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.

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