date: mon 15 sep 14
tags: norway

It's now 8 years since we last had a cruise holiday - the last time was aboard the now decomissioned ms black prince, and this time it was the slightly larger ms boudicca. In fact almost twice the size as there are almost 800 passenegrs vs about 400 on the black prince.

Actually getting to the departure port was a bit of a challenge as it is the other end of the country and being around referendum time possibly even a different country!

The choices were a 1 hour flight, an 8 hour motorway journey or an overnight sleeper train so we went with the sleeper train option which was quite reasonable with the 33% railcard discount. One benefit of the sleeper is that they have a good dining car where you can enjoy a nice meal served at your table for about £6 per head - we had a haggis and a mcewans larger while the train made its way along the west coast mainline through north london, taking in sights like wembley stadium. The hint about the haggis came from the excellent "man in seat 61" website - a weath of information for people who like to travel by train or boat.

The caledonian sleeper arrives into glasgow central about 7am and you are served coffee & shortbread in your bed by the cabin attendant. You need to vacate your compartment by 7.45am which is not so good if you do not board your ship till 6pm! The photo below was the local train that took us from glasgow central to greenock west, and this journey takes about 45 minutes. It's quite a long way and goes past the airport. Greenock seems a bit run down and it took us a while to walk the last half mile to the cruise terminal each carrying 2 large cases.
It takes a while to actually embark onto the ship and people in the "posh" upper cabbins get priority. We were on the lower deck so had to wait a while but eventually boarded and found our cabin with our bags already delivered to the cabin. Luckily we had a free upgrade to a "porthole" cabin as we had originally booked a basic "inside" cabin (the cheapest on the ship) on the bottom deck which was good value compared with staying 10 days in a hotel, and of course all food is "free" with only drinks to pay extra for.
The ship seemed quite large compared with the ms black prince and the corridors seemed very long. Considering the large number of passangers the ship seemed remarkably un-busy once aboard and most of the corridors seemed quite deserted.
There are 3 stairwells on the boat, the main "grand" staircase and 2 smaller stairwells fore and aft, which I generally preferred as very few people seemed to use them. The photo below shows the small front stairwell which connected the swmming pool deck (6) with main deck (5), atlantic deck (4) and marina deck (3). It is handy for getting to the laundry room on deck 4 as well as the pool. It actually took me a while to work out which facility was on each deck as I kept thinking laundry was on deck 3 for some reason when it was actually on deck 5. Our cabin was on deck 4.
Each day there was a chart posted on deck 5 showing the days course for the ship - this chart above shows boudicca's first "sea day" sailing the channel between the inner & outer hebredies. The ship did not leave greenock ocean terminal till about 3am on tuesday 16th so the first evening was spent "in port" which seemed a bit odd as the previous cruise in 2006 saw us departing about 6pm and having dinner sailing north along the scottish coast bound for the faroes. After the long journey from somerset to scotland we were pretty exausted so asleep by about 11pm. I remember waking about 4am and the boat was certainly moving although the sea was quite calm.
This shows the good weather on the first full sea day, sailing past the isle of skye with it's rocky cuillin mountains
The pool was quite warm and is filled with sea water. Every day at 12 noon the captain would give lots of information over the tannoy, including the temperature of the pool, and the 2 hot pools as well as the swimex pool which had a lower temperature, although I could not figure out how to get the swimex working.
This is the top indoor deck served by stairwells or lifts known as deck 9 or "marquee" deck and is where the most expensive cabins can be found. They are mostly suites with balconies.
The top deck is called the sun deck and is only served by external stairways, but it does have an indoor fitness centre with concept 2 rowers and treadmills, weights etc
Not really a deck as such but there is a sort, but there is a raised platform on top of deck 10 which is almost a "deck 11" which has golf nets and navigational equipment and seatel sattelite radomes. Although the ship had over 1000 people on board it was very rare to ever see anyone on deck 10 or 11. I sometimes saw maintenance staff in white boilersuits up there but not any passengers most of the time.
After 2 full days at sea we finally docked in Alsesund, the most northerly port of call on the trip. The nice thing about being on a smaller ship was that all 5 ports of call were docked rather than at anchor, so no annoying tenders to have to catch. Another plus was the absence of other cruise ships. I'd imagine that a small city like alesund could become swamped by tourists should a large cruise ship visit.
Alsesund had mainly small shops but there was one large shopping centre with a range of outlets. Strangely they did not seem to be typical chain outlets you see in many big cities round the world.
One of the main attractions in alesund is "fjellstua" - this is a scenic viewpoint normally reached by several hundred steps, but the steps were closed for maintenance and the only way to get them apart from taking the "tourist train" was to hike along a marked path through the suburbs and woodland. The first part of the hike was along some very steep streets
Eventually you come out into more open partially wooded areas and it probably takes about 25 minutes to walk from the ship to the fjellstua
This is the view from the fjellstua - the boudicca is visible on the left of the shot
The fjellstua building looked like it was closed and I needed some bottled water after the long hike up the hill, but eventually I found there was a lower level to the building which had a small cafe selling water, drinks and snacks. I was trying to figure out what the "ustand" sign meant - google translate says "not working"
This bird was certainly making the most of the excellent view
The famous "freia" brand of chocolate
As boudicca was departing from the dock at alesund there was one of these little tugs with jets of water - it followed the ship out of the port.
The view was very good as the ship left alesund bound for olden
Leaving alesund behind
the sea seemed quite calm
This was the last bit of open sea before heading inland into the fjord systems
The weather in olden was a bit grim but the excellent scenery made up for it
We got the "tourist train" from the boat which took us along a lane, but we decided to get off the train and walk the 2 miles back. It was well worth the walk as the scenery was so good and could not really be appreciated from the rather cramped train.
There was quite a bit of mist hanging about next to the mountains which added to the scenic view.
I quite liked the wood pannelled houses
There were quite a few waterfalls coming down from the mountains
After about a mile of walking we got back into the village of olden
A norwegian coop
We have now left olden bound for flam, home of the famous mountain railway - the pool was normally quite empty and i often had the pool to myself, which is not bad when you consider the ship has 800 passengers - it's also different swimming as it goes along the steep sided fjords as normally you cannot see anything from the pool when you are on open water away from land.
The route has been charted to flam
Arrival in flam - this call was posted as an "anchor" call so I was pleasantly surprised when it was announced that we could leave the ship normally as the ship had docked rather than anchored, so no tedious tendering like the biggers ships need to do in small ports like flam. Boudicca was the only ship in flam. Some of the phots I have seen show multiple cruise ships all in flam at once which must be a nightmare.
I had heard stories about long wait times for the train and bad overcrowding but luckily it was not too busy - we managed to get a window seat on the right, which is the side with the view.
We passed another train coming down which seemed to be mainly boudicca passengers on one of the pre-booked trips - i had thought about pre-booking but there was a massive premium to pay for this with a tour at £160 per head vs £40 for an ordinary return ticket purchased at the ticket booth.
It was pretty impressive the way it was built up the side of a really steep mountain, especially the top part
The terrian changed a lot at the top and it was pretty barren
The station at the top is called myrdal and there is not a lot to do at the top so we got the next train back to flam
Heading back down to flam
There was a station stop about a third of the way from the top with a waterfall - it was really just a trickle due to lack of rain but there were loads of people taking selfies on their phones with "selfie sticks"
A view of the high part of the railway near myrdal
There are a lot of tunnels cut into the mountain
passing flam village with its church & graveyard
flam village is with walking distance of the "dock" so people not doing the flam railway can walk to the village - about 1 and a half miles each way at a guess
this was one of most expensive purchases of the trip - a round of 2 beers at £10 per beer (500ml) it was very good and brewed loaclly in flam
the boudicca seemed to be generating quite a bit of black smoke here - i can see why some of the locals do not like cruise ships as there were "no cruise ships" signs painted on hay bales
I had a short stroll back as far as the microbrewery as there was a bit of time to kill before the ship set sail - i was always worried aboyt being the last person back on board, which usually seemd to be the case
after leaving flam we sailed one of the narrowest, steepest bits of fjord and the captian said we need to be able to depart flam in time to navigate this section in daylight as it involved a 180 degree turn which was too dangerous to do after nightfall
the narrowest bit just before the turn
bergen was the largest city port of call on the trip and was quite impressive - we made sure to head for the funicular railway which was a 10 minute walk from the port
it is very steep a bit like the hong kong peak funicular
a troll at the top of the funicular
most people took the funicular back down but i noted there was a good walking route back to the city via the wooded hills, past a running track and back into the steep city streets overlloking the city - this cat had a good location to live
workmen are doing some maintenance on the hillside here
the funicular base station
aftern lunch on the boudicca i want for an afternoon stroll round bergen city centre - i liked this shndt building
these houses on the hill have a super view of the city - i headed back that way
there were some interesting buildings at the edge of the lake with a large museum but it was closed on mondays
one of the streets near the railway station
a rema 1000 store
a notice board
a tram stop next to the main railway station
I walked up the steep streets - they were very steep! but the view was very good
a deepocean ship - it looks quite impressive
heading back to the boudicca in port - about to depart from bergen bound for eidfjord
arrival at eidfjord - i'd say this wond in terms of being the most scenic stop - it did not have the commercial feel of flam, and had a very nice little village to look round DSC_3508
a genuine norwegian cat
there was a modern church with nice stained glass windows
an an older more traditional church
one of these sheep had breached a fence and was chewing a residents shrubs, so the sheepkeeper was called the eject the sheep and repair the fence while we watched
the ship has now departed from norway and is bound for greenock
a constant annoyance was the lack of internet signal - norway was pretty good for 3g and 4g most of the time but there were times when there was no signal - the ship had a satellite internet system but it was ultra slow and ultra expensive, and often did not work at all
a chart is posted showing the passage along the pentland firth, a notorious section between thurso and orkney - we sat in the observatory coctail lounge for this passage, just before the captains farewell cocktal party
deck 7 had a jogging route
the observatory cocktail lounge on deck 9
the last full sea day was good weather, passing back between inner & outer herbedies
there was a crew show on the final night