This is Norway!

We awoke around 8.30 this morning and looked out of our window to see craggy, snowy mountains under a blue sky as the Borealis slowly manoeuvred herself into her berth in Ålesund, Norway.  We had first visited this lovely little town in November 2014 on the Boudicca, and we were happy to be back.  Two days ago, Norway relaxed all its Covid-19 restrictions, so there was no onerous testing to do and we didn’t have to carry proof of our vaccination status with us (although it was advised to do so).

We breakfasted in the Lido Restaurant once again while looking out of the window at our immediate surroundings.  We could see a steep mountain with a large building at the top, and a zigzagging path leading up to it. We learned that it was called Mount Aksla, and the zigzagging path contained 418 steps to the Fjellstua Restaurant at the top.  We thought this would be a fantastic vantage point from which to get some great photos and would also give us a good workout.  😊

We therefore returned to cabin 3326 and donned our thick socks, walking boots, coats, hats and gloves, and made our way to the gangway to disembark.  We didn’t have any excursions booked today, preferring to explore on our own.  In any case, we were docked right in the town, so you could walk off the ship and start doing your own thing.  There is certainly plenty to see and do in Ålesund; we were just so pleased to be in Norway again.

Ålesund is located at 62º 28’N so it’s well below the Arctic Circle, but the air was crisp and cold and my phone told me it was -2 ºC.

We crossed a busy road and headed towards the mountain. We passed through streets with lively shops, art galleries, cafés and bars, commercial buildings and colourful dwellings.  There wasn’t much snow on the ground but you had to watch out for ice.  We had brought some Spikies (ice grips to wear over your boots) with us but we’d left them behind in the cabin thinking we wouldn’t need them today.

As we walked along, I spotted a 7-11 supermarket and decided to go in and get some salmiak, or salty liquorice, which is very popular in Nordic countries and which I love, although many would say it is an acquired taste.  I also bought some of the Wrigley’s Extra salty liquorice flavoured chewing gum.

Eventually we came to an attractive park which led to the bottom of the 418 steps.  We set off at a leisurely pace; after all, there was no rush.  Some people must have had an early start because they were on their way back down again; they advised us to be very careful as there was a lot of ice about; black ice, the most dangerous kind because you can’t see it.

We climbed higher and higher, stopping at several viewing points to get some fantastic photographs over the eclectic rooftops towards the sea and the mountains.  We got some great ones of the Borealis as we stopped just to take deep breaths of the cold, fresh air and enjoy the weak wintry sun as it peeped at intervals through the fluffy cumulus clouds.  This is Norway!  😊

We soon found that the higher we climbed the more treacherous it was underfoot; like a skating rink at times. I had to hold onto the railing and watch every single step; I was terrified of falling on the iron-hard ground and fracturing something, thereby ending my cruise before it had really begun.

Therefore, once we’d reach the 108 steps mark (about a quarter of the way up) we reluctantly made the decision to go back down again.  I was disappointed because I really wanted to get to the top, but the risk of slipping just made it an unenjoyable experience.  We therefore slowly made our way back down again, but at least I’d got some great photos.

When we had disembarked the ship earlier, we’d noticed one of those little trains that takes you all around the town on a tour with a commentary, so we decided we’d go and get a couple of tickets for that.  When we got back, however, we’d just missed one, and the lady selling the tickets said the next one would be at 12.30pm.  As we had about 40 minutes to kill, we decided to buy some postcards and find a bar to write them out in, whilst enjoying a Norwegian beer.  So that’s exactly what we did.  We then took the cards to a nearby post office, stamped them and posted them, then set off back to catch the little train.

We purchased our tickets then sat in a little ‘carriage’ waiting, as the vehicle filled up.  Then it set off through the winding streets, the English commentary asking us to look out at points of interest, and telling us about the devastating fire in 1904 that destroyed the entire city centre, and made 10,000 of the town’s 12,000 inhabitants homeless; in fact they lost everything.  The town was rebuilt with the aid of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II who had been a frequent visitor to Ålesund and had expressed great concern at the plight of its population.

It was a scenic, informative and enjoyable little ride, and we arrived back at the starting point around 1.15pm, just in nice time to return to the Borealis for lunch. While waiting in the short queue to board, we took some photos of the ship that showed our cabin on Deck 3.  😊

Our cabin window can be seen immediately behind the lifebelt

Dumping our bags, coats and boots back in cabin 3326, we made our way up to the self-service restaurant on the Lido Deck, passing on the way a display of delicious looking heart-shaped cakes; it is St. Valentine’s Day, after all.  😊

We enjoyed the usual selection of hot and cold dishes washed down with the inevitable cold white wine, while passing pleasantries with our fellow passengers.  Then we went outside onto the deck for a stroll around in the frigid air, which was still -2 ºC.

Back inside the Borealis’s cosy interior, we enjoyed a couple of drinks in the Observatory before returning to our cabin for a brief power-nap and to recharge our phones.

At four o’clock, the Borealis weighed anchor and put to sea once more towards our next port of call, Tromsø, which we would reach in two days’ time after crossing the Arctic Circle.  As the ship glided slowly along in the pale, late afternoon daylight, we passed rugged, snowy-capped mountains and enjoyed the feeling of being tiny mortals amidst the vastness of the sea and sky.  This is Norway!  😊

This is Norway!

It was then time to start getting ready for our dinner, and once again we enjoyed the conversation and the banter on table #126 as we partook of a delicious meal, washed down with chilled house wine and finished with liqueurs.

Then it was along to the Neptune Theatre for the production company’s tribute to the music of the Beatles, called “Magical Mystery Tour”.  It was an excellent show with colourful costumes, lively dancing and powerful vocals, and we really enjoyed it a lot.  One thing about FOCL ships is that the entertainment is always excellent; we rarely see a duff show.

When we arrived in the Observatory afterwards for the quiz, we procured a table for six, but there was no sign of our table companions so “Three Counties” was only “One County” tonight; we didn’t win, only scoring 12/15 which wasn’t bad when there were only two of us in the team.

We remained in the Observatory to listen to the resident band and enjoy some of their cocktails; they do a fantastic sangria on board here!  Then we returned to our cabin at a reasonable time (before midnight) as we had to be up early in the morning in order to see some amazing natural Norwegian landmarks.

As ever, we slept very well.  😊

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