I took the pictures below during the departure from Alesund yesterday afternoon. As you can see, it was grey, dark and threatening.

 

We left Ålesund at nearly 6 o’clock, and after some manoeuvres near the harbour were heading out to sea shortly afterwards. Although the weather had brightened a bit over the town – it had at least stopped raining – out in the seaward approaches it was dark and unwelcoming, with what looked like rain over the mountains on the outer islands. I went out onto the balcony and took some pictures, a few of which seem to be ok. But I could see rain squalls in the distance and, wimp that I am, once we’d sailed into one I retreated back into the cabin. Hopefully I’ll be able to post them later on Thursday. (I’m hoping to be able to upload this post early on Thursday once I get a phone signal at Akureyri. Assuming I get a phone signal at Akureyri….) 

This is probably a good time to say that my internet strategy has worked well so far. Basically I haven’t bought a package on this cruise; instead, I’m drafting posts and preparing pictures offline. When I’m in port I connect to the internet via roaming on my phone, which since last week is free! I do this by setting up a Personal Hotspot on my iPhone and connecting the iPad and/or the laptop to that, mainly over Bluetooth. Then I can upload the posts & images from the iPad, etc, via the phone, effectively for free. Of course it does mean no connectivity during sea days but that’s no bad thing, actually. Best of all, Val is happy – she says it’s much more relaxing to not have me prowling the ship desperately seeking a good wifi signal and expressing my frustration when I was having connection problems. So it’s a win/win situation, and all for free – I’m on a 12 Gb monthly data allowance deal with EE. (Last word from Val – “there’s also no last minute panic as he tries to use up all his on-board internet allowance before we disembark!”)

Last night we went for a meal in Sindhu. On this cruise the charge is £20 per person; including drinks we spent just about £50. I think it was worth it, though if I’m being truthful it didn’t seem quite as outstanding as it has on other cruises. Nothing wrong with anything, it just didn’t seem as special. We’re going again later in the cruise when they’ll be offering a different menu and I’ll report back from that as well. We have decided to not eat in The Epicurean this cruise – that no longer seems a worthwhile deal at £30 per person which we believe is the current price – we’re actually having trouble finding the actual figure.

Today has been a sea day during the passage from Norway to Iceland. The weather has been pretty good, with high cloud with some small patches of blue sky, but it’s been cold – it was 9° when we last looked just after lunch. We’ve been quite busy. We got up early so I could bag a washing machine when the launderette opened at 8 o’clock (successfully done). Fortunately, the early rise was compensated by the fact that the clocks went back last night thus giving an extra hour’s sleep. Having been on European time for the calls at Norway we’re back on UK time now, and we’ll get another hour tonight. Later this morning we watched a film in the theatre – “Sully – Miracle on the Hudson” – which we enjoyed. After that we had lunch and once again got into an interesting conversation at the buffet table, and after that we attended a talk on Oscar Wilde, one of a series being given by guest speaker Priscilla Morris on well-known literary figures. We enjoyed it and just about managed to stay awake, even after what might have been a too-big lunch. We certainly did better than the chap behind us who was snoring away for most of the talk.

Tonight is the second formal night, and tomorrow we arrive in Iceland.

Here are a few images from Bergen and Alesund. The weather wasn’t at all suitable;e for photography, especially in Alesund, but here are the best.

First, from Bergen:

And secondly from Alesund:

 

Ålesund

It’s 8 o’clock and we’re in Ålesund today. Our weather forecast this morning? – “At the moment the temperature is 10°, it’s cloudy with passing showers and there’s a stiff wind. If I’m being optimistic I could say that the showers might die off and there could even be a bit of sunshine later in the day; but the temperature and wind will stay the same. A very Norwegian day.

More updates later – maybe – from what promises to be a fun day in Ålesund!

Update: well, the weather didn’t improve much but we had a good morning regardless. After leaving the ship we went to Alesund museum. This was OK but not spectacular. There were a couple of interesting room-sized models of Alesund, one showing the town as it was in the 1780s and the other showing how it looked just before the great fire in 1904. If nothing else these showed the underling geography of the town, and in particular the way it’s built on several different islands.

Next we went to the tourist information centre and bought a little booklet “Along the streets of Alesund”. Basically, it’s a guided walk along which you will see the most notable buildings in the town. The key thing to understand in this regard, and about which we had no idea until we arrived, was that the town was almost completely destroyed in the 1904 fire, and was rebuilt in the years immediately afterwards in a Modernist/Art Deco style. The new buildings are all different in detail, size, facade and layout but they all share this unifying architectural style, so the town’s architecture is remarkably harmonious. We spent a good couple of hours following this route, and we enjoyed it very much. In fact, it became very frustrating – even though most of the time it was raining (and was grey, cold and windy the whole of the time) it still looked very attractive, and we couldn’t help wondering what Alesund would look like in good weather. (I nearly wrote “in summer”, but in fact it’s mid-summer’s eve today.) Maybe another time.

We got back to Azura at about 2 o’clock, had some lunch and have been lazing around ever since then. Tonight we eating in Sindhu.

We had our first meal in the Glasshouse this evening. We weren’t going to – we just went for a drink – but three-quarters of the way down the first glass of wine we agreed that we couldn’t be bothered moving so we decided to eat where we were. I had the 6ozs steak and Val had the trio of English sausages, which she said were very good, and we both had cheesecake for dessert. We washed these down with a couple of glasses of Malbec (me) and Rioja (Val). Val said that the sausages were every bit as good as she remembered them from two years ago, but I thought the steak was perhaps a bit less tender than previously. But I have to say that in the last year or two I’ve made a few trips to the US and had American steaks, so I may have more to compare them with now.

After that we retired to the cabin and watched a movie – High Crimes. Never heard of it before, but it entertained us for the rest of the evening. Finally (at 11:30) we went for a turn round the Promenade – windy, and quite chilly, but above all still light. The sea is a bit more active tonight – we can feel Azura moving a bit. About time….

A morning in Bergen

Today we’re in Bergen. We docked at about 8am. For those interested we’re at the Bontelaboo quay, just to the west of the Vågen. Last year we were at the Docken quay, which is further out and which meant a trek through the city centre to get to the good stuff. (I think it also featured a very, very short shuttle bus ride – 200 yards or so, just to get passengers off the dock.

We were off the ship well before 9 o’clock and heading round to the Floybanen station. I’d bought a couple of tickets online for the Floybanen, the funicular railway that climbs the Fløyen mountain just to the north of Vågen in Bergen. This worked really well – I’d printed the ‘tickets’, which were actually plain sheets with QR codes, and had even remembered to bring them with me. A scanner mounted on the platform entrance barriers looked at the QR codes and let us through, so we pretty much walked straight onto the train which arrived soon afterwards. It’s pretty much standing room only; there are a few seats, but most of the 76 passengers (max. capacity) have to stand. It’s not too much of an imposition as the journey doesn’t take long – less than the advertised 6 to 8 minutes, it seemed to me.

So we arrived at the top station and the first job was to admire the view. Even on a grey cloudy day it was spectacular, and of course we and everyone else there were busy taking pictures. We left shortly and walked up to a lake, and then around the lake. Further paths beckoned and we walked along them, generally upwards. We found another lake that had something to do with Grieg (I think – was it a place that he especially liked?) and then a refreshment hut that was closed, and then it was back down to the station. Altogether we walked around for a good 90 minutes, so we were well exercised. It was also wonderfully peaceful and beautiful up there, surrounded by the pine forests and with constantly-glimpsed views of the city and the harbour.

By 11 am we were feeling a bit tired so we decided it was time to descend. We had to queue for five minutes or so for the train back down, but emerged back in the old harbour area by 11:30. At the bottom the queues for the trains up were quite long so we were glad that we’d left the ship early and got up there quickly.

Then we raided an ATM for 200 NKR which we immediately spent most of on a couple of cappuccinos and apple muffins at a bakery on the harbour. Fortified with that we decided to walk around the town. We ducked into a couple of woollen goods shops but quickly ducked back out; in any case, Val said that she wasn’t sure about the design of the traditional styles. Then we walked round to a modern park and fountain but by this time it had started to rain so we decided to stop exploring and go back to the ship. It was nearly 12:30 by this time and we felt that we’d given Bergen a fair go, and we’d enjoyed it.

Now it’s mid afternoon. Lunch has been had, some snoozing has been done, there’s a cup of tea to be drunk – and after that I think we’ll hear the Glasshouse calling. Tomorrow we’ll be in Ålesund.

Practicalities:

  • The Floybanen tickets were 90NKR each, for Returns;
  • The coffee and muffins were 154NKR, to eat outside – eating inside the shop would have been cheaper. They were bought from Baker Brun, Bryggen.

A couple of sea days

The Terrace, Azura

Our cruise – A716 on Azura to Norway, Iceland, The Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland – has started with a couple of days at sea before our call at Bergen, the first port. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that a 7-night Fjords cruise usually requires just one sea day between Southampton and Bergen while this cruise has two days for the same passage, so no-one will be surprised to learn that Azura has just been ticking along at about 13 knots. This is in marked contrast to our experience on Britannia last year when despite the ship’s best efforts, strong winds and waves during the single day at sea delayed our arrival into Bergen until almost lunchtime on the following day. In another contrast to last year, the weather has been fine – sunny and calm, and the noon reports have described the swell as ‘negligible’. We’ve made good use of the balcony, though being on the starboard side has meant that by lunchtime we’re losing the sun. (As I write Val is moving her chair round the balcony to stay in the sun.)

So far we’ve made good use of The Glasshouse – I can report that the Carmenère is as good as ever. We’ve also decided that we won’t eat in The Epicurean this time; however, we have booked two meals in Sindhu.

Last night was the Captain’s Gala. We went down to our restaurant at 7:30 and were given a beeper – although we were happy to share a table they must have been very busy. So we went down to Java for a quick pre-dinner drink where a the beeper started beeping at us, but not buzzing or showing the red lights. Eventually it even spoke to us – something along the lines of “this pager is not connected to the network”, or something similar. So we went back to the restaurant and they let us in – it was about 8 o’clock by then – and we shared a table with another couple from Sheffield who had had the same problem. We enjoyed our meal and the company (as, to be fair, we did on the first night) and round off the evening with a final drink in the Planet bar. Then to bed, with the clocks going forward an hour.

Tomorrow (which will actually be ‘today’ when I get to post this) we’ll be in Bergen. We’re doing our own thing. The aim is to use the funicular railway up to the top of the hill and hopefully do a walk, and to this end I bought a couple of tickets online in advance. We shall see how well they work. We also have a few Norwegian Kroner but may need more, in which case I shall use the Caxton currency card that I’ve started using for multi-currency trips.