Thursday, October 01, 2015

Europe 2015 - Cruising into Alesund Norway

Alesund is on Norway's rugged west coast where the high peaks of the Sunnmore Alps drop suddenly in the steep fjords of the Norwegian Sea. This was to be our all "norwegian" portion of our European holiday; we were onboard the Norwegian Star operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines sailing the Norwegian Sea on the west coast of Norway...that's a lot of Norwegian !.....or should I say "det er mye av Norsk" !
(The Norwegians in the audience will appreciate that).  :)

As I stated before in previous posts, sometimes the damp Spring weather hangs around a little longer in Northern Europe. This is the view we had when we woke up and peeked out our port hole window to see what the city looked like. Oh well, grab the umbrellas and the overcoats, we'll need them for the day.

We, the visitors from British Columbia on the the west coast of Canada, were amazed at how similar the the topography and the colours of the area were to the rugged West Coast of BC. Looking at the above picture, I can tell you I've visited a dozen coast cities and villages in B.C. that look just like the shores of Alesund. This picture could have been taken on Vancouver Island or further north at Prince Rupert on the BC coast.

The difference being of course the architecture and the structure of the cities is different in the downtown area but not so dissimilar in the suburbs.

  Like all good tourists we know the best thing to do is grab the Hop On - Hop Off bus for a tour of the highlights of the city. So that's just what we did....

First stop was a viewpoint on Mt. Aksla, a small mountain peak within the city limits, from here you are provided a great view of the surrounding city. Alesund has approx 48,000 residents spread out over seven islands some of which are connected by undersea tunnels, one of which is close to two miles long


The city clings to the edge of the mountains when land is sparse and takes full advantage of any flay land it can find. *** Click on the pictures to see them full size....the one above is absolutely gorgeous in full screen mode.  ***

One of the tourist areas we visited was the Sunnmore Museum just outside of town; here they have collected over 50 traditional buildings and arranged them in such a way so that a self-guided walking tour starts you with the oldest buildings, from 400 years ago, to the latest ones from 100 years ago that don't look so different than some of the ones we would see on our cruise of the fjords.

As Norway is a traditional sea going country it stands to reason that many of the early structures revolved around fishing. The building in the picture above is typical of a fisherman's house at the edge of the water. The inlet seen in the background is the location of the original settlement of Alesund where commercial trading vessels in the year 1,000 AD would come to port to trade with the residents of the area. Even before then, Viking ships plied these waters. Older than the Vikings are the remnants of buildings from the Medieval Age of the this thriving port city Archaeological excavations are happening on these ancient building sites and the public is welcome to come and visit the excavations as part of the museum's out reach to the city's residents.

Here is an adoring fact about building construction in the old days......houses were built on rock platforms and wooden stilts so that the large Norway rats could not get into the buildings.housing the food stores. Norway rats are large and cannot jump like other species, so the stairs leading up to the door always had a large gap between the top step and the door sill. The rock leg supports were topped with a large flat rock that the rats could not climb up and around to enter from the support legs.

After the tour we returned to the city and had time to walk around the harbour part of town. Most of the town was burnt to the ground in a 1904 - the town was rebuilt in the art noveau style of the time and remains as one of Scandinavia's most complete and harmonious towns.

Trolls are big in Norway, we never did get a clear answer on why that is, perhaps we will have to go back and find out.  :)  You see them in every city, they come in sizes small, large, extra small and extra large! They are also one of the main items on the shelf in the tourist shops.

Alesund is one of Norway's main cod fishing centres but when oil was discovered in the Norwegian Sea in the 1970s many enterprising fisherman changed their ships to be supply vessels for the lucrative oil business. Even though the city seems to be an outpost on the far shores of Norway, there is money here and you can see it in the buildings and the vehicles on the streets and the expensive pleasure craft in the harbour.

 The day went fast and soon it was time to walk back to our ship passing the Alesund Church on the way. This Medieval looking church was also destroyed in the 1904 fire and rebuilt to look like it belongs in the 11th century.

We sailed out of the inner harbour at dinner time, past new houses perched on rocky coves that brought images of a typical Cape Breton scene...except we were several thousand miles away to the east and a whole bunch of latitude degrees to the north. Other than that it was exactly the same !  LOL

One of the local fire boats came out to provide a nautical send off and wish a bon voyage. The water cannons performed a water ballet reminiscent of something right out of a Las Vegas hotel night time display. This small act of class was appreciated by the guests on board and even the crew appreciated the showing as it was an honour for a departing ship to receive this kind of send off. We played the decadent tourists and dined on shrimp, steak, and tasty side dishes as we watched the changing scenery float past the dining room windows.

After dinner we went back to the room to freshen up and found tonight's creation waiting for us on the bed......he was so cute! At least I know now where my sunglasses went.

Personally, I thought this one was a lot cuter!  Hope they are not talking about me behind my back....

Tomorrow is Geiranger, a small town at the head of the Geiranger Fjord. It's a spectacular sight, one which makes you appreciate the sheer size of nature and the smallness of yourself.

You may see all of the Alesund pictures here on my Flickr site... 
If you liked the story comment below, it's always neat to read the reviews.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Denmark 2015 - Last Day In Copenhagen And Then Set Sail For Norway

After leaving the Island of Aero and our new found cousins we had one day more to explore Copenhagen before our cruise left for the fjords of Norway.
This short chapter shows our last visit to a restaurant and pictures taken as we left Copenhagen harbour aboard our ship.


So, one of the first things we had to do was go to Cafe Norden so Ken could visit this iconic restaurant where one of his beloved characters in a novel eats whenever he visits Copenhagen.
We meandered around on the Stroget visiting corners of the neighbourhood we had not yet explored on previous visits until Ken's stomach told him it was time for lunch. OK, here we go folks, the highlight of Ken's to Cafe Norden. In the picture above Ken is proudly holding up a beer with the Cafe Norden logo on the glass, and the Cafe Norden menu.....pretty sure he would have stolen the menu if he thought he could get away with it.

Ed settled for a Fanta Orange as his fave Pepsi is not always available in fine dining establishments.

 Yes, this was as filling as it looks....both Ken and I had these and it took all of our manly will power to finish the meal. The food was pretty good and we paid a pretty good price for the meal as well. For two burgers and a beer and a drink we paid $90.00. Double the price of back home in Canada for the same type of meal. No worries though, we were on holidays and money is there to spend to help you enjoy the trip.

A selfie for Linda and Ken....

A selfie for Ed and Annette, then off for a walkabout before we head back to the hotel for the night.

Here is our cabin on the Norwegian Star of Norwegian Cruise Lines; we always like to have an outside cabin so we can see the scenery as we cruise past and we love to wake up and open the curtains to see the new city we have just arrived at.

It's only May in Northern Europe and Winter won't quite go away to let the warm Spring arrive, so I don't think the water slides will see much action on this trip.

Inside we found the usual fanciness of a cruise ship atrium; due to the ports of call we would make, namely in tight fjords, the ship chosen for the trip was a smaller vessel which provided a certain amount of comfortableness with it's smaller size.

As we waited to depart numerous smaller cargo vessels came into dock reminding us that Copenhagen is a central hub for commerce.

Our destinations lay out to sea, past the wind turbines that are as common as diesel cars in Scandinavia.

First day at sea and we are already playing shuffle board....this could be a long trip folks.  :)

 After dinner we ambled down to the show theater to watch the entertainment for the night. They had a variety style of shows over the week....acrobats, tumblers, sing and dance shows by the talented NCL singers, and a couple of stand alone singers. 

And of course there is the requisite animal waiting on our beds courtesy of the turn down service.

One day at sea and then the first stop is on the horizon...Alesund Norway!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Denmark 2015 - Going Home To The Island Of Aero

ABOVE: The port of Aeroskobing looms ahead.

All pictures may be viewed in their full size by clicking on anyone of the have to click on them to see the whole picture..the tiny picture doesn't do the scenery justice.

Today is the day that we set off to see where our forefathers lived and to meet current members of our multi-generational extended family. That is, if Ed can find the correct street.

OK, here's the thing....I have driven literally hundreds of miles on dirt forest mountain roads around British Columbia with out a map, relying on my inane sense of direction. I have driven halfway across Canada with minimal maps, in 2011 we drove from Brussels through Germany and into Denmark all the way to catch a ferry in the tiny village of Fynshav (after figuring out the schedule in Danish so we knew when we had to be there) and visited the Island of Aero, then continued on to Copenhagen....all of this with poor maps or no maps at all....
so, here we are in May of 2015 in a rental car with two, not one but two GPS' at our disposal, circling the block at the harbour in Svendborg because I can't find the ferry landing 1/2 a block away !!  Sheesh !! Talk about a mental block stopping my sense of would be embarrassing if anyone found out about that!

Anyways, eventually we find our way and make the ferry, again being one of the last cars on the ferry as we did not make a reservation...OK, we are still luck with the ferries..
Ken and Linda, Annette and myself settle in for the short ride to the island enjoying the view as we leave the residential area of Svendborg and make way for the Island of Aero.

As Annette and I had been to Aero in 2011, we knew what to expect in the way of what the town looked like and the size of the island, for Ken and Linda it was their first time. It was also to be a first time for all of us as we would be meeting distant relatives of ours..fourth and fifth cousins, even a ninth cousin in there as well. How did we know about all these people? Well, part through the wonder of Facebook and part through our brother Alan's past genealogy quest to discover about our immediate family's past.

I had joined two Facebook was the Genealogy Aero - Emigrants From Aero, the other was "Oplev Mit Aero" or "Enjoy My Aero". Through these groups I found out more about Aero and announced on them that the four of us were going to visit in May. That prompted Karina Rennemose to reach out on behalf of her immediate family to make arrangements for us to meet over something simple like coffee. At the same time Henrik Tielman Andersen also reached out to Friend me on Facebook as a way of keeping in touch. With Karina and Henrik leading the way, other family members learned of our future visit and thought it would be a good idea to meet us as well. What started off as a tentative meet over coffee between "strangers" soon bloomed into a full blown family lunch at Karina's parent's house.....and for that we are eternally grateful!

Henrik lives in Oslo, Norway with his family but he made the long and expensive trip to fly down for a few days so he could meet us. Others I believe also traveled from the mainland to visit as well, in all we had about 20 cousins, spouses, and assorted children enjoy a wonderful full lunch hosted by Karina's parents. (I'll apologize right now for not having all the names of the family members on the tip of my tongue, so please don't be offended if I don't mention you by name)

ABOVE: Far right is Karina

ABOVE: On the left is Henrik

We enjoyed a wonderful meal as we all got to know each other, what we did for a living, what was Canada like vs Denmark, etc. I have to say at first it was 4 strangers coming into a room but I can honestly say by the end of the day we were all family.

ABOVE: Karina's Mother in green at the head of the table

ABOVE: Karina's Father

On behalf of myself, Annette, and Ken and Linda, I want to extend a very big Thank You to Mom and Dad for hosting the luncheon, and to all the family members that came to visit the "foreign cousins" and treated us so warmly we also say thank you......we are touched by your kindness.

Annette and I enjoy visiting Europe as there is so much to see and where to go is always hard to decide. Usually Annette has idea of what she wants to see or where she wants to go and that's all good with me. I'm never disappointed on our trips.
On this trip to Europe, the one thing I wanted to do, the only thing I insisted on doing, was going to Aero to touch bases with my heritage. Anything else past that we could go where we decided, as long as we visited the "family". For the family living on Aero or in the area it was 2 cousins and there wives from Canada visiting....for the two brothers it was much more than that. It was a way for us to reach out and connect to our distant past, a chance to know where we came from and actually see and feel where our great grandparents lived. It was amazing to walk down the streets that they had walked down hundreds of years ago, to stand in the city plaza by city hall and the water pumps where they walked and talked to their neighbours or even their family that came before us.
You gave us a lunch and a warm welcome, we know what you really gave us was a treasured memory we will keep for life. So again, from your new found cousins, our humblest thank you.

Full set of pictures of our lunch visit can be found here on my Flickr site

We said good bye to the family with arrangements to meet the next night as one of our other distant cousins, Allan Harsbro a ninth cousin, had offered us a tour of the old part of Aeroskobing. Something we were looking forward to as there are always so many stories to be told about old towns.

We headed back to our hotel rooms to freshen up and then gather again for a tour of the island. As our hotel was right at the harbour we had a front row view of the ferries as they came in from Svendborg...this was always a great photo opportunity.

 We aimlessly followed the island road would leads up close to the towering wind turbines that help make Aero nearly energy self-sufficient, another one would lead us down near the water where we would be treated to view of the lovely beach houses that have been in the islander's families for generations.

The island is only 30 km is length and at its widest point 8 km, so it is pretty hard to "get lost" even if you don't know where you are going.

Every turn of the road rewarded us with picturesque views like this farm road winding its way through a farmer's fields or the ever present sea off in the distance.

Ken and I found our own little rewards as we found some geocaches on the island as we drove around. What is geocaching you ask? It is a treasure hunt using hand held GPS devices to find small hidden containers with a few trinkets inside. Look up geocaching at  The thrill isn't the actual container, the fun part is where the container hunt takes you.Like the geocache we found above near the site of the historic St. Alberts Church. First constructed around 1,000 AD, it was transformed into a significant church around 1300 AD until it stopped being used in 1536. While all that remains of the church now are a few stone foundations hidden by the tall grass, the commanding view of the ocean is still breath taking. We probably would not have come here without looking for a geocache....that's the wonderful part of brings you to places like this. Currently there are over 60 geocaches hidden on Aero...all it takes is a bit of money spent on a hand held GPS for the family to have a fun time together as they explore their own area.

We met Allan Harsbro the next night as planned in the heart of Aeroskobing in the main plaza and as promised several of our new family came out for the tour as well.Unfortunately a steady rain was happening but we did not let that discourage us. We popped up the umbrellas and enjoyed Allan's stories of the old town, the old houses, and the old inhabitants from years ago. Allan is well versed in the history of Aeroskobing as he is one of the Watchman who patrol the city at night to ensure all is well and the sleeping folks are safe. Allan also tells us that one of our forefathers was also a Watchman, a nice fact to hear. Allan kept us entertained for close to an hour with his history of many of the original sea captain's houses and some of their tales of coming home to their wives. I think eventually we all began to tire of the rain and wet shoes and Allan realized this, so he kept his tour a bit shorter than normal. We still seen and learned a lot about the small crooked little houses along the small narrow cobblestone streets, enough that we wondered if there was anything left to tell us!  :)
We all would like to thank Allan for taking the time to show his cousins, from both near and far, around our shared town. Funny story about my first acquaintance with Allan; I first joined the Emigrants From Aero Facebook group and through there heard of Allan Harsbro whom runs the Opev Mit Aero Facebook group. I joined that group as well and the first thing I noticed was that Allan had a similar face to my brother Alan...I assumed it was a Scandinavian thing as many people from their own country look similar. Ib Christensen whom runs the Emigrants From Aero group posted a pdf document showing how the Canadian Pedersens were related to our cousins on Aero...turns out Allan Harsbro and us had the same grandparents back in 1692... I think that makes us 9th cousins or something like that. Huh, no wonder the two "Alans" look so similar....DNA makes it so.

Below are a few pictures of the old houses that we took a day or so before our tour with Allan; the weather was better and it was earlier in the day, so I'm popping these pictures in the story here even though they are a bit out of time sync.



While we were on Aero we enjoyed one of the local beers made on the island - the beer's name was "Aero". They produce several types of beer all with the Aero name...naturally we had to go visit the brewery.

We were a bit disappointed as there did not seem to be anyone working the store and as there were no signs on the outside of the buildings we only found the door for the store as I randomly pulled open a door to a building and accidentally found the store. Because of the lack of staff we did not learn anything about the operation nor could we purchase any beer to take with us. We did wander over to another building which turned out to house the bottling line, so we got to see where our beer had been bottled before we enthusiastically drank it the night before.  :)

 As we were in the area known as Store Rise we were close to Rise Kirke, or Rise Church with it's lovely old church and tenderly looked after graveyard.
The church itself dates from the 1200's. The church has been expanded several times, most notably in the late 1600's.

Wandering through the cemetery and reading the names of other Pedersens on the head stones, it made us wonder if these people laying here were also distant relatives that we were just now discovering.

Eventually our all too brief visit to Aero came to an end and we had to say goodbye to our extended family and the island that held us under its spell.

As the ferry left the outer harbour the charming beach houses swung into view as if to tease us and say "look what you are going to miss"....we could only wistfully watch the beach houses disappear from view knowing that the people on the island would enjoy another warm summer sitting on the decks while their children splashed in the water and built sand castles.

We passed one of the ferries heading to Aero and we wondered who was on board....people from Aero returning home.....tourists looking to enjoy the wonderful island they had heard about.... or maybe people like us returning to distant home they had never been to before.

Before too long Aero was just a small line of land off in the distance in the wake from the ferry....and I wondered when, or if, I would ever get a chance to come back to visit my heritage.

The beauty of Aero can be seen here (use your "right click" button on your mouse to click on the word "here" to open) in the Aero photo album on my Flickr web site. If you like the story leave me a comment in the Comments section.