2010 - Norway
 

We had a pretty horrendous night in Harwich on Wednesday 28th July with nocturnal goings on in the room above us for several hours – keeping us awake at 2.00, 3.00 and 4.00 a.m.! 

The next morning we looked without success for some breakfast and then toured what little Harwich has to offer – seeking various greetings cards that we needed to send.  Finally, after having coffee and a panini in the one attractive looking café, we were delighted to be able to board the Discovery at 1.00 p.m.  We will not stay in Harwich again!!

At 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 29th, therefore, we sailed away on our cruise to Norway, Iceland and Greenland – which was also to take in the Faroes and Orkneys. 

The cruise dates were 29th July - 20th August (22 full days)

On the Friday the weather was very rough and we both felt rather ill which somewhat dampened our spirits when trying to take part in an Art Class and for Jill a Choir Rehearsal (although the latter did result in her feeling rather better).

An amazing surprise the previous evening was when we had discovered that all 9 people at our First Sitting dinner table (Table 60) were Christians!  Also there was the coincidence of coming across a couple we know from the U3A Walking Group – Tony and Diana – although they are only with us as far as Iceland.

Norway is a long, slim country – about 2,700 km straight around its coast but if measured around every inlet etc then that distance must be multiplied by 10!

Fish farming and farming for whale are very important.

The country became overflowed back in the time of the Vikings. 

We were visiting the fjord part of Norway where the major effects of glaciation are manifest.

Norway has spent massively on its infrastructure – financed by proceeds from oil.

Only about 3% of the country is farmed.  The soil is thin.

Norway was first inhabited in 9,300 BC.

The National Day of Norway is 17th May. 

Norway is a very relaxed country.

Trolls are very predominant – happy joyous characters that pop up everywhere.

 

FLAM

Saturday 31st July

We travelled up the Sognefjord which is the largest fjord in Norway – 128 miles in total. 

We only needed to cover 99 miles along the fjord to reach Flam – which was the first port of call on this journey through “Northern Waters”.   

Discovery was unable to dock at the Flam quay side as an enormous Dutch liner (which we had followed up the fjord) took precedence over us.  Therefore we were tendered ashore and after a walk around the small settlement (including a visit to the free Railway Museum) we went to the station where we had been told to meet our group at 2.30 p.m. for the train journey. 

The railway track had taken 20 years to build and was completed during the German occupation.

It is the steepest non-cog railway in the world and rises to over 800 metres at a gradient of 1:18.

From the station, our train went round the moraine and up the valley.  The glaciated valleys and waterfalls on either side of the track are absolutely beautiful.

We went past Lunden. Hay is dried on racks and soft fruits are grown.  The rail is single track for most of the way and there is a passing place for that coming the other way – a good place to take photographs!

We passed the odd sheep and goat farm before stopping for a photo shot by the large Kjosfossen waterfall.  There ethereal music greeted us complete with a water sprite donned in a wig! 

The railway leads up to the Hardanger Plateau which we had traversed by car on a previous trip to Norway.

There are 20 tunnels on the route, mainly dug by hand plus dynamite – each having taken up to a month for a single metre to be completed. 

At the top, we disembarked at Vatnahaisen (811m) for waffles and tea etc in the hotel there. We had about an hour in total at Vatnahaisen so we explored on both sides of the track and managed to get a photograph of the train winding its way between tunnels on the other side of the valley.

At almost 5.30 p.m. it was time to begin the hour long trip back towards Flam.  By now it was raining quite heavily which meant that it was much more difficult to take decent photographs through the train windows.

By the time we returned to Flam itself, the rain was quite heavy so we ran as fast as we could and managed to get on the first tender.  We arrived at the ship shortly before a rescheduled dinner – half an hour later than the norm. 

We were amongst the lucky ones – those who had not been fortunate to make it for our tender had to wait in torrential rain for about an hour because two of the three ship’s tenders had apparently developed mechanical problems and the one remaining one did not bring all passengers back to the ship until after we should have sailed!  The Captain subsequently delivered a very heartfelt apology over the tannoy – saying that he had never encountered such a bad day in 8 years of command and that the service had been appalling. 

After supper Jill edited all the Flam photographs.

 

ALESUND

Sunday 1st August

We arrived at Alesund at around 9.30 a.m. and took our pre-booked tour to two of the seven islands that make up this city area.  Since 1987, these have been joined by long undersea tunnels and by bridges since  – very impressive.

We had an excellent German-born student who had moved to Norway with his parents in 1999 and now is at least tri-lingual.  He gave us background on Norway generally and this area specifically.  He explained that healthcare had several 25 Euro band charges but that the total payable was capped at 90 Euros for any condition. 

Education is from 6 or 7 years until at least Grade 10 but goes on to grade 13 with options for Technical College-type subjects.  There is Kindergarten provision prior to the age of 6.

Student loans are available but 42% of what is lent is converted into a Scholarship post graduation.  The average income is 40,000 Euros whilst house prices average 300,000 Euros. 

We found prices high but he feels that disposable income is similar for Germans, Norwegians and Britons.

Our first stop was at Alnes and to a lighthouse with steep steps. Views were limited as it was still raining a little, with low cloud also.  Within the lighthouse there was an exhibition of the work of a famous Norwegian artist who is a friend of the Norwegian Queen – she has been to visit the area twice.

We moved on to a chapel dating from 1135 containing a beautiful carved reredos, and pulpit.  These had been made by a farmer’s son in the mid 18th century when the church was being restored.

The weather started to improve and we took a twisting, narrow road - to a lookout over the city of

Alesund and the surrounding islands.  It was magnificent!

We could see an overview of the whole city with some of the different coloured houses in its heart.  Over 800 houses were destroyed by fire in 1904 and the centre of the city had been rebuilt with the help of the German Emperor in the Art Nouveau style.  We were not familiar with this particular style but it seemed generically reminiscent of that we have seen in central Europe. 

Our bus then took us into this area for a short tour around the city before returning to the ship for lunch and then a lecture on photography!!  Never a dull moment.

Our impressions have been of a prosperous country that has invested North Sea oil revenue on its infrastructure and has a population that is well provided for. 

They seem to take real pride in their country and to make it clean, efficient and tidy which adds to its very real scenic beauty.

In the evening we ate at the Yacht Club with Brian and Ann – an Asian menu this time which was extremely enjoyable.

Following that we listened to Café Concerto Strings in the Discovery Lounge before managing to win a Discovery Pen in the Quiz!!!  We then went to the Carousel Lounge for the Theatre Group presentation.

We put our clocks back the required one hour and went to bed.