Fire and Ice – Final Post

Home Again

Hello again.

Deb and I have been home from our adventure for four days. The majority of the washing has been done, although there is still quite a pile of clothes in the garage where the washing machine is panting from exhaustion. The post has been looked at, and once again a pile nearly half a metre high eventually gave us about ten items of interest. Sadly, most of our post consists of cruise brochures from three separate companies.

Deb quickly returned to the cooking and I was immediately thrilled to have food with taste again. The meals on the ship are good, but don’t have the variety of taste with meat and fresh vegetables that are carefully prepared, rather than the mass catering required in a ship’s galley.

It was delightful to sink into our own bed with our own pillows and not have the gentle (but obvious) purr of the air-conditioning, and rocking as the ship battles the oceans of the world.

… and nobody got up early next door to wake us prematurely.

And yet with all these familiar things back under our control again, I would jump at the chance to repeat the experience we have had.

It was nearly ten weeks on board Aurora, and we visited so many amazing places. Without any doubt, the Amazon was the highlight, and I still cannot come to terms with its size, and the surrounding rain forests. The simplicity of the local villages with people surviving and dealing with an ever-changing environment between the rainy and dry seasons. The different animals in their natural habitat blew my mind.

The port of Manaus was probably not the prettiest of cities we have ever visited, but once away from the hundreds of pleasure and working boats, floating fuel stations, and the noise, Brazil and more especially the Amazon was sensational.

Would I go back?

Of course I would, but having experienced it once, I doubt the thrill would ever be so intense again.

From the Amazon we moved to the Caribbean islands. We have only been to a couple in the past, but now we saw a cross section of islands from those on the east, and those towards the west.

They are so different.

The eastern islands are far less organised to attract the big spenders. The people are going about their normal daily life, while doing their best to make a few extra dollars from cruise ships.

In the west, they are almost in the pocket of the American investors with ports designed to keep the visitors contented without exploring true island life. Vast bright and shiny shops sell diamonds, pearls, clothes with designer labels, and multiple international chains of cafes and bars to painlessly suck money from wallets, and increase credit card bills.

You can already guess what we enjoyed most, and have already planned to get back to those islands in the east at sometime in the near future.

Then Aurora took us around a loop of the central American countries. Like the nearby islands, many were once again shopping palaces that have to be ignored to see beyond the ports, and to find the true lives of countries that are often so very poor. We enjoyed the majority of the countries we visited, but not the constant glitzy diamond shops.

From the heat and humidity of the tropics we slowly worked our way northwards. The temperature dropped gradually, and the Atlantic Ocean reminded us that the sea is not always as calm as we had experienced for a month.

After 55 nights, all but about a hundred passengers left Aurora in Southampton, but few of us stayed on to have a totally different experience of Norway in the winter. This was awe inspiring just like the Amazon, but this time it was the scale of the mountains, the magic of the Fjords, and of course, the snow.

Most people saw something of the Northern Lights to tick one more box on their bucket lists. Deb was lucky to get a clear view of them, but unfortunately my illness prevented me from going off the ship in Alta. For the first time the cold got to me. I am normally happy with cold, and adore the sight and walking in the snow. But Norway was just too much for my aging arthritic body.

I still enjoyed Norway, but it was more about the visual thrills of snow-covered mountains, and unbelievably tall cliffs of the Fjords.

Once again I would like to go back, and complete the experience with a proper search for the Northern Lights, but I will balance my hopes against the experience of the cold.

Finally, I want to thank our friends, Angie, Richard, Robin and Rosemary. They made the cruise so special. We were like a small family unit planning and scheming how to win the Syndicate Quiz, and making the most of the free cocktail party booze.

Deb and I have declared that this will probably be our final long cruise. We have to plan our future, and ensure we are financially secure for however many years we have left.

But we haven’t finished cruising altogether. We will be back in Southampton in June for a last cruise on Oriana. She was the first ship we ever sailed on in 2000, and will soon be on her way to amuse the people of China with her new owners. That cruise will take us around the British Isles including Guernsey in the south, various places in Ireland, and as far north as the Faroes.

After that we will take some time to choose cruises that are going to new places, or favourite places. We will almost certainly look at other cruise lines, and I certainly want to try a River Cruise in the near future.

OK, so this particular series of blogs are finished, but don’t go away as I will still be making my thoughts and experiences public to amuse or annoy the hundreds of you who have read my ramblings.

I now go back into author mode, and begin the new book. After a survey on Facebook, it seems the preferred title is ‘From the Furnace to the Freezer’, and hopefully it will turn up on Amazon before the end of the year. There are at least two other books in the pipeline that are partially complete, and could appear soon.

Thanks again everyone for taking an interest in the adventures of a Cornishman and his wonderful wife.

Fire and Ice Part 55 – repeated

Monday 4th March – Tromsø, Norway

I didn’t have a good night, and suspect I was a little on edge with all the tours we have over the next three days.

Anyway, we were up just after the alarm clocked beeped at us at 6:00. We had a quick cuppa and dressed, before going to the Medina for breakfast. Our tour is leaving at 8:30 and we have to get our cold weather kit on before we can leave the ship.

We joined a queue at 8:15 to leave Aurora, but there was some form of technical issue and we stood on the stairs with about a hundred other passengers trying to get off.  It made us a little late getting to the coach but not a problem as we were all in the same position.

Oh, I forgot to mention that there was a blizzard in Tromsø and a temperature of -6. It was freezing as we crossed the dockside to the coach.

Once settled into the warm coach we set off towards our destination at an island called Sommarøy, which means the Island of Summer.

… was this really the right choice?

By the way, Tromsø is one of the larger cities of Norway, and is also an island, surrounded by several other islands, as well as seemingly hundreds of mountains. Our drive took us out of the city, and past the airfield which our guide was very proud of. Further on and we crossed an amazing road-bridge which was curved. Apparently, a lot of Norwegian bridges are curved. There was snow everywhere with about a foot of the stuff on the ground, and the roads were still white with the stuff. Car and bus drivers do not worry about snow, and were happily going along at quite normal speeds. They all have winter tyres in Norway and the snow is a fine dryish, dusty sort that does not cause the roads to be slippery. There were also snow ploughs everywhere keeping the falling snow off the roads just leaving a white surface.

More bridges, even more mountains, and we drove on for over an hour. The guide talked about various things pertinent to the city, the islands, the mountains, and our destination at the small island of Sommarøy.

We finally arrived safely, and with coats done up, hats firmly in place, and gloves on, we got off the coach and into the continuing blizzard. Now it was really cold, and we were walking through deep snow at times, or on slightly less snow covered areas that had become a bit slippery. The highlights of our walk in the island’s village were the only shop, and a café where they have a wall covered in cups with names of their owner on them. Some of the owners have died, and visitors can use them.

There was also a second world war mine on display. The Germans occupied this are during the war, and we had already passed by the spot where the battleship Tirpitz had been destroyed by the RAF.

Then there was a walk over a bridge, with a frozen river below, which led us to the hotel where we were having refreshments. It was a welcome warmth that greeted us, and signs of delight all round.

We all sat down to a delicious snack of waffles with jam and cream, plus slices of brown cheese to nibble at. I did not know it was cheese, and it vaguely tasted of fudge… well to me anyway.

The coffee was delicious, and hot, and Deb and I thoroughly enjoyed the waffles so much, that we shared another.

It was time for the return journey, and now the snow had stopped and even the sun came out to make the landscape brighter. We could appreciate the sheer magnificence of the mountains and our guide continued a non-stop commentary of what we were passing, plus details of such things as the numerous languages of Norway, the Sami people who are the indigenous people of the country. He also talked about the food, including support for the whale industry. His constant blast of information eventually, and sadly, faded into the background, and I began to doze.

We arrived back at Aurora at about 1:00, and although I missed some of the interesting details that our guide was telling us, I truly enjoyed the look at the snow-covered countryside.

It had been a really good tour, and yet another experience that I will savour from this amazing adventure.

After a quick lunch, Deb and I went on the shuttle into the city to buy some extra warm weather clothing. It was expensive, but necessary after the morning’s experience.

The city is rather beautiful, with lots of quite imaginative timber cladded residential properties in amongst the typical low level industrial or retail outlets. There was snow covering most of the roads and pavements, but efforts to clear the central area left the main shopping area almost clear with dry pavements. When it was necessary to cross a road with slippery snow, the local cars seemed quite thoughtful and allowed pedestrians to cross.

With outdoor sports being the man pastime for Norwegians, it was no surprise to find sports a high number of sports shops that concentrated on clothes for walking, hiking and generally staying warm. The prices were once again very high, but we had already come to accept that Norway has one of the highest costs of living anywhere we had seen.

Once our shopping bag had the necessary woolly hat, scarf, and a fridge magnet of course, we made our way back to the shuttle bus stop. Getting back on Aurora was a delight to have some warmth again, although the cold wind is whistling through the corridors. It was time for a cup of tea and then to simply sit around in our cabin to warm our bodies up again.

Before dinner we went to the individual quiz where we were joined by both Rosemary and Richard. Probably not the best quiz for Robin to experience, as it was the most difficult one we have had during our cruise. The winning score was just 12 points… not any of us of course.

Robin and Rosemary didn’t go to dinner with us, as they were off to the cathedral for a classical concert. Meanwhile ourselves plus Richard and Angie ate together before avoiding the entertainment options. It was time for lie down in the cabin before we met up again at 9:30 for a drink and a quiz in Champion’s. It was on British comedy and we thought we had done really well, but a man on his own had much superior knowledge to win the sticker.

Robin and Rosemary joined us, and we went up to Vanderbilt’s for the syndicate challenge. We were third, and couldn’t have done any better.

That was the end of a long and busy day in the city of Tromsø, and as we left the lounge the captain was announcing that Aurora was about to leave. There had been a number of late tours including night time husky and reindeer sleigh rides. The last ones had just returned, and our ship was about to begin the overnight trip northwards to Alta.

That will do for now. It had been a really special day with wonderful views, delicious snacks, and superb descriptions by our guide… … and just a little bit colder than we thought it would be.

Fire and Ice Part 61 – repeated

Sunday 10th March – At Sea

Happy birthday to our daughter Lynsey.

When I woke this morning, Aurora was steaming at around 17 knots down the coast of Eastern England. It is cloudy and cool at around 6°C and there are oil rigs in the distance.

Back to Saturday

Our afternoon had little more than a music quiz and reading. I had a final bath on the ship to relax my body. At around 5:00, the captain announced we were about to leave Stavanger for the final leg of the cruise to Southampton. He warned that the seas would be a bit bumpy once we had left the sheltered route out of the port.

Time to take a Stugeron then.

We went to the individual quiz, and I won. This is a very rare occurrence, and I was rather pleased with myself.

We had already changed into our evening clothes by now as there was a farewell cocktail party for the Peninsular higher tier members.

By now, the captain’s warning was being proved correct, and Aurora was rolling quite seriously as we stood with our drinks and chatted to the officers at the party. We didn’t win the leatherette photo frame (thank goodness) and it actually went to a passenger who could hardly have been born when we started cruising.

Dinner proved a little interesting with the ship’s movement beginning to make things unsteady on the table. I think we are in for a rock and roll evening.

One thing that was affected was the Headliner’s show. The ship, and hence the stage, was moving too much and it had to be cancelled. That just left the 60’s and 70’s party in Carmon’s, and the six of us decided against that.

We met up in Vanderbilt’s, and played a couple of final rounds of Trivial Pursuit. Richard had decided to make a token effort of dressing up for the 60’s theme, and was wearing a wig. A lot of people stared at him in dis-belief, because it wasn’t the most convincing. It was all good for a bit of a laugh.

It was time to move to Champion’s by now for the late-night quizzical challenge, themed on the 60’s and 70’s. We did very well, but of course, not well enough for any final golden stickers. The quiz was made even more amusing by the ship’s motion, and our chairs were sliding as the rolling became quite extreme. Fortunately, we didn’t witness any glasses being smashed this time.

Our evening was over, and we staggered from side to side up the corridor to our beds.

Back to today again

It was breakfast in the Medina again, and today we asked to sit at one of the tables waited on by Joseph who was the waiter on the Amazon cruise. We had a chat and wished each other the best for the future.

After eating, I was told to go away from the cabin while Deb had a serious attack at the packing. I went to an individual quiz based on the ports of the Mediterranean. My knowledge of these ports is good, but I have never been to one or two, and this let me down. I still came close to the winner, and haven’t disgraced myself.

Back at the cabin, the majority of the packing was done, so I tempted Deb to go for a drink up in the buffet. It is very apparent that the passenger profile is different on this cruise compare to the Amazon trip. The buffet is packed, and I mean packed, throughout the day. It really feels as if some people camp in there and simply eat all day… and the size of many, tends to confirm my thoughts.

Their eating habits are significantly different. While for the first seven weeks, the Glass House and Sindhu were virtually deserted in the evenings, on this cruise they are busy. The age profile is only a little younger, but there is something different about these passengers.

Another difference noticed by Richard and Angie is that very few of the people are interested in the deck games, and many competitions have been called off through lack of entrants. The Fit Step sessions were also quieter, and an attempt was made to generate more interest by changing the time to midday. Sadly this has meant many of the ladies who have done it previously not being able to take part because of their other activities that go on at 12:00.

Well, it is almost midday, and Deb will soon be off to the final round of Battle of the Sexes. The ladies are one and a half questions ahead, so this is going to be a close contest to win.

The cabin is looking rather bare now. All our notices that have been kept on the wall with fridge magnets are now laying on the table. There are full suitcases in the wardrobe instead of clothes, and what we are wearing tonight, and in the morning, are the only things left out.

This evening the comedy magician is in Carmen’s and the 4Tunes are singing in the theatre. There are still one or two quizzes left, but the golden stickers will cease to be given after the afternoon individual quiz. Prize giving will be just before dinner, and that means more goodies to be packed away in our cases.

The ladies were pipped at the post in the Battle of the Sexes. The teams were level just the men’s final question to come. It was a football question and quite an easy one. At least this was one of the closest ends to this competition I have seen.

The afternoon entertainment was virtually zero, unless you want to buy something from the shop, or watch sport on the television.

The dinner table six are planning to meet up in Anderson’s for a pre-dinner drink and will no doubt toast to meeting up again soon during the evening.

We have all had a wonderful time, but now we have to move on after nearly 10 weeks together. I know Richard and Angie have lots of holidays (not all cruises) and Robin and Rosemary have plans as well to travel around Europe. Deb and I need to catch up with our families around England before the cruise on Oriana in June.

By lunchtime tomorrow (Monday) we hope to be back at home in Herefordshire. Then begin the tasks to return to life at home, starting by warming up the house, begin feeding the washing machine, shopping, and working through the pile of letters.

The next post on here will be after we have got our breath back, so I want to thank all of you who have followed the blog, and the Facebook diary entries from Deb. We both love keeping people up to date with our travels, and the number of readers has amazed us.

Soon I will begin turning our memories into the next book to give you more details of our sensational adventure that took us from ‘The Furnace to the Freezer’.

Bi for now from Aurora.

Fire and Ice Part 60 – repeated

Saturday 9th March – Stavanger, Norway

Well this is it. The final port of this epic adventure from as far south as the equator, and as far north as the Arctic Circle. We have seen so much in the widely different countries on our journey that has taken us nearly 10 weeks.

So, here we are in Stavanger. There are no snow-capped mountains, no pavements with snow piled up beside them, and no arctic blasts of wind. It is about 4°C with a gentle wind, and it is raining.

Catch up of Friday

The ladies have caught, and overtaken the men in the Battle of the Sexes.

Our plans to watch 3:00 showing of Bohemian Rhapsody failed because 30 minutes before the start, there was a crowd bigger than the cinema capacity queueing outside. The same thing happened for the midday showing.

They showed Mary Queen of Scots in the Curzon theatre earlier, and it was almost deserted. Why of why wasn’t this absolutely amazing musical film shown in the theatre instead?

Anyway, after consulting the Horizon newspaper, we decided to go to a music quiz in Champion’s.

Failure again as it was packed with bored passengers.

We gave up and had a cup of tea.

Back in the cabin, Deb had a bath, and I read my book, accompanied by a few moments dozing.

It was the last formal evening, and it started with an individual quiz before we go into our best clothes. The meal was a Gala Menu, and once again it disappointed a lot of well-travelled passengers. I managed to avoid steak and chips but my choice didn’t excite my taste buds.

The next stop was the theatre to watch Kristian Grey the comedy magician. He amused us for 45 minutes. The tricks were the same as we have seen before, and his comedy routine was passable, but not side splittingly funny. I don’t think we will rush back for his second show.

As we came out of the theatre, Robin and Rosemary left us to go to Carmen’s for the Paraguayan singing harpist. Carmen’s was nowhere near full, and this indicated that his first show was not overly popular. Meantime Richard and Angie joined us for a drink in the Crow’s Nest.

The six of us came together again for the Syndicate Quiz. This wasn’t very well attended tonight, but we came second to a team who started on -2 points.

The most exciting part of this quiz was Deb falling to the ground when her chair collapsed. Fortunately, the chair collapsed quite slowly, and Deb almost gracefully sunk to the floor.

Time for bed as Aurora sped south towards Stavanger.

Coming up to date on Saturday

After yet another breakfast in the Medina, Deb and I took our time to get ready before going out into Stavanger.

The rain wasn’t heavy, and it wasn’t so cold that we needed to dress up in multiple layers. Our plan was to stretch our legs, and possibly look at a museum… and to spend our last Krona.

Our first stop was the Maritime Museum that charged us (retied old gits) 70 Krona each, but the ticket was also valid for two other museums. The exhibits were interesting as we walked around the three-story building that had extremely creaky floors. They were trying to attract foreign visitors, but the display information signs only sometimes included any British translations. This was not a problem, as the visual models of ships, and reconstructions of maritime rooms was very enjoyable.

From there we walked along the area called the ‘Old Town’ and found another museum that featured sardine canning. It had a black and white film to describe the process from fishing to finally exporting the tins. Then we saw examples of the machinery used 100 years ago. At each stage they used little plastic fishes to simulate the sardines, and the museum must have had thousands of these soft bendy fish. This time the exhibits all had British translations of the signs.

We came out of there after about 30 minutes, and it as still raining. Our last challenge was to find something to spend our Krona on, and we came back to the ship with little more than the equivalent of £5.

There was a chance to hang up damp clothes before we went to get a snack in the buffet for lunch. The afternoon doesn’t have much to keep us occupied, but there is a music quiz again that will hopefully not be quite so popular.

Aurora should be leaving Stavanger at about 5:00, and there is a sail-away party as usual. Well, almost as usual, but it is in the Crow’s Nest. The local laws forbid cruise ships making any excessive noise, so flag waving and patriotic songs will be restricted to the lounge.

Before dinner there is also a cocktail party for the loyalty club’s higher tier members, so this will be our last chance to drink the free booze budget.

Tonight in the theatre, the Headlines are performing their latest show called ‘Applause’. We saw this about 9 week’s ago, so we intend to go along and watch it again.

In Carmen’s they are having a 60s and 70s night, and we were even asked to dress up yesterday evening by the entertainment boss. Of course we packed them away (unused) and they are already in the car.

So, Aurora will set sail southwards tonight and sail through tomorrow past the east coast of Britain. On Monday morning we will be docked in Southampton, and we will be on our way home before 9:00.

Tomorrow is packing day, and saying goodbye day. It will be sad to realise the adventure is coming to an end, but I think I am ready to go home.

Fire and Ice Part 59 – repeated

Friday 8th March – Sea Day

At 7:30 I switched on the kettle to wake us up.

Aurora was hammering along at almost 21 knots with a tail wind to ease her fuel usage. The wind was blowing at Force 5, and the sea was considered ‘Slight’, but the most important thing was that the temperature was actually above freezing at +1°C. We have been below freezing for five days, and this is quite a landmark.

Anyway, in my usual way, I will update you on yesterday evening.

The afternoon was simple relaxation before Deb lost in a multi way tie break at the individual quiz.

Then we got ourselves ready for Robin’s early birthday meal, which began with a bottle of Prosecco in Anderson’s. Quickly consumed, we headed for the Beach House.

Everything was going splendidly, and then the officer of the watch announced that the Northern Lights had come out to play again, and could be seen from the stern. There was amass exodus from the Beach House by diners wanting to see the lights, and they were indeed visible.

Unfortunately, the freezing cold wind blowing from the north was whistling through the continually opening door, and onto our table, as the excited passengers ran through it.

By now we had finished our starter, and I was feeling rather full. It seems this virus has dampened my appetite, but I wasn’t going to be beaten. As we waited for the main courses to arrive, the constant blasts of cold air from the door were making us shiver. We made our feeling known with quite loud shouts of “Shut that door” but to no avail.

The main courses were wonderful, but the wind was causing some real annoyances. Richard eventually broke, and gave the head waiter an earful about how our meal was being spoilt by the continual passage of people in and out of the stern door.

They put barriers up on the inside, but people could still come in from the outside. Then they put some form of barrier outside, but passengers ignored the obstacles and continued to go in and out.

We finished eating what we could of the main courses, and I have to say I was struggling to eat very much. I was feeling cold to the point where I was really unable to stay. My legs were freezing cold, and I needed to warm up. Much to my embarrassment, I had to apologise to the others and take my leave.

As we left, Deb gave the head waiter another earful about the stupidity of allowing people to go in and out, even after the barriers were up. At one point a waiter was waiving people through. I wasn’t interested anymore, and within 15 minutes I was wrapped up in bed. This was at just 9:30.

Perhaps it was my fault and thought I was over the virus, but the constant blasts of cold wind certainly made things worse.

I then slept all night until getting up to make the tea.

So, back to today.

We had breakfast in the Medina yet again, and the view was no longer of snow covered mountains, it was just the north sea.

After eating Deb prepared herself for Fit Steps, and I went for a walk around the Prom Deck. The Fit Step session didn’t run, and has been scheduled for midday in Carmen’s. At 12:15 Carmen’s has also been scheduled for the Choir.

Ooops!

We met up again and Deb changed out of her exercise kit, and we went to attempt a quiz in Champion’s. It was an individual one, and I beat Deb for a change. It was a science quiz that we did a few weeks ago, but unfortunately, I couldn’t recall all the answers, and another person, who was also at the quiz a few weeks ago, did. Sadly, he also won that same quiz the first time.

Deb and I now went to the future cruises desk and spent some more money. Our first ever cruise ship, Oriana, is leaving service with P&O later this year, and we already had a short cruise booked on her for June to say goodbye to a wonderful ship. Today we booked the previous cruise which is a little longer, and is going around the western coast of Britain.

Initially we thought about keeping the other cruise as well, but eventually we decided to cancel it. This was all a bit confusing, as the first booking was direct with Thomas Cook so Deb had to email our agent to cancel it, with a warning that another booking was coming to her as well.

OK, so that finishes holidays for the early summer. We have a trip to Cornwall in May to go to ‘Flora Day’, and then a cruise in June.

… if you don’t understand the term ‘Flora Day’ then make a search on Google, as it is too complicated to describe here.

Time for coffee!

Tonight is the final formal evening of the cruise. I am not looking forward to it because I am worried that I will feel ill again, and embarrass myself. Hopefully I will stay warm and be OK, but I don’t intend to eat so much this evening.

Entertainment includes a return of Fransisco Yglesia in Carmen’s. My entertainment critic reported that he sang and played the harp, and was quite good.

Alternatively, we could go and watch a comedy magician called Kristian Grey in the theatre.

On balance, I think we will go and watch the comedian.

There is another entertainment option today as well. The cinema is showing Bohemian Rhapsody again, and I am more than willing to go and watch it for a third time. So, it looks like Deb and I will go to a showing at 3:00. It might be a bit tight showering and dressing for the evening, but there should be enough time. I have thoroughly enjoyed the cinema experience, and the loud music of this film has been superb.

It is approaching midday now, and Deb will soon be off to the penultimate round of Battle of the Sexes. They are well within reach of the men, and such a change to the situation on the previous cruise.

Tomorrow we will be arriving in Stavanger. This is our final port in Norway, and all that will remain is the mad dash to Southampton the next day.

Fire and Ice Part 58 – repeated

Thursday 7th March – Sea Day

At about 2:30 in the morning I woke to hear the sounds of thrusters. Aurora was leaving Alta for the journey south.

I had been just a little bit more sociable during yesterday evening, meeting up with the others from the dinner table for an early quiz. It wasn’t for long as the others were off to see the Paraguayan singer in the theatre. Deb and I sat in Anderson’s with a glass of wine.

Settled into the drink, there was an announcement that the Northern Lights were visible out on deck. I took the chance, and went out on Promenade deck, and sure enough, they were playing for us. It was only a mild green colour, with very little movement, but I had seen them.

We finished our drinks and made our way up to the cabin. I was very tired again. For a few minutes I read my book, but sleep was more important to get my strength back.

So after being woken far too early during the night, I dozed my way through to 7:30, and put the kettle on. It is still below freezing outside, but not snowing for a change.

Aurora was making her way past enormous rocky islands on either side of the final fjord of the cruise. As we breakfasted in the Medina, I saw a cruise ship in the distance taking a close up view of one of the islands.

At 9:00 Deb went to Fit Steps, and I went outside soon after for a walk around the Promenade deck. This was the first time I had spent more than a couple of minutes outside since I became ill. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The spectacle of the fjord lifted my spirits and the cold air filled and purged my lungs of the dry air-conditioned air I had been breathing for three days. The cruise ship we saw earlier was now following us, and I decided to go and fetch my camera.

I had not taken any pictures since Tromsø and the views of white mountains was too tempting.

By the time I got back outside, Aurora had swung around, and the cruise ship was coming towards us. I managed to see its name, and it was the Aida Aura. This ship was built in 2003 and carries 1300 passengers. It also made a turn and both ships set off in the other direction to leave the fjord and go south.

This morning I had an appointment to chat to the Food and Beverage Manager, and we met up in the atrium. It was to discuss the Cornish Pastie that is continuing to appear at the buffet. The F&D Manager was a New Zealander, and had just joined P&O from Royal Caribbean cruises. He listened and made a note of my moan. He was surprised it was still appearing as emails had been sent to stop offering it. He promised to get the offending finger snack to be renamed.

We chatted for quite a while about food, cruise ships, and lots of different things. It was an hour later when Deb and I left the poor man to enjoy himself again in this new job.

It is still cold outside but finally the ship is no longer full of passengers dressed in full arctic clothing walking around inside in the warmth. For the last few days, people were getting serious layers of clothes on, while inside, rather then putting them on to go outside. They even kept everything on while in the coaches, and then complained it was still cold when they got off.

Another announcement was made to advise us that there was whale activity outside. This was just as I had spotted something acting a bit like a whale through the cabin window. I still didn’t manage to spot a whale doing its up and out with a swish of the tail. It has been two world cruises, and this longer voyage, and these creatures are still hiding from my sight.

Sadly, as hundreds of passengers looked out to sea in hopes of a treat, we sailed close by a fleet of whale boats, who were also seeking the whales. I know it is their custom, and they have the right to fish and catch the whales, but it does seem wrong to me, and many others.

Lunch time saw the Battle of the sexes continue, with the ladies gaining on the men by the end of this round. Deb and I then met up again, and went to lunch in the buffet. It was packed up there, and difficult to find a table.

Then it started to snow again. It was bad enough that the Bridge Crew began to use the fog horn to warn any small craft nearby.

Right, looking ahead to the rest of the day, we are eating in the Beach House tonight with Robin hosting a celebration for his upcoming birthday. The six of us will be together again in our favourite eating venue. The celebrations will begin with a bottle of Prosecco in Anderson’s before moving upstairs. I am sure there will be more bottles of wine to follow through the meal.

This means we will be missing the entertainment, with the ‘4tunes’ in the theatre, and the Headliners performing their Queen tribute in Carmen’s. We have seen the 4tunes before, and while they are a good singing group of boys, they weren’t exceptional.

I am sure the six of us will end up doing a quiz later on as well.

We are at sea again tomorrow with the final formal evening of the cruise. After that we have Stavanger before the last day towards home.

What a terrific cruise it has been… but perhaps a little cold over the last few days.

Fire and Ice Part 57 – repeated

Wednesday 6th March – Alta Continued

Yesterday afternoon Deb went on her tour to the Ice Hotel and had a lovely visit to this quite unique place. It seems the only thing not made of ice are the reindeer skins on the chairs and beds. The hotel has single, and double rooms plus suites for those wanting to have a separate seating area. Each year the hotel is constructed with snow in November and although he basic shape may be the same, it is based on a different theme for the year. This time it is all about Norwegian things, but has been all kinds of things like Nursery Rhymes in the past.

I stayed in the cabin feeling sorry for myself and trying to rest.

Deb had another tour in the evening in search of the Northern Lights, but she didn’t get back from the hotel visit until after 6:00, so missed her dinner. In the meantime, I went to listen to a talk on the Northern Lights tour, in case there as anything useful to pass on. Although interesting and quite amusing, the talk could have been ignored. It described what the phenomenon is all about, and how to make the most of the tour. One major aspect was how to set up a camera to have the best chance to capture the images, but as I forgot to bring the tripod, Deb would not have any hope.

The guide giving the talk then discussed the chances of actually seeing anything that night. There has to be clear skies, and with a north westerly wind, it meant the coaches would be taking the passengers some 70km to an inland site where cloud cover should be least. Even then the chances of seeing the spectacle were not good, as the sun’s activity predictions were not good.

When I came out of the talk, I eventually met up with Deb again, and we had a meal in the buffet. It was my second curry dish of the day, and for those who don’t know me, I rarely choose this style of food. Today it worked, as my taste-buds were struggling to work properly, and the spice was stimulating them a little.

Just after 9:00 Deb went off to join the tour that would last around four hours. I did leave the cabin for about 45 minutes to have a glass of wine, but this was really a change of scenery from the four walls of our cabin. As I glanced out of the window in Raffle’s I could see that snow was falling again, and within minutes Aurora was enveloped in a blizzard.

I was not very confident that Deb’s evening would be successful.

With my wine finished, I returned to the cabin and went to bed. I finished a book and by 11:00 I was tucked up in bed and quickly went to sleep. The last look through the cabin window showed that the blizzard was still with us.

Deb came home at about 1:15 and we spoke only briefly before she was also in bed. The Norwegian tour company had got it right, and yes, Deb had seen the lights, so at least the trip was a successful one.

This morning (Wednesday) I tried to stay in bed as long as possible to allow Deb to rest, but I desperately needed a drink and some painkillers.

I was not feeling much better.

We had breakfast in the Medina, and then after cleaning my teeth, I was off the see the doctor again.

This time I gave in to his suggestion, and opted for the antibiotics.

Our tour tickets for today were stamped, so at least the cost has been refunded. We should have been going on a 6 hour tour of Alta and the surrounding area, and it looked to have been a wonderful experience.

We saw Richard and Angie this morning, and they are out on a tour during the afternoon. Deb said they would meet up at dinner, but I am staying away from close contact if at all possible. I will eat something in the buffet again.

The temperature was around the -5°C point and the wind was from the East again. This was blowing cloud towards us, and it snowed on and off throughout the morning. Although I didn’t go out on deck, there was a couple of inches of the white stuff, and it is quite sheltered here. I haven’t actually been outside in the fresh (cold) air since our tour in Tromsø.

A comment I heard from a Norwegian guide when he was discussing his country was about the weather:

There is no bad weather in Norway, just bad clothes.

Deb and I went to lunch in the buffet, and there was nothing to see through the windows because of the continuing blizzard. We had a bowl of hot soup, and returned to the cabin.

Although I won’t be sociable this evening, the entertainment features a man called Francisco Yglesia who is described as ‘A renowned international entertainer, and former member of the legendary group Las Paraguayos’. It did not say what he did, but I suspect he is from Paraguay, and probably sings, and possibly plays a big guitar.

That is about all that is on offer except the resident band playing in Carmen’s. A lot of people will be out on the Norwegian Lights search again this evening.

Aurora will be leaving Alta when the last of the passengers get back from the tours. That will be around 2:00 in the morning. We set off again then for two days at sea until we reach Stavanger, and the last port of our cruise.

Sadly, I have lost interest temporarily, but hope to feel better soon to enjoy the last few days of our adventure.

Fire and Ice Part 56 – repeated

Arrival and First Day in Alta

I woke during the night with lots of clattering and banging going on above us. Later in the day this turned out to be people rushing around to see the Northern Lights which had come out to play. I rolled over and slept some more.

A little later I woke up and realised I had a headache that was making my eyes and face really uncomfortable. It didn’t get any better, and when I finally got up to make the tea, it was obvious I had caught a bug.

Aurora was beginning to enter a fjord that leads to the small town or city of Alta. It is pretty much as far north you can go in Norway and the reason for our visit was primarily to have a chance to se the Northern Lights. Deb and I had plans to visit the Ice Hotel this afternoon, followed by a late evening and expedition to look for the lights. This was looking to be in doubt now, as I was not feeling in the least like going out and standing in a field in the extreme cold.

I went to the doctors for the third time.

Yes, I have a virus that has probably affected my sinus system. The treatment suggested is rest, warmth, and lots of drinks. The doctor signed my tour tickets, and the money will be refunded, but Deb’s tickets are still open.

Back in the cabin, Deb told me to get some sleep, and maybe I will feel better by tomorrow.

One chore completed was to refill our daily tablet boxes. This will be the final time on the cruise with less than a week before we get back home.

The morning was a bit of a blur between reading my book, sleeping, and trips to get a hot drink. Deb did go to the Battle of the Sexes where the men have taken the lead.

Just after 1:00 Deb and I had some lunch in the buffet as Aurora docked on the outskirts of Alta. We are at a harbour that is adjacent to the airport, so this is a true international travel hub. The scenery is unbelievably amazing with snow covered craggy mountains all around us. This is without doubt a beautiful place to visit, and especially at this time of the year, but it is truly cold. Anyone going outside are dressed up in every conceivable layer of clothes, to protect themselves from the below freezing temperatures that have existed now for two days. There is snow and ice on the open decks, and I have no interest in going out there.

At 1:30 I discovered that the internet service has also been lost.

This far north it can be an issue with some of the satellites used being out of sight behind the mountains. Sadly, we are here for two days so the money saved by booking the internet for the complete cruise is now going to be a bad investment.

Looks like the internet is back.

Fire and Ice Post 54 repeated

Sunday 3rd March – Sea Day to Tromsø

This is just a catch up on Sunday.

We were up in time for breakfast in the Medina again, and this is becoming the preferred start to the day to avoid the crowds in the Buffet.

After that Deb went to Fit Step while I relaxed in the cabin with my diary.

Our morning was slightly different as we had the Peninsular loyalty lunch at midday, so morning activities were off the list today.

The lunch was a bit special, as it was our first time as members of the Ligurian top tier. The menu was the same, but we had a table in the window with a three striped officer. The food was a very familiar menu, but it was wall cooked very well, and accompanied by good conversation, and a fair amount to booze. We came away after two hours, with no intention of doing anything else for the afternoon.

Both of us relaxed on our beds, but I decided to have a bath, rather than going to sleep. The bath is short, but it was wonderful to just soak, and I dozed as well.

The end of the afternoon was a visit to the individual quiz where we were joined by Robin. The questions were from one of the harder quizzes, and Deb got into a tie break, and lost.

Dinner was unnecessary, but Deb and I had a token meal to keep our strength up. We then just managed to get to Champion’s in time for the early evening quiz, and this time we did win on a tie break getting our answer absolutely spot on.

There was nothing else to interest us, so we went to the Wii bowling machines. Just as we got the machines going, the officer of the watch announced that the Northern Lights were visible.

Off we went.

At this moment, it has to be pointed out that we were in formal wear, and the ladies were definitely not dressed to stand on the open decks…

… but they did

There was certainly some evidence of the lights but it was too cold to stand around in our post clothes, and we returned to the cabin to warm up. That was when Deb and I changed out of formal wear and put on something warmer, before returning outside. Again, the lights were perhaps trying to show off, but nothing spectacular, so we gave up.

After a few minutes bowling again, the six of us met up for another quiz in Champion’s. We were not lucky that time, but there was still the individual quiz to round off the evening.

… Oops, we lost again.

It was time for bed, and especially for Deb and I, as we had to be up early for our tour in the morning.