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Norwegian cruise report
This is a little overdue, but better late than never! As mentioned in my previous post, I spent the week of the 23rd of July on a cruise - my first ever - to beautiful Norway. In specific, we visited four towns/cities: Stavanger, Olden, Ålesund and Bergen, as well as spending the first and last days entirely at sea as we traversed the North Sea. Read on to find out how things went, and to discover whether I've gotten any more fluent since last I was there...

The travel company sent a taxi to my parents' house to collect us and our belongings, so the getting there was entirely pleasant; other than having to huddle around a desk to register and to confirm we were who we said we were, the entire process was perfectly smooth.

For me there were a few new experiences, not least being on a cruise in the first place. I'd been on ferries before, but the feeling of being on a cruise liner is entirely different. The vessel was sufficiently large that at times it was possible to completely forget that you were on a boat - when you're sitting in a theatre, you could be anywhere on Earth. The boat, the Oriana, was sufficiently-large enough to boast the aforementioned theatre, a cinema, several restaurants, swimming pools, a library, and more, in addition to the several hundred cabins. Unlike a ferry, there wasn't the constant lurch of the boat in the water, and it felt altogether quite stable except for when the ship happened to make a large turn - and even then, while you could feel it, it wasn't as if you found yourself hurled across the corridor.

The boat itself was quite nicely-decorated, a mixture of art deco internal stylings and plain-but-functional. It won't win awards for being the nicest boat in the world, but it was comfortable and well-maintained. I certainly couldn't complain about the service at meals: the staff were polite, helpful, and friendly, and the food was superb (even if the servings weren't the largest, though one shouldn't really complain). Even if you wanted something non-standard, they were happy to help, and while it took a little coaxing to get the drinks menu on the first night (I've never been a wine drinker, but a nice pint of real ale makes me quite the happy fox), there's nothing at all I could say I was unhappy about.

In terms of actual activities on the boat, though, there weren't many things to do during the daytime. There were the swimming pools, which were (by necessity) somewhat smaller than one might find elsewhere, but were still fun to amble about in; there was the aforementioned library and cinema, both free. But the actual scheduled activities were mostly either aimed at a different audience (one seminar was on "How to use an iPod"; I didn't attend...), or were not my particular cup of tea. On the final day, departing Bergen, the most ridiculous jingoistic singalong took place on the decks, with the entire boat decorated in Union flags and with canned versions of standards like "It's A Long Way To Tipperary" blared out through the PA system. 

While the boat itself was certainly nice, it was the shore says I was most looking forward to - not least because my boyfriend and mate, tfbaxxter , would be there! He was able to find some friendly furs in Stavanger to stay with, as it's quite far from his local area, so we'd be able to spend the whole day together while I was ashore.

So at 9am, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, I departed the Oriana with my family, and after a quick phone call to let him know we were there, I saw my boyfriend appear - complete with new sideburns! We hugged before I introduced him to my family - alas, only as a friend, as my siblings don't yet know about my sexuality - and with that, the two of us set off on our own to explore the city. He had the advantage of having seen the city himself the day before, as he recounts in his own report here, but neither of us were particularly au fait with the city, so we set off to have a good look around and see what there was to be found. We also exchanged some goods - I'd brought some recordable CDs and sleeves for him, plus a momento of his visit to Bath earlier in the year, while he gave me a deck for Magic: The Gathering, as he'd wanted us to be able to play each other. (This could be the start of a crippling addiction...)

Being a Sunday most of the shops were closed, but we got a good chance to see and take photos of the cathedral (Stavanger domkirke), plus sit by the large lake in the city centre and watch the swans and ducks. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had plenty of chances to sit beside one another and cuddle, and we held hands more or less everywhere we went. It was lovely to be able to just spend some time together, without any real obligations or deadlines save needing to get back to the boat by 5pm. For lunch, we headed for the Konserthus in a large park, where we got to see a free concert of music by Prokofiev; while we only stayed for the first half, it was fun to do something cultural together, and the performers were excellent. Afterwards we stayed in the park for a while, taking some photos of ourselves and hugging in a secluded spot.

After that, we continued our exploration of Stavanger, including walking through the old heart of the city and its pretty, traditional wooden houses, before heading for a bite to eat at Peppe's Pizza (a chain I had discovered with my mate the last time I was in Bath). Afterwards, we indulged ourselves in one of our little traditions, visiting a hot chocolate parlour and sharing a warm drink together. It certainly felt as if we were on a date, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Alas, not long after that, we had to depart, and we made our way back to the dock to say our farewells. I didn't want to go - I honestly wished I could stay there with him, but at 5 o'clock, we shared a parting kiss and a hug, and I headed back for the ship. Once back on board, I surprised him with another phone call, to let him know I was safely re-embarked and to thank him for a lovely time.

Next was Olden, where we headed up to see a glacier - not something I could say has ever been an ambition of mine, but good grief, if it had been, I would have been willing to make peace with my creator and die happy. I've heard of the ice appearing blue, but had always dismissed that as a myth, or at the very least an exaggeration. Astonishingly, it actually did - not simply in places, but with veins of blue-coloured ice running through the glacial surface. What's more, the water melting appeared fantastically pure, almost like liquid glass as it roared past us. One of the more memorable sights I've ever seen in my life, and one which prompted an immediate SMS to my boyfriend: "Your country is beautiful."

Olden the town itself wasn't huge, though it did have a few gift shops, and I even managed to post a postcard in very hesitant, and no doubt terribly-pronounced Norwegian. I'd love to learn the language and be able to speak it with some measure of fluency, but for now I managed to get by with the odd phrase, and otherwise defaulted to English - not a problem, but did make me feel rather culturally insensitive.

Next we headed for Ålesund, which was a larger city, and where we were taken on a tour of the city including a jaunt up a tall hill overlooking the city. It mostly sits on a peninsular, with very crowded streets winding their way uphill. Another very picturesque city, and with a few nice sights - as well as a few shopping centres to explore and spend my hard-earned kroner in. I didn't spend too much - there's more to a city than what you can buy there - but equally it didn't seem to be too tourist-oriented. I wandered about on my own for a few hours there, browsing and taking a few photographs, but headed back for the boat a little earlier than I'd planned after that. We also visited a collection of preserved traditional houses from various eras, and also saw a replica Viking longboat and some other Norwegian fishing ships, which was a rather nice excursion in its own right.

Our final stop was in Bergen, also visiting its historic Germanic wharf, Bryggen. This was a very beautiful city - very clean and tidy, as I've come to expect, and with a mixture of modern buildings tastefully nestling among some well-presented stone architecture. To get to the centre, one had to take a shuttle from the quay where the boat was moored, which took us few a tunnel where our guide joked trolls lurked; luckily we seemed to emerge unscathed. This time I explored the city with my mother and younger brother, and together we wandered its streets, visited a few shops together, and mused visiting the museum there where a exhibition on Edvard Munch was taking place, but my mother balked at the 60 Kr. cost and so we ended up not going. I did pick up a few CDs in a music shop, though, as well as acquiring a couple of shirts. As it was our last day ashore, it made sense to try and spend some of our Norwegian currency. I also tracked down a cybercafé in a mall, and managed to check my emails and send one to Baxxter while I was at it. (I'm an addict, but I think I did rather well without connectivity for a week!)

And with that, our shore days exhausted, we headed back for the boat for the final time, and soon our return journey began. I had a fantastic time in all - though I may not have done much in terms of actual activities, I saw some sights I'd never have on my own, visited some lovely cities, and remembered why I'd enjoyed Norway so much the first time around. Seeing my boyfriend was wonderful, and was worth the trip on its own, and on every day after that I found myself daydreaming of him and wishing we could spend another day together. I don't know when next we'll be able to share each other's company but I dearly hope it will be soon, even though I have precious little in the way of holidays left with my employer. All in all, a successful cruise, and a fine holiday.

Baxxter poses in Stavanger, the Oriana looming ominously behind
Baxxter poses in Stavanger, the Oriana looming ominously behind

We share a hot chocolate
We share a hot chocolate

The Briksdalsbreen glacier, with distinctive blue ice
The Briksdalsbreen glacier, with distinctive blue ice

A traditional Norwegian house in Ålesund
A traditional Norwegian house in Ålesund

A rainy day in Bergen
A rainy day in Bergen

Baxxter, looking cute.
Baxxter looking cute

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I'm glad you enjoyed my country, sweetie, and I hope you'll be back to enjoy it some more in not too long! We still have fjords to see and glaciers to traverse. I had a wonderful time with you, too; we need to meet up again soon so we can have some more hot chocolate! And I'm guessing you want some more Peppes. ;) Maybe you could ask if they make deliveries to the UK.

I love you, honey. Hope you'll be back online soon.

with hugs and kisses,
~ Miles T.F. Baxxter

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