that people lived here over 10,000 years ago. This area has also been the home of the Sami for centuries.

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Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII and gained in importance due to fishing and hunting for furs. By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø became a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated. Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fridtjof Nansen often recruited their crews in the city.

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When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Tromsø served briefly as the seat of the Norwegian government. In nearby Tromsøy island, the German battleship Tirpitz was sunk by the RAF off the Tromsøy island in 1944, killing close to 1,000 German sailors.

The population of Tromsø municipality today is around 70,000 and despite its location it is an increasingly popular place to live with plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to cater for the locals and a lively student population. 

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We arrived fairly early in the morning and the deserted streets gave us the opportunity to explore before the city comes to life. Like Trondheim, Tromsø has lots of picturesque wooden buildings and has one of the largest wooden cathedrals in Norway. Interesting travel fact, the city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789.

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Talking of cathedrals, we were anxious to visit the Arctic Cathedral which involved crossing over the river. The Arctic cathedral is a major landmark of the city and is easily seen from many vantage points in the city. From a distance it does not look that large, however when you get closer you begin to understand its scale.

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Mrs Nice mentioned that it does look a little like Sydney Opera House and you could see some similarities. Unfortunately the cathedral was not open but peering through the window, you could see the magnificent stain glass window and the simple layout of the church. Whilst on this side of the river, you can go to the Fjellheisen cable car that will take to the top of Mount Storsteinen. With limited time we decided to decline this attraction to explore the main city.

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 The centre of the city is located around the large wooden Lutheran cathedral and the statue of Amundsen with the cultural centre close by. The main square was set up for a concert, Tromso has produced a number of famous rock stars and has a number of festivals throughout the year.

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The quiet start to the day was now gone and locals began to fill the main shopping areas mingling with visitors. For a small place, Tromso seemed to have large number of hotels in the centre which is perhaps an indication of its popularity.

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Up the hill slightly is the wooden Catholic cathedral which was built at the same time as the Lutheran one which was probably part of a battle for the local souls in the 19th century. The cathedral was a bit of a surprise inside being blue and white with little of the ornamentation you associate with Catholic churches. There was also a series of symbols on the ceilings that was rather unusual.

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 Deciding it was time for a break we headed for the northernmost branch of Burger King, we are not usually great fans of burger joints, however after the rather rich food of the ship we thought it was a pleasant change. Obviously fast food means something different up in the frozen north because it 20 mins for our meals to be produced.

 How much was that? I asked Mrs Nice, don’t ask she replied before I saw the bill for around £16. Coming from London we are used to expensive food and drink but Norway takes it to a different level, if you ever come to Norway be aware of the high price of particularly everything.

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One location I was looking forward to seeing was Olhallen which is the city’s oldest pubs and one of most famous pubs in Norway and is attached to one of the northernmost breweries in the world. After a walk along the Storgata, we found the pub which is attached to the famous Mack Brewery established in 1872.

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Mrs Nice went inside to get a drink as i found a table outside, suddenly Mrs Nice appeared and said you must come inside, there is a polar bear in here. Intrigued, I followed her in the pub and there was indeed a life-size (around nine feet) stuffed polar bear. Looking around the inside of the very attractive and interesting pub we decided to find a seat and enjoy the ambience. Mrs Nice came back with two halves of Mack’s Pilsner and we settled down to enjoy our drink. It was obvious to the various languages being spoken and photographs being taken that the pub is a bit of pilgrimage for beer drinkers and it certainly does not disappoint with lovely wooden fittings and plenty of pictures and other paraphernalia on the wall.

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Our next stop was the nearby Polaria museum in the most unusual shaped building; it looks like a row of books toppling over. Nearby was the historic sealing vessel MS Polstjerna.  We visited a number of arctic type museums when we were in Bergen and Oslo some years ago, so did not feel the need to reminded that the Arctic is a cold and hostile place.

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On the other side of the city, we had seen the Polar Museum which was in an attractive old building with a number of items outside.

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By now, the city was really coming alive with buskers on the main streets and plenty of shopping activity, it was nice to see that many of the shops were local not global luxury brands, although the prices were probably have been roughly the same.

 Although Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle it seems to be thriving with lots of places to eat and drink, hotels, shops and cultural events. On a bright summer’s day, everyone was enjoying the sunshine, however it might be a different story in the winter with the cold polar days, although strangely the city does not suffer from extreme cold associated with this latitude very often due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Trondheim in Norway

 

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Many years ago we had visited Bergen and we both said we would like to explore the more northern part of Norway. Well that day had finally arrived with our leisurely arrival in Trondheim travelling along the scenic Trondheim Fjord. The city of Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway with a population of around 170,000. The city has a long history with a settlement being founded in 997 and Trondheim served as the capital of Norway during the Viking Age until 1217.

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Trondheim is also a popular spot for cruise ships and has we approached, one large cruise ship had already docked and there was one behind us. Near to the entrance is the small islet called Munkholmen which is now a popular tourist attraction. The islet has served in the past as a place of execution, a monastery, a fortress and a prison (presumably a sort of mini Alcatraz).

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The ship berthed around a mile from the city centre and the walk took us amongst some of the picturesque wooden buildings that are a common feature in Trondheim. Our plan was to walk to the Kristiansten Fortress, which was built in 1681–1684 and is located on a hill east in Trondheim.

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Arriving at Gamle Bybro (the Old Town Bridge) we crossed to make the ascent to the top, the climb was steep but relatively short. We noticed on the way the rather novel seats and the interesting bicycle lift that took riders up to the top.

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The fortress was less of a castle but more of a fortified building at the top and other fortifications underneath the grassy top. The fortress repelled the invading Swedes in 1718, but was decommissioned in 1816. However it does have a grim side to its history, the fortress was used by the Nazi forces during World War II and 23 Norwegian resistance fighters were executed by the Nazi forces inside the fortress.

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There is a few attractions inside the fortress but we were content to sit and enjoy the spectacular views over Trondheim and its surroundings, the fjord and the mountains.

Gradually we made our way back down the steep hill back to the Gamle Bybro (The Old Town Bridge) which was first built on this site in 1681 at the same time as the Kristiansten Fort was constructed.

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Near to the bridge are the very picturesque historic wharves warehouses and boathouses that stand near the mouth of the Nidelva river. Less known than the ones in Bergen, the old wharf buildings have been preserved with the oldest dating back to the 18th century.

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From the bridge we took the route along the old cobbled streets flanked by wooden buildings which are now shops, restaurants and bars to Nedre Elvehavn that has been recently redeveloped with a shopping centre which incorporated some of the old buildings, restaurants and bars.

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Undoubtedly the main attraction in Trondheim is Nidaros Cathedral, the Cathedral is the world’s northernmost gothic cathedral. Built from 1070 over the tomb of St. Olav, the Viking king who brought Christianity to Norway, the cathedral was completed around 1300.

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The cathedral is considered Northern Europe’s most important Christian pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages with pilgrimage routes leading to it from Oslo and many other places in Sweden, Norway and beyond. 

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The cathedral is part of a complex that also includes the Archbishop’s Palace and museum where you can see the Crown Regalia of Norway.

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Also in the complex is the small but fascinating Armory and Resistance Museum, emphasizing Trondheim military history from Viking times up to the story of the Norwegian resistance in the Second World War.

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Other places of interest include Vår Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady) which is one of Trondheim’s oldest buildings. Stiftsgården is the royal residence in Trondheim, originally constructed in 1774. At 140 rooms constituting 4,000 square metres (43,056 sq ft), it is possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe, and has been used by royals and their guests since 1800. There is a statue of Olav Tryggvason, the founder of Trondheim, in the city’s central square, which is now unfortunately surrounded by roadworks.

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The small fish market is interesting not just for the variety of seafood but the rather eclectic collection of objects which included stuffed animals, old motors and other fishing memorabilia.

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Walking back to the ship we came across a marina that was holding a show with plenty of people looking at strange old engines. Even stranger in the docks area was an alleyway in which the artists were working on large pieces of street art. 

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Trondheim is a fascinating place to visit in a stunning location, many of the sights you can see in a day but it would also be a useful base to explore more of the incredible natural features around this part of Norway.

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As well as the major attractions, the city is fascinating to walk around with lots of picturesque wooden buildings and quirky little shops hiding away in basements and narrow alleys. 

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.