The story goes that a visitor asks a boy if it always rains in Bergen. The boy replies; “I don’t know, I’m only eleven!”
Well we can assure you it doesn’t. We awoke in Bergen, the last port on our Norwegian cruise, to warm sunshine, the best weather we experienced during a week that included a force eight gale and thirty foot waves. Yet it was all handled so easily by our cruise ship Emerald Princess that not one cup of coffee was spilled.
There had been heavy traffic on the drive to the cruise terminal in Southampton but we had left ourselves plenty of time. We quickly found our cabin and were surprised by probably the largest balcony we have experienced; it could comfortably seat six for dinner. The rest of the cabin was spacious and had plenty of storage space; the bed was the usual queen size and very comfortable with big squishy pillows.
After lunch we explored the ship top find our bearings and early evening we headed to Vines wine bar in the ship’s central atrium for pre-dinner drinks. No ordinary wine bar, Vines offers guests the choice of Tapas or Sushi to accompany their drinks. That could have been it for the evening but we resisted the temptation to stay and joined our fellow guests for a very substantial dinner. After a subsequent night-cap it was hardly surprising that we slept soundly in our comfy bed.
A sea day followed and a chance to relax before getting all dressed up for the traditional captain’s welcome party on the second evening. The next morning, day three, found us moored in Stavanger, a small town (Norway doesn’t do ‘big’) but popular with cruise ships. There were three in port that day, moored right next to the old town with its quaint pedestrian cobbled streets and white wooden buildings. The new town is only a few minutes away, so there was plenty to do and see close by.
That evening, Vines welcomed us back like old friends and we enjoyed another memorable dinner in the Michelangelo restaurant where the food and service was impressive even to our travel-hardened fellow guests.
We had been unable to leave port that afternoon at our allotted time due to a combination of close proximity of the other ships and strong winds. When we finally left, two hours late, the ship’s master, Captain Martin Stenzel warned us of the heavy weather to come. He was right. Several hours later, sitting in our restaurant on deck five, someone commented that they had ordered fish but didn’t expect to see it swimming past the window! However, Emerald Princess took it calmly in her stride and diners even asked the waiters not to close the curtains so that they could enjoy the show nature had put on for us.
Cruises are popular with honeymooners, and couples getting married or renewing their vows, so purely in the name of research, the following morning we sampled the special breakfast that many of them request. Our balcony table was laid with smart linen and cutlery and we enjoyed orange juice, bacon and quiche salad, smoked salmon and cream cheese with capers, pastries, plus a great selection of fresh fruit, all washed down with Champagne and coffee.
After breakfast we arrived somewhat later that our allotted time in Skjolden, Sognefjord, but during the morning the hard-working excursions team had re-arranged the tours to accommodate us.
Sognefjord is one of the longest Fjords in Norway and runs deep into the spectacular landscape of towering mountains and high waterfalls.
Our tour took us inland through the Sognefjell National Park, passed huge glaciers and over the highest mountain pass in Northern Europe to the town of Lom, home to Norway’s second oldest church. Completed in 1158, this wooden structure is in use today and is popular all over Norway as a wedding venue. Lom also claims to have Norway’s best bakery and despite the size of the dinners, many guests could not help but sample the produce.
By the time we were ready to leave Skjolden the winds had died down and the seas subsided. Following another great dinner we awoke in Alesund, a busy port and Norway’s version of Aberdeen, Scotland, being home to the thriving North Sea Oil industry. Alesund is also well known for its fishing, primarily cod, and furniture making. Consisting of seven islands linked by numerous bridges it is often described as the Venice of the North.
In 1904 an unattended candle let to a major fire which destroyed most of the homes in the city. They were rebuilt in the then fashionable Art Deco style, giving the city a unique architectural style. Remains of the old buildings were re-assembled and some houses re-built so it is also possible to see local homes as they were before the fire.
Our next and last port of call was Bergen. Again small enough to manage on foot, it is noted for its UNESCO heritage site, the old Hanseatic Wharf of Bryggen with colourful buildings, narrow passageways and historic structures. The famous fish market is also certainly worth a visit.
Our final day was spent at sea and included a tour of the ship, one of Princess Cruises more popular events. We and the other journalists were taken “back stage” to see how things really worked. First stop was the bridge where one of the officers on duty explained the controls and navigation to us. Captain Martin Stenzel appeared, relaxed with morning mug of coffee in hand, and was happy to join in the question and answer from the fascinated journalists. When asked what was the worst part of his job, the captain jovially replied; “Talking to the press!”
We also visited the kitchens to see just how the ship manages to feed so many meals to over three thousand guests and how food is brought on board, stored and prepared, with every meal being cooked to order . We also visited the print shop where two thousand copies of the daily programme are printed, and the photo labs where the many hundreds of pictures taken by the ships photographers each day are processed and printed.
Last stop was the engine management room where the chief engineer, supported by a large screen linked to the ship’s control computers, gave us a detailed description of not just the operation of the engines but also the air conditioning, heating, fire control and water management. He told us that we were safely drinking tap water that was processed from what had earlier been flushed down the lavatory. In fact it was so pure that he had to add minerals to make it taste like the water we were used to. He certainly wasn’t a good salesman for bottled water!
Our journey ended with a memorable meal in one of the two speciality restaurants on board, and after the now traditional night-cap we retired for the final time to our large and comfortable bed, having made new friends, enjoyed the hospitality that is Emerald Princess and the unique and spectacular country that is Norway.
For more information on Princess Cruises go to www.princess.com or call 0843 374 444
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On the Bridge.
Stavanger Old Town