Well, having asked Admin to provide a "reviews and blogs" section, I guess i should start us off. Hopefully this is the first of many blogs that others will post in the months ahead.
This is a slightly edited version of my daily blog from last month, that you may have seen posted elsewhere. I hope it's of interest.
Day 1 - Fjord Focus
Well, here we are for our 7 day cruise to Norway on the glorious Oriana, and we had a really decent run down to Southampton despite the almost constant rain this morning. In fact, I think we would have made it in record time had we not hit the traffic going to the Southampton Boat Show at the exact second we received a text from a friend at P&O warning us of traffic going to the Southampton Boat Show - doh! But, it wasn't too bad and my only real complaint was the foliage that Southampton Council seem to be growing along the quayside dual carriageway to stop cruisers rubber necking for an early look at the ship they will board minutes later anyway. By bouncing up and down at the wheel however, it was still possible to get a good, if intermittent, view of both the beautiful Oriana (berthed at the Mayflower terminal) and the look of surprise on the face on the white van man driving in the adjacent lane.
Anyways, we were soon onboard and Mandy my wife was thoroughly enjoying herself unpacking our cases to Downton Abbey repeats on the in-cabin tele. Then, just as I was wondering if she would have been equally content with the Downton DVD box set on the tele at home for a week, my world came crashing down - we've only forgot to pack my undies! Mand's immediate solution is that i should wear her knickers until we can buy me some shreddies in Bergen on Sunday!?! Which obviously sounds a ridiculous option until you realise that, other than going commando, it is the only option. Suffice to say, I will be prising elasticated frilly bits from my mango cheeks for the next 48 hours. i will also be crossing the road VERY carefully in Bergen on Sunday I can assure you.
I am a little suspicious that Mandy may have just hidden my underwear though, as her "I have a list for every eventuality" approach to life means things are rarely forgotten. She has just also had her nose put out of joint as Domnic, our cabin steward for the second successive cruise (we were in the same cabin in April) gave me a huge bear hug of a greeting, whilst Mandy only got a respectful hand shake. It was quite a touching moment actually, Domnic spotted us walking down the corridor towards him and opened his arms wide in readiness for a hug a good 30 yards before we got to him, and clearly remembered us bless him. i'm sure he was just being respectful as I say, what with Mand being a lady and all, but she didn't even get a peck on the cheek. So I think my absent Calvin Klein's, and the resulting knicker wearing, may just be her playing out some kind of sick revenge on her part. Either way dinner this evening, whilst excellent, felt a little different. A feeling of claustrophobia to strangely specific parts on my undercarriage kind of different. Not surprisingly, I couldn't face the meatballs.
And on that note, and having barely mentioned cruising at all (will try harder tomorrow I promise), I will bid you all goodnight.
Day 2 - Fjord One Night Only.
Twas an early night last night, with us retiring to the cabin straight after a very good first Headliners Show. So, despite the clocks going forward last night, and us therefore losing an hour, we both felt pretty good this morning as we put away a decent late breakfast courtesy of room service. in fact, it was mid-morning before we vacated the cabin to find the atrium full of the lengthy duty free queue taking advantage of this mornings "extra 15% off" offer. That's ok, we've no pressing need for owt so happily went without.
Weather wise it was dry but very windy today and, although nothing too major movement wise, it's been very much a day to be indoors. The wind is actually a head wind so our arrival in Bergen tomorrow will be delayed until lunch time, which could complicate our plans to meet up with our friends that live there, but I suspect that's partly due to Captain David Pembridge slowing the ship slightly to keep things comfortable for everyone. I've been on ships where he has opted to do that before and, personally, I'm all for it, especially as we have a large number of first timers onboard this cruise.
For us, I'm glad to say, today was a day just to relax and unwind and, in Mandy's case, that meant mellowing out in the Spa having a full wax and polish (or whatever you girls get done in there). Or at least she did until some numpty left his key card in the cabin and was forced to break two key rules, namely - first rule of Spa day (don't interrupt spa day) and second rule of spa day (don't even think about breaking the first rule of Spa day). Fortunately for me, it was but a brief interlude to her back, sack and crack (?!?), and I made it up to her later on by accompanying her to the movie. It was called Quartet, was very good and full of really decent, mostly elderly, actors few of whom i had seen in quite a while. Indeed, so elderly was the sizeable cast list, it's the only film i've ever seen on a cruise ship where the average age of the actors surpassed that of the audience (just). Good film though and, at 98 minutes, not so long that the wife's knickers you're wearing start to feel like cheese wire.
Then tonight we had our first formal night, and Captain's Welcome Aboard Party, which was good. There were a few fellas there who's idea of formal wear appears to be just wearing ankle length trousers, but they made an effort I think, and it's good to see demand for patent leather trainers finally taking off. But the main thing is Mandy, who always looks forward to the formal nights, and had had the spa place various fruits and vegetables on her face for a large part of the day in preparation, looked absolutely stunning. I, on the other hand, was about to sink a couple more free drinks that was wise.
Yes, I'm afraid I may have disgraced myself slightly last night. In my defence, one of the waitresses in the Welcome Aboard Party did ply me with free drinks for 40 solid minutes. It was the same waitress who seemed to think she knew Mandy earlier in the day when she offered to provide her with her "usual" Black Russian at the ungodly hour of 10.00am. Having never had a Black Russian in her life, either socially or alcoholically, Mand thinks it was a case of mistaken identity, but the lady concerned still provided me with both red wine and champers a plenty, so I'm not complaining. That said, Mand whispered in my ear, as early as 7.10pm, that I was slurring my words and I fear I may well have talked complete and utter rubbish from that point onwards. Shame, I used to be able to really drink when I was younger!
Then, we followed another excellent dinner with a few drinks in Tiffany's. As luck would have it, Claire, the resident pianist we enjoyed so much in April, rejoined Oriana yesterday too, and provided the perfect accompaniment to my alcohol induced progression from tipsy to fairly bladdered. Maybe it's just as well our arrival in Bergen is delayed after all.
Day 3 - Fjord Old Times Sake
On our delayed arrival in a dry, but cloudy, Bergen we were immediately met by our friends Jules and Thomas (and their two boys, Marcus and Dominic) and whisked off to their home in a suburb of Bergen for lunch. That meant driving straight up a huge mountain, down the other side and passing fjord after fjord until we got to the particular one on which their house is situated in a place called Lysekloster. It is a truly stunning place to live and we spent a lovely afternoon catching up and feeding our faces in their lovely Nordic style home. So enjoyable was it in fact, and the afternoon shot by so fast, that we came dangerously close to missing Oriana's final boarding time. But we just about made it onboard in time.
As it happens, we needn't have worried as, on boarding, we were immediately advised that Oriana was now staying in port until 10pm. This was because, rather than sail the regulation minimum 12 miles out to sea tonight, that cruise ships must go in between ports, the Captain had obtained permission from the authorities to take a much shorter, closer to shore route, thus avoiding a nasty overnight storm currently brewing further out. So, a much shorter, and calmer, route for us tonight which also effectively doubled the amount of time we got in port today. I'm not sure many took advantage of that as, by then, the rain had arrived and, for me personally, the excesses of last night were fast catching up with me, but hats off to the Captain again for going above and beyond to ensure the comfort of his passengers.
The only slight downside of today is that we still haven't seen much of Bergen, and its world heritage site harbour. But our priority on both our visits here now has been to see our friends. We did see bits from the car as we drove by, and both the Bryggen (old harbour) and the King's "castle" looked great in very different ways, but we'll be back for sure. And Jules' suggestion that we do a Bryggen based pub crawl next time, should then tick the tourist box as well as the catching up with old friends one.
Tomorrow we are in Flam (pronounced Flom) and we have tickets for the highly recommended Flam mountain railway. Sadly, it's predicted to rain until late morning, by which time we should be at the top, so keep your fingers crossed that the rain stops at the right time and we get the full benefit of those amazing views.
Oh and before I go, you'll be pleased to hear my underwear miraculously appeared today after Mandy "found" my six missing pairs in a, supposedly, previously unchecked pocket of our luggage. Funny that, I could have sworn I checked there!
Day 4 - Thanks Fjord the Memories
A wet old day in Flam today but that train ride up the mountain turned out to be the perfect excursion for such a soggy day. Well, ok, we did get wet during the 5 minute walk to and from the railway station, and during the 5 minute stop off half way up at the Kjos Waterfall, but the latter especially was well worth it, totes amaze balls. The rest of the 2 hour journey was spent in the dry and warmth of the our carriage and we saw some stunning sights unimpaired by rain, mist or cloud. It was great, and I've realised I'm really starting to love Norway. It's not that I ever disliked it, just that I'm really warming to the place. In fact, with all the smoked fish and meat balls I've had this cruise, I think I may be turning into a Scandinavian. I'm not quite at the point where i would change my name to Sven, drive a Volvo and wear big, elaborately patterned jumpers made out of Bjorn Borg's beard, but give it time. One things for sure though, that ride up the mountain today was ace.
The trip back down wasn't quite as enjoyable due to two very loud ladies who decided they would regale the whole carriage with stories of such mind numbing tedium, I was ready to throw myself under the very train we were travelling in. At one point, they announced that the people in the next cabin to them had the temerity to knock on their door last night to ask them to keep their voices down. The irony of our whole carriage, and very possibly the carriages either side of us, hearing every word of this story, such was their decibel level, was totally lost on them. I lasted about a third of the journey down before I tore my excursion ticket in two, screwed the two halves into balls and then, very visibly, shoved one in each ear. It did the trick nicely.
After a relaxing afternoon onboard, we got ready nice and early for tonight's 70's themed evening and had some pre-dinner drinks in Tiffany's. i'm afraid that, other than my existing 70's style chest hair and medallion, we didn't really look the part dress wise but then few, if anyone else, dressed up either. And the best bit of 70's night by far was a fella called Steve Larkin, who provided us with a brilliant, and very funny, Freddy Mercury tribute act. He was fantastic. Although I hope for his sake those teeth were fake. And then finally, we ended up watching the semi-regular Abba themed show from the Headliners which is always good. A really good day.
Day 5 - Fjord the Love of God
A lovely sunny day today in Olden on the beautiful Nordfjord, with temperatures hitting a balmy 16 degrees. Or at least they did at sea level. I can assure you it was a lot cooler than that at the Birksdal Glacier at 9.30am, with a wind so bracing it brought tears to your eyes. Due to my slight mobility issues (and lazy arsed missus) we had opted to do the glacier via a Troll Car. That effectively meant a 15 mile coach drive along the picturesque Nordfjord Valley (which, in itself, was well worth the visit here), a steep and winding 10 minute drive in the Troll Car (basically a 6 man, open topped jeep with just a roll bar to protect you from the elements) and then an even steeper final 15 mins on foot. Other than them both involving mountains, you really couldn't get much different from yesterday's Flam railway excursion, but it was just as enjoyable despite the cold.
The Troll cars themselves were good fun and, at one point, we crossed a bridge so close to a huge waterfall, that we actually drove through it's freezing spray. And if that didn't wake us up, the wind we encountered shortly afterwards certainly did - whenever we turned in a certain direction, this amazingly strong wind came straight off the glacier and literally took our breath away. We should have guessed really as, whilst we were all dressed in coats and scarves, the Troll Car drivers were dressed for an Arctic Winter. However, we seemed in better nick than the other excursion walking the 45 minutes each way, as some of them were dressed just in jumpers and still had a long trek ahead of them. But it was all worth it, everything looked spectacular and the green and white colouring of the glacier looked almost like a scoop of Mint Swirl ice cream had just been lumped on top of the mountain.
Alas, almost as soon as we got there, it was time to come back, which is probably just as well as Mandy was rejecting all my invitations to join the Glacier High Club (surely the Nordic equivalent of the Mile High Club). Or at least I think it was Mandy, as all the ladies were feeling the cold so much by this point, that their coats and scarves were covering everything except their eyes. But anyway, someone rejected my advances, and so we trounced back to the coach park cafe for much needed coffee and cake. Our guide, Colleen, then ensured an entertaining and informative coach drive back past some amazing scenery, the higher parts of which had been dusted with the first snow of winter just yesterday. Colleen was great actually. Being Irish born, brought up in New Zealand before marrying a Welshman and living in Olden for 30 years, accent wise she was one hell of a mix, and occasionally sounded like the Swedish chef from the muppets, but a really nice lady.
After lunch and a snooze we went back ashore to re-explore Olden itself, which didn't seem quite as sleepy as the last time we were here 3 years ago. It is still a stunning mixture of colours and scenery though, with the Nordfjord itself stretching as far as the eye can see, and appearing to be surrounded on all sides by lush green valley and those snow dusted mountain. Not to mention the dozens of gorgeous little wooden houses spread around on all sides. It's a really special place.
Then tonight it was 60's and 70's theme night. Yes I know, I thought it was last night - which would have made more sense given the entertainment on offer yesterday - but no, it was tonight, and a good number dressed up. There is even talk of a 70's themed party, which sounds good. However, having climbed every bleeding mountain in Norway these last few days ( or that's how it feels), I'm totally knackered and so, after a very brief nightcap , I'm off to bed.
Stavanger tomorrow. Night all.
Day 6 - Great Weather Fjord Ducks
Today we spent a lazy morning in the cabin recovering from yesterday's efforts, and waiting for the rain to stop outside. It gave us a chance to look back at yesterday's photos and marvel again at that glacier. Although my in depth research had involved some pre-cruise documentary watching (Ice Age 2, The Melt Down), I was still surprised by the glacier's vivid green streaks. Apparently that colour can change through the year, often coming through as more of a blue and reflects, I think I'm right in saying, the chemicals and ore within the rock it sits on. It really looked amazing, almost turquoise.
One thing I forgot to mention yesterday was one of the tunnels we went through during the coach drive to the the troll car pick up point. It was called a Troll Hole and looked to be just a tube-like piece of corrugated iron that ran, for about 500 metres, under a part of the mountain prone to avalanches during the winter. As we approached it, I thought surely we aren't going through that, as well as flimsy it looked tiny. But go through it we did and, with flashbacks going through my head of every tunnel based disaster movie I have ever seen, 30 seconds later we popped out the other end. At which point, I discretely crossed myself and mouthed a silent thank you skywards.
Anyhoo's, having recharged this morning, we had an early lunch and went ashore to enjoy Stavanger's charms. Our timing was almost perfect as, for the first time today, the rain stopped. Sadly though, the heavens opened an hour later on our way back to the ship with a downpour of biblical proportions. Had we come back 5 minutes earlier we would have been fine. As it was we were soaked through and dripped all the way to the cabin. Before that however, we really enjoyed strolling around the old town's pretty white wooden houses that stretched right down to where a colour co-ordinated Oriana sat towering over them like an ill advised multi storey extension. It made for quite the contrast.
We also had a stroll around the inside of the cathedral which was much bigger than it looked from the outside. It was built almost entirely from stone and housed the most intricately carved pulpit. It was about 20 feet high and depicted scenes from a 3 foot Samson "holding" the whole thing up, to the Resurrection at the top. For something so ornate and elaborate, and carved in the 1600's, it was in amazing condition. The cathedral is well worth a visit I think and, having got so wet later on, I only wish we had visited it last rather first. But we haven't done too bad this cruise as it's the first time we've been caught in any proper rain - unlike yesterday afternoon's walking excursion to the glacier who all experienced an hour+ of constant and freezing rain - so we shouldn't complain. Also, we did have a chuckle on the way back to the ship when we spotted that the high speed passenger ferry here is called "Fjordfart". And there was me thinking that's what I was doing in Olden yesterday shortly after sinking a Mulligatawny Soup for lunch.
Then, late this afternoon, as we departed Stavanger, the onboard shops had a 70% off sale. Apparently, despite being sat in the sauna at the time, I was also unknowingly Christmas shopping for my wife! Net result, Mandy now has two new Guess handbags which, I'm told, I knew were perfect for her the moment I didn't see them. I'm just glad she forgot it's her birthday next month!!
Right, second and final formal night tonight and I still need to remember how to tie my bow tie. Toodles.
Day 7 - One Fjord The Road
Due to us seeing the late performance of the show by the brilliant Headliners last night, and my usual fatigue related issues now kicking in big time, we had a lazy lie-in this morning and a late breakfast in Al Fresco. With it being a distinct shade of North Sea grey outside, we quickly fuelled up on a bacon panini each and shot off to the cinema. They were showing a Tom Cruise movie called Oblivion which was very good. It was a bit like Star Wars meets Total Recall (plus 10 minutes of the English Patient), and the best sci-fi movie I've seen in long while. I stayed awake the whole two hours so it must have been good!
Then after Mandy did some brief packing, I treated her to lunch in the same Peninsular Restaurant we've lunched at every day, because I treat that girl like a Princess. Regretfully, we managed to sit within hearing distance (I.e the opposite side of the restaurant) of those two loud ladies from the Flam train the other day, and it was funny to hear them talking about that very trip. They were saying that, of the 30 of us in the railway carriage, everyone else was just miserable, once again completely missing the fact that they were the cause of that misery. It's said that Norway already has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, but it came damn close to having 28 more that day. God they were dull. And incredibly loud. And in Flam no one hears you scream (everyone has screwed up excursion tickets in their ears!). Needless to say, of the 6 people sat with them at lunch today, 5 looked as miserable as sin and the other one was face down in plate of satay sauce, presumably in some kind of nut allergy based cry for help. The Jam Roly Poly was nice though :-)
Then tonight, after a final dinner, and pre/post dinner drinks enjoying pianist Claire in the Crow's Nest, we saw the second of Steve Larkins' (Freddie Mercury) shows, which was great fun again. He really is a showman and clearly passionate about Freddie and Queen. And his delivery is just the right balance of great, Freddie style, vocals and light hearted humour. Mandy especially, really loved it. Oh, and we sat a bit closer to him tonight and can confirm those sizeable teeth are (thankfully) fake, which i guess makes his vocals even more impressive.
So anyway, I best start summing some of this up. Well, it was our 4th time on Oriana and it was a fantastic cruise once again. People always talk about the great atmosphere on Oriana and they are right. Personally, I put it down to the 'his and hers' bathroom cabinets and the increased marital harmony this results in. I think it just keeps the mystery in a relationship when a fella doesn't have to squeeze his shaving foam into just one tiny shared cabinet already bursting with your wife's cosmetic equivalent of smoke, mirrors and industrial strength trimming devices. Of course there's also a nice mix and layout of bars and restaurants on board, a purpose built cinema and a cracking theatre, but no, mostly it's the bathroom cabinets. She's showing her age now obviously (Oriana not Mandy!), but she's still a lovely ship and always seems to have an excellent crew onboard.
The food in the restaurants has been excellent too. Mandy's dairy free meals have felt a little more restricted this cruise, but then that often depends on the experience and enthusiasm of the head waiter. But it's still a step up on dietary restricted dining shoreside, and Mand says her main courses in particular have been very good. As far as my own, strictly menu based, meals were concerned, and that of our friends Richard and Joyce, there was barely a course we didn't enjoy. They were not perfect by any means, and decent tasting mushrooms and roast potatoes continue to evade them, but overall it was pretty damn good I think.
Entertainment wise, we always love the Headliners and these were possibly the best looking troupe we have had, as I struggled with my usual first night policy of mentally selecting the dancer I would most like in my lifeboat - not in sleazy way you understand, just in a 'in the event of global holocaust/future of human race depends on us' kind of way. But this troupe looked so good, and were so talented that even Jamie, one of the three male singers, entered my thinking at one stage. Seriously though, every Headliners show we saw was terrific, especially Reel to Reel (British movie soundtracks). Steve Larkin was equally entertaining and provided a fitting, but funny, tribute to Freddie Mercury.
In terms of itinerary, it was really enjoyable. Having done a similar cruise 3 years ago, this time round we would ideally have liked to visit Geiranger as well as Flam for the first time. But we got to Flam, and met our two other objectives of going back to stunning Olden, and meeting our friends in Bergen, so we did well I think. We fully expect to be back again, so we'll see Gerainger another time I hope. In fact I would urge everyone to visit the Fjords at least once. Sure, it's unlikely to be bikini weather, and neither will you find offerings from the likes of Michelangelo or Leonardo (or any of the Mutant Ninja Turtles actually), but it's one of the most beautiful places on earth and it's just a day's sail away. If you can tear yourself away from cruising to places like the Med, as we eventually did, then you're in for a treat.
And on that note, it's God Natt from me and it's God Natt from her.