Winter Wonderland

Cheesy title but very apt! And I have the photos to prove it!
We set sail from Liverpool on a damp and drizzly November afternoon and two – no, almost three days – later docked in a town called Ålesund, just above the lumpy, expensive bit of Norway. We felt quite at home here:
church       fishnchips
mango     prettywoman

Don’t know whether this fisherman, sitting here


like a little garden gnome,  just happened to be here or he’d timed his visit to try and sell us some fish for tea.

Ålesund boasts some beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and was a gentle introduction of things to come.
But before all that, on Nov 11th the Cruise Director led a Remembrance Day Service invited us to join him to float a wreath of poppies out onto the ocean to remember all those who perished in the 1914-18 war. There is a great community spirit on board this ship – as the captain reminded us every day in his report,  you’re exposed to many dangers at sea and you must be able to depend on each other.
Onward and northward, but before we reached our next destination I had a chance to wander round our home for the next two weeks – the impressive cruise liner ‘Boudicca’.
A few specs: she has 462 cabins, length 205 metres, beam 25.20 metres, has a maximum speed of 18.5 knots, can accommodate 880 passengers and 364 crew and in charge of all this was Captain Lars Juel Kjeldsen, a Dane with a great sense of humour and whose intonation seemed to go up and down as much the ship. Most of the crew were from the Philippines and I didn’t envy the ones who had to brave the icy wind to paint, clean, drop or weigh anchor and do other ‘shippy stuff’ to maintain this immaculate vessel.
crew1 tiedup
We awoke on our 6th day on board to a view of Tromso, a bigger more industrial looking place
but where I would get the chance to do what I was most looking forward to – go husky sledding! dogs4We travelled to the Wilderness Centre to meet the dogs – all 300 of them, chained to their kennels on stilts, each with a flat, snow covered roof which they love to sit on – each sled had eight dogs – smaller than I’d expected but these were the marathon runners of the husky world. The lead dog is female (naturally!)  and as soon as they saw us they set up howling and barking in unison – excited to be off!!
dogs1They are very competitive animals and s they pulled us along – 2 people to a sled, plus musher of course, they tried to overtake each other whenever they could. Our musher ran alongside on the slightly uphill, straight bits –  to keep warm – or so he said! As we rounded the last bend the view was breath taking – a beautiful lake edged with snow capped mountains bathed in a surreal pink glow (it was around 11 am by then – must be the sunrise!)
dogs3That evening we had a taste of the indigenous Sami culture at a concert held in the Arctic Cathedral, a church whose exterior is reminiscent of the Sidney Opera House and whose interior boasts a striking triangular stained glass window.
The acoustics were exceptional and allowed us to enjoy the haunting sounds produced by just three people –  a female vocalist, a flautist and an organist.
By now we were experiencing minus zero temperatures and still going north. In Alta, which is about as far north as you can go in Norway , it was -9º and we were about 250 miles inside the Arctic Circle – brass monkey territory and no mistake!
Why were we there? to see the Northern Lights of course! and did we see them?  We sure did. In fact, those who braved the freezing temperatures on deck saw them four or five times in various colours and shapes without needing to disembark at all, but I think I speak for most people when I say we relied on the ship’s photographer for some decent shots of them.
Nevertheless, we set off to a Sami settlement, togged up to the eyeballs in umpteen layers of thermals, equipped with cameras and tripods to see if we could capture the magic. Our trip organiser promised a roaring fire inside a lavvo (big Sami tepee type tent), lots of hot chocolate and cake and …there the promises ended! He wouldn’t commit himself any further, the lights being a natural phenomenon and a bit on the unreliable side) but the trip was a resounding success and we oohhed and aahhed at the changing shapes above us in the night sky – absolutely stunning! But I still didn’t get any pictures – frostbite – yes!
Without the shelter of this tent and the fire and hot drinks there would have been a lot of unhappy campers!
Of course, in between trips we had delicious food prepared for us on board
BritishNightas well as some entertaining demonstrations and lectures – the chef responsible for these vegetable carvings said he gets his inspiration from cartoons.
And to work off all that food you could – if you so desired – jog, go to the gym (funny! never found that!) learn to dance, play deck games or go for a brisk walk.
Bit of a head wind here!
No swimming though! There was a pool but it was empty – ‘elf and safety, see?

Thankfully, on day 10 of our holiday we turned south, heading for the Lofoten Islands – I was beginning to see that Norway has an awful lot of tiny islands, some inhabited and some just with a flashing beacon on them so your unsuspecting seafarer doesn’t bump into them in the twilight!
The bigger ones are linked by bridges or tunnels and there are brightly painted houses on many of them where the Norwegians spend their summer holidays.
Warmed by the Gulf stream the Lofoten Islands felt much milder and – stop press! we saw no snow there! We were back to plus 9º – positively balmy!
Our last port of call was Kristiansund, on the mainland, where again the temperature was allegedly 9º,  but it felt a lot colder. Kristiansund’s wealth is based on the oil industry – and even an oil rig looks attractive in that strange pink and orange half light they call sunset.
Our last excursion was along the Atlantic Road – a spectacular stretch of highway which was constructed to link island communities and financed by tolls (that’s tolls, not trolls!) We experienced it when the water was calm but photos show that it can be an exciting journey sometimes.
It also provided an interesting toilet stop! The door is built into this unusual wall and is quite difficult to see at first.
toilet2 The Norwegians are also very eco-minded and a long path built around the hillside at the ‘pit-stop’ is made from recycled rubber.
StaveCrossOn our way home we visited a stave church – a traditional wooden church which takes its name from the load bearing posts used in its construction. Our guide, pictured below was wearing wrist muffs she had had made from the  coat of her elk hound woven with sheeps’ wool which along with three layers of thermal underwear,  she said kept her toasty warm – a must here as the church is not heated – they attribute its high state of preservation to that – and hand out blankets to visitors instead!
It was a beautiful sunny day, the views across the nearby lake were stunning and to top it all, a sea eagle gave us a fly past – apparently, people get them in their gardens like we get robins or finches!
StaveGuide StaveLake
A tradition I love on board a cruise ship is the sailaway. People gather at the bow (or the stern, depending on which has the more interesting view)of the ship to watch as the crew cast off and we all take in the surroundings one last time.  The last images are of Kristiansund and the sunsets that I saw along the way. The captain informed us that the ship would be clearing the bridge in the picture below by a couple of feet – it’s a shame we couldn’t be on the ship’s bridge to see it !
sunset1    yellowboat