Last month I reached the grand age of 75, so I am now one of the “vulnerable elderly citizens”  (almost as beloved of politicians as the “hard working families!”)

My first gift was a free TV licence from the government

On the Sunday before my birthday we visited our local stately home with the family and had a splendid cream tea in the Orangerie. (Gracious living at its best)

On the actual day Jennie gave us a birthday party tea, complete with balloons and hats!

Two days later Jennie and I went to see an excellent production of “War Horse” at the Millennium Centre.

When I see 75 written down it looks so old. Inside I still feel 35, still 8st  with all the energy I had then. Sadly I am no longer 8st and though the spirit may be willing the body is not and as for walking miles forget it!

Can it really be 70 years since the little girl with two fair plaits eagerly joined the mixed infants at Bentinck  School? I was the youngest of the family and all the cousins and had been so envious of my brother and cousins when they went to school.

64 years ago that same little girl walked along the boulevard,proudly wearing the scarlet and grey uniform of the grammar school.

56 years ago I started my Nursing training.

52 years ago I visited Norway for the first time and so began about 10 years of sharing my time between England and Norway.

The first babies I delivered will now be over 50, I wonder how they have lived their lives.

48 years ago I had my great adventure on the Bergensfjord.

41 years ago I married JW

35 years ago I had my lovely daughter, Jennie.

Since then the years have just telescoped into one another and Jennie is grown up with a family of her own and my grandchildren are growing up at a rapid rate. I do have one consolation in that my 2 year old granddaughter is a carbon copy of her mother so I have the joy of those early years, (which flew by so rapidly)  all over again.

I had not realised how long it was since I last posted a blog until JW and Jennie posted their recent blogs.

This year has just flown by. I know that time is supposed to speed up (relatively) as you get older, but this is beyond a joke!

I last posted before Christmas so here is a precis of our activity (or lack of it :)) since then.

We started our Christmas celebrations in November when Jennie and I took her two boys to the theatre to see “Singing in the rain”. I had a slight worry that they might be disappointed with the stage version as they had enjoyed the film so much, but it was an excellent production, and we all had a lovely evening. The boys especially took great delight in real water raining down on the stage and the cast had great fun splashing in the puddles.

We had a traditional family Christmas and E. (the youngest) was old enough this year to appreciate everything.

We were very lucky not to share the devastation of the storms and floods, just the misery of rain and grey skies for what felt like months.

We have not been able to plan any holidays this year as JW had more health problems, so has been availing himself of the NHS again. He has been in twice to the cardiac unit where he has had two lots of stents put in (9 in all). After that he was attending physio twice a week as part of the cardiac rehabillitation. However he now does his exercises at home and will just attend for check-ups. The cancer follow up continues to give good news (PSA still under 0.1%) and he has had the last injection.

We decided that we would explore more of our own country this year, starting with this area. Our first visits of the year were to our local NT property, Tredegar House and gardens. We have been back several times including once when the parkland was almost under water!

I have a list of places and areas to visit, but more of that in future posts.

 

We had ample warning of the “St. Judes” storm, unlike the storm of 1987, where poor Michael Fish carved a name for himself in history by assuring us that warnings of a great storm were greatly exaggerated!
We were living in Kent at the time and amongst the first to be affected by the storm. I remember being woken by the sound of a crash as a large lilac tree in our garden was torn out and hurled down the garden. I was not too upset to see it go as it had flowered very shyly and seemed to put all its energy into putting up suckers, which drove me mad!
Next morning it was still pretty windy and broken branches, dustbins, tiles and other detritous blew around the road.
Our road was lined by large cherry trees which were, fortunately, still standing.
JW drove an Austin 7 at the time so was able to take Jennie to school(and back when he found it closed) and then to work, as the little car could drive around the fallen trees etc. far more easily than the large modern cars!
The local builder was kept busy moving from house to house fixing tiles back on (he must have made a fortune that day)
Sevenoaks, down the road from us, lost five of the oaks from which it got its name. I had not realised quite how deep some of those roots went until I saw the huge craters left behind.
We also experienced another big storm a few years later when we had moved to Wales. JW and I set out on a wet and windy morning for a day of shopping and lunch out in our nearest town, Aberystwyth.
JW complained because we could not get a parking space on the promenade and had to park on one of the back street parks.
We had a delicious meal at the Inn on the Pier, but when they brought the coffee we thought the table was unstable as the coffee slopped into the saucers, then realised that it was not the table moving but the pier!
The wind had increased so much when we stepped outside that we were immediately blown back inside!
After waiting for a short gap in the gusts we managed to stagger across to the road opposite. My hopes of shopping were dashed when I found there was a power cut and none of the electronic tills were working.
We were pleased to see that the car was undamaged in its back street, unlike those on the promenade which had been covered in sand and stones.
We were lucky enough when we arrived home to find we had suffered no damage to the house or outbuildings, and the polytunnel and fruit cage were still standing. We had a power cut and the water was off, but that was the usual result of the slightest wind and we were always prepared with candles and water carriers and jugs!
This time we had plenty of warning so JW and I put away loose pots, garden furniture etc. on Saturday afternoon and hoped for the best.
On Sunday we had some very heavy showers, and the forecasts for the storm moved from arriving in mid Wales to sweeping up the Bristol Channel (minutes away from us)
Around midnight there was a heavy downpour and then nothing. I looked out about 1.30am and was amazed to see hardly any movement in the trees, decided that this was “the calm before the storm”
To my surprise I slept soundly and looked out, rather fearfully, to see how much devastation there was……nothing! even the apples still hung on a neighbour’s tree……The storm had passed us by :)

The last day of a cruise always seems to be busy.
Packing is easier from a cabin than from home where you are agonising about what to pack, or more importantly what not to pack! You see people busily finding their new friends to exchange addresses and telephone numbers. Those who have taken one of the courses offered are finishing off their projects,others are doing last minute shopping in the boutiques or snapping up bargains on the Sales stalls.
The usual programme of activities is available and we took advantage of this to go to a couple of talks in the morning. The first was from an English woman who has lived in Norway many years. She gave a humorous talk about life in Norway. The second talk was from the Gemmologist about Tanzanite. I only heard about this gemstone recently from one of Jennie’s friends. It is a beautiful clear blue stone which was discovered in Tanzania in recent decades whilst they were searching for sapphires. It is the only place it has been discovered so is quite rare. Much of it was bought by Tiffanys New York and there are doubts about how much more will be available.
After lunch we went to a talk about future cruises, which even tempted JW my usually reticent traveller husband.:)
After the talk there was a tea dance, where those who had been learning, or improving, could show off their new skills. The highlight of the tea dance was the afternoon tea where there was a most tempting array of dainty sandwiches and cakes plus a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit kebabs. Wicked temptation which few had the will power to resist! (I did manage to resist second helpings!!)
Most people gave generously to the raffles and sweepstake in aid of the RNLR which was held after this.
After dinner we watched the beautiful sunset and then later tried to work out where we were passing on the South East coastline.

 

Sunset over the North Sea

Sunset over the North Sea

This had been a short but memorable cruise . We had travelled 2,030N.M., learned a lot about the history of the West coast of Norway and made more new friends.

I had not seen much of Stavanger on previous visits, a couple of times when I was working in Oslo (in the 60s) I had taken the little local plane from Stavanger and I had meandered around the area near the docks a few times, so we decided to go on an organised tour this time.
Our guide was Donald, a Scotsman who has lived in Norway for over 40 years. Once again we had a guide who was a mine of information about the history of the area and kept us interested between sights.
First we drove around the old town and admired the wooden buidings.

Old town

Old town

We saw the statue of a sea captain who had captured a German ship and then sailed across to join the Norwegian Royal Navy.

 

Statue of the sea captain

Statue of the sea captain

 

We crossed the long bridge and had a wonderful views both of the city and the fjords.

Stavanger Cathedral was built in 1125 by monks from Winchester, in particular Reinard. The king then was Sigurd who wanted to divorce his wife and marry a younger woman. His request had been refused by the Bishop of Bergen, so he told Reinard he could finish his cathedral if he would grant his divorce, so Sigurd got his new wife and Reinard got his cathedral! The cathedral is dedicated to St. Swithun ( the saint of my birthday!)

We drove around the outskirts past many large villas and the airport, (which looked rather more sophisticated than the field I remembered!) to the “Three Swords” monument. This is a monument where Harald Fairhair defeated the last of the regional princes and formed the Kingdom of Norway in 872.

 

Three Swords monument

Three Swords monument

 

Three Swords Monument

Three Swords Monument

 

The next stop was at Sola church which dates back to 1150. This little church was dismantled during the war, because the Germans thought it was a landmark for the airport, but the stones had been preserved and it has now been fully rebuilt and restored.

 

Story of Sola Church

Story of Sola Church

 

Sola Church

Sola Church

 

We drove back to the ships passing some beautiful beaches and Donald told us about the recent history of Stavanger, how the oil bonanza had allowed the government to improve the infrastucture, and propects for the people.  They had not lowered taxes, but had invested in good secure jobs, the national pension scheme, free education from six years old right through to university, excellent maternity and childcare benefits and the health service.

In the evening it was the Captain’s farewell party and then the dinner had its traditional culmination when the waiters paraded with the flaming “baked Alaskas”

 

photography by JW

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Bergen about 8am. We were blessed again with another bright sunny day. We have been fortunate in our visits to Bergen, in recent years, as we have only had rain once in this notoriously rainy town!
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city and is known as “the gateway to the fjords”. It is beautifully set within seven mountains. It has a long maritime history and was an important member of the Hanseatic league.
We decided to take the hop-on hop-off bus again, which starts from the quayside and travels around the harbour and town.

Haakonshallen

Haakonshallen

The bus takes you down the side of the harbour past Haakonshallen, a large ceremonial hall built in 1261,which was damaged in WW2 but has now been fully restored, past the Rosenkranz tower, which the hardy ones can climb for a fine view of the harbour! and on past the Bryggen. This was the heart of mediaeval Bergen and boasts the last surviving houses o the Hanseatic League.

Bryggen

Bryggen

Next comes the fish market. There were not so many stalls this time, maybe because it was not a main trading day, but there were still a few tanks of live fish. This had fascinated us when we first visited (50 years ago). One of our great pleasures used to be to stroll along the harbourside eating the very fresh prawns out of a paper poke, pretty much like we would eat fish and chips at the British seaside.

Live crabs

Live crabs

More crabs

More crabs

town train

town train…..alternative transport!

There are 14 stops on the route including the Aquarium, Fredriksburg Fortress, Museums, Art Galleries, Parks and shops, so lots of choice.

waterside

waterside

In the afternoon I treated myself to a foot massage in the Atlantic Spa. This is a lovely relaxing part of the ship offering all kinds of tempting spa treatments, given by their beautiful and kindly ladies.

Before dinner we had champagne and canapes delivered to our cabin, courtesy of Fred Olsen. We were joined by our friends, Eileen and Terry who we met on the previous cruise. Fred Olsen also presented us with a photo frame and voucher for a portrait photograph. At dinner the waiters serenaded us and served us with a cream cake.

The theme for this evening was Rock and Roll and there were several elderly “Elvises” complete with Elvis wigs. The crew were also dressed up in 60s costumes. The waitresses looked very pretty in their circular skirts over layers of stiffened petticoats. What memories this evoked. I remember as a student nurse how we pooled our stiff petticoats for the lucky girl with a date.:)

This had been a lovely memorable day, one of my favourite towns, sunny weather and celebrations with friends especially my best friend for 40 years, JW.

photography by Justwilliams.

Flam

Flam

We sailed down the mighty Sognefjord (the longest in Norway and one of the longest in the world) and arrived in Flam, a very pretty place, about 8am.

We had chosen to take a tour of the valley and up to Osterbo mountain lodge.
We travelled inland by the salmon River Aurland past the Vassbygda lake. Here we saw the electricity cables from the huge hydro-electricity plant, cunningly hidden inside a mountain!

Outside the mountain hydro electric plant

Outside the mountain hydro electric plant

We ascended the Laevesdal valley on the modern road system, partly through tunnels which wind up the inside of the mountains. Most of these roads and tunnels have been built since the oil started flowing in the North Sea. Instead of giving tax breaks when the country’s wealth improved, Norway invested the money in improving the infrastructure and built tunnels and bridges to connect the far flung places which were cut off in the winter by the heavy snowfalls and icy conditions.
We had wonderful views of Aurland and Vassbygda and arrived at the Aurland valley where the farmers take their animals for the summer grazing, 800m above sea level.

from the mountainside

from the mountainside

HPIM1058w

IMG_4614w
We were given a warm welcome at the lodge, originally a farm, but now used to provide accomodation for hikers and skiers. We were served with waffles and coffee in the rustic dining room, and then went off to explore the roons with their collection of stuffed animals and then the outside views.

Ostebo lodge

Ostebo lodge

One of the out buildings

One of the out buildings

"Daddy Bear"

“Daddy Bear”

waitresses

waitresses

On the way back we stopped at Aurland village to look at the church. (JW took a picture of the bank to remind him of his fist vist to Norway, which was shortly after the banking crash in 2008, he saw all these Sparebanks and didnot know that “Spare” in Norwegian means “Saving”:)

The "Spare Bank!"

The “Spare Bank!”

We returned to the ship for lunch and then went for a stroll around Flam. We watched the mountain train arriving back. This is a very steep railway which climbs up to Myrdal to the Oslo to Bergen railway.

 

Flam

Flam

We bought more souvenirs and enjoyed the sunshine before returning to the ship.
We have now reached the Silver oceans membership level so were invited to the Cocktail party before dinner.
We were so entranced by the scenery as we sai,led back along the fjord, that we decided not to go to the Ballindaloch to eat, instead we went in later to the Chinese evening in Palms restaurant.
It had been a lovely sunny day, full of interesting sights.

Farewell to Flam

Farewell to Flam

photography thanks to Justwilliams.

Whilst we were in Haugesund the weather was dull, but mild and dry. Once we were back on board the rain started and continued, off and on through the night. It was still raining when we arrived in Olden and the clouds had descende almost to sea level. This gave a magical atmospheric look to the mountains, so that you could believe in the myths of the Trolls(bad) and the Nisses (good)

Season of Mists

Season of Mists

We had not booked any tours for Olden as we had been a few times before, so we decided to have lunch aboard ship and see what the weather was like later.

Before lunch there was a boat drill exercise for the crew and it was both interesting and reassuring to see how thorough and efficient it was.

Two ladies behind me on deck were discussing the mist and decided that there must be a foundry or something to make so much “smoke”. I suddenly realised that those who spent all their lives in towns had probably never seen low clouds drifting across their lawns, which had been a common sight when we lived in West Wales!

 

Olden-mist starting to lift

Olden-mist starting to lift

 

After lunch the clouds ascended and the sun came out so we decided to take one of the new sightseeing buses from the pier out to the glacier.

Quayside Olden

Quayside Olden

Balmoral in Olden

Balmoral in Olden

The tour lasted just over an hour. We drove out through the village past the old church and the new church alongside the beautiful Olden Lake to the end of the Nordfjord. By some trick of the light the lake was a glowing turquoise blue.

We saw the glacier from afar but did not make the hour long trek to cross it :)

On the way back we stopped to take photographs of the waterfall.

waterfall

waterfall

 

We returned to the quayside and bought a few presents in the souvenir shop and then back home to the Balmoral!

 

 

I got my usual thrill of excitement when we woke up to see the coast of Norway. When I used to travel over to Norway 50+ years ago on the Bergen Line we used to stop sometimes at Haugesund, but there was never enough time go ashore and explore and I knew little about the area, so I had booked us on an organised tour for the afternoon.
We arrived in Haugesund just before lunch and were welcomed by the town jazz band and girls in national costume.

Welcome to Haugesund

Welcome to Haugesund

Haugesund Jazz band

Haugesund Jazz band

 

After lunch we set off on our tour. Our guide was Celia and as usual she was excellent both showing us the sights and giving a potted history of the area. I had not realised before what an important part it had taken, particularly the Viking period, in the history of Norway.

We drove first around the old town on Risoy and then over the bridge to the main shopping streets. Our first stop was at the town hall and park, which had been given to the town by the shipowner Knut Knutsen andd his wife Elizabeth, who were great philanthropists.

Knut Knutsen

Knut Knutsen

 

Townhall

Town Hall

 

After leaving the town centre we drove out to an area which has been preserved for the enjoyment of the outdoor pursuits for which Norwegians are justly famed. We drove up a steep narrow road, which is prohibited to private mechanised transport. At the top we had a magnificent view over Haugesund and its surrounds.

picnic spot

picnic spot

 

View to the sea

View to the sea

 

From there we drove to Haraldshaugen to see the monument erected to mark the unification of the states of Norway by Harald Fairhaired in 872. This is a 17m high obelisk and is believed to mark Harald’s last resting place. The monument is surrounded by 29 stones to represent the 29 regions which were unified.

 

Haraldshaugen

Haraldshaugen

Ancient Cross

Ancient Cross

 

Olav Tryggvesen brought Christianity to Norway in the 12c. in the reign of Hakon the Good.

The area was the home of several Viking kings, and stone monuments, construction artefacts and sagas tell us much about the Viking era. Contrary to the tales we had in our history books they were not only “rapers and pillagers” but great seamen, fishermen, farmers and traders. They are believed to be the first Europeans to reach America (beating Colombus by several centuries!) and they traded in the East and Mediterranean as well as Britain and Ireland. They travelled, of course, in the famous long boats, which could reach incredible speeds.

An exact replica of a longboat has been built using the same methods and materials and is hoping to sail around the world.

Viking ship

Viking ship

 

Womens Suffrage came to Norway 100 years ago, largely due to the efforts of two spinster ladies (I think called Hanna and Babatka) who wanted to become ship owners. They managed to buy a ship through a male friend and became very successful business women. Another famous business lady was Amanda. It is claimed that women have always run things since Viking times when their menfolk were awy so much.

The modern city of Haugesund is relatively new. It started as farmland and then the herring came and the herring industry was founded which led to the boat building industry and now of course the oil, gas and renewable energy.

On the way back to the ship we saw a painting on a wall of Morris Rabinowicz. A Jewish immigrant who settled in Norway and built up a large clothing business which was very successful until WW2 when the Nazis deported him and his family  to the concentration camps.  The painting remains as a memorial and to remind people that they can start with nothing and build up a successful business.

This had been such an interesting tour and I had learned so much about Haugesund and Haugalandet.

photography by Justwilliams

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the first evening we met our two friends,Eileen and Terry, from the Highlands and Islands cruise which we took in July. We also met our new dining companions. Through the night we sailed along the South coast and turned into the North Sea. As usual I slept like a top, (I really should spend more time on the sea!)
We were very fortunate as the sea was calm, just enough movement to let us know that we were not on dry land.
I enjoy these days spent at sea. Even though Balmoral is one of the smaller cruise ships and does not boast an ice rink, climbing wall or shopping mall etc. everyone is catered for on the entertainment side.
There are talks about the ports we will visit, specialist talks (this cruise we had a gemmologist and a lady with humorous snippets about Norway. You could learn pyrography, learn to dance, improve your bridge, play deck games, be pampered in the Spa, or just relax and listen to music. I like to talk to the other passengers. They are an eclectic mix from all walks of life. Most are just ordinary folk like us, nurses, teachers, hairdressers, policemen, postmen etc. One of the common themes of these conversations was the differences in training and working conditions when we trained and now. In all the different jobs we had strong discipline and low wages, but we had job satisfaction and most said that they would not want to enter those jobs in today’s conditions. We had far less interference from government agencies.
Another common theme was the fact that, for a generation who were brought up with an abhorrance of debt and a tradition of saving, they had seen their savings and pensions eroded by minimal interest rates and government measures such as QE, and had decided that they might as well enjoy their savings before they disappear altogether!
That evening was the Captain’s welcome cocktail party where we met the Captain and senior staff. This was one of the formal evenings where we all doffed our evening suits or smart dresses. I think most of the women enjoy this chance to “dress up” and the menfolk put up with it!
In the evening there is a choice of entertainments in each of the bars or theatre, from a string quartet to a revue by the entertainment staff.
For anyone who can manage more food there is a supper club at 11.30pm.

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