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Archive for the ‘Rambling on’ Category


Although Maggie and I cannot take holidays abroad anymore – unless we are fortunate enough to be able to go on another cruise – we do consider ourselves very fortunate to have been able to take seven holidays together in Italy.  I must admit to very quickly becoming a committed Italophile.

Of the seven, the one that we spent at Ravello remains our favourite.  The town sits atop the cliffs that cling to the Amalfi coast, probably one of the most beautiful areas in the world.  Doubtless many people will have seen the classic Amalfi scene, that of coastline stretching away to Capo d’Orso with, in the foreground, the row of umbrella pines and the small domes of the church that lies below the Gardens of the Villa Rufolo.

View towards Capo d’Orso

We stayed at the Hotel Rufolo and awoke every morning to that view; it was like we had died and gone to Heaven!  In addition to the Villa Rufolo and its gardens there was also the Villa Cimbrone, a walk of some ten to fifteen minutes from the town centre, together with its gardens.

The gardens are so different in character.  Those of the Rufolo are open to the elements, full of blazing colour, predominantly red.  From the gardens you have an uninterrupted view of Capo d’Orso, which translates as Bear Head, so called because the shape of the land resembles a sleeping bear.

On the other hand, the gardens of the Cimbrone are more enclosed, with a fairly large wooded area.  However if you walk along the Avenue of Immensity, past the statue of Ceres, you arrive at the Belvedere of Infinity, such an apt name because you can see for miles in almost any direction.  We visited the gardens five times in all, the Rufolo three times and the Cimbrone twice.  It was really rather magical.

Villa Rufolo Gardens and Capo d'Orso

Belvedere of Infinity, Villa Cimbrone Gardens

The main town along the Amalfi Coast is of course Amalfi, from where you can take a boat, hydrofoil or bus to Sorrento and the villages along the coast – the incredible Positano and little Praino to the west of Amalfi, and Minori (where we had ice-cream to die for!) and Maiori to the east.  Amalfi has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen, named for St Andrew (Sant’Andrea), raised above the level of the Piazza del Duomo by 62 very wide steps.  Attached to the cathedral is a cloister that contains a small, immaculately-kept garden.

Sant'Andrea, Amalfi

Cloister, Sant'Andrea

What can one say about Positano?  How was it ever built?  For the buildings seem to be falling down on each other – not literally, of course, but because they are so close together as they gradually make their way up what is a steep slope.  It is an amazing place, where the only form of transport that is possible is by bicycle, not that I would want to try it!  It is so colourful, like many Italian seaside or lakeside towns and villages.

Positano

Minori is a very attractive seaside village that we will always remember for de Riso, an ice cream parlour where we had what still remains the most fantastic ice cream.  I cannot remember what Maggie had, but I had chocolate and vanilla, with real chocolate and real vanilla.  I’ve had some good ice cream since but nothing that compared to what I tasted that sunny day in Minori.

Minori

Promenade, Minori

An excursion we went on was to Pompei and Vesuvius, the latter thankfully a bit sleepy.  Pompei is very interesting, and one certainly cannot help but feel a certain frisson about the place.  In many ways it is a somewhat sad place and sits there as a reminder of what Vesuvius can and will very likely do again, perhaps sooner rather than later.  If it were to happen then the whole of Naples would be wiped out, with an incalculable loss of life.

The archaeological work to uncover so much of that ancient town is incredible, with whole streets uncovered.

A typical street in Pompei

A shop front in Pompei

All in all, a really memorable holiday that remains our favourite despite the other interesting places we have been to in Italy.

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This year (2011) World MS Day was on 25 May and a group of people from Horsham decided it would be a great idea to undertake a skydive to raise funds for the local MS Society.  Among these people were Chris Burns and Maggie, my wife, both of whom suffer from this cruel condition.  This great adventure was set for the day after World MS Day, and was to take place at Old Sarum airfield, near the beautiful city of Salisbury, in Wiltshire.

Unfortunately, after many days of beautiful weather, Thursday 26 May dawned wet and windy.  However, we had to make a start on the journey, for which a coach adapted for disabled people was hired.  We set off, more in hope than expectation, the driver going south along the A24 before turning westwards on the A27.  However it was not long before we received a phone call to say that the weather was totally unsuitable for the event and so we returned.  It was somewhat disappointing.  However, the skydive was re-scheduled for Friday 3 June.

It was agreed that we would all make our own way to the airfield.  This was fine, as it allowed us to give our new wheelchair-accessible vehicle its first real run.  We went by a route I had done a number of times before, along the A281 almost to Guildford, before turning off and going across country to the Hog’s Back (A31) and then getting across to the M3 – not my favourite motorway.  We then took the A303 to get to Old Sarum.  The A303 is an absolute racetrack of a road, on which it is all too easy to clock 90mph and more.  However, I kept her at somewhere between 70 and 80 and we arrived at the airfield just before 11.30, the journey having taken a shade under two hours.  Certainly the Kia seemed to enjoy the run and I was most impressed with the fuel consumption.  After about half an hour the others arrived, having taken a different and rather tortuous route.

After a while we all went into a training room, where we watched a video of what to expect.  It certainly seemed rather exciting.  However, there were certain aspects that made us wonder if it would be possible to actually do the skydive.  These aspects centred round the ability of Maggie and Chris to bend their legs, something with which both have a lot of difficulty, but which would be necessary on leaving the plane and landing.  So, there was a certain amount of anxiety permeating the atmosphere.

However, these guys really know what they are doing and it was not long before they had come up with ways of getting round such problems.  And so it was that midway through the afternoon Maggie and Chris were being trussed up like turkeys in their jumpsuits and having the harnesses fitted round them.  It was not particularly comfortable for either of them, but needs must, particularly in view of the fact that there had been so much sponsorship.  Then it was aboard the plane and away.

For the rest of us it was then a case of waiting until we could catch sight of the parachutes.   This was about a half-hour later when three shutes could be seen gradually descending.  Maggie had been the first to fall out of the plane, followed by Chris and then Kyle.  Strangely enough, though, Maggie was the last to land.  This was caused by their shute getting caught up in some thermals, as a result of which Gordon, the instructor, had to undertake some spiralling manoeuvres.  This of course added to the time it took to complete the descent.  That probably was not exactly to Maggie’s liking but it did afford me the opportunity to take a whole load of photos, which on getting back home I pushed through Photoshop to try and get some reasonable images.

I had read on the UKSkydiving website that the upper weight limit for tandem skydiving was 15 stone (210lbs).  Therefore, that seemed to rule me out of taking part.  However, in talking with Gordon and others it transpires that at Old Sarum the weight limit is 18 stone (252lbs), and as I am very comfortably within that limit, I am seriously considering doing it next year.

Once everyone was back at the UKSkydiving building, it was time for some group photographs and a bit of a chat before we started the journey home.  Maggie was pretty tired; it had been quite an arduous day for her.  So, it was a fairly quiet trip home, but one that, thankfully, was quicker than the journey down thanks the M3 for once being reasonably clear of traffic.

I don’t know how much the others were able to raise, but Maggie will be able to donate some £925 to the local MS Society branch.

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Living with MS

Living with Multiple Sclerosis

 

Maggie brought the car to a halt.  The driver behind us honked his horn – idiot should not have been so close behind.  Maggie was clearly not happy.

“There’s something wrong, Pete.  My leg keeps jerking.”

“Well, let’s wait a bit and see if it goes off,” I replied.

After a few minutes, she started the car up and we made our way towards home.  Five minutes later, however, as we were travelling along the Capel bypass stretch of the A24, she had to pull over again.

“It’s no good, Pete.  I just can’t carry on.”

So, we changed over and I drove the remaining ten miles or so back home.  It was not the best end to what had been a lovely evening spent in the company of two good friends at an Italian restaurant at Mickleham, a village between Leatherhead and Dorking, in Surrey.  Good food, good wine, of which I had quaffed a few glasses and as a result was in the passenger seat when we had set off home.

Maggie had experienced this problem on a number of occasions but was not inclined to make a special visit to a GP for what seemed a trivial matter.  When, a few weeks later, she was experiencing numbness in her leg, she did not immediately connect it with the spasmodic jerking. However, she decided she had to make an appointment to see Dr Moult, who was then our GP.  Dr Moult expressed some concern and arranged for Maggie to see a neurology specialist at the Crawley Hospital.  Following several months wait for an appointment, Maggie saw the specialist, who arranged for an MRI scan. It was another wait of several months before the scan, after which we had to wait on her diagnosis.

We then went up to Norfolk, where we stayed with my dear Aunt Joan for a few days before going on up to Skegness, where our ex-brother-in-law was living.  During all this time I was living with the knowledge that my Dad was suffering badly from cancer and so I was expecting a phone call at any time about him.  Indeed, when we got back to Horsham, I visited Dad at the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford, where he was undergoing chemotherapy, and I spoke with one of the staff there who told me that he would be lucky to see another three months.  This was in the June of 2000.

On 4 September we returned to Crawley Hospital, where Maggie received confirmation that she had multiple sclerosis (MS).    By this time, Dad was nearing the end and I had my mind more on that, on being there for Mum, and so the seriousness of what Maggie had been told did not register immediately.

Dad died two days later.  I remember us all visiting him the day before he died and the reality of what was happening finally hitting home.  I broke down completely then and also in bed that night as I realised that he would no longer be a physical presence in my life.  We had booked a holiday in the Italian Dolomites and were due to fly out four days later.  Obviously, that holiday had to be cancelled, and the costs repaid to us – not without having to refer the matter to Dr Moult for him to confirm that at the time of booking there had been nothing regarding Dad’s situation that should have precluded us from booking a holiday.

So, there was the funeral to arrange.  Philip, my brother, flew over from Riyadh, where he and his family lived, to help with the arrangements.  And so it was that, on 17 September 2000, we said goodbye to a marvellous husband and father.  Even now, more than ten years on, I miss him enormously.

Maggie went to see Dr Moult, as she was not happy with the specialist at Crawley Hospital.  Therefore, he referred her to the St Richard’s Hospital down at Chichester, where she was to meet Margaret Rice-Oxley, a lovely lady and an expert in MS.  Maggie was very happy in that she was able to discuss things quite openly and be listened to sympathetically by someone who in turn was open and honest with her.

We then booked a replacement holiday, a week in Crete, towards the end of October.  I had never been there before, but Maggie had had two painting holidays there in the early 1990s, and had thoroughly enjoyed them.  However, weather-wise, it was not great, with a seemingly permanent wind.  However, there was a decent restaurant close by where we stayed and I got a good taste of Greek food, something that I still enjoy now – or would do if there were still a Greek restaurant in town.

It was during that week that the enormity of what MS meant really made itself known.  I had bought a newspaper that included an article about a former England rugby player, who was also a very good cricketer for Gloucestershire.  Alastair Hignell had contracted the condition, and the article explained in some detail how it was affecting him and how determined he was to try and continue living a normal life.  But it also went on to describe just how badly MS can affect a person, and that it affects different people in different ways.  It was then that I broke down, crying for a long time, as I realised that life was never going to be the same again.  I think I broke down again during that week as I struggled to take in the enormity of it.

Maggie was just incredible; although clearly it was devastating to hear that she was suffering from this accursed illness, she seemed to come to terms with, and accepted, it quite quickly.  For me, though, it was nowhere near so easy – if that is the right word.  For a long time I raged at the moon as I tried to come to terms with it.  Why us?  Why us?  Why us?  The question rebounded round my head time and time again.  Really, it was a form of grief, and I had to go through the usual processes that you associate with grief.  The fact that the news of the MS and Dad’s passing were separated by just a couple of days had been difficult to cope with.  That the person who was my line manager – although I use the term manager extremely loosely here, for he was just about the most incompetent person I had ever had the grave misfortune to encounter – seemed intent on making everyone’s life hell, not just mine, simply added to the problems that were building up.  Eventually, at the beginning of April 2001, I broke down at the office and was away on sick leave for four months with depression, eventually agreeing to return to work only if I were moved to another department.  To be blunt, however, I never liked working at the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and if it had not been for the MS I would have found a way out.

I think that time away from work did me a world of good.  It was during that time that the initial feelings of anger, of sadness, and all the other negative emotions receded.  I had come to terms more with our situation and realised that I had a responsibility to be positive about what effectively was our new life.  I had come to accept that things would be different, for example we would not be able to continue taking foreign holidays – at least together – although we did go to Italy in 2001 and 2002.

The one problem about that period was that Maggie had given up her driving license and so was reliant on a taxi to get her to and from the office.    Once I was up and running again, I became the chauffeur.  During the course of her taxi trips, Maggie had been taken by various routes up to Addlestone, one of which was a lovely country route that took us up through the Surrey countryside, through one of the county’s oldest villages, Shere, and up round the great natural escarpment in the North Downs known as Newlands Corner.  Although I drove past there hundreds of times the views there never failed to astound and amaze me.

 At the time Maggie was given the diagnosis we were living in a semi-detached house on the south-eastern side of Horsham, having moved there in 1983.  As 2000 became 2001 and the MS, slowly but surely, began to tighten its grip, so Maggie started to experience difficulties in walking and balancing.  We had our holiday in the Dolomites in the September of 2001, and we had a nice holiday, even if the area had its earliest snowfall for many years.  When we did not go out together I did my own thing and Maggie was able to do some painting.  This was the only holiday in Italy in which we used a hire car, and it was just as well, otherwise we would not have been able to move very far.  Indeed it is most probable that we could not have had the holiday at all.

2001 became 2002, and Maggie was using one stick to help her.  However, she was experiencing real problems with the stairs, which was not helped at all by our cats often deciding to go downstairs with her and then stop two or three steps below her, leaving her tottering precariously with just the one handrail to hold on to.  We decided, therefore, that we had to move, preferably to a bungalow.  So, after almost nineteen years we relocated to the western side of town, to a bungalow that had a fair sized back garden.  The bungalow is located in a quiet road and is one of just two that were built in the road.  It really did not take us long to settle in and after just a short while it seemed as if we had been there quite a long time.

Shortly after moving we had what proved to be our last holiday together in Italy, staying at Pallanza on the beautiful Lake Maggiore.  However, as soon as we got there we knew things were not right.  The hotel was away from the town centre and was up a hill.  As a result Maggie really could not move very far.  I was distraught and could hardly sleep because of how I felt, and then Maggie went down with a virus.  Consequently, we had to cut short the holiday and get back home.

Since then we have had our holidays – no more than a week – in the UK.  For the first three years we used my cousin Marion’s apartment on Shanklin Esplanade.  That was nice, with a view of the English Channel.  However, by the third year it was apparent that Maggie was experiencing greater difficulties, so she looked for somewhere else.  She found a farm near Cowes, still on the Isle of Wight, where the accommodation was geared for the disabled, and so we had three holidays there.  By the end of that time we had just about exhausted the Island, and so in 2009 and 2010 we went up to Norfolk, to the Norfolk Disabled Friendly Cottages, in Bircham Newton, a place so small it did not even merit a name sign!  It was marvellous there, with views across to Bircham Windmill and the Norfolk countryside.  

The existing garden in our new property was not at all inspiring, being virtually all grass, with copious amounts of dandelions, clover and other things that make a lawn look so awful.  Marianne, Maggie’s sister, knew of a young man who was trying to establish himself as a designer.  So, we had a number of meetings with young Ben, before agreeing on a new design that would incorporate a number of raised beds.  Maggie’s passion has always been gardening and it was imperative that what we achieved would allow her to spend time in the garden herself.  Once the new garden had been built – by some know-it-all guy who was one of the most arrogant men I have ever encountered – Maggie knew in her mind exactly what she wanted to achieve.  The result has been simply brilliant, and we both love being in the garden during the summer.  We have some seven different roses, of various colours, scents and ease of handling.  There are also seven or eight clematis dotted around, plus many other plants that make for a glorious sight when the garden is at its best.

We also had to look at the kitchen.  It was necessary to have something installed that would make it easier – or just plain easy – for Maggie to be able to work in it.  She found a kitchen designer somewhere in the Midlands, Northampton I think.  The result was a kitchen that included worktops of different heights, plus a pull-out one that enabled her to work with vegetables, etc, comfortably.

This obviously used up a fair bit of money, but there was one other thing that was absolutely essential, and that was a facility for Maggie to be able to shower.  Originally, we used some of the space of our own bedroom, plus a little of the one we were using as a study-cum-computer room.  In time, though, a fully-functional wet room was the only answer and so this was built by Marianne’s partner, Peter.  It was a shame to see one of the bedrooms disappear, but needs must when the Devil drives, and we were later to use some of my retirement money to refurbish the other existing bedroom to include a fold-back bed and a complete computer workstation.

As time went by, so Maggie found she had to use two sticks.  She really was finding walking very difficult.  Getting in and out of the car was becoming more of a problem; indeed her mobility was getting very much impaired.  It was not long, therefore, before she had to start using a wheelchair, and Peter built a ramp that was placed outside the patio doors.  That made getting out the house so much easier, but there still remained the problem of getting in and out of the car.  Because of this we looked into getting a Motability car.  Motability is a charity that helps disabled people remain mobile, whether they be the driver or, as in our case, the passenger.  So, in 2007, we took delivery of a Ford C-Max, via our local Ford dealer.  This improved matters quite a lot but it was the provision of a banana board – so called for its shape – that made things even easier.  However, we still have problems, particularly if Maggie’s legs misbehave and spasm at the wrong time.

In June 2010 Maggie arranged for a couple of companies that specialise in adapting vehicles for the disabled, what are known as Wheelchair accessible vehicles, or  WAVS, to come along and give us a demonstration.  We decided to go with a Kia Sedona.

“How long will it take?” we asked.

“Oh, three, no more than four months,” came the reply.

It is now February 2011 and still no sign of the vehicle, although we are expecting it to be delivered reasonably soon.  I cannot say that I have been tremendously impressed with the level of customer service, seeing as how it has always been Maggie that has had to call the company to see what progress – if any – has been made.  Leaving that aside though, we are looking forward to taking delivery of the Kia; we both believe it will be a great improvement on the current arrangements.

More recently Maggie has been going to an exercise class designed for people with MS.  This takes place every Friday morning and is a very good thing, not just because of the exercising but also because it has meant that Maggie is able to spend time without having to rely on me being there, and also because she has made friends with people that otherwise she would not have done.  And even more recently still, she has joined an art group in Southwater, one of the neighbouring villages.  I am really pleased that she has taken up her art again.  She is very good at it, although she would not agree, being her own harshest critic.

And now she is going to do a skydive in aid of MS.  May 25, 2011 has been designated World MS Day, and although it is taking place the following day she and sixteen others will attempt a world record tandem skydive above Old Sarum, near the beautiful city of Salisbury, in Wiltshire.  Hopefully several thousand pounds will be pledged for what is a marvellous cause.  If anyone is interested the link is http://tinyurl.com/6bzt26a, or, if that does not work (and Tiny urls don’t always!)https://charity.ukskydiving.co.uk/FundraiserPage.aspx?eId=71

All things considered, while it has not been plain sailing living with this dreadful disease, we have adapted our lives very well.  We enjoy what we have and live a simple life that suits us.  And I often say it could have been worse; the MS could have been more intrusive, in that it could have attacked her inwardly, and in time it still may do so.  But, and what would have been infinitely worse, it could have been MND, a far more vicious disease, and I would have been a widower years ago, so I do feel blessed that we still have a life that in our own way we enjoy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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