The world is full of beautiful places and one of them, without doubt, is the Norwegian Fjords in spring. Glass smooth blue waters mirroring waterfalls and snow capped mountains, quaint villages nestling beside fast flowing rivers where the waters turn to dazzling white foam as they thunder across rocks.
My journey begins at the London Cruise Terminal, Tilbury where MS Magellan, operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages awaits me with white hull and superstructure glistening in the late morning sunshine.
First stop as always, my cabin, 7116 on Pacific Deck, my home for the next 8 days. A spacious, bright cabin, sunshine streaming through a large picture window, queen size bed, dressing table, enough hanging and drawer space for a long cruise, hairdryer, flat screen television together with everything that we have become used to on a modern cruise ship. Electric sockets, so important in this day and age of smart phones and tablets, 2 are of continental two pin design whilst the other is American design. A well appointed bathroom, spot lights above the wash basin, large shower unit with good water pressure making showering invigorating, two dispensers, one pink, one yellow housing shampoo and body wash, but which is which, never did find out but they both worked well.
Next comes the compulsory boat drill which is impressive. Unlike some cruise lines Cruise and Maritime actually make you put on your life jacket at your muster station and then lead you in line to your designated lifeboat so no excuse for not knowing what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency.
With the sun beginning to set its three long blasts on the ships whistle as we slip our moorings and begin our journey along the River Thames to the open sea. How different familiar sites and places appear as we glide silently past Canvey Island, Isle of Grain and Southend with the longest pier in the world at 1.34 miles, and head to our first port of call, Amsterdam.
My alarm goes, 6.30am, the sun is streaming through the window heralding a new day as we make our way along the North Sea Canal to our berth. Shower, breakfast and onto the coach for the visit to Keukenhof. The roads are busy as it’s the 27th April, Kings Day, a national bank holiday, a time people dress in orange, celebrate in the streets, parks and on the canals. Keukenhof is busy, thousands of tourists from all over the world have come to see what is, the world’s largest display of bulbs, not just tulips but many other bulb variety. Group leaders, their boards, sticks and other implements held high as they guide their groups through the gates into another world, a world originally designed as an ornamental garden in 1857. A 79 acre world of colour, perfectly sculptured lawns, secluded gardens, lakes and woodlands. Vistas of yellow, red and white tulips, yellow Daffodils, blue and mauve Hyacinth, tall standing Iris, delicate Crocus and many others, 7 million bulbs planted by hand every September by a team of 40 gardeners. Board one of the electric boats and glide amongst the bulb fields experiencing the colour and wonderful aromas that fill the air. This is a venue that needs at least a full day to appreciate the many areas, come lunch time purchase a snack and coffee, sit by the main lake, admire the reflection of trees and shrubbery onto its unrippled surface, sit back, take in the beauty and dream.
Back on the ship it’s time to set sail for Norway and the Fjords. The main canal busy with young people dressed in orange, shouting, singing and making merry on a variety of craft from rowing boats to pleasure launches, the Kings Day celebrations are in full swing as they wave to Magellan as we pass slowly by back along the North Sea Canal to the sea lock where there is one ship in front of us so we have to wait our turn. Once through the captain sets his course north across a deep blue calm of the North Sea, Norway we are coming.
Next day is a sea day, a chance to explore the ship. Originally built for Carnival Cruise Lines in 1985 Magellan carries 1,452 passengers, a crew of 600 with 15 cabins suitable for wheelchairs. Two main restaurants, Kensington and Waldorf have set dining times whilst the buffet, Raffles Bistro, is virtually any time eating until mid evening. For those who like to dine al fresco and enjoy pizza, burgers, sausages, salad etc. try the Pizzeria on deck 10. Come evening a speciality dining venue, Fusion, serves a wide variety of Indian dishes and having eaten there would recommend it for that special occasion, but make sure you book early to avoid disappointment. Those wishing to enjoy their favourite tipple, you are well catered for with a selection of 9 bars. For many cruise lines they are a thing of the past, but not Cruise and Maritime, late night snacks, served around the ship by waiters who always give the impression it’s a pleasure to serve you wielding trays of delicious nibbles. On Gala Night enjoy the Gala Buffet in The Mall, a fusion of colour, taste, food from around the world back dropped with ice carvings, animals and birds carved from fruits, a visual delight to have the taste buds dancing. Another night experience the Chocoholic Buffet. This is cruising as it used to be and what so many people enjoy. On the subject of food, it’s astounding how much food is consumed on a 7 day cruise. Serving up to 7,000 meals a day, 17,500 eggs, 23,000 kg of vegetables, 4,800 kg of meat, 3,800 kg of fish nearly 3,000 litres of milk, 1,500 litres of yoghurt and 7,800 kg of fruit to mention but a few. Entertainment lounges abound, The Magellan Show Lounge home to the onboard entertainment team and productions such as ‘We Will Rock You’ a tribute to Queen, On Broadway, Rock and Roll Dreams and others to the delight of an appreciative audience, where standing ovations are the norm. For those wanting a little more sedate, sit back in a comfortable lounge with friends sip a drink, enjoy the musicians and entertainers in Hamptons, Sinatra’s, Captains Club and the Taverner’s Pub, you really are spoiled for choice. For complete peace and solace there is the well stocked Livingstone Library furnished with large comfortable Chesterfield chairs and settees, it even has a fireplace but don’t worry, no fires allowed.
Outside the calm sea reflects the cloudless blue sky, the sun will set later and rise earlier, the air is becoming cooler as we continue our journey north. Tomorrow is Eidfjord, our first port in Norway, what will the Fjords be like, read on and discover Spring in the Fjords.
8am sees me on deck 11, an open deck from where the views are stunning, the small village of Eidfjord, population just 925, languishing on the shoreline at the base of snow capped mountains, the clean, cold, still air, exhilarating as you breath in. The Fjord so calm and quiet only rippled where waterfalls of melting snow crash down from hundreds of feet above. This is what dreams are made of. Time for a hearty breakfast before setting out on an excursion to the Hardangervidda Nature Centre. Here the area’s history is unveiled to our view before travelling on to the Fossli Hotel, still in places deep with the winters snow, to admire the Voringsfossen waterfall, said to be the most photographed waterfall in Norway, attracting 650,00 visitors a year who marvel at the falls longest drop of almost 535 feet. Driving back to the ship past wood built holiday cabins, lush green fields, small rivers, camp sites that have just opened but already have visitors parking caravans and erecting awnings. This really is a different world. To end the day, along with eleven others I dress in a warm waterproof suit, don a life jacket and board a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) operated by Hardangerfjord Safari. Leaving the jetty at a slow pace our helmsman steers for the centre of the Fjord where with a roar the engines open up whisking us across the still waters at speeds up to 50 knots. Exhilarating does not come close to describing the feeling of excitement as we skim across the water leaving behind a foam wake, slowing as we approach a point where mountains climb skywards from the Fjord, looking up the towering mountain side is indescribable. This is an opportunity to see the wild life, dolphins and small whales, we are not disappointed as a pod of dolphins perform, leaping from the water as they play. Too soon we are back at the jetty divesting ourselves of the life jackets and suits but all with memories that will last a lifetime.
2pm sees us saying goodbye to Eidfjord as we sail between high mountains, past waterfalls, their water thundering into the Fjord and turning to foam, past small villages, farms and holiday cabins set along the shoreline as we head to our next port, Flam, but that is for another day.
Flam for the tourist is probably the best known of all the ports of call in the Fjord Region. Anchored in the Fjord it’s an early start as we tender from the ship to shore where we board Vision of the Fjords a boat with a difference. This boat awarded “Boat of the Year” in 2016 is environmentally friendly with hybrid engines, no steps but slopes thus enabling wheelchair users and those less able to move about the boat with ease. With Flam behind us we head out along the fjord stopping at villages along the way embarking and disembarking passengers who use the boat as their means of transport between villages.
Our final stop is the Viking Village, known as Viking Valley, built to bring to life the history and culture of the Viking period. The settlement or town has taken the name of Njardarheimr after the Norse God Njord. An excellent guide albeit from Scotland escorts us around the village, telling of the Norse history, dispelling many myths that have been built upon by the epic movies about invading Norsemen from across the sea. No, they didn’t wear helmets with horns any more than they wielded axes in battle, they used spears with iron tips. Here you can wander among the wooden cabins, see how things used to be, cloth being woven as it was hundreds of years ago, clothes being made by a seamstress dressed in the costume of the time, try your hand at archery or axe throwing, it’s more difficult than you would imagine. Meet the Village Chieftain who according to legend sees everything something akin to an all seeing eye, eat in his wooden house at tables laden with local dishes of meat, cheeses and one of my favourites, marinated herring. Fully refreshed spend time wandering the village, talk with the occupants who despite different accents have a common love of Viking history and heritage.
Time to board the mini-bus for the drive back to Flam through long tunnels that take you under the mountains but also help keep the roads open during the Arctic winter. Arriving back at Flam in time to board the famous Flam Railway where construction began in 1924 before opening in October 1941. It is said to be the 3rd most popular attraction in Norway and from the crowds waiting to board I don’t doubt it. The ascent from Flam to Myrdal is 2,841 feet accomplished over a distance of 12.6 miles in about 50 minutes transiting 20 tunnels, passing beautiful scenes of mountains, rivers, streams, ravines and waterfalls. Indeed, at one station, the stop is only made to allow passengers to alight from the train and view/photograph the Kjos Waterfall. For anyone making the trip it is advisable to change to the opposite side of the carriage for the return journey enabling them to enjoy the views from both sides of the train as it travels the spectacular route.
Arriving back in Flam, time to visit something unique, the AEgir Brewery. As with many names in Norway they come from Norse mythology and AEgir is no exception, voted ‘Norway’s Brew Pub of the Year’ producing 600,000 litres of beer a year with a capacity up to 2,000,000 litres. Enter the bar area, where on two levels hand carved wooden tables, chairs and stools abound, the centre piece, an open fire giving the area a wonderfully warm and authentic feel. Opened in 2007 this is known as one of the best craft breweries in Norway having won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the famous Australian International Beer Festival in 2015 and 2016. Sample a selection from their 21 specially crafted beers varying from Dag Sitrus Pale Ale at 4% to Heidrun Vikingmjod designated a ‘Speciality Brand’ at 13.2%. Some are definitely a required taste such as one tasting of black pepper. Most British beers are between 3% and 5% so be careful how much you sample although luckily the brewery is situated on the quayside so not far to stagger back to the ships tender.
Time to set sail for Olden and despite it being 6pm the sun is still high in the sky indicating how far north we are as we glide majestically along waterways between steep mountains, relaxing and contemplating on the days adventures.
9am sees us heading between familiar high snow capped mountains backing the shoreline of Nordfjord as we near our berth in Olden, a small village of just 498 people situated at the mouth of the Oldeelva River. The quayside is busy with tourist coaches and one of them is ours complete with Olaf, one of the best guides I have ever experienced with a wonderful sense of humour. Our journey takes us through Olden, past its two churches, yes two the ‘Old’ built in 1759 and the ‘New’ in 1934, both built of wood with steep sloping roofs, one painted white the other dark red. Out of the village along deserted roads past farms and small villages. We stop at a viewing point where mist rises from the pine clad hill sides and the fjord water is as reflective as mirrors. Onwards through the fertile plains of the Oldendalen Valley passing waterfalls that are still partly frozen for whilst the sun shines from a clear blue sky the mercury has struggled to only 6c. Arriving at Briksdalsbre Mountain Lodge we swap transport to a Troll Car. The 3 kilometre climb of twists and turn up the mountain side was built by the farmers for the movement of cattle and goats. The first tourist transport at the start of the 20th century was by means of hay carts which were replaced by ponies pulling traps of 2 and 4 people. Finally, modernisation took over and in 2005 Troll Cars resembling elongated golf carts were employed to transport 7 visitors at a time to the glacier. The views on the ascent and descent are spectacular as new waterfalls and vistas come into view after every twist and turn as the cars make their way to the wooden staging shelter just below the glacier lake. From here it‘s a short walk, albeit uphill, to the lakes edge and the glacier beyond. It’s cold and the wind is blowing but the final view makes the chill blend into insignificance as the majestic glacier tinged with pale blue becomes an awesome sight. On the journey back as you approach the tight bends and look over the precipice you realise just how high you are before arriving back at the Mountain Lodge just in time for a lunch of the freshest Salmon I have ever tasted.
Suitably fed and watered it’s time to board the coach for the journey back with a stop at Yrineset an establishment set on the banks of the Fjord surrounded by mountains. The large tent like structure on the shoreline with open wood burning fire as the central feature makes for a cosy retreat from the cold outside air. Prior to entering your host will ‘Fish for Beer’ via a device where cans of beer are brought from underground storage by means of a handle operated conveyor belt. This is definitely a place to visit summer or winter, sit with a beer, take in the stunning views and just let time drift by. Banqueting rooms are available for hire on an upper level, ideal for weddings or other celebrations. Whenever you attend a warm welcome will await you. Continuing on through the Oldendalen Valley to Olden we pass the ship and make our way to the village of Loen 6 kilometres north east where we stop at ‘Salmons Leap’ a part of the Loelva River thunders over rocks, where Salmon come from the spawning grounds to reach the open Fjord and finally the sea before returning later in the year, swimming upstream and leaping the rapids as they return to their spawning grounds. It’s now a short journey to the Loen Skylift. Opened in 2017 the cable car in just 5 minutes will transport you to the summit of Mt. Hoven, 3,316 feet above sea level where snow is still deep on the ground. Take in spectacular views of the Jostedal Glacier National Park, the Fjord and harbour below or visit the restaurant and enjoy the vistas from there. For the energetic, walk from here to the summit of Staurinibba 1,207 feet higher. This is definitely a journey that should not be missed.
After a long day it is good to be back onboard but with the terrible realisation that tomorrow we will be in Bergen, known as ‘The Gateway to the Fjords’ but for us the exit to the fjords as it’s our last port of call in this beautiful country. The weather forecast is said to be cloudy with occasional rain, something quite normal for Bergen, but come morning the sky is only part overcast, the air is warmer as we make our way from the ship to the centre of Bergen. Here we enter the station for the Floibanen Funicular Railway one of the most famous attractions in Norway. Entering one of the funicular cars its but a 6 minute ride to the top of Mount Floyen almost 1,000 feet above sea level. Climbing through tunnels on way to the summit it becomes apparent that part of Bergen is built on the mountain side, every time you exit one of the tunnels there are houses and roadways, even stations, enabling persons other than tourists to use the system as their usual means of transportation. On attaining the summit, the sky has cleared and Bergen has blessed us with a wonderful last day. Standing in warm sunshine taking in 180 degree vistas over the town to the mountains, harbour and islands beyond before the blue horizon of sea and sky merge into one, this is what memories are made of. For those with more time the area has much to offer, a nature trail, Lake Skomakerdiket with BBQ areas and picnic shelters, a playground for the youngsters and much, much more. For me, after coffee in the café it’s time to descend back to sea level and a chance to discover this World Heritage city. A consideration is the ‘Bergen Card’. Costing about £25 and available at the local tourist office this will afford free entry to nearly 40 sights and museums, discounted entrance fees into others and discounts on the funicular railway.
There is much to see, the Sailors Monument commemorating Norway’s sailors back to the Viking times, the Fish Market, various museums but for me it has to be the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf area with its brightly painted wooden fronted shop facades in a variety of colours. The jetty jutting out into the harbour home to the Shetlands-Larsen memorial in commemoration of Leif Larsen the most highly decorated allied naval officer in WW2. This area of the harbour is home to many of the mammoth sea going tugs and rescue vessels, something unique to this part of the world. Standing out against this, the one and only Stratsraad Lehmkuhl, a three masted barque sailing ship, a beautiful white hull, ornate gold boom boasting 16 sails when fully rigged evoking memories of bygone days. Built in Germany in 1914 as a merchant marine training ship but taken as a prize by the United Kingdom at the end of WW1 and then sold to Norway who utilised it as a naval training ship. When invaded by Germany in April 1940 during WW2, the ship was taken back into German hands but restored to Norway by the British in 1945. Now it has entered the world of cruising offering sailing voyages to the Orkneys and Shetlands, entering the Tall Ships Races and much more. At 4pm this majestic ship sailed from her berth on a voyage to the Shetland Folk Festival in Lerwick creating a wonderful sight of white sails against the sky. There is much to see in this historic city but as always you are defeated by the clock so it’s back to the ship where at 5pm with 3 long ‘Goodbye’ blasts from the ships whistle we slip our moorings and head for the open sea and Tilbury.
The next day is a sea day and my last day on board Magellan. A day to reflect on what has been a wonderful learning experience amongst spectacular surroundings. It doesn’t matter how avidly you describe the Fjords, mountains, waterfalls, the towns and villages that nestle amongst them, it’s impossible to tell of their true beauty, you can only gain this by visiting them. As for the ship, MS Magellan, what can I say other than a huge thank you for transporting me safely across the seas to some of the most beautiful locations in the world, serving me food that is as good as I have eaten anywhere washed down by the delightful Rose house wine, is there any left!! To staff who attended my every need and always with a smile that made me feel so welcome.
This is a cruise line that still believes in cruising as it used to be, its especially suited to the mature traveller who appreciates the niceties, prices in sterling, drinks at reasonable prices with no added gratuities, good food and comfortable surroundings amongst likeminded people. Thank you Cruise and Maritime for all this, you certainly ‘Do what it says on the tin’.
My thanks to:
Alan Fairfax -
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