I have been to … Norway

Because Sue and I cruise so often with P&O, we are members of the top tier of the company’s loyalty scheme, the Peninsular Club. Every so often they send us letters about special offers that they have available, and a couple of months ago one such letter arrived. Included amongst the offers was a cruise to North Cape and back … and because we had always wanted to go there, we booked it.

Wednesday 15th July, 2015: Southampton
Over recent days we had become aware of a number of problems affecting the roads that we were going to have to use to drive to Southampton (i.e. ongoing roadworks and what seemed like a larger than normal number of serious vehicle accidents). As a result we decided to set off as early as possible, and having got up at 6.00am, we were ready to leave just over two hours later.

This was probably just as well, as the drive around the M25 to the junction with the M3 took almost ninety minutes. (It normally takes just over an hour.) We suffered further minor delays on the first half of our drive along the M3 due to the speed restrictions through the roadworks that are taking place to turn the M3 into a ‘smart motorway’ … whatever that means!

Once through the roadworks the traffic began to thin out, and we reached the service area outside Winchester at 10.30am. We stopped for thirty minutes to drink some coffee and to eat breakfast, after which we resumed our journey towards Southampton. As we did so the satnav informed us of a delay at the M27/M271 junction, so we took at alternative route to the docks through the centre of the city. This probably saved us having to sit for thirty minutes or so in a queue of slow-moving traffic, as a result of which we arrive at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal by 11.30am. A porter unloaded our luggage for us, and after we handed our car over to the valet parking service, we passed into the refurbished check-in area. The process of booking in took just a few minutes, and we were soon passing through the pre-boarding security checks. This was equally swift, and by 11.45am we were aboard MV Arcadia and sitting in the Meridian Restaurant, where we remained until 2.00pm when our cabin was ready for us to occupy.

Our luggage had already been delivered to our cabin by the time we reached it, and we spent the next two hours unpacking. At 4.00pm we made our way back to the Palladium Theatre – which was our emergency muster station – to listen to the passenger safety briefing. Once that was over we returned to our cabin to put our life-jackets back in the wardrobe before going to the Aquarius Bar on Deck 9 Aft to watch Arcadia sail out of Southampton. We had only been there a couple of minutes before we met a couple who we had cruised with before, and as a result we stayed on deck talking to them for quite some time before we went back to our cabin to get ready for our evening meal. During our time in our cabin I managed to spend a short time on our balcony as Arcadia sailed past Portsmouth, and saw one of Brittany Ferries vessels on her way into harbour.

We went back to the Aquarius Bar on Deck 10 for a pre-dinner drink, and just before 8.30pm we joined the queue of passengers waiting outside the Meridian Restaurant’s lower tier. Within a few minutes we had been shown to our dinning table, and by 8.40pm we had been joined by the four people with whom we would be sharing a table for the duration of the cruise.

By the time dinner was over we were both feeling very tired, and after a short walk along the Promenade Deck we returned to our cabin to go to sleep.

Thursday 16th July: At sea
When we awoke at 8.00am, Arcadia was already well out into the North Sea, and her position was about halfway between Boston, Lincolnshire, and the northern province of the Netherlands. The air temperature was 14°C/57°F and the sea state was slight … all of which was quite pleasant considering the poor weather the UK had been suffering from just before we left.

By 9.00am we were dressed and on our way to the Meridian Restaurant for breakfast. Once we had finished eating breakfast we went to the Ocean Grill Restaurant to make table reservations for two evenings later during the cruise. Once that was done we made our way up to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air. Although it was not that warm on deck, we stayed there until 10.45am talking to other passengers as the ship sailed past numerous oil and gas platforms.

By 11.00am Sue and I had made our way up to the Crow’s Nest Bar on Deck 10 Forward. Whilst I sat there reading, Sue attended a meeting of the members of the P&O Facebook group who were cruising aboard Arcadia. Once her meeting was over we stayed in the Crow’s Nest Bar for a short time, after which we went to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar for a much-needed drink.

We remained in the open air until just after 1.45pm, at which point we went into the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for some lunch. I then went back to our cabin to read whilst Sue went back to the Aquarius Bar to smoke a cigarette or two.

(Before she returned to our cabin I managed to finish reading Henning Mankell’s BEFORE THE FROST (Published in 2004 by The Harvill Press, eISBN 978 1 40701 758 7) and began THE PRICE OF VALOUR (Published in 2015 by Del Rey, eISBN 978 1 44814 800 4), which is the third book in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series.)

Sue joined me in our cabin just after 3.30pm, and we remained there until it was time to get ready for the Captain’s Gala Reception. As usual, the Reception started at 8.00pm and was held in the area around the Neptune Pool. The Captain – Captain Trevor Lane – gave his usual ‘welcome aboard’ speech before introducing the ship’s senior management team. Once the Gala Reception was over we went down to the Meridian Restaurant to eat, and after dinner we spent a short time on the open deck next to the Aquarius Pool before going to bed for a much-needed sleep.

Friday17th July: Bergen, Norway
We have visited Bergen several times before, but for the first time our ship moored at Bontelabo, which is next to the Bergenhus Festning (Bergen Fortress) and much closer to the centre of the city.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, we spent some time on the open deck next to the Aquarius Pool to allow all the passengers who were going on organised tours to go ashore. We eventually disembarked from Arcadia just before 9.30am, and began to walk along Skutevikstorg, Festningskaien, Bradbenken, and Slottsgaten towards the oldest part of the city.

On the wall of the Bergenhus Festning we saw an unusual war memorial dedicated to those Norwegians who – despite their country being neutral – risked their lives during the First World War.

We walked through the Bryggen (which contains the oldest wooden buildings in the city), …

… through Fisketorget (the fish market), and into Torgalmenningen, the main shopping area.

From there we strolled up Markevien

… until we had passed the Bergen Theatre. We then walked downhill to Strandkaien, which gave us a wonderful view of the Bryggen.

We were also able to see a large, cleaver-bowed motor yacht …

… and the Albatros

… a cruise liner that arrived in Bergen just after Arcadia had docked. Amongst the other vessels were saw in Bergen was a Polish sail training ship – the Zawisza Czany – that is owned by a charity that provides sailing experience for blind and partially-sighted people.

On our way back to Arcadia we passed the Håkonshallen (Håkon’s Hall), …

… which is located within the Bergenhus Festning.

We returned aboard Arcadia just after 12.30pm, and after dropping our bags off in our cabin we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. We got chatting to other passengers, and stayed there until it was 2.30pm, at which point we went into the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant to eat lunch.

After returning to our cabin to rest for an hour or so, we returned to the Aquarius Pool area to take part in the sail-away that had been organised by the ship’s entertainment staff. This lasted from 4.15pm until 5.00pm, and we remained by the pool until 6.00pm, when it was time to go back to our cabin and get ready for dinner.

It was still warm enough at 8.00pm for us to have a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, but when we returned there after eating dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, it was too cold to remain in the open air for much more then ten minutes. We therefore returned to our cabin, and by 11.30pm we were both ready to go to sleep.

Saturday 18th July: Geiranger, Norway
Overnight Arcadia had sailed northwards along the coast of Norway to Alesund, and had sailed up Geirangerfjord to Geiranger. The ship had made excellent time, and was moored and ready to begin the process of tendering passengers ashore by 8.20am. As we were not going on an organised tour, we decided to have breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant before beginning to get ready to go ashore.

By the time we had finished eating, it had begun to rain quite heavily. We returned to our cabin and waited until the last of the tours had gone ashore before deciding how to spend our morning, but as it was still raining (and showed no sign of stopping) we made our minds up to go to the Crow’s Nest Bar until the rain had stopped. As a result we stayed in the Crow’s Nest Bar reading and resting until just before midday, by which time the rain was just ending.

We hurriedly got our cold weather clothes on (it was barely 11°C/51.8°F) and made our way to the tender embarkation pontoon on Deck A Midships. The tender took us the short distance from Arcadia to the shore and gave us an excellent opportunity to see the town and it surrounding area.

On top of one of the highest points in Geiranger is a hexagonal wooden church …

… and on the opposite side of the fjord from the main part of the town is a small settlement that seems to consist of family holiday homes and boathouses.

The Arcadia seemed to fill the fjord, and was visible from almost every part of Geiranger that we visited.

We started our visit by walking up one of the towns main streets …

… and past some lovely examples of Norwegian domestic buildings.

Our walk took us over bridge that crosses the river that runs through the town …

… and up the path to Geiranger’s main waterfall.

Geiranger is surrounded on most sides by snow- and cloud-covered mountains, which provide a wonderful backdrop to the town.

After visiting the local souvenir shops, we took a tender back to Arcadia, and were back in our cabin just before 2.00pm. By 2.15pm Sue and I were seated in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant eating a snack lunch, and not long after 2.30pm we were sitting in the open area near the Aquarius Bar having a drink and chatting to other passengers. We stayed there until 4.00pm, at which point we decided to go back to our cabin to read and rest. Along the way we ate afternoon tea, and this delayed our return to our cabin until 4.15pm.

We remained in our cabin until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink. During this time we read and rested for a time, and from 6.00pm onwards we watched the every-changing view as Arcadia sailed down Geirangerfjord towards the sea.

During Arcadia‘s trip down Geirangerfjord she passed a number of tall ships that were sailing towards Geiranger.

As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar … and we went back there for a short time after dinner. Suitably refreshed, we returned to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Sunday 19th July: Trondheim, Norway
Arcadia reached Trondheim slightly ahead of schedule, and was tied up alongside her berth before 9.00am. From our cabin we had an excellent view of the fort on Munkholmen (Monk’s Island).

The island’s fortress formed part of Trondheim’s fortifications, and was built on the site of an eleventh century Benedictine monastery.

From Arcadia‘s stern we were able to see a panoramic view of Trondheim.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we prepared for our trip ashore, and by 10.30am we were going down the gangway from the ship to the shore in order to catch the shuttle bus into the centre of Trondheim. The shuttle bus dropped us off in Munkegata near the Nidarosdomen (the Nidaros Cathedral). It only took us a couple of minutes to walk from the shuttle bus stop to the entrance to the cathedral.

We spent the next hour or so investigating the cathedral and its grounds …

… including a very interest and ornate side door …

… and the graveyard.

We also walked through a re-constructed artillery battery from the time of the Great Northern War …

… which overlooked the Elgeseter Bru (Elgeseter Bridge) on the River Nidelva.

Our walk then took us north towards the Archbishop’s Palace, where – amongst other things – the Rustkammeret (Army and Resistance Museum) is located.

We spent quite some time in the Rustkammeret, about which I will write a separate blog entry.

By the time we left the Rustkammeret the weather had changed for the worse, and it was raining quite heavily. We walked back towards the cathedral from the square in the centre of the Archbishop’s Palace …

via a very interesting stone-built archway.

This enabled us to see the western end of the cathedral in all its glory.

Luckily there was a shuttle bus waiting at the pick-up point, and we were back aboard Arcadia just before 2.00pm. We had a drink in the Aquarius Bar before returning to our cabin, and ate lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant at 3.00pm.

Sue and I then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening sitting in our cabin reading and resting. At 8.15pm, after having had a pre-dinner drink in East Bar on Deck 11 Midships – we made our way to the Ocean Grill – one of Arcadia‘s select dinning venues – for dinner. After eating an excellent gourmet dinner, we spent a short time on deck before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Monday 20th July: At sea
Overnight Arcadia sailed northwards across the line of latitude that defines the Arctic Circle. (The precise time was 6.45am.) We awoke just before 8.00am, and by 9.15am we were seated in the Meridian Restaurant eating breakfast.

Once breakfast was over Sue and I parted company, and I went up to East Bar to attend a Masonic get-together. The meeting lasted nearly ninety minutes, but by the end of it we had all agreed to have a charity fund-raising coffee morning later in the cruise.

I then returned to our cabin to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch for Ligurian and Baltic club members. (The Peninsular Club is P&O’s loyalty scheme for regular cruisers, and one of the benefits is a special lunch that is hosted by senior officers.) By just before midday we had joined the queue of passengers who were waiting outside the entrance to the upper tier of the Meridian Restaurant which is where the Peninsular Club Lunch was being held. We were on a table for seven and it was hosted by the ship’s Financial Controller. As usual the food and company were excellent, and by the time the meal was over we both felt rather full.

Rather than return to our cabin we went up to the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air and a drink. Although Arcadia was well within the Arctic Circle, the sun was shining and I was able to sit on deck in a short-sleeved shirt. We spent the next two hours on deck drinking and chatting, but just before 4.00pm it began to rain, and the air temperature began to drop. At this point Sue and I decided to go to our cabin to warm up, rest, and read before it was time to get ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise.

The rain did not last very long, but the air temperature remained cold. The sea was very calm, but the sky was heavily overcast and made the sea look like molten metal.

The evening followed its usual pattern of a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, a short, post-dinner break on deck, and then back to our cabin for sleep.

Tuesday 21st July: Honningsvåg, Norway
Because Sue and I were booked to go on a trip whilst Arcadia was in Honningsvåg, we woke up slightly earlier than usual and were able to see some of the coastline of the North Cape region as the ship sailed towards Honningsvåg.

Rather than risk being late ashore for our trip, we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for breakfast. We had finished by 8.30am, and had returned to our cabin to get ready to go ashore before Arcadia had moored alongside her berth in Honningsvåg.

We were allowed to disembark just after 9.00am, and had boarded the coach that was to take us to North Cape by 9.20am.

The coach stopped about halfway to North Cape so that we could visit a very small Sami settlement. (The Sami are the indigenous people who live in the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.)

By the time that we reached the North Cape Visitor’s Centre, the fog had begun to appear …

… and it persisted until well after we had returned to Arcadia.

During our time in the Centre we visited a small chapel dedicated to St Johannes (it is the most northerly chapel in Europe) …

… and the Thai Museum (the King of Siam paid a visit to the North Cape in late nineteenth century).

We also watched a very informative, fifteen-minute long film about the North Cape in the Centre’s cinema before going outside to see the monument – a hollow globe – that marks the northernmost point of Europe.

Near the monument was a narrow chasm that showed how high the cliffs are at the North Cape.

By this time we were feeling cold and damp, and went back inside the Centre for a cup of coffee and something to eat. We also visited the souvenir shop and a display that told the story of the Murmansk convoys during World War II …

… and the sinking of the Scharnhorst. A model of the latter was also on display.

The trip back to Arcadia was uneventful – despite the heavy fog that made visibility difficult for the first ten kilometres – and we were back aboard just before 1.00pm. We decided to have a quick drink in the Aquarius Bar before going back ashore to explore Honningsvåg.

Our walk took us close to the Hurtigruten ferry terminal, and one of that company’s ships – the Finnmarken – was moored alongside.

Once past the ferry terminal, we reached the area of the port that is used by the local fishing fleet.

We walked right around the harbour area before turning back to walk towards Arcadia. Our route took us along the slightly higher main road, and we decided that as it was already 2.00pm we might eat lunch in a local restaurant/café. In the end we came across the Viva Napoli pizzeria …

… which proved to be quite basic but whose freshly-cooked food was very good. (The menu was in Norwegian, and it did take us some time to work out what some of the dishes were, but in the end we were able to order some food and drink.)

We re-boarded Arcadia just after 3.15pm, and after dropping off our bags in our cabin we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a hot drink. Suitably refreshed we spent a short time on deck near the Aquarius Bar before returning to our cabin to rest and get ready for dinner.

Arcadia set sail from Honningsvåg just after 6.40pm, and on her way out of harbour she passed another, smaller cruise liner – the Astor – on her way in.

We had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then ate a very good meal in the Meridian Restaurant. At approximately 10.00pm – and whilst we were still eating – Arcadia sailed past the North Cape at a distance of approximately two miles. Luckily we had almost finished eating, and I was able to get out onto our cabin balcony and photograph a seaward view of the North Cape before it was too far away to do so.

The Entertainments Team had organised ‘Music Under The Midnight Sun’ by the Aquarius Bar and Pool, and we decided to go up to listen. We were some of the few passengers who made the effort to go (it was very cold and it was essential that you wore substantial amounts of warm clothing), and after a post-dinner drink and a chat with some other passengers, we eventually returned to our cabin.

As we were on our way back to our cabin I saw a long, grey shape some distance off. It was the unmistakable silhouette of a military vessel, and I quickly grabbed my camera an photographed it.

On closer examination it would appear to have been one of the Norwegian Coast Guard’s patrol ships (it had the word Kystvaken on its side) although the exact class and ship proved almost impossible to identify at the time. (It turned out to be one of three Nordkapp-class offshore patrol boats operated by the Norwegian Coast Guard.)

Wednesday 22nd July: Tromsø, Norway
We woke up early, and saw some spectacular scenery during the sail-in along Tromsø Sound.

As Arcadia was not due to dock until 9.30am we decided to eat breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant. Once we had eaten and spent a brief time on the open deck to get some fresh air, we returned to our cabin and got our stuff ready before going ashore.

Tromsø enjoys a remarkably temperate climate despite its location within the Arctic Circle, and the air temperature was 15°C/59°F when we went ashore at 10.45am. The city suffered little damage during the Second World War despite being close to the final resting place of the German battleship Tirpitz, which was sunk by RAF Avro Lancaster bomber’s on 12th November 1944.

A complimentary shuttle bus took us from the ship to the centre of Tromsø, and dropped us off in Roald Amundsen Plass.

From there we walked up Kirkegata and past Tromsø Cathedral …

… which is one of the largest wooden churches in Norway. The cathedral stands on the intersection of Kirkegata and Storgata, and we decided to make our way along the shop-lined street …

… towards the market place at Stortorget.

In the small marketplace is a statue dedicated to the Norwegian sailors who used to hunt for and kill whales.

By this time we were both feeling thirsty, and after making our way towards the water’s edge near the marina …

… we found a café/bar/restaurant where we could buy a drink.

From the bar – which was called Kaia– we had an excellent view across the water of Tromsdalen Church, which is also called the Arctic Cathedral.

The weather had improved considerably by the time we had begun to drink our drinks, and the air temperature had reached 21°C/69.8°F … the warmest it had been since we left the UK.

We sat in the café/bar/restaurant for some time before walking along Sjøgata towards Roald Amundsen Plass, where we caught the shuttle bus back to Arcadia.

We were back aboard the ship by just before 2.00pm, and after dropping our bags and camera off in the cabin, we went for a drink in the Aquarius Bar. We stayed there until 2.54pm, when we decided to go to the Neptune Grill for lunch. As a table near the Neptune Pool was unoccupied when we walked through the poolside area, we sat there and ate pour lunch.

After lunch we returned to the Aquarius Bar as we understood that a live music session would be taking place from 4.30pm onwards. We arrived at the bar at about 3.30pm, and chatted with some other passengers until the live music started … at which point we decided that it was far too loud and returned to our cabin!

Just before the live music started the ship’s captain – Captain Trevor Lane – announced that the ship was about to leave, and by the time we had reached our cabin the Arcadia had slipped her moorings and was already on her way towards the open sea. As the ship moved away from the quayside we saw that the Astor – the cruise liner that had arrived in Honningsvåg just as Arcadia had left – was moored ahead of her.

From 5.00pm onwards we stayed in our cabin reading and resting before it was time to get ready for that evening’s dinner in the Meridian Restaurant. I finished reading Django Wexler’s THE PRICE OF VALOUR and began reading Seth Owen’s FATAL CHOICES: WARGAMES, DECISIONS AND DESTINY IN THE 1914 BATTLES OF CORONEL AND FALKLANDS (ISBN 978 1 500096 939 7). This books came highly recommended by several fellow naval wargamers, and I was interested to see what the author had written about the use of wargames to prove and test various theories about how and why particular battles are fought.

On her way out towards the open sea Arcadia sailed past some spectacular scenery.

After our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar and dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, Sue and I had a brief spell on deck before going back to our cabin to read and to get ready for bed.

Thursday 23rd July: At sea
Overnight Arcadia had sailed south some distance, and by the time we woke up at 8.00am she had already passed the Lofoten Islands. The weather appeared to have taken a turn for the worse, and besides a distinct drop in the air temperature, the sky was very overcast and there was hardly any blue sky visible.

Sue and I spent the day doing very little. As usual we ate breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, after which we went up to East Bar to read. We stayed there until 12.30pm, when we went down to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. The air temperature had dropped even further as the day had progressed, and it was too cold to stay out in the open air for very long. We therefore returned to our cab in to get warm again, and stayed there until 2.30pm, when we went to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a snack lunch.

After lunch we again ventured out on deck for some fresh air and a drink, but the wind blowing across the deck was so cold that we only stayed there for about ten minutes. We then spent the rest of the afternoon in our cabin reading, resting, and – in my case – writing my COW2015 onside report for inclusion in a future issue of THE NUGGET.

During the early evening we both got ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise. As the air temperature had risen slightly, we were able to have our pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, but by the time dinner was over it had turned cold again and we stayed on deck for only a few minutes before going back to our cabin for the night.

Friday 24th July: Olden, Norway
We have visited Olden several times before, and knew that the scenery on the long journey up Nordfjord was outstanding.

Although the sun had been shining when we got up at 7.30am, by the time Arcadia had docked alongside the sky had begun to cloud over. The jetty that the ship moored at is close to a short row of shops (most of which are souvenir shops) …

… and a guest house/café/booking office/tourist information centre/bike hire shop!

The village was just visible about half a mile away further up the valley.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, Sue and I got suitable dress for the cold weather before going ashore. (The air temperature was projected to be 11°C/51.8°F or possibly colder during the day, and that there was a distinct chance of rain at some point.)

We decided to take the local road-train which did an hour-long tour around the valley, and which included several stops along the way. Our first stop was on the edge of the largest freshwater lake that feeds water in Nordfjord.

This afforded us an excellent view towards the end of the valley where the Briksdal Glacier is located …

… and of the lake itself.

We then drove to the top of the lake where we cross over a new bridge to the other side of the valley. This replaced an earlier, stone-built bridge that dates from the mid eighteenth century.

Our next stop gave us the opportunity to see an example of local farm architecture (a rather dilapidated wooden barn) …

… and the ice-cold water from the glacier racing down-stream towards the large lake.

When the road-train reached the village we were given the opportunity to get off and to walk back to the ship. Sue and I decided to do so as it gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs and to see something of the village.

We walked across the bridge over the river from the lake to the fjord, and could clearly see where Arcadia was moored.

We could also see a magnificent view of the mountains that form one side of the valley and some of the houses that had been built along the river’s edge.

We then had a walk around the village, and ended up having hot chocolate with waffles, jam, and ice cream for lunch in a local café called the Yris Kafe.

We then walked back to the ship, and had just reached it when it began to rain. By the time we had got aboard, dropped our bags off in our cabin, and gone up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink, it was pouring down.

We stayed on deck chatting until 3.30pm, by which time is was beginning to get very cold. Sue and I returned to our cabin and stayed there resting and reading until Arcadia set sail just before 5.30pm.

We remained in our cabin reading and watching the incredibly impressive scenery of Nordfjord …

… until it was time to go up to the Aquarius Bar for our pre-dinner drink.

We returned to the Aquarius Bar after dinner were just in time to see Arcadia leave the mouth of Nordfjord and re-enter the Norwegian Sea before turning south and setting course for Oslo.

Saturday 25th July: At sea
After the somewhat overcast skies of the previous couple of days, it was wonderful to wake up to an almost clear sky and bright sunshine.

As it was the day of the Masonic Coffee Morning we went to breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant slightly earlier than usual.

Sue and I arrived at East Bar – the location of the Coffee Morning – a little after 10.00am, and Captain Lane was already there by the time we arrived, but we were able to have a few words with him before it was time for the President to present him with the money we had collected. This amounted to £400.00, and Captain Lane asked that it be given to the Mission for Seaman.

The event came to an end at 11.00am, and Sue and I went up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. The sun was shining when we got there, but within fifteen minutes it had turned cold. We therefore decided to go down to the Future Cruise Sales Desk to check on the details of a cruise we were thinking about booking. It had been advertised on a flyer sent to our cabin as having a lower price and triple the normal on-board credit, and Sue and I wanted to see how much it would cost us to book. In turned out to be very competitively priced, and we gave serious thought to booking it before we reach Southampton.

The weather – and in particular the air temperature – had improved by the time we had finished making our enquiries, and we returned to the Aquarius Bar. By 1.30pm the weather began to change for the worse again, and we decided to go for lunch. The Belvedere Self Service Restaurant was very crowded, but we managed to find a table near the Neptune Pool and ended up eating a snack lunch prepared by the Neptune Grill.

We made yet another foray out into the open air by the Aquarius Bar, but after fifteen minutes it proved too cold to stay there any longer. We therefore returned to our cabin to get warm and to do some reading. I finished reading Seth Owen’s FATAL CHOICES: WARGAMES, DECISIONS AND DESTINY IN THE 1914 BATTLES OF CORONEL AND FALKLANDS, which I found rather interesting and thought-provoking, especially where it argued that wargames were an excellent way to examine the historical options open to commanders.

I also began re-reading Len Deighton’s collection of military short stories entitled DECLARATIONS OF WAR (Originally published in 1971 by Jonathan Cape; re-published in 2010 by Harper Collins eISBN 978 0 007 39539 2).

We were ready for dinner by 8.00pm, and went up to the Aquarius Bar in the hope that it would not be too cold to have a pre-dinner drink there.

Sunday 26th July: Oslo, Norway
The weather had been predicted to be cold (12°C/53.6°F) with heavy showers and strong winds … and the prediction was not wrong!

Arcadia moored in Bjørvika area of the docks, for where we had a view across the ferry port towards the Akershus Fortress.

Just visible was the upperworks of P&O’s MV Aurora, which had been painted in the new house colour scheme.

We decided not to rush ashore and waited until we had eaten breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant before we even thought of beginning to get ready to disembark. In the end the rain started to slacken off after 10.00am, and by 10.30am – when we were walking towards the centre of the city – it had stopped.

Our route took us past the Operhuset (Opera House) …

… towards the main railway station (Oslo Sentralstasjon). From there we began to walk along Karl Johans Gate

… towards Det Kongelige Slotter (the Royal Palace).

Outside the palace – and in a very prominent position – is an equestrian statue of King Karl Johan.

Sue and I had hoped to be able to join one of the English-language tours of the palace …

… but they were sold out before we got to the ticket office.

The palace was guarded by members of the Hans Majestet Kongens Garde (His Majesty the King’s Guard or Royal Guard) …

… who looked very smart as well as being very alert! (They were armed with modern Heckler & Koch HK416 automatic rifles and radios, and were obviously being very vigilant.)

By the time we had walked to the palace, we were both feeling thirsty. The was a café – the Espresso House – near the exit from the palace gardens, and Sue and I both drank an excellent hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows!

As we had walked through the palace gardens (or Slottsparken) to the café, we had noticed how pleasant they were, and decided to take a stroll through them.

The park was a mixture of small lakes, ornamental ponds, lawns, and wooded walks, and we spent a pleasant time just wandering through it.

There was also a very nice shelter, where we could have stopped had it begun to rain again.

We took a leisurely stroll back to Arcadia using the same route that we had used on the way out. It just began to rain again as we got back to the gangway, and by the time we had returned to our cabin the rain was quite heavy again.

Having taken off our coats and sorted out our bags and cameras, we decided to go up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. When we reached the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant it was empty, and Sue and I decided that as it was already nearly 2.00pm that we would eat a snack lunch first.

We were in the Aquarius Bar by 2.30pm, and we were joined by a couple we met on an earlier cruise and with whom we had often chatted during this cruise. We sat with them until 4.45pm, at which point the Great British Sail-away started. This was the usual extravaganza of sing-along tunes (e.g. ‘Any Old Iron’, ‘Knees-up Mother Brown’) and patriotic songs (e.g. ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Jerusalem’) … and we joined in until it was time to go back to our cabin to get ready for dinner.

We had booked a table in the Ocean Grill … again … and after a swift pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar we arrived for our meal just after 8.00pm. The food and service were – as always – excellent, and it was a wonderful way to wind down after our day ashore.

Monday 27th July: At sea
During the night Arcadia had sailed south west from the entrance to Oslofjord, and by 8.00am she was off the west coast of Jutland, Denmark. The weather somewhat better than it had been in Oslo, but there was still a lot of cloud about and the air temperature was only 13°C/55°F.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, Sue and I paid a visit to the Future Cruise Sales Desk and booked the cruise we had looked at some days before. We then spent a short time in the ship’s retail area before going up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink.

We stayed on deck until just after midday, by which time we had both begun to feel cold. As a result we decided to go back to our cabin to read until it was time to eat lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant.

Sue and I spent half an hour after lunch sitting near the Aquarius Bar chatting before returning to our cabin, where we did a bit of sorting out that would male things easier when we packed the next day.

At 8.00pm we went up to the Neptune Pool to attend the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party. Afterwards we went down to the Meridian Restaurant for the last formal dinner of the cruise. This is always the most important of the formal dinners, and between the main course and the dessert the Executive Chef – Ian Summers – and his entire galley brigade paraded through the restaurant to the cheers and claps of the passengers.

After dinner we needed to sit down before going to bed so we went up to the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air. Despite the fact that it had been raining earlier, the seating area – which is under cover – was dry and relatively full. We sat there chatting with several other passengers until just after 11.00pm, at which point we went back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Tuesday 28th July: At sea
The weather in the North Sea had not improved overnight, and we awoke to find that the sky was very overcast and there was a distinctly damp feeling in the air. The air temperature was 15°C/59°F … but it felt colder. By the time we were dressed and ready to go to breakfast, the horizon had disappeared from view several times due to fog and rain.

After eating breakfast – as usual – in the Meridian Restaurant, Sue and I went up to the Aquarius Bar to see if the weather had improved at all. It had … but not much. We did – however – stay up there chatting to other passengers until midday, when we went back to our cabin to begin the process of packing.

We had finished sorting everything out and had packed one of our suitcases and one of our large holdalls by 2.15pm, and we decided that this was an ideal time to take a break for lunch. As it was the last day of our cruise we decided to have freshly cooked fish and chips from the Neptune Grill … and very nice it was!

By 2.45pm we had returned to our cabin, and in just over an hour we had packed the remaining two suitcases and another holdall. (We retained the third holdall so that anything that we were wearing or that we needed during evening could be packed in it before we went to bed.) All the luggage we had packed was then stacked outside our cabin for collection.

Just after 4.00pm we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for afternoon tea, after which we went out to the Aquarius Bar to sit and relax. The weather had – by then – improved considerably, and we had a clear view of the seas around Arcadia. We saw the Astor for the third time this cruise …

… and whilst we watched she sailed across Arcadia‘s stern towards the coast of Essex.

We spent more than two hours on deck, and only returned to our cabin when the sky began to cloud over again. Sue and I then sorted out the last few bits and pieces we needed to get ready to pack later that night before we began the task of writing the various ‘Thank You’ cards for the staff (i.e. the cabin steward, Meridian Restaurant waiters, and the wine waiter) who had served us during the cruise.

We then got read for the final dinner of the cruise, which was preceded by a last pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar. After eating we said goodbye to the two other couples with whom we had shared a dinner table, and then spoke to the two waiters – Jose and Alvin – and the wine waiter – Govind – who had served us so well during our cruise.

We had a final drink in the Aquarius Bar before returning to our cabin to pack our last holdall so that it could be put out for collection. It was then time to go to bed for the final night’s sleep of our cruise.

Wednesday 29th July: Southampton
Arcadia had already passed through the Dover Straits before we had gone to bed on the previous evening and it was no surprise that when we woke up at 6.30pm she was already on her final approach to her berth at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal. At 7.30am we went to breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant for breakfast and just before 8.00am we returned to our cabin to collect our hand luggage and coats before saying a final goodbye to our cabin steward.

By 8.15am we had reached the The Piano Bar to wait for disembarkation, but we did not have time to sit down before we were told that we could go ashore. Within ten minutes we had collected our bags from the luggage hall and had passed through the Customs checks. We had picked up our car from the valet parking service ten minutes later, and after packing our luggage into the car we began our journey home. Our drive home took just over two and a half hours, and by 11.30pm we had parked and were beginning to unloaded our car.

Our cruise to Norway was over … and we are already looking forward to our next one. (We have already booked three more cruises, and the next one will be to North America later this year.)

Back home … and not a (w)hole lot has happened whilst we have been away

Sue and I returned from a cruise to Norway earlier today, and I will be writing a blog entry about where we went and what we saw as soon as life returns to normal (i.e. when we have unpacked our luggage, done all the washing, and put our newly-clean holiday clothes away until our next cruise).

Whilst we have been away the hole in the road outside our neighbour’s house has not been dealt with. All that seems to have happened is that more traffic cones have appeared along with some more warning signs. I will try to contact the local council to find out what is going to be done to repair the hole … but I don’t expect that I will get an answer from them.

The 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot: Re-enactors

During our recent visit to Walmer Castle we saw members of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot re-enactment group both in camp and conducting a display.

In CampThe re-enactors had a very authentic-looking camp with a soldier guarding the Regimental Colours, …

… an extensive encampment for the rank-and-file, …

… and separate, better-quality tents for the officers!

The DisplayThe Colonel …

… put the regiment through its paces, beginning with a parade into the display area.

The regiment then demonstrated their arms drill …

… before marching forward …

… to demonstrate how a musket was loaded and fired, and what a musket volleys sounded like.

The display ended with the regiment forming up …

… and charging the crowd!

There may not have been many of them, but the 44th Regiment of Foot re-enactors certainly put on a good show.

The 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot: A short history

The 44th Regiment of Foot was originally raised in 1741 as James Long’s Regiment of Foot. It first saw action during the Jacobite Rising (1745-46) – where it took part in the Battle of Prestonpans – before being sent to Flanders. The regiment was originally ranked as the 55th Regiment of Foot, but in 1748 it was re-numbered as the 44th.

The regiment was sent to North America in 1751 and took an active part in the French and Indian War as well as the American War of Independence. During its time in North America it took part in:

  • Braddock’s defeat (1755)
  • The Battle of Carillon (1758)
  • The Battle of Brooklyn (1776)
  • The Battle of Brandywine (1777)
  • The Battle of Monmouth (1778)

In 1782 the regiment was given a county designation and became the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot.

During the Napoleonic Wars the regiment fielded two battalions. The 1st Battalion saw service in Spain during 1814 and from 1814 to 1815 in the War against the United States of America. During the latter conflict the battalion fought at:

  • The Battle of Bladensburg (1814)
  • The Battle of North Point (1814)
  • The Battle of New Orleans (1815)

The 2nd Battalion also saw service in Spain, and took part in:

  • The Battle of Fuentes de Onoro (1811)
  • The Siege of Badajoz (1812)
  • The Battle of Salamanca (1812): where the Imperial Eagle of the French 62nd Regiment was captured

It then took part in the Waterloo Campaign and fought at the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo.

The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1816.

The regiment then began a period of colonial service. From 1824 to 1826 the regiment took part in the First Anglo-Burmese War, where it helped capture Arakan Province. It then played a part in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842), where it took part in the infamous Retreat from Kabul. During the retreat the regiment fought a running battle with the pursuing Afghans, and by the time it reached Gandamak it had been reduced to only forty men. They refused to surrender, and their Last Stand became famous.

Only two officers of the regiment survived the massacre. They were:

  • Captain Thomas Souter, who saved the regimental colours by wrapping them around his waist
  • Surgeon William Brydon, who carried the news of the battle to the British garrison at Jalalabad.

The regiment was completely rebuilt, and in 1854 it was sent to the Crimea as part of the Anglo-French army that was tasked with capturing Sebastopol. Whilst there it took part in:

  • The Battle of the Alma (20th September 1854)
  • The Battle of Inkerman (5th November 1854)
  • The Siege of Sebastopol

Once the Crimean War was over, the regiment embarked on a further period of colonial service, this time in Madras (Chennai), India. During the Second Opium War (1857 – 1862) it helped to capture the Taku Forts (21st August 1860), where Lieutenant Robert Montresor Rogers and Private John McDougall both won the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery. In September 1860 the regiment became part of the Shanghai Garrison before being moved to Hong Kong in November of that year. It remained in Hong Kong until the following October, when it returned to garrison duty in India.

As part of the Childers Reforms of 1881, the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot was twined with the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot to form the Essex Regiment.

Nordic Noir

It started when I work colleague strongly recommended that I read Stieg Larsson‘s MILLENNIUM trilogy (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE HORNET’S NEST). I read the books, enjoyed them tremendously, and even bought the film/TV series versions of the books made by Yellow Bird.

Since then I have been ‘hooked’ on Nordic Noir, and I am currently reading the last book in the WALLANDER series by Henning Mankell. What I can’t understand is why I find Nordic Noir so enjoyable. They are not easy books to read, and the stories often deal with quite unpleasant people and events … but somehow I find them compulsive reading.

In the case of the Wallander books it may well be that I find some aspects of Kurt Wallander’s personality and his particular personal traits very similar to my own, and I especially sympathise with his relationship to his father (mine also began to develop Alzheimer’s disease towards the end of his life) and his feeling that he no longer quite understands or fits into the society in which he lives and works.

I am not sure where my next foray into Nordic Noir will take me (for example, Jo Nesbo‘s books have been recommended to me) but I have a feeling that ‘obsession’ is not yet over.

I have been to … Deal Castle, Kent

On the same day that Sue and I visited Walmer Castle, we also paid a visit to the nearby Deal Castle. (The two castles are a mile apart.)

Like Walmer Castle, Deal Castle was one of the artillery forts that were built for Henry VIII to form part of a chain of coastal defences along the south coast of Kent. Like Walmer Castle, Deal Castle was built between 1539 and 1540.

Deal Castle also has a central three-storied round tower or keep, but in its case the tower has six small protruding bastions. The tower is encompassed by a circular courtyard (or ward), around which are arranged six larger, squat, semi-circular bastions upon which were mounted the castle’s heaviest guns. The whole castle is surrounded by a moat, and there is access into the moat via a sally port. A gallery with fifty three firing loops was constructed around the castle at the same level as the sally port so that defenders could fire at any attackers who managed to get into the moat.

The westernmost bastion is taller than the others and serves as the castle’s gatehouse. When built the castle’s tower provided accommodation for a peacetime garrison that comprised a castle commander (always referred to as the ‘Captain’), his deputy, a porter and sixteen gunners. The officers lived on the upper floor of the tower, and the kitchen and bakery were located on its ground floor. In the centre of the vaulted basement was a large well which supplied the castle’s fresh water needs. The basement also served as a storage area for supplies and as the castle’s magazine.

Deal Castle has always been commanded by a ‘Captain’, and since the eighteenth century this has been an honorific title bestowed on a soldier or politician of note. Over more recent years these have included:

  • 1923 to 1925: Field Marshal, The Earl of Ypres, John French
  • 1925 to 1927 Field Marshal Lord Allenby
  • 1927 to 1934: Rufus Isaacs, Marquis of Reading
  • 1934 to 1951: Field Marshal Lord Birdwood
  • 1972 to 1979: General Sir Norman Tailyour, K.C.B., D.S.O.
  • 1980 to 2009: Maj. Gen. Ian Harrison
  • 2009 onwards: The title and position of ‘Captain of Deal Castle’ became part of the ceremonial role performed by the Commandant General, Royal Marines.

Sue and I entered Deal Castle …

via the gateway in the westernmost bastion. (The short wooden bridge was originally a drawbridge that was operated from and protected by this bastion.)

This gave us access to the courtyard or ward that runs around the main tower and upper bastions of the castle.

This gave us an opportunity to examine the castle’s main tower and upper bastions in some detail.

It also enabled us to see how effectively the castle’s gun could protect this section of the Kent coast …

… and to look at the cannons that are currently mounted atop the lower bastions.

We then went down to the lower level of the castle via a narrow staircase, …

… through an equally narrow doorway, …

… and into the vaulted basement. The only natural light in this area came from small windows that had formerly been firing loops.

In the centre of the basement is the castle’s well …

… and arranged around it are the castle’s original store areas and magazines. The main storage areas now contain displays about the castle’s history.

Coming off the basement are several narrow passages that lead to the gallery from which the defenders could fire into the moat.

There is also a narrow passageway that gives access via the sally port …

… into the castle’s moat.

We were able to walk completely around the moat …

… and back through the sally port into the lower part of the castle.

We then made our way up a narrow winding staircase …

… to the uppermost floor of the tower.

This was formerly the area used by the castle’s Captain, …

… and currently houses a small chapel dedicated to the memory of the Burma Star Association …

… and portraits of some the former Captains of Deal Castle.

Whilst Deal Castle does not have the grandeur or historical importance of neighbouring Walmer Castle, it does give visitors a better understanding of how these artillery forts were constructed and how they functioned.

I have been to … Walmer Castle, Kent

In late June Sue and I visited Walmer Castle. It is one of a number of such castles that were built for Henry VIII. It was designed to be an artillery fort and formed part of a chain of coastal defences along the south coast of Kent. The castle was built between 1539 and 1540, and is one of three similar castles built in the area. (The other two are at Deal and Sandown.)

The design of the castle is sometimes referred to as looking like a Tudor Rose. It has a central round tower or keep which is surrounded by an open courtyard that is protected by a concentric wall. Four, squat, semi-circular bastions project out from the wall, the northernmost of which forms the castle’s gatehouse. The three other bastions were originally designed so that cannons could be placed both inside and on top of the bastions. This allowed the castle to be armed with a total of thirty nine cannons. A gallery with firing loops was constructed at basement level around the castle so that defenders could fire at any attackers who managed to get into the moat.

The defences of Walmer Castle were not tested until the English Civil War when – in 1648 – it was besieged by Parliamentary troops led by Colonel Rich troops. The castle’s defenders held out for three weeks before they surrendered. (Deal and Sandown Castles were also besieged at the same time, and did not surrender for three months.)

After the Restoration Walmer Castle reverted to being part of Britain’s poorly maintained coastal defence system, but in 1708 it took on a new role. It became the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. This was an honorary position bestowed on someone who had given distinguished service to the state, and since then it has been held by:

  • William Pitt the Younger
  • The Duke of Wellington
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother

The present Lord Warden is Admiral Lord Boyce.

During our visit we were not allowed to take photographs inside the castle, so the following images only show its exterior.

The main entrance to Walmer Castle

A section of the castle’s moat

The Western Bastion
The Western Bastion gives access from the castle into its gardens. The original casemates are still visible although they have now been glazed.

The doorway into the Western Bastion
The casemate above the entrance is very clear in this photograph.

A panoramic view from the Eastern Bastion
This photograph give some idea of the area of the coast that the guns at Walmer Castle would have covered.

Some of the cannons currently on display on top of the bastions

Walmer Castle as seen from its informal garden

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s formal garden
This garden was designed and created during Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s tenure as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.