Kirkenes and Hurtigruten

After the Oslo visit, I flew to Kirkenes, a mere seven kilometers from the Russian border and located at 69 degrees north. Kirkenes is a frontier town and has officially 3500 inhabitants compared to the 600.000 of Oslo. Much of the place exists because of the Norwegian fjord cruise ships that anchor there and load and unload passengers. There is some cruise ship there every day, I believe, even during the winter months for aurora watching. For only 3500 people living there, it has a lot of shopping malls. I went to two and a map spoke of yet another one. Apart from those though, there is nothing going on in that cold little town.

Despite it being 9th of August, it was about seven Celsius during the endless day. While staying there I learned about civil, nautical and astronomical twilight. Thing is, in winter, there is no official daylight from November 28 to January 15. I cannot imagine how bleak, dark, cold and miserable the place has to be in winter when I found it already pretty bleak, cold and miserable in summer! The pic below is from my hotel room at around midnight or so.

But then it was finally time to get on board the cruise ship.
A few words about the company with the for German ears funny sounding name Hurtigruten. Hurtig is also a now rather unused, old-fashioned German word, and it means quick, fast. Ruten is route. So it literally means express route. The company is over 120 years old and they started as post, cargo and of course passenger ships along the Norwegian coast to reach all those remote villages. The stops are fixed still to unload and offload people and goods. You can also board the ship from town A to B like a train without paying for cabins or food or anything. You can even sleep in the salons on board if you stay for a few stops overnight.

If a cabin were to be free you could also book a cabin for a night, I suppose, but I guess most cabins are occupied by cruise passengers who have full meal packages too. So apart from the cruise passengers there was a coming and going of backpackers and locals and all sorts of people from all walks of life. The full cruise is eleven nights from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. I did only the half cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen. Since you are at the ports at different times of day, you kinda need to go both ways to get the full experience, but for me personally five nights on board were enough πŸ˜‰ with greetings from sea sickness! πŸ˜‰

70,000 Tons of Metal – Part 4

Last Day of the 70,000 Tons of Metal 2018
The way back to Florida saw better and hotter weather than the way to the Grand Turk and after the infamous belly flop contest (which is great fun) I hit the pool myself, if without belly flopping πŸ˜‰ I also watched parts of the gig for Leaves Eyes from one of the hot tubs. Watching live heavy metal from a Jacuzzi is quite a unique experience πŸ˜‰

The highlights of the day were the Dark Tranquility and Sabaton gigs in the Alhambra. Mikael Stanne got familiar with the crowd again, the sound was pretty damn good and I thoroughly enjoyed the gig from the first row. Getting some water, revoked my space in the first row and I had to retreat to the very edge of the stage but that also had the advantage to avoid the constant flow of crowd surfers for Sabaton πŸ˜‰

I rushed back to my room to pack my suitcase, then hurried to catch the rest of Kreator and the announcement of the skipper (the inventor/organizer) of the 70,000 tons of metal. I thought the skipper would make his announcement at the end of the Kreator gig but he did the announcement rather in the last quarter and I missed the beginning of it. I got that much that we broke the previous record and he said that there were people from 75 nations on board πŸ™‚ Our next goal 2019 will again be Haiti, which was a bit of a disappointment to me. I like to go to new places and apart from that they don’t let you out of the Royal Caribbean leased compound and you actually get to see nothing of the real Haiti. We will again be sailing on the Independence of the Seas next year. But the skipper also said that for the year after, there would be a surprise. Since it will be the 10th anniversary of the 70,000 tons of metal, I have the hunch that we might get a bigger boat. It can’t get much bigger but there apparently is the β€œquantum” class of Royal Caribbean’s ships, which is even bigger than the “freedom” class to which the Independence belongs. Well, we’ll see what happens. If possible I will be back on the boat next year as well, since it’s a bloody awesome thing to have a heavy metal festival on a luxury cruise ship πŸ˜‰

The last gig of Alestorm was great fun too and we destroyed the duck! At least the air left the beast πŸ˜‰ Alestorm was a great way to end the cruise. The night was extremely short, since we arrived early in Florida and I was off the ship at around eight in the morning and back in the hotel at ten. They let me into a room at noon which was very decent of them and instead of going to a shopping mall, I preferred to get some shut-eye. Departure happened early the next day and I was up at four in the morning to catch the bus to the airport at five.
Getting to Florida is quite a pain from Japan, but the trip is worth it! Fingers crossed that I will make it onto the lovely boat also in 2019! πŸ˜‰

70,000 Tons of Metal 2018 – Part 3

A Day at the Grand Turk Island
When we went to Haiti in 2017, we were confined to the patch of land that Royal Caribbean has leased there. To my great pleasure, on the Grand Turk island though, we got to see the real thing. First of all, the island is tiny! There are apparently some 3000 people living there.

I left the boat at around ten in the morning and wandered up and down the amazing beach next to the ship for a bit before resting from the super intense sun at a beach bar.

Then I had booked what Royal Caribbean calls an excursion. In my case a bus tour in an open bus/jeep around the island. It was sold as one of the excursions where members of a band attend and in our case it was the band Wolfchant, folk metal from Germany. However, there were three buses and no band member was on mine πŸ˜‰
Our local driver and guide drove us around the island explaining things and we saw the entirety of the Grand Turk island within two hours. That’s it, the island is that small. It’s highest elevation is lower than the ship, making the ship the biggest and tallest structure on the island as long as it is there.

In colonial times the main industry of the island was the production of salt from artificial sea water basins. Those are now abandoned and apart from fishing, the only industry on the island is tourism. It is a British protectorate. I’ve been on plenty of islands, but I’ve never seen an ocean so blue and turquoise as on the Grand Turk. The ocean was absolutely amazing.

The island was hit heavily by two of the hurricanes of the 2017 hurricane season and about half of the roofs of the island were still under repair, some houses looked abandoned. It’s hard to imagine what this paradise looks like during a hurricane and I’m almost surprised the island is still there! It’s so flat and small! Amazing that it emerged from the waves again…

At the end of the tour I happily did some souvenir shopping, with the thought in mind to support the locals.
Back on the boat, the gigs stared again at 17:00, our departure time. I wandered around deck twelve mostly filming the island, the incredible ocean and our departure while Germany’s Apokalyptischen Reiter were playing on the pool deck.

A few miles out I spotted some dolphins who were playing with the draft of the ship and were wildly jumping around. Heavy metal dolphins! πŸ˜‰
Music wise the highlight of that day was my second discovery, again melodic death metal from Finland, a rather new band called Wolfheart. I shall check them out soon!

70,000 Tons of Metal 2018 – Part 2

Day 1 and 2 of 70,000 Tons of Metal
A first highlight of the gigs for me was the Finnish band Insomnium, a melodic death metal act, which seems to be my preferred heavy metal sub genre at the moment πŸ˜‰ Their gig in the ice rink was especially nice because for one song Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquility came to support them. An awesome gig and the band is one of my two “discoveries” from the cruise. I shall check out their stuff in more detail once I’m back home. Trash giants Kreator were a must and I watched them from a safe distance in the Alhambra filming a nice “wall of death”, difficult to achieve in the Alhambra πŸ˜‰

A word about the stages. There is the pool deck, which only operates from day two onwards and is being constructed in record time. It’s built over two pools on deck eleven and as soon as the boat arrives from its previous voyage, the pool is drained and the work crew constructs the beast within some 24 hours. The Alhambra is the in-built theater of the boat. The ice rink is quickly covered and the smallest stage is the pyramid lounge, the boat’s biggest bar on a normal cruise.
The boat leaves at 17:00 on a Thursday, sails the entirety of Friday and arrives at the destination port on Saturday morning.

Friday is a super busy day, the pool deck stage is ready for action and there are also all “meet and greet” sessions on that day. I was up and about from around 9:00, chasing from one gig to the other and I squeezed four meet and greets into the schedule. The first one wasn’t planned, but after seeing Alestorm on the pool deck in the morning in the first row, I decided to get my banana duck t-shirt signed πŸ˜‰ for the other three target bands I had brought album booklets, Dark Tranquility, Sabaton and Primal Fear. I also like the meet and greets because you get to chat with the people waiting in line around you. We broke a record again this year with 75 nations on board!

While the Sabaton guys seemed a bit stressed by all the attention and the crew allowed pictures with only three people at a time, the other bands were more “personal” and you got to take pictures with them on your own, nicely provided by 70,000 tons staff.
The gig highlights of the day were Sabaton on the pool deck, followed by Dark Tranquility on the pool deck as well. I managed to get my favorite first row both times, if at the edge of the stage. One downer was that it was raining quite heavily during the Sabaton gig, but thankfully the rain stopped for Dark Tranquility. I had seen Dark Tranquility twice before, once at Japan’s Loud Park and once at Finland’s Nummirock. Both times the stages were far away from the audience. It also depends on the festival rules I suppose, but neither time did Mikael Stanne jump off stage into the audience. He did so happily at 70,000 tons and was singing right in front of us bathing in the crowd and helping out with the crowd surfers. Wow! What a day, all meet and greets done and first rows for three of the gigs. πŸ™‚

70,000 Tons of Metal 2018 – Part 1

After having been on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise for the first time in 2017 and having thoroughly enjoyed it, I decided to do this again and off I went to Florida once more. After a long but uneventful flight to Dallas and Fort Lauderdale, I arrived at the airport at about 14:00 local time and phoned my hotel asking for the complementary shuttle bus to pick me up. The hotel… last year I stayed at the Ramada Airport and Cruise port Fort Lauderdale and had wanted to book it again. When I went on booking dot com, something saying Ramada came up and the photo looked like the entrance of the Ramada I know and I booked it last year. Then, in January, I had to fill in the ESTA to get into the US and they ask for your address in the US and I noticed something was odd. The hotel I had booked said Ramada Plaza something. Uh? Wasn’t it supposed to say something about airport and cruise? I went back on booking dot com and realized I had booked the wrong hotel! The Plaza something is far away from the airport and everything else… Luckily I managed to change the booking. But, two of my friends from last year made the same mistake! They ended up having to go to the other Ramada and had to pay 50 USD with an Uber and 120 USD with a taxi to bloody get there! Uah! I’m damn lucky that I noticed something was wrong about the name of the hotel.

Trying to stay awake a bit, I hung out with other metal heads at the bar in the garden of the hotel, nicely getting in the mood πŸ™‚
After a jet lagged night, off we went to the boat! What a pleasant sight to see the Independence of the Seas again towering over the Port of the Everglades πŸ™‚
Last year the boat came in late apparently and they made us wait in the big waiting area of the cruise port, but this year it was a smooth going on board and after the check in and photo we could wander on board just like that. The staterooms (I still don’t know why they are not called cabins) were not ready yet, so everyone met at the Windjammer cafe.

It felt like home coming, really. Last year, I was overwhelmed by the size of the ship and gaping at everything and exploring everything, this time it was like, yeah, back on the boat! Everything is still there, the car on the promenade, the ice cream dispenser on the pool deck ;-).

After lunch in the Windjammer, they let us into our rooms by 13:00 and luggage could be dumped. At 16:00 we had the security drill and then off to the stern of the boat. First time around I did not find the access to the stern on the first day and witnessed our leaving from deck 12, this time, I knew the way and headed straight to the stern at deck 4 and watched out departure. I just love that sound of the mighty horn blowing signaling that the big, fat boat is leaving harbor!

The departure was at 17:00 and at 17:00 also the first band was supposed to play and it was Primal Fear who had the honor to open the musical part of the 70,000 tons of metal 2018. Primal Fear happens to be an old favorite of mine and after we left port I rushed to the venue. Luckily they were running a bit late and I arrived just in time for Primal Fear to start πŸ™‚ here we go!

Heavy Metal in Open Water

What’s happening on board of the 70,000 tons of metal? 3000 or so fans, 60 bands and their staff. Every band plays twice. The gigs start at 5 pm on the first day and the last gig ends at 5 in the morning. On day two, a full day at sea, there are gigs from 10 in the morning to 5 the next morning. Landfall in Labadee was at 8 in the morning of day 3. No gigs during landfall, all aboard again at 16:30 and off we go back. Gigs again from 17:30 to 5 in the morning. Another full day at sea with gigs from 10 to 2 in the morning, since arrival back in Fort Lauderdale was at 8 in the morning again = you are busy! Lol.
The boat has four stages, the two main stages being the Alhambra theater and the pool deck, the two minor stages being the ice rink and the so called Pyramid lounge, which is a large bar under normal circumstances. The pool stage is literally built over the largest (for the occasion drained) pool of the ship, and only the hot tubs around the pool are in operation. There is a small pool in operation towards the bow and another water park foot bath, waterfall and hot tubs area towards aft.
The Pyramid lounge was kinda sucky, because of a too low ceiling. The stage could not be elevated and if you were not in the front row you literally saw nothing of the bands. You could only get from the Alhambra to the ice rink via the full fledged on-board casino and you were actually walking several miles a day to get from one stage to the other, lol. The elevators are not the fastest, so if you are fed up with waiting for one, up the stairs you go, not to speak of dancing and headbanging. Despite the good food, I don’t think anyone gained weight, since you find yourself jogging through the ship half the time, lol.
The first full day at sea saw high winds and the pool stage was in trouble, especially Haggard with half an orchestra on stage had great sound trouble in the wind and all in all sound trouble was quite common, also in the Alhambra. Apart from that there was a great atmosphere all over the ship. It’s a five star festival with good food, decent beds, showers and clean toilets, no mud! And of course the band members are on the same ship as you are and can’t go anywhere πŸ˜‰ you keep running into them, and they’re always up for a photo or so. During breakfast especially you can spot them in the Windjammer cafe but usually the fans leave them alone there and respect their privacy. There is no “stalking” going on and everybody is just enjoying the time on the boat in this special atmosphere. It’s simply awesome. More or less all bands do meet and greet signing sessions. You are allowed to take photos any time anywhere. There are official photographers running around taking pics and you can buy them as prints if you happen to find yourself among the hordes of photos. People are drunk, yes, but there was no brawl, smashing stuff or anything like it. I ran into completely drunk Olaf from Norway who kept babbling to me for a while, but somehow there is still restraint. A sexy girl next to me at one gig, half drunk too, was proudly announcing that she can’t believe nobody’s grabbing her ass! Lol.
There are people from all over the world there, many Europeans, North- and South Americans, but there are also Australians, a few Asians, I met a guy from South Africa. The organizers say that people from 74 countries were on board. It’s one big happy community that treats each other with respect and that has fun together. I didn’t know that on the last day there is a costume thing going on, if I go again, I shall bring something, lol. We had unicorns and nuns and storm troopers on board and what not. Many bands play special sets for the occasion. There is a jamming thing going on which has developed over the years with some forty band members playing old metal hits. Not to forget the belly flop contest on Sunday noon where the least graceful and most water displacement belly flop is honored.
With sixty bands you cannot see everything, but as usual I discovered some new bands, which I had not yet known before. It’s the special treat of festivals like that to discover new bands. Of the bands I had not yet known Pain, Devil Driver and Trollfest were my favorites. Then I finally finally saw Grave Digger, twice of course. Since I’m an Amorphis fan that was a first row must on my list for both gigs and I accomplished the mission. They were crowd surfing like hell during the first Amorphis gig on the pool deck and it’s quite something to have wet, mostly naked, hundred kilo guys who were in the hot tub doing crowd surfing! Lol.
As nice as it was, four days are kinda the limit, lol, everyone is hung over, lacks sleep and is quite finished after four days of festival πŸ˜‰
If I can make it holiday wise and money wise, you bet I will be on board again. I’ve been to quite a number of festivals – 70,000 tons of metal is the best so far. Cheers!

A Tiny Bit of Haiti – Kinda

The destination of the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise was Haiti this year, a place called Labadee on the north cost of the Hispaniola island. Its western third is Haiti, the eastern two thirds are the Dominican Republic. Royal Caribbean has leased the land around the cruise port for at first 20 years when they developed it in the 1980ties, then they renewed the lease for 99 years and the lease runs now beyond 2050.
I booked a “walking tour” on shore and while it wasn’t what I expected, it did turn out to be quite interesting. I was expecting to be led by a guide to the village or town of Labadee, but I should have known that they don’t let us off the premises of the leased land. On the leased bit there is no passport control, you only indicate to the ship’s computer by registering that you left the vessel with your chip cards.
So the “walking” tour was rather a standing tour with a few metal heads listening to our tour guide and walking only a hundred meters from the ship to the so called Columbus Cove. Our guide was a Haitian and he has never left Haiti (mostly because of having no money to travel). Haiti is the poorest country in the region. I’m not sure to what degree our guide’s words were true, but he said a nurse earns the equivalent of 200 USD a month, a doctor 500 USD and the people who work at the Labadee cruise port earn 700 to 800 USD. The jobs with Royal Caribbean are thus very sought after and the company does a screening every half year with interviews, testing your English skills and whatever else. Wow.
He also spoke of history, that Columbus landed tin Hispaniola thinking he had come to India, how the British and French came, the slaves, that Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery, that they don’t like their Dominican neighbors too much, etc. He thanked us for coming, since not so many tourists come to Haiti, he said. So unfortunately we didn’t see anything of the real village, but at least we heard some interesting stories from our guide.
On the leased patch everything is pretty and well maintained, there are three parlors with again free food. I was at least expecting to have to pay on land, but no, also there the food was free, but of course not the booze πŸ˜‰ there were tons of activities you could do like snorkeling, kayaking, riding on the worlds longest zip line, renting beach cabanas and what not.
It did all feel kinda decadent, the metal heads are a different folk of course but the usual posh cruises are rich people arriving there and live in luxury whilst a few kilometers over is the real Haiti, which is poor…

US Travels – Part 4: Cruise Ship

This was my first time ever on a real big cruise ship. I’ve been on plenty of boats of all sizes but before the “Independence of the Seas” the biggest thing I rode on might have been the ferry between Melbourne and Devonport in Tasmania or the Ogasawara Maru brining me from Tokyo to the Ogasawara islands. Well, the Independence of the Seas seems to be as big as it gets. It’s the biggest cruise ship class that there is and it’s a 154,000 tons ship, so it’s actually 70,000 tons of metal times two, but maybe if you subtract all the plastic, wood, glass etc. you end up with 70,000 tons of metal πŸ˜‰
The ship is 330 meters long and just huge. It has 14 decks and the central promenade on deck 5 is like a short street with shops left and right.
The thing is damn impressive. My cabin, called stateroom, not cabin for whatever reason, was like a normal hotel room and I even had it to myself, since the lady that was supposed to share the cabin with me cancelled short term. When I checked in online some five days prior to departure, she had already checked in and I saw her name, so it must have been a real last minute cancellation. I feel very sorry for her that she didn’t make it to get onto the boat.
Before leaving port, there is an all aboard drill where you have to report to the station master and line up at your gathering station, the place you’re supposed to go to in case of emergency. Then, at 5 pm, we left the Port of the Everglades.
Since we had good weather the entire time apart from pretty high winds on the first full day at sea, there was not much swaying, but yes, of course you feel that you are on a boat and moving. We drove along with some 19.1 knots which is about 35 km per hour. Rather than swaying up and down there was a constant sideways rolling, which sometimes reminded me of earthquakes, gulp. You don’t feel it so much when you are up and about, but once you lie quietly in bed, you do.
Our captain was Croatian and the crew as international as it gets, I saw people among the crew from all continents. The shop staff had not much to do since of the metalhead guests nobody was into buying Gucci bags or perfume πŸ˜‰
They have an interesting payment system on board. You get a chip card called a sea pass that is connected to your credit card and also functions as your room key. You have zero cash on board but pay everything with your sea pass. I found that to be very nice and convenient.
The one bestseller on board was of course booze! Lol. I heard from 70,000 tons veterans that on a normal cruise there is a drink package and you pay 50 dollars a day for all you can drink. On the first cruise the ship was drunk dry after two days and we broke every record for alcohol consumption, lol. Even on the second cruise where the 50 dollar package per day was abandoned, they didn’t pack enough booze πŸ˜‰
By now the cruise operator Royal Caribbean has learned and there is enough booze on board but alas, without drink packages. They earned a shitload of money from us for the alcohol. I don’t drink beer, lucky me, but heard that a can of beer cost 6 dollars, the occasional cocktail I sipped was 12 dollars each.
What I was astonished about, hadn’t expected and highly appreciated was that most food and non-Soda soft drinks were for free. I thought my ticket paid only for the cabin and the bands on board, so I was delighted to find out it paid for the food as well. My favorite place was the Windjammer cafe on deck 11 with buffet style from early morning to midnight with the exception of two hours in the afternoon to clean up for dinner and after midnight they offered some snacks. There was a sandwich place and a pizza place on deck 5, the promenade, open 24 hours. Last but not least the posh dining room, where I went to only once during the last night to check it out, has free dinner a la carte. Since it’s a la carte you had to wait for the food in contrast to the buffet style and all other nights I was too busy with gigs to try out the dining room.
The only places costing extra money were an ice cream shop, a cake shop and a burger joint. The food was pretty damn good on board!
The waiters in the posh dining hall were a little freaked out by the loud and heavily drinking crowd, but they mostly grinned.
I heard from a couple who went on another cruise on the same ship last year, a normal one, that the waiters were greeting them with our heavy metal greeting sign, because they still ran around in band t-shirts and not tuxedos πŸ˜‰
All in all I find cruise shipping pretty damn nice, since I am also very much an ocean person rather than a mountain person. I went to the bow of the ship a couple of times and one morning was alone there for fifteen minutes, incredible. Just the vast open water and me and a huge ship behind me.