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Back Online, in Kirkenes, Norway

Kathleen and I spent the last week living in cabin 644 onboard the M/S Richard With (pronounced here as "RIKard VIT"), with the advertised lack of network connectivity. I'll be posting more on the cruise experience later, along with many photos.

We arrived at Kirkenes, the northern terminus of the coastal steamer route yesterday morning, just in time for our last organized excursion, a riverboat trip to the Russian border (see photos). It was a truly beautiful day to be on the water.

We then got a ride from the riverboat owner to our hotel to settle in for a day here. We're staying in a hotel in the old European tradition; for one thing, that means that there's no elevator up to our room on the third floor. But Mette, the innkeeper, was quick to point out, they did have a small luggage lift, so we wouldn't have to carry our heavy bags up the stairs. Unfortunately, our new primary bags are too long to fit in that lift lying down. At the urging of our hostess, we pushed Kathleen's bag in all the way to the back and then lifted up the near end, which allowed the bag to fit entirely within the bounding box of the lift compartment. To keep it there, we stuffed our smaller new bag under the near end, pulled the lift doors closed, and hit the button for the third floor.

Obviously, I wouldn't be telling this story if all had gone well from there, and indeed it did not. As the lift went up, we heard an odd kind of clunking noise, and when I went up to the third floor, I couldn't open the lift doors there. Nor could we open the doors on the first or second floor. The lift was apparently stuck somewhere in the middle.

Unlike the people-carrying elevators we're used to, this baggage lift didn't have separate interior and exterior doors; the baggage compartment is completely open to the inner surface of the lift shaft, struts, door mechanisms, irregular walls, and all. As the lift, well, lifted, the handle on the top of Kathleen's big bag caught on one of the horizonal shaft struts. The lift kept going up, though, pulling down the top of the bag like a lever, using the smaller bag as a fulcrum. This was a tight squeeze, of course, but the lift motor was up to the challenge. It finally became stuck with the big bag completely vertical, upside down, jammed against the shaft wall, its handle still holding onto the strut, halfway between the first and second floors. The gypsum wallboard above the first-floor lift door was cracked and bulging a bit. Oh dear.

I could go on (as you know), but suffice it to say that it took Mette the innkeeper, her husband Stein, an assistant, and I a couple of hours to climb into the shaft, chip away gypsum board, hand turn the lift pulley, and generally get bruised, sweaty, and tired before finally freeing the bag from the strut, using just my fingers around the lift edge to manipulate the 50-pound bag into a new position, and lower the lift, millimeter by millimeter back down to the first floor. Miraculously, the bag eventually emerged infused with gypsum powder but otherwise essentially intact and undamaged.

We all found this a real bonding experience, so much so that we ended up having drinks after dinner with Mette and Stein, and we're off soon to visit their house and see their collection of tavern puzzles (!).

Travel is broadening, eh?