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
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
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.