We moved on from our stay in the Lake District with somewhat indecent alacrity. One night at home and then we were off again; this time to Norway with a burning desire to view the fjords. It sounds mad but so long as the underwear count holds up, it forces you to unpack immediately, makes repacking easier and denies you the opportunity to mess up the house before you leave.
Research had suggested that a trip to the Norwegian fjords might best be undertaken from the sea and so a cruise it was.
Now we have tried big ship cruising before: just once as a kind of celebration back in 2011 when I moved from the firm I had been a partner in to take up a part-time consultancy in readiness for retirement. I had expected that cruise to be like the Titanic without the iceberg, but the vessel was so enormous that it seemed on occasions a little more akin to Benidorm afloat. This time, therefore, we were particular in choosing our cruiseline and ship with great care, settling on Olsen Lines and its MV Black Watch. We wanted a vessel that looked like it could weather the oceans rather than a floating tower block.
Knowing that the average age of passengers would be relatively high, we insured against being the most youthful by bringing the youngest with us too. There was no insurance for her but she fulfilled the need for patience and understanding admirably, as well as making more use of the ship's gym than anyone else on board.
I don't think we have transformed into cruise devotees but we did have a splendid time. The food, although wonderful, was not on tap 24 hours a day as with some companies and with stricter meal times there was less gluttony to offend. There were only 680 passengers (maximum capacity is 804) and nowhere was ever too busy. The Captain was a gentleman and overly generous with the drinks at not one but two cocktail parties. Also, and whilst I have no objection to dressing up, evenings generally erred towards the casual rather than smart, and formal nights to the smart rather than black tie, unless you were Scottish, like most of the guests (as we sailed from Rosyth near Edinburgh), when your clan kilt was in order. For days at sea, of which we had two, there were plenty of activities including lectures about the ports of call and my beloved Pilates classes. To see a film we didn't even have to huddle in a darkened room in the bowels of the ship and, whilst there was a cinema, there was also a variety of films available to view in the cabin on the TV system.
I can see the attraction for many elderly guests of holidaying in this manner, although I am not sure that were I to be reliant on a zimmer frame or someone pushing me in a wheelchair that I would be quite at ease on a ship. If that iceberg materialised the prospect of transferring to a lifeboat safely has to be in doubt and, on a more mundane level, boarding a tender to be ferried to ports of call would be difficult if not impossible.
We pretty much had an onboard hot (39 degrees C) tub to ourselves; the rain even kept onlookers away and it was a perfect vantage point to luxuriate through the fjords in which we cruised amidst typical Norwegian low cloud. Indeed for a time I thought that we may have found a country with worse weather than Scotland based on recent experiences, but the Captain ever optimistically would announce the weather forecast at midday and then say that he was hoping it would be better at the head of the fjords when we made our ports of call. Fortunately his optimism was based on solid foundation and ashore we avoided the dankness that generally accompanied our passage through those mighty fjords, enabling us to undertake some splendid walks and truly appreciate the magnificent scenery.
We stopped at Flam, Olden and Bergen and had no need to undertake any organised tours although plans to travel on the famous Flam railway were thwarted by a mega cruise ship tying up on the dockside, leaving our understated but elegant vessel anchoring offshore and giving the 3000 passengers on board the floating skyscraper a monopoly on train tickets. Fortunately neither it nor the other ships docked in Bergen spoilt our pleasure or the view on other days, probably because they were too large to manouvre through some of the smaller fjords on which our cruise concentrated.