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Autumn leaves begin to fall.

Autumn leaves begin to fall.

The sea had calmed and we passed the Bay of Biscay quite calmly as we sailed northward. We began to realise that the cruise was nearly over and we would soon be back to everyday life…and the British winter!

Tony Gledhill gave his last talk, the watercolour class were busy finishing their paintings ready for the exhibition they were holding on the last day, the boutiques had special displays of their wares to tempt anyone with spare holiday money and we had our last talk from Tony Russell, this time on “Cotswold gardens”.
I enjoyed, as usual, chatting to the other passengers. We had met some lovely people.

I suppose, before going on any cruises as a passenger, my view of people who went on cruises was coloured by my time on “Bergensfjord” in the 1960s, when only the rich could cruise. Now it is within the reach of a far wider community and most of those I chatted to were just ordinary folk who had worked all their lives, most of them from the age of 15-16. I don’t think any of them had “gold plated” pensions and many of them were like us paying from our savings. As most of them said, thanks to the actions of bankers and governments, savings are eaten up by inflation and interest rates are so paltry that we might as well enjoy them while we can!

Before dinner the Captain gave his farewell cocktail party and the dinner was the last formal evening so the last chance to wear our finery. The dinner was especially splendid culminating with the waiters bringing in the flaming Baked Alaska.

That evening there was the usual choice of entertainment and as usual we opted for the talented Phillip Bond.

Thursday and our last day. It was like the last day of term at school swapping adresses etc with our new friends, packing all but the essentials needed for the evening. We had our last meeting with our splendid garden hosts, Matthew, Tony and David when they held a question time hour. We did the usual thing of saying goodbye to our new friends and some we met over and over again and others we missed altogether. All the time we were getting closer to the English Channel and the sky was getting greyer and the wind cooler!

A friendly little robin met us and sat on deck for a rest and then flew around the ship.

We arrived on time at Southampton, the luggage was swiftly taken ashore, we said our fond farewells to our lovely stewardess, Nam, and then it was time to go. Disembarkation was as efficient and speedy as embarkation had been. The Parking company met us with the car as arranged and we drove off with a last look back at the Balmoral.

The autumn colours were slightly faded and more leaves had begun to fall, but still the countryside was still glorious and I wondered anew whether they had cut the M4 through natural forests or whether some clever landscape gardener had designed it.

We arrived home in Cardiff by lunchtime to find everything in order…..and a huge pile of junk mail!

We had had a splendid cruise, seen new lands, made new friends and travelled 3,436 NM. We had consumed 1,651 litres of icecream (not all by JW ūüôā

So thank you to and their helpful, efficient staff, to our garden hosts, Fred Olsen and the wonderful crew of the Balmoral and to all the new friends we made.


Statue of Bamse in Honningsvag

When we saw this statue of Bamse on our recent holiday I vaguely remembered hearing about him when a matching statue was installed in Montrose, Scotland a few years ago but could not remember the whole story, so I¬†ordered a splendid book about him…. “Sea Dog Bamse, WW2 canine hero” ¬†by Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr.

He was a 14 stone St. Bernard who was originally bought as a family pet by Captain Hafto. He was a gentle giant and had a remarkable affinity with humans and appointed himself as guardian to the four children, shepherding them around and giving rides on his back, carrying shopping home in the panniers on his back and pulling a sledge in winter.

When Germany invaded Norway Captain Hafto was recalled to the Norwegian navy. He was to¬†take command of the Thorodd a former whaling ship which was fitted out for coastal protection. He took Bamse with him and in February 1940 Bamse was formally entered on the ship’s muster roll. A broom cupboard was fitted out as a cabin for him as a kennel, where he could retreat in bad weather (He suffered badly from sea sickness).

In the 62 days between the invasion and capitulation Bamse built his reputation for “fearless in action” and “steadfast under fire”. He refused to go below decks and took his place by the Oerlikon gunner, snarling at the enemy, wearing his steel helmet, hackles erect. He inspired the crew with his courage. Many of these were only boys and probably scared to death and Bamse was a kindly confidante.

There were some Allied victories around Narvik but by 3rd June the order was given for the Allied forces to withdraw and 7th June the Norwegian Royal Navy was ordred to save their ships and make for Britain. The Norwegian Royal family, government and diplomats and most of the gold reserves were spirited away from Tromso by HMS Devonshire.

Thorodd managed to sail over to Scotland and whilst she was being converted to a mine sweeper the crew had to get used to life in Britain. Bamse¬†soon adapted to this very different lifestyle, learned to ride on a bus, ride on a train and got a liking for beer. He regularly accompanied the crew to the pub and shepherded them safely back to barracks! If he had stayed on board he would go out on “curfew patrol” and make sure that his crew was back on time. He could not bear violence and fighting and stories are told of how he would deal with any troublemakers. He was never aggressive,¬†it was enough that he would raise himself on his hind legs to his full height of 6 feet, place his huge paws on the miscreant’s¬†shoulders and push him away. He would also take his turn at guarding the gangway. He planted himself at the top of the gangway and refused to allow anyone onboard until given permission by the sailor in charge.

Bamse had an enormous appetite and quickly developed friendships with several food shop owners and made his daily round of visits. ūüôā Luckily he had a liking for fish.

Bamse’s fame spread and he¬†became a symbol of hope for many of the exiled Norwegians. On at least two occasions he¬†is credited¬†with saving¬†the lives of “his” human friends. The first was when he was following a sailor back to the ship. A ruffian¬†attacked the sailor with a knife. ¬†Bamse saw what was happening and bounded along the quaysideto his rescue. He raised himself onto his hind legs and pushed the attacker away and over the edge of the quay.

The second time was when a seaman fell overboard into the fast flowing river. Bamse was the only one to see it and after barking furiously to raise the alarm he leapt over the meter high gunwale and managed to keep the seaman and himself afloat until they could be rescued.

By 1944 Bamse’s health was failing, in common with many large breeds St Bernards are not long lived and he was about 7 years old. By this time they were docked in Montrose and when Bamse died they had a funeral for him which was attended by many sailors and towns people, there are reports that when he was buried there was a crowd of several hundred spread among the dunes.

The grave has been maintained to this day and in 2006 a statue of Bamse facing Norway was was unveiled by Prince Andrew in Montrose. He was also awarded a post humous gold medal from the PDSA. In 2009 a matching statue was erected in Honningvag (facing South East towards Montrose)


After leaving Stavanger we had a programme of activities to choose from and a gala evening to look forward to.

First came the Captain’s farewell cocktail party, then a superb dinner before going with our friends, Pat and Tony, to the Neptune bar to enjoy the farewell performance from the regular company and the guest entertainers. The seats in the Neptune are arranged around small tables¬†on tiers down to the stage. The tables are attended by the amazing bar staff, mainly Fillipinos and Indonesians, who give the impression that your happiness is their main concern in life. After your first visit they not only know you by name but know what your favourite tipple is. They are friendly without being obtrusive and treat everyone alike whether they are heavy drinkers or virtually TT, like me! They are immaculately dressed, however busy and despite the long hours never show tiredness or impatience. One funny thing which happened though was that early in the cruise they started calling ¬†JW ¬†“Sir Patrick”, whilst all the other men were Mr¬†Tony or Mr …..

I don’t know where this came from, but it spread by bush telegraph and soon the table steward and cabin stewardess were also calling him Sir Patrick!

At midnight we were invited to the Gala Buffet where the chef and her staff had prepared a sumptuous cold buffet, much of the food sculpted into fantastic shapes.


Three of our lovely waiters

 By the time we went to bed we had left Norway behind and had started back across the North Sea.


Monday June 20th we anchored off Olden at 8am.

We had travelled along the beautiful Nordfjord to the innermost end, Oldendalen a lovely fertile valleywhich goes 20 Km due south, bordered by steep slopes rising up to 1700 metres.

I had mixed feelings about returning to Olden because on our previous visit it had rained solidly all day long and the only thing I remembered about it was the row of sounenir shops on the quayside!

When we arrived this time there was a lot of low cloud, but an hour later this had lifted and the sun was breaking through.


We were ferried ashore by ship’s tender and decided to take the town train around the area. This took us by the side of the lake to the centre of Olden and then past the Old Church. This church was built in 1759 on the site of the 14c stave church. Timber from the stave church was used for the doorposts and pews in the Old Church. A new church has now replaced the Old Church.

This is a very fertile valley, quite different from the stark landscapes we had seen earlier that week.

mist almost gone! This picture really doesn't do justice to the lovely garden. The owners must have been dedicated gardeners because it would be under snow for several months each year.


The electicity captured from this waterfall powers the whole Oldendal and the surplus is sold to the National Grid.

A few wildflowers by the fjord (in case "no one showed them" to my fellow traveller :))

Was this what my long ago ancestors looked like? Viking guarding the shop.

We had a relaxed afternoon, where I revised my ideas about Olden, and sailed away at 6pm back along that gorgeous fjord.

I heard from my old friend B (the Scottish musician from Bergensfjord days) He has lived in Oslo nearly 50 years now, but we have always kept in touch and met when we could. He texted to say that he had flown over to Bergen and would meet us from the boat next day. What a lovely surprise.

Saturday 18th June

We arrived in Narvik about noon, so we had a quick lunch and then took the shuttle bus to the city centre.

It was once again a¬†warm sunny day, so very pleasant to meander along the main road and look around the shops. We visited one shop selling souvenirs and postcards and I was once again¬†surprised by an overheard remark. Lady¬†on seeing a postcard view of the Northern lights¬† complained, “Well, we have seen the midnight sun but we haven’t seen the Northern lights!” I held my tongue, but longed to inform her that you can’t have both at the same time of year and that she should come back in February ūüôā

¬†¬†There was some kind of children’s festival taking place so we watched the acrobats¬† and fire-eaters, but even more interesting was to go behind the entertainers and watch the expressions on the faces of the children!

Children watching the entertainment

We also wondered what the “Elf and Safety” brigade would have thought about the children being so close to the fire swinging!

I also realised that Norway had become far more multi-cultural in the forty years since I lived there. It was very rare to see brown and black skins then, but all nationalities seem to be represented now.

Narvik was established more than 100 years ago as an ice free port for the Kiruna iron mines located, just over the border, in Sweden. Maybe for this reason there was fierce fighting here in WW2 and many ships were lost from both the German navy and the navies of the Allies.

The War Memorial museum shows the Narvik Campaign of 1940 and the story of the occupation from 1940- 1945. It displays maps and  artifactsfrom many nations, British, Polish, French, Norwegian and German. This is a well laid out museum and is, rightly, highly rated, and we found it very interesting.

We left Narvik at 5pm and continued our cruise down the coast with more breathtaking scenery.

Before we left Honningsvag we visited Honningsvag Museum, which is conveniently situated close to the quayside.

Bamse, a seafaring dog"

Bamse, a St Bernard,¬†was a member of the Norwegian Royal Navy and when they escaped from the German invasion in WW2 he went with them to Scotland. He is credited with saving at least two lives during the war. This statue is facing Montrose, Scotland, where he¬†is buried¬†and there is a similar statue of him in Montrose facing his hometown of Honningsvag.¬† (I have just sent for a book about him “Sea Dog Bamse, WW2 Canine Hero” by Angus Whitson and can tell you more about him when I have read it!”)

Bamse stands just outside the museum. It is a small museum but well presented and staffed by very friendly ladies.

The first part of the museum is about the town history as a fishing port and the next part is about the occupation years and the devastation left when the Germans retreated and operated a “scorch and burn” policy and the only building left standing was the church.

One item which made me feel my age was a poster used in the 60s. It is of a laughing Sami boy and I had liked it so much that I had begged one from the tourist board, and it had decorated a succession of rooms in Nurses Homes etc.

Friday 17th June

We arrived in Alta about 7 am. This is another port rebuilt since the war. During the war¬†the German navy’s ¬†biggest naval base was in Altafjord and Tirpitz was based there and eventually sunk¬† after many attempts by the Allies.

There is a museum about this with a collection of uniforms and artifacts.

The other museum has a collection of rock paintings and carvings (6000-2000 years old) which is now a world heritage site.

A rather enterprising Sami couple set up a few market stalls selling souvenirs of Sami culture. We resisted the large three corner hats and bought a few smaller items!

We left Alta at 4.30pm in glorious sunshine. The Captain pointed out the place where Tirpitz was sunk and a few other points of interest, and then it was time to get¬†into our “glad rags” for the formal dinner.

Sailing between Alta and Narvik

Midnight June 17th

 It was difficult to leave this and go to bed!

Tuesday 14th June

When we embarked on Friday we had a notice to say that Balmoral had obtained permission to take the “inside route” to Tromso, something the bigger cruise ships were unable to pass as parts of it were too narrow. This meant that, not only would we see the spectacular scenery, but it would be faster so we would have time for an extra port to visit.

The sea was calm so we glided majestically along and every so often the Captain would come onto the intercom and point out special areas of interest.

There was the usual programme of talks, instruction, music and games but I spent most of the day just gazing in awe as the scenery unfolded like a film set. Tree clad mountains, waterfalls, huge rocky prominences decked with snow. It was ever changing.

some parts of the channel were wider than others

Some parts were very narrow!

Occasional lonely dwellings

We passed Torgatten, the mountain with a hole through it about 9am.¬† About ten minutes later¬†a couple of elderly fragile looking ladies tottered out on deck and one asked, “Have we come to the mountain with a hole yet?” I¬†told her that we had passed it a¬†little while since. “Oh dear! I told you that¬†our cabin was on the wrong side Alice,” she complained to the other one, and they tottered back in.

About 1pm we crossed the Arctic Circle, so for the next few days the sun would remain above the horizon.

Another strange conversation I¬†overheard ¬†was¬†a woman who complaining that ¬†“there was too much time wasted just cruising!”¬† She wanted to know why we couldn’t go on land more often. I looked out at the landscape where there was little sign of habitation and wondered just where she would go if she did go on land. ūüôā I also wondered why someone would book a 14 day cruise if they didn’t like cruising. Do they just stick a pin in a list of holidays?

At last we decided that we must go to bed even though the sun was still shining. It felt like being a child again, shutting the curtains on the sun!


Monday June 13th

We arrived at our first port,  Alesund, at 8am. JW and I had liked Alesund  when we visited last year so were looking forward to visiting again. It is a very pretty town built in the art deco style in 1904 after a disastrous fire destroyed the old town.

It was quite grey when we arrived, so we set off for our meander around the town clad in anoraks, but an hour later the sun came out and we were soon in shirtsleeves!

Unfortunately it was Whit Monday so many places were closed and the visit we had half planned to

One of the decorated fronts

 Devold museum of ceramics and the knitting industry was not running, however some shops and museums were open and we enjoyed just wandering around gazing at the buildings, some of which were very ornate.

I had to keep reminding myself that the exchange rate from pounds¬† to krone was far less favourable now than when I lived in Norway. Before the devaluation in the 60s we got 20 krone to the pound, so a krone was worth a shilling. The rate now is¬†about ¬†8.5¬† krone to pound so everything seems very expensive! Fortunately we could take meals on board so didn’t have that expense.:)

After lunch we went for another wander and then I sat in the sun by the harbour while JW wandered around taking photographs. A dark skinned lady sat by me on my bench and she looked so still and had such sad eyes. I asked if she lived there and she said that she did and then told me that she was an asylum seeker from Somalia. I asked if she still had family in Somalia and she turned her sad eyes to me and said, “Not now, all gone”. I have thought of her often lately when we see the terrible pictures coming from that part of the world. We really should count our blessings that we live in freedom and plenty.

We left Alesund before dinner. That evening had a Western theme so most people wore denim etc. and a few went the whole hog with boots and stetsons.

Our entertainment that evening included an excellent comedian Bob Webb and line dancing for the energetic.

Recently I was watching TV, JW  was in the kitchen and we heard the unmistakable voice of Louis Armstrong on one of the adverts.

This started a conversation where we wondered how many of today’s musicians would be instantly recognisable 40 years after their death! Then we started reminiscing about the voices and music¬†of our youth, Bing, Vera, Cliff, Elvis, the Beatles, the Shadows et al. At the end of this we suddenly realised that neither of us could remember what was being advertised!

I think we must be an advertiser’s nightmare. JW hardly watches TV and I hardly listen to the blurb. If it is at all obscure I miss the point altogether. If it is clever I remember the clever bits and forget the rest, e.g. I turn to the, instead of the comparison site it advertises, and enjoy the antics again!

If they are advertising furniture I am more likely to be wondering where the curtains/carpet came from.

Do the cosmetic firms really expect me to take their claims seriously when they use perfectly made up models and film stars (usually in their 30s and early40s) to advertise creams to smooth away wrinkles? I didn’t have any wrinkles at that age! My mother had very few even in her 80s and all she had ever used was Pond’s vanishing cream under her dabs of Max Factor Creme Puff ! The only ageing actress I have seen them use ¬†admits to having had “a bit of surgery”

Would the models swishing their hair have the same results if they had their hair cut at the local hairdresser (or cut it themselves?

Am I supposed to believe that millionnaire ex presenters and actresses really worry about their families affording their funeral expenses?

I think the final disbelief came when an actor who was well known on TV fronted a firm of Accident lawyers saying we are real lawyers 100%!

Jennie¬† and I were talking about this and had a giggle wondering what the manufacturers would do if everyone sent their products back demanding a refund when stains didn’t disappear, the cakes didn’t turn out like those on TV, the dog didn’t turn cartwheels after the special food etc. etc. etc……

Day 13 dawned bright and sunny again. We had been so lucky with the weather since Bergen. The Icelandic guides all told us that we had “brought the Summer”!

It was like the last day of term, returning library books, collecting photos and DVD from the photographers and packing.

I met an interesting couple at coffee. He is of Icelandic ancestry and when they started researching his genealogy they discovered he had relatives in Reykyavik. His grandfather had left Iceland in the 1890s, along with many other young men, to seek his fortune abroad. He had never returned, but he had a brother who did and they were able to make contact with these hitherto unknown relatives. It must have been very emotional as they were shown the boyhood haunts of his grandfather and other places connected to him.

JW¬† and I showed what old crocks we have become as he was developing a cold and I developed toothache! At first the toothache wasn’t too bad, but as the day wore on it got worse and even aspirin wouldn’t dull it. JW passed on the most unlikely sounding tip, which had been passed on to him by a dentist friend, to sip cold water and rinse it round the tooth! With some¬† trepidation I tried it and it worked :). You have to keep doing it but at least it gave the aspirin chance to work.

I reflected on this cruise and inevitably compared it to the Baltic cruise we did last year on Ocean Majesty.

This was completely different, earlier in the season, larger ocean. Last year we concentrated more on manmade buildings and artifacts. This year was the magnificence of Nature.

Athena is larger than Ocean Majesty and has more public places and more deck space, but I did like the cosiness of Ocean Majesty and our cabin, at least, was more comfortable on Ocean Majesty. The other thing we missed this year was the lovely family feeling on Ocean Majesty. Many of the crew had been on her for many seasons and were comfortable with each other and the crew on Athena, though they were unfailingly polite and friendly to us,¬†were mostly new to each other and hadn’t relaxed into that easy comradeship yet.

We probably have too rosy a picture of the first cruise because,

 a) For many years we had not had a holiday.

¬†b)We found an immediate affinity with¬†six people at our table in the dining room. Our companions this time were a very amiable couple, but there wasn’t the same “kinship”.

c) It was all a novelty. JW had never been on a cruise and I had never been on a cruise as a passenger.

I concluded that you couldn’t really compare the two, each had its own special magic. None of the manmade buildings could surpass the beauty of the fjords and the gilding of St Petersburg was no more beautiful than the sunset over the snowcapped mountains, and nothing (short of being closer) would give me more of a thrill than seeing those whales!.