Delayed Arrival… Oh, Those Pilots…

Yesterday was our final planned day on board ship. I ran my last classes, and we packed everything away ready for disembarkation; luggage has to be left outside the cabin door for collection by the crew, so that it’s waiting on the quayside when we finally leave the ship.

The plan was this: the pilot would be picked up at 3am, so that we’d be alongside Tilbury Cruise Terminal for around about 7am. 7am was also the time that all passengers were requested to have their cabins vacated by (which means getting up earlier – about 6am – to be able to achieve this).

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that. At 7am, when everyone left their cabins bleary-eyed and ready to disembark, it was clear that we were still very much out in the ocean, with no land in sight. We’d taken my art gear up to the Reception area, to dump it in the Shorex office, when we saw the Dutch interpreter, Peter, who broke the bad news that would soon be announced to the passengers in general…

The announcement which came soon after confirmed that the ship had received notification at 3am that the pilot station we were supposed to be heading for was closed due to bad weather, and that that we were being diverted to another pilot station. We were then told that the earliest a pilot would be able to board the ship would be 11am, making our arrival time at Tilbury no earlier than 3pm. Ouch.

I’ve seen pilots in ports all around the world manage to board ships in the most horrendous of sea conditions, leaping noncholantly from the small deck of a pilot boat, across a scary gap of wild water, into a small hole in the side of a cruise ship; I’ve always thought of it as being a young man’s job – a job for someone who also enjoys a bit of excitement and danger in their job. Pilots are a very special breed… there’s something very British, then, about a pilot station being closed, and not being able to board ship, due to bad weather… is all I’m saying…

So, through no fault of the ship, we’ve all had to endure a delay of 8 hours. For some, with other connections to make in order to get themselves home, the knock-on effect of that would be considerable. For Tracey and myself, the delay is no particular hardship; it just means we won’t get home until this evening, instead of this afternoon (and we’ll probably be hitting commuter traffic, which will be a bit of a pain). The good news is that they allowed us to rer-occupy our cabins until 2pm, so we took the opportunity to catch up on the sleep that we’d missed by having to be up at stupid o’clock.

As I write this, we’re finally approaching Tilbury, and the end of our Norwegian adventure…

Bergen

Today we arrived in Bergen, after one wild rollercoaster ride of a night.

‘Interesting'(yesterday’s blog post) turned out to be a bit of an understatement. From about 11pm onwards, the rocking and rolling steadily increased, and by the time we went to bed, it was clear that the Captain’s forecast was accurate.

There were times when I swear I felt that I was about to be hurled out of bed to the floor. Occasionally things would fly off the table, and distant bumps and crashes reminded us that elsewhere on the ship, everyone was, collectively, experiencing the same thing (except, perhaps for those folks on the higher decks… for them, it would be much worse… the more you pay, the more you sway…).

Breakfast was the usual game of ‘hunt the table’. It’s busy every morning, but after the bad night, it wouldn’t be rocket science to expect the majority of passengers emerging (probably a bit worse for wear) a little later than normal. We always eat breakfast in the bistro, although the Waldorf Restaurant does it too… but they finish at 9pm… so the Bistro was, unsurprisingly, bursting at the seams. We joined the ‘cruisers’… those who enter the bistro for the first time and cruise around, looking for a free table. Once, we thought we’d bagged one… only to find that someone else had pipped us to the post, by only the narrowest of margins. I told Tracey we should up our game…

Eventually, of course, we managed to find a free table. We weren’t in any hurry, though. Bergen is our last stop on this cruise, and we’d specifically requested not to be given any escort duties, because we had plans of our own. We were also not in any hurry because it was raining cats and dogs outside (apparently, Bergen only has, on average, 10 rain-free days in a year).

When we finallly emerged onto the quayside it was still raining, but noticeably milder than some of the ports we’ve enjoyed on this trip. We paused to photograph the historic Bryggen before making our way towards the Funicular Railway that would take us to the top of the hill.

Our trip up the hill cost the equivalent of about 9 euros each, for a return journey. Our plan was to follow some of the trails that we know are up there; when we arrived, however, we immediately began to revise our plan. The weather at the top of the hill wasnt good. Views across the town of Bergen below, were fleeting, between bursts of rain and sleet, and we realised that the 4 or 5 miles of pre-planned walking through the woods were probably a little too ambitious.

Instead, after checking out the souvenir shop and photographing the view, we took a shorter walk, as far as a small lake. The snow was soft and slushy, but the trees and their reflections were worth the effort. We walked around the perimeter of the lake, rejecting the path that would lead to higher ground on this occasion (but took note of it for future reference), and followed the shorter route back to the railway that would take us back down to the town.

Back in Bergen, we bought hot drinks and cakes in Starbucks, and then gorged ourselves on burgers in Macdonalds (cruising can have that effect on you), before taking a short walk through the town (buying some smaller, lightweight spikes for our boots in the process), and finally making our way back towards the ship.

And that’s that…

Bergen was our final port stop on this ‘Land of the Northern Lights’ tour. I have classes tomorrow, then we will be arriving back home in Tilbury on monday morning (all being well). It’s possible there won’t be another blog post before I get home (unless something very exciting happens); there won’t even be time for an exhibition, which is something I like to do on longer cruises. Speaking of longer cruises; I’ve been invited to join the Magellan again in January, when we will be heading back to Brazil and the Amazon. I’m looking forward to it… the weather will be warmer, that’s for sure…

Mountain Hiking in Andalsnes

Having spent a relaxing, and peaceful night in Andalsnes (no rocking and rolling), no engine sounds… lovely), we awoke with a plan that had been hatched ever since we knew we would be returning here; eat breakfast, don thermals and heavy-duty hiking gear, and go climb a mountain.

The base of the mountain in question was a short, 10 minutes walk away from the ship. Andalsnes itself is described in some quarters as the ‘Alpine Region of Norway’, and gazing around at the towering snowy peaks, it’s easy to see why.

Our climb was a repeat of one we did three years ago, when we first came here on the Marco Polo. It starts out quite easy, with well-places ramps and handrails to assist visitors as they steadily gain height. A small wooden shelter marks the first notable viewpoint, overlooking the small town of Andalsnes and with extensive views down the fjord.

From here on, the going gradually gets steeper, and the handrails become less frequent. An abundance of tangled tree roots provide plenty of footholds, but they’re also slippy in places, threatening to trip the unwary hiker. Forty-five minutes or so later, we reached the snowline. At this point, the scene turned into a dazzling winter wonderland for a while before the trees themselves start thinning out. The views also became more impressive.

Our main objective was to reach a viewing platform that we knew about. It sticks out of the mountainside, and provides great views in all directions; it’s also a teensy bit scary; Tracey refuses to go to the very end because you can see right through to the trees far below.

We climbed a little further beyond the viewing platform, and a little higher, then stopped. With our main objective achieved, the plan was simply to retrace our steps, and head back down the hill. It was about 2pm at this point, and we had to be back on board by 4:45. We’d brought emergency chocolate with us but no water, relying on snow and a well-placed natural spring to keep ourselves from dehydrating (I should say that this was not part of the plan – the truth is, we simply forgot to put any water in the rucksack… again…).

We were just 170 metres or so short of the summit, and I was curious to see how things looked a little higher. Tracey wasn’t so keen; this was as far as we got the last time, and we’d turned around at this point because the trail becomes more exposed and a bit of a scramble. I decided to climb a little further; Tracey would wait for me… we agreed on just 10 minutes… On reflection, I wasn’t entirely sure what that actually meant; did this mean 10 minutes further walking, then 10 minutes back? Or 10 minutes total, which would mean 5 minutes walking, then 5 back…

I passed a couple on their way down, and asked if they’d been to the top. They told me they had, and that it had taken them about 30 minutes from the viewing platform. They warned me that the going got a little tough, but when they saw that I had spikes on my boots, they figured it wouldn’t be too much of a problem for me. This spurred me on… maybe just a little higher… it couldn’t hurt…

15 or 20 minutes later, way past the the agreed time, and way past a couple of false summits (just a little bit further…), I reached the top. Sure enough, the trail was very exposed in places, and the snow was much deeper. It was reasonably well waymarked, though, with a reassuring red ‘T’ appearing at convenient intervals, painted onto rocks. My main worry, as I plodded on, though, was the weather closing in on me and then not being able to find my way back. That can happen often in the hills; what at first can seem like a straightforward route can soon become confusing and difficult to follow.

In truth, it wasn’t the absolute top; that would have taken me another 15 minutes or so, but I was satisfied that I had reached high enough, happy to have reached the stone shelter and cairn that signified the roof of the world. I took a few photographs of the views and the ridgeline stretching away from me to even greater peaks, and made a quick phone call to Tracey, to tell here that I was on my way back.

Together again, our descent was much harder going than the climb. For starters, you use different muscles to go downhill, and the tangled tree roots were difficult to navigate, with the threat of a hard landing never far away. In short, the return journey felt much longer, and by the time we reached the wooden shelter, and the top of the ramps, we were flagging. It was a relief to finally get back to the ship, get out of our wet clothes and take the boots off (Oooh! My feet were tender…).

Tired but satisfied, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chilling out.

An announcement from the Captain warned us of impending rough weather; with winds of up to 40 miles and hour and swells of up to 7 metres, the going was probably going to be uncomfortable. The window in our cabin has been covered over (which was a surprise because we didn’t know the window had deadlights), and passengers have been advised not to use the lifts…

It’s going to be an interesting night’s sailing…

Trondheim Cancelled – Extra Classes

There’s not a great deal to say about today. With the cancellation of Trondheim, I was given extra classes; what we would have done on Sunday (Bryggen, Line and Wash) was brought forward to today. The going has stayed a little rough; not quite as rough as we’ve experienced on the Marco Polo, but still enough to upset a few folks.

The plan was to go straight to Andalsnes, arriving at around 5pm. With the weather conditions as they are, however, we didn’t arrive until about 7pm. Sadly, there have been no further sightings of the Lights. Diehard spotters maintain their vigil, patrolling the decks every evening in the hope of seeing them, but as we travel further south, that hope must surely be diminishing. To rub salt in the wound, word is that the Northern Lights have been spotted quite clearly in Scotland and the North of England. Hey ho.

At Sea Again

Today was a sea-day, as we headed towards our next destination, Tronheim.

The sea was rough and I had classes, which pretty much sums up the day. That is except for one significant thing… Early evening, the Captain announced that due to adverse sea conditions, our stop at Tronheim has been cancelled, and that we will now be heading straight for Andalsnes.

Oh… and we saw some lights…

It was early evening, and they weren’t that impressive. I tried to take some photos with my phone, but the results were so disappointing, I haven’t bothered to post them here (seriously – they weren’t very good). Tracey, however, did manage to capture a couple of reasonable photos… check them out on her blog here:

http://gettingaboutabit-cruising.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/wednesday-8th-november-sea-day.html

Tomorrow, then, is an unexpected sea-day, so I’ll be running some extra classes… a bonus!

Follow watercolour artist Peter Woolley's adventures as he runs art workshops on the high seas…