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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.

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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.

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!

 

 

Thursday June 16th

We docked in Honningsvag at 8am and half an hour later we boarded the coach for transfer to the Northcape.

We travelled for about 45 minutes up steep roads past bleak hilly moorland. The scenery was very reminiscent of the Drovers road in mid Wales. The main differences were the beautifully maintained road there and the reindeer instead of sheep. Despite being under snow for so many months of the year there was not a pot hole in sight!

On the way we passed an old Sami camp site.

Sami in traditional costume

  

Inside a Sami tentSami and his reindeer

We saw large herds of reindeer as we drove. They are the only farm animals that can survive the long winters and seem to thrive on moss.

When we arrived at the Northcape centre we went first to see the Children of the World Peace monument. The stones were designed and dedicated by children fromall around the world.

Children of the World Peace Monument

As well as the main monument there were many small cairns that had been built all over that windswept plateau.

We posted our cards with the special Northcape stamps and postmark and then walked to the edge of the plateau to the very tip of mainland Europe. I had achieved my ambition at last. I know that there was still over a thousand miles to the North Pole, but I am satisfied now and will leave the last thousand miles to hardier, and younger, folk than me. 🙂

Tourists have been visiting the Northcape for more than a century now. The first excursions were arranged by Thomas Cook, but those intrepid explorers didn’t have the luxury of the modern road, they travelled by sea to the foot of the cliffs and then climbed up the cliffs on ropes!

Two days earlier it had been bright sun and temperatures in the high 20sC, but on the 16th there was mist obscuring the sun which lasted all day so we only had a misty view of the Cape and the sun as we cruised by at midnight.

Wednesday June 15th

Once again we had decided not to go on anyof the excursions and just wandered around the city imbibing the atmosphere.

Tromso has the nickname of “the city of midnight fun” and boasts the world’s most northerly university. It certainly seemed to be a bustling city. On the main street were branches of many international companies, but there were also small shops down the side streets and in arcades. We found an interesting hardware shop with a wonderful array of candles, so we bought a selection of these, as I always associate candles with Norway.

Down another side street I was delighted to find  a splendid  “Husfliden”. Husfliden shops are found in many parts of Norway and sell craft materials and handmade goods. This one was quite large and was a knitters’ paradise. They had wools of every shade, ply and texture and all the materials to go with it, patterns, needles buttons etc.

I had a happy time choosing wool for Jennie and me. I was also delighted to find that the owner, whose English was limited, could understand my Norwegian (Oslo accent  not withstanding) 🙂

Our friends Pat and Tony had booked to go on the excursion to a Sami camp. The main draw for this dog loving pair was the husky dogs and Pat was delighted with the discovery  that two of the husky bitches had new litters. Pat was sorely tempted to pop one in her bag when it came time to leave!

Once again the sun shone all day and into the night and the temperature was in the mid twenties C.

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. 🙂 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!

 
Alesund
 

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.

June 10th 2011

We embarked about 2.30pm and were shown to our cabin where we were met by our stewardess who showed us where to find everything and how things worked. About an hour later we had the mandatory boat drill where we found our assembly stations and practised putting on our lifejackets. We left Southampton at 4.30pm and wondered whether we would ever find our way round the ship!

We had opted for first dinner and, as is usual on the first night, dress code was casual. We were delighted to meet Pat and Tony who shared a table with us. We got along well together from that first meeting, which was a great relief.

After dinner there was agood choice of venues for entertainment, the pub with a pianist, string trio in the Atrium, piano entertainer in the Observatory, dancing to the resident band or a show put on by the Balmoral company ( which reminded me of the end of the pier shows we used to go to when I was younger.)

Saturday 11th June

Once again we were offered a full programme of events to choose from which covered most interests. Various exercise groups for the energetic, dance classes,art classes, bridge tournaments, deck games and various talks.

JW chose the art course and I went to a very entertaining talk by Captain David Bray about his time on a research vessel in Antarctica.

After lunch we wandered around exploring the ship and meeting some of our fellow travellers.

JW had been surprised to find that the Art group instructor, Paul, lives just 10 minutes walk away from us in Cardiff!

Saturday evening was a formal evening and an invitation to the Captain’s cocktail party. Captain Olav Sovdsnses was a very pleasant man and interacted well with both crew and passengers.

After dinner there was once again a choice of venues but I am quite happy watching the sea go by!

Sunday 12th June

Another day at sea. JW went painting again and I investigated the library. I found a book about WW2 written by Germans and strangely found more about HMS Biter (my father’s ship) than I have found in the English books.

There was plenty of opportunity to get to know some of the passengers. They were the usual mixture, mostly pleasant folk, a few oddballs, a few very dedicated health fanatics striding round the promenade decks. Some we hardly saw as they were bridge addicts and seemed to spend much of their days playing endless tournaments. I was even told that some had come on this cruise specifically for the bridge tournaments.

We had set tables only for dinner, so met some interesting people at mealtimes. You could either sit and have waiter service from the menu or serve yourself from a wonderful cold table. One old gentleman amused us by collecting a plateful of healthy salad  and fresh fruit, sending a photograph of the food to his daughter, then returning to the servery for chips and hot pudding!

The crossing of the North Sea was very smooth, (much smoother than some of the crossings I remember from my visits to Norway in the past.)

It has been a while since I last posted, so I thought it was high time I put finger to keyboard and brought you all up to date!

JW and I have been on an amazing journey. Readers of previous posts will know that I have long held a desire to travel up to the North Cape and, at last, I have achieved my ambition!

 Last Autumn I booked a cruise for us with Fred Olsen which would take us up the coast of Norway to the North Cape and back again. I had never cruised with Fred Olsen before, but had always enjoyed the two day crossing to Norway with them, when I was a frequent visitor in the 60s and 70s.

We had never booked a holiday so far in advance before and in the few months before we went I began to get rather nervous, after all it was quite a chunk of our savings and JW is a compliant rather than eager traveller!

There seemed to be various omens fuelling my nervousness. First JW, usually the most organised of people, mislaid his passport and had to get a new one, then the tickets arrived and the cabin number had changed. With bad memories of our cabin “update” last year with another company, my heart sank. The next was finding that the coach travel would entail going into London and out again, rather than being picked up close to home and settling back until we arrived at the port.

The final straw was on the evening before we were due to travel and the shower unit sprang an ominous leak. Fortunately JW is a handyman and fixed it, but I left all the insurance documents out for Jennie and she promised to keep a close eye on it!

I really felt superstitious when we waited for the taxi to take us to the coach station, but it arrived on time and the traffic flowed so well that we were almost in time for the earlier coach!

We managed the transfer across Victoria coach station and then we were on the Fred Olsen coach, two hours later we were boarding the beautiful Balmoral.

The check in formalities were simple and we were soon being welcomed on board by friendly crew members and shown to our cabin, where our stewardess was waiting to show us where everything was. I need have had no fears about the cabin, it really was an update this time, a bigger cabin on the main deck within easy reach of all facilities. Our luggage had arrived in the cabin already. 

Soon after we arrived on board there was the mandatory boat drill and then back to start unpacking before dinner.

We went up to dinner wondering who our table companions would be. Would we like each other? We had been so spoiled on our first cruise with companions who have become friends. All fears were allayed when our lovely waiter, Carlos, introduced us to Pat and Tony. They were great fun and I hope will remain friends with us for many years. Pat and I had the added bonus that we were both nurses, had both been midwives on the district and both worked as practice nurses so we had a lot of common ground. Tony and JW both enjoyed playing “long suffering husbands”

Later that evening we settled into our comfortable beds and looked forward to the next two weeks. Oh!  and Jennie texted to say that there had been no more ominous drips!