Lobster Tails and Cocktails

The slightly-increased motion of the Balmoral on the waves this morning showed that we were in the open sea once again; we could tell we were on our way home because of the grey skies and threatening rain. Nonetheless, we had a full day at sea to look forward to today as well as one more night on board, so we determined to enjoy it. 🙂

We pottered around the ship for a while and made a start with our packing, putting anything in the case that we wouldn’t need again this cruise.  I also did a few rows of crochet; I am making a triangular shawl with a deep fluted edge, using a lambswool and kid mohair yarn.  I always like to keep my hands busy, even when watching television or listening to the talks on board ship.

At 11.00am we went along to the Neptune Lounge for “Behind the Curtain”, where cruise director Jennifer Daulby was interviewing comedienne Brenda Collins.  When I say “interviewing” however, she never got the chance to ask many questions as Brenda wouldn’t let her get a word in edgeways.  In the end she gave up and just let Brenda take centre stage, with many amusing anecdotes and other stories which kept us entertained until lunchtime.

Lunch today was special; we went along to the Ballindalloch restaurant where King Neptune’s Seafood Lunch Buffet was being held.  I love fish and seafood so I piled my plate high with fresh lobster tails, mussels, crab claws, prawns and langoustines, along with some fresh salad and, of course, a chilled glass of prosecco.  It was absolutely delicious; I knew we’d have to have lobster at some point on this cruise. 🙂

Then we went along to the shops to see if there were any last minute bargains, and I ended up buying a black lightweight jacket with  zipped front and two pockets; it had the Fred Olsen logo on it and was reduced from £53.99 to £26.99.

At 3.45 we went along to the Lido Lounge to take part in the tea-time trivia and partake of a cocktail or two.  We didn’t win the quiz but I enjoyed the sangrias they made, which consisted of red wine, brandy, Cointreau, orange juice, lemonade and chopped apples – delicious.

Then it was time to get ready for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party.  It seemed strange not having to be dressed formally but it’s never a formal night when it’s the last night of a cruise, because all the suitcases have to be packed and placed outside the cabin door, so it’s assumed that dinner suits etc. will already be packed.  We still dressed quite smartly though, and we went along and enjoy (more!!) free drinks and some canapés.  Captain Bent Ivar Gangdal made a little speech commenting on the fantastic cruise we’d had, with the most beautiful scenery and excellent weather and how he hoped to see us back on the Balmoral soon.  This little interlude took us nicely to dinner time at 6.15pm, where we enjoyed the last meal in the company of Colin and Sue.

Tonight’s show was the Farewell Variety Performance, featuring the Balmoral Show Company as well as Brenda Collins and magician Dain Cordean.  It was excellent as ever.  I felt quite sad that we would be going home tomorrow; I could easily have spent another week cruising.  One week just isn’t long enough – we said the same thing last May when we did the “Lusitania Remembered” cruise on board Queen Victoria.  Never mind – we only have a couple of months to go until our next cruise.  🙂

As ever, we went along to the Observatory for the quiz, meeting up with Colin and Sue, Peter and Liz to form the same team as we had when we’d won.  No such luck this time though.  Still, we had fun and they said how much they’d enjoyed this cruise, and how they couldn’t wait to do another one.

As we have to put our clocks and watches back to British time tonight, it meant we’d get an extra hour in bed, so we went along to the Morning Light pub to finish off the evening (and indeed the cruise) with Kath and Louise.  Once again John Smithson had everyone’s feet tapping and hands clapping with his variety of catchy tunes, and I enjoyed a few more (free!) glasses of prosecco and tried to put to the back of my mind that our holiday was at at end. 😦

It was late when we returned to cabin 4125, and we packed up the remainder of our stuff, only leaving out what we’d need in the morning.  Then we put the cases outside our door and settled down for our last night on board.

Tomorrow we were due back in the Tyne, and we’d be back home in Durham before 10.00am – one of the great advantages of cruising out of Newcastle.

Looking Down on Creation

Light filtered its way in between our cabin curtains at 03.46 this morning, the dawn light pale and clear.  We were due to arrive in Skjolden at around 07.30am.

Skjolden lies at the head of the Sognefjord, the longest navigable fjord in Norway.  It’s a small but idyllic village with a marina, a restaurant, a few shops and an art gallery.  Of course there is also the inevitable backdrop of mountains and waterfalls. 🙂

We got up around 8.00am and went to the Palms Café  for our breakfast; we knew there would be free fizz as tonight is the final formal night.  So I enjoyed a couple of glasses of chilled cava with my bacon and eggs. 🙂

Then it was out on deck to get our first impressions of Skjolden and to see what the weather was like.  Our luck with the warm and sunny days continued, and we had a wander about on deck and passed the usual pleasantries with our fellow passengers.

At 11.30am it was time to assemble in the Neptune Lounge for today’s excursion.  We had booked to visit the Jotunheimen National Park, an area which contains Norway’s highest mountains.  As we knew we were going to go up high where the temperature would be very different from that at sea level, I brought my cagoule with me.

We boarded the bus and set off through the picturesque village which soon gave way to farmland with fields of sheep and some llamas.  We passed along the road with pine trees alongside as the bus slowly started to climb, giving us superb views of dramatic peaks, glaciers and waterfalls. The Sognefjell Mountain Road is a national tourist route and the highest mountain crossing in Northern Europe.

We wended our way up the winding mountain road with its hairpin bends, higher and higher.  I was a little bit nervous because there were little or no guardrails between the road and the plunging depths into the pine trees and bushes down the steep slopes.  When the bus met another vehicle coming the other way, both vehicles had to slow right down so they could pass each other with inches to spare.

We reached Turtagrø where we all got out for a photo stop.  Our guide told us it was the birthplace of alpine sport in Norway.  From here we had a splendid view of the snow-capped Hurrungane massif in Jotunheimen, and the temperature was quite a few degrees cooler.

The bus continued on its way and we soon found ourselves above the snow line, where the clouds were much lower.  The views of mountains, snow and glaciers made us hard to believe it was the month of ‘flaming June’.  At the highest point (where vehicles can go) we got out of the bus at about 1,400 metres (4,593 feet) above sea level.  Snow was piled over 6′ high at the side of the roads and we definitely needed our jackets and cagoules here.  It made a fantastic backdrop for photos. 🙂

After about half an hour or so, we started to make our way back down again, the same way we came up.  We spotted some skiers coming down the mountain before stopping for another photo opportunity at the Åsafossen Waterfall, which tumbled and cascaded in a deluge down the almost-vertical cliff drop.

Back in the village of Skjolden the bus dropped us off, but we didn’t want to go straight back onto the Balmoral, as this was our last port of call before a full day afloat crossing the North Sea.  We went and had a look around the shops and bought a couple of ‘snuggle blankets’ in a traditional Norwegian design featuring spruce trees and polar bears among other icons of Norway.  The blankets could be used in a variety of ways; as well as a traditional blanket they could also be a colourful throw, but in addition they had a zipper and strategically-placed poppers, so it could be zipped into a ‘slanket’ or blanket with sleeves.  A lovely way to keep cosy in the chilly Northern winters. 🙂

Once everyone was back on board Balmoral the ship put to sea again aroud 3.30pm, and I got showered and changed and sorted out, spending a leisurely hour or two getting ready for the second formal night.  I wore a long black dress with a gorgeous mesh wrap in eau-de-nil with embroidery, beads and sequins, and edged with red velvet.  I bought it in India last year and it only needs a plain black dress, and you don’t want to detract from the attractiveness of the wrap.  Quite a lot of people commented on it.

We didn’t see our table mates in the restaurant this time, as they’d already told us they hadn’t brought any formal wear, this being their first cruise.  So it was a mange à deux for Trevor and me again, and the usual scrumptious array of foods and drink. 🙂

Then it was along to the Neptune Lounge again to procure our front seats, as tonight it was the Balmoral Crew Show.  We always enjoy these shows; there are some very talented singers, dancers and performers who work their days jobs below decks, so this was their chance to be in the limelight.  We saw traditional Filipino and Indonesian dancing and singing, as well as the Deck team who were dressed in their sailor suits and performed Village People’s In The Navy.  We also listened to some excellent singers.  At the end all the performers came back on stage again to great cheers and applause from all the passengers.

As ever, we followed the show with the general knowledge quiz, where we got together with another couple to see if four brains were better than two.  We didn’t win.

Then it was off to the Morning Light pub again, where we perched on bar stools, enjoyed several (free!) drinks and had fun listening to John Smithson and his catchy violin tunes.  No sign of Kath and Louise, in fact we hadn’t clapped eyes on them all day.

So it was at the relatively-early time of just after midnight when we returned to cabin 4125 and settled down for the night, as one by one the ship’s public rooms quietened and emptied, and the Balmoral steamed her steady way south and out of the flat-calm fjords into the North Sea, homeward bound.

Trolls and Glaciers

When we woke up this morning, once again to a glorious day, we were just about to dock in Olden.  This was another new port to us and we looked forward to seeing what it had to offer.

As ever, the scenery was spectacular; towering snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and the beautiful clear water of the flat-calm Nordfjord.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast then just spent the morning pottering around the ship and exchanging pleasantries with other familiar faces.  Sitting outside in the sun, we passed another ship and we saw that it was the Arcadia, a lovely P&O ship we’ve been on three times before.  The Arcadia gave a loud blast of her foghorn as we passed, and the Balmoral responded with an even louder blast which made a lot of the people on deck (including me) jump out of their skins.  🙂

Then, at about 11.00am, it was time to go to the Neptune Lounge to meet the group for our excursion today, which was to the see the well-known Briksdal Glacier by Troll Car, whatever that was.

There was none of the carry on with disembarkation that we experienced yesterday, and once our bus number was called we were able to disembark and go straight to our bus.  🙂

Off we went through Olden village, enjoying the sights on the way.  We passed old churches, small isolated hamlets and farms with sheep grazing peacefully.  Some of the houses were set quite steeply up in the mountains, and we wondered how their occupants coped in the winter.  We saw many more waterfalls as a result of the snow melting from the mountain peaks.

Passing through some gorgeous woodlands containing more sheep and some recumbent cows, we arrived at the Briksdal Inn, from where we would join our Troll Cars for the ride to the glacier.  The more energetic were meeting here to hike to the top, and we saw many walkers complete with boots and walking poles.

The Troll Cars looked like oversized golf buggies and had room for seven passengers as well as the driver.  As they were quite high off the ground, you had to stand on a wooden platform so you could climb into the vehicle easily.  One person sat alongside the driver, then there were two rows of three seats.  Blankets were thoughtfully provided in the event of chilly weather, but today the sun blazed down from the steel blue sky, and what breeze there was was very welcome and ruffled our hair playfully.

Off we went in the Troll Car up the zigzagging mountain path.  We passed a roaring waterfall from which the spray fell like rain over us.  It was all very exhilarating.  As we climbed higher, the views spread out before us and we could see the footpath the hikers had taken.  We had about a 10 minute walk once we’d alighted from our unusual vehicle, and we made our way along the gravelly path up towards our goal, the Briksdal Glacier.

A glacier is, as you know, a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight; it forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation (melting and sublimation) over many years, often centuries. Glaciers slowly deform and flow due to stresses induced by their weight, creating crevasses and other distinguishing features. Briksdalbreen (to give it its Norwegian name) has changed in size over the decades due not only to temperature, but is also strongly affected by precipitation. Measurements since 1900 show small changes in the first decades, with advances in the glacier front in 1910 and 1929. In the period from 1934 to 1951 the glacier receded by 800 metres (2,600 ft), exposing the glacial lake. In the period from 1967 until 1997 the glacier expanded by 465 metres (1,526 ft) and covered the whole lake, with the glacier front ending at the lake outlet. The glacier attracted international attention in the 1990s, as it was growing at a time when other European glaciers were in decline.

After the year 2000, the glacier once again receded. In 2004 it had receded to 230 metres (750 ft) behind the lake outlet and in 2007 the glacier front was on dry land behind the lake. In this regard, its position approximated the situation in the 1960s. However, glaciologists speculate that the size of the glacier was at its smallest since the 13th century.  The recession of the glacier did mean, however, that we were able to view the lake flowing and cascading over the rocks and boulders below the glacier.

We spent about an hour and a half up there in this gorgeous place, among the best Mother Nature had to offer.  Looking the glacier flowing over between the mountains filled me with a sort of insane joy; I can’t describe it any better than that.  If there is a Heaven, I can only imagine it looks how Norway looks.   🙂

Once again we walked down the gravelly path and waited in the sunshine for our Troll Car.  Then it was back down to the starting point at the Briksdal Inn, where we all assembled and went inside for some coffee and cakes.  Two cardboard signs, one reading “BALMORAL” and one reading “ARCADIA” showed us where our tour group was to sit.  We were given an hour to do our own thing, and after our coffee and delicious home-made cakes we had a wander around, looking at the souvenir shops and just enjoying being here.

Then it was back on the bus for the return journey to the Balmoral, after a really great trip.

Once everyone was back on board at around 3.15pm, Captain Bent Over announced we would sail again for Skjolden, our last port of call.  We sat out in the sun for a short while and marvelled at the scenery as we glided down the fjord – we have been doing a lot of that on this cruise!  Then it was time to go inside and have a wash and brush up, because at 5.15pm it was the Oceans Club cocktail party.

The Oceans Club is the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines loyalty club, and you are graded according to how many nights in total you spend on a FOCL ship.  1-30 nights is Blue, 31-100 nights is Silver and 101+ nights is Gold.  Each category allows certain privileges, such as discounts, priority boarding, welcome goody bag etc.  Trevor and I, after this cruise, will have 103 nights and we will therefore qualify as Gold Members, effective from our next FOCL cruise (which will be in August!)   🙂

We went along to the Lido Lounge, met some of the ship’s officers and enjoyed some canapés and some free glasses of fizz, and listened to the Rosario String Trio playing tasteful background tunes.  Then the Oceans representative thanked everyone for their loyalty and said that if you added up the total number of nights everyone in the room had spent on a Fred ship, it would come to over 47 years!  Amazing.  There was also a presentation to a couple (obviously retired) who have spent over 1000 nights on Fred ships, and then they read out the names of the couples who would be Gold after this cruise, so we heard our names read out.  🙂

We stayed in the Lido Lounge until around 6.00pm, then we shot back to cabin 4125 to get changed into our Red, White and Blue costumes, as tonight it was British Night.  I wore a pair of white trousers, a red top and a Union Jack jacket, and Trevor wore his Union Jack waistcoat and matching bow tie.  I finished my outfit off with a plastic mask of “The Queen”, which always gets a laugh.  Thus attired, we made our way to the Ballindalloch restaurant for dinner.

As we walked through the restaurant we (predictably) got much attention and we could see people pointing and laughing, some tables spontaneously applauding.  When we reached table #60 there was only us and Colin and Sue.  The other couple had never put in an appearance this cruise.  I was glad to take off the mask and it is difficult to see through the small eye holes and certainly impossible to eat.

Dinner was delicious as ever and Colin and Sue said they were very impressed with this cruise and would certainly cruise again although, like us, they didn’t think they’d ever want to go on the American mega-ships, which are just like floating blocks of flats or “Butlins-at-Sea”.  We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and followed our dinner with a liqueur, then it was time to go and claim our seats in the show lounge, ready for tonight’s performance by the Balmoral Show Company called “British Invasion”.

The show started off by getting the audience flag-waving and singing a variety of patriotic songs.  Then they featured the best of British music over the decades, then finished off with a rousing “Land of Hope and Glory” that had everyone on their feet.  As ever, it was a great performance.

Then we went along to the Observatory to do the quiz as usual.  We couldn’t find our (winning!) team mates of last night, so we joined forces with the pleasant couple we’d quizzed with previously, but I think we’ve exhausted our winning streak this time because our score was nowhere near good enough to win.

Afterwards, it was along to the Morning Light pub and I put my Queen mask on before I went in.  My timing was perfect because the John Smithson, the resident musician, had just struck up with the National Anthem just as I walked in, to much laughter.  We joined Kath and Louise and I put the mask under my chair, out of the way.  For a plastic mask costing a couple of quid I’ve certainly had some laughs out of it over the years.  🙂

Once again we had a late night with far too much booze, but we went to bed reflecting on what a great day we had had.  🙂


Mountains and Waterfalls

Today we were scheduled to visit two ports of call and we woke up to the first of these, Geiranger, at 8.00am, looking out of our window once more to sunshine and a cloudless sky.  We have been to Geirangerfjord twice before, but it so breathtakingly beautiful that no-one could possibly tire of it.

Geirangerfjord is known as the real jewel in the crown of the Norwegian fjords.  With its characteristic ‘S’ shape, high waterfalls and abandoned mountain farms, the fjord landscape is included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Here you will find unspoilt stunning nature and cultural experiences the whole year round.  The famous “Seven Sisters” series of waterfalls is located on the northern side of Geirangerfjord, with a large single water directly opposite called “The Suitor”.  The legend of the seven sisters is that they dance playfully down the mountainside while across the fjord the suitor flirts with them from afar.

Last time we were here in Geiranger, the ship had dropped anchor and we had to get the tender across to land.  However, to develop Geiranger as a 21st century tourist destination, a ‘Seawalk’ (a floating pier system) was opened in July 2013.  This enables cruise passengers to walk directly ashore, across the water into Geiranger town centre.  The Seawalk develops Geiranger as one of the world’s most unique tourist destinations, reduces environmental impact, and creates a better visitor experience.  The Seawalk is 236 metres long and 4.5 metres wide.  It is built of a steel construction accessible to disabled people, floating on 10 wave damping pontoons.  What I found fascinating about the Seawalk is that it ‘folds away’ in a sort of zigzag formations once the ship leaves port.

After our breakfast we made our way ashore and had a walk around, looking in the souvenir shops and purchasing some more postcards to send home.  We sat out in the sun and wrote them out before finding a post box.  Then we just wandered around, enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and gorgeous scenery, before going back on board for our lunch, as the Balmoral was due to sail once more at 1.00pm for our arrival at Hellesylt at 2.30pm.

We enjoyed sitting out in the sun, looking at the mountains on both sides of the ship, and the many waterfalls that cascaded down as a result of the melting snow high on the peaks.  There was barely a ripple of water in the fjord and many of the first-time visitors to Norway could not put their cameras down.  🙂

At 2.55pm we went along to the Neptune Lounge to await our call to disembark for our Panoramic Hellesylt excursion.  Nothing much seemed to be happening, and the tour staff then came over the loudspeaker to apologise for the delay, saying the deck team were having problems securing the gang plank.  Apparently this is the Balmoral‘s first visit to Hellesylt, so they were not used to securing the gangway in this port.  After about half an hour of sitting there wondering what was going on, the voice of cruise director Jennifer Daulby came over the loudspeaker to advise that the Balmoral was now secure and the gangway open and passengers were free to disembark if they wished.

Big, big mistake.  It seemed as if all 1350 passengers decided to converge at the stairways and lifts at once.  Our tour had been due to depart at 3.15pm and it was well past that, and there was a complete bottleneck of people at the stairs.  It took us over 10 minutes just to descend half a deck, and we had to get from Deck 7 to Deck 4.  Some people near us in the queue decided to give up and try to return their tour tickets for a refund.

Long story short… it took ages to reach the gangway with the result that our trip was running an hour late before we even boarded the bus.  As it was now 4.15pm and the tour was expected to last a couple of hours, quite a few people turned to go back, as they would miss their dinner if they were on the first sitting at 6.15pm, as we were.  The whole thing was a complete shambles, caused by the cruise director making that announcement.  They really should have let all those who were booked on an excursion off the ship first.  To be fair though, this type of thing was the exception rather than the rule; the vast majority of tours we’ve been on have been very well organised.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the excursion.  Hellesylt is a new place for Trevor and me as well, and is a small village in the Møre og Romsdal county.  It only has a population of 260.  Its focal point was a large waterfall in the center, which cascaded down the mountainside with a roar, giving off lots of spray.  To view the waterfall we had to cross over a small bridge; it was barely wide enough for both traffic and pedestrians to cross together.

We also paused to photograph the Honndøla Bridge, which is a dry-stone structure over a pebbly stream, built in 1810.  From here we had stunning views of a distinctive mountain with a pointy peak, called Hornindalsrokken which rises to over 5000 feet.

Our guide also gave us time to visit some of the souvenir shops which sold the inevitable Troll figures as well as woollen knitwear and other typically Norwegian merchandise.

We arrived back to where the Balmoral was moored up around 6.15pm.  Nearby we could see a building proclaiming “Factory Outlet” so we went along to have a look.  I ended up buying a 100% pure new wool short jacket, knitted in the traditional Norwegian pattern, with the metal fastenings up the front.  I have wanted one of these for a while, but they are usually expensive; this one was reduced from 899KR to 499KR, around £42.00, so not a bad price at all.

Once back on board the Balmoral, we dumped our bags in cabin 4125, got washed and changed, then went to the Palms Café as we had missed our dinner in the Ballindalloch restaurant.  As ever, it was the usual delicious selection of dishes on offer, and as usual I ate far too much of it.  🙂

Tonight the featured entertainer was a comedy magician called Dain Cordean.  He was actually very funny as well as being a fairly good magician and we enjoyed his show a lot.  Then it was up to the Observatory for the general knowledge quiz, where we spotted Colin and Sue from our table, as well as another couple who introduced themselves as Peter and Liz.  We decided to join their quiz team as six heads are better than four.  We scored 11/15 which, going on previous high quiz scores, we didn’t think was anywhere near enough to win, but we were joint top with another team which meant there had to be a tiebreaker.  Our team won!  Yay!  We’d broken our duck for this cruise.  🙂

We won a bottle of cava and we asked for six glasses so we could enjoy it while doing the trivia (non-prize) quiz.  I’ve been drinking the house cava anyway on this cruise, as it is included in the drinks package and is really very palatable.  We are at latitude 61° N so it was well after 11.00pm before the sun went down, allowing us to view the most stunning sunset over the mountains as we glided along the perfectly flat fjord.  Norway really is the most amazing country.

We concluded the evening in the usual way, by going along to the Morning Light pub and meeting up with Kath and Louise, talking over the day’s events and enjoying several more (free!) drinks and cocktails.  It was, once again, well after 1.00am before we went to bed, after a very pleasant day indeed.


Beautiful Bergen

This morning we were up at 8.30am and we looked out of our cabin window to clear blue skies and sunshine.  We found we were berthed in Bergen, and we were looking forward to revisiting this lovely town; we have been several times before and the last time was in 2008 on the Boudicca.

Bergen was founded over 900 years ago and has roots in the Viking age and beyond.  It was for several hundred years the centre of prosperous trade between Norway and the rest of Europe and today makes a good deal of money from its thriving tourist trade and its many restaurants, pubs, craft shops and historical museum.

As we knew the town quite well and Kath and Louise had never been before, we offered to show them around and we arranged to meet them in the Morning Light pub at 10.00am so we could go ashore together.  So we didn’t have an excursion organised today, preferring just to do our own thing.

After breakfast we joined up with Kath and Louise and off we went.  We’d decided we go, first of all, to get the Fløibanen funicular up Mount Fløyen, as this was something we knew about but hadn’t actually done before.  We had the best of weather to go 399 metres up the mountain; beautifully clear without a cloud in the sky, and the sun already warm and bright.

We stopped a passing taxi whose driver agreed to take us to the funicular for 111 kroner, or about 10 quid.  When we arrived, there were already lengthy queues, and the driver said it was because it was so rare that the weather was that good in Bergen.

We had about 15-20 minutes to wait until we could board the funicular.  The ride up the mountainside was spectacular, not just because of the view of the town and harbour below us, but because of the trees and colourful wild flowers which filled the air with the scent of summer.

When we got to the top, we had the most superb views and we could see for miles and miles.  There was also a few souvenir shops and a café, as well as little footpaths for those who wanted to walk a bit further.  Trevor and Louise were keen to explore one of the footpaths but Kath cannot walk very far, so I agreed to go for a coffee with her.  We shared a table with an American couple from North Carolina who are travelling around Europe for a few weeks; this was their first visit to Norway and they were well impressed.

When Trevor and Louise came back, we went and bought some postcards and stamps, then we went back to the funicular where there was no queue, and we only had a couple of minutes to wait for it to take us on the four-minute ride back down.

We spent some time wandering around the lively streets and looking in the shops.  I knew what I was looking for; some salmiak, or salty licorice, which is a Scandinavian delicacy and often an acquired taste, although I love it.  I also like the Wrigley’s Extra Salty Licorice chewing gum and always buy plenty of it whenever we go to Norway.  Today was no exception; we went into a 7-11 supermarket and I bought half a dozen packets of salmiak, as well as a dozen packs of the chewing gum.  This should keep me going for a few days, ha ha.  🙂

We then walked through the fish market, tastebuds alert to the delicious smell of fresh fish coming from the various stalls.  There were prawns and mussels and all different types of fish, and live lobsters and crabs in tanks.  Many stalls were selling fresh prawn or crab sandwiches, and Kath and Louise decided to have one each while we settled for a cold beer and found somewhere to sit and write out our postcards.  Then it was off to find a postbox, and we left Kath and Louise to do their own exploring while we walked around a bit further before returning to the Balmoral for lunch.

Back on board I enjoyed a fresh salad with cold meats and fish, washed down with a chilled glass of cava, before going out on deck to sit in the sunshine.  Someone said they’d been in touch with their folks back in Newcastle who’d told them it was cold and raining.  Oh dear!  😉

While we were up on deck we thought we could hear a baby crying, which seemed strange as there weren’t any kids on board.  Going to the deck above, we saw that Captain Bent Ivar Gangdal, who is from Bergen, had invited his wife and baby daughter on board with him, and it was nice to see his family again when we spends many months at sea.  We had seen this particular captain before, on the Braemar in January 2014, where we’d promptly nicknamed him Bent Over, lol.   😉

Back in cabin 4125 around four-thirty, the captain announced that since everyone was back on board we could leave earlier than our scheduled departure time of 5.00pm, so the Balmoral gave a blast on her foghorn and slowly moved away from the dock side.

We pottered around a bit before getting ready for dinner, where once again we were joined by Colin and Sue, who told us they were very impressed with what they’d seen so far, both with cruising and Norway.  Still no sign of the mystery couple; either they eat every night in the self-service Palms Café or they’d been moved to another restaurant.  Not to worry though, there was never any shortage of conversation and we enjoyed the usual first-class meal in convivial company.

Then along we went to the Neptune Lounge, in our usual front row seat.  We watched the ballroom dancing before the start of the performance which was by the Balmoral Show Company and was called “21st Century Swing”, featuring a modern take on some of the old big-band swing favourites. It was the usual excellent performance we’ve come to expect on Fred Olsen ships.  🙂

As ever, we followed the show with a trip to the Observatory, where we joined another pleasant couple to form a team of four.  So far a quiz win has eluded us, and tonight the trend continued.  We got 12/15 which was not enough to win.  We then did the “just for fun” quiz where we had to guess which company the slogan belonged to, such as “The best a man can get” = Gillette.  One of the slogans was “Bringing the world closer to you” which some teams (including ours) suggested was that of British Airways, but in fact it is Fred Olsen Cruise Lines!  How we didn’t get that when we see it all over the ship and the various brochures is a wonder, but it’s one we won’t forget in a hurry.

From our vantage point in the Observatory lounge we could see the beautiful mountain scenery, and it was also no surprise to still see the sun shining even though it was nearly 11.00pm.  We are, after all, much further north (Bergen is situated at 60° 23′ north) and if we’d been above the Arctic Circle (at 66° 33′) then the sun would not set at all at this time of the year.

We then made our way to the Morning Light pub and joined Kath and Louise, who said they’d had a lovely day.  We had a few drinks, enjoyed John Smithson’s music and once again were just about the last people to leave the pub after the bar closed.  Another late night.  All these late nights and (free!) booze are going to catch up with me at some point, but what the hell… we’re on holiday.  🙂

Tomorrow morning we were due to arrive in Geiranger, and once again we slept very well.

Heading North

After sleeping soundly we woke up and were shocked to see it was nearly 9.20am, much later than we usually get up.  A quick look out of the window showed us the sea was quite calm and the skies looked as if they were brightening up a bit.

We dressed quickly and made our way to the Palms Café where a second shock awaited us – we had missed breakfast because the time was actually 10.30am.  We had forgotten to put our watches forward an hour, to Norwegian time!  We had also missed the free prosecco that’s always on offer at breakfast time whenever it’s going to be a formal night.  😦

We therefore had to make do with a cup of tea and a small pastry.  Oh well, we’ll certainly not starve on a cruise ship and because we got up so late it wouldn’t be too long until lunchtime.

We then had a look around the shops, where they had a special offer with some items, two for £12.00.  So I bought a silver metallic clutch bag and a scarf/wrap which was black and grey with silver threads running through it.  Quite a bargain, but the prices on Fred Olsen ships are usually very reasonable compared to other cruise lines.

Afterwards we decided to go along to the Future Cruises desk and book another one!  Balmoral will be sailing from the Tyne next year as well, so we booked for August 2017 to go on a nine-night cruise of the German Waterways, taking in Kiel, Bremen and Hamburg amongst other places.  We have three cruises booked for 2017 already!  🙂

It was then time to go to lunch, so we went up to the Palms Café and I enjoyed some cold meats and fresh salad vegetables followed by semolina pudding with raisins.  Thus sated, we went out on deck as we could see the Norwegian coast looming.  The weather was much improved since leaving Newcastle, and we hoped it would remain so.

In the afternoon we decided to go up and do the Trivia quiz in the Lido Lounge and enjoy a drink or two while we were there.  A group of loud Geordies were sitting to our left; they appeared (and sounded) as if they’d been making the most of the all-inclusive drinks package and they looked (and sounded) like characters out of Viz comic.  🙂

We didn’t win the quiz; in fact the loud Geordies did.  We left them to it and went along to the Marquee Bar where we enjoyed watching the Balmoral gliding into the Lysefjorden.

Tonight was Formal Evening and at 5.45pm we had the Captain’s Cocktail Party, minus the captain.  Because of the intricacies of guiding the Balmoral through the narrow and mountainous fjords, he was needed on the bridge.  They therefore changed the name to the Scenic Cocktail Party.  🙂

I wore a full length burgundy-coloured dress with a sequinned bodice and matching sequinned lace jacket, along with a lovely Murano necklace.  Trevor looked very smart in his DJ with his Black Watch tartan bow tie and cummerbund.  We went along to the Neptune Lounge where they were giving out free cava and other drinks.  We normally make the most of this, but when you’re travelling all-inclusive and all the drinks are free, then the thrill has gone a bit.  🙂

By this time the sun was shining and the clouds had disappeared, and on both sides of the ship we could see soaring mountains, a lot of them still with snow on the top.  Every other mountain seemed to have a waterfall cascading down, and the breathtaking scenery was reflected in the mirror-like surface of the fjord.  It was, quite simply, stunning.

The cocktail party lasted about 45 minutes and then it was time to go to dinner.  When we got to table #60, we found we were the only ones there.  No sign of Colin and Sue and no sign of the other mystery couple.  So for Trevor and me it was a case of mange à deux.

The meal was delicious, but we were surprised not to see lobster on offer; I don’t think there’s been a single cruise where we haven’t enjoyed lobster at least once, and it usually features on the menu on formal nights.  Maybe they’ll be serving it another night.

After our dinner we went out on deck to feast our eyes once more on the stunning scenery.  We had missed the famous Kjeragbolten as we’d passed it when we were in the restaurant eating our dinner.  We did, however, come across the towering Preikestolen, otherwise known as Pulpit Rock as the almost-flat 25m x 25m overhanging rock at the top of the cliff does indeed look like a giant pulpit.

Then it was along to the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s show, starring north-east comedienne Brenda Collins.  We have seen her several times before, not only on a cruise but at pubs and clubs back home.  She does a fast-paced, quick change mime act featuring lots of props, and she is down to earth and very funny.  Tonight was no exception.

Afterwards we went, as usual, to participate in the quiz in the Observatory.  We got 13/15 and thought we’d done pretty well, but two other teams had scored full marks so no prize for us tonight.

At 10.30pm we went to the Lido Lounge where they were holding prize karaoke; basically anyone who sang could pick from a ‘lucky dip’ of Fred Olsen branded merchandise.  I got up and sang Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compared 2 U and received an insulated cool bag, good for keeping your packed lunch fresh.  Then I sang Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain and got a manicure set which looked pretty good; it contains nail scissors, nail clippers, an emery board and a pair of tweezers in a neat little case.

We finished the evening by going to the Morning Light pub to listen to the resident entertainer, John Smithson.  He is very good indeed; he sings and plays the keyboard, guitar and violin (not all at the same time).  So he does a variety of music styles, and usually finishes off with rollicking fiddle tunes that has people on their feet, dancing and jigging about.  All good stuff.

Once again it was well after 1.00am when we went to bed.  Tomorrow we were due to arrive in Bergen, and we fell asleep in happy anticipation of the day ahead.

Newcastle to Norway

Today we were setting off on another cruise, but there was no getting up at the crack of dawn because we were sailing out of Newcastle, and the Port of Tyne is only about half an hour’s drive from us.  So we were able to spend the morning at our leisure, not having to leave the house until lunchtime.

We parked the car at Howden Sewage Treatment Works (!!) and ordered a Blue Line taxi to take us to the port.  Although a sewage works may seem a strange place to leave the car it made more sense than paying the £10.00 or more per day that the Port of Tyne charges for parking.  As Trevor works for Northumbrian Water, he was able to leave the car in the staff car park, and it was only five minutes in the taxi to the port.

On arrival, our cases were whisked away from us to be taken to the ship, and we joined the queue to check in.

We are spending a week cruising the Norwegian fjords on the M/S Balmoral.  We have been on this ship before, in 2012, so we were looking forward to returning.  We have also been to Norway lots of times before, in summer and in winter, but who could ever tire of Norway?  The fjords are so calm and picturesque, displaying Mother Nature in all her magnificent finery.  We couldn’t wait.

We were called to board around 2.30pm, and we happily made our way up the gangplank to Deck 4 and cabin number 4125, where we found our suitcases already waiting for us.  The cabin is fairly spacious and has a nice big window; the beds are in an L-shape configuration and I chose the bed under the window.  There is also a large dressing table, chest of drawers, loads of wardrobe space and an adequate bathroom with a shower stall.  We have everything we need to enjoy a comfortable voyage.  🙂

After unpacking our cases and putting our clothes away neatly, we decided to go along to the Marquee Bar to enjoy a drink or two.  We are travelling all-inclusive which only costs an extra tenner a day, so after a couple of rounds of drinks the rest is, effectively, free!  We had hoped to be able to sit out on the deck enjoying an ice cold beer before setting sail, but the grey and drizzly Newcastle weather put paid to that.  The weather at home recently has been less than clement, more like March than June.  I have, however, been keeping an eye on the weather in Norway for the last couple of weeks, and it has been five or six degrees warmer in Bergen than it is in Durham, so we hoped it would continue.

At 3.45pm it was time to go to lifeboat drill.  This was different from any other lifeboat drill we’ve ever done (and this is our 39th cruise!) in that we didn’t have to go to our cabin and collect our lifejackets before proceeding to muster station.  All we had to do was go along to our allocated assembly point, listen out for the signal (seven short blasts of the ship’s whistle, followed by one long blast) then watch a demonstration of how to put on the lifejacket.  Quite a lukewarm drill really, but at least it meant it was over quickly and so our time was our own.

At five o’clock I went along to the Spa on Deck 10 for a neck, back and shoulder massage as I had quite a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders.  As I was lying on the table the increased vibrations told me that the ship was getting ready to leave, and indeed the Balmoral gave a blast of her forghorn as we slowly moved away from the dockside and along the River Tyne.  Our cruise had begun.  🙂

The masseuse had fingers of steel and while she did manage to relax my shoulders and get rid of my tension, my back felt like tenderised steak afterwards.

We have been allocated table # 60 in the Ballindalloch restaurant and, at 6.15pm, we made our way there for dinner.  We always ask for a table for six as we enjoy the camaraderie of our fellow passengers, and we arrived to find one other couple already seated there.  They are Colin and Sue who live near Troutbeck in the Lake District, and this is their first cruise.  The other couple didn’t put in an appearance.

We enjoyed their company over an excellent dinner, washed down with a couple of glasses of rosé wine.  We then wandered around the ship for a while before going into the Neptune Lounge to see if there was a show on tonight, but there was only dancing.  One of the dance hosts got me up and tried to teach me a quickstep, but soon discovered I was a lost cause.  We really should learn ballroom dancing, as it seems to be very popular and we would then be able to join in.

Our friend Kath Berry, who we’ve known for over 20 years through our local rambling club is also on this trip.  When she found out we were doing this cruise, she booked to come too.  She has brought a friend with her, Louise, who we hadn’t met before.

On Fred Olsen cruises there is usually an additional cabaret on after the main show, and we therefore went up to the Lido Lounge to watch the Balmoral Show Company’s production of Jukebox, which was a high energy singing and dancing tribute to 60s music.  We also enjoyed a few more glasses of (free!) wine and it was after midnight before we went to bed.

Tomorrow we would spend a day at sea, so we hoped the weather and the North Sea would be kind to us.