It is 5.10am on Thursday July 19th and the sun rose 30 minutes ago, the sky is baby blue with the merest hint of yellow/pink low on the horizon. It is cool at 10/51 degrees and we have a very light northerly breeze at 7 knots. Our speed as we head south south east towards Bergen is 11 knots; we are threading our way through the host of islands that separate the town from the North Sea. We are approaching the channel that will lead us into the port and we will have to enter it and then a 90 degree turn around the bottom of the final peninsula that makes Bergen such a safe haven from the ravages of storms. There are wooded and rocky islands dotted everywhere that we have to navigate past, the water is as still and mirror-like with the slightest of ripples as the ship passes or the breeze catches it. An hour has passed and we are passing through a much more built up residential area, still comprising some islands but mostly the mainland suburbs of the town.
We have arrived in this working port and we are one of 4 ships visiting today. The Queen Victoria, Ocean Princess and Columbus 2 are joining us. We have berthed at the Jekteviken Pier close to the Ocean Princess; others are berthing in other areas in the port. Passengers are not allowed to walk in the dock area so the shuttle bus is mandatory and free I got off the ship at 8.30 and it was only a 10 minute shuttle bus to town. It dropped me by a very pleasant park on Rasmus Meyer Alle and I wandered around for a bit, found an ATM for some running around cash and then sought out a café near to the market. Coffee is a big thing in Norway and there is a good flow of customers. They also have free Wi-Fi which is excellent.
We are sailing at 2pm so I want to get back in plenty of time.
It is now 6pm and MV Rotterdam must be preparing to sail fairly soon as she is recovering her tenders and smoke is coming from her funnel. She looks like a really nice little ship; I must give Holland America a try I think. She has just raised her port anchor and water is pouring from her bow as the chain is winched on board. I originally assumed that the water had come on board with the chain but it dawned on me that the crew must be hosing the muck off and that is what is running out of the bow. Duhhh! She gave three whistles in farewell to which we haven’t responded, then she turned through 180 degrees and sailed off into the distance.
I’ve just received the disembarkation labels and information, I should be off the ship by 8am if things run to time as we are due to arrive a little after 5am on Saturday.
I went to the wine bar again before dinner, the Gavi was running low so I switched over to Pouilly Fuisse which is never a bad substitute, I had a glass and then as I was topping it up my credit ran out, but there was also a problem with the bottle so I moaned to Denis the barman and he gave me the measure that I should have had which meant that I ended up with 2½ glasses, I then popped to the Martini bar as it was still early for dinner and tried a Ketel One martini, it was perfect and I was ready for the meal. I was on a table with 5 people with whom I had eaten before plus a couple of teachers from Glasgow and we all really got on very well and before we knew it 2 hours had gone by. I had snails, Caesar salad with the anchovies and a great T-bone steak. I then sampled a small cheesecake and a scoop of strawberry ice cream, half a bottle of Malbec assisted and we all had a great time. I had a couple of nightcap martinis and then went up to bed at 10.50pm. We are still miles inland on our journey to Bergen where we are due to arrive at 7am, this is the longest fjord in Norway and the second longest in the world, or maybe the second deepest. I don’t know ad after three martinis I really don’t care!
I am meeting a friend tomorrow for some drinks but as we are scheduled to depart at 2pm we will need an early start.
The meeting place for the tour was the theatre on deck 4, they positioned the sticker table right at the front so everyone had to walk all the way down and then all the way back up to the door which didn’t seem particularly sensible. At about 2.30 we were told to go to deck 2 to disembark and to assemble on the quayside. I went down and the assembly area was utter chaos, the young girl running things wanted everyone to line up and then follow another girl holding a number on a stick. She would have been too short to join a troupe of midgets so no-one could see, let alone follow her. I just walked along as I knew the way to the station. When we arrived we were herded onto a platform and we boarded a very comfortable train.
The journey took a little over 50 minutes and half way up we stopped at a dual track section to allow the down train to pass safely. The train goes through 20 tunnels of varying lengths and the scenery is quite spectacular but you are on a train and there is very little time to compose a photograph as you will pretty soon be in another tunnel. There was a photo stop at Kjosfossen where there is a massive waterfall which was interesting, they had a girl there singing as a local legend believes that she would tempt men to go into the mountains. I thought that it was tacky and touristy but others seemed to enjoy it.
The train arrived at Vatna-Halsen which is one station from the destination of Myrdal and everyone got off to go and have a cup of coffee and a waffle in a nearby hotel. The plan was that they would spend an hour there and then re-board a subsequent train for the return journey. I didn’t fancy this at all so I stayed on the train and after a 5 minute stop at Myrdal I returned to Flam. The journey was mildly interesting and it would have been a little better had we not been travelling so quickly. I wouldn’t do it again though.
I am now back on the ship and the weather is glorious sunshine, it is 25/77 degrees and there is no wind at all, I am going to get cleaned up and then go for a beer or something similar.
Clearly we picked up the internet signal whilst moored at Flam, which seems quite ironic but one must be grateful for small mercies. I have just checked and I have to go to the theatre at 2.15 to meet up for the train. The ticket cost $95 so I think that I might check just how much they are at the station. I did just that and had a brief walk around the area, there really is not very much at all. There are numerous trains all day and the ones prior to 5pm are all sold out but tickets are available for the trains leaving after 5.25pm which might be a little tight if like us you are sailing at 7pm. An interesting fact was that the round trip ticket would be 360 kroner which equates to £40 or $65, so Celebrity are clearly ripping off their passengers, I had no choice but to purchase their tour ticket as no others were available online but it is still disgusting that they are able to do this blatant gouging. Some nominal load on the price would be understandable but 50% is ludicrous, and I imagine that they were able to get a good group discount on top of that profit. It isn’t as though they add any value to the train ride.
When I returned after my brief visit ashore I went to the sauna and once again was on my own, but I managed ok. Afterwards I sat on deck 12 again and listened to some more of my book, if only my Spanish lessons were on there I wouldn’t feel so idle. A couple in their late sixties walked past me heading to the solarium/indoor pool, she was dressed in a little crimplene number and he was wearing the almost obligatory baseball cap, a close fitting tee-shirt and my favourite cropped trousers. He was carrying a Celebrity tote bag and was wearing sandals over some very stylish black ankle socks. I wonder where they were from!
I thought that I should have a light lunch as I was going out so in the back of my mind was a cheese sandwich made with one of those very tasty little baguettes from this morning, sod’s law meant that they had all been eaten so I just grabbed a turkey sandwich which tasted of nothing, a cup of coffee and I was ready to go. I was sat close to the ice cream counter and thankfully there was a long queue that never seemed to diminish so I didn’t have any. On my way up to the buffet a lady was telling me that she had purchased tickets for the railway this morning from the station and that she was getting on the train at about 6.30pm, we are scheduled to leave at 7 this evening and when I mentioned this to her she was unconcerned. She said that she had spoken to “someone” who had told her that the ship would wait until the last train was back before it sailed. I think that she may have misunderstood as I am sure that the ship will only wait for trains with passengers that have purchased ship’s tours. There was no telling her though and realistically Bergen is quite close by if she needs to make her own way there.
I chose to have a couple of glasses of Gavi di Gavi La Scolca again and it was delicious, light and fruity. A bonus was that I was near the end of the bottle so the barman gave the last glassful to me for nothing. Dinner was very nice but after my abortive Mexican meal I just had Seafood Bisque, a veal Carpaccio followed by a Caesar salad, all very light and doubtless by 7am I will be starving. I wasn’t late to bed as my day of inactivity left me quite tired and I was anticipating rising early viewing the ship arriving at Flam.
Today is Wednesday July 18th and the time is 5.25am, we are sailing at 15 knots along the Sognefjord, the sun is shining brightly and the sky is blue. I feel a song coming on! I think that it would be fairer to say that the part of the sky that isn’t close to the cloud topped mountains is blue! But is an attractive sight nonetheless. Our arrival time has been brought forward to 9am which will allow us 10 hours here. The sides of this fjord are less rocky than Geraingerfjord and are covered in trees. This fjord is 110 miles long and fortunately our destination is like a side road off this big road which is called Aurlandsfjord which has Flam at its head.
I was correct when I predicted that I would be hungry this morning but it doesn’t really do me too much harm in the grand scheme of things. The Sognefjord has sweeping twists and turns like a Tom Clancy novel. It is a chilly 9/48 degrees as the water on the fjord is in almost constant shade by virtue of the green lumpy bits either side. My geology lessons seem to be paying off I think!
I went up on deck and already the squeak squeak squeak of trainers on a wet deck can be heard on deck 14 as the power walkers strut their stuff. The decks are wet this morning courtesy of some Norwegian sunshine that must have fallen overnight; it is quite pleasant out there though and feels a lot warmer than the measured temperature. Despite the width of the fjord there is currently no satellite access which is a bit of a pain as I have business that needs attending to, there is nothing to be done other than to keep trying to connect.
I am down on deck 6 in the iLounge just checking that the connectivity problem is ship-wide and not just me which it is, I thought that you might be interested in internet costs or charges on Celebrity. The basic charge is $0.75 per minute which reduces to $0.48 with the purchase of a 208 minute plan and then to $0.24 per minute if a 1666 minute plan is bought. That is 27 hours of connection though, so I don’t know how long a cruise you would need to be on to take full advantage of those savings!
I had a cup of coffee in the buffet just now and the section in which I was seated holds about 350 people and there were 5 of us sitting there as it was still early. A 30 something lady in a cardigan arrives and selects a large round table with circular bench seats that would comfortably hold 10 or 12 people; there is the remnant of a previous occupant’s breakfast on the table which consists of a napkin and a plate and cup. She is joined by her husband and they proceed to discuss this at length with each other and eventually decide to sit at an adjacent unsullied table which is identical apart from having chairs rather than a bench and being marginally smaller. I wondered quite what was so special about the first one, maybe it had tonight’s lottery numbers hidden on it somewhere. People are strange aren’t they!
I had breakfast while I was there and I was tempted by the freshly baked crispy baguettes which I combined with warm hard boiled eggs. It was a little bit odd for breakfast perhaps but tasted delightful. After breakfast I went out on deck 14 and took a lot of very nice pictures, they were of waterfalls, clouds and ripples and were all quite arty farty! I have just been transferring them to my laptop using Picasa and have lost them all; I am so annoyed with myself because it isn’t that difficult a task. I have looked everywhere but they have gone. The trials and tribulations of the struggling artist!
We are now heading along the final branch of the fjord towards Flam, the time is 8.10am and we have less than 3 miles to go. We arrived a little after 8.20 and found that Holland America’s Rotterdam was already at anchor leaving the berth free for us. We stopped and are currently turning around and will soon move across to the quay, put our lines ashore and make the ship fast. Once again the stern lines were shot ashore and then dragged while the bow lines were physically collected by two men in a little boat. Hmm, another book there maybe! I have a ticket for a tour on the famous railway leaving at 2.30pm this afternoon so I have a free morning. The entire village looks like a jigsaw picture and has lots of wooden buildings and looks so very quaint and pretty. The railway station is less than 100 yards from the ship so it should be an easy journey. There is even a small supermarket on the dockside.
It has warmed up slightly and is now 13/56 degrees, we are sheltered from any breeze by the surrounding mountains and the sky is cloudy. There is a slight chance of rain according to the forecast.
We pushed off the dock at 4pm and are now sailing out along this very large fjord, the Crystal Symphony was also visiting Molde today. The clouds have returned with a vengeance and despite the 12/54 degree temperature it feels very much colder than that. The port lecturer, Chris, is giving a very tedious sail away spiel over the tannoy system. His chat includes cement storage towers, hotel details including the number of rooms and bars, and how being a weather forecaster in this town would be the most difficult job imaginable. I gave up at this point and came in from the balcony but he persevered and blathered on for at least 5 more minutes. I don’t really understand why they have him do this as it seems that he is just reading a prepared text.
We are heading for Flam which I am reliably informed is pronounced “Flomm”, it has been on my bucket list along with Gerainger for some time. I don’t believe that it is a long trip but for some reason we don’t arrive there until 10.30am tomorrow morning. The major attraction is the Flam Railway which is quite famous and is the only organised tour that I am taking on this cruise. The scenery as we sail west along the north shore of this fjord is quite pleasant now that we have left the town behind; green fields and cloud topped hills are plentiful.
It is 6pm and we are back in the Norwegian Sea and we are making 17 knots through moderate seas, I am going to Cellar Masters wine bar for pre-dinner drinks as I have some credit to use up on my wine machine card.
I visited the internet centre and discovered that there was satellite service so I returned to my cabin, collected my laptop and went back to find out what was causing the problem. The connection worked in the office and I enquired of the technical man whether there had been or were Wi-Fi problems on the ship currently. He was a different guy to the one that I spoke with the other day and I think that he must work very cheaply because he was as dumb as a bag of rocks and my simple question floored him. Losing the will to live I smiled at him, thanked him and left him to it. I thought that it was time for a coffee and went to the buffet which was jam packed with morose looking people who wanted to go for a walk to a museum, church or shop or perhaps all three but were prevented from doing so by the weather. It is only 9am so there is still a chance that it may clear up but it really doesn’t look very likely to me.
After the coffee I went to the spa and had 30 minutes in the sauna on my own, then I sat in the cool air on deck 12 and was looking through the windows as some buses arrived to take some passengers off on tours, they all looked as though they would rather be doing something else. Norway has a very high suicide rate apparently and looking out this morning in this town I think I understand why.
The rain has stopped and some of the clouds have been replaced with blue sky, it is only 13/56 degrees but that is a great improvement over earlier in the day. I have just had a little Mexican food for lunch and it wasn’t as spicy as it has been which is disappointing, probably prepared by a different chef this morning.