Cruise Ships to Shetland…

…have become more abundant these last few years and are a meaningful source of income for Lerwick. Today, one of the behemoth-styled cruise ships came into Lerwick port, or rather anchored itself in the middle of Bressey Sound, because it was too large to dock anywhere else. As we drove into town this morning, the smoke-stack on this monster was higher than the houses on Hillhead, the highest hill of central Lerwick.

CruiseShipLerwick01Photo: Cruise ship arrives in Lerwick

I’m completely convinced that this method of touring has become popular and passenger rolls have increased with each sailing. For Shetland, and especially the small town merchants of Shetland’s largest city, they provide a full till of cash that is dumped by passengers anxious to buy native wares and services. If I’m not too wrong, this season will have brought in close to 50 cruise ships of various sizes and are very important for Shetland’s commerce. This particular cruise ship, the Costa Magica, had about 2000 passengers, or about 25% of the population of Lerwick.

CruiseShipWelcoming02Photo: Each passenger is welcomed to Shetland with traditional music and a warm handshake

One intriguing event that caught my eye, as I parked Jeppe on Victoria Pier parking lot, was how Shetland welcomed these passengers onshore and to Shetland. Since the ship was so large, a series of smaller boats worked in shuttle, transporting passengers between the main vessel and Albert Wharf. As the came onshore, Shetland had arranged for local musicians to play traditional music and a local personality to shake everyone’s hand and personally welcome them to Shetland. Great PR, isn’t it?

Seaways vs Airways
Due to recent air carrier price increases, loss of creature comforts on flights, intense and almost “paranoiac” complications with check-ins and security at airports and the ever-present “what-goes-up-could-come-down-unwantingly” sensation on monster airplanes, I personally feel that it would be positive to observe an increase in ocean travel.

CruiseShipLerwick02Photo: The ferry to Bressey is drawfed by the size of a modern and impersonal “monster” cruise ship

But, does everyone really want to pay for 4 story shopping malls, outdoor swimming pools, activity leaders, casino machines, unknown stand-up comedians and entertainers, elevators to huge restaurants and having to hold a small map in hand so as not to get lost on board? Does one really enjoy a 6-9 hour marathon run to see popular points of interest in a world famous city? Why not simple cruises that give more time to explore foreign ports and harbors in exciting new countries and less time wasting on the ship?

Is it the destination or the journey to it, that’s fun? Consider a smaller cruise ship with adequate and quality cabin arrangements, a library of excitingly good reads, intimate eating arrangements allowing passengers to discover each other, chess boards, water-color tutoring and hours of just relaxing in fold-up chairs watching the sea pass by and using binoculars to count the aquatic bird life during the day. One can easily imagine themselves being an Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, as these two hang over the railing, sharing a cigarette, a small scotch and talking about “love” on a moonlit ocean evening?

I would definitely be one of many that would choose a cruise with that theme, wouldn’t you?

SwedishYachtLerwick01Photo: An alternative method of ocean cruising from Sweden

Shetland Shorts-

A year has gone by and what observations can be made?

peatwork01 A. Whether working with birch firewood or heating with peat, you can always see signs of those who know what they are doing!

shetlandlairds01 B. Apparently, EU politicians really take themselves seriously and think they are one of the gang!

crispsproblems01 C. While the U.K. struggles to decrease their carbon footprint, crisp manufacturers continue with traditional packaging? (Photo: small bags of crisps inside a larger package)

shetlandyachts01 D. In bad weather, fishing boats hug Victoria Pier for shelter. In great weather, yachts hug Victoria Pier.

Conclusion- Shetland has given many thoughts this last year!

Many Birds on Shetland…

…are keenly interesting to behold, but few are as lovable as the Puffin! When first looking at these birds, they seem out of balance. Their colorful beaks would seem too heavy for the puffin’s body and their two bright red feet could act like kites, blowing these birds off course in the Atlantic winds.

puffin05

Belonging to the Auk species, the one found on Shetland is the Fratercula arctica type. In Latin, the word Fratercula basically means “little brother” and this is a most fitting description of the puffins found here. They are small for a comparable ocean-dwelling bird (about 32 cm in height). Their wings are adapted for diving and their tight, thick growth of feathers for warmth. Continue reading

Shetland Blackbirds…

…are fascinatingly stubborn. These last few days of brilliant sunny weather with only enough breeze to keep midges away, has caused some of the more “natural” residents to become stubbornly goal orientated with spring work. Apparently, these “locals” have acquired a disregard for building permission and even a nonchalance concerning other people’s property, when confronted with their hopes and plans to combat the shortage of available homes in Shetland.

jeppebirdnest01Photo: Blackbird nest building on Jeppe’s back wheel

What I am referring to, is the strong-willed native Blackbird (Turdus Merula) of Shetland. A young and romantic couple, who obviously have been struck with Cupid’s arrows, has now gone into their fourth day of stout determination to build a love nest on the back left wheel of Jeppe. Working the night shift, Jeppe has been kept awake and, I might add, has been deeply concerned that the nest building would gain an advanced state of actually developing small Blackbird eggs, with the obvious risk of mass murder of potential baby Blackbirds.

Even tempered as Jeppe is, he has patiently put up with this intrusion of his property. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to drive off on an adventure, the Blackbird’s love nest had to be removed each morning…only to be rebuilt again that evening by these annoying, but definitely wonderful, pair of squatters. What is Jeppe to do?

It has been decided that, during the evening, Jeppe will be parked in another place, away from the scene of previously destroyed bird’s nests, and hope that this will work. Shetland Blackbirds are certainly cute but, above all, bull-headed and stubborn!

Easter on Shetland…

…doesn’t seem that exciting. Scottish bank holidays, when stores, banks and other businesses are closed for a holiday, doesn’t include Easter on its list. Places are open this weekend.

But, Easter is a little special! Especially when it’s sunny and only a light breeze. People are out working in their gardens or some have started to prepare their boats for the coming summer. Lambing has started and small white miniature sheep on spinky, shaky little legs are being welcomed to this island. It’s an “easy” day, today, and even the seals are getting an early tan, as they sun bathe.

Wishing all our readers a HAPPY EASTER, plain and simple!

sandwickseals01

    Photo: “Easter Seals” sun bathing on the Sandwick pier

flowers

    Photo: Flower bed/garden outside the flat (Oh, No! Another flower picture!)

Shetland Birds…

…is a subject I haven’t touched upon with during this great adventure. Naturally, with many years in the Swedish sub-arctic, the environment and coastal character of Shetland, as well as being a bump along migratory routes, provides a new perspective with my ornithological hobby.

Today was one of those “dry” days allowing us to head out and get some fresh air. While Brita walked her beaches, I used binoculars and a field book to catch-up on my birds. Time to get in tune for spring and migratory birds.

maywickvy01-copyPhoto: Maywick Beach

I could easily write a list of the birds seen today, but to make this fun for readers, allow me to report on today’s birding results…in QUIZ form. Please jot down your answers with a method of your own choosing and have fun!
The answers are found at the end. This is an “open book” quiz. Good Luck!

birds02
Photo 1: Beautiful Clangula hyemalis were playing in the Atlantic, today. What are there names in English or Swedish?

    What is the English or Swedish name for the following…
    A. Bucephala clangula
    B. Anas crecca
    C. Gavia immer
    D. Anas platyrhynchos
    E. Cygnus Cygnus
    F. Haematopus ostralegus
    G. Sturnus vulgaris
    H. Phalacrocorax aristotelis
    I. Anas acuta
    J. Arenaria interpres

birds01
Photo 2: These birds can often be found on fields and are called Anser anser. What is their name in English or Swedish?

All winter we have had Vanellus vanellus and Numenius arquata, which made the months seem like spring for us. I can report that last week I saw what I think was a Sterna hirundo, but feel unsure since I didn’t have my binoculars and it may be a bit early for them. We are anxiously awaiting the return of Fratercula arctica.

Answers:
a. Goldeneye/Knipa b. Teal/Kricka c. Great Northern Diver/ Islom d. Mallard/Gräsand e. Whooper Swan/Sångsvan f. Oystercatcher/Strandskata g. Starling/Stare h.Shag/Toppskarv i. Pintail/Sjärtand j.Turnstone/Roskarl photo 1: Long-tailed Duck/Alfågel photo 2: Greyleg Goose/ Grågås

As Hard As It Is…

…to imagine, we’ve been busy. The weather has sometimes whipped and beat the island, the rain has swelled the small burns and haphazard ditches; once only scratches on the crust of the ground, but rapidly becoming white and prominent with frothing water. The water reservoir for Lerwick’s drinking water was often overflowing, when we drove by to work at the museum reception or the archives.

sandart01Photo: Sand art! But, how did this happen? (answer at end)

mailbeachvyPhoto: Mail Beach

For a few weeks, now, we’ve felt the sense of spring coming nearer. Today, was an almost detectable sense of early summer. The daffodils, often found thick in gardens and yards, but even unexpectedly found in ditches or on the edge of burly fields of heather, are intensely holding their breath for the right time to explode into gold.

Even though they forgot their beach balls, blankets and parasols, the seals were the only ones sunning themselves at Reawick Beach today.sealsonbeach01

So, with a child-like feeling, we went to the beaches today. What else does one do with a hardly noticeable breeze, +10 degrees (though most likely more) and the sun shouting “Get Out! Go somewhere! Don’t sit inside!” So, that’s exactly what we did, and came home red-faced from the day’s outing.
springfeelings01Photo: Spring feelings and being a kid
spiggiebeachvyPhoto: Spiggie Beach
nestinggulls01Photo: The gulls are planning how to arrange the furniture for the soon-coming little ones

Answer: Seaweed, stuck in the sand, is blown in circles by the winds

Unbelievably,…

…we’ve had three straight days of great weather. Shetlanders would use the word “gorgeous” and, in all truth to the word, that is exactly how it’s been. People have been out sledging or building snow sculpture-like projects of snowmen or small caves. Being used to the subarctic, we found no reason to be inside with this wonderful February day…and, unbelievably, it is only just that!

Not being a work day, we headed westwards with Jeppe, to a place we hadn’t been before. And, coming to a road’s end, we trudged uphill only to find a small picnic table waiting for us to use. We had a picnic and enjoyed the view…the sun…and beauty of a snowy Shetland.

foulawintervy01-copy“…The snow covered island of Foula, westwards from the mainland and alone in the Atlantic. Wonder what the people are doing out there, today?

westerwickwintervy01-copyPhoto: Wester Wick view with Foula in the background

papilcliffhillsvy01-copyPhoto: Yesterday: from Papil towards the Cliff Hills
whalewickwintervy01-copyPhoto: Whale Wick with Foula out in the Atlantic

Up Helly Aa…

…is something really different and Shetlanders can really get fired up about it. A thousand or more men loyally parade with lit torches through the streets of Lerwick, Shetland. In front of them is their appointed Jarl, a guiding light for his followers who all shout comradely cheers and sing songs of enthusiasm during this festival of fire. These rivers of men pull an effigy of a Viking ship to it final destruction by fire in the heart of the city. Up Helly Aa represents norsk tradition, fire and comradeship unlike anywhere else. Glowing…fervent…forceful and with proud intent.

uphellyaa01Photo: The Jarl parades his men through the conquered streets of Lerwick, Shetland during Up Helly Aa.

Traditionally, there is some evidence of this Shetlandic celebration that points to the early rural 19th century. A rowdy celebration was noted in 1824, by a visiting missionary where he documented that midnight brought an uproar of drums, horns, banging of pots, discharging of guns, screams and some drinking and fighting to the town. At that time, this was around Christmas Eve, during the darkest part of the year.

The celebration grew bolder during the 1840’s. Groups of masked men had formed and they ran the small cobblestone streets of Lerwick dragging barrels or tubs of burning tar in their wake. Eventually, these groups became rivals and the tradition accumulated to an annoying degree. Many complaints were heard arguing the dangers and the mess that was left in town.

Then around the latter half of the 19th century, and up to WW I, changes came about with new ideas and more structure. Here the name Up Helly Aa, apparently having Norsk origins as does Shetland, came to be used and rival gangs became coherent, working together and forming a unified group of individual squads. “Guizing” came about and the squads of men introduced elaborate disguises; not so uncommon as dressed as woman. The fire festival was moved to the end of January, traditionally the last Tuesday of the month, and a Viking theme with the squads being lead by a common leader, the Jarl, was permanently sanctioned.

uphellyaa03Photo: A firey fate awaits the Viking galley in the evening finale of Up Helly Aa celebrations.

And so it still is today. For Up Helly Aa, Shetland has a “national holiday” with schools closing and people getting free from work. Tuesday morning, the Jarl and his men parade through the streets of Lerwick, as if the town had been invaded by Vikings and the conquerors meet the conquered. During the day, the Jarl and squads pay visits to halls and organizations and, finishing off the day, a grand parade unlike one could imagine, weaves its fiery self around the streets to the final burning of a Viking galley to the awe of spectators and long distant visitors.

uphellyaa06-copyPhoto: Torches from a thousand men seal the fate of the Viking galley at Up Helly Aa, Shetland

The rest of the night is one whopping all night party. The squads visit pubs and halls and enjoy a Viking evening until the next morning. Lerwick can then rest. The squads retreat for a well deserved rest but carrying thoughts, plans and new ideas for the next coming Up Helly Aa 2010. Same month, same day; probably a little better and impressive!

With Up Helly Aa, I was impressed with the rows and rows of torches, flowing along the darkened streets of Lerwick, and the well organized day/evening events that were brought about by truly dedicated volunteers who obviously had fun doing it all. I would highly recommend a visit at least once in a lifetime…perhaps, twice or more to really enjoy Up Helly Aa and Shetland.

If the spirits of early Vikings were gathered on the hills surrounding Lerwick and watched the evening procession, I would imagine they would nod to each other, wink an eye and smile with unanimous approval!

uphellyaavy03-copyPhoto: Up Helly Aa is a midwinter Festival of Fire on Shetland