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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.

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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

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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!

 

 

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.

When we were on the Highlands and Islands cruise in July I was given “an offer I could not refuse” and booked another cruise. JW and I were due to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in September, so where better than on the Balmoral cruising up the coast of my favourite country?
I am normally quite an optimistic person, but where holidays are concerned that natural optimism seems to desert me.
We had already celebrated on the actual day with Jennie and family, so I began to wonder whether I had let my enthusiasm run away with me.
As this had been a last minute booking (at an anchor price) I could not choose the cabin, only the grade. I usually choose an outside cabin on the main deck, midships, but this grade has cabins two decks higher, which are larger but may have an obscured view. That was worry number one!
Worry number two was the weather. We had lousy weather in the weeks preceding departure, rain and howling gales. I have crossed the North Sea many times before and it can be quite horrendous.
Worry number three was what to do on shore if the weather was atrocious.
When we left Cardiff the sky was grey and did not look very promising, but as we crossed the bridge into England a watery sun showed briefly and there was, (as my mother used to say) enough blue sky to patch a sailor’s trousers.
The now familiar journey went well and about three hours later we were driving into the cruise terminal road.
The porters took our luggage and ABP met us and took away the VW, leaving us to go through security etc. and forty five minutes later we were boarding Balmoral.
The cabin was indeed larger than we had had before and the partial obscuring of the view was neglible as the window was larger than those on the lower decks.

The cabin

The cabin

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From the window end

From the window end

There was a beautiful floral arrangement (compliments of Fred Olsen) and a charming letter enclosing a voucher for a free formal portrait and inviting us to inform them which day we wuld like to have champagne and canapes delivered)

floral display

floral display

Before the boat drill we availed ourselves of a  “cuppa” and a snack, and then at 5pm we watched the casting off and sail away and then back to the cabin to unpack and get ready for dinner.

My worries had (as usual) been needless.  The car had not broken down, we had arrived in plenty of time, the cabin was lovely and everyone was as friendly and welcoming as ever. 🙂

We had had a smooth crossing of the Irish Sea and spent the day rounding the South West  coast of Britain. We had travelled 2008 NM.

calm seas

calm seas

We had been blessed with glorious weather, the sea had been calm throughout, the sun had shone, we had seen spectacular scenery and been greeted by friendly people all round.

The Western Islands, which can be lashed by violent storms, had shown us their gentle side and we could easily have imagined ourselves in the South Pacific.

The crew had, as usual, looked after us with the friendliness and efficiency for which Fred Olsen is well known.

There was the usual programme of activities available, but most people were busy packing, swapping addresses and Email addresses with new found friends and enjoying the excellent meals, visiting the spa and then in the afternoon taking part in the raffle for the RNLI funds before enjoying the special selection of cakes and dainties at the tea dance.

Just as we were finishing our evening meal a message came over the tannoy for the crew, which we later found meant that a passenger had taken ill and was being transferred to the mainland by helicopter. Some of the crew members are trained to deal with this kind of emergency so it was interesting, if a bit ghoulish, to watch and add a prayer for a happy outcome.

helicopter rescue

helicopter rescue

Next morning we were all up for an early breakfast and then it was time for thanks and farewells as we disembarked.

This was speedily done and the trusty VW  was waiting for us. Three hours later we were back in Cardiff and Jennie and co. arrived with a bag of fresh food to tide us over the weekend.

It had been a lovely cruise and I had gone some way to fulfilling my ambition to see as many of the Islands of Britain as possible!

We enjoyed it so much that we have booked another short cruise soon to celebrate our Ruby Wedding!

This was our last port of call and we were torn between staying in the city to see all the sights we had seen so much on the television, but we couldn’t resist the lure of the Giant’s Causeway, which was within easy reach.

Belfast docks

Belfast docks

 

The docks seemed very busy after the traquility of the harbours we had been visiting. Across the harbour from us was the famous Harland and Wolfe shipyard where the doomed Titanic was built, Samson and Goliath – the giant cranes, the Titanic Experience building and everywhere container ships.

 

Samson and Goliath

Samson and Goliath

Our guide, Marie Theresa, was once again a fund of information about the places we passed and the history of the area. She was very even handed when she told us about the troubles of recent years.
We drove inland through the counties of Downe and Antrim, passing through some beautiful villages. It was difficult to reconcile this gentle vista with the ugly scenes of bombing and fighting which we were seeing all too frequently on our television screens not so very long ago.
We stopped briefly to take photos of Dunluce Castle ruins.This castle was owned by the Duke of Buckingham in 17c.

 

Ruins of Dunluce Castle

Ruins of Dunluce Castle

The Visitors Centre at the Giant’s Causeway is managed by the National Trust and is run as efficiently as all their properties.
We had a tasty light lunch and then took the bus down to the stones. There were lots of people there clambering over the stones. We had been given maps and personal audiophones.

 

Stones of Giant's Causeway

Stones of Giant’s Causeway

 

Another viewing

Another viewing

 

View three

View three

 

Popular viewing point

Popular viewing point

We had two hours there which soon passed and then we set off back again, returning by the coast road.
The scenery is beautiful, cliffs, rocks and sandy bays. We passed through villages with colourful gardens and hanging baskets.

 

Rugged coastline

Rugged coastline

We arrived back in time for afternoon tea and swapped stories of what we had seen. Those who had been to the Titanic Experience had been very impressed by it and those who did the City tour had found parts of it very moving.
I would like to go back again at some time to see all these other things.
That evening was the Captain’s Farewell party so we all togged up in evening dress.
After dinner JW and I went to listen to the String Trio, who were very good. They played light classics. One of the tunes I recognised as a gavotte which I had danced to for my grade 3 ballet exam! I could even remember the steps, not bad after 60+ years. 🙂
We rounded off the evening sitting on deck and watching a lone gannet following in our wake, swooping, gliding and diving, giving a tireless acrobatic display.

Welcome to Stornoway

Welcome to Stornoway

 

It was hot and sunny again when we arrived in Stornoway harbour.
Stornoway was at the crossroads of the historic trading routes lying, as it does on the Western edge of Europe.
As with all these Western Isles, Lewis and its neighbour Harris are havens of widlife with a large variety of birds, seals and dolphins etc. It has strong westerlies which cause difficulties for both humans and animals, but somehow they all cope.
It is fairly flat with a rugged coastline and sandy beaches.
Lord Leverhulme bought the island in 1918 and in 1923 returned the island to the people.

Tenders taking and returning passengers

Tenders taking and returning passengers

 

We went into the town and did some shopping. JW had hankered after a Harris tweed jacket, but didn’t like the “hairy” and bulky ones we had seen in English shops, so was delighted to find one in the right colours and right weight in this their home!

Townhall

Townhall

 

Shopping street in Stornoway

Shopping street in Stornoway

 

lifeboats returning to their station

lifeboats returning to their station

We left Lewis in the late afternoon and sailed back through those beautiful islands keeping a keen lookout for seals, dolphins otters and birds. I am still waiting for a close sight of whales, but alas they steer well clear of me. (Must be the genes of my whaling catain ancestor which scares them away.) 🙂