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An Arctic Cruise

See also:

 - Photos from Arctic Cruise 2008

 - Full slideshow | Favourites slideshow | Panoramas

 

We've never been on a cruise before and certainly not been further North than Scotland. We're also not really into hot places, so an Arctic Cruise seemed differently perfect.

Monday 28 July 2008

Taxi to Gatwick, plane to Amsterdam and bus to the quay and the Century ship. After much checking-in palaver, we were off, out of the harbour and into the North Sea. Much wandering around and wondering what was where. Nice cabin. The ship was refitted a couple of years ago and is in excellent condition.

Dinner in the Grand Restaurant (very Titanic setting) was excellent quality. We are at a table of eight, six of whom work in education. The other two are lovely Japanese people who struggle with English (better than my five words of Japanese, though).

Then sit out at the pointy end of the boat, watching the sun set over passing ships. With a calm sea, we also went past a strangely silent wind farm.

Tuesday - At sea

Good sleep. All at sea today, with beautiful weather all day. We found a short-cut to the outside restaurant at stern, where we had breakfast whilst watching the wake and thankfully-calm North Sea. Then pretty much stayed there for the rest of the day, reading and sipping drinks. Had an occasional wander to explore. It's strange how swimming pools attract people. Few swim but many crowd the sun-loungers. This was fine as it kept our end of the ship quiet. Others also found the odd corner to relax away from the madding crowd.

Formal dinner in the evening, with fancy dress and zoot suits. Brought a real bow tie. Failed to tie it so downgraded to an ordinary stripe.

Wednesday - Alesund

Awoke to mournful foghorns and zero visibility. Creeping into Alesund, the quay was just visible. Just across the road was the Art Nouveau Museum. Not a huge amount there but some pleasant pots and interesting video shows. Strange head-in-the-sand statue outside.

Meandered around backstreets, finding glassblowers and fishing area. Then into town for coffee and mapamatics as the fog burned off, past a strange sign and an oddly-named bank.

Next down to the bus station where we were fortunate to catch a bus just about to go out to the folk museum at Sunnmore, where there's old boats, old buildings (spot Eleri) and a jolly nice view and an interesting reflective circle.

Met a couple there from the boat and shared a taxi to the top of Aksla hill where there are absolutely fabulous views across Alesund and wonderful panorama or two around the bay and islands, with views down to the waterfront and the ship. Posed to prove we wuz there. Then down the steep 400+ steps back into town (really grateful not to have had to climb them!). Snapped stationary-flying birds on the pretty quay, where Eleri snapped me snapping. Ship handily very nearby (spot Eleri again). Leaving Alesund (sadly), the local fire boat kindly put on nice squirty display.

Thursday - Into the Arctic

All at sea today. Looked for the Arctic circle as we passed it. Saw something in the water, but it wasn't dotted.

Spent the morning reading in the comfy chairs in the library. Then meandered around annoying people by taking photos. There's many eating and drinking, inside and out (if you're on a diet, don't go on a cruise). There's also a full-scale casino and assorted retail opportunities around a central atrium, including some serious art. For those less ready to part with their readies, there are assorted free competitions, demonstrations and lectures.

In a bright and endless evening, we sat out and sipped coffee as the Arctic Norwegian coast slipped by. Definitely getting nippier now...

Friday - Alta

We're absolutely pooped, having walked nearly 12 miles today! After arriving in Alta in cloudy but dry weather, we decided to first stroll into town (about an hour). The centre is a big square with modern buildings, with several sensibly internal shopping malls. Nice statue, but that's about there is to say about it.

Alta is a long coastal straggle and the museum is at the other end (another hour or so's walk). Many flowers were out and one smelled lovely. Caught a solar eclipse (here's detail) just as we arrived at the museum. Great panorama of the bay there.

Lovely meadow flowers (and more) out on the way down to the paintings, which included a picture of the very first railway, an alien invasion and, even scarier, a Norse invasion. Then continued stroll down across the bay, including a pause at an old boat that posed nicely for a photographed.

Then looong walk back, including diversion down to the sea front. The airport is just behind the dock but an aircraft taking off managed to miss the boat ok.

Finally a well-earned dinner, a stroll around the decks in freezing wind admiring the fiord views, go to the movies and so to bed.

Saturday - Honningsvag

Up at 6am to see the mist-shrouded North Cape as we reach our northernmost latitude (at a tad over 71 degrees) and as far North as Europe goes. Just 1700 miles of sea and ice to the pole. Here's proof Eleri was there, plus a dark panorama.

Lazy breakfast then into Honningsvag, with its colourful houses. After yesterday's exertions we've planned a quiet pootle around the town, but still ended up tired after a six mile stroll, mostly in the rain. We noted that the latest games were occupying teenagers whilst their parents indulged in other curious pursuits. Along the way we passed fish drying in the rain and some optimistic houses with sun decks.

Then wandered around one side of the harbour to snap a panorama, then bought some souvenirs and headed around the other side of the harbour for another panorama.

Thus exhausted, we returned to the ship to eat, read, go to a piano recital and sleep. It's a hard life.

Sunday - Tromso

Woke up at 7am to find ourselves already in Tromso, with blue skies and a glorious view and wide panorama.

We docked a couple of miles East of the centre and decided to take the shuttle bus -- a good move as the road in is unexciting. It was Sunday, which means all but a few shops are closed, so we headed for the interestingly-designed Polaria centre. It is not big but has a beautifully-photographed five-screen introduction movie and a good-sized seal tank with a number of elegant seals.

Then meandered into town via a splendid bus-stop scene, the famous Mack brewery and some artistic graffiti (with a slightly rude addition). The wooden cathedral was delightful though closed to tourists on Sunday, so we snapped it and wandered on past traditional shops, colourful dock buildings, chaotic trawlers and some mad arctic divers.

The antique cable car up the mountain is well-worth the queuing as the view over Tromso and the broader panorama is breath-taking. You can walk for a long way up there or add to odd stone towers but with limited time we scooted back and visited the beautiful Arctic Cathedral, with it's striking architecture, simple interior, with a huge (largest in Europe) stained-glass window.

Strolled back over the bridge and caught bus back to ship for relaxation and dinner. Nice evening so photographed panorama of midnight sun, which was about as dark as it gets in the Arctic in the Summer.

Monday - At sea

A day on the boat, but not without more glorious sights. After dodging in and out of islands, with wide panoramas at sea then into higher land. We went through a narrow passage and down a stunning fiord and right up to a glacier. Got another photographer to take pic of us there.

Then weaving through more beautiful scenery under blue skies, past an odd edifice high on a fiord-side mountain. Some passengers dozed through it all whilst others competed for the biggest camera prize.

past the Arctic Circle marker/monument and through more passages and panoramas until we reached the open sea. Another midnight stroll on deck under a big and beautiful sky.

Tuesday - Molde

Awoke to clouds and Molde. Clouds not too low (can see mountains) but blue skies are gone. Saved cost of ship excursion by sharing taxi up to the top of Mount Vaden behind the town. Nice coffee in summit café, then after a photo at the cairn and of us and a more attractive view, we walked down the easy track, complete with nice vistas.

Molde is a nice little town, with a link to roses that appear around the town and even in a statue in the main square. The 'cathedral' has an interesting tower and an unexciting interior.

We ate cloud berries from a stall and fed sparrows before returning to the ship. More nice evening skies.

Wednesday - Olden

Awoke to rain and grey skies. Uh oh. Then it cleared up and we strolled the shores of the fjord, with another lovely panorama, and then around the surprisingly delightful Olden village, with its old church with original interior that separated men and women.

 We had booked our only excursion of the trip here -- to the Briksdalen glacier. So on the bus and up past beautiful scenery, stopping at a placid lake along the way. Strenuous but glorious walk up from the car park, past rushing streams and raging torrents to the glacier itself. You could approach it up close by walk or water where its huge size and blue hue could be appreciated. Posed for the obligatory photo.

Caught rainbow at the falls on the way down, where Eleri looked for the pot of gold at the rainbow's end and there was a nice arch across the road. Not to be out-done, the glacier-green lake lower down managed its own rainbow in a quick burst of late rain.

Thursday - Bergen

Last day out! Bergen gets well over 200 days of rain per year, so we were lucky just to have cloud as we steamed into harbour

First action was up the funicular to avoid the crowds. Stunning panorama of Bergen including views down to the harbour and our ship and the interesting centre.

There is an odd fascination with trolls everywhere, with shelves full of them wherever you go, including at the outlook shop. In the whole trip, I never saw anyone buy one. So we hugged a big one and left.

Early in the city, we wandered backstreets, past the simple cathedral and strange leprosy museum to a quiet bakery where we sipped strong coffee and fed the sparrows.

Then on into town, past the obligatory Irish Pub and skilled street artist. In the centre there is a wide plaza with a memorial at one end. A splendid bronze vagrant sits at the base of the steps of an old bank, opposite the busy fish market.

A few steps away is a quiet garden with a round sculpture and flower-encircled bandstand. There's also a large lake with curious fountains by the mostly-modern art gallery, where we also saw a curiously-named bus. There's a splendid panorama around the harbour and around to the old Bryggen front, where the old houses have been done up and turned into a tourist trap, complete with narrow, boarded streets that are strangely reminiscent of San Francisco's Pier 39.

Then back past the tall ships (big race tomorrow!) to the Century and a narrow squeak under a road bridge as we exit Bergen. Then the penultimate round of big dinners, dancing girls and glorious sunsets.

Friday - at sea

Last full day. Sigh. Various administrative stuff including farewell to staff and our hilarious Greek captain ('Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen! This is your captain speaking, from the bridge.')

Bags packed by the end of the day.

Saturday - home

Arrived in Amsterdam. Farewell, Century!

Uneventful journey home other than having travelled by boat, plane, train, car and foot along the way.

 

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