Reference: Norway

Title: Land of the Midnight Sun.

Length: 900 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel Companies : Thomas Cook and Royal Caribbean.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

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Land of the Midnight Sun.

Land of the Midnight Sun

Land of the midnight sun. It isn't often you can start a cruise from England but Royal Caribbean chose Harwich for their voyage to the land of the midnight sun. As we left the harbour we listened to a commentary from the Bridge on the history of Norway and Sweden. I was intrigued to watch the pilot boat rushing alongside the ship waiting for the pilot to return to port. Would he have to jump aboard I wondered and what was the chance he would fall into the sea. Eventually the boat pulled in alongside the ship and a rope ladder was lowered to the deck. The pilot with the ease of long practice climbed effortlessly aboard the boat with a steadying hand from the mate.

The glass lift to our cabin gave a panoramic view of the atrium as we swept down past the decks. We had taken up a reduced price offer for an inner cabin. We missed the daylight, especially before breakfast, but it was spacious and accommodated the extra luggage we had been tempted to carry on the train.

I prefer captains who launch out to sea when the passengers are safely established in their beds and less prone to seasickness. The North Sea was, however, calm and our passage as smooth as a river cruise. On its way to the cape the ship called at alternate ports on the Norwegian coast and filled in the intermediate ones on the return journey.

Shore excursions were arranged and we took a train up the mountainside past rushing rivers, picturesque scenery and mountain cottages. Halfway we stopped at an impressive waterfall amidst a mountain of spray that covered the viewing platform, a waterproof was an advantage. We investigated a massive snowplough and then onto the top for snowball fights in July.

Trips up to the top of the fjords by ski lift impress on the traveller the heights to which they rise. Looking down from the top our enormous cruise ship looked more like a toy.

The visit to the cape was an optional tour by bus. On the way there we stopped at a museum of Eskimo culture with an opportunity to photograph an Eskimo with his reindeer. Neither the reindeer nor his master looked very happy but there was a flicker of a smile in response to donations from photographers. The cape itself is desolate but for the refreshment canteen and museum. The explorer's cabin in the museum did not look a very comfortable place, but doubtless it was welcome shelter from the weather outside. A mist hung over the sea and, by the time we left, the visibility had fallen to some 20 metres. The visibility had been better on the morning tour.

Exploer's cabin.

It was not necessary to be at the northernmost point of the voyage to see the midnight sun. This was fortunate since a cloudy day at the Cape spoils the effect. It was on the return journey that we had a clear midnight sky. All the passengers assembled on the starboard decks to watch the sun hover over the horizon before rising again. It gave a feeling of mission accomplished even though a day late. For inhabitants of lower latitudes there is a certain mystique about a sun that never sets.

On board there are the many activities to while away the hours at sea. The swimming pool on the upper deck was warm and large enough for a serious swim. The gymnasium provided ample activities for exercise to compensate for the extensive meals.

We had chosen a table for 8 people. The restaurant was divided onto two decks. On our left side were an American couple on leave from Saudi Arabia, on our right two hoteliers enjoying a well earned rest from their seven day weeks, and on the far side a retired couple from Ireland. Our waiter was attentive and diplomatic. I was intrigued by the way he was bowed under the weight of eight meals carried on a single tray hoisted over his shoulder. He never dropped them.

Our views from the sea of snow capped mountains were interspersed with trips up the fjords where we would anchor at quaysides adjacent to smaller settlements but deep enough to harbour the ship. Seaplane trips were available for the tourist. They required a lengthy run to become airborne and then climbed laboriously upwards to clear the sides of the fjord.

Our luck with the weather was exemplified by a sunny day at Bergen - declared to be an unusual event. We took the funicular railway up to Floyen where we had a magnificent view of Bergen, its lakes and harbours. Near the restaurant was a wooded area with rustic seating; a pleasant setting to while away an hour or two.

The fish market by the harbour was the centre of attention with notices, saying they would accept foreign money, in five languages. An accordion was being played and nearby is an impressive array of houses; the wooden architecture extends to four storeys. The museum pays tribute to the former herring industry. The deck of a typical fishing vessel is shown with all its impedimenta. Further into town is the park with a statue of Edvard Grieg.

Our trip before returning to Harwich culminated at Stavanger. A visit to the cathedral was recommended to see the stained glass windows and elaborately decorated pulpit. The return trip to England was again over a smooth sea. We had been lucky with the weather.

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