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Port Notes -- Flåm

We trolled into Flåm, Norway in the wee hours of the morning and found ourselves in the most dramatic landscape we've seen thus far on our cruise. Deep into the Sognefjord, the ms Rotterdam was surrounded on all sides by rocky cliffs and green mountains, floating on surreally calm and deeply teal waters.

Because Flåm is such a tiny town (just 450 full-time residents), lots of guests chose to do shore excursions that took us to different places: the Flåm Railway train to Myrdal, kayaks on Aurlandsfjord, and an HAL-chartered drive to the village of Aurland and the medieval Vangen Church. Some passengers opted for local tours such as the rather extreme-looking FjordSafari, for which participants dressed up in neon-yellow waterproof suits and goggles and zipped around the fjord in sporty little boats. Walking around Flåm also offered lots of opportunities for hiking up the mountains, or learning more about the history of the Flåmsbana, which first opened for freight in 1940 and for passengers in 1941, in the free Flåm Railway Museum.

Natural beauty in and around Flåm was both intense and omnipresent. Even those who stayed on the boat got to see a sampling of the beautiful waterfalls typical of the region, and those who rode the train got a little something extra: before pulling into the stop with the view of the Kjosfossen Waterfall, we were warned of beautiful siren women called Huldra who might lure us into the woods. And lo and behold, behind the sea of people taking selfies, and up on the hill next to a decrepit stone house, we saw a magical blonde woman in a red dress who was dancing to eerie Norwegian music--who knew the Huldra preferred techno?!

People tendered back to the Rotterdam at a leisurely pace throughout the day before we getting ready for the evening show and scenic cruising of the Sognefjord. Today's stop: Bergen for an overnight!

Lecture Notes -- Natalie Springuel

Considering our northern latitude, you might think the Norwegian Sea and its northern neighbor the Barents Sea would freeze, creating pack ice and transporting Greenland's icebergs, like we see in northern Canada. And yet, Norway's coastline stays remarkably ice free in the winter. Why so?

The answer originates across the pond in the Gulf of Mexico, the birthplace of the Gulf Stream, or the Atlantic Drift Current as it is known by the time it reaches Norway. The Gulf Stream crosses the Atlantic Ocean, hits the United Kingdom, and follows the European coast in a northerly direction. It brings warm, nutrient rich waters to the Nordic Seas where it mixes with a southern flowing, much colder Artic current. A third current, this one coastal and less saline, leaves the Baltic Sea between southern Norway and Denmark, then heads north, draining Norway's rivers and streams along the way.

The combination of complex current patterns atop a highly variable undersea topography leads to upwellers, where moving water collides with undersea ledges. The water gets flushed upwards, carrying nutrients that feed plankton, which in turn feed fish, whales, and birds. The resulting food web makes this coastline among the most important fishing grounds remaining in the North Atlantic, both ecologically and economically.

Performer Profiles -- Morten Gunner Larsen

It's safe to say Morten Gunnar Larsen was born to be a musician. It was in his DNA. At just four years old, his father would play children's songs to entertain his young son. One year later, while most boys his age would pester their parents to have a fire truck or Lincoln logs, young Morten begged his folks for piano lessons. To Morten, the piano was his favorite toy. Besides learning the notes, he started "making fantasy pictures on the piano and playing children songs by ear." By nine, Morten took an interest in playing Chopin waltzes even thought they were way too difficult for him--but the challenge of those pieces motivated Morten to play them better. Young Morten would be drawn to a very different music style by listening to a radio program on NPR...I know what you're thinking, but it was on Norwegian Public Radio. He remembers hearing a show at around 12 years old, a recording of a rag song by Winifred Atwell. Morten listened every Saturday morning and started to play, by ear, those very same songs.

That was the pivotal moment when Morten's musical GPS pointed him in a direction that would become his life's passion. Of course his parents wanted him to continue practicing classical music, which he did and enjoyed. He was eventually admitted into the Norwegian Musical Academy. While at the Academy, he joined a New Orleans jazz group in Oslo. That would eventually lead to recording an album Classic Rags & Stomps.

In 1977, he made a pilgrimage to New Orleans to attend the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival and met many wonderful musicians; one of them (known to most of you on board this ship) was Butch Thompson. They went to jam sessions together and he got to hear Butch play a number of Jelly Roll Morton tunes, which Morten himself was trying to master. Meeting Butch meant a lot to him. On his return to Oslo, Morten started his group, Ophelia Ragtime Orchestra, and the group still exists to this day. Since then he has been sharing his talents around the world as pianist and music director, as well as creating several musical programs, including Memories of Eubie, based on the music of Eubie Blake.

You would be cheating yourself out of special treat on this cruise if you miss an opportunity to hear Morten Gunnar Larsen creating "fantasy pictures on the piano," so be sure to check out his next performance.

Performer Profiles -- Peter Sheppard Skærved

Like many classical musicians, I don't have any memory of when I got into music; if you're a violinist you have a tendency to start very early. And because my mother played, I had a violin in my hand from a very early age.

The violin has given me a way to explore the world, and that's very much in the spirit of what everyone is doing on this ship--discovering something about where they're going and who they are simultaneously, which is why travel is exciting.

The violin has taken me to well over 40 countries as a musician, and in most years I'm in ten or fifteen at least. I spend a lot of time at the moment in Northern regions, particularly in Norway. In fact, I was in Bergen two weeks ago doing a project.

I'm very involved with the research and performance of the greatest of Norwegian violinists, Ole Bull (1810-1880)--known sometimes as the "Flaxen-haired Paganini." It was he who persuaded the parents of the young Edvard Grieg that their son could go study music in Germany and become a composer. This is the man who kicked off the instrumental folk music revival by taking his fellow Nordic fiddlers seriously, putting them onstage with him, when this had not happened before.

Bull was a great Norwegian patriot as well as an international figure. Famously, he tried to found a colony in Pennsylvania called "Oleanna," and he was the first international classical musician to play in Nashville. By 1860, he had homes in three places in the United States and Norway. When we arrive in Bergen, you can find the sculpture of him on Ole Bulls Plass.

As a violinist I'm very inspired by the musicians who went before me. This often takes me to remote locations, playing very old, and very new music. A few weeks ago, I gave the most northerly solo violin recital ever (!) on Svalbard, on the 79th parallel. There's real excitement, the violin in my hand, working in a community for the first time.

I don't go somewhere to simply give a concert--I try to find a way to understand the history and community of the places where I work, and wherever possible, to work as part of it. This sounds a little abstract, but it's not - it just means that I have an obligation to do something relevant where I am working, whether it is Sarajevo or Tromso. Actually, I would say that Garrison has been a great inspiration with this, having for many years watched him find a way into communities of all types; he will always find a real connection with the people around him. Watch him walk down the street and the first thing he does when someone comes up to talk to him is say, "Where are you from? What do you do?" His interest is genuine, and it feeds his craft. And that's a model, for all artists, particularly for classical music, which has a tendency to present itself as being rather disassociated from the real world. So, my ideal audience is someone coming up to me after a concert and saying, if it's East London where I'm from, "Oh, I've never been to a classical concert before, wow, that was amazing, I want to go to another one!" That's my audience.

For more information, recordings, films and writing, go to

View From the Bow -- Rich MacDonald

To sleep under an eiderdown comforter is to have died and gone to heaven. And where do you get eiderdown? Why, from a nesting female Common Eider, the ubiquitous sea duck of the North Atlantic, of course. These cold climate ducks are hearty (tasty, too), with dense and downy chest feathering that is shed to line their nest. It can take 60 nests to gather enough eiderdown to make one comforter.

Eiders are more than just their down, they are a fascinating species. Come springtime, male and female eiders gather to begin courtship. Upon successfully wooing a mate, the male says au revoir and skedaddles for a summer-long bachelor party. Meanwhile, the hen is left to do the heavy lifting.

She will lay from 1-14 olive green eggs. Upon hatching, the precocial chicks immediately take to the sea. Multiple hens will corral their chicks into nursery crèches, sometimes numbering upward of 150, and with the assistance of numerous non-breeding females, they do their utmost to protect the brood.

There are many dangers for these downy puffballs. Great Black- backed Gulls swoop in to steal delectable chicks. Eagles swoop in, talons at the ready, to get a up to eight at a time (I imagine the eagles popping the chicks into their beak like popcorn).

Fortunately, enough generally survive to ensure the next generation.

Literary Limericks

Excerpted from Garrison's forthcoming book of limericks to be published by Grove/Atlantic

Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertie
Is not so heavy but sturdy
Where she is she is there
With birds in her hair
Well-girded and wonderfully wordy

Ginsberg was ruined by fame.
His howls became much the same
When he made a decision
To give up revision.
Now he's unknown except for his name.

Travel Tips

If you've been enjoying the smell of the ocean during your trip, but you really want to smell some good old-fashioned raw fish before you head home, your best bet is the fish market at Torget (the city center). A meeting place for merchants and fishermen since the 1200s, the fish market is open everyday during the summer months from 8:00am to 11:00pm. Marvel at the giant crabs, dip your hands into a barrel of prawns, and have your selection cooked right there in the restaurant on site!

Journal entries:
Rotterdam | North Sea | Edinburgh | Inverness | North Sea | Trondheim | Ålesund | Flåm
Bergen | North Sea | Oslo | North Sea | Rotterdam | Talent Show