Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2010

NORWAY 

 A new adventure

 Part Four 

FRIDAY 3 SEPTEMBER

We woke up to sunshine dazzling the North Sea.  Having left Stavanger around 5.30 the previous evening, we were well on our way home.

Breakfast was a leisurely affair again and afterwards we went up on Sky Deck, by definition the top one.  It was nice and warm port side but starboard, which was very much in shadow, was a lot, lot cooler.  We went right up to the front of the ship, not that there was anything but sea to see apart from the odd distant boat hanging on the edge of the horizon.

After lunch in the Waterside, we went to see a talent show.  This was really good, and was proof that there are many ordinary people who are able to sing a darn sight better than many alleged stars.  One was a lass of just ten years of age.  She sang what I thought was quite a difficult song to sing very well.  One of the secrets of singing a song properly is knowing when to come back in after a break and she was spot on.

We then returned to the cabin and started packing.  The cases had to be placed outside the cabin by 8.00 in the evening, so we changed into the clothes we would be wearing in the morning.  The less we had to pack into the wheelchair bag and my camera bag the better.

Our final dinner in the Cinnamon Restaurant was spent in the company of a party of four people and made for an entertaining couple of hours.  Then it was back to the cabin for final preparations for the following day.

 

SATURDAY 4 SEPTEMBER

I did not have the best of nights for some reason – it happens occasionally and hacks me off no end.  We needed to be out of the cabin by 8.00 in the morning and I had booked a wake-up call.  Anyway we were up and out of the cabin shortly after 8.00 and went up to the Waterside for a final breakfast.

To try to reduce the chaos of two thousand people disembarking at the same time at Southampton we all had different coloured disembarkation cards and a note of when we could expect to be called.  This aspect of the procedure seemed to work well and we left Ventura for the last time just after 9.30.  Baggage reclaim was pretty painless and then we headed out of the terminal to find the car.

I left Maggie and the cases at a point where I could pick her up after retrieving the car.  An hour and a half later I did precisely that!  Getting out of the car park was a total nightmare as several hundred cars tried to leave at the same time.  Thankfully everyone was pretty relaxed – there really is no point being otherwise – and there were no untoward incidents.

Eventually we were on our way home.  Again I found the route from the Docks to the M27 motorway pretty straightforward, and then it was foot down to the floor.  About an hour and a half later we arrived home.  I think Sky, our cat, was pleased to see us, although she was more than a tad disgruntled at first.  But we were home after a marvellous week, experiencing cruising for the first time.

People have asked me since if I would do it again.  My response is ‘never say never’.  The great thing about it is that it is something that caters for people like Maggie so much better than flying does.  And after eight years of not being able to go abroad, for her to be able to do this was so fantastic.  She thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as did I of course.  This was the great positive of the holiday, leaving aside everything we saw and everywhere we visited.  Certainly, all that helped to make it such an unforgettable week.  So, never say never!  Indeed we have not knocked the idea out of court, and if the opportunity arose then yes, we would do it, perhaps going a bit further north simply to experience the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.  Now that would be something else!  But for now, we have such precious memories of our first ever cruise, of Bergen, Olden, the fjords and Stavanger and of course the Ventura.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

NORWAY

 A new adventure

 Part Three

 

WEDNESDAY 1 SEPTEMBER

Today saw us at Olden, at the end of the Nordfjord.  Olden is somewhat bigger than Flåm, but even so the buildings looked so miniscule in comparison to the giant of a ship that is the Ventura.  Looking out from our balcony we could still see a lot of cloud, but it looked like they were lifting, so we looked forward to a good day.

We were up reasonably early and had breakfast in the Waterside Restaurant, me indulging myself in a full English.  Our private tour had been agreed for 10.30, so shortly before then we disembarked and met one of the Ventura representatives.  There was a vehicle there but unfortunately it was not at all suitable for Maggie, so the driver had to go to Stryn and exchange it for an adapted vehicle.  As a result it was closer to 11.30 before we actually got under way.

The tour was to last two and a half hours and it was worth every penny of the £275 we had to stump up for it.  The driver was very pleasant man who had worked out a good scenic route in order for us to take plenty of photographs and to gaze awestruck at the views across and along the Nordfjord.

First he took us to a lay-by high up above the fjord, from where we could look back towards the Ventura, which from this distance seemed to dwarf everything around it even more.  We were also able to see a lake in the far distance.  Closer to hand was the village of Loen and beyond that Lake Loen (or Lovatnet).

He then drove further along the Nordfjord, stopping at a point where the views across the fjord were simply incredible.  Again there was a sense of sheer awe, of realising how small and, really, insignificant we are in the presence of such natural majesty.  Our driver then took us to Stryn, his home town.  We parked in an area next to a river, with views of the glorious Norwegian mountains, many of them covered from head to toe with pine trees.  Many of the buildings in Stryn are very pretty – one of them at over 200 years old looking no different to the one next to it, which was barely 20 years of age.

From Stryn we went back down the fjord, past Loen, and on to Lake Loen.  The waters of the lake were a fabulous turquoise-green colour that reminded me of some of the lakes I‘d seen in the Dolomites; such a beautiful colour, and yet so clear and still was the water, reflecting the mountains so perfectly.  We stopped at a small campsite on the edge of the lake where the owner treated us to a tea and coffee, possibly as a favour to our driver, who no doubt brings a lot of custom to the place.  Then it was back to Olden, parting from our driver after thanking him so much for an unforgettable experience.

After lunch and a bit of a rest, I went back ashore and walked into Olden, searching for more photo opportunities.  And I was not disappointed.  There is a bridge that spans the water where the Nordfjord ends and the River Oldedalen takes over.  The river in turns leads to a lake a little further inland.  This was a perfect place to take some pictures, of the fjord and of the Oldedalen valley, which was now a lot clearer than it had been in the morning.  There was also a small church that, like so many buildings we saw on the holiday, was made of clapboard painted white.  Apparently this church dates from the 1700s, but you would not think so as it looks so pristine and was obviously lovingly looked after.  I noticed how incredibly neat the little cemetery outside the church was and how some very old headstones were still perfectly readable.  I also found a few places from where I could take some photos of the Ventura, which, because of its sheer size I guess, seemed to act like a magnet.

We set sail again about 5.30 that evening and I went to the front of the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) and took more photos of Nordfjord.  I stayed up there for an hour and a half, simply unable to tear myself away from the sheer beauty of what we were sailing through.  At first it was pretty darn cold, but as time went by I did not feel the cold.  In truth, looking out at the mountains, the little communities that cling to the fjord, in places where you wonder how they connect with the rest of the world, I again felt immensely insignificant.

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY 2 SEPTEMBER

We arrive at Stavanger, our final port of call before returning to Southampton. We were up well before Ventura reached the town and so were able to look out over the coastline towards the now distant mountains.  It was a glorious day, just right for some serious exploring of the town.

We went ashore a little after 10.30.  The first place we came to was a sloping pedestrianised piazza, where there were a number of market stalls geared to selling the sort of things that tourists like to buy – and I am not talking about tacky, cheap stuff, although there was some of that.  There was a T-shirt on sale that I really liked, which cost only 80 krone.  OK, cheap by Norwegian standards maybe, but it looked good quality and had a fantastic image of a Viking warrior on it.  Unfortunately, none of them were my size, a problem I often encounter back home, being as I am size XL.

Whilst perusing the stalls, a couple of charming Norwegian students asked if they could ask us some questions as part of a college project they were undertaking.  We spent a good quarter of an hour talking with them and then made our way to the Information Office to obtain a guide and a map of the town.

Across from the Information Office is Stavanger Cathedral (St Svithun’s), which was actually modelled on Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire.  I would not know, as I have never visited England’s ancient capital city.

St Svithun’s is of more modest dimensions, but for all that was still a beautiful building.  Just past the cathedral was a lake (Breiavatnet), which seems to be home to more gulls than ducks.  We walked along the side of the lake, taking a few photos needless to say, and admiring a statue of a small boy feeding a family of ducks.  We then turned away to find our way to Old Stavanger.

 

What an absolute diamond of a place Old Stavanger is.  It is within the Straen district of the town, and backs on to the harbour.  Almost all the buildings are, again, white clapboard, with one or two exceptions.  The current buildings are not exceptionally old, because older houses had been the victims of numerous fires.  However, there is still atmosphere of antiquity about the place.  All the buildings are immaculate and betray the loving care that the residents have for such a special area.  The majority of the houses had the most attractive floral displays outside them.  Some of the plants were clematis, growing out of the smallest openings in the pavement, as were many roses.  One house in particular, opposite a small open space, was a total joy to behold, with countless different plants growing in a variety of baskets and pots.

The little street (Øvre Strandgate) was cobbled and made for a pretty bumpy ride, which did not make it easy for Maggie.  We were grateful that we had hired an electric wheelchair for the holiday, otherwise we simply could not have had this wonderful experience, or been able to enjoy Bergen anywhere near so much, if at all.  Despite the discomfort, however, we both agreed that this little tour of Old Stavanger was simply magical.

Leaving Old Stavanger, we passed through a small area where people could sit and relax.  There were, as in other parts of the town, some statues or sculptures here.  One was of a man with two very small horses and a cart.  Another was of what appeared to be a schoolboy, but it was a third that intrigued us the most.  It comprised a top hat on its side, behind which was a blacksmith’s anvil that had propped up against it a saxophone.  To complete the picture a monkey sat on the anvil and a parrot was perched on the hat.  We had not a clue what it all was supposed to represent, but it was very well done and, as I said, very intriguing.

We made our way back to the centre of the town and wandered round the shopping area, where there were more statues, including one of a boy sitting on a pony, his body twisted round so that he was looking back towards something.  Then we returned to the market stalls and found some small souvenirs made from Norwegian wood (cue the Beatles!).

We returned to the Ventura just in time to grab lunch in the Waterside Restaurant, taking our time over it and still marvelling at what we had seen in the morning.  Then it was back to the cabin.

Evening dinner was the second formal occasion, so it was the whistle and tie again.  The food was good, as it had generally been and the company were nice people, as had been the case each evening.

Read Full Post »

NORWAY 

 A NEW ADVENTURE

Part Two

 

 MONDAY 30 AUGUST

We woke up about 8.30, pulled the curtains back and found that we had docked at Bergen.  There is hardly a cloud in the sky.  We had breakfast in the cabin and a little after 10.00 joined the queue for the coaches and shuttle buses, one of the latter of which took us into the town centre, at Ole Bull Plass.

We found Bergen to be a very attractive city, with the centre almost entirely pedestrianised.  Where we had been dropped off was near a sculpture of blue stone, which seemed to act as a magnet for people to meet and sit, read, whatever.  Close by there was a slope that was made up of a central wide avenue of grass bordered by some magnificent flowerbeds.  In front of this was a statue known as the Lying Poet.  After taking some photos, we wandered up the main street, in which there was a water feature known as the Sailor’s Monument.  This comprises a large wide plinth, with a black surface along which water constantly flows.  On the plinth there was a monument to the maritime history of Bergen, from the Vikings to the modern day.  It was a very elegant piece of craftsmanship.  Maggie and I could not help thinking that such a water feature would incur the utmost displeasure of our own Health & Safety fascists.

Walking on we arrived at the Fish Market, which was by a sailing harbour.  This was really interesting.  There were all manner of sea creatures there – principally crab, of which there were countless varieties, but also lobster, various white fish and of course the wonderful wild salmon.  And it was all fresh that morning.  There were several areas where one could sit and enjoy a seafood salad, but we did not have one ourselves – it was too soon after breakfast.  Our main aim was to find the funicular that would take us up to the top of Mt Fløien.

The queue at the funicular (the Fløienbahnen) was quite long but was moving forward all the time, so it was not long before were on our way up.  We emerged to views that took our breath away.  I don’t think I had seen such beauty in twenty years and I hope the photographs have done it justice.  The sheer, stunning beauty of the Norwegian coastline was encapsulated in what we were looking at.  And, thanks to the sun, the waters were sparkling, the sea so blue, and because the air was so clean, fresh, so pure, everything was pin sharp.  I could easily have spent the entire day there.  As far as I was concerned, just this one morning high above Norway’s old capital city was worth the cost of the cruise.

Naturally we had lunch there.  It was an example of how expensive things are in Norway, and perhaps why it has a better standard of living and quality of life, far better than we have here in the UK, not in a small way because of our accursed membership of the bastard European Union.  Our lunch of two pretty large salmon and egg rolls, one coffee and one lemon green tea, cost 172 krone, which by my reckoning was about £18 sterling.

Eventually we had to leave and made our way back to the pick-up point in Ole Bull Plass, wandering again through the Fish Market.  Whilst waiting for the shuttle bus we had a look at the water feature that includes a small statue of Ole Bull, who was a violinist, and walked across to a lake where there was a very attractive spray fountain.  There was also a bandstand, which looked resplendent in its floral surrounds and also a sculpture – the Sculpture of Four Arcs – which was built in memory of a Harald Seaverud, who apparently was a Norwegian composer.

We did not have to wait long back at the Ole Bull Plass before the shuttle bus arrived to return us to the Ventura.  At the evening meal it became evident that we were not alone in being totally in awe of what we had seen at the top of Mt Fløien.  I believe scenes like that have a profound effect on many of us.

TUESDAY 31 AUGUST

Clouds had begun to gather as yesterday afternoon progressed and this morning when we arrived at our second port of call the tiny village of Flåm (pronounced Flom), it was very dismal.  Unfortunately, Flåm can only have one cruise ship berthed alongside the village and there was already one there, the Costa Deliziosa.   This meant that the Ventura had to drop anchor in the fjord (Sognefjord) and people were taken to the village by tender boat.  In turn this meant that disabled people could not visit the village or take part in any excursions.  This would have been a real pain if the weather had been nice, like yesterday morning but, with the rain and the general dankness, it was no bad thing.

Maggie had seen that Avatar was showing in the cinema so we went and watched it in the morning.  It is a very impressive film even in 2D, so goodness knows what it looks like in 3D.  The film seems to work on various levels and certainly it portrayed very well man’s inability to deal rationally with anything he does not understand.  I cannot remember the last time Maggie had seen a film in a proper cinema.  I know that the last one I went to see was Ray, and I still marvel at Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles; I remember the goose bumps I felt at the time wondering how someone can get right inside another person’s skin so brilliantly.

We also visited the onboard excursion desk to see if we could organise a private tour.  This was to take the place of an excursion that Maggie had pre-booked but which was subsequently cancelled because of a lack of numbers.

Other than that it was a quiet day.

Read Full Post »

NORWAY 

 A new adventure 

Part One 

 

 SATURDAY 28 AUGUST

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    So, So, a totally new adventure – our first ever cruise, and up to Norway, somewhere we had always dreamed of visiting.  Maggie had not had a holiday outside the UK since our last one in Italy in 2002.  With her disability, she does not want all the hassle that comes with flying.  This year she retired from the Civil Service and decided she wanted to treat herself to a cruise.  So she contacted a company that specialises in helping disabled people, and so here we were on the Ventura, P&O’s biggest ship.

Yesterday we had done most of the packing, which we finished this morning.  We were looking to leave for Southampton at midday and it was about 12.20 when we eventually got under way.  The journey was pretty good, although the Chichester by-pass was its usual grim self.  Once past that point it was straightforward.  One thing for sure, getting to Southampton Docks was a lot easier than getting to those in Portsmouth.

Once at the Ocean Terminal, we were met with an incredible efficiency!  Indeed we had to stop the man driving the car away as we still needed to offload one or two things.  Inside the terminal it was a sort of organised chaos, rather like on busy days at airports.  We both felt that there was not sufficient signage to direct people to where they needed to go, and an airy wave together with imprecise advice as to where we should go to check in really did not cut the mustard.  Eventually, however, we were able to board the Ventura.

We are on Riviera Deck, or Deck 14 – which is actually the thirteenth deck, but mariners worldwide never use unlucky thirteen.  It’s a very nice cabin, or, to use P&O parlance, stateroom, with good facilities, although neither of us are totally convinced it caters totally for Maggie’s needs, despite the company’s best efforts.  We spent some time on the balcony as we set sail, which was after we had attended a safety drill.  To be honest we both felt that was a total shambles.  There were too many people at that particular muster point, which would have made it difficult for many to observe the staff demonstrating the drill.  Then, it was everyone for him or herself, with the disabled left to fend for themselves.  I could not believe the number of able-bodied people who grabbed the lifts without any thought for the numerous people in wheelchairs that were there.  Why is there so much selfishness these days?

Anyway, shortly before 5.00 pm we were away, and we simply sat on the balcony, relaxing as the Ventura made its way down Southampton Water to the Solent and past Portsmouth, with the Spinnaker Tower standing so tall and proud.  The atmosphere was so quiet and tranquil.

After unpacking – a task that always makes us feel we packed too much! – it was time for dinner.  We had chosen Freedom Dining, which means that, although we can use just the one restaurant, the Cinnamon, we get to sit at different tables each evening and will have different people as company for the meal.  The meal itself was very nice, although my sirloin steak could have been a tad tenderer, and we washed it down with a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo (Sant’Orsola).  Then it was back to the cabin and to bed.  We were both pretty darn tired.

SUNDAY 29 AUGUST

Whereas yesterday was a lovely day, we awoke to leaden skies and rain, a choppy sea that made the ship shudder a bit, although it was so huge that shudder was all it did.  However, things had better improve a lot weather-wise.

We woke up a little before 8.00, but then remembered that the ship’s clock was set an hour later (to continental time).  I checked to see where we could still get breakfast – I wanted a cooked one – and we made our way to the Waterside Restaurant, on Deck 15.  After eating we got talking to a group of Lancastrians, who were really friendly, so we passed a good three-quarters of an hour with them.  Actually Maggie had suggested that I took a photo of them as one of the men had taken one that naturally did not include himself, so it was nice to take photo of the whole group.  We were to bump into them almost every day, and they were always full of laughs.

Tonight is one of the formal evenings.  This means that we have to dress up – me in a suit that I normally keep for weddings and funerals and Maggie dressed in a matching deep red skirt and top.  I hate formal occasions; I hate formal, full stop.  I just feel so bloody uncomfortable and hot.  Still, there’s the evening meal to look forward to.

As the day went by the weather seemed to be improving, and the Captain did say in his welcome speech that tomorrow was looking promising.  We will arrive at Bergen in the morning.

We enjoyed the evening meal with couples from Bournemouth and Bognor.  The guy from Bognor had a lovely dry sense of humour and we shared not a few laughs.  He had done the London Marathon five times and a number of local ones along the south coast.  Her also sailed, and spoke of a journey back from the Scilly Isles (west of Cornwall) on which all on board had been seasick, such was the temper the sea was in.  “And of course, the only known cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.”  I cracked up!  Oh, yes, the food.  Maggie had sea bass, of which nothing remained on the plate.  Being a little adventurous, I had lobster tail, never having had lobster before.  I found it very tasty.  We both had a very extravagant crème broulee for desserts.

To be continued

You can view a lot of the photographs that I took at www.flickr.com/photos/sussexshark.

Read Full Post »