Sunny and Calm in the Irish Sea

Couldn’t get out of my pit this morning which wasn’t really a surprise, after a late night and lots of booze.  😦  At least the weather was a lot calmer and the skies brighter.

Today was our last day on the Boudicca (boo-hoo) so we just had to make the most of the rest of our fantastic cruise, as well as find some time today to do our packing.

I must have slept restfully last night, as my immaculate updo of the previous evening was still looking perfect, without a hair out of place.  At least I didn’t have to spend ages, as usual, trying to make my hair look half-decent.  🙂

It was after 10 o’clock when I emerged from our cabin and went along to the Iceni Room to have a cup of coffee and look around the shops to see if I could find some last-minute bargains.  Then we went along to the Neptune Lounge where one of the ship’s chefs was doing a vegetable carving demonstration, and inviting passengers up to have a go.

It was really quite clever and imaginative; he made a fantastic cockerel, Bugs Bunny, a whale, a desert island and lots of lovely sculpted flowers and intricate carvings using melons, cucumber, carrot, aubergine, radishes etc.  Some of them would make a lovely table centrepiece for a buffet.

Then we went back to our cabin and got one of the suitcases packed with things we wouldn’t be using again until we got home.  Afterwards it was time for lunch, which we ate in the Secret Garden café before venturing out on deck.   It was actually quite sunny, but cold (it is November after all!) so we didn’t stay out long.  We could see land ahoy and the captain’s noon announcement told us we were 21 nautical miles north-east of Belfast.  The Boudicca was only going along very slowly; after all, she could have been back in Liverpool today, but they were giving the passengers and extra night on board.  🙂

At 3.00pm we went along to see the “Boudicca Choir” in concert.  This was a group of passengers who’d formed a choir, under the musical direction of the singer, Lynn Sweet, and who’d been practising each afternoon in the Lido Lounge.  Today the rest of the passengers could see what they’d achieved.  Some of the choir members had never sung in public before, so they actually did quite well.

Afterwards we went to the Lido Lounge as usual to take part in the afternoon quiz.  We got 14/20 – not enough to win, but we enjoyed a drink or two while we were there.  😉

Then we went along to the Heligan Lounge to trade in the tokens we’d won for prizes.  The 10 points got me a pedometer (7 points) and a lanyard (3 points) which would be useful to contain my shipboard card on future FOCL cruises.  🙂

Back in cabin 5050, we got ready for dinner, our last one on table #32 in the Four Seasons restaurant.  It didn’t take me long because I didn’t have my hair to do, and anyway tonight the dress code was smart-casual.  We enjoyed the usual delicious 4-course meal along with wine and a glass of amaretto at the end.  Then everyone told each other how much we’d enjoyed their company over the last couple of weeks, and off we went to the Neptune Lounge for the final show.

Tonight it was the Crew Show.  On every cruise we’ve been on (35 now!), there is at least one show that allows the crew members to shine in the spotlight and forget about their day job for a few minutes.  We had lovely Philippina dancing girls, some Indonesian guys doing a traditional tribal dance, and other singers, acrobats etc. all wearing their national costume.  Some of these people are so talented you wonder why they are working on a cruise ship, probably for very little wages.  They should apply for a TV talent show or something.  All in all, we enjoyed their performances very much.

We ended the evening as we had done every night of this cruise, going up to the Lido Lounge, doing the last quiz and watching the dancers and then, a special late night cabaret featuring Bethany Gore, who was the female lead singer with the Boudicca Show Company.  Then we had one final (free!) drink before going back to our cabin and finishing off our packing, before putting the suitcases outside our door for collection.

Then it was off to bed, around midnight, for our last night on the Boudicca.  😦

 

Monday, 24 November 2014

At around 5.00am I woke up to go to the loo, and I saw that the ship was already docked in Liverpool.  Then we got up at seven, as we had to be out of our cabin at 8.00am.  Unbelievably, my hair-do from a couple of nights ago was still intact; I decided I’d wait until I got home before unpinning it all and shampooing it.

We went and had a good breakfast; I had the full English this time as we didn’t know when or where we were going to get our next meal.  Back in 5050 we had a final check round to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind, then off we went to one of the lounges to await the call to disembark.  To be honest, we weren’t in any hurry as our train from Liverpool Lime Street wasn’t until 11.12am.

We sat around in the comfort of Boudicca’s lounges, thinking over the last 16 nights and what a fantastic cruise it had been, with so many new experiences.  Tonight some other lucky people would be in cabin 5050, all excited because their holiday is just beginning.  It’s always quite depressing when a holiday comes to an end, but we have another cruise to look forward to in January.   🙂

Just after 9.00am we picked up our bags and made our way to Deck 3 and down the gangplank for the final time.  The Liverpool morning was sunny, but crisp, and the streets and roads were packed with Monday morning commuters.  We collected our suitcases from the cruise terminal building and trundled them along the streets for the short walk to James Street underground station.  Then it was a couple of stops along the line, back to Lime Street.

We had over an hour to wait and Lime Street, like most British railway stations, was cold and draughty.  We therefore went into a café to have a large, hot coffee and while away some time.  Then I went into the station M&S and bought a little bottle of rosé cava for the train journey.

We made our way to the platform for 11.00am, where the Newcastle train was just pulling in.  Climbing aboard, we stashed our cases in the luggage rack and made ourselves comfortable in our seats for the 3-hour journey back to Durham.

We arrived back at home just after 2.00pm.

Helicopter and High Seas

During the night, we knew we had left the relative shelter of the fjords and were once again in the open sea, because the Boudicca was tossed about on the waves like a pea in a drum.  I kept waking up during the night with my bed moving in all directions, and when I needed the toilet I had to hold on to the edge of the bath to prevent falling off.

So when we looked out of our window this morning, we saw grey skies and very choppy seas; there was a large swell and several white horses as far as the eye could see.  I don’t think we’ll be spending much time up on deck today!

In the dining room during breakfast, we took advantage of more free ‘champagne’ and Bucks Fizz, as tonight is the final formal night and FOCL always put out sparkling wine at breakfast time, on all their ships.  I enjoyed three chilled glasses along with a breakfast of smoked salmon, cold meats, fresh pineapple and melon, and strong hot coffee.  A good start to the day.   🙂

After breakfast we had a walk around the ship, or rather a stagger (and it was nothing to do with the breakfast champagne!).  Signs were up at the doors advising passengers not to go out on deck because of the strong winds.  The decks were wet, and it wasn’t raining; it was just the occasional large wave and sea spray.  It was quite amusing watching other passengers trying to keep their balance.  In fact, it’s surprising how much passive exercise you get on a rough sea passage, just with the effort of trying to maintain your balance.

At 11.15am we went along to the Neptune Lounge to see a presentation/interview called “Behind the Curtain” in which the cruise director Elliot Taylor was interviewing each of the Boudicca Show Company, asking them to describe life behind the scenes and why they decided to apply to work on a cruise ship.  The talk was very interesting, especially when they said that it was a very competitive business and there were over 300 applicants for five vacancies.  The overall standard of the entertainment on Boudicca, as well as other Fred Olsen ships, has been absolutely superlative.

After the talk we went and had our lunch and listened to the Captain’s weather and navigational information from the bridge.  We were not surprised to hear that there was a Force 9 (strong gale) to 10 (storm) strength wind and a sea swell of over five metres, as we were still experiencing a lot of ship’s motion.  Several times in the dining room we heard a loud crash as either a passenger or a waiter dropped a tray of crockery.

Afterwards we went and sat by the window in the Secret Garden lounge and had a coffee each.  Despite the high winds and rough seas (or maybe because of them) we saw a huge flock of seagulls following the ship; there were hundreds of them, swooping and wheeling in the wind.  Most of them weren’t even flapping their wings; they were making the most of the updrafts.  There were so many I was amazed there weren’t any mid-air collisions.  The birds stayed with us for a good few hours.

Back in our cabin afterwards, Trevor watched some sport of TV and I just relaxed and read my Kindle.  I am reading Signal Red by Robert Ryan, which is a part-fictionalised account of the Great Train Robbery.  It’s a thick book (over 700 pages) so it’s taking ages to read.

Every now and again, the waves would come crashing off our window with a bang; and to think we are five decks up!

At 4.o0pm I left Trevor to it and went along to the salon to have my hair put up in readiness of this evening’s formal dress code.  It was also Captain Lars Kjeldsen’s farewell cocktail party later on.  Whilst I was in the salon, the captain’s voice boomed over the public address system to say that all passengers were to remain inside and not go out on the decks, as there was going to be a helicopter evacuation!  A passenger was obviously ill, and the rescue helicopter was coming to take them off the ship to the nearest hospital.  Looking at our current geographic location, that would have to be somewhere on the Shetland Isles.

The hairdresser did another lovely job with my hair, and when I went back to cabin 5050 I saw that Trevor had gone, I guessed to see the helicopter rescue.  Going to the window and looking out into the dark, I could hear the sound of the rotor blades.  The pilot must have been really skilled to carry out the rescue from a moving ship, and in a Force 9 gale as well.  We later learned that a lady had fallen and broken her hip, due to the very rough weather.  She was put onto a stretcher ready to be winched up into the chopper.  Now there’s a tale to tell once she gets back home!   🙂

As I was getting ready Trevor returned to the cabin, and was just in time to see the helicopter roar past our window, rotors whirring and red lights flashing.  It went round a few times before eventually soaring up and away.

Tonight I wore a long, burgundy coloured dress with a sequinned bodice and matching jacket, and a lovely necklace made with Murano glass.

The captain’s cocktail party took place in the Neptune Lounge as usual and the bar staff, who knew us quite well by now (!!), ensured we never had an empty glass.  We enjoyed a few aperitifs along with some tasty canapés, then it was time to go for dinner.  The conversation on table #32 was lively and humorous as usual, with one or two risqué jokes thrown in for good measure.

Then it was off to the Neptune Lounge once again for tonight’s variety performance, in which all of the featured entertainers as well as the show company came on and did a stint; we saw the singer, the magician, the classical duo, but not the comedian as he hadn’t been feeling well (not a surprise in this weather).

Then it was off to the Lido Lounge for the quiz as usual, as well as drinking and dancing.  I couldn’t get off the dance floor; as soon as I sat down one of the dance hosts or other passengers we’d got to know would drag me back up again.  I enjoyed lots of (free!) glasses of cava and one or two sangrias and it was about 2.30am before we got to bed.  But we have to put our clocks back an hour tonight, so we’d get that precious extra hour in bed.  Luckily the seas had calmed down a lot by now, so we were just lulled to sleep by the Boudicca’s gentle motion on the waves.

 

Kristiansund and the Atlantic Road

We woke up this morning to find ourselves docked in Kristiansund, our last port of call before returning to Liverpool.  At some point during the night we’d crossed south of the Arctic Circle once again, so we would gain back even more daylight and our chance of seeing the Northern Lights one more time had diminished a lot.  Nevertheless this was a new port for us, so we were looking forward to the excursion we’d booked.

Kristiansund is the main port in northern Norway for the offshore oil and gas industry and a lot of exploration and drill ships come and go from this port.

At 9.00am we assembled in the Neptune Lounge, waiting for our bus number to be called.  Then we disembarked the Boudicca and eagerly looked around.  We were moored up next to an exploration ship called the Edda Fauna and there were a few shops, a tourist information centre and the Oil and Gas Visitor Centre nearby.

We set off on our journey, winding through the streets with their colourful houses, before we came to a long tunnel; in fact it was about 5.7km long, so not ideal for anyone who was claustrophobic.  The tunnel went right underneath the Atlantic Ocean and reached a depth of 250m, making it one of the deepest undersea tunnels in the world.

When we eventually emerged on the other side, we found ourselves travelling along a sort of causeway, with the Atlantic Ocean on either side; the Atlanterhavsveien road runs over a series of small islands with views of sea, fjord, and mountains, connecting Averøya to the mainland near the town of Molde.  It was breathtaking and, as we watched, the rays of the winter sun peeked through between a couple of mountain tops and sparkled and glittered on the calm sea.  At least today it was calm, but the location of the Atlantic Road, with the ocean on both sides, means that in the depths of winter, when there are high winds and/or snow storms that this stretch of road bears the brunt of some spectacular waves and high sea spray.  Norway really is a stunning place, and it was magical.

After about 20 minutes driving over the Hulvågen Bridges in which we were totally entranced by the views, the bus pulled up at a lay-by a few hundred yards before one of the famous bridges, the Storseisundet Bridge.  From our viewpoint, this arched bridge curves first of all to the left and then to the right; in fact, depending on your perspective it can make the road look as though it comes to an abrupt end, and the traffic just disappears into nowhere!  It looked completely different, depending on the angle from which it was photographed, and it was so different and so unique; one of those ‘instantly recognisable’ landmarks.  🙂

We took the opportunity to take lots of photos, not only of the bridges but of the mountains, islands and sea, with the sun low in the sky.

Back on the bus we continued on our way, feeling quite exhilarated by this journey, which was voted the world’s Best Road Trip by the Daily Mail.  Over five miles of spectacular scenery and a great experience.

Our next visit was to the Kvernes Stave Church, in Averøy.  From outside it looked fairly plain, but it was amazing when we went inside.  All the wooden walls and ceiling were decorated with hand-painted designs, and the wooden pillars, beams and pews were intricately carved.  Each of the pews was contained in a separate little cubicle with a gate, and when you went to sit inside, there were blankets thoughtfully provided, as there was no heating in the church.

The guide explained that the stave church was built around year 1300 and has a rather large main nave (16m x7.5 m) with external diagonal props supporting the walls. Several repairs and reconstructions have been carried out.  In 1633 the stave-built chancel was torn down, and a new one erected in log construction.  A baptistery was raised at the western end, windows were put in, and the chancel was decorated with painted scenes from the Bible.  In the following decade, the nave and baptistery were decorated with acantus paintings.  The vicar at the time, Anders Ericsen (1603-62) paid all those expenses himself.  The king sold the church in 1725, and it was in private ownership until 1872 when it was bought by the parish.  A new church was built in 1893, and the stave church was saved from demolition when Fortidsminneforeningen ( The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments) bought it in 1896.

We were then treated to a couple of pieces of Norwegian music, played on the flute.  Although it was cold inside the church, there were many candles and you could smell the evocative scents of wood and incense.  It really was a very lovely place, and well worth a visit.

When we went back outside again, the sun was out and it was actually warmer outside than it was in the church.  We got back on the bus for our return journey and it was at this point that some sharp-eyed person spotted a white-tailed eagle, just before it soared, on majestic wings, over the nearby fjord into the distance.  Wow!  A fitting end to our trip, before heading back to the Boudicca.

We arrived back at the ship around 1.30pm, and off we went to the Four Seasons Restaurant to get some lunch, as we were good and hungry by then. We each enjoyed a rosé wine with our delicious meal.

Looking at today’s programme of events, we saw that they were holding a ‘Norwegian Grand Bazaar’ in the Neptune Lounge from 2.30pm – 4.30pm, so we decided to go along and have a browse.  Really, it was just a means of getting customers along to have a look at the various things on sale around the ship, e.g. from the boutiques, duty free shop, the beauty salon or the photographers.  It wasn’t really ‘Norwegian’ as such; there were handbags, perfumes, clothing, souvenirs, etc.  But best of all, there was a drinks station serving gløgg, or mulled wine.  To be honest, I was very surprised we hadn’t seen it on the ship before now; it would have gone down very well if it had been available when everyone was freezing outside on deck looking for the Aurora Borealis.  Never mind, we each bought a glass of the (very) hot gløgg, which contained red wine spiced with cloves and cinnamon, and containing currants and almonds.  It was very nice, but we resisted the temptation to have another one; it is far too easy to drink too much on these cruises, especially when they are all-inclusive!

By now the Boudicca had set sail once again, so we went back to our cabin to get showered and changed and sorted out as tonight was British, or red-white-blue night, and we always make the effort to dress appropriately on these occasions.

Trevor wore his Union Jack waistcoat and bow-tie and looked very smart as ever, while I wore white jeans, a blue t-shirt, and a Union Jack jacket.  Then we went along to the dining room for our dinner at 6.15pm as usual.  We were the only people on table #32 who had dressed up, but here and there on other tables we could see that other people had made the effort.  The dining room was decorated out in red, white and blue bunting, and the dinner had a British flavour to it, i.e. roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, bangers and mash etc.

Tonight the show started off in the Neptune Lounge with a good old British singalong, with much flag waving and people getting into the spirit of the thing.  It ended with a rendition of Land of Hope and Glory, with everyone on their feet and a forest of waving Union Jacks.  It was all good fun.  🙂

Then the Boudicca Show Company performed Britain Rocks which was a celebration, through the decades, of the best of British pop and rock music, including the Beatles, Queen, Robbie Williams etc.  The show finished off with the orchestra playing Elgar’s famous Pomp and Circumstance march no.1, and everyone spontaneously stood up at the end.  A really great show, as ever.

We finished off the evening by going to the… yes, you’ve guessed, Lido Lounge where the keyboard player, Alan Shiels, was playing some lively tunes (no Timeline Duo tonight, thank goodness) and the dance floor was packed.  Then there was a special late night cabaret in the form of Jess Belleza, who was the male vocalist with the Boudicca Orchestra; he was paying tribute to British household names such as Tom Jones and Elton John.

Then it was off to bed, at the relatively early time (for us!) of half past midnight.  We had a couple of days at sea to look forward to before arriving back in Liverpool – our holiday is sadly fast coming to an end now, so we’d just have to make the most of the remaining days.

 

 

Longer Days

It might seem strange to be talking about the days getting longer in November, but as we are heading south again we have noticed we are getting more daylight.  Today the sun didn’t set until 2.50pm!  🙂

Today we had a relaxing day at sea.  The mornings were still dark (sunrise at 9.24am) so it was still difficult to get up in the morning.  So it was about 9.00am when I got up, and I just made use of the tea and coffee making facilities in the cabin rather than go up to breakfast.

We didn’t really do a lot today.  Just wandered around on the deck, relaxed in the lounges socialising with our fellow passengers, and made the most of the superb food and drink.  My workouts in the gym had sadly fallen by the wayside by now.  😦

Instead of going to the restaurant for our lunch, we decided to go up to the Café Venus, a pleasant area adjacent to the library that serves speciality coffees, hand-made Belgian chocolates and features a “Scone of the Day”.  Today the scone was pear and ginger, which sounded delicious, so we enjoyed a warm, freshly baked scone with jam and cream and washed down with a cappuccino.  Most indulgent!   🙂

Afterwards we went along to the ship’s boutique where we noticed they were having a sale on.  I went in and eagerly browsed the racks of clothes.  I have often bought some nice items on ships in the past; tops, dresses, a tankini, wraps etc. and today was no exception.  I got myself a nice crocheted and beaded cardigan in a gold/beige colour which would look good over either a camisole or a strappy dress.  It was half price so it only cost £22.50.  I decided I’d wear it tonight.

At two o’clock we went along to the Neptune Lounge where they were holding a photographic quiz entitled “How Well Do You Know Boudicca?”.  It consisted on 30 photographs and you had to identify where on the ship they were taken.  We teamed up with another couple of ladies and got 22/30, which won the quiz by miles.  Yippee! We’d finally won a quiz.  Our prize was a couple of prize vouchers, but as we haven’t been collecting them we just let the other ladies have ours.  🙂

The Neptune Lounge today was holding a Grand Tea Dance at 3.45pm, but as we can’t really dance and we certainly want to eat any more cakes, we decided to go, as usual, to the Lido Lounge for the afternoon quiz.  Once again there were only seats at the bar, but that was no problem as I enjoyed a delicious sangria (they are made with red wine, Cointreau, brandy, orange juice and lemonade, with slices of fruit and crushed ice.  Refreshing and quite strong!)

We only got 13/20, but there were only two of us in the team, so not too bad.

When we went to the Neptune Lounge tonight for the post-prandial show, we discovered they were having a “Nautical Know It All” call my bluff-type game show and they wanted three passengers to volunteer to be on the panel.  Trevor volunteered me to get up!  The theme was that you had to guess the correct definition of a nautical term; each of three of the entertainments team (Elliot, Duncan and Sam) would give a possible definition and you had to say which one you thought was correct.  It really was very funny with lots of innuendo, particularly from Sam who is quite openly gay.  🙂

The passenger team won 2-1, so we each received… wait for it… 10 prize tokens!  Now we wished we hadn’t given our tokens away following our quiz win earlier, as we would have got 12 points by now.  At the end of the cruise you trade your points in for prizes.

The main show tonight was Lee Carroll, the comedian.  We actually thought he was funnier this time than he was is in first show and we enjoyed a good belly laugh.

Then it was up to the Lido Lounge to join Malcolm and Margaret for the quiz.  But we’d had all our wins for today.  So we had a good dance at the disco (or at least I did, Trevor doesn’t really like to get up) and it was a late night once again before we returned to cabin 5050.

 

Looking around Leknes

When we woke up this morning we were in a new port of call, that of Leknes in the Lofoten Islands.  Lofoten is an archipelago and a traditional district in the county of Nordland, Norway. Though lying within the Arctic Circle, the archipelago experiences one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to its high latitude. Lofoten is known for a distinctive scenery with mountains and peaks, open sea and sheltered bays, beaches and untouched lands.  We were looking forward to exploring.

Our excursion wasn’t until 11.45am, so we just spent the morning pottering around the ship and walking about on deck.  The weather was still very cold and the decks were still slippy with some ice, although we are now heading south again.

When it was time, we went along to the Neptune Lounge to await the call for our trip, which was called “Introduction to the Lofoten Islands”.  Then off we went for a look around Leknes, which is the administrative centre for the islands.  As we went along, the landscape reminded me of that of the Scottish islands of Lewis and Harris; there was the same mountains, lakes, peat bogs and gorgeous white sandy beaches (not that we’d be going there for a swim!) as well as fields of sheep and farmland.

As expected, Leknes makes a lot of its income from fishing.  We went along to the harbour where the boats come in and we saw a large fish-processing plant, where the freshly caught fish is cleaned and packed into chests of crushed ice, ready for despatch to the shops for sale.  Around the other side of the harbour was a shipbuilders’ yard, where we could see a large fishing boat in dry-dock.

We had a wander around the harbour to take photos and have a brief look round the shops.  In the small supermarket we bought two kilogramme blocks of brunost, the well-known Norwegian sweet cheese.  Brunost (which translates as ‘brown cheese’) is made first of all by the milk being boiled until the lactose in it caramelises, giving the cheese both its brown colour and sweet, caramel flavour.  It is a very rich cheese and you can only eat a little at a time because of this.  But it is delicious on crumpets on in scones.

Back on the bus we continued our tour around in the gathering dusk.  We went up a zig-zag path to the top of a mountain so we could have fantastic views over the town.  The Lofoten Islands really are very picturesque, and I think it is somewhere I would like to visit in the summer, when there is 24 hours of daylight.

Once we got back down again, our guide announced that we were making an unscheduled stop as someone had requested a comfort stop.  So the bus pulled up next to a supermarket and other shops, where there were some public toilets.  A woman got off the bus, and the rest of us waited.  At this point the guide said that anyone who wanted to stay in the town and make their own way back to the ship was welcome to do so, as long as we let her know, so some people got off the bus.

Twenty minutes later, with everyone complaining, the lady who’d needed the toilet stop still hadn’t reappeared.  Everyone agreed that it would have just been quicker for her to wait until we were back at the ship.  It was well after 2.00pm by now and none of us had had any lunch, so we were a bit disgruntled.

Eventually the guide decided that the woman wasn’t coming back on our bus, so we started up again and made our way back to the Boudicca.  They advised us that the staff were keeping the dining room open until 2.45pm, as long as we went straight there.  As we had to pass our deck on the way to the Four Seasons Restaurant anyway, we dumped our stuff in our cabin then hotfooted it along for some grub.  The cheese we put on the windowsill next to the cold glass, as we didn’t have a refrigerator in the cabin.  But the sub-zero temperatures outside would ensure the cheese remained nice and chilled.

Then it was a case of going to the Lido Lounge to take part in the afternoon quiz.  The lounge was packed, so we could only find a seat at the bar, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks.  Nope – we didn’t win.  😦

The entertainment tonight was a singer called Lynn Sweet.  We’d missed her first show as we’d been on the trip to see the Northern Lights.  She was a decent enough singer, but she chose to do Whitney Houston and Jennifer Rush songs, as as I’m not keen on those singers I didn’t really think much of the show.

Afterwards, however, we stayed in the Neptune Lounge for a second show, this time starring the Boudicca Show Company.  The show was called The Ringmaster and had been written and choreographed by the male lead singer, Duncan Johnston.  It was excellent and we really enjoyed it, although some of the old farts moaned about it, as it featured modern music (Robbie Williams, Katy Perry etc.) and had a dark, Gothic theme to it.

Then, as ever, it was along to the Lido Lounge to finish the evening off with a couple of (free!) drinks and a bit of disco dancing.  Another late night, after 1.00am when we went to bed.  We had another day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

 

A Whale of a Time

We were awoken this morning by the sound of the captain’s voice coming over the tannoy, saying he was going to deviate slightly from his planned route, because there were reports of lots of migrating whales, who were in search of the herring shoals.

Therefore, after getting ready and having breakfast, we wrapped up warmly and went up on deck. Many people were about, cameras at the ready to photograph these magnificent giants of the deep. Sure enough, we kept spotting the tell-tale whale spouts, punctuated intermittently with sightings of black fins or tails. There did seem to be a high number of whales around; more than we’ve seen on other whale-watching trips. This was indeed a bonus to our holiday. 🙂

We’ve seen whales in lots of locations around the world; Alaska, Iceland, the Caribbean, Antarctica and even sometimes on transatlantic crossings or in the Mediterranean.

As the Boudicca glided through the stunning fjordlands we spent the day just relaxing and socialising with fellow passengers, eating and drinking (as you do!) and pleasantly passing the time.

Once it got dark (early afternoon!) we went along to the Neptune Lounge to watch the ballroom dancing lesson (today it was the cha-cha-cha) and enjoy a cocktail. At three o’clock they were serving hot tomato soup and garlic bread outside on the aft decks, but we didn’t fancy going out in the cold, so we just went back to the warmth of our cabin.

At 4.00pm I went along to the salon to have my hair put up, as tonight was formal night once again. I put on a velvet and lace dress, mostly black with some red on the fitted bodice; the skirt cascaded down at the back, which was longer then the front. I wore the dress with a black lace shawl, and quite a few people complimented me on my hair and outfit. 🙂

Dinner was the usual pleasant interlude, punctuated by interesting conversation and one or two risqué jokes, as we were all now pretty comfortable in each other’s company on table #32.

In the Neptune Lounge we found our ‘usual’ table near the front and watched the dancing couples prior to the show. Tonight the performance was called “Composers” and featured the Boudicca Show Company’s versions of the famous West End composers such as Rogers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin etc. It was of the usual high standard that we’ve come to expect on Fred Olsen cruises.

Then it was up to the Lido Lounge for the quiz in which a win yet again eluded us. There must be some good quizzers on this cruise! 🙂

At 11.30pm there was a late night cabaret special, featuring Dong Cuyos, known as the “Singing Barman”. Dong works behind the bar in the Neptune Lounge and is always singing, so they gave him his own 45 minute spot and we looked forward to hearing him.

Well… what can I say? Dong Cuyos is an absolutely fantastic singer – what he is doing working behind the bar on a cruise ship is beyond me. He has amazing talent which is wasted. He was called back for an encore and, when he’d finished, he got a well-deserved standing ovation. He wants to get himself on X-Factor or something like that – he’s better than some of the rubbish we’ve seen.

Afterwards we whiled away some time joining in the disco and enjoying a couple of night-caps. Then it was off to bed, once again after 1.00am. Time flies when you’re having fun. Tomorrow we were due to reach Leknes, in the Lofoten Islands.

The Frozen North

Sunrise: 9.28am Sunset: 12.53pm

When we got up this morning, I noticed my ankle was looking a lot better and the swelling had gone down a lot. Nevertheless, I decided to wear my trainers today instead of my walking boots, so as not to irritate my old scar again.

After breakfast we went along to the reception desk to collect our tickets for the shuttle bus into town. We had a wait of about 45 minutes, so we decided to go to the Secret Garden for a cup of coffee.

Eventually our bus number was called so, wrapping up warmly, we disembarked the Boudicca and made our way over the crisp snow/ice to the waiting vehicle. It was only a 15 minute ride into town, where we were dropped off at the bus station.

We decided to go and have a look around the shopping mall (at least it would be warm!) and I made a beeline for the supermarket to get some more salty liquorice; I also wanted to buy some postcards.

We browsed around the shops and I got some Spikies, the rubber ice-grips that fit over your shoes/boots. At 59 kroner (£5.90) they were less than half the price of the ones on the ship. As winter is coming at home in Durham, I will probably also get some use of the ice-grips walking to work.

In a bookshop / stationery store, we spotted some postcards, calendars and other souvenirs featuring the Northern Lights. I liked the postcards; they had a 3D effect, which meant that the Northern Lights changed shape when you tilted the cards back and forth. We decided to get a couple, and when we got to the checkout we found they were 49 kroner (nearly a fiver!) each, certainly the most expensive postcards I’ve ever bought.

We then decided we’d go to the post office for the stamps, then find somewhere to sit and have a drink and write the cards out. As we emerged from the rear of the shopping mall we noticed it was already dusk. We walked along a wide pedestrian road which already had the Christmas lights up; not many people were out in the -7ºC temperature so it was quiet and peaceful, and so picturesque with the lights twinkling off the snow in the blue dusk. Beautiful!

At the end of the pedestrian area we spotted a bar. At first we thought it was closed because there didn’t seem to be any lights on, but when we looked through the window we could see customers sitting at tables; the place was lit with fairy lights and lots of candles. It looked cosy and inviting so we went in.

We ordered a couple of beers and chose a table next to the window. At 12.55pm the sun had set, and we had the impression of it being much later than it was. I wrote out one of the postcards, but then decided they were so nice I was going to keep the other one for myself. 🙂

It was really lovely sitting in the cosy, dimly-lit bar looking at the beautiful winter scene outside. The bar also had wi-fi, so we were able to connect to the internet, check emails, online banking etc while enjoying our beers.

We realised we hadn’t had any lunch, but we were not really too hungry; on a cruise we are hardly likely to starve and we knew we’d get a good dinner later.

After our beers we went out once more into the crisp Arctic air, posted the postcard then made our way back to the bus station, in time to see the shuttle bus pulling out! Typical. We therefore returned to the shopping centre (better than standing in the cold and dark) for 10 minutes or so. When we came out, we noticed that a queue for the next bus had started to form, so we joined it and had a wait of about 15 minutes.

Back on the Boudicca we dumped our coats and bags in the cabin, then went up to the Lido Lounge for a drink and some nibbles (peanuts and Twiglets) to make up for our missed lunch. Presently we were joined by M & M and another couple for the afternoon quiz. Needless to say, we didn’t win. 😦

After the quiz it was time for us to retrieve our coats once again and assemble in the Neptune Lounge for this evening’s tour. We were going to the modern church in Alta (only built last year, 2013) to see a musical concert. The architecture of the church is unique in that the tower and spire are constructed to represent the Northern Lights. The titanium spire twists around in a spiral, with vertical lines to emulate the shape of the aurora. In fact, it’s nicknamed the Nordlyskatedralen, which means Northern Lights Cathedral, even though it’s not actually a cathedral, it’s a church.

When our bus number was called, off we went to deck 3 to disembark the Boudicca. I noticed that the gang-plank had been gritted and salted; nevertheless I trod very carefully and held on to the railings at both sides. The other couples from our table, Trevor and Eileen and David and Jill, were also on our bus.

Once we pulled up at the church we hurried inside, in order to get a good seat and unimpeded view of the concert. All six of us were lucky enough to get seats in the front row, where we could see the stage already set up with an electronic organ/keyboard and a microphone, as well as a white screen onto which images would be projected.

The concert was given by a couple of blokes who called themselves Åja. One of them was tall and fair-haired and he played the keyboards and saxophone. The other was stockier and had long, black hair, and he was dressed in leather trousers and a traditional Sami woollen tunic; he was the vocalist.

We were treated to a musical show in which the singer sang some typical Sami songs and chants, or joiks; he had an impressive vocal range and the acoustics in the church were brilliant. The music was very atmospheric and, during each song, a slide-show of Arctic landscapes, from all of the seasons starting with winter, was played out on the screen.

The concert lasted about 40 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I can imagine that it probably wouldn’t appeal to everybody. Then it was a bus ride back to the Boudicca, in time for dinner a little later at 6.30pm. We had a good appetite by now and really enjoyed our tasty meal.

The show tonight featured the classical male/female duo La Musica, and they performed excerpts from The Phantom of the Opera (which I love) and other pieces. The guy also played a brilliant Glen Miller-inspired boogie woogie on the piano, accompanied by the fabulous ship’s orchestra. As ever, it was an excellent show.

Up in the Lido Lounge we joined M & M once again and swapped stories about what we’d been doing. One of the things we find on Fred Olsen cruises is that the vast majority of our fellow passengers are, like us, well-travelled and seasoned cruisers, and conversations are often based around previous ships and ports where we have been or would like to go.

Nope, we didn’t win the quiz. We scored 16/20, but we would have got 18 if we hadn’t changed our minds about two of the answers!

It was another late night tonight. I joined in with the dancing quite a lot (I couldn’t get Trevor to get up) but the Boudicca was underway once again and the ship’s motion was very noticeable. It was funny seeing people on the dance floor start at one side and gradually roll over to the other side. When one of the dance hosts, Derek, attempted to teach me some salsa and cha-cha steps, it was a pretty hopeless task, combined with the vessel’s motion and the several glasss of cava I’d drank.

It was nearly 2.00am before we went to bed. Walking along the corridor to our cabin we were first of all going uphill, then downhill, then uphill again. It proved to be quite a rough night, but that’s all part of the fun of being at sea. 🙂

Aurora in Alta

Sunrise: 9.22am Sunset: 12.59pm

This morning we woke up at 8.15am, to find we were already docked in Alta, at 70º N and the most northerly point of this cruise. We are 1200 nautical miles from the North Pole. 🙂

The cruise director’s voice came over the tannoy to say that the current temperature was -10ºC and we could expect a high of -5º. Brrr! In fact, it’s never been above freezing since we crossed the Arctic Circle. But it’s a different kind of cold from that which we experience back in Britain; here it is crisp and dry, whereas in Blighty in tends to be damp and miserable.

After breakfast we got wrapped up in all our winter woollies and ventured out on deck in the bracing air, to get our first impressions of Alta. There were mountains in the distance with some little houses perched on the sides of them, and we noticed that the shipping port is right next door to the airport; we could see the runway and the control tower. A few minutes later an aeroplane came in to land, roaring overhead and racing down the runway. I can’t imagine that there would be many flights going into Alta. We are about 4km from the town centre and there are shuttle buses leaving the port every 10 minutes for those who wish to go in.

However, being Sunday, most of the shops were closed and we had been advised that the bars and restaurants wouldn’t open until this afternoon (by which time it would be dark!). As we couldn’t see much going on in our immediate surroundings, we decided we’d spend the day on board the Boudicca and go ashore tomorrow, as we were in port overnight. It would also allow me to give my ankle a rest.

We therefore went along to the Iceni Room and had a cup of coffee and pastry, then just whiled away an hour or so chatting with our fellow passengers before going for a drink at 12.00 noon. Afterwards we partook of a light lunch, then went back to our cabin and watched the last half hour of Eight Below, which is about a group of malamutes that get stranded in Antarctica when their owners have to leave because of bad weather. The film was actually shot in Greenland, and the giveaway is the fact that, when it shows you a day dated 21st June, it is bright daylight – if it were really Antarctica there would be 24 hours of darkness at that time of year!

We didn’t really do a lot after that – I read my Kindle, napped, watched the telly etc. We didn’t go outside in the biting cold, preferring the warmth of the Boudicca‘s interior.

I then got showered and washed my hair and got ready for dinner. I put on a turquoise and orange dress with orange shoes, and joked that I was a good match for the carpets throughout the ship!

When we went to table #32, there was only Trevor and I there; the other couples had either dined elsewhere or had gone ashore to one of the evening trips. So we were served in double quick time before we went along to the Neptune Lounge, where tonight’s show was called “Oceans” and featured a sea-faring theme and nautical songs. It was very good and we really enjoyed it; so did the rest of the audience if the enthusiastic applause was anything to go by.

When we went to the Lido Lounge to do the quiz, we noticed that a lot of people were going outside, so that could only mean one thing – the Aurora Borealis. So despite the fact I was wearing high heels and a short-sleeved chiffon dress (no coat!) I went out to chance it on the icy decks and looked skywards.

Wow! Even though there was quite a bit of light pollution from the ship and the harbour lights, the aurora was magnificent. Faintly green, it arced and writhed in the sky; the brightest we’d seen it. Despite the cold I couldn’t tear my eyes away – it was worth freezing to see this. 🙂

For the quiz we were on our own because Malcolm and Margaret had gone on a trip into the countryside to see the Northern Lights. Judging by the display we had just seen, they were in for a treat.

We got 16/20 in the quiz, which we only lost by one point. Afterwards we kept popping outside to see if the aurora had reappeared, but all we saw was the black sky, with a few faint stars.

Tonight was karaoke night in the Lido Lounge. I put my name down to do a couple of songs, and was the first one called up. I sang Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made For Walking, then, as no-one else had got up, I did Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U. In fact, only three other singers got up all night, so I also did Lynne Anderson’s 1971 hit Rose Garden.

So quite a lukewarm karaoke this time; some ships we’ve been on have had loads of people get up to sing and the karaoke has actually overrun.

Afterwards it was the usual disco, but we didn’t get up to dance this time. We left about 12.45am to go back to our cabin. When we got there, however, we noticed that Channel 6 on our TV was playing music, so we knew what that meant – the Aurora was back! So on with our coats and trainers, we hurried back to the upper decks, treading very carefully in the ice, our faces upturned to the heavens. Yes, there it was – the inimitable Aurora Borealis in all its glory, lighting the skies over Alta. 🙂

We only stayed out a few minutes in the bitter cold, then returned to the warmth of cabin 5050, where we slept soundly.

Time in Tromsø

Sunrise: 9.26am Sunset: 1.30pm

This morning I awoke late and found it difficult to get out of bed. Maybe it was the late night last night, the excess of drink, the dark morning or a combination of all three, but I did feel really sluggish and my bad ankle was throbbing and twingeing. 😦

After getting dressed and having a muffin and a cup of coffee for breakfast, we decided to venture into the town at about 11.00am. Today was our last day in Tromsø as we would be setting sail for Alta at five o’clock.
The roads were cold and icy so I put some ice-grips over my walking boots. These consist of rubber things with metal studs in them which stretch to fit over the bottom of your boots. The sensation is a bit like footballers walking with their football studs on. They are great on ice and snow, but a bit precarious on normal pavement as you don’t have the same traction.

We took a slow stroll into the town and went into a café for a hot cup of coffee. Then it was back into the cold again. On passing the local Co-op, we went in and I bought some more salmiak to take back to work for my colleagues to taste, as well as some for myself. 🙂

We wandered around a bit more in the crisp, cold air in which the light had already taken on the appearance of late afternoon / early evening. Then we decided to go back to the Boudicca to have some lunch.

Afterwards we just pottered about, doing not much in particular. I did some of this blog, read my Kindle and whiled away the time, while Trevor went off to the cinema to see Dances with Wolves.

At 5.00pm we felt the increased vibrations that indicated Boudicca had started up her engines again and was getting ready to depart. Not long afterwards we saw the lights of Tromsø receding into the distance against the black skyline as we put to sea once more.

I was still having problems with my ankle; it was really quite red and swollen. If it’s no better by this time tomorrow I will have to go and visit the ship’s doctor, in case it’s something serious like cellulitis.

After getting washed and changed, it was the usual: off to the Four Seasons restaurant for our dinner, then into the Neptune Lounge where, once again, we were treated to a great performance by comedy magician Steve Price. Then we went up to do the quiz with M & M in the Lido Lounge. The questions were quite hard, which was reflected by the fact that the winners only scored 15/20. We got a poor 12/20 – the worst we’ve done.

Tonight we didn’t stay too long and didn’t have too much of the (free!) booze. We were back in our cabin by 11.00pm, where we read a bit before settling down for the night.

Let It Snow!

Once we got up this morning (in the dark!) we went for breakfast then once again donned all our cold-weather clothing before making our way to the Neptune Lounge for about 10.15am. Today we were going for a trek in the forest wearing snow-shoes!

Most people tend to think of snow-shoes as resembling oversized tennis rackets strapped to your feet with leather bindings, but the modern ones are not like that at all. It was only a 10 minute journey from the ship to our starting point, then our guide, Magne, showed us how to adjust the one-size show-shoes and put them on.

Modern snow-shoes are about 30 inches long by about 10 inches wide and are made of a tough, flexible material like fibreglass. They are very light. The part that your foot goes in is on a pivot, which makes it far less rigid when walking, and allows you to walk more naturally. There are also a series of crampons on the bottom to give you a good grip on the snow and ice. We were also given a pair of walking poles each, adjusted so they were suitable for our height. Then, with Magne in the lead, we set off into the forest.

When walking in the shoes you had to remember to adopt a wider stance than usual, to avoid treading on your own shoe! If you did that (I did!) you came to an abrupt halt and, in my case, I actually fell into the snow and it took two people to help me back up again!

Walking on our snow-shoes and using our poles was a good workout; the movement was similar to using the elliptical trainer in the gym. We got very warm inside our coats and some of us ended up taking our hats and gloves off. We walked up to the ski jump (we didn’t go on it!) and enjoyed the view over the water to the mountains. The sun, which was very low in the sky, peeked over the top of the mountains bathing everything in a weak wintry glow. It was stunning and we stopped to take a few photos.

Not long afterwards, we stopped in the forest in a small clearing, where Magne removed some large Thermos flasks from his rucksack and dispensed out hot blackcurrant cordial and some more of the inevitable Norwegian cake.

Then it was time to make our way back, as the sun was already on its way back down again! Magne explained that, in Northern Norway, they only had another week to see the sun, as it would set for good on the 21st of November and wouldn’t rise again until the end of January. He told us that, during the polar night, if there has been a lot of snow and there was a full moon, the reflection on the fresh snow meant that visibility outside was very good. For the people of Tromsø, the polar nights are more than compensated for by the fact that, from May to the end of July, the sun is permanently above the horizon, resulting in 24 hours of daylight. 🙂

Trekking back to the minibus, it really was quite exhilarating, and something else we can say we’ve tried. 🙂

Once we were back on board Boudicca, we dumped our stuff in the cabin, changed into lighter clothes and went off to the Heligan Restaurant for a light lunch and a glass of wine. Then we returned to our cabin for a post-luncheon nap, as we’d had a late night last night. We left a light on because otherwise it’s easy to imagine that it’s far later than it is, and sleep too long.

Then, at 3.00pm, we left the Boudicca once again, and headed back into town, making a beeline for the Mack brewery and visitor centre. Tickets for the tour cost 160 kroner each, so we bought some and waited 10 minutes whilst other people came in for the tour – there were seven of us altogether.

We watched a short film about how Ludwig Mack founded the “world’s most northerly brewery” in 1877 and how the building was developed and expanded. The brewery is still owned by the same family and is now in its fifth generation.

After the film we were taken to one of the former cellars and told about the different beers that are brewed as well as the soft drinks they make. At this point we enjoyed our first glass of Mack-Øl (Øl is the Norwegian word for beer or ale) before being taken up to where some gleaming copper vats were, indicating the micro-brewery. We were shown how the beer is made and given a taste of some more, straight from the vat – it was very strong at 8.5%.

Then we finished the tour by going into the Beer Hall next door again and having another drink; this time it was called “Isbjørn” which means Polar Bear (or ice bear) in Norwegian; a good name. The beer hall was absolutely packed and there was standing room only; the place must have been full of Friday afternoon workers who’d finished for the week.

After our drink we headed back to the Boudicca to start getting washed and changed in time for dinner. My right ankle (which is pinned, following a fracture in 2008) was giving me some gyp and I wondered whether the snow-shoeing and constantly wearing walking boots was irritating it, as you can feel the titanium plate and screws underneath the surface of the skin. I did notice it looked quite red and slightly swollen.

Tonight it was open sitting in the dining room as a lot of other people were going on the Northern Lights tour tonight, so the dining room had lots of empty seats. We sat at our usual table, where Trevor and Eileen were seated already, and enjoyed the usual excellent food and convivial banter.

After dinner we repaired, as had become our routine, to the Neptune Lounge. We hadn’t been there very long when someone came in to say the Aurora had made another appearance. So, leaving our drinks on the table, we hot-footed it outside (I should really be saying cold-footed) and, sure enough, there was the glow in the skies above Tromsø, shimmering a ghostly green in the black void of space. I think it is something that you would never get tired of seeing. It only lasted a few minutes then slowly faded from sight.

That is the fourth evening in a row we’ve seen the Aurora Borealis. 🙂 So far this cruise is turning out to be unforgettable, and we’re not even half-way through it yet.

Back in the warmth of the Neptune Lounge we tremendously enjoyed the Boudicca Show Company’s performance, which was called “Dancing Through Life” and featured lots of different dancing, including tap, Charleston, country, Irish, Scottish and a fantastic ballet pas de deux which was magnificent. They really are a very good company; we hadn’t seen a duff show yet. Then again, we always find the entertainment to be very good on Fred Olsen cruises, often better than that on the big, glitzy ships.

After the show we went along to the Lido Lounge and joined M & M for the quiz as usual. We got 19/20, but we knew at least one other team had also scored the same because we marked their paper. However, a couple of teams had scored 20/20, so we still didn’t win!

Afterwards we had a couple more drinks, including their sangria cocktail, and sat and endured the Timeline Duo until midnight, when the disco started. Then I got up and had a good bop about, in a vain attempt to try to work off some of the calories from dinner (a drop in the ocean, so to speak).

Then it was off to bed, well after 1.00am, where we left the telly on in case the aurora made another appearance. But all was quiet, and we slept well.