Saturday 30 June 2018

Upwards and onwards

When checking around our suite on the Silver Spirit before departure this morning, I discovered that Silversea had thoughtfully supplied a jewellery box in the safe inside the walk-in wardrobe. Damn! I could have stored all my sparkly stuff safely in there! Oh, wait...
So, today it was back to the real world, with no more butlers, or jewellery boxes or (apparently) free glasses of champagne just for the asking - it's always a disconcertingly abrupt transfer. The moment you emerge from the marquee on the dock, you're on your own again, wrestling your suitcases over the cobbles and arranging things for yourself. 

Copenhagen looked beautiful, clean and neat and colourful as we drove through the old town on our way to the airport. Three times I've been there now, and it's still a delight. Not the airport, though: it's kind of confusing, with passport control halfway through the airside shopping centre, and no announcements at all. There would be a sudden and unsignalled move of passengers towards the gate, then the tide would turn, and then turn again. Most odd. And then boarding was kind of random, simultaneously from the airbridge and the rear stairs, so everyone met in the middle inside and it was a real bun-fight getting to our seats. 

Never mind. The view from the left-hand side was lovely flying out, over the city, the islands, the Jutland peninsula and the coast of the Netherlands, and then onto England towards the astonishing sprawl of London, finally descending over Windsor with a splendid view of the Castle in the sunshine. Heathrow, on the other hand, is very far from splendid - a grim necessity, where immigration is a LAX-level ordeal as literally a thousand people from multiple planes queued and shuffled for literally an hour and a half to get to the booths. And then of course there are miles to walk to get to the transport into the city. Augh.
But now we're in London, in Putney near the Thames. There was a family reunion with added friends, a fun evening in a pub, excellent pie and cider, and a warm summer night. Sorry, Silversea, we've moved on already.

Friday 29 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 15 - Rubbing it in

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise

I think I can speak for the rest of the Silver Spirit guests - and crew too, probably - when I say that, opening the curtains this morning to a clear blue sky with the sun sparkling off the sea, I felt like spitting. Rub our noses in it, nature, why don't you? So the deck was crowded like Blackpool beach with bodies sprawled on loungers around the pool, people hung over the railings on Deck 10, and there were quantities of bare skin wherever you looked. The Mongolian Stir-fry they set up for lunch there was deservedly popular.

Indoors, there was a lucky draw at the boutique, which is full of sparkly stuff with no price labels on, and very individual-choice clothes; and a Silversea presentation in one of the Grand Suites which I went to be nosy at and came away perfectly satisfied with our Veranda Classic. I had a complimentary wrinkle treatment in the Zagara Spa which made no visible difference at all, but felt quite nice.

Up in the Panorama Lounge there was a live version of Name that Tune, where the Voices of Silversea gave us the musical clues in various amusing ways, like hummed, whistled, droned through duct tape over the mouth (ouch) and doobie-dooed. They couldn't fool us, we trounced it - and then had our comeuppance at bingo when we got nowhere. But TP came next, the final, for double points, and after so many games together we put politeness aside and fought viciously for our own answers when there were disagreements. Even so, I was over-ruled with the Japanese for 'Thank you very much'. Turned out we were both right, but my version of arigatoo gozaimasu was righter. So there. But we got the point anyway, and came in first equal again - though the victory was dimmed by our disappointment at having learnt, with huge effort but ultimately in vain, the name of Zimbabwe's president. Despite our team's confident prediction (given the nationality of Moss, the quizmaster), it never came up as a question. Emmerson Mnangagwa, if you're wondering.

There was a rush to cash in our prize points for actual goodies - pens, tiny torches, a boring tshirt, cards, keychains, iPad case and so on. I got a visor. I might even wear it. And then it was time to pack, a horrible job at the best of times and even worse when it means the end of a holiday. Even a holiday that was a bit disappointing weather-wise. But it did end on a high note: after dinner at Silver Note, which does tapas-style dishes very elegantly - excellent lamb, and a very fancy chocolate dessert - there was a party up on the pool deck with the DJ doing a great job and lots of people dancing as the sun set (what a novelty!) in a blaze of gold while, on the opposite horizon, it was balanced by a full moon rising up out of the sea. It was a gorgeous way to end the cruise; and easily today's (literal) highlight.

UPDATE 30/3/23: Finally! The long sought-after question has finally shown up. The local paper’s daily quiz is no match for Silver Spirit’s TP vibe in an opulent lounge, being served free drinks while Denmark glides by outside, but you take what you’re given, I guess.

Thursday 28 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 14 - The end is nigh

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
Today we should have been taking a helicopter flight over the spectacular fjords and mountains surrounding the pretty town of Olden - but instead we're ploughing steadily through an increasingly calm sea under finally a blue sky, towards the cruise's scheduled end for us back at Copenhagen. There's no leeway to stop off anywhere as we have to make up for the time lost to our enforced extra nights in Tromsø. Though of course weather is both a law unto itself, and randomly unseasonal these days; and there's nothing Silversea could have done about the rough conditions back up north, it's still really disappointing to have missed out on even some of the ports and scenery that everyone signed up for.

The staff are doing their best to keep us entertained with special talks and events, the main one today being a British Pub session in the Dolce Vita lounge, with a buffet of pub food laid on - butter chicken, Welsh rarebit, fish and chips, cottage pie, rice pudding - and trays of beer and Pimms. There was also a singalong, done as a competition between the two sides of the lounge: Roll Out the Barrel, When the Saints, Yellow Submarine and many more. Reader, I skipped out and went downstairs to the peace and quiet of Japanese restaurant Seishin, to have delicious sushi and slightly confronting sashimi of scallops, tuna and salmon.

The distractions continued through the afternoon, with - honestly, the last thing you would ever think of on a ship like this, with a passenger demographic like this - a balloon sculpture demonstration by one of the crew. Truly: elephants, penguins, Sylvester the Cat. Extraordinary. Then there was a Would I Lie to You game, followed by bingo, followed of course by TP (third place, since you ask, with 18/25, our lowest score). You wouldn't believe how vehemently, though of course in whispers, the birthplace of Mother Teresa was discussed. It's complicated, people.

We're getting near the end of the cruise now - just one full day left. So the luggage labels have been dished out already, and forms to fill in about onward travel arrangements; plus, tonight was the Captain's Farewell followed by the parade of staff across the stage in the  Venetian Lounge, to the accompaniment of an enthusiastic (partial) standing ovation and even some tears. The day ended, as usual, with bright light outside still, and Angela and Alex playing soothingly familiar songs.

Highlight today? Um, maybe counting up all our Silversea Trivial Pursuit and Bingo prize points from this and the last couple of cruises and finding we have 140. That might be enough for a Tshirt even! Tomorrow's cash-up will tell...

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 13 - Weighted down

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
While it's far from a Mary Celeste scenario, the passengers guests on the Silver Spirit feel spread a little more thinly today. Certainly, a number of them jumped ship yesterday, either frightened off by the weather forecast, or uninterested in the rest of the voyage now that it will be entirely at sea. Our prolonged stay in Tromsø to give the worst of the weather time to pass means that, in order to at least try to get back to Copenhagen on time, our stops at pretty Ålesund and Olden have both been cancelled, to considerable disappointment (we'd already missed out on Hammerfest).

So our numbers are down - plus, because there's still a fair degree of pitching in the 5-6m swell, the lifts have been locked in case anyone gets trapped inside. With so many on board with mobility problems, that means, I'm guessing, a lot of them are confined to their rooms suites, and only the show-off doughty sorts are up in the library lounge on Deck 11 or even the Panorama Lounge on Deck 9. Most people out in public seem to be in Dolce Vita, midships on Deck 5 - where there is, I have to say, some territoriality involved. I was pointedly rejected when attempting to sit down at a cluster of four chairs and a sofa, informed with distinct hostility by the one (Australian) woman already sitting there that the sofa was taken, and she was expecting more friends besides. Happily, I was immediately invited to sit at the next cluster with Marcel and Christoph from our TP team, while the Dog at the Gate sat behind me, alone, for the next three hours.

On the programme today were lectures, bridge, blackjack and table-tennis tournaments, a movie, and even a fashion show, in which women who had shown an interest in the boutique were invited to model the jewellery including, to one woman's understandable excitement, a half-million dollar diamond necklace. One of our TP team members was weighed down with huge gold and amethyst pieces which were interesting to see on that scale, if impractical.

Passing over today's TP result (not a result), the main event of the day for us was dining at La Dame, the most exclusive of Silver Spirit's seven restaurants and the only one you have to pay extra for ($60 each!). There are only twelve tables - I think, it was a bit too dimly lit to be sure. The food was, naturally, very good: escargots, lobster bisque, braised duck and a sweet soufflé for me. We chose not to dump $585 on a bottle of Chateau Margaux, or even a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for $50, because the house wine was perfectly fine. There was a slightly awkward moment afterwards, when chef Yan emerged from his kitchen to ask how we had all enjoyed his dishes and every one of the guests had to apologise for not finishing their main course because they simply weren't able to fit it all in. 

Later, I sat in the empty observation above the bow up on deck 11, watching the grey sea and listening to the wind whistling, and reading a book titled 'Norwegian Wood Chopping and Stacking', which was endearingly poetic. After that, Angela and Alex down in Dolce Vita kept up their record of not playing anything I didn't already know and like.

Highlight of the day? I suppose Capt Macarone telling us that Silver Spirit would have no trouble coping with the demanding conditions, due to being "well ballasted". After my dinner tonight (and, cumulatively, the many meals preceding it on this cruise) I feel in much the same condition myself.

Tuesday 26 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway Day 12 - Déja vu

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
So, how to fill a bonus extra day in Tromsø when it's grey and windy and damp, and there's pretty much no-one on board who thinks it's a bonus at all? While the captain waited for the weather to decide which way it was going to go, I set off on foot from the ship for the nearby Botanic Gardens. They're the northernmost such gardens in the world, and I was glad I went to see them. They're naturally landscaped around clumps of rocks, with little trails in and around them allowing close inspection, and the plants are all helpfully labelled, so there were lots of "Oh, yes!" moments as I discovered old friends from my English gardening days, and their more exotic cousins.

Many of the were in gorgeous, beautiful, colourful bloom, and it was fun trying to do close-ups in such a strong, gusty wind. Saxifrage, sedum, aquilegia, poppy, primula, calendula, gentian, buttercup, rhododendron... they're from all over the world, even NZ, and it was a real pleasure to poke around the gardens discovering new beauties.

I nearly went back to the ship then, since the weather was getting worse, but took it for a sign when I got there and found the shuttle into town ready and waiting. So I went back into Tromsø's small but busy centre and then - adventure is my middle name, people - took a city bus out through the suburbs to the Tromsø Museum. That involved buying a pass from a café, waiting at a stop with an updating bus info screen, and then once on board watching another screen listing the stops - so there was no difficulty knowing when to get off. Though most people had their cards screened as they boarded, some paid actual cash, and it was cute to see that the driver had a little leather handbag hanging beside him with slots for all the coins. So old-fashioned!

The museum, run by the University, was, frankly, crap. Small, with well-presented and realistic displays, but kind of random, with big gaps in the stories they were telling. It didn't help that after beginning with a hiss and a roar with good English translations of the labels, they suddenly disappeared, leaving me floundering and gazing blankly at mysterious objects described only in Norwegian. Yes, I know I'm in Norway, but if you start supplying English labels, why not continue?

It didn't help that the bits I could understand were so depressing, about climate change and environmental pollution: eg the stark statement that "20-25,000 polar bears live in the Arctic today. Scientists predict that the population will decrease by two-thirds by 2050". Not arguing with the sad truth of that - just that most people visiting the museum would already have had their consciousness raised and could do with some celebration of how magnificent these animals are, and how worth protecting. Sigh.

Back on board the Silver Spirit, bingo went well and, though our TP team misattributed a quote to Hamlet (should have been As You Like It) and made a snooker ball colour mistake, we were still second with 22/25. Dinner at Atlantide was very good - delicious lobster bisque - and part of the company was interesting, though we ended up also sharing the table with the Kiwi-baiting Aussie OWM again, who still hasn't twigged how predictable, boring and unfunny that shtick is. Because he's an OWM, I suppose: not a demographic known for self-knowledge and personal development.

The show tonight was jazz (blech) so I stayed in the Dolce Vita lounge with a number of other enlightened souls and very much enjoyed Angela on guitar beautifully singing sets composed entirely of songs I know and like. And so to bed, in a ship tucked neatly into the wharf, to be carried as I (hopefully) sleep out into the open sea early tomorrow morning, to take our chances with the wind and big swells.

In a very grey day, the highlight was definitely the flowers, especially so many varieties of fabulous aquilegias.

Monday 25 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 11 - A triumph and a disappointment

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
Boy, they don't pull any punches at Tromsø's Arctic Museum. The first thing you see when you enter is a man about to skin a reindeer, then there's this poor Arctic fox caught in a gin trap, and upstairs a man about to hack at a trio of fluffy white seals with a pointed weapon. There are stuffed polar bears, big and baby, musk oxen, a giant walrus skeleton and some horrific weapons, like an automatic polar bear trap that drew them in from literally miles around with a chunk of raw meat, and then shot them with a rifle when they grabbed hold of the bait - "but often it just wounded them," said Jørgen matter-of-factly, as he showed us around.

Jørgen is a vegetarian, he mentioned several times, but became quietly defensive when I asked, as inoffensively as I could, whether Norwegians generally were changing their minds about their country's insistence on continuing with whaling. No, was the short answer. The long one trotted out all the same justifications that the Japanese do: Minke whales are not endangered, the numbers taken are limited, it's tradition, and - of course - they're providing useful data for research. "Chicken farming is much worse," Jørgen asserted, conveniently ignoring the fact that chickens are in no way threatened as a species.

Slaughtered mammals apart, the museum is good: small, well presented, lots of artefacts, and in a historic building. The sections on Roald Amundsen were well done - including, kind of unsurprisingly, a stuffed dog from his South Pole expedition. Did you know, besides being first there, he pioneered both the North West and North East passages - and is one of the contenders for first to the North Pole too? Bit of an overachiever, eh.

Tromsø itself is a pleasant little - and also very large - town. Third biggest in the world for area, but the CBD is compact and pretty, with the usual colourful three-storey wooden houses, some impressive municipal buildings (including one with a small dog on its roof ridge), statues, squares and gardens. Also a party shop called Randi. And what sounded like another good Arctic museum, Polari, which was a waste of $23 since the Northern Lights movie was no better than what I've seen in Anchorage, and was followed up by a feeding session for the indoor-enclosed harbour seals, which i didn't stay for. Don't bother.

Across its elegant bridge (most of the town is on an island) is a fancy modern church, and a cable car 421m up Mt Fløya, from where we didn't get a view of the mountains opposite, some of them over 1000m. The weather has been a bother for most of this cruise, and today led to a special presentation by the Captain, to a full theatre. He told us that the rattly propeller is mechanically fine, so it must be a software issue, which will take longer to fix; but, more importantly, there is a big low on its way towards us. Since there are swells of 6m predicted, he's decided to keep us tucked safely here in port at Tromsø for an extra day.

That means we won't now be visiting Ålesund, full of Art Nouveau buildings and reportedly one of the prettiest towns in Norway. It's disappointing, and some people are clearly feeling cheated; but the general feeling seems to be better safe than sorry. It's certainly a downer, though - so it's just as well that today's highlight was our TP team's triumph today, the sole first, with 24/25, foxed only by Gaudi's first name. Antonio, since you ask.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 10 - Option B

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
Unusually, the Captain made an announcement quite late last night, to reassure concerned passengers guests that the half-hour or so of pronounced shuddering we had been experiencing  was nothing to worry about: it was just some sort of mismatch between propeller speed and open-sea waves (he gave a more technical explanation). It happened again early this morning, though, and this time he admitted that since we're now back in the shelter of the fjords, it's more likely to be a propeller malfunction and that divers will be inspecting it when we arrive in Tromsø this evening. 

And that's the other thing: our call at Hammerfest has been cancelled because the "awful weather" made using the tenders too dangerous. Not that it feels that bad: it's grey and cold, and dampish, and sadly the tops of the peaks are hidden - but there's nothing much in the way of motion. Believe me: my stomach would tell me if there were. The Silver Spirit is big and stable enough to cope with much worse than this, I'm sure. A swell does certainly make getting into the tenders quite exciting, though, especially as so many people on board seem to have mobility problems. I've never felt so spry, in comparison; and seeing so many bent backs all around me is doing wonders for my posture.

So today was all about extra activities: an interesting lecture about the Arctic convoys during WWII, familiar territory to me from the Alistair Maclean phase back in my youth; a movie in the theatre ('Darkest Hour' - bit of a theme going here?); spa stuff, games and so on. Regular readers 😃 know that I did not take part in all of these . None of the passengers guests seemed especially bothered about missing a port, though probably like me, they were all hoping we'll be literally back on course tomorrow.

The afternoon passed pleasantly with wandering around the ship for random snacks and drinks, popping out at the bow to be shocked at the strength of the wind, and its coldness, and turning up at the Panorama Lounge for a binge session of games: Name that Tune, Bingo and finally Trivial Pursuit (second with 19/25 today - damn not knowing the name of South Africa's new president) which was hugely popular, with folding chairs being brought in for all the extra people.

We dawdled along the fjord, past high black rocky peaks, a border of green along the shore with random scatters of holiday houses, an unexpected oil rig, plunging waterfalls, plenty of Indian snow right down to the waterline, and endless forest. Finally we arrived at Tromsø, a town spread out along the shores of the fjord, an elegant bridge linking its two halves, one of them topped with two honestly frighteningly steep ski jumps on top of a hill. There was a message from the Captain that the divers will be inspecting the propellers in the morning and that, if they find a fishing net tangled around one of them, we'll get to eat the contents.

Highlight of the day was dinner with June and John in Atlantide, swapping travel stories that included jazz, shoulder injuries, horses, rhino and gorillas.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 9 - No man, nor Magerøy either, apparently

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster

This morning we slid into the harbour of Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya - or is it? An island, I mean. According to Norwegian law, a channel of less than 2km means an island is part of the mainland and since Magerøya is just 1.8km from the coast, its northernmost point claims the prize of being closer to the Pole than the rest of mainland Europe, at 71degrees 10'21". Already halfway a cheat, that description conveniently ignores the fact that a nearby, much less dramatic-looking, headland is actually more than a kilometre further north - but forget all that, North Cape has been an established tourist attraction since 1664 when an Italian priest was the first foreign visitor to get the equivalent of a Been There certificate.

All of that seemed academic when I opened the curtains to yet another dull rainy day with low cloud. Still, I went ashore and poked around the nearby museum, learning that the town of 2000-odd people - in fact, the entire province of Finnmark - was occupied by the Germans during the war and, when the army was forced to retreat in 1944, they evicted everyone and burned the whole place to the ground, leaving only the church standing: their 'scorched earth' policy. Other fishing villages were never rebuilt, but the people brought Honningsvåg back to life. If that wasn't inspiring enough, when I emerged from the museum all the rain and cloud was gone, and the town was glowing in Technicolor glory. 

So I walked along the promenade and admired the dinky fishing boats perfectly reflected in the still water, and the painted houses, and the bare rocky hillsides all around. I circled around the town, happily clicking away, very much tempted by the pretty things in the art galleries, and sorry I wouldn't be able to see the live show about the town that some friendly locals were promoting outside the theatre.

Of course then, just as we gathered for our bus trip to North Cape, the clouds returned, the temperature dropped, and there was talk of fog ahead. But we set off anyway, past the harbour and cod-drying racks, into the treeless interior that looked very like Scotland: just grass and blunted rock, with lots of lakes, and also small clusters of red-painted summer houses. And reindeer! Grazing uncontained, smaller than expected, and making the most of the summer grass. Traditionally they are herded by the Sámi people, and we had a photo stop with colourfully-dressed Nils, who looked wary, and his furry-antlered reindeer which was happily hoeing into a rack of lichen. We were warned not to ask him how many reindeer he has, as that's like asking for his bank balance.

We pressed on to North Cape, which was busy with tourists and hikers and dogs, and also, happily, relatively free of fog so we could see the Barents Sea 300m below the sheer cliff. In the basement of the tourist centre we watched a movie which was beautifully filmed and showed this Finnmark province in all weathers and seasons. Spectacular. Three hundred years plus of catering to tourists means they're pretty well set up here with gift shop, museum, café and so on - but outside it's still forbiddingly natural. Apart from the big globe above the cliff, of course, which it is entirely obligatory to photograph.

After dinner we headed out of Honningsvåg to sail past North Cape and begin our slow return back to Copenhagen in a week's time, with dire warnings from the captain that weather conditions of "Norway's crazy summer" might make our next port of call, Hammerfest, a no-go. On a calm, almost sunny evening with the snow-patched sea cliffs of Magerøya spotlit here and there, and North Cape looming dramatically above them all, it seemed hard to believe.

The highlight today was trouncing at dinner the Aussie old white man, who had boringly insisted on doing that unoriginal Kiwi put-down thing, with a well-timed underarm bowling jibe. 

Friday 22 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 8 - I cod you not

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
So of course we woke to brighter weather today, having left the Lofoten Islands far behind during the night. I say ‘night’ – but we’re well into the midnight sun zone now, so it's a good thing the Silver Spirit’s curtains are a decent thickness.

Harstad is a pleasant little town notable for its ‘Adolf gun’ on a hilltop (just your regular Nazi-installed WWII cannon), a fortified church and a historic village, none of which I visited. Instead I meandered around the hilly streets surrounding the harbour, enjoying the colours of the neat houses – red, yellow, green, blue, with pleasingly contrasting window frames and doors – and simply being out in the fresh air and sunshine. I met my second friendly Norwegian cat so far – this time a soft-furred grey one called Lily, who was very purry and dribbly but, according to her owner, only with strangers, treating those who actually feed and house her with disdain. Cats, eh.

The locals were focused on a flower market in the town square, no doubt enjoying their brief fling with pansies, petunias and marigolds – the giveaway snow-scraper scratch marks on the pavements telling a different sort of story. I ate a tasty crèpe cooked at a pavement stall, the classic banana and Nutella version. The customer queuing behind me was interested in our cruise, and told me with quiet pride that yesterday’s port, Svolvaer, has an annual fishing contest which he once won with a catch of a 22kg Arctic cod.

And then at lunchtime we were on our way again, heading back our through the fjords and yet further north, past improbably isolated-looking island settlements of wooden houses and barns in pockets of green fields, surrounded by unbroken woodland. Trivial Pursuit restored our team's confidence with 22/25 and second place, with a bit of a controversy over the pronunciation of 'pamplemousse', and personal satisfaction at holding out, against spirited support for Lake Victoria, for Lake Baikal as the biggest by volume in the world.

High point of today was choosing the Atlantic cod at the main restaurant, Atlantide, and selecting the lemon butter sauce to accompany it. Delectable!

Thursday 21 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 7 - Nobody died: in fact, the opposite

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
Antelope Canyon, Santorini, Torres del Paine and the Lofoten Islands: what do they have in common? That's right: a huge Instagram presence. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that cluster of colourful wooden houses tucked under a bare rocky peak, beside a turquoise sea. I had never heard of them before IG and now they’ve become pretty much a part of my daily life. So it was a bit of a thrill to wake up this morning as we came in to dock at Svolvaer, the islands’ busy port town.

Only a bit, that is, because it was raining, and the tops of the peaks were hidden in low cloud, the sea was grey and a big swell made getting off the ship into the tenders a dodgy undertaking. I dithered over what I should do with the day, not having booked anything – which, given the weather, was just as well. But then two Aussie angels arrived at my elbow, said they’d hired a car and would I like to share it with them for a drive around the islands? Perfect!

It was slightly less perfect when we went to pick up the nice new Mazda SUV and they found, to their consternation and embarrassment, that they’d both left their driving licences back in their suite safe. So I ended up having to drive. Regular readers 😄 will know that my last experience of driving on the right (wrong) side of the road was in Louisiana, with no sat-nav, and that it involved sweating, many U-turns and a constant chorus of ‘Keep right!’ It wasn’t fun.

But driving through these rocky Norwegian islands, linked by soaring bridges, was a much less fraught affair. The roads are narrow and winding, but well maintained with lots of passing bays, and people drive more slowly here. The Aussies sat in the back directing me and being encouraging, and forgiving about the odd hiccup – which occasioned nothing more aggressive than headlight flashes from the locals – and it was possible to almost relax after a while.

There were glacier-scraped rocks, pointy peaks with Indian snow coming clear of dramatically-swirling dark cloud, fresh foliage and wildflowers, orange kelp draped over the rocks (and over a clothes hanger outside one house). The houses were mostly brown, yellow and white, with a couple of blue ones to disprove our theory of why we hadn’t seen any, and a few with traditional grass roofs. The fields were neat, there were a few sheep, and lots and lots of fishing boats moored in little harbours. Not the super-picturesque ones of IG fame, but still pretty. We saw a reconstructed Viking longhouse from 700 AD, and long wooden drying frames hung with thousands of gutted cod (fortunately downwind).

It was a very pleasant day out and off the ship and, if disappointing weather-wise, it could have been much worse and was at least typical of what the doughty people here have to live with.

The Trivial Pursuit score today was a heartening 21/25, making us first equal again – plus, there was a NZ question (about the Rainbow Warrior. No French in the room).

Highlight of the day would have been the relief at getting the hire car back to the agency unscathed – but that was trounced by our unmarried 37 year-old Prime Minister back home giving birth today to a baby girl for whom her partner will be the primary care-giver. Sharing our current space with so many citizens of the US, it’s particularly gratifying to be able to be proud of our head of government.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 6 - Downtime is not a downer

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster

We had another At Sea day today. People who haven't (yet) cruised can be forgiven for thinking that this is the weak spot of any itinerary; but those of us who have know that these can be the best days. Or at least they are for anal types like me who feel obliged to do and see as much as possible when they're travelling. For me a day at sea is a holiday from the holiday, a chance to relax when I can lie in with a clear conscience, linger over breakfast and lunch, poke around the ship's nooks and crannies, download photos, even do menial stuff like laundry. And, of course, take advantage of the programme of onboard activities laid on by Silversea.

Today that included another talk by Mr Paranoid, security expert Peter LaSorsa, who this time had some actually useful tips about emails and passwords; beginner's German (hijacked by an OWM far from being a beginner); a lecture about Alfred Nobel; a talk about opals with, surprise! a chance to buy some afterwards; and the usual choice of bridge, exercise and spa treatments. A special today was a presentation about what the Cruise Director took great care not to call a takeover of Silversea by Royal Caribbean, who have just acquired 66% of the company. The theatre was full of anxious and protective long-time Silversea patrons afraid that things are going to change. They were told that Silversea would remain separate and true to itself, and that the investment would just allow even better things, like an increase in ships to twelve, which was always the family's dream. Time will tell. There is, it's fair to say, scepticism. And it didn't help that in the videoed conversation between the CEOs, the RCL chairman kept referring to 'Silverseas'. Tch.

Then there was Bingo with cleverly designed boards, a very poor unplaced Trivial Pursuit effort, and as compensation later, dinner at Indochine, where we were recognised and welcomed by a waiter, Angelo, from Silver Explorer, whose recommendation of the crème brulée was spot on. A special Name That Tune competition followed, which redeemed our TP shame, allowing us to retire with our egos intact.

High point today was, despite Capt. Macarone telling us that we would be "gently suffering" from 35 knot winds and big swells, not being affected one bit by the motion of the ship.

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 5 - Not having my kayak

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster
The promised/threatened rough seas didn’t eventuate last night and we woke to a smooth slide in through the long fjord towards Trondheim. Further thoughts on the fiord/fjord thing: apart from the truly spectacular fjord we sailed into to visit Flåm, the others we’ve seen so far have not been at all what I expected. Flat, basically: not the soaring, steep mountains plunging straight down into the water that we get in New Zealand’s Fiordland, but instead low, lumpy, worn-looking trails of rocky islets and stumpy hills. Clearly much older than ours – but, also clearly, nowhere near as striking. So far!

Trondheim is Norway’s third-largest city, also once the capital, full of students and best-known for its colourful wooden warehouses lining the looping river, and a massive cathedral. My plan here was to do an independent kayak trip along the river – but sadly it was raining again, and that just didn’t sound like fun any more. So instead I went on a Silversea excursion by bus, boat and bus again to see it all through rain-streaked windows, and hear about the history that I would otherwise have missed out on. Vikings and fires, basically, plus the Germans building a submarine pen here in WWII out of concrete that in parts is five metres thick. So it is, naturally, still in place, and used now to store things, and for occasional parties.

Then the weather cleared a bit and I spent the rest of the day happily walking around the inviting narrow cobbled streets, taking photos of the colourful warehouses on their rickety-looking piles, the old bridges, cute little houses, the fortress on the hill, and a truck I watched with admiration squeezing through a challengingly narrow and curved side street.

I was back at the Silver Spirit in time for a much better team performance at Trivial Pursuit, at which we scored first-equal – and would have been first, if I hadn’t got the meaning of PDF wrong, tch. ‘Public display file’ seems to me much more obvious than ‘portable document format’.

Highlight of the day: watching the operation of the world’s only bike lift. It’s like a conveyor belt built beneath the surface at the side of a street climbing up a – to be honest, not very steep – hill, where you position yourself on your bike, put your right foot against a metal wedge, press a button and let the wedge push you up the slope. Or not. It was a bit temperamental – but it did work, mostly.


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