Cruising the Norwegian Fjords

One country I needed to cross off my list was Norway.  I’d been to the other Scandinavian countries and this was the only one I was missing.  When Chris booked a Fjord cruise for us, well, it was perfect!  It was a cruise we’d both wanted to go on and with a good deal – he couldn’t resist.  Travelling with an ex, of course, has a set of unique circumstances but not only is Chris my ex, but one of my closest friends and so we still really enjoy spending time together and doing one of the things we both love – traveling.   Since the divorce I haven’t travelled as much (except a really AWFUL trip to Iceland – that we never mention) and so I was really looking forward to getting away. 

The night before we left we dropped Sugar off at the new (fabulous) boarders and settled in to watch the best TV of the year – Eurovision!  That’s a whole post on its own.  We leisurely headed to Southampton the next day in time to board the ship around 3:00.  Even though I’ve cruised twice before, I don’t think I ever get used to how big the ship is.  When we first saw it, it was pretty amazing.  Since it was run by Norwegian Cruise Lines, I took for granted it was a Norwegian Cruise Line (duh!??!).  I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an American cruise line which made the ship even better – a cruise and a taste of home – perfect!  Chris got an unlimited drinks package in the cruise deal so we indulged in Pina Colada’s (non-alcoholic of course) and sat on deck in the lovely sun waiting for us to head North.  It really was a beautifully sunny day.  Its always fun and exciting to explore the ship.  Its like a maze full of restaurants, shops, arcades, and bars.  I always think I’ll never find my way around when we first leave, and by the end of the cruise you know where everything is.   This ship, The Jade, was FAR larger than the other 2 ships we’ve cruised on before.  It always takes me a while to acclimate to the rocking of the ship but I was pleasantly surprised that my sea-sickness was at a minimum during this cruise (except through some particularly rough sea).

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Our first full day was a day at sea.  I was fully prepared with a good book (what I THOUGHT was a good book), textbooks and notebooks full of study material for my final essay for one of my University classes that was due a day after I got home, laptop, tablet full of games, podcasts, and music.  I learned my lesson from being bored on the Marco Polo Ship.  This ship was excellent and was full of activities for all ages and things to do, but I was content to sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by.

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Our first port was Stavanger.  To be honest I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t do much research like I usually do before I travel and was just going to take things as they came.  We decided to do our old favourite – the hop on hop off bus.  They crammed us on like sardines for the first route of the day.  After a sunny day at sea the day before, it only took one look up to see that on this day we wouldn’t see a hint of the sun… and we didn’t.  We had LOADS of rain.  Off of the bus we took cover in an old church, which turned out to be a good choice.  It was ornate and the alter was unlike any I’d ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of old church alters after 11 years in England!). 

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We could only sit in the church for so long with so many other things to see so we braved the rain and headed out.  The village centre was pretty small so we just walked.  We looked at the market (full of tourist bait) and saw a circular building on a hill so we headed towards it.  At one point as we were sitting down for a rest, fortune smiled on me when I decided to see if there was a Pandora shop and there was one literally 5 steps from where we were sitting.  So of course, I HAD to get a charm for my bracelet (thanks Chris) and we continued on to the building on the hill.  Chris braved the cobbled street, but with my ankle I kept it safe utilizing the steps.  We arrived at the top to find… well… a circular brink building of no particular interest.  There was a plaque on it but neither of us knew why it was important – but there was a good view from all the way up there.  We headed back down the back streets just taking everything in. 

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Chris found where the bus stop was (I still don’t completely trust his sense of direction even though I REALLY should, 99.9% of the time he is exactly right and I am waaaaaaaay off).  We got on the bus and went and saw some older buildings…

**** I REALIZE I AM COMPLETELY VAGUE WITH THE NAMES OF THE PLACES WE’VE VISITED – IF YOU’D LIKE TO KNOW THE NAMES AND MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PLACES WE SAW, CHRIS BLOG IS GREAT WITH THE DETAILS OF THE TRIP – CHECK IT OUT (I’M REFERENCING IT AS WE SPEAK, UH, TYPE). ****

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We got back to the ship with a little time to look around.  Chris looked for some souvenirs and I walked down the street to take some pictures of the houses along the waterfront.  The tour guide said that the houses on that stretch of road keep their curtains open and have a lot of traditional decoration for people to see how they live.  I didn’t get that far down the road – it started to pour with rain again.

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As we sailed away there were people putting their heads out of their windows waving and waving flags.  It was a lovely send off!  We were headed to the fjords next.  This was one of the nights we ran into some pretty rough sea and even Chris suffered with some sea-sickness.  With such a big boat you could really feel it listing back and forth – it was a bit unsettling, but I never felt unsafe or in danger, just not my favourite feeling. 

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Nothing could have prepared me for the view that we woke up to in Skjolden.  We had an inside room, which means we have no windows.  Our first view is when we walk out onto the deck.  This day we walked out to this….

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When you looked up all you could see were cliffs, clouds, and green and when you looked down you could see…

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It was Norway’s National Day and there was a band and the village all came out to greet us dressed in their traditional clothing, handing out flags as we got off the ship.  It was a quaint, charming welcome!  There was no hop on hop off bus here, so we did an excursion from the cruise line.  We got on a coach and started the climb up the mountain.  Some of the roads were narrow, and looking at the sheer drop out of the window I had to remind myself that they do this all the time – still scary though!

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The church was closed to visitors because they were having services for the National Day.  The people were so friendly and patient with people wanting to take pictures of them.  When we got back from the excursion we still had half a day left, so we walked along the edge of the water to the village centre.  Everything was closed because of the holiday, but we got to see some traditional homes and just take in the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in a LONG time.  As we travelled, throughout the whole cruise, I can see why there are so many fairy-tales and folklore about trolls centred around this area – its magical!

It was so calming cruising through the fjords.  They are unlike anything I’ve ever seen and the water is like glass.  Waterfalls are every where you look.  There are little homes dotted along the coast line.  It makes me wonder how people live and thrive in such remote places, but part of me dreams of living a life like that.   The ship continued to impress with is great food and really entertaining shows. 

The next stop was Alesund.  This wasn’t a fjord, but a port town.  We got on the hop on hop off bus and headed up to the top of a very steep mountain.  We had clear skies and usually we’d do the whole route once and decide where to stop, but we didn’t know how long we’d have clear skies so we got off at this stop.  The view was breath-taking!  The top also had some old WWII bunkers, which seems like a pretty good place to have one, but it surprised me that even in this place there were effects of WWII.

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We got back on the bus and went and looked at an old church and the graveyard.  Even though it was a pretty big town, it still seemed pretty small and quaint. 

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We found our way back to the ship with only a minor disagreement (okay a bit of an argument) about directions and I only bring this up because although Chris STILL thinks he was right, well I think I am.  But, if the past is anything to go by Chris was probably right because it was all about how to get back to the ship. We went to a grocery shop to look at all the strange and usual food and to buy more chocolate than necessary.

When we leave the ports there are so many thing to see and beauty to take in.  You don’t know what way to look or what to focus on.

Next stop – Geiranger.  We had to amend the excursion because one of the roads that we were supposed to go on was still blocked with snow.  That didn’t matter, I knew the minute I took a step onto the deck we’d be spoiled with scenery no matter where we went.  We got on the coach and continued up another mountain with some of the most hairpin, sheer drop roads, I’ve ever experienced.  I just kept thinking – the driver knows what he’s doing.  And he really did.  We first stopped at a frozen lake.  The tour guide said, as we were getting out of the coach, “Don’t go far out its very deep and we don’t know how thick the ice is”.” Ummmmm, okay.  This Utah girl was pretty steady on her feet in the snow compared to some of the other people and the view was indescribable.  It was a frozen lake, but the sun was shining, and at the same time the fog was rolling in.  Beautiful.  The coach parked next to the snow bank so we could see how deep it still was.  One of the things that surprised me was that just when you think that there could be no more liveable areas, you’d stumble upon another house.  It is crazy some of the conditions the people live in.  I cant imagine it!

20170519_091335910_iOSThere are houses there!

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On the way down from the lake, we stopped to take pictures of the Geiranger Fjord.  It was spectacular (I’m going to run out of adjectives, I’m going to need a thesaurus soon!).  We went to the other side of the fjord and went to a road with 10 hairpin turns.  It was hairy at points!  We stopped at another look out where you could see the whole fjord and the seven sisters waterfalls.  Back at the port we stopped at the shop and tried reindeer jerky, took pictures with a massive troll and headed back onto the ship.  I went to find a coveted seat on the deck with the best view.  I finally got 2 seats at a table right by the railing and then had to go inside because it was such a nice sunny day that I was getting sun burned!  We were lucky on the trip that we had pretty great weather.  Several tour guides said how lucky we were and that the groups the day before couldn’t see the view for the fog/rain. Chris stayed out on the deck and got some pretty amazing pictures – its hard to pick just a few!

Our last stop was Bergen.  We didn’t have a great time at this stop.  Once again they packed us on the coach and that started things off bad.  The weather was kind of blah (but no rain which is VERY rare), and we were both tired.  We did the hop on hop off bus stop but there wasn’t too much to see that was very different from our other non-fjord stops.  We went to the fish market and I was determined to have salmon right from the sea and I had been hearing about Norwegian strawberries off and on and when Rick Steves suggested them I was sold!  Luckily at the market they had some and they were some of the best I’ve ever had.  I also tried Cloudberry jam.  After struggling through the tourist shops we stopped for fish.  I got salmon and king crab and Chris got cod (he thought that was a safe choice, little did he know they barely cook it).  It was okay but, I didn’t quite know how to get into the crab very well and the salmon was lovely but garnished with some strange things.  Needless to say it wasn’t the best money spent on the trip (and it was VERY pricey!!!!).

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The next day was our last day and was a full day at sea.  It was really relaxing.  Chris spent a lot of time on the deck but it was too cold for me so I spent most of my time that day (and really, anytime on the ship – in the library.  It had big windows and classical music playing quietly and it was super quiet).  It was Sunday and I was falling asleep working on my school work and I looked on the book case for ‘take one, leave one’ and saw a Book of Mormon so I read, in a pretty nice setting!  Well done to the people who thought to leave it – missionary work done!

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We were in constant awe of how long it stayed light at night!

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The last night they had a Broadway show and I loved it!  We were given a beautiful sunset and I loaded up on the last of the American bacon, self serve all you can eat ice cream cones, and unlimited pina colada’s.

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A great summing up of our time together on this holiday!

We got home to several text messages about work and University essays due – that was reality with a hard landing!  It was a really nice holiday.  I would HIGHLY recommend Norwegian Cruise Lines, by far the best I’ve been on.  The fjords are something that you wont regret seeing and wont ever forget.  I’m so lucky to have been able to go.  Let me just get sappy for a minute – Chris and I didn’t have a perfect marriage and we both have many regrets about things that happened during that time.  But one thing that I don’t regret and will never be able to pay back is the fact that Chris, quite literally, gave me the world.  The things I’ve experienced and the places I’ve seen have been a gift, that I’m forever grateful for. 

Luckily one of the perks of staying friends is that we can continue to travel together  – we’ll see where the wind takes us next!  

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Baltic Cruise 2014– Days at Sea, Kiel Canal–Germany, and Home

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Somewhere in the Baltic Sea

As we left Stockholm, we knew it would be quite a while before we were on solid land again.  I was lucky that on this cruise I didn’t suffer with travel sickness at all past the first day or so.  I took some great motion sickness pills for those first few days and then found I didn’t need them at all.  By now we knew pretty much every inch of the Marco Polo.  When you go on a cruise you get a daily newsletter.  On the newsletter it lists the activities for the day, the weather forecast, the daily drinks, the show for the night, and other little bits and bobs.  On the cruise we had a few channels on TV.  While we were away from any land it was CNN and BBC World.  Boring.  They did have a movie channel but played mostly older movies – so we didn’t have that to fill up our time at all.  To say we were bored on those last 2 days would be an understatement.  ALL of the activities were geared to older people (the general population of the cruise).  There was a craft class, but that cost money and I refused to pay for a class on the ship when I paid so much to be on the ship in the first place!  They had a very small swimming pool, surrounded by tables and chairs.  If that didn’t put you off swimming, the pool was sea water (Baltic Sea water – FREEZING), and the pool looked generally a big green and mildewed.  Up on the top deck there were 3 hot tubs but they were full to capacity when we went up there and I don’t mean to be mean, but the thought of hopping into a hot tub with the 60+ in speedo’s and the like didn’t appeal.  So any water related activities were out, any on board activities were out – so maybe we lounge in the sun?  That’s a great idea – if there were enough chairs, which there weren’t with some people taking 2 or 3 for themselves (and their feet and their food), and the ones tied up did us no good.  So that was out most of the time.  The first day Chris and I found a little seating area outside on our deck.  We started calling it the “Anti-Social” deck and would take a couple chairs down the steps and sit in silence – it was lovely.  Then some snotty ladies found out our secret and took over!  They always sat there and invited friends (how dare them!!!) thus taking our chairs and quiet.  When we did get chairs and took them down to our deck, they would *tut* and give us mean looks for invading their space.  We did play some Skip-bo (a card game) and an EXTRA long game of “war”.  We had books to read, games on the phones to play, LOTS of naps, and got up to date with our current events on CNN and BBC.  We looked forward to any mealtime (even though the food on a whole was rubbish).  One thing that was really annoying on this ship was the fact that they had meals at very strict times and outside of those times there was absolutely no food available (except the overpriced sweets at the shop on-board).  Not only that, but there was also no water available.  There was plenty of tea provided but the water machines were covered up and the cups put away.  The water in the rooms were safe but heavily chlorinated and so they recommended we didn’t drink it.  Our only other option was to drink the bottled water left in our room for £2.50. 

So for those days at sea we just tried to stay sane.  It was really difficult and wouldn’t care to do it again.  There were so, so, so, many things wrong with the cruise company (Cruise and Maritime Voyages).  It was one thing that we weren’t told about the general age of the passengers, but there were so many problems with the actual ship as well.  One thing we couldn’t fault were the wait staff and the cleaning staff.  They were professional and kind and had to put up with a lot of really mean passengers treating them like 2nd class citizens.  We actually spoke to the cruise director one night.  We were given surveys to fill out about our experience and thought we should talk to staff before we slated them in the survey.  The cruise director was very nice and did feel bad that we had had such a bad time on-board.  As we were walking away he said, “We hope you’ll cruise with us again!”  I replied, “Ummmm….. maybe in 40 years we will.”

One of the highlights on the itinerary was going through the Kiel Canal in Germany.  Most cruise ships are too big to be able to go this way, but we were just small and would be lucky enough to see this amazing sight.  I spoke to my boss, who is German, and he said it was a pretty neat thing to see so I was really looking forward to it.  The day we were supposed to go through the canal we got the daily newsletter and found that we’d be able to see this amazing sight… at midnight.  Chris and I weren’t the only ones who were disappointed with this – especially since it was a selling point on the cruise.  Chris and I decided we’d go to bed early (since there was nothing to do) and wake up around 3 or 4 to see the last bit of the canal and the lock at the end.  We woke up early and found there were some people on deck who had been up all night trying to see the sights.  We got some deck chairs and sat and looked and it proceeded to get foggier and foggier.  By about 4:45 AM the fog was so bad that I gave up and went back to bed.  At about 9:00 Chris came in the room and said that we were still on the canal.  They had stopped the ship to wait for the fog to lift, soon after I had gone back to bed.  This put us HOURS behind schedule.  When I finally got up I got to see the ship go in the lock and wait for it to even out and head back out.  Here are a few pictures we managed to get:

With the delay in the canal we were put quite far behind and instead of docking in Tilbury at 8:00 AM we got there around 12:00PM.  We had to be out of our room at 7:00 so needless to say it was a LONG morning.  I have never been so happy to see England (days at sea on a Cruise and Maritime Voyages ship will do that to you!).  We had to wait for our colour tag to be called, and I’ll tell you what, once the colour was called we were out of there, onto the coach to the car park and onto the motorway.  Until…… our check engine light came on and we had to wait for 3 hours for the RAC to come and tell us everything was fine and we could drive.  We finally got to get Sugar (who would have rather stayed with Julie) and headed home.  We finally got home safely.

How can I say this – the ports and the places we got to see and visit made this a trip of a lifetime.  The cruise company made it a trip of a lifetime we will NEVER take with Cruise and Maritime Voyages and the Marco Polo E.V.E.R again – ever.

But through all my complaining about the ship, I do realize how lucky I am to have gotten to see everywhere that we did.  I know how lucky I am to get to travel and to see places that most people just hear about.

 

TOP TEN OVERALL:

1.  Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia

2.  Eurovision Village in Copenhagen, Denmark

3.  The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

4.  The tour in St. Petersburg, Russia

5.  Video of Chris in Germany being scared by the thunder

6.  The song the children sang in Tallinn, Estonia

7.  The tour guide in Stockholm, Sweden

8.  Germany – just Germany

9.  The Old Town and Church in Tallinn, Estonia

10.  The outlying islands on our way out of Stockholm, Sweden

 

A last note on the ship and cruse line:

I cant state enough (although I have tried) how Cruise and Maritime Voyages are not cruise lines for the younger travellers.  There is absolutely nothing on their website about average ages.  Everything on-board from the entertainment, food, activities, games, rooms, outdoor spaces, tours, and staff are geared towards the 50+ age group.  I can understand that if you are in that age bracket it would be a nice holiday. But, if you are younger and have happened upon this blog because you are searching for information about Cruise and Maritime Voyages or the Marco Polo – think twice.  There are other cruise lines that do Baltic Cruises.  They might be more money, but there is a reason for that.  You get what you pay for and I would never recommend Cruise and Maritime Voyages to anyone young or old.