Saturday, 24 July 2010

I have been to … Norway

My summer holiday from work began on Thursday … and early on Saturday morning my wife and I were on our way to Southampton to board P&O’s MV Ventura to cruise to Norway.

Day 1: Southampton
The drive down to Southampton took just over two hours, and we were pleasantly surprised by the speed with which our luggage was hustled away by a porter, the car was handed over to the parking service, and we were checked in and able to pass through the security system. In fact the whole process took less than thirty minutes from when we got out of the car until when we sat down in one of the ship’s numerous bars for a free glass of champagne and plate of filled rolls.

After listening to the obligatory safety lecture from the Captain, we unpacked and had just enough time to reach the Promenade Deck as the ship moved away from the quay. Our passage out of Southampton took us past the No Man’s Land Fort (a sight that I have seen so many times as I have sailed out towards the English Channel) …

… and then on to the Nab Tower.

Something that I had not noticed before was what looked like a smaller version of No Man’s Land Fort that was situated nearer to the Isle of Wight. I think that it is St Helen’s Fort, but I may well be wrong.

We then sailed towards the French side of the Channel so that the ship could pass through the Straits of Dover in the correct traffic lane, and as we went to bed we could see the lights of Boulogne very clearly to the starboard side of the ship.

Day 2: At sea
After a good night’s rest we spent the day relaxing as we sailed across the North Sea. Other than quite a large number of oil and gas rigs – some of which looked as if they were longer functioning – we saw little in the form of other ships except for the occasional rig supply vessel.

During the morning we attended an illustrated talk about the history of P&O. The lecturer – who is also the Deputy Cruise Manager – explained how the company developed from a shipping line with one ship that carried the mail from the UK to Spain and Portugal in the first half of the nineteenth century into being a major part of the largest cruise operators in the World. Of particular interest was the section about P&O’s ships during the First and Second World Wars. It was a P&O ship that carried a large part of the force sent to capture Tanga in German East Africa during World War I, and it was P&O’s Rawalpindi – which had been re-armed so that it could act as an Armed Merchant Cruiser – that took on the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau when they attacked the convoy she was escorting. He then moved on to the part played by two P&O ships during the Falklands War of 1982 – the Canberra (also known as the ‘Great White Whale’) and the Uganda. The former was used as a troopship, and carried 40 Commando and the Parachute Regiment south to the war zone, and the latter was used as a hospital ship.

After lunch I read a couple of chapters of a murder-mystery set in the period just after the Great Fire of London – THE FROST FAIR – as well as re-reading Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargames rules to make sure that I had a full grasp of the game mechanisms he used before beginning work on the latest draft of my INTERBELLUM wargames rules.

Day 3: Bergen
We arrived in Bergen to find that the weather was damp with low cloud and light rain, which is not surprising as this city gets rain on most days of the year!

This is the only place where we had booked to go on an organised tour … and it was called ‘Panoramic Bergen and Mount Fløien’. It actually turned out to better than we had hoped, considering that the weather. The tour of the city was pleasant, and we were able to stop a couple of times to take photographs of some historic buildings. The latter included King Håkon’s Hall …

… and the Rosenkrantz Tower.

The latter was built to defend Bergen from potential attackers, but my researches indicate that it was never used for that purpose.

We also visited the house built by Norway’s first Prime Minister before making our way to the lower end of the funicular railway that goes to the top of Mount Fløien. The lower boarding area looked like something from the film WHERE EAGLES DARE, as it was up a long tunnel cut into the solid rock and into which the carriage seemed to come at great speed, only slowing very abruptly for the last twenty or thirty feet.

Having reached the top of Mount Fløien, we found that the cloud was obscuring any view that we might have had over Bergen. It cleared temporarily for a few minutes, and during that break in the cloud we were able to get a reasonable look at Bergen from nearly 1,000 feet up … and very impressive it was.

We then made our way down – again by the funicular railway – and we chose to leave the tour at that point so that we could walk through the city for a while. We visited the fish market and were also able to visit to a few shops, but prices in Norway are even higher than in the UK, so our purchases were restricted to some postcards.

After our return to the ship we spent what remained of the day reading and catching up on our sleep, although we were awake in time to see the ship cast off and move sedately down the fjord towards out next destination … Flåm.

Day 4: Flåm
Our route to Flåm took the ship up the longest and deepest fjord in Norway; Sognefjord. Flåm turned out to be very small … in fact it was little more than a railway station – the terminus of the scenic Flåm Railway – a small railway museum, some gift shops, a couple of restaurants and cafés, and a hotel at the head of the fjord.

We decided to go ashore by tender and have a look round, but it began to rain quite heavily almost as soon as the tender left the ship, and by the time we reached the shore it was torrential. We spent some time looking in the shops, but there was little that appealed to either of us, and again our purchases were limited to postcards. The small museum that was attached to the railway station was much more interesting, and we spent some time looking at the various exhibits.

The fjord is different from those I have seen before as its sides are quite steep and rocky. Looking aft down the fjord I was reminded of those war films where British bombers were sent on suicide missions to bomb German installations in occupied Norway. One could almost imagine the roar of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines echoing along the fjord as a squadron of De Havilland Mosquitoes flew down it towards their target.

We spent the evening sailing back down the fjord. Because we are so far north it remained light until almost 11 o’clock and we could pick out various places along our route to Olden.

Day 5: Olden
Olden lies in one of the arms of Nordfjord, and is somewhat larger than Flåm. It has a small church and several shops, and is the centre of a farming community that produces milk and milk products.

The weather had not improved since we left Flåm, and it rained almost all day. Rather than risk getting too wet walking into the centre of Olden, we took the local sightseeing road-train (i.e. a small tractor unit and two covered-in trailer coaches). The hour-long journey went up one side of the valley the fjord is in and down the other side, and we were able to see – and photograph – the local scenery. This included an ancient stone bridge over the local river. The river was very high and flowing at great speed due to both the rain and the water from the glacier that is situated at the head of the valley. The glacier is, in fact, the largest on the European continental mainland, and had the weather not been quite so bad we might have visited it. We hope to return to Olden next year, and – if the weather is somewhat more clement – to visit the glacier.

I managed to spend some time finishing reading the Restoration murder-mystery THE FROST FAIR, and began to read Margery Allingham’s SWEET DANGER. This is set during the interwar era, and features her hero – Albert Campion – in a story about finding the rightful heir to a small Balkan kingdom called Averna. This reminded me that I still need to complete my map of Maldacia, and I hope to do some work on it later during this cruise.

During the evening we cruised back down Nordfjord on our way to our final destination in Norway, Stavanger.

Day 6: Stavanger
We sailed south overnight, and arrived alongside in Stavanger at 8.15 am. The weather was overcast, and there was some rain. This gradually moved away, and by just after lunchtime the sun was shining and the air temperature rose.

We went ashore during the latter part of the morning and went for a walk around the older parts of Stavanger. We saw – but did not enter – the Guards Museum. This is a tall tower that was built on the highest point in the old town of Stavanger, and it was used by the Town Guard as a lookout point to protect the harbour and to spot any fires that might threaten to spread and burn down the wooden buildings that made up most of the town.

After doing some window shopping, we visited the Stavanger Maritime Museum. This is housed in one of the older, wooden buildings by the quayside, and it dates from the period between 1770 and 1840. It is split into four floors, with the first telling the story of how Stavanger developed as a fishing and trading port. The first floor concentrates on the shipbuilding industry in Stavanger, and has numerous displays of shipbuilder’s tools and models of ships; it also has a reconstruction of a typical 1910 General Store. The second floor contains further reconstructions, this time of a shipping office dating from 1977 and a typical Stavanger merchant’s home from the nineteenth century. The attic houses a reconstruction of an old sail loft. This is a delightful small museum, and is part of the larger Stavanger Museum.

We returned aboard in time for a later lunch and then spent a couple of hours relaxing in the sun before going below to our cabin. I then got ready for dinner after spending an hour or so working on the draft of an interwar version of Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargames rules, and I hope to continue with this project tomorrow.

Day 7: At sea
The weather remained overcast during most of the day, but the sun did manage to break through occasionally. The temperature was warm enough for us to sit out on deck for some time, and I managed to finish reading SWEET DANGER.

I was able to do some work on my interwar version of Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargames rules, but the need to begin packing our luggage so that it could be collected ready for tomorrow’s disembarkation meant that I was not able to do as much as I had hoped, and the draft remained unfinished.

Day 8: Southampton
We awoke to find that we were already moored alongside in Southampton, and after packing our hand luggage – the majority of our luggage having already been collected overnight and sent ashore – we had our last cooked P&O breakfast of the voyage.

The drive home was uneventful and took just over two hours, despite it being the first weekend of the school Summer holidays when road traffic is usually very dense.


  1. Sounds like a neat trip! Bergen is one of my favorite cities in Norway. . . especially when the rain and fog lift. Kind of magical then.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes Schwartz

  2. Stokes Schwartz,

    We hope to go back to Norway next year ... and that it is not quite so wet when we are there!

    Bergen and the other places we visited seemed to have a lot to offer, but most of it seemed to be in the open. If the weather is half as good as it was in Stavanger this year, my wife and I will have a great time exploring Bergen, Flam, and Olden on foot.

    All the best,