I had never longed to go on a cruise. I had heard about sitting at the captain’s table in evening dress,and the thought appalled me. Besides which it was posh a few years ago, & expensive so that precluded the very idea. Then came the vast liners that look like blocks of flats tottering along in the Solent. Unbalanced ugly edifices that give out huge amounts of damaging pollution apparently. Also I am sure I would get lost on board & can visualise myself wandering forever from deck to deck along gangways – a kind of modern ancient mariner, only a passenger. Then I went to Bilbao on the way to a few days break and that was a nightmare of booze fuelled people & hideous noise. Though I have definitely taken part in booze fuelled adventures in the past I found the limited escape routes a worry. This further put me off the idea of a cruise but I longed to see the Fjords.I asked around among friends of like mind. People I know had enjoyed this cruise and recommended the experience. The answer is to go on a small ship, if you can call just under nine hundred passengers small, and you can. So the decision was made. In part because one friend told me the food is wonderful and the Braemar sailed from Southampton so no airport is involved. The very thought of a large airport scares me, with my propensity for getting lost I always fear I may get on the wrong aircraft or finish up without my luggage in a strange country. Paranoia plays a part in many of my life choices.
When we arrived at the large warehouse – like waiting area I was surprised to see the number of Zimmer Frames on wheels and grey heads but delighted that no children were evident. We queued and spotted a few agreeable people that we thought we might cultivate – most of whom we never saw again. It was lashing down rain on a very disagreeable day & my heart sank as I visualised a wet cruise. In fact, we left the rain behind in England.
We sailed at 2.30 or thereabouts and dinner was at 8.30 so we built up a nice hunger -nobody told us that afternoon tea was served at 3.30. We bickered happily about who got which bed and drawer for a while then took a turn around the deck, found a kiosk and bought chocolate to sustain ourselves. We also discovered the library where people were reading and we saw on the table copies of the Daily Mail in miniature, two sheets instead of the usual big tabloid but as poisonous as ever. Humph! We agreed. Delivered by drone?
Dinner time came at last and we were shown to a table shared with a young couple and their exceedingly well behaved two children. We were assigned to this table for dinner for the entire cruise. We all said ‘good evening’ and after a day or two we exchanged names. They were from Bristol and we all did an enthusiastic appreciation of that city. He was a golf loving man who enjoyed his food as much as I do. Both of us checked slyly on each other’s portions. We liked them and would never have met them anywhere else. The food was excellent, in particular the seafood, haddock, kedgeree, & kippers for breakfast along with every other version of cooked & uncooked breakfast. and the service superb.
I dutifully got up for sunrise the next morning and wrote my daily epistle then the sun came out and we discovered the sun deck with its pools and Jacuzzi. We spent the entire day flat out on our backs resulting in extremely red fronts. On the second day I had given up any pretence of daily reports and gave myself up to the four meals a day & looking at stunning fjords.
It was fjords that we had some to see and our first sighting lived up to & beyond expectations. The size of these monstrous edifices arising from the water was hard to gauge, but the thing that I found astounding was the fact that trees grow on these near vertical surfaces right down to water’s edge, & not just conifers. A variety of trees a variety of greens, who knew this was possible? I had always visualised the dark dour green of conifers allied to the dark rocks, not so. And above, the skies with clouds in ranks like marching men, one collection of clouds after another, in serried ranks. To the sides were tiny houses set among the trees, isolated. How did they get to them? These people who lived there? Later, having thought some more about it, I think we decided that these buildings were hunting lodges – we still couldn’t figure access.
On both sides of the ship were these monstrous cliffs of dark rock and by now my friend felt she was needed as supplementary helmswoman so we went to the very front where we got the full benefit of awesome heights, nearly flat calm sea and stunning sky – a feast for all our senses. By this time most of our fellow passengers had retreated & a waiter came around offering hot chocolate, we declined and enjoyed our rapture of sight & though the wind had got up it wasn’t cold enough to see us off. In fact, we took the lift to the top floor(deck) and among reclining seats we climbed still further and a village had appeared with houses that looked like leggo toys with nice red roofs planted amid this gorgeous awe inspiring landscape. My friend declared that she would enjoy living in such a place – I didn’t mention the fact of isolation to this very London- centric companion. I expect many people feel drawn to this green land.
Our first day in port my friend went to scurry around the small town, I have never been a scurrying person, I favour a very gentle stroll with frequent stops. So I went on a coach expedition to look at a waterfall & a dam among other things, that included free coffee but no access to divine hi calorie cakes, as I had changed no money. I hid my chagrin and talked to the nice Yorkshire couple that I had met at breakfast. The woman who sat beside me on the coach began grumbling as soon as she got on the coach, she was on the wrong expedition she said. In fact, we had an agreeable conversation and finished up enjoying each other. Grumbling can be companionable.The tour guide was excellent & had a wonderful sense of humour, mocking civil servants and the system of government. He has ‘our’ sense of humour we agreed, meaning the famous English sense of humour the existence of which my non English friend denies, we know better. And when I complimented the guy on his jokes he told me that the Germans don’t understand his jokes at all, which made me feel privileged. He also explained that none of the rivers could be interfered with by law so that the countryside will retain its shape. Green ideas seem to have more provenance in Norway than here in England. Understandable when the tiny population is considered & the oil money of course. Also high taxes and high prices. We also saw nice grass covered roofs with goats munching on them, lots of abandoned farms & some glorious holiday homes. Some of us worried about missing our lunch and even I put on a mild short scurry back to the ship along with my erstwhile companion and her nice galloping walking stick both grumbling merrily. I think that one important lesson I learned on this cruise is that it is possible to enjoy the company of the most unlikely people. I expect she would agree on this.
We almost missed Bergen though we did see it through teeming rain. It began badly on the bus, a double decker with plastic over the open top. Plastic doesn’t work in this particular case & I found myself sitting in a puddle while being drenched with rain on my head. I complained loudly with vigour until we struggled down the stairs to get off at the art gallery. I was saturated and delighted to lurch into a café where we had very expensive hot chocolate. We waited patiently for the rain to ease it didn’t and after two hours we conceded defeat and went back to the ship. what we saw of Bergen looked enchanting with lovely buildings and I hope to go back to see it one day.
I am not sure if I will go on another cruise, I suspect I might, but was amazed at the nearly competitive way that passengers declared the vast numbers of cruises they had enjoyed. In theory it seems like the very way to write, but no, a rather lovely inertia prevails and though I enjoyed the cruise enormously, I realise that for me, this would never work and as I gained six pounds in eight days I feel that it could be dangerous for my health.
PS I lost the weight in a week by eating baked beans on toast & other un-enticing food.
The fjords are even more wonderful than I expected the Norwegians I met I liked very much so I may return to see Bergen.