Friday, 2 January 2015

I have been to … Belgium, Denmark, and Norway

Over Christmas Sue and I went on a week-long cruise that took us to Zeebrugge (from where we went to Brussels), Copenhagen, and Oslo. It was the first time we had taken a Christmas cruise that wasn't to the Canary Islands and Madeira or the Caribbean.

Saturday 20th December 2014: Southampton
As it was the first weekend of the Christmas school holidays and the last weekend before Christmas, we decided to set off as early as possible in order to avoid any potential delays to our journey. We set the alarm clock to wake us at 6.00am, and after getting dressed, eating breakfast, and loading the luggage into the car, we set off for Southampton at 8.15am. Despite the traffic being slightly heavier than expected, we reached the M25/M3 junction in just over an hour.

Our progress towards Southampton was slowed by a 50mph speed restriction on the M3 due to roadworks … even though no work appeared to be taking place! This speed limit seemed to go for miles, but eventually it ended and by just after 10.00am we were able to stop at the service area outside Winchester for a coffee and some breakfast.

Our break lasted for about thirty minutes, and by 11.00am we were driving into the luggage unloading area at the Ocean Terminal in Southampton. A porter unloaded the luggage whilst I booked our car in with the valet parking service. Sue and I then made our way to the priority check-in desk, passed through the much-improved security checks, and made our way aboard P&O's Arcadia. The whole process took less than thirty minutes, and just after 11.30am we were seated in the upper tier of Meridian Restaurant enjoying a glass (or two) of complimentary champagne.

At 1.25pm we were informed that our cabin was ready for us and we made our way there. None of our luggage had been delivered to our cabin, but a quick search of the pile of suitcases and bags by one of the nearby lifts showed that three of them had reached our deck. I took them to our cabin, and the process of unpacking began.

At regular intervals I returned to the growing pile of luggage that was awaiting delivery to the cabins, and by 2.15pm I had found the remaining two and conveyed them to our cabin. As it is difficult for two people to unpack at the same time, I had the opportunity to go out on to our balcony to take some photographs. Southampton Docks were much emptier than usual but alongside the military port at Marchwood I could see the Anvil Point, one of the Point-class military transport ships.

By 3.00pm we had finished unpacking and went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a drink and a snack. We returned to our cabin in time to collect our life-jackets before going to the compulsory safety briefing. Once that was over we went up to the Aquarius Bar to take part in the sail-away from Southampton. We stayed there for about thirty minutes, but it eventually became too cold to be comfortable and we returned to our cabin to rest and get ready for our evening meal.

We went to East Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and a few minutes before 8.30pm we joined the queue of passengers who were waiting outside the lower tier of the Meridian Restaurant. We did not have to wait too long to be seated and by 8.40pm we were sat down and talking to the six people who will be sharing a table with us for the duration of this short cruise.

After dinner we were both feeling rather tired, and decided to return to our cabin to get ready for bed. Before falling asleep I managed to read the first chapter of the second of Antoine Vanner's Dawlish Chronicles, BRITANNIA'S REACH

Sunday 21st December 2014: Zeebrugge, Belgium
Because we had booked a coach trip to Brussels that was leaving Zeebrugge early in the morning, we set our alarm clock to ring at 6.30am. We were therefore able to see Arcadia sail through the outer harbour entrance of Zeebrugge harbour as the first rays of light were appearing on the eastern horizon.

Arcadia was moored by just after 7.30am, and once the usual formalities were completed, we were able to disembark at 8.10am. The coach left on time, and by 10.30pm it had reached the outskirts of Brussels. We then had a guided tour of some of the more important sites in the city, starting at the Atomium …

… and then moving on to the Royal Palace at Laken …

… with its famous 'Lion Gates' …

… and memorial to the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family.

Our tour then took us to the Triumphal Arch that joins the two wings of Palais du Cinquantenaire, one of which houses the Royal Army and Military History Museum (Musée Royal de l'Armée et d'Histoire Militaire) ...

… and the Royal Palace in the centre of Brussels.

We were dropped off not far from the Great Market Place Grand-Place/Grote Markt, which is dominated by Brussels City Hall (Hòtel de Ville/Stadhuis) ...

… and several other almost equally ornate buildings.

We walked past the Christmas tree outside the City Hall …

… down Rue au Beurre

… to the Exchange (Bourse/Beurs).

Because it was Christmas and the Winter Market (Plaisirs d'Hiver/Winter Pret) was on, most of the streets we walked along were lined with small market stalls, and these continued all along the Rue Paul Devaux/Pauldevauxstraat and Rue Sainte-Catherine/St-Katelijnestraat.

By far and away the largest concentration of stalls lined the Old Fish Market (Vieux Marché aux Poissons/Vismarkt) …

… and we spent nearly two hours in the area. (This did include an hour for lunch in a very nice little restaurant in one the corner of the Old Fish Market).

We bought several souvenirs and gifts from the stalls (including a small, camera-equipped, radio-controlled drone), and were quite heavily laden by the time we rejoined our coach back to Zeebrugge.

The journey back was very quite (almost all of the people aboard the coach were very tried and dozed for most of the ninety minute-long drive) and we arrived back at Arcadia at 4.15pm, just as the sun was beginning to set. At 5.00pm Arcadia's Captain – Captain Trevor Lane – announced that the ship was about to set sail, and by 5.30pm she was making her way out of the harbour entrance.

We managed to rest for a short time before getting ready for dinner. At 8.00pm we went up to East Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and at 8.30pm we went to the Meridian Restaurant to eat. We were somewhat surprised to discover that two of the people we had eaten with on the previous evening had decided to move to the 6.30pm dining slot, but their replacements turned out to be very pleasant.

We finally finished eating dinner just after 10.30pm, and after a short walk along the Promenade we went back to our cabin to sleep.

Monday 22nd December 2014: At sea
We both slept well and had not noticed that the weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight. When we got up, the sky was a leaden grey and the waves were very pronounced and caused the Arcadia both roll and pitch. This did not begin to improve until we were halfway through eating our breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant.

After breakfast we paid a short visit to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar, but it was too cold to sit there for more than ten minutes. We returned to our cabin and stayed there until 11.00am, at which point we went to the Palladium Theatre to listen to a talk by the guest lecturer Guy Caplin about Odette Sansom. She was a French-born housewife who joined the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and who operated in occupied Southern France until she was captured by the Germans. Despite being tortured and sent to a concentration camp, Odette survived the war and was awarded decorations by the British and French governments.

After the talk had ended at midday, we returned to the area near the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air. Although it had warmed up slightly it was still too cold to stay there very long, and we went back to our cabin to read until it was time for lunch. We had lunch in the Neptune Grill just after 2.15pm – followed by another short spell out on the open deck – before returning to our cabin to read and rest.

From about 5.00pm onwards we began to get ready for the first of the two formal dinners that took place during the cruise. Dinner was preceded by the Captain’s Gala Reception, which was held at 8.00pm in the area around the Neptune Pool. The Captain – Captain Trevor Lane – gave a 'welcome aboard' speech and introduced the ship's senior management team to the passengers who were attending the gala. Once the Gala Reception was over we went down to the Meridian Restaurant to eat, and after dinner we had a short walk along the Promenade Deck before going to bed for a much-needed sleep.

Tuesday 23rd December 2014: Copenhagen, Denmark
The passage round the tip of Jutland to Copenhagen was calm and restful, and Sue and I both slept well. We woke up at 7.30am just as Arcadia was turning around before coming alongside.

Arcadia moored at Langelinie, from where we could see the harbour entrance …

… in the centre of which is the Trekroner Fortress.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, Sue and I went ashore at 10.30am.

We decided to walk along the water's edge towards the centre of Copenhagen, and almost as soon as we began to walk we came across a statue that we refer to as 'The Not So Little Mermaid' …

… for rather obvious reasons! We then passed a number of other sculptures and monuments including a Polar Bear and cubs, …

… a memorial to the Danish hospital ship MS Jutlandia (the inscription on the memorial – which is in Danish and Korean – on the translates as '23 January 1951 – 16 October 1953. Denmark's contribution to the United Nations during the Korean War. This stone from Korea is given in gratitude by the Korean veterans'), …

… and to the Danish polar explorer Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen (1872-1907).

We skirted around a small marina, and saw yet another monument, the Sofarts Monument (a monument to the Danish Merchant Navy Seamen who lost their lives at sea during World War One).

We finally reached the most famous Danish statue, 'The Little Mermaid' (Den Lille Havfrue)…

… which was – for once – not festooned with tourists trying to have their photograph taken with the statute. (The Japanese and Chinese tourists seem to be the worst offenders, but on the day we were there the high tide made it impossible to reach the statue without getting very wet.)

Within the Churchill Park that surrounds one of the ancient fortresses that used to protect Copenhagen, we saw yet more monuments and memorials. These included the Ivar Huitfeldt Column, …

… a memorial to Princess Marie of Denmark (the wife of Prince Valdemar of Denmark and a politically active left-wing sympathiser during her life), …

… and one for King Frederik IX, who was King of Denmark from 1947 to 1972.

As we left the park, we passed the famous Gefion Fountain (Gefion Springvandet)…

… and the Church of St Alban, which is also known as the English Church.

When we reached the junction of Amaliegade and Esplanaden, we came across the busts of two Danish World War II heroes, …

… Wing Commander Kaj Birksted DSO, OBE, DFC …

… and Major Anders Lassen VC. MC (and two bars).

A short walk along Amaliegade brought us to the Amalienborg Palace. This consists of four main buildings around an open square, the middle of which is dominated by a statute of King Frederick V.

Members of the Danish Royal Life Guards (Den Kongelige Livgarde) were on duty around the palace square, and they looked very professional and impressive … as usual.

We continued our walk along Amaliegade until we reached Sankt Annae Plads, where we turned left, crossed the road, and then walked up Toldibodgarde. This brought us to Nyhavn (New Port), where Copenhagen's Christmas Market is located. Unfortunately for us it had stopped operating on 22nd December, and all but two of the stalls were closed.

By this time we were both feeling rather cold and thirsty, and decided go to one of the local cafés to buy some hot chocolate. It was delicious, and came with far more whipped cream than we could use!

From Nyhavn we made our way to Kongens Nytorv (King's Square), one side of which was dominated by the Hotel Angleterre and its wonderful decorations. These were based on the story of the Nutcracker, and featured toy soldiers fighting rats.

We had a cursory look around the Square, and then followed Holmens Kanal towards the Christiansborg Palace. Besides being the home of the Danish Parliament, it is the centre of the museum district of Copenhagen, and we hoped that we might be able to visit the Tøjhusmuseet (Royal Danish Arsenal Museum). The museum was open … and in due course I shall be writing a detailed blog entry about what we saw there.

After our visit to the museum we walked across to the Holmens Kirke, where we were able to catch the shuttle-bus back to Arcadia.

Once we had returned aboard Arcadia, we went up to our cabin to drop our stuff off before going up to Neptune's Grill for lunch. After lunch we went back to our cabin to rest and to read, but at 4.30pm we went down to the Promenade Deck to watch and listen to the Tivoli Marching Band.

They played a number of Christmas carols and tunes as Arcadia prepared to cast off from the quayside. Once the band had finished playing Captain Lane announced that everyone was back aboard and that Arcadia was about to leave Copenhagen for its next port-of-call, Oslo.

By 5.00pm we had returned to our cabin, and we stayed they until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink in the Intermezzo Bar. We chose to go there because it was the closest bar to the Ocean Grill Restaurant – one of the ship's fine dining venues – where we had a table booked fro 8.30pm.

As usual the food and service were excellent, and when we left the restaurant at 10.30pm we both felt rather full. After a short visit to the Promenade Deck went back to our cabin to get ready for bed. I finished reading BRITANNIA'S REACH (which is – by the way – an excellent book that has furnished me with lots of wargame scenario ideas!) and began reading Antoine Vanner's third book in the Dawlish Chronicles series, BRITANNIA'S SHARK.

Wednesday 24th December 2014: Oslo, Norway
Arcadia made a fast transit from Copenhagen to Oslo, and when we awoke she had already sailed up Oslofjord and was turning around in Oslo's harbour prior to docking.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went out onto the Promenade Deck … and were somewhat surprised to see that Arcadia had moored near the ferry port and not in the normal cruise ship berth next to the Akershus Fortress … and that there was snow on the ground!

As we knew that almost everything was going to close by 1.00pm, we got ready and went ashore as soon after breakfast as we could manage. We walked towards the centre of Oslo along Skippergata until we reached the start of the shopping area …

… and then down Karl Johans Gate

… until we reached the Flower Market in Stortorvet, on one side of which the Oslo Domkirke is located.

From there we walked along Grensen until we reached Lille Grensen. We turned down Lille Grensen, which took us to the Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament Building) which is located on Karl Johans Gate.

We walked along Karl Johans Gate towards the north west, passing Oslo University …

… towards the long slope leading towards the Norwegian Royal Palace (Det Kongelige Slott).

We returned down Karl Johans Gate until we reached R Amundsens Gate, where we turned right towards the harbour. We passed the impressive but rather ugly Oslo Town Hall (Rädhuset) …

… before making our way along Rädhusgata. This street is lined in places by some wonderful old buildings.

By midday we were back at the dock where Arcadia was berthed …

… and by 12.15pm we were in our cabin taking off most of our cold weather gear. After a warming drink in Spinnakers Bar, we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for lunch. Once lunch was over we returned to our cabin and stayed there until 2.45pm, when we went up to the Aquarius Bar to take a last look at Oslo before it became dark, …

… to listen to a short carol concert by the ship's choir, and to see Santa Claus (in reality a member of the engineering staff) appear at the top of the ship's funnel.

By this time Sue and I were both very cold, and we went back to our cabin to warm up prior to Arcadia setting sail for the UK at 5.00pm. From our cabin balcony we could see a very impressive illuminated tree that was in front of a building just across the harbour from the Arcadia.

At 7.00pm we went to the Palladium Theatre to watch a special Christmas show that was being put on by the Headliners Theatre Company, the ship's song and dance troupe. This ended just before 8.00pm and after leaving the theatre we decided to go to the Piano Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

After dinner we had a very short spell out on deck before going back to our cabin. When we got there we found P&O's Christmas presents to us, a small, re-chargeable cube speaker designed to work with mobile phones/tablets for me and a make-up bag and scarf for Sue.

Thursday 25th December 2014: At sea
It was still dark when we woke up at 7.30am, and it had only just got light by the time we entered the Meridian Restaurant to eat breakfast. We went straight from the Restaurant to the Palladium Theatre where Captain Lane conducted a Christmas Service of Seven Lessons and carols.

The service lasted for forty five minutes, which gave us enough time to have a short break before we listened to a talk by the guest lecturer Guy Caplin about the role of MI9 during World War II and particularly the man who invented a lot of the equipment they used.

After the lecture had ended at midday, we took a stroll along to the ship's shops and then on to the Piano Bar, where we had drink. We then visited the gingerbread village that had been made by Arcadia's chef.

As it was already well into the afternoon we decided to have a snack lunch, and went up to the sandwich bar located near the Neptune Pool. We both had a filled baguette, a mince pie, and a drink before going back to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to listen to the Queen's Speech on the ship's satellite TV system. Once that was over we continued relaxing until it was time to get ready for the formal Christmas Dinner.

We had a pre-dinner drink in East Bar before going to the Meridian Restaurant to eat. The dinner was traditional – game pâté, roast turkey with all the trimmings, plum pudding, mince pies, and port-marinated Stilton – and superbly cooked and served. We finally finished eating at 10.45pm, and felt a pressing need for some fresh air and a rest before going to sleep. Luckily the air temperature had risen somewhat as Arcadia had sailed south-west across the North Sea, and we were able to sit in the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar for some time before we returned to our cabin.

Friday 26th December 2014: At sea
After a good night's sleep we awoke to find that Arcadia was almost halfway across the North Sea. The weather was overcast but the air temperature was not as low as expected.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant Sue and I went to Reception to get a print-out of our on-board account … and were pleasantly surprised to see how little we owed due to the complimentary on-board credit we had been given by P&O. We then went to the Palladium Theatre to listen to guest lecturer Guy Caplin's third talk. This was about Airey Neave, and described his part in the defence of Calais and his subsequent time as a prisoner-of-war. It also covered Neave's escape from Colditz Castle and his role in the work done by MI9 to aid escapees and evaders.

The talk finished just before midday, and we went up to the Crows Nest Bar for a drink … but found that it was full to capacity. As a result we made our way down to the Neptune Pool, and had a drink there. We also ate a sandwich each from the nearby sandwich bar. Lunch over, we went back to our cabin to begin packing.

At 2.15pm we took a break to go to the Palladium Theatre where the Entertainment Staff and the Headliners Theatre Company were performing a variety show. Unfortunately the theatre was full, and in the end we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant – via the Future Cruise Desk – to have a snack. Once that was over we returned to our cabin to finish packing all but our last bag (this was put out for collection just before we went to bed) and to rest and read until it was time to get ready to go to dinner.

As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the East Bar and then went down to the Meridian Restaurant to eat the final dinner of our cruise. We had a very enjoyable dinner, and ended by saying our goodbye to the three couples with whom we had shared a table. We also said goodbye to the staff who have served us so well during the cruise. Once that was over we had one last breath of fresh air on deck near the Aquarius Bar, and then went below to pack our final bag before going to bed.

Saturday 27th December 2014: Southampton
Overnight Arcadia sailed though heavy weather in the English Channel and this delayed her arrival in Southampton. Arcadia eventually moored alongside the Ocean Cruise Terminal in Southampton an hour later that scheduled. We awoke at 6.30am and by 7.15am we were dressed, had packed our hand luggage, and were on our way to eat breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant. We then returned to our cabin to collect our hand luggage and coats before saying a final goodbye to our cabin steward.

By 8.15am we had joined the queue to go ashore, but our departure was delayed until 8.50am. Once ashore we collected our bags from the luggage hall, passed through the Customs checks, and by 9.20am we had picked up our car from the valet parking service and were driving out of the docks. Our journey home took just over two hours, and by 11.30am we had arrived home and unloaded the car.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful way to spend Christmas. May the smooth sailing be a omen of a good year ahead for the 2 of you.


  2. Splendid time indeed,I look forward to hearing about your Tojhaus visit too...

  3. Ross Mac,

    It was nice to see snow at Christmas for a change. (There was snow on the ground in Oslo and we had brief snow flurries on Christmas Day as we sailed across the North Sea.) Over recent years the places we have visited have tended to be warm (even hot!) and sunny.

    Hopefully the smooth(-ish) weather we enjoyed on the way back will be a portent of 2015 ... although there were some people aboard Arcadia who thought that it was very rough indeed.

    Sue and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year,

    All the best,


  4. Tradgardmastare (Alan),

    It was a splendid way to spend Christmas ... and I hope to publish a blog entry about the Museum at some point over the weekend.

    All the best,